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.