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Archive for the tag “conspiracy theories”

The Value of Everything: Fact and Fiction in Conspiracy Theories

VoE104

Dissecting the material bases behind popular conspiracies.

In episode 104 of The Value of Everything, Charles Owen and I trace the genealogy of several consequential conspiracy theories, consider the promise and perils of independent media, criticize speech censorship and groupthink, analyze various social management projects undertaken by Western governments in recent decades, discuss the latest news in the American election cycle and its ramifications, and stress the benefits of critical inquiry.

Listeners exhausted with our lengthy, mechanical discussions on political economy will likely consider this episode a welcome change of pace.

Click here to download episode #104. (Or, if you prefer YouTube’s format, click here.)

Errors of a Swedish Culture Warrior

Karl-Olov Arnstberg defends cultural Marxism from my critique.

Karl-Olov Arnstberg defends “cultural Marxism” from my critique.

I had hoped the paper I released in January would be the last time I needed to discuss the right-wing myth of “cultural Marxism,” but the Swedish ethnologist and fellow blogger Karl-Olov Arnstberg recently wrote a brief response to my post on the subject which, despite its vapid content, I feel obliged to comment on. Before doing so, however, I should preface this entry by noting that I’m far from fluent in Swedish and therefore needed to utilize a website translator to read Arnstberg’s post. And as a consequence of the crude interpretations such devices provide, there may be facets of Arnstberg’s argument which I’ve misunderstood. I apologize in advance if that occurred.

The primary method Arnstberg employs in defense of the cultural Marxism conspiracy theory is a familiar one: he casts Marxism as an ideological precursor of postmodernism, thereby enabling him to link the approval relativism has been receiving in certain humanities departments in recent decades to Marxism in general, and the Frankfurt school in particular. Needless to say, this is a groundless accusation and an egregious conflation of three very distinct socio-philosophical traditions. The suggestion that classical Marxism can, in anyway, be interpreted as relativistic betrays a profound unfamiliarity with the theories that informed Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s social and political thought. As even a cursory reading of their body of work instantly reveals, both men were staunch epistemological and ontological materialists, not relativists. Arnstberg should also be made aware of the fact that, in addition to being heirs of the Enlightenment and partisans of modernity, Marx and Engels were naturalistic thinkers, influenced by decidedly non-relativistic figures such as Charles Darwin and Henry Lewis Morgan. Indeed, Marxism is regularly criticized by the postmodern elite for producing the very meta-narratives they believe to be epistemologically impossible to sustain.

With respect to the Frankfurt school, the pessimism of modernity and antipositivism characteristic of its members might seem to position the Institute for Social Research considerably closer to the contemporary postmodern milieu, but this too would be an erroneous inference. To quote Martin Jay,

It would be mistaken, of course, to reduce the legacy of Critical Theory tout court to a prolegomenon to postmodernism, however we may define that vexed term. Habermas’s spirited defense of the uncompleted project of modernity, Lowenthal’s last warnings against ‘irrational and neomythological’ concepts like ‘post-histoire,’ and Adorno’s insistence on the distinction between high and low art and partisanship for modernists such as Beckett, Kafka and Schoenberg against the leveling impact of the Culture Industry, all make it plain that in many important ways, the Frankfurt School resists wholesale inclusion among the forebears of postmodernism. In fact, as Fredric Jameson has pointed out, it may well be the eclectic pastiches of Stravinsky (which Adorno despised) rather than the progressive innovations of Schoenberg (which he generally admired) that can be said to have anticipated a key feature of postmodernist culture. The central role of ‘ideology critique’ in Critical Theory is, moreover, relegated to the margins of most postmodernist theory, which lacks—or rather, deliberately scorns the possibility of—any point d’appui for such a critique, preferring instead a cynical reason, if indeed a reason at all, that attacks all transcendent positions as discredited foundationalism and mocks utopianism as inherently fallacious.[1]

Jay proceeds to write that a few of the theoreticians belonging to the school’s first generation may well have contributed to the aforementioned postmodern rejection of meta-narratives by way of their dismissal of Marx’s materialist conception of history, for instance, and that’s a concession I’m fully prepared to make. However, those theoreticians’ decision to discard such a crucial component of scientific socialism clearly represents a departure from Marxism on the Frankfurt school’s part, not an application thereof—thereby rendering the very term “cultural Marxism” of dubious currency. If Arnstberg is truly interested in the genealogy of postmodernism, I recommend he instead look to the French poststructuralists Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Jean-François Lyotard, or to the radical subjectivism of John Berkeley, Friedrich Nietzsche, and the sophists before them.

Of course, none of this is pertinent to the central claim proponents of the cultural Marxism conspiracy theory make, i.e., that the Frankfurt school has succeeded in Gramsci’s alleged strategy of infiltrating the hegemonic institutions of bourgeois society in order to subvert the sensibilities of young adults, therewith undermining the mores of Western civilization itself, in order to prepare the way for communist revolution. Towards that end, nowhere in his post does Arnstberg provide a scintilla of evidence corroborating the claim the Frankfurt school had anywhere near that level of influence on contemporary opinion makers, nor does he persuasively demonstrate why the bourgeoisie would permit an ideology inimical to its reproduction as a class to proliferate on the scale paleoconservative hucksters contend so-called “cultural Marxism” has. The only personality associated with the Frankfurt school to have ever reached a modicum of popularity was Herbert Marcuse, and even then it was chiefly relegated to segments of the New Left.[2] To be sure, students continue to be presented with material from Frankfurt school theoreticians, but as Paul Piccone notes:

Far from precipitating the projected qualitative change in cultural life, a substantial de-provincialization of social consciousness and a more democratic and participatory political reality, Western Marxism, Critical Theory and radical philosophy in general have smoothly blended into the otherwise bland, jargon-ridden and hopelessly conventional framework they originally challenged.[3]

In other words, theories derived from Frankfurt school intellectuals are largely consigned to impotent academic departments and taught primarily during courses on the history of ideas. To understand the source of the changes in culture underway, one must look elsewhere.

Arnstberg claims that rather than “discussing pressing issues,” Jason Wilson (another critic of the cultural Marxism conspiracy theory) and I merely malign our opponents with unflattering labels. Now, I’ve openly admitted that my blog post “On the Myth of Cultural Marxism” is somewhat more polemical than a subject of this magnitude warrants, and I sought to remedy that with a paper nearing 7,500 words entitled “The Origins and Ideological Function of Cultural Marxism,” but I stand by the claims I made in my blog post. The fact of the matter is the vast preponderance of individuals who subscribe to the conspiracy theory under discussion are neo-fascists and paleoconservatives of various persuasions. Is that a sufficient reason to reject the conspiracy theory? Obviously not, and I never suggested otherwise, so I’m perplexed as to why Arnstberg would accuse me of such a transparent logical fallacy; perhaps the crux of my argument was simply lost in translation. What I wrote was that a belief in cultural Marxism has the potential to produce consequences markedly more calamitous than an espousal of equally farcical conspiracy theories, as the Utøya massacre attests.

Arnstberg is also incorrect to say I regard the notion of the Frankfurt school being the progenitors of political correctness as being inherently “racist.” It can be, e.g., when Kevin MacDonald explains it as a group survival strategy employed consciously or subconsciously by individuals of Semitic descent, but it doesn’t have to be. A further error committed by Arnstberg is his assertion that I don’t recognize the existence of political correctness per se. As I wrote in my paper, ‘political correctness’ can best be understood as a mechanism designed to regulate behavior in a manner which fosters racial tolerance while simultaneously solidifying belief that capitalism’s class divisions are structured along genuinely meritocratic lines—meritocracy being the bourgeoisie’s principal self-legitimating ideological construct in the 21st century. I’m also accused of not wanting to discuss the disruptive consequences of multiculturalism or “Jewish policies to prevent a second Holocaust,” both of which are explicitly addressed in my paper. Arnstberg is of the opinion that left critics are either too ideologically blinded or lack the fortitude to debate these matters publicly, and while that may be true of some, it certainly doesn’t describe me.

At one point, Arnstberg asks how the society I desire might look in practice. He mistakenly assumes what I envisage as the end of history is a “postmodern” society, characterized by him as an order consisting of “free immigration, multiculturalism, anti-racism, anti-sexism, LGBTQ affirmation, feminism, environmental awareness, defense of human equality, and defense of animal rights.” How he came to the conclusion these concepts are exclusively postmodern in orientation, let alone that Marxism precipitated them, is, frankly, beyond me. I would, of course, prefer to live in a society which is cognizant of ecological imperatives, where racial and sexual discrimination have been minimized, and in which no nationality oppresses another—one has to wonder why Arnstberg seems to find these objectives disagreeable. Having said that, like traditional Marxists, I believe cultural transformations generally accompany modifications in society’s substructure, and that, within a communist commonwealth, they should be arrived at freely and democratically, not via government fiat. And contrary to what Arnstberg might think, I’m not under the naïve delusion humanity can ever construct a panacea, so my expectations of post-capitalist social relations are really quite modest. To get an adequate idea of what I actually do desire, I ask that Arnstberg study the history of the regions of Spain directed by the CNT-FAI between 1936-1939, the factory committees operating in Russia prior to the Bolshevik consolidation of power, the radically democratic polity achieved in the Paris Commune, or even the smaller scale examples of workers’ control exemplified in producer cooperatives. In short, I seek an economy devoid of exploitation and alienation, in which individuals self-manage the operations of their firms, production is democratically planned, and political policy is administered by a series of councils. A number of names have been assigned to what I’ve just described (council communism, economic syndicalism, libertarian socialism, etc.), but the content is what concerns me.

Next, Arnstberg outlines the ways in which he finds epistemological relativism to have been a pernicious force in the Western world and prattles on about the Syrian refugee crisis currently afflicting his motherland. Given his apparent reluctance to evaluate these issues from a materialist perspective and conspicuous sympathy for the theory of cultural Marxism, Arnstberg likely imagines Marxists and Jewish chauvinists to be the impetus behind these developments. It’s unfortunate that someone of his intelligence could seriously entertain such a preposterously idealist narrative, but it’s a common enough phenomenon.

In a final strange turn, near the end of his post Arnstberg equates moral universalism to postmodernity. If I had to wager, I’d say he missed the lessons in Philosophy 101 which covered the centrality of impartiality in the main moral doctrines when he was a university student, and how the epistemological relativism he laments more readily serves as a conduit to moral nihilism than it does to moral universalism.

Notes:
[1] Martin Jay, The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923-1950 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), p. xvii.
[2] Thomas Wheatland, a scholar of the Frankfurt school, doubts the extent to which Marcuse legitimately influenced even the New Left. See The Frankfurt School in Exile (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009).
[3] Paul Piccone, “20 Years of Telos,” Telos, No. 75 (Summer 1988), p. 13.

My Final Word on “Cultural Marxism”

...As it's commonly portrayed.

…As it’s commonly presented.

**NOTE 1/22: This paper has undergone several revisions since it was originally posted, so if you downloaded it previously, please consider doing so again**

Given the varied response my blog post “On the Myth of Cultural Marxism” elicited from reactionaries and revolutionaries alike in 2014, I thought it appropriate to begin the new year with a paper elaborating my thoughts on the controversial subject. It retains aspects of the blog post, but I have refined my thesis and construct it in a less polemical fashion. The paper, entitled “The Origins and Ideological Function of Cultural Marxism,” is not intended as an exhaustive refutation of the conspiracy, but should instead be read as one man’s contribution to the broader project of debunking the myth.

As with all my work, it can either be downloaded here or on my academia.edu profile. Feedback is always welcome.

ABSTRACT:
As a consequence of the right’s elitist conception of history, conspiracy theories abound in conservative historiography and social analyses when events develop in a manner contrary to their economic and/or cultural preferences. This is especially so on the fringes of the right, among its various fascistic and religious fundamentalist sects. Whether it be a cabal of malicious Zionists seeking to subvert gentile societies in order to achieve racial hegemony, or secular humanists unwittingly fulfilling the antichrist’s unholy objectives through the promotion of non-religious educational curricula, conservative sociology is fundamentally based upon autonomous human agents directing the course of history. This applies equally to when society happens to be in accord with the values conservatives espouse; the institutional hierarchy is thought to be occupied by men of principle in these instances. Thus it is predictable that conspiratorial narratives would be fabricated in an effort to explain why the contemporary West has come to exemplify certain values and behaviors antithetical to those favored by cultural conservatives. The specific conspiracy theory this paper is intended to address is that of “cultural Marxism,” which has been gaining momentum among segments of the far right over the past decade.

Close Encounters with the Conspiracist Mind

The outright garbage some people are willing to entertain is staggering..

Yes, some people have been convinced this is actually occurring.

I try to keep abreast of the latest conspiracy theories circulating on the internet because I consider them especially pernicious manifestations of false consciousness. It’s seldom I encounter individuals disseminating them in public, though.

This all changed the other day at work, when an older customer approached me to inquire as to whether the store I work for carried DVDs of an obscure television program from the 1960s, the name of which eludes me. Of course we didn’t and I informed him accordingly, and usually that’s where my interactions with customers cease. This gentleman, however, seemed intent on having a conversation. He mentioned that he saw we carried Das Boot and asked if I knew how many languages the film has been dubbed in. I told him I had no idea, but, considering the popularity of the film, I conjectured at least the major Western European languages were covered. Somehow this brought us to a conversation about how the Chinese are currently involved in pirating most of the United States’ films and how “awful” this illegal activity is. I remarked that, although China has reverted to capitalism, the Central Politburo of the Communist Party doesn’t seem too keen on respecting intellectual property rights, or at least those of foreign companies. I find ideological inconsistencies of this sort slightly humorous and expected he would too, but he refused to concede that China is currently practicing capitalism, which immediately signaled to me that I was dealing with some species of conservative. Being that I was at work, I couldn’t argue my case too forcefully, so we ended up having to agree to disagree on that particular issue.

Perhaps owing to my apparent knowledge of these subjects, the man was eager to converse further. Chinese “communism” naturally led into a discussion of Russia and the history of the former Soviet Union. The man shared a few amusing anecdotes about Vladimir Putin which, in his opinion, demonstrated that Putin remains a “KGB thug at heart” who the United States’ military should ideally eliminate from the world stage. “But our country hasn’t had the testicular fortitude to do anything like that since Reagan,” he muttered. His fondness for American imperialism disqualified him from conventional propertarian status, which further piqued my curiosity as to exactly what category of conservative I was dealing with. “Neo-con?” I wondered to myself.

From Putin we drifted into a discussion about Stalin. As I expected, the Holodomor[1] and the dubious death figures compiled in Stéphane Courtois’s (ed.) The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (Cambridge: Havard University Press, 1999) were mentioned. I had neither the ability (again, as a consequence of being at work) nor the desire to contest these matters, so I allowed the man to prattle on about the myriad Soviet atrocities. I did, however, evoke the suppression of the Kronstadt Soviet and the Ukrainian Free Territory in an attempt to balance the conversation somewhat, but it fell on def ears. Only the casualties suffered by the White Army and Kulaks seemed to matter to this individual. Surprisingly, and to his credit, the man never faulted communism’s alleged incompatibility with ‘human nature’ for the suffering experienced in the Soviet Union.

“Yes, but what of Hitler? He was also a genocidal dictator, but of the right,” I eventually interrupted—I felt an urge to cut short his anti-socialist tirade by citing an example of bourgeois barbarism; I figured his response to this remark would also determine whether he harbored fascistic sympathies, therewith revealing the source of his conservatism. “Hitler was a Satanist,” the man responded. (I attributed this ludicrous statement to the common error people commit in conflating Paganism with Satanism.) “He was vaguely interested in Paganism, and publicly identified as a Christian,” I chuckled, “but his personal conversations[2] confirm that he was secular.” “No,” said the conservative. “He literally worshiped Satan and it’s rumored he could actually summon his spirit. The evidence of this has been suppressed since the end of the Second World War.” At this point it became obvious I was conversing with a religious conspiracy theorist of the highest order. Part of me wanted to end the conversation right there, because it’s futile engaging in debate with someone with no appreciation for basic standards of logic and evidence. But another part of me was intrigued. I wanted to find out how he came to espouse such utterly ridiculous views.

“Every radical political movement since the Enlightenment has been orchestrated by Satan himself, from the Jacobins to the Bolsheviks. The entire world is governed by Satanists today, and the Democratic and Republican parties are controlled by them too,” the zealot proclaimed. He went on to explain how the only way to prevent humanity from descending into savage depravity is to ground all of our personal decisions and social institutions in the teachings of Jesus Christ. “The United States is the last country in the world that has maintained its Christian faith despite the onslaught of modernity and it’s up to us to ensure Satan’s politicians don’t succeed in their attempts to destroy the Church.” I wondered at this moment whether Bakunin was on to something when he said “if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him.”[3] Surely any deity that requires of its creation a suspension of critical inquiry and unhesitating submission is unworthy of respect, let alone worship. But I think Terry Eagleton’s challenge to this line of reasoning is essentially sound,[4] i.e., that the problem is not with the idea of god or even with Christianity per se; the problem is fundamentalism. And this man was a fundamentalist, if ever there was one.

My patience had been exhausted so I finally just had to ask outright how he came to these bizarre conclusions. He cited a couple of arcane texts authored by paranoid, evangelical charlatans and Alex Jones’s 2000 documentary film, Dark Secrets: Inside Bohemian Grove. As it happens, I had seen the documentary when I was in high school. It basically consists of grainy footage of a chubby megalomaniac commenting on the unusual, paganesque rituals he observed while infiltrating one of the bourgeoisie’s social clubs in the redwood forest of northern California. Is it strange? Certainly. Evidence of Satanic influence among the power elite? Hardly. Fraternal societies and private clubs have been a hallmark of elite life from time immemorial. This is nothing out of the ordinary. So, rather than interpreting the Bohemian Club as evidence of esoteric Satanism, a more sensible inference is that politicians utilize Christianity cynically, in order to secure votes, which is why they have no scruples about participating in pseudo-pagan rituals every so often in their private lives.

The customer spoke glowingly of Alex Jones. “He’s one of the only men brave enough to fight for us.” “Us?” I thought. As he continued, I imagined the man in a dark room, huddled around his computer screen, clutching his bible while listening to Jones scream about “chem trails” and the Illuminati’s sinister plot to establish a “New World Order,” and I felt pity. Why is it that reasonably intelligent people, like this man, can be so credulous? What is it about conspiracy theories that appeal so strongly to this segment of the population, i.e., retired and semi-retired American males? On that subject, I have a few thoughts. I have been developing a theory I call ersatz significatio, which I hope to devote more attention to in the months and years ahead. Simply put, my hypothesis is the following: just as consumerism is the compensation capitalism offers the proletariat in exchange for a life of alienated labor, conspiracy theories and the survivalist ethos they prompt offer older people a sense of purpose after their role in value production has elapsed. The limited consumption older working class and petit-bourgeois men have the ability to engage in cannot occupy the increased leisure time retirement offers, and often conspiracy theories can fill that void, in addition to imbuing in these men a sense of meaning. They are fighting to secure ‘liberty for posterity,’ and so forth—while not disrupting capitalist property relations or its attendant system of commodity production.

NOTES:
[1] See Mark B. Tauger, “The 1932 Harvest and the Famine of 1933,” Slavic Review, Vol. 50, No. 1, pp. 70-89 (1991) for a critique of the standard narrative of the Soviet government engineering the famine in order to discipline disobedient Ukrainian peasants.
[2] As recorded by Martin Bormann, et al. in Hitler’s Table Talk, 1941-1944: His Private Conversations (New York: Enigma Books, 2000).
[3] Mikhail Bakunin, God and the State (New York: Cosimo Books, 2008), p. 28.
[4] See, for example, the arguments in Terry Eagleton, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).

On the Myth of “Cultural Marxism”

America's cultural elite have been indoctrinated by sinister Marxists operating in academia... Or have they?

America’s cultural elite have been indoctrinated by sinister Marxists operating in academia… Or have they?

**UPDATE 1/14/15: Click here for a clarification and elaboration of the points raised herein**

Across the paleoconservative blogosphere, on every “libertarian” forum and racist webpage, a strange concept is faulted for the turmoil witnessed in North America and Europe today, as well as for the alleged breakdown of Western social mores. ‘Cultural Marxism’ is the name these courageous right-wing dissidents have assigned this corrosive force.

So what exactly is cultural Marxism and how is it that so many ostensibly capitalist societies haven fallen victim to it? The narrative varies depending on the political leaning of the individual disseminating it, but its standard rendition is as follows: a sect of European intellectuals, disillusioned by the failure of orthodox Marxist parties to mobilize the proletariat into conflict with the bourgeoisie, came to the conclusion that the original Marxist formulation was incorrect. Western workers simply possessed too conservative a disposition for communism’s egalitarian rhetoric to appeal to them. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s dialectical theory of capitalism’s internal contradictions generating a qualitatively higher mode of production—communism—was flawed. There were ideological obstacles preventing the economic synthesis from being realized. The solution to Marxism’s theoretical errors these thinkers arrived at was to replace class as the locus of struggle with culture.[1] In other words, the traditional Marxist Klassenkampf was to be entirely replaced by a neo-Marxist Kulturkampf.[2] These men, many of whom were psychoanalysts of Jewish descent (a fact of particular interest to fascists), came to be known as the ‘Frankfurt school’ due to their affiliation with the Institute for Social Research at Goethe University, located in Frankfurt, Germany. The subversive ideas this faction of assorted academicians and literati conjured up had a profound effect on Western intellectuals and eventually infected the minds of North America’s and Europe’s cultural elite via university indoctrination, the story goes on, thereby leading to the liberal social movements and various projects of social engineering observed today, e.g., feminism, LGBTQ rights, multiculturalism, and political correctness. To quote the late conservative political commentator Andrew Breitbart:

We can call it cultural Marxism, but at the end of the day, we experience it on a day to day basis. By that I mean, a minute by minute, second by second basis. It’s political correctness and it’s multiculturalism.[3]

But how well does this chilling tale conform to reality? Not very. However, before describing the actual causes of the social maladies certain conservatives impute to ‘cultural Marxism,’ I believe it would be instructive to trace the origins of this conspiracy theory; for, in so doing, we shall discover that it is little more than the latest iteration of the right-wing’s ceaseless Red Scare effort.

Let us begin at the beginning, with Karl Marx himself. Marx’s influential materialist critique of religion and his Jewish heritage caused a great deal of suspicion among the pious gentiles of his age and proved valuable facts for reactionary propagandists to later manipulate for counterrevolutionary purposes. One would think that Marx’s own criticisms of Judaism[4] and occasional regressions into antisemitism[5] would be sufficient enough to inoculate him from being the object of antisemitic conspiracy theories, but, alas, they were not. Indeed, antisemitism was so ubiquitous at the time that even fellow communists found the notion of Marx harboring ill intent for gentile workers, as a consequence of his ancestry, irrepressible. Mikhail Bakunin, for example, felt that Marx’s Jewish lineage was cause to be skeptical of the sincerity of his political philosophy and accounted for Marx’s relatively statist conception of revolution.[6] In the following passage, he even endeavors to draw a link between the Rothschild banking dynasty and Marx:

This whole Jewish world which constitutes a single exploiting sect, a sort of bloodsucker people, a collective parasite, voracious, organised itself, not only across frontiers of states but even across all the differences of political opinion—this world is presently, at least in great part, at the disposal of Marx on the one hand and of the Rothschilds on the other. I know that the Rothschilds, reactionaries as they are and should be, highly appreciate the merits of the communist Marx; and that in his turn the communist Marx feels irresistibly drawn, by instinctive attraction and respectful admiration, to the financial genius of Rothschild. Jewish solidarity, that powerful solidarity that has maintained itself through all history, united them.[7]

Another contemporaneous and influential communist, Eugen Dühring (the target of Engels’s 1878 broadside, Anti-Dühring), considered Marx the “scientific portrait of misery.”[8] Like Bakunin, he suspected Jewish involvement in the labor movement to be motivated by a selfish desire to position themselves as the managerial elite of the emerging cooperative commonwealth:

In that Jewish kingdom which calls itself communist, the members of the chosen people are liable to be in future managers of the common treasuries of the nations and to oversee their gold, their silver and their clothes, as they have done since their first social undertaking in Egypt.[9]

In addition to this theme being perpetuated by antisemitic conservatives and fascists to this very day,[10] Marx has since been accused of everything from being a satanist[11] to an agent of Freemasonry.[12] Generally ignored by those who adhere to the antisemitic view is the fact that Marx’s closest collaborator—without whom Marxism as a distinct school of thought would never have materialized—Friedrich Engels, was a German gentile. On the rare occasions Engels is acknowledged, his role in the development of Marxism is either minimized or he is accused of being a Jew himself (albeit of the crypto variety). Another disregarded fact is that Marx married, and fathered children with, a German gentile—Jenny von Westphalen. Rather perplexing behavior for a supposed ‘Jewish supremacist,’ is it not?

Pushing ahead in history, reactionaries devised several methods to taint communism’s reputation among workers. In Russia, Tsar Nicholas II’s administration found the notorious antisemitic hoax The Protocols of the Meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion to be an especially invaluable document for the task of associating communism with a Jewish plot for world domination. The Nazis later emulated this effective strategy in their propaganda concerning ‘Jewish Bolshevism.’ For instance, in an attempt to posture themselves as the only legitimately socialist party in Germany, the Nazis would often defame their opponents in the German Social Democratic and Communist parties by accusing them of being unwittingly controlled by Jewish plutocrats.[13]

A Nazi election poster from 1932 which reads

A Nazi campaign poster from 1932 which reads: “Marxism is the guardian angel of capitalism. Vote National Socialist.”

The majority of German workers were not persuaded by these vacuous pronouncements, but, unfortunately, enough were that it contributed to the Nazis electoral victory in 1933. The tragedy which followed is unnecessary to detail here, as its history is well known to all.

Unlike its European counterpart, the Red Scare in the United States was not as overtly antisemitic. What was stressed in its stead were communism’s atheistic and anti-patriotic components, as well as its claimed hostility to the family unit. All of these features of the doctrine were obviously exaggerated, in an attempt to frighten religious and/or nationalistic workers, and purposely omitted was the fact that communists have never possessed a unified stance on the national question, the family, or religion. Thus, while communists like Antonio Gramsci opined that monogamy would vanish upon the abolition of capitalism,[14] one can just as soon find Marxist theoreticians like James Connolly arguing that communism will, on the contrary, perfect the institution of monogamous marriage.[15] Likewise, while some communists believed that nations were destined to dissolve following the global ascent of socialism,[16] others held that national identity would be reinforced.[17] With respect to religion, the United States has been home to literally hundreds of religious communities which were internally organized more collectively than any Marxist has ever conceived of.[18] What is more, the vast preponderance of pre-Marxist communists were explicitly influenced by the gospels (e.g., Wilhelm Weitling, Étienne Cabet, and Karl Schapper). As for Marx’s own view on the matter, he was undoubtedly an atheist, but nowhere did he propose that communists eliminate religion by fiat. In fact, his major point of contention with the Young Hegelians concerned their idealistic view that mankind could transcend religious faith without first overcoming the material conditions which gave rise to it, e.g., precarity and privation.[19] To the extent self-identified Marxist parties have attacked religion historically, they acted in defiance of the historical materialism that represents the very core of Marxist sociology.

By the end of the First World War the communist movement in the United States had been virtually obliterated. Leading labor organizers and leftist politicians had been imprisoned or deported on charges of sedition and/or violating the Espionage Act of 1917. American capitalism was soon to enter a period of prolonged economic crisis, however, which precipitated a revival in radicalism. And although New Deal legislation succeeded in significantly curtailing communist activities in the country,[20] the bourgeoisie were well aware of the dangers this newly class conscious proletariat posed. Enter Joseph McCarthy and the second American Red Scare. As always, fear was the strategy. This time the ‘Godless Soviets’ were rapidly developing their economy and nuclear capacity and communist revolutions were igniting throughout the Third World. The United States was quickly becoming encircled by its enemies, secret operatives were subverting our democratic institutions domestically, and our lavish standard of living—never honestly communicated as having been achieved as a consequence of the United States becoming the leading manufacturing base following the Second World War, and secured by one of the most violent labor histories in the developed world—was being threatened by these hostile forces. The ensuing blacklists and mindless jingoism were enough to cause immeasurable harm to American socialism.

Given what a remarkable success these Red Scares were, one cannot help but wonder why contemporary reactionary ideologues have decided that the cultural Marxist myth is necessary today. I suspect the impetus may be that many of them are concerned about the fading memory of past Red Scare campaigns[21] and they are becoming anxious about the growing instability of capitalism itself. The right-wing are also eager to attribute the increasingly vulgar and raunchy elements of our culture to something other than the mode of production they so cherish—lest they alienate their culturally conservative, working class electoral base—and who better to fault than their old foe Marxism?

Let us now return to the Frankfurt school. Was their influence significant enough to lend the cultural Marxist myth a modicum of credibility? Before answering that, it is important to note that what truly inspired figures like Theodor Adorno’s, Walter Benjamin’s, and Herbert Marcuse’s work was not a disillusionment with traditional Marxism’s failure to accurately predict the overthrow capitalism as much as it was an attempt to comprehend why authoritarianism in general, and fascism in particular, succeeded in gaining mass support in 20th century Europe. Their analysis, tainted as it was by fringe psychoanalytic concepts, was faulty, but certainly not baleful. With respect to its influence, it is difficult to gauge. Marcuse enjoyed some popularity for a time, and his writings influenced certain segments of the New Left in the 1960s. Nevertheless, it is doubtful that university professors continue to disseminate theories originating from Frankfurt school intellectuals. In my experience, professors in the humanities tend to be left-of-center social democrats with little interest in subverting the established order, cultural or economic, save for perhaps proposing futile reforms such as a universal basic income. (This is, admittedly, anecdotal, but, to my knowledge, no study exists quantifying the precise degree to which academicians espouse views derived from the Frankfurt school.) Even in the few departments which feature courses specifically in critical theory, the ideas developed by the Frankfurt school are generally regarded as outmoded, at best.

But what of the Kulturkampf? From whence does political correctness and multiculturalism come if not cultural Marxism? Why are television shows and mainstream music so raunchy? The answer to those questions is relatively simple: capitalism. Multiculturalism is the inevitable result of the domestic bourgeoisie demanding a flexible labor market—that is to say, having access to cheap labor imported from the Third World—and political correctness is a necessary condition for capitalism’s ideological self-justification to be adequately internalized by the masses. After all, if individuals continued to be discriminated against on the basis of their race or gender, the proletariat could not easily be deluded into believing that capitalism possesses a meritocratic class structure.[22] My stance on this issue will surely outrage many of my comrades because they are wedded to the erroneous view that capitalism is inherently racist and sexist. Be that as it may, I encourage them to challenge that common misconception by considering the following thought-provoking statement by Noam Chomsky on the subject:

See, capitalism is not fundamentally racist—it can exploit racism for its purposes, but racism isn’t built into it. Capitalism basically wants people to be interchangeable cogs, and differences among them, such as on the basis of race, usually are not functional. I mean, they may be functional for a period, like if you want a super-exploited workforce or something, but those situations are kind of anomalous. Over the long term, you can expect capitalism to be anti-racist—just because it’s anti-human. And race is in fact a human characteristic—there’s no reason why it should be a negative characteristic, but it is a human characteristic. So therefore identifications based on race interfere with the basic ideal that people should be available just as consumers and producers, interchangeable cogs who will purchase all of the junk that’s produced—that’s their ultimate function, and any other properties they might have are kind of irrelevant, and usually a nuisance.[23]

Regarding the abundance of vulgar song lyrics, hypersexualized films and television programs, and YouTube videos of adolescent girls twerking, again, look no further than capitalism. Interestingly, Freudianism does bear some culpability in this development, though definitely not in its quasi-Marxian, Frankfurt school manifestation. No, instead the source can be traced to Sigmund Freud’s nephew, the elitist, so-called “father of public relations,” Edward Bernays. Bernays was hired by several large corporations during his lifetime to consult on ad campaigns, and one of his main contributions was to recommend that these companies appeal to mankind’s baser instincts in order to more effectively instill in the public a desire for their frivolous commodities.[24] His advice resulted in greater sales, and since then sexual themes have become one of the cornerstones of the capitalist marketing effort.[25]

By now Christian fundamentalist readers are likely wondering about what they perceive to be an intensifying assault on religion—perhaps being committed at the behest of cultural Marxist social engineers—but what is, in actuality, nothing more than the state enforcing its Constitutional mandate[26] to maintain secular public institutions. It is true that church membership is declining throughout the Western world, but a more plausible explanation for this phenomenon is what Marx predicted would occur in the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843), i.e., that an increase in material security is the source behind the surge of secularism among the masses.[27] That is not to say that people have become less spiritual in recent decades, though. Belief in some sort of deity remains quite high, and I conjecture that it will remain so for the simple reason that faith in an afterlife (irrational as it is) is an effective means of coping with our awareness of mortality. What people are finished with is the rampant corruption found in religious institutions and authority figures attempting to micromanage their personal lives.

So much for cultural Marxism. But let us, for the sake of argument, suppose that the conspiracy theory is true. How have the Frankfurt school’s nefarious efforts fared? Well, if their goal was to undermine the hegemonic culture in order to usher in an era of communism, as the theory suggests (the ‘Marxist’ element of the myth would not make sense were the goal anything else), then it has been an abject failure. Far from the means of production being collectivized and welfare provisions expanded in tandem with cultural degradation, we have witnessed the exact converse over the last 30 years in Europe and North America. The inspiration for the few progressive movements that manifested in recent years demanding that income inequality be reduced and student debt eliminated (e.g., the Indignados in Spain and Occupy Wall Street in the United States) was the Great Recession—and the attendant austerity measures the state imposed in response. In orthodox Marxist fashion, economics was the catalyst. Hence we are forced to either accept the materialist explanation for ‘political correctness,’ unbridled hedonism, and multiculturalism outlined above; or search for another idealist offender—perhaps Rawlsianism. One’s choice will inevitably depend on their ability (or lack thereof) to think critically.

While it is amusing to ridicule those who adhere to this puerile myth, I implore those on the Left to refrain from trivializing the effects an espousal of the cultural Marxism myth can have as one would UFO, or other inane yet harmless, conspiracy theories. Recall that the Norwegian mass murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, believed that by massacring children at a Labour Party youth camp in 2011 he was preventing a new generation of “cultural Marxists” from undermining the values of his beloved fatherland. Numerous fascist organizations and reactionary militias feel their acts of terrorism are justifiable for similar reasons. It must be emphasized that Marxism is not a doctrine of authoritarian social engineering, but is rather a conceptual framework developed for the purpose of understanding history and political economy, which is additionally committed to realizing an egalitarian society wherein exploitation and oppression have been eliminated from human social relations in a democratic fashion. Furthermore, we must be clear that when we discuss issues such as what family life or nationality may be like after capitalism, we are merely speculating on the manner by which behavior might alter as a result of the substructure of society being transformed. Marxists are most decidedly not drawing blueprints for how governments should coercively mold their citizenry.

NOTES:
[1] The patently un-Marxist lapse into idealism this entails never phases the purveyors of the conspiracy theory.
[2] Exponents of this legend frequently cite Antonio Gramsci as the progenitor of the Frankfurt school’s revisionism, but their only basis for the claim is a quote misattributed to Gramsci wherein he speaks of a “long march through the institutions of civil society” undertaken to subvert the status quo and therewith achieve communism.
[3] 18 December 2009, Hannity, New York City: Fox News Channel.
[4] In “On the Jewish Question” (1844) Marx infamously described Judaism as a religion of “Practical needs, egoism. . . . [and] huckstering.” Its secular God was but “money,” thus by transcending capitalism humanity would simultaneously be emancipating itself from Judaism.
[5] Though generally dismissive of racial theories of behavior, Marx often wrote of Jewish physical and psychological characteristics in unflattering terms. A striking example of this is found in his article, “The Russian Loan” (New York Tribune, January 4, 1856) in Eleanor Marx Aveling (ed.), The Eastern Question: A Reprint of Letters Written 1853-1856 Dealing with the Events of the Crimean War (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1897), wherein he writes: “Thus we find every tyrant backed by a Jew, as is every Pope by a Jesuit. In truth, the cravings of oppressors would be hopeless, and the practicability of war out of the question, if there were not an army of Jesuits to smother thought and a handful of Jews to ransack pockets. . . . The Hopes lend only the prestige of their name; the real work is done by Jews, and can only be done by them, as they monopolize the machinery of the loan-mongering mysteries by concentrating their energies upon the barter-trade in securities, and the changing of money and negotiating of bills in a great measure arising therefrom. . . . Here and there and everywhere that a little capital courts investment, there is ever one of these little Jews ready to make a little suggestion or place a little bit of a loan. The smartest highwayman in the Abruzzi is not better posted up about the locale of the hard cash in a traveler’s valise or pocket than those Jews about any loose capital in the hands of a trader. . . . Thus do these loans, which are a curse to the people, a ruin to the holders, and a danger to the Governments, become a blessing to the houses of the children of Judah. This Jew organization of loan-mongers is as dangerous to the people as the aristocratic organization of landowners.”
[6] Julius Carlebach, Karl Marx and the Radical Critique of Judaism (London: Routledge, 1978), p. 312.
[7] Bakunin quoted in Hal Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, Vol. IV: Critique of Other Socialisms (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1989), p. 296.
[8] Dühring quoted in Rolf Hosfeld, Karl Marx: An Intellectual Biography (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2013), p. 162.
[9] Dühring quoted in Shmuel Ettinger, “The Origins of Modern Anti-Semitism,” in Michael R. Marrus (ed.), The Nazi Holocaust, Part 2: The Origins of the Holocaust (Munich: K. G. Saur Verlag, 1989), p. 226.
[10] David Duke’s Jewish Supremacism: My Awakening to the Jewish Question (Mandeville: Free Speech Press, 2003), for example, devotes a considerable amount of space to promulgating this asinine myth by way of quotes taken out of context, dubious source material, guilt by association, and blatant fabrications.
[11] Such is the thesis of Richard Wurmbrand’s transparently absurd book Was Karl Marx a Satanist? (Darby: Diane Publishing Company, 1976).
[12] On p. 20, fn 10 of So, You Wish to Learn All About Economics?: A Text on Elementary Mathematical Economics (New York: New Benjamin Franklin House Publishing Company, 1984), prominent cult leader Lyndon Larouche concocts a narrative wherein both Marx’s and Engels’s work was funded and orchestrated by the villainous Freemason Lord Palmerston.
[13] An early example of this can be observed in the founder of the German Workers’ Party (later renamed the National Socialist German Workers’ Party), Anton Drexler’s, autobiography My Political Awakening: From the Journal of a German Socialist Worker (Fairbury: Third Reich Books, 2010)—which Adolf Hitler cited as his chief motivation for joining the party in 1921. On page 51, Drexler criticizes the Social Democrats’ administration of the German economy by highlighting their failure to address the problem of finance capital. He proceeds to suggest it was because the party was controlled by Jews: “Amidst all the shouting ‘Down with capitalism,’ not a single black curly hair of stock market and loan capital has been harmed. Should one not come up with the idea that the curly-haired and their ‘German’ helpers meant by the slogan: ‘Down with the capitalism!,’ namely the German, English, Russian, French, American, and Italian capitalism and up with international Jewish capitalism?” Ironically, the Social Democrats had in fact nationalized several banks during their tenure in government which the Nazis later privatized—see Germà Bel, “Against the Mainstream: Nazi Privatization in 1930s Germany,” The Economic History Review, Vol. 62, No. 1, pp. 34-55 (2010).
[14] Gramsci’s economistic interpretation of sexual relations is most clearly articulated in the following passage, in which he reduces the practice of monogamy to its being of utility in the task workplace discipline under capitalism: “It seems clear that the new industrialism wants monogamy: it wants the man as worker not to squander his nervous energies in the disorderly and stimulating pursuit of occasional sexual satisfaction. The employee who goes to work after a night of ‘excess’ is no good for work. The exaltation of passion cannot be reconciled with the timed movements of productive motions connected with the most perfected automatism.” Gramsci quoted in Michael Ekers, “Gramsci and the Erotics of Labor: More Notes on ‘The Sexual Question,’” in Ekers, Hart, Kipfer, and Loftus (eds.), Gramsci: Space, Nature, Politics (Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2013), p. 222.
[15] See Austen Morgan’s James Connolly: A Political Biography (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988), pp. 55-56.
[16] Such was Rosa Luxemburg’s position. See Horace B. Davis (ed.), The National Question: Selected Writings by Rosa Luxemburg (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1976).
[17] The nationalist Marxist theorist Otto Bauer went so far as to hypothesize that “socialism will make the nation autonomous, will make its destiny a product of the nation’s conscious will, will result in an increasing differentiation between the nations of the socialist society, a clearer expression of their specificities, a clearer distinction between their respective characters. . . . Drawing the people as a whole into the national community of culture, achieving full self-determination by the nation, growing intellectual differentiation between the nations—this is what socialism means. The community of culture encompassing all members of the people, as it existed in the time of the communism of the clans, will be brought to life again by the communism of the great nations following the end of centuries of class division, the division between the members and the mere tenants of the nation.” The Question of Nationalities and Social Democracy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), pp. 96, 98.
[18] Charles Nordhoff’s The Communistic Societies of the United States; From Personal Visit and Observation (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1875) is a fascinating empirical study of many of those early American religious communes. [19] David Schweickart comments on the inaccurate characterization of Marx as an idealistic atheist in “But What is Your Alternative?: Reflections on Having a ‘Plan’” in Schmitt and Anton (ed.) Taking Socialism Seriously (Plymouth: Lexington Books, 2012).
[20] In Nothing to Fear: FDR’s Inner Circle and the Hundred Days that Created Modern America (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), Adam Cohen documents the profound extent to which the depression radicalized ordinary American workers and the role the New Deal played in extinguishing those sentiments.
[21] One cause for alarm is a recent survey that found that Americans aged 18-29 have a more favorable reaction to the term “socialism” than they do to “capitalism” by a margin of 49 to 43 percent. Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (2010, May 4), “‘Socialism’ Not So Negative, ‘Capitalism’ Not So Positive: A Political Rhetoric Test.” Retrieved February 2, 2014, from http://www.people-press.org/2010/05/04/socialism-not-so-negative-capitalism-not-so-positive/
[22] Walter Benn Michaels does a superb job documenting this development in capitalism in The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006).
[23] John Schoeffel (ed.), Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky (New York: The New Press, 2002), p. 176.
[24] Frederick F. Wherry, The Culture of Markets (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012), pp. 31-32.
[25] To see the deleterious effects this has had on children, I recommend viewing the 2008 Media Education Foundation documentary film Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood. Online: http://www.mediaed.org/cgi-bin/commerce.cgi?preadd=action&key=134
[26] The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States is unambiguous: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
[27] Rates of participation in organized religion being the highest in economically deprived American communities, e.g., the Southeastern region and African American neighborhoods, supports Marx’s hypothesis.

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