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Feelbad Britain

Beyond Feelbad Britain

Links to Antonio Gramsci

Contemporary pieces

1970s articles

Gramscian politics
in 70s and 80s




Gramscian politics in the 1970s and 1980s

The political writings of  Gramsci only came to be widely known in Britain from the late 1960s as his work began to be translated. There were a number of theoretical and historical expositions but it took some time before his ideas began to influence even the fringes of political agents. One of the first of these was inside the British Communist Party, in particular amongst a group of economists who were challenging the orthodox line of the Communist Party as well as most militant trade unionists as to the origins of inflation. This was emerging as a major economic issue as is described in an accompanying paper. The key assertion of the dissident group and one which was most clearly informed by a Gramscian perspective was that orthodox left policy failed to recognise that the organised working class had achieved a position of real power inside Britain which meant that it had to take some responsibility for the economic problems of the time. In contrast, the orthodox line was that Britain’s acute economic problems were entirely the responsibility of the ruling class whose overthrow would be achieved by tightening the screw over wage demands and increasing public expenditure. The first lengthy presentation of this was in a pamphlet published in 1974 written by Bill Warren and Michael Prior, Advanced Capitalism and Backward Socialism. The specific problem of inflation had been tackled in the same year by Pat Devine in an article in Marxism Today entitled The Conflict Theory of Inflation.

A more developed and explicit account of a Gramscian approach to the British political crisis was written by David Purdy and Michael Prior. Originally circulated in ‘samizdat’ form within circles in and around the Communist Party, it was published by Spokesman Press in 1979 under the title Out of the Ghetto.
By 1979, the British political crisis had developed to the point of the election of a right-wing Conservative government. The left largely failed to recognise the critical importance of this government, treating it as a re-run of the election in 1970 when a Conservative government had tried and failed to grapple with Britain’s economic problems with the framework of the post-war settlement. The importance of the new Thatcher government was seen by one Gramscian political analyst, Stuart Hall, who began to publish a series of expositions on the new Conservative regime. The first of these was The Great Moving Right Show. Whereas the writing reproduced above tended towards economic analysis and to focus on the problems of the left, Hall began from a base of cultural studies and focussed upon the new right, in particular on their ideological offensive. He wrote regularly for Marxism Today in the subsequent decade, articles which can be read on the Amiel Trust web-site which is linked in our links-page. His analysis of the 1987 election, Blue Election, Election Blues which resulted in a third defeat for Labour is shown here. Finally, in 1987, he wrote on the relevance of Gramscian ideas for contemporary politics, Gramsci and Us, in an article which is still very relevant to current politics.