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Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture
ISSN: (Print) (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/csid20
Cultural Marxism: far-right conspiracy theory in
Australia’s culture wars
Rachel Busbridge , Benjamin Moffitt & Joshua Thorburn
To cite this article: Rachel Busbridge , Benjamin Moffitt & Joshua Thorburn (2020): Cultural
Marxism: far-right conspiracy theory in Australia’s culture wars, Social Identities, DOI:
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/13504630.2020.1787822
Published online: 29 Jun 2020.
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Cultural Marxism: far-right conspiracy theory in Australia’s
, Benjamin Moﬃtt
and Joshua Thorburn
School of Arts, Australian Catholic University, Fitzroy, Melbourne, Australia;
RMIT University, Melbourne,
As a conspiracy promoted by the far-right, Cultural Marxism has
gained ground over the past quarter century. In its dominant
iteration, the US-originating conspiracy holds that a small group
of Marxist critical theorists have conspired to destroy Western
civilisation by taking over key cultural institutions. Yet what does
such a conspiracy look like in a transnational context –and how
are such conspiracy theories adapted for local use? In this article,
we trace Cultural Marxism’s use and function in Australia’s recent
culture wars, asking when,where and in what contexts the
conspiracy is invoked in the Australian political and media
landscape. Our analysis examines the ways in which Cultural
Marxism has moved from the ‘fringe’to the ‘mainstream’,
revealing the porous nature of divisions on the contemporary
Australian right as well as diﬀerences between ‘old’and ‘new’
right. We pay particular attention to the localised use of the
conspiracy in the ‘Safe Schools’controversy of 2016–2017,
whereby Cultural Marxist tropes were imbued with local concerns
about sexuality and gender issues. The article provides an
important illustration and analysis of the ways in which
transnational conspiracy theories and tropes of the far-right can
be translated, adapted and used in diﬀerent national contexts.
Received 11 December 2019
Accepted 22 June 2020
Cultural Marxism; conspiracy
The rise of the far-right across many Western countries in recent years has brought
renewed scholarly attention to the roles of media and new media technologies in the dis-
semination, circulation and reception of ideas once considered beyond the pale. Indeed, a
rapidly changing media landscape, characterised by the ever-growing inﬂuence of social
media and new digital technologies, is a popular explanation for this development. On the
one hand, the internet has presented greater opportunities not only for transnational pol-
itical exchange, but also the promotion and distribution of marginal or fringe content
(Barkun, 2017). On the other, far-right actors have often sought to harness these capacities
for networking, recruitment and mainstreaming in order to disseminate their messages
and ideological perspectives, as well as construct cross-border collective identities and
interpretive frames (Beirich, 2013; Caiani & Kroel, 2015). This transnationalising of far-
right politics through the creation of cross-national networks that facilitate exchange,
the ﬂow of information and ties between groups and individuals (Vertovec, 2009) raises
© 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Rachel Busbridge email@example.com
important questions that extend beyond far-right actors themselves to consider the cre-
ation of publics receptive to far-right messaging. In particular, while scholars ‘recognise
[that] the internet [has] ‘a privileged role in favouring far-right transnational exchanges’
(Froio & Ganesh, 2019, p. 516), there is still much work to be done in exploring how far-
right ideas, ideologies, tropes and symbols spread and are taken up across diﬀerent
national settings, as well as how they may gain relevance and palatability within main-
stream politics in diﬀerent contexts.
This article focuses on the transnationalisation of a particular conspiracy theory: that of
‘Cultural Marxism’, which was once the preserve of the very fringes of the American far-
right but has now seemingly gone both global (and to some extents, mainstream). Positing
a link between ‘political correctness’(see generally Hughes, 2010) and a sinister plot to
destroy Western civilisation, Cultural Marxism has found its most morbid contemporary
expression in the ‘manifesto’of Norwegian white supremacist terrorist Anders Breivik
(Jamin, 2014, p. 93) but has increasingly been taken up across the spectrum of right poli-
tics, establishing itself as something of a ‘meta-theory’for the contemporary Right lament-
ing the ‘destruction’of traditional values and institutions (Richardson, 2015, p. 202), and
having been invoked by far-right and conservative politicians and public ﬁgures in the
United Kingdom, Hungary and Australia (Richardson, 2015; Walker, 2019). While the US-
based Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) noted with concern that the conspiracy
theory was ‘catching on in the mainstream’in 2003 (Berkowitz, 2003), researchers have
only more recently begun to reckon with its inﬂuence in any substantial detail (Jamin,
2014,2018; Mirrlees, 2018; Richardson, 2015). This lack of scholarly attention to the conspi-
racy theory’s renewed appeal is particularly evident in the case of Australia, even as a
number of commentators have noted (with concern) that the discourse of Cultural
Marxism appears to be gaining traction for not just the extreme and far-right but also
right-wing culture warriors (Jamin, 2018; Soutphomasane, 2018; Wilson, 2015,2016).
In order to address this gap, this article seeks to map the emergence and dissemination
of the Cultural Marxist conspiracy theory in Australia. Given that it is comparatively recent,
Cultural Marxism’s take up in Australian political and media discourse provides a pertinent
window into the dynamics of dissemination, circulation and reception of far-right ideas. Its
distinctive Anglo-American paleo-conservative intellectual heritage and European white
civilisational variants likewise aﬀord a germane opportunity to examine the scope of
far-right transnational tropes as they ﬁnd expression within disparate national settings.
Our aim was to collate an understanding of when,where and in what contexts the conspi-
racy is invoked in the Australian political and media landscape, which required a broad
scope of investigation in which we reviewed social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter,
Reddit, Gab), mainstream newspapers, conservative political magazines, blogs, political
party websites and talkback radio for mentions of Cultural Marxism.
was thus exploratory in nature, partly because there is so little scholarly material available
on Cultural Marxism in Australia, and partly because the rapidly changing nature of the
contemporary media landscape means that painting a systematic picture is time-bound
in any case. More so, there are methodological challenges in drawing a national picture
from otherwise international online digital media, particularly in the case of social
media, where ostensibly ‘national’groups, handles or sites can be managed elsewhere
(Rogers, 2013). Social media moreover presents diﬃculties with various content being
removed or banned as well as limited access to social media platform APIs.
Still, acknowledging these limitations, our research observed several notable ﬁndings.
Signiﬁcantly, we found that although the increasing prevalence of the Cultural Marxism
conspiracy in Australia is entangled with the wider rise of the far-right, the most prominent
articulations have come from conservative right-wing actors within otherwise mainstream
media and political institutions. In particular, the culture war controversy surrounding the
Safe Schools anti-homophobia programme primarily led by News Corp outlets –an
illustrative case we examine later in this article –was fundamental in popularising and
nationalising the term for Australian audiences. We argue that this can be understood
in two main ways. First, our research suggests that far-right tropes and ideas gain reson-
ance beyond the fringes in the context of national controversies. Second, while the inter-
net and social media are often framed as the primary drivers of far-right
transnationalisation, we need to understand the relationship between mainstream news
media and online media as a symbiotic one, wherein the former have the capacity to
craft agendas and the latter to leverage discursive opportunities for popular mobilisation.
The article begins with an overview of the Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory, focusing
on its American origins and transnational articulations, before brieﬂy examining the con-
tours of far-right politics in Australia. Thereafter, we ‘map’the emergence and circulation
of the conspiracy in the Australian context, tracing its main proponents and various per-
mutations. While it remains relatively marginal, we observed a distinct increase in men-
tions of Cultural Marxism since 2016. The following section examines the contexts in
which the conspiracy is invoked, drawing attention to the diﬀerences and similarities
across media platforms. We conclude by reﬂecting on the value of our analysis, outlining
its implications for rethinking the distinctions between ‘fringe’and ‘mainstream’in the
Australian media and political landscapes –and perhaps beyond.
Conspiracy theory and Cultural Marxism
While typically considered in pejorative terms (Hofstadter, 1964), conspiracy theories can
in fact be quite revealing of the shifting dynamics of traditional structures of interpretation
as well as of the changing contours of Western media cultures (Birchall, 2001; Horn, 2008).
Our approach in this article is inspired by Michael Barkun’s understanding of conspiracy
theories as forms of ‘stigmatised knowledge’, that is, ‘claims not accepted by those insti-
tutions we rely upon for truth validation’such as universities, government agencies, major
mainstream media and medical and scientiﬁc communities (Barkun, 2016, p. 1, 2). Conspi-
racy theories are deﬁned in relation to their distance from an imagined or actual public, a
general distrust of authority and a suspicion of orthodoxies, making them, almost by
deﬁnition, fringe. For Barkun, however, it is important to recognise that the notion of ‘stig-
matised knowledge’as an exclusively fringe phenomenon has been rendered increasingly
problematic. Technological and social-political developments since the early 1990s –most
notably, the emergence of the internet and social media –have signalled the erosion of
the boundaries between fringe and mainstream epistemic authorities by transforming
the role of traditional gatekeepers of knowledge and providing greater opportunities
for the dissemination of previously marginal ideas (Barkun, 2016, p. 3; and see generally
Dean, 1998). According to Barkun, this has made for a process of ‘mainstreaming the
fringe’, whereby there is greater public and political receptivity to conspiracy theories,
something that is particularly notable in American political culture (Barkun, 2016,p.4;
SOCIAL IDENTITIES 3
Dean, 1998). As phenomena then, conspiracy theories do not only potentially oﬀer an
insight into the often hidden dimensions of political interpretation and action (Wilson,
2017), but also the shifting borders between ‘fringe’and ‘mainstream’in contemporary
Cultural Marxism can be categorised in terms of what Barkun calls a ‘global systemic
conspiracy’, which theorises that some small and hidden group has plotted to cover up
the ‘true’cause of an event or alternatively advance their aims or goals in secret
through the inﬁltration of public institutions and manipulation of ‘an ignorant, herd-like
public’(Barkun, 2003, p. 7; Barkun, 2016, pp. 1–2). Conspiracies of this ilk often lay out a
global explanation of history, and Cultural Marxism is no exception. Arguing that the
Frankfurt School was involved in a deliberate and covert plot to undermine Western civi-
lisation, the Cultural Marxist conspiracy oﬀers a simple explanation for the progressive cul-
tural change many Western countries have experienced since the counter-cultural
revolution of the 1960s (Jay, 2011). One of the issues associated with the Cultural
Marxist conspiracy is that Cultural Marxism is a distinct philosophical approach associated
with some strands of the Frankfurt School, as well as ideas and inﬂuences emanating from
the British New Left. However, proponents of the conspiracy do not regard Cultural
Marxism as a form of left-wing cultural criticism, but instead as a calculated plan orche-
strated by leftist intellectuals to destroy Western values, traditions and civilisation,
carried out since at least the 1930s (Berkowitz, 2003; Breitbart, 2011, pp. 105–135). In
this article, we are exclusively concerned with the conspiratorial discourse of Cultural
Marxism, not as a descriptive term referring to Euro-Marxism, although we note that advo-
cates of the conspiracy theory conﬂate the two.
Although the terminology is much older, current usage of Cultural Marxism can be
traced to the American ultraconservative literature of the early 1990s. While the conspiracy
had a number of early proponents, including political commentator and former presiden-
tial candidate Pat Buchanan, the American paleoconservative William S. Lind is widely
credited with popularising the concept and providing the most inﬂuential account of it,
with his edited volume, Political Correctness: A Short History of an Ideology, being the
key citation since 2004 (Jamin, 2018, p. 5). For Lind, Cultural Marxism is traditional
Marxism ‘translated from economic to cultural terms’, spurred by the historical failure to
universally unite the proletariat (Lind, 2004, p. 4). The idea is that Cultural Marxists seek
to pave the way for revolution by destabilising and damaging traditional cultural values,
attachments and solidarities, taking what Antonio Gramsci called the ‘long march
through the institutions’, particularly those in the realms of culture and media. Rather
than the ‘classless society’of classical Marxism, Cultural Marxism allegedly promotes a
radical egalitarian vision of an emptied-out, soulless multiculture, replacing the proletariat
of old with a ‘new proletariat’made up of immigrants, multiculturalists, black nationalists,
secular humanists, feminists, homosexuals, sex educators and environmentalists. The
purpose of the Cultural Marxist project is to destroy and replace the traditional institutions
of Western civilisation, such as Christianity, national identity and the nuclear family,
through the use of ‘politically correct’ideology and the portrayal of ‘white men as evil’
(Lind, 2004, p. 6). It is in this regard that Bill Berkowitz (2003) deems Cultural Marxism ‘a
kind of “political correctness”on steroids’. Whereas political correctness became a point
of contention in the US college culture wars between progressives and conservatives
between 1990 and 1992 (Berman, 1992; Hughes, 2010), the discourse of Cultural
Marxism gives it a conspiratorial spin. For Buchanan, if Cultural Marxism is the ideology
imposed on the masses to institute a ‘New World Order’,‘political correctness’is the
tool whereby any criticism –particularly conservative and right-wing –of such a project
can be curbed (Jamin, 2014, pp. 94–95).
As a conspiracy theory, Cultural Marxism is suﬃciently ﬂexible that it can unify the
whole spectrum of far-right and right-wing ideologies, ranging from fundamentalist and
evangelical Christians to National Socialists to Zionist conspiracy theorists. Other articula-
tions of the conspiracy isolate particular categories of people as threatening social and cul-
tural order, often drawing on Islamophobic and antisemitic tropes common to other
conspiracy theories (Gordiejew, 2006; Zia-Ebrahimi, 2018). In his 2083 compendium,
Breivik invoked the Cultural Marxist thesis parallel to the ‘Eurabia’conspiracy, which sup-
posedly uncovers a plot by Middle Eastern nations to ‘Islamise’and ‘Arabise’European
countries to undermine existing political alignments. Cultural Marxism, from this perspec-
tive, employs multiculturalism, Islamic immigration and political correctness as a tool to
facilitate the replacement of Christianity with Islam in Europe –an argument that has
received tacit approval from commentators including Buchanan (Jamin, 2014, p. 95) and
the Italian politician Mario Borghezio (BBC News, 2011). The conspiracy additionally has
potent antisemitic connotations, leading some to frame it within the antisemitic ‘conspir-
atorial tradition’(Byford & Billig, 2001). The term Cultural Marxism is indeed reminiscent of
Kulturbolshewismus (Cultural Bolshevism), an antisemitic epithet used by Nazi Germany to
denote the degeneracy of German society (Mirrlees, 2018). Many of the chapters in Lind’s
Political Correctness emphasise the Jewishness of the Frankfurt School who came to
America ﬂeeing Nazi persecution, with some authors hinting towards some sort of under-
lying Jewish world conspiracy; Lind, it must also be noted, has presented the theory at
Holocaust denial conferences (SPLC, 2002). The centrality of the Frankfurt School in the
conspiracy furthermore makes it amenable to more subtle expressions of antisemitism,
because it facilitated the naming of Jews ‘by proper names’rather than as a group
There are also clear racial overtones to the Cultural Marxist conspiracy, which does
much to animate a supposedly imperilled ‘Western civilisation’. The transnational
project it hints towards is often animated in national terms, insofar as Cultural Marxism
is commonly presented as ‘an internationalist conspiracy intended to undermine a natur-
alised organic national culture’(Richardson, 2015, pp. 202–203). This means that the con-
spiracy can quite easily slot into existing nationalist politics in a variety of locations,
particularly those that position themselves in resistance to a multicultural global elite –
as seen in much recent nationalist and populist resistance to ‘globalists’. At the same
time, it does so in a way that neatly aligns with the ‘transnational nationalism’(Beirich,
2013) of the far-right and white nationalist movements in particular; with multiculturalism,
immigration and black nationalism amongst the litany of social ills, Western civilisation is
implicitly, if not explicitly, understood as white. The gender-based conservatism of the Cul-
tural Marxism discourse, namely the emphasis placed on the nuclear family, female dom-
esticity and heterosexual reproduction, additionally serves to underscore the biological
components of race-based thinking.
It is in this regard that the Cultural Marxist conspiracy can be understood as intimately
bound up with white nationalism, something which has been brought into clearer view
with its take-up amongst the alt-right (Cole, 2020; Nagle, 2017). In addition to an
SOCIAL IDENTITIES 5
impertinent disregard for ‘politically correct’discourse (see especially Penny, 2016), the alt-
right is also commonly associated with the far right white nationalist project of Richard
Spencer (see Wood, 2017), which seeks to build ‘white ethno-State that compels all of
society’s institutions to protect and promote the values of an idealised white European
culture’(Mirrlees, 2018, p. 51). Tanner Mirrlees (2018, p. 50) argues that Cultural
Marxism has proven ‘an instrument of intersectional hate’for the alt-right, particularly
as it has been articulated in relation to the Trumpian populist project associated with
Andrew Breitbart and the Breitbart news website, and by extension Steve Bannon and
the Trump presidential campaign and victory. Not only does it empower racist, homopho-
bic and misogynistic speech as a legitimate, if not revolutionary, response to the oppres-
sively-PC ‘Democratic Media Complex’(Breitbart, 2011), it also works to construct a
patriarchal, white and Christian supremacist notion of America by homogenising a
range of others as part of a single, undiﬀerentiated ‘Cultural Marxist bloc’. In this sense,
the alt-right have been able to harness Cultural Marxism as a potent mechanism of
social and political polarisation, while positioning political correctness as inherently
authoritarian and anti-democratic.
As both conspiratorial trope and thesis, the increasing popularity of Cultural Marxism
thus ought to be cause for concern, representing a seeming mainstreaming of far-right
ideas and ideals. Scholars have noted the impressive ﬂexibility of Cultural Marxist dis-
course, which is not only adaptable to a wide variety of right-wing politics but also
aﬀorded a semblance of public ‘decency’by its pseudo-intellectual talk of the Frankfurt
School and Gramsci (Jamin, 2018, p. 1). Yet what remains understudied is its discursive
limits. Cultural Marxism, after all, remains an American-originated conspiracy theory that
is closely aligned with paleo-conservatism, and more recently the alt-right. The question
that remains is how local conditions shape its circulation and reception within diﬀerent
national settings. This is precisely what we are interested in exploring through mapping
Cultural Marxism in Australia.
Culture wars and the Australian right-wing landscape
There are several convergences and overlaps between the Australian and American politi-
cal landscapes, which means that many of the historical resonances and social undertones
of the Cultural Marxism discourse are not foreign to the Australian context. Indeed, Aus-
tralia’s culture wars –that is, conﬂicts between progressives and conservatives on ques-
tions of values, culture and identity –have closely followed in the footsteps of the US
(George & Huynh, 2009). Like the US, Australia underwent a counter-culture revolution
in the 1960s and 1970s which questioned traditional authority structures in favour of pro-
gressive change relating to women, minorities and the role of religion, establishing culture
as a central site of political struggle. Equally, Australia has seen a conservative backlash to
these developments from the mid-1990s onwards (Kapferer & Morris, 2003), with promi-
nent Australian culture warriors often drawing inspiration from American culture war
tactics (Berman, 1992; Hughes, 2010). Political correctness has played an important role
in this backlash (Canberra Times, 1994; Coleman, 2000). Culture war disputes about gay
marriage, Aboriginal rights and the ‘black armband view’
of Australian history (Kapferer
& Morris, 2003, p. 100, 104), asylum seekers, climate change, education and health in Aus-
tralia have often been framed by the conservative charge that progressive and leftist views
are ‘politically correct’and therefore elite-driven, with the implication that they are funda-
mentally out of step with public concerns (Davis, 2018).
Australia has also not been exempt from the global rise of far-right and race-based
extremism that has occurred over the past ten years or so. Recent years have seen unpre-
cedented levels of public visibility and media attention aﬀorded to contemporary Austra-
lian far-right activists and micro-parties, with a proliferation of groups like Reclaim
Australia, Rise Up Australia, the Australian Defence League, the United Patriots Front,
True Blue Crew and Antipodean Resistance (Markus, 2018; Safran, 2018). Much like
other far-right organisations that periodically appeared and disappeared from the Austra-
lian political landscape across the twentieth century, these groups frequently take their
inspiration from overseas, particularly America and Britain (Peucker & Smith, 2019). At
the same time, these groups have achieved practically no electoral success, and have
not been as visible in Australia as they have been in North America and Europe (Dean
et al., 2016).
As opposed to the ‘traditional’far-right represented by neo-Nazis and proto-fascists, the
new radical right concerned with nationalism, anti-immigration and the protection of
Western values has a fundamentally diﬀerent relationship to mainstream politics that fore-
grounds resistance to the existing political establishment and populist reform (Dean et al.,
2016, p. 123; Guibernau, 2010). In Australia, the new far-right has increasingly adopted a
‘concerned citizen’s persona’, which has coincided with greater interest and community
support (Dean et al., 2016, p. 137, 139) than their explicitly neo-Nazi forbearers. With
this shift in far-right priorities and tactics, the ‘hijacking of extreme right politics by govern-
ing parties and leaders’(Dean et al., 2016, p. 137), rather than suppressing fringe groups,
appears to have created a fertile context for them to enter and inﬂuence the mainstream.
Certainly, in recent years there have been reports of attempts by far-right groups to inﬁl-
trate mainstream political parties, such as the thwarted inﬁltration of the New South Wales
Young Nationals branch by the alt-right ‘Lad’s Society’in 2018 (Mann, 2018). The tacit sanc-
tioning of anti-immigration, anti-Islam and pro-nationalist views in an Australian public
discourse that has broadly lurched to the right has also seen the mainstream articulation
of certain far-right tropes, such as Pauline Hanson’s‘it’s okay to be white’motion, which
was only narrowly defeated in the Senate in 2018 (BBC News, 2018).
It is in this context that conspiracy theories like Cultural Marxism are quite revealing of
the blurring of fringe and mainstream in Australia. Conspiracy theories, of course, are not
new in Australian politics: Dennis McCormack’s‘The Grand Plan: The Asianisation of Aus-
tralia’reached peak popularity in the 1980s and 1990s,
while more recent years have seen
a proliferation of conspiracies concerning gun control, Islam and white genocide (Markus,
2018). However, these remain mostly marginal (and severely understudied). This is a key
point of distinction as compared to the US, which has a rich cultural tradition of conspira-
cism and conspiratorial politics emerging out of a history of government overreach and
secrecy (Dean, 1998), the state-sanctioning and promotion of conspiracy theories as pro-
paganda and a general public distrust of governmental activities and institutions (Olm-
stead, 2009). Certainly, much of the conspiratorial culture in the US has congealed
around the Cold War, McCarthyism and the ‘Red Menace’, which makes the trope of
Marxism somewhat organic to American conspiracy theorising. With a more embedded
socialist tradition making class conﬂict more prominent across the country’s history
(McKnight, 2005), Marxism does not have the same conspiratorial resonances in Australia.
SOCIAL IDENTITIES 7
The Cultural Marxist conspiracy would thus seem a pertinent indicator of transnational far-
Mapping Cultural Marxism in Australia
While the Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory is only a relatively recent entry in Australian
right-wing politics, its popularisation has followed a comparable trajectory to elsewhere.
Like the US, where interest in Cultural Marxism has steadily grown since 2008, trending
upwards during the 2016 election campaign and spiking in the aftermath of Trump’s
victory (Mirrlees, 2018, p. 55), the Cultural Marxism trope has become increasingly preva-
lent in Australia over the past few years, with 2016 marking a turning point. At the same
time, general interest in the conspiracy is comparatively far less in Australia than in the US,
with political correctness seemingly having more resonance for the Australian public: a
Google Trends data visualisation of the popularity of online search queries relating to ‘Cul-
tural Marxism’and ‘political correctness’from January 2008 to August 2019 reﬂects this.
Here, searches for ‘Cultural Marxism’reached a peak in September 2017, while searches
for ‘Cultural Marxism meaning’peaked in February 2017, although across this period
searches for ‘political correctness’were consistently more popular. In the US, searches
for ‘Cultural Marxism’actually outnumbered searched for ‘political correctness’in July
2018. A sub-regional breakdown of Australian search queries furthermore indicates that
while political correctness seems to be of national interest, Cultural Marxism is popular pri-
marily in the east coast states of Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria.
Australian print media tells a similar story. Using the Factiva Australian newspaper data-
base search function, 76 articles (including letters to the editor) were found to mention
‘Cultural Marxism’between January 2000 and November 2018. News Corp’sThe Australian
(29), Daily Telegraph (14) and Herald Sun (7) used the term most, followed by Fairfax/Nine’s
The Age (6). Other than a brief spike in 2011 in relation to the Breivik manifesto, the term
was scarcely used prior to 2016, but has increasingly been used thereafter by right-wing
columnists among others. Mark Latham, former leader of the Australian Labor Party and
current state leader of One Nation in NSW, and News Corp columnist Miranda Devine men-
tioned Cultural Marxism more than any other author, with 6 and 5 citations respectively.
While catering to a niche audience of more educated, traditionally conservative readers,
right-wing publications like The Spectator Australia and Quadrant have also seen an
increase in mentions of the Cultural Marxist conspiracy. In a notably early use of the
term in Australia, Cultural Marxism was described by Peter Coleman in an Quadrant
article from 2000, in which Coleman used an open letter by American religious conserva-
tive Paul Weyrich detailing the Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory to attack political cor-
rectness in the Australian context. Many of the essays that followed in The Spectator
Australia and Quadrant that took up the Cultural Marxism trope reproduce Lind’s argu-
ments almost unchanged, but do not cite him directly, instead mentioning the Frankfurt
School and Gramsci’s‘long march through the institutions’quote as supporting evidence
for their argument. This style of reference was occasionally drawn upon in News Corp
papers. In February 2016, for example, the ABC political editor of the time, Chris
Uhlmann (2016), wrote in The Australian that ‘Frankfurt School academics ﬂeeing Adolf
Hitler’s Germany transmitted the intellectual virus [of Cultural Marxism] to the US and
set about systematically destroying the culture of the society that gave them sanctuary’.
More often than not, however, Cultural Marxism was most frequently invoked in an
oﬀhand, matter-of-fact way in News Corp articles, synonymously with political correctness.
On social media, posts referring to Cultural Marxism had the largest audience on Face-
book. For example, the following far-right Australian Facebook pages shared content that
mentioned Cultural Marxism: The Australian Tea Party (136,157 likes),
Australia –‘Love it,
or Leave’(54,118 likes)
and Australian Liberty Alliance (57,524 likes), amongst others. Still,
many similar Australian far-right Facebook pages did not use the term. We identiﬁed a
handful of accounts mentioning Cultural Marxism on Twitter, which appeared to be the
second most popular social media platform for Australian right-wing content. These
included the far-right extremist and leader of the United Patriots Front Blair Cottrell
former Leader of the Australian Labor Party and current state leader
of One Nation in NSW Mark Latham (33,900 followers) and One Nation Senator Malcolm
Roberts (14,800 followers). On Reddit, only the inactive subreddit r/AltRightAus (190
members) and its oﬀshoot r/apskeptic (54 members) hosted any Australian far-right pres-
ence. However, using redditsearch.io (a web tool that allows users to search Reddit’s API
for comments and posts), ‘Cultural Marxism’was found to have been mentioned in 430
comments in r/Australia. For comparison, ‘political correctness’was mentioned in 2,407
comments in r/Australia. We also explored Gab, a social media platform popular with
the American alt-right which functions as an alternative to Twitter, but there were few
active accounts focusing on Australian politics and only three posts mentioning the
term. Overall, Cultural Marxism was more frequently mentioned on far-right internet
blogs and ‘news’and opinion sites than in general social media discourse, especially
those modelled after the alt-right such as XYZ and The Unshackled. Created at the peak
of Breitbart ascendancy in 2015 and 2016 respectively, both produce content that pro-
motes the Cultural Marxist conspiracy and are moderately popular, with XYZ having
13,395 likes on Facebook, while The Unshackled has 22,297.
Where Cultural Marxism has not been mentioned is also revealing. Our ﬁndings suggest
that it has not gathered traction with the ‘old guard’of conservative right-wing commen-
tators and politicians. Despite traditionally holding a great deal of power as key voices of
conservative politics in Australia (Turner, 2009), we could ﬁnd no evidence of Cultural
Marxism being referred by popular talkback radio ﬁgures such as Sydney 2GB’s shock
jock, Alan Jones. Many inﬂuential right-wing newsprint commentators have also not
directly mentioned Cultural Marxism, even as they hold ideological stances, discuss
themes or make arguments which align with others who use the term. While prominent
conservative Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt has been credited with popularising the
concept in Australia by Zappone (2017), he has in fact only mentioned Cultural Marxism
once, quite surprisingly in a 2002 article commending the work ethic of Asian and
Jewish communities (Bolt, 2002). Other columnists like the Daily Telegraph’sPiers
Akerman (2017) have referred to a ‘Marxist-inspired agenda to destroy the Western struc-
ture of government’but never speciﬁcally use the term ‘Cultural Marxism’. Whether
Akerman and others have simply never heard of the phrase, or instead have preferred
not to use it, is unclear. Moreover, we did not ﬁnd many examples of the conspiracy
being invoked by political ﬁgures in the major parties: the only mention we found in
this regard was from Cory Bernardi, at the time a Senator for the Liberal Party, who in
2013 wrote in his book The Conservative Revolution that ‘cultural Marxism has been one
of the most corrosive inﬂuences on society over the last century’. The most notable and
SOCIAL IDENTITIES 9
sustained mention of the conspiracy has arguably been in the 2018 maiden speech of
Senator Fraser Anning, formerly of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party and Katter’s Austra-
lian Party, who mentioned Gramsci seven times in the speech, declared Cultural Marxism
‘not a throwaway line but a literal truth’and spoke of the need for a ‘ﬁnal solution’on
immigration (SBS News, 2018). Signiﬁcantly, while One Nation politicians like Malcolm
Roberts and particularly Mark Latham are amongst the conspiracy’s most vocal and pro-
minent proponents, party leader Hanson has not referred to Cultural Marxism in any
media, even as she has utilised other contemporary alt-right themes and language.
Localising a conspiracy?
The small but growing prevalence of the Cultural Marxist conspiracy in Australia since 2016
cannot be read outside of the wider rise of the far-right, in particular the development of
an ‘alt-right diaspora’of sorts strongly inﬂuenced by ideas, ideologies and digital content
originating in the US. Broadly speaking, our exploration of social media found that a
number of Australian groups on social media which adapted alt-right themes and tech-
niques to the Australian context, but that references to or sharing of content by Australian
(or at least purporting to be Australian [Workman & Hutcheon, 2019]) accounts on Cultural
Marxism often mirrored American sources. US-originated YouTube videos explaining the
Cultural Marxism conspiracy, for instance, were shared, as were some Cultural Marxist-
related memes. Likewise, Australian far-right blogs and news sites mentioning Cultural
Marxism mimic alt-right terminology and framing on a wide variety of issues, oﬀering a
mix of local and American-based stories with broader transnational internet culture
wars and alt-right talking points featuring prominently. In laying out its ‘cultural libertarian’
and ‘classic liberal’aims, XYZ declares that they ‘stand in opposition to cultural Marxism,
which seeks to bring about socialism by attacking political, cultural, social, and religious
norms and institutions –dismantling our national identity and the foundations of
Western civilisation’. While not explicitly using the term, The Unshackled similarly
announces that the ‘Red Menace’is back in the form of ‘the progressive left, social
justice warriors and the bearers of politician [sic] correctness and identity and victim
As is the case in North America and Western Europe (Jamin, 2018; Richardson, 2015),
references to Cultural Marxism in Australian sources were commonly discursively
entangled with appeals to (white) Western civilisation and anti-immigration politics,
with Islam featuring prominently. XYZ’s mission statement is a pertinent example, ani-
mated as it is by the claim that ‘Islam, which posed an existential threat to Western civi-
lisation for ∼1300 years has reawakened and declared war on us’.
It was not unusual
to come across the idea that Western civilisation is imperilled and caught between the
two threats of Cultural Marxism and Islam: a post by the ‘Inﬁdel Brotherhood of Australia
Resistance’Facebook group, for instance, warns that ‘Cultural Marxism and Islam grow
when good people say nothing’; a tweet by Latham similarly states ‘Trump 100%
correct: we must defend the virtues of western civilisation from radical Islam at one
extreme and cultural Marxism at the other’. Indeed, the Cultural Marxist discourse
appeared to be fully embraced by a number of explicitly anti-Islam groups, such as Mel-
We found numerous references to Cultural Marxism in the group’s
newsletter, QWire. Here, Cultural Marxism was said to be taught by ‘Left leaning academics’
10 R. BUSBRIDGE ET AL.
that ‘rush to defend Islam against so-called “Islamophobia”’. While less prominent, it is also
important to note that many sites, groups and pages popularising the Cultural Marxist
thesis produced antisemitic content, though this was more common on the very far
reaches of the white nationalist right. Many articles in XYZ, for instance, mention Jewish
globalist interests and the outlet has published pieces on Zionist conspiracies and
primers on Kabbalah and Talmudic Judaism.
We also found some points of distinction in Australian invocations of the conspiracy.
Speciﬁcally, while Leftist inﬁltration of education and LGBTQIA+ rights are common
themes in American discourse surrounding Cultural Marxism, these were far more promi-
nent in the Australia context, primarily in relation to the 2016 furore surrounding the Safe
Schools programme (Law, 2017). Founded in Victoria in 2010, the Safe Schools coalition
was a federally funded programme to reduce homophobia and transphobia, as well as
sexuality and gender identity related bullying, in schools. Despite receiving bipartisan
support for much of its run, in February 2016 The Australian newspaper ran a front-page
story headlined ‘Activists push a taxpayer-funded gay manual in schools’attacking the
programme, which was subsequently debated in parliament in a matter of hours (Law,
2017, p. 3). In the month following the initial story, The Australian published 27 almost
exclusively negative articles about the programme, including news pieces, opinion
pieces and editorials; over the next ﬁve months, the newspaper averaged one negative
story per day on Safe Schools (Ward, 2019). From the very ﬁrst article in The Australian,
which ‘revealed’that ‘a co-author is Marxist activist Roz Ward’(Ward, 2019, p. 222), the
spectre of Marxism has been an integral component of negative press, with a variety of
authors, commentators and ideologues accusing Safe Schools of being part of a wider
plot to impose the ‘kind of society advocated by Marx and Engels’,asDaily Telegraph
columnist Miranda Devine (2016) framed it. As manager of the Safe Schools coalition,
Ward’s political credentials as an actual Marxist have shaped negative reports of the pro-
gramme, ampliﬁed by a June 2016 controversy related to a Facebook post about replacing
the Australian ﬂag with a red one. Ward was subsequently forced to stand down from her
academic position at La Trobe University, with the programme oﬃcially ending in Decem-
While it is likely that News Corp journalists and columnists like Devine came across the
term in American sources, Safe Schools aﬀorded an opportunity to tailor the Cultural
Marxism conspiracy to the Australian context. Not all moralistic pieces against the Safe
Schools programme contained mentions of Cultural Marxism –as noted, prominent com-
mentators like Akerman eschewed this language even as they wrote about ‘the Marxist
agenda’–but many did. Writing for The Daily Telegraph (April 8, 2018), Devine describes
the Safe Schools programme as only one example of ‘cultural Marxist inﬁltration of edu-
cation from preschool through university’,deeming it a sinister programme designed to
reshape society by destroy the traditional nuclear family. In the memorably titled
‘Dumb, Sodomy and the Cash’,Quadrant’sMerv Bendle described Ward as ‘sexuality com-
missar for Australian schools’, and ‘at the core of coalition of organisations seeking to radi-
cally subvert the most intimate areas of social and personal relationships in the name of
Marxism and [LGBTQIA + ] ideology’(Bendle, 2016).
Indeed, many mentions of Cultural Marxism we found were linked to Safe Schools, par-
ticularly for conservative right-wing Christian commentators and political ﬁgures. Anning’s
account of the Cultural Marxist ‘silent revolution’in his maiden speech explicitly targeted
SOCIAL IDENTITIES 11
‘the so-called “safe schools”and other “gender ﬂuidity”garbage’, for instance (SBS News,
2018). Latham (2017) has invoked Safe Schools on multiple occasions, deeming it the latest
‘proliferation’of Cultural Marxism in the education system. The notion that Safe Schools
was part of a broader plot to transform Australian society was made explicit in an
image produced by the Australian Conservatives, of which Bernardi was former leader.
The ‘Rainbow Trojan Horse’, which was widely exchanged on social media by those
against Safe Schools and those mocking them, depicted a horse rolling on the wheels
of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Australian Greens, being led by ﬁgures
holding ﬂags bearing the terms ‘fake news’,‘political correctness’,‘Safe Schools’and
‘thought police’and shields decorated with the logos of the Australian Human Rights
Commission, GetUp! (a progressive campaign organisation), the publicly-funded Austra-
lian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and SBS, the national foreign-language, multicultural
media broadcaster (Ward, 2019, p. 225).
The importance of the primarily News Corp-led moral panic (Law, 2017) surrounding
the Safe Schools programme in popularising the Cultural Marxist trope in Australia
cannot be discounted. Even as we found that far- and alt-right content was often anti-
immigration and anti-Islam, Safe Schools has formed a nodal point for the promotion of
the trope, if not conspiracy, in the Australian context, with the targeting of left-wing aca-
demics, feminists, LGBTQIA+ activists and political correctness part and parcel of its many
invocations. Our ﬁndings are revealing of a split of sorts, where conservative print media
mostly emphasised Cultural Marxism in connection to education curricula and traditional
Christian views on sexuality and gender identity, while alt-right attitudes towards sexuality
at times diﬀer dramatically (Nagle, 2017, pp. 86–100), with opposition towards LGBTQIA+
communities often motivated by reactionary distaste towards feminists and ‘social justice
warriors’on the left rather than by conservative social values. At the same time, we found
evidence that alt- and far-righters in Australia were increasingly linking Cultural Marxism to
diﬀerent so-called ‘social engineering’policies of the ALP and the Greens, particularly
those related to LGBTQIA+ rights like Safe Schools. This far-right expansion of ideological
targets, from exclusive focus on immigration and Islam towards gender and sexuality,
which has also been noted by other researchers, can be productively read in terms of
the new discursive opportunities presented by the heightened public discourse surround-
ing the Safe Schools programme (Peucker et al., 2019).
Conclusion: from culture warriors to cultural Marxists
Writing about the ‘PC scare’in the early 1990s, David Bennett (1993,, p. 436) asks how ‘an
internationally syndicated scandal, mainly brewed and bottled in the US academy’(see
Berman, 1992) came to be the object of a widespread panic in the Australian media.
‘First imported in 1991 with syndicated articles from Dinesh D’Souza and David Segal in
The Australian’, PC panic was subsequently ‘laced with local ﬂavour for domestic consump-
tion’by conservative pundits in the corporate press before panning out to the television
and publishing industries, ﬁnally landing in debates about politics and public policy
(Bennett, 1993, p. 437). Some two and a half decades later, the Cultural Marxist panic
raises the same concerns of leftist teachers impressing their ideologies on impressionable
young students –but the alleged threat is much larger, with the added layer of a sinister
global plot carried out by invasive, treacherous ﬁgures colluding to destroy Western
12 R. BUSBRIDGE ET AL.
civilisation. Our research is suggestive of a similar dynamic driving the discourse forward
today: a US originated theory ﬁnds itself ‘exported along the Coca-Cola trade routes to
English-language media markets, where its political exchange value can be realised in
various local symbolic forms’(Bennett, 1993, p. 436). At the time, Bennett (1993, p. 444)
urged that taking ‘Australian media attacks on PC seriously’entailed recognition of ‘the
media’s own support for an apolitical pedagogy but for direct political action in the
reform of the humanities’. What might it look like to take seriously the moral panic sur-
rounding Cultural Marxism led by certain outlets of the national press? The PC panic
extended well into the 1990s as Bennett predicted and then some, becoming in fact a
mainstay in Australia’s culture wars. For the time being, at least, Cultural Marxism may
have perhaps faded from popular view along with the Safe Schools controversy, but we
are yet to grasp its potential legacies.
It is notoriously diﬃcult to measure the inﬂuence of the fringe on the mainstream, not
least because the because the ‘mainstream’itself is a social and political construct.
Approaching the fringe, too, in overly broad terms can gloss over the ideological distinc-
tions and struggles that take place within it, aﬀording the appearance of unity where there
is none. In Australia, the idea of ‘mainstream Australia’has been so hijacked and appro-
priated by political elites and the media that its representativeness can be called into
serious question (Soutphomasane, 2018, p. 47). Likewise, there is clear evidence of a
contest within the Australian far-right political fringe, with the ‘new’and ‘old’far-right in
competition for ideological dominance (Dean et al., 2016, pp. 134–135). Through the
lens of the Cultural Marxist conspiracy, however, it is possible to discern a relationship
of empowerment between mainstream and fringe, whereby certain talking points and
tropes are able to be transmitted, taken up and adapted by ‘mainstream’ﬁgures, thus
giving credence and visibility to ideologies that would have previously been constrained
to the margins. Here, it is not enough to panic and point the ﬁnger at the ‘obvious’threats
to liberal democracy in the contemporary political milieu –the alt-right, the far right, and
the extreme right –but also to pay close attention to the role of ostensibly ‘mainstream’
political and media ﬁgures who are arguably just as, if not more responsible in giving such
views the sheen of respectability and ‘normality’. In a time in which conspiracy theories
seem to have increased appeal –from QAnon to Pizzagate to the Eurabia conspiracy –
this task is arguably more urgent than ever.
1. Relevant data was catalogued in this process, including quotes, follower counts, number of
likes/retweets, dates, views and URLs.
2. Coined by conservative historian Geoﬀrey Blainey in 1993 and popularised by former Prime
Minister John Howard, the ‘black armband view’of history supposedly adopts an overtly
and unnecessarily negative view of Australian history, in particular the treatment of Aboriginal
peoples; its corollary is often deemed the ‘white blindfold’.
3. This is not to say concerns shared by the far and extreme right have not found electoral voice.
Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, a populist radical right party (Moﬃtt, 2017), has had some elec-
toral success in the 1990s and 2010s, and has consistently expressed a nativist and racist ideol-
ogy. More so, a number of scholars have charged the centre-right Liberal Party with
‘mainstreaming’One Nation’s policies by adopting the party’s messaging (Kapferer &
SOCIAL IDENTITIES 13
4. This conspiracy theory was even tabled in Parliament in 1996; see Adjournment: Immigration
Asianisation, Parliament of Australia, 28 October 1996. https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/
5. All ﬁgures were recorded on October 7, 2019, unless otherwise noted.
6. This ﬁgure was collected on October 18, 2018. This page appears to have been removed or
7. This ﬁgure was collected on October 4, 2018. Cottrell’s Twitter account has since been
8. It is noteworthy that this only comes at the very end of the mission statement with no mention
of Islam prior, however.
9. The Q Society’s electoral wing, the Australian Liberty Alliance (later renamed Yellow Vest Aus-
tralia), was launched in 2015, but has had no electoral success.
10. See: https://www.outinperth.com/cory-bernardi-has-visualised-his-rainbow-trojan-horse/
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