I Couldn't Paint Golden Angels by Albert Meltzer [Review]

I have to admit to always having had a passing interest in history, and in particular the history that the likes of Thatcher would have us forget. i.e. our own history, and the fact that so-called ordinary people have had to fight for every crumb they've ever got. The histories of our struggles, that are more often than not deliberately overlooked, when they are not falsified to suit the purposes of our enemies.

With this in mind, while the writing and remembrance of working class history by the working class themselves is more important than ever (due to our culture being drowned under the weight of the trivial and worthless 'lifestyles' sold to us in magazines and on the TV, and written out of existence by the 'histories' of our enemies, who now say that we don't exist - apparently we are all 'middle class' now - even those who scrape along on the minimum wage… grand to know you're really middle class, as you serve idiots in McDonalds, or shovel shit in some factory). The cataloguing and documentation of our own misrepresented and abused movement/ political philosophy/ practice/ history is to my mind of ever greater importance. After all you will not find out about what anarchism is about from our enemies.

Someone once said that 'history is lies' and while maybe not all actually 'lies', then at least one side's point of view or outlook on events. I was looking forward to reading Albert Meltzer's book 'I couldn't paint Golden Angels,' as an earlier book (written with Stuart Christie) 'The Floodgates of Anarchy,' was one of the first books that introduced me to proper 'anarchism' rather than the mangled version I'd found within the 'anarcho-punk', and 'crass-hippie' punk scene. It came as a breath of fresh air after all the 'anarchy & chaos' and 'pacifist' rubbish, neither of which seemed to add up to anything worthwhile in the long term, and in the case of 'pacifism' made sense only as a short-term tactic. This autobiography is written in his own inimitable style, and is packed with Alberts anecdotes and observations, which are often as humorous as they are caustic when dealing with those whose actions and beliefs did not live up to his own ideals. His story is written in episodic form, due to his diaries having been stolen by the police, although helped out by a useful chronology in the appendix, which (when you realise it's there) helps keep track of where in the story you are at any given time.

Albert Meltzer was often accused of being sectarian while he was alive, and was cowardly attacked when he could no longer answer back, but his 'sectarianism' was because he had a clear vision of what 'anarchism' was about, and what anarchists should be aiming for. An anarchist's behaviour should be compatible with their beliefs, or they simply are not an 'anarchist', and this to me, was the root of his 'sectarianism'. While compromise with people whose views/ vision are not the same as our own is sometimes necessary from a tactical point of view (after all, we don't have to like someone personally to work together towards a common goal), we always have to be careful as to who we associate with, because guilt by association can cancel out anything we are attempting in the present, invalidate past work and poison any future action. I think this point comes across well in the book. I've not mentioned any of the many incidents that Albert Meltzer was involved in while an active anarchist from an early age, as he describes them all so well in this book, which I can whole-heartedly recommend as a good read - along with the afore-mentioned 'Floodgates of Anarchy.' In the book he comes across as a man with strong beliefs, who would always help out if he could, even those he did not know, and was a more honest man than many who have since slandered him. He was also capable of admitting when he was wrong, something many cannot and a sign of someone with a strong personality. If Albert was sectarian about his vision of anarchism, then it was for good reasons, and I for one am proud to share that 'sectarianism' if it means retaking 'anarchism' from the slimy hands of 'liberalism', the pacifists and the so-called 'libertarians' of the right wing.

Mark R