How Marxism Captured the West

29 May 2023

2.9 MINS

Marxism decimated Russia and China but failed to take hold in the West… until some German academics created a new strategy in the 1920s.

In a recent post, I highlighted James Lindsay’s simple yet profound observation that wokeness is Marxism adapted to a Western context.

Lindsay made that argument during a speech he gave at the European Parliament last month. Organised by Identité et Démocratie Fondation (The Identity and Democracy Foundation) the event was entitled, ‘Woke, a Cultural War Against Europe’.

James Lindsay’s speech deserves to be watched in full:

The Birth of Western Marxism

During his talk, Lindsay gave a brief genealogy explaining how Marxism made its way from Russia to the United States and other Western nations.

The evolution of Classical Marxism into Western Marxism, explains Lindsay, began in the 1920s. Marxism had sparked the Russian Revolution in 1917. But it was an ideology that simply would not take hold of the populace in Europe, leaving European Marxists confused and despondent.

Two authors who thought creatively about how the Marxist ideology could be adapted to Western conditions were Antonio Gramsci and György Lukács. They observed that there was something about Western culture that was repelling socialism. Marxism had seen great success in agriculturally-driven, feudal societies like Russia and China. But in actually capitalist nations, Marxism had little appeal.

Gramsci and Lukács refused to accept this as proof that Karl Marx’s economic theory was was wrong (which, of course, it was). Instead, they came up with a new strategy. They believed Marxism would only succeed in the West if Marxists entered the West’s cultural institutions in order to change them from within.

The Frankfurt School

This strategy was further developed by the Frankfurt School, a group of academics at Goethe University Frankfurt. Soon, Critical Marxism was born, and then critical theory, the idea that underpins modern wokeness.

These thinkers finally acknowledged that capitalism does not immiserate workers — it allows workers to build a better life. Therefore it is not just capitalism that must be criticised but all of Western society. Everything must be subjected to Marxist conflict analysis.

When World War II broke out in the mid-20th century, many Frankfurt School academics migrated to America and were welcomed by American universities.

The most influential of these men was Herbert Marcuse. Writing in the 1960s, Marcuse admitted that capitalism indeed delivers the goods, giving people an affluent life and making them wealthy, comfortable and happy. For this reason, he argued that the working class was no longer going to be the base of the Marxist revolution. The energy was to be found elsewhere — in the racial minorities, the sexual minorities, the feminists and the outsiders.

Seizing the Means of Cultural Production

Marxism therefore evolved to abandon the working class and shift its emphasis to the “culture industry” — an industry that, according to Lindsay, “commodifies and packages culture and sells it back to people”. The culture industry includes artists, performers, Hollywood, and the corporations. Big bosses are no longer the enemy, as in Classical Marxism. Now they represent an opportunity.

Thus, Marxists seized the means of cultural production and began transforming the culture industry to, as Lindsay puts it, “sell racial, sexual and gender-based agitprop as though they were genuine culture”. Drag Queen Story Hour, Black Lives Matter, and ideas like gender pronouns and cultural appropriation have all entered mainstream consciousness thanks to Western Marxists.

The result is wokeness. Lindsay calls wokeness “a form of identity-based Marxism, a constellation of Marxist species that all work with the same operating premise but locate themselves in different “folk” — like LGBT folk, Black folk, and so on. He notes that these “folk” think of themselves as nations that have succeeded in occupying the West’s institutions, each with their own flags that now fly atop our culture’s most important buildings to identify our new colonisers.

The long march through the institutions is complete.

Know Your Enemy

This, says Lindsay, is Western Marxism. It takes many forms but has one overarching approach. There are many species but one genus.

Another analogy employed by Lindsay is that of a virus. Just as a virus adapts to the conditions around it to try infect a new host, so Marxism has adapted to Western conditions. The current expression of the Marxist virus is wokeness.

To understand this — to correctly identify the West’s new colonisers — is the only way we will ever wrest our culture back from their grip.

Image via Unsplash.

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  1. John Coverdale 29 May 2023 at 3:59 pm - Reply

    Every easter for the past 4 years that i am aware of Melbourne Uni has hosted Marxist Conferences with various speakers from around the globe attending.

  2. John Coverdale 29 May 2023 at 4:31 pm - Reply

    “How the Specter of Communism is ruling our World ” is a 10 part series found on u tube. Excellent resource of the history of Communism/Marxism to current day, worth watching if reading is not your thing.

  3. Kim Beazley 30 May 2023 at 5:33 pm - Reply

    Glad to see you’ve returned to these issues, Kurt. These “culture war” issues are your strong suit, and I love learning from all your insights and discoveries.

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