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

Northern unity meeting 1 February

On 1 February there will be a northern unity meeting co-organised by the IS Network with Anti-Capitalist Initiative, Socialist Resistance and Workers Power. Observers from RS21 are also to be invited.

EVENT DETAILS

Date: Saturday 1 February 2014

Venue: Collier Room, Central Methodist Hall, Oldham Street, Manchester M1 1JQ

Proposed Agenda

1000-1100: Registration and informal meet-up
1100-1230: Introductions plus reports (Leeds to Chair)
1230-1330: Lunch
1330-1500: State of the labour movement: Andy S (Sheffield) to introduce (Manchester to Chair)
1500-1530: Break
1530-1700: Practical discussion, how we can work together, common campaigns, future meeting and taking revolutionary unity forward (Sheffield to Chair)

Childcare will be available if needed, provided on a volunteer basis.

Refreshments will be made available.

There will be a pooled fare for the day

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Portsmouth Socialist Network: Moving forward after December

IS NetworkOn Tuesday 7 January ten comrades (another three who wanted to attend sent apologies) who were formerly members of the Portsmouth SWP branch met to discuss joint activity. It included comrades who had resigned immediately after Special Conference last March and joined the IS Network, people who had left during the course of last year but joined nothing, and those who had left after last month’s conference. A well-respected local socialist who had been in the International Socialists in the 1970s and is currently in the Anti-Capitalist Initiative also sent apologies saying they would be like to be involved in future events.

Despite some tactical disagreements over the past nine months, we had been united in our opposition to the appalling actions of the SWP Central Committee and were clear that the current crisis of the SWP is a (particularly horrific) symptom of long-term problems surrounding lack of democracy and bureaucratisation. We stayed in close contact over the last year and had been active together in local anti-fascist activity.

As one attendee put it, ‘all of the people who have left the SWP over the last twelve months need to sit in the same room and discuss in an honest and comradely way what we are going to do’. It is clear that we can achieve very little working separately or in competition with each other. After all we are all still revolutionaries committed to socialism from below. It was agreed that the formation of a new revolutionary organisation is the central long-term goal but what that should look like and how we should organise should be developed by collaboration in localities. Political differences on secondary questions should not necessarily preclude organisational unity. It was generally agreed that the revolutionary regroupment process was a big step forward for the far left.

By unanimous vote it was decided to constitute ourselves as Portsmouth Socialist Network. By working together as a loose network we can approach other groups and propose joint work, visit picket lines to offer our collective solidarity and produce leaflets or a newsletter. We agreed that individual membership of other groups is not problematic but we didn't preclude a collective affiliation to a national organisation in the future.

We discussed ideas such as the formation of a local ‘radical forum’ where socialists, anarchists and others on the left and in the workers’ movement can discuss strategies, the possibility of a joint meeting with our friends in Hampshire Feminist Collective and becoming more involved with an anti-fracking campaign two comrades are helping with at a location just north of the city. Some members have been attending meetings of the local Anti-Fascist Network grouping – Portsmouth has had a continuing problem with racist intimidation around a mosque and Muslim school – and we are clear that countering the far right is a key priority locally.

It is very positive that ex-SWP members and other socialists who are attracted to the regroupment process are organising similar events in a number of other cities. As for ourselves, it is a very exciting development for us in Portsmouth and we are cautiously optimistic about organising locally on this basis.

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Welcome to the wilderness

Dear comrades, welcome to the wilderness. This is Magpie from the IS Network, and I'm not a person who was recently in the SWP, so that must colour my perspective. But as a member of the IS Network steering committee, a publisher for our website, and a member of the women's and LGBTQ caucus, I though I might have a few useful thoughts about the territory out here.

The first thing to report is that it's contentious! If I'm continuing my metaphor of a wilderness, I could call this some stormy and changeable weather. As a group, we are likely to change our minds, to be convinced of new arguments and concepts and to find ourselves on different sides of political arguments from our close friends. This changeability and contention reflects our learning. We are developing new ways of conducting ourselves in meetings, in our publications, and on the internet that affirmatively encourage the participation and power of members of our liberation caucuses. Meanwhile, we are trying to learn how to conduct ourselves more civilly in new media such as Facebook. 

We are making mistakes - lots of them; we are airing our dirty laundry in public, and our writings, in hashing things out, are often impenetrable to outsiders.

However, we are working on this. We are a new organisation and nothing about us, from our politics to our culture, is set in stone. As compared to the bordered, byzantine lands of the SWP, the wilderness which we share has fewer defined borders, and the comrades who work in this space find themselves more open to ideas from outside groups. In the ISN, we have incorporated ideas from intersectional feminism, and in applying these ideas, we've been inspired by many groups outside our tradition, including autonomists, anarchists and issue campaigns. But we still walk this space together as a group, with a shared experience in the international socialist tradition and a shared conviction that socialism alone can save our species and planet.

The wilderness is vast, but it is not endless. In the end, my metaphor does not refer to a physical space, but rather an idea space. Each of us made an individual decision to walk out into the wilderness because we wanted to repudiate bad ideas and to discover new ideas - new analyses and new tools to achieve our end, revolution and the salvation of our immeasurably precious world. Over the past year, many of us have debated with many of you, about tactics in the faction fight. But now that you are here, each having made their own decision to walk into the wilderness, we wish only to move forward with the essential task of finding the tools and resources we need to build our engines of change.

It would be arrogant of us to ask you to join our Network en masse. As we all learn and discover, some of you may join us, and some of us will leave. What we do hope to do is build strong, trusting, productive lines of communication. We invite you to write with us, to debate us on platforms and online, to attend our meetings and to share with us the exhilarating process of redefining Leninism and revolutionary regroupment.

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A moment for revolutionary ambition

2013 was, to put it mildly, a bad year for the far left in Britain. It began with the crisis in the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) bursting out publicly, and ended with the second mass resignation from that party after a year-long battle over the basic principles of women's liberation.

This essay is about how, as 2014 begins, we can move on and build something better. It is primarily addressed to the latest wave of resignees, and is based on my own experiences of the past year, as someone who resigned from the SWP in January 2013 and was involved in founding the International Socialist Network after the first mass resignation in March. I don't speak for the IS Network (I'm sure plenty of IS Network members will disagree with much of this) and I certainly don't intend to tell you what to do. But hopefully my writing this will let you learn from my experiences – and from my mistakes.

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Read more: A moment for revolutionary ambition

Notes on a footnote

An article that we put our names to has caused quite a stir in the IS Network since its publication. We had hoped to start a period of debate and discussion about the central argument of the piece – that we are tending towards a sect, that we are shrinking and that this ought to be viewed as a crisis and that urgent, collaborative attempts be made to rectify this parlous situation. Instead, the furore that has followed has focused on the footnote at the very end, in which two particular incidents are cited as examples of the ways in which liberation politics are occasionally misused and misapplied in the IS Network. We concede that it was perhaps an error to assume that a footnote was adequate space to explain what we think these incidents exemplify – this second commentary, then, is an attempt to explore the issues raised in more detail. Before we respond to the many and various reactions to the article that we have been alarmed by, let us explain precisely what the footnote referred to, what we think it exemplifies, and why we disagree.

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Read more: Notes on a footnote

Undoing the politics of anathema

In the past few days the IS Network has seen a controversial article released on its website, many signatories to which are on the steering committee or in the publications working group. Whether or not people agree with that article or with the way that it was written, some have expressed regret at having put their name to it because of how it has been received. A lot of comrades disagree with it on a political basis but some people also feel hurt and upset by it. What follows does not reflect a collective view from the steering committee, but does reflect many concerns of those who have left or consider doing so. As such, we feel it is important to share these concerns with all of us in the network, and beyond.

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Read more: Undoing the politics of anathema