To understand Gramsci’s concept of social class, political party and their role in socio-political change we also need to understand his theory of hegemony since these are all connected with each other in his thought and serve as the different instruments of bringing change to a society.
For instance, in the quote below Gramsci talks about the political party as the expression of a social class; however, in addition to that, he also argues that, at some periods, a single social group, through its political party, can, or even should, exercise a balancing and arbitrating function, role between the interests of its own group, and those of other groups. Here “a balancing and arbitrating role” actually refers to being hegemonic, and through that being able to lead the other social classes under its own leadership.
“Although every party is the expression of a social group, and of one social group only, nevertheless in certain given conditions certain parties represent a single social group precisely in so far as they exercise a balancing and arbitrating function between the interests of their group and those of other groups, and succeed in securing the development of the group which they represent with the consent and assistance of the allied groups – if not out and out with that of groups which are definitely hostile.”
Political parties and their role in socio-political change in Gramscian theory can only be understood through the concept of hegemony because it can be argued that political parties function as no more than the agents of change according to Gramsci. However, they are probably the most complex and mature agents which can pursue the process and carry the mission of realizing such a goal: socio-political change. The crucial point here is related with the direction of this change, and whether what it envisages for the end of the process. It can be argued that change is directed toward the establishment of a hegemony, which is a desirable type of governing according to Gramsci, and that political party can play the role of leadership in carrying out the national-popular collective will,
As mentioned above, the political party, for Gramsci, is not merely a political expression, thus representative of a social class. In addition to that, the political party is the agent of socio-political change which is found to raise the people in the society to a new level political, legal, social and economic order, that is to say, to a new level of civilization. This role or function of founding a new State is related with the concept of hegemony because as Sassoon rightly explains, “each moment of hegemony represents a certain relationship between class forces.” This certain relationship, hegemony, in the State level, in Gramsci’s thought, refers to an ethical State. In that regard, Gramsci argues that;
“Every State is ethical in as much as one of its most important functions is to raise the great mass of the population to a particular cultural and moral level, a level (or type) which corresponds to the needs of the productive forces for development, and hence to the interests of the ruling classes.”