Antonio Gramsci is popularly known for his theory of cultural hegemony, which describes various cultural and ideological strategies used by the capitalist state and the ruling class (the bourgeoisie) to maintain the status quo in capitalist society.
Orthodox Marxism predicted that the socialist revolution is bound to occur in the capitalist state. However, no such revolution had occurred in most of the capitalist society by the end of the 20th century. It was Gramsci, who explains why there was no proletarian revolution as anticipated by the orthodox Marxism.
According to him, the working class did not revolt against the capitalist state because they were forced to believe that the capitalist state is a legitimate institution, which is based on the consent of people.
Working-class got this view through a hegemonic culture created by the bourgeoisie, which is used as a curtain to cover the exploitation and suppression of the capitalist state. This hegemonic culture helps the bourgeoisie to create a sense of belongingness to the state among the working class.
As a result, the working class starts identifying their own interests with the interest of the ruling class, which plays a very important role in maintaining stability in capitalist society.
The conventional Marxist theory held that economic mode of production form the base of society whereas religion, social customs, legal and political structure form its superstructure.
According to this theory, the character of the superstructure is influenced by the base, so there is no need to analyze the superstructure independently.
However, Gramsci never accepted this theory. According to him, superstructure deserves independent analysis, because contemporary society has gained a considerable degree of autonomy.
Gramsci argues that superstructure consists of two parts:
Political Society or State adopts some coercive measures to maintain its governance and domination but on the other hand, civil society focuses on acquiring the consent of the working class to maintain its domination.
The second part of the superstructure, i.e., civil society is nearer to the base and relatively free. Therefore Gramsci focuses more on this part of superstructure than political society.
As per him, there are different organizations of civil society, such as school, family, church, etc which imparts knowledge to the working class regarding how to show respect to the authority of the capitalist class.
Civil society is the realm where consent is generated. Gramsci argues the capitalist class, through civil society exercise authority or hegemony to generate consent and when they get the consent of the people, their rule becomes authentic and legitimate.
In this way, it resists any challenge or threats to the authority of the ruling class. It is when civil society failed to cope with challenges or threats posed by the working class; the political society needs to utilize coercive measures.
So, from the above discussion, one thing has become clear that the communist movement should not limit its strategies only to the overthrow of the capitalist class but it should try to bring certain changes in the value system in the hegemonic culture that legitimizes the capitalist rule.
According to Gramsci, it would be pointless to trust that socialism would automatically rise up out of the ashes of capitalism. He argues that the socialist movement has to make a fresh effort to inculcate the social values in the mind of the working class.