MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms




1 hectare = 10,000 square meters, or 2.47 acres.



Hegemony is a class alliance by means of which one, leading [hegemonic] class assumes a position of leadership over other classes, in return guaranteeing them certain benefits, so as to be able to secure public political power over society as a whole.

The term comes from the ancient Greek; hgemonika summacia [hegemonika symmachia] was an alliance of a number of city-states under the direction of one dominant state called the hegemon [hegemon]. The term entered common usage in English in the 1840s in connection with European power struggles – “Macedonia exercised hegemony over Greece,” “Prussia had hegemony over Europe,” etc.

The term was first used in its current, political sense in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, by Martov, Plekhanov, Lenin and others, in connection with the class alliance in which the proletariat led the peasantry in Russia, in order to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union, in return for which, the proletariat resolved the historic problems of the peasantry, especially in connection with land-ownership and the War. (See Marxism and Nasha Zarya, Lenin 1911.)

The term was then developed and popularised by Antonio Gramsci who demonstrated that every nation state requires that some class is able to establish a hegemony capable of unifying the nation and resolving its historical problems. Gramsci posed the problem of the working class in Italy in terms of the need for the Italian workers, especially in the industrialised North, to understand the problems of the Southern peasantry and make the demands and aspirations of the Southern peasants their own, while refusing any corporatist bloc with the Northern industrial bourgeoisie.

Gramsci associated the term hegemony with the idea that the working class had to establish “intellectual and moral leadership” of an “historic bloc” of classes, capable of forming a new state. He accused Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky of underestimating the depth of resources of the capitalist state, which required a protacted “war of position” in order to undermine it, remove from one social position after another, and eventually overthrow it, rather than a rapid “war of movement”, by which the revolutionaries could hope to smash the bourgeoisie's defences and demoralise them all in one blow: rather, the working class had to build a new hegemonic bloc.

In 1985, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, reactivated discussion of hegemony with their book Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, in which they used semiological and structural-linguistic ideas to introduce the idea of hegemony as a system of concepts which recognises the social functions of different strata while stitching all concepts into a more or less closed system, capable of regulating social life while making any “outside” impossible to talk about or even imagine; formulated in this way, hegemony is used to theorise social conflict without the concept of class; however, the concept of hegemony is in fact quite consistent with the concepts of class and class struggle, even in the expanded meaning given to it by Laclau and Mouffe.

Further Reading: See An Antonio Gramsci Reader.