Disconnected acts of destruction and negativity are insufficient; merely destroying the state or the factory will do nothing to usher in non-exploitative social relations, and it risks, moreover, wholesale acquiescence to the barbarism that already exists in current social relations as modernity’s (“enlightenment’s”) dialectical twin. This was the truth of the old Wobbly slogan “building a new society in the shell of the old” and what prompted Gramsci to theorize the “historical bloc” in the first place. Magri says it this way:
To challenge and overcome such a system [21st century global capitalism], what is required is a coherent systemic alternative; the power to impose it and the capacity to run it; a social bloc that can sustain it, and measures and alliances commensurate with that goal. Much as we can and should discard the myth of an apocalyptic breakdown, in which a Jacobin minority steps in to conquer state power, there is still less reason to pin our hopes on a succession of scattered revolts or small-scale reforms that might spontaneously coalesce into a great transformation (10).
The difference between Leninism and Jacobinism, of course, is that Lenin never saw the February 1917 overthrow of the Tsar or the October 1917 Bolshevik seizure of power—both accomplished, Jacobin-like, at unique moments when the existing regimes were in terminal crisis—as expressing the full meaning of “revolution.” If communism had any chance of being built, revolution would occur not only in pre-industrial Russia but also in the industrialized countries of the West, where capitalism was fully developed. The failure of these revolutions to materialize was precisely the catalyst for the (fully Leninist) extension of Leninism undertaken in Italy by Gramsci, which produced the theory of hegemony. As Magri points out:
Among the Marxists of his time, [Gramsci] was the only one who did not explain this failure [of revolution] only in terms of Social Democratic betrayal or the weakness and errors of the Communists. [. . .] Instead, he looked for the deeper reasons why the model of the Russian Revolution could not be reproduced in advanced societies, even though it was a necessary hinterland (and Leninism a priceless theoretical contribution) for a revolution in the West that would unfold differently, and be richer in results (41).
Equally unwilling to explain political realities by moralizing (via the Left’s cherished narrative of “betrayal”) or by self-flagellation (blaming communist weakness and indecision), Magri adopts the Marxist-Leninist stance. And here we can see the meaning of this review’s epigraph (from Magri, a famously skilled chess player): the October Revolution of 1917 offered only the opening moves in a long game—a set of moves not to be simply repeated later in the game. In the middle game, different strategies, and a different kind of Party, would be (and are) needed.