Big Flame

1970-1984

REVOLUTIONARY MARXIST CURRENT [RMC] (Groups which joined Big Flame no 1)

Posted by archivearchie on November 19, 2009

This post is the first in a mini-series about other political organisations which decided to join Big Flame.

The Revolutionary Marxist Current (RMC) joined Big Flame in 1977. Its origins were in the Trotskyist movement. Specifically the International Marxist Group (IMG). When members of the RMC began a period of joint work with BF in July 1977 a couple of joint Internal Bulletins were produced. One of these contained a brief history of the RMC written by members. Here it is: About the Revolutionary Marxist Current.

In the IMG

In May 1972 there was a fusion conference between the IMG and a separate youth movement it had established, the Spartacus League. At this conference some key figures from the IMG’s leadership over the previous period (e.g. Pat Jordan, Bob Purdie) were replaced by others. Several of these were originally part of the IMG’s Oxford branch, and had written a historically important document proposing a modified course two years previously. Two of them – John Ross and Bob Pennington were to be key members of the leadership of the IMG and its successor the Socialist League (SL) for many years to come.

I find it difficult to get a handle on the different political positions in 1972. In part because what happened was not an open tendency battle like the many which IMG/SL members would engage in over the coming years. Documents tended not to explicitly criticised those of other writers, and the positions emerged more in the form of nuances. The differences appear to be these: the new leaders wanted a re-orientated towards the working class, an end to eclectic leaping about from issue to issue and a proliferation of front organisations, and to cease going overboard with abstract calls to action issued to the working class (i.e. grandiose plans which were impossible to achieve, whose purpose was usually to outbid the lines of other groups).

The new leadership did not stay together long. By the IMG’s Easter conference in April 1973 there were six different grouping arguing different lines, two of them formed by sections of the new leadership who had broken away. By the end of 1973 many well known figures who had been part of the new leadership were in opposition (e.g. Tariq Ali, Peter Gowan, Robin Blackburn).

Another tendency, which didn’t contain such well known figures, was called the Left Opposition Tendency (LOT). The appeal for a tendency was issued in February 1973 by a former member of the Oxford Group, who had since become a member of the IMG Political Committee and the Manchester Organiser (and later to join Big Flame). A key criticism of the new leadership was that it had now started issuing abstract calls to action to the working class, in particular repeatedly calling for a general strike to bring down the Tory government, with little consideration of the realities of the situation. For other LOT criticisms of the IMG see “About the Revolutionary Marxist Current”.

At the IMG Easter Conference the LOT position came third out of six with 13.4% of the delegate votes (behind both the leadership, who retained control, and the other breakaway group from it). At an aggregate over a weekend at the end of June/beginning of July 1973 LOT decided to dissolve. Thus it had no presence at the next IMG conference in December 1973.

During the course of 1974, there were multiple resignations from the IMG. Many were by former LOT supporters, although others who supported LOT stayed on and became members of different opposition tendencies in the future.

The Manchester Organiser mentioned above (by now in London and running the IMG bookshop) resigned in March 1974, saying in his resignation letter that “The IMG’s political line is comical, its internal education abysmal, and its regime contemptible”. Other followed. The IMG November Internal Bulletin contained resignation letters from Manchester members, the December one, letters from Liverpool and Bolton members.

As the RMC

Some (but not all) of the former LOT supporters came together to form the RMC. Its first Internal Discussion, with a draft constitution came out in April 1975. Between July 1975 and December 1976/January 1977 a newspaper the Spectre was published, with 16 issues in total. The “Where We Stand” statement in the paper said the following about the group’s politics: “These struggles can only be successful under the leadership of parties and of an International based on the ideas develop by Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, and we intend to play a part in the fight for such a party and such an International”. Areas in which members were particularly active were Irish solidarity, Anti-Fascism and the women’s struggles.

One of the RMC’s priorities was regroupment. To this end it held discussions in:

–                Late 1974 to early 1975 with Workers Fight – This group founded in 1966 is now known as the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.

–                Spring to Summer 1976 with Marxist Workers Group – Formed by a split from the Bolton branch of Workers Fight in 1975. Subsequently joined the IMG.

“About the Revolutionary Marxist Current” discusses the political differences which caused these regroupment discussions to fail.

The majority of the RMC saw its regular paper as vital to its impact on the left and wider working class audience, and as playing a key role in keeping the group together. However, the paper became a bigger and bigger burden on the small organisation. The RMC decided at the end of 1976 to accept the view, formerly held by a minority of its members, to replace the paper by a quarterly journal. However, this didn’t happen.

The RMC had failed to achieve a growth in membership. When Big Flame launched the Project for a New Revolutionary organisation in 1976/77 (see Episode 11 in the Big Flame History series), the RMC responded. In June 1977 the two organisations agree to fuse for a 2 to 3 month trail period of joint work. The actual fusion seems to have taken a bit longer, happening around December 1977.

In BF

Around a dozen RMC members joined Big Flame. There were groupings in Liverpool and London with individual members in such places as Birmingham, Brighton and Nottingham.

Within BF ex-RMC members developed away from Trotskyism. They also identified with one of the two main political currents in the organisation, joining Tendency One (see Episode 22), and later, when this split, the Emerald Street Tendency (see a future episode – see Episode 27).

The RMC had a significant impact on Big Flame. The constitution adopted by BF in 1978 was derived from the RMC one. At different times three former RMC members were part of the BF National Committee (NC). Ex-RMCers were active in a number of BF Commissions e.g. Irish, Anti-Racist Anti-Fascist and the International Committee. Some drifted away from BF, feeling frustrated by the level of organisation in BF and a lack of ability to focus its interventions (see for example a resignation letter from the NC in a March 1979 Discussion Bulletin which refers to NC meetings “hampered by old arguments and patterns of behaviour” and the “deeper political problems of BF”; and a resignation from the organisation by another person in the June-July 1982 Bulletin which talks of the “continuing decline of Big Flame as an interventionist organisation” and how it has “failed to achieve (or even seek) a national political profile in terms of presence on national political activities”).

Others stayed the course for a long time. In May 1984 Big Flame effectively ceased to be a national organisation, with only 17 people carrying on under the name (see another future episode – see Episode 30). Two of these 17 had been in the RMC in the previous decade.

Archive Archie

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