J.M. Winter

J.M. Winter is a fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge.

New Life on the West Bank

J.M. Winter, 7 January 1988

One of Antonio Gramsci’s most compelling distinctions is between two kinds of political struggle. What he variously called the ‘war of manoeuvre’ or the ‘war of movement’ entailed the seizure of state power. This is not a problematic concept, and has as its clear model the Bolshevik experience. Understandably, in the inter-war years, this was the destination of Communist politics, but under the harsh circumstances of Fascist rule, it could only have been the ultima ratio, and not the prima ratio, of political action. Prior to the moment of truth when power changes hands, another kind of politics was required. Gramsci called this the ‘war of position’, and it may be best summarised as a struggle to change the cultural basis of politics, to challenge the hegemony of the ruling class and substitute for it the hegemony, or, in Gramsci’s terms, the ‘common sense’, of the masses. This distinction between alternative, but overlapping forms of political action has a bearing on conflicts well outside the framework of European Communism and class struggle between the wars. To Gramsci, Fascism was a kind of occupation of his country, and to defeat it required an enormous effort on many levels. The same may be said of the quite different circumstances of belligerent military occupation, and of the dialectic between a war of movement and a war of position in the struggle against it.

Say not the struggle

J.M. Winter, 1 November 1984

Judged by European standards, the role of intellectuals in the history of the British Labour movement has not been especially distinguished. There are no figures in British Labour history of the stature of Jean Jaurès, Karl Kautsky or Antonio Gramsci, whose theoretical and historical works have been recognised as significant contributions to socialist politics. Furthermore, the debate over revisionism largely, but not completely, bypassed English socialists, most of whom were unconcerned about the status of Marx’s work as a guide to the development of capitalism. Despite the productivity of the Fabian Society in publishing tracts on socialist themes (194 appeared between 1884 and 1920 alone), its members were a polyglot mixture of middle-class socialists, free-thinkers and advanced liberals whose lack of involvement in the organised working-class movement was one of its characteristic features. At the same time, British intellectuals of the Left never had an easy political path to follow. At times treated with contempt by trade-unionists who had an ouvrieriste suspicion of middle-class manners, labour’s intellectuals have throughout this century been more politically isolated in Britain than perhaps in any other country. In addition, their rejection of fundamental aspects of British society was never complete or unambiguous: thus the history of British radical intellectuals has never been the history of an intelligentsia. This is part of the explanation for the weak or non-doctrinal character of labour politics in Britain over the last three generations.

SIR: I have only just seen the correspondence in your columns concerning the social distribution of British casualties in the 1914-18 war. Since the appearance of my book, The Great War and the British People, occasioned this exchange of views, perhaps you will permit me to add a few words on the meaning of the term ‘Lost Generation’? The argument I advanced in my book was that the higher up in...

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