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The Secret To Marxism’s Success? Slowly Infiltrating Existing Structures

Marxists rejected the outward revolution that Karl Marx had planned, and instead opted to subtly shape the way people thought.


The following is an excerpt from Unwoke: How to Defeat Cultural Marxism in America.

The New Left of the early 1970s knew they could not mount a violent revolution against the government. Not if they wanted to be successful. They could no longer throw bricks through windows, scream at police officers, and hold unruly demonstrations in the public square if they wanted to win hearts and minds to their cause — at least not yet.

For now, they had to take the ideas of Marx, the ones that they had worked so hard to bring to the United States, and quietly slip them into the minds of people in some other way.

The question was: How?

The answer, oddly enough, came in part from an obscure series of political essays called Prison Notebooks, selections from which had just appeared in translation in the United States, in 1971.

These notebooks were written by a man named Antonio Gramsci, who had been imprisoned in the last years of his life, from 1926 to 1937, by Benito Mussolini shortly after Mussolini became dictator in Gramsci’s home country of Italy. For years, Gramsci had been an active member of the Italian Communist Party, attempting to overthrow the government and bring about a worker’s paradise on Earth just as his hero Karl Marx had envisioned.

But he kept hitting walls. The society Gramsci and his comrades were living in seemed especially resistant to the doctrines of communism that they were pushing — not to mention that their Marxist groups kept splitting apart on account of infighting and poor organization.

But Gramsci didn’t blame himself or his fellow communists for their constant failure. He certainly didn’t blame the bad ideas of Karl Marx.

Instead, like so many Marxists before and after him, he blamed society. In his view Italy, and other societies in the West, were especially resistant to Marxism because they were made up of institutions that were not connected to the government: universities, schools, churches, and newspapers, as well as publishing houses and other means of distributing popular culture. This made implementing Marxism, which relied on the central power of the government to control everything, extremely difficult.

“In the East,” Gramsci would write in his Prison Notebooks, describing his moment of epiphany, “the state was everything, civil society was primordial and gelatinous; in the West, there was a proper relation between state and civil society, and when the state trembled a sturdy structure of civil society was at once revealed. The state was only an outer ditch, behind which there stood a powerful system of fortresses and earthworks.”

According to Gramsci, the only way to truly change society was not by violent revolution, but by infiltrating the institutions that make Western society unique. If Marxists could get inside the universities, for instance, where knowledge is effectively “made,” or get jobs at publishing houses, which were the main avenues through which ideas were distributed at the time, they might be able to change the ways people thought in subtle ways, rather than having to resort to the kind of outward revolution that Karl Marx had planned on.

As the writer Nate Hochman recently described in National Review, Gramsci set out a plan that would require any would-be Marxist revolutionaries to “engage in a longer, more covert counterhegemonic struggle, waged via a ‘war of position’ against the ruling cultural consensus. That war of position would not, as in the East, culminate in a single violent, cathartic victory. It would require a protracted, multifront battle for control of the civic structures that form the social consciousness.”

Antonio Gramsci died before he could begin that struggle in his home country. Unlike many reformed revolutionaries, my father among them, he died without ever seeing the error of his ways. And the writing he had done in prison eventually made it out to the world, where it was picked up by young Marxists eager to conduct exactly the kind of covert war he’d described.

One of these people was Rudi Dutschke, a student activist in Germany who had already achieved considerable success by the 1960s when he encountered Gramsci’s ideas. Using these ideas as well as the work of other Marxist scholars, Dutschke proposed what he called “the long march through the institutions.” According to this vision, Marxist revolutionaries would no longer simply protest in the streets and try to tear down existing structures. They would, rather, infiltrate those existing structures in an attempt to change them from within. Given his talent as a public speaker and a campus organizer, Dutschke was able to spread his ideas quite widely across the globe.

At some point in the 1960s, they reached the United States, and by the end of the decade the New Left in America was already beginning to burn out. The primary means of transmission was a professor named Herbert Marcuse, who had done some organizing with Dutschke before coming to the United States and who’d grown to admire Dutschke’s plan for the “long march through the institutions.” In a letter to Dutschke written in 1971, Marcuse said that the long march would be “the only effective way” to bring about a true left-wing revolution in the United States.

Marcuse described the strategy in detail in a book published the next year. He described how leftists would now work “against the established institutions while working within them, but not simply by ‘boring from within,’ rather by ‘doing the job,’ learning (how to program and read computers, how to teach at all levels of education, how to use the mass media, how to organize production, how to recognize and eschew planned obsolescence, how to design, et cetera), and at the same time preserving one’s own consciousness in working with others.”

In other words, the activists who had once planted bombs in buildings and torched cars to bring about revolution would now have to calm down, get jobs, and pretend to be productive members of society (“doing the job”). All the while, though, they would maintain their revolutionary ideas (“preserving one’s own consciousness”) and work to insert those ideas into the work they did, indoctrinating as many people as possible in the process. Those who became university professors would treat figures like Karl Marx kindly while attacking capitalists and other revered figures from American history. Those who went into information technology would design systems with a subtle liberal bias. Those in journalism would work to transform the newspapers — and, eventually, the cable news networks and internet startups — into propaganda organs for the left.

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