Short history of South Wales anarchist mine worker James Colton, who, as well as being a key figure in Welsh anarchist history, also married Emma Goldman.
Born Scotland 1860. Died, Aman Valleys, Wales 1936.
“I was the first anarchist returned from the Soviet country to explain in Great Britain the relation of the Bolsheviki to the Revolution; such knowledge was vital everywhere, but nowhere more so than in England, where many of the labour leaders were emissaries of Moscow. This applied particularly to south Wales, where certain officials of the Miners' Federation were espousing the miracle of the Communist State. The simple trust and faith of my comrades was deeply touching. Proletarian from infancy, their lives barren of beauty and joy, they clung to their ideal as the sole hope of a new and free world. Typical of them was James Colton, who at the age of sixty-five was still compelled to slave in the mines for his daily bread. He had given the greater part of his life to active service in our ranks, and with much pride he told me that, like myself, he had become an anarchist as a result of the judicial murder of our Chicago martyrs. With no chance for an education, he had picked up much knowledge and a clear understanding of social problems. He devoted his native ability as a speaker to the cause and he contributed to the propagation of anarchism from his meagre earnings. The comrades in his group, younger men with families to support, were carried along by "Jimmy's" energy and inspired by his love and consecration to the ideal.”
- Emma Goldman
James Colton was born in Scotland in 1860. His father, Arthur, was a stonemason. He moved to Penarth, near Cardiff , when he was still a boy. He found a job in a bakery at Upper Boat, near Pontypridd. Later he moved to Glanaman in the Aman Valley where he became a miner in the Gelliceidrim Colliery.
George Davison had made a fortune out of the Kodak Company. He had been won over to the ideas of anarchism, and used his money to finance various ventures. One of these was the Communist Club in Chopwell, Co. Durham, another was the building, an old vicarage, he bought for £1,500 in Ammanford. He handed it over to a local group of young radicals, and it was used as a club, library, and meeting place. It became known as the White House, and various radical speakers on their tours had it as a stopping off place.
Jim Colton probably attended these meetings and made contact with socialists in the valley like Jack Griffiths, Edgar Bassett, D.R. Owen, Harry Arthur and James Griffiths. It was probably through Davison that Jim became an anarchist. He met Emma Goldman when she was on a lecture tour in Edinburgh in the 1890s, when he was on a visit back home. Later, when Goldman did a speaking tour in South Wales, they renewed their acquaintance. We know that Colton sold Freedom, as well as donating to its press fund, during the years of the First World War, and a contact address of Station Cottage was given in the paper.
Colton knew that Goldman, expelled from both the USA and the Soviet Union, was having to move from one European country to another, with no right to settlement. Jim’s first wife had just died, so it appears that he proposed that he and Emma marry to gain her British citizenship. He traveled up to London and Colton and Goldman were married at the Marylebone Registry. She was to write that on June 27th 1925 on her 56th birthday “I had married the old rebel James Colton. British now, I did as most natives do who can scrape up enough to escape their country’s climate”. She moved to the South of France.
Jim did not have the luxury of moving to such sunny climes. Goldman continued to correspond with Jim, expressing her gratitude for the marriage of convenience. Jim had been out of work for a long time because of the great miners’ strike of 1926, and was ill, and Goldman sent him a small amount of money to help him.
Colton seems to have been involved in a small anarchist group in the Aman Valley, along with a comrade, Edmunds. Emma Goldman addressed 3 meetings in the Aman Valley in late March 1925 under the auspices of the South Wales Freedom Group, and Colton would have been involved in their organisation. He also appears to have organised a meeting addressed by Goldman in June 1926.
Colton’s last letter to Goldman, written in July 1936, describes how ill he was, unable to eat and confined to bed, and upset that Alexander Berkman had just died. When he wrote to Goldman he had already been confined to bed for 4 weeks. He informed her that “this is the worst illness I have ever had”. He was never to read the reply from Goldman. He died of cancer on 5th August 1936 on the day that Goldman wrote a reply.
“It is true that Emma Goldman married Jim Colton to obtain British nationality, and she is an extremely writeable-about figure… But Colton is a more remarkable figure than Emma Goldman for he, with a few others, survived the tremendous blows against Welsh anarchism..” Albert Meltzer in his The Anarchists in London 1935-1955.