23 January 2024

cultural Marxism's obsession with Language – part 2

The term ‘cultural Marxism’ is here used to mean:
the corpus of Marxist ideology excluding the parts that are overtly about economics or politics,
not the ‘Cultural Marxism’ conspiracy theory, usually spelt with a capital C.


The fact that the combination of the words cultural and Marxism is also found in the context of a conspiracy theory is regrettable, but does not change the fact that there is something deserving of the term ‘cultural Marxism’. Attempts by the Left to rule use of the phrase as taboo should be resisted. Such attempts should be seen as part of a broader programme to block discussion by seeking to control language.
   Using the term ‘Critical Theory’ to describe what is essentially Marxist ideology may have been an acceptable rehabilitation exercise in the 1960s, when it was still possible to ignore the horrors of Marxism as implemented in practice, and at a time when most intellectuals treated Marx as a kind of colossus or demigod, so that the qualifier ‘Marxist’ was practically unnecessary when discussing sociology or political theory. In the twenty-first century, given our knowledge of what happens under communism, continued use of this rebranding amounts to subterfuge.
   It is easy to see, however, why those engaged in ‘Critical Theory’ dislike having their work identified as Marxism. Highlighting the intimate connection between the two weakens their claim to moral superiority, and it is this pretence to moral virtue on which much of their current cultural and ideological power depends.
   It is part of the marketing strategy of cultural Marxism that it claims to have resulted in the empowerment of underprivileged social groups. However, there is little hard evidence of any effect in this area, beyond the observation that cultural Marxism has contributed to the associated debates becoming increasingly heated and polarised.
   One response to Critical Theory which has proved popular, particularly among the Right, is to evade the Marxism issue by diverting critical attention to the phenomenon of ‘postmodernism’. The latter concept is extraordinarily vague – which may help to explain why it has become an attractive scapegoat for commentators from both Left and Right.
   The labelling of cultural Marxism as ‘postmodernism’ derives from reactions to the work of a group of Marxists associated with the Paris Sorbonne – the primary home of cultural Marxism during the sixties and seventies. These Marxists began theorising in an even more ‘philosophical’ and less rule-bound way than their predecessors, and exhibited selective scepticism about some of the dogmas of Marxism, e.g. historical inevitability. We are talking here about individuals such as Jean Baudrillard and Jacques Derrida.
   This group of academic Marxists is now often lumped together with anarchic and self-parodying trends in architecture and art, under the heading ‘postmodern’.
   There are two problems with shifting blame from Marxism to postmodernism. First, doing so means falling into one of the deception-traps of cultural Marxism. The trap involves accepting the theorising and pseudo-scepticism of postmodern Marxists as what it is held out to be, namely philosophising, in the classical sense of exploring possibilities and arriving at the most logically persuasive one; rather than seeing it for what it is. Namely, just another device used in a biased way to produce conclusions Marxists like. As with other branches of cultural Marxism, political collectivism appears to be the background goal and driver, and any conclusions arrived at via abstruse ‘postmodern’ theorising are required to fit with this goal.
   Second, by linking Marxist theorising to the playfulness of postmodern art, such theorising acquires an air of being ‘fun’. Who, after all, could see philosophical playfulness as threatening, other than the most rigid of cultural conservatives?
   It seems best to avoid such tacit legitimising or romanticising. Cultural Marxism, notwithstanding occasional pretend-playfulness, is simply Marxism with a prettier dress. Marxism is no more characterisable as ‘fun’ than Nazism.
   The concept of cultural Marxism, and awareness of the expansion of the realm of cultural-Marxist ideology via the university system, can help us make sense of a number of otherwise puzzling contemporary phenomena. These include the polarisation and intensification of attitudes about gender, race and inequality; the increasing monoculture of highbrow debate; and the gradual elimination of free speech from campus. These phenomena may not seem linked to obvious Marxist tropes, such as dictatorship of the proletariat or abolition of private property, but they can be connected to the cultural/philosophical parts of Marxist ideology without much difficulty.

part 1: introduction
part 2: terminology
part 3: ‘ideology’
part 4: which ideology is dominant?
part 5: ‘good’ and ‘evil’
part 6: ‘culture is a social product’ (extract from my forthcoming book)
part 7: Language (extract from my forthcoming book)