– Autumn/Winter 2018

Cultural Marxists Like Us

Sven Lütticken

Installation view of free distribution point of Jonas Staal’s Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals, 1971, in ‘Steve Bannon: A Propaganda Retrospective’, Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam, 2018. Courtesy the artist and Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam

The notion of Cultural Marxism has become a far-right byword for a sinister conspiracy, masterminded by none other than the Frankfurt School, to undermine ‘American’, ‘Christian’ and/or ‘Western' values. Infiltrating academia during and after WWII, these ‘Jewish schemers' have managed to corrupt the minds of generations of impressionable youth, leading to the current state of moral decay, emasculation and miscegenation. This short account is barely a caricature of the conspiracy theory of Cultural Marxism – a term I shall here use to refer to the discourse rather than to the phenomenon it supposedly denotes (when addressing the latter, I will use scare quotes). In book after book and YouTube video after YouTube video, the same few decontextualised facts, tenuous connections and made-up causalities are peddled over and over again.

Cultural Marxism discourse appropriates, simplifies and perverts serious assessments of the aesthetic and cultural turn in twentieth century Marxism, from Gramsci and Lukács onward.1 The Gramscian critique of economism and acknowledgement of the agency exerted by ideology and culture becomes the basis for a narrative about a sinister cabal. Realising that the people did not

  1. For such an assessment, see, for instance, Perry Anderson, Considerations on Western Marxism, London: New Left Books, 1976; or more recently, Michael Denning, Culture in the Age of Three Worlds, London/New York: Verso, 2004.

  2. Toby Archer, ‘Breivik’s Mindset: The Counterjihad and the New Transatlantic Anti-Muslim Jihad’, in Max Taylor, Donald Holbrook and P.M. Currie (ed.), Extreme Right Wing Political Violence and Terrorism, New York/London: Bloomsbury, 2013, pp.171–72.

  3. See Dennis Dworkin’s book on the British New Left and cultural studies, which was published in Stanley Fish and Fredric Jameson’s Post-Contemporary Interventions series, Cultural Marxism in Postwar Britain: History, The New Left, and the Emergence of Cultural Studies (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997), as well as Ian Buchanan (ed.), Jameson on Jameson: Conversations on Cultural Marxism (Durham, NC/London: Duke University Press, 2007). Though the term does not feature in the book itself, the title was referenced in a supremely odd TV debate with Dutch politician Sid Lukassen on the subject of Cultural Marxism, cited in Buitenhof, 3 September 2017, available at https:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3-3AOfv4w4 (all websites cited in this essay last accessed on
    11 May 2018).

  4. Martin Jay, ‘Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment: The Frankfurt School as Scapegoat of the Lunatic Fringe’, Salmagundi, no.168/169, Fall 2010–Winter 2011, pp.30–40, available at http://canisa.org/ blog/dialectic-of-counter-enlightenment-the-frankfurt-school-as-scapegoat-of-the-lunatic-fringe.

  5. ‘Jordan B. Peterson debate on the gender pay gap, campus protests and postmodernism’, Channel 4 News, 16 January 2018 (within less than two weeks, the video had more than 7 million clicks), available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMcjxSThD54.

  6. See J. B. Peterson, ‘Postmodern NeoMarxism: Diagnosis and Cure’, talk for Students in Support of Free Speech, University of Toronto, uploaded 28 June 2017, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4c-jOdPTN8 and his ‘Postmodernism and Cultural Marxism’, The Epoch Times [blog], uploaded 6 July 2017, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLoG9zBvvLQ.

  7. Free Congress Foundation, ‘The History of Political Correctness’, 1999, available at https://www. youtube.com/watch?v=EjaBpVzOohs. See also M. Jay, ‘Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment’, op. cit.

  8. Under a video with Andrew Breitbart lecturing on Cultural Marxism, a commenter has helpfully added: ‘He doesn’t go into ethnic groups, but you can read between the lines.' See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIO4oSLwK3A. And elsewhere, on the site Stormfront: ‘Talking about the Frankfurt School is ideal for not naming the Jews as a group (which often leads to a panicky rejection, a stubborn refusal to listening anymore and even a ‘shut up’) but naming the Jew by proper names. People will make their generalisations by themselves – in the privacy of their own minds'. See https://www.stormfront.org/forum/t633959-3/.

  9. See Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (revised edition), New York: Oxford University Press, 1983, pp.87–93; and Terry Eagleton, The Idea of Culture, Oxford/Malden: Blackwell, 2000, pp.1–35.

  10. Denning remarks on this fact in Culture in the Age of Three Worlds, op. cit., p.77.

  11. Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859), available at https://www. marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1859/critique-pol-economy/preface.htm. This is Marx’s most elaborate enumeration of the fields that make up the superstructure.

  12. The fullest discussion of Weber’s value-spheres is in ‘Religious Rejections of the World and Their Rejections’ (1915), in From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (trans. and ed. H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills), New York: Oxford University Press, 1946, pp.323–59.

  13. Jürgen Habermas, ‘Modernity – An Incomplete Project’, in Hal Foster (ed.), The Anti-Aesthetic, Port Townsend, WA: Bay Press, 1983, p.9.

  14. ‘The Influence of Poor Gender Relations on Art’, Blonde in the Belly of the Beast [video blog], available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7y-c59e4_IY&pbjreload=10.

  15. See Hans-Jürgen Krahl, ‘Thesen zum allgemeinen Verhältnis von wissenschaftlicher Intelligenz und proletarischem Klassenbewusstsein’ (1969), in Konstitution und Klassenkampf. Zur historischen Dialektik von bürgerlicher Emanzipation und proleratischer Revolution. Schriften, Reden und Entwürfe aus den Jahren 1966–1970, Frankfurt am Main: Verlag Neue Kritik, 2007, pp.336–51.

  16. Scott Oliver, ‘Unwrapping the “Cultural Marxism” Nonsense the Alt-Right Loves’, Vice, 23 February 2017, available at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/78mnny/unwrapping-the-conspiracy- theory-that-drives-the-alt-right.

  17. The term was canonised by James Davison Hunter in 1991. See his Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America, New York: Basic Books, 1991.

  18. Quoted in Richard Serra, ‘Art and Censorship’, in Writings, Interviews, Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 1994, p.218.

  19. Here I cannot go into the whole debate about deploying the label ‘fascism’ (or post-fascism, or neo-fascism?). The cultural Left’s insistence on putting the f-word back on the agenda can be seen as a counterpoint to the right’s Cultural Marxism – but in contrast to Cultural Marxism’s functioning as a fact-starved conspiracy theory, the analytical cogency of the term needs to be demonstrated.

  20. Angela Nagle, Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from Tumblr and 4chan to the alt-right and Trump, Winchester/Washington: Zero Books, 2017, p.40.

  21. Milo Yiannopoulos called Trump, ‘the first truly cultural candidate since Pat Buchannan (sic)’. Ibid., p.54.

  22. Ian Sherr and Erin Carson, ‘GamerGate to Trump: How Video Game Culture Blew Everything Up’, CNET, 27 November 2017, available at https://www.cnet.com/news/gamergate-donald-trump- american-nazis-how-video-game-culture-blew-everything-up/.

  23. See Sven Lütticken ‘Who Makes the Nazis?’, e-flux journal, no.76, October 2017, available at http:// www.e-flux.com/journal/76/69408/who-makes-the-nazis/; and ‘The Powers of the False’, Texte zur Kunst, no.105, March 2017, pp.73–91, available at https://www.textezurkunst.de/articles/powers-false-web/.

  24. Cornelia Koppetsch, ‘Der Trost des Nationalismus’, Der Freitag, no.38, 2017, https://www.freitag.de/ autoren/der-freitag/der-trost-des-nationalismus-1.

  25. See Andrea Fraser, ‘Toward a Reflexive Resistance’, X-TRA, vol.20, no.2, Winter 2018, available at http://x-traonline.org/article/artist-writes-no-2-toward-a-reflexive-resistance/.

  26. See ibid.

  27. Jessica Elgot, ‘Leading Lady: Theresa May Calls for Woman to Play James Bond’, The Guardian, 22 December 2017, available at https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/dec/22/leading-lady- theresa-may-calls-for-woman-to-play-james-bond.

  28. Catherine Shoard, ‘Life Isn’t a Cartoon, and Animals Are Not Our Playthings’, The Guardian, 3 February 2016, available at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/03/animals- photobomb-horse-selfie-thomson-holidays.

  29. See A. Fraser, op. cit.

  30. See J.L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962 and Judith Butler, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative, New York/London: Routledge, 1922.

  31. ‘Civility Is White Supremacy – Seeking Insight’, Red Ice TV, 18 December 2017, available at https:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTSZKCMApRo.

  32. See Baudet’s tweet on 11 May 2018: https://twitter.com/thierrybaudet/status/994922341288304641.

  33. Haro Kraak, ‘Gerrit Rietveld Academie annuleert Kirac-debat vanwege “racistische en seksistische uitspraken”’, de Volkskrant, 6 February 2018, available at https://www.volkskrant.nl/beeldende-kunst/gerrit-rietveld-academie-annuleert-kirac-debat-vanwege-racistische-en-seksistische- uitspraken~a4567173/.

  34. Quaintance’s analysis focusses on the situation in the UK; see ‘The New Conservatism: Complicity and the UK Art World’s Performance of Progression’, e-flux conversations, 2 October 2017, available at https://conversations.e-flux.com/t/the-new-conservatism-complicity-and-the-uk-art-worlds- performance-of-progression/7200.

  35. See the original slate of articles: Arjen Ribbens, ‘Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam leende vervalste Mondriaan’, NRC Handelsblad, 8 September 2017, available at https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2017/09/08/stedelijk-museum-leende-vervalste-mondriaan-12613425-a1572755; A. Ribbens, ‘Eigenaar wist dat Mondriaan vals was’, NRC Handelsblad, 13 September 2017, available at https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2017/09/13/eigenaar-wist-dat-mondriaan-vals-was-12977317-a1573387; Daan van Lent and A. Ribbens, ‘Het Stedelijk schond afspraken en ethische codes’, NRC Handelsblad, 6 October 2017, available at https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2017/10/06/het-stedelijk-schond-afspraken-en-ethische-
    codes-13366837-a1576365; Michiel Kruijt and Rutger Pontzen, ‘Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam betaalde 1,5 miljoen voor “geschonken” kunst’, de Volkskrant, 8 October 2017, available at https://www.volkskrant.nl/nieuws-achtergrond/stedelijk-museum-amsterdam-betaalde-1-5-miljoen-voor-geschonken-schilderijen~bc87b49d/; and D. van Lent and A. Ribbens, ‘Stedelijk onderzoekt nevenactiviteiten directeur Beatrix Ruf’, NRC Handelsblad, 12 October 2017, available at https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2017/10/12/stedelijk-onderzoekt-nevenactiviteiten-directeur-13472490-a1577104. In June 2018, a committee cleared Ruf of the charge of conflict of interest as no ‘smoking gun' in the form of a brown envelope being handed over in exchange of a favour could be found. Such a narrow focus on demonstrable quid pro quo completely misses the point of the almost grotesque accumulation of instances in which a conflict of interest was all too apparent, which would be a problem even if this were to be ‘just an appearance’.

  36. Arnold Heumakers, ‘Geef ons wat meer esthetiek’, NRC Handelsblad, 1 December 2017, available at https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2017/12/01/geef-ons-wat-meer-esthetiek-a1583271.

  37. A. Fraser, ‘Le 1%, C’est Moi’, Texte zur Kunst, no.83, September 2011, p.122.

  38. In response to the Kulturlinke’s bad reputation in some circles, Berlin’s Kultursenator Klaus Lederer (of the party Die Linke) has allegedly stated that ‘the left can only be a cultural left’. See https:// twitter.com/Petra_Sitte_MdB/status/880795491910508544. See also S. Lütticken, ‘Art as Immoral Institution’, Texte zur Kunst [online], 3 October, 2017, https://www.textezurkunst.de/articles/sven- lutticken-volksbuhne-occupation/, a text on which some passages in this article are based.

  39. The full-page newspaper ad by ‘art-world professionals’ demanding that Beatrix Ruf be reinstated as director of the Stedelijk was an impressive case in point. Some of the people who signed it should have known better than to put their name on this list of shame, but with most of the original signatories their interest is clear in an almost comical way. See https://www.parool.nl/kunst-en- media/oproep-kunstwereld-haal-beatrix-ruf-terug-naar-stedelijk~a4570169/#&gid=1&pid=1b514 0b6-7ea9-4ea7-a080-1a411a61ae78.

  40. On Denny and Thiel, see Mark O’Connell, ‘Why Silicon Valley Billionaires are Prepping for the Apocalypse in New Zealand’, The Guardian, 15 February 2018, available at https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/feb/15/why-silicon-valley-billionaires-are-prepping-for-the-apocalypse-in- new-zealand; on Bitcoin, see Andrew Osborne, ‘Chump Change: Decrypting Bitcoin & Blockchain’, Mute, 27 October 2017, available at http://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/chump-change- decrypting-bitcoin-blockchain#_ftnref15.

  41. See Ana Teixeira Pinto, ‘Artwashing: NRx and the alt-right’, Texte zur Kunst, no.106, June 2017, available at https://www.textezurkunst.de/106/artwashing-de/.

  42. On LD50, see O.D. Untermesch, ‘Is It OK to Punch a Nazi (Art Gallery)?’, Mute, 16 February 2017, available at http://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/it-ok-to-punch-nazi-art-gallery and Shut Down LD50. ‘Racism as Deep Trolling and Other New Centre Diversions’, Mute, 4 April 2017, available at http://www.metamute.org/community/your-posts/racism-deep-trolling-and-other- new-centre-diversions.

  43. Compare Michael Denning’s proposal for a ‘labour theory of culture’, in Culture in the Age of Three Worlds, op. cit., pp.90–96.

  44. Judith Butler has increasingly supplemented a primarily linguistic notion performativity with a focus on performativity as embodied and collective action. See in particular her Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly, Cambridge, MA/London: Harvard University Press, 2015.