Cultural Marxism

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Cultural Marxism is a school or offshoot of Marxism that conceives of culture as central to the legitimation of oppression, in addition to the economic factors that Karl Marx emphasized.[1][page needed] An outgrowth of Western Marxism (especially from Antonio Gramsci and the Frankfurt School) and finding popularity in the 1960s as cultural studies, political pundits claim that cultural Marxism argues that what appear as traditional cultural phenomena intrinsic to Western society, for instance the drive for individual acquisition associated with capitalism, nationalism, the nuclear family, gender roles, race and other forms of cultural identity;[2][page needed] are historically recent developments that help to justify and maintain hierarchy. Right-wing pundits claim that Cultural Marxists use supposedly "Marxist" methods (historical research, the identification of economic interest, the study of the mutually conditioning relations between parts of a social order) to try to understand the complexity of power in contemporary society and to make it possible to criticize what, cultural Marxists supposedly propose, appears natural but is in fact ideological. There is significant debate as to whether or not cultural Marxism is actually a genuine intellectual practice, or merely an elaborate conspiracy theory concocted by cultural conservatives in an attempt to discredit the political left. The term originates from Germany in the 1920s, and was first used by the Nazi party and other white supremacists to slander their political opponents.

Explanation of the "Cultural Marxism" theory[edit]

According to UCLA professor and critical theorist Douglas Kellner, "Many 20th century Marxian theorists ranging from György Lukács, Antonio Gramsci, Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, and T.W. Adorno to Fredric Jameson and Terry Eagleton employed the Marxian theory to analyze cultural forms in relation to their production, their imbrications with society and history, and their impact and influences on audiences and social life."[3][clarification needed][4] Scholars have employed various types of Marxist social criticism to analyze cultural artifacts.

Frankfurt School Conspiracy Theory[edit]

The "Cultural Marxism" conspiracy theory found fertile ground with the development of the Tea Party movement in 2009, with contributions published in the American Thinker and WorldNetDaily highlighted by some Tea Party websites.[5][6]

Although the Communist International is not usually involved, in a version of the theory by Ralph de Toledano published in Cry Havoc! (2007), the Frankfurt School was a Communist front set up Willi Münzenberg, which Jay described as a "crackpot claim".[7]

According to Richard Lichtman, a social psychology professor at the Wright Institute, the Frankfurt School is "a convenient target that very few people really know anything about.... By grounding their critique in Marxism and using the Frankfurt School, cultural conservatives make it seem like it's quite foreign to anything American. It takes on a mysterious cast and translates as an incomprehensible, anti-American, foreign movement that is only interested in undermining the U.S." Lichtman says that the "idea being transmitted is that we are being infected from the outside." [8] Lichtman's critique parallels that of rhetorical critic Edwin Black who demonstrated how John Birch Society co-founder Robert Welch used a similar disease metaphor in his writings and speeches during the "Red scare" era of the 1950s and 60s.[9]

Chip Berlet (2012) situates the theory in a wider context: "From the colonial Salem witch hunts, to the anti-Catholic nativism of the 1800s, to the Palmer raids of 1919–20, to the 1950s McCarthy-era Red Scare, to the Tea Parties of today, the hunt for subversion is built around conspiracy theories. Those seeking to expose the conspiracy build movements to counter the alleged subversion. Their central frame is that the nation is imperiled by a secret and sinister conspiracy seeking to crush democracy and install some form of evil totalitarian rule."[5] Berlet argues that the "Cultural Marxism" theory is a form of framing that helps "the power elites of organized wealth" to mobilize right-wing popular movements in the support of their interests: "Blaming hard times as being the result of the secret conspiracy is a time-honored tradition, and conspiracy theories function as a narrative form of scapegoating."[5]

Frankfurt School and critical theory[edit]

The Frankfurt School is the name usually used to refer to a group of scholars who have been associated at one point or another over several decades with the Institute for Social Research of the University of Frankfurt, including Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse, Wolfgang Fritz Haug and Jürgen Habermas.[clarification needed] In the 1930s the Institute for Social Research was forced out of Germany by the rise of the Nazi Party. In 1933, the Institute left Germany for Geneva. It then moved to New York City in 1934, where it became affiliated with Columbia University. Its journal Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung was accordingly renamed Studies in Philosophy and Social Science. It was at that moment that much of its important work began to emerge, having gained a favorable reception within American and English academia.

Among the key works of the Frankfurt School which applied Marxist categories to the study of culture were Adorno's "On Popular Music," which was written with George Simpson and published in Studies in Philosophy and Social Sciences in 1941. Adorno was worried by signs of conformity in contemporary mass society and also at the conversion of individual artistic expression into the mass production of standardized commodities. He argued that popular music was, by design and promotion, "wholly antagonistic to the ideal of individuality in a free, liberal society",[10] Adorno and Horkheimer's "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception", originally a chapter in Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947), which argued that culture reinforced "the absolute power of capitalism",[11] and "Culture Industry Reconsidered", a 1963 radio lecture by Adorno.[12]

After 1945 a number of these surviving Marxists returned to both West and East Germany. Adorno and Horkheimer returned to Frankfurt in 1953 and reestablished the Institute. In West Germany in the late 1950s and early 1960s, a revived interest in Marxism produced a new generation of Marxists engaged with analyzing matters such as the cultural transformations taking place under Fordist capitalism, the impact of new types of popular music and art on traditional cultures, and maintaining the political integrity of discourse in the public sphere.[13] This renewed interest was exemplified by the journal Das Argument. The tradition of thought associated with the Frankfurt School is Critical Theory.

Birmingham School and cultural studies[edit]

The work of the Frankfurt School and of Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci was particularly influential in the 1960s, and had a major impact on the development of cultural studies, especially in Britain. As Douglas Kellner writes:

Cultural Marxism was highly influential throughout Europe and the Western world, especially in the 1960s when Marxian thought was at its most prestigious and procreative. Theorists like Roland Barthes and the Tel Quel group in France, Galvano Della Volpe, Lucio Colletti, and others in Italy, Fredric Jameson, Terry Eagleton, and cohort of 1960s cultural radicals in the English-speaking world, and a large number of theorists throughout the globe used cultural Marxism to develop modes of cultural studies that analyzed the production, interpretation, and reception of cultural artifacts within concrete socio-historical conditions that had contested political and ideological effects and uses. One of the most famous and influential forms of cultural studies, initially under the influence of cultural Marxism, emerged within the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in Birmingham, England within a group often referred to as the Birmingham School.[3]

Allegations of Antisemitism[edit]

Many of the Frankfurt School were Jewish, and according to Kevin B. MacDonald explicitly linked to the plans to School's main ethnic background;[14][7] Critics have found in other accounts, specifically Paul Weyrich's broadcast "Political Correctness:The Frankfurt School," a transparent subtext [...] which is not hard to discern and has become more explicit with each telling of the narrative".[7][15]

"In a nutshell, the theory posits that a tiny group of Jewish philosophers who fled Germany in the 1930s and set up shop at Columbia University in New York City devised an unorthodox form of 'Marxism' that took aim at American society's culture, rather than its economic system. The theory holds that these self-interested Jews — the so-called 'Frankfurt School' of philosophers — planned to try to convince mainstream Americans that white ethnic pride is bad, that sexual liberation is good, and that supposedly traditional American values — Christianity, 'family values,' and so on — are reactionary and bigoted. With their core values thus subverted, the theory goes, Americans would be quick to sign on to the ideas of the far left."[14]

Critiques[edit]

Since the 1990s, the term "cultural Marxism" has been widely used by cultural conservatives. Many conservatives have argued that "Cultural Marxists" and the Frankfurt School helped spark the counterculture social movements of the 1960s as part of a continuing plan of transferring Marxist subversion into cultural terms in the form of Freudo-Marxism.

Since the early 1990s, paleoconservatives such as Patrick Buchanan and William S. Lind have argued that "Cultural Marxism" is a dominant strain of thought within the American left, and associate it with a philosophy to destroy Western civilization. Buchanan has asserted that the Frankfurt School commandeered the American mass media, and used this cartel to infect the minds of Americans.[16]

Lind argues that,

"Political Correctness is cultural Marxism. It is Marxism translated from economic into cultural terms. It is an effort that goes back not to the 1960s and the hippies and the peace movement, but back to World War I. If we compare the basic tenets of Political Correctness with classical Marxism the parallels are very obvious."[17]

Lind argues that "Political Correctness" has resulted in American citizens, particularly in academia, being "afraid of using the wrong word, a word denounced as offensive or insensitive, or racist, sexist, or homophobic" and that such changes can be attributed to the influence of cultural Marxists.[17] Similarly, conservative Paul Gottfried's book, The Strange Death of Marxism argues that Marxism survived and evolved since the fall of the Soviet Union in the form of "cultural Marxism":

Neomarxists called themselves Marxists without accepting all of Marx’s historical and economic theories but while upholding socialism against capitalism, as a moral position …. Thereafter socialists would build their conceptual fabrics on Marx’s notion of “alienation,” extracted from his writings of the 1840s …. [they] could therefore dispense with a strictly materialist analysis and shift … focus toward religion, morality, and aesthetics. ...

Lind comments on Gottfried's book:

Is the critical observation about the Frankfurt School therefore correct, that it exemplifies 'Cultural Bolshevism,' which pushes Marxist-Leninist revolution under a sociological-Freudian label? To the extent its practitioners and despisers would both answer to this characterization, it may in fact be valid … but if Marxism under the Frankfurt School has undergone [these] alterations, then there may be little Marxism left in it. The appeal of the Critical Theorists to Marx has become increasingly ritualistic and what there is in the theory of Marxist sources is now intermingled with identifiably non-Marxist ones …. In a nutshell, they had moved beyond Marxism … into a militantly antibourgeois stance that operates independently of Marxist economic assumptions.[18]

In a similar vein, in her Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature, Elizabeth Kantor says that it is possible to determine what works of literature are valuable, but that "cultural Marxists" since the 1960s have completely changed the criteria so as to reward mediocre books and denounce truly good literature as racist, sexist, homophobic and elitist.[19]

Many of the conservative attacks on "cultural Marxism" have dwelt on an alleged Jewish involvement in the current. Psychology professor Kevin B. MacDonald gives "cultural Marxism" as an example of Jews "pursuing a Jewish agenda in establishing and participating in these movements.[20][21][22]

Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik placed this critique of "cultural marxism" as a cornerstone of his ideology.[23]

According to Richard Lichtman, a social psychology professor at the Wright Institute, the Frankfurt School is "a convenient target that very few people really know anything about.... By grounding their critique in Marxism and using the Frankfurt School, cultural conservatives make it seem like it's quite foreign to anything American. It takes on a mysterious cast and translates as an incomprehensible, anti-American, foreign movement that is only interested in undermining the U.S." Lichtman says that the "idea being transmitted is that we are being infected from the outside." [24] Lichtman's critique parallels that of rhetorical critic Edwin Black who demonstrated how John Birch Society co-founder Robert Welch used a similar disease metaphor in his writings and speeches during the "Red scare" era of the 1950s and 60s.[25]

The Southern Poverty Law Center describes Lind's theory as "one that has been pushed since the mid-1990s by the Free Congress Foundation — the idea that a small group of German philosophers, known as the Frankfurt School, had devised a cultural form of Marxism that was aimed at subverting Western civilization". The SPLC reports that this theory has been taken up by "a number of hate groups".[26]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Merquior, J.G. (1986). Western Marxism, University of California Press/Paladin Books, ISBN 0586084541.
  2. ^ Merquior, J.G. (1986). Western Marxism, University of California Press/Paladin Books, ISBN 0586084541
  3. ^ a b Douglas Kellner, "Cultural Marxism and Cultural Studies,"http://www.gseis.ucla.edu/faculty/kellner/essays/culturalmarxism.pdf, circa 2004.
  4. ^ Douglas Kellner, "Herbert Marcuse," Illuminations, University of Texas, http://www.uta.edu/huma/illuminations/kell12.htm.
  5. ^ a b c Berlet, Chip (July 2012). "Collectivists, Communists, Labor Bosses, and Treason: The Tea Parties as Right-Wing Populist Counter-Subversion Panic". Critical Sociology 38 (4): 565–587. doi:10.1177/0896920511434750. 
  6. ^ For example Chuck Rogér, March 27, 2010, American Thinker, Welcome to the Machine: Cultural Marxism in Education
  7. ^ a b c Jay, Martin (2010), "Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment: The Frankfurt School as Scapegoat of the Lunatic Fringe". Salmagundi (Fall 2010-Winter 2011, 168–169): 30–40.
  8. ^ Lichtman, quoted Berkowitz.
  9. ^ Black, Edwin. (1970) "The Second Persona". The Quarterly Journal of Speech.56.2
  10. ^ "On popular music". Originally published in: Studies in Philosophy and Social Science, New York: Institute of Social Research, 1941, IX, 17-48. See Gordon Welty "Theodor Adorno and the Culture Industry" (1984).
  11. ^ Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer "Enlightment as mass deception" Dialectic of Enlightenment. London: Verso, 1979, 120-167 (originally published as: Dialektik der Aufklärung. Amsterdam: Querido, 1947). On-line the University of Groningen website and Marxist Internet Archive. See Gordon Welty "Theodor Adorno and the Culture Industry" (1984).
  12. ^ Lecture in the International Radio University Program over the Hessian Broadcasting System which was published in German in 1967, English translation in New German Critique, 6, Fall 1975, 12-19 (translated by Anson G. Rabinbach). See Gordon Welty "Theodor Adorno and the Culture Industry" (1984).
  13. ^ e.g. Jürgen Habermas (1962 trans 1989) The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a category of Bourgeois Society, Polity, Cambridge.
  14. ^ a b Berkowitz, Bill (2003), "Reframing the Enemy: ‘Cultural Marxism’, a Conspiracy Theory with an Anti-Semitic Twist, Is Being Pushed by Much of the American Right." Intelligence Report. Southern Poverty Law Center, Summer. http://web.archive.org/web/20040207095318/http://www.splcenter.org/intel/intelreport/article.jsp?aid=53&printable=1
  15. ^ Commenting on the 1999 Free Congress Foundation broadcast, Martin Jay (2010) writes "[t]here is a transparent subtext [...] which is not hard to discern and has become more explicit with each telling of the narrative. Although there is scarcely any direct reference to the ethnic origins of the School's members, subtle hints allow the listener to draw his own conclusions about the provenance of foreigners who tried to combine Marx and Freud, those giants of critical Jewish intelligence. At one point, William Lind asserts that "once in America they shifted the focus of their work from destroying German society to attacking the society and culture of its new place of refuge," as if the very people who had to flee the Nazis had been responsible for what they were fleeing!"
  16. ^ Buchanan, Pat; The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Threaten Our Culture and Civilization; pp. 73-96. ISBN 0-312-30259-2
  17. ^ a b The Origins of Political Correctness: An Accuracy in Academia Address by Bill Lind http://www.academia.org/lectures/lind1.html
  18. ^ Quoted in Lind, William S.. "http://www.amconmag.com/2005/2005_10_10/review1.html Dead But Not Gone." 10 October 2005. The American Conservative. Review of Paul Gottfried, The Strange Death of Marxism, University of Missouri Press.
  19. ^ Kantor, Elizabeth; The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature; pp. 189-198. ISBN 1-59698-011-7
  20. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eyjsMSbGAU
  21. ^ http://www.kevinmacdonald.net/Reviews.htm#CofC%20Summary
  22. ^ "‘Cultural Marxism’ Catching On" Intelligence Report, Summer 2003
  23. ^ Daniel Trilling "Who are Breivik’s fellow travellers?" New Statesman April 2012; Professor Jérôme Jamin (Université de Liège) : «Cultural Marxism in the Anglo-Saxon radical right literature» 2012
  24. ^ Lichtman, quoted Berkowitz.
  25. ^ Black, Edwin. (1970) "The Second Persona". The Quarterly Journal of Speech.56.2
  26. ^ "Mainstreaming Hate: A key ally of Christian right heavyweight Paul Weyrich addresses a major Holocaust denial conference," Intelligence Report, Fall 2002

Further reading[edit]