“I’m a trained Marxist,” a woman in the PhD cohort ahead of me proclaimed with open pride at a department-wide event held for the Queen’s University English department when I was a graduate student there.
“We are all trained Marxists here.”
Not a word was said, not an objection raised in response. But why should a student of literature be any kind of Marxist, much less a “trained” one? Shouldn’t such a student still have an open mind?
In my first column of this three-part series, I detailed my initial hopes for the future of the humanities when I entered university as an undergraduate. It is my intention here to shed light on what I consider the most concerning issue that faces my generation: a crisis whose birth I witnessed first-hand while pursuing my M.A. in English language and literature. This followed two years spent living either in extremely close proximity to or directly in the maws of literal Communist regimes in east and southeast Asia – North Korea, China and Vietnam.
The time abroad bestowed upon me this particular understanding – to distinguish a totalitarian from a free society in which the individual would choose to dwell. What I then witnessed at Queen’s was the full-scale breakdown of a Canadian university into an ideologically defective and indescribably dangerous place for the free thinker.
This manifests and takes hold ideologically in the university classroom from the very outset, with the establishment of classroom and program expectations. As I detailed in my previous column, the students – employed with the tools to disgrace and defame the greatest writers in the history of English, from Chaucer to Shakespeare to T.S. Eliot – did not read; they raged. It didn’t even matter if they had actually read, or could write: everyone got an “A.”
What was the point, when all one had to do to ensure a strong enough transcript for future applications to PhD programs was to accept and regurgitate the externally imposed beliefs?
These are the classroom effects of radical leftism – neo-Marxism, postmodernism, wokism, call it what you will. But where does all of this come from? Our academics in fields including (though far from limited to) the humanities are not engaged primarily in the deep and generative study of the great books, people and events in the human story. One must become an activist in order to become an academic in Canada.
With the backing of the state and taxpayers’ money, our universities have become weaponized propaganda wings; inflated grades reward the brainwashed, filling seats and keeping students in line. This has been driven by postmodern neo-Marxism, which swaps the economics of Marx’s dogma for identity categories, including race and gender. This came about through the emergence of news in the 1950s-70s that the Soviet experiment had failed, following which self-proclaimed Marxist intellectuals – prominently including the Frenchmen Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida – looking to save face, applied the Marxist dialectic to a new target: humanities departments at universities across North America (Derrida had tenure at Yale).
Over time, and along with other drivers, the postmodernists turned academic research into a mechanism for the perpetuation of one objective: diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), or so-called “anti-racism”.
Growing at an unprecedented pace, DEI officers operate akin to legislators and censors in the Communist Party of China. This is no exaggeration; again, I personally experienced how Communist societies operate. Canadian DEI officers dictate policies such as “trigger warnings” and prescribe what beliefs we must hold about ourselves and our fellow human beings, through what they euphemistically term “cultural sensitivity training” for staff and students.
They also assume the role of watchdogs, policing “microaggressions” and handling complaints from students against professors whose perspectives dare challenge contemporary orthodoxy.
Although the DEI apparatus avoids explicit references to Marx, it faithfully upholds the dialectic of oppressor and oppressed that Marx asserted. Its influence and power metastasize, systematically eroding the foundations of our academic disciplines, including the humanities, social sciences, and now even infiltrating STEM fields and K-12 education.
I know because I escaped the thickets of “woke” ideological possession. It came as an awakening, at some point over that year in Kingston: that I had witnessed education conducted as it should be not in my home country, but in the Far East, where I had taken retreat between degrees.
In South Korea, students I met unhampered by insidious and contagious political propaganda in their study of philosophy, history and literature speak of the giants in their fields – including many Western figures – with the admiration and respect that one would hope professors in Canada would want to instill in their own students for the sake of the future of our own arts and political and cultural discourse. It is not a coincidence that South Korea has, for instance, become the new global centre for not only popular but culturally sophisticated cinema and television.
Canada’s higher education crisis has only escalated since my time in graduate school. I still often pause to consider what might have happened had I never taken those two years following my B.A. to teach, to read, and to learn how to write, alone as I was in my endeavours. I tremble, and I mean this literally: a shiver runs through me and I feel a cold, like the creeping up of a bitter wind before a broken, barren landscape, when I contemplate what otherwise could have unfolded, namely my own complicity and my own moral erosion in this, Canada’s own Cultural Revolution.
In the column that follows, I will lay out how this state of affairs came to be in the West, including Canada, drawing on shared human history, obliged to speak the truth of where we, as a nation, are at risk of moving from this crossroads.
This column is based on Part 2 of Brock Eldon’s nonfiction novella, Ground Zero in the Culture War, which was recently published in three instalments (accessible here, here and here) in C2C Journal.Brock Eldon teaches Foundations in Literature at RMIT University in Hanoi, where he lives with his wife and daughter. A graduate of King’s University College at Western in London, Ontario, and Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, he writes fiction and non-fiction and can be followed here on Substack.