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Gramsci and Marxism in Britain
Outside Italy, nowhere more than in Britain have Gramsci’s writings exercised so prolonged, deep or diversified an influence. Some of this has been channelled through the academic disciplines of history, political science and cultural studies, but much of it has worked directly upon the theory and practice of the Left. There has been widespread recognition of the importance of Gramscian concepts in freeing Marxism from ‘economism’ since the sixties, and in interpreting Thatcherism and the crisis of the Left since the mid–70s. What has been less remarked upon is that they have been central to the theoretical reconstruction of Marxism in Britain at all stages since the late 50s.  The uses of Gramsci in Britain have been regionally specific; they have involved the overdevelopment of one side of his work at the expense of others. This imbalance can be explained by the needs which his texts have served to meet, the gaps they have served to fill in the culture of the Left. The impact made by new ideas never depends simply on their intrinsic quality; it also has to do with the degree of receptivity or resistance of the culture into which they enter. In the thirty-two years in which selections from Gramsci have been available in English, the culture of the Left in Britain and the political climate have both changed considerably. Gramsci has become more readable. But he has also become readable in different ways, as the meanings which have attached to his texts, the uses to which they have been put, have altered.
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