Notes on Freedom and the Freedom Press 1886-1986 - Heiner Becker

Percy Meachan in Freedom's machine room, 127 Ossulton Street (1927)
Percy Meachan in Freedom's machine room, 127 Ossulton Street (1927)

A detailed history of the early years of Britain's anarchist newspaper Freedom. Originally published in The Raven, 1987.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 20, 2021

Libcom note: The definitive history of Freedom Press so far is Rob Ray's A Beautiful Idea: The History of The Freedom Press Anarchists (Freedom 2018) which can be purchased here. A review of the book by Kate Sharpley Library is here. It is also worth noting that the author of the piece below claimed copyright on Rudolf Rocker’s texts later in life and took legal action against anarchists who published them. Details here.

”It is easy to forget how amazing Freedom's survival has been. Its whole history seems to have been one of staggering from one crisis to another; yet it has always arisen phoenix-like from the ashes while its contemporaries and rivals have gone the way of all flesh.”

Ken Weller, 1986

”Freedom was described as a philosophical, middle-class organ, not intelligible to the working classes, not up to date in late information and...less revolutionary than Comic Cuts...It was edited and managed by an inaccessible group of arrogant persons worse than the Pope and his seventy cardinals and written by fossilised old quilldrivers.”

John Quail, 1978 — quoting and obviously agreeing with a critic of 1897

”Nearly month by month the friendly co-operation of excellent comrades...produced for the reader a few moments of mental and sentimental life in the free Anarchist world of our hopes, an infinitely pleasant sensation which few other factors can produce. Freedom was always kind and gentle, faithful and hopeful, fair and reasoning, tasteful and well-proportioned. It excels by such qualities ever so many Anarchist periodicals and other publications which...possess other qualities, the personal note of interesting men, the elated feelings of stirring times, or they are the mouthpiece of vigorous organisations with all that is inseparable from organised life, predominating creeds, uncharitable criticisms of dissenters, and personal matters. All this may create a stronger impression for the moment, but it passes away...But to Freedom one turns back with pleasure...the basis of all was unswerving faith in freedom, fairness in reasoning, and gentleness in feeling.”

Max Nettlau, 1926

Freedom emerged from the British — or rather, London — socialist movement that had slowly but steadily taken shape since the late 1870s. In 1886, the year when Freedom was founded, and when a severe industrial crisis broke out which was to last some years, there were several socialist or 'social democratic' organisations with the express aim to organise the workers or, more basically, to prepare them for organisation (in that sense the Socialist League was to many of its militants more a kind of educational body: 'educate-agitate-organise' was the motto, and in exactly this sequence).

More than twenty years later Kropotkin was remembering it in Freedom (October 1907) as 'a most enthusiastic Socialist movement':

It was a Socialist — not a Social Democratic — movement, whose ideal was that of a society entirely reconstructed on the basis of a social revolution...A severe industrial crisis...contributed to render the movement still more acute...Contrary to what is currently said about the British workers, they received with eagerness, all over the country, the teachings of Socialism. Their only doubts were as to how to organise production when it would be wrested from the hands of the capitalists.

While there were numerous personal links to earlier movements such as the Chartists or the First International to provide some sense of tradition, the 'anarchist heritage' seems to have been completely forgotten at the time, or individuals who had already earlier regarded themselves as anarchists were isolated and even ostracised (like James Harragan, a Proudhonist since the early 1870s).

English anarchism, the English anarchist movement that slowly took shape then, rose essentially from three sources. The most obvious was the individualist Benjamin Tucker's Liberty, published in Boston from 1881 onwards, and from the beginning well distributed in Britain. In the first years of its publication Liberty was very much in sympathy with all sorts of revolutionary movements and exponents, such as the Russian revolutionists or John Most, though it soon seems to have created the impression with many English readers (such as William Morris) that only individualist anarchism was real anarchism.

Another impulse came from workers frequenting the International Club (originally in Rose Street) and its offspring such as the Homerton Social Democratic Club. There, and at the Social Revolutionary Congress of July 1881, they came in contact with French communards, German refugees like Most and Johann Neve, and with Italian socialists and anarchists like Malatesta. In this environment some English socialists became virtual anarchists, whether they used this word or not. These men,

”who knew also the American publications of the Tucker variety, familiar also with Robert Owen, the Owenites and other surviving old socialists, formed for themselves an anarcho-communism built on solidarity, that came very near to the ideas of Malatesta. Exuberance and formlessness had no attraction to them, nor Kropotkin's particular hypotheses either”

(Max Nettlau, La anarquia a traves de los tiempos, Barcelona 1935).

Joseph Lane, the author of An Anti-Statist Communist Manifesto of 1887 — 'the first English Anarchist pamphlet' according to Nettlau in Freedom (October 1926) — and Samuel Mainwaring are perhaps the most notable to represent this indigenous English anarchism that tried to combine a maximum of freedom with the greatest feeling of solidarity.

The third source was the French Jurassian anarchist communism, as developed by Kropotkin in the Revolte of Geneva, of which regular reports were published in George Standring's Republican from 1879 on, and which had a number of English readers especially after the Lyons trial of January 1883. The declaration of the anarchists on trial was published in London as a leaflet (reproduced in Freedom on 29 January 1983), and the general attention created by this trial led to many enquiries about anarchism and, eventually to expositions like “Anarchism by an Anarchist” by Elisee Reclus in the Contemporary Review of May 1884 or the articles by Charlotte Wilson in Justice (November 1884). Also in 1883, there had been an edition of Bakunin's God and the State which gave as place of publication Tunbridge Wells. The person responsible for this, who shortly afterwards was also publishing the first English anarchist paper, was Henry Seymour (1860-1938). Like many others, he came from the Freethought movement, and had been active as a freethought propagandist and director of 'The Science Library' in Tunbridge Wells for some time. Some fifty years later (in a letter of 18 March 1935 to Joseph Ishill) he recalled his development:

In 1881 I had been prosecuted for 'blasphemy' — the first case for 30 years — that is, in England, for actively engaging in Atheistic propaganda. I had just emerged from my teens. I was so disgracefully treated, as I then thought, in the trial of the case, that my perhaps rather proud spirit was in revolt and I soon became a fully-fledged Anarchist, seeing clearly through the humbug as well as the tyranny and hypocrisy of law in its actual administration...I chanced to get hold of Tucker's 'Liberty', and I obtained Proudhon's 'What is Property?', and to these, I must confess, I owe much of my later thought and action. Then I discovered a bookseller's 'remainder' of Edmund Burke's 'Vindication of Natural Society'...About the same time I met Dr. William Knowlton Dyer and Mrs. Sarah E. Holmes...on their return to the U.S., the Dr. (a personal friend also of Tucker's) arranged with Tucker that I should be an English agent of 'Liberty'. They also had a special reprint of Bakounine's 'God and the State' made for me to publish over here...Feeling that I had a mission to fulfill (vain conceit of youth), I made up my mind to abandon a very good business there (i.e. Tunbridge Wells) to seek my fortune in London, the centre, as I supposed, of revolutionary propagandist activity. I had decided to start an English 'Anarchist' and London seemed the only place, as there were groups there of all nationalities who would probably lend a hand to their English 'comrades'. I came to London in the early part of 1885...

The first issue of The Anarchist appeared in March 1885, individualist from the start, though open also to other anarchists. Seymour continued, describing 'The Genesis of Anarchism in England' in Free Vistas (vol. 2, 1937):

As one of the original members of the 'Fabian Society' before it adopted its policy of political opportunism, I was in friendly contact with many well-known figures in that party, amongst them...Edward Carpenter, Belfort Box, E.R. Pease, Walter Crane, Hubert Bland, E. Nesbit, Frank Podmore, Sidney Webb, Sydney Olivier...

Perhaps it was here that he met Charlotte Wilson, and also others who eventually, in May 1885 constituted 'a circle of English Anarchists'. Several of its members were in regular contact with Le Revolte, and Charlotte Wilson also with Kropotkin directly; and after Kropotkin had been released from Clairvaux prison and come to England (in March 1886), said Seymour (in his letter to Ishill):

He and other of his friends and myself met at the house of the famous Russian Stepniak, and I was induced to stifle myself and my individualist tendencies and be incorporated in a 'conjoint editorship' for future issues of the 'Anarchist' — there were to be four others, including Kropotkin, Dr. Merlino, Tchaykovsky, and Mrs. Wilson, all of whom were 'Anarchist-Communists'. I soon found that I had become the 'goat', having to do all the drudgery of production, supply most of the cost, while the others were content to write, excellently and otherwise. We had a 'tiff and parted...

The break was reported in Le Revolte, the paper Kropotkin referred to as 'my child', in its issue of 22-28 May 1886:

”We learn with regret that the attempt made by some friends in London to publish 'The Anarchist' under a new programme has been abandoned. We hope that a new anarchist journal will emerge.”

The first issue of this paper, named Freedom, finally appeared mid-September (though dated October) 1886. “It was started by C.M. Wilson and P. Kropotkin, the former acting as editor”, wrote Alfred Marsh in Freedom (December 1900) —reproducing most of an unpublished draft by Charlotte Wilson (in the Nettlau Collection, IISH, Amsterdam).

“Uphill work it was at the beginning. For over two years the paper was carried on nearly single-handed. How often we were discouraged”

, added an anonymous writer in Freedom (October 1890).

The 'guiding' ideas were Kropotkin's and his particular version of anarchist communism. The predominant view of the situation in Britain is best illustrated by the headings given to reports 'from England' in Le Revolte at that time: 'Riots', 'Insurrection', 'The People in Revolt'. And what Kropotkin intended to achieve with a paper like Freedom becomes clear in an article on the insurrections in Belgium, published in Le Revolte (5/11 February):

”It is certain that similar revolts will follow...If these are simple revolts out of despair, they will have the same negative result. But one must foresee them and act accordingly. One must say: 'It is certain that from now to the revolution there will be similar revolts revolts caused by hunger, by despair. If we don't prepare the ideas in advance, they will be limited to acts of despair...That is much. But it shouldn't be all. The revolt should spread an idea, present a principle that of expropriation... To get there, there should already be two or three men in the locality, respected for their honesty, their devotion, their revolutionary temperament. If the times are calm, they will be regarded as 'enrages'; but they will be those whom the people follow when the revolt rumbles...There must be local writings, local pamphlets that spread the same idea. One cannot make a paper in every little place; but one can spread the ideas...

For England, it seems, this also meant that Freedom was addressed first of all to socialists, who should be made to understand anarchism, and what had to be done in revolutionary situations. Consequently, Freedom was from the beginning — apart from being a medium for Kropotkin's ideas — also a platform for the discussion of socialist ideas in general.

Since virtually all articles were unsigned, it is difficult to attribute them to certain authors; but from a passage in Charlotte Wilson's draft history of the paper (omitted by Alfred Marsh in the article already quoted) it becomes clear that among the contributors in the first year were Edward Carpenter, Dr Burns-Gibson, George Bernard Shaw, Havelock Ellis, Sydney Olivier, Saverio Merlino, E. Prowse Reilly, Nannie F. Dryhurst, and Henry Glasse. The non-anarchist contributors were all members of or linked to the Fabian Society and were certainly asked by Charlotte Wilson to contribute, as were others later like Edith Nesbit, or Mrs Podmore who translated Kropotkin's Conquest of Bread. Less known, and of greater interest to us, are anarchists like N.F. Dryhurst and Henry Glasse. Mrs Dryhurst (1856-1930), born in Ireland as Nannie Florence Robinson, was closely linked to Freedom and a member of the Freedom Group from the beginning until 1906 (when, after a visit to Georgia and the suppression of the first Russian Revolution, she concentrated her energies on movements on behalf of self-determination of small nationalities as Secretary of the Subject Races Committee). For a short while in the beginning of the 1890s she replaced Charlotte Wilson as editor of the paper, and contributed articles regularly until about 1894.

Henry Glasse, details about whom are very difficult to find, is one of these rarely mentioned people who supported Freedom from the beginning until the First World War, both with literary and financial contributions (nearly every month he gave at least 10 shillings — quite a substantial sum at the time — and he supported other papers like Le Revolte as well). He had fought as a guerrillero in the Carlist War in Spain in 1872-1874; in 1878 he lived in Margate and submitted a manuscript on 'Caste, Capital and Social Democracy' to the International Labour Union for publication. In December of the same year, this was published by Bradlaugh's Freethought Publishing Company as a pamphlet, as well as another pamphlet of his with Thoughts on Religion and Society (both were later reprinted, if one may trust Frank Kitz's unreliable reminiscences, by the Rose Street Club). He became eventually a member of the English section of the Rose Street Club, and from May 1879 on he wrote regularly for George Standring's secularist paper The Republican — e.g. in March 1881 a sympathetic article on 'Anarchism'. Kropotkin translated another one on 'English Liberty' for Le Revolte (November 1880), and said in February 1881 in a letter to a friend in Belgium about Glasse: “I know only one man who seems to be disposed to become socialist and anarchist — that is the new collaborator of 'The Republican' whose article I've translated for 'Le Revolte;.” Glasse, however, soon left England (probably in February or early March 1881) to settle in South Africa as a farmer, but continued to support financially and with contributions all sorts of revolutionary and above all anarchist papers, starting with Le Revolte, The Commonweal, The Anarchist and Freedom, and often arousing discussion or contradiction by his views on the use of force:

“As long as our people simply attempt action in the towns, where troops can be massed, and artillery has the last word — so long, I contend and have long contended, they will be severely handicapped. Action in a suitable country, supported by the towns, would be invincible.”

(a letter to Keell in the Freedom Collection, IISH, Amsterdam).

In Spring 1901 he returned to England for a prolonged visit and addressed a number of well-attended meetings in London. At about this time, two of his contributions to Freedom were also published as Freedom Pamphlets: Socialism the Remedy in 1901, and The Superstition of Government (together with Kropotkin's Organised Vengeance called `Justice') in 1902 (in 1886 he had already translated Kropotkin's Expropriation and The Place of Anarchism in Socialistic Evolution for Henry Seymour's International Publishing Company). In January 1915 he sent for the last time (it seems) a contribution to the Freedom funds, telling Tom Keell at the same time that

”This is no time for propaganda here of any sort. In fact the censorship is very strict, and it may be well not to send me anything at present which might by any possibility be construed into opposition to the war against German Kaiserdom and Militarism. I suffered enough during the Boer War through a similar cause.”

Although Freedom succeeded in attracting quite a number of exceptional contributors and, on an intellectual level, from the beginning was an attractive paper (of the first issue 1,600 copies were sold in about three weeks, and the sales stabilised and rose even in the following months: quite unexpected at the time and especially at this time of the year, as there were few large outdoor meetings with possibilities to sell the paper), it seems to have remained strangely isolated during the first year of its existence. As Max Nettlau, a member of the Socialist League and close friend of some of the 'indigenous' English anarchists like Sam Mainwaring, later recalled in Die erste Bluetezeit der Anarchie (1981):

The Freedom Group whose paper was read with great interest, whose speakers like Kropotkin were greeted more enthusiastically than all the others at the great international meetings in 1887...otherwise kept itself so completely isolated that its members finally felt themselves that this wasn't the right way, and at the beginning of 1888 they came forward into the socialist milieu with a series of public lectures.”

These Freedom Discussion Meetings 'on Anarchist-Socialism', the first of which was held at the Hall of the Socialist League, 13 Farringdon Road, on 16 February 1888, were immediately very successful and drew a number of workers into the Freedom Group, especially from the Social Democratic Federation. Among those who in the next two years joined the Group were Alfred Marsh (from 1895 on the editor of Freedom), Tom Pearson, Walter Neilson, Charles Morton, W. Burrows, J.E. Barlas, C. Porter, and James Blackwell.

Another factor for the growing response to anarchism in general and Freedom in particular was the sympathy raised by the condemnation of the Chicago martyrs, and especially the visit of Lucy Parsons in October/November 1888. As Charlotte Wilson put it later (in another passage omitted from her draft history):

“She addressed numerous meetings, arousing much sympathy amongst the workers, both for the cause & for the Chicago men, but choking off various lukewarm or partial sympathisers with Anarchist theories by her 'wild west' talk about fighting.”

The influx of new members changed the style and contents of the paper somewhat, the most notable new feature being 'regular' reports and notices from the movement in London (from September 1889) and provincial groups (from April 1890). Members of the Freedom Group also initiated the formation of a number of local groups, and soon a number of provincial Freedom Groups sprang up, an example taken up nearly 25 years later by George Barrett and George Davison. The organisation of large public meetings in London and smaller local gatherings in a number of provincial places to commemorate the Paris Commune (around 18 March) and the legal murder of the Chicago anarchists (around 11 November) was another initiative started in 1890 and repeated successfully for several years. And in December 1889 the first Freedom Pamphlet appeared, Kropotkin's The Wage System.

Until December 1888 the paper as such had been produced single-handedly by Charlotte Wilson; in March 1889, the “editorial staff had been reinforced” and ”a committee of workmen formed to manage the publication and sale of the paper”. Actually, from March 1889 the paper was edited by James Blackwell, a compositor by profession. He seems to have become politically active in the Labour Emancipation League, the organisation founded by Joseph Lane and Tom S. Lemon after the closure of the Homerton Social Democratic Club. In October 1884 Blackwell, representing its Bethnal Green branch (with C.W. Mowbray), became its Secretary (with Joseph Lane as Treasurer) for two months, when he left for the SDF (to which the LEL by then was affiliated), and formed in December 1884 with Harry Quelch the Walworth branch of the SDF. The following February he was elected to the Executive Council, and he started writing occasionally for its paper, Justice. Thus he related his experience in 'A Fourpenny Dosshouse' (11 July 1885), or warned against 'The Emigration Fraud' (22 August) ”as one who has been to and returned from New York as a steerage passenger”. He also translated from the French Paul Lafargue's `Right to be Lazy' and immediately found himself engaged in a defence of this 'right'. From April till July 1886 he was again in the United States, sending 'American Notes' to Justice — from May onwards actually from Chicago at the time of the Haymarket crisis. Perhaps influenced by what he saw and heard there, he wrote after his return to London on 'The Futility of Manhood Suffrage' (31 July 1886), though still denying that “we should refrain altogether from parliamentary action”, as “the true Revolutionist adopts all available means to further his ends”. In August he suggested a method of propaganda which ”our religious friends are in the habit of employing...the house to house tract distribution and exchange” (28 August), following a defence of his Lafargue translation that ”to my thinking the Socialist is only half fledged who considers work a blessing and obstinence a virtue” (14 August). Still a Social Democrat (and manager of Justice), he was during 1888 an eager participant in the Freedom Discussion Meetings, but he soon declared himself an anarchist. Some time after his resignation from the Freedom editorship he left England again, living in 1897 in Paris.

* * *

Apart from the organisation of large public meetings, open-air public speaking was a major concern for members of the Freedom Group, as for every other left-wing group at least from the late 1870s onwards. The most successful place proved to be Regent's Park, where 'a regular peripatetic school of Anarchist philosophy was formed, the same audience assembling “week after week, summer after summer”, according to Marsh in Freedom (December 1900). This happened usually on Sundays, the speakers being mainly Frank Hyde, Walter Neilson, Charles Morton and Tom Pearson. The same people addressed on Wednesdays open-air meetings usually at the Prince of Wales Road, the formation of the St Pancras Communist-Anarchist Group being one result. All this work found a stimulus first and some sort of a break soon after a time that has been described as “an era of repression on the one hand and revolt on the other”, starting with the Walsall Police Plot from January 1892 onwards and then the prosecution of the Commonweal. Freedom's line at this time has been summarised characteristically drily and proudly (but quite correctly) by Charlotte Wilson in her history of the paper already quoted:

“During these troublous two years Freedom stood firmly on the side of the rebels and against the suppressors of rebellion in word and deed, even when the rebels used weapons which no humane person can approve in cold blood....On the other hand, Freedom did not either advocate or applaud outrage; its own policy advocated a continuous and energetic endeavour on the part of the workers, organised in Trade Unions, Co-operative Societies and other voluntary associations, to obtain by direct action, such as refusing to act as wage-slaves, the control of the means of production.

This may serve as a little hint where one has to look for the first references to and discussion of what later was called 'Syndicalism', a word first used in English — so far as I can tell — in October 1903, by Tarrida del Marmol in The General Strike. This was edited by Samuel Mainwaring and Tarrida del Marmol, in cooperation with the Freedom Group, modelled on Francisco Ferrer's La Huelga General. Three issues appeared between October and December 1903, and a new effort was made on 15 February 1904. The term Syndicalism didn't actually come into general use until 1907. The best short definition at the time I have found is in the introductory note to an article by Kropotkin on 'Anarchists and Trade Unions', translated from Les Temps Nouveaux and published in Freedom in June 1907:

“For the better comprehension of the following it may be noted that the French 'Syndicalism' differs from English 'Trade Unionism' in its revolutionary character. It considers the 'syndicate' as the arm for the Social Revolution and the cell of the future Communist society.”

Karl Walter found it still necessary, when reporting from the Amsterdam Congress in Freedom in October 1907, to explain “Syndicalism”:

“This expression is used throughout as being less cumbersome than 'Revolutionary Trade Unionism'.”

Among the new contributors in these years were William Wess, Errico Malatesta, Henry Nevinson, and W.C. Owen, J. Sketchley (the old Chartist), George Lawrence (the friend of Frank Kitz), Dr Fauset Macdonald, Louise Michel, Louise Bevington, Olive Rossetti, and Agnes Henry. Agnes Henry had run a Kindergarten in Trinidad in the 1880s. She then went for a while to Italy; her first contribution to Freedom on “How 'Risings' are promoted and suppressed by the Italian Government” was published in July 1891. She soon joined the Freedom Group and housed Freedom from February 1893 until early November 1894. In April 1893 she made (like other members of the group) one of numerous speaking tours, this time to Scotland. In January 1895 she left England for France, where she lived first in Paris and from June 1895 till March 1896 in Pont Aven (Finistere), trying to make a living by teaching and translating. She returned in April to England, settling for a year in Cromer, Norfolk, where she had found a reform school for the daughter of Antonio Agresti whom she adopted after Agresti married Olive Rossetti. In 1896 she became very much involved in the organisational efforts of the Associated Anarchists and slowly lost contact with Freedom and the Freedom Group. In April 1897 she wrote to the Labour Leader, the paper of the Independent Labour Party, that this paper “has almost persuaded me to become an”, and in July explained “why I am now anxious to join the I.L.P.”:

“In the first place, together with Krapotkine, Merlino, Hamon and many others, I hold that we Anarchist-Communists are primarily Socialists. Consequently my joining the I.L.P. makes no difference whatever as to my being a Socialist. It only indicates a modification in my views as to some of the methods by which the whole country — if not the whole world — may become Socialist. Already as an Anarchist-Communist, I consider that every step towards co-operative production and distribution for use, in place of the competitive and capitalistic system, is a step towards Socialism. Only I now am convinced that municipal collectivism is the first practicable step towards general co-operation, leading finally to organised Communism.”

”Again, as an Anarchist-Communist, I consider that the organisation of labour and of society generally for purposes of mutual advantage is absolutely necessary, both nationally and internationally, in every direction. And I recognise that the I.L.P. are the most effective and active organisers, both of labour and, through political action, of society generally....But, while one object of the I.L.P. is to form a Socialist party in Parliament, you yourself [i.e. the leader Keir Hardie] and several other members of the party have declared that the first chief thing is to convert the people to Socialism, which you can do largely by means of political action....It is therefore as an educative means that political agitation is mainly useful.”

That was exactly what critics (like Freedom) of the Associated Anarchists and similar organisational trends predicted and feared, and what George Robertson from Edinburgh said in a reply, making clear that “you can take part in no political contest without renouncing your claim to Anarchism”, for those “are coerced who don't agree to vote for either side and who have not joined the Constitution as it were”. Nevertheless, a number of anarchists went the same way as Agnes Henry, because of a similar reasoning as hers, or regarding the I.L.P. because of its then very open and unusually friendly attitude to anarchism as close to an 'anarchist party'; at about the same time Freedom also had to be defended against the plans of so-called “organisationists” (such as Dr Ladislaus Gumplowicz).


During the “era of repression” and the year or two following, a lot of the support and “converts” of the years 1887-1892 “dwindled away”, either dropping out completely, moving to other places and withdrawing into private life, or getting absorbed in trade union activities or the co-operative movement. All anarchist papers except Freedom ceased publication, some of the people who had taken part in these other publications eventually joining and reinforcing the Freedom Group (like in 1895 when Thomas Cantwell, John Turner, Joseph Pressburg, and Max Nettlau from the Commonweal joined Alfred Marsh). One of the reasons why Freedom survived all these crises and the others did not, in spite of the fact that other papers sometimes had more funds given to them, is the very unspectacular “accident” that in or around the active Freedom Group there was always one person who when it came to it was determined to carry on, combined with the fact that apart from one minor incident, the group was spared (or managed to keep out) members who eventually ran away with the (always meagre) cash-box. Trivialities of this sort are usually somewhat graciously passed over in silence. (For example, no one except Nettlau, in a book not published until 1981 — Die erste Bluetezeit der Anarchie —mentioned that Frank Kitz was expelled from the Socialist League in 1891 for the in theory somewhat unorthodox use he made of propaganda funds; and as Nettlau added sarcastically and sadly, it was “this kind of un-culture” that drove people like Morris, who mistook it as typical of anarchists, out of the Socialist League; and it was this, and the alleged involvement of some of the members of the League, in a milieu saturated with police spies, that kept Kropotkin (and the Freedom Group) away from the League.) This was the background, at least essentially, to the often lamented 'exclusivity' of the Freedom Group and to the habit of checking the 'credibility' of 'comrades' before accepting somebody to 'the inner circle', and not, as may easily be shown, a different view of anarchist tactics or strategy. And it goes almost without saying that this did not exclude the support (financial and otherwise) of the same comrades when they were in need (like e.g. James Harragan, David Nicoll, or Frank Kitz who incidentally is the only contributor to Freedom before 1927 who was paid for his contributions, i.e. his reminiscences in 1912).

And while these digressions may sound somewhat puritanical, they do at least answer most of the reproaches made against 'the Freedomites', and also help to understand the 'amazing survival' of Freedom where others failed. It may just be added further that the same can be said and shown internationally for all anarchist papers that lasted longer than a couple of years.


After Freedom had found in 1896 permanent lodgings, a commercial or semi-commercial printing business was set up, called until 1902 the Cosmopolitan Printery, and run mainly by Tom Cantwell and for some time a Belgian anarchist, F. Henneghien. The issue for July 1898 then published for the first time an “appeal to all friends and sympathisers in the international Anarchist movement” to establish The 'Freedom' Press, “that we are all assured will have the deepest and most far-reaching, effect on the Anarchist propaganda in England”. The object was ”to place the publication of Anarchist literature in England on a business basis”. For,

“if £30 can be raised (and surely it can be), we shall be enabled to issue many new works of great interest and importance, besides issuing reprints of others which are badly needed. It would also aid us greatly in reducing the expense of the publication of 'Freedom', and so avoid the constant and heavy strain that publishing at a loss necessarily entails on a few comrades who are only wage-slaves themselves.”

This was carried for a few months, but brought no more than about £15, of which £10 came from 'Glasgow comrades' right at the beginning. In the end, nothing came of it, and as before the funds for the printing or reprinting of pamphlets had to be raised, sometimes with great difficulty, for each individual venture. The Freedom Press as a firm seems to have come into existence only with the issue for July 1916, after the trial of T.H. Keell and Lilian Woolf (Wolfe). In the years 1898-1902, the Freedom Group complemented their other publishing activities (the paper and the Freedom Pamphlets, of which by the late 1890s some 80,000 copies had been sold) with the mass-production and distribution of single leaflets, a practice adopted, apart from very special occasions, first for a short time between 1892 and 1894, and then again later around 1909/1910.

In September 1898, as a kind of offspring of the Freedom Group, the Libertarian Lecture Society was formed on the initiative of Miss A.A. Davies, who had made contact with the group some eighteen months earlier. It was established 'for the purpose of disseminating more light on the advanced thought, literature and movements of the day'. It complemented the Freedom Discussion Group, revived early in 1898 and named after similar initiatives in 1888 and 1890, and the two continued for four years, organising weekly (later fortnightly) lectures which were held at the beginning in Athenaeum Hall, at 73 Tottenham Court Road, then at Tom Mann's pub The Enterprise, 96 Long Acre. Heading the programme were Goethe's last words 'Light! More Light!' (which a few years later also provided the Austrian anarchist Rudolf Grossmann with his pseudonym in England: Kl. Morleit, before he `adopted' the name of a helpless French humanist of the sixteenth century, Pierre Ramus), and the lectures started on 16 October 1898 with Louise Michel on 'The Situation in France'.

Very little is known about Miss A.A. Davies, not even her first names. Her father was Welsh, her mother Irish; she came to anarchism when living in New York in the early 1890s. She was attracted to the Socialist League that W.C. Owen and John Edelman had founded there, and then was active in the group that published Solidarity (Saverio Merlino, John Edelman and the Krimont sisters). Involved in Irish 'affairs', she came to London early in 1897 and was for some time closely observed by the police, in the aftermath of the so-called Jubilee Plot (several Irish people coming from the United States were arrested for allegedly planning to assassinate Queen Victoria at the time of the Diamond Jubilee). She joined the Freedom Group in 1898 (which then for a while felt unusually conspiratorial, being particularly suspicious with a notorious Irishwoman in their midst). From Autumn 1898 she wrote alternately with Nettlau the International Notes, and in 1905 under the pen-name libertas' she wrote the little tale 'The King and the Anarchist' (published from February until April and then as a Freedom Pamphlet). Harry Kelly has left picturesque descriptions of “the mysterious Miss A.A. Davies” and her participation in the printing of the paper:

“A.D. did the taking off and I did the feeding... [she] always wore a black hat with a black veil, and black gloves while working; with her face with its fresh color and her gray hair she looked the picture of an old master.” (Mother Earth, May 1913, Freedom, September 1921 and November/December 1926).

And Mairin Mitchell remembered later the:

”Irish member of the Freedom Group who had some attics off the Euston Road. She used to ask me there, and in summer three or four of us would climb up some shaky steps, wriggle through her skylight and sit on the roof, with a glorious view of London's blackest chimneys and the L.M.S. goods yards. And there we would stay, making tea on a spirit stove, generally Russian tea, to please Temoochin, a Tartar sailor” (Storm over Spain, 1937, which includes several references to the Irish links with the British anarchist movement — and in the index one may discover that 'The Irish Rebel' who wrote in Freedom and The Voice of Labour before the First World War was William J. Orr).

In about 1910 Miss Davies joined the suffragettes and left the Freedom Group, though remaining in contact with some of her old anarchist friends until the early 1920s.


From 1900 until 1906, Freedom had to endure the most difficult years of its existence so far. During the period of the Boer War, meetings —and especially open-air meetings on which the paper depended for the street-selling — became at times virtually impossible. The group, however, managed to produce all the time a reduced paper, and especially after 1903 the pamphlets were again very much in demand, some of the titles being constantly reprinted (the best-sellers were Kropotkin's Anarchist Communism and The State: Its Historic Role, and Malatesta's Talk about Anarchist Communism between Two Workers and his Anarchy). The Freedom Group remained virtually unchanged after 1896, the most active members being Alfred Marsh, Max Nettlau, Tom Cantwell, Harry Kelly and his wife Mary Krimont, Miss Davies, Varlaam Cherkezov and his wife Frieda, John Turner with longer and longer intervals, and to a lesser degree Frank and Lena Hyde. Kropotkin did not take part in the actual production, but confined himself to writing articles, usually not taking part in the group meetings at this time. The sole editor during all these years was Alfred Marsh, who also did virtually all the correspondence until 1904, when Tom Keell, who had been employed as compositor since 1902, after due probation was admitted to the group and also became Manager.

During 1906 the success of syndicalism in France had its effect in London; after earlier abortive attempts following a visit by French syndicalists in London in June 1901, such as The General Strike that had been produced in 1903 and 1904 by Samuel Mainwaring and Fernando Tarrida del Marmol in cooperation with the Freedom Group, and a single issue of a Voice of Labour, printed for comrades in Glasgow at the Freedom Office in 1904, Marsh, Keell, Turner and Kropotkin planned a syndicalist paper named The Voice of Labour. A dummy issue was printed in November 1906 and distributed in a few dozen copies, and the first proper number then appeared on 18 January 1907. The paper was to last for 36 issues, until September of the same year, the first eight issues edited by Marsh, the rest by Keel. The principal contributors were John Turner, Gerald Christian (who wrote under the pseudonym 'Scorpion'), Guy A. Aldred, Karl Walter, Harry Kelly, Sidney Carlyle Potter, and James Dick. The keynote of the paper was the futility of parliamentary action and the importance of industrial action.

Karl Walter (1880-1965) became involved with the Freedom Group in 1904 and wrote regularly for Freedom until 1908, when he left for the United States (where he worked as a journalist and contributed to Mother Earth). He was, with Keell, an English delegate at the International Anarchist Congress in Amsterdam in August 1907, and he wrote the report published in Freedom and reprinted as a Freedom Pamphlet. He returned to England in 1916 and in the 1920s helped Freedom with occasional translations; he later became yet again an occasional contributor to Freedom (and other anarchist papers) after 1958. (His grandson, Nicolas Walter, became active at about that time.)

For the next decade S. Carlyle Potter also wrote regularly for Freedom (and then very occasionally until the paper stopped), later becoming a Tolstoyan anarchist and living as a bookseller in Southampton.

Henry May ('Harry') Kelly (1871-1953) was a member of the Freedom Group from his (second) arrival in England in January 1898 until his return to the United States in August 1904; before and after he wrote regular American Notes for Freedom. He was, as Nettlau related on numerous occasions, the man in the Freedom Group with practical advice in every situation and a practical solution to all problems. Two American namesakes of Freedom were initiated by him (in 1919 and 1933-34), and he remained a loyal friend and supporter of Freedom until 1927.

Like Harry Kelly later active in the American Modern School Movement, was James Hugh ('Jimmy') Dick (1882-1965), a Liverpudlian who started with Lorenzo Portet a Modern School in Liverpool in 1908. From then on he also contributed frequently to Freedom (as Jey H. Dee, as Dick James or Jimmy Dick), usually apart from reports on the school instructive articles 'For the Young Folk'. In 1912 he started with Naomi ('Nellie') Ploschansky (born in Kiev in 1893 and still going strong in the United States, as listeners to the BBC World Service may have heard last year) an International Modern School in Whitechapel which lasted until shortly before they left for the United States in January 1917.


1909 saw a big boost in the publication activities of the Freedom Group, following the death of Marsh's father. He was left in charge of the family's brush factory, and for the first time in more than twenty years he had not to worry about his and his family's living (after marrying a factory girl, he had been thrown out by his father and had made a very meagre living as a violinist). Freedom profited considerably from the change in its editor's living, and saw the reprint of virtually all pamphlets still of current value in 1909, the production of a whole series of leaflets, and a number of newly produced pamphlets, including the publication of the first two longer booklets — Bakunin's God and the State in a revised and expanded translation by Nettlau (in 1910) and Kropotkin's Modern Science and Anarchism in 1912 for Kropotkin's seventieth birthday (in editions of 5,000 and 3,000 copies respectively).

In 1910 Freedom won with George Ballard ('Barrett') a contributor whom Keell later called ”the best speaker & writer the English movement ever had in my time. Clear, logical & concise”. He was born in Ledbury (Herefordshire) in 1883; in February 1908 he was mentioned for the first time in Freedom, when in a report on “Anarchism in Bristol” it was said of him that he ”bears the heavy responsibility of having disturbed the otherwise peaceful routine of that highly successful political organisation”, the Bristol Socialist Society, by giving a lecture on 'Anarchy and Socialism'. With him, anarchism spread in Bristol in the next few years. He came to London and became active in the Walthamstow Anarchist Group; getting a job in Glasgow in 1911, he went there, but came nevertheless regularly to London and was asked in the same year, and agreed, to become editor of a weekly Freedom. But, according to Keell (in a letter to Nettlau, 27 February 1935): ”On his way home to Scotland he thought it over & then wrote & declined, saying the 'tradition' of F. was too strong. He wanted a paper entirely different.” He continued to write for Freedom also when and after he had 'his own' paper in Glasgow, The Anarchist (1912-1913), which he was able to publish thanks to the financial support of George Davison (1856-1930), previously the European director of Kodak, a close friend of Ballard and supporter also of Freedom (and other groups and papers, including Aldred's Herald of Revolt and The Spur). Shortly before the First World War they founded a number of 'Workers' Freedom Groups'; Ballard drafted a statement of objects and took care of regular lectures, while George Davison, who then travelled mostly with Barrett, would not speak but helped to sell literature. He bought houses at Stockport, Ammanford (South Wales), and Chopwell (Co Durham), furnished them, equipped them with small libraries and paid most of the running expenses. It was on his property 'Wernfawe' at Harlech (North Wales) that the Freedom Group held a number of times around 1914 an anarchist summer holiday camp, as did later, between 1919 and 1921, the colonists of Whiteway. The Freedom Press published Barrett's pamphlets The Anarchist Revolution (1915, reprinted 1920), and Objections to Anarchism (1921) — and later a small collection of his writings edited by S.E. Parker under the title The First Person (1963). He died in 1917 from tuberculosis which he had contracted in 1913 during an agitation tour.

In 1911 also George Cores (1867-1949) returned to London which he had left twenty years earlier. He started to contribute for a while regularly to Freedom (usually signing `G.'), and was in 1912 proposed as co-editor, with Keell — but Keell refused absolutely, thereby drawing upon himself the lifelong hatred of Cores. Cores then ceased collaboration with Freedom.

Another contributor from 1912 on was Mabel Besant Hope (born at East Plumstead, Kent, in 1880), who had been a socialist since 1897. She worked in the Telegraph Department of the Civil Service from 1898 and was, apart from being on the local Executive of the Telegraph Clerks' Association, in 1906 secretary of the Joint Council of London Women Civil Servants. In 1913 she was one of those, with Fred W. Dunn, Lilian Woolf, Tom Sweetlove, Elisabeth Archer and W. Fanner, who formed the Anarchist Education League. They published in connection with Freedom five issues of a little 4-page sheet The Torch, which from 1 May 1914 became a weekly under the old title The Voice of Labour. The editor was first nominally George Barrett, but soon actually Fred W. Dunn (1884-1925), the son of Edwin Dunn of Rose Street Club fame and the London Congress of 1881. He wrote the article 'Defying the Act' which then led to the prosecution of Tom Keen and Lilian Woolf, and shortly afterwards left for the United States to escape conscription, where he worked for some time as teacher at the Ferrer School at Stelton, NJ, and then as organiser for the Consumers' Co-operative Housing Association. The Voice of Labour, weekly for its first 18 issues until 27 August 1914, and then monthly lasted until 15 August 1916 with altogether 42 issues.

The group around The Torch and The Voice of Labour had since 1912 become the most active support of Freedom in London, especially in regard to distribution. They were staunch supporters of Keell after his split with the pro-War members of the Freedom Group in 1914. The active and actual members at that time were, besides Keell and Marsh, Nettlau, Kropotkin — though he rarely attended meetings — and Frieda and Varlaam Cherkezov; definitely not Cores, as was claimed later; and Turner had not taken part in any meetings of the group, not to speak of working for the paper, for more than five years. What happened after the outbreak of the War in August 1914, has been told several times and need not be repeated here. How the functioning of the group and its relationship with the editor were understood at least since the 1890s, was most concisely said by Nettlau in a letter to Keell (13 May 1930):

“...thus you were editor in 1912, but not a supreme editor, as Freedom never had one: the point always was that the editor had to be in full sympathy with the wishes of the group — and the group discussed and had the sincere wish that all should voluntarily agree and be in harmony.
This means that no one had a supreme voice as the editor, but the editor as a comrade was expected to be in harmony with the group and vice versa — and it was tried to give satisfaction to all....
I say all this, because I think you cannot take your stand upon editorial rights. It was known to all that the editor had no rights and so by the death of A.M. nothing could be altered: if there was disagreement, there never was coercion, there was secession — as I wanted to go in November 1912 and as they all went in the autumn of 1914 or as you would have had to go, if they had chosen to stay...”

Fred Dunn summarised the view of the overwhelming majority of the British anarchists, as represented for example at the annual national conference held at Hazel Grove, Stockport, on 4 and 5 April 1915 (writing as 'Fred Watson' on 'The Movement in Great Britain' in Mother Earth, February 1917):

“From the beginning the Anarchist press, without exception, took up a strongly anti-militarist attitude, despite the fact that in the case of Freedom and the Voice of Labour, some few of their oldest comrades sided with the government. But the movement as a whole stood firm, and at the Congress held in April, 1915, only two voices were raised to support those who favored war.”

The group set up Marsh House at 1 Mecklenburgh Street, most members living there as a commune, and the place served also as a meeting place for the London movement during its existence between March 1915 and September 1916. Keell edited Freedom, while Dunn edited the Voice until March 1916, when he became liable for military service. He was arrested and put into a military prison, and in due course officially 'posted to his regiment'. But he managed to escape and hid 'somewhere on the Scottish hills', from where he sent the notorious article 'Defying the Act', which, reprinted as a leaflet, led to the first police raid on Freedom Office on 5 May 1916 and the subsequent prosecution and condemnation of Keell and Lillian Woolf (it was reproduced in the Centenary issue of Freedom, October 1986). From April 1916 Mabel B. Hope became editor until, after the second raid on the office on 29 July 1916, it was decided in August “to suspend publication of the Voice of Labour for a short period”. As Dunn formulated it in the article already quoted:

“All honest people are in, or have been to prison, but the work of opposing the State and the war still goes on. The censor has forbidden 'Freedom' to be sent out of the country, and the 'Voice of Labour' has been suppressed altogether, but it has not died: a metamorphosis has taken place and a bright little paper has made its appearance with the self-explanatory title, 'Satire'.”

Satire was published from December 1916 by the Freedom Press and edited by Leonard Augustine Motler, a deaf-mute who had written for Freedom for quite a few years before the War (we hope to carry a more detailed account of him before long). It was the reason for two further police raids on the Freedom Office, on 20 November 1917 and 14 February 1918 (at the same time raids took place at the house of the editor), and after a raid on the printers on 26 April 1918 it ceased publication with the issue for April 1918. Dunn having left for the United States, soon followed by Mabel Hope and Elisabeth Archer, Tom Sweetlove having dropped out 'in a fit of depression', and Moiler by the time of the end of the war involved in other and local activities, it was left to Keell and Lilian Woolf to keep the paper going (Percy Meachem, later one of the bitterest opponents of Keell, had helped with the printing of Freedom during Keell's prison term in 1916 and was employed only from the early 1920s as a kind of handyman in the office).

The Russian Revolution brought a number of new contributors, both for and against the Bolsheviks. One was Fred Charles, now a strong supporter of the Bolsheviks and absolutely enthused by the Revolution (an account of him will be published soon). Another one was 'John Wakeman' (behind which name hid a professional Yorkshire journalist named Richard Hawkin). Both contributed regularly for a number of years, and Freedom Press also published a pamphlet by 'John Wakeman' in January 1920, entitled Anarchism and Democracy. And then W.C. Owen joined forces with Freedom, and became, with Nettlau, the most prolific contributor to Freedom in the 1920s (though he never was editor, as Emma Goldman claimed in her memoirs). He was also the mainstay of the meetings of the Anarchist Discussion Circle, organised with great success and taking up an old tradition in the winters of 1922-23 and 1923-24 at the Minerva Cafe, 144 High Holborn.

Freedom Press published between 1920 and the suspension of Freedom in December 1927, five more pamphlets (two by Owen, one each by George Barrett and Emma Goldman, and Kropotkin's Revolutionary Government), and its first book, Proudhon's General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century in a translation by John Beverly Robinson (who also paid most of the costs). The last two were produced for Freedom Press in Berlin by the German anarcho-syndicalists. In addition, a number of pamphlets and Kropotkin's Modern Science and Anarchism were reprinted. The title Abolition: A quadruple composition etc., listed in Carl Slienger's Checklist of Freedom Press Publications, was actually not published by Freedom Press, but only composed and the printing arranged for the author, R. Van.

Throughout the 1920s, Freedom carried more and more desperate appeals for financial (and other) help. All contributions came from a very small circle most of whom even didn't live in Britain any more. When the local council gave notice that the building was to be pulled down and that Freedom therefore had to quit, Keell decided (after consulting Owen and Nettlau as well as Lilian Woolf) to suspend publication. Freedom ended with the issue for November-December 1927, numbered 446 (but actually being 448, as in 1905 there were three issues numbered 197 but none numbered 198, and in 1920 there were two issues numbered 372; earlier mis-numberings had been silently corrected in subsequent years).

At a meeting held in London in February 1928, to consider the possibility of restarting Freedom, a new and wider group was formed (including Keell). The only one who actually did something was Keell himself, who published a Freedom Bulletin from April 1928 on, the first with a big headline — “A Call to Arms! Freedom must go on. Help to create an Anarchist Movement” — saying among other things:

”Comrades throughout the country and comrades abroad have been very deeply stirred by the suspension of the only Anarchist journal in this country. New comrades have come forward determined to help restart the paper....But this interest and not enough. Enthusiasm is an essential factor to success, but it will not pay the printer's bill.”

Further meetings were held and spent with a lot of talking, the only other thing that happened was the publication of two more issues of the Bulletin with further appeals. Keell waited until 29 September 1928, when the final notice to quit expired, but no solution had been found to the problems of where to house the stock of literature permanently and how to pay the outstanding printer's bills for this literature. So Keell decided to move everything to Whiteway Colony, where Lilian Woolf had offered free accommodation for the Freedom Press, and from October 1928 on the Freedom Press was lodged there, and twelve more issues of the Freedom Bulletin were published (as well as a couple of reprints). Usually 1,100 copies were printed of each issue of which about 800 were sent out regularly (included 100 exchanges). While a number of orders came in, only a few people occasionally paid for their papers. When the principal financial supporter (Elisabeth Archer in California) was beginning to suffer from the Depression there, Keell decided to stop after Number 15 for December 1932 (a special issue to commemorate Malatesta). “The Bulletin has just faded out of existence...I feel the loss of a link with old comrades, but without money it had to be broken.”