CULTURE WARS: Culture war 'Marxism': The Revolutionary Communist Party diaspora and the Conservative Party.

AuthorJones, Morgan

In early February 2022, Munira Mirza, the head of the Downing Street policy unit and a long-time aide to Boris Johnson, resigned over the prime minister's use of a far-right smear at PMQs. In heated exchanges amid the 'party gate' scandal, Johnson had levelled the accusation that Labour leader Keir Starmer had failed to prosecute the paedophile Jimmy Savile during his time as Director of Public Prosecutions. Mirza decried this as 'inappropriate', and wrote that the PM had 'let [him]self down by making a scurrilous accusation'. (1) Unsurprisingly, the departure of such a senior aide attracted media attention; Justin Parkinson penned a short profile piece on Mirza for the BBC. In it, he described her early life and career in three short sentences:

Born in 1978 to parents who had come to the UK from Pakistan, Ms Mirza went to a comprehensive school before studying English at Oxford University. While there she joined the Revolutionary Communist Party, but during her twenties, frustrated at what she thought to be a lack of free thought on the far left, she went through an ideological transformation. Having completed a PhD in sociology at the University of Kent, she started work for Policy Exchange. (2) The basic details of this are broadly accurate. Mirza did attend those institutions, and she did hold those jobs, and she was a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). Parkinson's profile, however, is an exercise in being right on the details while completely and utterly missing the bigger picture. Being in the RCP was not, for Mirza, a brief flirtation with student leftism, a fun detail to add colour to the profile of a Conservative Party apparatchik. It has rather been a key through line and organising ideology of Mirza's politics, and hints at the wider, stranger story of how an ostensibly communist grouping that supposedly disbanded in 1997 came to hold not insignificant sway in the contemporary Conservative Party. Understanding the group's history and how it has come to stalk the corridors of power gives us valuable insight into the internal world of the party that has run the country for a dozen years and counting.

Roots of the RCP

The Revolutionary Communist Party began life as a split from the International Socialist group (now the Socialist Workers' Party, or SWP). It went through several iterations across the 1970s before, at the end of the decade, emerging as the RCP. Then, as now, its intellectual leading light - and de facto leader - was Frank Furedi. Furedi was born in Hungary in 1947; his family fled to Canada in 1956 as a result of the revolution. He came to the UK in the late 1960s and quickly became active in Trotskyist politics. He received a PhD in sociology from the University of Kent in the 1980s, and has been at Kent ever since, where he is now Professor of Sociology. His tenure there has made the institution something of a centre for the RCP. Munira Mirza, naturally, was Furedi's PhD student there in the 00s; she published a book based on her PhD thesis in 2012, about government approaches to cultural policy. (3)

Nominally Trotskyist, at its outset the RCP looked like a small sect of the kind that very often live and die without ever troubling the halls of power or making it out of the footnotes of little read books about the British left. Through the 1980s, however, it began to mark itself out as a distinctly contrarian organisation, possessed of somewhat different politics than you might expect of a group called the Revolutionary Communist Party. They counter-picketed striking nurses and opposed sanctions on apartheid South Africa; in 1987, they released a pamphlet called The Truth about the AIDS Panic which argued that the public health campaigns around AIDS were simply instruments of social control by a state interested in interfering in people's sex lives.

If we could see the shape of things to come in the RCP's early years, it was in the 1990s, when leftist sects of all stripes struggled to position themselves in a world without a Communist superpower, that they came to be the organisation we know today. The questions arising from the collapse of the Soviet Union provided grist for the mill of the RCP's newly established magazine, Living Marxism (LM). Living Marxism set out the stall for a set of politics that had reasonably little to do with Trotskyism or Marxism, but which were possessed of a kind of reactionary coherence. Attempting to describe the RCP's politics in conventional political language is somewhat difficult; they are somewhere close to libertarians (and often identify themselves as such), albeit ones possessed of some desire to understand the world through a loosely Marxist class framework, a passion for futuristic technology, and a contrarian streak a mile wide. They advocated for grand absolutes of free speech, and in favour of genetically modified crops and nuclear power. It was their reactionary contrarianism, however, which defined their project and...

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