Extracts from a paper which was said to have advocated anarchy, and verses of a poem which asked that landlords should do the fighting, were read at the Old Bailey yesterday. Three men and a woman pleaded not guilty to having conspired to seduce from duty persons in the Forces and to cause disaffection. They are: Vernon Richards (29), civil engineer, and Marie Louise Richards (26), secretary, both of Eton Place, Hampstead; John Christopher Hewetson (32), medical practitioner, Willow Road, Hampstead; and Philip Richard Sansom (28), commercial artist, Camden Street, N.W.
They also pleaded not guilty to endeavouring to cause disaffection by disseminating copies of a paper called “War Commentary.” The two Richards were further charged with having a leaflet headed: “Fight? What for?”
The Attorney General (Sir Donald Somervell) said that “War Commentary” was a paper which was headed “For anarchism.”
Philip Sansom — one of the editors of War Commentary / Freedom found guilty of incitement to disaffection — describes the background to the trial and two other offences, for which he was jailed three times in 1945.
Soldiers are not supposed to think and it is a criminal offence to encourage them to do so. The laws on disaffection of the forces prescribe heavy penalties against civilians approaching soldiers and asking them to question their blind obedience to authority.
The revival of interest in anarchism at the time of the Spanish Revolution in 1936 led to the publication of Spain and the World, a fortnightly Freedom Press journal which changed to Revolt! in the months between the end of the war in Spain and the beginning of the Second World War. Then War Commentary was started, its name reverting to the traditional Freedom in August 1945. As one of the very few journals which were totally opposed to the war aims of both sides, War Commentary was an obvious candidate for the attentions of the Special Branch, but it was not until the last year of the war that serious persecution began.
In November 1944 John Olday, the paper’s cartoonist, was arrested and after a protracted trial was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment for ‘stealing by finding an identity card’. Two months earlier T. W. Brown of Kingston had been jailed for 15 months for distributing ‘seditious’ leaflets.
Marie Louise Berneri's article on Stakhanovism and other methods imposed on workers in order to squeeze more productivity and profit out of them for the Soviet and British war economies. Written in 1942 and reprinted in The Left and World War 2: Selections from the Anarchist Journal 'War Commentary' 1939-1943.
War brings the need for increased production and maximum effort on the part of the workers. This is what all the propaganda nowadays tries to impress on the workers. Since Russia has come into the war it is not surprising therefore that the Russian worker should be given as an example to the British workers in order to induce them to produce more.
This article describes the British state's efforts to suppress the anti-militarist views expressed by the anarchist paper War Commentary and the Freedom Press group during World War II, and the subsequent popular campaign that sprung up in defense of the paper in particular, and freedom of the press in general.
During the last difficult months of World War II, four anarchists were prosecuted by the British authorities on the suspicion of having disseminated ideas that might incite members of the armed forces to desert. While the Allied victory was almost certain, the English authorities wanted to make clear that discipline would be maintained until the final shot had been fired.
These two excerpts appeared originally in the anarchist paper War Commentary, and have been republished in the posthumous collection of Berneri's articles, Neither East Nor West (Freedom Press, 1952) and more recently in Robert Graham's Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas Vol. 2 (Black Rose Books, 2009). Berneri puts forth a scathing criticism of the hypocrisy of "left wing" parliamentary politics and of the capitalist war machine.
A CONSTRUCTIVE POLICY
We are often accused of lacking a constructive policy. People grant that we have made a valuable analysis of the present situation, and that “our paper has a real value in pricking complacency and stimulating thought.” But we are asked to put forward “practical” solutions for the struggle against fascism and capitalism.