Hitting the big time

Still iconoclastic - the ‘Marxism’ has disappeared from its contents as well as its cover

The left in this country has long been crippled by an almost complete lack of imagination and political verve. Instead of a healthy thirst for the big time, it normally prefers pedestrian routinism - whether organisational or theoretical/ideological. A placid calm - or inertia - reigns throughout the left press, disturbed only occasionally by bad-tempered ‘polemics’ against those who dare to attempt to break free from the conformist straitjacket.

One organisation that has never been afraid to make a big splash in the tiny left pond has been the Revolutionary Communist Party - or perhaps I should say the Organisation Formerly Known As the RCP (OFKARCP).

Thanks partly to the efforts of the Independent Television News, with some help from that scandal-sheet know as The Observer, its monthly journal LM - still referred to by those lagging behind events as ‘Living Marxism’ - has become relatively well known. In fact, its masthead proudly proclaims each month, ‘The mag ITN wants to gag’.

We have long commented on the RCP’s flair for self-publicity and its  dynamism, especially when contrasted to the clapped-out and indolent leadership of many other left organisations. Its former weekly publication, The Next Step, was by the very low standards of the British left a lively, iconoclastic and entertaining read - a refreshing change again. The actual paper itself was well produced, with an arresting lay out and design (itself something of a rarity on the revolutionary left).

Unfortunately, this dynamism was accompanied by an unbearable arrogance, stupendous sectarianism and an irritating sixth form-type precociousness - qualities that LM shares in abundance and has developed to near perfection. So much so indeed, that LM often appears to live in its own tiny self-made world, hermetically sealed off from real political events and movements. The 1997 general election, for instance, seems to have passed it by almost completely, and the Socialist Labour Party does not even register on the LM Richter scale.

But, having said that, the RCP appears to have pulled off a major publicity coup - one in the real world for sure, and one of enviable proportions. The ‘RCP’ has managed to expropriate - or hijack - three hours of prime-time television, in the form of a programme called Against nature. It can only gives us all hope.

This Channel Four programme delivered a much needed broadside against environmentalism - mainstream and fringe - and ‘Greenism’ in general, attacking the neo-Malthusianism, not to say misanthropy, that lies at the heart of much environmentalism. Given the fact that some of the basic tenets of ‘Greenism’ have become almost universal ‘common sense’ - particularly its reactionary anti-science prejudices - it is only to be welcome that its ideological hegemony is being challenged (not that we necessarily agree with the critiques put forward by Against nature, some of which seemed merely petulant). Our slogan must be ‘Red not green’.

The key interviewee and protagonist on the programme was Dr Frank Füredi of Darwin College at Kent University, a distinguished academic and specialist in development studies. Füredi is LM’s chief theoretician, a role he seems to have taken over from ‘Frank Richards’ of the RCP, his alter-ego. The other main contributors were John Gillot, LM’s science correspondent, and Robert Plomin, who recently had a very sympathetic interview in LM. The director of the programme, Martin Dunkin, interestingly describes himself as a Marxist.

A number of years ago the RCP decided to abandon outmoded and dogmatic concepts like political intervention and political practice. The clarion call was ‘Go to the suburbs’ - a jokey euphemism for embracing a narrow intellectualist project with distinctly ‘post-modernist’ undertones. This project involved complete immersion in the petty bourgeois student/academic milieu.

Against nature is clear evidence that they have been successfully burrowing away in polite circles: attending the right dinner parties, going to the right conferences, regular contact with bourgeois journalists, etc. Frank Füredi’s partner, Ann Bradley, has also become a minor media personality, primarily thanks to her position as chair of the National Child Birth Trust. Yet her achievements are small fry compared to Frank’s Against nature exposure.

Not surprisingly, Against nature ruffled a lot of ‘green’ feathers and sparked off an anti-communist witch hunt - albeit of a very liberal, ‘civilised’ and low-level sort. The attack was led by the environmentalist George Monbiot writing in The Guardian, under the banner, ‘Marxists found alive in C4’ (December 18). He complained bitterly about the “shrill ideology” which drove Against nature, a condition which is completely absent of course from all the other programmes that appear on television.

Now the witch hunt - why was such ‘politically incorrect’ material allowed on the TV at all? As Monbiot puts it, “Where might it have come from? At first we thought the far right might have been involved. But, over the past three weeks, another picture has begun to form. Against nature is the product of an extreme political ideology, but it comes from a different quarter: an obscure and cranky sect called the Revolutionary Communist Party.”

In other words, we are not meant to take seriously any viewpoints associated with the words ‘revolutionary’ or ‘communist’ - by definition any such views can only be “obscure” or “cranky”, and therefore ruled out of order. But Monbiot’s complaints do not stop there: “The only brand of Marxism which follows the line the series takes is the RCP’s … Line by line, point by point, Against Nature follows the agenda laid down by the RCP.” How dreadful. Naturally, if Against nature had followed “line by line” the agenda of Population Concern, Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth, that would be an entirely matter altogether.

For the Monbiots, the stranglehold of green ideology is taken to be near sacrosanct - all counter-opinions must be labelled with a health warning in order not to confuse the poor old general public. Monbiot explains: “There was no presenter; instead we were instructed, in true documentary style, by an authoritarian voice-over. The RCP/Living Marxism interviewees were not captioned as such, but presented as independent experts.” Presumably, Monbiot would have liked it if every RCP/LM member/interviewee had had the caption, ‘communist nutter’ prominently displayed. All in the interests of balance and honesty, you see.

But it transpires that the good burghers - or policemen - of Media-land are getting all hot and bothered about nothing. In a letter to The Guardian defending himself from Monbiot’s quasi-McCarthyism, Frank Füredi revealed: “My interest in party politics of any sort during the past seven years has been nil. Anyone who has read my last four books would find them difficult to situate within the Marxist tradition or, for that matter, any political tradition. I prefer to describe myself as a libertarian humanist, whose main concern is with the general Culture of Fear that prevails in society” (December 19).

This may come as news to many readers of Living Marxism/LM. There has not been a single article openly explaining when this decision to dump Marxism and embrace “libertarian humanism” took place, or explaining the reasoning behind this 180º shift in orientation. Nor have the voices of those who must have opposed this move by the Füredi-ites appeared in LM. Perhaps Dr Frank is more of a Tony Cliff than he would like to think - though he most definitely will never make the grade as a labour dictator.

We would all love to know what actually happened inside the RCP of old, and what is going on at the moment in the OFKARCP. But we will probably have to wait forever for an official explanation in the now ‘non-political’ LM.

Eddie Ford