In recent speeches, including her speech accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination for the Presidency, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has declared she would work to eradicate “systemic racism.” Clinton did not present any specific strategy or policy to do this, yet each time she has uttered the two word phrase “systemic racism” there is a large burst of applause from her audience. An article from vox.com claimed that use of this term was “major” because it is a phrase that is “embraced in particular by younger activists.”
In her speech, Clinton could have said she would work to eradicate “discrimination” or “under-representation” of minorities, but instead chose to use the favored buzzword of a specific political milieu to whom Clinton’s campaign seems to be pandering. The phrase is part of a whole vocabulary of what some call “oppression theory.” Young people have learned it from their University professors, namely those who teach Black or Gender Studies. This new lingo is used on various internet forums, especially Tumblr.
When the Democratic Nomination was still up for grabs, the internet was filled with Clinton supporters who referred to Sanders supporters as “Bernie Bros”, arguing that supporting the Presidential campaign of the Senator from Vermont was an expression of “white male privilege.”
Blogs, tweets, and statuses now urge disappointed Sanders supporters to “check their privilege”, consider ramifications of a Trump presidency, and vote for a candidate they despise. If a male Sanders supporter responds to these arguments and defends his decision to support Jill Stein or Gloria La Riva, or any candidate other than Clinton, he is accused of “man-splaining.” As the argument continues, if an opponent of Clinton objects to a personal insult directed toward him, he is “tone-policing.”
Where do these phrases come from? What is this political milieu that the Democratic Nominee has attached herself to? In the public eye it is often identified as the “far left.” This is not completely accurate.
The entity known as the political left can trace its roots to the French Revolution of the 1790s. Since that time, people who identify as “leftists,” revolutionaries, or radicals have used phrases like “liberty” and “solidarity,” they have talked about working toward “emancipation” and “liberation” against “oppression.” They have often used specifically Marxian formulations like “exploitation” and “expropriation” while advocating “power to the working class.” With rhetoric about liberation and opposing injustice, the left has been the traditional home for opponents of racism, sexism, and advocates of social equality.
However, this new milieu that talks of “interconnectedness” and “intersectionality” rather than solidarity, and celebrates global military interventions done for “humanitarian” reasons, while engaging in heated debates about concepts like “cisgender privilege,” accusing its detractors of being “white-splaining” “Bernie bros” who need to “check their privilege” is a new development, that did not arise naturally from within the left milieu.
The Congress for Cultural Freedom
To understand the unique rhetorical style that Clinton has embraced, one must understand what happened at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel back in 1949. Despite the United States being in an anti-communist frenzy, with the House Un-American Activities committee in full swing, and many Communist Party members being sent to federal or state prisons, the Moscow-aligned Communist Party scored a key public relations victory.
On March 25th, 1949 the “Scientific and Cultural Conference for World Peace” opened in New York City, and gave voice to a loud, solid critique of US foreign policy. Albert Einstein, Will Geer, Arthur Miller, Aaron Copeland, Lillian Hellman, Frank Oppenheimer, Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Dubois, and many of the most well respected cultural and intellectual figures of the time took the stage at the conference. The speeches not only denounced the military build-up against the Soviet Union, but also defended Soviet military interventions, and presented the USSR as a friendly, socialist society, not the “Iron Curtain” or “Evil Empire” portrayed in US media. The US Central Intelligence Agency watched with anger as images of the Waldorf Peace Conference were distributed by media outlets across the planet, discrediting the United States and raising the prestige of the Soviet Union.
In response, the following year the CIA launched a project called the “Congress for Cultural Freedom.” Still today, the project is considered to be one of the agency’s greatest achievements of the Cold War era. The CIA brags about the project on its website saying it involved: “a cadre of energetic and well-connected staffers willing to experiment with unorthodox ideas and controversial individuals if that was what it took to challenge the Communists at their own game.”
The project involved indirect CIA funding of “cultural leftism.” Across the United States and western Europe, Socialists, Communists, Anarchists, as well as artists, musicians, academics and film-makers started getting CIA money. Many of them were unaware of where this money came from.
The CIA’s website confirms that it subsidized the New York-based Trotskyist magazine called “Partisan Review.” The magazine presented itself as representing the genuine socialism of Karl Marx, Max Shachtman and Leon Trotsky, while opposing “Stalinism” in the USSR. The CIA also promoted the works of Sidney Hook and other “socialist” college professors.
The project went beyond just political activism, and included funding for art galleries, experimental film-makers, and most especially, left-wing academics. The CIA funded the printing of George Orwell’s writings, as well as concerts by left-wing musicians. A 2014 article from the Chronicle of Higher Education bemoans the impact of CIA funding for the Iowa Writers Workshop, which promoted what was described as stylistic innovations and breakthroughs in literature.
Why Foment “Cultural Leftism?”
It seems strange that at the time of the Cold War, the US government was intentionally funding people who called themselves radical leftists. However, it makes sense for one key reason: all of the artists, activists, academics, and philosophers who received money from the CIA program were staunchly anti-Soviet.
The CIA intentionally promoted “cultural leftists” hoping to divert people with leftist and dissident instincts away from Soviet Communism. A significant political gap between western leftists and the USSR was already developing. Over the course of the 1920s, the Soviet Union grew to be much more socially conservative than during its earliest years. Homosexuality and abortion were outlawed, and the state awarded medals to women who bore more than 10 children.
While western leftists clung to abstract Marxist concepts like “free love” and “the destruction of gender,” the Soviet Union, fighting for its survival amidst blockades, invasions and foreign subversion, needed to tighten up. Facing constant attack, the Soviet Union was forced to become very authoritarian. With its industries rapidly developing within a previously poor and agrarian society, the Soviet economy required strict regulation. As they faced foreign attacks, Soviet leaders invoked not only Marxist-Leninist principles, but also Russian nationalism. Films portrayed medieval Czars not as tyrants but as patriotic idols fighting off foreign invaders. During the Second World War the Russian Orthodox Church was resurrected and allowed to function within Soviet society.
Despite having a centrally planned, non-capitalist economy, achieving what was often described as “economic miracles” by economists, when it came to cultural issues, the USSR simply did not live up to fantasies of many western leftists. Many activists who strove for an egalitarian paradise with “total freedom” were quite disappointed with what the Soviet Union had become.
Yet, even despite the growing divide, the Soviet Union had a huge network of international allies. The Communist International and broader People’s Front of anti-fascists represented a massive global current. After the Second World War, the current got even larger around the world due to the very admirable role played by Communists and the USSR itself during the war.
Starting in 1950 the CIA began working to exploit and expand the gap between western radicals and the Soviet Union, in the hope of isolating and defeating the USSR. From the earliest days, some of the project’s participants were already fantasizing about events similar to the “color revolutions” the CIA would be involved in a few decades later. When the project was being planned, the ex-Communist academic Sidney Hook said: “Give me a hundred million dollars and a thousand dedicated people, and I will guarantee to generate such a wave of democratic unrest among the masses–yes, even among the soldiers–of Stalin’s own empire, that all his problems for a long period of time to come will be internal. I can find the people.”
Regardless of their intentions, in funding and promoting “Cultural Leftism” the CIA ultimately remolded the left-wing of politics in the USA and Western Europe.
Eastern Mysticism, Fascism & The Occult
In Western Europe and the United States, Christianity represented the most prominent religious perspective and was promoted by the most centrist and mainstream elements of the political establishment. The radical left generally promoted philosophical materialism and scientific atheism. The occult, paganism, and eastern mysticism were an obsession of the extreme right.
The Nazis, who considered themselves to be a “party of the right” had glorified Germany’s pre-Christian religions, frequently invoking Oden and Valhalla in their propaganda. The famed Occultist Aleister Crowley who entertained the rich and powerful in Britain often vocally aligned with the Conservative Party and considered leftists to be a dirty crowd of uncultured rabble rousers. As a staunch right-winger the iconic para-normalist said “I hate Christianity as socialists hate soap.”
European fascists often marveled at India’s caste system, seeing it as an antidote to class struggle. Julius Evola, one of the primary Italian far-right intellectuals was also considered an expert on Hinduism and pre-Christian mythology. The Nazis adopted the Swastika as their emblem and called themselves “Aryans” because they identified themselves with the authoritarian structures of ancient India, and believed Germans to genetic descendants of it.
Within India, the caste system, mystical practices that are designed to attract spirits, along with the strict patriarchal family structure have been the main targets of social reformers. Many leftists in India accused the British empire of working to reinforce these things in order to effectively weaken the struggle for independence.
Regardless of left and right norms, following the 1950s, as the “Cultural Left” was re-energized while being re-molded by CIA funding in the United States, it was filled with admirers of traditional Indian culture. Writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg used Hindu chants in their writings, which were distributed and promoted at Universities. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, a very conservative and anti-communist sect that worships a Hindu Diety became iconic participants in peace marches.
Similarly, the theocratic and feudal kingdom of Tibet was rewritten into a trendy liberal cause. The Dalai Lama’s regime was considered to be one of the most right-wing, authoritarian and patriarchal kingdoms in the world. The Nazis had been so impressed with the harshly enforced traditional structures of the Kingdom, that they had dispatched many delegations to study it. The Nazis had actively worked with the regime to fight the Nationalist and Communist forces in other parts of China.
In the 1950s, the CIA sponsored a campaign of guerrilla warfare intended to drive the Communist Party of China from the Tibet Autonomous Region and restore feudal theocratic rule. The book “The CIA’s Secret War in Tibet”, published by the Heritage Foundation, tells how the Dalai Lama’s brother led a team of violent insurgents who were airdropped into Tibet with US made weapons.
However, the remolded Cultural Left which Hillary Clinton now embraces, nearly worships the Dalai Lama. The “Free Tibet” movement, which calls for breaking up the People’s Republic of China, is now one of the trendiest “left-wing” causes. One of the favorite books of this “movement” is “Seven Years in Tibet”, written by Heinrich Harrier, a member of Hitler’s SS, who had been dispatched to Tibet during the Second World War.
“Tune in, Turn On, Drop Out”
The political left had long been outspoken opponents of recreational drug use. Many of the early socialists even opposed drinking alcohol and were part of the broader temperance movement of the early 20th century. However, as CIA money flowed in, forging the anti-Soviet “cultural left” this position was also altered.
According to what was revealed by the Church Committee, a commission set up by the US Congress to investigate the CIA in 1975, the CIA had actively distributed drugs to college students and others as part of “Project MKULTRA.” The CIA had involved many professors and academics in its research and distribution of Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) also called “acid.”
This hallucinogen had first been synthetically created by Albert Hoffman, a Swiss chemist, in 1938. During the 1950s, the US Central Intelligence Agency had widely experimented with LSD, hoping it could be weaponized and used against the Soviet Union.
Timothy Leary, a Harvard psychology professor, became one of the most well known figures among left-wing students during the 1960s and 70s. He preached “tune in, turn on, and drop out” and loudly encouraged young people who opposed the Vietnam War and racism to use LSD. In 1999, FBI files were released showing that Dr. Timothy Leary had been an FBI informant for much his career.
As the cultural left emerged, there was a strange re-orientation of the mainstream US media. The press backed away from hard line celebrations of capitalism and condemnations of dissent. Instead a large section of popular rock bands, University professors, and TV programs almost celebrated the “New Left,” specifically its cultural manifestations.
During the upsurge of left-wing political activism during the 1960s and 70s, many Communists who took political direction from the Soviet Union, China, or Cuba identified the campus based, drug using, promiscuous, and well funded anti-Soviet “New Left” as problematic. These forces that were organized into disciplined cadre organizations, were a minority, often labelled “Tankies” and “Hardliners” and denounced by iconic New Left figures like Jerry Rubin.
By the mid-1970s, the New Left’s political strength had died down. It remained a kind of small “loyal opposition” in US politics. Peace marches took place, the Green Party was formed, and the New Left functioned as a place that could absorb free thinkers and others with grievances against US society.
While the New Left remained isolated, the US government was ruled by people who espoused Neo-Con formulations about “the greatest country in the world” and called capitalism “the greatest system ever created.” The Ford Foundation, various Rockefeller think tanks, along with projects directed by George Soros funneled money to many who would be considered “left of center,” but they remained a small bloc that was ignored by major political forces.
The New Left Takes Power
The turning point came after the failures of the Bush administration and the 2008 financial crisis dramatically changed the political atmosphere. The USA clearly has big problems now, and the Republican Party’s political message of “my country right or wrong” and “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke” would no longer suffice.
Amidst Republican confusion and re-messaging, the Democratic Party has now emerged as the most powerful entity in US politics. In order to maintain its grip on power, the Obama presidency and the Clinton campaign are re-energizing the “Cultural Left.” In 2016, the foot soldiers of the Democratic Party are those who have been trained in NGO funded, University based Cultural Leftism. With the global Communist movement far weaker now, the remnants and descendants of the CIA’s “New Left” have a high level of ideological dominance. What was once considered “counter-culture” has become the mainstream.
Now that opponents of the United States on the global stage are much more socially conservative, the pro-war and imperialistic message of the Cultural Left is far more pronounced. At times, Hillary Clinton’s campaign against Donald Trump sounds almost conservative. The Clinton campaign insinuates that Trump is unpatriotic for avoiding military service during the Vietnam War, and unqualified for the Presidency because he uses “offensive” language. According to Clinton’s supporters, Trump is loyal to the Kremlin and admires “dictators” i.e. regimes that challenge Wall Street dominance.
Hillary Clinton thundered “America is great, because America is good” during her convention speech, dismissing Trump’s “Make America Great Again” as unpatriotic. Many of the attacks leveled against Trump are not condemning him for being bigoted or authoritarian, but rather for being overcritical of US society and embracing “conspiracy theories.”
According to politics extolled by the Clinton-ites and their foot soldiers, being left-wing, fighting for women’s rights, and opposing injustice means carrying out regime change. According to Clinton’s Cultural Left, the battle for “human rights” must continue, and the Pentagon must be utilized to free women, homosexuals, transgender people, and others from “dictators” who do not share their enlightened social perspective. This liberation is to be carried out by arming Islamic extremists, enacting economic sanctions, and firing cruise missiles in order to create chaos and topple regimes deemed to be promoting values contrary to those taught in Race and Gender Studies courses.
Greater confrontation with Russia is considered a good thing because its government is accused of being “homophobic.” Those who point out that Clinton coddles dictators in places like Saudi Arabia, or that US meddling in Syria and Libya has strengthened the menace of ISIL are labelled “conspiracy theorists” who need to “check their privilege” and “stop man-splaining.”
At the same time, pointing out that the US backed anti-government fighters in Syria are actually Wahabbi fanatics who have slaughtered Christians and Alawites is called “Islamophobia.” Consistent with the argumentative style of the campus based “privilege politics” milieu, these facts are never refuted. Rather, one is simply accused of some ideological crime or impurity for pointing them out.
As millions of people are rapidly fleeing both Libya and Syria because NATO interventions have toppled independent nationalist governments and made their lives unlivable, leftists are applauding the situation. Rather than protest these imperialist crimes which created a mass refugee crisis, the bulk of leftists are having parades to “Welcome the Refugees.” Those who point out that NATO destabilizations have caused a crisis of mass migration, and say this is an atrocity that should be opposed, are accused of being bigots and Islamophobes.
The Growing Danger of War
The left that existed prior to the Second World War is something that Clinton-ites would never recognize. Books like “Toward Soviet America” by William Z. Foster in 1932 laid out a blue print for a planned economy in the United States, and called for hungry, unemployed working class people in Kentucky, Ohio, Alabama, and elsewhere to fight back and demand better working conditions.
The mass movements of the 1930s won the creation of social security, unemployment insurance, veterans benefits, and much more. The slogan the Communist Party used was “Don’t Starve, Fight!” Those who were mobilized were not an well educated cultural elite, but industrial workers, unemployed youth, students, and all kinds of other ordinary Americans who were suffering during the economic crisis known as the Great Depression.
The manufactured and recently empowered “cultural left” with which Clinton has aligned herself would look at such people and tell them they deserve to be destitute, because it would help them better understand what people of color have experienced. It would tell them that demanding jobs was a sense of “entitlement” and “white privilege.” It would tell them that they should celebrate the prospects of war with Russia or China because it would be mean toppling leaders portrayed to be “homophobic” or “oppressive of women.”
Now that the “left” has become something miles away from what it once was, it should be no surprise that lots of working class white people are embracing Donald Trump and the “alternative right.” Many white people who are suffering during the economic downturn have come to see the left as a current that seeks to punish and shame them, not improve their living situation. Furthermore, the modern left is perceived as looking down on them for not knowing the appropriate “oppression theory” lingo which is being taught at Universities.
If organizations emerged that actually made economic appeals, and organized against big money interests, in a way that is similar to what was done during the 1930s, the situation could be drastically altered.
However, that is not the case. The “new left,” specifically fostered to counter the influence of global opponents of western capitalism, has now taken the helm of western civilization, staffed with a cadre of loyal crusaders fighting in the name of “diversity” and “intersectionality.” Meanwhile, the economy is getting worse and the danger of a bigger military clash between the United States and Russia or China, the two largest countries on earth, is rapidly growing.
Caleb Maupin is a political analyst and activist based in New York. He studied political science at Baldwin-Wallace College and was inspired and involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.