Antonio Francesco Gramsci was a famous Italian Marxist theorist and politician. He was a founding member and one-time leader of the Communist Party of Italy and was imprisoned by Benito Mussolini's Fascist regime.
His famous works, Prison Notebooks, were written between 1929 and 1935 during his imprisonment, and smuggled out, to be later condensed into selective textbook collections.
Antonio was born in Ales, on the island of Sardinia, the fourth of seven sons of Francesco Gramsci (1860–1937). The senior Gramsci was a low-level official from Gaeta, who married Giuseppina Marcias (1861–1932). Gramsci's father was of distant Arbëreshë descent, though Gramsci mistakenly believed his father's family had left Albania as recently as 1821.
His mother belonged to a local landowning family. The senior Gramsci's financial difficulties and troubles with the police forced the family to move about through several villages in Sardinia until they finally settled in Ghilarza.
In 1898 Antonio's father Francesco was convicted of embezzlement and imprisoned, reducing his family to destitution. The young Antonio had to abandon schooling and work at various casual jobs until his father's release in 1904.
As a boy, Antonio suffered from health problems, particularly a malformation of the spine that stunted his growth (his adult height was less than 5 feet) and left him seriously hunchbacked. For decades, it was reported that his condition had been due to a childhood accident—specifically, having been dropped by a nanny—but more recently it has been suggested that it was due to Pott disease, a form of tuberculosis that can cause deformity of the spine. Antonio was also plagued by various internal disorders throughout his life.
Antonio completed secondary school in Cagliari, Sardinia where he lodged with his elder brother Gennaro, a former soldier whose time on the mainland had made him a militant socialist.
In 1911, Antonio won a scholarship to study at the University of Turin, sitting the exam at the same time as Palmiro Togliatti. He joined the Italian Socialist Party in late 1913, where he would later occupy a key position and observe from Turin the Russian revolutionary process.
Although showing talent for his studies, Antonio had financial problems and poor health. Together with his growing political commitment, these led to his abandoning his education in early 1915.
In 1916, he became co-editor of the Piedmont edition of Avanti!, the Socialist Party official organ.
In 1922, Antonio travelled to Russia as a representative of the new party. Antonio spent a year in Moscow through the summer of 1923. He had been very ill during the first months of his stay, and spent them in and out of a clinic.
While there, he met Julia Schucht, a young violinist whom he married in 1923 and by whom he had two sons,
In 1924 Antonio lived in Rome while his family stayed in Moscow.
Julia came to Italy during 1925 to 1926, but then returned to Moscow, rarely if ever to see her husband again.
On 9 November 1926, the Fascist government enacted a new wave of emergency laws, taking as a pretext an alleged attempt on Mussolini's life several days earlier. The fascist police arrested Gramsci, despite his parliamentary immunity, and brought him to the Roman prison Regina Coeli.
At his trial, Gramsci's prosecutor infamously stated, "For twenty years we must stop this brain from functioning". He received an immediate sentence of five years in confinement on the island of Ustica and the following year he received a sentence of 20 years' imprisonment in Turi, near Bari.
Over 11 years in prison, his health deteriorated: "His teeth fell out, his digestive system collapsed so that he could not eat solid food... he had convulsions when he vomited blood, and suffered headaches so violent that he beat his head against the walls of his cell."
During his imprisonment, he wrote correspondence to his wife's sister, Tatiana, who sent him regular news of Julia and his sons.
In 1933 he was moved from the prison at Turi to a clinic at Formia, but was still being denied adequate medical attention.
In 1935 he was moved to the "Quisisana" clinic in Rome. He was due for release on 21 April 1937 and planned to retire to Sardinia for convalescence, but a combination of arteriosclerosis, pulmonary tuberculosis, high blood pressure, angina, gout and acute gastric disorders meant that he was too ill to move.
Antonio Gramsci died in the Quisisana clinic in Rome on 27 April 1937, at the age of 46. His ashes are buried in the Cimitero Acattolico (Non-Catholic Cemetery) in Rome.
While making the funeral arrangements, His wife Julia's sister Tatiana managed to smuggle out the 33 notebooks from Antonio's room, and then via the diplomatic bag to Moscow.
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