In quite complex work called “Hegemony and Socialist Strategy” Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe try to challenge the essentialist tendency in the Marxist theory by exploring the concept of hegemony. They try to apply it to the Left movements and call their theory ‘post-Marxism’ (Laclau and Mouffe IX). In particularly, they think that Antonio Gramsci is a watershed figure who challenged essentialist, Leninist category of the class alliance with his concept of hegemony (Dallmayr 38). Indeed, Gramsci didn’t invent this concept, as Laclau and Mouffe show in the first chapter, but simply introduced revolutionary new meaning to that concept: “the category of hegemony was originally elaborated in Russian social democracy as an attempt at addressing the autonomous political intervention which was made possible by the structural dislocation between actors and democratic tasks that resulted from the late development of capitalism in Russia; how, later, the notion of ‘combined and uneven development’ extended it to the general conditions of politics in the imperialist age; and how, with Gramsci, this hegemonic dimension was made constitutive of the subjectivity of historical actors (who thus cease to be merely class actors)” (Laclau and Mouffe XII). Gramsci tried to go beyond the essentialist interpretation of the working class as the only possible agent of liberation, focusing his attention on “historical bloc” (which is synthesis of the Leninist concept of ‘hegemony’ and the concept of ‘bloc’ derived from Sorel (Laclau and Mouffe 36)) and in a way subverting traditional (orthodox) Marxist distinction between base/superstructure stating that ideology is dispersed in a social structure (Dallmayr 38). Thus, Gramsci developed revolutionary strategy that could be relevant for the present day when the singular actor of struggle indeed can’t be identified. And also his non-essentialist concept of hegemony should become, according to Laclau and Mouffe, “cornerstone of a ‘radically democratic’ political theory” (Dallmayr 38).
Dallmayr, Fred. “Laclau and Hegemony. Some (post) hegelian caveats” Laclau: A critical reader. Edited by Simon Critchley and Oliver Marchart. London/New York: Routledge, 2004. 35-53.
Laclau, Ernesto and Mouffe, Chantal. Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. London/New York: Verso, 2014.