Gramsci and Trotsky

Scholars and activists have long debated the legacy of Italian revolutionary Antonio Gramsci and his theoretical convergences and disagreements with Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky.

May 26, 2016

This is the introduction to the book, Gramsci and Trotsky, Strategy for the Revolution in the West, by Matías Maiello and Emilio Albamonte, available for $10 online purchase + shipping (only within the US for the moment)
[158 pages. First edition, 2016]

Here is a review of the book by Doug Green.


In the final decades of the 20th Century, capitalist democracy as both a political regime and as an ideology spread further than ever. Fascism and Stalinism played an essential role in allowing it to reconstruct itself. Stalinism in particular acted as an obstacle to the idea of any higher form of democracy than bourgeois parliamentarism such as soviet or workers’ democracy. (1)

After more than half a decade of international capitalist crisis, millions have witnessed the imposition of despotic pro-capitalist policies by extra-parliamentary structures. Hidden behind speeches about “security”, these Bonapartist structures attempt to close the breach opened by the capitalist crisis with ever-greater doses of authoritarianism, doses proportional to the blows that the crisis delivers in each country. Yet despite all of this, bourgeois democracy continues to be seen by the great majority as the highest expression of popular sovereignty and the greatest pinnacle of liberty to which one can aspire. This tension is the source of one of the greatest problems for bourgeois hegemony in these increasingly turbulent times.

This combination of elements is expressed most clearly in Europe with the crisis of the traditional parties and the development of new political phenomena. On the one hand there is the rise of the right-wing formations such as the Front National (FN - National Front) in France, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in Britain, and the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ - Freedom Party of Austria) among others.

On the other side there are the “neoreformist” formations such as Syriza in Greece, Podemos in the Spanish State, Jeremy Corbyn´s election to the British Labour leadership, the Sanders phenomenon in the USA, and the Bloco de Esquerda (Left Bloc) in Portugal. The latter has ended up, along with the Communist Party, sponsoring the return to power of the Socialist Party in Portugal. In Latin America, this has expressed itself in a special way with the crisis of the so-called “post-neoliberal governments”, giving rise to different political scenarios. It has hit hardest at the heart of “chavismo” in Venezuela, but has also affected some of the bourgeois- democratic regimes in the Southern Cone of Latin America that have established themselves in the last three decades.

In Brazil, a reactionary offensive is underway in the form of an institutional coup by the right wing against Dilma Rousseff, despite the fact that the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT – Workers’ Party) in government had already been applying austerity policies. In Argentina, Kirchnerism has only recently been defeated electorally by the new business right of Mauricio Macri. On the left there is the Frente de Izquierda y de los Trabajadores (FIT - Left and Workers Front), a front based on working-class independence formed by the Partido de los Trabajadores Socialistas (PTS - Socialist Workers Party), the Partido Obrero (PO - Workers’ Party) and Izquierda Socialista (IS – Socialist Left). The FIT has emerged as a reference point for a section of the masses, has consolidated itself and at the international level is a clear contrast to the subordination of much of the left to the various

The rise of “neo-reformism” in Europe, much like the cycle of the “post-neoliberal governments” in Latin America, has boosted Ernesto Laclau’s theories of “radical plural democracy” and “populist reason”. Both theories base themselves on the impossibility of revolution and advance a reformist strategy which divorces hegemony, and bourgeois democracy, from its objective foundations - the economic foundations of capitalist society, social classes and the relations of force. Instead Laclau´s theories situate the problem in the field of developing a certain discourse.

In this book we propose to do the opposite. We will consider revolution within the western socio-political structures and bourgeois- democratic regimes.(2) After decades of increasing illusions in bourgeois democracy, this is a key strategic issue. In order to do this, we will address a series of programmatic, tactical and strategic problems and how they develop within the struggle for a workers’ government.

In the first part we will concentrate on the Trotsky and Gramsci’s approaches towards the main strategic lessons of the class struggle in Europe during the period between the defeat of the German revolution of 1923 and the rise of Hitler a decade later.

In the second part, we will deal with the role of formal-democratic, or more precisely, radical-democratic slogans, such as those for a Constituent Assembly, the abolition of the position of president, the unification of the legislative and executive powers in a single Chamber, the ability to recall elected representatives and the abolition of privileges for officials, among others. (3)

We will take as our starting point some of the major elaborations of Trotsky and Gramsci. We will also develop this in a polemical exchange with the now classic work by Perry Anderson, The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci, and the recent book by Peter Thomas, now an important point of reference for Gramsci studies today, The Gramscian Moment.

For this, we will build on the critical appreciation of the work of Carl von Clausewitz carried out by the Third International and Trotsky in particular. We will revisit our previous reflections made at the beginning of 2011 during a seminar that we organised in Argentina, at which we discussed some of the main theoretical concepts of military strategy, and in particular those dealt with in the classic book On War by Carl von Clausewitz and by some of his followers like Hans Delbrück. Both Lenin and Trotsky – and through them the Third International – had appropriated some key aspects of this book in order to reflect on the strategy of revolutionary Marxism in the imperialist epoch. In our second seminar, which took place in 2012, we focused on the conception of strategy in the Marxism of Leon Trotsky, whose thinking addressed the main strategic questions of the revolution both on the military terrain, as organiser of the Petrograd insurrection and founder of the Red Army, and in the political arena, as leader of the Third and Fourth Internationals.

Returning to Laclau, It is not by accident that, in their attempt to definitively separate hegemony from its class anchor, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe are forced to take on Clausewitz. As they argue, “Political struggle is still a zero-sum game among classes. This is the inner essentialist core which continues to be present in Gramsci’s thought, setting a limit to the deconstructive logic of hegemony. […]. It would be no exaggeration to say that, from Kautsky to Lenin, the Marxist conception of politics rested upon an imaginary owing a great deal to Clausewitz”. (4)

We will go in the opposite direction of Laclau and Mouffe. However we are not only dealing with setting a “limit to the deconstructive logic of hegemony”. Rather we will give a full account of the material forces on which bourgeois hegemony bases itself from within the working class and its potential allies. We will then extract the strategic consequences that arise from this.

Translation of full text: Sean Robertson, Alejandra Ríos, Ian Steinman

(1) Lif, Laura and Chingo, Juan, “Transiciones a la democracia” (Transitions to Democracy), in Estrategia Internacional No. 16, Winter (Southern Hemisphere) 2000.

(2) Understanding “western” as a metaphor for the naming of these types of structures, both in the imperialist countries which have longer traditions, as well as more recently “westernized” countries of the semi-colonial periphery, eg. Brazil, Chile or Argentina in the Southern Cone of Latin America. Cf. Albamonte, Emilio and Maiello, Matías, “Trotsky y Gramsci: debates de estrategia sobre la revolución en ‘occidente’” (Trotsky and Gramsci: debates on the strategy of revolution in the ‘West’), op. cit.

(3) Within Trotskyist currents, radical-democratic slogans have suffered two opposite fates that have distorted the role they are supposed to fulfill as part of the transitional program towards the dictatorship of the proletariat. On the one hand, there are those that have transformed the radical-democratic program into an end in itself, substituting the “dictatorship of the proletariat” for the winning of a supposed “democracia hasta el final” (“democracy until the end / through and through”) (Cf. Cinatti, Claudia and Albamonte, Emilio, “Más allá de la democracia liberal y el totalitarismo” (Transcending Liberal Democracy and Totalitarianism), in Estrategia Internacional No. 21, September 2004). In the same sense, those who elaborate, against the theory of permanent revolution, a theory of “democratic revolution”, as an intermediate objective, are dividing democratic structural tasks from formal-democratic slogans (Cf. Romano, Manolo, “Polémica con la LIT y el legado teórico de Nahuel Moreno” [Polemic with the LIT and the Theoretical Legacy of Nahuel Moreno], in Estrategia Internacional No. 3, December 1993 / January 1994). On the other hand, the opposite reaction has seen the denial of the importance of radical-democratic slogans, considered by some to be simply slogans of “democratization” (Maiello, Matías, “Debates programáticos en el Frente de Izquierda” [Programmatic debates in the Left Front], at, in an economistic caricature of the thinking of Trotsky that denies the fundamental role of these in order to pierce through bourgeois hegemony, as part of the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat. In both cases, transforming these radical-democratic slogans becomes an end in itself, or denying their role, the result is the weakening – or in some cases the direct denial – of the struggle against bourgeois regimes and adaption to them as a consequence. This problem becomes critical when, as noted above, bourgeois democracy – and the illusions in it - have grown in the last decades more than ever before, with relatively stabilized regimes of this type, especially in the imperialist centers.

(4) Laclau, Ernesto and Mouffe, Chantal, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics, London, Verso, 1992, pp. 69-70. It should be noted that the “critical” appropriation of the thinking of Clausewitz by Laclau and Mouffe avoids any serious discussion and refers only to the “centrist” elaborations of Kautsky on the “war of attrition”, or the Stalinist line of “class against class”. These are, quite rightly, the negation, in different ways, of the elaborations of the first congresses of the Communist International, where Lenin and Trotsky were its principal leaders.

April 2016
Emilio Albamonte and Matías Maiello

Online purchase: $10 + shipping (within the US)


Trotskyism   /    Leon Trotsky   /    Antonio Gramsci