Cultural Marxism and the Evolution of Social Justice Politics: How the Left Played the Political Long Game

By Shane Fudge

The role of Karl Marx in encouraging the emancipation of the working class from its chains to capitalist inequality has been questioned in recent years.  Critics of his role in history, such as David Icke, have even made the argument that Marx and Engels were themselves a part of an untold history of secret societies, elite autocracy, and the roll-out of divisive, diversionary, and ultimately dead-end politics. This idea is given further credence by the practical application of communism at various points in our history, i.e., by Stalin, by Mao and, more recently, in the ideological principles which underpin Schwab’s ‘Great Reset’.

Whilst the jury remains out on Marx’s real motivations (and possible funding streams), he did at least recognise in his ‘materialist conception of history’, something which has been all but completely erased from today’s political left – that society must be understood according to its material conditions, by the gap which exists between the rich and the poor, and finally by the relationship between the owners of the means of production, and those who sell their labour power to this ownership. Marx argued that to consider anything else in capitalist society is a distraction from the ongoing conflict between the owners and the non-owners – a political dance if you will, in a system of clear exploitation.

Marx was heavily criticised for developing what some perceived to be a ‘teleological view’ of history; a linear progression through feudalism-capitalism-socialism-communism, driven by the unfolding of class consciousness. Max Weber was one of the first to challenge Marx’s ‘historical materialism’, arguing that consciousness is an individual property and not tied exclusively to a grand evolutionary narrative.  Weber’s famous work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism was his own attempt to provide an alternative explanation of the development of capitalism, where he argued that the fundaments of Calvinist religion – predestination, frugality, and discipline – can also explain the rapid expansion of business enterprise in the 19th Century. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism | Summary & Max Weber | Britannica Money

Keen to retain Marx’s original observations on material inequality, and reluctant to chuck the baby out with the bathwater, the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci revised Marx’s ‘base-superstructure’ conceptual framework, in order to reflect what he saw as a more complex network of power relations in society. Whilst he argued that the economy is an important influence on the superstructure of society, he believed that it was not the single most important determinant. The proletariat, he argued, are socialised in various ways into the norms, values, and ideals of the capitalist system and are generally persuaded – rule by consent – rather than coerced into this system. For Gramsci, it is a circulation of the dominant ideas through which the capitalist class exert control – control which must be negotiated and legitimised through civil society.  Gramsci suggested that the media, the education system, the state and other institutions, are all implicit in legitimising ‘rule by consent’ and therefore important in consolidating ‘hegemony’.

Fast forward to today, and we are able gain a greater appreciation of Gramsci’s shrewd revision of Marxist thought. Whilst commentators such as Francis Fukuyama proclaimed, ‘the end of history’, with the fall of the communist bloc in 1989, The End of History: Francis Fukuyama’s controversial idea explained (

Elder (2017) argues that there was another, more invisible conflict, going on; since at least the 1960s. The influence of Cultural Marxism on mainstream politics, explains Elder, is ‘a wide-ranging designation which refers to the promotion and employment of critical theory, and in a more general sense to the political, cultural and academic machinations of the political left’.  As a cohesive movement, cultural Marxism finally gave teeth to the political left, where we now see its influence in the woke movement.

Social justice politics, or woke, has gained hegemonic influence in the last four years shadowing, coincidentally or otherwise, all the other significant changes in our society. This influence cannot be overstated. The combined effect of a left, now reinvigorated around the role of identity politics, minority influences, and social justice issues; in tandem with a Tory Party that has never made any secret of its complicity and allegiance with the corporate world, has meant zero political opposition to the biggest global transfer of wealth we have ever seen.  Indeed, as 2020 unfolded, the voices of the millions of people who lost their businesses, homes, and livelihoods, were lost in the huge clamour for social justice, inclusion and increased recognition, and greater social parity for minorities and marginalized groups.

Rather than making any sort of stand against this turbo-charged material inequality – which might have been reasonably expected of traditional left-wing political parties of the past – the idea of ‘social justice’ has now metastasised beyond economic inequality, and the political left has embraced a much broader conception of the term. Woke politics seeks out discrimination, prejudice, and injustice in all groups and across all sectors of society.

As for the intent behind all this, it is worth taking note of the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, who suggests that that biggest issue with the social justice movement is that identity groups are mostly concerned about themselves and are not necessarily interested in the bigger picture.  He argues that this means that this ad hoc unity, and often-temporary alliances around single-issue campaigning, mean that these groups have very little interest in traditional materialist values or any of the solidarity which previously characterised the left.

So, is what we are seeing a ‘red trojan horse’ – the end of a long political game played by the left? There is an argument to suggest that the gradual convergence between left and right in recent years, has itself come about as a result of the influence the social justice movement, although this influence is most clearly visible in the Labour Party and pretty much all left leaning political parties.

The demise of traditional left-wing concerns with materialist-based aims at reducing the gap between the rich and the poor and the emergence of identity-based social justice, could be clearly observed in the rise of the New Labour Government in the UK from 1994 onwards. The diminishing power of their trade union power base in the 1980s; a political rupture between the militants and the socialists; and, more importantly, the failure of Labour Governments in four general elections from 1979 on, all played a part in culminated in the ideological shift which took place during this time.

A shift away from a focus on social class to a political manifesto based on the promotion of meritocracy, opportunity, and social mobility, mirrored broader shifts in the social sciences; notably in the views of writers such as Anthony Giddens. In his own revision of Marx and classical social theory, Giddens argued that both left and right were no longer relevant in today’s information age, or what he termed ‘reflexive modernity’. Capitalism and modern social theory: an analysis of the writings of Marx, Durkheim and Max Weber: Giddens, Anthony: Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

Giddens argued that people were now freed from the limitations of class consciousness, and that the self in late modern society was now a blank slate. Instead, New Labour broadened the idea of social justice, to embrace consumer society, meritocracy, and cosmopolitan citizenship. Politics it was argued, should no longer challenge material inequality as part of its core résumé, but should reflect diversity, difference and ‘otherness’.  The Blair Government itself distanced the party from its previous incarnation (and any lingering associations with Marxism) by swiftly erasing Clause 4 ‘ownership of the means of production’ from its manifesto.

As Thomas Sowell cogently argues: ‘at the heart of the social justice vision is the assumption that, because economic and other disparities among human beings greatly exceed any differences in their innate capacities, these disparities are evidence or proof of the effects of such human vices as exploitation or discrimination’. Social Justic Fallacies by Thomas Sowell |

The fervour of the woke movement in finding and rooting out such injustice often compares to religious zealousness; characterised by a marked lack of tolerance for alternative views. Those who have raised concerns over the transgender movement, i.e., the idea that they may be promoting regressive ideas about non-binary gender and sexuality issues, are often dismissed as ‘transphobic’, and bigoted – the presentation of ‘truths’ to be unquestioned.

A weaponization of language and concepts, can also be discerned in the critical race debate, where terms such as ‘white privilege’ have been used to attack the white community for the actions of their ancestors.  Activists are keen to highlight what they argue are subtle forms of racism, located in the collective unconscious, but always influencing prejudice and discrimination at some level. Environments must be constantly monitored with this in mind.

Michael Rectenwald argues that the social justice agenda has been very cleverly propagated and supported by the very same people involved with overseeing the Great Reset. Whilst capitalism and socialism would seem to be unlikely bedfellows, he observes that the corporate-socialist model currently being rolled out is actually ‘a two-tiered system of “actually existing socialism” on the ground, paralleled by a set of corporate monopolies on top’. The billionaire funding of Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion, and Antifa is well known George Soros’s Foundation Pours $220 Million Into Racial Equality Push – The New York Times (

Echoing Gramsci’s hypothesis that corporate power is fully enabled and legitimised by accommodating and supporting the networks of civil society – this time through the incorporation of ‘inclusive politics’, Rectenwald argues that their alliance is not difficult to comprehend when you understand that both socialist interests and the billionaire elites ultimately want to destroy the free market. Rectenwald points out that we saw the corporate-socialist planning in relation to the Great Reset, in action during the lockdowns and the BLM/Antifa riots in 2020/21 where:

The draconian lockdown measures employed by Democratic governors and mayors and the destruction perpetrated by the rioters were doing the work that corporate socialists want done. Is it any wonder that corporate elites favour leftist politics? In addition to destabilizing the nation state, leftist politics are helping to destroy small businesses, thus eliminating competitors  Who funds the riotous American left & why? The globalist billionaire class, which uses it to build corporate socialism — Michael Rectenwald

This social unrest is also an effective way of creating division, hate and fragmentation.  All whilst the biggest wealth transfer in history saw the billionaire class radically and exponentially strengthen its position, to little or no political challenge.

The social justice movement has been extremely useful to the political elite to ramp up both their public health agenda and its associated environmental campaign. We are all too familiar with the labels ‘anti-vaxxers’, ‘conspiracy theorists’ or ‘people who don’t care about their fellow citizens’.  Likewise, climate change zealots have for a long time been willing to label those who fly or drive unnecessarily, as people who should be ashamed of their behaviour because their actions impact on both the planet and its occupants.  All of these issues have been pushed from both the mainstream left and also by their allies (or financial beneficiaries) in civil society.

As Rectenwald argues, whilst it has undoubtedly changed in many ways from the days when Karl Marx argued that the real conflict in society is between two social classes – the owners of the means of production and those who sell their labour power to them – contemporary leftist politics aligns perfectly with ‘the globalist interests of monopolistic corporations’ in their model of corporate socialism. However, let us not forget Marx’s original proposition – that socialism itself would only ever be a temporary state of affairs and that the ultimate aim should be a communist society.  Maybe all we have to do is to substitute Marx’s original utopian vision for that of the Great Reset.

Shane Fudge: I enjoyed a twenty-year career in academia in a variety of teaching, research and educational roles after working as a bricklayer on leaving school. After negotiating and overcoming my own challenges in education, I successfully completed a PhD in European Politics in 2006, before embarking on a six-year postdoctoral research post at the University of Surrey and then a five-year teaching post at the University of Exeter. I currently work as a writer and I am training to be a qigong teacher.

Image: Pixabay

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