Current Affairs Politics

The Revolutionary Communist Party, Spiked Online And The Brexit Party

It seems that the love-affair between BBC News and various on-air guests from Spiked, a right-libertarian magazine that emerged in the early 2000s from the debris of the United Kingdom’s decidedly hard-left Revolutionary Communist Party, has somewhat cooled in recent weeks. This might be down to the decision by the internet publication to tentatively move into online broadcasting via SoundCloud and YouTube. The latter in particular has given its videos a prominent position among the algorithmic recommendations for fans of the hard-right. Or perhaps someone higher up in the BBC echelons has had a word with the producers and researchers of shows like Politics Live and Newsnight recommending a slight distancing from the Spiked crew? After all the frequency of appearances on the BBC was beginning to look a little bit like RTÉ’s News and Current Affairs Department during the 1970s and ’80s when an entryist grouping associated with the Workers Party gained a not-so clandestine influence over the political reporting of our own public service broadcaster.

Speaking of which, it’s fascinating to chart how factions from two Marxist organisations in two neighbouring countries have taken very similar right-wing paths over the last five decades. In Ireland we had an elitist cadre of the WP and its precursors moving from support for the Official IRA, armed struggle and radical class politics during the 1960s and ’70s to some of the most reactionary opinions imaginable on this island. While in the UK they had similarly elitist members of the RCP and its precursors moving from support for the Provisional IRA, armed struggle and radical class politics during the 1970s, ’80s and 1990s to their current position somewhere on the quasi-liberal fringe of the Anglo-American libertarian-right.

Watching last month’s election of RCP-alumnus Claire Fox to the European Parliament for the Brexit Party is sort of stunning in its way, as are her now regular appearances in the British press. The former firebrand campaigner was previously denigrated by the political and media mainstream in Britain because of her support for the Irish Republican Army and Sinn Féin during the era of the Troubles, along with many of her ex-comrades in the RCP and the associated Irish Freedom Movement (though there is no hard evidence that the grouping provided the same levels of logistical and intelligence aid given to the IRA by some members of the rival Red Action group, despite both factions uniting during the short-lived Red Front electoral alliance of the 1980s). Now, like others in the Koch-funded Spiked network that grew out of the end of the Cold War in Europe and the Long War in Ireland, Fox happily consorts with Nigel Farage and the flotsam and jetsam of the resurgent nationalist-right in Britain. The same types of people she would have literally marched against on the streets of London thirty years ago.

For those of us who remember or have read about the British hard-left sea in which Irish guerrillas swam during the English campaigns of the northern conflict, the contemporary Spiked phenomenon is just surreal.

15 comments on “The Revolutionary Communist Party, Spiked Online And The Brexit Party

  1. It’s pretty common world over for hard left radicals to turn reactionary over time. Poet Robert Frost once said that he dared not be a radical in his youth for fear he’d become a reactionary in his old age. Rupert Murdoch had a “fling” with Communism as a young man, by some accounts.

    My theory is that if you were born later than 1860 or later you probably have to have a little bit of a reactionary bent to buy into Communism beyond the surface levels for any period of time, due to its extreme 19th century reductionist approach. Also there are notions such as “dictatorship of the Proletariat”, or that violent revolution from the workers is the only option. You have the paradigm where the economic program is assumed to be the only one that really matters. A Marxist just thinks the Democratic governments are “superstructure” while a right wing Libertarian sees them as an obstacle.

    So if you know where to look a Communist shares a number of core assumptions with the political right. Disillusion him with Marxism and it’s relatively easy to convert some of them.

  2. Murdoch definitely did some reporting on socio-economic issues early on. I’d generally agree re Marxist-Leninism – it takes some effort to buy into the forms of democratic legitimation or not around that or believe they’re superior to alternatives. But it’s also problematic because it simply doesn’t work across the historical record (ie there’s very few examples of genuine ML revolutions, possibly two or three max, as against piggy backing on national liberation struggles, and in practice they’re not exactly convincing or likeable or attractive in terms of outcomes).

    I’d think you’re right re many can be flipped from far left to conservatism but I’ve always felt a lot of that is at least in Ireland and the UK partly about class position. If one comes from the middle class and veer hard left early in life it’s not such a surprise to return to supporting the status quo later in life – not everyone of course but a fair few.

    In fairness the RCP went a lot further to the right and libertarianism than the WP or its successors though those around Eoghan Harris would have been closer to the RCP model. Just on the composition of the WP membership I’d argue that it was strongly working class on the ground and not like the RCP in that way who appear to have been very middle class. Which doesn’t mean of course the WP didn’t hold some very problematic views.

    • Totally agree about that reverting to class type, for want of a better way of putting it. It’s a mix of pulling the ladder up behind you, finding a comfortable niche and life in the “capitalist” system, becoming antipathetic to those who might rock or threaten that nice life, a nostalgia for ones childhood, etc.

      I tried to make it clear that I was highlighting factions of the WP and RCP that swung rightward, rather than the groups as a whole. Though in the RCP case, most of those who went down the Living Marxism (?) route were in the libertarian tendency and had already broken with the past. Even their own pasts.

      The Harris faction, the core group of a score or so men and a handful of women, very much saw itself as an ideological, intellectual and artistic elite, even within the WP. Plus there were close personal, family and even romantic bonds keeping them more or less cohesive.

      The irony is, very much like certain clusters of republican families in the likes of Tyrone and Armagh.

      • Absolutely, sorry read the post on the mobile and didn’t fully catch how it focused on groups within – though just on that they were very influential groups and were listened to almost credulously on a range of issues. I always wondered about the RCP and Ireland – there was something very performative about their stance. I think you hit the nail on the head re Red Action who by contrast were a lot more substantial in their approaches.

        • gendjinn

          It’s even more simple than that. It’s a failure state of human psychology that is created & maintained by the structure of society that has been foisted upon us. Idealists can flip to persecutors quite easily over the course of their lives or the course of a day. Almost every other detail or facet is window dressing.

          James C. Scott “Against the Grain” gets to the heart of how the ball got rolling. Psychologist Pete Walker has written the manuals on the outcomes: cPTSD & The Tao of Fully Feeling. Wilhelm Reich’s Mass Psychoanalysis of Fascism monograph should also be required reading. We have reached peak NPD in politics, so understanding how they are made, and maintained provides many useful insights into how to counter the problems they create.

        • Yep, you do have to question now how much of the RCP stuff was youthful contrarian rather genuine belief. I know some PRM people were wary of them, as were a lot of folks around the Troops Out Movement.

          When the folk associated with the RCM came out against the GFA in 1998 and started hanging out with some of the RSF-types I don’t think that many people were surprised. Eventually they walked away from flirtations with the Dissidents but Spiked promulgates a very sceptical line on the GFA. Even more so now that it has embraced the Brexit movement.

          You could be right on that performative interpretation. It’s like the famous question from the 1950s’ movie The Wild One.

          Mildred: Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?
          Johnny: What’ve you got?

          • And with Spiked there’s the continual sense they look at issues and say if x is for it we’re agin it…which dovetails precisely with what you say re the GFA / BA

          • A lot of ex-communists I know who’ve gone right are simply extremely impressionable individuals who will pretty much go for whatever their current friends are into.

            I pretty much stormed out of a Communist meeting as a college student. The phrase “dictatorship of Proletariat” one Argentine raised her hand and pointed out that where she came from “dictatorship is considered a very bad thing” (No shit Dick Tracy!!), the grey hair man in the front gave a standard explanation of how such a dictatorship was the only way to end the hegemony of the monies classes.

            After storming out and riding on the city bus, I looked at their handouts and one question in the FAQs asked if there was any truth to claims about Soviet Gulags or the famines in the USSR and PRC. The answer read “We don’t know. We have only been taught what the corporate rulers want us to believe.”

      • I’ve known right-wing ex-Communists who came from backgrounds that were lower-middle class, working class to dirt poor and had childhoods that were nothing to be too nostalgic about. One older woman was the daughter of a coal miner whose family had been for generations-all intents and purposes- debt peons, of the kind described in the song “16 tonnes”. Another case while his family wasn’t so poor as his mother was a nurse and his father was a truck driver and union leader, did grow up African American under Jim Crow. Another was a guy from a poor Cajun farming family in Louisiana who had to flee for Chicago (mostly this happened to African Americans) in the middle of the night taking little more than clothing, money, and family photo album, because his father pissed off the Bayou equivalent of a gombeen man, and the local KKK wasn’t going to tolerate such things even from white people.

        One thing I see in those cases is that many of them did put together a better life than they grew up with, and take that as proof that the current system is great. Others who didn’t have impoverished or particularly troubled backgrounds, tend to be the kind of people who will just take whatever was put in front of them without question.

  3. The Revolutionary Communist Party/Spiked brigade seem to have applied the simple logic: Marx’s prophesies weren’t fulfilled and capitalism has won, therefore right-wing capitalism is The Truth and we’d better jump on the bandwagon.

    • That’s often exactly how it happens. Never mind that most of Europe abandoned “pure” capitalism in the early
      To mid 20th century
      and many nations in Noth and South America never had it at all.

      Another thing that can disillusion an ex-Communist is when they learn that poor people are flawed human being too.

    • or maybe they were never arsed to read Marx just liked the label?

      • Not having read Marx can play in. If you just hear from others “Marxism is about eliminating social calls, poverty, and inequality” that sounds pretty good. Once you start reading Das Capital or studying Marxism and find out how the propose to do that, then you get the absolute economic determinism, the dismissal of democracy or any path other than violent revolution, the “dictatorship of the Proletariat” part, the extreme cynicism about human dignity and more.

        I get why it caught on with people in 19th century Europe. Why somebody who came of age after a number of Communist regimes had gone badly and mixed economies became the norm in Europe is something else.

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