Cultural Marxism and “Ironic” Fascism


Due to underfunding and understaffing at Afterall, it does not look as though the Art and Autonomy reader I’ve edited will ever see the light of day. The manuscript (which I worked on with a number of editorial collaborators and research assistants: John Byrne,  Noortje de Leij, Jeroen Boomgaard, Kim Kannler, Lara Garcia Diaz and Glorian Göttke) was originally submitted four years ago, in August of 2014, and it has spent most of its time since then in development hell. This is not the only contribution to the planned restart of Afterall’s “Critical Reader” series to which this has happened.

The Afterall journal is going strong, however. The Autumn/Winter 2018 issue contains my essay “Cultural Marxists Like Us,” which examines a key feature of alt-right and neofascist discourse: the notion that a sinister conspiracy of “Cultural Marxists” has been brainwashing impressionable youngsters since the 1960s at least. Its origins are usually identified with Critical Theory the Frankfurt School, whose protagonists were conventiently Jewish. After all, it’s always a plus if you can incorporate The Jews in your conspiracy theory—and it’s even better when you have plausible deniability.

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In his recent open letter explaining his withdrawal from the 2018 Athens Biennale, the artist Luke Turner describes having “had multiple white supremacists turn up on my doorstep—in some cases equipped with firearms—in both the USA and Europe, carrying ‘Smash Cultural Marxism’, ‘Kekistan’, and Confederate flags, and making threats to my safety and those around me.” This is a reminder that, for all its proudly displayed stupidity and its grotesque features, the Cultural Marxism trope has a potential to unleash real violence. These incidents occurred because of an anti-Trump piece Turner collaborated on with two others— including Shia LaBeouf. I don’t know (about) Turner’s work, and associating oneself with LaBeouf is asking for raised eyebrows and eyerolls, but this is immaterial: Turner deserves full support in the face of both physical intimidation and online bullying and trolling by some post-internet alt-right chancers. The archived tweets from the would-be Marinettis of faux-ironic neofascism, the professional trolls Daniel Keller and Deanna Havas, are their own indictment.

Given the curator’s terminally dumb “ANTI” theme (“ANTI is indulgent, ascetic, libertarian. ANTI invests in Bitcoins and detests political correctness. ANTI is a contra-establishment politician, a humanist, a creature of our time”), their reaction—with its nauseating characterizaton of the Kek-worshiping “meme magic” hype man Keller as “an another anti-fascist Jewish voice”—comes as no surprise. Their stance has been aptly summarized by the title of the Shut Down LD50 collective’s piece on Mute: The Biennial of Very Fine People, on Both Sides.