John MacLean Internet Archive                                                    From the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement

Literary note

by John Maclean

First Published: The Vanguard, November 1920
Transcription\HTML Markup: Scottish Republican Socialist Movement Archive in 2002 and David Walters in 2003
Copyleft: John MacLean Internet Archive (, 2003. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

Johnston’s History of the Working Classes in Scotland is a useful book, though like most summaries of complex questions it suffers from over- crowding. It is inclined to be scrappy, and to present short views where long and detailed ones are required by reason of the complex character of the various matters dealt with. The early history of labour in Scotland is not sufficiently detailed, and in one respect at least the author’s knowledge of the history of this country would appear to be defective; or at all events considerably wanting in perspective. Johnston has a good deal to say about feudal serfdom, and the shocking social conditions under which labour was carried on under the feudal magnates. He admits, too, that these disgraceful and degrading conditions did not obtain in the Highlands under the clan system; but he signally fails to draw the moral of that surprising fact. The moral he should have drawn. but has failed to point, is this, that in feudalised Scotland the abominations of serfdom obtained because of feudalism, whereas in those parts of the country that escaped feudalism and remained under the Celtic or communistic system these abominations were non-existent. I am not aware that this point has ever been made by any of the writers who have dealt with the history of Scotland, and ]ohnston’s failure to draw the matter out and make the most of it is disappointing, even though, considering the limitations of historical equipment, it should be inevitable.