Cultural Marxism

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Cultural Marxism is a form of Marxism that adds an analysis of the role of the media, art, theatre, film and other cultural institutions in a society, often with an added emphasis on race and gender in addition to class. The term "Cultural Bolshevism" or in German "Kulturbolschewismus" has been used in a similar meaning. As a form of political analysis, Cultural Marxism gained strength in the 1920s, and was the model used by a group of intellectuals in Germany known as the Frankfurt School; and later by another group of intellectuals at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in Birmingham, England. The fields of Cultural Studies and Critical theory are rooted in (and remain influenced by) Cultural Marxism.

Conservatives, especially paleoconservatives, have long been critical of Cultural Marxism, claiming it was formulated as a way to subvert western civilization using methods other than direct political action. Further to the political right, William S. Lind, Patrick J. Buchanan and others state that Cultural Marxists seek to control society by manipulating language, the media, and academia by way of political correctness by employing the Frankfurt School's "Critical theory." Cultural Marxists scoff at these charges.[1] The term "Cultural Marxism" was also used by the left to describe a particular critique of culture (especially fascist culture). In this sense, "Cultural Marxism" does not refer to the culture itself, but to the criticism of that culture.



[edit] Background

The Frankfurt School is shorthand for the members and allies of the Institute for Social Research of the University of Frankfurt. In the 1930s the Frankfurt School was forced out of Germany by the rise of the Nazi Party and moved to New York.

According to Marxist professor Douglas Kellner, "Many 20th century Marxian theorists ranging from Georg Lukacs, Antonio Gramsci, Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, and T.W. Adorno to Fredric Jameson and Terry Eagleton employed the Marxian theory to analyze cultural forms in relation to their production, their imbrications with society and history, and their impact and influences on audiences and social life." The Frankfurt School also influenced scholars such as Max Horkheimer, Wilhelm Reich, Eric Fromm and Herbert Marcuse. [1] [2]

Kellner explains:

Cultural Marxism was highly influential throughout Europe and the Western world, especially in the 1960s when Marxian thought was at its most prestigious and procreative. Theorists like Roland Barthes and the Tel Quel group in France, Galvano Della Volpe, Lucio Colletti, and others in Italy, Fredric Jameson, Terry Eagleton, and cohort of 1960s cultural radicals in the English-speaking world, and a large number of theorists throughout the globe used cultural Marxism to develop modes of cultural studies that analyzed the production, interpretation, and reception of cultural artifacts within concrete socio-historical conditions that had contested political and ideological effects and uses. One of the most famous and influential forms of cultural studies, initially under the influence of cultural Marxism, emerged within the Centre for contemporary cultural studies in Birmingham, England within a group often referred to as the Birmingham School.[3]

See also: Marxism, Frankfurt School, Critical theory (Frankfurt School), Postmodernity, Cultural hegemony, Cultural studies, and Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies

[edit] Critique of Cultural Marxism from the political right

After World War I many reactionaries and conservatives viewed “Modern art” as a form of cultural degeneration which they linked with Marxism. Some of these attacks were influenced by Max Nordau's Entartung (Degeneration). Bauhaus, Fauvism, Cubism, Expressionism, and other art movements were attacked as forms of "Cultural Bolshevism." Anton Webern's music was denounced as "Cultural Bolshevism." This became a major theme of the German Nazis. In 1933 Paul Renner published an anti-Nazi pamphlet titled “Kulturbolschewismus?” (Cultural Bolshevism?), attacking the German government's campaign against modern art and architecture, called Degenerate art by the German government. [2]

In 1932 Pope Pius XI advised the Centre Party to work with Hitler's Nazi Party in a coalition to stop what was called the "cultural Bolshevizing" of Germany.

After World War II, conservatives remained suspicious of socialism and what was called "social engineering," and an argument was made that Cultural Marxists and the Frankfurt School helped spark the radical left social movements of the 1960s as part of a continuing plan of transferring Marxist subversion into cultural terms in the form of Freudo-Marxism.[3]

Conservatives note that Gyorgy Lukacs once asked “Who will free us from Western civilization?” Their conclusion is that Cultural Marxists seek to undermine western civilisation by attacking its moral and ideological basis because (conservatives claim) "Cultural Marxists think that the Christian religion and its values, particularly sexual morality, demotivate the working classes from rising up and revolting against the class system, and that such values need to be rejected." [4] According to Patrick J Buchanan; "...what I called cultural Marxism and militant secularism are clearly winning in the United States of America." According to Buchanan, the Italian marxist, Antonio Gramsci, led an offensive to de-Christianize and destroy the values of western civilization that has been largely successful. [5]

Patrick J Buchanan in his book "The Death of the West", provides a criticism of the Frankfurt School and Cultural Marxism:

The four horsemen of the school were music critic Theodor Adorno, psychologist Erich Fromm, sociologist Wilhelm Reich and professor Herbert Marcuse. Their ideas, echoing through the halls of academia and from the ink stained hands of writers and journalists, would lead to, as Buchanan calls it, the establishment of today’s politically correct catechism. ...

The original strategy to destroy America, employed by the Frankfurt School, came from Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci who realized that in order to achieve a Socialist victory, cultural institutions would have to be infiltrated and subverted. Gramsci realized that America, steeped in traditions of freedom and liberty, would never to succumb to a frontal assault....

Brandeis professor Herbert Marcuse, was the pied piper of the sixties as he fostered the development of, as Buchanan points out, 'radical youth, feminists, black militants, homosexuals, the alienated, the asocial, Third World revolutionaries, all the angry voices of the persecuted ‘victims’ of the West.' .... He calls for 'Repressive Tolerance' which means 'intolerance against movements from the right, and toleration of movements from the left.'

Paul Gottfried in his book "The Strange Death of Marxism" states Marxism survived and evolved since the fall of the Soviet Union in the form of Cultural Marxism:

Neomarxists called themselves Marxists without accepting all of Marx’s historical and economic theories but while upholding socialism against capitalism, as a moral position …. Thereafter socialists would build their conceptual fabrics on Marx’s notion of “alienation,” extracted from his writings of the 1840s …. [they] could therefore dispense with a strictly materialist analysis and shift … focus toward religion, morality, and aesthetics. ...

Is the critical observation about the Frankfurt School therefore correct, that it exemplifies ‘cultural Bolshevism,’ which pushes Marxist-Leninist revolution under a sociological-Freudian label? To the extent its practitioners and despisers would both answer to this characterization, it may in fact be valid … but if Marxism under the Frankfurt School has undergone [these] alterations, then there may be little Marxism left in it. The appeal of the Critical Theorists to Marx has become increasingly ritualistic and what there is in the theory of Marxist sources is now intermingled with identifiably non-Marxist ones …. In a nutshell, they had moved beyond Marxism … into a militantly antibourgeois stance that operates independently of Marxist economic assumptions. [6]

[edit] Criticism of Marcuse

Instead of using direct political action, Herbert Marcuse argued in his 1965 essay Repressive Tolerance, that what is needed is a form of tolerance against intolerance, to break the "Repressive Establishment." Marcuse, in his 1954 book Eros and Civilization, had already argued for a form of utopianism based on an individual's striving towards pleasure, because that would break the struggle between "eros" and "thanatos." This striving for pleasure is a form of absolute egalitarianism though, because the "needs" and "wants" and "demands" of each individual are absolute in terms of critical theory. The moral and cultural relativist language by the "Establishment" does not allow for any notion of "good" and "bad," and thus in the present epoch, cannot decide upon which individual "needs" and "wants" are "good" or "bad." Marcuse on the other hand is a nihilist, he sees no "nature of man," instincts are beyond "good" and "evil." Thus without notions of "good" and "evil" Marcuse allows for Nietzschean notions of ethics which serve to exacerbate the same fascist phenomena he thought he was opposing.[4][citation needed]

[edit] Criticsm of the concept

According to Bill Berkowitz, "It's not clear whether this diffusion of the cultural Marxism conspiracy theory into the mainstream will continue. Certainly, the anti-Semitism that underlies much of the scenario suggests that it may be repudiated in the coming years. But for now, the spread of this particular theory is a classic case of concepts that originated on the radical right slowly but surely making their way into the American mind. [5]

The Southern Poverty Law Center states that "Lind's theory was one that has been pushed since the mid-1990s by the Free Congress Foundation — the idea that a small group of German philosophers, known as the Frankfurt School, had devised a cultural form of Marxism that was aimed at subverting Western civilization".

At a major Holocaust denial conference put on by veteran anti-Semite Willis Carto in Washington, D.C., Lind gave a well-received speech before some 120 "historical revisionists," conspiracy theorists, neo-Nazis and other anti-Semites, in which he identified a small group of people who he said had poisoned American culture. On this point, Lind made a powerful connection with his listeners.

'These guys,' he explained, 'were all Jewish.' [6]

According to Richard Lichtman, a social psychology professor at the Wright Institute at Berkeley, the Frankfurt School is "a convenient target that very few people really know anything about...."By grounding their critique in Marxism and using the Frankfurt School, [cultural conservatives] make it seem like it's quite foreign to anything American. It takes on a mysterious cast and translates as an incomprehensible, anti-American, foreign movement that is only interested in undermining the U.S." Lichtman says that the "idea being transmitted is that we are being infected from the outside." Lichtman quoted in "Reframing the Enemy."

[edit] References

  1. ^ Douglas Kellner, "Cultural Marxism and Cultural Studies," circa 2004.
  2. ^ Douglas Kellner, "Herbert Marcuse," Illuminations, University of Texas, online.
  3. ^ Douglas Kellner, "Cultural Marxism and Cultural Studies," circa 2004.
  4. ^ Eidelberg, Paul (1969). "The Temptation of Herbert Marcuse". Review of Politics 31 (4): 442-458. 
  5. ^ Bill Bekowitz, "Reframing the Enemy: 'Cultural Marxism,' a conspiracy theory with an anti-Semitic twist, is being pushed by much of the American right," Intelligence Report, Summer 2003. online
  6. ^ "Mainstreaming Hate: A key ally of Christian right heavyweight Paul Weyrich addresses a major Holocaust denial conference," Intelligence Report, Fall

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