31 Jul 2020, 08:55
By a socialist postal worker
31 July 2020
The following comment article was submitted to the WSWS by a British postal worker.
Talks between Royal Mail and the Communication Workers Union (CWU) mark a new stage in their joint offensive against pay, working conditions and health.
The track record of the CWU is proof of this.
In 2014, the union signed off on the “Agenda for Growth” agreement. The current general secretary of the CWU, Dave Ward, was part of the negotiating team that accepted what was tantamount to a no-strike deal, agreeing to the clause:
“The employer shall be entitled to notify the CWU at any time that any of the Protections will no longer continue, if…there is national-scale industrial action (in the form of a strike or action short of a strike) which has been authorised at the national level by the CWU [which] will have, or is reasonably likely to have, a...disruptive effect.”
Ward, portrayed as a “left” by groups such as the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party, is a champion of a “partnership approach.” The pseudo-left groups made much of Ward’s campaign for general secretary, especially his “no blind loyalty to Labour” stance. But blind or not, Ward is certainly loyal to the Labour Party bureaucracy.
Throughout negotiations, Ward has bragged about bringing Royal Mail to the table and demanding adherence to the 2017 Four Pillars Agreement. The CWU claims this heralded a new way of working, enshrining postal workers’ pay and condition in law. Four Pillars was a sellout and included an inferior pension scheme, reduction in working hours in return for productivity boosts through alterations to delivery routes, new duty patterns, new working practices, and greater use of technology to monitor performance.
The CWU said that Four Pillars would see a reduction of part-time work and increase full-time jobs. The opposite has happened. There has been a growth of 20-hour and 25-hour contracts, both on worse pensions than full-time workers, which have led to the creation of a two-tier workforce. Calling for the retention of the 2017 Four Pillars Agreement, which included a range of cost “efficiencies” to the detriment of workers, has only guaranteed the CWU a seat at the table.
Royal Mail Chairman Keith Williams and UK Operations CEO Stuart Simpson have paid lip service to the Four Pillars Agreement, while seeking to impose former CEO Rico Back’s plan for further attacks. The CWU has accepted the accelerated attacks on postal workers’ conditions, saying, “We know things have to change.”
Behind the backs of workers, the CWU is agreeing fundamental changes in working practices that will be to the detriment of most postal workers. To clear the path for these changes, the union has cleared 600 disagreements off the table so that Royal Mail will be given free rein to impose revisions or job cuts without the threat of strike action.
Dave Ward and his deputy, Terry Pullinger, spoke of the need to accept the revisions because Royal Mail had backed down over its move to separate off Parcelforce from letters. They insisted, “We cannot always be in dispute mode, we have to move things forward. If nothing moves, we end up with no industry and no job.”
The CWU has echoed Royal Mail’s mantra, saying that post-workers must ask themselves, “How can we make some savings?” The CWU even had the nerve to say that some revisions “can go the members’ way in some places.”
Working with the CWU has necessitated Royal Mail bosses changing tactics but not their long-term plans.
It has been mooted that a new deal will undermine the Universal Service Obligation, and will involve postal workers working Sundays, delivering parcels to offset job losses with a five-day USO possibly excluding Saturday deliveries. The union has admitted that 20,000 jobs will eventually go, saying that at least they will not be mandatory redundancies but voluntary. But what happens if Royal Mail does not get 20,000 voluntary redundancies? The CWU will not fight this, given its long record of reneging on votes for strike action. The CWU’s London Division has warned that “these negotiations are going to be possibly the biggest since the ending of the second delivery and will mean major change[s].”
This means postal workers accepting “minimising letter decline,” “diversifying” deliveries and job losses.
Parcel volumes are up 64 percent according to Royal Mail’s financial results, increasing the already heavy workload faced by postal workers. Royal Mail has given massive amounts of money to shareholders. In the last seven years since privatisation, the hedge funds and other significant shareholders controlling Royal Mail have extracted over £1 billion in dividends and other remunerations.
Royal Mail announced in its financial result that it was losing £1 million a day due to the coronavirus crisis. It threatened that “change” would have to accelerate. Shortly after the release of the financial results, it announced that 2,000 managers would lose their jobs as part of £130 million savings.
While the CWU has boasted about its newfound love affair with Royal Mail, it has been extraordinarily silent on Royal Mail’s plans to increase profits for its shareholders. Despite a temporary reduction of dividends, Royal Mail has said “the opportunity remains to create more value for shareholders.” One such opportunity is to sell off its very profitable parcels company, GLS. This would create an enormous dividend for shareholders.
Royal Mail has continued with the selling of its prime infrastructure. In 2017, the company sold part of its land at Mount Pleasant in London to property developers Taylor Wimpey for £193 million. Just recently, a large logistics warehouse used by Royal Mail has been purchased by an investment company at the cost of £13 million. The selling of what is the largest and busiest Parcelforce depot in the UK, handling around 20,000 parcels per day, is one indicator that far from safeguarding jobs, CWU talks with Royal Mail are a cover for attacks escalating behind the backs of postal workers.
At the start of the coronavirus crisis, the union called off a strike voted for by 94.5 percent of members on a 63.4 percent turnout. Without any consultation of its membership, Ward and Pullinger proposed a gentlemen’s agreement with Royal Mail and Boris Johnson’s Conservative government. In a “proposal to the company based on putting the interests of the nation first,” the CWU offered up Royal Mail workers as an “additional emergency service.” The CWU claimed this would end attacks on jobs and conditions and see the necessary safety measures implemented. Already, four postal workers have died of COVID-19, with many more sick at home or in hospital.
The fast pace of change means that it is later than postal workers think. They must reject the CWU’s mantra that they have the best interests of postal workers and are working for a better future. To take forward the struggle in defence of postal workers’ health and to oppose the onslaught on jobs and pay demands the formation of rank-and-file committees.
These committees must begin to coordinate a company-wide counter-offensive, rejecting the CWU’s call for collaboration with management, and taking the international class struggle as their starting point.
Against plans to carve up and hive off the company, the demand must be for Royal Mail to be nationalised without compensation and placed under workers’ control.
02 Aug 2020, 11:42
This is a reply in the form of a previous article on the WSWS.ORG on the origins of the RCP. In Woody Guthrie post he appears to imply that the SEP has the same politics as the now-defunct RCP. This article is being posted for clarification.
The politics and origins of Britain’s Spiked-Online—Part 1
By Zach Reed
30 May 2016
The past few years have witnessed an unprecedented wave of “student-led” censorship on British campuses through the use of “No Platforming” and other measures such as controlling speech, clothing and even body language.
The minutiae of life on campus are now subject to scrutiny, condemnation and even proscription—all in the name of protecting from harm. Censorship has reached the level of absurdity—evoking indignation, ridicule and concern over its implications for democratic rights.
Censorship is the outcome of official National Union of Students’ (NUS) and local Student Unions’ policy to turn campuses into what are described as “Safe Spaces.” It is largely driven by student groups steeped in identity politics. Words and symbols, regardless of their context or their intent, are deemed to cause as much violence as physical acts when employed against selected “oppressed groupings.” By reducing the world to competing subjective identities based on postmodernist and irrationalist conceptions, the feeling of offence and its remedy are now presented as the sole practical concern on campus.
The policy of “no platforming” was first practised by the NUS in 1974 against fascist groups such as the National Front. It was tied to measures that hindered any effective struggle against fascism by placing this as a task of the state and other bourgeois authorities, including those on campus. As with all such appeals for bans and proscriptions, it ultimately provided the ruling class with the means to attack what is their main target, the working class and socialists, while allowing the right wing to pose as victims of state repression. Today “no platforming” is routinely employed against genuine victims of state repression.
In 2010, after Julian Assange and WikiLeaks had exposed imperialist war crimes and became the target for a massive state witch-hunt, Assange met with denunciations and slander by feminists and pseudo-left groups. Organisations such as the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party have solidarized themselves with bogus accusations of rape to demand that Assange accept being deported to Sweden, where he would face extradition to the United States. When Assange defended himself against the trumped-up rape allegations, he, and others supporting him, were accused of “rape apologism,” and faced bans and proscriptions.
For its pains, the SWP and its student organisations on campus were given similar treatment, following rape allegations in 2013 against one of the group’s leading members. Today, anyone is a potential target for censorship on campuses. It only takes a trawled-up sentence on social media to demand a ban, as demonstrated by the ongoing campaign alleging anti-Semitism against political critics of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians.
The political confusion created is compounded by claims that it is coming from a “left” and even Marxist perspective. In reality, it expresses the interests of a privileged upper middle class layer who use demands for preferential treatment for their designated identity group—based on ethnicity, sex or sexual preference—to further their own careers.
This plays into the hands of Conservative and right-wing groups, who portray censorship as the child of the “radical left” while they assume the mantle of defenders of free speech. It mirrors the more general phenomenon where the bankrupt politics of the pseudo-left have allowed far-right and fascistic forces to exploit rising social and political discontent.
It is in these circumstances that forces grouped around the Internet publication Spiked-Online have come to play a prominent and pernicious role, largely thanks to the extensive publicity secured by their campaign against censorship on campuses.
Earlier this year the publication of Spiked’s annual Free Speech University Rankings was widely cited by mainstream media publications to highlight the scale of the censorship and bans taking place. Spiked also hosted a public conference on campus free speech and published a book on the subject. At some universities, Spiked has established “Speak Easy” groups with the stated aim of providing a platform for all individuals banned by the student unions from speaking. It presents itself as the champion of Enlightenment values that it wields as a “metaphorical missile against misanthropy.”
Through such self-serving and dishonest claims, Spiked provides both an apologia and a platform for corporations and right-wing individuals and groups. Indeed “free speech” for Spiked overwhelmingly centres on the democratic rights of such layers, often in alliance with Conservative Students societies.
A flavour of this was on display at Spiked’s conference in February, “The New Intolerance on Campus.” A session devoted to “No Platform: Is hate speech free speech?” featured Brendan O’Neill, the current editor of Spiked-Online, and Douglas Murray, associate editor of the Conservative magazine, The Spectator .
O’Neill is also a contributor to The Spectator. His mission, he said, is to encourage people to balk at the phrase “Hate Crime” as much as they do at the Orwellian term “Thought Crime”. O’Neill ascribed this legislative “tyranny” to the Soviet Union, which following the Second World War had pushed for international treaties to criminalise hatred and incitement to hatred, he claimed. “[A]mazingly,” the Soviet Union ended up winning—with the 1965 UN convention outlawing ideas based on racial superiority, he said.
Thus, students trying to clamp down on hate speech today are placed in the tradition of a tyrannical and oppressive “left.” This anti-communist rant concluded with O’Neill asserting that censorship had been adopted in Britain and elsewhere because Western society had lost its belief in Enlightenment values and the concepts of the “robust individual” and “moral autonomy.” This in turn was the end result of parenting styles and anti-bullying initiatives at schools that placed self-esteem as the most sacred thing in the world and had produced “poofs” and “wimps.”
There was not one mention of censorship of left-wing ideas, much less the government’s so-called Prevent strategy, which targets Muslims under the banner of combating “radicalisation” and “extremism.” O’Neill boasted that since his days at university he has been fighting for the freedom of speech for racist people, who he said face the most censorship on campus and in society. At one point, he declared that it was incumbent on those students who believe in free speech to do the very thing that has been banned as a matter of principle—such as playing “sexist” songs through loud speakers.
O’Neill’s claims of the special persecution of racists and xenophobes parallel those of the right wing more generally. Racism is treated as some form of popular expression that the powers-that-be cannot tolerate and the defence of racist speech as the cutting edge of progressive democratic and enlightened politics.
Murray expressed the same thought. With all the Etonian public school arrogance of the British ruling class, he declared that too many people attend universities who should not be there because they “don’t have the mental faculties to cope with it.” They should instead be training for a useful profession like plumbing. It is not hard to work out who Murray believes are the select few fit to engage in critical thought and the free exchange of ideas.
In another session, Education Editor of Spiked-Online Joanna Williams utilised a critique of the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign’s politically bankrupt targeting of Israel academics to provide a platform for pro-Zionist propaganda. Outrage over Israel’s crimes was dismissed as the result of unabashed anti-Jewish bigotry.
Spiked has long acted as a soundboard for right-wing and far-right forces and ideas. In response to the 2011 London riots, Mick Hume, its former editor, blamed the social unrest on “The undermining of a sense of belonging and commitment to a community, and the consequent collapse of the authority of local adult figures.”
He added, “One arch villain in this destruction of community ties has been not gang culture but the culture of welfarism which makes people more dependent on the state than on one another.”
The riots were the result of “the effective collapse of the authority of the state—primarily embodied by the police—in London and other cities,” he said, concluding, “The Met [Metropolitan Police] is clearly happier pursuing thought criminals on the tweets than real ones on the streets.”
Absent from Hume’s pro-state narrative was any mention of the kangaroo courts and punitive punishments meted out to youth, not to mention the police killing that triggered the riots.
Another piece by Neil Davenport, “Ignoring the real lessons of the riots,” put Spiked’s anti-working class credentials on full display. There is a “corrosive sense of infantile entitlement among the young,” he wrote, a “sense of therapeutic entitlement, of demanding undue rewards.” The left is responsible for creating an “anti-work” attitude that “encourages a parasitical relationship of some on the labour of others” and “does much to encourage lumpenised passivity and defeatism, factors that can spark destructive anti-social (rather than political) behaviour.”
Youth unemployment is the result of this sense of entitlement, he argued, which means European Union migrants fill the job vacancies that British youth refuse to take. He described then Education Secretary Michael Gove’s decision to abolish the Education Maintenance Allowance—a stipend enabling poor students to study—as “a positive corrective to the childish entitlement that helped inflame the 2011 riots.”
“It is not just about cutting back on welfare,” he said, “but cutting out the culture of incapacity that therapeutic norms have encouraged.”
On this basis, Spiked has made clear its sympathy with the anti-immigrant UK Independence Party (UKIP), led by Nigel Farage. Writing on “Nigel Farage and the fury of the elites,” O’Neil presented UKIP and other right-wing populist parties as the result of a groundswell of popular opposition to the “establishment.”
Describing UKIP glowingly as an “assertion of something, of a desire, a sentiment, an idea, however ill-formed it might currently be,” he asserted that anti-immigrant measures emanate from “a profound feeling of cultural insecurity,” where populations have a “strong feeling that they now live in something like a foreign land”—language that would not be out of place in Mein Kampf .
Playing to anti-Islamist sentiment, O’Neil declared that the problem is “the divisive ideology of multiculturalism and the censorious culture of relativism that allowed large parts of Western Europe to become tradition-trouncing, speech-suppressing, alienating places, not immigration itself.”
O’Neill followed this up with an interview with Farage under the headline, “I’m taking on the establishment, and they hate me for it.”
“Listening to Farage, I don’t hear a racist or a fruitcake or a loon,” O’Neill wrote. “Actually, I hear someone who says things that aren’t a million miles away from what Old Labour used to say ... there’s often a leftish feel to Farage’s arguments. That the left in particular hate him reveals, I think, more about how the left has changed, and how it has abandoned some of its core ideals, than it does about any innate hatefulness on the part of Farage.”
Asking rhetorically whether or not to vote UKIP, O’Neill said, “a few more consensus-kickers in British politics, whether they’re of a right-wing or left-wing hue, would be no bad thing, no bad thing at all.”
The fraud of Spiked ’s supposed championing of free speech is demonstrated by the contrast between its fawning on Farage and its hatred for Assange, Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and other whistle-blowers, who have been persecuted for their commitment to the truth.
In February 2016, Luke Gittos wrote against the ruling by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions that Assange had been deprived of his rights under international humanitarian law.
The ruling was absurd and another instance of an international team interfering with “our” justice system, Gittos complained, repeating the bogus claim that Assange was fleeing a serious “allegation of rape.”
Whenever Spiked comments on Assange, Manning or Snowden there is scarcely any mention of the state crimes they have revealed, merely an assertion that that there is nothing of any importance in these disclosures. They are even accused of fuelling conspiracy theories. In “Let’s call a halt to the worship of whistle-blowers,” O’Neill says the real impact of the “cult of the whistle-blower” is “the further promotion, among polite society as well as impolite, of the idea that evil networks control the unenlightened horde.”
The hostility to Assange et al is bound up with Spiked’s support for the “war on terror.” Thus Gittos—its law editor no less—dealt with the revelation that Cameron had ordered the drone killing of two British citizens in Syria in 2015 by insisting that the issue was not whether the government had broken international law by resorting to targeted assassinations but, “Was it the right thing to do?”
“YES! ... ,” he wrote. “Now, the killing of two psychopathic jihadis, a move that almost everyone agrees was a good idea, has been questioned on the basis that it might not accord with the arbitrary standards of international law. ... There is another word for the deference to international law: cowardice. It is a reflection of Western leaders’ inability to make forceful moral and political cases for their actions.”
“We should not balk at the targeted killing of these nutty terrorists merely because someone says it might be illegal,” he continued. “These decisions have to be judged on their moral and political merit. In this case, we should stop the legal handwringing and be glad that we pulled the trigger on two lunatics the world is better off without.”
O’Neill has denounced the “Apologists for Islamist terrorism,” who say that this is the result of Western foreign policy for its “reluctance to face up to the true nature of the problem we face today. Which is that some people who live in our societies, many of whom were born here, have come to loathe those societies so much that they think nothing of obliterating their citizens.”
“We need to deliver two blows to these terrorists: the police blow of tougher investigations, and the social blow of refusing to sacrifice freedom at the altar of fear,” he concluded calling for a “fightback of civilisation.”
The politics and origins of Britain’s Spiked-Online—Part Two
Spiked-Online has much in common with the Charlie Hebdo magazine in France, which similarly justifies its anti-Islamic provocations as the defence of Western, secularist and enlightenment values.
Indeed, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks at the beginning of 2015, it called for a “Fight for the right to be offensive, in memory of the journalists at Charlie Hebdo.”
The basis for the shared line of Spiked and Charlie Hebdo lies in their common origins and their social milieu. Like the pseudo-lefts who today espouse identity politics, both these journals emerged from middle class layers that in an earlier period identified themselves as anti-capitalist and even revolutionary.
As late as 2012, Brendan O’Neill still claimed to stand on the “left,” while Frank Furedi, the theoretical guru behind Spiked, sometimes calls himself a “libertarian Marxist,” unless this is impolitic and then he becomes a “libertarian humanist.”
The tendency that gave rise to Spiked-Online was formerly known as the Revolutionary Communist Tendency from 1976, until it changed its name to the Revolutionary Communist Party in 1981.
The RCP was the product of a series of unprincipled splits and expulsions beginning with an undeclared and politically diffuse faction in Tony Cliff’s state-capitalist International Socialist group, now the Socialist Workers Party.
The faction, beginning in 1971, was called the Revolutionary Opposition, and arose around the figure of Roy Tearse. It lacked any distinct programme or theory, so much so that when it was expelled by Cliff at the end of 1973 a discussion was initiated to determine its independent existence during which the grouping split apart.
Behind Tearse a group called the Discussion Group formed, eventually dissolving into the Labour Party. David Yaffe, an academic at Sussex University, emerged as the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG), formed in 1974 and made up of students. It adapted wholesale to Stalinism and bourgeois nationalism, denouncing the working class as the beneficiaries of imperialism.
A short time after the formation of the RCG, Furedi began to criticise its line and he and a group of students around him were summarily expelled in 1976—forming the Revolutionary Communist Tendency (RCT). In 1981 the RCT renamed itself the Revolutionary Communist Party.
The RCP published a journal called The Next Step, in which it declared that “the working-class is a collection of groups which are all part of the revolutionary project ...” During the 1980s and into the 1990s it took an increasingly right-wing line, boasting that it was tackling the “taboos” of the left. In the midst of the yearlong miners’ strike in Britain starting in 1984, the RCP raised the demand for a national ballot as supposedly necessary to provide the strike with democratic legitimacy. This was the main demand raised by opponents of the strike and provided the basis for the formation of the scab Union of Democratic Mineworkers. It was raised when hundreds of thousands of miners were already locked in a bitter struggle against the British state and the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher and would have meant calling it off.
In the 1990s, in response to the dissolution of the Soviet Union by the Stalinist bureaucracy, the RCP developed many of the concepts that underwrite the politics of Spiked-Online. In 1990, in its magazine Living Marxism, Furedi expounded the RCP’s new political line in an article, “Midnight in the Century.” The liquidation of the Soviet Union and the disavowal of national-reformist programmes by social democracy were cited as proof that socialism was dead.
The article typified the pervasive atmosphere of renunciationism among a layer of the middle-class worldwide that was lurching to the right, repudiating any past association with working class and “left” politics as they sought to integrate themselves into the state apparatus, academia and the trade unions.
The experience of Stalinism, its collapse and the “defeats of Labourism and its variants in the West” had served to entirely discredit socialism and Marxism and render capitalism the only possible form of social organisation. “For the first time this century there is no real sense of a working-class movement with a distinctive political identity anywhere in the world,” Furedi declared. “[T]he left, as a force that represents something in society, no longer exists.”
The article declared that not all was lost, as long as those seeking change recognise “the irrelevance of old-fashioned left-wing ideas,” which “make little sense today. ...”
There was nothing original in Furedi’s article, which rehashed the worn-out cry of a petty bourgeois done playing at revolution. Having long ago rejected Leon Trotsky’s revolutionary opposition to Stalinism and social democracy, these layers were especially hostile to any need to work over the history of the 20th century.
Furedi went on to state explicitly, “It is not possible to somehow rescue or revive progressive ideas from the past and reimpose them on the present. It is not possible to turn the clock back and ‘defend the Enlightenment’ or ‘return to Marxism’. Karl Marx’s programme for revolution, formulated upon the experience of mass working class struggles, cannot simply be projected on to a situation where even the scope for individual subjectivity is so circumscribed.”
This became the ideological rationale for the RCP’s embrace of capitalism, which displayed in microcosm the process taking place among the entire pseudo-left. Furedi declared that the RCP’s missions was to promote “confident individualism” without any social constraints against a “culture of limits” or “culture of low expectations”—Thatcherite nostrums that would become the bread and butter of Spiked and its affiliates. In an echo of Ayn Rand, the aim was to advance the “actualisation of the individual against society.”
The main problem facing mankind was that the bourgeoisie had lost confidence in their own historical mission, due to the undermining of their intellectual foundations in the struggle against the left. In doing so, they had created a world of conservatism and risk-aversion. This rendered any criticism of capitalism reactionary because “complaints about the destructive anarchy of the capitalist market can only strengthen the cynical conviction that everything is beyond our control.”
To counter the spread of conformity, Living Marxism embarked on campaigns against gun control, the banning of tobacco advertisements, the banning of child pornography and, most prominently, opposition to concerns at the effects of global warming.
Under the auspices of opposing “victim culture” and the “culture of safety,” Living Marxism argued that the least regard should be given to the views of those who have suffered as a result of corporate activity because they were obstructions to progress and freedom and their views would contribute to “moral panic.”
In 1997 the Living Marxism name was scrapped and replaced with LM. An editorial declared, “The spirit of LM is to go against the grain: to oppose all censorship, bans and codes of conduct; to stand up for social and scientific experimentation; to insist that we have the right to live as autonomous adults who take responsibility for our own affairs.”
The RCP was officially dissolved in March 1998 in an article by Hume calling LM a magazine that promotes “an agenda very different to that of the old left” and declaring Marxism to be irrelevant because there was no possibility of a politics based on the working class.
LM published an article by Ron Arnold, the executive vice president of the Centre for the Defence of Free Enterprise, calling for the destruction and eradication of the environmental movement as part of Furedi’s vision of a regroupment transcending left and right of “all those who believe human beings should play for high stakes.”
LM organised events with sponsorship from large corporate interests, including the Adam Smith Institute and FOREST, the front group funded by the tobacco industry.
The LM magazine came to end in 2000, after Britain’s Independent Television News (ITN) sued it for libel and was replaced by Spiked-Online. It has continued providing the same platform for the right-wing, corporate front-groups and think tanks such as the Hudson Institute and Centre for Global Food Issues. It has also received sponsorship from the telecommunication industry such as BT and Orange, and the Mobile Operators Association to host “debates” to downplay concerns of the impact of mobile phones on health and the environment.
Alongside Spiked also emerged the openly pro-corporate Institute of Ideas, headed by Claire Fox, which hosts the Battle of Ideas and is heavily focused on organising events on behalf of corporate sponsors. Alongside these are a host of other corporate lobbying groups, particularly around bio-technology interests, which have been established by individuals from within the RCP tendency and students of Furedi from the University of Kent. The various organisations receive corporate sponsorship ranging from pharmaceutical giants such as Pfizer, energy corporations such as Exxon and a host of others.
Furedi, a professor of Sociology at the University of Kent, was named in 2004 by the British Sociological Association as the “most prolific of UK sociologists.” He has released a series of books while contributing articles to the Wall Street Journal in defence of the infamous agrochemical company Monsanto and producing a pamphlet for the Centre for Policy Studies, a thinktank established by Thatcher.
The most infamous product of the Spiked stable was Channel 4’s “Against Nature,” aired in the late 1990s. Starring Furedi, it denounced environmentalists as Nazis, supposedly responsible for deaths in third world countries. Complaints were lodged against the programme for its distortion and misrepresentation through the editing of interviews. After an investigation Channel 4 issued an on-air apology.
The show featured other LM members, portrayed as independent experts, as well as contributors from the far right. Its director, Martin Durkin, was also identified as a former RCP member. He went on to produce another pro-corporate documentary for the GM-food industry and another anti-environmentalist programme, “The Great Global Warming Swindle,” and a documentary on UKIP, “Nigel Farage: Who are you?”
An online blog by Miles King revealed that the climate change adviser to UKIP, known for its stance of climate change denial, is Ben Pile—another figure associated with the Living Marxism magazine, a regular contributor to Spiked-Online and a speaker at events of the Institute of Ideas.
This is a tendency that, through the individuals that compose it, is well connected with the right wing. Both Hume and O’Neill wrote for publications of billionaire oligarch Rupert Murdoch—Hume writing for The Times and The Sun and O’Neill for The Australian. O’Neill also contributes articles to The Spectator and The American Conservative. The self-proclaimed defender of enlightenment thought has opposed the legalisation of same-sex marriage and labelled opposition to Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the UK as intolerant fearmongering. He is connected with the Australian free-market think tank, the Centre for Independent Studies, and was a keynote speaker for the pro-Israeli advocacy organisation StandWithUs. The organisation enjoys close ties with Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and receives a growing budget, standing over $9 million, which goes towards funding student activities on campuses and, in particular, organising opposition to the BDS movement.
In the hands of Spiked, invocations of “free speech” are transformed into a justification for attacking broader democratic rights—above all genuine, vocal opposition to anti-democratic and reactionary forces and ideas. In its manifesto for free speech, Spiked demands there must be “no mob pressure on people to conform to modern orthodoxies.” One such example of “mob pressure” cited by Spiked is the protests against the French National Front leader Marine Le Pen to the Oxford Union debating society in 2015.
Spiked complained that those wanting to listen to Le Pen were “besieged by a violent mob,” with Tom Slater describing the protests as “illiberal and partronising.” Le Pen was to speak on “Western values.”
Spiked’s opposition to identity politics is from the right, insofar as the latter employs the language of “anti-imperialism” and selectively points to some of the historic crimes committed against the colonial peoples. Theirs is an attempt to rehabilitate the ideas of the far right, to promote the supposedly civilising mission of imperialism and thereby to turn universities into centres of corporate and state interests.
In 2004, Spiked chided the massive protests against the Iraq War of the previous year, describing the term “imperialism” as one of the “zombie categories” of the old left. Sloganeering against imperialism was regressive as it expressed “moral revulsion at the mundane world of politics” and contributed to an “anti-development” mood. The main problem, according to Spiked , was “the retreat from leadership and responsibility amongst the elite.”
For all their differences, Spiked and its nominal opponents in the identity politics crowd represent different variants of right-wing bourgeois politics. The combined result is to prevent a genuine independent discussion among students and youth around the fundamental issues they face of austerity, including its impact on education, war and the assault on democratic rights. The defence of free speech can only be conducted on the basis of a socialist political programme oriented to the working class and in opposition to capitalism. This is the programme of the International Youth and Students for Social Equality.