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Cultural Marxism is a generic term referring to a loosely associated group of critical theorists who have been influenced by Marxist thought and who have sought to apply critical theory to matters of family composition, gender, race, and cultural identity within Western society. The phrase refers to any critique of Western culture that has been informed by Marxist thought.

Although scholars around the globe have employed various types of Marxist social criticism to analyze cultural artifacts, the two most influential academic institutions upon Western thought have been the Institute for Social Research at the University of Frankfurt am Mainmarker in Germany (the Frankfurt School), and the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birminghammarker, UK. The latter had been at the center of a resurgent interest in the broader category of cultural Studies.


The Frankfurt School is the name usually used to refer to a group of scholars who have been associated at one point or another over several decades with the Institute for Social Research of the University of Frankfurt, including Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, Wilhelm Reich, Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse, Wolfgang Fritz Haug and Jürgen Habermas. In the 1930s the Institute for Social Research was forced out of Germany by the rise of the Nazi Party.

In 1933, the Institute left Germany for Genevamarker. It then moved to New York Citymarker in 1934, where it became affiliated with Columbia University. Its journal Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung was accordingly renamed Studies in Philosophy and Social Science. It was at this moment that much of its important work began to emerge, having gained a favorable reception within American and English academia.

After 1945 a number of these surviving Marxists returned to both Westmarker and East Germanymarker. In West Germany in the late 1950s and early 1960s, a revived interest in Marxism produced a new generation of Marxists engaged with analyzing matters such as the cultural transformations taking place under Fordist capitalism, the impact of new types of popular music and art on traditional cultures , and maintaining the political integrity of discourse in the "public sphere."

According to UCLAmarker professor and critical theorist Douglas Kellner, "Many 20th century Marxian theorists ranging from Georg Lukacs, Antonio Gramsci, Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, and T.W. Adorno to Fredric Jameson and Terry Eagleton employed the Marxian theory to analyze cultural forms in relation to their production, their imbrications with society and history, and their impact and influences on audiences and social life.",

Kellner explains:
Cultural Marxism was highly influential throughout Europe and the Western world, especially in the 1960s when Marxian thought was at its most prestigious and procreative.
Theorists like Roland Barthes and the Tel Quel group in France, Galvano Della Volpe, Lucio Colletti, and others in Italy, Fredric Jameson, Terry Eagleton, and cohort of 1960s cultural radicals in the English-speaking world, and a large number of theorists throughout the globe used cultural Marxism to develop modes of cultural studies that analyzed the production, interpretation, and reception of cultural artifacts within concrete socio-historical conditions that had contested political and ideological effects and uses.
One of the most famous and influential forms of cultural studies, initially under the influence of cultural Marxism, emerged within the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in Birmingham, England within a group often referred to as the Birmingham School.

Critiques of cultural Marxism

Criticism of Marcuse

Herbert Marcuse's 1954 book Eros and Civilization, has been the subject of considerable controversy. In it he argued for a politics based on the striving towards pleasure. This striving for pleasure would unite individualism, hedonism and absolute egalitarianism, because each individual would equally be able to determine their own needs and desires; thus everyone would be able to satisfy their true desires. Marcuse argues that the moral and cultural relativism of contemporary Western society impedes this egalitarian politics, because it provides no way of distinguishing between an individual's true needs, and false needs manufactured by capitalism. Paul Eidelberg, however, argues that Marcuse himself is a relativist or "nihilist", because Marcuse rejects any transcendent law or morality, and believes that all desires are morally equal. Eidelberg goes on to argue that Marcuse's nihilism leads him to call for a politicized, explicitly left-wing, academy.

Cultural Marxism as pejorative

Post-World War II, conservatives remained suspicious of socialism and notions of social engineering. Some argued that Cultural Marxists and the Frankfurt School helped spark the counterculture social movements of the 1960s as part of a continuing plan of transferring Marxist subversion into cultural terms in the form of Freudo-Marxism.

Since the early 1990s, paleoconservatives such as Patrick Buchanan and William S. Lind have argued that Cultural Marxism is a dominant strain of thought within the American left, and associate it with a philosophy to destroy Western civilization. Buchanan has asserted that the Frankfurt School commandeered the American mass media, and used this cartel to infect the minds of Americans.

Lind makes a bolder claim when he writes, "Political Correctness is cultural Marxism. It is Marxism translated from economic into cultural terms. It is an effort that goes back not to the 1960s and the hippies and the peace movement, but back to World War I. If we compare the basic tenets of Political Correctness with classical Marxism the parallels are very obvious."

Lind is making an explicit charge that changes in language standards in recent decades have made US citizens "afraid of using the wrong word, a word denounced as offensive or insensitive, or racist, sexist, or homophobic" and that such changes can be attributed to the influence of cultural Marxists. Lind's argument linking political correctness in contemporary public speech to the influence of cultural Marxism have been labeled as conspiracy theory by the SPLC.

Conservative scholar Paul Gottfried in his book, The Strange Death of Marxism, states Marxism survived and evolved since the fall of the Soviet Unionmarker in the form of cultural Marxism:
Neomarxists called themselves Marxists without accepting all of Marx’s historical and economic theories but while upholding socialism against capitalism, as a moral position ….
Thereafter socialists would build their conceptual fabrics on Marx’s notion of “alienation,” extracted from his writings of the 1840s ….
[they] could therefore dispense with a strictly materialist analysis and shift … focus toward religion, morality, and aesthetics.
Is the critical observation about the Frankfurt School therefore correct, that it exemplifies 'Cultural Bolshevism,' which pushes Marxist-Leninist revolution under a sociological-Freudian label?
To the extent its practitioners and despisers would both answer to this characterization, it may in fact be valid … but if Marxism under the Frankfurt School has undergone [these] alterations, then there may be little Marxism left in it.
The appeal of the Critical Theorists to Marx has become increasingly ritualistic and what there is in the theory of Marxist sources is now intermingled with identifiably non-Marxist ones ….
In a nutshell, they had moved beyond Marxism … into a militantly antibourgeois stance that operates independently of Marxist economic assumptions.Lind, William S.. "Dead But Not Gone." 10 October 2005. The American Conservative. <<A href="" target="_blank">>.

In her Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature, Elizabeth Kantor says that it is possible to determine what works of literature are valuable, but that cultural Marxists since the 1960s have completely changed the criteria so as to reward mediocre books and denounce truly good literature as racist, sexist, homophobic and elitist. She argues that this will destroy western civilization and lead to barbarism.

Responses to Conservative Critiques of Cultural Marxism

According to Richard Lichtman, a social psychology professor at the Wright Institute, the Frankfurt School is "a convenient target that very few people really know anything about.... By grounding their critique in Marxism and using the Frankfurt School, [cultural conservatives] make it seem like it's quite foreign to anything American. It takes on a mysterious cast and translates as an incomprehensible, anti-American, foreign movement that is only interested in undermining the U.S." Lichtman says that the "idea being transmitted is that we are being infected from the outside." Lichtman's critique parallels that of rhetorical critic Edwin Black who demonstrated how Jon Birch Society co-founder Robert Welch used a similar disease metaphor in his writings and speeches during the "Red scare" era of the 1950's and 60's.

Progressive author Bill Berkowitzadds, "It's not clear whether this diffusion of the cultural Marxism conspiracy theory into the mainstream will continue. Certainly, the anti-Semitism that underlies much of the scenario suggests that it may be repudiated in the coming years. But for now, the spread of this particular theory is a classic case of concepts that originated on the radical right slowly but surely making their way into the American mind."

The Southern Poverty Law Center states that William Lind's theory "was one that has been pushed since the mid-1990s by the Free Congress Foundation — the idea that a small group of German philosophers, known as the Frankfurt School, had devised a cultural form of Marxism that was aimed at subverting Western civilization":
at a major Holocaust denial conference put on by alleged anti-Semite Willis Carto in Washington, D.C., Lind gave a well-received speech before some 120 "historical revisionists," conspiracy theorists, neo-Nazis and other anti-Semites, in which he identified a small group of people who he said had poisoned American culture.
On this point, Lind made a powerful connection with his listeners.

"These guys," he explained, "were all Jewish."

Lind seemed nervous when he gave his speech, apparently sensing the potential for bad publicity.

"I do want to make it clear for the foundation and myself that we are not among those who question whether the Holocaust occurred," he said.

But he added that he was there despite that, because his foundation had a "regular policy to work with a wide variety of groups on an issue-by-issue basis."

Listening and enthusiastically applauding was a crowd that included Jürgen Graf, a Swissman who thought some aspects of the Holocaust were exaggerated, fled to Iran to avoid prosecution at home; Eustace Mullins, a rabid German sympathizer who once wrote an article entitled "Adolf Hitler: An Appreciation"; former SS man Hans Schmidt, and many others.

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