Sep 16 2020



Allan Armstrong writes about John Manson, socialist, literary critic, translator and poet who died on August 3rd.  



It was with considerable sadness that I learned of John Manson’s death a month after it occurred on August 3rd. John had been a “a non-party Socialist since the dissolution of the CPGB”[1] and a significant literary critic, translator and poet. I first met John in 2006 and last met him 2012. Those who want to know more about John’s life and legacy should read the fine obituary written by Alan Riach in The Herald on 28.8.20[2]

John and his friend David Craig, then both members of the Communist Party of Great Britain, had edited Selected Poems of Hugh MacDiarmid for Penguin Books in 1970. In 2002, John co-edited Revolutionary Art of the Future – Rediscovered Poems of Hugh MacDiarmid with Dorian Grieve and Alan Riach. In 2011, he edited Dear Grieve. Letters to Hugh MacDiarmid.  John personally knew MacDiarmid and was responsible for persuading him to publish the full version of Third Hymn to Lenin in 1956 [3]. John also wrote many shorter articles on MacDiarmid.

It was through the MacDiarmid literary connection that John first made himself known to me. He wrote a very helpful response to my Beyond Broadswords and Bayonets, [4](Emancipation & Liberation 5/6), where I had suggested that MacDiarmid’s poem Little White Rose, written in 1931, was using a Jacobite motif to highlight the type of Scotland he supported. John’s letter A few thoughts on literary matters published in Emancipation & Liberation no. 10, [5] showed that the inspiration for Little White Rose came from elsewhere.  The fact that my point had been tucked away in footnote 47 gave me an early indication of John’s thoroughness and grasp of detail, which was a hallmark of his scholarship. John also provided further information in his thoughts about MacDiarmid, including a poem The Covenanters which formed part of his Second Hymn to Lenin and Other Poems (1935). This was somewhat similar in tone to Robert Burns’ comment on The Solemn League and Covenant, [6]  which I had mentioned in my article .

John also drew my attention to David Craig’s King Cameron which fictionalised the later life of Angus Cameron, whom I had also written about in Broadswords and Bayonets [7]. Whilst I was at Aberdeen University in the earlv 1970s, I had read Craig’s Scottish Literature and Scottish People, 1680-1830, at a time when it was very hard to find any works on Scottish culture from a Socialist point of view, although the Communist Party published valuable material in Scottish Marxist.

I contacted John and we began to meet up after his trips from his home in Kirkpatrick Durham near Dumfries to the National Library in Edinburgh to do research on MacDiarmid. We used to go to the Bow Bar after he had finished his work. I learned that he was a friend of David Craig, author of  On the Crofter’s Trail. Ever since my own visits to the Highlands and Islands, beginning in the 1960s, I had been fascinated by the crofting way of life. It came as a real education to me, that many crofters I met were very far from parochial in their outlook, and very well-informed. They had often travelled, not only throughout Scotland and England, but to the USA, Canada, and Australia, in search of work. John, who was himself from a crofting background in Caithness and Sutherland, became a friend of Craig’s when they were at Aberdeen University in the early 1950s.

I learned so much from our conversations that I decided that I must interview John for Emancipation & Liberation. I took the opportunity of a hillwalking trip in Galloway to visit John at his home. This interview The Republic of the Imagination – John Manson talks about his life and works was published in issue no. 14. [8] When asked, “What do you see as the significance of the literary side of politics?” John replied, “Politics is part of the public life of the times and it should be recreated as an important aspect of culture.” These thoughts were to be make a contribution to the magazine’s decision to highlight the political role of culture in Freedom Come All Ye, [9] and the cultural link between alienation and self-determination in its widest sense. [10]


Hugh MacDiarmid memorial sculpture , Langholm

Eventually the fruits of John’s research were published in 2011. I attended the Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun award ceremony for John in Langholm on 17th April 2012. Langholm was MacDiarmid’s birthplace. After his talk, I bought a couple of issues of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway literary magazine, Markings, which included some of John’s articles and a copy of John’s  new book of poetry, Stabs and Fences . He signed it ,”Until we meet again”. John was averse to using e-mails and I had fallen out of the use of written letters.  I was hoping to hear of another  event where  John was speaking. Unfortunately, that was not to be.

But John has left a wealth of literary work, I can only agree with Alan Riach that John Manson’s “was a life out of the limelight, away from celebrity and devoted to scholarship and provision for others through his attention to literature and political ideals. It is an extraordinary story of selflessness and commitment.” I feel enriched for having known ~John, even if only for relatively brief period of his life,



[1]  – answer to the question “How would you describe yourself in political terms?”

[2]           ( 18681358.obituary-john-manson-lterary-researcher-unparalleled-understanding-hugh-macdiarmid/)











A stab may be four inches square

And up to six feet or over

It is dead now and sawed to size

It is driven into earth and stones

Wire is strained to the stab

It stands for forty years

Then the yellow wood is grey

The wire hangs red and broken

A man is not a stab

He is made into one


From Stabs and Fences and Later Poems, John Manson, Kennedy & Boyd, 2012


also see:

Paddy Bort, 1954-2017

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Aug 15 2020


Pauline Bradley sings Only Our Rivers Run Free






also see:-


Pauline Bradley sings The Workers Song


Pauline Bradley sings about Helen MacFarlane on May Day


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Jul 02 2020



Saturday, July 11th, 20.00



Join comrades and friends in an online event to remember Neil Davidson who died on 3 May 2020.

You need to REGISTER to receive details by email of how to join this Zoom event:–

Neil Davidson was a socialist militant and a highly innovative Marxist historian and sociologist, a member of revolutionary socialism in the 21st century (rs21), a prominent figure in the Scottish left and a lecturer at Glasgow University.

Sara Bennett (opening remarks, Unite / rs21)
Alex Law (Friend and comrade)
Michelle Campbell (PCS)
Steve Edwards (HM editorial board)
Cat Boyd (Radical Independence Campaign, Conter editorial board)
Satnam Virdee (Co-editor No Problem Here)
Jamie Allinson (Salvage editorial board)
Smina Akhtar (Contributor No Problem Here)
Charlie Post (Spectre Journal editorial board)
Maureen McBride (Contributor No Problem Here)
Raymond Morell (Unite / rs21 / Conter editorial board)
Open mic for memories and tributes

Facebook event:

You can read an obituary by Neil’s friend and comrade Raymond Morell and add your own memories and pictures here:

If you’ve not used zoom before there’s a beginners’ guide to joining a zoom call here: If you need any help or want to have a practice please ask in good time.

The event will start at 8pm UK time (UTC+1). Please join by 8pm. Participants other than planned speakers will be in the zoom ‘waiting room’ and let in to the event around 8pm.

Hosted by revolutionary socialism in the 21st century. Co-hosted by Conter, Haymarket Books, Historical Materialism and Salvage Quarterly.



also see the following obituaries from Raymond Morell, rs21 and George Kerevan in bella caledonia

Obituary: Neil Davidson, 1957–2020


and the following memorial review by Allan Armstrong

In memory of Neil Davidson: The West – No Better Than All the Rest

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May 18 2020

KEVIN KEATING – An Appreciation

It was with great sadness I learned of the death of Kevin Keating.  I first met Kevin and his partner, Anne Conway, at the Socialist Democracy (Ireland) weekend schools held near Kippure, in the upper Liffey Valley in  Wicklow Mountains, from 2007-9. The political debates  were of a very high standard, and the camaraderie and shared meal-making and social drinking very enjoyable (for which thanks must also go the ‘master of ceremonies’ – John McAnulty).

When the first of these weekend schools ended, I stayed with Kevin and Anne in their north Dublin house. I stayed again before and after the following years’ weekend schools. I much appreciated their very informative discussions based on their trade union and community experience in Dublin. Kevin used to take me to The Cobblestone in Dublin’s Smithfield, where he joined the other musicians who played and sang there. It reminded me of Sandy Bells in Edinburgh. I had always hoped that he and Anne would make it over to Scotland, my most recent invite following the birthday greetings Kevin sent me this February. Although I did not know it, Kevin was already seriously ill. My thoughts go out to Anne for whom the invitation still very much stands.

Knowing Kevin relatively fleetingly I am posting the the following two much fuller appreciations:-

Kevin was interviewed by the Irish Revolution blog this February about his years of activism. This interview can be seen at:-

A political appreciation from a comrade and friend, Gearoid O’ Loinsigh

A political appreciation from his Socialist Democracy (Ireland) comrades first appeared on the Socialist Democracy website.

A political appreciation from his Socialist Democracy (Ireland ) comrade and historian Rayner O’Connor Lysaght





Our dear comrade Kevin Keating has died. Continue reading “KEVIN KEATING – An Appreciation”

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May 03 2020


May Day Greetings Comrades and Friends. I sent this to the on line #VirtualMayDay PSI event and it was aired, Thank you. It’s from the play Rare Birds about revolutionary Scottish woman Helen MacFarlane from Barrhead, the original translator of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. However she was published under the male pseudonym of Howard Morton.



This is a review, written by Allan Armstrong in Emancipation & Liberation, no. 10  of Helen Macfarlane: A Feminist, Revolutionary Journalist and Philosopher in mid-nineteenth century England by David Black

Tribute to Helen Macfarlane— That the Parliament notes the forthcoming launch of the book, Helen Macfarlane: A Feminist, Revolutionary Journalist and Philosopher in mid-nineteenth century England; welcomes the fact that this radical Scotswoman will at last be rescued from obscurity and given her place of importance in 19th century politics and political movements, including the Chartists and the Vienna uprising of 1848; further notes that it was Helen Macfarlane, under the alias Howard Morton, who first translated the seminal pamphlet, The Communist Manifesto, into English for the magazine, The Red Republican, and that she played an active role in promoting the politics of revolution and equality throughout her life, and believes that the Scottish Parliament Information Centre should order several copies of her book and that libraries across Scotland should be encouraged to do likewise.

Moved by Tommy Sheridan, supported by: Mark Ballard, Rosie Kane, Rosemary Byrne, Frances Curran, Colin Fox, Alex Neil, Elaine Smith, Ms Sandra White


Few people probably noticed this motion tabled before the Scottish Parliament on February 18th this year. However, our parliamentary representatives are to be congratulated for their attempts to bring Helen Macfarlane, a remarkable woman, to the public’s attention. The inspiration for the motion was provided by the publication of Helen Macfarlane: A Feminist, Revolutionary Journalist and Philosopher in mid-nineteenth century England; written by David Black, editor of the marxist-humanist journal, Hobgoblin (see our Republic of Letters page).

The motion itself gives a brief outline of Helen Macfarlane’s wider significance. Dave’s book is not the usual biography. Too little is known about Helen Macfarlane. We do not know when she was born – only that Macfarlane was of that generation of post-Napoleonic War ‘baby-boomers’, which included other original and radical women writers such as George Eliot and the Bronte sisters. (p.2)

Dave’s enquiries locate Helen Macfarlane’s upbringing in Scotland. However, she later moved to London and Burnley. She was in Vienna during the 1848 Revolution. This profoundly affected her thinking. She joined the Fraternal Democrats, the most politically advanced section of the Chartist Movement. Between April and December of 1850, she wrote a number of articles for the Democratic Review, the Red Republican and Friend of the People. She also made the first English-language translation of The Communist Manifesto. Where later translators wrote of the Communist spectre haunting Europe, Helen Macfarlane wrote of the hobgoblin, which stalked the Europe of the Pope and the Czar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police agents. (p. 138)

Given the all-prevalent, male chauvinist, anti-woman feeling in mid-nineteenth century Britain, Helen Macfarlane, usually wrote under the nom-de-plume of Howard Morton. In her own words, British society condemned itself in ‘the position of women, who are regarded by law, not as persons, but as things’. (p.3) And in confirmation of women’s tenuous position in bourgeois society, all trace of Helen Macfarlane disappears from history, after 1851.

Not surprisingly then, Dave’s book is necessarily and unashamedly a Biography of an Idea (p.3) and that idea is Freedom. Dave identifies Helen Macfarlane’s concern with Hegel’s Idea of Freedom and with its ‘externalisation’. (p.4) She was the first person, born in Britain, to study, translate and utilise Hegel’s thought. However, she took Hegel’s thought further. Macfarlane’s ‘narrative of history’ saw a ‘pure democracy’ emerging from class struggles.(p.4)

Like the great French revolutionary, August Blanqui, Helen Macfarlane saw democracy as a historical process leading towards a ‘Republic without Helots’ – and end to exploitation and oppression through emancipation and liberation, where freedom and equality will be the acknowledged birthright of every human being… without poor, without classes… A society… not only of free men, but of free women. (p.4)

Dave demonstrates that Helen Macfarlane already anticipated the clear distinction between the ‘forms’ that the movement took in the twentieth century (Social Democracy, Stalinism, etc) {which} were based on economic determinism rather than a concept of Freedom (p.132). Therefore, she retains a contemporary relevance.

The other of Helen Macfarlane’s concerns, was the economic and political development of England. (p.4) The Britain of the day was the most economically advanced area in the world. Helen Macfarlane lived in Burnley, at the very centre of the cotton manufacturing industry, which was then the pacesetter for capitalist development in the world. Engels also had lived in nearby Manchester, prompting him to write The Condition of the Working Classes.

Helen Macfarlane polemicised against three political tendencies involved in the Industrial Revolution. The first of these included the Manchester Liberals, who fought against ‘Old Corruption’ under the banner of Free Trade. (p.4) The leading spokesmen for these humbug manufacturers were Richard Cobden and John Bright. Many of their arguments are being recycled today by such neo-liberal advocates of global corporatism as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. However, one difference is they are also the political leaders of the ‘New Corruption’, ripping off workers, consumers and the finances of the state for the benefit of the global corporations.

Helen Macfarlane also polemicised against such rosewater sentimentalists as Charles Dickens. He advocated charity to deal with the problems of the day. Again we have contemporaries in such figures as Sir Bob Geldof, the G8’s licensed court jester. Geldof’s interventions around the current G8 summit have been designed to promote musical ‘alternatives’ to the events organised by the ‘Make Capitalism History’ wing of the G8 protests. His proposed million person march in Edinburgh, white-clad and pleading, resembles Father Gapon’s St. Petersburg supplicatory march to petition the Tsar, a century ago. The ‘sentimental’ Dickens could also show his real political feelings, when writing of the Chartist Movement – Bastards of the Mountain, draggled fringe on the Red Cap, Panders to the basest passions of the lowest natures! (p. 53)

However, Helen Macfarlane’s opposition to Thomas Carlyle, the famous Scottish writer and opinion-former of Victorian Britain, was perhaps her most important polemical contribution. Carlyle opposed the rise of industrial capitalism. Because of this stance, he won many adherents, including a whole generation of Radical and early Labour figures. He opposed the new sham aristocracy of mill owners. However, he was even more vociferous in his opposition to Chartism, and indeed any movement of the oppressed. He was especially contemptuous of Black West Indians and our own White Ireland… these two extremes of lazy refusal to workl! (p. 80) In 1849, Carlyle published an essay attacking American abolitionists in an essay, Occasional Discourse on the Nigger Question!

Helen Macfarlane was extremely prescient in her attack on Carlyle. The idea… which, I think, pervades all Mr. Carlyle’s works, is that of hero-worship, (p. 82) When Carlyle looked for a force to counter the Chartist Movement, he sought a precedent in the Norman conquerors, an immense volunteer police force, stationed everywhere, united disciplined, feudally regimented, ready for action; strong Teutonic men. (p. 80) He clearly anticipated the rise of the later fascist paramilitaries.

It is always important to remember the dark appeal of fascism, which today opposes globalisation. Fascism seeks to divert the current worldwide mass movement into narrow chauvinist, racist and sexist channels, to create more hatred, division and conflict. Helen Macfarlane upheld revolution as the best antidote to the reactionaries of her day. I am free to confess that, for me the most joyful of all spectacles possible in these times is the one which Mr. Carlyle laments; one which I enjoyed extremely in Vienna, in March 1848 – i.e. ‘an universal tumbling of impostors’…. Ca ira! – or, if she had been writing today., ‘Y Basta’!


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Jul 25 2018


Category: Commemorations,Our History,ReviewsRCN @ 4:29 pm

Gerry Cairns replies to Allan Armstrong’s review of his book,  The Red and the Green – A Portrait of John MacLean (




Reviews and reviewers can vary. In reply to a new book or a new film the reviewer has different motives – be they professional, journalistic or political/polemical. When I read Allan Armstrong’s review of my own book, The Red and the Green – A Portrait of John MacLean, it felt like a different kind of review. It was personal but certainly not in the way one would expect. It was refreshingly personal. It was not in any way, shape or form a personal attack as you would usually associate with “personal” in that sense. It was, however, a personal reflection of the man whom my book is about and who has inspired Allan throughout his adult political life. It also prompted a personal reflection of Allan’s political journey and it is important that this started Allan’s review. Continue reading “STILL TALKING ABOUT JOHN MACLEAN”

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Jun 22 2018


Review of The Red and the Green – Portrait of John Maclean by Gerard Cairns

Gerard Cairns has recently published his informative and challenging new book, The Red and the Green – A Portrait of John Maclean. I have known Gerry since the early 1990s and I would find it hard to call him Gerard, so I will use Gerry for the rest of this review.

The book’s title reveals the two main aspects of Gerry’s assessment of John Maclean. The Red and the Green highlights Gerry’s research into ‘Red’ John and his relationship with the ‘Green’ or Irish community on Clydeside .[1] A Portrait of John Maclean examines Maclean the political activist and family man. It raises questions about how Socialists organise and relate to others, especially their partners and families. When assessing  Maclean, Gerry brings his own personal experience to bear. “This has been a very personal portrait of a man I have researched, studied, lectured on, debated for a long time.” [2] Thus Gerry’s book is viewed through the prism of his own life of political activism. Continue reading “ALLAN ARMSTRONG REVIEWS ‘THE RED AND THE GREEN’ BY GERARD CAIRNS”

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Nov 22 2017



On November 11th, 60,000 people mobilised by the Far Right marched through the streets of Warsaw on a Police Independence Day march. Poland and Hungary are two EU member countries where the Far Right has been able to mobilise, greatly encouraged by the Right populist and chauvinist parties that are in government there.

There are some, particularly on the British Left, the Lexiters, who believed that a Brexit vote would open up the way to further progress. In reality, it has been the Right and Far Right in Europe that that has been strengthened. It is a sad indication of the disorientation of the ‘internationalist’ Left over Europe, that it is the ultra-nationalist Far Right that is able to mobile internationally across Europe for its vision of a ‘White Christian Europe’. Because  British Left has no alternative vision for Europe, it is leaving it to the Far Right to put forward its European vision to counter the neoliberal EU bureaucracy. Instead the Lexiters are trying to revive a British road to socialism, this time via a Corbyn-led British Left government.

The following two articles are from Tony Greenstein’s blog (see The first article describes the politics of the march. The second shows the close relationship between the Israeli state under Benjamin Netanyahu with the Right populist governments of Poland and Hungary, and explains this link. 




Xenophobic phrases and far-right symbols mark event described by anti-fascists as a magnet for worldwide far-right groups


Tens of thousands of nationalist demonstrators marched through Warsaw at the weekend to mark Poland’s independence day, throwing red-smoke bombs and carrying banners with slogans such as “white Europe of brotherly nations”. Continue reading “‘WHITE CHRISTIAN EUROPE’ – 60,000 FAR RIGHT SUPPORTERS MARCH IN WARSAW”

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Jul 08 2017


The 133rd Durham Miners’ Gala on Saturday 8th July will see some 150,000 march through the ancient city. Dave Douglass, ex-miner and author of Stardust and Coaldust autobiographical trilogy looks at its  history and the ongoing significance.





A day of looking back and looking forward

Crowds are now back to the size they were in the immediate post-war years following nationalisation, when they celebrated the defeat of the hated private coal-owners. This mother of all miners’ galas, featuring both picnics and demonstrations, was the labour movement’s most prestigious public platform. The miners formed the bedrock among the proletarian, trade union and socialist ranks; they made up an army of labour that was strategically placed in terms of their bargaining power and influence – the politics of coal dictated much of politics per se. The position of the miners in the class war sent waves across the broad labour movement. Continue reading “DURHAM MINERS’ GALA – BIG MEETING GETS BIGGER”

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Apr 13 2017



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