Today we light a candle to commemorate the life and legacy of Antonio Gramsci, who passed away on this day in 1937 at the young age of 46. Gramsci was an Italian philosopher, politician, and one of the most influential Marxist thinkers of the 20th century. Though his life was cut short by illness after years imprisoned by the Fascist regime in Italy, his profound ideas continue to inspire progressive and revolutionary movements worldwide.
Born in 1891 on the island of Sardinia, Gramsci grew up in poverty but excelled academically, winning a scholarship to study linguistics at the University of Turin. It was there that he became involved in socialist politics and journalism, writing for the Socialist Party newspaper Avanti! and co-founding the publication L’Ordine Nuovo which applied Marxist theory to conditions in Italy. When the Socialist Party split in 1921, Gramsci sided with the Communist faction and would later help found the Italian Communist Party.
Elected to Parliament in 1924, Gramsci spoke out passionately against Mussolini’s Fascist regime which seized power that same year. In 1926, Gramsci was arrested by the Fascists and sentenced to 20 years in prison for his political activities. He would spend the rest of his life behind bars, under close surveillance and in poor health. It was in his prison notebooks that Gramsci did most of his important philosophical work, theorizing about culture, education, and revolution in ways that departed from classical Marxism.
One of Gramsci’s key concepts was cultural hegemony – the idea that the ruling class maintains its power not just through political and economic control, but also by dominating society’s values and beliefs. Challenging this hegemony was vital for true revolutionary change. Similarly, his emphasis on working class culture and education to develop organic intellectuals reflected his view that class struggle must happen on both cultural and economic fronts. Gramsci dreamed of a working class culture that could triumph over bourgeois hegemony.
Even in prison, sick and isolated, Gramsci never lost faith in the revolutionary potential of the masses. He advocated for a ‘war of position’ and ‘war of maneuver’ to slowly build up the forces of counter-hegemony until strong enough to overthrow the ruling class. His vision was less about top-down revolution and more about patiently creating the conditions for radical social transformation.
While Gramsci died believing Fascism had extinguished the hope of revolution in Italy, his writings would inspire generations of activists fighting oppression around the world. His ideas became a leading influence on Eurocommunism and anticolonial thinkers like Frantz Fanon. Marxist philosophers including Stuart Hall built on Gramsci’s cultural theories to understand class struggle. Even today, Gramsci gives hope that revolutionary change can grow through culture, education and consciousness-raising among the masses.
On this day we commemorate his far-too-short life by lighting a candle. May its flame kindle our own revolutionary spirit and commitment to the emancipation of all people. Antonio Gramsci’s powerful vision lives on whenever people organize collectively to challenge dominant ideologies, tell their own stories, and gradually transform society by winning over the hearts and minds of the working class. His example shows that even imprisoned, sick, and facing the bleakest circumstances, we must never surrender the struggle for a better world. Our candles will light the way forward.