John Maclean Vanguard, October 1915

The Fight for Freedom in Glasgow


Source: Vanguard, October 1915. This article appears in a much shortened form In The Rapids of Revolution, p.83,1978 Allison and Busby edited by Nan Milton (Maclean’s daughter);
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.


A bit of a breeze arose in Glasgow as the result of a slip on the part of two policemen who foolishly interfered with me whilst I was addressing a crowd at the Fountain, beside Langside Hall.

On Thursday, September 2, I started off to speak at the spot referred to above, intending to show the economic cause of modern wars and the importance of the economic side in the present war with the specific purpose of booming our usual winter classes in Economies and Industrial History.

I had not gone far when I incidentally referred to the war as “this murder business.” Unfortunately, in the crowd that was gradually assembling, happened to be a soldier obviously under the influence of John Barleycorn. He at once shouted out and wished to know if I called him a murderer. As every speaker knows, even at ordinary times, if is safest to get rid of an “exhilarated” man as speedily and easily as possible. I tried to turn the interrupter off, but he was determined to hang on, and even went the length of brandishing his fist. However, he soon settled down to a wordy warfare with a few around him and only once afterwards did his talk or wrangle make me stop.

As it began to approach 9p.m., when the public houses had to close, some of the inspired petty Junkers (or Tories) of the district, who long ago had tried every conceivable dodge get us away from the spot, approached the meeting. When they heard me refer to a lecture I had given in 1910 showing that late King Edward was not entitled to be called “The Peacemaker” they got upset a bit, so they made a few interjections and told two policemen, who had just arrived, that I ought to be stopped.

These two brawny men asked me to desist as my language was likely to cause a breach of the peace but I refused. Last year at the same spot the same trick was tried, but was defeated when I put the matter to the matter to the crowd as to whether I should proceed or cease. The crowd favoured proceeding so I went on. This time no such chance was afforded, and I was marched down to the Queen’s Park Police Station. There I was charged with using language likely to cause a breach of the peace, the soldier and his comrades coming as witnesses to swear that I had used language calling soldiers murderers.

Wild stories, of course, went round that I was let out on 30 bail, that I was detained, that I was charged for an offence under the Defence of the Realm Act, that I was to be shot etc., etc. The fact is that I was let away, and have up till this moment heard nothing about the affair.

Meantime, at the great meeting we have every Sunday at Bath Street, I told the crowd all, got the nucleus of a Free Speech Committee formed, and obtained a collection of over 2 to help it in the initial stages of its work.

The first thing was a Free Speech Demonstration, which was held, at the very spot where I was arrested, on Thursday, September 9. The chair was ably taken by Comrade McManus (S.L.P.) I led off as the first speaker, and was followed by Comrades Milligan (S.L.P.), Macdougall (B.S.P.), M'Coll (B.S.P.), and Hopkins (I.L.P.) The crowd has been estimated at over 2,000, easily the largest gathering ever held in the locality. A clear victory over the police and the local Junkers is the verdict of all lovers of the free expression of opinion.

That is not all. We, of the revolutionary Socialists in Glasgow, have insisted on holding our end up at Bath Street Sunday after Sunday. Last year the police used the blocking of the pavement as an excuse to stop us, but we beat them. At the end of the season they got along the “Clincher,” a jocular soul, who claims to be the only man in Glasgow with a certificate of sanity and the “Tipster Parson,” well known to the police. The respective efforts at holding meetings to draw our crowd failing the police in desperation tried the good old “provocateur” game. This is one department of activity in which Britain can give points to Germany. We Socialists, as is quite natural, are proud that our beloved land of liberty can excel our “enemy’s” in at least one noble branch of cleverness. Again the “provocateur” game failed.

This year various devices have been attempted, all to the glory of Socialism. The latest is absolutely significant, and should let the Glasgow Town Council see that trouble is in store for its fossilised members if it is not careful. I have been warned of what will happen if I am not careful. I return the Hunnish compliment, and with zest, too.

The expedient was to get the gang of political criminals (the ordinary hooligans are fighting for their country) called the Federation of Labour (allied to the Glasgow Junkers) to steal our stance and begin denouncing Socialists, and us in particular.

At our appointed time we just started up behind them, and got our usual crowd – and more. Our collections rose and we gained new members. The crowd listening to them, instead of being fired with the devilry required to rush us in order that the police spies might lay hands on us actually turned round on these venomous reptiles, and on Sunday, September 19 rushed them off their platform.

On Sunday, September 12, when they were throwing mud at me, a friend requested me to listen to them and reply. I told the crowd I would do no such thing as their opposition was doing us good. Their very existence there seemed to be source of safety for us as we always had the chance of recommending the other meeting to anyone obstreperous at ours. We therefore had no hand in the business; in fact, we deprecated as we still deprecate – any interference with a meeting, though the object be pure mud-slinging. Able men can surely be left to discriminate for themselves.

However the rushing of anti-socialists, brought to a socialist meeting place by the police to break the socialist gathering during a war, is a tremendously significant fact. If the authorities do not comprehend its full import, we do. If men are dying for a country which is not theirs, then we are prepared to suffer any penalty for a country we mean to make the people’s. It is the duty of every man of the slave class to rally round us in this bitter fight to retain the freedom won by our fathers from the fathers of the Junkers who, today, ask us to die for them. Let them die for themselves, and we will look after ourselves against German and all other Junkers who crash up against us.

The “Punch-like” notions of our Junkers seem to infer that because we not anxious to throw away our lives for them, we are anxious to have the German Junkers as our masters! No, we are not anxious to swap masters: we are out to get rid of all masters. No man has the right to be any other man’s master. It is because we object to the slavery implied in mastery, the mastery over the land and the capital of the world, that we are Socialists, and nothing but Socialists. It is in our estimation a base myth to think that we shall gain our freedom more easily from British from German capitalists.

The war has brought out the fact that Germans own, and will own the war, property in this country, and we are convinced that if we attempted to take our land and means of production, we would have to face not only the “loyal” section of the British army, but a contingent sent over by our “beloved” enemy, the Kaiser. Remember how the Germans released French soldiers to shoot down 30,000 men, women and children in the streets of Paris, simply because the workers dared establish a Commune in 1871 at the close of the Franco-Prussian war.

Our conclusion is that in our fight for freedom we are right up against it in all parts of the world, no matter what the nominal owners of the place we live in may be. Let us then be part of the international workers, organise to overthrow the organised capitalist class of the world.

J. MACLEAN