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What do Brexiters and Lenin have in common?

by Victor Sebestyen | 19.05.2017

“Our opponents, the enemy, are as usual moaning, complaining and agitating against us  and our plans. This is impermissible. We cannot let these saboteurs shipwreck us and the will of the people.”  

A Daily Express or Sun leader the day before yesterday on the dastardly “Bremoaners”? An excitable Brexiter parliamentary candidate in, say, a Kent constituency? It could easily be. In fact, it was a speech by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin on 21 November 1917, less than a month after he seized power in the Russian Revolution.

Lenin’s two favourite rhetorical insults were to label anyone who opposed the Bolsheviks’  plans “an enemy of the people” (a phrase he admitted he stole from Robespierre) or a “saboteur”. In his published writings, not counting his speeches, the word saboteur appears  more than 1,200 times between October 1917 and September 1919 – one loses count through  boredom thereafter.

For Lenin and his Bolsheviks, it wasn’t enough that Russians accept the Communists’ plans  and policies. Or even that they stay silent about their opposition. They insisted that everyone must agree with them publicly, and over time, privately too. They were convinced their legitimacy depended on universal conformity – or the will of the people would be thwarted.  Something not entirely dissimilar is happening in the new political culture in Britain today.

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Obviously, I don’t see Theresa May, Boris Johnson, David Davis et al (no, not even Nigel Farage) as a Lenin in waiting; and of course there is no comparison between the Bolshevik coup in 1917 and the referendum last year. But the winner-takes-all rhetoric, the extreme language and intolerance in victory of the hard Brexiters is decidedly Leninist in tone and attitude.

Remain voters are not being asked – reasonably enough – to accept the Brexit result. Or even  that “a period of silence on our part would be welcome”. We are being told we have to agree with it – or our loyalty is in question.

“Do you stand with Britain or the EU?”, a column in the Daily Telegraph demanded the other day, as though it was a real question. Remainers must either “rally behind Brexit…or be guilty of seeking a national humiliation,” it went on.  

Those who point out that the Brexit negotiations will be difficult and, possibly, might result in a bad deal for us are “saboteurs”. The Daily Mail even described the judges who told the prime minister that she needed parliamentary approval before she could kick off the Brexit process as “enemies of the people”. Doubtless soon there will be people demanding we swear an oath of allegiance of some sort.

Certainly, all this is more Leninist than British. Whatever happened to the idea of a loyal opposition? I don’t mind being called a Remoaner. I’ll wear the label with pride. But it is worth reminding the ultramontane Brexiters that a year ago they were the moaners. They moaned about the EU for years. They moaned for decades. They moaned and moaned and moaned until they persuaded enough Britons to moan along with them. This is how democracy works. It recognises that the “will of the people” can change.

Victor Sebestyen’s Lenin The Dictator was published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson in February

Edited by Hugo Dixon

3 Responses to “What do Brexiters and Lenin have in common?”

  • The remain voices are heard, their Rhetoric is pretty negative towards the votes to leave and has been from day one. To identify the Leave Vote as moaning etc is somewhat simplifying the genuine distate for the Euro Elite. The experiment is and was based on lies and manipulation for power. It has never actually worked for anyone other than the elite in power and has ruined Economies along the way. To compare the out movement to Lenin, is, I feel somewhat disingenuous .

  • Mr Cox is entitled to his opinions, like everybody else, but it would help to try and understand his opinions if he could give us some evidence on which his opinions are based. In practical terms two or three examples of the facts which have led him to the conclusions expressed would be sufficient.