Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory  

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"'Cultural Marxism" in modern political parlance refers to a conspiracy theory which sees the Frankfurt School as part of an ongoing movement to take over and destroy Western society.

Contents

Overview

The term 'cultural Marxism' has an academic usage within cultural studies, where it refers to a form of anti-capitalist cultural critique which specifically targets those aspects of culture that are seen as profit driven and mass-produced under capitalism.

The term remained academic until the late 1990s, when it was misappropriated by paleoconservatives as part of an ongoing Culture War in which it is claimed that the very same theorists who were analysing and objecting to the "massification" and mass control via commercialization of culture were in fact working in a conspiracy to control and stage their own attack on Western society, using 1960s counter culture, multiculturalism, progressive politics and political correctness as their methods. This conspiracy theory version of the term is associated with American religious paleoconservatives such as William S. Lind, Pat Buchanan, and Paul Weyrich, but also holds currency among alt-right/white nationalist groups and the neo-reactionary movement. Adherents of the conspiracy theory often seem to suggest that the existence of things such as modern feminism, civil rights, gay rights and atheism are dependent on the Frankfurt School, even though these movements predate The Frankfurt School.

Weyrich first aired his misconception of Cultural Marxism in a 1998 speech to the Civitas Institute's Conservative Leadership Conference, later repeating this usage in his widely syndicated Culture War Letter. At Weyrich's request William S. Lind wrote a short history of his conception of Cultural Marxism for The Free Congress Foundation; in it Lind identifies the presence of homosexuals on television as proof of Cultural Marxist control over the mass media and claims that Herbert Marcuse considered a coalition of "blacks, students, feminist women and homosexuals" as a vanguard of cultural revolution. Lind has since published his own depiction of a fictional Cultural Marxist apocalypse. Lind and Weyrich's writings on this subject advocate fighting what they perceive as Cultural Marxism with "a vibrant cultural conservatism" composed of "retroculture" fashions from the past, a return to rail systems as public transport and an agrarian culture of self-reliance modeled after the Amish.

In 1999 Lind led the creation of an hour-long program entitled "Political Correctness: The Frankfurt School". Some of Lind's content went on to be reproduced by James Jaeger in his YouTube film "CULTURAL MARXISM: The Corruption of America".

The intellectual historian Martin Jay commented on this phenomenon saying that Lind's original documentary:

"... spawned a number of condensed textual versions, which were reproduced on a number of radical right-wing sites. These in turn led to a welter of new videos now available on YouTube, which feature an odd cast of pseudo-experts regurgitating exactly the same line. The message is numbingly simplistic: all the ills of modern American culture, from feminism, affirmative action, sexual liberation and gay rights to the decay of traditional education and even environmentalism are ultimately attributable to the insidious influence of the members of the Institute for Social Research who came to America in the 1930's."

Heidi Beirich likewise claims the conspiracy theory is used to demonize various conservative “bêtes noires” including "feminists, homosexuals, secular humanists, multiculturalist, sex educators, environmentalist, immigrants, and black nationalists."

According to Chip Berlet, who specializes in the study of extreme right-wing movements, Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory found fertile ground within the Tea Party movement of 2009, with contributions published in the American Thinker and WorldNetDaily highlighted by some Tea Party websites.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has reported that William S. Lind in 2002 gave a speech to a Holocaust denial conference on the topic of Cultural Marxism. In this speech Lind noted that all the members of The Frankfurt School were "to a man, Jewish", but it is reported that Lind claims not to question whether the Holocaust occurred and suggests he was present in an official capacity for The Free Congress Foundation "to work with a wide variety of groups on an issue-by-issue basis".

Although the theory became more widespread in the late 1990s and through the 2000s, the modern iteration of the theory originated in Michael Minnicino's 1992 essay "New Dark Age: Frankfurt School and 'Political Correctness'", published in Fidelio Magazine by the Schiller Institute. The Schiller Institute, a branch of the LaRouche movement, further promoted the idea in 1994. The Minnicino article charges that the Frankfurt School promoted Modernism in the arts as a form of Cultural pessimism, and shaped the Counterculture of the 1960s (such as the British pop band The Beatles) after the Wandervogel of the Ascona commune.

More recently, the Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik included the term in his document "2083: A European Declaration of Independence", which along with The Free Congress Foundation's "Political Correctness: A Short History of an Ideology" was e-mailed to 1,003 addresses approximately 90 minutes before the 2011 bomb blast in Oslo for which Breivik was responsible.

In July 2017, Rich Higgins was removed by US National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster from the United States National Security Council following the discovery of a seven-page memorandum he had authored, describing a conspiracy theory concerning a plot to destroy the presidency of Donald Trump by cultural Marxists, as well as Islamists, globalists, bankers, the media and members of the Republican and Democratic parties.

Philosopher and political science lecturer Jérôme Jamin has stated, "Next to the global dimension of the Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory, there is its innovative and original dimension, which lets its authors avoid racist discourses and pretend to be defenders of democracy". Professor and Oxford Fellow Matthew Feldman has traced the terminology back to the pre-war German concept of Cultural Bolshevism locating it as part of the degeneration theory that aided in Hitler's rise to power. William S. Lind confirms this as his period of interest, claiming that "It [Cultural Marxism] is an effort that goes back not to the 1960s and the hippies and the peace movement, but back to World War I."

Background and history

"We are, in Marx's terms, "an ensemble of social relations" and we live our lives at the core of the intersection of a number of unequal social relations based on hierarchically interrelated structures which, together, define the historical specificity of the capitalist modes of production and reproduction and underlay their observable manifestations." --Martha E. Gimenez, Marxism and Class, Gender and Race: Rethinking the Trilogy

According to UCLA professor and critical theorist Douglas Kellner, "Many 20th century Marxian theorists ranging from Georg 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." Although scholars around the globe have employed various types of Marxist social criticism to analyze cultural artifacts, the two most influential academic institutions upon Western cultural Marxism have been the Institute for Social Research at the University of Frankfurt am Main in Germany (the Frankfurt School), and the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham, UK. The latter had been at the center of a resurgent interest in the broader category of cultural Studies.

Frankfurt School and critical theory

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, Wilhelm Reich, Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse, Wolfgang Fritz Haug and Jürgen Habermas. 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 and Horkheimer's "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception", originally a chapter in Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947), and "Culture Industry Reconsidered", a 1963 radio lecture by Adorno.

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. 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

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.

Critiques

Post-World War II, conservatives remained opposed to socialism and notions of social engineering. Some 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.

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."

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. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Lind's argument linking political correctness in contemporary public speech to the influence of Marxism is a conspiracy theory.

Conservative scholar 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. ...
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.

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. She argues that this will destroy Western civilization and lead to barbarism.

Responses

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." 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.

Freelance writer Bill Berkowitz adds, "It's not clear whether this diffusion of the cultural Marxism conspiracy theory into the mainstream will continue. Certainly, the anti-Semitism that underlies much of the scenario suggests that it may be repudiated in the coming years. But for now, the spread of this particular theory is a classic case of concepts that originated on the radical right slowly but surely making their way into the American mind."

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".

See also

Related: alienation - culture conflict theory - cultural Marxism - culture industry - cultural hegemony - British Cultural Studies - cultural Marxism - false consciousness - commodity fetishism - economic exploitation - Frankfurt School - Freudo-Marxism - Birmingham School of Cultural Studies - left - Marxist film theory - working class

Theodor Adorno - Louis Althusser - Mikhail Bakhtin - Walter Benjamin - Guy Debord - Terry Eagleton - Antonio Gramsci - Michael Hardt - Fredric Jameson - Karl Marx

See also




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