Rememberance of Things Past…ish

by Harry on August 2, 2005

I had a fleeting moment of deep joy the other day. Dsquared had mentioned the RCP (this being the British RCP, not the butt of Scott McLemee’s jokes) in some comments thread, and, via the Virtual Stoa, I saw that spiked-online are described as British Conservatives at What is Liberalism?

The RCP was, for a while, the coolest group on the left. They were so cool that people like me couldn’t even speak to them. They wore clothes that even I could see were hip as hip could be. They were all tall, and dark, and good-looking. They were also articulate (all, I gather now, having been to the University of Kent — scroll down), and there was a rumour that the SWP had banned its members from attending RCP events, for fear of losing grips on them. The group is now defunct not, as with so many others, because it collapsed, but because it members became converted to the joys of capitalism en masse, and created a journal called Living Marxism (devoted to promoting libertarian capitalism and downplaying the atrocities of the Milosevic regime), the descendent of which is spiked-online.

Anyway, I digress. Why the deep joy?

Well, there was a time when I could name not only the newspaper and the leadership of every Trotskyist (and almost every Stalinist) group in Britain, but also the lineage of the group and the central ideological differences between it and its rivals. It never seemed very important to me, I confess, but I have that kind of mind… Anyway, reflecting on the RCP and spiked-online, I realized that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t remember the name of the RCP’s defunct newspaper. Was it FRFI? — no, that was the RCG (from which the RCP, then known as the RCT, split). Socialist Press — no, of course, that was the WSLs (my favourites, mainly because Ted Heslin and Perry Cullen, who were assigned to explain to me why they didn’t want to recruit me, were even nicer and funnier than Alan Thornett (this, of course, after they had fused and then split from SO and become the SG, but before they fused with the IG to become the ISG)). SO? No, that was whatever the SO group called itself. I could even remember the RCP’s brilliant 1992 (or was it 1987?) election slogan “Break Out of the Grey” (you knew something odd was happening). The deep joy came when, for a brief moment, I believed that it had completely left my mind for good.

But then, as I was composing this post in my head, I took the next step, and the joy dissipated. Bugger.

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Deltoid » Spiked = Stupid
08.02.05 at 9:46 pm



Scott McLemee 08.02.05 at 1:10 pm

Why, I never make jokes about RCP,USA. The sight of Chairman Bob’s jaunty corduroy hat fills me with a nostalgia for the 1970s that is bittersweet and quite heartfelt.

The (completely unrelated) British RCP inspires no such feelings — only real puzzlement, because they were always so contrarian as to make a real mess of the usual Trot categories that ought to apply to a group with their background. It is worth mentioning, however, that the Easterhouse album “Contenders” sets RCP politics off against vaguely Jesus and Mary Chain-ish guitar squall, and is pretty enjoyable.

Terry Eagleton was a member of the Workers Socialist League (WSL), aka “the Weasels.”


antirealist 08.02.05 at 1:24 pm

The RCP was, for a while, the coolest group on the left.

The Royal College of Physicians, I suppose. Well, that would be Ray Hoffenberg’s influence.


Harry 08.02.05 at 1:25 pm

I know — Eagleton had just left when I came across them and they refrained from recruiting me. He speaks extremely affectionately of the group in his memoirs, and with good reason, in my experience…

I forgot the RCP had their own band. I remember it rivalling the Redskins.


antirealist 08.02.05 at 1:26 pm

The RCP was, for a while, the coolest group on the left.

The Royal College of Physicians? Too true. No doubt that was Ray Hoffenberg’s influence.


John Kozak 08.02.05 at 2:07 pm

Can’t say the UK RCP ever struck me as cool; there are few things as dreary as formulaic contrarianism, and The Next Step could have been entirely written by Rick from the Young Ones.


harry b 08.02.05 at 2:36 pm

john kozak — I need some sort of wierd way to sign that I am being ironic but not really ironic. All you say is true. And of course, I thought they were ridiculous, prancing around in their fancy clothes and preening themselves… but, I don’t know, they looked cool, and they certainly thought they were too cool to speak to scruffs like me…


Louis Proyect 08.02.05 at 3:05 pm

Between Frank Furedi and Ian Williams and company, I’d say that the former was much closer to the truth on the topic of Yugoslavia. British libel laws favor the prosecutors, as should be obvious from the Roman Polanski trial.


vivian 08.02.05 at 6:59 pm

The Royal College of Physicians?

Odd, all I could think was “Royal Communist Party” – it didn’t make a lot of sense, but had serious snark potential that could be associated with cool clothes.


Tim Lambert 08.02.05 at 9:54 pm

Spiked “science” published the claim that A bicycle is less efficient than walking. I reckon they will end up promoting Creationism.


Ray 08.03.05 at 3:47 am

I knew a guy who was in the RCP at one point, and they were insanely cultlike. They’d own the lives of their members, filling every moment with meetings and activities. I mean every moment, 12 hours of meetings in a week would not be unusual.


MFB 08.03.05 at 5:06 am

Second Ray. Apparently there were various levels of membership; you had to sell so many copies of Living Marxism before you could rise up a level, and eventually you reached the level at which you were entitled to attend the Annual Conference.

Which was called, I kid you not, “Preparing for Power”.

My wife visited Britain in 1990 to stay with some old anti-apartheid lefties who’d emigrated and joined the RCP, and she said it was like living with Moonies. Eventually, desperate for someone to talk to, she went out with another old anti-apartheid leftie who’d emigrated, and sobbed in horror about how awful the RCP was, how dull, how dreary, how mindless . . .

You guessed it, he was the local RCP coordinator. Conversation went downhill from there.


Matt McIrvin 08.03.05 at 7:07 am

The RCP was pretty active around American college campuses in the 1980s, too. It may just be the general difference in American political attitudes, but I remember thinking of them as a bunch of ridiculous clowns (their big thing was trying to convince people not to vote, and their reps handing out newspapers often proudly identified themselves as Maoists). It was funny but somehow not entirely surprising to learn that they had all transmogrified into extreme libertarians.


Matt McIrvin 08.03.05 at 7:08 am

…granted, as you said, that was the American RCP, which seems to have been more clownish than the British one.


David T 08.03.05 at 9:11 am

You should have asked me, mate. I could have told you!

My best friend used to call them “the 664 Graphic Designers living in Merseyside” because that had been their result in the constituency in which they’d stood in 1986.

A quick check of David Boothroyd’s book reminds me that – along with President Mbeke – they also used to support the argument that HIV did not cause AIDS. They thought that the AIDS campaign was all a plot to boster the “risk obsessed society”, or some other similar nonsense.


Harry 08.03.05 at 11:50 am

matt — different RCP entirely — yours is still around, and Scott M’s cat is named after its exiled leader, Chairman Bob (Avakian). The Brits were creepier (as you can tell from mfp’s comment) but probably not nuttier…


bob mcmanus 08.03.05 at 12:18 pm

“The deep joy came when, for a brief moment, I believed that it had completely left my mind for good.”

The details and distance from center may escape me, but if this post is about how youthful idealism becomes a calcified resignation about war, corruption, and economic injustice, it strikes me as insufficient grounds for celebration.

Boomers (on both the right & the left) selling out and saying didn’t really want it anyway, I have put away the childish things, is why several succeeding generations have grown to hate us.


harry b 08.03.05 at 12:23 pm

Bob — that’s a very ungenerous and wrong way of reading it. I was pleased because I had finally forgotten the name of the paper of a cultish organisation I regarded as irrelevant to politics at the time. Only…I hadn’t. No, I’m a very left wing social democrat, which is not much different from what I was 20 years ago. It feels different, of course, because it is lonelier out here than it was then.
Oh, and by the way, I’m not a boomer (too young).


Gareth 08.03.05 at 12:24 pm

The British RCP were stupid in a way you have to be pretty smart to be. The American RCP were (are?) just stupid. In that sense, they were true to their Trotskyist and Maoist roots, respectively.


Scott McLemee 08.03.05 at 2:36 pm

Actually, Chairman Meow is only the cat’s nickname. And Chairman Bob seems no longer to be in exile, though his actual whereabouts are a closely guarded secret.

Slavoj Zizek blurbed Chairman Bob’s latest book, though it’s clear from the introduction that he didn’t actually read it.

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