In the political culture of Latin America following the international crisis of the left, the failure of the Latin American revolutionary projects of the 1960s, and the consequent surge of U.S.-backed military dictatorships in the region, a strategic alliance between the socialist left and liberal-democratic center-left was arguably indispensable. It is within this field of shifting conceptual and practical alliances—which emerged in the 1970s and 1980s and still conditions a contemporary discourse that nonetheless contends with a different set of tasks—that I examine in this paper a series of inscriptions of Gramsci’s thought in the theoretical production of Marxist intellectuals in Brazil (Carlos Nelson Coutinho), Argentina (Juan Carlos Portantiero and José Aricó), and Bolivia (René Zavaleta Mercado).
I argue that Coutinho and Portantiero each deploy conceptual tools drawn from Gramsci’s texts to posit in different ways an already existing collective popular democratic subject with emancipatory potential, rather than articulating the necessity of constructing new forms of subjecthood. Zavaleta’s use of Gramsci’s concepts, I claim, is diagnostic rather than validating, posing the problem of popular subjectivity as one that cannot be solved once and for all.
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