Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 29, 2019

Spiked Online, Brexit, and the looming catastrophe

Filed under: Brexit,Spiked — louisproyect @ 6:27 pm

James Heartfield, the erstwhile Marxist, giving a campaign address as a candidate of the racist Brexit Party

I haven’t paid much attention to the people around Frank Furedi ever since they dropped all pretensions to Marxism with the launch of Spiked Online in 2000. When I first ran into one of their members James Heartfield on the Marxism mailing list that preceded Marxmail, I put a lot of energy into answering him on a host of issues, particularly global warming that he denied. Once the cult leader Frank Furedi disavowed Marxism in the early 2000s, others followed behind him like ducklings waddling behind their mother . Like everybody else, Heartfield fell into line on the policy questions, especially on environmentalism, but unlike most others continued to represent himself as a Marxist.

Only four years ago, I wrote a positive review of his radical history of WWII. I never dreamed that just three years later he would run as a candidate of the Brexit Party for a seat in the European parliament. This party founded by Nigel Farage is similar to Viktor Orban’s party in Hungary and the Five Star Party in Italy. Whether it can be classified as fascist might be open to question. That it is a running sewer of nativism and racism is beyond question, however. The goal of this article is to explain how someone like Heartfield could end up dripping in sewage without the slightest self-awareness. In a statement on why he was running as a Brexit Party candidate, Heartfield probably anticipated the kind of criticisms he would hear from people like me:

As an original signatory of The Full Brexit’s founding statement, I want to explain why I am standing in the European elections – and why you should vote – for the Brexit Party. I know that a lot of Full Brexit supporters may be alarmed by a Party that is led by Nigel Farage, and some on the left have said people like me are “useful idiots” for The Brexit Party.

Actually, I don’t think he is being an idiot at all. He is simply following a political logic to its full conclusion.

Except for an occasional piece on their taking money from the Koch brothers or their pro-Zionist turn, there didn’t seem to be much point in writing about them. In the same way I don’t spend much time attacking an openly Zionist or openly libertarian website, I have more important matters to attend to. Today, I will be returning to the Spiked Online beat since an article by blogger Bob from Brockley on this tilt to the far-right has raised eyebrows, including my own. I have no idea who Bob is except that he follows me on Twitter and often retweets anything I write about Syria. My impression is that he is closer to Alliance for Workers Liberty, Marko Attila Hoare and other groups and individuals more open to NATO intervention than me. When I urged a vote for Jill Stein in 2016, FB friends who shared their orientation became so upset with me for supporting what they saw as an Assadist that multiple unfriendings took place, either initiated by them or by me.

Bob from Brockley’s 4,200 word article is titled “The RCP’s long march from anti-imperialist outsiders to the doors of Downing Street” is an eye-opening account of how the people behind Spiked have built links to the British far right. He mentions a couple of key examples. Boris Johnson has appointed his former deputy mayor Munira Mirza to head up his policy unit at 10 Downing Street. Mirza, of Pakistani origins, was a long-time member of the LM/Spiked network who while sharing her boss’s Islamophobia will help him pretend to be for diversity in the same way that George W. Bush exploited the hiring of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.

Besides Mirza, there is Claire Fox, a prominent figure in the LM/Spiked network, who was elected to the European Parliament last year. Fox was director of the Institute of Ideas, a project that helped these people develop ties to powerful corporate figures, including Hill and Knowlton, the PR firm that promoted the accusation that Saddam Hussein’s military had plucked babies from their cribs in a Kuwaiti nursery and left them to die on the cold floor.

Bob from Brockley cites an article in Desmog, a website devoted to “clearing PR pollution”, that really has the goods on the corporate ties that Fox developed. I have to admit that I had not been paying attention to how deep these ties had become and am glad that others have continued to put them under a microscope. Desmog writes:

The group’s modus operandi is well-worn. They create an event, curate it and shape it around a series of edgy-sounding phrases and contemporary themes (usually about “free speech” — or the “right to be offensive”) and then pack the programme with colleagues interspersed with unsuspecting and often credible people.

The group’s long legacy of support for right and far-right causes is mirrored in their collaborations and partnerships. This years ‘Battle of Ideas’ is partnered with groups as diverse as the security company G4S, the Ayn Rand Institute and Genomics England.

The event, which James Delingpole enthusiastically called the “annual festival of free speech”, had pharmaceutical giant Bayer (now merged with Monsanto) and PR agency Pagefield as their primary “Battle Champions”.

This follows a long-running practice of collaboration with big businesses (often pharmaceutical and tech companies) and packing their highly curated events with a dazzling mix of the network’s front organisations.

Alongside Bayer (Monsanto) and Pagefield, you’ll also find the Sir William Perkins School for Girls, the NATS air traffic control body, and All In Britain, and Catholics for Choice.

To understand LM/Spiked’s evolution, it is necessary to look at the Communist Manifesto’s first chapter that is practically a paean to the bourgeoisie:

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.

Some of Leon Trotsky’s writing contains the same kind of giddy tribute to technology, industrialization and all the rest, especially in a work like “If America Goes Communist”. To a large degree, Marx’s writings on India have the same sort of breathless references to how the telegraph, railways and steamships will prepare the way for socialism. For Furedi’s followers, capitalism serves as the same kind of totem especially with nuclear power and GMO. Toward the end of their flirtation with Marxism, they became fixated on the concerns that the bourgeoisie had about unsustainable development. If unregulated capitalism undermined the basis for its own profitability, then the government had to step in. For LM that was mutating into libertarianism, this represented a “failure of nerve” of the sort that Ayn Rand fictionalized in “Atlas Shrugged”. In essence, Furedi and company called for the capitalist class to become more “revolutionary”, which meant allowing it to swat away government regulations. That is why the Koch brothers recognized them as kindred spirits and deserving of the hundreds of thousands of dollars they lavished on Spiked Online projects.

While it would be an exercise in futility to resolve some of the deep contradictions in LM/Spiked’s support for Brexit, you have to chuckle at the tightrope they walk over immigrant rights. As everybody understands, Brexit is largely motivated by nativism. Since the EU granted citizens living within its ambit to move freely from country to country, nativists like Nigel Farage sought to close the borders after the fashion of Donald Trump especially the legal immigration sanctioned by the European Union.

On the other hand, the big bourgeoisie does not have the same hatred of foreigners that people like Farage, Boris Johnson and Tommy Robinson do. Speaking for this class, As The Economist pointed out in a June 24, 2016 article titled “Why Brexit is grim news for the world economy” that “Britain’s economy looms large in Europe, where it is a reliable consumer in an otherwise high-saving continent. And any disruption to European growth is particularly unwelcome now.” It was cold feet in the ruling class that probably had more to do with a failure to follow through with a Brexit under PM Theresa May than support for immigrant rights. Corbyn has been waffling on Brexit for the past three years, a function no doubt of Labour’s failure to think outside the box politically. A revolutionary movement in Europe would be trying to form a common market on a socialist basis in keeping with Lenin’s 1915 article “On the Slogan for a United States of Europe”:

A United States of Europe under capitalism is tantamount to an agreement on the partition of colonies. Under capitalism, however, no other basis and no other principle of division are possible except force. A multi-millionaire cannot share the “national income” of a capitalist country with anyone otherwise than “in proportion to the capital invested” (with a bonus thrown in, so that the biggest capital may receive more than its share). Capitalism is private ownership of the means of production, and anarchy in production. To advocate a “just” division of income on such a basis is sheer Proudhonism, stupid philistinism. No division can be effected otherwise than in “proportion to strength”, and strength changes with the course of economic development. Following 1871, the rate of Germany’s accession of strength was three or four times as rapid as that of Britain and France, and of Japan about ten times as rapid as Russia’s. There is and there can be no other way of testing the real might of a capitalist state than by war. War does not contradict the fundamentals of private property—on the contrary, it is a direct and inevitable outcome of those fundamentals. Under capitalism the smooth economic growth of individual enterprises or individual states is impossible. Under capitalism, there are no other means of restoring the periodically disturbed equilibrium than crises in industry and wars in politics.

If Lenin rejected the idea of a capitalist common market, he certainly supported the idea that if some of the more economically powerful countries had socialist revolutions, their economic partnership could become a springboard for socialist transformation globally. Such ideas were kept alive by the Trotskyist movement after WWII. In 1976, Ernest Mandel wrote an article titled “The Common Market – at a snail’s pace” that addressed problems that were never resolved in The Common Market or its offspring, the European Union:

Ever since its creation, it has been clear that the Common Market represented a transitional stage in the development of West European imperialism. Previously, three successive attempts at “European union” under the hegemony of a single imperialist power — Germany during the period 1900-1918; France on the basis of the Treaty of Versailles during the 1920s, and Germany again during the period 1938-1944 — had ended in failure. West European capital then tried to bring this union about no longer on the basis of the military-political domination of a single power, but instead through an alliance of the most important powers.

The objective necessity for this union derives from the growing internationalization of the productive forces, that is, the growing contradiction between the maintenance of the national bourgeois state on the one hand and the degree of development of the productive forces, the productive capacity of the large enterprises, the market for their production, and the objective socialization (technical interdependence) of the life of these enterprises beyond national frontiers on the other hand.

The objective difficulty in overcoming this contradiction within the framework of the capitalist mode of production during its imperialist stage lies in the fact that private property and competition do not permit the essential particular interests of certain groups of capitalists to be sacrificed to the “common interests” of the bourgeois class. As long as the means of production remain the private property of German, French, British, Italian, Belgian, or Dutch bourgeoisies, the “European bourgeoisie” and “European interests” will remain abstractions lacking the slightest real content.

Indeed, the tensions that gave birth to the Brexit Party are being replicated on a world scale today as Donald Trump resorts to the kind of protectionism that existed prior to WWII. In putting a border across the Southwest, he is preventing the free movement of labor in the same way that his tariffs are blocking the free movement of capital.

Capitalism has always been riven by a basic contradiction. It is both a system that binds the bourgeoisie and the working class in a single country under commodity production but that drives a wedge between rival bourgeoisies globally. After WWII, there was a temporary respite from trade wars and outright warfare under American hegemony but like anything else it had a shelf life under a system that is forced to operate under the tyranny of the marketplace.

In the next few years, the temperature will be rising globally because of greenhouse gases and capitalist competition between states like the USA and China. It will take considerable strength of character politically to resist the powerful forces driving us toward Armageddon. The flailing about of LM/Spiked is just one indication of how easy it is to be drawn into abyss. The urgency for a worldwide revolutionary movement is greater than it has been in my lifetime. I hope we can rise to the occasion.


  1. Louis, I’m unsure of Bob from Brockley’s politics but they may be something like the AWL. He will attack UK Trots for all the wrong reasons.

    He makes many errors regarding the RCP in what he wrote. I published a response to this in the comments on another site (link below). Later debate about these between him and I is on my twitter. His comments about Spiked are not so bad.

    The RCP have never been forgiven in Britain for their temerity of pricking the hypocricies of then student activists in the 80s and who are now prominent bureaucrats. Their criticisms were sometimes ultraleft and bear no relation to their politics today.

    Spiked are used as the prime example by sold-out academics, policy wonks and similar as ‘proof’ of that old libel – ‘scratch a Trot and underneath you get a Tory’.


    Comment by Southpawpunch — July 29, 2019 @ 7:50 pm

  2. It’s rumoured that “Bob from Brockley” is a Birkbeck College lecturer called Ben Gidley – a specialist on “pycho-social theory” and “Jewish integration in England”.

    The blog provides ammunition for the ongoing witch-hunt being conducted against the left wing of the UK Labour party.

    This is directed not just against alleged “entryists”, but the entire left wing of the party.
    It’s being run from within the heart of the establishment and is supported by the “Guardian” and BBC .
    The latter recently broadcast a “Panorama” programme reviving the story that Labour is anti-semitic.
    It relied heavily on the testimonies of former employees of the Compliance Unit run by Iain McNicol.
    McNicol tried to bloc Corbyn’s nomination as a candidate when he sought re-election as leader, when challenged by Owen Smith.

    The campaign against Corby has stooped so low that one of his accusers, Dame Margaret Hodge (a woman who has never married a Jewish man in her life) recently took a photo of Jeremy Corbyn holding a meeting with an orthodox (haredi) Rabbi in the House of Commons
    Presumably she published this as evidence that the Rabbi (who is a critic of Israel) is really “anti-Semitic”!

    The bacon-bagel munching Bob doesn’t just regard Putin as the main enemy.
    He relies heavily on the thesis of a Red Brown alliance between Communists and fascists – a common theme of the Mensheviks in the 1930’s.
    So the Morning Star – paper of the CP-B is dragged into the frame too.

    During Guaido’s CIA backed attempt to stage a coup in Venezuela, Bob and were fully on the side of the Pretender, Richard Branson the middle class protestors and their lumpen hirelings.
    The neo-Shachtmanites didn’t go quite so far and waited to see what would happen.
    Thus they avoided getting egg all over their faces when the coup failed.

    Bob is continuing to push the same line on Venezuela, backed up by his odious pal Paul Canning
    This leads me to believe he’s to the right of the AWL or New Politics and closer to the former Labour Party head of disputes Mike Creighton.
    Prior to his retiremen in 2017 he wrote:-
    “anti-Semites of the left and right – and mainly the Trotskyite left “ are trying to “raise their evil standards on the parapets of the Labour Party. Apparently with Jeremy Corbyn’s calm indifference.”
    “…Militant, Socialist Appeal, Alliance for Workers Liberty have no more place in the Labour Party than the BNP or the EDL”.
    Owen Smith also included AWL on his hit list.

    BTW the article on the RCP- Spiked online is quite accurate, but not very original.
    And it misses out the early history of this group, which is dealt with in John Sullivan’s article on the “Discussion group”


    Comment by prianikoff — July 30, 2019 @ 1:49 pm

  3. I skimmed the B from B blog and didn’t catch the redbrown stuff prianikoff mentioned. No time for a deeper dive, though the story p. tells is certainly a familiar one.

    I do think there is a future in redbrown punsterism with alliterative vegetable names–why stop with Brockley? We could have Sam from Spinach, Paul from Potatoes, Carol from Carrots, Betty from Beans–the possibilities are endless.

    It’s high time the Third Way crackpots in the international blogging community started publishing more nutritious material!

    On a more serious note, while the rest of the world is crackling on the spit of an international heatwave, Washington DC is surprisingly normal (for such a normally hot place). Summer temperatures here, apart from a two-day “wave” of 100-degree temps in July, haven’t felt that much more scorching than usual. Nevertheless, I think I’ve I’ve been able to observe over the past three years serious declines in bee and butterfly populations and the virtual disappearance of large birds from a local semi-wilderness park where I walk frequently. I’ve been posting on Facebook about this marginally, but doubt that my writing and pictures would have any effect even if published or widely shared.

    The main cause of the decline in DC and the GW Parkway environment–if my notions are accurate–may have been unusual temperature fluctuations in late winter and early spring combined with heavy rainfall and flash flooding. It’s damnably hard to confirm this on the basis of random individual observations–maybe I’ve just been consistently in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Bees and butterflies are like taxis–even when you don’t see them, some at least are probably there.

    Unfortunately the enviro crisis isn’t like the approach of a giant asteroid–an obvious crisis building to a single, inevitable climax–this is one reason why so many hard-pressed working people may tend to be climate skeptics.

    It’s also very hard to imagine a single course of action against this protean and subtle enemy. When the experts are giving us 18 months to Armageddon, one wonders whether there’s any hope at all.

    Just damn the one percent and their sycophants and suckers–they’re counting on elite, gated refuges–in bubbles if necessary–to ride out the big Shithole die-off, and who’s to say they’re wrong in that expectation?

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — July 31, 2019 @ 3:47 pm

  4. Personal gripes and sectarian trash of Bob from Brockley. Whoever he is, his arguments stand and require close examination and not scurrilous insinuation.

    Comment by AndZ (@az0zone) — July 31, 2019 @ 9:01 pm

  5. Heartfield didn’t disclose how he was going to get these great products sold to markets. Just imperialist nostalgia to comfort the audience by special invitation. Heartfield completely ignores a distribution mechanism for products requires negotiation between trading partners. He will get nowhere trying to impose his pricing structure that he dreams he can levy against others by projecting imagined British power in the style of gunboat diplomacy.

    Comment by AndZ (@az0zone) — July 31, 2019 @ 9:12 pm

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