Mick Hume on Lenin, the Seventies and Wayne Rooney

In this month’s Q&A between our readers and writers, Mick Hume discusses everything from press freedom to Doctor Martens.

If Lenin turned up today, what do you think he would find most surprising? Andy Shaw

Lenin was rarely surprised by anything, with the possible exception of the February 1917 Russian Revolution that deposed the tsar while Lenin was away on a gap year in Zurich. But if he came back today, apart from being astonished to discover that resurrection was possible, and appalled to find that his waxy corpse was a tourist attraction in Moscow, I suspect he would be less surprised by the survival of moribund capitalism than by the living-dead state of the zombie left.

Your writings seem to be getting more nostalgic and frequently reference your experiences in the past. Is this a sign that you are unable to let go of ‘old politics’ and engage more fully with the ideas of the present? Dan Clayton

No, I am not nostalgic at all. It is other people who talk about the past all the time – I just find I have to respond to their historical illiteracy. When a corner shop gets looted the media claim ‘It’s the 1980s riots all over again!’, or when teachers take a day off they say it’s ‘the biggest walkout since the 1926 General Strike!’. Unable to ‘engage with the present’ or face up to how everything has changed, they seek comfort in the familiar. Then I have to wade back into history to show how false their ignorant comparisons are. But the point is to throw some light on what’s different about the present, not to live in the political shadows of the past. We have to fight the battles of today, not try to re-enact yesterday’s.

In cultural terms it is probably true that I am a man of the Seventies, which I consider the last great decade with a distinctive personality of its own. I’m of the Players’ No6 cigarettes/light’n’bitter/Crombie coats/Levi Stapress/George Best/Walton Hop/Slade/Sex Pistols/We’re-the-Sweeney-son-and-we-aven’t-ad-our-dinner vintage. But I wouldn’t want to live in that grim decade again. Although I am quite pleased that my teenage daughters now wear Dr Martens, even if they call Oxblood boots ‘cherry red’ these days.

Have you ever doubted your convictions? Dieter Hambloch

Not sure about doubt, but I have questioned them often as circumstances change. Otherwise it would be blind faith, and that is for fools in any arena other than football. However, I have always concluded that, on balance, my convictions remain justified (including the one received in Woking Juvenile Court). So far at least, that is. Question everything, and keep doing it.

What’s your favourite book? (Fiction and non-fiction!) K Hunter

Fiction:  too many to list but I would have to mention the crime masterpieces of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock, Josef Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. If that’s all a bit old school, might I recommend my favourite (post-)modern novel – Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman – written from 1759.

Non-fiction: of all the classics that helped open my eyes 30 years ago, the one that still cuts straight through the intellectual ordure of today is Leon Trotsky’s Their Morals and Ours. More recently, apart from the fine works by my spiked colleagues – notably my good friend Frank Furedi – it is hard to top the intellectual rigour of Roy Keane’s autobiography.

In the ‘faction’ department, I would have Shakespeare’s history plays edging out the King James Bible.

Given the changes over the last 70 years, who does the term ‘the working class’ actually refer to these days? Simon Rucker

The biggest change in politics in my lifetime is that the working class no longer exists as a political player. Working people still have to sell their labour power to survive and are still exploited by capital of course. But they have no political presence or voice of their own, even in the distorted form that was old-fashioned Labourism. That’s why the elites can patronise them without fear today, either by talking Mockney and dressing like ‘chavs’, or parading the proles for public entertainment, Bedlam-style, on TOWIE or Geordie Shore (although this time the ‘inmates’ have the last laugh by becoming celebrities). Without a political expression, ‘working class’ today means nothing, or whatever you want it to mean. Apart from ‘gravediggers of capitalism’, that is.

Mick once suggested that Wayne Rooney might be a white working-class version of Pele. Does he think Rooney has realised his potential? Does Mick have sleepless nights worrying about the future of Man United post-Ferguson? Paul Ilott

There is a song they sing at Old Trafford about Rooney being ‘the white Pele’, but I rather hoped that he could be more of a Scouse Maradona – can’t see our Wayne advertising erectile dysfunction therapy somehow. Unfortunately it now seems he lacks the character or the class to be compared too closely to the peerless Diego. But Rooney is still the best English player, possibly barring the trainwreck Gascoigne, since the real ‘golden generation’ of Jimmy Greaves, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton and Duncan Edwards (I think it is OK to be nostalgic about the footballers of your youth).

I may have the odd sleepless night, but not about football. Even if Ferguson performs the miracle and manages to hold off City this season, it seems likely United are on the way down whether or not he shuffles off. (Unless an Arab revolution overthrows City’s UAE owners…) C’est la guerre. I have seen the best of them over the past 20 years. And nothing will match the ignominy of the day when I wore a black armband to school to mark United’s relegation to the second division.

What does Mick think of the concentration of press ownership in the UK into the hands of a few organisations, and isn’t this a more important issue, from a Marxist point of view, than Leveson? Rosie Cuckston

The concentration of press ownership is certainly a problem. I know all too well how hard it is to break into the monopolised marketplace, from the years spent trying to promote Living Marxism magazine in the old days. But these days I think some are blinded to the importance of the fight for a free press by their Murdochphobia. Defending press freedom is not the same thing as upholding the power of the press barons. Freedom of expression is the bedrock liberty of modern society without which all other civilised liberties would be unimaginable. Today, with the internet, we have new opportunities to fight for an alternative open-minded media. That seems a more constructive use of energy than asking the state, in the kindly-looking person of Lord Justice Leveson, to ‘free’ us from Mr Murdoch and Co.

For more on this, see my forthcoming book There Is No Such Thing As a Free Press.

How does Mick square being from a left Marxist background but now sharing significant similarities of view with those on the libertarian right? Isn’t it odd that this has come to pass in our politics? Tim Mitchell

These are strange times in politics, a consequence of the end of any meaningful left-right divide. So, for example, nobody knows what a London mayoral contest between the ‘Thatcherite’ Boris Johnson and the ‘hardline Socialist’ Ken Livingstone is really about, apart from their lovely personalities. Shifting circumstances can throw up new divides and odd short-term alliances on issues such as freedom. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t overestimate the amount of common ground shared between a spiked man such as me and the ‘libertarian right’. The problem is not only that they are right-wing, but more that they are not all that ‘libertarian’.

Go to a meeting where people are demanding the right to hunt/smoke/wear a cross, and suggest that they also need to oppose bans on the right to strike/shouting obscenities at football/wearing a burka, and you might see what I mean. They are often as inconsistent as the old left in defending freedoms today. The only consistent liberals are those who follow the principle that, as the German revolutionary Rosa Luxembourg (paraphrased by George Orwell) put it before she was executed, ‘freedom is for the other fellow’.

When and why did you sign up to the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), of all things? Would you do the same again today? N Jeywood

I met the RCP when I was drunk in a field in Leeds, at an anti-racist festival in July 1981. I was a student in Manchester and we had all gone on the bus to see The Specials play. When I sobered up it struck me that they were by far the smartest organisation on the British left, probably ever. The RCP had the mind-expanding ideas and the fuck-you attitude that made it the party for me. The question was not why did I want to join, but why wouldn’t they let me for several months. It was harder to get into the RCP than the Magic Circle back then. It was worth the effort. I will always be proud to have played my part in its story.

But when the world changed, I voted along with other members to disband the RCP in 1996. Today I would be no more likely to join a revolutionary communist party than I would be to go and see The Specials in a field in Leeds. That really would be nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake.

Given how much financial pressure it put on you, not to mention the media criticism you got for it, do you regret fighting that LM libel case with ITN? James Lincoln

Well, it did take up three years of our lives, and left me a million quid in debt and minus our magazine LM, which had to close. So you might think it wasn’t my happiest memory, and you would be right. But I have no regrets. There were important principles at stake and we made a stand for them even though we knew we had no chance of winning under English libel law.

It is indeed remarkable how much criticism we got and continue to get over the case. Sections of the media who campaign for libel-law reform make an exception of the LM v ITN case as the one where they backed a major corporation using those execrable laws to silence its critics. Such flak does not bother me much; I have always considered that being hated by the ‘right’ people is an important sign that I am on the right lines. It is also worth recalling that we got considerable support on free-speech grounds, which helped to get us through the crisis and persuaded the other side finally to settle for a fraction of what the court said we owed them.

In our living room at home we have on display a press photograph of the LM crew emerging from the Royal Courts of Justice to face the media after the verdict. When the Leveson Inquiry started in the same building, my wife Ginny posted that picture on Facebook as a reminder of another historic struggle over press freedom. So no, no regrets really. And looking on the bright side, if we had not lost LM magazine in 2000, we wouldn’t have launched spiked online in 2001…

Mick Hume (centre), with Virginia Hume (left) and Helene Guldberg (right), outside the High Court in London following the LM/ITN libel trial.

Are you really a Grumpy Old Marxist? MM

This arose from a semi-joke I once made in a speech, about potentially being a panellist on a BBC 2 TV show called ‘Grumpy Old Marxists’. Yes, I probably am rather grumpy. I have all the usual complaints about young people today – you know, that they don’t know how to organise a proper riot, their music is too slow and boring, they don’t drink in pubs enough, etc etc.

If, however, I was asked to suggest a more apposite adjective than ‘grumpy’: I was once an angry young Marxist, and now I am a fairly angry old one. I am afraid that I have lived my adult life in a state of barely suppressed intellectual fury about the world, which I find is good for the soul, if not for the blood pressure. I hope to continue raging against the dying of the light for a while yet.

Thanks to all those who sent in questions and sorry that I couldn’t respond to them all. Those who raised broader questions about the politics of spiked should send them to the editor!

Mick Hume is spiked‘s editor-at-large.


comments powered by Disqus