If you want to understand the opportunism and shallowness of so much English commentary, look at how former Marxist-Leninists have prospered. On Radio 4’s Moral Maze or in the rightwing press the same names reappear: Claire Fox, Frank Furedi, Brendan O’Neill and Mick Hume. Their audience is not told they were members of the Revolutionary Communist party, which reconstituted itself as Spiked magazine, or that their careers provide a parable of modern media cynicism.
As Leninists they were the most ultra of the ultra-left, the type who would argue that sanctions against apartheid were a bourgeois compromise, or more funds for the NHS were palliatives that postponed the day of revolution. By the 1990s, they realised that socialism was a dead end. They grasped something else: if they abandoned their calls for revolution, but kept their denunciations of environmentalism, liberal elitism and help for the victims of genocide, they would never want for media work.
Mick Hume has now produced a defence of “democracy” against the attacks of “the establishment”. As the unwitting reader may buy it by mistake, I will explain what Hume does not cover. Democracy is indeed beleaguered. Fifty three per cent of the planet’s population – some 3.97 billion people – are controlled by tyrants, absolute monarchs, military juntas and theocrats. Hume has so little interest in the corruption and injustice they must endure, he fails to acknowledge their existence.
In Russia, the Middle East and the west, meanwhile, the global elite of wealth is producing a global argument against equality, including political equality. Look to the American and European right and you see Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Viktor Orban and Nigel Farage lining up with the Corbynista far left to applaud Vladimir Putin. The Christian equivalents of Muslim Brotherhood preachers among their ranks admire Putin for stamping down on women’s and gay rights. Agnostic members of the super-rich, by contrast, have turned on democracy because it gives the poor and the female the power to limit the wealthy. “The vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women – two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians –have rendered the notion of ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron,” the Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel explained a few years ago.
Any writer on the threats to democracy should wonder how extravagantly unequal societies can sustain an egalitarian political system. Any writer with a knowledge of history should know that anti-democratic theories can turn into anti-democratic practice. In North Carolina, for example, Republicans engaged in what Americans euphemistically call “voter suppression” to stop poor blacks reaching the polls. When these failed, they attempted to strip the newly elected Democrat governor of his powers.
Hume has not the sense of duty to his readers or what passes for his intellect to deal with the power of the moneyed elite Donald Trump so conspicuously represents. Instead he flags himself as open to offers from the BBC and rightwing press by telling us that it is the beaten opponents of Trump and of Brexit who are the real elite, whose anti-democratic illegitimacy must be exposed and denounced. He has produced a Daily Mail-style “liberals are the enemies of the people” op-ed, and extended it to book length.
I should, I suppose, give him a lesson on basic political philosophy. I doubt he will understand it, but let me try. Democracies consist of competing elites. But the elite that always matters is always the elite in power. In Britain’s case it is the pro-Brexit elite. In the case of the United States it is the Trump presidency and the Republican Congress. Trying to write an anti-elitist defence of the elite in power is to borrow Peter Thiel’s word “oxymoronic”. Moronically oxymoronic, in fact.
Democracy comes in many forms. By one reading the pre-civil war United States was democratic when the white majority enslaved the black minority in North Carolina and across the south. Modern democracies, in their elitist decadence, include protections against the tyranny of the majority, the most essential of which is the right to argue against the rulers of the day without becoming an “enemy of the people”.
That Hume knows nothing of this and continues to insist opposition is elitism proves that you can take the boy out of the Marxist-Leninist party but you cannot take the Marxist-Leninist party out of the boy.