John MacLean Commemoration March. Glasgow, Sunday 29 November 2009


On Sunday 29 November the Revolutionary Communist Group marched in Glasgow to commemorate the Scottish revolutionary John MacLean. MacLean died on the 30 November 1923 at the age of 44 having been fatally weakened by jail and force feeding for his opposition to imperialist war. As he pointed out at his trial of 1918: “I stand here not as the accused but as the accuser of capitalism dripping with blood from head to foot”.

MacLean called for a Scottish Workers Republic and was made honorary Soviet Consul after the Russian Revolution of 1917.

The 86th commemoration of his heroic life was organised by the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement and appropriately the march was joined by the Thornliebank Republican Flute Band who contributed Irish and Scottish tunes to the event. MacLean stood with the Irish in their struggle against British imperialism and his pamphlet “Ireland's Tragedy- Scotland's Disgrace” is a searing attack on Britain's murderous war against the Irish people. 20,000 copies of this pamphlet were sold at factories, shipyards, mines and football matches. 100,000's of “Hands Off Ireland” leaflets were distributed after the Mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwinney, died on hunger strike in Brixton Prison.

The Revolutionary Communist Group was honoured to be invited to speak after the march and asserted MacLean's advocacy and adherence to Marxism and  working class political organisation as the solid basis of this comrade's international revolutionary stature.



Thanks to the organisers for today's invitation to speak at this commemoration of the Scottish revolutionary John MacLean. Now 86 years have gone by since our brave comrades death in 1923. As we have argued consistently in our material, his short life contains an incredible amount of lessons of value for all those struggling for a better world, for socialism.

Recently members of our organisation- the Revolutionary Communist Group- travelled to Cuba as part of the campaign to break the US blockade of the island- Rock Around the Blockade. We were privileged to meet and discuss with a comrade of Che Guevara, Orlando Borrego, who spoke to an audience of hundreds here in Glasgow in January 2008.

Orlando Borrego's words to us would have been resoundingly endorsed by comrade John MacLean. Orlando Borrego is no old dinosaur from Cuba's revolutionary past. At 72, this is a man who meets and advises President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela every three months, who counts the newly elected progressive President of El Salvador as a personal friend and who analyses with very fine precision the revolutionary developments in Latin America where he says “capitalism is dying away”!

His words to us were: “Study Marx! Study Capital!” and this of course is the top and hem of the whole story of our John MacLean. “ we make no apology for coming into the arena on the side of Marxism...” he said in his pamphlet “The War after the War” published in 1918.

In 1913 he told us in the lecture “Marx and his Message”: ...”the person who has studied Marx and has applied him in all its phases, can see things as they are”

In 1917 he wrote in the Call: “The greatest crime I have committed in the eyes of the British Government and the Scottish capitalist class has been the teaching of Marxian economics to Scottish workers. That was evident at my “trial”; that dictated Lord Strathclyde's sentence of three years.”

Night is darkest, they say, just before the dawn. What would MacLean have made of the banking crisis now beginning to undermine capitalism's claims to stability and prosperity. What would he have made of bankers and economists turning, themselves, to Marx, to Capital, for an understanding of capitalism? What would MacLean have made of a media monkey like Robert Peston and his efforts to teach us about the “economy”!

Economists, not of the Marxian variety, are now solemnly warning us of “false dawns”, against being premature about the worst of the crisis being past. It's not nostalgia or sentimentality to want MacLean's example to be examined and studied in itself - it is the urgent need for socialists like MacLean, today in 2009, to organise, as he did, to argue for the crisis and all the horror it will bring, to be explained from the point of view of Marx and capitalism and imperialism! And for that viewpoint to be acted upon!

Some folks are happy wi' MacLean, the Dominee, the teacher and want to leave it at that. And  MacLean and his comrades achievements are astounding! In 1908 the Eastwood school board was putting on economic classes: set text-Capital! Tutor- a certain John MacLean! The classes spread throughout the Clyde valley: Greenock, Paisley, Govan, Pollockshaws, Falkirk and into the mining areas of Lanarkshire then into Fife. Incredible! In 1915, the Greenock classes signed up 227 students on it's first day. 481 students attended the Glasgow Sunday afternoon class in that year.

That year- 1915- was proof of the heroic stature of our John as a political activist, as a revolutionary, as a Marxist. Having opposed the First World War defiantly, thundering against it's barbarity on the streets of this city, he was dismissed by Govan School Board following his arrest for declaiming against conscription. In the ferment of the Rent Strike, striking shipyard workers marched to his classroom and carried him off to the Glasgow Sherrif Court where he addressed a crowd of 10,000 workers! We have no hesitation in declaring that at this point the working class of Glasgow had chosen their leader!

94 years later such a scene seems utterly fantastic. Within 2 years the world's first Socialist Republic was born. MacLean's adherence and advocacy of  Marxism and revolutionary class struggle was vindicated on a world scale: the working class of Russia had indeed organised to make themselves the ruling class as the majority. The exploiters had been defeated!

The world has changed incredibly in that time and MacLean would have been alive to the contradictions of our times now as he was of his own times. A week ago they launched a submarine up this way which is the largest attack undersea vessel ever built. It never needs to be re-fuelled and can stay under for a year! And yet the army cannae manage to get a bridge built over the river Derwent! Britain's imperialist army of occupation is in severe difficulties in Afghanistan but has been unable to stem the tide of heroin to this city because the politicians are in alliance with the drug dealers!

In MacLean's time he could write in 1919 an article entitled “Will capitalism collapse?” that: “Many comrades seem to have been carried away by Kahn's Collapse of Capitalism and by the alarmist "leaders" and speeches of British journalists and politicians, and believe that under its vast accumulation of credit and paper money and bills capitalism is rapidly staggering to its doom. My impression is that capitalism is more vital today in Britain, Japan, and America than ever it was and is preparing for expansions such as have never been made before.”

Further in 1918 in “The War after the War” : “Every other capitalist country is doing the same, especially the United States, which has now definitely passed from being a borrowing to being a lending country. It is getting a foothold just now in South and Central America, and is manoeuvring with Japan for a firmer grip over the economic life of China. It will not take long for China to become a fully equipped capitalist country, entering the world's competitive market with floods of surplus commodities.”

McLean's remarks on British and American capitalism are worth noting, for things have indeed changed!  Britain's capitalist pre-eminence has entirely disappeared, only 13% of its economy is based now on manufacturing production and the majority of that is arms production. It is a parasitic, imperialist economy based on lending money to the capitalist exploiters around the world. And America is back to being a “borrowing country” again, whose enormous arms spending is based on loans from China!

These are the  historical contradictions responsible for the bloody wars in Iraq and Afghanistan- aye, Blair and Bush are being revealed as cretinous liars and murderers, war criminals!- but our John would have asserted, perhaps unpopularly, that the explanation for war is to be found in the economic system of capitalism and imperialism! And that the most effective opposition to war is in the battle to defeat capitalism and imperialism!

As MacLean said in his “Speech to the Dock” at his trial in 1918: “In the next five years there is going to be a great world trade depression and the respective governments, to stave off trouble, must turn more and more into the markets of the world to get rid of their produce, and in fifteen years' time from the close of this war -- I have pointed this out at all my meetings -- we are into the next war if capitalism lasts; we cannot escape it.” Comrades and friends, the sombre warning of John MacLean from history! But mind his other remark: “Be cheery comrades!, ye canna mak a revolution without being cheery”!

Study Marx! Study Capital! Study John MacLean! Long Live Comrade John MacLean!