Not Maoists, but Tory Trots


I was amused, but also frustrated, to watch the media over Christmas get themselves into a tiz about whether the Government are “Maoists”. The Financial Times even went so far as to construct a sort of Mao-Metre for individual policies – amusing, but unfortunately a bad historical parallel.

By “maoist” the media – egged on by Vince Cable’s indiscretions – meant to convey the idea that the Government were engaged in some sort of ‘Great Leap Forward’ or ‘Cultural Revolution’. A much better parallel from Marxist history would have been Leon Trotsky’s idea of the “permanent revolution” – the idea of a permanent shift in power.

Trotsky wasn’t the first to use the phrase – Marx had too – but Lev Davidovitch used it in a very particular way. After the 1905 failed workers uprising in Russia, Trotsky, who had led the Petrograd Soviet, came to some conclusions.

Until then, most marxists believed that newly industrialising countries like Russia had to go through the same ‘stages’ as more advanced states like Britain. They were due for a bourgeois-democratic revolution which would replace feudalism. They thought that the new industrial proletariate would play a crucial role in this overturn, but that ultimately they would have to cede power to the bourgeoisie. Trotsky concluded after 1905 that the boruegoisie was too weak, and the proletariate strong enough, so that the workers could seize power. The revolution could be “permanent” rather than temporary because it would trigger international revolution and the new workers governments in the West would come to their aid.

To be fair to the Conservatives, David Cameron and George Osborne did make several speeches in the run-up to the General Election is which they intimated they wanted a permanent revolution of sorts – to a “post bureaucratic government”. Indeed they claimed theirs would be the first such in the world (just as the workers revolution in Russia would be the first).

(Further historical note: Lenin came around to this view in his famous “April Theses” in 1917, after which Trotsky joined the Bolsheviks. Stalin later took the Communist International back to the original “stages” theory).

So, they are more Tory Trotskyists than Maoists. I’m not sure what that makes Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats – I was tempted by alliteration to call them the Liberal Leninists. But after today’s UKGov poll that puts them on only 7% perhaps that should be the Liberal Lemmingists? A bit like the Left Social Revolutionaries who went into coalition with the Bolsheviks, and we all know where that ended up – with most of them in the Gulags.

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About Colin Talbot

Professor of Government. Universities of Cambridge and Manchester, England.
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2 Responses to Not Maoists, but Tory Trots

  1. David Walker says:

    The analogy is worth exploring. Trotskyites had a doctrinal base and, icepicks notwithstanding, a figurehead. What are the dimensions of the Tory leaders’ ideology? Do they have a book? I’d be surprised if Cameron had read any Hayek, though the special advisers might have. He evinces no obvious interest in ideas. If it’s ideology, it’s subliminal – perhaps more a vague intuition that the state is to be shrunk. But Tory ‘state theory’ seems even more incoherent than Labour’s. Thatcher was a segmented strong-stater – believed in police, defence and the maintenance of order. Cameron’s demeanour suggests more Oakeshott than anyone …cheers

  2. Flemming Bjerke says:

    Another Russian lesson: After a ruthless revolution comes increased repression and propaganda due to the surviving revolutionaries’ fear of the evidence of the absence of improvements.

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