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An internationalism that should not be nationalistic

POPULISM / Antonio Gramsci would have united self-righteousness and internationalism. MODERN TIMES talks to philosopher Diego Fusaro in connection with a new Norwegian release.


Italian Diego Fusaro is professor of philosophy at the IASSP research institute in Milan. He is one of the foremost Gramsci experts in his home country, and has published several books and articles on Antonio Gramsci. As a philosopher, he himself considers Gramsci among his most important sources of inspiration, along with Hegel, Marx and Giovanni Gentile. Fusaro actively participates in the social debate in Italy, and has marked himself as a system critic who is particularly critical of globalized capitalism.

- Gramsci criticized Anglo-American capitalism, but at the same time was not without admiration for the modernity that existed in the United States and the United Kingdom. How can we explain this seemingly ambivalent attitude to the capitalist world?

Diego Fusaro

- Gramsci saw capitalism as something negative, but at the same time also as something positive, in a dialectical way. So it was with Marx. Capitalism brought with it exploitation, suffering and barbarism, but also technological development, advances in production and much more. There is a duality here that we also find in "Prison Records", where Gramsci wrote a lot about Americanism and "Fordism". On the one hand, Gramsci saw all the problems of "Fordism", but he also saw that in a way it approached socialism. This is the classic Marxist ambiguity when it comes to capitalism and modernity, where the positive thing is that human power and the power of technology are liberated. That said, I would also like to say that Gramsci had greater respect for agriculture in Italy than other Marxists. This is something that exists in Gramsci and that I have not seen in the same way in any other Marxist. Gramsci thought it was important to value the simple life. He criticized the intellectuals because they did not have contact with the people, and this is a current issue also in our time. According to Gramsci, there should be a close relationship between the intellectuals and the people, and he wrote that it was a problem that the intellectuals felt that they were closer to Aristotle than the farm workers from Calabria.

- What would Gramsci have said about the current political situation in Europe?

- He would have said that today there are two alternatives, both of which in reality are fictitious. On the one hand we have cosmopolitan liberalism, and on the other we have nationalism à la Le Pen or Salvini. Gramsci wanted an internationalism that should not be nationalistic, but neither cosmopolitan nor liberal. He wanted to unite autonomy and internationalism, that is, populism and cooperation between democratic states. He would have chosen a third option, and not one of the two we have to choose from today. He would certainly have broken with the EU, not to return to nation-states that are at war with each other, but to open up a community of socialist states in close cooperation with each other.

Gramsci was the most important intellectual in Italy in the 1900th century

- What does populism today have to do with Gramsci's ideas?

- Gramsci was genuinely concerned with the people, and in "Prison Records" the people was a topic he kept coming back to. The national-popular was a central concept for him, and he wrote, among other things, about the popular literature. The goal was to get the people to play the main role in the story and to get out of the passivity they had always been doomed to. In that way we can say that he was a populist, a communist populist, we might say.

- Should we be afraid of the so-called populism today?

- Populism today is first and foremost a demand from the people to enter the political scene. It is about the dissatisfaction of the lowest social strata in the face of globalized capitalism. That is, populism itself is neither positive nor negative, for it is a feeling, and therefore it can also take very different forms. It can go in a democratic or communist direction, as Gramsci would have wanted, but it can also go in the direction that German Nazism went in, and then it is of course negative. It is important to interpret populism, and to assess whether it is democratic. I tend to say that the nation state can be democratic, but the economy without politics can never be democratic. Therefore, the populist element is fundamental to breaking down liberal cosmopolitanism, which is the people's main enemy today.

- When it comes to Italian politics today, is it correct to say that Matteo Salvini's Lega is a populist party?

- Yes, it is a populist party in the sense that it interprets the dissatisfaction of the classes oppressed by the globalized system. The traditional left-wing parties in Italy are completely deaf when it comes to populism. When they hear words like populism or autonomy, they immediately start shouting fascism. Gramsci had never reacted that way. He would never have branded the people fascists if the people had wanted a greater degree of national autonomy. As for the Lega, they have understood that these tendencies exist in the people, and know how to exploit the situation to their advantage. But their political program is not socialist, and the worst thing about the Lega as I see it is their foreign policy. The party has completely subordinated itself to the United States.

The traditional left-wing parties in Italy are completely deaf when it comes to populism.

- What is the most important thing we can learn from Antonio Gramsci today?

- The general critique of capitalism, the importance of anchoring politics in the national-popular, the appreciation of culture and the importance of understanding that the revolution does not come by itself, but that change is something that must be organized through politics and culture. The reaction to mechanical fatalism is also important, as is the non-economic policy, ie the importance of looking at politics as something that should not always be subordinate to the economy. Finally, I will include the metaphysics based on the meaning of action, a metaphysics I associate with Giovanni Gentile's actualism. In my opinion, Gentile was the most important philosopher in Italy in the 1900th century, while Gramsci was the most important intellectual.

See the book Antonio Gramsci. Selected texts 1916 – 1926 in the series Cappelen's unpopular writings, which came out in August. Lima has also selected the texts, translated and initiated the book.

Geir Lima
Geir Lima
Geir Lima is a writer and translator.

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