Nearly 2 years ago, the ever-wise politicians in Australia put us through a national plebiscite in which we voted on marriage equality. During this time, social media became a particularly toxic place to be as the conservative/Christian right went to war with the progressive/humanist left. Among the many insults thrown around the web during that time (and other times to follow) was this fancy term “Cultural Marxism.” I didn’t really know what it meant, but it seemed it was always aimed at “progressive” ideas pertaining to culture, equality, diversity, feminism, LGBTI issues and such that are supposedly undermining Western Culture. It seems a little like the term can mean whatever you want it to as long as it is railing against so-called “progressive cultural” ideas.
But what does it really mean? A little research shows a disconcerting truth: Cultural Marxism is a myth, a meme, a conspiracy theory that isn’t real. But as much as its a fairytale, its one that people believe in and thus it exists anyway albeit in a poorly defined manner. Therefore, it still has power. But I like what Paul Kengor called it: intellectual laziness that leads to intellectual nastiness. How true that is. It has become a banner for those who want to oppose the rights of others. Concerningly, the myth of Cultural Marxism has grown into an obsession for some and even violence for others. It’s a myth that needs to be dispelled. But how do we do it? With information, of course! And as the whole world reads my blog and agrees with everything in it (heh heh…), let’s take on this heavily misappropriated term.
You’d think it would have something to do with Karl Marx, right? After all, Marxism is based on the political and economic theories of Marx and Engles (in which government control of resources and production theoretically ensures equality.) Yeah, cultural Marxism isn’t that.
So what is it really?
It generally refers to one of two things: First – Extremely rarely – “cultural Marxism” (lower C, upper M) refers to an obscure critique of popular culture by the Frankfurt School, framing culture as being imposed by a capitalist culture industry and consumed passively by the masses.
Second — in common usage in the wild — “Cultural Marxism” (both uppercase) is a common snarl word used to paint anyone with progressive tendencies as a secret Communist. The term alludes to a conspiracy theory in which sinister left-wingers have infiltrated media, academia, and science and are engaged in a decades-long plot to undermine Western culture. Some variants of the conspiracy allege that basically all of modern social liberalism is, in fact, a Communist front group.
(Thanks wiki for that quote). Right out of the gate, we can ignore the first point. Almost no one accused of cultural Marxism is being accused of engaging in obscure academic critiques a la Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Leo Löwenthal and Friedrich Pollock. More to the point, almost no one doing the accusing has any knowledge of these guys and what their criticisms of capitalism actually were.
The second definition is usually the one people are trying to allude to. It’s the idea that these sinister lefties have infiltrated universities, schools, Hollywood and other cultural hotspots. The supposed evil indoctrination includes the idea that freedom and patriotism are bad, and feminism, LGBTI rights, civil rights more generally, and anti-war sentiments are good. (For clarity, this reverse is supposed to be true according to the far-right accusers). Supposedly, according to those who rage against this movement, this is a product of the Frankfurt School’s infiltration of western cultural institutions like Hollywood and Academia, and of cultural decay. It’s also, supposedly, the Jews. Say what? Check this out:
“A 2003 article from the US-based Southern Poverty Law Centre described cultural Marxism as a conspiracy theory with an anti-Semitic twist that was then being pushed by much of the American right. In a nutshell, the theory posits that a tiny group of Jewish philosophers who fled Germany in the 1930s and set up shop at Columbia University in New York City devised an unorthodox form of ‘Marxism’ that took aim at American society’s culture, rather than its economic system,” the report states .”
Yes, to rail against Cultural Marxism is to rail against the Jews and is plain, old-fashion, vile anti-semitism. Sorta like the Nazi’s, right? But in the same breath, railing against Cultural Marxism is an accusation of Communism, which is ironic given the Nazi’s still seem to be the poster-children for that one. So if you ever hear someone ranting against the Cultural Marxist’s who are taking over culture, this is Nazi Propaganda updated for 2019. You’re welcome.
The term has sort-of become a catch-all for far-right conservatives engaging in public debate. It’s been thrown around by the likes of politicians Mark Latham and Suella Braverman, but concerningly its also been used by extremists such as video game hate group, Gamergate, and even mass shooters like Anders Breivik and the Christchurch shooter (allegedly) . So the definition of this phenomenon is sort of loose, sort of “whatever you want it to be as long as it is anti-progressive.”
This statement by journalist James Wilson  helps bring more clarity here. In it, he refers to post-cold war right-wing activist William S Lind: “The changing parameters of economic debate and the beginning of American decline demanded that conservatives embrace a politics centered more, not less, on cultural issues” – the family, education, crime, and morality. The fairytale of cultural Marxism provided a post-communist adversary located specifically in the cultural realm – academics, Hollywood, journalists, civil rights activists, and feminists. It has been a mainstay of conservative activism and rhetoric ever since.
While Lind has recently become a more marginal figure, his story of cultural Marxism has proved durable and useful across the spectrum of right-wing thought because it offers so much.
It allows those smarting from a loss of privilege to be offered the shroud of victimhood, by pointing to a shadowy, omnipresent, quasi-foreign elite who are attempting to destroy all that is good in the world. It offers an explanation for the decline of families, small towns, patriarchal authority, and unchallenged white power: a vast, century-long left-wing conspiracy. And it distracts from the most important factor in these changes: capitalism, which demands mobility, whose crises have eroded living standards, and which thus, among other things, undermines the viability of conventional family structures and the traditional lifestyles that conservatives approve of.”
I have looked with disbelief as white supremacy seems to have raised its ugly head again. I wondered how it happened, whilst simultaneously acknowledging my own privilege in that I’d never experienced racism or anti-semitism. In fact, I’d been blissfully ignorant of the problem until a friend shared her experience and disabused me of my privileged vantage point.
But as ugly undertones spike up into violent sentiment around every election or terrorist attack, its time we unveil the truth of this thing. Racism, antisemitism and class discrimination isn’t noble. It isn’t Christian. It isn’t righteous. This isn’t a term we should gather behind. (I say ‘we’, while also acknowledging that as a progressive Christian (yes, you can be both), I’m probably called a Cultural Marxist in some corner of the internet. Eh. )
So how does this railing against these “evil leftist commies” play out in the most extreme cases? I. e. Where can this rhetoric lead? It’s potentially best seen in far-right terrorism which we have seen in times all too recent.
Sarah Manavis of the New American Statesman wrote: “Cultural Marxism’s move from political theory to full memeification was fast-tracked when it was used by mass murderer Anders Breivik. Breivik was the sole perpetrator of the 2011 Norway attacks in which 77 people died across several sites. Before committing his attacks, much like the Christchurch shooter, Breivik sent an enormous personal manifesto to a group of friends and family which outlined his anti-multiculturalist, racist, and misogynist ideals. In the manifesto, he spends huge chunks of time crediting the writers who pushed cultural Marxist conspiracy theories into the mainstream. The 1,000-page document references “cultural Marxism” and “cultural Marxists” nearly 650 times.
For the growing audience of anti-Semitic, alt-right white supremacists online, his musings have turned him into an icon – and “cultural Marxism” has become a foundational alt-right belief. It became an easy label for those white supremacists looking for an umbrella term to describe the people at which their anger about diversity, feminism, and religious freedom was directed. Cultural Marxist soon became a signal to mean anyone vaguely left-leaning – in some cases, even if this simply meant those who didn’t agree with white supremacy.”
At the heart of the Cultural Marxism meme is this: “If you are a right winger and you don’t like it, call it Cultural Marxism.” (In this light, it links seamlessly with an unbiblical doctrine that has crept into many churches; that of dominionism.)
A layer beneath that is anti-semitism and verbal or physical aggression against anyone who disagrees with you. Everywhere I’ve seen it, its simply been a trope used by those who can’t debate ideas – Play the victim. Hype the emotions. Then you can slink away from the brawl.
This is not the Christianity we are called to. Our faith and the One we emulate (Jesus, for the latecomers) calls us to better things.
The Problem with Cultural Marxism:
There are many problematic layers here in this impossible pie. The first is the Cultural Marxism frankly doesn’t exist. It is completely made-up and used to incite fear. It is the boogeyman. The second is that it is often completely misappropriated by those who fling it around, meaning they may be unknowingly engaging in activities that they don’t align with. Poorly defined terms that can mean anything to anyone can mean you end up joining a fight that isn’t yours. What do I mean?
- Let’s say a Christian who loves Israel and believes the Jews to be God’s chosen people rails against Cultural Marxism. They are engaging in antisemitic dialogue without knowing.
- Let’s say an alt-right Christian man wants to oppose women’s rights and reproductive rights. He might use Cultural Marxism as his argument. Is he then also against equality across cultures, or is he automatically a white supremacist who believes women shouldn’t vote or work let alone take the Pill?
- A man walks into a Christchurch mosque and opens fire, mowing down Muslim worshippers in their sanctuary. In his pre-massacre rant, he rails against Cultural Marxism. To him and those who think like him, it means violent anti-Islamic sentiment. He has been egged on by what he feels is a growing mood against Cultural Marxism. He might know Cultural Marxism is anti-Jew and anti-diversity. Did the other people who engaged in online forums ever know what it meant? Did they mean to egg him on?
We have to stop using terms when we don’t know their meanings. Cultural Marxism is communism. It is anti-semitism. It is white supremacy. It is the suppression of womens rights and the rights of people of colour and of those who don’t fit rigid sexuality and gender stereotypes. It is anti-Freedom of religion. It might seem like the kind of campaign God-loving Christians can join the fight against, but it is not that. It is so very far from that.
Can I also just say that there are some people who believe the early Christians in Acts 2 and 4 practiced a version of “Christian communism.” *Shrug* Its a topic for another day, and two sides to the argument. But if you know me by now, you know I have to throw it out there.
But can I revert to one line from Wilson’s article? He said Cultural Marxism “allows those smarting from a loss of privilege to be offered the shroud of victimhood, by pointing to a shadowy, omnipresent, quasi-foreign elite who are attempting to destroy all that is good in the world.” I have heard good people, good Christians, use this term to explain their concerns. I winced every time because they did not know that to others their comments were anti- Jews/People of Colour/Women etc etc etc. They just thought they were sticking up for good, old fashioned, Christian values.
They have been the privileged ones in generations gone by, but times are changing. Its highly possible that large chunks of conservative and far-right movements are feeling the pressure and the sense of loss there, and reacting out of that feeling. The church is just one place in society where social justice movements are inspiring the deconstruction of old systems of power. The #MeToo movement has shown us that men shouldn’t have the power to abuse women. Its feminism but its pushing back against abuse and sexual misconduct. The Royal Commission into Institutional Abuse has shown us that the older ones and the members of the clergy don’t have the right to abuse the young and hide behind institutions to cover it up. As social justice movements march forward, society is saying “Don’t use your Bible as an excuse for homophobia, transphobia, the opposition of equal rights for all nationalities, sexualities, genders, or religions. If one of us is free, we should all be free.” That is a big threat, a big change of posture, for the institution that used to be the measuring stick by which all of society sized itself up. I think we can all empathize with a fear of loss of power. But to some, it is still unfamiliar.
The church isn’t an all powerful institution anymore. In fact, the secular world is leading the charge in all matters related to social justice. The Bible told us to care for the widows, the orphans, the poor, and the broken. How odd I find it now that large blocks of Christian voters in the states and in the west oppose refugee rights while the secular world campaigns for their better treatment. Shouldn’t we be leading the charge here? Shouldn’t we be the first ones beating down our politicians’ doors with blankets, food, and demands for fair treatment? Instead, the very idea that we can do better here is “Cultural Marxism” to some. The Bible charged husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave His life for it. Yet women’s rights are cultural Marxism? The very first Gentile convert was an Ethiopian Eunuch – a person of color and a sexual minority, yet God broke the laws of space and time in order to reach that man. Yet some people call all matters of equality and diversity “Cultural Marxism.”
God calls the Jews His chosen people. Yet Christians who follow the most famous Jew with their lives (that’s Jesus, by the way) are among those who rail against cultural Marxism, and by virtue of that, engage in anti-semitism.
Yeah, let’s not do that.
If you are against something, be against it. But form your thoughts. Make your argument constructive. Don’t let intellectual laziness lead to intellectual nastiness like Paul Kengor pointed out. But I put this thought to you: Maybe God/Jesus loved people of color, women, LGBTI people, Jews, Gentiles, the oppressed and displaced. Maybe that wasn’t what the religious institutions of his day approved of. Maybe He was sorta, kinda, in that way, a progressive.
Would we call him a cultural Marxist and rail against His right to stand up for everyone He ministered to and loved? Would we crucify Him all over again?
Just a thought.
Sydney Morning Herald – Chris Zappone – Cultural Marxism: The ultimate post factual dog whistle
The Guardian – Jason Wilson – Cultural Marxism: A uniting theory for right-wingers who love to play the victim
The New American Statesman – Sarah Manavis – What is Cultural Marxism? The alt-right meme in Suella Bravermans speech in Westminster
The American Spectator – Paul Kengor – Cultural Marxism and its Conspirators
Novara Media – Cultural Marxism isn’t a Thing