Today in London’s unbrid(al)led herstory: Edith Lanchester sectioned by her family for ‘living in sin’, 1895.

On 25 October 1895, Edith Lanchester was kidnapped by her father and brothers, sectioned, and forcibly incarcerated in a lunatic asylum  – her punishment for announcing her plan to live unmarried with her lover.

Only a couple of weeks ago, an appeal judgment  in the Supreme Court ruled that the 2004 Civil Partnership Act 2004 – which only applies to same-sex couples – is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, a ruling that may open the door for heterosexual couples to enter into civil partnerships, instead of getting married.

What about those of us who want to continue living in sin?

Cohabiting, living without any formal recognition by church or state, is now much more common, and pretty much accepted in most quarters. But its not quite respectable, and there are plenty of carrots and sticks like tax breaks for married couples, legal problems with inheritance and passportry, that lean heavily on unmarried couples.

Less than a century and a quarter ago, it was enough to get you locked up in an asylum and tortured – if you were a woman. Particularly a socialist and feminist, questioning patriarchal marriage and class society…

Living with a lover/partner and not getting married is of course a practice as old as humanity; marriage may have evolved as a way of celebrating/announcing that you were bundling. But aeons of male domination had certainly overlaid the institution of marriage with the patriarchal meaning – this woman in my property, hands off (to other men), and learn your place, b****.

Most religions reinforced this with violent denunciation of ‘living in sin’ – sex, conception outside of ‘holy matrimony’ were abominations and could get you a one way ticket to Satansville. Sex and sharing of lives outside of marriage, opened up the chances of women and men refusing to submit to control in other areas, for one thing, like obeying lords, kings and bosses. Men also feared that women who refused to be branded as property were emasculating them – for some reason many supposedly celibate churchmen were particularly hot on this.

However, resistance to marriage remained powerful, most especially among the poor. Aristos and royal families used marriage as a currency – posh women were traded, sold, to seal alliances, etc. The high profile nature of upper class relations and the belief in the divine superiority of the ruling elites meant that breeding, bloodlines, purity, and the ceremonial pomp of marriage were essential. Not so much for the lower orders, among whom relations conformed a lot less strictly to church and state diktat. Getting together and living with someone, maybe breaking up, leaving a husband and shacking up with someone else, having several partners, were all very common. Marriage was too limiting in a short-lived world where famine and poverty meant a high death rate; where constant war (and forced impressment of men) could mean a husband or partner were sent off to fight/to sea for years… Where you had to pay the church to get married.

[And abuse, selling of women, violence and adultery, abandonment were common too, just as IN marriage – not to see it through rose-tinted glasses.]

This didn’t mean the laws and conventions on marriage were being enforced – that the unmarried weren’t being lectured, shamed in church sermons, sometimes arrested – they were. But the resistance went on, just because co-habitation fitted with many people’s practical needs and desires.

Puritanism, from the 16th century, campaigns for moral reform, from the 17th, and the growth of capitalism, pushed hard at the social relations of co-habitation, and combined to alter the nature of the family. A woman’s role was to give birth to children, raise them, take care of the home, obey her father and then her husband and all other lawful (male) authority.

By the mid-19th century it was forbidden among polite society to cohabit, although it continued quietly among the labouring families of rural communities and also in the poverty-stricken slums of the big cities.

“Among the middle and upper classes, and the ‘respectable’ working classes who imitated the genteel social habits of the class above them, to openly cohabit was considered to be extremely sinful. The scandal damaged the reputations of both parties, though it was much worse for the women, whose ‘reputation’ would be completely ruined.”

Even some early feminists did not approve of ‘living in sin’ – all the risk and danger (especially the chance of having an ‘illegitimate’ child) fell on the woman’s shoulders. Marriage was thought to protect a woman, give her increased respectability, social standing and security.

Edith Lanchester was a feminist, socialist, a member of the early British Marxist grouping the Social Democratic Federation. In 1896 when she announced she intended to live unmarried with her lover, James Sullivan, her family had her forcibly locked up in a mental hospital. A loud campaign by socialists and freethinkers got her released after 4 days.

Born in Hove, Sussex on 28 July 1871, Edith, often known to family and friends as ‘Biddy’, was the fifth child of a well-to-do architect Henry Jones Lanchester and Octavia Ward.

Edith was part of the first generation of middle class women who broke out of the straits of Victorian social control, refused to be used as a bargaining chip or adornment, who fought to get access to education, to find financial independence, get jobs, have careers, determine their own lives.

After attending the Birkbeck Institution and the Maria Grey training college, she worked as a teacher, then as a clerk-secretary for a firm in London.

But in tandem with gaining control over her own destiny as a woman, Edith also developed a socialist politics – not unusual at that time, when the movements of early feminism, socialism, Marxism, anarchism, and others overlapped, influence each other, argued and evolved. Her socialist feminist convictions had led Edith to conclude that the wife’s vow to obey her husband was oppressive and immoral and she did not wish to lose her independence. She was politically opposed to the institution of marriage.

By 1895 Edith was a member of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF), the early British Marxist organisation. She had developed her freethinking to the point that she was prepared to defy the narrow conventions of her background, when she met and fell in love with James (Shamus) Sullivan, a Irish labourer and fellow socialist; in social terms, someone far enough ‘beneath’ her in class position that even marriage would be considered impossible. Marriage, however, was not on Biddy’s mind…

In 1895 she informed her family that, in protest against Britain’s patriarchal marriage laws, she was going to cohabit with Shamus. This didn’t go down well with her family, who had frowned upon her involvement with the dangerous socialists. This was truly shocking stuff for a wealthy professional family, a challenge to all the respectable values that kept society from falling apart and made Britain capital of the world.

Her family tried every argument to dissuade her from this rash act, including the line that she was devaluing herself as a woman, losing her good name, a respectable woman’s most valuable commodity, and that any children would be illegitimate – considered a shameful and despised state for them. In an attempt at compromise, Edith even offered to change her surname and live abroad, but would not agree to marry.

Unable to change her mind, the Lanchester family resorted to asserting male property rights over the rebellious female. On Friday October 25th 1895, Biddy’s father and brothers invaded her house (in the then working class neighbourhood and radical hotspot of Battersea), argued wither, assaulted her when she tried to physically resist, and forcibly subjected her to an examination by Dr George Fielding-Blandford, a leading psychiatrist and author of Insanity and Its Treatment.

The good doctor immediately signed emergency commitment papers under the Lunacy Act of 1890, on the grounds that she must be mentally disturbed to even plan such a union – if she could not see that living unmarried meant ‘utter ruin’ and ‘social suicide’ for a woman, she was of unsound mind and needed to be locked up for her own protection. For her own protection, Edith’s father and brothers tied her wrists and dragged her to a carriage, in which she carted off to the Priory Hospital in Roehampton.

Dr Fielding-Blandford explained his reasoning to the press:

“Lanchester had always been eccentric, and had lately taken up with Socialists of the most advanced order. She seemed quite unable to see that the step she was about to take meant utter ruin. If she had said that she had contemplated suicide a certificate might have been signed without question.

I considered I was equally justified in signing one when she expressed her determination to commit this social suicide. She is a monomaniac on the subject of marriage, and I believe her brain had been turned by Socialist meetings and writings, and that she was quite unfit to take care of herself.”

Thus showing how social and economic ideas that questioned the existing order were labelled as a mental health problem… An advance on the medieval diagnosis, of oppositional thinking or lifestyle choices being the work of the devil and getting you burnt as a witch or heretic? Possibly. Just not much of an advance.

The abduction also illustrated the fear among traditionalists that social change had eroded the boundaries that maintained society in its ideal state, and that allowing women to get educated, think for themselves and act on their own behalf was a terrible error that was leading to all sorts of newfangled monstrousness. ‘Over-education’ was written on the Certificate as cause of Edith’s madness: women should just not be allowed to learn anything that could distract their pretty little heads from serving men’s needs. Its worth noting that the British Medical Journal and the Lancet both felt Blandford may have gone too far by actually signing a medical certificate diagnosing insanity, but still felt socialism was a dangerous influence on women who they saw as ‘mentally weaker’ than men and thus more easily influenced by mad ideas like equality.

After being imprisoned in the Roehampton Asylum, Biddy was subject to mental, physical and sexual abuse. Tortured.

This forcible abduction caused an outcry. Mr Lanchester wrote to the Times, pointing to Edith’s behaviour as evidence of her madness, and raising the mental instability he claimed was in the family, and her ‘overstudy’ and ‘natural impressionability’. However, if the Lanchester family felt justified in violently sectioning Edith, and that rubberstamping her torture would eventually defeat her plans to bring shame on the family name, they had miscalculated.

The abduction blew up into a national scandal that dominated the press for days. The New York Times reported that the affair had “rivet the attention of three kingdoms” and that “no penny paper had printed less than ten columns on this engrossing subject during the week”.

John Burns, MP for Battersea, (and a sometime socialist himself who may well have known Edith personally) intervened on her behalf. Left-leaning papers Reynolds News and the Clarion supported Edith, the latter asserting that ‘a woman has a perfect right to do what she likes with her own body’.

The Marquess of Queensberry offered Edith his support, of a kind, putting up a cheque for £100 as a wedding present if she would go through the legal marriage ceremony but under protest, and then repudiate the ceremony afterward. He justified this by stating:

“I do this because I wish personally to be associated with what will be a strong protest against our present marriage laws, and should be delighted to give such a brave woman a wedding present.”

[Yes, that Marquess of Queensberry, the one who got Oscar Wilde sent to prison for being gay. A very contradictory character: an outspoken atheist – which got him excluded from the house of Lords –  promoter of working class boxing – virtual inventor of the modern rules – violent homophobe… brutal towards his children and wives… questioner of the patriarchy?!]

Protests against the sectioning and torture of Edith began immediately. Some of her SDF comrades joined with the Legitimation League, an organisation set up to campaign to secure equal rights for children born outside of marriage, and organised a public meeting, where a resolution was passed against Fielding-Blandford, and Lanchester’s landlady, SDF activist Mary Gray, was persuaded to being legal action against Edith’s brother for assaulting her during the raid on her home.

Shamus and a group of SDF supporters sang The Red Flag from outside the asylum’s walls and beneath Edith’s barred window on the evening of Sunday 27th October.

Under Section 11 of the 1890 Lunacy Act, Biddy could be detained for up to a week, but further incarceration would require another certificate. After four days of lobbying, by the SDF, with the help of John Burns, Edith was seen on Monday 28th October by two Commissioners of Lunacy, who proclaimed her sane, although they labelled her ideas “foolish”, and ordered her released. She was let out the next morning. She would never see her father alive again.

Although some of her socialist comrades had stood by her, supporting but her “brave and radical challenge by a committed socialist feminist to the institution of marriage and to late Victorian society’s highly constrained and patriarchal conception of femininity”, other radicals, mostly men, were not so helpful. The SDF in fact shied away from officially supporting her in case she brought them into disrepute (?!) As an organisation the Federation never quite got women’s rights or women’s liberation. SDF activist and Marxist theorist Ernest Bax publicly dismissed Edith’s views on marriage from a bourgeois moralistic standpoint. Independent Labour Party leader and sainted Labour guru Keir Hardie accused her of discrediting socialism, worried that ‘the public’ would associate socialism with sexual immorality.

One socialist who did stand in solidarity with Edith was Eleanor Marx, who had been disgusted by the misogynistic failure of male socialists to support and defend Edith’s position, and had herself struggled to enlighten male chauvinist lefties as to the class dimension of the feminist struggle, and the female element in class politics.

She denounced comrade Belfort Bax in a public letter to an open debate on “the woman question”, but Bax, being scared of Eleanor, declined the challenge. Bax was a repulsive early men’s rights activist, who denounced feminism, thought capitalism was bad largely because it subjected men ‘under the heel of women’. Which shows that an expensive private education and inculcation of bourgeois standards can bring you to ‘socialism’ but it can’t necessarily teach you to look around you and see the world as it is. What a prick.

Eleanor Marx hired Edith as her personal secretary, and sheltered her at her home in 1897 when she gave birth to her first child with Shamus, Waldo Lanchester. Press attention again circled the arrival of this ‘love-child’ of controversial parents.

Other female suffragists also rebelled against marriage. Elizabeth Wolstenholmeinitially refused to marry her boyfriend Ben Elmy because they both objected to the anti-woman marriage laws. They cohabited in secret, but when she became pregnant her suffrage colleagues persuaded them to marry because it would severely damage the suffrage movement to be associated with such ‘immorality’.

But there were Victorians in the upper echelons of life who cohabited, and some who made no secret of it. The parents of prominent feminist Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon Bodichon never married, despite having several children (who took their father’s surname). Historians believe this is the reason their children were shunned by their cousins, who included Florence Nightingale.

In spite of the disapproval of bourgeois society and its continuing hold on some of the so-called radical left, and spiting the predictions of the press that he would abandon her and she would end in the workhouse or on the game, Edith and Shamus’ relationship was not a youthful fad – they remained together until his death in 1945. In 1902 Edith gave birth to her second child Elsa. By this time the family were living at 48 Farley Road, Catford.

During World War I, Biddy and Shamus opposed the slaughter, from both internationalist and pacifist principles of Quakerism. Her daughter, Elsa recalled that Biddy and Shamus were “violently anti-war” and that pacifism ‘roared through’ the house.

When their son Waldo was conscripted he registered as a conscientious objector and was imprisoned in Wormwood Scrubs for a year. By 1917 Edith identified politically as a communist, denouncing the ‘socialists’ who had supported the war as ‘practically Tories’ who had betrayed the working class. She remained associated with the Communist Party for a number of years.

The bohemian and freethinking atmosphere that Edith and Shamus were a part of, and the creative and rebellious spirit that had sustained her against her family, passed on to their children.

Upon his release Waldo was supported by his mother to become a puppeteer and weaver. He would become one of the most innovative and well-known puppeteers of the twentieth century.

His sister, Elsa, became even more well-known… a liberated, self-determined and provocative woman, which in itself serves as a further two fingers to the conservative men who locked up her mother. She became a music hall star, singing songs laced with sexual innuendo, then and actress, having trained with dancer Isadora Duncan (but disliked her autocratic and pretentious approach), founded the Children’s Theatre in Soho, in 1918, and later became a Hollywood name… She had her radical moments, too, being a lifelong atheist, a member of the Independent Labour Party after World War 1, and her participation in the London avant-garde dance, theatre, film and performance scenes in the early 1920s. She ran an artistic nightclub, the Cave of Harmony, on the edges of London’s West End, where “Bohemianism, modern dance and musical comedy opened up new identities and spaces for female self-exploration.”

“In 1920 she made her London debut in a music hall act as an Egyptian dancer. About the same time she founded the Children’s Theatre in Soho and taught there for several years. In 1924 she and her partner, Harold Scott, opened a nightclub called the Cave of Harmony. They performed one-act plays of Pirandello and Chekhov and sang cabaret songs. Performances at the Cave were semi-improvised and often included odd ditties such as ‘Rat Catcher’s Daughter’ that Lanchester had dug up out of the magnificent resources of the British Library. The Cave of Harmony became a popular meeting place for London artists and intellectuals, including H. G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, Evelyn Waugh, and James Whale (who would direct The Bride of Frankenstein). A local journalist was the first to immortalise the ‘naughty lady’ in song, fatally struck by her bronze hair and her brassy behaviour. His words make one wish to have known her:12 I may be fast, I may be loose, I may be easy to seduce. I may not be particular To keep the perpendicular. But all my horizontal friends Are Princes, Peers and Reverends. When Tom or Dick or Bertie call, You’ll find me strictly vertical!

Simultaneously, Elsa Lanchester joined a group of radical socialists called the ‘1917 Club’ and became something of their mascot. It fixed her image: a bohemian socialist with loose morals, outrageous behaviour, and brightly coloured unmentionables (the famous pink drawers she claimed never to have owned). Geoffrey Dunlap wrote bitterly about her:13 Pink drawers alas — why should her drawers be pink Their colour gives me furiously to think — Pink drawers — and do they never turn red Flushed at their mistress’ sin while she’s in bed. No they are pink, and peonies in their fair hue Their innocence remains forever new.

During a 1926 comic performance in the ‘Midnight Follies’ at London’s Metropole, a member of the British Royal family walked out as she sang, ‘Please Sell No More Drink to My Father’. Elsa closed her nightclub in 1928 as her film career began in earnest. She later noted that art was ‘a word that cloaked oceans of naughtiness’, and she had her share of it, working as a nude model by day and a theatrical impressario by night.” (from Underground London: From Cave Culture Follies to the Avant-GardeJaap Harskamp)

Later Elsa married actor and director Charles Laughton; there has for decades been a suggestion, fuelled by her own writing, that she was his beard, Laughton being at least bisexual and possibly gay, and that the marriage was designed to mask this. This she have discovered after they married, and she wasn’t best pleased to find it out, but tried her best to accommodate him and support him.

(However, other friends of Laughton have contended that these rumours were not true…)

Elsa’s most famous film role was as the Bride of Frankenstein in the classic 1935 film…

Edith Lanchester died in 1966.

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Civil ceremonies, queer marriage legalised, married persons tax breaks – HAH! You can do it if you really want but  – We salute the spirit of Edith Lanchester.

In the USA they have a brilliant holiday. Loving Day, which celebrates the legal fight of a mixed race couple to beat the racist laws against mixed marriages…

We love that, but also suggest celebrating those of us who choose to live and love without submitting to any nonsense from church or state. We don’t need your vows, stamps, or bits of paper to tell us how to freely share our lives. Neither of us obeys or owns the other.

Past Tense would like to humbly propose 29th October as a candi/date when we can hold an annual ‘’Unmarried Love Day’…

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An entry in the
2018 London Rebel History Calendar

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Today in London transport history, 1891: The first London bus strike starts.

A history of the first strike by London transport workers in 1891, which was over pay and conditions and largely successful. The article also contains some information about developments in bus workers’ unions around the same period.

The first person to try and organise the London tram and bus workers into a union, was a young barrister called Thomas Sutherst.

He managed, with considerable help from the London Trades Council to organise between two and three thousand tram workers, into The London County Tramway & Omnibus Employees union founded in 1889.

London had some 8-9,000 bus and tram workers in 1891, the three main London Tram and Bus companies running services in the Capital were the London Road Car Company, Tillings and the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC), the later the LGOC was by far the largest .

However, the LGOC was a notoriously bad employer, with employees sacked for “The slightest cause of complaint” crews were even expected to contribute to a fund to cover accidents, repairs and fines levied for any misdemeanours.

London bus and tram drivers wages in 1891 were 7 shillings a day and conductor 4 shillings 6 pence, this was comparatively low compared to other manual workers. They also worked long hours, between fourteen to sixteen hours a day with as little as ten minutes for lunch.

However, it was the introduction of new ticket machines that sparked the first ever London bus and tram strike in July 1891. The issue being the ability of the conductors to keep a percentage of the fares to subsidise their meagre earnings.

Two mass meetings were called by the union, both starting after midnight, to enable crews to meet their shift obligations.

Over 3,000 bus and tram workers attended the first mass meeting at Fulham Town Hall in first week of June 1891 and a second meeting the following day at the Great Assembly Hall, Mile End Road.

The Trade Unionist magazine of 6th June 1891 reported the Fulham Town Hall meeting and included the following remarks

“Great excitement prevailed during the whole meeting and speakers were frequently interrupted with snatches of song, Brakes and private buses conveyed the men to their different districts of London in broad daylight”.

The London County Tramway & Omnibus Employees, union demands included:

  • 12 hour day
  • One clear day off every fortnight
  • A weeks notice of dismissal
  • Abolition of stoppages for accidentals
  • Daily wage of 8 shillings a day for drivers, 6 shillings for conductors and 5 shillings for horse keepers & washers

When their demands were not met, the first London bus and tram strike commenced at midnight on Sunday 7th June 1891.

The strike seemed to have secure generally high level of support from the public, media and the vast majority of bus and trams crews answered the strike call. Some men remained at work, but their efforts to take the buses and trams out were frustrated by the “angry mobs” of strikers.

The strike soon spread to bus crews in other companies, the London Road Car Company, who came out on strike in sympathy and demanding the 12 hour day.

London’s other bus and tram company Tillings, was unaffected by strike and continued to run a normal service, having agreed to the unions terms earlier.

One area of surprising support for the strikers came from the “entrepreneurs” who organised “Pirate buses”, far from undermining the strike, they actually maintained the strike by paying large donations to the strikers to keep the strike going, thereby pocketing large profits, while providing only a limited service.

On the second day of the strike the bus and tram unions President, Thomas Sutherst met the LGOC and LRRC directors to discuss the strikers demands, they agreed a 12 hour day but no significant movement on pay.

The London bus and tram workers continued the strike for the rest of the week finally securing the following agreement.

  • 12 hour day
  • Drivers 6 shillings 6 pence a day (after one year)
  • Conductors 5 shillings a day (after one year)
  • Horse keepers and washers 5 shillings 6 pence

As well as Thomas Sutherst, George Shipton Secretary of the London Trades Council “worked day and night addressing meetings and organising pickets” collected nearly £1,000 for the strikers

The “Great Bus strike” was called off on Saturday 13th June 1891, after one week on strike, final agreement was reached on the 18th June 1891, however the return to work had not gone smoothly, some activists had been victimised and despite Sutherst assertion at Fulham Town hall that their would be no resumption of work until every union member reinstated, this failed to materialise and despite the efforts of even the Lord Mayor.

While the strike was not totally effective in secure all its demands, importantly the union had won the right to a 12 hour day as well as putting down a marker for future generations of bus and tram workers.

After the strike had concluded The London Trades Council agreed to pay £10 towards Fred Hammill costs while he organised the busmen’s union in the Capital.

One interesting aspect of the strike was the attempt by a group of strikers to establish a London Co-operative Omnibus company to rival the private enterprise giants.

They even purchased an omnibus to the front they attached a broom symbolising how they were determined to sweep the LGOC and LRCC away.

Thomas Sutherst the unions President called for the “municipilisation” by the Council and arguing that the council should buy the whole tram lines and rolling stock, as had happened in Huddersfield (The first municipal tram system opened in January 1883)

The demise of Sutherst, London County Tramway & Omnibus Employee union was the result of the general, onslaught by the employees after the original flame of “New Unionism” that had spilt out the London Dock Strike of 1899. But “in its short life it was a useful one and it was responsible for considerable improvement in working conditions of bus and tram crews”

Later a Bus, Tram, Motor Workers Union merged with the London Cab Drivers Union (the later established in 1894) to form the London & Provincial Union of Licenced Vehicle Workers (LPU) established in 1913 but also known as the “Red Button Union” because of the colour of their union badge. The L PU was strongly influenced by syndicalism, and distinguished itself from the start as a highly political union, supporting nationalisation of transport and opposing world war, while supporting the Russian revolution of 1917. The LPU was prominent in the August 1911 London strike wave that hit the capital as well as the 1915 Tram strike.

While the union was now dominated by tram workers it maintained a separate London cab owners section under the leadership of branch secretary Blundy .

The LPU’s Journal was entitled the “Licensed Vehicle Trades Record”, edited by George Sanders and produced fortnightly and cost 1d.

The other union to have membership amongst London Tram workers was the Manchester based Amalgamated Association of Tramway & Vehicle Workers (AAT) established in 1889.

The AAT tram union (which had members in West London at Chiswick, Hanwell and Fulwell) secured a larger base in London when it merged with the small London Tramways Employees Association in 1910. The AAT was known as the “Blue Button Union” again because of the colour of its union badge.

See the article by John Grigg on the April 1909 Fullwell Tram strike led by Jack Burns

In late 1919 early 1920 The LPU (109,425 members) and AAT (56,979 members) merged in to form the United Vehicle Workers.

The United Vehicle Workers union became part of the Transport & General Workers Union on its establishment on January 1st 1922.

This article was taken from the Hayes People’s History website and can be found here

 

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2018 London Rebel History Calendar

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Today in London’s ?radical? history: the Fabian Society holds its first conference, 1892.

The first conference of the ‘moderate socialist’ Fabian Society was held in Essex Hall, off the Strand, in central London, over the 6th/7th February 1892. That the Fabians didn’t hold another conference for over twenty years suggests the experience wasn’t either useful or comfortable. The first history of the Society was prepared for this conference, by George Bernard Shaw, and later reproduced as Fabian Tract no. 41.

The tone of the conference reflected a growing move away from the socialist groups that the Fabians uneasily co-existed with – speakers were hostile to the Social Democratic Federation and generally anti-Marxist. The main political issue – whether to support only specifically socialist groups – was rejected. The Society’s links to the more mainstream and moderate Liberal Party continued.

Non-conformist minister and ILP member Reginald Campbell called the Fabian Society “aristocratic socialists… a highly superior set of people, and they know it thoroughly.” With their pragmatic and gradualist program, the Society was to long outlast and outgrow their origins, as a more ‘politically oriented offshoot of the puritan self-improvers of the Fellowship of the New Life.

The inclination of many early Fellowship members towards immediate political action clashed with the more spiritual and ‘lifestylist’ Fellowship quite early on, leading in late 1883 to the stirrings that gave birth to the Fabian Society, which like the older group met in houses around Bloomsbury in its early days (for instance Stewart Headlam’s house). As Frank Podmore (a moving force in the ‘secession’) put it, many Fellowship members aspired to a group built “on somewhat broader and more indeterminate lines.” (It’s not that often that lefties split demanding a LESS specific program!)

Or as future Fabian leading light George Bernard Shaw put it: “certain members of [the Fellowship], modestly feeling that the Revolution would have to wait an unreasonably long time if postponed until they personally had attained perfection… established themselves independently as the Fabian Society.”

Eventually joining the Labour Party, by orthodox accounts, the Fabians became a guiding force of reformist state ‘socialist’ ideas in Britain – up until our own times… Their influence in the Labour party culminated in the post 1945 ‘Labour landslide’ Parliament, with Prime Minister Clem Atlee, 9 cabinet ministers and a majority of the 394 Labour MPs members of the Society. The Fabians’ own claims would give it a huge influence on social change, especially between the 1880s and 1914, claims widely accepted by historians.

However, Marxist historian Eric Hosbawm disputes much of the Fabians’ impact, crediting them with excellent Public Relations, helped by the high number of journalists in their ranks: 10% of the male membership in 1892.

He identifies their main claims to influence as

  • having destroyed the influence of revolutionary Marxism in Britain
  • to have inspired the Labour party
  • to have laid the foundations of the welfare state, or at least municipal reform, through the London County Council.

Hobsbawm dismisses these claims as largely self-mythological.

They didn’t destroy the influence of Marxism in Britain – there wasn’t ever really a substantial Marxist strand in the British socialist movement, compared to explicitly reformist trends.

Neither were they inspirers, or even pioneers of the Labour Party. In contrast to other 1880s-90s socialist groups they in fact opposed the idea of an independent working class party… Only when their other projects failed did they join, not really till the 1910s.

As to the welfare state: they did exercise their greatest influence in drafting propaganda on welfare reform for labour movement, and leading Fabians Sidney and Beatrice Webb were in regular contact with actual or future policymakers in government, opposition or civil service… BUT while their fact finding etc was respected, their own proposals were rarely adopted, in fact most welfare reforms were implemented in specifically non-Fabian forms… (The left wing Liberal tradition influenced by the ‘Cambridge Marshalians’ and JA Hobson were far more influential in the fundamental Liberal Party 1906 welfare reforms for example).

Even their claims for role in municipal social change are exaggerated.

The Fabians emerged not from the working class or the radical-liberal traditions that dominated nineteenth century left movements, nor adhered to newer ideas like Marxism. They were at odds with most other socialist groups, opposed to even the popular idea of independent working class party, supported imperialism, wouldn’t take position on Boer War, and wobbled on important questions of trade unionism and workers rights etc. They lacked contact with workers; though the Society attracted an inflow of workers in 1892 after the ‘new unions’ upsurge, and many affiliated regional societies formed (which could in theory have formed the nucleus of a socialist party), the leadership blew it or couldn’t have pulled it off, and most of its provincial societies joined the Independent Labour Party, formed the following year.

But the Fabians were equally out of tune with Liberals, though permeation of the Liberal Party was pretty much their policy for years. In fact a substantial anti-Liberal element drove away Liberal intellectuals and economists attracted to them early on, who developed the left wing liberalism that developed the ideas on which social welfare reforms of 1906 and 1911 were based (a strand which also began to reject laissez faire economics); the socially critical, left wing intellectuals like JA Hobson, WH Massingham, who even after the effective demise of the Liberal Party in the 1920s developed social democratic theory: leading on to Beveridge, Keynes, and Marshal.

Fabian membership boiled down into three main groups:

  • members of the traditional middle and upper classes who had developed a social conscience or rebelled against/disliked modern bourgeois capitalism;
  • self-made professionals, and civil servants: including journalists, writers, professional politicos and organisers, managers, scientists… “brainworkers”;
  • independent women, reasonably newly ’emancipated’, often earning their own living, most often as writers, teachers, or typists…

‘New’ men or women, then, rising through social structure, or creating new ones; the new intellectual or literary or professional strata; mostly salaried middle classes, uncommon then but growing rapidly, an administrative, scientific, would-be technocratic elite. This group dominated the Fabian leadership, and Fabian theory; its social composition directly gave birth to the Fabian conception of socialism (especially the Webbs) to be administered by an enlightened professional managerial caste.

By the 1880s a separation between ownership and management was growing in private firms, with a corresponding huge rise in the numbers and importance of professional salaried managers, admin workers; there was also a steep growth in the civil service, journalism, and so on.

The Webbs were keen observers of this, and of the ethos of this emerging ‘caste’, especially efficiency, They thought middle class professionals would play a big part in achieving socialism, bigger in their eyes than workers. Ramsay Mac called for “a revolution directed from the study; to be one, not of brutal need but of intellectual development, to be in fact, a revolution of the comparatively well-to-do.”

The Fabian conception of socialism never theorised the working class as the only or even the main agents of change, or based their views on class struggle. In practice they fell back on usual vague ideas of education, progress, enlightenment in all classes, the general growth of unselfishness and social conscience. A vaguely expressed idea of a gradual evolution in rational self-interest and social consciousness among the right sort of people… The middle classes wouldn’t oppose socialism as they would perceive its necessity and reasonableness, and their own self-interest, in such a society, that “this form of social organisation really suited them just as well if not better than the capitalist.”

The Fabians theorised a new society, but based this new society very much on themselves, their actual practice, and sense of their mission, their own importance, their role in this society.

Hobsbawm warns that “No hypothesis which seeks to link ideas with their social background can be proved to everyone’s satisfaction”, but suggests we have to see the Fabian Society “in terms of the middle class reactions to the breakdown of mid-Victorian certainties, the rise of new strata, new structures, new policies within British capitalism: as an adaptation of the British middle classes to the era of imperialism.”

The upsurge in public and private administration, science, journalism, professional writing and statistics/social sciences, from the 1870s on, did mean these people were in new and uncertain social positions, and hadn’t necessarily developed identification with existing structures or classes. There also was hostility and class snobbery from the old political and social upper classes towards salaried professionals, which you can see in the sneering at clerks and socially ambitious bourgeoisie that permeates Late Victorian literature.

As Hobsbawm says “the middle class socialism of the Fabians reflects the unwillingess, or the inability, of the people for whom they spoke, to find a firm place in the middle and upper class structure of late Victorian Britain.”

Which implies alienation, or not fitting in, both discomfort from from their side, and disdain from the existing structures; there may, though Hobsbawm doesn’t say this, also have been a sense of their own importance and abilities and a feeling of being unappreciated, and some element of knowing their own superiority over what they saw as a useless idle rich class.

Despite their origins in the Fellowship of the New Life, and the influence of William Morris on some of their early thinkers, the Fabians came to some radically different conclusions than both their ‘parent’ group and Morris. To some extent, like Morris and his sometime mentor John Ruskin [of whom hopefully more in a couple of days], the core of the Fabians were expressing the mid/late 19th century crisis in the new middle classes, the ‘bourgeois’ alienation from their own existence – but Ruskin and Morris, and their disciples, resolved their dissatisfaction with modern capitalist modes of production by going somewhat medievally-craftsy, while Fabians embraced the social and structural changes capitalism brought, though did see the possibility of a new political order. Certainly William Morris had a vision of really different society socially and economically, while the Fabian vision is not immediately very attractive.

Sidney Webb thought there were no practical reasons (though many historical and social ones) for this new class or caste to adhere to capitalism, especially the laissez-faire variety; THEY are crucial to the functioning of modern economy, both in the private and public sector, but neither private enterprise or the profit motive is crucial to THEM or their work…

BUT as Hobsbawm points out, the type of ‘socialism’ they were likely to be attracted to was then likely to aspire towards the technocratic, hierarchical, if meritocratic, based on management by an elite: fulfilling their vision of their own role in current and possible future societies. “So we can confidently predict that… [the manager] will remain for all time an indispensable functionary, whatever may be the form of society.” (from S. Webb, The Works Manager To-day, 1917.) 
This concept of socialism also goes some way to explaining the later enthusiasm of some leading early Fabians, like the Webbs and Shaw, for the Stalinist USSR; Lenin and the Bolsheviks also saw socialism as a question of management by the proper authorities, not of a transformation of daily life organised from below.

All of which does provoke two questions – how much did the Fabians really speak for these castes, and did this sense of not fitting in, or not being appreciated, dissolve over subsequent decades, ie were these groups happier with rewards of capitalism and more integrated later? Clearly only a small minority of these new professional and managerial strata joined the ‘socialist movement’, though others expressed alienation in different ways.

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An entry in the
2018 London Rebel History Calendar

Check out the Calendar online

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Today in London history: riot against enclosure of One Tree Hill, 1897… and open space under threat in Croydon…

Today we remember how, 120 years ago, South Londoners saved one open green space and re-opened it to the public… while in another South London borough, Croydon, green spaces are at risk of being sacrificed to development.

One Tree Hill, in South London’s Honor Oak, had always been an open space, a traditional gathering spot for locals, more recently for recreation. ‘Rolling down One Tree Hill’ is referred to in Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘The Sorcerer’ as a disreputable Victorian pastime!

The Hill marked the on the border of the two parishes of Lewisham and Camberwell (previously it also marked the boundaries of the counties of Kent and Surrey). Many visitors also came to enjoy the view of London from the Hill, easier in those times as the hilltop was less wooded.

Such a spot, a distinctive hill, especially marking a boundary, tends to gather myths; some historians used to assert that One Tree Hill was the spot where Boudicca’s rebellion was crushed in battle by the Romans (somewhat dubiously; the battle probably took place in the midlands). Queen Elizabeth I was also supposed to have drunkenly knighted the ‘one tree’, or Oak of Honour that gives the hill (and Honor Oak) its name.

A number of old footpaths ran across the hill, from Forest Hill to the Brockley Road and Peckham Rye.

“A Spirit of Unrest”

In Autumn 1896 One Tree Hill was suddenly enclosed by a golf club, who had bought if from the previous owners, and erected a sixfoot fence around it! Locals were understandably annoyed. A local “Enclosure of Honor Oak Hill Protest Committee” was formed, which met from August 1897 in the Samuel Bowley Coffee Tavern,

Peckham Rye. twenty-three original members rose to about one hundred and fifty, including members of the Camberwell and Lewisham local Vestries (precursors to today’s Borough Councillors). They got support from the Commons Preservation Society, and began a laborious process of collecting evidence about traditional access to the Hill, whether there were any traditional common rights etc.

Unfortunately this process did unearth the fact that despite what was widely claimed, One Tree Hill had never been part of Sydenham Common, kyboshing any claim for common rights there.

Meanwhile regular public protest meetings, in Spring-Summer 1897, many held in the open air on Peckham Rye. But according to committee member Councillor John Nisbet, “a spirit of unrest, at what was termed the slow methods of the Executive, began to show itself amongst a small section of the members…”

At a meeting of the Committee, a resolution to defend the hill by pulling down the fences was defeated. But in late August, the Golf Club prosecuted two lads who had broken down part of the fence and ‘trespassed’ on the hill, and children who wandered through a broken section to pick flowers were also attacked by a fierce guard dog belonging to a security guard watching the grounds.

Further failed attempts to get the Committee to authorise direct action against the fence led to a resolution at a mass meeting on October 3rd on the Rye, which condemned the Club’s prosecution of the two ’trespassers’, who had just been convicted & fined and voted for the removal of the fence the following Sunday.

On this day, October 10th, supposedly as many as 15,000 people assembled at One Tree Hill; after apparently waiting a while for an appointed demolisher to arrive, a section of the crowd in Honor Oak Park pulled down parts of the fence. The crowd then rushed onto the hill from Honor Oak Park and Honor Oak Rise. “The hill was soon covered with a disorderly multitude, and it was quickly found necessary to reinforce the police who had been posted to keep order.” Some of the crowd attacked the house of the grounds keeper, (he of the vicious dog), and only the arrival of more cops kept the rioters at bay. The more constitutional element attempted to take control, starting a meeting and denouncing the “unseemly and riotous conduct taking place…an appeal was made for quiet and more orderly conduct…the crowds, after singing ‘Rule Britannia’, dispersed …”

Although the Protest Committee disassociated itself from the violence, two former members, Ellis and Polkinghorn, who had left the Committee, frustrated with its slow progress, and three friends, publicly went to pull down a section of fence at Honor Oak Rise, on

October 16th, stating they’d been instructed to do so on behalf of the public (which seems a reasonable defence!) Their names and addresses were taken – the Golf Club promptly sued them in the High Court for trespass.

“A Lurid Glare upon the Upturned Faces”

The following day, Sunday October 17th, a very large crowd gathered, obviously expecting trouble. Estimates vary from 50,000 to 100,000 people present., which may be slightly exaggerated. They were faced by 500-odd police, some mounted, patrolling the hill, who fought off several attempts to demolish the fence and rush the hill, mostly at the south side, overlooking Honor Oak Park. At least 12,000 people were said to be hemmed in here, many of who stoned the cops, charging them several times and being charged in return. “Late in the day a furze bush was fired, and this cast a lurid glare upon the upturned faces of the packed mass of onlookers.” Ten people were nicked, two of whom got sent down for a month, three for fourteen days and the rest fined.

The following Sunday, the 24th, thousands again gathered at the Hill, though there was no trouble.

The Protest Committee condemned the rioting, issuing appeals for order. They maintained the way forward lay in its inquiries into rights of way over the hill, and in its attempts to persuade the Camberwell & Lewisham Vestries that the enclosure should be reversed. The Committee’s investigations had revealed several rights of way across the hill: at an inquiry in January 1898, the Joint Committee of the two vestries voted to go to court to challenge the enclosure.

They sought advice from the Commons Preservation Society. This process dragged on, into 1899; meanwhile the Golf Club had obtained a court judgment for trespass against the five members of the “One Tree Hill Commons Rights Defence League”. The South London Press called these men “the extremists – the irregulars – of the one Tree hill Movement…” and claimed that the more respectable committee had refused to let them see any of the evidence they had collected, to help in their defence.

Over the next few years, though the riots never revived, the process of negotiating for a sale of the hill ground on, with Camberwell Borough Council putting pressure on the owner of the Hill, J. E. Ward, to sell the land. Ward dug his heels in, asking for a huge amount for the land. Eventually the London County Council stuck a clause in their 1902 General Powers Bill, for a compulsory purchase – leading to the Hill being bought for £6,100 in 1904, and re-opened to the public.

In 1997, a hand-crafted centenary bench was put up to remember the anti-enclosure protests, though it has since vanished.

It is still a very lovely open space now, definitely worth a visit/picnic, with its occasional great view of London through the trees that have grown up since the enclosure riots. In the spirit of the miscreants who rolled down the hill and the anti-enclosure irregulars who ripped up the fences, it was from here that the Association of Autonomous Astronauts tried to launch their independent ventures into space in 1999.

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This text is an excerpt from Rights of Common: The Fight Against the Theft of Sydenham Common and One Tree Hill, published by past tense.
Available from our publications page 

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The story of how One Tree Hill was kept open is not just of historical interest… because the struggle against enclosure and the destruction of open space in South London is hardly a dead issue.

Public services today are stretched to breaking point by financial austerity, (imposed ideologically to take back as many resources as possible from all to aid the push for them to be sold to private interest). Local authorities everywhere are debating what to cut. One area under increasing threat is open green space; allegedly expensive to maintain. Some local authorities are proposing to make cuts of 50 or 60 % to budgets for parks. As a result, there are the beginnings of changes, developments that look few and far between now, but could be the thin end of the wedge.

So you have councils looking to renting green space to businesses, charities, selling off bits, shutting off parks or parts of them for festivals and corporate events six times a year… Large parts of Hyde Park and Finsbury Park are regularly fenced off for paying festivals already; this could increase.

At the same time, pressure for building of housing in London is also ramped up to eleven, driven by a housing shortage created by the destruction of social housing, a financial bubble based on property prices, and the lop-sided UK economy’s obsession with London. Although thousands of private flats and houses have been built, most people can’t afford them. But the money awash in construction, twinned with a focus on regenerating some areas (code for moving working class people out and middle class people in) had led many London councils into alliances with property developers, and to making deals to build everywhere they can, usually with a net reduction in social housing. These pressures have led the capital to a powderkeg situation, and upheavals and rebellions among both social and private tenants are increasing.

Everywhere slivers of green not protected by law are vanishing; or social housing with access and views over green space is being replaced with new developments for the rich (as at Woodberry Down, or West Hendon). The threat to open space is part and parcel of the massive changes underway in the city, attempts to permanently alter the capital in favour of the wealthy, driving those who can’t afford it to the margins or out of the city entirely.

Close to where locals defended One Tree Hill in 1897, South London’s Croydon Council are facing pressure from a government-appointed inspector to deregister many open spaces in the borough, which many see as a step towards reducing longstanding protections which prevent them being built on.

Long years of struggle produced some statutory legal protection for commons, greens and woods, and many other bylaws and designations of scientific interest etc have helped keep green places from destruction. But this can be swept away…

The Local Plan, which has gone through numerous drafts and changes since work began on it in 2012, was reviewed by the government-appointed inspector at an inquiry earlier this year. His findings have been put out for consultation.

Among the amendments the inspector has recommended to the Local Plan is to take away protection from more than 70 of Croydon’s parks and open spaces, including many areas that like One Tree Hill, were once part of the Great North Wood. According to the inspector, they are just not “special” enough.

The council had proposed designating a raft of parks and open spaces with a new planning status, “Local Green Space”. But the inspector was unimpressed with the case made by the council for many of the parks and spaces, including Rotary Field, Purley, Biggin Wood, Addiscombe Railway Park, Millers Pond, Coulsdon Coppice and even All Saints churchyard in Sanderstead.

The inspector has thus drawn a red line through all these open spaces, and many more, to the consternation of residents’ and friends’ groups. They fear that without some form of planning protection, it will be all too easy to bulldoze their park for the next batch of flats.

It may be that Croydon’s own somewhat inconsistent attitude had confused the inspector, Paul Clark. The council has encouraged one developer to build on a section of Queen’s Gardens, in front to the Town Hall, in the redevelopment of the Taberner House site. Queen’s Gardens is the only green, open space in the town centre.

A neglected scrap of playing fields at the bottom of Duppas Hill Park also looks like it will be built on for a school and housing, while the green acres of playing fields at Coombe Woods have been recommended for bulldozing to make way for a selective free school.

A consultation over the inspector’s proposals and the Local Plan has just ended, so it remains to be seen what happens next. But this pressure is likely to be seen elsewhere, as open space is seen as less of a priority than housing, and the vast profits to be made therefrom. Now is the time to be on guard, if we want to preserve our free access to the green places that matter to us.

It may seem like parks, and other green spaces are givens; things that can’t be taken away. But what seem like certainties can be lost before we realise. Look at way social housing have been dismantled over the past 30 years. In the 1960s council housing was taken for granted as a right by millions: it has been reduced to a last resort, which current government proposals could sweep away. Or the way the NHS is being parcelled up into private providers… there are many who see green space as a luxury and something that can be got rid of or at least shunted off into the hands of some quango… Whatever gains we have, whatever we win, whatever rights we enjoy, came from long generations of battling  – the moment we stop, rest on our laurels, powerful forces start pushing back against everything we have won.

ruggles to preserve open space is that people won because they considered the places they were defending to be theirs, to belong to them, even when that stood in opposition to the legal ‘reality’… Although sometimes relying on those traditions and common rights as the basis for legal argument didn’t work, often when it formed the backbone for direct action and a collective campaigning approach, this sense of the commons being ‘ours’ could overcome all the power of law, profit and parliament. This is a lesson worth
taking when we think about how we view open space: although we can take many inspirations from our history, reliance on the past can not be a defence, we need to be re-forging a sense that the resources of the world are for all of us, for people’s enjoyment, not for the profit of a few.

We need to be redefining what is ours, collectively, in opposition and defiance of the laws and fences built to exclude us; and not just when it comes to green or urban space, but for the whole world. In the midst of 21st century London, a whirlwind of global profit, backed by a government with a determined ruling class agenda, is uprooting
communities, altering the landscape, destroying or severely hamstringing any right to social housing, welfare, health, education, for increasing numbers of us.
What are we going to do in response?

Read more on the Croydon Plan here and here

Get involved to defend open space:

Open Spaces Society – Founded as the Commons Preservation Society in 1865; the CPS played a huge part in legal actions and campaigning to preserve green space nationally, and was instrumental in the passing of legislation to protect commons. The Society today remains committed to defending open space, footpaths and rights of way. http://www.oss.org.uk

National Federation of Parks of Green Spaces  a UK network of area-wide Forums. We exist to promote, protect and improve the UK’s parks and green spaces by linking together all the friends and users Forums/networks throughout the country. http://www.natfedparks.org.uk/

The Land Is Ours – campaigns peacefully for access to the land, its resources, and the decision-making processes affecting them, for everyone. http://tlio.org.uk/about-tlio/

The Land Justice Network (formerly Land for What?) is a network of groups, individuals and networks who recognise the need to change the way land is owned, used, distributed and controlled in the UK. https://www.landjustice.uk/

The Ramblers – ‘Britain’s walking charity, working to protect and expand the places people love to walk and promote walking for health and pleasure’. http://www.ramblers.org.uk

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An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

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Today in London radical history: Police raid Fitzrovia house looking for ‘French anarchist bombers’, 1892.

As we have already noted on this blog, late 19th century London was home to large numbers of exiled socialists, radicals, and anarchists.

In the early 1890s, French anarchists, very much inflamed against social injustice and repression, became obsessed with the idea of revenge and individual acts of terror against representatives of the bourgeois society that they hated.

Heavy repression against workers organising to improve conditions in 1891, including police shootins on demonstrations, resulting in nine deaths, and arrests, beatings and jailings of anarchists, sparked a campaign of bombings against members of the judiciary by the anarchist Ravachol. Ravachol’s arrest in turn led to further bomb attacks by other French anarchists.

Several of those involved were suspected of having fled to or have been based in London. Two French anarchist exiles, Theodule Meunier and Jean-Pierre Francois, were wanted for alleged involvement for a bomb attack on the Café Very, in revenge for the part a waiter there had played in informing against Ravachol.

A cabinet maker by trade, Meunier had joined the French anarchist movement during the early 1890s. It was said of Meunier that he was “…the most remarkable type of revolutionary illuminist, an ascetic and a visionary, as passionate for the search for the ideal society as Saint-Just, and as merciless as seeking his way towards it.”

On June 27th 1892, Inspector Melville of (Special Branch) and 30 officers raided the houses of Delbacque, a French exile who lived in 30 Charlotte St, Fitzrovia, an area teeming with French political refugees and their projects. They smashed open doors and wrecked the place, but failed to find either Francois or Meunier. Further raids in July also netted no bombers… There were rumoured appearances by Francois (to the adulation of the faction that enthusiastically supported ‘propaganda by the deed’) at the anarchist Autonomie Club, though it was was supposed to be awash with police informers. This may or may not have resulted in the tip-off that led Melville to be seeking Francois in Poplar, where he was living in the name of Johnson. Unluckily he came across him in the street in October (it took Melville and four cops to arrest him; his wife grabbed for a gun when their lodging was raided in turn).

In fact there was little concrete evidence against Francois, although he was extradited to France.

Meunier was not nicked until 1894, when Melville grabbed him in Victoria Station. He was also extradited and sentenced to 25 years penal servitude. He died in penal colony in Cayenne in 1907, stating “I only did what I had to do. If I could start over again, I would do the same thing.”

I am not sure what happened to Francois…

Interestingly, in order to extradite Meunier to France, the British courts re-defined the idea of a political crime. To a certain extent Britain tolerated ‘political’ refugees, nationalists, socialists, so long as they fitted into certain ‘acceptable’ parameters – only operating against their own government, fighting for democratic reforms, only organizing military conflict against soldiers- broadly aiming to replace one group in power with another. Political refugees fitting in with this could often expect a reasonable hearing in the liberal British courts, and requests for extradition from abroad might well be refused.

Many anarchists however refused to abide by the ‘rules’ that liberal governments were prepared to accept: they considered all authority as an enemy, aimed at the abolition of all governments; also, increasingly in the 1880s and 90s, some active in those sections of anarchism which believe ‘propaganda by the deed’ would inspire the overthrow of hierarchical society, felt that targeting politicians for assassination was OK, and even bourgeois civilians generally were the source of oppression of the working class, so they were also fair game.

Governments could all get behind the idea that this was just not cricket. The extradition court in Meunier’s case saw the idea of a political offence re-drawn to except anarchists, who be rejecting politics, refusing to aim at the replacement of one form of domination by another, thus excluded themselves from being ruled political. And could thus be extradited without anyone’s sense of their own liberal fairness being bruised. QED.

Special Branch’s Inspector Melville was to become a leading thorn in the side of the anarchist scene in late 19th/early 20th century London. Apart from rounding up exiles where he could, he built a formidable spying apparatus which not only collected information on anarchists of various nationalities, but also sponsored fake bomb plots to get as much publicity and put away as many comrades as he could. The notorious Walsall anarchist bomb plot was thought up in his fertile mind. He later rose to head Special Branch, and then became the secret chief of what later became MI5.

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

Today in London’s rebel history: released from prison, Oscar Wilde stays with radical vicar Stewart Headlam, Bloomsbury, 1897.

In the mid-1890s, playwright Oscar Wilde was at the height of his fame, lauded for his brilliant, witty theatrical works, poetry, and novels, and his lavish lifestyle and sharp, barbed comments.

But his star was about to crash and burn… Wilde’s relationship with Lord Alfred (“Douglas”) was to lead to his imprisonement and disgrace.

Wilde was forty years old at the time of the trials; Lord Alfred was sixteen years his junior but no child, at age twenty-four, and certainly not an innocent. They first met in the early summer of 1891. Douglas was a devoted fan of Wilde’s novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, claiming that he had read it either nine or fourteen times. Lord Alfred was a slight, handsome, impetuous young man who already had a very difficult relationship with his father. He had homosexual relations with several boys at Oxford and was blackmailed in the spring of 1892. He was especially irresponsible about money, often insisting that Wilde spend lavish amounts on him.

Lord Alfred’s father, the Eighth Marquess of Queensberry (1844–1900), was irate about the relationship between his son and Wilde and sought to discredit Wilde. In February 1895, he left a card for Wilde at the Albemarle Club, addressed “To Oscar Wilde posing Somdomite,” misspelling the last word. Homosexual activity was illegal in England.

Unwisely, Wilde resolved to sue Queensberry for libel – a fatal decision, since the accusation was true, and Queensberry’s legal team was able to prove it. Wilde’s case collapsed, and he was arrested and charged with sodomy.

The second trial began on April 26. Clarke again represented Wilde, this time without fee. The most dramatic part of the trial involved a poem written by Douglas and titled “Two Loves,” which ends with the words, “I am the love that dare not speak its name.” When asked what that might mean, Wilde responded with such eloquence that many in the gallery burst into applause, although some hissed. Wilde alluded to Michelangelo and Shakespeare, among others, as older men who had “deep, spiritual affection” for younger men in “the noblest form of affection.” He argued that such relationships were much misunderstood in the nineteenth century and the reason for his being on trial. One dare not speak the name of this noble love, he concluded, because it was so misunderstood. The speech probably influenced the jury’s inability to agree on a verdict.

The third trial, a second attempt to prosecute Wilde (after the hung jury of the second trial), opened on May 22. Again, friends urged Wilde to flee the country, but he wrote to Lord Alfred that he “did not want to be called a coward or a deserter.” The prosecution benefited from the previous trial and won. Wilde was found guilty of indecent behavior with men, a lesser charge but one for which he received the maximum penalty under the Criminal Law Amendment Act: two years at hard labour.

Imprisoned in several prisons, Newgate, Pentonville, Wandsworth, and finally Reading Gaol, Wilde served two years, colapsing and becoming very sick under the pressure of hard labour. Many of Wilde’s friends abandoned him, and his adoring public shunned the former profit of a decadent age…

One who stood by Wilde however, was socialist clergyman Stewart Headlam. Headlam had found half of the £5000 bail money set for Wilde when he was remanded for criminal trial in 1895, though he did not know him personally. Later, on 18-19th May 1897 Wilde visited Headlam’s Upper Bedford Place house, after release from Pentonville Prison, on his way out of the country. Headlam’s support for such a contraversial figure as Wilde cost Headlam’s Guild of St Matthew many members – he was also threatened by a reactionary mob, and his housemaid fled his house in horror! Headlam was later one of first 24 to receive a presentation copy of Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol.

From Bloomsbury, Wilde fled to France, where estranged from his family, pretty much skint, he lived in exile, increasingly resorting to drink, and never to return to England. He died in 1900. His grave in Paris’ Pere Lachaise Cemetery is worth a visit – last time I was there, it covered in thousands of colourful kisses and wondrous global graffiti tributes. It didn’t then merit a constant security guard prescence like nearby (and much more tedious icon) Jim Morrison’s immortal resting place, but Wilde’s has since apparently had a glass screen erected to prevent the alleged damage the kisses are doing to the headstone.

While Headlam did not approve of homosexuality, his willingness to help Wilde may have been due to the fact that “others close to him had been caught in similar sexual tangles”. Headlam’s own short-lived marriage in 1878 had been to a lesbian, Beatrice Pennington. Headlam’s close relations with other homosexuals included his Eton master William Johnson and his friend C. J. Vaughan.

Headlam may have been vilified for sheltering Wilde: but he was no stranger to controversy, and unafraid of being unpopular. Influenced by the ideas of the christian socialists Frederick Denison Maurice and Charles Kingsley, (who both taught him at Cambridge), Headlam believed that God’s Kingdom on earth would replace a “competitive, unjust society with a co-operative and egalitarian social order.”

Ordained and appointed curate of St. John’s Church, Drury Lane, he was shocked by the poverty there and was determined to do all he could to reduce the suffering of the poor. This led him to clash repeatedly with John Jackson, Bishop of London. He also met and befriended theatre people – actors, dancers etc – then widely shunned as highly disreputable socially (churchgoing theatrefolk often concealed their profession from fellow parishioners). In 1873, moving to St. Matthew’s Church, Bethnal Green Headlam found conditions even worse than in Drury Lane. The vicar at the church, Septimus Hansard, was another Christian Socialist.?In sermons, Headlam attacked the wide gap between rich and poor, warned the working class to distrust middle-class reformers(!) and presented Jesus Christ as a revolutionary and the new testament as a ‘Socialist Document’. His socialist political activities, friendship and political alliance with secularists like Bradlaugh and Foote, and vocal support for the theatre, especially ballet got him suspended from the curacy by the Bishop of London in 1878. (In fact the theatre problem was the most offensive to Bishop Temple of London, who seems to have had a special problem with male ballet dancers’ stage attire… don’t ask, I guess!) The Church authorities managed to keep him from preaching in church for many years (apart from when friends lent him their pulpit).

However Headlam toured the country preaching Christian Socialism, advocating a tax on land and the redistribution of wealth to end poverty – denouncing wealth as robbery and inconsistent with Christianity. No dabbler politically, he acted wholeheartedly on his beliefs, his clearly stated aim was to overthrow the establishment and society as then ordered and build the Kingdom of Heaven. Practically he fought for an 8-hour working day, complete education for all kids, nationalisation of the land, fair wages… grassroots democracy in church, bishops elected by parishioners not appointed by the state, and the rich.

In 1886 Headlam joined the reformist socialist Fabian Society, and remained a leading member till his death in 1924; in fact they often met at his house here. In contrast with many contemporary churchmen (and socialists, many of whom expressed puritanical disapproval of popular entertainment) he enthusiastically supported the theatre and opposed ‘puritanism’, His Church & Stage Guild, founded 1879, aimed to break down anti-theatre prejudice in the church and promote theatre as a form of worship. This Guild did link church people and theatre folk, meeting monthly, sometimes in Drury Lane theatre, and fought puritanical attitudes and prejudice for 20 years. Headlam’s support for Wilde grew out of this love of arts and theatre.

Headlam also worked to improve education for the working class,and was elected to the London School Board (the body which controlled public education) in 1888, with fellow socialist Annie Besant. School Boards were one of first places Fabian (and other reform-minded socialist groups’) practical influence was felt. Headlam & other progressives fought years of battles with conservatives over measures like abolition of fees, free school meals special classes for what were then seen as ‘retarded’ children, provision of swimming facilities, keeping class numbers smaller, raising teachers’ wages, building new buildings, requiring proper trade union rates for any contracts, acquisition of pianos for music classes… but especially the role of the church and compulsory religious teaching in schools! In 1897, dominating the Board for the first time, progressives enacted most of their reforms. But the question of Religion in schools so tied up the progressive and conservative factions on that the Board was abolished in 1903.

Elected to the London County Council in 1907, Stewart Headlam remained active in politics until his death in 1924. Personally he was said to be very honest and open, with a strong and magnetic personality; people either loved or hated him. He was also described as being as autocratic and stubborn in his organisations as his friend Bradlaugh was in the Secular movement.

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

Today in publishing history: the Daily Mail first vomits its bile into the world, 1896.

The Daily Mail
first vomits its bile
into the world, 1896.

We really couldn’t do better than to repost this, from uncyclopedia
Bit obvious but we hope you find it funny…

The Daily Mail is a hugely popular British comic for those who believe themselves (usually mistakenly) to be members of the middle classes. In 2010, it was also the UK’s best selling brand of toilet paper. It is owned by DMG Media, the same media group responsible for the Fail on Sunday and The Metro. A pair of rose-tinted spectacles must be worn to read articles in the Daily Mail, which describe how everything was great in the 1950s before the Islamic Conquest and the introduction of drugs, fat women, asylum seekers, paedophiles, Jonathan Ross, Russell Brand, the homeless, Brown people and the invention of sex made daily life intolerable for the conservative middle-class Chelsea tractor driving mums and retired army colonelsthat inhabit these sceptred isles.

The Mail was first issued on 4 May 1896. The headline on the first edition was ‘The British Union of Fascists: Our Patriotic Angels!’. The present editor is Paul Dacre, known for his sweet, engaging personality and anti-swearing policy.

More recent additions to the Mail line-up include the side-splitting shenanigans of London taxi driver Richard Littlejohn, with his world-famous witticisms, including “British women married to Iraqis should be left to rot in their adopted country, with their hideous husbands and their unattractive terrorist children” and “Does anyone really give a monkey’s about what happens in Rwanda? If the Mbongo tribe wants to wipe out the Mbingo tribe and eat their brains then as far as I am concerned that is entirely a matter for them”.

Any Daily Mail headline phrased as a question can always be answered with the word ‘No’. Hence ‘Did Dragons Once Roam This Sceptred Isle?’, ‘Are we ruled by a Gay Mafia?’ and ‘Does food give you cancer?’
A first issue of The Daily Mail sold for £1 on 16 March 2004, which was, at the time, the lowest price ever paid for chip wrapping-paper at auction (its use as chip wrapping has long been banned, as people complained it made the chips taste of bile and hate).

In 2009 the Mail began a review of its “Pretend To Oppose Authoritarian Government Policies” policy as Conservative victory at the next election looked increasingly likely. Since May 2010, when a conservative oligarchy was reinstated, it has continually pissed itself in delight applauding Authoritarian Government Policies. If Tabloid Newspapers were communist regimes, The Sun would be the People’s Republic of China (The one with the largest readerbase, but in no way the most remarkable), The Daily Telegraph would be the USSR just prior to 1991 (Not too bad, but in no way would it be considered respectable or trustworthy) the Daily Express would be Vietnam (Quite similar to The Sun and the Daily Mail, except no-one gives a crap about it other than for past controversies) and the Daily Mail would be North Korea (I think you can see what I’m trying to get across already).

The Daily Mail has been from the outset published under the masthead buy-line “The Stink From The Shit on The Shoe of British Journalism”.

For those without comedic tastes, the so-called experts at Wikipedia have an article about Daily Mail.
Despite enjoying a circulation of several million copies per day, it has been suggested that the actual “total effective readership quotient” is Nigel Farage.

Editorial stance
During the 1930s the Daily Mail briefly supported the Blackshirts and Nazis before they realised the former were too moderate while the latter were German and therefore European. Nowadays the paper campaigns against abortion of heterosexual foetuses, while also maintaining the entirely logical and consistent position of demanding the withdrawal of welfare payments to fallen women to support their unwanted bastards.
The Daily Mail often gives away free DVDs and is much cheaper than almost every other toilet paper.
The Typical Daily Mail News Story:
GUARDIAN-READING FEMINIST GYPSY ASYLUM-SEEKERS CONTINUE REIGN OF TERROR
An asylum-seeking, DEGENERATE, liberal, feminist, Muslim, Satanic, heavy metal-worshipping paedophile has continued to terrorise a quiet community of law-abiding, white, middle-class protestants today. Perhaps one just like YOURS!

Asylum-seeker homosexuals SWIM up the River Thames to London and infiltrate Parliament to send house prices crashing

The homosexual, French, GYPSY, poor person was observed acting in a completely YOBBISH style by starving in the gutter and coughing up blood in a most UNCIVILISED manner while praying to CULT-leader Xenu. This all illustrates the continued DECLINE of Britain under the corrupt, “politically correct” COMMUNISTIC regime of Nu Labour’s bonkers Brown. The British value system has fallen apart. Kick them out! Kick them all out!! And we’re not talking about “the jams” either!!

In other news, scientific studies have proved that there is a direct link between SERIAL KILLING and use of the teenagers’ drug skunk-cannabis, video games, cheese and reading the Daily Mail. Think of the house prices! OH GOD, WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE HOUSE PRICES?!!
This sort of thing is typical of the Decade Of Horror that is Brown’s Britain. Only YOU can stop this by going out and STORMING PARLIAMENT (with angry letters)
Today’s super-strength skunk cannabis is now 500 hundred times stronger, this is not the skunk smoked by the previous generation, no sir. Just one puff of this super-strength skunk cannabis will turn you into a trembling schizophreniac – with no respect for People Carriers or Sainsbury’s.

The Daily Hypochondriac  
At least once a week the Daily Mail likes to take some time off putting the boot into dark-skinned foreigners to report on a health fad or some medical feelgood/scare stories they pulled out of their arse. The fact that these stories frequently contradict the ones they published last week is entirely beside the point. Clinical studies have shown that neither of their readers’ attention spans last that long.

Things which cure/prevent cancer
Cloudy apple juice, tea, spicy food, a Mediterranean diet, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, E-coli, apples, peanuts, soya, your blood cells, evening primrose oil, the “energy” from crystals, red wine, breast milk (provided it’s never consumed in public), white bread (see below), a fibre-rich diet, measles, watercress, coffee, eating at least 19 portions of vegetables a day, chocolate, kicking immigrants out of our sanctuary of aryanism, reading the Daily Mail, voting for Conservatives or UKIP.

Things which cause cancer
Reading the Guardian, cloudy apple juice, tea, spicy food, answering machines, being tall at 14,oral sex, watching the BBC, not eating immigrants, swine flu, Tamiflu, being fat, being thin, cooking oil, immigrants, IVF, being female, salt, immigrants, vaccines (particularly MMR or Swine Flu), being male, ethnic minorities, fizzy drinks, alcohol (but not wine), being poor (which of course is a good thing), being sexually active before 28, crisps, immigrants, homosexuals, chips, teachers strikes, immigrants, the poor, biscuits, cancer, immigrants, breakfast cereals, remaining sexually active beyond the age of 29, drugs, asylum seekers, immigrants, euthanasia, immigrants, Prince Philip, Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross, immigrants, WiFi (whatever that is), immigrants, white bread (see above), water (except when it’s expensive and from a plastic bottle), immigrants, plastic, “chemicals”[3], immigrants, Mobile phone masts situated near schools (Masts elsewhere are fine, as are the phones themselves) breast milk (when consumed in public), the nanny state, the labour party, immigrants, eating food, driving when you’re under 24, wheelie bins (the risk increases the less often they’re emptied), unemployed people, Facebook and of course immigrants.

Astrology – what every parent should know
Astrology sections are written by sky-wizards like Jonathan Cainer. Cainer’s name is a pun, since he is always drunk when he writes his predictions.

With blatant disregard to the Witchcraft Act (which was still technically in force at the time). The Daily Mail (big fans of law n’ order and all that) was the first newspaper (sic) in Britain to publish horoscopes. (Disgracefully nobody was ever prosecuted for this much less burned at the stake!). Today Astrology is the biggest religion in the UK with over a fifth of the population adherents. After making so many people swallow astrology, convincing the public about the authenticity of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and a conspiracy between Jews and Freemasons to control the international banking system should be a piece of cake really.

Magic Ink
It is widely known the the newsprint used in most newspapers can rub off and stain your hands black. The Mail has discovered a wonderful alternative formula, that rubs off and stains your thoughts Tory. Hence the slogan: You don’t have to be conservative to read this but you will be when you put it down.

“Abortion Hope after ‘genes’ findings”

Update
Scientists have recently announced that they have successfully identified the gene in human DNA that causes people to be Daily Mail readers. MP George Galloway has welcomed this breakthrough and has sponsored a private members bill in Parliament raising the abortion time limit for foetuses carrying the gene from 24 weeks to 85 years (or longer in certain circumstances). However, this proposal has run into trouble with the Racial equality commission, who have ruled that if being a Daily Mail reader is caused by genetics they are a distinct racial group. The Daily Mail itself has condemned the commissions ruling as ‘political correctness gone mad.’

Oirish Edition, Polish supplement
Just some of the hilarious antics of Lord “Snooty” Rothermere

In 2006, an Irish edition of the Daily Mail was launched, followed in 2007 by a Polish suppplement in the Mail on Sunday. For 2010 the same publishers are hoping to follow up these successes with the launch of a Hebrew translation of the classic Mein Kampf. Because the Mail lacks the courage of its own convictions, it will omit to run stories in one edition (say, the Irish) while gay-bashing, trampling on the recently dead body and spouting utterly wrong bollocks about one of that country’s favourite sons (Stephen Gately) in its UK edition. There are some at the Mail, however, who would seek to do away with this policy on the basis that Ireland should still be part of the UK and that 1922 never happened.

It Was The Mail Wot Won It
After a mere decade, Communist leader Tony Blair has been forced to step-down from his position in the politbureau under relentless pressure from the freedom-fighters at the Daily Mail. An editorical called this a victory for the real Britain and assured readers that Iain Duncan Smith will face a similar struggle.

Daily Mail and the BBC
Due to the BBC being run by cocaine-snorting homosexuals and being slightly left of Pol Pot, the Daily Mail routinely publishes articles criticising BBC propaganda and programming. Topics of contention include Susanna Reid showing her knickers, Susanna Reid not showing her knickers, gays being allowed on the telly, gays being allowed to exist, black people in Robin Hood, political correctness, and inaccurate portrayal of sex as being more than for procreation. Daily Mail photographers are also known to be deeply jealous of the BBC’s ability to find the only hijab in a crowd of 10,000 for its stock footage, technology which they would dearly love to pass to the Americans for their missiledrone programme.

DM is particularly critical of the BBC’s failure to present news in the context of World War II wherever possible. For instance, the BBC did not mention Hitler even once when talking about Barack Obama’s election as US president, and they fail to equate the EU passing new human rights laws with Nazi Germany annexing the Sudetenland like any reasonable person should.

Some experts have suggested that the Mail have, for decades, been in error and confused the British Broadcasting Corporation with the other meaning of the acronym BBC, and that the hatred stems from continuing disappointment of their editors in not finding pictures of oversized negro phalluses.

The National Health Service
The Daily Mail regularly object to the many millions of people who have died due to the negligence of the British National Health Service(NHS), including those who died in the Nazi death camps and of Black death during the 14th century. The Daily Mail editors maintain that such deaths would have been avoided by private healthcare. DM is particularly energetic in pointing out the many hundreds of cases per decade of medical malpractice that occur in the NHS, and which absolutely do not happen in private healthcare ever ever ever. It is the Daily Mail’s opinion that the only reason that people don’t live forever is that they have Nigerian nurses tripping over their tubes, Gypsies with mops spreading disease, Jews poisoning the wells, and Pakistani doctors giving people the wrong drugs for their terminal cancer.
The Daily Mail’s stance on the NHS is particularly risky as most of its readers probably rely upon the NHS for their continued existence minute to minute, being predominately the elderly with various degrees of inbreeding who have used a Mitsubishi Shogun to drive to the shops 30 yards away for three decades.

The Internets
The Daily Mail do not understand the internets (which didn’t exist during Thatcher’s golden years), and therefore fear them. Under the guise of relieving us of the burden of having to masturbate to porn, in 2013 Daily Mail made a concerted effort to ban the internet through lobbying for parental controls for everyone, whether or not you were a parent. These filtered out 99.989% of the content of the internet, although naturally they did not remove the semi-naked celebrities or stories of Z-list celebs shagging – all reported at length in the on-line Daily Mail.

Although lifting these controls was first determined to be achieved by contacting the service provider, Daily Mail’s vision was to make this only possible by having you added to the sex offender’s list, your photograph, name and address published in the paper, and having you forced to run a gauntlet of screaming and bitey feminists and militant mothers groups for at least four miles uphill. Ultimately, the attempt failed, because the unworthy successor to Thatcher’s legacy, David Cameron, decided that the filters could be turned off by a phone call to the ISP. Every bugger just turned them off to watch midgets shagging on Redtube.

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

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 Peukert 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.

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

Today in London radical history: betrayed by her lover, socialist Eleanor Marx kills herself, Sydenham, 1898.

Eleanor Marx, Karl’s daughter, a socialist and trade unionist, was heavily involved in leftwing politics, both domestically and on the burgeoning international scene, from her teens until her death. She was a member of the pioneering socialist organization, the Social Democratic Federation, and then part of the large minority that split away, disillusioned with the authoritarianism, racism and opportunism of the SDF’s founder HM Hyndman, to form the Socialist League in 1885. With lover Edward Aveling, she founded the Bloomsbury branch of the League. To great scandal at the time, Eleanor and Aveling lived together in Bloomsbury, unmarried.

Although Eleanor did see her open co-habitation with Aveling as rejecting “immoral bourgeois conventionalities”, she wasn’t really a campaigner for Free Love. She did view women as being the most oppressed in the capitalist society of her day, but didn’t believe it was best addressed on a domestic or personal level, focussing instead on collective solutions – especially to the struggles of working class women.

Setting up home with Aveling, Eleanor discovered that she hated housework. Uniquely among Marx’s family (and the middle class generally then), she had no servants – she couldn’t afford it, and again, unlike Marx and most of his family, she was reluctant to continually tap Marx’s well-financed mate Friedrich Engels for cash. She attempted to support herself writing essays and reviews, lecturing on Shakespeare, and teaching.

The Bloomsbury branch of the Socialist League, which grew to 80 members at one point, met for a while (February 1886) at the Eagle and Child coffee house in Soho’s Old Compton Street; layer at the Arlington Hall, Rathbone Place, (June 1886)l but they also held events at other nearby venues, including the Athenaeum Hall, 73 Tottenham Court Road, where they put on an evening of Musical and Dramatic Entertainment. Eleanor also lectured in Bloomsbury’s Hart Street (now Bloomsbury Way), in Neumeyer Hall, for the annual socialist commemoration of the Paris Commune in March 1885 (a speech praised even by the SDF’s HM Hyndman, no mate of Eleanor, who called it “one of the finest speeches I ever heard”. At another Commune commemoration, held at the ‘Store Street hall’ off Gower Street in March 1888, she spoke on a platform with Hyndman, William Morris, Kropotkin, Annie Besant and John Burns. Interestingly Eleanor and Aveling also celebrated an earlier sometime Bloomsbury resident, Shelley, in two lectures on ‘Shelley and Socialism’ in 1888, later published as a pamphlet.

But if the Socialist League was united mainly by opposition to Hyndman, it was divided by many principles and tactics. Eleanor and Aveling, as well as others of the membership, especially in the Bloomsbury branch, were in favour of parliamentary representation and campaigning in elections, a minority position in the League, which increasingly became dominated by anarchists or anti-parliamentary socialists. From the start Eleanor and Aveling were hostile to the anarchists, not only politically, but because they saw them as easy meat for the many police spies sniffing round the broad socialist movement. Growing internal differences manifested as bitter faction fighting and attempts by the Bloomsbury branch to capture the League for their position; at the SL’s fourth annual conference their resolutions proposing the standing of candidates in local and parliamentary elections, and for moving towards uniting with other socialist groups were defeated. The widening split to led to their eventual departure in 1888 (they were suspended after it emerged they had put up local election candidates jointly with the SDF that April, and had encouraged joint membership, despite League policy), after which they reformed themselves as the Bloomsbury Socialist Society, which helped to organise the first British May Day demo in 1890. The Society met weekly at the Communist Club in Tottenham Street from 1890 to 1893.

Eleanor was very active in trade union work, especially with the Gasworkers Union and with striking East End matchgirls in 1888; and while on the one hand the Bloomsbury ‘faction’ undoubtedly intrigued and supped on parliamentary illusions, they also rejected the purist attitudes of the Socialist League towards workers striving for immediate improvements in their day to day lives, which isolated some socialists from much working class organisation.

Eleanor may have been down on the anarchists; she was more complimentary about the Fabians, many of who were personal friends, though she thought their politics misguided, and even the Christian Socialists, who she considered sincere, though again she called their mix of Christianity and socialism “ludicrous”.

But Eleanor’s long-time lover Edward Aveling was a cad, as they used to say; infamous in the secularist and socialist circles the couple moved in, for philandering, poncing (and sometimes embezzling) money and never repaying, two-timing Eleanor and generally behaving anti-socially. At the same time he genuinely dedicated his sharp mind to both Darwinism and Marx’s ‘scientific socialism’. Shaw called him “an agreeable rascal… who would have gone to the stake for Socialism or Atheism, but with absolutely no conscience in his private life…” “In revolt against all bourgeois conventions, Aveling did not replace them by any moral concern, but simply filled the vacuum with his own egotism…” (EP Thompson) His amoral attitudes gradually alienated many fellow socialists – for instance William Morris, who worked with Aveling closely in 1883-6, was by late 1887 calling him a “disreputable dog”; admittedly, though, they had fallen out politically by then.

For all their shared life, unmarried in defiance of bourgeois convention, he later betrayed Eleanor by secretly marrying someone else, after a number of other affairs, and a despairing Eleanor, who had long defended Aveling against the criticisms of fellow socialists, killed herself at her home in Sydenham in 1898, by swallowing prussic acid. Aveling himself died later the same year.

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

Today in London’s radical history: Peckham anarchist rally attacked by scabs and police, 1894.

In the early 1890s, Peckham, South London, had an active anarchist group, part of quite a boisterous and prominent anarchist movement in London at that time. The Peckham Anarchist-Communist Group was one of a number of groups of young activists who had broken away from Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation and coalesced as anarchist groups in London. The group held open air public meetings, a favourite tactic of the time, every week, on Peckham Park Road.

But in early 1894, the anarchist movement came under severe and sustained attack, in the press, and from the police. The anarchist scene was a diverse mix of class struggle activists, individualists, with a fair smattering of those who believed in ‘propaganda by the deed’, meaning planting bombs, assassination and the like (or blusteringly ranted about such actions)… and a very unhealthy seasoning of police spies, informers and narks. The presence in London of hundreds of exiled anarchists and socialists from repressive regimes in Europe meant that a swarm of police agents from these countries were also nosing around. Prompted by the police, the rightwing press also whipped up a lather of anti-anarchist hysteria, mingled with a good dollop of fantastical allegations, xenophobia and moral panic… All in all a recipe for agent provocateurs, fitting up people for conspiracy to cause explosions, thus generating a lot of paranoia and some naïve behaviour… (much more of this story can be found in The Slow Burning Fuse: The Lost History of the British Anarchists, by John Quail, recently republished…)

The Peckham anarchist speaking pitch became one of the first public targets of attack, prompted by the police, and involving reactionary elements susceptible to rightwing provocation… On 15th March 1894, the anarchist meeting was attacked by a crowd of ‘constitutional Peckhamites’, assisted (ie directed) by Detective Sergeant Walsh of CID “who exhibited his manliness by getting behind little boys and pushing them on us… They surged up to the platform and tied to seize the red flag. A fight for possession ensued which ended with the flag being ripped to shreds.”

Alfred Foster, the main speaker, twenty seven years old and living at Commercial Road, Peckham was arrested by P.C. Martin for ‘disorderly conduct by causing a crowd to assemble’. At Lambeth Police Court the following day Foster appeared before Justice Biron. Biron was hostile from the beginning asking “You were making Anarchist speeches?” Foster was ordered to find a surety of £25 to be of good behaviour for six months or go to prison for a month; he stayed in prison for a week till a ‘suitable’ surety could be found.

When the anarchists tried to hold a meeting again on March 22nd,

“an enormous crowd assembled… Comrades Quinn, Banham, Carter and Alsford addressed the meeting which was perfectly orderly for some time, until an organized gang of blackleg gas-stokers and detectives started hooting and pushing, finally breaking up the meeting by force. The police were present in large numbers watching eagerly for the least opportunity for a ‘charge.’ These meetings have now had a drop owing to the fact that local comrades will not turn up and support but the propaganda will be kept up in other ways…”

Nick Heath writes that the Peckham anarchist group “was present for the May Day assembly in Hyde Park later in the year where its black banner was inscribed with the motto: ‘Away with authority and monopoly – We demand free access to the means of life’. However this meeting too was attacked by a gang of toughs, again working with CID detectives and Inspector Melville’s Special Branch. Anarchist speakers like Ted Leggatt, Banham and James Tochatti were physically assaulted.

In all of this the press portrayed the attacks on the anarchist assemblies as a popular response from outraged citizens when it appears that the police instigated and organised these attacks in collusion with reactionary thugs. The account in the Huddersfield Chronicle ‘An Anarchist and his Prupperty” describing the arrest and trial of Foster is particularly shrill and virulent, and this local daily seems to have specialised in anti-anarchist diatribes.
William Hart is of course W.C. Hart who was involved in the anarchist movement for ten years, acting as secretary for the Peckham group and then the Deptford group. He wrote an extremely bitter and hostile attack on the anarchist movement in the 1906 book Confessions of an Anarchist. Interestingly, he describes many cases of provocation in his book including one incident when a close friend of his, an extremely good-natured anarchist sheltered a French anarchist, even pawning his carpenter’s tools to buy food for him. This comrade is almost certainly Foster. The Frenchman attempted to involve him in bomb attacks, writing on his behalf to France to send for bomb recipes. Hart read the letter before it was sent and had it burnt. The Frenchman had gone out in the morning and never returned. Meanwhile the comrade carpenter was under surveillance for several weeks by detectives. Hart wrote that he was told by someone from Scotland Yard that the Frenchman had informed the French police of the arrival of the letter, and they in their turn had informed Scotland Yard (this of course, raises a number of questions about Hart himself and his contacts with the London police).”

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