Against “Cultural Marxism”

Having spent 20 years studying the history and theory of Marxism, I can say with some confidence that… most American conservatives (as well as most white nationalists), know hardly a thing about it. – Michael O’Meara – The Next Conservatism?

I was once again reminded of the truth of Mr. O’Meara’s observation by Paul Gottfried’s recent article at Vdare, Yes, Virginia (Dare) There Is A Cultural Marxism–And It’s Taking Over Conservatism Inc.

In general, the theme of “Cultural Marxism” and its supposed triumph reflects the theoretical poverty of the American right – in both its mainstream and alternative varieties.  It is consistent with the tradition of blaming the “commies” (or, for some, the commies and “the Jews”) for everything, treating the globalist/multiculturalist order as something foreign to our system rather than the “natural” product of it.

Even worse, much of what passes for insight on the matter is of the crassest character. (See, for example, here and here.) While I will confess that I’ve never been a big fan of Gottfried‘s work, I expected something better from him and so was especially disappointed by the crudeness of his analysis in this particular effort.

While Gottfried expresses some general discomfort with the term “Cultural Marxism” and acknowledges a number of the ways in which it diverges from  class-oriented Marxism of one sort or another, he argues that it can be understood as fundamentally part of that tradition and seems to endorse the view taken by so many on the American right that all of today’s ills are traceable to the influence of that handful of  unorthodox Marxist theorists associated with the Frankfurt school.

Thus, in an earlier article Gottfried claimed that Cultural Marxism has been “successful… in taking over Western societies, through educational, social and political institutions” while in the current one, after some fretting over whether or not it still makes sense to talk about the influence of the original critical theorists given how far the corruption of the West has advanced beyond what they had imagined, he ultimately assures us that “Not only does Cultural Marxism exist” but that, given the embrace of a sort of political correctness-lite at home and “humanitarian” interventionism abroad on the part of the mainstream right,  “it now appears to be taking over Conservatism Inc.” and that “Conservatism Inc. … [has] become a Cultural Marxist puppet.”

In fact, the “Cultural Marxists” are able to hold the sort of institutional power which they do because they are doing the system’s dirty work – motivating and justifying the clearing away of all of those “irrational” obstacles – family, nation, tradition, etc – to the horizontal and vertical spread of the capitalist system in its globalist phase.  As Gottfried himself points out:

… nationalizing productive forces and the creation of a workers’ state, i.e. the leftovers from classical Marxism, turn out to be the most expendable part of their revolutionary program…. Instead, what is essential to Cultural Marxism is the rooting-out of bourgeois national structures, the obliteration of gender roles and the utter devastation of “the patriarchal family.”

So, far from representing the victory of the left, the rise of “Cultural Marxism” to prominence and intellectual power represents a victory over the left – its absorption by the current incarnation of the capitalist system rather than a subversion of it.

(The introductory quote is from and article published some years back by the now-silent Michael O’Meara on William Lind, who was an early proponent of the concept of “Cultural Marxism”. The piece is typical O’Meara – full of insights and energy but seriously marred by his habitual anti-semitism. Overall, much of his critique of the notion of the alleged role of “Cultural Marxism” remains valuable.  I will not repeat his analysis here, but I do suggest that you have a look.)

On the Left and “Fascism”

“…most of what calls itself “the left” in the West has been totally won over to the current form of imperialism – aka “globalization”. It is an imperialism of a new type, centered on the use of military force and “soft” power to enable transnational finance to penetrate every corner of the earth and thus to reshape all societies in the endless quest for profitable return on capital investment. The left has been won over to this new imperialism because it advances under the banner of “human rights” and “antiracism” – abstractions which a whole generation has been indoctrinated to consider the central, if not the only, political issues of our times.” – Diane Johnstone – The Main Issue in the French Election: National Sovereignty

The collapse of the virtually the entire left into at best a mere loyal opposition within the capitalist order becomes clearer every day. Its recent and nearly unanimous rallying in support of the system’s candidate for the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, is yet another sad example.

The notion that Marine Le Pen was ready to install a Hitlerian dictatorship on France is absurd on the face of it and in fairness most commentators on the left acknowledged this however grudgingly, – usually just before arguing that she was still, however, so dangerous (a “canny fascist“, for example) that the left must unite behind  the candidate of the transnational elites instead (1).

In fact, there are a few on the left who dissent from this groupthink.  In addition to Johnstone, for example, James Petras argued in Twenty Truths About Marine Le Pen

Macron’s pro-war, anti-working class and ‘supply-side’ economic policies leave us with only one conclusion: Marine Le Pen is the only candidate of the left. Her program and commitments are pro-labor, not ‘hard’ or ‘far’ right – and certainly not ‘fascist’….

Le Pen is above all a ‘sovereigntist’: ‘France First’. Her fight is against the Brussels oligarchs and for the restoration of sovereignty to the French people. There is an infinite irony in labeling the fight against imperial political power as ‘hard right’. It is insulting to debase popular demands for domestic democratic power over basic economic policies, fiscal spending, incomes and prices policies, budgets and deficits as ‘extremist and far right’.

Unfortunately, however, the Johnstones and Petras’s are rare and to the extent that their efforts have been noticed, they have generally been denounced(2).

What characterizes the bulk of the left today is its ahistorical (and decidedly un-Marxist) approach to the populist movements of the right.  The left insists on understanding these movements in terms of a social reality that existed almost 100 years ago and is particularly unable (or unwilling) to recognize that the class content of movements and discourses changes over time – reflecting both the circumstances of a particular conjuncture and the overall arc of capitalist development.

Until roughly World War II capitalist classes in each country were fundamentally national.  In the moments of extreme crisis faced by certain of these countries, a sector of the ruling class opted for alliances with mass movements of the right in order to crush insurgent workers’ movements of the left, overcome the impasse created by non-functional parliamentary systems and better assert themselves internationally against their foreign rivals.  Once their radical wings were domesticated, in certain countries the fascist movements of the ’20s and ’30s suited the needs of much of the ruling class – at least for a time.

Unlike the interwar years, however, today’s ruling class has largely transcended national boundaries and is fundamentally globalist.  It is fundamentally committed to the multiculturalist ideology that is the natural world view that accompanies this.  Its fundamental enemy is nationalism and rootedness is all its forms.

In the current period the opposition to the ruling order is again based a sector of the popular classes and the ruling class is again mobilizing to destroy this opposition.  The difference is that today it is the so-called “fascists” who represent authentic resistance and it is the “left” that is being mobilized to stamp it out in the service of big capital and its globalist project.

In an typical article, which appeared on the blog Shiraz Socialist The Front National and fascism the author quotes Leon Trotsky’s description of fascism as:

“… a plebeian movement in origin, directed and financed by big capitalist powers. It issued forth from the petty bourgeoisie, the slum proletariat and even to a certain extent, from the proletarian masses… with its leaders employing a great deal of socialist demagogy. This is necessary for the creation of the mass movement.”

Although this apparently did not occur to the author, one is struck by how much more accurately this describes today’s left than today’s national populist right.

More than anything else, the left needs to learn to look in the mirror…

(For more on these issues see my previous posts Trump as National Bourgeois and On the Left and 2016 – Part 2. and Part 1.)

(1) The examples are endless but see here and here for a couple of representative samples from Jacobin.
(2) Thus, for example, Johnstone’s fellow CounterPunch columnist Louis Proyect denounced “Diana Johnstone’s poisonous nativism” in an article on his blog last year. More recently Tendance Coatesy attacked both “the notorious” Johnstone and Petras for their comments on Le Pen.

Don’t Trust Anyone Over 53?

The task to be accomplished is not the conservation of the past, but the redemption of the hopes of the past. – Theodor Adorno & Max Horkheimer – Dialectic of Enlightenment

In a couple of recent posts Vanishing American II has justly chastised those modern-day Jack Weinbergs of the right who seek to blame baby-boomers as a group for our current woes. Denouncing the “nasty rhetoric, based… on some kind of visceral resentment and animus” of one anti-boomer commentator, in his post Dear Boomer-bashers Mr. American II ably rebuts the notion of our generation as the prime source of all political and cultural evil.

Unfortunately, VA II then proceeds to fall into a similar stance of generational finger-pointing, now, however, directed against the boomers’ parents. Thus:

… this PC nonsense wasn’t started by the Boomers. It was started by the previous generation. You know, the ones who elected LBJ. The ones who pushed the Civil Rights movement. The ones who took over academia for the Left. The ones who gave the Cultural Left a stranglehold on the media. All of these things were achieved by the generation born in the 1925-1945 period.

If you want a generation to hate then the generation born 1925-1945 is well worthy of your hatred.

While I’m reluctant to lump VA II in with the anti-boomers, unfortunately all of their comments seem to reflect the same ignorance of the history of American populist identitarian struggle over the course of much of the 20th Century and, worse than that, echo the left’s version of the history of that period in which the massive defensive struggles of the white working and middle classes largely disappear.

The decades from World War II until the 1980s saw intense social conflict over the transformation of the United States.  Not surprisingly, this process is now portrayed as one in which only the “progressives” – the civil rights movements, the new left and liberalism in general – had any real agency.   At best, the defenders of the traditional American nation end up portrayed as a mob of faceless, mindless “deplorables” when they are noticed at all.

While these struggles were overwhelmingly locally-focused – over neighborhood and school boundaries, public recreational spaces, urban re-development, busing, property taxes, crime, and school books – all directly resisted in one way or another the processes through which America was re-made.  (These intensely local roots were at once the source of their strengths and eventual failure.)

Looking back, the breadth and militance of these struggles is almost hard to believe – from what Arnold Hirsch calls a state of “chronic urban guerilla warfare” in Chicago in the 1940s to the inspiring mass mobilizations, boycotts and riots of Boston’s “Southies” (and “Easties”) against busing in the 1970s.

So, when saboteur365 says regarding the baby-boomers: “Not all of us were left wing, hypocritical zealots. Just most of us” he is not simply wrong but also complicit in the left’s re-writing of history – privileging the new left (mainly drawn from the youth of the elite and upper strata of the white middle classes) over the populist right which represented a far larger segment of our people.

My objection to the alt movement’s historical amnesia is not, however, simply motivated by self-defensiveness (as a boomer myself) by an abstract desire for historical accuracy or even by the recognition of the respect we owe our forbears.  In fact, we have a tremendous amount to learn from the rise, the at least partial successes and the ultimate disappearance of these movements.

The general failure of the anti-system right to orient toward and learn from the movements of the past is a sign of its apolitical (or at best, pre-political) nature.  Up to now, we have functioned mainly as cheerleaders and scolds rather that real participants, often hiding behind a fundamentally abstentionist understanding of “metapolitics”.

By far the most valuable thing about Trump’s rise is not what he will accomplish as president (as we are coming to see more and more each day) but the re-emergence of a mass populist movement of the right.  Understanding the experiences of our past is a necessary element in determining how we orient toward this movement, working to build it and, at the same time, to radicalize it.

So… here’s some homework:

While books on the movements of the left vastly outnumber those on the populist right, there are a number of important studies of this period which are worthwhile correctives to the dominant narrative (although one often has to read around the authors’ leftism).  Here are a few things to start with:
Boston Against Busing: Race, Class, and Ethnicity in the 1960s and 1970s – Ronald Formisano
Canarsie: The Jews and Italians of Brooklyn Against Liberalism – Jonathan Rieder
Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940-1960 – Arnold R. Hirsch
Behind the Backlash: White Working-Class Politics in Baltimore, 1940-1980 – Kenneth D. Dur
Philadelphia Divided: Race and Politics in the City of Brotherly Love – James Wolfinger
The Slaughter of Cities: Urban Renewal as Ethnic Cleansing – E. Michael Jones –  This is an important book and one of the few on the topic that doesn’t require a “subversive reading”.  As interesting as it is however, it desperately needs a merciless editing and would be far more useful at half its almost 700 page length.
Race, Riots, and Roller Coasters: The Struggle over Segregated Recreation in America – Victoria W. Wolcott
Why Busing Failed: Race, Media, and the National Resistance to School Desegregation – Matthew F. Delmont

A Note on the South: One will notice that I’ve largely ignored the experience of the struggle in the South during this period. This is partly due to my rejection of the apartheid order, but also to the fact that its political lessons seem much less relevant today than those drawn from the rest of the country. That said, the story of “massive resistance” is not without interest. Here are a couple of things to start with:

Massive Resistance: The White Response to the Civil Rights Movement – George Lewis
Massive Resistance: Southern Opposition to the Second Reconstruction – Cliff Webb

Can’t Resist…

… one more post on Based Stick Man, who I gather has ended up not being charged by the city of Berkeley for his role in defending pro-Trump demonstrators there from attacks by the usual antifa thugs.

While in my youth I loved a good riot, in my old age I am less and less a fan of fighting in the streets.  However, given the active embrace of political violence by such a broad swath of the left and the passive acceptance of it by most of the rest, I realize the right has no choice but to literally fight back and I am inspired when I see someone take the initiative to do so, especially in such a creative and politically successful way.

The failure of the Trump movement to consistently defend itself physically and the all-too frequent refusal of police departments to really confront disruptive and violent leftist counter-protestors has created a situation in which the left has come to believe that it owns the streets. Let us hope that Based Stick Man will be the beginning of the process of proving that this is not the case.

Privilege – It’s a Dog’s Life

I came across an interesting article at the journal ephemera(1) by Annamari Vänskä(2) Because I Wuv You – Pet Dog Fashion and Emotional Consumption. Although I was initially unsure whether or not it was meant to be a spoof à la Alan Sokal and others, I’m convinced that it is actually meant to be taken at face value.

The article has several lessons:

First, if you Theory things up enough you can make the obvious seem, if not profound, at least pretty complicated and the simply ludicrous sound more deeply so.

Second, certain academics really do debate some crazy stuff. Thus, in true “posthumanist” form(3) the author seriously engages the issue of privilege among animals:

Some argue that pets are privileged animals: that they are favoured, remain close to humans and occupy a hierarchically higher status than other non-human animals (Thomas, 1983: 100-120). Others see pets as degraded animals: while an ‘animal’ is conceptualised as wild and self-sufficient, the ‘pet’ lacks these qualities (Fudge, 2008).

The author aligns herself with the “privileged” school:

The pampered pedigree pooch embodies the triumph of capitalism: it does not only embody the fantasy of nature as controllable and malleable by the human hand, but also the fantasy of a liberated new consumer, a model posthuman citizen who enjoys its postromantic relationships with humans.

She concludes her article with a call for action (in the usual academic sense) – critique and study:

The co-consuming pet dog thus also opens up a space for a critique of animal hierarchies. The pet dog, which is conceptually not an animal, is superior to wild and farm animals. The pet is a privileged animal, favoured due to its similarity to humans.

and

The fashioned pet dog summarises Orwell’s idea that ‘all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’ and encourages further research that gives tools for undoing the unjust dichotomies between pets and other animals.

I’m convinced, of course, but still a little unsure how to overcome those “unjust dichotomies between pets and other animals.” Perhaps I’ll stop feeding my dog and let him scrounge like the rest of his less-privileged counterparts. For now, at least, I’ve hung one of those white puzzle pieces on his collar and I expect him to have some serious discussions of the matter with his friends down at the dog park. I know it will be a challenge, but I am hopeful that they will be able to find a way to be good allies to the local coyotes.

Third, and on the serious side, capitalism commodifies and corrupts every relationship – human or otherwise. When I’m done indulging my smug, know-nothing side, I have to admit that the article is not without value. In fact, if one can read around the tiresome posthumanist theorizing, it is still a useful case-study in the way in which the capitalist system permeates and transforms our everyday lives.

(1) ephemera “encourages contributions that explicitly engage with theoretical and conceptual understandings of organizational issues, organizational processes and organizational life.”

(2)The author is, among other things, “the Adjunct Professor of Fashion Studies at the University of Turku and Adjunct Professor of Art History and Gender Studies at the University of Helsinki.” Somehow, I’m not surprised.

(3) As the author tells us: “Posthumanist approaches aim to challenge classical humanist anthropocentrism and its dichotomies – such as human / animal and nature / culture – the uniqueness of ‘the human’ as the crown of the creation, and the position of the human as an autonomous, rational being in contrast to irrational, instinctual ‘animals’ (Wolfe, 2009). In this article, posthumanism is understood as a set of questions and as a tool for dealing with those questions, when ‘the human’ is not the only autonomous, rational being who knows or consumes.”

A Little More on “No Platforming”

No-platforming is a coercive set of tactics designed to silence an individual or group. It involves censorship, but censorship can be subtle or systemic while no-platforming is narrow and blatant. It utilizes strong-arm tactics promoted not by an authoritarian government but by a group of people. It is a more democratic way of shutting people up. The term apparently originated in the 1970’s in Britain, where it was at first narrower in execution and target (exclusively against fascists of the old-school variety). Like most social phenomena, the practice predates coinage of the term. – Hearth Moon Rising – No Platforming Hurts All of Us

In doing a little background reading on “no platforming” I came across this post on a Wiccan blog, discussing the issue of “campaigns by trans activists to silence and marginalize Dianic Witches.” Initially I imagined a snarky comment of my own about the potential dangers of no platforming a witch but upon reflection realized that that would be disrespectful, smug and not really very clever.

Instead, it’s actually worth listening to what the author has to say, particularly because it has a very familiar sound:

Blacklisting is the most familiar no-platforming tactic. It was used during the McCarthy era by the US government and unofficial anti-communist groups to deny writers, actors, artists, and academics the opportunity to perform, exhibit, publish, or teach. It has been used in recent years to ban Dianic feminist Witch Z Budapest from venues for leading ritual and to try (unsuccessfully) to keep Australian feminist Sheila Jeffreys from publishing her book Gender Hurts. A closely related censorship tactic is that of the organized boycott…

Then there is the targeting of advertisers with boycotts to get articles suppressed from magazines, the manufacture and mindless re-blogging of incendiary untrue accusations that can be easily researched, and the deletion of WordPress blogs, Tumblr blogs, Facebook accounts, and Twitter accounts that have not violated any stated policies but which nevertheless offended some anti-feminist. You’ll have to take my word for it at this point or will be here all day – there are too many examples even to fill a large book. Obviously these strong-arm censorship tactics cannot be blamed solely on the Pagan community but are part of a wider anti-feminist culture, with trans women usually the purported beneficiaries. Trans women who speak out against these tactics are strongly criticized or even no-platformed themselves.(1)

I must admit that the radical feminist wiccan world is alien to me, as it probably is to most of the readers of this blog.  Still, it’s worth remembering “First they came for the Dianic witches but….”

(1) Note that the “feminists” referred to in the post above are what are sometimes dismissively referred to as TERFs (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists) whose crime is that they reject the notion that gender is merely a social construction.

It is indeed a strange world when acronyms like WBW (Women Born Women) need to be invented and an even stranger one when people are persecuted for believing that there is truth to the concept behind it, but for this view they have been utterly demonized – placed in the same category (those who must be silenced) as all of the rest of the world’s “deplorables.”  The typical tone of the anti-“TERF” polemics is the sort of hysterical ranting all too common these days – reflected, for example, in the article “Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism” is violence or in another blogger’s recent assertion – “Trans exclusionary radical feminism is racist, it is western colonialism—it is fascism.”  And we all know what that can mean