This December we celebrate the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the communist superpower Ronald Reagan rightly named the “Evil Empire.” Yet everywhere today, Marxism still stalks humanity. Indeed, today we can paraphrase Karl Marx and write that its specter haunts not just Europe, but the entire world.
We must understand this as a global threat. Since its birth in the 1848 Communist Manifesto by Marx and Friedrich Engels, communism has been a call to arms that knows no borders. But we must also understand—as the Kremlin in its time certainly did—that the big fight is over the United States. Once Marxists seize that most elusive jewel in the crown, they have the world. That’s why this essay will focus mostly on the U.S.
Before we catalog the dangerous state of play with communism, we should remember the good news. Marxism may be resurgent, but it is being vigorously confronted by the same force that defeated the Soviet Union: the American people. They have joined what some may dismiss as “culture wars,” but is really a consequential battle of ideas. Surveys show Americans, writ large, reject these ideas, and are starting to discern the stakes.
We need discernment because Marxism’s breakthroughs today are the result of different strategies and tactics. Gone are frontal military threats, such as along the Fulda Gap in Germany, or in the actual wars in the fields of Central America in the 1980s. Just as we face constant mutations of the Coronavirus, today we face a different, mutant form of Marxism.
Yes, today’s ascendant American Marxists have their supporters in the halls of power in Beijing and Caracas. But it would be a mistake to see them as Chinese or Venezuelan agents, as some of their predecessors were Soviet stooges in the 20th century. The leaders of Black Lives Matter groups, the creators of the 1619 Project, and the architects of Critical Race Theory may be internationalists who believe in the Manifesto’s call for world revolution. But they are a very American phenomenon. We must understand and confront them in those terms.
Much is different today from the last time America faced a concerted communist threat. Communists now realize that domestic revolutions to overthrow the bourgeoisie are not viable in every place, if they are possible in any place. Today, revolution comes at the end, not the beginning. It must be preceded, or replaced, by the arduous work of 1) organizing people, 2) indoctrinating them, and 3) convincing them to become domestic agents of cultural replacement. That’s the mutation we confront.
The current efforts to besmirch the American story—indeed to change its origin story itself, as we see with the New York Times’ 1619 Project—amount to a campaign to transform America’s societal structure that has been underway for at least three decades. It rapidly accelerated after BLM was founded in 2013, and then it exploded into society after the George Floyd riots of 2020. The result? The Critical Race Theory indoctrination that has so angered parents.
The architects of the 1619 Project and the academics who created CRT are equally part of the effort to replace America’s narrative. (The term “white supremacy,” which is meant to replace such ideas as “Land of the Free,” appears no fewer than 38 times in the foundational text of CRT). It was BLM, however, that created the propitious environment to replace America’s narrative, and it is on these organizations that we must focus.
Once we do, we discover that the founders of the Black Lives Matter organizations are at the center of the destructive unrest that led to the hacking of our cultural software. They are not just “trained Marxists,” as BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors labeled herself and another co-founder, Alicia Garza (in a video that has now disappeared from public view). But they were recruited and trained by Marxists steeped in this new view of how to build revolutionary consciousness through recruitment, organizing, and indoctrination.
The Gramscian Moment
Today’s Marxism can be tailor-made to each circumstance. This adaptability has replaced the rigid ideas expressed in the Communist Manifesto. Today’s successful Marxists understand that, no, the economy does not determine all of man’s actions, as Marx once wrote, and, no, the internal contradictions of capitalism will not constantly produce revolutions.
These are Marxists who have boned up on the lessons of the 1920s Italian communist leader Antonio Gramsci, or the theoretical works of his German contemporaries at the so-called Frankfurt School, which produced Critical Theory (of which Critical Race Theory is an American offshoot). It was these Europeans who incubated the mutant strains.
Gramsci’s basic theory was simple, even if the ramifications were complex. Writing in the 1920s and ‘30s, after the failure by Italy’s workers to set up a communist state in 1918, Gramsci said the proletariat was consenting to his own enslavement. How so? He buys into the cultural trappings of his bourgeois oppressor—the church, the family, the nation-state, etc. As a result, in countries with rich civil societies, such as those in Western Europe and the United States, communists needed to undertake a “war of position.” This involved a long-term effort to organize the masses and indoctrinate them into Marxist ideas.
The German Critical Theorists, for similar reasons, came up with a similar explanation: the worker had bought into a consumerist conceptual superstructure and was unaware of his own crushing oppression. Both concluded that intellectuals had to give the workers revolutionary consciousness.
Gramsci and the Critical Theorists did not repudiate Marx and Lenin so much as expanded on their beliefs. Marx may have written that revolutions would inevitably come when “the material forces of production in society come into conflict with the existing relations of production.” But to Gramsci, “‘popular beliefs and similar ideas are themselves material forces.”
According to Harmony Goldberg, a Gramscian cultural anthropologist, Gramsci merely made “several important innovations” on the ideas of Marx and Lenin. As Goldberg put it in her 2015 “brief introduction” to Gramsci’s ideas:
Gramsci upheld the assertion that a successful revolution would ultimately require the overthrow of the bourgeois state…However, because the capitalist hegemony does not function through state violence alone but that it also mobilizes civil society in order to promote oppressed peoples consent to and participation in the system, a successful revolutionary movement would first have to engage in a long-term effort to undermine that consent.
Goldberg is not just any Gramscian anthropologist. In 1996 she founded the School of Unity and Liberation (SOUL). This is the same place where, seven years later, Black Lives Matter founder Alicia Garza, then 22, began her Marxist training.
To Goldberg, the efforts to undermine the American worker’s endorsement of the American way of life today “must go beyond participation in trade union struggles reform; revolutionaries must root their struggles in all arenas of social life and—centrally—must engage in the battle for ideas.” The ruling bourgeois will always be trying to convince workers that they have a stake in preserving capitalism. This is why “Revolutionaries would themselves have to engage in the long-term battle of ideas in order to clarify the need for revolutionary transformation.” All-out ideological war is needed. A crisis can be used to overthrow a society, but the long-term subversion of a culture must come first.
A multi-class alliance, which Gramsci called a “historic bloc,” would be needed, in Goldberg’s words, “to move history forward” by indoctrinating society into the new “national-popular collective will”—the cultural counter-hegemony. But it is important to bear in mind that “in every historic bloc there is a single class that plays a leading role and serves as a cohering force,” according to Goldberg’s interpretation of Gramsci. The job of the cohering force was to organize other classes and instruct them on the need to replace the existing order with a socialist one.
Garza learned these lessons a full decade before a jury acquitted George Zimmerman of the murder of Trayvon Martin in July 2013—the event that supposedly launched Black Lives Matter. It was at SOUL, Garza has said, that she first learned that “social movements all over the world have used Marx and Lenin as a foundation to interrupt these systems that are really negatively impacting the majority of people.”
As SFWeekly wrote in a long profile, “Garza’s summer with SOUL wasn’t just about getting a political education in a leftist ‘analysis around capitalism and imperialism and white supremacy and patriarchy and heteronormativity,’ as she describes it, but a crash course in grassroots community organizing.” Garza found an early opportunity to turn minds when she began “organizing low-income tenants in East and West Oakland” against gentrification. “I spent my summer getting my ass kicked, knocking on doors 10 hours a day. It was really good training. Really, really, really good training.”
Garza thus learned from master theoreticians how to apply the Gramscian rules. We can also now fully grasp what Garza meant when she told Maine liberals in 2019, “We’re talking about changing how we’ve organized this country….I believe we all have work to do to keep dismantling the organizing principle of this society, which creates inequities for everyone, even white people.” What she was trained to seek was a total transformation. The ultimate object, of course, is getting rid of capitalism, since Garza says that “it’s not possible for a world to emerge where black lives matter if it’s under capitalism.”
Garza’s connections to Goldberg’s creations have endured. Today Garza is on SOUL’s board. In 2012, a year before Garza co-founded BLM, Goldberg was publishing Garza on the web platform she founded, Organizing Upgrade, as we can see with Garza’s reporting on Brazil’s Marxist landless movement. The two have also crossed paths over the past two decades in such Marxist groups as the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance. That group sent Garza to Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, after the killing by police of Michael Brown. There, she helped create the nationwide coalition of the hard left that has been key to BLM’s success. The two also work with LeftRoots, whose activists “challenge capitalism, imperialism, white supremacy, and hetero-patriarchy.” All these groups provide access to different constituencies whom they can first organize and then indoctrinate.
A grand strategy to confront the new Marxist threat would need to understand the mutation.
Patrisse Cullors is at least as important as Garza in building the main organization, Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation. She underwent similar training at the hands of a similarly committed communist visionary. In her case, the ideological mentor was Eric Mann. He is a former member of the Weather Underground who founded the Labor-Community Strategy Center in LA (which Mann jokingly calls “the University of Caracas Revolutionary Graduate School”).
Mann devotes detailed attention to the hard work of creating a multi-class alliance. This will instill Marxist revolutionary consciousness into the population, to overthrow what he calls the “imperialist, settler” state that is America. He narrows Gramsci’s cultural focus to racial issues. Within the cultural sphere, it’s race-related matters that Mann sees as “the material forces” that create the fault line to be exploited.
In a 1996 essay that was later revised, he wrote:
Given the social formation of the U.S. as a settler state based on virulent white supremacy, the racialization of all aspects of political life operates as a material force in itself—shaping and infecting every aspect of the political process. Thus, any effective Left movement must confront the major fault lines of the society…In a racist, imperialist society, the only viable strategy for the left is to build a movement against racism and imperialism.
His version of the historic bloc is black and Latin American. But he calls for “an agreed-upon Black priority” with African Americans as the “cohering force” in the struggle against capitalism. In the key area of fighting law and order measures—so central to his, and BLM GNF’s, revolutionary strategy—“the leadership clearly came out of the black community,” he notes. Blacks, to people like Mann and Goldberg, will be the revolutionary agents, and the struggle to make the U.S. a socialist state will be fought in the name of black justice.
Early on, Mann settled on Los Angeles bus riders as more easily organizable and indoctrinated than factory workers. They were more destitute, more black, Latino, and Asian, and more female, than the average worker. “At a time when many workplaces have 25 to 50 employees, an overcrowded bus has 43 people sitting and from 25 to 43 people standing,” he wrote. “Ten organizers on ten different buses can reach 1,000 or more people in a single afternoon,” That’s why his Center pioneered the creation of a Bus Riders Union.
It was precisely at the BRU that Cullors was trained after Mann’s Strategy Center recruited her, and where she combined organizing training with ideological instruction. “I read, I study, adding Mao, Marx, and Lenin to my knowledge of [bell] hooks, [Audre] Lorde and [Rebecca] Walker,” she wrote in her 2017 memoir When They Call You a Terrorist. The organizers were trained, according to Mann, to “go beyond narrow ‘trade union’ or ‘bus’ consciousness to build a movement based on a more transformative, internationalist consciousness” and create a “united front against U.S. imperialism—rooted in the strategic alliance of the multi-racial, multi-national working class.” This is what he called “the explosive combination of deep ideological framing and grassroots organizing.”
In his 2011 “organizing manifesto,” Playbook for Progressives—written two years before Cullors reached fame by helping to found BLM—Mann already identifies her as “gifted.” In 2006, Cullors helped found the Center’s Summer Youth Organizing Academy “to recruit and train a new generation of high school youth.” At the time of the book’s writing, adds Mann, Cullors “teaches classes on political theory and organizing.” She was at the Center for over a decade, as other sources have confirmed.
To be sure, a much bigger revolutionary payoff for all training by Mann would come when Cullors founded first BLM, and then BLM GNF, and began in earnest the work of dismantling the American cultural narrative (or hegemony in their language) by getting many Americans, especially the young, to believe that they should destroy their country and culture because it is white supremacist at its core. Not for nothing does Cullors tell us herself that she is a “trained Marxist” and that the only reason she does not use the term communist is that it’s gotten a bad rap.
Other important battles in the war to dismantle America have been won because of Mann’s training of BLM leaders. For instance, Black Lives Matter succeeded in pressuring the Los Angeles School Board to cut the LA Schools Police Department’s $70 million budget by 35 percent on June 30, 2020, after a full month of riots and destruction following Floyd’s death. Afterwards, Mann took a victory lap. Writing on August 21, 2020, Mann cast the victory in Gramscian terms:
We know of no other Defund the Police campaign in a major U.S. City that has made such a major political and material breakthrough…Our campaign was also a major ideological victory. It delegitimized the very existence of police in the public schools and affirmed the experience and demands of the most militant and conscious Black students.…Dozens of angry, articulate, and organized Black students—many from Students Deserve—testified that the very presence of police in the schools was a racist and anti-Black attack on their racial identity, self-worth, self-confidence, and academic performance. Dr. Melina Abdullah, co-chair of Black Lives Matter L.A., testified that all three of her children suffered police abuse in the schools while her son’s first experience of anti-Black police brutality was at the age of six. She described in painful detail how every aspect of a Black child’s life is criminalized and why the demand for No Police in the Schools was a life and death issue for the Black community. (Italics in the original)
That this Marxist-inspired effort to reduce police forces, which followed the determined indoctrination of people, has succeeded to such an extent is bad enough. Without law enforcement, a future crisis like the one precipitated by the killing of Floyd could lead to even greater violence and destruction than we experienced in 2020. Even with police, it was the costliest civil unrest in U.S. history, according to the Insurance Information Institute, and we experienced a 30 percent spike in homicides in 2020, according to the FBI.
“A successful revolutionary movement,” Goldberg explained, “would first have to engage in a long-term effort to undermine that consent” Americans have given to their system. And this campaign to present the counter-narrative to America’s story began very quickly after BLM was launched by Garza, Cullors, Abdullah, and others. This is what BLM and the 1619 Project do today through the curricula they send to the nation’s 14,000 school districts. It’s also what CRT “anti-racism” trainers do in all aspects of our lives.
Zach Goldberg, a doctoral candidate at Georgia State, detailed in the Tablet in August 2020 how much the media began to sell after the BLM GNF narrative following Zimmerman’s acquittal in July 2013. Prior to 2013, the terms “white,” ”racial privilege(s),” ”of color,” and ”racial equity,” were hardly ever used, wrote Goldberg. Things began to radically change that year, however.
By 2019, on the eve of the George Floyd riots, the frequency with which The New York Times and The Washington Post used these terms had exploded. More importantly, the terms that deprecate America and its founding principles became generalized. “From 1970 until 2014, the combined usage frequency of the three ‘macro-level’ racism terms—systemic racism, structural racism, institutional racism—never exceeded 0.00006% of all words in any of the four newspapers,” Goldberg writes. “By 2014, however, this ceiling was shattered, particularly in the Times and Post. In the final year of the series (2019), the Times (0.0004% of all words) and Post (0.00056%) were using these terms roughly 10 times more frequently than they were in 2013 (0.00004%, 0.00005%).” The media, in other words, had taken an active hand in inculcating the counter-hegemony, whose acceptance is needed before communists can topple a country.
The Need for a New Grand Strategy
Why expose all this? My hope is to make it plain why schools are teaching children these new ideologies, and why workers are being subjected to what can only be described as Gramscian, consciousness-raising struggle sessions at their places of work, and why even the military and the churches are following suit. Revolutionary theoreticians recruited and trained the founders of the BLM organizations. After eight years of existence, they have brought America to the brink of societal change. Once we understand this, we can start to envision a grand strategy that will defeat their efforts.
What that strategy will look like is the subject of an entirely different essay—or hopefully many essays. The purpose of this one is to say, on this 30th anniversary of the collapse of the Evil Empire, that we have a new problem.
A grand strategy to confront the new Marxist threat would need to understand the mutation. It would need to grasp the fact that the new threat relies on organizing people in different environments and then indoctrinating them. It takes place on buses, domestic work, schools, or neighborhoods about to be gentrified. A grand strategy must grasp what is at stake. It’s nothing less than the replacement of the key American idea that “All Men Are Created Equal” with the lie of white supremacy. Such a strategy would have to reckon with what is happening in our schools. It would need to understand that violence will remain central to Marxist success. Dismantling police forces, the prisons, and the court system itself (which Patrisse Cullors calls for in this video) is part of an effort to leave society defenseless. Once enough people are converted, then the revolutionaries need only wait for a moment of crisis.
We will need to understand what people like Goldberg have in store:
In societies that have a vibrant civil society, revolutionary strategy cannot be based on a pre-given Marxist formula in which a moment of crisis makes the oppressive nature of the capitalist system clear and sparks an insurrectionary struggle that smashes the capitalist state and establishes socialism. Gramsci argued that crises are important, but that they do not ensure that oppressed people will believe in the need for a new economy or that they will have the power to wage a successful revolutionary struggle. To Gramsci, an insurrectionary moment will only succeed if it follows a long-term effort to win oppressed people over to a transformative vision and if it builds working class power over time.
Many Americans have begun to grasp all of this intuitively and have begun to rise up and oppose CRT. To succeed, however, they will need our support.
Mike Gonzalez, the Angeles T. Arredondo E Pluribus Unum Senior Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, is the author of BLM: The Making of a New Marxist Revolution.