chapter  9
Hegemony and civil society
Pages 13

It is significant that neither of the two hoary old concepts of the Marxist tradition, demystification and false consciousness, is sys­ tematically employed in theoretical analysis by Gramsci (at least in the English translations from his prison notebooks, correspondence and early journalism so far published). The reasons for this lie I think in (a) Gramsci’s conception of the organic integration in various groups in civil society of different interpretations of the world, includ­ ing common sense, religion and philosophy, all of which have unique developments and traditions and are welded together in a complex cultural formation; and (b) his insistence on the need to shed a solely ‘external’, scientistic standpoint with regard to popular beliefs. The integrated types of world interpretation form a progressive develop­ mental sequence from relatively mythological representations of the world up to the fuller comprehension of philosophy which ultimately sublates into political activity when theory and mass practice co­ incide. Each is a legitimate and autonomous system of interpretation and co-present in society embodied in real groups of people, even though the lower levels of interpretation may constitute an inadequate grasp of the whole of society. The Engelsian concept of false con­ sciousness and the programmatic notion of demystification, abstract­ ly advocated, would be symptomatic for Gramsci of the scientific stance of the high-culture Marxist who judges all inferior lower levels of belief tout court from an enlightened scientific standpoint without seeing them as the real remnants of lower stages of social develop­ ment and embodied in practical activity. As we saw in the previous chapter, Gramsci was suspicious of Bukharin’s failure to take as his starting point the beliefs of ordinary people, instead reducing Marxist theory to a detached Party-based positivistic sociology of the pro­ letariat which could analyse and predict social processes so long as the masses remained in their routine passivity. Because Bukharin

took such a position vis-a-vis socio-historical processes he was in danger of losing sympathy with popular beliefs and those who hold them. In the same vein Gramsci also effectively criticizes Bukharin for purely negative judgments in the name of social science on past high-culture philosophies which he saw as “irrational and mon­ strous” .1 It might perhaps be illuminating to compare respectively Bukharin’s attitude towards religious believers and the Church with Gramsci’s, to epitomize the two contrasting attitudes towards un­ scientific popular beliefs:

The Orthodox faith which is defended by the priests aims at an alliance with the monarchy. This is why Soviet power finds it necessary to engage at this juncture in widespread anti-religious propaganda. Our aims can be secured by the delivery of special lectures, by the holding of debates, and by the publication of suitable literature; also by the general diffusion of scientific knowledge, which slowly but surely undermines the authority of religion [Bukharin].