James Lindsay Traces the Origins of the Woke Movement to Marxist Thought
Conference organized in the European Parliament by the Identity and Democracy Foundation on March 30 2023.
There were two main speakers James Lindsay and Professor Frank Furedi of MCC Brussels. This post is concerned with Lindsay’s talk.
James Lindsay is an American mathematician and is already known to many people due to his activities in the Culture Wars. Most famously, Lindsay along with two others, Helen Pluckrose and Peter Boghossian, exposed the political chicanery and lack of academic scholarship which underlies academic departments such as Gender and Women’s Studies, Feminist Philosophy and Feminist Geography in the scandal known as the Grievance Studies Scandal in 2018. Their stated mission was to expose how easy it is to get “absurdities and morally fashionable political ideas published as legitimate academic research.”
They wrote hoax papers and submitted them to a range of selected journals, seven of which were accepted for publication.
In 2021 Lindsay was the co-author along with Helen Pluckrose of a major study Cynical Theories which examined the origins of Postmodernism, Critical Theory, and the rise of Social Justice ideology out of Postmodernism’s Applied turn.
In this lecture Lindsay notes the similarity of the key Woke concept of Equity to Socialism.
Equity: An administered political economy in which shares are adjusted so that citizens are made equal.
In place of economic capital, Woke theory is Marxism adapted to Social and Cultural capital. Marxism is the genus, the fundamental type, of which there are numerous species: Classical Marxism, Radical Feminism, Queer Theory, Critical Race Theory, Postcolonial Theory.
Critical Theories: Origin and Proliferation
He strongly emphasises that Woke doctrine spreads from the top down not bottom up. Postmodernism began in French universities from which it spread to the US.
Critical Race Theory or CRT is deeply embedded in US universities and has spread to schools both secondary and primary. Whiteness (there is a subject called Whiteness Studies) is bad and is associated with White Supremacy; it has to be abolished. In the domain of sexuality, Queer studies takes issue with “heteronormativity” seen as normal and oppressive of minorities and must be replaced by queerness.
Postcolonial studies describe the West as an oppressor, therefore it must be decolonised, starting with the universities. This is already well underway.
Lindsay describes the central role of the Frankfurt School which began in Germany in the early thirties and then migrated to the US. They analysed where Marxism went wrong in the West: Capitalism does not immiserate workers, it allows them the opportunity to better themselves. They evolved the Critical Theory which criticises the entirety of the existing society and spawned Critical Legal Theory, Literary Theory, Critical Feminism.
The fundamental premise of Critical Legal Theory was that the Western justice system was not a neutral or unbiased body of laws and procedures. On the contrary, the system is a tool of power, and pre-existing legal theories and structures were little more than frauds perpetrated by white male heterosexuals to consolidate their own power.
The assault on the law and its place in the current wave of identity politics is described in this article by Andrew Kelman. Radical adherents believe that the logic and structure attributed to the law grow out of the power relationships of society. Thus, the law exists simply to support the interests of the dominant group and is merely a collection of beliefs and prejudices that legitimise injustice in society. Similar power relationships govern other institutions, indeed the whole of society.
Today, various critical theories dominate entire academic departments, such as Gender Studies, African American Studies, Ethnic Studies, Sociology, Education and others. They are also connected to each other by the doctrine of intersectionality, which claims to understand how a person’s various identities (from gender, sex, race, class, to disability, sexual orientation) combine to create unique modes of discrimination or privilege.
Woke Capitalism and ESG
The current manifestation of postmodern ideas of power, knowledge, and language is Critical Social Justice (CSJ) scholarship and activism. In all cases these departments uphold the centrality of political activism and the undermining of existing institutions as fundamental, scholarship is secondary.
A description of the dire state of US universities under the tsunami of critical theory and reflections on the failures of academics in the face of it are given by a Princeton mathematician Sergiu Klainermann:
A decline in courage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party, and, of course, in the United Nations.
Lindsay points to the student revolts of the late sixties and their theoretical guru Herbert Marcuse. Marcuse went further than other Frankfurt school theorists. In a most prophetic pronouncement he declared that the working class is no longer to be the engine of revolution since it is no longer oppressed by capitalism. Instead the energy is to be found in feminists, racial and sexual minorities, outsiders. This also opens up the possibility of making friends of the corporations, big business. This is happening in the most surprising way and the capture of the big corporations is a never-ending source of amazement. Likewise the whole culture industry is to be seized. This explains why the working classes have been pushed aside by practitioners of Woke politics who now concentrate on identity politics instead.
The generation of a culture of fear is another constant. Woke practitioners never engage in debate with opponents; like zealots of a religious cult they believe they have the whole truth. The opposition is cancelled instead, denied a voice.
International institutions such as the UN, WEF (World Economic Forum), WHO have been infiltrated.
Woke capitalism and ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance): a new vision of companies as agents of radical social change, a collaboration of Capitalism and the Radical Left.
According to Vincent Harinam a company’s exaltation of progressive social causes yields temporary protection from the activist Left.
Wokeism is identity based Marxism, a constellation of Marxist species Lindsay says. China is the model, look to China.