Tom Anderson

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TOM ANDERSON, 1863-1947


Tom Anderson was born on the 17th December 1863, at a place called Pollokshaws in Glasgow. His father, a hand-loom weaver came from a long line of hand-loom weavers and a line of Presbyterians. Though Tom's father was a Presbyterian he also held very strong radical views and taught his children to be courteous to all but bow to none. The family moved to Airdrie, at that time it was a small village not far from Glasgow. At the age of ten, Tom started work. He did not follow the family craft but at the age of fourteen started his apprenticeship as a joiner with Shanks of Motherwell (a small town near Airdrie). Tom was by nature a rebel and did not take readily to the ideas of the Church. He became an avid reader and devoured the books in the local library. His favourite being Gibbon's "Decline and fall of the Roman Empire", he later wrote 'Across the Ages', a small book based on his study of this book. His attendance at Church dwindled and eventually stopped as Tom became a Freethinker.


At the age of twenty in 1883 he moved back to Glasgow and joined the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners, a year later he was elected as the society's president. In 1889, Tom married Bella Craig, she came from a Unitarian family. Throughout her life she looked on the bible stories as stories of childhood and not to be taken seriously, she was a staunch comrade and enthusiastically helped Tom in all his activities. They had three sons James, Robert, and Tom, and one daughter, Bella. During the 1914-1918 war, their son James was an Absolutist. The year 1894 saw Tom join the newly formed Independent Labour Party and worked with them for several years. Later he joined the Socialist Democratic Federation, and threw himself into its pioneering work. In 1907 the south side branch of the SDF presented Tom with an illuminated address in appreciation of his work on behalf of socialism.


1894 was also the year that Tom founded the first Socialist Sunday school and three years later he formed the South Side Socialist Sunday School, which continued well into the 1930s. Tom believed in the Catholic maxim, "Give us the child until he is six, and you can do what you like with him afterwards". For over thirty years Tom Anderson taught the children of the working class the virtue of independence, the power to think for themselves and the meaning of socialist revolution. Tom was an accomplished musician and a fine poet, and in 1907 he compiled a song book containing fifty three songs. Of these songs thirty three had original melodies and most were of a socialist nature. His poetry was always of social protest and revolt. Tom Anderson was probably the first socialist member of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners and it was as a socialist that in January and February 1901 he led one of the biggest strikes in the city. Throughout the strike Tom showed himself to be a courageous and very capable leader and gained the respect of all the workers involved and those out with the trade. After the strike Tom found it almost impossible to get work, he seemed to be blacklisted by all of the city's employers. At this period he left his trade and started working for himself.


Tom now joined the Socialist Labour Party, and in 1910 they opened a Socialist School for children. They dropped the word "Sunday" as they did not want to be seen as hypocrites. Tom became President of the school and remained so throughout its existence. In June 1917 the first issue of Revolution appeared with Tom as editor. 1917 also saw Tom write his famous 'Ten Proletarian Maxims', he believed them to be the basic principles of Revolutionary Socialism. In 1918, Tom founded the Proletarian School Movement in conjunction with the Proletarian Colleges, with the ten proletarian maxims as the basis of its teachings. The movement was inaugurated with the purpose of teaching children of the working class the necessity of abolishing the present political state. In March 1919 the first number of the 'Red Dawn' appeared, this was the official organ of the Proletarian School Movement and Tom was the editor. The Proletarian Colleges were to carry forward the work of the Proletarian Schools, but embrace all the social activities of the working class. Among the subjects taught were, economics, industrial history, sexual science, drama and music. Tom Anderson as Principle of the college was fortunate to have the help and assistance of John MacLean MA, John S. Clarke and many others in the socialist revolutionary movement. On the 4th of April 1920, the Proletarian Schools held their first annual conference with Tom Anderson as President. The outcome of this conference was the formation of the International Proletarian School Movement affiliated to the Third International and the Young People's Movement. By now the movement had a good hold in Scotland and Wales and was spreading in the Midlands and the south. In 1923, a public petition was organised by the National Citizens Union, deploring, "...the existence and the rapid growth of Proletarian Schools which by their teaching of sedition and revolution, and their blasphemous treatment of all religion, are fast becoming a menace to the stability of the democratic constitution of his country; as well as to our national character, moral standards, and home life; and urge upon the Government the necessity of taking immediate steps to deal with this communist movement to pervert the minds of British children; and to give all facilities for the private bill which is being introduced with this object into the House of Commons." The private bill mentioned in the above petition was introduced into the House of Commons by Sir John Butchard Bart., MP. The National Citizens Union managed to raise 71 petitions and collect 72,718 signatures. Some indication as to how worried the established institutions had become.


As well as being an excellent speaker Tom Anderson was a brilliant story teller and over a period of many years wrote extensively, often under different pen names, the better known being John Davidson, Mary Davis and Margaret Dobson. In July 1919, under the name of John Davidson he published in book form his story of the class war. It appeared in the New York Weekly People, it was reprinted in the Socialist and the Sydney People and the IWW of Sydney printed it in thousands as a propaganda leaflet. In February 1924, under the name of Margaret Dobson, he published Sex knowledge for Parents. In July 1924 the Government confiscated the entire issue, leaving Tom facing considerable financial difficulties. Tom Anderson continued in the revolutionary movement all his life and also continued writing. Below is listed some of Tom Anderson's printed thoughts;

·Across the Ages: Short stories for young workers, (part 1) 1930, (part 2) 1932, 3rd. ed 1945.

·Two slaves and the underman (1915)

·The Proletarian song-book (1919)

·The fat bourgeois: A story for the young (1919)

·The class state (1930)

·Comrade Josef Dietzgen (1937)

·Comrade John MacLean: His life (1930, 2nd. ed. 1938)

·The God Man (1931)

·The story of the inquisition (1946)

·Proletarian poems (2nd. ed. 1946)

This is only a small proportion of the writings of Tom Anderson but might give some idea to the breadth of ideas and the effort he put into his beliefs. Tom had been involved in public speaking from the age of fourteen and then from the age of twenty five to the age of fifty five there never was a week he didn't speak at one or more meetings during the open air propaganda season, nor during the winter indoor meetings.

Tom, was born in poverty of working class parents, he was well qualified to understand their plight and their hopes. He never drifted away from his class nor betrayed any of the principles he professed. After a lifetime of struggle for the cause of revolutionary socialism Tom Anderson died in 1947.

Posted by John Couzin.

The book Radical Glasgow.

Radical Glasgow website