Vanguard December 1915

John Maclean's Trial


Source: Unattributed, Vanguard, December 1915, p. 1 & 2;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.


On the 10th, of November John Maclean was tried in Glasgow Sheriff Court.

Long before the proceedings in the Court were due to begin a large crowd of munition workers, drawn from almost all the shops and yards on the Clyde, had gathered outside the building. There was also a fair sprinkling of other co-operators, trade unionists and Socialists in the crowd. They manifested extreme impatience at the delay in admitting them to the Court.

The Court itself was packed to overflowing. At the very commencement of the proceedings a large number of workers pushed their way into the public galleries, the capacity of which was tested to the utmost.

The Sheriff and the Court Officials were overwhelmed by the sight of this large body of uninvited guests, from another sphere, marching in to see justice done. For over ten minutes the case had to be suspended until the “public” had entered and settled down. Never has a Sheriff in a Glasgow Court had such an audience.

Looking at the crowded rows of stern faced people, with the grime of the factories still showing on them, one could see that they came from their work, as delegates from that multitude of engineers, smiths, boilermakers, sheet iron workers, labourers and others, to. watch the proceedings on behalf of their fellow workers.

The Sheriff, the lawyer for the defence, the trembling police witnesses, all seemed to feel the influence of the presence of such a “gallery,” and the “accused,” Comrade John Maclean, apparently felt himself quite at home in such an audience. He was sitting in the dock like a lion in a cage ready at any moment to spring at the throats of his enemies. That was evident immediately he encountered the poor Procurator Fiscal.

“Do you want me to repeat again what I said at the meeting? ‘I have been enlisted for fifteen years in the Socialist Army, which is the only army worth fighting for, God damn all other armies.’ I already said so, didn’t I? Did you not hear me?” The ringing tone and concentrated bitterness with which Maclean uttered these few words seemed to crumple up the poor Fiscal, who immediately sat down. The audience thoroughly appreciated this defeat of legal formalism, and their feelings found expression in suppressed laughter and shuffling of feet, so as rather to interrupt the proceedings of the court.

The spectators generally troubled very little about formalities. Aggressive statements on the part of Maclean, and those with him who were fighting the Government, were met with approval. During the cross-examination of a detective, Mr Cassels, the lawyer for the defence, asked “How did you infer when he was speaking of the Socialist Army that the words, God damn the army, which followed, meant the King’s Army” The detective “What other army could he mean?” Mr Cassels, “Perhaps the Salvation Army” Loud and prolonged applause greeted this remark on the part of the lawyer.

The Sheriff seemed to feel that it was an extraordinary audience with whom he was dealing; he said:- “I do not want to deprive you who are interested in the case from being present, but a demonstration of this kind is most unseemly and unheard of in a Court of Law. There should be no manifestations of feeling here.” The prosecution broke down completely under the vigorous onslaught of the defence. Detective followed detective, (all apparently fit for military service!), repeating “like gramophones,” “God damn all other armies” – the only words of the lecture they could remember. Four detectives there were. All stated that they had been present at the meeting to defend the Realm by taking notes and yet none of them remembered anything clearly except the “damning of the Army” Even on this point there was disagreement between them. Three reported the words to have been, “God damn the Army” then came a fourth detective, Neish, and declared Maclean to have said, “God damn all other armies.” He remembered attending an open air meeting at Bath Street on 28th August. He saw Maclean there, and heard him speaking. He spoke on the Welsh Miners Strike.

“Towards the close of the meeting did you hear suggestion from anyone about enlisting in the Army?”

“I heard a man shouting to the accused that he ought to go and enlist.”

“Do you remember the words the man said?”

“He shouted out, ‘you ought to go and enlist.’ I think these were the words he said.”

“Did Maclean make any reply?”

“He said ‘I have been enlisted in the Socialist Party for fifteen years, God damn the other armies.'”

“When you heard that what opinion did you from?”

“I presumed it was the British Army the accused was referring to. I formed the opinion at the same time that what he said was prejudicial to recruiting.”

“Were the words used, by the man in the audience, ‘you ought to enlist'?”

“I believe so.”

“I am asking you since you are the witness, what the precise words were?”

“So far as I remember, the words were; ‘you ought to enlist.’ I did not make a note of the words at the time but I was there for the purpose of learning the words that were said.

“And you remember the words that were used?”

“I have given their so far as I remember them.”

“Do you remember, or do you not?”

“I remember the words Maclean used.”

“You don’t remember, do you, the exact words the other person used?”

“It was a remark that was shouted out from the crowd. I can’t tell you the whole of the man’s remarks, but so far as I remember they were, ‘you ought to enlist’.”

“Will you swear that these were the words used?”

I will swear, so far as I remember them. Of course I cannot say that that is a verbatim report of what the man said. The words the accused used in his reply were, ‘I have been enlisted in the Socialist Army for fifteen years, God damn the other army’.”

I think you said before ‘God damn all other armies’ Are you sure it was other armies that was spoken of? – “Yes.”

“If we are told by witnesses that the words used were, ‘God damn the other army,’ is that untrue?”

“Yes.”

“I have given the words so far as I remember them.” Here we see the trained police observers at work.

The lawyer for the defence, during his cross examination, several times indignantly raised his voice in protest against the disgraceful methods of the police in this case.

“Why did you not tell the accused,” he asked detective Noble, after he made the statements referred to, if for no other purpose than to stop him?”

“I took the quieter way.”

“Your experience as Detective Sergeant is such that it prejudices a case if you do not get information about it at the time? You cannot as readily get up evidence in a case if you do not get information about it until a month after it happens? Is that not obvious? Why did you not tell the man? You know the penalties are very heavy under the Defence of the Realm Act, and knowing that, why did you prejudice the accused by not informing him at the time.”

.... “Our interference would have resulted in a riot.”

It is worth while to draw the attention of the reader to another incident in this connection. The Sheriff asked one of the witnesses, “What was the size of the audience at the time?”

“About three hundred,” replied Detective Sergeant Dickie

“When accused said ‘God damn the Army’, did anyone in the crowd resent it?”

“Not that I heard.”

“You mean to say that three hundred citizens of Glasgow heard a man say, ‘God damn the King’s army’ and did not resent it?”

“No one spoke.”

Having disposed of the prosecution and their detective witnesses, the defence declined to call their sixteen or seventeen witnesses who were waiting in the Court.

Only Comrade Macdougall was called. On his appearance in the witness box the public settled themselves down to listen carefully, and the following dialogue ensued:-

.... “There had been a rival meeting in progress,” said Macdougall and when that meeting terminated a large number of the people attending it came up to Maclean’s meeting. There were some interruptions. One individual in particular, in a very irritating manner asked Maclean why he didn’t enlist. Maclean replied that he had already enlisted in the Socialist Army. He said; ‘God damn all armies.'”

Mr Cassels – “Did you understand when he spoke of the Socialist Army he meant the political organisation known as the Socialists?”

“The Socialist political organisation”

“Did you think when he spoke of other armies he was referring to political or military armies?”

“It seemed to me that it was military armies he was speaking about.”

“You consider he was in any way referring to the Army of the King or was he hindering recruiting?”

“He was not referring specially to the British Army.”

“I think it is the case that in your political organisation there are very many members who are now in the Army?”

“Yes, reservists and others who were called up.”

The Sheriff: – “Surely apart from the reservists there must be lots of your people who are now in the Army?”

“These men will either be reservists or those who have been dismissed from their employment.”

“They joined willingly?”

“I don’t say so, My Lord, you do. I said that those of our people who are in the Army are either reservists or men who have been dismissed from their employment “

Fiscal;— “You mean men were being dismissed because they were wanted for the Army?”

“I mean that they were dismissed and there was nothing else for them to do.”

“When the accused in his address said, ‘God damn all other armies’, you have indicated that you do not think he was referring specially to the British Army. Why do you say that?”

“I am quite positive he was not referring specially to the British Army. With your permission, my Lord, I should like to make a short statement. I want to say that Mr. Maclean could not possibly have made such a statement because it would have been entirely contrary to the policy of the Socialist Party. We believe in international action, consequently we are opposed to the singling out of any one country for attack. Such a statement would not have been in accordance with the principles of international Socialism, the advocate of which Maclean is. The statement must necessarily have referred to all belligerent armies.”

The Sheriff – “Including the British Army?”

“Yes.”

The Sheriff – “Just tell us what you mean by saying that nobody in your organisation has joined the Army except those called up as reservists who could not help it, or those who could not get any other work.”

“I mean by that, that men who held those principles would require to be under very severe pressure before they would consent to abandon them.”

“Then your organisation is opposed to recruiting for the Army.”

“We do not take any definite action against recruiting.”

“Joining the Army is contrary to your principles?”

“It is.”

“And the view you take is expressed in the words of the accused as ‘God damn all armies?'”

“Yes.”

After Macdougall followed Maclean. He commenced his statement by saying that the words he used were “I have enlisted in the Socialist Army fifteen years ago; the only army worth fighting for, God damn all other armies,” and added, “take out of that what meaning you like.” He pointed out that in his speech at the Langside meeting he did not desire to injure the feelings of any soldier. “The major portion of the Army is drawn from the working class, and I certainly did not say that soldiers were murderers. And the soldiers belonging to the working class are those who will not get any benefit from this war. I say here and now that the soldiers themselves are not murderers, but those who sent them and are sending them to the war are murderers.”

It is remarkable that the Sheriff’s summing up has been mutilated by the entire capitalist press in their lengthy reports of the case. And that did not happen by accident. The Sheriff’s summing up contained statements which were a severe condemnation from the judicial bench of the Defence of the Realm Act and all the emergency legislation directed towards the destruction of the liberties of the people and the law of the land. Referring to the Defence of the Realm Act his Lordship said:-

We certainly are dealing here with a very exceptional piece of legislation. This is not the ordinary law of the land, and in some ways it is in opposition to the ordinary law of the land” ..... “Of course, this particular legislation,” continued his Lordship, “is an interference with the liberty of the subject, but there is no question, I think, at all that in these times of war, the liberty of the subject has been interfered with over and over again, and in many different ways. Only the other day it was said that the result of the war had been to destroy, for the time being in the country, the liberty of conduct, the liberty of speech, and even the liberty of thought. All, however, that we have to deal with in this case is the liberty of speech......”

The newspapers have been careful to omit the following sentences from, their reports of Sheriff Lee’s speech:-

“I wish however, to say this because I think it is important. I asked a selection of the witnesses what the general impression of the audience was, and I asked questions to try and find out what the general line of accused’s speeches was. Now the accused makes no bones about this, that he is a person who holds very advanced political views and opinions. Holding these views it will be difficult for him to so choose his words and so express himself as not to give offence. He has been making speeches over a long period, and so far as I can gather, we have only got these two offences libelled against him. Only on these two occasions has he allowed himself to slip. I think on one of the occasions there was a certain amount of provocation in respect that a person interfered with the meeting in what many might consider an irrelevant and impertinent way. On neither occasion did the accused seek to prosecute or elaborate upon what he had probably said on the spur of the moment.”

The summing up of Sheriff Lee was a very able little speech, and was listened to with great interest by the impatient audience. “His concluding remarks, announcing the sentence of 5, or five days imprisonment, were uttered in an atmosphere tense with excitement.

“Three cheers for Maclean!” “Three cheers for the Revolution!” someone called out; and hundreds of people in the Court, in the galleries and in the corridors, vigorously responded. The officials and police were horrified to hear the strains of the “Red Flag,” rising in the sacred precincts of the Court.

Outside the Court a large crowd of men and women, unable to obtain admission, had been waiting patiently to hear the result of the trial. When those who had been inside came out with the result, cheers were given, and Maclean, on his appearance, received a tremendous ovation.