The Dimensions of Passive Revolution
Responding to the recent season of studies on Antonio Gramsci’s notion of passive revolution, the present paper will argue that this could fruitfully contribute to a non-deterministic understanding of capitalist dynamics. However, this relevance should be based on a renewed understanding of the concept itself. Against contemporary conceptualisations that tend to understand passive revolution as an instrument in the hands of the ruling classes, the present paper argues that this is better understood as originating from the shortcomings of the so-called subaltern groups. The focus should thus be placed on the passivity of a potentially transformative agency rather than on processes of change that are per se out of reach for revolutionary movements. Coming back to Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, three overlapping dialectical relations are identified as being key to understanding both passive revolution and the struggle against it: at the ideational level, the dialectic between common sense and good sense; at the institutional level, the dynamic between bureaucratic and democratic centralism; at the level of class struggles, the dynamic between corporatism and universalism. Interpreted through these categories, passive revolution becomes a valuable tool both to overcome the fallacies of contemporary critical theory as well as to understand the challenges faced by anti-capitalist movements today.
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