The “Leftist” label is increasingly heard in broadcasts, articles, debates and even lectures by politicians themselves. When I was lecturing to students at Vilnius University three years ago, I avoided using this term as still unusual and unconventional. But when I saw that it was being used by the students themselves, it was apparent that it was time to use the term myself. But what exactly does it mean, and how do we distinguish a leftist from a liberal?
Leftism, New Marxism, Cultural Marxism, Neo-communism, and a few other such names, to the degree that we need to investigate them, mean essentially the same thing, and can be considered synonymous. The most popular of these labels is Leftism – in academia usually called New or Cultural Marxism; while Neo-communism is the term that best reflects historical continuity. It is important not to get lost in the terminology.
Leftist philosophy was born in interwar Germany, at the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research, known as the Frankfurt School. When the Nazis took power, most of the researchers at this center fled the country because they were Jewish. Most of them moved to the United States where, after the war, they became very influential in the social sciences. Their influence was exceptional at Columbia University, and in the first two decades of the post-war period this influence spread throughout the country – training the country’s lawyers, journalists, politicians and social scientists, and giving rise to the hippie movement and the sexual revolution.
Cultural Marxism sought to renew the old Marxism on which the Soviet Union was based. It accepted the basic assumptions of Marxism – in particular, that reality is material, religion is a deception, the purpose of philosophy is not to explain but to change reality, and that the marital family is a prison for women and a tool of capitalism. It agreed with orthodox Marxism on social inequality and the quest for equality, but it emphasized other made by Marx. Just as Gorbachev later wanted to renew the Soviet Union rather than destroy it, the Frankfurt School wanted to renew and revitalize the Marxism in which it believed and on which it relied.
Traditional Marxism proclaimed a workers’ revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. Cultural Marxists understood that the workers were a reactionary and conservative class that would never be the engine of change. It is necessary to free someone else from oppression. The founders of Marxism themselves proposed another solution: sexual liberation. Cultural Marxism thus proclaimed the liberation of all minorities, but above all sexual minorities, from the traditional norms imposed by the power of the state. The workers’ revolution was replaced by a sexual revolution.
Among a number of proposals, Engels proclaimed the need to abolish the marital family of a man and a woman, arguing that it is an institution for the oppression of women, for the transmission of outdated norms and for the accumulation of capital – thus for the deepening of inequality. Engels wrote that the abolition of the family must be one of the aims of communists. Various attempts to establish such communes occurred in the 19th century, but none at the state level. Lenin, after the October Revolution, was one of the first to decide on the abolition of marriage, to legalize divorce, was the first to legalize abortion (as a way of liberating women), called for the transfer of child rearing children from the parents to the state, etc. This Soviet sexual revolution was very short-lived because, without modern contraception, it quickly resulted in very bad consequences for people’s health and social relationships.
In the post-war period, with modern contraception, these negative consequences were better managed and the Marxists returned to the idea of abolishing the family. However, this goal is not to be reached by some blunt prohibition and destruction of families. On the contrary, the methodology is subtle and consists of two actions: 1) to change the meaning of family by disconnecting it from the raising of children, and 2) to devalue it, by recognizing everything as family. Much as if we consider everyone to be a ‚champion‘ the word and its associated status no longer have any meaning, so it would be with ,family‘.
But Cultural Marxism is by no means limited to the goal of deconstruction of the traditional family. The aim is to liberate individuals from all traditional norms – in fact, from any dominant norms imposed by the state. The aim is not to win tolerance for behaviour that is considered sinful, abnormal or otherwise vicious. The aim is to have all moral norms considered equally normal and appropriate, all identities equally important. All languages and religions must have equal status in the ultimate society of diversity.
No one must integrate into anything, thus requiring foreigners to integrate is a mild form of discrimination. Various pseudo-scientific studies – race studies, gender studies, queer studies, etc. – have emerged, exploring alleged institutional oppression and suggesting how to eradicate or compensate for it, because “philosophy is supposed to change reality”. All this is needed to stop oppressed minorities feeling oppressed.
It is on these points that the main difference between Leftism and liberalism becomes clear. Liberalism is already based on the assumption that there is no objective moral truth and that it is impossible to know it, and that each person must therefore have his or her own conception of what is good and moral. This undermines the requirement of strict adherence to traditional norms and virtue ethics.
However, liberalism does not seek to have the resulting diverse, personal norms be mandatory. A consistent liberal should strive for at least three things. First, the widest possible freedom of speech. Second, as little state interference as possible in human relations. Third, public education, which will lead society itself to liberal political decisions. The liberal is, therefore, a destroyer of natural norms, but he does not seek to force illiberal societies to live according to the norms of moral rejection. On the other hand, Leftism demands the liberation of individuals from traditional norms through the monopoly of state power. The three main forms this takes are: hate speech laws, which restrict free speech through punishment; political correctness, which restricts free speech through “cancel culture”, that is, the informal relegation of the “wrong speakers” to the margins of society; and the quota system, which imposes by law an artificially improved situation for various minority groups. Incidentally, the Istanbul Convention and its obligation to ‘abolish traditions and customs based on gender roles’ is a perfect example of a Leftist dictatorship.
The most politically important author of cultural Marxism was Herbert Marcuse, who wrote the famous and influential books Eros and Civilization, One-Dimensional Man and the short essay ‚Repressive Tolerance‘. He argued that tolerance as commonly understood, to require tolerance of behaviour that is considered wrong, is repressive. Such tolerance in existing power structures still allows those who have the power, and whose views prevail, to dominate. Such tolerance cannot create change. Therefore, true, non-repressive tolerance must privilege the various oppressed minorities and silence the dominant majority. Today, we are seeing the practical implementation of this Marcuze proposal around the world. Every time you catch yourself wondering why the media do not say anything bad about this or that group in society, or why you yourself cannot say anything bad about it, remember this construct of Marcuze.
Leftism has taken root throughout the Western world, including Lithuania. This is logical, because Leftism is the logical outcome of the development of liberalism. In Lithuania today, we have three parties with the word ‚liberal‘ appearing in their name. We also have the largest ruling party calling itself conservative, while in practice it is inarguably liberal. However, none of these four parties are liberal in the just-discussed sense. They do not care about freedom of speech and thought, and they do not care about public‘s right of self-determination. They care about the liberation of minorities and the reconstruction of society by violent means.
Neither the sexual revolution, nor multiculturalism, nor the idea of racial privilege has ever emerged from the ideology of liberalism. Liberalism is like an empty vessel that says that everyone can decide for themselves, but it offers no definite agenda on just what it is that needs a decision. Marxism, and now the new Marxism as a decisive and revolutionary ideology, fills this void created by liberalism everywhere. Liberalism cleanses societies of traditional norms and paves the way for the domination of Leftism. This is what is happening in Lithuania today. Although we have called, and may continue to call, all the ruling parties liberals for the sake of convenience and simplicity, those who wish to better understand and identify the processes taking place in Lithuania and the world must take into consideration that there are no longer any liberals in Lithuania.
The views expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Lithuania Tribune.