Research Note on Vanguard Books & Workers’ Party of Scotland (Marxist-Leninist)

In Scotland at the start of the 1970s, two anti-revisionist groups operated: one a component group of the Communist Federation of Britain (Marxist-Leninist), the Glasgow Communist Movement and political rivals associated with Spanish Civil War veteran, and Edinburgh trade unionist Tom Murray organised in the Workers’ Party of Scotland (Marxist-Leninist).

The WPS (ml) had its origins when the Scottish elements the Committee to Defeat Revisionism For Communist Unity. Arguing that the level of class antagonisms (and hence class consciousness) continued to remain higher in Scotland than in England, the decision in principle to form the WPS (ml) was taken in Edinburgh in May 1966 by anti-revisionist veteransThe Scottish Vanguard, paper of the WPS (ml), was launched in 1967 (published irregularly until 1979). The WPS (ml) soon embarked upon a propaganda offensive producing leaflets and the Red Clysider, and Dundee and Tayside Vanguard in 1971. Open about their Maoist orientation, the WPS (ml) took part in elections, including the 1969 Gorbals by-election, when they came last behind the Communist Party.

The WPS(ml) initially supplied literature from its Literature its contact address  c/o 21, Castle Road, Newton Mearns, Glasgow (advertised in The Scottish Vanguard 1967).They sold, using an accommodation address [c/o The Bookstore,63, West Port, Edinburgh], duplicated pamphlets they republished by the late Michael McCreery, “Destroy the Old to Build the New”, “The Way Forward”, “Notes on the Lower Middle Class & the Semi-proletariat in Britain”, “Organise at the Place of Work” and “The Patriots”.

It boasted an extensive literature list with English language publications supplied from Chinese, Albanian and Vietnamese state publishing houses.

“The W.P.S. is in a position to offer a great variety of literature on Marxism, Leninism, The National Question, The Greet Ideological Controversy, Questions of Scottish Culture. Particularly important are the basic books written by Marx, Engels. Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, Enver Hoxha. It included pamphlets and “Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse-tung” [at 3/6] and Enver Hoxha’s “The Role and Tasks of the Democratic Front for the Complete Triumph of Socialism in Albania”, “Some Aspects of the Problem of the Albanian Woman”, “Report on the Activity of the Central Committee of the Party of Labour of Albania to 5th. Congress November 1966”.”

The constitution of the WPS (ml) was adopted in Edinburgh on December 5th 1970. The Party stated:

“our programme is one of action. We must secure the results which our workers have been striving to attain for whole generations and which are still outside their grasp: full employment and prosperity for all, a crash programme to solve the housing problem, justice for the veterans of labour and attractive prospects in Scotland for our youth.”

Agitational leaflets were available mail order, The Manifesto of WPS(ML) adopted in May, 1967 was available and Scottish Vanguard  specially recommended their own publication and printing of “POLITICAL POWER A CLASS ANALYSIS” By DR. S. W. TAYLOR. Price 7/6. Postage l/-

Scottish vanguard did note that in the Summer 1968 Clyde Books, at High street Glasgow were now stocking “Scottish Vanguard”.

In 1969 Vanguard announced, “Our New Literature Service

 Readers will be interested to learn that our Party expects soon to acquire its own centrally situated Bookshop in Glasgow and that facilities have already been secured for setting up a fully stocked agency for the sale of the widest possible range of Marxist, International and creative literature especially Chinese and Albanian publications, in the bookshop soon to be opened at 105-107 Morrison. Street, Edinburgh”. [Vol3 No.6]

The WPS (ML)’s support for Scottish nationalism and independence drew sharp criticism from other anti-revisionist groups. The WPS (ml) were instrumental in popularising the work of Scottish communist, John MacLean, partly through the founding of the John MacLean Society. While the Workers’ Party of Scotland (Marxist-Leninist) published several pro-Gaelic articles in its paper Scottish Vanguard, in May 1969 it produced the first translation into GAELIC of the “Three Constantly Read Articles” by Mao Tsetung (“Serve the People”, “In Memory of Norman Bethune” and “The Foolish Old Man. Who Removed the Mountains”) Price 1/-. Postage 4d. And WPS (ml) Chairman, Tom Murray reported that an anonymous Gaelic scholar was considering undertaking the translation of ‘The Thoughts of Chairman Mao’ (The Times April 25, 1970).

The WPS (ml) expanded its retail presence, adding to its Edinburgh outlet by opening a shop, Vanguard Books at 270 Paisley Road West, Glasgow G51 1BJ, managed by Matt Lygate who worked onsite in the small printshop producing pamphlets, leaflets and posters promoting the workers’ revolution.

The WPS (ml) achieved notoriety in the spring of 1972 when two leading members founder and Gorbals electoral candidate Matt Lygate and fellow WPS(ml) member Colin Lawson were convicted (along with two non-members) for armed robbery of the Royal Bank of Scotland in the Glasgow suburb of Pollokshields, having been arrested the previous year following a tip off  a raid on the party’s Glasgow bookshop that discovered weapons and £10,000 cash. Lygate, MacPherson, Doran and Lawson were arrested.

  Lygate received the longest prison sentence in Scottish legal history for a non-violent crime, receiving 24 years and serving 11. They were originally to be prosecuted for treason, the first case since John Maclean, but the charges were later dropped to bank robbery. The trial saw the heaviest sentences recorded in a Scottish court for non-violent crime: 26 years imprisonment for McPherson; 25 for Doran; 24 for Lygate; and 6 for Lawson. An appeal brought a reduction of only two years for Lygate: in the words of one legal authority, he had received eight years for his crime and sixteen years for his politics. On being sentenced Lygate and McPherson had looked to the public gallery and with clenched fist shouted: “Long live the workers of Scotland”. A third WPS member, Alec Watt, handed himself in to police later and admitted complicity.

While protesting at the severity of the sentences, and noting the political function of the judiciary, the main thrust of a statement issued by the WPS’s Central Committee “A Crisis Met and Overcome” was to disassociate the Party from the “romantic adventurism” of Lygate and Lawson. It stated that Lygate’s group acted without authorisation.

Lygate embarked upon his sentence claiming status as a political prisoner and campaigned tirelessly for prisoners’ rights and welfare: eight years of his term were spent under the draconian Class A regulations and he was released having served over eleven years in 1983.

Limited opening times were advertised for the bookshop following the 1972 trial of party members: restricted to Saturday 12-4.30pm, and Scottish Vanguard goes to a bi-monthly publishing schedule.

Only the Paisley premises remained in 1973.

Alongside the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, Enver Hoxha, Vanguard Books promoted the work of John MacLean and James Connolly. Also advertised was Red Star Press’ editions of Dimitrov’s Report to the 7th Congress of the Communist International, 1935 , “For The Unity of the Working Class Against Fascism”. It retains limited opening hours: Wednesdays 6-8 pm and Saturdays 10 am – 2 pm. But offered a mail order service and book-list of socialist literature. It acted as subscription agents for Scottish Vanguard – £1 sub. for 12 issues and Peking Review – an invaluable political weekly on Chinese & world affairs – £1.80 per year.

The Radical Bookshop Listing provides the dissolution date of 1981 for Vanguard Books.

Membership of the WPS (ml) had declined in the late 1970s and early 1980s down to a handful of activists. There was a brief burst of political engagement centred on international questions in the late 1970s over the issue of The Three-Worlds Theory that saw attendance at international conferences and the 1978 Consultative meeting of British Marxists-Leninists. However, the WPS (ml) adopted a marginal and minority position advocating ‘Democratic Defence’ that stated “Soviet social-imperialism is the main enemy of the peoples of the world at the present time”.

With the death of Tom Murray in February 1983, the Party came to an end.

However, after Lygate’s release from prison later that year, and a brief flirtation with the Scottish Republican Socialist Party, who had initiated a “Free Matt Lygate Campaign with the Glasgow Irish Freedom Action Committee [GIFAC] and the Revolutionary Communist Group, Matt Lygate appeared in Glasgow to announce the relaunch of the party as the Workers Party of Scotland (without the ML) . He produced a publication, “The People’s Voice” in 1988 repeating the old WPS (ml) call for a Constitutional convention and advocated a Unilateral Declaration of Independence for Scotland.  Matt Lygate died January 10 2012.

1967- 1979 Scottish Vanguard (British Library has in General Reference Collection P.701/147)

Vol 1 Nos 1-2 (1967)

 Vol 2 Nos 1-9 (Jan.-Sept. 1968)

Vol 3 Nos 1-6 (1969)

Vol 4 Nos 1-4 (Jan. 1970-Feb. 1971)

Vol 5 Nos 1, 2 (1972)

Vol 6 Nos 2-12 (Oct./Nov. 1974 – Mar. 1978)

Vol 7 Nos 1-3, 5-6 (May 1978-1979)

APPENDIX:   Glasgow Communist Movement

Taken from:

The politics of the WPS (ml) were politically challenged by another Maoist element, the Glasgow Communist Movement,  GCM comprised of activists that coalesced through anti-revisionist struggle in the Young Communist League and formed a component group of the Joint Committee of Communist, and Communist Federation of Britain (Marxist-Leninist).

 The birth of the Glasgow Communist Movement, initially known as the Glasgow Marxist Group, was celebrated with the production and distribution on May Day, 1967, of a pamphlet introducing the non-aligned journal, The Marxist in Glasgow. It was around the journal that the participants of the first meeting of the group assembled together. Politically related in the mid-1970s was the Workers Bookshop, at 81 George Street, Glasgow G1 [Open daily 10-5 late night Wednesday 8.30] run by the Glasgow Group of the Communist Federation of Britain (ML).

They regarded the WPS (ML), as part of UK’s “petty-bourgeois nationalism” represented by the Scottish Nationalist Party and the Welsh Nationalist Party. GCM’s critical stance on the struggle for Scottish independence was informed by the position that any struggle which is not a part of class-struggle is a dangerous distraction from real issues and, therefore, has to be vigorously opposed.

The GCM argued: The bourgeois democratic revolution, as Lenin pointed out, was completed here ages ago and thus the democratic development of nations in Britain has long since ceased. Bourgeois democracy in this country is now in process of rapid decay and a corporate state is developing instead. All that can be achieved through bourgeois democracy has been achieved in Britain. So to proceed towards socialism there is no intermediate stage of ‘People’s Democracy’ or ‘National Democracy’ for Britain – here all problems of revolution are those of direct transition to socialism.”

The GCM policy statement, Where We Stand, stated it “recognises that the degree of exploitation is different in England, Scotland and Wales. These places also have cultural differences and aspirations for independent development. Therefore, the Movement, while standing for immediate separate administrative bodies for each of these places and proclaiming their right to secede, will not advocate separate working-class organisations for these places at present. For, national aspirations for independence can only be satisfied after the replacement of the present system by a socialist one through unified struggle against the common enemy constituting a single class.”

The classic arguments on self-determination, complete with quotes from Stalin on the national question were reiterated by C K Maisels, writing in The Marxist, that the WPS (ML) was wrong; the only strategic remedy can only be the direct transition to socialism via the proletarian revolution. There is no intermediate stage in metropolitan imperialist countries.

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