The “Institute for Social Research” opened its doors for the first time in 1924, This organization, commonly known as the Frankfurt School, was a meeting place for Marxists that, in pursuit of bringing about drastic social changes, revived the political theory by moving it from the economic field to the social field.
After Max Horkheimer assumed the direction of the institute in 1930, he shifted investigations that until then were concentrated in the socioeconomic analysis of bourgeois society. This German Marxist intellectual, following the line of Georg Lukács, turned culture into the focus of study, displacing the economy as the fundamental structure for Marxism.
The new leader of the Frankfurt School was clever enough to understand that the “working class” no longer accepted Marx’s ideas. For the time, workers understood that the best thing that could happen to them was being hired by a large company, so it did not make any sense to put their hopes in a revolution coming from the workers. There was no point in trying to get followers using the same tired arguments, where capitalism was to blame for poverty; nobody believed it anymore.
So the institute looked for new social groups to replace the working class. Horkheimer was passionate about psychoanalysis, and a faithful follower of the work of the Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud, the key to the macabre union that would become one of the columns of the new left was born. The Frankfurt school began to reformulate the discourse, now in the cultural field, based on the union between Marxism and psychoanalysis.
Marx understood that antagonisms had to be created in order to achieve his goal. That is why he claimed that under capitalism, the working class was oppressed by the owners of the means of production. The Frankfurt school, now using psychoanalysis, created a new confrontation and thus came to suggest that under the Western culture, all peoples live in a constant state of psychological repression. It should be noted that ultimately what they’re are saying is that the Western culture must be knocked down first in order to then provoke economic change.
To develop a union between psychoanalysis and Marxism, Horkheimer brought to the institute new thinkers that would profoundly influence the society of the 60s. Theodor Adorno, Erich Fromm, and Herbert Marcuse, were perhaps the most important acquisitions that the Frankfurt School made, getting ever closer to their new objective.
Sex as a social construct
Erich Fromm, psychoanalyst and social psychologist, and Herbert Marcuse, the German philosopher and sociologist, were left-wing pioneers. They created useful conflicts in the field of sexuality using psychoanalysis. Fromm claimed that the prevailing morality was repressive and that greater freedom was needed for the different sexual behaviors. Marcuse in his writings required creating a society based on “polymorphous perversity”, which consists of the human being’s ability to obtain sexual satisfaction outside of social parameters.
Both of them accept as their main struggle the idea that masculinity and femininity are not a reflection of sexual differences, but a consequence of the influence of factors typical of daily life. Therefore, sex is a social construct.
These ideas constitute the basis used by current feminist groups that claim that there are “socially constructed roles” that harm women. For these groups, the choices that women make throughout their lives, and the natural disadvantages they may have with men, have nothing to do with their sex but with a patriarchal society that puts them at disadvantage.
Thus, the new-left found a new revolutionary subject: women. For their “liberation” it is necessary to put an end to the Western culture, they argued. But based on the same ideas they also managed to conquer the LGTBI+ groups; those young people who felt separated and marginalized by their sexual behaviors would see in these Marxists a group that was telling them that they were not odd and that the rejection they experienced could be blamed on Western culture, at the core of which is the capitalist system.
Sex is a social construct and the Western culture is what tells you what your gender should be, woman or man, they said. Therefore, for those who do not feel comfortable with the role “assigned” to them by society, the solution is to dismantle and remove those conservative values from our lives, once and for all.
Marcuse’s book, “Eros and Civilization,” became the students’ Bible in the 60s. In this text, the author claims that repression is the essence of capitalism, which forces people to suppress their sexual instincts, generating in them what Freud calls ‘obsessions’. This new left proposes no less than the elimination of any restriction to sexual behavior. It goes as far as to normalize debauchery and anything that could be branded as aberrant. It must now be accepted, they argue, but of course, total freedom would not be achieved until the Western culture is dismantled.
What Marcuse did, and in general what the Frankfurt school achieved, was to tell the youth everything they wanted to hear; ‘do what you want, there are no limits’. That debauchery is good, and if they are blamed it is the fault of the Western culture, of the capitalist system.
This is how Marxism manages to enter, camouflaged, into the hippie culture of the time and then become accepted by young people from the middle and upper classes. For millions of new militants who did not have to read Marx’s books or argue about economics, the struggle was no longer in the economic field but in the cultural field. What had to be destroyed is the Western culture with its conservative values and then the capitalist system will fall.
The left reinvented itself. It understood that it had to find new “revolutionary” subjects and the union between psychoanalysis and Marxism was successfull at managing to attract millions of people, many of them that have not yet realized they are being used by Marxism. Most of these new ‘militants’ do not understand the fundamental role of capitalism in achieving the individual freedoms that we enjoy today.