Siege of sidney street

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Jacques Roux
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Dec 15 2010 14:09
Siege of sidney street

Just read a crap account of the siege in last Saturdays independent magazine, good photos though. Can anyone point me in the direction of a good article?

Apparently city of london is doing a plaque in memory of dead police in houndsditch tomorrow.

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Dec 15 2010 15:38

Not an article but a comrade of mine brought this to my attention.

http://www.siegememory.net/?p=90

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Dec 16 2010 13:23

Looks interesting!

So far even the wikipedia article is better than the Independent piece
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Sidney_Street
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Piatkow

Boris Badenov
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Dec 16 2010 14:26

I always thought it was kind of cool that Peter the Painter has two buildings named after him in Tower Hamlets. Thing is no one really knows who he actually was, and there is pretty much no solid proof that he was involved in the Sidney Street siege. Still, a nice piece of East End folklore.

Cheers for that link flaneur; I love the comparison with David Beckham. grin

Jared
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Dec 17 2010 03:16

Had this emailed to me from Phil Ruff, writer and researcher on Latvian anarchism:

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Wednesday 15 December 2010
When the state and anarchists fought gun battles in London
The centenary of the Siege of Sidney Street is a reminder of a rather different age of radicalism.
Mick Hume

This week marks the centenary of the bloody events that led to a blazing political gun battle in London’s East End, known as the Siege of Sidney Street. The coincidence puts the current hysteria about protests in the capital in some historical context.

It is a reminder of a time when ‘anarchy in London’ meant much more than some ‘A’ for anarchist symbols painted on walls with broken windows; when the London authorities sought to crush their opponents with guns and real artillery rather than kettles and water-cannons; and when the Liberal government’s home secretary – Winston Churchill – appeared at the barricades to supervise the siege rather than at press conferences to fire soundbites at the media.

One hundred years ago, on 16 December 1910, a group of Latvian anarchists and radicals were disturbed during an attempted robbery of a jeweller’s shop in Houndsditch in the City of London. They opened fire on the police, killing three officers and seriously wounding two others. To this day these remain the worst casualties sustained by the Metropolitan Police in a single incident. The officers killed are being commemorated this week.

The killings sparked a major backlash, aimed particularly at the Eastern European political refugees who had fled to London’s East End. ‘Who are these fiends in human shape?’ demanded the Daily Mirror headline, while the authorities offered a sizeable £500 reward for the capture of named suspects. In the days that followed, the police found one of the robbers dead, having been accidentally shot by his comrades during the clash, and rounded up several other Latvian anarchists and revolutionaries.

A fortnight after the shootings the police received information that the last two or three of the wanted men were holed up in a house in Stepney. In the early hours of 3 January 1911, the Siege of Sidney Street began. Hundreds of armed officers surrounded the building, occupied the local area and began pouring gunfire into the house, while crowds hung out of windows to watch the spectacle and the media gathered to report it; it was one of the first news stories to be filmed live, by Pathé News, for the newsreels shown in cinemas.

However, the story did not go to script. The rump of anarchists turned out to be better armed than the entire Met, with German Mauser automatic pistols and plenty of ammunition. The authorities called in the Irish Guards, armed with rifles, to join the battle. By now Churchill, the home secretary, had turned up at the scene to direct operations, looking like a caricature of a visiting toff in his fur-collared overcoat and silk top hat. At his suggestion an artillery gun was wheeled in to shell the anarchists. Before it could be deployed, the house in Sidney Street caught fire. Churchill refused to allow firefighters near the blaze, and the Latvians refused to come out. The bodies of two of them were found in the ruins.

After the fiasco of the siege, attention quickly turned to the fate of the mysterious ‘Peter the Painter’, one of the men named on the reward posters and allegedly the leader of the Latvian group. Many believed he had somehow escaped from the Sidney Street conflagration, though there is no evidence that he was ever in the house and indeed no certainty that he even existed. Nevertheless, Peter the Painter became something of a rebellious folk anti-hero around the East End and beyond; the Mauser pistols used by the Latvians were reportedly referred to as Peter the Painters during the Irish War of Independence against the British Empire.

Nobody was ever convicted of killing the three policemen. One of those tried and acquitted, Jacob Peters, returned to Russia where, after the Bolshevik Revolution, he became a leading player in the Cheka, Lenin’s secret police. Peters was executed by Stalin during the purges of the 1930s. Donald Rumbelow, a British former policeman and real crime author, has long claimed that it was Peters who fired the fatal shots in the Houndsditch police killings, though others see this claim as tinted by the Cold War worldview.

Whatever the truth about who did what, the legend of Peter the Painter and the Siege of Sidney Street offers a reminder of a very different age of radical politics and state repression. The elusive ‘Peter’ has been described as ‘the Osama bin Laden of his time’, but these revolutionaries were not terrorists as that term is understood today – although their hard schooling in the autocratic empires of the east meant they were not averse to violence and armed robbery where deemed necessary. Many of the thriving communities of East European anarchists and communists in London at that time had been involved in the popular 1905 revolution against Tsarist Russia, and had gone into exile to escape the repressive regime of terror, torture and executions that followed. In 1907 Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and other leading Russian revolutionaries attended a congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in an East London church.

In recent years, another British author, Phil Ruff, has concluded that the most likely candidate for ‘Peter the Painter’ is Janis Zhaklis, a leading member of Latvia’s revolutionary Social Democratic movement who reportedly took part in armed attacks on the Tsarist regime’s prison and secret police department in Riga in 1905-6 before being forced into exile. Zhaklis’ commitment to armed struggle over political struggle apparently led him to split from the Social Democrats and move in a more anarchistic direction. In exile his political group, like others, raised funds for their struggle against autocratic oppressors through ‘expropriations’ – aka robbing the rich. The young Stalin was a noted bank robber for the Bolsheviks, arguably his most useful contribution to the revolutionary cause. (Zhaklis is also said to have given Lenin some of the funds from an ‘expropriated’ Helsinki bank.) Before the abortive raid on the Houndsditch jewellers, Peter the Painter’s group of Latvians had staged another failed robbery in north London in January 1909, this time of a factory’s wages. The ‘Tottenham Outrage’ as it became known culminated in a six-mile armed police chase across the Lea Valley that left two dead and two dozen injured.

Although the Latvian anarchists were eventually routed, the disastrous Siege of Sidney Street of a hundred years ago was to act as a catalyst bringing British policing, politics and the media closer to the modern era. The authorities’ embarrassment at being outgunned by two (or three?) opponents led to the rearming of the Metropolitan Police Force with more modern weapons. The turning of a policing operation into a major media spectacle, complete with running film, was a step towards the phenomenon of news-as-theatre with which we are now over-familiar. And at the centre of this show was Churchill, an Edwardian imperialist-turned-celebrity statesman who liked nothing better than spectacle and always wanted to be in the front line of events (even trying, as an elderly wartime prime minister, to join the Allied forces crossing the Channel on D-Day in 1944). On his return from the siege, according to Martin Gilbert’s biography, Churchill told his horrified secretary that ‘It wath such fun!’, his excitement for once causing him to let slip his lisp.

However, Churchill was to be widely ridiculed for his preposterous appearance at the Sidney Street debacle, both by the jeering public and his rivals in the political establishment. Tory opposition leader Arthur Balfour noted in parliament that, ‘We are concerned to observe photographs in the illustrated newspapers of the home secretary in the danger zone. I understand what the photographer was doing, but why the home secretary?’ That is one question current Tory home secretary Teresa May is unlikely to have had to answer when grilled by MPs over the policing of the recent London protests. But then I suppose the anarchist wall-daubers she is hunting are not quite Peter the Painter.

An exhibition about the Houndsditch murders and the Siege of Sidney Street opens at the Museum of London Docklands this week.

Mick Hume is editor-at-large of spiked.

reprinted from: http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/10004/

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Dec 17 2010 08:52

A very good read, that. Kudos to Mick.

Mike Harman
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Dec 17 2010 08:54

In one of the Mail articles on the student protests, they made a point about 'anarchists from Latvia armed with smoke bombs' being on the protests, presumably the author of that article had just read up on Sidney Street and was hoping others had too.

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Dec 17 2010 10:48
rkn wrote:
... Can anyone point me in the direction of a good article?

You should try this:

Peter the Painter (Janis Zhaklis) and the Siege of Sidney Street
by Phil Ruff and Pauls Bankovskis

[In October 2003 the Latvian press carried a number of articles about the Latvian anarchist Janis Zhaklis. These were largely based on the work of Philip Ruff who, after twenty years of research into the Siege of Sidney Street has identified Zhaklis as the most famous Latvian in London: Peter the Painter. His hunt through the archives continues but before the full story is published we thought it worth posting this article to whet your appetites.

Pauls Bankovskis, who wrote this piece is a well-known journalist and novelist. His 2002 novel, Mister Latvia, was based on some of the characters involved with the events around Sidney Street. KSL]

http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/rjdgpg

In KSL: Bulletin of the Kate Sharpley Library No. 50-51, July 2007 [Double issue]

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Dec 17 2010 12:26
Quote:
One of those tried and acquitted, Jacob Peters, returned to Russia where, after the Bolshevik Revolution, he became a leading player in the Cheka, Lenin’s secret police ... Peter the Painter’s group of Latvians had staged another failed robbery in north London in January 1909, this time of a factory’s wages

anarchists?

Boris Badenov
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Dec 17 2010 15:45
Joseph Kay wrote:
Quote:
One of those tried and acquitted, Jacob Peters, returned to Russia where, after the Bolshevik Revolution, he became a leading player in the Cheka, Lenin’s secret police ... Peter the Painter’s group of Latvians had staged another failed robbery in north London in January 1909, this time of a factory’s wages

anarchists?

It's important to remember that that is one possible scenario. I haven't seen any conclusive evidence that Peter the Painter was in fact the same person as this Jacob Peters feller (who sounds like a real despicable cunt).
There is some tangential evidence however to suggest that the Latvians who actually carried out the robbery (their "leader" being a man named Gardstein) were not just provocateurs but actually involved with the London anarchist milieu at the time. If you read the Old Bailey transcripts of the trial that followed the Siege, you'll see that Malatesta was asked to testify on account of his having lent some utensils to Gardstein, apparently not knowing what the latter was intending to use them for. The fact that Malatesta knew these guys means they either were really efficient provocateurs (but judging by their botched robbery attempt they don't sound particularly impressive in the art of dissimulation), or actual anarchists (probably insurrectionists; most Eastern European anarchists in the diaspora were).
Btw, I'm not sure where that quote is from, but post-Siege Peter the Painter (insofar as he was at all involved in all this; Churchill and the chief of the Met seemed to think so) was nowhere to be found (he was tried in absentia and the judge found that there was no case to be made for the Painter's involvement), and the surviving members of "his" group were, IIRC, acquitted due to lack of evidence of their involvement in the botched robbery (so there's no reason to suspect they were thieves)

Mark.
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Dec 17 2010 22:38
Joseph Kay wrote:
anarchists?

I seem to remember reading something, possibly in Black Flag a long time ago, that argued that they were social democrats rather than anarchists. Whether there's actually any basis for the argument I don't know.

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Dec 18 2010 18:43
Quote:
I seem to remember reading something, possibly in Black Flag a long time ago, that argued that they were social democrats rather than anarchists. Whether there's actually any basis for the argument I don't know.

Possibly this was in a review of a novel by Emanuel Litvinoff, "A Death out of Season" (1977), part of a trilogy loosely based on the life of Jacob Peters.

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Dec 20 2010 18:59

two quotes from the article mentioned before (Peter the Painter (Janis Zhaklis) and the Siege of Sidney Street by Phil Ruff and Pauls Bankovskis):

On Peterss (Jacob Peters)

Quote:
A police historian Donald Rumbelow is absolutely convinced that it was Peterss who was the main shooter and the murderer of the three policemen. It seems that he cannot resist the idea that only the later Chekist would be capable of such an audacious crime. And, of course, the knowledge that Peters received his well-earned punishment, falling victim to Stalinist terror at the end of the 30s. Philip Ruff considers this Rumbelow’s version as pure fiction.

Were they anarchists?

Quote:
Still, already in 1906, differences of opinion appeared between the Social Democrats and Janis Zhaklis. The wish of the LSD [Latvian Social Democracy] to abandon armed struggle (in favour of a parliamentary discourse) was unacceptable to Zhaklis, and together with 10 other former Social Democrats he founded a communist anarchist group “The Same - in Word and Deed!” (“Pats - vards un darbs!”). His “desertion” and conversion to the camp of “mensheviks and anarchists” could be the reason why in the Soviet times his activities were not particularly studied and noted.
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Jan 2 2011 14:34

Thanks for all the links

Siberian Mike
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Jan 17 2011 12:26

I had this request a while ago regarding any Latvian anarchists. In case anyone can help - I was very much not the best person to ask!

"We are trying to follow information about protests in Britain. What do you think about this information?
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1338097/Tuition-fees-protest-Anarchists-Argentina-Germany-Italy-plotted-mayhem.html
it says there are many people from Latvia who are taking part in the events. Is there any information about them? Or is it a joke? It is very interesting because in now in Latvia there is just a small group, many active young people have gone to live and work abroad. it would be very interesting to establish contact with Latvian libertarian activists in England."

Siberian Mike
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Jan 17 2011 12:28

Oh also - as Phil Ruff actually made the effort to go to Latvia and check out the documents, gravestones, etc.., it's his judgement I'll go with.
(did a talk about it at the London Bookfair 2? years ago)

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Jan 17 2011 18:43

This link tells the story in detail, with lots of great pics too (story begins at post 12.16.10 near top of list - Chapter 1. Murder in Houndsditch);
http://spitalfieldslife.com/category/criminal-life/

Mark. wrote:
I seem to remember reading something, possibly in Black Flag a long time ago, that argued that they were social democrats rather than anarchists. Whether there's actually any basis for the argument I don't know.
Kate Sharpley wrote:
Were they anarchists?
Quote:
Still, already in 1906, differences of opinion appeared between the Social Democrats and Janis Zhaklis. The wish of the LSD [Latvian Social Democracy] to abandon armed struggle (in favour of a parliamentary discourse) was unacceptable to Zhaklis, and together with 10 other former Social Democrats he founded a communist anarchist group “The Same - in Word and Deed!” (“Pats - vards un darbs!”). His “desertion” and conversion to the camp of “mensheviks and anarchists” could be the reason why in the Soviet times his activities were not particularly studied and noted.

The above kind of fits with what was found on Gardstein’s body;

Quote:
in his pocket book, a membership card for a Latvian Anarchist Communist group, beside instructions for detonating bombs by electricity. Gardstein was carrying a fake passport in the name of ”Schafshi Khan.”Letters were scattered around the room, mostly correspondence from a man named Fritz in the hard labour section of the Central Prison in Riga and, amongst other papers, there was also a statement of accounts for the Social Revolutionary Party in Baku. http://spitalfieldslife.com/2010/12/18/chapter-2-a-body-in-grove-st/

Newsreel footage;
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAHOW0IhelM&feature=related
http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=84933

There’s an exhibition on the Siege running till April 10th 2011 at Museum of London in Docklands; http://www.museumindocklands.org.uk/English/EventsExhibitions/Special/LondonUnderSiege.htm

Battlescarred
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Jan 23 2011 14:56

Peters was the shit involved in the suppression of the Black Guards

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Mar 20 2012 10:57

an update:

The Kate Sharpley Library has just posted a translation of Kristine Sadovska’s article “See how Latvians BURN when they catch fire!“, drawing on Phil Ruff’s researches into Latvian anarchist Janis Zhaklis (better known as Peter the Painter). The article of course mentions the Houndsditch affair and the Siege of Sidney Street, but also some of Zhaklis’ previous adventures, like the Riga Central Prison attack to liberate Julijs Shlesers and Janis Lacis (September 1905) and the January 1906 attack on the secret police headquarters.

“Pētera Māldera laiks un dzīve” (“The Life and Times of Peter the Painter”) by Phil Ruff is out in Riga early August 2012, published by Dienas Gramata [yes, published in Latvian].

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Apr 5 2012 12:55

Also there is this interview with Phil Ruff by Ian Bone

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTQiJyaeqPA

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFCTpjiDaSg

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gyYN02yjKHQ&feature=relmfu

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Apr 5 2012 13:07

It's a shame there's no news about that documentary.

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Aug 2 2012 09:42

I'm sure people would like to know:

Quote:
Phil Ruff's epic historical research into the life of Janis Zhaklis - AKA Peter the Painter - and the early twentieth century Latvian anarchist movement is about to be published in Latvian.

Pa stāvu liesmu debesīs : Nenotveramā latviešu anarhista Pētera Māldera laiks un dzīve / Filips Rufs. [A towering flame : the life & times of 'Peter the painter' / by Philip Ruff]

Published by Dienas Gramata in hardback, 16 August 2012. 288 p. + 32 p. of photos ISBN 978-9984-887-24-1

cover image at http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/doc/peter-painter-book-last

wojtek
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Aug 11 2012 20:04

I stumbled across this book seperated into 5 pdfs:

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Title: The Battle with the London Anarchists, c 1911

Description: Booklet entitled 'The Battle with the London Anarchists: The only complete account of the Houndsditch Tragedies and hte Historic Siege of Foreign Anarchists in the East End of London' containing photographs, chronology, map and detailed account of events. - The siege of Sidney Street resulted in a gun battle between the police and the besieged anarchists on New Years Day 1911. It was one of three notorious incidents involving Eastern European Jewish immigrants that took place in London in the early 1900s. The other two were the 'Tottenham Outrage' in 1909 and the 'Houndsditch Murders' in 1910.

The Battle with the London Anarchists, c 1911

wojtek
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Sep 25 2012 14:23

Phil Ruff discussing Peter the Painter and his researches into the history of Latvian anarchism. (Over an hour: in English with Latvian subtitles):

http://www.diena.lv/kd/kulturas-lekcijas/britu-rakstnieks-filips-rufs-pa...

KS Library - Peter the Painter: the book at last

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Sep 27 2012 08:31

Also on the Kate Sharpley Library site:
Facts against myths [Book review of Phil Ruff's book on Janis Zhaklis] by Maira Asare
http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/sbcdhv
(You should remember when reading it, it's written from a Latvian perspective, so is about recovery of the radical history that was suppressed in the Bolshevik version of events).

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Jul 23 2015 23:29

Hope nobody minds me reviving this thread, but I remembered reading it and the links way back, so when I stumbled upon this video on a video archive website I figure to share:

http://www.itnsource.com/en/shotlist/BHC_RTV/1911/01/03/BGT407040036/

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Sep 16 2015 10:38

Another interview: anarchist and historian Philip Ruff, talking about the identity of the real Peter the Painter and his research into Latvian and revolutionary history.
(from the News Agents on resonance)
https://www.mixcloud.com/Resonance/the-news-agents-12th-september-2015/

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Jul 8 2019 10:00

Philip Ruff's book on Peter the Painter is now available from an English publisher: https://www.breviarystuff.org.uk/philip-ruff-a-towering-flame/. Essential reading if you're interested in the siege (among other subjects!).