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I love personal acts of rebellion, no matter how small. So as I find stories on my research travels I will post them under ‘Daily acts of rebellion’. Number 2 in this series is the actions of the Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group (AACG) in August 1891, when invited to take part in a demonstration regarding the land question, and as reported in the journal Commonweal in September 1891. The demonstration was also to be attended by Henry Hyndman, leader of the Social Democratic Federation, the Aberdeen Socialist Society and members of the local trade union movement. Much to the annoyance of the Society and the unions, the AACG prepared banners with slogans and props….

…we had a beautiful banner bearing the inscriptions “Revolutionary Socialism” on one side and “No Master” on the other. There was also a cart, on which was erected a gibbet and from which there hung a figure representative of Capitalism, by some unforeseen occurrence, it bore a striking resemblance to the G.O.M. On the figure there was a card bearing the words “His soul to hell may fly”, other mottos on the cart were “Dynamite the social sore”, ” Speed the Revolution”, “Vive la Commune”, ” Damn the British Constitution”, etc.’.

Another report goes into more detail: ‘On the cart itself were seated two young men, one clad in a red vest and the other with a red cap and a black mask. In addition to the cart the only other emblems were a hideous picture, representing a poverty stricken room, with a female figure stretched dead upon the floor, weeping children, and the words beneath “The real secret of England’s greatness”…’

Related entries: Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group.

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A key part of a protest is having a slogan to shout or a song to sing. The most common amongst socialists is The Red Flag, with words written in 1889, by Irish socialist Jim Connell.

Yet, in 1890 the Scottish Land and Labour League/Socialist League (Aberdeen branch) published a pamphlet called ‘Songs for Socialists’ (Songs for Socialists, James Leatham, Aberdeen, 1890, 3 editions), based on the earlier ‘Chants for Socialists’ published by William Morris and The Socialist League. Before The Red Flag was prominent, there were other songs sung such as: No Master (William Morris), The Marseillaise (with words by D.J. Nicoll) and When the Revolution Comes (J. Bruce Glasier).

It was common after a meeting to hold a musical programme and the Aberdeen socialists even had a choir. The main song was the French anthem ‘The Marseillaise’ which was sung after meetings, on May Day marches and also when Henry Hyndman visited the city in August 1891. The Revolutionary Socialist Federation (who had split from the Aberdeen Socialist Society and were soon to be renamed the Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group), also sang ‘The Marseillaise’, but they also sang ‘No Master’.

The Free Information Network (FIN) was a publishing movement that grew out of the counter-culture, traveller, free festival scene of the 1980s and there were local FIN groups issuing newsletters in many cities across the UK. These D.I.Y. community papers covered multiple areas such as anarchism, animal rights, anti-capitalism, anti-fascism, civil rights, environmentalism, prisoner support and squatting. The network was centered around direct action as the 1990s was the time of large protests against environmental destruction caused by the building of new roads and the introduction of the Criminal Justice Act, Jobseekers Allowance and the Poll Tax.

Newsletters because they were part of a wider network would also include a directory of other FINS, local activist groups and a diary of future direct actions. An important part was that the newsletters relied on contributions from activists and for a donation or stamp addressed envelope, you could receive information from other members of the network.

There was a FIN in Aberdeen and it would seem to have first been active in around 1994.

References: Aberdeen F.I.N. and ABFIN newsletters c. 1994 – 1997

Sources: 3 newsletters held at Scottish Radical Library/ACE archive in Edinburgh.

In the late 1960s there was a movement of community activism and a myriad of organisations were formed such as claimant unions, community workshops and tenants associations. The first claimant union was founded by students in Birmingham in early 1969. Soon, many other groups were formed throughout Britain, and a National Federation of Claimant Unions was established. The Federation Charter stated the aims: the right to adequate income without means test for all people, a free welfare state for all with its services controlled by the people who use it, no secrets and the right to full information and no distinction between so-called ‘deserving’ and ‘un-deserving’. The unions were designed to fill the gap of representation in the trade union movement and they called themselves ‘the Union of the poor’.

The group in Aberdeen was formed by individuals who were receiving assistance and were concerned at the treatment they had received and witnessed. A meeting was therefore convened by leafletting outside the Employment Exchange and Social Security Offices. The role of the union was mainly to fight assistance claims on behalf of its members and to press forward on policy demands stemming from the experience of members.

The group was made up of people receiving Supplementary Benefit and relying on this means tested benefit. Membership was open to this group on benefits but also to unsupported mothers, the sick, the disabled, pensioners and those on low income. The group met at the Trades Union Council offices. They issued a broadsheet called ‘The Penny Rebel’ which was distributed in benefit offices.

Related entries: Aberdeen Unemployment Centre.

References: pamphlet (undated, c.1971).

Sources: pamphlet held at Scottish Radical Library/ACE archive in Edinburgh.

The Women’s Equality Party is a national political party founded in 2015 by author and journalist Catherine Mayer and broadcaster and author Sandi Toksvig. The party takes inspiration from the suffragettes and this is reflected in the party logo colours of green, purple and white. The mission of the party is to see women enjoy the same rights and opportunities as men and aims for equal representation in politics, business, industry and throughout working life. The party has already ran candidates in local, mayoral elections and in the 2017 General Election.

There are branches in Scotland, including a Grampian branch, based in Keith in Moray.

References: website.

Sources: unknown.

The research for this blog is highlighting the existence of groups, yet how many members did these groups have? With the lack of archives, evidence is unfortunately fragmentary, and so numbers of active members needs to taken with a pinch of salt it has to be said. Yet, even with the lack of evidence, it is clear that they often had a loud voice and influence on matters, despite their low numbers.

I have been collecting the numbers of members, so far I have:

Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group (1891 – mid/late 1890s)

100 (source: newspaper report (Dundee Courier) of the 3rd Conference of Scottish Anarchists in Aberdeen in January 1895)

Aberdeen Clarion Club (1899 – 1909)

60 (source: club minute book at formation in 1899)

Aberdeen Socialist Club (1909 – 1916?)

50 (source: newspaper report (Aberdeen Daily Journal) on the opening of the new club rooms, June 1909)

Aberdeen Socialist Society (c.1891 – c.1893)

c.120, yet the real number is probably a good deal lower, as presumably some individuals would have been attending as partners or guests of members (source: newspaper report (Aberdeen Daily Journal) on the annual social meeting in 1891)

National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (Aberdeen) (c.1900 – c.1919) (Aberdeen Women’s Suffrage Association)

60/70 (source: Aberdeen branch report, noted in The Conciliatory Suffragette (Sarah Pederson in History Scotland, vol.5:2, 2005)

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Anti-Thatcher graphic protest including magazines and postcards. From the late 1970s/1980s.