Production as a total religion of man: Notes on Gramsci’s Prison Writings (VII). by Gerardo Muñoz

In an important moment of Notebook 7, Antonio Gramsci writes that production in the age of industrialization amounts to a “new religion of the common man”. This thesis conditions many aspects of Gramsci’s thought and fully exposes his thinking as determined by the epoch of industrialization. If so, this means that his thinking is fundamentally insufficient for our historical present as defined by stagnation and the end of growth. First of all, the condition of industrialization allows for the famous “war of position”, which is exerted as a moralization of politics (hegemony). It is important to note that the concept of hegemony is introduced only “after” the historical reduction to industrial productivity is rendered as the unity of all historical time.  In an explicit Hegelian fashion, Gramsci argues that: “The process of historical development is a unity in time, which is why the present contains the whole of the past and what is “essential” of the past realizes itself in the present, without any “unknowable” residue that would constitute its real “essence”. Whatever is lost….it pertained to chronicle not History, a superficial episode and, in the final analysis, negligible” (175). This is at the core of Gramsci’s thinking, not at the margins.

So, the Hegelian absolute movement of the philosophy of history as coterminous with the flattening of the “rational is the real” is the metaphysical ground in which Gramsci not only operates but the venue through which he offers us a “new religion of the common man”. A few sections later (§. 35), Gramsci confesses that “hegemony was also a great “metaphysical event”. Of course, one could suppose that Gramsci was delivering a new God within the gigantomachy of the age of production. The irony is, of course, that this strict “political theology” is only justified by the industrial regime that it seeks to overturn. Therefore, the question that the so-called contemporary Gramscians (or anyone taking up Gramsci today, say from the 1970s to the present) should respond is: how can the analytical conditions of Gramsci’s thought illuminate post-Fordism in the wake of the exhaustion of growth? 

If according to Jason E. Smith’s important new book Smart Machines and Service Work (2020) since the 1980s we are witnessing an ever-expanding service sector (in the US and the UK drifting well above the 80% of the GDP) as a compensatory for growth stagnation in the age of technological innovation, how could the Gramscian “new religion” on industry mobilize a horizon of emancipation, or even minimal transformation from said regime of exploitation? On the contrary, it seems (as I tried to argue recently here) that if we take Gramsci’s insight about the material conditions of “production” in any given epoch, the work of hegemony today can only open to a demand for exploitation as subjected to servant domination in the stagnant regime. In other words, if we accept Gramsci’s own analytical conditions (industrial production), this necessarily entails that we must move beyond hegemonic domination. To think otherwise – say, believing that a “temporal form of dictatorship” or “populist takeover”, now in ruins – amounts to a solution oblivious to the historical conditions, which can only blindly accept the “command” of a hegemonic principle. It is not a surprise that only the new nationalist right in the United States today can be properly labeled “Gramscian”, since they want to recoil political form to industrialization, organic community flourishing, and national “delinking” from globalization decomposition of the regime of total equivalence. But this is only a “storytelling” (a bad one, indeed) in times of stagnation.

More broadly, this speaks to the divergence between Gramsci’s faith in industrialization and Protestantism, as he defends it in section 47 of the Notebook. While glossing Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic, Gramsci notes that only the “spirt of the Reform” can produce reciprocal positions vis-à-vis grace and “good works”; whereas in Catholicism, activity and human action is not bounded by labor form, but by corporativism. On the surface this links Gramsci’s thesis with that of Max Weber’s; however, given the conditions explained above, it also shows that Gramsci’s thinking is really at odds with a commitment to thinking reform within the concrete conditions of a historical epoch. In other words, the political categories of Gramscianism (war of position, hegemony, production) are undeniably more on the side of reaction rather than in the production of new reforms. Of course, his position is not even a Catholic reaction; since, as Carl Schmitt observed in Roman Catholicism and Political Form (1923), at least the Church offered formal institutionality as a response to the total electrification of the world, whether in the hands of the Soviets or the American financial elite. But, as we know, the theory of hegemony is also oblivious to the problem of institution and the concrete order. 

A New Priest: Notes on Gramsci’s Pre-Prison Writings. by Gerardo Muñoz

While reading the articles of the young Antonio Gramsci (penned from 1914 to 1920) it becomes evident that he was a keen observer of the historical and geopolitical reality of his time. Gramsci was a realist thinker but of a strange kind. The emphasis on “faith”, for instance, runs through the articles conforming a providential design of history. There are many “entities” that incarnate this providentialism: the Party, the transitional state, the proletarian culture, the organizational discipline, and the productionism of the working class. In fact, all of these subjects are vicarious and obedient to historical developmentalism. In a way, Gramsci appears as a “new Priest” (humanist, Hegelian, and providential) rather than a “new Prince” (Machiavellian, contigent, desicionist), which has become the gentle image through which he is remembered today. The 1914-1920 newspaper articles are filled with theological deposits, but I will limit these notes to three subdivisions, which do not exhaust other possible combinations.

  • The Party. The conception of the “Party” is understood by Gramsci in the same way that official authorities of the Church understood the providential mission; that is, as “the structure and platform” for salvation. But it is also a subjunctivizing apparatus that demands submission and supreme cohesion under a party-culture. For instance, in “Socialism and Culture” (1916) he writes: “Culture is something quite different. It is the organization, the discipling of one’s inner self; the mastery of one’s personality, the attainment of a higher awareness, through which come to understand our value and plea within history, our proper function in life, our rights and duties” (9-10). So, for Gramsci, it is through the energic investment with the Party that one “becomes master of oneself, assert one’s own identity, to enter from choke and become an agent of order, but of one’s own order, one’s own disciplined dedication to an ideal” (11). In the same way that official Church administered the “soul” through a regulatory exercise of “sin”; Gramsci’s conception of the Party is limited to an administration of “revolutionary energy” vis-à-vis discipline and sacrifice in the name of an objective ideal of “philosophy of history”.


  • Faith. The notion of faith in Gramsci is intimately intertwined with History. To have faith is to “transcend” the otherwise empty void of History. In this well-known theological conception, faith is the force to have true “objects of History”. The object here means two things: both the intention and “end” to carry forth the revolutionary process. But faith here is nothing like the “knight of faith” who stands beyond the ethical and universalist positions. On the contrary, faith is always a communal faith of believers, whose are the resilient militants of the communist idea. As Gramsci says clearly in “The Conquest of the State” (1919): “And it must be ensured that the men who are active in them are communist, aware of the revolutionary mission that their institution must fulfill. Otherwise all our enthusiasm and faith of the working classes will not be enough to prevent the revolution from degenerating wretchedly…” (114). Or as confirmed in “History” (1916): “Our religion becomes, once again, history. Our father becomes; one again, man’s will and his capacity for action” (14). We see the double movement produced by the apparatus of “faith”: it unifies under a command (the Party), but it also instantiates an objectification to cover the void of History. Indeed, “life without an end’ is a ‘life not worth living”, says Gramsci. This particular instrumentalization of faith legitimizes the struggle against the bourgeois cosmos.


  • Order. Throughout these articles the defense of order is quite explicit. It is in this point where Gramsci comes closer to upholding a political theology that transposes the principles of liberalism unto “socialism”. He writes in “Three Principles and Three Kinds of Political order” (1917): “And the socialist program is a concrete universal; it can be realized by the will. It is a principle of order, of socialist order” (25). There is never a substantive idea of “order”, in the same way that there is no clear “transformation” of the state once the state has been occupied and functional to “administrating”, “managerial”, “productive systematization”, “vertical planning’, and “coordinating functions” (“The Conquest of the State”, 113). Gramsci goes as far as to say that “the proletarian state is a process of development…a process of organization and propaganda” (114). And although he claims that it is not, the occupation of the state is a pure “thaumaturgic” act pushed by the community of believers. Isn’t someone like Álvaro García Linera today a faithful follower of this strategy?

So, in this early Gramsci I find a priest rather than a modern prince. A priest driven by a substantive and coordinated theological effort to establish a voluntarist and teleological dogma for historical change, which really does not differ much from the principles of modern Liberalism and its potestas indirecta. It is interesting that in the last issue (1977) of the mythical Italian journal L’erba Voglio, there is a small satirical portrait of Gramsci dressed as a bishop with pen in hand, which speaks to the theological garments of Gramscianism well into our days. But the problem is not theology; it is rather that it is a theology of submission organized around order, reproduction, and history as idols in the name of consented domination.

Finally, I could very well imagine that some could rebuttal these theological imprints by claiming that this is only early Gramsci, and that things change later on. I am not too sure about this. It seems that this heuristic claim is analogous to Kafka’s “Leopards in the Temple” parable. In other words, isolating an “early” from a “late” Gramsci becomes a general ceremony to save the philosopher in spite of himself. But this is a self-defeating maneuvering from the very start.



*Image source: from the magazine L’erba Voglio, N.30, 1977.

Teología transfigurada. Una aclaración a la conversación en “Dublineses”. Por Gerardo Muñoz

No quiero repetir aquí todos los hilos de la rica conversación que tuvimos ayer en la tarde con Ángel Octavio Álvarez Solís, Joseba Buj, Aldabi Olvera, y José Miguel Burgos Mazas en el programa “Dublineses” que se emite desde Radio Ibero (se podrá escuchar aquí el jueves a las 11pm ET). Tan solo quiero dejar un addendum sobre el tema de la teología, el cual surgió al final de la conversación y que puede generar algunas ambigüedades. Estas aclaraciones son solo mías, pero me interesará saber lo que piensen los otros amigos. Me refiero en particular a un momento en el que José Miguel dijo que pensar la crisis de la pandemia hoy requiere dejar atrás toda teología, y por lo tanto toda teología cristiana o católica, e imagino que judaica también. Yo anteriormente había dicho que en un momento de fragmentación del mundo y de creciente transformación en el orden mundial, crecen los arcanos y regresan los mitos fuertes.

En efecto, es lo que vemos en lo mejor del constitucionalismo norteamericano, así como en ciertos países del Europa. No hay dudas de que hay un timbre del viejo catolicismo romano que llega a nuestros oídos: ahí donde la maquinación ha adquirido una totalización extrema, reaparece la teología como orden concreto. Para Schmitt esto suponía el regreso político institucional de la Iglesia, por supuesto. Ángel no se equivocó en extrapolar esta dimensión a un problema antropológico de las instituciones, puesto que tanto neoliberalismo como el discurso moral de una “izquierda verde” carecen de una institucionalidad para el mundo de la vida.

Y, sin embargo, no es menos cierto que ya la Iglesia como “gran actor” contemporáneo en el tablero mundial no tiene un peso significativo. Su misión se limita a un débil pasteo moral ahora vestido de franciscanismo “mundializado” (la expresión es de Massimo Faggioli). Pero conviene preguntar: ¿se agota la teología en la estructura eclesiástica? Yo diría que no, al contrario. Quizás estemos ante una impronta teológica fuerte que nos permite pensar la morada del mundo desde el afuera del dogma, pero también más allá del pastoreo, de las descargas del pecado, y de la oikonomia. Esto es, una teología del jardín contra toda posibilidad de una nueva administración del rebaño por viejos teólogos y nuevos sacerdotes políticos.

En su Autorretrato en el estudio (2016), Agamben reescribe una conversación con el poeta español José Bergamín, quien en una ocasión le dijo: “Dios no es monopolio de los sacerdotes y que, como la salvación, es extra Ecclesiam…no es posible hallar la verdad si primero no se sale de la situación – o de la institución – que nos impide el acceso. El filósofo debe convertirse en extranjero respecto de su ciudad. Extra es el lugar del pensamiento” (46). Si la teología facilita la búsqueda de ese afuera – y de ese “afuera” con respeto al mundo (y contra la metrópoli), del que hemos estado hablando – pues bienvenida sea. Es obvio que esta teología ya no es compensatoria de un espíritu comunitarista ni arcanum de la conflictividad humana, sino solo sombra contemplativa y melodía serena. Por eso su figura no es el Reino ni el Imperio, sino el belén. Esta es mi tesis.

Esta marca teológica ya no es providencialista en su temporalidad, sino que es más bien una transfiguración en el espacio. Me parece que Hölderlin – que probablemente haya sido quien más profundamente experimentó esa “fuga de los dioses” de lo profano – lo condensa en un momento de sus “Notas sobre Antígona”: “Padre del tiempo, o: padre de la tierra, porque su carácter es, contra la eterna tendencia, volver el aspirar, partiendo de este mundo, al otro en un aspirar, a partir de otro mundo, a éste” (147). Esta sustancia “aórgica” le devuelve al hombre el sentido telúrico y el recuerdo inmoral del suave vivir de los paganos (lo confirma la ecfrástica de un pequeño San José pensativo que vi el año pasado en la entrada de la Iglesia de Santo Domingo, en Soria). En efecto, si queremos evitar nuevos titanismos desaforados, no debemos denegar a la teología. Ahora es importante transfigurarla.






Giorgio Agamben. Autorretrato en el estudio. Buenos Aires: Adriana Hidalgo editora, 2018.

Friedrich Hölderlin. “Notas sobre Antígona”, en Ensayos, ed. Felipe Martínez Marzoa. Madrid: Libros Hiperión.

*Imagen: detalle del arco de la catedral de Santo Domingo, Soria. La imagen es mía. Verano de 2019.