What were you going to do about it? What were you going to do to resist the socially and ecologically destructive forces of globalizing industry and finance?
Throughout the 20th century, the default* course for the Western left to take was to look to the Soviet Union. Not the real Soviet Union, of course, which had far too much an excess of gulags, secret police, and general misery. I mean the Soviet Union that existed in its government’s international PR materials, and in the naïve hearts of privileged socialists of the Reagan Years.
* That is, the easiest and laziest.
End of History™, no matter how much liberal political tastemakers tried to demonstrate it. The Soviet Union, economically speaking, was the most thoroughly Fordist state that ever existed – the most complete standardization a government had ever attempted. It was a fully state-controlled economy whose purpose was primarily production within its borders.
The forces of globalization raging throughout the rest of the world tore the Soviet economy to pieces like the winds of a hurricane. The USSR’s borders couldn’t maintain their territory – literally. Capitalism destroys institutions of economic control. That’s terrible in some cases, but very beneficial in others.
Here’s where real history dovetails with the flickering shadows of conspiracist thought. Because the academic discipline of Cultural Studies – especially in Britain, where Jeremy Gilbert focusses his analysis – really was a form of cultural marxism.
Broadly speaking, this was a project among politically progressive and radical university professors in a particular discipline to see what cultural fields could promote revolutionary ideas, now that the major state source for socialist inspiration was torn to bits. In this sense, it followed the recommendations of a notorious duo at the forefront of developing revolutionary political philosophy.
No, I’m not talking about Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, the devils of the American nationalist conspiracy of cultural marxism. Their actual ideas are remarkably defeatist. Andrew Breitbart just happened to read them, and knew of Adorno because of his friendship with the Black American revolutionary Angela Davis.
Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau are the duo that Jeremy Gilbert – as well as myself – see as the most important in turning marxist thought to issues of culture. But when you read Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, the direction Cultural Studies went in wouldn’t have been quite what they had in mind.
Here are the people I refer to when I write Cultural Studies. University-based cultural theorists writing analyses of popular culture and arts using concepts adapted from and developing the marxist traditions of thinking.
Here’s an example, “Deadpool Playing Myth: An Analysis of the "Secondary Narrative" in Deadpool's Promotional Images,” which is the title of an actual Master’s thesis at the Cultural Studies department of Queen’s University.
Now, that’s not to say that we don’t have plenty to learn from such an analysis in the art of narrative creation using meta-fiction in marketing communication. But it’s difficult to make the jump from here to a new economic system and political morality.
Because Laclau and Mouffe were talking primarily about social movements of the Global South and of different minoritarian and sub-altern populations across the world. Here we see a problem of method – you can’t really participate in such social movements when you live in a tenured professorship at a prestigious university.
So what can you do to build a social movement from a professor’s office?