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International Socialism, Spring 1967


Harry McShane

Old Comrades


From International Socialism (1st series), No.28, Spring 1967, p.33.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Company I’ve Kept
Hugh MacDiarmid
Hutchinson, 35s

Hugh MacDiarmid’s book probably says more about himself than about the numerous personalities to whom he refers. This is to be expected since it is an autobiography of a kind. It contains a number of quotations from writers who had something to say in praise of the author. There is much about him that is deserving of praise. One hopes, however, that he is a better judge of the writers than he is of the political figures he deals with in one part of his book. MacDiarmid rejoined the Communist Party in 1956 when the Red Army was being used to crush the Hungarian Revolution. He tries to justify this by quoting Abe Moffat as saying, ‘You have to understand that the Russians were invited by the Hungarian Government to go into Hungary, and that is not something new.’ How it is possible for anyone, let alone a Scottish Republican, to talk such nonsense passes comprehension.

MacDiarmid is on safer ground when he treats John MacLean as the most outstanding figure brought forward by the Scottish Labour Movement. He is wrong when he gives the impression that MacLean held Scottish Republican views over a number of years. I was in daily contact with MacLean when he first called for a Scottish Communist Republic. It was at the time when the ‘Black and Tans’ were shooting down Irish Republicans. He had walked off the Executive of the British Socialist Party after refusing to carry out a certain line of action. He agreed with the 21 conditions of affiliation to the Communist International, but he reacted to his BSP experience by trying to form a Scottish Communist Party. Space does not permit of a detailed account of MacLean’s turn to Scottish Republicanism in the last three years of his life.

When MacDiarmid says that I followed Gallacher and said that John MacLean was insane he is talking nonsense. I never said it. Gallacher was noted for his lack of tact. His differences with MacLean started during the first world war when MacLean put the political issue of the war before everything else. Because of the severe punishment MacLean received in prison he became very suspicious of many in the movement. I happen to know that, despite the bitterness of the quarrel, MacLean and Gallacher had a deep-down respect for each other. Others, including the then leadership of the Socialist Labour Party, fanned the flames.

Lenin wanted MacLean to visit Russia but he conveyed the invitation through Gallacher. MacLean had been fighting for a passport and decided that he would not go to Russia illegally. Gallacher wrote a confidential letter to the SLP in which he referred to MacLean’s health. The SLP lost no time in showing the letter to MacLean. What happened can be well imagined. We can be sure that Lenin was not interested in MacLean the Scottish Republican. He knew of the MacLean who had taken a stand against the first world war and gave unqualified support to the Russian Revolution. MacLean was a world figure. As for his health, it is MacDiarmid and his followers who keep the topic alive.

It is not too much to say that I know more about John MacLean’s turn to the idea of a Scottish Communist Republic than any man alive. I have the advantage of being acquainted with MacLean as early as 1910. MacDiarmid never ceases to give a distorted view of MacLean’s political activities.

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