Michael Gove and Antonio Gramsci
Sat 29th Jun 2013
It is fashionable to claim that Michael Gove has been influenced by Antonio Gramsci.
The thing about Gramsci is that we have never really needed him in Britain. The insistence on the unity of theory and practice, the rejection of economic determinism and of metaphysical materialism, the celebration of the “national-popular”, an organic working-class culture and self-organisation including worker-intellectuals: we already had them all. At least, we did have them. Until Gove’s political heroine, whom no one ever accused of being either a worker or an intellectual, came along and destroyed their economic base.
But there remained heirs to the organic worker-intellectual tradition, often very left-wing people indeed, who tried as best they could to maintain in their own classrooms, until they themselves retired, whatever they could of the best that had been known and thought, in the midst of her enforcement upon everyone else of her own utter philistinism and of her own total lack of even the slightest intellectual curiosity. Truly, her natural successor was Tony Blair. And truly, his natural successors are David Cameron and George Osborne.
There had been some grounds for hoping that Gove was different. But he is clearly oblivious to these facts. He knows nothing of the trade union, co-operative and mutual, Radical Liberal, Tory populist, Guild Socialist, Christian Socialist, Social Catholic and Distributist, and many other roots of the British, Irish and Commonwealth Labour Movements, predating Marx and long predating Gramsci.
He knows nothing of their roots, which are in the anti-Whig subcultures disaffected by the events of 1688, subcultures predating any counterrevolutionary movement on the continent, predating any revolution there or in North America, and emphasising the indispensable role of the State in protecting against the market everything that conservatives seek to conserve, while offering perennial critiques of individualism, capitalism, imperialism, militarism, bourgeois triumphalism, and the fallacy of inevitable historical progress. As an ardent neoconservative, Gove is fully signed up to all of those.
Does he even know anything of their roots, which are in Early Modernity and in the Middle Ages, in the Classics that he purports to promote and in the Bible that he ostentatiously sends out to schools with a preface by himself, together with a reference to himself on the very cover? Or is the entirety of this Government exactly as it would appear to be: intellectually unequipped to be the Government of the United Kingdom, or, at root, to be the Government of any country on earth?
But Gove may yet revive the worker-intellectual tradition in spite of himself. Under him, universities are to become confined merely to those whose parents happened to have nine thousand pounds per annum lying around with no other call on it, and therefore had no need to send their offspring out to work at the earliest opportunity. Academic ability or accomplishment will have nothing to do with it. Indeed, they will be relatively rare among the entrants, one would expect.
Leaving plenty of room for the successors of the pitmen poets and of the pitmen painters, of the Workers’ Educational Association (which still exists) and of the Miners’ Lodge Libraries, of the brass and silver bands, of the people’s papers rather than the red top rags, to re-emerge in, though and as an organic working-class culture and self-organisation.
That, in turn, requires an economic base such as only the State can guarantee, and such as only the State can very often deliver. Not exclusively, but in no small part, that is what the State is for. Not exclusively, but in no small part, that is why we have it.