If you read our previous article, you now know the idea behind the game. But one question remains: “What is hegemony”? To answer it, let us first turn to the creator of this concept, Antonio Gramsci:
Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) was one of the founding members of the Italian Communistic Party. In 1927, he was jailed by the Mussolini-regime and spent the rest of his life in prison where he produced the “prison notebooks.”. These 32 notebooks, in total over 2800 pages, were written in code to confuse the prison censor and were dealing with a broad range of topics including politics, economy, and philosophy. The central political question which fueled his theoretical work was why, opposed to Marx´s prediction, the socialist revolution failed in western advanced capitalist societies but proved successful in Russia.
To answer this question, Gramsci uses Machiavelli’s well-known treatise “the prince” as an impulse. Thus, he tries to interpret the term “hegemony” in a more sophisticated sense than it being just the dominance of one state over many others. Gramsci compares Machiavelli’s metaphor of a centaur, half beast, half man, to the use of coercion and consent in the exercise of power. Thereby, true hegemony cannot exist by just forcing someone to accept it. Instead, the moral and intellectual leadership of the hegemon must be accepted. In the case of the nation-state, civil society (in the form of the press, mass culture, church, and so on) obtains a vital role for the state in upholding its hegemony. According to Gramsci’s analysis, the Russian revolution succeeded because the Russian civil society was weak and lacked a connection to the state which, therefore, could be overthrown easier without any serious resilience coming from the former. In Western Europe, on the contrary, the bourgeois class managed to melt the state and the civil society into one solid entity and, therefore, could uphold the hegemonic social order.
Now, to maintain hegemony, civil society provides two essential services. First of all, it gives the hegemonic order a certain kind of universality: If, for example, you look at your current economic or political system and it just seems like “common sense” or “something there is no alternative for”, it managed to become hegemonic as you perceive it as the natural order of things. Secondly, it defends the hegemonic order from its most dangerous threat, counterhegemonic ideas, by absorbing them and co-opting its propagators. This procedure Gramsci calls “trasformismo”: Individuals with counterhegemonic ideas will be sucked into these institutions with the hope to change the system from within. Here, their ideas will be heard and implemented- as long as they fit the hegemonic doctrine. Additionally, the material concessions the system can provide them will soon quench their desire to change the status quo. “Hegemony is like a pillow: it absorbs blows and sooner or later the would-be assailant will find it comfortable to rest upon.” (Cox, 1983, p. 173)
In conclusion, it’s all about ideas. Different social forces constantly fight with each other to make their ideology become hegemonic. In the case of our board game, the players can take different actions or play cards in order to come closer to their ideological goals. Additionally, they can influence the elections which decide about the policies the nation will apply and, consequentially, which social class attains hegemony. On the other hand, however, the players always have the opportunity to use “trasformismo by making alliances and convince other players through material concessions (e.g. higher wages) to vote for policies which are not in their ideological interest. Hegemony is a constant politico-economic battle and that is what we are trying to show in our game.
We hope that this article helped you understand the concept behind the game´s name a little bit better. If you found this introduction too complex, we would be grateful if you give us feedback! And don’t worry, the game is much easier 😉. If you like the content on our blog, stay tuned- there will be much more!
Cox, R. W. (1983). Gramsci, Hegemony and International Relations: An Essay in Method. Millennium, 12(2), 162–175.