Cultural Marxism

Cultural Marxism

Cultural Marxism is a term referring to a group of Marxists who have sought to apply critical theory to matters of family composition, gender, race, and cultural identity within Western society.

Contents

Explanation of the "Cultural Marxism" theory

We are, in Marx's terms, "an ensemble of social relations" and we live our lives at the core of the intersection of a number of unequal social relations based on hierarchically interrelated structures which, together, define the historical specificity of the capitalist modes of production and reproduction and underlay their observable manifestations.
 
— Martha E. Gimenez, Marxism and Class, Gender and Race: Rethinking the Trilogy [1]

According to UCLA professor and critical theorist Douglas Kellner, "Many 20th century Marxian theorists ranging from Georg Lukács, 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."[2][3] 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 cultural Marxism have been the Institute for Social Research at the University of Frankfurt am Main in Germany (the Frankfurt School), and the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham, UK. The latter had been at the center of a resurgent interest in the broader category of cultural Studies.

Frankfurt School and critical theory

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 Geneva. It then moved to New York City 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 that moment that much of its important work began to emerge, having gained a favorable reception within American and English academia. Among the key works of the Frankfurt School which applied Marxist categories to the study of culture were Adorno's "On Popular Music," which was written with George Simpson and published in Studies in Philosophy and Social Sciences in 1941[4], Adorno and Horkheimer's "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception", originally a chapter in Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947)[5], and "Culture Industry Reconsidered", a 1963 radio lecture by Adorno[6].

After 1945 a number of these surviving Marxists returned to both West and East Germany. Adorno and Horkheimer returned to Frankfurt in 1953 and reestablished the Institute. 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.[7] This renewed interest was exemplified by the journal Das Argument. The tradition of thought associated with the Frankfurt School is Critical Theory.

Birmingham School and cultural studies

The work of the Frankfurt School and of Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci was particularly influential in the 1960s, and had a major impact on the development of cultural studies, especially in Britain. As Douglas Kellner writes:

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.[2]

Critiques

Post-World War II, conservatives remained opposed to socialism and notions of social engineering, and have 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.[8]

Lind argues that,

"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."[9]

Lind argues that "Political Correctness" has resulted in American citizens, particularly in academia, being "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. [9] According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Lind's argument linking political correctness in contemporary public speech to the influence of Marxism is a conspiracy theory.[10][11][12]

Conservative Paul Gottfried's book, The Strange Death of Marxism argues that Marxism survived and evolved since the fall of the Soviet Union 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.[13]

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.[14]

Responses

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." [15] Lichtman's critique parallels that of rhetorical critic Edwin Black who demonstrated how John Birch Society co-founder Robert Welch used a similar disease metaphor in his writings and speeches during the "Red scare" era of the 1950s and 60s.[16]

Freelance writer Bill Berkowitz adds, "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."[17]

The Southern Poverty Law Center describes Lind's theory as "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". The SPLC reports that this theory has been taken up by "a number of hate groups".[18]

See also

References

  1. ^ Marxism and Class, Gender and Race: Rethinking the Trilogy, by Martha E. Gimenez, Published (2001) in Race, Gender and Class, Vol. 8, No. 2, pp. 23-33.
  2. ^ a b Douglas Kellner, "Cultural Marxism and Cultural Studies,"http://www.gseis.ucla.edu/faculty/kellner/essays/culturalmarxism.pdf, circa 2004.
  3. ^ Douglas Kellner, "Herbert Marcuse," Illuminations, University of Texas, http://www.uta.edu/huma/illuminations/kell12.htm.
  4. ^ "On popular music". Originally published in: Studies in Philosophy and Social Science, New York: Institute of Social Research, 1941, IX, 17-48. See Gordon Welty "Theodor Adorno and the Culture Industry" (1984).
  5. ^ Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer "Enlightment as mass deception" Dialectic of Enlightenment. London: Verso, 1979, 120-167 (originally published as: Dialektik der Aufklärung. Amsterdam: Querido, 1947). On-line the University of Groningen website and http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/adorno/1944/culture-industry.htm Marxist Internet Archive]. See Gordon Welty "Theodor Adorno and the Culture Industry" (1984).
  6. ^ Lecture in the International Radio University Program over the Hessian Broadcasting System which was published in German in 1967, English translation in New German Critique, 6, Fall 1975, 12-19 (translated by Anson G. Rabinbach). See Gordon Welty "Theodor Adorno and the Culture Industry" (1984).
  7. ^ e.g. Jürgen Habermas (1962 trans 1989) The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a category of Bourgeois Society, Polity, Cambridge.
  8. ^ Buchanan, Pat; The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Threaten Our Culture and Civilization; pp. 73-96. ISBN 0312302592
  9. ^ a b The Origins of Political Correctness:An Accuracy in Academia Address by Bill Lind http://www.academia.org/lectures/lind1.html
  10. ^ Bill Berkowitz, Reframing the Enemy: 'Cultural Marxism,' a conspiracy theory with an anti-Semitic twist, is being pushed by much of the American right Intelligence Report, Summer 2003
  11. ^ SPLC "Mainstreaming Hate" Intelligence Report, Fall 2002, Issue Number: 107
  12. ^ SPLC "Intelligence File: Barnes Review"
  13. ^ Quoted in Lind, William S.. "http://www.amconmag.com/2005/2005_10_10/review1.html Dead But Not Gone." 10 October 2005. The American Conservative. Review of Paul Gottfried, The Strange Death of Marxism, University of Missouri Press.
  14. ^ Kantor, Elizabeth; The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature; pp. 189-198. ISBN 1596980117
  15. ^ Lichtman, quoted Berkowitz.
  16. ^ Black, Edwin. (1970) "The Second Persona". The Quarterly Journal of Speech.56.2
  17. ^ Bill Berkowitz, "Reframing the Enemy: 'Cultural Marxism,' a conspiracy theory with an anti-Semitic twist, is being pushed by much of the American right" Intelligence Report, Summer 2003.
  18. ^ "Mainstreaming Hate: A key ally of Christian right heavyweight Paul Weyrich addresses a major Holocaust denial conference," Intelligence Report, Fall 2002

Further reading


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