JOHN Maclean died 100 years ago today. He was, along with the likes of James Connolly and Jimmy Reid, one of the most important socialist sons of Scotland. Trained as a teacher but outside the school system, he became a very effective revolutionary Marxist educator, training many socialists and trade unionists. He was jailed for his opposition to the First World War.

Maclean was also an early supporter of independence for Scotland too, because he thought ­workers in Scotland were more radical than those in England and Wales so ­making independence more achievable – and because he thought ­Scottish ­independence could strike a blow against British imperialism. ­Maclean’s funeral was attended by up to 10,000 people.

Quite rightly then, there have been many events commemorating the centenary of his death in ­Scotland this November. For example, the ­journal of the Scottish Labour ­History ­Society this year carries ­several ­articles on him and the society held a conference too on his legacy on ­Saturday, ­November 18 in Glasgow. The night before, the University ­of Glasgow held an event about one of its most famous former graduates.

But while such past figures are still important psychologically to the radical left in Scotland, they are unfortunately not now important figures in a practical sense. In other words, they do not have a significant band of followers trying to implement or ­develop their ideas.

So, Maclean remains a “lodestar” – an inspiration or guide – and a “lodestone” – the focus of attention or attraction. Whilst these characterisations are essentially about the ­qualitative aspect of Maclean’s ­legacy, it is difficult to say much about the ­quantitative aspects in terms of him being a “talisman”, that is, one ­regarded as representing and ­inspiring a particular group of ­people.

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The last time Maclean’s influence had any practical and manifest ­bearing upon the body politic in Scotland was through the rise of Tommy Sheridan and the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) more than 20 years ago. Sheridan to a greater degree than any other of the leading members of the SSP sought to resurrect awareness of Maclean and mobilise his legacy as a Scottish socialist revolutionary. But here Sheridan’s demise also meant the demise of Maclean.

This outing was far more ­significant than the formation of the ­second ­iteration of the party he formed, the Scottish Workers’ ­Republican Party (SWRP), in the 1970s or the Scottish Republican ­Socialist Movement (SRSM). Formed in 1982 from the defunct Scottish Republican Socialist Party (SRSP), the SRSM joined the SSP from 1998 to 2006. The main public activity of the SRSM is the annual John Maclean march and rally each November on the anniversary of his death.

The only other significant recent outing for Maclean was probably in the run-up to the 2014 independence referendum amid the major upsurge in radical politics, based around the Radical Independence Campaign. But this outing was a rather more diffuse one than those that came before.

The sad reality is that the radical and revolutionary left in Scotland – especially that which supports independence for Scotland – is a shadow of its former self. And that is not just about the demise of the SSP after the Sheridan debacle.

The radical and revolutionary left in Scotland has always sought to create a “red thread” backwards from the present to the past times of ­Maclean and “Red Clydeside” era. It does so for reasons of inspiration and solace, focusing upon an occasion when socialists did have sufficient traction with workers and the poor that made the forces of the status quo fear them.

But, alas, those times have long since passed. Though not a revolutionary era, the early 1970s was the last time such trepidation was felt by the ruling class as a result of the self-organisation of the working class. The time since the summer of 2022 does not really equate, really being a case of trying to compare apples and oranges.

This resultant despair and desolation amongst the radical and revolutionary left means that the taking consolation and comfort from the figure of Maclean now outweighs any grounded sense of inspiration that may be gained from him.

This is the process by which past figures are beatified and canonised, with Maclean recently being called “Scotland’s Lenin” by some Trotskyists. The stark reality that Lenin led a socialist revolution in the conditions of a poorly industrialised country and Tsarist police state, aided by the church, is far too easily disregarded.

Let’s not forget what Maclean did as one of the first major figures to proselytise for revolutionary socialism in Scotland. But just as he struggled to establish a form of political organisation that was well suited to his times, let’s try to learn some small but significant lessons from this experience if we are to truly honour his endeavours in our own times.

Professor Gregor Gall is co-editor of Scottish Labour History, the journal of the Scottish Labour History Society (