Keeping Alive the Spirit of Revolt : Some thoughts on Albert Meltzer and his writings

Sometime in the July or early August of 1940, Albert Meltzer went before the Fulham Tribunal to argue his case as a conscientious objector. He made no claims to be a pacifist instead arguing that his militant anarchism prevented him from supporting this capitalist war and he should be granted conscientious objection as a result of it. He knew he had lost before he began but the statement he had prepared for the hearing is worthy of our consideration if we wish to understand who Albert was. In it he argued that: 

Support for this war… would be for me not only an intolerable compromise to the forces of Capitalism and the State, but a radical betrayal of the international working class’

He went on to assert:

I believe the working-class of Britain can only achieve its freedom by fighting its own capitalist class in the economic field, by forcing it to grant social and wage concessions and by joining with colonial peoples to end imperialism’

And elaborating that, ‘I am opposed to all Governments’ and ‘I am an anarcho-syndicalist’ [1]

Until his death 56 years later these sentences served as the foundation for Albert’s beliefs and actions. There would be changes of nuance and emphasis (they don’t detail his steadfast anti-fascism for instance) but everything he did and wrote was an attempt to build on these basics and make the new world he carried inside him not a dream or an arguing point but a reality.

The Kate Sharpley Library has a bibliography of over 700 articles written by Albert for anarchist and freethought papers both in the UK and overseas during his lifetime. More are still out there, waiting to be found under pseudonyms or as anonymous editorials, and we expect we’ll be adding to the list regularly. The sheer number of articles suggests that throughout his life Albert saw the newspaper article as his main weapon against capitalism and its supporters – as well as other anarchists when necessary!!

Much of his earlier writing in papers such as Revolutionary Youth Movement, Reynolds News, Revolt, War Commentary, and Freedom is commentary on what was happening in the world at the time of writing and was never written with an eye to posterity. His work at this time was urgent and usually written at high speed as the situation demanded. His thoughts were expressed in clear, straightforward language and aimed at those who knew little about anarchism or its basic principles.  He saw himself as helping to build an anarchist movement and never veered from that aim until he died. After his experiences writing for comedians in various music halls and summer revues throughout 1941-43 a wry humour began to appear in his writing. Those days on the road had taught him how humour could be used as a means of effectively getting ideas across to people, as well as highlighting the ineptness and stupidity of capitalism.

His writing up until this time had also regularly reflected his commitment to the internationalism identified in his statement to the Fulham Tribunal. It is not by chance that his most consistent pseudonym was ‘Internationalist’. As well as his articles, this commitment was reflected in his copious correspondence with anarchists overseas offering support or just the odd news briefing. He had contacts all over the world and we might see this internationalism as one of the forces driving the creation of the Anarchist Black Cross in 1968. The ABC took up much of his time in building support networks for those imprisoned as well as regular correspondence with them to combat their isolation.

As he grew older his writing style and its content changed – especially in the pages of Black Flag. Albert, I think, became more and more aware of the shadow of posterity as he grew older. Part of this awareness was that he had begun to see himself as one of the few anarchists left standing who identified with the tradition of class struggle anarchism. It was this class struggle anarchism and its ideas that had mentored him – an anarchism which he now felt was being ignored or written out of history as new groups and tendencies appeared to take over the movement. As these differing ideas about anarchism emerged or gained credence he sensed that the anarchist history and culture that had mentored and nurtured him was in danger of disappearing. In his view, if he didn’t challenge what he saw as mis-conceptions of anarchism then his generation would become victims of historical amnesia and anarchism would become something different from what he had devoted his whole life fighting for.

His support for the Kate Sharpley Library also reflected this awareness of posterity and the need to preserve the record of the past. There was so much he wanted to write and as a result he tried to put far more information into his writing. His articles became more and more polemics against other anarchists, far more than his earlier pieces ever had.

If Albert was instinctively aware of the complexities of working-class life and experience, he was just as aware of the role class played within the anarchist movement. 

He felt that middle-class anarchists determined what constituted anarchist history and had no understanding of the day-to-day experiences that shaped working-class life and culture. Consequently, anarchism often did not appear particularly welcoming to people coming from working-class backgrounds. Albert also felt that anarchist history was not just the intellectual history of great anarchist men and women who wrote books and other material that could be found and read. Anarchist history was equally the undocumented; those who put chairs out at meetings, those who put the stamps on envelopes, those who spoke about anarchism to their friends and relatives in front rooms, cafes and pubs or died alone in prison or camps. These people made anarchism come alive as much as any great speaker or person of action ever did, and they had been a key part of Albert’s world. Much of the history he wrote gave them an identity and presence and rescued them from oblivion.

Albert provided myself and many others with a road map to anarchism we could travel with. We may have found new paths on the journey and one or two of the old paths may have become lost and abandoned, but I still use it nearly every day of my life. The map was built on his writings and through conversation. Conversations with Albert were things of wonder. You began by discussing the merits of Katherine Hepburn as an actress and ended up considering if Rudyard Kipling’s Soldiers Three was critical in the portrayal of working-class people and language. I still have no idea how we ended up there but I realize now that these chats enriched my sense of anarchism, people and possibilities in a way that official study never did. As the years passed I gradually realized that from him I had learnt that anarchism was as much founded on relationships and people as it was on theory. Neither, he felt, would be much use without the other.

Albert was lucky enough to be part of our movement both during times of growth – 1936-1939 and the period from the late nineteen sixties onwards were exciting times to be an anarchist – as well as being part of it in the barren times when all you could do was write a letter here and there and go to the odd meeting when they were held. He carried sadness and tragedy from his personal and political life experiences but many would never have known that. Albert brought the same energy and enthusiasm to both good times and bad and encouraged us to do the same. He never gave up and he never stopped thinking or writing. I miss him nearly every day.


1 His statement can be read at full at

From Black Flag Anarchist Review Volume 1 Number 2 (Summer 2021)