Chloe Westley is the Campaign Manager of the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
If you’re reading this and you’re publicly Conservative or pro-Brexit, then the chances is that you’ve been called a Far Right extremist. If you haven’t, perhaps you’ve been called a racist or a fascist. This has become the norm for modern political discourse. Anyone who leans towards the Right, or believes that the EU is undemocratic, is instantly labelled as extreme.
But we’re actually a majority or plurality of the voting population. 17.4 million voted leave in 2016, and 13.6 million voted for the Conservative Party in 2017. Are all of these voters Far Right extremists? Of course not. Yet those who openly admit to holding these mainstream and majority opinions are seemingly fair game to be demonised.
Ben Shapiro, a Jewish conservative commentator in America, was described by the Economist as ‘alt-right’, despite being one of the leading critics of the identity politics of the alt right. Joe Rogan, one of the most successful podcasters in the United States, was accused of being ‘far right’, (because he’s interviewed conservative commentators), despite openly admitting to being a socialist. Closer to home, leave Loters have faced countless accusations of xenophobia and extremism. James Naughtie went so far as to say that the ERG would be more comfortable in the National Front, although he later apologised.
And then we have the reaction to Suella Braverman’s comments about ‘Cultural Marxism’. I thought the reaction to her comments at a Bruges Group event last week was over the top and entirely predictable. Suella Braverman is a friend of the Jewish community and, unlike the leader of the Labour Party, supports the state of Israel. I’m sure that many on the Left attacking her were well aware that the phrase is discussed in academia, and has also been adopted by Marxists – and that most commonly ‘cultural marxism’ refers to the ‘long march through the institutions’. I agree that the use of the term can sometimes be lazy and ill-defined, but the immediate outrage and demonisation of Braverman was typical of the modern Left’s eagerness to attribute the label ‘Far Right’ to all mainstream conservatives.
In an essay entitled ‘Cultural Marxism explained and re-evaluated’ Galen Watts, a PhD candidate in Cultural Studies, defines the term as a social theory which presupposes that ones cultural beliefs – values, spirituality, etc – are “determined by one’s position in a class or social hierarchy”. To explore this, he focuses on Pierre Bourdieu Bourdieu’s theory of the educational system, and how children from wealthier families have a cultural advantage over others. Watts concludes that “unlike Jordan Peterson..I am not convinced that Cultural Marxism is wholly evil”.
Last year at the Battle of Ideas festival in London, a panel of thinkers both sympathetic and opposed to Marxism debated whether ‘cultural marxism’ is a myth or a threat to society. The panel concluded that the term was pointing at a problem, and that there was some kind of cultural phenomenon occurring in institutions (deliberately or otherwise), but that the term ‘Cultural Marxism’ might not be the most accurate or helpful term to describe what is happening.
More broadly, ‘Cultural Marxism’ has been loosely – and perhaps lazily – been used in public debate to infer left-wing bias in institutions, particularly educational institutions. This is the context which I’ve most commonly heard the term used. The long ‘long march through the institutions’ was originally a slogan introduced by a German student activist leader, Rudi Dutschke. This strategy of seeking to inspire revolution by infiltrating and working from within the media, and educational institutions, such as universities, was approved of by Marxist scholar Herbert Marcuse: “let me tell you this: that I regard your notion of the ‘long march through the institutions’ as the only effective way…. working against the established institutions while working within them”
The fact that leading Marxist scholars called upon the Far Left to adopt these methods does not necessarily imply that they have been successful in achieving this, or that there has been any kind of mass co-ordination to take over institutions. But if seeking to introduce Marxist ideals in all levels of education and media was an explicit aim of leading academics in the twentieth century, does it make sense to refer to left wing bias in these institutions as ‘cultural marxism’?
Well, yes and no. Not everyone who refers to ‘Cultural Marxism’ is necessarily anti-Marxist, or even anti-‘Cultural Marxism’, as we see with Glen Watts’ article. I don’t think Braverman was ‘dog whistling’ to extremists by using this phrase, especially regarding her close ties to the Jewish community. She used the term as Jordan Peterson does, referring to left wing bias and the ‘long march through the institutions’.
However, there are better ways we can describe the problem of left wing bias. I think the phrase ‘cultural marxism’ often points towards what I would more accurately describe as identity politics, or postmodernism. Postmodernism, which I’ve tried to define here, has been adopted by many on the Far Left and of course can be used to stir up group resentment in the same way that Marxists seek to stir up class resentment. But they are not precisely the same thing.
If we can express our concerns about a problem without invoking a phrase which may confuse many and at worst points towards an anti-semitic conspiracy theory, then surely we should seek to do so.
I don’t think the Left will give us any credit for being nuanced or considerate in our terminology. They’ve devised a masterful strategy whereby they believe they can win almost any argument by assuming the purported moral high ground. Instead of having to defend the corrupt and undemocratic nature of the European Union, Second Referendum campaigners merely attack Leave supporters as ‘racist’ or ‘extremist’. Instead of having to debate Shapiro on the merits of capitalism, left-wing media pundits merely have to play the ‘alt right’ card and walk away selfsatisfied. Instead of debate, many now simply seek to demonise.
The problem is, however, that when labels like ‘far right’ are attributed to mainstream Conservatives such as Braverman and Shapiro, it is clear that the left have abandoned genuine political discourse. They are engaging in the very exaggeration that conspiracy theorists of all political persuasions do. They see extremism where there is none.