To mark the 100th anniversary of the first world war, People & Nature today publishes Accuser of Capitalism: John Maclean’s Speech from the Dock on 9 May, 1918. (Introduction here, text of speech here.) Maclean, a Scottish Marxist, was one of a small number of socialists across Europe who denounced their governments’ participation in the war, urged workers to resist it, and hoped that it would be superceded by class war.
Maclean was jailed in 1916 for anti-government activity and released after a campaign of support. He was re-arrested in 1918 and charged under the Defence of the Realm Act with actions – public anti-war speeches to big working-class audiences – likely to to cause “mutiny, sedition and disaffection”. He refused to enter a plea to the court but used his speech to explain his opposition to the war.
Elites now are just as ready to pursue their objectives by means of war as they were a hundred years ago. Israel’s murderous onslaught on Palestinian civilians in Gaza, and the continuing civil wars in Syria and Ukraine, are reminders. The big capitalist states are not only still further than they were in 1914 from achieving a peaceful world order, they have also been frozen into paralysis before such international problems caused by their system as global warming.
In these times, Maclean’s speech, and his actions, are an important part of our history to return to. Read the Introduction to the speech by Terry Brotherstone; John Maclean’s speech from the dock; and an Afterword. You can download the whole lot as a pdf here.