Emerging Countries:
The Marxism-Institutionalism Controversy
Sergio Ordóñez
Marxist Response ( ...continuation )

From this point of view, the concept of the Institutionalists’ institutions would not include the aspect of mediation of the hegemonic function and would only include the aspect of the reach of its capacity to bring together and make more cohesive social and individual action on levels two and three, levels for which the concept of formation of institutions not committed to intentionality may have a place in the Gramscian contribution, as understood by the Institutionalists.22

As such the relationship between agent and structure appears in the Gramscian school of thought on two levels: (1) on the level of the structure-super-structure relationship or the historical block, the economic structure (forms of production, industrial patterns and forms of circulation, distribution and consumption of the social product) constitutes the framework of individual actions, understood as moving from a purely economic moment to an ethical-political moment, that is, of the higher construction of a structure within the superstructure of man’s conscience (and the action). This also implies passing from “objective” to “subjective,” a relationship for which the structure is “the point of reference and the dialectic origin of the super-structures,” which is why policies and the rest of super-structures have specificity and active role in historical change, and are not limited to a mere reflection of the economic structure (Gramsci, 1932-1934, C. 13, p. 1577-1578);23 and (2) on the level of complex super-structures, politics specifically plays a mediatory role between economic structure and the rest of the super-structures (cultural, ideological, philosophical, etc.), insofar as the hegemonic process that articulates these is born of a new and lasting historically viable solution to the set of social conflicts. That is, more than anything else, it is a hegemony (economic-political), and as such, culture as a form of individual action, and the rest of the super-structures, can be conceived as political “moments,” and as a result, individual actions are essentially politics, insofar as each of the super-structures contributes to the solution of antagonism and social conflict based on its own contribution to the construction of a systematic concept and vision of the world common among the set of classes, social groups and individuals that form the historical block, and imply a way of acting and corresponding ethical-social behavior.24

In this sense, man as an individual cannot be conceived except through his relationship with the historical block,25 both in terms of social relationships and life conditions or elements of mass and objectives, as well as a subject that possesses and develops his own individuality and subjectivity. We are thus talking about subjects gifted with conscience and free will that are not wholly determined by social conditions and who develop their own individuality;26 a concept that combines the Gramscian solution with the dichotomy of the Institutionalists between collectivism and methodological individualism.

But if the historical block is the competitive set of social and individual practices revolving around a common historical project that implies alliances, agreements and commitments between classes and groups, the State, in a broad sense, or the Expanded State, consists of the set of theoretical-practical activities through which classes and dominant groups justify and maintain their domination, and achieve, moreover, active consensus from subordinate classes and groups. As such, the concept of the expanded State can be seen as an inverted reflection of the historical block. In this sense, the expanded State is the unity of the political society, a social environment where political and societal relationships condense and where coercion is concentrated. Civil society is the environment of the set of private institutions where consensus is concentrated. The concept of the expanded State is different from that of the state in a restricted sense, mainly that while the latter is subject to political society and refers to the exercise of the coercive aspect of hegemony, the expanded State includes the exercise of the set of hegemonic processes around which the civil society and institutions form.

The expanded State thus has the following essential general functions: (1) achieve maximum development and expansion of ruling groups by presenting them as the maximum development and expansion of society, or realizing historical objectives of the ruling group by presenting them as the realization of society’s objectives as a whole; (2) adapting civil society to the requirements of the economic structure and, in particular, extending the hegemonic function from its dialectic origin in the economic structure towards complex super-structures (Gramsci, 1932-1935, C. 10, pp. 1253-54).27

22 Hodgson (2006) proposes that one of the advantages of institutionalism is that it opens the door to the construction of an alternative ontology for institutions, which avoids conceptual problems related with an explanation based on intentionality. That concept of institutions would correspond to levels two and three of Gramsci’s institutions, for which the origin of these can be “spontaneous” and separate from any intentionality (linked exclusively to a conscience in itself), while on level one, which is determinant over the rest, there is clearly a hegemonic-intentional dimension.

23 The concept of the historical block thus implies a relationship between structure and super-structure, an alternative to the economist and mechanist structure of III International in which, additionally, class reductionism is broken, in the sense that the systematic concept and vision of the world provided by the super-structures do not correspond to the concept and vision of the dominant classes and groups, but rather to the articulation and incorporation of the concepts and visions of other classes and groups of the historical block in these super-structures, depending on the intensity and amplitude of the hegemonic function.

24 Gramsci affirms that politics and history can be identified, and as a result, life and politics, if the system of super-structures is conceived of as levels (or degrees) of policy, which makes the incorporation of the concept of levels coined by Croce necessary in the concept of the historical block, which is thus not only the unity of contrary elements, but also of different ones (Gramsci, 1932-1935, C.13 p. 1569).

25 In this sense, the affirmation that the individual subject is historically determined can be understood.

26 Understanding oneself takes place through a hegemonic struggle, first in ethics, later in politics, and finally in a higher construction of the concept of reality (Mouffe, 1979).

27 In that sense, the State and its work are located between the economic structure and civil society (Gramsci, 1932-1935, pp. 1253-1254).