‘Cultural Marxism’ is a far-right conspiracy in murky internet forums – so why is a Tory MP now using it?

‘Cultural Marxism’ is a far-right conspiracy in murky internet forums – so why is a Tory MP now using it?

‘Cultural Marxism’ is a far-right conspiracy in murky internet forums – so why is a Tory MP now using it?

Type “cultural Marxism” into YouTube and it won’t be long until you come to a certain genre of video. “CULTURAL MARXISM: The corruption of America” is a low-production movie which asserts that “cultural Marxists seek to destroy American free-enterprise capitalism by undermining its economic engine, the Middle Class and this will lead – they hope – to the destruction of the basic building block of society: the Family Unit”.  

A couple of videos down is Pat Condell, a well known reactionary YouTuber suggesting that “cultural Marxists” – a term that he doesn’t define – are “silencing” people, and unfairly using terms like “bigot” and “racist”. Dig a little further though, and you’ll find that, online at least, the deployment of “cultural Marxism” isn’t just a right-wing talking point, but also one that is used deliberately by the reactionary right.

According to these people, “cultural Marxists” – which can be anyone ranging from liberal politicians, the United Nations, the European Union, media companies like Marvel and even university professors – have the sole purpose of reshaping society, and eradicating “traditionalism”. It’s why you might have seen the term referenced in relation to refugees coming from Syria, or used to describe how modern feminism, in its quest to “eliminate sex differences”, is undermining the “traditional family” that had once made the west great.


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For over 10 years, I have been familiar with the term “cultural Marxism”, and I have seen it develop from a term used in bizarre libertarian forums, Facebook groups and on sites like the imageboard 4chan; to a term that is now openly used by pundits in mainstream newspapers. In 2013, the then Times writer Tim Montgomerie wrote: “The 20th century was far from an overwhelming victory for the right. Though revolutionary Marxism died, its fellow traveller, cultural Marxism, prospered.” Meanwhile, in 2015 Toby Young wrote an article titled “If I were a cultural Marxist, I would think about giving up” for The Spectator, accompanied by a picture of the then Labour leader Ed Miliband.

Yet even with its presence in the mainstream media, it would have been easy to think that “cultural Marxism” was still a talking point rendered on the fringes of political discourse. That was until yesterday, when the term made an appearance in Westminster as the Conservative MP Suella Braverman told a meeting of the anti-EU think tank the Bruges Group: “As Conservatives, we are engaged in a battle against cultural Marxism…”

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1/50 3 April 2019

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2/50 2 April 2019

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3/50 1 April 2019

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4/50 31 March 2019

Forensics teams work at the scene of a stabbing in Edmonton in London. Four people have been stabbed in a spate of knife attacks in the north of the capital over the weekend

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5/50 30 March 2019

Workers from the Honda plant in Swindon during a protest march through the town as the car giant will be urged to reverse its decision to close its UK plant

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15/50 20 March 2019

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17/50 18 March 2019

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Police at the scene in Fulham, west London where a 29-year-old man was stabbed to death this morning. The Metropolitan Police said it was called “to reports of a fight in progress” by ambulance crews and arrived on the scene at about 12.27am. The victim was found with stab wounds and died at the scene at 12.56am despite attempts by paramedics and members of the public to save his life

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21/50 14 March 2019

Families of those killed during Bloody Sunday march through Bogside in Derry, Northern Ireland. The Public Prosecution Service announced only one former British soldier is to be put on trial in connection with his role in the shootings that left 13 people dead in Derry on 30 January 1972. Families of those killed gathered outside The Museum of Free Derry, yards from where the killings took place, before marching to the city centre hotel to hear the announcement

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22/50 13 March 2019

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24/50 11 March 2019

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25/50 10 March 2019

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26/50 9 March 2019

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27/50 8 March 2019

A woman runs with her Komondor dog as it is judged in a show ring on the second day of the Crufts dog show at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham

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28/50 7 March 2019

Scaffolding which has blown down in strong winds in Hampstead, north London

Robert Berg/Twitter/PA Wire

29/50 6 March 2019

Police and bomb disposal services outside the University of Glasgow after the building was evacuated when a suspect package was found in the mailroom

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30/50 5 March 2019

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31/50 4 March 2019

Large waves crash over the sea walls at Cleveleys near Blackpool, as the remains of Storm Freya, which has battered Britain with gales, heavy rain and snow causes widespread travel disruption

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32/50 3 March 2019

Christopher Hepworth with partner Tanisha Prince (right) on their way to victory in the annual UK Wife Carrying Race at The Nower in Dorking, Surrey

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33/50 2 March 2019

Police officers search near the scene on St Neot’s Road in Harold Hill, east London following the fatal stabbing of a 17-year-old girl on Friday night. Police were called to reports of a knife attack in the Romford area by the ambulance service at 9.25pm. The girl was pronounced dead at the scene just over an hour later. Her next of kin have been informed and detectives from the Metropolitan Police have launched a murder investigation

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34/50 1 March 2019

Great Britain’s Katarina Johnson-Thompson and Niamh Emerson celebrate after winning gold and silver medals in the women’s pentathlon at the 2019 European Athletics Indoor Championships in Glasgow

Getty

35/50 28 February 2019

A painting, believed to be the second version of “Judith Beheading Holofernes” by Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, is picutred during a photocall in London following its restoration. – The 400-year-old canvas — depicting the beheading of an Assyrian general, Holofernes, by Judith from the biblical Book of Judith — was found in 2014 when the owners of a house near the southwestern city of Toulouse in France, were investigating a leak in the ceiling. It is a burst of violence painted in haunting tones by a Renaissance master worth at least $100 million — or yet another fake distressing the art world.

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36/50 27 February 2019

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37/50 26 February 2019

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38/50 25 February 2019

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40/50 23 February 2019

Former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson seen on the big screen as he addresses a protest over the BBC’s Panorama programme outside the BBC in MediaCityUK, Salford

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41/50 22 February 2019

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42/50 21 February 2019

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43/50 20 February 2019

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44/50 19 February 2019

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45/50 18 February 2019

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46/50 17 February 2019

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47/50 16 February 2019

Demonstrators hold a banner during a protest over BP and Iraq at the British Museum in London, Britain

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48/50 15 February 2019

Schoolchildren take part in a student climate march in Parliament Square in London. Thousands of UK pupils from schools, colleges and universities will walk out for a nationwide climate change strike. Students in 60 cities from the West Country to Scotland are protesting, urging the government to declare a climate emergency and take action over the problem. They are keen that the national curriculum is reformed and the environmental crisis is communicated to the public. Similar strikes have taken place in Australia and in European countries such as Belgium and Sweden

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49/50 14 February 2019

A lady enjoys the beach in sunshine in Brighton, East Sussex. The Met Office forecast said Thursday and Friday would see early fog patches followed by plenty of sunshine

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50/50 13 February 2019

Jockeys compete in the space hopper derby during the Injured Jockeys Fund Charity Raceday at Plumpton Racecourse

PA


1/50 3 April 2019

Newborn lambs in a snow covered field near Allendale, Northumberland, after temperatures dipped below freezing overnight. Hill snow, sleet, showers and gales are expected for parts of the UK as the chilly snap keeps hold.

PA

2/50 2 April 2019

Armathwaite Hall hotel in Keswick, Cumbria holds Lemoga classes with the lemurs from Lake District Wild Life Park, who were mingling with the class to create a personal yoga experience which aims to heighten the sense of wellbeing for both lemur and human. With their friendly, outgoing personalities and love for human contact, lemurs make the perfect yoga buddies, helping people to laugh, unwind and stretch away their troubles

PA

3/50 1 April 2019

Fire fighters attend to two police cars that were destroyed after being set on fire outside Goldthorpe police station in South Yorkshire in a suspected arson attack

PA

4/50 31 March 2019

Forensics teams work at the scene of a stabbing in Edmonton in London. Four people have been stabbed in a spate of knife attacks in the north of the capital over the weekend

Getty


5/50 30 March 2019

Workers from the Honda plant in Swindon during a protest march through the town as the car giant will be urged to reverse its decision to close its UK plant

Unite South West/PA

6/50 29 March 2019

Pro-Brexit protesters outside Westminster as MPs voted on a Government motion on the EU withdrawal

PA

7/50 28 March 2019

England football captain Harry Kane is made an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) by the Duke of Cambridge during an Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace

PA

8/50 27 March 2019

Gallery staff give a final dusting to the ‘Olympe’ sculpture by Aspencrow, modelled on Cara Delevingne and an interpretation of Medusa, as it is unveiled at the JD Malay Gallery in Mayfair, London

PA


9/50 26 March 2019

PD Marci with handler PC Neil Billany, PD Kai with handler PC Jean Pearce, PD Bruno with handler Rob Smith, PD Delta with handler PC Mark Snoxhall, PDSA vet Rosamund Ford, and PD Dave with handler PC Andy Salter at Borough market in London where the dogs were honoured with the PDSA Order of Merit for helping emergency services during the 2017 London terror attacks at Westminster Bridge, London Bridge and Borough Market

PA

10/50 25 March 2019

Britain’s Attorney General Geoffrey Cox arrives in Downing street, London for a cabinet meeting. British Prime Minister Theresa May will today chair a potentially volatile meeting of her cabinet amid reports of an attempted coup by colleagues over her handling of Brexit.

AFP/Getty

11/50 24 March 2019

Workers peeling off stickers left on the Cabinet Office door on Whitehall, London, left by anti-Brexit campaigners after they took part in the People’s Vote March

PA

12/50 23 March 2019

Protesters take part in the Put It To The People March on Whitehall in London. Thousands of protesters gathered for the march from Park Lane to Parliament Square calling for a public vote on the Governments final Brexit deal

Getty


13/50 22 March 2019

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May leaves after a news briefing after meeting with EU leaders in Brussels

Reuters

14/50 21 March 2019

The mosque and community centre on Albert Road in Birmingham where a police forensic team are at work after it had its windows smashed with a sledgehammer. An investigation involving counter-terrorism officers has been launched after four mosques in the Birmingham area were attacked overnight

PA

15/50 20 March 2019

Gallery technicians install Edvard Munch’s The Scream at the British Museum in London, ahead of the opening of Edvard Munch: love and angst exhibition, which runs from 11 April to 21 July

PA

16/50 19 March 2019

The ‘tall ship’ William II passes a wind turbine as it sails along the north east coast near Whitley Bay in Tyne and Wear after it set off from Blyth in Northumberland on a voyage round the coastline of Great Britain calling at 10 ports en route and changing crews at each stage. The Blyth Tall Ship project is a charity working alongside Blyth community volunteers to recapture the spirit of adventure that was employed in the town to discover the Antarctic 200 years ago and the turbine is part of a pilot field operated by EDF off Blyth which uses concrete float-and-submerge foundations

PA


17/50 18 March 2019

Messenger, the largest bronze cast sculpture in the UK, arrives in Plymouth Sound by barge as it makes its way to be installed outside Theater Royal Plymouth, Devon

PA

18/50 17 March 2019

Flooding in Silsdend, Yorkshire. Heavy rain has caused widespread flooding across the country. Flood warnings remain in place across the UK

PA

19/50 16 March 2019

Police at the scene in Fulham, west London where a 29-year-old man was stabbed to death this morning. The Metropolitan Police said it was called “to reports of a fight in progress” by ambulance crews and arrived on the scene at about 12.27am. The victim was found with stab wounds and died at the scene at 12.56am despite attempts by paramedics and members of the public to save his life

PA

20/50 15 March 2019

Schoolchildren gather around Queen Victoria Memorial at Buckingham Palace as they take part in a student climate protest in London. Thousands of pupils from schools, colleges and universities across the UK will walk out in the second major strike against climate change this year. Young people nationwide are calling on the Government to declare a climate emergency and take action. Similar strikes are taking place around the world today including in Japan and Australia, inspired by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg who criticised world leaders at a United Nations climate conference

Getty


21/50 14 March 2019

Families of those killed during Bloody Sunday march through Bogside in Derry, Northern Ireland. The Public Prosecution Service announced only one former British soldier is to be put on trial in connection with his role in the shootings that left 13 people dead in Derry on 30 January 1972. Families of those killed gathered outside The Museum of Free Derry, yards from where the killings took place, before marching to the city centre hotel to hear the announcement

Charles McQuillan

Getty

22/50 13 March 2019

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond leaves 11 Downing Street as he heads to the House of Commons, to deliver his Spring Statement. He announced he was slashing the UK growth forecast and warned no-deal Brexit will destroy pledge to end austerity

PA

23/50 12 March 2019

British Synchronised swimmers Kate Shortman and Isabelle Thorpe, attempting to recreate their World Championship routine in a pool filled with plastic for The Big Bang Fair challenge, opening this week at the NEC Birmingham. The campaign for the Big Bang competition, which is the largest celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) for young people in the UK has been created to help highlight how the eight million tonnes of plastic dumped in the world’s oceans every year affects marine life

PA

24/50 11 March 2019

Snow surrounds the Tan Hill pub in North Yorkshire

PA


25/50 10 March 2019

A man feeds food to dogs during the ‘Brexit Dogs Dinner’ protest outside the Houses of Parliament in London

Reuters

26/50 9 March 2019

Protesters from the climate change pressure group Extinction Rebellion demonstrate by pouring fake blood onto the street outside Downing Street in London

Reuters

27/50 8 March 2019

A woman runs with her Komondor dog as it is judged in a show ring on the second day of the Crufts dog show at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham

AFP/Getty

28/50 7 March 2019

Scaffolding which has blown down in strong winds in Hampstead, north London

Robert Berg/Twitter/PA Wire


29/50 6 March 2019

Police and bomb disposal services outside the University of Glasgow after the building was evacuated when a suspect package was found in the mailroom

PA

30/50 5 March 2019

Police officers secure the scene where a suspicious package was found near Waterloo railway station. Other packages were also found at Heathrow Airport and London City Airport, with the police saying they were bombs. Counterterror officers are investigating the three devices as linked following a series of evacuations. One of the packages opened by office staff at Heathrow Airport burst into flames. Scotland Yard did not rule out the existence of other bombs. “The packages – all A4-sized white postal bags containing yellow Jiffy bags – have been assessed by specialist officers to be small improvised explosive devices,” a spokesperson said. “These devices, at this early stage of the investigation, appear capable of igniting an initially small fire when opened. “The Met Police Counter Terrorism Command is treating the incidents as a linked series and is keeping an open mind regarding motives.”

Reuters

31/50 4 March 2019

Large waves crash over the sea walls at Cleveleys near Blackpool, as the remains of Storm Freya, which has battered Britain with gales, heavy rain and snow causes widespread travel disruption

PA

32/50 3 March 2019

Christopher Hepworth with partner Tanisha Prince (right) on their way to victory in the annual UK Wife Carrying Race at The Nower in Dorking, Surrey

PA


33/50 2 March 2019

Police officers search near the scene on St Neot’s Road in Harold Hill, east London following the fatal stabbing of a 17-year-old girl on Friday night. Police were called to reports of a knife attack in the Romford area by the ambulance service at 9.25pm. The girl was pronounced dead at the scene just over an hour later. Her next of kin have been informed and detectives from the Metropolitan Police have launched a murder investigation

PA

34/50 1 March 2019

Great Britain’s Katarina Johnson-Thompson and Niamh Emerson celebrate after winning gold and silver medals in the women’s pentathlon at the 2019 European Athletics Indoor Championships in Glasgow

Getty

35/50 28 February 2019

A painting, believed to be the second version of “Judith Beheading Holofernes” by Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, is picutred during a photocall in London following its restoration. – The 400-year-old canvas — depicting the beheading of an Assyrian general, Holofernes, by Judith from the biblical Book of Judith — was found in 2014 when the owners of a house near the southwestern city of Toulouse in France, were investigating a leak in the ceiling. It is a burst of violence painted in haunting tones by a Renaissance master worth at least $100 million — or yet another fake distressing the art world.

AFP/Getty

36/50 27 February 2019

Dozens of firefighters worked through the night to battle a major moorland blaze in West Yorkshire. More than 1.5sq km of Saddleworth Moor was ablaze in the early hours of Wednesday morning after the UK’s hottest winter day on record

Reuters


37/50 26 February 2019

Alastair Cook after he received his knighthood at Buckingham Palace

PA

38/50 25 February 2019

Nobby the polar bear cools down at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park during unseasonably warm weather. The park was covered in a blanket of snow at the end of February 2018 as the UK was hit by sub-zero temperatures. Forecasters have said that after this weekend’s warm weather, temperatures later this week should return to normal

PA

39/50 24 February 2019

Olivia Colman won the best actress in a leading role award for ‘The Favourite’ at the 91st Academy Awards in Hollywood

PA

40/50 23 February 2019

Former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson seen on the big screen as he addresses a protest over the BBC’s Panorama programme outside the BBC in MediaCityUK, Salford

PA


41/50 22 February 2019

A girl takes a photo of her dog with daffodils in St James’s Park in London

PA

42/50 21 February 2019

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and the party’s Shadow Secretary of State for Departing the European Union Keir Starmer leave a meeting with European Union Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels

Reuters

43/50 20 February 2019

Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Chuka Umunna and Mike Gapes, (middle row, left to right) Angela Smith, Luciana Berger and Ann Coffey, (front row, left to right) Sarah Woollaston, Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Joan Ryan, following a press conference for the Independent Group where the three Conservative MPs, Woollaston, Allen and Soubry, announced their resignation from the party

PA

44/50 19 February 2019

A full moon sets near Whitley Bay, North Tyneside as the sun begins to rise, ahead of the super snow moon on Tuesday evening

PA


45/50 18 February 2019

MP Chuka Umunna speaks during the announcement of his resignation, along with a group of six other Labour MPs, including, Luciana Berger, Mike Gapes, Angela Smith, Chris Leslie, Ann Coffey and Gavin Shuker and who will be known as the Independent Group

PA

46/50 17 February 2019

Climate change activists block the road as part of an Extinction Rebellion protest outside a London Fashion Week event at Tate Britain in London, calling on the fashion industry to use its influence to help to create a sustainable world.

PA

47/50 16 February 2019

Demonstrators hold a banner during a protest over BP and Iraq at the British Museum in London, Britain

Reuters

48/50 15 February 2019

Schoolchildren take part in a student climate march in Parliament Square in London. Thousands of UK pupils from schools, colleges and universities will walk out for a nationwide climate change strike. Students in 60 cities from the West Country to Scotland are protesting, urging the government to declare a climate emergency and take action over the problem. They are keen that the national curriculum is reformed and the environmental crisis is communicated to the public. Similar strikes have taken place in Australia and in European countries such as Belgium and Sweden

Getty


49/50 14 February 2019

A lady enjoys the beach in sunshine in Brighton, East Sussex. The Met Office forecast said Thursday and Friday would see early fog patches followed by plenty of sunshine

PA

50/50 13 February 2019

Jockeys compete in the space hopper derby during the Injured Jockeys Fund Charity Raceday at Plumpton Racecourse

PA

Perhaps to Braverman, this was just run-of-the-mill Conservative, anti-Corbyn rhetoric. But what she had inadvertently done is introduce one of the far right’s favourite talking points into respectable public debate. Arguably, she may have shifted the Overton window in a way that few people expected.

But where did “cultural Marxism” originate? In the aftermath of the 1917 Russian Revolution, theorists like Gramsci and Lukacs had wondered why similar revolutions hadn’t taken place elsewhere – despite there being a burgeoning, established proletariat that was intently watching the displacement of the Russian Tsar.

According to Gramsci and Lukacs, the answer was that in some countries, the cultural conditions required for a revolution to take place were absent – that revolting against power was just as much about culture, as it was about resources and means. And, that if a global socialist revolution was to take place, cultural conditions would need to change – and for socialists, that meant being active in universities, and through cultural output like pamphleting and entertainment.

This notion was later developed by the Frankfurt school in the 1940s. Those academics – mostly Jews who were forced to flee Germany, and later became teachers and professors, built on Gramsci’s ideas using Marx and Freud, and argued that the dismantling of capitalism – which was needed for revolution to be successful – required rethinking the western ideals that upheld the system. It wasn’t just about power in the workplace. It was also about critiquing the role of the traditional family, gender roles and sexuality; all areas in which capitalism’s hold is reinforced.

Those who defend Braverman would like to use this synopsis to defend her statements. To them, Braverman is simply taking a conservative position – one of free markets, free ideas, and a defence of western values vis-a-vis a capitalist economy.

But what this analysis ignores is the appropriation of the term “cultural Marxism” and its use online today to describe so much more than just a band of left-wing academics. On messageboards like 4chan, in the comment sections on YouTube, and in the private chat rooms offered by gaming platforms on Discord, “cultural Marxism” isn’t just a historical footnote, but a popular conspiracy theory, often espoused by those with overtly antisemitic beliefs. These are the kinds of people who use antisemitic terms like “oy vey”, who will often post antisemitic cartoons such as the “hooked-nose Jew” and who will use triple-parentheses to highlight public figures they consider to have Jewish heritage.

In these online worlds – the ones that politicians and pundits are more often than not oblivious to, and few have any knowledge of – “cultural Marxism” is a catch-all term that refers to anything that isn’t overtly supportive of white traditionalism. As the New Statesman’s Sarah Manavis writes, online, “[cultural Marxism] became an easy label for those white supremacists looking for an umbrella term to describe the people at which their anger about diversity, feminism and religious freedom was directed. Cultural Marxist soon became a signal to mean anyone vaguely left-leaning – in some cases, even if this simply meant those who didn’t agree with white supremacy.”

Make no mistake. The transformation of “cultural Marxism” into a catch-all meme, one that is so imprecise and ill-defined, has meant that it can be weaponised by the most sinister and nefarious of individuals online, without consequence or reprimand from social media platforms. At the same time, its lack of definition – coupled with a poor understanding of its place in the online spaces that informs so much of our modern political conversations today – means that its existence in a context of rampant online antisemitism, anti-Muslim sentiment and fervent nationalist populism – is treated as secondary, if not inconsequential.

It means that Braverman, and indeed other politicians who use these terms, will not have to think about the kind of language they use and where it comes from. Moreover, they will not have to consider which kinds of people and groups their use of this seemingly innocuous term actually empowers.

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