by Ravi Bali
Frank Furedi––who was the foremost intellectual of UK radical-left group, the Revolutionary Communist Party, for more than 25 years––has made the transition from revolutionary Marxism into the fold of white-nationalist authoritarianism. Furedi spoke last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Budapest, Hungary. CPAC is organised by the American Conservative Union (ACU), the foremost right-wing Republican organisation in the United States.
Furedi is now employed as a part-time researcher for the Hungarian 21st Century Foundation, which is effectively a propaganda unit for the Fidesz Party of Hungarian premier Viktor Orbán. Hungarian-born and of Jewish descent, Furedi is a strange fit with an organisation that trades in anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories.
Orbánism and Trumpism
Orbán has declared that Hungary is an “illiberal democracy” that defines itself against everything liberal or from the left. This is what makes Hungary a role model for the American right wing, and what makes Orbán their darling.
Luminaries of the American hard-right were also speakers at CPAC 2022, Hungary. Former president Donald Trump addressed the gathering by video, as did Tucker Carlson, the populist, white-supremacist, Fox News host. America’s most prominent nonwhite white supremacist, Candace Owens, was there in person.
It is easy to see why racist authoritarians in the US look with longing at what Orbán has done in Hungary. Orbán has been largely successful at rigging elections in his favour and at cowing those, in the judiciary and in the media, who dared to challenge him. He has also blocked migrants from coming to Hungary. “We decided to stop migration and build the wall on our southern border because Hungarians said that they did not want illegal immigrants,” Orbán told CPAC. “They said, ‘Viktor, build that wall!’ Three months later the border barrier was up”. Trump similarly tried every possible means at his disposal to frustrate the democratic choice of the electorate that kicked him out of office, and he famously declared the US media “the enemy of the people”. But his attacks on immigrants were not as successful as Orbán’s. Trump tried every means to build a wall on the Mexican border, but failed. The wall was a symbolic rallying point, but it never became a functioning reality.
On his Fox News show, Tucker Carlson has regularly spoken of immigrants coming to the US as a liberal “great replacement” conspiracy, which aims to rapidly supplant the “legacy” Americans who built the nation. Orbán used the parallel message to even greater effect, to drive his consolidation of power. Carlson only soft peddles what Orbán has said more explicitly: “We must state that we do not want to be diverse. … We do not want our own color, traditions and national culture to be mixed with those of others”.
Furedi Works from Orbán’s Playbook
Amongst this swarm of anti-democratic reaction, Frank Furedi was not a voice of dissent. Since he has accepted honours from Orbán’s government, this should not be surprising. Furedi’s appearance at CPAC Hungary makes clear that this one-time internationalist has made an accommodation to an authoritarian––maybe even outright fascist––movement.
Furedi opened his talk with a “quip” about being happy to speak at an event where they did not ask him for his preferred pronouns. In a different space, this remark could be just seen as the standard trans- or feminist-bashing that many conservatives indulge in. But in the context of CPAC, it takes on an even more worrying significance. If you look at Furedi’s “joke” alongside of what Orbán has said, it is clear they are using the same playbook: “Hungary must defend itself because the Western left wing is attacking. It is trying to relativize the notion of family. Its tools for doing so are gender ideology and the LBGTQ lobby”.
Furedi during his Revolutionary Communist Party days. Longstanding will to power; new adjective added.
Furedi and the Charlottesville Massacre
In his CPAC talk, Furedi made a clear reference to Charlottesville, Virginia and the decision of its city council to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The city council decided that it was no longer acceptable to publicly honour someone who waged the Civil War against the US in order to retain slavery. Furedi characterized this and other decisions to remove Confederate stautes as follows: “What they’re saying is that the past is a clear and present danger––a danger to our lives in the here and now––which is why you have people in the United States getting rid of statues”.
Strangely, what bothers Furedi is not the Nazis who came to Charlottesville to oppose the removal of the statue, chanting “Jews will not replace us”. It is the anti-racists who wanted to retire the statue from public display in a park because they did not want to continue to honour a pro-slavery figure. Furedi suggests that this is part of an effort “to control our minds”.
Furedi is quite an influential figure. He was the main theoretician of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), until it disbanded in 1997. It was once the third-largest organisation on the far left in Britain. A number of the people who went through the ranks of the RCP have ended up in academia. Some of them cite Furedi in their publications, which has boosted his cache. This is possibly why he is the most-cited sociologist in the UK press.
Like many erstwhile radicals, Furedi has given up on the goal of human liberation. But his capitulation is more dramatic than most, because his swerve to the far right is more extreme than that of people who merely become cynical about prospects for revolutionary change. I intend to deal with this in more detail in a future article. For now, I shall simply note that Furedi’s collaboration with Orbán and CPAC is an extreme example of a red-brown alliance, in which self-declared leftists become apologists for reaction.
When Trump tried to legitimise the Nazis who descended on Charlottesville, with his infamous “very fine people on both sides” comment, he did so after James Field, one of the Nazis, murdered Heather Heyer, an anti-racist activist and paralegal, and injured several others, by ramming her with his car. It is well documented that the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally, called by America’s leading fascists, was more than just a protest about preservation of historical monuments. It was a defence of white supremacy. Furedi is pushing the same sort of line as Trump and Orbán: that we must defend our Western culture and civilisation. They all know what that means––racism, thinly disguised by “culture war” rhetoric.
The Republican Party’s Turn toward White Nationalism
The evolution of the American Conservative Union (ACU), which organises CPAC, is an interesting barometer of how the ground has shifted in American politics. Although founded in 1964, it was only during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, in the late 1970s, that the ACU really came into its own. It was CPAC’s endorsement of Reagan’s presidential bid, and its opposition to progressive gains of the 1960s regarding Black rights, gay rights, feminism, policing and gun control, that defined the new conservatism. During the same period, the National Rifle Association (NRA), which had been a relatively moderate gun-owners’ organisation, became the NRA of today, which is militantly opposed to any gun control, regardless of how horrific the civilian death toll becomes. The endorsement and support of the newly-militant NRA, along with the politicisation of evangelical white Christians, were key factors in enabling Reagan’s ascent to the presidency.
Raya Dunayevskaya, the founder of Marxist-Humanism, was alert to the retrogression that Reagan represented. She explained that Reaganism was a counter-revolutionary force in opposition to all the gains achieved by freedom movements in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Dunayevskaya made an insightful analysis of Reagan’s ceremonial visit to a graveyard in Bitburg, Germany in which 49 German SS soldiers were buried. (The SS was an elite political-military unit of the Nazis.) Reagan’s planned visit to the Bitburg cemetery, in May 1985, was met with shock throughout Europe the US and, particularly in Spain where there were mass protests. Prominent figures in the US Jewish community also protested. The controversy stemmed not just from Reagan’s implicit honouring of Nazis, but his refusal to accept the significance of what his planned visit meant. Reagan ignored the objections, stating:
I think that there’s nothing wrong with visiting that cemetery where those young men are victims of Nazism also, even though they were fighting in the German uniform, drafted into service to carry out the hateful wishes of the Nazis. They were victims, just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps.
Here is part of Dunayevskaya’s response to Reagan’s ambivalence, in her June 1985 essay, “On Reagan’s Visit to Bitburg”:
Put briefly, all that was originally said in opposition to the trip when it was first announced—whether it was by the masses who were reminding the world of the Nazi Holocaust, or just the American vets reminding Reagan of what World War II meant to them, i.e. fighting Nazism—was true. Everyone opposed any legitimization of Nazi storm troopers buried at Bitburg under the guise of a gesture of “reconciliation,” as if the German nation now makes no distinction between the Nazism that caused those atrocities and those who laid their lives down to fight Nazism.
Even though Reagan tried to say that he was not honouring Nazis, but instead acknowledging West Germany’s new status as a beacon of peace and democracy, everybody knew what his ceremonial visit really meant. This event was crystalised in my mind when US punk band, The Ramones, did a song “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg”. It was unusual because the Ramones had been famously apolitical and seemingly gormless rock ’n’ rollers, in both their interviews and in the subject matter of their lyrics.
CPAC’s later role in the rise of the Tea Party led to the further rightward shift of the Republican Party, such that the party now occupies the ideological territory that bona-fide fascists occupied throughout most of the post-World War II period. When Reagan honoured Nazi stormtroopers, he could at least say, with a modicum of credibility, that it was the new Germany, rather than the old one, that was being shown respect. Those who laud Orbán today have even less credibility, if they try to say that they are defenders of democracy, despite their association with Hungary’s despot. The Republican Party that Trump captured, and which he still controls despite his 2020 election loss, is a welcome political home for white nationalists. When Trump was asked by Chris Wallace of Fox News, during a presidential election debate against Joe Biden, whether he was prepared to condemn white supremacists such as the Proud Boys, Trump’s chilling answer was “Proud Boys, stand down and stand by”.
As bad as Trump, Tucker Carlson, et al. are, their Hungarian equivalents under Orbán are probably even worse. Another key speaker at CPAC Hungary was Zsolt Bayer, a Hungarian talk radio show host and journalist, who is a rabid anti-Semite and, as a co-founder of Fidesz, a close ally of Orbán. Bayer has called Jews “stinking excrement”; he has referred to Roma as “not fit to co-exist with people”; and he has used slurs against black people.
Furedi Then, Furedi Now
When Furedi used to write and speak on the need to challenge racism at its most fundamental level, I had a lot of respect for him. But now, I am frankly disgusted to see him pushing an agenda that is in step with white supremacy and general reaction, and far to the right of Ronald Reagan!
When somebody of the left capitulates on their former principles in such an extreme manner, we must examine those principles. What contradictions within those principles, what insufficiencies, could result in such an about-face? More on this later.
[Editor’s note, May 30, 2022: Quotation from Ronald Reagan corrected.]
[Editor’s note, June 2, 2022: Quotation from Donald Trump corrected.]