Knowing Left from Right
A shorter version of this article was published in Ceylon Today on Friday 21 June 2019
I was recently advised by an eminent political scientist (one of Sri Lanka’s leading public intellectuals) that I should be more like Frank Furedi. I responded to the LPI (leading public intellectual) that I found Furedi sinister and would continue to plough my own humble furrow applying ethical standards developed for myself over many years from a leftist perspective. I write as an elderly person who was a baby when the Welfare State was being built by the best prime minister Britain ever had, Clement Attlee. I was weaned on the New Statesman, and was in my prime during the heady days of the 1960s. From an early age I was reading the works of socialist Titans such as Raymond Williams, EP Thomson, Christopher Hill and Ralph Miliband. PLI thought it bizarre that I should describe Furedi as sinister. LPI thinks Furedi is ‘progressive’, a word PLI uses often but refuses to define. I find Furedi sinister because he and his acolytes in the LM Network, including the online magazine Spiked, are associated with extreme right-wing allies and espouse extreme right-wing views garbed in spurious left-wing attire.
Furedi was born Füredi Ferenc in Hungary on 3 May 1947. He is emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent and is well known for his work on the sociology of fear, education, therapy culture, paranoid parenting and the sociology of knowledge. He used the pseudonym ‘Frank Richards’ (which was also a pseudonym of Charles Hamilton, who created Billy Bunter: “Yarooh! He ejaculated”). He also wrote under the name ‘Linda Ryan’.
Splits Go Bananas
At some point between 1969 and Spring 1973 Furedi joined IS (we student lefties from the 60s get confused by IS being to do with radical Islam. To us, IS will always be the International Socialists, a lovable group of entryist Trotskyites that gave us great amusement with their ineffectual posturing). Furedi was expelled along with the rest of the faction known as the ‘Right Opposition’ in spring 1973. Furedi’s new grouping called itself the ‘Revolutionary Opposition’.
To cut a long story, that group became the RCG (Revolutionary Communist Group). Furedi was expelled and became the founder and chairman of the RCT (Revolutionary Communist Tendency), which morphed into the RCP (Revolutionary Communist Party). The RCP was distinguished by its commitment to theoretical elaboration and hostility to state intervention in social life. OK so far?
The RCP published a magazine called Living Marxism, launched in November 1988. Living Marxism became LM in 1997 and closed down in 2000 as a result of a libel suit by ITN. ITN reporters Penny Marshall and Ian Williams were each awarded £150,000 damages. LM was also ordered to pay £75,000 to ITN.
The libel action was about a 1997 article called “The picture that fooled the world”. LM claimed that a picture of an emaciated man behind barbed wire was taken at a safe haven for displaced Muslims not at a Bosnian Serb concentration camp as claimed. In February 1997, LM had recruited Thomas Deichmann to tell the ‘real’ story. Deichmann was not the investigative journalist that LM claimed. He was an engineer who had published articles in an obscure German magazine called Novo, in which he defended the Bosnian Serb leadership. He offered his services as a witness for the defence at the trial of the alleged Serbian war criminal Dusko Tadic. Radovan Karadžić, President of Republika Srpska, was sentenced to life imprisonment for war crimes.
Liberals Like Contrarians
The LM Network’s obsessively and oppressively contrarian approach appeals to some liberals but seems fairly consistently to tack to the far right. Furedi managed to get three hours of prime-time TV on Channel 4 to attack environmentalist groups, comparing them to Nazis. In the programme LM used well-known right-wingers like Larry Craig, a far-right Republican senator and fundraiser for the “Alliance for America”; Julian Simon, who was Ronald Reagan’s favourite economist; and Michael Gough, who, like Simon, belongs to the Cato Institute, a hard-right think-tank.
LM published articles by Roger Bate of the Institute for Economic Affairs, arguing that African countries should be sold to multinational corporations in order to bring “good government” to the continent. The IEA is notoriously cagey about its funding but we do know that it has taken tens of thousands of pounds from big tobacco firms and has issued position statements against public health measures on tobacco.
The supposedly leftist LM Network took what seemed right-wing stances on most issues. It argued that gun control was a misconceived attack on human liberty; legal restraints on child pornography were an excuse for wider censorship; the dangers of alcohol were exaggerated by “puritans”; the activities of the Neo-Nazi British National Party should not be restricted and it was unfair to associate it with the murder of Stephen Lawrence; the Anti-Nazi League was undemocratic; racist publications inciting readers to beat up black people should not be censored; animals do not have any rights; it is an offence to civilized humanity to celebrate tribal people like the Yanomami Indians; climate change has been exaggerated but global warming is a good thing anyway; restricting car use is a fundamental assault on liberty.
Jenny Turner wrote in the London Review of Books about “the LM network’s habit of supporting freedom of expression for all sorts of horrible people: BNPers and child pornographers and atrocity deniers. Of course it’s only the right to speak that is supported, not what is said: members of the LM network are always careful to stress that they’re no less opposed to racism, sexual exploitation and mass murder than everybody else, it’s just that they think unpleasant opinions should be not banned but ‘battled’ with, in open debate.”
Kenan Malik is another member of the LM Network. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a contributor to many prestigious publications such as the Guardian, the New York Times and the New Humanist. I was instrumental in getting him invited to the Galle Literary Festival a few years ago. He repaid me by being extremely unpleasant to me and Michael Roberts when we objected to unfounded comments he made about the political situation in Sri Lanka. In the 1980s, he was associated with the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). Nick Cohen, the Observer columnist and author of What’s Left: How the Left Lost Its Way (2007), has called RCP “a vicious movement” and “the smallest and nastiest of the Trotskyist sects”. Malik stood as the RCP’s candidate in Birmingham Selly Oak in the general election in 1992, coming last out of six candidates with 84 votes (0.15%). Malik was one of the first left-wing critics of multiculturalism and has opposed restrictions on hate speech. In a series of debates with Peter Singer and Richard Ryder, he has dismissed the notion of animal rights and defended experiments on animals. He is, of course, perfectly entitled to hold such views but, to my mind, they disqualify him from being called progressive.
Mr. Malik took the opportunity of his visit to the Galle Literary Festival in January 2016 to recycle the fictional figure of 40,000 plus civilian casualties at the end of the war against the LTTE. I have given this matter of “the numbers game” a great deal of thought. I have attended think tanks and seminars, had a long conversation with the author of the IADG report, reviewed in great detail Gordon Weiss’s book on the subject, had a dialogue with Callum McCrae and published several articles. I do not think that Mr. Malik has studied the matter in so much depth.
Kenan Malik has been a frequent contributor to Spiked. Spiked, edited by Brendan O’Neill, continues, in the name of “ordinary people”, to attack what are normally thought of as left-wing positions. It seems that capitalist corporations do not oppress ordinary people as much as “anti-Trump and anti-Brexit cultural elites”, “feministic elites”, “green elites” and “cosmopolitan politicians”. It is particularly strong against environmentalists: “We need to conquer nature, not to bow to it”. Spiked does not seem to be in favour of the Welfare State. It disapproves of regulation of financial services or of polluting industries. It defends people on the right like Nigel Farage, Alex Jones, Tommy Robinson, Arron Banks and Viktor Orbán. It demands the hardest of possible Brexits.
The LM Network stance on dark money is interesting. Carole Cadwalladr won many prizes for exposing the dodgy financing surrounding the Brexit referendum. Spiked calls her “the closest thing the mainstream British media has to an out-and-out conspiracy theorist”.
The environmental journalist, George Monbiot, was alerted in 2018 by a reader to one line he had spotted in a form submitted to the US government by the Charles Koch Foundation. Monbiot set up a collaboration with the investigative group DeSmog UK and discovered that the far-right Koch Foundation was funding the avowedly Trotskyite Spiked.
Spiked was established in 2001 as an online magazine. In 2016, Spiked US received $170,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation. Spiked US seems to have been established in the same year the Kochs started making payments. The political network spearheaded by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch has expanded into a far-reaching complex and shadowy operation built around a welter of groups hiding who the donors are. Koch Industries have had to pay massive fines for oil spills, illegal benzene emissions and ammonia pollution. The brothers have an agenda to promote lower taxes for the rich and less regulation. They have used their phenomenal wealth to penetrate and corrupt every corner of US life. They are doing the same in the UK. The year Spiked received $170,000 from the Kochs, Spiked attacked the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access pipeline, in which the Koch brothers have a major interest.
The LM Network calls its critics “McCarthyites”. Furedi claims that his stance springs from the tradition of the “anti-Stalinist left”. All very progressive, no? There is a good deal of lexical ambiguity in the use of words like ‘progressive’ and ‘left’. I will go into that another time and look forward to input from the progressive LPI.