John Riddell: Democracy in Lenin's Comintern

How did Communist parties handle issues of internal discipline and democracy in Lenin’s time? The recent intense discussion within the British Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) and beyond has heard claims that the SWP rests on the traditions of democratic centralism inherited from the Bolsheviks.

John Riddell: Democracy in Lenin's Comintern

Richard Atkinson: Death and the Bedroom Tax

Some extended thoughts about Stephanie Bottrill, the woman who committed suicide because of the bedroom tax.

Richard Atkinson: Death and the Bedroom Tax

Dave Renton: Who Was Blair Peach?

Today marks the 35th anniversary of the killing of Blair Peach by the police. David Renton looks back at Blair Peach’s life as a poet, trade unionist and committed antifascist

Dave Renton: Who Was Blair Peach?

Bunny La Roche: Nasty Little Nigel gets a rude welcome to Kent

Bunny La Roche of RS21 on Nigel Farage's visit to Kent

Bunny La Roche: Nasty Little Nigel gets a rude welcome to Kent

Financial Appeal

We're up and running! An appeal for funds to kickstart the IS Network

Financial Appeal

Senate House and the fight to reclaim our universities

Cops off campus! The battle cry of yesterday’s demonstration rang out across the Bloomsbury campus of the University of London. The previous day saw students peacefully occupy the management corridor of Senate House, where they were met with a reaction from security and police that was both disproportionate and brutal.

The occupation, inspired by others across the country, called for rights for outsourced workers, an increase in university staff pay, and the preservation of the University of London Union (ULU). The occupiers entered the corridor at 2.30pm and held their ground before being forcibly evicted at 8.30pm. The security staff inside the occupation were merciless, punching, kicking and pulling the hair of students, all while several police officers stood by and watched. When the security grew tired the police took over evicting the occupiers despite no laws having been broken. This level of collusion between university management and police is a clear symbol of the unity of the two establishments. They are the vanguard of the bosses, the dual guardians of the austerity project.

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It's time the left made its desire for social justice practical as well as theoretical

For the left, the injustices wreaked upon the poorest under austerity, and capitalism in general, need little explanation. They are something railed against on a daily basis, and protecting the rights of workers and the poor is the raison d’etre of leftist ideologies from social democracy through to revolutionary Marxism. Indeed, the urge for social equality, be it an economic or ethical one, is the main value that binds leftists together in a unique way. I am not denying that liberals or conservatives have their own ‘solutions’ to the question of deprivation, but that is not the hub upon which such ideologies rest - they are articulated around the defence of human liberty, or property, or other values deemed prevalent. Whereas without a structure of ideological rectitude based on eradicating economic suffering and the harms caused by it, the left would have little remaining recourse.

The stark conditions of the working classes and unemployed in modern Britain need little exemplification. We have seen the images of queues of people outside courts, unable to afford the rent and facing eviction. We have been outraged when Michael Gove blames the lifestyles of those reliant upon food banks, or Iain Duncan Smith claims to be able to live on £53 a week. The bedroom tax, ruled unpalatable by a UN investigation, affects some 650,000 tenants and has led to numerous suicides. Despite various bursts of economic white noise, unemployment and particularly youth unemployment remains cripplingly high. Some reports indicate 44% of London children living in poverty and families existing on £20 a week. Meanwhile, austerity measures have stripped away the services we rely on to ameliorate our conditions - whether it’s youth centres, meals on wheels for the elderly and other council care services, libraries, the National Health Service, housing benefits, counselling and advice centres, legal aid, university places, Education Maintenance Allowance…the list goes on and on. In turn, of course, jobs in such sectors are lost, throwing more people on the scrapheap. The most vulnerable - disabled people, young people, elderly people and so on - are predictably the worst hit. Aggregated, it amounts to a rolling series of blistering assaults upon our communities and social fabric itself.

The left has, as might be expected, led the charge that exclaims ‘down with this sort of thing’. Over the last four years, a movement has sprung up that has seen countless articles and pieces of investigation written in outrage at the effects of coalition rule. We have seen innumerable demonstrations, notably the 500,000-strong one on 26 March 2011 called by the TUC and the 2010 student movement that ended up in the decoration of Parliament Square with roaring bonfires in a reification of the general burning sense of anger. There have been a medley of industrial disputes - including the pensions issue, in which the government somehow interpreted the falling costs of pensions indicated in the Hutton Report as a rationale for a ‘pay more, work longer, get less’ strategy. That was a dispute sold out by a union bureaucracy who, after leading three quarters of a million workers out on strike, accepted a cut. This is all work that needs to be done. But the inescapable truth remains, you can’t eat a leaflet. The only thing of immediate value a poor person can glean from a left wing newspaper is momentary warmth if they set light to it.

The immediate response I’d anticipate from activists is that this is entirely unfair. Firstly, the media stereotype of a left led by latte-sipping middle class students and intellectuals is horribly inaccurate (though admittedly embodying a grain of truth). Many activists are themselves on or below the breadline - myself included, despite falling into the ‘student/academic’ category. We don’t have the money to be charitable, or to try to alleviate suffering ourselves. And above all, even if we did, we’re not out for arranging a few handouts as a desperate rearguard action against the onslaught of the cuts. ‘We have world to win,’ to use an over-quoted Marx line, and our goal is radical social change. We are out for a fundamental restructuring of the system so that it is underpinned by democratic social control placed in the hands of ordinary people, centred around a system based on catering for human need rather than the faceless greed of the private sector. In the meantime, we want to stop the coalition in its tracks, boot the Tory party from office and win progressive and compassionate state policies. I couldn’t agree more, I’ve been a socialist for several years now. And yet the left isn’t really getting anywhere. Sure, the People’s Assembly was inspiring, but very few people beyond the ranks of the usual suspects were there. Two thousand people in a room in a country of 60 million? It’s piecemeal. Before it was engulfed in a crisis caused by its leadership dismissing a rape case out of hand, the SWP was Britain’s largest socialist party. It claimed to number a mere 7,800 - and that figure in itself is highly dubious. The left in the Labour Party have been unable thus far to prevent the onward march of Blairism and the party’s utter refusal to oppose all but the worst of the government’s policies, and I somehow don’t see that changing given that Labour has got progressively less democratic for the last 20 years. The use of the term ‘progress’ was not unintentional.

This leads me to two conclusions. Firstly, that a lack of progress is self-perpetuating. If the left are seen to be small and disorganised, or indeed not seen at all, then people will remain less likely to trust in its solutions, become involved in it. If the Labour Party are failing to be a credible alternative, socialists certainly are - not because of our ideas but because of how we look from the outside (or don’t look at all). The great mass of people fundamentally will not commit to organisations that look unlikely to deliver results. Secondly, we have to look at ourselves critically, and to credit the left I would say that a realignment process is under way at the moment. Undoubtedly, the austerity drive has been masterfully accomplished by the right, the ideological hegemony gained by Thatcherism has been forced forward and won the hearts and minds of a huge number of people. But to blame all our failures on the success of the other side is an easy route out of reflection.

Campaigns and protests are excellent and worthy methods for raising awareness, building consciousness and developing activists. But as we know, most of the time they don’t work, because quite frankly the state doesn’t particularly care and won’t respond unless directly threatened. The biggest protest in UK history, against the war in Iraq in 2003, proves this point quite grimly. But such huge set-piece statements ultimately don’t build active communities and develop grassroots organisations by themselves. Long-term activists can recount a litany of strikes, disputes, protests and campaigns that have lost. Yes, we can analyse the reasons - union bureaucrats sold out, the police beat us all up, people lost energy, the strategy was a pile of horseshit (the last reason usually being the explanation provided by every organisation that wasn’t controlling the campaign in question and never acknowledged by those who were) but that doesn’t change the fact that we did lose, and we weren’t able to help those people. And while our brains would burst if we didn’t remain optimistic (and I am still faithful that we have the power and potential to transform society for the better), we certainly shouldn’t go into every fight expecting to win, and at the same time recognise that most other people don’t expect us to win from the off. If we do, everyone is surprised, not least ourselves. So after a while of that repeated pattern, and focusing on the campaigning alone, it starts to look like we’re not actually taking real people at the coalface of austerity and their experience into account all that much.

Rigging for a sizeable demonstration can cost around £20,000. For 26 March, the TUC ordered 587 coaches to corral people into London from across the country. Whiprounds at left wing meetings will always yield at least a few pints’ worth of assorted change. Again, these are all things we have to do. But just imagine if even a portion of those funds were ploughed into our communities, and into helping people on the front lines of austerity. Socialist and leftist groups with immediate social programmes are nothing new. The US Black Panther Party are famous for their handouts of goods to the poor in their area. In Britain, it tends to be localised anarchist formations that are often the best at providing community spaces, solidarity networks and help for people. This is the day-to-day work that the left should be doing. It’s not as glamorous as marching through Whitehall singing down the government with hundreds of flags trailing in our wake, or penning incisive articles about the latest derisory classist comment made by some Tory backbencher who happens to be so backbench he’s toppled off the back of the bench into a warm puddle of his own bigotry. But it will in many cases be more helpful, and more effective.

In the UK today potentially hundreds of thousands of people are reliant on food banks, including people very close to me. Food, as an example, is fairly easy to organise. A group of people can collect enough for ingredients, find a community venue and host a meeting there. It is a way in which the bridge between charity and politics can be connected. On one side, we have charities that exist solely to give handouts, absent of political analysis about why they are forced to do the job they are engaged in. On the other, we have meetings in the upstairs areas of pubs about Trotsky that, let’s face it, one in a thousand beyond our ranks is going to turn up to. The potential of marrying the two is nothing to be scoffed at. A space in which we demonstrate our commitment to collectivity and community by providing resources that people desperately need at the same time as we discuss the whys and wherefores of poverty and oppression would help people in the here and now, and help socialist organisations grow. The two aims are indivisible. Social programmes involving the provision and organised sharing of resources among people at the bottom can provide a basis for community resistance as well. For the main battles we can win are the small ones - the local solidarity network that barricades the house of someone due to be evicted, for instance, or a rent strike against a rogue landlord. It is the fundamental principle of trade unionism, but lifted from the workplace into society in general, where the principles of unity, strike action as a tool and ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’ can be applied to contexts across the experiences we have with the agents of capital on a daily basis in and out of work. It’s of especial importance when even a militant union like PCS voted down practical action on solidarity with welfare claimants, to the point where angry unemployed people organised a protest against the union.

Too often solidarity is treated as a set of platitudes; it is an immediate logical corollary that concern for, say, a sectional strike, is something that should be displayed by all. Solidarity is a concept that has to be proven by action - it is a process of relationships that we establish, and when we recruit activists we are ultimately asking for a personal sacrifice and commitment. In order to do that, trust needs to be built, and engagement with people’s problems beyond a verbal or written demonstration and a demand for political action should be a key part of this.

Social action within a left-political framework is an inversion of the long-since-abandoned Cameronite rhetoric of the ‘Big Society’, evidently no more than window drapery around a privatisation drive. It’s one that the government themselves seem to be conscious of - ludicrously, Michael Gove compared free schools to soviets! It is not charity, but the emergency provision of rights and necessities with a view to building forums for discussion and action, not on austerity alone but against racism and sexism and all other strands of the struggle. Numerous projects do already exist, but they do not seem part of a coordinated strategy or something which the left as a whole has been won to. We may not be infinitely-resourced, but the left can easily gather enough to at least begin to try to mitigate a few of the impacts of austerity while it fights against it. We are capable of providing and organising the distribution of, if on a limited basis, food, legal advice, shared spaces, furniture, clothing, and some of the other basics. There is no reason why we can’t simultaneously agitate, engage and organise in political action both inside and outside of such schemes, and why we wouldn’t be the better for it. It quite frankly worries me that so much of the conventional left aren’t giving a moment of thought to mingling our political activity and calls for social justice with actually using our organisational capacity to help people. Sure, we might be generous on an individual basis, but that is exactly the same logic as charity under capitalism. It has got to the point where the distribution of support and aid is vital - it’s something socialist groups should be organising to do, and now. If anyone thinks such is (a) unachievable or (b) a waste of time, I would question why such a person is bothering to take part in the left at all. The crux of our existence is the helping hand and the desire to make life better for all of society but especially those at the bottom, and it’s high time the left lived up to it in deed as well as in word. And to reiterate, such action would also be an invaluable tool for spreading our politics and building the sort of social unions and class-conscious democratic structures that we are ideologically committed to.

It won’t be easy, and we shouldn’t have to be doing it. We shouldn’t have got to a state where a case is being made for political activists to intervene in ensuring people have a square meal in one of the richest countries in the world.  But then again it is equally the case that we shouldn’t have to be fighting austerity, racism, sexism and all forms of oppression at all. Yet we do have to be, because that is the way the world is. As any leftist will tell you, life and the system are unfair. That hasn’t stopped movements before, and indeed forms the reason for movements coming into being. Time to do something about it, then.

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IWGB calls for solidarity with PCS members fighting the bosses' blacklist in the DWP

Join our 'Sack the bosses, not the workers' protest Friday 19 July 5pm

In May 2013 the PCS union were made aware of a plan to sack DWP North London PCS members via fake Performance Improvement Plans in a hit list of predetermined sackings:

North London District Management need to reduce headcount by March 2014 so has embarked on a sacking rampage.

Although talks have started between District Management and the PCS branch, there is no confidence that procedure has been applied appropriately. We believe this is a crude attempt to reach their headcount target.

The PCS demands are clear:

  • Withdraw all warnings via PIPs where policy has not been followed
  • The PCS members in North London are tired of the constant abuse of power by North London Management and are ready to take action. We need more workers not less.

You can support us by joining the protest at:
Jobcentreplus District Office for North London, 26-46 Lisson Grove, Marylebone, London, NW1 6TZ. 1 min walk from Marylebone Tube Station


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Luke Staunton: North West regional teachers strike

North West TeachersOn Thursday 27 June around 30,000 teachers from the NUT and NASUWT unions in the North West took joint one-day strike action in the first of a series of regional strikes building up to a national strike in November. The action is in response to education secretary Michael Gove's continued assault on teachers' pay, pensions and conditions that includes tearing up national agreements from the start of the new term in September.

Strike marches and rallies took place across the region in Preston, Chester and Manchester, and in Liverpool where 2,000 teachers and supporters (including those from wider Merseyside and solidarity from as far afield as Birmingham and Scotland) held a noisy march from the city's Pier Head before packing into St George's Hall for a rally where "Gove must go!" was the chant of the day.

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Luke Staunton: University of Liverpool, pioneering in all the wrong ways

Liverpool Uni Against Fees and CutsThere is a significant struggle brewing at the University of Liverpool after management have "put a gun to the head" of 2,803 staff (54% of the workforce - almost the entire non-academic staff) in threatening them with dismissal if they refuse to accept an inferior contract that would see the likes of student recruitment, clerical posts, librarians and computer staff working more weekends, evenings and bank holidays without guarantee of recompense.

That such a full-frontal attack is taking place has far-reaching implications across higher education and has already provoked outrage among staff, as well as solidarity from across the country. Those in the University and College Union (UCU) have voted unanimously to ballot for strike action after some of the biggest union meetings for years, while a rally has been called on campus for Tuesday 2 July to bring staff together and build up momentum.

So far management have been intransigent. The arrogance with which they have operated is typified by an article Pro Vice Chancellor Andrew Derrington wrote in the Guardian earlier this year: "If there really is a fundamental difference in outlook between you and the senior management of your university, then someone is not doing a very good job. Are you sure it isn't you?" Many of us may beg to differ given the recent record of university management, including a failed launch of a "University of Liverpool in London" campus and a drop in full-time undergraduate enrolments of 10% in 2012-13.

The arrogance is endemic across management. The main driving force of the attack HR boss Carol Costello boasted in negotiations that she had managed to "standardise" the terms of conditions of 30,000 staff during her tenure at Lancashire County Council. Costello's record as head of HR at Lancashire County Council between 2007-2010 points to a possible long-term plan that sees "standardisation" of pay, terms and conditions of workers as a precursor to outsourcing jobs to private contractors. On the back of attacks on workers in Lancashire a contract between the council and BT subsidiary company One Connect was announced with pious denials of outsourcing:

As a strategic partnership, not an outsource contract, services will stay in Lancashire and their transformation and development will be managed jointly by BT and the County Council. Initial core services taken on by the partnership will include ICT for the County Council and schools, plus back office services for HR, payroll, the customer service centre, and procurement.

It is possible to speculate further. Liverpool City Council contracts some of its core services to another BT subsidiary, Liverpool Direct Ltd, which was revealed to have overcharged the council by £10 million. Suspicions are raised further when we consider the backdrop of wider "redevelopment" in the city, as Private Eye recently reported:

Unesco put the city on its World Heritage in Danger list after the council gave Peel Holdings’ vast £5.5bn Liverpool Waters docklands project, which would change the city’s skyline forever, outline planning permission last year.

Liverpool’s bloated regeneration sector will soon be consolidated into a single Mayoral Development Corporation, doing the bidding of elected Labour mayor Joe Anderson, to oversee the delivery of Peel’s scheme. The board will include Robert Hough, a director of, er, Peel Holdings, Sir Howard Newby, vice-chancellor of Liverpool University, and rag trade millionaire David Wade-Smith, an unelected cabinet member for business. The university is the biggest employer in the city involved in a triumvirate that looks to reshape the fabric of Liverpool for decades, and that means outsourcing jobs and handing over vast swathes of public assets to tax-dodging companies like Peel Holdings. In short: the attack on the 2803 staff at the university is even more important in context.

There is also national context. Sussex University has seen an ongoing battle against the outsourcing of 235 staff including occupations, a national demonstration and the development of a "pop-up union" in an attempt to overcome the bureaucratic inertia of existing unions. A problem that could be replicated at Liverpool where the Unite the Union branch that represents the majority of the 2,803 staff has been sluggish to move despite the anger of the members. Likewise Birmingham University has backtracked on attempts to restructure support staff, which would have placed 361 staff at risk of redundancy or attacks on pay and conditions, after threats of a national demonstration on campus and direct action on university open days.

The University of Liverpool is in a shaky position regarding its coveted Russell Group status and spends excessive amounts on marketing and building projects, which suggests a useful pressure point on management. It is clear management are scrambling to be leaders in the field of the neoliberal university: casualised, outsourced and run for profit not public good, while the contempt shown for the staff who run the facilities, libraries and who support the academics, and without whom the university would not function, is a signal of the direction higher education is heading. Students and staff, academic and non-academics, need to unite against this attack on our whole university community.

Liverpool UCU RAlly

Support our staff: Rally to Defend Education

Tues 2 July, 12.30pm
University Square, University of Liverpool
(bring banners, placards and invite workmates, classmates and friends)

Facebook Group >>

University of Liverpool against Fees & Cuts >>

Further links

Interview with UCU branch president-elect Jo McNeill >>

UCU press statement >>

UCU petition >>

Times Higher Education Supplement (THS) >>

Messages of support have been sent from UCU branches at: Lancaster, UCLan, Salford, Liverpool John Moores, Liverpool Hope, Birkbeck, LSE, UCL, Bournemouth, Northumbria, Liverpool Community College, West Lancs College, Wirral College, Bolton College, NW UCU Regional Council as well as Liverpool TUC, St Helens TUC, Merseyside TUC and Liverpool NUT.

More info here >>

Socialist Worker: Take a Pay Cut or the Sack >>

Garstang Courier >>

Liverpool Echo >>

Liverpool Daily Post >>

Lancashire County Council case study >>

Popup Union >>

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Local reports from Exeter

Paul writes:

Standing against the EDL and 'Exeter Strong'
On Sunday 23 June, an organisation called 'Exeter Strong' marched in Exeter to the war memorial, saying it was against hate and terrorism following the killing of Lee Rigby.
The organiser of the march claimed he had no political views and certainly had no affiliation to the English Defence League (EDL). A quick perusal of his Facebook page proved that to be untrue. He had links to some very nasty far-right organisations. These facts were made known to readers of the local paper, the Express and Echo.   
City councillor Ian Martin organised a silent vigil against Exeter Strong which Exeter Unite Against Fascism supported, along with local mosques, churches, trade unionists, Woodcraft Folk and the general left.
On the day, 30 showed for Exeter Strong, including members of the EDL, whereas 150 to 200 people joined the vigil. For Exeter, this was a good turnout for those opposing the far right.
The EDL have announced that a national demonstration is to occur in the city on 5 October. Whether it will take place is another matter - however, it gives us plenty of time to build the anti-racist demonstration needed to stop them. This time, we certainly will not have a silent vigil.

All of the left need to start building on Sunday’s vigil and get as many people out as possible for the 5th. Large numbers is what defeats the far right. In my experience, they need to be outnumbered at least ten to one. It may sound simple, but it certainly works. The intimidation of a large crowd can separate the soft racists from the hard racists, with the soft racists never daring out again. I will be arguing this in Left Unity discussions. With social media so ubiquitous these days, soft racists would not want to be seen supporting the EDL. Where I work, there are Ukip/almost far-right types. We cannot allow the EDL to become respectable.
Left Unity meeting
Left Unity had its first public meeting in Exeter two weeks ago. About 40 turned up to listen to Bianca Todd from Left Unity, as well as a speaker from Unite Against Fascism, one from the Exeter Anti-Cuts Alliance, one from Occupy Exeter, and one from No to the Privatisation of the NHS.

There were a lot of contributions from the floor, though at one point the debate sank into a slanging match between the Socialist Party and the Greens about the cutting of pay of council workers in Brighton. Bianca Todd intervened to steer the debate back onto the question of Left Unity.

One good thing about the meeting was that there were new faces, not just the usual left faces. It showed great potential, we just have to get out there and do the leg work. Our first full branch meeting will be in a couple of weeks and I am looking forward to it.

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