The Dizionario gramsciano entry, in the original English “Subaltern / Subalterns”, deals with different subaltern groups and classes, in particular those discussed in the late, monographic Notebook 25 titled “At the Margins of History. (History of the Subaltern Social Groups)”. The concept of a subaltern social group or class encompasses, but goes much wider than, the working class or proletariat. The subaltern groups mentioned by Gramsci go from the classical world in the “West” (ancient Rome in particular), through the Middle Ages to the modern era. A key historiographical and conceptual reference point for him, regarding the struggle – or lack of struggle – for hegemony by the subalterns lay in the movement for unification of the modern Italian State. As early as the first notebook, we read that the most progressive forces of the Risorgimento, embodied in the “Action Party”, were subject to “the initiative of the dominant groups”, represented by the “Moderates”, and as such its leading organs resembled subaltern groups. The history of the subaltern groups is “necessarily fragmented and episodic”, the groups themselves being separate from one another, having various degrees of marginality and of socially subaltern nature, albeit with tendencies towards unification. These tendencies are however “continually broken up through the initiative of the dominant groups”, with any “‘spontaneous’ movement on their part being countered by a reactionary movement of the right of the dominant classes”. Spontaneity must be integrated with conscious leadership – the task of any political party constructing an alternative hegemony on the side of the subalterns.

[N.b. All footnotes in Buttigieg’s contribution are editorial additions; other editorial additions in the text are given in square brackets, whereas curly brackets are used to indicate the author’s textual abbreviations.]

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