McDougal, William, 1894-1981

William McDougal
William McDougal

A short biography of Scottish anarchist William C. McDougal, who was active in opposition to the First World War.

Submitted by Steven. on November 16, 2006

Born on the 22nd of January 1891 in the district of Partick in Glasgow, William C. McDougal spent nearly seventy years actively promoting libertarian non-sectarian socialism. He joined the Glasgow Anarchists around the age of nineteen and served as secretary to them holding Sunday meetings at the foot of Buchanan Street. At this time anarchists groups were growing in number in and around Glasgow.

World War I
Prior to the First World War anarchist groups received relatively little interference from the police. The war changed all that, with meetings being disrupted by police and patriotic groups. At one such meeting in Botanic Gardens, Willie was speaking and referred to the King as a parasite. A crowd rushed the platform and threatened to throw him into the nearby River Kelvin.

In 1916 Willie was arrested for refusing the call-up, he was beaten by the local police and handed over to the Military. He refused military orders, was put on trial and sentenced to two years imprisonment. He was sent to Wormwood Scrubs Prison, then on to Denton Camp, eventually ending up in Dartmoor. While at Dartmoor he was involved in prison disputes and tried to organise a strike. He then decided to slip out of the camp by means of the camp bicycle; cycling part of the way he eventually reached Glasgow where he resumed his anti-war and anarchist propaganda. This activity also included holding classes on economics in the rooms of the Herald League and speaking at open-air meetings.

Russian revolution
After the war the Russian Revolution considerably increased political activity on the streets of Glasgow. Most anarchists were enthusiastic about the Revolution with some of Willie's meetings indicating this with titles like, "Lenin's Anarchy", "Revolution of Necessity", and "Dictatorship, Democracy and Government". It was not long before Willie and the anarchists lost faith in "Lenin's Anarchy", by 1920 it had turned to hostility.

At this time the Glasgow Anarchist Group became the Glasgow Communist Group. In 1921 it changed to the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation, this group was kept alive right through the 1930s by Willie McDougal, Guy Aldred, Jenny Patrick and other anarchists. Guy Aldred left in 1933, Willie kept it going until 1941.

Freedom of speech
Willie was also involved in the fight for freedom of speech and assembly on Glasgow Green. This struggle came to a head in 1931 by the arrest and imprisonment of the tramp preachers. The major players in this struggle to repeal the bye-law forbidding public speaking on the Green were Guy Aldred, Willie McDougal, Harry McShane, and John McGovern.

Willie was among those arrested and tried for speaking on the Green without a permit; many other activists played a part in this important Glasgow struggle. The bye-law was repealed in 1932 thanks to the excellent case put by Guy Aldred.

Spanish Civil War
1936 to 1939, the years of the Spanish Civil War, saw a remarkable rise in the activity of Glasgow anarchists. During this period Willie's public speaking activities were to peak, the events in Spain also drove Willie to print, publish and edit a number of papers. The first to appear was; "Advance" 1936, then came "The Fighting Call" 1936-37, "The Barcelona Bulletin" 1937, followed, next came the "Workers Free Press" 1937-38, and then "Solidarity" 1938-40. Apart from trying to give an anarchist viewpoint on the Spanish Civil War, these papers were trying to provide an open forum for anarchist and other voices of the left.

Workers open forum
During the Second World War Willie McDougal with Dugald Mackay formed the Workers Revolutionary League to follow on from the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation. Later on with others he formed the Workers Open Forum, this was again an attempt to provide a platform for all the views from the left and try to create unity. The "Forum" rented rooms at 50 Renfrew Street and continued until the late 1950s. The end of the Workers Open Forum marked the end of an era, an end to regular working class political meetings in dingy little halls dotted about the city.

Final years
After this period Willie McDougal continued his struggle to spread anarchist views by publishing papers. In 1970s there was the "Industrial Republic", and the year up to his death, "Sense". Along with these he produced many pamphlets, among them, "Marxism Made Easy", "An Open Letter to Mr Callaghan", and "Anthology of Revolt".

Willie McDougal continued his propagandist activities right up to his death, the last issue of "Sense" being at the printers at the time of his death. He always tried to put his ideas in the simplest form possible. Willie never lost faith in the belief that the struggle to end the insanity of capitalism could and would develop towards socialism. William C. McDougal together with other socialist activists kept alive the anti-parliamentary libertarian socialism that demands real change in society not the tinkering reforms of party politics within the framework of capitalism. His life was an advancement of that cause, his death a loss to the fight for human liberty.

Taken from the Radical Glasgow archive