Economics/Class Relations

Keith Preston on the Cultural Marxism Hypothesis

by Keith Preston

Libertarian Alliance

I generally agree with Michael Enoch’s article, with several qualifications.

First, it is indeed problematic to identify as Marxism a theory that is not rooted in economic determinism and the view of class conflict as the defining element of capitalist society. Marx and Engels themselves had many ideas that would be considered “far right” today, particularly their views on racism and imperialism. Leftist anti-racism really doesn’t take off until the post-WW2 era (mostly as a backlash against Nazism, in my view). Marx and Engels were essentially Germanic or at least Nordic supremacists, viewed indigenous peoples as non-historical, and regarded Western imperialism as a historically progressive force (they had the same view of capitalism). The early anarchists took an anti-imperialist position but Marxist anti-imperialism really begins with Lenin. At best, the Frankfurt School’s “cultural Marxism” is a revision of orthodox Marxism…at the very best. These are among the reasons I prefer the term totalitarian humanism for PC rather than cultural Marxism.

Second, aspects of political correctness seem to have been imported from Maoist China during the Cultural Revolution era rather than through the Frankfurt School. Remember the reverence that hard core New Left radicals often had for Mao in the late 60s and early 70s. Notice the similarities between a Maoist self-criticism session and the self-flagellation common among adherents of PC.

Third, I don’t think the Marxist influenced hard left alone is responsible for the growth of PC. There’s also progressive Christianity, and progressivism in general, which has much different roots than Marxism. See Paul Gottfried. (Maybe Ian B. can add some thoughts on this as well.)

Fourth, this quote:

“If humanities faculties are really geared to brainwashing students into accepting the postulates of far-left ideology, the composition of western parliaments and presidencies and the roaring success of corporate capitalism suggests they’re doing an astoundingly bad job. Anyone who takes a cool look at the last three decades of politics will think it bizarre that anyone could interpret what’s happened as the triumph of an all-powerful left.”

I would agree that while the totalitarian humanists often have their roots in anti-capitalism, it is certainly true that they have since made their accommodations to capitalism and are now trying to use capitalism to their own ends. See Tomislav Sunic’s artilce “The ’68ers” on this. This is not particularly surprising. Totalitarian movements often start out as anti-capitalist but use capitalism as a tool once they obtain power (see Mussolini’s fascism, Hitler’s NSDAP, and even Lenin’s “New Economic Policy.”) For that matter, see present day China.

Lastly, PC and capitalism are not necessarily in conflict. Capitalism wants workers, consumers, investors, and new markets. This means operating among an ever greater number of demographics. It is therefore perfectly logical that capitalism would embrace anti-racism, feminism, gay rights, etc. They want to sell products to minorities, women, and gays, and hire them as workers and managers, not discriminate against them. (See Noam Chomsky’s comments on how big business supports anti-racism). I suspect the serious thinkers among the cultural Left realize this, which is part of the reason why they have softened their anti-capitalism in their old age. This also explains why the corporate class has mostly rolled over in the face of PC. Remember that Singapore (which the Left considers to be fascist, and which free market conservatives often hold up as a model) also has strict “hate speech” laws.

7 replies »

  1. Here is what one of the last of the real Marxists thinks about the cultural left:

    In the absence of dynamic movements that cohere around affirmative visions for making the society better, on the order of, say, Franklin Roosevelt’s 1944 “Second Bill of Rights,” and that organize and agitate around programs instrumental to pursuit of such visions, what remains is the fossil record of past movements—the still photo legacies of their public events, postures, and outcomes. Over time, the idea that a “left” is defined by commitment to a vision of social transformation and substantive program for realizing it has receded from cultural memory. Being on the left has become instead a posture, an identity, utterly disconnected from any specific practical commitments.

    -Adolph Reed, Jr.

    http://nonsite.org/feature/django-unchained-or-the-help-how-cultural-politics-is-worse-than-no-politics-at-all-and-why

  2. Thanks for the link. This is another great piece from Reed on the same topic:

    https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/blackleftunity/t69eHeMuTsw

    This snippet from the article I linked to above summarizes the Left perfectly:

    “The left has no particular place it wants to go. And, to rehash an old quip, if you have no destination, any direction can seem as good as any other. The left careens from this oppressed group or crisis moment to that one, from one magical or morally pristine constituency or source of political agency (youth/students; undocumented immigrants; the Iraqi labor movement; the Zapatistas; the urban “precariat”; green whatever; the black/Latino/LGBT “community”; the grassroots, the netroots, and the blogosphere; this season’s worthless Democrat; Occupy; a “Trotskyist” software engineer elected to the Seattle City Council) to another. It lacks focus and stability; its métier is bearing witness, demonstrating solidarity, and the event or the gesture. Its reflex is to “send messages” to those in power, to make statements, and to stand with or for the oppressed.”

  3. The word among the center-left nowadays is basically “elect Democrats no matter what.” The hard-left is purely reactive in nature. They are anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, anti-transphobic, anti-capitalist (depending), anti-imperialist (depending), anti-agist, anti-ablist, anti-fat shaming, anti-slut shaming, anti-speciesist, etc, etc, etc.

    But they never offer any vision of what they’re for other than moderate economic reforms like a higher minimum wage, living wage, or single-payer healthcare, or leftist social policies like gay marriage or public funding for abortions.

  4. I, on the other hand, know exactly where I want to go.

    I wish to build a pan-anarchist/libertarian/decentalist movement that is the leadership corps and militant wing of a larger radical center libertarian populist popular front. The primary strategy is to gain political hegemony locally and regionally, and then overthrow the federal government by means of pan-secessionism.

    The achievement of this goal requires the fracturing of the armed forces, the dismantling of the institutions that are supportive of state-capitalism, the defeat of the police state at every level, federal, state, and local. It requires the dismantling of the state bureaucracy, the shutting down of the prison-industrial complex, the granting of amnesty to entire categories of prisoners, the removal of legitimate public institutions from the state’s hands and placing these in the hands of cooperatives, communities, voluntary associations, etc.

    It requires the establishment of alternative economic enterprises and social service systems to replace the corporations and social bureaucracy, both of which would collapse following the overthrow of the state, e.g. syndicalist unions, claimants unions, professional guilds, UBIs. It requires the formation of militias for the purpose of warding off the remnants of the state security forces. It requires the creation of anarchist common law courts to replace the state’s legal system.

    It also requires preventing a new centralized state apparatus from being erected. Hence, the importance of the idea of local self-determination. It means recognizing that different kinds of communities and population groups will have different reasons for attacking the system, and will often be at a different place in terms of their core outlook and primary interests.

    And what I’ve outlined above only scratches the surface.

  5. One of the great benefits of the decentralized organizational structures that anarchists advocate for is that their need not be common agreement on the overwhelming majority of issues. With the model of a region-by-region, city-by-city, county-by-county, town-by-town,village-by-village model of organizing, many different communities can adopt their own models according to their own preferences.

    For instance, on economic questions, some places can practice Fabian municipal social democracy, others syndicalism, others anarcho-capitalism, others Fourierist phlanisteries,others protectionism, etc. These can vary on an industrial and occupational as well as geographical basis.

  6. “At best, the Frankfurt School’s “cultural Marxism” is a revision of orthodox Marxism…at the very best.”

    It seems that this is somewhat semantics. We both identify the same “crowd” of people, we just differ on how to classify them.

    “These are among the reasons I prefer the term totalitarian humanism for PC rather than cultural Marxism.”

    I’m OK with that as far as it goes. It’s like when Charles Johnson said that when people use the term Capitalist; if someone is a libertarian they probably mean “free-market,” if someone is a vulgar libertarian or republic etc. they are probably defending corporatism. I think you, Bill Lind and I are identifying they same group but haggling over what to call it.

  7. The Frankfurt school is an important milestone in the death of the old left and the birth of the new left, but to use it to try and explain the vast social and political upheavals of the last fifty years as some sort of Communist conspiracy is both absurd and against the visible evidence. The modern multicultural leftism of the academy, the protest ghetto, and the social justice warrior Facebook revolution has no real Marxist content at all. It has almost no interest in capital, as such. It has almost no interest in the working class, except as another victimhood claimant. The only form of organization it has ever had any serious interest in is government or academic employment.

    The most “Marxist” part of the new left was influenced by Maoism much more than Adorno. Adorno’s main work, Negative Dialectics, may be the most unreadable book ever written by a leftist (attempting to do so has been known to induce catatonic schizophrenia in graduate students). You can recognize actual followers of the Frankfurt school by their obsessive use of terms such as “reification” and “exchange value”. The Maoist parts of the new left sealed themselves off into little sects, the largest of which is the Revolutionary Communist Party of Bob Avakian. The group exists to brainwash leftards into selling newspapers and organizing protest marches and such. They are widely regarded as a mind control cult, and are unbelievably annoying. Every activist I know has some horror story about them and *everyone* hates them. They were behind Not In Our Name and World Can’t Wait during the Antiwar movement, but were left out of the big coalitions because no one can deal with them. Their cultural influence has been nil outside of the “Maoist” wing of the protest ghetto left.

    From a classical Marxist point of view multicultural leftism is an ideology of the elite that exists in order to synchronize the material interest of the class with its morality. This ideology was born from the temper tantrums of upper class students during the sixties. The aspects of it that were compatible with capital and neoliberalism have thrived. Outside of its protected enclaves it has little purchase, and even most democrats hate it. The working class wants nothing to do with it. Normal people can barely even parse SJW language anymore. It is now beyond parody, and is becoming more absurd by the day.

    Some of the best analysis of the modern left comes from cranky old Marxists like Brendon O’Neil and Frank Furedi ovet at spiked. Furedi’s book on the culture of therapy is indispensable to understanding not just the left, but our whole culture:

    http://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/oct/09/health.mentalhealth

    They had an excellent article from Brenden over at Taki’s, recently:

    http://takimag.com/article/who_killed_the_enlightenment_brendan_oneill

    (Way to go new right that you responded with 500 posts of completely retarded Jew conspiracy bullshit. This is why the American New Right can’t have nice things like political power or cultural influence, or even an intelligent debate.)

    Jew conspiracy bullshit is a group evolutionary strategy for basement retards with big fat man tits. It is sort of like a bacterium that produces a toxic substance that kills all higher forms of life. This toxic medium prevents all thinking and defends the mating territory of the man titty monster. While some still possess vestigial sex organs, the man titty monsters have evolved beyond sexual reproduction and spread into new retards by a form of electronic osmosis powered by Cheetosynthesis. By destroying the New Right from within the white nationalist man titty monsters protect their social position from competition and assert their territorial dominance over other types of man titty monsters (such as libertarians), as part of a group survival strategy for ultra low status males who are completely incapable of mating with other humans.

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