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above: Mark Levin speaks at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)


The Misnomer of Marxism

American institutions have been  allegedly occupied by Marxists who are waging a war against the “American Revolution,” according to conservative commentator Mark Levin. Demonstrating how this alleged occupation occurred is at the core of Levin’s American Marxism, a work driven to the top of the bestseller list by conservative book clubs and Fox News.
Not surprisingly, given his role as a TV controversialist, Levin exhibits little real knowledge of Marxism as a system of thought or body of knowledge, listing it as one of two main influences on our regime. The other influence—the American Revolution—was about “all men being created equal” and about a constitutional system that was fine up until the moment that Levin thinks it became derailed, probably after Ronald Reagan’s presidency (in which we learn the author worked).
More interesting for me is the unscholarly and indeed slovenly way in which Levin approaches his villain, “Marxism,” which signifies just about anything he dislikes. Supposedly this monster took over the American government in various guises—progressivism, democratic socialism, and critical race theory (CRT), to name a few of the manifestations of a now supposedly all-pervasive evil.
Given these thoughts, it is doubtful Levin ever delved into Marx’s work or the writings of any of Marx’s more renowned exponents. Yet this activist is sure something called Marxism accounts for everything that has gone wrong with our government and civil society.
Since Levin is no more ignorant of such matters than most of his colleagues in Conservatism Inc., it may be unfair to single him out. Yet like Jonah Goldberg of The Dispatch, who produced a turgid, fanciful exposition of fascism’s resurgence in the Democratic Party, Levin has sold lots of books by engaging in vulgar oversimplification. For those of us who are serious about what is now befalling Western societies, it may be hygienically necessary to throw away Cold War slogans and to look at credible explanations for recent political developments.
As far as I can figure out, there are two main factors beyond Marxism that have produced the cultural, moral, and political crises now besetting the West: the power of the counterrevolutionary left and the takeover of our vital institutions by advocates of intersectionality.
Looking at the divide in American society that several contributors to the July issue examine, one notices how certain forces on the left work in lockstep. Consider the orders issuing from our Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, to fly the LGBTQ rainbow flag over American embassies, and his encouragement to decorate these buildings with Black Lives Matter banners. The government pushes radical leftist (although not recognizably Marxist) projects, such as requiring the teaching of CRT in public schools and the military. These policies then gain the instant, exuberant approval of academics, the media, legal professionals, corporate executives, and clergymen. Those in command are furthering the state ideology (or pseudo-religion), and those below dutifully applaud.
The announcement by Blinken commemorating the anniversary of George Floyd’s death—that white Americans have a racist past—should be seen as blatantly self-serving. Those in power are seeking to crush their opposition as “right-wing extremists” and to use programs like CRT and gender studies to restructure American society. Yet since corporate executives play a giant role in buttressing the present regime, it is ridiculous to claim we are living through a socialist revolution, as those who pin all our woes on Marxism often do. That a transnational capitalist class is driving this radicalizing process for its own ends is closer to the truth. This does not exclude the Deep State from being a part of this power-sharing arrangement. More than one interest can benefit from the chaos and destruction befalling the rest of us.
The intersectional ideology accompanying this process does not go back, strictly speaking, to Marxist sources, although some of those who contributed to building the contemporary left may decorate themselves with Marxist labels. Instead, we are speaking about a power grab.
In a perceptive analysis on how democracy went from being “majoritarian” to the starkly powerful “totalitarian,” Polish political theorist Zbigniew Janowski observes in Homo Americanus: The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy in America that democracy can be “non-ideological,” meaning “an electoral mechanism of the majority that in itself does not hide a blueprint for any specific organization of society.” In fact, “for a long-time democracy allowed individuals in the West to conduct their business without encroaching on their cultural and historical traditions.”
But then this method of electing rulers turned more ominous, with disastrous consequences for both freedom and cultural traditions. It has morphed into an ideology featuring the “language of rights” and spiraling demands for a “justice” that never had anything to do with how societies conducted themselves until now.
For someone like Janowski who can remember Communist rule in his native Poland, it is apparent those “human rights” demonstrations the contemporary left can throw together almost anywhere in a few hours to protest some imagined fascist evil are endless imitations of Communist-organized events. But unlike Communist parades and demonstrations that were arranged by cynics, these “democratic” manifestations are organized “mostly by scared and young fear-mongers or adults with an adolescent outlook on life.”
The intersectional left in any case has a ready-made army that will march and demonstrate at the drop of a pin. It will also call for boycotts of any business or educational operation that does not fall in line with the evolving program of social transformation favored by its leaders.
Egalitarianism provides the moral rationale for the accumulation of power by totalitarian democrats. The intersectional or multicultural left equates justice and democratic rule with the division of society into victims and victimizers. For the sake of justice, distinctions are needed between those who were discriminated against and those who victimized others, either directly or through their ancestors. Supposedly there is a point that can be reached when all people will be interchangeable with everyone else, but until that becomes feasible, government must continue to assign access to education, employment, and social recognition according to victim ranking.
Moreover, since the specifically Western Christian past was uniquely wicked in practicing discrimination (an assumption that is fanciful and even risible), we are obliged to place the cultural artifacts and physical descendants of this uniquely evil civilization at special disadvantage in the new democratic order. Although enlightened leaders will make us all equal in the long run, until then it behooves us to give special benefits to designated victim groups. White, male, heterosexual Christians will have to live with this handicap until existing racial, gender, and ancestrally derived inequalities can be removed. This goal is not possible however, unless sensitive experts, who can socialize us properly, exercise tight control from above.
French TV commentator and self-described hedonist Michel Onfray has produced a study, La Théorie de la dictature, which underscores the relevance of George Orwell’s novel 1984 for making sense of a multicultural and managerial rule in First World democracies. Despite the obsolete character of much of Orwell’s dystopia, Onfrey writes, there are features that still seem entirely credible and frighteningly relevant. Onfray focuses on the “seven paths leading to dictatorship” previewed by Orwell: “destroying liberty, impoverishing language to fit political ideology, abolishing truth, suppressing history, denying Nature, propagating hate, and aspiring to a universal state.”
Like the regime in 1984, our government instrumentalizes history to make it serve ideological ends, constantly changes permissible vocabulary in its own form of Newspeak, stigmatizes the independent thought that contradicts the interests of the power elite, and arouses hate against dissenters. “In the postmodern configuration hate befalls those who do not bend their knee before the revealed truths of the self-proclaimed religion of progress,” Onfray writes. “The media that is allied to the state and often benefits from it, churn out hate speech shamelessly. It is their stock in trade.”
Equally significant, the government “reduces thought as it shortens the list of permissible words.” No thought process is taking place when those who wish to protect themselves mumble the authorized cliches. Anyone who dissents in Orwell’s dystopian future is instantly ostracized, and perhaps arrested, for engaging in “crimethink.” There is nothing Orwell and Onfray associate with language control that is not happening in the contemporary West in an almost equally grim form.
To Onfray’s credit, he does not stigmatize postmodern, politically correct dictators as Marxists. In fact, he views the Maastricht Treaty concluded by the 12 members of the European Community in 1992 and setting up common European citizenship, currency, and immigration laws, as the evil consequence of capitalism run amok. Its effect has been to impose a uniform culture on all Europeans while obliterating national identities. That thought police have come along in the wake of this development does not surprise Onfray. Large corporations and the moneyed class, as well as public administrators, are in league with the emerging dictatorship.
Lest I be accused of not taking the force of ideology seriously enough, let me stress that I am not denying the influence of multiculturalism, designated victimhood, and the rest of what the cultural left is selling. Lots of people, particularly monomaniacal intellectuals, take such stuff quite seriously, and it would be untrue to claim that the only reason true believers are running around imposing Newspeak and canceling “reactionaries” is that government, the media, and corporations are pushing them to do so. The left’s ideology has been evolving for a long time, and mixed with its ideas and myths one finds elements of older belief systems and even Christian heresies. Acceptance of this ideology serves emotional needs by conferring group identity, justifying failure, or allowing designated victims to vent hate. Those who buy into it are not so inclined simply because others are manipulating them. Their rulers would not likely win their support if they advanced a different ideology, e.g., one that stressed the value of traditional hierarchies or one that was linked to the historical right.
What elites do control is how the dominant leftist ideology is transmitted to those below them. They can promote the egalitarian doctrines embraced by masses of people in different ways. They can, for example, push a victimhood narrative selectively, without appearing to indict the entire white race or all white males.
But our leaders have chosen a more divisive course because they are mobilizing the obedient or indignant against those who are resisting their acquisition of more power. The rulers will not suffer from the anger aroused, since they have shrewdly insulated themselves from judgment. They are free to exploit women, amass wealth that will escape confiscation, or break the COVID restriction rules they set for others. They are like the Soviet kleptocrats who lived in opulent dachas—second homes gifted to the people by the government— while inciting “workers’ revolutions” outside the Communist bloc.
These would-be dictators can retain the support of large blocs of the population, particularly in blue states, no matter how wickedly or hypocritically they behave. Like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, they can perpetrate all kinds of outrages, e.g., bringing about the deaths of 15,000 elderly people from COVID and being accused of sexual harassment, and yet enjoy continued popularity among voters.
According to the latest polls, 49 percent of New York’s residents want Cuomo to stay in office, while only 41 percent want him to leave. This apparently discredited, left-leaning, Democratic governor holds a 30-point lead over his likely Republican opponent. Like our president, Cuomo has profited from the protection of the obliging media, which may be the main pillar in the power elite. One wonders what new revelations about Biden and the wreckage he has caused his own electorate will have to surface to drive his popularity beneath 50 percent.
The media happily cover for others in the ruling class, and there is nothing too appalling its members can do that will not be clarified by experts or fact-checkers or airbrushed out of the current events coverage of newspapers and television stations. Thus, anger and hate are turned not against the powerful elites, but against those who oppose their further self-aggrandizement. Pedro Gonzalez was right when he wrote in American Greatness last September that we are witnessing “the ruling class striking back.
Yet confusing this attack with a Marxist revolution is profoundly foolish or deliberately misleading. Our rulers are carrying out a counterrevolution while appealing to left-wing nihilists and those who mindlessly parrot their slogans. Dragging out the shopworn phrases of the struggle against the Soviets as an explanation diverts our attention from the present grim crisis. We are not dealing with Communist espionage or indoctrination, but are instead being overwhelmed by something far more dangerous. Perhaps the conservative media will start telling us the truth if they can be made to see it and if their sponsors permit.
Paul Gottfried

Paul Gottfried

Paul Gottfried is editor in chief of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is also the Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for 25 years, a Guggenheim recipient, and a Yale Ph.D. He is the author of 13 books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents.

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Gottfried and Levin are fighting the same fight against the same foe, and identify it with seemingly total concurrence. They use different names to describe the same motivation and behavior. Identity politics obviously has roots in Marxism and Levin talks Marxism more than Gottfried. Why Gottfried would vent such spleen on Levin for this is totally beyond me. He utterly fails to describe, or to distinguish from evolved Marxism, his own "far more dangerous" foe. If Levin's word is Marxism, what is Gottfried's? "Power grab" or "counterrevolution" is all he offers, terms so general they would cover any set of motivations, any ideology, including the simple and previously non-sinister political party clash. Totally uninformative as to "what we're up against." Maybe glance at Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and the hundreds of millions dead in the name of Marxism. Claiming that there is some ideology that is "far more dangerous" than that, without bothering to provide the specifics of such (beyond "power grab!") is jumping the shark big time. Chronicles is a great site, and Gottfried is editor in chief there. However, I can imagine no motive for this article other than something to do with ego, and placing that above all, including dealing with this foe, whatever it should be called. Leaving out the attacks on Levin, this is a fine article, but it provides no new or special information on what we are up against. It has all been said elsewhere many times, and it has all been said by Levin. Quite disappointing.


"Gottfried and Levin are fighting the same fight . . ." That's exactly what I thought. In my mind, Critical Theory and Marxism are first cousins (if not twins). Oppressed looking to take over the oppressor.
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Gottfried is obviously making an academic argument. Are these people classical Marxists? No, they are not. This generation of radicals has a very distinctive capitalist worldview. Are Gottfried and Levin opposing the same enemy? Yes. Are they waging the same fight? No. I think Levin is fine with the US government supporting international corporate capitalism, he simply thinks it has been overwhelmed by leftist radicals. I think Gottfried probably knows that system will, in the end, lend itself to whatever cultural and social outlook from which it may profit.


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Paul writes, "Large corporations and the moneyed class, as well as public administrators, are in league with the emerging dictatorship." This tends to also be known as 'crony capitalist FASCISM' while cultural Marxism is used to divide and distract people as 'victims and oppressors' while this process puts into place a global tyranny that may make other tyrannical bullies look like amateurs..


A fair and accurate appraisal of Levin's intellectual grift. To my mind, Christopher Lasch provides far more insight into our current social, political, and civic decline than anything found in Das Kapital or given to us by Adorno, Horkheimer, or Marcuse from the Frankfurt School. So, start with The Minimal Self and just keep going. By the time you get to The Revolt of the Elites (and read Ernest Becker's The Denial of Death and Camus' The Rebel), you'll see that what we're really facing is the existential revolt of a class of intelligent, talented (or semi-talented, or at least crafty) human beings whose narcissism precludes them from making any sort of honest reckoning with the existential (and theological/moral) problem of their own mortality. It's easier, in the short run, just to play God--to make up your own political and civic passion play in which you confer upon yourself some noble pretext to seize and wield power and control over other human beings, interminably. Today's tyrannical liberal elites are, in sum, a merely less transparently sociopathic instantiation of Orwell's O'Brien. (c.f., Nancy Pelosi) And where these elites don't want power, per se, they otherwise pledge allegiance to the Left’s radical agenda to garner the psychic security derived from the feeling of collective socio-economic and cultural class "belonging" and "identity" (Jake Tapper, name any other major CNN or MSNBC anchor)—and professional protection--that membership in this class provides. In all cases, these anti-American elites complete their domination of society by stoking and mobilizing, on demand, the collective malice of a less cultivated class of equally pathological rogues (BLM, Antifa) who act as their civic shock troops to violently coerce and intimidate the rest of us into compliance. I mean, to what sort of “better” or “more just” society, exactly, do Jack Dorsey, Ilhan Omar, Brian Steltzer, or Gen. Milley wish to take us? Nowhere--outside their own tortured psyches.


While everything Mr. Gottfried wrote is correct, I would not hastily condemn Mr. Levin’s use of Marxism as the culprit “ Levin has sold lots of books by engaging in vulgar oversimplification”, because maybe an oversimplification is what is needed. Sam Adams and his Sons of Liberty kept the arguments against the British simple so as to arouse the people. Not many people will study the causes and effects of that monstrous evil called Communism or take the time to read a book such as The Black Book of Communism. However, most “Conservatives” understand something evil is happening to our Republic. If Mr. Levin’s book sells millions, that is a wonderfully good thing. He is awakening people to an evil that has been happening right before our eyes for a few generations now. The American people have been too complacent in allowing this evil to happen but maybe now they are beginning to see just how bad it really is. Hopefully it is not to late to save our civilization.