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Posts Tagged ‘1910s’

Following revolution in Russia, shockwaves reverberated around the world, and Aberdeen felt that impact as well. In late 1918 there was a meeting in Aberdeen with the aim of forming an ‘Industrial Council or ‘Soviet’ and according to the local newspapers, a telegram was read out from Glasgow socialist John MacLean, which simply read ‘Aberdeen Workers! Unite!’.

The Aberdeen Communist Group was formally established in September 1919. Members of the Aberdeen group included William Greig, William Leslie, J. Leslie, George Scott, James Scroggie, Basil Taylor and Robert Troup. The group was very active and often featured in local newspapers, usually being accused of being dangerous Bolsheviks, intent on revolution. The group held many public meetings, including in November 1919 for example, a talk by Guy Aldred (Aldred was from Glasgow and an anarchist communist, author/publisher and former conscientious objector who was imprisoned at the camp at Dyce).

Events nationally would alter the course though and the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) was formally founded at a Unity Conference held in London in late July/early August 1920. The new national committed itself to parliamentary representation and this caused a split in some local Communist groups, including Aberdeen. Many of the key members (such as Basil Taylor) did not join the new party and chose a different path, aligning themselves with the anti-parliamentarian movement led in Scotland by Guy Aldred. The Aldred grouping was a fusion of anarchists and communists and in 1921 the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation was founded.

Related entries: Aberdeen Communist Party and William Leslie.

References: Aberdeen Daily Journal, For Communism (Guy Aldred, The Strickland Press, Glasgow, 1943), ‘Aberdeen Was More Red Than Glasgow: The Impact of the First World War and the Russian Revolution beyond Red Clydeside’ (William Kenefick, in Scotland and the Slavs: Cultures in Contact: 1500 – 2000 (Mark Cornwall & Murray Frames (eds.), Newtonville, 2001), Red Scotland: The Rise and Fall of the Radical Left c.1872 – 1932 (William Kenefick, Edinburgh University Press, 2007) and Anti-Parliamentary Communism: The Movement for Workers’ Councils 1917 – 1945 (Mark Shipway, Palgrave, 1988).

Sources: unknown.

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On my research travels I am picking up those events which are ‘1sts’ for Aberdeen. Whether these events were 1st in Scotland or even Britain is another case. Aberdeen was usually late to the party…

  • Working class men nominated by the Aberdeen Trades Union Council and elected to the city council: 1884, G. Macconnochie and J. Forbes
  • British Trade Union Congress held in Aberdeen: 1884
  • Women delegates on Aberdeen Trades Union Council: 1884, Jemima Moir and Mrs Slessor representing the Work-women’s Protective and Benefit Society
  • Working class men nominated by the Aberdeen Trades Union Council and elected to the school board: 1885
  • Socialist publishing press: 1889, James Leatham
  • May Day march: 1890
  • Anarchist group: 1891, Aberdeen Revolutionary Socialist Federation, later named Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group
  • Aberdeen South Labour General Election candidate (as Scottish United Trades Councils Labour Party): 1892, Henry Hyde Champion
  • Aberdeen North Labour General Election candidate (as Independent Labour): 1895, John Lincoln Mahon
  • Social Democratic Federation councillor: 1895, William Cooper, Woodside
  • Independent Labour Party General Election candidate: 1896, Tom Mann, Aberdeen North
  • Scottish Trade Union Congress held in Aberdeen: 1898
  • President of Scottish Trade Union Congress: 1898, John Keir, President of Aberdeen Trades Union Council
  • Social Democratic Federation General Election candidate: 1906, Tom Kennedy, Aberdeen North
  • Labour Party MP (Aberdeen North): 1918, Frank Rose
  • Communist Party General Election candidate: 1928, Aitken Ferguson, Aberdeen North
  • Labour Party majority on the city council: 1945
  • Communist Party councillor: 1945, St Clement’s ward, Tom Baxter (although there had been a self proclaimed Bolsehevist, Arthur Fraser Macintosh, in Torry in 1919)
  • Labour Party MP (Aberdeen South): 1966, Donald Dewar
  • Officer of the Scottish Trade Union Congress (General Secretary/Deputy General Secretary): 1969 – 1975 and 1975 – 1986, James Milne, former President of Aberdeen Trades Union Council, first as Deputy then as General Secretary.

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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.1896)

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). Another source states 30 (source: Aberdeen Labour Elector, 17th August 1893)

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)

Women’s Liberation Group (c. 1969 – c. 1979)

c.20 (source: group newsletter ‘Bust-Up’ from the early 1970s.

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The Scottish Labour College was founded in Glasgow in 1916 (by Glasgow socialist John Maclean and others) to provide independent working class Marxian education. There were many branches across Scotland and although Aberdeen Trades Union Council was invited to send delegates to the provisional meeting in 1916, it does not appear that happened. In December 1919 though after a visit by John Maclean, a branch was formed. The Chairman was Alfred Balfour (National Union of Railwaymen) and Secretary/Treasurer was William Morrison (Painters, who had been in the Socialist Labour Party and then the Aberdeen Communist Party). The first tutor was Joseph Payne, a Communist who remained until 1922, and then it was Aitken Ferguson, another Communist, who later stood twice in general elections in Aberdeen (in 1928/1929). There were constant concerns about the viability of the scheme and in 1924 Morrison reported that the Aberdeen branch was in trouble financially as it only had the support of 20 out of a 70 possible local trade union branches. The scheme did survive though and later tutors included Communist Bob Cooney. The Aberdeen & District branch remained active it would seem until the late 1940s.

There was also a Central Labour College in England which has been founded earlier in 1909. The College had been founded after a strike at Ruskin College, Oxford, when a group of Marxist students formed The Plebs League. In 1915 the College was officially recognised by the Trades’ Union Congress. In 1921 a National Council of Labour Colleges was created to co-ordinate the college network and the Scottish Labour College was absorbed. In 1964 the National Council merged with the Workers’ Educational Trade Union Committee to form the Trades’ Union Congress Education Department.

Related entries: Aberdeen Communist Party and Robert Cooney.

References: Aberdeen Daily Journal.

Sources: unknown.

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The national Socialist Labour Party was founded in 1903 after a split of (mainly) Scottish members from the Marxist Social Democratic Federation (SDF). A similar split occurred in England as well, resulting in the formation of the Socialist Labour Party of Great Britain. The Scottish party was heavily influenced by the industrial unionism of the Socialist Labor Party of America and was led by socialists in Glasgow such as: Tom Bell, Arthur McManus and Neil McLean.

Although speakers such as national party Secretary Neil McLean visited Aberdeen in 1907, and there is notice of a meeting under the auspices of the party addressed by Aberdeen socialist A.S. Wheeler in 1913, it is not clear if a branch was active at that time. Yet a branch was officially founded in September 1917 when a meeting was called with a guest speaker from the national party in Glasgow (it was to be either Tom Bell or Arthur McManus). Local individuals involved included William Morrison and James W. Gordon (who were former members of the Northern Socialist Society and later to be members of the Aberdeen Communist Group). Another member was William Leslie who was also later to become part of the Aberdeen Communist group. The Party met at the Socialist Hall, Mealmarket Street, where the Northern Society previously used to hold their meetings. The local branch does not appear to have been active after December 1919.

Following revolution in Russia there were moves to work with the British Socialist Party and other groups to form a British Communist Party. Some members did join the new Communist Party but the national party did not and continued along its own path for a number of years.

Related entries: Aberdeen Communist Party, Social Democratic Federation and William Leslie.

References: Aberdeen Daily Journal, ‘Aberdeen Was More Red Than Glasgow: The Impact of the First World War and the Russian Revolution beyond Red Clydeside’ (William Kenefick, in Scotland and the Slavs: Cultures in Contact: 1500 – 2000 (Mark Cornwall & Murray Frames (eds.), Newtonville, 2001), Red Scotland: The Rise and Fall of the Radical Left c.1872 – 1932 (William Kenefick, Edinburgh University Press, 2007), The Aberdeen Trades Council and Politics 1900-1939 (C. W. M. Phipps, University of Aberdeen thesis, 1980) and Remembering the Spanish Civil War 1936 – 1939 (chapter ‘The Story of Aberdeen’s Communists’ by Bob Cooney, in ed. George Scott, Aberdeen Trades Council, 1996).

Sources: unknown.

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The start of World War One proved a crisis for the British Socialist Party as it split into pro-war and anti-war factions. The pro-war faction split in 1915/16 led by former SDF leader Henry Hyndman, calling the new group the National Socialist Party.

Individuals involved in the Aberdeen branch included William King and Christian-Farquharson Kennedy. Another prominent individual in the NSP was Tom Kennedy, who was husband of Christian, former SDF organiser in Aberdeen and who stood for Parliament in North Aberdeen on two occasions. After service in World War One he became General Secretary of the party.

The national party affiliated to the Labour Party in 1918 and gradually became absorbed into that Party. The party had also changed its name back to the old Social Democratic Federation in 1919. The local branch remained active into the early 1920s.

Related entries: British Socialist Party, Christian Farquharson-Kennedy and Social Democratic Federation.

References: Aberdeen Daily Journal and The Aberdeen Trades Council and Politics 1900-1939 (C. W. M. Phipps, University of Aberdeen thesis, 1980).

Sources: unknown. Some papers of the national party are held at the People’s History Museum, Manchester.

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The national British Socialist Party (BSP) was founded in late 1911, after a Socialist Unity Conference, and out of the ashes of the Marxist Social Democratic Party (previously called Social Democratic Federation (SDF)). The Aberdeen party had its first meeting in January 1912 when Glasgow socialist John Maclean spoke at the Picturedrome on behalf of the BSP leadership.

There were initially 2 branches in Aberdeen (north and south following the Parliamentary divisions). The local party rooms were at 173a Union Street. Individuals involved included William King (President), George Cooper (Secretary) and members included John Crombie Christie, John Donald, Christian Farquharson-Kennedy, John Mathieson Fraser and Alexander Skakle. Another prominent individual in the BSP was Tom Kennedy, who was husband of Christian, former SDF organiser in Aberdeen, and who stood for Parliament in North Aberdeen on two occasions.

The party’s local election programme in 1913 stated the aims of the party: evening meetings, direct employment, taxation of land values, stop expenditure on public money on useless deputations, municipalisation of liquor traffic, supply of coal and milk and erection of municipal slaughterhouses, public baths and laundries.

The start of World War One proved a crisis for the national party as it split into pro-war and anti-war factions. The pro-war faction split in 1915/16 led by former SDF leader Henry Hyndman, calling the new group the National Socialist Party. The BSP remained active and following the revolution in Russia, the party became one of the founding organisations of the new British Communist Party in 1920.

Related entries: Aberdeen Communist Party, Christian Farquharson-Kennedy, National Socialist Party and Social Democratic Federation.

References: Aberdeen Daily Journal and The Aberdeen Trades Council and Politics 1900-1939 (C. W. M. Phipps, University of Aberdeen thesis, 1980).

Sources: unknown. Some papers of the national party are held at the People’s History Museum, Manchester.

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