One of the greatest ironies of the twentieth century is that the “Captive Nations” of the Eastern Bloc, who were under the hegemony of hard Marxist-Leninism for almost half a century, ended up being the least affected by the Cultural Marxism which swept the West after the end of the Cold War. Less desensitized to leftist shibboleths than their Western counterparts due to this fate of history, their response to the “Free World’s” cultural irredentism is often incomprehensible to the progressive mind, and therefore perceived as dangerously reactionary. As Western liberalism continues to make its presence felt in the nations of the Visegrad Group, the resulting debates among their public intellectuals can be illuminating.
Recent events in Poland in particular have instigated a lively debate among groups funded and backed by transnational NGOs on one hand, and the “small ploatoons” of local patriotic and Catholic civic institutions, on the other. What follows is a translation of an article that appeared on a website dedicated to the critical deconstruction of Marxist theory,1 which was written in response to a Report published by a George Soros front known as the Stefan Batory Foundation2 and a summary published by the Report’s author on a left-wing blog.3 The Report and Article addressed the growing debate in Poland regarding “Cultural Marxism”, which was described as a “conspiracy theory” of the “populist right.” The response that follows appeals to the work of celebrated Marxist theoreticians, academics and activists to establish that far from being a “conspiracy theory”, Cultural Marxism (which appears to be used interchangeably with the term Neomarxism for reasons which will become apparent in the text) is in fact a foundational aspect of modern political and cultural discourse. The themes addressed in this exchange are highly relevant to debates that continue here in the Anglophone West, hence this presentation to our readers.
In the translation that follows, all attempts have been made to retain the original structure of the article, and to the extent possible, sentences have been translated with the aim of remaining faithful to the author’s thought-flow. Often this is difficult due to grammatical anomalies which result from translating text between different language groups. Where adjustments had to be made, these are noted in the footnotes. Editorial comments and annotations are contained in brackets. All footnotes are inserted by the translator. An original bibliography to the original text can be viewed at its principal place of publication (see n1 for the link).
How OKO.press and the Stefan Batory Foundation Put Neomarxism to Death
By Rainer Zybura with Jakub Zgierski and Others
For Młot na Marksizm
In the following text, I will address a Report prepared by Anna Mierzyńska4 which was published by the Stefan Batory Foundation,5 and which was also the basis of an Article that appeared on the OKO.press6 website. The topic of both was the appearance of Neomarxism and so-called “conspiracy theories” which are said to be spread by the “populist right”.
Both the Report and the Article contain a large number of substantive errors, which confirm the view that Social Knowledge7 is poorly understood even among educated circles in our nation. Apart from these defects, the reader will also find attempts to manipulate his understanding and interpretation of relevant aspects of the debate. I am therefore inclined to believe that Anna Mierzyńska’s work was commissioned, and the commissioning party presented a predetermined thesis which the author was intended to defend. Both the Report of the Stafan Batory Foundation and the Article on OKO.press focus on justifying a single dogmatic point, namely, that everyone who identifies the role played by Neomarxism in public and political debates are engaging in the promotion of conspiracy theories.
As one document is merely a watered down version of the other, I will therefore address both together, but commence this reply by outlining the concept of “(anti)cultural Marxism”. Following this, I will outline the disingenuous game played8 which is intended to establish the author’s dogmatic point. I will not however address the author herself, as this has no bearing on the subject at hand.
(Anti)cultural Marxism: its Conceptual Genesis and Subject Matter
The term “Cultural Marxism”, which has taken root in the public debate, is indeed an unfortunate one. The author of the article assures us that it is not her objective to engage in a scientific exegesis on the origins of the concept. The substance and meaning of the concept is not itself outlined in her text. What we have here is the de facto attempt at distracting public opinion from analysing Neomarxism as a social and historical phenomenon, and therefore from a fact based analysis, by treating it as an ideological question in which opposing opinion is cast in the light of conspiracy theory, extremism and fascism; this is the principle tactic of someone retreating from a debate on the subject. In this sense, the left’s lines of argument are devoid of any concrete reference points, for example the author does not address Marxism as such, and any citations by polemicists are left uncommented; this implicitly renders her text as a manifestation of paranoid thinking.9 This is a very convenient approach, which allows the author to engage in a debate on the issue despite her lack of knowledge of the facts or merits of the case under investigation.
Both the Report and the Article suggest that Cultural Marxism is a capacious bag into which all things the right finds objectionable are thrown. And yet, we routinely encounter terms such as the “populist right” and the “far right” in publications of the ideological left which do not provide any meaningful definition of these terms; this leads us to conclude that the only purpose they serve is to pigeon-hole their opposition. These too are very plastic categories, which are best exemplified by the inclusion of Dobromir Sośnierz10 who describes himself as a libertarian.
The term “Cultural Marxism” was popularised in the United States by the so-called paleoconservatives, who also influenced the development of the Alternative Right.11 However this neologism did not arise spontaneously. It was first used by the American philosopher Trent Schroyer in his 1971 work The Critique of Domination: The Origins and Development of Critical Theory. Because it was Schroyer who coined this term, and since he lectured on critical theory at the Neomarxist “New School”, we believe we have a right to claim that the term “Cultural Marxism” was generated out of the Neomarxist womb. To deny or hide this fact from public scrutiny is an obvious sign of bad faith on part of the ideological left.
At this point we can call upon other leftist authorities, but specifically three openly Marxist academics. The first, Prof. Douglas Kellner is a third generation member of the Frankfurt School, who in his article titled “Cultural Marxism and Cultural Studies” defends the concept of Cultural Marxism with concrete examples. He outlines the development of Marxist ideology, beginning with Marx and Engels and their direct descendants (both social democrats and pro-Soviet communists) before noting such other personalities as György Lukács, Antonio Gramsci and Ernst Bloch, so as to establish the “cultural” aspects of the ideology. Thus Kellner commences with the Frankfurt School, which legacy and mission is later assumed by the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, also known as the Birmingham School. “Cultural Marxism” is thus identified with “Cultural Studies”, i.e. the study of culture as pursued by early British Marxist academics who drew on the work and ideas of the classical Frankfurt School comrades. Quoting Kellner:
“Critical cultural studies insisted that the politics of representation must engage class, gender, race, and sexuality, thus correcting lacunae in earlier forms of cultural Marxism. British cultural studies successively moved from focuses on class and culture to include gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, nation, and other constituents of identity in their analyses”12
It is not difficult to imagine that what Kellner is here referring to are feminists, sexual and racial minorities and immigrants, in other words those groups which constitute the new proletariat for contemporary Marxist ideologues. And yet, in the opinion of the author of the Report, this is no more than a “conspiracy theory” peddled by the “populist right”.
The second intellectual is Prof. Jürgen Habermas, the most important still-living exponent of the Frankfurt School. In his 1985 book The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, he outlined the process through which classical Marxism was revised:
“Critical Theory was initially developed in Horkheimer’s circle to think through political disappointments at the absence of revolution in the West, the development of Stalinism in Soviet Russia, and the victory of fascism in Germany. It was supposed to explain mistaken Marxist prognoses, but without breaking with Marxist intentions.”13
The last leftist theorist which I wish to cite is Prof. Harry Cleaver, author of his famous 1979 publication Reading Capital Politically. In this volume Prof. Cleaver explains how Marxism passed into the cultural field:
“This helps explain how Critical Theory could turn its attention towards the analysis of the ‘cultural realm’. Because it assumed total capitalist control in the factory and saw the authoritarian state as extending that hegemony to the rest of society, the obvious implication was the study of the emerging new forms of domination that made up that extension.
“With this background it should be clear that the general preoccupation of Western Marxism and Critical Theory with ‘cultural’ themes was immanently political and was not, at least in its most fruitful years (1930s), a retreat to ‘purely philosophical’ realms of speculation as some have claimed.”14
A vulgarised conception of Neomarxism (and as a consequence, one susceptible to being spun by those whose political engagements are defined by an aggressive and emotion driven confrontationalism15) was presented in the work of such paleoconservative authorities as Pat Buchannan, Michael S. Lind and Michael J. Minnicino. Their work published around the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty first, such as Buchannan’s Death of the West, illustrated a simplified vision of the transformation of classical Marxism into an ideology intended to weaken the United States by cultural means: through the promotion of the absurd,16 the activation of the homoloby for political ends, the incitement to ideological terrorism (political correctness) and the destruction of the traditional family paradigm. In summary: bad Marxists want to destroy the civilisation of the White Man17 and distract the American population from this destruction with nonsense.18
The Games Played by the Report’s Author
The latest line of inquiry over Marxism was sparked in Poland by Krzysztof Karoń,19 who prefers to refer to this phenomenon as “Anti-cultural Marxism” or simply “Anticulture”, which is supposed to illustrate more clearly the social techniques employed by contemporary Marxist praxis: the destruction of a culture’s main mechanism,20 where that mechanism is the individual’s motivation for creative labour. Stopping the cultures mechanism from operating properly will give rise to a class of individuals who are incapable of independently producing consumable goods, and as a consequence render them incapable of generating wealth. This class of persons would constitute an iron electorate for the Marxists. Such a class already exists: the precariat. In the past, it was the proletariat that played this role.
The perspective, which has been assumed by the group associated with Młot na Marksizm [n.b. which published the original version of this article], sets aside religious and axiological analyses; simpler yet often neglected approaches to analysing materialist ideologies such as Marxism should be the focus. The central question, from which all other aspects of the analysis emanate, is the question of labour. The simplest definition of Marxism is the obtaining of power through the destruction of capitalism as the productive economic system within which framework the individual can work towards a state of independent prosperity. All cultural conflicts which we witness in relation to gender, LGBT, sex education, ecoterrorism, feminist postulates, the immigrant crisis and so forth, thus appear secondary in nature. Of primary concern should be the manner in which these cultural conflicts are devices used to influence a population’s motivation and ability to support a capitalistic order, which – of course – must be deconstructed. A functioning market is impossible without a qualified and productive populace. This is the essence of the matter.
Why wouldn’t the experts at the Stefan Batory Foundation, and the authors of the Report and Article, deign to relate to the authoritative commentary of the abovementioned Marxist professors who have far greater competence in this area? The theses [i.e. critical of Cultural Marxism] which are under attack in the Report are substantiated by the work of Krzysztof Karoń, Dariusz Rozwadowski21 and Jakub Zgierski.22 The insistent placing of these individuals in the same category as other right-wing publicists, clergy and politicians who, due to their lack of deeper understanding, engage in a shallow criticism of current cultural conflicts (believing, for example, that the sexual revolution is about sex, which it isn’t) is undeniably an attempt to stereotype the opposition.23
Thus all opponents are thrown into the same bag – a bag in which one will find the clergy, politicians from Law and Justice,24 American publicists, Dugisist sympathisers, various Eurosceptics and so forth. Including advocates of Social Knowledge [see n1 below] within this group is problematic, because it suggests that they have “taken a side”.25 However, we will take this opportunity to declare that it is not our intention to identify with the left or right, but rather, to promote an understanding of the world untainted by ideology [i.e. promote “Social Knowledge”]. This knowledge will allow the individual to understand the consequences of various political programmes. In contrast to most of the clergy, we don’t focus on the idealistic defence of values, but rather indicate what will result from the destruction of those values. Among politicians, Dariusz Rozwadowski is targeted [i.e. in the Report and Article], however we differ from his approach insofar as we don’t focus on political agitation; we are therefore not particularly concerned by the falsification of his message, but we do object to the description of Dariusz Matecki26 as an authority on Neomarxism.
Russian sources are also named among individuals and media which address the question of Neomarxism, which prepares for the suggestion that the “narrative of the Neomarxist threat” is essentially Russian propaganda. Because, of course, every ideological opponent is a “Russian agent”. Where have we seen this before…
The authors of the Report accuse their detractors of dividing society into the “good” and the “bad”. It’s a pity that we see in the same Report that very same condemned tactic: “Presently in Poland, Neomarxism [i.e. identification and criticism thereof] is being exploited by the populist right and the Catholic Church. But the long-term impact of this should alert all those who are concerned about the future of our nation.”27 It is difficult to remove the speck from your neighbour’s eye when you have a beam in your own.
In the two publications we also find targeted the TV series “Antykultura” broadcast on Telewizja Trwam28 in Toruń. This enterprise was criticised like all other attempts to raise public awareness on the topic of Neomarxism. To date, the production boasts of two seasons of twelve episodes each. The third season will be broadcast in Autumn 2020.
The Report and the Article attempt to associate their detractors with criminals such as Anders Breivik and the German National Socialists. The Nazi concept of “Cultural Bolshevism” was brought up as a device they used to criticise Soviet Russia and its agent provocateurs in Germany, which essentially means the German Communist Party of the era. The insistence to reduce all arguments concerning new Marxism to the level of Hitleristic propaganda has only one objective: to discredit the interlocutor, and thus to expel him as a heretic who is unworthy to engage in political debate. The purpose of this is to brand a swastika on the forehead of all those who oppose the left, so that they are treated like lepers, so that nobody so much as glances in their direction. It is simple to fix this problem by focusing not on who formulated these criticisms of the left but whether they are merited, substantiated.
One other matter deserves attention which relates to nomenclature. The writer and historian Dariusz Rozwadowski who is mentioned in the Report addressed the concept of “Cultural Marxism” in his book on the topic. That, however, was a pragmatic decision – the term is no longer obscure, and describing the phenomenon with a new term would not have guaranteed its reception by the reading public.29
I wish to conclude by referring to a discussion which took place in 2015 in the “Hala Odlotów”30 programme on TVP.31 The discussion concerned “fascism”, which is allegedly on the rise in Poland. Krzysztof Bosak,32 who appeared on the programme, responded to the other panellists by stating that it is entirely possible their misunderstanding is a result of a difference of fundamental premises: his and his follower’s are conservative and Catholic, whereas his opponent’s are Neomarxist. Of particular interest was the response by Agnieszka Graff of Krykyka Polityczna [“Political Criticism”]33 who stated that:
“Yes, yes, of course, Neomarxism is the foundation of contemporary cultural studies and the philosophy of culture, this is no great revelation. It’s certainly evident.”
So who then is in error? Is it Miss Graff, or is it the team at the Stefan Batory Foundation and the OKO.press portal? [i.e. is Cultural Marxism a “conspiracy theory” peddled by the so-called “populist right”, as declaimed by apologists for the contemporary left, or is it the vehicle for Neomarxist praxis in a West in which the proletarian revolution failed, as described by numerous celebrated Marxist authorities over the last several decades] I will leave the reader to ponder that question himself.
- Rainer Zybura with Jakub Zgierski and Others, “O Tym Jak OKO.press i Fundacja Batorego Uśmiercili Neomarksizm” [“How OKO.press and the Stefan Batory Foundation Put Neomarxism to Death”] Młot na Marksizm (online) (27 April 2020) <mlotnamarksizm.pl> (accessed 4 June 2020).
- Anna Mierzyńska, “Neomarksistowska Tęczowa Zaraza – Jak Teoria Spiskowa Populistycznej Prawicy Wpływa na Debatę Publiczną w Polsce” [“The Neomarxist Rainbow Disease – How the Populist Right’s Conspiracy Theory has Influenced Public Debate in Poland”] ForumIdei (Fundacja Batorego, 2020).
- Anna Mierzyńska, “Tęczowy Neomarksizm u Bram. Polska Prawica i Kościół Przejęli tę Narrację z USA i Rosji” [“Rainbow Neomarxism at the Gates. The Polish Right and the Church have Assumed a US and Russian Narrative”] OKO.press (online) (19 April 2020) <oko.press> (accessed 4 June 2020).
- Anna Mierzyńska describes herself on social media as an activist and public marketing “expert” (Twitter, User Biography, accessed 4 June 2020) who has been published on hard left leaning online publications such as OKO.press and worked for Cultural Marxist institutions such as the Stefan Batory Foundation (see infra).
- The Stefan Batory Foundation is a major institution that fosters Western styled liberalism in Poland among the academic and political class. It is backed by the George Soros financed Open Society Foundation.
- OKO.press is a website dedicated to citizen journalism which, according to its “About Us” page, is opposed to so-called “populism, right-wing fundamentalism and nationalism.” (“O Nas” (undated) <oko.press/o-nas> (accessed 4 June 2020)).
- The term “social knowledge” is a direct translation of the original “wiedza społeczna” which has a specific meaning in the context of metapolitical debate among the Polish right. It is best defined by Krzysztof Karoń in his 2018 work Historia Antykultury (“The History of Anticulture”) as a fundamental orientational ability on the part of a citizen, but which should also be common to all members of the community, through which rational decisions with respect to political questions can be made, where that orientation “encompass only facts and logically substantiated deductions which are free from the contamination of worldview [i.e. personal biases, inclinations or ideologies].” See pp. 12-13. This volume is presently not available in English translation. See further, n 19 infra.
- I.e. a “game played” by the author of the Report and Article and the institutions under which they were published.
- The term “foliarstwo” is used in the original text, which bears an allusion to the tin-foil-hat caricature more common in Anglophone political discourse. There being no directly corresponding word in English, the sentence had to be translated purposively, by importing the term “paranoia” which is believed to be the original author’s intended description.
- Dobromir Sośnierz is a member of the Polish Lower House (Sejm) representing “Konfederacja”, a confederacy of anti-establishment groupings on the right, of which Janusz Korwin-Mikke’s strongly libertarian party is also a member; Sośnierz is a member of Korwin-Mikke’s wing of Konfderacja. For Anglophone readers, the libertarianism of Korwin-Mikke would be more accurately described as paleolibertarian by contemporary Western standards due to its strong default to the cultural right on civilisation defining matters. However, left-libertarians can likewise be found in this milieu, causing tensions that are occasionally noted by the more prominent nationalist supporters of Konfederacja such as those associated with the annual “Independence Day March” celebrations. The point being made here is that it is deliberately misleading to label individuals like Sośnierz as a populist or “far” rightist.
- It is necessary to put on the record that this thesis is much in dispute, namely that paleoconservatism introduced the concept of Cultural Marxism as an analytical tool for understanding the development of the contemporary radical left and its worldview and policies, and that paleoconservatives informed the development of the Alternative Right. Firstly, that paleoconservatim has been the only school of conservative thought capable of sincere and honest critiques of modernity is a truism born of the fact that it has had no real institutional support or patronage, and could thus cultivate an honesty unseen among ideological currents within the political mainstream; theories of Cultural Marxism could therefore be discussed without compunction. However such discussions have existed elsewhere among a variety of non-establishment rightist circles in both the US and Europe for decades (such as the European Nouvelle Droit and what could be described in the United States as implicitly- or proto-identitarian). Secondly, the more dynamic elements of the Alternative Right – by their own admissions – were “libertarians mugged by reality” who progressed through the “libertarian to AltRight pipeline” (phrases often repeated in various forms on their associated online platforms and podcasts between 2015 to present).
- Douglas Kellner, “Cultural Marxism and Cultural Studies” University of California Los Angeles (website) (28 October 2018 @ 20:35) <pages.gseis.ucla.edu/faculty/kellner/essays/> (accessed 3 June 2020) p. 15.
- Jürgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures (MIT Press, 1987) p. 16.
- Harry Cleaver, Reading Capital Politically (AK Press, 2000 ) pp. 53-54.
- The author uses the term “szuryzm” in the original article, in connection to the way that the concept of Cultural Marxism is mocked by Neomarxists. The term is defined as “expressing support for a political option, view or ideology, where that expression is devoid of any meritorious argument, based purely on an emotional approach to the debate and aggressive approach to the opponent” (Entry: Szuryzm, Słownik Języka Polskiego (online) (7 November 2017) <sjp.pwn.pl> (accessed 3 June 2020)). The term derives from the stem “szur” which is defined as “unbalanced, fanatic, radical, someone who has extreme or controversial views, who defends those views to the bitter end, often driven by conspiracy theories” (Entry: S, Vasisdas (online) (undated) <vasisdas.pl> (accessed 3 June 2020)). The author notes parenthetically in the text of the original article that “In my opinion, a better term to describe this would be sewerage’ism [“ściekarstwo”].”
- The term “degrengolady” is used in the original article, which is a general descriptor for nonsense policies and initiatives whose overall impact on the social order is negative and which lead to the corrosion of the social fabric.
- It should be noted that the phrase “White Man” (or related phrases “World of the White Man” or “Civilisation of the White Man” which are often encountered in debates within the Polish non-establishment right) does not carry the same – or in fact any – stigma which is ordinarily encountered in the Western, particularly Anglophone press. The fact that this stigma is reinforced in the West by such pejorative concepts as “whiteness” and “white privilege” only confirms this author’s thesis, and its use here illustrates the extent to which Cultural Marxism has not colonised the rhetorical space of political debate in Poland. Judging from the context in which “White Man” is used here (and in adjacent organisations and platforms of political debate) it is never applied in a manner that indicates so-called “supremacism” vis-à-vis the “Other”, as Cultural Marxists would disingenuously insist. Rather, it is used as a general descriptor of a culture fostered in Europe by its foundational people and exported by them via colonial and other enterprises throughout history. It is frequently used along with other terms such as “Latin Civilisation” which denotes a specifically Catholic identity with which the Polish right identifies. In short, it is used here as a general descriptor of the civilizational bloc with which the author of the piece identifies, without any malicious subtext. The point needs to be emphasised given that this translation will likely be read by Anglophone readers who live in a rhetorical environment plagued by oikophobia.
- Literally, this last part reads in the original as “and drive the American population onto a treadmill”. It is translated here into an equivalent that is more meaningful in English.
- Krzysztof Karoń is the author of the self-published work Historia Antykultury (2018, with an updated version republished in 2019; see n 7 supra) which has gradually gained a cult following among Polish Catholic and dissident right networks. His advocacy commenced with online lectures and public speaking events on the history of culture, art and aesthetics, before gradually developing into a critique of contemporary finance capitalism, specifically its usurious aspects, and the impact these have on retarding a civilisation’s ability to self-perpetuate and grow by destroying the individual work ethic.
- I.e. a “mechanism” by which the culture sustains and promulgates itself.
- Dariusz Rozwadowski is the author of Marksizm Kulturowy – 50 Lat Walki z Civilizacją Zachodu (Prohibita, 2018) [“Cultural Marxism – 50 Years of War Against Western Civilisation”]; this book is currently unavailable in English.
- Jakub Zgierski is the co-author of the original version of this article and public face of “Młot na Marksizm”, on which the article first appeared (see n 3 supra) and who also hosts various current affairs programmes on Youtube and wRealu24.tv.
- I.e. stereotyping those who oppose Cultural Marxist objectives and techniques.
- Law and Justice (orig. “Prawo i Sprawidliwość”) is the current governing party, often described as “nationalist”, “conservative” or “right wing” by the Western press but which has come under increasing pressure from dissident non-aligned rightists as well as supporters of the Konfederacja party, which has been gaining significantly in the polls at the expense of Law and Justice in recent months.
- I.e. “taken a side” with one of those parties, individuals, ideologies or positions.
- Dariusz Matecki is a politician and member of Law and Justice (see supra n 24).
- Anna Mierzyńska, op. cit. (Fundacja Batorego, 2020) p. 21.
- Telewizja Trwam (“Television: Prevail”) is a mainstream (for Polish standards) socially conservative Catholic free to air television channel popularly associated with the anti-communist milieu as well as support for the ruling Law and Justice party (see supra n 24).
- The point being made here is that the term “Cultural Marxism” is now so common that it is an error to simply write it off as a neologism of the political fringe.
- Hala Odlotów: “Brunatna Polska: Fakty czy Histeria” [“Brownshirted Poland: Facts or Hysterics”] TVP Kultura (17 February 2015) <vod.tvp.pl> (accessed 4 June 2020).
- TVP is one of two state run free to air television channels in Poland. In the original text, the author writes that the programme was broadcast on TVPinfo; this is incorrect, the programme was aired on TVP Kultura. “Hala Odlotów” is a current affairs programme that involves debates between politicians, social commentators and cultural critics.
- Krzysztof Bosak is a member of the nationalist wing of the Konfederacja party, and is their candidate for the 2020 Presidential elections in Poland.
- Krytyka Polityczna is an academic periodical of the left which serves the purpose of promoting critical theory in Polish political discourse.