Saturday, June 17, 2006

Gramsci Quote, At Least Some Recited At Sraffa's Funeral

I know, from reading Geoff Harcourt, that at least some of this was quoted at Sraffa's funeral:
"It would be worth compiling a 'reasoned' catalogue of the men of learning whose opinions are widely quoted or contested in the book, each name to be accompanied by notes on their significance and scientific importance (this to be done also for the supporters of the philosophy of praxis who are certainly not quoted in the light of their originality and significance). In fact there are only the most passing references to the great intellectuals. The question is raised: would it not have been better to have referred only to the major intellectuals on the enemy side, leaving aside the men in the second rank, the regurgitators of second-hand phrases? One gets the impression that the author wants to combat only the weakest of their positions (or the ones which the weakest adversaries have maintained least adequately), in order to obtain facile verbal victories - for one can hardly speak of real victories. The illusion is created that there exists some kind of more than formal and metaphorical resemblance between an ideological and a politico-military front. In the political and military struggle it can be correct tactics to break through at the points of least resistance in order to be able to assault the strongest point with maximum forces that have been precisely made available by the elimination of the weaker auxiliaries. Political and military victories, within certain limits, have a permanent and universal value and the strategic end can be attained decisively with a general effect for everyone. On the ideological front, however, the defeat of the auxiliaries and the minor hangers-on is of all but negligible importance. Here it is necessary to engage battle with the most eminent of one's adversaries. Otherwise one confuses newspapers with books, and petty daily polemic with scientific work. The lesser figures must be abandoned to the infinite casebook of newspaper polemic.

A new science proves its efficacy and vitality when it demonstrates that it is capable of confronting the great champions of the tendencies opposed to it and when it either resolves by its own means the vital questions which they have posed or demonstrates, in peremptory fashion, that these questions are false problems.

It is true that an historical epoch and a given society are characterised rather by the average run of intellectuals, and therefore by the more mediocre. But widespread, mass ideology must be distinguished from the scientific works and the great philosophical syntheses which are its real cornerstones. It is the latter which must be overcome, either negatively, by demonstrating that they are without foundation, or positively, by opposing to them philosophical syntheses of greater importance and significance. Reading the Manual one has the impression of someone who cannot sleep for the moonlight and who struggles to massacre the fireflies in the belief that by so doing he will make the brightness lessen or disappear." (Gramsci 1971, pp. 432-433, "Critical Notes on an Attempt at Popular Sociology")

(The attempt being considered here is The Theory of Historical Materialism: A Manual of Popular Sociology, a book by Nikolai Bukharin.)

  • Harcourt, G. C. (1986). "On the Contributions of Joan Robinson and Piero Sraffa to Economic Theory", in Controversies in Political Economy: Selected Essays, New York University Press
  • Gramsci, Antonio (1971). Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Anonio Gramsci (Trans. by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith), International Publishers.

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