Breivik's favourite conspiracy
Anybody who kills scores of teenagers in cold blood is by definition mentally abnormal, but Breivik's calm behaviour and relatively coherent writings differentiate him from spaced-out gunmen like Jared Loughner and John Hinckley. And although Breivik is obviously an Islamophobe, his targets were overwhelmingly non-Muslim.
The curious phrases 'cultural Marxism' and 'cultural Marxists' appear again and again in Breivik's writings, but they have received little attention from commentators on the Utoya massacre. This is a pity, because the concept of cultural Marxism is central not only to Breivik's ideology but to a shift in the ideology and propaganda of the far right over the past decade.
For much of the twentieth century, it was common for the fascist and cryptofascist fringe of the right to claim that a conspiracy of communists and Jews was imperilling Western capitalist civilisation. Communism, with its strongholds in the East and its supporters in the trade unions and the universities of the West, was seen as a monolithic, infinitely cunning enemy determined to sabotage and ultimately destroy capitalism by stoking conflict in the workplace and disorder on the streets.
Citing the role of Trotsky and other Jews in the Bolshevik revolution, the far right associated Judaism with communism, and warned that 'disloyal' Jewish bankers and newspaper owners were helping to destroy their 'host' nations in the West. The old anti-Semitic and anti-Marxist ideology sustained not only the Nazis and their 1930s allies like Oswald Mosley, but also postwar fascist organisations like the National Fronts of Britain and France and the paranoid John Birch Society in the United States.
Over the past couple of decades, though, the old conspiracy theory of the far right has needed extensive revision.
Back in the 1970s and '80s, when the far left was relatively strong, the Soviet Union was still seen as a counterweight to the capitalist West, and large, militant trade unions regularly faced down governments in places like Britain and France, fascists could hope to win an audience for claims that 'the reds' were about to bring down capitalism and civilisation. In the 1990s, though, the Soviet Union collapsed and Western trade unions lost vast numbers of members, as the effects of privatisation, deregulation, and other neo-liberal economic policies hit home. Today the claim that militant trade unionists and revolutionary communists pose a mortal threat to Western capitalism would seem fantastic. Capitalism may be in crisis in the West, but this crisis is the work of capitalists, not their enemies.
While claims of a red menace to the economy are untenable in the twenty-first century, conspiracy theories involving Jews are unpopular. Today the slums of London's East End and similar parts of other Western cities are filled not with refugee Jews but with Muslim immigrants from North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, and it is Muslims rather than Jews who are the main targets of racist attacks. For the far right, Islamophobia does much better business than anti-semitism.
Over the past decade the old conspiracy theory has been reworked, as the far right tries to pitch itself to a new generation. According to contemporary far right demagogues like British National Party leader Nick Griffin and American media entrepeneur Glenn Beck, a shadowy but cunning collection of 'cultural Marxists' has taken control of the schools, universities, courthouses, civil services, and parliaments of the West.
Where the trade union militants and streetfighting students of the 1970s wanted to destroy the economies of the West, today's Marxists want to bring down civilisation by eroding its patriarchal, Christian, and homophobic values. Polemicists like Griffin and Beck and organisations like the British National Party and the English Defence League accuse cultural Marxist teachers of brainwashing their pupils into a hatred of Western culture, and blame abominations like the legalisation of abortion and homosexuality on the cultural Marxist takeover of parliaments.
According to the conspiracy theorists, cultural Marxists have spent recent decades importing vast numbers of 'radical Muslims' into the West. It might seem hard to understand why godless liberals would want to make common cause with religious fundamentalists, but Glenn Beck and his co-thinkers are content to observe that the cultural Marxists and the jihadis have 'a common hatred of Christian civilisation'.
Although the power of trade unions and socialist political parties has declined greatly over the last twenty years, so that the right largely dictates economic policies, many of the cultural campaigns waged by the left in the 1970s and '80s have been successful. Western societies have, on the whole, become more liberal over the past quarter century, as abortion and contraception have become widely available, discrimination based on gender and sexuality has been ameliorated, and more recognition has been given to the history and needs of ethnic and linguistic minorities. These changes have discomforted a minority of conservative Westerners, and led to the series of arguments and legal conflicts that some commentators have dubbed 'the Culture Wars'.
The cultural Marxism conspiracy theory might lack logic and an evidential base, but its great strength, from the point of view of its proponents, is the way it appeals simultaneously to opponents of immigration to the West and to cultural conservatives upset by the successes of feminism and other liberalising forces.
Many commentators have been puzzled by Anders Breivik's decision to target Norway's Labour Party, rather than a predominantly Muslim organisation, but his choice makes sense when it is viewed through the prism of the cultural Marxism conspiracy theory. For Breivik and for other supporters of the theory, Muslim immigrants are merely the tools of the Western-born Marxists who supposedly run organisations like the Norwegian Labour Party.
The ferocity of Breivik's attack on Utoya can also be understood with reference to the cultural Marxism conspiracy theory. Because of the very reach of the new Marxist conspiracy - because of the fact that it extends far beyond traditional left-wing strongholds like the unions, into the classroom, the media, and virtually every Western government - the menace cannot be defeated by old-fashioned electoral politics or by street protests. The brainwashing of a generation of students by Marxist teachers means that they are incapable of voting for Christian and patriotic candidates; the Marxist control of the media means that any God-fearing citizen who takes to the street in protest will be demeaned and discredited by news channels and papers.
The old parties of the right are uncertain allies against the tide of cultural Marxism. Britain's Tories might have stood up to Scargill and smashed the print unions back in the '80s, but in the era of cultural Marxism they are only too keen to appeal to young working women, gays, and other Satanic constituencies.
In his rambling posts to internet forums Breivik liked to complain that every single organisation represented in Norway's parliament, including even the aggressively anti-immigration Progress Party, had become a 'politically correct' servant of the cultural Marxists. Feeling isolated in the face of a vast and powerful conspiracy, Breivik believed that he had nothing to lose by a spectacularly violent assault on his enemies.
Footnote: over at Kiwipolitico Lew shows us that Anders Breivik has some admirers here in New Zealand.