Neo Cultural Revisionism resurrected?

Even if there isn't such a thing as "Cultural Marxism" in the pure sense, might there as well be? And if there might as well be, isn't it as if there is? And if it's as if there is, then, well, isn't it a form of reality?

Of, like, truth?

A comment left by Nick Packwood (who believes there is such a thing as "Cultural Marxism") forced me into a fit of neo quasi cultural Marxist revisionism.

While I hate to put words in anyone's mouth, Nick and I both seemed to agree that used as a political grab-bag, the term "Cultural Marxist" is nonsensical. Nick's comment:

Eric: I recently used the term "cultural Marxism" in a specific, technical sense to refer to a way of thinking that now predominates in American and Canadian arts and social science departments. While I disagree with most of the complaints made by The Conservative Voice he is entirely correct to attribute "cultural Marxism" to the Frankfurt School and its subsequent influence on what is now known as cultural studies. Though this is a revision of Marxist thought which I believe is in direct contradiction of Marx's own writings it is now taken for granted in the thinking of most academics (who for the most part have not read Marx). It is a school of thought independent of whatever "memes" are now circulating by the same label or indeed of its relationship to Marx, let alone facts. That many people teaching cultural cultural studies (as I did for two years) or influenced by cultural studies in traditional arts and social science departments support a variety of "progressive" policies and causes (as indeed I do) is perhaps not purely coincidental.
Nick's view that there is a persistent cultural Marxist class made me think back (waay back) to my youth. My reply:
Thanks Nick. The thing is, I considered myself a Marxist in the 1960s when Marxism still meant understanding and agreeing with the economic theories of Marx. At the core of what's now being called "Cultural Marxism" may be the implementation of an anti-bourgeoisie strategy, which took whatever form was most convenient to the Marxists of the Frankfurt school decades ago. That it is "in direct contradiction of Marx's own writings" and has never characterized life in Communist countries seems to matter not one bit to anyone.

And while it's certainly true that many people teaching cultural cultural studies support "progressive" policies and causes, they also support extreme decadence as a fad, to be in style. I'd go so far as saying that these attitudes have become thoroughly bourgeois. Blue State, even. But isn't calling them "Marxist" a perversion of the word? Couldn't it be said that the class struggle Marx wrote about still persists in the Red State versus Blue State phenomenon? For example, traditional Marxists saw homosexuality as "bourgeois decadence," and they called it precisely that. Today's working class Red State "proletariat" aren't the ones lining up to see "Brokeback Mountain" are they?

There are a lot of ironies, and I think if Marx was alive today he'd feel as if something went very, very wrong.

I think "Cultural Marxism" is a poor descriptor, and was primarily coined as an insult. (What fascinates me is that it is more likely to resonate among today's proletariat class....)

Still unsatisfied, I decided to search far and wide for signs of actual, real-life "Cultural Marxism."

Mind you, I wanted an answer along the lines of "What Would Marx Do?" Not to dwell excessively on the revisionist Paul Weyrich clique, but I'm sorry: gay American cowboys just isn't credible as a Marxist meme, even for the wildest revisionists. I wanted to find someone -- anyone -- who really deserved to be called a "Cultural Marxist"

And I wasn't disappointed. I found a man who is in fact a leading Cultural Marxist! A man in a better position than anyone alive to know the answer to the question "What would Marx do?"

I refer to the proudly unapologetic Marxist historian Howard Zinn. For the rest of us proletarian illiterates, he has brought Karl Marx back to life in a play called Marx in Soho.

Here's the poster with the actor (a man who might as well be Marx):


Right here in Philadelphia. How did I manage to miss such a touching thing?

And from the Philadelphia Inquirer, the above site reprints Douglas Keating's review:

Though Marx has been demonized by some as the father of communism, Robert Weick portrays him as a personable man devoted to his wife and family as he writes Das Kapital and struggles to make ends meet in London, where he lived most of his life.

This show's Marx is also aware of all that has transpired since his death, which enables him to urge those in the audience toward political and social change. An impassioned Weick rises to this occasion, and though it's obvious he is speaking as Marx, the sentiments are clearly Zinn's.

Douglas Keating

Philadelphia Inquirer

Who better to bring Marx to life than Howard Zinn? I mean, this answers many of my concerns about revisionism, and it will go a long way towards settling the many inaccuracies I complained about.

Still, I'm not sure about portraying Marx's dedication to "wife and family." I think the memes may need, um, reworking. Can't this Howard Zinn character do a better job of coordinating his alternate reality scheme with Paul Weyrich? Maybe he could add a few lines to have Marx specifically address the additional memes to satisfy Weyrich and his meme-mongers. I know it's revisionism, but hey -- if you can't revise revisionist writing, then what the hell can you revise?

As it is now, the Blue State bourgoisie [really now! wouldn't Marx prefer them to be Red?] loves the play! A few comments:

If you're opposed to the Bush administration's domestic and international policies, you may be surprised how many ideologies you share with the title character in the Iron Age Theatre's production of Marx in Soho. But if you're worried this somehow makes you a Marxist, fear not—it turns out Karl Marx didn't even consider himself one.
Well now! Isn't that nice? If Marx wasn't a Marxist, then none of us are Marxists, even if we love Marx and his theories, and even if we hate the evil Bush! Being a Marxist is so uncool now that even Marx knows. And even if he's dead, it's in a play written by a man who knows more about Marx than Marx did!

So it's just as if Marx is still alive, right? I can't argue with my logic. Marx's stunning admission means that we are all Cultural Marxists. Cultural Marxism is probably a family value!

And even if you're religious, that's cool with Marx too:

Growing Up, Marx was presented as a villian, but now I understand so much more.
Member of the Elizabeth Catholic Worker
Forget all that "religion is the opiate of the masses" stuff. Hey, speaking of dope, let's ask Zinn. Couldn't Marx could light a few bowls in the next episode?

According to a history teacher in attendance, Zinn's resurrection of an alternate Marx is historically accurate:

....Your presentation of Marx and his life experiences has provided an opportunity for our students to see history brought to “life.” The students in attendance had wide eyes and were at the edge of their seats for the entire performance. Your energy and intensity engaged the audience and we were hanging on to every word. Your ability to change emotional level as well as mood was astonishing and made Karl Marx real and not just a character from our textbook. I wish our schedule had allowed for more time so our students could have made their comments to you rather than relay them through me. First they wished to thank you and then said things like, “that was awesome,” and “he was amazing.” You really left an impression on them. Once again I thank you for what you do and for doing it so well.

Vincent Spina

European History - Easton High School

I'd say history has spoken. Marx may be dead, but his culture lives.

If you can't bring the culture to Marx, then bring Marx to the culture!

(I'll try to keep a close eye peeled for Brokeback Marxist cultural values, but I'm not promising anything....)

Oh what the hell. I won't put words (or, for that matter, anything else...) in Zinn's mouth. But I think the dead white Karlito can bend over and take this one:


After all, what's revising revisionism mean without a little revisionary deviationism?

(Regrettably, I must admit to certain bourgeois tendencies which I have not fully uprooted, as I confess to feelings of nostalgia for the good old days of standard deviationism. But we must move on. No really.)

AFTERTHOUGHT: Satire aside, there is a serious, um, bottom line here. If a play resurrecting Marx and written by a Marxist is not Cultural Marxism, then what is?

posted by Eric on 02.25.06 at 07:48 AM


I could not agree more with your comment to the effect that much leftist posturing is bourgeois pretense play-acting at the revolutionary. For a more sober-minded critique of culturalism than the rest of your tongue-in-cheek take I suggest "The Universality of Marx" by Loren Goldner (New Politics, 1989). She may be as wrong about science, history and economics as Marx was but she does at least know what Marx was arguing for. This is a significant step up from the whole of the Frankfurt School and its works (though I have a soft spot for Gramsci).

"What bothers contemporary leftist opinion about Marx is that the latter presents a formidable (and, in my opinion, unanswerable) challenge to the currently dominant culturalism, which is so pervasive that it does not even know its own name."

Flea   ·  February 25, 2006 11:26 AM

And, yes, "culturalism" was a term of abuse levelled by supporters of Soviet communism against New Left/third way versions of European Marxism.

Sorry for my "cultural cultural studies" typo. Now thinking of calling cultural studies cultural cultural cultural studies and see if it flies.

Flea   ·  February 25, 2006 11:29 AM

Obviously, this means that Cultural Marxism is a very relative thing.

(I'd have said "absolutely relative," but then relativism might sound absolute, or absolutism might sound relative, violating the fundamental scheme of these words.)

Eric Scheie   ·  February 25, 2006 2:28 PM

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