Posts Tagged ‘anarchism’

John Paton was born in Aberdeen, his father a master baker and his mother a paper factory worker. In his life he was employed in a bewildering number of occupations: apprentice compositor, warehouseman, apprentice baker, hairdresser, milkman and salesman of false teeth. He became involved in politics as a teenager through membership of the Clarion Club and the Shop Assistants’ Union. He joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) around 1906, often going to the Clarion Club room beside Marischal College to meet other like minded individuals. He was interested in socialist propaganda and often spoke in public around the usual gathering points such as the Castlegate.

He had some troubles in his work because of his vocal socialist viewpoints, and he moved to Glasgow around 1910. He became disillusioned with the ILP and became interested in the writings of Mikhail Bakunin and with others re-formed the Glasgow Anarchist Group. He returned to Aberdeen around 1912 becoming heavily involved again with the ILP. He became ILP representative on Aberdeen Trades Council, often putting forward anti-war resolutions and was the ILP nomination for North Aberdeen in 1918, but his anti-war stance worked against him. In 1920/1921 he was ILP Northern Organiser, and then until 1924 party organiser for all of Scotland. He stood for election in South Aberdeen in 1923, and was near to standing for Parliament again in 1928 but was unable to do so alongside his new role as General Secretary of the ILP. He left the ILP in 1933 over his opposition to what he regarded as its pro-communist policies.

He was also secretary of the International Committee of Independent Revolutionary Socialist Parties, secretary of the National Council for the Abolition of the Death Penalty, editor of The New Leader and also The Penal Reformer. He eventually became a Labour M.P. for Norwich from 1945 to 1964.

He wrote a 2 volume autobiography: volume 1 covers early life until 1919, whilst volume 2 (1919 – 1933) is mainly about his professional work with the ILP, after he leaves Aberdeen. The volumes are very detailed describing his formative years learning about socialism and atheism, the Aberdeen Clarion Club, Aberdeen ILP, his pacifist work in World War One (including a few occasions of conflict, such as when Ramsay MacDonald spoke in the city), the role of the ILP Northern Organiser and also the re-founding of the anarchist group in Glasgow.

Related entries: Aberdeen Clarion Club and Musings: Daily acts of rebellion no:1

References: 2 volumes of autobiography: Proletarian Pilgrimage (John Paton, George Routledge & Sons Ltd., London, 1935) and Left Turn! (John Paton, Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd., London, 1936). Entry in Biographical Dictionary of European Labour Leaders (2 volumes, A Lane, Westport Greenwood Publishing Co., 1995)

Sources: 2 volumes of autobiography noted above. Some items of correspondence are held at the Labour History Archive and Study Centre (People’s History Museum), Manchester.


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The Group was formerly known as the Aberdeen Revolutionary Socialist Federation, which had been founded in early 1891, changing its name to the Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group in 1893. The Federation was formed when some members acrimoniously broke ranks from the Aberdeen Socialist Society (James Leatham et al), arguing for a more revolutionary than reformist position.

Members included Addie, W.N. Allan, Harry/Henry Hill Duncan (shoemaker, member of the Unitarian church led by Rev. Alexander Webster and also delegate of the Boot and Shoemakers’ Union on the Aberdeen Trades Council), A. Fraser, George Fraser, G. Horne, James Horne, James McFarlane, Eglan Shepherd (baker), A. Smith and James Taylor.

Group members held indoor and outdoor meetings, annual socials, demonstrations, hosted visits from other anarchists based in Inverness, Glasgow and London, sold issues of Commonweal and also wrote about their new activities in the journal Commonweal. Duncan wrote a pamphlet ‘A Plea for Anarchist Communism’ published under the group’s name in 1893.

The Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group hosted the third conference of Scottish Anarchists in 1895 and welcomed delegates from Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hamilton and Motherwell. In 1895 an account states there were 100 members. The Group had a club in Seamount Place in the Gallowgate area and held events at the Oddfellows’ Hall in Crooked Lane.

Although the group had been formed after a split from the Aberdeen Socialist Society, the two groups still had connections, and worked together on occasions. After the group dissolved Harry Duncan came to the fore on the Aberdeen Trades Council, serving as President in 1903 – 1905 and 1910 and playing a formative role in organising dock workers in the city.

Related entries: James Leatham, author and publisher, The Scottish Land and Labour League/Socialist League and Aberdeen Socialist Society.

References: obituary of H.H. Duncan in Aberdeen Journal 5th May 1937, web article by Nick Heath ‘Anarchism in Aberdeen, the Granite City’ (2013). (author used sources such as the articles submitted by the group to the journal Commonweal), James Leatham 1865-1945 (Bob Duncan, Aberdeen People’s Press, 1978) and ‘A Plea for Anarchist Communism’ (H.H. Duncan, Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group, James Blair, Aberdeen, 1893).

Sources: as above, articles submitted by the group to the journal Commonweal and H.H. Duncan’s pamphlet.

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The Aberdeen libertarian socialist group formed at the start of 1967 yet had evolved for two years previous. The membership was made up of local anarchists, members of a revived Aberdeen Youth Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the local Young Socialists. The group issued a publication called ‘Solidarity: for workers’ power (Aberdeen)’ (7 issues in 1969/1970) and also contributed/edited publications by the Scottish Solidarity group (which had been formed in 1962). The group took local actions on issues such as housing and also in local industry such as ship building at Hall Russell.

Solidarity was a British national group which had been formed in 1960 by former members of the Socialist Labour League. In 1977 Solidarity merged with another group called Social Revolution and published a journal called ‘Solidarity: for Social Revolution’. Solidarity continued on in some shape or form until the early 1990s.

References: information and issues of the magazines are available via website http://www.libcom.org. A copy of ‘Solidarity Scotland: for workers’ power’ from 1967 has a detailed report on the formation of the Aberdeen group. Also see this website entry for the ‘Aberdeen Libertarian Socialist Group, c.1973 – 1982’.

Sources: the national papers of Solidarity are held at the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam.

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The Aberdeen Libertarian Socialist Group was formed by University students and graduates who were expelled and/or left the Socialist Party of Great Britain around 1973. There were a number of splinter groups in Britain, including the one in Aberdeen. The national group issued publications such as ‘Libertarian Communism’, ‘Workers’ Power – for social revolution’ and ‘Social Revolution’. The Aberdeen group were very active and edited an issue in 1976 and also hosted a key conference that same year. In 1977 the movement merged with another group called Solidarity, which had been formed in 1960 by former members of the Socialist Labour League. Following the merger the new group published a journal called ‘Solidarity: for Social Revolution’.

The group placed adverts (called ‘Anarchy in the N.E.’) in Aberdeen Peoples Press with information on their regular discussion meetings at the 62 Club in Summer Street. Their postal address like with many other groups, is given as Boomtown Books, King Street.

References: information and issues of the magazines are available via website http://www.libcom.org.

Sources: there are copies of some printed material as part of Aberdeen Peoples Press archive at Aberdeen University Library.

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