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Wednesday, 8 July 2009

John Smith Clarke

John Smith Clarke was another socialist who refused to support the Stalin Purges. The thirteenth of fourteen children, he was born in Scotland in 1885. His father worked in a circus and Clarke spent much of his early life living in gypsy encampments. After receiving little schooling he joined the circus as a horse bareback rider. At the age of seventeen he was working as a lion tamer. According to Gordon Munro: "He received the first of many injuries a few days later when a hurt lion attacked him when he entered the cage to help it."

In 1902 several political activists left the Social Democratic Federation (SDF), an organization led by H.L. Hyndman, to form the Glasgow Socialist Society. Eventually, most of the members of the SDF in Scotland joined this new group. In August 1903 it was renamed the Socialist Labour Party (SLP). The organization that had been inspired by the writings of Daniel De Leon, the man who helped establish the International Workers of the World (IWW) and the Socialist Labor Party in the United States. Clarke, who had been converted to socialism, joined the SLP. Leaders of the group included Willie Paul, Jack Murphy, Arthur McManus, Neil MacLean, James Connally, John MacLean and Tom Bell.

Clarke eventually became joint editor of the SLP journal, The Socialist, with Willie Paul, Tom Bell and Arthur McManus. In 1906 he began to organize the transport of weapons to revolutionary socialists in Russia. The operation lasted until the discovery of a cache at Blyth in Northumberland.

John Clarke was opposed to Britain's involvement in the First World War. The historian, Nicola Rippon, has argued that "Clarke was not a pacifist, believing that the only armed struggle should be between the world's working classes and their capitalist employers."

Clarke joined Alice Wheeldon, Willie Paul and Arthur McManus, in establishing a network in Derby to help those conscientious objectors on the run or in jail. This included Alice's son, William Wheeldon, who was secretly living with his sister, Winnie Mason, in Southampton. According to Nicola Rippon Clarke "spent most of the war hiding in Mr Turner's farm at Arleston, now part of Sinfin on the southern outskirts of the town."

In 1919 John Clarke joined forces with Albert Young and Tom Anderson to publish a pamphlet entitled The Red Army - Revolutionary Poems. The following year he travelled to Moscow to attend the Communist International with William Gallacher as a delegate from the Clyde Workers' Committee. He met Lenin and other Bolshevik leaders but was not impressed by their style of government.

In April 1920 Tom Bell, Willie Gallacher, Arthur McManus, Harry Pollitt, Rajani Palme Dutt, Helen Crawfurd, A. J. Cook, Albert Inkpin, Arthur Horner, J. T. Murphy, John R. Campbell, Bob Stewart, Robin Page Arnot and Willie Paul joined forces to establish the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). McManus was elected as the party's first chairman and Bell and Pollitt became the party's first full-time workers. John Clarke, refused to accept the power of the Bolshevik in the formation of policy, and did not join the CPGB.

Clarke now became active in the Independent Labour Party (ILP) where he developed a close relationship with James Maxton. In 1928 Clarke published Marxism and History. Clarke became a councillor in Glasgow and in 1929 he was elected as MP for Maryhill in 1929. In the General Election the Labour Party won 288 seats, making it the largest party in the House of Commons. Ramsay MacDonald became Prime Minister again, but as before, he still had to rely on the support of the Liberals to hold onto power.

The election of the Labour Government coincided with an economic depression and Ramsay MacDonald was faced with the problem of growing unemployment. MacDonald asked Sir George May, to form a committee to look into Britain's economic problem. When the May Committee produced its report in July, 1931, it suggested that the government should reduce its expenditure by £97,000,000, including a £67,000,000 cut in unemployment benefits. MacDonald, and his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Snowden, accepted the report but when the matter was discussed by the Cabinet, the majority voted against the measures suggested by May.

MacDonald was angry that his Cabinet had voted against him and decided to resign. When he saw George V that night, he was persuaded to head a new coalition government that would include Conservative and Liberal leaders as well as Labour ministers. Most of the Labour Cabinet totally rejected the idea and only three, Philip Snowden, Jimmy Thomas and John Sankey agreed to join the new government.

Ramsay MacDonald was determined to continue and his National Government introduced the measures that had been rejected by the previous Labour Cabinet. Labour MPs were furious with what had happened and MacDonald was expelled from the Labour Party.

In October, MacDonald called an election. The 1931 General Election was a disaster for the Labour Party with only 46 members winning their seats. Clarke also lost his seat in Maryhill. MacDonald, now had 556 pro-National Government MPs and had no difficulty pursuing the policies suggested by Sir George May. However, disowned by his own party, he was now a prisoner of the Conservative Party, and in 1935 he was gently eased from power.

John Clarke returned to journalism and in 1936 his book An Encyclopaedia of Glasgow was published. As Gordon Munro has pointed out: "This contained items on the streets, buildings and historical places of the city which he served as a councillor for 15 years and in which he remained for the rest of his life."

A second edition of his earlier book Marxism and History was to be published by the National Council of Labour Colleges but his refusal to remove Leon Trotsky and Nikolay Bukharin from his original bibliography as demanded by leaders of the Communist Party of Great Britain meant that it was never published.

John Smith Clarke died on 30th January 1959.

1 comment:

Samantha Baskerville said...

How fascinating I didnt know I was related to John Smith Clarke until today. My great grandmother was his sister. We knew there was a bareback rider in the family but didnt know who. What a fascinating character and I am pleased to be related, although not of the same political persuasion! S. Baskerville