• Allan Armstrong
Location:
Glasgow
Date:
Tuesday 25th May 2010
Reference:
SWI2010/013

Allan:

Most people on the left, when they go back to the late nineteenth century, tend to focus on 1889 and the explosion of new unionism and that tends to lead to a very London, or England, focused, view of what the developments ... The work I’ve been doing recently starts a decade before that, in 1879, with Michael Davitt’s launch of the Land League in County Mayo and the spread on effects of that creating this ... (inaudible) ... insurrection situation in Ireland itself, but when Parnell begins to clamp down on that movement and tried to divert it purely into constitutionalist form, Davitt doesn’t take on Parnell directly but tries to spread the movement into Scotland and into Wales and indeed into England as well.

 

The place where it obviously had the biggest impact was in the Highlands. It’s a place that both Davitt and his lieutenants, people like Edward McHugh, toured and had quite a positive reception and, as a result of the Land League and the triggering on effect, when they decided that they would put up candidates against the standing Conservative and Liberal and won four seats and such was the impact of the Highland Land League. One thing that’s not well appreciated is, for example, the very first Catholic MP ever to be elected in Scotland was in Argyll, not a hot bed of Catholicism but an indication of the degree to which the Land League was able to overcome sectarianism. Davitt was ... when he went up to Skye he was received very well indeed, and there was some attempts to create anti-Catholic feeling towards him, but that wasn’t how he was received by the majority of the crofters there.

 

The other thing that Davitt did, he saw it as very much ... not as a land struggle but a land and labour struggle. He spoke down in Wales in the slate mining communities, in Blaenau Ffestiniog, but he also spoke in the Central Belt of Scotland, Kirkintilloch, and here he put particular emphasis on that the land question wasn’t just a question of agricultural produce but also linked to mining. He saw the mining communities as something to take the politics of land through the idea of royalties, the fact that the companies charged you huge royalties. He thought these royalties should go to the state, be used for better purposes. Hence he made quite a few links with miners.

 

One of the miners he made a link with was Keir Hardie, although there was other people around as well, and Keir Hardie certainly saw the link between the land and royalties but the other thing he noticed was the Highland Land League had been able to stand candidates against both Liberals and Conservatives and win these four seats and that was one of the inspirations behind him eventually standing as a Scottish Labour Party candidate. Originally he wanted to stand as a Liberal candidate. In the adjacent seat, Cunningham Graham had successfully stood as a Liberal candidate, albeit on his own Socialist platform. When Hardie wanted to stand in the mid Lanarkshire seat, Liberals wouldn’t let him stand and so eventually he was persuaded: “I’ll stand independently,” and hence you got the launch of the Socialist Labour Party at that particular time. So the other thing you’ll find, when you actually do come to 1889, is that many activists that were involved in the unions in London but also Sunderland, Glasgow ... I mean, new unionism spread throughout the whole of the islands. Had a ... particularly in Dublin, it had a huge impact in Dublin although a very short-lived impact. So many of the activists were from the Land League tradition, both Highland and Irish, therefore I think if you’re looking for this new wave of Labour insurgency, the starting point has to be 1879.

Simon:

Could you maybe just, just to get a sense of the economic picture, talk a bit more about the land, royalties and how that fitted in to the wider economics of the time? The presence of the landowners within the economy in the late nineteenth century.

     

Allan:

Right. I mean, obviously, in Ireland and the Highlands, the landlords had a huge and massive ... a huge control on the economy, just the fact that they owned the land. In addition, you’ll find in the Central Belt, there are large landlords who’s main income didn’t necessarily come from the land itself but from leasing out the land for coal mining and it’s from this coal mining ... what they charged for royalties. It was Davitt’s belief, eventually, he didn’t start with this belief ... it was Davitt’s belief, after the influence of Henry George, that land should be nationalised and he extended that obviously to the land, mining land, royalties and the benefits ... and the money coming from that nationalised should be used for the benefit of the communities.

Simon:

So you were actually getting what was often happening in rural areas was also ...? You’re talking about coal, you had the kelp in the north and in the islands and you had the fishing sort of feeding both factory workers and plantation workers and the cheap end of the fishing produce and that so it’s kind of reorganisation of the rural areas around the needs of the cities.

     

Allan:

Yes, I mean one obvious ... obviously migrant labour in the mines, huge numbers of workers in the mines came particularly from Ireland. In the dock areas in Glasgow, when the dockworkers’ union was launched there, two thirds of the workforce either came from the Highlands or from Ireland so migrant labour was a huge component of it. And they took some of their traditions of struggle with them into the Central Belt and to other areas as well because, as I say, these people emerge in Lancashire, even in the London docks, so migrant labour’s a huge issue, yes.

Simon:

You talked about the kind of constitutionalism and Parnell and how this created a kind of split. Could you just sort of ...?

     

Allan:

Yes. Davitt came from a Fenian tradition which is obviously a republican tradition, you know, and it contemplated at some point the possibility of an insurrection against the British state and the setting up of an Irish republic. The failure of the Fenian movement in the 1860s in which Davitt had been involved and ended up spending quite a bit of time in jail, led Davitt to rethinking the strategy that was needed and he ... When he was in jail he jotted down writings that he thought ... Rather than concentrating on a purely military rising, that there, if you like, should be social republicanism around this slogan of ‘Land For The People’ ... the development of a mass movement. He certainly did not rule out in any way an insurrection. He thought first of all you had to have absolutely mass support for a movement and that’s how Davitt went into launching the Land League. He’d already got the support of the Fenian brotherhood in the United States for taking that view. It was called the New Departure at that time. I mean, in the United States there was still a lot of support for a pure military struggle. You can almost see a dialectic at work as well when the Land League is surging forward and getting massive support, then the Fenians in the United States are prepared to let that go. As soon as anything is seen to be failing at that, they tend to drop that movement and go back to the idea of guns, dynamite or anything else but Davitt ...

 

The deal that was meant to come through the New Departure was first of all the launching of the Land Movement and eventually a bill was meant to be put in parliament and this was left to Parnell. A bill would be put in parliament calling for the establishment of a breakaway Ireland. When that failed to get through, the idea then was to launch an armed insurrection. Now, Parnell had at some point ... whether or not he was ever genuine about the New Departure ... he always had a hands-off attitude towards the Fenian movement. What he did notice was that ... what he came to the conclusion ... when he was jailed as a result of the massive Land League’s struggles, he certainly formed, and we don’t know at what stage exactly he formed a different idea of going forward, and that was to use the movement not to go directly to launch an Irish republic but to put pressure on the British government for a form of home rule, and the other thing, as well, was to make a deal over land ownership. He had the advantage that the Land League did start off with the idea of ‘Land For The People’ which was meant to be individual peasant proprietorship but a growing movement within the Land League ... Davitt’s followers actually, came to the conclusion that what they needed was land nationalisation.

 

So when Parnell was in jail he eventually made the famous treaty with Gladstone by which he was let out of jail and the condition was that he would end the mass movement of the Land League and, from then on, his movement was purely constitutionalist and what he tried to build up obviously was the Irish Party in parliament and it would be an alliance from then on with the Liberal Party to try and get home rule. Davitt ... it was at this point that Davitt, if you like, pioneered what I call the strategy of ‘internationalism from below’ and that was although he was quite prepared to work with Liberals, his main links were with radicals, and it was through a combination of the land struggle and labour struggles that he wanted to move forward. He too though, very much had links with the home rule movement. You can also see two wings of the home rule movement. As it becomes ... Parnell ... the influence grows greater, you find increasing sections of the middle class and Liberals supporting home rule as a way of maintaining the UK state and the Empire in changed circumstances, the recognition that there’d be new forces from below and franchised and that something would have to be done to try and recognise that.

 

The split comes between the British ruling class where they just totally clamped down on these movements, and that was the Tory position, or whether you have home rule and their idea of home rule was a devolved parliament in Ireland and that got extended in home rule all round to devolve parliaments in Edinburgh and another one in Cardiff, with different degrees of support, but the key thing about this was they all saw Westminster as still being the overarching thing so what you would get was the middle class in each of the constituent countries could advance their careers in Scotland, Wales and Ireland but they could also advance their careers in British ... on an Empire level. So that was the British version of home rule. It was always a more radical wing that saw it merely as a transitional thing for pushing towards a republic. That, of course, was purely ... with a few exceptions in the Socialist League, that idea only had a big base in Ireland. It never really, at that point, had much influence in Scotland and even less influence in Wales. I mean, you can see from people in the Socialist League who did support that idea of a republic, you’ve actually got ... It’s not until Maclean appears on the scene that you see that tradition re-established in Scotland.

 

You also see as well though, in the Highlands in the Land League, there is a big conflict develops between the more liberal leadership which is very much tied to the Liberal Party and very much tied, as well, to the Free Church and a more radical leadership which ... I mean, some of it’s leaders are based in London but they have strong links with, particularly Angus Sutherland and he is much more on the radical wing of the ... very much pushes a secular approach and refuses to get sucked into the various Presbyterian struggles that are going there, so there is conflict and at one point ... I think I’d have to look at my working, I think it might be about 1891, the Highland Land League actually splits, and an attempt is made to try and form a more radical one but it fails, partly as a result of the crofter ... When the crofting legislation is passed, a significant section of crofters, if you like, made gains. The people that made the least gains, of course, are the cottars and people like that, so it was able to split that movement and it never takes off again. You see exactly the same thing in Ireland, actually once peasant proprietorship begins to be granted then the more radical wing of that movement becomes more isolated.

Simon:

You talked about Henry George and the Henry George ideas. To some extent ... well, on the one hand you had figures like John Ferguson who claimed to, in a way, have formally arrived at similar models prior to George. You also get criticism from people like Marx who’d seen George’s particular model as not really offering the kind of emancipation of the land, if you like. What were the kind of dynamics within ...?

     

Allan:

My understanding ... Marx had a theoretical attack on George. I mean, George very much was, I’d say, an advanced liberal. He supported a capitalist society but he saw landlords as, if you like, something outside of a capitalist society. If you had a free, established, capitalist society, you would not have landlordism. He saw land as a natural gift in the same way as say air and water and therefore the benefit should accrue to the whole community but he saw no conflict between factory owners and workers. In fact, he saw those as allies. Now, Marx in actual fact was actually quite impressed by the impact George had on breaking up the old views of liberalism, the old Cobdenite and whatnot. He was quite impressed by that. He tacitly supported that. But, of course, when they were trying to make the jump from land to labour, this is when it had ... this is when you came up against George because as well as taking up mining royalties, something which I think George himself could have accepted, he then went on to, say, nationalisation of the railways, transport networks ... George would’ve totally opposed that so, as I say, Marx and most of his followers ... Actually, when a tour was organised there was actually ... there was one of the people, it might even have been Heinemann, actually opposed having George on a tour but one of his other supporters said: “Yes,” for a united front. So it’s quite complex that situation but I think actually Marx realised there was positive aspects to George and breaking up the old Cobdenite consensus didn’t go far enough, and really you can only build a solid movement, you know, around ... and I don’t mean around in a propaganda but in a labour theory of value which understood that workers were exploited, which is something George would not accept.

Simon:

So was the kind of interest in George that you had with people like Davitt and activists and the Land League movement directly coming from the Georgite model?

     

Allan:

Well, Davitt started out in support of ‘Land For The People’ and the original version of that was a form of peasant proprietorship but when he toured the United States ... This is where he met George and was very impressed and Progress and Poverty, the book, had a huge huge impact, probably one of the ... as big an impact, say, as Naomi Klein’s books or things would have just now on the radical and the socialist movement at that time. They took that on board and then George came across at the height of the Land League struggles and actually wrote on the Land League struggles so he had a close connection with George. But I think Davitt, if you like, is a more transitional figure because Davitt very much also supported labour struggles so he took what was positive about George ... I think remained friendly with George and accepted those ideas in the land but went further. I think you’ll find all sorts of complex relationships. For example, Edward McHugh was right at the front of your docker struggles and things like that but very much a Georgite, a friend of John Ferguson, so it’s ... You won’t find clear cut divisions. It’s a period of transition. Some people don’t cross lines, some are halfway across lines, some break altogether.

Simon:

And then after the Crofters Act comes in, what would you say was the kind of response of those that were seeking more? In a way it was quite a ... it didn’t really fulfill the aims of the Land League. What was the response to that?

     

Allan:

Are you talking in the Highlands now? I mean, I haven’t done enough research. My book finishes in 1895. I am aware of a whole number of things going on up in the Highlands that I’m going to do more research on, land raids, but also the Ballachulish slate miners’ history which is a huge thing which is absolutely contemporaneous with the slate quarrier strike. The lock outs were in North Wales at that particular time which transforms the politics of that particular area. I’ve yet to read that book on the Ballachulish strike. So there were obviously things there that are happening there but the other thing that is probably constantly under ... is working as a time bomb against the movement in there is the de-population that’s going on and so ... I mean, I think that has an effect but I’ve still to do the research. As I say, my book finishes in 1895 but these are things that I have put aside. Obviously there’s a tradition that’s left there because you can just see Maclean himself is able to go up to Lewis, and the Land League in a new form is there, and gives support to Labour candidates in areas where you would otherwise think are not normally natural Labour candidates so there’s obviously been something left behind. I’ve still to do the research on that myself.

Simon:

Was your ... (inaudible) ... coming up to Maclean himself? You talked about him going up to Lewis so let’s ...

     

Allan:

Yes. Maclean ... I don’t know where to start with Maclean. The obvious thing, as well, is there’s some ... from his own family background there is some knowledge of the Highlands with a Mull background. The interesting thing about Maclean is, I think, he would counter-pose ... the big hero on the left is Keir Hardie but when you look at Keir Hardie you’ll see, for example, in relation to the iron works in Ayrshire and the coal fields in Ayrshire, Hardie is very anti migrant worker, very anti migrant worker, and goes along with what is actually massively current in the whole of the British left as well which is massively influenced by the ideologies of Imperialism. Maclean is a different figure altogether. I suspect it might be his own knowledge of these ... coming from a migrant background into Glasgow but he’s very sympathetic with Irish migrants and Lithuanian migrants.

 

The same places that Keir Hardie in actual fact is trying to drive out Eastern Europeans, Maclean is making direct links with these. One, he’s making direct links with people like Lithuanians, he’s making links with some of the people that actually became key activists in the Bolsheviks in Lithuania and various other people. So the visit to Lewis takes place after the end of the First World War. It’s when, for a long time, Maclean himself has not been in support of any particular form of Scottish self-determination. As early as 1909, he is calling for a specific Scottish section of the British Socialist Party (BSP) but that is only because I think he sees Scotland as potentially more militant as a trigger, through the BSP, to wider things. I think the thing that makes him change his attitude is the 1916 rising in Ireland when he’s up to his neck in trying to ... you know, anti-war agitation, you see, the 1916 rising in Ireland. There are people that are more sympathetic than he is at that time to the rising but it makes him think ...

 

You’ve probably then got to jump to 1919 when, of course, you have the famous engineering strikes and you have the incidents in George Square where they bring in the tanks. Now Maclean originally doesn’t want that movement to take off then. He wants to build up support in miners and others and then launch it but, of course, once it happens anyhow he’s fully behind it. But when the tanks go in, that is marginalised. He’s looking across to Ireland and at the same time you’ve got the Limerick general strike against army occupation and they are able to force the army out and the situation after it is even more unstable. You get the further rise of Sinn Fein and I think this is where Maclean realises the significance of the national question and, of course, when he starts thinking about the national question in Ireland, that automatically links to the Highlands.

 

He has already had one battle much earlier in his life with Carstairs Matheson about the significance of the Land League struggles. Carstairs Matheson totally opposes the Land League struggles, saying that what is needed is these Highlanders have to be gutted out there so they can become regular workers in the Central Belt and that will advance. Maclean does not take that attitude at all so you actually see some of these attitudes he already has which are going to make him sympathetic from that. The combination of the Irish struggles plus his view at the end of the First World War that the next war is going to be the United States, is going to be a battle between the British Empire and the United States, which is sometimes actually seen in retrospect as rather odd by lots of people but actually there’s other people saying the same thing at the same time, that after that it’s going to be the war and, of course, at that time ... Lever (Lord Leverhulme) ... Lewis ... is having a big influence in that and he sees what is happening up in Lewis as tied to creating a naval base for the oncoming war, so he sees it ... future anti-Imperial struggle and he very much obviously supports the people on Lewis fighting against the influence of Lever but also the land raiders as well, he supports them. Having said that, it’s not as neat. He finds some opposition on Lewis to this as well. It’s not as neat as ... If he’d been in Donegal or Mayo at this particular time, he’d find a lot more sympathy for the sort of things he was doing, a ready made movement there that would do that, but I think these are his motivations for going to Lewis at that particular time, with his rapidly expanding world view created after the 1916 rising, 1917. What’s happening in Russia and in comes the Bolshevik consul and he’s seeing everything in a global perspective, but he’s able to link very specific things and I think he does see the link between Ireland and the Highlands.

Simon:

Talking about him being in Lewis and the kind of response he got, the mixture of views. One interview I did was someone from Coll, which was one of the areas that had a land raid even though it didn’t have a huge population at the time, and they ... this person, said very much that it was immediate needs that drove the raids and once those needs were met there was no larger political view to what was happening. Did Maclean encounter that kind of ... (inaudible) ... or is that, do you think, a different kind of interpretation of ...?

     

Allan:

It is ... I mean, it’s difficult ... if you compare the situation with Ireland at that particular time where you got the seizure of creameries in County Cork forming soviets which I don’t think anybody would think, if they’d been to County Cork, that this was something that you would ever have seen there. Obviously the response to very, very specific things in the locality, but if you have a wider movement, views can get lifted and begin to connect their experience with wider ones. If that doesn’t happen then it’s going to fall back. I suspect that is what happened in Lewis and in some ways I suspect ... I mean, I’ve not done enough detailed stuff about the specific views in Lewis. I know that there was opposition as well but Maclean always felt that it was most comfortable, and the Clydeside area, there was plenty going on there and not making a great deal of headway at that particular point. But what was interesting is he starts ... this is when he starts rethinking his view of Scottish history, making links ... I’ve forgotten the name of the Gaelic ... there’s a Gaelic historian (Alexander Carmichael) and this is when he starts coming up with the views of primitive communism and making these links so he’s primarily an activist. Maclean’s never made any big long books, it’s a short thing, and I think being primarily an activist with what was happening in the mining areas of Lanarkshire and what was happening ... Once it wasn’t making big headway, it was back to these areas.

Simon:

So coming back to the Clydeside, you mentioned about there being Lithuanian workers. What was bringing Lithuanian workers to ...?

     

Allan:

It was Latvians as well. It was mainly the clamp down after 1905. From Tsarist Russia and the Russian Empire you were getting various waves of migrants, the most obvious one being Jewish migrants. The majority of those went to East London or Leeds but some did come through to Glasgow and indeed one of the early sections of the Scottish Labour Party was a Jewish garment workers’ union in Glasgow and it affiliated. But the big wave that Maclean related to, the people that Hardie was reacting to earlier, was, I think, must’ve been just directly the result of sheer poverty of living in Lithuania and that, because there’s obviously people coming in 1880 because Hardie was opposing these, but the people that Maclean related to were probably more political than the people who’d been involved in the struggles in 1905. There was a Lithuanian Social Democrat paper produced in Bellshill which shows you the audience you had for that so you ... the people evading persecution after 1905 after the failure of the revolution will be a large contingent ... I imagine coming as well with continuous people ... just the sheer poverty that there was in Lithuania, they’d still be these people as well. So a combination of economic migrants and asylum seekers!

Simon:

We talked about ... We’ve touched on this already but from some sections, antipathy towards migrant workers.

     

Allan:

Oh yes.

     

Simon:

But maybe in a bit more detail, what was Maclean trying to achieve through the kind of ...? What was ... (inaudible) ... his position ... (inaudible) ... and what linked to ...?

     

Allan:

I would say that Maclean was a revolutionary through and through. There are other people you could ... I mentioned Carstairs Matheson of the Socialist Labour Party. You could say that Carstairs Matheson was a revolutionary but the revolution was always divided between those that are theoretical revolutionaries or have a very definite view that they think, stages that they should go through, and people like Maclean or Connolly who are actually revolutionary activists ...

 

And what Maclean saw about the migrant workers was that they brought very different traditions. I think he always saw ... Never mind the ILP (Independent Labour Party). He saw the British Socialist Party, the SDP (Social Democratic Party) which became the British Socialist Party, as still fairly conservative in its attitudes and that many of its personnel would have come through Lib Lab politics and did not have much in the way of revolutionary tradition. I think he saw that migrant workers had far less to lose and that people ... a much more vibrant movement could be based around Highlanders, Irish, Lithuanians or anybody else. Interesting also, Connolly when he stood, for example, in one of the Dublin seats for council ... can’t remember the date, 1903, 1904, but around about the time is a wave of anti-Semitism and that in Ireland as well. He produced his election leaflet for the Dogsward in Yiddish as well as ... So I mean, you could see that these are two key figures who saw the importance of migrant workers and are very internationalist in their approach.

Simon:

And one sort of dynamic of interest in relation to it is on one hand you get a cultural particular ... it’s like a emphasis on cultural identity, it’s quite strong. Maclean’s interest in the townships, going back to earlier forms of Scottish tradition of farm land, papers in Yiddish ... So there’s quite a more distinct cultural particularism. On the other hand you have this internationalist politics. Do you want to talk about how those two things meet? Cos in some ways people might think they work against each other.

     

Allan:

Well, the first thing to note is that internationalism is ‘inter’ nationalism. By that, I would never call myself a nationalist in any sense. What I say, it’s ‘inter’ nations. You can have a cosmopolitan view of the world which sees the world as very flat and you say that global capitalists are creating one big united world and that anything that detracts from that is nationalist or divisive. I tend to take a very different view from that. In actual fact, internationalism is built from below. The people from different traditions bring different components to that and it’s through that you get a much more developed and actually more thoroughgoing revolutionary tradition.

 

I mean, in one sense, why is Glasgow for example called Red Clydeside? Why does it stand out over fifty, sixty years? And we can’t divorce that from the combination the Highland and, particularly, the Irish community has brought there. Now huge conflicts go on when ... I mean obviously not everybody that comes from Ireland is very radical, far from it. You have the influence of the Catholic Church weighing quite heavily in many ways and forming ... But you’ll see things, for example, like a whole wave of Irish cultural activities, some of which will actually have people ... very orthodox Catholics, and others will have people who are also happen to be trade unionists, others work for people, also happen to be Labour ... They still maintain contact with each other and I think out of this and the fact that there are overarching things, traditionally been trade unions and say the Labour Party compared to Belfast which was never able to do that, have brought people from different traditions into contact. I have come across members of the old Communist Party who remained Catholics, secular Catholics, but they were privately still Catholics, whereas others in actual fact I’ve come across I can actually say probably ... when you come across them you say, actually, they’ve dropped hardcore Catholicism for hardcore Bolshevism but there’s not a great deal of difference in between the two! There’s a whole swathe of things and provided these people come in contact with each other in different ... in joint struggles, even better than joint organisations, then I actually see that as very, very positive.

Simon:

Cos what you sometimes get is a kind of class difference expressed as a cultural, ethnic difference. So you get this ... like in Ireland you get the association with Scots, certain Scots, as actually land owners and ...

     

Allan:

Oh yes, oh yes.

     

Simon:

And in Scotland you get the idea of it being the English rather than it necessarily being the Scottish upper classes that were the problem. So there’s this other side to ...

     

Allan:

Very much so. For example, one of the reasons why the Land League had such an impact in Ireland and the Highlands, to a certain extent in Wales and a lesser one in ... in fact there is no specific Land League in England but there is the Nationalisation Society, very much more closely related to socialists. There is the, after Joseph Arch, the big agricultural workers ... things there. But the difference, why that made such of a headway, is landlords aren’t just landlords. They’re English landlords. In the Highlands, in Ireland ... Even in Ireland, some of these landlords are actually Scottish landlords but that’s how they’re perceived and I think class and that do get fused in these particular areas whereas that’s not the case in England, despite the fact there is ... in Kent and Sussex and Essex there is actually a big spurt of agricultural trade unionism erupting but there’s no equivalent of a crofting community or that.

Simon:

One thing is that, on the one hand, it seems a contrary trajectory to the ... internationalism which recognises particularity but also commonality, when culture is used to construct class differences but also class differences get articulated as cultural rather than class ...

     

Allan:

It’s class. Well ...

     

Simon:

... a conflict of how ...

     

Allan:

This is the importance of Davitt. Davitt is prepared to draw absolutely on these traditions, the Fenian tradition and other things, but he says: “No, we can only realise our aims,” the campaign of ‘internationalism from below’. So there he is, a secular Catholic speaking in Portree. There he is, addressing meetings in England, again another potentially hostile territory, Blaenau Ffestiniog, with it’s Calvinistic Methodism and stuff like that, but he very much sees that. The other thing is how he pushes ... when the Irish parties form for the 1885 elections, he wants a space left for Naoroji, the Indian home ruler, in Ireland, on their slate. He’s also down campaigning for Sylvia Pankhurst, the women’s emancipationist in London, she stands even though she’s not allowed to stand but she runs a campaign. He’s down, he’s making links with woman suffrages. So he relates these traditions but actually these are just local manifestations of a more universal thing, how do we unite these together? And I’ve called Davitt’s strategy ‘internationalism from below’ and that’s how that Davitt ... Conway later takes that up and then eventually ... I’ll get back to Maclean with that as well.

Simon:

So maybe we should jump forward to the present. What do you feel is the importance of that history for today?

     

Allan:

I feel very important. One of the main things I’ve been involved in, in the SSP (Scottish Socialist Party), is I’ve organised one and just sponsored another, called the Republican Socialist Convention. If you like, it’s a counter to the way we ... I suppose the majorative term is the Brit Left, the British Left, organise. Everything has to be done through a UK or a British Party. My own particular view is what we need is ‘internationalism from below’, an alliance right throughout these islands, and one of the things you find with people who have a British framework is they tend to ignore what’s going on in Ireland. You have to organise throughout these islands an alliance of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. If you are looking at the moment at how the ruling class has organised itself over the last ten, fifteen years ... with the rise of global capital, it’s very obvious that the main policing agent for global capital in the world is US Imperialism but in the north east Atlantic it’s main alliance at sea is the UK government bringing the twenty-six counties in tow as ... They are responsible for looking after things in the north east Atlantic.

 

In the case of the UK government, it acts also on the continent as a spoiler preventing the EU ever emerging as a rival imperial power but it’s quite a divisive strategy for political control over these islands which makes these islands safe for corporate investors. Now a long long time ago, it managed to deal with the trade union movement. Actually the first, the effective method ... Thatcher tried to do it head on, eventually it was for illegalisation but that didn’t work. It was in Ireland that they worked out the thing, social partnership. You draw trade union leaderships along with business into doing the policing for you. So most unions that are tied to social partnerships are little more than free personnel management services for the employers.

 

But the other things was obviously that, going from the 70s and 80s, that the British state had to deal with the national movements, the obvious one being in Ireland. Thatcher said: “We’ll totally face it down. We’ll sit out the hunger strikers.” That didn’t work and so what you got was the move to the Downing Street Declaration: “We have to bring the Republicans on board.” But something else happened in that intervening period and that was the Poll Tax campaign. I mean, I was the chair of the Lothian Anti-Poll Tax campaign and I was co-chair of the Scottish one there, and that threatened to actually become almost the equivalent of the 1969 Ireland, the equivalent of the civil rights movement ... (inaudible) ... something far more significant.

 

New Labour it was that realized, actually, you can’t compartmentalise this situation in Ireland, you’ve got to have a solution that covers Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Now Wales wasn’t quite such a pressing problem but looking at what they wanted was some sort of overall project and the project that came up was the combination of the peace process and devolution all round. So, if you like, the UK state organises itself with a very conscious strategy for these islands. Most of the British Left don’t realise what that is or the significance of what they are trying to do there so, to me, you have to go back to a different tradition which is the tradition of ‘internationalism from below’, which is how Davitt was trying to do these things, where ... Connolly to quite a great extent was trying to do these things but, actually, you don’t really bring Scotland on board until you bring Maclean.

 

I could go onto reasons why Scotland was later but they have this particular strategy, taking as well the case of farmers that were active in the Anti-Poll Tax Union. Now that could’ve panned out two ways. Because it was tested out first in Scotland by the Thatcher government, you could’ve had a big massive campaign, No Poll Tax Here, but that wasn’t what we decided to do. We decided what we would do is: “We’ve got it a year early, we’ll try and make this place inoperable. In the meantime we’ll send speakers down to England and Wales,” and it was taken out in Trafalgar Square, that was finally taken out. But, so we had an international ... spread it from Scotland and trigger off things elsewhere. That was an economic social aspect but the Republican Socialists eventually just brought people across from Ireland, Wales and England trying to politicise that.

 

And the other thing as well that ... I’m very proud that the SSP has been involved in and I think we’re the only party that has a position of ‘no-one is illegal’. We support migrant workers. Not just asylum seekers, all migrant workers in struggle and, again, I think that when you invoke Maclean in that you can see that’s what they did as well, so I see these struggles as very important today. It’s reviving a tradition that has been marginalised after 1923 when ... I mean, the Bolshevik revolution, if you like ... I am one of these people that thinks after Kronstadt it turned on itself and was isolated but you can actually see, cos that isolated, the Irish struggle as well within a year is forced in on itself and you get partition. Maclean from 1919 ... Come the 1923 election, what you’ve got instead is the Clydeside MPs going down to Westminster. Even then you suddenly realise that, in other words, the ruling classes contain things. But one of the knock-on things about the containment is the way that the left becomes more British orientated in Scotland but also a loss of memory of it’s traditions. They don’t get revived again. There’s potential for revival in the 60s and 70s but British Leftism is all-powerful. I think the Anti-Poll Tax ... The Irish struggle obviously is one thing, but for people to see the wider thing I think the poll tax is, if you like, where people start looking ... “Hey, where does this come from? What are our traditions relating to ...?” And so that’s actually the significance.

Simon:

And you’ve talked about Imperialism. Obviously at the time, the late nineteenth century, the height of the British Empire, the notion of Imperialism as a critique doesn’t really fully condense until the twentieth century with Lenin and Luxemburg ... but what’s emerging at that time? You’ve got people that are there in the context of Empire. How much consciousness of that ...?

     

Allan:

I mean ... I’ll send you an advance draft of the books for you to see because I haven’t got them here. What is interesting is when the first meeting that’s held in Westport by Davitt, he compares the situation with Mayo peasants to the Kaffirs in South Africa to the Indians ... He’s making very, very definite links, but the reason my book finishes off in 1885 is that’s when the Tories take over. It’s the arrival of absolute high Imperialism. The British state has found a method to bottle up New Unionism and to defeat the home rule movement, the two things are bottled up there. But it’s exactly then that Connolly emerges and Connolly has a critique of Imperialism right from the beginning when there’s the 1898 hundred year centenary of the 1798 ... There he is organising a march through the streets of Dublin with a black coffin, British Imperialism, with a mention of all the deaths of Indians and the famine ... (inaudible) ... He has a very strong anti-Imperialist thing there. You’re right, people like Luxemburg in 1898 is also making first comments against Imperialism and is the first on the international left to theorise it. Lenin’s much later in theorising it. But Connolly is there just ... (inaudible) ... and setting up the Irish Republican Socialist Party, that’s just ... Where’s that come from? Actually, people originally think he’s going across to set up a branch of the ILP in Dublin. He just doesn’t do that, he goes for the Irish Republican Socialist Party and the first fight he’s on India so that anti-Imperialism is there from that early, early date and it’s obviously something that Maclean very much relates to as well, his break up the British Empire perspective on ... So that Imperialism is there but for the vast majority of the Labour Movement, the trade union movement, the period of high Imperialism is just mass accommodation to all of these things. The one exception I suppose being the support for the Boer War but you don’t ... the Boers in that war ... But you do have a sneaking suspicion it’s because they’re white, rather than anything else. But you see by 1905, the TUC (Trades Union Congress) is backing the Aliens Act directly against Jewish workers so that’s just a handful of small unions that take a different position there. So yeah, the British Labour Movement is absolutely swamped by Imperialism, but there are people holding out against that and Connolly’s one of them.

Simon:

Again, kind of a jump forward to today. You’ve got, with nineteenth century Imperialism, both the kind of claiming of land and you have the creation of international trade infrastructures open to the use of ... the reorganisation of the land ...

     

Allan:

Yes, yes.

     

Simon:

... in particular, types of ... new forms of industry ... (inaudible) ... into particular sections. Nowadays we don’t so much have this explicit colonial ... (inaudible) ... going on but there’s still a kind of restructuring. Do you want to talk about the kind of restructuring we see today? I’m thinking of international work agencies, agency working and stuff like that.

     

Allan:

I suppose one indication would be at the time of the First International, for example, there was big debates about labour colonialism. There, Marx and others were very much opposed to labour colonialism but real debates went on and what they were ... I mean, they actually did support, for example, nationalisation of the land and the eight hour day, two things that were seen ... Nationalisation of the land would provide places for surplus labour and the eight hour day would create more jobs, that was ... but what they were very much opposed was workers having to go to Australia, Canada, wherever it was.

 

Now, today, it’s almost the exact opposite, you know, that in actual fact the right wing of our movement, it’s not workers going abroad, it’s workers coming here! The jobs are here now and I would see this ... All the anti-migrant legislation, to me the purpose of anti-migrant legislation is not to drive migrant workers out of this country, it’s to create a two tier workforce. That’s the significance of that. There’s no way those large numbers ... I mean, the sheer horror of what’s happening in many third world countries anyhow, the economic poverty on top of that, the civil wars and ... not just the civil wars, the other wars ... There’s just millions ... That cannot actually be physically contained, that’s just going to happen, but I think the main purpose, as I say, is to make sure that there is a workforce that has to hide, that can’t go for anywhere to claim rights and can be super exploited and the right wing ... You’ve still got a right wing of the trade union movement, it’s against migrant workers ... People say: “Yeah, asylum seekers, OK, but not ...” The left would be: “No one is illegal,” the freedom to move. But Imperialism has ... having set up the structures under colonialism by which huge sections of the world are forced into actual economic dependency, having set up all these structures already, when ... it’s not that they’re easily abandoned, these countries, but when forced to abandon them by struggles, then they were able to impose a neo-colonial situation which left these places as dependencies anyhow and it also meant that of course you could now export jobs to these countries and treat them in a different way. So you’re right, the relationship between the metropolitan countries and the colonial or the neo-colonial countries is different but the same people are in control.