John Maclean lived from 24 August 1879 to 30 November 1923. He was a revolutionary socialist politician who played an important part in the Red Clydeside movement. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
John Maclean was born in Pollokshaws, an area that at the time was on the southern outskirts of Glasgow immediately to the east of the large estate of Pollok House, now Pollok Country Park. His parents were both originally from the Highlands. After leaving school, Maclean initially trained as a schoolteacher with the Free Church. He then attended part-time classes at the University of Glasgow, graduating with a Master of Arts degree in 1904.
While studying at Glasgow University he met James Maxton, who later came to share his socialist outlook. Maclean first became actively involved in politics with the Pollokshaws Progressive Union. A Marxist by conviction, he joined the Social Democratic Federation and then the British Socialist Party, and became highly active in the Co-operative movement. Amongst those he influenced was Willie Gallacher. During the First World War he strongly opposed what he believed to be a war of imperialism which divided workers from one another. Because of his views, Maclean was briefly arrested in October 1915 under the Defence of the Realm Act. He was also fired from his post as a schoolteacher in Govan.
Maclean was arrested again in February 1916 after making a series of anti-conscription speeches and charged with six separate offences of sedition. In April 1916 he was imprisoned for three years, but released on 30 June 1917 following a public campaign against his imprisonment, which had gathered pace after the February Revolution in Russia. In January 1918 Maclean was elected to the chair of the Third All-Russian Congress of Soviets, and the following month he was appointed Bolshevik consul in Scotland. The consulate he established at 12 Portland Street in Glasgow was not recognised by the British Government.
On 15 April 1918, Maclean was again arrested for sedition. He was sentenced to five years imprisonment and sent to Peterhead prison, again becoming the subject of a vociferous public campaign against his sentence. He was released on 3 December 1918 and returned to Glasgow. After falling out with the newly formed Communist Party of Great Britain, he briefly belonged to the Scottish Communist Party and then the Socialist Labour Party. He went on to found the Scottish Workers Republican Party, which promoted both communism and Scottish independence in its key aim of establishing a Communist Republic of Scotland. In September 1921 he was arrested and imprisoned for sedition again, this time being released in 1922.
Maclean had emerged from Peterhead prison in 1918 in poor health, after several months on hunger strike during which he was force fed, and his imprisonment in 1921/2 weakened him further. He died in 1923 at the age of 44, and 20,000 people lined the streets at his funeral. Today his political legacy is claimed by the Scottish Socialist Party, though he also paved the way for many Scottish Nationalists who followed. John Maclean was later the subject of a poem written by Hugh MacDiarmid, and has also featured in a number of songs. During the Soviet era a street, Maklin Prospekt, in Leningrad was named after Maclean. The USSR also published a postage stamp to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth in 1979.