Recalling the history of the soapbox in our last issue, mention was made of Guy Aldred, and the fact it was high time a biography of him was published. In fact it was published in 1988.
John Taylor Caldwell, Come Dungeons Dark: The Life and Times of Guy Aldred, Glasgow Anarchist. Luath Press, Barr, Ayrshire, 290 pp. £6 95. Available from Bob Jones c/o Northern Herald Books, 6 Lilian Street, Bradford BD4 9LP, Yks, +£1 for postage. Approx. cost USA 13 dollars)
Guy Aldred was one of Glasgow's most enduring rebels. He was a master debater and orator on the street corner, in the large public hall or on the hustings. At one time a household name, he is now, some 25 years after his death, in danger of being forgotten. If he is remembered at all, it is as the 'knickerbocker politician" and as one of the "last great socialist characters of Clydeside". Little is known of the man behind such hackneyed phrases. But now John Caldwell has given us a fuller picture of this remarkable man in a well-written narrative accompanied by some rarely seen photographs.
Caldwell was a long time associate and sometime election agent for Aldred and is well qualified for the task of writing the biography of this "Minister of the Gospel of Revolt". It is his devotion to keeping Aldred's memory alive that has been largely responsible for preserving the Aldred Collection in Glasgow's Mitchell Library. After a twelve year struggle to get the book published he brought out this excellent, highly readable biography
The book chronicles the many causes Aldred fought for - war resistance in both world wars, Indian independence, free speech on Glasgow Green and the anti-fascist struggle in Spain. These were often the lonely struggles of the pioneer and sometimes resulted in spells of imprisonment. How many were campaigning for Indian independence in 1909 or for birth control in the 1920s?
Besides tackling the big issues of the day, Aldred was willing to offer help and advice to those in trouble. As the poor man's lawyer he led many crusades for the underdog, serving the people Glasgow well from his office on Queen Street or later from the Strickland Press on George Street.
Where did Aldred get the strength to continue for so long, and largely alone? We learn from Caldwell that it wasn't from belief in the Almighty, for Aldred was an atheist from an early age. The answer lies in Aldred's passionately held belief in "anti-parliamentary communism". This was a particular form of self-governing socialism or anarchism rather than any form of State control. Such ideas may sound strange, but they can be summed up in the simple yet far-reaching philosophy of "think for yourself" - accept nothing on trust from any central authority. ~ RJ
Comment by FAC: The reviewer and to some extent the author fall into the very hero worship Aldred himself warned against, Aldred was the pioneer or prototype of today's "grass roots movement" with its emphasis on community work and help, and it is for this he should be remembered, rather than for his knowledge of what socialism or anarchism was about. He constantly attacked individuals who changed positions or did not live up to principles regardless of their importance or insignificance. (He once brought out the entire issue of a newspaper - "Hyde Park" - devoted to attacking the private life of his brother-in-law), He ignored the industrial struggle completely. He had an enormous memory or archival collection of speeches made by Socialists and others and denounced them for changing their views or altering their tactics, considering these denunciations to be "wiping them off the face of the earth" (though they still prospered) "if they were right then they must be wrong now and vice versa," he often wrote, as if they did not know that. He himself however had many inconsistencies: he twice stood as an "Anti-Parliamentary" candidate for Parliament and in his poverty-stricken old age turned to aristocrats like Sir Walter Strickland and even the Marquis of Tavistock (later the Duke of Bedford) to finance an "anti-war" struggle. While denouncing "Socialists" for uniting with Conservatives in the war time government, he associated with known fascists like the British People's Party, which Bedford led and (Mosley being interned) the remaining unfettered Mosleyites joined. This led to his total estrangement from his earlier comrades and he was left with a faithful few. The war ended and the Bedford pack dropped him. He turned to eulogistic press hand outs from the Communist embassies for an increasingly dreary newspaper. It was a King Lear-ish ending but one should think of him at his best, and this book shows this side of him.
In KSL: Bulletin of the Kate Sharpley Library No. 4, 1993