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Hegemony, Counter Hegemony & Gramsci’s War of Position

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Published on: March 7, 2021

I believe any serious attempt to fight the illogic of the left, requires a thorough understanding of their worldview and its origins. It is easy to say that the Democrats are pushing a Marxist strategy, and the intense focus on race and white supremacy, for example, attempt to divide and conquer, if you will. Marxism itself focused on a class struggle between the proletariat and bourgeoisie to eradicate capitalism and take the means of production from the owing class and hand it to the workers. Socialists believed their revolution would topple the capitalist system, however, they had to admit defeat in their strategy of class struggle because capitalism has endured the many revolutions fought to take it down (Baeg Im, 1991). A new strategy was needed, one that would build on the idea of class warfare but go beyond the mere focus of economic oppression.

Antonio Gramsci was an Italian communist who had realized the failures of Marx’s class struggle strategy. His work picked up where those failures left off, bringing new life to the idea of social revolution. Because communism is a failed system, there is a lack of a “guiding narrative” (Carroll & Ratner, 1994) that can unite the various social movements fighting oppressive economic conditions. It was no longer sufficient to put the rich against the poor. They needed a unifying principle that would unite people of all social movements under one banner. Social movements existing as independent groups fighting for their own rights, as far as Gramsci was concerned, was a losing strategy (Carroll & Ratner, 1994). Destroying capitalism requires more than targeting the economics that drives it. The very social structure which upholds it must be the focus. The left’s rampant use of not only racism but sexism, homo and transphobia, and any other ‘ism that is now a part of this strategy, is because of Antonio Gramsci’s views on counter-hegemony.

Counter-hegemony is a strategy that seeks to undermine the dominant cultural system. Whereas the original idea of class struggle focused on the economics of the have’s and have nots, counter-hegemony focuses on various social movements and their discontent with the ruling social structure (Carroll & Ratner, 1994). It is a theory that is applied anywhere there are different cultural beliefs living under one ideology. Hegemony can best be best described as various social groups existing and exercising their so-called rights in accordance with guidelines set by the ruling class. From the socialists’ point of view, capitalist societies suppress and force consent from the working classes under a system they are powerless to change (Carroll & Ratner, 1994). This is not true of course, capitalism lifts people out of poverty and enables individuals to have more independent control over their own lives.

In America, white supremacy has become the hegemonic system in which all social groups are now united in defeating. White culture allegedly forces the assimilation of social groups into compliance with capitalism (Baeg Im, 1991). It is the delegitimization of these groups, under the oppressive thumb of white supremacist culture, in which a counter-hegemonic effort is organized. Gramsci envisioned a new social movement where all subaltern groups, under the guise of pushing for a new socialist system, could unite against the one dominant ideology as their common obstacle (Baeg Im, 1991). Economics no longer mattered because wealth accumulation is a value forced upon everyone because of white supremacism. All subcultures in America ranging from the feminist movement to the trans movement are claiming to be oppressed because of white supremacy. Each group is a movement all its own, however, their common grievance is the white man, because the white man is the majority. To defeat capitalism in America is to break white hegemony. This is the result of Gramsci’s work.

How do you break white hegemony in a nation rooted in white supremacism? Gramsci described two strategies he called the war of movement and the war of position (Baeg Im, 1991). The war of movement is a direct frontal offensive against the dominant system based on the principles of “iron economic determinism” (Baeg Im, 1991). This is the idea that the crisis of capitalism would lead to the inevitable revolution where the workers would assume control of production. War of position, on the other hand, was much more elusive, therefore, it was the preferred strategy. This is where the term deconstruct, we hear so often comes from. The left is always insisting that they deconstruct white privilege, or they must deconstruct the trans-phobic system of capitalism. The idea of deconstruction suggests that a new social hegemony is being constructed, leading to and aiding in the deconstruction of the existing power base.

“The destruction of mass political and economic base of the bourgeois hegemony can and must be achieved by the construction of its own mass political and economic base through the alliance with anti-capitalist national popular forces. In other words, the disarticulation of the bourgeois historical bloc has to be made through the articulation of proletarian historical bloc; and the detachment of traditional intellectuals from the bourgeois ruling bloc by the development of organic intellectuals.” (Baeg Im, 1991)

To put it in simpler terms, the war of position involves building a new hegemony, in anticipation of the inevitable crisis, that can effortlessly assume power when the existing power base crumbles. This is what is meant when they say they are deconstructing white privilege, for example. The counter-hegemonic movement must be constructed and ready to assume power before the existing base is fully deconstructed (Baeg Im, 1991). Therefore, every aspect of our society is now dominated by racial and cultural issues. Marxism, while the original driving force behind social change movements, failed to take a hold of the perspective in which it was applied. Gramsci realized that capitalism was too resilient as a system and it was the social structure behind it that needed to be torn down. Groups needed to be organized around a concept, or an idea that brought them together.

“Various social groups composing a counter-hegemonic bloc can find the commonality of interests in such a broadened vision of socialism. Then the counter-hegemonic project is not reduced to the construction of a simple coalition among different social groups, each of whom has its own autonomous interests, but a unified project integrating the various social groups into a cohesive, unified social subject, that is, the formation of “national-popular collective.” (Baeg Im, 1991)

One avenue in which the dominant power structure is being broken down, and the war of position being waged, is mathematics education. Math, according to the left, is a system that enforces a dominant power structure, defining power in terms of students’ ability to solve math problems that were devised by this dominant system (Jacobson, 1999). Mastery of mathematics is also viewed by the left as a driving force behind social movements. (Jacobson, 1999) , therefore, if they believe minority students are not as capable of performing mathematics which is dominated by the white hegemonic system, they are being denied power.

According to Jacobson (1999) mathematics plays a hegemonic role in society because it upholds what the left views as the myth of meritocracy. This is the idea that students either pass or fail based on their own efforts. The left argues that math is racist because the white hegemonic system is forcing its own standards on minorities, who, in the opinions of the left, are not as capable of performing them because of cultural differences. Therefore, if minority students are to have a fair chance, they must deconstruct white mathematics. This relates to Gramsci’s theory of counter-hegemony because he saw the education system creating the type of man that would accept his own oppression by complying with the terms of capitalist society (Baeg Im, 1991).

Another area of education that has been described as racist and a system that supports white hegemony is the English language itself. In an article entitled “The English-only movement in the US and the world in the twenty-first century” it is implied that the English language is used to oppress minorities and keep them from “accessing America” (Pac, 2012). Furthermore, the author of this article is asserting that the English language is and was enforced as a national language by elitists who feared the language of other minority populations and the possibility that they may assert dominance (Pac, 2012).

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