As a large rally against the Covid-19 regime approached the parliament building in Wellington, New Zealand, a gathering of masked counter-protestors awaited them. Having experienced some of the harshest restrictions in the world, Kiwis have good reason to complain, yet their procession was met with chants and placards accusing them of racism and homophobia. A banner asserting that New Zealand is ‘no place for hate’ seemed at odds with the good-natured cross-section of society that it was aimed at. The smiling faces on the freedom march contrasted sharply with this unprovoked, self-righteous rage.
The incongruence of such a scene struck me more poignantly than usual, because I was reading The Strategy of Maoism in the West by King’s College London professors David Martin-Jones and MLR Smith. This masterpiece of erudite socio-political analysis shows how an uncompromising form of Marxism practised by Chairman Mao and his henchmen in the People’s Republic of China was exported successfully to the liberal West. The book is very timely as humanity is threatened by global forces that are elusive to ready public understanding, yet immensely powerful.
In his Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong deployed people as weapons against the lingering traditions of society. In a land steeped in Confucius and Buddhism, Mao targeted the ‘four olds’ – old ideas, old culture, old habits, old customs, which perpetuated a false consciousness. The battleground was internal: Mao sought to remould minds and implant ideology, fearing that even the keenest fighters might regress. His antithetical Little Red Book was held aloft by the shrill youth of the Red Guards, and exported to student revolutionaries in the West.
But what is the relevance of Maoism today? Current social justice warriors may have a limited grasp of history, but the similarities in method and fervour, as displayed in violence against professors on American university campuses, are not merely coincidental. As Martin-Jones and Smith note, ‘from Peking to Pomona may seem a tenuous intellectual connection, but the resemblances are striking’.
The counter-protestors in Wellington were not covering their faces for public health. Since the turn of the millennium, leftist agitators have done this, partly to prevent identification, but also because the mask has symbolic value. It conveys collectivism, denying the wearer’s individuality, while avoiding dialogue with dehumanised opponents. We should abandon any notion of those bearing Antifa flags, waving fists for Black Lives Matter or insisting on transgender pronouns as being liberal. They are engaging in revolutionary struggle, a nihilistic onslaught that is tearing society apart. And that was always the aim of Mao, whose Cultural Revolution is now being repeated in the West.
Back in the 1920s the critical theorists of the Frankfurt School took the premise that nothing really changes unless the culture changes. Hence a Bolshevik revolution in the West would fail if driven by Marxist economic theory alone. Radical socialists needed to be patient, but it seemed that in the 1960s their time had come, with mass protests against the war in Vietnam and an outbreak of emancipatory movements. Student demonstrations, most notably in Paris, showed that the restless younger generation were ready for revolt.
The USSR had lost its shine as a socialist future among Western scholars and radicals. Avant-garde philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre pursued a more humanistic Marxism, and like his postmodern Left Bank peers, he was drawn to the thrust of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966. Straightforwardly dogmatic, Maoism was fresh and unburdened with intellectual verbiage; Martin-Jones and Smith remarking that ‘in comparison, European Marxists thought of the Lukâcs, Frankfurt School and Althusserian varieties (as) increasingly abstruse and impenetrable’. To the soixante-huitards, China appealed for its mystical ‘otherliness’, detached from their own culture and historical context, as a blank slate on which to build a socialist utopia.
The youthful New Left eschewed the materialism of Karl Marx, focusing instead on self-expression and identity. As the authors explain, ‘the affluent student products of the post-war recovery found the successful, stable Western democracies they inherited intolerably repressive’. In California, critical theorist Herbert Marcuse inveigled against mass consumerism and its illusions of choice. More significant was the undermining of parents and authority figures. According to Theodor Adorno in the Authoritarian Personality (1950), the bourgeois family maintained the psychological conditions for oppression at home and beyond. The crisis of modernity, as Júrgen Habermas argued, was not economic but cultural, with society stifled by linguistic norms.
While Jacques Derrida preached deconstruction in the West, in China Mao was applying it – brutally. But in the West, the lure of violent uprising faded in the 1970s. Instead, graduates of a growing and increasingly politicised university system embarked on careers in the professional bureaucracy, and strove to change society from within. German student activist Rudi Dutschke coined the phrase ‘long march through the institutions’, inferring Mao’s Long March to revolution. And this brings us to the crucial contribution of Martin-Jones and Smith: strategy.
Mao was aware of his popularity among Western radicals, who he indirectly supported through the propagandist United Front for Cultural Work. He planted a seed that grew slowly but surely into the triffid-like monster that dominates Western life today. Mao died in 1976, but his legacy is remarkable. His Red Guards are our ‘woke’ warriors, whose activities are not as organic or spontaneous as they may seem to a bewildered public. Social tensions and moral confusion caused by militant racial consciousness and transgenderism are part of a strategic destruction of the societal structures of faith, flag and family.
Just as Mao’s shock troops ransacked museums, burned books and harangued teachers, progressive extremists topple statues and erase cultural artefacts for the merest association with the slave trade of three hundred years ago. Each tranche of initiates pushes further than the last. Puritanical identity politics, based on spurious evidence of discrimination, relativist notions of justice and distortion of language, are a Maoist polarising tactic. While ‘grassroots activists in Red Guard style raise the consciousness of the alienated and repressed’, Martin-Jones and Smith explain that an enemy is always necessary.
Who is that enemy? Mao saw liberalism as more of a threat than reactionary conservatism, but this was never made too public. People of liberal bent, many of high intellect, are exploited through a disingenuous alliance. Ask any young progressives for the destiny of their espoused progress, and the probable answer is a vague ideal of equality and diversity. The desired future is an all-encompassing state, but the younger generations are being led by a Pied Piper, few realising that Maoism is the tune.
Radical demands are designed to appeal to the educated young, who tend to identify themselves as liberal. This again is Maoist practice, exploiting values, freedoms and rights to advance while actually having no respect for these values, freedoms and rights. Priming our ‘cancel culture’, Marcuse promoted restrictive tolerance, banishing speakers who support the status quo. Mao said that ‘as far as unmistakeable counter-revolutionaries and saboteurs of the socialist cause are concerned, the matter is easy, we simply deprive them of their freedom of speech’.
Like the Jesuits, a priority of cultural Marxists is to indoctrinate from the youngest age. Western universities have become finishing schools for progressive ideology. Hallowed institutions, purportedly a hive of liberal culture, are falling to cultural vandalism. Undermining of Enlightenment values is pervasive, as I found while lecturing on mental health at the same university as the authors: students were actively against debate, democracy and impartial justice.
Freedom of speech is reinterpreted as a licence for ‘hate’. Democracy is rejected because ‘populism’ delivers the wrong result. One of my nursing students, unchallenged by peers, opined that Brexit demonstrated that thick people should be deprived of the vote. Students do not respect equality before the law, because this would reinforce structural inequalities. I remember showing a slide about a tragic, random killing of a father outside his front door, as he went to post letters announcing his newly born daughter. The newspaper report included a photo of the killer, a psychotic Nigerian man. Instead of the intended discussion of risk management in psychiatric care, students turned this into a media studies critique of racism in the Daily Mail.
Technology enables students to operate efficiently as thought police, now that the forum for communication is primarily the internet. A spontaneous comment, perhaps in jest, but deemed offensive in some confected way, is enough for a student to be harangued or ostracised. Mao would have loved this powerful tool for dogmatism, surveillance and incitement. In this modern resurgence of the lynch mob, redolent of the persecution of alleged witches in past centuries, students are acting for rather than against the system. Just as the authorities pushed the witchcraft inquisition, vice-chancellors and senior administrators (particularly in the human resources department) ensure that everyone below slavishly follows the latest thing, from BLM to Ukraine. As the authors observe, the milieu has become a minefield not only for staff of conservative bent (a tiny minority nowadays) but also for anyone of classical liberal or common-sense perspective.
Objective enquiry into reality has been abandoned in favour of ideological narrative (sometimes in pseudo-scientific form, as in climate change) and the elevation of feelings over fact. Such phenomenology is an epistemological dead end, for as the authors remark, a statement that denies the existence of truth is itself a truth claim. Whatever the course, from travel and tourism to applied mathematics, critical race theory and gender politics are crowbarred into the syllabus.
Most educators are not ideologically driven, but are unwilling to challenge radical assertions, which soon become official policy, such as the ‘decolonisation’ agenda. Fearful lecturers may tell themselves that BLM is a necessary leg up for disadvantaged persons of BAME background, and that gender-neutral toilets are inclusive, but they should know better. After decades of peace, comfort and convenience, the intelligentsia lacks backbone, keeping their heads down as the revolutionary wrecking-ball swings.
Clearly we are not advancing towards social harmony, but to division and hatred, escalated by activists who claim to be fighting division and hate. Popular causes are regularly hijacked by Maoists. Bringing a lorry-load of professionally produced placards to rallies, the opportunistic Socialist Workers Party manipulates the event to ensure that their message is most prominent. ‘Refugees welcome here’, for example, might be the most visible slogan at a demonstration for public sector pay rises.
Maoism is not a pursuit of principle but power. It strives to smash the structures of society, using rage rather than rational argument, because this gets attention disproportionate to the size of support. Attack, attack, attack. Opponents are accused of the heinous crime of racism, immediately forcing them on to the back foot. The target feels the need to deny the charge, thereby accepting the premises of debate set by the other side, and losing the opportunity to make a positive point.
The insufficiently pious are attacked with Red Guard animus. For example, in a widely shared video at the peak of the George Floyd / BLM disturbances, a young woman in a restaurant in Washington DC was assailed by a baying mob insisting that she raise a fist in solidarity; on refusing she was surrounded and threatened. When footballers began ‘taking the knee’ before matches to display their support for BLM, the searchlight shone not on those engaging in this political act, but on any player who didn’t. Fans were ejected from grounds for booing this racially divisive gesture.
Society lays supine to the politicisation of everyday life. The Pride rainbow is plastered on every surface: from road crossings to fire engines. My Saudi Arabian PhD student was shocked when university badge lanyards issued for students were all in Pride colours; he was alone in requesting a normal version – which was unavailable at the time). Comedian Andrew Doyle, discussing his book The New Puritans (Mail on Sunday, 4 September 2022) recalled this typical but troubling instance of fanaticism: –
‘An actor friend of mine was contacted by her agency because she had not posted anything on social media in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. She was told she must do so immediately if she wanted casting directors to consider her for roles’.
Such is the moral decay of the West. Liberalism has destroyed itself by its unprincipled selective tolerance for dangerous, illiberal Marxists and intolerance for conservatives. For Maoists, however, there can be no common ground, only a battlefield on which liberals may be temporary allies. Whereas conservativism is to conserve and liberalism is to reform, Maoism strives to overturn. But for whose benefit?
Arguably, Mao’s Cultural Revolution was not primarily ideological, but to quash potential rivals in the Politburo, whose revisionist tendencies were apparent after the disastrous preceding strategy of the Great Leap Forward (as Yung Chang described in Wild Swans, the people were ordered to kill sparrows, leaving insects to thrive with resulting crop failure and famine). Visiting China in 1972, actress Shirley MacLaine was impressed by the communist government’s ‘totalitarian benevolence’, a term apt for the present dictatorial regimes, which justify their existence by crises (coronavirus, climate change and Ukraine – all to some extent manufactured). The concept of the greater good is emphasised, with sacrificial subservience, as conveyed by a resistance sticker during the Covid-19 lockdown: ‘save lives – stop living’.
Neither Mao nor the current Chinese Communist Party are openly revered in the West. But the Great Helmsman escapes the notoriety of other murderous dictators. If young Democrat voters were asked to identify the most evil leader in modern history, their bête noire Donald Trump would probably be not far behind Adolf Hitler. Mao is excused by many in academe for millions of deaths because supposedly he meant well. Philosopher John Gray deplored this ‘professional pirouette around a vast pile of corpses’.
After his Cultural Revolution inevitably led to factional chaos, Mao restored order with the army, and consolidated the centralised command of the party. Mao probably planned this outcome, using the problem-reaction-solution mechanism. David Icke’s claim of him acting as a globalist primer for a new world order may be stretching conspiracy theory, but clearly the West is becoming more like China.
Gender and climate change activists are mere pawns, unwittingly on the same side as the establishment, which has been well and truly overrun by Maoist marchers. Will citizens wake up before it’s too late? The prospects are poor, because as the authors see ‘a yearning for security and order (is) the default position of most people’. The problem is generated by Maoists, the reaction is provoked by Maoists, and the solution is Maoist: total control of the populace. The system is smart, the demoralised people docile.
Too often commentators focus on manifestations rather than underlying motives. Robert Oulds and I attempted to explain the culture war in our book Moralitis: a Cultural Virus, in which we differentiated the majority of followers as carriers of the viral ‘woke’ ideology, and the minority of proactive zealots as the contagious. But Martin-Jones and Smith, endowed with expertise in military and political strategy, have delved deeper into the diabolical source of the West’s cultural revolution. They name the beast.
Niall McCrae RMN, PhD is a social commentator with regular appearances on Unity News Network, Hearts of Oak, the David Vance Show and George Galloway’s Kalima Horra debates. His books include The Moon and Madness (2012), Echoes from the Corridors (with Peter Nolan, 2016) and Moralitis: a Cultural Virus (with Robert Oulds, 2020). He is an officer of the Workers of England trade union.
Author: Niall McCrae