"it is essential to destroy the widespread prejudice that philosophy is a strange and difficult thing just because it is the specific intellectual activity of a particular category of specialists or of professional and systematic philosophers. It must first be shown that all men are 'philosophers', by defining the limits and characteristics of the 'spontaneous philosophy' which is proper to everybody. This philosophy is contained in: 1. language itself, which is a totality of determined notions and concepts and not just of words grammatically devoid of content; 2. 'common sense' and 'good sense'; 3. popular religion and, therefore, also in the entire system of beliefs, superstitions, opinions, ways of seeing things and of acting, which are collectively bundled together under the name of 'folklore'." (Gramsci, 1971:323)Gramsci's critique of philosophy as a specialized discipline arose from his revolutionary convictions; he saw at work in Italy both the ancient religious ideology of the Catholic church and the rising politico-ethical ideology of the Fascist state. His invention of the concept of hegemony was an attempt to describe the ways in which these groups managed and deployed their ideological resources in order to retain their essentially exploitative positions of power over their constituents. But Gramsci was no detatched theorist; his description of these mechanisms of power was thoroughly motivated by his deep commitment to a Marxist philosophy of praxis, which he opposes to the kinds of philosophy employed by the specialist functionaries of these privileged groups:
"The position of the philosophy of praxis is the antithesis of the Catholic. The philosophy of praxis does not tend to leave the 'simple' in their primitive philosophy of common sense, but rather to lead them to a higher conception of life. If it affirms the need for contact between intellectuals and simple it is not in order to restrict scientific activity and preserve unity at the low level of the masses, but precisely in order to construct an intellectual-moral bloc which can make politically possible the intellectual progress of the mass and not only of small intellectual groups." (ibid.:333)It's clear here that Gramsci's conception of the Marxian revolution reserves a central and critical place for philosophy. Not the philosophy of specialists, which distinguishes itself from and thus excludes the "common sense" of the "simple" (i.e. the proletariat), but a philosophy of praxis, which for Gramci meant a Marxist philosophy, in which the historical separation, and immanent revolutionary reintegration of theory and practice was understood to coincide with (and, crucially, to determine) an analogous historical separation (and immanent reintegration) of the intellectual (bourgeois) and physical (proletarian) workers, since both were (according to Marx's historical and economic philosophy) bound in servitude to the rising capitalists.
Consequently, for Gramsci, the immanent revolution depended upon this reintegration of the proletariat with intellectuals. Commenting on the failures of "the so-called 'Popular Universities' and similar institutions", he asserts that:
"In any case one could only have had cultural stability and an organic quality of thought if there had existed the same unity between the intellectuals and the simple as there should be between theory and practice. That is, if the intellectuals had been organically the intellectuals of those masses and if they had worked out and made coherent the principles and the problems raised by the masses in their practical activity, thus constituting a social bloc." (ibid.:329; my italic.)And he goes on to restate his original rhetorical question:
"is a philosophical movement properly so-called when it is devoted to creating a specialized culture among restricted intellectual groups, or rather when, and only when, in the process of elaborating a form of thought superior to 'common sense' and coherent on a scientific plane, it never forgets to remain in contact with the 'simple' and indeed finds in this contact the source of the problems it sets out to study and to resolve? Only by this contact does a philosophy become 'historical', purify itself of intellectualistic elements of an individual character and become 'life'." (ibid.)So anyway, I think that these excerpts clarify Gramsci's notion of what it means for an intellectual to be organic. That is, he's not -at least in this section of his Prison Notebooks, talking about the specialized, disciplinary intellectuals who work (either intentionally, or de facto) in the service of the ruling classes and their dominant interests as being organic to those ruling classes, but on the contrary, it is when the intellectual is able to rise naturally from the working class, and to stay in contact with these 'simple' origins, even as he -and/or she!- elaborates hir concepts to achieve properly philosophical levels of clarity and precision (a large part of Gramsci's discussion here, in between the quotes I've given, is devoted to theorizing a rigorous distinction between properly philosophical and 'folkloric' conceptions; a distinction which is, incidentally, necessary for his theory of hegemony), that he or she is able to develop a true philosophy of praxis; one which can transcend the separation between state and people to "become 'life'"; i.e. organic.
In conclusion, I'd like to make it clear that I'm not writing this in order to endorse a Marxian "philosophy of praxis", but in order to clarify what I felt was its misrepresentation; not only in Professor Gitlin's paper, but in Marcuse's work as well. I think that this persistent misinterpretation -or at least inconsistent interpretation; there may indeed be other places in Gramsci's notebooks where he describes the situation differently, and uses these terms differently, that I'm unaware of (and if so, please notify me ; )- can be attributed to a persistent incoherence inherent to the Marxist philosophical tradition itself, of which Gramsci obviously seeks to constitute himself as part. For Americans today, who can't help but occupy the weird historical bubble that enables us to see the fall of the Berlin Wall and the U.S.S.R. as a kind of belated vindication of the U.S. Cold War ideology (if not of McCarthyism; it's constitutive 'exception'), I think that the ambiguity of the notion of "hegemony" as a theory of culture/politic/communication/psychology results not so much from the complex and interdepentent nature of these disciplinary areas/spheres/fields themselves (although this is undoubtedly the case, and contributes to the confusion!) as to a pervasive uncertainty regarding not only the status of the intellectual, but the status of any reform-oriented 'praxis' in the world today. I would argue that this uncertainty is what Marcuse misinterprets as an overarching, "one-dimensional" determinacy, to which we attempt to apply ambiguous concepts such as "hegemony", not despite, but because of their inconsistencies and incoherences. I would suggest that in order to really understand Gramsci, we would have to first really understand Marxism (and presumably Marx); not in the way Gramsci himself understood it -i.e. as an infallible and necessary conceptual revolutionary mechanism- but in light of a comprehensive historical assessment of its applications; to economics, to politics, and to "life" itself. Obviously this is an impossible task, to the extent that the Cold War didn't really end, but rather mutated, so that now it is being fought in the terms of a 'global capitalism', itself a kind of delocalized cold war, in which various (American, European, Chinese, Indian, etc.) state powers and the private interests that they have demonstrated themselves to be respectively beholden to battle for the last of the planet's dwindling resources.
And I guess it's precisely in this rapidly evolving climate we might be able to adapt Gramsci's thought and reapproach it in a new interpretive context: not as a theory of hegemony-as-oppression, which has become indissociable from the cold-war politics governing the behaviors of groups and individuals across scales, right down to the interpersonal level, right down to the level of our relations with ourselves, but as a theory of praxis-as-emancipation, no longer in the service of an alternative ideology claiming the status of science, nor yet science itself, claiming to be a religion, but as a necessary condition of our collective and individual survival on this heavily-leveraged planet. Perhaps, in lieu of "Philosophy," which despite its own internal misgivings seems determined to retain its privileged institutional status as a specialized disciplinary function, we would better define such a praxis by an altogether less impressive, but perhaps more pragmatic term: education.
In closing, Gramsci again, from the end of this same excerpt:
"The active man-in-the-mass has a practical activity, but has no clear theoretical understanding of his practical activity, but has no clear theoretical consciousness of his practical activity, which nonetheless involves understanding the world insofar as it transforms it. His theoretical consciousness can indeed be historically in opposition to his activity. One might almost say that he has two theoretical consciousnesses (or one contradictory consciousness): one which is implicit in his activity and which in reality unites him with all his fellow-workers in the practical transformation of the real world; and one, superficially explicit or verbal, which he ahs inherited from the past and uncritically absorbed. But this verbal conception is not without consequences. It holds together a specific social group, it influences moral conduct and the direction of the will, with varying efficacy but often powerfully enough to produce a situation in which the contradictory state of consciousness does not permit of any action, any decision or any choice, and produces a condition of moral and political passivity. Critical understanding of self takes place therefore through a struggle of political 'hegemonies' and of opposing directions, first in the ethical field and then in that of politics proper, in order to arrive at the working out at a higher level of one's own conception of reality. Consciousness of being part of a particular hegemonic force (that is to say, political consciousness) is the first stage towards a further progressive self-consciousness in which theory and practice will finally be one. Thus the unity of theory and practice is not just a matter of mechanical fact, but a part of the historical process, whose elementary and primitive phase is to be found in the sense of being 'different' and 'apart', in an instinctive feeling of independence, and which progresses to the level of real possession of a single and coherent conception of the world. This is why it must be stressed that the political development of the concept of hegemony represents a great philosophical advance as well as a politico-practical one. For it necessarily supposes an intellectual unity and an ethic in conformity with a conception of reality that has gone beyond common sense and has become, if only within narrow limits, a critical conception." (ibid.:334)
Todd Gitlin, "Television's Screens: Hegemony in Transition," p.240-265 in Cultural and Economic Reproduction in Education. Michael W. Apple (ed.), London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982.
Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Quincy Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (trans. and eds.), New York: International Publishers, 1971.