“In our fight against the devaluation of our society that we are witnessing, we must constantly strive for more values. The most important of them all is the one mentioned in the title of the quoted writer. We must fight against lies, and we must defend the truth. Truth alone will set us free, no one else! The wheel has already started turning in the right direction, and it won’t stop!” lawyer Andrej Fink told the “Demokracija” magazine (Democracy).
We spoke to Professor Dr Andrej Fink, a lawyer in the fields of the theory of the state, constitutional and international law, and international relations, about the culture war, cultural Marxism and the recent international developments marked by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. He taught public international law, international relations, and the history of international relations at a private Catholic university in Buenos Aires for thirty-five years, including as a full professor, and he is now a lecturer at the Catholic Institute – The Faculty of Law and Business in Ljubljana.
Professor Fink, The Pučnik Symposium in Slovenska Bistrica has just concluded, and there, you took part in a panel discussion entitled “The New Culture War: A Threat to Our Civilisation?” The starting point for the discussion was a book by the Venezuelan political dissident Alejandro Peña Esclusa, The São Paulo Forum and the Culture War, which was published in Slovenian at the end of last year. Given that you have spent most of your life in Argentina, in South America, I would like to start by asking you how well-known is the São Paulo Forum in Latin America?
I would first like to say that I think it is very important that this book has been translated into Slovenian. It is eye-opening, and it broadens horizons. It is comprehensible, synthetic, and clear. It will do a lot of good. To answer your question, right at the beginning, in 1990, when it was founded, the São Paulo Forum was not so well known, but then it gained traction year after year – thanks, of course, to the kind media that wrote about it. This always happened at the time of the annual meetings (sometimes every two years) that were held in various countries in Latin America. This publicity also depended on the political orientation of the countries hosting these meetings. Keep in mind that the Forum brings together all the left-wing parties and movements (as they define themselves) that join it. If they come to power, whether democratically or undemocratically, the country is already part of the international movement and contributes to the revolutionary dynamics of the region. In addition, this Forum has the closest connection with the world’s allied parties and movements, which help each other. We are talking about Latin America here, a continent where all sorts of movements and ideologies have long been experimenting, but whoever reads this book can see the model by which these forces are working everywhere. They are working in a similar, if not identical, way in Europe, where the main idea came from – and thus, we get to Slovenia.
To what extent have you followed the Forum’s work in the past?
With regard to the previous answer, we have been aware of and observed its activities, especially its propaganda activities, which have always been very pervasive.
I have to say that in recent years I have been very surprised to find out that left-wing movements are so strong in Latin America, that people there are so receptive to these ideas. When I read this book, it all became much clearer to me. Also, the fact that there are mostly left-wing political parties in power …
The strength of left-wing movements in Latin America is still very relative to beliefs. But however much of it exists there, it is based on poverty, which is very evident in some places. Of course, in the naturally rich Latin America, this poverty is the result of inadequate policies (to put it mildly). Instead of natural wealth (be it fertile fields, minerals, oil deposits, or natural sights that promote tourism) serving social growth and the development of national economies, it is being used for unregulated and incoherent depletion that does not serve the population at large. Instead of wealth being used for investments in industry, education and science, public money is going in all sorts of wrong directions, not least corruption, which is rampant in this region. This causes discontent, which is easily channelled and exploited by the above-mentioned movements, which secure supporters or voters by promising a better future and a fairer society. Of course, these promises have not yet been realised anywhere, as sixty years in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, with their rigid totalitarian left-wing governments, have shown very clearly.
Well, I have to say that I am amazed that the United States of America allows all of these left-wing governments practically in its “backyard”. Especially in light of the former Monroe Doctrine. I am also asking this because, for example, they did not remove the illegitimate Venezuelan left-wing President Nicolas Maduro from power …
The reason why the United States of America ‘tolerates’ having practically only left-wing governments in its ‘backyard’ is because they do not pose any real threat to its security at this time. In the Cold War era, it was different because the Soviet Union actively supported subversive movements throughout the region in order to weaken the US’s power in the world. After the implosion of the Soviet Union, its successor, the Russian Federation, was unable to do so. Today, however, China represents a greater threat, and it is very present in Latin America with visible investment and science, and we can only make educated guesses about their invisible ways, both in terms of military and intelligence influence. In regards to the Monroe Doctrine (in short, ‘America for the Americans’), in today’s globalised world, this doctrine does not need to be as directly applied as in the past (two hundred years ago, when it was formulated as a regional state policy) – if it even still makes sense today. We live in a completely different world, with satellite-based optical and auditory information, where the US has all events in the palm of its hand, on the table, and can react to them effectively and immediately. As far as armed intervention (it is difficult to imagine any other effective intervention) in Venezuela to remove the illegitimate President Maduro and the ruling establishment, in general, is concerned, it is unthinkable today, in these circumstances. From a legal point of view, it would be a violation of international law, but from a political point of view, it would be a wonderful ‘gift’ to Putin, because the US would do the same thing on its side as Putin did in Ukraine, and its support for the attacked would be left without credibility.
Let us return to the book The São Paulo Forum and the Culture War by Alejandro Peña Esclusa. In it, the author exposes this Forum and its activities, which are based on cultural Marxism. As we know, one of its founding fathers was the Italian political theorist Antonio Gramsci. You have written about his ideas in the past. Therefore, I would first like to ask you who Antonio Gramsci actually was?
Antonio Gramsci was born in Sardinia (Italy) in 1891 into a petty-bourgeois family of seven children. He was physically fragile but mentally very gifted. After a hard and poor childhood and youth, it was because of his talent that he managed to get into the University of Turin. After graduating, he first started work at the university, but soon began to work as a journalist, at the same time joining the Socialist Party of the time. Because of his physical weakness, he was not conscripted into the First War. Immediately afterwards, in an Italy victorious but internally torn by alliances, he became deeply dissatisfied with the Socialist Party, which, in his view, was burnt out and powerless. He, therefore, left it with some of his comrades and, in 1921, founded the Italian Communist Party and became a member of its central committee.
The following year (1922), he was sent as a delegate to the Third Congress of the Comintern in Moscow. Two years later (1924), he returned to Italy and was elected as his party’s deputy in Parliament, where the recently founded Fascist Party also had a large majority. For a time, he was protected by parliamentary immunity. Despite this, he was imprisoned in 1926 and sentenced to 20 years in prison for alleged incitement to inter-class struggle and sedition. He soon began to write his Prisoner’s Diary, as some people incorrectly translate the original title Quaderni del carcere (Quaderno = school notebook), because it was the only thing that he could get into prison. But in reality, this was not a diary but mainly philosophical-ideological-political reflections on what the Communist Party should do in the Italian conjuncture of the time. The texts were unedited and (deliberately?) somewhat obscure because of the prison conditions and censorship. He filled some fifty such volumes, which he then intended to perfect. In prison, however, his health began to deteriorate. Finally, he was sent to a Roman hospital, where he died on the 27th of April 1937.
Can you explain what the essence of his ideas was? Why is he regarded as a kind of founder of cultural Marxism?
Gramsci wrote only journalistic articles and reflections in prison. Since he died shortly before the Second World War, the turmoil of the war and its aftermath meant that for ten years or so, there was no opportunity for his writings to be studied by his followers. After the war, the idea of a violent revolution to conquer first Europe and then the whole world was also still prevalent among communists. But when it became clear that in Western Europe, the Communist parties would not come to power by any normal revolutionary route, the ideologues began to wonder – what now? Then they “discovered” Gramsci, who was elevated as a humane rather than a dogmatic Marxist. He is regarded by many as the most creative Marxist thinker of the twentieth century.
The main question that preoccupies Gramsci, still in Mussolini‘s Italy, is why the revolution failed in Western and Central Europe. He, therefore, wonders whether there was perhaps a flaw in Marx’s theory, and if there is, where and what it is. His answer is based, at its core, on the role that intellectuals and thinking people in general play in society, together with the role that culture, and everything related to it, plays in society. He is, therefore, interested in the world of ideas.
Gramsci’s central idea, with which he wants to find a way out of the failure of Marxism, is ‘hegemony’ or domination in society. In a capitalist society, the ruling class dominates (is the hegemon). It dominates by relying on moral, political, and cultural values that are widely dispersed throughout society as something that is self-evident. They are taken for granted because they are accepted by groups and “classes.” According to Gramsci, this taken-for-granted-ness has become so deeply embedded in the bottom of society that this sediment has taken on the character of ‘common knowledge’ or ‘common sense,’ which no one doubts. But this can happen or is happening with the help of the so-called civil society. Although this notion can be found in the work of other authors before him, one that wrote about this very closely to Gramsci is Hegel; this is still a kind of Gramscian originality, at least as he interprets and uses it. He divides Marx’s superstructure, probably following his predecessor Hegel, between civil society and political society. Political society is classical domination in the state and society through politics in the strict sense, through law and legal order, through the army, the police and other levers of public power.
Civil society, on the other hand, is the network of institutions and practices in society that operate at least partially autonomously from the state and through which individuals and groups organise and express themselves. This network includes the media, the school and higher education systems, spiritual institutions (churches), NGOs of all kinds, foundations, various social initiatives with different themes and aims, the conservative mentality of older generations, etc. In this area, there are usually battles between ideologies, worldviews and mental images, which are present among the simplest and most ignorant people as well as among the most sophisticated intellectuals. In this struggle, the winner is the one who can seize the intellectual lead, that is to say, the one who can determine what is to be thought, and the moral lead, the one who can say what is to be valued. Whoever can seize this ideological structure can impose new ideas and values.
Nowadays, everyone is talking about civil society, starting with the government …
Today, the term “civil society” is so widespread that it is being used by almost everyone, but I do not know if everyone knows its origin and, today, its changed revolutionary meaning and purpose. It originated, as I said, with Hegel, but until the Cold War, the term did not become prominent, except among a very select stratum of philosophers who were well acquainted with his thought. “Civil society” has always existed as something natural, but it only emerged as a specific tool (weapon?) in our country after 1991, at the time of democratisation. Until then, Gramsci’s thinking was not needed in our country, because we already had a Marxist government and system since 1945, which dictated from above also everything that concerned culture. But when that power collapsed, it was the “critical thinking” aspect that came in handy.
The classical Marxist-Leninist doctrine sought to undermine the political society of the country through the now familiar violent revolutions that we have known for at least a century. Gramsci, however, was not originally interested in this violent form. For him, society can only be changed by attacking hegemonic factors. This requires a counter-hegemonic struggle in civil society. The existing hegemony must be undermined, in order to make it possible for civil society to take over and establish a new hegemony that will change that society. In its wake, political society will also be changed.
Could we then say that he renewed the rhetoric, replacing Marxist economism with cultural economism, the class struggle with cultural struggle? And in doing so, he was acutely aware of the importance of cultural hegemony …
Gramsci, always a Marxist, also foresees an ultimate change in the economic situation, but for him, a change in culture, which means a change in values, is necessary before that. That is why he gives so much importance to intellectuals. With them and through them, Gramsci’s prescription can be carried out: to change the world of ideas so that the new ideas become the ideas of the world. And so, at its core, the revolution is complete. The vital element in all this is the control of the media. Gramsci – like Mao, quite contemporaneously – proposes a “strategy without time”, but not a long march through the hills and forests like the latter, but through the institutions of civil society. In this strategy, outrageous alliances have to be worked out to deceive the not sufficiently solid and informed people. This deception can happen even with the opponents of the Marxist idea, who are often unaware that they are blowing the revolutionary horn with some of their actions.
After the Second World War, Gramscian ideas were developed by various authors, but in different places and times, for example, the Canadian Robert Cox, and at the same time by the Frankfurt School, founded in Gramsci’s time (1923) – all of them began to develop their own “Critical Theory”. They all agree with the critique of Marxism as it began to take shape in the Soviet Union during the two wars and afterwards. What they all have in common is the observation that Marx’s prognosis for our times is insufficient and the need to shift the weight of thought and action (revolution) from economics to culture. This is no longer the capitalist-worker opposition. The struggle (conflict) must be transferred to other possible areas of conflict and contradiction in society (the family and inter-family relations, gender and all that goes with it, feminism, transgenderism, discrimination, war and peace or pacifism, education, the climate issue, the rights of indigenous peoples where they exist, theological issues in the Catholic Church and possible scandals, etc.).
So this is still a revolution, but different?
Of course. But the interesting thing about Gramsci is that he reverses the classical order: there is no point in trying to use a violent revolution to achieve power and change culture. On the contrary, first, the culture and its world of values must be changed, and then political power will fall into their own hands like an apple from the tree. That is why the struggle for the control of culture has been going on for a long time, not only in Slovenia but all over the world. This struggle is very “bloody” and relentless. Although not a single drop of blood has been spillt according to Gramsci’s recipe (that is why he was a “human Marxist”), there are no shots to the nape of the neck, no machine gun rampages outside the Kočevje karst caves, no concrete barriers in the mine shafts of the Huda Jama Cave. But the revolution is not over yet. It continues in a different way, but this way of revolution is worse. Before, bodies were killed, but the spirit remained healthy in the remaining people, despite the pain in society. Today, however, they are killing the brain and the soul with the help of the audio-visual media. Bodies are then no longer important. When the Berlin Wall came down, also in this country, the Gramscian prescription moved in with democracy. We were happy then, because the Iron Curtain had fallen, and we breathed freely. Then we joined the EU and NATO, but with democracy, the Gramscian recipe also crept in from the West. We unwittingly “fell” from a violently dominated one-party rule into a softer “democratic” version, which in turn contained the Gramscian virus. This virus was immediately put to good use by the transitional post-communists.
As we know, German philosopher Oswald Spengler wrote about the decline of the West well over a hundred years ago. So, is cultural Marxism a serious danger to Western civilisation?
It is a serious danger because, by its very design, it goes into society’s pores, into its molecules, because it goes inside the brain and into souls and corrodes them without people even realising it. Culture and its institutions take care of that. The classic newspapers and magazines have lost much of their former power today. The first in the ranks of this fight are the national media outlet, RTV, and radio stations, which are constantly, day after day, minute after minute, seeping into the minds of listeners. If the listeners are not sufficiently attentive and informed, they stick to these ideas like flies to honey. For the younger population, websites are leading the way. The comments found on the Internet show the poverty of mind of many.
Political philosopher Andrej Lokar recently said in an interview for the magazine Demokracija that today, we are actually facing “the successor or last birth of classical Marxism, the so-called Woke ideology, or the social-justice cult, as it is called by the members of the cultural right.” Is this really so?
Gramscianism and the “woke” ideology are intertwined. I would say that the first enables or awakens the second. The awakening was born almost half a century later in the USA, around 1960, in the very specific circumstances of the struggle for black equality. In the last decade, however, it has spread to all kinds of sectors in the sense of Gramsci’s ideas mentioned earlier. Both of these are about subversive work in civil society. It is important to be ‘awake’, but no one actually explains what that means, and so anything is possible in this field. So, there is no direction, no content, just a divisive dynamic. If there is any direction to be found, it is only in the subversion for domination of society. This is a real culture war in the world of values.
In his book Live Not by Lies: A Handbook for Christian Dissidents, the American writer, columnist, editor and journalist Rod Dreher highlights, in particular, the fact that in our time, the hard totalitarianism we saw in the 20th century in the form of fascism, Nazism and communism, has been replaced by soft totalitarianism.
I agree with the term and with the concept, if we understand it only in terms of external phenomena. It is true that it does not include, for example, concentration camps. But in a globalised world, we are all trapped in quasi-values that certain interests or centres of power want to impose on us. There is a lot of hardness in this totalitarianism. We must strive not to have our “soul” stolen, whatever our idea of it may be. Bodies without souls are the living dead.
I have one last question for you. How should we confront cultural Marxism in all its varieties and all the negative consequences it brings? Also, in light of the fact that in Slovenia, we have a coalition in power which is waging a cultural war against the very foundations of the Slovenian state, against the Slovenian nation …
Prime Minister Golob constantly mentions civil society, in relation to which he supposedly intends to lead the country into better times. He has even announced a coalition with civil society. It would be difficult to convince me that his conception of it does not have a Gramscian revolutionary charge, because “we know him by his fruits”. National values are under attack one after the other. Internationalists have no homeland.
In our fight against the devaluation of our society that we are witnessing, we must constantly strive for more values. The most important of them all is the one mentioned in the title of the quoted writer. We must fight against lies, and we must defend the truth. Truth alone will set us free, no one else! The wheel has already started turning in the right direction, and it won’t stop!
Andrej Fink was born on the 3rd of July 1947 in the Senigallia refugee camp near Ancona, Italy, to his father, Božidar Fink and mother, Valentina Kovač. He arrived in Argentina with his parents in June 1948. He graduated from the Faculty of Law of the State University of Buenos Aires. He obtained his doctorate at the Faculty of Law of the Complutense University of Madrid. He also studied political sociology, international relations, and foreign trade in Madrid. He also graduated as a Spanish translator from the Faculty of Law of the University of Buenos Aires. He holds a degree in military strategy from the Higher Military School. His professional experience includes 30 years of legal and translation practice. At the State University of Buenos Aires, he was a full professor at the Faculty of Law for thirty years, teaching the Theory of the State course, which included the history of political thought. At the private Catholic University of Buenos Aires, he taught Public International Law, International Relations and History of International Relations for thirty-five years, also as a full professor. He was also the Director of the Centre for International Studies at the same university for ten years. In 2017, he was appointed Professor Emeritus, and he still maintains contact with his former university regarding doctorates. He has also been active in the Slovenian national community in Argentina. In 2017, he returned to Slovenia permanently with his wife. Today, he is a lecturer at the Faculty of Business at the Catholic Institute in Ljubljana. He is the author of two books and co-author of four.