In defence of Cultural Marxism
Anders Breivik, in his fascist vanity tome “manifesto”, poured scorn on the influence of “cultural marxism” – leading some, like me old mucker Left Outside to ask: “What the hell actually is a cultural marxist by the way?”
His tongue is probably in his cheek (Left Outside, that is) when asking that, but let me just add a note to that particular debate.
The usual, post-Frankfurt crowd, identify cultural Marxism as the use of Marxian theory to analyse cultural relations. It’s as easy to view cultural Marxism as using Marxism as an analogy for the relations at play between individuals and groups.
Productive relations are played out between owners and non-owners of the means of production, and it is the opinion of thinkers such as Georg Lukács, Antonio Gramsci, Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, and T.W. Adorno to Fredric Jameson and Terry Eagleton that this same terminology be applicable to cultural relations at play; making useful the notion of cultural hegemony.
Of course when Breivik references “cultural Marxism”, he doesn’t mean the embedding of equality within the fabric of society – which he would be opposed to anyhow – rather, he means political correctness. But rather than being a construct of 20th century Marxist thinkers, political correctness, or the societal disincentive to prejudice – works towards the public display of decency and/or sensitivity. Also, moreover, an acceptability to do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
As fascists and neo-fascists fail to understand, the notion of political correctness is not an unnatural tenet, against the natural tenet of prejudice – indeed there is nothing so unnatural as prejudice. Instead, it is an attempt to undermine discrimination against the most marginalised in society, women, homosexuals, religious and ethnic minorities – something which may have been acceptable in a bygone age (which the extreme Right aim to fetishise), but is by no means an organic state of play to cultivate through the active dismissal of that which has been demonised as “cultural Marxism”.
To conclude, Elizabeth Kantor in her 2006 book Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature suggested that for academia to allow great literary works – such as A Handmaid’s Tale – to disappear, on the grounds that they may be perceived as sexist, racist, or homophobic, “will destroy Western civilization and lead to barbarism.”
Yet, Atwood’s classic is still being taught at colleges and universities as a useful exegesis of a dystopian nightmare, and barbarism of late seems to be the preserve of racist fanatics with no more an understanding of the enlightenment as I have of the quantum harmonic oscillator.