Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Triangulating Bobism 2: The Furedi cult

This post is dedicated to the other Will, Sarah and Jogo.

I recently wrote something like this: Frank Furedi and his cult have probably been more influential than any other bit of the British far left in the last decade. Although some of this influence has undoubtedly been for the good, some of it has been very malignant. They give a veneer of intellectual respectability to denialism about climate change, have acted as PR agents for the agribusiness, airline and pharmaceutical industries, aided and abetted AIDS denialism and its enormous death toll in Africa, given succour to Serb nationalism at its most aggressive, helped Boris Johnson capture London, provided ideological cover for cuts in the funding for arts, reduced the number of decent free festivals in the parks of London*, and, arguably, are the architects of David Cameron's election victory. Or am I paranoid?

Some time after I wrote it, but before I published it, I sent Jogo, Bob’s American correspondent, an article Furedi wrote about the left/liberal hysteria surrounding the Pope’s visit to the UK. Furedi’s article was brilliantly written, and accurately skewered an unsavoury tendency that elsewhere A Very Public Sociologist has aptly named atheism as the “identity politics of the liberal intelligentsia”. Jogo, understandably, was much taken by Furedi.

This post, following on from this one, is written as part of the on-going attempt, if this is not too pompous a way of putting it, to triangulate Bobism against some of the political positions abutting it. Here, I attempt to think through the way Furedi and his followers can be so correct about some things, and so harmfully wrong about others, and how this makes me think about my own politics.

For those who don't know what I’m talking about, Frank Furedi is an academic, once a member of Tony Cliff’s unorthodox Trotskyist party, the International Socialists (fore-runners of today’s Socialist Workers Party). Furedi left the IS “in 1975 on issues that remain obscure to all concerned”. His grouplet split, with his co-sectarian and fellow academic David Yaffe leading a rival groupuscule into the Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG), which became the ne plus ultra of mad anti-imperialism, while Furedi eventually took the hardly original title Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). We need not be concerned here with the zigs and zags of the RCP as it sought to identify its unique selling point in the small and crowded market of the British far left.

I’ll take up the story where I first encountered the RCP: at the end of the 1980s, when they were a colourful presence in the student movement and, clipboards in hand, selling their magazine around Covent Garden, on a prime pitch now occupied by the Big Issue. The RCP were then known for the graphic pzazz of their magazine Living Marxism, by the uber-trendy hairstyles of the cadre, and by their ultra-contrarian political positions. Among the latter: AIDS is a state conspiracy to regulate the sexuality of the working class, a position I took particular offence at, as I then moved in a pretty metrosexual milieu in which people were dying of the disease. This was just before Furedi announced the party’s “turn to the suburbs”.

Moving away from student politics, I lost sight of the RCP until sometime later in the 1990s, when Living Marxism had been re-branded LM. A colleague of my girlfriend’s was a member. I remember her drunkenly engaging some well-meaning middle class liberal in a conversation at a work do. Every liberal platitude uttered was met with satisfying scorn. “Isn’t it terrible how America lets anyone have a gun?” “Actually, I think only guns give us rights.” “Oh...” A little later, something about healthy eating and the rise of obesity. “Actually, I think people should be allowed to eat whatever the fuck they like and I can’t stand moralistic snobs lecturing them about it.” “Oh...” Later, something about South Africa. “Actually, I think Nelson Mandela is a wanker.”  And so on. In that moment, I was almost won over to the RCP.

However, meanwhile, the RCP had sank to one of its lowest moments: denying the existence of the horrific Serbian ethnic cleansing camps at Trnopolje. This incident is well described and analysed in a fascinating recent piece by Jenny Turner in the London Review of Books. The article frames the incident in terms of LM editor Brendan O’Neill’s personal politics of ressentiment, the hubristic overreach of LM as a magazine, and the fatal logic of “anti-imperialism”.
“That LM found itself denying that Serbian ethnic cleansing happened was, as Campbell sees it, an inadvertent consequence of their knee-jerk anti-imperialism, an ethical ‘paucity’ – shallow, canalised, one-sided – that tends to be the consequence of an ‘absolutist view’ of free speech, and their ‘historical illiteracy’. It subsequently emerged that Deichmann [the author of the libellous article] thought Trnopolje couldn’t be described as a ‘concentration camp’ because it didn’t have a gas chamber.
Turner also makes the interesting point (although she doesn’t make much of it) that the RCP were never Marxist and never socialist.
The RCP wasn’t really interested in working-class struggle, or Third World liberation struggles, or any other wretched-of-the-earth-type struggle at all. ‘Although I only became aware of this much later,’ one 1980s RCPer wrote recently, ‘young RCP comrades … were by and large simply not socialists.’ Don Milligan, an academic and gay activist, ran an RCP branch in the 1980s. He doesn’t think the party leadership were ‘socialists either’ but ‘Leninists of the purist kind’, ‘driven mad by the glamour of the October Revolution’, a tiny, super cool vanguard, ‘seizing the bridle of the Revolution and riding it into power’."
The party closed itself down in the wake of the Trnopolje incident (it formally liquidated itself in 1997), and went deep underground. Murray’s article shows how its cult-like operation (comparable to the LaRouche cult) continues despite the formal non-existence of the party. Its main outlet is the influential and highly readable Spiked website.

One thing Murray oddly doesn’t mention is the extent to which the underground ex-RCP has carried out a classic “entrist” operation in a completely new arena, the British Conservative Party. Nick Cohen has written that “conservative readers will be pleased that the former RCP now offers them what they used to find in the Tory press or hear from the lips of saloon-bar philosophers at the 19th hole.” Cohen also notes that this convergence goes back some time.
“As Monbiot noted, the RCP won support from, and published the views of, the most extreme advocates of free-market capitalism - the Institute of Economic Affairs in Britain, and the Cato Institute and Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise in the United States. In the 1990s, it opposed poll tax demonstrators, the anti-apartheid movement and trade union campaigns against public spending cuts. It supported Neil Hamilton, global warming, GM foods and "heroic" fat cats. It was, to slip into Marxist jargon, "objectively" a part of the Tory party.
Cohen even suggests that their support for Serbian atrocities fits the pattern: “The black propaganda of a Major government, determined to placate Slobodan Milosevic, included many whispers that the Bosnians were massacring themselves to provoke Nato strikes against the Serbs. The Conservatives got away with itLiving Marxism, alas, wasn't so lucky.”

The thinktank Policy Exchange appear to be the nexus between the ex-RCP and the Conservative Party. Policy Exchange was set up in 2002 by Michael Gove and others, and played a major part in pulling the Tory party out of its post-Thatcher slow death. As Wikipedia puts it, it “describes itself as seeking localist, volunteer and free market solutions to public policy problem” and thus contributed to the shift in Conservative thinking towards the Big Society big idea, and the whole re-branding under Cameron of the Tories as “progressive” party.

The Cameron project (like the New Labour project) is politically incoherent, combining elements of messy-haired libertarianism that feels appealing after years of hectoring, nanny-ish Blair and Brown with the harder communitarianism of Ian Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice, the vaguely liberal platitudes of Philip Blonde’s red Toryism, and the steely neoconservatism of Douglas Murray’s Centre for Social Cohesion. It is, arguably, this incoherence that makes Cameroonian Conservativism an appealing project: there’s something for everyone.

The libertarian edge, of course, is represented by the most appealing Boris Johnson, journalist and TV personality turned Mayor of London. Johnson has surrounded himself with bright young and youngish things from Policy Exchange. During the electoral campaign, Boris was aided by Dan Ritterband, former director of Policy Exchange. On election, the mayor appointed Nick Boles, the founder of Policy Exchange, as Chief of Staff. Boles was, the Observer reported, ‘asked to help the new mayor find the right staff’. Among the subsequent appointments were Anthony Browne as Policy Director and Munira Mirza as his cultural adviser.

Mirza is ex-RCP. According to David T, “Munira is not the only RCPer to have worked for the Policy Exchange. Oxford Don and RCP-er James Panton has also authored a study for them. Various RCP writers have also written for the Spectator, under Boris Johnson’s editorship.” David claims that “When I discussed [this] with Munira some time ago, she was rather droll. Munira’s line was that it was the Tory Party who were infiltrating the RCP: not the other way round.”

Like David, I am a fan of Munira Mirza. She is incredibly smart, articulate and witty. Her main interventions in public debate have been her sharp critiques of multiculturalism, which overlap with those made by fellow ex-RCPer Kenan Malik. (I am not sure whether or not Malik is still part of the RCP network.) These critiques draw on a long-standing tradition of left and anti-racist critiques of multiculturalism (associated with A Sivanandan, Walter Benn Michaels, Anne Phillips, Pragna Patel, Adolph Reed, Mike Phillips and others), but play well to the right. “Multicultural policies,” she says, “have encouraged ethnic-minority groups to believe they are in need of special recognition … paradoxically, by insisting on engaging with muslims as a separate group, the authorities make many of them feel even more excluded.”  Or: “The emergence of a strong Muslim identity in Britain is, in part, a result of multicultural policies implemented since the 1980s which have emphasised difference at the expense of shared national identity and divided people along ethnic, religious and cultural lines.”

James Turley, commenting on ex-RCP Dr Michael Fitzpatrick and his support for Boris, said Spiked “views him as some kind of libertarian, and enthusiastically urges him to be more openly so... It is similar to Socialist Appeal’s approach to Chávez – you might call it ‘critical fawning’ (the problem for Socialist Appeal is that Chávez is not the future of socialism, and the problem for Spiked is that Johnson is not really a libertarian).” And, as Splintered Sunrise notes, just as SA were never more than the hired help for Ken, the RCP will never be more than that for Boris.

The fact is, however, the ex-RCP is right about multiculturalism. They have an uncanny sense of the prevailing winds on the liberal left – and set their sails against them. Because the liberal left is so often stupid, the ex-RCP come out of this pretty well. So, they are right about multiculturalism, right about anti-Zionism, right about Islamism, right about the MMR vaccine, partly right about parenting and schools, possibly right about smoking.** In fact, when they are wrong, it is often when they represent a more extreme view of the left’s orthodoxies, such as their apologies for Mugabe and poo-pooing of the slow motion genocide in Sudan. (James Turley: “One area where it has maintained a dubious continuity with the left is in its rather monomaniacal approach to anti-imperialism.”)

But there is more to the ex-RCP than mere contrarianism. Behind their Tory entrism is a careful calculation about contemporary history: that the proletariat and the socialist movement were so thoroughly destroyed by wave after wave of ruling class assault, that we need to hunker down in the bunker, defend the gains made by earlier cycles of struggle and keep the flame of liberty alive through dark times. ***

The fact that the RCP’s commitment to the values of the Enlightenment – social progress, freedom, and so on – have more of an appeal on the right than on the left says something terrible about the decline of the left. The big society and the small state were historically staples of the left’s vision, from John Lilburne to Thomas Paine to William Morris. The word “social” in socialism is the clue. But that tradition was eclipsed in the last century by the ascendancy of social democracy and Stalinism, the twin forms of big state/small society leftism. In the wake of the their death, the left could have recovered these traditions, but instead frittered away its energies on a succession of foolish fads: Third Worldism, identity politics, municipal multiculturalism, Islamism, anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism, conspiracy theories.****

My question now is: is this our last chance to redeem our tradition, or is it too late?


I was going to give you some Easterhouse to accompany this, but here instead, via Jams, is Not the Nine O'Clock News:

 

Further reading: Jenny Turner: “Who are they?”; Jim Grant: “WTBLS, appendix 2: Talk to Frank”; Dave Walker: “Libertarian Humanism or Critical Utopianism? The Demise of the Revolutionary Communist Party”; Nick Cohen: “Long March to the Microphone”; James Turley: “Boris gets spiked”; George Monbiot “Invasion of the Entryists”; John Sullivan: “As Soon As This Pub Closes…”; David T: “The RCP Boris”; Graeme on the Furedi cult/on Spiked.


*Actually, although I loved the Respect/Rise festival, and was grateful to Ken for funding it, Munira Mirza’s justification for de-politicising it was very powerful. See here. On the other hand, it may have been less about different models of anti-racism, and more about the scrap between Ken’s hired help, Socialist Action (aka Operation Black Vote/National Assembly Against Racism) and Boris’ hired help.

**I am unsure of what I think about the RCP’s line on green politics, which they share with Strange Times on the left and Reason.com on the right. On the one hand, I think they are right to scorn the hair-shirted moralism and reactionary politics of much of the green movement (James Turley again: “one does not have to be a full-blooded climate change denialist like Furedi to recognise the dark underbelly of large sections of the green movement. As left groups scramble to liquidate themselves into the green movement, the Spiked project’s reminders of the reactionary nature of most variants of official greenism is timely. It is true that simply breaking up big enterprises – replacing Tesco with local greengrocers, mechanised farms with ‘old MacDonald’ operations and so on – would produce such a drastic drop in global production that literally billions would starve (as opposed to the millions at present).”); on the other hand, their enthusiasm for big industry and blitheness about ecological crisis are objectively dangerous.

***This analysis, in fact, is not a million miles away from the analysis made by people in my corner of the left, such as the sadly defunct Socialism in an Age of Waiting, who argued that, with proletarian revolution not vaguely on the cards, we need to effectively defend the bourgeois revolution against the forces of feudal reaction. A similar argument is made in Australia by the Last Superpower/Strange Times group. And the IWCA make a related argument: the left has played itself out and socialism is so discredited that we have to find a new terrain of struggle away from the left.

The IWCA, incidentally, has an odd history with the RCP. The IWCA’s predecessor, Red Action, collaborated with the RCP in the disastrous electoral adventure the Red Front in the 1987 election. I know nothing about this unlikely alliance, and if anyone who can report on it I’d welcome that. After the Red Front experiment, the RCP decided the working class had totally failed the revolutionary project, and consequently abandoned the working class – whereas Red Action took the opposite conclusion, that the left had totally failed the working class, and so abandoned the left.

****Since I wrote this, I heard a snippet of the socialist historian Tristan Hunt arguing something similar on the BBC.

38 comments:

Francis Sedgemore said...

Because the liberal left is so often stupid, the ex-RCP come out of this pretty well"."

Here you've condensed the entire argument of this lengthy essay into a single sentence of beautiful clarity. Thank you.

And how sadly true the argument is!

Anonymous said...

(Not really anonymous, just can't be bothered with all that "Choose an identity" crap.)
It was Socialism in AN Age of Waiting, but, all pedantry aside, thanks for the mention. Francis Sedgemore is right (for once), it's an excellent post. One reason why some blogs go defunct is that the bloggers running them discover that others are doing the same things they are, only better.
- Commenter Formerly Known as SIAW

modernity said...

Bob,

Not one to contradict you, but it was apparently the RCT, the Revolutionary Communist Tendency before they changed it to RCP.

Sarah AB said...

I very much enjoyed your article and broadly agree with you about what's wrong/right about the RCP. I'll reread later after work when I've got more time!

Andrew Coates said...

Very well summarsied.

I tend to neglect the Tory connection and well, it's pretty bizarre.

Malik is another critic of multi-culturlaism who had LM connections that I still find interesting.

On weirdness: what with LO not mentioning that their leader, 'Hardy' died 14 months ago, there's lots of odd things on the left.

bob said...

Thank you all for kind comments.

Mod, you're right. There was a whole sequence of named grouplets, both with Yaffe and then after, before settling on RCP in, I think, 1981. I'll change the wording slightly, and also the a in SIaAW!

AM said...

Thanks for this article.

There's a novel here, really. It's all so metaphysical.

Sarah AB said...

Since reading this post I’ve been thinking further about the Spiked/RCP phenomenon and how I respond to it – and why I find it perhaps more alluring than I should do. I tend to react badly to hard-line environmentalists who seem to see environmental problems as a kind of divine judgement and embrace austerity and constraint, fetishizing a green lifestyle/image. (I particularly like that bit in ‘Sleeper’ when we find out that eating lots of steak is really good for you.) I enjoyed the Spiked review of Avatar when it was pointed out that we were supposed to respond warmly to the alien world because it was so close to nature - even though it’s a society in which everyone knows their place and doesn’t aspire to leave it.

http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/7895/

I also quite like the Spiked line on multiculturalism described in Bob’s post, particularly as articulated by Kenan Malik. I’m not, on the other hand, attracted to knee-jerk anti-imperialism – and the RCP’s Serb apologist position is decidedly troubling.

Sometimes, clearly, their contrarianism leads them to react too strongly to an entrenched position and jump to the other extreme. But my sense is that their coverage of I/P avoids this, rejecting anti-zionism, but offering fairly balanced, calm comment.

I think Bob’s point that the Enlightenment values which RCP types tend to emphasise – freedom, rationalism, progress etc – are more associated with the right than the left is very telling. When I first came across Furedi’s articles in the THES I assumed he identified with the right (even though I don’t, and I agreed with much of what he was saying.) Furedi’s views seem close to those of Claire Fox – who once said that she wanted all schools to be like Eton. I like the emphasis on equality of opportunity – but also the avoidance of grumbles about ‘elitism’.

Anonymous said...

There is a website devoted, apparently, to 'tracking the LM movement and its people. See here:

http://www.lobbywatch.org/lm_watch.html

For what it's worth, I thought that design-wise, the LM publication in its last few years was looking pretty sharp.

Bob said...

Re Anon
For what it's worth, I thought that design-wise, the LM publication in its last few years was looking pretty sharp.

Yes, their graphic sensibility was always one of their strengths. This carries over to Spiked and their other current manifestations. The SWP is probably a distant second on the British left for that sort of thing, with no other Trot group coming close.

Re Sarah
Furedi’s views seem close to those of Claire Fox – who once said that she wanted all schools to be like Eton.

Yes, Fox is another member of the cult.

I'm not sure I'd want my sons to go to an Eton, and be exposed to casual sexual abuse, sadistic bullying, an overdose of competitive sports, and all the other things that produce people like David Cameron - although I wouldn't mind them turning out like George Orwell or Humphry Littleton.

Sarah AB said...

Bob - I think what I said was a bit ambiguous. I assume CF only wanted schools to emulate the high standards/range of subjects offered by Eton and when I grumbled about the use of the word 'elitist' I didn't mean there was anything wrong with describing Eton as 'elitist' (though I've nothing against people who went there) - what I don't like is when people say that, for example, studying Latin is 'elitist'.

Morbid Symptoms said...

Good post, though I wouldn't want to over emphasise the Conservative Party connection. I don't think there's any serious attempt to infiltrate Tories, but they do seem to think that it's OK to have dealings with them.

There is certainly a strategy behind their approach, in true Bolshevik style they never publish their internal documents, but I think most of them still see themselves as marxists - they still have capital reading groups. I think you are right that the implicit strategy is guided by a view of the current balance of class forces - I am not sure whether it is just a matter of holding on to enlightenment values (including the notion of the paramouncy of national sovereignty - arguably now more of a driver for post-RCP than anti-imperialism as such) or whether there is a more ambitious project of rallying the bourgeoisie to hold on to its historic mission of progress in order to prepare the ground for the later possibility of communism. Having failed to win the leadership of the working class, maybe leading the completion of the bourgeois revolution as a first step - mind you that's actually an old stalinist strategy isn't it?

Agree their Pope coverage was spot on.

Marko Attila Hoare said...

The RCPers are not genuinely opposed to multiculturalism. They have argued argued that criticism of Japanese whale-hunting amounts to anti- Japanese racism; criticism of the Sudanese regime is the work of 'the new crusaders'; criticism of the Nigerian regime is 'demonising black Africa'; etc. They reject universal values in favour of moral relativism.

Nor are the RCPer genuinely anti-imperialist. During the Bosnian war, they only ever condemned Western intervention when it was directed against the side they supported - the Milosevic/Karadzic forces. They sided with their own, British government vs the Germans on the question of recognising Croatia, and vs the Americans on the question of the arms embargo.

They are anti-liberal, right-wing libertarians - opposed to any solidarity with any oppressed or persecuted group anywhere, ever. The only type of human emancipation they support is for prosperous, already extremely free people in the West to enjoy further degrees of personal freedom.

Perhaps their most despicable moment of all, was when they argued that rape was not a particularly traumatic crime for the victim, but was only made so by media hype.

For all their supposed individualism, they all seem to agree with each other about absolutely everything.

They are an intellectually incoherent, vacuous and pretentious little sect.

rusty fruit juice said...

really excellent post bob

Pinkie said...

"I recently wrote something like this: Frank Furedi and his cult have probably been more influential than any other bit of the British far left in the last decade. "

Doesn't make it true, though, does it Bob? Perhaps you would like to justify that assertion.

John Whitley said...

One thing that seems to have been missed out is RCP/Spiked's approach to the currently fashionable and utterly poisonous demonisation of working class youths, oft derided as 'chavs'. There is not a single other left journal that has denounced this attitude for what it is: class prejudice. Pure and simple.

It's also rather ironic that an organisation such as the RCP, having turned away from class politics so completely is still the only one that defends many of the facets of working class life so vilified by nearly everyone else, namely pubbing, clubbing, smoking, swearing, McDonalds-eating, budget airline-flying, Tesco shopping, unofficial-striking etc etc.

And before you say that's just a stereotype I'll say most of that list actually applies to your's truly (apart from the smoking/drinking).

So, on balance, I'd say let the RCP/Spiked carry on. Of course in the greater scheme of things they're just pissing in the wind but then aren't we all?

bob said...

Re Sarah - Sorry I was being facetious! I am all in favour of Latin in schools, and otherwise generally agree with you.

Re Morbid Symptoms - very good points. I think I did over-exaggerate the Tory connection. There probably hasn't been a serious infiltration strategy, but rather a broader strategy of cultural influence, where some groups (Policy Exchange) are an obvious outlet.

Also, since Mirza's appointment, of course, was the financial crisis and the Con-Dem coalition. The RCP seem to be more explicitly referencing Marxism. The first I noticed was James Heartfield bigging up Rick Kuhn's book on Henryk Grossman - extremely timely but very unfashionable. Since then, for example, the critique of pessimistic anti-capitalism, which is spot on, including the response to the ridiculous Vince Cable is Marxist suggestion. On the other hand, I think Jenny Turner over-emphasises this esoteric Marxist dimension, and the idea that their time has perhaps come in the Con-Dem momemnt. In some ways, it should be obvious under Cameron how they've been backing the wrong horse: I stand by my claim that they helped give us this mess. (See below, re Pinkie.)

Re Marko - also excellent points. On the multiculturalism thing, I hadn't noticed that contradiction: the extreme cultural relativism when in comes to bashing liberal humanitarianism, then the extreme universalism when it comes to multiculturalism here in Britain.

On anti-imperialism, most "anti-imperialist" politics is of course not genuinely anti-imperialist, but more properly Second Campit - supporting the rival imperialism. The RCP have failed, as far as I know, to come up with any thorough assessment of the state of "imperialism" in an age of Big Oil, Gulf power, rising China, the resurgance of brutal infra-nationalisms like that of the Republika Srpska, etc etc.

bob said...

Socialist Appeal is Alan Woods' outfit who have been alleged to have had some influence over Hugo Chavez, but have really been no more than his ideological hired help. (Their background is in Militant and Ted Grant's turgid ortho-Trotskyism.) Socialist Action is John Ross's shadowy groupuscule, who were Ken Livingstone's hired help. (Their background is the IMG. I wrote a little about them here.) I'll think about the phrasing of the post to make sure this is clear.

Re Pinkie - My claim is of course an exaggeration; they didn't give us the Cameron government. But I think it is pretty obvious that the general point is right.

You can argue that the RCP are no longer of the far left, and that's probably true. Perhaps more accurate to say that no other group from the British far left has had
such influence in the last decade.

Who else could possibly be a candidate? Socialist Action? They of course had a lot of power in Ken Livingstone's administration but not much real influence. They continue to have a lot of clout in the race relations industry, and have some role in other campign groups. According to Wikipedia: "It was heavily involved in the publication and editorial control of Socialist Campaign Group News. Its members have maintained leading positions in many campaigns - the National Abortion Campaign, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, National Assembly Against Racism and various coalitions against the wars against Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, for example. As a result, Socialist Action exert an influence beyond that which might be expected from so small a grouping... Some of its activists played leading roles in organising the 2004 European Social Forum."

The other SA, Socialist Appeal, may have some marginal influence on Hugo Chavez, but zero influence in Britain.

The SWP have been a stronger contender, mainly through their front organisations Unite Against Fascism, Stop the War and Respect (although since the break with Galloway and then the Rees/German split, a lot of that legacy is in the balance). The SWP in the noughties did help get George Galloway get elected as an MP, and helped mobilise millions in February 2003 against the Iraq war, but I don't think their actual positions have really influenced that many people's ways of thinking.

The RCP, in contrast, have a very heavy presence in the mainstream media, through the likes of Frank Furedi and Claire Fox. I think through this they have managed to actually influence the way a large number of people think. How often do you turn on the radio and hear a representative of any other far left group?

I genuinely believe, although there is no way to evidence this, that this influence played a part in the cultural mood which helped designate the Blair/Brown period in terms of the "nanny state": they fed David Cameron's Tories a number of its lines, and I think helped create the mood for the re-invention of the Conservative Party under Cameron. The connection with Policy Exchange is telling in this regard, because Policy Exchange is often seen as the intellectual hothouse of Cameroonian Conservatisim. And the Boris moment was significant too, as his 2008 election was in some ways a dry run for the 2010 election.

Finally, re John Whitley: I 100% agree with you on this.

bob said...

Just noticed the Harry's Place article about the RCP from yesterday. This adds a little fuel, though not a lot, to the RCP/Tory nexus theory.

"Most recently she has been spotted in the pages of Prospect magazine, again disparaging the apparently living, breathing straw man of ‘multiculturalism’ with as much singular aplomb as got her noticed by the mayor and his minions back when she was churning out op-ed features and appearing on obscure panel discussions on behalf of her RCP/Spiked-Online paymasters. The local government editor of ConservativeHome was delighted, naturally.

But, what’s this? Tucked away in the line up programme for the mayor’s annual ‘Story of London’ festival (a Mirza brainchild) alongside a fairly impressive stellar array of celebrities (Billy Bragg), commentators (Peter York) and practitioner experts (Sir Terry Farrell), in its ‘Future of Cities’ debates are not one but three familiar RCP alumni looking somewhat out of place: Austin Williams of obscure online think tank the Future Cities Project, recent PhD candidate James Heartfield and Professor James Woudhuysen of Leicester De Montford University. You would have thought she’d have been a little less obvious about it.

In the past it was the Socialist Workers’ Party who you’d associate with self-declared Marxist ex-poly lecturers, obscure journal editors and PhD candidates on platforms at major conferences, but these days it appears that even Conservative run global cities have a place for them. Perhaps this is the ‘progress’ we hear so much about from David Cameron, though he’ll have to cut down on the risk aversion before Furedi and friends fully take him to their hearts. I’ve not checked yet but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see other familiar names on the Conservative Party conference fringe this week. I seem to recall the RCP had some interesting ideas about cutting NHS spending in the 1980s."


Rosie (who kindly links to this post) responds to the "pay-masters" claim nicely:

"Do RCP and Spiked actually pay their contributors? I thought it was some kind of internship. How do they get the money?

If they do pay and if after going through the churning of Op Eds you end up with a good gig at GLA or in the media generally, the RCP looks much more attractive than the SWP, which only offers a lifetime of selling newspapers and yelling at demos."


I also couldn't help but click on a link about "Tory gangbangs" to discover that Mirza "is linked to" (may be married to?) Dougie Smith, Cameron's speech writer who once organised sex parties. Is that relevant?

Marko Attila Hoare said...

'the RCP, having turned away from class politics so completely is still the only one that defends many of the facets of working class life so vilified by nearly everyone else, namely pubbing, clubbing, smoking, swearing, McDonalds-eating, budget airline-flying, Tesco shopping, unofficial-striking etc etc.'

There's nothing specifically 'working class' about any of those activities; most British people, irrespective of social class, probably engage, or have engaged, in most or all of them (appropriate to their age-group) at least sometimes.

You can be in favour or against any of those things, but to treat attacks on them as being 'anti-working-class' just doesn't make sense. If they're objectionable, then they're objectionable irrespective of whether they're 'working class' or not.

Defending smoking on the grounds that it's 'working class' is like defending genital mutilation on the grounds that it's 'Islamic' - it's sheer moral relativism.

Francis Sedgemore said...

Good heavens, I find myself in agreement with Marko Attila Hoare!

The RCP view of working class culture is just one example among many of its political fetishism and intellectual shallowness. In any case, British working class culture does not need defending by middle class, London-centric chatterati. People will do what they will as long as they want to do it, and can get away with it. If that makes life difficult for social engineers (the RCP included), then so much the better for it.

bob said...

Of course anti-social behaviour is not a working class thing; it is a cross-class thing, and where it is unpleasant it should be condemned.

But there is also an enormous amount of snobbery and hatred directed towards so-called "chavs" and "pikeys" that, if it were targeted at non-white people, would be considered completely unacceptable racism, and yet is universally acceptable amongst the respectable classes and yet, as far as I know, not challenged by any left group apart from the RCP.

Am happy to provide examples if you don't believe me.

Marko Attila Hoare said...

'Am happy to provide examples if you don't believe me.'

I'd be interested to see your examples to see what you have in mind, Bob.

There is undoubtedly snobbery or class hatred directed by members of the upper or middle classes toward the working class.

There is equally an inverse snobbery or class hatred directed by members of the working class or prolier-than-thou lefty types (some of whom themselves are middle class) toward the middle or upper classes.

You have both 'chav' and 'toff' used as terms of abuse; you have stereotypes of thick, vulgar working-class brutes and spoilt, effeminate middle-class cissies. The class prejudice cuts both ways; it's an unfortunate trait of British society that this prejudice is considered somehow acceptable.

I reject the idea, however, that it's specifically the 'white working class' that is hard-done by today - as if the 'black working-class' or the 'brown working-class' or the 'yellow working-class' gets a better deal.

Prejudice against immigrants or gypsies/travellers is much more socially acceptable in the UK than prejudice against the native white working-class.

Marko Attila Hoare said...

PS I should add that the categories 'working class' and 'middle class' are themselves not nearly as rigid or separate as the terms imply; the stereotypes serve to perpetuate an impression of two distinct classes that are not nearly so distinct in reality.

KB Player said...

The Flying Rodent has an enjoyable take on the Furedification Machine:-

http://flyingrodent.blogspot.com/2010_08_01_archive.html

(August 22 - for some reason can’t do a proper link to it.)

1) Open a newspaper; grab the dumbest media spaz-out in it as your subject material, then put pen to paper.

2) Lay out the entire, sorry episode, making it entirely clear that it's an electorally-driven spankathon confected out of bugger all by insane right wing bigots for political purposes, with the support of dupes and cranks.

3) Concede that liberal criticisms of said spankathon are essentially correct in every major aspect.

4) Suddenly announce that the real issue is not the confected right wing spankathon, but is instead the fact that condescending Yankee liberals think they're so bloody clever.

5) Waffle at length about how out of touch with, like, working class concerns and shit the libs are by pretending that belligerent stupidity is a class issue.

6) Round it all off with a spurious declaration about how, if only those godawful libs weren't so obsessed with political correctness, they would somehow magically squash the controversy by focusing instead on some unrelated horseshit.

BobFromBrockley said...

Chav rcp
OK. Here are some examples. Go to Facebook and see how many thousands of members there are of groups like ‘Petition for the legalization of Chav Hunting!’, ‘Whack-a-chav-a-day!’, ‘SPIT ON A CHAV’, ‘Kill the annoying chav playin loud music from his phone on public transport’, ‘Save the UK... Kill a Chav’, ‘I really dislike pikeys’, ‘I fuckin' hate pikeys’, and ‘Clean our Streets! Kill a Chav!!!’ These are hate sites, by any definition, inciting people, under the mask of humour (they’re mostly in the “Just for fun” category), to attack and even kill people for their class background. Thankfully, the “chavscum” website is defunct, but its sibling “chav towns” still thrives, with its huge quantities of vicious contempt for working class towns and working class people. Of course, “respectable” working class people indulge in this sport too, but it looks like most of the Facebook groups are populated mainly by university students.

When Jonathan Ross used the word “pikey” in a derogatory way on Radio 4, he was reprimanded, but not in any serious way – compare that to his later sexual gaffes. Or Formula 1’s Martin Brundle, whose use of the term in June 2008 led to a week apology from ITV. While the Daily Mail was at the forefront of the campaign to censure the BBC over the Ross/Brand use of sexual language on Radio 2, it defended Brundle, describing his mild ticking off as a totalitarian form of humourless political correctness. One Mail columnist, Jasper Gerard, wrote: ‘As any rustic knows, "pikey" is rural-speak for "chav"… Alas "pikey" is sometimes linked to "gypsy", and gypsies are classed as a race; hence accusations of racism. But "pikey" describes folk who knock on doors offering "spare" Tarmac. It's a comment on the thin blue line, not blood lines. Oh, and it was, dare one say, a joke’ (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/columnists/jaspergerard/2303018/Formula-One's-Martin-Brundle-and-ITV-in-trouble,-but-what's-the-problem-with-'pikey'.html) Another Mail writer, Des Kelly, wrote: ‘To consider pikey a racial slur is as stupid as believing the word “hippy” has racist connotations, or that “hoodie” is offensive. Ban pikey, and then you might as well outlaw chav, townie, trailer trash, Hooray Henry, goth, Sloane, tinker and many more fairly innocuous labels’.

And this is a key point. “Pikey” and to a lesser extent “chav” have ethnic connotations, and the association of the working class with the Irish, Irish Travellers, and Gypsies is one source of the power of middle class contempt for them. It is true that anti-Traveller/anti-Gypsy/anti-Roma racism are endemic and completely politically acceptable in polite British discourse, but this is not a totally different thing from what amounts to racism against the disrespectable classes.

Left-wing people, liberal Guardian readers who would never be heard dead making an off-colour joke about people of colour, use words like “chav” with no reflection. As Kalwant Bhopal and Martin Mayers wrote in a recent book, “the use of “paki” and “coon” is hugely restricted within British culture, but the use of “chav” as a near-equivalent post-millennium British marker for “white trash” has become quite commonplace… Similarly, the use of the word “pikey”, with just a hint of irony, is considered acceptable despite the obviously derogatory nature of this term… It is not that they will not cause offence, but they will not offend in a way that would bring down any opprobrium upon [those who use them]”. [continues...]

BobFromBrockley said...

[continuing...]
None of this is to say that there is no working class prejudice against middle class people, that there is no inverse snobbery, or that the left does not indulge in it or in affected approximations of it (indeed, I am probably guilty myself of bashing the posh). But there is an enormous difference between the prejudices of those with power about those without and the prejudices of the relatively powerless about those who rule them. Asian people, for example, might have prejudices against white people, but these prejudices are relatively trivial given the balance of power in our society.

This is a time when our traditional ruling class is consolidating its social power, and the kind of class contempt represented by the chav hate sites is one mechanism for that. This stuff has real, powerful, material effects on people’s lives, in generating crippling feelings of shame and also in locking people out of the good life. Friends of mine on an estate near where I live claim that some home delivery services refuse to take things there; several people i know on another estate have told me that they find ways of avoiding employers knowing where they live when they are looking for jobs. This sort of thing does not compare to whatever injury it might do to middle class people when working class people think they are effete.

--

I agree, by the way, that these culturally or socially defined class terms are vague and nebulous, with blurry borders. Many people who are culturally middle class would be proletarian in Marxist terms, and many people who are petit bourgeois in Marxist terms (e.g. someone who runs a small construction business) are working class culturally.

I also agree that the term “white working class” is abused most times it is used, often as an alibi for right-wing politics, sometimes as an essentialised “ethnicity”, and that brown and black working class people suffer by virtue of class in much the same way as white working class people do.

Marko Attila Hoare said...

Bob, I've looked at the Facebook pages you mentioned, and I totally agree - they are disgusting and frightening hate sites. Of course, there's no way of telling the class background of the members of these groups - whether they are 'middle class' or 'respectable working class' - the two groups aren't really distinct anyway - but I suspect that whoever they are, such people like to define themselves by their self-perceived superiority to 'chavs' - who can conveniently be defined as anyone they think of as socially and culturally beneath them.

Still, those groups all thankfully seem to have small memberships, and I don't think that level of viciousness and hatred is quite representative of mainstream liberal opinion. Guardianista-type liberals are entirely capable of snobbery toward 'chavs' or 'white working class' people, and certainly more tolerant of it than they are of outright anti-black racism.

But that hardly means that anti-working-class chauvinism is the only kind of chauvinism that is at all accepted.

E.g. racism against Balkan peoples is widely acceptable - liberal icon Michael Moore describes the former Yugoslavia as a 'godforsaken part of the world' whose people suffer from an 'addiction to violence' and engage in 'tribal warfare' (I remember the folks at Aaronovitch Watch seemed to feel that that type of racism was acceptable). Julie Burchill wrote in her Guardian column 'Croatia's not a country; it's a bloody division of the German armed forces - scratch a Croat, find a Kraut.' She certainly wasn't reprimanded.

Anti-Muslim bigotry and anti-Palestinian racism are widely tolerated and deemed acceptable ; e.g. at Harry's Place, where the most blood-curdling expressions of chauvinistic hatred against these groups pass without reprimand (Morgoth twice called for all Palestinians to be expelled from the West Bank without being reprimanded, let alone banned).

Anti-Semitism is increasingly tolerated in some left-liberal circles - I'm sure I don't need to cite examples for your readers.

Anti-gypsy chauvinism is official policy in France and Italy, and finds supporters here in the UK - e.g. The Independent's Mary Dejevsky, who said 'Sarkozy is right about the Roma'.

Whole tabloid newspapers thrive on anti-immigrant chauvinism which even our mainstream politicians don't stand up to.

Sorry, but I don't think the working class is particularly singled out for acceptable chauvinism.

Marko Attila Hoare said...

As for class chauvinism going in the other direction, there was the Class War magazine's constant exhortation of its readers to physically assault 'the rich' - loosely defined - or vandalise their homes, cars etc. There was the crowd over at the Drink Soaked Trots, particularly Will Rubbish and Hakmao, periodically expressing violent class hatred of the middle classes; e.g. Hakmao claiming that the middle classes had 'loathsome offspring'. There's HP's Graham Lloyd constantly using 'middle class' as a term of abuse for anyone who disagrees with him, and using the term 'rancid little middle class dickheads' on his Facebook profile. There's Andrew Coates using 'toff' as a term of abuse (and also boasting about how he called a woman in a pub a 'cunt'). This all seems to pass without reprimand.

I don't think this sort of thing is harmless. E.g. in Cambridge, where I spent many years, the students (wrongly identified as a privileged group, though the majority come from state schools) are frequently victims of unprovoked assaults by local thugs - simply for the crime of being students.

'But there is an enormous difference between the prejudices of those with power about those without and the prejudices of the relatively powerless about those who rule them.'

I agree with you only up to a point. Would you really say that because the Israelis have the upper hand vis-a-vis the Palestinians, then Palestinian anti-Semitism is less objectionable than Israeli anti-Arab racism ? Is Muslim chauvinism in Britain, as expressed in the London bombings, less objectionable than Christian chauvinism ?

In my ethnically mixed London comprehensive, there were cases of white kids being seriously beaten up in racist assaults by black kids - no point telling those victims that their suffering wasn't real.

At times, chauvinism directed at members of the middle or upper classes can be murderous - e.g. during the February/March revolution in Russia, 1917, when, as Orlando Figes describes, there were widespread beatings, rapes and murders of people who appeared better off - which might just have been a matter of wearing glasses. Subsequently, the Bolsheviks effectively starved 'bourgeois' people by depriving them of proper rations. Then there were the horrors of Stalin's de-kulakisation. And the mass crimes of Mao and Pol Pot.

So I don't think class chauvinism is inherently less objectionable or potentially dangerous when it's the supposed middle or upper classes on the receiving end.

bob said...

Some of those Facebook pages, by the way, have members in the thousands (or did when I last looked over someone's shoulder - I'm a Facebook avoider).

If I said that chav hate is the only acceptable prejudice, I completely retract that. I agree that the other forms of prejudice you mention are also on rise. Racism against Eastern and Central European people is not acknowledged at all and in that sense has strong similarities, especially given the objects of both of these are apparently "white".

However, most other forms of racism (e.g. against Asians or Jews) is recognised as racism, and will get you told off, and most people who use it recognise that at some level. So, someone at Harry's Place is racist about Arabs, they may not get reprimanded by the moderators, but there are lots of people who will make a big deal of it (e.g. websites like IslamophobiaWatch and AaronovitchWatch exist for that purpose), and the same with racism against Jews at, say, Socialist Unity. Anti-"chav" hate, however, will not provoke hardly any response, and if you say it amounts to racism most people look at you as if you are mad.

--

I agree that the prejdices of the relatively powerless can have real effects on people's lives. But the effects on the victims are cushioned in lots of ways. So, if someone snarls about David Cameron being a snob (or, say, me being effete), it might hurt David's feelings, but he has a lot of resources to protect him against its effects. He's not going to have trouble getting a job in a PR company because of his accent, or ignored and overruled by doctors, or have assumptions made about his child-rearing by social workers.

If prejudices lead to violence, that's completely different. So, there wouldn't be any moral difference between a member of Class War actually stringing up a public school teacher by the entrails of a minor royal and a member of the Facebook hunt a chav group actually hunting down a chav. But the instances of prejudice turning into violence are a small proportion of the instances of prejudice.

And I think that the racist black kid and the Palestinian bomber are slightly different sorts of cases. In the universe of the inner city school, it might be black boys who hold a fair amountt of physical power over the space and the middle white kids who are the persecuted minority, and this might leave physical and psychic scars on the white kids even when they leave school and enter a world where the black boys are completely powerless. I don't think this is about prejudices.

Similarly, I would see Palestinian terrorism as part of an assymetrical war than as an expression of the prejudice of the powerless, even if prejudice agaisnt Jews plays a part.

modernity said...

My impression is that the majority of the talk of the "White Working class" etc is projection.


It comes across to me as a fake concern, a method by which the middle classes can project their own neuroses.

So once more, the working-class ends up as the ventriloquist's dummy for middle-class anxieties.

Not like it hasn't happened before?

Morbid Symptoms said...

Must admit that after years of getting softer, more humanist and pacifistic I am finding myself reverting to seething toff-hating with each passing day of 'stop the poor breeding' class hate from above by the vile Tory scum.

BenSix said...

The fact that the RCP’s commitment to the values of the Enlightenment – social progress, freedom, and so on – have more of an appeal on the right than on the left says something terrible about the decline of the left.

That depends on how one views "social progress". Spiked! - or, at least, O'Neill - uphold the values of consumption and human activity without concern for the environmental consequences or, indeed, its very limits. That's not "left" or "right", it's just silly.

Anonymous said...

"The fact that the RCP’s commitment to the values of the Enlightenment – social progress, freedom, and so on – have more of an appeal on the right than on the left says something terrible about the decline of the left."
Totally contestable. See Walter Benjamin's Thesis of History, and more recently, Robert Kurz of the German Exit journal.

bob said...

If I understand you right, Anon, I partially agree with you.

The Enlightenment and in particular the idea of "progress" has a dark side, and there is no document of (modern) civilization that is not also a document of barbarism - both for the empirical reasons BenSix rightly highlights (the limits to our planet's capacity to sustain endless "progress") and the philosophical reasons set out by Benjamin, Adorno and others. (I know less about Kurz - a summary or some pointers would be very welcome!) The radical left has been right, therefore, to be skeptical about the Enlightenment, and I don't want to suggest a re-founding of the left on the basis of reclaiming it.

On the other hand, I still think that the core values of liberty, equality and fraternity, of reason and doubt, of egalitarian republican democracy, remain the strongest foundation for a project of emancipation which remains unfulfilled and urgent.

On "radical Enlightenment", see, e.g. Ann Talbot, Alberto Toscano, Eric Brandom.

Paul Stott said...

There is another reason why the Respect/Rise festival came to an end, which as far as I am aware has never been publicly commentated upon.

The last year the event was in Victoria Park, I noticed a a couple of hundred black teenagers sprinting through the park. A minute or so later I reached a group of about 20 extremely scared cops, truncheons drawn yet with no one near them.

It seems a shot, or shots had been fired.

I would venture a free festival, with open access to a park for all, is now very unlikely to pass any Met health and safety assessment. Even if you searched all the punters going in, a weapon could very easily be thrown over the park fence somewhere, or even hidden before hand and collected later.

Bob said...

Footnote: I mentioned Strange Times in the post, and I notice today that they have just hosted a debate on climate change featuring ex-RCP Austin Williams. Small world, and indeed Strange Times.

http://strangetimes.lastsuperpower.net/?p=763

Anonymous said...

Have people seen this resource on the RCP and its successors?

http://www.powerbase.info/index.php?title=Category:LM_network