The recent publication of Samuele Mazzolini’s essay, “Populism Is Not Hegemony: Towards a Re-Gramscianization of Ernesto Laclau” (Theory & Event 23.3 : 765-86), gives me an opportunity to move quickly past a number of prolegomena in order to be concise in what I want to attempt. I think Mazzolini’s analysis is highly useful, which means I recommend it without trying to summarize it except on very narrow grounds. Substantially, Mazzolini’s point is that Laclau’s theory of the political is reductive, particularly as it concerns hegemony theory. And that it therefore needs to be “re-gramscianized.” Mazzolini rejects Laclau’s claim about the identification of populism to hegemony to politics, and calls for a restitutive de-identification of the three terms. Fundamentally, for Mazzolini, Laclau’s notion of hegemony is too simple, or excessively simplified, as it points towards an ever punctual and contingent bid for power without the necessary social depth. This is the reason why Laclauian hegemony is doomed to pass every time, that is, politically to fail, as it has happened both to Podemos in Spain and to the different Latin American pink tide governments, who were unable to capitalize on any properly constructed socially hegemonic depth. For Mazzolini the only half-successful hegemonic articulation from the left in relatively recent times was the one accomplished by the Italian Communist Party in the years after World War II and until the 1970´s. Yes, the PCI ultimately failed, for other reasons, and did not accomplish its political objective. In the process, however, it was able to sustain a long and almost successful hegemonic struggle.
Hegemony, then, for Mazzolini, who is following Gramsci, is and can only be the long pedagogical march towards communist society, always led by a minority elite, an intellectual class, whether it is communist party cadres or the duly committed members of the academic intelligentsia and its pedagogy of the politically correct. Only through a long and successful internalization of the awareness of good politics could we ever accomplish proper hegemonic change, and such an internalization can only be a function of sustained pedagogic interventions cutting through time, institutions, and social classes. The rest is perhaps populism, as a fleeting and unrooted or ungrounded quick political change that will leave, alas, the underlying structures unchanged, thus dooming itself.
So it seems to me that Mazzolini’s diagnosis is good but the prognosis (that is, “without an endless Gramscianism nothing real will be accomplished”) is not just boring but also misguided. Witness the state of play in the North American university, where there has been an obvious dominance of the politically correct left since the 1980s, only to get Trump forty years later. And counting. So pedagogy be damned, that cannot be the way to go. And yet, the more I read in and about current Gramscians, the more convinced I am that is the only thing they can come up with.
I am myself starting to get tired of the use of the concepts I have been proposing along some of my friends: infrapolitics and posthegemony. They seem to come up against an invincible wall of inertia bordering on antagonistic hostility. But, before giving them up altogether and moving on to something else, it might be worthwhile to attempt yet another brief clarification of what might be meant by them in the context of current political discussions. What is summed up in or by infrapolitics is at the same type the analysis and the subversion (hence “deconstructive infrapolitics”) of the myriad micropractices of everyday life in every region of life, at the existential and the social level, which are levels that are obviously not independent from one another. Politically, what is summed up by its companion concept, posthegemony, is an operationalization of political practice in every case, whose primary object is not persuasion, not generalized persuasion, not pedagogy of any kind, not the move towards any accomplishment of genuine or deluded consensus. Instead, posthegemony proposes a practice of general dissensus, that is, a refusal of hegemonic intrusion in singular life (whether personal or collective), wherever it comes from. This results, or should result, in political practice understood as the permanent negotiation of conflict on ever pragmatic, that is, tactical grounds, and in view of whatever is possible at every given conjuncture, and at every step in the conjuncture.
Posthegemony gives up on hegemonic pedagogy, which it denounces as only ever committed to domination, whether it is the sedimented pedagogy of the status quo or the politically correct pedagogy of the converted. It postulates an emancipation from the state apparatus, which includes an emancipation from any counterhegemonic inversion of the state apparatus. To that extent it affirms or presupposes a “communism of intelligence” in Jacques Rancière’s terms. Pedagogy is for the birds.
Posthegemony is an operational indicator for political practice, not a political doctrine. Its strategy is the accomplishment of democratic equality both now and for the future, but tactically it prescribes nothing beyond the permanent use of thought at the service of a (pragmatic) refusal of domination, formally defined as hegemonic intrusion in singular life.
Posthegemony is therefore perfectly capable of unleashing a new political sequence based upon the equalitarian symbolization of the social. But only as a result of the abandonment of the policies of hegemonic intrusion that seem to be all the left is capable of providing us with nowadays (paradoxically prompting, not consensus, but a radical if not terminal dissensus, as the recent results for Podemos in Galicia and the Basque Country show). If an example of posthegemonic thought and practice were needed, the example I can adduce is Afropessimist practice. More on this will eventually follow.