The Left

Sound and Fury

The Revolutionary Communist Party has its annual shindig – the Battle of Ideas – next weekend. Sponsored by The Times (the employer of various RCP-ers), Pfizer (the RCP is in favour of “progress”, and members have a profitable side line in lobbying for biotech companies), and (because they’re opposed to “climate change doom-mongers”).

Now, don’t get me wrong. I quite like the RCP. They are occasionally right about things. I’m impressed by their ability to pull in the big namesDavid Aaronovitch, Madeleine Bunting, Conor Gearty, Ted Honderich, Bernard Crick – who they use to bolster the standing and credibility of their relative nonenity leadership: freelance journo Brendan O’Neil, GP Michael Fitzpatrick, dons James Panton, John Fitzpatrick, cutie Muira Mirza and other members of the Frank Furedi fan club.

What is it that irritates me about them?

Oh, I dunno. I suppose it is the cultishness of the organisation. Anybody who has had any conduct with the RCP will know exactly what I mean.

And also, the silliness of its rhetorical style. I kind of prefer the old trot language: of “fightbacks” and “building for an angry (but peaceful) demonstration”, to the anodine waffle that is the hallmark of RCP-speak. Take a look at their programme, for key examples of RCP sloganeering:

Demoralising the debate: poverty or social exclusion?
Save the planet, don’t see the world?
What is innovation for?
Reaching for the stars: realising the ambitions of the space age
Human enhancement: creating superhumans or dicing with destiny?

There’s also the “buzzword” nature of their politics. A key RCP notion is the Furedi idea that we are being paralysed by fear and risk. At a recent RCP conference, a friend tells me, they were treated to whooping cadre enthusing about the joys of dangerous sports: a key weapon in the battle to “rebuild faith in the capacity for personal agency” is how the RCP put it, I understand. And so next weekend, you’ll be treated to sessions entitled:

Does every child really matter: has the abuse panic gone too far?
Reclaiming the Olympic spirit in an era of noncompetitive sport; and
Are we paralysed by risk aversion?
Playing balls: why are men becoming obsessed with their health?
Morbid fascinations: our obsession with death.

The RCP have a theory that the debate about socialism and progress has stalled, and that we’re further away than we can imagine from a socialist revolution. They think that our culture has lost confidence in itself, and that we are mired by a pathological overcautiousness, which prevents us from realising our true potential. They enthuse, therefore, about

– “restarting the debate” (sometimes “about socialism” but laterly about “progress”); and

– “challenging the risk obsessed social consensus”.

In order to move our society forward, therefore, the RCP have practiced a kind of entryism into bourgeois institutions. Some have been sent into academia: they now are extremely well representated in certain departments at the University of Kent, where their guru, Furedi, is based. A number of ex-RCP-ers – including Claire Fox, Brendan O’Neil and Mick Hume – have managed to get decent journalistic jobs, largely by playing the role of entertaining controversialists and professional contrarians. Others work in telly, and in lobbying.

I’ve never been entirely sure what the RCP is for. But they do it very well. And at least they’re not the SWP.