by Christopher Draper
This is the first of a two-part-update on the management of Freedom Press.
ON the 22nd June 2016, a 75-year-old pensioner invited to address a small political meeting in London was dragged from the building by a couple of ruffians and deposited, bleeding on the pavement outside. An accomplice egged on the bullies, snatched the pensioner’s mobile and outside on the pavement grabbed and rifled through the victim’s brief case, whilst he was restrained by his attackers.
After receiving medical attention the victim was advised to provide a comprehensive report of his assault to the Metropolitan Police. I have a copy of that report before me and it identifies the assailants as Andy Meinke and Simon Saunders, who claim to be anarchists occupying the FREEDOM building in Whitechapel High Street. This dramatic development demands an effective response from the body, “FRIENDS of FREEDOM PRESS” (FFP), which not only owns the building but is legally obliged to ensure it is properly used for the continued publication of FREEDOM journal. Instead the self-proclaimed “FREEDOM COLLECTIVE (FC)” in occupation closed down the journal in 2014 with the triumphant declaration by Andy Meinke, “Kropotkin might have started it but we fucking finished it!”
This occupation of FREEDOM HQ is illegitimate. The victim proposed a scheme to reclaim the building and restart publication so he was vindictively attacked and ejected by Saunders and Meinke. I detailed the narrative background to this occupation at length elsewhere (“Who Killed FREEDOM?”) and here present an updated précis-analysis underlining the key roles of Meinke and Saunders. This article concludes with the revival of FFP in June 2015. Part two, “A YEAR IN THE DEATH of FREEDOM” (to be published here on August 1st,) will describe and analyse events at FREEDOM and FFP from June 2015 up to, and including, the violent assault of 22 June 2016.
An Illegitimate Occupation
The FREEDOM building is owned by FFP, a legally constituted company with “Articles of Association (AoA)” and “Memorandum of Association (MoA)” registered at Companies House. These documents commit the Friends of Freedom Press Board to 3 crucial legal obligations (nb my emphasis);
- FFP exists to facilitate, “the printing and publication of the anarchist journal FREEDOM and books, pamphlets and journals published by FREEDOM PRESS” (MoA 3(A)1)
- FFP owns “the Freehold premises at 84b Whitechapel High Street, London, E1 and the fixtures and fittings and machinery situated therein for the purposes of making the same available to FREEDOM Press for the printing, publishing and disseminating of the journal FREEDOM and other literature” (MoA 3(A)2)
- “In the event of FREEDOM PRESS ceasing to exist or for any reason being unable to continue the publication of FREEDOM and other anarchist literature, to assist financially and promote the publication of anarchist journals, books and pamphlets by such persons, firms or bodies as the Company shall approve of” (MoA 3(A)3)As the 'Freedom Collective' ('FC') are demonstrably not engaged in “the printing and publication of the anarchist journal FREEDOM” they have no legitimate reason to remain. The FFP Board is therefore obliged “to assist financially and promote the publication of anarchist journals, books and pamphlets by such persons, firms or bodies as the Company shall approve of”. As the building is the Board’s only asset it must therefore be sold to finance the resumption of publication of FREEDOM by persons deemed suitable by Friends of Freedom Press. As I will demonstrate presently, FFP formally agree with both this analysis and the need for action. I will explain in Part Two why this has not yet come to pass.
The Aldgate CuckoosThe 'FC' have been allowed to get away with it for too long and have developed a misplaced sense of entitlement. They NEVER believed in FREEDOM. They only ever intended to exploit the legacy for their own ends. Despite claiming allegiance to anarchism the 'Freedom Collective' have little understanding, appreciation or respect for the long-established ethics and values of FREEDOM. In so far as they represent any form of anarchism it is a crude, self-proclaimed commitment to “class-struggle” and an alignment to the moribund “BLACK FLAG” politics of Albert Meltzer. Both Saunders and Meinke, claim allegiance to BLACK FLAG and exploited their base at FREEDOM to republish BLACK FLAG magazine.Whilst FREEDOM promoted tolerant, civilised, constructive open-minded anarchism, BLACK FLAG (as a faction and magazine) celebrated confrontation and destruction, dismissing critics with insults and intolerance. FREEDOM’s Aldgate HQ was bought half-a-century ago by veteran anarchist Vernon Richards to provide a publishing home for FREEDOM journal (founded 1886 by Peter Kropotkin and associates). Throughout much of his life Vernon Richards and FREEDOM were reviled by Meltzer and BLACK FLAG. The Friends of Freedom Press Board Member and Socialist Historian, David Goodway, in his “Anarchist Seeds Beneath the Snow”, outlined Meltzer’s BLACK FLAG approach, he “romanticised anarchist violence, imagined the existence of a significant historic anarchist working-class movement in the British Isles and altogether indulged in much fantasy.”Despite his prejudices, it was typical of FREEDOM’s inclusive politics that Meltzer was invited to contribute an article to the journal’s commemorative centenary edition. Instead Meltzer devoted a special BLACK FLAG supplement, “LIARS AND LIBERALS – THE OTHER ANARCHISM” to trashing the FREEDOM tradition. FREEDOM stalwart, Nicolas Walter maintained that, “In a sense, anarchists always remain liberals and socialists, and whenever they reject what is good, in either they betray anarchism itself.” Meltzer and BLACK FLAG derided liberal values and Saunders and Meinke energetically maintain that tradition. In 2006, Saunders as newly arrived FREEDOM editor, belittled stalwarts of the Vernon Richards era as, “reeking of allotments, of forgetting class, of irrelevance and reformism”, whilst Meinke arrogantly dismissed Vero as “someone of a rather liberal bent”.In 2007, a relaunched BLACK FLAG announced; “BLACK FLAG has returned…we are working closely with the editors of FREEDOM…Now we are sure that is something that Albert Meltzer would never have expected”!In the Summer 2009, BLACK FLAG exemplifies just how closely Black Flag was working with the Freedom Collective as it featured a lengthy interview with Andy Meinke written by Simon Saunders (under the guise of “Rob Ray”). Despite exploiting FREEDOM’s assets the 'Freedom Collective' ultimately achieved no more success with BLACK FLAG than they have with FREEDOM.Meinke and Saunders aren’t alone in their quest to eradicate all trace of liberal, open-mindedness from FREEDOM. In January 1985, class-war warrior Nick Heath, then proclaiming Libertarian Communism, now leading the misleadingly named “Anarchist Federation (AF)”, wrote to FREEDOM rejecting its liberal editorial policy: “Why devote so much space to right-wing libertarians and anarcho-capitalists… I’m sure most of the readership…don’t want to read such trash”. As Donald Rooum observed in an email to me of 6.3.2015: “Nick Heath wanted the paper to stick to an anarchist communist workerist line, while the editors, when I was one of them, wanted the paper to be open to genuine anarchists of other persuasions and to arguments against anarchism.” Rooum helpfully contrasts the open forum tradition of FREEDOM with the narrow “class-struggle”, party-line politics favoured by both Heath and Meltzer. Rejecting the option of arguing out his opinions in FREEDOM, as Rooum explains, Heath, like Meltzer before him, “went off to found a paper and an organised group more to his liking.” Rooum here, as elsewhere, is being disingenuous, for Heath and the “workerist…organised group more to his liking” is now headquartered alongside BLACK FLAGGERS Meinke and Saunders at FREEDOM HQ! With no suggestion of a Damascene conversion it’s evident that FREEDOM HQ is now occupied by individuals opposed to the politics it was bought to promote.
- Regime ChangeTo be fair to the class-war warriors, they didn’t force their way in. They sneaked in through a gap opened up by Donald Rooum. I’ve described elsewhere (“Who Killed FREEDOM?”) how Rooum shoved out both FREEDOM’s existing editor and bookshop manager as Vernon Richards relaxed oversight and died (2002). For the key role of FREEDOM editor Rooum imported a Marxist former General Secretary of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Rooum claims it was a modernising move designed to save money and spruce up the paper. I agreed the paper needed a facelift but argued at the time that the unique politics of FREEDOM were being destroyed. Slogans and depictions of petrol-bomb-throwing predominated and thoughtful analysis of alternative ways of organising society were rejected. Where eminent sociologists Laurie Taylor and Jock Young once offered insightful social analysis we now had an editor content to describe society as, “the fucking steaming pile of horseshit we live in”. Thus was established “New FREEDOM’s” literary house-style.The innovation of a “WHAT WE SAY” editorial column would have been risible were it not so ominously indicative of the arrival of authoritarian, sub-Marxist group-think. My correspondence with “New FREEDOM” charts the immediate and profound consequences of this regime change. Spurning Nick Walter’s advice, after 2001 FREEDOM not only rejected what is good in liberalism, it positively spat in its face.Lest sceptics fear I exaggerate, I offer a couple of observations of bookshop manager Meinke who relishes the change and welcomes the, “shift in the people attracted to FREEDOM. Until 2002 it was virtually owned by someone who was of a rather liberal bent and that has shifted”. Meinke recognises the opportunistic nature of the takeover: “When Vernon Richards died he handed FREEDOM over to the movement on a plate but it was too surprised to notice. It was comrades coming out of the anarchist youth network who saw the opportunity with the paper and reclaimed it for class struggle.”From the outset, editors, in their own words, “enforced a strict class-first line”. The unique FREEDOM ecosystem was shredded. Meinke’s fellow assailant, Simon Saunders, admits the new regime, “broke with much of the old support network…severely weakened the structure of the paper…readers have been alienated, writers have stormed out”.The New Regime in ActionThe new regime systematically alienated FREEDOM’s readers, writers and subscribers. There’s some truth in the FC’s claim that the FREEDOM journal became unviable but they were the cause. Inappropriate policies pursued by incompetent individuals. When Saunders assumed editorship in 2005, he boasted of his ignorance of anarchism so why on earth was he gifted such responsibility? The answer is helpfully supplied by Meinke: "Within the FREEDOM Collective only a small minority were involved in producing the paper, not so much lack of commitment as not seeing it as central to what FREEDOM as a building was for”! (nb This amounts to a total negation of the Friends of Freedom Press’s legal obligations)
- Originally the Freedom Collective agreed to publish “Anarchists in Social Work” produced by FREEDOM traditionalist, Martin Gilbert, but then “lost the manuscript” so Gilbert, had it successfully published elsewhere. When I sent a review of the book to FREEDOM, editor Simon Saunders eventually admitted, “The review was then lost, found, lost again, re-found and finally disappeared altogether.”
Perhaps Saunder’s incompetence rather than censorship was to blame but after elderly anarchist Barry Woodling was bundled out of Manchester Anarchist Bookfair in 2012, the FC simply refused to publish a letter signed by over 150 anarchists and socialists deploring this action. Although Donald Rooum revealed that the editor had received “threats” from Nick Heath he in any case justified the censorship by claiming “Any fracas within the movement should stay within the movement”. It is just such collusion with censorship, bans, intimidation and violence that provides carte blanche for this most recent assault.After publishing a very un-FREEDOM celebration of political violence entitled, “Beating the Fascists”, Andy Meinke had to hand £4000 of FREEDOM’s money to David Hoffman, a press photographer whose pictures had been stolen and printed without permission. Hoffman said he would have settled for less but, “From the start Meinke refused to accept any need to apologise, let alone negotiate. He didn’t actually say 'Fuck off, we don’t give a toss and there’s nothing you can do because we’re holy anarchists and can beat the shit out of you' but that was the subtext.”At that point Meinke & Co hadn’t yet entirely burnt through the last of a £70,000 legacy bequeathed by an old-school FREEDOM anarchist. That went after Meinke forgot to renew the Buildings Insurance before the 2012 fire.Abusing and intimidating critics is de rigeur at FREEDOM. Revolted by the FC’s continued, crude celebration of profanity and violence, in 2010, Ian Pirie, who had subscribed for 30 years (and his father before him) wrote, in sadness and disgust, to cancel, questioning, “What has this thuggery got to do with anarchism?...I will continue to do my best to propagate the positive and constructive aspects of anarchist politics where we I can. But FREEDOM is no longer any help in doing this.” FREEDOM responded with a diatribe delivered by “Gawain the cunt Williams” (his self-chosen moniker) that concluded: “Finally, Mr Pirie, maybe you should realise that if the word cunt offends you so much it might be because you are in fact…a cunt. FREEDOM’s been doing a cracking job.”
Donald Rooum popped up again at this point to defend “Gawain the Cunt” and accuse Pirie “of yielding to prudery…and sliding into intellectual snobbery”. No one would accuse Meinke of prudery after reading his “Bookfair Song” (FREEDOM 24.10.2009);“Cos our scene is not a playground,For wankers to hang out,And pose at revolution,Whilst fucking us about”(plus 4 more similar verses and chorus)The failure to publish FREEDOM is sufficient ground to prove the illegitimacy of the FC, but for more than a decade successive, self-appointed “Collectives” revelled in their rejection of both the ideology and ethics of FREEDOM. In their behaviour and propaganda they dance on the graves of FREEDOM stalwarts Vernon Richards, Colin Ward, Nicolas Walter, Philip Sansom whose legacy they so shamelessly exploit.A Sleeping Giant?For a decade or so decent anarchists hoped FREEDOM would reform but it proved impossible to shift the London clique from afar. Determined not to allow the FREEDOM heritage to be extirpated, in 2012, after collecting opinions and information from comrades around the country I initiated a campaign to reclaim the legacy (see “Who Killed FREEDOM?”). As it was evident that FC was beyond redemption our immediate goal was to revive the FFP Board. Originally constituted by Vernon Richards to hold FREEDOM assets and maintain publication, the Friends of Freedom Press Board retains full legal powers to liquidate the assets and resume publication. The problem was that although FFP existed on paper it hadn’t convened for years and in recent times its Secretary had improperly conducted its affairs. Could I shame the few surviving members to reconstitute the Board on a proper, legal basis and then encourage the Friends of Freedom Press to take action against the illegitimate occupants?Victory for Common Sense!The Freedom Collective was incensed as the light of publicity was shone upon its shameful activities. The rabble couldn’t decide when to respond and when to keep quiet and the ill-judged outbursts of Saunders and Meinke encouraged anarchists around the country to provide us with further information and encouragement. Having initially improperly insisted our nominated candidates for Board Membership, Peace Campaigner Ernest Rodker and Socialist Historian David Goodway, first gain the approval of the 'FC', the FFP Secretary realised the error of his ways. Following further intellectual jousting with an improperly appointed Board Member, sanity prevailed and the FFP finally reconstituted itself on June 24th 2015 to include Ernest and David our two nominated candidates.In proposing Goodway and Rodker we didn’t ask them to do anything other than act in accordance with their Friends of Freedom Press legal obligations to revive FREEDOM. Significantly, one of the FC’s favoured candidates was none other than “Gawain the cunt Williams”. When Gawain’s candidature was rejected by the Board and the full list of appointments revealed it appeared a “Victory for Common Sense”. The confirmed new Friends of Freedom Press Board consisted of the following 9 members;
- Jayne Clementson – graphic artist, long-time layout artist for Freedom Press
- David Goodway – historian, author and admirer of the anarchism of Colin Ward
- Martin Howard - Solfed member, writer of “Svartfrost” column in Freedom
- Sonia Markham – anarchist, retire TV make-up artist and daughter of founding FFP member, pioneering feminist-anarchist and children’s author Olive Dehn
- Richard Parry – solicitor and author of “The Bonnot Gang”
- Martin Peacock – founder of the London Anarchist Bookfair
- Ernest Rodker – veteran peace campaigner
- Stephen Charles Sorba – FFP Company Secretary, printer with Aldgate Press
- Donald Rooum – Stirnerite anarchist and cartoonist
A Prospect of FREEDOM?
It was impossible to predict how this new cookie would crumble. First the Friends of Freedom Press had to apprise and agree an analysis of the Aldgate occupation. We trusted that the facts would speak for themselves, and that any fair-minded observer would recognise the accuracy of our analysis. Unfortunately, we couldn’t be entirely sure whether the personal and political allegiances of each and every Board Member would not interfere with their rational assessment of the behaviour of the 'FC'.
Even if FFP agreed that there was no proper publishing going on at FREEDOM would FFP have the courage to act appropriately? Would the FFP Board survive intact the predictable slings and arrows the 'FC' would likely employ to resist eviction?
We felt the FFP deserved a decent opportunity to build up mutual trust and offered to abstain from publishing a blow-by-blow commentary BUT promised that at the end of the Friends of Freedom Press’s first year we would publish a comprehensive analysis of both the 'FC' and FFP's recent activites. This will be published under the title, “A Year in the Death of FREEDOM” on this site on August 1st 2016.
Christopher Draper (Llandudno)