On this day in 1937, the Italian Marxist and theorist Antonio Gramsci died in captivity of the Italian Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini.
In addition to being a Marxist philosopher, Gramsci was also a journalist, linguist, writer and politician. He wrote on philosophy, political theory, sociology, history and linguistics while being a founding member and one-time leader of the Communist Party of Italy.
Much of his work comes from his time in prison, entitled The Prison Notebooks, filling over 30 notebooks and over 3,000 pages on the analysis of history, nationalism, culture, civil society, folklore, French revolution and fascism.
Gramsci is best known for his analysis of culture and civil society, theoretical work that still remains relevant to contemporary critical theory, and his idea of hegemony which extended Marxist analysis of ideology and control. He argued that the capitalist system does not use mere brute force to uphold itself but also uses cultural institutions to create a ‘common sense’ that is built on the values of the capitalist system. This analysis of ideas looked into fields that Marxism had previously ignored in its materialist analysis, understanding power as merely material and having little analysis on the ideality of it.
On 9 November 1926, the fascist government enacted a new wave of emergency laws as a result of which the fascist police arrested Gramsci bringing him to the Roman prison Regina Coeli.
At his trial, Gramsci’s prosecutor stated, “For twenty years we must stop this brain from functioning”. He received an immediate sentence of five years in confinement on the island of Ustica and the following year he received a sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment.
Over 11 years in prison, his health deteriorated to the point where his digestive system collapsed and he could not eat solid food.
Gramsci died on 27 April 1937, at the age of 46; 7 days after he was declared free but was too ill to move out of the facility.