Anarchist, born January 7, 1920; died May 7, 1996
An Obituary by Alice Nutter
"The least, or (if you wish) most you can say for me is I never give up."
Albert Meltzer, '95
Albert Meltzer never did give up. A teenager boxer and the "oldest hooligan in town", Albert was a class struggle anarchist from 1935 onwards. When we met him in October 1994 he was still defending anarchism from anything which would dilute the politics and the sting. As far as Albert was concerned you couldn't be an anarchist christian, an anarchist capitalist or an anarchist spiritualist. Albert believed that anarchism was about fighting privilege. Anybody who didn't want to overturn the class structure couldn't call themselves an anarchist in Albert's hearing.
A working class boy, brought up in the East End of London, Albert loved books and boxing. By 15 he was already calling himself an anarchist. His first claim to fame was when he stood up at a public meeting and defended boxing against Emma Goldman, prompting her to say of him: "A young Hooligan. A rascal who knows nothing of anarchism or syndicalism." Even when he was three quarters of a century old, Albert was still calling himself a hooligan, and still arguing his case.
Albert lived through some extraordinary times. He helped to smuggle arms to the anarcho-syndicalists in the Spanish Civil War - and he acted as a contact for the Spanish anarchist intelligence service. Albert and a group of other anarchists decided to register as a conscientious objector during the Second World War, but because they were not pacifists, the plan was to cause a fuss and then when the draft papers came, enlist. The British government didn't want anarchist troublemakers disturbing army moral; it was 1944 before Albert was drafted. Even then he was kept in Britain until after Europe was 'liberated'. When he was finally shipped out to Eygpt in '46, he took part in Soldiers' Councils, and then a minor mutiny. By the time Albert was finally demobbed he'd thumped an officer, mutineered, been court marshalled twice, and ended up as a 'barrack room lawyer' - representing soldiers in cases against the army.
Albert had a story to mark almost every occassion, and the majority of them were true. When the British Communists handed in their army issued weapons at the end of the war, Albert derided them as sheep. Along with other anarchists, Albert buried his weapons on a bombsite, planning to retrieve them when they were needed. When they finally went back to dig up the arms stash, they found the town planners had buggered up the struggle by building a tower block.
The variety of jobs Albert had, matched his appetite for life. Early on he was a boxer, actor - he appeared as an anarchist extra in Leslie Howard's Pimpernel Smith, after Howard insisted on using 'real' anarchists - fairground worker, theatre manager, warehouseman, bookseller, printer, type setter, and finally a Fleet Street copytaker - fot the Daily Telegraph.
Albert was never confused about class, and he never let himself be 'bought off'. He knew that there was no glamour in poverty, and that taking the bosses' money while refusing to kiss his arse was a stronger statement than staying poor. When we interviewed Albert for "i: Portraits of Anarchists" Albert was clear about which side he was on:
"When I worked in print we earned more than the management, but we were still working class. It's what you know, who you identify with. People mistake affluence for class."
In the '50s the British anarchist movement was torn apart by conflict and feuding. According to Albert, liberials were trying to make anarchism serve their own ends, while he maintained that anarchism had to remain a revolutionary working class movement. There's a lot of truth in that, but anarchists who were in London at that time claim that the story is complicated by Albert and Vernon Richards (Freedom) falling in love with the same woman. In the '60s Albert finally broke with the moderates associated with Freedom Press, whom he called academics, mandarins, liberials and 'non-violent' fascists. In 1967 he got together with Stuart Christie, who'd just got out of Spanish prison for running arms to Spain. Together they started the Anarchist Black Cross - since then the Black Cross has supported jailed anarchists and political prisoners all over the world. In '68, Albert and Stuart Christie started Bulletin which became Black Flag in 1970. Along with others Albert has been involved in editing Black Flag (unpaid) on and off for the last 26 years. In January this year, Albert came up to Bradford's 1 in12 Club for a Black Flag Readers' meeting. Nobody could accuse Albert of being a fair weather friend.
In the '70s Albert had links with the Angry Brigade, using Black Flag to rally public support for them when they came to trial. Albert's last big venture was helping to set up the Kate Sharpley Library - named after a First World War Anarchist and anti militarist. The Kate Sharpley Library is probably the largest collection of anarchist material in England, and in addition to storing anarchist books and pamphlets, regularly publishes lost areas of anarchist history. Albert was well aware that history is a weapon and amnesia serves the interests of the rich. The Kate Sharpley Library preserves working class experiences, at a time when the state is trying to deny the very existence of the working class.
When Albert slipped into a coma at the beginning of May he was at a conference in Weston Super Mare. He was hospitalised there and died a few days later. Albert Meltzer enjoyed a good scrap, he didn't concede much but he respected anybody who put up a good fight. In the limited time that we knew him we found that he was also good hearted, generous and considerate. You could argue with him one week and the next he'd invite you to his birthday party.
The week he died there were 53 of us (from Bradford's 1 in 12 and Nottingham anarchists) visited Barcelona for May Day. The trip had been set up with contacts that Albert had supplied. In January, Albert wasn't well and said that he might take a backseat in politics for a while; it never happened. Albert Meltzer was a fighter till the day he died.
"Personally, I want to die in dignity but my passing celebrated with jollity. I've told my executors that I want a stand-up comedian in the pulpit telling amusing anecdotes, and the coffin is to slide into the incinerator to the sound of Marlene Dietrich. If the booze-up can begin right away, so much the better, and with a bit of luck the crematorium will never be gloomy again. Anyone mourning should be denounced as the representative of a credit card company and thrown out on their ear. Snowballs, if in season, tomatoes if not, can be thrown at anyone uttering even worthy cliches like 'the struggle goes on' and should anyone of a religious mind offer pieces of abstract consolation they should be prepared to dodge pieces of concrete confrontation."
Albert Meltzer, 1995
The Floodgates of Anarchy (with Stuart Christie)
The Anarchists in London
Anarchism - Arguments for and Against
The Origins of the Anarchist Movement in China
First Flight: the Origins of Anarch Syndicalism in Britain (ed) Miguel Garcia's Story
Autobiography - I couldn't Paint Golden Angels (published by AK Press)
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