Egypt: The vanguard is back

Now that someone has actually bothered to ask Egyptians about that unfortunate recent event that we’re not supposed to call a “coup”, it appears that they actually, um, were not very happy about it. According to this report, only about a quarter of Egyptians backed the coup, but they are of course the ones who count, as far as we are concerned. The others are simply wrong, and can be ignored.

I’ve always been fascinated by the ease with which we assume that certain individuals – above all, those who think like us – are somehow objectively right, even if they (like the tiny, western-educated liberal class in Egypt) are completely unrepresentative of the population as a whole. I think it’s all to do with Marxism.

Of course Marxism is not a feature of western politics today, but many of its leading figures (those of my generation, anyway) absorbed its habits of thought and much of the conceptual framework of Marxism in the 1960s and 1970s, without ever engaging seriously with the substance They abandoned the ideology but they kept the habits of thought and the concepts.

One of the most important of these ideas was the “vanguard” concept: roughly, the various Marxist parties considered themselves leaders and agents of the coming revolution, objectively representing the interests of the people, no matter how small they were as organisations. They understood the logic of history, they were right, and that was it. Everybody else could shut up and follow.

It’s not hard to see the same logic here. Egypt’s tiny liberal middle class is the vanguard of progress towards a western-style society, one day. They are objectively right and need to be supported, just as the USSR once supported tiny Communist parties all over the world. The rest of the population (including the 70% who opposed the coup) are wrong, and their views don’t count. Simple, really, when you know that history is on your side.


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