Friday, June 29, 2018

The long march of cultural Marxism

(First published in The Dominion Post and on, June 28.)

A significant anniversary passed recently with surprisingly little fanfare.

News stories marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx focused on the fawning tribute paid to him by the Chinese president Xi Jinping.

There was a large dollop of irony here, since the modern Chinese communist party is highly selective in its application of Marxism. It has combined Marxist-style political totalitarianism – brutal suppression of dissent and absolute obeisance to the party – with a largely unfettered capitalist-style economy. 

There are few greater extremes of wealth and poverty than in China, a country that today boasts an estimated 250 billionaires – not exactly what Marx had in mind when he envisaged the glorious working-class revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

As an economic model, Marxism stands totally discredited. The few remaining outposts of communist ideology, such as North Korea and Cuba, are economic basket-cases, as well as notoriously repressive.

And of course Marxism’s record has been irrevocably blighted by two of the most monstrous figures in history, Joseph Stalin and Chairman Mao – proud Marxists who carried out mass exterminations without blinking an eye.

In view of all this, it’s grimly ironic that a form of Marxism not only survives, but is rampant across the democratic Western world.

Some call it cultural Marxism, others neo-Marxism. However you choose to label it, it has perversely triumphed where Marx’s economic theories have deservedly been consigned to the dustbin of history.

Neo-Marxism draws partly on Marxist analysis but is equally influenced by a bunch of twisted 20th century French philosophers. It grows out of the assumption that Western civilisation, and all that goes with it, is fundamentally rotten and therefore must be dismantled and rebuilt from the ground up.

In the cockeyed illogic of the neo-Marxists, we should feel guilt and shame at having inherited a civilisation that has lifted untold millions of people out of poverty and introduced them to democratic government.

You can see Marx’s influence in neo-Marxism’s hostility to capitalism, its contempt for supposed bourgeois values – the family, for instance – and its emphasis on class and division.

But neo-Marxism takes classical Marxist analysis a whole lot further, examining every issue through the lenses not only of class but also of race, gender, sexual identity and any other potential point of difference that can be leveraged into a grievance.

It marches arm-in-arm with identity politics, seeing society not as a cohesive whole, sharing common interests and aspirations, but as a seething mass of oppressed minorities struggling for liberation – hence the ever-increasing number of aggrieved groups clamouring for special recognition. The result is polarisation and fragmentation.

Neo-Marxism also sets out to create a sense of continuing economic and social crisis, using this as justification for ever more intrusive state intervention and control. And it seeks to undermine our most basic understanding of human nature and society. How we see and interpret the world is dismissed by neo-Marxists as a social and political construct, a product of our conditioning. 

Nothing is fixed, not even the sex we are born with, and nothing has any objective value. Every belief and every value, no matter how soundly based in human experience and observation, is up for attack.

Paradoxically, while the neo-Marxists assail some belief systems as oppressive – Christianity for example – they make excuses for others, such as Islam, although it’s infinitely more controlling. But don’t go looking for ideological consistency in neo-Marxism; you’d be wasting your time.

It all sounds laughable, but it’s taught in deadly earnest in our universities. Marxism may have been a wretched failure as an economic model, but the German radical Rudi Dutschke realised decades ago that its aims could be pursued by other means.

Inspired by the Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci, Dutschke came up with the idea of the “long march through the institutions”. Drawing an analogy with the famous march by Mao’s Red Army through China in the 1930s, Dutschke envisaged subverting society by infiltrating the institutions of higher learning. 

He couldn’t have imagined how successful his stratagem would be. It works by targeting the impressionable young, many of whom have a natural idealistic desire to do the right thing, and few of whom have any knowledge of historic crimes against humanity perpetrated in pursuit of a Marxist utopia.

And how do the neo-Marxists respond when anyone resists their nihilistic theories? Typically, opposition is howled down as hate speech or met with sneering and ridicule. There’s no room in the neo-Marxist world for dissent or freedom of expression. 

The tragedy is that neo-Marxism is triumphing because the institutions of liberal, democratic government are too weak, too naïve, too complacent or too uncertain of the worth of their own values to put up a fight.

Neo-Marxism has now extended its influence far beyond universities, reaching deep into government, schools, the media, the arts and even the churches. The result is a society that is losing confidence in itself, which is precisely the neo-Marxists’ aim – because a society that has lost confidence in itself is easier to intimidate and control. 


Trev1 said...

An excellent column describing the disease, which is far advanced in New Zealand. The question is "what is to be done?" (as Lenin himself used to say, ironically).

Hilary Taylor said...

Yep, right on karl. Going to send this to my 20-something children to read.The other thing I can't forgive the neo-marxists for is their utter lack of a sense of humour...they are wilfully blind to irony. Can't be doing with that.

Kit Slater said...

Dear Mr du Fresne

You have written an excellent article, one which aligns precisely with my own observations.

It’s worth following through on consequences of the issues you mention. For example, questioning why neo-Marxists are so soft on the “infinitely more controlling” Islam shows that there is indeed a form of consistency in their ideology.

I would suggest that Marxists are concerned about how society should be run once they have achieved their goal of “the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.” Anarchists of various persuasions cannot be relied upon because they have no history of societal management. Marxism can, has and does manage societies, but its credibility is severely impugned by its failures and suffers antipathy in the West in those terms.

On the other hand, Islam has a 1,400-year reputation for managing all aspects of society, albeit badly flawed in comparison with today’s Western civilisational standards. It shares with Marxism a communitarian interest. Its tribal origins means that its transcendent doctrine of tawhid – that all people on earth were born Muslim – works well with polarised and fragmented collectives without affecting any identity as long as it is subservient to ‘Muslim’, submitting to the will of Allah. However, Islam’s essentialism will slowly erode sexual identities and preferences until its purely normative standards prevail.

There is copious evidence to show that neo-Marxists, and the Left in general, are changing the West’s ethical orientation to match that of Islam. Fragmentation, relativism and Gramsci’s Long March allows an increasing number of feminists to defend Islam’s treatment of women1 along with Linda Sarsour’s Islamic form of feminism2. The tolerance and incorporation of polygyny and sharia law compliance in Western societies is a matter of record; concessions and pandering to appease Muslim perceptions of victimhood – another Marxist trope – are daily events, and are made to prevent a Muslim backlash. Witness Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s cancelled tour here due to Australian Muslims’ threats.

Conflict regarding Islam’s future role in societal management is controlled right now with increasing calls for stricter blasphemy laws, foreign interference in domestic politics such as Turkey’s in Germany, ‘Islamophobia’ and racism being used to silence debate, and Marxist students and faculty members quashing any intellectual discourse that challenges Islam’s role in the West.

A further issue worth noting is academia’s ‘Islamic imaginary’, where it appears to have created its own form of Islam which is at variance with Islamic praxis. This narrative focusses in particular on two aspects, that Muslims are peaceful and integrate well with Western society, and that Islam’s inherent violence and misogyny do not represent ‘true Islam’. It supports the three arms of Islamic conquest, jihad (holy war) in, for example, student advocacy for Hamas against Israel, hijra (migration) in the Left’s support for unconstrained migration into the West, and dawah (proselytising) in promoting ‘moderate’ Islam as beneficial. (Moderate Islam is a contradiction in terms, but that’s another issue.) In this, it influences media, local and national governance and education, and through this, the national world view. It is hardly surprising that Marxists go easy on Islam. In their desire for the hegemonic conquest of the West, they’re both fighting for the same goal, notwithstanding that the correlation between Islamism and fascism is very high. What happens when Marxism’s atheistic philosophy tries to get the upper hand over Islam’s fundamentalist doctrines after the revolution doesn’t bear thinking about.

[Part 2 continues due to character limit on comment posts...]

Punch said...

One of the most important columns you've had published Karl. How to stop the rot ? Surely it must begin in our places of higher learning. But when will university councils start taking the themes and philosophies taught at their institutions seriously ?

Kimbo said...

When you mention the influence of “a bunch of twisted 20th Century French philosophers” (Foucault, Derrida?) shouldn’t you acknowledge the ubiquitous Jordan Peterson as your inspiration and/or source for the purported but not necessarily straightforward link between Marxism and Postmodernism? If not, kudos for reaching the same conclusions as Peterson and stating them in his same rhetorical “the barbarians are within the gates!” rhetorical style. 😀 Or did you mean the likes of Sartre, de Beauvoir and Camus?

Karl du Fresne said...

I'm aware of Jordan Peterson but he's most certainly not my inspiration or my source, and I question whether he can claim credit for raising concerns about the influence of cultural Marxism, which have been around for years. Peterson may have done a lot to arouse public awareness of the issue, and good on him for that, but he's a relatively late arrival on the scene.
Incidentally, I see from a letter in this morning's Dominion Post that I'm alleged to have lifted my column, or at least done all my research, with the help of the American neo-Right. The letter writer mentions Breitbart and something or someone called 4chan as obvious sources. For the record, I know nothing about Breitbart beyond what's been published in newspaper stories and I haven't the faintest idea who or what 4chan is - and no desire to find out.

Karl du Fresne said...

P.S. I meant to confirm that yes, I was referring to Derrida, Foucault and Gilles Deleuze.

e-clectic said...

Who are current prominent cultural Marxists? Where and how do they meet to further their agenda and execute their plans? It sounds like they are operating as some sort of cohort.
If a person was to think that they had some sympathy for the cultural Marxist or Neo-Marxist point of view and agenda, where would they go or what would they do to get onboard with their programme/s? It sounds like universities are a place to start. Are there specific professors and departments in New Zealand universities that are cultural Marxists?

Karl du Fresne said...

Cultural Marxism is amorphous. There’s no NZ Neo-Marxist Society Inc, they don’t hold annual general meetings and there is no hierarchy of cultural Marxists. In this respect they differ from old-fashioned orthodox Marxists, who typically belonged to political organisations (I use the past tense because most of them are now dead), operated in a semi-public manner and therefore provided a raison d’etre for the sometimes comical cat-and-mouse antics of the SIS during the Cold War era.
The lesson from that period was that the vast mass of New Zealanders had no interest in Marxist solutions. Communists of both the Soviet and Chinese persuasions attained positions of influence in the union movement but party candidates who stood for public office invariably attracted risibly meagre support. Perhaps the neo-Marxists are smart enough to have learned they’ll never get traction in a democratic society that recognises nihilistic ideological cant for what it is, and so they choose to pursue their Utopian goals by other means.
Universities don’t provide a handy guide to neo-Marxist academics, but they’re not hard to find. Some advertise their presence by listing special interests such as “post-Marxist discourse” but most avoid overt reference to Marx, preferring less explicit descriptions such as cultural studies, critical race theory, hermeneutics, post-colonial criticism and (this is a favourite) semiotics.
Look for them mainly in the humanities and social sciences departments, and especially faculties such as women’s studies, media studies and gender and sexuality studies. One identifying sign is that their writing is generally incomprehensible and prolix. Another is that the women generally have shorter hair than the men.

fickbowt said...

I don't think you know what "Cultural Marxism" is (hence your mixing it with french philosophers, neo-marxism, "Identity Politics" and Social Constructivism:

Karl du Fresne said...

Cultural Marxism is protean. I imagine that if I checked out your references (I can't be bothered), that's all they would demonstrate.

Kimbo said...

No, I think fickbowt is right, and unfortunately the credible and important points you are trying to make are undermined by your lack of intellectual precision and rigour (hey, you're the one who introduced "20th Century French philosophers" into the discussion!), and arrogance ("I imagine that if I checked out your references (I can't be bothered)").

Instead, what you seem to be arguing is that there is a shared "vibe":

...or more exactly, a shared use of the dialectic analysis which Marx first applied to economics and social class that binds these groups together. Yes, theoretical Marxism informs the eclectic groups to whom you refer. But there is no organized sinister cabal as your original effort seemed to imply, and which rightly prompted e-clectic's skepticism. Also as many of those to whom you refer would reject the term "neo-Marxist", I think you will find SJW ("Social Justice Warrior") is a better description. That encompasses the current rag bag coalition of radical left-wing academia, advocacy and activism that the likes of Dutschke envisaged.

Personally I agree with you that dialectics and their modern manifestation via the SJW movement gives some very crap outcomes that are very different from the justice they promise. When applied consistently they soon eats their own young, Hence, as you catalogued, every left wing revolution soon veers hard right, and eats its own young. Already, courtesy of #MeToo we are starting to see forms of public witch trials for thought crimes and inappropriate relationships with those who have been declared persona non grata.

However, as a group the practitioners of dialectics seek to sell their worldview with their own favourable framing and propaganda, just like any other group of ideologues. That includes neo-libs (whom you referenced courtesy of Bob Jones and Don Brash), logical positivists, theists (I take it you are one - and good luck to you and no need to apologise for it), or postmodernists...who as fickbowt rightly implies are not Marxists, neo or otherwise (although Marxists and other dialectic practitioners can and do pragmatically and somewhat dishonestly utilise their methods from time to time). Hence your reference to "protean".

Bottomline - the dialectic SJW movements is like any other religion or ideology which competes in the free market place of ideas. True, as they are radical-critical they do seek to radically challenge and overturn it. And yes, despite their talk of social justice, there will be precious little justice especially intellectual freedom if we allow them to run the show wholesale.

But Dutschke was no different from any other intellectual or ideologue who wants to re-shape the world. They are not a sinister cabal. Instead, they are men and women with ideas and methods, some good, most of them bad when applied wholesale. And like any other battle of ideas, they are best defeated by...better ideas. Hence more precision, nuance and care on your part when assessing them, including their intellectual and political antecedents might be a useful start.

Just a suggestion.

Kimbo said...

...but far be it from me to split hairs and attempt to correct you when you confuse the People’s Front of Judaea with the Judaean People’s Front. 😀

Philob said...

Good column Karl.
They can be defeated by refutation and ridicule. But conservative people are too timid. Best to expose the implied but un-stated premises in their reasoning.
Some standard ones are: might is always wrong; the oppressed/victims are morally superior; present moral standards of the left apply to all history; all cultures are equal and must be respected except ours which is inferior; all descendants of the European empires should continually apologize and pay reparations to the descendants of the colonized; in international affairs rich Western countries (including NZ) are held to the highest standards, others can do whatever they can get away with.
The standard template is the old Marxist "who? whom?" - but applied not to economics but to other things; in any relationship whoever is the powerful/richer/ more influential is the bad guy. How he actually behaves is irrelevant.
The cultural Marxists are the latest in a long line of bourgeois haters.

Karl du Fresne said...

There are people commenting on this blog (Kit Slater for one, but also Kimbo) who are much further down the track than I am in understanding cultural Marxism and how deeply it has penetrated Western culture and thought. I welcome their insights, as I do all the comments above. Anything that widens public awareness of this contagion should be encouraged.
I suggest followers of this debate go to Kit Slater’s own blog, Dyspeptic Lucubrations (, where they will find a more complete version of the comment he posted above. It’s well worth reading.
By coincidence, I was catching up on the Spectator last night and came across this interesting piece by recovering socialist Peter Hitchens. It’s not exactly reassuring.
One small point: Kimbo is wrong in inferring that I suggested in my original column that there was an “organised sinister cabal at work”. As I tried to make clear in a subsequent comment, the neo-Marxists (I’ll continue to use that term) are not organised in the way the orthodox communists of the 1950s and 60s were. I think that makes them far more dangerous.

David said...

Hi Karl, I did often smile when my daughter showed me the papers/assignments she was doing for her teaching degree. The common requirement was that each topic had to be subject to a "Marxist analysis." It was as transparent as that! Quite why this seemed to be a major requirement for completing a teaching degree at a NZ university in the second decade of the 20th Century was beyond my ability to grasp, but she passed with honour and is now very successful in her career.

Kimbo said...

Fair enough. One point re your original op ed. As flawed as the neo-dialectic/SJW movement may be, it is not ideologically inconsistent when It champions a socially conservative religion/political ideology such as Islam. Instead, the key interpretive detail is power, and who allegedly has it, Therefore, Muslims are by that very definition oppresssed, both as minority migrants in the West, and as (allegedly) powerless nations subject to Western capitalist machinations in their own countries and regions. Hence the continuing vociferous ideological denunciations from the radical left over issues such as the actions and even existence of the state of Israel, the two Iraq wars and “Big Oil”.

So why the comparative silence and lack of meaningful activism from Western feminism about some of the patriarchal abuses that occur under the umbrella of Islam? Where there is confusion about who is oppressed the competition is resolved by means of “intersectionality”, i.e., a face off to find the archetypal disabled lesbian Welsh working class candidate whose oppression out trumps everyone else for virtue. Is why, despite some useful methods to expose real oppression, the dialectic method is intellectually sterile. Everything can be boiled down to the assumption that everyone is either in the service of the bad guys or the good guys, and the activism is an attempt to assign either a black or white hat, so that, like in the cowboy movies, everyone knows for whom they should cheer, and whom they should boo. Not very rigorous.

Kimbo said...

But the support for conservative anti-PC movements such as Brexit and reactionary politicians such as Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu in liberal social democratic Israel indicates that while the ordinary punter may not be up to date with all the concepts and vocabulary of neo Marxism ( as you call it), like the old version they ain’t buying it as they instinctively know it is bogus.