Showing posts with label history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label history. Show all posts

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.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Scotland built on slavery

When the British Government passed the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833 – 26 years after the trade itself had been done away with. it paid  the equivalent to £2 billion today which  was said to be equal to 40% of the government's entire budget in compensation to slave-owners.

Colonel John Gordon of Cluny, who in 1851 forced some 3000 of his tenants on the Outer Hebrides to emigrate to Canada. Cluny died in 185 received a total of £24,964 in compensation, relating to 1383 slaves across six plantations in Tobago, in the southern Caribbean.

Other Scots include James Cheyne, who cleared tenants from the Isle of Lismore in the 1840s and 1850s; the Malcolms of Poltalloch, who were involved in clearances in Argyll; Sir Archibald Alison, a noted social commentator; James McCall and Patrick Maxwell Stewart, who both had substantial holdings in railways; the Marquis of Breadalbane, and Sir William Forbes.

The figure was £6 for a child, an average of £50 for an able fieldworker, or between £18 and £20 if the fieldworker didn't have any specific skills to offer. For the top craftsmen within the slave population, like the sugar-boilers, who had a dangerous job and were particularly well sought-after, the figure might be £100. Slave-owners were allowed to claim compensation according to the composition of their workforce. A white artisan worker in Scotland would have been paid 25 shillings, of £1.25, a week, which is an instructive comparison.

 Scottish historian Professor Tom Devine "The list is mainly, perhaps even exclusively, concerned with the Caribbean. The great Tobacco Trade of the 18th century in Glasgow could not have existed without un-free labour.These are people on the list who were compensated for owning slaves but it does not include professional people, such as physicians, overseers, merchants and military people, who all gained from the plantation economies. Glasgow is usually the place that is cited as having a colonial connection, but if you look at the range of names and locations on the database, it is everywhere in Scotland, particularly in rural areas. This is why some people have argued that these monies were very important in terms of such things as agricultural improvement and the like."

Prof Devine said: “The myth has always been that Glasgow, for example, didn’t dirty its hands with the great transatlantic trade in blacks. Scotland was deeply involved in this but we are still in a degree of denial.”

Historians believe that much of Glasgow was built on slavery. Merchants earned huge fortunes from trading and so-called ‘Tobacco Lords’ — including John Glassford, Andrew Buchanan, James Dunlop and Archibald Ingram — all had streets named after them.

Professor Catherine Hall said it was "very striking" how many slave-owners there were in Scotland. She said: "The empire offered opportunities to the Scots on a very significant scale and working on the plantations was a favoured choice for Scots seeking their fortunes in the late 18th and early 19th century."

Nor should it be forgotten that during the American Civil War much of Scottish business – including the owners of the Glasgow Herald newspaper – was firmly pro-South. Scottish shipyards, then at the cutting edge of marine technology, built the only fast steamers capable of evading the Union blockade of Confederate harbours and supplying the rebellion. Vast fortunes were being made by Clydeside shipbuilders and brokers building ships to beat the blockade. At the height of this boom in 1864, Warner Underwood, the US consul in Glasgow, complained that 27 Clyde yards were building no fewer than 42 large blockade runners. Early 1860s Scotland was the scene of a cat-and-mouse game between Confederate agents and Federal spies, the latter operating from a safe house in the sedate dormitory village of Bridge of Allan.  The cash rewards for the Scots involved in this illicit trade were phenomenal. The sum total spent on building and refitting runners up to 1864 was £1.4 million (about £140m in today's money) – one-third of which was pure profit. These blockade-runners made up no less than one-third of the vessels that ran the Union blockade – more than half the British-built tonnage. The South had few of the industries needed to equip and support armies of half a million men and acquiring modern (mainly British-made) weaponry was vital to the war effort.

Nor was it exclusively an elite preference. Scots coal miners, unlike Lancashire cotton workers, were working-class supporters of the slave-owning South. The South's morale was sustained by romantic 19th-century nationalist mythology partly derived from the novels of Sir Walter Scott. Many Victorian Scots made the link between the Confederate armies with those other glamorised underdogs of Scott's novels, the Jacobites, while the daring victories of Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson were won by quasi-guerrilla tactics overpowering stronger armies, offering Scots parallels with the victories of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. For the American South, romantic nationalism and chivalry were, of course, no more than sugar coatings on an economic system based on slavery, but they played a big part in causing the rebellion and keeping it going

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Jeanie Spence (Jute and Flax workers, Dundee), Lamont (National Federation of Women Workers), Agnes Brown (National Federation of Women Workers), Mary McArthur (national leader and general secretary of the National Federation of Women Workers) and Rachel Devine (Jute and Flax Workers, Dundee).
 In 1900 Dundee was associated with one product: jute. Jute was the cheapest of fibres, but it was tough. As such it was the ideal packing material. Jute bagging and jute sacks were used to carry cotton from the American South, grain from the Great Plains and Argentina, coffee from the East Indies and Brazil, wool from Australia, sugar from the Caribbean and nitrates from Chile. Dundee was ‘Juteopolis’ – synonymous with its main industry. This association of place and product was not unusual. We still link Clydebank with ships, Sheffield with steel, Stoke-on-Trent with pottery. Throughout the late nineteenth century, over half of Dundee's workforce worked in the textile sector, which, from the 1860s on, was dominated by jute. Migrant workers arrived in Dundee in thousands. By the end of the 19th century, the city had quadrupled in size. Many of the immigrants were from Ireland, poor and Catholic. Many Catholic Irish immigrants faced discrimination and bigotry in Presbyterian Scotland. They were attacked from the pulpit and in the street. The Irish women working in the jute mills of Dundee were an exception – they were widely accepted.

Raw jute was produced in significant quantities in only one region of the world: the deltas of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers in Bengal in India. And for a short period – long finished by 1900 – Dundee and the surrounding district had a near monopoly on its manufacture. The Dundee jute industry was composed of many firms, most of them carrying out only one part of the process of buying, transporting, manufacturing and selling jute. Big profits were made in jute, but these were invested overseas rather than in the local economy. From the 1870s on, investment trusts launched by Dundee businessmen, channelled enormous sums into foreign investments and particularly into American railway, land and cattle companies. Dundee's ‘jute barons’ preferred to invest in American stocks rather than in developing new industries in Dundee. The result left Dundee dangerously dependent on the jute industry.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Without the Rose-tinted Glasses

This rather unsympathetic article by Gary Girod about Red Clydeside is of interest and a rich source of facts and details.

The Background

For many years, the Left have painted a picture of Glasgow and Red Clydeside as a revolution that almost was. Some have argued that the unrest in Glasgow during WWI and the immediate post-war period was a prelude to the establishment of a workers' republic in Scotland. Willie Gallacher's said of the 40 Hours' Movement that "we were carrying on a strike when we ought to have been making a revolution." Memoirs written decades after the 1914-1919 period and the government's hysteria paint a picture of Clydeside which was far more revolutionary in hindsight than it ever was in reality. In 1983 Iain McLean's "The Legend of the Red Clydeside" asserted that Red Clydeside was neither a revolution nor "a class movement; it was an interest-group movement." Glasgow was not Petrograd and it never could have been. Its goal to maintain the standard of living in Glasgow as the war strained the economy. According to the 1916 STUC report, the cost of living between July 1914 to July 1915 increased by 35% while food prices increased by 17% in small towns and 19% in cities.This would prove to be but a mere taste of the war's costs for the lower class. By December 1917, food prices had increased 106% while the cost of living increased by 85% to 90% as compared with pre-war levels. Workers' wages did not even come close to keeping up with this inflation. By April 1917, skilled laborers' wage increased by only 50%.

In 1913, for the first time in the history of Great Britain, a census of production catalogued the wealth of Great Britain. According to the report the £712,000,000 that formed the net output of Great Britain was divided between 6,984,976 workers, which would mean that if this wealth was divided evenly, each person would make  £102 per year. However, the average wage of workers in Great Britain was "officially stated to be not more than 24 shillings per week, or  £62 4/- per annum. Thus in 1907, the British worker was generous enough to pay the manufacturer  £40 per annum for the privilege of working to produce wealth. The Scottish Trades Union Congress uses the findings of the report to calculate the inequality amongst engineers and determined that the "net output per person employed [was]  £108." Meanwhile, the average annual wage of engineers was £67. "There is the simple answer, £41 per employed person to the capitalist." The 1920 Manifesto of the Socialist Labour Party notes that "of the wealth produced in this country, roughly £1,700,000,000 per annum, the workers' share is, according to capitalist authorities, less than £665,000,000 so that the working class gets little more than a third of the wealth produced." The manifesto would conclude that "this is wage-slavery."

Thursday, December 06, 2012

How Clydebank stitched up Singers

The 1911 Clydebank Singers strike is considered the first battle between labour and international capital in Scotland if not in the UK. It was also the biggest single firm strike in Scotland up to 1914. The strike lasted three weeks.

In 1867/8 the American company Singer Sewing Machine Co. expanded into Scotland. It first opened a small sewing machine factory in Glasgow near John St. However growing demand forced the company to expand to a larger factory in the Bridgeton area of Glasgow. In 1882 they moved again, to a greenfield site at Kilbowie in Clydebank. It was a very anti-union company. Tom Bell, an activist during the 1911 strike, in his book “Pioneering Days” states; “The firm refuses to recognise any union, and those union men that were employed had to keep it quiet.”

Friday, November 30, 2012

Crimes of Carnegie

In the land of his birth Andrew Carnegie is commemorated by statues and grand buildings named in his honour. In Dunfermline, where he was born, there is a museum to remember him. This article expresses a different view of the Scottish "benefactor".

Condoning Crime in the Name of Philanthropy

Many thousands of misguided people are applauding the alleged philanthropy of Andrew Carnegie and of these by far the larger number are
workingmen. Manifestly they have forgotten, or they have never heard of the horrors of Homestead — or perhaps they are too ignorant to understand or too cowardly to profit by the bloody lesson.

The reckless prodigality of Carnegie with the plunder of his victims brings into boldest prominencethe crimes he committed when they protested
against his monstrous rapacity. Then what? An army of 300 Pinkerton mercenaries were hired by this bloody benefactor to kill the men whose
labor had made him a millionaire. He did not have the courage to execute his own murderous designs so he commissioned another monster, Frick, by name, with bloodless veins and a heart of steel, to commit the crimes while he went to Europe and held high carnival with the titled snobs there until the ghastly work was done. It was one of the foulest conspiracies ever concocted against the working class and the very though of its atrocities, after nearly 10 years, fires the blood and crimsons the cheek with righteous indignation. Not only were the Pinkerton murderers hired by Carnegie to kill his employees, but he had his steel works surrounded by wires charged with deadly electric currents and by pipes filled with boiling water so that in the event of a strike or lockout he could shock the life out of their wretched bodies or scald the flesh from their miserable bones.

And this is the man who proposes to erect libraries for the benefit of the working class — and incidentally for the glory of Carnegie.

Will the workingmen of this country accept any gift from the hands of Andrew Carnegie, red with the blood of their slain comrades? That some of them have already done so is to their everlasting shame. The employees who a few days ago received, with expressions of gratitude, the bonded booty, to be held in trust for them until they become paupers, have debased themselves beyond expression. They may have to work for Carnegie, but they are not compelled to recognize as a gift the pennies he throws them in return for the dollars he stole from them, and when they do they are guilty of treason to their murdered brothers, and are better described as spineless poltroons than as self-respecting workingmen.

Some years ago, when Carnegie endowed the first library for the alleged benefit of workingmen, I objected. And I object now with increased

Such a library is monumental of the degeneracy of the working class. It is a lasting rebuke to their intelligence and their integrity.

 The workingmen of New Castle have led the revolt. Let their splendid example be followed wherever a Carnegie library is suggested. Let mass
meetings of workingmen be held and let the horrifying scenes of the Homestead massacre be sented to stir them to a sense of indignation at
the vulgar and insulting display of the spoil exploited from their class.

 Let honest workingmen everywhere protest against the acceptance of a gift which condones crime in the name of philanthropy. Let them put themselves upon record in terms that appeal to the honor of their class and the respect of all mankind.

 We want libraries and we will have them in glorious abundance when capitalism is abolished and the workingmen are no longer robbed by the philanthropic pirates of the Carnegie class.

Then the library will be as it should be, a noble temple dedicated to culture and symbolizing the virtues of the people.

Eugene Debs.

March 30, 1901. 
Taken from here 

For more on Carnegie see an earlier post on Socialist Courier

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tom Bell - Industrial Unionist

What they said before they became Moscow's men and followed the Moscow line.

British Advocates of Industrial Unionism
Glasgow Branch


The above body has come into existence to advocate the principles of Industrial Unionism, i.e., an economic organisation embracing all wage-workers, irrespective of the trade or craft to which they belong, and having for its object the taking and holding “of all the means of production for the entire working class.” ...

...What we aim at is an Industrial Union broad enough to take all wage-workers into its ranks, thus making an injury to one the concern of all. As the old handicraft form, of production has been brushed aside in the march of economic development to make way for the modern machine industry with its sub-division of labour and complexity of form, so craft unionism, which is a reflex of the former, must make way for an industrial organisation of the workers to suit modern conditions....

...The Industrial Unionist stands firmly on the bed-rock of the class struggle, and; declares, that so long as the means of production are in the hands of a numerically small class, the workers will be forced to sell their labour-power to them for a bare subsistence wage. Consequently, between these two classes a struggle must go on until the toilers come together on the political as well as on the industrial field and take over for themselves that which, being the result of their labour, justly belongs to them...

....Industrial Unionism in recognising that there never can been anything in common between the employing class and the working class, instils into the workers’ mind a sense of class solidarity on the economic field and promotes unity on the political field. With these two separate though complementary movements, the political to destroy the capitalist political State, and the Industrial to back up the political and form the Parliament of Industry in place of the defunct class State,— the workers could forthwith lock-out the employing class and accomplish their freedom...

333 Westmuir Road, Parkhead.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Big History - A History of All of Us

Socialist Courier found it interesting that three south Ayrshire schools – Ayr Academy, Kyle Academy and Marr College – have been working with schools in Canada Australia and America to promote a new approach to understanding world history. It is based on the idea that the academic study of the past can no longer be carried out from a nationalist perspective. It is argued that the discipline of history will progress only once it charts human activity with a global scope, looking at chains of cause and effect that do not respect national borders.

On a Big History course, the species Homo sapiens is not even mentioned until more than halfway through. It places geology and the climate at the centre of the subject, alongside other branches of science and technology. They believe it is essential to show that the course of human life has been altered by both natural and manmade factors. So Big History emphasises the significance of the fact that 4.6bn years ago an exploding star created a crust for the planet that contained 5% of iron. As a result, the metal has helped humanity to kill prey and forge weapons. All too often, students learn facts and skills but don't connect them all. Big history links different areas of knowledge into one unified story. It’s a framework for learning about anything and everything.

The historian David Christian explained "I believe human beings mark a threshold in the development of the planet, of course, but it is only part of the picture. What Big History can do is show us the nature of our complexity and fragility and the dangers that face us, but it can also show us our power, with collective learning."

Ben Goold, the British executive producer of a 12-hour documentary called Mankind, The Story of All of Us said "Today everybody acknowledges we live in a connected world because of the internet, but when you look back in time you see we have always been connected really."

■ 100,000 years ago, there were barely enough people on Earth to fill a football stadium.

■ Ancient Rome was eight times more densely populated than New York today.

■ When Columbus "discovered" the New World, there were already 90 million people in the Americas, a third of the world's population.

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 . . .'

Friday, July 27, 2012

Past Reflections 3

 It’s a pity that there is so little written information about the history of Glasgow branch. However,  when I joined in 1963 there were still two founder members of the branch  and some other members who knew stories about the branch’s early days while the old minute books contained some really fascinating tales, but be warned, what I can tell is mostly hearsay. 

There may have been individual members in Glasgow before the branch was formed because in 1907 the SOCIALIST STANDARD carried details of seven newsagents in the city where the S/S could be obtained.

The founding of the branch was reported in the December 1924 issue of the S/S, but branch details in the S/S vanished in August 1927 so there was no Glasgow branch until the details re-appeared in October 1928. Included among the early members were John Higgins, Tommy Egan, Harry Watson, “Professor” Barclay, W. Falconer and Alex Shaw.

I’ve already written about the contribution made by Alex Shaw but it was probably John Higgins who did most to establish the party in Glasgow. Higgins was fearless in face of hostility: for example, in 1930 he spoke at a meeting which included a number of communists in the audience, and he read out part of a bill placed before the German Reichstag which included a proposal to expropriate the entire property of all Eastern Jews without compensation. The communists raged at the Nazis for this  until Higgins revealed that it was the German communists who were proposing this bill and this can be verified in Alan Bullock’s “Hitler, a study in tyranny” (pages 172/3).

Another outstanding speaker, this time indoors, was Tony Mulheron. He paced about the platform, speaking without notes, and was as good to watch as to listen to. Paul Foot of the SWP was a big fan of Tony and so was I. One evening during the war Tony was speaking at an outdoor meeting and Esme Percy, a well known actor of the day, joined the audience and saw fit to criticise Tony’s diction. Tony’s response was to point out that all over the world millions of people were being killed, maimed and enslaved yet here’s a man who is only concerned with trivia. After the meeting a chastened Percy was nevertheless invited to accompany Tony and some members to the home of a comrade who had a supply of hard–to-get whisky!

Tony had a fondness for using grandiose-sounding words. For example, he described a short spell when he was out of the party in the 1930s as “a brief hiatus”, and the water for his whisky was “aqua pura”. A bit pretentious? Maybe, but what a character and what a speaker.

Vic Vanni

Monday, July 23, 2012

As others see us 2

The late Paul Foot, the veteran SWPer, and nephew of the ex Labour Party leader, Michael Foot,  in an article in the Socialist Worker called "Why I became a Socialist" recalls hearing a member of the SPGB speaking on an outdoor platform where that member, who had worked in the shipyards, told of his disgust at the celebrations in Clydebank of the local yards getting a contract, because it meant more misery for workers on Tyneside and Belfast. He attended a lot of SPGB meetings when he worked in Glasgow for the Daily Record. He, of course, dismissed the Socialist Party as impossibilists.

An excerpt from a letter (15th January 2003) wrote of his memories of the SPGB in Glasgow in the early sixties, when he was living and working there as a journalist:

    "I went to Glasgow for my first job (a reporter on the Daily Record) in September 1961. I joined the Young Socialists and the Woodside Labour party. A highly influential figure in the Woodside YS at the time was Vic Vanni, a big, very good-looking and persuausive bloke, a sheet metal worker, whose father had come to Glasgow from Italy, and ran a fish and chip shop. I became friendly with Vic and liked his sense of humour. He was greatly influenced by the SPGB, and many times I went with him and others to hear the SPGB lecturers in St Andrews Hall (I think). We also heard SPGB speakers like Dick Donnelly speak at open air meetings off Sauchiehall St. Before I left Glasgow in 1964, Vic joined the SPGB and I think he is still a member, probably a very senior one. . .These SPGB speakers had a wonderful, proletarian, down-to-earth way of conveying Marxist ideas. They were all, without exception, sardonic and witty speakers, and they made a profound impression on me. In particular, they scornfully rejected the idea - prevalent at the time, that Russia etc were Socialist countries . . ." 

 However Paul Foot was not totally convinced by the Party's case "I was, however, always irritated by their passivity, brought on by the ludicrous notion that the workers had to be educated to socialism, and do not have to fight for it"

And since we have mentioned Michael Foot it is worth recalling his memories of the SPGB too:
 “Of all the sights and sounds which attracted me on my first arrival to live in London in the mid-thirties, one combined operation left a lingering, individual spell. I naturally went to Hyde Park to hear the orators, the best of the many free entertainments on offer in the capital. I heard the purest milk of the world flowing, then as now, from the platform of the Socialist Party of Great Britain." Michael Foot, Debts of Honour.


Friday, July 20, 2012

How other see us

How the the Small Party of Glesga' Bookies (as the local branch in Glasgow was known in its early days because, it turns out, a number of its members were bookies, an illegal occupation back then) has been seen by others.

At the Barras market in Glasgow about 25 years ago open air political meetings were not uncommon, and the best were conducted by a fiery brand of working-class revolutionaries called the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Founded about a hundred years ago (and still going, I’m glad to say) and proudly hostile to all other allegedly socialist or communist political parties, they had several fine speakers and in those less apathetic days could always raise a fair crowd of the starvelings whom they hoped to rouse from their slumber. Scorn for their hearers’ meek acceptance of poverty and satire upon the quality of goods and services supplied to the workers were prominent in their arguments, as when the speaker would draw our attention to an evil-looking greasyspoon caff and recite parts of the horrible menu, concluding with Stomach pump free of charge. Once, when challenged by a wee bauchle with scarce a backside to his trousers on the grounds that ‘under socialism we widnae be individuals’, the agitator on the soapbox paused from his remarks on the rival attraction of ‘Jehovah’s Jazzband’ (a Salvation Army ensemble) just down the street, fixed him with a baleful eye, and loosed a withering tirade about how the questioner was obviously a proud specimen of individuality, with your individual Giro and your individual manky shirt and your individual football scarf and your individual council flat and your individual Scotch pie for your individual dinner . . .It went on for ages, a tour de force of flyting”. [Kenneth Wright, Glasgow Herald, 13 February 2001.]

"The Labour Party, Trades Council and the STUC . . . were largely responsible for securing the biggest postwar demonstration in Glasgow till then, at the start of the 1960s. Incidentally, that was the demonstration that produced the slogan to end all sectarian slogans. Just as we were turning round the corner of Sauchiehall Street two grim stalwarts of the Socialist Party of Great Britain were standing heralding the march with a huge banner and slogan which read: ‘This demonstration is useless – You must first destroy capitalism. [Janet and Norman Buchan, “The Campaign in Scotland”, in The CND Story, edited by Hohn Minnion and Philip Bolsover, 1983, p. 53.]

Scotland's most famous living anarchist, Stuart Christie:

    [Writing of the Workers Open Forum that existed in Glasgow in the 50s and 60s] I remember one exemplary SPGB graduate speaker mounting the platform, drawing a ten-shilling note from his pocket and holding it dangling from his thumb and forefinger for a quarter of an hour or so while delivering a devastatingly witty attack on money. The audience of thirty or so were spellbound. There was not a single heckler, until he set fire to it”. My Granny Made Me An Anarchist: 1946-1964, 2003, p. 157.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Past Reflections 2

 Another installment in the recollections of members and once again from Glasgow member Victor Vanni.

The party’s heyday began with WW2 and lasted into the early 1950’s. During this period party activities and membership grew and this certainly applied to Glasgow branch. Huge audiences attended indoor and outdoor meetings and from 1945 to 1948 the branch even had a rented shop and eventually enough members to form a second branch in the city until 1961 when the two branches amalgamated.

By the time I joined in 1963 the branch’s activities were really expanding. Several parliamentary and council elections were contested while new, successful outdoor speaking stances were established, but the big day of the week was Sunday when two outdoor meetings were held in both Glasgow and at The Mound in Edinburgh. If Donnelly was the speaker in Glasgow then Shaw spoke in Edinburgh with the order reversed the following week.

These meetings at the Mound were my own favourites. The afternoon meeting was usually good but, the evening meeting was the big event, especially during the three weeks of the Edinburgh Festival when the large audiences included visitors from all over the world and the party’s case would always get a good reception. These meetings created enough interest to get Donnelly interviewed on TV at The Mound and we had a regular following who came every week to see our opponents get a drubbing. These meetings paid-off by getting new recruits for the party and soon there were enough to form an Edinburgh branch.

When the Glasgow contingent returned from Edinburgh they would head for the new branch premises to meet other branch members and swap stories about the meetings in both cities. These premises were provided by the generosity of Sid Earp, a veteran Canadian comrade, who was visiting Glasgow and they enabled the branch to hold its meetings and classes there until 1969 when the building was emptied prior to demolition.

But not all speaking stances were successful. An example of this was in the early 1970’s when the branch decided to try holding outdoor meetings in nearby Paisley, a town with a violent reputation. The meeting was held at 3pm on Saturday afternoons in Dunn Square at Paisley Cross but there was trouble ahead. The problem was that when the pubs closed at 2.30pm local yobs would come to Dunn Square to continue drinking until the pubs re-opened  and they gave us a hard time just because we came from Glasgow.

There were some unpleasant incidents but the end came when at one meeting a burly member of the audience was so angered by one of the yobs that he picked up the man and threw him on to a wooden bench which shattered leaving him howling in agony amid the wreckage. We never went back to Paisley after that.

There are other articles in the SOCIALIST STANDARD dealing with branch history. They are the September 1979 and May 2004 issues. There is also an excellent verbatim report of a debate in Edinburgh in 1970 between us and I.S. The party was represented by two Glasgow members.
Vic Vanni    

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Keep on walking

46 parades of up to 8,000 Orangemen will march through Glasgow's city centre today with a number of them converging on Cathedral Square. In all, 174 parades taking place throughout the Strathclyde police force area. Henry Dunbar, Grand Master of the Orange Order, said: "The annual Glasgow Boyne Celebrations is the city's biggest street event" An impressive event, perhaps, but highly divisive and sectarian in character. 

The Orange Order warned that Scotland is a "nation in turmoil" and raised concerns over the "separatist campaign". Grand Master Henry Dunbar urged members to back the Union. The Orange Order called on the Church of Scotland to stand up for the country's protestant heritage. "We are dismayed by the dismal failure of our national church, the Church of Scotland, to exert influential leadership in matters of faith and morality. It is a sad reflection that in today's society, many protestants now consider that the Orange Order is more in harmony with their values and aspirations than the Kirk. We as an institution never envisaged nor aspired to be in such a position, and it is an appalling indication of how far the Kirk deteriorated. Sadly, it appears that we are in a situation where the Kirk can no longer command high public regard and influence."

Socialist Courier has recently blogged on the Orange Lodge and the Church of Scotland here

The Battle of the Boyne, is remembered every year by Loyalists on the 12th of July although it took place on July 1st, 1690. It is celebrated on July 12th simply because somebody was mathematically challenged - in 1752 the change to the Gregorian calendar necessitated a re-calculation of all historical dates to determine anniversaries. July 1st (old style) really became July 11th (new style). The wrong date has become enshrined in Loyalist tradition ever since. The (mis-dated) anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne only became the focus of celebrations for the Orange Order ever since its foundation as a quasi-Masonic defensive association of lodges dedicated to preserving the Protestant ascendency in 1795. The victory of Prince William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne did not change the penal laws against Irish Presybeterians in Ulster or the fact that in many cases they were forced to pay a tax for the upkeep of the local Anglican clergy even though they were not attached

Did Protestants fight Catholics during the Battle of the Boyne? Yes, they did. And Protestants fought Protestants and Catholics fought Catholics. To portray the battle as a religious conflict would be nowhere near the truth. William had the support of Pope Innocent XI and a Pontifical High Mass was celebrated in thanksgiving for the deliverance from the power of the Catholic Louis XIV and the Catholic James II. Catholics were fighting on both sides. And so were Protestants.

It was all about politics. It was not even really about Irish issues and was ultimately about the English crown on a foreign field and European alliances. William's European allies were mainly drawn from the League of Augsburg - an anti-French cabal of nobility, but included Catholic states as well. Irish issues were never really raised and Irish freedom was never mentioned. The majority of James' troops were the "Gaelic Irish" regiments.The Jacobite "cause" was a very nebulous concept to them. James enjoyed the support of the French, providing nearly a third of his fighting force And William's army relied mainly on Anglo-Irish forces. William's troops was even more diverse, with Dutch, German, French Huguenot soldiers and even Danish mercenaries fighting for him.

Was it a white  horse William rode on the day?  This is disputed by historians and current consensus seems to be that it was a dark horse and it is even more unlikely that he rode across the Boyne in triumph. He would have had to dismount and, less heroically, lead his horse across.

Was the Battle of the Boyne the decisive? Although crossing of the Boyne was important towards securing Dublin the defeat of James at the Boyne was neither the end of the war nor the start of a Williamite string of victories. The one decisive battle of the Williamite Wars was the Battle of Aughrim (County Galway) in 1691. Curiously enough fought on July 12th ... according to the old calendar!

Also known as the Williamite Wars it was effectively a fight between two factions of landlordism to decide which of them should have the right to exploit the people.

James Connolly was to write "...all the political struggles of the period were built upon the material interests of one set of usurpers who wished to retain, and another who wished to obtain, the mastery of those lands...The so-called Patriot Parliament was in reality, like every other that sat in Dublin, merely a collection of land thieves and their lackeys; their patriotism consisted in an effort to retain for themselves the spoils of the native peasantry; the English influence against which they protested was the influence of their fellow thieves in England hungry for a share of the spoil...It is unfortunately beyond all question that the Irish Catholics shed their blood like water and wasted their wealth like dirt in an effort to retain King James upon the throne. But it is equally beyond all question that the whole struggle was no earthly concern of theirs; that King James was one of the most worthless representatives of a race that ever sat upon the throne; that the "pious, glorious and immortal" William was a mere adventurer fighting for his own hand, and his army recruited from the impecunious swordsmen of Europe who cared as little for Protestantism as they did for human life; and that neither army had the slightest claim to be considered as a patriot army combating for the freedom of the Irish race...The Catholic gentlemen and nobles who had the leadership of the people of Ireland at the time were, one and all, men who possessed considerable property in the country, property to which they had, notwithstanding their Catholicity, no more right to title than the merest Cromwellian or Williamite adventurer. The lands they held were lands which in former times belonged to the Irish people - in other words, they were tribe-lands...."

As Connolly concludes "It is time we learned to appreciate and value the truth upon such matters, and to brush from our eyes the cobwebs woven across them by our ignorant or unscrupulous history-writing politicians."

Friday, June 08, 2012

Red Clydeside's Racism

In previous blogs on the history of Scottish labour we have observed how religious bigotry often marred attempts to unite the working class. But racism has also existed and been exploited for sectional advantage by supposed internationalists.

In all the major sea-ports of Britain communities a non-white sea-farers arose, many marrying local women. In Glasgow they mostly settled around the harbour area, commonly known as Broomielaw.

Many Red Clydesiders have become Scottish national heroes, remembered for their fight for workers' rights. Seamen's leader, president of the Glasgow trades and labour council and chairman of the 40 hr workers’ strike committee, Emanuel – Manny – Shinwell gained fame for his part as a left-wing trades union official in 1919, finding himself thrown into jail on Bloody Friday. But Stirling University historian Dr Jacqueline Jenkinson, in her book "Black 1919", accuses Shinwell of encouraging Glasgow seamen to launch a series of attacks on black sailors. Jenkinson reveals how Shinwell's British Seafarers Union banned black members and how labour histories of the period  fail to mention this Glasgow race-riot .

Jenkinson said: "There has been a reluctance to accept that many of the Red Clydesiders promoted actions that were discriminatory and unfair to the black sailors. Manny Shinwell was one of those who campaigned to stop black sailors getting work. His radical seamen's union, the British Seafarers Union, openly banned black members. It was felt they were keeping Scots out of jobs when they returned from service in the First World War, and lowering wages. Shinwell gave what some consider inflammatory speeches in which he condemned the employment of black sailors in the merchant fleet."

Professor Elaine McFarland, a specialist in modern Scottish history at Glasgow Caledonian University, said: "Red Clydeside does have this dark, racist underbelly, and there has been a reluctance to expose it. It may be due to the political leanings of some historians, but there has been a sentimental view of those who took part in Red Clydeside."

Socialists are only too aware of the racism that can inveigle itself into the trade union movement. Our companion blog SOYMB  recently re-published an appeal from Jewish workers about the descrimination they were facing from elements within the British TUC in the 1890s

The SPGB had reason to distance itself from certain members of the Socialist Party of Canada for their anti-Chinese statements in the early 20th century.

Addressing a meeting of migrant workers in London in 1892, dockers leader Ben Tillett told them: “Yes, you are our brothers, and we will do our duty by you. But we wish you had not come.”

Keir Hardie argued: “It would be much better for Scotland if those [Scottish emigrants] were compelled to remain there [in Scotland] and let the foreigners be kept out. Dr. Johnson said God made Scotland for Scotchmen, and I would keep it so.” According to Hardie, the Lithuanians migrant workers in the mining industry had “filthy habits”, they lived off “garlic and oil”, and they were carriers of “the Black Death”. He described the typical Irish immigrant coal-miner as having "a big shovel, a strong back and a weak brain"

E.D. Morel of the Independent Labour Party and future Labour MP, could describe colonial French troops as "black savages" .

The Glasgow Evening Times were able to employ the words "sambo" and "nigger" in its articles.

The two main sailors’ union, the British Seafarers Union and the the National Sailors’ and Firemen’s’ Union, played the "race" card to attract and mobilise white members at the expense of their black co-workers. The operation of a "colour" bar by sailors’ unions heightened dockside tensions around Britain’s seaports. Prominent Glasgow labour leaders enforced and supported the "colour" bar on black and Chinese sailors. They opportunistically played on this manufactured division within the low-paid and low-skill seafaring workforce as part of the wider campaign for a 40-hour week to reduce unemployment pressures caused by demobilisation. Trade union leaders endeavoured to involve white British sailors in the general strike called in Clydeside, by tying on-going white sailors’ protests against the "unfair" competition posed by overseas labour to the 40-hours strike action. During waterfront speeches at sailors meetings, Shinwell linked the predudices among white British merchant sailors about the ‘unfair’ competition provided by overseas "Asiatic" labour, placing them into a wider industrial setting. He offered dissatisfied white British merchant seaman an opportunity to voice their concerns about workers from overseas undercutting their wages and threatening their job opportunities as part of the wider strike movement. The rioting at the harbour and the threat of more in the succeeding days drew public attention to the 40-hours campaign. The day before the general strike descended into violence on ‘Bloody Friday’ Shinwell presided over a third meeting of sailors in a week, where he ‘…urged them to take effective steps to prevent the employment of Chinese labour on British ships….’  A newspaper report reads: “...Councillor Shinwell, of the BSU, who addressed the meeting, directed attention to the large number of British seamen and firemen who were at present unemployed and the large number being demobilised who would find it difficult to secure employment aboard ship. This he attributed to the refusal of the government to exclude Chinese labour from British ships, and it was essential, he said, that action should be taken at once.”

Willie Gallacher joined with Shinwell on 28 January to address sea-going members of the BSU and other unionised sailors at the harbour to persuade them to take part in the strike action. The tenor of this meeting was no different from the ones addressed by Shinwell; again, the tactic was to import the old demand that black and Chinese crews should be expelled from British ships into the broad strike campaign. The strike committee viewed support from white sailors as useful in widening the 40-hours protest movement and were none too particular as to how such involvement was secured. Shinwell and Gallacher were simply parroting the mis-conception that it is the poor unfortunate immigrant who is responsible for wage cuts and unemployment.

Jenkinson uncovered newspaper accounts that reported Shinwell's role in a Glasgow race riot in 1919. She said:"He played a celebrated role in the protest in George Square on 31 January 1919. But just a week before, on 23 January, he also played a key role in a very violent attack on 30 African sailors. Newspaper reports tell how he spoke to 600 sailors and it was quite a rabble-rousing speech about black and what he called Asiatic, or Chinese, sailors. This led to around 30 black sailors being chased by a baying mob down James Watt Street. On 23rd January that year fighting broke out on the Glasgow waterfront between black and white sailors waiting to sign on to a ship. According to three newspaper reports, whites were being signed up in preference to blacks. A fourth report claimed that blacks were being signed up in preference to whites."

The riot on Thursday 23 January 1919 began at the signing-on hall in James Watt Street a few hours after a Shinwell speech. The black sailors, fled from the hiring yard, pursued by a much larger crowd of white sailors. Locals joined the crowd, swelling its numbers to several hundred. The mob, using guns, knives, sticks, bricks and other makeshift weapons, attacked the nearby sailors' retreat in Broomielaw in which the black seafarers had taken refuge but the mob smashed all the windows and they were turned out on to the street. The black sailors fled back to their own boarding house. When this, in turn, was attacked by the rioters, some of the black sailors fought back with guns, shooting one of the mob. One black sailor was singled out and attacked with knives, leaving him with a gaping wound in his back. The police eventually intervened, this time by taking thirty of the black sailors into 'protective custody'. All of them were charged with riot and weapons offences. Only one of the white rioters was arrested. Shinwell blamed the violence on the arrival in Glasgow of black West African sailors from Cardiff and the recent appearance of a group of Chinese sailors from Liverpool.

The 1919 Glasgow race riot proved the first of a number that spread to major ports throughout Britain such as South Shields, Salford, Hull, London, Liverpool, Cardiff, Newport and Barry. Five people were killed, dozens seriously injured, and over 250 people – usually blacks – arrested and soldiers deployed to stop the rioting. The origins of the riots in Glasgow and elsewhere lay in the policies pursued by shipowners in that national wage rates for sailors hired in Britain (who were almost certain to be white) had been  established after the 1911 seafarers’ strike but rates of pay for those hired overseas (who were almost certain to be black or Chinese) were lower by as much as 25-50%. The trade union response to shipowners using black sailors to cut their labour costs was not to campaign for an extension of the 1911 wage rates agreement to cover all sailors employed on British ships but to demand an end to the employment of foreign (black and Chinese) sailors. Instead of directing the union's wrath at the capitalist class which exploits and takes advantage of the lack of working class unity, Shinwell openly backed the idea of securing jobs for white British sailors at the expense of foreign black sailors.

Such was the perception, that when shipping companies employed foreign (black and Chinese) sailors rather than white (British) sailors, the latter saw themselves as being undercut in the jobs market by the former. This was exacerbated  by the increased unemployment of the  post-war demobilisation when white sailors who had quit the merchant navy to join the Royal Navy, or who had been conscripted to join it, demanded ‘their’ jobs back in the merchant navy. Yet  many of those jobs had already been filled by foreign seafarers. Thus, at the time of the Glasgow riot there were an estimated 400-500 unemployed white sailors in the city. The rioting was triggered by intense job competition among merchant seaman. However, a black sailor from any part of the Empire eg Sierra Leone (where the 30 sailors originated from) was just as British as a white sailor from Glasgow and would be paid the higher rate, and likewise any foreign sailors hired in Britain – because they had arrived here on another ship, or because they had settled here. While whites viewed blacks as foreign, different and inferior, blacks viewed themselves as citizens of the British Empire. The black workers attacked in Glasgow were regarded by the white crowd not as fellow Scots caught up in the same contracting post-war job market but as outsiders trying to snatch employment from white Scottish workers. Shinwell's speeches amounted to not much more than “British jobs for British workers”, scapegoating black and Chinese sailors for unemployment amongst ex-servicemen.

Colonial Britons were used as a convenient "industrial reserve army of labour" during wartime but after the war soon found their continued presence among the white British working class was resented. Black people were viewed as an "alien" element in the workforce by white rioters whose violent actions against their employment were ultimately appeased by the launch of an extended programme of repatriation for black colonial residents throughout Britain in summer 1919. By August 1921 repatriation forced two thousand black workers and their dependents out of Britain under protest. However, many others stayed put in Glasgow, continuing to live and work in the city. But the race-rioting at the docks had served its purposes, limiting the job opportunities for black sailors. Following the riot shipping employers’ were more reluctant than previously to hire black sailors in the port. The increased difficulty in finding employment provoked an organised  protest campaign as members of Glasgow’s black population worked together to publicise the growing destitution among black seafarers caused by the long-term unemployment. The African Telegraph in April 1919 reports "In Glasgow there are more than 130 British seamen walking on their uppers, down and out. They happen to be coloured men, but they are all true British-born subjects, who have served on British ships during the war."

Sylvia Pankhurst's, Workers' Dreadnought, of the Workers Socialist Federation described the sea-port race riots as by-products of capitalism and a divide and rule tactic of the employers. "Do not you know that if it pays to employ black men employers will get them and keep them even if the white workers kill a few of the blacks from time to time?"  It also wrote: "The fight for work is a product of capitalism; under socialism race rivalry disappears.” and asked "...those who have been Negro hunting: - ‘Do you wish to exclude all blacks from England?’ If so, ‘do you not think that blacks might justly ask that the British should at the same time keep out of their countries?’ "

The Socialist Labour Party's journal The Socialist commented: “It is useless to contend that coloured labour cannot be organised. If white men have approached coloured labourers in an arrogantly superior manner, it is small wonder that they have been unable to organise them. ... ‘Alien’ on the lips of one of the working class should have only one meaning – the Boss and all that is his." It bitingly explained  "The Trades Unions have prided themselves on having ousted coloured labourers from certain occupations... Black men and yellow men have been attacked for doing precisely what white men do. This, of course, is but the logical development of the Trades Unions’ policy which is prepared to strike rather than that any unskilled white worker should get a 'skilled job.' "

The temptation to blame your unemployment or wage level on foreign labour may be strong. But nevertheless such views are false. The blame lies elsewhere. You must not blame another worker for your poverty. The clash on the Broomielaw can be taken as an example of how one element of the working class can be made the scapegoat, by those supposedly protecting the interests of all workers, in order to secure a better deal for their members, at the expense of the minority.

Shinwell went on to become a Independent Labour Party then Labour Party MP, chair-person of the Labour Party, Minister of Fuel and Power in the post-war Labour government, Secretary of State for War, Minister of Defence, Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and Baron Shinwell of Easington. It is ironic that he played a role in this campaign against black sailors when Shinwell himself was a victim of anti-semitism. After a Tory MP told Shinwell, who was Jewish, to "go back to Poland" during a debate in Parliament in 1938, Shinwell crossed the floor of the chamber and punched him.

Sources from here and here and here

Friday, June 01, 2012

Scotland and the Spanish Civil War

Steve Fullarton, Scotland's last surviving veteran of the International Brigade passed away at 87 in May 2008. The last Scottish veteran of Spanish Civil War, 99 yr old Thomas Watters, an ex-Glasgow bus driver who went to Spain with the Scottish Ambulance Unit died in February 2012. We, the working class, should always remember our history. But the heroism of individual members of the working class is not always enough. The Spanish civil war involved bravery and  imagination mixed with calculated cruelty, murder, mayhem and, not a few times, stupidity.

In the 30s fascism had already made huge advances in Europe with dictators established both in Germany and Italy. A demonstration in Hyde Park in London by the British Union of Fascists in November 1936  was attended by some 100,000 people. The BUF were controlled in Scotland by William Chalmers-Hunter of Tillery, which was a country house just outside the village of Udny.

On July 18 1936, right wing nationalist forces attempted to overthrow the democratically elected government of Spain. This Popular Front government, which could rely on 260 of the 470 seats in the Spanish Parliament, had been pursuing reforms and widening political freedoms within what was still a very poor and feudal country. At the time many peasants earned less than a shilling a day for 14 hours labours, whilst half of Spain was owned by mere 50,000 feudal landowners. The changes introduced by the elected government to the political and economic make-up of the country fell foul of the landed aristocracy, big industrialists and army generals, who proceeded to organize a fascist-military adventure against the elected government. The rebellion can be described in the main as a landed-class revolt against the agrarian reforms. The fascist-military revolt began in Morocco, a Spanish colony to spread to the mainland. Led by Generals Sanjurjo, Franco and Mola and supported by the Catholic Church hierarchy, the fascist army junta launched members of the Spanish military, Spanish Civil Guard, Spanish Foreign Legion, various fascist, religious fundamentalist and monarchist groups and 30,000 imported Moorish (Arab and Berber) mercenaries against the government and her supporters. In all 75,000 Moorish troops were employed in the Civil War. The fascist-military uprising could call upon 5/6 Italian Legionary Divisions consisting of 8-10,000 men, and, 15,000 Italian and 10,000 German technical troops.

The Spanish Civil War was fought against a backcloth where the British establishment was basically sympathetic to the fascists, their non-intervention in reality ensuring that the forces of General Franco won the day. We now realise that the rise of fascism in Europe was a direct consequence of the First World War and the dire economic conditions which led to the depression era.

To support the Spanish people in their defence of their democracy volunteers came to Spain from many countries. In all nearly 45,000 men and women from all over the world – organised in the main by Comintern came to Spain to form the International Brigades within the armies of the Republic. Some 2,200-2400 volunteers arrived from Britain to eventually form the British Battalion, a part of the International Brigades. The average age of the British Battalion was 29. This brigade saw action in most of the major battles of the Spanish War. One quarter of the British Battalion died during the war, some 526 killed and most everyone else wounded at least once. 80% of British Battalion volunteers were  members of the British Communist Party. Prior to the British Battalion formation in early 1937 volunteers from Scotland and elsewhere fought initially with Spanish militia units and then created a 145-man militia called the Tom Mann Centuria. English speaking troops also saw action in the 86th Brigade at the Cordora front, the John Brown Artillery Brigade and within sections of the Thaelmann (German), Commune de Paris, La Marseillaise and Edgar Andre (French) Battalions. Others operated as part of the POUM (neo-Trotskyist but affiliated to the ILP - the reason George Orwell enlisted in its militia ranks) and also with the anarchist militias. As well as combatants, Scotland contributed medical staff and the Scottish Medical and Ambulance Units. The Scottish Ambulance Unit, acted as a mobile medical service on first the Toledo front and later during the Siege of Madrid. Volunteer medics, drivers and nurses travelled to Spain independently, and worked both under battlefield conditions and in hospitals with a paucity of facilities and resources. Their important contribution to the conflict was to selflessly attend to the wounded under the most brutal and harrowing of circumstances

Scotland’s contribution to the British Battalion was 476 volunteers. Scottish volunteers comprised 23% of the estimated 2,400 men and women who travelled from Great Britain to serve in the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War.

The one hundred Scots in the British battalion were initially engaged defending the road south of Madrid and while the Nationalists were held in check, over a quarter of the Scots died. Later we learned that a force of 381 took part in the disastrous attack on Brunete, where 289 were killed, seriously wounded or captured. "We fight to free Madrid as the first step to freeing Spain. We fight to free Spain as the first step towards freeing the world of fascism." (Orders of the Day 15th Brigade, July 5th 1937, before the Battle of Brunete). With the survivors transferred to the Aragon front where they helped in the capture of Quinto and Belghite, by October they had suffered another serious reverse at the assault on Fuentes de Ebro. It was here that four Aberdonians were to fall.

Aberdeen had always a strong socialist tradition dating back to at least Chartist times, and in the 1920’s the city was said to be considered to be even redder than Glasgow. 19 of Aberdeen’s finest committed to this fight; 5 of them making the ultimate sacrifice to the cause, and dying on the battlefields of Spain at Gandesa and Ebro. International Bigade volunteers  from Aberdeen and its environs: D. Anderson,W. Bruce,,R. Cooney (Bob Cooney was the Political Commissar to the British Battalion), R. Cooper, C. Downie,W. Dunbar, G. Forbes, A. Gibb, J. Londragon, A. Reid, R. Simpson,  J. Watson, C. Watt, A. Christie. Those killed in action: T. Davidson, A. Dewar,  C .McLeod, K .Morrice, E. Sim

The Perthshire contribution was Edward Brown, John Gordon, Robert Malcolm, Hugh MacKay, [John] William Gilmour, James Moir, Ann Murray, George Murray, Tom Murray and George Steele, all connected to Perthshire were members of that small but significant band of men and women who went to Spain during the Civil War between 1936-39. In July 1937, the British Battalion under the command of Fred Copeman was involved in an offensive to relieve pressure on Madrid and the northern front – later known as the Battle of Brunete. James Moir was killed in action during this battle. He was aged 20 and a member of the Communist Party. Edward Brownwas a member of the Communist Party (initially a member of the Independent Labour Party, Edward joined the Communist Party whilst living in Perth) and saw service in Spain at the British Battalion base and as a member of the British Battalion Anti-Tank Battery. When in 1936 Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts organized a march in Perth, Edward Brown was a part of the large crowd that opposed the march. John Gordon in common with a number of other young men found the reality of war too difficult and he deserted soon after deployment. This resulted in arrest and imprisonment at Valencia before repatriation home. Hugh MacKay served in the French Foreign Legion from which he deserted in 1934. It was because he made his own way to Spain in 1936 that he was initially imprisoned as a spy and eventually released in 1937, served in No. 2 Company of the British Battalion, and fought at Ebro .

A meeting took place in Perth at the Lower City Halls on May 17th 1938 organised by the Pro-Franco Friends of Nationalist Spain. The platform speakers included Colonel R.G. Dawson of Orchill, Bracon, Captain H.W. Luttman-Jones of Luncarty (Luttman-Jones was an organiser for Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists in Perthshire), Sir Walter Maxwell-Scott, Arthur Loveday (Late President of the British Chamber of Commerce in Spain) and Sir Nairne Stewart Sandeman M.P. as chair. Both within and outside the meeting counter-demonstrations and heckling occurred so that a lot of the meeting was disrupted. Nevertheless, a resolution was passed: "This meeting records its heartfelt sympathy with fellow Christians who are suffering such prolonged martyrdom, declares its firm conviction that there will be no peace in Spain or the Western Mediterranean until the forces of anarchy, tyranny and Communism are crushed, and expresses its earnest hope and confidence that the great majority of Spaniards now supporting the Nationalist cause will gain an early triumph for unity, order, liberty and religious freedoms for which they are striving with such heroism."

Opponents to the Republic fell primarily into one of two categories: they either supported Franco and Fascist ideologies, or they opposed the Republicans on the grounds of anti-communism and the atrocities perpetuated by republican forces upon the Catholic Church in Spain. Papers such as the "Daily Mail" and the "Daily Express" often functioned as anti-Republican propaganda, as did (to a lesser extent) the "Glasgow Evening Express". Support for the Nationalists came predominantly from local BUF branches and from aristocracy such as the 8th Earl of Glasgow, who held long-standing military ties.Captain Archibald Maule Ramsay, the Conservative M.P. for Peebles, formed the United Christian Front, whose manifesto alleged that Franco’s forces were engaged in fighting the Anti-Christ in Spain, while Major-General Sir Walter Maxwell-Scott formed the Scottish Friends of National Spain, whose first meeting is notable for denying that the attack on Guernica was air-based, and resulting in a riot with pro-Republican protestors.

At the Glasgow May Day Rally of 1937, 15,000 people turned out to march under the banner of "Solidarity with Spain" while Dundonians in that same year raised enough money to buy and send an ambulance to the Republican front. A food ship carrying 100 tons of food for those under siege in Spain was chartered and sent by a collaborative venture from the Edinburgh and Glasgow Trades Councils, while in Dundee, the Basque Children’s Committee was created in order to provide a accommodation for children from the Basque region who had been evacuated to southern England in 1937, with 25 children eventually travelling to Scotland to reside at Mall Park in Montrose, and 200 refugee children taken in by the Co-operative Society in Rothesay.

Arthur Nicol a lieutenant in the International Brigade and one of sixty from Dundee to volunteer for Spain, describes the journey to Spain. "First, we had to slip out of England like criminals. We took a weekend ticket to Paris. Then we had to dodge the French police on our way down through France to the Spanish border. Then it was an all night hike over the Pyrenees into Spain. I must say that the French Communist Party did a marvellous job organizing our journey through France. Dodging from place to place sometimes taking two or three weeks to get through France."

17 Dundonians died in Spain

It is impossible in such blog as Socialist Courier to describe all the volunteers to Spain so a brief biography of James Maley must suffice. He was just 11 when he was in George Square on the infamous occasion in 1919 when troops and tanks were called in after a demonstration for a 40-hour working week became a riot. This was the era of Red Clydeside, when disillusioned men not long returned from the trenches to a thankless civvy street discussed politics at close mouths. The young Maley started attending meetings, and listened to the Independent Labour Party firebrand, Jimmy Maxton, at Glasgow Green. In 1932, at the age of twenty-four, James Maley joined the Communist Party. He was a public speaker at Glasgow Green and Govan and tutor for the Party. He was captured at Jarama, with his machine-gun company. One of his comrades was executed. He was sentenced to twenty years with the others, but eventually released as part of a prisoner swap. His recount his experience of  going to Spain. Three buses were drawn up in George Square with the men paying £5/8s/0d  each for the journey. "It was like a Celtic supporters' outing. I recognised some of them who'd gone to school with me," he said. The lack of organisation was equally apparent when the volunteers were taken to the front. As they were getting off the lorry, the Republicans were already in retreat in a battle which was raging less than quarter of a mile away. "There were four of us with two cannons as well as 12 men with rifles," Mr Maley told BBC Scotland's news website. "As soon as we jumped off the lorry we had to begin firing. It was pandemonium, but we didn't have enough ammunition. There was no organisation; we fired until we ran out of ammunition, until there was nothing left." Following his Spanish experiences, had little time for the Roman Catholic hierarchy and didn't bring up his children in the faith. However, he was a die-hard Celtic supporter,   and two 30ft-long banners were unfurled in his honour at Hampden Park on Saturday during the cup-tie against St Johnstone, upon his passing. Quoting the slogan used by the defenders of Madrid during the Spanish Civil War, "They shall not pass," the banners said: "James Maley RIP. No Pasarán". His communism owed more to the Calton than to the Kremlin.

Of the ninety-two Scottish International Brigade volunteers killed in Spain, sixty-five were from Glasgow; another nine came from the Lanarkshire mining communities around Blantyre.

 Five Communist Party members from Renton made their way to Spain to join the International Brigades to combat Franco. Brothers Patrick-Joseph, Tommy and Daniel Gibbons, along with James Arnott and Patrick Curley. Tommy was killed in the battle for Brunete. Danny was wounded in the Battle of Jarama in February 1937, and was allowed to return home – but he made his way back to Spain again. He was captured at the battle of Calaceite in March 1938. Patrick Curley was killed at Jarama.

31 volunteers came from West Dunbartonshire, including the five from Renton, and another 11 from Alexandria. Others came from Clydebank, Dumbarton, Duntocher and Dalmuir.

40 men and women from Fife - 11 of them from Kirkcaldy alone - made their way to Spain to take up arms.

There were 40 men and women from across Edinburgh who volunteered for Spain, ten of whom fell on the battlefields. Among them was Jimmy Rutherford, from Newhaven, who was only 20 when he was executed for his involvement in the battle. He sneaked back into the country after previously being deported – committed to helping the republican cause – only to be recognised and executed. He told his father, "If all the young men had seen what I saw out there, they would be doing what I am doing". Edinburgh shoe repairer Harold Fry, also  died on the battlefields, never seeing his son who was born after he set off for Spain.

George Watters, his brother in-law, William Dickson, who was killed at Brunete, Jock Gilmour also killed in action at Jarama, and Jimmy Kempton were volunteers from Prestonpans, a highly politicised town in the 1930s.

After the Battle of Guadalajara, in March 1937, André Marty reported to Comintern that the Brigades were on the verge of collapse due to the loss of men through demoralisation, deaths, casualties and desertions. Men previously commended for their courage were now described as “cowards, amoral and alco­holics”. The erosion of Brigade morale began with Jarama. Partly this was due to the harsh real­ities of a war in which they were used as expendable shock troops. The next battle in which the British Battalion was involved occurred a few months later, in July 1937, at Brunete, the first major offensive of the war. It quickly turned into an unmitigated disaster, both tactically and in terms of personnel. Of the 331 Britons who answered roll call on July 6, 1937. the first day of the battle, by July 24, when Franco’s forces finally broke through the Republican lines, 289 of them were dead, wounded or captured. With such enormous losses — most battalions were now down to under 200 men —morale plummeted and there were increasing outbreaks of insubordination and desertion. Around 298 British volunteers deserted (16 per cent) compared with about 100 Americans. Only one Briton, a Glaswegian, by the name of Peter Kemp, is known to have been formally executed. Morale deteriorated further in the Spring of 1937 with the Stalinist onslaught against the CNT and the var­ious, smaller "Marxist" parties. The Battalion’s greatest success, however, was its key role in the capture of the Aragonese town of Teruel on 8 January 1938, but this proved short lived as by the end of the month the British were forced into a series of retreats in the face of a fierce Francoist onslaught.

Even though the International Brigadess were rela­tively few in numbers, they played an important role as shock troops, but cen­tral to their effectiveness was their political and moral commitment, particular in the early days. The  example of the International Brigades benefited the Republic, and as the civil war progressed the idealism and heroism of the rank and file had an even greater impact on the wider labour movement, with a marked increase in the membership and influ­ence of the Communist Party. In spite of their politics, the rank-and-file Brigaders’ genuine inter­nationalism and sense of working class solidarity and selfless heroism could not have been in starker contrast to the treachery of their Bolshevik leaders of the Soviet Union or the rank hypocrisy of the bourgeois politicians of the western democra­cies. They inspired later generations with their bravery and selfless courage.

However, in this struggle for freedom and democracy, by November 1937, there were 15,000 anti-fascist prisoners in the Republic’s jails, about 1,000 of them from the POUM. The NKVD established numerous secret prisons around Madrid, which were used to detain, torture, and kill hundreds of the Stalin's enemies. Ethel MacDonald played an important role in exposing the Red death-squads. One of nine children, she was born in Bellshill on 24th February 1909. She left home at sixteen. MacDonald joined the Independent Labour Party eventually attaching herself to the Glasgow anarchists. She  travelled to Barcelona with Guy Aldred's partner, Jenny Patrick, here she began to broadcast on the CNT radio. MacDonald assisted the escape of anarchists wanted by the Communist Party secret police after the Barcelona May Days of 1937, acquiring the nick-name the "Scots Scarlet Pimpernel". Contrary to Communist mythology about it being an attempted POUM­/Anarchist coup d’état neither the POUM nor the Anarchists attempted to seize power but concentrated on negotiating a peaceful settlement. As a result the Barcelona workers were defeated and a Stalinist pogrom unleashed against the POUM and the Anarchists. Ethel would smuggle into prison letters and food for fellow anarchists. She too was then detained until she managed to escape from Spain. After leaving the country she made speeches on the way the Communist Party  had been acting in during the Spanish Civil War. She returned to Glasgow in November, 1937 and in a speech to 300 people at Central Station she said: "I went to Spain full of hopes and dreams. It promised to be utopia realised. I return full of sadness, dulled by the tragedy I have seen. I have lived through scenes and events that belong to the French revolution."

She accused the Communist Party of being complicit in the death of ILP volunteer Bob Smillie who died in jail in Valencia, officially of appendicitis/peronitis. Smillie's death has been surrounded in mystery and subject to speculation, with accusations that he was kicked to death by his Communist interrogators for refusing to co-operate. An official ILP investigation, conducted by David Murray of Motherwell ILP, found that the authorities were guilty of carelessness and neglect rather than direct malice. But it has been suggested by some that the ILP leadership deliberately prevented Smillie's death from becoming a matter of political debate and that the ILP joined forces with the Communist Party to cover-up the death of Bob Smillie. The argument being if it became widely known that the Communists were killing anarchists and the followers of Trotsky, this would only help Franco and the fascists.

ILP General Secretary Fenner Brockway argued that the Communists were on the wrong side of the barricades and were now "committed to the defence of property". Stuart Christie quotes the anarchist historian Jose Pierats that in Catalonia, between July and Octo­ber 1936, the Spanish Communist Party ranks was swelled by 8,000 landowners and around 16,000 "middle class professionals".

Expediency indeed arises during war and perhaps one of the most unusual at the time was when Communist Party members allied themselves with the Duchess of Atholl and supported her in the West Perthshire by-election of 1938 due to her commitment to the cause of Scottish aid to Spain. In fact, the Duchess belonged to the pro-imperial right wing of the Conservative Party and saw victory for Franco as a threat to British imperial interests in the Mediterranean, and the spread of fascism in Europe as a threat to the British Empire as a whole. As the historian Bill Knox puts it in his “Lives of Scottish Women”: “Her stance on the Spanish Civil War conferred on her the title of the ‘Red Duchess’, although never was a title more undeserved than in this case.”

Although having some initial successes, the government forces were no match for Franco and by January 1938 the British contingent eventually succumbed to the Nationalist forces at Tervel. The writing was now very firmly on the wall. By September news filtered through that all foreigners in the Spanish army had to be repatriated forthwith and by December they began to arrive home. With government forces in almost complete disarray, Franco took over most of Spain as dictator. By February 1939, the British government officially recognised Franco and by April his victory was complete.

The toll of the Spanish Civil War was 600,000 dead, 320,000 killed in action, 100,000 executed, 250,000 imprisoned for up to 30 years or more, 340,000 in exile, 250,000 houses destroyed, 150 towns severely damaged, One-third of total livestock lost, 700 bridges destroyed, 11 cathedrals destroyed. Those who weren't killed had been crammed into Franco's concentration camps, penal labour battalions, or settled down to a hungry future. The country swarmed with 57 varieties of police. It really was government by machine-gun and terror.

Whether the Spanish workers were wise in participating in a struggle so costly may be debatable, but as they had decided to take the plunge, and as they faced the most violent partisans of capitalism, the Socialist Party of Great Britain were, of course, on their side. The Socialist Party paid tribute to the conduct of the Spanish workers. Believing that a vital principle was at stake, they had rallied to the government against a powerful revolt backed by the greater part of the armed forces. Workers, with little or no military training, stood up to trained and experienced soldiers. Although sections of the military forces remained loyal to the Government, these were hampered by treason and sabotage among the officers. Only the untrained volunteer militias were thoroughly dependable.

Nevertheless, the SPGB questioned the wisdom of their action in rallying to a purely capitalist government in order to defend it against a military, aristocratic and clerical rebellion. It is difficult to blame socialists and anarchists who took up arms to defend themselves and their unions from murderous bosses; but we can perhaps look towards the rejection of political democracy that preceded the civil war that gave the fascists the pretext they needed to break cover and launch their assault. One thing that was demonstrated was the impossibility of achieving real unity by merging together in a Popular Front parties and individuals who differed so fundamentally in aim, outlook, and method. It was obvious in 1936 that it would be an enormous task to secure unity between long-standing opponents like the anarcho-syndicalists, Stalinists, Trotskyists, liberal-republicans, social democrats and Basque separatists. There was frequent inability to secure effective and loyal co-operation, which shows that, even the stress of war will not make men who think differently work to a common programme. The anarchists favoured a revolutionary popular peoples' militia. The Communists wanted a "political" army like that of the Russian "Red Army", controlled by party-line commissars and Liberal-Republicans sought a party-neutral non-political army, obedient to the government. These fundamental divergences of aim and method naturally have serious consequences.  For libertarian organisations such as our own there was a real problem. If there is no democracy, how could socialist ideas be spread? The truth is - unpopular as it is to some revolutionaries - that achieving socialism was not possible and they could seek only the poor second-best - a bourgeois democracy. Trying to go beyond this resulted in defeat and disillusionment. A war within capitalism could only be fought on capitalist terms. You can't have a democratic army. If, however, you have an overwhelming majority on your side, you don't need an army anyway. No amount of oppression can be made to work against the masses, as the Communist Parties  discovered when the Warsaw Pact countries went into melt-down or Mubarak in Egypt later also learned when his legitimacy as finally challenged. 

In summing up the Spanish Civil War, New York Times correspondent Herbert Lionel Matthews wrote : “Spain...taught us what internationalism means...There one learned that men could be brothers, that nations and frontiers, reli­gions and races were but outer trappings, and that nothing counted, nothing was worth fighting for but the idea of liberty”.

During the Spanish Civil War the call went out for an International Brigade, and workers from all over the world set out for Spain. They had developed an idea of working class solidarity against oppression, against Franco.

sources: Fascism in Aberdeen
see also an earlier post here

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Engels on Edinburgh and Glasgow


Dr. Alison describes a similar state of things in Edinburgh, whose superb situation, which has won it the title of the modern Athens, and whose brilliant aristocratic quarter in the New Town, contrast strongly with the foul wretchedness of the poor in the Old Town. Alison asserts that this extensive quarter is as filthy and horrible as the worst districts of Dublin, while the Mendicity Association would have as great a proportion of needy persons to assist in Edinburgh as in the Irish capital. He asserts, indeed, that the poor in Scotland, especially in Edinburgh and Glasgow, are worse off than in any other region of the three kingdoms, and that the poorest are not Irish, but Scotch. The preacher of the Old Church of Edinburgh, Dr. Lee, testified in 1836, before the Commission of Religious Instruction, that:

"I have never seen such a concentration of misery as in this parish," where the people are without furniture, without everything. "I frequently see the same room occupied by two married couples. I have been in one day in seven houses where there was no bed, in some of them not even straw. I found people of eighty years of age lying on the boards. Many sleep in the same clothes which they wear during the day. I may mention the case of two Scotch families living in a cellar, who had come from the country within a few months.... Since they came they had had two children dead, and another apparently dying. There was a little bundle of dirty straw in one corner, for one family, and in another for the other. In the place they inhabit it is impossible at noonday to distinguish the features of the human face without artificial light. – It would almost make a heart of adamant bleed to see such an accumulation of misery in a country like this."

In the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal, Dr. Hennen reports a similar state of things. From a Parliamentary Report, it is evident that in the dwellings of the poor of Edinburgh a want of cleanliness reigns, such as must be expected under these conditions. On the bed-posts chickens roost at night, dogs and horses share the dwellings of human beings, and the natural consequence is a shocking stench, with filth and swarms of vermin. The prevailing construction of Edinburgh favours these atrocious conditions as far as possible. The Old Town is built upon both slopes of a hill, along the crest of which runs the High Street. Out of the High Street there open downwards multitudes of narrow, crooked alleys, called wynds from their many turnings, and these wynds form the proletarian district of the city. The houses of the Scotch cities, in general, are five or six-storied buildings, like those of Paris, and in contrast with England where, so far as possible, each family has a separate house. The crowding of human beings upon a limited area is thus intensified.

".....the house," says an English journal in an article upon the sanitary condition of the working-people in cities, "are often so close together, that persons may step from the window of one house to that of the house opposite – so high, piled story after story, that the light can scarcely penetrate to the court beneath. In this part of the town there are neither sewers nor any private conveniences whatever belonging to the dwellings; and hence the excrementitious and other refuse of at least 50,000 persons is, during the night, thrown into the gutters, causing (in spite of the scavengers' daily labours) an amount of solid filth and foetid exhalation disgusting to both sight and smell, as well as exceedingly prejudicial to health. Can it be wondered that, in such localities, health, morals, and common decency should be at once neglected? No; all who know the private condition of the inhabitants will bear testimony to the immense amount of their disease, misery, and demoralisation. Society in these quarters has sunk to a state indescribably vile and wretched.... The dwellings of the poorer classes are generally very filthy, apparently never subjected to any cleaning process whatever, consisting, in most cases, of a single room, ill-ventilated and yet cold, owing to broken, ill-fitting windows, sometimes damp and partially underground, and always scantily furnished and altogether comfortless, heaps of straw often serving for beds, in which a whole family – male and female, young and old, are huddled together in revolting confusion. The supplies of water are obtained only from the public pumps, and the trouble of procuring it of course favours the accumulation of all kinds of abominations."


Glasgow is in many respects similar to Edinburgh, possessing the same wynds, the same tall houses. Of this city the Artisan observes:

The working-class forms here some 78 per cent of the whole population (about 300,000), and lives in parts of the city "which, in abject wretchedness, exceed the lowest purlieus of St. Giles' or Whitechapel, the liberties of Dublin, or the wynds of Edinburgh. Such localities exist most abundantly in the heart of the city – south of the Irongate and west of the Saltmarket, as well as in the Calton, off the High Street, etc.– endless labyrinths of narrow lanes or wynds, into which almost at every step debouche courts or closes formed by old, ill-ventilated, towering houses crumbling to decay, destitute of water and crowded with inhabitants, comprising three or four families (perhaps twenty persons) on each flat, and sometimes each flat let out in lodgings that confine – we dare not say accommodate – from fifteen to twenty persons in a single room. These districts are occupied by the poorest, most depraved, and most worthless portion of the population, and they may be considered as the fruitful source of those pestilential fevers which thence spread their destructive ravages over the whole of Glasgow."

Let us hear how J. C. Symons, Government Commissioner for the investigation of the condition of the hand-weavers, describes these portions of the city:

"I have seen human degradation in some of its worst phases, both in England and abroad, but I did not believe until I visited the wynds of Glasgow, that so large an amount of filth, crime, misery, and disease existed in any civilised country. In the lower lodging-houses ten, twelve, and sometimes twenty persons of both sexes and all ages sleep promiscuously on the floor in different degrees of nakedness. These places are, generally, as regards dirt, damp and decay, such as no person would stable his horse in."

And in another place:

"The wynds of Glasgow house a fluctuating population of between 15,000 and 30,000 persons. This district is composed of many narrow streets and square courts and in the middle of each court there is a dung-hill. Although the outward appearance of these places was revolting, I was nevertheless quite unprepared for the filth and misery that were to be found inside. In some of these bedrooms we [i.e. Police Superintendent Captain Miller and Symons] visited at night we found a whole mass of humanity stretched out on the floor. There were often 15 to 20 men and women huddled together, some being clothed and others naked. Their bed was a heap of musty straw mixed with rags. There was hardly any furniture there and the only thing which gave these holes the appearance of a dwelling was fire burning on the hearth. Thieving and prostitution are the main sources of income of these people. No one seems to have taken the trouble to clean out these Augean stables, this pandemonium, this nucleus of crime, filth and pestilence in the second city of the empire. A detailed investigation of the most wretched slums of other towns has never revealed anything half so bad as this concentration of moral iniquity, physical degradation and gross overcrowding.... In this part of Glasgow most of the houses have been condemned by the Court of Guild as dilapidated and uninhabitable – but it is just these dwellings which are filled to overflowing, because, by law no rent can be charged on them."

Condition of the Working Class in England, by Engels, 1845