Escaping the Throne Room

Peter Thomas and the Gramscian Moment

In: Historical Materialism
Ian McKay History Department, Queen’s University Kingston, Ontario

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In The Gramscian Moment Peter Thomas fundamentally revises the ‘textbook’ Gramsci – a theorist whose work centred on a primordial East/West distinction, focused on the superstructure, and upon the ways a ruling class secured subaltern consent to its rule. Placing special emphasis on the Notebooks from 1932, Thomas critiques readings of Gramsci by Perry Anderson and Louis Althusser, and finds that Gramsci articulated the ‘philosophy of praxis’ not so much as a synonym for, or declaration of independence from, Marxism, but rather as a tendency within Marx’s legacy that Gramsci hoped to make hegemonic within the working-class movement. Two friendly amendments emerge with respect to this persuasive account. First, the emphasis on Gramsci’s philosophy leads the author to an over-simplified account of the role of evolutionary theory within Gramsci’s own perspective and privileges ‘philosophy’ over other fields to which Gramsci’s vision was even more decisive. Is the ‘Gramscian moment’ really best analysed by looking at those intellectuals commonly deemed philosophers? And second, does not this moment also entail a more fundamental rethinking of the orthodox concepts and methods of revolutionary-left historiography than the author sometimes implies?

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