By Jason Michael
Experiences in the city or in the country equip people for different roles in the governance of society. According to Gramsci the intimate nature of power struggles in the countryside prepares the rural bourgeoisie to dominate the dominated class.
Out beyond the Dublin pale lies this great stretch of hinterland, moss, and turf that continues all the way to the wild Atlantic coast. Here in the metropolis on the Liffey this peaty landscape is known simply as “the rest of Ireland.” We are making light of course. Ireland outwith Dublin has much to offer. The people who live there – an assortment of slack jawed yokels, boggers, bog snorkelers, and culchies – do a great variety of things. They grow things and dig other things up. Every modern industrialised nation shares to varying degrees this antagonism between the city and the country, and it is to this that Gramsci turns his attention when he discusses the part the rural bourgeoisie has in the maintenance of the State’s hegemony by its natural reactionary politicking.
In Ireland we know this rustic power-brokering as “Gombeenary” – the shady wheeler-dealing of parish pump big shots, concerned almost entirely with the task of lining their own pockets and keeping their friends and neighbours at least one peg below them. The Gombeen Man is frequently explained as a product of the Famine; a third world economist who has come to view the two pillars of his existence – land and money – as his only sure bet in an uncertain world. Yet Gramsci, an Italian from Sardinia, sees in this half-baked businessman-cum-politician something more universal; a commonality in the structure of the nation state – what he calls the rural bourgeoisie.
It is this subset of the nation’s ruling élite that forms the backbone of the civil service, and does so precisely because it has a finely developed understanding of power alien to the other sets of the urban ruling class. “Power in the towns automatically becomes power in the countryside,” he notes, “but the absence of economic margins and the normally heavier repression exercised from the top downwards in the countryside cause conflicts there immediately to assume an acute and ‘personal’ form, so that counterattacks have to be more rapid and determined.” Where the business of power in the city is essentially bureaucratic and therefore more clinical, in the country it takes on the guise of hand-to-hand combat – often between neighbours – and so becomes “personal.”
Any amelioration in the labour and living conditions of the peasantry comes at a necessary cost to the status, wealth, and security of this rural landlord class, and so its political mindset is engineered so as to be instinctively reactionary. Unlike the cadres of the civil élite in the city the rural bourgeoisie is not well equipped for the clinical ordering of “things.” Its own natural forte is rather the “commanding” of people and things, making it well suited – by virtue of its inherited and lived experience – for the military and the civil service. This certainly would go a long way in explaining the disproportionate presence of culchies in the administrative strata of all government departments, and may explain the hardness and rigidity in the application of policy designed to defend the hegemony of the dominant class.
The Rural / Urban Divide
Author: Jason Michael (@Jeggit)