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Cultural Marxism

Related: Marxist film theory - culture - Marxism

Cultural Marxism: Eugène Sue's The Mysteries of Paris inspired Karl Marx's only text concerning literature. It was published as part of the polemical The Holy Family, or Critique of Critical Criticism (1845). Marx’s views of the book were not favourable - "it is to be noted incidentally that Eugène Sue motivates the career of the Countess just as stupidly as that of most of his characters". Marx's negative views of the Mysteries of Paris are a poignant example of cultural elitism, since the publication of the Mysteries helped create a climate which allowed the 1848 revolution to occur. [May 2006]

Related: alienation - culture conflict theory - culture industry - British Cultural Studies - cultural Marxism - false consciousness - commodity fetishism - economic exploitation - Frankfurt School - Birmingham School of Cultural Studies - left (politics) - Marxist film theory - working class

Primary literature: Theodor Adorno - Louis Althusser - Mikhail Bakhtin - Walter Benjamin - Terry Eagleton - Antonio Gramsci - Michael Hardt - Fredric Jameson - Karl Marx


Cultural Marxism is a term used to by some people to describe what they perceive as an attempt to undermine western civilisation through internal cultural means, rather than direct economic, party political and military means following the fall of the Soviet Union, thereby bringing about a Marxist revolution.

Cultural Marxism is alleged to have originated in the Frankfurt School of philosophy, under Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Wilhelm Reich, Eric Fromm and Herbert Marcuse and others. [2]. It is also thought that Antonio Gramsci has been influential.

The author Patrick J Buchanan in his book "The Death of the West", summarises the Frankfurt School and Cultural Marxism thus:

"The four horsemen of the school were music critic Theodor Adorno, psychologist Erich Fromm, sociologist Wilhelm Reich and professor Herbert Marcuse. Their ideas, echoing through the halls of academia and from the ink stained hands of writers and journalists, would lead to, as Buchanan calls it, the establishment of today’s politically correct catechism. ...

"The original strategy to destroy America, employed by the Frankfurt School, came from Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci who realized that in order to achieve a Socialist victory, cultural institutions would have to be infiltrated and subverted. Gramsci realized that America, steeped in traditions of freedom and liberty, would never to succumb to a frontal assault....

"The Frankfurt School would patent the familiar 'Critical Theory' which was accurately defined by a student as the 'essentially destructive criticism of all the main elements of Western culture, including Christianity, capitalism, authority, the family, patriarchy, hierarchy, morality, tradition, sexual restraint, loyalty, patriotism, nationalism, heredity, ethnocentrism, convention, and conservatism.' Under Critical Theory, anything emanating from the west is to be libeled and attacked.... All blame for societal and economic ills are to be shifted to the west.

"The saturating drumbeat of Critical Theory would lead to 'Cultural Pessimism' which is when a person grows to loathe the society, which nurtured him and provided him unprecedented levels of success.... Adorno’s thesis is that anyone imbued with middle class, conservative, or Christian values is a racist and a fascist....

"The Frankfurt School introduced the idea of psychological conditioning as a means of changing the culture to fit their image.... To Adorno and his comrades, all Americans who refused to conform to the new morality were viewed as mentally ill and in need of treatment. The Soviet Union offers a clear example of this philosophy in action with it’s millions sent to gulags for 'mental' maladies such as 'anti-social' attitudes....

"Brandeis professor Herbert Marcuse, was the pied piper of the sixties as he fostered the development of, as Buchanan points out, 'radical youth, feminists, black militants, homosexuals, the alienated, the asocial, Third World revolutionaries, all the angry voices of the persecuted ‘victims’ of the West.' .... He calls for 'Repressive Tolerance' which means 'intolerance against movements from the right, and toleration of movements from the left.' When the left speaks of tolerance, this is what they mean.... --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_Marxism [Jun 2006]

See also: social progress - Marxism - political correctness

Marxism and cultural studies [...]

[...] The emergence and evolution of cultural studies or criticism are difficult to separate entirely from the development of Marxist thought. Marxism is, in a sense, the background to the background of most cultural criticism, and some contemporary cultural critics consider themselves Marxist critics as well. Thus, although Marxist criticism and its most significant practitioners are introduced elsewhere in this volume, some mention of Marxist ideas— and of the critics who developed them--is also necessary here. Of particular importance to the evolution of cultural criticism are the works of Walter Benjamin, Antonio Gramsci, Louis Althusser, and Mikhail Bakhtin. --Johanna Smith

Political correctness is cultural Marxism

Paleoconservatives often attack “political correctness,” which they see as a form of censorship and social control. Many conservatives such as William S. Lind claim “political correctness” is a form of “cultural Marxism” and a product of the Frankfurt School’s Critical Theory:

If we look at it analytically, if we look at it historically, we quickly find out exactly what it is. 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.
--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleoconservatism#Paleoconservatives.2C_Culture_War_and_Political_Correctness [Jun 2006]

Cultural Marxism in Post War Britain: History, the New Left and the Origins of Cultural Studies (1997) - Dennis Dworkin

All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music. For while in all other kinds of art it is possible to distinguish the matter from the form, and the understanding can always make this distinction, yet it is the constant effort of art to obliterate it. . . . It is the art of music which most completely realizes this artistic ideal, this perfect identification of matter and form." --Walter Pater, The School of Giorgione (1877) in The Renaissance

Cultural Marxism in Post War Britain: History, the New Left and the Origins of Cultural Studies (1997) - Dennis Dworkin [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Book Description
In this intellectual history of British cultural Marxism, Dennis Dworkin explores one of the most influential bodies of contemporary thought. Tracing its development from beginnings in postwar Britain, through its various transformations in the 1960s and 1970s, to the emergence of British cultural studies at Birmingham, and up to the advent of Thatcherism, Dworkin shows this history to reflect a coherent intellectual tradition, one that represents an implicit and explicit theoretical effort to resolve the crisis of the postwar British Left.

Limited to neither a single discipline nor a particular intellectual figure, this book comprehensively views British cultural Marxism in terms of the dialogue between historians and the originators of cultural studies and in its relationship to the new left and feminist movements. From the contributions of Eric Hobsbawm, Christopher Hill, Rodney Hilton, Sheila Rowbotham, Catherine Hall, and E. P. Thompson to those of Perry Anderson, Barbara Taylor, Raymond Williams, Dick Hebdidge, and Stuart Hall, Dworkin examines the debates over issues of culture and society, structure and agency, experience and ideology, and theory and practice. The rise, demise, and reorganization of journals such as The Reasoner, The New Reasoner, Universities and Left Review, New Left Review, Past and Present are also part of the history told in this volume. In every instance, the focus of Dworkin's attention is the intellectual work seen in its political context.

Capturing the excitement and commitment that more than one generation of historians, literary critics, art historians, philosophers, and cultural theorists have felt about an unorthodox and critical tradition of Marxist theory, Cultural Marxism in Postwar Britain will appeal to students and scholars of cultural studies as well as those interested in the broader terrain of Marxist theory and contemporary critical theory.

See also: Marxism - Cultural Studies - UK

Marx's Lost Aesthetic : Karl Marx and the Visual Arts (1988) - Margaret A. Rose

In search of cultural marxism

Marx's Lost Aesthetic : Karl Marx and the Visual Arts (1988) - Margaret A. Rose [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

(Marx) ‘admired Balzac so much that he wished to write a review of his great work La Comédie humaine as soon as he had finished his book on economics. --page 154

Book Description
This book offers an original and challenging study of Marx's contact with the visual arts, aesthetic theories, and art policies in nineteenth-century Europe. It differs from previous discussions of Marxist aesthetic theory in looking at Marx's views from an art-historical rather than from a literary perspective, and in placing those views in the context of the art practices, theories, and policies of Marx's own time. Dr Rose begins her work by discussing Marx's planned treatise on Romantic art of 1842 against the background of the philosophical debates, cultural policies, and art practices of the 1840s, and looks in particular at the patronage given to the group of German artists known as the 'Nazarenes' in those years, who are discussed in relation to both the English Pre-Raphaelites, popular in the London known to Marx, and to the Russian Social Realists of the 1860s. The author goes on to consider claims of twentieth-century Marxist art theories and practices to have represented Marx's own views on art. The book the conflicting claims made on Marx's views by the Soviet avant-garde Constructivists of the 1920s and of the Socialist Realists who followed them are considered, and are related back to the aesthetic theories and practices discussed in the earlier chapters.

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See also: aesthetics - cultural Marxism - Marx - visual arts

Marxist literary criticism

Marxist literary criticism is a loose term describing literary criticism informed by the philosophy or the politics of Marxism. Its history is as long as Marxism itself, as both Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels read widely (Marx had a great affection for Shakespeare, as well as contemporary writings like the work of his friend Heinrich Heine). In the twentieth century many of the foremost writers of Marxist theory have also been literary critics, from Georg Lukács to Fredric Jameson.

The simplest goals of Marxist literary criticism can include an assessment of the political "tendency" of a literary work, determining whether its social content or its literary form are "progressive"; however, this is by no means the only or the necessary goal. From Walter Benjamin to Fredric Jameson, Marxist literary critics have also been concerned with applying lessons drawn from the realm of aesthetics to the realm of politics. Marxist criticism can be about identifying the class struggle within a text. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marxist_literary_criticism [Jun 2006]

Cultural studies and social progress

Himself a collaborator of the prolific German artist Bertolt Brecht, Benjamin worked with Brecht on films, created radio plays, and attempted to utilize the media as organs of social progress. In the essay "The Artist as Producer" (1999 [1934]), Benjamin argued that progressive cultural creators should "refunction" the apparatus of cultural production, turning theater and film, for instance, into a forum of political enlightenment and discussion rather than a medium of "culinary" audience pleasure. Both Brecht and Benjamin wrote radio plays and were interested in film as an instrument of progressive social change. In an essay on radio theory, Brecht anticipated the Internet in his call for reconstructing the apparatus of broadcasting from one-way transmission to a more interactive form of two-way, or multiple, communication (in Silberman 2000: 41ff.)-- a form first realized in CB radio and then electronically-mediated computer communication.

Moreover, Benjamin wished to promote a radical cultural and media politics concerned with the creation of alternative oppositional cultures. Yet he recognized that media such as film could have conservative effects. While he thought it was progressive that mass-produced works were losing their "aura," their magical force, and were opening cultural artifacts for more critical and political discussion, he recognized that film could create a new kind of ideological magic through the cult of celebrity and techniques like the close-up that fetishized certain stars or images via the technology of the cinema. Benjamin was thus one of the first radical cultural critics to look carefully at the form and technology of media culture in appraising its complex nature and effects. Moreover, he developed a unique approach to cultural history that is one of his most enduring legacies, constituting a micrological history of Paris in the 18th century, an uncompleted project that contains a wealth of material for study and reflection (see Benjamin 2000 and the study in Buck-Morss 1989).

Max Horkheimer and T.W. Adorno answered Benjamin's optimism in a highly influential analysis of the culture industry published in their book Dialectic of Enlightenment, which first appeared in 1948 and was translated into English in 1972. They argued that the system of cultural production dominated by film, radio broadcasting, newspapers, and magazines, was controlled by advertising and commercial imperatives, and served to create subservience to the system of consumer capitalism. While later critics pronounced their approach too manipulative, reductive, and elitist, it provides an important corrective to more populist approaches to media culture that downplay the way the media industries exert power over audiences and help produce thought and behavior that conforms to the existing society. --Douglas Kellner in Cultural Marxism and Cultural Studies via http://www.gseis.ucla.edu/faculty/kellner/essays/culturalmarxism.pdf [Jun 2006]

See also: social progress - cultural studies - Douglas Kellner

Marxism and Literary Criticism (1976) Terry Eagleton

Marxism and Literary Criticism (1976) Terry Eagleton [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

It is true, as Leon Trotsky remarked in Literature and Revolution (1924), that 'there are many people in this world who think as revolutionists and feel as philistines'; but Marx and Engels were not of this number.

[...] Art and literature were part of the very air Marx breathed, as a formidably cultured German intellectual in the great classical tradition of his society. --page 1

"Far and away the best short introduction to Marxist criticism (both history and problems) which I have seen."--Fredric R. Jameson

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See also: cultural Marxism - Terry Eagleton - literary criticism

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