The Loneliest Jukebox

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Internet dating

Operating on the principle 'life's too short', I don't usually get in slanging matches with other bloggers. But I did notice that David Renton was attacking Spiked over its approach to the Islamic cartoons row (see '7 February: the new socialism of fools', on Renton's site). Writing of Spiked's forerunners in the mid-1990s, he says:
"I remember being in Sheffield in 1995-8, when the main activities of the group were to promote showings of such films as Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will. Leading BNP activist Mark Collett always boasts that he joined the BNP, through the activities of one such RCP front, 'When I came to Leeds University I joined the Free Speech society to fight against political correctness. Then a BNP speaker got expelled, which I thought was absurd. He invited me to a BNP meeting in Burnley and I felt right at home. They were my kind of people."

I remember organising various activities in Sheffield and Leeds in the same period, most of which were conducted around anti-militarist issues. A couple of free-speech film screenings in the Steel City were Romper Stomper (an anti-fascist film) and Birth of a Nation, which the narrow anti-fascists wanted to ban. These were both screened some time before 1995, if memory serves. I don't recall a Triumph of the Will showing. Meanwhile, Mark Collett, who comes from the same school catchment area as me but is way younger, was set to become a Leeds University alumnus in May 2002. That meant Collett missing out on punch-ups with my comrades by at least three years, as the RCP was dissolved in 1996.

None of this bodes well for Renton's work as a historian. Maybe if he doesn't rely on his memory too much and writes down all the dates...

Update (26 Feb): Dave Renton replies "Jukebox suggests that the RCP could not be blamed - it folded in 1996, 3 years before Collett arrived at uni. But when the RCP closed, it continued in Spiked online, which took over the politics of the RCP, plus most of the contributors to its former publication Living Marxism. RCP groups outside London continue to organise into the late 1990s, chiefly taking people to events organised by Spiked. Was the Free Speech society at Leeds still run by former RCPers in 1999? If it was, that would surprise me not one bit."

Was the Free Speech society an 'ex-RCP front' in 1999 or not? One tragedy of the British left, then as now: according to Renton and co, by the close of the last century the defence of free speech was more or less exclusively identified with the Revolutionary Communist Party. So insofar as an RCP-backed Free Speech society would surprise him "not one bit", he's right.


Blogger Graham B said...

More rushed words:
Some observations from this exchange:
> DR: I suggested that former members of the RCP had worked with fascists even after the RCP's formal demise.<

No evidence is offered for this, except that it wouldn't surprise Dave Renton. A reliable barometer...

>DR: At the age of seventeen ... One day in July 1990, I walked past a small group of people selling Socialist Worker near the bookshop on Malet Street.<

Strange coming from the same former 17 year-old who wrote in Voice of the Turtle "I never really knew him personally, but as a member of the SWP from the age of seventeen, Tony Cliff was part of my political upbringing, part of my teens and my early twenties."

> DR: The following are my memories of the RCP … I couldn't understand why the party was more concerned to sell copies of Living Marxism outside Sloane Square station than in any of the areas where working-class people lived.<

Would that be areas like much of Sheffield, which features in the earlier argument about RCP activities?

> DR: What horrified me was Cronain's instruction that I should never give money to beggars. 'You're as bad as world capitalism', he told me. They were rushed words, but the logic was the RCP's, and I was not impressed.<

Impressed enough to share the anecdote with Nick Cohen of the Observer a few years ago. Except that time 'Cronain' told you were helping world capitalism...

> DR: I was in Sheffield for a year in 1995-6.<
Unlike in your 7 February post, where "I remember being in Sheffield in 1995-8".

> DR: In Sheffield, the RCP's chief tactic was to show classic films to students, typically ones such as Birth of a Nation or Gone with the Wind... <

Gone With the Wind? Hmmmm...

> Finally, all this began with my observation that Mark Collett of the BNP claims in print (and claimed at his trial) to have been recruited to far-right politics by membership of a society set up by members of the RCP. Maybe, I'm missing something, but shouldn't the former members of the RCP, who continue to organise as a party, admit to some feelings of guilt that the way they operate may have facilitated the recruitment of Britain's second-best-known Nazi?<

Well, not if the RCP was "at best equivocally anti-Nazi": no need for guilt, by the logic of DR's argument. And not if Collett was already in the NF when he got to Leeds, as has been suggested elsewhere. And not if regional RCP branches had "withered" before he got there.

But what would you expect from Dave Renton, historian, the 17 year-old who was in the SWP and the RCP at the same time, forgetting one membership for the purposes of this hatchet job; who lost over two years of his memory while in Sheffield, and who treats his own speculation as the historical evidence for his own daft arguments?

8:49 pm  
Blogger Graham B said...

Update: my earlier comments about Dave Renton's amnesia were 'glib and dishonest' apparently. Now his site has been amended so that they are merely 'glib'. Surely not backsliding there, comrade?

9:08 am  

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