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For a Sociological Marxism: The Complementary Convergence of Antonio Gramsci and Karl Polanyi

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The postcommunist age calls fora Sociological Marxism that gives pride of place to society alongside but distinct from state and economy. This Sociological Marxism can be traced to the writings of Gramsci and Polanyi. Hailing from different social worlds and following different Marxist traditions, both converged on a similar critique and transcendence of Classical Marxism. For Gramsci advanced capitalism is marked by the expansion of civil society, which, with the state, acts to stabilize class relations and provide a terrain for challenging capitalism. For Polanyi expansion of the market threatens society, which reacts by (re)constituting itself as active society, thereby harboring the embryo of a democratic socialism. This article appropriates "society" as a Marxist concept and deploys it to interpret the rise and fall of communist orders, the shift from politics of class to politics of recognition, the transition from colonialism to postcolonialism, and the development of an emergent transnationalism.
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10.1177/0032329203252270
ARTICLE
POLITICS & SOCIETY
MICHAEL BURAWOY
For a Sociological Marxism:
The Complementary Convergence of
Antonio Gramsci and Karl Polanyi
MICHAEL BURAWOY
The postcommunist age calls for a Sociological Marxism that gives pride of place to
society alongside but distinct from state and economy. This Sociological Marxism
can be traced to the writings of Gramsci and Polanyi. Hailing from different social
worlds and following different Marxist traditions, both converged on a similar cri-
tique and transcendence of Classical Marxism. For Gramsci advanced capitalism is
marked by the expansion of civil society, which, with the state, acts to stabilize class
relations and provide a terrain for challenging capitalism. For Polanyi expansion of
the market threatens society, which reacts by (re)constituting itself as active society,
thereby harboring the embryo of a democratic socialism. This article appropriates
“society” as a Marxist concept and deploys it to interpret the rise and fall of commu-
nist orders, the shift from politics of class to politics of recognition, the transition
from colonialism to postcolonialism, and the development of an emergent
transnationalism.

Keywords: Marxism; class; society; hegemony; markets
For many, the death of socialism, both in reality and in the imagination, has
spelled the final death of Marxism. Nonetheless, Marxism continues to offer the
most comprehensive critique of capitalism as well as a compelling guide to feasi-
For their comments, suggestions, encouragement, and skepticism I’d like to thank Gillian Hart,
Malcolm Fairbrother, Hwa-Jen Liu, John Walton, Sean O’Riain, and the group of students around
Beverly Silver and Giovanni Arrighi at Johns Hopkins University. I’d especially like to thank Fred
Block who read and commented on numerous drafts, fed me obscure Polanyi texts, and, from the
beginning, encouraged me to write and elaborate what proved to be a critique of his own interpretation
POLITICS & SOCIETY, Vol. 31 No. 2, June 2003 193-261
DOI: 10.1177/0032329203252270
© 2003 Sage Publications
193

194
POLITICS & SOCIETY
ble alternatives. Indeed, the longevity of capitalism guarantees the longevity of
Marxism. But longevity also implies reconstruction. As capitalism rebuilds itself
so must Marxism. It is after all a theoretical tradition that claims ideas change with
the material world they seek to grasp and transform. Thus, every epoch fashions
its own Marxism, elaborating that tradition to tackle the problems of the day. In
this article I offer the outlines of a Sociological Marxism that emerges from the
hitherto unexamined and unexpected convergence of the mid-twentieth-century
writings of Karl Polanyi and Antonio Gramsci. That they both, independently,
converged on the concept of “society” from very different Marxist traditions sug-
gests they were grappling with something novel and important. Indeed, it is the
thesis of Sociological Marxism that the dynamism of “society,” primarily located
between state and economy, is a key to the durability and transcendence of
advanced capitalism, just as its fragility proved to be the downfall of Soviet com-
munism. I shall try to show how the elaboration of Sociological Marxism is also
well adapted to the postcommunist age, one that is dominated by a triumphant
global capitalism that is proving astonishingly effective in discrediting and dis-
solving all alternatives to itself.
I: SOCIOLOGY AND MARXISM
The relationship between sociology and Marxism has always been symbiotic.
Classical sociology of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century was,
at least in part, a response to Marxism at a time when socialism was a viable and
compelling movement in Europe. Marxism was the specter that haunted the
Fin-de-Siècle intellectual landscape, shaping the terrain upon which Weber,
Durkheim, Simmel, and Pareto would build their own original, theoretical edi-
fices. The Russian Revolution took Marxism in entirely new directions, and once
more forcing a reaction from bourgeois social theory. When the world divided
into two blocks after World War Two, so sociology became the defender of the
“free world” and an ideological counterpoint to Marxism-Leninism. It was during
this period—the 1950s and 1960s—that American sociology enjoyed its greatest
ascendancy, a new science with a new mission that snuffed out all pockets of
Marxism. Subsequently, in the later 1960s and 1970s, the eruption of society
drove sociology into its own crisis, while stimulating Marxism’s rejuvenation. In
the 1980s sociology recovered by borrowing from Marxism, just as today Marx-
ism’s escape from its postcommunist doldrums will depend, so I argue, on bor-
rowing from sociology. Each Marxist offspring has its own originality and auton-
omy, irreducible to its parents.
of Polanyi. This article began with a disagreement with my friend, colleague, and collaborator, Erik
Wright, over our joint exploration of Sociological Marxism. In his inimitable way, Erik has tried to set
me straight with many pages of critical commentary and quite a few diagrams. If things are still fuzzy,
then it’s certainly not his fault, but it may not be mine either. Finally, I’d like to thank the Russell Sage
Foundation for giving me the peace of mind to rewrite this.

MICHAEL BURAWOY
195
From Confrontation to Rapprochement
Talcott Parsons’s mid-twentieth-century synthesis of sociological thought,
based on the independent convergence of the writings of Durkheim, Pareto, Mar-
shall, and Weber, was emphatic and triumphal in its dismissal of Marx’s writings.1
To the end of his life he regarded Marxian theory as an anachronistic utilitarianism
whose significance was wholly confined to the nineteenth century.2 Since the
foundations were so deeply flawed, there was no point in considering the Marxist
legacy. Structural functionalism, the codification of Parsonsian theory into a mes-
sianic science, therefore simply ignored Marxism, and not only its nemesis,
Soviet Marxism, but all other varieties of Marxism as well.
Apart from the ideological enmity of the Cold War, there was a theoretical
basis for their opposition—Parsonsian sociology, especially The Social System,3
focused on the lacunae of Soviet Marxism. It concentrated on “society” as an
autonomous, all-embracing, homeostatic self-equilibrating system, whereas
Soviet Marxism left no space for “society” in its theoretical scheme of base and
superstructure. There was, therefore, no meeting ground between the two, the one
bereft of economy and state, the other bereft of society.4 On the American side,
theorists of the “end of ideology” celebrated the stabilizing power of “society,”
bulwark of liberal democracy, just as on the Soviet side the planned economy
claimed for itself the boundless expansion of the productive forces and the ratio-
nal distribution of resources. Both sides had their dissidents—C. Wright Mills and
Barrington Moore infused their critical humanism with class analysis while the
Budapest School and Kolakowski turned Hegel and the early Marx against totali-
tarian communism. Although harbingers of the future, at the time (in the 1950s)
these were but minor currents in two oceans of conformity and euphoria. Both
sides would be in for shock, first sociology, then Marxism.
Just when sociology seemed to have finally buried Marxism, the 1960s and
1970s took their revenge. The assault came not from a moribund Soviet Marxism
but from where it was least expected, on sociology’s own doorsteps. Social move-
ments—free speech movements, civil rights movements, and antiwar move-
ments—erupted to shatter pax Americana both at home and abroad. They put
“consensus” sociology on trial, called into question sociology’s Panglossian view
of American society, and revived a living Marxism that elaborated new bodies of
theory—Monthly Review’s theories of monopoly capitalism, theories of underde-
velopment, the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, the English social history
of class, German systems analysis, and the structuralism of French Marxism. Just
as sociology had found no redeeming feature in Marxism, so now a rejuvenated
Marxism took its turn to dismiss sociology tout court. The denunciation from rad-
ical and critical theory was uncompromising, charging that “consensus” was as
“fabricated” within sociology as it was illusory in society.
Perry Anderson, then the brilliant polemicist and editor of New Left Review,
went even further.5 Not content to attack the enemy without he turned on the

196
POLITICS & SOCIETY
enemy within, attempting to purge Marxism itself of all bourgeois contamination.
He excoriated the “Western Marxism” of Horkheimer and Adorno, Gramsci and
Lukács, Sartre and Althusser as consorting with evil, as detached from the work-
ing class, and as lacking revolutionary vision. Anderson insisted that we return to
the revolutionary road pioneered by Leon Trotsky. As I have argued elsewhere,
there is much to be gained from the reexamination of Trotsky’s writings on the
Soviet Union, but they are woefully adrift in the world of advanced capitalism.6
Reflecting the Russian and then Soviet world he knew best, Trotsky followed
classical Marxism in denying the reality of society—both in theory and in prac-
tice. Written in a burst of revolutionary optimism, Anderson’s critique of Western
Marxism brought the denunciation of bourgeois thought to a head, but brought to
a head the denunciation toppled over. Anderson had stripped Marxism of the very
conceptual tools it would need to confront the collapse of communism and the
ascendance of global markets.7
Alvin Gouldner who correctly diagnosed the coming crisis of Western sociol-
ogy had prefigured the Marxist assault.8 Moreover, the containment of the crisis
broadly followed his prescription, namely to incorporate the best of critical Marx-
ism. The Manichean “cold war” world in which sociology sought the nullification
of Marxism was now replaced by constructive engagement and rapprochement.
Losing confidence in its own battered foundations, losing credibility with the
decline of the welfare state, sociology absorbed Marxism back into many of its
realms. It had learned the lesson of the 1960s and restored economy and state to
their rightful places alongside the analysis of society. A revived economic sociol-
ogy attended to the transformation and degradation of work. Political sociology
attended to the character of the capitalist state or the state in capitalist society.
Stratification became concerned with questions of inequality and the centrality of
class. Cultural sociology focused on the power of ideological domination. Com-
parative historical inquiry relied heavily on Marxist social history and its theory of
history. At the other end of the sociological scale, ethnographers drew on Marxist
theories of social reproduction. The grand theorists of the day, Bourdieu,
Foucault, and Habermas, as well as feminism and race theory, were permeated by
Marxism. The classics were reinterpreted—Durkheim and Weber became theo-
rists of domination, critics of capitalism, and even advocates of socialism. No lon-
ger the calumniated other, Marxism was mined for treasures to invigorate a flag-
ging and fragmented sociology. Inevitably, absorption blunted Marxism’s critical
edge, but it also energized sociology.9
As sociology exited its crisis, Marxism entered its own. The 1990s witnessed
the disintegration of communism, the global ascendancy of market fundamental-
ism, and the retreat of protest and revolution. Together they shattered what was
left of the Marxist optimism of the 1970s. It is the thesis of this article that Marx-
ism’s regeneration now depends on the incorporation of sociological ideas. In
other words, the accommodation of Marxism and sociology should go both ways:

MICHAEL BURAWOY
197
just as sociology borrowed Marxism’s historical and comparative visions, so now
Marxism must appropriate from sociology the liberative notion of society.
Leaving behind the thirty-year confrontation, or what Antonio Gramsci might call
a “War of Movement,” Marxism and sociology have entered a very different
engagement, what Gramsci would call a “War of Position.” Rather than vanquish-
ing the other, each seeks a hierarchical accord with the other—the accords differ-
ing according to who assimilates whom. It is the difference between Marxist soci-
ology and Sociological Marxism. The two amalgams can, of course, live side by
side in a state of mutual invigoration as well as antagonism.
The Genesis of a Sociological Marxism
This would not be the first time that Marxism has sought to appropriate sociol-
ogy’s critical moments. One might argue that Marx himself tried to incorporate
sociological notions from Hegel and Saint-Simon, but it would be far fetched to
say he had an elaborated notion of “society.” As Alvin Gouldner avers society is,
at best, a residual category in the writings of Marx and Engels.10 But he is, of
course, referring to their writings on capitalism and not to their writings on com-
munism, which is an altogether different matter. Whether it be the overcoming of
alienation in the Paris Manuscripts, or the repeated insistence in The German Ide-
ology
that only in community will individuals cultivate their gifts in all directions,
or the notion espoused in The Communist Manifesto of an association where the
free development of each is the condition for the free development of all, or the
more concrete vision of socialism Marx abstracted from the Paris Commune or
his Critique of the Gotha Program, or the associated producers referred to in Cap-
ital
, or even the idea of the withering away of the state found in Engels’s Social-
ism: Utopian and Scientific
—in all these places some notion of society is found at
the center of communism. What Marx and classical Marxism failed to do was to
undertake the complementary analysis of society under capitalism—a comple-
mentary analysis that might have led to a more coherent vision of communism.
This is the project of Sociological Marxism.
When Marxism did harness sociology to its analysis of capitalism, paradoxi-
cally it did so to lament the loss of society! I am thinking of the “Western Marx-
ists” of the interwar years who self-consciously assimilated sociology. This was a
Marxism of defeat that took up the double challenge of why there had been no
socialist revolution in the West and why the Russian Revolution had degenerated
into dictatorship. In this double project, Western Marxism, most especially the
Frankfurt School and its precursors (Korsch, Lukács), leaned heavily on the writ-
ings of Weber and Freud, appealing not to their theories of an autonomous society
but to their theories of domination and rationalization—indeed, their theories of
the eclipse of society. Wielding their renewed armory, Western Marxists turned
against the mechanical Marxism of the Second International with its frictionless
ride from capitalism to socialism and against the revolutionary dogmatism of

198
POLITICS & SOCIETY
Marxism-Leninism. Befitting the times, the Frankfurt School developed gloomy
theories of the (ir)rationality and durability of capitalism, and part of that gloom
came from German sociology.
Still, there was another Western Marxism, which did not succumb to the
despair of the time but drew on a heavy dose of idealist thought to establish the
foundations of Sociological Marxism. Its two major exponents were Antonio
Gramsci and Karl Polanyi, widely influential but nonetheless idiosyncratic in the
seriousness with which they treated the notion of society. Even though they took
very different paths, they exploited the idea of society to retain both socialist
vision and a close connection to the working class. But first and foremost, “soci-
ety” was a conceptual innovation to grasp the longevity of capitalism, its failure to
succumb to the laws that Marx had laid down for it. In this way Sociological
Marxism finally begins to grapple with the meaning of society, something sociol-
ogy has singularly failed to do.11
In Marxist hands society is not a general notion that applies transhistorically to
ancient and medieval worlds, tribal and complex systems, traditional and modern
orders, embracing all the separate and functionally independent institutions that
together form a coherent and bounded whole. Rather, Gramsci and Polanyi endow
their notions of society with historical specificity. For Gramsci, society is civil
society
, which is always understood in its contradictory connection to the state.
Civil society refers to the growth of trade unions, political parties, mass education,
and other voluntary associations and interest groups, all of which proliferated in
Europe and the United States toward the end of the nineteenth century. At the
same time, new forms of transportation (automobiles, railroad), communication
(postal service, newspapers), and regulation (police) connected people to one
another as well as to the state. On the one hand, civil society collaborates with the
state to contain class struggle, and on the other hand, its autonomy from the state
can promote class struggle.
For Polanyi society is what I call active society, which is always understood in
its contradictory tension with the market.12 Polanyi is not always clear about what
populates active society, but in nineteenth-century England it includes trade
unions, cooperatives, the organization of the factory movement to curtail the
length of the working day, the Chartist movement to extend political rights, and
rudimentary development of political parties. On the one hand, the market tends to
destroy society, but on the other hand, society (re)acts to defend itself and to sub-
ordinate the market.13 Polanyi often refers to society as having a reality of its own,
acting on its own behalf, whereas Gramsci understands civil society as a terrain of
struggle. For both, however, “society” occupies a specific institutional space
within capitalism between economy and the state, but where “civil society” spills
into the state, “active society” interpenetrates the market. For both, socialism is
the subordination of market and state to the self-regulating society, what Gramsci
calls the regulated society.

MICHAEL BURAWOY
199
Armed with this notion of society, Sociological Marxism distinguishes itself
from sociology in four ways. First, “civil society” and “active society,” as I have
already emphasized, are not timeless notions but specific historical products of
European capitalism in the late nineteenth century. Indeed, “society,” in both its
manifestations, appears precisely with the genesis of classical sociology, punctur-
ing the latter’s universalistic claims. This is not to say we cannot talk of “society”
before the late nineteenth century, but it has a different meaning and significance.
In the modern era “society’s” strength or weakness, its particular configuration as
well as relation to state and economy, has had fateful consequences for the devel-
opment of both capitalism and socialism.
Second, society is not some autonomous realm suspended in a fluid of sponta-
neous value consensus. In specifying society as an institutional space, occupied
by political parties, mass education, voluntary associations, trade unions, church,
and even the family, Sociological Marxism focuses on the relations between mar-
ket and society (Polanyi) and between state and society (Gramsci). Although it is
not the focus of the writings of Gramsci and Polanyi, it would be wrong to assume
that society has an integrity and coherence of its own. Rather it is traversed by cap-
illary powers, often bifurcated or segmented into racial or ethnic sectors, and frag-
mented into gendered dominations. I will return to this issue in the conclusion.
Third, whereas today’s sociology has appropriated the related notions of “civil
society,” “embeddedness” of markets, and “social capital” as conditions for the
stability and effectiveness of capitalist institutions, for Sociological Marxism,
society is Janus faced, on the one hand acting to stabilize capitalism but on the
other hand providing a terrain for transcending capitalism. Thus, if Gramsci starts
out from the way civil society, through its connection to the state, organizes con-
sent and constricts class struggle, Polanyi starts out from the way active society
counteracts the dehumanizing effects of the market economy. But they both end
up asking how society can found an altogether new order of socialism—an order
that subordinates both economy and state to a self-regulating community.
Fourth, Sociological Marxism draws on and expands sociology’s own antipa-
thy to utilitarianism and totalitarianism. It turns sociology’s own universal claims,
its theories of social action and community, into weapons of critique. Thus, Par-
sons’s theory of the social system with its marginalization of power, its underlying
value consensus, its complementary role-expectations, and its homeostatic self-
regulation, all designed to counter individualistic and rationalistic descriptions of
modern capitalism, becomes, in Marxist hands, an incisive indictment of capital-
ism. The same can be said of such communitarians as Etzioni and Selznick, whose
putative “communalism” far from being an approximation to actually existing
America (or even its potentialities) becomes its crushing indictment. In
marginalizing markets and states, sociology’s conception of society becomes an
embryonic aspiration to socialism. In short, just as sociology has domesticated

200
POLITICS & SOCIETY
Marxism by absorbing it, so pari passu Sociological Marxism seeks to harness
sociology to its democratic socialist project!
In this article I show how Gramsci and Polanyi converged on the same idea
from very different experiences, and how their divergent criticisms of classical
Marxism gave rise to complementary perspectives on the connection of “society”
to capitalism. I then bring the two perspectives together to shed light on successive
periods of capitalism, on patterns of capitalist hegemony and counterhegemony,
and on the multiple trajectories of capitalism in a global order. In the conclusion I
advance an agenda for a Sociological Marxism in the postcommunist age—an
agenda that thematizes society: first, in relation to the potentialities, failures, and
aftermaths of state socialism; second, in relation to the rifts within societies of a
racial character (advanced capitalism as well as colonialism); third, in relation to
the boundaries of society with state, economy, and household; and fourth, in rela-
tion to the expansion of society beyond the nation-state.
II: BIOGRAPHIES OF SOCIOLOGICAL MARXISM
It is perhaps strange to link Gramsci and Polanyi. They are rarely seen as paral-
lel or even connected thinkers.14 Gramsci, after all, is firmly located within the
Marxist tradition, preoccupied with Lenin’s questions of power and domination,
his unique contribution being to bring culture and ideology to the center of politi-
cal analysis. Subjecting sociology to withering criticism, Gramsci’s kinship with
Durkheim and Weber is easily missed.15 Polanyi, by contrast, is often associated
with Weber’s analysis of economy and adopts as his own Durkheim’s signature
tune, the “reality of society.” With Weber, Polanyi insists on the place of the state
in forging and then regulating a market economy. Today, Peter Evans takes this
Weberian Polanyi further with his concept of “embedded autonomy.”16 With
Durkheim, Polanyi insists on the social underpinnings of the market, Durkheim’s
celebrated non-contractual elements of contract, as well as non-contractual soci-
ety. Mark Granovetter represents this Durkheimian Polanyi with his insistence on
social networks as a precondition of market exchange.17 The connection of
Polanyi to Gramsci is made all the more unlikely by Polanyi’s focus on the realm
of exchange rather than production, and by Polanyi’s frequent dismissal of “popu-
lar Marxism.”18
We cannot be surprised, therefore, that these two giants of the twentieth-
century social theory are never associated. Nonetheless, closer examination of
their respective criticisms of sociology and of Marxism shows their commonality.
Each objected to crude “positivism” in the works of sociologists and Marxists
alike. Just as Gramsci reduced sociology to a crude causal atomism, iron laws of
change, Polanyi reduced Marxism to its most economistic variant.19 Their choice
of “other” against which to define themselves was not insignificant, as we shall
see, but nonetheless the characteristics of that “other” were quite similar in both
cases, namely, a social science removed from lived experience, removed from his-

MICHAEL BURAWOY
201
tory, removed from the collective will of classes, removed from the indeterminism
of politics, and removed from the search for a new intellectual and moral order.
This is their shared indictment, equally of vulgar Marxism and positivist
sociology.
In this article I seek to show just how convergent was their thinking and, at the
same time, how their divergences make complementary contributions—the one
political and the other economic—to Sociological Marxism. Reaching beyond
the polemical battles of their times, which make them look superficially different,
I reinsert their theories back into their political biographies. Too often the writings
of Gramsci and Polanyi have been ravaged like the carcasses of dead bodies—the
most useful parts ripped from their meaning-giving integument and transplanted
into ailing theories. I intend to restore these two bodies of theory in their totality
and as they relate to one another. That requires exploring the economic, political,
and ideological context that gave meaning to their parallel life projects. For these
two figures their engagement with historical forces is inseparable from their theo-
retical development. Biography is therefore not some background filler but essen-
tial to grasping the integrity of their thought. Only once their Marxist commonal-
ity has been established can we turn, in the next section, to their different places in
the Marxist tradition.
Divergent Social Origins
Gramsci and Polanyi hailed from opposite ends of Europe but also from oppo-
site ends of the class structure.20 Their eventual intellectual convergence is a
resounding confirmation of their own faith in the human ability to transcend social
origins. Gramsci was born in 1891, into a large, poor rural family in Sardinia. His
father was a low-level bureaucrat, who disappeared into prison when Gramsci was
seven on trumped-up charges of petty crime, leaving his mother to look after the
seven young children. Gramsci, the fourth-born, was a hunchback from a very
early age. Precluded from a normal child’s life, deeply sensitive about his mal-
formed body, he early on devoted himself to books and learning. But it was a pain-
ful—psychologically and physically—struggle to move from one school to the
next, repeatedly interrupted by poverty. Finally, by dint of enormous determina-
tion he entered university in Turin, and there he led a wretched, tormented, and
often lonely student existence.
Polanyi, by contrast, born five years before Gramsci in 1886, grew up in a pros-
perous upper-middle-class “Jewish” (although converted to Calvinism) family in
Budapest. His father’s wealth, made from a very successful railroad business, was
channeled into the best private education that money could buy, with its bevy of
tutors and governesses. Polanyi, the middle child of five, grew up in a distin-
guished and intensely intellectual milieu. His mother ran a salon for leading
Budapest artists, writers, and radicals of the time. Culture and education came to
Polanyi on a golden platter. How different from Gramsci! Yet both would end up

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POLITICS & SOCIETY
with similar socialist commitments—the one developed his intellect in and
through suffering, while the other discovered suffering through the intellect.
Polanyi and Gramsci were both influenced by elder brothers who were dedi-
cated socialist revolutionaries, but their own first political actions were not social-
ist. As was typical for the radical intelligentsia of the South, Gramsci became a
Sardinian nationalist, regarding the North as an illegitimate colonizing power. It
was only after he had settled in the Northern industrial city of Turin and there saw
the burgeoning workers’ movement, while at the same time witnessing the violent
repression meted out to the striking rural miners in Sardinia (1913), that he began
to see the power of class—the potential unity of workers in the North and peasants
in the South that was necessary to challenge the growing collusion of Northern
capitalists with Southern landowners. Abandoning his university studies, he
threw himself into the burgeoning Turin workers’movement. From his pen rushed
eloquent pieces that spoke for liberatory goals, designed to nurture an embryonic
working-class culture.
Polanyi’s early political activities were also of a nationalist character. He
formed the Galilei Circle in 1908 when he was still a university student, a broad
organization demanding that Hungary cast off its feudal cloak and establish a
thriving, open bourgeois society with a liberal polity and modern education. The
Galileists, some two thousand strong as he later recounted, sought national cul-
tural renaissance and mounted literacy campaigns for workers and peasants.
Polanyi took an eager interest in the Russian Populist Movement, leading him for
a short time in 1914 into the National Bourgeois Radical Party. The Austro-
Hungarian empire disintegrated in 1919 after defeat in World War I, and a liberal
regime assumed power in Hungary, followed in quick succession by the more rad-
ical but short-lived Republic of Soviets. Polanyi reflected on the unfolding events
from the sidelines, leaving Budapest for Vienna in June 1919 before the Soviet
Republic collapsed on 1 August 1919. Hostile to the notion of the Dictatorship of
the Proletariat but realizing the limitations of liberal democracy, he took up a
socialist third way to democratic freedoms.
Socialists against Marxism
If both Gramsci and Polanyi emerged from World War I as socialists, Polanyi
more uncertainly than Gramsci, neither had much sympathy for the orthodox Ger-
man Marxism of their time. Their socialism was a far cry from deterministic laws
of history. They were both rhapsodic about the human capacity to fashion history
in its own image. Both Gramsci and Polanyi imbibed the Italian and German ide-
alism of their era, although both took their political inspiration from Russia—
Polanyi from the Populists with their peasant base, Gramsci from the Bolsheviks
with their proletarian support.
Gramsci was enthralled by the unfolding Russian Revolution. His famous arti-
cle, written in 1917, “The Revolution Against Capital” is a paean to the

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