Capitalist versus non-capitalist modernity

Les Schaffer schaffer at
Mon Mar 19 05:46:24 MST 2001

[ bounced html format from "Paul Flewers" <hatchet.job at> ]

Lou Proyect cited Gary MacLennan: < The central problem with the LM
comrades is their refusal to make a distinction between capitalist and
non-capitalist modernity.  They embrace the analysis of modernity in
the Manifesto and turn it into a hymn of joy. > and then said: < I
don't think it makes sense to speak of them as comrades. If you look
at their new website, you can't even find archives for back issues of
LM magazine that have references to Marx or socialism, after a
fashion. I believe that their transmogrification is complete, from
Marxists fetishizing certain formulations in the CM to libertarians on
a crusade for higher level educational standards, the right to hunt
foxes and all the rest of what my grandma called mishegoyim. Talk
about a butterfly turning into a catepillar. >

As one of probably half-a-dozen people in or (in my case) around the
Revolutionary Communist Party and Living Marxism who have remained
Marxists, I think that the mutation of the organisation from Marxism
to an ill-defined libertarianism is a classic example of what happens
when one rejects a class analysis of society whilst continuing to
believe in progress and modernisation.

Not a little of the ex-RCP's pronouncements are today's manifestation
of 'épateur les bourgeois' -- winding up conventional thinking, which
these days means trying to goad and provoke liberalism. A lot of it is
poking out one's tongue at mainstream thinkers and ideas --
understandable for teenage punks, but not very becoming for
40-year-olds. Anyone who knew the RCP of old will know that the group
almost always took a contrary position, this was not always incorrect
as the left in Britain did hold to many obsolete sacred cows and get
things wrong, but it tended to get fetishised until members and
supporters would almost involuntarily oppose anything the left said
(this was exacerbated by the normal process of vulgarisation of
complex positions as they passed from the Political Committee down to
the rank and file). Add to this the way that the PC kept us clean of
the reformist bacillus by not getting involved in joint campaigns
(setting up our pure ones in isolation), and the chronic one-sidedness
of the RCP's tactical and strategic approach, you can see what would
happen when the group -- for no apparent reason, as they've never said
anything about why they did it -- abandon Marxism. There was no slide
across into reformism and liberalism like many ex-Marxists; no, it was
a rapid shift from uncompromising (in both good and bad ways) Marxism
into uncompromising cranky libertarianism. As far as I know not one
leading member of the party resisted this, although I believe one or
two have drawn back from the consequences. It was mostly on the
fringes of the organisation where any resistance took place.

To return to the ex-RCP's idea of progress, if one rejects Marxism and
its critical support for progress and adopts an undifferentiated form
of progress, then anything that stands in the way of what's perceived
as 'progress' has to be opposed. The ex-RCP reminds me of Victorian
engineers who thought that technology in and of itself was the way
forward. I feel that Marxism cuts through the Gordian knot of
undifferentiated progress and opposition to modernisation, by looking
at the contradictory nature of modernisation posed by a class
society, and by posing a way out through communism, in which
modernisation and progress can really take off once the profit
question and narrow class/caste interests are overcome. It's ironic
that I learnt much of my Marxism from people who've now rejected it
without giving a single reason for doing so, and whose ideas now are a
thin but nonetheless indigestible brew.

Finally, it is irony of a decidely piquant manner that the RCP's
former leader Frank Füredi has been pushing a theory of the culture of
low expectations. He and his group are the best proof of this theory
-- from wanting to change the world to whining about it like a
cut-price Julie Burchill.

Paul F

More information about the Marxism mailing list