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Marxism & the Frankfurt School
Posted By Jonathan Bowden On May 9, 2012 @ 3:15 am In North American New Right | 14 Comments
The following is a transcript by Davied E. Clarke of Jonathan Bowden’s highly informative and entertaining speech at the 13th meeting of the New Right in London on January 12, 2008. The audio is available on YouTube here .
I have marked several unintelligible words. I also marked a bit of audio missing at the beginning of one of the segments. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org  if you have the missing audio or if you can make out the unintelligible words.
I’d like to talk in this brief period that I have before me about the left, and about Marxism in particular, and within that about the Frankfurt School as a particular type of Marxism. We’ve never had a speech, and we’ve never had a talk, about the left before, in these gatherings as the New Right, per se.
Now, from one level if you were an extreme leftist now in the Western world, in Western Europe, maybe parts of Southern Europe (yes and no), and North America, you’d look around and you’d think there was a cultural desert, that you’d lost completely, that communism had collapsed, that far left movements have no votes at all, except residually in Italy, to a much smaller extent in France, and a few places elsewhere. You’d think that the socialist dream, that life could be better and more equal and free and so on, had come crashing down completely.
And yet paradoxically, these people have lost a world and yet gained another, because their values, in a subtle way, in a mediated way, in a transliterated way, are the values that exist largely of the society out there. And when you go down and remove Sky Sport or put something else on and even there residually, you will find, what a Marxist would call, “the reification of triumphant values,” in other words a soft left viewpoint put again and again and again, in every media, at every level.
Now how has this occurred? That a force that in a hard way seems to have lost everywhere: its states have gone down; its military structures have gone down. Its Chinese and Asiatic version is producing a mass, super-capitalist version, with an increasingly “post left,” indeed even racial elite that manage the society technologically and whose ideology is frozen into a type of theology. Many Marxists are in despair in this era, and the Frankfurt School, that we’re going to have a bit of a look at in this talk, actually in some ways is a movement of despair both within Marxism and within Western thinking. Yet, this victory in defeat and defeat in victory that we have all around us is something that I want to look at.
In England, in the early part of the 20th century, intellectuals of left and right often used to debate with each other. This is really no longer possible now eighty, ninety years on. G. K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, [G. B.] Shaw, and [H. G.] Wells knew each other well, often had debates with each other.
The irony is that if you’d turned to them or their audiences, maybe in venues like this, eighty-odd years ago and more, that we would have in the early part of the new millennium, a left wing, capitalist society, people would have said “You’re mad!” The idea that the market can adopt the values of the folded out, libertarian, slightly soft — but not entirely so — left would have been regarded as perverse by almost any social and ideological commentator of that era. But it’s what we’ve got! And it’s all around us, and it’s sort of in the ether; it’s all-pervasive. Even to cut against it in a very minor way is to create a shock somewhere. Certainly if you’re anyone of any reputation or any foreknowledge in the culture and you make a remark which is “incorrect,” and you’re known, and you’ve ventilated it as such, there’s a tremor in the web.
Now my interpretation of this is that hard Marxism, strict Marxist Leninism and various anarchistic and other variants often to one side of it, have failed, but the trajectory of the ideology itself has succeeded, has morphed, and has transfigured itself in a new way. You have the left has come into the center, taken it, turned it around, and what we’d call liberalism now, either with a small or large “L,” is not the liberalism of fifty to sixty years ago. It’s not even the liberalism of a hundred and fifty years ago. The truth is that the people who led Palmerstone’s Liberal Party had views which in the middle of the nineteenth century, could be construed as people who, if not to the right of this gathering, then wouldn’t have been too far away.
The Protestant ideological moralism that underpinned liberal ideas of a traditional sort has been ripped out. So it’s become a materialist and secularist ideology prone to infiltration and change by forces from its own radical left.
One of the things that’s most germane to the Frankfurt School is the Frankfurt School repudiates those elements of communist practice that liberals don’t like: the harshness, the camps, the belief in struggle, the secret police, the art of the people, and the crushing out of anything that the people don’t like. Vyshinsky screaming that ex-comrades should be killed, beheaded, and their families tortured before they die! All in the name of love, and humanity and peace. The French Communist party organ was L’Humanité, humanity!
Thorez who was the leader in the post war period was personally trained by Stalin in exile during Vichy to take France which the Eastern Bloc believed (more so than Italy at that time) was the first Western domino to go within Europe. Get them out of NATO, align them with the Warsaw Pact, create chaos inside the Western Alliance, and so on.
Now, Marxism grows up of course from the 19th century, but before Marx gave state socialism and ideological socialism a pseudo-scientific gloss and formulation, there’d been various other theorists, Saint-Simone, Fourier, Utopian types of socialism, some of them a secularization of Christian, libertarian ideals. Marx was determined to reshape not just the nature of the left but the nature of philosophy and the Europe of his time and the world for all time!
His type of trajectory relates to a particular view of society that certain intellectuals have — although he never specified it as such, Marx and those of his ilk who came after him, in a wide range of theorists who’ve almost died out today. There’s not one major Marxist theoretician really who’s alive today who’s of any importance. You get a minor, minor figure like Alex Callinicos who was associated with the Socialist Worker’s Party at one time, occasionally bobs up, but these are people of almost no importance whatsoever.
Baudrillard and major theorists like this are cynical, materialistic liberals and libertarians who laugh and sneer at everything, and it’s all a great game to them because they’re concerned with language, what it means, what it doesn’t mean, how it can be repositioned and so on. They’re not really Marxists at all. The last really powerful thinker in that trajectory–well there could be two of them, really—[are] Sartre in a way and Adorno, and after them there are just minor figures who floated up.
So this entire mass of theory that begins with Marx is part of the idea that intellectuals can totally dominate society. In the Anglophone world view intellectuals are on the whole praised and privileged to a degree but also accorded a very minor status. In France and in Eastern Europe, which often modeled itself on French patterns of intellectual culture, intellectuals form a class within the society which is very coherent and quite hard-edged. And it’s understood that you do the academic jobs, you do the higher journalistic jobs, you do the par, upper tier, pre-modern, professional media jobs. You write the books, you run the galleries, and so on. It’s not just an inchoate group of individuals; it’s a tier with its own morals, its own way of behaving, its own salons which are the parties and groups where this particular subset of intelligent people meet.
I went to an intellectual salon, run by a continental European of course, when I was eighteen, and all the intellectuals were talking about “ordinary people” because that is the class division if you’re an intellectual. There are those that live for the mind and ordinary people who don’t. So they have their own mental class division within that, and Marx in, his own way was a radical twist on some of those ideas. He believed that theory could dominate life and social process to such a degree that it could change the world, and even human nature, forever.
One of the important things about Marxism is its total and utter break with the past, its total and utter break with all religious ideas; there is nothing supernatural; they’re just human theories and mixed within language. There is nothing prior to man; there are no eternal values whatsoever; everything is in the now, and everything is based on materialistic precepts which predetermine every aspect of life. This means that in the high regime and ferocity stage, Communism represses religion with extreme and often irrational violence.
You always know that a communist movement is falling back again into social democratic centrism and state socialism when it allows people to adopt a religious preference. After the Soviet collapse when the Communist Party reared up again and in one of Yeltsin’s internal elections (one of the ones that his forces won) they had a bit of a chance. They said that Christianity and Orthodox Russian Christianity were now compatible with Marxist Leninism, which is the key to a weakening of the resolve for struggle, because the desire to crush out religious belief, even to the degree of atrocity such as those committed by Pol Pot in Kampuchea for example, where there was an actual attempt to kill every self- defining Buddhist in the society, is an attempt to eradicate completely that which exists before.
Mao, who was even more psychologically radical than Marx himself, believed–completely contrary to all biological ideas–that man is a piece of paper. Man is a white sheet. You can take a man and torture him to a gibbering wreck; you can take a man and say he’s a God and then shoot him afterwards. Man is changeable, and plastic, and can be molded by struggle, or what they called dialectic. Ideology in life and in language and in history. “Give me a man for half an hour and I’ll make him a communist.” It’s this sort of idea. And occasionally, many of their theories when applied, such as to American prisoners of war in the Korean War for example, had a certain salience.
Maoist behavioral theories worked on these lines. They believed that there is a five percent leadership caucus in all groups, so you take the officers away from the men when you’ve got them captured. Then you take away the non-commissioned officers. Then you take away the moral officers, those amongst the men who the elite amongst the mass of the troops who have personalities that will be known as leadership personalities. In crisis people would look to them. If the officer has fallen, they become the officer. You get rid of them. You remove them. You either shoot them or put them in a separate camp or send them back to the Americans. You want the mass that you can mold and destroy and remake.
And they did it with quite a lot of them. Many of them came back to the US three or four years later mouthing sort of Marxist platitudes, you know: “We invaded the Third World, man,” you know, “we deserved what we got” and this sort of thing. In the Vietnam War some of these tendencies to deterioration and degeneracy in the American Army became so large that many of them would shoot their own officers rather than go out on patrol, which is one of the many reasons why they ended in a surreal mess prior to surrender. America of course conducted a mass bombing campaign, said they’d won, and then cleared out; a scenario they may repeat in Iraq and Afghanistan in the next couple of years. But to return to our Marxist theory.
Marx emerged really, first in a group of radical German intellectuals called “The Free Ones” (“Die Freien”) who used to meet in a beer cellar in the 1840s. In the 1840s of course, liberalism and nationalism went together as ideologies; now, 150 years on, they’re daggers drawn. But in that group in the 1840s there were gathered some of the most radical, “let’s change the world” intellectuals in Germany, in central Europe.
Many of them have been forgotten today: Botho Strauss and Otto Strauss have been forgotten; Feuerbach is only remembered because Marx wrote an essay about him. Max Stirner is remembered for one book he wrote about extreme individualism. But in the corner of the paintings of The Free Ones as they gathered in this cellar there is a tall gentile Engels, the factory owner, the financier of the theorist, and Marx, then with an enormous black beard because he was very young then.
Marx’s idea is that you have to smash all the theory, particularly all the progressive theory that pre-dated him. That’s why he began with Groundwork (Grundrisse) and The German Ideology and you must clear away all these false and fake ‘progressive’ ideas based on liberal thinking, bourgeois semantics and utopianism. Everything must be based upon science and upon matter and must be provable and must be empirical. He believed that intellectuals could so interpret the changes in society that they could master the consciousness of a society, change it, and shift it, and force it in directions that even hadn’t entirely been predicated on the theory.
The one thing you notice about Marxism is it’s a seething vortex of ideas; it’s always restless; it’s always counter-propositional. Marx will make a statement, then he’ll qualify it, then he’ll withdraw it, then he’ll make another statement which is more radical. And this is part of again what they call “dialectic.”
Now the idea of dialectic is based on Hegelian theory, and it’s based on an ancient Greek thinker called Heraclitus, who believed that everything is in flux, and everything changes, and everything works on itself. The fury with which Marxists fall on each other in intellectual dispute, often about arcane matters which are of no relevance, which in a regime context is a choice between life and death! You advocate the dialecticism of a particular crop cycle and you get it wrong, and the party sides with another, you are shot! And your family’s shot! And those that are related to them are shot as well, because ideas are important.
The man who thumbs through the Guardian on the tube who thinks “ideas? . . . who cares?” To a Marxist ideas are life, and you write them in blood because they’re important. They suppress artistic forms because they believe they are important enough to merit that. And that’s the difference between why they almost conquered a world and did it in various ways.
Now Marxists on the whole form two camps in my mind, politically and ideologically. In all Marxist groups you get the rather weak, pacifistic, loving, humanistic people. The vicar’s daughter who believes human nature isn’t . . . right. If only we could be nicer to each other, if only we could spread more love. You get these people always in ultra left and communist groups, and next to them on the podium, next to them in the auditorium, [are] your utterly nihilistic, ruthless, virtually criminal types who want to use the structure of power when they get it to crush those underneath them, don’t give a damn about ideology, and are actually amongst the most misanthropic people you could ever meet. And you have these extremes of the innocent lovey and the sort of sadistic amoralist in the same group.
That’s why when a Communist regime comes in they have enormous purges because they have to start by purging their own, to get rid of all the idiots! To get rid of all of those who believed it was “love, love, love” and they’re led off by the men in leather jackets, because you’ve got to get rid of those fools early!
If a right wing regime is formed, and there’s a purge, it’s because it’s people struggling for power. That’s what it’s about.
Now, Marx, in the British library, began writing sort of pure theory as a critique. The interesting thing about Marxism is in a strange way its unoriginality. Epistemologically, it’s Hegel (and that’s the theory about how it thinks about its own theory) and Heraclitus. Politically it’s the ultra-left of its own time fitted in a made to do service.
All of the classical liberal thinkers from Adam Smith onwards who underpinned capitalism as an idea, Marx doesn’t think up an original theory in relation to them, he critiques them. All Marxism is a shadow; it’s a critique; it’s a sort of feeding on the carcass of something which exists before you. You critique it, you turn it around, you re-engineer it and you come to [unintelligible] on the basis of a negation. So the negation of that which exists before is the key to this type of thinking.
And then you negate the negation, and then you negate the negation of the negation and you go on and on.
The most radical version of state communism is Trotskyism, the idea that you have a regime that renews itself through endless and perpetual struggle. “There is no rest!” “there is no motion!” Trotsky wrote endless sentences like this “no love, no serenity, no stillness, no motion, only the struggle!” And of course Stalin took him at his word, which is why he purged them all from the party after 1928. But until then, of course, they were giving almost as good as they got, and both sides in that dispute worshiped the parent, Lenin.
Now Lenin was taught his Marxism by Plekhanov who was a Menshevik who didn’t like the Bolshevik Revolution. Quite few Marxists who were purely sort of, almost gentle professors of cultural destruction, they didn’t actually like the Bolshevik Revolution because in actual fact it’s contrary to some Marxist theory.
The idea of the Plekhanov school is that if, in a totally undeveloped society, you have a militarist coup by a left-wing armed group (which is what the Bolshevik Revolution really was) you will end up in an extremely nasty, what we would call today Third World dictatorship which is exactly what happens because in their theory you have to allow capitalism and the bourgeois class–which is loathed and yet admired strangely, simultaneously–to reach fruition to create the proletariat industrially, then there must be leaders from the Bourgeoisie who split off, form the communist vanguard, link with the proletariat, revolutionize the world, and create defective communism, create socialism — the first step. So it’s a progressive cycle.
The Leninist way of dealing with dissidents is to just shoot them! That was Lenin at the end, half his brain was virtually liquid towards the end, massacres on every front, the civil war was going badly. They won that civil war because every man on their own side who retreated more than eight paces, the secret police stood behind them and shot them. And Trotsky introduced that and advocated it in a booklet called “The Necessity of Red Terror.” The Necessity of Red Terror!
I met Corin Redgrave once who was one of the leaders of the Workers Revolutionary Party, and Redgrave, who’s this rather depressive sort of actor, basically, piped up in the middle of this party as he was chain smoking, and he said, “When we’re in power,” he said, “we’re going to have iron hard, IRON HARD . . . destruction of the bourgeois class!!” Like this. And I said, “But Corin, you could be regarded as one of the most bourgeois men in Britain.” And he said, “No, NO! It’s all in the mind.”
And of course it is all in the mind.
He said something very interesting to me about the extraordinary mental arabesque that this theory can cast. Somebody said, “Well what about Stalin then, Corin?” And he said “Stalin is the recrudescence of the theory of the class enemy which occurs mentally at the hypostatization within the class that falsifies its ideology and history and is the class enemy at the particular moment of struggle. If you refer to Trotsky’s The History of the Revolution, chapter eight, paragraph 92, he tells you everything that you need to know about it!”
So it is almost an ersatz religion! Now I’ve known a few Polish people in my life, and Poles learnt Marxism-Leninism at school after the creation of the Gomulka’s regime after ’48. I went to a Catholic school, although I’m not a Catholic (not even a Christian), and you had four periods a week of religious knowledge, and they ripped that out and replaced it with Marxist Leninism, the same four periods!
You learnt the Paris Manuscripts the early idealistic stuff in 1844, which he then reverses. You then go on to the scientific socialism (so-called) of The German Ideology and the Groundwork which wasn’t published in East Germany probably under Ulbricht in ’67. Then you go on to Capital volume one and Capital volumes two and three which Engels writes later. Then you go on to Engels’ parallel material, which is slightly different to Marx. Then you look at people like Plekhanov.
The irony about this pure theory is that without the mountebanks, without the political criminals, without the guerrilla terrorist figures like Stalin, they would have never got anywhere, because they married this theory to sectarian propaganda and conspiratorialism by small, violent, and often criminal groups. And this is a rival tradition that goes back to the French revolution. If you look at people like Babeuf in the 1790s, but in particular it’s Blanqui’s tradition in the nineteenth century. Small, close knit, revolutionary bands that almost no-one’s heard of, swim around these theoretical groups, wait for a crisis in society to use armed force at a crucial and strategic moment, and then build a structure on the basis of the theory which often hardens just into a secular theology whilst they’re really concerned with the exercising of pure power.
I saw a thing which interested me recently in Forbes magazine in the United States which has a rich list, and it said that Castro’s personal fortune was 70 million U.S. dollars. Seventy million U.S. dollars! And they described him as a “communist prince.”
And there is an interesting side to these types that often, because they take illicit and semi-secret shares in state owned industries, the families that owned the original sugar and tobacco industries in old Cuba would be shot or heaved out of the state, they would re-appropriate in the name of the masses. Which means? A slice for the Castro family! And of course it might be quite small in terms of equity when it’s taken, but over fifty odd years builds up to an enormous fund.
And yet many Communists or Marxists that I’ve known are in some ways not particularly materialistic people. The whole point in the Communist movement is that you often owned nothing. Often you left very little, except for these monarch types that I’ve just mentioned, because they lived for the re-creation of man! They believed in a total change in almost all areas of society. Probably the most extreme communist experiment of all was Pol Pot’s in Kampuchea.
Now Pol Pot of course wasn’t his real name, it in some ways means political potential which is what Maoist instructors in China called him: “Political Potential,” Pol Pot. He had political potential.
Pot himself was a nerdy little man with a lop-sided smile and a sadistic desire to impose a type of peasant-based, anarchistic Marxist theory.
One of the interesting things is when he was a student — and Indo-China is strongly influenced by French Imperialism of course — when he was a student in Paris he sat in on lectures by Sartre, by de Beauvoir, by a feminist theorist called Kristeva, who was also a Maoist at the time, and he sort of wrote down things that they said but in a sort of cretinous, future sadistic way like: “The family is a gun in the hands of the bourgeois class. Destroy the family! Yes! Destroy the family! Make everyone live in communes, destroy the bond between mother and child, and husband and wife, everyone is therefore part of the masses, and then it’s wonderful!!”
When he got the chance to do it in a society with gangs of terroristic teenagers, many of them out of their minds on drugs and so on, he did it!
He put people in large barns, and if you said you wanted to see your uncle he said: “I’m your uncle.” And the person was dragged out, and their head beaten in with the butt of a machine gun because you weren’t worthy of a bullet.
So that is the sort of sort of high theory, these French Parisian literati types that have hardly ever had a problem in their lives at all, who’re rebelling against the norms of their own culture, almost as play, that they give the language and the sort of action theater to these types who internalize it all. And although most of them just remain Gerard Healy-like idle dreamers on the margins of Western society, if they ever really got the chance to do it, they would impose it because they believe that it’s morally right to make that imposition. And the idea that these theories are “morally right” is important in relation to their reception at a later time, because I believe that contemporary liberalism has recycled a large number of these theories and treated them, purged of nasty Soviet and Maoist and other accretions, as something normative, as something given.
Seventy years ago many of the values that face you in the media and elsewhere would, amongst normal and apolitical people, been regarded as abhorrent. Now they are normative and even to speak out against them is to essentially embrace thought criminality.
But there’s a degree to which the reason this has occurred is because a hybrid has developed between post-war secular liberalism and the Marxism of the past, and this is what I’d like to discuss.
The Frankfurt School grew up in Germany as a particular response to modern life. Marxism believes in crisis; everything is in crisis. The family’s in crisis; class relations are in crisis; race — which they don’t accept as a social concept because it’s an anthropological concept and isn’t reducible to economic materialism, but does exist because it exists in the mind of reactionaries and so on.
They think that the endless critique of what has gone before prepares new grounds and vistas of struggle, so the purpose of the Frankfurt School was to critique all Marxism, to bring back a more purified and critically intelligent form of the dialectic, which could be used in modernity.
The Frankfurt School is quite complicated because there’s a strong streak of pessimism and despair in it which is very unusual in Marxism. Another very unusual thing is that very Germanic forms of Marxism such as those proffered by Löwenthal, by Horkheimer, by Adorno, by Neumann and others who were prominent in the school, linked to forms of Anglo-Saxon, American and imperialist thought. Why is this? Because of the existence of fascist governments in central Europe in a certain time, all of these types sought refuge in the United States.
When Adorno was at the University of California and the Frankfurt School had been closed down by a certain notorious government in Germany at that time, he developed various psychological theories which are quite interesting even in relation to this present audience. He developed what he called the “F” scale. (“F” was F for Fascism.) This is a personality test which under a different name we still use quite widely. It’s a test for the authoritarian personality, to see how fascistic you are in relation to trigger words.
Many of these ideas have fed through into the doctrine which is now called political correctness, but they’ve morphed and changed over time: rigidity in relation to prior assumption, ability to follow a leader without question, undue respect for authority (dialectically related to the idea that you want to exercise authority yourself — a sort of love-hate relationship to the police), and this sort of thing.
And Adorno ticks all of these boxes. So he’s very obsessed with the micro side which, on the whole, Marxist theory — which loves grand architectures of theory and great spasms of language for its own sake — usually neglects.
Marx himself of course was a combination. Capital is full of endless detail about the suffering of the poor in capitalist societies. One of the reasons many Western idealists were attracted to it in the early part of the 20th century was because, of course, for every new development there were many victims. Marx, if you read Capital, there’s endless sections of it. Crushed children in machines, people suffering in the early stages of industrialization, but the irony, it could almost be Cobbett! And yet it’s linked to the idea of an enormous theory that can transform the nature of reality.
For human good? Well, the problem with all Marxist theory is that it’s counter-propositional in relation to what we are, what all races are, what humanity is, and all mankind is as a whole. We’re based on nature; we have our being in that substructure. We are not as leftist ideas would have us.
One of the reasons for the extraordinary rapacity of communist terror is, I think, a sense of disappointment, on a cosmic level!
When you get into power you realize that human beings are partly avaricious, partly sexual, partly acquisitive, partly territorial, partly communal, partly group-identifying–everything that your theory said that they weren’t! And there’s a strong element of concealed–and not so concealed in the regime phase–misanthropy in communism, that if humanity can’t be redeemed in that way we’ll fall on them anyway. It’s almost a secularization of the idea of sin. “They’ve disappointed us and so they’ll suffer” and maybe through the infliction of various agonies like Procrustes’ Bed; the man lies on the bed and his arms are over the side and his feet are over the bottom, and you think, “I’ve got to get him to fit the bed, so you cut off the feet and you cut off the hands.” Pol Pot says, the leaders of the Derg, Mengistu in Ethiopia, says: “Look! Our body fits the bed,” but it’s limbless! And that’s how you’ve made it fit!
Now Adorno wrote a whole series of books, Negative Dialectics, Minima Moralia, Aesthetic Theory which is an enormous book, this thick, eight hundred pages; it’s in Routledge & Kegan Paul.
He was a pessimist, Adorno: all the photos used on the Routledge editions of his books show him with one hand over one side of his face dwelling upon the pain and misery of humanity. He believed, in a strange way that has echoes of cultural conservatism to it, paradoxically, that the masses are totally brutalized and dehumanized by capitalist ideology.
He believed that everything has been sucked into the spectacle of mass culture, to such a degree that there is no freedom for the masses at all. Of course he never thought “do we even want to be free?” That’s a question that is off limits essentially.
“Everyone can be free; everyone can be rational; everyone can be equal.” To say otherwise is to render yourself a beast and a demon. A reactionary, outside of the doctrine of progress and enlightenment. So remember that!
His first book was called The Dialectic of Enlightenment, which he wrote with Horkheimer, and which is an interesting thesis because like a true Marxist he goes right back to the roots and one of the paradoxes is that although Liberalism has embraced a lot of soft Marxism, this is a ferocious critique of Liberalism! The Dialectic of Enlightenment is now an attack on the Enlightenment! He ferociously lambasts these liberal theorists for their reactionary nature, their desire to exploit man in the name of capitalist progress, their desire to dominate nature. Adorno believed that Fascism was a natural reaction against capitalistic exploitation and the desire liberals, liberals, had to exploit man and nature.
Adorno is so far to the left that Liberals are the enemy! Never forget that for a true Communist the liberals are the scum, and the middling ones, to whom you will give enough latitude, you will give enough rope to, before you hang them. I think Lenin in One Step Forward, Two Steps Back said all these social democrats and so on we allow them their time. We allow them the time on the stage to weaken the right, to weaken religious beliefs to open the way for us. And when we’re there, then we hang them, we hang them, and we enjoy it because they are worse than the Bourgeoisie! Because they are traitors to the class in history, and we will deal with them with an utter ruthlessness that we won’t even treat reactionaries with.
That’s the real Leninism talking, but Adorno doesn’t like that sort of talk at all, because although he’s not a humanist he does believe in the Alsatia of forgotten possibilities. Don’t forget, for a Western Marxist — and this theory’s called Western Marxism or Euro-communism as it became — the Soviet experience has been a disaster.
I once had a conversation with E. J. Hobsbawm who was the Marxist professor at Birkbeck, the extramural and evening college of London University, and he said, in private of course; “Well as a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain I would never have admitted this, but the entire Soviet experiment has been deleterious!” You know twenty million dead, fifty million dead, multiple wars, dictatorship? It’s been “deleterious.” As he reaches for another drink, you know. He said, “All it achieved was the socialization of the means of production; it’s not enough, it’s not enough!” you know.
And yet when the coup happened against Gorbachev, he supported the coupsters; he supported the coup d’état for reasons of what he called “revolutionary conservatism,” you should hold what you have. Even if it’s totally broken.
Hobsbawm’s interesting because Neil Kinnock was a close personal friend of his, and there’s always been an interconnection not between Communism and elements of the Labour leadership, certainly in the Cold War period, but between Marxism and the Labour leadership and other leaders who are regarded as more liberal, more social democratic, more moderate.
At the beginning of the twentieth century “Social Democrat” meant Marxist. By the end of the twentieth century they were people who were aligned with George Bush 1 and were Atlanticists. Dennis Healey begins in the Communist Party youth wing, ends up a right-wing Social Democrat and Atlanticist supporting the Vietnam War! Something Wilson, slightly intelligently, kept us out of, but the Australians fought on our behalf. So there’s a strange element to which Marxism is “alright” at least when it’s considered to be a theoretical add-on to center-left disputes. Claire Short’s a descendant now in the modern Labour party and is advocating a hung Parliament even as Left [?] Whip in the House of Commons, but when the Soviet Union went down she was asked “Is Communism dead?” by some Independent-type journalist, and she said “Communism may be dead [she probably went; ‘in the West’], but Marxism isn’t!”
And this idea that the theory can be obtained, retained, re-branded, and re-cycled, even though the hardcore vanguard politics has gone down, is something that most of the left still believes.
One of the reasons Liberalism’s triumphed in this society is the mental wetness, the irresolve, fear, and funk of conservatism morally and intellectually and ideologically. And I don’t just mean naked, middle class self-interest and the sort of slightly impoverished range of politics based around that, which is the core of all center-right parties. What I mean is conservatism philosophically and intellectually, unlike the moderate left that’s always looked to the far left for its energy, for its theory, for its radicalism. They repudiate bits they don’t like (particularly the harsher bits) but they’re, “Come in brother, come in comrade.” They take it into themselves.
Conservatives, even of the Professor Roger Scruton and Maurice Cowling type, there is a permafrost between them and the far right and radical right ideas. This means, theoretically and mentally, they’ve cut part of their own body off. Whatever their much more moderate political views are, they will not take the energy which exists to one side of them. Always in thinking — which is one of the reasons intellectuals often make bad politicians! Thinking goes to the margin of the prospect of a thought. Politics often has to deal with great masses of people, with what they can understand and appreciate, with short attention spans, with people who’ve got a hundred other things to do. Politics is even, in society, a minority sport amongst a minority sport!
People who hate each other but are political, often have more in common psychologically than the anonymous mass of people who don’t give a damn how they’re governed as long as there’s bread on the plate the day after next. And because conservatism has cut itself off from racio-biological, from elitist, from Nietzschean, from radical views –because they regard them in almost a satanic light, they couldn’t fight back against liberalism because they had no mental ammunition!
And because conservatism is an anti-intellectual attitude anyway, often Philistine, often atheoretical, when a Marxist version of center-leftism comes along, they increasingly laughed at it, scorned it, accepted it a bit, accepted it a bit, moved to the side, said they were against it, pushed away an egregious bit, accepted a bit. Then another generation would accept a bit more. Then another generation would accept a bit more.
The average Tory in the 1960s would have regarded race as a fact of social existence. Now you’ll be expelled from the modern Tory party for saying that. That’s fifty, forty years! Its nothing. Half an adult lifetime! And that’s because of what’s up here, particularly amongst relatively sort of unintelligent people, up to a point. But there are many intelligent people in the Tory party. But it is because of the Second World War and its aftermath, and the fear, the self-loathing, and self-hatred in many relatively normal “conservative” people who are the mainstream in any society.
In any society you have to have a mass of people who are a bit stuck, a bit boring, a bit uncreative because they are the bedrock. They’re not going to be exceptional, but you can’t have that in any social order. One of the delusions of Marxism is that everything could be different. Trotsky wrote an extraordinary essay in the early 1920s when the Soviet regime had just been created and was caked in blood. He wrote this essay saying, “When we’ve achieved pure socialism there’ll be a Wagner, yes a Wagner! There’ll be a Shakespeare, there’ll be a Byron on every corner. Everyone can be liberated to be free and creative. But now? The Struggle!” And we’ve stood in our little Bolshevik peaked, flat caps on pyramids of skulls, which is what they were!
Lenin was an extraordinary man in some ways because in the 1921 Congress, he had a Secret Speech to the Congress which wasn’t revealed until the Soviet Union came down. The interesting thing about Communists is because they believe they are the wave of the future, they write down everything they do. And they write down all their massacres as well!
The massacre of the Polish officer corps in the Katyn Forest for example, which was ordered by the Politburo, and they all signed it! Stalin signed it. Khrushchev was next: “yes I’m signing!” And they all signed it, and this was revealed after the breakdown.
Because they believed that they were the wave of the future, and an atrocity is important, it’s not something you should be ashamed of, because you are aiming for the betterment and progress of the whole of humanity. You have to be proud to wade in the blood of reaction in order to achieve the future which is socialism. They called it the “yawning heights.” The “yawning heights of Socialism.” There’s a very satirical, negative, anti-Soviet novel called The Yawning Heights written by a working class university professor of philosophy called Zinoviev who hated the system by the time of its end, because everything creates its reverse you see.
Communism has affected and mutilated the world to an extraordinary degree which most people in the West who believe they were on the winning side in the Cold War haven’t even really begun to understand.
Communism has also, in a Marxist sense, affected their own societies extraordinarily radically whilst appearing to have completely lost in the terms of fringe, leftist sects and groups.
Adorno wrote in Minima Moralia that “after Auschwitz there can be no poetry.” He believed that after this seminal event there could be nothing but sack cloth and ashes forever. And somebody once said to him, “well that’s a pessimistic position,” which is ultimately conservative. Conservatives don’t believe life can be perfect because man isn’t, and therefore utopianism is an impossibility.
Leftists say “Oh we reject all forms of progress,” and the two sort of square up to each other in political terms. Don’t forget I’m talking about the philosophies, not the sordid little compromises of parties that in the Western world are virtually indistinguishable from each other. Now Marxism believed almost with post-religious ardor–as it shot religious people!–that everything could be changed, everything could be reworked, that man himself could be reworked.
One of the most fanatical postulates is hostility to all biological notions of man and all notions of prior inequality. The idea that, in the end even human rights jargon will always disappoint, because there are always beautiful people and ugly people. There’s always unintelligent people (and there’s many of them) and there’s always very intelligent people and always a range in between. There’s always people of great physical power and people who are weaklings.
A very left-wing socialist friend of mine from years ago said ”The trouble with you” (he was speaking to me) “is you’re against human fairness; you’re against being ‘fair.’” And I said, “Go to a maternity ward, go to a maternity ward, and one’s born without an arm, or without an eye. Others are born hale and hearty. Some are intelligent and will never have a moment’s disease in their lives. Others are crippled from the very beginning. And you talk to me about fairness?”
And he said, “Maybe it’s not like it should be but we must strive to make it so!” And I said, “Well why don’t you just accept the plenitude of that which is created?” and he said “No that’s too passive! We must work on it to change it, to make it better!”
Now most people, in their hearts, in this society believe that making things more equal makes them better. I don’t. I believe making them more unequal makes them better (which means you’re monstrous in contemporary terms). Because the greater the space between people, the greater the prospect of transcendence and the greater the prospect of overleaping the present, means you can actually not evolve physically but mentally and spiritually into something else. If there’s nothing above you, there’s nothing to aspire to; there’s just endless stuff beneath you. But I’m an Elitist.
No contemporary, even right-wing conservative politician, will admit that their party actually stands for inequality. Even in Capitalism, which has endless inequalities of outcome doesn’t it? That’s why you have two big classes. Of course you believe in inequality! But the Majors and the Camerons and the Hagues of this world, the Duncan Smiths of this world, they talk about liberty . . . “liberty,” and they talk about “‘freedom,” and they talk about “choice.”
Choice, choice of schools, choice of race, choice of gender, choice of where you go to buy stuff and so on. “Choice!” But oh, if you choose one option you deny another! If you radically choose one thing, you disprivilege another variant. All life, even at the moment of small decisions teems with the bias towards inequality, discrimination.
I believe in discrimination. Discrimination is a moral good and a moral law! It’s an aristocratic spirituality. Of course you discriminate. You discriminate over who’s your enemy and who’s your friend. You don’t treat people all as the same except in some universal ninnydom which only exists in the minds of people who’d like human nature to be different from what it is.
People become more right wing as they get older, on the whole. Even within leftist systems, people actually do get more metaphysically conservative as they get older. Why is that? Because death approaches, reality approaches. They can’t live with these deluded, nonsensical views about human life, which is based on inequality and glory and difference. History’s been made by a small group on behalf of and in the name of the groups from which they themselves derive their energy and purpose.
Marxism is false in almost every area of life; that men and women are interchangeable (false); that the family is an enemy construction of man when it’s the basis of human dignity in all groups. That economic activity between human beings is always a form of oppression when in actual fact almost everybody at one level or another gets something out of it otherwise it couldn’t subsist in the first place. That man is nicer than he is, when human nature is dualist. Human beings are kind and nasty. They’re avaricious, but they have a capacity for self sacrifice. They’re endlessly cowardly and lying, but they also have a penchant for courage and glory. That’s what we are!
The great religions actually have always known what we are. They shift utopianism and the desire that we could be different from what we are, to another world. But, the leftist pseudo-religions of modernity have brought it down to this level and tried to counter-propositionally achieve it through violence and political struggle. And the reason that it’s got bloodier and bloodier, until in the end they become sickened of it themselves, the emergence within the Soviet bloc of neo-liberals like Gorbachev who realized the whole system was a fraud, and it didn’t work, and they could hardly produce anything economically, and you went to the West, and you went back home, and people were struggling to get razor blades and bits of cheese and bits of soap and so on, and you thought to yourself “This is a Superpower? We slaughtered tens of millions for this?”
And in a sense I think that the fact that he wouldn’t defend the structure as it shuddered, because you can’t reform a structure like that, it has to go down, and he sort of managed its descent, really, if you look retrospectively on what he did. He’s hated in Russia now, hated because he took away the security of ordinary people, and that generation particularly, their life expectancy went from about 76 to about 53 because they lost everything! When capitalism couldn’t come in they hadn’t even been educated to sort of to write a check! It was sheer terror for them, because they’d never had to survive economically at an individual level, and that generation just sort of died off as a gangster capitalism came in, because they had no lead up time. That’s the great tragedy of Russian destiny, that every system has been imposed in a slab-sided and ferocious way with no softening of the edges. One sort of plate has replaced another one.
Just as Marx wanted! Not the idea of gradual reform, the Blairs and Browns of this world, but total, utter, transfiguring change which will completely revolutionize the nature of man.
One point which is never dwelt upon, and there’s an enormous amount of work on Communism now, because it’s now in the past, people can debate its details openly: the Jewish nature of Communism. That is never, ever discussed and indeed is completely off limits in nearly all academic discourse.
The truth is that nearly always half of the major core intellectuals in all Communist groups are Jews or partly Jews, nearly always half of the Central Committee or the Executive Council, the Revolutionary Vanguard or whatever it calls itself; the rest is made up of Bohemian revolutionary gentiles who are totally hate-filled and despairing and hostile to their own society, and it’s a medley of these two groups essentially. Outsider/insider groups to tear it down, tear it down — in the name of love of course, in the name of love — but as you tear it down you can catapult yourself from the fringe to the center. It’s the Gerry Healy speech, you know in the Worker’s Revolutionary Party of the past, the most fanatical Marxist-Leninist group probably in British post war history. There’s others. There’s Tariq Ali’s International Marxist Group. There are various incarnations of the Trotskyist tradition which began in the ’30’s with the Balham Group in South London of the Communist Party of Great Britain and then grew up as a separate tendency.
One of the things that is, of course, interesting is that when they were more powerful, 30 years ago, and if they had known of this meeting, there would be a riot outside. Not just a bit of pushing and shoving, but an absolute riot. The pathological hatred of the radical right by the Trotskyist Marxist-Leninist left needs to be looked at, and there are several reasons for this. Partly they are the most connected to international revolution; they are the most committed to the idea that we have no groups;
“One race, the human race!” One race, the human race, and those who doubt it go under! Reactionaries! Who can’t be brooked, whose ideas are a menace to humanity! Because you see, ideas are important for these people, it’s not just “oh you’ve got an idea.” You get two English intellectuals ”you’ve got an idea, I have an idea; it’s cricket you know. We debate, one wins the other loses, we draw, we embrace.” No! Ideas are life and death and are the basis of struggle and meaning you see? Because meaning for them is in the “praxis” they call it, the moment of achieved struggle and recognition of truth in ideology.
Now a Marxist intellectual called Malcolm Evans who’s a Marxist Deconstructionist (he told me with extreme pride.) I said, “So you believe in the complete destruction of all Western cultural norms and the replacement of it by a foreign ideology?”
And he said, “You’re only saying that to me because you’re a Bourgeois reactionary of the most hateful sort.” Because he once said to me, “The Bourgeois goes through life with common sense, the Marxist with his theory; theory is truth!” And I said, “And you put to death those who don’t agree with your theory?” He said, “You’re putting words in my mouth.” But the irony is that these people who believed in this current of theory were near the top in nearly all of our universities between about 1930 and 1980 plus, even in the United States. The University of Texas, can you imagine a more redneck state than Texas? The University of Texas’ Economics Department was Marxist. This is the state of the Bushes and so on. They had achieved an ascendancy in parts of the academic world, part of the mental thinking within Western society, which is difficult for many people to understand.
And conservatism was so weak-kneed in these institutions, and it was terrorized by Trotskyist mobs as well, it virtually disappeared.
I knew a chap who was the head of sociology at the Polytechnic of North London for a period, and Irish chap, he was just a conservative really, a right wing conservative. O’Keefe I think his name was. And every term he moved his office because there would be a brick, from the Socialist Workers through the window, but he knew it was coming. And I said to him, “Why do you put up with it?” he said. “Well why should I give in to these people.” So he had a little bit of spirit but for every one like him a hundred gave up, a hundred went along with it, a hundred resigned, they sort of went into eternal exile within their own institutions. And don’t forget we’re talking about conservatives; we’re talking about people who are well to the left of anyone here so if they haven’t got a chance what do you think the sort of opinions that are canvassed by this group have? Because, since the Second World War, the sort of opinions this group deals with have been outlawed in all institutions of higher education.
I once addressed a BNP meeting, a bloke put up his hand and said, “You’ve swallowed a dictionary mate haven’t you? What’s it all about then?” And I said, “Look, I’m putting forward ideas to you which have been banned, in the auditoriums where they should be heard, for sixty years!” He said, “Oh alright, fair play mate.
But there’s a degree to which that’s what this group [The New Right] really is for, because the reason that we have the society that we have is due to large scale economic and cultural forces admittedly to a degree, but it’s also due to the mindset that accepts them before they’ve physically happened.
Now Marxism in a sense advocates two contradictory things, but it believes it’s contradiction holds together in struggle. It believes everything is economically determined, and yet if you theorize about the way in which it’s determined enough you can actually change the nature of the determination. There was a theorist called Gramsci at the beginning of the 20th century who was in the Italian Communist Party ranks who split the idea of the superstructure–culture, society, the arts, intellect, media–from the base; economics. Then Marxism can go completely cultural and just swim around. Not linked to proletarian movements, not linked to trade union politics, not linked to working class political struggle as defined by the far left.
Marx was quite funny about the working class actually because he said, “When I meet these German trade unionists, I like them less,” he said because they were stroppy individuals who’d contradict “Professor” Marx! as he insisted on being called. Don’t forget he was giving the proles their theory. The structural relationship between the intellectual master and the working class followers was quite apparent.
And Marx fancied himself as a politician not just a theorist because he founded a group called the International Working Men’s Association which is the 1st International. Communists talk about “Internationals”: first, second, third, fourth. The Trotskyist one’s the 4th, tiny little Trotskyist “four men in a kiosk” groups who’d “struggle” about which one represented the 4th International which was out in Mexico.
But of course a Stalinist agent killed Trotsky by penetrating his brain with an ice pick through the skull. Luis Mercador I think his name was, and he crept into his study and stabbed him through the skull. Anarchists to this day wear tee shirts saying “ICE-PICK A TROT!” because you know anarchists just love being offensive to everyone, even on their own side. And as the spike penetrated his brain, Trotsky’s last words were his hysterical Ashkenazic shriek in which he said, “You’ve been sent by him, him!, HIM!” (namely Stalin). And he had! And he had! He went out in the light and in the dark one could say.
I once had a walk round one of these areas where they have these plaques, you know these blue plaques, and if somebody famous lived in the house there’s a white writing, and I was with a right wing intellectual called Bill Hopkins at the time, and we looked up at this house where Engels had lived.
“Friedrich Engels” it said, and the dates “Economic Theorist.” That’s a bit tame isn’t it? “Economic theorist?”, I thought You have to consider… Consider in the “percussion of ideologies” Nietzsche said “the idea has an effect after the stone is thrown.”
Consider the destructive impact these individuals have had on our civilization and “economic theorist” doesn’t cut it does it? Perhaps you could scrub that out and say “The Destroyer of a World” The destroyer of a world, and that’s largely what Marxist-Leninist ideology amounted to, the destruction of the norms of pre-existent Western civilization. Done in its name, done as a revolutionary detritus, brought to power by tamed theorists and political criminals who saw their way to a main chance. And it’s dominated the thinking of our peoples in one form or another to such a degree that if you meet somebody in the arts now who’s a fluffy liberal, and they say “Ooh all races are equal, all men are equal, anyone who says otherwise is a reactionary beast, I’m for aid to Africa, I’m for saving the planet,” they are mouthing the tenth rate approximation to this theory.
The hardcore theory would appall them! Ten stages back: Fanon saying whites should be killed because they incarnate the guilt of the oppressive, imperialist, capitalist classes, which is based on Lenin’s book in 1916 called Imperialism whereby you have to explain the fact that socialism hasn’t come about. That capitalism hasn’t led organically to socialism, imperialism, and the defamations of the persons of color by (although he didn’t call it this) “the White Economic Colossus” which is still the justification for many Third World radical groups even now.
This mixture of sentimentality, high theory, a Jewish desire for power, an extreme misanthropy which has used — because it’s secularized and no objectivist moral basis — any means to bring itself in, has almost at times brought our entire culture and civilization almost to the point of disaster.
Their armies dominated a half of Europe until relatively recently. Tens of millions of white people grew up under their structures, lying, evading the truth, just surviving. If you did Marxist-Leninism in Warsaw when I was at school in the ’70s, it wasn’t a joke! You didn’t write sort of ironic, quizzical, and deconstructive ideas about the Founding Fathers, you knew that it was a secular religion, and you toed the line or things would happen to you, a file would go to the secret police about you.
In Rumania, in Bulgaria, in Hungary, in East Germany. Dissidents would go to the shops in East Germany and there’d be eight Stasi behind them in a car, an amazing degree of surveillance. Why? Because you need to impose dialectical purity on the masses. Because if they are allowed their own way they’ll just drink, fornicate, consume, and do what they want. You have to hold them to the mark, even by terror and you have to build a wall around your country to keep people in! The classical thing is you build a wall to keep enemies out don’t you? You don’t keep them in.
Now, in closing, I’d like to say that there’s been an extraordinary cowardice amongst Western intellectuals in the adoption of these sorts of views.
Robert Conquest, who was a minor poet in Hampstead, used to go to all these salons in the ’40’s and ’50’s. And this is Hampstead! Ultra rich, creamy bourgeois types, many of whom have never suffered anything in their lives, and many of them were Stalinists at this time, never mind Trotsky, or never mind the revolutionary alternative, but actual Stalinists, people who’d read hagiographies (and there’s plenty of them) written to Stalin; “Oh Great Leader, we are not worthy to kiss the feet of the son of the real proletariat.” All this sort of stuff. People laugh at it now but in those societies then, it wasn’t a laughing matter
And Conquest was revolted about this wrote two sort of revisionist books The Great Terror and [The Harvest of Sorrow] about the Ukrainian famine as a response to that. He also wrote the Lenin book in the Fontana Modern Masters, and although he got facts wrong and although he was a pioneer in rolling back the mystagoguery of that sort of thing.
Don’t forget that when Sartre was told there were camps in the Soviet Bloc he said, “Ohhhh! … but they’re based upon love!” Based upon love, and that makes it alright of course. This is the idea that you torture them on their graves, you know, we’re doing it to redeem the soul of man, but they don’t believe man has a soul, so that’s a bit problematic.
The one thing I would think, looking back on Marxism after a hundred and fifty years in all of its variants, is the extraordinary cowardice of some of the most privileged people in Western societies who would not stand up to this type of theory, which is how it always begins, and didn’t realize that in the end it would destroy everything they loved and everything they wanted.
You even see it in Oxford recently don’t you? Irving and Griffin. Griffin’s not a pal of mine, you know. But Irving and Griffin are there at the Oxford Union. They’re speaking for us really, whatever we may think about them as individuals. The mob is outside seething, you know, maaaad staring eyes! all the rest. Smaller than in the past, but still there though! If they could they’d get in and tear them to pieces! And they’d burn down the library as well, they really would. And yet, the ninnies at their Oxford tables will say the day afterwards, “Terrible riot y’know! These people Irving and Griffin coming along and provoking these people, bringing this mayhem and this mess into our lovely little Oxford streets, these . . . monsters!”
Where in actual fact, the theory of the mob is the street version of what their ideas would be in power, and these people would have no status. And what they really believe in culturally and spiritually–sensitivity, the Western way, listening to alternative arguments, basing things on empirical knowledge–they’d be out the window!
And they’ve gone along with this out of corruption and being almost too pleasant for their own good, being too comfortable, and flirting like an adult teenager with ideas of rebellion that are half-disbelieved in as they brook them, and not thinking that they will be used, and used again and again and again to basically destroy nearly all of us. And it’s because they haven’t realized this that–in a slightly softer version–we’re in the plight that we’re in.
But everything has its eras, and these ideas are breaking down, and I’ll leave you with the fact that recently there has been an attempt in France to revive Sartre’s reputation. Sartre was an Existentialist and a Marxist. He wanted to bring together two enormous areas of theory. He wrote a book called The Critique of Dialectical Reason. He could only write volume one. It’s 750 pages. It’s in New Left Books, and it’s a real, real ripper of a read! New Left Books produce it. He wrote it on amphetamine, high in jazz cafés, speeding away like this.
He was going to try and find a humanist justification for Stalinism. Yes he was! That was going to be volume 2, but he could never get the theory right, and volume 2 never appeared. And at the end of his life Sartre and his common law wife De Beauvoir joined a Maoist group, Maoist group. These are Western intellectuals, don’t forget, joined a Maoist group and sat with all these Chinese in these little garages. He edited a paper at the end called The People’s Fist or something like that, you know . . . “the people’s fist.” He’s totally persona non grata in contemporary France, intellectually.
They had a big exhibition recently, at the Sorbonne, the big Bourbourg Centre, these sorts of things. And no-one went! And no-one went! And that is genuinely interesting. So people thought — because Sartre’s famous existential line is “Hell is other people” — maybe people thought as they didn’t attend those galleries “Hell is Jean Paul Sartre’s theories!”
Thank you very much!
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