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

LSE SWSS: statement on the current crisis in the SWP

SWSSWe condemn the handling of two allegations recently made by female comrades regarding sexual harassment and rape. We believe that the way this case was handled by the Disputes Committee and the Central Committee constitutes an unacceptable betrayal of our politics on women’s liberation. We also condemn the suppression of the formation of a legitimate faction created for the distribution of an important statement relating to the case by a number of comrades, during the pre-Conference period. The CC should be aware that these failures are impacting on the ability of SWSS members to work effectively with others.

We call on the CC to acknowledge the gravity of these failures of principle and strategy and to issue an immediate apology to the women involved. An immediate recognition that mistakes have been made needs to be issued. In order to move forward from our current impasse a special conference must be called and a rank-and-file investigate commission in to the Disputes Committee procedures must be formed. Further, we believe that Comrade Delta can no longer be involved in the party’s united front work. It is untenable for him to represent the party in any way at this time.

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Read more: LSE SWSS: statement on the current crisis in the SWP

Birkbeck SWSS statement

SWSSBirkbeck SWSS calls for comrades to call for a special conference to address the current crisis within the SWP. The fallout from the Disputes committee report into allegations against comrade delta has developed into a crisis for our party. The CC’s handling of the matter since the conference has been both inadequate and misjudged.

Already the crisis has effected our intervention in NUS and will start to effect our intervention in trade unions and the labor movement.

We believe the following are things comrades must demand:

  1. The CC must clarify Comrade Delta's on-going role in the party and our united fronts. This is not about deciding the comrade’s innocence or guilt but limiting damage to our party. The comrade has lost the trust of a significant number of comrades.
  2. The party must formally consider positive proposals for changes to how the DC handles cases of this nature, including those that comrades were not allowed to raise at conference.
  3. To censure the CC for its handling of this crisis post-conference. The party must act to rebuild trust, recognising that over a question of this nature declaring “we have voted” is not enough.
  4. That we reject the CC’s arbitrary deadline for calls for a special conference. A special conference is a means of the membership holding the leadership to account - a vital part of democratic centralism. We reserve the right to wait for the decisions of the national committee before deciding whether to campaign for a special conference.
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Kent SWSS statement

SWSSUKC (Kent) SWSS has voted to pass this statement to make clear that we are dissatisfied with the way the Disputes Committee handled allegations made against a leading member, and the inadequate response from the leadership during the aftermath. The processes used fell far below what members expect from a revolutionary party which aims to address oppression. The current situation is due to the failing of the central committee to acknowledge these problems.

Allegations of creeping autonomism and feminism from the leadership are unhelpful, and appear designed to create divides within the party which do not exist. More open discussion within the party is the only way to reconcile this situation. We are making this statement not to create division, but because we feel it is the only way we can continue to be active members of SWSS on campus.

We are calling for:

  1. A special conference, so that the problems which the party needs to deal with can be dealt with democratically and student voices heard, in order that we can continue to fight austerity, oppression and capitalism in unity.
  2. The removal of the member against whom allegations were made from public positions in recognition of the fact that the Disputes Committee report was barely accepted, and the Chair of the committee did not think he should be exonerated.
  3. A commission into the party's constitution, the make-up of the Disputes Committee, and how it will handle such cases in the future.
  4. The reinstatement of the 4 four members expelled in the pre-conference period, as these expulsions were not made in the best interests of the party.
  5. Proper explanation for why Hannah Dee was removed from the Central Committee at short notice.

University of Kent SWSS

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University of East London SWSS statement

For an Outward Looking SWSS

SWSSUniversity of East London (UEL) Socialist Worker Student Society (SWSS) holds the International Socialist tradition in the highest regard. A tradition founded upon breaking from the evils of Western capitalism and the horrors of Stalinism, and one that fights to this day for real working-class emancipation. A tradition that has fought tirelessly against sexism, racism, homophobia and the class exploitation that capitalism creates. It is as proud followers of this immense political tradition that we feel the necessity to write this statement.

Our SWSS group publicly condemns our leadership’s recent handling of a serious allegation of sexual abuse brought against a leading member of the party. We believe the subsequent inability of the Central Committee (CC) to address the crisis embroiling the party, is paramount to, and indicative of their refusal to accept any responsibility for their bureaucratic mishandling of the case, concerns and political turmoil comrades have faced in both the pre and post-conference periods.

We recognise that this is a crisis that could and should have been avoided. We believe that the reprehensible response the CC have conjured up represents a detachment from the hostility comrades have faced in their workplaces, campus’s and unions, which has paralysed our ability to carry out the interventionist work required of a revolutionary party. The clear demarcation of the leadership’s relationship to the membership, and their insulting disregard for the political turmoil we face in our respective workplaces and campus’s was typified in the most recent pseudo claims in Party Notes, denouncing the political concerns of the emerging opposition as seeking to overturn our Marxist analysis of women’s liberation, and no longer seeing the working class as central to the fight for socialism.

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Read more: University of East London SWSS statement

Sussex SWSS Open Letter to the Central Committee

SWSSSussex & Brighton University SWSS condemns in the strongest possible terms the Disputes Committee’s (DC) recent handling of serious allegations against a leading member of the organisation, the vote which ratified their report at conference, and the subsequent failure of the central committee to address the current crisis.

We note the failure of the DC in this case to carry out their investigative process in an entirely impartial way due to their composition, and the implications this has for any outcome they could have reached. We also reject aspects of the line of questioning of the two female comrades that came forward with the allegations as sexist, and at odds with the principles of our tradition. We recognize that the DC was faced with a difficult situation, with lack of precedent to enable them to handle this effectively. For this we fault the CC’s conduct with respect to W and the concerns she raised over the past few years. We also fault them for their failure to intervene and correct for failings in the DC’s procedure when they were so glaringly obvious, and for what many will see as their intentional misleading of the membership around the issue in past conferences. Add a comment

Read more: Sussex SWSS Open Letter to the Central Committee

PD, the American Party


PD, the American Party

Luciana Castellina, 29 May 2014, printed in Il Manifesto

[explanatory note: for 25 years the Italian parties have been in flux. The Italian Democratic Party (PD), an evolution of the Communist Party and the Christian Democrats, received 41% in the Euro elections this week, a historic high, headed by the centrist Renzi. Grillo's 5 Stelle were down to 20% and Berlusconi's Forza Italia down to 15%, with the far right nowhere getting past the 4% threshhold necessary for Euro deputies. The Lista di Tsiparas, which aims to emulate Greece's Syriza, did, receiving 3 representatives. The article also refers to Rifondazione and SEL, two left groups who participated in the Lista.]


Inside the Vote. No longer left, nor centre-left. Not even a reincarnation of the old Christian Democrats.

The Italian results of the 25 May elections can't be quickly judged. I will limit myself to some provisional thoughts.

While it seems easy enough to read the shifts in other European countries, ours are more complicated. There are many reasons why: primarily because new forces have entered that weren't present before, and not just ones which have grown or shrunk.

I would list the PD (Partito Democratico) amongst these, because it is not the continuation of the parties that preceded it. It's something else that is new: not a party of the left, nor even the centre-left. I wouldn't even call it a reincarnation of the old Christian Democrats: even in that party existed very different social interests and representations, but they were strongly ideologically marked and each had their own specific cultures and leaders with historical weight. Renzi's party is also a social rainbow, but its currents are far less clear, much less weighty, with scant reference to the traditions that have preceded it in the last 25 years.

If one had to find an equivalent I would say it would be the American Democratic Party. Which would definitely never openly represent the unions which have always been affiliated to it, but certainly includes amongst its ranks - just take a look at its donors - extremely different strata in terms of thought, actual power, and culture.

If I say American Democrats it's because Renzi's new party signals above all a decisive step towards the Americanisation of our political life: high abstention due to a large part of the population being cut out of the political process, by which I mean active participation, and so has no interest in the election; the absences of parties beyond being electoral committees; personalisation dictated by presidential structures. The fact that Italy is getting closer to this model results from the long decline of the mass parties, which has also hit the left, and because of the reduction of the competition to leaders' television shows in which citizens choose as if it's a kind of Twitter: 'like' or 'unlike'.

I think this change is extremely serious: it impoverishes democracy, whose strength lies above all in the politicisation of the people, in making them active protagonists, in building up their consciousness as opposed to them just giving power of attorney.

Anyway there's no point in crying nostalgically, I don't think it's possible for a return to strong democracy based on large popular parties, at least not like we've known in the past. Before we even start to think about how to rebuild the left we need to rethink the model of democracy, not leaving the field to whoever is now resigned to the sorry current situation: Renzi offered us an accentuation of personality, short term pragmatism, a renunciation of building a social bloc adequate to the deep transformations in society (in name of a strategic project between different interests which have their own representation, and not an indistinct hotchpotch held together by falsely neutral choices).

That said I think we need to avoid demonising the over 40% who voted PD: they are not all Berlusconians or populists, and I am happy that, out of the traditional strongholds of the historic left the PD has regained votes that had been going to Forza Italia or to Grillo. For many a vote for the PD was a vote to reject the worst in a moment of great suffering and confusion in Italian society. I wouldn't want to identify them all with Renzi as they are also products of the history of the left.

Now it's up to us to convince people that there are other ways of rejecting the worst: much harder and longer term, but a lot more effective in starting the search for a real alternative. And here we come to our own affairs, we of a left which is diffuse, or organised into fragile parties born from the ashes of other parties. To me, the experience of the Lista di Tsiparas, irrespective of the many mistakes it made, seems positive. The results show it: everywhere it was higher than the sum total of Rifondazione and SEL's votes, and shows that there are forces available which must not be wasted and that should be involved by the existing parties in rebuilding the Italian left, not restricting the task to each party's respective enclosure. Let's bear in mind that these forces are greater than the number of people who voted Tsiparas: wherever the Lista di Tsiparas had a profile (the big cities) our percentages were double those in outlying regions unreached by our communications.

Some of the forces that the Lista managed to group together are many of the almost-always local micro-movements, which are self-organised but fragmented. They are a treasure trove that is unique to our country, which retains a good dose of social initiative. This is the basis to work from, interweaving the groups' initiatives with the party's and involving PD voters in struggles for specific objectives and in building more stable organisations capable of achieving victories (like the water privatisation referendum, for example). A party where many are with us on many objectives: guaranteed income, civil rights, environmental concerns, trade union representation... We need to accompany such grassroots work with analysis, collective thought on how to combat the primitivism of much protests and their oft-theorised shortsightedness of the base: the left needs to fight for basic needs but, God willing, also needs Karl Marx to aid an understanding of how to satisfy them.

I know through long experience how difficult this is, but I think we should never give up trying. What I mean is that the worst thing that could happen would be to limit ourselves to shouty opposition, or worse, to shelter in the cauldron of the PD thinking we could play any role in it. For decades the Communist Party - allow me this one jaunt down memory lane - was the great party of opposition, but it achieved much more in terms of concrete change in Italy than the Italian social democrats who have always been in government. And that's because, despite being in the opposition, it had a view of government: that is it went about trying to construct alternatives, not limiting itself to protests or denunciations. But above all it was because it did not believe that elections were the only date to keep, or that politics just meant becoming MPs or councillors. Is it possible, as a start, to consolidate the network of Tsiparas committees?

Is it possible for Rifondazione and SEL - who nobody is asking to immediately dissolve themselves into the movement - to be active in working together with them for a more ambitious left project? Is it possible to create new forms of democracy that can rebuild the relationship between citizens and institutions?

Do we at least want to give it a go?

article suggested and translated by Louis Bayman, rs21.




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