Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The Other Red Pill: Class Dismissed!

The Frankfurt school influenced modern leftism a great deal.

It began in 1920s Germany by a group of Marxists, many of whom were Jewish (Marxism appealed to intellectuals who were ostracized from the cultural mainstream; who would have guessed?). They were mainly interested in why European working classes allied with their respective countries during WWI as opposed to uniting across national boundaries to stop the war and overthrow capitalism, as well as not having much class consciousness at all beyond what Lenin called a "trade union consciousness." That meant that the working class was content to win its rights within the capitalist system rather than overthrowing the system all together.

That it simply might not have been necessary or even desirable for the working classes to do this crossed the minds of neither Lenin nor the Frankfurt Theorists.  The nasty effects that this preoccupation with romanticizing revolution had on Marxist theory on both sides of the iron curtain, I've discussed elsewhere.  Lenin and his successors had options that were not open to western Marxists to get the working classes in the Soviet Union thinking along the right lines.

The Frankfurters had no such options open to them.  So they came to believe that ideologies that countermanded class consciousness went deeper into the working class psyche than the mere economic determinism of Marx could have allowed for, and that these beliefs were constantly being reinforced in the broader culture. This brought them into contact with Freudian psychoanalysis for further study of how what they came to call cultural hegemony was internalized by even those whose class interests went against the way the broader system worked. The Frankfurt school came to believe that western culture had deeper problems than merely an exploitative economic system, and thus needed its own kind of psychoanalysis - "deconstruction" in order to make its oppressive characteristics conscious, and so be rejected. Thus critical theory was born.

In the early 1930s, it seemed reasonable for Jewish Marxists in Germany to get the hell out of Dodge. Perhaps one of the few times that desire for a "safe space" in academia was reasonable. So most of them went to America. Some, I think, returned to Europe after the war, especially since it was America's turn to go after the commies (though not nearly as savagely as Germany had done previously) in the 1950s.

The new left of the 1960s, inspired by Frankfurt School ideas to a much greater degree than the "old" left had been, found itself making common cause with emerging civil rights and feminist causes (remember that bit about Marxist appeal to the ostracized), which were also developing bodies of theory of their own. Frankfurt theorists thus had a great impact on feminist theory and critical race theory which emerged in 1970s academia. Perhaps the 3rd world and its "manifestations" among minorities and immigrants in the 1st world, uncorrupted by western culture, would succeed where the proletariat had failed, and become a truly revolutionary class?  Such was the hope in some quarters.  This, I think is where this idea of cultural Marxism that the far right is always on about, comes from.

It must be mentioned that the Frankfurt School was by no means the only group experimenting in what were then different modes of leftist thought that broke from the dull orthodoxies spouted by the Kremlin and its other sock puppets throughout Europe and Asia.  Nor was the Frankfurt School necessarily wrong.  They had useful insights.  Discontent with an obviously corrupt and brutal regime in Moscow was another obvious source of discontent.  Another alternative view came from the French postmodernists (think Foucault, Derrida, Baudrillard, etc.)

Contrary to what you might hear, Antonio Gramsci, whose theories of cultural hegemony spook any alt-rightist obsessed with cultural Marxism, wasn't involved with the Frankfurt School and did not coin the phrase "long march through the institutions," whereby Jewish Marxists would infiltrate academia and other cultural institutions and destroy western civilization from within - although Herbert Marcuse, who was associated with the Frankfurt School, did approve of that basic concept.

If the intent of this leftist infiltration of cultural institutions was to erode public faith in western civilization and therefore make ready the people for a revolutionary socialist consciousness, it could not have failed more spectacularly.  Rising popular acceptance for feminism, multiculturalism and secularism throughout the 1980s and early 1990s were not exactly accompanied by an explosion of revolutionary socialist fervor in the western world.  To put it mildly.

And this is less of a coincidence than people are inclined to realize - among Marx's most prescient observations was that rapacious global capitalism would undermine traditional cultures and gradually replace them with a world wide culture built around commerce and consumerism.  So far from undermining capitalism, the emergent social liberalism worked hand-in-glove with it.

Immigration brought cheap labor and spared cash strapped governments the expense of providing services for mothers and children. Multiculturalism opened up new markets at home and abroad. Feminist preferences of career over family were most welcome in corporate board rooms and the cabinets of neo-liberal governments.

... to be continued ...

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