“The long march through the institutions”

In the course of an article about the Roman Catholic organization Communion and Liberation, a group with which the current Pope Francis was affiliated, one that offered a more orthodox alternative to Liberation Theology, Tracey Rowland describes two Marxist strategies for dealing with Christianity and for influencing the culture.  One is Stalin’s approach of violent revolution.  The other is Antonio Gramsci’s “long march through the institutions.”

From Tracey Rowland of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

In Marxist philosophy, the expression “cultural hegemony” refers to the beliefs, explanations, perceptions, values and moral norms of a ruling class whose worldview is accepted as the cultural norm or “universally valid dominant ideology.” According to the student radicals of 1968, the ruling classes of western societies had for centuries promoted Christianity as their dominant ideology, not because it is true, but because it served their political and economic interests. Thus, in order to destroy their power, it followed that one had to undermine the so-called cultural hegemony of Christianity itself.

Different Marxist factions had different ideas about how best to go about this. The Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci drew a distinction between what he called a “war of manoeuvre” and a “war of position.” The war of manoeuvre was the Stalinist model. One simply used political violence to achieve one’s ends. But Gramsci thought this would not work in the more highly developed Western countries. For these countries, he recommended a war of position. A war of position is one in which one first identifies “switch-points of social power” and then one seeks to peacefully take control of those switch-points. The switch-points all relate to the field of cultural values – in particular, the arts and education. The most important switch-points of power are positions like school principal, university professor, government policy maker, education department bureaucrat and journalist.

In 1967, Rudi Dutschke, a German student leader, reformulated Antonio Gramsci’s philosophy of cultural hegemony with the phrase, “The long march through the institutions.” Instead of a long military march, such as the one undertaken by the Chinese Marxist Maoist Tse-Tung, in the highly developed western countries the long march would be through the most culturally significant of our social institutions – that is, through schools, universities, courts, parliaments and through the media, through newspapers and television.

In Italy and in other countries to which the Comunione e Liberazione movement spread, CL became a movement of Catholic opposition to this long march. Giussani, in other words, was the foil to Gramsci. When Giussani died in February 2005 just weeks before the beginning of the papacy of Benedict XVI, it was Joseph Ratzinger who delivered his funeral homily. Referring to the turmoil of the late 1960s, Ratzinger suggested that the great temptation of that decade was to “transform Christianity into moralism, and moralism into politics, to substitute believing with doing.” Against this trend, Giussani’s movement stood for the principle that in all things, the encounter with Christ is central. Giussani offered a Christocentric reading of the Second Vatican Council, not a reading which sought to correlate the teachings of the Church to elements within the culture of liberal-modernity.

via Comunione e Liberazione: Christ and culture in the contest between Giussani and Gramsci – Opinion – ABC Religion & Ethics (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

Even though Marxist communism has collapsed in the Soviet Union,  do you see today’s radical left still following Gramsci’s tactics?  What about Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) and his comments about Christianity turning into moralism and moralism into politics?  Is this a danger on the right as well as the left?

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About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Dave

    “Conservatives” still send thier kids to government schools and universities. They still watch tv and go to movies.

    This inability to reject these purveyors of cultural Marxisism is thier undoing.

  • Tom Hering

    I bet they dance, drink, and smoke too. :-D

  • sg

    Have you noticed how the commies never actually build anything great? They only destroy, either from outside or within. It is just idolatry and a war against both humanity and the commandments from beginning to end.

  • sg

    When Giussani died in February 2005 just weeks before the beginning of the papacy of Benedict XVI, it was Joseph Ratzinger who delivered his funeral homily. Referring to the turmoil of the late 1960s, Ratzinger suggested that the great temptation of that decade was to “transform Christianity into moralism, and moralism into politics, to substitute believing with doing.”

    Quotes like this sure do make Ratzinger awfully lovable.

    Hey, come to think of it, why didn’t we hear people having fun with Ratzinger’s name? In English, at least, it is pretty funny. I am thinking there could be some fun rodent exterminator or corruption opposer plays on his name.

  • http://www.gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    “do you see today’s radical left still following Gramsci’s tactics? ”
    I see the radical left triumphant. Few of our children will believe in the Gospel, few will go to heaven. What church that is left in the next generation must be in the model of the post Roman monastic church, or more poignantly, a church that begins Her own ‘march through the institutions’. This will demand a type of moral subtlety (subterfuge, evasion, even deceit) that we are not now comfortable having. But secrecy has been needed in the Church’s life whether it be the spies in Jericho, or the house churches in Caesar’s household.

    A time is coming, and may now be here, when the institutions which our father’s fought to protect so that the Church may be safe and free, these institutions will be our mortal enemies, seeking to destroy us. How many Christian parents have spent thousands of dollars to send the children to college only to have the children return rejecting their parents most cherished beliefs? The Boy Scouts have a merit badge called “God and Country”. I find myself wondering, “Which is it? God or Country?”

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    I see this situation probably turning around as more and more people are homeschooling their kids, and those kids growing up and taking positions of leadership in our country.

    The influence of public schools on our culture has been this county’s undoing. The undoing of the public schools influence on our culture is the antidote to the Marxist’s “long march.”

  • sg

    I think the commies drank too much of their own kool aid. I think they are about to collapse under their own weight. Stuff that can’t go on for long, doesn’t. Commies don’t have any foundation. Why would they need to march through the institutions if they could build their own? They can’t build their own. They are parasites.

  • Grace

    So many excellent points on this blog.

    SG @ 3 ➔ “Have you noticed how the commies never actually build anything great? They only destroy, either from outside or within.”

    SG, I doubt the vast majority have ever noticed.

    Pastor Spomer @ 5 ➔ “I see the radical left triumphant. Few of our children will believe in the Gospel, few will go to heaven. “

    I grieve reading what you’ve just written. It’s the truth, but it still hurts.

    The “falling away” is observed right now, we can see it in the United States and abroad, people rejecting the LORD, seeking their own pleasures, sinning with no shame, making laws which allow more sin. 2 Thessalonians 2 reflects what we see today.

    Mike @ 6 ➔ “The influence of public schools on our culture has been this county’s undoing. The undoing of the public schools influence on our culture is the antidote to the Marxist’s “long march.”

    The public schools have done much damage. Namely sending young girls who wish abortion to the nurses office – we know what that’s all about. There are many areas where they have inflicted/taught their pagan beliefs to our children.

    Mike, I don’t think people “homeschooling their kids” is going to take off. The reason is; all too many mothers have to work, there is NO CHOICE. I’ve met women who would love to stay home and care for their children, but it isn’t a possibility. It’s cruel for any of us to insist they could stay home, coming up with ideas that don’t apply, will not pay the bills. People in this country are hurting. The church needs to step up and help.

    GOD help us, guide us, to reach out to those who need a helping hand.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    I’ve started taking part in my church’s youth group, and it occurs to me that probably a bigger factor than the government schools is that churches aren’t catechizing the young well. All too often, we learn get along and morality but not the Gospel.

    Or, put differently, the left would not be able to capture the nation’s institutions if the young had been trained in real Christian faith instead of a sham. They would see through the nonsense a lot quicker.

  • SKPeterson

    bike – as an elder I can tell you that the pressures are at odd variances. Our previous assistant pastor (he went back to CSL for his phd) was a stickler for teaching the Catechism and memorization of the various parts. Parents complained that it was too hard. The current assistant has taken to referring to the Catechism and then discussing the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer, Apostle’s Creed and Ten Commandments with the confirmation students. The parents now complain that the instruction is too weak.

    We are very good at complaining about how poorly schools educate our children, but when standards are applied and enforced far too many of us whine and complain about how unfair the standards are and that they need to be relaxed. Slackers and the uneducable are someone else’s kids; my kids just need proper motivation and some understanding.

  • Grace

    Bike,

    I agree with all you’ve stated, – teaching the Gospel to our youth.

    There is another aspect to this Bike, some of these youth don’t talk about what’s going on at home, some of which is pretty bad. The kids are ashamed of their home life, it’s hard to delve into someone’s life (to understand their pain and personal conflicts ) if they don’t want to share. In fact it’s one of the worst things one can do — kids hike away from prying eyes. The church needs to build trust, .. that’s real hard for most kids, until they see you’re really there to help.

    God bless you for stepping up, and helping your youth group.

  • rvs

    The phrase “critical thinking” is often used in higher education as a code word for a certain kind of posture against belief–in my experience. The hermeneutics of suspicion vs the hermeneutics of belief–that sort of thing.

    Yes, Marxism is alive and well in American higher education, and it carries with it the worst types of intellectual tyranny (the dictatorship of the proletariat never ends and certainly has very little to do with the proletariat). I’m waiting for Ben Stein to do a follow-up to Expelled involving American humanities departments. Cultural studies–in particular–has had an absurd effect.

    Christian higher ed in the humanities is perhaps on the front cusp of an interesting push-back.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    Grace; my wife has found that bringing our toddler to youth group gets some of them to open up. Oy, what we have learned!

    SK; when my family left our former church (see my comment #18 or so in the “bad sermons” thread), one of the things I did to counter the hyperfundamentalism (I don’t drink and I don’t chew, and I don’t go with girls that do) we had encountered there was to teach my kids what the real Fundamentals are, and what the five Solas are.

    I’m also learning–this is with the government-schooled kids in youth group–that there seems to be a way to “nudge” them to more thinking than the schools allow them to do. Hint; if you set up catechism like a class, you’re in for a rough ride. Structure it as a delightful exploration of the faith, and it’s a blast.

  • Bradley Laing

    I have read Antonio Gramsci. To start with, any later ideas about Gramsci, dating from 1967, just confuse me. What Gramsci was trying to do was explain why Italy, in 1921, did not have a Russian Revolution. To use a metaphore, Gramsci thought the Russian Revolution was a Communist Revolution with a Russian paint job. I think the revolution of 1917, was a Russian Revolution with a Communist paint job.

    Gramsci was trying to describe the ruling class of Italy in 1921, and why it hung on instead of being overthrown in a Communist Revolution. His explination was that “in Russia, the state was all,” and overthrowing the state took capitalism down with it. Italy, in 1921, had multiple strong institutions that acted as “protective ditches” to prevent a Communist Revolution.

    As stated, the big question is: was the Russian Revolution of 1917 a Communist Revolution with a Russian paint job, or a Russian Revolution with a Communist paint job?

    Gramsci also, in his writings, described arrests in rural Italy for beastility, as though that crime happened because of the environment the criminals grew up in, instead of as something involuntary, like epileptic siezures.

    I have no idea how to prove, or disprove, that beastiality is a learned behavior from the environment, as opposed to something that happens without the environment being invovled, like paranoid-schizophrenia. But Gramsci, writing in the 1930s, clearly thought it was.

    I am sure that up until the 1960s, involuntary neck movements were seen as having their origins in psychology, not neurology. And that by the 1980s, the psychological explination had been abandoned in favor of a neurological one, something that the patients of the 1960s lived to see in the 1980s.

    If involuntary kneck movements switched from having an environmental cause toa nuerological cause within the livfetime of the patiens involved, it’s hard to believe Gramsci’s theories were water-tight, that is for sure.


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