John Maclean was a Glasgow schoolteacher who became one of the finest socialist leaders the British working class has so far produced.
He was a fierce opponent of British imperialism and the leading figure in the opposition to the First World War. Maclean was a key figure on “Red Clydeside,” and was involved with the Clyde Workers’ Committee, which spearheaded a rank and file revolt against the dismantling of trade union defences during wartime.
Maclean held regular anti-war meetings at the factory gates and outside army recruitment offices. He campaigned against spiralling wartime food prices and helped lead the successful Glasgow rent strike of 1915.
Maclean held regular classes on Marxist economics in the industrial towns and mining areas across central Scotland – his weekly class in Glasgow attracted 500 workers at its height.
Maclean’s importance was recognised by both the British and Russian governments, if for opposite reasons. Lloyd George’s war cabinet saw him as a dangerous revolutionary and repeatedly imprisoned him.
In Russia the revolutionary workers’ government after 1917 elected him as honorary president alongside Lenin and Trotsky. Maclean was appointed as the official Soviet consul in Glasgow.
However, when, with the encouragement of Lenin and the Communist International, the Communist Party of Great Britain was belatedly formed in 1920-21, Maclean refused to join the new party because he had major political differences with those who would lead it.
In November 1923 Maclean died from poverty and physical exhaustion. He was just 44. Ten thousand workers lined the streets of Glasgow for his funeral.
See also John Maclean: enemy of empire by Dave Sherry
John Maclean: Red Clydesider by Dave Sherry, £4.00
Available from Bookmarks bookshop, 1 Bloomsbury Street, London WC1B 3QE, 020 7637 1848.
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