Friday, April 07, 2006


From Far Left to far Right

The Strange Case of Living Marxism
Updating one of my textbooks recently I came across a highly unusual case of an extreme leftwing movement setting in train one which has ended up extending links to American think tanks and institutes on the far right.

Living Marxism a descendant of the CPGB’s Marxism Today, morphed into the more modern sounding LM in the late 1990s when it published an article accusing ITN of fabricating the discovery of an apparently emaciated Muslim in a detention camp which in reality was haven for such refugees. The magazine was sued, lost the action heavily and was forced to close. But it is the provenance of the magazine and the movement it subsequently set in train which is so interesting for students of the far left. The story is traced to 1974 when a Trotskyist faction split from the International Socialists (now the Socialist Workers Party)- which, in the words of David Pallister et al, (Guardian, 8/7/2000) ‘used to spend most of its time in textual agonizing over the third volume of Das Kapital.’- to form the Revolutionary Communist Group.

The RCG saw its role as training a ‘vanguard elite to storm the citadels of capitalism’. However, Trotskyist groupings are notorious for being both fickle and factional and in 1976 one of the group’s thinkers, David Yaffe, led out a like minded section (broadly in favour of collaborating with certain other far left groups), called the Revolutionary Communist Tendency, later changed to 'Party' or RCP. Living Marxism was its mouthpiece and, as such, it attracted notice for its intellectual energy and creativity. New members were often recruited in ‘up-market’ places like Oxbridge colleges and Covent Garden, and, after a period of ‘political education’ were encouraged to enter the professions, often those associated with the media or academe. They were then asked to donate a proportion of their salaries to the party.

In the wake of the Cold War’s demise, came a change of direction; the RCP was disbanded and Living Marxism became LM, the raison d’etre for which was held to be ‘freedom’, freedom to challenge, to offend, to say what one wanted. Under the influence of two thinkers, Frank Furedi (now Professor Sociology University Kent) and former social worker, Claire Fox, LM waged war on what was held to be government manufactured panics over issues like GM foods, child rearing, Aids as a heterosexual disease and much else besides.

‘The spirit of LM’, in Furedi’s words, ‘is to go against the grain: to oppose all censorship, bans and regulations and codes of conduct; to stand up for social and scientific experimentation; to insist that we have the right to live as autonomous adults who take responsibility for our own affairs.’

The mission of the ‘LM Group’ was alleged by some to be a permeation of the opinion forming professions; Fox’s Institute of Ideas andLM magazine were two facilitating agencies to this end, organizing seminars and conferences, involving ‘Establishment’ bodies like the Institute for Contemporary Arts and intellectuals like Blake Morrison, Lisa Jardine and Linda Grant.

This philosophy of ‘Ban nothing, question everything’, unsurprisingly, found supporters on the libertarian right. Pallister et. al. suggest that the rightwing grouping of think tanks and research institutes in the US, known as the ‘Freedom Network’, offered a source of likeminded ideas, support and, indeed, quite possibly, finance. So, we see a slightly weird evolution here of an extreme left faction morphing into new forms, imploding dramatically and then becoming a broader cultural movement which joined hands with groups which are sufficiently for to the right to make poor old Leon Trotsky revolve in his grave.

Your observations on the curious trajectory of the RCP/LM group are spot-on, Skipper. It is unusual for an organisation (although a small one, I guess, more of a coterie, perhaps) to take this route. But for individuals “God-that-failed” conversions are commonplace. As I think you have observed on another occasion, the New Labour Cabinet since 1997 has seen an impressive quota of ex-Communists (John Reid), ex-Trotskyists (Alan Milburn, Stephen Byers), and former town-hall lefties (David Blunkett, Dawn Primorola, Margaret Hodge). The great shape-shifter Peter (Odo) Hain is in a class of his own. Thatcher had her admiring ex-reds also: Paul Johnson, Alfred Sherman, and I’m sure there were others but off the top of my head I can’t think of them. Then again there is your old colleague Norman Geras (who has gone from trendy Trot to Iraqi hawk and defender of all things Israeli), Christoper Hitchens, and the insufferably lightweight David Aaaronovich, et al. In the USA there is David Horowitz, who seems to have turned into some kind of McCarthyite red-baiter. And finally – wait for it – there is the the ex-Trot Gary Bushell, the cream of the crop. What about a top ten of “God that failed” conversions”?
Ace comment Politicaholic, I have to say and it's alerted me to another paragraph I can add to the chapter I thought I'd finished with. So thanks for that. Yes, Norm is maybe a bit too consistently Zionist to be seen as in any way objective on the Middle East(though a great bloke and a friend) and I'm always a bit bewildered of the hawks on Iraq brigade-Aaronovitch, Nick Cohen etc. Great idea for top ten ideological 'turncoats'- I'll tuck it away for when I've low on ideas for posts though not sure I could make the list stretch to ten.
Skipper. To correct you on one point Living Marxism was never a descendent of the CPGBs "Marxism Today". You're confusion is understandable as you have failed to grasp the politics of Frank Furedi et al. Maybe if you had paid more attention to the politics rather than the personalities you would have spotted the error. The many political differences between the 2 organisations should have given you a few clues. I have to say I admire the writings of Frank Furedi and his materialist analysis of current social relations is absolutely first class. His analysis of risk in society, of the therapeutic state and the current state of western politics is spot on. Yes it's true that some very interesting changes are taking place and some previously political enemies are beginning to realise that, today, they may have more in common than they once thought. Today we live in a world of anti politics. It's interesting you want to focus your energy on personalities and not politics. I guess you are following a well trodden path nowadays which is a shame as I would like to know your views on issues like the environment, liberty, risk culture, the state, the Iraq war, scientific progress etc etc etc. Who gives a toss about the history of the left (or the right for that matter) Surely what's important is what the believe in today and what political perspectives they are promoting. For one I'm fed up with personality politics. It only really blossoms in a political vacuum. Seems to me like you are trying to feed off our cynical anti political times and that does you no credit whatsoever.
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LM/IoI says we live in an age of new authoritarianism,
in a "dark hour" of personal freedoms. People no longer have
the freedom to abuse gay twinks argue with partners, let children play outside
or smack them. Nor are they free to smoke, drink ,own guns
or have free speech
Has anyone ever read the twink stories by one of the Revolutionary Communist
Party/Living Marxism crowd - the likes of Mick Hume and Claire Fox
- and actually been enlightened by it, or even been made to think
as a result of it?There is something deeply annoying about being
lectured by people whose every belief has been exposed as intellectual
fraud, and turned over with the collapse of Marxism, but who is now '
more capitalist than the russian twink'. Their successor organisation,
the Institute of Ideas, ought to be treated as the front organisation
for a particularly deceitful brand of communists that it is. Instead
it is a treated by people who should know better as if it was merely
a sparky twink boarding school.
Please get your sectariana accurate!
The Revolutionary Tendency did not split from the Social Workers Party, but was expelled in 1974. This formed the nucleus of the RCG. I don't know where you got the quote from, but RCG members are giggling at the idea that they consider themselves a "vanguard elite to storm the citadels of capitalism".
'Agonizing' over Vol 3 of Capital? That's stretching it, but it's not the lightest read and we used to discuss it (how can you seriously call yourself a Marxist if you haven't read his most important work?)
It was not David Yaffe, but Frank Furedi and chums who walked out of the RCG and turned themselves into the RCT monster and founded Lying Boredom, sorry Living Marxism. They were unhappy that the RCG described the CPGB as reformist, not Stalinist and about the emphasis on solidarity work - after all, it's much more fun to criticise people struggling than actually to help them. In short they wanted to stay classical Trots, while the RCG headed in a Leninist direction.
It is interesting to note that many of the 'classical' neo-cons got their first taste forideological battles as members of Trotskyist organizations half a century ago.
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