To best understand socialism’s history, one should divided it into four critical epochs and examine its organic metastasis over a period of 228 years. From the Age of Enlightenment’s violent conclusion with the French Revolution in 1789 which ushered in the Age of Romanticism, to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ works in The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, the rise of democratic socialism under the British Fabianism; and finally Fascism and National Socialism under Mussolini and Hitler, each are inextricably linked even as many bitterly argue over the actual identity and definition of “socialism”. But what cannot be denied is in their deep reliance on the philosophical study of dialectical materialism inspired by the Hegelian Dialectic. To better understand Critical Theory, one must understand the times and circumstances behind the establishment of the Frankfurt School in 1923 and inevitably, the polymorphous “cultural Marxism” phenomenon.
According to Swedish socialist Göran Therborn, the new social science “was launched in 1937 by Max Horkheimer, the Director of the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research” some 13 years following the Institute’s launch in 1923. Following World War I, new, increasingly influential left-wing ideas were developed and, for a time, many Marxists believed that Germany would spearhead global sovietization as Marx had intended, rather than with the Russian Revolution. Yet with communism’s failure to spread through short-lived revolts throughout Europe following the rise of the Bolsheviks, many intellectuals came to understand that Marxist-oriented research needed reexamination given the “revolutionary consciousness, culture and organization and a clear notion of socialism… appeared to be lacking.” Marxism needed to be revisited, reconsidered and repackaged into an organic opiate while still indoctrinating the “consciousness, subjectivity, culture, ideology and the concept of socialism,” even if hints of capitalism and nationalism are necessary “to make possible radical political change.” With the rise of Adolf Hitler in 1933, the Institute relocated to America where it would continue its work at Columbia University in New York City — and where “critical theory” became forever associated with the Institute. Following World War II then, the Institute returned to Germany.
Critical Theory is the organic synthesis of modernity with institutions associated with modern society — all of which are bedrocks for the foundation of sociology and the social sciences in sum — applied to art, consumer and popular culture, the media and other areas of popular culture. Anthony Giddens, a British sociologist, describes the exploitation of “the evaporated self” through the commodified experience in the cultural sphere, where critical theory is not just relevant and innovative, but the driving force behind the fall of Western Civilization. Marxism is but one form of critical theory; after all, Marxism does provide critiques of capitalism and modernism. But where Therborn parts ways from the critical developments under 20th Century Marxism is in the possibilities for capitalism’s organic evolution. Much of Marxist-Leninist dogma are not generally regarded as critical theory, but rather Marx’s theories which attempt to demonstrate the shortcomings of existing social institutions.
Therborn criticizes Marxism’s ambiguous approach to modernity, with some theorists favoring a more socially democratic society when arguing that capitalism could be reformed and revised (“third wave socialism”). Others still argue for a more critical approach to state capitalism in order to build socialism. While Marxist-Leninists were remarkably influential in anti-colonial and anti-imperial struggles, in trade unions in many countries, among feminist and minority struggles to end oppression, discrimination and inequality, they are less critical with respect to exposing inequality, domination and illegitimate uses of power in eliminating counterrevolutionaries (through mass murder and systematic purges) at the source.
Critical theorists create a Neo–Marxist “capitalist Frankenstein monster” by radically altering free market economies into a heavily regulated form of state capitalism. Another Frankfurt School economist, Friedrich Pollock, developed a model of state capitalism through which “the state acquires power over money and credit, and regulates production and prices. Furthermore, management becomes separate from ownership.” Thus, Critical Theory’s commitment to synthesizing modernity with progress while simultaneously exploiting cultural trends — in which modernity applies “a one-size fits all” policy in totality —may limit the creativity and result in “dumbing down” the human spirit.
Yet Douglas Kellner and Frankfurt School scholars insult the astute scholar’s intelligence. After all, Marx himself required the “Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly” in his sixth plank — even the necessary evil for communists to permeate political parties in The Communist Manifesto (1848): “In France… In Switzerland” with “the Social-Democrats” against the petty “conservative and radical bourgeoisie,” while mindful that the puritanical communists reserve “the right to take up a critical position in regard to phases and illusions traditionally handed down from the great Revolution… without losing sight of the fact that this party consists of antagonistic elements, partly of Democratic Socialists, in the French sense, partly of radical bourgeois.”
Finally, Therborn regards Marxism to be “the major manifestation of the dialectics of modernity, in a sociological as well as a theoretical sense.” Weber, in particular, attacks what negative forces pervade within capitalism, while Emile Durkheim also notes ways which the functioning of capitalism can be disrupted to the detriment of individuals and society. While Marxists may embrace modernity, it also loathes capitalism’s natural barriers to unfettered progressive forces, while Critical Theory embraces elements of capitalist modernity laced with the poisonous progressivism which over time, replace all traditional, religious and feudal ties to the past with the secularism, scientism, industrialization and urbanization of the brave new world, achieved through mass communications and an emphasis on the arts and sciences, technology, trade and communication.
As Austrian economist Thomas DiLorenzo lectured above, communism did not die after the fall of the Soviet Union. Critical Theory never abandons Marxism, given capitalist modernity remains the penultimate stage to building socialism. Rather, Critical Theory is intended to be the process of sovietization by other means — the sewing of what Marxism had last cut off in 1989 — by these new “watermelons” falsely peddling climate change’s “settled science” (the Green movement) and cultural Marxism (“red”).