Posted in Scottish Politics, World Politics

Some thoughts on Xmas in Kazakhstan

(To fill you all in on what’s happening here: I’ve recently began contributing to Scotland’s most listened to lefty podcast – Ungagged! This is the script from my first input to the pod (which was broadcast December 2016), some scattered thoughts that I tried to put together in a coherent way – all relevant to my time in Kazakhstan where I happened to be living and working. I’d been eager to keep myself involved politically in the Scottish left, just doing my bit to help things in whatever way I could. I had been repeatedly offering my services to the Scottish Socialist Party of whom I’d remained supportive even after the RISE debacle. Unfortunately the SSP didn’t seem to have any need or use of the ramblings of an itchy footed international socialist. Luckily for me, Ungagged made contact and were genuinely interested in allowing me to ramble on their time. So here it is, the first of hopefully many contributions.)

Seasons Greetings comrades.

This episode I have the pleasure of conveying to you a message from Kazakhstan.

I’m aware that many of you might not know much about this place. Before being seconded here by my work, I was the same. My only knowledge of Kazakhstan was Borat and that time Celtic played Shakter Karagandy in Europe.

The Kazakhs, I’ve found out, are painfully aware that for many foreigners Borat is the only thing that comes to mind when they hear the name Kazakhstan. The wounded looks on their faces at the very mention of the “B word” are impossible to miss. A big proportion of the conversations I’ve had here have been locals eager to explain to me that Borat in no way what so ever resembles this country.

So the first part of my message from Kazakhstan is to confirm that the locals are correct. This is not a nation of backward simpletons. It might not have many touristy must see attractions, but if you get the chance you won’t regret coming here. Kazakhstan sits on the boundary between Europe and Asia, not only geographically but also culturally and politically. The population is roughly 70/30, between Central Asians and Whites, and between Muslims and Christians.

But far from the “rivers of blood” that many right wingers will try to convince you is the inevitable result of cultures colliding, Kazakhstan is actually one of the friendliest and safest countries I’ve ever experienced. The European and Asian cultures thrive side by side, and it makes living here a wonderful experience.

And don’t think that they only thrive despite each other. The cultures here are incredibly intertwined and supportive of each other. The national identity isn’t one or the other, but an understanding of all the people that call Kazakhstan home.

I witnessed a small but powerful reminder of this while walking through the city recently. One of the mosques has erected, just outside the entrance to its grounds, a small Christmas tree and a sign which simply wishes all Christians a happy Christmas.

I’m trying to not let the Daily Mail hear about this Christmas tree, or no doubt we’ll wake up to headlines screaming at us that Muslims are stealing Christmas. Nevertheless I thought it was a nice message to convey back to you on behalf of these Kazakhs. And also to say that I think there is a nice lesson to learn here. Of course, mosques and churches back in Britain who build bridges between their respective communities should be applauded, there are some unnecessary tensions being created between Muslim and Christian communities and anything done to counter that is commendable. But what is so powerful about this instance is that there are no tensions like that here. This mosque isn’t trying to show itself in a different light to its neighbours, rather it is simply saying, “I value you as a neighbour and I wish the best for you”. There is no need for them to say anything, no problematic media representation of them that needs challenging. They just wanted to be neighbourly. A lesson that especially at this time of year goes well with our supposed Christian values that the right wing harp on about constantly; but also a lesson that if we’re honest we could all do with being reminded of from time to time.

So Kazakhstan is not a country of Borats. Instead, its a modern welcoming country that we could probably learn a thing or two from if we’re prepared to open our minds to the possibility that other countries might do things better than the British.

Here is another example of something we could learn from Kazakhstan, and which is particularly relevant at this time of year. In Britain this winter how many people, especially pensioners, will die of preventable cold related illnesses? In an energy rich country, how many people will die because they couldn’t afford to keep the energy on during the winter? The answer is staggering. Tens of thousands. They will either have turned their own power off from fear of the costs, or if they are behind on their payments the big energy companies simply cut off their power, condemning these people to a cold dark miserable and often deadly winter.

Many people who campaign against fuel poverty will tell you to refuse to let the power companies in to your house to turn the power off. I don’t disagree with that, by all means have a crowd of activists waiting for them when they turn up to cut you off. Lets see how eager they are to turn of your grannies leccy when there is a team of anti-fuel poverty activists there to greet them.

But do you know what happens in Kazakhstan? Nothing, because the power companies here simply aren’t allowed to cut off your power. In this country, as well as most of the former Soviet nations, that ability to heat your home and cook hot meals is viewed as a human right – one which you don’t lose just cos you got into debt.

So lets take that fight to the politicians. Lets make them understand that staying warm during winter is a human right – one which we refuse to let the big energy companies take away from us. And as I always say, don’t let that fight seem too daunting for you. You don’t have to do it all yourself. There are established networks out there for these sorts of things. Get involved and help them. Or sign a petition or write to your MP. Someone can’t do everything, but everyone can do something. So please do your bit, whatever and however much that is.

I’m Beinn Irbhinn, until next time comrades, stay safe. ungagged-portrait

Posted in Scottish Politics

Social justice warriors showcasing faux offence are fostering a fear of political debate

A thought provoking read. Try not to be offended by it! I think it’s fair to say “you don’t have a right not to be offended”. Even if you don’t agree, I think it’s clear the electorate don’t respond well to wannabe politicians who seem to think it is a good election strategy to lecture us all about why they are better people than us. I for one want my politicians to know how to manage an economy, I don’t particularly care if they’re the sort of person I would go for a pint with.

Britain’s Left is boiling up at the treatment of Jeremy Corbyn and I am very excited

A compelling read from a Labour insider about the attempted coup against Corbyn. The left inside and outside of Labour, for the sake of the working class majority of the UK, must unite behind Corbyn.

Socialist Voice ☭

Labour is officially in civil war. Blairites and their cohorts have carried out their threatened coup against Jeremy Corbyn and he will now have a leadership challenge after losing a vote of no confidence.

40 MPs backed Corbyn and 172 traitors voted against him. This has caused widespread anger and militancy in and outside of Labour. Grassroots MPs and supporters are furious and disappointed; trade unions are now in fighting mode; Momentum is to organise and manage Corbyn’s leadership campaign and hold demonstrations outside Labour MPs’ constituency offices, but most interestingly the SNP has come out in support of Jeremy Corbyn while Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale calls for him to resign. She has effectively committed political suicide and Scottish Labour’s support will undoubtedly recede further to the advantage of the SNP. Well done, Kezia; you really do know how to make friends and influence people.

Corbyn is now being…

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Posted in Scottish Politics

Immigration and the Left

For me, a depressing aspect of the immigration “debate” is that it shows just how impotent the left currently is in the UK. This is obvious when we see the debate being framed by the right, and the “leftie” spokespeople being naive enough to be sucked into talking about immigration on the right wing’s terms. This reduces talk about immigration to talk of who can and can’t come to our country.
The left wing microphone grabbers have lost sight of what distinguishes us from the right. It’s not that we would let more immigrants in (although I guess most of us would).
This losing sight of things is evident across all political discourse. Take crime for example. The talk from the right was always about rules and laws, about who can we send to jail. They said they were tough on crime. The left, on the other hand, would talk about the causes of crime and how we could remedy them. We wanted to be tough on the causes of crime, to stop people becoming criminals in the first place and so not need to send them to jail.
Then along came New Labour. One of Tony Blair’s famous campaign promises was to be “tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime”. This brought the left into the kinds of discussions that were previously the preserve of the right. Unfortunately, as things transpired, New Labour became quite keen on the “tough on crime” part of their promise and never had much to do with the “tough on the causes of crime” bit. The result being the left on the whole, with the only exceptions being small disjointed movements, have lost sight of their role in eliminating the social conditions (such as poverty and lack of economic opportunities) that lead to crime.
Something similar has happened on the topic of immigration, although we lack a famous slogan such as Tony Blair’s “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” with which to explain it. The right have always been obsessed with rules and laws. With regards to immigration this manifests itself as a debate about who should and who shouldn’t have the right to live and work here. The left, with a focus on social conditions and internationalism, should really be talking about the forces driving immigration and how to remedy them. 
Let’s be clear, this isn’t an anti-immigration stance. I want to live in a world where every single person has an equal right to immigrate. I just also want to live in a world where immigration is a free choice rather than an economic necessity. Can we genuinely say that we can have a sensible debate on immigration when there exists such pronounced inequality between nations? Let’s work to eliminate poverty and then watch the immigration debate quickly change; from talk of how to keep people away from our country to talk of how to attract people here! 

ABELLIO PREPARING FOR WAR USING SCOTRAIL SCABS! by Richie Venton

No tactic is too low for Scotrail as they mount their attacks on workers.
Richie Venton, Scottish Socialist Party TU Organiser, wrote about their scab army on Saturday.

Dutch-owned Abellio, who run Scotrail services for profit, have been caught red-handed coercing and conscripting an army of scabs to defeat industrial action by guards/conductors that are trying to defend public health and safety from these cost-cutting butchers.

Read Richie’s full article here.

Posted in Scottish Politics, World Politics

Krushchev’s Lesson

Nikita Krushchev, who led the Soviet Union from 1953 until he was deposed by Leonid Brezhnev in 1964, is perhaps the least celebrated of the Soviet leaders. Certainly, many of his policies are viewed as erratic and were often ineffective. Regardless, he is generally looked upon favourably for his denouncing of Stalin and ushering in of a less repressive era in the USSR. Ironically, it was this “success” of his that would lead to his downfall, when hardliners in the Kremlin supported Breshnev and brought the Krushchev era to an end. Krushchev recognised as much when the day following his removal from the Kremlin he commented to a friend and colleague:

“I’m old and tired. Let them cope by themselves. I’ve done the main thing. Could anyone have dreamed of telling Stalin that he didn’t suit us anymore and suggesting he retire? Not even a wet spot would have remained where we had been standing. Now everything is different. The fear is gone, and we can talk as equals. That’s my contribution. I won’t put up a fight.”

What Krushchev knew was that his own reforms had sown the seeds of his own downfall. But rather than hastily try to undo his reforms he instead took pride in them. Breshnev had been able to overthrow him because Brezhnev had been able to talk to others about a change of leadership. No-one would have been brave enough or stupid enough to have spoke about a change of leadership during the Stalin era. Krushchev’s defeat was also his victory.

One would hope that in our supposed “enlightened” and more “progressive” Western democracies that Krushchev’s Lesson would be a rather unquestioned element of democracy, whereby those who seek to champion and further spread democracy into more and more areas of our lives would be comfortable with the fact that the same democratic expansions could lead to them being removed from their positions. How many leaders of left wing parties, for example, have claimed that theirs is the most democratic party in their country – only to go on and suspend their party’s constitution when they fear they won’t get their own way? Or in Scotland, where we see RISE claim that everything they do is democratic, yet they put people in key full time paid positions without even so much as a vote or an explanation of how they are to be held accountable.

Thankfully we’re now entering a post-RISE political landscape in Scotland, although no doubt they will refuse to disappear completely and will revert back to some sort of middle class student group much like the ISG was. They do warrant further mention here however as they are a fairly unambiguous example of those who have failed to learn a “Krushchev lesson”. As I mentioned, their leaders continually preach about democracy while refusing to implement anything that could lead to their leadership positions being challenged. Their failure to learn a “Krushchev lesson” is also apparent in their attitudes towards non mainstream media.

During the Scottish referendum campaign it was blindingly obvious to everyone that the Scottish mainstream media was massively biased in favour of the NO campaign. This resulted in a massive growth in popularity for “alternative media” in Scotland during this period as those who supported independence, and even just those who only wanted more reliable information, turned to alternative sources. One such source which rose to prominence (or notoriety) during this period was Wings Over Scotland. Wings popularity seems to be based on the fact that they hold the Unionist media and parties to account. They scrutinise them heavily, and the result is a website which is a treasure trove of evidence regarding the Unionist media’s lies and spin.

During the independence campaign, and pre-RISE, many of the current RISErs enthusiastically supported Wings, regularly sharing posts from the site across all social media platforms. Many gave up their spare time to deliver copies of the Wee Blue Book to potential YES voters. How things have changed now though! No longer are RISE fans of Wings, instead regularly throwing insults that way from their social media accounts. Any insult will suffice, although they seem to like the labels of homophobe and misogynist in particular.

The thing is: what attracted them to Wings and what led them to promote alternative media in the first place is the exact same thing that now leads them to denounce Wings and alternative media with such an intense hatred. They promoted alternative media because they were attracted to the platform it provided to write about and scrutinise the unionists, something which the mainstream media was completely failing to do. What they failed to grasp was that the same platforms could also be used to write about and scrutinise RISE. Once they realised this they turned against these platforms with a vengeance.

They have failed to see alternative media writing about and scrutinising their election campaign as a victory in the growth of alternative media, one which they played a part in. Remember RISE are an insignificance in Scottish politics. They only gained 0.47% of the popular vote. They polled below Tommy Sheridan’s party and even below the Scottish Christian Party – Proclaiming Christ’s Lordship (clicky for analysis of their performance). They are barely mentioned in the mainstream media at all, with almost the only exception to this being Cat Boyd’s column in the small circulation The National. But rather than view the fact that they are getting any coverage at all as a success, or their success in as much as they helped promote alternative media, they are now doing their damnedest to discredit this alternative. Even this site, which putting it generously is “modest” compared to Wings, hasn’t escaped their vitriol with numerous slanders being launched across the internet. In an ironic way the greatest success of the RISErs also ensured their total defeat in the recent election, a defeat that they won’t recover from. Rather than display the peace of mind that Krushchev demonstrated, RISE seem intent on doing as much harm as possible to any source that criticizes them. They’ve totally failed to learn a Krushchev Lesson.

Posted in Scottish Politics

Unionist and Government Media Bias

I don’t want to use this piece to rehash old arguments about the Scottish media’s bias in favour of the NO campaign during Scotland’s independence referendum. Those arguments have been done to death elsewhere. I do want to share some thoughts on the subject however.

While browsing some of our old radio broadcasts I came across a piece where we were discussing the Smith Commission. In particular we noted how Inverclyde Council Leader Cllr McCabe was in the local press declaring his delight at the Smith Commission, and claiming that we now have one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world. Cllr McCabe is of course rather famous in Inverclyde for his almost daily displays of political illiteracy. I think what he was displaying here is that he has no idea how many devolved parliaments there are in the world, and was effectively showing off about Scotland being more powerful than Greenland or Madeira. Not much of a boast! In fact, many of the American states actually enjoy significantly more powers than Scotland. You don’t have to be a supporter of full independence to agree that this is not good enough for Scotland and that we deserve better. But New Labour, totally consumed by their sectarian hatred of the SNP, were campaigning for less simply because the nationalists were campaigning for more. YES and NO voters together need to reject this tribal approach to politics. Scotland deserves more powers, not because the SNP says so but because that is what is in Scotland’s best interests. Cllr McCabe and the rest of New Labour need to put their deep rooted loathing of anything that reminds them of the SNP behind them and recognise this simple fact. Otherwise the people will vote to relieve ourselves of New Labour. Judging by Cllr McCabe’s obnoxious and insulting comments almost every day in the local paper, it appears he is actually enjoying New Labour’s decline and approaching political irrelevance.

Although, to get back on topic, one thing I have consistently argued for and would have liked to see included in the report is for BBC Scotland to be devolved to Holyrood. It takes a massive degree of generosity to describe the referendum campaign as “democratic”, given that the state broadcaster was totally anti-independence from the start and made no attempt to avoid bias, instead repeating lie after lie after lie to defeat the YES side and demonise any of us who thought that we could govern ourselves. A democracy can only function when we have a genuinely free press. What we have instead is a press that pushes the agenda of one side.

Many journalists and reporters have responded to this claim from the YES side by saying that they are not coerced into saying anything. We have a fair and free press, they say, because they are not told what to say by their bosses or have their words edited. This is colouring between the lines however.

They only get to say what they say because the bosses already agree with them. That’s how they got to where they are; that’s how they got their job. How many supporters of independence host politics shows on the BBC?, or report on their flagship news programs? None, because if you support independence you don’t get these jobs. These channels are wall to wall unionists because that’s what the bosses want broadcast. They don’t have to tell them what to say or edit their words because they have deliberately hired only people that already agree with them. The effect is a controlled and compliant media. A media that pushes only one agenda. And that is extremely undemocratic. To devolve responsibility for BBC Scotland to Holyrood would allow us to tackle this in built bias. In America they used to have a fairness law which ruled that the media had to give equal coverage to each side of an issue. It worked well, but was repealed at the insistence of the large media companies. We could have something similar in Scotland, but only if responsibility for the media in Scotland lies at Holyrood.

Of course what I propose would be the good kind of control, democratic control. There is another kind of control that we must resist, and that is censorship. The tactics of the BBC in only employing Unionists is a type of censorship, censorship by the back door. But there is a more direct form of censorship whereby the government actively shuts down and silences opposition opinions. On the show local SSP member John spoke at length about the ways the government, via their puppets in the main stream media, use fear to push their agenda.

One way they are doing that just now is using threats of impending financial doom to push their austerity agenda. We must resist austerity. Austerity has been a lie from the start, there is simply no need for it. The first round of austerity saw the bedroom tax. They said they needed to impose the bedroom tax to save the country money, yet the very same week the bedroom tax came into effect they gave the millionaires a tax cut that cost the country three times what the bedroom tax was supposed to save. Why did people accept it then? They accepted it because they were scared by stories of the country going bankrupt.

Now let me make this clear, this is a very wealthy country, which is richer now than it ever has been. So where is the money?, why are we being told we have to cut our public jobs and services? The money is being hoarded by a few rich people who are getting richer and richer, leaving us with less and less. We need a radical redistribution of wealth. Not the impotent policies offered by the politicians, but real change. To take the wealth of this country away from that handful of selfish people and share it out via public spending.

That is the essence of the street campaigning being conducted in Inverclyde by local Scottish Socialist Party activists. We know that austerity is a lie, an ideological attack on the working classes so that rich people can get a wee bit richer. We’re taking that message to every street in Inverclyde. We’re telling people they don’t need to accept the austerity driven cuts being inflicted on them by Cllr McCabe. Get involved, help us spread this message of resistance.

Posted in Scottish Politics

On Being a Stale Pale Male

Unfortunately there is an element within the Scottish left that aims to shut down debate, rather than engage openly and honestly. They do this by labelling the opposing voice as some sort of “ism”; racism or misogynism for example. It’s the classic ad hominem fallacy, playing the man rather than the  ball so to speak. It’s a good indication that they have no response to the arguments they are faced with, and so resort to trying to discredit their opponent personally. It’s a wrongheaded approach for many reasons, not least because there are in fact very good arguments that can be employed against racists and misogynists. These arguments of course only work if your opponent genuinely is a racist or misogynist. And herein lies the rub: these labels are too often used wrongly and inappropriately.

Another label that has found its way into the Scottish left’s lexicon recently, and is also too often used to shut down debate, is the term “stale pale male”*. This essentially means “old white man”. It’s a favourite of middle class student types at the moment, and prominent RISE activists in particular seem to enjoy employing it against their (perceived) opponents. As an SSP member, I am writing this as a comradely appeal that the use of this label be kicked out of useage immediately. Not least because it is a highly offensive term. It suggests that the opinions of a certain group of people are not worth listening to, simply because of their arbitrary natural characteristics.

Now I often despair at the softness of those on the left currently, who seem to cry “abuse” any time they hear something they don’t like, or hear a potentially derogatory remark. The Tories and the oligarchs aren’t going to be nice and polite when we come to take their power and privileges from them, so to be perfectly frank most of the Scottish left needs to seriously toughen up.

Having said that, there is of course no room for abusing comrades within the movement. This is especially so when you claim to be opposed to bullying. If you don’t accept people using derogatory terms to describe you, don’t use derogatory terms to describe others. It’s just blatant hypocrisy if you do, and destroys your claims to honesty and integrity.

Apart from the derogatory nature of the term, there is another important reason why socialists in particular should dispense of this means of categorising the participants in any given debate. Let’s just look at the term. “Male” gives us an analysis in terms of sex or gender, “stale” gives us an analysis in terms of age, and “pale” gives us an analysis in terms of ethnicity. For socialists this is a very poor way to analyse any set of circumstances. Where is the analysis in terms of class? In other words, these middle class student types in RISE, by making others think in terms of “stale pale males” have succeeded in removing class consciousness from large parts of our movement. It is for this reason that prominent RISE activists, including some on the Holyrood lists, are able to throw their weight about social media telling anyone and everyone that white males not only are not oppressed, but CANNOT BE oppressed. If you remove class consciousness from the equation it becomes incredibly difficult to recognise very real occurrences of oppression and very real disadvantages that many white males do in fact suffer. Now of course age sex and ethnicity are important elements in the understanding of very many occasions of oppression and disadvantages, but socialists recognise that a proper understanding of these requires an understanding of the broader class struggle which gives rise to these oppressions.

Let me explain this by using sex as the example. Some feminists will be inclined to point to the lack of female CEOs and decide it’s an issue that needs to be tackled by creating more female CEOs. Likewise, some will point to women being sexually objectified and commodified and claim we should do the same with men. Others will argue that we should have equal numbers of females as males in the army. They all claim these as examples of liberating women from the patriarchy.

Socialists, on the other hand, by employing class consciousness as part of their analysis are able to recognise that this is not genuine women’s liberation. Women becoming corporate executives oppressing working women at rates equal to male capitalists is not women’s liberation or equality. Men being sexually objectified and commodified at rates equitable to women is not women’s liberation or equality. And women joining an imperialist military to stand guard as their male colleagues rape their way across invaded countries is not women’s liberation or equality. Women’s liberation is only possible with socialism, and by convincing others to think in terms of “pale stale males” we are removing them from socialism. Those who seek to end racism but do not work to end capitalism and its inherent class struggle will fail. Those who seek to end xenophobia and national chauvinism but do not work to end capitalism will fail. And those who seek to end sexism and gender discrimination and gender inequality and oppression, but do not work to totally destroy capitalism will fail. Bourgeois individualist feminism only ensures that a few more women participate in the continued oppression and subjugation of the vast majority of women. Women’s liberation is the cause of socialists, and women and men must join together as revolutionary comrades to end capitalism and gender oppression side by side, since the existence of those is inextricably bound together and part of the same system of elite class tyranny!

The problems of terms like “stale pale male” go beyond the ideological. They are symptomatic of a much larger problem of the left; our almost complete irrelevance to the working class communities of Scotland that we claim to be representing. Let’s just look at this tactically here: prominent RISErs are announcing on social media that they are effectively against white working class males over 35 – in a predominately white working class country! Not much of an election strategy! And it probably goes some way to explain why their candidate in one area was actually polling BELOW 0%!  

The right wing doesn’t appear to be suffering from the same problems. So why is the right gaining while the left is struggling? The main reason is because the right is actually listening to working class people, as opposed to RISE’s favoured method of lecturing them about whatever they read in Gender Studies last week at Uni. When people are worried about immigration, UKIP listens to those worries. The left calls them racists and xenophobes. When the elections come round who do you think gets the votes? UKIP’s answers to the “immigration problem” are of course totally wrong, but at least they appear to be listening to working class people. Our job is not to berate people for having concerns. When unemployment is already inexcusably high, and affordable housing already in chronically short supply, it is not difficult to understand why working class people are concerned about an influx of (essentially) competition for the jobs and affordable housing. Our job as socialists is to listen to these concerns and offer our socialist solutions. Not to treat people as if their opinions don’t matter cos they’re just “angry men” or “stale pale and male”.
So of course white males can be oppressed, despite what prominent RISErs will tell you. They are generally not oppressed AS white males, but there are a whole host of ways in which they are oppressed. They can be oppressed as working class, for example. As poor, as unemployed, as homeless, as disabled or for having mental health problems. They can be unfairly taxed for having a spare bedroom, they can be denied access to much needed medical care for living in the wrong postcode, they can be more likely to be sent to jail than a rich person who committed the same crime, or be stuck on a zero hours contract. There are many ways in which they can be and are oppressed. Socialists must learn to listen to their concerns or be condemned to irrelevance while the right continues to gain support. People who use the term “stale pale male” are unable to do so, or at least that’s how it appears to stale pale males like me.  

 

*The term “pale stale male” of course predates the current discourse, and was introduced originally as a descriptive term to describe the political environment, i.e. one dominated by old white men. I have no issue with the term when it is used in this descriptive sense. It is the newer way in which it is used as a means to shut down valid opinions that I take issue with.

Posted in Inverclyde Politics, Scottish Politics

John MacLean and Inverclyde

On Friday 30th November 1923 a stunned working class population of Scotland read in their newspapers that their great leader, John MacLean, was dead. He was only 44, but years of selfless toil in the service of the people coupled with the hardships he had suffered during successive terms of imprisonment had seriously undermined MacLean’s health. MacLean’s death was a blow to the working class movement, not only in Scotland, but throughout the world. The esteem in which he was held was reflected at his funeral which was attended by over 10,000 people. The poet Hugh MacDiarmid recalled MacLean with the following words, “Scotland has had few men whose names matter, or should matter, to intelligent people. But of these MacLean, next to Burns, was the greatest, and it should be of him with every Scotsman and Scotswoman to the end of time, as it was of Lenin in Russia. When you might talk to a woman who had been a young girl in 1917 and find that the name of Stalin lit no fires, but when you asked her if she had seen Lenin her eyes lit up and her reply was the Russian word which means both beautiful and red. Lenin, she said, was “krassivy, krassivy”. John MacLean too was “krassivy, krassivy”, a description no other Scot has ever deserved”.

At times it seems like everyone in Scotland claims to be following in the footsteps of MacLean, from the Communist Party on the left to the SNP on the right. This has led many to ask the question, was MacLean a socialist or a nationalist? To those who have studied the man, it is obvious he wasn’t a nationalist. His desire to see Scotland independent was not based on a narrow parochialism, but on a much broader understanding of the necessary eventual failure of the British capitalist class and on a belief in internationalism. In fact, the stand that MacLean took on the topic of Scottish independence in the first few decades of the 20th century are remarkably similar to the stance that the Scottish Socialist Party takes now in the first few decades of the 21st century. While this is now regarded as the obvious moral position of any true socialist, in MacLean’s day it was the opposite and led to many criticisms of the man from people who should really have stood by him. As the referendum has shown, history has proven MacLean to be correct, and so we see many people who were always dismissive of MacLean’s politics on independence (such as the ultra London centric Socialist Workers Party) now try to claim MacLean’s name.

While John MacLean’s legacy belongs to the whole of Scotland, he did of course have a special relationship with Inverclyde, and Greenock in particular. Early in 1908 MacLean issued his first pamphlet, The Greenock Jungle. In this early piece of writing MacLean displayed his characteristic concern for the plight of the working classes and anger at the selfishness and insidiousness of the profit chasing classes. The pamphlet itself was a strong indictment of the slaughterhouse methods and trade in diseased meats that was being carried out in Greenock at the time. This pamphlet was a result of the tireless campaigning MacLean did in Greenock. He could often be found at the gates of the slaughterhouse in what used to be Crown Street, addressing the workers as they arrived for or left work. One such worker is prominent in MacLean’s pamphlet, and I’m certainly interested in finding out more about the person.

The Greenock worker who featured so heavily in Maclean’s pamphlet was a Mr Houston. He plays a central role due to the fact that he was the one who exposed many of the practices being carried out by the owners of the slaughterhouses, which included selling diseased meat for human food. It was a practice that targeted poor people, as any diseased meat would be made into “cheap sausages” for being sold to the working classes. MacLean argued that this was a direct cause of tuberculosis among the working class, and as a result of his campaigning a government inspector was appointed to investigate the slaughterhouse conditions.   

Mr Houston deserves further mention for his role in these events. As a socialist, he was fully aware that he was risking his own job by exposing the practices of the slaughter house owners, but he did so anyway as he was driven on by a desire to protect his own class from disease and death. Mr Houston, after 31 years of service, was forced out of work as a result of his whistleblowing. His employer was a broker, who the owners of the slaughterhouses boycotted until they got rid of Mr Houston. When the pamphlet was published, Mr Houston had already been unemployed for 8 months, and MacLean makes an appeal in it to the good people of Greenock to assist in finding Mr Houston new employment. They certainly owed much to him, given his selfless defence of their health to his own detriment. So while the guilty owners continued to enjoy the profits of their enterprises, for only protecting others Mr Houston ended up in poverty. MacLean commented, “Why should the guilty one enjoy such a great privilege, while the innocent one must suffer the worries of unemployment, and the fears and forebodings accompanying the prospect of immediate financial ruin”. MacLean is commenting here on a theme that continues to this day, when we think about the persecution of the likes of Snowden and Manning. I don’t know what eventually became of Mr Houston, if anyone does know I would be delighted to hear from you.

Of course, this affair was not the only time MacLean would visit these parts. We find many references in the history books to MacLean coming here to address the working class. One such reference captures perfectly MacLean’s attitude and enthusiasm for politics. A member of the Scottish District Council recorded, “I stayed with John MacLean and I must say he is the most earnest worker for socialism I have ever met. He has just spent his seven weeks’ holiday preaching socialism in the North of England and Scotland. On my last day he arranged a sail down the Clyde, getting back to Greenock in time to give my last address. After I had left to catch my train to London, MacLean stepped onto the platform and went on with the meeting.”

MacLean also gave up much of his free time to give education to working men and women, and was often giving evening classes in Greenock on the topic of Marxist economics.  

For many though, MacLean will always be remembered as a great anti-war hero, and it is probably for this reason more than any that his memory is so dangerous to the British ruling class, to the extent that his name doesn’t even appear in the approved school text books from which our children learn about the first world war. There is as much a need today for MacLean’s message as there was during that terrible war. As we see our country drift closer and closer to militarism, we need those voices who speak out, those who see the working class as more than mere cannon fodder to be used by our imperialist masters in their illegal wars. The poppy, once a symbol of remembrance of all those wasted lives is now being used by right wing politicians as a symbol of British exceptionalism. We have TV adverts from companies such as Sainsbury’s portraying the First World War as a rather pleasant experience. And now we even have the Royal British Legion attempting to sanitise the war by releasing heavily edited versions of an anti war song, The Green Fields of France, which omits any criticism of the war.

What MacLean knew was that, despite the jingoism and propaganda from the British state, the First World War was not fought to keep us safe. It was a war for colonies, for spheres of influence, for markets. In other words, it was a war for profits. A great Scot and contemporary of MacLean said: “If these men must die, would it not be better to die in their own country fighting for freedom for their class, and for the abolition of war, than to go forth to strange countries and die slaughtering and slaughtered by their brothers that tyrants and profiteers might live?” These sentiments were shared by MacLean.

In the years leading up to the outbreak of war, Britain had seen a great deal of left wing activity, and MacLean was certainly recognised as one of the stalwarts of the left. Between 1911 and 1914 trade union membership had doubled, and Brits were increasingly active in the internationalist socialist circles as well. At the Internationalist Socialist Congress in Copenhagen British socialists were amongst those who agreed that “should war break out, their duty is to intervene to promptly bring it to an end and with all their energies to use the political and economic crisis created by the war to rouse the populace from its slumbers and to hasten the fall of capitalist domination”.

Instead, and much to MacLean’s dismay, when war did indeed break out, many of these same socialists entered their national governments to help the war effort. Leading British socialists, such as Hyndman, actively and enthusiastically supported the war – including speaking on recruitment platforms. While a majority of socialists in the country didn’t sink this low, many did argue that the war could be supported on grounds of defence, to keep us safe from supposed German aggression.

MacLean had no time for either position. He argued right from the start that the war couldn’t be defended on any terms. “Plunderers versus plunderers with the workers as pawns. It is our business as socialists to develop class patriotism, refusing to murder one another for a sordid world capitalism”. MacLean was clear that only socialists could bring about an acceptable end to the war. He insisted that a capitalist settlement of the war could only lead to further wars between the capitalist powers. His position stood out like a sore thumb at the time, but has proven to be correct as the settlement reached at the end of that war lead directly to that other great war of the 20th century – the second world war.

When we look back at the First World War through the eyes of the British state and its propaganda machine, the main stream corporate media, we would be forgiven for believing that there was universal and enthusiastic support for the war in the country. We’re told that “conscientious objectors” were widely hated and considered to be cowards. This of course is a complete misrepresentation of history. The war was in fact deeply unpopular with the population, and there were massive anti-war demonstrations all over the country. In fact, the anti-war movement during the First World War was even larger than what greeted New Labour when they made the despicable and illegal decision to take us to war in Iraq. The greatest threat to Lloyd George’s terrorist regime in London was not the German troops, but the anger of the British working class, which in Scotland was lead by MacLean. In order to impose their will and ensure their monarch got his war with his German cousin, the London government had to enact a series of emergency draconian laws to control the workers, which included suspending many civil liberties and making it illegal to strike.

To MacLean they were even more severe. For speaking out against their war, the British ruling class twice had MacLean jailed in Peterhead. The treatment he received while he was locked up was horrendous, he was drugged and force fed, and this time inside had such an adverse affect on his health that it contributed to his early death in 1923. That the ruling class would turn on MacLean is no surprise. He was after all, according to their own head of military intelligence Basil Thompson, the most dangerous man in Britain. Basil Thompson, we now know from declassified documents was involved in a deliberate campaign to smear MacLean by spreading rumours about his sanity.

The British State knew fine well that MacLean was sane, but the British left were only too keen to jump on this particular bandwagon. MacLean stood for an independent Scotland, which has earned him an everlasting vilification by the British left. All the British writing about MacLean declare him to be insane. Even today, the Socialist Workers Party continues to vilify MacLean due to his stance on independence.  Their reasoning is easy to understand, as due to their own political bigotry they are unable to view any Scot who does not want to be ruled by London as anything other than insane or fascist or racist. Any slander will do.

While the British left vilified MacLean, to the Scottish left he was a hero. Beyond this island he was held in the highest regard by international socialists. In recognition of his principled stand against the mass slaughter of ordinary people in the First World War the Bolsheviks elected MacLean an Honorary President of the First All Russian Congress of Soviets, along with Lenin, Trotsky, Liebknecht, Adler, and Spiridonova, which was ecstatically received on his beloved Clyde; an area which had become known as Red Clydeside due to the likes of MacLean and many others. He became Lenin’s man in Scotland when the Soviet leader ordered that the Russian Consul be handed over to him. He was refused a visa to visit Russia; he could have travelled illegally but decided not to.

It was a tactical error on MacLean’s part and one which only increased his isolation in British politics. As it transpired, a certain Willie Gallagher took the opportunity to meet Lenin which MacLean had passed up. Like other revolutionaries of the period, MacLean hadn’t fully grasped the significance of the Bolshevik Party, even after the October revolution. With the encouragement of Lenin, Gallagher became instrumental in setting up the Communist Party of Great Britain, largely funded by Moscow wealth. The Bolsheviks regarded MacLean as the authentic voice of the revolution in Britain but he never joined the new party, although he remained a convinced revolutionary and supporter of Lenin.

His own party would never enjoy the success that MacLean’s popularity seemed to indicate it should. Party membership never amounted to more than a few hundred, and votes never more than a few thousand. His tactical errors in failing to meet with Lenin or secure funding from the Soviets were fatal to his political career. He continued to campaign for the Scottish working class right up to his death, but sadly left nothing behind in way of a Bolshevik style political organisation.

Rather than fade into political obscurity, however, MacLean remains every bit as relevant today as he was to those countless working class men who were sent to their unnecessary deaths during the Great War, or to Mr Houston whom he personally campaigned for when the bosses turned on him. Today, MacLean’s message about the necessity of revolution appeals to a new generation who are clamouring for real political change.

In May 1918, when facing jail for inciting the workers to transform war into revolution, he made his famous speech from the dock:

“I am not here as the accused – I am here as the accuser of capitalism dripping with blood from head to foot. In the next five years there is going to be a great world trade depression and the respective governments must turn more and more to the markets of the world to get rid of their produce. And in fifteen years time from the close of this war we are into the next war – if capitalism lasts we cannot escape it. My appeal is to the working class. I appeal exclusively to them because they, and they alone, can bring about the time when the whole world will be in one brotherhood, on a sound economic foundation. That, and that alone, can be the means of bringing about a reorganisation of society. That can only be obtained when the people of the world get the world and retain the world.”

MacLean stood for internationalism, socialism and independence. That message is relevant now more than ever. We must keep the memory of MacLean alive, to ensure that the message did not die with the man.