A short biography of British anarchist and dyer Frank Kitz who was active in London in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Born Francis Platt, 1849 – London, UK, died 1923 – London, UK
“One of the wittiest public speakers I have ever known.”
- George Cores, Personal Recollections of the Anarchist Past
“A bluff, breezy chap, fond of his beer and jolly company”
John Bruce Glasier, William Morris and the Early Days of the Socialist Movement
” A fine burly figure, with a mass of light brown curly hair,
blue eyes, rather heavy features, a pleasant, jolly smile.”
- J.M. in obituary in Justice, 1923
Frank Kitz was born in in 1849 in Kentish Town in London. His real name was Francis Platt, the illegitimate child of Mary Platt and John Lewis, a watchmaker. He later claimed that he was the son of an English mother and German father exiled after the revolutions of 1848. His mother worked as a domestic servant.
He had to look after himself, working as an errand boy, porter and messenger. He decorated the walls of his room with pictures of the French Revolution. “Brought up in the neighbourhood of the West End… I needed no lectures upon surplus value… to cause me to challenge the justice of a system which confers wealth upon the parasites of society and clouds the lives of thousands.”
He attended every meeting and rally of the radical movement in London. At the Hyde Park Riot of 1866, he narrowly avoided arrest. He noted that “the police behaved with their usual brutality.” He became a dyer’s apprentice. When this finished in 1869 he went on the tramp around south east England, financing himself by taking the Queen’s shilling (enlisting in the Army) and then making his escape on multiple occasions. He then travelled through northern England, noting the abject poverty there.
He returned to London and settled in Soho in 1873 or 1874. Here he came across the Democratic and Trades Alliance Association, which was the last remnant of the socialist First International in England. They were mostly tailors and shoemakers. The more revolutionary elements formed the Manhood Suffrage League with Kitz as secretary. By 1877 he was no longer secretary of the League and was looking to help create a specifically socialist and internationalist grouping in London. Kitz spoke good German and was in contact with the German exiles. He was urged by John Neve to form an English section of the socialist movement. The English Revolutionary Society was founded which finally moved into Rose Street in 1878. Here Kitz met Johann Most. Kitz, Most and Neve were all moving from social democratic/social revolutionary positions in a trajectory towards revolutionary anarchism.
When the anarchist newspaper Freiheit (Freedom) was confiscated and Most imprisoned, Kitz brought out an English language version in 1881. At the time of the Most prosecution, Kitz was totally impoverished and had the brokers in. He had 20 pounds from the defence fund in his possession. He hid this in a barrel of sand which he was using in his work and later turned this over to the defence committee after everything had been taken away by the bailiffs.
He attended the International Socialist Congress as a Rose Street delegate. He spoke at the Stratford Dialectical and Radical Club which started his agitation in East London. With Joe Lane he conducted propaganda in Homerton and then Mile End. They set up the Labour Emancipation League, carrying out open air speaking and distribution of propaganda. The League was not specifically anarchist but over the years tended more and more in that direction.
The LEL loosely affiliated to Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation. When a section seceded with William Morris, Eleanor Marx etc, the LEL decided to integrate into the newly formed body called the Socialist League. Kitz and Charles Mowbray, as members of the English Revolutionary Society, had set up a print shop at Mowbray’s house in the appalling Boundary Street slum. They produced anti-militarist and anti-rent propaganda and flyposted the East End . They worked with the LEL and agitated in the various London radical clubs. Both Kitz and Mowbray signed the Manifesto of the Socialist League which was basically a statement of libertarian socialism
In August 1885 Kitz was arrested for obstruction whilst speaking at an open air pitch in Stratford . His case was dismissed.
It was probably Kitz who penned the League leaflet handed out on Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in June 1887 which remarked that “the discovery of gas, electricity, steam-driven locomotives and machinery and the vast extension of commerce, is all to be mixed up with the deification of a mean old woman who has had as much to do with inventions or art as the man in the moon.”
In 1887 and early 1888 he went on a campaign around London to boost the sales of Commonweal, the League paper, in newsagents and bookshops and managed to raise its circulation to 2,600. By 1888 the anarchist current within the League had gained dominance. Kitz took over as Secretary of the League from Fred Charles. Kitz continued his effective work to boost the League. With Sam Mainwaring he went on an open air public speaking tour in South Wales.
He was one of the League speakers who addressed many meetings during the 1889 dock strike, at which much propaganda was distributed. He helped Reynolds of the Merton branch of the League set up a Surrey Labourers Union which organised car men, labourers and laundry women (probably when he was working as a dyer at Morris’s workshop in Merton).
But by 1890 things within the League were turning sour. Kitz disagreed with Mowbray’s advocacy of the use of bomb and dynamite and resigned from the League in March.
In 1909 Kitz was one of the regular speakers at 8 pitches established by London anarchists. He had been out of the movement for a long time. His renewed activity meant that by early 1910 he was blacklisted by the employers and lost his work as a dyer, which he had always exercised as a trade. He was forced to get by by having stalls in street markets. He wrote a set of memoirs, Recollections and Reflections, for anarchist newspaper Freedom between January and July 1912. He described himself as an old man who had at one time felt “despondent of the revolutionary cause”, but was no longer so.
Freedom published financial appeals for him in 1920 and 1922.
‘Now, over seventy years of age, he is no longer able to earn a living at his trade of dyer, and has only the miserable old-age pension of ten shillings weekly as a means of subsistence’.
- Freedom, March 1922
He died in poverty on January 8th 1923 at St. James Infirmary, Balham at the age of 74 after suffering from bronchitis and asthma for some time.