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Cultural Pseudo-Marxism: Part 3

Elizabeth P

Sep 13, 2023

Herbert Marcuse with Angela Davis, c. 1968

Some may be quick to believe that the New Left is entirely to blame on the Frankfurt School, with its identitarianism and “Anything But Class” analysis. There is a point to be made here, but the Frankfurt theoreticians had differing views on the New Left which emerged in the 1960s. Theodor Adorno believed that the progressive student movements at the time could lead to “left fascism,” going as far as to call the cops on students who protested at the Institute for Social Research, including one of his own students. Herbert Marcuse, however, was much more openly sympathetic to the social movements of the ‘60s and had influenced various noteworthy left-wing activists of that time period.

Many supporters of Marcuse willfully overlook his involvement in United States intelligence, focusing instead on his supposedly revolutionary advocacy. An article published in CounterPunch titled “What’s Behind the Recent Attacks on Herbert Marcuse?” described Marcuse as “a staunch advocate of movements for revolutionary change, a Marxist critic of capitalism, and firm supporter of African American liberation and feminism,” going on to praise him for being “[h]ated by both Soviet Communists and the Vatican, [and] adored by revolutionaries around the world.”

Following the logic of Marcuse and his fans leads to some particularly reactionary conclusions. For Marcuse to work for the precursor to the CIA—the US Office of Strategic Services—and trash the greatest threat to US imperialism at the time – the Soviet Union – is “revolutionary.” But for the USSR to ensure the full participation of women in society, to call on the international community to condemn the horrendous acts of racism against Black Americans, and to participate in the African decolonization struggles are all acts of “totalitarianism.” It is no surprise that capital and its faithful servants continue to push such propaganda.

Poster created by Soviet artist Viktor Borisovich Koretsky in 1963, five years before the US fully outlawed segregation. Translation: "Brotherhood and equality to all peoples!"

Marcuse and Petty Bourgeois Radicalism

After the Black Panther Party split into factions, one headed by Huey P. Newton and the other by Eldridge Cleaver, Henry Winston wrote “The Crisis of the Black Panther Party” as a criticism of the ultra-left ideological trends within the Party and their destructive effects. Winston pointed out that the capitalist media had “popularized the caricature of Marxism-Leninism, appearing in the writings of Mao, Trotsky, Marcuse … and others,” and that many New Left radicals had adopted characteristics of this exaggerated image of what a “revolutionary” should be.

Published in 1971, Winston’s description of the ultra-leftists in the Black Panther Party is still quite relevant to the western Left in 2023:

“These Black and white radicals, including Cleaver and Newton, dismissed what they called “orthodox” Marxism. Taking a different direction from King (who promoted working class solidarity, as well as a popular front with the Church and with progressive elements of the middle class), they disdained the working class and glorified the super-”revolutionary” tactics of confrontation by an anarchistic elite. In this way, ultra-”revolutionaries” helped create an atmosphere in which the racist monopolists could falsely portray violence as coming from the Left—and cover up the fact that they themselves are the source of it.” (bolded for emphasis)

Gus Hall wrote “The Crisis of Petty-Bourgeois Radicalism” in 1970, highlighting many of the same issues which Winston would describe the following.

This article explained how as class conflicts intensify and the masses become more revolutionary, petty-bourgeois radicalism redirects this energy into futile, short-term endeavors, leading to frustration and demoralization. While not explicitly naming Marcuse, Hall implies that many prominent activists who were influenced by Marcuse introduced his "radical" ideas into revolutionary groups.

People rally to protest the death of George Floyd in Houston on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Amid deteriorating conditions within American capitalism, notably the aggressive behavior of a more militarized police force, many people participated in the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. Regrettably, these impromptu demonstrations failed to yield tangible benefits for the majority, except for a small group of NGO leaders who acquired lavish homes.

Angela Davis: Communist In Name Only

Angela Davis, renowned for her feminist and anti-racist activism, studied under Marcuse before joining with the Communist Party USA. Both right-wing critics and left-wing Marcuse supporters emphasize this fact to assert Marcuse's radical Marxism. However, both sides often overlook crucial nuances in Davis's activist career.

In contrast to many petty-bourgeois radicals, Davis did not overtly reject Communism, but her anticommunism had a subtler, more insidious character. During the era of Glasnost and Perestroika in the Soviet Union, Davis, following Marcuse's lead, championed the pro-Gorbachev faction within the CPUSA. However, her motivations may have leaned more toward personal gain than Marcuse's specific grievances against Soviet “totalitarianism”. Gorbachev's policies were simply more financially appealing than those of Stalin which Marcuse vehemently criticized, and the activism of Davis in following decades has mainly centered around her career in academia. From selling her books and speaking at liberal college campuses, Davis has amassed a net worth of approximately $800,000 as of 2023.

The Committees of Correspondence, formed during the 1991 CPUSA Convention, represented this faction but ultimately failed to steer the CPUSA away from Marxism-Leninism, eventually splitting from the party. They emerged in opposition to Gus Hall and Henry Winston's "conservative" stance of supporting efforts to preserve the Soviet Union against Gorbachev's counterrevolution. This group attracted various liberal and "democratic socialist" elements within the CPUSA, prioritizing surface-level identity politics over meaningful class analysis. Supporters of the Committees of Correspondence often point out their leadership's greater diversity, as if meeting arbitrary diversity quotas automatically translated into tangible benefits for their "represented" demographics.

The founding convention of the Committees of Correspondence received greetings from the Democratic Socialists of America. (Source)

Angela Davis's alignment with the left wing of capital is evident in her history, ranging from supporting market liberalization during the Soviet Union's final days to urging leftists to vote for Joe Biden in 2020. She further demonstrates this alignment through her ongoing advocacy for ultra-left ideas, which may be less appealing to the working class but find favor with those who have trust funds and see the hammer and sickle as nothing but a trendy accessory. Examples of these ideas include "challenging" the established biological differences between sexes and advocating for prison abolition without giving genuine thought to the victims of violent crimes.


Despite the Right's belief in a radical Marxist takeover of academia, the concept of "Cultural Marxism" fundamentally contradicts Marxism itself. Critical Theory seeks to shift the discourse from class analysis to discussions of authority and culture. Key figures in the Frankfurt School played roles in producing and spreading anticommunist propaganda. And Marcuse's influence on the Western Left has perpetuated the misconception that communists are elitist and disconnected from the working class.

Today, we face a critical juncture in history. Western living standards are declining, multipolarity challenges US hegemony, and capitalists hope to confine communism to academic and niche social media circles. It is imperative for Communists to avoid repeating the New Left's mistake of embracing a carefully crafted "revolutionary" ideal propagated by the ruling class and academia.

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