I saw a little bit of Sunday Morning Live on BBC1 this morning. One of the guests on the programme was Kenan Malik and I was reminded of how the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) has managed to insinuate itself into the sphere of public discourse, when many people have never heard of them. This morning’s debate was on the ubiquitous topic of free speech, so it came as no surprise that Malik or one of the other bods from the LM Network was invited to appear. It’s their ‘meat and potatoes’ so to speak.
In spite of its name, the RCP was neither communist nor revolutionary. When the RCP was wound up in the late 1990’s, it splintered into a variety of smaller groups (they haven’t lost their penchant for spawning front groups): the Institute of Ideas (IoI), Sense About Science, The Manifesto Club and Spiked Online to name a few. While these groups may appear to be separate, they form the LM network (named after the magazine of the same name). The entire existence of the RCP and its successor groups has been to insert its ideas into public conversations thereby influencing society and culture. They do this through the use of public meetings, debates, publications, summer schools and appearances on the BBC. In fact, the IoI’s Claire Fox is one busy woman,
Claire is a panellist on BBC Radio 4’s The Moral Maze and is regularly invited to comment on developments in culture, education, politics and the arts across the whole range of media outlets: such as BBC Question Time, BBC Any Questions?, SkyNews Review, and BBC Breakfast. Claire writes regularly for national newspapers and a range of specialist journals. She has a monthly column in the MJ (municipal journal) and presented ‘Claire Fox News’ on the internet TV channel ’18 Doughty Street’.
So where did they come from? After a split from the International Socialists (the precursor of the Socialist Worker party who, ironically, came from another RCP) over the issue of apartheid, the RCP was formed ostensibly as a Trotskyist group but any left-wing pretensions they had quickly disappeared by the mid 1980’s. Although its front groups sported names like Workers Against Racism and the Irish Freedom Movement, its position always leaned towards the libertarian right. Anyone who was a student in the 1980’s will tell you how the RCP would disrupt the meetings of groups from the Anti-Apartheid Movement to CND. On more than one occasion, I challenged RCP supporters who, unable to respond to points that I had put to them, would pass me to one of their colleagues who would then pass me on to another colleague. This evasiveness and their tendency to contradiction still exists in spite of their efforts to appear as our philosophical superiors.
What was the point of Workers Against Racism, when the RCP was neither pro-worker nor anti-racism? Why maintain an Irish Freedom Movement, when Ireland was an embarrassment. Why ally with businesses one day and Campaign Against Militarism the next? The Free Speech Societies continued, however, for a longer period of time.
You may have noticed that I used the word “supporters” rather than ‘members’ when I refer to people associated with the RCP. This is because the RCP was a rather tight-knit group whose core membership probably numbered around 12; these 12 people were all located at the Universities of Kent and Sussex and were led by Hungarian born sociologist Frank Furedi (who called himself Frank Richards). To be a member one had to be initiated into the small but select group of insiders, but this never really happened and the core membership remained the same while the numbers of supporters fluctuated. While the members directed policy and formulated strategy, the supporters sold the The Next Step on the street (often in the same location as Socialist Worker sellers) or disrupted public meetings. This practice opened the RCP to the charge of it being a cult that was built around the personality of Furedi – a charge that continues to this day.
The RCP are most obviously concerned with the idea of free speech often to the detriment of those they claim to be working for,
It is instructive that the LM Network has been funded by a variety of private interests. For instance both Spiked and the IoI have been funded by the pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer (makers of Viagra). Pfizer also funds the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Netherlands-based Edmund Burke Foundation. Therefore the work of the LM network adheres to a certain agenda, namely those of corporate interests. Other funders of LM have included BT, Monsanto and Exxon.
Free speech is something that many of us agree with in principle but the reality is that there are limits to free speech; and if one has the money to pursue a successful case of defamation in the courts then free speech gets muzzled. Freedom of speech is great if other freedoms exist too: freedom from poverty; freedom from homelessness; freedom from disease; freedom from violence and war; freedom from bad philosophies are all important but get scant attention from the LM Network, who are more content to churn out controversial statements in order to emphasize its commitment to free speech than actively seeking to create a better world. Instead, the only commitment that LM have is to itself and to the companies that fund its activities. As the Manic Street Preachers sang in 2000, “freedom of speech won’t feed my children”. I think the LM Network would disagree with them.
This blogger who is a former LM supporter (note that he was a supporter and not a member) is a critic and refers to the various front groups of the RCP as the “Continuity RCP”. He talks here about the Modern Movement (another LM front),
It all moved very quickly, and despite the fact that the group was supposed to be autonomous from the Institute of Ideas—it was never merely a front group—those members closest to the IoI quickly assumed leadership positions. These positions were never put to any form of democratic deliberation; moreover, democracy was always considered something of an embarrassing liberal formality, in contrast to the vague ‘Leninism’ the self appointed leaders espoused.
LM/RCP aren’t interested in democracy (I know this from my previous encounters with them), they are concerned more with power and influence.
In the short space of a month or two a left and a right faction of MM started to appear. Broadly speaking the rightwing leadership clique were closest to the IoI, most reverent for the traditions of the RCP, dismissive of democracy, and pro-capitalist. Conversely, the leftwing faction were more insistent on marking a break from the old formulas of the RCP, operating in a democratic fashion and taking an openly anti-capitalist line. These differences came to ahead in the build up to the G20.
LM/RCP do not tolerate dissent or debate; they are correct and they know it. Those who take a view that is to the left of them are dismissed as nutters,
They had made it clear from the start that only ‘loons’ go around calling themselves Marxists or anti-capitalists nowadays. In private one had admitted to being a secret, ‘right wing Marxist’ and described the chapter on the working day in Marx’s Capital as the worst thing Marx ever wrote.
Yes, I’ve always been aware of their oxymoronic “right wing Marxism”; it is a glaring example of their philosophical confusion.
Interestingly enough, some of the most prominent right wing enfants terribles were all at one time former Trots (albeit of the SWP variety): Christopher Hitchens, Peter Hitchens and Rod Liddle to name three. The RCP was never left-wing or Trotskyite; they were just a confused bunch of libertarian ideologues who wormed their way into the nation’s cultural institutions. Former swappies always make the best right-wing loons!