Antonio Gramsci was born in Ales, Sardina, in 1891. Although born into poverty he was extremely intelligent and in 1911 won a scholarship to Turin University. While a student in Italy Gramsci became involved in politics. He joined the Italian Socialist Party in 1914 and inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution he took an active part in the workers' occupation of factories in 1918.

Gramsci was disillusioned by the unwillingness of the Italian Socialist Party to advocate revolutionary struggle. Encouraged by Vladimir Lenin and the Comintern, Gramsci joined with Palmiro Togliatti to form the Italian Communist Party in 1921.

Gramsci visited the Soviet Union in 1922 and two years later became leader of the communists in parliament. An outspoken critic of Benito Mussolini and his fascist government, he was arrested and imprisoned in 1928.

While in prison Gramsci wrote a huge collection of essays which later established his reputation as one of the most important radical theorists since Karl Marx. In his essays he criticized those who had turned Marxism into a closed system, with immutable laws. He argued that the collapse of capitalism and its replacement with socialism was not inevitable and disagreed with Lenin that revolution could be brought about by a small, dedicated minority. While this worked in a backward country such as Russia in 1917 he doubted it would be successful in more advanced countries in Europe.

In his writings Gramsci emphasized the importance of the way the ruling class controlled institutions such as the press, radio and trade unions. Gramsci believed that the only way the power of the state could be overthrown was when the majority of the workers desired revolution.

Antonio Gramsci died in prison in 1937. His book, Prison Notebooks, was published in 1947 and his theories, that advocated persuasion, consent and doctrinal flexibility, had a major influence on left-wing radicals in post-war Europe.

I hate the indifferent. I believe that living means taking sides. Those who really live cannot help being a citizen and a partisan. Indifference and apathy are parasitism, perversion, not life. That is why I hate the indifferent.

The indifference is the deadweight of history. The indifference operates with great power on history. The indifference operates passively, but it operates. It is fate, that which cannot be counted on. It twists programs and ruins the best-conceived plans. It is the raw material that ruins intelligence. That what happens, the evil that weighs upon all, happens because the human mass abdicates to their will; allows laws to be promulgated that only the revolt could nullify, and leaves men that only a mutiny will be able to overthrow to achieve the power.

The mass ignores because it is careless and then it seems like it is the product of fate that runs over everything and everyone: the one who consents as well as the one who dissents; the one who knew as well as the one who didn’t know; the active as well as the indifferent. Some whimper piously, others curse obscenely, but nobody, or very few ask themselves: If I had tried to impose my will, would this have happened?

I also hate the indifferent because of that: because their whimpering of eternally innocent ones annoys me. I make each one liable: how they have tackled with the task that life has given and gives them every day, what have they done, and especially, what they have not done. And I feel I have the right to be inexorable and not squander my compassion, of not sharing my tears with them. I am a partisan, I am alive, I feel the pulse of the activity of the future city that those on my side are building is alive in their conscience. And in it, the social chain does not rest on a few; nothing of what happens in it is a matter of luck, nor the product of fate, but the intelligent work of the citizens. Nobody in it is looking from the window of the sacrifice and the drain of a few. Alive, I am a partisan.

That is why I hate the ones that don’t take sides, I hate the indifferent.

Indifference is actually the mainspring of history. But in a negative sense. What comes to pass, either the evil that afflicts everyone, or the possible good brought about by an act of general valour, is due not so much to the initiative of the active few, as to the indifference, the absenteeism of the many. What comes to pass does so not so much because a few people want it to happen, as because the mass of citizens abdicate their responsibility and let things be. They allow the knots to form that in time only a sword will be able to cut through; they let men rise to power whom in time only a mutiny will overthrow. The fatality that seems to dominate history is precisely the illusory appearance of this indifference, of this absenteeism. Events are hatched off-stage in the shadows; unchecked hands weave the fabric of collective life – and the masses know nothing. The destinies of an epoch are manipulated in the interests of narrow horizons, of the immediate ends of small groups of activists – and the mass of citizens know nothing.

But eventually the events that are hatched come out into the open; the fabric woven in the shadows is completed, and then it seems that fatality overwhelms everything and everybody. It seems that history is nothing but an immense natural phenomenon, an eruption, an earthquake, and that we are all its victims, both those who wanted it to happen as well as those who did not, those who knew it would happen and those who did not, those who were active and those who were indifferent. And then it is the indifferent ones who get angry, who wish to dissociate themselves from the consequences, who want it made known that they did not want it so and hence bear no responsibility. And while some whine piteously, and others howl obscenely, few people, if any, ask themselves this question: had I done my duty as a man, had I sought to make my voice heard, to impose my will, would what came to pass have ever happened? But few people, if any, see their indifference as a fault – their scepticism, their failure to give moral and material support to those political and economic groups that were struggling either to avoid a particular evil or to promote a particular good. Instead such people prefer to speak of the failure of ideas, of the definitive collapse of programmes, and other like niceties. They continue in their inindifference and their scepticism. (August, 1916).


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