Written by ‘Classical Liberal’
The term ‘cultural Marxism’ has been increasingly heavily used in discussions about contemporary social issues in recent years. I briefly touched upon cultural Marxism in a recent article on the origins of political correctness (PC), as PC is very much the ‘enforcement arm’ of cultural Marxism. This article will examine what cultural Marxism is, what its roots are, as well as how to understand the movement.
To begin, we must look at the foundations of Marxism; and then analyse how it was appropriated into what is now called ‘cultural Marxism’. Marxism began in the nineteenth century with Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Marx argued that both sociology and anthropology can best be understood by gaining an understanding of class systems. He also argued that there is an essential economic divide that occurs within capitalism. People are basically divided into two groups: the bourgeois and the proletariat. The bourgeois are those who control the means of production. The proletariat are those who are used and abused by the bourgeois; and do not really have a say in what happens within capitalism. Marx argued that this class dynamic creates a class struggle – between the ruling class and the working-class. For Marx, this class struggle determines the basic structure and foundations of society. Marx believed that all of the other inequalities within a capitalist society can essentially be boiled down to these economic inequalities.
Marx was also a follower of Georg Hegel – a prominent nineteenth century philosopher who argued that history is in a process of change and that this change is positive because history is essentially improving. Marx subscribed to certain aspects of Hegel’s philosophy, while rejecting others. Therefore, Marx created his own view of world history. Marx argued that the logic of historical progress dictated that it was inevitable that there would be a socialist revolution, which would lead to a new form of state that we now know as communism. Of course, we have seen how things turned out with various communist governments coming into power in the twentieth century. The results were disastrous, to say the very least.
Certain thinkers took Marx’s ideas about economics and applied them to other areas of social life – most notably the Frankfurt School and ‘Critical Theory’, which I covered in a previous article on the Frankfurt School and the origins of PC. What is really important about critical theory and how it affects us today is this: with critical theory, Marx’s ideas were developed and expanded to relate to all areas of thought.
While Marx thought all different social relations were essentially and foundationally based upon economics, critical theory took Marx’s narrative of an oppressed group and an oppressor group and began applying it to various aspects of social life. The oppressor was no longer seen as just the bourgeois who controlled the means of production, but was expanded to issues of race, gender, sexuality, and many other categories that can be discussed in this way as well. It’s argued that those who are oppressors are ‘privileged’ and those who are oppressed are ‘under-privileged’. Hence we have all the talk of ‘white privilege’, ‘male privilege’, ‘heterosexual privilege’, etc. And, people of colour, women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community, etc are ‘victims’ of the ‘white patriarchy’. Thus, when we hear people talking about an oppressed class and an oppressor, and making arguments for certain laws and ideas that make the oppressor less privileged so that the oppressed can gain some kind of benefit, this essentially is what we know as cultural Marxism.
There are three main problems with the theory of cultural Marxism. First, it is problematic when people are treated first and foremost according to whatever particular group they belong to, rather than as the individuals that they are. Certainly, we have an identity in our groups and communities as well as we do as individuals. But, these group identities do not define absolutely everything about us. This leads to a second problem.
Second, a lot of these groups are really rather arbitrary. Why, for example, is every white person classified in a particular group because of race, when those white people may be of extremely different economic statuses, from very different parts of the world, and have completely different life experiences, and nothing really unites them at all other than that they have the same skin colour. It’s too simplistic to identify and lump people together into groups in this way. There are so many things that determine what one’s privilege is. It doesn’t just have to do with skin colour, gender, sexuality, or race; it could be related to one’s attractiveness, athletic ability, etc. Some people are now talking about being disabled as another kind of under-privileged group; as well as able-bodied people having privilege. The point is that this list could go on and on. There are so many different factors that determine what somebody’s privilege and under-privilege might be, that you really can’t classify it simply in any way at all. Who has more ‘privilege’: a heterosexual woman or a gay man; a wealthy black man or a poor white man; a white lesbian or a heterosexual black woman? The whole exercise is demented.
Third, this can actually lead to the same power dynamic that the so-called Social Justice Warriors claim to be pushing against. Those who are considered to be under-privileged are using this narrative, as a way of gaining an upper-hand against those who are considered to be privileged, in order to put themselves in power. And isn’t this really just the same kind of power dynamic that they are accusing others of.
We should not accuse everyone who speaks about victimisation or inequality of being a cultural Marxist because these things are not necessarily tied to cultural Marxism. Nonetheless, the idea of cultural Marxism is certainly behind a lot of the arguments that people are making in society today.
The radical left has tried to convince us that cultural Marxism doesn’t exist; that it’s simply an anti-Semitic conspiracy invented by the alt-right. This is a downright lie. Black Lives Matter (BLM) is perhaps the most obvious proof that cultural Marxism exists. BLM frames everything in terms of oppressors/oppressed and privileged/under-privileged. And, as I showed in a recent article on the radical ideological influences behind BLM, two of BLM’s three co-founders proudly proclaim that they are ‘trained Marxists’; BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors also publicly acknowledges that Eric Mann – a convicted terrorist and former member of the radical left militant group the Weather Underground – is her ‘mentor’ and that he trained her in revolutionary activism for over a decade.
Photo by Cosmopolita.