It's been a grim week for the old left. The deaths of Tony Benn and Bob Crow have deservedly been much remarked upon. Benn was a throwback to public school socialism, an ethical, puritan political activist - and a champion of platform, podium and protest march. Crow, though more than thirty years younger, reached back even further into a syndicalist, labourist tradition of craft trade unionism. And the demise was also announced this week of an even more ancient aspect of the British left.
The anarchist journal 'Freedom', founded in 1886, is to close. An announcement on the Freedom Press website tells the story:
Since Freedom: A Journal of Anarchist Socialism first appeared in 1886 it has been in the form of a newspaper to be sold. Now the Freedom Collective has decided that we shall move content online accompanied by a freesheet after publication of the upcoming second issue of 2014.
We have come to realise that a sold hardcopy newspaper is no longer a viable means of promoting the anarchist message. Despite a huge publicity boost to Freedom following the firebomb attack last year (shop sales rose 50%) there has not been a corresponding increase in distribution of the paper. Only 29 shops, social centres and individuals now sell it and the number of paying subscribers has fallen to 225.As a result annual losses now amount to £3,500, an unsustainable level for our shoestring budget.
The journal was established principally on the initiative of Charlotte Wilson - and has been the mainstay, though not the focal point, of the heterodox, sometimes feud-ridden anarchist movement. In its modern incarnation, both the journal and the press are bound up with Vernon Richards (born Vero Ricchione), the main force behind 'Freedom' in the decades up to his death in 2001. For a movement which is so antipathetic to the idea of leaders, anarchism has often been shaped by forceful and charismatic individuals, and at the entrance to Angel Alley off Whitechapel High Street - home to the Freedom bookshop and press - there's a remarkable portrait gallery of renowned anarchists, almost all of them men.
At times, anarchism has been a frail offshoot of the not exactly robust British left. At times, it has come into its own - in the Jewish East End before the First World War, in opposition to Franco's forces in the Spanish Civil War, as an aspect of student revolt in the '60s and '70s. The energy evident of late at the annual Anarchist Book Fair, and the high turn-out, has suggested that there's new life in this old left bottle. If so, little of that vitality was evident in the pages of 'Freedom'. And it is indeed salutary to discover that the journal has barely two-hundred subscribers.
The one persistent delight of 'Freedom' has been the cartooning of Donald Rooum - witty, whimsical, often deprecating about anarchism, and displaying quite exceptional draughtmanship. 'Freedom', more than most political magazines, has been keenly aware of - and has celebrated - its own history. The front page of the first copy of 'Freedom' at the head of this posting is taken from a centenary edition put together largely by Heiner Becker and Nicolas Walter. It also includes this Donald Rooum cartoon, which I post here expecting forgiveness for any breach of copyright:
Eleanor Boon was briefly a figure of some import in London radicalism - in the late 1860s, she set up the Ladies' Secular Association and was invited to become a vice-president of the National Secular Society. But as her husband became more prominent, Eleanor retreated from public view.
Martin Boon's life came to a sad end. He moved to South Africa, ran a general store near Rietfontein in the Transvaal and was involved in prospecting for gold - though in the wrong part of the Transvaal. In December 1888, it seems, he took his own life.
'I suspect he was not very good with money', Laura writes. 'His estate papers indicate he was near bankrupt when he died from having extended too much credit to too many of his customers. I think the attempt at gold mining was a last ditch effort to rescue his affairs. And when I read notices in English papers about his bankruptcy before his departure for South Africa, I thought that financial troubles might well be behind his suicide.'
Laura Boon says Matt Ridley Boon - Martin's son and her great-grandfather - is the hero of the family South African story. 'Eleanor appears to have somehow pulled the family out of debt and they continued to own the general store and to farm, acquiring several farms along the way. Matt persuaded Paul Kruger, president of the Boer Republic in the Transvaal, to divert a planned railway line in their direction, and so the township of Boons, near Koster and Rietfontein, became a stop on the line and the general store thrived. He refused to take sides in the Anglo-Boer War, saying he had friends on both sides. He and his wife travelled quite a bit, visiting relatives in England and Canada. One of his sons, Paul Verdoes Boon, fought for the British in the First World War and died in a concentration camp. His mother, Eleanor, was the local midwife and all the farmers used to come to her for treatment of minor ailments.'
The tiny township of Boons, which took its name from the Boon family, still has a railway station - though not very much else. You can get a sense of its location here. And if you search for and zoom in on Boons, you can see the precise site of the station, and a smattering of public buildings which retain the Boon or Boons name. Laura's cousin still lives, and farms, in the area.
There's a spot along Chetwynd Road in NW5 where Butterfield's high church St Mary Brookfield looms imposingly as the church on the hill. Walking to work this morning through Dartmouth Park (yes, I walk all the way - it takes me an hour) I looked back on the church, which was caught enticingly by the sharp rays of the morning sun. This iphone photo doesn't fully capture the golden light striking Butterfield's multi-hued brickwork, but it has I hope a dash of magic about it.
A gem from 1945 - a pocket-sized, 96 page guide for American troops about how to behave in Calcutta. It covers everything from getting post to getting condoms - and offers wise words about where to go in the city (and where's out of bounds - which seems to be most of the place), booze, dancing, Bengalis, girls, food - the lot.
There are of course part of this guide which make you wince. But for a booklet written seventy years ago, in a time of war, and for soldiers in the mighty American army who probably didn't rate Calcutta as their most favoured destination, it's a surprisingly engaging and at times sensitive document.
The tone of The Calcutta Key is folksy, at times rather patronising, but a lot better than the over formal, hugely prescriptive regulations that many other armies would have resorted to. It breaks the news to GIs that in Calcutta they are 'Europeans' - so much for the war of independence!
Rather impressively, US soldiers are advised: '... after the war, in any permanent plan for peace that includes (and must include) Southest Asia, India must and will assume a prominent role. You are a practical person from a practical nation. You can see that it makes sense for anyone to cultivate a lasting friendship with India. Go to it, then. YOU - you're the one who is going to do it. It is a part of YOUR JOB.'
And the list of 'do's' (and so by implication 'don'ts') looks fairly sensible - no one imagines that all American soldiers heeded this advice, but they should have done:
Perhaps inevitably, it's the section about women and prostitutes which jars most: 'Studies show that professional prostitutes are 150% infected [with VD] (half have one and the other half have two). Even in the native population the rate is well over 50%.' Inaccurate, disrespectful, and very probably ineffective in dissuading the troops from paying for sex.
The guide contains a map of Calcutta which demonstrates that most of the city was out-of-bounds for US soldiers - though it would have been quite a task policing that restriction.
The entire text, along with illustrations, has been posted online. It is one of my better eBay purchases. And of course you wonder about whose copy this was, and what use they made of the advice - whether they survived the war and took this home as a keepsake.
Loosely folded into the pages of the booklet was this slip - the cyclostyled words of a wartime drinking song. I can't imagine this was official US Army issue - but who knows. It does, though, personalise the booklet and those who made use of it, and give a sense of the human experience of war and its privations.
Of course, for many Bengalis, the privations of war were much more intense - the province succumbed to a dreadful famine in which huge numbers perished. The guide makes reference to that in such a matter-of-fact way that it comes across as distinctly callous.Not inaccurate, not impersonal, but simply descriptive about an immense tragedy for which the colonial authorities (Brits not Americans, of course) were widely held to be culpable.
LATER: many thanks for all the interest in this posting. Suchetana in Calcutta has been in touch to mention an online album of photographs taken in Calcutta in 1945-46 by an American military photographer, Clyde Waddell. I am sure it will be of much wider interest - and here's the link. Thanks, Suchetana!
My oh my! Tatty old Tufnell Park really is going places. An up market butchers/delicatessen opened during the week - this is its first Saturday. And it looks good. I have still to taste the traditional sausages and black pudding and the hard sheep's cheese - I'll let you know (I nearly headed out without the cheese, which is why the guy behind the counter is doing an 'O Sole Mio' act above right - happily me and my cheese have been reunited).
Even more striking, a fishmonger's is coming next to Rustique on the other side of Junction Road. That's when we will know that the NW5/N19 fault line has become a fashion line, a place of taste and repute.
Once upon a time, Lalibela, the wonderful Ethiopian restaurant, and the Rustique cafe were the only high spots around - along with Gertie's indepensible launderette. Now we have a Sainsbury's with hole-in-the-wall (yup, once we didn't even have one of them) - Fam, a great fruit and veg place - the Cardigan Club, Vietnamese street food - a Costa - a Sardinian place - Ruby Violet ice cream - Violet & Frederick (run by a woman called Pushkin, there must be a story there) selling flowers by the station - the list goes on.
All hail, Tufnell Park!
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