Monday 3 December 2018

John Maclean commemoration 3rd Dec - speeches from the event

Fiona Napier
Speech from Fiona Napier, ATUC Secretary, welcoming those gathered and giving some background to John Maclean's visit to Aberdeen 100 years ago.

"Thank you for being here this morning! 

"We’re here today to speak about a great man, a true working class hero – Glasgow schoolteacher and revolutionary socialist – John Maclean. He was a man who campaigned all his life against the injustices he saw in society - imperialist wars, poverty, inadequate housing – a fight that saw him labelled ‘the most dangerous man in Britain’ by the British intelligence services. Dangerous, because he challenged injustice wherever he saw it, and refused to be silenced, and dangerous because he inspired others to action. 

"He publicly – and ceaselessly - opposed the First World War, encouraging working class men to defy conscription. Three times MacLean stood in court, accused of sedition and offences against the Defence of The Realm Act, and on his 3rd appearance he was sentenced to 5 years and sent to Peterhead jail. There he was subjected to brutal treatment, including a harsh regime of force-feeding. His health never recovered from the damage done to him in jail, and he died far too soon, aged only 44.

"When he was released from Peterhead prison on 3rd 1918, 100 years ago to the day, he began his train journey back to Glasgow, stopping for a time in Aberdeen, where he was greeted by comrades at the station and joined a reception organised for him by ATUC. 100 years later, we are proud to be here today, commemorating the life and works of this courageous man. John Maclean died too young, but his legacy lives on. The injustices that he fought against all his life are still with us today, and we’re here to fight them"

Speech from Kate Ramsden, ATUC exec member, quoting from John Maclean's address from the dock.

Kate Ramsden
 "We wanted to give some excerpts from John Maclean’s powerful speech from the dock in April 1918. 

Lasting for some 75 minutes, Maclean began:

“It has been said that they cannot fathom my motive. For the full period of my active life I have been a teacher of economics to the working classes, and my contention has always been that capitalism is rotten to its foundations, and must give place to a new society. 

“I had a lecture, the principal heading of which was "Thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not kill", and I pointed out that as a consequence of the robbery that goes on in all civilised countries today, our respective countries have had to keep armies, and that inevitably our armies must clash together. 

“On that and on other grounds, I consider capitalism the most infamous, bloody and evil system that mankind has ever witnessed. My language is regarded as extravagant language, but the events of the past four years have proved my contention.”

He went on to say: 

“I wish no harm to any human being, but I, as one man, am going to exercise my freedom of speech. No human being on the face of the earth, no government is going to take from me my right to speak, my right to protest against wrong, my right to do everything that is for the benefit of mankind. 

"I am not here, then, as the accused; I am here as the accuser of capitalism dripping with blood from head to foot.”

His speech concluded:

“I have taken up unconstitutional action at this time because of the abnormal circumstances and because precedent has been given by the British government. 

“I am a socialist, and have been fighting and will fight for an absolute reconstruction of society for the benefit of all. 

“I am proud of my conduct. I have squared my conduct with my intellect, and if everyone had done so this war would not have taken place. 

“I act square and clean for my principles. .... No matter what your accusations against me may be, no matter what reservations you keep at the back of your head, my appeal is to the working class

“I appeal exclusively to them because they and they only can bring about the time when the whole world will be in one brotherhood, on a sound economic foundation. 

“That, and that alone, can be the means of bringing about a re-organisation of society. That can only be obtained when the people of the world get the world, and retain the world.”

"You’ve heard from Fiona the sacrifices John Maclean had to make to retain his right to freedom of speech. But his principles, his compassion, his love for people and his passion for equality allowed him no option.

"Nowadays we don’t face the same consequences – not yet anyway. But we do face the same imperative to speak out when we see injustice. And injustice and inequality is all around us, in the UK and across the world.

"The capitalist system in this country – that Maclean fought so hard to oppose – is alive and well and still oppressing working people as it amasses ever more wealth to itself. There are still huge swathes of people paying the price of rampant capitalism – especially since the financial crash. Massive and shameful increases in poverty as shown in the recent report by the UN rapporteur, Philip Alston.

"Almost one in four of Scotland’s children live in poverty – more than two thirds in families with one or both parent in work. Huge dependence on foodbanks. Draconian cuts to benefits which impact hugely on people with disabilities and families with children, denying them any quality of life. Rising homelessness and deaths through homelessness. Insecure labour and zero hours contracts on the increase. And all this in the 5th richest economy in the world.

"The money is there but the political choices favour the wealthy and the capitalists.So much has stayed the same. And that is why we gather here to remember John Maclean.

"An ordinary working person like ourselves – a school teacher – who dedicated his life to improving the lot of working people and fighting capitalism – and died early as a result. And that is why we honour his memory but also take renewed inspiration from it. To rededicate ourselves to the fight against capitalism in this country and globally.

"And to fight for the rights of working people, and for the most vulnerable in our society made poor by the same scourge of capitalism that John Maclean fought against all these years ago. And to call for them to rise up and take control. To John Maclean!"