It all starts with Marx. Or so they’ll have you think.
Popular conservative/libertarian YouTube channels and blogs never get tired of using the term “cultural Marxists”. The term experienced a revival in the internet when the Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders Breivik responsible for the death of 77 innocent human beings denounced it in his manifesto. Breivik claimed that “Islamisation of Europe” cannot be stopped until “political doctrine of cultural Marxism” is removed. What, exactly, is cultural Marxism? According to Brievik, it is “ Marxism translated from economic into cultural terms.” A group of intellectuals helped to make this transition through a school of social and critical theory now known as the Frankfurt school. Followers of this school now include “journalists, editors, teachers, lecturers, university professors, various school/university board members, publicists, radio commentators, writers of fiction, cartoonists, and artists/celebrities etc.” In Brievik’s fascist utopia, these “traitors” deserve nothing less than the death penalty.
According to the paleoconservative thinker William S. Lind, the world has now entered the stage of “fourth generation warfare”. Unlike the first three generations of warfare, the fourth generation is characterized by the state losing “its monopoly on war”. It is, instead, the citizens who directly engage in battle. The fourth generation war is not merely fought between geographical territories. It is fought between cultures. The conflict between Al Qaeda and the US is seen as a conflict between the Christian West and Islam. Lind goes on to claim that “invasion by immigration is as dangerous as invasion by a state army”.(Lind, 2004)
This idea serves as a precursor to the modern version of Cultural Marxism(popularized by Lind himself). The common right wing narrative goes as follows:- The failure of the natural progression of communism from capitalism’s internal contradictions frustrated the original Marxists. A few European intellectuals sought to change the classic doctrine. Thus, the focus moved from “class” to “culture”. These(mostly Jewish) intellectuals decided to indoctrinate and mobilize the masses by infiltrating “culture” to destroy western civilization in order to usher in the communist utopia. They belonged to the Institute of Social Research at Goethe University, Frankfurt and thus came to be collectively known as the “Frankfurt School”. These *dangerous, totalitarian and parasitic* ideas eventually infected the world and college campuses. As the late conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart pointed out “We experience it on day to day basis. It’s political correctness and multiculturalism”.
We’re getting a bit ahead of the story. Let’s go back to the good old days. In the early 20th century. a fabricated anti-semitic propaganda piece called The Protocols of Elders of Zion sought to expose the Jewish plan to dominate the world. This document helped the Nazis to link anti-semitism with communism. In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler claimed that Bolshevism was a Jewish effort to take “world domination unto itself”. Surprisingly, in Nazi propaganda “Marxism” was referred to as the “guardian angel of capitalism”. “Cultural Bolshevism” was used as a derogatory term to dismiss modern “decadent” art which were seen as a threat to German traditionalism.
The Frankfurt school emerged during the time Nazism was on rise in Germany. The intellectuals associated with it include Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Jurgen Habermas, Leo Lowenthal, Erich Fromm, Georg Luckacs etc.
To show the parallel between cultural Marxism and classical Marxism, Lind points out five crucial similarities. We’ll tackle with each of these one by one.
- Both are totalitarian ideologies:- Aspects of Marxism are certainly totalitarian in nature as witnessed by communist dictatorships. The same cannot be said of the so called *Cultural Marxists*. In fact, Herbert Marcuse wrote a book length critique of Soviet Marxism. This received praise from the anti-communist Catholic Priest John Francis Cronin. To demonstrate that Cultural Marxism is totalitarian, Lind cites PC culture around college campuses. Needless to say, this is an insult to the victims of Stalinist Russia.
- Single factor view of history:- The idea here is that cultural Marxists create an “us” vs. “them” narrative. This is partially correct. Critical theory is indeed often dichotomous. However, not in the sense Lind and his accomplices would have you believe. Drawing on Lind’s term, the conservative author Pat Buchanan writes “ the cultural Marxist repeats and repeats the charge that the West is guilty of genocidal crimes against every civilization and culture it has encountered.” Buchanan provides no credible evidence to support this. Instead, he goes on a tirade against popular culture stating that “ films and shows that depict women as tough and aggressive and men as sensitive and vulnerable testify to the success of the Frankfurt School and the feminist revolution it helped to midwife”. This is apparently a bad thing for him. I have nothing more to add.
- Both declare certain groups virtuous and others evil a priori:- Classical Marxists consider workers to be virtuous and the owners of the capital to be evil while cultural Marxists consider white men to be evil and blacks, feminists, Hispanics, homosexuals etc. to be “good”. This is directed specifically at modern critical theorists. Lind would be surprised to know that one of the most influential contemporary critical theorists Nancy Fraser is actually a prominent critic of identity politics. Fraser has argued that the reification of group identities “encourages separatism, intolerance and chauvin-ism, patriarchalism and authoritarianism.”
- Expropriation :- Affirmative action is cited as an example of how cultural Marxists discriminate against white men and give privileges to the groups they favor. Who are the cultural Marxists? Does it include both the Republican and Democratic establishment? Does it include an individual who supports capitalism as well as affirmative action? About half of Republicans support Affirmative action. Are they cultural Marxist?
- Both employ a method of analysis designed to show the correctness of their ideology in every situation:- Both think they’re correct. But so does every other political ideologue. So does every religion.
How can one defeat political correctness(the defining ideology of cultural Marxists)? Lind has an answer. We can defeat this menace by stating truths “such as the facts that violent crime is disproportionately committed by blacks and that most cases of AIDS are voluntary”. One can defy it by following old rules of Culture. “Ladies should be wives and homemakers, not cops or soldiers, and men should still hold doors open for ladies. Children should not be born out of wedlock. Open homosexuals should be shunned” writes Lind.
Urban Naxal:- The Indian version of *Cultural Marxism*
In 2018, the Indian film director Vivek Agnihotri published a book titled *Urban Naxal*. He claimed that intellectuals, journalists, professors and celebrities indoctrinate vulnerable sections of the society with the pernicious ideology of Naxalism through subtle brainwashing. He writes:-
“If police and other sources are to be believed, the Naxalites, with the help of Dalit youths and the Islamist terrorist group Indian Mujahedeen (IM), want to have their own government in the country by 2025. The revolution will emerge from the conflict of Hindus on one side and Dalits and Muslims on another. Two consolidated rebellious, energetic forces pumped with raw adrenaline, will go for each other’s blood. And then it will be opportune to hijack and change the narrative to oppressed, proletariat, and marginalized vs bourgeoisie, elites, and Brahmins. This attracts poor and intellectuals both. In this case, the Adivasi, Dalits, Muslims, and other “forgotten people”, united under one common red flag, will demolish the State. That’s the ambition. And they also have a plan.”
Mr. Agnihotri provides no citation for this whatsoever. He doesn’t seem to have made the slightest effort to understand the ideology he’s criticizing. He claims that the then President of Congress Sonia Gandhi nurtured Naxal sympathizers through policy agencies with no evidence to back it up.
According to Agnihotri, these “Urban Naxals” don’t just disseminate propaganda. They also recruit people. The only difference between “Cultural Marxists” and “Urban Naxals” is that while cultural marxists are hellbent on destroying Western civilization, urban naxals are hellbent on destroying Hindu civilization.
The term has gained popularity among Indian Right Wing circles. It is now used to label everyone who is critical of the present ruling regime. Mr. Agnihotri himself has diluted its meaning in his book as well as tweets. For instance, he has called the historian Ramachandra Guha “an urban naxal”. Dr. Guha has been consistently anti-communist. He has written many pieces over the years, often calling it “outdated” and criticizing suppression of religion in communist regimes. To claim that Dr. Guha supports Naxals, one needs to provide at least some amount of credible evidence.
Mr. Agnihotri partly blames this on the Indian education system, which he thinks is the product of what he derogatorily terms as *Nehruvian Secularism*. His argument cannot be refuted because of it’s sheer lack of detail. He skims it over in a few paragraphs. The reader is supposed to just believe him. I am open to the possibility that the textbooks being taught are biased. As the critical theorists showed us, reason and methodology has its limits. Any kind of dogmatic acceptance leads to catastrophic results. The answer to *Left-wing bias*(which is what Agnihotri accuses the education system of) isn’t *right wing bias*. The answer, instead, is a collective effort to ensure that the textbooks remain neutral, well researched and factual.
Frankfurt School and the Culture Industry
Karl Marx believed in economic determinism. Thus, the determining factor for him in analyzing history was class struggle. Orthodox Marxists continue to believe that class is the only real social division. Some Marxists also consider culture to be a part of Marxism itself. Therefore, the idea of applying Marxism to “superstructure” can only be termed as an oxymoron. The conservative economist Gary North rightly points this out. He argues that “the idea of transforming the West through cultural revolution” is a Hegelian argument, not a Marxist one. So, no, it doesn’t start with Marx.
The Frankfurt school was inspired by the ideas of Hegel, Marx, Kant, Weber and Freud. They believed that power has an overarching influence over the ideas and norms that society values. This presents us with a distorting picture of reality and helps to preserve the status quo. The way to get around it is to look at power critically. It is this which can lead us to an accurate approximation of the truth.
This is evident in the way mass media functions. Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent(which I highly recommend) rightly points out how mass media serves the interest of big corporations as well as nations.
We’re living in the age of late capitalism. Our lives are becoming monotonous and repetitive. The consumerist attitude has invaded culture. As a result, we are fed the same products, the same movies, the same music and the same art with only minor variations. Adorno and Horkheimer term this “the Culture industry”. In dialectic of Enlightenment, they write “Culture today is infecting everything with sameness. Film, radio, and magazines form a system. Each branch of culture is unanimous within itself and all are unanimous together.”
We are veering steadily towards a consumerist world portrayed in Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. Think about how similar Adorno and Horkheimer’s argument is to that of the conservative philosopher Roger Scruton. In his documentary on the value of beauty, Scruton says “Our consumer society puts usefulness first, and beauty is no better than a side effect.” This critique of culture is more relevant now than ever. Perhaps the best example of the “culture industry” is the popularity of big budget Marvel movies. All of these movies are characterized by roughly the same settings, the same characters and the same action scenes with little variation. These variation provide us only with an illusion of difference. Studios are not ready to take risk. Good original and innovative movies with emotional/spiritual/sentimental values often don’t even make it to theaters. The same goes for music. All pop music sound the same. The advent of electronic music has led to a decline in melody. Instead, we are subjected to listen to bare whispers under mechanical monotonous beats. As Scruton wrote “The music is generated from a point outside, assembled from a repertoire of effects, according to procedures which involve little or no invention, but which set the music into a machine-like motion with repetition as the principal device”. This is not to say that there are no innovative experimenters in the creative field today. I’m simply saying that they don’t get as much exposure as they deserve due to the “culture industry”. The culture industry prioritizes tried and tested formulaic art/movies over original innovative ones. This is why the Frankfurt School’s critique matters even today. The solution to this wasn’t the replacement of consumerist hegemonic propaganda with communist propaganda. The likes of Adorno did not like the fact that experimentation was absent from pop culture. Art, therefore, should be the product of the individual, not the group. The emphasis should lay on individual creativity, not on what the audience supposedly wants. In fact, as we have seen, their critique of popular culture is strikingly similar to the critique of conservative philosophers as well as popular conservative YouTube vloggers like Paul Joseph Watson. This is not to say that there isn’t any legitimate criticism to be made of those associated with the Frankfurt school. However, to paint them all with one brush as if they agreed with each other on everything is erroneous as well counterfactual.It is time for the right to give up its irrational, ignorant and often bigoted hatred of the Frankfurt School. Once they remove this *veil of ignorance*, they’ll find that the so called Cultural Marxists have more in common with them than they assumed.