On Jesuit militancy: Notes on Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks (IV). by Gerardo Muñoz

As I continue the systematic reading of Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, one can finally provide substance to the thesis that gramscianism amounts to a sort of new priesthood of the political. The question here is about the specific substance and form of the theological. Most definitely, Gramsci is pursuing a strong theological position that is not reducible to monasticism, nor his he interested in subscribing a counter-modern Christian ethos against the modern “gentleman”. In this sense, Gramsci is a modernist tout court. Now, it seems to me that underneath the secularization of his political subjectivation is Jesuitism. This makes sense for at least two reasons. First, Jesuitism is a modern attempt of deification in this world through discipline. But, secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Jesuitism is a practice that serves to expand the energy of political militancy. As Alberto Moreiras suggested a while ago in an essay on the onto-theology of militancy, the reduction of the subjection into action has an important point of inflection in the Jesuitical practice. 

So, what would happen if we read Gramsci when he claims that he prefers a politician that “knows everything” and that is the most “knowledgeable” not as a Machiavellian strategy, but rather as a Jesuitical exercise? Leaving aside the paradoxical instrumentalization of Machiavelli’s political lesson (paradoxical because if political virtue is about keeping the arcana of power at a distance, then why reveal it?), one could very well say that Jesuitism is not just about the management of contingent events, but rather about the administration of habits and practices of the subject in order to reduce any interference of the event. Jesuitism, then, is an instrument to block and reduce all exterior turbulence vis-à-vis the very capture of the heteronomic intrusion. This capture accomplishes two things at once: from the outside it initiates a process of controlling the irruption of heterogeneity; from the inside, it is a technique of subjective militant discipline. It seems to me that Gramsci was not unaware of this theological apparatus when, in the third notebook, he writes the following: 

“New orders which have grown up since then have very little religious significance but a great “disciplinary” significance for the mass of the faithful. They are, or have become, ramifications and tentacles of the Society of Jesus, instruments of “resistance” to preserve political positions that have been gained, not forces of renovation and development. Catholicism has become “Jesuitism”. Modernism has not created “religious orders”, but a political party – Christian Democracy”.  (332)

Now we are in a better position to state that Gramsci’s political theology is compartmentalized in the specificity of Jesuitism. Indeed, he himself reads the transformation of the Church into Jesuitical practice of resistance as parallel to the bourgeois Christian democratic party formation. Does not Gramscianism amount to the same, that is, a combination of party formation and disciplinary militant form? Indeed, Jesuitical practice contains the production of form. Here we see the dimension of Gramsci’s anti-populism, since the main strategy is not to “construct a people”, but rather to build an army of militant community of believers. Any study of Gramscian political theology has to begin by displacing the veneer of political Machiavellism to the concrete practices propelled by theological Jesuitism.

Thus, the gestalt of the “new priest” is profoundly Jesuitical. As Walter Benjamin noted in the fragment “Zu Ignatius von Loyola” (1920), the practice of “consciousness transformation” becomes the way to submit to the spiritual authority. This mechanic domestication of habits becomes the sacrament that regulates the interior life of the militant. A question emerges from all of this: is there a counter-figure to sacramental militancy? 

On the metropolitan civilization: Notes on Gramsci’s Pre-Prison Writings (II). by Gerardo Muñoz

There is really not much that I can add about the young Gramsci writing in the L’Ordine Nouvo during the ’20s. I think Alberto Moreiras has already done a fabulous job of showing the underlying productionism of Gramsci’s knot around the Party, culture, subjects, and objects. Therefore, there is no need for me to gloss those arguments and their inscription in the context of Italian political history. Rather, I would only add a footnote to the question of productionism by focusing on some aspects of the short, albeit interesting, article “The Historical Role of the Cities” (1920). Here we are confronted with a Gramsci that appears as the defender of “urban civilization”, which is rather strange, but in any case, still very relevant. Insofar as today gramscianism is a cultural-political rhetoric of the enlightened metropolitan left, one could say that they are following Gramsci’s “original intuitions”. In this 1920 article, Gramsci argued that “the proletarian dictatorship will save the cities from ruin” (136). Like the foco guerrillero some decades later, this will to power will necessarily produce a “civil war in the countryside and will bind vast strata of impoverish peasants to the cities” (136).

Indeed, this is what historically ended up happing whether in contexts of “successful” revolutions or in instances of accelerated post-fordist capitalism. In other words, the destruction of what Carlo Levi called the communal form of life as an exodus to urban integration was, in the half of the twentieth century, one of the most radical spatial-political transformation of the dynamics of territorial power in the West. There was no modern revolution that stood “against the metropolitan domination”. On the contrary, every revolution was tailored as the full metropolitization of the national body. If we think about the Cuban Revolution of 1959 this is extremely clear: following the triumph of Fidel Castro & his men, there was a literal civil war in the Escambray highlands of the island that hunted any peasants that opposed the ‘integration process’ (hunted in the literarily sense, since the youth sent to the mountains to persecute the peasants were called cazabandidos). Parallel to the metropolitization as a total project, there was also a project of subjective transformation of the people into the metropolitan ethos. Hence, once again in the case of the Cuban revolution, all peasants were invited to the urban centers in a deescalating vector that ran from the countryside to the cities. When Gramsci defends the “modern industrial civilization” one must take him literarily: he is defending the a stealth metropolitization of public life.

Gramsci writes: “The decisive historical force, the historical force capable of creating an Italian state and firmly unifying the bourgeois class of all Italy, was Turin…but today Turin is not the capitalist city para excellence, but it is the industrial city, the proletarian city par excellence” (137). There are two movements here: on the one hand, Gramsci is anxious about the territorial fragmentation that is unable to make Italy a sovereign state that can coincide with its ‘people’. On the other hand, there is the assumption that any given city that holds the monopoly of production is already, sooner or later, the topos that will follow through with the revolution. This is true because, according to Gramsci, “the class of workers and peasants must set up  a strong network of workers and peasants to take over the national apparatuses of production and exchange, to acquire a keen sense of their economic responsibility and to give the workers a powerful and alert self-consciousness as producers” (138).

Of course, it follows that (and this is a teleology similar to what foquismo thought exactly forty years later), if there is a revolution in Milan, then there is a revolution at a national scale because “Milan is, effectively, the capital of the bourgeois dictatorship” (139). If for foquismo the starting point was a diffuse group of conscious revolutionaries in the highlands that will ignite the rebellion in the city; for Gramsci the rebellion in the city will allow for a revolt of the peasantry. Aside from having different starting points, what both Gramsci and foquismo have in common is the same teleological conception: this is a politics that is interested in “saving the metropolis” to reconstruct an artificial “national unity”.

The irony is that already in the 1960s the Gramscian dream of a metropolitan civilization was brought about in the post-Fordist regime of production which, as Marcello Tarì has shown in an important book about Italian Autonomia, realized a new systemic conception of power tied to a hegemonic metropolitan way of life. But perhaps this is specific to Italian Autonomia, since it speaks to the cosmos of socialism itself as a project tied to a “point de capiton” that regulates a “body” in the name of community. This operation, of course, seeks to suture fragmentation with the avatar of formal “social relations”. This is why the defense of the metropolitan city life is so important for Gramsci, which coincides with contemporary pseudo-radicals that propose a “democratic socialism” based on “this life”: it is a new form of domination that amounts to opening the flows of communication for “participatory subjects”. As Gramsci himself defines his communism in the article “The Communists Groups” (1920): “Communism as a system of new social relations can only become into being when material conditions are in place that permit it to come into being” (200). This is a good definition of a pastoral communism, “an integrated class” that has now become one with the metropolis.