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    John MacLean

    Remember Scottish Socialist Icon John MacLean

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    On the 2nd of December, 1973, a large crowd gathered on a cold winter’s day to witness the unveiling of a stone cairn erected in the centre of Pollokshaws in Glasgow to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of John MacLean’s death.

    The cairn was paid for by public donations and followed an enthusiastic campaign led by the John MacLean Society. The inscription engraved on the cairn reads:

    In memory of John MacLean

    Born in Pollokshaws on 24 August, 1879,

    And died there on 30 November, 1923.

    Famous pioneer of working class education,

    He forged the Scottish link in the

    Golden Chain of World Socialism

    The name John MacLean should mean something to every thinking Scot. He should inspire recognition of the vast injustices which scar society and a determination to fight them in all their ugly guises. The mention of his name should remind Scottish citizens of the futility of capitalist wars and the grotesque inequalities of wealth and power which cause grinding poverty and want in the midst of plenty. Every day we should dedicate ourselves to follow the example of John MacLean’s peerless commitment to the cause of human emancipation and the conquering of poverty and hunger across the world but on the day of his death, 30th November, we should particularly make time to remember MacLean’s contribution to humanity and the socialist movement. It is officially Scotland’s patron saint day, St Andrews Day, but for me it is also John MacLean Day.

    Sadly John MacLean Does Not feature On The Scottish Education Syllabus

    Unfortunately the life and times of the Great John MacLean are not taught in Scottish schools despite the rich illumination of real history his life contains. While the pathetic reigns of various Kings and Queens are spoken of in lesson after lesson, the real makers and shapers of history like MacLean are ignored lest they give the masses seditious ideas beyond their life stations.

    John MacLean was the sixth child of working class parents who themselves had been victims of the English programme of Highland clearances designed to make the land more profitable for sheep grazing and exploitation. His parents worked hard to allow John the chance of an education. John grabbed that chance with both hands and despite severe economic disadvantages, he managed to secure a teaching qualification which he put to good use throughout his life. Alongside his daytime classes MacLean organised free evening classes on street corners and public parks where he would explain basic economics and the ideas of Karl Marx and capitalist profiteering. His classes attracted thousands and the authorities soon had him marked as a trouble maker.

    And trouble maker he was, a proud and conscious trouble maker who would not accept the inequities and injustices which he witnessed in his own life and read about across the world in books and newspapers. Throughout his life he often found himself on the wrong side of the law, he was imprisoned five times and spent many hard months behind bars, but he was always on the right side of the ordinary people.

    MacLean Was Labelled ‘The Most Dangerous Man In Britain’

    MacLean was an ordinary Scot who became a socialist icon. An ordinary Scot who led opposition to the First World War despite ruling class promoted jingoism and the collapse of official labour movement opposition. An ordinary Scot who helped organise and lead the famous Glasgow Rent Strikes of 1915 which forced the Rent Restriction Act which helped millions of families across the UK afford to live in their homes during the war. An ordinary Scot who advocated the organising of workers across the Clyde into the rank and file led Clyde Workers Committee which organised a strike for shorter hours in 1919 which was interpreted as an attempted revolution by the British ruling class and led to the despatching of English troops by Lloyd George and Winston Churchill to impose three days of martial law across Glasgow and the arrest and bludgeoning of all strike leaders. After the world-changing Russian revolution of 1917 John MacLean was named Moscow Consul for the new Bolshevik government in 1919 in recognition of his unflinching support for the Russian revolution and world socialism. MacLean was also a strident supporter of the Irish Easter Uprising of 1916 and the socialist ideas of James Connolly. They shared the belief that breaking the British Empire was necessary to advance the cause of ordinary workers.

    According to recently released records the head of military intelligence at the time, Basil Thompson, labelled MacLean “the most dangerous man in Britain” and embarked on a state supported project to smear him and question his sanity. The current state smearing of Corbyn gives an inkling of what MacLean was subjected to in those years. The leading suffragette, Sylvia Pankhurst, was also part of the smear campaign carried out by the British military intelligence chief.

    John MacLean prison
    John MacLean prison 1916

    British Nationalism Is Unconscious Position Of Many Socialists

    As millions of Scottish citizens with progressive and/or socialist thoughts in their minds contemplate how to cast their votes at one of the most momentous general elections in UK history on 12th December, John MacLean’s treasure trove of articles and speeches offers some valuable guidance.

    Indeed I would invite those grappling with the real dilemma of choosing between the British socialist manifesto of Corbyn’s Labour Party and the progressive left of centre Scottish nationalist programme launched in Glasgow only two days ago by the SNP to consider MacLean’s General Election address from the last time a UK election was held in the month of December.

    In 1923 MacLean was standing for the Scottish Workers Republican party in the Glasgow Gorbals constituency. The election was set for December 6th and MacLean issued an election address on November 23rd. It and all his inspiring and educational material can be found in the excellent book ‘In The Rapids of Revolution’:

    “If Baldwin’s capitalist policy is to bind the empire closer together to fight American capitalism and incidentally keep the workers enslaved, then the working-class policy ought to be to break up the empire to avert war and enable the workers to triumph in every country and colony. Scottish separation is part of England’s imperial disintegration and is a help towards the ultimate triumph of the workers of the world.”

    John MacLean was internationalist to his core but he recognised the advance of his class, the working class, was integrally linked to the break-up of the British imperialist union which prevented Scotland, Ireland and Wales from realising their divine right to self-determination as small nations.

    The SNP Is A Progressive Left Of Centre Political Party

    Independence for Scotland was not narrow or chauvinistic nationalism but rather the cause of international progress for all workers across the world. Those socialists in Scotland and England who dismiss voting for the SNP and independence as the hallmark of nationalism have to understand the logic inherent within their criticisms of Scottish socialists like me who view independence as a fundamental principle.

    If I and millions like me who vote SNP in dogged pursuit of Scottish independence and the break-up of the British Empire are to be cast as narrow Scottish nationalists then those who vote for parties which seek to maintain the British union we so oppose must accept the label of British nationalists.

    The SNP is without doubt a left of centre political party. It advocates the immediate removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland. It supports an open and positive immigration policy which welcomes new Scots with a hand of friendship not a fist of fury. It supports legislation to enshrine the National Health Service forever as a publicly owned asset providing healthcare to all on the basis of need, not profit. It supports the building of a public energy company to provide affordable heating and electricity for all in a sustainable fashion and the founding of a National Bank to enable the funding of much needed public investment programmes in the fields of housing, schools and hospitals.

    Voting To Break-Up Britain’s Imperialist Union Is Progressive

    Its fundamental aim of pursuing independence for Scotland represents a serious challenge to the British Establishment. It threatens the existence of its precious imperialist union. Breaking that union is a progressive advance for the working class of England, Wales and Ireland every bit as much as for the working class of Scotland.

    Socialists in Scotland should therefore harbour no doubts and cast their vote for progressive change, for the party of independence, unilateral nuclear disarmament and ending Tory austerity. A vote for the SNP across Scotland is not just a progressive anti-Tory vote it is also a progressive anti-British imperialist vote as well and should be seen as such by other socialists in England and internationally.

    Sadly MacLean died before the general election of 6th December 1923 but his socialist ideas and vision can still guide us as we approach the December 12th general election. The progressive vote in England and Wales, apart from the four seats currently held by Plaid Cymru, is for Corbyn’s Labour Party. The progressive and anti-imperialist vote in Scotland is for the SNP.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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