The Anti-Marxist Left
The US Left today is postmodern, not Marxist
The U.S. Left today often is characterized as Marxism or Cultural Marxism. Such a characterization is based on a complete misunderstanding of what Marxism is. In reality, today’s U.S. Left is not Marxism, but postmodernism.
In today’s commentary, I would like to begin with the observation that Marxism, properly understood, is a threat to the global elite, because it seeks to take political power (control of the state) from the national elite and place it in the hands of the delegates of the people, so that the state can direct national economies in accordance with the needs of the people, instead of the interests of the elite. Marxism, however, is not a threat to human civilizations; its goal is the bringing of the Western Enlightenment to a more advanced global stage, thus founding a renewal of human civilizations.
Postmodernism, in contrast to Marxism, is not a threat to the elite, because it takes from the people the power of the objective meaning of words, sending the people into a pit of conflicting subjectivities, and thus rendering them powerless to defend themselves and their needs. Postmodernism undermines the foundation necessary for advances in human civilizations. It is a threat to human civilization itself.
Marxism, Marxism-Leninism, and Third World Socialism
Karl Marx synthesized German philosophy, English political economy, and French utopian socialism to formulate a form of socialism that rested on a scientific foundation. His scientific socialism brought human knowledge to a more advanced stage. His insight was based on observation of the ideas of the emerging social movement of workers, artisans, and assorted intellectuals of Western Europe. He projected that the workers would increasingly grasp the inherent contradictions of capitalism and would unite to bring society to a more advanced stage, which would exist on a technological foundation constructed by capitalism itself. Logically, this proletarian revolution would occur in the advanced economies of Western Europe.
Marx’s formulation was rejected by the holders of political and economic power in the Western world, who acted to ensure that knowledge in the universities would be organized in a manner that would prevent an understanding of the important scientific and philosophical implications of his work. Thus, the evolution of Marxist thought would occur outside the universities, in the terrain of social and political struggle. It would be forged by exceptional revolutionary leaders who possessed a capacity for both leadership and intellectual analysis, leaving their teachings as part of the cultural legacy of humanity.
Lenin and the Russian Revolution was a key moment in this evolution. Lenin adapted Marx’s understanding to the economically backward conditions of Russia, reformulating Marx’s concept of a proletarian vanguard as a notion of a revolution of workers and peasants led by workers, which would receive the support of triumphant proletarian revolutions in the West. And upon seeing that workers’ revolutions in the West were not going to triumph from the chaos of post-World War I period, Lenin projected the future importance of the struggles of oppressed nations and peoples in the world. Thus, Marxist-Leninist theory was born.
During the course of the twentieth century, Marxist-Leninist theory was appropriated by revolutionary leaders in the colonized and semi-colonized regions of the world. This phenomenon was most advanced in China, Vietnam, North Korea, and Cuba, where socialist revolutions were forged and have been sustained to this day, constructing socialist societies in theory and practice, with explicit theoretical foundations in the writings of Marx. The experience of these four nations have had varying but significant degrees of influence in all the lands colonized by the Western colonial and imperialist powers.
What are the basic ideas of the Third World socialism constructed in practice? First, there is the practice of people’s democracy, characterized by direct election of delegates, indirect election of national assemblies, the participation of mass organizations, and the teachings of vanguard political parties. These are structural alternatives to representative democracy in the establishment of state power. Secondly, there is the concept that the state has the obligation to direct the economy in such a manner as to protect the sovereignty of the nation from the interventions and maneuverings of the imperialist powers; to promote the productivity of the national economy; and to provide for the needs of the people with respect to health care, education, housing, and nutrition, to the extent that limited resources permit. The state also has the obligations to promote full and equal rights for women and for ethnic groups. And it has the obligation to protect the environment, balancing this duty with the productivity needs of the society.
The U.S. Left today has nothing in common with this Marxist and socialist project of the Third World, evolving in practice for a century and a half in many lands. Indeed, the U.S. Left has no more than a superficial understanding of it.
To be sure, the U.S. Left identifies oppressed groups, such as blacks, women, gays, and transgender persons; and it tends to place people in distinct categories of oppressor and oppressed on the basis of such identifications. This may seem like Marx’s division of the society into capitalists and workers. But Marx here was identifying economic classes on the basis of their functional relation to productive processes, something fundamentally different. Neither Marx nor Third World socialists today see race, ethnicity, sex or gender, sexual orientation, or sexual identity as primary axes of oppression. The struggles of such groups, recognized as legitimate, are seen as unfolding in the context of larger national struggles for sovereignty and ongoing national efforts to attain transformations in the system of economic production and distribution.
In The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory, published by Ignatius Press in 2022, Abigail Favale provides an insightful analysis of postmodernism and its influence on gender theory and on transgender activism. Prior to writing the book, she had spent ten years as an academic teaching gender theory from postmodern assumptions, which she had internalized; so she is well-positioned to offer a critical analysis. She had been raised an evangelical Protestant, and she continued to identify as a Christian through her postmodern sojourn, although in retrospect, she considers that her Christianity was to some extent superficial during this time. Her doubts about the premises of postmodernism had occasionally been manifest since the beginning of her sojourn, but they ultimately became more profound. Her break with post-modernism coincided with her conversion to Catholicism. Thus, her experiences culminated in a Catholic critique of the postmodern theory of gender.
Favale sees postmodernism as “a worldview that sees reality in terms of narratives that are created by human beings, rather than an order of objective truths that can be discovered by human beings.” For postmodernists, there is no objective truth; words always fall short of capturing objective truth. This stands in contrast to common-sense understanding and numerous philosophical traditions, according to which reality exists prior to our naming it, and in which our language is true and meaningful when it corresponds to what exists in reality.
Favale maintains that postmodern feminism was anticipated in the existentialist feminism of Simone de Beauvoir, for whom there is no human nature, and “there is no intrinsic meaning to the world or to our lives. Meaning must be made; it cannot simply be found. . . . We are not created; rather, we create ourselves.”
Favale maintains that following a period of division in feminism in the 1980s, “feminism took a decidedly postmodern turn and has been hurtling in that direction ever since.” Especially important in the postmodern turn is the work of Judith Butler, for whom nothing is natural. Butler’s “primary goal as a theorist is to dismantle the normalization of heterosexual relationships—the tendency to see the male and female sexual relationship as normal and natural.” For Butler, “the idea that humankind is split into two sexes that are biologically complementary is a social fiction rather than a matter of fact.” Favale argues that this conclusion, to which Bugler arrived through the French postmodernist Michel Foucault, goes against common sense and scientific consensus.
The consequence is to convert truth into an issue of power. “What Butler is saying here is that what we perceive to be ‘real’ is actually a fiction that is created and enforced by institutional power. In the postmodern perspective, truth is suspended in air quotes as ultimately unknowable (or nonexistent). All that remains is power. Knowledge, then, is not a matter of discerning or recognizing what is true, because ‘truth’ itself is a construction of power.”
Favale sees that this conversion of truth into power is not only a critique of the claims of those who hold power. It is also a call to those with sentiments and ideas different from those in power to engage in power games to advance the cause of their version of truth. “This postmodern understanding of truth-as-power leads to a postmodern political praxis, in which language is intentionally manipulated to institutionalize these ‘new modes of reality.’” This is why there is such an emphasis on policing speech, which “is a concerted effort to enforce a new social truth-script through an exercise of power.” In Butler’s case, her political project involves dismantling “heteronormativity,” the notion that heterosexual relationships are normal.
With the emergence of intersectional feminism, “white male privilege” has become a totalizing ideology, Favale maintains, connected to the pursuit of power. Neologisms like cisgender are manipulations of language to reshape what is considered “real” and to create group affiliations in a hierarchy of social power. “These group affiliations are hierarchically ordered and awarded varying degrees of social capital in an attempt to reverse oppressive power dynamics, to recenter the marginalized, to privilege the underprivileged.” Even though this is ostensibly done as a protest of power, it does not “undo an underlying preoccupation with power and domination. Claiming an oppressed identity itself becomes a mode of power.” In this new manifestation of power games, economic class tends to receive less emphasis, “beyond a cameo appearance in the standard litany of oppressed identities.” Such are “the endemic power dynamics of intersectionalism,” which among other vices, generates divisiveness.
These power dynamics influenced the evolution of the theory of gender. The concept of gender was originally developed to name and make evident the social and cultural influences on sex roles in human societies, which was an important conceptualization in the struggle of women for full social and economic equality. But postmodern feminism arrived to view gender as nothing more than social construction, as always a social fiction, with no connection to biological realities. This “discovery” granted a freedom to create one’s gender performance without limits, and even to create one’s gender. Being man or woman no longer depends on biology, but on identity. We are now totally free to create, freed from our own nature.
The myth that biological sex is assigned at birth
In its evolution toward truth as manipulations of power, postmodern feminism arrived to repeatedly declare that biological sex is assigned at birth, and that sex in reality is not binary, but occurs on a spectrum. The implication of this claim is that, if sex is not identified from the body but projected onto the body, then sex can be changed. As a political agenda, this implies that individuals have a right to change their sex, and that this right be affirmed by society.
Favale reports that the claim that sex is not binary is based on Sexing the Body by Anne Fausto-Sterling, which maintained that intersex conditions are common, occurring in 1.7% of live births, slightly less than 2 per 100 live births. But Fausto-Sterling, Favale maintains, used an overly expansive definition of intersex that includes individuals with conditions that may lead to fertility problems but do not cause sexual ambiguity. If we only include conditions that involve sexual ambiguity, the percentage is 0.018%; or in other words, less than 2 out of 10,000 births.
Thus, Favale maintains, sex is readily recognizable at birth for 99.98% of human beings. In the remaining cases, we ought not necessarily conclude that these individuals are neither male nor female; rather, we could take the view that “their developmental pathway of becoming male or female took some unexpected turns.” Discerning the actual biological sex in these individuals entails looking at various factors together, such as chromosomes, genitalia, ovaries or testes, and hormones. True sexual ambiguity occurs in rare cases when the genitalia is not readily classifiable, or when chromosomes are not consistent with genitalia.
Accordingly, there is no scientific basis for the denial of two sexes. The human species consists of two sexes, male and female, and there does not exist an intersex condition. The widespread misunderstanding, Favale maintains, is disseminated in order that the people will reach the desired ideological conclusion that a person can change his or her sex.
The dissemination of the erroneous teaching was formulated by postmodern feminist academics, whose increasingly audacious disregard for objective reality fueled their academic careers. It has led to an epidemic in gender dysphoria, especially among teenage girls rebelling against the culture’s hypersexualization of the female body. It typically is treated by the medical establishment with medical transition procedures. Tragically, for many, it is a counterproductive and self-defeating protest.
Postmodernism and the new anti-racist theory in vogue
The dimensions of post-modernism described by Favale with respect to feminism are evident in the new theories of anti-racism that have emerged to be widely popular in the last decade. I have previously discussed the phenomenon in various essays. You can find them in the thematic index; scroll down to the category USA and find various essays on race and the anti-racist theory, recognizable by their titles.
We find in the new anti-racist theory the postmodern tendency to spurn the search for objective truth, assumed to not exist, and to create narratives that express subjectivity. On this epistemological foundation, a retelling of the American story on the basis of the African-American experience has no empirical or historical limits or constraints. A narrative is true if it expresses your feelings. It is your truth, based on your lived experiences; or the truth of African-Americans and the African-American experience. Any objection from an American with a different experience of America, to the effect that your narrative is not consistent with the truth, is dismissed on the grounds that there is no such thing as the truth, that truth is no more than perception.
In accordance with these post-modern epistemological assumptions, there emerged The 1619 Project, which won a Pulitzer price for its subjective narrative. It focused on the arrival of the first African slaves to the North American English colonies, establishing in its narrative that year of 1619 as the true birth date of the United States, thus setting aside the 1776 Declaration of Independence and the dynamic political and philosophical events of the revolutionary period. There was no need to analyze the actual extent of slavery in 1619 and its subsequent expansion over the next more than two centuries, culminating in tragic conflict. Nor was there any need to analyze the economic role of African slavery and other forms of forced labor in all regions of the world in the forging of the capitalist world-economy. Nor did the progressive tendencies represented by the American Revolution of 1776 need to be recognized and appreciated, with reflection on their meaning for today.
And there emerged the concept of systemic racism as explaining the contemporary reality of the USA, an astonishing concept, taking into account the fact that the system has had laws in place sanctioning various forms of racism, and rewarding preferential treatment in employment and college admissions on the basis of race. The systemic racism narrative used a leapfrog rhetorical maneuver, mentioning forms of racism and discrimination that existed normatively in the nation prior to 1965, then leapfrogging to the present with selected and statistically manipulated examples, ignoring the actual progress forged by blacks and whites working and struggling together in the period 1965 to 2008.
As occurred with respect to gender, the anti-racist subjective narratives imposed on American history and reality had a political agenda. They ensured that black professionals would have new opportunities in an expanding diversity sensitivity industry; and that the demands of black “leaders” would be implemented forthwith. It is a political agenda that promotes the narrow interests of the black middle class, casting aside the demands of the peoples of the world in the midst of people’s revolutions; and overruling the long-term interests of the nation and the immediate needs of the people.
The people of the United States have an extremely short attention span with respect to epistemological questions. But such questions are vital today for the wellbeing of the nation and its diverse peoples. We must recognize that the nation has an objective history and an objective reality; we must seek to understand that history and reality in order to address effectively the actual problems that the nation has. To be sure, each racial and ethnic group, gender, class, and region has its own perspective and understanding of this objective reality, in accordance with its particular experiences. But objective reality nonetheless exists. All citizens have the duty to seek to understand that reality. In this quest, they have the obligation to recognize reasonable and empirical constraints in the development of their own particular understanding. No one can claim anything they want, ignoring facts and manipulating data in support of non-empirical claims. Moreover, all citizens have the duty to engage others openly and sincerely and to listen to others, seeking to overcome the limits imposed by the partial understanding that each has, seeking together to approach that objective reality that we know to exist, because common-sense intelligence tells us that such a reality exists. For us to conclude, on the basis of existing differences in understanding, that objective truth is not attainable, is to indulge in an irresponsible moral and intellectual laziness. And it is unpatriotic, because no nation can construct a sustainable society on such a weak epistemological foundation.
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