Talking In Their Sleep: The Chattering Classes' Fickle Love Affair With Democracy

Article from Black Flag #219 (2000).

Submitted by Fozzie on January 21, 2021

Michael Bakunin once observed that "The State, any State - even when it dresses up in the most liberal and democratic form -is necessarily based upon domination, and upon violence, that is, upon despotism -a concealed but no less dangerous despotism" (GP Maximoff, The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, Free Press 1953). Usually, the despotic lash is hidden, and we're fed stories of the guarantees of personal liberty embodied in the traditions of parliamentary democracy. We're told that representative politics ensures stability and underwrites freedom.

One of the endlessly recycled stories of romantic fiction is that of the cheating lover who betrays himself through talking in his sleep. Occasionally, the baggage-handlers of the ruling class get caught out in the same way, muttering complacently, and in the process revealing that which is normally concealed. Churchill, for instance, in 1927 said of Mussolini's fascist dictatorship, "Your movement has abroad rendered a service to the whole world... Italy has shown that there is a way to combat subversive forces." We may be reminded also of Lord Chesterfield's reported comment that "arbitrary power" should be introduced "by slow degrees, and as it were, step by step, lest the people see it approach."

Recently, both Lord Lamont and Guardian writer Hugo Young have been musing aloud in a manner which suggests their fidelity to their beloved 'democracy' might be open to question. Lamont was asking potential friends of General Pinochet to pledge support for the "ailing dictator". "Remember", he tells them, "General Pinochet's only crime was that he stopped communism in South America." Thousands were killed in Chile following the 1973 overthrow of the elected social-democratic Allende government, and thousands more were tortured. All political opposition to the junta was banned. Books were burned and bodies piled high in foot-ball stadiums. So murder and torture are not crimes if done to preserve 'social order'. Clearly, we cannot rush to judgement of such brutality. Who knows when such methods might be needed against the poor here?

So much then for Lamont, a stalwart of the Right. In The Guardian on 30 November 1999 we were treated to Hugo Young's thoughts on the Musharraf coup in Pakistan ("Pakistan's Latest Putsch is the Kindest Coup of All"). Democracy, Young tells us, is not an event, but a process. It "does not live by votes alone." Parliamentary democracy, (particularly in Asia and Africa, he is keen to stress) is undermined by "flagrant vote buying, a void in the rule of law." Because the overthrown Sharif government was irredeemably corrupt, so 'democracy' may require a breathing space. Musharraff, for Young, "appears to be better than your average general... He may not yet have made the trains run on time, but he does stop at the lights."

Young is a good liberal and does not go so far as to endorse a permanent military dictatorship; "the pressure to make democracy a living truth needs to be unremitting." Sharif was a blatant fraudster whose rule left many amongst the poorest in Pakistan entirely disenchanted with the notion that democracy and 'parliamentary democracy' were one and the same thing. Young knows this full well. He concedes therefore that while "the anti-democrat has no merit... Making people love democracy is the only way to keep them free." Thus an armed dictatorship can come to be the 'least worst' option, if only for now. Better a general committed to making the poor 'love democracy' again (perhaps by making voting compulsory?) than that the poor be allowed to devise forms of democracy of their own.


It's good, as we're told, to talk. The 'conditional' democrats who rule over us do more, though, than talk. In February 1998 the British government took out a High Court injunction against former Daily Mirror foreign editor, Nicholas Davies, to try and stop publication of his book, Ten-Thirty-Three. After a protracted legal fight, the book has now been released by Mainstream Publishing. Ten-Thirty-Three was the code number given to Brian Nelson, the chief intelligence officer for the Ulster Defence Association, and also a member of the Force Research Unit (FRU), a hand-picked section of British Military Intelligence set up to target Republicans. Davies' book draws on high-ranking sources within military intelligence to reveal the collusion between the British Army and Loyalist death squads, a collusion sanctioned throughout by the government. Davies reveals how British Army intelligence gave details of nationalist activists to Nelson to facilitate their successful targeting and execution. Using Nelson to direct the UDA, the Force Research Unit was implicated in at least 15 murders and 15 attempted murders, including Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane, Gerard Slane, 66-year-old Francisco Norarintino, Billy Kane, Terry McDaid and Brendan Davidson.

In his book, Davies reveals that the Thatcher government reconstituted a high level security directorate, the Joint Irish Section (JIS), under M15 control, in Northern Ireland. All FRU operations were passed through the JIS, which reported weekly to the Joint Intelligence Committee - in effect, to Thatcher herself. When Nelson was arrested in 1991 and charged with conspiracy to murder and collecting information likely to assist terrorism, a deal was struck whereby he would be sentenced to ten years, released in 1994, given a complete change of identity, relocation to a house worth £100,000 and a £75,000 lump sum, on condition he keep his mouth shut. The court and press were spun a tale of how the brave Nelson, working to thwart 'UDA murder gangs' had helped save 217 lives through providing information to Military Intelligence. Davies reveals that, since he began writing his book, two of his inside sources have been threatened with 'executive action', as he puts it, "the customary expression for murder".

Unlike most journalists, Davies has been brave enough to seek to expose the machinations of the British State's "dirty war" in the north of Ireland. What the anti-democratic musings of the likes of Lamont and Young reveal, though, is that what was practiced on the streets of Belfast will be transferred to the streets of Manchester or London or wherever required, whenever the 'people' need to be persuaded to 'love democracy' again. Talking in their sleep, our 'democratic' politicians and press show us that, to recall Bakunin again,

" offend, to oppress, to despoil, to plunder, to assassinate or enslave one's fellow man is ordinarily regarded as a crime. In public life, on the other hand, from the stand-point of patriotism, when these things are done for the greater glory of the State, for the preservation or the extension of its power, it is all transformed into duty and virtue."