Tory Maoism

In response to this tweet on the apparent inevitability of an independent Scotland, professional lib Ian Dunt came in with a wild take that I’m going to be thinking about for a while:

Brexit plus Johnson equals this. It is as simple as that.

It didn’t have to be this way, even with the Leave vote. They could have pursued a compromise position which respected the views of Scotland and NI. They did not.

Instead, only the most extreme and aggressive version of Brexit was tolerated and anyone who disagreed was branded an enemy of the people. So this is where we are.

When the referendum comes, as it inevitably will, many Tories will insist on how much they value Scotland. If that was true, the party would never have elected Boris Johnson to lead it.

None of this would have happened if it was still, at its heart, a conservative party. It is not. It is party representing a kind of Tory Maoism — capable of tearing things down but not building them. The Union is likely to be its next victim.

Originally tweeted by Ian Dunt (@IanDunt) on October 14, 2020.

…Not least because I’ve spent most of this year pondering Alain Badiou’s version of this same take from 2007.

In an interview for, Badiou argued:

Throughout the Marxist and Leninist revolutionary tradition of the 20th century, the prevailing idea was that destruction alone was capable of opening a new history, founding a new man and so on. Mao himself said: “No construction without destruction.” Our problem today is that the destructive part of negation is no longer, in and of itself, capable of producing the new.

What’s notable, I think, is that, for Dunt, Maoism has become confused with the general impotence of postmodernity. That is to say, it is the very idea of the new that is itself in crisis; the Maoist charge of creative destruction is now dashed against the terminal beach of late-capitalist stasis and the end of history.

It is telling, really. The announcement of the end of history felt like it was an opportunity for most conservative commentators to announce the death of historical materialism. After all, Walter Benjamin wrote that a Marxist view of history was essential to progress for the proletariat: “In every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it.” And that attempt is routinely made by the historical materialist who

will constantly call in question every victory, past and present, of the rulers. As flowers tum toward the sun, by dint of a secret heliotropism the past strives to turn toward that sun which is rising in the sky of history. A historical materialist must be aware of this most inconspicuous of all transformations.

The collapse of the Soviet Union was seen by many as a world-historical cauterisation of that necessary awareness from the left; the end of history was the apparent end to Marxism as a viable opponent to the global bourgeoisie. So to call a challenge to the Westminster establishment coming from a broadly leftist and more progressive Scotland the result of “Tory Maoism” is quite the turn of events! And what does that make Scotland’s willingness to destroy the union?

It’s fascinating that this melancholic call from the left now finds itself regurgitated by the right. The twisted logic of it all is even pretty hilarious. It sounds more like the Pandora’s Box that was neoliberalism has started to rot even at its source.

Scotland’s flower is turning away from a neoliberal sun and the liberal sees it as one of Mao’s thousand flowers blooming anew. The truth is that the UK is finally reaping what it first sowed.

I’m not sure that’s the most succinct analogy for Dunt’s pretzel of an ideological position. Nevertheless, you love to see it.


  1. There’s kind of interesting motif I’ve noticed where Maoism has become the go-to label for a wide variety of political phenomena that have bubbled up over the last several years. The one that comes to mind the most is the refrain that we heard from the right during the George Floyd protests: that the protesters, especially when things reached the ‘tearing down statues’ phase, were basically Maoists, and that what was happening was effectively a new Cultural Revolution. But in the wake of the elections, we’ve seen the term deployed by liberal commentators in connection to the sharp political divide between the urban zones (strongly inclined towards the Democratic Party) and the rural regions (dominated by the Republicans).

    I’m fascinated by the way that Mao(ism) is this thing that has returned to haunt the mind, in various and often contradictory ways. Clearly the deployment by American liberal commentators in reference to the election is distinct from the ‘Tory Maoism’ example (the critique of the George Floyd protests would be more directly isomorphic), but it is intriguing in its own right: one can argue — like Alvin Gouldner did — that Maosim a more ‘populist’ strain of Marxism, one that angled itself against the more technocratic form of socialism that was taking shape and being exported by the Soviet Union. The “bombard the headquarters” campaign exemplified this. Later, when Maoism was taken up by certain sector of the New Left, it was taking the precise form of an organizational-political critique of the managerialism of the Old Left and the first wave of the New Left. So it seems to me that there is a kind of skeletal repetition of this dynamic, where for the liberal (the technocrat-manager par excellence) can only see in “populism” (in quotes because what goes for populism is is largely a simulated construction; Baudrillard once wrote that the ‘silent majority’ is a sociological void, an implosion of socio-political management, but contemporary control systems have fabulated it into a quasi-potent political force) the echo of the Maoist uprising.

    Perhaps going to far afield, but part of me thinks that the ghost of Maoism stalks postmodernity because it contains within itself elements that might suggest direct ways of acting internal to the postmodern, i.e. the acephalic model of dialectic that foregrounds the paradoxical structure, the breakdown of stadialist accounts of historical development, the division of the one into the two, etc. But whether or not these actual open the door to something else is another question.

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