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

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. This article first appeared on the rs21 website. Many thanks to the author for permission to republish here.

Blair Peach was a 33 year old teacher killed on a demonstration on 23 April 1979 at Southall against the National Front. He is one of three protesters to have been killed by the police in Britain since 1945: the others being Kevin Gateley, the Warwick student killed on a previous anti-fascist demonstration at Red Lion Square in 1974, and Ian Tomlinson, the newspaper vendor killed on anti-G20 protests in 2009.

Peach died from a single blow to his head by a police officer, as Peach was retreating from a protest which had finished. The campaign for justice for Blair Peach took in lobbies of police stations, the mass production of stickers, postcards, calls for boycotts of UK goods, and while it did not succeed in its central ambition of bringing Peach’s killer to justice, had all sorts of secondary achievements, including the establishment of the campaigning group Inquest.

In 2010, following Ian Tomlinson’s death, the government belatedly published the Cass report into Peach’s killing. Cass identified the group of officers who were present when the fatal blow was struck, and “named the names”, as to which officers had sought to obstruct the inquiry.

In many of the accounts of his death, Blair Peach is a significant absence: a Che Guevara of the revolutionary left, someone who is better known for the images of his death than for anything that happened to him in his lifetime. Here, therefore, I wanted to convey more about who Peach was than how he died.

Peach was born on 25 March 1946 and studied at the Victoria University in Wellington, where he had helped to edit a magazine, Argot. Described in its subtitle as “a literary magazine”, in practice, almost all of its content was poetry by New Zealand authors and broadly modernist in style. The other editors were Peach’s housemates, Dennis List, subsequently a successful poet and novelist, and David Rutherford.

Argot is described in a number of published accounts as an important magazine of New Zealand poetry, a modest but real part of a significant cultural renaissance. Many of its contributors were already well-known poets in their thirties and forties, including Louis Johnson, who in a later account recalled Peach, “the slight youth–Jewish perhaps– / a dark tousle of hair and owl-size spectacles / who came to my house in the early sixties / for poems for his student magazine”.

Of the three, short, poems of Peach’s which I have been able to track down in Argot, one is a short monologue voiced by an affluent person expressing his regrets at the prospect in front of him of a life wasted preserving property, while the two others convey a sense of running towards an unknown but fixed and fatal, destiny (“Unmoving / I outrun pursuit / Desiring also / To outrun myself”).

After Peach died a number of writers dedicated poems to his memory, including Chris Searle, Michael Rosen and Susannah Steele, Louis Johnson, Edward Bond, Sigi Moos, Sean Hutton and Tony Dickens. It is hard to explain the relationship between Peach’s poetic youth and afterlife: friends do not remember him following poetry in England after he had left university. And in the political that were published after his death, this part of his life vanishes almost to nothing.

Something which the obituarists did notice was Peach’s stammer. Derek Melser, who knew Peach in Wellington and then in London, described his friend as introverted by a “true” stammer, which affected him at least once per spoken sentence, and expressed itself in “a variety of explosive repetitions, facial tremors and contortions, sudden rushes of words, gasps, sighs, extended vowels, bodily jerks and sheer incomprehensible blurting.” Peach had, in consequence “a certain cheerful hopelessness and a lack of social ambition or pretension coupled with a wryness, and sometimes bitterness, born of struggle”. This in turn explained, for Melser, Peach’s desire for justice, which began with a radical identification with Maori in postwar New Zealand, and led him into a life as a teacher of disabled children and an activist of the political left.

There is always a risk in attributing a person’s politics to a single psychological cause: clearly, not everyone who stammers becomes a revolutionary. But it is clear that Peach was – in the broadest possible terms – “on the left” even before he moved to London. He worked in the evenings as a hospital nurse and fireman; he was part of the 1968 generation. The cultural politics of Argot where in the broadest possible terms left-nationalist, the poems chosen reflect a conscious choice to make a New Zealand art independent of European or especially British influence.

Peach emigrated to London in 1969, along with many others of his generation (including for a time both Melser and List) and taught at the Phoenix School in east London, a school for (in the contemporary term) “delicate” children. He was still working there ten years later when he died.

Peach identified very strongly with the left-wing teachers network Rank & File, and in 1977, joined its sponsoring organisation the SWP. This was not a shallow decision. He had had friends in both the International Socialists (the SWP’s forerunner) and the International Marxist Group for several years.

In 1974, when Rank and File was pressing for a significant increase in teachers’ salaries, teachers at Phoenix School voted to take unofficial industrial action. Peach, with other teachers, was summoned to appear before a governors’ panel and threatened with disciplinary action. It seems that disciplinary action may also have been threatened within the NUT – although in both cases the action was dropped when the scale of the parents’ support for Peach became clear.

Around this time, he also published a piece in the newspaper Rank & File, calling for the democratisation of his union.

Peach was a committed anti-fascist. Meetings of the East London Teachers’ Association traditionally ended with a drink at the nearby Railway Tavern in Grove Road, Bow. One evening in 1974, the teachers were told by a fellow customer that the publican refused to serve black customers. Challenged, the publican accepted that this was his policy. The teachers left the pub, before returning to the pub with about 80 people, including the east London docker and then SWP member Michael Fenn, where they first attempted to picket it, and then spoke to the landlord a second time. He called the police, who arrested Peach, who was taken to be the ringleader.

Peach was also arrested in April 1978, outside a public meeting held by the NF in an East London school. The police had arrested a fellow demonstrator, who was black and female. Peach instinctively placed himself between the woman and the arresting officer and said, “Leave her alone, she has not done anything.” He was arrested, and pleaded not guilty but was convicted, receiving a fine of £50.

Peach was elected President of the East London Teachers Association in 1978. Twice that year he was attacked by supporters of the National Front as he cycled home from teaching at the Phoenix School, and he suffered black eyes, bruising and cuts. According to the East Ender newspaper, “Doctors fear permanent damage may have been done to one of his eyes. His finger has been bitten through to the bone shredding the nerves.”

Even before 23 April 1979, Peach was putting his body on the line in the cause of the struggle against fascism.


David Renton has been blogging for the last month about Blair Peach and the poems and articles referred to in this piece can be found there. He will be publishing a pamphlet with Defend the Right to Protest in June setting out the content of the Cass report into Peach’s death

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We want a women's mag - site launch and call for contributors


Call for contributors to the We Want a Women's Mag project.


Dear Friends and Comrades,

The idea for the magazine first stemmed from discussions in the women’s caucus of the International Socialist Network, and with wider discussions with other women in the movement.

Although the idea was initially inspired by discussions about the role and content of the Socialist Workers Party's Women’s Voice from the 1970s and early 1980s, this magazine is not intended to replicate Women’s Voice and nor is it intended to be the magazine of one organisation. Rather we are involving a wide-range of organisations and individuals in writing for the magazine, and also in editorial decisions and in the production of the magazine.

Statement of Intent:

• Editorial decisions will be taken by an editorial board of women who volunteered and were elected at the launch meeting in January, accountable to the groups and individuals supporting the publication. We have agreed that we will hold another election once the magazine is up and running.
• From a leftist perspective
• Multi-party, including women from an assortment of different backgrounds
• As accessible as possible
•The content will mainly be written by women, but we will also welcome contributions from people who do not identify as women or who experience other forms of oppression.
• Diverse – a mix of theory and day-to-day life, including reports, reviews, artwork… anything a woman wants to produce and express. (See the graphic for ideas agreed)



We hope that you will choose to get involved in this project. We have had many positive responses from a wide-range of women on the left, and believe that this magazine could not only make an invaluable contribution to debates on the left, but could also connect with an audience beyond existing left groups.

If you would like to contribute, want some more information or to chat to one of us, then do get in touch: womenspub@gmail.com

In comradeship,

Women’s Caucus of the International Socialist Network (On behalf of We Want a Women’s Mag) http://wewantawomensmag.wordpress.com/

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Good night White Pride! / Nos da Balchder Gwyn!

April 5th marked this year’s White Pride Day, an annual event where white separatists, ultranationalists and neo-Nazis come together to drink, shout and promote their racist bigotry. For the past few years the UK location for this event has been the Welsh city of Swansea with this area becoming a stronghold for the re-emerging National Front (NF).

The days leading up to this year’s event, running under the White Pride Worldwide banner, were marred by misinformation. Unite Against Fascism (UAF) an organisation which has been at the centre of broad left anti-fascism for the past ten years, were not only not to be seen on the day, but even cancelled their counter-demonstration under the mistaken belief that since the NF had refused either of the rallying points offered to them by the police, the Nazi demonstration would not go ahead. The cancellation came despite warnings from anti-fascist activists posting on the Swansea UAF Facebook page urging people to still come out as they rightly foresaw that the NF demonstration would still take place. The danger of cancelling the demo and declaring “victory” proved to be real - people who would have been out on the streets of Swansea chose to stay at home believing the demo was off.

Luckily not all had taken the day so lightly. Around 100 anti-fascists from groups ranging from the Socialist Party to Antifa as well as unaffiliated members of the local community came down to Castle Square to make clear that fascists are not welcome in Swansea. This view however was not one shared by the local constabulary, nor by several local watering holes. For the NF and their friends, the day started in Yates’s bar on the corner of Castle Square as they knocked back the lager and jeered at the assembling counter-demo. Before long the excitement got too much for one bonehead, who began proudly waving his white power flag before being told by police to put it away. Once drinks had been downed, the 40-50 fascists out to protest were escorted up to near the old castle for their demonstration, where they listened to a mixture of speeches about how proud they were to be white and how hard it is with all the oppression white people apparently suffer on the basis of their skin colour. The Nazis punctuated the tedium by singing racist songs and hurling abuse at the ‘commie scum’ that made up the counter-protest.

Nazi Nigel Sullivan, active in Blood & Honour and linked to the KKK

Amongst the crowd were a number of white power flags, a Scottish flag, a Yorkshire flag and a flag bearing the symbol of Greek fascist party Golden Dawn. As the NF began to leave the demo zone a scuffle broke out during which one of the white power flags was liberated from its bonehead owner, an incident that saw its captor spend the next four hours in a cell, but luckily leave without charge. During this incident a second arrest was made after an anti-fascist made contact with one of the bonehead demonstrators only to be told “You can’t hit me, I’m an undercover police officer!” Although one NF member found himself in handcuffs, this was only a temporary measure while they waited for calm (during which time he stood laughing with the police) before being let go. From here the fascists returned to drinking; heading for Ice Bar on Swansea’s main bar crawl, taking their hot air down the aptly named Wind Street.

This Nazi was briefly handcuffed before being released after laughing and joking with police

Despite refusing to accept either protest location offered by South Wales Police, the NF had full facilitation from the police the entire day. When fascists receive this help from the state it only serves to build their confidence. “I personally witnessed them shouting at a Muslim couple, who had joined the anti-fascist demonstration,” Al Brown of South Wales Anti-Fascist Action (SWAFA) told radical news website SchNEWS, “They called the man a "paki" as police officers looked on. The cops did nothing to try to stop the abuse, and wouldn't listen to the man's wife when she tried to complain about it.”

In a similar incident a BME man was subjected to verbal and physical abuse by an NF member outside Ice Bar and was told by police that should calm down. Across the road in the Adelphi I witnessed another NF member give a Nazi salute as he and four other went to join their fellow boneheads. After Ice Bar, the NF were escorted up to another bar - Static on Kingsway, where anti-fascists kept watch behind a police cordon. A phone blockade was organised and the bar's management in Bristol responded by travelling to Swansea in order to have the racist crowd removed. The NF were then quickly marched by police to the station and made to get on a train.

NF supporters give Nazi salutes in Static bar

“South Wales Anti-Fascist Action had a 30-strong bloc and we opposed them every step of the way. It seemed like some kind of pathetic racist pub crawl facilitated by the police, who seemed content to turn a blind eye to all the harassment the NF were causing to Swansea residents. Officers could even be seen exchanging handshakes with NF supporters outside Static. It's really troubling that they would fraternise in this way with people who were shouting racist insults and threats of violence during the day,” said Al Brown, “I don't think Unite Against Fascism can take any credit at all for the counter-demonstration on Saturday. They took the fascists' bait and called off their demo, then ignored other groups who had assurances it was still happening. But SWAFA, Swansea Trades Council and a lot of interested local residents went ahead without them. We want to thank everyone who took part, whatever their background, because we know that true strength lies in diversity.”

Unite Against Fascism have since put out a statement telling of their disgust at the state facilitating the Nazis’ demo, congratulating those who did turn out to see them off and interestingly, despite not being present, still feeling the need to cook the numbers. The statement also finished by promising that regardless of what is said by police or council next year they shall hold a march through Swansea. Let’s support that call and make sure UAF keeps its promise.

 

 

This article can also be found on the Ignite Magazine blog.

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Brixton police corruption demonstration

On Tuesday 11 February Stephen Greenhalgh (deputy London mayor for policing), Lambeth borough commander Matt Bell, and one of the Met police assistant commissioners, came to Lambeth Town Hall to host a ‘consultation’ meeting on confidence in the police. Their presentation centred on increasing numbers of police, improving their visibility and focusing on ‘key crimes’.

Unsurprisingly, however, confidence in the police is influenced not just by how many of them there are but by what they actually do. To get this message across Lambeth Left Unity had organised a protest outside, in conjunction with other groups including Brixton Black Revolutionary Socialists, Brixton Rebels and the London Campaign against Police and State Violence, encouraging those angry with the behaviour of the police to make their voices heard inside the meeting as well.

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Read more: Brixton police corruption demonstration

Subdued anger as hundreds gather at Mark Duggan vigil

Around 1,000 gathered today outside Tottenham police station in north London at 2pm for a vigil to remember Mark Duggan, who was shot dead by police on 4 August 2011. Earlier this week a jury delivered a “lawful killing” verdict for Mark’s inquest. The family believes the verdict is “perverse” and has vowed to fight on to get justice for Mark.

Speakers at the vigil included Mark’s aunt Carole Duggan, veteran Tottenham campaigner Stafford Scott, local pastor Rev Nims Obunge and Hackney MP Diane Abbott. They were joined by family of others who have died at the hands of the authority, including Roger Sylvester’s brother Rupert, Sean Rigg’s sister Marcia and representatives from the United Family & Friends Campaign and the Hillsborough Justice Campaign.

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"Let’s remember Mark the way he was and not the way he’s been portrayed as," Carole Duggan told the crowd. She thanked independent witnesses who came forward at the inquest to offer testimony that contradicted the police version of events.

Stafford detailed the evidence given by the police officers who shot Mark, to cries of “lies!” and “rubbish!” from the crowd. “666 is the sign of the beast: turn it round and you get the police,” he said to cheers.

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A speaker from the Justice for Mark Duggan campaign announced a public meeting into his death on 30 January, 7pm, at the Bruce Grove community house in Tottenham. Diane Abbott announced a meeting in parliament on the issue to take place shortly. Marcia Rigg revealed news that a new investigation into Sean’s death had been announced.

The vigil’s mood was peaceful, respectful and dignified – but brimming with anger at the police, determination to fight for justice, and a grim awareness of the history of police violence against ordinary people locally and more widely.

It ended with Mark’s family releasing doves to cries of “No justice, no peace!” from the gathered well-wishers.

 

This article was originally published on the RS21 blog (words and pics from @bat020 on Twitter).

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Lawyers walk out in protest at legal aid cuts

Photo of Crown Square in Manchester by Mikhil Karnik

Solicitors and barristers withdrew from courts today across Britain in protest against proposed changes to criminal legal aid. This is the first time that lawyers have taken such coordinated action nationally. More protests are planned unless the government backs down.

There were crowds of 150-200 lawyers plus supporters at each of Manchester Crown Court, Westminster Magistrates’ Court and Southwark Crown Court, as well as smaller protests at 20 other courts across the country.

Some 15 out of 16 cases at the Old Bailey were disrupted today. The sole hearing that went ahead involved a jury already in the midst of deliberations addressed by a judge in an otherwise empty courtroom.

The government is proposing cuts to the fees which solicitors and barristers can charge for representing clients. This involves 18% cuts to fees for criminal legal aid cases, rising 30% for the lengthiest cases. Legal aid will also be removed for prison law and from cases brought by people who have not lived in the UK for at least 12 months.

There are further plans to significantly reduce legal aid for judicial reviews. This change will have a particular impact on the willingness of lawyers to take on cases such as challenging the closure of local services.

The reality of lawyers’ lives is that almost every aspect of the court service is being run down in front of our eyes. We have already seen the closure of court desks that let members of the public file documents. Many county courts are now open only in mornings, and many local magistrates’ courts have been shut down altogether.

Reduced fees have been introduced for expert witnesses and for civil barristers (whose fees have been cut by around a half in the last year alone). Legal aid has been cut back in areas including welfare benefits, family and employment law.

This article was originally published on the RS21 blog.

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