RCP’s designer liquidationism
As we know, the revolutionary left is in a poor state. In very recent times, a whole host of left groups have either vanished or adopted a very low profile. Those organisations which have not entirely liquidated themselves have contracted dramatically. Morale is low, numbers are declining. The rise of Blairism and the ignoble collapse of the ‘socialist bloc’ has taken its toll.
When it comes to this left malaise, a good case is the organisation formerly known as the Revolutionary Communist Party, publishers of the monthly journal formerly known as Living Marxism, now known by the sexy abbreviation LM.
The story of the RCP is a rather sad - and instructive - one: from a grouping that thought of itself as the very incarnation of implacable Marxist revolutionism it has become an intellectualist ginger group hovering on the fringes of bourgeois society. As its founder-guru, Frank Furedi, frankly admitted in The Guardian (December 19 1997), the RCP has totally liquidated itself as any sort of communist/Marxist organisation. It now claims to be a “humanist” non-organisation. Frankly, even that description is rather generous. Here is an organisation that dismisses the working class as an agent of revolutionary social change, which ridicules socialism. A peculiar sort of “humanism”, by anybody’s estimation.
The RCP has had a convoluted political evolution. Newcomers to the scene might be surprised to learn that the history of this group is entwined with that of the Revolutionary Communist Group, the middle class grouplet responsible - culpable for - the bi-monthly publication, Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! Like so many of the groups and sects that clutter the left, the RCP was a product of the ‘big bang’ within the International Socialists/SWP in the mid-1970s. The proto-RCPers were kicked out by the autocratic Tony Cliff, who refused to tolerate any ideological/theoretical heresy - ie, anyone who dared to challenge his dogma.
Hard though it is to remember, the proto-RCP started life as an orthodox (ish) Trotskyist grouping, characterised by a relatively fresh approach to theory. It broke from some of the staler ideas that had dogged Trotskyism. David Yaffe’s economic work in this period, particularly his understanding that the boom days were well and truly over, was the mainspring of the proto-RCP. It also produced decent critiques of the various groupings and factions in the so-called Fourth International. At this time, post-IS, it was known as the Revolutionary Communist Group.
In turn, the RCG split. The majority, under the leadership of the rapidly degenerating Yaffe, became - in no time at all - a faintly ridiculous Third Worldist, Stalinite rump - as reflected in their dire paper, FR!FI! A paper which uncritically tailed every petty bourgeois national liberation movement going (Tamil Tigers, ANC, Sinn Fein, New Peoples Army, etc) and kept a deafening silence about its Trotskyist past. Over the years, the pages of FR!FI! were filled with praise for Gorbachev, kind words for JV Stalin, a disquieting personality cult of Che Guevara and all manner of other nonsense - pride of place going to the RCG’s incredibly expanding ‘labour aristocracy’, which came to envelop virtually the entire working class, including miners and nurses (and anyone. it seems. who can afford to go on a package holiday or wear shoes). As an organisation, the transformed RCG became mindlessly sectarian, specialising in personal abuse, neurotic emotional outbursts and, on occasion, near thuggish behaviour towards members of other left groups.
The minority, on the other hand, underwent a totally different evolution. Under the hegemony of Frank Richards/Furedi, James Fitzpatrick, etc, it became the Revolutionary Communist Tendency. Their journal, Revolutionary Communist Papers, printed articulate critiques of the ‘excesses’ of the RCG-Yaffe grouping, especially the Stalinite turn. At the same time, it continued the more radical and original work of the RCG.
The RCT eventually became the Revolutionary Communist Party, publishing the monthly journal, The Next Step. The youthful RCP achieved a relative degree of success. The Next Step became weekly, distinguished by its iconoclastic house style. It also nurtured East London Workers Against Racism (later to become just WAR) and the Irish Freedom Movement, both of which attracted new layers of activists.
Unfortunately, by then the RCP had come to resemble its RCG sibling - ie, with a distinct flair for arrogant sectarianism. Sectarianism came in the shape of a complete contempt for the history of the workers’ movement and all other left groups. This baleful attitude was exemplified beautifully during the miners’ Great Strike. The RCP campaigned for a ballot - no more, no less. When the miners refused to accept the lead of the RCP - indeed, viewed RCP members with extreme hostility - the RCP turned its back on them.
This middle class disdain for working class politics came to the fore again after the 1992 Heseltine pit closures announcement. The hundreds of thousands who spontaneously took to the streets to express their solidarity with the miners were dismissed by the RCP. These intellectuals could not - in all honesty - tell the difference between those demonstrating in Hyde Park and those doing their shopping in nearby Oxford Street.
This stupendous sectarianism was repeated often. The 1991 Liverpool Walton by-election saw Militant’s Lesley Mahmood stand against Kinnock’s right-moving Old Labour Party. Instead of offering critical support for Militant, RCP activists drove around Walton with a megaphone, urging workers not to vote ... for any of the candidates. This puerile abstentionism stemmed from the RCP’s essential petty bourgeois moralism. Linked to this moralism was the impatience and adventurism so typical of revolutionaries from this unstable social milieu.
During the 1980s RCP leaders enthusiastically proffered the Hobsbawmian thesis that the Labour Party was “finished” and could never form a government again. Unlike Hobsbawm, the RCP decided to challenge the Labour Party. To this end it established the ‘Red Front’ and its propaganda in this period - especially in the theoretical journal, Confrontation - put forward the immensely silly idea that the RCP was on the verge of “replacing” the Labour Party as the ‘official’ anti-Tory opposition.
With Living Marxism, then with LM, the RCP strayed - à la Marxism Today - even further from any pretence of loyalty to Marxism, running sympathetic interviews with assorted reactionaries, misfits and eccentrics. LM even declared a liking for the disgraced ex-Tory MP, Neil Hamilton. On top of all this, the RCP’s libertarian ideology ensured that it sailed dangerously into reactionary waters. Reporting the ‘pro-fox hunting’ rally at Hyde Park last July, a LM correspondent waxed lyrically about “freedom” and the “vicarious thrill” of being surrounded by - potentially armed - aristocrats, landowners, Tory MPs, fascists, Range Rover drivers, unpleasant actors, rural buffoons, rustic racists and homophobes, sadists, ferret molesters, otter abusers, badger baiters, deranged fox haters, etc. A curious axis: the Countryside Alliance, Tory Party, National Front ... and the organisation formerly known as the RCP. Curious, but logical. If you desert the working class, it is inevitable that you will - ultimately - be drawn to other class forces.
Having abandoned any idea of socialism as the self-liberatory act of the working class, LM/RCP is now constituting itself as the ‘radical’ wing of the petty bourgeois intelligentsia. Its call in the early 1990s to ‘return to the suburbs’ saw it embark on a project of infiltrating academic and media circles in a style reminiscent of Invasion of the body snatchers. To give praise where it is due, our upwardly mobile-executive ‘Marxists’ have managed to worm their way into the appropriate dinner parties, seminars and conferences. RCPers regularly appear in the media and write books for mainstream publishers. The most spectacular coup was the three hours of prime-time television, in the form of Channel Four’s anti-green Against Nature. Frank Furedi was the star of the show. Then we had the ‘Free Speech Wars’ conference last weekend at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, which saw “LM in association with Waterstone’s bookshop” make a further foray into respectability. At the conference LMers mixed easily with the likes of Fay Weldon and high-powered advertising types. Perfect company for each other.
In some respects, when we look at an organisation like LM/RCP we see a return to a pre-Marxist, 19th century form of communism. As Marx pointed out, the utopian communists - some of them quacks, some of them heroic - envisaged communism as the result of a conspiracy hatched by an elite of self-appointed intellectuals. These supermen would deliver communism to the masses - whether they wanted it or not. Similarly, LMers like Frank imagine that their wheeler-dealing intellectualism will somehow emancipate society. What self-delusion.
Everyone on the left should take a long, hard look at the RCP - and learn.