Know Your Enemy
Understanding the Rise of Woke Capitalism
Editor’s Note: Much of this article is written from the perspective of Neo-Marxist theory and its heir, woke capitalism. For the avoidance of doubt in the reader’s mind, I am not endorsing Neo-Marxism or woke capitalism, I am merely explaining it.
Marxism predicted that the Communist Revolution would happen inevitably due to the inherent contradictions of capitalism and the dialectical course of history. The ever-declining standard of living that capitalism offered the exploited working class of the West would lead to an unstoppable revolt against capitalism and usher in a new age of peace and prosperity. All it would take was one spark to ignite the flames of progress.
When World War I broke out, communists everywhere were certain the spark had come, certain that worldwide revolution was at hand. Workers, called to die for the capitalist running dogs, would surely throw off their chains and bring about the noble dictatorship of the proletariat!
But apart from Russia - where, according to Orthodox Marxism, a revolution shouldn't have started - the revolution didn't come. This left Marxist intellectuals with a great puzzle. Convinced that Marxist theory was correct, how could they explain the lack of revolution?
Explaining this dilemma became the ideological challenge of the school of post-war communism that is often called Neo-Marxism. The Neo-Marxists of the mid-20th century developed two basic explanations for what had gone wrong: the Leninist explanation and the Gramscian explanation.
The Leninist Explanation
The first explanation to arise, mostly via Lenin and the apparatus of the Soviet Union, was that capitalist countries had exported their poverty to to the developing world through imperial capitalism.
Lenin saw imperialism as the highest and final stage of capitalism. He argued that as capitalist economies matured, they became monopolistic and were driven to seek new markets and resources beyond their own borders. This necessity arose from the overproduction and accumulation of capital in the home countries, leading to a search for new areas of investment and new sources of raw materials.
A key aspect of Lenin's theory was the distinction between the export of goods and the export of capital. He posited that advanced capitalist countries were compelled to export capital to less developed countries. This export of capital was more profitable because it exploited cheaper labor markets and accessed raw materials at lower costs. In turn, the imperial capitalists imported cheap goods from their colonies.
In this way, the potential revolutionaries in the imperialist nations were kept satiated with the cheap foreign goods, while the exploitation of capitalism happened overseas. By oppressing Africa, Latin America, and Asia, the capitalists based in the US and Europe were able to maintain a high standard of living for their workforce, ensuring their "buy in" to the system.
The Gramscian Explanation
The second explanation arose by way of Gramsci and his heirs. According to Gramsci, the ruling class not only controls the economic means of production but also the cultural and ideological means (sometimes today called “the memes of production”). Through these means, the capitalists establish a dominant cultural narrative, a cultural hegemony, that becomes accepted as common sense even by those who are oppressed by it.
This puts the oppressed classes in a state of false consciousness. False consciousness arises when the working class internalize the values and beliefs of the oppressive capitalist class. This leads the workers to accept the status quo, including their own exploitation, as natural, beneficial, and fair. The working class would never revolt because it was blinded by capitalist propaganda, which misled it about its historic role.
The Gramscian and Leninist Solutions
The two schools of Neo-Marxists concluded that, in order to bring about global communism, they had to take different approaches.
The Leninist approach was Third World liberation. If the means by which capitalism maintained power was imperial capitalism, then the Third World had to be freed from oppression by the capitalist imperialists. This might be pursued by civil war, coup, revolution, or indoctrination (such as so-called “liberation theology”).
Not only would successful Third World liberation help the developing peoples be freed from colonial exploitation, it would prevent the capitalists of Europe and America from exporting their domestic poverty to their empires. That, in turn, would bring the misery to the home front, which would permit the Neo-Marxists to find allies among the West’s working class again.
If you have ever wondered why the USSR put so much time and effort fomenting revolution in Third World countries, this is the theoretical explanation for why. And the long history of communist revolutions in the Third World from 1940 to the present suffices to show that this tactic was pursued with some vigor.
The Gramscian approach was the long march through the institutions. If the means by which capitalism exerted its hegemony over the proletariat was via cultural organs such as the media, the colleges, and the churches, then it was necessary to seize control of education and media in order to break the hold that the ruling class had over the consciousness of the working class. As such, cultural organizations were actively targeted for infiltration and subversion to create a counter-hegemony.
If you have ever wondered why the Left so vociferously asserts that “everything is political,” “supporting the status quo is reactionary” and that all art must be progressive, this is the theoretical explanation why. The takeover of the US university system and media industry by left-wing activists shows that this tactic, too, was pursued with vigor.
The Gramscian-Leninist Synthesis
The Gramscian and Leninist Neo-Marxists initially pursued separate pathways. Eventually, however, the two schools of thought came together in what I call the Gramscian-Leninist Synthesis.1
The origin of the synthesis came when the Gramscian and Leninist Neo-Marxists mutually agreed that, as a matter of empirical fact:
The capitalists were largely based in the West, and
The Western working class was largely straight, white, male, and Christian.
The Western capitalists were using imperialism to make straight white male Christian workers materially satisfied with their standard of living, through the mechanism of exporting the poverty the Western workers ought to experience to the Third World.
Therefore, the Gramscians were wrong. Western capitalists weren’t using cultural hegemony to make Western white male workers believe that capitalism is good for them - capitalism was actually good for them. It was just horrible for everyone else.
But this raised the question of why the working class - according to Marx, a historically revolutionary force for progress - would willingly comply with the oppression of the Third World. Such despicable and evil behavior demanded an explanation!
And the Gramscians had that explanation. The white male working class had been lured into false consciousness (solidarity with their oppressors) through the lens of race, sexual orientation, gender, and religion. It was the worker's whiteness, straightness, masculinity, and Christianity, that brought the Western worker into solidarity with his straight white male Christian capitalist overlords.
According to these theoreticians, the straight white male Christian proletariat willingly participated in the oppression of people of color and religious minorities in the Third World because in exchange they got to oppress women, religious minorities, LGBT groups, and people of color at home. The false consciousness of the straight white male Christian working class was a false consciousness based on their rejection of solidarity with minorities! Every straight white Christian man was guilty of systemic racism, systemic sexism, and systemic bigotry.
Therefore, the Neo-Marxists concluded, they had to circumvent the co-opted straight white male Christian working class and create a new body of potential revolutionaries among those outside of the mainstream: blacks, women, gays, religious minorities, and other groups. From these marginalized non-straight, non-white, non-masculine, and non-Christian groups of society, the true vanguard of the revolution would arise.
The entire edifice of "critical race/gender/queer/whatever studies" is built on this. When a black, female, or Muslim voice disagrees with the left-wing agenda, then he is exiled from the Left for the same reason the white working class proletariat has been exile. "Self-hating such-and-such" is just a synonym for "under the weight of false consciousness."
The Gramscian-Leninist Synthesis has been pursued with great vigor and success throughout the West. It is taught in our highest institutions of learning, it is on display in our political debates, in our TV commercials, in our Marvel movies.
The Ironic Plot Twist
The Providence which subtly governs human history is not without a sense of irony.
The long march through the institutions by the Neo-Marxists was intended to seize control of the memes of production in order to bring about a communist revolution. But in the process of achieving cultural hegemony over education, entertainment, and media, the Neo-Marxists ended up achieving managerial hegemony over industry and finance. By controlling the memes of production, the Neo-Marxists gained control of the means of production.
In other words, the Neo-Marxists had become the capitalist ruling class. Or, perhaps more properly, the capitalist ruling class had become Neo-Marxists. The Gramscian-Leninist Synthesis had won, and the result was woke capitalism. To be woke is nothing more than to be a Neo-Marxist who agrees with the Synthesis. So woke capitalism is Neo-Marxist capitalism.
But Marxism cannot be capitalism. And the capitalist ruling class cannot be the revolutionary vanguard it was taught to be. It is, by Marxist standards, innately oppressive, conservative, and reactionary. And yet today’s capitalist ruling class is also, unquestionably, Neo-Marxist in its education and orientation.
This is an intellectually untenable position to hold. If the Gramscian-Leninist Synthesis is wrong, then the Neo-Marxists would be bigots for being anti-white, anti-male, anti-straight, and anti-Christian. And they are obviously not bigots. So therefore Neo-Marxism is right. But if Neo-Marxism is right, then the Neo-Marxists would be oppressors for having power, influence, and money or being straight, white, Christian, or male. And they are obviously not oppressors. Or are they? The cognitive dissonance is literally irresolvable.
This cognitive dissonance creates the Orwellian doublethink that is now characteristic of our society. “Black Lives Matter” is progressive but “It’s OK to be White” is racist. “Islam is Right about Women” is misogynistic but “Islam is Wrong about Women” is Islamophobic. Driving a pick-up truck shows that you hate the environment, but flying a CO2-spewing private jet to a climate conference shows you love the environment. To save the planet, you shouldn’t have children, but to save your country’s economy from its declining birth rate, you should invite in immigrants to have children. Women and men are equal, but the future is female because women are better than men, but no one can define what a women is.
And thus our Neo-Marxist capitalist ruling class has gone insane.
The Coming Destruction
The continuation of life, as Ayn Rand famously explained, is contingent. It requires choices, every moment of every day, correct choices that avoid harm and achieve value. In the absence of animalistic instinct, making correct choices requires rationality, e.g. the use of reason to achieve one’s values.
Because they are insane, the Neo-Marxist capitalist ruling class is no longer capable of rationality. As such, they are no longer capable of making rational choices that will sustain their own — or our! — existence. Indeed, they won’t even try to sustain our existence because they do not value it. Their insanity is such that they willingly will choose course of actions that are self-destructive.
I am not the first to point this out, of course. (I never am!) James Burnham’s 1964 book Suicide of the West foresaw what was to come, though the full fruit of the evil tree had not yet ripened. Burnham saw that the West’s burgeoning ideology was filled with contradictions that could bring about nothing more than guilt, self-hatred, self-abnegation, and self-destruction.
What will be the means by which this self-destruction will be achieved? What have they chosen as the form of our destructor? That will be the topic of a future article. For now, let us contemplate the insanity of our Neo-Marxist capitalist ruling class on the Tree of Woe.
Contemplations on the Tree of Woe attempts to be a bastion of sanity in a world gone insane. Well, maybe not sanity, but at least moments of sane lucidity? Anyway, to receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
I believe that “Gramscian-Leninist Synthesis” is a better term for this school of thought than the more common “Identity Politics,” for two reasons. First, it explains the origin of the ideology, linking it directly to its (dis)reputable ancestors. Second, it avoids a blanket condemnation of identity politics, which can have its place in a world of nation-states that seek to preserve their unique culture and history.