Speaking of Critical Race Theory, here’s freelance scholar Ryan Chapman explaining his theory (which is not his, but shared with others) that today’s Wokeism, part of which is CRT, originally arose as an outgrowth of Marxism, and then neo-Marxism of the Frankfurt School. Thrown into the mix is postmodernism, and when you add that, you see that Chapman is pretty much on the same page as Pluckrose and Lindsay in their book Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity . (The book is not a polemic, but a largely dispassionate analysis of identity politics, yet is written in an approachable way. You should read it.)
At any rate, Chapman explains how Marxism became combined with culture and then that mix became the identity politics underlying Wokeness. The common thread of all of this is oppression; what’s changed is who is the oppressor and who the oppressed. Stifling of opposing speech has been another consistent feature of this transformation.
Finally, he says that “wokeness” isn’t under the control of any one person or a cabal, is a “runaway idea” expressing “the will of the people”, with “people” construed as “the people who need to be listened to the most.” To Chapman, this explains why the vehicles of wokeness (media, films) don’t care if they’re unpopular, and why there is virtually no dissent within the movement.
His solution is not to go after specific examples of wokeness (as I do!) in an effort to get people to reform their movement. Rather, he thinks that the goal of the anti-woke should be to “get people to leave the movement“, and you do that “by criticizing the movement itself.” And that was John McWhorter’s strategy in his 2021 book It seems to me that, as far as an academic dissection of the roots of “theory”, which itself underlies wokeness, Chapman’s pretty much on the money. Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America. Although Chapman doesn’t see Wokeism as a religion, in both cases you’re more effective by going after religion itself than trying to convert believers or asking them to change the tenets of their church.
It seems to me that, as far as an academic dissection of the roots of “theory” goes—the “theory” that buttresses wokeness—Chapman is pretty much on the money.
Have a listen; it’s only 25 minutes.
54 thoughts on “Did Wokeness come from Marxism?”
Cynical Theory was a great book. Postmodernism and Marxism understood as sociology, Hermeneutics as tell your tale and call it “science of the spirit” and avoid science as unification (Heidegger and Gadamer), rhetorical garbage with Derrida and deconstruction, all is good provided no one can falsify your conjectures. Academia has fallen as science has risen. Doing philosophy outside of biology is shameful. Leda Cosmides and John Toby has some great words on sociology (Postmodernism) in The Adapted Mind (1992).
I think it still is a great book. (Cynical Theories, Lindsay and Pluckrose). Two things I took from the book … The various critical theories are derived from post modernism, thank you Foccault and Derrida. And secondly, post modernism arose in opposition to Marxism, because the Soviet experiment was plainly a failure in the late fifties and early sixties.
Evidence for this is: there is no Critical Class Theory.
One of my colleagues reckons that I’m a marxist because whenever we discuss anything remotely political I always bring class into it. Class should nearly always be the first term in your model, IMHO.
Indeed my biggest objection to wokeism is that it looks like an upper/middle class scam to distract attention away from class, and indeed often to demonise working class people for not knowing the correct upper/middle class terminology.
However, its not unreasonable to view wokeism as an offshoot of marxism that is tailored to appeal to the upper/middle classes, by making them the goodies rather than the baddies.
Pluckrose and Lindsay is indeed an excellent book, but I would hope most people around here have read it already, shirley?
Lindsay’s latest book is entitled Race Marxism: The Truth About Critical Race Theory and Praxis, published earlier this year and dedicated to an analysis of the elimination of class by race (and other forms of identity) in the radical critique of society as it has been formulated by Marcuse and others. Whatever one may think of his ideas, Lindsay is, without question, a brilliant young man (with a PhD in math) who gave up what might have been a well-rewarded academic career in order to concentrate on what he considers to be a more important undertaking.
As James Lindsay describes, changing from “class” to “identity and racism” was a deliberate, planned, shrewd strategy. “Class” resentment failed to turn the workers into Marxist revolutionaries, because capitalism is so spectacular in raising the standard of living. Turns out workers love wages!!
Almost all social change seems to be driven by elites, with the new attitudes gradually trickling down over time until the lower classes share them. For example, the main protagonists of the French, American and Russian revolutions were affluent people. Much more recently, social attitudes on transgenderism have radically changed, and the trickle-down pattern is hard to miss.
Wokeism is most strongly supported by well-off people like college students because they are among the few who could enact social change in the first place. They could, in theory, also promote nationalism Nazism, or Communism (the latter two were well-supported by academics). If Communism wasn’t just another scam to oppress the lower classes, wokeism still wouldn’t be the first one.
I’d go further and argue that there are only two categories of people – the Elite and everybody else.
The Elite of their time use whatever is to hand distract the general population to ensure the Elite continue to dominate. They use whatever is to hand to keep the lesser people in their place. This has included control of scarce resources, religion, force, war, sumptuary laws, cultural standards, lack of education, trading leagues, recreational chemicals, Puritanism, Marxism (as an opium for the masses?), postmodernism, external threats, internal threats, race, and Wokeness. And the funny thing is that these ‘threats’ continue to work even though they are widely dismissed.
“Wokeism is most strongly supported by well-off people like college students because they are among the few who could enact social change in the first place.”
A slightly different alternative from Rob Henderson is that wokeism is a cluster of luxury beliefs that only wealthy elites can afford to adopt. For others, the adoption of these beliefs (esp. ideas like defund the police or the rejection of merit) is untenable because the beliefs are too expensive.
Henderson’s thesis isn’t bad, though he ascribes more intention than those he criticizes possess. Status games are more an organic phenomenon.
And he gets it REALLY WRONG when he calls drug legalization a “luxury belief” exhibiting his utter lack of understanding of drugs, medicine, sociology and law.
Drug legalization is an idea which will help ALL people, not just elites.
“Almost all social change seems to be driven by elites, with the new attitudes gradually trickling down over time until the lower classes share them.”
I think this is an extremely reductive view, though it seems correct about wokeness. It may be true for most of history, but most of history had far greater gulfs between the elites and the rest of society, and far fewer people who could be considered “elite.” If you look at more recent large-scale social and/or governmental changes, you’ll find many that started among the working classes (think Lech Walesa and Poland for an example of complete social and governmental change, or various Middle East cultural revolutions and attempted revolutions).
“Wokeism is most strongly supported by well-off people like college students because they are among the few who could enact social change in the first place.”
I would also push back against this. College students are the people who are (1) least likely to suffer from the changes many of them are trying to enact, and (2) are being fed their ideology by the people who are supposed to be their guides, teachers, and mentors. It’s easy to agitate for “equality” between the genders when you’re only demanding such equality in fields that afford people social and economic status, but it will still be all men who are doing sewage treatment, garbage collection, and every other one of what are considered the worst jobs available (and men make up about 96% of workplace injuries and 98% of workplace deaths). It’s easy to demand that everyone must use wide-ranging and unwieldy academic jargon throughout their everyday interactions, when you’re being actively educated in those things (rather than living in a place and working in a job where you’ve never even heard most of those words or ideas).
If people of lower income and education managed to band together, they could certainly enact social change, and they have in the past! But they are no longer being listened to, and this new ideology actively rejects the vast majority of their voices as not worthy of being heard or, at best, worthy only of mockery.
EDIT: And I think what I mentioned in my last paragraph above is an enormous part of how we ended up with someone as ridiculous as Trump being President. If people can remember as far back as 2016, so much of the hype around him was simply about “owning the libs,” which I think was their way of saying, “sticking it to those people who ignore, mock, and refuse to listen to us at every turn.”
Indeed my biggest objection to wokeism is that it looks like an upper/middle class scam to distract attention away from class, and indeed often to demonise working class people for not knowing the correct upper/middle class terminology.
Yes, exactly. Wokeism is class warfare in which cultural elites punch down at working class people.
Check out Vivek Ramaswamy in “Woke, Inc.”
“Corporate elites in this country pretend to care about something other than profit and power, precisely to gain more of each of them. I think that new trend is dividing our country to a breaking point and represents an existential threat to American democracy because it demands that a small group of investors and CEOs determine what’s important to us, on questions from racial justice to environmental change, rather than the democracy at large.”
I definitely think that Woke is an outgrowth of Marxism. The basic premise that you are either oppressed or oppressor comes from there. More than that though is the underlying assumption, rarely clear, that that is a result of Capitalism, a term I dislike because Marx invented it as a pejorative. I don’t think a lot of people who go around talking about racism or cultural appropriate understand that the contemporary founts of those ideas and the theory from which they spring is not a reform movement, but a revolutionary one intent on bringing down democratic, free-market society. When people say that the United States, for example, is structurally racist, what they mean is that white society (now replacing bourgeois society, but merely being a synonym) is to blame and must be destroyed. The seemingly non-nonsensical programs of the Progressive only make sense if you see that they aren’t intended to fix things, but to break them more. The campaign against meritocracy is a campaign against effectiveness.
Exactly what I’ve been telling people.
It’ll be a lot harder than that. Adherents do not respond to critical thinking. Think about what it is like trying to intervene and deprogram cult members who have been brainwashed. I know this sounds like an exaggeration, but it is not. I have friends who have fallen victim to the (secular and nonpartisan) cult of personality of a mutual acquaintance who is a sociopathic narcissist. (Look up websites and YouTube videos for survivors of narcissistic abuse; this is real). They exclude their former friends from their lives if they are not properly aligned. They create echo chambers. An organized cult creates a safe space, protecting everyone on the inside from everyone on the outside. Rigid organizations (employers, etc.) might have defense mechanisms against being infiltrated by cults, but liberal democratic societies do not.
It’s next to impossible to convince people that they are victims of a cult. The only thing you can hope to is catch them once they have been rejected, to reintegrate them into healthy society.
Your cult comparison is a good one, especially because the internet has allowed the formation of cult-like bubbles without someone needing to leave the house; without them even needing to come to the cult, because the cult can come to them. And how do you deprogram someone caught up in a cult when that cult is ever-present in their life, whenever they are on a computer i.e. most of the day every single day? If it was difficult to deprogram people in the past, imagine what it must be like with something as diffuse and with as many tentacles in as many institutions as wokeness.
Quite a convincing argument. I’ll provisionally accept this as my perspective.
My technical term for “Wokeism” is “Postmodern Critical Theory”, because its main roots are the Freudo-Marxist critical theory of the German Frankfurt School (neo-Marxian theory plus Freudian psychoanalytic theory) as represented by Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno (et al.) and French postmodern theory as represented by Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard (et al.).
James Lindsay (who, by the way, seems to have drifted toward far-right conservatism) calls CRT “Race Marxism” (which is also the title of his latest book). What is interesting is that the founders of CRT don’t deny their being “a bunch of Marxists” (R. Delgado):
“Organized by a collection of neo-Marxist intellectuals, former New Left activists, ex-counter-culturalists, and other varieties of oppositionists in law schools, the Conference on Critical Legal Studies established itself as a network of openly leftist law teachers, students, and practitioners committed to exposing and challenging the ways American law served to legitimize an oppressive social order.”
(Crenshaw, Kimberlé, Neil Gotanda, Gary Peller, and Kendall Thomas. Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement. New York: New Press, 1995. pp. xvii-xviii)
“TLCP: Can you talk about the evolution of critical race theory since its founding, and what, if anything, surprises you about that movement as it exists today?
DELGADO: I was a member of the founding conference. Two dozen of us gathered in Madison, Wisconsin to see what we had in common and whether we could plan a joint action in the future, whether we had a scholarly agenda we could share, and perhaps a name for the organization. I had taught at the University of Wisconsin, and Kim Crenshaw later joined the faculty as well. The school seemed a logical site for it because of the Institute for Legal Studies that David Trubek was running at that time and because of the Hastie Fellowship program. The school was a center of left academic legal thought. So we gathered at that convent for two and a half days, around a table in an austere room with stained glass windows and crucifixes here and there—an odd place for a bunch of Marxists—and worked out a set of principles. Then we went our separate ways. Most of us who were there have gone on to become prominent critical race theorists, including Kim Crenshaw, who spoke at the Iowa conference, as well as Mani Matsuda and Charles Lawrence, who both are here in spirit. Derrick Bell, who was doing critical race theory long before it had a name, was at the Madison workshop and has been something of an intellectual godfather for the movement. So we were off and running.”
(Delgado, Richard, and Jean Stefancic. “Living History Interview with Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic.” Transnational Law & Contemporary Problems 19 (2011): 221–230. p. 225)
I haven’t had a chance to hear his argument, but my a priori is a strong disagree. Among the most persistent critics of wokeism are real Marxists, which I’ve noted here at WEIT before: Adolph Reed, Brian Leiter, the World Socialist Website (WSWS). Indeed, Reed has decried “antiracism” as a “neoliberal alternative to a left“. I pointed this out to Andrew Sullivan, and he at least sort of agreed, saying wokeism is a “pomo” version, over which he would prefer old-school Marxism.
This is a good start and it is a point I have tried to make here before. If we are going to talk about the phylogeny of schools of thought in the Social Sciences, then we should at least start with more precise terms than “woke”. “Woke” is not a theory-it’s a state of mind or a social attitude. Critical Race Theory, Intersectionalism, for example, are theories (using the term very liberally), or more accurately, theoretical frameworks. Sheldon Wolin has traced the roots of Post-Modernism, a term that encompasses several theoretical strands that are not entirely consistent with each other to the Counter-Enlightenment theories of Europe. Among others, Nietszche is really the progenitor of much of what is called “Post-Modernism” today. The structuralist Sociologist, Anthony Giddens in 1982, who was neither a Marxist nor a Post-Modernist, talked about Foucault as a “new conservative” and addressed the implications of the shift amongst many on the left from Marx to Nietszche as inspiration. I think of “Post-Modernism” more than anything as an epistemological position which does seem to have some political implications. Those implications could be Conservative as much as they could be “Progressive” (use of quotes because Progressive is a vague term). I think that the current round of identity politics arose out of the various social movements of the 1960’s and was a response to what was regarded as the unwillingness of the “old left” to consider the interests of these different groups. It’s hard to really provide a solid, coherent analysis herein due to time and space constraints.
Well said, especially the emphasis on Post-Modernism. My spin on this is that you could say that CRT is an outgrowth of Marxism via Frankfurt School, among other things, as long as you don’t forget the other things. And as long as you don’t forget that “an outgrowth of X” can be violently opposed to/by X. As Seth points out in comment #5.
Beat me to it! Exactly.
Greg, I couldn’t agree with you more. Unless one’s analysis of society has a class basis, it isn’t Marxism, and if is not Marxism, why this sudden concern about its origins? Regardless of what you think of Wokeism, it is intellectually dishonest to associate it with Marxism. We can look forward to the anti-woke people stop beating around the bush and begin to call the Woke communists. Maybe they’ll have better luck than McCarthy. Certainly, there is much to criticize about Wokeism, but it should be done with integrity and not with this gutter tactic. Those who say that Wokeism evolved from Marxism and may have retained some of its original tenets is about the same as saying Trump is not really different from Lincoln – after all they both called themselves Republicans.
Chapman addressed this very issue during his presentation. From the evidence he presented, you are wrong.
No, Wokeness did not come from Marxism. This is blindingly, screamingly, obvious if you know anything about real Marxism, or have even an acquaintance with people who do. All of them that I’ve ever seen hate Wokeness with a passion. Blithely connecting the two is a complete right-wing fantasy of a one Great Satan being everywhere. At the most charitable, they’re confused about parallel evolution of certain collectivist structures. But just because the structure of the biological eye got reinvented in many animals doesn’t mean one came from the other.
Marxism is first and foremost concerned with labor and capital. The Woke are on the side of the CAPITALISTS against labor, that’s how little it has to do with Marxism. Wokeness has much more to do with strains of capitalism confronting social changes, and internal fights that generates between various factions.
Disagree. No, they are not the same. But a wolf is not the same as a dog. But dogs evolved from wolves. Wokism is not the same as Marxism. But one evolved (intellectually, politically, culturally) from the other. The intellectual history is easy to trace. Marx->Frankurt School->intersectionality, critical theories. I suppose if you wanted to make an academic argument that Marxism led to two separate branches (1. Frankfurt, 2. intersectionality, critical theories) in a manner more comparable to the evolution of humans and apes from a common ancestor, I would neither dig in to defend my linear analysis nor really care. Similarly I suppose if you want to make an academic argument that intersectionality & critical theories “just happened” to evolve (in parallel rather than in a linear evolutionary manner), a Marxist-style playbook that “just happens” to include division of the world into oppressor and oppressed, and Marcusian repressive tolerance, and a rejection of a liberal worldview, again, I would neither dig in to defend, nor care. The key points involve the core similarities involving that division and willingness to repress opposition, rather than an academic analysis of linear, branching, or parallel (intellectual, political cultural) evolution.
I suppose this somewhat depends on what is meant from, “come[s] from Marxism.” i think it’s pretty clear that marxist ideas influenced much of the thinking among the woke. Hell, the term “woke” is itself a reference to the Marxist idea of false consciousness. What are the woke awake to? The real material and cultural conditions of their existence to which they were blind to (i.e., false consciousness). To say Marxism had zero influence on wokeism and a right-wing fever dream is at least as off the mark as saying wokeism is Marxist. What there is is a mixing, bastardizing, hybridizing of ideas.
Right you are. Wokeism is not to be equated with orthodox Marxism, but the house of the Woke is haunted by the specter of Marx. (My metaphorical way of speaking is an allusion to Derrida’s book “Specters of Marx”.)
“Deconstruction has never had any sense or interest, in my view at least, except as a radicalization, which is to say also /in the tradition/ of a certain Marxism, in a certain /spirit of Marxism/. There has been, then, this attempted radicalization of Marxism called deconstruction (and in which, as some have noted, a certain economic concept of the differantial economy and of exapropriation, or even of the gift, plays an organizing role, as does the concept of work tied to differance and to the work of mourning in general). If this attempt has been prudent and sparing but rarely negative in the strategy of its references to Marx, it is because the Marxist ontology, the appellation Marx, the legitimation by way of Marx had been in a way too solidly /taken over/ [arraisonnées]. They appeared to be welded to an orthodoxy, to apparatuses and strategies, whose least fault was not only that they were, as such, deprived of a future, deprived of the future itself. By “welded” one may understand an artifactual but solid adherence whose very event constituted the whole history of the world for the last century and a half, and thus the whole history of my generation.
But a radicalization is always indebted to the very thing it radicalizes. That is why I spoke of the Marxist memory and tradition of deconstruction, of its Marxist “spirit.” It is not the only one and it is not just any one of the Marxist spirits, of course. One ought to extend and refine these examples, but time is lacking.”
(Derrida, Jacques. Specters of Marx. Translated by Peggy Kamuf. New York: Routledge, 1994. pp. 115-6)
Derrida has to be one of the most malevolent actors of the past half-century, an authentic liar and absolutely mendacious fraud and apex BS artist—and that doesn’t even include his crimes against language.
All of which, I take it, is an allusion to the famous opening line of Marx and Engels The Communist Manifesto.
Woke Social Justice is a descendant or outgrowth of Marxism in much the same way that Protestantism is/was a descendant of Catholicism. The Marxists scream about the perversion of their One True Faith just like the 16th-century Papists did—no Jesus without Rome! no Christianity without our priests and books and their guiding words.
But no movement or idea is ever static, especially as it moves through history and nations and becomes wielded and weaponized for different times and different needs.
Some of the commonalities between the Woke and the Marxists are: a highly reductive, oversimplified (even Manichaean) view of human conflict; a dogmatic belief in the Superior Virtue of the Oppressed; an obsession with rooting out ideological impurity and suppressing dissent; a belief in a Vanguard class of philosophers and activists to guide the Revolution to some sort of socialist liberation.
Obviously the major difference is the Woke have jettisoned materialism and the class aspect (which is really a major heart transplant), but that was in response to the failures of Communist societies and the gradual rise in the standard of living for working people. Instead the New Left pivoted to people oppressed through bigotry (women, blacks, gays) and replaced a few fundamental ideas: the redistribution of wealth became the redistribution of self-esteem (reflecting the New Left’s roots in California therapeutic culture) and the reversal of stigma, where as we’ve seen the White Christian Male has gradually been recast from God into Satan.
I think of it more as in the stream of a Leftist Permanent Revolution (which is as much religion as moral crusade as jobs program etc), which starts with Rousseau and winds and shifts and changes with time and place, with Woke being its current 21st-century crowdsourced internet-based iteration.
The Big attack of the 1619 Project came from A socialist website. See
They see history as a class struggle, not a racial one.
I find the people arguing that wokeness can’t be an outgrowth of Marxism and the various schools of thought that popped up around it very odd, because the argument appears to be “y can’t be an outgrowth of x because it’s not exactly like x, and the people who believe in x don’t like y!” A house cat is not a lion, but they still came from the same ancestors. Often the people who hate a political movement the most are indeed the people who believe in the ideology that was supplanted by the outgrowth. “You’re doing our idea all wrong! How can you be so blind?!?” The Catholics and Protestants in Ireland were all Christians…
Nothing new about this. Indeed, it is why, late in life, Karl Marx was moved to proclaim that “if they [speaking of his self-proclaimed acolytes Jules Guesde and Paul Lafargue] are Marxists, then I myself am not a Marxist” (or “ce qu’il y a de certain c’est que moi, je ne suis pas marxiste” as Friedrich Engels reported it in French in a letter written shortly after Marx’s 1883 death.
Thanks for the post. I am learning a lot about Wokeness from the comments. I first experienced some of it, mostly in San Francisco in the 70s. The “political correctness“ that I encountered often in individuals had its seed in MAOISM. “Where do correct ideas come from? Do they fall from the sky? Are they innate in the mind? No. They come from The social practice and from it alone. There are three kinds of social practice…” That’s as close as I can come to remembering the passage. The people I encountered it in were for the most part decent, Earnest, kind, extremely bright and well educated, living communally: Also often upper middle class in their families of origin. Some of them practiced re-education in a gentle way: change your language, change your ideas, change your behavior. I took 2 mandatory sociology courses in nursing school (!) that had a lot of Edgar Snow, etc. The Black Panthers handed out the little red book gratis on Telegraph Ave. the emphasis that I saw was Marx filtered through Mao.
I’m not comparing them directly, but there are similarities between fascism and what we call wokeness to the extent that they are somewhat organic and arise in different settings with different influences. They involve ideology but in an eclectic way.It’s current iteration has diverse influences as noted in the comments
. Does one element have primacy? I don’t know. One influence that Gets overlooked, I think, is something I would call “therapism” with its emphasis on the primacy of feelings, not just as an epistemic (again !) guide, but also in the emphasis it gives to guarding against trauma as a justification for negating inconvenient evidence. A lot of other quite sound therapeutic concepts are recruited, for example Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Change your thinking and even your mood by examining your definitions of inner and outer reality through changing your language accordingly. It seems to me that this influence is especially evident in campus wokeness where, I’m guessing here, there has been a lot of experience in Psychotherapy among students, and/or parents, and/or faculty.
Maybe you just have to be Californian to see it, but the New Left has deep roots in Cali, and not just in the love match bw Herbert Marcuse and Angela Davis, but also in Esalen, which is/was sort of a New Age/New Left East-meets-West meeting place for various aspiring liberators of humanity, from European professors to Indian gurus.
Esalen was one of the places where the New Left philosophy was crafted, esp in re the replacement of wages/working conditions with self-esteem, based generally around the idea that people were looking for deeper forms of liberation (spiritual, emotional) than just from material conditions.
Esalen (I believe) was where the first Diversity seminar was held, and also the first Racial Encounter group, where guilty whites would sit on the floor and get screamed at by angry black people. (Plus ca change!)
Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn (who is Christopher’s daughter) wrote a really interesting book about this called “Race Experts”.
The real question is whether political divisions should be based on class or race. I would argue that it is far better to be divided by class than by race.
Considering that class is by far the number one predictor — far more than race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or any of the other categories the woke are obsessed with — of every single important life outcome and measure of quality of life and “happiness,” class is of course far more important and far more of a dividing factor. But it behooves people like academics and college grads who will go into white collar jobs to ignore class and have the privilege and social status of claiming that they’re more oppressed than hundreds of millions of people who are much, much poorer than them. And to give our corporate overlords a pass on making their warehouse workers pee in water bottles and not cover the injuries they get from repeated movements (Amazon), or using third world near-slave labor (every company from Nike to Apple), as long as they tweet about how much they care about Pride Month and diversify their board of directors and/or highest-level multimillion-making managers.
It is important to mention that neo-Marxism as a central ideological factor in Woke academia isn’t identical with Marx’ original Marxism, the former being “an attempt to revise or recast the classical ideas of Marx while remaining faithful to certain Marxist principles or aspects of Marxist methodology,”…”an updated and revised form of Marxism that rejects determinism, the primacy of economics and the privileged status of the proletariat.”
(Heywood, Andrew. Political Ideologies: An Introduction. 7th ed. London: Red Globe/Macmillan, 2021. p. 93)
That is a fantastic video. Thank you for bringing it to our attention. Going to check out more from Ryan Chapman.
I don’t think any of his points are at odds with McWhorter. The woke/orthodox religious define the canon/”truth,” and neither brooks any argument. Both analogies seem apt.
By the way, here’s an interview with a biologist serving as an example of how wokeism affects the careers and lives of scientists who refuse to go woke:
Ironically Marx himself was anti-authoritarian and supported every liberal and democratic reform in his days. He (somewhat naively) dreamed of a society without group and interest based politics.
However he recognized that every form of political and economic organization produces unintended effects.
Sadly, “… a society without group …” developed in a society suppressed by one group. At least in the country, where i lived.
That was, what “unintended effects” sometimes really look like.
Even Marxists have to accept a minimum of evidence. Realising, their “Zielgruppe” (Arbeiterproletariat) did not suffer under increasing impoverishment, but performed a financial and social rise, they went short of supporters for the false marxistian dogma. Therefore searching a new basis, they found them in the huge “bulb” of proletarian academics (mostly in Humanities & Politics). The care for the new “underclass” and providing them with publicly funded jobs by inventing social breaking points, is the marxist heritage of Wokeness.
Is it not a strange thing, that after seeing what happened through the 20th century, we still have people who adopt the fashionable cloak of Marxism, yet no one dons the raiments of fascism? I find them both equally repugnant, which is perhaps a little unfair of me, as Marxism is well ahead of fascism in the number of innocents killed in the cause.
It does occur to me that those who have not paid attention to history and choose to cosplay Marxism do it for the real-life ‘likes’ it brings them. The problem is that so many do it now that it risks summoning the old demon back to life. Perhaps I ought not worry: they tell me they will “do it right” this time…
What exactly does one learn when you hear wokeness is somehow Marxist? Does this generate actual insight, even though everything is different? Marxism is about class, economics, not race. The means of production are transferable, race isn‘t. Workers are a group that is deemed exploited, but wokeness operates with a “matrix of oppression” where the target audience are themselves “intersectional” oppressor and oppressed to varying degrees, and have to deal with their own “white fragility” and so on. There are little, if any useful paralells.
(1) The video uses an extremely broad and generic explanation for Marxism, which also abstracts Marxism to a very generic struggle between groups without even the economic part, and reduces it to people understanding themselves as oppressed, then overthrow the oppresor. But by that reason, the American Revolution would be Marxist.
(2) The actual Woke movement is opposed to Marxist and Socialist, having also prevented Bernie Sanders. Look into Neera Tanden and the likes. They call other leftists “class reductionist” when they are being nice. Sanders’ mittens are “white supremacist” etc. The antagonism is also mutual, see Greg Mayer’s comment above, see Adolph Reed, the WSWS etc. They view, as do I. wokeness as a form of neo-liberalism.
(3) If you argue simply as a lineage of ideas that somehow, however remote, influenced other follow-ups, and ignore the twists and distortions, you could draw a line from Charles Darwin to eugenics and Nazi projects. I stress this is absurd, but it’s same kind of absurd reasoning that is used in the video.
What’s the point then? Even though name-dropping Marx doesn’t tell you anything about wokeness, it is obviously all about discrediting labour, union, and other real leftist projects, and as a right-wing boogeyman that leverages Cold War era rhetorics (again) in the ongoing project to further move US politics to the far and farthest right.
The form of Marxism that has informed Wokeism isn’t the original Marxism of Marx but neo-Marxism, which is not only “about class, economics”:
“Two principal factors shaped the character of neo-Marxism. First, when Marx’s prediction about the imminent collapse of capitalism failed to materialize, neo-Marxists were forced to re-examine conventional class analysis. In particular, they took a greater interest in Hegelian ideas and in the stress on ‘Man the creator’ found in Marx’s early writings. Neo-Marxists were thus able to break free from the rigid ‘base/superstructure’ straitjacket. In short, the class struggle was no longer treated as the beginning and end of social analysis. Second, neo-Marxists were usually at odds with, and sometimes profoundly repelled by, the Bolshevik model of orthodox communism.
The Hungarian Marxist Georg Lukács (1885–1971) was one of the first to present Marxism as a humanistic philosophy, emphasizing the process of ‘reification’, through which capitalism dehumanizes workers by reducing them to passive objects or marketable commodities. Antonio Gramsci drew attention to the degree to which the class system is upheld not simply by unequal economic and political power, but also by bourgeois ‘hegemony’, the spiritual and cultural supremacy of the ruling class, brought about through the spread of bourgeois values and beliefs via civil society – the media, churches, youth movements, trade unions and so on. A more overtly Hegelian brand of Marxism was developed by the so-called Frankfurt School, whose leading early figures were Theodor Adorno (1903–69), Max Horkheimer (1895–1973) and Herbert Marcuse. Frankfurt theorists developed what was called ‘critical theory’, a blend of Marxist political economy, Hegelian philosophy and Freudian psychology, that came to have a considerable impact on the so-called ‘New Left’.”
(Heywood, Andrew. Political Ideologies: An Introduction. 7th ed. London: Red Globe/Macmillan, 2021. pp. 93-4)
The Woke are on the socialist side of the political spectrum (especially with their equity-based collectivist egalitarianism), and their political goals are very different from the ones of neoliberals:
“[N]eoliberalism manifests itself as a concrete set of public policies expressed in what we like to call the ‘D-L-P Formula’: (1) deregulation (of the economy); (2) liberalization (of trade and industry); and (3) privatization (of state-owned enterprises). Related policy measures include massive tax cuts (especially for businesses and high-income earners); reduction of social services and welfare programmes; replacing welfare with ‘workfare’; use of interest rates by independent central banks to keep inflation in check (even at the risk of increasing unemployment); the downsizing of government; tax havens for domestic and foreign corporations willing to invest in designated economic zones; new commercial urban spaces shaped by market imperatives; anti-unionization drives in the name of enhancing productivity and ‘labour flexibility’; removal of controls on global financial and trade flows; regional and global integration of national economies; and the creation of new political institutions, think tanks, and practices designed to reproduce the neoliberal paradigm.”
(Steger, Manfred B., and Ravi K. Roy. Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. p. 14)
This is an excellent summary of neo-liberalism. However, it does not show how wokeness is on the “socialist” side, especially since Woke argumentation sees race and racism, and sexism as primary issues, not income equality, worker’s rights etcetera. Robin DiAngelo stated bluntly that anything but race issues were a distraction (in an interview she gave Der Spiegel).
And what “collectivist egalitarianism”? I only saw Ivy League students demanding administration rule according to their particular ideology. They are driven to prevent “cultural appropriation”, want coddly “safe spaces” for minority students and suchlike. The broader demands aim at police de-militarization (defund them, fund community work more etc) and suchlike, when you count BLM.
I found this meta survey of what students demand:
“Ninety-one percent of student groups called for reviews and revisions of institutional policies and practices affecting campus climate and diversity practices. […] Finally, over half of the lists petition for increased support services for marginalized student groups.”
The last point isn’t even egalitarian, and only supported by 61%, but almost all want the usual virtue signal stuff, which is exactly in line with interests of neo-liberal corporations. I could not vet the data, but it does match what I’ve read, also reported on this site.
Interesting that many Democrats (Liberals? Progressives?) in the “Woke is not real Marxism” cohort can tolerate nuance that it “might be a little” when it comes from moderates like McWhorter, or brushed up against in a brief compliment to Lindsay.
But when the full story is presented by James Lindsay with the blindingly obvious trail illuminated, with massive attribution, citation, and quotes, the vociferous denials erupt.
I guess that’s because Democrats/Progressives are only semi-Communists.
You had a point when the Democrat party would pursue typical leftist reforms and enacted “common people” policies that are long standard in developed nations, like decent health care for all, labour laws that strenghten employees, support for the poor etcetera. Your point would be stronger still, if most voters were actually against such an agenda, and so that the Democrat party would not only pursue it, but would have to do it in secret, to get it done even though it wasn’t what people wanted of them.
Then, James Lindsay’s and your conspiracy theory would fit. But that is sadly not the reality we are in. In this reality, a self-declared “Socialist” Bernie Sanders had unprecedented popular support without the typical use of corporate-sponsored funding. He had the online tailwind behind him, and support especially among younger voters (who would provide steady Democrat support for decades to come). He was solidly projected to beat the Republican anti-establishment candidate, DJ Trump, in an election that had anti-establishment writ large over it.
But what did the “secretly Marxist” party and their establishment do with this hand, and an openly “Socialist” candidate? Oh, right, they threw it away, with well-documented (because leaked) shenagigans, turned a generation to disillusionsed non-voters, shoved their unpopular, entitled corporate-establishment candidate Clinton into the spotlight, and ever since ran on pure “vote the lesser evil, or else” campaigns. American voters now must dutifully make their cross at whoever the corporate masters present, or face a theofascist take-over. That’s a very strange move for a “secretly Marxist” party.
Briefly, the problem with Lindsay’s take is that it is overwrought. Even when we accept every fact and footnote as he presents it, and I don’t even doubt there are relevant mistakes, even then the story is just a conspiracy theory. Overfitting a story onto a sinister narrative, while ignoring everything that would contradict it.
I don’t quite see, for instance, why should I see Herbert Marcuse as this secret supervillain, because he said somewhere to be intolerant. Okay, suppose he did, and then what? Is the intolerance of Yale students towards free Halloween-costume choice more sinister, had they read Marcuse out loud? I really struggle what you guys try to say. I also find this thesis absurd. The woke crowd doesn’t seem very learned, and they don’t even care much about Crenshaw. The only people who bring him up are Right Wing opponents. Marcuse is also not Marx. That needs yet more red yarn, a bigger wall, and several more packs of cigarettes to draw up.
Who is Ryan Chapman? I can find references to a woman, another article and a South African football player. (I posted this comment, but it does not show. Surely, there’s nothing wrong with it.)