[We are not reprinting this for the political insight of the journalist (though it’s a fair sample of a particular kind of piss-taking) but because Leah Feldman appears.]
London’s Anarchists, making an eleventh-hour bid to keep Tories, Socialists, Liberals – aye, and Communists too – out of Westminster, don’t match up to the popular conception. They are, in fact, unbearded, and so gentle says FELIX BARKER
UNTIL this week I had never knowingly been in touch with an anarchist.
For me anarchists have always been bearded men with Russian names sitting behind drawn blinds in an hotel bedroom in Zagreb. A pack of cards is cut. One man is solemnly congratulated. His is the honour, the rare privilege to strike a blow for the Cause. He is handed a small black bag which is already ticking.
So it came as a bit of a shock the other evening to find anarchism stalking so near home as the Grays Inn Road. I didn’t really bother about the pamphlet which was thrust into my hand as I went to the election meeting, at the Holborn Hall. Just the usual stuff about nationalising steel, I thought.
BUT when I got home I glanced at it. In heavy capitals the message leapt out at me: REFUSE TO VOTE!
It went on:
Government is for slaves, free men govern themselves!
And then the startling exhortation:
LONG LIVE ANARCHY!
I must admit an immediate sympathy for what I read. On every side we are being bombarded by politicians asking, pleading, demanding that we vote. Don’t be apathetic. Exercise your franchise on Thursday. Yet here was something encouraging rebellion, a philosophy pandering to natural sloth.
“To vote for a government is not to have a voice in the running of your affairs,” I read, “it is merely to have a voice in choosing your masters, to become a slave to men in power.”
But, of course! Strange I had never realised it before. I began to wonder how I should look in a beard. On closer examination the pamphlet proved to be issued by an organisation called the Man! Group (London). That exclamation mark is theirs. Anarchists seem to favour exclamation marks.
It also gave the name of someone called L. Feldman and an address in Lordship Park, Stoke Newington. I cut a pack of cards, lost to myself, made my will and decided to risk it. I would seek out the fountain-head of this political theory, which would mean I could stay in bed all day on Thursday.
There was nothing very sinister about Lordship Park, and the house at which I called had even a new coat of chocolate-brown paint. But all knowledge was denied of a Mr. Feldman, which was not surprising as L. Feldman, the anarchist and my Quarry, proved to be a woman.
Just as I was turning tail she came down the stairs: a small, middle-aged woman in a much-darned overall and plimsolls without laces. She peered up – I thought suspiciously – through thick spectacles and demanded my business.
“I have seen a pamphlet…” I began and waited for the door to slam. Instead the woman nodded briskly and led me up some stairs and past some screaming children, to a single partitioned room where she lived in the upmost confusion on the top floor.
Then for the next hour in a voluble, quite unstemmable flow of broken English, Leah Feldman set about my political education in the matter of anarchism.
SLOGANS, theory and dramatic stories of Czarist oppression and Soviet prison torture poured out of this surprising little woman. From a highly coloured, very exhausting maze I extracted the fact that she had been born in Odessa on the Black Sea at the end of the last century the daughter of a poor Russian-Jewish furrier.
As a girl of 16 she had come to England in 1913 had read of anarchism in the books of Kropotkin borrowed from a friend in Dalston, and ever since had been dedicated to its creed.
It seems there are about seven anarchist groups in London, The Man! Group. which has only just splintered away from the London Anarchist Group, is the smallest. It consists of a dozen anarchists, three of whom are women, who produced and are this week distributing the “Refuse to Vote” pamphlet.
Anarchists, according to Leah Feldman consist of pacifists. syndicalists, Communists, and individualists.
Her group broke away because it doesn’t believe in syndicalism (an anarchist form of trade unionism), and, while against all violence, its members would (unlike the pacifist anarchists) defend themselves – if attacked.
“We do not believe in government – that is just the tyranny of authority – but we don’t believe in its violent overthrow.” she said. “You must get it right out of your mind that anarchists throw bombs. We are against violence. We do not believe it is necessary.”
HOW was the country to be ruled? Back came the answer pat: “Organisation, yes; local councils. yes; but no centralised government. That is only dictatorship.”
It takes a bit of getting used to – the idea that anarchists aren’t always playing with nitroglycerine. and when Leah Feldman went so far as to say that the Queen and British Royalty were less a menace than the Soviet brand of Communism I knew it was time to go. Disillusion was complete.
No beards. No people with names ending in “oski.” No bombs in bags. No blood running in Parliament-square. Just a handful of people typified by this small, extraordinarily cheerful woman in North London who believe fervently in the rights of the individual as against bureaucracy. Why, for all the pamphlets, Hyde Park oratory, and weekly meetings in smoky rooms in Holborn, anarchism doesn’t seem so very far from good old-fashioned liberalism.
From: E.N. [Evening News] 25 May 1955.