Friday, 23 October 2020

The Value of ‘Cultural' Marxism


Recently, the Clarion Project published a fact sheet, Cultural Marxism 101, a brief and objective summary of Left- and Right-wing views on the term ‘cultural Marxism’.[1]  Its main contention it that its original concept was developed into an anti-Semitic trope by the Nazis and persists as a shadow even today.  The conclusion is that the term should be replaced with ‘neo-Marxism’, which is shadow-free.  I take no issue at all with the facts as presented, and I myself will use the terms ‘neo-Marxism’ and ‘cultural Marxism’ interchangeably, unless I sense a challenge from someone I can debate with. 

However, there is residual value in the term ‘cultural’ that derives from an essential component of any successful ideology, ‘cultural hegemony’.  This is a concept created by Antonio Gramsci who considered the failure of the Marxist revolution to be caused by an error in process.   

Gramsci theorised that if Communism achieved ‘mastery of human consciousness,’ then active revolution would be unnecessary. Mastery over the consciousness of the great mass of people could be attained if Communists or their sympathisers gained control of the organs of culture — churches, education, newspapers, magazines, the electronic media, literature, music, the visual arts, and so on. By winning ‘cultural hegemony,’ Communism would control the deepest wellsprings of human thought and imagination. One need not control all information itself if one can gain control over the minds that assimilate that information. Under such conditions, opposition would disappear since people will no longer be capable of grasping the arguments of Marxism's opponents.  In 1967 the West German student movement leader Rudi Dutschke reformulated Gramsci's philosophy of cultural Marxism with the phrase ‘the long march through the institutions’ of the nation and the state – the church, entertainment, civil service, educational faculties, family institutions and marriage – to replace the dominant culture.[2] 

In Gramsci’s view, the state isn’t simply a coercive instrument of the ruling class, but also a site on which ruling-class policies can be contested and crucial concessions won.   The Left must make use of liberal institutions and ideas in order to redirect them to its own purposes.[3]  Key to cultural Marxism’s success, and an essential component of Gramsci’s Long March through the Institutions, is what Piaget calls ‘the messianic stage of youth development’ where they want to change the world in a challenge to their parents.  But it also involves integration with the existing world, in a manner that does not destroy the structure or anything of value. Jordan Peterson says “The problem I have with the Marxist perspective is that I don’t think you should trust people whose primary goal when they’re attempting to change the world to the better is to change other people.  You can tell who those people are because they are always blaming other people and they’re looking for perpetrators and victims.”[4]

Managing youth development is a role delegated to ‘community organisers’ such as Barack Obama.  The term was coined by the radical Chicago activist Saul Alinsky, a Marxist who believed in capturing the culture as the most effective means of overturning Western society.  The way to do this was through ‘people’s organisations’ composed largely of discontented individuals who believed society was fundamentally unjust, and who would take their lead from trained community organisers.  These organisers, taught Alinsky, should “rub raw the resentments of the people” and “agitate to the point of conflict.”  His handbook of sedition, Rules for Radicals was highly influential over the Democratic Party, and is a textbook assiduously followed by Left-wing activists.[5]

While Gramsci’s theory of cultural hegemony has been most prominently adopted by the far Left, it itself is secular and needs to be used by any ideology to gain success.  Of the five ideologies that I consider are changing the direction of the Western world, environmentalism, feminism, neo- or cultural Marxism, neo-liberalism and Islam, all employ the process.  French/American political scientist Dr Susan George, author of Shadow Sovereigns: how global corporations are seizing power, showed how Right–wing Gramscians established their own cultural hegemony, that of neo-liberalism. Gramsci understood that no regime could remain in power and rule by force and coercion alone.  People also wanted a belief system.  Gramsci said that a major characteristic of “any group that is developing towards dominance is its struggle to assimilate and conquer ideologically the traditional intellectuals.”  This new group must develop and nurture its own ‘organic’ intellectuals and to accomplish this those who seek dominance must also make the long march through the institutions.  This is exactly the programme the neo-liberals understood and carried out.[6] 

The Clarion Project’s conclusion that the term ‘neo-Marxism’ is “far more specific and accurate” than ‘cultural Marxism’ may be unwarranted, not to mention somewhat sterile.  For example, the subject can’t be explained in full without reference to the Frankfurt School, critical theory, or to post-modernism[7], all of which relate to cultural manipulation.  Given that cultural Marxism is the application of Marxist aims to the culture instead of to economics and society, ‘culture’ is indispensable to its concept.  Its anti-Semitic shadow is, like all conspiracies, ideologies and cults, a belief without evidence, and dismisses its perpetuator as someone with a form of locked-in syndrome. 






[5]  Paywalled.



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