Thursday, July 7, 2016

Minto had me fooled

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.  


Max Ritchie said...

According to John Minto: The working class across the developed world has seen their share of GDP (Gross Domestic Product – a measure of the wealth produced each year within a country) drop dramatically. In New Zealand the workers share of GDP dropped from around 55% in the 1980s to about 45% today meaning households must work ever longer hours, on lower pay rates, to get enough income to sustain a reasonable standard of living. The inevitable result has been standards of living have dropped with millions of workers and their families driven into poverty-----------
GDP in 1980 was $25 billion so 55% of that was about $14 billion. By 2015 GDP had risen to $170 billion. If the 45% is correct then “workers” share was $76 billion i.e. about five times the 1980 figure. I’m a worker i.e. I am paid a wage. I don’t know if I’m five times better off than I was in 1980 – I lived in an uninsulated house in Waiouru on about $15,000 a year – but it certainly feels like it. In 1980 I had a Morris Marina, did not own a house, worked outdoors for much of the time (real cardboard box stuff) and now we have a modern car, cell phones, an iPad, colour TV, running shoes, merino T shirts, Wisconsin burgers. Workers are immeasurably better off now. Unless they worked for the Railways or the Post Office, subsidised by the rest of us. There’s plenty wrong with the world but people lucky enough to live in this beautiful country have nothing to complain about.

JC said...

I would have thought the result indicated a slap in the face for the elites on both the left and right who were so keen on remaining.

That the older people who have lived longest with the more traditional splits of capitalist and worker delivered such a massive leave vote shows things like patriotism, hard work and tradition mean more than cheap holidays, enforced PC and unelected officialdom.. its almost as if they actually favour democracy over whatever you call the EU.

The thing that stood out for me was that around the world many of those who favoured remain were furious that ordinary people were allowed to vote on such an important issue.


Richard McGrath said...

Karl, you have been far too generous to Minto. I have always thought, since the first time his screaming skull was broadcast to horrified television viewers in 1981, that his motives were anything but benevolent. He has a psychotic and unhealthy hatred of anyone who dares to succeed, attributing success on the part of one person to the sacrifice and oppression of someone else. He believes capitalism is a zero sum game. But at the root of his vicious diatribe is envy, plain and simple, the "crab bucket mentality" which tennis great Chris Lewis described years ago, where a crab who looks as though he may succeed in climbing out of a bucket full of them will be dragged back into the bucket by others who would rather see him fail. Minto's creed is one that delights in human poverty, for if everyone became wealthy, there would be no class "struggle", and he would have to retire his spittle-flecked megaphone. Your comments about capitalism lifting millions, probably billions, out of lives of poverty and hardship, are spot on. People like Minto hate the thought that the people they see as their "constituency" might become the despised middle class bourgeosie.

Damien Grover said...

To me there is some irony here. As I understand it, the conflict between the pro and anti sides of the 81 Springbok tour was the moment where it became obvious that the liberal anti tour side (of whom Minto was a vocal lead) had captured the support of a decent chunk of regular NZers (at least in the cities). I reckon those same anti tour supporters would have formed the main part of the electorate that voted in the liberal 84 labour govt which enacted a bunch of the economic reforms causing the various social flow on effects that Minto seems to be unhappy about. Gee, you have to be careful you aren't too successful some times. Who knows what might happen.