Translation and Hegemony: The Reception of Gramsci in contemporary Spain and Latin America

Peter Baker
Fruela Fernández
  Newcastle University
Michela Russo
  Texas A&M University


The Gramscian concept of hegemony is arguably today a cornerstone for contemporary Marxist theory in both Spain and Latin America, forming a new paradigmatic nexus following the articulation of recent leftist movements from the 1990s onwards. This panel proposes to provide a series of critical responses to Gramscian theory, and particularly to its reception in the Iberian world. Particularly, emphasis will be given to the history of this reception, to the particular theoretical problems to which it was applied in these diverse political contexts, and the quite idiosyncratic forms which Gramscian theory therefore adopted when transposed to an altogether different context. A critical notion of ‘translation’ will be one of the possible focus points through which we propose to approach the multifarious adaptations of Gramsci to the Spanish and Latin American contexts. The aim of the panel will be to appreciate the complex legacy of Gramscian thought in the Spanish language.

The papers are as follows:

Paper I: The State and the Translation Machine: Readings of Gramsci in Bolivia
Peter Baker, Newcastle University

Within contemporary Bolivian Marxism, there is no doubt that the theory of Antonio Gramsci has been one of the most central references on the Bolivian left. The Gramscian approach first entered Bolivia through its reception in the work of the critical sociologist René Zavaleta Mercado, whose work has recently been translated into English. Today, two prominent figures in Bolivia continue to draw from this tradition to provide two very different accounts of the contemporary conjuncture: the current vice president Álvaro García Linera, and one of the current government’s fiercest critics, Luis Tapia. This paper seeks to trace the uses of Gramscian theory between the two thinkers in order to outline the extent to which these different interpretations are not only the site of hermeneutic struggles, but are properly in their own right hegemonic struggles over the current directions of the Bolivian left which have wider implications. To this extent, the paper will draw from the notion of ‘translation’ as it is employed by Actor Network Theory (ANT), to argue that hegemonic power operates according to a similar principle by which inherently multiple systems must be brought into the translation process by creating a chain of equivalences among them.

Paper II: Translating hegemony: uses of Gramsci in Spain
Fruela Fernández, Newcastle University

This paper will contextualise the reception of Antonio Gramsci in Spain and its impact on the evolution of different currents within the Spanish Left. Gramsci’s first wave of reception took place during the 1960s within the Catalonian Communist circles, and was notably represented by the conflictual approaches of Manuel Sacristan and Jordi Sole Tura; the completely divergent trajectories of both authors –while Sole Tura would eventually become minister with the socialdemocratic PSOE, Sacristan would join the non-party, independent movements- frames the first image of the Italian thinker. The second phase of Gramsci’s reception is still ongoing and needs to be understood in the context of the current social and economic crisis, in which the recently created party Podemos –led by Inigo Errejon and Pablo Iglesias, two political scientists with substantial political experience in Latin America- has placed a Laclauian reading of Gramsci at the core of its political strategy.

Paper III: The Task of the Translator(s): Translating demands into hegemonic systems
Michela Russo, Texas A&M University

As is well known, Gramscian hegemony is the name for the articulation of a heterogeneity of social forces establishing, at once, cultural relationships and a unifying worldview able to convey the specific traits of an historical condition and advocate demands of different social strata. Ernesto Laclau, in his theory of populism, which is also a theory of political representation, posed the question of an “inassimilable rest” which would haunt any hegemonic formation, impeding to consider them as closed totalities. What happens, then, to those social elements that are not “translatable” within the institutional level and thus escape the hegemony/counter-hegemony model? What if the Gramscian intellectual would give way to, transposing Benjamin’s considerations on the task of the translator to the social sphere, a series of practices able to take care of these “untranslatable” reminders without forcing them into the re-production of already existing forms, but liberating their creative potential into a heterogeneous society? This is where post-hegemonic projects may emerge. They would be those that, situated in the liminal zone of political invention, would not look for an intensification of the hegemonic demand, but rather would emerge as alternative practices of imaginary creation. In this respect, I understand the question of translation as the constitutive impossibility to fully translate social demands into the hegemonic logic as was proposed by Gramsci and rearticulated by some part of the so-called Subaltern studies. This paper will, hence, address the main concerns of some of the contemporary reflections on post-hegemony which, read in the light of the Latin American reception of Gramsci, somehow pushed forward Laclau’s attempt to respond to political determinism through the inclusion of the question of contingency.

hegemony - post hegemony - gramsci - spain - latin america - translation