Friday, April 07, 2006
From Far Left to far Right
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.
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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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