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Centennial Tribute to Kropotkin

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Kropotkin and the Jewish Labor Movement in England

By Rudolf Rocker, Author: "Nationalism and Culture"

Whoever first visits the narrow and winding streets and alleys of the Russian immigrants' quarter in the East of London, stretching from Bishopsgate to Bow and from Bethnal Green in the direction toward the London Docks, is strangely impressed by the contrast he observes between this and ordinary London street life, and seems to move in quite another world. The view of this involved mass of streets where the stranger loses his way, of this strange population, these dark symptoms of proletarian misery and fretting care, is far from elevating, and the visitor always breathes more freely when he turns his back upon this quarter. Very few, however, are aware that behind the darkened walls of these time-worn houses not only need and misery are living, but that idealism is at home there also, hopeful idealism, prepared for every sacrifice. I have lived nearly twenty years in the midst of this singular world; accident introduced me there and I felt during this time the strongest and most imperishable impressions of my life.

Ninety out of a hundred of the immigrant quarter's population are Jewish proletarians from Russia and Poland, who were driven from their homes by the ruthless persecution of the old czarist system, and finding an asylum in this quarter, they treated new industries, chiefly in the ready-made tailoring trade, to eke out a bare living in this foreign country. In this remarkable center a handful of intellectuals, about sixty years ago, laid the first foundations of a labor move-ment, the history of which remains to be written and may form one of the most interesting chapters of international labor history. Sixty - six years ago the Jrbeiter Freund (Worker's Friend) was founded here, for many years one of the oldest continuous libertarian publications, besides the Paris Temps Nouveaus (1879) and "Freedom. (1886).

To the East End immigrants the name of Kropotkin was a kind of symbol; no other man had such a great influence upon the mental development of the Jewish workers as he. His writings formed the real basis of their libertarian education and were spread in many thousands of copies. The groups, especially the "Workers' Friend" group, practiced sacrifice and devotion to render the production of this literature possible, to an extent which I never observed elsewhere. Some really gave the last they had; there was a rivalry in sacrifice and solidarity. None wanted to stand back. Young women and girls earning with pains their 10 or 12 shill-ings a week in the infamous sweating trades of the East End, regularly gave their share, took it from their last money, in order not to be behind their male comrades. In this way the "Worker's Friend" group alone, within not quite ten years, published nearly a half million books and pamphlets, among them numerous works of some hundreds of pages, like Kropotkin's "Words of a Rebel" and "The Conquest of Bread"; Louise Michel's "Memoirs"; Grave's "Moribund Society" ; Rocker's. "Francisco Ferrer," and many others. London was, so to speak, the school where the newly arrived from Russia and Poland, drifting continuously to England, were introduced to the new ideas; from here propaganda spread over many countries. Want of work, material privations, and often that restless migratory impulse proper to many Jewish


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