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From The Socialist newspaper, 26 January 2001

Scotland - an exchange of letters

LAST WEEK we reported in The Socialist of the International Socialist Movement in Scotland's decision to abandon the Committee for a Workers' International - the international socialist organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated.
ISM public representative Tommy Sheridan MSP has since sent a letter to Socialist Party general secretary Peter Taaffe criticising a response to the press from CWI members.
We print abridged versions of the exchange of letters below.

Dear Peter,

It is with a mixture of sheer astonishment and deep disappointment that I feel compelled to write this letter to condemn your actions and those of the CWI leadership in releasing the attached press release to the enemies of the socialist movement internationally and the working class in general.

We have engaged in a very robust debate over tactics, strategy and programme within the CWI during the last two years. You have politically attacked and criticised the Scottish leadership and we have in turn defended ourselves and criticised the CWI leadership. This discussion and debate were sometime heated but always took place in a democratic and comradely manner and atmosphere. It was very much a family affair.

Unfortunately you and the CWI have now committed a cardinal sin within the socialist movement. You have put our disagreements into the hands of the anti-working class, anti-democratic and anti-socialist press and media.

They exist to distort and denigrate the ideas of socialism and often socialists individually. Yet, the so-called leaders of a socialist International have placed our discussions and disagreements in their grateful laps.

I note your pathetic complaints when one of these grateful capitalist lapdogs "distorts" what you had to say. For goodness' sake, Peter, what did you expect? You are certainly not wet behind the ears. This press release was a serious mistake which will win you no friends in the socialist movement internationally and will probably convince the 75% of the CWI members in Scotland who voted to leave that they were right to do so.

We had the debate, Peter. You simply lost the argument... you and the CWI stand condemned for distinctly anti-socialist and anti-labour movement actions. You don't run to our enemies when you fall out with socialists Peter. They are not our friends and never will be. We may not be in the same organisation any longer but we should still be allies in the struggle for socialism generally. You should be ashamed of your actions.

Yours in disappointment
Tommy Sheridan

Dear Tommy,

I suppose we should be grateful that you have, at last, replied to letters and statements from myself and the CWI. As you will recall, I wrote a private letter on 4 July, 2000, concerning what I consider were mistaken views on the issue of Cuba in your column in an "anti-socialist" newspaper, the Daily Record. I am still waiting for a reply.

Similarly, we wrote on 30 August, asking for clarification of your ambiguous remarks in the Scottish edition of The Observer, which hinted that SSP MSPs would be prepared to back an SNP administration in the Scottish parliament. We still await a reply.

You are mistaken in believing that I and the CWI leadership released the press statement which you are objecting to. It was the Scottish comrades who support the CWI Majority who took that decision then I was contacted by the Daily Record reporter and made my remarks, some of which were misreported.

I want to make it clear, however, that in no way do I or the CWI leadership dissociate ourselves from the decision to issue the statement or its political contents. But like Shakespeare said you "doth protest too much."

It was you and the ISM Majority who, via the net, broadcast to the world the news that you had departed from the CWI. This was done before the ISM Minority comrades issued their press statement.

... According to you, we have "now committed a cardinal sin" for allowing our views to be expressed in the "anti-democratic and anti-socialist press and media".

But, Tommy you wrote 80 articles in your weekly column for the "anti-socialist press and media". Moreover, you have not hesitated on TV and in press statements to criticise other socialists such as Arthur Scargill and Dennis Canavan. You criticised the latter for his attempt to return to the Labour Party, despite earlier describing him as a "principled socialist"... are you not guilty of double standards?

On many occasions when we were members of the Labour Party, we were forced to publicly express our differences with the right-wing Labour leaders. And occasionally, in interviews with the capitalist press during the witch-hunt against Militant in the 1980s, we also expressed differences with others on the Left. Was it "anti-socialist" or unprincipled to do this, as you suggest in your letter?

I am afraid, Tommy, that neither the history of the working class, socialist and Marxist movement, nor our recent experiences support you on this issue. Marx wrote regularly for the New York Tribune in the 19th century. Engels contributed a number of articles to the English capitalist press.

Lenin wrote an article on Marx and Marxism for the Liberal populist publication Grannat's Encyclopaedia Dictionary. Trotsky wrote an article on Lenin in 1926 for the reactionary Encyclopaedia Britannica.

... Moreover, the Left Opposition and Trotsky were compelled to answer the Stalinists hundreds and thousands of times in the various capitalist newspapers throughout the world.

...The capitalist press undoubtedly seeks to bend and distort what is said in disputes within the socialist and Marxist movement. But this sometimes has to take second place to the need to publicly explain - to as many working-class people we can reach - the basis of disagreements which, unfortunately, sometimes develop.

Up to now, we have always sought to find agreement with you through private discussions, debate and correspondence. Unfortunately, as stated earlier, you refused to reply or even explain the basis of your differences with us...

I was surprised that you now write that the debate was heated but was conducted in a "democratic and comradely manner". Yet you and your supporters have consistently accused the CWI of being "undemocratic", of "refusing to listen". In reality, we have listened but profoundly disagree with the political positions of yourself and your supporters.

You say our disagreements were "very much a family affair". But, Tommy, you have walked out of the "family". We wanted to keep you and your supporters within the ranks of the CWI, because we were confident that through debate, discussion and experience we would convince many of the comrades of the correctness of our position.

You, unfortunately, publicly split with the CWI and we therefore had no alternative but to explain from our point of view why this has taken place.

...You claim that you won and we lost the debate in Scotland. I am extremely proud to be associated with the 25% of CWI members who defended the position of our International against you and your supporters. However, as you are aware, there is not one other group or section of the CWI (with a presence in 34 national countries) which supported your position.

One of the most astonishing, if not arrogant, statements in your letter is that "you and the CWI stand condemned for distinctly anti-socialist and anti-labour movement actions". So public criticism of your position and those of the ISM leadership is synonymous with "anti-socialist and anti-labour movement actions"? Don't you think this is wee bit intolerant and lacks a sense of proportion, Tommy?

Neither the CWI nor I are "ashamed" of our actions. We have always sought to tell the truth in relation to working-class struggle. We will collaborate with all who genuinely fight to defend working-class people and struggle for socialism.

But at the same time, we will never hesitate to make constructive and fraternal criticisms of those ideas, policies and actions we believe will weaken the struggle for socialism. Without political clarification the working class will never be able to change society.

Yours fraternally,
Peter Taaffe

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In The Socialist 26 January 2001:

Put the Fat Cats on Trial

Hackney Council Crisis Workers strike back at jobs threat

Car workers: Turn pressure into strike action

Show of strength from car workers

Huntingdon Life Sciences: Big Business rescues a friend

Scotland - an exchange of letters

10th anniversary of the Gulf War

Privatised power blacks out California


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