Cultural Marxism and Critical Theory: A History

Which brings us to the point and purpose of Cultural Marxism; it is a method of conquest.  Not conquest with guns, tanks, planes, or armies, but with ideology.  Control the dominant ideas in a nation, and you can control the nation itself.

The Red Trojan Horse: A Concise Analysis of Cultural Marxism, by Alasdair Elder

Elder has written a book examining, first, the history of Cultural Marxism, and second, the situation today.  In this post, I will review and examine the history.

He offers, early on, his meaning of the term:

Cultural Marxism is a wide-ranging designation which refers to the promotion and employment of Critical Theory.

It is valuable that he does this, as the term Cultural Marxism, though well-known, is not technically a valid concept.  Marx’s form of communism was economic – the proletariat vs. the bourgeoisie.  While Marx wrote of culture, his focus was primarily and overwhelmingly economic.

Antonio Gramsci, and also members of what is known as the Frankfurt School, would develop the idea that communism could infiltrate the West only if the dominant culture that bound the workers and the owners was torn down – replaced by a culture built from the bottom.

So, then what is Critical Theory?

Critical Theory just means to criticize…ceaselessly. [It] is purely concerned with discrediting knowledge, but not with replacing it with anything better.  It is the essence of destructive criticism.

Applied to the cultural foundation of society, one is left with a society void of any ties that bind.  What’s the big deal, you ask?  Absent a common cultural foundation, all that is left is the state.  Where a society does not share common codes of conduct and behavior, a state will happily step in to force the issue.  At the same time, a state will happily work to destroy the common codes of conduct in order to take more power for the state.

In Critical Theory, this is the sole purpose of knowledge: to create a change in society, which will, in turn, create a change in ‘reality’ itself.

It should be clear that it is, therefore, difficult, to pin down Critical Theory into a simple talking point.  It is critical of everything – all norms, even the new norms that have resulted from prior criticism.  I have noted before: those practicing Critical Theory never “win,” because there is no goal or endpoint.  The means are the ends – always be critical of whatever norm you next choose to attack.  There is no final, acceptable norm (which will, ultimately, be the downfall of this path – painful, and even deadly, as it will be for the rest of us in the meantime).

Elder offers one idea, however, that remains constant – even for the Critical Theorists: prevent people from speaking the truth.  I would modify this only slightly: prevent people from speaking at all, if those words run contrary to the current path of criticism.  The point of my distinction: it is by speaking through our disagreements that we have some chance to move closer to truth.

In other words, a conversation may only discover truth after many not-quite-truths or even false statements have been considered and discussed.  Almost always, my first statements in a conversation are never as “true” as my last statements – if the conversation is a fruitful conversation.

The opening chapter of the book examines Classical Marxism – the communism of Marx.  In this, Elder briefly examines Hegel, Rousseau, and Kant before coming to Marx.

In the second chapter, he examines Sigmund Freud and Franz Boas, a German-American anthropologist.  To summarize the comments on Boas, one cannot claim one culture is any better or worse than another.  There are no objective standards available by which one can assess cultural norms and standards.  This, obviously, is rather important to practitioners of Critical Theory.

In the third chapter, he comes to the Frankfurt School, founded by Felix Weil.  Critical of Classical Marxism, this school saw the need to destroy Western Culture if communism was to advance.

Max Horkheimer would run the Institute for Social Research (home for many of those known under the Frankfurt School banner) from 1930 to 1958.  However, it was not until the 1960s that this Institute would discover the surrogate in the West for the working class – Western culture.

The key to this was crossing Marx with Freud.  The argument was advanced that just as under capitalism everyone was economically oppressed, so under western culture everyone was psychologically oppressed.

The concept of objective knowledge was completely dismissed.  As knowledge was tied merely to social processes, what we claim to know as objectively true could be just one of many different equally true truths.

Erich Fromm would come from Germany to the United States in 1933, where he would find himself on the faculty at Columbia University.  A key area of interest for Fromm was the central role of the family in the development of the human psyche.

…he saw the family as the primary means by which the values of the superstructure were imprinted on peoples’ minds.

So, for Fromm, the family was in the way.  We know that children are free to make decisions regarding things such as abortion, birth control, and taking the jab all outside of the control and even the knowledge of their parents.

Fromm would develop the idea that masculinity and femininity were not based on objective sexual differences, but pathologies derived from artificial social constructs.  For example, we now see that challenging local school boards is classified as domestic terrorism.

Theodor Adorno would emigrate from Germany to Britain in 1934, where he would teach at Oxford for three years.  Then on to Princeton, and later, Berkeley.  Elder points to one idea from Adorno with which I hold some sympathy:

…the Enlightenment and modern scientific thought had transformed reason into an irrational force that had come to completely dominate human thought.

I agree with this statement, to the extent that the Enlightenment divorced reason from God.  And this is where I, undoubtedly, would fall out from Adorno’s views – as there is no place for God to resolve the issue of irrational reason.  So far, even Elder has not introduced the idea that God is in some way the missing piece in this discussion; where he has mentioned Christianity, it has been in a neutral or event negative context.

Adorno would go after the family – parenthood, pride on one’s family, traditional attitudes toward sex and gender, etc., were all described as pathologies or phobias.  Those who suffered insecurity regarding family relations would make for perfect progressive liberal (i.e., leftist) thinkers.  He developed a list of personality traits, and those who came up short on the desired traits would be assigned an “F,” for fascist.

Antonio Gramsci, not a member of the Institute, discovered the need to focus on culture in the West before the members of the Institute did.  He would write in the 1930s on these matters, in what became known as The Prison Notebooks.

The culture of society had to be eroded in order to make room for communism.  In this way, self-governance would be reduced, and individuals would become less self-reliant and less reliant on family and community.  Hence, they would become more reliant on the state.

Gramsci called the process “the long march.”  Theatre, literature, newspapers, magazines, etc.  But to achieve this, his ideas would first have to spread through the universities and educational system (and, unsaid by Elder, churches).

Once the march was over, every single cultural barrier to Marxism would have been methodically and surreptitiously removed

The Prison Notebooks offered the blueprint for destroying Christian values.  But the implementation was yet to be developed.

Herbert Marcuse would come from Germany to Columbia University in 1934, then, later, to Brandeis University and the University of California in San Diego.

Marcuse had managed to find the surrogate for the working class that Horkheimer had been searching for: students and minority groups.

The focus would be sexual liberation.  The abandonment of responsibly self-governance and replacing it with irresponsible hedonism.  The availability of psychedelic drugs in the 1960s would be the fuel for realizing this objective. Language was to be questioned (only white people could be racist, for example), and also there was to be an unwaveringly favorable view of all minority groups at all times no matter what.

Finally, the fourth and final chapter of this first part of the book covers the Useful Idiots.  Influential cultural figures, members of the mass media, wealthy filmmakers, and academics and other intellectuals could all be brought into the work – just as described by Gramsci and Marcuse.

…far from being idealistic, these people were to be selected for their cynicism, egotism, and total lack of scruples.

The constant message: license over liberty.  These two concepts are seen as the same by leftists (and many libertarians of the “anything peaceful” variety), yet liberty is only liberty (and is only sustainable) if one lives in accord with his nature – to live responsibly.

Saul Alinsky is introduced, and his Rules for Radicals.  The purpose and method: to destroy and demoralize anyone possessed of the courage to stand up against this long march.  This would be done via useful idiots – those who lack critical thinking, and can be turned into rabid followers.

Alinsky’s twelve rules are offered: the illusion of power is more important than actual power; address topics that are outside the knowledge base of cult members; address topics outside the knowledge base of the opposition; hold the opposition to its moral standards; make full use of ridicule; employ tactics that the cult members would enjoy; never use a particular tactic for too long; mercilessly keep up the pressure; make full use of threats and intimidation; continuously advance destructive arguments; agree to apparent resolutions, while pressing for more.

The twelfth rule is to make the argument about the personality, rather than issues. …this last rule was aimed at destroying them as a person. …it required the complete isolation of the individual in question…turn the individual into nothing less than a social leper.


This covers the first part of Elder’s book, the history behind Cultural Marxism.  Is it merely coincidence that society has developed almost exactly along the lines presented by Gramsci and the Frankfurt School?  Is it irrelevant that those who advocated this path saw it as the road to communism in the West?  I think the answer to each question is no.

A couple of items that I believe are worth note.  First, Elder offers no footnotes or endnotes, so it is difficult to follow where he is paraphrasing or if he is taking ideas directly from a source.  Given the depth of the subject, this seems a shortcoming.  He does, however, offer a selected bibliography, with about 30 books listed.

Second, Elder seems dismissive of Christianity – for example, using the phrase “unproven superstition” when considering the fallen nature of man.  I have seen no evidence in the book thus far that Elder recognizes the unfortunate reality: Gramsci placed, front and center, the need to destroy Christianity if communism was to succeed in the West.

As I have noted often regarding those libertarians and others who also see Christianity as a hindrance to liberty: Christianity cannot be a hindrance both to liberty and to communism at the same time.  I say Gramsci understands the situation better than do such libertarians and, perhaps, better than Elder.

Reprinted with permission from Bionic Mosquito.

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