ALBERT MELTZER - ANARCHY'S TORCHBEARER
Obituary in Guardian Newspaper, 8th May, 1996 Stuart Christie.
Albert Meltzer, who has died aged 76 was a torchbearer for the international anarchist movement. His 60 year commitment survived the collapse of the Spanish Revolution, the civil war and the second world war. He fuelled the libertarian impetus of the 1960's and steered it through the reactionary challenges of the 1980's and 1990's.
A lifelong trade unionist, he fought Mosley's blackshirts; actively supported the Spanish revolution's anarchist communes and militias and the German anti-Nazi resistance and was a key player in the second world war Cairo Mutiny. Postwar he helped rebuild Spain's anti-Franco resistance and the internationals anarchist movement. His achievements include Cuddon's Cosmopolitan Review, a satirical magazine first published in 1965, and the founding of the Anarchist Black Cross, a prisoners' aid and ginger group -- and the subsequent paper Black Flag. perhaps his most enduring legacy is Britain's most comprehensive anarchist archive, the Kate Sharpley Library.
Born into the London of Orwell's ~Down and Out~ Albert's decision, aged 15, to go into revolutionary politics resulted, he claimed, from boxing lessons.That "common" sport was frowned upon by the governors of this Edmonton school and the local Labour candidate, Dr Edith Summerskill. Perhaps it was his boxers' legs which later enabled him to bear his considerable bulk.
Boxing certainly made him a shred judge of opponents' strength and weaknesses. The streetwise but bookish schoolboy attended his first anarchist meeting in 1935 -- where he defended boxing against Emma Goldman.He became a dynamic participant at meetings.
The anarchist-led resistance to the 1936 Franco uprising in Spain boosted British anarchism. Albert helped to organise arms shipments from Hamburg to Spain and acts as a contact for the Spanish anarchist intelligence service.
His early career was as a fairground promoter, theatre hand and occasional extra -- he appeared as an anarchist prisoner in Leslie Howard's anti-Nazi ~Pimpernel Smith~, after Howard insisted that real anarchists be used. Later Albert was a secondhand bookseller and, finally, a Fleet Street copytaker -- for the Daily Telegraph.
While a gentle, generous and gracious soul, his championship of anarchism as a revolutionary working class movement led to conflict with the neo-liberals who dominated the movement in the late 1940's. Many otherwise politically incompatible people were drawn to anarchism because of its militant tolerance. Albert was vehemently opposed to the repackaging of anarchism as a broad church for academia-orientated quietists and single issue pressure groups. It was his championship of class struggle anarchism, coupled with his scepticism about the student-led New Left in the 1960's, which earned Albert his reputation for sectarianism.
Paradoxically, as friend and Black Flag cartoonist Phil Ruff points out in his introduction to Albert's autobiography ~I Couldn't Paint Golden Angels~, it was the discovery of class struggle anarchism through the "sectarianism of Black Flag under Albert's editorship that convinced many anarchists of his and subsequent generations to become active. It brought countless young people into the anarchist movement then, and for a further 30 years until his stroke last month.
Albert Meltzer was an inscrutably private man. He often seemed like a member of a tug-of-war team: you never quite knew if he was there to make up numbers or as the anchor of the operation. To Albert, all privilege was the enemy of freedom; not just the privilege of capitalists, kings, bureaucrats and politicians but also the petty aspirations of opportunists among the rebels themselves.
Albert's pungent autobiography pulled no punches and was a Schvejkian account of an enemy of humbug and injustice. Its author will be fondly remembered by those of us whose lives he touched.
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