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

Stand up to misogyny

 

Occasional disclaimer: Sometimes people get the wrong idea about us, so just to be clear this is an article written by some members of the IS Network in response to this piece by other IS Network comrades. Any further discussion on this subject will take place in our discussion bulletin, which will be available to download from this website. The IS Network is a diverse group  that welcomes debate and discussion and not all members will agree with everything that is said in any article as we all have minds of our own.

Last year the IS Network published on our website the testimony of a comrade who had experienced rape within the SWP, describing the disgusting way the SWP treated her. In it she wrote: “the SWP is counter-revolutionary and is against the socialist tradition”. We believe this to be true. This is not solely because of the crimes of the SWP - though these are many, with two of the latest examples being:

and

As well as understanding the appalling nature of the SWP's behaviour, it's important also to remember that it is an organisation which demands of its members, publicly at least, complete acceptance of its actions. And over the past several years that has included actions which are misogynist and rape apologist. Other organisations have committed greater crimes, but they are not small, tightly-knit, democratic-centralist groups that insist upon all members publicly supporting every action, every crime. And none of them has the same capacity to systematically and ruthlessly feed off and weaken the organised left in the way the SWP does.

That's why we believe that any actions to promote the SWP (for example selling Socialist Worker, or attempting to recruit people to that group) lead to an increase in the amount of misogyny that women face from within our movement and are therefore acts of misogyny in and of themselves. That's why we stand alongside those who wish to challenge the SWP and to frustrate attempts to reinvent and rehabilitate it.

In any given situation people will choose different methods to achieving this end, and tactical considerations have to be taken into account. As individuals, where we are involved, we will take part in these discussions. We do not propose, however, to offer general advice on what tactics are appropriate in every situation. Such advice is, in our view, unhelpful - it is impossible to do in the abstract, without taking account of specific circumstances and the relevant context. But as well as being at best ineffective, we think offering general advice could have the effect of directing some of the rightful anger currently aimed towards the SWP towards us instead. This could make it impossible to further engage with those resisting them, as we become identified as either on the wrong side or at best an irrelevant nuisance.

We believe the tactics of an organisation are best decided by people involved in that organisation, be it a student union or any other. There is a need to take into account the amount of emotional energy and time people can put into pursuing the goal of combating the SWP, as well as the many other campaigns and actions that they are involved in. Of course, we hope that we will be part of those struggles and be in a position to be listened to, but regardless we stand with those fighting.

We believe that ridding our spaces of a misogynistic, rape apologist organisation is one of the most important political tasks we have. We recognise that there will be setbacks in this struggle, and perhaps it is ultimately unachievable, but trying and being seen to try is crucial. We support all acts which have this as their goal.

Add a comment

Bans, the SWP and the struggle to defend feminism on campus


Occasional disclaimer: Sometimes people get the wrong idea about us, so just to be clear this is an article written by some members of the IS Network. The IS Network is a diverse group and obviously not all members will agree with everything that is said. That applies to all of the articles we produce as our members all have minds of their own and we do not practise democratic centralism.

Feminists on campus are facing new challenges on campus, and are stepping up to meet the challenge. New tactics need to be developed in an attempt to simultaneously contain our opponents and build activist feminist groups.

In very different scenarios, feminists have been forced to consider the role that bans might play in turning back patriarchal power. 

The International Socialist Network has been among the most prominent and vocal opponents of the rump-SWP since the rape cover-up. Many of our members were some of the earliest oppositionists inside the party and some of the first to be "pulled by the outside world" and speak openly about what was going on. However, we did not initiate the campaigns for the proposed bans on the SWP. This is an experience without parallel in the last generation of Britain's student, socialist and feminist movements. We are learning from the initiatives taken by feminists on campus. And while we are not convinced that unions banning the SWP can effectively shield students from it, we have some experiences to share and a dedication to standing behind other feminist organisations confronting organised misogyny and rape apologism.

We will not stand with the SWP against feminist campaigns. Socialist feminists must stake out our own turf and avoid collusion with the SWP. Where ban campaigns have momentum, it is important that everyone goes through the experience of understanding the depth of the anger, and explore the options for dealing with what remains of the party. Some SWP members are new recruits who think they are fighting for socialism; they are not hardened cadres. A ban on an entire Socialist Worker Student Society (SWSS) may not, in most circumstances, be the best option. There are other ways to deal with the SWP - ways that we think are more effective.

Some oppose the bans and no-platform policies proposed against the SWP: they say bans are anti-democratic and they want to protect socialist groups. We think such opposition that relies solely on a moral panic over free speech is mistaken. The SWP is bad for feminism and socialism. Relying on bans and no-platform policies in an institution like a student union is also bad for feminism and socialism. These tactics leave the union leadership as the leading and active element in the struggle against the SWP and its sexism.

After unions make such bans only the bureaucracy will enforce the policy. The risk is that this will kill public political debate on the issue. Grassroots opposition including but not limited to protests at SWP meetings, interventions in SWP meetings, arguing with its remaining activists and providing evidence of their behaviour are more effective. Not only will this be more effective at hastening the eventual demise of the party, but it will be better for feminism. These active grassroots tactics place feminist activists as the active agent in the struggle, not careerist bureaucrats nor the ‘radical bureaucracy’ developing in some parts of the student movement. In public political confrontation with the SWP, feminists will be best placed to recruit and build activist grassroots movements. 

Right wing elements in the bureaucracy may attempt to abuse the politics behind the ban and no-platform policies. Here is an example. The NUS brought a safe space concern to the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts as an excuse for dropping out of the 2014 demonstration: the NUS was concerned that the protest would not be a safe space because the SWP would be on the march. The NUS manipulated the policy. That does not mean we oppose safe space politics. However, we should remember that lots of progressive ideas are abused by right wing bureaucrats. They want to wriggle out of events they oppose and shut activists down. The NUS would have dropped out of the demo on another spurious pretext if it couldn't abuse those safe space arguments. The key issue with safer spaces politics is not in the ideology behind safer spaces: it’s the ideology behind those who enforce them. We must keep that in mind, being aware as we struggle for safer spaces. We think safer spaces policies are best enforced by the grassroots, not the bureaucracy. We must be wary of handing weapons to those who may later use them to attack us.

We oppose a moral panic over free speech in student unions: they are member organisations not the state. However, we think we need the highest and most rigorous standards around free speech. Free speech cannot be absolute; it has to be negotiated by our community. We have a duty to provide a secure environment for all. We must have consistent positions on where the limits are, and be very clear and open in the reasons for these limits. We don't think the no-platform policy against the SWP is being applied consistently. A consistent approach could ban most mainstream political parties and the Catholic Church from student unions on the same grounds used for the SWP's ban. A better approach to the SWP and SWSS in student unions is not to shut down the society, nor to ban them. We should support and fight for unions to have decent membership disciplinary policies for misogynistic behaviour. If any SWP or SWSS member in a student union is behaving in a misogynistic way then they should be told to change their behaviour by the union. Failing that, they must be disciplined as a member of the student union, as any normal member would be for misogynistic behaviour. 

Alongside challenging individuals, it is also necessary to challenge the SWP as an organisation. We celebrate the wide range of creative and non-violent tactics that have been used to challenge the SWP, to educate people about the rape cover-up and the party’s continued apologism for this tragedy, and to challenge its claims to be a progressive ally of feminism. In learning from these tactics, our experience has been that macho and violent confrontations with the SWP push the party into a dangerously comfortable space that reflects its own culture. Destroying SWP publicity does nothing to educate the key audience for a feminist challenge to the SWP: the people outside the SWP. We have to warn people about the SWP, and to ensure that what happened is never forgotten. 

These are the ways we can fight the SWP’s misogyny and help create safer spaces without alienating those who understandably rally to the banner of free speech.

We think many SWSS and SWP activists, especially their new student members, are not aware of, or engaged with, the SWP’s rape apologism; they think they are fighting for socialism, or perhaps have been spun a yarn by the party’s apparatus about destructive sectarians like the IS Network, who tell lies about the party and the awful events of the last few years. Bans could alienate people who are new to the SWP, and bind them more closely together instead of getting them out of the SWP’s orbit. Dealing with individuals, and asking for action against individuals, is a more politically consistent and effective practice in student unions. 

There must be spaces where the SWP is not allowed. We would almost certainly not allow the SWP to make interventions into IS Network meetings. However, we think it is a mistake to ban the SWP in student unions and other public institutions. 

Many comrades in what remains of SWP can still be debated with. However, the moments of internal opposition have passed. Opposition activists have left; many into rs21 and the IS Network. Bans and no-platform policies will probably further stifle honest discussion in the SWP, and may ultimately be counter-productive as the SWP would use the attempts to ban it to try to regain legitimacy by rallying people around it in a fight for free speech.

 

Add a comment

Intersectionality and the SWP

Image by Louise W“Struggles against all oppressions including race, sex or class, can be waged simultaneously. Only by doing this can we hope to build a strong, progressive human and civil rights movement. Rather than rights for the few, we must have rights for all." (From Homebreakers to Jailbreakers: Southall Black Sisters [1])

I was pondering Angela Davis’s comment about the need to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society in relation to reading the SWP’s pre-conference discussion bulletins. Certainly what I encountered was pages and pages of a defensive, “We are right and everyone else is wrong” and overall blinkered understanding of society and their own political culture. Liberating minds is more about taking that leap as opposed to following a rigid line while telling yourself you are right. But then I don’t believe the SWP leadership want to liberate their democratic/bureaucratic centralist mindset. Why would you? As far as you are concerned, you are right. It’s as simple as that.

Add a comment

Read more: Intersectionality and the SWP

(trigger warning) Rape in the SWP: a comrade’s testimony and experience of the disputes committee

Trigger warning: rape. This article is by a comrade who has decided to remain anonymous, telling of how she was raped by a fellow member of the SWP late last year, and how she was treated when she reported it. As she says, ‘The similarities in how the cases of W and X were handled and how mine was are striking.’ We believe it shows that these were not ‘isolated incidents’, but systematic in the organisation.

In December of last year – I was still at this point a member of the SWP – another member (I refuse to call that person a comrade) raped me. At first I refused to accept it and actually felt guilty. This person had been sexually harassing me for about a month prior to the attack and part of me felt that I should have said something sooner. In January, after confiding in a comrade who made me realise what really happened, I decided to file an official complaint with the SWP’s disputes committee.

This was not an easy decision to make. I had sat through that disputes report at conference that same month, with the man who raped me just a few seats away, and had been disgusted at what I had heard. However, I and other comrades truly believed that it must have been a one-off – that the appalling behaviour shown throughout must have been a mistake that would be rectified and never repeated. I think we all know now that we were wrong.

In late January I contacted my organiser to inform them I wanted to make a complaint. It was suggested that a female member in the district would hear my complaint and act as my intermediary. The organiser was a close ‘friend’ of both myself and the offender, and had been in the same house at the same party the night it had happened. I am not going to go into the details of the event, but I will outline the disputes procedure.

I made an initial complaint (of sexual assault, however the description of what happened can be nothing but rape) in which I detailed everything that had happened that night to my intermediary, who took notes. She got in touch with the disputes committee, forwarding the notes that she had taken the night I spoke to her. These notes were sent to Pat Stack, who sent them to Charlie Kimber, who then suspended the offender while the disputes committee (DC) looked into the case.

The DC replied that the complaint had to come from me in my own words. I emailed the DC myself, again forwarding the notes from my intermediary, saying, ‘Please accept this email as my formal complaint to the disputes committee. I have attached the previously forwarded, by [***], notes with one slight change and these are the basis of my complaint.’

As it turned out this still wasn’t enough, and I received this rather abrupt email telling me so:

“Currently, the DC is in receipt of your email (30th Jan 2013) that asks the DC to accept this email and its attachment – [***] previously forwarded (23th Jan 2013) notes with one slight change – as your formal complaint to the DC.  You have described these two documents as ‘the basis of your complaint’.

You are asking the DC to accept a third party description of what you said to the third party, as the complaint. This is not possible. Currently, the DC has still not received your account of what happened to you, while the defendant has been suspended for the past two weeks.

You need to finalise your own complaint.

Further, on the phone on Wednesday evening, you named three people to whom you have previously disclosed the identity of the defendant and to whom you are currently disclosing where your DC process is up to. You have done this even though you have open access to your chosen intermediary. Your actions are breaching the confidentiality that must surround complaints processes as well as identities and complaint details.

We recognise that this is difficult for you. We are trying to enable you to communicate clearly with the DC, and to protect the well-being, information and confidential identity of involved Comrades to the best of our abilities. It is vital that we work out the most constructive way forward from this juncture. The DC asks that you contact us at your earliest opportunity to discuss this further.

This correspondence is confidential between the DC and yourselves.”


I replied with this:

“Here is my statement, I have been out of the country so sorry for the delay.

In response to you saying i have broken confidentiality, i spoke to the other comrades before i decided to come to disputes as i didn't know what to do, i was wary of the disputes committee due to recent events and the report back that sat through at conference. Also one of these comrades is a female comrade who i know had previously felt uncomfortable at the behaviour of [***] and had helped me come to terms with what had happened.”

Throughout the whole of this process the need for confidentiality was constantly repeated to me. I, as someone who had been through something horrific, was being told that I could not talk to my friends and comrades – that I must only to talk to a woman who up until this point I had very little to do with.

After sending my statement it was arranged for Rhetta and Jackie from the DC to come to my area and interview both me and the offender. At this point I believed that this was my case being heard. On the evening of the interview Rhetta and Jackie asked me to talk them through the events of the night, which I did. Some of the questions that followed included “what effect would you say drink and drugs had on you that night?” I was also asked and pushed to talk about abuse that had happened to me previously, as earlier on that night I had been emotional and had confided in the man that assaulted me. This was extremely upsetting for me during a process that was already hard enough.

There is also some of the assault that I cannot remember fully, not due to intoxication but rather that I have blocked it out. He spoke to me throughout, however while I can still hear him talking, feel it in fact, I cannot remember exactly what it was he said.

At the end of a very long and upsetting interview I was asked what I wanted to happen next. When I enquired further what was meant by that, I was asked whether I would like to make it an official complaint and have an official hearing. Up until this point I thought that this was already so and that this was part of the official hearing.

They went on further to say that it was unlikely that the DC would be able to find either way, especially taking into account the level of intoxication, without being sure of the effect it had on me (in fact I was stone cold sober by the time the assault happened, which I repeated throughout). They said that I couldn’t remember everything (in fact the only thing I couldn’t remember from the actual assault was what he had been saying to me), and that a hearing would be harder for me.

I was encouraged to drop the case, whilst being told that “it is of course your decision, you do what’s best for you”, etc. Given such a bleak choice I decided to drop the complaint. I in no way feel this decision was mine – I was basically told there was no point, something which, as I found out more later on, was most definitely true.

I feel it is worth mentioning that the interview with Rhetta and Jackie was extremely stressful for me and damaging to my already frail mental health. They made me feel as if I was ridiculous for making a complaint and too damaged a person to really assess what had happened and how to deal with it. Following the interview I fell into a week-long state of mania. This is the real effect of what the SWP’s line towards women and rape is: it damages people, it is dangerous. During the week that followed I was phoned three times by my intermediary and by members of the DC to essentially make sure I kept quiet: “If anyone asks you about the complaint or why it was dropped just say ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ and ‘it was my decision’.” Well actually I do want to talk about it and it wasn’t my decision.

I have since found out that he was able to read my statement, while I have not seen his or even heard from the DC what he had said in response. Also he was able to have a character support, who turned out to be someone not even in the party. I was offered no sort of witness, despite the fact that I listed in my statement another female comrade in the district and mentioned that they would be happy to confirm that they had not only felt uncomfortable in that man’s presence but had also, previous to the assault, mentioned to me that he was acting in a harassing manner towards me.

I feel that it is no coincidence that the DC showed favour to a male member who was very prominent in the district and was starting to make a name for himself nationally within the organisation. A male member who was sent by the district to special conference (after my complaint) – even my intermediary voted for him – on a strong pro-CC line, who then went on to be on the district committee, and who is still a visible presence at demos, meetings, etc.

The similarities in how the cases of W and X were handled and how mine was are striking, and should be proof to anyone that the Socialist Workers Party is a group that is sexist, full of bullies, and above all will cover up rape to protect its male members and reputation. Taking this on board, the SWP is counter-revolutionary and is against the socialist tradition; we cannot have a revolution without fighting for the liberation of all oppressed groups – to cover up rape is oppressing women. So anyone who is a revolutionary, a socialist, a decent human being should have nothing to do with the SWP and its abhorrent practices. Deprive them and all rape apologists of air, do not in engage in any way. They are not worth the energy of revolutionaries – in short they are scum and we need not bother with them.

If any other person wants to come forward and share their story please do, or speak to someone you feel confident speaking to – we are not in this alone. Solidarity.

Add a comment

Solidarity with suspended SWP comrades

The IS Network would like to send absolute solidarity to the four SWP members suspended by the emergency National Committee meeting today, and with the party worker who has been sacked.

Our message to any remaining opposition: The CC are on their last ditch offensive to shut down dissent; now is your chance. Either win, or walk. We'll be cheering you on.


Steering committee

Add a comment

Jules Alford: Fault lines - there are two SWP oppositions

If it was not obvious before, it is now: the crisis of the SWP is far from over. This is indicated by the Fault Lines blog, produced by oppositionists who remained in the SWP after the Central Committee ‘won’ the Special Conference in March. The CC used their control of the party apparatus to roll over the opposition. As we know, the core of the Democratic Renewal Platform within the IDOOP faction that emerged in opposition to the CC’s handling of the case of Comrade Delta left to form the IS Network - and it's clear to me that we were absolutely right to do so.

Comrades now in the IS Network anticipated the CC’s likely triumph and argued it would be a pyrrhic victory. And so it has proved. Of course we were not alone – no crystal ball or ‘Leninist’ omniscience was needed to anticipate the outcome. But importantly that did not stop any of us from fighting as hard as we could to retrieve as much as possible from the wreckage.

Add a comment

Read more: Jules Alford: Fault lines - there are two SWP oppositions