Antonio Gramsci currently stands out as one of the very few Marxists whose influence has not declined since 1989. According to the online GRAMSCI BIBLIOGRAPHY (which can be accessed through the website of the Fondazione Istituto Gramsci) about 7,000 publications on Gramsci have appeared worldwide since 1989, including new editions and translations of his writings. This figure approximately corresponds to one third of all the works published on Gramsci since 1922, the total number now nearing 20,000. Statistically speaking, this means that every day, somewhere in the world, somebody publishes something on Gramsci. His influence ranges from literary criticism to social sciences, from international relations to language studies, not to mention disciplinary fields where his legacy has traditionally played a central role, such as political theory, philosophy and historiography.

Recent publications of special importance include historical research into Gramsci’s life, as well as philological and interpretative work on his writings [1]. It is vital that the results of this research circulate widely, if the current international trend to use and apply Gramsci’s legacy is to be based on sufficient awareness, and a full appreciation, of new documents and interpretations. New editions of Gramsci’s writings have been published during the last two decades, including new editions of his letters [2]. These include previously unpublished material, which in many cases has not yet been translated into English. The letters which Gramsci’s correspondents wrote to each other have also been published [3], making it possible to reconstruct the immediate context of Gramsci’s LETTERS FROM PRISON. A new edition of Gramsci’s PRISON NOTEBOOKS began to appear in 2007 with the publication of the translations that Gramsci carried out while in prison [4]. Finally, as a companion to Gramsci’s writings, and also as the culmination of the most advanced, specialised analyses of those writings, the Italian section of the International Gramsci Society has recently published the DIZIONARIO GRAMSCIANO [5]. A collective work by scholars of different nationalities and areas of expertise, this Gramsci dictionary reconstructs the meaning of the most important terms that appear in his writings. Through its over 600 entries, it illustrates in great detail the richness and internal development of Gramsci’s thought.

Though many more could be mentioned, I shall not continue with a mere list of publications. Instead, I would like to focus on the periods that Gramsci spent in Soviet Russia, where he lived from June 1922 up until the end of November 1923, and again in March-April 1925 [6]. For quite a long time, it was generally believed that Gramsci had spent most of his time in Russia recovering from physical and mental exhaustion. Indeed he was for a while in a sanatorium near Moscow, where he met Eugenia Schucht and her sister, Giulia, who would become his wife. But later research has provided new information, presenting Gramsci as being more active and more in contact with Soviet political and cultural life than was previously thought [7]. Gramsci participated in the activities of the Communist International. He travelled to a number of Russian cities and gave public speeches and lectures. He also learnt Russian, as is confirmed by the fact that at the end of 1923 he was able to undertake an Italian translation of a Russian commentary to THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO [8].

In 1922 the Communist International decided to take part in the trial of the Socialist Revolutionaries, and on June 8 Gramsci was “appointed as political defender of L.V. Konopleva” [9] – a prominent SR, whose name has been linked to the 1918 attempted assassination of Lenin [10]. Moreover, archive research by the Italian historian Gabriele Nissim has revealed that, while in Russia, Gramsci tried to help Gino De Marchi – an Italian communist who had lost the esteem of Italian comrades in the party, and was being persecuted by the Soviet authorities. Nissim discusses this episode at length in a recent book [11], thus adding relevant information to our knowledge of such a key topic as Gramsci’s experience of – and stance on – the Soviet regime.

Concerning this phase of Gramsci’s life, other documents have become available thanks to the work that Gramsci’s Russian grandson has been conducting on his own family archive. Antonio Gramsci Jr. is the son of Giuliano, the second of the two sons of Giulia Schucht and Antonio Gramsci. A well-educated multilingual family, the Schuchts actively participated in the cultural and political life of early Soviet Russia, and were personally acquainted with leading Bolsheviks. Eugenia Schucht worked as secretary to Lenin’s wife, Nadezhda K. Krupskaia. Apollon Schucht – Gramsci’s father-in-law – and Lenin were very close friends, and had gone through similar experiences as political activists and opponents of the Tsarist regime, including years of residence abroad as political émigrés (in Switzerland, France and Italy, in the Schuchts’ case).

Among the documents that have recently been published by Gramsci’s grandson, it is worth mentioning the transcription that Gramsci’s wife made of one of the speeches he gave in Russia. This is the most salient passage: “Young, mature and old [in terms of political views, not of their age] elements live in society at the same time. In accordance with this coexistence, we see that radical, liberal, conservative and absolutist parties also coexist. The parties which prevail are those which are closest to the people’s personality and temperament. The existence of all these different political parties is inevitable. In its life, the State should adjust to the balance of forces created by these parties. Sensible politicians, even when fighting against them, should not try completely to annihilate any of these parties, because such a goal is impenetrable and its accomplishment would only push the disease back inside the system” [12].

Gramsci probably gave this speech in 1922. At the time he felt the need to limit the validity of his statements. That is, he confined their pertinence to the life and workings of the bourgeois State, before the working class made its revolution. In this phase of his life, Gramsci was still firmly convinced that the transfer of the means of economic production and distribution from the hands of Russian capitalists to those of the Russian proletariat had created the conditions for the disappearance of class conflicts, and therefore of different political parties. Nonetheless, in this speech we find expressed a typically Gramscian concept, which would appear again in the PRISON NOTEBOOKS: imposed political unity is often an exterior form of integration, which does not bring about the progressive potential of real unification; real unification, instead, will only be achieved once historical developments and political action have created the necessary conditions for its achievement. Years later, when this concept appeared again in Gramsci’s prison notes, it acquired a much more universal value, and was then used by Gramsci to criticise the results of the Russian Revolution itself.

While in a fascist prison, Gramsci would still present parliamentary democracy as a formal arrangement that does not necessarily guarantee the effective mobility of citizens “from the led groups to the leading group” [13]. As a communist, he was willing to move beyond bourgeois parliamentarism and create a new society, including new forms of political representation, with which to replace capitalist societies. Yet, as Gramsci observed in NOTEBOOK 14, “it is impossible to abolish […] parliamentarism, without radically abolishing its content, individualism, and this in its precise meaning of ‘individual appropriation’ of profit and of economic initiative for capitalist and individual profit” [14]. Evidently, Stalin’s regime was far from accomplishing this epochal goal. Rather than sanctioning the composition of conflicts and ultimate unification of society, an event such as the exclusion of Trotsky from power was in fact a “symptom (or prediction) of the intensification of struggles” [15]. With reference to Stalin’s ruthless repression of opponents, Gramsci went on to conclude that when “a struggle can be resolved legally, it is certainly not dangerous; it becomes so precisely when the legal equilibrium is recognised to be impossible. (Which does not mean that by abolishing the barometer one can abolish bad weather)” [16].

The overall importance of the scholarship I have summarised in the previous paragraphs should be almost self-evident. Research into the links, similarities, and differences between Gramsci and Soviet communism can greatly contribute to delineating the originality of the former. Going back to what I said at the beginning, this research can also help to explain why Gramsci’s legacy has remained considerably more influential than that of most other Marxists of his time.


[1] See, e.g., D. Boothman, THE SOURCES FOR GRAMSCI’S CONCEPT OF HEGEMONY, “Rethinking Marxism”, 20, 2, 2008, pp. 201-15; F. Frosini, LA RELIGIONE DELL’UOMO MODERNO: POLITICA E VERITÀ NEI QUADERNI DEL CARCERE DI ANTONIO GRAMSCI, Rome, Carocci, 2010; GRAMSCI NEL SUO TEMPO, ed. F. Giasi, Rome, Carocci, 2008; A. Rossi and G. Vacca, GRAMSCI TRA MUSSOLINI E STALIN, Rome, Fazi, 2007; P. Thomas, THE GRAMSCIAN MOMENT: PHILOSOPHY, HEGEMONY AND MARXISM, Leiden-Boston, Brill, 2009.

[2] LETTERE 1908-1926, ed. A.A. Santucci, Turin, Einaudi, 1992; LETTERE DAL CARCERE, ed. A.A. Santucci, Palermo, Sellerio, 1996; A. Gramsci and T. Schucht, LETTERE 1926-1935, Turin, Einaudi, 1997; A. Gramsci, EPISTOLARIO, Volume 1: GENNAIO 1906-DICEMBRE 1922, ed. D. Bidussa et al., Rome, Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 2010.

[3] T. Schucht, LETTERE AI FAMILIARI, Rome, Editori Riuniti, 1991; P. Sraffa, LETTERE A TANIA PER GRAMSCI, Rome, Editori Riuniti, 1991.

[4] A. Gramsci, QUADERNI DEL CARCERE, Volume 1: QUADERNI DI TRADUZIONI (1929-1932), ed. G. Cospito and G. Francioni, Rome, Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 2007.

[5] DIZIONARIO GRAMSCIANO 1926-1937, ed. G. Liguori and P. Voza, Rome, Carocci, 2009.

[6] This part of Gramsci’s life was not only significant for the development of his strictly-defined political views, but also for the development of many of his cultural interests – including his ideas on language, as I have argued in GRAMSCI AND SAUSSURE: SIMILARITIES AND POSSIBLE LINKS, “Isonomia”, 2010.

[7] I.V. Grigor’eva, ROSSIISKIE STRANITSY BIOGRAFII ANTONIO GRAMSHI (1922-1926 GG.) PO DOKUMENTAM ARKHIVA KOMINTERNA, “Rossiia i Italiia”, vypusk 3: XX vek, 1998, pp. 96-123; A. Gramsci Jr., LA FAMIGLIA SCHUCHT, “Italianieuropei”, 7, 2, 2007, pp. 200-12.

[8] See A. Gramsci, IL RIVOLUZIONARIO QUALIFICATO. SCRITTI 1916-1925, ed. C. Morgia, Rome, Delotti, 1988, pp. 61-208 (cf. LETTERE 1908-1926, p. 148 ff).

[9] CRONOLOGIA, in EPISTOLARIO, Vol. 1: GENNAIO 1906-DICEMBRE 1922, p. 433. Translation mine. Cf. G. Somai, SUL RAPPORTO TRA TROCKIJ, GRAMSCI E BORDIGA, “Storia contemporanea”, 13, 1, 1982, pp. 73-98 (p. 88).

[10] See V. Serge, YEAR ONE OF THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION, trans. and ed. P. Sedgwick, London, Allen Lane, 1972 (but written in the late 1920s, and first published in 1930), pp. 285-88; A. Vaksberg, LE LABORATOIRE DES POISONS, trans. L. Jurgenson, Paris, Gallimard, 2008, pp. 22-24. In fact, in the 1922 trial Lydia V. Konopleva was not part of the group that “included the real accused”: she was in a second group, whose “task now was to confess their crimes and to incriminate the accused of the first group” (M. Jansen, A SHOW TRIAL UNDER LENIN: THE TRIAL OF THE SOCIALIST REVOLUTIONARIES, MOSCOW 1922, The Hague-Boston-London, Nijhoff, 1982, pp. 53-54).

[11] UNA BAMBINA CONTRO STALIN, Milan, Mondadori, 2007.

[12] In A. Gramsci Jr., LA RUSSIA DI MIO NONNO, Rome, L’Unità-Fondazione Istituto Gramsci, 2008, pp. 70-71. Translation mine. A revised and enlarged edition of Gramsci Jr’s book has recently appeared: I MIEI NONNI NELLA RIVOLUZIONE, Rome, Edizioni Riformiste, 2010, pp. 59-60.

[13] A. Gramsci, QUADERNI DEL CARCERE, ed. V. Gerratana, Turin, Einaudi, 1975, p. 1056. Translation mine.

[14] QUADERNI DEL CARCERE, p. 1742. English translation in SELECTIONS FROM THE PRISON NOTEBOOKS, ed. and trans. Q. Hoare and G. Nowell Smith, London, Lawrence and Wishart, 1971, p. 255.