John MacLean

Posted in Scottish Political Figures

The most notable of the "Red Clydesiders and a committed Marxist. Died in 1923 standing for parliament.

Red Clydeside. Apart from a brief and no doubt regrettable anomaly in 1931, Glasgow has been solidly pro-Labour in its politics. (It's easier to find a free dinner in Fife than a Conservative M.P. in Glasgow.) Going slightly further, a group of pro-Marxists became widely known for their revolutionary views, hence leading to the phrase Red Clydeside.

MacLean was a Calvinist Highlander in mindset, backing the idea of an ancient clan system as a blueprint (redprint') for a new workers' republic. He neither smoked nor drank, and through his intellectual convictions was a confirmed atheist and a rigid Marxist. He remained a generous man to all who were needy in personal circumstances.

He was born into a poor family in Pollokshaws, a suburb in south Glasgow. This did not prevent him from grinding through school and eventually gaining an MA from Glasgow University. Teaching for a brief period, he was soon completely committed to a life of politics, giving mass lectures in Marxism. He became so well known internationally that he was made honorary president of the first Congress of Soviets. In 1917 Lenin appointed him as Bolshevik consul for Scotland!

He condemned World War I as a matter of imperialist rivalry, and thereby inevitably ran straight into conflict with the British government, being arrested several times for sedition. His health suffered in prison, where he was convinced he was being poisoned.

MacLean correctly predicted the Second World War, but incorrectly named the U.S.A. as its instigator. He pushed for Irish Home Rule, leading, he hoped, to Workers' Republics in Ireland and Scotland. Continuing to campaign vigorously for his politics and the unemployed, he stood for the Gorbals constituency in 1923, though in poor health. Canvassing in mid-November led to pneumonia, and he died on 30 November 1923. Over 10,000 attended his funeral.

Tags: Red Clydeside