MOSCOW (Realist English). Mathematician and musician Antonio Gramsci answered these and other questions of the Realist News Agency, who told about his legendary grandfather and namesake – the founder of the Italian Communist Party Antonio Gramsci.
Realist: It is very difficult to overestimate the persona of your grandfather. But it is always difficult to do for family members when their relative is a global personality. How did this affect the family in everyday and ideological terms?
Antonio Gramsci: Being here, first in the Soviet Union, then in Russia, I didn’t really notice it. In the USSR, the persona of Antonio Gramsci was not given such importance as in Italy, in the West, even in America. For example, all of his prison notebooks were never published. After all, he was a supporter of orthodox Marxism, besides he defendied Trotsky. Of course, they talked about him, wrote about him in history textbooks, but very briefly. His colleague (inaudible in the recording) had more fame and weight. So I didn’t feel anything special, either then or now.
Most people don’t even know who the Gramscis are. Yes, educated people ask about my relationship with Antonio Gramsci, and it’s just at such moments that I feel a sense of pride.
My parents are completely apolitical people, they are musicians: my father is a clarinetist, my mother is a choir conductor, but nevertheless we have always had some privileges. We used the departmental polyclinic, went to rest homes of the Central Committee. I remember that the same Trotsky killer, Ramon Mercader, lived next door to us there. I was friends with his adopted son. We had a room in our house, my mother called it the grandfather’s museum.
I was born in Moscow, I went to Italy for the first time in 1978. My father and I always traveled to Italy absolutely freely, there were no problems. But as soon as I crossed the border of Italy, I became a “wedding general”. On the one hand, my self–esteem flattered me, on the other, it weighed me down, because there was no authentic interest in my personality, in my activities, I just became a pale shadow of my grandfather. And everyone hugged me, said how important I was, but I saw how the gaze was directed through me. And only in Russia I am respected and loved for what I know and represent myself.
Realist: What was the power of your grandfather’s ideas?
Antonio Gramsci: I have a rather weak grasp of my grandfather’s legacy and know his philosophy quite superficially, I have been studying sciences and music all my life. For me, it’s a dark forest with references to philosophers. I read only his letters to his family and the exchange of opinions on fairly simple articles and “Prison notebooks”. But I have an idea in general terms and I consider the most relevant book for Russia by Sergei Kara-Murza “Manipulation of Consciousness” («Манипуляция сознанием»), which talks about the legacy of the grandfather.
Realist: How was he remembered in the family?
Antonio Gramsci: My father have not seen him at all, my grandfather was born in 1891, he was arrested in 1926 when he was 35, and at 46 he already died. There are few memories.
Realist: Have any family legends been preserved?
Antonio Gramsci: My grandmother was the guardian of my grandfather’s memory, but because these were very painful memories, she preferred not to talk about them, even during my grandfather’s lifetime. They did not say that he was in prison, only that he was working and fighting fascism, that he was very busy and could not come. They hid the fact of the arrest from the children in every possible way. Then by chance the children found out about that from the neighbors. Therefore, children perceived him only by letters and there are no legends about him. It was then that I had to dig up a lot from the archives and create not a legend, but real facts from the history of my grandfather’s interaction with our Russian family.
I have done this, I have even written a number of books, each of which is thicker and thicker, one of the last books is quite serious, it’s about a revolutionary family, there are a lot of facts, for example, about how the grandfather met with Lenin. The most amazing thing is that in Italy they don’t know about it. Everyone here thinks it’s just a meeting, and only one Soviet writer mentioned it in his book, and I dug up all the details, found out everything thoroughly what they were talking about. It was in 1922, during Lenin’s recovery from a stroke.
My great-grandfather was a close friend of Lenin, he was the godfather of my grandmother’s sister, they were close to such an extent. So at that very meeting, they had a long conversation on the topic of creating a united front. When fascism began to gain strength, it was decided to create a united movement, and they began discussing the creation of a united front of socialism, the union of the Communist Party with the realist (?). Lenin actually recommended the grandfather for the role of leader of the CP, and sent him to Vienna to remotely lead the Italian Communist Party, because it was dangerous at that time to be near such a the leader. It was then that Mussolini allowed the Communists to enter parliament.
I managed to establish the most complicated history of the last dramatic years of Gramsci’s life.
I found amazing letters where he describes the events when he hesitated whether to stay in Italy, or to return to the Soviet Union. He was intimidated by the NKVD, employees came to his hospital in Rome in the last months of his life. Although it was clear that the man was doomed.
Despite this, he was questioned in every possible way about his connections with the Italian Trotskyists. All this happened while Trotsky was alive, who was in Mexico at that time. It is clear that this was both intimidation and blackmail. Grandfather realized that if he had said something wrong, his family would have suffered in Moscow. He just kept silence.
In 1936, Pierre (?) came to him, a left-wing economist who lived in London, but as it turned out, he also turned out to be an agent of the NKVD, despite the fact that he loved the grandfather. But Grandfather was silent. Because it was about the trial of his close friends.
Gramsci was friends with Bolshevik intellectuals, but he was not friends with Stalin. He even wrote an angry letter once to him. Stalin was the general secretary at that time, he was a bureaucrat of little interest to Gramsci. And Gramsci, in turn, was not interested in Stalin. Besides, Stalin was not involved in the Comintern. His circle was different. He communicated with Trotsky, Zinoviev, Bukharin, Kamenev, Pyatnitsky.
Realist: What was the Comintern like?
Antonio Gramsci: It was diverse. Under Lenin, the Comintern was completely different that under Stalin. In the 1920s, this was all bubbling up enough in the party-democratic climate. It was all very interesting. There was creativity, they all sat up until the morning, discussed ideas, and already in the 1930s there were Stalin’s puppets.
Realist: How would your grandfather perceive the collapse of the Soviet Union?
Antonio Gramsci: As a greatest tragedy, just like I did. For the Bolsheviks of that caliber, it was not a communist empire, but a chance for the people and republics to rise up. After all, the Union brought the republics out of the state of the Middle Ages. If we compare modern Afghanistan and Central Asia: Uzbekistan, for example, then we must understand that if it were not for the Soviet Union, it would be another Afghanistan – a heroin shop. Afghanistan under the Soviet Union is a massive construction of houses and hospitals. I studied with an Afghan at the biofactory of Moscow State University, I know a lot, but under America there are only heroin plantations.
Realist: What was the progressivity of the Soviet Union?
Antonio Gramsci: The Soviet Union was ahead of its time, and that’s what ruined it. There was such a sharp leap forward that the Soviet Union simply could not stand the load itself. But this, of course, was overlaid with a lot of flaws in the system. The achievements of socialism in Eastern Europe and Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the GDR – mediocre economy, excessive aid to developing countries, lack of a competitive environment that had to be created.
They tried to create it with some kind of awards, socialist competitions, but it still didn’t work – excessive bureaucracy, excessive propaganda, excessive closeness, kleptocracy interfered. And many negative factors arose under Stalin. The impetus for bureaucracy was given under him. Well, the arms race is the main evil. But at the same time, the advantages were great, which for the time being covered the flaws.
And the most important advantage of the Soviet Union was social justice: free education, free medicine, equal opportunities, of course, all this with certain limitations. Yes, there was corruption, but there was still the possibility of social mobility, when the children of peasants could receive higher education without any issues.
This was the cult of the labor of the productive intelligentsia.
Realist: Has Gramsci’s connection with Togliatti been preserved?
Antonio Gramsci: They were very close friends, but in 1926 their relationship deteriorated sharply. Gramsci sent a letter to the Central Committee in defense of Trotsky, but Togliatti refused to hand it over. Then there was an exchange of angry letters between them, and after that their relationship deteriorated. Subsequently, their relationship is simply covered with the darkness of mystery. It is believed that even in letters to Tatiana Gramsci transmitted in encrypted form some messages for Togliatti. They couldn’t communicate directly, but there was an indirect connection. Gramsci suspected to the last that his own comrades had set him up. But, in my opinion, Gramsci was wrong, because OVRA (ital. Organo di Vigilanza dei Reati Antistatali — “The Body overseeing anti-state manifestations”) was well aware of Gramsci’s role, but he was a very suspicious person and suspected even his own comrades.
(He had that fear that he was behind the times, that he was not aware of any events, that his own comrades would cheat him).
To such an extent was the aggravation of relations with the Communists that in the 30s, when asked his opinion about the exclusion of some communists from the party, he spoke out against it, and then there was another quarrel. And even his fellow prisoners threw snowballs with stones at him. There was such an episode. Of course, they did not want to kill, but rather humiliate, insult him. He simply went against the line of the Comintern. The same thing happened between Stalin and Trotsky. In the end, what didn’t they share? One was for the world revolution, the second stood for the revolution in a particular country.
Realist: Do you believe that the idea of the left movement will prevail, if we talk about the ideas of social justice?
Antonio Gramsci: Now it is not clear what to call a “left idea”. I don’t believe in anything, I compare the odds, look at the facts of what is happening. It seems to me that in the near future the world will slide towards social injustice, but I hope for social justice through the decentralization of leadership. I’m counting on it.
As a fan of cybernetic ideas, I am close to the ideas of left-wing anarchy, when society leads itself. It’s about a high level of consciousness. Then personal gain will no longer become a leitmotif.
By the way, it’s slowly coming to this now, because the islands of property accumulation are rising, the idea of carsharing is nonsense, but a kind of germ of socialization. And I hope that when people lose interest in personal gain and self–assertion due to social inequality, justice will prevail on another level. I don’t know what it will be called, and it doesn’t matter, but there are probably prerequisites for this.
Realist: Which direction in music is closer to you?
Antonio Gramsci: Oddly enough, lately I have been doing mathematics: teaching logic books and problems. I teach in an online organization, where I prepare students for Olympiads, write problem books, puzzles.
And in music I love old-European music, Renaissance and Baroque music.
Of the instruments, I like block flutes, percussionы, some strings, recently I got carried away with bouzouki.
We also played Armenian music – Narekatsi, Ambartsum Limondjian, Komitas. I have specially prepared such a program, I really love old ethnic music.
My father was very fond of old music, it was he who taught me to play the block flute, I played at one time in the Madrigal ensemble. For me, this is both a professional activity and a vacation. I earn money from this and combine business with pleasure. I can’t say it’s a routine, I’m having fun. I teach creative mathematics and music at an Italian school.
Realist: What language do you think in?
Antonio Gramsci: In Russian, definitely. Italian is secondary for me. When I’m in Italy, I think in Italian, but by the way, I don’t know it perfectly, I learned it as an adult. I didn’t speak Italian at all until I was 19. My father taught it to me, and I lived there for six months and learned to speak.
Realist: How do Italians differ from Russians?
Antonio Gramsci: I am a cosmopolitan by mentality, I do not divide people into nations. I do not know who is Russian, who is Italian, I know that a person grows up in a various cultural environment. Following my grandfather, it’s not that I deny nationality, he offered to rise above nationality, this is the pathos of the communist movement.
Nationality is a relic. I, too, like my grandfather, want to rise above nationality. I have 10 bloodlines. Gramsci’s surname is not Italian at all, we come from the Arbresh nationalities. These are the ancient Albanians who fled from the Turks in the 15th century. They still live and speak the old Albanian language. There is such a city in central Albania, Gramsci, I was in it.
Russians and Italians have differences in manners: gestures, the manner of hugging, kissing when meeting – I call it “antics”. We are not Scandinavians in this regard. And Russians, unlike Italians, are less sociable, Italians immediately switch to second person singular, a lot of everything.
Realist: What do you convey with your music? What do you want to say with it?
Antonio Gramsci: I will not be afraid of this word, to some extent my music is missionary. I want to lift my students above this stupid pop. In the same concert where we played Armenian music, I wanted to show what kind of music Armenians have. Everyone thinks that they have only Jivan Gasparyan, who plays the duduk. No, they had awesome music in the 18th century. I show the Italians that they have not only Sanremo. They had besides Vivaldi and Palestrina, Monteverdi, and polyphony. I look at all this pessimistically, but I hide behind my grandfather’s phrase “pessimism of reason and optimism of will.” That was his motto.
Realist: What does culture mean to you? How do you understand it?
Antonio Gramsci: Culture is what makes us human. Although animals also have their own culture, but what makes us exist harmoniously is culture. If there is no such deep first as culture, then barbarism begins. Culture humanizes and elevates, removes cruelty and violence. Although I sometimes doubt this concept, because the Turks and Ottomans had an exorbitant culture, abeit borrowed, they were the greatest connoisseurs of music and poetry, but at the same time they bought a slave boy, cut off his genitals, buried him in the sand, then used him for their pleasures. And then we went to a coffee shop and listened to great music. Or they slaughtered the entire population of the city, raped women, and then listened to music again. The ancient Japanese culture included barbarism. Therefore, I dare to doubt this concept, but still I cannot give another definition. Culture is what elevates and humanizes.
Realist: How do you feel about the ideas and principles of nonviolence?
Antonio Gramsci: I am an unbeliever, not an atheist, but an agnostic. But even for me, for an unbeliever, the “Sermon on the Mount,” as my grandfather wrote, is a moral revolution. He was referring to early Christianity, which is a big step up compared to other concepts – Confucianism, Buddhism. It towers over anything.
It is not Christianity as an institution that has distinguished itself with cruelty quite comparable to the Muslim one. But at least for Muslims, the norms of violence are clearly spelled out in the Koran, and there are contradictions in Christianity. On the one hand, non–resistance to evil, and on the other – violence in the real practice. It’s the same in Buddhism…