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

China Mieville: Lines in the sand

This is a question for members of the SWP: what is your line in the sand?

We believe that a revolutionary socialist party is indispensable for social transformation. Given the forces ranged against us and the necessity of unity in action, it's reasonable that most of us will, in most circumstances, not allow disagreement with this or that aspect of 'the line' to place us at fundamental odds with the party.

However. If we have no line in the sand, if there were no issues or miscalculations or scandals that would cause us to set ourselves publicly against our leadership, we wouldn't be hardened radicals, or unsentimental and rigorous thinkers, or tough-minded streetfighters, or anything of that sort. If we had no line in the sand, we'd be chumps.

We'd be telling the all-too-human leaders of the SWP that there'd be no error so bad, no line so egregious they could advance, no malfeasance so shocking, that it would make us stand up to them. We'd be declaring ourselves their serfs.

The current crisis in the SWP, out from under which members are attempting to dig, without the help of a CC that seems alternately paralysed, purblind and spiteful, is, for those of us who write on this blog, that line in the sand.

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Can I get a conference?

Socialist WorkerThe SWP is in crisis. In the weeks since our annual conference, comrades around the country have been doing everything we can to rescue the party from the disastrous course the current Central Committee seems intent on following. The stakes are high - we are fighting for the future of our party and of the International Socialist tradition in Britain.

One question that continually comes up when discussing our crisis with other members and within the movement is whether it is possible to win our position within the party. The Central Committee clearly has no intention of backing down, of listening to members, of taking action to correct the crisis. Instead it is committed to using bureaucratic manoeuvres in its attempts to close down discussion. And where it cannot close down discussion, it is resorting to appalling misrepresentations off the arguments and the comrades opposed to it.

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Anonymous letter to the National Secretary

Trigger warning. This post contains potentially triggering material.

We received this from a member, and were given consent to publish it here:

Dear Charlie, Over the last few weeks, as you know, there has been much discussion about a serious allegation of sexual violence regarding a CC member. This was discussed at conference during the disputes report and I took much notice.

I took particular notice consciously, as over the last few months I have been deciding whether to come forward about a similar matter. I was in a long-term relationship with a comrade in the past and during this relationship he raped me. Though I am being encouraged by the few comrades I’ve asked for advice on it, I feel very precarious about coming forward about this.

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Warmly received

The University of East Anglia's student magazine Concrete reports on the meeting at which a CC member was, according to Party Notes, "warmly received":

In an announcement on the society’s Facebook group, society president Hattie Grunewald stated “we had invited Judith to speak to us long before this story broke. In the interest of free-speech and lack of censorship, we are not planning to withdraw our invitation; however, we do plan to hold Judith accountable for the actions of her party.” After giving her intended talk on women’s liberation at the meeting, Orr opened up the floor to questions. Several audience members expressed concern at the SWP’s handling of such serious allegations. It was questioned whether it was fair of the SWP to deal with the matter internally instead of going through the court system, and whether an internal body could effectively punish such a serious offence if the party member had been found guilty.

The report in Party Notes was used to argue that the issue is not significantly affecting our work in the wider movements. This suggests the opposite. Members should probably be informed that this controversy is going to hit them whenever they try to organise - particularly if they have anything to say about feminism. The fact that this reality was occluded further underlines the current purpose of Party Notes as an internal faction sheet for the Central Committee.

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Gareth Dale: Respect the Authority of Conference

Socialist WorkerIn the debate that is currently blazing within the SWP this is the most potent argument in the Central Committee’s arsenal. For we all agree that the annual conference is the highest institution of our democracy. The report at the centre of the row, the Disputes Committee report, was accepted by conference, with 231 votes in favour, 209 against, and 18 recorded abstentions. Nobody, to my knowledge, has disputed the accuracy of the count. “For the sake of democracy and unity,” the CC argues, “all members must accept the vote. Just look at the numbers, and read the constitution!”

This argument simply won’t do. Some would say its flaws go back to the pre-conference discussion period and the management of conference itself. There were aggregates at which comrades who sought to raise the issue of the DC report were denied the floor; important information was withheld from the party prior to conference; comrades were expelled for pre-conference discussion; a properly formed faction was suppressed; and the factions which the CC did allow were not given proper factional rights. These are real concerns. But even if the conduct of pre-conference debate and the organisation of conference itself had been impeccable, the argument would still be unsustainable.

After delegates returned from conference, they confronted questions from workmates, allies in campaigns, and fellow members who had not been delegates. Comrades learned that the DC report had passed by a slender margin. An unprecedentedly slender margin. Some did the arithmetic, working out that fewer than two out of every five delegates had voted for it—a report that is normally passed with a unanimous or near-unanimous vote. In so narrowly escaping an actual defeat, the CC, which had backed the report, had suffered a moral defeat.

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Leadership, membership and democracy in the revolutionary party

This perspective piece was written by Neil Davidson for discussion at the 2008 conference of the Socialist Workers' Party. Following the disastrous Respect split and the internal divisions centred around the leadership of John Rees and Lindsey German, the piece offers an analysis of the underlying failures that led to the calamity.

In Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) a trainee guardian angel gives suicidal small Savings and Loans owner George Bailey the opportunity to see what life would have been like in the town of Bedford Falls if he had never existed. What he sees is so shocking, so bleak, that he begins to understand the significance of his own contribution to avoiding this nightmare alternative future. Thus re-inspired, he abandons all thoughts of self-immolation and, supported by members of the community he has lived among and helped for so many years, he thwarts the plans of the evil millionaire Mr Potter to ruin him and take over the town in the interests of The Bank–a plot device which, given the hatred currently directed against finance capital, will probably help ensure this much-loved film’s popularity with a new generation of viewers.

What would British society be like if the SWP had never existed? What would we see if the guardian angel of revolutionary parties could show us a United Kingdom where the ship bearing Ygael Gluckstein to these shores in 1946 had sunk with all on board? Would it be any different? Attempts to credit our organisation with a general influence over events (as opposed to, say, the outcome of individual strikes) risks the danger of sounding bombastic and self-aggrandising, characteristics we rightly deride in other sections of the left. Nevertheless, while retaining an appropriate sense of proportion, a case can be made. Above all, the two great campaigning organisations which we initiated and sustained, the Anti Nazi League (ANL) and the Stop the War Coalition (StWC), were interventions which actually changed social and political conditions for the better, by helping to marginalise the fascist threat, combat the broader racism in British society and integrate Muslims into political life. Both are models of how to successfully apply what the late Duncan Hallas used to call the 'spirit' of the united front tactic in situations of real urgency. Both are a standing rebuke to ignorant accusations of 'economism' to which we are regularly subjected by sectarians.

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