Farewell, Living Marxism

Last month saw the latest manifestation of the organisation formerly known as the Revolutionary Communist Party and its journal formerly known as Living Marxism. Instead of the usual LM, we got an even more glossy, 124-page 'special' called the Last Magazine, whose front page ran the by-line, "Because there is life after a libel trial" - a reference of course to the financial trouncing the LMers received three months ago in the British courts at the hands of the ITN bully boys.

With LM finally laid to rest, the bright young(ish) things associated with the ex-RCP have now metamorphosed into the Institute of Ideas - its distant and primeval origins as an orthodox Trotskyist split from the International Socialists (now Socialist Workers Party) conveniently forgotten. You can bet your bottom dollar that the ever-bubbly Clare Fox, now director of the IoI, and Mick Hume, former editor of LM - to mention just two of the old RCP vanguard - do not readily employ dangerous words such as 'revolutionary' or 'communist' - let alone 'Revolutionary Communist Party' at their high-powered, wine-fuelled, literati-attended functions.

As an ex-RCP member, I can only wonder at the organisation's evolution. From the halcyon days of the RCP's 1987 'Red Front' general election campaign, when official propaganda - especially in its short-lived theoretical journal Confrontation - boldly proclaimed that the RCP was just about to "replace" the Labour Party. To the abrupt and unsettling closure of the weekly The Next Step and the emergence of the monthly Living Marxism. Then the RCP's rallying cry of the 1990s - 'To the suburbs!' Followed by its successful infiltration ('entryism'?) of the middle class media circuit, which culminated in the formal liquidation of the RCP in 1996 and the transformation of Living Marxism to the anodyne-sounding LM.

We can easily observe that the thrusting RCPites like Mick Hume have 'progressed' from thinking of themselves as hard-line advocates of Bolshevik-inspired revolution to, for the most part, being cheerleaders for unfettered capitalism and so-called 'individual liberty' (including, for example, the rights of fox hunters) - that is, preaching the cult of the alienated bourgeois individual that bears a disturbing similarity to the doctrines of Margaret 'there is no such thing as society' Thatcher. Allied to this is a narrow scientism which glorifies technology and ignores the fact that humanity is divided into two basic classes - the exploiters and, infinitely bigger, the exploited.

What will eventually become of the LMers? Though we cannot discount the possibility that some of them might flip back to a progressive, pro-working class stance, all indications are that the majority will keep travelling way to the right. One only has to look at the groups and organisations LM/IoI happily associates with - Forest (the pro-smoking group funded by the tobacco industry), the Adam Smith Institute, the Institute of Economic Affairs, Families for Freedom, Transport Road Group, Freedom and Law group, the Association of British Drivers, Audacity.org, the Reason Foundation ... the (essentially rightwing-inclined) libertarian writing does seem to be on the wall.

Such a movement from extreme left to extreme right is far from unprecedented of course. Benito Mussolini started out on the extreme 'maximalist' left of the Socialist Party in Italy - his editorship of the newspaper Avanti! provided inspiration for a young revolutionary by the name of Antonio Gramsci. In tsarist Russia, Peter Struve was one of the founders of the Russian Social Democratic Party - yet via 'legal Marxism' he became an unabashed apologist for 'liberal' tsarism and a notorious anti-revolutionist. Whither Mick Hume, Clare Fox and Frank Furedi?

The enigma that was the RCP and is now LM/IoI is not so hard to fathom. Once you abandon the working class as an agency of social change and revolution, there are only two courses available to you. Either you promulgate an elitist, top-down socialism in which the masses are guided by Great Leaders and Thinkers - or you just abandon the socialist project itself, in all its manifestations and guises. This appears to be the option favoured by Mick Hume and co.

However, it would be a mistake to celebrate the events which led to the closure of LM. The libel case - over the claim that that ITN deliberately misrepresented a picture of Fikret Alic, an apparently emaciated Bosnian muslim at the Trnopolje detention camp in 1992 - left Mick Hume and his co-publisher defendant, Helene Guldberg, being personally pursued for £375,000 in damages. This can only be a blow against freedom of speech and democracy in general. Therefore the feelings of anti-LM Schadenfreude expressed by elements of the left - most notably some Alliance for Workers Liberty contributors to Action for Solidarity - are hardly appropriate.

Indeed the LMers' consistent emphasis on the vital importance of freedom of speech - the 'right to be offensive', as they call it - is one communists share. Democracy and socialism are indivisible. LM's uncompromising stance on freedom of speech led The Guardian, in its recent profile of the organisation, to make the asinine comment that for LM/IoI, "Holocaust-denial is acceptable" ('Life after Living Marxism', July 8). In fact, what LM actually argued in 1997 was the following: "Labour's plans to ban holocaust-denial will do nothing to combat racism in society, since the discrimination which minorities face today has nothing to do with Nazis and death camps ... holocaust-denial is a minor problem compared to the consequence of making it into a crime." A position which is virtually identical to that of the Weekly Worker and the CPGB. It is also the case that LM has trenchantly and consistently criticised environmentalism/greenism. We in the CPGB also refuse to kow-tow to faddist and reactionary greenism, even if our programme and motives are entirely different to those of LM/IoI.

There is another reason not to gloat over the unfortunate evolution and demise of the RCP. Speaking personally, I was recruited to the RCP by a leaflet shoved through my door advertising a meeting by a group then unknown to me, called East London Workers Against Racism - an RCP 'front' organisation at the time.

When I attended the (very small) public meeting, I can remember being moved by the militant talk and fact that on prominent display were pamphlets emblazoned with the exhilarating words, Revolutionary Communist Party. Frankly, that was enough to recruit me, though I knew absolutely nothing about ELWAR/RCP - and of course I was not alone in sharing that naive enthusiasm. It was not too long before I was slogging the streets of London promoting Red Front general election literature. Youthful revolutionism is something to be welcomed - and the RCP of yesteryear certainly had bucket loads of dynamism and energy, whatever else you may say of it. What the organisation actually did with that raw talent is an entirely different matter of course.

We must learn the lesson. Any group of revolutionaries which is not steeled in an open-ended theory, which is not rooted in the working class, which puts publicity-seeking and the whims of a closed circle of chosen leaders above the public criticism-unity in action principles of democratic centralism, can go the way of the Revolutionary Communist Party/LM. Any communist party worthy of the name is by definition a permanent 'institute of ideas' - of competing and contending views and opinions, openly and sharply expressed. Not something we ever found in Confrontation, The Next Step, Living Marxism or LM.

Eddie Ford