Written by ‘Classical Liberal’
We are no longer free to say what we think. If we say anything deemed offensive, insensitive, or, worst of all, hate speech, we may well be in serious trouble – punished for violating the unholy commandments of political correctness (PC).
Is PC a new phenomenon? This article will show that PC has been in the making for just under a century. And, it seems that a deteriorating society is exactly what PC is aiming for.
What is PC? PC is a Marxist ideology – Marxism translated from economic to cultural terms.
Marxist theory had predicted that if another war came to Europe, the working-class in every European country would rise in revolt. But that theory was proven wrong. When the First World War began in 1914, the workers’ loyalty to their country proved stronger than their so-called ‘class-consciousness’. They willingly put on the uniforms of their respective countries and marched off to fight each other.
A Marxist revolution did occur in Russia in 1917. But, it failed to spread to Western Europe, again contradicting Marxist theory. At the war’s end, Marxist theorists had to confront the question of what had gone wrong. Antonio Gramsci, in Italy, and Gyorgy Lukacs, in Hungary, believed that they had the answer. They argued that Western culture had blinded the working-class to its true Marxist class interests. Therefore, before a Marxist revolution could take place, Western culture had to be destroyed.
In 1919, Lukacs, who was considered the most brilliant Marxist theorist since Marx himself, asked who will save us from Western civilisation. That same year, Lukacs became deputy commissar for culture in the Bolshevik government of Bela Kun in Hungary, where he launched a programme of what can best be described as cultural terrorism. As part of that programme, Lukacs introduced a radical sex education programme into Hungarian schools. PC as we know it was already beginning to take form. Lukacs introduced sex education as a way of undermining the unity of the family. Children were targeted because it is much tougher to brainwash an adult to do something that he was taught not to do. Bela Kun’s government lasted only a few months, partly because the working-class was outraged by Lukacs’ assault on traditional Western culture.
Meanwhile, a new attempt to create a Marxist critique of Western culture was taking shape in Germany. Where Felix Weil, the wealthy young son of a millionaire grain trader, wanted to establish a public policy institute to serve as a home for advanced Marxist thought. Modelled on the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow, Weil’s think tank was originally going to be named The Institute for Marxism. However, the name was changed to the Institute for Social Research; a fairly bland name in order to avoid controversy. The Institute was affiliated with the University of Frankfurt and, in time, became known simply as the Frankfurt School.
The Frankfurt School formally opened its doors on 22 June 1924. But, by then, it had already held its first seminar on Marxist theory in the spring of 1923. Those present included Lukacs. Lukacs’ writings on culture provided the basis for much of the Institute’s programme. Following Lukacs’ lead, the Frankfurt School would be the vehicle that translated Marxism from economic to cultural terms, giving us what we now know as PC.
The Frankfurt School’s first director was an Austrian Marxist economist, Carl Grunberg. His first priority was to firmly establish the Institute’s Marxist nature. In his inaugural address, Grunberg said that it was the Frankfurt School’s intention to maintain uniformity in the way it looked at problems and went about solving them. Under Grunberg, the Frankfurt School worked mainly on economic questions and the labour movement, which were conventional Marxist subjects.
But, in 1930, Grunberg was replaced as director by a young Marxist intellectual with very different ideas, Max Horkheimer. He quickly began to use the Institute to develop a new Marxism, very different from the Marxism of the USSR.
Having recognised the economic success of capitalism, Horkheimer announced that revolution was unlikely to come from the working-class. The Frankfurt School would have to find a substitute to lead the revolution. This was the great question – is there a surrogate for the working-class? The Frankfurt School would not find an answer to this question until the 1960s.
Meanwhile, Horkheimer moved to revive Lukacs’ work by making culture, not the economy, the central focus of the Frankfurt School’s work. In its early years, the Institute concerned itself primarily with an analysis of bourgeois society and its socio-economic sub-structure; in the years after 1930, its prime interest lay in the cultural super-structure. Indeed, the traditional Marxist formula regarding the relationship between the two was called into question.
The key to the Frankfurt School’s work on culture was combining Marx with Sigmund Freud. There were radical Freudians during this period, who hoped to use psychoanalysis to end so-called ‘sexual alienation’, which they felt was as significant as economic alienation. Just as classical economic Marxism argued that under capitalism the working-class was oppressed, the Frankfurt School used Freud to argue that under Western culture everyone lived in a constant state of psychological repression. Thus, the solution according to the Frankfurt School was not just a political revolution to overthrow capitalism, but a social and a cultural revolution as well.
To further the Institute’s work on cultural issues, Horkheimer brought in some new blood. The new members included a sometime music critic, Theodor Adorno, perhaps the most brilliant of all the members of the Frankfurt School.
Another new member was Erich Fromm. Fromm, a practicing psychoanalyst, was noted for his radical Marxist social psychology. He pioneered the concept of sexual liberation and gender politics. In Fromm’s view, masculinity and femininity were not reflections of essential sexual differences. They were derived instead from differences in life functions, which were in part socially determined. Another piece of PC was falling into place.
In 1932, Herbert Marcuse became a member of the Institute. Marcuse would ultimately become the most important member of the Frankfurt School for the development of PC. In the 1950s and 1960s, Marcuse would complete the translation of Marxism into cultural terms and inject it into the new left. Marcuse, by then working in the USA, represented the most radical inclinations of the Frankfurt School.
As we’ve seen, the Frankfurt School wanted to create a cultural revolution against Western society. And, in the 1930s they took their important first step. The work of Horkheimer, Adorno, Fromm, and Marcuse resulted in the Institute’s first tangible product: critical theory.
The term ‘critical theory’ is something of a play on words. One is tempted to ask, what is the theory? The answer is that the theory is to criticise – an unremitting and destructive criticism of every institution of Western society in order to bring that society down. Critical theory is the basis for Gay Studies, Black Studies, Women’s Studies, and the various other ‘Studies’ departments found on American university campuses today. These departments are the home base of PC.
Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2.