Even in the modern democratic state it would appear, from the point of view of the dominated classes, that the dice are loaded. Our socio-political transition from absolute monarchy to liberal democracy has failed to do away with the essential structure of power, with its dominant and dominated classes. While the practice of democracy creates the illusion that power is derived from the egalitarian expression of the will of all the people, the reality it quite different. Our experience of the democratic state, through our enculturated sense of hegemony, informs us that regardless of elections some people have power and others don’t.
The leading personnel of the bourgeois class organised into a State can be constituted by elements of the old feudal classes, who have been dispossessed of their traditional economic predominance (Junkers and Lords), but who have found new forms of economic power in industry and in the banks, and who have not fused with the bourgeoisie but have remained united to their traditional social group.
– Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks (1933)
Gramsci is of the opinion that this inequality of power is rooted in historical structures, which, in the concession of power to the new and developing democracies, merely shifted from one means of dominance to another. Wealth, as one of the principal sources of power, was never democratised and so remained a source of power for the wealthy as they repositioned themselves both politically and economically in their respective nations. One result of this is that the democratic government is protected by the hegemony of the wealthy as it manifests itself in civil society, and the state returns the favour by protecting the hegemonic class (Laine 2014).
It is rather easy to understand how exactly this works in a democracy in which every individual believes that he or she has an equal democratic say in how their state is governed. As workers, dependent on the economic whims of the hegemonic class, their wage labour and economic means depend on the good graces of the economic ruling class, and so they are persuaded to vote in the interests of their employment – and what is to them the interests of their employment are the political interests of the élite. As the controller of capital the dominant class has exclusive ownership of the media, the information narrative of its class. The voter therefore is free, but informed by the media of the dominant class, and subject to that class’ economic demands in order to eat.
All of this makes resistance impossible within the present structures. Democracy cannot ever be an effective remedy to the hegemony because it is a tool of the dominant class. So long as one strives within this system one is subject to the rules of the system, and those rules (defended as they are by law and the state’s monopoly of legitimate violence) guarantee the position of the dominant class. Resistance, then, must be rooted outside the system or in its destruction.
Gramsci, Antonio. Selections From The Prison Notebooks. London: The Electronic Book Company, 1999.
Laine, Jussi. “Debating Civil Society: Contested Conceptualizations and Development Trajectories.” International Journal of Not-for-Profit Law 16, no. 1 (2014): 59–77.