Palestinian Studies

2023 Workshop

Erica Augenstein

Ph.D. candidate, University of Houston

Resistance Uniting Anti-Colonial Theory: Gramsci’s Mezzogiorno and Palestinian

In 1919, Antonio Gramsci reflected on European colonialism in the aftermath of the first  world war, “today flames of revolt are being fanned throughout the colonial world…Connective  tissues are being recreated to weld together once again peoples whom European domination  seemed to have sundered.”1 Gramsci—one of the most prominent and perennial Marxist  theorists—is often invoked by scholars of anti-colonial resistance movements who find his work  particularly explanatory within the global periphery. Specifically in studies of the Arab world, recent work methodically applies Gramsci’s theory particularly to Egyptian history.2 However,  though pieces of Gramsci’s thought frequently appear in scholarship on Palestine, these studies  do not comprehensively apply Gramsci’s theories to the history of Palestinian anti-colonial  resistance. 

Gramsci’s resonance with anti-colonial resistance movements extends beyond his role as  a theoretical observer. Gramsci’s early life in Sardinia indicates a political consciousness formed  in the colonized periphery. As a student in Cagliari, Gramsci even briefly identified with the  Sardinian nationalist movement.3 This political experience appears in Gramsci’s quintessential analysis of Italian history and society where he demonstrates and explains the subordination of  the south (Mezzogiorno) to the urban north.4 Gramsci’s analysis bears a striking resemblance to  experiences of colonialism across the world as he describes territorial expansion, systematic  underdevelopment, settler activity, and racialization. Similarly, within Gramsci’s study, the  existence of southern peasant resistance—a space never fully brought under northern Italian control—materializes. This resistance includes the “national” potential of the Mezzogiorno.5 Thus, Gramsci both lived and theorized the mechanisms of colonial control and reservoirs of  anti-colonial resistance. Additionally, for Gramsci, both southern national autonomy and  international worker and peasant organization constituted different manifestations of resistance. Thus, Gramsci develops an understanding of the many faces of resistance that engages with  complex formations of colonial expansion at local, national, and international levels. 

As Gramsci built his theory, Palestinians faced rapidly expanding colonial incursion and  built their own organizations of resistance. Palestinians synthesized a movement to resist Zionist  settler expansion backed by British imperialism in both a broader Arab and local Palestinian  context. The realities of the Palestinian experience under threat of Zionist expansion  particularized Palestinian political experience and its subsequent articulation. Thus, the earliest  theories behind Palestinian nationalism were able to hold multi-layered colonial realities in a  broadly legible articulation. Palestinian resistance also included consistent incorporation of  nationalist, Arab nationalist and global anti-colonial elements across its history. 

This paper plans to read Gramsci’s history of the Mezzogiorno alongside the history of Palestinian anti-colonial resistance as it was articulated in Palestinian nationalist, Arab  nationalist and Third Worldist publications in the 1940s and 1950s. For example, Al Ghad journal—which published theoretical material for the National Liberation League (NLL) in the  1940s—theorized colonial expansion and resistance for a fairly wide audience. 6 The 1950s  brought about an expanded degree of institutionalization of Arab nationalism and Third World internationalism that became interlinked with Palestinian anti-colonial resistance as evidenced on the pages of various publications. This paper ultimately argues reading these two specific  historical theorizations together can strengthen the understanding of anti-colonial resistance.

Erica Augenstein is a second year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History at the University of Houston. She studies under the direction of Professor Abdel Razzaq Takriti. Her research centers on the Palestinian left in the 1950s to the 1970s.