Revolutionary Communist Party (UK, 1978)

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Revolutionary Communist Party
Founded 1978; 45 years ago (1978)
Dissolved 1997; 26 years ago (1997)
Split from Revolutionary Communist Group
Newspaper The Next Step
Living Marxism
Ideology 1978–1991
Political position 1978–1991
Colors      Red
Politics of the United Kingdom
Political parties

The Revolutionary Communist Party, known as the Revolutionary Communist Tendency until 1981, was a Trotskyist political organisation formed in 1978. From 1988 it published the journal Living Marxism. It started with only a few dozen supporters; its membership peaked at 200 in the mid-1990s.[1]

After 1991, the party abandoned Trotskyism and mainstream leftism before publicly taking a libertarian position. It was disbanded in 1997, although a number of former members maintain a loose political network to promote its ideas.


The "Workers March for Irish Freedom", taking the cause of Irish hunger strikers to the Trades Union Congress conference in 1981, was a turning point for the party

The party originated as a tendency in the Revolutionary Communist Group which had split from the International Socialists in the 1970s. This group had concluded that there was no living Marxist tradition in the left and Marxism would have to be re-established.[2] The RCG saw the British working class and especially the labour movement as dominated by bourgeois ideology and chauvinist nationalism, and the IS as pandering to its low-level trade union consciousness and economism; they asserted that a purer vanguard party was needed, focusing on anti-imperialism rather than trade unionism.[3][4]

Disagreements about the course the Revolutionary Communist Group should take in relation to support for the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the African National Congress led Frank Furedi, a sociologist at the University of Kent (better known then by his cadre name Frank Richards), to break off and form his own group in 1978. The Revolutionary Communist Tendency (RCT) hoped to draw together those militant working class leaders who were disappointed by the limitations of reformism to help to build a new working class leadership and develop an independent working class programme.[2][3][5] The RCT renamed itself the Revolutionary Communist Party in 1981.[5]


Taking a strong line which it considered to be inspired by Vladimir Lenin's work on the relationship between imperialism and reformism, the party originally held that the "only hope of securing any decent sort of life - or even guaranteeing survival - lies in the working class taking control over society".[6] It further argued that traditional Stalinist and social-democratic appeals to the bourgeois state had undermined working-class independence and that as a result an independent vanguard party should be organized to campaign for a distinctly working-class politics. In 1978, for example, when the left was strong within the Labour Party, the RCP argued that "Labour is the party which attempts to resolve the crisis by integrating militant working class resistance into the capitalist system".[7] This position included a rejection of support for the Labour Party and one that questioned the allegiances of the trade union movement. A consequence of this belief was a growing distrust of traditional statist left-wing struggles as reformist. According to some, the RCP took a view that reformism consolidated bourgeois ideology in the potential leadership layers of the working class. The RCP took a number of positions coined to distinguish independent working-class politics from statist reformism which included:

The party's programme can be traced through the publications "Our Tasks and Methods" (a reprint of the Revolutionary Communist Group's founding document), the 1983 general election manifesto Preparing for Power and the article "The Road to Power" in the theoretical journal Confrontation (1986).

Historian Evan Smith suggests that there has been a debate about whether the RCP was part of the left.[3] Frank Furedi later described the party's approach: “We tried to transcend the left-right divide. Lots of left-wingers said we were not really left-wing because we did not speak their language. We wanted to have an experimental approach and not repeat the problems of the past.”[17] Andy Beckett of The Guardian wrote:

Despite its name, most of its stances were not communist or revolutionary but contrarian: it supported free speech for racists, and nuclear power; it attacked environmentalism and the NHS. Its most consistent impulse was to invoke an idealised working class, and claim it was actually being harmed by the supposed elites of the liberal left.[18]

Front groups and campaigns

According to historian Evan Smith,

The RCT/RCP formed several front groups around single issues during the late 1970s and early 1980s, with the most prominent being the Irish Freedom Movement (which had begun as the Smash the Prevention of Terrorism Act Campaign) and Workers Against Racism (originally East London Workers Against Racism). SPTAC and ELWAR were both set up to rival the alleged chauvinism of the British left and larger campaign organisations around the issues of Irish solidarity and anti-racism, such as the Troops Out Movement and the Anti-Nazi League. From the beginning, it seemed that the RCT/RCP was more comfortable directing its own single-issue groups than joining other larger campaign groups.[3]

Workers Against Racism

Beginning as East London Workers Against Racism (ELWAR) before it was launched as a national campaign, Workers Against Racism campaigned against state racism. Protests were organised against deportations and passport checks at hospitals and unemployment benefit offices. ELWAR also organised patrols and vigils to defend immigrants against racist attacks.[19] In Parliament, Conservative MP Nicholas Winterton demanded of the Home Secretary "if he will seek to proscribe the East London Workers against Racism vigilante group".[20] Workers Against Racism was criticised in the press for its activities during the 1981 Brixton riots. An internal Home Office report to then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher claimed:

[T]he Revolutionary Communist Party set up a Lambeth Unemployed Workers' Group shortly before the Riots, and has since formed a South London Workers Against Racism group, similar to the East London Workers Against Racism which attracted some notoriety for organising vigilante patrols.[21]

Anti-deportation campaigns

George Roucou, marching to freedom, with his wife Kay and Workers Against Racism organiser Charles Longford

The party's Workers Against Racism campaign fought many deportation threats, like George Roucou's, on the grounds that British immigration law was racist. Roucou was a shop steward in the building workers' union UCATT in Manchester. Workers Against Racism helped to organise a campaign culminating in a one-day strike and demonstration by his fellow council workers on 6 February 1987. On 13 March 1987, with 500 protesting outside, the Home Office appeal panel reversed Roucou's deportation order.[22] On 11 June 1985, Metso Moncrieffe was arrested and held by police pending a deportation order. Workers Against Racism campaigners raised the case, disrupting a test match at the Edgbaston cricket ground in July 1985 with a Metso Must Stay banner and helping to build a 1,000-strong march for him in December 1986. In September 1987, Moncrieffe's deportation order was overturned.[23]

Supporting Irish republicanism

Supporting Irish republicanism was central to the work of the party. According to historian Jack Hepworth, "Advocating ‘unconditional support’ [for the IRA] enabled the RCP to challenge reformism on the British left and nationalism in the labour movement."[4]

In 1978, the RCP organised the Smash the Prevention of Terrorism Act Campaign and held protests outside police stations where suspects were held. The party organised a conference of trade unionists opposed to Northern Ireland being part of the United Kingdom in Coventry in 1981 and later that year held a march to the TUC conference, the Workers March for Irish Freedom. On Saturday 6 February 1982, the Irish Freedom Movement (IFM) was founded at a meeting in Caxton House, Archway and TUC general secretary Len Murray wrote to the thirteen trades councils that sponsored the conference threatening them with disaffiliation if they attended.[24] RCP Political Committee member Mick Hume, who edited The Next Step, recalls that the IFM were accused of complicity in the 1984 bombing of the Conservative Party conference.[25] The IFM published a quarterly bulletin Irish Freedom and organised an annual march on the anniversary of internment. When the voices of Sinn Féin supporters were banned from the British broadcast media, Living Marxism carried a front page interview with its leader Gerry Adams and the IFM picketed Broadcasting House. After the Brighton bombing, an RCP editorial in the next step said:

We support unconditionally the right of the Irish people to carry out their struggle for national liberation in whatever way they choose. We neither support nor condemn any particular tactic the republican movement pursues, whether it is an electoral campaign or a bombing campaign.[17]

Similarly, after the Enniskillen bombing in 1987, Hume reiterated that British radicals’ responses could "not be based on emotional revulsion at particular incidents of violence or terror".[4]

By the end of the 1980s, according to historian Jack Hepworth, "the IFM was the largest radical solidarity movement in Britain, with an annual August march in London typically attracting an estimated 3,000 demonstrators" and an activist base beyond the party faithful; by 1990 it had twenty branches in the UK.[4]

Student politics

The party primarily recruited amongst students. By 1984, it had 45 university and polytechnic branches.[4]

Electoral involvement

The RCP stood candidates in the May 1981 local elections, under its own name and that of ELWAR. It stood a candidate in the 1983 Bermondsey by-election, its campaign mainly consisting of heckling Labour candidate Peter Tatchell, who lost the seat to the Liberal Party; the RCP candidate received 38 votes. It fielded four candidates in the 1983 United Kingdom general election, who achieved a total vote of nearly 1000. In 1983, the party began its annual "Preparing for Power" public conferences. In 1986, it launched a new theoretical journal, Confrontation. In the 1986 United Kingdom local elections, the RCP stood 38 candidates, including Claire Fox (under the name Claire Foster), who received a total of just under 2300 votes, with an average of 60 votes each. In the 1986 Knowsley North by-election, its candidate was also backed by the Workers Revolutionary Party and received 664 votes, its highest so far. In the 1987 Greenwich by-election, its candidate received 91 votes.[3]

In 1987, it launched the Red Front electoral coalition, appealing to other anti-Labour groups to join it. its manifesto demanded work or full pay, the defence of trade union rights, equal rights for all, and opposition to war. It had a libertarian flavour and also argued that "The dangers from Aids have in fact been grossly exaggerated. The principal threat to homosexuals in Britain today is not from Aids, but from the safe sex campaign." Two other groups joined the campaign: Red Action and the Revolutionary Democratic Group. The Front stood 14 candidates, including Kenan Malik. The candidate in Knowsley North achieved 538 vote (1.37%); the others between 111 and 300. It stood its own candidates in the 1989 Glasgow Central by-election and 1989 Vauxhall by-election, receiving 141 and 171 votes respectively.[3]

Campaign Against Militarism

Campaign Against Militarism protest in 1994

In 1993, the party helped launch the Campaign Against Militarism (CAM) to fight against western military intervention. CAM organised protests against the military interventions in Somalia, Bosnia and Iraq. On 10 September 1993, seventy Somalis and CAM supporters occupied the United States embassy after an alleged massacre of civilians in Mogadishu,[26] the only time it has happened. After they were evicted by armed marines, eleven were convicted under the as yet untested criminal trespass laws, but charges were dropped after lawyer Mike Fisher sought to have the case tried in the United States, arguing that the offence, if any, was committed on American soil. CAM was the only left-wing group that joined British Serbs in their demonstrations over the military strikes on Yugoslavia in 1994.[citation needed]

In The Empire Strikes Back, Mike Freeman identified "the metamorphosis of what had long regarded itself as a peace movement into a war movement" after Labour rallied to support the First Iraq War.[27] Later, this trend was called "humanitarian imperialism" in Living Marxism. The party opposed Western military intervention in Bosnia, Somalia, Kosovo, Iraq and East Timor.[28]

Controversial positions

The party took a number of positions that were strongly criticised by others on the left:

  • In The Truth About the AIDS Panic, Michael Fitzpatrick and Don Milligan wrote that there is "no good evidence that Aids is likely to spread rapidly among heterosexuals in the West".[29] The pamphlet argued that the government campaign warning of a heterosexual aids epidemic was a moral panic that would worsen prejudice against gay people.
  • When British miners struck against redundancies in 1984, the party argued that the union's refusal to hold a national ballot was a major problem: "The only way to win the passive majority for the strike was to launch an aggressive campaign around a national ballot".[30]
  • In the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa, the party argued that "sanctions don't make sense" because it was wrong to call on the governments that had supported Apartheid to overthrow it. Rather, workers ought to "take direct action", like blocking South African imports at docks.[31]

When the organisation re-thought its outlook in 1991, it adopted a number of positions that put it at odds with the New Labour milieu:

  • Living Marxism argued against what it called the "new authoritarianism", the greater official interference and surveillance of ordinary people by the state. The growth in "at-risk" registers and CCTV were examples.[32]
  • The party opposed the increase in judicial[33] and other kinds of non-majoritarian overriding of parliament as well as the subordination of parliament to the European Convention on Human Rights.[34]


In 1981, Alex Callinicos of the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP) took issue with the party's argument that "such issues as racism and Ireland form [...] a vital component of revolutionary propaganda". Callinicos claimed instead that "if most of the workers involved have reactionary views on questions such as race, the position of women, and so on", then that was less important than that they were fighting over pay and conditions. Callinicos also called into question the party's stress on "the connection between reformism and nationalism", saying they were "paleo-marxists".[35] In 1984, the SWP and other left parties denounced the RCP for calling for a national ballot in the miners' strike.[3]

The party's stance on AIDS was widely criticised by the gay rights movement.[36] On 30 June 1990, Simon Watney and Edward King of the group OutRage! kicked over the party's stall at the Gay Pride march.[37] Watney criticised Michael Fitzpatrick and Don Milligan for giving credence to the idea that AIDS was a "gay plague" by their insistence that there would be no epidemic amongst heterosexuals in the west. However, OutRage! was divided over the attack.[38]

Nick Cohen,[39] Marko Attila Hoare[40] and Oliver Kamm[41] strongly criticised the party and its former members after the dissolution for opposing the military interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq. Hoare, Cohen and Kamm also rejected Noam Chomsky's defence of Living Marxism and its coverage of the Bosnian war.[42]

In 1997, environmental journalist George Monbiot argued that the party had undue influence at Channel 4 in an article titled "Marxists found alive in C4" after two of its members contributed to the Against Nature television programme, whose director Martin Durkin is also connected to the group.[43] Elsewhere, Monbiot took issue with Living Marxism for putting too much stress on freedom as if "there should be no limits to human action, least of all those imposed by 'official and semi-official agencies [...] from the police and the courts to social services, counsellors and censors'".[44]

Andy Rowell and Jonathan Matthews of the Norfolk Genetic Information Network criticised the party for championing genetic engineering.[45] Andy Rowell and Bob Burton[46] along with Jonathan Matthews of the Norfolk Genetic Information Network charged Living Marxism with a history of attacking the environmental movement.

Re-orientation and disbandment

At the end of the 1980s, the party had moved away from its roots as a Trotskyist organisation, leading some critics to argue that they had abandoned the notion of the class struggle. In 1988, its weekly tabloid newspaper The Next Step carried an article arguing that "the disintegration of the official labour movement, and the apparent lack of a left-wing alternative, has consolidated an overwhelmingly defensive mood in the working class".[47]

In the 1987 general election, party members stood as part of the Red Front, arguing that working people needed to break with the Labour Party, but no Red Front candidate retained their election deposit.

In 1988, the party made The Next Step into a bulletin for its supporters. Later that year, a monthly magazine called Living Marxism was set up for a wider readership. Despite its beginnings as a far-left outlet, the politics espoused by the magazine developed a pronounced libertarianism. In December 1990, Living Marxism ran an article by Furedi, "Midnight in the Century", which argued that the corrosive effect of the collapse of both Stalinism and reformism on the working class meant that "for the time being at least, the working class has no political existence".[48]

In 1997, the point was put more forcefully:

In today's circumstances class politics cannot be reinvented, rebuilt, reinvigorated or rescued. Why? Because any dynamic political outlook needs to exist in an interaction with existing individual consciousness. And contemporary forms of consciousness in our atomised societies cannot be used as the foundation for a more developed politics of solidarity.[49]

Between 1990 and 1997, the party developed the view that more than capitalism itself the danger facing humanity was the absence of a force for social change (in philosophical language, a "subject" of history) and the culture of low expectations that suppressed it.[50] Prefacing a 1996 Living Marxism manifesto, Mick Hume argued:

Of course [...] we could have produced a familiar list of left-wing slogans complaining about problems like unemployment, exploitation and poverty which continue to scar our society. But that would be to ignore the transformation which has taken place in the political climate [...]. At different times, different issues matter most. Each era has thrown up its own great questions which define which side you are on [...]. [A]t Living Marxism, we see our job today as doing much more than criticising capitalism. That is the easy bit. There is a more pressing need to criticise the fatalistic critics, to counter the doom-mongers and put a positive case for human action in pursuit of social liberation. [...] [D]ealing with [...] unconventional questions, and puncturing the anti-human prejudices which surround them, is the precondition for making political action possible in our time.[51]

In 1994, the Irish Freedom Movement was dissolved. As the Northern Ireland peace process unfolded, the RCP increasingly turned from unconditional support for the IRA towards scorn at its gradualism and reformism.[4]

In February 1997, shortly after the party disbanded, Living Marxism re-branded as LM, possibly to further distance itself from its leftist origins. Articles in LM argued:

  • Against support for Tony Blair's New Labour project in 1997.[52]
  • Against "humanitarian interventions" in the Balkans, East Timor and Iraq.[53]
  • For freedom of speech and the "right to be offensive".[54]
  • Against the "new authoritarianism" of CCTV cameras, anti-social behaviour orders and anti-harassment laws.[55]
  • Against the demonisation of the white working class.[56]

This magazine ran at least two articles in which the authors argued that the mass murder carried out in Rwanda in 1994 should not be described as genocide. In December 1995, LM carried a report by Fiona Fox from Rwanda which argued:

The lesson I would draw from my visit is that we must reject the term 'genocide' in Rwanda. It has been used inside and outside Rwanda to criminalise the majority of ordinary Rwandan people, to justify outside interference in the country's affairs, and to lend legitimacy to a minority military government imposed on Rwanda by Western powers.[57][17]

LM continued to create controversy on a variety of issues, most notably on the British Independent Television News (ITN) coverage of the Balkan conflict in the 1990s. The controversy centred on LM featuring an article by Thomas Deichmann in which he alleged that the ITN coverage of a refugee detention centre in Trnopolje during the conflict gave the false impression that the Bosnian Muslims were being held against their will in Serbian concentration camps. The ensuing libel award and costs arising from legal action by the ITN against LM were estimated to total around £1 million. The action bankrupted the magazine and its publishers.[58]

Later organisations

Many former members of the party and some of the people who contributed to LM magazine continue to be politically active, most notably in the Academy of Ideas (formerly the Institute of Ideas), a think tank led by Claire Fox; the online magazine Spiked, initially edited by Mick Hume and later by Brendan O'Neill; and the Manifesto Club in which a leading figure is Munira Mirza, appointed by Boris Johnson as London's Director of Policy for culture, the arts and creative industries, and subsequently as his head of Number 10 policy unit.[59][18][60] Other groups produced by former members include Debating Matters, the Young Journalists' Academy, WorldWrite,, the Modern Movement, and Parents with Attitude. The Battle of Ideas has also been held annually since 2005 by the Academy of Ideas, which has been described as a "refuge" for former RCP members.[61] Some commentators, such as George Monbiot, have pointed to apparent entryist tactics of having jobs and lives used by former RCP members designed to influence mainstream public opinion.[62]

One party member from the 1990s explained in an article in Spiked:

I never left the RCP: the organisation folded in the mid-Nineties, but few of us actually 'recanted' our ideas. Instead we resolved to support one another more informally as we pursued our political tradition as individuals, or launched new projects with more general aims that have also engaged people from different traditions, or none. These include Spiked and the Institute of Ideas, where I now work. It must be said that this development annoyed our political opponents immensely, and a cursory Google search (try 'LM network' if you have time to kill) will return a plethora of exposés purporting to show that former members of the RCP are involved in various sinister conspiracies. [...] [T]he impossibility of simply doing away with a school of thought that is no longer attached to an organisation is perhaps what annoys our opponents most of all.[63]

In April 2019, three former members of the Revolutionary Communist Party, Claire Fox, James Heartfield and Alka Sehgal Cuthbert were selected as candidates for Nigel Farage's Brexit Party in the 2019 European Parliament election in the United Kingdom.[64][65][66] Stuart Waiton stood in Dundee West at the 2019 general election.[67]


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  2. 2.0 2.1 'Our Tasks and Methods,' Revolutionary Communist, no 1
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  6. Revolutionary Communist Party, The Red Front: A platform for working class unity, London: Junius, 1987: 7
  7. Mike Freeman and Kate Marshall Who Needs the Labour Party? London: Junius, September 1978
  8. The Red Front, A Platform for Working Class Unity, London, Junius, 1987, p.37
  9. Under a National Flag, London: Junius, 1978, p.17
  10. Joan Phillips, Policing the Family, 1988, p.104
  11. James Heartfield, 'The Tyranny of Identity Politics' Spiked-online, January 2008
  12. Joan Phillips, Policing the Family, 1988, p. 104
  13. Mary Masters Workers against Imperialism, 1979, p. 35
  14. Pat Roberts and Christine Drury Police out of Brixton, London: Junius, 1981, p. 13
  15. East London Workers Against Racism, Our Flag Stays Red, London: Junius, April 1981
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  19. S. Glynn ,East End immigrants and the battle for housing,, Journal of Historical Geography 31 (2005) pp.528-545, p 542
  20. 'Vigilante Groups', HC Deb 29 January 1982 vol 16 c451W
  21. 'Civil Disorder', Records of the Prime Minister's Office, 1980 Apr 02 - 1981 Oct 29, PREM 19/484
  22. Under Siege: Racial Violence in Britain Today, Keith Teare, Penguin, 1988, page 145
  23. Under Siege: Racial Violence in Britain Today, Keith Teare, Penguin, 1988, page 150
  24. David Pallister, 'Ulster Conference Ban', Guardian, 4 February 1982
  25. Mick Hume, Brighton bomb memories Spiked, 13 October 2009
  26. The Guardian, 11 September 1993, p. 14; Daily Telegraph, 11 September 1993, p 9
  27. Mike Freeman, The Empire Strikes Back: Why we need a new Anti-War Movement, London, Junius, 1993, p 46
  28. Linda Ryan, 'Narcissus' Empire,' LM, December 1999, issue 126
  29. London, Junius, 1988, p. 8
  30. Mike Freeman, Our Day Will Come: The Miners' Fight for Jobs, London, Junius, 1985, p. 36
  31. Charles Longford, Black Blood on British Hands, London, Junius, 1985, p. 59, p. 67
  32. James Heartfield, 'The Victim Support State', Living Marxism, December 1993, issue 62
  33. 'James Heartfield, 'Judges Rule,' Living Marxism, April 1996, issue 89
  34. James Heartfield, 'Getting it Wrong on Human Rights,' Living Marxism, December 1997, issue 106
  35. 'Politics or Abstract Propagandism', International Socialism no.11, 1981, pp.121-2
  36. Lucy Robinson, Gay Men and the Left in Post-War Britain: How the Personal Got Political (Manchester: Manchester University Press 2007) p. 161
  37. Ian Lucas Outrage! an oral history, London: Cassell, 1998, p.26
  38. Ian Lucas Outrage! an oral history, London: Cassell, 1998, pp.43-5
  39. What's Left?, London: Harper, 2007
  40. The Left Revisionist November 2003
  41. '"LM was probably correct" - Chomsky', 31 October 2005
  42. Marko Attila Hoare "The Guardian, Noam Chomsky and the Milosevic Lobby" Archived 2009-02-14 at the Wayback Machine, Henry Jackson Society, 4 February 2006
  43. George Monbiot, "Marxists found alive in C4", The Guardian, 18 December 1997. Monbiot's online version of the article has had its headline changed from the print version, to "The Revolution has been Televised"
  44. Far Left or Far Right? Prospect, November 1998
  45. [1] Rowell and Matthews, 'Strange Bedfellows,' The Ecologist, 19 March 2003
  46. Rising Rhetoric on Genetically Modified Crops, PRWatch, First Quarter 2003, Volume 10, No. 1
  47. 'The Problem of Political Leadership', the next step, 3 June 1988, pp. 8-9
  48. Frank Furedi (as Frank Richards). "Midnight in the Century", Living Marxism, December 1990
  49. Frank Furedi "Class politics cannot be rebuilt or regenerated today", LM, May 1997
  50. James Heartfield, The 'Death of the Subject' Explained, Sheffield, 2002
  51. The Point is to Change It: A Manifesto for a World Fit for People, London: Junius (1996), p.x-xiii.
  52. 'Nightmare on Downing Street,' LM, May 1997, issue 100
  53. Linda Ryan "Narcissus' Empire", LM, December 1999, issue 126
  54. James Heartfield 'Why hate speech?' LM, February 1998, issue 107
  55. Charlotte Reynolds 'Hard Labour', LM,, May 1997, issue 100
  56. Michael Fitzpatrick 'Yob culture clash', Living Marxism, November 1994, issue 73
  57. "Massacring the truth in Rwanda", LM, December 1995, issue 85
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  62. George Monbiot Invasion of the entryists, The Guardian, 9 December 2003
  63. Dolan Cummings, 'In defence of "radicalisation"', sp!ked review of books, No. 5 (September 2007).
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Further reading

External links