Today in London’s radical history: last issue of German anarchist paper Die Autonomie appears, 1893.

Die Autonomie  ( London) November 1886-1893, was a German-language anarchist paper, produced in London. It was associated with the group of anarchists around the Autonomie Club, and advocated anarchist-communism. The main movers in the paper’s creation were Josef Peukert and Otto Rinke. Like hundreds of other German socialists and anarchists, they had been forced to flee Germany by fierce state repression; many other leftwing activists had been jailed. However there were still brave individuals and groups prepared to carry on organizing and spreading ideas in Germany, and many of the exiles maintained regular contact, and carried out printing of materials to be smuggled into Germany. Many German exiles fled to London, where tolerance of migrants and of leftwing ideas made for a somewhat easier life. London was host to large migrant French and Italian anarchist groups as well.

Die Autonomie was largely a successor to an earlier paper, Der Rebell (work out what that means!), which had been produced by Peukert and Rinke together with Emil Werner.

Peukert had become involved in distributing the legendary anarchist paper, Freiheit, published by Johann Most, but became increasingly critical of Most. During the 1880s he became the leader of a radical fraction who were believers in the concept of Propaganda of the deed, and which espoused total decentralization of the anarchist movement and a communist economics based on the principle ?from each according to ability, to each according to need. But these anarchist-communists fell out with the anarcho-collectivist wing, who took their inspiration from Bakunin; in London these were grouped around Victor Dave.

The paper was mainly intended to be smuggled into Germany, since the London German exiles were still principally concerned with events and propaganda there. Although the German police made great efforts to repress all socialist publications, and to stem the flow of illegal publications brought in clandestinely from abroad, the exiles found many sympathisers willing to risk prison (and death) to convey copies into Germany. Berlin Police President Von Richtofen wrote that the police had been able to confiscate few copies of die Autonomie, and neither were they able to arrest anyone for smuggling it into the country. However, they swere abler to put pressure on the British police, who hounded anarchists, especially foreign ones; the exiles suffered severe harassment. Another aspect of the anarchist scene at the time was its penetration by numbers of police spies, sponsored both by the English police and by the police from the home countries of the various exiles. Suspicion, paranoia were rife, but in many cases, justifiably.

The Autonomie group became embroiled in a deadly feud with Dave’s group, partly around personal jealousies and partly due to political differences. As a result Peukert’s group had been expelled from the anarchist club in Whitfield Street, Fitzrovia, by Dave’s group, and had set up a new club of their own in nearby Charlotte Street (they later moved to new premises in Windmill Street, off Tottenham Court Road.) But these disputes were to become further inflamed because of Peukert’s friendship with Theodor Reuss. Victor Dave did not trust Reuss, accusing him of being a police spy. Reuss was expelled from the English Socialist League, (of which Dave was a member), but Pekert refused to believe the accusation. Both sides were flinging accusations at each other of being informants, traitors and worse. The episode severely damaged the reputation of Peukert, and also Dave, and led to splits that beset the anarchist movement in Europe, England and America. However, the rumours about Reuss proved to be true: in 1887, Peukert went with Reuss to Belgium, where Reuss passed information to the police leading to the arrest of Johann Neve, a major organiser for the smuggling of  anarchist propaganda, arms and explosives into Germany. Neve was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison, where he died, or was killed.

Police raids on anarchist clubs, notably on the Autonomie Club in February 1894, hysterical press campaigns, and some mob violence against anarchist meetings, largely broke up what had been a growing anarchist movement in the early 1890s. Peukert left for the USA, where he continued to feud with Johann Most and would become influential on a whole new strand of anarchists.

There is more on this story in:
John Henry Mackay, The Anarchists
John Quail, The Slow Burning Fuse, the Lost History of the British Anarchists.
Hermia Oliver, The International Anarchist Movement in late Victorian London.

Interestingly, die Autonomie left a legacy on later anarchist traditions in London, in that it was largely reading the paper that Rudolf Rocker’s became converted to anarchism. Although he had already encountered anarchist ideas as a result of his contacts to Die Jungen in Berlin, his adoption of anarchism did not take place until the International Socialist Congress in Brussels in August 1891. He was heavily disappointed by the discussions at the congress, as it, especially the German delegates, refused to explicitly denounce militarism. He was rather impressed by the Dutch socialist and later anarchist Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis, who attacked Liebknecht for his lack of militancy. Rocker got to know Karl Höfer, a German active in smuggling anarchist literature from Belgium to Germany. Höfer gave him Bakunin’s God and the State and Kropotkin’s Anarchist Morality, two of the most influential anarchist works, as well as the newspaper die Autonomie. Rocker would go on to be a mainstay of the East End Jewish anarchist movement, which would become strong and influential in East London in the years immediately prior to World War 1.


An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online


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