Antonio Gramsci is seen by many as one of the most important Marxist thinkers of the twentieth century, in particular as a key thinker in the development of Western Marxism.
Hegemony was a concept previously used by Marxists such as Lenin to indicate the political leadership of the working-class in a democratic revolution, but developed by Gramsci into an acute analysis to explain why the ‘inevitable’ socialist revolution predicted by orthodox Marxism had not occurred by the early 20th century. Capitalism, it seemed, was even more entrenched than ever. Capitalism, Gramsci suggested, maintained control not just through violence and political and economic coercion, but also ideologically, through a hegemonic culture in which the values of the bourgeoisie became the ‘common sense’ values of all. Thus a consensus culture developed in which people in the working-class identified their own good with the good of the bourgeoisie, and helped to maintain the status quo rather than revolting.
The working class needed to develop a culture of its own, which would overthrow the notion that bourgeois values represented ‘natural’ or ‘normal’ values for society, and would attract the oppressed and intellectual classes to the cause of the proletariat. Lenin held that culture was ‘ancillary’ to political objectives but for Gramsci it was fundamental to the attainment of power that cultural hegemony was first achieved.
In Gramscis view, any class that wishes to dominate in modern conditions has to move beyond its own narrow economic-corporate interests, to exert intellectual and moral leadership, and to make alliances and compromises with a variety of forces.
the bourgeoisie was regarded as hegemonic within capitalist society by Gramsci, who believed their power depended on the permeation by bourgeois values of all organs of society.