Casey Peterson, Cultural Marxism, and the Goliath of the Diversity Industry

For the past several weeks, Casey Peterson, an electrical engineer in prestigious Sandia Labs (one of the hubs of the federal military industry) has been risking his career to fight mandated ideological training that promotes the systemic racism conspiracy theory and requires from white employees to exorcise their “whiteness.” Pushed by “diversity” commissars from equity/diversity departments, this reeducation campaign based on the Critical Race Theory (Cultural Marxism) spreads like fire over our federal, state, and corporate institutions. Any objections to the mandated indoctrination are considered insubordination and involve disciplinary actions. Many intimidated employees of the Labs secretly showed Peterson their support. But the “diversity” commissars retaliated, putting him on an administrative leave and removing his security clearance. Peterson does not give up. Will he become an American Andrei Sakharov? This Soviet nuclear physicist put his career and elite privileges on line to challenge the suffocating communist ideology in the 1970s-1980s; the Soviets retaliated by removing Sakharov from his job, stripping him of his awards, and putting him under a house arrest.

Politically Incorrect Research: What Scholars Have to Say about the Diversity Propaganda Industry

The recent critical research of the diversity industry, which was conducted by Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev (2016), American and Israeli sociologists, has confirmed existing concerns about the corrosive effects of mandating this industry.  These scholars, who explored the mandatory diversity programs in 816 companies, came to conclusion that command-and-control diversity quota-oriented programs were counterproductive.  Set to reward, discipline, and punish managers and employees, these programs were in fact breeding fear, animosity, and distrust.   The scholars also stressed that, neglecting an individual merit approach, such mandated diversity amplified gender, ethnic, and racial “tribalism.”  The ultimate verdict Dobbin and Kalev issued was quite devastating for the whole multi-million diversity industry in the United States. 

Particularly, they stressed that, contrary to rosy mainstream perceptions, American experience in enforcing diversity miserably failed, and it could not serve as a policy blueprint for other countries.  The researchers have also suggested that the best possible option in this situation would be to “decentralize” the whole diversity machine and let people on the ground decide for themselves how they wanted to reach its goals.  My assumption is that in each university, corporation, school, and institution people should be free to choose and vote (by a secret ballot) on whether they want and need the “diversity” training.  From what we saw in the Sandia Labs, the employees had no say about the reeducation campaign the corporate diversity commissars arbitrarily imposed on them.

Although wrapped into a cautious academic prose, research conducted by a group of social psychologists headed by Leigh Wilton (Wilton 2018; Jacobs 2018; Good 2018) produced even more devastating conclusions, which in fact had been obvious to any critical-minded person.  For the first time targeting the entire multiculturalism ideology, the Wilton research team set out to explore whether the promotion of “diversity” reduced or enhanced a fixation on race on a popular level. Exploring two large groups of people (students and adult non-students), Wilton and her colleagues found out that making people think about racial and cultural differences on a permanent basis hammered in their minds the idea that these differences were central, vital, and crucial.  Obviously, to safeguard themselves, Wilton (2018) and her team included such disclaimers as “We do not mean to imply that multiculturalism should be universally discarded” and “Neither multiculturalism nor color blindness offers a simple panacea for improving diversity.” Still, they have been adamant in their conclusion that, as an unintended consequence, the engineering “diversity” from above enhanced racial essentialism and that “the primacy of Multiculturalism as a mechanism for prejudice reduction or racial inequality is not without question.” They also stressed that, in contrast to a color-blind approach that mutes the fixation on race, the whole “diversity” message amplifies group differences and may lead to negative inter-group outcomes.

One of the natural political side effects of the persistent cultivation of “non-White” identity, attempt to impose it on the rest of society, aggressive rhetoric against “white privilege,” and the promotion of the systemic racism conspiracy theory was the emergence of so-called alt-right White Power movement – a mirror image of the Black Power, Latino Power and similar identity movements among the people of “color.”  Left writer Anis Shivani stressed that by inflaming and empowering the racial and ethnic identity of the “underprivileged,” the cultural left opened the identitarian Pandora’s box, which naturally leads to legitimization of “blood,” “soul,” and “soil” agenda in American politics. Shivani, who became upset about the identitarian turn of his comrades, has stressed that under those circumstances, it is quite natural that “the rise of each group in terms of recognition encourages countervailing reactions amongst other groups, so that recognition becomes simultaneously self-inflating (breeding reactionism and irrationality) and an impossible ideal to attain. Again, the rise of white nationalism recently is a testament to this tendency, a natural corollary to the very logic of identity politics.”

Intellectual Sources of the Diversity Industry

One of the major intellectual sources of the mandated “diversity,” which has been superimposed on our society, go back to the frustration of the left about traditional class-based socialism that had occupied the dominant position in the old intellectual mainstream.  The ole left privileged the industrial working class (or proletariat, according to the traditional Marxist jargon) as the primary victim of and simultaneously the humankind’s redeemer from capitalism.  To the dismay of the left, Marx’s prophecy about the skyrocketing misery of the proletariat under capitalism miserably failed.  On the contrary, the Western labor dramatically improved its living conditions and lost its revolutionary vitality. 

For this reason, in the 1960s and the 1970s, the Western left were gradually ditching the industrial working class, finding instead new kinds of “noble savages” in the Third World and at home among such groups as people of “color,” women, gays, and later in the alphabet soup of newly emerging groups that too claimed a victimhood status.  Along with the Third World, these segments of population were singled out as the new victims of and simultaneously redeemers from the capitalist oppression. To be exact, since the 1960s, for the New Left it was not so much capitalism but rather the entire Western civilization that became the major culprit.  In contrast to the old left who were fixated on material progress, the New Left, on the contrary, came to criticize progress and materialism as spiritually corrupt to authentic and progressive lifestyles.  Such new attitude helped make an ideological switch from the class-based economic agenda to cultural issues.

Conservatives and libertarians have referred to that cultural turn among the Western progressives as Cultural Marxism.  The current mainstream left, who are frequently not aware of or do not want to be reminded of their genetic links with classical Marxism, object to the use of this term.  Instead, they prefer to operate with such broad expression as “Critical Theory” or with more specific definitions such as “Critical Cultural Studies,” “Critical Racial Studies,” “Critical Legal Studies,” and so forth. For the best critical review of the Critical Theory, its rise, and the present-day state of the woke left, see Helen Pluckrose and Jack Lindsay, Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity-and Why This Harms Everybody (2020). The Critical Theory, which claims the supreme knowledge, is notoriously uncritical toward itself; this brings to mind Vladimir Lenin, the chief of the Bolsheviks who once uttered, “The Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true.”

Since in the past the domestic people of “color” in Western countries and the Third World people were the objects of Euro-American racism and colonialism, progressive proponents of the Critical Theory (Cultural Marxism) take it for granted that such things as bigotry, racism, oppression are “white” Western phenomena.  As designated victims, the emerging Third World nations, domestic people of “color” along with sexual minorities are thought to be on the righteous side incapable of any wrongdoing. In other words, the cultural left created the “aristocracy of the outcasts.”  This explains, for example, why the left frequently downplay the brutal treatment of women and gays in Islamic societies and so-called hate crimes (and crimes in general) perpetrated by the representatives of the “victim” groups inside Western countries (for example, Muslim immigrants in France and Sweden or blacks in the United States). To the most ardent proponents of “diversity,” non-Western societies serve as carriers of profound spiritual wisdom and collectivism that serve to educate “rotten” and “materialist” West about better forms of life.

The Rise of the Diversity Industry and the Multiculturalism Ideology

By the end of the 1970s, American administrative and judicial system saw the emergence of “commissars of diversity” – a network of federal, state, and educational bureaucracies that were empowered by laws, institutions, and media outlets to police racial, ethnic, and gender representation both in public and private sector.  The regime of the racial segregation that had existed in the South prior to the 1950s offended American sensibilities to such an extent that both the congress and the “white” majority, driven by the profound guilt feelings, voluntarily accepted special measures designated to correct historical injustice and uplift people of “color.”  Little thought was given to the fact that to fight racism and sexism with racism and sexism was a flawed strategy and that well-meant and benevolent measures did not necessarily produce benevolent outcomes.

The system of job, business contract, and education quotas and preferences introduced in the 1970s through affirmative action programs were thought to be temporary measures that were to “upgrade” selected minorities.  Yet, as it frequently happens, the temporary measures were institutionalized and eventually became a permanent part of American polity, producing an overall corruptive effect on society.  It not only led to the emergence of the alphabet list of new groups that were eager to claim a victimhood status to secure moral, political, and economic benefits, but it also resulted in mass economic and educational fraud.  For example, thousands of dark-skinned immigrants began posing as “black” to fit in the officially established “ethno-racial pentagon” classification that was introduced by the Office of Budget and Management (OBM) in 1977 for policy goals.

This OBM Statistical Policy Directive No. 15 (“Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative Reporting”) pigeonholed Americans into specific racial categories, which people were encouraged to fit themselves in: white (WASPs), black (African-Americans), brown (Hispanics), yellow (Asians), and red (Native Americans).  The official goal was to standardize available statistics to conduct efficiently affirmative action and other race-conscious policies.  One can consider the year of 1977, when this directive was introduced, a symbolic landmark when “diversity” became the guiding light for the entire political and economic establishment in US.  Eventually, this ethno-racial “pentagon” system became so entrenched into American polity that it came to play the role of standard lenses through which both Democratic and Republican elites began to screen their decisions on all kinds of economic and social issues. 

At this point of our history, we already can talk about the existence of the mainstream multicultural ideology that crusades against Western values, and that is fixated on promoting group identity at an expense of an individual. This ideology uses the slogan of toleration to maintain itself as the hegemonic force (pardon my leftist jargon) in our society. Consequently, those who object that ideology and call for the treatment of people as individuals based on their merit are labeled as racist and intolerant people. This explains the reticence and fear both in society and especially among bureaucrats to question the dubious nature of the whole project.  By the way, that was precisely the niche that Cultural Marxists from BLM were able to use to wiggle themselves into the mainstream and to successfully intimidate a large part of American society into submission.  

The “diversity” machine and the multicultural ideology created by that machine by now acquired a life of their own. It is a vivid an example of how seemingly benign initiatives, which had been originally established to resolve an specific urgent problem, lead to unanticipated consequences. As such, the whole situation serves as the illustration of the old wisdom: the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

In addition to influential racial and ethnic lobby groups, this machine now includes a large apparatus in federal, state, university, and corporate institutions.  For example, by 2018, at the University of California, Berkeley, the number of diversity bureaucrats increased up to 175 people.  Many of them generate high salaries. Thus, a diversity chief at the University of Michigan makes $385,000 a year (“The Rise of Universities’ Diversity Bureaucrats”).  For this omnipotent bureaucracy, amplifying identity politics and dramatizing ethnic, racial, and gender issues became one of the major ways to stay in power and secure the continuing flow of finances both from government and private donors.

One can divide the institutions that promote the “diversity” creed in the United States into three large units.  The first is represented by watchdog institutions (Human Resources (HR) and Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) or equity departments) that gather statistics on how well major racial, ethnic and gender groups are represented in all walks of life.  HRs and equity offices are weaponized institutions that not only collect relevant data and set codes of behavior but also police and penalize bureaucrats and individuals who do not comply with prescribed ideological regulations and imposed quotas (Jeb Kinnison, Death by HR (2016).  The HR and equity/OEO desks share the job of supervision over personnel and its activities. Like HR, equity desks and offices exist in all American federal, state, educational, and in many corporate institutions. 

The second group of institutions is represented by various Multicultural desks and offices that are specialized in popularizing non-Western cultures and lifestyles by organizing, for example, various ethnic, racial, and gender festivals and fairs. These cultural events are usually focused on the valorization of selected cultures and their representatives, which are frequently set into the context of victimhood, oppression, and resistance.  For example, my first introduction to one of such festivals, which took place in Ohio in 1994, was a visit to a Latin American multicultural festival that was celebrating generic Latino legacy.  At the entrance, visitors were welcomed by a huge banner with the following phase, “Latin America: 400 Years of Resistance.”  To this, my Puerto-Rican colleague sarcastically remarked, “Why resistance? Resistance to what and against whom?”  A small example of cultural activism supported by those desks is a campaign of moral shaming of people for so-called cultural appropriation. For those who are not yet familiar with this most recent meme of the cultural left, I want to explain that any “white” person who publicly dons “non-Western” garb or attire (e.g. Mexican sombrero, Japanese kimono, Afro-American dreadlocks) automatically becomes a racist “colonizer” who “steals” and “appropriates” from the victims of “color.”  

The third component of the multicultural “diversity” ideological machine is represented by various identity studies departments such as Black, Hispanic, Native American, and Women Studies (Bruce Bawer, The The Victims’ Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the  Liberal Mind (2012). Pioneered in the 1960s as special university-based programs that were expected to inject existing college curricula with non-Western and female perspectives, many of them eventually acquired not only the status of regular university departments but turned into ideological units.  These programs openly declare that their major goal is not traditional academic pursuits but rather activist scholarship.  The latter heavily relies on the above-mentioned Critical Theory methods, which had been pioneered by Herbert Marcuse and like-minded post-Marxist writers

In other words, identity studies are focused on providing an ideological back up to specific racial, ethnic, and gender agendas. The practitioners of identity studies are preoccupied with the critique of what they define as “white” Western civilization and hegemony.  Simultaneously, they valorize non-Western cultures and lifestyles that they define as progressive and spiritually enhancing. From the partisan “diversity” perspective, the cultivation of ethno-racial consciousness and solidarity for designated “non-White” and “non-Western” groups is progressive and desirable, whereas a color-blind individualistic approach is treated as racist and reactionary. 

Moreover, for the past fifty years, mainstream humanities disciplines such as sociology, literary studies, American studies, geography, anthropology, social work, and especially education acquired a similar ideological “diversity” bent that one can find in abundance in the identity studies.  The social scholarship too heavily assimilated Critical Theory into its methodology and became fixated on searching for the signs of racial, ethnic, and gender oppression both in the past and in the present in all walks of surrounding life. 

The threat to our liberty comes from the fact that the greater part of the cadre, which now works in our government, law firms, and corporate world, are former college graduates who internalized memes and precepts propagated by the Critical Theory scholarship and made them the new normal. Many of them are sincerely convinced that they must change the surrounding life according to the ideological prescriptions of “multiculturalism” by promoting the group (racial, gender, ethnic) justice and arbitrarily dividing our society into the classes of the “oppressed” and “oppressors.”  The latter, according to Marcuse who was one of the founders of the Critical Theory, must be shut down and canceled by all means available.  This means that the core values of the Western civilization are now at stake (the rule of law, freedom of speech, checks and balances, and the very institute of elections).

On a final note, responding to the rising tide of mandated “diversity” reeducation programs, on September 4, the US Office of Budget and Management issued a memorandum to stop wasting tax dollars for all race-bating “training” that is based on the ideology of the Critical Theory and that is focused on bashing “whiteness” and Western values. Of course, it is ridiculous to assume that one can simply ban an ideology; it will take years and years to dismantle the “diversity” industry and its ideological apparatus. Yet, as a first step, that measure is essential for our entire political and economic system. The current administration has sent a clear signal to the “deep state” bureaucrats, who are opportunistic by their very nature, that the woke “repressive tolerance” of the cultural left will not be tolerated anymore. If we push further in this direction, there is a hope that we shall overcome.

From Class to Identity: The Cultural Turn in the Left Thought Collective (1950s-1980s)

Class to Culture

Ideologies never die, they metamorphose and are reborn in a new form just when they are thought buried forever.

– Pascal Bruckner, French philosopher and writer (2006)

In 2010, sociology professor Rick Fantasia, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, struggled to explain the results of US Congress elections that were disastrous to democrats and that, at that time, brought a majority to the republicans.  Fantasia was part of a Social Forum, a 15,000-strong army of left activists who gathered in Detroit, Michigan.  Observing this convention, he noted that most people who arrived at this convention mostly represented various minority organizations that were either involved into identity politics or represented immigrant workers.  Fantasia also noted a heavy presence of countercultural and environmentalist elements, including New Age seekers.  At the same time, the activist scholar pointed out that one important element was missing: working-class people, especially white workers.  With frustration, Fantasia noted that there were only a few white working-class people: “The whites were mostly educated members of the middle class, organizers, activists, representatives of philanthropic organizations and academics.” The described gathering and the expressed concern were a microcosm that reflected the shift in the entire ideology and the social base of the current Western left for the past fifty years.

What worried Fantasia was not some aberration or a temporary flaw in the left strategy and tactics. In fact, this was the result of a natural evolution of the left mainstream.  Since the 1960s, it drifted away from concerns about an economic growth and class-based politics, which were associated with the old left.  Instead, the left began shifting toward culture, race, and identity issues as well as environmentalism.  This metamorphosis is sometimes labeled by a loose umbrella expression the “cultural turn.” On the level of ideas, this turn is usually associated with the emergence of the often-mentioned post-modernism and includes several intellectual trends and political practices that developed in the wake of traditional socialism that was heavily informed by Marxism.  The most important among these trends are post-colonial studies, critical theory, feminism, multiculturalism, and political correctness.   Some authors on the right refer to all this by an umbrella term “Cultural Marxism” – a pejorative expression that serves to point to genetic links between the current cultural left and the old Marxism-driven left.

This essay explores the sources of the cultural turn among the left and the development of their passion for identity matters, which resulted in the phenomenon pinpointed by Fantasia.  Although there have been tons of writings about the cultural left and the origin of their woke culture, our intellectual mainstream is still dominated by the following popular notions.  On the right, it is a widespread conviction that evil “Cultural Marxism,” primarily through the malicious activities of the Frankfurt School, set out to erode the Western civilization.  In the meantime, the easily triggered left have been ascribing any critique of PC thought collective and its “sacred cows” of race and gender to the evil forces of fascism and racism. If we “deconstruct” the history of the left’s gradual evolution toward culture and identity, we might problematize both approaches and tone down the heated debates around that issue.  Moreover, the understanding of the gradual evolution of the contemporary left from economic determinism and fixation on the proletariat to the privileging of culture, identity, and lifestyles will help us understand better how and why literally every aspect of human life became politicized in the eyes of the current left.  In other words, the history of the cultural turn will shed more light on the origin of the popular left meme that personal is political. 

The goal of this essay is to paint a bigger picture by showing that, besides the often-mentioned Frankfurt School, there were other essential sources that fomented the cultural or identitarian turn on the left.  Thus, to understand the formation of this turn, on needs to address the significance of the year 1956 and celebrity sociology W. Right Mills’ crusade against “Victorian Marxism.”  We also need to bring up the writings of C.L.R. James, William Dubois, France Fanon who were the first to refurbish popular Marxism’s memes (the proletariat, class domination and oppression, the new man, false consciousness, and center-periphery) and its Eurocentric nature along racial and non-Western lines.  Most important, one needs to examine the activities of British group of communist historians, Birmingham Institute of Cultural Studies, and New Left Review.  Without them, it will be hard to understand the historical role of the 1960s-1970s’ New Left, which acted as an intellectual bridge between old economic- and class-based Marxism and current cultural left that is heavily steeped in identity politics.

How Do We Call It? Critical Cultural Theory, Cultural Marxism, and the Identitarian Left

In existing debates about the cultural turn, the term “Cultural Marxism” has aroused most controversy.  Current identity-oriented progressive writers and scholars do not like this expression. Their favorite term of choice is Critical Theory and the host of expressions derived from it: Critical Cultural Theory, Critical Racial Theory, Critical Legal Studies and so forth.  However, earlier left authors did not see any problems with “Cultural Marxism.”  In fact, between the 1970s and the 1990s, they pointed that this very expression captured well the essence of the socialist ideology that was undergoing an adjustment to the new times. For example, in his “British Cultural Marxism”(1991) Ioan Davis and Dennis Dworkin in his Cultural Marxism in Postwar Britain: History, the New Left, and the Origins of Cultural Studies (1997) did not see any problems in using that expression. As late as 2004, progressive scholar Douglas Kellner about “Cultural Marxism and Cultural Studies.”

dworkin

The most aggressive among current cultural left, especially journalists who did not take time to explore the history of Marxism and neo-Marxism, have been quick to label Cultural Marxism as a hate taboo term that promotes fascist, Nazi, and anti-Semitic ideas.  Using such smear metaphors, they want to intellectually link all critics of the identitarian left on the right to Hitler’s propaganda workers who had talked about “Cultural Bolshevism.”  Moreover, downplaying the historical links between pre-1960s “scientific socialism” and the current cultural left, some identity-oriented left authors have claimed that they in fact moved beyond Marxism and that they are not Marxists anymore.

bad marxism

In their turn, many among traditional Marxist leftists, who still try to stick to the class-based approach, agree that the cultural left have nothing to do with Marxism.  These “traditionalists” label their wayward cultural comrades as traitors to the cause and dismiss them as “bad Marxists”. Several scholars (historian Paul Gottfried and philosopher Helen Pluckrose), who are critical of both traditional Marxism and the current identitarian left, too have argued against using the expression Cultural Marxism.  Correctly stressing that the post-Marxist left stopped prioritizing economic determinism and class and assimilated ideas from outside of Marxism, Gottfried and Pluckrose have stressed that the current cultural left hardly have any links to Marxism.

Several conservative authors (e. g. Kerry Bolton and Jeffrey D. Breshears), who generalized about Cultural Marxism, have come to view it as a grand conspiracy on the part of the left.  They have portrayed it to as a sinister plan masterminded by the so-called Frankfurt School that allegedly sought to uproot Western civilization and Christianity.  The most grotesque versions of the Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory link it exclusively to the activities of German-Jewish scholars (who had indeed dominated the Frankfurt School (see Benjamin Ivry, Deconstructing the Jewishness of the Frankfurt School(2015). That theory goes as follows. A group of mostly Jewish intellectuals, who were part of radical socialist and communist forces in the 1920s’ Germany, were upset about the failure of the 1917 Communist revolution in Europe and decided to modify the Marxist-Leninist project of world revolution by mixing Marx and Freud.

FrankfurtSchool

Their goal was to smash capitalism not through the cultivation of the working-class indignation but through undermining Western culture and civilization (traditional family, gender hierarchies, and sexual norms).  In the 1930s, being kicked out by national socialists from Germany, the Frankfurt School cabal moved to the United States, where it became the “Trojan horses” of the radical left, setting out to undermine the culture and values of the United States – the economic and political hub of the Western civilization. One of the major proponents of this view has been writer William Lind (“The Roots of Political Correctness,” 2009), who in fact was instrumental in popularizing the expression “Cultural Marxism.” It is mostly by drawing on his writings that the left journalists came up with the argument that this expression serves as an anti-Semitic dog whistle.

While authors like Lind singled out the Frankfurt School to be demonized as the major intellectual culprit, left authors, who have been peddling so-called neoliberalism, became similarly obsessed with searching for the shadow of the Mont Perelin society in any movement that advocated free market and individual liberty.  The irony of the situation is that both pejorative memes “Cultural Marxism” and “neoliberalism” do describe social trends that have been unfolding in society.  They are not the products of the grand conspiracies but reflect what has been going on in the intellectual culture and on the ground among various segments of society.  Incidentally, several scholars (Keith PrestonAlexander Zubatov, Allen Mendenhall, and Dominic Green) have recently explored the content of Cultural Marxism, trying to separate the conspiracy elements from actual intellectual links between Marxism of old and the current cultural left. Although I believe that this term can be useful especially when we need to stress the continuity between the old Marxian socialism and the present day cultural left, who operate with many ideological pillars inherited from the old creed (e.g. oppression/domination narrative, false consciousness and so forth), it indeed might be too narrow. So, I personally prefer to use such broad definitions as the “cultural left” and “identitarian left.”

Behind the rise of the cultural left, there stood a large thought collective that did reflect genuine concerns of various segments of the left and social movements.  The writings of the Frankfurt scholars, who both analyzed Western society and did issue utopian suggestions about how to transform it, were marginal until the 1960s.  Their scholarship, which helped to shift the left’s priorities from class to identity and culture, would have remained marginal had it not been for wide and vocal audiences that for various reasons picked up and consumed them. To summarize, the “Frankfurters” were not a sinister alien cabal that was preying on Judeo-Christian civilization with the sole purpose to destroy it.  One can describe their effect on society by an old saying: when a student is ready, a teacher comes.  In the 1960s and the 1970s, their ideas, which had earlier been marginal, suddenly began to resonate with thousands of progressives in the West and beyond.  Such “Frankfurters” as Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979), Theodore Adorno (1903-1969), and Erich Fromm (1900-1980) described the development of mass consumer society, patriarchic family, the effects of propaganda on masses, criticized industrial society, and Western mass culture, frequently issuing sweeping condemnation of the entire “soulless” Western civilization.

The reason these ideas came in vogue was simply because, by the 1960s, the West and the rest of the world experienced profound socio-economic changes: the decline of traditional working class and the rise of intellectual professions, the massive involvement of women into all spheres of life and the end of the male-oriented societal ethic, which until the 1960s had been considered normal, the emergence of new technologies, an industrial pollution, and concerns about how to better handle an economic growth.  Furthermore, the world saw the rise of Third World national liberation movements, the collapse of old colonial empires, and the emergence of minority movements in Western countries. Finally, the Soviet Union, which for a large portion of the left earlier had been the great new hope, lost its image as the ultimate socialist utopia.  Facing those changes, the old left began to crumble. There was a need to refurbish the left ideology and identity. In the 1960s and the 1970s, during student anti-war movements, the rise of Third World national liberation movements, civil rights protests among the people of “color,” the expansion of women and gays rights movements, the ideas disseminated by the above-mentioned intellectual “power centers” of the left resonated well with thousands of protesters. One cannot simply dismiss these collectives and their ideas as something imposed from above on the “innocent populace.” 

Toward “Socialist Humanism” and Away from Traditional Marxism (1956 and beyond)

1956 was a pivotal year for the socialist thought collective.  This was the year when the Soviet nomenklatura elite partially exposed Stalinism, trying to polish the tainted image of socialism.  The communist bureaucracy was tired of living in a constant fear, and, after the death of Stalin, it sought to secure its privileges and to somehow reform communism to make it more appealing.  During the same year, taking advantage of the limited destalinization, people of Hungary openly rose in an anti-communist revolt against the Soviets.  The suppression of the Budapest rebels by the Soviet tanks was a devastating blow at the moral of the millions of left idealists around the world who still believed that the Soviet Union was acting on the side of the forces of light.  There was a growing frustration with the Soviet model of socialism that was tied to a total nationalization and centralized planning. Moscow was rapidly losing its status as the utopian place.  It was natural that the year of 1956 signaled the emergence of the so-called New Left who sought to disentangle themselves from the Soviet experience.

In the meantime, the working-class people in the West dramatically improved their living conditions and did nor express any desire to go to barricades to battle capitalism.  Social democrats were shedding the last vestiges of Marxism, and communist parties were increasingly losing their membership.  For example, the French Communist Party, one of the largest pro-Soviet left movements in the West, which had 320,000 members in 1956, by 1962 shrank down to 225,000.  Similarly, pro-Soviet Communist Party USA, which had between 75,000 to 80,000 members in 1945, declined to fewer than 3,000 in 1958. It was not the expected immiseration of working-class masses but an increased prosperity, bourgeois culture, and boredom that became a great challenge.  The left, especially their radical wing, were poised to turn into rebels without a cause.  The major character from John Osborn play (1956) expressed it best when he uttered a phrase that became classic: “There aren’t any good, brave causes left.” In 1960, Raymond Williams (1921-1988), an influential UK socialist novelist and theoretician,  admitted that not only the Marxist prophecy about the immanent collapse of capitalism failed but also the entire hubris of traditional Marxism was under threat: “The Marxist claim to special insight into these matters of life and death of an economic system makes concessions of error less easy.”

There was not much to gain for the left by sticking to the economic playing field, where “rotten” capitalism was improving people’s living standards and securing an economic growth. Those who wanted to keep radical left agenda alive had to rekindle the traditional left subculture. The Trotskyites, cosmopolitan Marxist-Leninist heretics, who were the victims of vicious political assaults from their Stalinist rivals, did arouse a sympathy among dissident communists who were seeking a socialist alternative beyond the Soviet experience.  After all, the Trotskyites were the first to struggle to preserve the radical elan of the Marxist creed, while simultaneously attacking both capitalism and Stalinism.  Yet, with their old and worn out mantra about the primacy of an economic basis, vanguard party, and false claims about an increasing misery of the industrial working class, they were out of touch with reality.  The Trotskyites simply appeared as reenactors of the bygone era and could not generate any visible support among workers, quickly degenerating into an esoteric intellectual sect.

Cornelius Castoriadis, a prominent left theoretician, captured well the whole dilemma faced by the left who were frustrated about the proletariat that failed to fulfill its prophetic mission: “The proof of the truth of the Scriptures is Revelation; and the proof that there has been Revelation is that the Scriptures say so.  This is a self-confirming system. In fact, it is true that Marx’s work, in its spirit and its very intention, stands and falls along with the following assertion: The proletariat, as it manifests itself as the revolutionary class that is on the point of changing the world. If such is not the case – as it is not – Marx’s work becomes again what in reality it always was, a (difficult, obscure, and deeply ambiguous) attempt to think society and history from the perspective of their revolutionary transformation – and we have to resume everything starting from our own situation, which certainly includes both Marx himself and the history of the proletariat as a component.”  Issues that became more relevant by the 1960s were the US war in Vietnam, the rise of Third World anticolonial movements, civil rights struggle, and women liberation.  Traditional working-class issues became less irrelevant, whereas the issues of race, gender, and culture that earlier had occupied a marginal place on the left’s agenda, now were coming to the forefront.  The mainstream radical left had to rethink their creed and agenda and customize it to the changes.

In contrast, by the 1960s, Moscow, which had billed itself as Red Jerusalem and the vital center of left radicals appeared as conservative, oppressive and ideologically suffocating.  In the 1930s and the 1940s, the sympathetic left somehow could excuse Stalin’s socialism along with its police state, terror, and labor concentration camps as a temporary mobilization scheme that was needed to successfully fight fascism and railroad backward Russia into the radiant world of modernity.  Yet, after 1956, it became harder to justify the continuation of that politically correct line.  For example, in response to Soviet defector Victor Kravchenko’s revelations of Stalin’s crimes in 1946, European communists and their fellow travelers still felt no shame in dismissing the existence of  GULAG concentration camps as fake news, and large segments of public swallowed it. Yet, ten years later, when Stalin’s heir Nikita Khrushchev himself indirectly revealed the brutal reality of Soviet communism, the cannibalistic nature of the Bolshevik-made regime was impossible to deny.  Without wishing this, the Soviets, who themselves denounced Stalin, the “red pope” of communism, made a huge crack in the entire building of the socialist faith. 1956 produced thousands of apostates.  Several of them released a volume of their testimonies with a revealing title God That Failed.

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Since 1956, to dissociate themselves from the Soviet brand of socialism, the Western left sought to humanize Marxism. Hence, a natural shift away from economic determinism and economic efficiency toward the issues of culture and identity. Later, this trend manifested itself in the emergence of such contemporary memes as “socialism with a human face,” “democratic socialism,” “socialist humanism,” and “Marxism-Humanism.”   A Jamaican-born UK Marxist sociologist Stuart Hall, one of the fountainheads of the cultural turn on the left, remembered that he and his comrades wanted to find a new political space through the rejection of both Western social democracy and Stalinism. The expression “Stalinism” became an important euphemism for those among the radical left, who wished to exorcise Stalin from communism and socialism, but who simultaneously wanted to preserve the reputation of these two sacred words untarnished.

“Sense of Classlessness” and British Cultural Studies, 1950s-1970s

One of the major trailblazers of the drift toward humanized Marxism and culture and away from economic determinism was a dissident group of British Marxist intellectuals who were later labelled as the New Left. Several of them came from so-called Communist Party Historians Group that was set up within the British Communist Party in 1946. Others were communist fellow travelers or independent Marxists.  At the end of the 1950s, when the Moscow commanding heights began to question Stalin’s infallibility, these historians, sociologists, and literary scholars either quit on the party or drifted away from traditional Marxism-Leninism, challenging its Stalinist theory and practice.  These dissident intellectuals included such prominent figures as E. P. Thompson (1924-1993), Herbert Hoggart (1918-2014), Christopher Hill (1912-1996), Raymond Williams (1921-1988), Christopher Hill (1912-2003) Stuart Hall (1932-2014), Raphael Samuel, (1934-1996), John Saville (1916-2009), Eric Hobsbawm (1917-2012), George Rudé (1910-1993) Rodney Hilton (1916-2002).  Several of them (Hall, Hobsbawm, Hoggart, Thompson, and Williams) had a profound impact on Western social scholarship, especially in English-speaking countries. For example, Hall and Williams literally laid the foundations of current cultural studies. In their turn, Thompson and Hobsbawm had a huge impact on history scholarship, helping to shift its mainstream direction toward writing about the past “from below.”

These New Left dissidents began to question the old Marxist notion that the end of capitalism was linked to the increasing immiseration and economic degradation of the proletariat.  Instead, they started arguing that the need for socialism was arising from the bourgeois affluence and consumerism. Furthermore, these ex-communists cracked the traditional Marxist conviction that economic class interests conditioned politics, social life, people mindsets, and culture.  Gradually shedding off economic determinism, these left scholars who had invested their whole careers into “scientific socialism,” found a new outlet to continue their intellectual pursuits – retrieval of the popular culture of working-class people.

Their intellectual quest eventually gave rise to New Left Review.  Launched in 1960, it became the major periodical of the Western New Left.  In fact, the very expression “the New Left” originated from a collective that congregated around this journal and that was hanging in and around the Partisan Coffee House in Soho, a bohemian area of London, and the Birmingham Institute of Cultural Studies. Searching for a new identity, the New Left changed the very concept of political, moving away from the traditional left “sacred sites” such a factory and a trade union to the realm of labor culture, folklore, lifestyles, and individual behavior.  Hall, who was part of this ideological collective, noted that he and his comrades were looking for a better place to ground their radical socialism. Incidentally, one of his speculative essays carried a characteristic title “A Sense of Classlessness.” Hall specified that the major way for him and his comrades to anchor themselves was politicizing various issues surrounding college life, high schools, movie theaters, art and other walks of life and institutions.  Jumping ahead, I want to stress that for the current cultural left politicizing the issues of lifestyle is one of the major ways of sustaining their identity.  Hall defined the New Left ideological search as “the proliferation of potential sites of social conflict and constituencies for change.” The famous slogan of radical feminism “the personal is political” captured well the essence of that quest.  Overall, as Hall stressed, all kinds of issues, including personal troubles and complaints could be amplified and opened to politicization.

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Trying to downplay the old mantra about how economy conditioned the minds of proletarians, these anti-Stalinist dissidents shifted attention to learning about the wisdom of working class by exploring its culture and folklore.  One of the first timid steps was made by Thompson, a professional historian and one of those communist dissidents.  Although Thompson continued to romanticize the labor as the ultimate savior of humankind from capitalism, the scholar nevertheless admitted that the cause of the intellectual bankruptcy of Marxism-Leninism was its economic determinism.  Drawing on Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (1852)one of a few foundational texts in classical Marxism that did recognize a relative autonomy of political culture, Thompson invited to pay more attention to the spontaneous agency of people over the working of invisible natural laws.  Simultaneously, he criticized contemporary Marxism for downplaying moral and ethical issues. Thompson is mostly known for multiple editions of his The Making of the English Working Class (1963) that became a staple reading in history and humanities courses throughout English-speaking world.  In this book, he drew attention to the radical culture of English labor.

Williams, political scientist and literary scholar who belonged to the same collective, moved far further toward embracing a cultural approach to the proletarian “chosen people.”  Formally remaining a member of the British Communist Party, in the 1950s, Williams gradually drifted away from it toward the Labour (social democratic) platform.  Unlike Thompson, who was still trapped within the old Marxist bubble, Williams went full ahead in fomenting the cultural shift in Western Marxism and one of the most influential thinkers for the entire Anglo-American left social scholarship community. Moreover, to dramatize his opposition to the economic materialism and determinism of traditional Marxism, Williams labelled his method as “cultural materialism”Marxist-oriented anthropologists, many of whom too were ditching the economic determinism in the 1960s, simultaneously peddled a similar notion in their scholarship.  Because of Williams’ aggressive media presence, his ideas about the working-class culture and group identity trickled down into Western humanities, where later they were used as a methodological blueprint for feminist, racial, gay, and queer theories.

To legitimize the cultural shift, the dissidents had to appeal to the authority of foundational Marxist texts and use relevant quotes from its founders.   Just as their Soviet counterparts who, when partially cleansing the house of Stalinism, turned to Marx and Lenin, the Western New Left had their intellectual “Reformation” by invoking the early writings of Marx.  Besides such writings as The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, they particularly became interested in so-called Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (1844), vague and abstract notes made by young Marx about humanism and alienation.  Excavated and published by Bolshevik scholars in Moscow in the 1920s, those notes appeared to contemporary radical socialists as irrelevant: they did not yet contain the famous pillars of Marxist “science” such as surplus value, the primacy of economic basis, socio-economic formations, and the salvational role of working class.  In the wake of the 1917 revolution, being busy with class battles and ready to harness the “laws of history” in order to usher in the radiant communist future, Bolsheviks and their radical left allies in other countries did not pay much attention to those manuscripts, considering them raw speculations of the great mind in its infancy.  Yet, during the unfolding New Left revisionism, which aimed to mute economic determinism and the Stalinist totalitarianism, amplifying instead the significance of the human being, culture, and identity, those vague notes suddenly became relevant and “mature.” What especially resonated with the British dissident Marxists and the New Left in general was Marx’s generalizations about alienation of human beings in modern Western society.

The ultimate task was to revise the traditional Marxist canon, which preached that economic basis conditioned political and cultural “superstructure,” and to place instead an emphasis on the “superstructure.” In his Culture and Society (1960), Williams furnished relevant quotations from the writings of Marx and Engels to make a case that the cultural superstructure should not be reduced to the economic basis.  Instead of old speculations about the economic conditions of the working class in England, the historian was on the quest for the traditional working-class culture, which he romanticized as organic, wholesome, and authentic.  Moreover, Williams sought to separate it from “artificial” bourgeois mass culture.  A sympathetic contemporary aptly remarked that the intellectual quest of Williams and his New Left colleagues who sought to pinpoint an “authentic” proletarian culture was an attempt to merge “imaginative literature and socialist humanism.”

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Marxist sociologist Hoggart, who founded the Birmingham Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies in 1964, too portrayed the idealized working-class culture as organic and natural, contrasting it to the “non-authentic” bourgeois culture.  According to Hoggart, mass bourgeois culture was undermining and phasing traditional and wholesome working-class ways.  It was natural that Williams and Hoggart, who celebrated the bygone traditional labor culture, became drawn to Romantic poets and writers who celebrated Merry Ole England.  In fact, their intellectual speculations surprisingly resembled dismissive rants of conservative critics regarding modern British culture.  Irving How, a walk away American Trotskyite and socialist sceptic who was observing these cultural speculations of his English  comrades, could not resist making a comment: “I suspect that in their stress upon the working-class neighborhood and its indigenous culture men like Williams and Hoggart are turning to something that is fast slipping away.”

Another prominent member the same group of dissident Marxists historian Hobsbawm, whose books became must read in many history and anthropology courses, gives us an example of a true-believer who was literally tormented by the idea of how and where to find a “class-savior” at that age of “classlessness.” Unlike his wayward comrades such as Thompson, Hobsbawm, chose to remain in the British Communist party.  Moreover, at the turn of the 1950s, still infested with the idealism about the proletariat as the ultimate victim-savior, the historian put his two cents in the famous debate about the effect of the Industrial Revolution on the living conditions of the working class in England.  In the spirit of classical Marxism, Hobsbawm was trying to argue that by 1800 the life of the factory laborer had become miserable if compared with the preindustrial Britain.  By the way, it was the very same debate that also produced collective volume Capitalism and Historians (1954), in which F. A. Hayek and his colleagues challenged arguments of Hobsbawm, Thompson and the like, arguing that the living condition of workers had significantly improved.  In the end of the 1950s, being unable to operate on the familiar economic playground of classical Marxism, Hobsbawm slowly began to drift toward new “pastures” in the Third World.  At the turn of the 1960s, he took several trips to Latin America, exploring revolutionary movements in that part of the world, falling for Cuba and engaging Peruvian peasants into talks about the level of their oppression.  At some point, Hobsbawm became so excited about the revolutionary potential of Latin America that he defined it as the engine of the future socialist revolution.

In 1959, he published Primitive Rebels.  This book that became a runaway bestseller in the English-speaking world was also translated in all major European and Asian languages.  In fact, the enthusiastic reception of the text demonstrated that he did tap in the popular longing among the left to find new “chosen ones” to letch on.  Although the current identitarian left will find that title too patronizing and Eurocentric, Primitive Rebels did clear the ground for the cultural turn in the general shift away from the proletariat.  The book represented a history account that romanticized people whom Hobsbawm defined as social and noble bandits, from English Robin Hood types and Sicilian mafia to peasant communism in Italy and Ukraine and Spanish anarchists of the 1910s-1930s.  The indirect message of the book was that all those segments fomented a spontaneous social justice by undermining oppressive systems.  In fact, the most recent American paperback edition of the book has been advertised as a timeless text that would be relevant to Black Lives Matter activists who sought to protect black ghettos from alleged police brutality.

Those independent New Left, who were not constrained by ties to the communist movement like Hobsbawm, went further and began to completely debunk the role of workers as the “chosen people” destined to save the world from capitalism. In 1960, American sociologist C. Wright Mills (1916-1962), an emerging intellectual guru of the New Left, openly challenged the “labor metaphysic” of the old comrades.  He scorned the romancing of the proletariat as “Victorian Marxism” and a survival of the past. Trying to fill the old Marxist clichés with a new content, the sociologist insisted that in the new “post-industrial” conditions, the true catalyst of revolutionary changes would be the intellectuals in the West, Soviet bloc countries, and the Third World.  People like Thompson, who continued to believe in the proletarian class struggle, were confused and upset about such flamboyant attack on the sacred pillar of Marxism.  On the one hand, they wanted to exorcise Stalinism and economic determinism from “scientific socialism.” Yet, on the other hand, they were too attached to the old ideological meme of proletarians as the “chosen people” to simply cast aside this foundational stone of the Marxist theology. Still, blended with “racialized Marxism” of Dubois, James, and Fanon, Mills’ heretical ideas, Thompson, Hoggart, and Williams and Hobsbawm scholarship opened doors to the emergence of the identitarian left.

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C.L.R. James, William Dubois, Frantz Fanon, and the “Curse” of the Western Civilization

Moving further away from the sacred pillars and sites of traditional Marxism (a factory, economic growth, the working class, and the Soviet Union), such activist intellectuals as Hall became known as the New Left.  From the economic critique of capitalism, which did not make sense at the time when this very capitalism improved workers’ living standards, the New Left gradually began to take on the Western civilization in general, bourgeois life-styles and culture, embracing the Third World and non-Western cultures.  The slowdown of class battles and sluggish radical socialist activism in the West contrasted with the great awakening in the Third World, where emerging national liberation movements challenged European colonialism. Cast against the “dormant” and “corrupted” Western working-class, the Third World appeared to the New Left as the potential hub revolutionary activism.

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It was increasingly clear that the Europe-centered old left hardly had anything to offer in the new socio-political circumstances. Hall remembered, “I was troubled by the failure of Orthodox Marxism to deal adequately with either ‘Third World’ issues of race and ethnicity, and questions of racism, or with literature and culture.” Another Caribbean expat and his French counterpart Aime Cesaire, a budding New Left intellectual from Martinique, declared his resignation from the French Communist Party, rebuking Eurocentric paternalism of the communists.

To be exact, there were already several major writers on the left who had inaugurated this drift away from the West toward the Third World, culture, and identity matters.  In fact, Vladimir Lenin, one of the giants of the radical left, had opened a space for the cultural rereading of Marxism by endorsing the anti-colonial resistance as the European proletariat’s ally and pointing to the commonality of interests between the European “wretched of the earth” and the colonized people.  Moreover, feeling the need to placate various local nationalisms in the emerging Soviet Union and to win allies in the non-Western colonial periphery, Lenin drew a distinction between “bad” regressive nationalism of the bourgeois West and “good” progressive nationalism of the colonial periphery. Without wishing it, Lenin made a crack in classical Marxism that had taught that colonialism had been progressive because it had brought industry to the undeveloped parts of the world.  Earlier, it was assumed that boosting the expansion of capitalism sped up the formation of the proletariat – capitalism’s gravedigger – and the movement toward the radiant communist future.

Among the influential early voices that triggered the identitarian revision of Marxism was W. E. B. Dubois (1868-1963), an African American social scholar, nationalist, Soviet fellow-traveler, and a convert to communism at the end of his life.  The other one was C.L. R. James (1901-1989), an independent Marxist novelist and theoretician from a British Caribbean colony of Trinidad. The third was Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), yet another Caribbean-born black intellectual from the French-owned island of Martinique, who was instrumental in merging Marxism, Pan-Africanism, and Third World nationalism.  Since the 1960s, the New Left and their successors among the cultural left have been holding all three in a high esteem.  In fact, in academia there grew entire publication industry around those personalities.

Early in his career, along with socialism, Dubois absorbed then popular race and “folk soul” ideas when he was studying in Germany between 1892-1894, applying them to his budding Black nationalism.  In his 1897 “The Conservation of Races,” Dubois called for the cultural unity of the “Black race” to replicate the efforts of the Teutons, Slavs, Anglo-Saxons, Latins, Semites, Hindu, and Mongolians who were busy, as he explained, consolidating their own civilizations.  Dubois viewed the American blacks as the enlightened vanguard of the black race that was to perform that job of consolidation.  He envisioned such racial solidarity as a counterweight to the contemporary domination of the “whiteness of the Teutonic” and their soulless civilization that was fixated on individualism and economic enterprise. Very much like his racially-conscious Germanic contemporaries, who lamented the degradation of the Aryan soul by corrupt forces of modern industry and commerce, Dubois generalized about the bourgeois civilization of the West corrupting Africa – the primal and vital center of the black race.

In his Souls of Black Folk (1903) and Negro (1915), he spoke in favor of segregating “black culture” from “white civilization” and speculated about an abstract black soul, race, and culture devoid of any local and linguistic differences.  In fact, later in 1934, Dubois severed his connections with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that was working to eliminate racial segregation in the United States because the organization’s activities contradicted the racial utopia he contemplated. Interestingly, in his novel Dark Princess (1928), Dubois portrayed the Atlas Shrugged-type society of non-white expatriates who formed the Great Council of the Darker Peoples.  Represented by “dark” superheroes, that society was planning to take over and engineer a happy future on the planet after white institutions collapsed.

Dubois relied on European romantic memes of the noble savage (collectivist, generous, wholesome, happy, simple), which he applied to all blacks as a race.  Also, drawing on his parochial experience as a black American, the writer singled out race as the central factor in the world history, and slavery as the experience that defined not only the past history but also conditioned future behavior of his “tribe.”  Dubois assumed that the sheer presence of “black blood” in an American automatically made such a person a carrier of the “soul experience” of being a slave; incidentally, none of Dubois ancestors had been in bondage.  Dubois welcomed the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution that he considered as a scorching wind that was to cleanse the modern world, washing away bourgeois civilization.  Since the Soviet Union crusaded against the West, he automatically viewed that country as an ally: the enemy of my enemy is my friend.  By 1935, Dubois came to conclusion that the Soviets would destroy the “rotten” Western civilization and help to construct a new non-Western cultural order.  The writer praised Stalin as a great liberator, and the 1956 revelations of the Soviet crimes did not shatter this conviction.   Reflecting contemporary political preferences of Third World anti-colonial leaders and spokespeople, he called the Soviet Union and China the shining models of the future.  His conversion to communism and subsequent move to Ghana in 1961, where he became a senior advisor to Kwame Nkrumah, the head of the country who claimed building socialism, was symbolic. Here on the African soil, his black nationalism, which was saturated with romantic memes of European primitivism, met Marxian socialism. There is no need to stress that Dubois writings has been a must read in many humanities and social science courses across Western academia since at least the 1970s.

The evolution of C.L.R James, who became another must reference for Western social scholarship, moved in a reverse direction, although the result was essentially the same.  From early on, in the 1930s and the 1940s, he prophesized his loyalty to Marxism. Yet, gradually, James began to play down class exploitation, amplifying the significance of racial and colonial oppression.  It was natural because these issues were personally more relevant to him than far-away class battles in distant and alien Europe.  James at first embraced anti-Stalinist Trotskyite version of communism and its prophecy of the world revolution.  Yet, later, driven by anti-colonial concerns and by a desire to identify a new reliable revolutionary force to act as a surrogate proletariat, he shifted his attention to the Third World.

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Essentially, both Dubois and James were refurbishing the classic Eurocentric prophecy of Marxism along the Third World lines. Marx had welcomed colonialism as a progressive system that was sucking underdeveloped areas into the global commodity economy, pushing the world closer to capitalism and creating an economic basis for a leap into the radiant communist future.  For him, slavery was an archaic mode of production that, at the dawn of human history, had boosted economic development and then perished, giving rise to more progressive stages of human evolution such as feudalism and then capitalism. According to the founder, slavery survived in some backward areas of the globe (US South, Latin America, Africa) that did not catch up yet with the industrial West.  In contrast, James and Dubois argued that slavery was not a vestige of the bygone socio-economic formation, but, more than the exploitation of European proletariat, was an essential part of modern capitalism.

They insisted that slavery and exploitation of colonies were the vital resource that made possible the rise of capitalism.  Moreover, they became convinced that the entire Western prosperity was accomplished at the expense of non-Western people.  Again, in contrast to Marx who viewed capitalism as a progressive stage on the way to communism, James and Dubois began to argue that capitalism was not a progressive but a regressive system – a European cultural institution imposed on the rest of the world for the purposes of exploitation.  It is notable that, when singling out two pivotal books that had affected his worldview, besides Leon Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution (1932) James mentioned The Decline of the West (1918) by Oswald Spengler. The latter text, which was saturated with a deep pessimism, prophesized the decline of the Western civilization.  Incidentally, Spengler too greatly affected Dubois who began taking for granted that the West was in perpetual decline.  Both found in the German philosopher’s text what they were looking for: a radical criticism of the entire Western civilization.

The crucial role in shifting Marxism toward race and identity issues belonged to Fanon, a popular anticolonial writer whose landmark text The Wretched of the Earth (1961) became a book of choice for the whole generation of the Third World national liberation activists in the 1960s-1970s.  Fanon’s bashing of the West also won him numerous disciples in the countercultural circles and among the New Left in Europe and the United States.  As Kalter reminds to us, since the 1980s, assimilated by the academic left (post-colonial studies and critical race theory) into educational system and media, his writings later became an important intellectual fountainhead for identity studies and identity politics.

A psychotherapist by profession, Fanon was a French-speaking intellectual who took part in the Second World War and then in the Algerian War of independence (1954-1962).  In his writings, he focused not on economic liberation but on the cultural and psychological decolonization of the Third World.  Drawing on Marxist class clichés, Fanon revised them along racial lines: “You are rich because you are white, you are white because you are rich.” Fanon insisted that the colonial periphery became the mentally  imperiled by Western values, which natives needed to shed off because these were “white values”: “Come, comrades, the European game is finally over, we must look for something else. Let is not imitate Europe. Let us endeavor to invent a man in full, something which Europe has been incapable of achieving.” In his view, Europe was deadly sick and the keys to the  liberation of humanity were in the hands of the Third World that was destined to shape the New Man; incidentally, the latter meme also originated from Marxism.  Fanon’s friend Jean-Paul Sartre, a famous French philosopher and Soviet apologist, felt happy that “the most ardent poets of negritude are at the same time militant Marxists.” Yet, repeating the mantra of the old left, Sartre said that the mingling race with that class was “not a conclusion” but a transitional stop on the way to a greater color-blind commonwealth.  When Fanon read these Sartre’s words, he felt utterly offended as if he was robbed of his identity.  Contrary to what his philosopher friend believed, for Fanon, “racialized Marxism” was the conclusion.

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Traumatized by the brutalities of the French he witnessed during the Algerian liberation war, Fanon insisted that nothing connected the colonizers and the colonized except racist violence. Ignoring the multitude of social, economic, and cultural relations in the contemporary colonial and post-colonial periphery, he argued that “the colonial world is a Manichean world.”  In his irreconcilable “black and white” world, oppressed victims held the ultimate truth because of their sheer status of being colonized people.  To Fanon, morality and truth were relative.  They depended on how well these two things served a liberation cause.  This included lying and committing violence, provided these vices served a good cause.  Stressing that truth was a matter of political expediency, he wrote, “Truth is that which hurries on the break-up of the colonialist regime; it is that which promotes the emergence of the nation; it is all that protects natives, and ruins foreigners.  In this colonialist context there is not truthful behavior: and the good is quite simply that which is evil to ‘them’.”

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To overcome their oppressive state, the colonized had to take the place of their masters by resorting to a redemptive violence.  The natives, who wasted their energy in mutual tribal conflicts and indulged into ecstatic tribal dances, were to channel their energy into the anti-colonial violence against whites. In fact, violence occupied an important place in the entire Fanon’s liberation philosophy.  In The Wretched of the Earth (1961), he romanticized violence and attributed to it pedagogical value: “Violence alone, violence committed by the people, violence organized and educated by its leaders, makes it possible for the masses to understand social truths and gives the key to them.””  Fanon viewed violence not only as a tool of liberation and education but also as a powerful vehicle of a nation-building and racial consolidation.  In the process of their struggle, oppressed natives were expected to nourish the sense of a unified collective: “Individualism is the first to disappear,” and “the community triumphs.”

Using Marxist class categories and simultaneously filling them with a new content, Fanon argued that in undeveloped colonial countries the only revolutionary class was peasants. These rural masses carried armed struggle from the countryside into cities.  This meant that the class that was to liberate the colonial periphery and the rest of humankind from capitalism was not industrial workers (proletarians) but the Third World peasantry.  With such a view, Fanon naturally came to idealize Third World peasant collectives as the cradle of the ideal human commonwealth.  Invoking the romantic meme of European primitivism, he contrasted “evil” Western individualism with the “noble” African culture of collectivism represented by village councils, people’s committees.  According to Fanon, the anti-colonial struggle was to rekindle and strengthen those collectives.  Moreover, a solidarity nourished during an anti-colonial war was to heal a corrupt indigenous bourgeoise – the creature of the West. Through its involvement into the common anti-colonial movement, this bourgeoise would reunite itself with its indigenous soil, merging with common into a united Gemeinschaft-type people’s community.

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Out of anti-colonial sentiments of such Third World intellectuals as Fanon and their colleagues from Western countries, there grew natural animosity to the West, which was responsible for colonialism, and the idealization of non-Western societies as the holders of a revolutionary potential and better forms of life. The fact that in the 1950s and the 1960s, the West was involved into two bloody colonial wars (France in Algeria, and the United States in Vietnam) amplified those sentiments.  As a result, since the 1960s, for the left, the major existential enemy was shifting from capitalism as an economic system to Western civilization that was associated with colonialism, consumerism, and moral decay.  In 1966, writer Susan Sontag conveyed well that negative attitude, which was becoming part of the intellectual mainstream, by saying that the white West was the “cancer of human history.”

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There was now much talk on the left about humans being enslaved and alienated by the technology-driven individualistic civilization of the West and less talk about an economic growth, progress, and capitalism robbing workers of a surplus value.  In fact, economic progress became a curse phrase.  The idealization of the non-Western, tribal, and the primitive became a natural intellectual offshoot of such ideological pursuits.  Reflecting on the cultural turn that was launched in the 1960s, Marxist sociologist Harold Bershady stressed that this trend carried obvious reactionary notions: “It was a kind of left-wing conservatism.” Gradually ditching the failed argument of the old left, who had insisted that capitalism had been profoundly inefficient and could not provide material affluence, the New Left were switching to the moral and cultural critique of that very affluence that now was declared a major vice.  Sontag again spelled out this message in her flamboyant style: “America is a cancerous society with a runaway rate of productivity which inundates the country with increasingly unnecessary commodities”; in an ironic twist, such utterances turned out to be Freudian slips: the writer died from cancer.

Ayn Rand, a rising countercultural icon on the right who, in contrast to the Marxist ultimate proletarian “savior,” invented her own version of a “noble savage” in a form of heroic capitalist “savior” entrepreneur, responded to those sentiments with a loaded sarcasm: “The old-line Marxists used to claim that a single modern factory could produce enough shoes to provide for the whole population of the world and that nothing but capitalism prevented it. When they discovered the facts of reality involved, they declared that going barefoot is superior to wearing shoes.” Among others, unnecessary commodities included TV sets, comics magazines, soap operas, the variety of household items. Incidentally, in the 1970s and the 1980s, such romantic neo-primitivist attitudes helped the left to find a common ground with environmentalists who began to preach an apocalyptic vision of the global collapse of natural habitat if not arrested by massive government regulations.

Conclusions

The frustration with the economic growth and the incorporation of the non-Western ones and radical environmentalism into the socialist agenda was a natural offshoot of the “going primitive” trend that looked beyond Europe and North America for major revolutionary hubs.  Exorcising the proletarian messiah class from the popular Marxian socialism and moving toward identity and the idealization of non-Western “others” was not a straight-forward process. In the 1960s-1970s, among the New Left, communist dissidents, and Trotskyite fossils, there was still a desire lingering on to somehow continue the revolutionary elan of the proletariat.  At the same time, among those elements one could detect the growing trend toward romancing the working-class culture and its “organic” anti-bourgeois ways.   The Birmingham School of Cultural Studies and dissenting communist historians such as E. P. Thompson, who aspired to cleanse Marxist theory from economic determinism and who elevated the proletarian culture and consciousness, prepared a fertile intellectual ground for the later cultural turn in the left thought collective. 

Before the current left completely ditched the working class from the pedestal and developed a an “acute identity syndrome,” the New Left segment acted as an intellectual bridge between classical Marxian socialists and the current identitarian left.  In the 1960s and the 1970s, the New Left gradually transferred the metaphysical characteristics ascribed to the proletariat to the non-Western “others,” domestic people of “color,” chronically unemployed, social deviants, women, and gays. Communist bohemian historian Hobsbawm with his bookish “social bandits” and his attempts to probe Latin American peasants for their revolutionary potential is an excellent snapshot of how that process was unfolding.

Just like the proletariat of the old, the new victim groups were thought to become the oppressed redeemers – the new “noble savages” of the left.  On the one hand, such revision of traditional Marxism gave an opportunity to the New Left to disentangle themselves from the Old Left.  Yet, on the other hand, this very revisionism allowed them to continue the familiar Marxist tradition in the new intellectual garb. The new groups designated to the role of the oppressed ones were lumped together in an abstract category of the poor and disadvantaged.  In the same manner, old Marxism generalized about the proletariat as a homogenous impoverished class, downplaying ethnic, religious, and economic differences within this group.

In the 1960s, the most passionate New Left revisionists who became hooked on the Mills’ message of bashing the “Victorian Marxism” cast the newly found surrogates into authentic, uncorrupt and holistic people, the caretakers of the egalitarian ethics and natural goodness. Thus, in a religious-like manner, New Left activist Casey Hayden, the spouse of famous Tom Hayden, described her feelings about the new “chosen ones”: “We believed that the last should be the first, and not only should be the first, but in fact were first in our value system. They were first because they were redeemed already, purified by their suffering, and they could therefore take the lead in the redemption of us all.” Another New Left writer characteristically titled his book about “unspoiled” and “authentic” rural blacks in Mississippi A Prophetic Minority (1966).

Those conservative and libertarian authors who are fixated on the Frankfurt School have failed to pinpoint the variety of intellectual fountainheads that contributed to the cultural turn.  So have those in the current left mainstream who downplay their genetic links with Marxian socialism. Besides the Frankfurt School, there were other essential intellectual sources on which the left heavily drew when refurbishing their political religion in the 1960s and the 1970s.  This essay has highlighted the role of the British “cultural Marxists” as well as their intellectual predecessors and contemporaries who “racialized” Marxism.  Moreover, because of the worldwide hegemony of English language, the writings of C.L.R. James and William Dubois, popular translations of Frantz Fanon, and British Cultural Studies along with New Left Review played more important role in fomenting the cultural turn than the often-spoken Frankfurt School.  In fact, it was NLR that popularized “frankfurters’” writings that regular educated readers had a hard time to digest. 

The names and schools profiled in this essay do not exhaust other potent sources of the cultural left, which still await their comprehensive study.  For example, a future researcher cannot bypass secularized Protestantism of northern Europe and North America and its links with the current woke culture.  It is impossible to reduce the virulent and aggressive moralism of the current secular social justice warriors, the Unitarian Universalist movement, and several other progressive Protestant denominations in the United States to the intellectual evolution of Marxian socialism in the direction of identity matters.  Although many of the above-mentioned elements have been feeding on the New Left neo-Marxist writings, they obviously drew too on the secularized Puritan tradition that, according to famous H. L. Mencken, had been always haunted by the “fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”  In Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt: Towards a Secular Theocracy (1992), Paul Gottfried briefly outlined how via the social gospel tradition, radical Puritanism of some Protestant denominations gradually mutated into virulent cultural moralism and how in the current “theology” of the left, the old Christian concept of sin and salvation became replaced with sensitivity training and social therapy sessions. Most important, we need to keep in mind that British Cultural Studies, dissenting Marxist intellectuals who idealized working class anti-bourgeois culture, Mills and the American New Left, the Frankfurt School, and the latter-day social justice “evangelicals” cross-fertilized each other, spearheading what later produced the identitarian woke tradition, which currently represents the progressive mainstream.

This is a preprint of a forthcoming book chapter to be published in Proceedings of Topical Issues in International Political Geography, edited by Radomir Bolgov and others (Springer, 2021)

In the Spirit of Socialist Realism: Sampling American Multikulti Cinema

On the new year day, searching on Youtube for something to watch, by chance, I stumbled upon a low budget and poorly made Western Yellow Rock (2012). By now, I watched enough of Hollywood products that were tailored to current “diversity” ideology and PC tastes. At least, some of them (e.g. Django Unchained, Black Panther, Dances with Wolves) were well crafted . But this Yellow Rock really “rocks.” It totally “overwhelmed” me. 

An official plot description is rather innocent:

“A man searching for his missing son hires a group of rugged cowboys to take him into territory controlled by the Black Paw Indians. When they come upon an ancient burial ground, their own greed tears them apart, as the posse turns on itself.”

Yet, in reality, from the first scenes, you are literally plunged into the “diversity pulp fiction”: caricature whisky-drinking and swearing white male rednecks (the posse) approach a camp of no less caricature noble American Indians who are taken care of by an all-female team of noble physicians and nurses. The head of the posse claims that he is looking for his missing son. Yet, in reality, they need to secure a permission from the tribe to cross Indian lands to reach an abandoned gold mine to get hold of some sacks with gold dust. Through their wooden characters, from the very beginning, producers defined clearly ideological sides: noble victims (Native Americans), allies (white women), and oppressors (white males). Not a single shade of grey. The only exception is a white male alcoholic scout who takes the posse into the wild. As a victim of his addiction, he is also somewhat qualified to be noble, and, in fact, he acts as an ally too.

nol_4The cliche plot is painfully predictable: the posse of the “whitey” wants to cross straight across Indian burial grounds, although the “Injuns” warn them not to do it. Of course, by violating the sacred land, the “whitey” offend local spirits, who send against the rednecks a pack of wolves who appear as grotesque caricature shiny silver wolves resembling their brethren from New Age postcards and posters. Finally, the evil posse, which en route harasses an accompanying female physician and a male Indian, finds the gold. Yet, driven by an expected greed, the members of the posse take on each other. The rest of them are finished by the physician who is able to snatch a gun and by Black Paw Indians who arrive just in time to commit the act of justice. The movie ends with a scene of a slow motion collective execution of the last greedy redneck by a group of the Black Paws who repeatedly shoot the guy holding tightly a sack of gold. When the justice warriors lean over the dead corpse, they find out that gold dust somehow miraculously turned into regular dust; elements of paranormal and New Age mystique are rather common in latter day Westerns.

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I would not have ventured into the description of this “movie” unless it had not provoked me to jump to an obvious conclusion: at times a trashy cultural product might serve as a good learning tool. Trashy stuff highlights dominant ideological cliches and sentiments more than any other more or less well crafted movie. Like an imbecile who mimics the behavior of surrounding people, such “masterpieces” clone the mainstream ideology that is superimposed on people in public schools and colleges. To me, Yellow Rocks demonstrated how deeply the educational system (film studies along with the rest of humanities) and print media has ingrained in the minds of movie makes the pillars of what people on the right label Cultural Marxism and that people on the left call Critical Theory. In its turn, this elusive theoretical “beast” served as a major fountainhead of the Multiculturalism ideology.

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Watching that particular movie, I suddenly felt catapulted to the “good old” Soviet Union. Replace noble Indians+female do-gooders with noble workers (proletarians) and greedy white evil males with greedy capitalists and you will get a solid Soviet movie tailored according to the cliches of Socialist Realism. For those who do not know what Socialist Realism is, I want to note that it was a Stalinist doctrine that required from movie makers, poets, writers, and the rest of the intellectual gang to depict the surrounding life not as it was but as should be in the ideal future. I have also realized that comparing old Soviet and communist Chinese movies with current multikulti products in European and American realms might have a pedagogical value. It will allow us to trace the genetic links between the Marxism of old that had been obsessed with political economy and class warfare and the current Cultural Marxism that is obsessed with racial and gender identity wars. In the 1920s and the 1930s, both in the Soviet Union and Western progressive subculture the ultimate noble savage was a metaphysical muscular male proletarian.

Since the 1960s, “noble savages” of old Marxism became replaced by the new cultural left with new “noble savages”: third world, people of “color,” females, gays….The list of victims who are simultaneously to act as redeemers from the evil Western civilization is not yet complete.

In a typical Soviet heroic movie a people-friendly misfit character without a stable class-based moral compass chaotically fought against oppression. He or she needed a solid back up form a wise muscular industrial proletarian who, with his working class salt of the earth wisdom, was to take this character to the highest level of consciousness. In Yellow Rock, the alcoholic scout similarly was upgraded by female and Indian wisdom. Incidentally, the same trope one can observe in the third part of the famous (and well made) Hunger Games trilogy that I watched again last night. The major character, Katniss Everdeen, a noble female warrior, was not complete without receiving an endorsement (in the final scene of that trilogy) from the victim/redeemer of a “higher caliber.” After Everdeen defeats dictator Snow, an aged cunning white male, a black female elder approaches Everdeen and gently leads her to the center of the new power, where masters of the multikulti paradise gathered to usher the new world.

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Merry Liberty Christmas!

Christmas, as I hope everybody (at least in the West) still knows is Jesus’ birthday. I don’t want to spend too much time here talking about how it is very unlikely that Jesus was born on December 25, and how this date was probably just chosen at some point in the late Ancient times/Early Medieval times to Christianize European pagans. The Bible never specifies when Jesus was born (although it does offer some hints), and so, some very devout Christians over history (Puritans, for example) thought that we should not even celebrate Christmas. The gospel according to John doesn’t even talk about Jesus’ birth. In it, Jesus simply appears as a grown man. The same thing happens in Mark’s gospel. Matthew and Luke give accounts of Jesus’ birth, with Luke being more detailed. So, ½ of our gospels don’t seem to be very interested in Jesus’ life before he was about 30 years old. Someone has said (and I think somewhat appropriately) that the gospels are accounts of Jesus passion (his death and resurrection) with long introductions.

But anyways! I don’t think that celebrating Christmas is bad, not at all! I believe it is a good occasion to remember Jesus, the founder of Western civilization. May we like it or not, the West is profoundly linked to Christianity. Christianism begin as little more than a small and persecuted Jewish sect, but eventually became the main religion in Europe (and northern Africa, and the Near East), and from there to the World. Some might say (and I think that sadly they might be right) that today Europe lives in a post-Christian era, but we should not forget that someday in the past to be European and to be Christian were basically synonyms. And I also believe that we, professing Christians or not, should be thankful to Christianity in a number of ways. I am very convinced that it was thanks to Christianity, especially after the Reformation, that we have many of the things that we, as liberty-lovers, are thankful for, such as science, capitalism and lots of individual liberty.

Of course, from the human perspective, the link between Christianism and West is merely accidental. I myself, as a Brazilian, am not sure if I classify as a Westerner. Maybe I am from the far West? It is very clear that for many decades now Christianism is moving to the global south: Latin America, Africa, Asia, and I hope not to be forgetting anyone. And I think that is just beautiful! I don’t believe that there is one essential Christian culture. Instead, I believe that culture is an essential human phenomenon and that Christianism can give a new birth to cultures, just as it does to individuals, bringing forward what they have best and leaving behind the bad stuff.

Sadly, the very places where Christianism is growing the most today are usually also the places where Christians suffer more persecution. Although we tend to connect the first few centuries of Christianism with martyrdom, with people being crucified, thrown to the beasts and the like, the fact is that the 20th century had more martyrs than any other century before. It is also sad for me that most people, including Christians and liberty-lovers, tend to ignore this. In the last few weeks, I heard of at least two churches being closed in China, with all members being taken to jail. I wish that people who care about freedom paid more attention to this. I also wish that people who care about Human Rights did the same. Some people are worried about gay couples not getting wedding cakes from Christian bakers, but they don’t seem to have the same concern about Chinese Christians being thrown in jail just because they are Christians.

Speaking of which, I want to be very honest and say that Marxism (or post-Marxism, or cultural Marxism) can easily become a religion. Marx is a prophet, The Capital is a holy book, the proletariat (or any oppressed minority, for the modern left) is both Messiah and holy people, a future communist utopia is Heaven. I believe that it was a Catholic apologist who said that “the problem with not believing in God is that we start to believe in any dumb thing – including in ourselves”. The problem with Marxism as a religion is the same problem I see with every other religion apart from Biblical Christianity: it is performance driven. It is about what you do. And as so, it can create a slippery slope in your heart. You become self-righteous and judgmental (in a bad way) of people outside your faith-group or even people inside your faith-group who you consider not holy enough. Of course, Christians are not exempt from this either, but I believe we have the right medicine for this.

As much as I believe that the New Left is one of the greatest problems in the West today and that several forms of totalitarianism are one of the main problems elsewhere, I don’t believe that libertarianism or conservatism are in themselves the solution. I became a libertarian (or a conservative-libertarian) because I am first a Christian. My first question was “what the Bible has to say about politics and economics”? I believe that somewhere in the libertarian camp we have the best answer for that. I believe the Bible teaches that very small and simple governments and market freedom are the answer. However, I would say that this is just partly the answer.

The way that I see it, the conflict between the left and the right is very much a conflict between Rousseau and Locke, or a conflict between two kinds of freedom. For Rousseau, you are only free when you are your true inner self. If necessary, the community can make an intervention to force you to become who you truly are. For Locke, you are free when you can make your own choices, regardless if they look good for others. As libertarians like to say, a crime without a victim is not a crime.

I believe this is also a basic conflict between modern western culture and more tradition culture – the conflict between collectivism and individualism. My answer as a Christian (and a libertarian) is that we should not force people to be Christians. That would, at best, produce external conformity – which is actually really bad. My understanding is that, as long as they are not predictably and willfully hurting others, people should be let free to do whatever they want. And I do mean whatever. On the other hand, I don’t think that this is good – or as good as it can be. Ironically, I believe that Rousseau is onto something important: you are only truly free when you are who you are really supposed to be.

One great irony or paradox in Christianism is that you are only truly free when you are a slave to God. Understanding 1st-century slavery helps to get the analogy better. God bought us for a price. We belong to him. However, God is not satisfied with having us as slaves. Instead, he adopts us as sons. That is the (I believe) famous parable of the prodigal son: a son abandons his father and loses all his money. He comes back hoping to become a slave in his father’s house. His father takes him back as a son. So, Jesus gives us a new identity as sons of God. And I do mean sons, and not sons and daughters or children. In the 1st century daughters had no inheritance, but in Christ, we all share of it. So that is our true identity if we walk after Christ. And that is when we are truly free.

I don’t want to force anybody to be Christian. I believe that one of the greatest mistakes in Christian history was exactly that: to force people to become Christian. As I said, religion can easily create a slippery slope in the heart, and Christianism is not necessarily an exception. But while other religions are about what we do, Christianism in its essence has at least the potential to be what has been done for us. And that is truly humbling. And I believe this has important political implications: we pray for all. We hope for the best. We trust in God. We respect others.

So Merry Christmas to all! I hope that this is a time for remembering the birthday boy, and what he did, especially on the cross. And that we can all work for a world freer, where people can become Christians – if they choose so.

Why Cultural Marxism is a big deal for Brazil, and also for you

I already heard the criticism that cultural Marxism is not a real thing. It’s just a scary word, like neoliberalism, that doesn’t mean anything really. Well, for those who think that way, please pay a visit to Brazil.

When I talk about cultural Marxism, here is what I have in mind: I’m not a specialist in Marx or Marxism by any means, but what I understand is that Marx gravitated towards economic theory in his life. He began his intellectual journey more like a general philosopher but ended more like an economist. A very bad economist. Marx’s economic theory in The Capital is based on the premise of the labor theory of value: things cost what they cost depending on how much work it takes to produce them. Of course, this theory does not represent reality. You take the labor theory of value, Marx’s economic theory crumbles down. That is what Mises explained on paper at the beginning of the 20th century and reality proved throughout it everywhere and every time people tried to put Marxism into practice.

Although Marx’s economic theory didn’t work, Marx’s admirers didn’t give up. In Russia Lenin tried to explain that capitalism survived because of imperialism. Many Marxists working in International Relations make a similar claim. In Italy Gramsci tried to explain that capitalism survived because capitalist elites exercise cultural hegemony. The Frankfurt Schools said the same. It is mostly Gramsci and the Frankfurt School, sometimes collectively called critical theory, that I call cultural Marxism.

Marxism arrived in Brazil mainly in the beginning of the 20th century. Very early then, a communist party was founded there. This communist country was initially very orthodox, following whatever Moscow told them to. However, after WWII and especially after the Military Coup of 1964, Brazilian Marxists started to gravitate towards Gramsci. During the Military Dictatorship, many leftists tried to fight guerrillas, but others simply chose to get into universities, newspapers, churches and other places, and try to overthrow capitalism from there.

In general, I am not a great fan of John Maynard Keynes, but there is a quote from him that I absolutely adore: ““Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist”. That’s how I see most Brazilian intellectuals. They are of a superficial brand of Marxism. It would certainly be incorrect to call them Marxist in an orthodox sense, but I understand that they are what Marxism has become: something vaguely anti-establishment, anti-capitalism, in favor of big government and very entitled.

Why is this important for you? Because Brazil is the second largest country in America in population, territory, and economy. That’s why. The economy is a win-win game. An economically free, prosperous Brazil would be good for everyone, not just for Brazilians. But that can only happen if we first defeat the mentality that capitalism is bad and that the state should be an instrument for some vague sort of social justice.

Nightcap

  1. Cultural Marxism and the New Right Neuffer & Paul, Eurozine
  2. Black soldiers in European wars, 18th century edition Elena Schneider, Age of Revolutions
  3. A forgotten Indian hero TR Vivek, Pragati
  4. The treason prosecution of Jefferson Davis Will Baude, Volokh Conspiracy

Answering questions about Bolsonaro (from the comments)

Answering some comments about Bolsonaro, as far as I can.

Can you deal more precisely with some well known claims about Bolsanoro: he has praised at least one military officer who was a notorious torturer under the last dictatorship.

The “notorious torturer” in question is Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra. Ustra himself wrote a book, A Verdade Sufocada, questioning this accusation. I am not defending Ustra (as Bolsonaro does), but in my ignorance, I lift any judgment.

he has praised the dictatorship.

There is no denying that. Actually, Bolsonaro refuses to admit Brazil went through a dictatorship between 1964 and 1985.

I’ve just checked your previous contributions on Brazilian politics and you seem to be in favour of the dictatorship as a agent of struggle against Marxism. I agree that marxism is a bad thing, but it’s not clear to me that means supporting rightist dictatorship.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Read again.

You say that Bolsanaro understands the need for ‘order’ in Brazilian society.

Actually, his name is Bolsonaro. Where did I write that?

Can you identify some restrictions on liberty in Brazil that Bolsanaro would remove?

No, I cannot. One thing is for sure: he is not a libertarian.

Don’t you think there is the slightest risk his attitude to ‘order’ might lead the police to act with more violence?

Well, all things are possible. But I don’t think that this is plausible.

Do you deny that the police sometimes act with excessive violence in Brazil?

No.

Do you have any expectation that Bolsanaro will do anything to resolve this or the evident failings of the judicial system?

Yes. Having Sergio Moro as Minister of Justice is a great move in the right direction.

Do you deny that Bolsanaro said he would prefer his son to be gay rather than die?

No.

Don’t you think this gives gays good reason to fear Bolsanaro?

Not at all. Bolsonaro was being very honest about his personal beliefs and how they apply to his personal life. Even then, this was a few years ago. I believe he is changing his mind on a number of issues, including this one. Anyway, he was talking about his private life, and not what he would do as president.

I have had a message from a gay American friend who says he is afraid of what will happen and may have to flee the country? Do you understand and care why he is afraid? Do you have any words I can pass onto my friend to reassure him? Preferably not angry words about Gramsci, ‘cultural Marxism’ and ‘gender theory’.

If I can’t talk about cultural Marxism, Gramsci and gender theory, I can’t help much. This is essential to explain what is going on in Brazil.

Could you actually explain what this ‘gender theory’ in schools is that it i so terrible and apparently justifies Bolsanaro’s crude language?

It would take very long, but the short answer I can give here is that it is terrible to teach people that their gender has nothing to do with biology. Apart from real medical conditions, people are born XX or XY, and gender and sex go together.

Do you deny that he said a congress woman was too ugly to rape?

No, I don’t. This woman, Maria do Rosário, called him a raper. How would you feel being called a raper? I know I wouldn’t like a bit. Besides, on that occasion, Bolsonaro was exactly defending harder punishment for rapers, following the Champinha case. Champinha and his gang raped and then murdered Liana Friedenbach and her boyfriend Felipe Caffé in one of the most barbarous crimes in recent Brazilian history.  Maria do Rosário was defending Champinha and his gang. See if you can find something about it in a language you can read. In sum, Bolsonaro answered an insult with another insult. I have no problem with that whatsoever.

Can you explain how someone can be fit to hold the highest office in Brazil who makes such a comment?

It would take very long. But the short answer is that I am really happy to have a president who, if he had his own way, would have the death penalty for criminals like Champinha and his gang.

It’s nice of course that Bolsanaro says now he is favour of free market economics, but isn’t he now back pedalling on this and promising to preserve PT ‘reforms’?

He is not a libertarian. Libertarians are sure to be disappointed.

Well, I will stop here.  Sadly, although I can’t “write at length” more than that.

I write at length, so does Jacques, so there is no reason why you should not.

Actually, there are many reasons. You just don’t know. I did what I can right now. All the best.

From the Comments: Bolsonaro is no libertarian (but is he a fascist?)

Barry Stocker outlines the sentiments of many libertarians when he put forth the following argument under Bruno’s “Brazil turns to the Right” post:

Bruno (responding to this and your previous linked post), I’m delighted to be assured that Bolsonaro is not a homophobe, misogynist, a racist or a fascist (an absurdly over used term anyway). However, you offer no evidence to counter the impression that Bolsanaro has leanings in these directions in the Anglophone media, and not just the left-wing media.

Can you deal more precisely with some well known claims about Bolsanoro: he has praised at least one military officer who was a notorious torturer under the last dictatorship, he has praised the dictatorship. I’ve just checked your previous contributions on Brazilian politics and you seem to be in favour of the dictatorship as a agent of struggle against Marxism. I agree that marxism is a bad thing, but it’s not clear to me that means supporting rightist dictatorship.

You say that Bolsanaro understands the need for ‘order’ in Brazilian society. I’m sure we can all agree that Brazil would benefit from more rule of law, but calling for ‘order’ has a rather unpleasant ring to it. The ‘party of order’ has rarely been good for liberty. Can you identify some restrictions on liberty in Brazil that Bolsanaro would remove? Don’t you think there is the slightest risk his attitude to ‘order’ might lead the police to act with more violence? Do you deny that the police sometimes act with excessive violence in Brazil? Do you have any expectation that Bolsanaro will do anything to resolve this or the evident failings of the judicial system?

Do you deny that Bolsanaro said he would prefer his son to be gay rather than die? Don’t you think this gives gays good reason to fear Bolsanaro? I have had a message from a gay American friend who says he is afraid of what will happen and may have to flee the country? Do you understand and care why he is afraid? Do you have any words I can pass onto my friend to reassure him? Preferably not angry words about Gramsci, ‘cultural Marxism’ and ‘gender theory’. Could you actually explain what this ‘gender theory’ in schools is that it i so terrible and apparently justifies Bolsanaro’s crude language? Do you deny that he said a congress woman was too ugly to rape? Can you explain how someone can be fit to hold the highest office in Brazil who makes such a comment?

It’s nice of course that Bolsanaro says now he is favour of free market economics, but isn’t he now back pedalling on this and promising to preserve PT ‘reforms’? Exactly what free market policies do you expect him to introduce and what do you think about the rowing back even before he is in office? Could you say more about which parties and personalities represent classical liberalism now in Congress? If Lula and other leftist politicians (who of course I don’t support at all) have used worse language than Bolsonaro, could you please give examples?

On more theoretical matters

‘Cultural marxism’ to my mind is not an excuse for Bolsanaro’s words and behaviour, or what I know about them. Your account of cultural Marxism anyway strikes me as fuzzy. I very much doubt that Gramsci would recognise himself amongst current ‘cultural Marxists’ and the topics that concern them. I can assure you that a lot of people labelled ‘cultural Marxists’ would not recognise themselves as Marxist or as followers of Marcuse or Gramsci.

The politics of Michel Foucault are a rather complicated and controversial matter but lumping him with some Marxist bloc is hopeless. This isn’t the place to say much about Foucault, but try reading say: *Fearless Speech*, *Society Must Be Defended*, or *Birth of Biopolitics* then see if you think that Foucault belongs with some Marxist or cultural Marxist bloc. The claim that relativism about truth is something to do with Marxism and the anti-liberal left is absurd, all kinds of people with all kinds of politics have had all kinds of views about the status of truth over history. Jürgen Habermas who is an Enlightenment universalist is an influence on the intellectual left, as is Noam Chomsky, a belief in innate knowledge in the form of the universal grammar of languages and associated logical capacity.

Conservatism has often resorted to relativism about the unique values of different countries. Do you think the ancient Sceptics and Sophists have something to do with cultural Marxism? You are referring to these phenomena in a series of familiar talking points from conservative pundits which do not make sense when applied to rather disparate people with different kinds of leftism, of course I have criticisms of them but different kinds of criticisms respecting differences between groups, in which I try to understand their arguments and recognise that sometimes they have arguments worth taking seriously, not a series of angry talking points.

I look forward to being educated by your reply. Please do give us detail and write at length. I write at length, so does Jacques, so there is no reason why you should not.

Again, Barry’s arguments are a good indication of how many in the libertarian movement, worldwide, view Bolsonaro (and others like him, such as Trump), but, while I eagerly await Bruno’s thoughts on Barry’s questions, I have my own to add:

Bolosonaro got 55% of the vote in Brazil. How long can leftists continue to keep calling him a “fascist” or on the “far-right” of the Brazilian political spectrum, especially given Brazil’s cultural and intellectual diversity? Leftists are, by and large, liars. They lie to themselves and to others, and maybe Bruno’s excitement over Bolsonaro’s popularity has more to do with the cultural rebuke of leftist politics in Brazil than to Bolsonaro himself; he’s well-aware, after all, that Brazil’s problems run deeper than socialism.

Bolsonaro’s vulgar, dangerous language might be entertaining, and Brazil’s rebuke of socialist politics is surely encouraging, but it can be easy to “take your eye off the ball,” as we say in the States. Brazil has a long way to go, especially if, like me, you think Brazilians have elected yet another father figure rather than a president tasked with running the executive branch of the federal government.

Nightcap

  1. U.S. environmentalism is a success story Patrick Allitt, Liberty Forum
  2. Don’t blame Karl Marx for “Cultural Marxism” Brian Doherty, Reason
  3. Texas and the white-washing of the American Revolution Michael Oberg, Age of Revolutions
  4. How would we recognize an alien if we saw one? Samuel Levin, Aeon

A short note on Brazil’s elections

In October Brazilians will elect the president, state governors, and senators and congressmen, both at the state and the national level. It’s a lot.

There is clearly a leaning to the right. The free market is in the public discourse. A few years ago most Brazilians felt embarrassed to be called right wing. Today especially people under 35 feel not only comfortable but even proud to be called so.

The forerunner for president is Jair Bolsonaro. The press, infected by some form of cultural Marxism, hates Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro’s interviews in Brazilian media are always dull and boring. Always the same questions. The journalists decided that Bolsonaro is misogynist, racist, fascist, guitarist, and apparently, nothing will make them change their minds. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Bolsonaro is a very simple person, with very simple language, language that can sound very crude. But I defy anyone to prove he is any of these things. Also, Bolsonaro is one of the very few candidates who admits he doesn’t know a lot about economics. That’s great news! Dilma Rousseff lied that she had a Ph.D. in economics (when she actually didn’t have even an MA), and we all know what happened. Bolsonaro is happy to delegate economics to Paulo Guedes, a Brazilian economist enthusiastic about the Chicago School of Milton Friedman. One of Bolsonaro’s sons is studying economics in Institute Von Mises Brazil.

It is very likely that Brazil will elect a record number of senators and congressmen who will also favor free market.

Even if Bolsonaro is not elected, other candidates like Marina Silva and Geraldo Alckmin favor at least an economic model similar to the one Fernando Henrique Cardoso implemented in the 1990s. Not a free market paradise, but much better than what we have today.

Unless your brain has been rotten by cultural Marxism, the moment is of optimism.

Debating a Marxist: An invitation

This week, I thought it might be fun to take a break from the series on the state and education and instead to introduce the topic of up-close and personal encounters with some very interesting people: Marxists. My reason for writing on this topic is simply that I’m curious to see if other people have had similar experiences and what the Notes on Liberty community thinks of this breed.

In my experience, there are two archetypes of modern Marxist. The first is the “cultural” one. This one is to my mind the more preferable of the two. This one conscientiously reads all the literature associated with Marxism and its derivatives, normally discards much of the economic aspects, and embraces the social and intellectual pieces. They tend to not think too highly of The Communist Manifesto but are crazy about Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoléon. The result is that they cerebrally focus on class struggle, disenfranchisement, social inequality, etc., all while happily stipulating to all of the horrible famines, massacres, breadlines, general deprivation, etc. that occurred under Marxism. Their attitude is similar to a person who uses an old, long unpracticed religion as a form of social identification, e.g. “I’m Catholic (though I haven’t been to Mass in 40 years and support causes frowned upon by the Church).”

The standard response when asked about the fruits of Marxism tends to be a variant of “That wasn’t true Marxism; Marxism done right wouldn’t have caused that,” or “it just wasn’t implemented properly.” I have even heard one along the lines of “That was communism, not Marxism.” The cultural Marxist is easy to get along with. Because he tends to be a genuine intellectual and honest academic, when faced with reputable sources, he will graciously concede the point. Since this type respects skill and knowledge, there is a shared framework in which to debate. He is happy to debate anything and never views any author or source as particularly sacrosanct.

As a result, the cultural Marxist is reasonably open-minded and eager to find some common ground. My personal encounters with this type tend to be positive and normally end with everyone buying everyone else coffee and leaving the meeting as friends. They also tend to be pragmatic; during my time at Columbia (it’s reputation should be well known vis-à-vis Marxism), there was one faculty member who could only be described as fiscally capitalist and socially Marxist. Dovetailing with debates on class structure, we also received exhortations to secure our financial futures and received step-by-step instructions on how to invest in Vanguard mutual funds! It was slightly surreal, but I later discovered that this hybrid attitude is fairly typical among cultural Marxists. For them, it’s not about the money; it’s about the ideas. But because they mix and match ideas to create a personal worldview, they are neither invested in any particular aspect of Marxism, nor overly interested in practicing it.

The other archetype is the rabid ideologue who believes everything from Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and, variably, Ivan Trotsky, Josef Stalin, or Mao Tse-tung is gospel. Unlike the cultural Marxist, the knowledge of ideologue tends to be constrained to a limited number of sources and works. The existence of The Eighteenth Brumaire can come as a surprise to these people, though they can quote The Communist Manifesto practically verbatim. Encounters with this type disintegrate to name calling and ad hominem attacks within a matter of minutes, in my case usually when their source foundations have been abolished in debate. The hallmark of their mentality is a fixed belief that if they personally are incapable of something, then no one else can do it either.

As an example, a group of students, including myself, went to a performance of La Traviata at Opéra Bastille in Paris. One of our number turned out to be a Marxist ideologue who spent the evening denigrating the entire affair. I recall one particularly embarrassing moment during an intermission when the person loudly ranted about how none of the attendees were there through love of music, being only drawn through an affected desire to show off and appear cultured. All attempts to inveigle the person to return quietly to our seats failed. Never once did it occur to the person to observe that evidence of genuine music appreciation was present just within the student group.

Recently, I tangled with a self-identified Marxist-Leninist ideologue online. Somehow the conversation careened from the original topic to his insistence that I couldn’t possibly have functional fluency in six languages (classical musicians have to be able to read and work in the five languages of music – English, French, German, Italian, and Latin – and I studied Ancient Greek through college). The only justification for his doubts appeared to be that he only had knowledge of three languages. The pivot and then ad hominem doubt is all par for the course in dealing with this type of person, but what struck me is that in all my history of engagements only ideologue Marxists have used the “you can’t possibly be or do X because I’m not or can’t” argument. This is where there is a real divergence between ideologue Marxists and cultural Marxists: all of the latter I have interacted with are highly capable people who go to the opposite extreme and assume that others are informed and thoughtful as well. On a side note, there is nothing quite as entertaining as watching a cultural Marxist debate an ideologue; it inevitably ends with a scorched earth defeat of the ideologue.

Since all of these interactions are anecdotal, they may be sheer personal experience and could very well be due to ideological ignorance. At this point, I invite members of the NOL community to relate their personal stories of brushes with Marxists and what most struck them about their mentality and approach. What is the most irrational thing you have heard on this topic? Were you able to reach a state of détente?  Did the discussion end in a draw, or a meltdown? Are there any archetypes you might add?

Notā bene: I am entering an intensive language course in preparation for doctoral studies. As a result, I may not be very present on NOL for the summer. I will do my best, though, to monitor comments and to be part of the conversation.

What is the proper role of government?

Former Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff publicly lied by saying that she had a M.A. and a Ph.D. in Economics. The lie was discovered in 2009, when she still wasn’t Brazil’s president. Maybe that’s the problem with Dilma: she would even lie to say she was highly competent in economics.

Nobody in the 19th century believed that the role of government was to control the economy. This notion only became strong in the 20th century and to a great degree thanks to Keynesianism. It was Keynes who popularized the notion that the free market is inherently unstable, and that government should exercise some oversight on it.

Jair Bolsonaro, the Brazilian presidential candidate ahead in the opinion polls, has no problem admitting he doesn’t know enough about economics. For me, this is one of his main strengths. In the past, Bolsonaro was more statist. Today he shows signs of becoming more inclined towards free markets. He is clearly willing to delegate the economic policy of his government to people who are strongly favorable to the free market. In other words, Bolsonaro doesn’t know a lot about economics and he is not ashamed of admitting it. But he knows that too much government control ruins a country’s economy.

Dilma is arrogant. Part of her arrogance is to believe that she would be able to control the economy politically. Bolsonaro seems to be humble enough to admit that’s impossible. Keynes believed that the economy is inherently unstable. Contradictorily he advised governments to try to control it. Hayek’s answer to Keynes was that economics is not a science you can master in college. There are simply way too many variables for any human to control.

Bolsonaro’s focus is on public security. Criminality is on the rise in Brazil. People are afraid of walking on the streets, especially in big cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. That should be the role of government: to guarantee we can go out for work, come back, and not get killed or robbed on the way. If the government is doing that, it is already doing a lot. People freely and willingly interacting with one another can do the rest. Guarantee that evildoers will be punished, and watch the economy fly. And before I forget: contrary to cultural Marxism (and Rousseau), criminals are not victims of the society. Society is the victim of criminals.

What is Cultural Marxism, anyway?

I remember many years ago when Sarah Palin was in the spotlight and she accused Obama of socialism. Back then, I thought this was nonsense and I couldn’t see why conservatives in the US hated Obama so much. However, coming from my academic and cultural background I should know better.

This year we have presidential elections in Brazil. After many years we have presidential candidates who unapologetically call themselves right-wing. Until not many years ago, people in Brazil were simply ashamed of describing themselves in this way. Maybe it has to do with the military dictatorship Brazil was under from 1964 to 1985. Back then, to be “right-wing” was to be in favor of the dictatorship. To be left-wing was to oppose it. The armed forces took power in Brazil to avoid the communists of doing so. I am every day more convinced that this backfired. Because they were fought by the military, communists posed as victims who were simply fighting for democracy. Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth: they were terrorists who wanted to transform Brazil into a South American USSR. But the communists-as-democrats is the narrative I and many Brazilians learned in school.

Brazil has a long history of communist influence. Since the 1920s the USSR tried to influence politics in my country, including a failed coup in the 1930s, the Brazilian uprising of 1935. However, communists eventually learned that Brazilians were socially too conservative to accept communist rule. That’s about when they discovered cultural Marxism, especially Antonio Gramsci and the Frankfurt School. Brazil’s strongest socialist party, the Worker’s Party (PT) is much more influenced by Gramsci than by Lenin or even Marx. Marx is more like a shadow, a mythical figure that very few people actually read.

Cultural Marxism is not a well defined academic paradigm. It is a political program. For some years the main leaders of PT were not even secretive about this. They accepted in their economic policy many of the basics of the Washington Consensus. In their cultural agenda, however, they took in anything that would help overturn conservative values (I mean here Judeo-Christian). But even here, they would not fight it openly. Jesus was not entirely overthrown. Instead, he turned into a revolutionary, a 1st century Che Guevara,  by Liberation Theology. In the political program of winning culture, any help is welcome. That’s how Foucault, Derrida, the Frankfurt School, anything that questions modern liberal capitalist society, is used to question “everything that is.”

Cultural Marxism, in sum, is nihilism. They don’t really have anything to substitute the culture they want to overturn. That is why it sounds so abstract. Academically, that’s exactly what it is. Politically, however, it serves a very specific purpose: power.

Cultural marxism and the Overton window

According to all accounts, Karl Marx was not an easy person. Basically, he had the habit of making the life of all around him miserable. However, as Joseph Schumpeter (himself far from being a Marxist) loved to point out, he was extremely well read. This allowed him to build a complex economic theory focused on factory workers, without ever (or almost ever, at least) stepping into a factory. Life for a factory worker in 19th century Britain was not easy, and Marx was very able in pointing that out. His economic theory, however, was a complete failure, as Ludwig von Mises aptly pointed out.

Marxism should have died in the mid-20th century when it became clear that all socialist countries are poor and oppressive. However, it survived as cultural Marxism. People like Antonio Gramsci, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and everybody in the Frankfurt School were not interested in economics. Instead, they wanted to study culture. The oppressed were not the factory workers anymore, but the social minorities. Libertarians and Conservatives should sympathize with that. It is true that women, non-whites, and homosexuals suffered a great deal in the masculine, white, heterosexual West. To point out that they suffer even more outside the West is not particularly helpful. We don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. However, as with much of original Marxism, cultural Marxism is only good at pointing the problems, not at offering solutions. Modern civilization, as Sigmund Freud very well observed, is full of discontents. This is an old argument. Rousseau points out how modern civilization is cruel. Voltaire answers that, as cruel as it might be, it is still better than the alternative.

Our problem today is that cultural Marxism was successful in pushing the Overton window in their favor. That was precisely Gramsci’s objective: to fight “bourgeois” cultural hegemony with Marxist cultural hegemony. To a great degree, he succeeded. We need to fight the cultural war. As much as modern life can be bittersweet, I still haven’t heard a better alternative. Besides, as a Christian, I have to say with Saint Augustine that men have a “God-shaped hole” that no civilization – Modern, pre-modern or postmodern – can fill. But still, I enjoy the things that capitalism, capitalism that originated from the Protestant ethic, has to offer.