Many people, myself included, have been a little bit too free and easy with the words Marxism and Marxist. Terms such as cultural Marxism are applied to many forms of performative wokeness and the word Marxist is often hurled more as an insult rather than a considered and thoughtful judgement. Perhaps it mirrors the way ‘progressives’ chuck out Nazi and fascist as insults to those they disagree with.
I was therefore fascinated to find this take on ‘woke’ coming from Marxist Scholar Malcom Kyeyune. I view the toxic variety of feminism, the type that is informed by Critical Theory, as a subset of ‘woke’ and that makes this interview worthy of inclusion in this blog.
You can find the interview with Jonathan Kay on the Quillette website here or by clicking the image below.
The interviewer,Johnathan Kay, points out that ‘woke’ is a label applied to someone who is performatively progressive, even insincere. The kind of upper-class elite university graduate who talks about their white privilege. It costs them nothing but signals (in the eyes of the woke) virtue. There is, however, more to it than that according to Malcom Kyeyune. He argues that it is how upper-class people generate and occupy high status and well paid jobs as Human Resources Managers, consultants in EDI, Journalists, positions NGOs, Government funded pressure groups and educators.
In this view, woke is not a manifestation of left-wing thought, the ‘woke’ are not really interested in the downtrodden (except to be enraged when their Amazon package is late). Instead, it is an enabling creed that benefits middle-class university graduates who are already privileged and helps them to justify their increased income and the expansion of lucrative white-collar sectors. The expression of progressive politics through obscure theories of gender and race is a redirect of what it means to be a leftist.
According to Malcom the core belief of Marxism that workers would control the means of production has not come to pass. Instead, the prophetic belief of sociologist James Burnham has come to pass. He argued, in the 1940s, that a post-capitalism that was dominated by a managerial class was the most likely outcome when the locus of control moved away from owner entrepreneurs. He went on to argue that this class would need some sort of ideology of their own. That ideology, it seems, is ‘woke.’
Malcom Kyeyune tells the story of Activision Blizzard, an American video game development studio. Video gaming is a predominantly male pastime and the workforce was predominantly male. It was alleged by some female employees that male employees had been watching them breastfeeding at work. If true this was pretty creepy and a cause for dismissal -subsequent upon verification, of course. Instead, the demands were that Activision Blizzard should turn over a lot of executive control in terms of hiring and setting salaries to outside NGOs. Through unverified allegations of sexual harassment, activists were able to embed a parasitic and ‘woke’ organisation into the structure of a successful business and their claim to power is not any technical expertise but their presumed moral authority.
Jonathan Kay summarises it as follows ‘like the managerial ideology that Burnham anticipated, woke asserts a wide variety of rights that supersede ownership and insists on the creation of a permanent caste of managers to monitor the implementation of these rights.’ He goes on to say ‘a lot of well educated people who are trying to avoid downward mobility and are looking for status and relevance and a pay check….. you (Malcom Kyenye) don’t use these words but you describe wokeness as a kind of upscaled welfare program.’
Perhaps, that is what we are seeing. A bloated cadre of liberal arts graduates has found a path to control and prestige in society through an ideology that allows them to intermediate in the distribution of resources. Just look around you and you can see it’s true. The Oxbridge English Literature graduates who impose their world view through journalism (see posts LitCrit Femsplainers and Diversity in the media), or the government money pouring into Stonewall, and the Women’s Aid movement. Even the Labour Party now represents this demographic. Look at MPs Jess Phillips and Stella Creasy both from comfortable middle-class backgrounds, both with liberal arts degrees, neither has ever worked in the productive sector of the economy but both have been able to pursue prestigious and well paid careers through ‘woke’ politics. Jess Phillips through Women’s Aid, a ‘rent seeking’ organisation that she represents more vigorously than her geographic constituency.
Juliet Samuel who is a journalist at the Daily Telegraph has written eloquently on the ‘woke mission creep of Human Resources departments’ for a flavour of her arguments see the YouTube video below. These departments are predominantly female and woke. One of the ironies of my working life has been equality and diversity lectures from these people in HR who are predominantly white female and middle class. Meanwhile, the audience to which they were speaking, in my work place, was about 50:50 male:female and ethnic minorities made up about 50% of our group. That ‘over’ representation is a contribution ethnic minorities have made rather than a conspiracy and it came about not through diversity initiatives but because of the talent and experience they offered. The HR department appeared completely blind to its lack of diversity relative to its audience and despite this, they still assumed they had moral authority.
There is cause for hope, however. One of the candidates for Conservative party leadership clearly understands the problem. She has attacked ‘woke’ and argued that Government should not be a ‘piggy bank’ for pressure groups. I Agree. The Labour Party needs to catch up. ‘Woke’ is a self-enabling creed for the already privileged and it is a threat to the working people the Labour Party is supposed to represent. Malcom Kyeyune has shown left-leaning parties a way forward.
Malcom Kyeyune makes a good case for this idea, thanks for sharing it. I wonder if it is possible for Wokism to actually be both? Large movements are not monolithic, and the Marxist roots of the original critical theorists are fairly clear; I wonder if their ideas appealed to the managerial class Kyeyune spoke of, who then tried to adopt them with various intentions.
His thoughts also ring true in my area of social work where I’ve been surprised how little interest there is in Critical Theory. I’ve concluded that much of this is because working in social work is hard, and tends to meritocracy because you can either handle it or you can’t; as such it’s too difficult for the well-to-do activists to sully their hands with.
I realised the main reason is that our clients simply aren’t in the right demographic to be interesting for CT activists; Most don’t tick the correct gender buttons as they’re men, but even those who do aren’t wealthy or powerful enough to be “worth” bothering with and they’re too busy surviving to join any rainbow themed protests.
Thanks for your comment. It is good to hear from someone dealing with the day-to-day gritty reality of social work and I am not surprised that well-to-do activists do not thrive in that environment.
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Interesting. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Academic Agent but he’s talked about James Burnham and his idea of the Managerial Revolution. AA’s friendly with the so-called ‘neoreactionary’ movement which is a part of the online right. It’s more collectivist minded and I’m more of an individualist but I’m not as well read on thinkers like Burnham as they are.
Thank you. I am not familiar with the Academic Agent, but I shall certainly look into his writing. I have found that your recommendations are always worth pursuing.
He recently published a book called ‘The Populist Delusion’ under his real name. I haven’t read it but I assume it covers Burnham amongst other thinkers. He also has a YouTube channel – one of the things I like about him is that he’s very eclectic – he’s done lengthy videos on anything from Thomas Carlyle to David Bowie. As I said, some of his takes are quite provocative if you’re not part of the crowd he interacts with but I find him interesting nonetheless.
Thanks for the recommendation. I am just starting to look at his YouTube channel and I shall look out for the book.
Hello from the UK
Many thanks for your post and indeed for your site in general. I like your inciteful articles and give me scope for thought.
As regards ‘Woke’ I have just noted that it is an anagram of ‘We OK’, i.e. the arrogant stance taken by so-called progressives in academia etc. they are right and everyone else is wrong.
As regards HR departments I have not had to suffer their inanities in my working life, but I have observed them and wrote the following hopefully amusing piece to send it all up and the uselessness of so many managerial jobs.
Thanks for this. I am just looking through your blog – which looks good!
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