Picking up an earlier promise:
Red Toryism as a bourgeois utopia? I want to suggest that on top of a supposed return to conservative values, or even dipping into the tradition of Roman Catholic fascism (via Chesterton and Belloc), the determining feature of Red Toryism is its bourgeois foundation. The way into that argument is via Lenin’s critique of Narodism (or ‘populism’) of the late 19th century.
The Narodniks arose in the 1860s and 1870s in Russia, especially after the abolition of serfdom in 1861. They argued that capitalism was evil, especially in its international variety, and that Russia could avoid capitalism by focusing on the rural community – the famed ‘village commune’ (mir or obshchina). In this wonderful village could be found cooperation, communal values, virtue, the absence of exploitation and of capitalist relations. Indeed, they argued that the small peasant producer was far more efficient than the large capitalist estate with all its machinery and farm labourers and so on. In short, the source for socialism in Russia lay in emphasising the village-commune, overthrowing the autocracy and spreading peasant values throughout society. So enamoured with the village-commune and rural life were the Narodniks that they spent time learning peasant customs and dances, wearing peasant clothes and cooking peasant food.
The catch: the Narodniks were not peasants at all but bourgeois intellectuals. The village-commune was an ideal that hardly lived up to reality – as they found with the infamous ‘going to the people’ in 1874. The Narodniks went to the countryside to teach the peasants how to bring in socialism. No-one was interested. So the Narodniks decided the peasants were stupid, lazy and superstitious, requiring intellectuals to teach them the correct path. It’s a bit like the bourgie couple that takes a drive in the countryside, finds a cute village, sits in a cafe for a while muttering about how beautiful it all is, and eventually meanders into the real estate office to check out property prices – only to find that the locals are suspicious of them and that all the others in the real estate office are bourgeois visitors like themselves.
Lenin devotes a great deal of space in his early pieces to critiquing the Narodniks. He tackles the economic arguments and shows that the fabled village-commune has always been the basis for exploitation, that small producers are far less efficient, that the dialectic of capitalism is to break up the encrusted patterns of feudal oppression. Lenin isn’t stupid, so he does not write the Narodniks off completely. He appreciates their role as early socialists, he admires the desperate bravery of the Narodnaya Volya (‘People’s Will’) assassination group, and he also traces the subsequent influence of their ideas on the Socalist-Revolutionaries and Trudoviks.
All along, the deep problem of the Narodniks was their class base. The idealised rural village, the dreams of communal lives of virtue and cooperation, the effort to find an alternative path to socialism – all these are part of a bourgeois utopia. The outcome: when a limited parliament was established by the tsar after the 1905 revolution, those influenced by Narodnik ideals were all too ready to do deals with the bourgeois parties, especially the Cadets, or Constitutional Democratic Party.
The analogy with red toryism is remarkably close. Supposedly a return to progressive conservative values and opposed to liberalism, red toryism valorises the local over the global, family over its discontents (gays, single parents, promiscuity), virtue over cynicism, common custom over bland commercial labels, the communal values of the ‘big society’ over the dreadful effects of trans-national capitalist exploitation. And yet, with the 2010 ‘victory’ of the ConDem coalition in the UK, red tories – notably Philip Blond and Alasdair Maclagan – have become apologists for one neo-liberal policy after another.
A contradiction? A betrayal of the earlier espousal of conservative positions? Not at all, for like the Narodniks, the red tories are primarily bourgeois intellectuals. The local community was always a bourgeois utopia for this lot, so much so that they couldn’t give a damn about any community. Instead, with their class basis, they were always going to revert to type and do deals on any bourgeois/neo-liberal project.