Jan van Horst ‘Market scene’ 1550

Another sect is rebranded

Carl Collins looks at the factors behind the shift from clause four Fabianism to the Madison Avenue ‘communist turn’

“We resolve to found the Revolutionary Communist Party.”1 So begins the draft document which was presented to the RCP’s founding congress over the course of May 3-6. The remainder of its opening preamble highlights the inevitable attacks on the working class in the coming period and the claim that, due to the existing left being “organically incapable” of creating change, a “clean break” with the existing left is needed.

While the ‘communist turn’ of Socialist Appeal is, in general terms, to be welcomed, I aim to bring together some of the points raised in the pages of Weekly Worker over the last few weeks about the causes behind it. The ‘communist turn’ is based on three interconnected factors, all of which form the fundamental basis of the newly formed party, as evidenced by the agenda and draft document. These factors are:

(1) an apparent shedding of the stigma around the term, ‘communism’ and how this is being ‘marketed’ by the RCP;

(2) the complete failure of the Corbyn-leadership and the whole strategy of deep entryism;

(3) a (problematic) analysis of the current period.


It may appear somewhat vulgar to place the first trend under the subheading of marketing. I am sure our comrades in the RCP would much prefer the terms, ‘financing’, ‘recruitment’ or ‘party building’. But a section following the draft document on the RCP website is itself entitled “Brand building”, with links to the RCP shop. This is undoubtedly looking to build on the very slick, professional, “Are you a communist?” material produced - with some success - during the recent campaign drive of the same name. As Mike Macnair has proposed in his article, ‘Repeating past failures’,2 the extent of the success of that particular campaign should be caveated by certain relative factors.

One gets the impression that underneath the shiny new communist image being pushed by the RCP is a very clouded, old set of mistakes which have been made by other sects in the not-too-distant past. On changing Socialist Appeal’s name, the leadership states:

‘Socialism’ has become increasingly bland and unappealing. For many, this word is associated with betrayal, and with the false hope of reforming capitalism, not overthrowing it.

We need to draw all the necessary conclusions from this. It has become increasingly apparent that a far bolder and clearer image is needed to take advantage of the radicalised mood in society.3

Whilst I happen to agree with the premise of this argument, no evidence seems to accompany this claim. And the use of the word “image” does little to persuade people that the change is anything more than a cosmetic change in the ‘branding’ of the organisation.

Furthermore, there appears to be only one obvious change in the actual programme of the newly formed ‘party’. Socialist Appeal’s very raison d’être was to oppose ‘sectarianism’ - championing ‘clause four socialism’ and conducting their fight within the Labour Party, viciously attacking the ‘erroneous’ nature of setting up parties opposed to and separate from the Labour Party. No evidence is provided as to when, how or why quantitative changes took place which need to be reflected in a change of approach. A cynic may argue it does seem to coincide with the Labour Party proscribing Socialist Appeal.4

Before the turn, Socialist Appeal had argued that the road to the masses was through the Labour Party and the trade unions. It claimed that in revolutionary periods the existing large parties gain as much, or more than, the small groups. Therefore, the old Grantite Militant Tendency - precursor to today’s Socialist Party in England and Wales, as well as Socialist Appeal - represented itself as ‘Labour’s Marxist wing’ and organised for Labour to be won for the left, with a left Labour government then winning a general election and bringing in socialism through acts of parliament. Militant grew considerably by the 1980s, but in 1991 the Grantites were expelled from Militant, with the Peter Taaffe wing seeking a short cut to membership growth, claiming that Labour had become just another capitalist party and forming what was later to be the Socialist Party of England and Wales.

The Grantites claimed to have been right in continuing their work in the Labour Party, with SPEW forced out to the fringes of the labour movement. Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader and the mushrooming of Labour’s membership exposed SPEW’s ‘theorisation’ as totally bankrupt and undoubtably put wind in the sails of Socialist Appeal. In 2018 the Grantites launched a campaign for the restoration of the old Fabian clause 4 of the Labour Party rules. As recently as 2019 articles were published in Socialist Appeal calling for a continued fight within the Labour Party, calling those outside Labour as “sectarian”.5

The question then is whether Socialist Appeal’s communist turn is a genuine move towards open communist political work or merely a cynical rebranding exercise. If the former is the case, a serious debate about its change from deep entryism to independent ‘party building’ ought to have taken place openly, in public, in the press, in pamphlets, etc.

While the stigma surrounding the term ‘communism’ has lessened somewhat with the collapse of the Soviet Union and much of the ‘official communist’ movement, we should see in this not so much a ‘rebranding’ opportunity, but a challenge to go back and ruthlessly ex-examine tired, old, failed, doctrines such as the Soviet Union being a ‘degenerated workers’ state, eastern Europe being ‘deformed’ workers’ states, the inevitability of political revolution and the impossibility of capitalist restoration. That would be the road of science. The same goes with the complete failure of the Corbyn leadership and the inability of the Labour left to rise above clause four socialism and the delusional nostrums of Keynesianism. Instead what we have with Socialist Appeal is a Madison Avenue turn, not Marxist turn.


Much of the material produced by the RCP is aimed at the youth, particularly students. In addition to polls suggesting that positive notions about communism are increasing within this layer, the RCP’s efforts to recruit from ‘fresh forces’ rests mainly on the newly found discovery of a ‘political vacuum’ on the existing left. With the accompanying analyses that we are “standing on the brink of the most tempestuous years ever faced by British capitalism” and that an open revolutionary crisis is imminent, there is a distinct danger that the RCP leadership is simply following the well-trodden path of the ‘sects’ they so often criticise.

A group of a few hundred reaches four figures, thanks to a phase of rapid recruitment, particularly among the youth. It then sheds all of its previous analysis of the principality of mass organisations and imagines it is on its way to replacing them. It renames itself as a ‘party’ and focuses on ‘open recruitment’ (the RCP has set the target of every member recruiting at least one person in the next year). The rest of the left are studiously ignored (including those pushing the same sort of the ‘revolution is around the corner’ nonsense and boasting of ever more recruits). The probable outcome will be burn out, cynicism and the usual crop of hopeless splits, breakaways and broad frontist projects.

We have seen it before with Gerry Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party, Tony Cliff’s Socialist Workers Party and Peter Taaffe’s SPEW. The word ‘party’ is thereby rendered ridiculous. Instead of denoting part of the class, the leading party, the vanguard, which has deep social roots and is trusted by many millions of people, we have a plague of sects, each ignoring the others, but in reality desperately competing with them for the latest student influx.

The youth that is drawn to Socialist Appeal/RCP, with the promise of an imminent revolution, are at the moment focused on selling papers on campus, setting up tent cities on college greens, attending demos and studying the writings of Ted Grant, Alan Woods and Bob Sewell. Because they will also study a bit, or hopefully a lot, of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and Luxemburg, some may well survive the bureaucratic centralist regime and its associated personality cult around Grant and his chosen heir and successor.

The organisation run by Woods and co is by no means as ghastly as the Healyite WRP, the Cliffite SWP, let alone bonkers outfits such as James Robertson’s Spartacist League and the various and many Marxist-Leninist ‘parties’. Members seem prepared to talk with others on the left … and not only to denounce them with parrot phrases. Many seem capable of serious thinking … so there is hope.

Finally, there is the third factor: perspectives. Mike Macnair correctly identifies what the RCP is pushing as “official optimism”:6

selecting one-sidedly all the elements of the political dynamics which point towards a rapid leap forward of the revolutionaries, while excluding all those elements which tend either to slow down the process of development or to point in the direction of the victory of nationalist authoritarianism and war.

Such a mistake is widespread on the left, and not only with the Healyites, the Cliffites and the Taaffites. Capitalism is widely presented as being on the edge of collapse because of strikes, political scandal, economic downturn, global warming, even pandemics.

In addition, to the promise of ‘revolution tomorrow’ there is the completely delusional, but comforting, belief of the RCP emerging, as the Bolsheviks did, from a ‘tiny’ organisation to winning a Soviet majority, all in the course of a few months in 1917. Of course, the fact of the matter is that the Bolsheviks were a mass organisation from 1905 onwards. Beginning as the majority faction in the RSDLP in 1903 they won trade union and duma elections, their press was widely circulated … and far from ignoring the rest of the left, the Bolsheviks were well known for their serious engagement, not least in joint conferences and congresses … but also in polemics.

  1. communist.red/how-the-communists-in-britain-are-preparing-for-power.↩︎

  2. ‘Repeating past failures’ Weekly Worker March 28: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1484/repeating-past-failures.↩︎

  3. communist.red/goodbye-socialist-appeal-the-communist-is-coming.↩︎

  4. labourlist.org/2021/07/labours-ruling-body-agrees-to-proscribe-socialist-appeal-and-three-other-groups.↩︎

  5. communist.red/reject-the-blind-alley-of-sectarianism.↩︎

  6. ‘Delusions of official optimism’ Weekly Worker March 21: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1483/delusions-of-official-optimism.↩︎