Consensus, coercion and subalternity

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The material bases to support the domination over subaltern social groups and the possibilities of resistance to the dominant classes

Several principles more or less rooted in common sense tend to be extensively explored by conservative ideology in general. Examples: being rich or poor is a matter of merit, or a choice of Providence, or chance and randomness of life; criminality is a problem of individual moral character, or of good versus evil in the world; the social order, whatever it may be, is always a desirable situation that interests everyone, above specific disputes (here are implied “traditional” notions of family, gender/sex, racial prejudices, as well as preconceived notions about the place and function that each one should occupy in society); politicians in general, all politicians and all “politics”, are to blame for social ills such as unemployment, poverty, the breakdown of health and education systems and, as a corollary of this line of reasoning, the only social and true politician is corruption; good government is a matter of personal ethics and “honesty”; finally, “selfishness” is a characteristic of the human “essence”.

Centuries of diffusion of the liberal conception of the world, later liberal-conservative, via consensus or coercion, capillarized in society in the form of common sense and popular values, wove this “veil of ignorance” – not in the neocontractualist sense of Rawls (2000 , p. 26), but, in any case, not necessarily in a less bad sense – about the structures, processes and class contradictions that lie below the immediate perception of social phenomena by the general public. This illusory surface – but with real effects – was transformed into the only existing social dimension with the help of idealist, positivist, empiricist social analyzes by intellectuals committed to the status quo of all times. The most recent stage of the capitalist mode of production, that of Toyotist factory restructuring and the unique discourse of neoliberal thought, reintroduces and reinforces this conception of the world, this time with intensified nuances.

No Notebook 22, Gramsci identifies four basic characteristics of the constitution of the phenomena of Americanism and Fordism in the first decades of the twentieth century: rising wages, social benefits, effective political and ideological propaganda and, finally, the dismantling of unions by police force (GRAMSCI, 2001, p. . 247)[1]. The first three are part of the consensus dimension, obtaining the active approval or, at least, the acquiescence of the mass of workers; the fourth is a typical component of the coercive dimension, submission by physical (and, we might add, also economic and legal) force of those contingents that neither actively nor passively consent, or who could possibly not consent.

Of all these characteristics, the last two (integrating a single political-ideological discourse and police, economic and legal coercion) are those that largely predominate in the last decades of imposition of the neoliberal discourse. With regard to social benefits (irrisory, depending on which continent it is) and salary gains, these have sunk victims of the fierce attack of global financial capital through privatizations and commodifications of all spheres of social life. What remained was direct physical force (or indirect, through laws) in dismantling the workers' capacity for political organization and intense political and ideological propaganda.

This second is, currently, responsible for the construction of an unstable, inert, confused, contradictory “consent”, but rigidly framed and disciplined by daily bombardments of internet social networks, “traditional” electronic media and, as an example of the Brazilian case, large and small Christian temples spread across the outskirts, metropolitan or not. This is the “very skilful” ideological campaign, propagated by the monopoly media and by the myriad of religious sects of diffuse penetration in subaltern social spaces, around two myths of the current capitalism era: the “entrepreneurial” individualism and the extolled “anti-political” posture. ”.

It is already well known, through various academic researches, that the enormous group of commonly evangelical religious groups from the urban peripheries ends up working on a daily basis not only as a spiritual encouragement, but also as a true network of material assistance of all kinds to its congregants, in large part. part belonging to social classes unassisted by public policies.

This fact confirms the need for minimal material bases for consent to a certain worldview. However, the precariousness and insufficiency, or even the non-universality of these material bases, mean that de facto hegemony is not built and make the permanent physical, economic and legal coercion of these subaltern groups indispensable, just as indispensable is the ideological avalanche of discourse of the neoliberal individualism of the current historical context of counter-reforms.[2]

This discourse becomes a kind of “way of life” wrenched from the entrails of the new methods of reproduction and capital accumulation, in a process in which “the way of life materializes the passage of macrostructures (capital-labor relations in their more abstract) to microrelationships (the daily life of the classes). The social relations of production translate into consumption relations and determine them: consumption is an important mediating element in this process, through which classes have (or do not) access to economic and social goods. These relationships determine, at the same time, fields of class possibilities and forms of domination and subordination. The myth of freedom of consumption, for example, associated with the real lack of resources provokes objective elements of the unbearability of life (...). Words are elements of enchantment through the naturalization of practices” (DIAS, 2012, p. 51).

The last lines of the quote above are essential in this case. Language becomes a vehicle for legitimizing practices, acting within the scope of a monolithic semantics essentialized and naturalized in all pedagogical instances of the State and civil society. The means of communication, mainly the traditional electronic media and social networks on the internet – far from democratic, by the way – act powerfully in this process.

The symbolic world of the subaltern subject develops in the universe of this discourse, making him a conformist of this conformism. Its possibilities of expanding the perception of the social relations in which it is intertwined are neutralized by the “force of language, verbal and imagery” that “reduces the popular classes to a superficial and fragmented knowledge that constitutes their common sense and destroys all their possibilities of resistance ” (SCHLESENER, 2016, p.114).

Such possibilities of resistance of subaltern social groups both to the physical, economic and legal coercion of the dominant classes and their State, as well as to the unique neoliberal discourse that insists on forging a conception of the world based on mystifications such as “entrepreneurship”, the “fight against corruption” and “anti-politics”, go through the reconstruction and strengthening of grassroots popular organizations.

The political parties of the socialist and communist left and the consolidated popular movements need to dedicate full attention to the organization and permanent mobilization of their bases, and to take advantage of every tiny opportunity to expand them. None of this is elementary under the strong reactionary winds that unbalance our steps, but if one can only foresee the struggle, as Gramsci wrote, it is because its motor is the will.

* Leandro Galastri he is professor of political science at Unesp-Marília. Author of Gramsci, Marxism and Revisionism (Associated Authors).



DAYS, Edmund. “Productive restructuring”: current form of class struggle. October, no. 1, 1998, pp. 45-52. Access:

DAYS, Edmund. Passive Revolution and Way of Life. São Paulo: Editora Sundermann, 2012.

GRAMSCI, Antonio. Prison Notebooks. Translated by Carlos Nelson Coutinho. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 2001, vol.4.

HARVEY, David. Postmodern Condition. São Paulo: Loyola, 2009 [1992].

RAWLS, John. Political Liberalism. Translation by Álvaro de Vita. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 2011.

SCHLESENER, Anita. Invisible Shackles. Ponta Grossa: Ed. UEPG, 2016.



[1] Taylor-Fordism emerges as a phenomenon of “productive restructuring” or, less euphemistically, as an intensification of the forms of extraction of relative surplus value and, therefore, a new revolutionization of the productive forces, among them the workforce itself: “The experience taylorista was the form of the real subsumption of labor to capital even more completely practiced in the beginning of the 1998th century. Fordism, as a set of counter-trend measures, incorporated a new type of factory management. Taylorism was the instrument for creating a working class discipline through the loss of its classist subjectivity: workers should give up the control they had over production and start to perform work based on the objectivity of capital, centered on the reconstruction of operative logics . To the breakdown of unions, forced by coercion, by police methods, was added the imposition of a new subjectivity” (DIAS, 47, p.XNUMX).

[2] Harvey (2009, p. 161) points out that exacerbated individualism asserts itself as an ideological condition for the transition from Fordism to “flexible accumulation” and, thus, to “a much more competitive individualism as a central value in an entrepreneurial culture that has penetrated in many aspects of life (...) Today, entrepreneurship characterizes not only action in business, but domains of life as diverse as municipal administration, increased production in the informal sector, organization of the labor market, the area of ​​research and development, having even reached the most distant corners of academic, literary and artistic life”. A few years after these passages, the Portuguese translation enshrined the term “entrepreneurship” in the context of critical sociology of work, which also faced the new phenomenon of “uberization” of the workforce.

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