Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Cultural Marxism

Conspiracy theories existed long before the internet was conceived. Most were harmless but others were pernicious and racist, like the publication of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This particular conspiracy theory originated in Tsarist Russia around 1903 and attempted to show the existence of a world-wide Jewish body seeking global domination. Henry Ford published 500,000 copies for distribution in the US as an attempt to divide the working class along racial lines. The Nazis used that conspiracy theory against the Jews in the 1930s and it is still distributed today by Islamic groups, particularly in Saudi Arabia where government officials and state religious leaders often promote the idea that Jews are conspiring to take over the entire world.

Another recent conspiracy theory claims that the Holocaust – the mass extermination of Jews during the Second World War - did not happen. Most Holocaust deniers claim that the Holocaust is a hoax arising from a deliberate Jewish conspiracy designed to advance the interest of Israel at the expense of other countries. Of course, the real reason for the conspiracy is as a means for neo-Nazis and others to rehabilitate Hitler and make his anti-Semitism “respectable”, rather than leading to the nightmare of gas chambers and extermination camps.

However, with the rise of the internet and other forms of social media like Face Book, Twitter and You Tube, there has been an explosion in conspiracy theories often linked to the so-called alt-right: white nationalists, anti-globalists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis. One such example is Alex Jones, a radio host known for the Alex Jones Show and InfoWars.com, both with a wide following and notorious for spreading conspiracy theories. Jones has promoted various “New World Order” conspiracy theories, such as that the US government orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Boston Marathon bombings and the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting.

Most conspiracy theories are against a particular group, investing them with power they simply do not possess and political means they do not have access to. This powerful group can be a mythical secret society made-up of “international Jewish bankers”, an individual like George Soros, or an entire religion, say Muslims, or ethnic groups like Roma Gypsies. Another powerful conspiracy theory, which originated in France, is known as ‘the great replacement’. This preposterous idea is that Muslim immigration is part of a bigger plan to make Muslims the majority of a country’s population, replacing the indigenous - Christian - people, and runs through the belief system of nationalist, far right groups like Ukip and Britain First.

The point of the conspiracy theory is to divide the working class, to blame one section of workers and to paint a fictional narrative of “the other” trying to undermine “Western values”. Rather than seeing capitalism as the source of the problems facing the working class, other workers are conveniently blamed. The fact is that these ‘others’ are just as much victims of the system as any of ‘us’. The only people who gain from turning groups of workers against each other are the class who exploit workers, of all colours and creeds, for profit.

It is ‘Cultural Marxism’ which currently takes the lead in promoting political conspiracy theories on the internet. And cultural Marxism is also increasingly being used as a pejorative term in the mainstream media and by politicians to attack those who defend migrants, refugees and other groups from racist, homophobic and xenophobic physical violence and verbal abuse. Here is the former editor of the DAILY MAIL, Paul Dacre, on the relationship between ‘Cultural Marxism’ and the BBC:

“...what really disturbs me is that the BBC is, in every corpuscle of its corporate body, against the values of conservatism, with a small “c”, which I would argue, just happens to be the values held by millions of Britons. Thus it exercises a kind of ‘Cultural Marxism’ in which it tries to undermine conservative society by turning all its values on their heads” (GUARDIAN, 23 January 2007).

The ‘Cultural Marxism’ bogey has made regular appearances in newspaper and internet outlets like the TELEGRAPH, the SPECTATOR and spiked on line, the latter ironically a former Trotskyist sect until they embraced free market fundamentalism. The DAILY MAIL journalist James Delingpole, in his article “How the BBC fell for a Marxist plot” (27 September 2011), railed against the “sinister influence” of “Left-Wing thinker Herbert Marcuse” on the programming choices of BBC executives and senior management.

A recent use of ‘Cultural Marxism’ came from the Tory MP, Suella Braverman. Speaking at an event on Brexit organised by the Euro-sceptic “think-tank” the Bruges Group, Braverman said in her speech:

“We are engaging in many battles right now. As Conservatives we are engaged in a battle against cultural Marxism, where banning things is becoming de rigueur; where freedom of speech is becoming a taboo; where our universities, quintessential institutions of liberalism, are being shrouded in censorship and a culture of no-platforming” (GUARDIAN, 26 March 2019).

For Braverman, conservatism is supposedly battling against ‘Cultural Marxism’, whose dark forces are shutting down freedom of speech, enforcing censorship and preventing dissenters from having access to universities. But there is a leftwing orthodoxy which does try to enforce no-platforming etc - unofficial censorship of the Left, feminism, gay rights, a censorship which socialists oppose just as much as the right wing censorship! When no-platforming was first used against H J Eysenck at London University regarding his mistaken ideas on gender and race differences and IQ heritability, while socialists opposed Eysenck, we also opposed those who tried to ban him speaking.

Who are the “Cultural Marxists”?

Who are the “Cultural Marxists”? The conspiracy theorists claim that these “Cultural Marxists” were to be originally found in the Frankfurt School, founded by Carl Grunberg in Germany in 1923, using a mixture of Marx and Freud to undermine the cultural fabric of society. With the outbreak of the Second World War, as the leading members of the Frankfurt School – Marcuse, Adorno, Horkeimer and Fromm - were all Jewish, they moved to the US and, so the conspiracy theorists go on to say, laid the foundations for an intellectual assault on God’s own country.

Yet the Frankfurt School were merely academics who were interested in making a critique of contemporary mass culture (e.g. Dialectic of Enlightenment by Adorno and Horkeimer. The work of Art in the age of Reproduction by Walter Benjamin and To Have or to Be by Eric Fromm). Most of their books have a dense academic prose which is often difficult and sometimes impossible to read and understand. They had little or no power except as professors teaching students and their influence was marginal, as opposed to the mainstream academic sociology and economics of the time.

Furthermore, what did their “critique” of capitalism amount to? They painted a depressing and pessimistic picture of Western capitalism. It is depressing because mass culture controls the desires and wishes of the working class as well as its external behaviour though consumption. And it is pessimistic because it provides no means through which the working class can break free of this state of affairs. Ironically Marx’s agency of revolutionary change; the working class is shown to be passive, manipulated and dominated by capital.

So we have a group of Jewish intellectuals influenced by Marx (a Jew) and Freud (also a Jew). And out of this shared Jewish characteristic the conspiracy theorists spun out another Jewish-Communist-Marxist conspiracy which could then be blamed for every problem besetting society including the rise of political correctness. “Cultural Marxism” then is just another anti-Semitic conspiracy theory to join with the older ones like the Elders of Zion and Holocaust denial. Wikipedia does not even bother to give this conspiracy theory a separate entry in its index.

Virulently anti-Semitic “Cultural Marxism” has been taken up enthusiastically by the Steve Bannon/Breitbart-inspired ‘alt-right’. These groups have embraced and followed a political narrative in which “Cultural Marxism” promotes its plot against “Western values” through “culture wars” on university campuses and in other public institutions like the BBC. Well, if Cultural Marxism had so much manipulative power how did Trump ever get elected into the White House? Why is it that capitalism and its institutions appear to be so safe and secure?

“Cultural Marxism”: All very sinister and all very wrong.

So, just what is “cultural Marxism”? In contemporary usage, the term “Cultural Marxism” refers to an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory and has been doing the rounds since the 1990s. The conspiracy theory came to prominence when the Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik included the term in his document "2083: A European Declaration of Independence".

The term was given its current conspiratorial usage by William Lind which was then widely disseminated across the internet. Lind reportedly told an audience at a Holocaust denial conference that the Frankfurt School were all Jewish. In "THE ORIGINS OF POLITICAL CORRECTNESS" (2000), William S. Lind established the political time-line of Cultural Marxism; that:

If we look at it analytically, if we look at it historically, we quickly find out exactly what it is. 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 [to Kulturbolshewismus]. If we compare the basic tenets of Political Correctness with [the basic tenets of] classical Marxism, the parallels are very obvious.

A key tenet of the “Cultural Marxism” conspiracy theory as disseminated explicitly on countless websites is that it encourages immigration and multiculturalism to undermine “Western Values” (that is, the “cultural heritage” of “white, non-Jewish people”). The mainstream conservative right, like the journalists writing in the SPECTATOR, in free market institutes and increasingly from members of Parliament like Suella Braveman, are more circumspect, usually restricting themselves to suggesting that “Cultural Marxism” is a barrier to the free expression of ‘legitimate concerns’ about immigration. ‘Legitimate concerns” is, of course, a political code for a campaign of xenophobic hostility towards immigrants and immigration.

Why the recent growth in the acceptance of conspiracy theories? One reason was the Vietnam War with subsequent government administrations lying to the country, using misinformation, lies and fake news. Another, more recent reason was the Iraq War. The premise for invasion of Iraq by the Labour Government was on the basis of a “Weapons of Mass Destruction” document, which turned out to be a tissue of lies. The war led to the death of tens of thousands of men, women and children, all for the necessity of US and Britain and their allies to protect trade routes and have access to oil.

Socialists have no time for conspiracy theorists and are very critical of the Frankfurt School academics that rejected the working class as agents of revolutionary change. More so Herbert Marcuse in his ESSAY ON LIBERATION, written in 1969 during student protests, the rise of the “counter-culture” and opposition to the Vietnam War, which placed feminists, students, black activists and national liberation movements at the centre of political change.

Nevertheless power – the power to exploit the worker class to make a profit - rests with the capitalist class due to its control of the means of production and distribution and the protection of its wealth-producing capacity by the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the state. Workers should not be distracted by divisive conspiracy theories –belief systems for the politically naive - but instead take conscious, political and democratic action to replace capitalism with socialism: the abolition of the profit system with the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.

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