The not-so-great and the not-so-good, no. 30: Guy Aldred & friends

TGSE00353_mThis meme hasn’t come by in a while, but a passing promise in that previous post prompted, so I’ll have to give it a go.

It began with an entry on theglasgowstory.com, which — to be honest — was the sum total of my immediate recollection:

The Commune was a periodical edited by the Glasgow-based anarchist and communist Guy Aldred. It was printed by the Bakunin Press which was based in Aldred’s house in Woodside. The periodical was the official journal of the Anti-Parliamentarian Communist Federation which was founded in 1921 when the Glasgow Communist Group and the Glasgow Anarchist Group joined forces.

Aldred was a Londoner who moved to Glasgow in 1912. As a teenager he had been an evangelist but he lost his religious faith and turned instead to anarcho-communism. He edited a number of radical political broadsheets and championed many left-wing causes until his death in 1963.

 A boy named Guy

If one is born (at Corporation Buildings, Farringdon Road, Clerkenwell) on 5th November 1886, and therefore named Guy, one has already established parameters.

His father was a 22-year-old Naval lieutenant, and a wannabe playwright. His mother was a 19-year-old umbrella-maker. They married when she was seven-months pregnant. Since they never subsequently lived together, and both went on to other (bigamous) marriages, the marriage was “to give the child a name”.

The formative influence was the grandfather, Charles Holdsworth, a bookbinder of “advanced” views — pro-Gladstone, pro-Bradlaugh, pro-Home Rule for Ireland and India, anti-war.

After board school, Guy Aldred worked as a jobbing penny-a-line journalist before becoming a fully-committed lefty propagandist and pamphleteer. In 1907 he was running the Bakunin Press, which explicitly defines his political leanings (trade unionism and direct action) —  the Bakunin connection will recur in a moment.

A girl named Rachel

By 1908 he had set up house in Shepherd’s Bush with 17-year-old Rachel Vitkopski, whose father had adopted the Anglicised surname of Witcop when the family settled in Whitechapel. The following year Aldred was gaoled for a year, with hard labour, for publishing an Indian nationalist newspaper for Shyamji Krishnavarma. This attracted the attention of Sir Walter Strickland (1851-1938), the anti-imperialist “anarchist baronet”, who sent Aldred a donation (and will feature later in this summary).

Rachel was as militant as her new partner — she was more feminist than the Suffragettes, anti-war, and would head to Moscow in 1921 in a futile attempt to have her version of the Communist Party of Great Britain recognised (and financed).

Rachel had a strong side-line in birth control (having produced one child with Aldred) and was an associate of Margaret Sanger. She published British editions of Sanger’s Family Limitation. In late 1922 these were seized by the authorities, and ordered to be destroyed. The charge was obscenity. The case at the magistrates’ court and the London Sessions went against Witcop and Aldred. At which point the intellectuals piled in: Dora Russell (wife of philosopher/mathematician Bertrand)  rallied the Bloomsbury troops. The powers-that-be came to the conclusion the game wasn’t worth the condom. Discreetly, and by excluding any provocative  graphics, Witcop was quietly able to re-issue.

Meanwhile Aldred had gravitated to Red Clydeside. And Rachel was threatened with deportation by the Home Office, now under the malign authority of “Jix“. Although both parties had moved on to other partners (in Rachel’s case, a whole succession of unencumbered relationships), Aldred and Rachel went through a Glasgow register-office marriage to legitimise her residency.

Aldred’s war and the Communist League

Guy had been invited to speak to the Glasgow Clarion Scouts — still pedalling on, it seems —  in 1912, and a series of Scottish speaking tours followed. From 1916 he was imprisoned for his conscientious objection. When he was released in March 1919 he set up shop in Glasgow, where he remained for the rest of his life.

His first commitment was to bring about some sort of unity among the fragmented leftist groupules. The first throw was the Communist League in 1919. Moscow was having none of that, and the “official” Communist Party of Great Britain was set up in 1920, leaving types like Aldred out in the cold — so in 1921 these comrades formed their own little club, , at the humble, if grandly-named Bakunin House, 13 Burnbank Gardens, Glasgow.

The APCF

SPpatrickJHBy now Aldred had a new partner — they were together for the rest of their lives. Jenny Patrick was a self-taught printer and publisher — and a very competent one (see an example of her work in The Commune, at the head of this piece). She graduated from the Glasgow Anarchist Group to become chair of the Glasgow Communist Group.

Aldred and Patrick were the main spirits driving the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation. This was predicated to the usual leftist fancy that it could become the pivotal centre for unity, but adopted the Sinn Féin tactic of a parliamentary boycott. The result was immediate interest by the police, arrests of the main suspects, and terms of incarceration (Aldred got a year, Patrick three months).

The USM

The collapse of the second Labour government, and the perceived betrayal by Ramsay Macdonald, provoked wider disillusion on the Left. Members of the Independent Labour Party lost faith in parliamentarianism, and drifted towards Aldred’s faction. Aldred and his close circle moved away from the APCF to accommodate these new acolytes. The resulting agglomeration was the United Socialist Movement, which operated from 5 Balliol Street, Glasgow — Aldred and Patrick’s home — and persisted until after Aldred’s death in 1963.

Spain

510W-dI6qzL._SY445_Jenny Patrick, together with Ethel MacDonald (whose story is best told by a series of YouTube clips) was invited to Civil War Madrid by the anarchist  CNT–FAI Comité de Défense, and together they ran Anglophone propaganda throughout the War.

This commitment took them to Barcelona in 1937, and Patrick’s personal account was published by Aldred, back in Glasgow, as the murderous Communist Party counter-revolutionary conspiracy against the Anarchists.

Throughout all this time Aldred had existed in basic poverty. Apart from his speeches at Glasgow Green, he was running an advice bureau in Queen Street (effectively the fore-runner of Citizens Advice Bureaux).

The Strickland Press

TGSS00041_m

Sir Walter Strickland’s death in August 1938 brought Aldred a bequest of £3,000, with which he acquired a second-hand print shop — and the Bakunin Press was renamed the Strickland Press. This worked out of 104-6 George Street, Glasgow, for the next quarter-century producing a monthly, The Word.  Aldred gained further wartime notoriety by publishing the pacifist views of the (Nazi-fellow-travelling) Duke of Bedford.

Post-War

The Strickland Press was a very small operation: Aldred, Patrick, MacDonald and John Caldwell. The involvement of Patrick and MacDonald greatly irritated the Scottish Typographical Association. Although Patrick had served her time as an apprentice, that was in London; and she was female. Such disgusting gender-bending was not acceptable to the STA. Because the Strickland Press simply could not afford to employ a male, it was placed under boycott by the STA, unable to contract work out — Patrick and MacDonald had to undertake all the typesetting.

Aldred evolved a personal scheme of “world government”, which he proposed to a meeting (April 1946) at Glasgow Central Halls. This caused a split with many anarchists who reject any notion of “government”. Aldred ploughed on, running “World Federalists” from his home.

Aldred, with Caldwell as his agent, put himself up as a candidate for half-a-dozen parliamentary elections, not with any hope of success (he never scored more than 400-or-so votes), but to raise consciousness of the failures of bourgeois elective politics, and to protest against American bases.   He had split with strict anarchism by this time.

UnknownEthel MacDonald died in 1960, though she remains the most celebrated of these personalities (and the most-successfully biographied). Aldred  in October 1963, leaving his body to research. Jenny Patrick in 1971. John Taylor Caldwell was the longest survivor until 2007, leaving his oral history of the phenomenon that was Glasgow anarchism. Their heir is Stuart Christie.

When come such others?

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1 Comment

Filed under History, politics, Scotland

One response to “The not-so-great and the not-so-good, no. 30: Guy Aldred & friends

  1. Pingback: Charles William Holdsworth: radical Victorian bookbinder | East End Lives

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