The Birth of Glasgow's Anarchism

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The British Birth

It is difficult to pinpoint the start of British Anarchism. It would seem that there were no Anarchist Groups before 1880, though there are records of individual Anarchists before this date.The non-conformists of the era who were seeking freedom from C of E intervention were in no way prepared to allow freedom for secularists. It was around 1880 that Socialism crept in to influence the radical movements of that period. Though the ruling elite, from 1850 on, included capitalist and professional classes, it in no way reduced its belief in its exclusive right to rule. The society of the late 1800’s was divided into two main classes, the productive class, masters and men, and the un- or non productive class, the aristocracy and the church. The real power lying with the latter group.

It is probably not surprising that socialism, or some attempt at social justice, was creeping in at this time as the Booth Survey of 1880 states that 1/3 of the population were living well below a most stringent subsistence level. Misery, degradation and disease at the bottom of the social structure could graphically compare to Dante’s Inferno.

Around the 1880’s Anarchist Mutualism, collectivism and communism were being taken up by British reform groups. Some of the credit for this perhaps should be given to Frank Kitz born 1848, and his support for the Paris Commune 1871. What was now being called into question was the justice of a system which conferred wealth on a class of parasites and shrouded the lives of thousands, who laboured, in poverty. 1877 Frank Kitz formed the English Revolutionary Society at Rose St. London. In 1878. Anti-socialist laws were introduced in Germany, the resulting persecution saw a considerable influx of German Socialists to London. German Anarchist Groups had existed since around the mid 1870’s and the anti-socialist laws probably created more anarchists than they could ever hope to silence. 1878 saw Johann Most arrive in London from Germany. 4/1/1879 saw the first issue of “Freiheit”,from 1890 on it began printing specifically Anarchist articles.

The Glasgow Birth

The following is a short extract from Mairtin O' Cathain's book 'With a bent elbow and a clenched fist’ A Brief History of the Glasgow Anarchists


Sometime during the Spanish Revolution, probably about 1937, a Glaswegian who had gone to fight Franco, was arrested by the Stalinist authorities then in the process of crushing the revolution. This nameless individual, popularised by the play From the Calton to Catalonia by Willie Maley, had been ‘leader aff’ of the Cheeky Forty, a Garngad-based gang, and was arrested in Spain for ‘hooliganism’. Fighting the state for years on his own doorstep had obviously whetted this character’s appetite for a more large-scale engagement. One could easily claim generations of Glasgow criminal rebels against the status quo for the cause of anarchism, but then many anarchists might not agree with such an inclusion. Certainly, the crux of the matter is that Glasgow has had and continues to have a long and venerable history of revolt. Anarchism has found a central role, I would argue, in that development and has, moreover, always found a welcoming home in the tenements, factories, pubs, halls and back-rooms, as well as the hearts and minds of Glasgow people. But what is it?

Defining anarchism is sometimes like trying to sieve sunlight - as it is anarchist it defies definition and evolves against it. There are, to my mind, only a couple of general principles that most anarchists agree on. These come from that early pioneer of the movement, Mikhail Bakunin, who summed up the idea by saying socialism without freedom is tyranny just as freedom without socialism is exploitation. These two elements are the fundamentals of anarchy - liberty and equality - in equal measure and to their full, guided only by the obvious fact that freedom is only freedom when it does not interfere with the freedom of others. This may sound like an overly simplistic description of a profound and subtle philosophy, but it is better than defining anarchists by what we oppose. There are numerous traditions and differences between anarchists, but this book will try insofar as possible to follow the ‘anarchism without adjectives’ position. A considerable body of material relating to the Glasgow anarchists is already available and many anarchists across the world may at some time have heard of Guy Aldred or Stuart Christie. Mark Shipway’s Anti-Parliamentary Communism, published in 1996, drew together many of the strands of anarchism in Glasgow and presented them in a lucid and engaging fashion. This work drew heavily on John Taylor Caldwell’s 1988 book, Come Dungeons Dark, which outlined the life and work of Guy Aldred. Caldwell’s own autobiography followed in two volumes published in 1993 and 1999 (Severely Dealt With: Growing up in Belfast and Glasgow and With Fate Conspire: Memoirs of a Glasgow seafarer and anarchist). Unfortunately, Shipway’s book was published too late to benefit from the insights of Caldwell’s second volume, or from the extremely valuable oral history placed on the world-wide web by the late Scottish anarchist Ian Heavens of Spunk Press and the Edinburgh Autonomous Centre. This latter contribution contains a 1977 interview conducted with Charlie Baird Snr., who had been involved with the Glasgow anarchists for many years, and also a more lengthy interview with Charlie Baird, Mollie Baird, John Taylor Caldwell, and the Raesides, Jimmy and Babs, who had returned from Australia to Glasgow for a visit in 1987. Most recently, the appearance of Stuart Christie’s autobiography, My Granny Made Me an Anarchist: The Christie File: Part 1, 1946-64 (2002), which will run to several volumes when completed (General Franco Made Me a Terrorist: The Christie File: Part 2, 1964-67 was published in 2003, and the third volume, Edward Heath Made Me Angry: The Christie File: Part 3, 1967-80, is due in 2004), add immeasurably to our knowledge of anarchism in Glasgow, Scotland, and Britain. The above works form the corpus of the material produced about anarchism in Glasgow, and as well as drawing together elements from each I have added a number of other sources, such as Rhona Hodgart’s valuable biographical pamphlet on Ethel McDonald and extracts, like Robert Lynn’s, from the 1988 Worker’s City book. Certainly a single volume summary of Glasgow anarchism was needed, even if only to pull together the various scattered pieces mentioned above.

Anarchism and anarchists do not play a major role in the historiography of Clydeside, and mostly it merits a mention for the perceived eccentricity of Aldred or because the demigods of Glasgow labourism, such as John McGovern, Willie Gallacher, and Manny Shinwell were briefly anarchists in the city. The shibboleths of the ‘Red Clydeside’ saga have failed to be shaken never mind stirred by the fact that Glasgow anarchists were involved in almost every single strike and labour protest in the city from 1915 to 1920. That their numbers could not compete with those of the Independent Labour Party and its state socialist cohorts, should by rights, validate if not ennoble their importance and significance. The avoidance or disinterest of labour historians in tackling anarchism may be a reflection of many things, and while anarchists are not seeking to redefine ‘Red Clydeside’ as ‘Red and Black Clydeside’ just yet, many of us feel it is incumbent upon established Scottish labour historians to sit up and take notice of a movement that pre-dates both the Labour Party and state communism. Having started with a ‘primitive rebel’ of the Glasgow street gang scene by way of illustration, I would also like to end with one. Thomas Coyne, a gang member from the Wine Alley in Govan, was recorded in the summer of 1934 as shouting at police officers prior to attacking them, ‘Sillitoe can’t stop us can you?’ The reference here was to the Glasgow Police Chief Constable brought in to ‘clean up’ the city and deal with its young tearaways, but with a slight re-structuring we can re-apply the challenge to 2004 by saying our history shows that ‘State capitalism and state socialism can’t stop us, can you?’

Roots & Context, 1871-1892

'Life must be lived forwards, but can only be understood backwards’ Kierkegaard The roots of Glasgow anarchism can be traced in many individuals, movements and struggles. The city’s Whiggish, radical and liberal leanings from the eighteenth into the nineteenth century were a fertile ground for theories and modes of struggle opposed to authoritarianism, capitalism and conservatism. Although claimed by generations of Marxists, the militant Glasgow cotton weavers of 1773 and 1787, appear to have been largely leaderless and their strike and sabotage techniques presaged the development of syndicalism over a hundred years later. But their method was not alone a tactic, for the cotton weavers encompassed an entire world-view of radicalism and utopian alternatives within their union ‘combination’. Their’s was a revolutionary ardour inspired by the libertarian rhetoric of the American revolution and expressed within the union by a brotherhood of equality and affection that served as the basis for their ‘new world’. Six of the 1787 Calton weavers paid the ultimate price for that ardour and world view, but the tradition of militant syndicalism pioneered by them lived on, despite being channelled down the dead-end road of parliamentary reform by some of their followers in later years.

The great English libertarian, William Godwin (1756-1836), following on from the Calton Weavers also exercised a profound influence on the establishment of anarchist sympathies in Glasgow. His great 1793 work, Political Justice, was very popular, and in Glasgow, as in other urban districts, literally hundreds of workers banded together to purchase and read copies. By 1833, Glasgow’s cotton bosses were still opposing the Factory Act of that year brought in to reduce the working day from 12 to 10 hours, while in 1839, those gathered to hear the early communitarian socialist, Robert Owen, were already terming themselves ‘socialists’. Max Nettlau, the excellent anarchist historian, described Owen (who had read Godwin), as ‘a thoroughly emancipated mind’, and felt Owen’s attempts to create cooperative ‘free towns’, like New Lanark, envisioned new societies of self-governing status that would have no interest in or need for the state. Owen also exerted an influence on Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and through his communistic endeavours in Glasgow - in a city already coloured by radical anti-authoritarian trades unionism, a culture of anarchism in all but name was well-established by the 1850s. Lest readers imagine this to have been a puritanical culture, it is interesting to note that in 1859 there was the establishment known as the Working Men’s Refreshment Rooms in the Gallowgate (where working men still refresh themselves with regularity, often accompanied by working women). The keeper of the Rooms was arrested in that year for the distillation of some form of poitín, but no doubt such initiative was taken up again after a suitable period of time had elapsed. ‘Whiskey and freedom gang the’gither’, as Rabbie said.

The Dundonald ENigma

The earliest known fragment of Glasgow anarchist history we can talk of centres around the figure of Duncan Dundonald, apparently a Clydeside-based engineering worker. Dundonald is of great importance because he is said to have met Mikhail Bakunin in Geneva in 1869, translated the Jesuitical Revolutionary Catechism in 1870, and then returned to Scotland to carry out anarchist propaganda and revolutionary sabotage. This would accord anarchism in Scotland generally, and in Glasgow particularly, the same vintage as its Spanish, and Barcelona, counterpart. While Dundonald appears to have been no Giuseppe Fanelli (1827-77), he seems to have gone home to Glasgow earnestly intent on missionising for anarchism, and this may go some way to explaining the depth and longevity of anarchist sentiment on Clydeside for over a hundred years thereafter. His obscurity to later generations of Glasgow anarchists could be related to the fact that he emigrated to Australia, possibly in the 1890s, where he settled in Melbourne and continued his activities under the assumed name of Donald Duncan. Much more research needs to be completed on this potentially critical individual for Glasgow and Scottish anarchist history.

The McDonalds

According to the late Albert Meltzer, Glasgow anarchism can be dated to the early efforts of Amy McDonald and her German partner, Fred, a baker and member of the First International, who had been allied to the German anarchist workers. He states they were based in Brigton in their small flat, and spoke on the Green, where they were often attacked by irate Christians. This clashes, or may simply be confused with the account of John Taylor Caldwell, who alleges organised t is ‘buried in a certain amount of mystery’. The anarchist propaganda in Glasgow began with a French Communard and his partner - a womannamed McDonald - from Crown Street in the Gorbals sometime after 1871. He also states the anarchists used Glasgow Green (as did most orators and politicos), though they took up their pitch most regularly on Jail Square, facing the old court house. Caldwell states, however, that no-one has been able to properly research the early movement so similarity of these accounts indicates that they are about one and the same subject, though Meltzer clearly shows more exactitude and certainty (and was younger than Caldwell when writing his history).

The Socialist League: Anarchists and Visitors

The next step in the development of Glasgow anarchism came in 1884 with the founding of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) branch in Glasgow. Many of those involved in the SDF had been members of the Democratic Club and/or the Republican Club in the city, and were in the main ardently anti-parliamentarian. This caused divisions as happened elsewhere, and when William Morris broke away to form the more vibrant Socialist League, most Glasgow SDF members simply de-camped to the new body. Branches then quickly appeared in other parts of Scotland. It has been argued that most members of the Glasgow Socialist League were middle-class intellectuals, and while there were quite a number of prominent individuals from such a background, the anarchist backbone of the group was composed chiefly of the working class element.

After the 1886 visit to Glasgow of Peter Kropotkin and with the established anarchist propaganda continuing in the city, the local branch of the Socialist League became much more ardently anarchist than merely anti-parliamentarian. This much was noted by William Morris himself in his diary when he commented, ‘Kropotkin’s visit has turned them a little in the Anarchist direction, which gives them an agreeable air of toleration’. The ‘Anarchist Prince’, as the media liked to portray him, spoke on 27 November on ‘Socialism: Its Growing Force and Final Aim’. Kropotkin’s visit was followed in 1888 by that of Chicago anarchist, Lucy Parsons, partner of Albert Parsons, one of the executed Haymarket martyrs. This can only have served to further strengthen anarchist sentiment coming, as it did, hard on the heels of the expulsion of the parliamentarian advocates from within the Socialist League. The Socialist League itself did not have a long life thereafter, and its collapse in 1890, left the way open for independent anarchist organisation up and down the country. Those efforts had chrystallised in Glasgow within the space of two years, and the stage was set for an identifiably anarchist grouping to emerge. By 1937, there were 3 groups of libertarians in Glasgow, Aldred's USM, Wm McDougall's APCF (of which Jennie Patrick was a member) and Anarchist Federation of Frank Leech

‘Bailte bánbhreaca idir neoin bhig agus béal maidne’ Seosamh MacGrianna.

As has been noted, the Glasgow branch of the Socialist League became quickly subsumed by anarchist sentiment long before the breakaway of the parliamentarians and place-hunters. There is little doubt but that the advocates of anarchism were also predominantly working class, as we know that many of the former middle class members of the Glasgow Socialist League later became prime movers in the Independent and Scottish Labour Parties. Although there is not, as yet, any direct evidence that Glasgow’s Socialist League anarchists had started to organise as a distinct body prior to 1892, they certainly were active and referring to themselves as anarchists prior to that. Whether we can say that the anarchist propaganda of the McDonalds constituted a group is open to debate, but the formation of the first Glasgow Anarchist Group came about late in 1892. The initial burst of activity did not last and according to a member of the group, J. Blair Smith, writing in the Sheffield-based, The Anarchist, it was not until October 1893 that a proper re-organisation took place and the Group set to work, eventually by the following year gaining ‘five times the members we started with’. The local Social Democratic Federation showed solidarity and worked alongside the anarchists, but all anarchist speakers and publications were quickly banned by the Labour Party in the city. Whether this was as a result of old Socialist League animosities or through losing members to the libertarians, as Blair Smith claimed, is arguable, but it set the tone of hostility and intolerance towards anarchism that the Labour Party in Scotland maintained for many years thereafter.

Undoubtedly, anarchism more widely in Scotland was a growing force at this time. The Edinburgh Socialist League and its ginger group, the Scottish Land and Labour League, also evinced the strong libertarian character of its Glasgow counterpart early on. Much of this was down to the activism and propaganda of a number of important anarchists in ‘auld reekie’, such as Andreas Scheu, Thomas H. Bell and Paul Reclus, nephew of the famous French anarchist geographer, Elisée Reclus. Andreas Scheu (1844-1927) was an Austrian furniture designer active in German anarchist politics from as early as 1870. He went to London in 1874 where he was involved with and quickly became disillusioned by the stagnation of émigré German socialists. In Johann Most (1846-1906), he found a much more active and energetic anarchist comrade and helped Most with his German language newspaper, Freiheit, published in London and smuggled into Germany from 1879 to 1882. Most served 16 months hard labour in England for an article titled ‘Endlich’ (At Last), in response to the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, and left for New York on his release. Scheu had grown impatient of Most’s lax attitude to security and general indiscretion before his arrest but with Most gone, and only the pedestrian conversation of the Anarchist Club to fill the space, Scheu drifted into the Democratic Federation, its successor the Social Democratic Federation, and then the Socialist League, of which he was a founder member. Scheu took a sales job with Jaeger in Edinburgh in 1885 and remained in the city until the 1890s where he was a beacon of anti-authoritarian sentiment and practise. He made many contacts with Glasgow over the years and presumably many trips also. He eventually returned to Germany via London after many years of activism throughout which he appears to have remained a committed anti-parliamentarian socialist if not an anarchist.

Thomas H. Bell, was another young member of the Edinburgh Socialist League, who, perhaps inspired by the example and ideas of Scheu, became a confirmed anarchist and carried this revolutionary creed with him to London and then Los Angeles, where he was still active in the 1930s. Bell made a favourable impression on many anarchists who came across him, most notably Voltairine de Cleyre and he was related by marriage to the indefatigable English anarchist, John Turner (1864-1934), who employed him as secretary of the 3,000 strong Shop Assistants’ Union in 1898. Bell had been active in the Freedom Group in London along with his companion Lizzie Turner Bell. His sister, Jessie Bell Westwater was also later an anarchist activist in the US. It is generally less safe to assume that Bell had Glasgow contacts and a hand in helping the movement there, but his omission from consideration would certainly be unfair, and might also draw the criticism of a Glasgow bias in this work.

A third individual worth mentioning whom we can be more certain spoke and supported the early Glasgow anarchists from a base in Edinburgh was Paul Reclus (1858-1941). Reclus, like another French anarchist Lucién Guérineau (1857-1940), spent a number of years in Scotland after police crackdowns against anarchists in France. Reclus lived in Edinburgh from about 1894 and visited Glasgow often where he was involved in aiding the local anarchist movement. He eventually returned to France in 1914.

It is important to mention the influence of Edinburgh because one of the first acts of the Glasgow Anarchists after their re-formation in October 1893, was the organisation of a Scottish Anarchist Conference in December of that year. The Scottish Labour Party was meeting at the same time in Glasgow and so the Anarchists may have chosen the date specially. We don’t know much about the individuals involved with the Glasgow Anarchists at this time with a few exceptions. John Paton, a co-founder of the later Glasgow Anarchist Group, fails to name those he claimed were active in the 1890s group whom he met around 1910-12. He refers on a few occasions to what he termed a ‘Pickwickian grocer from Springburn’ who was an anarchist-communist, but who despite his incoherency, encouraged Paton to move towards anarchism. He also refers to ‘a polyglot Swiss baker with an extreme fondness for quoting Michael Bakunin’, a character who appears to closely resemble the pioneering figure of Fred McDonald. An individual, actually named by Paton as one of the old anarchist group, was an Irishman, named McLardy, probably from Belfast originally. Paton is generally dismissive of the older anarchists in Glasgow, however, whom he judged to be non-committal and largely theoretical in their anarchism. Whether this attitude contributed to the later divisions in the Group, and the departure of 1890s veteran Angus McKay is difficult to say but it cannot have helped matters. There are only two members of the 1890s Glasgow Anarchists whom we know any detail about, and this is largely due to the fact of their long association with prominent American anarchists who kept their correspondence. William and Maggie Duff were an unmarried couple active in Glasgow anarchist circles since the 1880s. William (1868-1939) was born in the village of Kirriemuir, near Forfar in Angus, the son of David Duff, an ale brewer from Forfar and Jessie Lowdon. William was their first son, born into the rich history of the Clan Duff, descendants of Scotland’s earliest people, the Picts. Interestingly, he was born just on the other side of the Grampians from James Tochatti (1852-1928), a Ballater-born Scots-Italian anarchist, son of Joseph Tochatti and Jean Cormack. Tochatti together with his companion was an tireless anarchist propagandist in London for many years before his death at Poole in Dorset, and may well have had Glasgow contacts. His Highland comrade, William Duff was in Glasgow by the 1880s where he lived with his stepparents at Rose Street in the Gorbals and worked as a slater, his stepfather, Charles Martin from Cromdale in Morayshire being a signal fitter. No record of a marriage seems to exist for William and Margaret Duff (born, like the later great woman anarchist, Ethel McDonald, in Motherwell in 1873), but the two had a child, William Morris Duff, born in 1896, and they were living together at 9 Carfin Street, Govanhill, Glasgow in 1897. It was at this address that they played host to Voltairine de Cleyre during her tour of Scotland in September 1897. De Cleyre became a great friend of the Duffs as a result and a lifelong lover of Scotland which she claimed was, ‘the sharpest, ruggedest, wittiest place on earth’. William Duff had contributed to the London-based anarchist journal, Alarm, which was associated with the short-lived ‘Associated Anarchists’ group of Carl Quinn, and to the San Francisco anarchist-communist paper, Free Society, of which he was the Glasgow distributor. He was a close friend of Elisée Reclus and more so his Edinburgh-based nephew, Paul, who visited Glasgow regularly, as well as in intimate of Emma Goldman and Peter Kropotkin. Red Emma visited in 1895 and Duff presented her with a copy of Kropotkin’s In Russian and French Prisons, and when the Russians and their agents destroyed many copies of the book in 1887, it was Duff who provided a copy to Kropotkin himself when he was looking for one. As they did with other anarchist visitors over the years, the Duffs arranged meetings for Voltairine de Cleyre in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Paisley and Dundee, the last of which Voltairine didn’t like and in a fit of strangely affected Scots declared it to be ‘no very bonnie the noo’ in a letter to her sister. Obviously the Scottish experience had indeed had a profound effect on her, either that or she was taking the piss! These visits show the spread of anarchism at this time in Scotland and its wide appeal – Voltairine spoke to the ILP and Women’s Labour Party in addition to local anarchists. The Duffs also took her into the foothills of the Highlands, the Trossachs, and along Loch Lomond, which they may well have done with other anarchist visitors to Glasgow, pre-figuring the later ‘bus runs’ of Bobby Lynn in the 1960s.

The year after Voltairine de Cleyre’s visit, William Duff published a Solidarity Leaflet in Glasgow containing her long anti-religious poem, ‘The Gods and the People’. He and Maggie also paved the way for her return visit to the city in August and September 1903, soon after she had been shot by a mentally ill man in America, in an incident from which she never completely recovered and which led to her death in 1912 at the early age of 45. The Duffs were at 91 Aitkenhead Road in Glasgow when Voltairine returned, and they and their local comrades arranged a number of speaking engagements for her, though probably fewer than in 1897. William McGill, of Pollokshaws, who ran an anarchist bookstore in the city centre, chaired Voltairine’s talk to the Progressive Union, an important intellectual and campaigning forum that exercised a profound influence on the leading Scottish Marxists, John Maclean (1879-1923) and James McDougall (1891-1963). The Progressive Union was actually founded by an uncle of McDougall’s, named Daniel, who was himself an anarchist.

After 1903 and de Cleyre’s visit, the Glasgow Anarchists seem to enter into a decline. John Taylor Caldwell states that ‘from 1903 to 1909 the Glasgow Group gave way to the Paisley Group, but it revived when John Macara came from Edinburgh and stirred it back to life’. This matches the observation of John Paton who says that by 1910 ‘there had been no anarchist propaganda in Glasgow for many years, although at one time there had been an active group’. To what extent ‘wee McAra’, as he was known, managed to re-start the Glasgow movement is difficult to say. This Edinburgh-based anarchist (probably born in Crieff in Perthshire in 1870), was a tramp speaker for anarchism and a tireless propagandist, who was the first to give open-air speeches on anarchism in Belfast, where he also spent three months in Crumlin Road Jail. McAra was never an organisation person and because of this when he moved on after a period of propaganda work, the support he had garnered for anarchism usually dissipated. This did not actually occur in 1909/10 and this may have been because McAra encouraged a Bristol anarchist, George Ballard (or Barrett), to come to the city and carry on the work he had started.

The material here is mainly from Mairtin O'Cathain's book; "With a bent elbow and a clenched fist" Thanks Mairtin.

other sources include; John Quail THE SLOW BURNING FUSE,

John Taylor Caldwell. WITH FATE CONSPIRE

John Taylor Caldwell. COME DUNGEONS DARK The life and times of Guy Aldred.

Rhona M. Hodgart. ETHEL MACDONALD,