GLASGOW musician and broadcaster Gavin Paterson and musical colleague Alan Smart are spearheading a drive to com-memorate the centenary of the release from prison of the Marxist school teacher and “Red Clydeside” revolutionary leader John Maclean.

The planned events include both a “re-inauguration” of the Hamish Henderson song The John Maclean March, as well as a people’s re-enactment of the march and mass rally by Glaswegians to greet Maclean after his release.

So who was John Maclean? Who still remembers?

To Lenin and to Trotsky, John Maclean was a foremost leader of the revolutionary movement in Britain. To the British intelligence services during the First World War, on the other hand, he was regarded as “the most dangerous figure in Britain”.

The National:

John Maclean with his family

According to author Henry Bell, who has just published a new Maclean biography, John Maclean, Hero of Red Clydeside:

[Maclean] addressed tens of thousands of striking women during the Glasgow Rent Strike and helped to secure a rent-freeze for the whole UK. He opened the Soviet Consulate in the Gorbals in 1917 as Lenin’s representative in Scotland. He led up to 100,000 workers across Glasgow and stood on top of a carriage in Jamaica Street, urging them to cheer for the German, Russian, and British Revolutions.

In 1919 the Red Clydeside demonstrations, of which Maclean was considered a chief instigator, were dispersed from George Square.

He had been sentenced for his activities in 1918 to five years of penal servitude in Peterhead Prison for “sedition” under the Defence of the Realm Act, which Westminster had passed partly to prevent a “Bolshevist” uprising in Glasgow that might later spread, to the detriment of the war effort.

Given the above, Maclean was larger than life even during his own lifetime, and greatly loved by the many he helped, for example the rent strikers.

Popular agitation in Scotland and from around the world forced the British Government into releasing Maclean from prison early, just after the armistice in 1918.

While in prison he had been force fed to break his hunger strike, and mostly kept in solitary confinement. His health destroyed, he died on November 30, 1923 – on St Andrew’s Day.

While estimates vary, up to 250,000 Glaswegians turned out to welcome Maclean home after his release from prison in 1918. Now, 100 years later, the John Maclean March will be re-enacted in the streets of Glasgow.

Enter another communist, a working-class orphan, Hamish Henderson; also a poet, a song collector and a composer along the lines of Rabbie Burns.

Henderson is considered a pioneering figure in the post Second World War folk revival movement. He is legendary for songs which include The Banks of Sicily and Freedom Come Aa Ye, the latter widely considered a leading candidate as a new national anthem for Scotland.

In 1948 Henderson composed a song in Scots to honour Maclean. The John Maclean March was premiered at the Mitchell Library on November 28, 1948 – 50 years ago. And it has never looked back.

Widely considered one of Henderson’s most influential songs, it went on to have an outsized impact on the then gathering forces of the global folk revival, influencing singers such as Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and others.

According to Henry Bell, “The great moments of Maclean’s life are still etched into the collective memory of Scotland’’ ... But is he right?

According to Alan Smart, who is a co-organiser of Maclean Marches On, these 100 and 50 year anniversaries would likely have passed by almost unremarked and unnoticed, even in Glasgow, had his friend Gavin Paterson not clamoured to bring them to his (and to our) attention.

Has Red Clydeside really now become just a fading fragment, a shadowy, half forgotten historical figment?

IN our bustling Scottish patchwork of islands and Highlands, of cities and clachans; of Scots and English speakers, and Gàidhealtachd; of self-identifying Scots and Britons, and emigrants; of SNP nationalists, and Labourites, and Tories and Greens: that a communist songwriter once, a long time ago, composed a song to honour another communist, and he “the most dangerous man in Britain” — why does this matter? And why ought we to remember it? It is a fair question.

It is reported that Maclean collapsed while giving an outdoor speech, dying later of pneumonia. Several days before he had given his only overcoat to a destitute man from Barbados, Neill Johnstone. Maclean’s compassion for rent strikers, for conscripted soldiers in the trenches (anti-conscription was a huge part of the Red Clydeside programme) and for Neill Johnstone mark him out.

His compassion is only matched by that shown for him by the Glaswegians who turned out in their tens of thousands (at least) to welcome him “hame” after his time in prison, as so beautifully presented in Henderson’s song.

In Alasdair Gray’s novel Poor Things one of his characters says, “People who care nothing for their country’s stories and songs […] are like people without a past – without a memory – they are half people”.

Viewed in these terms, I believe that Maclean needs to be honoured – and remembered – by all of us, whatever our politics or particular attributes.

In this fraught and frightening world, standing as we are on the edge of countless abysses, either compassion and historical memory will see us through to the other side, or we won’t get there.

In the species survival sweepstakes (the six hominid species closest to sapiens have now become extinct) self-centred “half people” will not be the winners.

According to Alan Smart, “If the only marchers on November 30 are mesel’ and me dug, I’ll consider it a success”.

But Alan won’t be alone. I’ll be there, and I’ll be bringing friends. I hope that you and your friends will also join us during Maclean Marches On events, and help us to celebrate Glasgow, Scotland, John Maclean, our history and collective memories, and our shared desire for a thoughtful, considered and compassionate present and future.

For more information on the Maclean Marches On programme of events, please see their website at