I had the chance for a bit of a wander today - and popped in at the Freedom Press bookshop, hidden away (and I really mean hidden away) down an alley at the side of the Whitechapel Gallery. It's the sort of place that's always worth a good rummage. The new stock is largely anarchist or that way inclined - but there's also some second-hand sections which are much more diverse.
For the first time, I think, I went to the guy in charge and said one of his books simply shouldn't be on sale at all. A work of philosophy by Herbert Spencer once owned by, and bearing the signature of, the anarchist Matt Kavanagh, and with copious pencil notes either by him or someone else. This should be part of the Freedom Press archive held at the Bishopsgate Institute - I hope that's where this book will be heading.
I was happy enough with what I did pick up. I got a 1924 edition of Bertrand Russell's Justice in War-Time with the ownership signature of John Hewetson, one of the defendants in the renowned Freedom trial of 1945 which was about, yes, justice in war-time.
The other really nice book was J.M. Guyau's 1891 volume Education and Heredity: a study in sociology - bought above all for this splendid bookplate.
Tom Keell was the mainstay of the Freedom Press for a decade either side of the First World War.
The book also has the ownership signature of the educationalist G.W.S. Howson.
Why Freedom is disposing of its library in this way, I really don't know. It's not even raking in lots of money.
From there to Bishopsgate, where the library often has shelves laden with items for sale - there's usually a few things of interest amid, on this occasion, a remarkable number of titles about Stalin.
This is my favourite of the handful of items I picked up at Bishopsgate today - a pamphlet by the renowned historian E.P. Thompson about the struggle for a free press. It was published in 1952.
This pamphlet looks at the history of the movement for a free press, and concludes: 'Today the Daily Worker has become one of the last channels for the circulation of free opinion, the only paper to stand between the people and the unprincipled campaign of lies and war propaganda of the capitalist press.'
Four years later, E.P. Thompson walked out of the Communist Party - largely because of disagreements over freedom of expression.
And in case you are wondering about the title of this blogpost: We're All Normal And We Want Our Freedom: Tribute To Arthur Lee & Love is a 1994 tribute album for the band Love and its leader Arthur Lee. The album was named after a line in their song "The Red Telephone" from the album Forever Changes. The phrase originated in Marat/Sade, a play written by Peter Weiss.
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:
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