John Maclean Vanguard, October 1915

Our Freedom is Going


Source: Vanguard, October 1915, p. 4 & 5;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

This article appears in a much shortened form in The Rapids of Revolution, pp. 81-83, 1978 Allison and Busby edited by Nan Milton (Maclean’s daughter).


Britain entered this war to safeguard freedom; so said our masters, pastors, pressmen, and politicians. We did not believe them a year ago; still less do we credit them to-day when we see the developments against the rights and privileges of the wage earners. The workers are economic slaves; in other words, they live not for themselves, but for landlords and capitalists. Yet, they have had a certain right to organise in unions, and to strike against irksome impositions of the bosses, to move from workshop to workshop (unless when a master wished to victimise a hard hitter inside the workers ranks), to enter or keep out of the Army and Navy (unless when hunger compelled), to express their thoughts in press or in public, and to vote in local or national elections.

Without the workers vote on the matter, this country was plunged into the war to fight for one gang of robbers and swindlers against the supporters of another such gang. To raise popular support, the hirelings of Parliament and our robber masters shouted that our freedom was in danger. Now, the tough task of laying out the Germans is driving our masters to put the grip of tyranny on the workers, for the assumption always is that the workers alone are bad, drunken, and lazy, and alone need the whip of compulsion to make them do their “duty to their country.”

Economic pressure had to be brought to bear on many young men to force them into the fighting ranks. Bitterness was developed by hair raising stories of German brutality – as if war could ever be carried on in kid glove fashion. Death and wounds have aroused the latent passion for revenge. Yet this has not seemingly sufficed to raise the forces requisite for the crushing of Germany. So compulsion is going to be resorted to, unless we hit out hard against it. The National Service League – known among the masses as the Plunderers Service League – has the powerful support of Lord Northcliffe and his inspired and trustified press in its efforts to force the workers to kill German workers for the sake of the plunderers. We advisedly say “force the workers,” because the same pressure will not be brought to bear on the divinely-appointed off-spring of the robbers, as these must live to continue the slavery of the workers. It is regrettable that the Executive of the British Socialist. Party should play the game of this gang by issuing a manifesto in favour of “National Service” through a “Citizen Army.” Such an army raised to-day would be just exactly what Northclffe and his friends desire.

These latter, however, do not depend on the B.S.P., but seem to be backing Marconi Scandal and Labour Leader Bluffing Lloyd George, who, like many an earlier little “advanced” lawyer, has turned the most desperate reactionary in order to seize the seat at present occupied by Asquith of Featherstone fame. In the volume of speeches just issued by him, Lloyd George makes it clear that he is out for compulsory service in the Army or the Navy.

In view of the fact that many Irishmen have guns and are prepared to use them for the political freedom of Ireland before tackling the Germans, Lloyd George and his Cabinet companions, who favour direct force to fill the Army, have adopted the view that compulsion by district ought to be the method adopted. There is the danger. Those of us who think our economic freedom is the prime consideration, must bestir ourselves to devise methods of preventing ourselves from being used to murder men who have the same slave masters to face as we. Why should we allow a puny little lawyer to dictate to us, to deprive us of our right to choose? If many people fancy, he is equal to the Kaiser s God Almighty, we certainly do not. He has duped us often enough already: he shall not force us now.

The Munitions Act, better known as the Industrial Slavery Act, since it was meant to tighten the chains of economic slavery on the workers, was the outcome of the suggestions of Mr. William Weir, of Cathcart, whose upstart arrogance forced his men to stop work and precipitate the Clyde Engineer s Strike, the first great workers revolt after the Great Slaughter Match commenced. He demanded that the Government ought to prevent the workers unions from being used to force up wages or improve conditions during the war. The Government has not only practically adopted his ideas, but it has appointed him supreme controller of munition supplies in Scotland The men, and even the women, inside his big workshop, ate, bubbling over with discontent, as are those employed from end to end of the Clyde smelting, engineering, and ship building area. The Munitions Act has been applied cunningly in petty cases with fines starting at 2/6 each. Now a number of shipwrights have been fined 10 each. These men will be fools to pay the fire, or let the union pay it. That would make them criminals, and acknowledged criminals at that. As other workers see the drift of the Act now, all are afraid that they will sooner or later be trapped and likewise made criminals at the request of the masters who rob them. Every worker who recognises the infamy of the Act must be ready to down tools and follow the example of the Welsh miners if these ship-wrights are sent to prison. The Clyde is ripe for a blow at the infamous audacity of the masters. Let them have it, comrades. Remember that you shall have the backing of many of our Lanarkshire comrades of the mining villages. These men have assured us that they are prepared to do their bit in the great conflict, if one is needed.

Then, again, the railwaymen are demanding more money, and are being met by threats from the press. In a leading article in the “Glasgow Herald” on Tuesday, September 14, the railwaymen are threatened with what happened in France about five years ago. You remember that, when the railwaymen struck, the Government called the men up as reservists of the French Army and made them do the work. (France is fighting for liberty). We challenge the Government and the “Glasgow Herald,” and the whole propertied class, to try militarising the railway system of this country. Let them shoot railwaymen. That is exactly what the filthy threat means. We throw down the gauntlet to them in return. We swear that for every worker killed we shall have one of the killing class. Two can play at the game of compulsion.

Workers, do you realise fully the meaning of this hell-born “Glasgow Herald,” or is it Government suggestion? “Do as we tell you or we shall shoot you!” That is just the position of 1911-1912. Are you going to lie down to the fellows who dish out such insults and degradation? Is this the freedom your mates are fighting for on the Continent?

It is quite apparent that the workers will have to send all their leaders to the front and keep them there till the [illegible word], and then settle down unitedly to sweep the slave measures and methods aside.

The root of the unrest is that the plundering class, at home and abroad, has added almost three hundred million pounds to the workers’ cost of living since the war started, and has only doled out increases to a fifth of the workers to the insignificant extent of twenty million pounds inside the same period. Prices are still rising, and pounds are being put on to rents. The limit is not in sight. When the workers ask more to meet the increased difficulty to live, they are insulted as traitors who ought to be shot. These insults and threats come from the very men who ask us to throw away our lives for freedom! If the workers strike to get more money they are denounced as drunkards and shirkers, and are held responsible for a war failure absolutely due to the incompetence of the men who blackguardise them. They are fined or imprisoned if few in numbers. They are called nice fellows if they are determined Welsh Miners who defy and nullify the Munitions Act.

Lloyd George may bluff a Trade Union Congress on the shirking of engineers when no engineers representatives are present to give him the lie, and he may succeed in hood-winking Labour misleaders who have been more anxious for an easy life than fighting the battle of their fellows; but he will have a hard task in convincing the rank and file, who are less shirkers than he, more thrifty than he, and more useful than he. He has had a fairly large number of week-ends here and there throughout the country since the war started. He and his capitalist friends would have the workers doing twelve hours a day for seven days in the week, and for fifty-two weeks in the year – with perhaps five days in the summer – and for the old rate of wages no matter the rise in prices.

If he and his friends imagine the workers are going to stand that without striking and fighting, they are woefully mistaken. We know that increasing robbery is filching of our sparse quantity of so-called freedom and that it is our business to set our own house in order before re-arranging the affairs of Europe. We have made up our minds that we are not going to be forced to fight or work, and that we are going to kick our hardest against rising prices, and direct or indirect taxes on the workers. It is a capitalist war, so let the masters die for their precious property and pay the war expense. If these capitalists imagine we are going to be forced to fight their battle and pay the piper as well, then they must be taught a lesson. The partial freedom, Radical and Chartist, Trade Union and Co-operative, working-men worked and fought for – often at terrible cost – we are not going to allow our Junkers to seize from us. No, we intend, war or no war, to press on incessantly towards that social ownership of the very earth itself, when all shall be workers and all shall be masters, when robbery shall have vanished, when national hatred and antagonism shall have faded away, and when armies and navies shall have disappeared amidst the concord of a united mankind. The freedom we seek is not of this war, but of the successful issue of the mighty class war ever waging in society. Let us allow neither bluff nor rhetoric, neither batons nor bullets, to deflect us from our grand purpose, the goal of working-class emancipation. To prove our sincerity, let us see to it that military compulsion is not introduced, that industrial compulsion through the Munitions Act is swept away, and that either the workers get a wage commensurate with the increased cost of living, or a reduction of prices to the pre-war level.

If the masters are anxious to win, we challenge them to hand over their land and capital to the people, and to let the workers organise all industries including those necessary for the conduct of the war, and control the products of labour, and we can assure them that all will go well at the front. In other words let them adopt Socialism and victory is assured. We know they would rather accept defeat than adopt Socialism. Our business then, is an immediate peace to save workers lives and the little freedom we have, had handed down to us, so that the war of classes may be prosecuted till the accomplished end of labour, the Co-operative Commonwealth.

J.M.