Monday, February 07, 2011

John Maclean

As feedback from an early blog post , there was received this letter.

Lenin and John Maclean
It was with interest that i recently read on the SPGB Blog that the SPGB recognised one positive achievement of Lenin in that he helped to get Russia out of the bloody capitalist First World War.
Although I recognise that Scotland's John MacLean was not in the "Impossibilist" tradition (although he was once a member of the Social Democratic Federation), i write to ask if the SPGB recognised the vigorous anti-war work of John Maclean ?
Harry McShane, of the CPGB, wrote in his book that John Maclean was persecuted to the extent of exhaustion and eventually dying of pneumonia. McShane wrote that "....The authorities hated him more than any other man. He was jailed five times; the first time was in 1915, and he spent four of his remaining eight years in prison. When he was out of jail he was followed everywhere by plain-clothes policemen. They were more frightened of his revolutionary stand than of the shop-stewards...." (Harry McShane, No Mean Fighter, page 151)
Just being curious, but did the Socialist Standard of the time make any mention of John Maclean during the First World War?
sincerely, J. Melrose, Glasgow

I am unable to find any contemporary reference to John MacLean's anti-war activities but there may be some in the extensive archives that are held in Head Office. The British Socialist Party, the party MacLean belonged to at the time , i believe held an ambiguous position to the war and were internally divided up to 1916 when the anti-war faction assumed dominance. But nor should the anti-war activity of the ILP be forgotten. If the ILP ever got anything right it was by accident and this is seen most obviously in its attitude to the First World War. Opposition to the 1914-18 war was clearly the correct policy: it is now generally admitted that it was an imperialist war, fought not for ‘freedom’ but for economic reasons. During the early months of the war Ramsay MacDonald (as might be expected) but also Keir Hardie (as might not be.) encouraged young men to enlist. [ See this article on Hardie.]. Despite this wobbling the ILP should be acknowledged as the largest organisation in Britain in opposition to the war and both Hardie and MacDonald came out against the war.

An article from 1918 entitled "Strikes for Peace" once more expresses the Socialist Party distain for those who claim leadership of the workers movement - "... the biggest danger that confronts them – the biggest mistake they can make – is to place power in the hands of “leaders” under any pretext whatever. It is at once putting those “leaders” in a position to bargain with the master class for the purpose of selling out the workers. It allows the master class to retain control of the political machinery which is the essential instrument for governing Society. All the other blunders and mistakes the workers may make will be as dust in the balance compared with this one..."

There is a later article from the Socialist Standard, from 1925, that criticises the political party set up by John MacLean which may be of interest to you.

Confusion in Scotland
A correspondent sends us the Manifesto of the Scottish Workers' Republican Party, and asks for our opinion of it.

The object of the Party, founded by the late John Maclean, is a Workers' Republic for Scotland.
The Manifesto sets out the slave position of the working class, and urges that the workers must carry through the Social Revolution.

The chief fallacy of their position is their insistence upon a Scottish Workers' Republic. This demand is both reactionary and Utopian. The struggle of the workers of the United Kingdom must be a united one. The workers are under the domination of a class who rule by the use of a political machine which is the chief governing instrument for England, Scotland, Wales, etc. To appeal to the workers of Scotland for a Scottish Workers' Republic is to arouse and foster the narrow spirit of Nationalism, so well used by our masters. Economically the demand is Utopian, as the development of capitalism has made countries more and more dependent on each other, both through the specialisation of industry or agriculture, and also by the force controlled by the Great Powers to suppress or control the smaller nations.

The history of " independent " Hungary, Poland, and the Balkan States shows that the realisation of " political independence " by a country leaves the workers' conditions untouched and actually worsens them in many cases.

The appeal to the worker in this Manifesto to "rally to the cause of a Workers' Republic for Scotland" is made "so that we might win you away from the service of the imperialist gang who direct their activities from London" If the worker is to be won for Socialism, it is by getting him to understand the principles of Socialism, and not by appealing to him to concentrate on Scottish affairs. Socialism is international.

The uselessness of the Manifesto is shown by their anarchist attitude towards Parliament : " We claim that no useful working-class purpose can be served by sending men to Parliament."

They advance no arguments to support their claim. They offer no other method. They ignore the fact that the political machine is the instrument whereby capitalists wield power.

Their simple statement is that the workers can exercise " governmental power " because they are the only necessary class in society.

It is very simple. But what are the obstacles to this necessary class exercising the power of government?

The first obstacle is working-class ignorance, which is used to vote capitalists and their agents into political supremacy.
The second obstacle is the force which is used by the capitalists in control of Parliament to keep the workers in subjection.

The stupidity of preaching that because the workers are necessary to Scotland they can exercise governmental control is to invite the butchery of the workers.

Socialist education demands that besides advocating the establishment of Socialism, the obstacles that stand in its path must be pointed out, in order that the workers can march along the road to their supremacy. This Manifesto does not explain how the workers are kept in slavery, and it offers no road out of it. The meaning of the class struggle has yet to be learned by the Scottish Workers' Republican Party. The Manifesto closes with this gem : "Scotland for the Scottish Workers ; the World for the World's Workers" !

Socialist Standard, October 1925.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

you could argue that John Maclean was also reacting against the London-centric nature of politics in this island. For example, the SPGB seems quite London-centric with its administration centred on London for decades now.
You could have a Scottish-based impossibilist/communist group or party. Also, Maclean also said something along the lines of "Scottish separation is part of the process of England's imperial disintegration" which does seem to have a ring of truth to it (arguably)