Antonio Gramsci was a leader of the Communist Party of Italy in the early 20th century. The Fascists and the Communists struggled for control of that country and Benito Mussolini’s Fascists eventually prevailed. A couple years after Mussolini rose to power, Gramsci was imprisoned where he remained for the last ten years of his life. It was during this time that Gramsci formulated a strategy to overthrow western Capitalism:
Gramsci called for a methodical approach to infiltrate, capture, and reform education, the press, the cinema, theatre, the government, and the church, what he called “the long march through the institutions.” He said Capitalism had a cultural hegemony through violence and coercion, both political and economic, but also ideologically, which is where the battle lay.
I will return to his flawed premise that “Capitalism had a cultural hegemony through violence and coercion” later. First, I’ll illuminate how Gramsci’s subversion of Western institutions was implemented because the damage that has followed is still with us today.
The efforts of those that came after Gramsci to foster the ideas of Communism have seeded western institutions with Progressive memes–a meme is the cultural analogue of a biological gene; it’s a concept or idea that traces through a segment of society. Memes are not inherently right or wrong, but rather they are a tool in the battle of ideas. Gramsci’s intellectual progeny cultivated leftist, socialist, progressive, and communist memes in their battle with the classical, western liberal ideals. The vectors for these intellectual viruses vary, but there use against the United States has been routine for quite some time. In 2006 Eric S. Raymond summarized that history in an article titled Gramscian damage:
…ideological and memetic warfare has been a favored tactic for all of America’s three great adversaries of the last hundred years — Nazis, Communists, and Islamists. All three put substantial effort into cultivating American proxies to influence U.S. domestic policy and foreign policy in favorable directions. Yes, the Nazis did this, through organizations like the “German-American Bund” that was outlawed when World War II went hot. Today, the Islamists are having some success at manipulating our politics through fairly transparent front organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
But it was the Soviet Union, in its day, that was the master of this game. They made dezinformatsiya (disinformation) a central weapon of their war against “the main adversary”, the U.S. They conducted memetic subversion against the U.S. on many levels at a scale that is only now becoming clear as historians burrow through their archives and ex-KGB officers sell their memoirs.
The Soviets had an entire “active measures” department devoted to churning out anti-American dezinformatsiya. A classic example is the rumor that AIDS was the result of research aimed at building a ‘race bomb’ that would selectively kill black people.
The Soviets consciously followed the Gramscian prescription; they pursued a war of position, subverting the “leading elements” of society through their agents of influence. (See, for example, Stephen Koch’s Double Lives: Stalin, Willi Munzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals; summary by Koch here) This worked exactly as expected; their memes seeped into Western popular culture and are repeated endlessly in (for example) the products of Hollywood.
While the espionage apparatus of the Soviet Union didn’t outlast it, their memetic weapons did.
Those memetic weapons continue to disrupt the institutions that Gramsci originally targeted. Those seeds of Soviet socialism continue to propagate and sprout within America’s institutions. The latest example of Gramscian damage has been found in America’s heartland in the University of Missouri. This past Monday morning Publius at Big Government posted video of a union leader and professor teaching a how-to course about violent union tactics. By noon Monday a second video detailing violent union tactics was released.
The courses in question, Introduction to Labor Studies and Labor Politics and Society, are taught across multiple campuses with a video connection. The university has acknowledged that they are “reviewing the entire unedited tape of the class.” Perhaps the university should release that unedited tape.
P. J. Salvatore at Big Journalism noted the videos as well as the Gramscian damage that plagues America’s media institutions:
Considering the fair coverage the unions received in Madison and how the media refused to cover the violent behavior and death threats union supporters used against peaceful dissenters, how do you think this story will play out in MSM, if at all?
It wont play out (without your help). In fact, one of the professors, Judy Ancel, had an op-ed in the Kansas City Star Monday evening: ‘Right to work’ legislation in Missouri would hurt everyone. So expect the MSM to ignore and suppress this story.
The irony of Gramsci’s premise that Capitalism is rooted in violence and coercion is complete as we see the institutions teaching, threatening, and whitewashing violence. To say that Gramsci missed his mark is to understate the obvious.
The reality is that citizen journalists and upstart websites are repairing the Gramscian damage that’s been done to our media. Within our educational institution that work is being done by some of the institutions themselves. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers 2000 open access, online courses. Perhaps the University of Missouri should follow the lead of MIT and put all of their courses online. There is one company, The Great Courses, explicitly capitalizing on the best professors around the world by selling their lectures on DVD. I highly recommend the weekly EconTalk podcasts from George Mason economics professor Russ Roberts. And there are the remarkable presentations and lectures from TED. Excellence in education is being pioneered online, but underneath these advances in higher education, there is a growing and vibrant community of homeschoolers training students from pre-K through high school. The necessity of educating one’s own children has fostered this immune response to the Gramscian memes that have infected our government schools.
Tuesday morning, Dan Riehl noted the tax payer money going to the University of Missouri:
…one might ponder why hardworking American taxpayers are forced to fund an institution touting a course in how to undermine America, both at home and abroad – including in Iraq and Afghanistan while we’re at war – to the tune of 400 Million dollars.
In an era of tight government finances the process of pruning the Gramscian damage must be aggressive. The private sector alternatives like The Great Courses are modestly priced and often of greater quality. The free, online alternatives are often excellent, too. That is why I believe that Antonio Gramsci’s “long march through the institutions” may very well burst the education bubble as more and more people flee failed government-funded education for the private sector or free online courses.