It was hegemony, Stuart Hall argued in 1983, that was key to understanding the disappointment of his own generation — why Thatcher and the new right had triumphed in remaking common sense after a decade of labor union revolt. Hegemony shaped how people acted when they weren’t thinking about it, what they thought was right and wrong, what they imagined the good life to be. A hegemonic project had to “occupy each and every front” of life, “to insert itself into the pores of the practical consciousness of human beings.” Thatcherism had understood this better than the left. It had “entered the struggle on every single front on which it calculated it could advance itself,” put forth a “theory for every single arena of human life,” from economics to language, morality to culture. The domains the left dismissed as bourgeois were simply the ones where the ruling class was winning. Yet creating hegemony was “difficult work,” Hall reminded us. Never fully settled, “it always has to be won.”
In other words, there is no economic deus ex machina that will bring the revolution. There are still people, in their stubborn, contradictory particularities, as they exist in concrete space and time. It is up to you to figure out how to act together, or not; how to find common ground, or not. Gramsci and Hall insist that you must look relentlessly at things and people as they are, face your prospects with brutal honesty, and act in ways that you think can have an effect. In these ways they are an organizer’s theorists.