John Taylor Caldwell, the third child of a family of six, was born in Glasgow on 14th July, 1911. The family moved to Belfast, but following his mother's death in 1925 they moved back to Scotland. According to one account, the children "endured semi-starvation and frequent beatings at the hands of their father and stepmother". Caldwell became a seaman and in May 1934 he met Guy Aldred and joined the United Socialist Movement (USM). Several members of the Independent Labour Party who had lost their belief in the parliamentary road to socialism joined the party. Other recruits included Helen Lomax, Ethel MacDonald and Jenny Patrick.
Sir Walter Strickland, a long-time supporter of Aldred, died on 9th August 1938. He left Aldred £3,000 and with this money he bought some second-hand printing machinery and established The Strickland Press. Over the next 25 years Aldred published regular issues of the United Socialist Movement organ, The Word and various pamphlets on anarchism. Caldwell, Patrick and MacDonald helped Aldred in this venture. Caldwell later commented: "The Strickland Pres had some hard times financially, for Aldred always worked to the limit of his capacity. He had little sense of market potential and over-printed enormously. He never estimated a cost to find a price, and consistently under-charged. He was lavish in the distribution of free copies, and conducted a postal mission which took The Word to most parts of the world where a glimmer of political awareness was manifest. But the price Aldred had to pay was a constant struggle to keep abreast of his creditors."
Caldwell and Aldred were active in support of the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War. It has been argued: "The USM took an important part in all the political actions of its time, from support of the Spanish revolutionary cause in 1936-8, through the anti-war struggles of 1939-45... All this was achieved against a background of ever-present poverty, with barely enough money to eat, never mind provide meeting rooms or publish its propaganda. During the Second World War Caldwell was a conscientious objector.
Caldwell shared a flat with Ethel MacDonald in Gibson Street, Hillhead. He later recalled: "Near the end of February 1958, Ethel Macdonald had what seemed a slight accident. She fell from a box on which she was standing to make an adjustment to one of the machines. She was more distressed than the accident seemed to justify, as if she knew that this was the onset of dreadful illness. She continued with her work at the Press, though within a few weeks she needed the aid of a stick. One of her legs seemed to be gradually losing its power." McDonald was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and moved in with Aldred and Jenny Patrick. Aldred wrote: "Having rendered her legs useless, the disease spread to her arms. First her left arm, then her right - as though the virus possessed a malicious consciousness that caused it to gloat over its dastardly work. It was a painful business to serve her so anxiously and yet so purposelessly."
Guy Aldred continued to promote social justice until his death on 16th October 1963. As one historian has pointed out: "Guy Alfred Aldred had worked ceaselessly at his propaganda, writing, publishing and public speaking, he took on injustices wherever he saw it. He had spoken at every May Day for 60 years except the years he spent in prison. He never once asked for a fee nor sought personal gain, throughout his 62 years of campaigning his principles never faltered."
Caldwell devoted the rest of his life to promoting the work of Aldred. This included the publication of Aldred's unfinished autobiography, No Traitor's Gate and Caldwell's biography of Aldred, Come Dungeons Dark: The Life and Times of Guy Aldred (1988). Caldwell's autobiography, Severely Dealt with: Growing Up in Belfast and Glasgow (1994).
John Taylor Caldwell died on 12th January, 2007.
The Strickland Pres had some hard times financially, for Aldred always worked to the limit of his capacity. He had little sense of "market potential" and over-printed enormously. He never estimated a cost to find a price, and consistently under-charged. He was lavish in the distribution of free copies, and conducted a postal mission which took The Word to most parts of the world where a glimmer of political awareness was manifest. But the price Aldred had to pay was a constant struggle to keep abreast of his creditors.
He had constantly to appeal for funds. This position worsened when, the war over and the soldiers back at work, the Typographical Society refused to allow suppliers to serve The Strickland Press because it "employed women". Those responsible for imposing"the ban knew well that Ethel Macdonald and Jenny Patrick were not "employed" by the Press, and that whatever reason (if there could have been any) for not allowing women to work at the trade, the Strickland Press was a special case. Guy, Jenny and Ethel were veteran socialists, and they had all been in prison for upholding the cause of the workers. The phrase `male chauvinist pig' had not been coined in those days, but it is still not too late to have it engraved on the tombstones of the Typographical Society officials of that time.
With the death of John Taylor Caldwell aged 95 we have lost the last significant link with an anarchist anti-parliamentary form of socialism/communism which flourished in the first few decades of the last century, and was part of a tradition of libertarian socialism going back to the days of William Morris and the Socialist League – a socialism based on working-class self-activity manifest in workers' councils and direct action rather than in reliance on political parties, whether social democratic or revolutionary.
This kind of anarchism is assumed to have become extinct during the inter-War period, crushed between the pincers of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the Communist Party. But in a few places, notably Glasgow, it continued to flourish, thanks to individuals like John and his mentor, Guy Aldred. Aldred was the main organiser and theoretician of this movement. John's first encounter with him at the Glasgow May Day demonstration in 1934 left such a deep impression on him that later in the year he joined Aldred's United Socialist Movement (USM).
In 1938, John left his seafaring employment to work, full time but unpaid, for Aldred's movement. For almost three decades he devoted himself to printing the movement's paper The Word (plus a veritable mountain of pamphlets) and turned his hand to whatever needed doing. The USM took an important part in all the political actions of its time, from support of the Spanish revolutionary cause in 1936-8, through the anti-war struggles of 1939-45 (in which John himself was a conscientious objector), and on to the anti-militarist and peace campaigns of the Fifties and Sixties.
All this was achieved against a background of ever-present poverty, with barely enough money to eat, never mind provide meeting rooms or publish its propaganda. The most intense period of activity was undoubtedly 1936-38 in support of the Spanish revolutionary cause. Meeting were held every night and funds had to be raised to send two comrades (Ethel MacDonald and Jenny Patrick) to Spain. But the group was in desperate need of a printing press. Amazingly, Aldred persuaded a "Roneo" salesman to let them have a duplicator on approval, which was immediately pressed into service to produce a broadsheet, Regeneracion, giving uncensored news from Spain. .
In 1938 the group again became homeless and the duplicator was repossessed. But with a generous donation from one of their stalwarts, they managed to acquire an antiquated printing press at scrap value from the veteran Glasgow socialist Tom Anderson. A new paper was hurried into print ready for May Day, and following John's suggestion it was called The Word. It was an instant success, and as John noted, was seized on "as readily as if it were a free handbill." By 1939, with the help of the Strickland bequest, the Strickland Press was set up at 104-106 George Street. From there, The Word continued to be published until, in 1962, the Press was forced to remove to Montrose Street. The George Street premises were the heart of this anarchist oasis in Glasgow, as a meeting-place, bookshop, printing press and social centre for a whole generation of Glaswegians. John managed to capture this in an epitaph for the group's old HQ written after it had been bulldozed for a new University of Strathclyde building:
When the meeting was over the chairs were replaced and the audience meandered upstairs where books were bought and fresh arguments broke out amongst small groups. The old man was tired… but he was loth to hurry them away. Some, he knew, went home to misery and loneliness. The evening in the old cellar was a rare feast of companionship for them. And for the few young ones it was good too. Not just a case of agreeing with the old master, but a challenge to read and, most importantly, to think for themselves.