John MacLean Vanguard, December 1915

The Conscription Menace

Source: Vanguard, December 1915, p. 5.
Though attributed to J.D.M., (James D. MacDougall) this article appears in a shortened form In The Rapids of Revolution, p.83,1978 Allison and Busby edited by Nan Milton (Maclean’s daughter) and is stated to be by John Maclean.
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

This war was declared to be a war for freedom. We Socialists considered that a deliberate lie, because the promoters of the statement know quite well that the workers of the world are their slaves, and will continue to be their slaves no matter the issue of the war. It certainly is a war of freedom for one national section or other of the robbing propertied class to corner for itself the whole, or the greater part, of the surplus wrung from the wage-slave class. Obviously, that is no concern of the workers one way or the other.

We have repeatedly expressed our perfect willingness to let those who benefit by capitalism enter the war, and slaughter one another to their heart’s content. That is their affair, not ours. Their mutual extermination might, in fact, smooth the path leading to Socialism, so that even many Socialists might be excused if they departed from the policy of indifference and became active recruiting agents amongst the propertied class, urging them with fiery eloquence to defend their King and their country.

We have furthermore refrained from the attempt to prevent workers enlisting if they sincerely believed that Britain was entitled to enter the war. In fact, we usually insisted on them enlisting as the only logical outcome of their beliefs.

It is an entirely different matter when an attempt to force conscription on us is threatened. We Socialists, who believe that the only war worth fighting is the class war against robbery and slavery for the workers, do not mean to lay down our lives for British or any other capitalism. If we die, we shall die here defending the few rights our forefathers died for. To us it is nobler to die for our own class than for the class which has robbed, ruled, despised, and imprisoned us.

They dare not murder us, for that would lift the veil of cant they have blinded the eyes of neutrals with. These neutrals would rise against them, and many men in the Army would adopt the Carson attitude in pre-war Home Rule times.

They also had better not enlist us, for we will prove more dangerous with arms than without them. A reign of terror would certainly ensue. History backs us up in that assertion, for the mass of the men who refuse now to enlist do so on principle and not through fear.

If the Allies with the troops, money, and munitions at their command cannot crush the Germans without conscription. They had better stop the war at once, join the Socialist forces, and thus prepare for the complete overthrow of the German capitalist victors through the world-rising of the robbed and their friends.

It makes no difference to us Socialists who robs or oppresses us. Colour, tongue, or nationality does not affect the issue. We are out against all forms of robbery and tyranny, not only here but everywhere in the world. The only way to end all the trouble is by the establishment of Socialism (Christ having failed). Mere continuance of slaughter will solve no problem for us. On principle, we will not fight in this war.

So far as mere trade unionists are concerned, we warn then that conscription means the bringing of all young men under the control of the military authorities, whether they be in the field of battle or in the factory and workshop. Every controlled factor comes directly under military discipline as well, and thus the old as well as the young will be bound hand and foot to Mr. William Weir and his capitalist friends. Military conscription implies industrial conscription, the most abject form of slavery the world has ever known.

Surely the dullest trade unionist now understands the insult and degradation of the infamous Munitions Act. That Act in its one-sided operation has not had the effect on trade unionism and all it stands for that industrial conscription must and will have.

To the old, as to the young, we appeal for stern opposition to conscription.

That this opposition will be stern and strong on the Clyde is certain, in view of the action taken by the Lord Provost of Glasgow and supported by the majority on the Council. When the contract settling the let of the City Hall to the “Herald League” had been accomplished, it was a piece of arrogant tyranny for the Lord Provost to try to nullify the contract by refusing the use of the hall.

The anti-conscription object of the gathering may have detrimentally affected recruiting. No one can tell. But it is quite certain that the autocratic and overbearing conduct of friend Dunlop will have an effect ten times more detrimental to recruiting than if he had let the meeting proceed quietly.

No one can deny that. What has happened? Thousands of protest leaflets have been spread throughout the Clyde workshops, Sylvia Pankhurst and George Lansbury have addressed huge crowds at the Pavilion, the Metropole, the Panopticon, and other theatres, and meetings on the Sunday preceding the demonstration. If the City Hall has not been opened, a meeting, or perhaps a series of meetings, will have been held on Monday, November 29. The feeling of resentment against the Lord Provost is intense and is growing. His action, therefore, was tactless, and will absolutely defeat the object he had in view – the furtherance of recruiting.

Not only that. His action has made the anti-conscriptionists more determined to stay at home and limit the tyranny manifested by those who have thus tried to suppress free speech.

Let this significant event in Glasgow waken the minds of listless workers to the prospect before them, if industrial as well as military conscription is carried into force.

The only way to retain our freedom – the small shred of it we now possess – is by solid combination as a class. The only weapon we can use to-day is the strike. We urge our comrades to be ready to use that weapon to prevent the coming of absolute chattel slavery.

Do not be paralysed by academic quack Socialists, who insist that the only occasion justifying the strike is for the establishment of Socialism. These men admit that the masses are still far from Socialism. That means we must defer the strike to the remote future. See how absurd the position is, and act accordingly.


We note with satisfaction that Mr. Dan Irving and “Justice” are displeased with the attitude we have taken up here in Glasgow in Comrade John Maclean’s case.

We can only be grateful to these gentlemen for dissociating themselves from us, International Social Democrats. An approval by them of our action would of necessity have compelled us to revise our views. Their approval would have inclined us to think that we must have made a mistake.

* * *

When I stated at the Court that members of our organisation would require to be under severe pressure before they would abandon their principles and willingly join the Army, and that of our party only reservists or men dismissed from their employment are in the Army, I knew, of course, about the existence of Dan Irving, Victor Fisher, Hunter Watts, Headingley and Hyndman, who are doing their best to shepherd other people into the Army. When Maclean stated that not the soldiers were murderers, but those who sent them to war, he undoubtedly was aware that within the B.S.P. were some very active recruiting agents.

We believe, however, that these gentlemen should have long ago left the party and joined the Conservatives.

Should they have had any decency they would have felt that they were alien to the party after the results of the Divisional Conferences. We remind them of their duty.

So far as “Justice” is concerned, it has long been the echo of the “Daily Express” and the “Morning Post.” We are, therefore, not surprised that they have taken Irving’s letter and printed it as comment on the trial of Maclean.