Marxists Rise Up against the Masses

By Hartley, John | New Statesman (1996), March 5, 1999 | Go to article overview

Marxists Rise Up against the Masses


Hartley, John, New Statesman (1996)


This weekend a sinister event is being staged in Hammersmith. "Culture Wars: Dumbing Down, Wising Up?"is a conference to "discuss standards in the arts, education and the media".

It looks innocuous enough. It has been promoted under the names of well-meaning media and cultural celebrities. Kate Adie, George Alagiah, Melvyn Bragg, John Humphrys, John Simpson and Paul Watson head the broadcasters. Anne Fine, Zaha Hadid, John Mortimer, Sadie Plant and the RSC come in from the arts. There are 150 speakers in all including academics, scientists, arts administrators, publishers and regulators. Waterstone's is sponsoring the event and there is much talk of science, truth and a liberal education.

"Culture Wars" is organised by LM magazine, but nowhere does the publicity mention that "LM" stands for "Living Marxism".

Nowadays, it seems, Marxism is the love that dare not speak its name. But its devotees retain some skills from the good old days. They know how to work the cover of more democratic organisations, using as unwitting agents for their real strategy. And one thing the comrades can still do well is to organise a show trial.

This is the sinister bit. Standing in the dock this weekend is democracy itself. Most of the 35 sessions use the same tactic. Each is presented with a gesture towards democratisation which is then used as the very evidence of guilt.

My own favorite is "Have we lost our nerve? . . . We live in the age of the child-centred home and the student-centred school, when politicians ask focus groups what they should believe in and TV executives ask the public what to broadcast . . .What happens to culture when those with authority and expertise bow to those without?"

This is Iolanthe upside-down: bow, bow, to the lower middle classes! Bow to the tradesmen, bow to the masses! Tan-tan-ta-ra, pity the poor doomed peers and their Marxist sympathisers! Tzing Boom!

The prosecution is not amused, however. Accusations are relentlessly to be pursued throughout the weekend. In the media, for instance, "victim TV", obsessed with "touching the emotions of 'ordinary people'", is condemned as "a licence to lower broadcasting standards".

In education, public enemy No 1 is my discipline: cultural studies. The stem inquisitor wants to know: "Have the methods of cultural studies democratised the curriculum or emasculated it?" Yes! I confess! We're under your beds! Emasculating away like mad.

Science is being overwhelmed by Diana-style love: "What standard of treatment can we expect from tomorrow's doctors if the emphasis is on caring rather than curing?" And those nasty greenies have stolen the hearts of the young: "It cannot be easy for young people to love science while at the same time being taught to fear it. …

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