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Cultural Pseudo-Marxism: Part 2

Elizabeth P

Aug 30, 2023

Abstract expressionism, exemplified by artworks like this Jackson Pollock painting, was promoted by the Congress for Cultural Freedom as evidence that artists enjoyed greater creative freedom in the United States than in the Soviet Union.

Read Cultural Pseudo-Marxism: Part 1

After the Institute for Social Research relocated to Germany, its significance persisted just as it had in the United States. Fortunately for the Frankfurt intellectuals, they chose not to settle in East Germany. This decision stemmed not only from the government's intolerance towards their counterrevolutionary activities but also from their desire to avoid encountering Bertolt Brecht, a close friend of the late Walter Benjamin, who had moved to the German Democratic Republic to contribute to socialist endeavors. Brecht continued his pointed critiques of the Frankfurt School in his play "Turandot" (The Whitewashers’ Congress), a satirical take on academics who compromise their intellectual integrity to manipulate reality in favor of the ruling class—referred to as "Tuis" by Brecht.

Many assert that the Frankfurt Tuis were Marxists, driven by either ignorance or anti-communist sentiment. If this were true, why were they embraced in West Germany while shunned in the GDR?

This misconception may have arisen from the fallacy that liberal democracies are in fact free and inclusive societies where individuals of all ideological stripes can freely express their convictions. In reality, the case of West Germany reveals that these principles of liberal democracy were, at best, selectively-employed. One could for example openly advocate for pedophilia, but any praise for Stalin was met with opprobrium. The anti-communist puppet government in the U.S.-occupied western region of Germany outlawed the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) distanced itself from Marxism, and U.S. intelligence decided to use the Institute for their next big operation.

The “Compatible Left”: A CIA Creation

In June 1950, the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) was established in West Berlin. Its members were mainly anti-Soviet leftists (Saunders, 2013, pp. 38-47), but there were conservative participants too, like Irving Kristol (Saunders, 2013, p. 148), later known as the "godfather of neoconservatism." With CIA backing, the CCF employed varied methods to spread anticommunist propaganda: hosting conferences globally (primarily in Western Europe), publishing political and artistic journals, and awarding artists and musicians aligned with their goals. The CCF, guided by CIA agent Thomas Braden, cultivated what he called the "compatible" Left—a faction rejecting Marxist analysis and criticizing actually-existing socialist countries.

As evidenced in Theodor Adorno's correspondence, he worked closely with Melvin Lasky, the founder and chief editor of the CIA-backed publication Der Monat, and an original member of the CCF steering committee. Lasky offered to work with the Institute in any way possible, telling Adorno that he would quickly publish any works or statements from the Institute. Adorno took him up on this offer, going on to publish in Der Monat as well as Encounter and Tempo Presente. Given the backdrop of their prior collaboration, Lasky and the CIA were fully aware that the Frankfurt scholars were eminently suited for this role. Setting aside Herbert Marcuse's career in US intelligence, the very ideology of the Frankfurt School was effective in neutralizing leftist sentiments while preserving somewhat of a revolutionary veneer.

Starting in 1930, when Max Horkheimer assumed the directorship of the Institute, the Frankfurt School shifted away from class analysis and instead delved into discussions on authority and culture (Rose, 1979, p. 2). Neglecting the crucial inquiry into which class holds authority, the CCF employed liberalism to narrow the focus exclusively onto individual freedom. Socialist realism in the Soviet Union was presented as "totalitarian" because it mandated artists to propagate constructive conduct within the working class. Conversely, in the US, an artist possessed the liberty to fling paint onto a canvas and deem it "art." This contrast disregarded the reality that an artist's success within capitalism rests entirely on the unpredictability of the market.

The road of talent, in capitalist countries... | Make way for talent, in the land of socialism!

From 1944 to 1945, the Institute conducted a study titled "Anti-Semitism in American Labor," concluding that the most anti-Semitic groups were Communist-led trade unions in the United States. While Nazis received backing from capitalists for their genocidal acts, the Frankfurt scholars deemed certain American workers' anti-Semitic views as a more urgent concern. The study served as an egregious example how identity politics can be employed to target Communists, a strategy still utilized by the Compatible Left. Furthermore, the Frankfurt School's criticism of the notion of "authority" effectively discredited Communist parties and organized labor movements. The absence of authority renders revolutionary forces chaotic and vulnerable to counterrevolutionary assaults, aligning with capitalists' desires to undermine the Left and uphold the bourgeois dictatorship of capital.

Critical Theory perhaps has some merit in scrutinizing ideology as a tool of domination. But the Frankfurt School deliberately obfuscates class's role in analysis and portrays Critical Theory as immune to ideology. The capitalist class crafted Compatible Leftism as an ideological weapon to safeguard their control over the working class, neutralizing the Communist threat and upholding capitalism. It's our duty as Communists to uphold the revolutionary ideology of Marxism-Leninism and consign the regressive ideology of the Compatible Left to its proper place in the dustbin of history.


Saunders, F. (2013). The cultural cold war: The CIA and the world of arts and letters. The New Press.

Rose, G. (1979). The melancholy science: An introduction to the thought of Theodor W. Adorno. Columbia University Press.

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