Conservative MPs and peers who referenced an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory in a letter to a national newspaper have been called out by Jewish and anti-racism groups.
The letter, published in the Telegraph on Monday, made reference to “cultural Marxist dogma.”
"Cultural Marxism" is a right-wing conspiracy theory with anti-Semitic origins, centred on the mostly Jewish thinkers of the Frankfurt School of Philosophy. It draws on the racist trope of Jews as a "fifth column" who want to undermine Western values.
The letter, in response to the National Trust acknowledging historic links between some of its properties and slavery, was signed by members of the so-called “Common Sense Group” of Conservative MPs and peers. They wrote that they want to “speak for the silent majority of voters tired of being patronised by elitist bourgeois liberals whenever issues such as immigration or law and order are raised.”
The group’s mission, the letter says, is “to ensure that institutional custodians of history and heritage, tasked with safeguarding and celebrating British values, are not coloured by cultural Marxist dogma, colloquially known as the ‘woke agenda’.”
Dr Edie Friedman, executive director of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality told VICE News that it was “not acceptable for politicians to use the term ‘cultural Marxism’. This has been promoted on the far-right as an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory and has a dog whistle effect.
“No political party should be making use of tropes which reinforce racist, Islamophobic or anti-Semitic sentiments to support particular arguments and policies. Politicians have a responsibility to use language in such a way as to bring people together rather than exacerbate divisions.”
David Lawrence from anti-extremism research group Hope Not Hate said: "Cultural Marxism is a conspiracy theory inflected with anti-Semitism and is commonly employed by the far right; it has even appeared in the manifestos of mass murderers.
“The fact that this letter has, so far, largely flown under the radar of the press points to the increasing sanitisation of the term in recent years; however, whilst some repeating the term may be unaware of its racist history, the anti-Semitic undertones of the conspiracy theory remain intact.
“Worryingly, this is not the first time a Conservative MP has referred to cultural Marxism, and it is further evidence of the influx of US-style culture war rhetoric into the British right-wing. These MPs should be embarrassed to have used this ill-advised term – and should avoid doing so again."
In October, Sir John Hayes MP, the lead signatory of the Telegraph letter, wrote in the Daily Express that “for such Cultural Marxists, identity must always be defined by a sense of grievance." The article criticised the National Maritime Museum for announcing that it wanted to offer “multiple perspectives on our history in a way that clarifies people’s ability to reflect on their identity” in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests.
Last year, attorney general Suella Braverman, then a backbench MP, used the term in a speech at an event about Brexit organised by the Eurosceptic think tank the Bruges Group. The Board of Deputies of British Jews called for her to clarify her remarks and called for her not to use the phrase again.
In 2018 Jewish organisations called for the Conservative Party to investigate after VICE News revealed that a bizarre propaganda booklet making reference to cultural Marxism was distributed at the party’s annual conference. The booklet, which also made reference to the Islamophobic and anti-Semitic “Great Replacement” theory, was available to pick up at fringe meetings held by the Bruges Group.
In an emailed response to VICE News, Hayes doubled down on the use of the phrase “cultural Marxism,” describing it as a “recognised school of philosophy.”
The Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory became popular on the right following the fall of the Berlin Wall. As the Cold War drew to a close, there was a political consensus around free market economics, but right-wingers complained that “traditional values” were in decline. Cultural Marxism gave the right a new enemy to mobilise against, in the form of politically correct academics, journalists and activists.
Other signatories of the letter did not respond to a request for comment from VICE News.