"I'll be back for May Day in Las Cocheras." That was how Albert Meltzer said goodbye on his last visit to Barcelona. He was returning to London to put the finishing touches to his autobiography "I Couldn't Paint Golden Angels - Sixty Years of Commonplace Life and Anarchist Agitation". He was also going home much pre-occupied by the international situation, what with the rise of fascism and more especially by the frictions within the IWA at a time when more cohesion was what was required.
There was nothing out of the ordinary about his "I'll be back". He had said it literally dozens of times. In the underground days, during the period of transition, Albert always "came back" literally or figuratively, always available and always ready to help out. Hamburg, Paris, Brussels, Madrid or Barcelona's Barrio Chino - it was all the same to him. His comradely heart was as big and as startling as his wits were quick.
Albert's activism started as a 15 year old in London and he very soon came into contact with the Spanish revolution and the CNT-FAI Aid Committees sponsored by Emma Goldman (along with Berneri's daughter Marie Louise, her husband Vernon Richards, the anarcho-syndicalist Tom Brown and novelist Ethel Mannin, all revolving around the newspaper Spain and the World). From then on he had a particular empathy with the Spanish militant anarchist movement that was to endure right up to his death this year. But he was to become alienated from the British group that carried on with War Commentary and Freedom.
Albert, for all the time he was committed to the revolutionary struggle against Franco, was also intensely active in London. He lived through the defeat of revolutionary Spain, the Second World War and the bleak years of squabbling and heated controversies. Underneath the easy-going surface Albert was an incorrigible enthusiast and he made himself enemies with more than one outburst on more than one occasion. Yet he knew the ins and outs of the London and British movement with all its leftist sub-fauna better than anyone. With that special zeal, sometimes dubbed sectarianism, he was able to motivate the younger and more radical elements. It was not all sweetness and light - there was no way he could have painted those golden angels.
The 60s and 70s saw an upsurge in the anti-Franco struggle and of British activism. These were the years of the First of May Group, the launching of Black Flag, the Anarchist Black Cross, the Angry Brigade and, in partnership with Miguel Garcia, of the Centro Ibérico, through which the widest spectrum of exiles passed, and of Cienfuegos Press. Albert was never far away, despite the "generation gap".
Dear old Albert, many a year has passed since those coffee shops in the middle of Soho in the 1950s.. and come what may, London and the British movement are not going to be the same again now that you have left them, never to return.
Solidaridad Obrera, (paper of the CNT of Catalunya) July 1996