Showing posts with label anarchism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label anarchism. Show all posts

Sunday, December 01, 2013

The Scottish Scarlet Pimpernel

Ethel MacDonald was born in Motherwell in 1909, into a large working class family. Politically active from a very early age, she was intensely opposed to the political and economic domination of women. She left school at 16 and  joined the Independent Labour Party. In 1931 she joined the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation and became its secretary.

When the APCF split in 1934, she and Guy Aldred left to form a new group, the Workers Open Forum. This subsequently merged with a branch of the ILP to form the United Socialist Movement.

In 1936, the USM sent her to Barcelona to report back for the organisation. There, she became the English-speaking propagandist for an anarchist radio station, listened to in Europe and America. She was behind some of the first reports on the 1937 May Riots, when the Communist Party turned against the POUM, resulting in death squads of Stalinists assassinating prominent anarchists and 400 people being killed in street fights in Barcelona.

MacDonald often endangered her life in support of her cause. When anarchists and POUMists, were rounded Ethel MacDonald visited comrades in prison, smuggling in food and letters. She helped several foreign anarchists escape from Spain, borrowing clothes for their disguise and getting them on board foreign ships. She was finally captured and imprisoned herself. In prison she helped organise a hunger strike in every prison where there were anarchist prisoners.  She was imprisoned by Stalin's secret police, but while the world fretted about her disappearance, she organised hunger strikes among the anarchist prisoners and smuggled out letters. After questions about her absence in the Houses of Parliament and an American newspaper campaign, supporters formed the Ethel MacDonald Defence Committee. International pressure was applied and she was deported to France, eventually returning to Glasgow disillusioned. She told crowds of well-wishers:
 "I went to Spain full of hopes and dreams. It promised the utopia realised. I return full of sadness, dulled by the tragedy I have seen."

She lived in a menage-a-trois with other anarchists in Gibson Street in Glasgow. John Caldwell gives a remarkable testimony." Caldwell recalled: "We were separate individuals who sometimes had it off a wee bit. "When Ethel and I were in public, we were separate people ... sex had nothing to do with other people. "But she believed I could have as many friends as I liked and she could, too." He added: "Her broadcasts went down very well. Some of the American newspapers said how pleasant her Scottish voice was. But Ethel's mother disapproved of her being with [one of her companions] Aldred. Aldred the free lover, the atheist - she didn't want it. After Ethel died, none of the family came near us at all."

'The Word' was produced by Guy Aldred plus John Taylor Caldwell, Ethel MacDonald and Jenny Patrick in Glasgow post World War 2 to the late sixties.

Ethel MacDonald died on December the 1st in 1960 of multiple sclerosis.

Ethel MacDonald was not a member of the SPGB, nor do we claim her as one of our own. In many regards she and the SPGB disagreed but she is part of the history of the Scottish working class and deserves not to be forgotten.

Further Reading
An Anarchists Story: The Life of Ethel MacDonald - Chris Dolan
Ethel MacDonald:Glasgow Woman Anarchist - Rhona M Hodgart

A documentary film "Ethel Macdonald: An Anarchist's Story?" was broadcast by the BBC in 2006

Friday, July 12, 2013

Anarchism in Glasgow

Some may find this article on the history of anarchist and socialist activity in Glasgow of interest.

The earliest known Glasgow anarchist history centres around the figure of Duncan Dundonald, a Clydeside-based engineering worker who is said to have met Mikhail Bakunin in Geneva in 1869, translated the Revolutionary Catechism in 1870, and then returned to Scotland to carry out anarchist propaganda and revolutionary sabotage. His obscurity to later generations of Glasgow anarchists could be related to the fact that he emigrated to Australia, possibly in the 1890s, where he settled in Melbourne and continued his activities under the assumed name of Donald Duncan.

In 1884 was the founding of the Social Democratic Federation branch in Glasgow. Many of those involved in the SDF had been members of the Democratic Club and/or the Republican Club in the city, and were in the main ardently anti-parliamentarian. This caused divisions as happened elsewhere, and when William Morris broke away to form the more vibrant Socialist League, most Glasgow SDF members simply de-camped to the new body. Branches then quickly appeared in other parts of Scotland.

In 1886 there was the visit to Glasgow of Peter Kropotkin. In 1888,  Lucy Parsons, partner of Albert Parsons, one of the executed Haymarket martyrs. Emma Goldman made her firstvisit in 1894. Voltairine de Cleyre in 1897 and 1903

By 1937, there were 3 groups of libertarians in Glasgow, Aldred's United Socialist Movement, Wm McDougall's Anti-Parlimentarian Communist Federation and Anarchist Federation of Frank Leech.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Anarchism in Aberdeen

"You sing about your bonnie Scotland and your heather hills. It's not your bonnie Scotland. It's not your heather hills. It’s the landlord’s Bonnie Scotland. It’s the landlord’s heather hills. And if you want enough earth to set a geranium in, you’ve got to pinch it" declared J.L Mahon  a socialist who visited Aberdeen in 1887 and started a series of open air meetings and helped in the setting up of the Aberdeen Socialist Society, a branch of the Scottish Land and Labour League. 

The anti-parliamentarians broke in early 1891 to form the Aberdeen Revolutionary Socialist Federation. In 1893 the group changed its name to the Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group.

The Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group hosted the third conference of Scottish anarchists on January 1st 1895 and welcomed the delegates from Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hamilton and Motherwell.  Aberdeen had a membership of 100, with sympathisers “not less than one thousand” and was asserted to be the greatest socialist force in the city.

Full article on Libcom link 

The earliest Socialist Party of Great Britain branch in Scotland was in the North East of Scotland (Fraserburgh or Peterhead?) In the 1970s a Socialist Party group in Aberdeen existed for a brief time.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The difference between anarchists and the Socialist Party

“Intelligence enough to conceive, courage enough to will, power enough to compel. If our ideas of a new Society are anything more than a dream, these three qualities must animate the due effective majority of the working-people....” William Morris

To most people nowadays, anarchism conjures up the image of Molotov cocktail throwing protesters but it is as well to be reminded that anarchism has a tradition in the working-class movement as old as Marxism itself.  Although  the Socialist Party is not anarchist there are many points in where its ideas coincide with the anarchist attitude.

An educated and conscious working class will insist on democracy. And not the narrow, largely fictitious democracy of voting every four years but democracy in all social and cultural activities, in all spheres of communal life from A to Z. Members of the Social Party are agreed as to the general object for which we are striving – the ownership of all the means of production by the community; that community to be organised on the most democratic basis possible. But, beyond this, socialist  are not concerned with the details and intricacies of the organisation of the new society; and it is possible that in the conception of what that organisation will be there may be the widest divergence of views. The point of difference here between the Socialist Party and anarchists is not on form of organisation of the future society, or of the details of such organisation.

It is not that the Socialist Party wishes to impose on the future society a huge bureaucratic system, dominating all the arrangements of social life, crushing all individuality, and reducing every detail of existence to rule and plan. But we do stand for social ownership and social control, as do the anarchists. We are, however, not called upon to lay down  rules for that future society. We shall let that society take care of itself in that respect. It is very interesting, no doubt, to speculate on the future arrangements of society, whether it will be based on workers councils , federations of communes, decisions made by general assemblies or delegated committees but it is not in our power to insist that these arrangements be this or that. Any discussion on this matter must necessarily be of an academic character.The basic difference between the Socialist Party and the anarchists is not in its relation to future society.

The immediate goal of reformists is palliatives. The immediate goal of state capitalist is the re-ordering of private ownership. The  immediate goal of the Socialist Party and anarchists is the social revolution. We both see only one solution: The Revolution.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Fife Anarchism

Socialist Courier continues its occasional account of Scotland's radical past. We do not lay claim to its working class history, or claim that it represented the views of the Socialist Party but feel that in many cases, our political history has been hidden away and needs to once again come into the open to spur debate and discussion.

Lawrence Storione
(1867–1922) was a Fife miner. He is best known for founding the Anarchist Communist League in Cowdenbeath.

Lawrence Storione was the son of the Italian stonemason, born in Italy in 1867. Storione later lived in Liege and participated in several miners' strikes in Belgium. It appears he was given pamphlets on anarchism in this period by the noted French anarchist Elisee Reclus, who was lecturing at the University of Brussels and Storione now began to identify as an anarchist. He ended up in Scotland in 1897 arriving in Muirhead, Ayrshire. He moved on to Hamilton in Lanarkshire where he was to marry Annie Cowan in 1900 and stayed until 1906 when he travelled to Canada. He returned to Scotland in 1908, where he lived in Lumphinnans, Fife.

His coming to the pit village of Lumphinnans and his employment at No1 pit there introduced revolutionary ideas among the miners in that area. He soon set up an Anarchist Communist League which, according to Stuart MacIntyre in his" Little Moscows" preached a" heady mixture of De Leonist Marxism and the anarchist teachings of Kropotkin and Stirner, a libertarian communism which was fiercely critical of the union”. Among those who appeared to have joined the League were the miners Abe and Jim Moffat and Robert (Bob) Selkirk. All three were to join the Communist Party in 1922, Abe Moffat having an important position within it and Selkirk serving as a CP town councillor in Cowdenbeath for 24 years. In his anarchist years, Selkirk had been a member of a Scottish branch of the IWW, and publicly polemicised against Guy Aldred’s rejection of work-shop organisation, as well as denouncing Kropotkin for his pro- First World War position.

Storione’s children were given good revolutionary names: Armonie, Anarchie, Autonomie, Germinal and Libertie! The sole exception to this was his daughter Annie and she was a leading light in a Proletarian Sunday School in Cowdenbeath, which used the Industrial Workers of the World's Little Red Songbook, far more radical than the Sunday School set up in the area by the Independent Labour Party.

 Bob Selkirk wrote that the League sold copies of Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid, Stirner’s The Ego and His Own, and De Leon’s Two Pages From Roman History. The main slogan of the League was, again according to Selkirk, “Trade Unions are bulwarks of capitalism and all Trade Union leaders are fakirs”.  On the League’s critique of the trade unions Selkirk remarks that: “We thus sowed defeatism and pessimism instead of strengthening the organisations of the workers. Actually most of the members of this Branch became successful businessmen, accountants, dance band leaders, insurance agents, etc. They had lost faith in the workers” (Bob Selkirk, The Life of a Worker, 1967).

Both Abe Moffat and Selkirk mention Storione as an inspiration. However as members of a Party that was virulently anti-anarchist they had to re-write history. So for Moffat, Storione, (remembered as Storian in his book) was no longer an anarchist but “an ardent Communist,” who had convinced he and his brother Jim to a militant anti-capitalist position (My Life With The Miners, 1967).

Stevenson in his biography of Davie Proudfoot, Communist and then Labour activist, says that he was influenced by the League, although carrying on the CP tradition conveniently drops the "Anarchist" from the League's title

The League set up a bookshop in nearby Cowdenbeath in 1916, as the result of the subscriptions of twelve workers subscribing £24 each. It sold Capital, Ancient Society and other Charles Kerr publications. “We sold anything considered progressive, even “The Strike of A sex”. We sold the anti-war literature of the time and became familiar with police warrants and police searching of our houses”

Lawrence Storione died in 1922 after a pit accident invalided him during 1917. At a compensation hearing that year the Sheriff gave a decision in Storione's favour. However, police were to challenge this, saying that he was fit to work. They said that, along with Jack Leckie and Willie Gallagher, he headed a demonstrations in Kelty when 5,000 workers struck during the Three Weeks Strike. He was eventually to lose his fight for compensation.

Mary Docherty - A Miner's Lass.

'They always talk about how red Clydeside was, but Fife was just as radical,' she says. 'It seemed revolution here was just round the corner. Middle-class people were terrified. You had to lie to your employer about attending marches and hope they did not see you. The London headquarters of the Communist Party even got in touch with Fife to say slow down. We were so far ahead.' Her father became a member of the Fife Communist Anarchist Group and later a founding member of the Communist Party in Britain. 'Before he became political, like many miners, he was searching for reasons for poverty. He became a member of the temperance movement, but soon realised drink was not the cause.'

Song of Sixpence:

'Sing a song of labour
Boys and girls do try
For the master's children
Have got all the pie . . .'