Countless politicians, activists, and Hollywood virtue-signalers were immediate in jumping to condemn the alleged hate crime against actor Jussie Smollet in late January.
As the story unraveled, some clung to Smollet’s story, while others found it difficult to come to grips with the possibility that the crime was nothing but an orchestrated hoax.
Indeed, one Washington Post columnist wrote that she “wanted to believe him with every fiber of [her] being” and that the consequences of this incident being a hoax would be “too awful to contemplate.”
Why are progressives so quick to believe even sketchy reports of hate crimes and lament cases where they turn out to be untrue?
As one New Left 1960s radical put it, “The issue is never the issue, the issue is always the revolution.”
The Importance of “Class Consciousness”
In classic Marxism, the revolution would be led by the workers, known as the proletariat.
Workers would, under this theory, become so miserable under the exploitative nature of capitalism they would develop recognition of their shared misery. With this shared acknowledgment would come a realization of the source of their misery (capitalists) to culminate in a state of unrestrained agitation targeting the oppressors.
Indeed, for the proletariat to lead a revolution, they must become aware of not only their common status as the “exploited” class in society but also of their historically significant role as leaders of the movement to overthrow the capitalist order.
Georg Lukács, a Hungarian Marxist and leading thinker of the “Frankfurt School,” wrote about class consciousness in his 1968 book History and Class Consciousness.
Lukács described the proletariat’s “awakening of its class consciousness” as its “sharpest weapon” in the struggle.
In other words, when the final economic crisis of capitalism develops, Lukács concluded, “the fate of the revolution (and with it the fate of mankind) will depend on the ideological maturity of the proletariat, i.e. on its class consciousness.”
Without class consciousness, there is no revolution.
Enter Identity Politics
Frustration over the working class’s failure—particularly in Western countries—to lead the revolution in the post-World War II era led the Marxists of the Frankfurt school to reformulate the makeup of class identity.
Some in the Frankfurt School suggested that distinct class interests of the working class were no longer relevant due to its assimilation into industrial society. Indeed, the New Left in the 1960s saw higher living standards for workers occurring in the US specifically and sought other oppressed groups to form a coalition for social change.
As described in the 1983 book A Dictionary of Marxist Thought by Tom Bottomore, the Frankfurt School’s pessimism that the working class would rise up and lead the revolution ushered in a “recognition of the non-revolutionary character of the Western working class,” which in turn “led them to depreciate radically the role of the working class and to look elsewhere for the revolutionary forces of modern society.”
Looking elsewhere for new revolutionary forces led them to focus on students, minorities, and other “exploited ethnic groups” that were not class-based in the classic Marxian sense but based on cultural identity.
Instrumental in the transition to the new revolutionary class was, as described in Bottomore’s book, to reveal what “hinders people ‘coming to consciousness of themselves as subjects’ capable of spontaneity and positive action.”
Identity politics attempts to divorce “power” from the realm of class society, defined in orthodox Marxism as the relation to the means of production, and instead place it in the realm of personal relations (i.e. man vs. woman; black vs. white, gay vs. straight).
The New Left identified oppression as individual antagonisms between genders, races, sexual orientation, etc.
Replacing owners of capital as society’s oppressors were white, male, straight Christians—the group targeted as holding “privilege” in traditionally capitalist societies.
Similar to how the proletariat was to fight capitalism in part by forcing the bourgeoisie into self-knowledge of their oppressive nature, the new cultural Marxism advances the same notion in the form of “white privilege.”
Political struggle replaces economic struggle as the unifying force to overthrow the capitalist system. The Frankfurt School writers did also argue, however, that struggles against oppression can take place outside the realm of politics. Other institutions like media, education, corporate boardrooms, and Hollywood all become instrumental levers of power to capture.
Vanguard of the Revolution
If class consciousness is a necessary precondition for the revolution, then who shall shepherd the consciousness raising?
The “vanguard” of the revolution was a term coined to describe the intellectuals and intelligentsia responsible for advancing the narrative of oppression and exploitation in order to raise the class consciousness of the new revolutionary class. The goal is to ensure and expedite the process of revolution rather than wait for the spontaneous, bottom-up revolution that failed to materialize with the workers.
Today’s vanguard can be found in the media, Hollywood, academia, and the political class. The prevalence of hate crimes is an indispensable part of the narrative of the oppressive nature of individual relations: whites are targeting blacks, straights are targeting gays and transgendered people, etc.
Exploiting such “hate crimes,” be they real or imagined, is part of the vanguard’s duty to raise the class consciousness of today’s version of the proletariat.
Progressives wants hate crimes to be true so badly because they need these crimes to advance the narrative of oppression that will raise class consciousness.
The issue is never the issue, the issue is always the revolution.