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

MINUTES: Steering Committee face to face meeting 31 May 2014

Submit to DeliciousSubmit to DiggSubmit to FacebookSubmit to Google BookmarksSubmit to StumbleuponSubmit to TechnoratiSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn

Attendance

Kat B, Simon H, Kris S, Javaad A, Paris T, Brian C, Jenny R, Luke S

Summary of main points:

  • IS Network members’ meeting on 3 August.  This meeting will agree a new constitution and a plan of action for the IS Network for the rest of the year.
  • 13 June is the deadline for the contributions to the first bulletin for the meeting.
  • We will then have a members' meeting/conference towards the end of the year to adopt a new political statement/document.  The aim is to get the IS Network established with a clearer political identity.
  • On 2 August we are planning on having a London meeting on the topic of anti racism and anti fascism.

 

Agenda

 

  • Political discussion post-elections
  • Role of the SC and report-backs
  • Members' meeting
  • Anti-fascist / anti-racist meeting
  • Women’s mag
  • Left Unity
  • Festival proposal

 

 

Political discussion post-elections

We discussed how UKIP did in the elections. UKIP didn’t do very well in the locals compared to the previous local election, though they did win several new councillors. However UKIP did do better in the European Election. Paris said that UKIP are not a fascist party but a militant Tory split. Where UKIP decline, the fascist parties could pick up support and this is their hope, as expressed at a recent BNP meeting.

Brian doesn’t think UKIP will last and will filter back in to the Tory party and agreed they’re not fascists or proto-fascists, but their base is in the lower middle class. However, UKIP did well in Wakefield, a small working class town so it might be worth having a strategy of confronting UKIP.

Javaad explained that the reason the UKIP vote may have been up in Rotherham may be because that is where children were taken from a foster family because they voted UKIP, so it could have been viewed as an attacked by a bureaucratic council on people’s democratic rights. Now that Britain First are organising, BME communities are under attack. We need a working class struggle against chauvinism. Wherever the BNP get in, attacks on BME people go up.

We discussed whether there should be a call for a Labour vote and there appeared to be consensus on the left where you can and Labour where you must, so in a Labour safe seat we should consider alternative left parties. There was concern that if the left does nothing, we could have a right wing government.

It was noted that the left did dismally in the locals and European elections – only one Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidate managed to win a seat; however, he is ex-Labour, already rooted and known in the community. TUSC got only 31,000 votes in total in the Euro elections. TUSC are not making roots or building branches and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) aren’t really involved.

Some organisations on the left want to focus on setting up anti UKIP campaigning. Kris pointed out that being anti UKIP doesn’t really do anything in and of itself and we need to focus on building an alternative.

Simon said UKIP is imbued in a nationalist-chauvinist Britishness, that being anti-UKIP only makes sense in relation to Europe and the left won’t really be able to fight them until they have a confident position on Europe – and not by aping the nationalist demands the way that No2EU does. UKIP argue that they aren’t racist, they’re arguing for a fair points system, so the “anti-racist” arguments need to be more intelligent than the ones the left deployed against the BNP.

Jenny said we should be thinking about how immigration rules operate and pointed out the unfairness in the earning threshold in relation to partners moving to the country from outside the EU. Kat thinks we can win these arguments in Wales because most people wouldn’t be earning more than the threshold needed to bring a spouse in to the country. Immigration rules such as these keep families apart and children away from a parent.

The polls were close between Labour and the Tories, and Labour aren’t winning the arguments. There is a political crisis of the mainstream parties and Javaad pointed out that UKIP is a manifestation of the collapse of the Tories.

Luke placed UKIP as one expression of the long-term process of recomposition of the working class and the move from politics of distribution to politics of recognition. A recent article by Paul Mason tries to grapple with this in a flawed way, but it does identify the importance of culture and the ways in which racism is mediated. There is no direct line between cuts and racism for example.

Paris argued that the left needs to do long-term work in working class communities.

Simon and Javaad talked about a rightward shift after the elections, which has already started with comments from Ian Duncan Smith about wanting to lower the amount of time a tax paying migrant can claim unemployment benefits for.

UKIP did really well in Wales, only approximately 6000 votes behind Labour and coming 2nd in the European elections, getting approximately 200 thousand votes. UKIP got 10% of the vote in Scotland.

 

Role of the Steering Committee and report-backs

The points we think we should consider as an organisation are: After the current phase of regroupment talks what next for the IS Network? Are we just a network, a revolutionary current, a democratic centralist organisation? Should we recruit? Should we continue as an organisation?

The points we should consider as the SC: How do we organise as a committee? Encouraging members to organise themselves. Making political decisions and our mandate.

Simon thinks there is value in keeping the network going, that there is quality in our ideas, so therefore the network is still useful.  However, we ought to review the constitution, which is based on branches because our branches are weak and we operate more as a network. Left Unity (LU) is the only organisation on the left which is growing at the moment, so we should look at ways we can contribute to LU.

Javaad said that Leeds/Bradford have a meeting on Tuesday and they are inviting non-members and thinks that the IS Network has the potential to be the organisation you can get colleagues along to from work. Javaad wants to pull the organisation in to branches and getting the network more organised. We should have a strategy of working in LU and other organisations such as The Old Swan.

Paris argued that we’re the libertarian socialist strand of the left. We’re asking the right questions, even if we’re not answering them. Paris suggested putting on meetings with other groups. We need a strategy, educational, programmatic debate and clarity of ideas. The IS Network are the main organised group in the Anti Fascist Network (AFN) and helped set it up in the first place.

Jenny asked how we’re going to take the organisation forward. Jenny thinks that the democratic centralist model is not a relevant model going forward and that rs21 are making a mistake using this model and that they are going in the wrong direction.

Simon thinks the IS Network needs a political identity. We have some insights and good ideas, but not an overarching strategy for the left. Over the next few months we should have discussion groups and a codification of what socialist should be saying and doing. One of the lessons of the ACI was that it lacked coherent leadership and ideas; they should have spent more time trying to forge distinct libertarian Marxist tradition. A manifesto for the IS Network could cohere the organisation and provide a more solid framework to go forward.

Luke pointed out that some of the initial focal points of the ISN such as democracy and liberation have been 'mainstreamed' to some degree on the left. A good focus would be looking at social movements and questions of form/content around these alongside the tendency toward regionalism, separatism and nationalism. In Liverpool we saw the ISN as a space to discuss certain key questions while getting involved in existing campaigns, although we were unable to maintain this.

Kris thinks we need to just do more stuff as an organisation and not just talk about it. Kris does not think the SC has a better handle on anti-fascism and anti-racism that the rest of the network so does not think we need to take a lead on it.

Paris stated that if the SC dissolved the network would cease to exist so as the leadership we have to do stuff and coordinate stuff.

Simon thinks we need a political leadership. The leadership needs to coordinate otherwise the branches will just be doing their own thing.

Javaad suggested having strategic discussions. When people stand for election they do so on their politics which will give the SC the mandate to lead politically.

Kris said realistically we don’t have contested elections and there has only really been one since the network's inception.

Simon thinks the leadership body is quite weak. We need a political organisation, we should move towards a political organisation. We don’t have what most groups would consider cadre to push the organisation forward.

Brian said the network is united by a minimum number of things; we need to define ourselves and need political work to tell people what the network is for. We need room for disagreement, so should define our programme and emphasis disagreements around it.

Action

SC - Build another conference later in the year. August members meeting should produce a draft plan for the October conference, with a political and strategic document. What we want to bring to the left and a 3-4 month plan, voted on at conference.

Simon and Kris – to draft a provisional Constitution for the network which reflects the state we’re in now.

Javaad and Paris – to contact branches to discuss educationals and attending the next members' meeting.

 

Members' meeting

We agreed the first bulletin should be out by 14 June and final contributions should be submitted by 13 June, for the 3 August members meeting. We agreed that two members of the SC will contact members to let them know about the first bulletin deadline. We agreed to submit a report of work carried out on the SC to the national members meeting.

Action

Brian – Will submit a report on the Ecosocialism conference and a piece on unity.

Paris and Javaad – Will contact members for contributions to the bulletin.

Javaad – Will submit a piece on IS Network / AFN work and a report on the IS Network SC.

Jenny – Will submit the finance report.

Kat – Will submit a piece on immigration and campaigns.

Kris – Will submit a piece on regroupment.

Paris – Will submit a piece on the state of the British fascist movement.

Simon – Will submit a piece on the Labour Party.

Kat and Simon will coordinate the bulletin.

We have a provisional venue but no crèche.

 

Anti-fascist / anti-racist meeting

We talked about who we should invite to the meeting. Some of us thought that the meeting should be mainly about anti-racism and partly about anti-fascism.

We debated three options in terms of who should be invited to the meeting:

  • Regroupment conference
  • Public meeting
  • IS Network meeting

Javaad argued that an anti-fascist meeting is pertinent to the work of the IS Network.

Kat thought that the meeting was going to be anti-fascist and expressed that an anti-racist meeting is an entirely different meeting. Kat suggested inviting No Borders campaign groups and anti-detention groups to participate in an anti-racist meeting, because we should look at anti-racism in the context of immigration now that immigrants are going to be targeted as a result of rightward shift in public opinion.

Simon thinks we should have the meeting focused 80% on anti-racism and 20% on anti-fascism.

Jenny identified that BME groups and refugees can very often be too afraid to get involved in politics.

Action

Voted on whether to have the meeting as an anti-racist or an anti-fascist meeting and the room was split so we agreed to have an anti-racist and an anti-fascist meeting to be held on 2 August.

Javaad will contact Tim N to discuss and organise the meeting.

 

Women’s Mag

The editorial meeting is on 21 June.

Joana R has written a proposal for the way forward as an editorial group.

Kat advised that the editorial group will have to decide the next steps and we will be reporting back.

Simon thinks the women’s mag could do with a statement and consider class as part of the publication’s focus, and also that the women’s mag could do with a new name.

Kat advised we will discuss these things at the editorial meeting.

 

Left Unity

Simon advised the Left Unity National Council meeting is on the 7 and 8 June. There are several issues we need to discuss and we need a strategy policy.

Kat said there are issues with the way the women’s caucus operates.

Jenny said that complaints have to be handled carefully.

Paris suggested having an action programme to rally people around.

Simon posed the question how do we differentiate ourselves from the Greens. Yes, socialism and freedom of movement, but what else? Left Unity have explicitly stated we are a socialist organisation and we have passed a no borders policy, but in election terms what difference does that make?

We discussed elections and some thought that LU shouldn’t be an electoral party and we all agreed this shouldn’t be our main focus. We would like to see LU become a grassroots campaign party, rooted in communities, that stands in elections as a component of its strategy but not the culmination of its strategy.

Paris said that political methodology is central. We need to be active and mobilise people and should focus on a few constituencies to stand in. Paris wanted to know whether the Leeds issue will be raised at the NC.

Simon’s not clear about whether Leeds will be mentioned.

We have an LU left meeting on 1 June.

 

Regroupment

We discussed the meaning of ‘joint work’, it was unclear to some on the SC what this means in practice. It was implied in the letter from rs21 that they would consider doing joint work. rs21 are in the situation of their members drifting off if they engage in joint work. However, the IS Network and rs21 are doing joint work on the ground anyway.

Javaad argued that regroupment should be wider than just the 4 groups. We should have a conference with various communists groups putting in motions. We should regroup to the left and do practical joint work.

Simon pointed out that the Anarchist Federation (AFed), Plan C and Solidarity Federation (SolFed) are not interested in regroupment or a united organisation.  We should focus on concrete things happening now, such as the possibility of LU merging with the NHS party. SolFed have argued that the left should not unite, just the class and that fragmentation is natural.

Paris said we should work with groups such as AFed in our local areas.

Javaad argued we should have a communist parliament and re-organise the whole communist left in Britain.

Simon argued that this would not work.

Javaad argued that the re-organisation of the communist left will get us all talking and this will be a beneficial process.

Action

Kris will put together a balance sheet of regroupment so far.

 

Festival

We discussed how the festival will be different to other festivals past and present. We reflected on festivals such as the SWP’s Skegness and Marxism and Counterfire’s Dangerous Ideas. Javaad pointed out that Lawrie C has talked about putting on a festival in the North-East of England. We considered an autumn festival but then camping would be out of the question (not necessarily a bad thing).

Action

Javaad will look into the possibility of having a North-East of England festival.

 

Meeting closed