What a day! There was wall-to-wall media coverage of just one of 370,000 babies born yesterday around the world and confirmation that Labour is pressing ahead with plans to break its current links with the organisations that created the party in 1900.
Are these events linked in any way? I think they are – in one important respect. They both contribute to what Antonio Gramsci referred to as the hegemony of the ruling class in terms of penetrating the rest of us with their outlook and ideology.
Hegemony is not a pretty word and also hard to pronounce (try it). It means domination or supremacy. Gramsci was a founder-member of the Italian Communist Party. Despite being an MP, he was seized by Mussolini’s fascist regime in 1926 and spent the next six years in jail.
Although he died a few years after his conditional release on health grounds, his Prison Notebooks were smuggled out of jail and later published. Gramsci wanted to understand why the masses in the major capitalist countries seemed to support the state political system. So he investigated how the ideas of the ruling class were the dominant, or hegemonic, ideas in society.
An essential, even “socially accepted function” of any state is, as Bob Jessop, professor of sociology at Lancaster University, explains is to “enforce collectively binding decisions on the members of a society in the name of their common interest or general will”.
So how are these “common interests” articulated? How are we persuaded, for example, that monarchy is good for every single person and that we should be happy that there is another addition to the royal family? This particular notion is achieved by way of social traditions, culture, ideas that we are born into, through the education system, the church and, of course, the media.
From the BBC to the “liberal” Guardian, there was only one story yesterday – the birth of one single baby. “Duchess in labour as the world awaits news”, said the BBC website. Yes, the whole world was standing by! The Guardian had rolling “live coverage” all day long.
A good day to bury bad news. So off the headlines went (in no particular order), the terrible situation in Syria, the end of the welfare state, outsourcing the NHS, surveillance state, tax cuts for fracking, global recession etc. Then later in the day, in stepped Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party with his own particular contribution to hegemony.
Whatever came later, the foundation of the Labour Party by the trade unions at the beginning of the 20th century challenged the hegemony of ruling class ideas. It had been accepted until then that workers could only find representation through the Liberal Party.
The Tories bitterly opposed the scheme whereby trade unionists automatically had part of their subscriptions passed on to Labour to fund its campaigns and election work. So in 1927, the
Baldwin government banned
the practice. Instead, trade unionists had to opt into paying the levy. Labour
opposed the move and pledged to repeal the law, which was in force for two
Miliband is, as we know, proposing that Labour now follows what the Tories did in 1927. And yesterday it became known that his party is calling a special conference in March 2014 to get the rules changed. For good measure, the voting rights of the unions are to be further reduced.
This then is Miliband’s contribution to passing on the ideological domination of the ruling class. He doesn’t care that the party will lose millions as a result. Miliband is more interested in impressing middle-class, middle-England voters in the general election scheduled for 2015.
So Labour, having abandoned its famous socialist Clause 4 in 1995, is applying the coup de grâce to its history. Naturally, the Guardian, dresses this up as “reform” when it is nothing of the kind. More hegemonic deception!
You can point to numerous, every-day examples of this process. What is a more difficult task is to develop ideas and, above all, practices that challenge not just the grand illusions and deceptions but also the capitalist power structures that lie at the heart of the hegemony that Gramsci was referring to.