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.
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’.
1850s: a culture of anarchism in all but name was well-established.
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. He is said to have met Mikhail Bakunin in Geneva in 1869, translated the Revolutionary Catechism in 1870, and then returned to Scotland to carry out anarchist propaganda and revolutionary sabotage. Much more research needs to be completed on this potentially critical individual for Glasgow and Scottish anarchist history.
1871: The anarchist propaganda in Glasgow began with a French Communard and his partner - a woman named McDonald - from Crown Street in the Gorbals sometime after 1871.
1884 : 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.
1886: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’. Kropotkin spoke on 27 November on ‘Socialism: Its Growing Force and Final Aim’.
1888: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,
1889: The Glasgow dockers' go-slow .
1890: The Socialist League collapsed 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.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.
1892: the formation of the first Glasgow Anarchist Group came about late in 1892.
October 1893 :
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.
October 1893: 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.
August and September 1903: William Duff and Maggie also paved the way for Voltairine de Cleyre’s 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.
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’.
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
1940: the ACF merged with the Marxian Study Group of James Kennedy to set up the Glasgow Group of the Anarchist Federation of Britain. It produced a few issues of The Anarchist, but then concentrated on writing for and circulating War Commentary, which had taken the place of Spain and the World in London in November 1939. It clearly signalled its analysis of the Soviet Union as state capitalist when it published Maximov’s Bolshevism: Promises and Reality.
August 1940 : Leech, along with James Kennedy, Eddie Shaw, and Frank Dorans were arrested in August 1940 for inciting people to evade duties and responsibilities relating to conscription laid down in an Act. The basis for this was that they had offered advice and information to prospective conscientious objectors and had held mock tribunals to prepare them for this. They were found not guilty.
The Glasgow Anarchist Federation involved itself in industrial activity around a strike by bus drivers and conductors in November 1941, and at the end of 1943 in strike action in the Lanarkshire area.
November 1943 Leech was summoned to the Sheriff’s Court for refusing to register for fire-watching.
1915: The Glasgow rent strike
1916-1932: The fight for freedom of speech on Glasgow Green.
1919: The 40-hours strike
1964: Glasgow bus strike of April 1964
Glasgow Anarchists 1974-1986
A LIBERTARIAN SOCIALIST group forms at Strathclyde University, reproducing an expanded version of Solidarity’s As We See It as a founding statement.
an Anarchist group participating in squatting in the Glasgow University campus; a prominent NUSS activist gets involved in the Anarchist Workers Association.
Anarchist centre set up in Bute Gardens in large squat with 9 rooms, a large public room equipped with duplicator, silkscreen (donated by Art Lecturer) & space for 20-30 bodies.
In Edinburgh there were close ties with Glasgow & joint campaign work, the nucleus being members of AWA. A series of 7 Conferences were held between the beginning of 1975 & the end of 1977, three of which were in Glasgow.
1975 there was a joint discussion meeting of the GAG with the Women’s Liberation Movement & in 1983 a brief anarcho-feminists discussion circle, an offshoot from the Bookshop collective & anarchist group.
1976: More influential was the Fair Fares campaign which saw the group in 1976 launch a widespread poster campaign to popularise resistance to fares increases. A few ‘situations’ were created on buses on a proclaimed ‘Day of Action’ & mysteriously a confrontation with transport police who happened to be on a 43 bus into town which a squad of Fares Fighters had boarded, refusing to pay the new fare & engaged in persuading passengers to join in the spirit.
September 1977: The Glasgow Peoples Press was launched in September 1977
1977/78 : The anarchists also made links with the Firemen during their winter 1977/78 dispute
1984:a discussion journal, The Clydeside Anarchist produced two issues in 1984.Ensuing intense street-collections (6 times a week) which raised £12,000 which was passed direct to Strike Centres, especially those in Ayrshire. Links with Union activists from Ayrshire were briefly formed, but in the process the Street-speaking pitches & the opening up of a public sphere for anarchist ideas was abandoned in favour of a role as an unofficial miners support group. Inevitably such activity & the delayed trial of the Price Waterhouse defendants exhausted those involved intensively, while those unable to match such commitment dropped by the wayside, often afflicted by a sense of guilt that they had not ‘done enough’
2002: McDonalds Workers Resistance
George Williamson, 1939-2007. Joined the activists of the anti-war Committee of 100 . became the full-time secretary of the Scottish Committee of 100. joined the libertarian socialist Solidarity group, where he remained for many years.In 1976, under a pseudonym he published Urban Devastation - the Planning of Incarceration, a critique of town planning's effect on the sociability and visual logic of towns. From 1970 he had worked for brewery companies, mostly on pub design, where his concern for the conditions that made daily life sociable found both expression and frustration. The latter burst out in a wonderful 1990 pamphlet, Beware the Barmaid's Smile! It demanded that the evolution of the pub be controlled by the customers and not by the breweries, calling for militant opposition to the remorseless corporatisation of pubs and the brewing industry.
John Taylor Caldwell
William McDougal , 1894-1981
Frank Leech (1900-1953) active in the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation (APCF). In 1935-37 he sheltered some German anarchist refugees from the Nazi regime.With the outbreak of the Spanish Revolution and the resurgence of anarchist propaganda in Glasgow, Leech and the APCF were heavily involved in activity., distributing much propaganda and organising street corner meetings at every opportunity. When Spain and the World was set up in 1936, Leech joined its editorial team., and the APCF circulated the paper widely in Glasgow.In August 1937 Leech and other ex-members of the APCF formed the Glasgow Anarchist Communist Federation (ACF) working closely with Spain and the World and the Anarcho-Syndicalist Union (ASU) which had been set up by Ralph Barr. When Emma Goldman undertook her tour of Scotland in March 1938 it was under the auspices of the ACF as her relations with the USM and APCF were not as cordial. It also produced the CNT-FAI Boletin de Informacion in English. In 1939 it published pamphlets by the Argyll anarchist Harry Derrett Under the Fifth Rib and Goldman’s Trotsky Protests Too Much.
“Big Frank “ Leech spoke every Sunday on Glasgow Green to hundreds of workers, he addressed factory gate meetings outside the Royal Ordnance Factory, he wrote for Freedom on industrial matters. He died at his home on January 2nd, 1953 of a heart attack.
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.
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.
Leech, Frank (1900-1953) http://libcom.org/history/leech-frank-1900-1953
The birth of Glasgow's anarchism Posted by John Couzin with mainly Mairtin O'Cathain's work , http://libcom.org/history/birth-glasgows-anarchism.
A Public Nuisance - Tales of adventure and a spirit of revolt: Glasgow Anarchists 1974-1986 http://libcom.org/history/public-nuisance
Mark Shipway’s Anti-Parliamentary Communism,