E. Michaels – a Jewish Anarchist in Stoke Newington

The obituary above appeared in Direct Action vol 7 #3, in March 1966. Direct Action was the newspaper of the Syndicalist Workers Federation, an anarcho-syndicalist organisation which operated from 1950 until the late 1970s. The SWF then became the Direct Action Movement before changing into the Solidarity Federation in 1994 – an organisation which is still active today.

A brief death notice in Freedom February 19th 1966

Who was he? Everything starts with an “E.”

It’s easy to understand that a Jewish immigrant revolutionary might want to keep their personal details secret. Googling “E. Michaels” produces some good results in the anarchist archives, but that is only half of the story…

Fortunately there is only one “E. Michaels” listed in the death records for Hackney for 1966:

Further poking about turns up this lovely bit of genealogy, which suggests that Emanuel:

  • Was born in Plock, central Poland on 25 Sep 1890 (near enough to 1891 listed above?)
  • Emigrated to England at the age of ten in 1900.
  • Married Rosie Kitman (3 Apr 1892 – 14 Jan 1963) at Mile End in 1914.
  • Had four children (including Harry, as in the Freedom clipping above, which is reassuring)
  • Worked as a Tailors Presser.
  • Died 12 Feb 1966.

This seems to fit quite well with what we know from the obituaries above and the sort of lives that radical Jewish anarchists would be leading at this time. But I’m not an expert, so if any historians or genealogists out there have spotted any errors, let me know!

Update: a comrade has kindly supplied a passport photo of the handsome Michaels.

Anarchy in the East End!

Most of comrade Michaels’ political activity seems to have been in the East End of London in the first half of the 20th Century. He was involved with setting up a “free school” at 62 Fieldgate Street in Whitechapel, which also hosted The Worker’s Friend Club and the East London Anarchist Group. He was also the secretary of the prisoner support group the Anarchist Red Cross and is listed as a donor in a few issues of the London anarchist newspaper Freedom in the 1910s.

According to census data he lived at the following addresses too:

  • 1911: 25 Hungerford Street, Commercial Road
  • 1921: 73 Sutton Street
  • 1939: 163 Jubilee Street E1

But what about Hackney, eh?

Michaels seems to have remained active up until his death. Sparrows Nest Archive has scans of some his letters from 1958 to 1964. Most of these are addressed to Ken Hawkes, the national secretary of the Syndicalist Workers Federation. Many of them mention meetings at Circle House, 13 Sylvester Path, E8. I’ve written about the Workers Circle and Jewish radicals in Hackney previously.

Michaels’ letters are largely administrative – donations, exchanges of publications, details of meetings etc. But the letterheads are invaluable:

Firstly, they tell us that Michaels was the Honorary Secretary of the Jewish radical organisations Freie Arbeiter Stimme (Free Voice of Labour) and Rudolf Rocker Publishing Committee. (Rocker was a German Gentile who became heavily involved with the Jewish anarchist movement).

Secondly, the letters show us where Michaels lived in Hackney. (This is my assumption, based on the nature of the addresses listed and that meetings etc seemed to take place at Circle House and not those on the letterheads). So it looks like Michaels lived at 12 Cranwich Road in Stamford Hill during the 1950s and then moved to “Morley House” N16 in 1961. Which no longer exists…

But! According to this useful blog, Morley House was one of the council blocks at the east end of Cazenove Road, Stoke Newington and was renamed Nelson Mandela House in 1984. There is a quote from Mandela on the side of it which can be seen here.

A diversion down Cazenove Road

According to Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, Morley House was built in 1937-1938 “with a meanly detailed exterior, although the planning of the individual flats was generous at the time”.

Fourteen years after Emanuel Michaels’ death, the flats and exterior would see further anarchistic action.

From Hackney Peoples Press #59 August 1980

Hackney Peoples Press reported that Morley House was due for renovation, which meant that:

“All the council tenants were moved out between 1978 and autumn 1979, and the estate was left almost completely empty.”

Perhaps inevitably some tenacious local people seized this opportunity:

“In November 1979 the first squatters started to move in, even though vandalism and thieving had reduced the building to a dilapidated eyesore.

By February 1980 approximately 80 flats were occupied and some residents approached Hackney Community Housing Resource Centre to ask about licensing the house. (A licence to occupy premises does not imply tenancy as such but makes the occupation authorised by the Council.)

They suggested a direct approach to the Council, and three Council Officers were invited to visit the estate and talk to same of the residents. These officers submitted a report to the Housing Management Committee on 31st March this year, and suggested the granting of a license through Hackney Community Housing (HCH). The Committee however, rejected the recommendations and decided to evict the residents – offering the property to HCH as short term housing instead.”

What followed was a bit of a standoff, with the Council refusing to back down and the squatters getting more organised:

“They held weekly meetings, formed themselves into an Association, cleared up rubbish, and met a number of councillors to discuss the matter. They also formally presented a deputation to the Housing Management Committee asking once again for a licence.”

That all probably seems pretty amazing to people who’ve tried squatting recently, but even in 1980, this was simply delaying the inevitable:

From Hackney Peoples Press #65 Feb 1981

Six months later, the Council’s heavy squad made the 200 squatters homeless:

“Following two dramatic dawn raids by police the Morley House squat in Cazenove Road has had all its electricity and gas supplies cut off. At least 25 people were arrested, mainly on charges relating to the stealing of gas and electricity, but the police indiscriminately smashed through the doors of all the tenants on two of the blocks on the estate.

The first raid took place on 14 January and was made by a large number of police, accompanied by police dogs and gas board officials. The police carried no warrants and yet made extensive searches for drugs and stolen goods. Many doors were broken down in the raid, while others had 6-inch nails driven into their hinges to prevent tenants from re-entering their flats. Whilst searching the rooms the police took many photographs, presumably to be used later in evidence.

Using the excuse that many of the tenants were not paying for gas, the supplies to the estate were cut off, although electric cooking rings were brought in by the Gas Board for those who complained that they were in fact paying their gas bills. But in the early hours of the following morning, the police arrived again, this time with Electricity Board officials, and electricity supplies were cut off under the pretext that all the wiring on the estate was in a dangerous condition.

As a result of these raids about half of the 150 people who lived in the squat have been intimidated into leaving. Speaking to residents of Morley House HPP has discovered that these raids follow several months of police harassment. It is estimated that some 50% of the residents had been picked up by the police prior to the raids. Morley House has been a licensed squat for over one year. In that time Gas and Electricity officials have visited the estate several times, but have not ordered any repairs.”

I hope that Emanuel would have approved of the squatters, but you never know. It’s interesting that the block was subsequently renamed Mandela House – Hackney Council in the 1980s was eager to promote social struggles thousands of miles away, but renaming the block after Emanuel Michaels or celebrating the courageous battle of the squatters was off-limits…

If anyone reading this has more information about either Emanuel Michaels or the Morley House occupation, please do leave a comment or drop me an email.

Sources and further reading

Special thanks to Neil Transpontine.

The Workers’ Circle – fighting anti-semitism in Hackney

Tom Brown – Story of the Syndicalist Workers Federation: Born in Struggle at Libcom, who also have an archive of the SWF’s Direct Action newspaper.

Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner – The Buildings of England: London 4: North, Yale University Press 1999.

George Cores – Personal recollections of the anarchist past (published by Kate Sharpley Library, available at Libcom)

Nick Heath – Echoes of Ferrer in an East End back street at Libcom

Albert Meltzer – The Anarchists in London 1935-1955. A personal memoir (online at Libcom, hardcopy from Freedom Press.)

Rob Ray – A Beautiful Idea: History of the Freedom Press Anarchists (Freedom Press, 2018)

Philip Ruff – Book Review – The Tragic Procession: Alexander Berkman and Russian Prisoner Aid, 1923-1931 (KSL/ABSC, 2010) at Kate Sharpley Library

Hackney Peoples Press #59 August 1980

Hackney Peoples Press #65 Feb 1981

Flashing the peace sign in Finsbury Park


I have mixed feelings about blue (and other colour) plaques.

On the one hand, they are a handy resource for local historians and can highlight hidden aspects of buildings and places to passersby.

On the other hand they generally promote a point of view where history is made by individuals rather than groups, movements and so on.

Furthermore their official status tends to favour respectable (or very old) radicals. So Stoke Newington boasts a placard for peace poet Anna Laetitia Barbauld at 113 Church Street, but there isn’t one at 359 Amhurst Road, site of the infamous police raid that lead to the Stoke Newington 8 trial.

But also… most of the statues and monuments in London are for bastions of the establishment and not those fighting against it. So maybe the more modern plaques can balance things out?

Despite all that I was intrigued to see this tweet from the Council recently:


Not least because I’d assumed that Blackstock Road was well outside the borough, but it turns out the eastern side of the street is Hackney and the western side is the badlands of Islington. Which means the site of the new plaque is the furthest Western point in Hackney:


Who Was Gerald Holtom? And what was he doing in Hackney?


Gerald Holtom 1918-1985

Holtom graduated from the Royal College of Art shortly before becoming a conscientious objector during World War Two. In 1958 he was invited to design artwork for use on the first Aldermaston March, organised by the Direct Action Committee against Nuclear War (DAC).

There are various conflicting stories about the artwork’s creation but most people seem to agree that Holtom actually designed the logo at his home in Twickenham (and not in Hackney as per the Council tweet above).

It was a composite of the semaphore for the letters N and D (Nuclear Disarmament):


On the evening of 21 February 1958 Holtom presented the logo to a meeting of DAC at the offices of Peace News* at 3 Blackstock Road. The group accepted the logo and it had its first outing at the Aldermaston march on 4-7 April:


Holtom’s logo on the first Aldermaston march, 1958.

Direct Action in Aldermaston

The four day march from Trafalgar Square to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment in Aldermaston attracted several thousands.

It’s worth noting that DAC have been described as the “direct action wing” the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (which had also formed in 1957) with some overlap in membership. Alan Lovell describes how DAC’s work in Aldermaston did not stop with the march:

Some months after the march, the Committee returned to Aldermaston for an eight-week picket. The aim of the picket was to make people in the area aware of what was happening at the Aldermaston establishment, to get trade unions to black work on the establishment, and to get individual workers to leave the place.

During the eight weeks, the Committee visited trade unions, distributed leaflets and held factory gate meetings, and canvassed in the surrounding villages. As a result of these activities, five people have actually stopped work at Aldermaston ; three men who were going to apply for work at the base changed their minds ; and five lorry drivers said that they would not drive any more loads to the base.

The pickets were well received by the workers — when a new leaflet was produced the workers often stopped to ask for a copy.

DAC wound up in 1961, with most of its members getting involved with the larger Committee of 100. CND took over the organisation of the Aldermaston marches from 1959. Both of these organisations also adopted Holtom’s logo, which is now globally recognised as a symbol of peace and nuclear disarmament.

The first clip below shows some of Holtom’s original artwork and includes an interview with his daughter, Anna Scott:

The plaque in place

The campaign to get a plaque on Blackstock Road originates with this very readable article by Guardian journalist Ian Jack in 2015:

He gave his unforgettable work for nothing. Shouldn’t the designer of the peace symbol be commemorated?

As it says, the logo has proliferated so much because Holtom did not wish it to be trademarked or copyrighted.

I wasn’t able to make the plaque unveiling last weekend due to a hangover and the fact that it was absolutely pissing it down with rain. It is worth having a look for if you are passing, but you will need better eyesight than me if you want to actually read it…

NB: There is a load of guff on the internet about the symbol being anti-christian or satanic because it is supposedly either an upside down broken cross or an inverted Algiz rune, which symbolises death. As it says above, Holtom combined the semaphore letters N and D to create the logo. In a number of (non-bonkers) accounts he is described as being a Christian himself, and had originally considered using the christian cross as part of the logo (presumably the right way up!).

*Peace News was based at Blackstock Road from 1948 to 1958. It shared premises with Housmans Books which was then primarily a mailorder operation. In 1959 both organisations moved to 5 Caledonian Road where the excellent (and fully endorsed by me) Housmans Bookshop is still based today.

The Workers’ Circle – fighting anti-semitism in Hackney

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Flyer for 1949 Workers’ Circle meeting in Stoke Newington, courtesy of Hackney Archives.

I’ve been a bit negligent in documenting Jewish radicalism in Hackney so far. The reason for this that there is so much of it that it’s a slightly intimidating prospect.

One of the first books I ever read about the radical history of Hackney was Morris Beckman’s superb The 43 Group: The Untold Story of Their Fight Against Fascism (Centerprise, 1993). Doing a blog post about the 43 Group seems pretty redundant when Beckman’s book is such an amazing combination of social history, good humour – and Blackshirt Fascists getting righteously duffed up. It’s recently been republished, so you really should be reading that instead of this.

On a similar note, even listing radical Jewish people who have been active in Hackney is fraught with problems as I’m sure I’d leave someone out. And the nature of radical politics is that many of the people I have in mind have wildly divergent politics anyway – “Jewish radicalism” isn’t just one thing.

Let’s just start by saying that there is a continuous line of radical Jews in East London from at least the formation of the Hebrew Socialist Union in 1876 right up to Jewdas today. I say “East London” because Jews were generally concentrated around the industrial heartland of Tower Hamlets in the 1870s. Moving out to the leafy suburbs of Hackney became fashionable (and economically viable) between the wars.


Nevertheless, radicals like Rudolf Rocker lived in Shoreditch in 1896 whilst editing the Jewish Anarchist paper Arbeter Fraint (Worker’s Friend). And we know that fellow Jewish anarchist Emma Goldman attended fundraisers for the paper in the East End too. (She properly disses Eastenders for all being drunkards in her autobiography Living My Life though).

The paper eventually gained a circulation of 5,000 copies. There is more on Arbeter Fraint at the excellent London Rebel History Calendar site by our comrades Past Tense.

Arbeter Fraint activists Arthur Hillman and Nathan Wiener were also involved with setting up the Workers’ Circle Friendly Society.

This superb article by David Rosenberg describes the energetic atmosphere of early Jewish radicalism in London. It includes the following about the establishment of the Workers’ Circle in 1909:

[Morris Mindel] chaired a group including anarchists and socialists that established the Circle. While unions fought for better conditions in individual workplaces, the Circle organised joint activities across occupations to strengthen secular Jewish working class life and culture in the East End.

Other friendly societies at the time were often boosted by an initial injection of philanthropic money, but the Circle stuck firmly to its principles of doing everything from its own resources and from the bottom up. It collected weekly subscriptions from members to fund its initiatives. Its most basic economic role was providing benefits for members facing great hardship. Those who were long-term unemployed through illness could draw benefits. Those suffering bereavements could arrange secular Jewish burials through the society.

It established a building fund and in 1924 purchased a large building in Whitechapel known as Circle House which had two halls, a library and several meeting rooms.  On Thursday nights, two sympathetic law graduates provided a free legal advice surgery. The Circle’s “propaganda committee” set up a series of Friday night lectures. On Sunday nights it offered concerts and Yiddish theatre performances.

In the late 1920s young Polish Jewish immigrants colonised a top floor room to establish the Progressive Youth Circle, which used Yiddish as the medium for discussion on women’s rights, free love, communism and Zionism. They invited trade unionists and political activists to speak to them, studied left wing writers, and developed Proltet an agitprop Yiddish workers’ theatre group.

Circle House at Alie Street, Whitechapel . From Joe Jacobs’ Out of the Ghetto

Jack Shapiro recalls that the Workers’ Circle was “full of a vast variety of militants fresh out of the revolutionary parties in their own countries [whose] militancy and keenness to keep the struggle alive was an important inspiration to young people such as myself.” 

Joe Jacobs gives a flavour of the day to day activities of the Circle in his autobiography Out of the Ghetto: My Youth in the East End – Communism and Fascism 1913-1939 (another book everyone should read):

There was the Workers’ Circle, “Circle House”, in Alie Street, a hive of working class activity. This was a Jewish organisation organised on the basis of a friendly society with all sorts of mutual aid activities. Many of the leading lights had tried to bring a little of the ‘old country’ into their lives. They were former ‘Bundists’ from Poland, Anarchists and Libertarians from all parts, Socialists and Freethinkers. Every shade of Russian and European Labour thought and action were represented here. In addition there were Zionists and other purely Jewish organisations. There was a very good bar – no alcohol, but good food, continental style, Jewish of course. Chess and draughts as well as the inevitable dominoes were played for hours on end.

The National Archives notes that the Workers Circle began partly because its founders “did not find existing Jewish friendly societies suitable, because of their religious and class bias.” Morris Mindel’s son Mick later mentioned that the Circle’s rules and regulations “caused quite a stir among bourgeois friendly societies, especially the declaration that we welcomed women to free membership”.

Indeed, in this short lecture, a Mr Pearce recalls that many of the working class audience at Workers Circle concerts didn’t quite know how to behave properly:

The second half of Pearce’s lecture covers the discussions around how Jewish groups should respond to the rise of Fascism in the 1930s. He mentions a delegation from the Workers’ Circle visiting the Board of Deputies to discuss setting up Jewish self-defence organisations. And being rebuffed. Undeterred, the delegates worked with other radical groups to set up the Jewish People’s Council Against Fascism and Anti-Semitism. All seven members of the first executive committee of the Council were Workers’ Circle members.

The Council organised opposition to a British Union of Fascists march through the East End on October 4th 1936 which became the infamous Battle of Cable Street. Joe Jacobs notes that people who required legal assistance after Cable Street were instructed to go to Room 5 of Circle House.

Pearce also states in his lecture that Workers’ Circle members volunteered to fight against Fascism in the Spanish Civil War, some being killed as part of the conflict. In her dissertation on East End Jews in Politics, Elaine Rosa Smith mentions that the Workers’ Circle was involved with fundraising for anti-fascists in Spain and subsequently aid for Jewish child victims of Nazism in Poland.

Circle House in Alie Street was bombed during the 2nd World War.

David Renton’s Fascism, Anti-Fascism and Britain in the 1940s gives some clues about the continuing work of the Circle after the war in 1947:

In London, the Workers’ Circle concentrated on putting pressure on the London City Council not to let halls to fascists, and the Circle also called a large anti-fascist public meeting in Shoreditch Town Hall. Although the Circle was active it was not complacent. Members of the Workers’ Circle criticised the Circle itself and other Jewish organisations for not doing enough. As M.D. Rayner commented, “At the fascist meetings at Hackney, Bethnal Green etc., individual Jews were present, and they were vocal and otherwise active, but the communal organisations and leadership had fallen down.”

The National Archives notes a general decline in Circle mutual aid activity after the war:

In its heyday there were about 3,000 members paying 2s. 6d per week for which they got 30 shillings a week when sick, £5 towards cost of seeing specialist and grant to buy false teeth and glasses. [1] […]

The Second World War saw another decline in membership, destruction of the Alie Street hall and considerable damage to the rest of the premises. The formation of the NHS also reduced the incentive for membership.


After the war Circle House was sold and the organisation moved to 13 Sylvester Path, Hackney, in 1956. Membership continued to decline, with branch mergers, though post-war activity included an exhibition on the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and support for the the state of Israel.

It’s clear from the “how to fight anti-semitism” flyer at the top of this post and the Renton quote above that the Circle had been active in Hackney and Stoke Newington prior to its HQ moving here, so I think we need to up our game in documenting its activities in the Borough. (If you have anything to add to this piece, leave a comment!).

The Sylvester Path premises were shared by the London Jewish Bakers’ Union. There’s a short clip about them and their banner on Youtube courtesy of the Jewish Museum:

Two members of the Workers’ Circle went on to be Mayors of Hackney:

Sam Cohen (former Workers’ Circle Chairman) became Mayor of Stoke Newington in 1959 and Mayor of Hackney in 1978.

He seems to have fared better than Solomon Lever who was Mayor of Hackney from 1951 to 1952. Solomon was the acting general secretary of the Workers’ Circle in 1959 when he was tragically and brutally killed as part of a robbery of its premises at 13 Sylvester Path.

The Workers’ Circle closed down shortly after its seventy-fifth anniversary in 1985.

Also on this site:

The Workers Circle Diamond Jubilee 1909-1969

E. Michaels – a Jewish Anarchist in Stoke Newington

Hackney Communist Party banner, 1952


Taken from a Mashable photo essay by Chris Wild titled “1920-1991: Britain votes Communist – The rise and fall of the Communist Party of Great Britain“. Lots more excellent photos to be seen there.

If you are able to identify anyone in this photo, please get in touch and I will include it here.

Previously on this site:

The People’s Story of Woodberry Down


“A project to help uncover and celebrate the history of the Woodberry Down Estate over the past 60 years.”


Contents so far include some great photos of residents in the 1950s, an open invitation to attend their “Memory Shop” and share experiences of living on the estate.

In May, a Guardian feature on the recent radical transformation of Woodberry Down entitled “The truth about gentrification: regeneration or con trick?” produced a very defensive response from the council.

The People’s Story of Woodberry Down is being run by Woodberry Down Community Organisation “in partnership with Eastside Community Heritage, Manor House Development, Genesis Housing Association, Berkeley Group and Hackney Council.” So it will be interesting to see how critical of the council, housing associations and regeneration process the project will be.

Hackney Communist Party, 1950s

Below are some extracts from the pamphlet “Poor Lenin” by Bob Darke. This was published by Irate Press and can be read in full over at Libcom.

The pamphlet is itself extracted from the 1952 Darke’s book “The Communist Technique in Britain”:

I guess the book being published by Penguin has to be seen in the context of the anti-communist sentiment of the time.

Steve Silver, formerly of Searchlight, suggests that it was “ghost written” (and also includes some interesting information about Darke’s daughter continuing his commitment to anti-fascism).

(As a further aside, Gerry Gable – the first editor of Searchlight, was previously a member of Hackney Communist Party, standing as one of its candidates in the 1962 council elections in Stamford Hill).

It’s tempting to say that Darke must have been doing something right if he could unite anarchists and New Labour Councillors in their admiration for him.

Whatever the ins and outs of it all, this century has seen the Hackney CPGB greatly reduced in its influence, not that this stops the faithful celebrating minor “victories”.

I’ll post up some more positive HCP material soon.

Why Communism

“I joined the Party because I could no longer tolerate a system which I believed to be bad. Party propaganda had told me that the system was doomed anyway and my efforts would hasten its end. I wanted to work for the improvement of society, for freedom, justice, progress, and the full expression of Man’s talent and ability. I still want to work for these things, but I know that I cannot do so inside the Party, that Communism will not bring them.”

The Party, Hackney Secretariat and democracy

‘The British Communist Party is controlled, rigidly and unquestioningly, from its glass-wailed headquarters near Covent Garden. It may not admit this, not openly, for that would suggest that all the rank-and-filer had to so was to keep in step. But it is a fact, just the same, although there is a perverse form of democracy on paper.”

“Consider the Hackney Borough Secretariat, for example. This is led at the moment by the Secretary, Comrade John Betteridge, an able, agile, and resolute man who models himself diligently on Comrade Melenkov of the Soviet Politburo. Comrade Betteridge’s parish may be a little smaller than the Russian comrade’s, but he has the same authority within its limits. The members of his Secretariat are carefully chosen so that all activity in the borough, industrial, social, professional, and racial, is represented on it”

“At any given moment someone on the Secretariat could give a detailed picture of the day-to-day problems in any one of those spheres – with the Communist solution to them, of course. The democratic nature of the branch is written in the scriptures. Theoretically all members of the Secretariat are elected by the body of the branch once a year at an aggregate meeting. They are subject, once more theoretically, to a majority vote, to the approval of the rank and file, and must be re-elected or rejected annually. You can not quarrel with that, can you?”

“Then how does it work in practice? Each year the existing Secretariat draws up its own panel of names for the new Secretariat It does this after it has consulted with the London District Committee (which is the co-ordinating authority of all branches in the London area). The Secretariat is often so satisfied with its work during the past year that it suggests that it should be elected en bloc. Of course, the London District may not agree, in which case changes will he made in the list.The panel is then placed before the aggregate meeting and comrades are invited to vote on it They have absolute freedom of choice. They may vote Yes or No. Of course No would be a wasted vote, for there is no alternative to the panel.”

Funding the Hackney Branch

“A Communist branch is expected to support itself financially. The money goes upward in the Communist Party not downward. If gold does come from Moscow, I never heard of any that reached Hackney. Payment for branch officials must be found by members, nobody is more enthusiastic in seeing that it is collected than the officials themselves.”

“The weekly membership subscription is fourpence, and since a large proportion of this is passed up the line to the District Committee it is obvious that a branch cannot support itself by subscriptions alone. The money must come from somewhere else. Thus it is that the Communist has a red flag in one hand and a collecting box in the other. […]If you want a workmate at the bench to donate sixpence to this or that fighting fund you’ve got to keep talking to him. And if he only parts with with the sixpence to stop you talking then half of the battle has been won at any rate.”

“Regularly every Friday, at the gates of factories, in canteens, workshops, at dockyard gates, in council flats and transport depots in Hackney, the good comrade may be seen rattling a box or waving raffle tickets and calling:

‘Help the Party, comrades! The Communist Party! The only party that fights for the workers!’

“There’s always some Party cause to be in need of money. The Daily Worker Fighting Fund. The Peace Campaign. The latest martyr’s defence fund. The Rent Committee’s Defence Fund. The Anglo-Iron-Curtain Society’s Fund. The International Brigade… the Strike Committee… the Spanish Prisoners. Always a fund. Always a fund because the branch is always in desperate need of money.”

Communist Living Rooms

“The Hackney Borough Secretariat meets once a week, not at Branch Headquarters, for there is none. The Party owns no property in the borough and has no fixed meeting place. It meets at this or that comrade’s house. Thus does it save money and thus does it tie each comrade’s private life more closely to the Party wheel. No Communist can indulge his fancy for bourgeois tastes when they are likely to come under the scrutiny of his Party associates. I have known Party members to sit in their own living-rooms without protest while other members of the Secretariat ridiculed and censured their choice of furniture, curtains, honks, newspapers, even toys for their children.”

“Secretariat meetings are conducted briskly and efficiently. The wife of the comrade in whose home the meeting takes place may take part if she is a Party member if not her place is in the kitchen making tea. The Secretary calls the meeting to order and the members sitting comfortably on the floor (for who in Hackney has fourteen chairs in his living-room?), quickly get down to business.”

Selling The Paper

“The Hackney Communist party, in common with other branches, has one supreme obligation. It is to sell the Daily Worker wherever and whenever possible. Each comrade is geared to this massive circulation drive and the harder he works the harder he has to work. […] The selling of the Daily Worker is organised like a military campaign, with a tactical appreciation of the strategical situation. On Saturday afternoons and evenings the branch membership turns out en masse to sell the special edition of the Worker – in Ridley Road, in the Jewish quarter, in markets, outside cinemas and dance-halls.”

“Hackney Communists sell about 20,000 extra copies of the Daily Worker every Saturday. Some Communists work themselves into nervous breakdowns over this business of selling the Worker. The Dalston bus garage has a Worker-seller outside the doors every Friday morning when union subscriptions are paid. where Party members have reported that a block of flats is sympathetic to the Party then it is invaded almost daily by comrades who knock at every door and flourish a copy of the paper under every nose.”

Hackney Factories

“In addition to the torrent of literature that flooded down to us from the District we had our own output in Hackney which a comrade printer turned off the machine for us. We selected factories for special types of propaganda. If there was a local strike on we make a point of rushing out a special pamphlet on it. We studied the habits of workers in different factories, where they ate, whether they sat outside the gates at dinnertime, what their routes homeward were. We waylaid them with literature, with loudspeaker vans, we harried them, we pursued them, we captured them. We worked, still they work tirelessly.”

“There is no special Party police, nobody detailed to watch you and see that you exert the last ounce of energy. Not one comrade really trusts another, however And weaknesses will be exposed by denunciation. We worked in every section of Hackney life that mattered to the wide political baffle, and that means every section there was – even creches. We worked, and I repeat the Party still works, in unions, schools, hospitals, factories, garages, flats, clubs, dance-halls, canteens. We had the run of the kerbstones and the playgrounds. We had our finger on the carotid artery of the borough…”

Hackney Cycle Speedway Club

“…The best example I can quote, since I was personally concerned, is the case of the Hackney Cycle Speedway Club. This was formed after the war and had a membership of some sixty boys and girls in their teens. At the time the Party became interested in it, it was a happy, non-political group without a Communist in it, except perhaps a couple of Young Communist Leaguers who, I suspect, joined it at as a relaxation. One of these Young Communist Leaguers innocently asked me, as a Borough Councillor, to help the club get a cycle track, a bomb-site which they wished to convert into a cinder-way. The club had three teams and wanted to know whether the LCC would grant them the use of a bomb-site. I put the situation to the Borough Secretariat and got their approval. To support me I had the local unions swing into line, pass resolutions, make representations. We built up quite a pressure on the subject and eventually the boys and girls got their cycle track.”

“At the big meeting held to celebrate the success of the campaign and the opening of the track the Party sent the YCL into action. Many of them had been told to join anyway, while the agitation was going on. Party literature was on sale during the meeting; copies of Challenge, the YCL paper. contained a special article by me. It was called ‘Fighting for youth facilities while money is being spent on war’. More and more young Communists joined the club and the sellers of Challenge made a straight target of it. Having secured the club’s goodwill by leading the fight for its cinder-track the Party decided that the YCL should recruit every member of the club into the Party and get every one of them to sign the Peace Petition.”


“To work for these things the Communist will even break union rules. In my own time on the Hackney Trades Council I have eased through Communist-inspired resolutions on peace,on Korea, on Russia, long after the fixed time for union business to end. I have eased through those resolutions knowing that the men who might have opposed them and defeated them have looked at the clock and gone home.”

“And while I have stood there in the meeting hall proposing the motions I have known that a runner was waiting outside, ready to take the result of the vote to the Daily Worker; where a hole in the paper was waiting to be filled with: ‘Twenty thousand Hackney workers oppose Marshall Aid!’…”

Dissent, and shopping

“Of course, if any party member is fool enough to voice a mild protest about this forcible sale of literature, honks and theatre tickets, there is a ready answer for him. ‘what are you complaining about? You know what Lenin said? Propaganda is the greatest weapon. Lenin always said something. I can afford to smile now at the East End busman who once looked me straight in the eye without a flicker of a smile and said, ‘Blimey, Bob did Lenin have an answer for everything?’…'”

“Most women, even Communists’ wives, like to do their shopping where they wish. But a Communist’s wife gets little opportunity if her husband is well disciplined. And there is always someone to see where your wife does her shopping. This is how the conversation went with me once: ‘I saw your wife going into X’s shop the other day, Bob. why?’ ‘To buy something probably.’ ‘This isn’t a funny matter, Comrade Darke. Doesn’t she know that man is a Tory? Why doesn’t she shop at the Co-op?’ ‘She probably doesn’t want to.’ ‘It’s not a question of what she wants. She’s your wife; get her to join the Co-op. We should build up Party strength in the Co-op guilds, you know that. Let’s not see it happening again.’ My self discipline was good. I accepted the whip. I told Ann. But I wouldn’t like to repeat what she said. She didn’t have my self-discipline…”

Communist style and fashion: a bourgeois tie

“The party will take a maternal interest even in the dress of those comrades it sees as prestige winners. when I first stood for the local council elections I had my photograph taken for the propaganda sheets and posters.I took a sheet along to the Borough Secretary for approval. I have the average East Ender’s liking for colour,and the tie i had been wearing for this photograph was no exception to that taste. The Secretary looked at it ad looked at me and then roundly abused me for being photographed in a ‘bourgeois tie’.”

“There seemed no point in telling him what he should know, that any working class lad from Hackney puts on a coloured tie when he takes his Sunday morning walk down the Lane. I couldn’t see that I was betraying my class by conforming to it. ‘Communists standing for election,’ I was bluntly told, ‘must have no bourgeois contamination. Fancy a comrade like you standing as a representative of our Party wearing spotted tie. Get some more pictures taken this afternoon, this time in a dark tie.’
‘I can’t go today. I’m working.’
‘Take the day off then. You’ve got to make sacrifices for the Party.’


“Both the Borough Secretariat of Hackney and the London District Committee could never understand why Ann was not a Party member They knew that many ordinary comrades found it difficult to recruit their wives, but few Party leaders were married to non-Communist women. It was a paradox to them. It was more, it was a challenge.”

“One day, during an intense new membership drive, Ann came to me and silently showed me an envelope she had received. Inside was a Party card, made out in her name and stamped with two months subscriptions. Together with it was a registration slip on which new members were supposed to list particulars of their age, place of work, union, position in the union and so on. All this had been filled in for Ann, by somebody at Parry Headquarters.”

“Ann said nothing to me, she just left the card in my hand. Later in the day my father sent a similar envelope round to me. There was another Party card in it made out in his name. I took them both round to the Secretariat, but they got a blow in first. ‘Bob, both your wife and your dad are a couple of months behind in their subs. We’ve stuck the stamps on, but just let us have the money, will you?’
They didn’t get the money, and maybe they didn’t like the way I was looking for they didn’t press the point. Anyway the cards went in the kitchen fire.”