New Article on John MacLean courtesy of SRSM

18/09/2011 01:01


Hi All,

New article now available to be read at the SRSM website on the link below.This article was written by Peter Berresford Ellis in 1973 and has featured in a few publications over the years.

https:// scottishrepublicansocialistmov SRSMArticlesJohnMacLeanInMemor y.aspx

Enjoy reading

(Peter Berresford Ellis)
Fifty years ago 40,000 Scots followed the funeral cortege of the Scottish Marxist and Labour Leader, John MacLean, to Eastwood Cemetery, Glasgow. Today few Scots remember MacLean, yet he is acclaimed by Socialists of all groups. It is strange, therefore that there is notone volume of MacLean's essays or lectures currently in print, and that few people know just what this Scottish patriot and Marxist stood for. There is not even a biography of the man who was a close friend, of Larkin and Connolly, and who was regarded by Lenin and Trotsky as one of the most important Socialists that the nations of these islands, ever produced. The man who was honoured by the Soviet Russian Government as early as 1918. There is hardly another revolutionary whose work has been more thoroughly buried than that of MacLean, and whose character has been more successfully assassinated.
MacLean, a schoolteacher by profession, devoted himself to teaching working men Marxist economics; and his classes, which he began in 1906, laid the foundation for the Scottish Labour College. When the 1914 War began he denounced it as on imperialist war, as Lenin and Connolly were to do. His denunciation lost him his Job as a teacher. In September 1915 he launched his own newspaper, "Vanguard”, which ran to only five issues before it was suppressed. In October 1915 - MacLean was arrested and imprisoned for sedition under the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA). In February 1916 he was again arrested, and on April the 11th was sentenced to three years' penal servitude, large scale demonstrations led by prominent Socialists of the day led to his release fifteen months later. Connolly, in the very last issue of "The Workers' Republic," also demanded MacLean’s release. MacLean had become known to Irish Socialists through the columns of Connolly's newspapers, and had paid a number of visits to Ireland before 1916. He was “an old friend” of Connolly, who also had been born and brought up in Scotland and began his political life in the Scottish Socialist Movement.

Seamus Reader (1), organiser of the Scottish Brigade of the Irish Volunteers (afterwards the I.R.A.) carried reports to the Irish Military council in Dublin on Scottish conditions during 1916. Connolly, he recalls, was influenced by the state of affairs on "Red Clydeside," and Reader wrote in ‘The Irish in Scotland in 1916’: "Connolly said that Ireland could not wait until 1917 or 1918. John MacLean expected to be arrested in January or February, as he intended demonstrating against the war and conscription. The workers should strike, and those who had guns should use them." When the Easter Rising took place in Dublin, MacLean was still in jail. Along with Lenin, MacLean was one of the few Socialist leaders to hail the rising and to appreciate its importance.

Events were also happening in Russia. Lenin and Trotsky had already acclaimed MacLean, and at the first All Russia Congress of Workers' and Soldiers' Councils in Petrograd (Leningrad), MacLean and Karl Liebnecht were elected honorary presidents of the Soviet Presidium. On February the 1st 1918, on Lenin's instructions, MacLean was appointed Consul for Soviet Affairs covering Scotland and England and Wales. Despite harassment by the Special Branch, MacLean did much work to aid Russian political refugees. But the English Government had, at this time, militarily intervened to smash the young Russian Republic, and on May the 9th 1918, MacLean received a sentence of five years' penal servitude for sedition.

At the trial he mode a magnificent defence speech: "I am a Socialist and have been fighting and will fight for an absolute reconstruction of society for the benefit of all. I am proud of my conduct. I have squared my conscience with my intellect -I am not here, then, as the accused; I am here as the accuser of Capitalism dripping with blood from head to foot!" Again, there were mass demonstrations, and these led to his release on December the 3rd. He immediately stood in a parliamentary by-election, coming second to the official Labour Party candidate.

In May 1920 MacLean relaunched his newspaper, "Vanguard." He began to write numerous articles supporting the Irish struggle and urging Scotsmen, as fellow Gaels, not to be used as tools for murdering their brother Gaels
of Ireland. During this time he published a pamphlet ‘The Irish Tragedy -Scotland' s Disgrace’, which sold 200,000 copies. In this he called for a General Strike and for the withdrawal of English troops in Ireland. MacLean addressed meetings on the Irish question in Ireland, Scotland, and England. He continually urged working class support for the Irish struggle. Orange mobs broke up one meeting in Motherwell. In May 1921 MacLean was again arrested and imprisoned for sedition. He served three months. In September 1921 came yet another arrest, and a sentence of one year. During this time he forced the prison 'authorities to concede him the status of a political prisoner, something never accorded by England, which refuses political status to obviously Political prisoners.

Throughout this time he had been working for the establishment of a Scottish Communist Party aiming at the formation of a Scottish Workers' Republic. Through his association with Connolly and Larkin he had come to the conclusion that national independence was a prelude to social independence, that national and social independence were not conflicting ideals but two parts of one basic democratic ideal; and a few faithful comrades joined him in forming a Scottish Workers' Republican Party early in 1923. MacLean’s Scottish Republicanism had developed during the war years, and perhaps the greatest single influence on the national question was the Irish experience and the teachings of Connolly; but a fellow Scot also had a far-reaching effect on MacLean’s political thinking. This was Ruaraidh Erskine of Marr, a prominent leader of re Gaelic language revival in Scotland, who for years had advocated a Scottish Socialist Republic. Erskine had hailed the Easter Rising and the Russian Revolution; and had taken an anti-war stand.

Those who followed the "British" Communist- Party bitterly attacked MacLean’s Scottish Workers' Republic. They were particularly vicious because of the prestige and influence MacLean had with the workers. They promptly began a character assassination, saying that MacLean had become deranged. In anguish MacLean wrote a famous "Open Letter to Lenin" denouncing his attackers (‘The Socialist’, February 1921). MacLean’s articles and letters right to the time of his death are clear, concise, and theoretically well balanced. In "All Hail, the Scottish Workers' Republic!" (August 1920) MacLean wrote: "For some time past the feeling has been growing that Scotland should strike out for National Independence, as well as Ireland and other lands. This has recently been strengthened by the English Government's intention to rely mainly on Scottish troops to murder the Irish Race. Genuine Scotsmen recently asked themselves the question: 'are we Scots to be used as the bloody tools of the English against our brother Gael of Erin? ' And naturally the instinctive response was- No!"

MacLean went on: "Many Irishmen live in Scotland, and as they are Gaels like the Scots and are out for Irish independence, and as wage earners
 have been champion fighters for working- class rights. We expect them to ally themselves with us and help us to attain our Scottish Communist Republic, as long as they live in Scotland. Irishmen must remember that Communism prevailed among the Irish clans as among the Scottish clans, so that, in lining up with Scotsmen, they are but carrying, forward the traditions and instincts of the Gaelic race." MacLean began to prepare for an election pending on December the 30th 1923. He was standing as a candidate for his Scottish Workers' Republican Party, which was slowly building its strength; but on November the 30th, 1923, he died... His death at the age of forty-four from pneumonia was attributable to the severe hardships he had suffered during his years of imprisonment.

A number of publications appeared some time after his death. "John MacLean," by Guy Aldred, 1932; Willie Gallagher’s autobiography, "Revolution on the Clyde, " in 1936: "John MacLean" by Tom Bell', in 1944; Emmanuel Shinwell's "Conflict without Malice,"1955. He subscribed to the lie that MacLean had become" unhinged" because he advocated Scottish Independence (2). Only James Clunie, in "The Voice of Labour," printed several of MacLean’s letters written during the years in question, in order to prove that MacLean was in perfectly sound mind. Recently, Walter Kendall’s "The Revolutionary Movement It in Britain, 1900-21" has revealed the full extent of the attempt to discredit MacLean.

Nevertheless, there is still no anthology of MacLean’s works, nor a published biography (though several biographies have been written). It is possible, though, that a biography by MacLean' s daughter, Mrs. Nan Milton, will be issued soon. In recent years the John MacLean Society, of which Mrs. Milton is Secretary, has managed to republish a few of MacLean’s pamphlets (including "The Irish Tragedy -Scotland's Disgrace"). These have contrived to create a certain amount of interest in MacLean and his work.

This year, the fiftieth anniversary of MacLean’s tragic death in 1923," committees are forming to try to publicise more fully his writings. The committees will also seek to raise money for a publishing fund in order to reissue some of MacLean’s pamphlets. The year’s activities will culminate in the unveiling of a memorial to MacLean in Eastwood cemetery in November. It is not without significance that there has long been a memorial to MacLean on the wall of the Kremlin in Moscow. 

(1) Seamus Reader (Seumas Mac Ridire): See Winter 1973 ‘Catalyst' p.17.
(2) Mannie Shinwell, a Glasgow Jew, was later to become, as Lord Shinwell, that caricature of a Socialist - a Labour Peer. 

This article was first published in ‘Rosc Catha’. It was also translated into the Breton magazine ‘Sav Breizh’. Later published in ‘Catalyst’ Autumn 1973, and SWR in 1988.
Scottish Republican Socialist Newsletter