I’ve tended in the past to take a charitable view of John Minto. The worst thing I could find to say about him was that his devotion to left-wing causes was so wide-reaching and so passionate that he had become an almost comical fixture – a caricature – in the political landscape.
In a Dominion Post column in 2012, I wrote that I almost felt sorry for him. “His brain must hurt when he wakes up every morning. So many downtrodden people, so many heartless capitalists, so many injustices – which one will he deal with today?” I described him as a compulsive serial protester and said that images of him addressing rag-tag gatherings with a megaphone were one of the few constants in a chaotic universe.
Beneath this mockery I felt a degree of respect for him. There was no doubting the sincerity of his convictions, or his commitment. Besides, a democratic, pluralist society needs to make room for people of every political shade. There might even have been times when I felt Minto had a valid point to make, even if he did himself no favours by coming across as intense and uncompromisingly dogmatic.
Now I realise I’ve been wrong all this time. What caused me to reassess Minto was a column he wrote for the far-left Daily Blog last week on the result of the Brexit referendum.
It reveals him as an unreconstructed Marxist, which is hardly surprising. He uses the tired, anachronistic rhetoric of class warfare – language that I thought had died with the passing of the People’s Voice. But more tellingly, it’s the language of malice and hate.
According to Minto, the rich have used neo-liberal economic policies to wage a “relentless war” on the working class. This is a grotesque distortion of economic reforms that have lifted more people out of poverty than at any previous time in human history. I’ve known a few proponents of neo-liberalism over the years and while some of their ideas turned out to be flawed, I can’t think of any who were intent on waging war on the working class.
More often their motivation was precisely the reverse. But Minto thinks the interests of the “working class” (however that’s defined these days) would be better served by … what, exactly? The defining characteristic of Marxist governments everywhere has been brutal repression and hardship, usually accompanied by the creation of a wealthy, personality-cult style of totalitarian leadership that mercilessly crushes dissent.
Minto goes on to say that the British Conservative and Labour Parties have been complicit in the rogering (my word) of the working-class. That’s hardly a new proposition, but again it’s his language that’s telling. He says the political establishment has been used as a front for the “filthy scheming” of the rich.
This is language calculated to incite hatred. It characterises all “rich” people (however that's defined these days) as rapacious and imputes vile motives to people who in all likelihood never set out to harm or exploit anyone.
It gives us a telling glimpse of the bitterness and malice that lurks beneath Minto’s public image as a compassionate, benign crusader for the downtrodden. He apparently sees no irony in condemning people for whipping up fear and hatred against immigrants while himself indulging in rhetoric that demonises anyone whose world view doesn’t correspond with his own.
He goes on to talk about the “greed and corruption at the heart of capitalism”. Well, no one ever said capitalism’s perfect, but even a casual glance at the countries that lead the world for both prosperity and respect for human rights shows that they are all capitalist economies. Perhaps Minto prefers the Venezuelan model – the latest showcase for the command-style economy that he apparently endorses.
In writing this, I’m indulging in a bit of self-reproach. All these years, I’ve given Minto the benefit of the doubt. Now I realise he’s just as twisted, angry and bigoted as every other sad, thwarted revolutionary.