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I was fighting wokery when Frank Furedi was a Marxist

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YOU shouldn’t take things personally, I suppose, especially not from someone who doesn’t even know you’re there. But personally is how I took the recent Spiked article by Frank Furedi, We need to win the culture war

‘Until recently, the counter-cultural movement that emerged in higher education in the 1960s was rarely confronted effectively by its opponents. The phenomenon now known as “woke” has succeeded in gaining hegemony over mainstream culture and education, and even over the running of the corporate world. Meanwhile, conservative adversaries of these anti-Western culture warriors proved singularly inept at upholding their own norms and values. Indeed, during the past 50 years they lost just about every important battle.’

Lost every battle, eh? Ineffective and inept, eh? Until recently, eh? Until, I suppose, Frank Furedi and his chums came along?

I like that, coming from Frank Furedi, the ex-Marxist and Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent who, despite perhaps beginning as an anti-communist (his parents fled Hungary after the 1956 uprising), for the best part of the 70s, 80s and 90s belonged to the counter-cultural movement that emerged in higher education and laid the ground for the phenomenon now known as ‘woke’, which succeeded in gaining hegemony over mainstream culture and education. What a nerve!

Dug in, in an English Department during those years and eventually invalided out, shot at and shelled by the Marxists and quasi-Marxists and sub-Marxists of every sort, those are remarks I do take personally.

Consistently, for 50 years and more, I and my own chums (gathered around Ian Robinson, now dead, and the Brynmill Press, buried with him) were ineffective, but I deny inept, conservative adversaries of the anti-Western culture warriors. I taught in institutions on the periphery, editing little (very little) magazines, helping to run a publisher (whose boast was that it lost money more slowly than any publisher ever has), writing (half a book, a few pamphlets, quite a lot of articles). I was a water carrier, definitely, but unlike Frank Furedi and chums one who did, at least, carry the water (not tip it out), and did so without doubting that it quenched thirst.

The institution that invalided me out (bandaging my wounds with ten years enhancement of my pension) had been happy, like similar institutions all over, to admit into its library journals such as Living Marxism (‘go against the grain … oppose all censorship, bans and codes of conduct … stand up for social and scientific experimentation … live as autonomous adults … create a world’) while excluding Scruton’s Salisbury Review

Living Marxism (presumably to play down the Marxism) firstly became LM and then, after a successful libel action by ITN made it bankrupt … Spiked.

And Frank Furedi. long-time contributor to Living Marxism-LM-Spiked, ex-International Socialist, ex-member of the Revolutionary Communist Group, Revolutionary Communist Tendency and Revolutionary Communist Party, what did he become?

A deplorer of conservative ineptness and executive director of MCC Brussels, part of Mathias Corvinus Collegium, an organisation given $1.7billion (about 1 per cent of the Hungarian GDP, according to Wikipedia) by Victor Orbán’s Fidesz government, the rightest, according to the left, of the nationalistic right and recommended by its executive director for ‘upholding the traditions and values of its people – including Christianity’ (Politico, November 1, 2022).

What are we to make of this change of heart, if it is a change? (What does he make of it?) Is it a change back to his parents’ anti-communism? Has he, like Saul of Tarsus, been converted or, like Lord Keynes, does he, when the facts change, change his mind, or does he just change his tune, like the Vicar of Bray? 

I don’t know that he has ever denied an earlier self but I can’t see that he has needed to.  He and his style are adaptable. The terms he used as the Marxist he has ceased to be (if he has) are as useful to him as ever: ‘hegemony … committed … programme … solidarity … the voice of the people … understanding the current situation … war, battle, fight … launch parties and movements … it is not enough to … we need to … we must … we need to … we need … As of yet … Indeed.’ Frank Furedi is, as he was, on the side of the people; it’s just that the people have stopped being the proletariat and become the populists. He is, as he was, against the bosses; it’s just that they have stopped being capitalists and rentiers and become the out-of-touch metropolitan elite. He has moved on, but without leaving anything behind.

And what enables him so smoothly to change from revolutionary Marxist to conservative well-wisher, upholder of tradition and executive director, is just that style of his, well-stocked with the clichés that smooth over differences: not just ‘pennies dropping … standing up to be counted … games in town’ but ready-made combinations that might come handily to any of us: ‘dire consequences … undoubted concerns … diminish the impact … become increasingly clear … posing a threat … prove singularly  inept … moving on from … confront the effects of … increasingly confident … arcane academic pursuit’.  

If one has as little resistance to all this, and is so far from seeing any need to resist it, as Frank Furedi, how could one not turn out adaptable?

In our book, The New Idea of a Universitymy chum Ian Robinson and I did ‘confront the counter-cultural movement that emerged in Higher Education in the 1960s’, and I’d like to know what was inept about it. Its reception might have made it ineffective but that wasn’t our business; the book itself was anything but. What better, more effective, less inept book on the university has there been since Newman’s own? Had it had any effect, our universities wouldn’t be in the mess they are now. And if our universities weren’t in the mess they are . . . who knows?

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Duke Maskell
Duke Maskell
Duke Maskell is a retired English teacher.

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