This charming drawing of the anarchist Rudolf Rocker addressing a meeting is by his son, Fermin Rocker.
Rudolf Rocker was the key figure in the flourishing anarchist movement in the East End of London in the years immediately before the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. He was German and a gentile, but mastered Yiddish and was the editor of a remarkable Yiddish weekly newspaper, the Arbeter Fraint (or Workers' Friend).
In the aftermath of two notorious shoot-outs - at Houndsditch in the City and at Sidney Street in Stepney - press attention focussed on the mainly Jewish anarchist movement in the East End. Those incidents involved Latvian political refugees, probably with anarchist synmpathies. In December 1910, a group were interrupted at Houndsditch while trying to break through a wall and rob a jeweller's shop - three police men were shot dead and two more police suffered bullet wounds.
The following month, two alleged members of the gang were tracked down to a first floor room in Sidney Street. The house was surrounded by police, troops were brought in, and shots were exchanged over several hours. The two gunmen died.
Rocker and most of his comrades deeply disapproved of this violence, and the 'expropriations' - armed robberies to fund the movement - which occasioned them.
The Worker's Friend was published from an address in Jubilee Street, a stone's throw from Sidney Street. Next door was the anarchist Jubilee Street Club. Many of the Latvians involved in the Houndsditch incident had certainly visited the club. Journalists descended on the area, Some of their reporting was crude, inaccurate and sensationalist but a few among the reporters delivered vivid and well-informed accounts of East End anarchism. I'm posting a few of those pieces of journalism on this blog.
Philip Gibbs and J.P. Eddy, in the immediate aftermath of the Siege of Sidney Street, moved into the East End and wrote a series of articles for the Daily Chronicle - this article, 'A Night with the Anarchists', appeared on 10 January 1911 and includes accounts of conversations with both Rudolf Rocker and his partner Milly Witcop:
Philip Gibbs made productive use of his sojourn in the East End - as well as his three co-authored articles for the Daily Chronicle, he also wrote two bylined pieces for the weekly Graphic, notably this account below of 'An Evening in an Anarchists' Club'.
Again, Rocker is clearly the man that Gibbs heard speak. And the article's conclusion became renowned: 'These alien anarchists were as tame as rabbits. I am convinced they had not a revolver among them. And yet, looking back upon this adventure and remembering the words I heard, I am sure that this intellectual anarchy, this philosophy of revolution, is more dangerous to the state of Europe than pistols and nitro-glycerine. For out of that anarchist club in the East End come ideas more powerful in destruction than dynamite.'
And I'm posting the columns of text individually here so it is more easily legible:
One at least of the mainstream papers took the trouble to talk at length to this prominent anarchist with 'sledge-hammer eloquence'. Rudolf Rocker expressed satisfaction with the write up of this interview he gave to the establishment minded Morning Post published in its issue of 7 January 1911 - here's the article with the title 'The Anarchist Leader':
And let's close as we began, with one of Fermin Rocker's drawings of his father on the platform:
And a codicil, many years ago I interviewed Fermin Rocker (who was born in 1907) about his childhood memories of his father and the anarchist movement in the London of his childhood. Here it is:
In the closing years of the eighteenth century, there was a boom in the issuing of tokens - nominally ha'penny or farthing (a quarter of a penny) tokens, though they weren't legal tender.
There was an acute shortage of low value copper coins, so these tokens filled the gap - being given as change or in pay packets or in small value transactions. A lot of shops and other traders issued tokens. And so did political groups - mainly those on the left.
Thomas Spence, an energetic if idiosyncratic figure on the extreme fringes of political radica;lism, was the most assiduous issuer of these tokens with a message. He's been described as the 'chief user of tokens as propaganda for the revolution'. The token at the top of this blog is one of his.
In 1775, when in his mid-twenties, Spence published his land plan, which foresaw common ownership of the land with no private land holdings at all. This token - while probably issued in the 1790s - is intended to promote Spence's communitarian approach to land ownership.
Here's how the token is catalogued in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge:
'Everlasting peace and happiness' is not a bad political goal. But Spence's activities got him locked up at times - on one occasion for high treason and on another for seditious libel.
Thomas Spence died in 1814, but his followers - the Spencean Philanthropists - were involved in the popular protests which followed the Napoleonic wars. They were impliocated in the Spa Fields riots and in the 1820 Cato Street conspiracy - here's George Cruikshank's depiction of the uncovering of that alleged plan to blow-up the cabinet.
Who is this in the photo? It's clearly a professionally taken studio photograph - but unlabelled and undated.
The photograph is held in the London Metropolitan Archive. It's probably dated around 1910. Although the context doesn't really point in this direction, I do wonder if this is 'Comrade Sak' - Shapurji Saklatvala, the Communist MP for Battersea in the 1920s.
For comparison, here is a portrait shot of Saklatvala from 1922, taken by the Bassano studio and held by the National Portrait Gallery.
Saklatvala was from an elite Pasee family in Bombay (now Mumbai). His mother was a Tata - one of the foremost business dynasties in pre-independence India. In 1905, when aged about 31, Saklatvala moved to England to run the Tatas' office in Manchester. A few years later, he moved to London - he joined the ILP and started to mix with Sylvia Pankhurst's militant socialist and suffragette movement in the East End.
In 1907, he married an English woman, Sarah Marsh, who was fifteen years younger than her husband. The adjoining photograph of the couple shows Saklatvala at around the time the mystery portrait shot was taken.
But is that photo 'Comrade Sak'? Let me know what you think.
The portrait shot below, by the way, is again from 1922 and held by the National Portrait Gallery.
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