Albert Meltzer: British Anarcho-Syndicalist and CNT-FAI Activist during the Spanish Civil War

January 7, 1920 — May 7, 1996

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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.

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"Nobody is fit to rule anybody else. It is not alleged that Mankind is perfect, or that merely through his/her natural goodness (or lack of same) he/she should (or should not) be permitted to rule. Rule as such causes abuse."

From : "Anarchism: Arguments for and against," by Albert Meltzer

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About Albert Meltzer

 Albert Meltzer 1

Albert Meltzer 1

Albert Meltzer was one of the most enduring and respected torchbearers of the international anarchist movement in the second half of the twentieth century. His sixty-year commitment to the vision and practice of anarchism survived both the collapse of the Revolution and Civil War in Spain and the Second World War; he helped fuel the libertarian impetus of the 1960s and 1970s and steer it through the reactionary challenges of the Thatcherite 1980s and post-Cold War 1990s.

Fortunately, before he died, Albert managed to finish his autobiography, I Couldn't Paint Golden Angels, a pungent, no-punches pulled, Schvejkian account of a radical twentieth century enemy of humbug and injustice. A lifelong trade union activist, he fought Mosley's Blackshirts in the battle of Cable Street, played an active role in supporting the anarchist communes and militias in the Spanish Revolution and the pre-war German anti-Nazi resistance, was a key player in the Cairo Mutiny [after] the Second World War, helped rebuild the postwar anti-Franco resistance in Spain and the international anarchist movement. His achievements include Cuddon's Cosmopolitan Review, an occasional satirical review first published in 1965 and named after Ambrose Cuddon, possibly the first consciously anarchist publisher in the modern sense, the founding of the Anarchist Black Cross, a prisoners' aid and ginger group and the paper which grew out of it - Black Flag.

However, perhaps Albert's most enduring legacy is the Kate Sharpley Library, probably the most comprehensive anarchist archive in Britain.

Born in 1920 into a mixed marriage in the London of Orwell's Down and Out in which there were few homes for heroes, but many heroes fit only for homes, Albert was soon enrolled into political life as a private in the awkward squad. His decision to go down the road of revolutionary politics came, he claimed, in 1935 at the age of 15 - as a direct result of taking boxing lessons. Boxing was considered a "common" sport, frowned upon by the governors of his Edmonton school and the prospective Labor MP for the area, the virulently anti-boxing Dr Edith Summerskill. Perhaps it was the boxer's legs and footwork he acquired as a youth which gave him his lifelong ability to bear his considerable bulk. It certainly induced a lifetime's habit of shrewd assessment of his own and opponents' respective strengths and weaknesses.

The streetwise, pugilistic but bookish schoolboy attended his first anarchist meeting in 1935 where he first drew attention to himself by contradicting the speaker, Emma Goldman, by his defense of boxing. He soon made friends with the aging anarchist militants of a previous generation and became a regular and dynamic participant in public meetings. The anarchist-led resistance to the Franco uprising in Spain in 1936 gave a major boost to the movement in Britain and Albert's activities ranged from organizing solidarity appeals, to producing propaganda, working with Captain J R White to organize illegal arms shipments from Hamburg to the CNT in Spain and acting as a contact for the Spanish anarchist intelligence services in Britain.

Albert's early working career ranged from fairground promoter, a theater-hand and occasional film extra. Albert appeared briefly in Leslie Howard's Pimpernel Smith, an anti-Nazi film that did not follow the line of victory but rather of revolution in Europe. The plot called for communist prisoners, but by the time Howard came to make it, in 1940, Stalin had invaded Finland, and the script was changed to anarchist prisoners. Howard decided that none of the actors playing the anarchists seemed real and insisted that real anarchists, including Albert, be used as extras in the concentration camp scenes. One consequence of this meeting was Howard's introduction to Hilda Monte, a prominent but unsung hero of the German anarchist resistance to Hitler, which may have contributed to his subsequent death en route to Lisbon.

Albert's later working years were spent mainly as a secondhand bookseller and, finally, as a Fleet Street copytaker. His last employer was, strangely enough, The Daily Telegraph.

While by nature a remarkably gentle, generous and gracious soul, Albert's championship of anarchism as a revolutionary working class movement brought him into direct and sustained conflict with the neo-liberals who came to dominate the movement in the late 1940s. Just as people are drawn to totalitarian movements like fascism and communism because of their implicit violence and ideological certainties, many otherwise politically incompatible people were drawn to anarchism because of its militant tolerance. Albert was vehemently opposed to the re-packaging and marketing of anarchism as a broad church for academia-oriented quietists and single-issue pressure groups. It was ironical that one of this group, the late Professor George Woodcock, should publicly dismiss anarchism as a spent historical force in 1962, blissfully unaware of the post-Butskellite storm which was about to break and the influence anarchist and libertarian ideas would have on this and generations yet to come. It was his championship of class-struggle anarchism, coupled with his skepticism of the student-led New Left in the 1960s 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, it was the discovery of class struggle anarchism through the "sectarianism" of Black Flag under Albert's editorship that convinced so many anarchists of his and subsequent generations to become active in the movement'. The dynamic and logic of Albert's so-called sectarianism continued to bring countless young people into the anarchist movement then and for a further thirty years until his untimely stroke in April 1996.

It is difficult to write a public appreciation of such an inscrutably private man. Albert Meltzer seemed often like a member of a tug-of-war team; you never quite knew if he was there simply to make up numbers or if he was the anchor-man of the whole operation. To Albert, all privilege was the enemy of human freedom; not just the privileges of capitalists, kings, bureaucrats and politicians but also the petty aspirations of opportunists and careerists among the rebels themselves. Much of what he contributed to the lives of those who knew him must go unrecorded, but he will be remembered and talked about fondly for many years to come by those of us whose lives he touched.


Stuart Christie


Albert Meltzer, anarchist, born London, January 7, 1920; died, Weston-Super-Mare, North Somerset, May 7, 1996.

An edited version of this obituary was published in The Guardian under the title 'Anarchy's torchbearer'.

From : "Albert Meltzer, anarchist," by Stuart Christie, published by Kate Sharpley Library,


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This person has authored 84 documents, with 305,822 words or 1,876,664 characters.

Table of Contents Introduction Inalienable Tenets of Anarchism The Class Struggle Organization and Anarchism The Role of an Anarchist in an Authoritarian Society Bringing About the New Society The Marxist Criticism of Anarchism The Social-Democratic Critique of Anarchism The Liberal-Democratic Objection to Anarchism The Fascist Objection to Anarchism The Average Person's Objection to Anarchism Introduction The Historical Background to Anarchism It is not without interest that what might be called the anarchist approach goes back into antiquity; nor that there is an anarchism of sorts in the peasant movements that struggled against State oppression over the centuries. But the modern anarchist movement could ... (From:
After World War II, the police archives were taken by the Americans and when these were opened to scholars they found that German anarchist resistance through the ages had been extremely large. There had been an extremely active and influential working class anarchist movement in a line from that under Bismarck to that under Hitler. It had been ignored by historians because workers in general, like women in particular, only exist for them in relation to power politics or intellectual currents (also, perhaps, because it entails some real research as distinct from looking up other people’s books). Here we can only give some pointers to research. Much of the old anarcho-syndicalist movement, in the FAUD (later crushed by Hitler), ... (From:
Thomas Hamilton walked into a classroom at Dunblane, where he was well known, and shot the teacher and almost the entire class of five year olds. In the national mourning many questions were raised as to how this could have been prevented. As he had killed himself anyway, like Ferd West the serial murderer-rapist, there could hardly be any of the usual cries for the re-introduction of the death penalty. Though it was generally claimed that it is all the harder for parents who can’t understand why Hamilton acted the way he did, it was taken for granted politics must be kept out of it. Now that it is passed over as yesterday’s news, perhaps the time has come to make those politics known. Political understanding has everythi... (From:
(Anarchist Albert Meltzer writes about British author and anarchist Ethel Edith Mannin.) Ask who is the writer who has contributed most in the English language to the spread of libertarian ideas and you will get some peculiar answers, probably one of them some obscure Canadian professor whom nobody reads except as prescribed in the university curriculum (ed: he probably means George Woodcock, who it would appear Meltzer doesn’t think too highly of!). You might well get the same answer from Ethel Mannin, but for my money it is she who deserves the maximum credit, and seems to have received none that I know of. She was writing on sex and women’s liberation fifty years ago and has introduced anarchist ideas in numerous works of... (From:
6 Rewards and Fantasies History excuses robbery and the law sanctions it. Even though the thief himself may not die in the odor of sanctity, provided he holds sufficient loot intact to pass on to his descendants, the hereditary principle will provide that his grandchildren may grow up virtuously and live graciously. The rich can afford virtue; the poor may well practice it the more, but can seldom afford it. The descendants of the brigands who stole the land from the Scottish people are proud that their fathers fought for what they now possess, and are most indignant at the notion that they themselves may have to fight for it again. But the British landowning nobility as a whole is resigned to its present situation. They marri... (From:
With the civilized world in ruins, the masses, understandably, began to feel the need for Security. Gradually, it became clear that there were two forms of security that they could turn to. One, conservatism: the preservation of as much of the established order as possible. Alternatively, dictatorship, the security of the slave state. The hectic postwar years showed quite clearly again that increasing numbers of people were deliberately turning against independent thinking, and turning to either the policy of “enjoy yourself while you can” (essentially complementary to conservatism) or that of “follow the leader” (essentially the policy of dictatorship). We are faced to-day with the two systems, therefo... (From:
The Prime Minister was presented with a new soapbox to celebrate his election victory. Sir David English, editor of the Daily Mail, said Mr Major’s use of a soapbox was ‘brilliant’. (News item). A week before the 1992 General Election, when the Conservative Party was facing almost certain defeat, and the Labor Party was holding triumphal meetings at mass rallies, John Major, in what was regarded as a last desperate effort, took to the streets with a (specially made and adapted) soapbox carried by an aide, and stumped the country, giving prepared speeches at crowded street corners and market squares. The Labor Party, knowing little of the history of the labor movement and slightly ashamed of what it did know, said it... (From:
Chapter XVIII The CNT between Death and Birth; The Re-Birth of the CNT; The Phony CNT; The Orkneys; Cienfuegos Press; The Wooden Horse The CNT Between Death and Birth After Franco died in 1975, there was a tremendous sense of elation among the exiles as well as in Spain. Among others, Miguel decided to return to Spain. He went by train with some others, and I followed a few weeks after, on vacation, with the car loaded with books and pamphlets we had printed at the Centro Iberico and with a couple of duplicators. Fortunately I resisted Miguel's insistence I should have a roof rack, which is why I got so far. Even so the car, somewhat on its last legs anyway, would not take the weight. It broke down irretrievably near Toulouse ... (From:
Grupo 1 de Mayo At the end of April 1966 Mgr. Marcos Ussia, the ecclesiastical adviser to the Spanish Embassy in the Vatican, disappeared mysteriously while returning from the Embassy to his home in the suburbs of Rome. A few days later the First of May group announced its existence in Rome, while CNT militant Luis Andres Edo, in Madrid, announced simultaneously to the world press that Ussia had been kidnapped to draw attention to the plight of Franco’s prisoners. The results of this action by the revolutionary anarchist movement became an issue of international importance and a central point of discussion in the Italian, French, Swiss, Spanish and Swedish press (the British press avoided it, perhaps for fear of imitative actio... (From:
On the whole there has been little or no study of the Spanish labor movement. The success of the insurrection against Czarism so captivated the imagination of the world that attention, from the point of view of revolutionary socialism, has thereafter been riveted on Russia and what concerns its interests. The State “Socialism” that triumphed in that country is no doubt worth studying, if not experiencing: but from the standpoint of any sincere revolutionary — even one who might not consider himself a libertarian — it is surely more richly rewarding to look at the case of a labor movement that could sustain itself through generations of suppression; that could dispense with a bureaucracy; and that could maintain its c... (From:
Fascism by 1934 was marching triumphantly. In Italy, Mussolini had long consolidated his power and was preparing to attack Abyssinia. Hitler, after one year of power, was tightening his hold on Germany and preparing the first of the many international adventures which were to lead to the pyre at his Berlin bunker. In England, Mosley had returned from a long visit to Germany and reorganized and re-trained his blackshirted British Union of Fascists. At that time there seemed nothing to stop Oswald Mosley’s military marching columns and aggressive propaganda. The Labor Party advised, “Be constitutional. leave it to the police and don’t forget to vote Labor!” The Communist Party, as each big Fascist meeting was an... (From:
1. Anarchism was built up and invented by the working class to meet with specific problems in working class organization and to point the way to a society free from oppression. It differed from Marxism or authoritarian socialism in that it saw that copying bourgeois forms of organization or government was a mistaken tactic; also that government could form a new tyranny. It was not generally realized at the time that there could be two forms of aspirants to tyranny - capitalists and bureaucrats could take over a new government, but prior to that the middle classes were also divided in their attitude to socialism. The middle class as defined by Marx - the profit making class ^^ had a corollary in the mandarin class aiming at power and its cla... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
Introduction by Albert Meltzer Nikolai Bukharin was regarded by many as Lenin’s favorite, in spite of his many differences with the leader of the Bolsheviks, the Benjamin of the Party which seized power in (or more precisely, after) the Russian Revolution. He was the youngest of the leadership, a merry extrovert among the more grim-faced professional revolutionaries, and above all, was popular with the Party both in Russia and abroad. After Lenin’s death, Bukharin was considered the most likely successor to the leadership; indeed, looking round the assortment of Party hacks and armed scholars, there was no one else to recommend themselves who had the necessary background and the talents to conquer. As against the v... (From:
In the last issue of War Commentary I endeavored to analyze briefly all these fake-revolutionary movements and to show that in reality all reformists were working towards, not reform and certainly not democracy, but towards dictatorship. “Reformism” is no longer synonymous with “democracy”: on the contrary, it is the reformist movements everywhere where they are permitted to exist which are endeavoring to shackle the workers to the governmental war machine, very often in order that the capitalist governments will not suppress them in order to do that job themselves. Let us now consider the case for the genuine brand of social revolution. What the pre-requisites of a revolutionary movement today? In the ... (From:
Anarchism is a revolutionary method of achieving a free nonviolent society, without class divisions or imposed authority. Whether this is a “utopian” achievement or not is irrelevant; the Anarchist, on any normal definition, is a person who, having this aim in mind, proceeds to get rid of authoritarian structures, and advances towards such a society by making people independent of the State and by intensifying the class struggle so that the means of economic exploitation will be weakened and destroyed. Confusion There should be no confusion between anarchism and liberalism however militant the latter might be (e.g. movements towards national liberation). The liberal seeks greeter freedom within the structure of society... (From:
THE ECONOMIC & POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS OF “L’AFFAIRE BONNOT” Back in the days of the First International, Marxists, Anarchists and Blanquists had concerned themselves, among other problems, with the phenomenon in capitalist society of the “criminals of want.” It is a common mistake among contemporary bourgeois philosophers that they “idealized the proletariat;” least of all Marx, with his unsentimental approach, would have done such a thing. Some believe that they “idealized the criminal class.” It is with this minor (but important) belief that we are dealing here. It was generally agreed that it was impossible to condemn crime or a criminal class in terms of the old mor... (From:
There may be an obvious answer as to why those who think Tolstoy the greatest mind of the century assume they know better than he did himself as to what he believed. In an introduction to a new selection of Tolstoy’s essays, David Stephens trashes Black Flag for saying he wasn’t an Anarchist (neither was he as supposed a Christian or a Pacifist). Stephens cites Woodcock to prove his case, wow, that’s us squashed. A few pages later we read Tolstoy never called himself an Anarchist, but how would he know what he was? (He never read Prof. Woodcock). Stephens also admits Tolstoy attacked the Church — and was excommunicated — for his opposition to Christianity as generally understood. But how would the Church... (From:
Reformism is not the same as advocating or getting reforms. There is a hell of a lot in this society needs reforming. Reformism is the belief that all efforts should be directed at the bit that needs reforming (with the economic system, society, the State or a political party) to which all efforts should be directed. Someone who thinks an old banger of a machine is fundamentally sound and only needs a bit of tinkering to make it perfect is called a bodger. Someone who decides there’s nothing wrong with a crap institution but a change of leadership, a reform of moral outlook, a few new laws, a ban here and a relaxation there, is called a reformist, though could equally well be called a bodger. Certainly there is a lot about expl... (From:
Prime Minister John Major referred to Tories achieving a ‘classless society’. He was referring to the gradual move from the English class system to the American. In England the survival of the old upper class is ensured by the constitutional monarchy, against which the middle class is beginning to rebel, or at least not regard exxpressions of rebellion as reprehensible. The old upper class has managed to snatch on to influence (where once it had supreme power) by social snobbery, beginning with the schools, ensuring that people who make huge sums of money are frozen out of the Establishment unless and until they conform to their requirements. The upper class classically retain certain areas within themselves, such as the ... (From:
Half a century after the events concerned, the Guardian and the BBC unearthed the facts about Edward VIII (later Duke of Windsor). Only their interpretations are dubious. They say the Establishment suspected Edward for his fascist views, and used the Mrs Simpson affaire as an excuse to get rid of him. Certainly Edward collaborated with the Nazis before and during the war and by law should have been hanged for high treason (even now a capital offense). He deserted his post in front of the enemy in France during the war and went to Spain. Another death sentence was due. Prime Minister Churchill then sent him off on a handsome salary to govern the Bahamas, where he gave information and advice to Berlin (a third death sen... (From:
When we declare our opposition to reformism, we do not mean that we oppose reforms, and obviously any crumb is better than no bread at all. What we oppose is the devotion of the labor movement to the reformist principle, thus gradually taking over from the middle-class do-gooders, and even (as has happened above all in England) letting those people in turn take over the direction of the labor movement politically, on the grounds that they will thus manage to achieve a few parliamentary and other reforms here and there. The result of this action is that in the end we get some reforms, but no social change-over such as the labor movement was originally created for. The new labor movement we hope as syndicalists to achieve is one... (From:

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Quotes by Albert Meltzer

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"Nobody is fit to rule anybody else. It is not alleged that Mankind is perfect, or that merely through his/her natural goodness (or lack of same) he/she should (or should not) be permitted to rule. Rule as such causes abuse."

From : "Anarchism: Arguments for and against," by Albert Meltzer

"If we accept the principle of a socialized society, and abolish hereditary privilege and dominant classes, the State becomes unnecessary. If the State is retained, unnecessary Government becomes tyranny since the governing body has no other way to maintain its hold."

From : "Anarchism: Arguments for and against," by Albert Meltzer

"If Government is the maintenance of privilege and exploitation and inefficiency of distribution, then Anarchy is order."

From : "Anarchism: Arguments for and against," by Albert Meltzer


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January 7, 1920
Birth Day.

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May 7, 1996
Death Day.

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November 15, 2016; 5:26:09 PM (America/Los_Angeles)
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