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

Queen Mary SWSS statement

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SWSSThe current SWP crisis has hit SWSS groups across the country incredibly hard and thus QM SWSS have been unable to build a revolutionary current on our campus. We are under fire from external groups on the one hand, and internal pressures on the other. Other left groups and activists on our campus have voiced their discontent with the way recent events in the party have been handled and have isolated us from working with them in the future. Broad left Student Union election slates, which we formerly stood on with great success, have been closed to us. Our wider periphery no longer wishes to work with us. Leading trade unionists and left academics in our departments have ended the previously good working relationships we held with them. The handling of recent events has meant QM SWSS cannot be an effective interventionist party on campus. The party apparatus has offered us little support: there has been complete indifference to arranging SWSS meetings and stalls and individual comrades have been repeatedly asked to consider leaving the party if they do not feel comfortable to hold the line on recent issues. QM SWSS cannot hold the line on what we believe to be a poorly handled and severely unacceptable turn of events.

 

We feel we are being asked to defend the indefensible. We are concerned with what we heard at conference regarding the Disputes Committee case. We are proud of having been part of a party that fights hard for women's liberation and do not therefore feel the party has acted in line with our politics. Particularly, the types of questions that the women involved were asked were completely unacceptable for a vanguard party, aiming to be at the helm of liberation, to ask and this has not been accounted for. We are further horrified by the way the women involved were treated in their branches and districts in the pre-conference period. We feel as though being dissatisfied with the way in which disputes handled the case has been treated as a grave crime, while bullying, vilifying and verbally abusing the women involved has been treated an acceptable political tactic. We ourselves have witnessed inexcusable behaviour surrounding this case, taken our complaints to our leadership, and they have failed to act.

As mentioned, we are particularly concerned with emerging arguments around dissent, in which those unable to hold the line are encouraged to leave the party. We do not stand in such a tradition; that is to say, this is not the party of the leadership or the apparatus, but of all of the members. Encouragement from the centre to leave is not how the party has traditionally grown and developed, or it is certainly not how we will grow as a party. To paraphrase Tony Cliff, every member is gold dust. We are yet further concerned by the seeming ‘punishments’ the CC has issued to those who have been seen to have dissented, coming down particularly hard on students. Well respected full timers have been moved, or completely removed from party apparatus. We see no political reasons for doing this and feel it is simply an act of retribution. For the party to grow, particularly on our campuses, we urge the leadership not to treat capable full timers as expendable just because of their relationship with the students or position on recent issues, particularly as members of the apparatus who have received formal complaints about their conduct in recent months have not been held to account. Leading student comrades are being blocked from taking on key roles within the national student movement, or on their individual campuses, for seemingly little more than being involved in a faction fight at conference. It is politically frustrating to be forced to remind the leadership that factions are perfectly legitimate tools at conference, and to punish those that were involved in them does not reflect healthy democratic centralism. We do not discourage debate, crush dissent or encourage minority opinions to leave the party. This is not the Bolshevik tradition.


 

The world is watching the SWP and we feel the CC statement, party notes, and SWSS notes are misleading and inadequate in dealing with this unfurling crisis. We need real leadership now more than ever. We have to admit there were no clear victories at conference; the disputes vote had a difference of only handful of delegates. There are strong divisions within the party that cannot be brushed aside and ignored. We strongly urge the leadership to listen to all members to respond appropriately to this crisis, but a political culture has emerged that makes this very difficult. We joined what we felt was the best vanguard party in the country. QM SWSS is an eclectic mix of comrades from different struggles and movements that joined the party over a number of years, but we all have political concerns in common. We have all seen open, honest, political and outward looking regular caucuses give way to sporadic private, individual meetings with apparatus, where comrades are harangued or encouraged to leave and others in group gossiped about and misrepresented. We have all seen sharp, political SWSS meetings with lively debate and a broad periphery fade into complete non-existence, with not only no organisational assistance from the apparatus or leadership, but seeming total indifference. We have all seen a, while small, organised, disciplined and committed SWSS being completely side-lined seemingly for falling foul of the Central Committee during the conference period.

As a SWSS group, predominantly led by women, we feel accusations of ‘soft feminism’, ‘creeping feminism’ or simply ‘feminism’ have been often targeted at us. To reiterate, we believe that our tradition on women’s liberation is excellent, it is simply not being implemented. We are alarmed by Party Note’s discussion of ‘patriarchy theory’, suggesting that we have made a break from analysing gender in a framework of class. This is not the case, and has not been prevalent in any SWSS interactions that we have had. Our understanding of women’s liberation has been consistently sharp. We remind the party that the three leading female comrades at QM SWSS made a sharp intervention in the counter pro-life protests that gained momentum last year and alongside our university feminist society, have frequently been used in media campaigns, including the party’s own recent pro-choice pamphlet. We are alarmed at the use of ‘feminism’ as a political insult. We feel that this is an outdated attitude – where ‘feminism’ was a way out of class struggle in the 1980s, it has become a way in in recent years. The women’s movement has exploded, and refusing to welcome those that identify as ‘feminist’ or hold ‘feminist ideas’ threatens to accelerate the party towards irrelevance within this emerging movement. We also felt that SWSS notes were inadequate - direction within the student movement is lacking. They show a clear break from reality within the student movement and were completely insubstantial. Demands to stand on left slates are unrealistic given hostility on campuses.


 

The call for an ‘outward looking’ SWSS is abstract, as being simply ‘outward looking’, if unable to interact with the outside, is idealistic and unclear. Rather than offer clear instruction or ideas on how to weather this storm, SWSS notes suggested the crisis within the party was minimal, citing a recent event at UEA with a CC member as being “very good and positive”, which it later emerged was not the case. If our student office, along with our leadership is failing to even admit that a problem has emerged, we do not know how we can proceed as a united party.

We share the desire to move on as a unified party, but recent developments have meant the crisis cannot be ignored and we cannot progress in this way. The mainstream and left wing media are awash with criticism, as are many loyal and committed party members and the CC must respond to this, giving members the opportunity to respond to this somewhat unexpected dramatic public reaction. It is because of this, because of the faith we have in our party members, because of the confidence we have in our tradition, because of our desire to make the SWP the strongest vanguard party that we can be, we urge the party leadership to reconsider their decision, to respond effectively to this crisis and to accept calls for student conference, create a commission over the Disputes Committee (while acknowledging that it would not be appropriate to reopen the cases discussed at conference) and Comrade Delta should not represent the party at this difficult time.

Queen Mary SWSS