Cultural Marxism and our current culture wars

published Jun 09, 2016

Despite the intense desire of a few cultural Marxists to deny everyone else the use of the term — up to and including the deletion of the term from Wikipedia — cultural Marxism has had a decades-long history. weighs in.

From the article:

Contrary to those polemicists who’d deny all legitimate uses of the term “cultural Marxism”, it has been in circulation for over forty years. Its meaning remains somewhat unclear and contested, but there is at least some commonality of understanding.

Although the term is often applied pejoratively, it has a more scholarly meaning that connects to the cultural turn within Western Marxism since approximately the 1920s and especially after World War II. This turn from Soviet style communism found popularity in the late 1950s with left-wing critiques of the USSR (and Nikita Khrushchev’s own denunciation of his predecessor, Joseph Stalin), then grew increasingly with the development of cultural studies as an academic discipline (initially in the United Kingdom, with considerable early take-up in Australia).

Thus, Richard R. Weiner writes: “In response to a complex of problems which labor movements in advanced industrial societies have not been capable of solving either theoretically or practically, there emerged in the wanderings of social and political movements in the 1960s and 1970s a culturally oriented perspective.” Weiner adds that this perspective “may actually have taken off in 1956” with a series of events that alienated Western thinkers from Soviet-style communism, not least Khrushchev’s invasion of Hungary (Weiner, Cultural Marxism and Political Sociology, Beverly Hills and London: Sage, 1981, pp. 117-118).

Weiner attributes the actual term “cultural Marxism” to Trent Schroyer in the latter’s 1973 book, The Critique of Domination: The Origins and Development of Critical Theory (Weiner, Cultural Marxism and Political Sociology, p. 36). The Critique of Domination was prominent in its day, and it was a nominee in the 1974 National Book Awards for the “Philosophy and Religion” category.

Schroyer’s use of the term “cultural Marxism” is the earliest that I have been able to find, and he relates it specifically to what he sees as a “crisis theory” employed by the Frankfurt School of Marxist intellectuals. He also refers to other theorists whom he sees as sharing this crisis theory, such as György Lukács and Henri Lefebvre. It is worth pausing to get an idea of what Schroyer meant by this term that has since become so controversial. In Part 2, I’ll return to Schroyer’s analysis in some detail, and I’ll go on to examine the phenomenon of British cultural Marxism, perhaps best explained in the writings of intellectual historian Dennis Dworkin.

 Highly recommended reading:

  1. Cultural Marxism and our current culture wars, part 1
  2. Cultural Marxism and our current culture wars, part 2