A book that has just landed on my desk is the fantastic volume edited by Michael Ekers, Gillian Hart, Stefan Kipfer and Alex Loftus entitled Gramsci: Space, Nature, Politics. The book stems originally from a workshop organised under the theme of ‘Gramscian Geographies’ at Royal Holloway, University of London (8-9 January 2009).

Since then, the project has expanded to include additional participants and contributors with the book consisting of three main parts (Space, Nature, Politics) totalling 16 chapters plus two additional ‘framing’ essays, one by the editors and the other by John Berger. I was fortunate to be invited as a participant in the original workshop and as a contributor to the subsequent book with my chapter focusing on the spatiality of passive revolution.

In my contribution, I engage with Bob Jessop’s essay ‘Gramsci as a Spatial Theorist’, which delivers a salutary warning to recover the spatial and geographical sense of Antonio Gramsci’s reflections on state power. Championing Gramsci as a spatial theorist, it is therefore noteworthy that Jessop includes the theory of passive revolution within a register of spatial metaphors that have been influential in tackling the historical and geographical conditions of state power. Whilst this register of spatial metaphors is recognised as influential, however, direct analytical engagement with the spatiality of passive revolution is averted by Jessop on the basis that, for him, Gramsci’s interest lay more ‘in the actual rather than metaphorical spatiality of social relations and practices, in their spatial conditioning, and in the relevance of social relations and practices to spatial issues’ (my emphases).

My argument on this point is that the spatiality of passive revolution was not simply a metaphor but was constitutive of the actuality of spatial social relations and practices of state power in Italy. In the form of the spatiality of the Risorgimento [1861] and subsequent state formation processes in Italy, the circumstance of passive revolution reflects the actual geographical and historical conditioning of the state as a social relation within an inter-state system. The practices of passive revolution are therefore directly related to the spatial conditioning of the fractured process of state formation in Italy. In sum, passive revolution was not simply a spatial metaphor but was, more concretely, an emergent spatialisation strategy that structured and shaped state power in Italy. For example, in the first note to Notebook 21 (Q21§1) on the problem of Italian national culture in the Prison Notebooks, Gramsci himself elaborates on such issues by drawing attention to the:

controversies arising in the period of the formation of the Italian nation and of the struggle for political and territorial unity . . . The sum of these problems reflects the laborious emergence of a modern Italian nation, impeded by a balance of internal and international forces.

Reducing passive revolution to a spatial metaphor, then, would commit a slip in removing the general problems and peculiar conditions of Italian state formation and its relation to the states-system from substantive analysis. After all, the class origins of Italian state formation linked to the spatial strategy of passive revolution were embedded within a set of concrete social-political problems connecting questions about the role of a unifying national language; the relationship between art and politics; the question of national literature; and the problem of hegemony through intellectual and moral reformation. As a result, the treatment of passive revolution would thus warrant ‘a precise historical perspective’, to cite Gramsci from the same note, ‘that can additionally emphasise problems of state formation that are ‘still current and alive today’ (Q21§1). It is therefore necessary to pose the problem of passive revolution in historical and political terms rather than sidelining it as a simple metaphor.

After all, concordant with Neil Smith in his classic Uneven Development, if space is reduced to a metaphor, its materiality is unrealised and then it becomes difficult to understand the mutuality of material and metaphorical space. ‘Whatever the power of spatial metaphors to reveal especially the fragmented unity of the contemporary world’, states Smith, ‘they work precisely by reinforcing the deadness of space and therefore by denying us the spatial concepts appropriate for analysing that world’.

My argument is that the theory and strategy of passive revolution both mandates the critique of metaphor and can be understood in part through metaphor in order to reveal the geographical expressions of the contradiction of capital. My hope is that this intervention and the outstanding chapters from all the additional contributors in the book will provoke renewed debate on space, nature, and politics in and beyond Gramsci!

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