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:
Andrew Whitehead's blog
Welcome - read - comment - throw stones - pick up threads - and tell me how to do this better!