- More fun and games courtesy of the bizarros @ Spiked.
Boris gets spiked
(#722, Thursday. May 22 2008)
Ex-communists continue their rightward evolution, reports James Turley
One of the less well circulated bits of journalism on the recent London mayoral elections was Dr Michael Fitzpatrick’s piece, ‘I’m backing Boris for London mayor’ [March 31, 2008]. Not so remarkable, you might think – he was certainly not the only one, since Boris Johnson did indeed pick up the job.
But the esteemed doctor’s justification for this support was not so commonplace. In 2002, Ken Livingstone had publicly stated that his then unborn child would not be having the combined measles, mumps and rubella immunisation, during a related health scare, and would instead be going to “one of the sleazy private clinics” that had cashed in by giving the old separate jabs. Boris Johnson, by contrast, went so far as to lambaste the Daily Mail for consistently intensifying the panic. For Dr Fitzpatrick, this represents the qualitative difference between the two candidates.
Just a curious individual hobby horse? No – the article, if readers have yet to guess, appeared on Spiked Online, the journalistic manifestation of the tight, clandestine political group once known as the Revolutionary Communist Party. 
Spiked’s coverage of the new mayor has been generally positive. It views him as some kind of libertarian, and enthusiastically urges him to be more openly so (though Spiked editor Brendan O’Neill has criticised his new ban on drinking on public transport). It is similar to Socialist Appeal’s approach to Chávez – you might call it ‘critical fawning’ (the problem for Socialist Appeal is that Chávez is not the future of socialism, and the problem for Spiked is that Johnson is not really a libertarian).
The new mayor, in an exciting twist, has repaid the favour, employing regular Spiked contributor Munira Mirza as his cultural advisor. Mirza’s main contribution to the ideological melange of this curious project has been to add to its highly unfavourable attitude to multiculturalism. “Multicultural policies,” she writes on the Guardian’s ‘Comment is free’ blog, “have encouraged ethnic-minority groups to believe they are in need of special recognition … paradoxically, by insisting on engaging with muslims as a separate group, the authorities make many of them feel even more excluded.” 
Munira might simply be a ‘fluke’, employed on the basis of her papers for the rightwing think tank, Policy Exchange; but rumours abound that she will not be the last appointee from the Spiked project.
The artists formerly known as the RCP
All this seems a far cry from a group that once called itself revolutionary and communist. To explain this, it is worth looking at the history of the RCP (and its successors), one of the weirder tales of post-war Trotskyism.
In 1973, a large number of members of the International Socialists were expelled by Tony Cliff. Their opposition had not had much cohesion at all, but they were nevertheless a faction of sorts, and got the boot at roughly the same time as a number of other such IS factions, when Cliff was “rediscovering” Lenin (that is, pseudo-Leninist bureaucratic centralism). [The IS changed its name to the Socialist Workers Party in January 1977.]
The group soon split again, with one section joining the Labour Party (the secretive Discussion Group around Roy Tearse) and another rapidly signing up to a virulent third-worldist strain of Stalinism (the Revolutionary Communist Group). The rump was organised around bright young Kent sociologist Frank Furedi, and after a few years as the Revolutionary Communist Tendency, decided that they were a party after all, and launched their paper The Next Step.
Their main ideological shibboleth in the early days followed on from Lenin’s (correct) characterisation of reformism as organically tied to and reliant on imperialism. Furedi and his allies believed that this implied two things – firstly, that the widespread support of reformism in the British working class rendered it as such a non-revolutionary entity; secondly, that any campaign that promoted reforms was objectively a threat to the revolution. The RCP became infamous for an ultra-sectarian attitude to all such ‘reformist’ campaigns, even going so far as to sneer at the 1984-85 miners’ strike and demand a strike ballot well beyond the time when such a ballot may even have been possible.
Furedi believed that the Labour Party was imminently going to undergo a total crisis, and – since other left groups were contaminated with ‘reformism’ – the RCP was likely to replace it. For the 1987 election it organised the Red Front with the Revolutionary Democratic Group and Red Action (a street-fighting squad then primarily engaged in militant anti-fascism and Irish republicanism). The results were desultory in the extreme; in places they were outperformed by the Monster Raving Loony Party.
This, along with the collapse of the Soviet bloc, was the final straw for Furedi – the working class was, if not dead, at least defeated for the next historical period. Consequently, what mattered were those apparently ‘non-political’ aspects of all our lives, whose analysis would yield a revolutionary strategy and whose resolution would produce a revolutionary agent. Somewhat fortuitously, then, the model of a Marxist was to be … the sociology professor.
Furedi declared a “turn to the suburbs”, which in practice meant total immersion in the academic system. Its former journal Living Marxism became LM and then folded after ITN successfully sued it for £375,000 over the LM allegation that ITN’s coverage of Serb atrocities was partially falsified. Its main successors are Spiked and the Institute of Ideas think tank. The RCP was formally liquidated in 1997.
The particular academic milieu that proved most amenable to RCP entry was the positivist-scientist ‘third culture’, with its veneration of technological progress and general technocratic coloration. Whereas in the past the RCP was known for setting up myriad front groups, today the ex-RCP manages to find its way into leading positions in a whole network of think tanks, umbrella groups and lobbies, listed by long-time bête noire George Monbiot in an article for the Guardian: Sense About Science, Global Futures, the Science Media Centre, Progress Educational Trust, British Pregnancy Advisory Service, and the Pro-Choice Forum. 
For a time, it was highly influential in the broadcast media, and effectively produced its own TV programme on the environmentalist movement, Against nature, in 1997. This caused a minor ‘reds under the bed’ scandal at the time. 
They need not have worried. The operative political project of the ex-RCP group is a thoroughgoing bourgeois libertarianism. While not as explicitly rightwing as (particularly green) critics make out, its objective result has been very close cooperation with what are effectively fronts and lobbies for corporate interests. Sense About Science, for example, is very enthusiastic about corporate GM research; the RCP project has also promoted Forest, the ‘smokers’ rights’ lobby funded by the tobacco industry.
One area where it has maintained a dubious continuity with the left is in its rather monomaniacal approach to anti-imperialism. As mentioned, LM foundered on a lawsuit over ITN’s coverage of the Bosnian war – the RCP was one of those declared Serb-defencist groups which were never to be found acknowledging the grotesque atrocities perpetrated by Milosevic, Karadzic and company.
It is easy to dismiss the RCP evolution as a cautionary tale – yet more proof that an ultra-leftist is, as Trotsky put it, an opportunist afraid of his own shadow. The gap between the heady left hysteria of The Next Step and the smartly-suited dinner parties of the LM days seems enormous, but the key break took only months. The formal and final abandonment of the working class as the agent of political change – indeed, of ‘agency’, full stop – was bound to lead to a wrenching shift in political orientation. The only variable was precisely which blind alley Furedi’s sect would take.
But there are lessons – positive lessons – to be learned from both phases of the RCP story. It is true that, in the 1980s and today, the left is rendered effectively inert by its series of concessions to reformism. The kowtowing of the Socialist Workers Party to Labour loyalists in the Stop the War Coalition, for instance, ruled out any electoral intervention, and indeed anything other than dwindling protest marches. The transformation of Socialist Party activists into trade union bureaucrats has led to serious sell-outs, too.
Likewise, one does not have to be a full-blooded climate change denialist like Furedi to recognise the dark underbelly of large sections of the green movement. As left groups scramble to liquidate themselves into the green movement, the Spiked project’s reminders of the reactionary nature of most variants of official greenism is timely. It is true that simply breaking up big enterprises – replacing Tesco with local greengrocers, mechanised farms with ‘old MacDonald’ operations and so on – would produce such a drastic drop in global production that literally billions would starve (as opposed to the millions at present).
And, to return to Munira Mirza, there is a legitimate line of attack to be brought against multiculturalism. On this, the RCP gets as close to the truth as a group deliberately limited to liberal positions can get. Another of its ‘cadre’, Kenan Malik, has made very forceful criticisms of the move from political struggles (which unite) to ‘cultural’ struggles (which divide).
All of this will be of little concern to Johnson, who is simply looking for some brainy ammunition against multiculturalism. Indeed, this alliance is not just one more iteration of the Spiked project – it represents another break for the RCP.
Despite the rather feeble attempts of Dr Fitzpatrick to paint him as a defender of science, and of Emily Hill to call him a libertarian, the London mayor is a figure on the hard authoritarian right of the Tory Party. Though they once defended fox-hunting on libertarian grounds, the RCP has never infiltrated anyone quite like Boris.
Whether this pans out as another ideological shift for Spiked, a flash in the pan, or a chaotic second-time-farce replay of Ken Livingstone’s alliance with Socialist Action, it is certainly not business as usual in the sociology department at Kent.
- See also : As Soon As This Pub Closes…, John Sullivan (1988), for a rather humourous look at the state of the far left in the UK at that time.
Revolutionary vanguards of the UK working class mentioned in this post: Socialist Action | Socialist Party | Socialist Workers Party | Revolutionary Democratic Group | Revolutionary Communist Group | Socialist Appeal | Communist Party of Great Britain…
Other parties include: Alliance for Workers’ Liberty | Communist Party of Britain | Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) | International Socialist Group (British Section of the Fourth International) | New Communist Party of Britain | Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) | Socialist Equality Party | Socialist Labour Party | Workers Revolutionary Party
For unconditional military defence of the Chinese deformed workers state!
China is not capitalist!
For proletarian political revolution!