- The Guardian
- Issue #2071
Elites are in the news again.
Jacinta Nampijinpa Price says she doesn’t want elites telling her what to do, although since she’s happy to do the bidding of Rupert Murdoch and Peter Dutton without being asked, maybe some elites have it easier than others. Warren Mundine has said that the Voice is a “power grab by academics in the Indigenous elite.” Who are these ‘elites’? Is Price right?
Mundine has spent his adult life trying to enter the political ‘elite.’ Does he have a point?
Elite is a good thing if it’s applied to athletes. An elite athlete has natural ability and has worked hard to use it at a high level of the sport. We might gripe about how much they’ve been paid, but the basic feeling is that they’ve got to where they are by using what they’ve got well, so that gets respected.
The usual response to lazy comments like Price and Mundine’s is to say that they’re wrong, because they’re richer than the ‘elites’ they try to frighten us with. Price is a Senator. Mundine is a wealthy political figure married to a corporate lawyer. Both of them are in the news a lot. They’re enjoying a lot of attention while they campaign against something which can only help Indigenous self-determination. If the bad kind of ‘elite’ has wealth and a media profile, Price and Mundine are elites. Lachlan Murdoch, who likes to complain about those bossy elites, has more money and power than Mundine, Price, and Dutton put together.
There are even ‘mask off’ moments when those with real power just admit that ‘elite’ really just means ‘left wing and educated’.
So far, so predictable, but there’s a deeper issue here. If all we do is point out the hypocrisy of the wealthy, famous and powerful calling logistics workers who support the Voice ‘elites,’ we’re overlooking class differences. We’re accepting the division of the world into two sorts of people, and just disagreeing about who’s in which group. It’s not enough to point out that Lachlan Murdoch is rolling in money, or that the 80 per cent of Indigenous people polled who disagree with Price about the Voice are, for the most part, less well-off than she is.
People who complain about elites confuse character with class. Teachers and bus drivers don’t make common cause on issues like union rights or the Voice by coincidence, or even because they’re nice people. They are in a class called the proletariat and they recognise the common interests that members of that class have. The likes of Lachlan Murdoch aren’t just a snooty elite. They’re capitalists, regardless of their character, and they act in the interests of their class.
When people call you ‘elite’ in a negative way, they’re not just putting you in the wrong box, they’re deliberately being wrong about the class system. Don’t be fooled. Classes exist. You’re in one. Blaming ‘elites’ is a distraction tactic to make working people support the capitalists’ agenda.
The next time Price, Mundine, or Murdoch complain about ‘elites’ remember, we’re not elite. We’re awake.