The Revolution Has Been Televised

Channel 4’s Against Nature series turns out to have been made by an obscure and cranky sect

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 18th December 1997.

There has never been a series on British television like Channel 4’s Against Nature, which ended with a debate on Tuesday night. The environmentalists it interviewed were lied to about the contents of the programmes. They were given no chance to respond to the accusations the series made. They were misrepresentated to the extent of falsification. One couldn’t help suspecting that Against Nature was driven not by healthy scepticism but by shrill ideology.

If this were so, where might it have come from? At first we thought the Far Right might have been involved. But, over the last three weeks, another picture has begun to form. Against Nature IS the product of an extreme political ideology, but it comes from a rather different quarter: an obscure and cranky sect called the Revolutionary Communist Party.

Frank Furedi, the series’ key interviewee and a protagonist in Tuesday’s debate, has been described as the father of the modern RCP. He is a regular contributer to the RCP’s journal, Living Marxism. Of the two main contributers to the third programme, one, John Gillott, is Living Marxism’s science correspondent. The other, Robert Plomin, though not RCP, has recently been interviewed sympathetically by the magazine. Martin Durkin, the director of the three programmes, describes himself as a Marxist: the only brand of Marxism which follows the line the series takes is the RCP’s. The husband of his deputy, Against Nature’s assistant producer, is the co-author of the RCP’s manifesto and Books Editor of Living Marxism.

Line by line, point by point, Against Nature follows the agenda laid down by the RCP. Greens, both the series and Living Marxism maintain, present themselves as radicals, but are really doom-mongering imperialists, engaged in the deification of Nature and the rejection of human progress. Global warming is nothing to worry about, while sustainable development is a conspiracy against people. Greens have plotted with the film industry to make science terrifying. Genetic engineering and human cloning are not to be feared but cherished, as they will liberate humanity from nature.

The ideologues in the series have some strange bedfellows, but the RCP has always been good at making selective alliances, whether it is promoting anti-environmental ideas, or campaigning against a ban on landmines and in favour of the Bosnian Serb forces and the Hutu militias. Its members are controversialists, but more than just that: the principle targets for their attacks are alternative outlets for radical action.

I had scarcely broached this subject on Tuesday night’s debate when Martin Durkin began – and I do not exaggerate – screaming. I was a McCarthyite and a despicable conspiracist. What on earth did his personal political views have to do with this series?

Well, rather too much. The RCP and its associates can make as many programmes as they like as long as they do so openly and honestly. Indeed, among its perversities and cheap controversialism, the RCP has some interesting and provocative views, which are worth hearing and debating. But Martin Durkin and his commissioning editor, Sara Ramsden, maintain that Against Nature is not a polemic, but a well-balanced documentary series. There was no presenter; instead we were instructed, in true documentary style, by an authoritative voice-over. The RCP/Living Marxism interviewees were not captioned as such, but presented as independent experts.

It’s an extraordinary coup for a tiny group of cranks: three hours of prime time propaganda. But how on earth did they pull it off? It is inconceivable that Channel 4’s top decision-makers also belong to the party. But many television executives hate environmentalism. They see it as a grim memento mori at the bottom of the picture, spoiling the good news about cars, clothes and consumerism. So when the film-makers suggested an all-out assault on environmentalists, their proposal fell on fertile ground. The revolution, as the RCP sees it, has been televised.