Philip Ferguson plf13 at SPAMit.canterbury.ac.nz
Tue Mar 20 20:54:20 MST 2001

Brian Cahill wrote:

>The RCP characteristic which garners most respect from me was their
>ambition. The best example I can think of is in their publications. They
>realised that no matter how brilliant the content of your publications is,
>it doesn't matter one little bit if nobody reads them. They saw that far
>left publications tend to share two major problems, regardless of content -
>appallingly unattractive appearance and poor circulation methods. With an
>organisation which was probably significantly smaller than the present day
>Irish Socialist Party (the CWI section of which I am a member) they managed
>to produce a fantastic looking magazine with a relatively mainstream
>distribution network in newsagents. That, whatever you think of their
>political trajectory, was an impressive accomplishment. It didn't hurt that
>the writing style was sharp and nearly cliche-free. The title, "Living
>Marxism", was good too.

I don't how big Brian's organisation is, but I woud guess substantially
*smaller* than the RCP at its height.  I went to several RCP summer schools
in London in the late 80s/early 90s and they had a good
1,500 people at them.

The RCP was extremely well-organised, and also had a large body of
organised supporters.  In late 1992, in the lead-up to a demonstration
around Yugoslavia, I went to several of their suporters' meetings.  The
London RCP branches alone had an additional 100 or so people who weren't
members but were (fairly highly active) supporters.  The RCP was able to
mobilise 500 people for an after-work demo in London which they called
against some European heads of state meeting when the West was tearing
Yugoslavia apart.  That was basically their London branches and their
periphery, hardly anyone else on the left showed up.

They certainly had attractive publications.  In fact, it is interesting to
see how the RCP forced the rest of the British far left to *raise* their
production standards.  In its heyday, in the late 80s-about 1992/3, LM was
an exceptional magazine.  And through selling it on the streets, buildoing
up a sizeable sub base, and getting it distributed through mainstream
means, they managed to get a circulation of about 20,000 at its peak.
Pretty good for really hardcore Marxism that most of the left regarded as
'ultraleft' and 'sectarian'.

However, I think their ambition - which I also saw as a positive
characteristic - was double-edged.  In the first issue of their theoretical
journal, 'Confrontation' - another impressive publication - there was a
long paper by one of their key leaders, Mike Freeman, an East End GP, on
'The Road to Power'.  Mike announced in it that the RCP was going to
supercede the LP in the short-mid term.  Of course, you didn't need to be a
rocket scientist to see that projection would end in tears.  Their failure
to meet the incredible goals they set themselves is, I think, one of the
reasons for their cataclysmic finale.

Philip Ferguson

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