|Founded||London, UK, 1886|
84b Whitechapel High Street, London,
Freedom Press is an anarchist publishing house and bookseller in Whitechapel, London, United Kingdom. Founded in 1886, it is the largest anarchist publishing house in the country and the oldest of its kind in the English speaking world. It is based at 84b Whitechapel High Street in the East End of London.
Alongside its many books and pamphlets, the group also runs a news and comment-based website and until recently regularly published Freedom, which was the only regular anarchist newspaper published nationally in the UK. The collective took the decision to close publication of the full newspaper in March 2014, with the intention of moving most of its content online and switching to a less regular freesheet for paper publication.
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The core group which went on to form Freedom Press came out of a circle of anarchists with international connections formed around the London-based radical firebrand Charlotte Wilson, a Cambridge-educated writer and public speaker who was in the process of breaking from Fabian Society orthodoxy. Among this founding group were Nikola Chaikovski, Francesco Saverio Merlino, and as of 1886, celebrated anarchist-communist Peter Kropotkin, who had been invited to Britain by Wilson after his release from prison in France in January of that year.
Wilson led a group of anarchists in founding Freedom as a social anarchist and anarchist communist group in September 1886, just a month after losing a vote in which the Fabians formally backed the parliamentary route to socialism. Alongside starting Freedom newspaper as a monthly beginning in October, the group also produced other pamphlets and books, primarily translations of international writers including Errico Malatesta, Jean Grave, Gustav Landauer, Max Nettlau, Domela Nieuwenhuis, Emile Pouget, Varlaam Cherkezov, Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin and of course, Kropotkin himself. Discussion groups and public meetings were also begun early on.
In the early years of the paper Wilson funded and edited it out of a number of different offices while Kropotkin became a regular writer and provided its star turn. In 1895 Wilson resigned after a long series of personal difficulties and Alfred Marsh, a violinist, took over.
Marsh solidified the Press alongside close collaborator William Wess, and they were joined by ex-members of the defunct Socialist League's publication, Commonweal – John Turner, Tom Cantwell, and Joseph Presburg. Marsh was able to acquire more permanent premises and printing facilities at 127 Ossulston Street in 1898. Freedom collective member Donald Rooum notes:
"Freedom Press stayed in Ossulston Street for the next 30 years. The hand-operated press dated from about 1820, and needed three operators; two to load the paper and pull the handle, and one to take the paper off."
With the acquisition of its own press, albeit an elderly one, the group was able to publish more often, and in 1907 started a second paper, Voice of Labour, which allowed former Spectator compositor Thomas Keell to become a permanent collective member, eventually taking over editorial duties at the paper in 1910 as Marsh's health declined.
Freedom became one of the most widely read anarchist publications in the period leading up the First World War; however, the collective split in 1914–15 over how anarchists should respond to the conflict, with Keel's anti-militarist position winning the backing of a majority of the national movement and Kropotkin leaving after he came out in favour of an Allied victory, a stance which would see him put his name to the Manifesto of the Sixteen in 1916. Keell and his companion Lilian Wolfe would go on to be imprisoned for the paper's staunch opposition to the war in 1916, though Wolfe was quickly released.
As with many other anarchist enterprises, Freedom had trouble maintaining itself after the war ended as many activists had died and the seeming success of Marxist-Leninism in Russia drew British radicals into the orbit of an ascendant Communist Party of Great Britain. While donations allowed it to remain solvent for over a decade and several of its core group remained, notably John Turner who became its publisher from 1930 until his death in 1934, a crushing blow came in 1928 when the Ossulston Street building was demolished as part of a slum clearance scheme. Keell retired shortly afterward and while the collective continued to publish, it produced only an irregular newsletter over the course of the next eight years
The paper was relaunched 10 years later as energy and interest in the anarchists swelled around the Spanish Civil War, beginning with the publication of a fortnightly publication, Spain And The World (1936–38), which was renamed to Revolt!, and then War Commentary (1939–45), before being renamed back to Freedom in August 1945. It was edited by Vero Recchioni (who later changed his name to Vernon Richards), the son of an Italian anarchist, and Marie Louise Berneri, the daughter of Camillo Berneri, an Italian anarchist who was assassinated in Spain. The Italian anarchist movement had been well-established in London since the 1920s.
Much of the bookshop's history through this time was tied up with Richards, who was the driving force behind both the press and the newspaper from the 1930s until late in the '90s. Richards teamed up with Keel and Wolff as publisher and administrator respectively - the latter would remain so until the age of 95. In 1942 the press was able to buy a printing firm, Express Printers, at 84a Whitechapel High Street, which it did with the help of a rival printing firm and a supporters' group, the Anarchist Federation, which would become the nominal owner of the title until it declared itself autonomous in the 1950s. With an avowedly anti-war stance, the paper would continue to publish throughout the war, and would face prosecution for its stance only in peacetime Britain.
War Commentary was published with an overtly anti-militarist message, co-operating heavily with the pacifist movement, and in November 1944 the homes of several collective members were raided along with the offices of the press itself. When Richards, Marie-Louise Berneri, John Hewetson and Philip Sansom were arrested at the beginning of 1945 for attempting "to undermine the affections of members of His Majesty's Forces," Benjamin Britten, E. M. Forster, Augustus John, George Orwell, Herbert Read (chairman), Osbert Sitwell and George Woodcock set up the Freedom Defence Committee to "uphold the essential liberty of individuals and organizations, and to defend those who are persecuted for exercising their rights to freedom of speech, writing and action."
In 1961, Freedom began producing Anarchy, a well-regarded series with noted front pages designed by Rufus Segar and seven years later the Press moved to its current premises at 84b Whitechapel High Street after Whitechapel Art Gallery bought out 84A. At this point the Press was entirely owned and run by Richards, though he would transfer ownership of the building to a company limited by guarantee and without share capital, The Friends Of Freedom Press, in 1982. Richards also relinquished control over the paper's running from 1968, though would return periodically in editorially difficult moments and retained overall control of the Press.
The bookshop was repeatedly attacked in the 1990s by neo-fascist group Combat 18 during street conflicts between fascist and anti-fascist groups in the East End and eventually firebombed in March 1993. The building still bears some visible damage from the attacks, and metal guards have been installed on the ground floor windows and doors, intended to ward against any further violence.
With Richards' death in 2001, a succession of new editors were brought on board, including members of what would become the libcom collective, a web-based group which now maintains the largest online library of anarchist texts in the English-speaking world.
A second arson attack occurred on 1 February 2013, causing significant damage, but no-one was hurt. Donations allowed the Press to survive, however cash losses from the paper forced its closure as a monthly publication in 2014, though free versions of the paper continue to be produced. In 2017 the Press launched an archive, digitising more than 1,500 back issues of the paper covering the 1886–2020 period.
In March 2018 Freedom was made a core participant in the Undercover Policing Inquiry, following confirmation that former undercover Met officer Roger Pearce had written in the paper in 1980-81, mostly on Northern Ireland.
Today Freedom Press remains as a functioning publishing house with much of its printing still being done by Aldgate Press. The Freedom collective runs an open meeting and exhibition space called Decenter, alongside maintaining an archive, bookshop and website. It shares the premises with Dog Section Press, the Anarchist Federation, the Solidarity Federation, the Advisory Service for Squatters and Corporate Watch. The archive of the Press is held at Bishopsgate Library, and much correspondence from its early period can be found at the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam.
Authors and notable writers
Having had a close affinity with Colin Ward and Vernon Richards, Freedom Press has produced much of their extensive back catalogue, in addition to titles by Clifford Harper, Nicolas Walter, Murray Bookchin, Gaston Leval, William Blake, Errico Malatesta, Harold Barclay and many others, including 118 issues of the journals Anarchy, edited by Colin Ward and 43 issues of The Raven: Anarchist Quarterly.
Over the years the Freedom editorial group has included Jack Robinson, Pete Turner, Colin Ward, Nicolas Walter, Alan Albon, John Rety, Nino Staffa, Dave Mansell, Gillian Fleming, Mary Canipa, Philip Sansom, Arthur Moyse, John Lawrence and many others. Clifford Harper maintained a loose association for 30 years.
Subjects of recent books include Emiliano Zapata, Nestor Makhno, Anti-Fascist Action and in 2021 the autobiography of "Greek Robin Hood" Vassilis Palaiokostas. At the end of 2018 the Press published A Beautiful Idea: History of the Freedom Press Anarchists, to mark its 50th year at 84b Angel Alley.
Freedom Paper editors
(Note: Non-comprehensive list)
- 1886–95: Charlotte Wilson
- 1895–1910: Alfred Marsh
- 1910–28: John Keel
- 1930–34: John Turner
- 1936–64: Vernon Richards
- 1936–49: Marie Louise Berneri
- 1940s: John Hewetson
- 1940–60: Colin Ward
- 1940s-1969 Philip Sansom
- 1964–69: John Rety
- 1970s: Jack Robinson, Peter Turner, John Lawrence, Mary Canipa
- 1976–1980s: David Peers
- 1970s–1980s: Stu Stuart, Donald Rooum, Vernon Richards
- 1980s: Gillian Fleming
- 1990s–2001: Charles Crute
- 2001–04: Toby Crow
- 2003–04: Steven, Jim Clarke
- November 2006 – May 2008: Matt B
- 2004 – March 2009: Rob Ray
- 2009–12: Dean Talent
- 2012–13: Matt Black
- 2013–14: Charlotte Dingle
Among the most popular books published by the press are:
- Anarchism and Anarcho-syndicalism, Rudolf Rocker
- Anarchy, Errico Malatesta
- Anarchy in Action, Colin Ward
- Beating the Fascists: the Untold Story of AFA, Sean Birchall
- Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow, Peter Kropotkin
- George Orwell at Home (and Among the Anarchists), Vernon Richards
- Why Work? (now in 3rd edition)
- Wildcat Anarchist Comics, Donald Rooum
- Gay, Kathlyn (1999). Encyclopedia of Political Anarchy. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. p. 12. ISBN 0-87436-982-7.
- "A Statement From The Freedom Collective". Freedom Website. Retrieved 8 July 2014.
- Goodway, David (2007). Anarchist Seeds Beneath the Snow: Left-Libertarian Thought and British Writers from William Morris to Colin Ward. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. p. 182. ISBN 978-1-84631-025-6.
- Thomas, Matthew Jame (July 1998). "Paths to Utopia: Anarchist countercultures in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain 1880-1914" (PDF). wrap.warwick.ac.uk.
- "A History of Freedom Press". Freedom Press. Retrieved 8 July 2014.
- Rooum, Donald, ed. (1986). Freedom, a hundred years : October 1886 to October 1986 (Centenary ed.). London: Freedom Press. pp. 10–11. ISBN 0-900384-35-2.
- Heath, Nick. "Marsh, Alfred 1858-1914". Website. Libcom.org. Retrieved 9 June 2013.
- Rooum, Donald (Summer 2008). "A short history of Freedom Press" (PDF). Information for Social Change (27). Retrieved 8 July 2014.
- McKercher, William Russell. Freedom and Authority, Black Rose Books, Ltd, 1989, p.214.
- Honeywell, Carissa (2015). "Anarchism and the British Warfare State: The Prosecution of the War Commentary Anarchists, 1945" (PDF). International Review of Social History. 60 (2): 257–284. doi:10.1017/S0020859015000188. ISSN 0020-8590.: 265
- George Orwell at Home pp 71-72 Freedom Press (1998)
- "Orwell Today". Retrieved 8 July 2014.
- Orwell, Sonia and Angus, Ian (eds.). The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell Volume 4: In Front of Your Nose (1945-1950) (Penguin)
- "Picturing Anarchy: The Graphic Design of Rufus Segar". Recto Verso. Retrieved 11 July 2014.
- Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "The Terror Squad". Granada. World in Action. April 1993. Retrieved 8 July 2014.
- Ray, Rob. "Freedom Background Part One: Unwilling editor". libcom.org. Retrieved 8 July 2014.
- "Freedom bookshop torched". libcom.org. Retrieved 8 July 2014.
- Gee, Tim (4 February 2013). "Britain's oldest radical bookshop is burned, but the ideas survive". The Guardian.
- "Freedom Newspaper, 2014". libcom.org. Retrieved 22 June 2017.
- "Notes on the Freedom Anarchist Newspaper Archive". libcom.org. Retrieved 7 December 2021.
- "The Met spychief who infiltrated Freedom Press". Freedom News. Freedom Press. 24 March 2018. Retrieved 25 March 2018.
- "Freedom news paper changes". libcom.org. Retrieved 11 July 2014.
- Freedom Vol 67, No 21
- Freedom Vol 69, No 9
- Ray, Rob. "Freedom..." libcom.org. Retrieved 11 July 2014.
- Bone, Ian (16 March 2009). "Freedom's Got Talent". ianbone.wordpress.com. Retrieved 11 July 2014.
- Dingle, Charlotte (4 April 2019). "Charlotte Dingle". LinkedIn. Retrieved 4 April 2019.
- Aslanyan, Anna (February 7, 2013). "Anna Aslanyan: Fireproof Cartoons". London Review of Books Blog. Retrieved January 24, 2018.
- Paola, Pietro Di (2011). "'The man who knows his village' Colin Ward and Freedom Press". Anarchist Studies. 19 (2): 22–41. ISSN 0967-3393 – via Gale.
- Ray, Rob (2018). A Beautiful Idea: History of the Freedom Press Anarchists. London: Freedom Press. ISBN 978-1-904491-30-9. OCLC 1052463857.
- Walter, Nicolas (October 1970). "Anarchism in Print: Yesterday and Today". Government and Opposition. 5 (4): 523–540. doi:10.1111/j.1477-7053.1970.tb00514.x. ISSN 0017-257X. JSTOR 44484496.
- Freedom Press website
- Freedom News site
- Digitised Freedom Newspaper archive
- Freedom Press documents from the Kate Sharpley Library
- libcom.org British libertarian communist website linked to Freedom Press
- Freedom newspaper (1886–) Daily Bleed's Anarchist Encyclopedia about Freedom Press (via Internet Archive)
- Freedom at the International Institute of Social History
- Freedom at the Bishopsgate Library
- Freedom at Sparrows' Nest Library