The slow burning fuse: the lost history of the British anarchists - John Quail

William Morris wallpaper

Partial text of John Quail's excellent history of the anarchist movement in the UK from its origins until the 20th century.

Submitted by Steven. on September 30, 2009

Text taken from the now-defunct John Gray archive
Unfortunately the whole text has not been scanned, available here are the introduction and first seven chapters. If anyone can help us OCR the rest please get in touch.


T La Palli

13 years 1 month ago

In reply to by

Submitted by T La Palli on April 26, 2011

Does anybody know if the rest of the chapters are online anywhere? I searched them but had no luck. Thought I'd double check before typing them out.

T La Palli

13 years 1 month ago

In reply to by

Submitted by T La Palli on April 26, 2011

I also think this deserves to be republished.

Kate Sharpley

9 years 7 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Kate Sharpley on October 30, 2014

I got a copy at the bookfair (October 2014) - I'm assuming copies are still available from Freedom, though it's not on their website.


6 years 3 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by imposs1904 on March 1, 2018

Anybody know if John Quail is still working on his history of Solidarity?

A Personal Introduction

Submitted by Steven. on October 7, 2009

Some years ago I was talking to a friend of mine in Leeds who was doing a thesis on British labour history. He asked me if I had ever heard of a group of people who had been arrested for a bomb conspiracy in 1892, a group known as the Walsall Anarchists. What ? British Anarchists ? I had never heard anything like it. I had cut my eye teeth as an Anarchist arguing with Trotskyistsand Communists over Spain and Russia. I had wondered why left-wing politics always had to do with foreign parts, though I had found much disputarional mileage in the events in Barcelona in 1936 ( 'the capacity of the proletariat for spontaneous self-activity' ) and Kronstadt in 1921 ( 'the Bolsheviks were not fighting the counter-revolution, they were the counter-revolution' ). But passionate denunciations of Leon 'Shoot them like partridges' Trotsky over many pints of beer left much to be desired. There was too much dreaming in our transference of the heady days of past revolutions in other places to the sooty backstreets and Arndale centres of Leeds. It was our own place and time we should have been talking about. Had Leeds no history of its own which made sense of the present ? Its people were descendants of Luddites and Chartists, millburners and loom-wreckers. There had been no revolutions, we were sure of that; but perhaps there had been revolutionaries whose successes and failures it would pay us better to learn from. So when my friend asked me if I had heard of Anarchists in prosaic Walsall my mind did a somersault which it had been prepared for, more or less. My intention to write a book on the British Anarchists was formed that afternoon in Leeds during a cigarette break outside the University library.

A lot of things got in the way, earning a living for one thing, not to mention various agitations. Eventually the book was written. As so many authors have remarked, if I had known what was involved before I started the book might not have been written. I suppose, however, that this makes about as much sense as someone saying that if they had known what a difficult business life was they would not have bothered to be born. Anyway, when the book reached the publishers it was greeted with cautious optimism but I was told that I had described the British Anarchist movement without explaining the general philosophy on which it was based. I thought this was a bit rough; there seemed enough passing references and inferences to make it clear. On reflection, however, I began to feel that they might have a point - Anarchism has been represented too often as the philosophical creed of a bunch of bomb-carrying nutters in big black hats and cloaks, providing a general justification for causing chaos for the sake of it. But if I was to try and correct this impression how was I to do it without being balls-achingly boring ? For it is an unfortunate fact that political theory, no matter how worthy or perceptive, is curiously disembodied; it gives no clues to the passions, the heroisms or the squalid conflicts that it inspired.

I could begin by saying something like 'Anarchism is a political philosophy which states that it is both possible and desirable to live in a society based on cooperation, not coercion, organized without hierarchy with no element of the principle of authority.' I could add that as a human aspiration in various guises it is as old as authority itself, though as a politically self-conscious, self-defined movement it emerged in the middle of the nineteenth century. It seems to have been one response to the treatment of socialists at the hands of bourgeois revolutionaries in the 1830-48 period of revolutions. More specifically it marks a rejection of the political structure which the bourgeoisie sought to establish - parliamentary democracy. From the earliest times when the odd socialist might take executive office, through to the development of mass Social Democratic parties, the Anarchists developed their criticisms and their alternatives in parallel : from the cooperatives and staunch artisan individualism advocated by Proudhon, through the decentralist revolutionary activism of Bakunin and the simultaneously intense idealism and finely detailed practicality of Kropotkin to the entwining of all these strands with insurgent trades unionism in Anarcho-Syndicalism. And it hardly needs to be added that an expansion of this theme would fill - and has filled - many volumes. There is much in the writings of the Anarchist sages worth reading; yet they wrote for times and to concerns which only loosely approximate to our own. Should anyone wish to read theoretical works of more contemporary relevance, the works of Murray Bookchin , Paul Cardan and the Situationists are recommended.

But once all this is said, perhaps the most important part remains unsaid. Political convictions involve an analysis of a situation with suggestions for change; yet they differ qualitatively from the emotionally neutral attitudes of, say, car mechanics. Political attitudes are to do with the totality of social being - which can only be seen as a series of mere technical problems at the risk of madness. Political convictions involve much more than the logical faculties; they involve a strong emotional commitment. Perhaps one reason why I have written a book about the Anarchist movement is that in the lives of the people who made it I find a sense of community of emotional commitment that I cannot find in a history of theoretical development. We understand theoretical convictions more easily, it seems to me, when they are presented as a particular personal commitment. Thus, rather than expand the themes of the previous paragraph, it might be better to explain Anarchism 'from the inside', as it were, by describing how I became an Anarchist. I have no way of knowing how typical I am, though, and I apologize to anyone in the movement who thinks my own case is wildly untypical.

Some time ago I was thrown out of Leeds University for failing an examination. I wanted to change subjects anyway. The result was that I spent two years working in assorted jobs and going to night school to get more relevant 'A'-Levels. One of these jobs had been as an unqualified teacher. The school had been quite a tough one, I was too young and inexperienced and the whole business turned out to be something of a disaster. The most depressing thing was the incredible ease with which I became a parody of the authoritarian teacher. I bellowed at the kids, I hit them, I demanded an obedience I found ridiculous, I preached values that were not my own. I had started the job an unthinking socialist with a rebellious streak and ended up sounding and acting like a prison warder - if not a particularly effective one. So when I was readmitted to the University and was spending the summer beforehand working at the far more congenial job of cleaning railway carriages I had a lot of thinking to do.

In the house where I had a room there were two Anarchists. Quiet and friendly themselves, though perhaps a little too un-uproarious for my taste, their conversation and their bookshelves were a revelation. For the first time I began to see what systems of order-givers and order-takers did to people, how authoritarian roles were enforced from the outside and then more readily accepted through chronic personal insecurity. I also found examples of men and women who had not only opposed arbitrary authority but had formulated - and lived - alternatives to it. Almost immediately I began to call myself an Anarchist, though it is probably true to say that it takes a lifetime to be one. It was certainly the case that some time passed before the unique combination of personal morality, political analysis, strategy and tactics fully came home to me. In the years of agitation that followed I began to put practical flesh on the simple bones of the idea that mankind can live without authority. And though the problems in the way of progress towards that happy society have proved more deep-rooted than my first enthusiasm might have allowed, I have found no reason to suppose that it is neither possible nor desirable. For every Anarchist, in the present book or out of it, there has been some process similar to this. Whether through personal experience or personal observation of oppression or exploitation, someone jumps from considerations of despair or piecemeal defence to the conception that the whole world can be made again. And not with 'a new boss same as the old boss' but a world without elites, hierarchy or privilege. Without some understanding of this one cannot understand what makes Anarchists tick and their ways will be as strange to the unpolitical reader as the ways of Martians.

In the present book I have tried to describe the British Anarchist movement from its origins in 1880 or thereabouts to its more or less total eclipse by about 1930. ( Though it is worth pointing out that the movement did pick up again rapidly in the later 1930s, mainly through the influence of the Anarchist contribution to the Spanish Civil War and Revolution of 1936-9. This later period is still a matter of living reminiscence rather than history. ) That the British Anarchist movement was a small one compared to the mass movements of Spain or France cannot be denied. Yet though never a mass movement, when it was in tune with its times it had periods of quite extraordinary growth. These periods of growth raise some interesting queries as to how histories of the 'common people' or the 'working class' have been related. For the conventional wisdom of 'people's history' over the greater part of our period has seen the significant developments in the emergence of institutions, most particularly the trades unions and the Labour Party. ( A smaller group have rather concentrated on a smaller institution, the Communist Party. ) There is no point in Anarchist historians trying to fabricate Anarchist institutions in opposition to these - there is no evidence that any existed. Anarchism in Britain had as its high spots the two periods of great working-class unrest that occurred in our period - 1889-94 and 1910-19. Outside these periods, institutions formed and transformed in them represent a tide-mark round the bath of history after the waters of revolt have subsided. The Anarchists, on the other hand, were of the moment, a part of that revolt, sustained by it, feeding ideas into it, growing and subsiding with it. The forms of the movement were shifting and decentralized, making it rather difficult to pin down numbers, events and the particular activists involved and forcing the historian to rely on a myriad snippets of information. Nevertheless it is possible to say that the Anarchist movement emerges in its moments of strength as of at least equal importance to that of the Marxist groupings. More importantly, it calls into question the validity of a history which considers only the institutional superstructure of working-class activity with little or no attention given to the ebb and flow of that activity itself. Anarchism, so often called 'utopian' or 'unrealistic', would seem to emerge as a practical creed when the masses move and suddenly feel their power.

It is as a movement in relation to the ebb and flow of popular revolt that this book concerns itself with the British Anarchists. Only in relation to this does it consider Anarchist philosophy and its philosophers. It concerns itself with the Anarchist ideas taken up by people trying to seize some control over their own lives. Recent years have seen the re-issue of many of the Anarchist 'classics' of our period, together with assorted attempts to assess Anarchist ideas of a rather patchy quality. I have no wish to enter this field. This book is concerned with the active spreading of Anarchist propaganda and the nature of day-to-day Anarchist activity. Thus there is little about Kropotkin after 1890, though his major theoretical output was after this date. There is barely a mention of literati of the Oscar Wilde type who have connected themselves or have been gratuitously connected with the movement. This was not my intention when I started the book; yet as I fossicked through the literature and other material connected with the movement I found little to encourage their inclusion. This is significant because as Kropotkin remarks :

Socialistic literature has never been rich in books. It is written for workers for whom one penny is money, and its main force lies in its small pamphlets and its newspapers. Moreover, he who seeks for information about socialism finds in books little of what he requires most. They contain the theories or the scientific arguments in favour of socialist aspirations, but they give no idea how the workers accept socialist ideals and how they could put them into practice. There remains nothing but to take collections of papers and read them all through - the news as well as the leading articles - the former, perhaps, even more than the latter. Quite a new world of social relations and methods of thought and action is revealed by this reading, which gives an insight into what cannot be found anywhere else - namely, the depth and the moral force of the movement, the degree to which men are imbued with the new theories, their readiness to carry them out in their daily life and to suffer for them. 1

My experience in writing this book absolutely confirmed Kropotkin's judgement. In this 'new world of social relations and methods of thought and action' I found numbers of unsung demi-heroes ( and, of course, not a few unreviled villains ) whose story is considerably more gripping and important than a catalogue of contributions to the more progressive reviews. Such a catalogue, however, would be easier to write. As has been said, the sources for the Anarchist movement are extremely scattered - no central committee minutes exist because there was never a central committee; even quite large circulation papers can only be read in sequence by following fugitive odd copies from library to library. The result of research is a large ragged jigsaw with lots of pieces missing, most convincingly lifelike in its confusion. Inevitably selections have to be made, loose ends ignored or chopped off short to present some semblance of a rounded-out story. It is true that there are dangers to an over-cut-and-dried history; it is probably true to say too that any history of any social movement suffers from too much structure. Yet when the raw documentary stuff of history is confronted, a welter of fragments, stories, biographies, movements, concerns and events burst over the historian. And I, like all the rest, have selected and structured and for all my attempted objectivity have doubtless constructed a piece of the past in my own image. The only way interested readers correct this is to fossick through the libraries, etc., in order to construct a version of their own. Of one thing, however, I am certain : there will never be a final version.

  • 1P. Kropotkin, Memoirs of a Revolutionist, London, 1908, pp. 255-6.


01. Radicals, Exiles and Socialist Beginnings

Submitted by Steven. on October 7, 2009

Social agitations and working-class movements in the nineteenth century were many, various and contradictory. Certain themes can, however, be picked out. Ever present was the class war in varying degrees of complexity. Certain formal political liberties were struggled for : freedom of speech and press, freedom of assembly and freedom of conscience. The fact that some people's meetings for their version of freedom were broken up by other people with a different version, or that, say, Nonconformists desired freedom from Church of England interference but were in no way prepared to countenance freedom for secularists merely adds charm to the proceedings. There was wide sympathy for nationalist movements of one sort and another and for the Irish particularly; yet British imperialist adventures could count on jingoist crowds turning out in support with monotonous regularity in the latter part of the century. Even the major question of the extension of the franchise meant different things at different times.

The Chartists had tried to achieve a sudden rearrangement of political power through the 'constitutional' means of manhood suffrage. In effect, however, it was a 'transitional demand' - to use Trotsky's phrase - a demand round which people will mobilize but which would not be granted by the ruling class this side of revolution. And whether the Chartists were of a tendency towards 'moral force' or 'physical force', manhood suffrage was too revolutionary for the ruling elites. These were, for many decades after 1848, overwhelmingly representative of ancient aristocratic privilege. The slow inclusion of members of the capitalist and professional classes in no way reduced its sense of its exclusive right to rule. Reform when it came seems to have been acceptable because the political elite had decided that the artisan class that it enfranchised, though perhaps under protest in the 1867 Reform Act did not in any serious way intend to challenge that right. The spirit of the times seems to have been clearly enough illustrated by the cordial relations that existed between the leadership of the skilled 'New Model' trades unions and the Radical capitalists of the Liberal Party. This underlined the social stability that increasing prosperity among the working class seemed to have established. That rise in prosperity was real enough : by 1865 real wages were 20 per cent up on 1850, were 33 per cent up on 1850 by 1875. For all this it is worth pointing out that Booth in his surveys at the end of the 1880s found that fully one-third of the population was living below a most stringent subsistence line. The misery, degradation and disease at the bottom of the social heap is more fully described in other works. Suffice it to say that Dore, who illustrated Dante's Inferno, found the subject a comparable challenge.

Nevertheless the sense of increasing prosperity was real in the 1860s as was the sense of stability that went with it. And while this reduced the element of insurrection founded in misery in working-class politics it heightened the sense of self-importance. Prosperity was seen as the wages of worth and it was more readily assumed that just demands would be met, one such demand being for an extended franchise. The Chartist spirit had by no means disappeared : in London in May 1866 a demonstration calling for electoral reform turned into a riot which involved, among other things, the destruction of over a mile of railings from round Hyde Park. But the sense of demands made and met undoubtedly bound together the social groups whose place it was to ask with the groups whose place it was to give. Although a more deep-seated spirit of revolt might exist among members of the First International or groups of old Chartists, it is nevertheless true that the activity connected with the possibilities opened up by the 1867 Reform Act took little note of it.

This ( self-named ) Radical activity was not based on a socialist politics. In its extreme forms its enemies were the aristocracy and others who benefited by unearned income and ancient privilege like the Church of England clergy and the Royal family. ( There was a considerable undertow of republicanism and secularism in Radical circles. ) Radicals were frequently small businessmen or artisans who could become such by employing a few men. They tended to respond most readily to an analysis which divided society into two parts : the productive classes ( i.e. masters and men ), and the unproductive classes in the shape of the aristocracy, Church, etc. For the most part the Radicals aimed at cutting down the influence of the unproductive classes by reform rather than by the guillotine. It was certainly in a spirit of reform rather than revolution that the Radicals began to take advantage of their new influence after 1867. This coincided and is connected with a rapid growth in the number of independent working-men's clubs which sprang up all over England but which were particularly important in London. It had already been noticed that 'The working classes, alike physically and politically, are now a very important power in the State. Their relations both to their employers and to the country at large are full of grave responsibility for the future of the country.' [1] The Club and Institute Union set up in 1862 had been designed to encourage wholesome pursuits among the working class; and on a programme of temperance, class collaboration and decorum had gained many philanthropic upper-class patrons. From this source had stemmed a number of well-appointed, highly subsidized and tightly controlled clubs. In the late 1860s and 1870s, however, working men began to organize their own clubs, sometimes to escape into a more easy-going atmosphere without patronage and sometimes for more directly political reasons. Among clubs founded for the latter can be included the Commonwealth Club in Bethnal Green established on the initiative of John Hales, and the Patriotic Club in Clerkenwell similarly served by Tom Mottershead. Both these men had been members of the General Council of the First International and John Hales was to stand at one point as a Radical candidate. When the Metropolitan Radical Federation was established, the independent clubs were the branches.

At the height of their influence in the late 1870s and 1880s the Radicals had a relationship with the Liberal Party amounting to an alliance of which they were the left-wing. But as time went by they were absorbed and by the 1890s 'became a mere appendage of the Liberal Party, putting forward or supporting Liberal candidates in elections for the School Boards, the Borough Councils and the L.C.C. Instead of capturing the Liberal Party for Radicalism it provided it with election fodder and carried out election chores.' [2] Yet in the period before Radical independence faded, the clubs provided centres of political discussion and self-education which both contributed to the development of the new socialism of the 1880s and provided it with an audience. The new ideas made some headway among the Radicals : by the end of the 1880s an informant of Booth's described the typical Sunday of a member of the Borough of Hackney Radical Club - which allegedly had more influence in the Borough than any religious body - asfollows : 'He goes to the club in the morning about 11, sits with a pot in front of him and froths at the mouth over all kinds of socialistic rot; then he has a band which finishes up by playing the Marseillaise; in the afternoon he goes round and visits other clubs and there is more frothing of the mouth and of the pot.' [3]

So socialism was to creep in and influence the Radical rank and file. But in one sense it had always been there although as a submerged and sometimes only just discernible tradition which can be traced back through the century, from Robert Owen, various sects like the Spencean Philanthropists, sections of the Chartists, and so on. Examples pop up from time to time in the present book. In the 1860s and 1870s this tradition was continued through individuals who were a part of the Radical milieu. It is clear, however, from the limited work that has been done that from the collapse of the International in the early 1870s to the development of the new socialism of the 1880s continuity was preserved, as we shall see, by small but more decisively socialist groups. Of Anarchist groups there is no trace, though Anarchist individuals can be found from time to time.

Of the socialist groups that existed in the 1870s, some were influenced by what was, at base, a more militant Radicalism, though with more emphasis on physical force. Some were influenced by theories of the mutual antagonism of capital and labour. Some socialists put this view in the context of traditional aspirations towards parliamentary representation, thus providing the earliest apostles of a party of labour (or Labour Party ). Others preserved the element of physical force, opposed parliamentary activity and argued that the working-class struggle for emancipation would, of necessity, have to be revolutionary. It was to libertarians of this shade of opinion that Anarchism was later to appeal, not in a vacuum but to an already developed set of ideas and to a body of self-confident and active men. The specific and developed theories of Anarchist Mutualism, Collectivism and Communism were really only taken up by English people in the 1880s; yet foreign Anarchist exiles in England before this time could and did find areas of mutual understanding with sections of the British socialist movement. How this understanding developed and where it led can perhaps be most immediately demonstrated in the lives of individuals, though we should beware of possible distortions. These men were prominent rather than pre-eminent.

Frank Kitz was born in 1848, the son of an English mother and a German father - though he seems to have been orphaned early because he was later to describe himself as 'a fatherless lad'. [4] From an early age he lived alone, as his mother found work 'in service' - i.e. as a domestic servant. 'I supported myself,' he wrote later,

as errand boy, porter and messenger in various situations : ill-shod, badly clothed, and seldom enjoying a square meal except when my mother smuggled me into her employer's kitchen ( ... ) I decorated the walls of my lonely room with pictures of the French Revolution which I purchased out of my scanty earnings. Brought up in the neighbourhood of the West End with the evidence of wealth and luxury confronting me - wealth unearned, comfort undeserved - and with my own undeserved hardships, I needed no lectures upon surplus value or dissertations upon economics to cause me to challenge the justice of a system which confers wealth upon the parasites of society and clouds the lives of thousands as it had already clouded mine with care and poverty.

As a boy he 'attended every meeting or demonstration held by the advanced movement in London. In the riot at Hyde Park,' he writes, 'at the time of the Reform League [i.e. 1866] my white printer's jacket made me conspicuous in the skirmishes with the police and only my nimbleness saved me from arrest. The police behaved with their usual brutality ( ... )'. He was by this time apprenticed as a dyer, which was to be his trade for the rest of his life. When his apprenticeship was finished in 1869-70 he went on the tramp, first round south-east England where he financed himself when no work was available by taking the Queen's shilling [the traditional down-payment on joining the army] and then rapidly disappearing. He then travelled through the north of England. 'Here I found everywhere the same conditions - the factory with its iron discipline, the mazes of mean streets and insanitary slums for the workers, the enslavement of women and children.' He returned to London and settled in Soho in late 1873 or early 1874.

It was here that he was introduced by a friend to a discussion group called the 'Democratic and Trades Alliance' which met regularly in a pub run by a shoe-maker who had been blacklisted for his trades union activity. 'Becoming a regular attender at these meetings,' writes Kitz,'I there became acquainted with G. Odger, John Rogers, G. Milner, W. Townshend, the brothers Murray, G. Harris and G. Eccarius, all members of the lately defunct British Federation of the International ( ... ) Most of the members were Soho tailors and shoe-makers, always the most advanced among the workers ( ... ) There I made my first attempt to open a debate, reading a paper against political action and was sat on heavily and informed that I would never be a speaker and not to try again ( ... )' [5] It is to be noted that Kitz's first speech was to be against political - that is, electoral - activity. And Kitz is being too modest here. Whatever the reactions to his first speech it does not seem to have affected his standing among this 'steadfast old guard'. He is first mentioned as taking part in a debate on communism in August 1874. In September he took the chair at a meeting - a position of some prestige. By December of that year he had been elected secretary.

But there were disagreements within the alliance : 'We had our conflicts with the purely Trades Unionist members, who, when our foreign comrades solicited our help [for a celebration of the Paris Commune] opposed cooperation. The bills announcing the celebration ( and brave bills they were, with the Red Flag printed upon them ) were removed from the club room notice board. The brothers Murray who represented our speaking power at the time, went unofficially to help them. Eventually we shed this fossilized element, shifted our quarters and blossomed out as the Manhood Suffrage League.' This organization was founded in 1875 and Frank Kitz was its secretary. Although the League was more to the left than its predecessor, its members were by no means all revolutionaries : 'Moderate men can be found on its committee as well as extremists, and on Sunday evenings this dialectic was strongly apparent. It was always an open forum and meetings could vary considerably in their political tone. The most advanced politicals in London were among the members ( ... ) but the discussion was wide open and the most moderate views could sometimes prevail ( ... )' [6]

One measure of the differences between the League and its predecessor, however, lies in the more positive attitude to the Paris Commune which caused the League to come into being. Fairly advanced Radicals like Bradlaugh, for example, baulked at the 'unconstitutional' nature of the Commune. He was reported as saying in a speech that 'The Commune asked for the recognition and consolidation of the Republic. But he denied their right to do it by force of arms ( ... ).' Radicals might be sickened at the slaughter - some 30,000 people were massacred when the Commune was crushed - but for them the Commune was not a heroic beginning of a new world. The Manhood Suffrage League thought differently. Kitz writes : 'Freed from obstruction and opposition, we cordially cooperated with our foreign comrades in holding an international meeting at the Cleveland Hall to celebrate the Commune. It was a most enthusiastic demonstration and marked the beginning of the revival'[i.e. of socialism]. A large number of English working men attended. But whether because of the incomplete commitment to revolution of the League or the pressure of new ventures, by 1877 Kitz was no longer secretary of the Manhood Suffrage League. He mentions no particular break in his memoirs, so it is likely that he retained a connection with it that gradually atrophied over the years. Certainly by 1877 Kitz was working for the formation of a specifically socialist, revolutionary and internationalist movement in London. The international element was important. As he says 'the socialist movement in England owes its origins largely to the propagandist zeal of foreign workmen'. [7] More specifically, they were German exiles. Kitz spoke fluent German and was in close contact with them. The Social Democratic Party was growing in Germany and was an increasingly influential example internationally. It should not be assumed, however, that 'social democracy' meant then what it means now. Kitz was committed to revolutionary rather than electoral action and by his use of the phrase he clearly meant a revolutionary democratic socialism. The distinction was between a total social democracy and a partial political democracy. At that time 'social democracy' was not reducible to parliamentary reformism.

There had been German political refugees in London since the events of 1848, one of the better known of them being Karl Marx. For the most part these refugees were men mostly 'past middle age and already long-standing members of some English trade union or another ( ... )' [8] and their meetings were mainly social affairs where politics were discussed as part of a pleasant chat over a drink. There was, however, a steady influx of younger men with more activist tendencies. This influx was to turn into a flood as a result of the German Anti-Socialist Laws; yet the quickening of the German political atmosphere to which these Laws were something of a response had already affected the German exiles by 1877. One consequence was that at an informal gathering after the Cleveland Hall meeting Kitz describes how he was 'urged by my comrade Johann Neve' ( of whom more later ) 'to form an English section of the Socialist party. I succeeded in getting together a number of comrades including those of the British Federation whom I have already referred to and thus was started an English Revolutionary Society, which, working with the foreign element was to take its part in the International Socialist movement ( ... )' This English Revolutionary Society was a part of the Social Democratic Club which met in pubs in Soho from its foundation in August 1877 until it found permanent premises in Rose Street ( now Manette Street ) in 1878. There were some five sections according to nationality with Frank Kitz as secretary of the English section. The move to club premises was important because now discussion and organization could go ahead without the interference of landlords; and without the expense of hired rooms, says Kitz,'we were enabled to hold public meetings with greater frequency'. [9]

When a wave of refugees arrived in London from Germany after the passage of the Anti-Socialist Laws in 1878, the Rose Street club became a central point for defence and aid. The general publicity given to the Laws also attracted attention to the thing they were designed to repress. 'Shortly after this influx of refugees,' writes Kitz, 'the sections jointly issued a pamphlet by J. Sketchley, entitled The Principles of Social Democracy thus taking advantage of the interest awakened ( ... ) Many thousands of this pamphlet were sold, the German section bearing the major portion of the cost, in order to aid propaganda among our own working class. The English section undertook the reissue of two pamphlets on Communism by H. Glasse; they also published an address to the amnestied Communists of Paris and 50,000 copies of this leaflet were distributed ( ... )'. [10] ( Sketchley, incidentally, was an old Chartist. ) In order to understand the reasons for and the consequences of the Anti-Socialist Laws it is necessary to explain in more detail what was happening in Germany in this period.

A German Anarchist movement had existed since the mid-1870s. [11] Their propaganda was spread by wandering agitators and smuggled newspapers. It was a small movement, in isolation, yet it began to have some influence on the left wing of the Social Democratic Party. This influence grew because of the anomalous position of the party. It was rapidly increasing the number of seats it held in the Reichstag ( and displaying all the tendencies towards respectability which such positions seem to entail ). On the other hand, however, even a majority of seats held by the SDP in the Reichstag would have given it no real power. The Reichstag was able, under the constitution, only to advise the Kaiser and his Chancellor; and the latter were able to ignore this advice, constrained only by a wish to preserve the forms of government by consent. The extent to which the Anarchists began to have influence among the party's left wing was the extent to which it began to see that even quite modest reforms might only be achievable by revolutionary means.

Yet there was no revolutionary turbulence among the German workers, as the general lack of response to revolutionary propaganda seemed to prove. At this time the Anarchists were developing ideas as to how such working-class passivity could be overcome. It was suggested that a new kind of propaganda was needed, a propaganda of deeds rather than words. Kropotkin, for example, writing at about this time, asked what separated 'the argument from the deed, the thought from the will to act'. He answered his own question by saying : 'It is the action of minorities, action continued, renewed without ceasing, which brings about this transformation. Courage, devotion, the spirit of self sacrifice are as contagious as cowardice, submission and panic.' [12]

And he goes on to say that this action will be 'sometimes collective, sometimes purely individual' but that it would neglect no 'means at hand awaken audacity and the spirit of revolt by preaching by example'. This preaching by example was later to be better known as 'propaganda by deed'. The theory of propaganda by deed seemed to invite the most spectacular actions and in Germany it led to two attempts on the life of the Kaiser. In May 1878 Emil Hödel, and in June of the same year Carl Nobiling, shot at the Kaiser as he was driven through the streets in an open carriage. Both attempts failed. The failed assassins both had links with known German Anarchists and Hödel declared himself an Anarchist at his trial. He was beheaded. Nobiling died of self-inflicted wounds. No revolutionary upsurge accompanied these attempts, any such thing being pre-empted in any case by the frantic reaction of the German authorities. Bismarck, the German Chancellor, irritated by the growing electoral strength of the SDP, constitutionally circumscribed and severely legalistic though it was, seized upon the assassination attempts as an opportunity to smear the party. The result of his efforts was the Anti-Socialist Laws of October 1878.

After the second assassination attempt Berlin became an armed camp. All known socialists had their homes raided. Even before the passage of the Laws over 500 people had been arrested and sent to jail for 'insulting the Kaiser' or 'approving' of the attempts on his life. Some of the cases would have been laughable had it not been for the suffering involved : "A drunken man received two and a half years in prison for murmuring 'William is dead, he lives no more." A woman talking about the Emperor's wounds was sentenced to a year and a half for saying "The Kaiser at least is not poor, he can afford to care for himself." A worker ... while sitting on a bench along Unter den Linden was heard to say that "Hödel is a dumb-bell but Nobiling planned his attempt well." This slip of his tongue cost him four years of his freedom. [13 ] The results of the repression were twofold. Firstly, as far as the left-wing socialists were concerned the mask of the democratic process was ripped away to reveal black reaction. Secondly, socialist agitation of any sort was made both doubly difficult and very much more dangerous. A wave of socialist refugees left Germany and many came to London. Frank Kitz described the situation : 'Thousands were expatriated, hundreds of families broken up, hundreds imprisoned; seizures and confiscations were the order of the day. Of those torn from their families a number went insane and others were irretrievably ruined; a great number sought refuge in London and our club in Rose Street presented at times the appearance of an arrival or departure platform at a station with luggage and cases of prohibited literature and the bewildered emigrants going to and fro.' [14] The bitterness caused by the repression and the AntiSocialist Laws probably made more Anarchists than the German authorities had been able to silence by their measures. For some years London was to be the major centre for the production of German revolutionary and Anarchist propaganda and the organization of its secret distribution.

Into the embittered society of the German exiles in London came Johann Most, later to be the central figure in a case which was to prove a rallying point for the new socialist movement. When he arrived in London, Most was a dissident left-wing Social Democrat who had been forced out of Germany. No theoretician, as a bitterly sarcastic and humorous speaker and journalist who was popular with working-class audiences, he had earned himself some notoriety and a string of jail sentences. He had been elected to the Reichstag, which he found frustrating, until another jail sentence for a speech on the Paris Commune put an end to his political career. On his release he edited a Berlin Social Democrat newspaper whose circulation he boosted from 2,000 to 18,000 in a year. Further activities in this direction were abruptly halted after Hödel's attempt. Most spoke about it at a meeting and though his comments were not approving he was arrested and sentenced to six weeks' imprisonment. When this term was up he was sentenced to a further five months, which he spent in solitary confinement. In December 1878 he was released and given twenty-four hours to leave Berlin. He went to Hamburg, where the local party leaders, their nerve completely shot, advised him to emigrate to America. Most did leave Germany but went instead to London, arriving just before Christmas 1878.

Most's energy was unaffected by his prison sentences and expulsion. With the financial and practical help of members of the Rose Street club, the first issue of Freiheit, a paper designed for illegal distribution in Germany, was published on 4 January 1879. At first it described itself as a Social Democrat paper but from February 1879 onwards it steadily downgraded the importance of electoral activity; and in 1880 it began printing specifically Anarchist articles. At this time, too, fairly formal links were alleged to exist between Most and 'the younger generation of Bakuninists in Paris, the group that publishes the Révolution Sociale'. [15] Once the paper was established a number of successful networks were set up for smuggling the paper into Germany. Large numbers were sewn into mattresses in a factory in Hull and exported. Sailors carried quantities of it from England to Germany via Hamburg. Each issue of the paper was given a different title so that the authorities had to first find out its name before banning it. Naturally German police spies were sent to try and infiltrate the smuggling networks and the group round the paper. Kitz relates that on several occasions 'we were puzzled by the fact that the German Government was aware of the new titles before the paper reached Germany, and thus forestalled us. Johann Neve and I set out to find the cause. Suspecting a member who had recently joined we supplied him with a specially printed copy of the paper bearing a title different from the one we actually intended to use. The bogus title was prohibited but the other escaped. I regret to say that this member met with a serious accident when attending a fête held in support of the Freiheit.' [16] The spy was shot and seriously wounded on Hampstead Heath.

The mixture of political ideas in Freiheit at this time represented fairly accurately Most's own ideas, which took parts of left Social Democracy, Blanquism (i.e. putschist republicanism ) and Anarchism but which were marked by strident calls for revolutionary violence that grew out of a wild and bitter response to the repression in Germany. His itch for vengeance found an exemplary object in the assassination of Tsar Alexander II by Russian nihilists in 1881. Freiheit published an article by Most entitled 'Endlich' ( 'At Last' ) which enthusiastically supported their action. The Russian government applied pressure - pressure from the German government can be assumed to be constant - and Most was prosecuted by the British authorities. He was found guilty of incitement to murder heads of state and sentenced to eighteen months' imprisonment.

His arrest and sentence caused something of a stir in London Radical and socialist circles. A short-lived English-language paper also entitled Freiheit was issued by the English section of the Rose Street club as the organ of a Defence Committee. Frank Kitz was the editor. The paper printed an English translation of Most's article but avoided being enmeshed in the prosecution by presenting it as part of the speech of the prosecuting counsel at the trial! Jack Williams stood on the steps of the Old Bailey during the trial and sold many copies of this edition. Protest meetings were held, some successful as at Mile End Waste in April, some less so as at Peckham where 'the Radicals combined with Tories; opposed the speakers and were only prevented by force from seizing the platform ( ... )'. [17] The prosecution of Most was opposed publicly on the grounds of the right of asylum and the right of free speech ( although the first issue of the Freiheit did reprint some approving remarks of Disraeli's on tyrannicide ). Such an approach did find quite wide sympathy - the jury at Most's trial asked that he be treated with some mercy since he might be suffering from violent wrong done to him in Germany.

The German Freiheit continued under caretaker editors until further publication in London was stopped as a consequence of an article applauding the assassination of Lord Frederick Cavendish by Fenians in Phoenix Park, Dublin, in May 1882. The office was raided and its plant seized. Johann Neve narrowly escaped arrest and two compositors were jailed for six and nine months. Freitheit was forced to move, first to Switzerland and then to the United States. In its short but eventful London career it had 'produced a number of important incidental effects. Through dissensions within the German exiles a split had taken place, the orthodox Social Democrats removing to new premises in Tottenham Street. The progressively Anarchist supporters of Most remained at Rose Street until they formed a distinctively Anarchist club in St Stephen's Mews, Rathbone Place, some time around 1883. The prosecution of Most had provided a focal issue around which the English socialists could organize and had more actively brought these militants into contact with foreign revolutionaries. The prosecution had also further discouraged hopes that the new Liberal government of 1880 would prove a dynamically reforming force.

Perhaps a word should be said here about the personal qualities of Kitz at this time. A contemporary related later that during the time of the Most prosecution 'Kitz was having a very bad time ( ... ) and finally had the brokers in. He had £20 in his possession subscribed to the defence fund ( ... ) After much perplexity as to its safety he ( ... ) hid it in a small barrel of sand which he was using in his work. After the brokers had departed he found the barrel had been untouched.' [18] He was thus able to hand over the money to the defence counsel. It was a trustworthy man indeed who could hold twenty pounds for his cause without thought of its usefulness to himself when bailiffs were stripping his house of his last sticks of furniture.

[1] Club and Institute MS. appeal, dated January 1873; quoted in John Taylor, Self Help to Glamour : the Working Men's Clubs, 1860-1972, History Workshop Pamphlet NO- 7, London, 197Z

[2] John Taylor, op. cit.

[3] Quoted in John Taylor, op. cit.

[4] The biographical information on Kitz is taken from his 'Recollections and Reflections' in Freedom, January-July 1912, and also from Stan Shipley, Club Life and Socialism in Mid-Victorian London, History Workshop Pamphlet No. 5, London, 1972.

[5] Quotes to this point from Freedom, January 1912. For the ex-members of the British Federation of the First International he mentions, see Documents of the First International, London/Moscow, 1964. Of particular interest is George Harris, who was viewed with suspicion by Marx because of his contacts with Anarchists and others involved with the unorthodox Section 12 of the International in New York.

[6] Shipley, op. cit.

[7] Freedom, February 1912.

[8] Andreas Scheu, Unsturzheime, quoted in E. P. Thompson, William Morris, London, 1955, p. 319

[9] ibid.

[10] ibid. The Principles of the Social Democratic Party of Germany and of the Social Democrats of America were published in English in 1877. They were reprinted in the pamphlet published by Sketchley in 1879.

[11] A most detailed source on the German Anarchist movement is Andrew R Carlson, German Anarchism, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1972.

[12] P. Kropotkin, The Spirit of Revolt, translated by D. J. Nicoll, Sheffield, 1898.

[13] Carlson, op. cit., p. 143.

[14] Freedom, April 1897.

[15] Letter, Marx to F. A. Sorge, 5 November 1880.

[16] Freedom, March 1912.

[17] See the English-language Freiheit, 24 April 1881, and John E. Williams and the Early History of the S.D.F, Anonymous, London, 1886.

[18] MS. autobiography of Ambrose Barker, Memoirs of a Revolutionist, kindly lent to me by Stan Shipley.


02. The Labour Emancipation League

Submitted by Steven. on October 7, 2009

Frank Kitz and his associates were not the only British revolutionary propagandists in London by the time the Rose Street club was formed. The importance of Kitz in the 1870s was that he provided an active link between the veterans of the International ( and veterans, too, of earlier movements ) and the new socialism of the 1880s. In the mid-1870S there might not have been much young blood about - on a visit to Oxford, Kitz was introduced as 'the last of the socialists' - but by the later 1870s there were new and interesting developments and new figures were emerging. One such was Joseph Lane. Born in 1850 in the village of Wallingford, Oxfordshire, he spent his early life 'working on the land under the most enslaving poverty. Soon, by necessity, he took an interest in the infamous game and land laws and quickly developed into a thinker and a rebel'. He was attending local political meetings at the age of fifteen. 'In 1865 he came to London arriving at a time when vigorous fights for free speech were in progress. He participated in the struggles at Hyde Park when the authorities tried to stop meetings being held there.' [1] These were the same Reform Riots that Frank Kitz had taken part in.

According to one source Lane joined the English remnant of the International in 1871. 'In the early 1870s he took an active part in the republican agitation accompanying Dilke on one of his tours ( ... ) earning the nickname of "Dilke's Boy".' Later he became a member of the Manhood Suffrage League where he met Frank Kitz. [2] In January 1880 he was chairman at a meeting which founded branch number three of the Marylebone Radical Reform Association, with Edwin Dunn as secretary. This branch split from and veered sharply left of its parent body. The spirit and something of the politics of Joe Lane at this time can be gathered from an incident he relates in his memoirs. He, Kitz and Jack Williams were going to all the election meetings called by the two Liberal candidates in Marylebone in 1880 and frightening them by asking them to support abolition of the House of Lords, Home Rule for Ireland and land nationalization - all 'extreme Radical' demands. On one occasion, one of the prospective members asked Lane if he really wanted the abolition of the House of Lords. He replied 'Yes, and the House of Commons too !' The result was a riot : 'They threw all they could lay their hands on at us on the platform and smashed up furniture and mirrors ( ... )' After a fight the three hecklers were thrown out. Lane, it would appear, had already started on the path of anti-statist ideas. By 1881 he was apparently calling himself a socialist, since in that year, having moved to Hackney, he founded the Homerton Social Democratic Club. He attended the Social Revolutionary and Anarchist Congress in July 1881 as the delegate of the Club, the Congress taking place in the private room of a pub in Charrington Street, Euston, London.

The International Congress was basically an affair of and for Continental and Russian revolutionaries. The minutes of the proceedings reveal that the English delegates played little part; yet many of the people involved were more or less permanent exiles in London and it was partly through contact between them and the British socialists that a more sophisticated libertarian philosophy was to develop relevant to British conditions. Thus though the Congress did not precipitate anything like an eruption of Anarchist activity in Britain it can be seen as part of a developing process.

The English delegates were Joe Lane and Price from the Homerton Social Democratic Club; Frank Kitz, Edwin Dunn and John Lord [3] from the Rose Street club, together with a rather suspicious unknown called C. Hall who could well have been the English counterpart of the French police spy Serreaux who also attended the conference. The forty-five foreign delegates included John Neve, Malatesta, Louise Michel, Peukert and Kropotkin. The latter in his memoirs puts the early socialist initiative in England into perspective :

Aided by a few English workers whose acquaintance we had made at the congress of 1881 or whom the prosecutions against John Most had attracted to the socialists, we went to the Radical clubs speaking about Russian affairs, the movement of our youth toward the people and socialism in general. We had ridiculously small audiences, seldom consisting of more than a dozen men. Occasionally some grey bearded Chartist would rise from the audience and tell us that all we were saying had been said forty years before and was greeted then with enthusiasm by crowds of workers, but that now all was dead, and there was no hope of reviving it. [4]

Yet in France, whence Kropotkin had come, a new socialist movement was well under way. In England it was only just starting. Inevitably Kropotkin's feelings were coloured by comparison and he was to leave England later in 1881 with the sentiment 'Better a French prison than this grave.' Joe Lane, on the other hand, was about to start work on a project of some importance in the history of English socialism, the Labour Emancipation League. This emerged out of Lane's contacts with yet another emerging socialist grouping in East London, the Stratford Dialectical and Radical Club. This had been formed as a result of a split in the Stratford branch of the National Secular Society, where the leading dissentient was a young man called Ambrose Barker. The National Secular Society was by no means devoted only to anti-Christian theology. Its members

were renowned for their 'advanced' views on all the leading questions of the day ( ... ) They were closely associated with every species of metropolitan Radicalism and led political demonstrations, for example in Hyde Park against royal grants in 1875 and against war during the Eastern crisis [circa 1880] ( ... ) The Secularists were definitely identified with and indeed in the late 1870's were the chief upholders of the Radical-Republican cause. They attacked monarchy, hereditary privilege and class oppression and in London secured wide general support among the working men's clubs. [5]

The undisputed leader of the N.S.S. was Bradlaugh, who was by all accounts a brilliant orator and organizer of the republicans and 'infidels'. He was not above opportunism, however, and it was this that withered the heart of the young Ambrose Barker. Ambrose Barker had been born and brought up in the village of Earls Barton near Northampton, the scenes of Bradlaugh's epic electoral battles. His father had been a Chartist and had helped to found a cooperative shop and bakery in the village. Barker remembered his father taking 'a party of Radicals to Northampton to support Bradlaugh at the hustings in October 1868'. [6] In 1878 he went to London at the age of nineteen to take up a job as assistant master at a school in Leyton. On his arrival he joined the N.S.S. He writes in his memoirs : 'One can well imagine our joy in the election of Charles Bradlaugh for Northampton and the great satisfaction generally that a great majority had overthrown the Tory government in 1880. But that satisfaction was soon to be shattered. Reaction had ruled so long that great things were expected of the Radical-Liberal Government. But the people were soon to be disillusioned. They were looking to the Government to bring forward social reforms, instead of which a most stringent Coercion Bill for Ireland was introduced ( ... )'

And Bradlaugh supported the Coercion Bill. Ambrose Barker attacked him in print and - a brave thing to do at the shrine of the Bradlaugh supporters - proposed a motion at the Hall of Science condemning him; but could find no seconder. [7] This 'betrayal' by Bradlaugh came on top of discussions within the Stratford Branch which had been going on for some time over the question of whether religion alone or the wider 'social question' should be their central concern. The majority favoured 'this worldism' and the more restrictedly secularist members left, taking the name of the branch with them. The remaining 'this worldists' formed themselves towards the end of 1880 into the Stratford Dialectical and Radical Club. This, writes Ambrose Barker, who became secretary to the club, 'marks the inception of the Socialist movement in East London'.

'We now commenced our propaganda work in dead earnest' he writes. 'For myself I lectured on "Labour", "Social Democracy", "The French Revolution" and many other subjects.' One lecture he gave - on 'Government' - was, he claims, 'the first lecture of the kind in East London or for the matter of that in London itself on the basis of Anarchism. I said "Governments were popularly supposed to be for the protection of the people. A knowledge of the past and the bitter experience of the present seemed to point out that it was against rather than by Government that protection was necessary. The lecturer," reported the Radical of February 19, 1881, "argued that people made a great mistake in looking to Government for help. It had always been the destroyer of independence." [8] The language here remains within the bounds of Radical thinking and at best represents only an ur-Anarchism. On the other hand it was to men, like Ambrose Barker, with fairly well-developed socialist and anti-statist ideas that Anarchism was later to appeal.

To the club were invited speakers and writers well known to the Radicals of London. These included James and Charles Murray, Frank Kitz, Herbert Burrows, George Standring, Edwin Dunn, Dan Chatterton, and Miss Le Compte, the American delegate to the International Congress. Later on - in April 1882 - Kropotkin was also to speak at the Stratford Club, but on 'Russian Exiles' rather than Anarchism. In fact, the first systematic propaganda defining itself as Anarchist that had any effect within the Socialist movement came from America in the shape of Benjamin Tucker's paper Liberty. Joseph Lane seems to have been the first to procure copies of the paper from the United States. He introduced Ambrose Barker to it - and probably others too - in late 1881 and Barker became a regular subscriber and commenced a regular correspondence with Tucker. Tucker was a Proudhonist and thus fundamentally committed to a society based on small proprietorship. In the American context, however, where the small landowner was often locked in battle with large capitalist interests, this did not represent the reactionary position it often did later where it could easily degenerate into an 'Anarchism for small businessmen'. Tucker had a keen sense of the right of the oppressed to struggle against oppression and a good eye for revolutionary humbug. Away from his hobby-horse of private property versus Communism the paper was lively and far ranging and even on this topic he was prepared to give space for the Anarchist Communist view. The introduction of specifically Anarchist ideas into the working class movement was thus going on well before the alleged Year 1 of English Anarchism, 1886, which saw the foundation of Freedom.

Yet the socialist groups were too small and, it must be admitted, too theoretically imprecise for there to be any practical outcome of theoretical differences. The immediately felt need was for a wider spread of socialist ideas of any variety. For these purposes specifically socialist clubs in pubs, etc. could have their uses. For example in 1881 James MacDonald was told by the landlord of a pub in Tottenham Street, Soho, that in another room there was a meeting of 'some of the most red-hot Fenians and dynamiters in England'. Intrigued, he and some of his friends investigated and found Frank Kitz, the Murray brothers and others enthusiastically denouncing the Coercion Bill. At first opposing them, he gradually became converted and from this contact stemmed his long connection with the socialist movement. [9] But it was fairly obviously going to take quite some time for socialism to spread if all its recruits came this way. It was necessary to take the message out to the people. One way of doing that was by providing speakers for the Sunday evening meetings of the Radical clubs. As Frank Kitz remarks, they 'had still a leaven amongst them of Chartists and Republicans and their platforms were at our disposal'. [10] Many of the early socialists made good use of this opening. The Murray brothers, Kitz, Dunn, Barker and many others were regular speakers.

There was, however, another way of reaching the masses : public speaking in the streets. Street speaking was, by and large, the preserve of the religious or temperance sects, who not only had muscular Christian support but also friends and patrons higher up the social scale on whom they could rely. Secularist speakers had occasionally held meetings in the open air and the Radicals had their rallies and demonstrations but there had been no 'regular weekly outdoor meetings at which Socialist addresses were given, followed by questions and discussion - when nothing more untoward took place !' [11] The Stratford Dialectical and Radical Club decided to extend its work in this direction 'and began to hold meetings in Mile End Road which were well attended. It was there,' writes Barker, 'early in 1881 that I first met Joseph Lane and formed a friendship that only ended with his death.'

Joe Lane had transferred his attentions from Homerton to Mile End as a result of the forcible closure of his club. As he puts it : 'The Police exerted so much pressure [on] the landlord we had to leave Homerton - the police inspector said because we printed "Socialism" so large on our bills. Another thing : we had just had a large demonstration in Hyde Park against the Liberals' coercion in Ireland. Me and Kitz made a banner, "Homerton Socialist Society - Labour is the source of all wealth therefore all wealth belongs to Labour" and several other mottoes. But the one that frightened the members as well as the police was "Blessed is the hand that dares to wield the regicidal steel that shall redeem a nation's sorrow with a tyrant's blood." [12] As Kitz tells the story, as a result of objections to the latter inscription there was a more or less pitched battle with more moderate elements taking part in the demonstration.

As a result of the success of the open-air meetings at Mile End, Joe Lane suggested follow-up discussions and a room was booked at a pub opposite their speaking pitch. After a few of these meetings the participants formed themselves into the Labour Emancipation League. This marked the beginnings of a real penetration of socialist ideas into the East End of London's poverty stricken, crowded, violent and miserable streets in which only those who shared or instinctively understood the lives people led could hope to communicate the new socialism. The success of the Labour Emancipation League was due largely to the energy and determination of Joe Lane and more particularly in his choice of open-air speaking as a means of getting a hearing. There was some nervousness at his approach : 'James Murray told him he was young and didn't know anything about it; that the propertied classes were like a pack of wolves and would tear them apart if they went out into the streets and parks. Lane, Kitz and others went out nevertheless and blazed a trail of revolutionary action. The days of Chartism were near enough still to intimidate men who were not really courageous. Peterloo was even yet a living memory.' [13]

Joe Lane proved himself to be a ferociously committed organizer. He later described his mode of operation : 'Take a room, pay quarter's rent in advance then arrange list of lecturers for the three months, then get bills printed, one for each week, then paste up bills in streets all round. By the end of 3 or 6 months I had got a few members and [I would] get them to take it over and manage it as a Branch. I generally had two or three Branches on my hands in this way.' [14] And this is put in its proper context when we understand that, as a contemporary put it, 'He did this out of his wages as an ordinary carman [cart driver], which at that time would probably be nearer 20 shillings than 30 shillings per week.' [15]

The programme of the League was : equal direct adult suffrage; direct legislation by the people; abolition of the standing army, the people to decide on peace or war; free secular and industrial education; liberty of speech, press and meeting; free administration of justice; the nationalisation of land, mines and transport; society to regulate production and wealth to be shared equitably by all; the monopoly of the capitalist class to be broken and the means of production transformed into collective or public property. The object of the League was 'the establishment of a Free Social Condition of Society based on the principles of Political Equality with Equal Social Advantages for All'. Thus no matter what some of its members may have claimed later, the Labour Emancipation League was not at its inception an Anarchist organization. The concerns with suffrage, free administration of justice, liberty of speech, etc., clearly have their origins in the Chartist demands and even earlier with the constitutions and bills of rights of an earlier revolutionary era. They sit a little uneasily with the demands concerning the expropriation of the capitalist class. Ambrose Barker was later to claim that 'Parliamentary action was a constant topic of discussion in ( ... ) the Labour Emancipation League from 1881 to 1884 ( ... ) the members were fairly unanimous as to its futility.' This may well have been a position that was reached by 1884 but its programme ( which remained unchanged ) by no means expresses an anti-parliamentary position. The fundamental importance of the Labour Emancipation League was that it provided a forum for discussion and mutual education. This has to be borne in mind when we assess its programme. The political ideas of the working class were in transition and the Labour Emancipation League was in the best sense transitory.

The League rapidly established branches at Mile End, Canning Town, Hoxton, Bethnal Green, Millwall, Stamford Hill and Hackney. There was regular open-air propaganda at Mile End Waste, Clerkenwell Green, Stratford and Millwall with occasional meetings in Hyde Park and Regent's Park.

[1] Mat Kavanagh in War Commentary, 5 May 1945. Lane himself says both that he arrived in London 'around 1867' and that he saw the railings pulled down in the Reform Riots.

[2] From verbal reminiscences of Ambrose Barker to E. P. Thompson. See the latter's William Morris, p. 325.

[3] John Lord was the treasurer of the Freiheit Defence Committee. The minutes of the International Conference are given in Nettlau, Anarchisten and Sozial-Revolutionäre, Berlin, 1931.

[4] Kropotkin, Memoirs of a Revolutionist, p. 411.

[5] Shipley, op. cit., pp. 34-5.

[6] Ambrose Barker, MS. Subsequent quote. Memoirs same source.

[7] Shipley, op. cit., P. 36, footnote.

[8] Joe Lane was involved with the production of the Radical.

[9] Justice, 11 July 1896.

[10] Freedom, February 1912.

[11] H. W. Lee and E. Archbold, Social Democracy in Britain, London, 1935, p. 50.

[12] Joe Lane, various memoirs, International Institute of Social History, ( I.I.S.H. ) Amsterdam. Punctuation added.

[13] Mat Kavanagh, War Commentary, 5 May 1945.

[14] Lane memoirs.

[15] Lee and Archbold, op. cit., p. 50.


03. The Democratic Federation and the Socialist League

Submitted by Steven. on October 7, 2009

The working class militants were concerned with the practical problems of socialist propaganda on specific issues at the grass roots. As Frank Kitz put it, 'the English Section and the comrades of the Labour Emancipation League worked with only one aim and that was to permeate the mass of the people with a spirit of revolt against their oppressors and against the squalid misery which results from their monopoly of the means of life. No thought of kudos or personal aggrandisement had entered into their efforts to spread the light, and therefore the squabbles between would-be leaders had no interest for them.' [1] This assertion was certainly true of those who formed the libertarian wing of the movement in the 1880s. Whatever the accusations against them by their opponents, seeking a political career was not one of their faults. There were others, however, with more of an eye for the main chance. As we have seen, socialism developed on the left-wing fringe of the Radical movement and in this early period retained strong links with the Radical milieu. There was a wave of discontent among the Radicals when the Liberal government failed to live up to its promises of reform and this discontent made it easier for the socialists to spread their message. But this discontent also attracted more opportunist attention.

The working class vote had been attracted to the Liberal Party by a careful wooing of the Radicals by the more 'progressive' Liberals. The Tory counter-attack took several forms. They did some wooing of their own, setting up clubs under their patronage and seeking the support of the independent clubs for 'Tory Democrat' candidates in elections. The 'Tory Democrats' represented a combination of imperialism abroad and jingoism and a gentle reformism at home. They represented something of a break with the Tories of the old school, who were straightforward representatives of the landed interest. The more far-seeing Tories made the quite correct calculation that if they could split the Radicals from the Liberal Party and set them against each other then this would split the anti-Tory vote and gain Tory majorities in otherwise unpromising seats. The most hopeful means for expediting that split seemed to be independent Labour candidates. The rise of the Labour Party and the concomitant demise of the Liberals shows how correct their thinking was, at least in the short term. It had the disadvantage, however, of being an obvious manoeuvre. Lane relates a crude approach when he was active in Marylebone before the election in 1880. He 'had an offer by the Tories to pay all expenses if we would put up a candidate - wanted us to put up of course to let the Tories in'. [2] The offer was refused.

It was in this rather murky political undergrowth that the Democratic Federation had its origins. H. M. Hyndman, a stockbroker and one of its prime movers, had stood as an independent Tory in Marylebone in 1880. While canvassing the Clubs in the district he met Joe Lane who recalled his impressions of Hyndman's politics at that time. He was opposed to Home Rule for Ireland and land nationalization. On complete adult suffrage he said, "'Do you mean to tell me that a loafer in the East End was to be placed in equality with you, no the furthest I would go is that every man who can read and write is to have a vote." He was on every point a Tory Democrat.' He invited Lane to his house and asked for support for his candidacy from Lane's club. Lane was highly dubious. Hyndman wanted Lane to come on further visits to keep some kind of dialogue going, a proposal Lane found a complete waste of time. Hyndman was pressing, however, and Edwin Dunn, the secretary of the club, became a regular visitor in Lane's place. As a result of these meetings they approached Lane with the idea of 'forming an Independent Labour Party' and asked Lane to call a meeting of delegates from all the workmen's clubs. Lane seems to think that Hyndman was the prime mover here while Kitz says it was Dunn's proposal. Meetings were called to discuss the matter at the Rose Street Club and elsewhere. As a result of these meetings Dunn sent out invitations as secretary of the Marylebone Radical Association to inaugurate an independent labour organization at a meeting at the Westminster Palace Hotel in June 1881.

Professor Beesley, the Positivist defender of the Paris Commune, took the chair at the meeting which included some of the more liberal politicians, delegates from the clubs, the odd Tory Democrat and some of the new socialist militants - 'all sorts and conditions of men' in Kitz's phrase. Lane was one of the socialists and he says 'we drove them as far as we could and set them up with the most advanced programme we could force on them. One whom we had to fight on all the most advanced points was H. M. Hyndman ( ... ) After a hard struggle it was to be [called the] Democratic Federation with adult suffrage, Home Rule, etc. ( ... ).' Lane then withdrew from the organization. Dunn remained but Kitz says that Hyndman 'soon engaged in a conflict with Dunn for the leadership, and evicted him ( ... ).' There is little doubt that it was Hyndman's intention to use this organization as a base for further attempts at election, whether by himself or others. A faithful follower was to write later that Hyndman started the Democratic Federation out of 'disgust at Gladstone and the Liberals, by genuine sympathy with real democratic movements as against party politics and by his own impulsiveness of action ( ... ) and not by any fixed idea of future definite Socialist propaganda and organization'. [3] Hyndman's Tory candidature in 1880 is similarly described as 'impulsive'. His organization was to be impulsive again in the elections of 1885, using Tory money even if it did not stand on a Tory platform.

There is no doubt, however, that Hyndman's ideas ( if not his ambitions ) were in flux at the time. It is probable that his contact with the world of the working-class Radicals had encouraged new thinking. The 'official' history of the S.D.F. says that after the 1880 election his views on Ireland changed and he opposed coercion. [4] By April 1881 Hyndman and his wife were visiting Marx, who thought him 'self-satisfied' and 'garrulous'. [5] By the time of the Democratic Federation founding conference in June, Hyndman had written a little book entitled England for All, which he distributed there. Of this Marx wrote : 'The chapters on Labour and Capital are only literal extracts from, or circumlocutions of, the Capital, but the fellow does neither quote the book, nor the author, but to shield himself from exposure remarks at the end of his preface : "For the ideas ( ... ) in Chapters II and III I am indebted to the work of a great thinker and original writer, etc. etc." Vis-à-vis myself the fellow wrote stupid letters of excuse, for instance, that "the English don't like to be taught by foreigners", that my "name was so much detested, etc.".' For all that, Marx thought it would make good propaganda 'so far as it pilfers the Capital' but the incident was enough to cause a complete breach between Hyndman on the one side and Marx and Engels on the other. Marx felt used : 'All these amiable middle-class writers ( ... ) have an itching to make money or name or political capital immediately out of any new thoughts they may have got at by any favourable windfall. Many evenings this fellow has pilfered from me, in order - to take me out and to learn in the easiest way.' [6] Whatever Hyndman had learned from Marx his jingoism and his imperialist ideas had not changed - they were to stay and plague the socialist movement for the rest of his life.

For the libertarians like Kitz and Lane the Democratic Federation held little charm and they continued with their own work in more congenial surroundings. As far as Lane was concerned, after the founding conference '( ... ) we left them to get on with it. They went to sleep ( ... ) doing practically nothing.' The socialists in the Federation, as far as Kitz was concerned, 'were wasting their time combating the opportunism and jingoism of their shifty leader'. Yet the Federation went through a development of its own which the suspicions of Kitz and Lane did not allow them to see. Hyndman did have a real change of heart. He did change his views on Ireland and the 'Marxism' of England for All did lose him support from the more respectable Radicals after the conference in 1881. He continued to develop ideas based on a mechanistic and 'British' interpretation of Marx's writings. After a series of meetings to discuss 'stepping stone' measures - immediate reforms in housing, land and railway nationalization, education, etc., which were to pave the way for a totally reconstituted society - he produced Socialism Made Plain in 1883. This was adopted at the Federation's Annual Conference that year - 'the first definitely Socialist pronouncement of the Democratic Federation'. This, as it specifically denounced the capitalist class as a class, led to the loss of all those members of the Federation who were not either socialists or near-socialists. [7]

The Democratic Federation had begun to form some sort of organic whole and to pull together a number of people, particularly intellectuals, and the emphasis of the organization had slowly shifted from an attempted independent federation of Radical clubs towards a more specific socialist grouping. Though, again, it is difficult to say how far Hyndman led this process or how far he was pushed into it. One witness says that Charles and James Murray were making the pace too fast for Hyndman's taste. [8] For all this it should be stressed that Hyndman was, without doubt, the dominant personality in the Federation, it being quite psychologically consistent that someone should have both a forceful character and imprecise ideas. And in this latter respect his understanding of Marx, one-dimensional though it might have been, was in advance of that of most of his contemporaries.

The executive elected at the conference of 1883 included Andreas Scheu and William Morris. Morris had been invited to join the Federation by Hyndman and had done so in January 1883. He had become disgusted with the Liberal politicians and their moderate trades union associates during his involvement with the Eastern Question agitation and had declared his intention of joining an avowedly socialist body. His fame as a poet, designer and manufacturer gave a considerable boost to the Federation. His developing commitment to anti-parliamentary socialism and his opposition to Hyndman's political opportunism and domineering attitudes were to help to split it. Andreas Scheu was an already committed anti-parliamentarian socialist. He was an Austrian political exile who arrived in England in 1874 and had played some part in the politics of the German exiles in London. By 1880 he was a member of the group round Most who were deeply influenced by Anarchist ideas. [9] He came to know Most quite well and grew to distrust what he saw as Most's slap-happy ways with confidential documents and information and his insistence on leaving the Freiheit office door unlocked. [10] He began to grow irritated with his fellow Germans : 'The political activity of my country-men became more and more limited to either playing billiards or cards ( ... ) in the rooms at Tottenham street,' ( the Social Democrat/'Marxist' section ) 'or to passing bloodthirsty resolutions at the Anarchist Club under the leadership of tried agents provocateurs; so I turned my gaze upon the purely English working class movement which promised to move into a new phase of activity. I began to visit their meetings.' [11]

Becoming involved with the Democratic Federation, Scheu seems to have quickly developed a very strained relationship with Hyndman which compounded disputes over political tactics with Scheu's sensitivity to Hyndman's chauvinism. Morris's membership of the Democratic Federation was to bring him into contact with many socialists ranging from old Owenites and Chartists to those who held more 'modern' positions. Among them all, according to E. P. Thompson, 'Andreas Scheu ( ... ) from 1883 to 1885 was one of Morris's closest colleagues.' [12]

William Morris was to play an important part in subsequent events and his particular brand of socialism was to have great influence on the movement. It is thus well worth examining the roots of his ideas. There has been something of a genteel struggle over the political remains of William Morris. Anarchists have claimed him as an Anarchist, Marxists as a Marxist. In a very real sense the approach that Morris took to socialism is diminished by such a dispute; it is certainly a blinkered way to read him. Morris was a powerful and original thinker. Engels described him as 'an emotional socialist' [13] which apart from the implication that only walking calculating machines are fit to be socialists and despite the sneer that Engels intended, grasps the essential element in Morris's thought. For Morris generalized his experience of everyday life and the result was socialism expressed with great simplicity, strength and emotional conviction. He had worked to produce beautiful things in a world which mocked his efforts by its indifferent ugliness. He was steeped in the crafts and skills which had existed in a world where casual beauty had been a part of all work - no matter how hard and brutal that world had been. For the world remained hard and brutal but it had changed work and 'destroyed art, the one certain solace of labour ( ... ) All this I felt then as now, but I did not know why it was so.' [14] He wrote later :

The hope of the past times was gone, the struggles of mankind for many ages had produced nothing but this sordid, aimless, ugly confusion; the immediate future seemed to me likely to intensify all the present evils, by sweeping away the last survivals of the days before the dull squalor of civilization had settled down on the world ( ... ) Think of it !Was it all to end in a counting-house on the top of a cinder heap ( ... ) But the consciousness of revolution stirring among our hateful modern society prevented me, luckier than many others of artistic perceptions, from crystallizing into a mere railer against 'progress' on the one hand, and on the other from wasting time and energy in any of the numerous schemes by which the quasi-artistic of the middle classes hope to make art grow where it has no longer any root, and thus I became a practical Socialist.

The real and general ugliness of the society around him led him to try and find real and general solutions. He had a personal need for a society within which his work would be meaningful and described it : 'a condition of society in which there should be neither rich nor poor, neither master nor master's man, neither idle nor overworked, neither brain-sick brain workers, nor heartsick hand workers, in a word, in which all men would be living in equality of condition and would manage their affairs un-wastefully and with a full consciousness that harm to one would mean harm to all - the realization at last of the meaning of the word COMMONWEALTH.'

With an equal simplicity he describes the process of becoming a 'practical socialist' :

Now this view of Socialism, which I hold today, and hope to die holding, is what I began with; I had no transitional period, unless you may call such a brief period of political radicalism during which I saw my ideal clear enough, but had no hope of any realization of it. That came to an end some months before I joined the Democratic Federation, and the meaning of my joining that body was that I had conceived a hope of the realization of my ideal ( ... ) Well, having joined a Socialist body ( ... ) I put some conscience into trying to learn the economical side of Socialism and even tackled Marx, though I must confess that whereas I thoroughly enjoyed the historical part of Capital, I suffered agonies of confusion of the brain over reading the pure economics of that great work. Anyway I read what I could, and will hope that some information stuck to me from my reading; but more I must think, from continuous conversation with such friends as Bax and Hyndman and Scheu, and the brisk course of propaganda meetings which were going on at the time, and in which I took my share.

He was at other times to be more dismissive of Marxist economics : 'I have tried to understand Marx's theory but political economy is not in my line and much of it appears to me to be dreary rubbish. But I am, I hope, a Socialist none the less. It is enough political economy for me to know that the idle class is rich, and the working class is poor. That I know because I see it with my own eyes. I need read no books to convince me of it. And it does not matter a rap, it seems to me, whether the robbery is accomplished by what is termed surplus value or by means of serfage or open brigandage.' [15] This is not quoted to score points against Marx or Marxists but rather to emphasize the basis of Morris's socialism in experience. This he shared with the working class militants like Lane and Kitz who were later to become his colleagues in the Socialist League. Socialism for these latter militants grew out of the experience of poverty and exploitation. For Morris it grew out of a life-work made meaningless in the face of the world. He was middle-class and comfortably off, which produced the symptoms of guilt so often found in middle-class socialists. But at core his socialism was not an acquired belief at odds with his life but a generalization from everyday life. In Hyndman and Bax we can see the signs of expertise treated as an indication of personal worth. They were professional socialists in the sense that a lawyer or accountant is professional. In Morris this was not the case, his socialism represents a growth of self and an urgent personal need for the reintegration of man and the world and the restructuring of a disastrously fragmented society.

William Morris took a full part in the propaganda work connected with the Federation. His subject matter in this early period was always connected with the major reason for his conversion to socialism, the immense difficulty or even impossibility of reconciling art with capitalism. In various forms he spelled out his message to debating societies, to Radical clubs, to literary and philosophical societies and to little groups of socialists. He also began to speak at the open-air meetings which the Federation started in 1883, following the example of the Labour Emancipation League. No one could claim that the message he preached set England aflame in 1883 and 1884; but it is evident that Morris, though at times discouraged, used this time to work out the implications of his socialism. Meanwhile the Federation made advances. In early 1884 Morris and Hyndman went to Blackburn (where MacDonald and Williams had been sent as agitators) to address 1,500 strikers in the cotton industry. The meeting was a great success and a branch of the Federation was set up with 100 members. In April 1883 Hyndman debated on socialism with Bradlaugh at a large public meeting - Bradlaugh opposing. As we have seen, the secular societies were very open to new ideas. The publicity attendant on this debate was considerable and certainly started a number of secularists on the road to socialism. [16] Justice, the paper of the Federation, started publication in January 1884 and further increased the open-air propaganda effort, since its distribution 'had mainly to rely on sales at meetings' [17] But as the propaganda began to move ahead, dissensions appeared within the Federation not on general principles or on the analysis of capitalist society but on the means to be used to overthrow it.

At the meeting held to announce the founding of Justice there was an open clash on the question of parliamentary representation. James Murray moved a resolution outlining a 'socialism via parliament' programme. To this an amendment was put urging that the 'time for palaver has passed by', the working class could not rely on Parliament to better their condition and 'all means were justifiable to attain the end in view'. Morris seems to have taken a fairly prominent part in this discussion according to his own account - on the anti-parliamentary side. The debate 'was throughout energetic and at times heated'. Andreas Scheu, holding anti-parliamentarian views, clashed noisily with Charles Varenholtz, a supporter of the German Social Democrats. The whole issue did not come to a vote and the chairman managed to paper over the cracks. [18] It certainly showed, however, that the question was already being discussed in the Federation early in its existence and clearly foreshadowed the later split.

In fact the Democratic Federation had signed a 'Manifesto to the Working Men of the World' which was issued by eleven groupings in London, both native and foreign, in 1883. Some of the signatories were Anarchists and their influence shows in such phrases as : 'Governments, no matter of what party, are but the instruments of [ruling] classes and under different disguises of judges and police, priests or hangmen, use their strength and energies to support the monopolies and privileges of the exploiters ( ... )'And again : 'Experience disperses illusions of those who have believed in Governments and Laws.' [19] Anti-political sentiments were clearly quite widespread in the movement.

But the dispute over strategy was made more difficult by inter-personal difficulties which were exacerbated rather than diminished as the organization grew. As Morris wrote later : 'When I first knew of the Fed. It really almost consisted of Mr H. and a few agents of his working under his direction : but then independent men came into it who worked very heartily in the cause and who could not submit to be under his despotism.' [20] Scheu, as we have already seen, together with Belfort Bax and a young disciple of Scheu's, Robert Banner, were particularly irked by Hyndman's authoritarianism.

In the late spring and summer of 1884 Scheu was urging Morris to make a bid for the leadership of the Federation against Hyndman or to attempt to split the organization. Morris was at first reluctant and more inclined to try and patch things up, but as the August Annual Conference approached his attitude began to change. He wrote to Scheu in July : '( ... ) if I have any influence amongst our party ( ... ) it is because I am supposed to be straight and not ambitious ( ... ) and feel sure that any appearance of pushing myself forward would injure my influence, such as it is, very much; therefore I will not secede for any matter of mere tactics ( ... ) but if I find myself opposed on a matter of principle ( ... ) I will secede if I am driven to it.' He felt incapable of leading such a split though he promised support for any such move on the grounds given and further promised 'steadily to oppose all jingo business'. He was worried since he had not 'got hold' [sic] of the 'strings that tie us to the working class members; nor have I read as I should have. Also my habits are quiet and studious and if I am too much worried by 'politics', i.e. intrigue, I shall be no use to the cause as a writer ( ... )'. But he finished firmly : 'If I am pushed into a position of more importance, I will not refuse it from mere laziness or softness.' [21] This does not seem to have been written in the context of a general revolt against Hyndman, however, since he talks of secession in the context of joining 'any men if they be only two or three, or only yourself to push the real cause'. But a majority for Scheu and Morris's position was to come from a rather unexpected quarter - the Labour Emancipation League.

As we have seen, after attending the founding conference of the Federation, Lane and his comrades had gone back to the East End to carry on with their own chosen political work. Lane had no high opinion of the Federation and there seems to have been some element of dismissiveness in the Federation's attitude to the League. Lane said : 'They were very jealous of us but at the same time called us Anarchist. And why? Just because we charged no entrance fee and no monthly contributions but carried out the doctrine "from everybody according to their ability". And the poorer they were the more we wanted them to join, not to keep them out because of their poverty.' [22] There had been some contact, however, since Hyndman and one or two other members of the Federation occasionally visited the League speaking pitch on Mile End Waste.

As the August 1884 conference of the Federation drew nearer, Hyndman again approached Lane and asked him to attend. Lane said that they had their own work to do. Hyndman 'said he thought we ought to because their country branches would sure to be reactionary'. Lane then proposed to send a delegate, but Hyndman replied "'Oh, one is no use, you ought to send two or three from each branch".' After some discussion Lane finally agreed and elections were held to send 'three from each branch but no arrangements or a word said as to what they were to do when they got there'. Hyndman's motives in inviting the League can be guessed at. Confident as to his dominating position in the Federation, he was concerned to push forward those country branches that remained fundamentally Radical rather than socialist. He had seen the forceful Joe Lane in action before and he had also seen him withdraw from the fray once an organization was saddled with 'the most advanced programme [Lane] could force on them'. It would also seem that as the opposition to Hyndman centred on Morris, Bax and Scheu - all middle-class men who had 'not got hold of the strings' connecting the working-class members - and as Hyndman's attitude to working-class militants was patronizing and rather dismissive, he had not considered the possibility of Lane and the League having a mind different from his own. More particularly, he obviously did not consider the possibility of the League cooperating with his opponents. This was a considerable miscalculation.

Three or four days before the conference Lane was invited to a meeting at Morris's house to discuss the forthcoming event. Lane took little part in the discussion. However, by the time the discussion broke up the last train had gone and Lane stayed the night. The next day Scheu arrived as a delegate from Edinburgh. Scheu asked Lane about the business arrangements for the conference and for Lane's opinions generally. Lane says:

I told him I did not know the official business but for myself I did not believe Gods or Devils, Kings or Emperors [and] I did not believe in permanent Presidents in Democratic organisations and that my first business was to put an end to Hyndman's Permanent Presidency and that every member of the Council should preside at Council meetings in rotation. He said he agreed with it and would second my resolution but we should not carry it ( ... ) what else ? I said I was going to propose our Emancipation League programme item by item and that when we started we forced them as far as we could ( ... ) it was time that [a] mere political programme should be superseded. [23] He agreed and said he would second my resolution but that their branches were so reactionary we should never carry that. I said we would. Then he asked about other things and about the future members of the Council. I gave him all the names except my own which he would insist on including. I thought I could do better work in the East End. In the afternoon Bob Banner came to Morris. He was coming to Conference as delegate from Woolwich so we had it all over again. He agreed to support. So the whole thing was hatched on the lawn at Morris's house but so far as I was concerned Morris did not know a thing about it.

The conference went much as Joe Lane had predicted. It adopted the L.E.L. programme in a simplified form - it was ironic, in Joe Lane's later view, that this left out the demand for freedom of speech and assembly. The name of the organization was changed to the Social Democratic Federation ( S.D.F. ). The conference voted against fighting parliamentary elections - though for some delegates it was a pragmatic rather than a principled opposition. And it voted against the permanent presidency of Hyndman. This Hyndman did not like at all. No wonder Lane still showed rather a tendency to crow about it many years later : 'when I proposed a thing up went all the hands of all those delegates that Hyndman wished sent. Talk about Bombs ! The Hyndman party was so taken by surprise that they would say nothing until after the conference was over. Then at the tea party afterwards they formed little groups and talked things and looked at me so black as though I had done or said something rude ( ... ).' The council elected at the conference was composed of Eleanor Marx, Edward Aveling, Banner, Champion, J. Cooper, Amy Hicks, Mr and Mrs Hyndman, Joe Lane, Morris, Quelch, Bax, H. Burrows, W. J. Clark, R. P. B. Frost, Joynes, Sam Mainwaring, James Murray and Jack Williams. Joe Lane and Sam Mainwaring were definitely L.E.L. members and some of the others were too. These people, together with the Avelings ( Eleanor Marx was Aveling's partner in a 'free relationship' ), Morris, Bax and Banner, formed the opposition to Hyndman. Champion, Quelch, Burrows and Williams were the more prominent supporters of the former permanent president.

The next six months in the life of the Council were wretched. An escalation of feuding, backbiting and intrigue led to spasm war by Christmas 1884. Joe Lane later claimed that the political question behind it all was whether the S.D.F. should go in for parliamentary elections or not. Other accounts make it clear that this issue rather got lost in the pro- or anti-Hyndman battle. [24] In the first meeting of the council after the conference, Hyndman made it clear that he was in no mood to be demoted. He was subject to a cutting counter-attack by Joe Lane and an attempt to have him reinstated failed. It was probably the realization that Hyndman could not and would not work in any organization he did not control that finally braced Morris for the coming split. He wrote in August : 'The time which I have foreseen from the first seems to be upon us, and I don't see how I can avoid taking my share in the internal conflict which seems likely to rend the D.F. into two or more. More than two or three of us distrust Hyndman thoroughly; I have done my best to trust him, but cannot any longer. Practically it comes to a contest between him and me.' [25]

The finale was played out on 27 December 1884. At a noisy meeting packed with Hyndman supporters - the L.E.L. being excluded because although it had affiliated to the S.D.F. it had preserved its autonomy and paid no dues - the Hyndman group was roundly defeated on a vote taken by the council members. Morris then read out a statement in which the victorious members of the council withdrew from the Federation. This represented a refusal to follow up their victory by expulsions and further strife and caused no little surprise. It was fundamentally Morris's idea and probably represented both a continuation of the feelings he had when his 'party' had been in the minority and a more recent desire to wash his hands of the whole business. Morris hated intrigue and personality clashes 'to the point of cowardice', as E. P. Thompson remarks. And though the S.D.F. had grown in 1884 it still only had perhaps 400 members in London and perhaps 100 in the provinces. With energy and the Labour Emancipation League ( and without Hyndman ) the new body that was formed - the Socialist League - could well make good its initial disadvantage.

Although the Socialist League emerged from the split in the S.D.F. in a state of some confusion, the mood was one of confidence and relief. The importance of anti-parliamentarianism for a section of the seceders meant that the new organization both largely represented this tendency and attracted those of a like mind. But its origins in the fierce struggle against the 'despotism' of Hyndman also meant that a parliamentary faction had seceded. This was not to cause open and destructive dissension in the Socialist League immediately. The differences were apparent from the beginning, however. A draft constitution by the Avelings - as a result of the prompting of Engels in the background - was accepted by the council of the Socialist League shortly after the split. [26] It committed the League to 'Striving to conquer political power by promoting the election of Socialists to Local Governments, School Boards and other administrative bodies.' This draft was rejected at the first annual conference of the League in July 1885.

Two other documents issued at this time were more important, both in terms of their contents and their more accurate expression of the politics of the League. These were firstly the circular To Socialists, which explained the reasons for the split, and the Manifesto of the Socialist League. The former largely consisted of an exposition in a rather dignified sort of way of the difficulties of working with Hyndman. But it was clear in its attitude to the politics of the time and shares the same view as the Manifesto. A socialist body, it says '( ... ) in the present state of things has no function but to educate the people in the principles of Socialism and to organise such as it can get hold of [sic] to take their due places when the crisis shall come that will force action on us. We believe to hold out as baits hopes of the amelioration of the condition of the workers, to be wrung out of the necessities of the rival factions of our privileged rulers, is delusive and mischievous.' There had been in the S.D.F. 'a tendency to political opportunism, which if developed would have involved us in alliances, however temporary, with one or other of the political factions and would have weakened our propagandist force by driving us into electioneering and possibly would have deprived us of some of our most energetic men by sending them to our sham parliament, there to become either nonentities, or perhaps our masters and it may be our betrayers'.

The Manifesto of the Socialist League puts the antiparliamentary position in its correct perspective. It is neither mere prejudice nor a cowardly refusal to become involved. It speaks of the economic exploitation of the producers by the possessing class and the ceaseless conflict between them : 'Sometimes it takes the form of open rebellion, sometimes of strikes, sometimes of mere widespread mendicancy and crime; but it is always going on in one form or another, though it may not be obvious to the thoughtless looker on.' But the competition was not only between classes but also within classes and between nations. Shoddy goods smothered the 'civilized' and 'uncivilized' world alike, the motor of working-class degradation in production and consumption, and the motor of imperialism. 'This must be altered from the foundation ( ... ) all means of production of wealth ( ... ) must be declared and treated as the common property of all.' In this way the worker would receive the full value of his labour and the essential work of the world 'would be reduced to something like two or three hours daily'. In this way workers would be relieved of 'sordid anxieties' and their real communal tendencies could emerge. 'Only by such fundamental changes in the life of man, only by the transformation of Civilization into Socialism can these miseries of the world before mentioned be amended.' It continued:

As to mere politics, Absolutism, Constitutionalism, Republicanism have all been tried in our day and under our present social system and all have alike failed in dealing with the real evils of life ( ... ).

No better solution would be that State Socialism, by whatever name it may be called, whose aim it would be to make concessions to the working class while leaving the present system of capital and wages still in operation : no number of administrative changes, until the workers are in possession of all political power, would make any approach to Socialism ( ... ).

Close fellowship with each other and steady purpose for the advancement of the Cause will naturally bring about the organisation and discipline amongst ourselves absolutely necessary to success; but we shall look to it that there shall be no distinctions of rank or dignity amongst us to give opportunities for the selfish ambition of leadership which has so often injured the cause of the workers. We are working for equality and brotherhood for all the world and it is only through equality and brotherhood that we can make our work effective.

The Manifesto is a beautiful document. Socialism is seen as social being, not as an administrative form. The envisaged change in society is fundamental and will come about through the 'crisis that shall force action on us'. Socialist education will expedite that change through those socialists who 'will take their due places'. But though this special role for conscious socialists might imply a group apart the 'selfish ambition of leadership' is particularly denounced. ( What Morris, whose work the Manifesto is, was probably thinking of was selfless leadership. ) The document, if not Anarchist, is clearly libertarian in its commitment to revolution, its view of the role of socialist groups and its deprecation of state and party hierarchy.

The Manifesto was signed by some people in addition to those who had seceded from the S.D.F. - two of them being Frank Kitz and Charles Mowbray. Working together as part of the 'English Revolutionary Society' in its various shapes and forms, they had watched the difficulties within the Federation with sardonic detachment. They had set up a print-shop in Mowbray's house in the notorious Boundary Street slum, issuing antimilitary and anti-rent propaganda and placarding the East End with 'incendiary manifestoes'. They had also been speaking round the clubs and working in conjunction with the L.E.L. When the Socialist League was formed, however, Kitz says:

its purely propagandist and non-Parliamentary objects ( ... ) appealed to our members and we joined at once. We found, however, that the demands upon our scanty leisure were too great to allow us to attend to both the printing group and the League and we finally decided to merge our work into the League's, with its possibility of a wider field of propaganda.

True to our anti-rent campaign, we owed some rent to the landlord of our 'printery'. At the final meeting of our group a heated debate took place as to the best method of settling this liability some arguing in favour of cash payment and others for payment in kind. Finally it was decided to liquidate our indebtedness to the slum landlord by leaving him our ink-slab ( the previously mentioned paving stone ) as being akin to his own heart. [27]

When Kitz joined the Socialist League it was the first time he and Morris had met. Morris wrote of him : 'Like most of our East-Enders, he is certainly somewhat tinged with anarchism or perhaps one may say destructivism; but I like him very much : I called on the poor chap at the place where he lived and it fairly gave me the horrors to see how wretchedly off he was; so it isn't much to wonder at that he takes the line he does.' [28] In February 1885 the Socialist League secretary, J. L. Mahon, was writing to Kitz as 'Secretary of the Workman's Propagandist Committee' thanking him for the offer of two founts of type and other printing equipment for the use of the League.

At the same time Lane was taking steps to integrate the L.E.L. with the Socialist League. From his accounts later it appears both how much the existence of that body depended on his prodigious energies and how much his involvement in the S.D.F. Council had undermined his work in the East End. 'I made one fatal mistake in allowing myself to go on their Council. That commenced the break-up of all the work we had done in the East End. If we had done as we had done before, just driven them as far as we could and then left them, then we should have had a very strong organisation in the East End of Anti-State Socialists.' [29] When the Socialist League was formed, as far as the L.E.L. was concerned 'if not dropped, the life was taken out of it. I handed over all my Printing plant [and] leaflets over to [the] League and gave my whole time to it. I am very sorry, I can see now if we had kept to our own L.E.L. we should have been alright.' [30] But this was written with the benefit of hindsight. In May 1885 he was circulating members of the Mile End branch in Mile End and Stratford with a view to forming branches of the Socialist League in both places. The Hoxton branch had decided to retain its autonomy as the L.E.L. though it remained affiliated to the Socialist League. [31]

Generally the Socialist League seems to have begun well. John Turner, soon to become involved with the Freedom Group, wrote later that he joined the Socialist League immediately it was formed. He was already a 'convinced Socialist but having been a young freethinking Radical Republican I had the usual Radical suspicious aversion to Hyndman'. This 'usual Radical suspicious aversion to Hyndman' might explain part of the success of the Socialist League. It certainly went some way to encourage the accession of branches in Scotland and Yorkshire. The clarity of the League Manifesto in comparison with the S.D.F. material led the socialists of Norwich, whose leading light was a young man called F. C. Slaughter ( later known as Fred Charles ), to form themselves into a Socialist League branch. In London, apart from the accession of the L.E.L. and the English Revolutionary Society, there was increasing interest in the new anti-parliamentary body on the part of foreign exiled Anarchists. Wess, later of the Freedom Group, was in regular contact with the Socialist League from March 1885 onwards, writing from a Jewish 'working men's educational and mutual relief society' in Whitechapel which formed a club in Berners Street in 1886. The Socialist League was strongly represented at its opening. Exiles were also represented in the branches. The North London branch formed in June 1885 included among its members a German anti-parliamentarian, Henry Charles; Victor Dave ( a Belgian Anarchist who had been involved in clandestine propaganda in Germany for Most and had been arrested there and jailed for two and a half years in 1881 ); and Trunk who had worked on the Freiheit and was a member of the St Stephens Mews club. Other members of this branch included David Nicoll, Scheu and Mahon.

Such links with the exiled Anarchist community were strengthened by the protests organized after the police raid on the German Anarchist 'International Club', St Stephens Mews, Rathbone Place. At a meeting attended by delegates from the clubs - though not in the strength that had been promised - Frank Kitz described what had happened. The members had been going about their business on the night of 9 May 1885, when 'without any previous notice an attack is made on the windows and doors. Upon opening them and seeing not only police but a large crowd they appealed to the former for protection and the answer from a sergeant was "We will protect you D_ foreigners with the Staff" and police and crowd surged into the club ( ... ) many of the members were wounded and streaming with blood and some will carry the marks received to their graves. Police and public alike, the latter mostly contained police in plain clothes carried off Beer in jars, forms, papers, books and money not even stopping at the members clothes.' [32]

The area of north Soho in which the Club was situated was an area with a very large immigrant population, mainly of Germans, French and Italians. The police riot at St Stephens Mews is largely explicable by the chauvinist hatred of foreigners to be found in immigrant areas and accentuated in authoritarian bodies such as the police. But though the members of the club were foreigners they were also foreign socialists; the raid was also undoubtedly connected with the general difficulties made by the police over socialist propaganda. In 1885 there was increasing harassment of open-air meetings held by socialists.

In August Kitz was arrested for obstruction at Stratford, London, but his case was dismissed. At about the same time the S.D.F. were suffering constant police harassment at their meetings at Dod Street, Limehouse. A number of people were arrested and fined for 'obstruction' at meetings held on Sundays at a place then deserted by vehicle traffic. Jack Williams made a stand and refusing to pay a fine was sent to prison for a month. The Socialist League offered its assistance and together with the S.D.F. and some Radical clubs formed a Vigilance Committee. This called a large meeting at Dod Street on Sunday, 20 September, where Kitz and Mahon spoke for the League. As the meeting was breaking up it was suddenly attacked by the police with considerable brutality. Eight people were arrested, including Mowbray, Mahon, Kitz and Lewis Lyons, a Jewish tailoring worker and S.D.F. member. The police attack had infuriated the Radicals who really began to get to work. The subsequent court case brought wider publicity.

The magistrate, Saunders, was completely hostile to the arrested men. After a short and farcical trial in which the police perjured themselves black, seven of the men were fined forty shillings with the option of a month while Lewis Lyons - the only Jew - was sent to prison for two months. This caused a great uproar from the socialists in the court whom the police then proceeded to attack. In the fracas they arrested William Morris, which was a mistake. Saunders, who obviously had no idea who his famous gentleman prisoner was, let him off with a caution. Morris was greeted outside the court by a cheering crowd. This incident brought the full glare of publicity on to both the magistrate and the free-speech fight. ( One illustrated magazine had a picture of Saunders tearfully blacking Morris's boots. ) The result was a massive meeting on the site the following Sunday with perhaps as many as 50,000 there. The police did not bother the meeting - or indeed any subsequent ones. The battle for free speech at Dod Street had been won.

It is necessary to stress how important such free-speech fights were for the new movement. Socialists were small in numbers and no matter how energetic or determined their agitation in other directions they needed the streets as a forum if socialism was to spread rapidly. Such occasions as Dod Street did bring them publicity. But the primary purpose of the meetings was to spread the word and they preferred them unharassed. At meetings they could sell literature and distribute leaflets. Discussions could take place in a freer atmosphere than that provided by the debate structure imposed by the Sunday meetings at the Radical clubs. In this way they acted as a kind of popular socialist university - though sometimes it was a violent one. Jack Williams carried a scar to his grave after being hit by a bottle hurled at him during a meeting. Opposition ( 'fair-traders', heavies hired by the Tory or Liberal Party, militant temperance advocates or Christians ) would often disturb a meeting with more than words. Platforms were 'cleared' not infrequently - that is to say rushed and another speaker more to the taste of the attackers substituted. But in more placid moments the street meetings provided an unofficial popular education. This is a later account but accurately gives the spirit of these occasions:

A secularist speaker received more abuse than sensible criticism but I learned from him the crushing effect of satire, where reasonable argument was futile. I also learned the art of heckling at these meetings; not the foolish obstructionist kind that merely plays into the hands of the speaker but that which turns observation to the advantage of the opposition. By an interjection at the right moment a speaker could be thrown right off the rails and much amusement caused by rhetorical catastrophes.

'If you want to know what the Conservative Party have done for the working-man look-- '
'--inside the workhouse.' ( Interjection )
'British working men are being thrown out of jobs by foreign dumping. If we tax these imports the workers will --'
'-- pay.' ( Interjection )

But the most enlightening moments were spent among the little groups of thinkers who carried on discussions with all the earnestness of a philosopher's council chamber. One subject merged into another, which gave an opportunity for the quidnuncs of economics to hold the torch until it was grabbed by an acolyte of the 'higher criticism' or by an apostle of the 'astral plane'. In the pallid glare of the lamps stood men and women of all stations of life, mufflered and collared, dapper and dowdy, listening with either credulous or critical mentality to the arguments, and ready to brighten their faces at the slightest joke and to appreciate the verbal contest of verbal erudition. And if there was no all-night sitting at that public parliament, it was more because of legal restrictions than want of enthusiasm for most of the members stayed till the rising of the 'House' before sauntering away in little groups, when voices and footsteps faded into the night and a happy truce was called for another seven days. [33]

But the victory at Dod Street did not mean that free speech was then automatically ensured in London or the rest of the country. Free-speech fights were a regular feature of socialist propaganda in the 1880s and 1890s. However, after Dod Street there were no particularly odious oppressions of public speaking until the 'dangerous influence' of socialism made itself apparent in the West End Riots. The winter of 1885-6 was a period of high unemployment and great misery. But the mood of the unemployed was not one of resignation, as is too often the case. The occasion of an S.D.F. unemployed counter-demonstration to a Tory 'fair trade' meeting in Trafalgar Square in February 1886 provided the spark. Militant - even blustering - speeches were made by Burns, Hyndman, Williams and Champion together with Sparling of the Socialist League. According to some sources, gentlemen wearing top hats in the Square had them snatched from their heads and some of the gentlemen were thrown in the fountains. The fair traders were attacked and their platform broken up. Engels alleged that many of the unemployed were drunk - an obvious indication to him that they were lumpen-proletarians and not fit for the revolution. The mood of the crowd was pugnacious in any case. The organizers, seeing that shifting the crowd from the Square would be difficult, decided to march them to Hyde Park and then disperse.

Their route, however, took them past the upper-class clubs in St James's. Here the crowd raised a general hooting and jeering. The procession stopped and Burns and others spoke to the crowd outside the Carlton, the Reform, etc. There were counter-jeers and things were thrown at them from the clubs. The reply was a barrage from the crowd. It was said that one man started it : 'A poorly-clad hungry-looking man, tore from his ragged breast an Egyptian war medal which he had been wearing. He forced himself in a frenzy of anger into a prominent position and addressing the members of the Carlton who were looking at him with surprised expectancy he shouted "We were not the scum of the country when we were fighting for bond-holders in Egypt, you dogs !".' [34] He hurled his medal at the window of the club and smashed it. The crowd then picked up loose building material which was lying around and proceeded to throw it through the windows of the clubs. They then proceeded to smash the windows of surrounding shops which were then looted. This carried on while the main procession marched off to Hyde Park. Here the demonstration petered out after carriages had been wrecked and the livery had been stripped from servants. It had been an explosion of working-class anger rather than a socialist demonstration, illustrated by the fact that sections of the crowd marched back to the East End singing 'Rule Britannia'!

There were several results. Large unemployment demonstrations took place in a number of towns and there was rioting in Leicester. There was a remarkable and sudden concern for the welfare of the unemployed on the part of the upper classes. Public works were set up and charitable funds for the unemployed grew by leaps and bounds. For several days the panic among respectable people was almost indescribable. As Morris pointed out in the Commonweal, the Socialist League paper, the strategy inspired by this panic had two sides. First there were 'some palliative measures'. On the other hand they could expect selective repression of 'ring-leaders'. Burns, Hyndman, Williams and Champion were arrested ( to be eventually acquitted ). More generally the authorities began what looked like a systematic attack on socialist meetings. The police made repeated assaults on a demonstration in Hyde Park later in February. As the weather improved and the various open-air speaking pitches were reopened there began a steady stream of prosecutions for 'obstruction'. In July 1886 we find Mowbray and Lane attending a meeting of the Metropolitan Radical Federation, trying - unsuccessfully - to drum up support for Socialist League speakers who were being harassed at the Grove, Stratford, Bell Street, Edgware Road and at the 'Bricklayers Arms', Kilburn. Nigger minstrels and Christian preachers were not interfered with and boys were being paid by the police to obstruct the meetings, it was claimed. [35] The unhelpful attitude of the Radicals is explainable both by the West End Riot, which offended the more respectable, and the socialist candidates put up by the S.D.F. in November 1885. The latter adventure had been a farcical failure, but it had obviously irked the Radicals who looked upon the working-class vote as their own private property.

The pitch at Bell Street became the scene of sustained struggle for the right to speak in the streets. After the first case of obstruction at the site, Mainwaring of the League and Jack Williams of the S.D.F. spoke to a large meeting on 11 July. Both were summonsed and sent for trial at a higher court. Between the two hearings Morris went to the site and spoke, though he knew he risked prison. He was summonsed but in the event, being a gentleman, he was fined one shilling ! Mainwaring and Williams, who were both workers, were fined twenty pounds. Williams refused to pay and went to prison for two months. And though as a result of these prosecutions the Marylebone Branch decided to leave the Bell Street pitch, another was opened immediately which remained more or less unmolested. Morris's intervention in the struggle had resulted in publicity, as at Dod Street. Morris felt his name was worth using if it helped block attempts to 'clear the streets of costermongers, organs, processions and lecturers of all kinds and make them a sort of decent prison corridor, with people just trudging to and from their work'. [36] But it was the determination of the rank and file to keep their speaking pitches that won through. It was now impossible for the police to close every speaking pitch without Draconian measures and massive repression and they probably became uncomfortably aware of the counter-productive results of the efforts they did make. The movement was growing and this kind of repression fanned the flames rather than doused them.

The mood at this time is given by an observer : 'It is undeniable that a very deep seated spirit of discontent was very widespread ( ... ) and that it was fostered by agitators who saw no other road to profit and prominence at the time - and rendered dangerous by unbridled language in the highest degree reprehensible. The English extremists advocated what they termed the Social Revolution and at street corners, in public places and elsewhere, when a crowd of working men and loafers could be mustered, they were invariably asked to give "three cheers for the Social Revolution" and it must be admitted that they responded in greater numbers and greater enthusiasm as this dangerous movement progressed.' [37] This widespread and developing discontent was conditioned by events. First there had been political discontent in the Radical milieu over the Liberal government's backsliding in the relatively prosperous period of 1881-3. Political discontent had combined with material misery in the harsh period of high unemployment of 1884-6. The combativeness and bitterness of this period were to develop and carry over into the more prosperous years of 1889-90, when a burst of organizing was to take advantage of the favourable 'terms of trade' for labour. [38] It was in 1885-6, poised at the point of take-off of the working-class movement that the first Anarchist papers were published in England.

No one knows how political ideas seize the imagination of masses of people. If they did our world would look even rougher than it does. So much can be said about 'objective economic conditions' but we still only have explanations after the event. The self-confident analysts of the past have proved to be lousy predictors of the future. Whatever the mechanism, however, that body of ideas summed up by the word 'socialism' rapidly struck root. In the ten years between 1885 and 1895 socialists changed from being a few foreigners and cranks of no consequence to a deadly danger or the wave of the future according to taste. Yet where did socialist ideas come from ? A few weekly or monthly papers of small circulation; a few meetings addressed in clubs or on street corners; and when we consider the mounds of rival journals and the hordes of rival street-corner speakers it seems little short of miraculous that socialist ideas were heard, let alone taken up and acted upon. So when we now consider the affairs of a few Anarchist papers it is for their potential energy as much as for their immediate impact. The latter, initially, was not great.

[1] Frank Kitz, Freedom, April 1912. Following quotes from Kitz from same source.

[2] Lane memoirs. Subsequent Lane quotes from same source.

[3] Lee and Archbold, op. cit. p. 44.

[4] ibid., p. 42.

[5] Marx, letter of 11 April 1881.

[6] Marx to Sorge, letter of 15 December 1881, op. cit., p. 397.

[7] Lee and Archbold, op. cit., p. 51. The stepping-stone programme remained the only programme of the Federation until the surprises of the 1884 conference.

[8] See quote in Thompson, op.cit., p. 344.

[9] See Marx to Sorge, letter of 5 November 1880, 'In any event Moist has performed the good service of having brought together all the ranters -Andreas Scheu, Hasselman - as a group.'

[10] See Thompson, op. cit., and Carlson, op. cit.

[11] Quoted in Thompson, op. cit., p. 321.

[12] Thompson, op. cit, p. 355.

[13] Engels to Sorge, letter of 29 April 1886.

[14] William Morris, 'How I Became a Socialist', Justice, 16 June 1894.

[15] Answer to a question at a meeting, quoted by J. B. Glasier, William Morris and the Early Days of the Socialist Movement, London, 1921, pp. 21-2.

[16] Two examples are Edward Aveling in London and Thomas Barclay in Leicester.

[17] Lee and Archbold, op. cit., p. 58.

[18] ibid., p. 57.

[19] Manifesto reproduced in Bulletin of Society for Study of Labour History, No. 14, Spring 1967.

[20] Quoted in Thompson, op. cit., p. 396.

[21] Letters of William Morris, Philip Henderson ( ed. ), London, 1950, pp. 203-4.

[22] Lane memoirs. Punctuation added.

[23] Lane is here referring to the 'stepping stones'. See note 7.

[24] E. P. Thompson argues this case persuasively.

[25] The letter was written after the conference and the first meeting of the new council.

[26] See Thompson, op. cit., p. 448, for Engels's activities here.

[27] Frank Kitz, Freedom, April 1912.

[28] Quoted in Thompson, op. cit., p. 444.

[29] Letter, Lane to Barker.

[30] Lane memoirs.

[31] Mile End, Stratford and Hoxton branches; material in Socialist League archive, I.I.S.H.

[32] MS. minutes, S.L. archive.

[33] Garrett, Man in the Street, London, p. 141. My thanks to Anna Davin for this reference.

[34] P. Latouche, Anarchy !, London, 1908, p.78.

[35] Club and Institute Journal, 17 July 1886.

[36] William Morris, Commonweal, 31 July 1886.

[37] Latouche, op. cit., pp. 46-7.

[38] See movement of unemployment figures in Chronology.


04. The Anarchist and Freedom... and Dan Chatterton

Submitted by Steven. on October 7, 2009

As we have seen, the first English-language Anarchist paper to circulate in England was the American paper Liberty, published by Benjamin Tucker ( see p. 19 ). It is possible that the paper was introduced to the English socialists in the early days by Marie Le Compte, the American delegate to the 1881 Congress in London, who evidently spoke in a number of clubs during her stay in England. [1] She was a regular correspondent from France for Tucker's paper in 1883, great interest being aroused by the trial and imprisonment of a number of Anarchists ( including Louise Michel, Pouget and Kropotkin ) at Lyons. A number of prominent English public men and intellectuals signed a petition for Kropotkin to be released from prison on health grounds and because of his scientific work - a petition, it must be said, that Kropotkin did not solicit. But it seems evident that a wider interest in Kropotkin's political ideas was encouraged in England by the trial. Liberty, by giving accounts of the trial and reports on the prisoners, and printing translations of Anarchist-Communist material played its part in introducing Anarchist ideas to England.

In December 1883 two distributors of the paper in England were given. One was George Standring, a regular lecturer to working-men's clubs. The other was 'The Science Library', Tunbridge Wells. This was run by the local secretary of the National Secular Society, Henry Seymour. He had achieved a minor notoriety by posting a 'blasphemous' bill in Tunbridge Wells and being summonsed for it at the request of local Christians. On Bradlaugh's advice he had pleaded guilty in July 1883 and was fined. The accusation of cowardice raised against him for following this advice seems to have rankled, but the fact of his prosecution had given him a certain status. [2] His interest in Anarchism seems to have originated with his secularism - illustrated by his publication in 1883 of Bakunin's essay 'God and the State' . He seems to have become converted to Anarchism by 1884 because there was something of an encounter between Seymour and Bradlaugh in the columns of the Secular Society's paper in September, Seymour defending Anarchism and Bradlaugh attacking : '( ... ) we consider all views unfortunate which result in the cowardly and murderous use of explosives as means of agitation.' [3] Bradlaugh never seems to have asked himself whether the same argument could not have been used to denounce his own political views, which, after all, had resulted in the cowardly and, murderous use of almost every weapon to ensue Coercion in Ireland. It is interesting though that Anarchism and bombs were seen as synonymous at this early date.

By January 1885 Liberty was announcing the forthcoming publication of an Anarchist paper by Seymour. It appeared in March 1885, came out monthly and was called the Anarchist. It was a lively paper and, like Tucker's, though initially supporting a Prudhonian position of small proprietorship and staunch independence of artisans within voluntary cooperative schemes it was prepared to give space to Anarchist-Communist writings. Seymour also shared Tucker's admiration for the Fenian bombings. The first issue contained greetings from Elisée Reclus and the French-speaking International Anarchist circle of London. It reprinted the Lyons Anarchist manifesto. It also had a characteristic piece of verbal acrobatics from George Bernard Shaw and acknowledged the receipt of one pound from Pease, the later historian of the Fabian Society. All in all it represented quite a rich mixture! Further issues of the paper also make it plain that Seymour was in touch with the exiled Anarchist groups in London, and one of the most interesting things about the paper was the immediacy with which foreign events ( in France particularly ) were portrayed. Letters from Marie Le Compte, from Kropotkin in Clairvaux prison, from Brocher, who organised the Congress of 1881, gave events at first hand, allowing some insight into the emotions and personalities involved. The reader was thus able not only to grasp the facts about happenings abroad but to understand the atmosphere within which they took place. But if Seymour was in contact with the Anarchist movement abroad or exile circles in London his contact with the English socialists was somewhat limited - limited, it would seem, initially to the Fabian Society. This isolation from those groups of English socialists who were engaged in the problems of relating experience and theory, utopian aspiration and day-to-day activity, gives Seymour's theoretical contributions a certain dogmatic unrealism. When Seymour turned his hand to propaganda, however, he could turn out quite snappy stuff, like his 'Anarchist Manifesto' on the Elections in the October 1885 issue. The cross-heads on the manifesto read 'Why do you vote ? The people in Subjection; Labour Representation is an illusion; No need for any Government at all. Do Not Vote,' and finally in huge capitals 'THE SOCIAL REVOLUTION !'

A small group began to form around the paper. The third issue of the Anarchist in May 1885 announced that 'A circle of English Anarchists is about to be formed'. By July the 'English Anarchists' were meeting more or less monthly. The numbers involved were not indicated and neither were the individuals; but it is possible to make some educated guesses. Firstly, since Seymour was involved in the Fabian Society it is probable that this provided some recruits. George Bernard Shaw was later to remark that there had been 'a sort of influenza of Anarchism in the Society at that time'. [4] E. Pease could have been one victim of the epidemic : he is described as making 'public confession of his belief in Anarchist Ethics as distinct from Coarse Materialism so ably set forth - by H. M. Hyndman' at a Fabian Society meeting. [5] In December 'C.M.W.', who can be no one else but Charlotte Wilson, a member of the executive of the Society, was acknowledged as a collector of the princely sum of nine shillings for the Manifesto Fund, and was probably also a member of the 'English Anarchists'. She had already contributed two pieces on Anarchism to Justice in November 1884, signing herself 'An English Anarchist'. A review of the 'Labour Remuneration Conference' was given by someone signing similarly in the first issue of the Anarchist; this too could have been Charlotte Wilson. More will be said about her later as she was deeply involved with the founding of Freedom . Apart from Fabian Society intellectuals, however, the paper attracted a most remarkable figure in the shape of James Harrigan. Material on him shows him to have been an exceptional figure, a loner who according to his own account had espoused Anarchism long before the 1880s. A shoemaker by trade, as an apprentice he had worked with one of the Cato Street conspirators 'who may have inspired[him] with revolutionary ideas'. [6] Harrigan had been a member of the English Section of the First International and had once been chairman of its Annual Convention. He was to write in October 1885 : '( ... ) old stagers know well enough that I have consistency and persistently advocated and defended the principles of Anarchy from the time I left the old "International", exactly at the same time that Michael Bakounine left it and for the same reason ( ... )'. [7] 'He became an open air speaker at an early age in the parks and open spaces and probably deserves the distinction of being the first open air propagandist of avowed Anarchism in England.' In this early period he would attend trades union meetings and advocate the stay-in strike. He is also credited with converting Ben Tillett, later a leader of the Dockers' Union, to socialism while working with other cobblers at seasonal work opening tea chests at the Docks. 'He said there was nothing he regretted more for he hated the political charlatans who used the workers' movement to make a career for themselves. Harrigan with abilities far beyond those smooth-tongued adventurers, remained a worker, a rebel in society.'

In October 1885 he was pushing the Anarchist at meetings and had run into accusations from Charles Mowbray that he was a police spy. How this came about is almost impossible to discover - Harrigan was of the opinion that it was jealousy of someone pushing papers other than the Commonweal at Socialist League meetings. ( There had, incidentally, been complaints from Hyndman that S.D.F. paper-sellers were being harassed at League meetings. ) The incident is worth mentioning because it shows that an awareness of the activity of police spies already existed in socialist bodies. It also shows that Mowbray, who was later to declare himself an Anarchist, at this stage remained like most of the Socialist League, an anti-parliamentary revolutionary socialist. His accusation of Harrigan, however, might have had something to do with the latter's style of agitation. At a large meeting to which he lectured on Anarchism in South London in November 1885, Harrigan, in an aside while telling about a no-rent campaign, advised his audience '( ... ) by way of a pastime they should amuse themselves by poisoning off the landlords'. [8] This could easily be taken as provocateur's talk.

These minor difficulties did not affect the paper. By the end of 1885 Seymour was writing : 'On the whole, the success of the paper from a pecuniary point of view has exceeded my sanguine expectations but I am bound to say that, since enlarging its size, the increased circulation is not so large as reasons led me to anticipate.' As a result he decided to bring out the paper twice as often but half the size. He printed a mocking commentary on a piece reprinted from the Daily Telegraph which said that Anarchists were far more dangerous than socialists, that they were madmen and so on, and which went on : 'Fortunately there are certainly not more than 300 Anarchists in London and their organ the Anarchist which appears rather irregularly sells not more than 500 copies and is not in a flourishing condition.' [9] But in substance apart from saying that the Telegraph had got its facts wrong Seymour gave no details. It is probable that an informed guess would give a circulation of approximately 1,000 at this point. It was a recognized left-wing journal read by branches of the Socialist League and with some support in the Fabian Society and took its place as a regular if modest feature of socialist political life. It was undoubtedly a one-man effort and stood or fell with Seymour and his reputation. It had the words 'Edited by Henry Seymour' under the title on the front page in letters small enough to come within the bounds of decency but large enough to read at some distance. It was unfortunate for him that two events took place which first shook his position and then almost completely destroyed his influence in the small new movement. The first was the arrival of Kropotkin in England and the eventual formation of Freedom. The second was his support for Theodore Reuss, a German police spy.

Kropotkin was released, together with the other Anarchists held since the Lyons trial, in mid-January 1886. He arrived in England in March. His reason for leaving France was the high probability of re-arrest and the need for a period of recuperation after his imprisonment where he had suffered from both scurvy and malaria. If he left voluntarily there would be less possibility of the authorities preventing his return. Unless he considered America as a possible home England at this time was his 'last refuge from arbitrary authority'. [10] But Kropotkin was also satisfied that in addition to being close enough to France to continue work on the Revolté there was positive work to be done in England. Seymour had been in correspondence with Kropotkin in Clairvaux prison and Charlotte Wilson had been in touch with Kropotkin's wife during his imprisonment. On his release Kropotkin wrote to a friend, 'I am called to London to found an anarchist ( English ) paper; The means are existant and I will get to work busily.' [11] The phrase 'to found' is interesting : it implied rather more than cooperating with Seymour on his paper. And indeed the twee picture that one is all too often given of Kropotkin as 'The Gentle Anarchist Prince' can only obscure events here - it is a picture belonging to the politenesses of drawing-rooms and respectable tea-parties. Kropotkin had been a soldier and had gone armed on workers' demonstrations, he had worked in underground political activity and had broken from jail. He was also something of an autocrat. Stepniak, the Russian terrorist, with whom he had both lived and worked, gives a convincing picture. While admitting all of Kropotkin's theoretical brilliance and personal talents Stepniak says : 'He is too exclusive and rigid in his theoretical convictions. He admits no departure from the ultra Anarchical programme and had always considered it impossible therefore to contribute to any of the revolutionary papers in the Russian language abroad and in St Petersburg. He has always found in them some point of divergence and in fact has never written a line in any of them.' [12] The implication is, then, that any paper which Kropotkin became involved in would have to be Anarchist-Communist.

Seymour's attitude before ( if only just before ) Kropotkin's release from prison is given in a commentary on his printing of an Anarchist-Communist article by Henry Glasse to which Seymour was to reply on Proudhonist lines. He wrote : 'There is nothing to quarrel about in the ideas of Anarchists - mutualistic or communistic. Both ( ... ) are essentially anarchistic since enforced authority is absent... Why then do not Communist and Mutualist sink outside speculative difference of opinion and join hands to overturn the state ?' [13] This seems to have been a sincerely held view - as we have seen Anarchist-Communists had often featured in the columns of the Anarchist. It was something of a surprise, though, when after Kropotkin had arrived in England the words 'Edited by Henry Seymour' were removed from the paper and the following announcement was printed : 'In accepting the economic principles of Communism as satisfactorarily established I unhesitatingly and fearlessly adopt them...' To many this seemed an over-sudden conversion. The reasons for it were clearly to be found later in this announcement : 'I have succeeded in securing the editorial assistance of several scholarly and revolutionary writers, so that the paper will henceforth be conducted on lines of conjoint editorship.' [14] From now on articles were to be anonymous and to stand on their own merits without personal egoism. These changes can be seen quite simply as the down-payment for Kropotkin's cooperation. Only two issues of the paper under 'conjoint editorship' appeared, the second being something of a disaster - dull as ditchwater for the most part, with a peculiar stifled air to it.

The paper reappeared as Seymour's personal organ in June 1886 and, as if to celebrate the occasion, he allowed himself a war-whoop over the bomb thrown at the police in the Chicago Haymarket :

Our Chicago comrades have proclaimed a reign of terror. They have led the van in the struggle for the people's emancipation. Justice personified in bombs had stepped down and bid the Capitalist pause in his murderous career. A combination of Sulphuric and Nitric Acids and Glycerine has proved itself ten times more formidable than even a quarter of a million 'Knights of Labour' ( ... ) Men are moving ahead. We have practically passed through those crude beginnings of the Social Revolution of the people sacking the bakeshops to appease their HUNGER and are about to enter that final phase where the people will attack the armouries and arsenals to appease their ANGER.

In this and the following issue ( July ) he also gave the reasons from his point of view why the short-lived 'conjoint editorship' failed. Firstly, he says that the whole conception was impractical leading to a 'dull and dead level of mediocrity'. He says that a particular article 'The Family as a Type of Society' which, one is forced to admit, was turgid in the extreme was ordered 'by one individual member' of the editorial committee without his knowledge. It was then placed in the paper by the committee, overriding his objections. This 'one individual member' of the committee would appear to be Charlotte Wilson from other remarks he makes. He implies that she was both undemocratic and impractical and there seems to have been quite some friction between them. Charlotte Wilson seems, for her part, to have seen Seymour and his paper as something of an inconvenience. According to her, Freedom would have been started earlier if there had been no Anarchist. [15] She was keeping aloof from Seymour's circle by this time and had her own 'Proudhon Society' which met in Hampstead. Seymour's group became the Central London Anarchist Group. [16] It may well have been difficult to work with Seymour but one can understand his irritation when rumours were circulated in the London clubs saying that the Anarchist was finished now that Kropotkin and Charlotte Wilson had left. However, he misjudged the situation when he wrote that Kropotkin 'resigned only because he saw that no useful work could be done by the committee ( ... )'. La Revolté, a paper with which Kropotkin retained a close connection, had written 'we learn with regret that the attempt made by London friends to publish the Anarchist with a new programme has been abandoned. We hope that a new Anarchist journal will be started'. [17] There is little doubt that Kropotkin was the source of both the information and the intention to publish a new paper. However, due to the illness of his wife, Kropotkin was not able to start work on the new paper for some time and the first issue of Freedom did not appear until October 1886. [18]

In the meantime Seymour had the field to himself. He did not, however, use his opportunity well. He made the mistake of becoming involved in a dispute raging among the German exile Anarchists in London - the Bruderkreig or Brothers' War. His mistake was the more serious because in the process he both became associated with a proven police spy and caused a deep split between himself and the Socialist League. The circumstances of the Bruderkreig are more fully explained elsewhere. [19] Putting it simply, however, it was a dispute involving both personalities and politics and boiled down to a conflict between Victor Dave - a trusted member of the Socialist League - and Peukert. The conflict was longstanding, having its origins in Most's rather high-handed treatment of Peukert, the opposition of Peukert to the American-based Freiheit ( distributed in Europe by Dave ) and the starting of a rival journal Der Rebell. This split the limited financial resources of the German Anarchist movement and caused friction. Peukert was an Anarchist-Communist and opposed Most's more Bakuninist collectivism. Such opposition, both literary and political, incensed Most and Dave who both seem to have considered Peukert a young upstart. There were further disagreements over the smuggling of Anarchist literature into Germany with Peukert accusing Dave of trying to take control of the whole Anarchist movement. Quantities of ink were spilt in mutual backstabbings in the German Anarchist press. Dave and his followers finally succeeded in expelling Peukert and his followers from their Whitfield Street club. Those expelled founded the Gruppe Autonomie with a club house at 32 Charlotte Street, in February 1886. The group grew rapidly and eventually moved its premises to 6 Windmill Street, Tottenham Court Road. The whole affair was conducted with astonishing bitterness on both sides with every accusation from misappropriation of funds to police spy activity being thrown back and forth. Frankly, it was rather silly of Seymour to get mixed up in the business at all.

On 17 May a council meeting of the Socialist League expelled Charles Theodore Reuss as a police spy in the pay of the German police. Reuss had been quite deeply involved in the Socialist League as librarian and labour secretary in 1885. He was connected with Peukert and would thus have come under Victor Dave's suspicion but in fact the information upon which the accusation was made came from the Belgian Social Democrats and was brought independently to the council by H. Charles. [20] Events were to prove the accusations correct. In the mean time Peukert and his followers rallied to defend Reuss. A more than somewhat biased commission cleared Reuss of the charges against him and denounced Dave as a police spy. Seymour reprinted its findings in September 1886. Almost all of the front page of the October issue of the Anarchist was devoted to an attack on the Socialist League for its expulsion of Reuss. This came in response to a special supplement to the Commonweal of 18 September marked 'Printed for Foreign Transmission Only' which emanated from Dave's club at Whitfield Street and which denounced both the biased commission of inquiry and the Anarchist for reprinting it. Seymour began to back-pedal a little on his denunciations as time passed, but his support for Reuss continued. It was not clever of him, for it more or less completely alienated the Socialist League, which at that time was the only grouping of English socialists which he could have allied with or even infiltrated. His misjudgement was demonstrated clearly when in February 1887, Reuss, using Peukert as an unwitting accomplice, was able to trace Johann Neve in Belgium and have him handed over to the German police. Neve was one of the most wanted men in Germany. A truly heroic figure, modest and careful, he had chosen a life of exile on the Belgian/German border organizing the secret distribution of Anarchist literature, arms and explosives in Germany. His arrest was a major triumph for the German political police. Johann Neve died - or was murdered - in prison. Seymour's paper moved into a magazine format in March 1887 and steadily dwindled into insignificance.

The first number of Freedom in October 1886 was very different from Seymour's Anarchist. It was sober, respectable and theoretically coherent. All contributors were anonymous - except that everyone knew Kropotkin wrote for it. The keynote of its long life was given in its first article. After a review of the contemporary situation, man's constant struggle for freedom and the uselessness of participation in the structure of repression for achieving freedom, the piece finishes : 'Such, in rough outline, is the general aspect of the Anarchist Socialism our paper is intended to set forth and by the touchstone of this belief we purpose to try the current ideas and modes of action of existing Society.' Here it is made clear that the paper is not considered so much an agitational newspaper but as a general propagandist paper reviewing events as they take place outside. Unlike Commonweal or the Anarchist it was not designed as a newspaper of combatants. Neither did it consider itself at any time the newspaper for the Anarchist movement but as the newspaper of the Freedom Group. The Group was not open, its 'membership was always limited and confidential' [21] The Group included in addition to Kropotkin, Dr Burns Gibson, Mrs Dryhurst, Frank Hyde and his wife, and Charlotte Wilson who was effectively the editor of Freedom.

Charlotte Wilson remained editor of Freedom until 1895 and it was largely due to her efforts that the paper appeared consistently over that time. She had first become interested in Anarchism during the trial of Kropotkin and other Anarchists in Lyons in 1883,and by 1884 had become an Anarchist. Born Charlotte Mary Martin in 1854, the daughter of a surgeon, she received 'the best education then available to girls. During 1873-4 she attended the institution at Cambridge which a few years later became Newnham College. After leaving university, she married Arthur Wilson, a stockbroker, and settled in Hampstead, a fashionable suburb of London.' [22] By 1886 they were living a somewhat expensively appointed simple life at Wildwood Farm ( later renamed 'Wyldes' ), on the edge of Hampstead Heath. She had joined the Fabian Society in 1884 and in December was elected to its executive. In addition to her two contributions to Justice on Anarchism she also wrote the section on Anarchism in the fourth Fabian tract 'What Socialism Is' which was published in June 1886. At this time the Fabian Society had not firmly espoused Social Democratic electioneering and was basically a discussion group for socialist intellectuals with no fixed programme or ideology. It was its openness at this time which made the publication of Anarchist material possible. But this openness was too open for some of the members and steps were taken to find out the extent of Mrs Wilson's influence and to establish a policy of parliamentary activity. At a meeting in London in September 1886 the parliamentarians proposed that the Fabian Society should organize itself into a political party. William Morris proposed and Charlotte Wilson seconded an amendment which stressed the need for the education of the people as to their position and to steadily keep the principles of Socialism before them '( ... ) and whereas no Parliamentary party can exist without compromise and concession which would hinder that education and obscure those principles : it would be a false step for Socialists to attempt to take part in the Parliamentary contest'. This amendment was overwhelmingly defeated. Charlotte Wilson resigned from the executive of the Society in April 1887.

The Freedom Group, however, betrayed distinctly Fabian tendencies - not so much in any penchant for electioneering as in its exclusiveness and its commitment to 'permeation' of other bodies with Anarchist ideas as opposed to using the paper as the nucleus for the organization of other autonomous groups. It can be guessed that this was Charlotte Wilson's natural preference. Kropotkin who had taken part in more direct agitational and organizational work in the past now also seemed to prefer a more discreet role. This was partly due to his desire not to upset the authorities with regard to his residence in England, to failing health and to his difficulties with English. French was the court language in Russia and with it he had no trouble. English was another matter : 'His pronunciation was peculiar until one grew used to it. "Own" rhymed with "town", "law" was "low", and "the sluffter fields of Europe" became a kindly joke amongst us'. [23] Manuscripts in the Institute of Social History in Amsterdam show his written English to have been defective. In order to write English propaganda he needed sub-editors and the Freedom Group represents from this point of view a 'front organization' for Kropotkin. Whatever the difficulties, though, he had great personal prestige at this time in the English socialist movement and it was his presence that rubbed some of this prestige off on to the other Freedom Group members. His discretion by no means forced him completely into the background, however. In the 1880s he is to be found lecturing to a large number of meetings, bad English or not. He also formed friendships with the Hyndmans and William Morris. The S.D.F. regularly reprinted his Appeal to the Young over the years. William Morris and he met at a celebration of the Commune shortly after his arrival in England. Soon they were to have long discussions and were in close contact, Kropotkin speaking occasionally at the Hammersmith branch of the Socialist League and attending some of the Sunday suppers at Morris's home. 'It is doubtful that Morris made any systematic study of Kropotkin's anarchist writings, but he did have ample access to Kropotkin's ideas, and arguments during the last years of his participation in League affairs.' [24] It was probably through this early contact with Morris that the Commonweal press facilities were used to print Freedom. As time went by the Freedom Group also used branches of the Socialist League to distribute Freedom - Freedom certainly reached Scotland and Norwich by being ordered through the Socialist League office. [25] It is doubtful whether this 'permeation' would have been possible without the prestige of Kropotkin.

Engels wrote in April 1886 : '( ... ) the Anarchists are making rapid progress in the Socialist League. Morris and Bax - one as an emotional socialist and the other as a chaser after philosophical paradoxes - are wholly under their control for the present.' [26] Yet a rather different view is given by Nettlau of this period. He points out that Kropotkin had the choice of working with the Socialist League and preferred to work with first Seymour and then the Freedom Group. Indeed Kropotkin wrote to Morris in reply to a request for articles for Commonweal saying he had too much work on hand with La Revolté and the Anarchist together with the scientific articles by which he earned his bread. Reasonable though this refusal might sound it nevertheless represented a political choice, a choice Nettlau described as

regrettable, for in 1886 and 1887 the League contained the very best Socialist elements of the time, men who had deliberately rejected Parliamentarianism and reformism and who worked for the splendid free Communism of William Morris or for broadminded revolutionary Anarchism. If Kropotkin's experience and ardour had helped this movement we might say today Kropotkin and William Morris as we say Elisee Reclus and Kropotkin. Unfortunately we cannot say so. There was a latent lack of sympathy between the Anarchists of the League and those of the Freedom Group in those early years; the latter were believed by the former to display some sense of superiority, being in possession of definitely elaborated Anarchist-Communist theories ( ... ) if both efforts had been coordinated a much stronger movement would have been created. [27]

Thus it is made clear that the Freedom Group in no way wished to become organically linked with the Socialist League but were prepared to use the branch organization of the League to distribute their paper. When members of the Socialist League were recruited - as, say, John Turner and Alfred Marsh were in 1887 - their activities in each body were kept separate. Thus it was not from the group round Freedom that the 'Anarchists' in the League received consistent encouragement and support or received their political education - except as general readers of the paper or through attendance at Anarchist meetings.

It is more than likely that Nettlau is naive in ascribing the 'latent lack of sympathy' between the Freedom Group and the Anarchists in the League to the alleged 'sense of superiority, being in possession of definitely elaborated Anarchist Communist theories' of the Freedom Group. This amounts to an accusation of inverted snobbery and philistinism. With the exception of Kropotkin, the militant anti-parliamentarians in the League seemed to have looked on the Freedom Group with some suspicion not as clever theorists but as 'middle class faddists' to use Nicoll's phrase. He wrote '( ... ) neither Kitz, Mowbray or I were particularly friendly ( to the Freedom Group ). We looked upon them as a collection of middle class faddists, who took up with the movement as an amusement, and regretted that Kropotkin and other "serious" people ever had anything to do with them. But they called themselves "Anarchistsl" and that had great influence with many of our international comrades.' [28] This was a suspicion which extended to many of the middle-class members of the League. William Morris was acceptable because he was completely free of pretension, and seemed prepared to take the risks and do the work. More to the point, perhaps, he seemed to understand what it meant to live the worker's life. 'The whole of his poetry and prose is permeated with sympathy and love of the poor,' wrote Frank Kitz, 'the victims of landlord and capitalistic greed. This note of sympathy distinguishes him from many who surrounded him and who babbled of art and culture, but were mere tuft-hunters devoid of any desire to raise the status of the working class ( ... ) Morris's preference for the society of his humbler confreres gave great offence to some superior persons.' [29] Kitz is here referring to Fabians of the George Bernard Shaw type. But one can see the reasons for suspicion of the sincerity of Anarchists like Charlotte Wilson on the part of working-class militants in the face of her middle-class life-style. A contemporary, Margaret Cox, later Lady Oliver, wrote of a time around 1886 : 'She seemed to me a peaceful sort of anarchist and so did all the others who came to meetings, some of them Russian. Someone read a paper and this was followed by discussion, often very vigorous and exciting, lasting until Mrs Wilson interrupted with sandwiches and drinks, after which we all turned out on the Heath.' [30] It all seemed a little too genteel.

It really seems then that the Anarchism which was developing in the League received only passing encouragement from the Freedom Group. In fact, as Anarchism grew within the League the Freedom Group finally disengaged from it. The Anarchists in the League developed their Anarchism in their own way, and in response to their own needs, which will be described more fully later on. Briefly, they were due to the need to develop the ideological counter-attack to the parliamentarians in the League and the need for a wider vision of a new libertarian society under the pressure of events.

As we have seen the working class were becoming increasingly responsive to socialist propaganda of every kind. But the socialist response - like the mass misery and bitterness which nourished it - was decentralized. This was both reflected in the self-activity within the branches of the socialist organizations and the activity of individuals too ambitious, too heterodox or too eccentric for one organization to hold or contain. Under the first head we could put John Burns, under the second Tom Mann, neither of whom of course were Anarchist. But one eccentric could be described as a one-man Anarchist response to the social situation. This was the astonishing Dan Chatterton who published forty-two numbers of the wildly individual Chatterton's Commune - the Atheist Communistic Scorcher from 18 September 1884 until his death in 1895.

Dan Chatterton lived in one of the most miserable slums in London, off Drury Lane. In his time he was well known among London socialists, an old Chartist who had recovered the fire of his youth in the new socialist movement. David Nicoll wrote of him :

Who does not remember ( ... ) a pale haggard old man who used to climb the platform at meetings of the unemployed, or in the closely packed Socialist lecture halls and pour forth wild denunciations of the robbery and injustice that flourishes in our rotten society, mingled with fearful prophecies of the terrible revolution that was coming. He looked as he stood in the glare of the gaslight, with his ghostly face and flashing eyes, clad in an old grey overcoat and black slouched hat, a red woollen scarf knotted around his neck, like some grim spectre evolved from the misery and crime of the London slums and middle class men who had entered the meeting from curiosity shuddered as they murmured to themselves 'Marat !' Yes Marat come to life again, an English Marat [31]

Dan Chatterton made his living, if not a particularly lucrative one, as a bill sticker and as a seller of socialist newspapers - an indication of the mood of the time that someone could actually sell enough of them to exist on the commission.

He was well known not only in Hyde Park, but also at all meetings of the advanced sections of the social movement where he sold Freedom and the Commonweal but especially pushing the sale of his own little production ( ... ) He usually created a sensation and considerable amusement by rapidly announcing his paper as 'An appeal to the half-starved, herring-gutted, poverty-stricken, parish-damned inhabitants of this disunited kingdom ( ... )'

Through the Scorcher ran his 'Autobiography of Old Chat' which is a history of the struggles of his time, the scenes he witnessed and his frequent challenges to Bishops and priests to debate with him. These last were mostly preceded by an 'Open Letter' stating why they should meet him in debate, and he took pains to see that they received the challenge, though I think that he had no success in drawing them into battle ! ( ... )

Richard Whiting in his once famous novel 'No. 5 John Street' makes Chatterton one of his main characters under the name of 'Old 48', and says of his paper : 'The journal if I may be pardoned the digression, has no circulation; yet it supports '48 as he supports it. It is bought at public meetings as a curiosity and usually by persons who have in view an inexpensive donation to the British Museum. Many who purchase it make the transaction an excuse for offering the proprietor an alms. It has every note of singularity. It is printed on paper of the texture commonly used for posters and of the hue of anaemic blood. Its orthography is of the first standard; its syntax aspires to the perfect freedom of the Anarchical ideal. It is set up from a composite fount suggestive of a jobbing printers dustbin, and containing so undue a proportion of Capitals they sometimes have to take service out of their turn at the end of a word. It might appear to have a large staff for no two of its articles are signed by the same person. 'Brutus' writes the leader, 'George Washington' supplies the reports of meetings, 'William Tell' gives reminiscences of the Chartist rising and 'Cromwell' acts as agent for advertisements. To the initiated, however these are but so many incarnations of the same commanding personality. When '48 has written the entire number he sets it up. When he has set it up he carries it to a hand printing press which Guttenberg would have considered crude. When the press happens to be in a good humour, he obtains a copy by the usual method. When it does not he is still at no loss : for he lays the formes on the table and prints each sheet by the pressure of the hand. Earlier difficulties of this sort were met by the co-operation of his wife, now deceased. This devoted woman sat on the formes and obtained the desired results by the impact of a mass of corpulency estimated at fourteen stone. Her death is said to have been accelerated by the sudden demand for an entire edition of a hundred and seventy copies descriptive of a riot in Hyde Park. These earlier issues are valued by collectors for the extreme sharpness of the impression'. [32]

Dan Chatterton was an eccentric, a curiosity; yet he was also something of an institution. There are references to him in many papers and books of the period and Richard Whiting's account discounts his importance as an agitator. As Nicoll remarks, his pamphlet/newspaper 'reached an audience which more pretentious writers never do ( ... ) he never wrote above the heads of the people'. He deserves to be rescued from oblivion.

[1] See, e.g. Liberty, 25 August 1883.

[2] For more detail see A. Calder-Marshall, Lewd, Blasphemous and Obscene, London, 1972, pp. 181--2.

[3] National Reformer, September 1884, quoted Liberty, 3 January 1885.

[4] Fabian Tract 41, London, 1892..

[5] Anarchist, August 1885.

[6] Mat Kavanagh, biographical sketch of James Harrigan, War Commentary, 24 February 1945

[7] Anarchist, 15 October 1885.

[8] Anarchist, 9 December 1885.

[9] Quoted in the Anarchist, March 1886.

[10] See G. Woodcock and I. Avacumovic, The Anarchist Prince, London, 1950, p. 203ff.

[11] See G. Woodcock and I. Avacumovic, The Anarchist Prince, London, 1950, p. 203ff.

[12] From Stepniak's Underground Russia, quoted in the Anarchist, September 1885.

[13] Anarchist, 1 January 1886.

[14] Anarchist, 20 April 1886.

[15] See letter, C. M Wilson to Marsh, Marsh papers, I.I.S.H.

[16] See C. M Wilson to Sparling, 7 March 1886, S.L. archive, and the Anarchist, June 1886.

[17] Quoted in the Anarchist, June 1886.

[18] Letter, C. M Wilson to Sparling, 29 June 1886, S.L. archive.

[19] See A. Carlson, German Anarchism, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1972.

[20] Letter from Reuss to S.L. council, 3 July 1886, S.L. archive, and letter from H. Charles to the Anarchist, October 1886.

[21] Woodcock and Avacumovic, The Anarchist Prince, London, 1950, p. 205.

[22] This is an accurate account taken from Nicolas Walter's biographical sketch in the Match, November 1973.

[23] H. W. Nevinson, Fire of Life, London, 1935, p. 52

[24] J. W. Hulse, Revolutionists in London, Oxford 1970, p. 91.

[25] See letters of F. C. Slaughter ( F. Charles ) and C. M. Wilson, S.L. archive.

[26] Engels to Sorge, 29 April 1886

[27] Quoted in the Commune, November 1926.

[28] Commonweal, D. Nicoll ( ed. ), 3 October 1903.

[29] Frank Kitz, Freedom, May 1912.

[30] Quoted in A. Freemantle, This Little Band of Prophets, New York, 1960, p. 158.

[31] Anarchist, Sheffield, August 1895. From an article written on the death of Dan Chatterton.

[32] Mat Kavanagh, biographical sketch of Dan Chatterton, War Commentary, 24 February 1945.


05. Anarchism Develops in the Socialist League

Submitted by Steven. on October 14, 2009

For all its hopeful beginnings there was a built-in time-bomb in the Socialist League. The group of people that had seceded from the S.D.F. had done so for different reasons, some because of hostility to Hyndman, others because of hostility to Hyndman and his politics. There were continual attempts by the group that initially centred on the Avelings to turn the League into an electoral party. At first these attempts took no great part of the League's time or attention. The first proposals that the League should strive 'to conquer political power by promoting the election of Socialists' were rejected at the annual conference in June 1885. [1] Another attempt was made the following year and was again defeated. Morris wrote : 'the alterers were defeated and bore their defeat with good temper.' [2] From this point on things began to deteriorate. In September 1886 Lane was putting a motion to the League Council which asserted that 'some speakers of the League are in the habit of advocating Parliamentary action and palliatives of the present system as a means of bringing about socialism. The council believes that this is opposed to the principles of the League and to the wishes of a large majority of the members [and] requests those speakers to desist from advocating this means of propaganda.' [3] By the summer of 1887 Morris was writing that : 'I am trying to get the League to make peace with each other and hold together for another year. It is a tough job; something like the worst kind of pig-driving I should think.' [4]

In two years then, the inner circles of the Socialist League had been transformed from examples of harmonious 'agreeing to differ' to a quarrelsome battleground. Without doubt the disputes were over electoral involvement though the course of the argument is not totally clear. By 1886, however, the parliamentary faction were using the opportunity provided by the branch structure and name of the League to advocate their policy. Naturally enough, this could be expected to annoy the anti-parliamentarians in the organization. But whereas at the base this advocacy could be seen as the occasional expression of 'personal opinion', in the council and its committee it was more clearly perceived as the deliberate policy of a faction. The conflict began to explode with monotonous regularity. On one level this took the form of a power struggle - which the parliamentarians equally monotonously won. Aveling resigned as co-editor of the Commonweal in early 1886, presumably for doctrinal reasons. ( He was encouraged in this by Eleanor Marx and Engels - the latter after a brief honeymoon period was now calling the League and its paper a 'swindle'. [5] ) Bax, who succeeded Aveling, also 'resigned' in early 1887 when he too began to hanker after involvement in elections. Attempts were made to dissolve the Ways and Means Committee which was, in effect, the real executive of the League. [6] This was always dominated by the anti-parliamentarians and was bitterly regarded by their opponents, particularly because it handled the information that went to branches from the council. It is significant that the motion to dissolve it came from its one parliamentarian member who was in a position to know its activities. This power struggle emerged into full view at the 1887 and 1888 conferences, though it remained more or less restricted to the council before then.

On another level the dispute was an ideological one - or rather one from which ideology developed. All the seceders from the S.D.F. had been opposed to any shoddy alliances with the Radicals and related kinds of electoral jiggery-pokery. Their suspicions of Hyndman's opportunism seemed amply justified by his organization's disastrous involvement with the 1885 general election. Yet the group round the Avelings had a general commitment from the beginning to a socialism on the German Social Democrat model, and found a natural sympathy with those who called for an independent political party of labour. The activists of the L.E.L. and the English Revolutionary Society, on the other hand, had been used to an issue-based propaganda and had an ultimate commitment to mass revolutionary action. The group round Morris was concerned to 'make socialists' by an educational propaganda without intrigue or compromise with day-to-day exigencies. For the time being the latter two groups could work well enough together and could not be expected to do other than oppose any specific proposals for electoral activity. For Morris the issue was clear; the only time that socialists should endeavour to enter Parliament was when it was time to break it up and in the mean time education was the only worthwhile activity. [7] For Kitz, Lane, Mowbray and Mainwaring and their group the situation was somewhat different. They were activists rather than educators. Their joy at every manifestation of working-class rebellion and their experience of various agitations left them hazy when it came to a formulation of a unified theory and strategy. Confronted with a body of people like the parliamentary faction who did have a coherent reformist strategy they were forced to develop or accept ideas which could provide them with a more general scenario. These ideas were progressively Anarchist.

When Engels wrote in 1886 'the anarchists are making rapid progress in the Socialist League', whether he knew it or not he was not talking about any coherent Anarchist faction but of a faction trying to achieve coherence through a self-developed Anarchism. The only committed Anarchists in the organization were exiles like Dave. That the process of self-education was messy there was no doubt. A trades union member resigned from the council in 1886 because of its inconclusive wranglings ( though it is worth pointing out that he was also a parliamentarian ). He wrote : 'I earnestly hope the League is not going to degenerate into a mere Quixotic debating society for the discussion of philosophic fads. I care not how angelic may be the theories of Anarchists or Anarchist-Communists. I contend that the real solid basis of the Revolutionary movement is the economic question.' [8] The irritation of this correspondent seems to have been a feature of Council proceedings generally. The general wranglings were both resented and felt to be inevitable. The L.E.L. activists for example were evidently furious that so much time had to be spent on them yet felt that they had to continue to defend the original principles of the League and develop the polemic or give up the League to the parliamentarians. Lane, particularly, was irritated in the extreme that he could spend so little time on organization in the East End.

Meanwhile the branches were carrying on in their own way and where able people were involved they were doing good work. They were being let down by the council which could have provided a forum for creative thinking but which was locked in increasingly bitter strife. It was inevitable that this would spill out into the League as a whole. As the 1887 Conference approached Lane circulated a leaflet to the membership which illustrates something of what was going on. It also fired the first shots in the now public battle. He wrote :

Comrades, Directly after our last conference which endorsed the policy carried out by the League hitherto, two separate parties were formed on the Council, caused by the fact that as early as July members on and off the Council were publicly urging the League into a parliamentary course of action; the other party wished to maintain the League as an educational party of principle.

As an attempt to make an understanding possible it was decided to draft a policy agreeable to both sides and a committee was formed with Mahon and Lane for the 'principled side', Bax and Binning for the parliamentarians. Agreement was complete except for the question of an Eight Hour Labour Bill and parliamentary action. Mahon told Bax and Binning that if this was what they wanted they should join the S.D.F. However :

At the next meeting Mahon volunteered to draw up a policy to submit to the committee. At this meeting, of which I had no notice, Mahon presented his draft, the other two finding it a parliamentary policy and nothing more, accepted it with pleasure, threw over all previous arrangements and presented it to the Council as the report of the committee. On hearing it read to the Council I disagreed with it and claimed my right to put it in a minority report. Mahon has since regained possession of the majority report and declines to give it up or bring it before the Council except in the way of resolutions from the Croydon branch. This I was not aware of until a week after the time for sending in notices of motion for the agenda paper. I have to the best of my ability carried out the instructions of the Council in drawing up a report. The Council having declined to send the minority report to the branches, the majority report having gone round on legs, I now further carry out the instructions of the Council in submitting it to the Branches. [9]

Lane's minority report was his Anti-Statist Communist Manifesto which can fairly be claimed as the first English Anarchist home grown pronouncement. Like most pioneers Lane did not write a masterpiece. He paid a disproportionate amount of attention to the religious question - though this section is interesting for its echoes of Bakunin's God and the State. He shared Morris's rejection of palliative measures in Parliament or through trades unions. Yet his ideas are distinguishable from Morris's in two areas. Where Morris emphasized the necessity to make socialists, Lane emphasized the necessity to make revolution. Lane clearly called for mass violent action whereas on the occasion of the West End Riot Morris had clearly been dubious about a policy of riot. A second distinction between Lane and Morris was Lane's firm opposition to the state as an entity : 'We aim,' he said, 'at the abolition of the State in every form and variety.' Lane expected nothing but tyranny from any state machine. Morris on the other hand was less emphatic. For example we find Morris writing in 1888 : 'Even the crudest form of State Socialism ( which I do not agree to ) would have this advantage over the individual ownership of the means of production, that whereas the State might abuse its ownership, the individual ownership must do so (...)'. Thus when Morris and Lane both emphasized education as the proper means for achieving their stated aims they were talking of education in different contexts.

Lane submitted his Anti-Statist Communist Manifesto to the 1887 conference as a restatement of League policy after the Croydon branch called for electoral activity by the League. William Morris was the proposer of a motion from Hammersmith which wanted the League to postpone any discussion of the parliamentary question for a year. Morris was obviously trying to reconcile the two extreme wings but at the May 29 conference it rapidly became apparent that reconciliation was not possible - at least not at the level of restraint that Morris was proposing. Lane, it would appear, was stressing the anti-parliamentary position to bring matters to a head. Urging that Morris's 'peacemaking motion' be withdrawn, he said, 'Members from the country do not know the bitterness, jealousy, etc., shown in this matter. The matter has lasted some time in Council. Delegates ought to settle one way or another.' [10] Lane would probably have been quite prepared to expel every 'politician' in the organization. The feeling of the conference was not with him however and his Manifesto was not accepted as the policy of the League. On the other hand, neither was the conference prepared to suspend the issue and Morris withdrew his motion. Finally the conference voted to accept Morris's amendment to the Croydon branch motion. This simply asserted the principles of the League as laid down in the Socialist League Manifesto. For all the fact that this re-asserted the anti-parliamentarian position it did not finish the matter by any means. The 'political' faction showed no readiness to leave the League or to moderate its stance. They simultaneously left the bulk of the work of running the League to the anti-parliamentarians and made that work doubly difficult by systematically undermining the agreed policy of the League. Furthermore, the bad temper which burst forth every now and again at the conference showed that the 'bitterness jealousy, etc.' had been deepened rather than dispersed by its airing. With the benefit of hindsight it is possible to say that it might have been better for the Socialist League if the matter had been pushed to a final conclusion. Uncomfortable it might have been but at least it would have been short and sharp instead of encouraging the ulcerous persistence of the dispute through the following year. Though the events of 1887 might seem to obscure the difficulties within the organization, the 1888 conference was to show that the rival factions were growing yet more irreconcilable. For the rising social tensions of 1887 were to throw into sharp relief the choices open to the socialist movement. As both revolution and electoral gains appeared more possible their partisans became more intransigent.

For by 1887 working-class discontent was growing. In the trades unions a sharper, more militant note was being struck. At the T.U.C. conference, the young Keir Hardie clashed with the Liberal's lap-dog, Broadhurst. A determined attempt to get an Eight Hour campaign under way in the Engineering Union and the T.U.C. was made. John Burns and Tom Mann were active in this latter campaign. New organizations in the provinces, the Labour Federation on Tyneside and the Knights of Labour in the Midlands, proved surprisingly effective and grew rapidly. New organizational attempts also met with some success among the seamen. This new militancy was both spread by socialists and proved responsive to them.

It was a period of high unemployment and the mood of the unemployed was restive. The lesson of the West End Riot were clear enough - trouble meant attention and attention meant aid. But the authorities had been alarmed and were taking steps to make sure nothing like it happened again. Sir Charles Warren was appointed to reorganize the police in London and was being encouraged to keep the streets clear of 'loafers' and other members of the dangerous classes by the Tory government and press. As if to underline the fears of the authorities and the respectable classes, on Friday January 14 the unemployed rioted at Norwich. The riot broke out after the unemployed had marched from a meeting addressed by Mowbray and Henderson of the local Socialist League branch to the Guildhall to demand help. Here 'the insulting tone of the Mayor, the unconcealed contempt for their fellows on the part of the councillors and aldermen ( ... ) angered the crowd and they broke away'. [11] The mansions of the wealthy had their windows smashed and shops in the centre of Norwich were looted. Mowbray and Henderson were arrested and sentenced to nine and four months respectively for their part in the affair. The riot, if anything, made the League more popular and there were large demonstrations to welcome the men on their release. The situation improved somewhat over the summer but as winter approached unemployment rose again. A placard posted in Norwich in October 'by unknown hands' was threatening : 'Notice to all concerned : The unemployed do not intend to starve any longer. If employment is not found for them, they will soon make some.' [12] As a result 200 special constables were sworn in. More sensibly the local authorities tempered their show of force by providing public works. Commonweal later quoted two councillors :

'How much extra did it cost ... ?'

'£150 !'

'Well ... none of us will grudge that. It's a damned cheap price to have kept them quiet for.'

The correspondent commented : 'it seems after all that fear of a repetition of rioting was their motive. Let the unemployed learn the lesson this teaches.' [13]

In London, however, the authorities seemed determined to solve the 'problem' of the unemployed by force alone. In the earlier part of 1887 the S.D.F. had organized many parades by the unemployed - to Westminster Abbey during services among other places. While individual members of the League had participated in them the League as a whole rather saw them as intended to be advertisements for the S.D.F. There were sporadic outbreaks of looting - for example after a meeting in February on Clerkenwell Green. Due, apparently, to some internal difficulties in the S.D.F. that organization discontinued its parades some time in the summer. As unemployment increased during the autumn mounting numbers of the unemployed began to meet daily in Trafalgar Square and between 400 and 600 homeless people were sleeping there at night. Socialists began to hold meetings in the Square on a freelance basis and increasingly violent threats were being uttered by them. While it would seem that one of them at least was a police paid agent provocateur; the violence being urged was a violence the unemployed felt. Prominent in the agitation in the Square was an Anarchist inclined Socialist Leaguer called James Allman, who had already served a month's imprisonment earlier in the year for 'obstruction' while addressing a meeting.

Processions were organized. One to the Bow Street magistrate on 12 October was met with a blank refusal of aid and a suggestion that the unemployed enter the workhouse. 'Asked if he would give them food and shelter in prison if they sacked bakers shops he replied that they were "exceedingly impertinent" and "deserved no compassion".' Freedom noted that 'unfortunately this did no more than cause a march through the City'. [14] The police had already begun to attack processions of the unemployed though these attacks met with stiff resistance. On 15 October the police attacked a meeting of the unemployed in Trafalgar Square itself with both foot and horse 'hustling, charging, striking and trampling the people'. Attacks on meetings in the Square continued daily with ever increasing numbers of police involved until the unemployed were finally driven out on 19 October. The centre of the agitation then moved to Hyde Park. 'For days the conflict was carried on in and around the Park. On one occasion the gates were closed on the people and the mounted police charged the crowd thus hemmed in and helpless.' Many stragglers were arrested, beaten and sentenced to vicious sentences on often perjured evidence. 'But in spite of police court terrorism and sentences of hard labour by the dozen, the people defended themselves with sticks and stones and their fists and held their meetings just the same. And on Sunday, 23 October they returned to the Square in a solid mass, filling the huge Square to overflowing and afterwards marching to Westminster Abbey.'

The escalating conflict had brought protests against police violence from the Liberal press and screeches from shopkeepers in the area of Trafalgar Square, who claimed their takings were being hit by the demonstrations. It was quite clear whose views Warren took to heart. The police continued to attack the daily meetings until, on 8 November, Warren banned all further meetings in the Square on the grounds that it was the private property of the Crown. This brought a storm of protest from the Radicals, who had taken no part in the unemployed agitation but were very strong on the right of free speech. As a reply to the ban the Radicals announced that they would hold a mass demonstration in the Square on 13 November to protest at Coercion in Ireland. The demonstration was to converge in a number of processions from different parts of London. It could be readily assumed that the police would have no intention of allowing the processions to reach the Square and that violence was to be expected; yet the morale of the various large contingents was good. Lane said that Morris 'quite thought the revolution had come'. [15] The marchers were to be brutally disabused of any such opinion.

Knowing the time of the demonstration, the direction from which the contingents were to come and their approximate size allowed Warren every advantage, a fact that he used to the full :

The 'Square', i.e. the sunken space, was guarded by foot-policemen four deep, whose business was simply to guard it and who had orders not to stir from their posts, outside these were strong bodies of horse police who took careful note of any incipient gathering and at once scattered it.

This defence was ample against anything except an organized attack from determined persons acting in concert, and able to depend on one another. In order that no such body should be formed and no such attack be possible, the careful general had posted strong bodies of police, with due supports to on if necessary, about a radius of about a quarter of a mile of the Square, so that nothing could escape falling into the meshes of this net.

Into this net we then marched. [16]

The contingent which included most of the League marchers was attacked at Seven Dials and taken on the flank. Though they fought back as best they could they were confused and taken by surprise. Morris wrote : 'I was astounded at the rapidity of the thing and the ease with which military organization got its victory.' The police behaved with utter savagery. One witness said, 'As I was being led out of the crowd a poor woman asked a police inspector ( ... ) if he had seen a child she had lost. His answer was to tell her she was a damned whore and knock her down.' [17] The story was the same with the other contingents and only unorganized and confused stragglers reached the Square itself where they were quickly dispersed. Three people died as a result of injuries received from the police on 13 November and another man was killed the following week when police horses were again clearing the Square. Many arrests were made and jail sentences were liberally handed out. The day is properly remembered as Bloody Sunday.

Reactions from the participants were quite naturally angry. But there were a variety of responses beyond that. E. P. Thompson suggests that from the time of Bloody Sunday onwards Morris drastically extended his time scale for the achievement of socialism. The ease with which the large bodies of people had been dispersed profoundly depressed him and persuaded him of the vast power at the disposal of the authorities. This neither changed his general political strategy or his ideas but did reduce his intense political activity. For others, too, Bloody Sunday represented a crisis in any belief they might have had in the likelihood of an incipient revolution, but, unlike Morris, it pushed them steadily towards a more reformist position. For the majority of the League activists, however, it seems to have been treated as a lesson in not fighting against impossible odds. Bloody Sunday did indeed mark a defeat but this did not in itself represent a defeat for a policy of riot. There was little doubt that they shared Freedom's opinion of events : '( ... ) the inclination of the people increases to rush on the smallest pretext to demonstrate in the streets. There have been more or less tumultuous street gatherings during the past year [i.e. 1887] in London, Glasgow, Norwich, Northampton, in Wales and in Ireland ( ... ) The increase in such stormy gatherings marks the arrival of the period of action. Before the next new year it may well happen that we shall find ourselves amid the first crisis of a Social Revolution.' [18]

Anarchist ideas began to appeal more specifically to the activists of the League in 1887. The context was the increasing class confrontation represented by the unemployed demonstrations culminating in Bloody Sunday. The example that fascinated them was the trial and judicial murder of the Chicago Anarchists. Four men were hanged after a series of events in Chicago in 1886 which had culminated in a bomb being thrown at police who were attacking a peaceful meeting. Chicago was a militant centre of Anarchism and had seen a series of strikes in pursuit of demands for the eight-hour day. Pickets had been shot and beaten by Pinkerton thugs and police. ( The meeting attacked by the police had been called in the Haymarket to protest against police violence. ) After the bomb explosion, which killed one policeman, the police arrested eight men who were all either Anarchist editors or active propagandists in the eight-hour struggle. The Anarchist press in Chicago had been stridently calling for preparation on the part of the working class for armed revolution. For all that, none of the men could be proved to have had anything to do with the bomb. They were all charged with complicity in the murder of the policeman. After a series of farcically unfair trials they were condemned to death, though three of them, Fielden, Neebe and Schwab had their sentences commuted. The dignity and conviction of the condemned men in the face of a frenzied hate campaign compelled attention. One can go far towards understanding the motives of an Anarchist assassin when one is confronted by the truly bestial relish with which the newspapers described the details of the preparation for the hanging, and the execution itself. Albert Parsons, one of the men who were hanged, had every chance to go into hiding but returned to face trial since his status as a native English-speaking American might just tip the balance for his foreign comrades. Louis Lingg appealed for revenge for their imminent deaths and as his parting words to the court said : 'I despise you. I despise your order, your laws, your force propped authority. Hang me for it !' Lingg chose to take his own life by exploding a smuggled dynamite cartridge in his mouth. On the scaffold Engel said 'Long live Anarchism !'; Fischer said 'This is the happiest moment of my life !'; Spies said 'There will come a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.' The men were executed on 11 November 1887.

The hate campaign in America was matched by the Tory press in Britain. To counter their propaganda a series of protest meetings were organized by the Freedom Group, the Socialist League and branches of the S.D.F. both jointly and separately. Propaganda tours were made through the radical clubs. Accounts of the trials of the Chicago men were sent to the Commonweal from America by Henry Charles and the Socialist League devoted much space in the paper and considerable organizational effort to the campaign in defence of the condemned men. The Freedom Group and the Socialist League not only cooperated with each other in the organization of meetings, they jointly issued and distributed a thick pamphlet, The Chicago Martyrs, which gave the lives and speeches of the condemned men, and described the events leading up to their execution. In late 1887 and early 1888 the biographies of the eight Chicago men were serialized in the Commonweal. The courage and fortitude of the Chicago martyrs, the cooperation with the Freedom Group, the increasing penetration of Anarchist ideas within the League both from long-standing foreign Anarchist members and from Freedom itself, the ideologies developing out of the struggle with the parliamentarians - all these were intertwined in the Commonweal and the minds of the activists. The Chicago men were hanged on 11 November. Bloody Sunday was on 13 November. Close connections were drawn between them - they were both commemorated at the same meetings the following year. Naked force, it appeared, was the final answer of the state when the dispossessed insisted on pressing their claims - and claims for what ? For work or bread, for an eight-hour working day. Why then did the people not claim all and have done ? These were the feelings of the militants.

In the months after Bloody Sunday there was a deceptive calm in the Socialist League. Cooperation was a simple matter when it came to decrying the violence of the police. Receptions for those people jailed after the fighting were occasions when comradely feeling was easy. Yet the Annual Conference of the League on May 20 brought to a head the in-fighting that had simmered since the conference of the previous year. The obvious desire of William Morris to reconcile the politicians, now concentrated in the Bloomsbury branch of the League, and the more peremptory anti-parliamentarians had in no way changed the situation. Joe Lane had been proved right in his objection to the proposal 'that the matter be adjourned for twelve months, the result of which would be that the battle would still be carried on, weakening our propaganda forces'. [19] Reasserting the principles of the League had been equivalent to an adjournment.

The run-up to the conference started in earnest when the Bloomsbury branch sent in their resolutions. There were four, three of them proposals on organization which could only increase the control of the large, rich Bloomsbury branch. The other resolution, number two, proposed that the 'Constitution be amended ( ... ) adding "That its objects shall be sought to be obtained by all available means; and that Branches of the League be empowered ( ... ) to run or support candidates for all the representative bodies of the country." ' In the internal circular of 7 May the seriousness of the threat was underlined, the Ways and Means Committee asserting that 'the carrying of this resolution in the opinion of the committee would involve the immediate dissolution of the Socialist League'. [20] It was an indication that this time there would be no attempt at compromise. A better example of the mood of the anti-parliamentarians came in other documents. The 14 May internal letter revealed that Sam Mainwaring had called for the immediate dissolution of the Bloomsbury branch at a council meeting though he was prevailed upon to leave the matter until the conference. The reasons for his angry gesture can be found in two internal documents, one circulated by Lane and Charles, the other by the Hackney branch.

The first document listed all the anti-parliamentary policy statements of the League and then proceeded to its real business. Lane and Charles reprinted what appear to be the purloined minutes of a meeting of the parliamentary faction which took place on the day after their defeat at the 1887 conference. Aveling was in the chair and present among others were Eleanor Marx-Aveling, A. K. Donald, Bax and Tom Binning. The most interesting section reads :

Shirley - proposed to make Bloomsbury a Head Centre of Socialism.

Utley - To become active working members of the L.E.L. without withdrawing from the S.L. Stay in League till we can work it for our own party.

E. Aveling - Sorry we left the S.D.F. Reverse our blunder made there and get the League into our own hands. Get a Conf. in about three months and reverse the decision of this last one. Make W. Morris give up the paper. Work the L.E.L. and suggest that every parliamentary supporter joins the L.E.L. Force the hands of the Council by joining the L.E.L. and if resistance is offered, resign and leave the League, but hold on to League for time being.

E. M. Aveling - Branches in harmony with party subscribe funds for working provincial branches. [21] That Branches pay subscriptions to L.E.L. and pay as affiliated bodies to League.

Tom Binning - L.E.L. could arrange early meeting.

Lane and Charles then go on to say that 'the attempt to use the L.E.L. for their party purposes was an ignominious failure and they have therefore adopted the course of proposing these resolutions from the Bloomsbury branch'. [22] No one can deny that the anti-parliamentary faction had also been lobbying for support [23] but the shoddy self-advancing and opportunist tone of these minutes would by no means calm tempers.

Neither could the second internal document circulated by the Hackney branch. This concerned the proposals designed to increase the control of large rich branches like Bloomsbury. Now the Hackney branch had an interest here, it was a small branch. But it was also emphatically anti-parliamentarian. The secretary was George Cores and its members included two Anarchist members of the Berner Street club, one of whom, W. Wess, was a member of the Freedom Group. In addition its delegate to the conference was Joe Lane. The real point of this circular issued by the branch was the sentence 'Those who know how the large numbers of the Bloomsbury Branch have been obtained namely by inducing very many members of the S.D.F. to join while still members of the S.D.F. merely for the purpose of swamping the votes of others.' [24] It was this allegation that had made Sam Mainwaring want to dissolve the Bloomsbury branch at the council meeting before the conference.

The Bloomsbury branch made no attempt to circulate serious material of their own before the conference. In addition they put some effort into being provocative at the conference itself. Their report in what appears to be a late entry boasts of joint activity with the S.D.F. in promoting candidates for the St Pancras Board of Guardians. [25] Furthermore their mandates for delegates were written on the back of a leaflet made up of the text of a simultaneously perceptive and rather silly letter which had been refused by the Commonweal. This read in part :

The S.L. has followed so closely in the steps of that society which Socialists desire to overthrow, that in it has arisen a curious phase of Jingoism. The jingo patriot exalts devotion to the State into a virtue far higher than devotion to the cause of humanity, and similarly there are many of our comrades who have put devotion to the S.L. before devotion to the cause of Socialism ( ... ) While our present Executive exists any branch or any member exercising the right of thought or free discussion runs the risk of expulsion. [26]

This explicitly referred to Mainwaring's attempt to expel the Bloomsbury branch. It might have been less irritating to use this to write mandates on if the people checking branch credentials had not been Lane and Mainwaring.

The Conference was structured in such a way that it allowed everyone plenty of time to lose their temper before the Bloomsbury motions were debated. There were wrangles over whether branches existed or not and Bax's branch ( Croydon ) was declared collapsed. There were wrangles over the control of the Commonweal. It was not until 6.00 pm after a day of it that the Bloomsbury motions were discussed. This immediately started with a spat between Donald and Lane. 'Bloomsbury number two' was taken first, immediately amended by Morris and Mowbray to convert it into a reassertion of anti-parliamentarianism. The debate was noisy and disorderly. Eventually the amendment was carried by nineteen votes to six. The other Bloomsbury motions were defeated as heavy. But this time it was not intended to leave it at that. A further motion was put by Davis and Morris recommending the League to 'take steps to reconciliate, or if necessary, exclude the Bloomsbury Branch from the Socialist League'. This was carried by eighteen to seven. The Bloomsbury branch then replied with a motion to divide the assets of the League. They were again defeated.

Thus the Conference ended any hopes the Bloomsburyites might have had of capturing the Socialist League. It seems clear, though, that it was less of an attempt to persuade and more of a wrecking expedition. The resolution calling for the division of the League assets sounds like an attempt to have themselves bought out, since most of the assets of the League were bought by Morris and as he had written 'the parls. cannot do without us moneyly as we have found most of the money; if you think it mean to say this I must say in turn that they have rather speculated on my known horror of a split in their machinations'. [27] Their tactics remained disruptive after their clear defeat at the conference. They issued and distributed an 'illustrated squib' derisive of the conference and at the next council meeting the branch was suspended. They then insisted on attending the next council meeting and refused to leave. A final attempt at reconciliation was made by Morris but failed. The branch claimed its 'complete autonomy'. Finally at the 25 June meeting of the council it was resolved to dissolve the Bloomsbury branch. And here the battle ended.

But there were still birds limping home to roost. The Labour Emancipation League at Hoxton decided to withdraw its affiliation to the League in June and the Walsall branch similarly seceded in August. These resignations were received with regret and it was hoped that cooperation could take place on points where they were in agreement. But an important stage had been reached in the life of the League. No matter how firmly Morris and the other committed anti-parliamentarians had stated their case since the inception of the League, it had become, particularly in the provinces, a gathering point for socialists of every description. The reasons were twofold. Firstly, many people found Morris both as a man and as a socialist more attractive than Hyndman. The political differences between them seem to have figured little initially. This, at least, is the impression one gains reading memoirs by early members of the League. Secondly, the looser branch structure of the League suited some provincial socialists and the provincial branches of the League represented more or less a federation of local socialist societies. The struggle between the parliamentary and anti-parliamentary factions was primarily a struggle involving those members whose socialism was more theoretically specific. Thus Walsall and Hoxton were branches where the parliamentarians had a base of a kind - Walsall probably because Donald of the Bloomsbury branch had been working near by. Meanwhile the only branches who specifically endorsed an article entitled 'The Policy of the League' which underlined the anti-parliamentary stand of the League were Norwich, Hackney and Hammersmith, influenced by Charles, Lane and Morris respectively. It has already been said that the struggle had started in the council of the League and had been kept there until it boiled over at the 1887 and 1888 conferences. It is not at all surprising that those branches to whom the generally humanitarian socialism of Morris was the most attractive feature of the League would shrink back somewhat from this 'irrelevant' and passionate conflict. Some of them, Leeds for example, had quietly lapsed as branches in any real sense between the 1887 and 1888 conferences. For them systematic electoral activity was as yet unconsidered on practical rather than ideological grounds. They shared Tarleton's opinion at the 1887 conference and 'objected to parliamentary action by a body of 800. Party action [had been] damaging so far because [it had been] used by Conservatives to damage Radicals.' Yet when there seemed to be real prospects of success in elections the bitter disputes of the 1888 conference would be repeated up and down the country.

The Conference of 1888 left the Socialist League now completely committed to an anti-parliamentary policy. The sordid tail-end of the dispute with the Bloomsbury branch lingered on for a few weeks but the tension of that dispute had left the organization. Morris had plainly felt disgusted with the whole thing even before battle was joined. Before the conference he had written : 'Plainly speaking, the shadow of corruption which we should certainly tumble into if we became Parl. is already on us, and there has been a great deal too much intriguing going on.' [28] After the conference he withdrew to a certain extent and his letters take on a gloomy tone. He began increasingly to see himself out of the mainstream of activity and to immerse himself in literary and other creative activity. But if the 1888 Conference left Morris feeling rather flat it was not a feeling shared by the majority of the new Council. This was now dominated more or less by the progressively Anarchist group of activists including Kitz, Lane, Mainwaring and Tochatti. The secretary of the League was now Charles who had been in Switzerland looking for evidence against Peukert as a police spy. Lane had persuaded him to stand on his return. It should be stressed that this group did not have a policy of taking over the League - 'there were no definite plans to alter the League or make it more Anarchist but agitating always to keep it to its manifesto,' Charles was reported as saying many years later. [29]

This would seem to be flatly contradicted by Morris writing in December 1888 : 'there seems to be a curse of quarrelling upon us. The Anarchist element in us seem determined to drive things to extremity and break us up if we do not declare for Anarchy - which I for one will not do.' Yet the real cause of the curse of quarrelling is revealed later in the same letter. The Hammersmith branch, he says, is 'getting into bad odour with some of our fiercer friends, I think principally because it tacitly and instinctively tries to keep up the first idea of the League, the making of genuine convinced Socialists without reference to passing exigencies of tactics, whether they take the form of attacking ( or running away from ) the police in the streets, or running a candidate for the school board ( ... )' [30] Morris apparently did not see that by this time one man's refusal to take account of 'passing exigencies of tactics' could be another antiparliamentarian's withdrawal from the fray. The events of the years 1888 to 1890 were summed up from the latter point of view by Frank Kitz :

There existed in the League itself opposing elements which eventually led to its disruption. The merely negative policy of Anti-Parliamentarianism could be endured by the West End branches, of which Hammersmith was the strongest, and in which Morris's personality was dominant : but the East End comrades, confronted by a fierce struggle for existence and in the midst of gigantic Labour conflicts, drifted towards a definitely Anarchist attitude. A quantity of ink has been shed over the question of the split between the West and East End branches which caused the dissolution of the League; but the temperamental differences have always been ignored. Many of the West End members would have found a more suitable environment and method of exposition of their ideal within the ranks of the I.L.P. or the Fabian Society; and ( ... ) it was only Morris's personality which caused them to give lip service to opinions from which many of them have now seceded. They seemed to be afflicted with the timidity of anaemic respectability. [31]

The position of the Socialist League in the first years of its existence has often been called 'purist'. But its purism can be seen in two ways : one, as an educational propaganda speaking to working-class movements, with which it is not involved, from the outside; the other, as the simple recognition that possible avenues of reform from electoral activity to trades unionism do not imply the fundamental changes that their socialism demanded. The question here is one of emphasis. Educational propaganda alone implies a deliberately withdrawn position which often expresses itself as a superior defeatism. Suspicion of reform dressed up as revolution on the other hand, means a different kind of involvement or propaganda. Every member of the League on the anti-parliamentary side can be accused of 'educational defeatism' in the early years. Yet the class war hotted up as the 1880s drew to a close, and it became impossible for some people in the League to insist that there could be no socialist action without socialist theory. The unemployment battles of 1887 and the industrial struggles from 1889 onwards seemed to have something of the stuff of revolution about them. It became impossible for the activists to stand aside. For them socialism became something that the working class learned in action out of the practical experience of solidarity and confrontation. The new conflict in the League was over the question of whether action or theory came first.

In the early part of 1888, just before and after the Conference, Lane and Charles were preparing for a massive effort to propagandize the East End of London. Their intentions were described as follows :

The East End branches of the Socialist League and our foreign comrades at the Berner Street and Princess Square Clubs have just formed themselves into the East End Socialist Propaganda Committee and are commencing a systematic distribution from house to house in all the streets, lanes, etc. of leaflets, pamphlets ( which are left in the houses of one street one week, then called for and taken to another street the following week ) and other literature as well as pasting up leaflets, bills, etc., on the walls, hoardings, lamp-posts, church noticeboards and other similarly available places. They have besides commenced holding regular open-air meetings at about 20 places in the district ( ... ) In view of the threatened anti foreigner agitation they specifically appeal for the assistance of the foreign comrades in London to show that they are not the enemies of the English worker but comrades working with them for the emancipation of labour the world over. [32]

This campaign represents something of the energies released at the end of the unprofitable dispute with the Bloomsburyites. In early June they had surpassed their projected twenty speaking pitches and had managed to man twenty-seven in a week. They had drastically over-extended themselves, however, and, by August and September the East End pitches had shrunk to ten per week. Morris was describing the agitation as a failure by this time, which was both true and a little unfair : Lane, who was undoubtedly the architect of the East End Propaganda Committee, was in ill-health and was to be prevented thereby from taking any active part in the League from that point on. ( He was eventually to leave the League in 1889 after a silly squabble with Sparling. ) Charles left London and a number of other people who were active left the East End districts. And as Morris had already said in July, 'the whole of the work in London is now on the shoulders of the section of principle'. [33]

The propaganda effort of the League was greatly enhanced before the end of 1888 by the visit of Lucy Parsons - the widow of Albert Parsons, hanged in Chicago. She had been an active propagandist both before and after the judicial murder of her husband and had been involved in the restarting of Parsons's paper, the Alarm. This was being distributed in England by the League and an internal circular from the Council in July was urging branches to order it at once. By September the East End Propaganda Committee was calling on the Council to bring Mrs Parsons to England for the commemoration meetings planned for the Chicago men and the victims of Bloody Sunday in November. She came and made a strong impression both at her London meetings and on her provincial tour which was also arranged by the League. She was no pathetic, sorrow-struck victim. She came as a propagandist to whom tragedy had given a stronger voice. Her visit, more than any other factor, accelerated the drift towards a 'definitely Anarchist attitude' in the Socialist League. But even without her aid this process was well under way in 1888. The Freedom Group were holding regular public discussion meetings in the Socialist League Hall, Farringdon Street, which certainly attracted a number of Socialist League members. Apart from cooperation with the Berner Street club ( whose members were mainly Jewish Anarchists ) in the East End Propaganda Committee, the Berner Street club was also the meeting-place of the Hackney branch of the League. Similarly the North London branch met at the Autonomie Club, an Anarchist centre with mainly German and French members.

The increasing Anarchist influence did not, as Glasier slanderously asserts, lead the League into the paths of sloppy incompetence. [34] Charles, it was true, proved a failure as a secretary yet Kitz took over this position later in 1888 and proved vastly more effective. He had proved his organizational stamina in the latter part of 1887 and in the early part of 1888 when he had been stumping round London attempting to boost the sale of Commonweal through retail shops. The Ways and Means Committee had taken over the printing of the paper and were able to significantly cut production costs. The circulation of the paper had fallen after the Conference ( its circulation just before had risen to 2,600, largely as a result of Kitz's efforts ) and continuous effort was needed to try and boost circulation. Five thousand copies were ordered for the Chicago Martyrs/Bloody Sunday meetings but generally the sale remained static at somewhere just over 2,000. The problem was partly the paper itself which was rather dull, reflecting its editor's rather withdrawn and gloomy mood. A noticeable brightening of the paper took place when David Nicoll became co-editor ( with Sparling and Morris ) after the 1889 Conference. This conference reflected the fact that the League was now almost completely an Anarchist organization - except for the delegates from the Hammersmith branch all the 1889 council members were at some point to be identified with the Anarchist position.

Throughout the earlier part of 1889 a discussion on Anarchism between committed Anarchists was printed in the Commonweal. The bone of contention was individual liberty and the voluntary principle. The contributions of the Anarchists were over-abstract and wilful in comparison with Morris's determined attempts at clarity. The Anarchists insisted too much on philosophical principle and not enough on social practice. Morris wrote : 'I am not pleading for any form of arbitrary or unreasonable authority, but for a public conscience as a rule of action : and by all means let us have the least possible exercise of authority. I suspect that many of our Communist-Anarchist friends do really mean that, when they pronounce against all authority.' [35] The Anarchists H. Davis and James Blackwell were too ready to take issue with Morris's phrase 'the least possible exercise of authority', failing to see that the 'public conscience' he proposed as the basis of Communism was the culmination of the voluntary principle in a society where it had become custom and habit. If Morris chose to call that a situation where authority was exercised then the dispute was semantic.

The events of the summer and autumn of 1889 were to cure many of them from over-abstract philosophizing. Many of the League Anarchists were experienced in political propaganda and confrontation with 'law and order' on the streets, yet their experience until the early part of 1889 had been of difficult work, inching itself forward. To be sure the unemployed in 1887 had shown themselves in a pugnacious mood and their clashes with the police had been spectacular. But their struggle, starting with demands for maintenance, had been reduced to a defensive battle to keep the right of assembly, particularly in Trafalgar Square. And they had lost that battle. Thus when the Socialist League militants and Anarchists from other English groupings ( James Blackwell was recruited from the S.D.F. by the Freedom Group ) talked of revolution and the future society they were talking of something which had no basis in action around them. Inevitably their talk was abstract though it need not have been as abstract as it was. The industrial battles from the summer onwards, however, provided an environment and example of aggressive organizing by the working class. Here at last was the spontaneous upsurge with its solidarity and mutual aid which they had predicted and hoped for. If the upsurge turned out to be more containable and cooptable than they had hoped it was a revelation and lesson which would have to be confronted later.

The impact of the strikes of 1889 was clearly powerful. In June-July the London gasworkers organized in a union which had only been started in March of the same year, and managed to force a reduction of hours from twelve to eight on their employers without a strike. It was an example which proved infectious. A strike in the South-West India Dock by a small number of men over a wage demand on 13 August sparked off a strike in the whole of London's dockland. Its beginnings were quite spontaneous, though the strikers very quickly came to rely on Ben Tillett, the secretary of a small dock union, and other organizers he brought in, notably Tom Mann and John Burns. The example of the dock strike inspired other workers, first those with some connection with the docks and then others, to similarly strike for increased wages or shorter hours. 'Coal porters and car-men, printers labourers, iron workers, tin-plate workers, rope making and jam factory girls, tobacco workers, orange porters, candlemakers, tailors, bricklayers and their labourers, basket makers, chemical works employees, screw makers and other workers ceased work.' [36] The atmosphere in the East End was electric. The area was in a state of near general strike and to some of the Leaguers it seemed that London was on the verge of revolution. David Nicoll wrote : 'The cry is still they come ! The workers are pouring by thousands from their workshops - printers, labourers and brass finishers. The coal heavers leave their yard in response to the shouts pf their comrades. Bands of them are marching round the Northern suburbs turning out the men at every yard. The police are powerless.' [37]

He described the almost carnival atmosphere in the East End. 'I saw a ring of factory girls at the gates of a rope factory performing a Carmagnole dance, occasionally bumping against the gates as if with the intention of forcing them in. Further down they were bringing out men, boys and girls from a biscuit factory, a good humoured crowd standing at the door laughing and chaffing the strikers in a most fraternal manner ( ... ) I entered a quiet street where there was already some appearance of fermentation. Gathered round a sweaters shop was a large crowd; the shop was guarded by a strong force of police, who were evidently apprehensive of having their windows broken.' In the streets the children were parading and playing at strikers. ( They were later to strike themselves at several East End schools. ) Processions of dockers were taking place through the City and daily meetings were being held at Tower Hill or Hyde Park. Other workers, too, were parading in the East End and nightly vast meetings were held on Mile End Waste. Streets normally gloomily gas-lit and empty at eleven o'clock at night were now ablaze from light from open front doors and excited groups in the street were discussing the latest news - and the latest rumours : ' "The tram men have revolted, cars have been left on the road out Bow and Bromley way"; "Rioting has broken out, the docks are to be fired"; "The strikers are marching to attack the railway depots and turn the carmen out"; "Deptford meat market is in the hands of the insurgents who won't allow London to be fed" ( ... ) The East End is like Paris in the first revolution.' [38]

The organization of picketing was effective after a number of blacklegs were imported because of the opportunity provided by too many parades. The dock strike was effective too on the level of its supply lines, 'showing the powers of the working men for organizing the supply and distribution of food for a large population of strikers' as Kropotkin later noted. [39] As happens in most strikes, the paying of rent became less than a priority for the strikers - and the cry of 'No Rent' was raised and met with some response. The strike at one point threatened to escalate from a virtual general strike in the East End to a general strike in the whole of London - but the call for this was withdrawn almost as soon as it was issued by the Strike Committee. It was this that explains Kropotkin's later ( private ) accusations of cowardice against Burns in the face of a potential revolution. Kropotkin had misjudged neither the mood of the time nor had he misjudged the dependence of the strikers on their leaders for the next step to be taken. The crisis point passed. The edge of desperation in the strike was taken away by a massive influx of funds from Australia in support of the strikers. The edge of class conflict was blunted by the good offices of Cardinal Manning and the Lord Mayor of London. Finally the demand for the 'docker's tanner' - sixpence an hour - was met by the employers and the men returned to work. Once they were back the employers began steadily to chip away at every condition they had agreed to. The many small strikes which had accompanied the big dock strike were to suffer a similar fate. Burns, meanwhile, had already got himself elected to the new London County Council and was beginning a political career which was to eventually gain him a Cabinet place in a Liberal government.

While the dock strike was at its height, socialists had been very active. Freedom remarked : 'One of the most satisfactory features of the agitation was the apparent disappearance of the various Socialist bodies as such. The names of organisations seldom transpired but Socialism and Socialists were everywhere ( ... ) Political humbug disappeared from the Socialist programme as soon as our comrades in the various societies found themselves face to face with a live workers movement.' [40] Pearson, Blackwell and Turner from the Freedom Group were active speakers - the first named being another recruit from the S.D.F. From the League, Kitz, Mowbray, Nicoll, Brookes and W. B. Parker 'addressed large meetings and tons of literature and leaflets have been distributed. More work could be done but funds are lacking.' [41] In one sense these people were tourists, advocating policies from outside the struggle. It is to be expected that the necessity for revolution as opposed to 'mere palliatives' would be stressed, as too would the necessity for the preparative general strike. This 'outsideness' is stressed by a note which appeared in the Commonweal in reply to inquiries and which said that of course members of the Socialist League could take part in strikes but they should not become so involved in such struggles as to forget their revolutionary propaganda.

It is worth examining a little more closely the message that was being preached. John Turner, in a debate with Herbert Burrows of the S.D.F. on 'Anarchist Communism versus Social Democracy', outlined something of the Anarchist approach. Criticizing the Social Democrats for advocating palliatives and at the same time 'continuously writing and speaking to the effect that these palliatives, if put into operation tomorrow would be of little use (...)', he goes on to say :

We Anarchists have a line to work upon, to teach the people self-reliance, to urge them to take part in non-political movements directly started by themselves for themselves ( ... ) Look at the strike now in progress. When the Anarchists have said that as soon as the people learn to rely upon themselves they will act for themselves without waiting for parliament, it has been disregarded. But their words have come true. We have an example of this truth in London now. The strike has gone upon the old Trade Union lines but had it started on the lines of expropriation, who knows how rapidly it might have spread. We teach the people to place their faith in themselves, we go on the lines of self-help. We teach them to form their own committees of management, to repudiate their masters, to despise the laws of the country - these are the lines which we Anarchists intend to work along. Let them, if they will, commence by claiming the right to elect their own foremen. This very day I have suggested to the men on strike that the trade unions should take over the work rather than the contractors. They might follow this up until they gradually get control of the whole concern, and they would find the capitalists as unnecessary as monarchs have been found to be. [42]

But if the Anarchist speakers were tourists as far as the dock strike itself was concerned, they were increasingly speaking as participants in other industrial struggles. The passing of the crisis in the dock strike by no means stopped the grumbling labour war. Though the ending of the dock strike took away a central focus of activity, disputes, both small and large, continued to flare up throughout 1889 and 1890. The successes of the Gas workers Union and the Dockers Union inspired imitation. The organization nearest to the dock workers was that of the carmen ( cart drivers ). Many of them had struck during the dock strike in sympathy - without assistance from the strike fund, be it noted. As a result many of them were sacked. This provided the impetus to form a Carman's Union and Commonweal reported that 'now they have their own organization and are winning all along the line'. [43] Active in this union was Ted Leggatt, an Anarchist member of the St George's in the East branch of the League who had been battered, arrested and jailed on Bloody Sunday. He was later to become the union's full-time organizer. Mowbray was active in the tailors' strikes both in the East and West End. He was a lay official of the West End Society himself and helped the sweated Jewish workers in the East End through his friends in the Berner Street club. Kitz, and Reynolds of the Merton branch, were active in organizing carmen, labourers and laundry women into a small Surrey Labourers Union. A hand-bill issued in October 1889 advertised its intentions 'to obtain shorter hours and advance the wages of the working men of Surrey' and to form a branch in Croydon in addition to those already formed at Mitcham, Streatham and Merton. [44] In West London, Tochatti and Lyne of the Fulham branch, together with Jack Williams of the S.D.F., were active organizers and 'outside agitators' during a strike at Thorneycrofts factory. Also active in West London was a Shop Assistants Union formed by Turner and others. Nobly active in this union was Edith Lupton who would take a job, sign up the assistants working there, resign and take a job somewhere else. ( She remained active in the union until late in 1890 when she was organizing a laundry women's co-op. ) Samuels was in Leeds organizing tailoring and slipper workers. These are the more prominent examples, it is to be expected that every trades union member of the League would take part in disputes in his trade.

So the League Anarchists and the Freedom Group activists were by no means outside the labour organization of the time and took an active part in every phase of its development. There was no doubt that their unwillingness to commit themselves totally to trades union work made them less prominent than the Social Democrats - without going further into the area of invidious personal comparisons. Their reservations about trades union activities were expressed in phrases which indicated that the Anarchists did not think them revolutionary enough, even though they might be 'palliatives in the right direction', as Freedom put it. This lack of revolutionary fire was often blamed on the personal cowardice of the leaders. As it rapidly became apparent that these leaders saw the next step in terms of electoral activity, the accusations changed to those of personal ambition. Yet behind the personal accusations lay hardly grasped worries of a more general kind. There seemed to be a connection between over-prominent leaders, electoral proclivities, the denial of revolutionary aims and increasingly exclusive attitudes within the new trades unions themselves. Some of these factors could be fitted into a general anti-election critique, but there were obviously loose ends which did not fit so well.

Where the question of elections was concerned the pronunciations were clear and forthright. The anti-parliamentary socialists of the League had always said socialism and elections did not mix. With other matters objections were made piecemeal. When John Burns started denouncing the 'dead-beats and riff-raff' who hung round the docks waiting for odd hours of casual work, the Commonweal could only put its objections in negative form : 'Emphatically, Revolutionary Socialism does not mean the carving out of a new close order of labour, which will kick those already down.' [45] Gradually there began to creep into the Anarchist press through 1890 the beginnings of criticisms of the new union-leaderships as a social phenomenon rather than as a collection of cowardly or ambitious men. The notes of the Commonweal in December 1890 are interesting here. Tom Mann and the other dockers' officials are described as 'bureaucrats' who are keeping an exclusive grip on decision-making in the union, 'it seems that these superior persons have a "plan" which they will not allow more impetuous - not to say energetic - warriors to interfere with'. And simultaneously these officials were blaming some branches for their apathy. There was discontent in the rank and file and Mann had attended a stormy meeting at which strong complaints were made that union officials were aloof and difficult to contact. These are strangely modern complaints. It is no way claimed however that such criticisms were the core of the Anarchist misgivings about the new unions.

In any case the main concern of the Anarchists was to find answers to the more pressing social situation and their criticisms tended to be a spin-off from consideration of the practical problems facing the working-class movement. By the summer of 1890 all the high promise of the previous year seemed to have become dissipated. The new unions were now much more on the defensive. Over the winter of 1889-90 the Gasworkers Union had fought and lost two strikes, one at the South Metropolitan Gas Company and another at a large rubber factory in West Ham. Similarly the Dockers Union had lost a five months' strike at Hays Wharf which ended in May 1890. Attempts to organize the postmen failed after a disastrous stoppage. Outside the capital, dockers were defeated at Southampton. Other organizational attempts were bitterly fought and often defeated. To shrink back in the face of this onslaught seemed, to the Anarchists, to be a grave mistake. Their concern was given greater point in July 1890, for they were already noting the early-warning signs of a new depression on the way. Whatever had to be done had to be done quickly before the masses were again starved into submission. The May Day demonstrations had shown them the less adventurous direction the new unions were taking. Out of two chaotic international socialist conferences in Paris in late 1889, one clear proposal had emerged. This was that in pursuit of the eight-hour day and in memory of the Chicago Martyrs an international one-day general strike would be declared on 1 May. In England the Socialist League and Jack Williams' 'Federation of Trades and Industries' ( composed of a number of small new unions ) were the only organizations to declare for a strike on 1 May 1890. The rest of the socialist bodies and the larger new unions held a march on the following Sunday, 4 May. The difference in the way these two demonstrations were treated was striking. The Sunday demonstration received every assistance from the police. The smaller 1 May marches ( 10,000 as opposed to 100,000 ) were considerably harassed. An East End contingent was attacked in Aldgate by the police, a French contingent from Soho was ambushed in St Martin's Lane and women strikers from an envelope factory assembling at Clerkenwell Green for the march were similarly attacked. It seemed to the Anarchists that the movement was being split into respectable and dangerous socialists, and respectable socialists would never make a revolution.

To the Anarchists it seemed imperative that a new initiative should be taken to bring the workers back to the pitch of excitement and the sense of possibility of the summer of 1889. To this end two small conferences, one of anti-parliamentary socialists in March and another of 'London revolutionists' in June, pledged themselves to propagandize for an international general strike and a universal rent strike. There were further discussions on the action to be taken 'in the event of a crisis'. At first the discussions represented something of a post-mortem on the 1889 dock strike, which was now seen as something of a lost chance. The English Anarchists were later described as a small group of 'fanatical enthusiasts ( ... ) who spend their time mainly in deploring the lost opportunity of the Dock Strike…' [46] The hopes that such a crisis might present itself again were greatly raised by the course taken by the stormy and successful Leeds gas strike, which culminated with a massive riot on 2 July. The events were described as follows by a participant :

( ... ) the City Gas Committee demanded that their employees should engage themselves for four months at a time, having no power to strike within that period and that the stokers eight-hour day should be increased. The men refused the terms and were locked out.

Blacklegs were imported and fierce fighting took place between the townspeople and the military who guarded the newcomers. The gas gave out and for five nights Leeds was in complete darkness. Hundreds more police and a regiment of cavalry were sent for.

The cavalry tried to convey fresh blacklegs through the town, but was trapped under a railway bridge which was crawling with furious men and women. One mob faced the soldiers ahead, another poured down on their behind; and meantime the townsmen on the bridge literally pulled it to bits with their bare hands and hurled down tons of brickwork, stones and rubble on the helmeted soldiers and their struggling horses.

Slowly the defenders were forced off the ruined bridge; bitterly the struggle went on in the streets below till nightfall and fog blotted it out. Women flung themselves against the flattened sabres, children stood on the outskirts of the whirling crowd and flung stones into it at every gleam of a red jacket. [47]

It was thus with new hope in the hearts of the participants that a large Revolutionary Conference was held at the Autonomie Club on 3 August. This was called, as the others had been, to consider 'United International Action' by revolutionaries 'in the event of a European crisis' and to determine 'the best means of propaganda'. Present were many of the foreign clubs and groups, some English Anarchist-Communists and eleven branch delegates of the Socialist League. The account of the conference reveals it to have been unable to come to any organizational conclusions; yet there was a consistency in the contributions that made it clear that a generalizing of particular struggles should be encouraged to 'light a fire that would end the whole damn thing' as Charles put it. Mowbray felt that 'In the event of a crisis at home the first thing to do was to fire the slums and move the people into the West End mansions.' Kent said that a coal strike was near : 'Leaders would be required to prevent people acting all together in mobs and to utilize them individually. We wanted to know where the gatling guns and other instruments of destruction were kept so that we might find them when wanted. So we wanted to know where the storehouses of food and clothing were that we might take them.' The organizational problem was most clearly faced ( if left unresolved ) by Malatesta :

( ... ) the problem of the best means of assuring combined international action had been often discussed. The authoritarian solution was to have committees everywhere. The committees were always too late or ill-informed, and consequently the movement was paralysed. Another system was to renounce all system. The results of this course were no better. By all means trust to individual initiative, but let every individual have a clear idea of what he should do, without necessity for any kind of word of command. To establish an initiative of this kind the individual must know the strength behind him. As a rule men were not heroes and they wanted to be assured that if they did some great thing they would have the sympathy of their comrades. For practical purposes, too, we should distinguish future plans from present action ( ... ) Let us urge the people to seize the property and go and dwell in the mansions of the rich; do not let us paralyse our efforts by discussion as to the future. Some organisation was desirable. There was an authoritarian system which encouraged spies and accustomed the people to the system of delegation; but there was also a system of organisation which was spontaneous and Anarchist. A party which did not believe in organisation would do nothing; a party which believed in organisation only would soon join the Social Democrats or the politicians. In all things we went from one exaggeration to another before finding the mean. It was so in discussing the problem of how to make the Revolution. At one time Anarchists had abandoned trade-unions and strikes and thought of nothing but making the Revolution by force. Then we found the bourgeois too strong for us on this ground, and after the great Dock Strike we began to fancy that the General Strike would do everything. A strike however was not the Revolution but only an occasion to make it. The General Strike would be good if we were ready to make use of it at once by immediate military action whether by barricades or otherwise. [48]

Malatesta was a 'professional' from a country with a revolutionary tradition. He had his own ideas about action in a revolution. But making a revolution happen was still a problem neither he nor anyone else had solved. It was not surprising that the English delegates could make but a small contribution to an answer. As far as the discussion on the best methods of propaganda was concerned a number of suggestions were made. From the Socialist League came their suggestions for an advocacy of the general strike and the total rent strike. There was also a fair amount of reference to 'individual initiative'. Not to put too fine a point on it, this was a barely veiled reference to propaganda by deed, particularly through dynamite. This was still an underground matter at this point but it was steady coming to the forefront and was to contribute to the deepening crisis in the Socialist League.

For while the Anarchists were looking for a means to make a speedy revolution, the 'educators' who were their fellow members were looking on with deepening unease. On the surface the Socialist League had survived moderately well into 1890. It had twenty-two branches ( nine in London ) and manned nineteen speaking pitches a week in London. The Commonweal sales were going up a little. Yet in real terms the organization was static at a time when the S.D.F., for example, had doubled its membership between 1889 and 1890. Every new trade agitation took people away from the organization and the League could not cash in on the new unionism like the S.D.F. because of their position of ( necessarily ) critical support. The Anarchists in the League wanted a revolution but were unclear about how to achieve it on the level of immediate action. The S.D.F. on the other hand were quite prepared to use revolutionary rhetoric about eventual aims but had an immediate 'practical' means to offer their members, namely elections. The Anarchists might be correct in their call for a general strike as a solution for the difficulties the labour movement found itself in but they did not have the means at that point to convince the mass of workers that it was a real possibility. Meanwhile their cult of immediate revolution was causing opposition within the League itself. Morris was writing in April 1890 : 'Outside the Hammersmith Branch the active( ? ) members in London mostly consider themselves Anarchists but don't know anything about Socialism and go ranting revolution in the streets, which is about as likely to happen as the conversion of Englishmen from stupidity to quickwittedness ( ... ) Now I must do notes for C'weal. I don't like the job as I have a new book which amuses me vastly.' [49]

The Anarchist influence was undoubtedly growing fast in the League. Out of the Freedom Group discussions at the Socialist League Hall a number of activists had been recruited to it. The paper had remained more or less Charlotte Wilson's preserve, however, until she fell ill in early 1889. As a consequence it was announced in March that some of the new recruits had formed 'a committee of workmen ( ... ) to manage the publication and sale of the paper'. ( One of them, James Blackwell, had been manager of the S.D.F. paper Justice. ) The new group proved a distinct improvement and by August a column devoted to accounts of the 'Propaganda' had been started to cover the increasing activity. At first the reports were mainly of debates and discussions, particularly with S.D.F. members. ( One report from Manchester, however, gave accounts of meetings where 'Anarchy pure and simple' was being preached. ) But by the end of 1889 it was becoming clear that Anarchism was a matter for assertion rather than debate. Kropotkin began what was to be a heavy schedule of talks throughout the country in 1890. In addition to the centrifugal force of trade disputes, the making of specifically Anarchist propaganda began to attract away members of the Socialist League. Samuels, Mainwaring, Cores, Mowbray, Davis and others are all to be found as Anarchist propagandists in late 1889 and 1890. In April 1890 it was reported from Manchester that the Socialist Leaguers there 'like those of Norwich have largely adopted Anarchism as their political ideal'. By July there were two groups of Anarchist-Communists in London. One, in St Pancras, was mainly composed of Freedom Group activists. The other, the East London Group, was basically some members of the Clerkenwell branch of the Socialist League wearing different hats. The Group had taken over the branch propaganda sheet, the Labour Leaf, which now appeared as the Anarchist Labour Leaf and was used for free distribution at public meetings. And the tone of the Anarchist propaganda was getting sharper.

By July Morris was writing to Nicoll to protest over a piece which had appeared in the Commonweal, sent from Samuels in Leeds describing the gas-strike riots. After describing the hail of missiles 'on to the horse and foot soldiers, police, scabs, mayor and magistrates' Samuels continued : 'The consternation and confusion baffles description; and if the people had only the knowledge ( they had the pluck ) the whole cursed lot would have been wiped out. As the horses and men picked themselves up, it was seen that many were bruised and bleeding but, alas ! no corpses to be seen. The party on the bridge got off without trouble or hurt' [50] Morris wrote to Nicoll : 'I think you are going too far - at any rate further than I can follow you. You really must put a curb on Samuels' blatant folly or you will force me to withdraw all support ( ... ) Please understand that this is meant to be quite private; and do your best not to drive me off. For I assure you it would be the greatest grief to me if I had to dissociate myself from men who have been my friends so long.' [51] ( Morris had by this time given up the editorship of the Commonweal to Nicoll. )

The tone of the Revolutionary Conference in August cannot have helped things much and an open breach was threatened in October. The dispute concerned the first part of an article on 'Revolutionary Warfare' by Nicoll. This did little more than repeat Nicoll's earlier support for a general strike and a 'No Rent' campaign, though the language and title used were stronger. Kitz says, 'The publication of a second instalment of it was made a test case by the Hammersmith Branch, and as he refused to withdraw it, they severed their connection with the League.' [52] The dispute over Nicoll's article more or less coincided with the meetings to commemorate Chicago and Bloody Sunday in early November. At a meeting at the Kay Street Radical club on 11 November it was evident that little sympathy existed between Morris and the other Socialist League speakers. Samuels said : 'We socialists ought to feel very sad that night and try if we could not find some means to avenge our friends' deaths. He did not advocate force but sooner or later force might have to be resorted to if we were attacked ( ... )' Burnie talked of paying back the debt of Trafalgar Square 'with compound interest'. Kitz said that the worker's life was shortened by what he suffered. 'Why then should he fear bloodshed, if bloodshed were to come ?' Morris in his speech spoke directly to these remarks : 'The essence of the Revolution was the intense desire and settled intention of the people to be free ( ... ) by the realization of equality of condition. If that feeling once grew in people's hearts it could not be put down. Something had been said about revenge, but the only real revenge we could possibly have was by our own efforts bringing ourselves to happiness. Only unhappy people thought of revenge : when we were happy we should forget it.' [53] During his speech Samuels said that, with others, he had intended to 'polish off' the judge in the trial of John Bingham of Sheffield if Bingham was found guilty. ( Bingham had been charged with incitement to kill blacklegs in a speech in 1889. ) Nicoll later asserted that these remarks were responsible for Morris's final decision to leave the League. Morris was only to refer in his letters to 'Nicoll's folly' but the question remains open. What is certain is that when Morris walked out of the hall that night he was walking out of the Socialist League.

He went back to Hammersmith and wrote the article he described as his farewell - it is said on the same night. This was entitled 'Where are we now ?' and appeared in the issue of the Commonweal following the meeting. It was written without bitterness and in it Morris emerges as the more remarkable a man in his objective treatment of what he obviously felt to be a defeat. It does not diminish his humanity to add that he was better able to bear this defeat since he no longer believed in imminent social revolution. In his article he reviewed the obvious advance of socialist ideas and underlined his belief that socialism was ultimately inevitable. The major questions, he felt, were now questions of method. Morris's own preference was to 'put forward the simple principles of Socialism regardless of the policy of the passing hour.' The danger he saw was that socialists would seize on 'the methods of impatience' :

There are two tendencies in this matter of methods : on the one hand is our old acquaintance palliation, elevated now into vastly greater importance than it used to have, because of the growing discontent, and the obvious advance of Socialism; on the other is the method of partial, necessarily futile, inconsequent revolt, or riot rather, against the authorities, who are our absolute masters and can easy put it down.

With both these methods I disagree; and that the more because the palliatives have to be clamoured for and the riots carried out by men who do not know what Socialism is, and have no idea what their next step is to be, if contrary to all calculation they should happen to be successful. Therefore our masters would be our masters still because there would be nothing to take their place. We are not ready for such a change as that ! The authorities might be a little shaken perhaps, a little more inclined to yield something to the clamours of their slaves, but there would be slaves still, as all men must he who are not prepared to manage their own business themselves. Nay, as to the partial violent means, I believe that the occurrence of those would not shake the authorities at all, but would strengthen them rather, because they would draw to them the timid of all classes, i.e., all men but a very few. [54]

While he had made out a strong case against the policy of riot he could not ( and did not ) expect the Anarchists to accept it. The reasons are clear enough. For them, Morris's position implied doing nothing and doing nothing implied defeat. At the back of the Anarchist rejection of Morris's 'defeatism' was a feeling, never fully articulated, that people learned their power - and what to do with it - through riotous action. The expected progression of events was seen by Nicoll as follows : 'Individual assaults on the system will lead to riots, riots to revolts, revolts to insurrection, insurrection to revolution.' [55] This was putting it at its most hopeful and implied a change of consciousness as the scale of events grew greater. But at the very least the Anarchist were asserting the immediate material advantage to the working class of 'palliatives by riot' and urging the use of new weapons to resist the most immediate forms of repression. There were two replies to Morris's last article, from John Creaghe and Charles Mowbray. Creaghe said, 'Every man should take what he requires of the wealth around him, using violence wherever necessary and when dragged before his enemies he should tell them plainly that he has done what he knows to be right and what he is proud of having done. His example will soon find imitators ( … )' Mowbray wrote the first piece ever to openly advocate dynamite in the Commonweal : 'I feel confident that a few determined men ( ... ) who are prepared to do or die in the attempt could paralyse the forces of our masters providing they were acquainted with the power which nineteenth century science has placed within their reach.' [56] The tone of these replies shows that Morris was quite right when he wrote after his article had been published : 'It was and it was meant to be, directly opposed to anything the Anarchist side would want to say or do. If I had remained in the League after that I must have attacked them persistently. And why should I ? I shouldn't have converted them.' [57]

Morris's presence in the League had, however, kept the more violent incitements out of the Commonweal - his letter to Nicoll over Samuels had a real effect. In addition his money had enabled the paper and organization to function relatively smoothly. ( He had been spending in the region of £500 per year on the League. ) When Morris left the League his moderating influence and his money went with him. But perhaps more importantly the organization lost its enormous prestige as Morris's own. These losses threw everything into turmoil. The morale of even the firmly Anarchist members was severely shaken and many of them seem to have assumed that the end of the League was nigh. From December 1890 onwards the Commonweal was temporary issued monthly instead of weekly. The League moved into much less salubrious quarters at 273 Hackney Road. A circular from the Hammersmith branch ( now renamed the Hammersmith Socialist Society ) explaining the reasons for their secession seems to have isolated the Commonweal from the provincial branches that had no strong Anarchist influence. By December 1890 the branches of the League had shrunk from nine to two ( North Kensington and North London ) if we except the group round the Commonweal. Matters were not helped by rumours that the League and the Commonweal were finished, rumours put about by 'ink-slingers' who had left the League earlier when it passed 'the drawing-room and aesthetic stage of the Socialist movement', in Kitz's words. All this inevitably put strains on the small numbers left to carry on the work. Kitz and Mowbray fell out after some dispute and Kitz left in March 1890 just as things seemed to be getting better. It is more than likely that the dispute had something to do with Mowbray's inclinations towards the power of nineteenth-century science. In April 1890 Kitz had written : 'Some of the younger and hotter amongst us, disheartened at what appears to be a hopeless task ( ... ) either give up in despair or dream of more forceful methods of agitation ( ... ) As well prepared and willing as any to make reprisals should there be a determined effort on the part of the "haves" to suppress the murmurings of the "have nots" ( ... ) I still contend that in agitation and education ( ... ) and in preaching the gospel of discontent lays our chief chance of success.' [58] The loss of Kitz was serious, as Nicoll was forced to admit in the Commonweal : 'The defection of the late General Secretary caused much confusion and loss, but every effort has been made.' [59]

The Anarchist section of the League in London ( now renamed the London Socialist League ) only just survived these ructions. That it survived at all was due to the efforts of Nicoll and Mowbray to keep the Commonweal going. Nicoll wrote later : 'The paper had been carried on after Morris had left us by the scanty pence of workmen who often lacked food. It was edited by a man who in the few hours he had left from the Commonweal, for there was no money for salary for the editor, barely enough for the compositors, had to pick up a living from stray journalism.' [60] ( Nicoll had exhausted a small legacy. ) In April 1891 the London Socialist League was in a bad shape, with an estimated membership of no more than 120. Only six speaking pitches were being kept open. From this point, however, having overcome its most immediate internal and material difficulties, the organization had more time for agitation and began to expand. From 2 May the Commonweal again came out weekly, though only in an edition of four pages. Nicoll came under some pressure to formally declare the paper Anarchist, pressure he resisted for some time. From his point of view, giving anti-parliamentary revolutionary socialism a specifically Anarchist brand-name seemed to unnecessarily restrict the paper's readership. Nevertheless from the first new weekly edition of the Commonweal in May 1891, the sub-title described it as 'A Revolutionary Journal of Anarchist Communism'.

In one sense the Anarchists had been ahead of their time in 1890 when they urged more dynamic action on the working class and made carping criticisms of the 'New' unionism. By 1891 it was clear that the boom was over. In the winter of 1890 to 1891 there had been a financial crisis in the City and Barings Bank nearly failed. Trade was slack, unemployment was rising, the incidence of blacklegging ( organized or otherwise ) was increasing and the new unions were very much on the defensive. Audiences could now be found who responded to more revolutionary sentiments. A Christian socialist paper was clearly worried at the new trend : 'Violence has been openly advocated by the more extreme journals, and at meetings of angry workmen revolutionary speeches have been hailed with delight, while more moderate and more reasonable speakers have been listened to with but scant patience. Such sentiments as "putting a little more devil into the strike"; "don't let all the corpses be on one side"; and vague threats of "fanning the class war into a blaze which shall fire the world" are heartily echoed by thousands of excited workers in different parts of London and throughout the provinces.' [61] By no means, however, had this new bitterness become focused by the Anarchists. The 1 May demonstration in 1891 was called by the Anarchists alone and only mustered some 700-800 people in Hyde Park in the daytime. An evening meeting fared somewhat better. When the speakers arrived at Mile End Waste they found a very large body of police, both foot and mounted, waiting to 'prevent any disturbance'. The police did not attempt to break up the meeting but their presence attracted large crowds to hear speeches by Cantwell, Nicoll, Arnold, Mainwaring, Yanovsky and Mowbray. As if to underline the point made by the Christian socialist paper, the Commonweal reported that the audience, mainly composed of dock and riverside workers, responded most enthusiastically to 'the most revolutionary sentiments'. Judging by the Commonweal the action urged on the people was the strike conducted in the Leeds style and riotous looting as a method of feeding the unemployed

As 1891 progressed a number of agitations were conducted by the League Anarchists which showed some real life. A fund was set up to finance propaganda in the army. This seems to have initially involved Charles Mowbray's son, who was sentenced to a prison term and discharge from the army for these activities. Mowbray and Charles then took up the work, visiting Colchester, Rochester and Chatham. At Colchester 500 special ( ? ) numbers of the Commonweal and 2,000 leaflets were distributed in the barracks. At Chatham 1,000 copies of the Commonweal containing an 'Address to the Army' were handed out. The 'Address...' urged the soldiers to remember their working-class origins and to refuse to fire on the people if they were ordered to do so. The agitation seems to have been met with some success. At the very least it was in tune with the dissatisfaction that existed in the army at that time - semi-mutinies were being reported in some Guards regiments. A further agitation was conducted around the question of rent. A 'No Rent League' was founded and their meetings in the Boundary Street slum were excitedly attended by the residents. The choice of Boundary Street was shrewd. The new London County Council had paid the owners of this notorious rookery a generous compensation after acquiring it. The gist of the Anarchist propaganda was that it was the residents who needed compensating. This, it seemed, could be most easily achieved by their refusal to pay rent. This campaign, too, met with some success. As a result of people withholding rent, bailiffs were called in and this led in turn to the formation of an Anti-Broker Brigade to protect people from their depredations.

The No Rent agitation was enthusiastically taken up in Sheffield by Dr John Creaghe and others. Creaghe, an incredible man who had spent much of his life in Argentina, practised what he preached. When bailiffs attempted to distrain goods he drove them out with a poker. This appears to have led to the penning of a little ditty which was put on No Rent propaganda from that point on. It ran :

Hurrah ! for the kettle, the club and the poker
Good medicine always for landlord and broker;
Surely 'tis better to find yourself clobber
Before paying rent to a rascally robber [62]

The Sheffield Anarchists were noticeably active at this point. They were unusual for their time in that instead of remaining a faction within a Socialist Society or Socialist League branch where one existed, they struck out on their own and formed an Anarchist group early in 1891. They unfurled their banner at the Monolith, the regular speaking pitch, on May Day with the motto 'No God, No Master' written on it. They regularly held meetings there and in other parts of the town and established a club. They were popular in the working-class districts, Creaghe's activity with the poker being particularly well received. Among the middle class, however, there was great hostility and in September Commonweal reported that 'well dressed rowdys' had attacked the club and broken windows by throwing pennies. Taking the money as payment the Anarchists had replied by running out and scattering revolutionary literature among the attackers. The Sheffield group also produced several issues of a local paper, the Sheffield Anarchist, which had a short and outrageous career in 1891. And Sheffield was not the only provincial town where Anarchists were beginning to establish themselves : the Leeds Anarchists were, it was alleged, responsible for riots in Bradford during a big strike at Listers Mill through their insistence on holding strike meetings which had been banned by the police.

But these beginnings of an activist Anarchism adapted to English conditions were to be thrown into greater prominence by events early in 1892. In February 1891 a casual note had appeared in the Commonweal : 'Our comrade Mendelsohn has been warning the British public that the Russian police have been good enough to transfer a portion of their attention from Paris to London, and that we may therefore expect to hear of sham dynamite plots here (...)'. The warning, it turned out, was not regarded seriously enough.

[1] The draft proposals of the Avelings. See Chapter 3.

[2] Morris to Jane Morris, 15 June 1886, Letters.

[3] D128-131, S.L. archive.

[4] Letter written summer 1887, Letters.

[5] Engels to Sorge, 29 April 1886.

[6] Motion by Donald, 20 September 1886, S.L. archive.

[7] See letter of Morris to J. B. Glasier, 1 December 1886.

[8] Binning to S.L. council, 3 June 1886. SL. archive.

[9] Circular 'To members of the Socialist League', F173, SL. archive.

[10] MS. minutes, SL. archive,

[11] Report of Norwich branch to 1887 conference, S.L. archive.

[12] Freedom, November 1887.

[13] Commonweal, 10 March 1888.

[14] Freedom, November 1887.

[15] Lane memoirs.

[16] Morris in Commonweal, 19 November 1887.

[17] Cunninghame Graham in Commonweal, 10 November 1888.

[18] Freedom, January 1888.

[19] Internal circular of 1887, F173, SL. archive.

[20] Weekly letters, D95-100, SL. archive.

[21] This is probably the significance of the 'missionary fund' made up of money collected at public meetings, etc., by members of the Bloomsbury branch. According to practice this was to be handed into the office for Commonweal expenses, etc., although with council permission -- which seems to have been given freely enough -- branches could use such money for local propaganda. The Bloomsbury branch, however, didn't hand in their money, refused to account for it and were rude about it when asked. A motion condemning them for this was notified in the internal letter for 4 July 1887. The probable use of the money was for 'working the provincial branch' on behalf of the parliamentarians.

[22] 'To the members of the Socialist League', F174, SL. archive.

[23] Nor were the anti-parliamentarians above a bit of misrepresentation : the Hackney branch claimed eighteen members in the conference minutes; yet Secretary Cores's membership list reveals only eleven names.

[24] Hackney branch circular, 1888, 1533, S.L. archive.

[25] Report of Bloomsbury branch, B43, S.L. archive.

[26] Mandates of Bloomsbury delegates, B36, SL. archive.

[27] Morris to Glasier, 1888, Letters.

[28] Morris to Glasier, 1888, Letters.

[29] MS. notes of a conversation with Fred Charles, IISH.

[30] Morris to Glasier, 15 December 1888, Letters.

[31] Freedom, July 1912.

[32] Freedom, May 1888.

[33] Morris to Glasier, 27 July 1888, Letters.

[34] Glasier, J. B., William Morris and the Early Days of the Socialist Movement, London, 1921.

[35] Commonweal, 18 May 1889.

[36] Freedom, October 1889.

[37] Commonweal, 31 August 1889.

[38] Commonweal, 7 September 1889.

[39] Freedom, October 1907.

[40] Freedom, October 1889.

[41] Commonweal, 7 September 1889.

[42] Debate at the Patriotic Club, Sunday 25 August 1889. From Freedom of September 1889. The word 'expropriation' has a special meaning here. Kropotkin's pamphlet of that name had been published by Seymour in English in 1886. It visualizes the progress of the revolution where the people 'As soon as they have made a clean sweep of the Government ( … ) will seek first of all to ensure to themselves decent dwellings and sufficient food and clothes.' But in order to ensure no return of previous exploitation, expropriation 'must apply to everything that enables any man -- be he financier, mill owner or landlord -- to appropriate the product of another's toil'. Essentially expropriation is the process of communalizing property and capital.

[43] Commonweal, 9 November 1889.

[44] Handbill in Nettlau Collection, IISH.

[45] Commonweal, 30 August 1890.

[46] Latouche P., Anarchy !, London, 1908. p. 6o.

[47] J. R. Clynes, Memoirs, London, 1937, pp. 53-4.

[48] Commonweal, 16 August 1890.

[49] Morris to Glasier, 6 April 1890.

[50] Commonweal, 12 July 1890.

[51] Morris to Nicoll, 19 July 1890, Letters.

[52] Freedom, July 1912.

[53] Commonweal, 22 November 1890.

[54] Commonweal, 15 November 1890.

[55] Commonweal, 23 May 1891.

[56] Commonweal, 29 November 1890.

[57] Morris to Glasier, 5 December 1890, Letters.

[58] Commonweal, 5 April 1890.

[59] Commonweal, April 1891.

[60] Commonweal, Nicoll ( ed. ), Christmas 1904.

[61] Belfast Weekly Star, quoted Commonweal, March 1891.

[62] See for example handbill headed 'MURDER' in W. C. Hart, Confessions of an Anarchist, London, 1906, p. 42


06. The Walsall Anarchists

Submitted by Steven. on October 14, 2009

The arrest, trial and sentencing of the Walsall Anarchists in 1892 deserve more attention than they have received from the historians of the left in Britain. From the point of view of the more liberal, there was a disconcertingly straightforward use of agents provocateur by the police. From the point of view of historians of the growth of institutions connected with the working-class movement, the existence of options for propaganda by deed and the reasons for the rejection of these options should have given more cause for thought. In any case, the circumstances were unusual enough for notice. As ex-Detective Sergeant McIntyre was to say, 'Quite a sensation was caused at the time by the appearance of this new class of revolutionist. It is safe to say that no conspiracy of quite the same nature had been known in England during this century.' [1]

On 6 January 1892 Joe Deakin, an Anarchist living in his native town of Walsall, was arrested in Tottenham Court Road on his way to the Autonomie Club. He was remanded in custody at Marlborough Street Court the following day on a charge of manufacturing bombs. Immediately after the court appearance Inspector Melville went to Walsall by train and on the evening of the same day Victor Cailes, a Frenchman, and Fred Charles were arrested at the Socialist Club in Goodall Street, Walsall. Later William Ditchfield and John Westley were arrested in Walsall and Jean Battola, an Italian, was arrested in London. Deakin and Battola were transported up to Walsall to stand trial. They were all jointly charged with what amounted to manufacturing bombs. At their first appearance at the Walsall police court, Mr Young, prosecuting, asked for a week's remand on the grounds that 'The authorities both in Walsall and London had received very important information with reference to what he might call a widespread conspiracy throughout the country.' [2]

The evidence brought against the accused men was as follows : In Charles' possession was found a sketch of a bomb with instructions in French on how to make it, a model of a bolt allegedly to fit the top of the bomb and a manifesto in French in Cailes' handwriting entitled The Means of Emancipation which said in part, 'Let us occupy ourselves with chemistry, and let us manufacture promptly bombs, dynamite and other explosive matters much more efficacious than guns and barricades to bring about the destruction of the actual state of things, and above all, to spare the precious blood of our comrades. Courage, companions ! Long Live Anarchy ! Walsall, 1 September 1891.' In Cailes' possession was found a length of fuse and a large number of Anarchist publications in French, including issue number 7 of L'International, which gave instructions on making bombs and how to use them for the destruction of public buildings. At Ditchfield's workshop 'a plaster cast of a bomb similar to the sketch produced' was found and at his home a bolt 'for the head of one of the missiles'. In the basement of the Socialist Club there was 'a quantity of clay mixed with hair, evidently for moulding purposes'. On the 'sworn information of the Chief Constable that all the persons had in their possession or under their control explosives under such circumstances as to lead to the conclusion that such substances were not in their possession or under their control for a lawful purpose' the magistrate - in this case the Mayor of Walsall - remanded all the men in custody. This was done even though no evidence at all had been brought against Battola, Westley or Deakin; and in the case of the other men, whatever suspicions might have been aroused by what was found in their possession no explosives had been produced at all and it was unlawful possession of explosives 'with intent' that lay at the centre of the charge.

As it stood, this evidence could not have faced an energetic defence in court. It was fortunate for the police, therefore, that at the next hearing, on 21 January, a most incriminating set of confessions by Deakin were produced. As The Times put it :

On the 15th inst. Deakin told witness [Chief Constable Taylor] that he should like to tell all, as he had come to the conclusion that Charles was a police spy. The following day he handed in a statement, in which he wrote that the parcel of chloroform found in his possession when he was arrested in London was given to him by Cailes to be given to an acquaintance of Cailes. This was the man charged at the Court under the name of Battola. As for the castings and models, Ditchfield and Charles arranged to get them for Cailes. Deakin added that he understood the things were for use abroad. A second statement made by Deakin ( ... ) was of a great length and of a sensational character. It showed that in the summer of last year [i.e. 1891] Charles went to the Walsall Socialist Club, of which Deakin was the secretary. As he was known to the members of the club through the socialist papers and also slightly known to Deakin who had met him in July 1889, in Paris, [3] he was permitted to have the run of the club. He mentioned to Deakin and to other members that a London comrade named Coulon had written to him. It was decided to have the man over. This was during the months of June and July.

A few weeks later Charles met two Frenchmen at the station and Deakin was introduced to them. One of these men was Cailes, who stayed in Walsall, the other man returning to London. Cailes spoke very little English.

One night in October or early in November 1891, Cailes and Charles spoke to him about a letter written in French, which Cailes had received and which enclosed the sketch of a bomb produced in the police court. The letter was sent in the name of 'De Farney' [4] and Cailes not knowing the name wrote to Coulon, 19, Fitzroy Square, London, asking whether it was all right. He afterwards got an affirmative reply. Deakin understood that the bombs were wanted for use in Russia. They came to the conclusion they should want a pattern for the bomb to be cast from. One Sunday Cailes, Westley, Charles and Deakin met to make one. Then came the question of having it cast. Charles said he would pay the cost and it was agreed that they should call the bomb an electric cell. A letter was sent to Messrs. Bullows by Charles in the name of La Place. Subsequently a letter was received from London by Cailes saying that someone would fetch the things. The stranger who went down was the man Battola.

The reading of the statement caused some excitement in court. [5]

This was something of an understatement. Deakin was denounced as an informer and liar in the Commonweal. There was little else to do for what Deakin's statement did was to link up the accused and lay them open to charges of conspiracy. All the bits and pieces in their possession which separately meant very little now had a great collective significance and were admitted to have been for a common and violent purpose. Things now looked very bad indeed for the men. They were again remanded.

It is a little difficult to get at the truth of how this confession was obtained. Nicoll gives the story as Deakin told it later but it rings oddly. Ditchfield had been threatened and bullied by Melville and Taylor but without much information being obtained from him. He did not have much to tell. Deakin was then taken from his cell to the private room where Inspector Melville and Chief Constable Taylor started a conversation with him on socialism. Deakin was a simple enthusiast and he was soon worked up to a high pitch of excitement. In the dead of the night he was taken back to his cell and while there he heard what he thought was the sound of the voices of two of his companions, Charles and Ditchfield, confessing all about the plot to the officers. Under the impression that he was betrayed he made a full confession, which was just what the police wanted. [6] When Deakin found that Charles and Ditchfield had not made this confession 'he declared to a friend that a trick must have been played upon him and that someone must have imitated the voices of his comrades'. How much reliance one can put upon this story it is difficult to say. For myself, I think it more likely that Melville and Taylor told Deakin that Charles and Ditchfield had made full confessions, and even told him that Charles was employed by them. And as we shall see, they would be able to give all sorts of 'private' details of what had been going on which would seem to substantiate their story. It might only have been necessary to hint that Charles was a police spy, since this had already been rumoured in the movement - Nicoll alleged later that the rumour originated with members of the Freedom Group 'who so persuaded Kropotkin of its truth that he said to Charles "If you are not in the pay of the police you are doing their work" '. [7] Faced with this apparent betrayal Deakin then confessed since he does not seem to have been the stuff that martyrs are made of. Finding that he was alone in his confessions, 'hearing voices' would appear to be a way of saving face or a convenient resolution of the situation by his unconscious.

Deakin's confession, however, mentioned the name of one co-conspirator who had not been arrested - Coulon. Coulon's career linked the defendants together. Events were to show why a man so obviously compromised remained free and unpursued. Who was Auguste Coulon ?

He had taken some part in the Dublin branch of the Socialist League and had some official correspondence with the League in 1886. [8] He 'left that body and went to France where he formed some connection with the Possibilist Party. Thence he came into the movement in England, in January 1890. At this time ( ... ) he was living at Notting Hill and joined the North Kensington branch of the Socialist League. Here he posed as a very violent Anarchist. He occasionally visited the Hammersmith Branch of the Socialist League where he chiefly occupied himself by endeavouring to sell a little French book L'Indicateur Anarchiste containing instruction concerning the manufacture of bombs and dynamite.' [9]

Coulon described himself as a professor of languages but had been 'chronically out of work ever since he had been in England. He had largely been supported by the generosity of comrades in Hammersmith and North Kensington,' says Nicoll, and as a consequence of these sources drying up he appeared at the Autonomie Club saying that he'd been expelled from the Hammersmith Socialist Society. In this he was appealing to and deepening the split in the Socialist League - there were, for example, raiding parties from the West End which disrupted meetings at Hammersmith. At the Autonomie his ability to speak several languages recommended him for the job of assistant to Louise Michel who could speak only French, in a school which was started for her by the foreign Anarchists for the education of the children of the foreign socialists of north Soho, in the autumn of 1890. There was little money available but Coulon declared himself willing to sacrifice himself, his wife and children for the good of the cause. He made himself busy and soon had the entire business management of the school in his hands - he received all money and his name appeared as prominently in advertisements and circulars as that of Louise Michel herself. His connection with Louise Michel, naturally enough, made him appear a man to be trusted. A further indication of his apparent trustworthiness was the work he engaged in for the refugees from France after the stormy events around May Day in 1891. There had been riots and fights with the police. 'Nine people were killed by the police at Fourmies. At a riot at Clichy Levallois three men were wounded and arrested after a gun fight with the so-called "forces of order". The wounded men, all anarchists, were taken to Clichy police station and there brutally assaulted by the police and not even given facilities for bathing their wounds.' [10] Two were eventually sentenced to long terms. ( It was in revenge for their treatment that Ravachol was to set his bombs. ) One of the refugees was the Walsall defendant Victor Cailes, who was wanted by the French police for incitement to 'incendiarism, murder and pillage' after a riot in his native town of Nantes on May Day. Cailes was sent to Walsall through the contact Coulon had with Fred Charles who by this time was living there.

Charles, 'out of employment and in a desperate mood' in London, had gone first to Sheffield to find work. [11] In Sheffield he had helped Dr Creaghe start the Sheffield Anarchist. Creaghe wrote of that time

I cannot forget the time that Charles who was then out of work started with me the first number of the Sheffield Anarchist. He would do nothing for himself. If his chances of getting a £1000 depended on his keeping an appointment, I am certain he would not be there and I was astonished how actively and steadily he worked for the cause he loved. I cannot say how often I regretted it when he had to leave me, for we spent some happy hours in that anything but sweet smelling den which served us for a club and office at 47 West Bar Green, Sheffield. How we laughed as we scribbled and enjoyed in anticipation the horror and rage of the enemy. [12]

Whether because of this activity or for other reasons he did not manage to find a job. He then went to Walsall about July 1891, and was fixed up with work by local comrades. Charles was known to Deakin in a business capacity from 1888 when Deakin, then secretary of the Walsall Socialist League, had regularly written to Charles for copies of the Commonweal, pamphlets, etc. [13]

As far as the socialist movement in England was concerned the men arrested at Walsall were almost unknown except for Charles. Apart from being a known activist he had an incredible reputation for open-handed generosity. Practically all his earnings and possessions were given away to tramps or the unemployed. He had been known to take off his coat and pawn it in order to be able to give something to a fellow worker who was without money. Ted Leggatt told how he had seen Charles 'take his best boots off his feet and the last half crown out of his pocket and give them to a man he had never seen before, who pleaded poverty to him at a meeting at the Berner Street club where William Morris was lecturing. Others can verify my statement' [14] Nicoll said of him, 'I, who knew him well, have often thought that Charles, Atheist and Anarchist as he was had more of the spirit of Christ about him than those who talk so loudly of their Christianity.' [15] Coulon had helped Charles when he had been hard up - Charles had 'like many other fine natures, suffered much from the ingratitude of those he had befriended and was therefore charmed with Coulon's "generosity". This is a man after my own heart he thought, and after he left London for the North, he still kept up a correspondence with Coulon.' [16] Through this correspondence Cailes arrived in Walsall.

Charles and Cailes were accepted as members of the Socialist Club on 10 August 1891. The conspiracy might well have been started as a result of a conversation which took place on Saturday, 29 August, at the Autonomie Club. Deakin, returning from an International Congress at Brussels, was in the bar 'chatting to a group of Anarchists to whom he was known. Someone asked after Charles : "Oh he's all right," said Deakin, "he's at work in an iron foundry." "Oh, he will do to make bombs for us," cried Coulon, who was present.' Two months later the letter signed 'Degnai' containing the sketch of the bomb was sent to Cailes at Walsall. Not knowing the name, Cailes, as we have seen, wrote to Coulon who replied that the letter was 'all right'. This was the letter which the police were to say was in Battola's handwriting. Cailes and Charles were connected through Coulon - and on closer inspection it was found that Coulon had not only underwritten Battola's reputation for the men in Walsall but was directly responsible for bringing him into the conspiracy. Battola lived next door to Coulon in Fitzroy Street and they were in constant communication. He did not speak English but did speak fluent French, as prison letters testify. [17] Battola did not know Cailes or Charles : the only connection conceivable between them is through Coulon. As Nicoll says,

Supposing Battola wrote the letter did he not do it at Coulon's suggestion. Battola an exile burning with hatred against the tyranny that had driven him from his native land, might be easily worked upon to assist Coulon in his nice little plot of manufacturing 'bombs for Russia' ( ... ) according to Deakin's confession, Coulon was writing to hurry them up, from 19 Fitzroy Street. In truth he kept up a vigorous correspondence with the Walsall people 'pressing' them to hurry on with the bombs ( ... ) At last a letter arrived from Coulon informing the Walsall men that a man would call on Saturday, December 5th for some of the bombs which it was expected Bullows would have completed by this time. On December 2nd, the man arrived in the shape of Battola.

Coulon had been busy in other areas too. His command of several languages seemed to recommend him for the 'International Notes' section of the Commonweal. His style was chatty - and his basic subject was dynamite - e.g. 'Our Austrian Comrades beat the record this time ! Dynamite seems to grow as thick there as rotten potatoes in Ireland. Only last week, I mentioned two bomb explosions in Ruchenberg, and here again, we record another infernal and diabolical machine that has thrown terror and dismay into the mind of the capitalist class' [18] ; and 'No voice speaks so loud as Dynamite and we are glad to see it getting into use all over the place.' [19] Nicoll, as editor of the paper, says he was unwilling to interfere on what might appear to be ideological grounds but finally lost his patience with Coulon's notes when 'he sent me in a paragraph celebrating the blowing up of a cow in Belgium as a great and good revolutionary act and as I would not publish it Coulon has never forgiven me'.

In October 1891, Coulon was organizing chemistry classes. 'The class consisted of mere boys and one of them M----- [20] was sent to Mowbray and Nicoll asking if they would join. They declined with thanks ( ... ) and the class was dropped.' However M----- was provided with a bottle of nitric acid and a bottle of glycerine and encouraged to start the production of home-made nitro-glycerine. Luckily this exceedingly dangerous proceeding was prevented by the lad's father finding the materials and pouring them out onto a patch of ground. Another 'enthusiast C-----, medical student, [21] under the direction of the arch conspirator, translated Moses Revolutionary Warfare this was to be privately printed and distributed to all the Anarchist groups in the country, ( ... ) this book contains simple directions concerning the manufacture of dynamite and bombs.' So, all in all, Coulon had been a very active fellow. But among sections of the foreign Anarchists Coulon had become the object of some suspicion. 'He had become a petty tyrant, and there were even graver charges against him. The result had been his dismissal from the International School at the end of October ( ... ) He moved into Fitzroy Square, taking a highly respectable dwelling for a man "with no visible means of subsistence" '. At the Sunday meeting at the Autonomie Club on 10 January 1892 - the Sunday following the arrest of Deakin on the 6th and Cailes and Charles on the 7th - 'Coulon was openly charged with betraying the Walsall men. "You do no work; how do you get your living if you are not a police spy ?" he was asked. He replied, "I am a true Anarchist; I live by plunder." The explanation was not considered satisfactory and he was expelled from the club.' By this time, however, it was a little late.

The arrests of the Walsall men and the sudden accusations of Coulon burst upon the English Anarchist scene as a complete surprise. Even in Walsall, the business of getting the bomb cases cast does not seem to have been known about outside those immediately involved. It seems unlikely that the members of the Walsall Club should have been so blithe about their treatment of the detectives who began to dog the footsteps of the 'prominent members' in early December. 'They took the detectives for long walks into the country by the banks of the canal, where discussions were held as to the advisability of giving them a ducking. In fact they made the detectives' lives unbearable by dint of chaff, insult and ridicule. So the game went merrily on.' Among the English movement bomb plots seemed not to be a major concern at the time of the Walsall arrests. Activity was concentrated in more traditional areas. One of the major concerns of the socialist world was the fight led by the S.D.F. at the World's End, Chelsea, for the right of free speech which had been going on since November I891, resulting in many arrests. It was being taken up by assorted Liberal/Radical bandwagon jumpers. Among the London Anarchists there was something of a skirmish going on connected with John Turner's United Shop Assistants Union. A shopkeeper in the Harrow Road, named Haile, who would not accede to the Union's demand that he close at the earlier time of 5 pm on Thursdays, was picketed by members of the union together with some 'outside agitators'. In Turner's words, 'The local excitement had grown week by week with the result that riots occurred, the shop was raided and the mounted police were called out.' [22] Earlier on in the struggle, pickets had been charged with minor offences - Tochatti, for example, was arrested for causing a disturbance and fined in October. [23] The union had paid the fines involved. As the struggle escalated, however, 'a more serious view' was taken of the situation and three pickets, one of whom was David Nicoll, were arrested and prosecuted on a more serious conspiracy charge. Convicted, they were sent to prison for a month with the option of a fine. The hard-pressed union, almost bankrupted by the struggle, took three days to raise the money to get the men out of jail. Nicoll was in jail when Coulon was accused of being a police agent.

If anybody was thinking of examples of 'individual action' immediately before the Walsall case broke, they would probably be mostly concerned with the rather farcical action of John Evelyn Barlas ( a poet whose collection of poems, Phantasmagoria, was published under the pen-name of Evelyn Douglas ). On 31 December 1891, a policeman first heard and then saw him discharging several shots from a revolver at the Houses of Parliament at about 9 o'clock in the morning. The policeman ran towards him. 'Seeing witness [i.e. policeman] he [i.e. Barlas] handed him the revolver saying, "I am an Anarchist and I intended shooting you but then I thought it is a pity to shoot an honest man. What I have done is to show my contempt for the House of Commons." Magistrate, "Was the prisoner sober ?" Witness, "Perfectly." ' [24]

The accusation against Coulon and his expulsion from the Autonomie Club was the subject of great debate. Nicoll was probably typical of the English movement :

I was totally ignorant of the existence of the conspiracy ( like everyone else connected with the Commonweal ), I thought it extremely improbable that Coulon could know anything about it; therefore I reserved my opinion. Coulon remained in London, till the Thursday that Battola was arrested, professing all the time to be very much afraid of arrest. He disappeared directly after Battola was taken.

I still remained incredulous as to Coulon's part in the conspiracy till Deakin's confession was published. Then I saw at once who was the instigator and the betrayer of the plot.

Deakin's confession made it clear how deeply Coulon was involved in the conspiracy. Evidence that Coulon was a police agent was at first circumstantial - his various instigating activities combined with a surprising freedom from interference by the police. More solid evidence was to emerge. Nicoll, on his release from prison, started a defence fund and then became secretary of the Defence Committee for the prisoners. He says, 'The friend of a wealthy French Anarchist had an interview on a matter of business with Coulon's brother, who has a shop in the neighbourhood of Old Street. They mentioned Coulon, and the brother, who was unaware that the gentleman knew anyone in the Anarchist movement, said, "Yes, my brother is in the pay of the police. He tells me he has been in the employment of Melville for two years. But I did not think till now Melville was at Scotland Yard, I thought he was a private inquiry officer."' This information came into Nicoll's hands and though the man was in no way willing to be publicly mixed up in the affair he was prepared to repeat his conversation with Coulon's brother to W. M. Thompson, the barrister hired by the Defence Committee. [25]

With this information and some letters written by Coulon to various people before his disappearance, Thompson cross-examined Inspector Melville at Walsall police court :

Inspector Melville said he had some experience of these cases ( ... ) He had not been engaged in any cases abroad, but he had made inquiries abroad as to foreigners ( ... ) Among the foreigners he had inquired about there was not one named Coulon. He knew a man of that name who was a well known Anarchist. He had often been in Coulon's company but not at Scotland Yard. To his knowledge, Coulon had never been there. He could not swear that he had never given Coulon anything to do for him but he did not remember having done so. He would not swear that he had not paid Coulon money, for he had paid lots of Anarchists money. Mr Thompson :- 'Have you paid him any money ?' Witness asked the Bench if he were to answer such a question and Mr Young, the prosecuting counsel, said that if these questions were designed merely to get the name of the informer they could not be put. Mr Thompson : 'My theory is this, that any suspicious element in the case is the work of this man Coulon who is an agent of the Police.' ( Loud applause ) The Mayor ( who was on the Bench ) : 'If there is any more of this, we shall clear the court. We decide that on the ground of public duty, the question should not be put.' [26]

Inspector Melville's replies are more than a little shifty here and much the same could be said of his replies on the following Monday, 15 February, when Thompson offered him Coulon's address from one of his letters. It looked very bad indeed that the police should decline to accept information leading them to a man directly cited in the confession by Deakin as being a central figure in the conspiracy. But it is possible that W. M. Thompson made a great mistake in bringing up the question of police provocation in the police court. By the time the case came up at the Stafford Assizes the Inspector was warned, the prosecution was warned, and steps could ( and were ) taken to evade the question where it might actually have helped the defendants - in front of a jury. In a small and reactionary town the forces of law and order have a tendency to try and impress prestigious visitors from London. If that meant remanding prisoners in custody on no evidence except the belief of the Chief Constable that they were guilty, keeping them almost completely without bedding in the middle of winter and feeding them sufficient food 'only to keep body and soul together' as the Chief Constable put it - if this was what seemed required they were glad to do it. W. M. Thompson should have understood that the Mayor of Walsall would not know how to listen to allegations of malpractice against the celebrated Inspector Melville of Scotland Yard. And since he did not know how to listen he would not bother to try. The prisoners were committed for trial at Stafford Assizes and remanded in custody at Stafford Gaol. There, however, the conditions were somewhat better.

There was some measure of press hysteria over the case which particularly made hay with the Means of Emancipation and another text entitled The Anarchist Feast at The Opera that were found in Charles's and Cailes's possession. The hysteria communicated itself to the police, who arrested a Swiss named Cavargna in near-by Handsworth on the grounds that he was a dangerous Anarchist. He was nothing of the sort - he had invented some small explosive shells for exterminating rabbits in Australia, and could produce correspondence with the Patent Office to explain why he had explosives in his possession. He spent forty-eight hours in jail, however, before the police rather reluctantly released him.

The scene was also enlivened by the activities of a most unattractive person named McCormack. A complete parasite, he thieved from comrades who helped him and, in fact, had followed the ever-generous Charles to Walsall. [27] There he had managed to disgrace himself completely as far as the Socialist Club was concerned. When the Walsall case broke he offered his services as informer to Chief Constable Taylor of Walsall, was accepted, installed in lodgings in the police station and paid two shillings a day. However, after some research into his background it was thought expedient to release him from this employment. McCormack then went to Birmingham and sold a story to the Birmingham Daily Argus entitled 'The Adventures of a Police Spy' which eventually appeared on 16 February. In the meantime McCormack got drunk on the proceeds and stood up and addressed a crowd in the streets of Birmingham on Anarchy - whether for or against is not recorded. Arrested for being drunk and disorderly, he appeared in court the next day and much to the embarrassment of everybody said that he had been employed by Scotland Yard in 'getting up evidence' against the Walsall prisoners and 'had worked hard for the police as Inspector Melville of Scotland Yard could testify'. He was given seven days. ( He was not completely cast off by the police, however : some measure of protection was afforded him at various later appearances at Tower Hill, etc. ) [28]

Meanwhile, the Anarchists did what they could to defend their comrades and to point out the politics of the situation. George Cores, an ex-Socialist League Anarchist, came to Walsall from Leicester to coordinate the local propaganda campaign. After the six men were committed for trial the first number of what was presented as a regular local weekly paper was published from the club at 18 Goodall Street on 27 February. It was in fact the issue of Commonweal of that date with its heading changed to read the Walsall Anarchist. It covered the use of police agents in the case and attempted to counter the frenzied anti-Anarchist propaganda in the local press. It reprinted a letter sent by Cores to the Birmingham Daily Argus which gave a vigorous exposition of Anarchist Communism and also attempted to mend the damage done by The Anarchist Feast at The Opera, which had already received quite a lot of publicity in the local press. This latter piece of Grand Guignol was a detailed account of how to cause the maximum amount of carnage in an opera house by the simplest methods. Comrades were to buy seats in the cheapest, highest gallery in the building and as opportunity presented itself - in an interval for example - the comrades were to cut the gas pipes which serviced the house lights sufficiently to allow large quantities of gas to float up to the ceiling as the performance proceeded. The comrades were then to push incendiary devices through slits in the seat covers into the stuffing. These would spontaneously combust after a period of time sufficient to allow the comrades to slip away. Then the gas would explode and great would be the destruction, the moaning and the gnashing of teeth.

This may seem horror-comic stuff to us now, but at the time it was used to great effect against the Anarchists. ( Furthermore, Most had given detailed instructions for delayed-action incendiary devices in his Revolutionary War Science. ) The Feast 'purported to be a translation from a French Anarchist Paper,' wrote Cores.

It advocated the burning of theatres and went on to express the joy of the writer could he hear the frizzling of human bodies and taste the broiled flesh of the rich. This has been freely used to show what an awful class of people we Anarchists are. Well, I know with what horror and disgust I read the article referred to, and I have been gratified to find every Anarchist I have met of the same mind. More, from my knowledge of Anarchists, they would be among the very first to save life not to destroy it. And in a burning theatre it is the workers, their wives and children who suffer most from any panic. The rich have the best chance of escape. Human suffering brings no joy to the heart of an Anarchist. It is the existence of human suffering that makes him such a determined foe of all forms of oppression and misery. The paper I have alluded to ( so French Anarchists tell us ) [29] is published by an agent of the French Secret Police to discredit the Anarchist movement. It is not like any ordinary Anarchist organ - published by a known Anarchist society and distributed or broadcast, but secretly and sent only to prominent revolutionists.

But George Cores was swimming against the tide. The local socialist movement was dismayed and cowed by the arrests and the trial with all the attendant publicity. The club was closed and local reactionary forces were mobilized against them, though local meetings held for some weeks wore out this opposition by sheer bloody-minded nervous energy.

Matters were not helped by behind-the-scenes bickering over the finance and policy of the defence of the Walsall men. At the same time that Nicoll was asked by members of the Autonomie Club to set up a defence fund for Charles and Battola, Robert Bingham in Sheffield had approached Edward Carpenter to ask him to set up a fund for Charles. ( Charles had spent some time in Sheffield, as we have seen, and Carpenter certainly met him, for he writes most affectionately about him in his memoirs. ) Nicoll's fund was publicized through the columns of the Commonweal; Carpenter's through Freedom. Carpenter asked Nicoll to put his fund in with his. Nicoll and the Autonomie Club people flatly refused - Nicoll does not say why but we have already noticed the attitude of Nicoll to the Freedom Group. As 'middle class faddists' they might not be relied upon to provide a hard enough defence. Carpenter, apparently was very angry at this refusal - or so Nicoll said. In fact, we have to rely rather heavily on Nicoll's account here. [30] He says that the solicitor friend of Carpenter's, H. Gore, whom Carpenter employed in the case, was indignant with W. M. Thompson for raising the question of police provocation in the police court. And it does not seem that it was for reasons of a better tactical use of the relevant evidence - the barrister ( Willis ) hired by Gore never referred to police provocation in his presentation of the defence case at Stafford Assizes. Nicoll also says that Gore stopped some contributions reaching Nicoll's fund, so much did they disapprove of the 'police provocation' line : 'These respectable people seem as indignant as an old Tory reactionary at any attacks on Scotland Yard.' The difficulties this conflict brought about - an unfocused and messy defence for the accused among other things - did not compare, however, with the news from France, which created an atmosphere which would have severely tested the toughest defence.

The news from France was of bomb explosions. On 11 March a bomb exploded at the house of M. Benoit in the Boulevard Saint Germain, Paris. No one was seriously hurt but there was considerable damage done. Benoit had been the presiding judge at the trial of the two Anarchists condemned to jail sentences after the fighting at Clichy Levallois on 1 May 1891. On 18 March a bomb exploded at the Lobau barracks. On 27 March there was an explosion in the Rue de Clichy, Paris, at the apartment of M. Bulot, in which five people were injured and much damage was done to the building. Bulot had been the prosecutor at the Clichy Levallois trial. The bombs at the judge and prosecutor's residences had been set by Ravachol. ( No one was accused of the Lobau barracks bombing until some time later when Meunier was extradited from England and sentenced to life imprisonment for this and another explosion at the Cafe Very. ) Due to incredible indiscretions on his part Ravachol was arrested in Paris, on 30 March 1892. The details of his bombings, robberies, and of his arrest and trials can be found elsewhere. [31] What concerns us here is the considerable effect these events were to have on the trial of the Walsall men. The Paris correspondent of The Times, for example, was sending really quite frenzied reports :

No possible political end can be adduced to justify or explain the detestable acts which have startled us all. It is clearly the war of disorder and chaos against order and law. It is crime for crime's sake. It is murder and havoc acting in the service of covetousness, hatred and all evil. Undoubtedly all Anarchists are not assassins but all assassins are ready to increase the army of Anarchists and it really is with an army of murderers that society has now to deal. [32]

Since it had already been made quite clear that the bombs had been aimed at members of the judiciary in revenge for the sentences at Clichy Levallois and, furthermore, since no one had been killed in these attacks, the language of the Paris correspondent seems a little over-inflated. The centre of the matter, however, is made clear a few lines later. 'In the stress of so wide a danger there should certainly be an international league preventing every murderer of this sort from finding a place to linger even for a night in any country under the sun.' And, neatly switching the emphasis but preserving the odium, he continues : 'Anarchists should not be regarded as members of a political party, and it should not be possible for an Anarchist to hurry away from Paris to find an asylum in Brussels, in Geneva or in London.'

This was to become a familiar theme. Governments whose dissidents had escaped abroad resented strongly their ability to continue to cause them difficulty from their exile by publishing propaganda and distributing it from a safe base. The very existence of a safe place to run to tended to make the as yet un-exiled dissidents bolder in their actions. The result was that many Continental governments were to exert considerable diplomatic pressure and to indulge in considerable public relations work in order to close the more liberal havens to political refugees. The relative security ( or lack of it ) given to political refugees was often a bargaining counter in diplomatic manoeuvrings and ententes. As far as native British chauvinism went, the cry for anti-Anarchist legislation was mixed in with 'fair trade' demands, demands for the throwing out of 'pauper aliens' and so on. The smokescreen thrown up by professionally excitable fellows like the Paris correspondent of The Times allowed the authorities a certain latitude in their handling of immigrants. It certainly made the lives of political exiles in London harder and saddled the English Anarchist with a reputation that was both dangerous and difficult to live up to.

The trial at Stafford Assizes of the six Walsall men began on 30 March - the same day that Ravachol was arrested. On 4 April the newspapers reported Ravachol's confessions, which not only quite breezily admitted the bombings but also showed him to be genially unrepentant : '( ... ) if I had not been taken I would not have been satisfied with these explosions. None of those who had helped prosecute our mates would have escaped.' [33] He would, he said, also have paid some attention to the Deputies responsible for putting forward the alterations in the dynamite laws which made threatening the use of explosives as heinous a crime as attempt to murder. The newspapers of 5 April carried news of a narrowly averted attempt by Anarchists to bomb the Spanish Chamber of Deputies. [34] They also reported the end of the Walsall Anarchists' trial.

The prosecution at Stafford Assizes was conducted by the Attorney-General which gives some idea of the importance given the trial by the government. The judge was justice Hawkins ( already nicknamed 'Hangman' Hawkins ). The trial itself apparently proceeded with dignified irrelevance - reading The Times reports of the trial one gets no sense of a battle either to prove guilt or to assert innocence. The evidence brought forward by the Crown was that given to the police court together with evidence from explosives and handwriting experts and some additional evidence that the prisoners had been seen together. The true nature of the trial is better expressed by the repressive atmosphere in the court. Freedom reported '( ... ) the system of spying has been dreadful throughout. Every remark made by the prisoners to their solicitor, or vice versa, in the court was eagerly picked up if possible by a band of attendant detectives. Almost everyone interested in the case was 'shadowed' at Stafford. [35] Some people were refused entrance because they had the wrong face. The Crown - the whole court - assumed guilt and the defence, as far as one can see, put up a miserable display of shadow boxing. The attempts by Deakin's counsel to have his confession set aside, on the grounds of its having been obtained through inducements, were pathetic. W. M. Thompson's attempts to get Inspector Melville to again make injudicious references to 'paying lots of Anarchists money' were ineffectual.

Neither of these two lawyers seemed prepared to hammer away at the only two points which could have saved the men - the confession from Deakin obtained by threat or inducement, together with the activities of Coulon in setting up the plot and his relations with the police. Nor did they make any real attempt to throw doubt on the impression given by the Crown that the psychotic fantasy of The Anarchist Feast At The Opera - which was read in full - represented the views of the men on trial. The counsel for Charles - Willis, paid for through Carpenter's fund - proposed as the core of his defence that since no explosive substances had been found they could not be found guilty under the Explosives Act. And if a paragraph of the Explosives Act referred to the illegality of 'any apparatus, etc., used ( ... ) or adapted for causing, or aiding in causing any explosion ( ... ) also any part of any such apparatus', nobody was in any mood to accept his subtle distinction between patterns for bomb cases and bomb cases themselves. Having made little difference to the course of the trial, in his final speech he took it upon himself to explain in effect that desperate situations sometimes breed desperate acts - which was not really a clever thing to say in what was supposed to be a conciliatory defence. On 4 April the jury retired and after an hour and three quarters returned to pronounce Charles, Cailes and Battola guilty; Deakin guilty but with a recommendation for mercy; and Westley and Ditchfield not guilty.

The convicted prisoners were then asked if they had anything to say. And it was only here that something like daylight fell upon the whole vicious buffoonery of the legal process. Charles stated openly that the affair was a police plot and referred to the memoirs of the police chief Andrieux, of Paris, who had arranged for explosions to take place in order to incriminate Anarchists. He stated that the bombs had been represented as being intended for Russia - finding they were not, 'he at once abandoned any connection with them'. Battola - who put on the bravest front among them - made a long speech through an interpreter. Completely unawed by his surroundings - though prudent enough to deny any connection with bomb-making - he accused his accusers 'who had kept him from his wife and children ( ... ) of all the crimes of the age, of all the murders prompted by want and all the suicides'. [36] He also denounced Coulon as the instigator of the plot. Cailes, too, spoke defiantly. But it was too late, far too late.

Justice Hawkins declared that 'no part of the sentence he passed was because they were Anarchist or because of the possession of those documents'. Charles, Battola and Cailes were given ten years each, and Deakin five. The Times, however, was a little more honest :

The offence with which the prisoners were charged is one of the most dastardly and wicked which it is possible to conceive. Like treason it is aimed at the very heart of the State, but it is not designed to destroy the existing Government alone. It strikes at all Governments, and behind all Governments it strikes at those elementary social rights for the defence of which all forms and methods of civil rules exist. The crime of which the Walsall prisoners have been found guilty was no isolated act ( ... ) Hate, envy, the lust of plunder, and the lust of bloodshed are stamped on every line of the Anarchist literature read at Walsall and on every word of the confessions made by RAVACHOL.

The sentences, The Times recognized, were severe. But, it said, 'our columns this morning contain abundant evidence that this is no time to deal lightly with such crimes ( ... )' It was referring to the attempt on the Spanish Chamber of Deputies, news of other attempted outrages and a list of fairly recent, mainly Fenian, bomb explosions in England prepared by H.M. Inspectors of Explosives. [37] The prisoners of Walsall were suffering not only for breaking the law but for the dastardly crime of making the ruling class nervous.

As the case proceeded the Anarchists did what they could to publicize the case and to provide back-up support for the imprisoned men. At the centre of this activity was David Nicoll, the editor of the Commonweal. In addition to raising money for the defence he spoke at meetings, researched the background of the case and lobbied the radical press and anybody else who might have been useful. His efforts were even recognized by Justice, the S.D.F. paper, in a back-handed sort of way : 'Though we entirely differ from Nicholl [sic] we must give him the fullest credit for the work he did in securing a defence for his Walsall comrades. He spared no pains in this direction and sacrificed himself in every way. Such noble and courageous conduct renders us the more sorry that so much enthusiasm and zeal should be thrown away on the hopeless cause of Anarchism' [38] , etc., etc.

The importance of David Nicoll's activity in the defence of the Walsall Anarchists was also recognized in a rather different way by Auguste Coulon. The latter, who had disappeared after Battola had been arrested, was holed up in Brixton where he was traced by one of the ex-pupils of his bomb-making school who was acting for Nicoll. From here he issued two really quite scandalous leaflets denouncing Nicoll as a police spy. One gave a highly coloured account of Nicoll's younger days when he had affected 'aesthetic' modes of dress and had got into trouble when he threatened a printer who had refused to print one of his poems. His behaviour had been weird enough to result in his being held at the workhouse as a lunatic. He had been rescued by his family. Coulon's conclusion from all this was that Nicoll had been rescued from a lunatic asylum by Inspector Melville to spread mayhem in the Anarchist movement. [39] The second leaflet was better - in psychological warfare terms - because it was more plausible. Nicoll and Cyril Bell, who had probably aroused Coulon's animosity by taking over his position at Louise Michel's school after Coulon's dismissal, were accused jointly of collecting money to print the Emancipator ( which I take to be Most's Revolutionary Warfare ) and pocketing the proceeds. Nicoll, a 'quaker shaped spy without any human feelings, leaves his wife and child at the mercy of charitable institutions. It is this jesuit who never dares look at you straight in the face in private conversation who is now giving his private address where money should be sent for the propaganda. Seeing himself ousted at our last congress he hit on a bold stroke. He went to Peter Edlin to get 24 hours of prison ( ... ) to save his reputation ( ... )' ( Peter Edlin was the judge in the Harrow Road/Shop Assistants Union case. )

Cyril Bell, who as we said earlier had acted on Coulon's suggestion in this, is accused of being an agent provocateur 'in sending letters to form a secret conspiracy of which he would be No. 1, for the fabrication of explosives ( ... ) His shortsightedness and deafness added to the repulsiveness of his manners make him an object of disgust.' [40] The major point about this leaflet is that it asks comrades not to send money to Nicoll 'but to some trustworthy comrade of which there are plenty in London'. ( Presumably he meant himself. ) Apart from revenge for being exposed as a police agent by Nicoll, the intention of the leaflet was probably to stop money going to the defence fund for the Walsall Anarchists. Inspector Melville also played his part in these accusations according to Nicoll : 'Melville had told several people that Coulon was "All right" but it was Nicoll that had given information.' [41] Melville had reason to feel spiteful towards Nicoll. The work Nicoll had put in had made the role of Coulon more apparent and had led to Melville's embarrassment by W. M. Thompson in the Walsall police court. Further, Nicoll had publicized his embarrassment in the Commonweal. Nicoll tells how he met a friend who had been at the trial at Stafford. 'He told me that he had seen Melville who had stated to him that he was very indignant at the way he had been libelled in the Commonweal. He was not responsible for Coulon acting as an agent provocateur. "If a man comes to me with information what can I do ?" Then with a sudden burst of temper, "If that fellow Nicoll goes on telling lies about me, I'll have him".' And Melville was to get his chance.

When the sentences were passed on the convicted Walsall men there was considerable shock in the socialist movement generally. 'Alas ! Alas ! Ten years for Charles,' wrote Edward Carpenter, 'it is too bad. An evil conscience makes them cowards.' [42] But in addition to such handwringing there seems to have been a sudden shudder of fear through the movement. While the trial had been going on, several protest meetings over the prosecution had taken place with quite considerable numbers of people attending. The first open-air meeting after the convictions, on Sunday, 10 April in Hyde Park, was very sparsely attended. It is true it had been hastily organized but so had the others - fear seems to have played its part in keeping people at home. Nicoll says, 'Detectives positively swarmed in the crowd. There were enough there to take the whole crowd into custody. In fact these gentlemen were so numerous that several comrades would not come to the meeting.' [43] The speeches were made by David Nicoll and John Turner and amounted to a rehash of the facts of the case with particular attention to the role of Coulon, together with a general appeal to the workers to rally to the cause of Anarchy, at least to the extent of demanding the release of the prisoners. Subsequent attempts to prove that Nicoll had made a speech inciting to violence failed. However Nicoll had already more or less committed himself in an article written for the Commonweal. Nicoll had been rather unrealistically optimistic about the chances of the accused men at Stafford Assizes. It seems likely that deep and sympathetic acquaintance with the evidence for the defence had allowed him to assume that the judge and jury had an acquaintance equally deep and sympathetic.

I believed ( ... ) that the men at Walsall were trapped by an agent of the police into making castings for the purpose of manufacturing bombs for 'Russia'. I thought also that the admissions which Mr Thompson had obtained from Inspector Melville had made this pretty plain to judge and jury. What was therefore my surprise and indignation at hearing of the brutal sentence passed on three of the men of ten years penal servitude ( ... )

The day on which I heard of the result of the trial was Tuesday. Our paper goes to press on Wednesday. I went down to the office full of rage and indignation against those who had so cruelly and shamefully treated a dear friend of mine. It was there I wrote the article. [44]

This hastily written piece published in the issue of 9 April 1892 bears all the marks of angry indignation - one of them being a measure of incoherence. What is clear from the article, though, is that Nicoll advises workmen contemplating violent revenge on their oppressors to avoid conspiracies and act alone. Further, the responsibility for the savage sentences rested firmly with a police plot constructed by Mathews ( the Home Secretary ) and Inspector Melville, carried out by Coulon and connived at by justice Hawkins. Finally he asks if the men named 'are fit to live'. It was a cry of anguish, of hate, and, it has to be said, an expression of impotence. Nevertheless, reactionary papers had already started demanding that the government prosecute over the article on the evening of the day it was issued [45] There was a steadily rising chorus of such demands and questions were asked in Parliament. Yet Nicoll's cry of anger had probably broken the silence that settled when the sentences were announced. He was lobbying a number of newspapers and was hopeful that the details of Coulon's activities would soon become known to a wider audience - in more ways than one he was keeping the issue alive. The week after the sparse meeting in Hyde Park, on 17 April, in Manchester's Stevenson Square, Nicoll, Barton, Stockton and John Bingham addressed a meeting of protest and had an audience of several thousand people who listened 'with great attention and evident sympathy'. [46]

The Commonweal of the previous day had naturally enough taken up the subject again, though in more temperate language. This was not the only difference. He said, 'The reader must not suppose that there was "a wide-spread conspiracy" save on the part of the police and their accomplices. It was Coulon who had twenty plots in hand at the same time; all distinct from each other. Coulon knew everything, the rest of the "conspirators" only knew what they were doing. The true story of the Walsall Police Plot has yet to be told, and we shall begin to tell it in our next number.' Nicoll believed that it was this announcement that caused or at least precipitated his arrest and circumstances would seem to justify this belief. When the 'Are these men fit to live ?' article came out a close watch was kept on premises connected with the Commonweal. 'Our offices in the City Road and Socialist Co-operative Federation, where our comrades sometimes met' ( John Turner was the manager of the Federation ) [47] 'were closely watched by spies and a few nights before my arrest my wife came to me and said "She could not understand, but she was sure there was a man watching for someone in our street." She did not know that I was threatened with prosecution. I told her I thought it must be her fancy.' [48]

Nicoll returned from Manchester to find encouraging news from the newspapers he had tried to interest with the case. The Commonweal had the first instalment of the promised revelations concerning the Walsall case set up in type - what became 'The Sketch of the Bomb', the first chapter of the pamphlet The Walsall Anarchists trapped by the Police. A few days previously Coulon had, with the most incredible brass face, sent a letter to the Star. 'That letter was published, with his address in full - 29 Fitzroy Square - above a resolution passed by a workman's organization calling upon the government to prosecute him, as the condemned men at Walsall had accused him in open court of being the chief instigator of the plot. 'I wrote to the paper,' said Nicoll, 'and pointed out that though Coulon gave an address a few yards from the police station where Deakin was arrested, yet he was untouched by the police. That afternoon, on which the letter appeared in the Star, the police arrested, not Coulon, but me.' [49] As he returned home from the Commonweal office on Tuesday 19 April, he was taken, almost on his doorstep.

At that moment, the article 'The Sketch of the Bomb' was on its way to Scotland Yard under a strong escort of police. Melville and Littlechild with a posse of Scotland Yard detectives had stormed the offices of the Commonweal, and had carried off anything that might compromise them. They had seized the new Commonweal that had been set up, type, manuscript and all ( ... ) [50] They were assiduous in their inquiries as to a certain book on explosives which Coulon had been getting out, but which had never been printed. If they could only have found a few copies what valuable evidence it would have been. Tom Cantwell told them in jest, 'We have been expecting you for some time, and do you think we should be fools as to keep anything here likely to get men into trouble ?' [51]

W. C. Hart tells a rather different story. In his book Confessions of an Anarchist he says that the Emancipator - for this was the book referred to - was set up in type when the police raided the offices of the Commonweal. In the act of removing the formes of type from an upper shelf for the police to inspect, someone - presumably Tom Cantwell - 'accidentally' dropped them and the type was pied. [52]

Charles Mowbray was also arrested. He was the publisher of the paper while Nicoll was its editor but was not involved with the paper when the 'Fit to Live ?' article was published because he was nursing his wife who was desperately ill. While Nicoll was being arrested and the Commonweal office was being raided, another group of detectives under Detective Sergeant McIntyre were searching for Mowbray. The last address they had for him was at a house used as a Socialist Club in Bethnal Green. It was closed and empty. McIntyre and his men had to rush up and down the streets of Hoxton and East London looking for him - finally locating him through his signboard in a window ( 'Working-man's tailor. Articles made up cheap for the working classes.' ) There was no other way to find him, says McIntyre. 'It was useless to seek information from any of the Anarchist Fraternity, for no matter what disguise was adopted they would be sure to spot a "Yard" man and give the tip to Mowbray.' [53]

When the police finally located Mowbray they found a desolate scene. A matter of an hour or two before their arrival, Mowbray's wife had died and her body was lying upstairs;

he was sitting down to a scanty meal with his little children when the detectives entered and seized him. 'This is a job,' said Mowbray, 'my wife is just dead and what are these children to do ?' and he burst into tears. It was vain for him to declare he did not agree with the article. That he had never seen it till the Commonweal was published and that he had then severed all connection with the paper. All these statements were quite true but it made no difference. The law must be obeyed. He was dragged away. [54]

The cruelty of this arrest, leaving as it did, Mowbray's children alone in the house with their dead mother, certainly affected Sergeant McIntyre, and his 'softness' towards Mowbray at the police court hearing probably contributed to the later harsh disciplinary proceedings brought against him which led to his leaving the police force. The magistrate, however, suffered from no such inconvenient sentimentality and remanded Mowbray in custody and with reluctance said he would allow Mowbray to attend his wife's funeral, and then only under police guard. However, the circumstances of Mowbray's arrest underlined by this final example of judicial indifference led to something of an outburst in the press calling for Mowbray to be released on bail. Mrs Besant rather noisily took temporary care of his children, and William Morris offered to stand surety. On this bail of £500 Mowbray was released. His wife's funeral, as a result of these events, became a public occasion :

The various London groups of Anarchists decided that the funeral should be a public one and the cortege was announced to start from the Workpeople's International Club, Berners Street, Commercial Road, East, at 3.30. Long before that time several thousand persons assembled, a brass band and some twenty anarchist banners being in attendance ( ... ) A number of prominent Anarchist and Trades Unionists had assembled including representatives of various provincial groups, Louise Michel, Hunter Watts ( representing the Social Democratic Federation ), W. Votier ( Boot and Shoe Makers Union ), M. Brochean ( Brocher ? - French Anarchist Section ), M. Malatesta ( Spanish Anarchist section [sic], Mr Ramsey ( Freethinkers ) and others.

Mowbray was so upset as hardly to be able to speak; finally, however, he thanked the people for their sympathy and asked them to avoid confrontation as his bail would be put in danger.

Before the cortege started, the crowd which had assembled in the street were addressed from one of the windows of the club, and the conduct of the police authorities was strongly denounced. It was not until nearly half-past four that the funeral procession, headed by a banner bearing the following inscription : 'Remember Chicago; there will be a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today' and with the band playing the 'Dead March' in Saul began to wend its way towards the cemetery ( ... ) On each side of the coach men carried large red flags, to one of which was attached a copy of the suppressed edition of the Commonweal while another bore a placard stating 'The Commonweal still alive. Our office plundered. Bogus charges. Our editor in gaol. Published every Saturday'. While the cortege was passing across Commercial Road a tram car driver attempted to make a way through. His horses were at once seized by a number of the processionists, who despite the efforts of three police officers, held the animals' heads and forcibly prevented the car from proceeding until the whole procession had passed.

At the grave-side Touzeau Parris 'said that the sister they had buried had gone to a place where there was no labour, no sorrow, no sweating ( ... ) Mr Hunter Watts who followed said that their comrade, Mary Mowbray, was lying at their feet slain by the accursed capitalist system.' [55] And here lies the relevance of the quotation at the head of the procession. Albert Parsons; the Chicago Anarchist martyr, was hanged. Mary Mowbray's death ( from consumption ) was in great measure due to bad conditions, malnutrition and overwork. For the Anarchists, both were victims of capitalism, the differences being a matter of degree rather than kind.

Revolutionary speeches at funerals were, in any case, no new thing in the Anarchist movement. In 1886, at the funeral of Gustav Knauerhause, a procession with brass band set off for Manor Park cemetery and 'about 800 comrades followed the Hearse and revolutionary speeches were delivered over the grave in English, German and French'. He too had died of consumption. [56]

The demonstration at Mary Mowbray's funeral, despite its melancholy origins, represented a further breaking of the spell that the Walsall convictions had over the Anarchist movement. As we have seen, The Times reported an attendance of some several thousand people, and Nicoll's perhaps rather foolish outburst in the Commonweal had opened out the questions surrounding the Walsall convictions. Furthermore, the raid on the Commonweal and the carrying away of documents and type caused an uneasy stir in Radical ranks. They might not sympathize with Anarchists but they were jealous of 'English Liberties'.

On the following Sunday, 24 April, there were protest meetings all over the country at the raids on the Commonweal and the arrests of Nicoll and Mowbray. In London there was a meeting in the morning in Regent's Park and in the afternoon at Hyde Park. Here 'a tremendous crowd' heard Harding, Cantwell ( 'much amusement was caused by his mimicry of Littlechild and Melville who told him they were Anarchists ( … ) ' ), Morton, Miss Lupton, Tochatti, Fox, Parker, Atterbury 'and others giving outspoken addresses'. All their literature was sold out. Commonweals gradually went up in price. 'Starting at 2d then 3d, 4d, 6d, to 1/- while in some instances as much as 2/- was given for a copy.' [57] A second edition was printed on the Monday. Large meetings were held and the paper completely sold out at Manchester, Leeds, Leicester, Walsall, Norwich, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Glasgow, Birmingham, Sheffield, Aberdeen, Burnley and other places. The Anarchists were also able to make a fairly impressive showing on 1 May - May Day - which fell upon a Sunday. At the demonstration in Hyde Park after a procession numbering some 18,000 people calling for an eight-hour day, which had been organized under the auspices of various trades unions and socialist bodies, the Anarchists held a separate meeting at the Reformers Tree, where they mustered over a thousand people. Since Anarchists were also speaking from other platforms in the main body of the demonstration who presumably had their support in the crowd this was an indication of growing Anarchist strength. The Walsall convictions and the prosecution of Nicoll and Mowbray had given the Anarchists the stamp of seriousness. For all the distortions to which such spectacular happenings progressively subjected the Anarchist message in the public mind, they seem to have led initially to a great increase of activity and interest. This not only seems the case from Anarchist evidence but is confirmed by contemporaries : Detective Sweeny says as much in his memoirs. [58]

The Anarchist meeting on May Day also in no way took up a defensive stance, except for Ted Leggatt who was thinking, perhaps, more of the chances of securing the acquittal of Nicoll or of an earlier release for the Walsall men. Behind the platform were two large banners, one reading 'Anarchist Communism' and 'Revolution and Anarchy', and the other 'If the people when oppressed are silent such is stupidity, the forerunner of the downfall of public liberty.' Tochatti denounced police spies. H. B. Samuels followed Leggatt's assertions that Anarchism did not imply violence with counter-assertions as to the necessity for it and praised the example of Ravachol to cheers from the audience who had listened with some impatience to Leggatt's disavowals. Louise Michel then spoke, in French, saying that as fast as Anarchists were jailed new Anarchists sprang up to take their place. John Oldham 'rejoiced that all his life he had been a notorious poacher. He was one of those who refused to starve', and Parker spoke on the anti-rent campaign : 'In the East End they had started an "anti-broker brigade" and in several instances the broker's man had been forcibly ejected from the house he was distraining on and the furniture had been carried away by some 20 or 30 of their comrades.' The meeting broke up after three hours with three cheers for Anarchy. [59] It is worth noticing that the 'violent means' versus 'peaceful means' ( or more particularly, the pro- or anti-dynamite ) debate and the vigorous grass-roots direct action and propaganda ( of which Parker gave an example ) are fundamental to the Anarchist movement of this period. They are themes which recur again and again.

Nicoll and Mowbray were tried on Friday, 6 May, at the Old Bailey before the Lord Chief justice and the prosecution was conducted by one of his successors to that office. Mowbray was represented and Nicoll defended himself. The prosecution used as evidence the 'Fit to Live' article in the Commonweal and some new evidence from two policemen who had been present at the sparsely attended meeting on Sunday, 10 April, in Hyde Park to protest at the Walsall convictions. These policemen alleged that Nicoll had said, 'Four men are responsible for the conviction of the Walsall comrades, Butcher Hawkins, Melville, Mathews, and Coulon. Within a fortnight two of them must die ( … )' Nicoll brought a number of witnesses to show that he had said nothing of the sort. Then one of the policemen, Detective Sweeny, returned to the witness box. He attempted to adjust his account so that it was compatible with Nicoll's witnesses but preserved the murderous sentiments by saying that Nicoll spoke the words in a second speech. It was a little too transparently obvious an attempt to strengthen the case against Nicoll. The judge became irritated, Nicoll accused Sweeny of perjury - in fact, Sweeny was quite regularly referred to as 'Sweeny Todd the Perjurer' in later Anarchist papers - and the prosecution discreetly indicated that they would proceed only on the basis of the 'Fit to Live' article.

Mowbray's prosecution rested on the fact that on paper he was the publisher of the Commonweal. However Nicoll had made a statement to the police the day after his arrest taking full responsibility for the article and specifically saying that Mowbray was not responsible for it. Further, evidence was brought by Mowbray's counsel at the trial to show that Mowbray disassociated himself from the article in question : the printer of the Commonweal said that 'Mowbray had denounced the article that appeared on the 9th ( to him ) and said that if such things were printed in future he should withdraw his name from the paper. He said such language was foolish at the best and damnable at worst. He gave witness ( i.e. the printer ) notice as the registered proprietor, not to print off the copies if he found such expressions had been put into type, but to detain the type and send for him.' [60] This, incidentally, would seem to be a clear indication that Mowbray's relationship with the Commonweal group had become strained before Nicoll's arrest or imprisonment. ( If the 'Fit to Live' article aroused his anger, it had many predecessors which were equally irritating. ) This evidence, together with Nicoll's further statement in court that he took full responsibility and the circumstances surrounding Mowbray's arrest and initial imprisonment, were sufficient to guarantee his acquittal.

Nicoll's defence rested on the grounds that he had been angry and upset at the blatant injustice of the sentences on the Walsall men and that his words were not to be taken literally but as an expression of that anger. This must not be taken as an indication of cowardice on Nicoll's part. He spelled out the role of Coulon in the Walsall conspiracy and placed him firmly in the tradition of the English agents provocateurs and spies at the close of the Napoleonic wars. His role was, as theirs had been, to provide the Tory government of the day with suitable bogey men to scare the 'rich and the timid among the respectable classes' and persuade them of the need for strong and bloody-minded government, which the Tories could provide. But, Nicoll said, there was more to it than that. Hyndman had said, in 1885 on the Embankment, that if the government remained deaf to the cries of the starving then 'by God, some of them should die' - and the bombs had been exploding in London then, not Paris. John Burns said something in 1887 in Battersea Park about the desirability of 'sending Joseph Chamberlain to heaven by chemical parcels post'. Why were they not prosecuted for incitement to murder ? Nicoll says that in his case the police were not at all concerned about such incitement but were concerned to suppress the revelations he was about to make about the Walsall Anarchists, so concerned to suppress them, in fact, that they carried away the set-up type at the Commonweal and were prepared to perjure themselves to secure his conviction.

But there was, he said, one final reason why he was prosecuted where others had been let go free. He was an Anarchist. This was the hidden charge against him. An Anarchist was not necessarily an incendiarist or assassin, though 'anyone who has seen as much of the poverty and misery of the East End as we have and not use strong language would be absolutely heartless'. And as if to prove his point he went on to discuss the dynamitards :

Ravachol ! Why, your civilization - that drives the poor into misery and degradation, that drives women into prostitution, and men to crime, by enslaving and sweating them to pile up wealth for the rich - is breeding Ravachols by thousands ! Breeding them into its fever dens, breeding them in its slums, where good dies and where only vice and crime can flourish. Ravachol ! Your civilization is only fit for Ravachol. And to Ravachol we leave it. Let the monsters you have created devour you.

But why had Ravachol actually happened in Paris and not in London ? The difference lay in the fact that the French repression far out did that in England. Or at least that had been the case so far; but now the state was locking people up for their opinions.

Well go on with your policy, but you know what it will lead to. You will not suppress us or our ideas. Do you think that this prosecution has prevented the spread of our principles ? Have you suppressed them ? Why, you have not even suppressed the Commonweal which has now six times the circulation which it had three weeks ago.

For my part, I am willing to suffer for my ideas, knowing full well that our friends increase with persecution and I am quite willing to suffer in a good cause. I only tell you that you will not crush the movement by repression. You will only make it more revolutionary and dangerous. [61]

This was a brave speech. In defending himself and by this final speech for the defence, Nicoll takes his place among those immoderate heroes and martyrs in the cause of a free press; a modest place it is true, but a place nevertheless. The main weakness of his defence was not in the words used but in the distribution to a wide audience. It is natural that the newspapers should print nothing of his allegations concerning the activities of Coulon. It is surprising however that he should not have made arrangements to have his defence speech properly circulated; so much of the importance of this type of trial lies in the realm of theatre and the spectacle. Unless, of course, Nicoll was expecting to be acquitted. He had nourished sanguine hopes in the Walsall case. However, it seems that the activity of detectives in the court who were stopping people taking notes was sufficient to prevent the text of the defence appearing until after Nicoll's release. At the very least, it seems to me, a copy of the defence speech could have been taken out of the court by Mowbray or his counsel. This elementary precaution against the possibility of suppression does not seem to have occurred to Nicoll. ( Another possibility is that fear or some other kind of pressure was being brought to bear. ) Further, no proper arrangements seem to have been made for anyone to take up the work connected with the Walsall Anarchists. The Defence Committee seems only to have been composed of Nicoll himself. The extent to which he played close to his chest is indicated by the fact that even his wife didn't know that he was threatened with arrest. So when he was found guilty and sentenced to eighteen months' hard labour for a rather foolish article the movement gained a martyr but lost a lot of information [62] and also lost the opportunity to quickly develop a campaign in response to the convictions of the Walsall men. And the publicity surrounding the trial was not all Nicoll had intended in the way of advertising the cause.

For their part, the authorities were careful to give Nicoll and Mowbray a 'fair' trial. After all, the raid and the 'unfortunate' publicity surrounding the arrest of Mowbray had aroused quite noisy protests. It was as well to be careful. The Lord Chief Justice was the soul of courtesy throughout and even allowed himself a few words of praise for Nicoll : '( … ) you conducted yourself today perfectly well and you have shown marks of considerable education and force of character.' [63] But praise from such quarters is rather like being given the privilege of being eaten by a crocodile with especially clean teeth. It is true that Nicoll could have been sentenced to five or ten years' imprisonment; but the sentence of eighteen months represented nothing more than a careful calculation. As The Times put it : 'Many, no doubt, would have acquiesced in a much more severe sentence than the Lord Chief justice has passed. The danger is that severity may arouse sympathy and that a prisoner who has really got no more than his deserts may become an object of public commiseration, not only among his confederates or personal friends'

So Nicoll started his sentence. Unless activity within prisons links up with the wider movement, I have restricted the accounts of Anarchists' prison experiences. In Nicoll's case, however, his experiences were to explain much of his later attitudes and activities in the movement. It is for these reasons that I present it in this history, although it deserves to take its place among prison literature as yet another example of the viciously pointless nature of those institutions - pointless, of course, unless their purpose is revenge. In the latter case, the state was well revenged on David Nicoll for his presumption in inquiring about the fitness to live of its representatives. The first part of his sentence was passed at Pentonville prison. For the first month he walked the treadmill and for the rest of his time there was set to picking oakum - oakum being 'sections of ship's cable, thickly encrusted with tar and sometimes with paint. Often the tar has hardened with age and then the work is much harder'. The point of the exercise is to shred the oakum by hand which if it is done without using all the little tricks that experience teaches, leaves the prisoner with broken nails and bleeding hands, and a sense of running a crazy race against time to produce the amount demanded. Dr Creaghe was to write to the Commonweal, 'I fear that hard labour will be terribly trying to a man like comrade Nicoll.' He was right.

Nicoll was moved on 13 June to the gaol of the small country town of Chelmsford. As at Pentonville he worked in his cell in solitary confinement at oakum picking. In the 13 August issue of the Commonweal it was made clear that he was finding the work no easier. When two comrades arrived to visit him 'a consultation took place as to whether we should be allowed to see him at all since he had not picked enough oakum the day before and had been put on bread and water in consequence ( ... )'. The comrades found him in a cheerful enough mood at this point. He had thought on going into prison that his 'sentence seemed so unjust that I could not believe I should serve the whole of it'. But it was at Chelmsford that it finally came home to him that there would be no premature release from prison. Taken with this, the limited food, the solitary confinement and then finally the news that the Commonweal had suspended publication plunged him into a deep mood of despair. Then he started hearing voices. They took the form of supposed readings from the popular press by the warders concerning the doings of Anarchists. Then it appeared that the police were raiding the houses of Anarchists all over London. But public indignation was rising. Then John Burns himself decided to speak at an Anarchist protest meeting at South Place. The reports of this meeting were that it had been a great success and that there was to be a huge demonstration in Trafalgar Square on Sunday, 13 November, calling for an amnesty for all the arrested Anarchists, including Nicoll. John Burns had provided the money for the Commonweal to be restarted under the editorship of Mowbray. On the Saturday before the meeting Nicoll heard murmuring crowds outside the jail. The meeting 'was a glorious success and my release seemed certain'. Then the crowds outside the prison started singing to Nicoll, versions of the 'Carmagnole' - 'Hurrah for the Commonweal/Socialist League/Socialist League ( ... )' - and after this happened several times, the whole thing reached a climax after

a manly voice ( ... ) made solemn proclamation that 'John Burns will be down tomorrow at eight o'clock with a free pardon from the Home Secretary ( ... )'

Bedtime came, and I retired to bed, but not to sleep. The female voice returned with a chorus of others, chanting wildly the 'Carmagnole'. They made the night hideous with this melody, which rang wildly through the darkness. Swifter and swifter ran the magic tune. Wilder and wilder grew the dance and louder the chant, till it sounded as if a host of witches were keeping Sabbath around the prison. Hell was let loose. At last, at a late hour I fell asleep amid the wild discords of the ghostly revel.

Naturally enough, no pardon arrived, the events described by the voices having no relation to events outside Nicoll's imagination. From this point on, Nicoll complained of voices from the next cell asking prying questions about Anarchists in London. On complaining about this to a visitor - an objection which was passed on to the Home Secretary via John Burns - he spent some time in the Infirmary being pronounced to be suffering from delusions induced by solitary confinement. This Nicoll indignantly denied, and in the pamphlet The Ghosts of Chelmsford Gaol [64] gives accounts of other people hearing whispers in prisons and blames the voices and singing on a conspiracy of prison warders and bought-over prisoners. Apart from the fact that the masterminding of such a conspiracy required a creativity beyond the reach of most prison warders, whose interferences with prisoners tend to be more physically immediate and brutal, there are quite obvious inconsistencies of a bizarre nature in Nicoll's account, which would seem to indicate that he underwent some kind of paranoid breakdown. When the immediate pressure of solitary confinement was released and he was put to work in the prison garden 'my life was almost uneventful' ( as he says ) and the useless and pointless days passed by until the sentence passed on him was completed.

While the immediate excitement of Mowbray's and Nicoll's arrest, May Day, and the trial was going on, the Commonweal was edited by George Cores, the man who had done his best to secure a continuation of Anarchist propaganda in Walsall. And as Nicoll pointed out at his trial, the circulation of the Commonweal multiplied six times in three weeks. Certainly Cores was an able editor who produced a lively paper; and certainly the publicity given to the Anarchists by the raid on the Commonweal office and the arrests, following after the Walsall trial, attracted serious inquiry as well as idle curiosity. Yet the fundamental reason that Nicoll could claim 'a huge increase in circulation at the time of his trial was that the protest demonstrations and then the May Day demonstrations had given the Anarchists a readymade market for their papers. Temporarily the mountain had come to Mahomet. As the 7 May Commonweal said of the May Day demonstration : 'All over the Park our women folk [sic] were selling Freedom and the Commonweal and the sale was the largest ever known.' In Manchester, at the 1 May demonstration there, twenty quire of Commonweals had been sold. This level of sales was not sustained. The problems of distribution which bedevil oppositional newspapers had only been temporarily transcended by opportunity and enthusiasm. For the paper to have sustained these sales either mass left-wing demonstrations where the Anarchists could have sold it would have to have happened continually or they would have to have had a sales force able to reach a much more greatly dispersed body of sympathizers or sensation-seekers. When their audience was not ready-made the sales of the paper would be a more true indication of their organizational strength and their ability to reach potential supporters and comrades.

A start was made on the formation of a number of autonomous Anarchist groups in London. The Commonweal for 14 May announced that H. B. Samuels was now the publisher of the paper and also announced a list of groups and secretaries 'and it only remains for comrades and sympathizers to attach themselves to the groups they can best work with'. It was either lack of forethought or a noble lack of opportunism which caused this organizational attempt to miss the mass audiences of 24 April and May Day. This move, however well or badly planned, did represent something of a departure. Up to this point the English Anarchists had grown within other bodies, as in the case of the Socialist League, or around a periodical, as in the case of Freedom and the Anarchist, or through individual contact and general association with Anarchists in the political clubs. The activity of the new Anarchist groups was to remain propagandist but now they were prepared - even eager - to sharply differentiate themselves within the socialist movement not only ideologically but organizationally as well. Eight groups were given in the Commonweal. They were the Commonweal Group ( secretary, T. Cantwell ); Hammersmith ( Tochatti ); Holborn ( H. Bird ); Paddington ( W. B. Parker ); North London ( J. Presburg ); Stratford ( F. Goulding ); Tottenham ( H. B. Morgan ); Whitechapel ( E. Leggatt ). In the next issue two more groups were added : South London ( F. A. Fox ) and Freedom ( Mrs Hyde ). ( The fact that the latter was included as something of an afterthought is some indication of its status among the Commonweal Anarchists. ) A programme of outdoor speaking was started, with three pitches, rising to five by 4 June.

Nevertheless, the paper went into a steady decline once the excitement of Nicoll's trial was over. Nicoll himself was to blame this exclusively on Samuels' editorship : 'the paper,' he said, 'was edited in such a bungling manner that its subscribers rapidly dropped away and it finally went under.' [65] On one level this was unfair. The paper was subject to a degree of harassment from the police which made publishing the paper rather more difficult. Firstly, the type seized by the police when they raided the Commonweal at the time of Nicoll's arrest was not returned until mid-June. It took a great deal of trouble, - with applications through the courts and through direct application to Scotland Yard, with a large number of obstacles placed in the way. Even when the type was returned, the made-up type - including the first part of Nicoll's revelations concerning the Walsall men - was ordered to be 'pied', that is, broken up, on Home Office orders. The Commonweal was also evicted, in late June, from its office in City Road. This followed some mysterious measuring activity indulged in by the police - presumably to see if the office transgressed some siting regulation. This proved not to be the case. The Commonweal alleged that the police then went to the landlord and whispered in his ear to such effect that he gave the paper notice to quit. After enjoying some weeks' tenure rent-free and after fighting the possession order in the courts - unsuccessfully - the paper removed itself before the bailiffs arrived to the premises of the Berner Street club.

However, on another level Nicoll was quite right to blame the editorship of the paper for its decline. Firstly, Samuels edited a boring paper. Secondly, he seems to have provoked internal dissension in the Commonweal Group in such a way as to ensure that even if the paper did get produced there was no enthusiasm to ensure its proper circulation. The paper was boring because it lacked journalistic sense : the accounts of Nicoll's trial were perfunctory, and although the text of his speech was promised 'as soon as we can get it from the clerk of the court ( ... )' it never appeared. Creaghe sent letters reporting on his faction fights in Burnley with the S.D.F. which made excellent reading. Similarly he sent a plea that 'I hope you will let us know in the Weal as often as possible how the comrades are getting on in Stafford as well as Nicoll.' Yet accounts of the Walsall men never appeared and certainly no agitation was started concerning the role of the agent provocateur Coulon. Nicoll was mentioned and his letters were reprinted from time to time but no demands for his release were made. None of the comrades left in the movement, it seemed, had Nicoll's obsessive organizational and agitational ability, as shown in his campaign around the Walsall affair except perhaps for Cores. The reason for the latter's sudden disappearance from the scene after editing the paper so successfully was not made at all clear in the Commonweal. If the published estimations of Samuels' character are anything to go by it is probable that Cores left after a quarrel between the two men. The reports of the movement, like Creaghe's contributions, were squeezed out by material made up of serializations of theoretical matter. This is not to say that it was of a low standard : Kropotkin's 'Representative Government' appeared through May and June and was followed by 'Revolutionary Government'. Other serialized matter, too, was worth producing - in pamphlet or book form. But in an agitational newspaper it was a great mistake to fill the greater part of it with overlapping wads of theoretical saga. In fact, it can be no accident that an article entitled 'Too Abstract' appeared in the 25 June edition. This article - reprinted from La Revolte - starts with the words :

'You are too abstract', 'You are not accessible to the masses', 'You are too monotonous'. Such are the reproaches which we find too often in the correspondence which we have with comrades interested in the propaganda, and who think that it is due to a wish to appear very scientific. We have often admitted that as regards the workers our paper is, for those who begin to study the social question sometimes undoubtedly very dry.

The article goes on to argue that in order to change the world we have to understand it, we have to be clear about the direction we are attempting to take, the workers' revolts of the past have failed because they were too confused to make their revolts into revolutions, etc., etc.

Now the article argues the point clearly and it is a point worth making. The suppressed premise, the unarticulated context of the argument, is the assumption that the understanding of this world and our aspirations for a better one can only be understood through a particular style of discourse. But the songs, the utopias, the cartoons, the humour of the movement were more than the dross surrounding the pure metal of 'theory', all of these things could be more or less coherent, more or less creative. All of them were more or less effective ways of understanding the world in order to change it. A revolutionary journalism has many styles to choose from. There was thus no particular excuse for converting the Commonweal almost exclusively into a series of overlapping political analyses. Neither could it be said to represent the efforts of the Commonweal Group to understand the world from their own specific viewpoint - most of the material was reprinted. It seems to me that they aspired to the philosophical glitter of Freedom, the editorial group of which they were themselves actively engaged in developing the theory of Anarchist-Communism. The Commonweal Group, to put it simply, did really want to appear very scientific and philosophical. In producing a copy of Freedom they inevitably produced an inferior version of the original.

But there were also internal difficulties in the group producing the paper. The main difficulty centred round attitudes to Ravachol. The dispute only surfaced in occasional flashes in the paper and to a certain extent one has to read between the lines. As we have seen, H. B. Samuels praised Ravachol to cheers at the Anarchist demonstration on May Day. The developing saga of his trial, first for the bombings of the homes of the judicial worthies and then for the murder and robbery of the hermit of Chambles, occupied the press from April until his execution in July 1892. In the circumstances Anarchists found it necessary to define their position in relation to Ravachol's acts. The trouble was that for some the subtlety of claiming Ravachol the bomber but disavowing Ravachol the robber and murderer smacked of lack of determination. In the Commonweal of 2 July we find H. B. Samuels writing '( … ) we are anxiously awaiting the advent of some English Ravachols' and describing him as 'a man who has shaken capitalism to its foundations'. The fundamental confusion of identifying the fear and panic that Ravachol caused among the French bourgeoisie with a comparable degree of damage to the bourgeois system itself seemed to be shared by most of the correspondents. Alf Barton wrote in to oppose H. B. Samuels, finding it impossible to accept the murder and robbery of the hermit as a great revolutionary act. Similarly he could not stomach Ravachol's attempted grave-robbery. 'No doubt deeds speak louder than words,' he wrote, 'but the deeds should have some humanity and heroism about them.' Burnie wrote to associate himself with Barton's letter; Cantwell wrote to say that if one did not like the killing one had to admit that Ravachol was to be praised for refusing to lie down and starve to death like so many workers; while a W. Jackson wrote in a letter of strong approval for all Ravachol's acts. Meanwhile, at a meeting at the Berner Street club on Saturday, 16 July, 'speeches in French, German, English and Yiddish were delivered to a crowded and most enthusiastic audience who cheered every allusion to Ravachol's struggles against society ( … )'. On Tuesday, 19 July, at the Athenaeum Hall, Tottenham Court Road, 'another crowded audience listened to speeches from several comrades who urged the necessity of individual activity against society'. It would seem therefore that there was a certain popular groundswell of opinion in the Anarchist movement which was enthusiastically in favour of Ravachol-style propaganda by deed. This was not enthusiasm from afar either, particularly among the foreign Anarchists in exile in Britain. Two of these exiles - François and Meunier - were being assiduously hunted by Melville and the political police for their alleged bombing of the Cafe Very in revenge for the arrest of Ravachol after a tip-off from one of the staff. Thirty police under Melville raided the house of Delbaque, a French Anarchist, at 30 Charlotte Street, on 27 June, enthusiastically smashing open locked doors but finding no one. The police raided 39 Compton Street, Tavistock Square, on 27 July, causing more damage but coming away equally empty handed. Meetings certainly took place at the Autonomie Club, where pro- and anti-Ravachol factions argued out the matter. One, not altogether reliable, source implies that François particularly had been basking in admiration at the Autonomie, being greeted as he walked in through the door with shouts of 'François ! François !'. Since, apparently, he was in the habit of boasting to all and sundry about his exploits it is not surprising that Melville knew he was in London. Given the circumstances he took a remarkably long time to catch the two men. [66] Both Cantwell and H. B. Samuels seem to have shared the pro-Ravachol enthusiasm, and occasional bursts of verbal terrorism in the Commonweal express the fact. Others, like Mowbray, if we remember his remarks about Nicoll's article being 'foolish at best, damnable at worst', and Leggatt, who disavowed Ravachol at the Anarchist demonstration on May Day, could be assumed to be in opposition to the line taken by Samuels and Cantwell. One has to remember that Nicoll had been arrested for verbal terrorism. It can be quite readily understood that some members of the group, particularly Mowbray, would be firmly opposed to 'provocative' material for the sake of it. Mowbray and Leggatt were by no means opposed to violence when it was a matter of mass mobilization of the working class or as part of the organizing process or defence, but presumably just did not see the point of putting the paper at jeopardy for the sake of rhetoric. As far as the Commonweal was concerned the group which included Mowbray and Leggatt seems to have been strong enough to stop any further articles in praise of Ravachol appearing after July. The side effect was, however, that reprinted theoretical material formed the bulk of the paper, which was now unleavened by even wilful extremism.

By August it was apparent that things were not well in London, though it was announced in the Commonweal that Anarchist groups had been formed in Manchester and Leeds. A peculiar paragraph appeared in the paper after an announcement that a meeting to discuss the propaganda campaign for the autumn and winter would be held at the Berner Street club. It said 'Inspector Melville the premier liar of Scotland Yard has been boasting openly that he has succeeded even beyond his hopes in splitting up the Anarchists into factions and has set them fighting each other instead of carrying on their work of propaganda. Those who are not of Melville's opinion will attend above meeting so that these hounds may have a little more work on hand. No plots but a discussion of steady serious propaganda ( … )' By 20 August, the outdoor speaking pitches in London were down to three. In the issue of 28 August there was a Notice to Readers which said : 'It is with regret that we have to announce that unless more funds are forthcoming we shall not be able to publish next week. Donations to the Printing Fund should be forwarded to the Commonweal Office ( … )' In the following issue the number of groups had fallen to six ( from ten in May ) with the disappearance of Paddington, Holborn, North London and Whitechapel. This issue, 4 September, was the last in 1892. It was 'explained' why in a 'Parting word to Our Readers' :

The fluctuations of industry, have for a time without the aid of the police, scattered several of our groups, our comrades having to travel about in search of a livelihood, thus being prevented from doing a steady propaganda. This fact and the persecution which the name of Anarchist entails, have somewhat hindered the steady propaganda by means of which the Commonweal has hitherto existed ( ... ) In order that the Revolutionary movement should not be without a mouthpiece for too long a time, we ask comrades to consider the advisability of forming a fund to start a paper, outspoken and fearless on the first of May next, with funds behind it sufficient to avoid the necessity of these appeals.

The appeal to trade fluctuations as an excuse will not do in itself. Unemployment was greater, and yet Anarchists were more numerous and active in 1893 and 1894 than in 1892. [67] The social disruption caused by the undoubted rise in unemployment in 1892 could not help but affect the Anarchists too. The erosion of the working-class gains of 1889 to 1890 was proceeding steadily and in some areas at a disastrous rate. But for all this I feel sure that the fundamental reason why the paper stopped publication was that the particular combination of people running it could see no point in going on the way they were. The crisis was a crisis of morale. Nicoll was later to allege that, 'It was proposed to dismantle the office and sell the plant to the Freedom people.' [68] He wrote an indignant letter from prison which, he says, the group did not publish. The implication is that it was only as a result of his protests that it was proposed to restart the paper the following May. Be this as it may, it is worth pointing out that any suspension of publication gave the group that restarted it an overwhelming claim of ownership. The winter of 1892-3 gave time for shifting allegiances, reshuffles and arguments to do their work. When the paper restarted the editor was the same but the character of the group and the nature of the paper had changed somewhat. H. B. Samuels had used the time well.

[1] Reynold's News, 14 April 1895.

[2] The Times, 16 January 1892.

[3] i.e. at the Socialist Congresses held in Paris that year.

[4] This was, in all pedantry, a mistake. The letter was signed 'Degnai'.

[5] The Times, 22 January 1892.

[6] Anarchist, Sheffield, Vol. 2, No. 8, 1895.

[7] Commonweal, No. II, May 1898.

[8] See S.L. archive, K1137, 1138.

[9] D. J. Nicoll, The Walsall Anarchists, London, 1894.

[10] J. C. Longoni, Four Patients of Dr. Deibler, London, 1970, p. 16.

[11] He arrived in mid-1890.

[12] Commonweal, 21 May 1892.

[13] Letters K1239-1240, S.L. archive. See also Deakin's confession.

[14] Ted Leggatt, letter to Reynold's News, 21 April 1895. See also article by P. McIntyre, Reynold's News, 14 April 1895, and Edward Carpenter, My Days And Dreams, London, 1916.

[15] Anarchist ( Sheffield ), Vol. 2, No. 20, 1895.

[16] D. J. Nicoll, The Walsall Anarchists, London, 1894.

[17] In the Brotherton Collection, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds.

[18] Commonweal, 24 October 1891.

[19] Commonweal, 5 December 1891.

[20] Whom I suspect, on very little evidence, to have been the young Billy McQueen.

[21] This would appear to be Cyril Bell.

[22] Shop Assistant, 30 August 1924

[23] The Times, 17 October 1891.

[24] The Times, I January 1892. See H. S. Salt's introduction to Selected Poems of J.E. Barlas, London 1925, for some biographical details. He had been 'batoned and floored' on Bloody Sunday and had been a member of both the S.D.F. and the Socialist League.

[25] W. M. Thompson was also the editor of Reynold's News.

[26] Birmingham Daily Post, 10 February 1892.

[27] A notice warning about his activities had appeared in Justice the previous year, on 18 April 1891.

[28] Justice, 5 November 1892.

[29] L'Internationale, which was distributed in England by Coulon.

[30] Commonweal, No. II, 15 May 1898, and Good Friday 1909.

[31] See Longoni, Four Patients of Dr. Deibler, London, 1970.

[32] The Times, 29 March 1892.

[33] The Times, 4 April 1892.

[34] It changed little for the Walsall defendants that this later turned out to be a plot got up by a highly professional agent provocateur. See Central News telegram of 21 April, quoted Freedom, May 1892.

[35] Freedom, May 1892.

[36] The Times, 5 April 1892.

[37] The Chief Inspector was Colonel Majendie who gave evidence at this and other Anarchist trials for the prosecution.

[38] Justice, 9 April 1892.

[39] Leaflet in Nettlau Collection.

[40] A. Coulon, Anarchy is too true a Doctrine…, British Museum.

[41] Anarchist ( Sheffield ), Vol. 2, No. 20, 1895.

[42] Edward Carpenter to Alf Mattison, 7 April 1892. Brotherton Collection, Leeds University Library.

[43] Anarchist ( Sheffield ), Vol. 2, No. 20, 1895.

[44] Nicoll, Anarchy at the Bar, London, 1894. The 'dear friend' is Fred Charles.

[45] See St James's Gazette, 9 April 1892.

[46] Anarchist ( Sheffield ), Vol. 2, No. 20, 1895.

[47] The headquarters were at 7 Lamb's Conduit Street, W.C.1. 'This is the only Society in the United Kingdom,' they announced, 'founded on TRUE co-operative principles : Self-employment by the workers; Eight Hours Day; TU wages the minimum pay; No Interest to Shareholders; No Dividend Grabbing; Sweaters boycotted.' People's Press, 24 January 1891.

[48] Anarchist ( Sheffield ), Vol. 2, No. 20.

[49] Nicoll, Anarchy at the Bar.

[50] Anarchist ( Sheffield ), Vol. 2, No. 20.

[51] Anarchist ( Sheffield ), Vol. 2, No. 21.

[52] W. C. Hart, Confessions of an Anarchist, London, 1906, p. 45.

[53] Reynold's News, 7 April 1895.

[54] Anarchist ( Sheffield ), Vol. 2, No. 21, 1895.

[55] The Times, 25 April 1892.

[56] Anarchist, 20 April 1886.

[57] Commonweal, 30 April 1892.

[58] J. Sweeny, At Scotland Yard, London, 1905.

[59] The Times, 2 May 1892.

[60] The Times, 7 May 1892.

[61] Nicoll, Anarchy at the Bar.

[62] This is quite literally true. Some of the documents had disappeared by the time Nicoll was released.

[63] The Times, 7 May 1892.

[64] Published Sheffield, 1897.

[65] Commonweal, Christmas 1904. [johngray note : the number for this footnote is missing from the main body of the text in the original book. Since footnote 68 refers to the same source and follows a similar quote by Nicoll about the suspension of Commonweal - and also since there is no other passage between footnotes 64 & 66 which looks like a likely place for it - we are assuming the marker for footnote number 65 should have followed this quote by Nicoll].

[66] See the series of articles in the Evening News, London, December 1894, particularly 18 and 19 of that month.

[67] See Chronology.

[68] Commonweal, Christmas 1904.


07. H. B. Samuels and the Commonweal

Submitted by Steven. on October 14, 2009

The Commonweal restarted on 1 May 1893, under the editorship of H. B. Samuels. Other members of the Commonweal Group included John Turner, Carl Quinn, Ernest Young, Tom Cantwell and Joseph Presburg. Financed by Max Nettlau and Dr Fauset Macdonald, it came out in an edition of eight pages and was issued, except in times of crisis, fortnightly. The early political career of H. B. Samuels is impossible to give in detail but he first appears on the scene in 1886. A tailor by trade, he was then in touch with the Commonweal and according to his own account took part in the West End Riots. [1] According to Nicoll's extremely prejudiced account, he first saw Samuels at a meeting to celebrate the acquittal of Hyndman, Burns, Williams and Champion on 'incitement to riot' charges after the West End affair. Samuels, 'supported by a mysterious German in spectacles', asked Hyndman why he did not advocate, among other things, the blowing up of the London reservoirs. Hyndman, apparently, found it an easy enough question to answer. [2] By 1888 Samuels was playing an active part in the Socialist League, speaking at various open-air pitches with ( again according to Nicoll ) rather a penchant for violent rhetoric. He went with Mowbray and others to observe one of the trials at a free-speech fight in Yarmouth and was responsible for sending reports to the secretary ( Charles ). He became a member of the Socialist League Council in 1889, attended the international Socialist Congresses in Paris and went to Leeds to organize Jewish workers in the clothing and slipper trades in the same year. We have already seen the effect of his dispatches on the relationship of William Morris with the League. Yet in no way was Samuels the pariah of the movement which the later writings of David Nicoll would have us believe. He had served his time and played his part sufficiently well to be trusted by sections of the movement.

Nevertheless, Samuels, to use Max Nomad's phrase, was a terrorist of the word and, as later events were to show, a terrorist of the deed too, as long as the deeds were done by others. His rhetoric was by no means modified by his responsibilities as editor and played an important part in the stormy period that was about to begin. It must be made clear, however, that while he was the most influential of the advocates of more or less indiscriminate terror he was by no means alone in his advocacy. In the editorial of this first Commonweal of the new series he writes that the poverty of the workers leads them to the struggle for the emancipation of labour. So far this is nothing new. We are then given, however, the keynote of almost all his pronouncements 'In a struggle like this we hold that all means, however desperate, are justifiable. Individual and collective action are alike necessary and urgent.' Desperate means and individual actions, be it noted, that tended in Samuels' writings to be separated from their purpose as prescribed by the theoreticians of propaganda by deed, namely the rousing of the masses to revolt. In a November 1893 issue of the Commonweal he wrote, 'Smashing windows, robbing misers, coining counterfeit or smuggling are not means ( ... ) to the end; but ends in themselves and though we do not claim them as means ( ... ) still we welcome such acts of daring and lawlessness as they do not strengthen but weaken the present machinery of Government and exploitation.' Nowhere, however, does Samuels ever attempt to prove that 'ordinary' crime weakens 'the present machinery of Government and exploitation'. Crimes against property are in general an escape from a life of drudgery, boredom or want for the criminal but remain for the most part quite consistent with the principles of individual enrichment upon which our society is based. Where crime becomes an exemplary communalization of property then it does represent an attack on the property relations of our society. This is a distinction that escapes H. B. Samuels. Let us take some examples.

In the Commonweal of 30 September 1893, he writes that taken with the good news of bomb explosions and illegal printing presses outside England 'comrades here were cheered with the news that someone had smashed a jeweller's window and expropriated a tray of diamond rings valued at £420 ( … )'. But the villain of the piece had been caught and appeared at the police court. This was 'our Comrade Harry Conway [who] was charged with burglary. He bore himself well and with a disdainful mien refused to question the witnesses. He boldly acknowledged the act and declared himself an Anarchist.' In an article in the Commonweal ( 14 October 1893 ) Conway expanded on the reasons for his act. As far as the problem of unemployment is concerned, he says, every unemployed person 'could soon solve this problem altogether, every individual for himself, by simply doing something that would mean either comfort out of prison or in it'. He was sentenced at the end of October to eighteen months. His statement only shows a little more than a pessimistic realism. He did urge people to copy his act and kept his dignity in refusing to try and wriggle out of a conviction. But the dignity and the proceeds from the smash-and-grab were not designed to be shared.

On the other hand there was the case of C. C. Davis of Birmingham. At the time that these events took place Davis, a brickmaker and gasworker, was, like Conway, unemployed and starving. He had been deeply involved in the unemployed agitation in Birmingham for several months. Thrown out of home by a vicious and drunken father at the age of eleven, he had drifted from labouring job to labouring job with every promise of turning out like his dad. But on coming into contact with the Anarchist movement he started to read and think and had developed into a person of 'wide culture' as Freedom put it. [3] The Times report describes his desperate act as concisely as a telegram :

Yesterday before the Birmingham stipendiary magistrate, a young man named Christopher Charles Davis was charged with damaging the plate glass window of a jeweller's shop to the extent of £25 and stealing 12 rings to the value of £100. He had been arrested while throwing the contents of the window into the street and the 12 rings were found in his hands. On hearing the charge the prisoner said 'I ought not to be charged with stealing at all but with taking them. I had no intention of taking them at all; I merely wished to throw them into the road to give other people the chance of taking them.' The bricks with which the windows were smashed were wrapped in copies of the 'Walsall Anarchist' and a circular entitled 'Anarchism; work for all; overwork for none' was found in his possession. The prisoner was committed for trial. He shouted 'Hurrah for Anarchy' and the shout was echoed by two young men in the rear of the court who were promptly arrested and charged with disturbing the proceedings but dismissed with a caution. [4]

This almost crazy act of defiance, this one-man West End Riot, was designed literally and metaphorically for public consumption. The disinterested attack on property, the reference to the Walsall prisoners and the message of the circular all go to make up a remarkable minor example of the propaganda by deed.

And the message was clearly understood. As Freedom put it : 'An epidemic of window smashing followed Davis' act. But although about 15 shop windows have been smashed and goods stolen, only a couple of arrests have been made. A peculiar instance occurred 4 February. A number of young men drew lots as to which of them should smash a shop window in Aston Street, Birmingham. When the bobby rushed up to arrest the one who did smash the window he ( the window smasher ) cried out "three cheers for Anarchy". So say we all.' Davis himself underscored the point at his trial : 'If the whole army of unemployed workmen who had assembled outside the Council House during the month of January to demand work had gone and done in a body what I have done alone, it would have had more effect on society than all the agitation in the world.' He appealed to the jury not to bring in any verdict at all and to walk out of the court. He finished 'Long live Ravachol, long live the Walsall Anarchists !' Yet what did H. B. Samuels have to say about this ? 'Our comrade C. C. Davis ( ... ) has been sentenced to 15 months hard labour ( ... ) His action proves to us the necessity of similar acts and also the desirability on such occasions, not merely of throwing valuables in the street, but of keeping as much as possible for the sustenance of persons and principles.' This is more than a little crass. As Nicoll puts it : 'It must be clear to all that Mr Samuels would degrade a bold act of revolt on the part of a starving man to the level of an ordinary theft.' [5]

No matter what criticisms are put forward, however, the paper generally gave expression to the real desperation of sections of the working class at this time. While Samuels reduced everything to its lowest common denominator of illegality and the spectacular there is no doubt that his rhetoric evoked some deep responses. Furthermore the Anarchist movement definitely grew during his editorship, though how much of that is due to Samuels is, of course, open to question. There were seven open-air speaking pitches advertised in the first issue of the new series of Commonweal. By June there were eighteen and this was being kept up in September. These certainly do not represent the total number of Anarchist speaking pitches in London at this time. These were regular speaking sites - Freedom gives a greater number of temporary ones. The blank statistics give no indication of the increasing difficulties the movement was labouring under. Police spies and agents provocateurs were now often in attendance, particularly in the foreign quarters of London. [6] The police were more ready than ever to disperse meetings, and Christians of various persuasions continued to try and break them up. Faction fighting, particularly with the S.D.F., was on the increase, exacerbated by mutual provocation and some successful membership-poaching by the Anarchists. [7] The police were prepared to scrape the barrel to bring charges against Anarchists. For example, Commonweal advertised a series of 'indignation meetings to protest at the waste of wealth' on a royal wedding. On 29 June 1893 Cantwell and Young were arrested for fly-posting bills advertising the meetings which did not bear a printer's or publisher's name and address. The bills read :

Royal Marriage
The London Anarchists will hold an indignation meeting on Sunday July 2 at Hyde Park, at 3.30 to protest at the waste of wealth upon these royal vermin while workers are dying of hunger and overwork.
Fellow workers prepare for the revolution and that he who would be free must strike the blow.

The two men were remanded in custody for two days. Meanwhile the police had searched them, taken the Commonweal office keys and rifled the premises at Sidmouth Mews. The next issue of the Commonweal finds Samuels saying that as a result of this a cheque is missing from a letter and so is a revolver kept 'to protect ourselves from burglars ( legal or otherwise )'. [9] The two men were eventually fined.

All things considered, however, the Commonweal office remained remarkably unscathed during H. B. Samuels' editorship and no further raids or searches were made until 1894 - after his forced resignation. This was despite a continual stream of inflammatory propaganda and despite promptings to the authorities from various respectable quarters. The Morning Post of 5 August, for example, quoted some remarks made by Samuels and added, 'If this is not a provocation to breach of the peace and lawlessness, we would like to know what is. Mr Asquith should keep an eye on this inflammatory organ.' And in the following issue of the Commonweal, H. B. Samuels proudly quoted the Morning Post. As in the case of C. C. Davis, industrial affairs were to be transmuted somewhat in Samuels' hands. A good example is the miners strike of 1893. Samuels seemed incapable of separating effective direct action from spectacular direct action. In the 1 and 16 September issues of the Commonweal appeared two bitter pieces from George Tallis, an Anarchist and a small shopkeeper in Pendlebury in the Lancashire coalfield. The first is a polemic against the various social democrats who urge voting and political education on a worker who 'starves and watches his family and class being slowly murdered. He knows that the present system is wrong and requires to know how to alter it, ( … ) he knows that the idle vicious class called masters bleed him to death, that he has no freedom, no liberty only to starve and he requires to be told how to prevent it : but that is not the education thought of by labour leaders, Fabian orators etc. Oh no ! they want him to learn how to vote; that's all, my dears.' The second piece carefully computes the surplus value extracted from the miner's toil and condemns the desultory Lancashire miners' leaders. And both articles make the suggestion that since the coal stocks held in reserve by the masters were their bargaining power then the coal stocks should be fired. This point and the suggestion made by John Turner that the local shops should be looted to feed the starving men were repeated in an Anarchist Manifesto to the Miners 'issued and circulated by the comrades in the mining districts'. The Anarchists in Leicester and other places held meetings to protest against the dispatching of armed police and soldiers to the coalfields. ( One result of this movement of troops was the Featherstone massacre of 7 September 1893, when two miners were killed and six wounded when troops fired on a crowd. )

But George Tallis' bitterness and his advocacy of direct action sprang from his first-hand experience of the miners' suffering. A collection at a meeting in Trafalgar Square on Sunday, 17 September, was sent to Tallis. He used it to buy food wholesale to distribute free from his shop. His description of this occasion is pitiable : '( … ) 400 people turned up. The time arranged was 4.30 but children and women were at my shop at 12.30 and waited. The crush was something extraordinary, little children were crushed down and women fainted in their frantic endeavour to get a few potatoes, onions, carrots and turnips. I never saw people scramble so for anything ( ... ) we had not half enough for the poor souls who begged for two potatoes or carrot and turnip at the finish ( ... ) Such a crowd would have made a graven image cry.' One understands immediately why Tallis should wish the miners to make real attacks on the forces that oppressed them. But compared to Tallis Samuels merely comes across as a man obsessed with violence. When he advocated the policy of the Anarchist Manifesto to the Miners he added that the miners should vary the monotony of looting food shops with marches to the pit head 'to play games with trucks and trollies'. After the 17 September meeting in Trafalgar Square the Commonweal reported that 'Mr Butcher drew the attention of the House to some incendiary remarks ( ... ) by a Mr H. Samuels, who speaking on the present crisis in the coal trade advised the miners to imitate the young Polish Jew Berkman who shot Frick ( ... ) and if they could not fight the masters together they should fight individually "with the torch, the knife and the bomb".' The Home Secretary replied that the regulations governing the use of the Square did not allow him to ban the Anarchists as such and was of the opinion that prosecution would only give 'undue importance to the remarks'. [10]

H. B. Samuels' consistent reprinting of these remarks and grumblings from the authorities fills out the impression of him as a determined self-publicist - he seems more pleased that his spectacular remarks should be publicized in a hostile press than annoyed that their theoretical under-pinning and their basis in mass suffering should be ignored. As time went by his spectacular remarks became more spectacular and his notoriety consequently became greater. It is difficult to believe that he did not cultivate this notoriety and it is difficult to forgive him the fact that the consequences of it fell on others. A straw in the wind was the next Anarchist meeting in Trafalgar Square on 14 October. This had been called to 'explain' to the unemployed where the S.D.F. was wrong in its tactics - another skirmish in the continuing Anarchist/Social Democrat battles. On this occasion the police abruptly stopped the meeting, claiming that the allowed time was up. Carl Quinn continued his speech and was pushed off the plinth. He climbed back up and tried to carry on but was again hurled off by the police. [11]

A struggle for free speech had already begun in Manchester by the Anarchist group there. It seems from the first to have been a specifically anti-Anarchist affair and really marks the beginning of a sustained repression of Anarchist propaganda. The Manchester Anarchists had been holding meetings at Ardwick Green for some time. ( Readers should not be fooled by the rural sounding name, Ardwick Green was a sooty park in an inner suburb of Manchester about a mile from the city centre. ) These meetings had been increasingly harassed by militant Christians. On 4 October four Anarchists were told to move on by the police while speaking. They refused, were arrested and fined. The following week another Anarchist, Kelly, was arrested under similar circumstances. He too was fined and warned that he or any other Anarchist 'would be severely dealt with' in future. By this time audiences were growing and the Anarchists were attracting support from other socialists. At meetings of two and three thousand the arrests continued through October. Wider sympathy was evident : in the Commonweal for 11 November the Manchester Anarchists reported : 'we have the sympathy of the workers; and a pious sneak who makes it his business to create disorder at our meetings was ignominiously hustled out of [Stevenson] Square by the indignant people while a temperance orator who attacked us at New Cross and abused us had to run for his life.' However from 12 November onwards the 'ringleaders' were being jailed or, more insidiously, being given the option of either finding large sureties or going to prison. The pressure was very great on the slender finances of the Manchester group. Their ability to resist was further undermined by the defection of the more timid socialists after the Continental bomb explosions culminating in Vaillant's bomb in the French Chamber of Deputies on 9 December. They were forced to give up Ardwick Green on 7 January, though a militant note was attempted by the fact that a somewhat stormy meeting of protest took place on that date in Albert Square. By 11 January the Anarchists were only speaking at their old stations at Stevenson Square and New Cross. [12] ( It is interesting to note that a policeman, one Caminada, who made his name by his repression of these meetings at Ardwick Green was prosecuted later in the 1890s for taking bribes and kick-backs from brothels. ) In London another demonstration of police hostility had taken place on Nicoll's release from prison. His welcome party emerged from Liverpool Street Station on 1 November singing the 'Marseillaise'. A crowd gathered and Nicoll's call for three cheers for the miners was 'enthusiastically responded to'. At this point a body of police charged out of the entrance to the Underground and began 'punching and kicking everyone they could reach'. The crowd was dispersed and his comrades got Nicoll away by bundling him on to a bus.

The chorus calling for repression of the Anarchists grew louder in November. On the evening of 7 November a bomb allegedly thrown from the balcony of the Liceo Theatre in Barcelona exploded in the stalls. Thirty people died and many were wounded. The Times correspondent commented : 'The barbarous atrocity of this deed calls for just reprisals on the part of the governing powers not only in Spain but of the combined civilized world. The outrage which has been committed against Barcelona society may tomorrow be repeated in some other large city.' [13] This was the context in which the Chicago Martyrs meetings at South Place Institute, the Grafton Street club and Trafalgar Square caused 'a howl of terror from our masters', as H. B. Samuels put it. At South Place at an 'earnest and defiant meeting' Samuels made, according to David Nicoll, 'his famous speech which soon rendered him notorious in London'.

I claim the man who threw the bomb at the theatre as a comrade. We must have our own some day, they murdered our comrades and we must murder them. Twenty-three killed, how sad ? ( ... ) An eye for an eye. Aye, twenty eyes for one eye. I claim that unknown comrade has done better work than any philosopher. That unknown comrade ( ... ) has caused such a terror that the rich dare not walk the streets of Barcelona for fear of the bombs. I don't believe in organizing bodies of men to meet the Gatling guns. We will fight the bloodsuckers by any means. I don't blame these men because they are bloodsuckers. I don't blame a dog but I will kick him damned hard if he bites me. We expect no mercy from these men and we must show them none. [14]

A packed meeting took place at Grafton Hall on 11 November and 'a few words from a couple of comrades were the means of starting a regular crusade against us in the daily press'. This, thought H. B. Samuels, made a good advertisement for the movement. On 12 November, the meeting in Trafalgar Square ( 'the best meeting we have yet held there' ) was the cause of more 'howls of terror'. An MP asked for the adjournment of a debate to discuss a speech by John Murdoch. This admitted that 'the affair of Barcelona was a horrible thing ( ... ) not the act of an Anarchist, but that of men rendered desperate by existing conditions', but went on to say that 'There would be something of the same kind here before very long, for men would not always be content to die in the gutter.' [15] The Daily Telegraph devoted three consecutive leaders to anti-Anarchist vituperation.

At this point, towards the end of November, Herbert Burrows of the S.D.F. wrote to the Commonweal commenting on the blaze of publicity over the question of terror. He asked whether the capitalists of France and Spain had 'disgorged' anything as a result of the bombings and commented : 'Platform talk of making tyrants tremble is futile. They may tremble but they also laugh and hold on.' [16] He had a point. The bombings carried out by Ravachol had been in revenge for the physical and judicial brutality shown by the French authorities over the May Day demonstrations of 1891. The Cafe Very bombing had been in revenge for the arrest of Ravachol through information given by a waiter. The Liceo Theatre bombing had been in revenge for the massacre of peasants in revolt in Xeres. Revenge may have been sweet but Ravachol had been executed as had others after him and savage repressions had been unleashed. And no capitalists disgorged. Yet Herbert Burrows misunderstood the point of the bombs. In France and Spain the workers' movement had its back to the wall. In England demonstrations were often attacked by police with batons. On the Continent they were often fired on. The bombs represented, in Stuart Christie's phrase, 'the rearguard of the proletariat' : they were an expression of violent resentments which could find no other outlet. In France and Spain these 'last ditch' activities of the Anarchist bombers are inextricably entwined with the early history of working-class movements with more room for manoeuvre - the revolutionary general unions, the C.G.T. and the C.N.T. What Samuels had done was to take the 'image' of such bombings out of their context. The meaning of the bombs was immediately perceived by sections of the working class on the Continent; but this was not true of England. Appeals from the English Anarchists to the unemployed or starving strikers to loot shops or use sabotage and violent means could be perceived as relevant but the 'ultras' like Samuels were undermining the clarity of such propaganda. They had narrowed the propaganda by deed until it became propaganda for the deed.

As a result the wider propaganda rather went by the board as discussion of the bombings engaged an excited press and Parliament. Time and energy had to be put into putting the bombs into context - largely by those sections of the English movement who were opposed to bombing as a useful tactic. The Freedom Group issued their first pamphlet on this question - Anarchism and Outrage, written by Charlotte Wilson. Distaste for bombing rhetoric was the basic reason why James Tochatti started his magazine Liberty, the first issue of which appeared in January 1894. The manifesto in the first number went to special pains to insist that Anarchists were not dynamiters and said, 'we believe that bombastic talk and glorifying the acts of men driven to desperation by circumstances can only serve to retard the progress of Anarchist ideas by alienating the sympathies of the mass of the people'. Tochatti had remained in close contact with the Hammersmith Socialist Society after it had split from the Socialist League. His magazine was in fact to use contributions from many ex-members of the League, and those not necessarily Anarchists. The most prominent of the ex-League Anarchists to cooperate with him was Sam Mainwaring.

Meanwhile the authorities were taking steps to restrict Anarchist propaganda under the cover of the 'howls of terror'. The committee at South Place issued a statement after the 11 November meeting saying that they would no longer let their hall to Anarchists. The speeches at Trafalgar Square on 12 November put the future use of the Square by Anarchists in doubt. An article entitled 'Bombs !' by H. B. Samuels definitely closed the Square to them, rules or no rules. [17] Samuels said :

A bomb has burst in a theatre in Barcelona, and the English people are trembling about it even now. Very strange that an explosion a thousand miles away should arouse such mixed feelings here. Or is it because somebody said it was a good job. Well I am one of them who welcome this affair as a great and good act - not on the part of those concerned, but because of the death of thirty rich people and the injury of eighty others. Yes, I am really pleased; and in spite of the fact that comrades and friends have been talking at me over it, I cannot feel sorry there.

Nevertheless Samuels wrote asking for the Square on 3 December so that speakers 'could explain to the people the aims and principles of Anarchist Communism' and was refused. The meeting - or an attempt at one - took place anyway. The Commonweal Group went to the Square, distributed leaflets and gathered a crowd of about 1,500. Quinn, after persistent attempts to speak, was kicked, thumped and arrested. Lawrence then managed to hurl himself over the double cordon of police round the column and began to address the crowd. He was pulled off and arrested. Another couple of arrests were made and the crowd began to get restive and push the police around. Banham then got on a bus and began to speak to the crowd from the top deck. At this point mounted police were called in and the police began to try to clear the Square. This took some time; there were a few brisk fights and bricks were thrown. The Commonweal asserted that 'the battle of Trafalgar Square has recommenced' but made little attempt to carry on the battle themselves. The following Sunday ( 10 December ) it was Nicoll who attempted to hold a meeting. Despite wet weather there were 4,000 people in the Square. Unlike the meeting held by the Commonweal Group this received very little publicity in the Anarchist press. Freedom gave it a bare mention, adding 'Nicoll was set on by a gang of roughs, set on, some say by the police.' [18] Commonweal, for reasons which will become apparent, did not mention it at all. It is a measure of the mood of the time that on the Sunday following ( 17 December ) what seems to have been a quite spontaneous meeting took place. By 3.30, 1,500 - 2,000 people had gathered and were milling about. Eventually a man named Inchua who had been active in the unemployed demonstrations of the previous winter gave a short speech and led a march down the Strand which was broken up by the police. [19] It is not clear what happened after this point, though by 21 December Nicoll was writing to Nettlau that the matter was 'satisfactorily settled' and claiming that the Anarchists by causing trouble had forced the authorities to rescind their ban. If it was a victory it was a temporary one.

It was noticeable that there had been no fulminations in the Commonweal calling for a campaign of terror to force the opening of the Square. Was this not an occasion when Samuels' own statement applied : 'I do not blame a dog but I will kick him damned hard if he bites me.' In fact from this point on there is a distinct quietening in the tone of H. B. Samuels' writing. On the bomb thrown by Vaillant ( 9 December ) he can only say that his act was the natural, desperate, result of 'long years of unrequited labour and misery'. [20] On Emile Henry's bomb in the Cafe Terminus ( 12 February 1894 ) he says that execution is no deterrent to men who are too desperate to care if they die. By the issue of 10 March 1894, with its black-bordered front page memorial to Martial Bourdin killed in the Greenwich Park explosion, he is writing : 'Now that the governments of Europe are considering the advisability of taking combined action against the Anarchists, we, of necessity are driven to consider ways of preserving ourselves against them ( ... ) it is imperative that we consider the new position. The workers, generally, are against us because they do not understand; therefore our work is to make them understand us, to understand us is to know their friends from their enemies, and to know one's enemy,' he ends with a slight rally, 'is the one thing essential towards action - offensive and defensive.' At the Commune commemoration meetings of that March he is back-pedalling distinctly. Why do Anarchists not throw bombs in England, he asks. Is it because the English Anarchists think that the capitalists should get off scot-free or because they do not care about suffering humanity ?

No it is because we see the impression our ideas are making upon all sorts and conditions of men; it is because we feel the strength of our moral and intellectual position that is made possible by the freedom of speech, pen and platform that we enjoy in England. As long as I have that freedom I will decline to advocate or employ forcible and destructive methods though I will not answer for or condemn others ( ... ) The bomb is the direct result of the throttling of the right to free speech. [21]

At the Commune meeting at the C.I.U. Hall he went so far as to assert the most dubious proposition that if there was free speech in France the bomb would disappear.

Thus from December 1893 onwards a really quite sudden moderation came over H. B. Samuels. It is possible to suggest several reasons. The sudden closing of Trafalgar Square and South Place to the Anarchists might have brought him up rather short. It might well also have been the 'fact that comrades and friends have been talking at me over it'. The comrades and friends could easily have been foreign Anarchists. Vaillant's bomb in December had unleashed a fierce repression in France, with Anarchist newspapers being forcibly closed and 2,000 arrest warrants being issued. Some Anarchists were arrested, but many went into hiding or fled, and many French Anarchists arrived in London at this time. The events in France were a tangible lesson in the repressive powers of the state which it was impossible to ignore. And it looked as though something similar was being prepared in England. A French newspaper correspondent quoted in The Times says : 'The approval expressed by all the Tory and most of the ministerial papers of the measures taken by the French Government makes the Anarchist refugees fear that rigorous measures will be taken against them in England also.' [22] This correspondent then goes on to detail the day-to-day harassment of the refugees in London :

At the bars frequented by them detectives are mixing with the customers and regularly 'standing treat' and try to catch up the conversation. Search warrants not being as easy in England as in France, the police stop in the streets any Anarchist bearing a suspicious bundle. On being taken to the station he is questioned, the bundle is inspected and while he is awaiting the officers' decision he is photographed if this has not already been done and he is then released. This device which is particularly exasperating to the Anarchists has of late been daily repeated. What still more disquiets them is that Scotland Yard has carefully drawn up a list of refugees in London and that English employers are more and more disinclined to engage them. Many of them, in spite of the help of their comrades are reduced to extreme poverty and look forward to the time when unless they are to starve they will be forced to quit England. The subscriptions of the leaders are steadily falling off and the expenses of the propaganda have swallowed up the reserves. The rich men of the party, moreover, afraid of being considered accomplices in outrages are reducing their contributions.

It was at about this time that Detective Sweeny burgled a printing shop used by a group of French exiles. He did not have to repeat this manner of making inquiries, since he came to an arrangement with the landlady to inspect the contents at will after hours. [23]

But if caution in the face of a possible repression explains Samuels' new moderation there are also explanations for the timing of his most spectacular pronouncements at South Place and in his 'Bombs !' article. In the eyes of many Anarchists he held the editorship of the Commonweal in trust until the release of David Nicoll. A conference of London Anarchists had taken place at Grafton Hall on 24 September 1893, and 'so much had to be discussed that after six hours it was decided to hold a national conference about two weeks after Nicoll's release'. [24] No agenda was published for the Grafton Hall conference but it is not unlikely that it was similar to the one published for the later one which centred on Commonweal matters and included as a separate item the question of editorship of the paper. [25] The question of who was to be editor was still, therefore, open when Nicoll was released from prison. And the welcome given to him on his release showed Nicoll's tremendous popularity in the movement. At the public meeting of welcome on 3 November, Nicoll was given a tumultuous reception. Commonweal quoted a 'capitalist paper' on the subject : 'The reception accorded to Nicoll when he appeared on the platform was enough to un-nerve the strongest man and as Nicoll is not the strongest the wonder is that he did not entirely break down.' In the same article, Anarchist Jack writes : 'As soon as his health permits and he has completed his provincial engagements he will resume his old place on the 'Weal, when, we have no doubt its size and circulation will soon increase ( … )' Yet in the same issue Samuels was writing : 'Some comrades may be surprised at our not making the editorship of the paper at once over to Nicoll.' He explains that things have taken a new course and that the paper has 'a different crew of capable determined men'. When Nicoll examines the facts, he says, he can form an opinion but in the meantime he 'must be allowed to have what rest he desires and needs and to write what and when he feels able to'. H. B. Samuels sounds decidedly unwilling to give up his position.

Behind the scenes there seems to have been some amount of pressure put on Nicoll. There had been changes in the group. Nicoll wrote : 'When I came out of prison the character of the' old "Commonweal" Group had completely changed. Except Turner, Presburg, Samuels, Cantwell and Mowbray hardly any, of its former members belonged to it, and Mowbray attended very little.' Nicoll also alleged that members of the old group had been driven out by 'calumny and slander' emanating from Turner and Samuels. But it was one of the remaining 'old' members' Presburg ( later Perry ), who gave Nicoll a file 'of Mr Samuels Commonweal and suggested that I should read it, and that, if I could see my way clear to adopt a similar policy, the Group would "kindly let me edit the paper".' Nicoll says he declined this offer since he did not wish to advocate bombs, 'coining counterfeit and robbing misers'. There was disagreement in other areas too. Shortly after his release Nicoll wrote to Nettlau, 'The Commonweal Group has decided that I am not to edit the paper till the Christmas Conference has decided whether my principles are sufficiently advanced. It appears I am not strong enough upon the great question of advancing the revolution by picking your comrades' pockets i.e. Expropriation ( … )' Nicoll was not prepared to take this quietly. 'I kicked up a row at the Group,' he says, 'and demanded my former post.' And he went further than that : 'I expressed my opinion pretty freely regarding Mr Samuels. I said if he was not a spy he was being used by one.' This was a clear reference to Samuels' friendly relations with the 'French Group' of ultras at the Autonomie Club. This group continued to support Coulon : 'Saint Coulon ranks next to Saint Ravachol among the French Group.' Nicoll told Nettlau that he believed Samuels to be a puppet of Coulon's though he was too stupid to be a spy himself. The French Group was of the opinion, apparently, that Nicoll was a 'damned Social Democrat like Merlino, Malatesta, Kropotkin and everybody but Samuels. Samuels is the true and only Anarchist.' [26] Nicoll might have been justified in his anger over being excluded from the editorship but the accusations of spying against Samuels could not be countenanced by the group at this time and the result was an open breach.

So Samuels' speech at South Place and his 'Bombs !' article can therefore be seen as attempts to assert his position of influence in the face of the 'threat' from Nicoll. Both occurred shortly after Nicoll's release. It seems quite consistent with Samuels' personality that he should equate Nicoll's evident popularity in the movement with his notoriety in the press. So Samuels took steps to become notorious. And the threatening response to his pronouncements might explain their quite rapid fall in temperature once that purpose had been achieved. Samuels was confirmed as editor of the Commonweal at the conference held at the Autonomie Club on 26 December 1893. Nicoll alleged, however, that the conference was rigged. It seems clear that Nicoll hoped to appeal over the heads of the Commonweal Group to the movement at large since, as he says, 'I was on good terms with most Anarchists in London' and had as the result of his imprisonment some status as martyr. He was writing to Nettlau in late November, 'I don't think Samuels will retain the editorship after Christmas.' But according to Nicoll the conference was 'very well managed' :

Tom Cantwell acted as porter and excluded all 'possible disturbers'. The usual pretext was they were 'not members' of the 'Commonweal Group'. Most London Anarchists were not, the Commonweal Group consisting of about a dozen members ( ... ) If however a man's principles were alright, i.e. if he were a friend of Mr Samuels, they let him in. Besides the benefits of 'scientific packing', Mr Samuels had the advantage of the official support of the Freedom people. There were two delegates present - Agnes Henry and Dr Macdonald. Miss Henry was neutral, Dr Macdonald supported Samuels with enthusiasm ( ... ) Seeing how everything had been 'arranged' I threw up the editorship.' [27]

'I have got the sack,' he wrote to Nettlau, 'because I am not advanced enough.'

There is one further reason for Samuels' relative restraint after December 1893. It is more than likely that he had started considering possibilities open to him in what was to become the I.L.P. ! While attending a conference of Scottish Anarchists around Christmas 1893 he took the opportunity to visit the annual conference of the Scottish Labour Party, which was to form a constituent part of the I.L.P. after January 1895. His account of this visit in the Commonweal is long and, considering the treatment handed out to the S.D.F. and Social Democrats generally, is surprisingly warm and friendly. He was invited to make a short speech and writes admiringly of Keir Hardie. And indeed after the events we are to describe in the next two chapters Samuels did indeed gravitate towards the I.L.P. By May 1894 he had already displayed noticeable political ambitions. [28] In 1895 he joined the Kilburn branch of the I.L.P. and was almost immediately adopted as their delegate to the Newcastle conference. [29] The I.L.P., which hesitated to openly call itself a socialist body at that time, could hardly be expected, even by H. B. Samuels, to accept into its ranks an advocate of the random slaughter of members of the upper class in the name of the class war.

[1] See S.L. archive K2628, and Labour Annual, 1896.

[2] Nicoll, The Greenwich Mystery, Sheffield, 1897

[3] Freedom, June 1893

[4] The Times, 28 January 1893. The two men at the back of the court were George Cores and Billy MacQueen. The account in Freedom, March 1893, makes it quite clear that they were rather severely beaten up by the police.

[5] Nicoll, The Greenwich Mystery, and Commonweal, 1 May 1893.

[6] See account of a meeting addressed by Tochatti in the Italian quarter in Commonweal, 25 June 1893

[7] See e.g. W. C. Hart in Commonweal, 13 May 1893. Also later reports from Hart in Freedom and other examples in the present book.

[8] Islington Gazette, 3 July 1893

[9] Commonweal, 8 July 1893.

[10] Quoted from the press of 21 September in Commonweal, 30 September.

[11] Commonweal, 28 October 1893

[12] See Commonweal, 14 October 1893 to 20 January 1894.

[13] The Times, 9 November 1893. Freedom later asserted that the bomb had exploded prematurely, killing the person carrying it who was waiting for the opportunity to hurl it at Marshal Campos, who had massacred peasants at Xeres. Pallas had already made one attempt on Campos's life and had been executed.

[14] Morning Leader, 12 November 1893, quoted in Nicoll, The Greenwich Mystery.

[15] The Times, 13 November 1893.

[16] Commonweal, 25 November 1893,

[17] Trafalgar Square had been re-opened for meetings by the Liberal - government elected in 1892, doubtless as a result of Radical pressure, to the accompaniment of rhetorical flourishes. To close the Square must have taken some pressure with these on record.

[18] Freedom, January/February 1894

[19] The Times, 18 December 1893.

[20] Commonweal, 23 December 1893

[21] Commonweal, 31 March 1894.

[22] The Times, 5 January 1894.

[23] Sweeny, J., At Scotland Yard, London, 1905, pp. 208-9.

[24] Commonweal, 30 September 1893.

[25] See agenda in Commonweal, 25 November 1893

[26] Commonweal, Christmas 1904; Nicoll, The Greenwich Mystery; Nicoll to Nettlau, letters in Nettlau Collection.

[27] Commonweal, Christmas 1904.

[28] Letter to Nicoll by L. S. Bevington, quoted in Nicoll, Letters from the Dead, London, 1898.

[29] Labour Annual, 1896. His subsequent political career did not live up to this early promise : suspected of dabbling in explosives 'he was forbidden to hold office or lecture for a year with the result that the Kilburn branch changed its name and refused to be deprived of his services'. See P. Thompson, Socialists, Liberals and Labour, London, 1967, pp. 160-62.



Submitted by T La Palli on April 30, 2011

Publication notes, acknowledgements and bibliography

Submitted by Steven. on October 14, 2009

Publication Notes
The Slow Burning Fuse was first published in 1978 (London, Paladin Books).

Authors Acknowledgements
The work for this book has involved research into archives and reference libraries. Since I was not supported by grants or by any academic institution this could have been a rather desperate undertaking. I had, however, the sense to work part-time as a stage hand at the Fortune and Drury Lane theatres during the writing of the book, which kept my feet very much on the ground. I would like to thank the following for the discussions and the pleasant experience of working with them: Arthur, Reg, Fred, Allen, Bob and John from the Fortune; and Alan, Kenny, Paul, Jim, Billy, Del, Brian, Tim, Tom, Jim, John, Colin, Richard and Sabha at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. For more particular information and assistance I must thank the following people. Perhaps as an 'unofficial' historian I have had to rely more than others on an informal network of interested, knowledgeable and helpful people. Without them this book would be rather worse than it is now. First mention must go to my comrade Ken Weller. In no way, however, does this diminish the great help I have received from Nick Massey, Francis Devine, Dave Poulson, Jeffe Jeffers, Raphael Samuel, Stan Shipley, Albert Meltzer, Sheila Rowbotham, Rachel Howe, Sam Dreen, Bill Fishman, Anna Davin, Rudolf de Jong and Thea Duijker and Mieke of the Institute of Social History at Amsterdam, the Keeper and staff of the Brotherton Collection at Leeds University, Grayson Holden, Tom Woodhouse, Jerry Ravetz, Mary Canipa and Freedom Press, Tony Bunyan, Mark Kramrisch and Nicholas Walter. This book is dedicated to the memory of two Leeds Anarchists, Billy MacQueen (d. 1908) and my friend George Cummings (d. December 1975).

To paraphrase Kropotkin, the history of Anarchism does not reside in books - at least as far as England is concerned. Nevertheless two books must be singled out for special mention even though the first is hostile to Anarchism and the second never seems to have heard of it. These are E. P. Thompson's William Morris, and Walter Kendall's The Revolutionary Movement in Britain. E. P. Thompson's book exhaustively covers the Socialist League period and Morris' relationship with the Anarchists and gives a more detailed picture of the early socialist movement than I had space to do. Outside these areas, particularly when he is dealing with Anarchists, he should be treated with caution. Walter Kendall's book is only about a part of the revolutionary movement in Britain but gives a fact-packed summary of some of the developments on the left before and during the Syndicalist Revolt and is particularly interesting in his detailed accounts of the formation of the Communist Party of Great Britain. He ignores the Anarchist contribution completely. But both books deserve respect because they have gone to the primary sources and in their central concerns have demythologized important parts of the history of the left. The books mentioned below are only some of the books I have looked at during the writing of the present work. A few other titles will be found in the footnotes. The books here listed, however, are those where more than a paragraph or even only a sentence is of interest to would be historians of Anarchism. The bulk of the information for this book has come from a close examination of periodicals and the private papers of Anarchists, but the following works do repay examination.

ALDRED, G. A., Dogmas Discarded, Glasgow, 1940.
-, No Traitor's Gait !, Glasgow. Issued in approximately monthly parts from 1956.
-, Rex v. Aldred, Glasgow, 1948.
ALLEN, E. J. B., Revolutionary Unionism, Huddersfield, 1909.
CALDER-MARSHALL, A., Lewd, Blasphemous and Obscene, London, 1972.
CARLSON, A., German Anarchism, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1972.
CARPENTER, E., My Days and Dreams, London, 1916.
CLYNES, J. R., Memoirs, London, 1937.
COATES, K. and TOPHAM, T., Workers' Control, London, 1970.
CRAIK, W. W., Central Labour College, London, 1964.
Documents of the First International, 4 vols., London/Moscow, 1964.
FISHMAN, W. J., East End Jewish Radicals, London, 1975.
FOX, A., A History of the National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives, Oxford, 1958.
FOX, R. M., Smoky Crusade, London, 1937
FREEMANTLE, A., This Little Band of Prophets, New York, 1960.
GALLAGHER, W., Revolt on the Clyde, London, 1949.
GLASIER, J. B., William Morris and the Early Days of the Socialist Movement, London, 1921.
GOLDMAN, E., Living My Life, London, 1932.
HART, W. C., Confessions of an Anarchist, London, 1906.
HENDERSON, P. ( ed. ), Letters of William Morris, London, 1950.
HULSE, J. W., Revolutionists in London, Oxford, 1970.
KENDALL, W., The Revolutionary Movement in Britain, London, 1969.
KROPOTKIN, P., Memoirs of a Revolutionist, London, 1908.
LATOUCHE, P., Anarchy !, London, 1908.
LEE, H. W. and ARCHBOLD, E., Social Democracy in Britain, London, 1935.
LONGONI, J. C., Four Patients of Dr. Deibler, London, 1970.
MANN, T., Tom Mann's Memoirs, London, 1923.
MARX, K. and ENGEIs, F., Selected Correspondence, London, I934.
NETTLAU, M., Anarchisten and Sozial-Revolutionäre, Berlin, 1931.
NEVINSON, H. W., Fire of Life, London, 1935.
NICOLL, D. J., The Ghosts of Chelmsford Gaol, Sheffield, 1897.
-, The Greenwich Mystery, Sheffield, 1897.
-, Letters From the Dead, London, 1898.
-, The Walsall Anarchists, London, 1894.
NOMAD, M., Dreamers, Dynamiters and Demagogues, New York, 1964.
PATON, J., Proletarian Pilgrimage, London, 1936.
ROCKER, R., The London Years, London, 1956.
SHADWELL, A., The Revolutionary Movement in Britain, London, 1921.
SHIPLEY, S., Club Life and Socialism in Mid-Victorian London, London, 1971.
SWEENY, J., At Scotland Yard, London, 1905.
TAYLOR, J., Self-Help to Glamour : The Working Men's Clubs 1860-1972, London, 1972.
THOMPSON, B., Queer People, London, 1922.
THOMPSON, E. P., William Morris, London, 1955.
John E. Williams and the Early History of the S.D.F., Anonymous, London, 1886.
WOODCOCK, G. and AVACUMOVIC, I., The Anarchist Prince, London, 1950.
See also the Bibliography in Kendall and Nettlau's Bibliographie De l'Anarchie, Brussels, 1897, if a wider range of titles of a more general or more theoretical bent is required.

The periodicals whose files I have consulted are : Alarm, Anarchist, Anarchist ( Sheffield ), Black Flag, Commonweal, Daily Herald, Freedom, Freiheit, Herald of Revolt, Industrialist, Industrial Syndicalist, Islington Gazette, Justice, Labour Annual, Liberty ( Boston ), Liberty ( London ), Reynold's News, Sheffield Anarchist, Shop Assistant, Solidarity, Spur, The Times, Torch, Voice of Labour, War Commentary, Weekly Times and Echo, Workers' Dreadnought.