Gramsci, McCain and politics

A fascinating post by Paul Rosenberg at Open Left on how Gramsci’s ideas on politics applies to the recent story in the New York Times on John McCain, as well as the conservative movement’s attempt to deconstruct it. But as with other Rosenberg posts, you kind of have to sift through it to find the good stuff.

Rosenberg writes:

To overcome the power of hegemony, and create a workers revolution, Gramsci argued for a two-fold strategy, First, a “war of position” to build working-class counter-institutions, and take over bourgoise ones while promulgating working-class ideology. Second, once this stage was successful, then a “war of movement” to the actual insurrection against capitalism, with mass support that Marxist theory originally predicted.

Consciously or not, the American right has adopted Gramsci’s fundamental insight, but adapted it to their somewhat different position in society.  On the one hand, as Gramsci advised, they have dilligently built up their own institutional infrastructure, and attacked existing instriutional structures that they do not control, seeking either to take over or cripple or destroy them.  On the other hand, they have combined the war of position and war of movement into a more integrated whole, frequently taking advantage of a constellation of positions to launch a “war of movement” attack on an insitution they wish to cripple, destroy or take over, or an idea, principle, value, or narrative they wish to discredit, or subvert.

Most of the article doesn’t address Gramsci directly (but I post this because I assume most readers of this blog will have some interest in Gramsci one way or another) but rather about hegemony, and the NYT role in perpetuating that hegemony.

Now I am not a big reader of Gramsci, but even I can see why an event like this, where the Times appears to be independent, that it would be wrong to assume it is fighting against cultural hegemony. Rosenberg argues:

But there’s a deeper point that goes to very heart of how America’s worldview has been utterly perverted, and the role that the Times as an agenda-setting institution has played in that process… Indeed,  rather than being an enemy to Bush, the neocons, and the entire rightwing agenda, the Times has been a remarkably faithful purveyor of their worldview. The counter-narratives that might challenge this view have been assiduously marginalized in the Times coverage.

But is it possible for this to be true, that the (apparent) bastion of liberal journalism is in fact not (this won’t surprise many) but at the same time it be true that this is a stretch:

Accurate reporting about Bush, the war on terror and John McCain would, quite simply, doom the Republicans to at least a 40-state landslide defeat this coming November, and countless downticket losses as well.  Compared to that, the Times story about McCain was positively benign, not to mention utterly trivial.

Is that a stretch to say that accurate reporting would reduce the GOP presidential candidate to winning only 10 states? The fact is that we do not have a partisan press in this country, which means that there is a basic he said-she said cast to most stories (“fair and balanced”). In the UK newspapers are famously more partisan though none of them are extremist, outside the mainstream rags (except for the Sun of course).

So, could we not say, with Gramsci, that we need to build some counter or good hegemony? Our cultural and educative task would be to use whatever tools are available (including social network, blogs and web 2.0 tools) to recognize our shared interests? Rorty, where are you? (I take it this is what Rosenberg is doing. The chart and the Kegan stuff doesn’t appeal to me. As I said above, sift away the genetics, Piaget and “levels of consciousness” which sounds like bad scientology….).

Here, for example, is Shai Sachs talking about defeating John McCain using web 2.0 tools:

While I think Google-bombing will do some good, I think a really effective solution will have to go further.  I think it will have to incorporate a grassroots messaging campaign which a) informs progressive activists that McCain isn’t really a maverick, clean-ethics, moderate Republican, and b) informs progressive activists that beating McCain is not going to be difficult.  This campaign has to be virally spread, pushed from friend-to-friend via blog posts, Facebook notes, YouTube embeds, and all sorts of other peer-to-peer venues.

My recommendation is that progressive bloggers establish a regular routine of “buzzing against McCain”.  Similar to Atrios and DailyKos’s monthly Kerry fundraising days in 2004, these will be days when we exhort progressive activists to flood the social networks with some small, simple, anti-McCain meme, like “McCain is unelectable”, “McCain is a lobbyist lap-dog”, “McCain wants another 100 years in Iraq”, and the like.

Here he’s talking about changing the narrative or hegemonic view if you prefer. (Sorry if McCain is your guy.)

I wonder how realistic it is to rely on new media instead of traditional old media to develop or shift the political narratives in play. Seems this area would be ripe for some empirical studies.


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