Fighting On The Green Front Of The Culture Wars

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Diligently following the principle that an enemy’s enemy is a friend, Rebecca Weisser, the opinion editor of The Australian has been allocating a lot of space lately to the work of Brendan O’Neill, the editor of London-based online magazine Spiked.

O’Neill’s appeal to the Oz seems obvious enough. Here he is excoriating the "green-industrial complex" of environmental activists and their corporate allies, an "elite green clique" that wants to create a world of "eco-slavery". And last month he was attacking green misanthropy. His declaration that, rather than treading more lightly, human footprints should be stamped indelibly on the Earth, inspired Weisser to pen the headline: "Beware the greenies who think people are parasites".

Last year O’Neill was given space to go after the "nauseating mix of naivety and hypocrisy" of the so-called "animal-pitying lobby" who want to stop the clubbing of harp seals. Other pieces to catch Weisser’s fancy have expatiated on green self-hate and middle-class green snobbery. This is just the sort of muscular attack on all things environmental that the national daily relishes — and there is no more vigorous culture warrior than Brendan O’Neill.

The joke in all of this is that O’Neill is an unreconstructed Trotskyist. Spiked is the online successor to LM Magazine whose predecessor was Living Marxism, the journal of the British Trotskyist splinter group known as the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP).
For aficionados, Spiked hints at its origins by claiming in its "tongue-in-cheek" blurb that it would be endorsed by Marx but hated by Stalin. In articles with titles like "Red and green won’t go", "Animals have no rights", and "Environmental imperialism", Living Marxism and LM Magazine frequently ran bitter attacks on environmentalism, describing it as a middle-class indulgence and a neo-colonial smoke-screen.

The intellectual force behind the RCP was British academic Frank Furedi, now a professor of sociology at the University of Kent and frequent contributor to Spiked. Furedi has written a number of books that explore and denounce the excessive emphasis in Western societies on risk and danger, suggesting that Westerners have become super-sensitive to risk and overreact to threats like global warming — which he describes as a "moral crusade" against humanity. When he visits Australia, Furedi is feted not by the left but by the right, appearing on Michael Duffy’s ABC program Counterpoint and wowing them at gigs put on by the Centre for Independent Studies. The Australian gives this contrarian Trot a great run too. Here is Furedi defending Sarah Palin, sympathising with bankers and, of course, attacking "eco-priests".

Activists associated with the RCP were responsible for the 2007 documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle which I wrote about for newmatilda.com when it was released. The director, Martin Durkin, has links with leaders of the Party that go back many years. Indeed, immediately after the film was broadcast in Britain, Brendan O’Neill wrote a vigorous defence of Durkin and Swindle. Of course, climate deniers the world over flocked to Swindle, with gleeful support stretching from the usual sceptics groups to The Australian itself — which carried a piece by Durkin defending the documentary from critics who exposed its scientific errors — and the scary LaRouche organisation which promoted it heavily on university campuses.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, founder of the LaRouche movement, Lyndon LaRouche, was once a Trotskyist. The puzzle of people like Keith Windschuttle and PP McGuinness shifting from the far left to the far right is simplified when we recognise that what is fundamental to their political positions is unchanged ─ their fanaticism.

The accord between the far left and the editorial group at the Oz is grounded in their joint belief firstly in the priority of material consumption to human well-being and secondly in the right of humans to dominate nature. This translates into a shared loathing of the progressive left and, especially, of all things environmental. Segments of the far left have been hostile to environmentalism from the outset, seeing evidence of environmental decline not as the result of unbridled corporate power but as a middle-class distraction from the concerns of the workers.

At least that was the case for the comrades at the RCP until they discovered a higher cause: seeking the benefits that flow from playing the role of provocative contrarians in a media age where being able to write lively and aggressive columns brings notoriety. If the revolution has been put on hold, why wouldn’t O’Neill, Durkin and Furedi settle for a bit of influence by linking up with Rupert Murdoch’s Australian flagship?

But what does it say about The Australian when its opinion editor regularly pays Trots for their musings? Murdoch is renowned for his pragmatism, and it seems to rub off on his editors. Perhaps the Oz will start flogging Spiked T-shirts. There’s a good one emblazoned with the slogan "CO2 makes the world go round". Chris Mitchell could wear it around the office ─ no chance of mistaking it for an Order of Lenin.

New Matilda

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.

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