IT’S an odd feeling, when your own nerdy obsession becomes somebody’s demonic other.

Earlier this week, hard Brexiteer MP Suella Braverman said in a speech at Westminster that “as Conservatives, we are engaged in a war against Cultural Marxism. We’re engaged in a battle against socialism.”

The second bit isn’t so surprising. But whatever could “Cultural Marxism” be, as something to go to war with?

The term is a regular phrase of abuse used by alt-right media outlets in America and Europe. And whenever I’ve seen it, I’ve always felt particularly got at.

If I could describe my own intellectual formation as anything, it would be – small c, big M – cultural Marxist.

I can quote you all the academics (believe me). But the basic idea of it is that you believe that history is made by humans struggling for control of resources (the Marx bit) and that culture is as much a resource to be struggled over as economics or politics.

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The cultural Marxists I knew, from my university studies – like Antonio Gramsci, Theodor Adorno, Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall – were interested in how the arts, news and media operates, to frame reality and shape our mindsets.

When I were a nipper, Thatcherism was the great case-study in all this (ironically for Ms Braverman). A quiet cohort of right-wing think tanks, journalists and politicians had been seeding concepts into British culture for decades, trying to build what the Gramscians would call “a new common sense”.

Thatcher was the everyday philosopher of this. “There is no such thing as society, only individuals and families”. “The point of economics is to change the soul”. Public services were evidence of “market failure”.

We now celebrate “enterprise” in all its forms – it almost seems a neutral term. But we forget that early Thatcherites were promoting an “enterprise culture”, to smash what they called “dependency culture”.

The people that I call cultural Marxists were analysing all this at the time, with horrified admiration. The great British-Caribbean scholar Hall described Thatcherism as a “regressive modernisation”.

It not only smashed up the post-war welfare state and nationalised industries, but did so in the name of historic national greatness (reinforced by some light warring in the South Atlantic).

I was so struck by these theories in the late 80s that I crowbarred them into a pop song I wrote with my brother for Hue And Cry, titled “Labour of Love”.

The lyric takes the point of view of a working-class southern Tory voter, whose seduction by the strong leadership of Thatcher (“Loved you putting me down in a totally new way/Down with the sad old, bad old days”) eventually unravels, as the economic harm of her policies bites.

Starry-eyed thinking, from me –and as Brexit grinds on, with those standing to lose most from leaving the EU still stalwart in their support for Leave, it feels even starrier. But at the very least, the techniques of cultural Marxism – as I understand them – compel you to stay sceptical about anything and everything that comes across your screens.

The Establishment are battling for your consent (or maybe even your indifference) to their operations – and they’re doing it through cultural means. So stay alert. Cultivate your alternative world views and conversations.

Now here’s where it all goes upside down in the mirror. When Braverman uses the term “Cultural Marxism” – capital C, capital M – she’s actually implicitly pointing to some of these same theorists. But Braverman thinks their ideas are secretly running what the alt-right thinks is the current “Establishment”.

For the alt-right, it’s theories of “Cultural Marxism” that underlie demands for sexual and gender diversity; for recognising the legacies of colonialism and empire; for advocating new systems to respond to climate change. It’s the “theory” – but worse than that, the conspiracy – that stands behind the phenomenon of “political correctness”.

The National: Alt-right activists marching in Charlottesville in 2017Alt-right activists marching in Charlottesville in 2017

There is a fetid, anti-Semitic element to their story about Cultural Marxists. This is the idea that Jewish-born Marxist thinkers like Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse fled to the US (as exiles from Nazi Germany), and steadily spread their radical critiques of societal norms into American academic life. (Pre-Nazi conservatives in Weimar Germany also railed against “Cultural Bolshevists”, for much the same reasons).

Having established their academic beachheads, they then kept the door open for a next wave of equally deconstructive thinkers from France – like Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Julia Kristeva, Gilles Deleuze – who further influenced the humanities courses of the US. French philosophy intensified scepticism about “traditional values” (family, country, white supremacy) among a generation of students.

And, claim the alt-right, these graduates have fanned out into media, Hollywood and the tech sector. They have translated their world-views into a new “common sense” about sexuality, multiculturalism and the legacies of colonialism.

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Now, stand back a bit. Do you see the mirror effect that’s going on here? Both sides, alt-right and progressive left, actually share the same fundamental insight, taken from those who “culturalised” their “Marxism”. Meaning both sides believe that the decisive battles for control of a modern society take place in the realm of culture, narrative and imagery. The point is to mobilise the soul and psyche of the citizen, before you engage her or him with facts and stats.

But these are real battles, involving skirmishes, victories and losses. You could call it hypocrisy that a tsunami of alt-right media, trying to occupy every crevice of your mind, pushes a message through their many channels about the “evil mental manipulations” of Cultural Marxists.

Or you could call it trying to smash your enemy to pieces, establish your truth in their rubble, while deploying their own weapons against them.

C’est la guerre. But jings, it’s exhausting. And what might be wrong with both sets of “culture warriors”, in this age of pervasive and integrated media spectacle, is that they presume we’re all desperately consuming their output, glommed to our terminals.

One of the great legacies of the indyref seems to be a thoroughly revitalised civic culture. One made up of actual meetings, involving free associations of real people, sitting in bricks-and-mortar halls. Anything can happen when we interrupt our addicted trance with our digital devices, and turn to face our colleagues and compatriots.

Yet it would be wrong to portray this as an anti-media phenomenon. More cleverly, it’s often a conscious choice to consume useful, inspiring and educative media.

My friend and colleague, the filmmaker known as Phantom Power, has found that his “Nation” series of mini-movies – freely available on YouTube – has become the basis for a vibrant circuit of public screenings and discussions (often chaired by his co-producer, Lesley Riddoch).

There is no point in denying that the indy movement is also involved in a “cultural war” for Scottish “common sense”. But there are weapons to pick up, and weapons to leave on the table.

After watching one of these thoughtful, discursive, often beautiful documentaries on how other small nations thrive, you’re hardly consumed with a rage to smite your enemy. A yearning to emulate the excellence on screen, perhaps – in the place you’re in, and at the Parliament not that far away from you.

We may all be cultural Marxists now – fully aware that culture and its impact is as crucial to our project’s victory as economics and statistics. But I value that sensibility in the indy movement which is gentler, quieter, interested in relationships, in building a complex consensus and in all levels and subtleties of empowerment.

A First Minister more interested in contemporary literary fiction than macro-economic tomes may turn out to have the best training in order to guide the country through the next 10 years. Something that great aesthetes like Adorno, Marcuse, Williams and the rest would probably be delighted to know.