Marxist cultural analysis

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Marxist cultural analysis is a form of cultural analysis and anti-capitalist cultural critique, which assumes the theory of cultural hegemony and from this specifically targets those aspects of culture which are profit driven and mass-produced under capitalism.[1][2][3]

The original theory behind this form of analysis is commonly associated with Georg Lukacs, the Frankfurt School, and Antonio Gramsci, representing an important tendency within Western Marxism. The Marxist cultural analysis, taken as an area of discourse, has commonly considered the industrialization and mass-production of culture by "the Culture Industry" as having an overall negative effect on society, an effect which reifies the audience away from developing a more authentic sense of human values.[1][4]

Since the 1930s, the tradition of Marxist cultural analysis has occasionally also been referred to as "cultural Marxism", in reference to Marxist ideas about culture.[5][6] However since the 1990s, this term has largely referred to the Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory, a highly influential discourse on the far right without any clear relationship to Marxist cultural analysis.[7][8]

Development of theory[edit]

Antonio Gramsci[edit]

Antonio Gramsci was an Italian Marxist philosopher, primarily writing in the lead up to and after the First World War. He attempted to break from the economic determinism of classical Marxism thought and so is considered a key neo-Marxist.[9]

Gramsci is best known for his theory of cultural hegemony, which describes how the state and the bourgeoisie as the ruling capitalist class use cultural institutions to maintain power in capitalist societies. In Gramsci's view, the bourgeoisie develops a hegemonic culture using ideology rather than violence, economic force, or coercion. Hegemonic culture propagates its own values and norms so that they become the "common sense" values of all and maintain the status quo. Gramsci asserted that hegemonic power is used to maintain consent to the capitalist order rather than coercive power using force to maintain order and that this cultural hegemony is produced and reproduced by the dominant class through the institutions that form the superstructure.[10]

Birmingham School[edit]

E. P. Thompson's Marxist humanism as well as the individual philosophies of the founders of the Birmingham School (Stuart Hall, Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams) provide the influences for British Cultural Studies as housed at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in Birmingham.[3] The Birmingham School developed later than the Frankfurt School and are seen as providing a parallel response.[3] Accordingly, British Cultural Studies focuses on later issues such as Americanization, censorship, globalization and multiculturalism. Hoggart's The Uses of Literacy (1957), Williams' Culture and Society (1958) and Thompson's The Making of the English Working class (1964) form the foundational texts for the school, with Hall's encoding/decoding model of communication as well as his writings on multiculturalism in Britain arriving later but carrying equal gravitas.[11]

The Birmingham School greatly valued and contributed to class consciousness within the structure of British society.[12] Due to their positions as literary experts, Hoggart and Williams were called as witnesses during R v Penguin Books Ltd, a court case concerning censorship in publishing, the outcome of which is widely regarded as defining Britain in the 1960s as a "permissive society". They argued on the side of[freedom of language and against censorship.[13]

Within Hoggart's major work, The Uses of Literacy, he laments the loss of an authentic working class popular culture in Britain, and denounces the imposition of a mass culture by means of advertising, media and Americanisation. He argues against the concept of 'the masses' which he claims is both condescending and elitist. Later referring to this change in cultural production as "massification" and saying it "colonized local communities and robbed them of their distinctive features."[3][14] Whereas the Frankfurt School exhorted the values of high culture, the Birmingham School attempted to bring high culture back down to real life whilst avoiding moral relativism.[1][15][16]

Critique of identity politics and postmodernism[edit]

Within more recent history, Marxist cultural analysis has critiqued postmodernism and identity politics, also known as recognition politics, claiming that redistributive politics should retain prominence within their discourse.[17][18][19] Jurgen Habermas of The Frankfurt School is an academic critic of the theories of Post Modernism, having presented cases against their style and structure, in his work "The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity" (Habermas, 1985) and in which he outlays the importance of communicative reason and action.[20] He also makes the case that by being founded on and from within modernity, post-modernism has internal contradictions which make it unsustainable as an argument.[21]

Frankfurt School Associate, Nancy Fraser, has made critiques of modern identity politics in her New Left Review article "Rethinking Recognition",[19] as well as in her collection of essays "Fortunes of Feminism: From State-Managed Capitalism to Neoliberal Crisis" (1985-2010).[22]

"Cultural Marxism" conspiracy theory[edit]

While the term "cultural Marxism" has been used generally to discuss the application of Marxist ideas in the cultural field,[23][24] the variant term "Cultural Marxism" generally refers to an antisemitic conspiracy theory. According to this view, the "Cultural Marxists", originating with the Frankfurt School, represent one side of a culture war that seeks systematically to undermine and destroy Western culture and social traditions through intellectual and academic activity.[25][26] As articulated in the 1990s, the conspiracy means to replace traditionalist conservatism and Christianity with the counterculture of the 1960s to promote social changes such as racial multiculturalism, multi-party progressive politics and political correctness in language.[27][28]

In Norway, Anders Behring Breivik quoted the conspiracy usage of "Cultural Marxism" in his political manifesto 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, which he emailed to 1,003 people just 90 minutes before killing 77 people in his bomb and gun attacks in Oslo and on Utøya.[29][30][31][32][33] In more mainstream political parlance, cultural conservatives have identified "Cultural Marxism" as the theoretical basis for aspects of cultural liberalism.[34][35][36][37][38]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Barker, Chris; Jane, Emma (16 May 2016). Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. SAGE. ISBN 9781473968349.
  2. ^ Habermas, Jürgen (1985). Theory of Communicative Action. Beacon Press. ISBN 978-0807015070. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d Kellner, Douglas. "Cultural Studies and Social Theory: A Critical Intervention" (PDF). UCLA. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  4. ^ Horkheimer, Max; W. Adorno, Theodor (2002). Dialectic of enlightenment philosophical fragments ([Nachdr.] ed.). Stanford, Calif.: Stanford Univ. Press. ISBN 978-0804736336.
  5. ^ Kellner, Douglas. Cultural Marxism & Cultural Studies. Critical Quest, 2013, p.1, "Many 20th century Marxian theorists ranging from Georg Lukacs, 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. Traditions of cultural Marxism are thus important to the trajectory of cultural studies and to understanding its various types and forms in the present age."
  6. ^ Dworkin, Dennis L. Cultural Marxism in postwar Britain: History, the New Left, and the origins of cultural studies. Duke University Press, 1997, p.3, "British cultural Marxism grew out of an effort to create a socialist understanding of Britain which took into consideration postwar transformations that seemed to undermine traditional Marxist assumptions about the working class and that questioned the traditional Left's exclusive reliance on political and economic categories."
  7. ^ Jamin, Jérôme. "Cultural Marxism: A Survey." Religion Compass 12, no. 1-2 (2018): e12258.
  8. ^ Jamin, Jérôme. "Cultural marxism and the radical right." In The post-war Anglo-American far right: A special relationship of hate, pp. 84-103. Palgrave Pivot, London, 2014.
  9. ^ Haralambos, Michael; Holborn, Martin (2013). Sociology Themes and Perspectives (8th ed.). New York City: HarperCollins. pp. 597–598. ISBN 978-0-00-749882-6.
  10. ^ "Hegemony in Gramsci – Postcolonial Studies". Retrieved 2021-05-04.
  11. ^ Thomas Cook (Editor), Daniel; Michael Ryan (Editor), J. (2 March 2015). The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Consumption and Consumer Studies. p. 47. ISBN 9781118989463.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  12. ^ Thompson, E. P. (1988). The making of the English working class (Reprinted. ed.). London [u.a.]: Penguin Books. ISBN 9780140210002.
  13. ^ Feather, John (2006). A history of British publishing (2nd ed.). London [u.a.]: Routledge. p. 205. ISBN 978-0415302265.
  14. ^ Hoggart, Richard (1992). The Uses of Literacy: aspects of working-class life with special reference to publications and entertainments (Repr. ed.). Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin in association with Chatto and Windus. p. 9. ISBN 9780140170696.
  15. ^ Seiler, Robert M. "British Cultural Studies". Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  16. ^ Hoggart, Richard (2009). The Uses of Literacy: aspects of working-class life (New ed.). London: Penguin. ISBN 978-0141191584.
  17. ^ Aylesworth, Gary (2015). "Habermas's Critique". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 25 April 2017.
  18. ^ Habermas, Jürgen (1987). The philosophical discourse of modernity : twelve lectures (14. Nachdr. ed.). Cambridge: Polity in association with Basil Blackwell. ISBN 978-0262581028. Retrieved 25 April 2017.
  19. ^ a b Fraser, Nancy (May–June 2000). "Rethinking Recognition. New Left Review 3, May-June 2000". 3. Retrieved 25 April 2017.
  20. ^ Habermas, Jürgen (2018). The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity Twelve Lectures (1. Auflage ed.). New York. p. 210. ISBN 9780745692647.
  21. ^ Aylesworth, Gary (2015). "Postmodernism". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. Retrieved 12 February 2021.
  22. ^ Fraser, Nancy (2020). Fortunes of feminism : from state-managed capitalism to neoliberal crisis. Brooklyn, NY. doi:10.1007/s10691-014-9258-0. ISBN 9781788738576. S2CID 142770749. Retrieved 12 February 2021.
  23. ^ Kellner, Douglas. Cultural Marxism & Cultural Studies. Critical Quest, 2013.
  24. ^ Dworkin, Dennis L. Cultural Marxism in postwar Britain: History, the New Left, and the origins of cultural studies. Duke University Press, 1997.
  25. ^ Jay, Martin. "Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment: The Frankfurt School as Scapegoat of the Lunatic Fringe". Salmagundi Magazine. Archived from the original on 24 November 2011.
  26. ^ Jamin, Jérôme (2014). "Cultural Marxism and the Radical Right". In Shekhovtsov, A.; Jackson, P. (eds.). The Post-War Anglo-American Far Right: A Special Relationship of Hate. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 84–103. doi:10.1057/9781137396211.0009. ISBN 978-1-137-39619-8.
  27. ^ Berkowitz, Bill. "Ally of Christian Right Heavyweight Paul Weyrich Addresses Holocaust Denial Conference". Southern Poverty Law Center. SPLC 2003. Retrieved 19 April 2016.
  28. ^ Stuart Jeffries, Grand Hotel Abyss, pp.6-11 , Verso 2016
  29. ^ Taylor, Matthew (26 July 2011). "Brievik sent 'manifesto' to 250 UK contacts hours before Norway killings". Guardian. Guardian. Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  30. ^ "'Breivik Manifesto' Details Chilling Attack Preparation". BBC News. 24 July 2011. Retrieved 2 August 2015.
  31. ^ Trilling, Daniel (18 April 2012). "Who are Breivik's Fellow Travellers?". New Statesman. Retrieved 18 July 2015.
  32. ^ Buruma, Ian. "Breivik's Call to Arms". Qantara. German Federal Agency for Civic Education & Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 25 July 2015.
  33. ^ Shanafelt, Robert; Pino, Nathan W. (2014). Rethinking Serial Murder, Spree Killing, and Atrocities: Beyond the Usual Distinctions. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-317-56467-6.
  34. ^ Harris, Malcolm (19 February 2016). "Hooray for cultural Marxism". Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera. Retrieved 25 April 2017.
  35. ^ Wilson, Jason. "'Cultural Marxism': a uniting theory for rightwingers who love to play the victim". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 April 2017.
  36. ^ Lind, William S. "Column by William S. Lind". Retrieved 25 April 2017.
  37. ^ Blackford, Russell (August 2, 2015). "Cultural Marxism and our current culture wars: Part 2". The Conversation.
  38. ^ Cudlipp Lecture, 22 January 2007: Paul Dacre