George Williamson on Glasgow 1960's Anarchist scene
George Williamson on the 1960s scene
Way back in '77, a young guy (AD) on the fringes of Solidarity for Social Revolution,interviewed George Williamson. George had moved to Leeds and was an Architect, who wrote the Solidarity pamphlet “Urban Devastation” under the pen-name John Finlayson. He died in 2010.
The Flux and Flow
In 1962-63, two large “traditional” left” groups existed in the city – their background working class to lower middle class in both cases. These were the Young Socialists (1) and the Young Communist League. Many were recruited from the apprentices strike, and active in the LP/CP and the CND (100 people). There was some overlap between these, and the “non-political” militants (50-60) active in the direct action wing of the ban the bomb movement – the Committee of 100. The “trad left” courted the “new left”, looking for members but most influence of a political nature came from the old anarchists in Glasgow, (see elsewhere in this book). One of the “new” intake, Stuart Christie introduced London Solidarity to both the YS and the Committee of 100. The CND kicked the Committee of 100 out of their offices and the ILP took them into Dundas St. Here “politicisation” took place. The ILP (not particularly in Glasgow but elsewhere in Britain) were pretty libertarian and influenced some of us in Glasgow. About 20 people (including several from the YS) joined the ILP. About 10 or so joined Glasgow Anarchists. Syndicalist Workers Federation and everyone operated from the cover of the ILP address. Solidarity, ILP and Anarchist literature was freely available and speakers from London came up from all groups to talk. But this toleration from the old ILPers was fractured when the 1964 Glasgow bus strike occurred. We were told to wait until the branch met before we could leaflet the strikers that was the end. Out went a leaflet signed “some members of the ILP, the SWF and Solidarity”. 600 copies of the Solidarity “Busmen what next” pamphlet were sold in half an hour at a strike meeting.
That summer we tried to form a group,unsuccessfully, but at Xmas 6/7 of us produced the first issue of the Glasgow magazine. In 1965 the Clydeside Solidarity group consolidated itself. Right from the start tension existed between the two ex-YS people and the others from the libertarian /Committee of 100 milieu. It was personified in an uneasy relationship between myself and Jim Fyfe. Our group felt theoretically raw and exposed not only in relation to the YS people but the more sophisticated London comrades who had been through the CP and Trot scenes (and who had similar conflicts with the Committee of 100 people who joined there). We felt that the “political” lot were cowardly Marxists because they were not too keen on “direct action” (adventurism to them). Fyfe socialised in the YS(IS) boozer and I drank with the libertarians. But we gelled round the magazine. We were strongly influenced by London Solidarity and they helped us a lot. A pamphlet on the Glasgow Bus Strike was written by London. We had 2 good conferences in the city with them. We modelled a lot of what we did, on their example. We sold a great deal of their literature. We retained our independence from both YS and anarchists and by having our own local mag – the only one in Glasgow – we were read and known. We leafleted regularly – and the magazine documents our areas of action: Committee of 100, bus workers, Linwood. We had lots of joint action with anarchists. We looked to the Committee of 100 for our members and strongly influenced the people in Aberdeen, so much that a group started there. A group formed out of Anarchists (Mitchell / Smith), ex Socialist Labour League (Gerry Healy trots),(N. Miller) and YSers (Browne) and peaceniks, it became a more politically advanced group – theoretically – than Glasgow and the moving of Dan Kane (3) from Aberdeen (when he was kicked out of the Law faculty) back to Dumbarton helped us. He unionised a whisky bond and became shop stewards convener and was a very active in Solidarity.
The Fyfes and Bill Lorie drifted away – personal and political differences – the old antagonisms never really got resolved. Maxwell, McLeod and Sutherland had all become inactive but were still “members”. In retrospect I often wonder about my role in their leaving – I pushed people a lot. We also had the arrival of Bert Ianello and Ben Mullen from Guy Aldred's group (he was dead a couple of years by now and they were disillusioned). And then some young blokes who had been in at the death throes of the peace movement – they were all engineering workers. We continued with the magazine but despite everything there was always that lack of a developing ongoing theory. This left us vulnerable in open debate with the heavies of the left. But we had so much of a sickener with their and our own Marxism that we hated pushing the newer younger people to get right into basic reading – we never really offered an alternative . We were never very sure if people had to start with basic texts and work their way through to the position we had reached. (The dilemma existed throughout Solidarity.) We still had this hang-up that you had to start with Marx before you rejected it. The group limped along for some time – publications continued – strength grew in Scotland. The group packed in, then restarted in 1967-8. (2)
(1) Stuart Christie writes: All I would add is that within the YS itself were three strands: Solidarity and IS, who largely co-existed quite amicably, and the 'Pabloites' and Healeyites - the SLL - (Gerry's lot) from south of the river with whom there was constant tension. You could say an armed truce existed between the north and south sides of the Clyde. The other omission, although I'm not sure how relevant it is, is the role of Scots Against War, which took Committee of 100 direct action tactics a few steps forward and led to considerable tension with the National Committee of 100…For more information from Stuart, see “My Granny Made Me an Anarchist” (Christie Books).
(2) Amongst later publications from the Clydeside group, was “Capitalism & Consciousness” in 1970.
(3) Dan Kane went on to found the West Scotland section of the Campaign for Real Ale and left Solidarity in 1973 to form Revolutionary Perspectives with Mitchell, and the Communist Workers Organisation (Bordigist).
(K.M., who part edited text, as it was from spoken word).
Posted by John Couzin.
The book Radical Glasgow.