Anthonio Gramsci (1891-1937)

Anthonio Gramsci (1891-1937)

Before I go to his concepts which are in “Prison Notebooks”, I would go through his early life a bit. Anthonio Gramsci was born in Ales, Oristano province of the island of Sardinia in Southern Italy. He was the fourth of seven sons of Francesco Gramsci (1860-1937) and Giuseppina Marcias (1861-1932).

Gramsci’s father’s family reportedly left Albania around 1821. Gramsh (Albanian form: Gramsci) is a town in central Albania. It seemed that  the Albanian origin of his father’s family hereditary claimed the Surname of Gramsci; an Italianized form of Gramshi.

By the time Anthonio was born,  Southern Italy was suffering from extreme poverty. The poor peasants in the region were engaged with feudalist era equipments for their farming culture and always causing the poor harvest plus a number of outcomes of poverty based hardships. The island of Sardinia which is 11 km far from mainland Italy, was not different from what Southern Italy suffered at that time.

When Anthonio was around 7 years of age, his father Francesco had been convicted of fraud charges and sent to prison until 1904. This unfortunate condition resulted in the Gramsci family to go through adversity and young Anthonio to abandon schooling and had to do a number of casual jobs until his father’s release. Apart from that, Anthonio was suffering from various health problems, specially a malformation of the spine which stunted his growth and left him seriously hunchbacked. For decades, it was reported that his condition had been due to a childhood accident, having been dropped by a nanny but more recently it has been suggested that it was due to Pott Disease, a form of Tuberculosis that can cause deformity of the spine.

Later Anthonio had his highschool education Cagliari with his elder brother Gennaro who was a member of Italian socialist party. Gennaro brought the party’s central newspaper “Avantil” for Anthonio to read and understand about socialism. Gramsci however managed to win a scholarship at the university of Turin which is in northern Italy. That was a huge change of Anthonio because Turin was an industrialised city and he had a chance to overview the difference of undiveloped feudalist condition and the pre-module of industrial era in Italy.

As Anthonio’s desire to lineate to the politics, by 1913, he joined the Italian Socialist Party and became one of the key figures of writing of Avantil paper soon. The more he was engaged with politics, the more he was away from his university education. However his financial problems coupled with his poor health condition played a key role in him to abandon his educational career. Anyway by the time he gave up his university studies, he had acquired an extensive knowledge of history and philosophy. He was an avid reader of politics and devoured one book after another. This period, particularly from 1914, Anthonio turned his reading habit into writing. He endowed with sound knowledge of history and philosophy, so within a short period of time, he became a famous writer. In 1916, he became co-editor of the “Avantil” paper and later Gramsci started a weekly newspaper L’ordine Nuovo (the new order) with his friends Togliatti, Angelo Tasca and Umberto Terracini. The victory of Bolshevik Revolution in Russia 1919, was a huge inspiration for the leftist activists in Europe and the rest of the world. After the French Revolution, it was the second time the world experienced such a revolution and this hostoric event was warmly embraced by the Italian marxists too. So Anthonio Gramsci and his comrades of Italy considered the Russian Revolution a new chapter opened into history. In 1920 Gramsci and his comrades established the Italian Communist Party in Italy and he was a key leader of it. In 1922, Gramsci and a small group of Italian Communist Party participated in the “ Third International” which was organized by Lenin. In this journey he had the opportunity to work with Bolshevik leaders and to have a clear picture of the aftermath of the revolution. He spent around 2 years in Russia. In this period, he met his wife, Julia Schucht who was a violinist. The couple had two sons, Delio (born 1924) and Giulino (born 1926) but Gramsci never saw his second son.

At the end of 1923, Gramsci came back to Italy and started to support the ongoing social struggle in Italy. It was an eventful period around Italy because a lot of workers strikes, demonstrations and taking control of working places by workers happening there at that time. The Italian Communist Party (PCI) had arranged to start a “Factory Council” in the workplaces. By doing this, workers had the opportunity to take control of their working places. 

In this time, Benito Mussolini, a former Socialist party member, who organized a walk to Rome with his fascist party members and soldiers took control of Italy and became the dictator of Italy. Once Mussolini’s totalitarian regime got the power, they started to curb the workers’ struggle and hunt the socialist activities. Through the extreme violence, the fascist regime was in a position to suppress all activity of leftists, then they arrested the activities.

According to the special order of Benito Mussolini, Anthonio Gramsci was arrested on 9th of November 1926. The prosecutors of his trial hinted that “we must stop his brain from working for twenty years”. Gramsci received an immediate sentence of 5 years in confinement on the island of Ustic and then the following year was sentenced for 20 years imprisonment. Even Though the fascist regime tried to stop his brain function for 20 years, Anthonio Gramsci however managed to write down his powerful analytical concepts into 2848 pages which are known “Prison Notebooks”. He could not actually finish his writing before his death in 1937 but he was capable enough to send his notes of Prison Notebooks secretly outside to the prison with the help of his sister-in-law, Tatiana.

Anthonio Gramsci’s health condition was deteriorating and he was moribund and barley walked or ate by 1935. A lot of international preasures mounted for his release and the fascist regime decided to release his on early April of 1937 but he died on late April 1937. His Prison Notebooks were published in Italy in 1948, and then into english in the 1970s. Even now around the world, there are a lot of debates and discourses going on regarding his powerful concepts and arguments of “Prison Notebooks”.

(To be continued)

-Ranjana Senanayake