The following post is composed of reflections and recollections based on my experience inside the short lived campaigning group, Modern Movement, now defunct since 2009. I try to avoid drawing on the immense ammunition my involvement in this group has provided for possible character assassination or ridicule and try to stay at the level of observations fit for the purpose of what it tells us, more generally, about the way the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) and its continuity institutions work—an anatomy, that is, of a group straddling the fine line between a committed cadre and a middle class cult.
But first, before these insights, a few good words about my former colleagues. Something which can be said of the new generation of recruits clustered around the Institute of Ideas is that they are on the whole more personable and open minded than the old RCP stalwarts. Indeed, the clique that originally banded together to form the majority of Modern Movement’s members were drawn to do so on the basis of their dissatisfaction with the present line of the continuity RCP’s leading lights—Frank Furedi, Claire Fox, etc.—and a desire for a space to stake out their own unique positions on the new issues thrown up by the 2008/09 financial crisis. From the start they evinced a solid work ethic and seriousness, which is not to be underestimated. Meetings were kept on time, minutes taken, and names and slogans brainstormed efficiently.
Amongst the leaders of Modern Movement (henceforth MM) there was an unshakeable sense that our initial mission to support the construction of a third runway at Heathrow airport was an important and timely intervention that needed to be made. I might add that I also, and continue to support the general aim of MM to defend cheap flights. Yet for all the formal agreement on ends, the justifications of why we were supporting these aims were exposed to very little theoretical reflection. My sense was that it was supposed that we were all meant to know that flights meant progress, and that was justification enough for the endeavour. Ultimately this lack of theoretical consolidation, alongside the more banal procedural disputes and personality conflicts, led to the group’s eventual dissolution.
It all moved very quickly, and despite the fact that the group was supposed to be autonomous from the Institute of Ideas—it was never merely a front group—those members closest to the IoI quickly assumed leadership positions. These positions were never put to any form of democratic deliberation; moreover, democracy was always considered something of an embarrassing liberal formality, in contrast to the vague ‘Leninism’ the self appointed leaders espoused.
There were numerous examples of this ethos at work. From the highly formalistic meeting at Rob Killick’s workplace, to the insistence that only the ‘leadership’ speak to the media at the public demonstration, to even weirder secret invites to Capital reading groups. Those closest to the IoI seemed to be actively attempting to replicate the attitudes and approach of the RCP as closely as possible. There was a simmering sense of hostility and unease that permeated every meeting; a sense that screws were being turned and covert factions formed—and this before the ideological divisions surfaced. A pre-demonstration meeting came very close to a punch up, as one active group member insisted on a democratic decision as to whether to bring a loudspeaker, whereas the leadership clique seemed to consider the idea that a democratic decision should be made as entirely inappropriate. James Heartfield, who was standing nearby at the time, found this all very amusing, quipping that it ‘only takes two Trots to form a faction’!
Uncomradely behaviour is one thing; ideological infighting is another. One member of the group submitted a comment piece to the Guardian timed to be published on the same day as the demonstration. The text was passed through the leadership clique and to the surprise of the left leaning member all references to MM’s support for airline workers were systematically stripped away, leaving only something that read like a carte blanche endorsement of the likes of RyanAir. Thus, the schisms began to seriously open up.
In the short space of a month or two a left and a right faction of MM started to appear. Broadly speaking the rightwing leadership clique were closest to the IoI, most reverent for the traditions of the RCP, dismissive of democracy, and pro-capitalist. Conversely, the leftwing faction were more insistent on marking a break from the old formulas of the RCP, operating in a democratic fashion and taking an openly anti-capitalist line. These differences came to ahead in the build up to the G20.
MM planned to make two interventions timed to coincide with the G20. Firstly, by having a physical presence during the protests; and secondly, by organising a series of meetings to flyer at the events. In the planning process for the meetings, I came into my first contact with personality cultism. It is a curious phenomenon; one that leaves you feeling both bewildered and slightly pitiful for those under its spell. Things exploded when one member of the left was charged with organizing a meeting and Claire Fox was suggested as a speaker. The member rejected the suggestion and wanting to bring in someone from the ‘outside’. All hell broke loose. Within seconds there was shouting, screaming and almost tears. The idea that someone would not want to bring in Fox or Furedi was deemed to be highly political suspect and almost an insult to the rightwing members in itself.
The bust up probably marked the beginning of the end for this short-lived organization. On the email lists, relations between the left and the right further deteriorated. Members of the right started to flake away, leaving the rightist leadership clique increasingly isolated. And then, suddenly, they just quit. With the scales having tilted decidedly in favour of the left the democratic decision to take an anti-capitalist message to the G20 was too much for the leadership to stomach. They had made it clear from the start that only ‘loons’ go around calling themselves Marxists or anti-capitalists nowadays. In private one had admitted to being a secret, ‘right wing Marxist’ and described the chapter on the working day in Marx’s Capital as the worst thing Marx ever wrote.
In these dying debates it transpired that members of the leadership clique had been circulating our communications to Claire Fox. It was likely to be also on her advice that once MM moved to the left, and thus outside the parameters of IoI discourse, it would no longer benefit the future careers of those people to remain in the organization.
And so in a microcosm there you have a demonstration of the kind of shenanigans favoured by the post RCP. Secrecy, an aggressive ‘Leninism’ based on no respect for democracy, a tight control over ‘the message’, often at odds with the real aims. It could be added that the IoI itself reflects all these tendencies. Essentially a fringe political party in all but name, but lacking even the faintest trace of internal democracy, debate over fundamental principles or tolerance of dissent from Frank Furedi’s ideology. Evasiveness over core ideology is even promoted amongst new recruits; and as such, for all the endless show debates put on by the organization, there is next to no theoretical exposition or discussion of their central beliefs. The ‘line’ spread both inside and outside is that there is ‘no line’ and, as O’Brien tells Winston in Orwell’s 1984, 2 + 2 does equal 5.