Selections from the Prison Notebooks

How much do I want to read more? 5/10

Wow I think this book isn't for me. I thought it would be about regrets, wisdom, inner life.
But it is such an heavy historical and political background, I just skimmed over the Introduction, and I don't think I will go much over the rest.


written by Gramsci in prison between 1929 and 1935.
He wanted a project of writing something "fiir ewig" (for ever). something which would also serve to absorb him and "give a fqcus to [his] inner life"


By the autumn of 1926, the world's first fascist regime had been in power for four years in Italy.
Gramsci was 35 years old. At his trial in Ig28, the official prosecutor ended his peroration with the famous demand to thejudge: "We must stop this brain working for twenty years!"
The product of those years of slow death in prison were the 2,848 pages of handwritten notes which he left to be smuggled out of the clinic and out of Italy after his death, and of which this volume is a selection.

Early Life

Antonio Gramsci was born in 18g!, in the small town of Ales in Sardinia. His father came originally from Naples and had been intended to be a lawyer. But the death of his own father, a colonel in the Carabinieri, meant that he had to abandon his studies;
Gramsci's mother had the rare attainment of being able to read and write.

Antonio's health was an added problem. He had a malformation of the spine.
when be grew up he became hunch-backed and was barely five feet tall.
He also suffered from internal disorders which brought him close to death as a small child,

Intellectual Formation

It was during his years at Turin University that Gramsci first came into serious contact with the intellectual world of his time.

Socialist Politics in Turin

When Gramsci arrived in Turin, the city was the red capital of Italy-Gramsci was to call it Italy's Petrograd-home of its most advanced industry and above all of FIAT.
By the end of the war, F I A T was to be the biggest producer of tractors in Europe; its workers were to increase from 4,000 in 1913 to 20,000 in 1918; by 1915, it was exporting armoured cars and aeroplanes to the Entente countries in great quantities. Turin's population rose from some 400,000 in 1911 (20 per cent of them industrial workers) to over 500,000 in 1918 (30 per cent of them industrial workers)

Ordine Nuovo, the "Red Years" and the Founding of the P.C.I.

The War ended in November 1 9 1 8, and the two years that followed were marked by a constant, and growing, conviction on the part of most of the ruling class in Italy as among the mass ofworkers and socialists that the revolution was inevitable, and was only a matter of time.

TheP.G.!. underBordiga 1921-1923

At the time of the Livomo Congress and the foundation of the P.C.I., Gramsci was not yet thirty. He had less than four years of serious political activity behind him.

The Interregnum in the Italian Party 1923-24

The arrest of Bordiga and the massive blow


Since Gramsci's arrest effectively isolated him from events in the outside world.
It is therefore not surprising that Grarnsci's letters from prison reveal a sense of isolation that was more than simply a physical one.
having suffered at least three major breakdowns of his health even when he was free and able to enjoy medical attention and maintain a special diet, his years in prison were literally an eleven-year death-agony.
His teeth fell out, his digestive system collapsed so that he could not eat solid food, his chronic insomnia became permanent so that he could go weeks without more than an hour or two ofsleep at night; he had convulsions when he vomited blood, and suffered from headaches so violent that he beat his head against the walls of his cell.

It is against this background that the achievement of the Prison Notebooks should be seen. When first arrested he had written to Tatiana: "I am obsessed by the idea that I ought to do somethingfur ewig • • . I want, following a fixed plan, to devote myselfintensively and systematically to some subject that will absorb me and give a focus to my inner life."

But when the time came he was too ill to move from the clinic, and on 27 April he died. Tatiana, while making the funeral arrangements, managed to smuggle the thirty-three notebooks out -of Gramsci's room and via the diplomatic bag to Moscow. They had been "the focus to my inner life", and the continuation in Gramsci's prison cell of his life as a revolutionary.

This is the background against which the Prison Notebooks must be read.