Reform and Ecstatic Politics: Notes on Gramsci’s Prison Writings (VIII). by Gerardo Muñoz

Gramcsi’s turning away from economic primacy of the Third International meant that he had to endorse a robust principle of “politics” to suture the separation (and there crisis thereof) between theory and praxis, which is also a division of action and thought. In a certain way, going back to Machiavelli’s writings or Croce’s Hegelian Idealism is a way to introduce a total politics suture over philosophy and life. This becomes clear when in Notebook 8, while glossing Croce “Hidden God”, Gramsci asks rhetorically but with force: “In what sense can one speak of the identity of history with politics and say that therefore all life is politics? How could one conceive of the whole system of superstructures as (a system of) political distinctions, thus introducing the nothing of distinction in the philosophy of praxis? Can one even speak of a dialectic of distincts? (271). 

It becomes rather obvious that what has passed as the great Gramscian novelty – mainly, the emphasis on “superstructure” as a way to relax the mechanistic economic structure of capitalist development driving the laws of History – in fact, it rests on a metaphysical principle rooted in the total politics over life. In other words, Gramscianism means, if anything, a new totalization of political domination over the texture of life and every singular destiny. This conceptual maneuver is nothing original if placed in the epochal framework of what Alain Badiou called the “ecstatic politics” of the 1930s, in which politics (and later legality) became the instrument to suture philosophy and life. 

It is almost as if Gramscian political life becomes the new instrument for the age of total mobilization and the worker insofar as life is nothing but the site of immanence that must be reintegrated, conducted, and translated as co-terminus with full political activity. At the moment where “life” was fleeing from the organic reproduction of capitalist development unto autonomous forms (Camatte), the Gramscian emphasis on “superstructure” became the progressive technology to “contain” its eventual dispersion. Again, in the same section 60 of the eighth notebook this insight is explicit: “One must say that political activity is, precisely, the first moment or first level of the superstructures; it’s the moment in which all the superstructures are still in the unmediated phase of mere affirmation – willful, inchoate, and rudimentary” (271). The question solicited here is where does the “class struggle” fit in this picture, if at all? 

If superstructural political life is not the site of the horizon of the working class’ emancipation, this could only entail, as Jacques Camatte understood it very early on, that the conduction of the communist party in politics demanded that militants and the working class had to act as if the communist society was a “living fact”. In turn, this meant that there was a clear “reformist” transmutation, since one could discard (in fact, as later authors of the so-called post-foundational theory of hegemony demanded, it *had to be discarded*) the horizon of revolutionary emancipation. What is surprising is that even today a reformist declination of ecstatic politics is announced and branded as “true radical political thought”, when it is just a mere inversion and reorganization of capitalist value organization. On the contrary, the total politics of the superstructure over life could only mean, as Íñigo Errejón repeated recently, merely a “struggle between opposite values”; in other words, it is no longer a transformation of the world instead of interpreting it, but a mere gaming of values to facilitate the occupation of the state.  

This could explain why, many pages later in Notebook 8 Gramsci could define hegemony as the crystallization of morality. He writes univocally: “Hegemony” means a determinate system of moral life [conception of life] and therefore history is “religious” history along the lines of Croce’s “state-church” principle” (373). And of course, history is always “a struggle between two hegemonies”, whose main nexus is the unity of rulers and the ruled (373). Gramsci gives this unification without separation the label of “patriotism”, which amounts to a direct secularized form of the medieval pro patria mori. This is the vortex that organizes the ecstatic political dominium over life in every hegemonic order.  

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?