Antonio Gramsci and ‘cancel culture’ in America
In the wake of Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution in October 1917, communists throughout Europe believed communism would quickly flourish throughout the world. Karl Marx had predicted that communism was “scientifically” inevitable as a replacement of capitalism. In the wake of a successful proletariat (workers/employees) revolution in one major country, the proletariat throughout the world would rise up and take control of the means of production. The successor to the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, established the Communist International, or Comintern, to help further the spread of communism throughout Europe. By the early 1920s, however, it became clear that communism was not flourishing beyond the Soviet Union and those communists in Western Europe faced a conundrum. Antonio Gramsci, who helped establish the Communist Party in Italy in the wake of the Bolsheviks, came up with answers to the conundrum that eventually came to America and help explain modern “cancel culture.”
Gramsci was born in 1891 in Sardinia, Italy and was imprisoned in 1926 for communist agitation after World War One. In poor health due to an accident in his youth, Gramsci died in prison in 1937. Gramsci wrote about what has become known today as “cultural Marxism.” His explanation for the failure of communism in Western Europe was the challenge of the strength of civil society and its institutions compared those of Russia. In particular, Gramsci wrote about the importance of “cultural hegemony” in keeping the proletariat from overthrowing the bourgeoisie. According to Gramsci, the proletariat class was kept complacent in subordination to the bourgeoisie through “cultural hegemony.” Gramsci alleged that the dominant class established the history, language, stories, etc. of a people that helped maintain the dominance without the necessity of hard force.
Gramsci’s prescription for dismantling the alleged cultural hegemony of the bourgeoisie was through dismantling and subordinating the so-called dominant culture. This would come through promotion of alternate cultures to a new hegemony. This would allow the proletariat class revolt to move forward unhindered and bring a communist society. To be successful, this would require attacks on the cultural icons of society and a sustained demeaning of that culture. It would require a change in language and accepted “common sense.” For example, the term “picking yourself up by your bootstraps” would be alleged to be part of the cultural hegemony to keep the proletariat complacent within the hegemonic system. Following the Marxist admonition “the present must control the past,” historical icons must be removed and replaced. This happened in Russia, with the renaming of the iconic city St. Petersburg (temporarily Petrograd during WWI) as “Leningrad” and, in a sense, the elimination of the Tsarist system — and the extended royal family — among many examples.
Like Marx, Gramsci wrote that Christianity was a primary enemy of the communist revolution and the major pillar of the alleged cultural hegemony. The claims of absolute truth and submission to societal authority were a part. In particular, Christian admonitions of the importance of the nuclear family and the role of the father in the family were primary obstacles to the proletariat uprising. Like Marx, Gramsci advocated attacking and demeaning Christianity, the nuclear family and fatherhood (“patriarchy”). Gramsci advocated infiltration of cultural Marxists in the media, entertainment, courts and politics. He referred to this as going through “the robes” of society to dismantle the hegemonic culture.
Though Gramsci died in prison in 1937, his prison notes were published in Europe in 1950 during the post-World War Two resurgence of European communism. The writings were not translated and published in the U.S. until the 1970s; interestingly, this was done by Joseph Buttigieg (Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg’s father). Gramsci’s ideas of alleged cultural hegemony helped spur the writings and ideas of the political left and higher education. Gramsci’s ideas permeated the progressive left, which steadily grew from the 1970s to the present. In relation to American society, Gramsci’s influence may be seen in the escalating demeaning of American history, the demeaning of fatherhood and the nuclear family, the demeaning and suppression of other Christian ideals and finally the demeaning of the founding fathers and cultural heroes of American society.
Gramsci is the author of what we now understand as cancel culture. When the mayor of Washington, D.C. sets up a task force to consider removing the Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial and other such memorials, we can see the influence of Gramsci. When rioters tear down statues throughout America, destroying and defacing monuments to abolitionists, Lincoln, U.S. Grant and others, this is more about Gramsci than anti-racism. BLM and Antifa, thoroughly influenced by Gramsci, were purposely following his admonition in tearing down every cultural icon to American society. The many attacks on the church, including burning Bibles in Portland, followed Gramsci. BLM includes “disrupt the nuclear family” as a primary aim, following the direction of Gramsci. The riots — not peaceful protests — of the past three months are primarily about the influence of Gramsci’s overturning cultural hegemony to bring the communist revolution. It’s important to remember that the primary founder of BLM, Patricia Cullors, admitted in a 2015 interview founders of BLM were “trained Marxists” and following that ideology.
“Critical (race) theory” and “intersectionality” are also a part of cancel culture and tearing down of American founders and heroes. Any cultural icon with “dominant” characteristics (white, male, heterosexual, Christian) becomes automatically suspect. Based on our national demographics of the founding generations, almost all become stigmatized as racists despite if they were abolitionist or not. This is part of tearing down of the hegemony.
Americans can agree that racism is wrong and yet reject cancel culture brought by Gramsci. Antonio Gramsci’s ideas should not be bulldozing America through the claim of anti-racism or anti-fascism. American leaders need to speak out now. The silencing and stigmatizing of conservatives is wrong and influenced by Gramsci more than anything else. Most Americans remain Judeo-Christian, believe the nuclear family is important and love our founding fathers and cultural icons. Americans love our freedom and liberty, including economic liberty, which would be extinguished with communism. Gramsci’s ideals, including cancel culture, are the enemy of the American constitutional system and it is time these ideas are exposed, rejected and never tolerated again.
Bill Connor is a 1990 Citadel Graduate, 30-year Army infantry colonel and combat veteran. He is a writer and attorney and lives in the Charleston area.