“They’re effective at what they do,” James Lindsay says, “which is dividing everyday people while the people at the top can conquer.”
In this first episode of a two-part series on “American Thought Leaders,” host Jan Jekielek discusses such ideas as “woke” ideology, Herbert Marcuse’s “repressive tolerance,” and the theological foundations of Marxism with James Lindsay, founder of New Discourses and author of “Race Marxism: The Truth About Critical Race Theory and Praxis.”
Mr. Jekielek: So, James, today you’ve launched your new book, “Race Marxism: The Truth About Critical Race Theory and Praxis.” You’re basically saying critical race theory is race Marxism. What happened? How does this work?
Mr. Lindsay: I’ve read a lot of Marxist thought both from Karl Marx himself and Engels, and the so-called neo-Marxists or critical Marxists such as Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, and most importantly, Herbert Marcuse. What I realized is that Marxism changed. It evolved, if you will. They would say it has dialectically synthesized into new forms.
With the evolution of critical race theory, we have a variant that replaces economic class with race, but otherwise uses exactly the same motifs. It’s like the same engine, different chassis, if you had a car.
So you take out the word class for understanding inequality and you put in race. Gender and sex issues will also be understood through a similar lens.
Mr. Jekielek: I understand Herbert Marcuse was trying to figure out how to get the working class interested in revolution, but when he realized they weren’t interested, he looked for another group to get involved in the revolution. Am I reading that right?
Mr. Lindsay: That’s exactly right. Marcuse was the most influential Marxist of the mid-20th century.
In 1969, he said the working class had grown into a middle class and become stable. They had become conservative, even a counter-revolutionary force. Feeling betrayed at that point by the working class, Marcuse looked for groups that possessed the vital needs for a socialist revolution. He asked, where can we find them? And he turned to identity politics as the answer. He pointed out the black power movement explicitly.
Marcuse said, “We need to look to the ghetto population, to the feminists, the sexual minorities, the outsiders, the unemployed. They have the energy,” he said. They just don’t have the theory. And how do we give that to them? Through the students. We’ll create a student movement just like we saw in Paris in ’68, just like Mao used in China, starting in ’65, ’66. We’ll get a student movement going, and then these people will meet up with the various populations, such as racial minorities and sexual minorities, and tell them what their oppression means in these new Marxist terms.
So Marxism took a gigantic exit ramp and was running down a completely different interstate. They didn’t care about economics or the working class anymore. They’ve gone into identity politics whole hog ever since.
Mr. Jekielek: So the working class became the enemy?
Mr. Lindsay: Absolutely. And in ’65, Marcuse wrote “Repressive Tolerance,” the essay that outlines how movements from the left must be tolerated and how movements from the right shall not be tolerated.
He makes a clear distinction between left and right, between revolutionary and reactionary, as he oversimplifies the situation. He says there’s a tremendous difference between revolutionary violence and reactionary violence. He says violence can be used against conservatives. Conservatives may not use violence in return.
He also says that it’s not enough to withdraw democratic tolerance from the conservatives. He says you have to stop the idea from even entering their minds. It’s a form of censorship and even pre-censorship. He says censorship is justified because society is already censoring the revolutionary left, that it’s trying to preserve the status quo.
Mr. Jekielek: So in pre-censorship, you mean what’s known today as political correctness, that you can’t say certain things because you understand that you’ll be attacked if you do.
Mr. Lindsay: Yes. That would be one element of pre-censorship. Anything that stops an idea from entering the mind. You get people to censor themselves.
During the 2016 presidential election, that’s exactly what outfits such as Cambridge Analytica were attempting to do with elaborate psychological profiles they had built from people taking surveys, for example, on Facebook. They used that information to tailor the algorithm for their Facebook accounts to feed people certain information, so they would only think in particular or approved ways.
And in China, under the social credit system, citizens don’t even dare to say or do the unthinkable because they might lose access to their bank account or travel.
Marcuse justifies the use of what we might call emergency powers to repress one political side while empowering and emboldening the other.
Mr. Jekielek: Given the recent invoking of emergency powers in Canada, how are these things related?
Mr. Lindsay: Leftists are living in the logic of Marcuse’s essay. They genuinely believe they have a right to move society forward.
We constantly live in Marcuse’s condition of clear and present danger. That’s been the mentality of the left for decades now.
I believe Marxism of all types is an entitlement complex masquerading as a political and social theory. This entitlement to apply their theory and power is characteristic of everything they’re doing.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s a way to bully people, right?
Mr. Lindsay: It’s a form of bullying. It’s also Maoism, and people just don’t recognize it as such. If you have bourgeois values or you’re rightist, then you’re labeled a counter-revolutionary.
When Larry Elder ran for governor of California, the L.A. Times posted an article saying he’s the black face of white supremacy, which is preposterous. Why? Because he’s conservative and holds black bourgeois values.
Dave Chappelle, a black comedian, makes jokes about trans people on one of his specials. And so someone writes an article and says he told jokes from a position of his white privilege, which is hilarious, but it’s because he’s rich and famous.
If you become politically black, if you take on the ideology of critical race theory and become a race Marxist, only then are you authentically black.
The same thing is happening within queer theory, the same thing is happening within, say, disability studies and fat studies. They’ve all taken on this woke Marxism brand approach. They cobble it together under what they call intersectionality. The people who have had their critical consciousness awakened are going to become the party. And it will primarily be a party of intellectuals and bureaucratic, managerial class type people.
And they’re effective at what they do, which is dividing everyday people while the people at the top can conquer.
Mr. Jekielek: John McWhorter describes this wokism, for lack of a better term, as a religion. I would call it a pseudo morality, a pseudo-religion. He says, no, no, it’s exactly a religion. What’s your take on this?
Mr. Lindsay: It’s a religion. If you read Marx’s writings before the Communist Manifesto, it’s clear that Marx wasn’t outlining a political and social theory. He was outlining a theology. He had a theory of mankind and human nature. He had what you would call a soteriology in religious circles, which is a theory of salvation.
He said we’re going to do the work, we’re going to become socialist man, and then we’ll reachieve the Garden of Eden. We’ll have the Kingdom of God brought back here to earth, as a theory of salvation built in a soteriology. It’s an eschatological religion.
In other words, it has an end times. The revolution takes the place of the rapture. The socialism that follows the revolution isn’t going to see everything worked out. That’s a tribulation. But in the end, the Kingdom of God will be reestablished on earth when we have communism. So it’s an eschatological faith, as well as a theodicy, an explanation for evil.
For Marx, history had a teleology, a purpose, a trajectory, and an endpoint, which is we’re all going to become socialists. But you end up with a kind of hive mind, this collectivism that becomes totalitarianism.
At the end of history, social relations become stateless and classless. They cease to be rooted in domination and oppression, and we enter into the garden. This is a faith. Every piece of a religious faith is present.
But Marx had hidden the fact that he was creating a theology because he had cast down God. What he put into God’s place is a man who no longer needs God. That’s what the idea of Satan is, that we shall be as gods.
So this is explicitly religious.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.