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What is 'Cultural Marxism'?

The term is getting thrown around a lot these days.
4 min

From the Marxist viewpoint, the world is composed of oppressor and oppressed. As Marx himself states in The Communist Manifesto,

“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”

He continues:

“Freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary re-constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”

For most of the 20th century, most Americans would have thought of Marxism as the battle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, the haves and the have-nots, capitalists and laborers.

“The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors,’ and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment.’

The weapons with which the bourgeoisie felled feudalism to the ground are now turned against the bourgeoisie itself.

But not only has the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that bring death to itself; it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons – the modern working class – the proletarians.”

In many ways, Marx’s arguments were put forth in economic terms, which is likely how many people think of his writings. But they were in fact much deeper.

Marx wasn’t just about changing the economic order, he looked to change the entire society. His adherents, whether in Russia, Cambodia, China, North Korea, or Cuba upended the social order where they seized power – often with disastrous results with millions, or even tens of millions, of dead.

Today, while the Soviet Union has fallen and countries like China and Vietnam are allowing for much, much greater freedom, the spirit of Marxism is still alive in the West, particularly in academia.

You don’t really hear much about the bourgeoisie or the proletariat these days, but you can see the paradigm of oppressors vs. oppressed taught in classes and argued in many cultural and political clashes. Thus, the term “Cultural Marxism” has been born.

Within that worldview, though the adherents would hardly use the label themselves, one divides people into different camps. For example, the hetero-patriarchy is the oppressor while women and gays are the oppressed. Therefore, the hetero-patriarchy must be toppled. White males in America are considered the oppressors of people of color, therefore they must be toppled. Western civilization is considered the oppressor and imperialist, therefore it must be toppled. Christianity was dominant and therefore the oppressor, it must be toppled. And so goes the thinking in order to create equality and the new form of the proletarian paradise.

Individual behavior is not judged, rather the individual is judged by the group with which he or she is identified. Justice is no longer the traditional idea of “giving to each his due” which judges individual actions, but rather the toppling of the oppressor and the uplifting of the oppressed.

What is fascinating, though, is the internal conflicts that arise from an arguably simplistic, binary worldview. Once the white, Christian hetero-patriarchy is removed from the scene, you get some delicious moral quandaries. For instance, Muslims, gays, and women are oppressed by the white, Christian hetero-patriarchy. But now, which side do you take if there is no white, Christian hetero-patriarchy? In other words, do you side with Muslims when they’re executing gays, or do you stand with the gays who are attempting to topple the Muslim culture? By choosing a side you become the oppressor of one or the other oppressed group.

Hence we can watch the convulsions taking place amongst academics and other elite when it comes to the social clashes taking place in Europe due to the influx of Muslim migrants. On one hand, to do penance for the wrongs of Western civilization the Europeans must help the oppressed Muslim men, but then those men bring their own oppressive views of women and gays with them. Since the white, Christian hetero-patriarchy has already been toppled from power, those who would align with a cultural Marxist worldview are confronted with the challenge of themselves having to oppress the oppressed to defend another oppressed.

While those who might be labeled cultural Marxist rightly point out certain injustices in society, we must ask ourselves if such a binary worldview of oppressors and oppressed is what we believe and want, and if it actually offers the right solutions. Do you want to be judged for the group you’re identified with or for your individual actions? That ultimately is the question that confronts us.  

Devin Foley

Devin Foley

Devin is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Charlemagne Institute, which operates Intellectual Takeout, Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and the Alcuin Internship. He is a graduate of Hillsdale College where he studied history and political science. Prior to co-founding Charlemagne Institute, he served as the Director of Development at the Center of the American Experiment, a state-based think tank in Minnesota.

Devin is a contributor to local and national newspapers, a frequent guest on a variety of talk shows, such as Minneapolis' KTLK and NPR's Talk of the Nation, and regularly shares culture and education insights presenting to civic groups, schools, and other organizations. In 2011, he was named a Young Leader by the American Swiss Foundation.

Devin and his wife have been married for eighteen years and have six children. When he's not working, Devin enjoys time with family while also relaxing through reading, horticulture, home projects, and skiing and snowboarding.

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I have deep gratitude for the author of this article.Im 16 going into Marxism-Communism-Socialism and this was a very valuable read.Thank you.