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

Sexism in an age of austerity

IS NetworkThis essay is a contribution to the discussions we are currently having on the left about how socialists relate to gender issues. We often find socialists sidelining a gender analysis of oppression, in favour of a class analysis. (One recent example of this was that the effect of the cuts on women was not the subject of any of the sessions at the People’s Assembly in June.)

The following analysis seeks to address how and to what extent the age of austerity is adding to the oppression of women.

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Statement on Twitter threats

We in the IS Network are appalled to hear of the threats of violence made to our comrade and friend Laurie Penny on Twitter. We stand in solidarity with her, and with all the women who have recently been subjected to similar disgusting misogynist abuse online, now escalating into open threats of violence. We stand with BME people, LGBTQ people, and disabled people who have suffered hideous slurs on social media. The recently announced anti-abuse button on Twitter is of course an overdue and welcome response to this, but this abuse is fundamentally an expression of a deep social sickness of our sexist society. Arguably the only silver lining about this barrage of bile on social media is that it lays very bare the extraordinary depth and breadth of this sexism. Such sewage, up to and including sexually violent and murderous threats, is an extreme manifestation of the everyday sexist tropes that permeate and saturate our society. Laurie has been a stalwart fighter against such depredations, for a world fit to live in, where such abuse is a thing of the past. We are proud to stand with her.

International Socialist Network

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Len T: The ‘F’ word: a correction - Callinicos, Brenner and Ramas on women's oppression

I put together my response to Sheila McGregor on feminism in haste (in order to address a political question) and my post shows the signs of speedy composition: it contains a mistake. I wrote of Alex Callinicos, ‘It is notable that throughout his writing, while he sometimes footnotes Lindsey German’s book, Callinicos has had nothing to say about women’s oppression. This suggests that he has either been completely uninterested in the question or harbours reservations.’ It is true that he has been largely unconcerned with feminism and the oppression encountered by women. There is no discussion of these matters in Is There a Future for Marxism? (1982) or in Against Postmodernism: A Marxist Critique (1989). In both books, we might have expected some discussion of gender and feminism, given the prominence of these issues under consideration. For a theorist renowned for his intellectual range the silence is deafening. Nevertheless, as I stated my point, I passed over a telling point of reference. A comrade reminded me that, alongside publications by members of the SWP (Cliff, German and Harman, but not McGregor), he has sometimes cited the essay ‘Rethinking Women’s Oppression’ by Johanna Brenner and Maria Ramas (New Left Review, No.144, 1984; republished in Brenner’s Women and the Politics of Class, 2000). Interesting!

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The ‘F’ Word: Marxism and women’s oppression today

ISJ #138Sheila McGregor has recently published ‘Marxism and Women’s Oppression Today’ in International Socialism (No. 138). McGregor is able to comment, with a straight face, on the ‘continued disgraceful sexist culture of the BBC’ or ‘being groped by sleazy men’ and apparently not notice a scandal closer to home. There are indications that McGregor has reassessed her position on the scandal in question. If this is the case, it is clearly to be welcomed, but the theoretical questions remain. Her essay presents some comments on ‘raunch culture’, adds a paragraph on austerity and then gets down to criticising patriarchy theories. As much as anything, this contribution is intended to inoculate the members against any form of socialist-feminism or Marxist-feminism. At a moment that sees a serious resurgence of interest in these traditions in theory and activism, Engels’s The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State is administered as an antidote. The best bit of her essay concerns orang-utans engaging in oral sex ten metres up in the trees. Brilliant! The rest reads like pasted-together material from her files with half a mind on current goings-on. The result is a hotchpotch compiled from dated arguments, a narrow range of (mainly SWP) sources and recent news reports. No one needs telling, it was put together in order to address an immediate political question. In this sense, her essay is euphemistic and intended to carefully negotiate, rather than explain, the present.

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Toni M: Violence against women

At the beginning of the 21st century, British women have had the vote for almost 100 years. We’ve got access to contraception and abortion, have equal pay legislation and maternity pay, and can even stand as MPs. We have seen the rise of the women’s movement and the gay liberation movement which won demands for oppressed groups to be treated with more respect and fairness. As a result of these we have won rights like legal freedom from sexual harassment and abortion. It is not entirely stigmatised to be single, childless, a single parent or lesbian. Women’s role within family life has altered and women are told that they have choice. Women can now “have it all”. They can be mothers, workers, or even strippers, and all of these things can be an interpretation of “womanhood”.

That’s not to say that these rights aren’t under attack. Tory ministers are lining up to argue that abortion should be limited to much earlier in pregnancy and women still earn 20% less than men. But the freedom of women and girls to live safely, without fear of physical and sexual violence, has never been won. In fact, far from it: conservative estimates suggest that over 1,300 women are raped every week. A woman rings the police every single minute to report domestic violence and two women die every week at the hands of their partner or ex-partner.

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Creeping sexism

One of the things which has pissed people – and especially women – off about the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) is the determination to attribute a meaning to the word "feminism" which fits with a simplistic class instrumentalist account of women’s oppression considered suitable for consumption by the membership.

Let’s take a trip in the mind of Judith Orr, the party’s oracle on what "feminism" is really all about. On 9 March, Socialist Worker ran an article for consumption prior to the special conference, apparently to arm those who may have forgotten what the line is with some crap arguments against anyone who has got "confused". Consider the following:

“Socialists stand with all those fighting sexism. We help build campaigns for abortion rights, equal pay and against discrimination. But we also argue that, while oppression can’t be reduced to class, it is rooted in the rise of class societies and the family.”

There are a number of issues with this:

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