Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Memoirs of some revolutionaries
George Monbiot competently nails the UK’s very own LaRouchies in Tuesday’s Guardian.

The organisation began in the late 1970s as a Trotskyist splinter called the Revolutionary Communist party. It immediately set out to destroy competing oppositionist movements. When nurses and cleaners marched for better pay, it picketed their demonstrations. It moved into the gay rights group Outrage and sought to shut it down. It tried to disrupt the miners' strike, undermined the Anti-Nazi League and nearly destroyed the radical Polytechnic of North London. On at least two occasions RCP activists physically attacked members of opposing factions.

In 1988, it set up a magazine called Living Marxism, later LM. By this time, the organisation, led by the academic Frank Furedi, the journalist Mick Hume and the teacher Claire Fox, had moved overtly to the far right. LM described its mission as promoting a "confident individualism" without social constraint. It campaigned against gun control, against banning tobacco advertising and child pornography, and in favour of global warming, human cloning and freedom for corporations. It defended the Tory MP Neil Hamilton and the Bosnian Serb ethnic cleansers. It provided a platform for writers from the corporate thinktanks the Institute for Economic Affairs and the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise. Frank Furedi started writing for the Centre for Policy Studies (founded by Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher) and contacting the supermarket chains, offering, for £7,500, to educate their customers "about complex scientific issues".

And bloggers Nick Barlow and Alister Black supply their own reminiscences of what was once the Revolutionary Communist Party. I think anyone who was at university between 1975 and 1990 who had any political interest must have come across the RCP at some point. Clearly it was a memorable experience for others apart from me.

I remember them from the old Polytechnic of Central London in the early 1980s. In particular I remember Fiona Fox, since I was a good enough friend of hers at one stage to stay the night at her parent’s house. I liked Fiona, but found it difficult to talk to her beyond a certain point. She got revolutionary politics early, and got it bad. RCP members weren’t as quick as some to jump into ferociously clichéd denunciations of this or that. It’s just that they would never develop an argument beyond a certain point, that point being when they had demonstrated the pointlessness – so they believed – of the political activity or cause any of their rivals were involved in. Another RCP member at PCL was Ed Bazalgette, the former bass player in the Vapors and brother of the visionary who started reality TV off with a cavalcade of chefs.

I also seem to remember that they had a three stage membership structure. You would start out selling papers and doing other lowly work, graduate to more complex tasks and then, joy of joys, be translated into the group’s intellectual elite. But first stage members also didn’t seem to be allowed to conduct autonomous arguments. They were given a line of the day, told to steer conversations round to it if possible, and once it was reached refuse to move on from that point.

What makes me think that they haven’t changed much is that you can still see the same process at work in Spiked.

The RCP had another unique feature. They were the only sectarian communist group on planet earth with a dress code. Like bouncers of the revolution, they would only admit people wearing smart casual clothes to the cause. I believe this was something to do with winning the suburbs over to Marxist Leninism. It certainly made them odd to talk to in general social situations, as though they had joined the RCP as everyday people and then been told to imitate their normal selves as a conscious act of revolutionary practice. They marketed themselves, which must have facilitated their eventual move into corporate public relations.

There’s a pretty good account of the RCP/LM/Spiked group and my old mate Fiona at gm watch. A couple of points to add: Fiona was involved with them for a long time before the researcher seems to think. And their media strategy included successfully infiltrating the Economist Intelligence Unit.

As is by now well-known, Living Marxism has become adept at finding or placing supporters in what it regards as influential positions in the media. This is all perfectly above board: the Times was desperate enough to offer LM's editor, Mick Hume, his own column. The signatories of LM's letters are familiar bylines across Fleet Street. But the pivot of Living Marxism's activities in the mainstream is, for some reason, the Economist Intelligence Unit, which has at times, backstage, been torn asunder by arguments over key positions held by the group's leading members.

So comrades, how can we explain the RCP’s remarkable communal trajectory from revolutionary oppositionists to corporate libertarians? On one level, the group’s track record for trying to wreck left wing causes and groups is just as applicable from the right as from the sectarian far left. They’re still busy creating front groups and organizing conferences, just as they were then, though these days more for profit than fun.

Their oppositionism has been the one constant thing about them. Yet it does seem to have led over the years to a kind of surreptitious hankering after nihilism, expressed at one level by their eager apologetics for genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda and on another by their inability to avoid mechanical sneering at any social or political phenomena. In theory, they are apparently in favour of confident humanity making choices. A glance at Spiked tells you that they can find nothing good to say about the choices humans make. The whole site reads like the effusions of the snottiest 14 year old in the grammar school playground. This is apparently where vanguardism for its own sake leads.

Monbiot is worried by their current influence in the pro-GM science camp. Well, it does show you how easily smart people can be fooled. On the other hand, literally thousands of people will remember them from encounters at university. And very few people who did meet them will trust them as far as they could comfortably spit a rat.

So if this site has any readers from the world of biotech public affairs – and I’m sure there must be thousands – it’s worth them bearing in mind that for thousands of well educated, intelligent and in some cases influential people, involvement by the RCP/LM/Spiked/Institute of Ideas in any cause immediately arouses incurable suspicion. They’re not worth your money.