The Long march through the institutions is a Marxist concept formulated in 1967 by the West German student movement leader Rudi Dutschke. Dutschke reformulated Antonio Gramsci’s philosophy of cultural Marxism with the phrase the long march through the institutions (German: Marsch durch die Institutionen) to identify the political war of position or incrementalism, an allusion to the Long March (1934–35) of the Communist Chinese People’s Liberation Army, by means of which, the working class or “oppressed” would produce their own intellectuals, civil servants, and culture (dominant ideology) to replace those imposed by the bourgeoisie or “oppressor class.”
Karl Marx spoke of a sudden revolution, where everything changes in a moment. Gramsci, the head of the Italian Communist party, was thrown in prison by Benito Mussolini, where he speculated on the failure of Marxist revolution in his Prison Notebooks, and attributed the failure to the cultural hegemony of the bourgeois oppressor class. Dutschke built on Gramsci’s writings by proposing a long march through the cultural institutions of society – the church, entertainment, civil service, educational faculties, family institutions and marriage – to replace the dominant culture and replace it with revolutionary godless cultural Marxism.
“Revolution is not a short act when something happens once and then everything is different. Revolution is a long, complicated process, where one [der Mensch] must become different…the process goes along this way, which I have once named ‘The Long March through the Established Institutions’, in which [institutions], through clarification [Aufklärung], systematic clarification and direct actions, awareness is brought [Bewusstwerdung] to further minorities in and outside the university, in schools, in trade schools, in engineer schools, also technical universities and finally in factories, where workers are currently worrying about their jobs. The process has begun, and that is a long story, which right now has been set on its course by us.”
Gramsci theorized that if Communism achieved “mastery of human consciousness,” then concentration camps and mass murder would be unnecessary. Mastery over the consciousness of the great mass of people could be attained if Communists or their sympathizers gained control of the organs of culture — churches, education, newspapers, magazines, the electronic media, literature, music, the visual arts, and so on. By winning “cultural hegemony,” Communism would control the deepest wellsprings of human thought and imagination. One need not control all information itself if one can gain control over the minds that assimilate that information. Under such conditions, opposition would disappear since men are no longer capable of grasping the arguments of Marxism’s opponents.