Letters - Tommy Sheridan

Responses to an article in Scottish Anarchist defending Tommy Sheridan, including Tyneside Anarchist Group and the author of the original piece.

Submitted by Fozzie on September 4, 2021

From: BM Hurricane London WCIN 3XX

Dear Comrades

It is always useful to overtum sacred cows, and Black Sheep’s article on Tommy Sheridan certainly did that. However, I feel they missed the point. Sheridan may be an admirable activist, committed to his politics and at the forefront of many popular campaigns in Glasgow. However it is precisely his politics with which we disagree.

Slagging anarchists off for not matching Sheridan’s revolutionary zeal does not excuse his behaviour. The fact is that when the crunch came, Sheridan sided with the law. I notice you make no apologies for the uncharismatic Nally, who probably works as hard for his cause as Sheridan. Why did they do it? The answer is enshrined in their Leninist politics, it is nothing to do with any personal failings they might have. Because their idea of democracy is one where the Party controls all, and they were the representatives of the Party, they could say what they liked and not have to worry about being held to account. This is compounded by Militant’s support for their behaviour, and more recently, their lies about it.

If Militant Labour believed their representatives were wrong, then they should have apologised and taken steps to ensure it didn’t happen again. If they didn’t think so, then at least they would remain consistent in their anti-working class stance. However, they have been telling contacts of theirs attracted to anarchism that the whole episode was taken out of context because of the influence of anarchists in the media. It beggars belief that they think anyone will take this seriously.

Respect Sheridan’s qualities by all means, but never forget he is a prisoner of Leninist politics, and will make the same mistake if put in the same situation again. The reason Sheridan has grudging respect for some anarcho-syndicalists is because of their working class orientation and willingness to get their hands dirty. Glasgow has a strong tradition of anarchist working class activity, draw on that and you can prove him wrong about Scottish anarchists and show that there is a better way than Lenin.

In solidarity

S.E. London

In reply to Black Sheep’s article “Have we the right to condemn”

The main thing that interested us in the article was the fact that, the writer seems to have a very low opinion on English and Welsh anarchists and their commitment to direct action. The author conversely has a high regard forTommy Sheridan and Scottish Militant as a whole for their commitment. The article seemed to home in on a small incident that happened during our thoroughly enjoyable trek up to Glasgow for the M77/Anti-Criminal Iustice day demo in February. Some of our members shouted “grass” at Sheridan, this outburst resulted in threats of a good thrashing by some Millie security, so to avoid the demo turning into a big scrap, a begrudging apology soon followed. This incident seems to have prompted the author into a long obscure ramble on Sheridan and Scottish Militant and how great they are in Poflok.

Firstly TAG found it very offensive that it was suggested that we found Glasgow a “culture shock”, we just did not understand the situation. On the l contrary our experience of Glasgow showed us that as cities and as people we have very much in common. The main thrust of the article seemed to tr'y to get around the simple fact that after the Poll Tax riot Sheridan was prepard to name names, a thing that he has never publicly apologised for. These rioters (and we would contest that it was only 200+ rioters, more like 2000+!) were not just an ‘infantile rabble’ of anarchos causing trouble, they were working class people - Sheridan was prepared to pass on names and addresses of people involved in the anti Poll Tax movement to the police, that is a fact, a fact that the article cannot get away from.

Can you really be sure that if anything happened at the Pollok/M77 demos that overstepped the bounds of the Millies analyses of direct action, we wouldn’t see a rerun of Tommy’s outbursts in 1990? The article goes on to say that, “It is certainly true that few anarchists can match the Militant members from Pollok and elsewhere for their direct action”; dedicated to direct action! In 1992 (Red Action 63) Sheridan was instrumental in organising (although unsuccessful -as the BNP laughed at the idea) a public debate between Militant and the Fascists. Trying to poach VOTERS from the BNP? Also if our memory serves us right at the demo in February - the Militant stewards were as bad as the police i.e. stopping people walking on the paths at the side of the march and generally being ‘in charge’ of the whole event.

Also let us not forget that Militant is NOT anti state. The whole philosophy of Militant is that of the vanguard. Militant’s analysis of Pollok may have led them to take the course of action that they have done, but nationally Militant by the very nature of their ‘Party’ disempower working class people. Scottish Militant are part of this movement, and to gloss over this misleads the reader.

As for the accusations of anarchists in England and Wales being lazy and ineffectual when it comes to direct action - this is absolute rubbish!

We can’t speak for other groups in England and Wales, but the majority of TAG members have been involved in direct action for many years, from hunt sabbing, our own road protest (Cradlewell Bypass) to anti fascist work. TAG has been the only group in Newcastle to physically confront fascists and have been successful in stopping them from selling their papers in Newcastle for over 2 years.

Even more damaging was the fact that it seemed to suggest that Scottish Anarchists as a whole “reserve judgement" on Militant and Tommy ‘Bakunin’ Sheridan. On speaking to Glasgow anarchists inFebruary we found this not to be the case. We would hope for a GAG group response to the article.

Overall we found the article very confusing - what was the point of the article? Was the writer trying to be conuoversial and to get people's backs up’? - If so it worked - we’re fucking furious.

In Solidarity

“Black Sheep” stands condemned
(or is that shorn!)

As the writer of the controversial article about Tommy Sheridan/Militant Labour and anarchist outrage in Issue 2 of Scottish Anarchist, I was not surprised at the reaction it created. However, many connected to the Glasgow Anarchist Group were.

Much of the article I stand by, and perhaps in places my sense of mischief (humour) didn’t go down well - for example, “He (Sheridan) doesn't drink or smoke, his reputation is intact”!! I did feel that we had let visitors down in the past, such as our “twinned” group in Tyneside, by not briefing them properly about the situation in Clydeside, the distinctive approach of Militant Labour here, and his “folk hero” status....

I do accept that my depiction of anarchists as predisposed to the “right to be lazy”, mostly involving people temporarily rebelling against inevitable incorporation into the world of careers was over the top. It was meant to be provocative, and although it contained a grain of truth, there are many class struggle (and environmental) anarchists who display an incredible amount of commitment in terms of the work they put into campaigns, direct action, etc., and inevitably they feel “written out” of history and unappreciated by those, including me, who should know better!

There is, however, a sense that anarchist strategy does drift, is reactive, and eschews any reasonable assessment (such as goals achieved, links with long-term aims...) due to an irrational/spontaneous ethos which is often anti-theory, anti-strategy.

The comments about “culture shock” appear to have been misunderstood. For the benefit of Tyneside and other comrades, I did not mean to infer they did not understand working class existence/struggle. The “culture” I was referring to was the distinctive “Scottish” question (see “Braveheart” article elsewhere in this issue), not principally the “class” question. That said, there are anarchists whose attachment to marginal declasse politicised crustie lifestyles have served Leaders such as Sheridan in their ploy to caricature all English and many Scottish anarchists as drop out public school-kids turned crustie layabouts!

I also wish to retract my criticism of fellow Glasgow anarchists, since the level of activity over Summer ’95 illustrates a high degree of organisation and commitment. As a libertarian communist opposed to dogmas, in favour of being heretical, I am aware that my criticisms have incurred condemnation, and in the light of day deserve to be modified.

“Black Sheep”