Communism had some definite advantages, at least on paper: it possessed a unity of purpose, a standard ideological narrative, generally centralized control of its political apparatus emanating from Moscow (with eventual exceptions of China, Yugoslavia, and perhaps a few other states), a revolutionary fervor and a certain attractiveness in the developing or “Third World.” It also faced a West that oftentimes appeared disunited in its strategy and approach to the Communist menace, from those who advocated victory over it, to others who strenuously desired to find a modus vivendi with it.
But its inherent weaknesses would bring the old Soviet Union to an ignominious end. By the 1980s the Soviet state and most of its European satellites suffered from disastrous economic policies, the ossification of its leadership cadres, and an inability to meet the increasing challenges of recrudescent internalized nationalism or to staunch the revival of traditional religious belief. This spelled the inglorious demise of the system that many disillusioned writers in the 1930s had once proclaimed as the “bright future of mankind.” In the end, those factors combined with American economic might, the political determination of the Reagan administration, and the rise of such powerful forces as Solidarnosz [Solidarity] and the stepped up opposition of the Catholic Church (e.g., in Poland), witnessed the truth of T. S. Eliot’s poetic expression: “How does the world end, Not with a bang, but a whimper.”
Yet, as scholar Professor Paul Gottfried has demonstrated in his studies, most especially in The Strange Death of Marxism, a virulent strain of Marxism continued and thrived, ironically, at the same time as an ossified Communism seemed to perish. As he explains, this variant of Marxism was less myopically dedicated to the eradication of capitalism, as long as it could control and manipulate capitalism internationally. What was singularly important for it was the revolutionary subversion and transformation of cultural, educational and religious institutions. And in its efforts to achieve that objective in Europe and in the United States, it has been singularly successful.
I can remember clearly the epidemic of student demonstrations of the 1960s and 1970s (when I was in grad school at the University of Virginia). Many of my fellow grad students, some deeply involved in Leftist and Marxist organizations, now teach at prestigious universities. The ideas and narratives they absorbed and developed back then form the corpus of what they instill into the minds of undergraduates and graduate students today. And those ideas have by no means been moderated since then; rather they have become even more pronounced.
And who can forget the radical revolution in the arts, and, in particular, in music at approximately the same time. In the 1950s on network television (only three national networks: ABC, NBC, and CBS) there were such prime time programs as “Voice of Firestone,” “Bell Telephone Hour,” and classical artists (e.g., Joan Sutherland, Beverly Sills) frequently appeared on Ed Sullivan and many other programs. The Metropolitan Opera was broadcast on hundreds of commercial radio stations throughout the nation—in the Raleigh, NC, area there were only three stations, and the largest, WPTF (an NBC affiliate) offered the Met each Saturday during the season. The other two presented selections of genuine country and what I would call “big band” music. Even Elvis Prestley, while a gyrating pioneer in “rock-and-roll,” also was famous for his Gospel songs. There was, to summarize it, a connection between average American citizens and their inherited musical traditions.
Yet, it was on the Ed Sullivan program that the Beatles made their real American premiere, followed by the Rolling Stones and countless others. That was the audial sign that “things are’a changing,” and that eventually many of those “links” to our past would be severed, and the inherited traditions and culture that once were familiar to our fathers and grandfathers would be exiled or pigeon-holed, and that legacy desiccated. In 1940 forty-five million American listeners, from every walk of life, would tune into the Metropolitan Opera one Saturday afternoon and hear soprano Lily Pons, onstage and live, sing “La Marseillaise,” and emotionally connect, as one, with her on the fall of France. By the 1970s that unity seemed to be hanging by a thread, and it has only gotten worse since then.
In a few short years, the legacy of and link to “high Western culture” had been severed and expelled from popular view, and the “Voice of Firestone,” “Bell Telephone Hour,” and the Met, were either off the air or exiled to the remote niche of “public radio.”
The 1960s into the 1970s became the time of “drugs, sex, and rock-and-roll.” Radical changes took place in how this nation understood marriage, the family and sex, and how we viewed the experimentation and use of drugs. Moral actions and beliefs once considered beyond the pale, were now, at first cautiously, propagated as normal, or, at least acceptable.
And this transformation had its turbulent echo in religion, in particular, in mainline Christianity. From 1962 until 1965 the Catholic Church convoked the Second Vatican Council. As Professor Roberto de Mattei has carefully documented in his magisterial study, The Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story (2012), the council was hijacked almost from the beginning by a liberal-Modernist bloc, centered in Germany, France and the Low Countries. Indeed, as Father Ralph M. Wiltgen wrote just two years after the council, “the Rhine had most definitely flowed into the Tiber.” And the practical results, although pitched as a necessary pastoral, non-doctrinal updating, were, in fact, disastrous to both the Church’s teaching mission and its doctrinal stability.
In Protestantism the reverberations were, if anything, even worse. The worldwide Anglican Church, save in some African countries, seemed basically to renounce any pretense of orthodoxy. Mainline Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Disciples of Christ, and others followed suit. Even the Southern Baptists, a bastion of Christian conservatism, seem in recent days to be following uncomfortably the primrose path towards embracing a politically-correct “social gospel” porridge.
Of course, our entertainment industry, Hollywood and television programming most especially, paralleled this revolutionary pathway in productions and offerings. It only takes a few minutes of reviewing what’s playing at the local cinema, or which films or television programs are the most hyped and most viewed on cable, to understand this. Spend some time watching, say, TCM or the Encore Westerns channel which specialize in classic films from the 1930s until the 1960s, then turn the remote to primetime shows or current “hit” movies on cable or satellite. The stark differences can’t be missed.
By 1975, CBS had made an executive decision to abruptly terminate what it called its “concentration on ‘rural’ programming”: gone were such popular standbys as “Gunsmoke” and “The Andy Griffith Program,” to be replaced by such “socially-conscious” offerings as “Maude” (remember the abortion controversy?) which burst the former limits of how sex and morals could be presented…or accepted.
From 1934 until 1965 film and movies were governed by a set production code and a national review board (the “Breen board,” so called after its chief motivator Joseph Breen, who had worked with Cardinal Dougherty of Philadelphia in the 1930s to set some parameters and standards on film entertainment). Productions had to pass the code to be released. Of course, complaints about “censorship” percolated throughout the period—the board was stifling artistic expression and free speech, the argument ran. But can anyone who has carefully viewed and considered in any depth the artistic cinematic output of those earlier years, and then compared it to what prevails today in so many cases, claim that the newer is better?
It would be too facile to blame these revolutionary changes in the West simply on Cultural Marxism. Yet, there are clear contours of descent that link the radical transformations we behold around us with this Progressivist variant of Marxist theory. Certainly, in education from the 1960s and onwards, there has been a truly startling transition: many institutions of higher learning, once the supposed oases for open debate and inquiry, are now turned into hothouses of extreme leftist indoctrination and dogmatic multicultural political correctness. And from this new dogmatism, there can be no dissent.
In the late 1950s and 1960s the rise of an “anti-colonialism” and “anti-white racism” in the Third World was coupled with a revolutionary response on college campuses to “white” European “oppression.” I recall having to read (in 1971) Franco-African Marxist Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth in a political theory class. Along with the influential cultural Marxist philosopher Michel Foucault, Fanon fathered a template of cultural revolution which, in turn, spawned a “liberation” ideology that would within a couple of decades dominate Western academic thinking. In the 1980s came further manifestations: “critical theory” in race and gender studies. The transformation of the economic structures and the foundations of the West would follow—would come as a result of those machinations, with the collaboration of a converted (better said, subverted) mainline Christianity, and the establishment of a newly dogmatized, Progressivist linguistic template.
This new Marxism owed far more to the globalist theorizing of Leon Trotsky than the stodgy commissars in Moscow. Trotsky’s evangelical message blended well with the New Left’s emphasis on societal and cultural transformation. Unlike the older Soviet variant, the new Marxism would achieve victory through the infiltration and conversion of Western institutions—the colleges and schools, the church, entertainment, and, finally, political discourse, and the enforcement of a strict code of speech and, eventually, thought.
And what is ironic about this process is that here in “the West,” while we have been drenched in this multifaceted cultural revolution, nations like Hungary, Russia, Poland, and some of the countries once under the Communist yoke in Eastern Europe emerged from decades of tyranny as if time, it seemed, were turned back fifty years, to a kind of status quo ante bellum. The old beliefs, the old traditions and ideas, the feelings of national pride, and the religious faith of the peoples of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Russia, that had once seemed suppressed and dead-and-buried, have blossomed anew as if very little had happened since Soviet troops occupied them in 1945. And strangely, it was the very existence of an “iron curtain” over much of Europe, a kind of protective prophylaxis that sheltered these countries for five decades from the worst effects of American-style imported crass commercialism, decaying moral standards, and the destruction of religious and cultural beliefs. Thus, it is no accident that nations like Hungary, Poland, and, most especially, Russia, having escaped the worst of those influences and having returned to older traditions, are now the strongest opponents of the decadent contagion that suffocates Western Europe and increasingly, the United States.
As Pat Buchanan has written:
It is as if the world is turned upside down, with Russia stoutly opposing secularism and cultural destruction, while America and Western Europe embrace them.”
So it is that the United States and Western Europe stand at a cross roads. True, there has been something of a counter-revolution occurring. The successful “Brexit” movement in Great Britain, the rise of nationalist and populist movements in Italy, Russia, Hungary, and other European countries, and the election of Donald Trump are clear indications of that. This was a major flaw in the Progressivist strategy: Millions of citizens were left behind as the institutional victories of the cultural Marxist revolution continued, and they have now rebelled, if perhaps belatedly. But even the modest success of these counter-revolutionary efforts has brought a zealous and at times hysterical reaction from those who have used cultural Marxism and its multiple manifestations to advance the Progressivist Revolution.
Nearly a century ago Marxists theorists such as the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci understood that to defeat the “hegemon” of the Christian West it was not sufficient to challenge it head-on militarily, or at the ballot box. A broad strategy of infiltration and continuous subversion was required. That revolutionary process would take decades to achieve it aims. The fossilized and doddering Communist commissars reviewing their troops every May Day in Red Square would not succeed, but the destruction of the traditional supportive and basic institutions that gave life to the West, would.
And, thus, in November 2016 millions of desperate American citizens—most especially those left behind “deplorables”—finally had had enough and voted for a self-made iconoclastic billionaire, a bull-in-the-china shop, who promised to “drain the swamps.”
Marxism began a “long march” through our institutions a century ago. Now, 242 years after the Founders declared independence, our people must, absolutely, continue their counter-revolution and their efforts to preserve what remains of our heritage, and, with God’s help, begin the arduous, seemingly impossible, task of recovery.