Antonio Gramsci
Original publication:
Translation: FLP

The Intellectual, the State, and the Political Party (1932)

26 minutes | English Italiano

This document is a combination of untitled sections 1 and 3 of the twelfth of Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks[1] FLP took roughly the first half of section 1 and embedded section 3 within it to produce a cohesive whole, and gave it the title “The Formation of Intellectuals.” We have extended this FLP edition by taking three more paragraphs from section 1 (those pertaining to the formation of political parties), as well as separating section 3 from section 1 and placing it at the end (as in the original). The republished sections follow the terms of FLP’s license. [2]
 — R. D.



Are intellectuals an autonomous and independent social class or does every social class have its own specialized category of intellectuals? The problem is complex because of the various forms taken by the real historical process of the formation of different categories of intellectuals.

The most important of these forms are two-fold:

1. Every social class, coming into existence on the original basis of an essential function in the world of economic production, creates with itself, organically, one or more groups of intellectuals who give it homogeneity and consciousness of its function not only in the economic field but in the social and political field as well: the capitalist entrepreneur creates with himself the industrial technician, the political economist, the organizer of a new culture, of a new law, etc. It should be noted that the capitalist represents a higher elaboration of society, already characterized by a certain leading and technical (i.e. intellectual) capacity: in addition to having a certain technical capacity in the sphere circumscribed by his activity and initiative he must also have it in other spheres, at least in those nearest to economic production (he must be an organizer of masses of men; he must be an organizer of the “confidence” of the investors in his business, of the purchasers of his goods, etc.). If not all capitalists, at least an elite of them must have the capacity for organizing society in general, in all its complex organism of duties up to the State organism, because of the need to create the most favorable conditions for the expansion of their own class — or they must at least have the capacity to choose “officers” (specialized employees) to entrust with this activity of organizing the general relations outside their enterprises.

It can be seen that the “organic” intellectuals which each new class creates with itself and elaborates in its own progressive development are for the most part “specializations” of partial aspects of the primitive activity of the new social type which the new class has brought to light. Feudal lords as well possessed a particular technical ability: military ability; and it is precisely from the moment when the aristocracy loses its monopoly of technical-military ability that the crisis of feudalism begins. But the formation of intellectuals in the feudal world and in the earlier classical world is a question to be examined apart: these formations and elaborations follow paths and methods which need to be studied concretely.

Thus it is to be noted that the mass of the peasants, although they carry out an essential function in the world of production, do not elaborate their own “organic” intellectuals, and do not “assimilate” any class of “traditional” intellectuals, although other social groups take many of their intellectuals from the peasant masses, and a great many of the traditional intellectuals are of peasant origin.

2. However, every “essential” social class emerging into history from the preceding economic structure, and as an expression of one of the developments of this structure, has found, at least in all history up till now, intellectual categories which were pre-existing and which, moreover, appeared as representatives of an historical continuity uninterrupted even by the most complicated and radical changes in social and political forms. The most typical of these intellectual categories is that of the ecclesiastics, monopolizers for a long time (for a complete historical phase which is partly characterized by this monopoly) of certain important services: namely, the religious ideology, the philosophy, and the science of the era, together with the school, education, morality, justice, charity, assistance, etc. The category of the ecclesiastics can be considered as the intellectual category organically tied to the landed aristocracy: legally it was on a level with the aristocracy, with whom it shared the exercise of feudal landownership and the enjoyment of the State privileges bound up with property. [3] But the monopoly of the superstructure on the part of the ecclesiastics [4] was not exercised without struggles and limitations, and so we see the birth, in various forms (to be studied and researched into concretely) of other categories favored and enlarged by the strengthening of the centralized power of the monarchy to the point of absolutism. Thus the aristocracy of the robe came to be formed, with its own privileges, a class of administrators, etc.; scientists, theoreticians, non-ecclesiastical philosophers, etc.

Just as these various categories of traditional intellectuals have a sense of their own uninterrupted historical continuity, of their “qualifications” and of esprit de corps, so they see themselves as autonomous and independent of the ruling social group. This view of themselves is not without consequences in the ideological and political field, consequences of vast importance: the whole of idealist philosophy can easily be connected with this assumed position of the social complex of intellectuals, and may be defined as the expression of this social utopia through which intellectuals believe themselves to be “independent,” autonomous, clothed in their own characters, etc. But if the Pope and the upper hierarchy of the Church believe that they are more tied to Christ and the Apostles than they are to Senators Agnelli and Benni, the same is not true of Gentile and Croce, for example; Croce especially feels himself strongly tied to Aristotle and Plato, but he does not conceal that he is tied to Senators Agnelli and Benni, and it is precisely in this fact that the most significant characteristic of Croce’s philosophy is to be sought. [5]

What are the “maximum” limits for the connotation of the word “intellectual”? Can a unitary criterion be found for characterizing equally all the many varied intellectual activities and for distinguishing these at the same time and in an essential way from the activities of other social groupings? The most widespread methodological error seems to be that of looking for this distinguishing criterion within the sphere of intellectual activities, rather than examining the whole general complex of social relations within which these activities (and hence the groups which personify them) are to be found. Indeed, the worker or the proletarian, for example, are not specifically characterized by their manual or skilled work, [6] but by this work performed in certain conditions and in certain social relations. And it has already been observed that the capitalist, through his very function, must to a certain extent possess a certain number of qualifications of an intellectual kind, although his social position is not determined by these but precisely by those general relations which determine the position of the capitalist in industry.

All men are intellectuals, one could therefore say; but all men do not have the function of intellectuals in society. [7] Historically specialized categories are formed in this way for carrying out the intellectual function; they are formed in connection with all social classes but especially in connection with the most important social groups, and undergo more extensive and complex elaborations in connection with the ruling social class. One of the most important characteristics of every class which develops towards power is its struggle to assimilate and conquer “ideologically” the traditional intellectuals. Assimilations and conquests are the more rapid and effective the more the given social class puts forward simultaneously its own organic intellectuals. The enormous development in scholastic activity and organization (in the broad sense) in the societies which arose out of the medieval world indicate what importance intellectual categories and functions assume in the modern world: how the effort has been made to deepen and widen the “intellectuality” of every individual as well as to increase and refine specialization. This results from the work of scholastic institutions of various levels right up to the organizations to promote so-called “high culture,” in every sphere of learning and technique. The schools are the instrument for producing intellectuals at various levels. [8] Even in this field, quantity cannot be divorced from quality. The most refined technico-cultural specialization requires the greatest possible extension of primary education and the greatest care to encourage secondary education for the largest number. [9]

It should be noted that in reality the elaboration of intellectual groups does not take place on an abstract democratic basis, but according to very concrete traditional historical processes. Classes have been formed which traditionally “produce” intellectuals, and these are the same as those who are commonly noted for “thrift,” i.e. the rural petty and middle bourgeoisie, and the same strata of the petty and middle bourgeoisie in the cities. The different distribution of different types of school (classical and professional) in the “economic” field and the different aspirations of the various categories of these classes determine or give shape to the production of different branches of intellectual specialization. Thus in Italy the rural bourgeoisie produces especially State officials and free professionals, whereas the city bourgeoisie produces technicians for industry; and therefore Northern Italy produces especially technicians and Southern Italy especially officials and professional people.

The relationship between intellectuals and the world of production is not immediate, as is the case for fundamental social groups; it is “mediated,” in different levels, by the whole social fabric, and by the complex of the superstructure of which the intellectuals are in fact the “officials.” One could measure the “organic position” of the different intellectual strata, their more or less close connection with a fundamental social class, fixing a gradation of functions and of the superstructure from bottom to top (from the structural base upwards). For the moment we can fix two great “floors” of the superstructure: that which can be called “civil society,” i.e. all the organizations which are commonly called “private,” and that of “political society or the State,” which corresponds to the function of “hegemony” which the ruling class exercises over the whole of society and to that of “direct rule” or of command which is expressed in the State and in “juridical” government. These are precisely organizational and connective functions. Intellectuals are the “officers” of the ruling class for the exercise of the subordinate functions of social hegemony and political government, i.e.

  1. of the “spontaneous” consent given by the great masses of the population to the direction imprinted on social life by the fundamental ruling class, a consent which comes into existence “historically” from the “prestige” (and hence from the trust) accruing to the ruling class from its position and its function in the world of production;

  2. of the apparatus of State coercion, which “legally” ensures the discipline of those groups which do not “consent” either actively or passively, but is constituted for the whole of society in anticipation of moments of crisis in command and direction when spontaneous consent diminishes.

This statement of the problem has the effect of greatly broadening the concept of intellectual, but only in this way is it possible to reach a concrete approximation to reality. This way of presenting the question strikes a blow against preconceptions of caste: it is true that the very function of organizing social hegemony and State rule gives rise to a certain division of labor and so to a certain gradation of qualifications, in some of which no leading or organizing attribute any longer appears: in the apparatus of social and State leadership there exists a whole series of jobs of a manual and instrumental character (of rule and not of concept, of agent and not of official or functionary, etc.); but evidently this distinction needs to be made, as it will also be necessary to make others. In fact intellectual activity must be divided into levels from an intrinsic point of view as well, levels which in moments of extreme opposition offer a true qualitative difference: in the highest grade will have to be placed the creators of the various sciences, of philosophy, art, etc.; in the lowest, the most humble “administrators” and propagators of already existing traditional and accumulated intellectual riches. Military organization, in this case also, provides a model for these complex gradations: subordinate officers, superior officers, General Staff; and there is no need to forget the N.C.O.’s whose real importance is greater than is usually thought. It is interesting to note that all these parts feel solidarity together, and moreover that the lower strata show a more apparent esprit de corps and derive from it an “arrogance” which provides the subject of many jokes.

In the modern world the category of the intellectual, understood in this way, has been inordinately enlarged. They have been produced in imposing numbers by the democratico-bureaucratic social system, beyond what is justified by the social needs of production, even if justified by the political needs of the fundamental ruling class. Hence Loria’s conception of the unproductive “worker” (but unproductive with reference to whom and to what mode of production?), which may be partly justified if one takes account of the fact that these masses exploit their position to assign themselves huge cuts out of the national income. The mass formation has standardized individuals in terms of both individual and psychological peculiarities, resulting in the same phenomena which exists in all other standardized masses: competition, which provides the need for professional defensive organizations, unemployment, scholastic overproduction, emigration, etc.


The crux of the question remains the distinction between intellectuals as an organic category of any fundamental social group, and intellectuals as a traditional category. From this distinction a whole series of problems and objects of possible historical research arise. From our point of view, the most interesting problem concerns the modern political party. What can we make of the political party in light of the problem of intellectuals? We can make some observations:

  1. For some social groups, the political party is nothing more than their own way of working out their own category of organic intellectuals if circumstances and life conditions do not allow them to be formed otherwise, providing a political and philosophical equivalent to their productive technique if it is not yet in existence. In the field of productive technology, we could say that these layers correspond to what the army refers to as “graduate troops” — for example, skilled and specialized workers in the city. [10]

  2. The political party, for all groups, is precisely the mechanism that performs the same function in civil society that the State performs — to a greater extent and more compactly — in political society. That is to say, it brings together the organic intellectuals of a given group, the dominant ones, and traditional intellectuals, and by doing this the party fulfills its fundamental function, which is to elaborate upon the social group, born and developed “economically,” so that its members become qualified political intellectuals, leaders, and organizers of all activities and functions inherent in the organic development of an integral, civil and political society.

Indeed, it can be said that in this sphere the political party fulfills its function much more fully and organically than the State fulfills its own in the broader sphere: an intellectual can join the political party of a particular social group, mingle with the organic intellectuals of that group, bind himself closely to the group — this happens through participation in State affairs only mediocrely, and sometimes not at all. On the other hand, it also happens that many intellectuals think they are the State; a belief which, given the imposing mass of the category, sometimes has considerable unpleasant consequences and leads to unpleasant complications for the economic group that really is the foundation of the State.

That all members of a political party should be regarded as intellectuals is a statement that may lend itself to jest and ridicule; however, if one reflects on it, nothing could be more accurate. A distinction of degree is of course necessary, a party may have a greater or lesser composition of the highest grade or the lowest grade, but that is not what matters: what matters that the party’s function is directive and organizational, which is to say educational, which is to say intellectual. A merchant does not join a political party to trade wares, nor an industrialist to produce more and at lower cost, nor a farmer to learn new ways of cultivating the land (howevermuch some aspects of these needs of the merchant, the industrialist, and the farmer may get satisfied by the political party). [11] For such purposes, within certain limits, there exist professional unions — that is where the economic-corporate activity of the merchant, the industrialist, the farmer, finds its most suitable framework. In the political party, meanwhile, the elements of any social economic group overcome this moment in their historical development and take agency over general, national, and international activities. [12]


When we distinguish intellectuals and non-intellectuals, we are in fact referring only to the immediate social function of the category of professional intellectuals, that is to say, we are taking account of the direction in which the greater part of the specific professional activity, whether in intellectual elaboration or in muscular-nervous effort, throws its weight. This means that, though we can speak of intellectuals, we cannot speak of non-intellectuals, because non-intellectuals do not exist. But the relationship itself between an effort of intellectual cerebral elaboration and muscular-nervous effort is not always the same; therefore we have different levels of specific intellectual activity. There is no human activity from which all intellectual intervention can be excluded — homo faber cannot be separated from homo sapiens. Finally, every man, outside his own job, develops some intellectual activity; he is, in other words, a “philosopher,” an artist, a man of taste, he shares a conception of the world, he has a conscious line of moral conduct, and so contributes towards sustaining or changing a conception of the world, that is, towards encouraging new modes of thought.

The problem of creating a new class of intellectuals consists, therefore, in the critical elaboration of the intellectual activity which exists at a certain stage of development in everyone, changing its relation with the muscular-nervous effort towards a new equilibrium and assuring that the muscular-nervous effort itself, in so far as it is a general practical activity which is perpetually changing the physical and social world, shall become the foundation of a new and integral conception of the world. The popularized traditional type of intellectual is represented by the literary man, the philosopher, the artist. Because of this, journalists, who regard themselves as literary men, philosophers and artists, regard themselves also as the “true” intellectuals. In the modern world technical education, strictly tied to even the most primitive and unqualified industrial work, must form the basis for the new type of intellectual. [13]

[1] Quaderno 12 [XXIX], §1, 3. [web] 

[2] Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) [web] 

[3] For one category of these intellectuals, perhaps the most important after the “ecclesiastical” — for the prestige and the social function exercised in primitive societies — the category of doctors in a broad sense, that is, if all those who “battle” or appear to battle against death and sickness — it will be necessary to compare Arturo Castiglioni’s History of Medicine. Remember that there has been and in certain areas continues to be a connection between religion and medicine: hospitals in the hands of monks for certain organizational functions, in addition to the fact that when the doctor appears the priest appears (exorcism, various forms of attendance, etc.). Many great religious figures were also or were conceived of as great “healers”; the idea of the miracle up to the resurrection of the dead. For kings also the belief lasted for a long time that they cured by laying on their hands, etc. 

[4] From this arises the general use of “intellectual” or “specialist,” of the word “clerk” in many languages of neo-Latin origin or which were influenced strongly, through the Church, by neo-Latin languages, with its correlative of “lay” in the sense of profane, non-specialist. 

[5] Giovanni Gentile (b. 1875-1944) was a major intellectual forefather of Italian fascism. Benedetto Croce (b. 1866-1952) was a very influential politically-liberal intellectual. — R. D. 

[6] This is besides the consideration that there is no such thing as “purely physical work.” Even Taylor’s metaphor of the “tamed gorilla” indicates the existence of a lower bound: in any physical work, even in the most mechanical and degraded, we find a minimum of technical qualification — that is, a minimum of creative intellectual activity. 

[7] Thus, although anyone at any time can fry a couple of eggs or mend a hole in a jacket, we do not say that everyone is a cook or a tailor. 

[8] The complexity of the intellectual function in different States can be measured by the number of specialized schools and their degree of division into hierarchies: the more extensive is the scholastic “area” and the more numerous the “vertical levels” of the schools, the more complex will be the cultural world, the civilization of any State. We can find a simile in the sphere of industrial technique: the industrialization of a country is measured by its equipment for constructing machines and the manufacture of ever more accurate instruments to construct machines and tools for constructing machines, etc. The country which is best equipped for making instruments for experimental laboratories and for making instruments to test those instruments, can be called the most advanced in the technico-industrial field, the most civilized, etc. It is the same in the training of intellectuals and in the schools devoted to this; schools and institutions of high culture are alike in this. 

[9] Naturally, this need for creating the broadest possible basis for the selection and training of people with the highest technical qualifications — of giving, that is, a democratic structure to high culture and advanced technique — has its inconveniences: the possibility is created of large unemployment crises among the middle intellectual strata, as in fact happens in all modern societies. 

[10] The sharecroppers and settlers in the countryside play a similar role, albeit in a more complicated way, since the sharecropper and settler generally correspond to the artisan type, which is the skilled worker in a medieval economy. 

[11] The fact that popular opinion considers the “political” merchant, industrialist, and farmer the worst of their kind could also be discussed here. 

[12] Gramsci goes on to discuss Russia, Germany, England, France, America, Africa, Latin America, India, China, and Japan, in terms of their relative formation or non-formation of organic intellectuals. — R. D. 

[13] It is on this basis that L’Ordine Nuovo worked, week by week, to develop certain forms of new intellectualism and to determine its new concepts, and this was not a minor reason for its success, because such a presentation corresponded to latent aspirations and conformed to actual forms of life. The mode of existence of the new intellectual can no longer consist of eloquence, the external and momentary arousing of sentiments and passions, but must consist of being actively involved in practical life, as a builder, an organizer, “permanently persuasive” because he is not purely an orator — and nevertheless superior to the abstract mathematical spirit; from technique-labor he reaches technique-science and the humanist historical conception, without which he remains a “specialist” and does not become a “leader” (specialist plus politician).