The Oxymoron of “Cultural Marxism”
To speak of “cultural Marxism” is just as legitimate as to speak of “materialistic Christianity,” that is, Christianity that arises from a materialistic understanding of reality.
Assigned reading: Edmund W. Robb, Julia Robb, The Betrayal of the Church
The Oxymoron of “Cultural Marxism”
Welcome to Episode 39 of Axe to the Root Podcast, part of the War Room Productions, I am Bo Marinov, and for the next 20 minutes we will be talking about a buzzword that has become common in the last several decades among many conservatives, has been adopted by the alt-right and the conspiracy theorists, and, unfortunately by many well-meaning Christians as well: “cultural Marxism.” Everywhere I turn to, these days, I am warned about “cultural Marxism.” It seems to sneak into our modern society and politics in a number of devious ways of which Marx himself never even thought about. And always, of what I can see, in a direct violation of everything Marx wrote – but we will see later why I am saying that. Political correctness is “cultural Marxism,” you have heard that one for sure, everywhere, from Glenn Beck to Alex Jones to your facebook feed. Amnesty for immigrants is “cultural Marxism,” in case you didn’t know – which makes you wonder if Ronald Reagan was a “cultural Marxist,” or if the Founding Fathers were “cultural Marxists.” Multiculturalism is “cultural Marxism” – although, I have never been able to figure, from the words of the opponents of multiculturalism, what exactly is “multiculturalism” and what exactly is wrong with it: is it that the cultures blend in one, or is it that they stay different? I once listened to a podcast by one such opponent, and within the same podcast, he complained, first, that multiculturalism imposes diversity on a culture, and, second, that the proponents of multiculturalism do not value diversity. Er, which one is it, diversity or non-diversity? Either way, both are “cultural Marxism.” Criticism against police brutality is “cultural Marxism,” anti-war is “cultural Marxism,” oh, yeah, I even saw someone write “Vladimir Putin vs. cultural Marxism.” (My immediate reaction was hipster: “Dude, do you even . . . history?”) Saying that we are all one race and from the same blood (Acts 17:26) is “cultural Marxism,” free global trade is “cultural Marxism” (no kidding), women in the workplace is “cultural Marxism,” Facebook is “cultural Marxism,” . . . Wait until we get to some of the more bizarre statements: Miss Finland is “cultural Marxism,” Rogue One is “cultural Marxism,” mass production of cheap goods is “cultural Marxism,” low wages for low-skill labor is “cultural Marxism” (because, you know, Mexicans are taking our jobs), but then again, minimum wage for low-skill jobs is also “cultural Marxism,” . . . I have lost track of how many different and even mutually contradicting things can be “cultural Marxism” at the same time. This buzzword has become the fad of the day among so many conservatives and Christians, and everyone seems to be seeing “cultural Marxism” in every corner, and fighting against it.
Now, in principle, there is nothing wrong in uncovering conspiracies and attempts at conspiracies in history, and opposing them. Although, from a Christian, and especially from a postmillennial, optimistic perspective, we shouldn’t be too concerned about conspiracies, for they never have sufficient power to be worth our constant attention. As R.J. Rushdoony said on the subject of conspiracy theorists, “Many misguided people spend time and money studying evil, documenting conspiracies, endlessly probing ‘the depths of Satan.’ They cease to become useful members of society: they are simply experts on evil. They often believe more in the power of evil than in the power of God.” Still, having a general awareness of some conspiracies and pointing to them, as a side issue to our work for the Kingdom of Christ may be beneficial, at times. Some conspiracy theories, however, are blatantly false, and their purpose is nothing more than re-directing our attention from the real issues of the day to imaginary threats which will never materialize – nor have ever been planned to materialize. And this conspiracy theory, of “cultural Marxism,” is one of those fake threats. So our purpose here is to see why “cultural Marxism” is a fake threat, and in itself, the very concept is an oxymoron. And also, that it is, in fact, a smoke screen for a much worse and more imminent threat, one that many Christians have fallen victim to. Just to mention before I get to the point, Gary North and Joel McDurmon both have written their refutations of the conspiracy theory of “cultural Marxism.” I will add to their refutation by giving an in-depth analysis of Marxism, what it is, what it isn’t, and where the real threat lies.
Before we can understand why “cultural Marxism” is a contradiction of terms, we need to understand what Marxism really is, as a philosophy, and as a political ideology. Unfortunately, the majority of modern commentators simply have no idea of the real nature of Marxism as a system, and I often cringe when I hear some conservative commentator declare this or that idea to be “Marxism.”
On the surface, of course, Marxism is first and foremost a political revolutionary ideology based on an economic doctrine. That is, Marxism believes certain things about the economic nature of things, and has an idea of how to change the world in accordance with its economic views. The economic part in it, as we will see, is not just a side issue, as it is with all the other political doctrines; Marxism as a political ideology can’t coexist with other economic views; it is very specifically defined and determined by its unique economic doctrine, and lives and dies with its economic doctrine. Any other political ideology – monarchism, democracy, republicanism – can coexist with a number of different economic theories and practices. Marxism can’t. Why?
Because behind Marxism, there is a specific philosophy of being, and philosophy of history. And it is a comprehensive philosophy, starting from ultimate principles (presuppositions), all the way to philosophy of man and philosophy of history and society, and then all the way to a consistent practical ideology for transforming the civilization. Every piece of that philosophy has to be in its place in order for the whole to be consistent; and the economic order and the economic relations in the society play a vital role in Marx’s philosophy.
To start with, Marxism is a materialistic philosophy. Materialism in the philosophical sense, not in the modern sense of “desire for material goods.” Marxism views the first and foundational question of philosophy to be, “Which is ultimate, matter or mind?” Marxism’s answer is unambiguous: Matter is ultimately real, and it determines everything else. In the words of Frederick Engels, “The real unity of the world consists in its materiality, and this is proved…by a long and protracted development of philosophy and natural science….But if the…question is raised: what then are thought and consciousness, and whence they come, it becomes apparent that they are products of the human brain and that man himself is a product of nature, which has been developed in and along with its environment.” Marxism, thus, is a philosophy of materialistic determinism, that is, that man, his society, and his whole world, are determined and defined by material factors. In this, Marxism doesn’t differ from some modern ideologies of materialistic determinism: like different kinds of geneticism and racism, environmentalism, behaviorism, etc. Marx’s materialism was not as simple as the materialism of those theories, though. In 1845, three years before he wrote the Communist Manifesto, Marx wrote a short collection of notes which was never published until after his death, titled, Theses on Feuerbach. Ludwig Feuerbach was a German philosopher who had been a Hegelian but later abandoned Hegels idealism in favor of his own system of philosophical materialism. In the Theses, Marx acknowledged the influence of Feuerbach on his own thinking; but he also realized that Feuerbach’s vulgar, crass, simplistic materialism would lead the philosopher to a dead end, and will render him incapable of building practical ideology for social action. After all, if everything is pure matter, and all thinking is simply biochemical reactions, then the philosopher is left with no way to separate himself as a rational being from the world around him, let alone construct a theory for active change of the world or of the society. It is in these Theses that Marx made his famous declaration, “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”
To avoid the intellectual stagnation of pure materialism, Marx kept his Hegelian dialectic. He just turned it upside down. For Hegel, reason, or the spirit, was the ultimate and active element in the universe, and Hegel applied his laws of dialectic to reason, in order to impact the material world. Marx, being now a materialist like Feuerbach, applied Hegel’s dialectic to the materiality of the world, and postulated change and upward development in the material constitution of the world. Keep in mind, he did that in the 1840’s, a whole 15 years before Darwin’s The Origin of Species. What Darwin did for biology in 1859 – postulate an upward impersonal development in the material constitution of things – Marx did for speculative philosophy 15 years earlier. The two men had much in common: both wanted to push God out of the universe, and both tried to do it by postulating dialectical, developing matter. No wonder Marx was so excited about Darwin’s book, and in 1973 sent Darwin a copy of the second German edition of Das Kapital, autographed, “To Mr. Charles Darwin, on the part of his sincere admirer, Karl Marx.”
Thus, in Marx’s view, man was the product of material development – all of man, including his mind and reason and culture and society – but he was not a simple and direct product of material factors. He was rather the product of dynamic, dialectical development within matter. In Engels’s words, “the mind is a product of highly organized matter.” This philosophy was called Dialectical Materialism, to separate it from the earlier form, dubbed Metaphysical Materialism, that is, one in which man’s nature remained fixed and unmovable, because the material element in him was fixed as his metaphysics, that is, his inner, essential nature.
What was left now is how to apply this principle of general philosophy to man’s society. (Keep in mind, I am giving here the systematic, logical reasoning of Marx’s philosophy. Historically, Marx developed it the other way around: he first postulated the necessity for social change, and then built his philosophy around it. But this is a topic for another episode.) So, how do we apply this philosophy of Dialectical Materialism to man’s society? How do we move from Dialectical Materialism to what Marx called Historical Materialism? What is the material element whose dynamic, dialectical change will produce the change in man and his society? It can’t be genetics – even though Marx was a vicious racist, and he believed that certain human races are genetically incapable of reaching a civilized stage – for the biological heritage of man always remained the same, or changed very little over centuries.
Marx’s solution was: the active factor in a society is its economic base, or, to use the Marxist term, its mode of production. The mode of production has two components: the relations of production (forms of property, organization of production, mode of distribution of goods, etc.) and the forces of production (labor and the means of labor). Narrowing the search down, the active element in the dynamics of history, for Marx, were the means of labor, and specifically the tools of production. Yes, you heard that correct. In Marx’s system of Historical Materialism, it was the tools of production that were the active factor in social change. Yes, the tools in themselves, no matter what ideology or religion or habits or customs or culture the people had.
Marx postulated human evolution 11 years before Darwin. In his view, man’s evolution was expressed in technological development of the tools of production. He didn’t say where this evolution comes from. He didn’t explain why man had to develop his tools of production. It was just a law of dialectics that man inevitably developed technologically and devised newer and better tools of production. Well, true, some cultures of man didn’t develop their tools of production, but Marx had a biological answer to that: they were genetically inferior. His social theory was only focused on Western Europeans, because they were, in Engels’s view, the only groups who had evolved biologically to develop their tools of production.
As the tools of production develop, they require new forms of organization of production, and therefore new relations of production. In his primitive state, man has direct access to all the tools he can think of, and therefore the primitive society was a society of primitive communism. Man discovered new tools of production, and new methods of production (agriculture, as opposed to hunting and gathering) and these new tools and new methods were now not so directly accessible or feasible for all men equally. This is how the first social classes appeared: some men had stronger control over the new, more expensive tools of production, and could force other men to work for them or starve (or die). This is how the next stage of human history came, the slave societies. Within the slave societies, however, technology continued developing, and new tools of production required new forms of property and organization of labor, which led to the change from the slave societies to feudalism. Then from feudalism to capitalism – again, because of the technological developments in the tools of production and the necessity for new forms of organization of production. At every stage of those societies, there was one class who organized production, and therefore had control over the means of production through different forms of property, and there was another class who supplied only the labor but was itself alienated from the means of production. That’s why these were all class societies. And that’s why Marx saw the history of mankind as a history of class struggle.
Eventually, in Marx’s view, the development of the tools of production would lead to the organizers of production becoming obsolete; the new tools will become so readily accessible to all, as were the primitive tools in the first stage of human history, that there will be no need for organizers of production, that is, for a class of owners. Mankind, then, will be able to return to its original blissful state of Communism, that is, a state where private property doesn’t exist, except that his Communism will be a scientific, industrial Communism, a Communism of developed tools and organization of production.
The central defining characteristic of man, therefore, was his class identity, and it was strictly economic: how does he relate to the means of production in his society? Is he an owner of means of production, hiring other people to work for him in his factories, or is he an owner only of his labor, selling his labor to the owners of means of production?
What about the other factors of self-identity that men use: religion, culture, art, politics, family, etc.? In Marx’s view, they were all simply a superstructure built on the firm and stable economic base. The economic base determines and defines all these non-economic components of the society. Moreover, not just that the economic base determines and defines religion, culture, art, etc, but also, the specific social existence of every class determines its class consciousness, and therefore the religion, culture, art, politics, etc., of that class. The consciousness of a man is defined by his economic status. Even more than that: the ethical system of a man is determined and defined by his economic status. Yes, this is not a joke. There is bourgeois system of morality, and there is system of morality of the proletariat, that is, of the dispossessed who have nothing to sell except for their labor. The whole superstructure of society – the non-economic areas of life – is entirely defined by its base, the economic relations and status. Marxism, thus, is a highly developed philosophy of materialistic determinism.
Much more can be said on the philosophical system of Marxism, but what we said so far should be sufficient to understand the important lesson for this episode: “cultural Marxism” is an oxymoron. There is no way, under the Marxist system of thought, to imagine culture as an active factor through which society can be changed. The different classes in the society may create their own cultures, or versions of culture, but none of them can transcend their own class consciousness defined and determined by their economic status. Culture can not be used to bring about a Marxist society – such a concept is a contradiction of terms for Marxism. Neither can culture be used to destroy a civilization – under Marxism, a civilization is built on its mode of production, not on its culture. Taking over a society can happen in only one possible way: seizing the means of production. No other solution can be found. Producing movies, or news, or articles, or ballet performances, or fiction may be a good help for strengthening the class consciousness of the working class, but they can not create such consciousness, nor can they produce any call for action. And it is absurd to even imagine they can destroy a civilization, let alone the Western civilization. As long as there are means of production in the hands of their owners, this is the only thing that matters.
For several decades during the 20th century, “cultural Marxism” was used as a simply academic description of a small and largely uninfluential school within the German thought, the so called Frankfurt School. The Frankfurt School consisted of intellectuals who claimed to be Marxists, but felt that traditional Marxism did not explain well the historical developments of the mid-20th century, so they wanted to fuse Marxism with other theories. In the process, they deviated from Marxism so much that no one really considered them true Marxists anymore. In the process of that deviation, the school also lost the original optimism of Marxism. Marx understood the significance of eschatological optimism, and he borrowed heavily from Christian postmillennialism when building his ideology for action. The Frankfurt School could not sustain this optimism. As of present, it has only one living representative: Junger Habermas. Habermas wrote a good number of books and papers between 1952 and today, and his most practical works were written back then, in the 1950s and the 1960s. Most of his current work is rather obscure and irrelevant, and certainly has nothing even close to the practical applied ideology of Marx and Engels.
The term “cultural Marxism” was first used as part of a conspiracy theory in 1998 by the Christian and conservative activist Paul Weyrich. You might remember the name from our previous episode on Moral Majority; Weyrich was one of the three leading men behind it. In 1998, frustrated by the indifference of the general public towards the Monica Lewinsky’s scandal, he decided to try to start another moral crusade. He used “cultural Marxism” as his buzzword – or as his scarecrow for conservatives – and declared that Marxism is not dead, but it has been working in the West in the media and among the cultural elite. Consequently, he and William Lynd took the work of the Frankfurt School and blew it out of proportions, declaring that the Frankfurt School has been critically influential in the development of the modern American culture. The purpose, they claimed, was the destruction of the Western civilization, and through it, the destruction of Christianity; and therefore, the ultimate triumph of Marxism, although not by the same means as Marx envisioned. Weyrich passed away in 2008, not before making a fool of himself by proposing different weird solution to fight “cultural Marxism,” among which were a return to localized subsistence farming and a restoration of railways as the chief means of transportation. The scarecrow of “cultural Marxism” continues to live among quite a few Christians and conservatives in general.
Christians, however, have several reasons to stay away from this scare of “cultural Marxism” and not pick up its terminology:
First, the term is simply oxymoronic, and its use reveals ignorance. To speak of “cultural Marxism” is just as legitimate as to speak of “materialistic Christianity,” that is, Christianity that arises from a materialistic understanding of reality. When we speak ignorantly, we may convince ourselves, but to the outsiders we will be presenting a good reason to reject our message, and thus our testimony for the Gospel will suffer.
Second, the use of the phrase “cultural Marxism” is just a newer version of the phrase “cultural Bolshevism” used by the Nazis in the 1920s and the 1930s to deal with their political opponents in Germany. It means nothing – and is oxymoronic, anyway – but it gives ammo to anti-Christian ideologies in the name of some imaginary noble cause. Indeed, the phrase today is mainly adopted by different fringe groups who aim at the restoration of racial segregation, or of some form of militaristic statism with the purpose, of course, of fighting those bad guys out there, the Commies and the Muslims. And others. Christianity has its own social agenda; we don’t have to be allies with one anti-Christian group to fight another anti-Christian group, unless we want to undermine our testimony to the world.
And third, the ideology behind the fight against “cultural Marxism” is that we need to defend the Western civilization, because in this way, we are defending Christianity. That is, that the survival of Christianity depends on the survival of the Western civilization. This is the same materialistic determinism as that of Marxism: that our faith depends on the material existence of a civilization. The truth is that the civilization depends on the survival of Christianity; and if the West is degenerating today, it is not because of the imaginary power and influence of the Frankfurt School, but because our own churches and celebrities have abandoned the vibrant, theonomic, postmillennal Christianity that produced the Western civilization in the first place. Political correctness didn’t come out of “cultural Marxism”; it came first from our pulpits. The effeminacy in the culture didn’t come from Hollywood; it came from our churches. All our problems today are the product of our pulpits and those who man them. Any restoration of Christendom must start not with chasing imaginary enemies in Hollywood, but with purging our pulpits. “Cultural Marxism” is just a smokescreen; your real problem is your pastor and your elders.
Thus, ignore the fake scares, focus on the real causes.
The book I will assign for reading today if The Betrayal of the Church by Edmund W. Robb and Julia Robb. As you read it, consider this: Most of these renegade pastors and church leaders had no idea of the Frankfurt School or even of Marxism. Their betrayal had nothing to do with any outside conspiracies. And then, as you go to church next Sunday, consider the fact that a pastor who is not preaching a Christian social order based on the Bible is part of the same betrayal. And act accordingly.
And remember in your prayers and your giving Bulgarian Reformation Ministries, a missionary organization which has never agreed to leave the world and its government to the enemies of God. We have preached Christ’s Kingdom, and we have declared His authority in every area of life, including politics, economics, education, etc. And we have been successful in our mission, making a good use of all the resources God and His Church have invested in us. Visit BulgarianReformation.com. Subscribe to the newsletter. And Donate. God bless you all.