Jump to content
The Education Forum

Guy Aldred: The Godfather of British Anarchism

John Simkin

Recommended Posts

Guy Alfred Aldred is now a forgotten political figure. However, he is no doubt the most important figure in the history of British anarchism. He was born in Clerkenwell on 5th November 1886. He was named by his mother after Guy Fawkes. Always, a very moralistic child, at the age of ten he formed an Anti-Nicotine League among his classmates and he later joined the Band of Hope, the junior wing of the Temperance Society.

After leaving school he found employment as an office boy with the National Press Agency. In 1902, at the age of 16, he co-founded the Christian Social Mission and became known as the "boy preacher". His friend, John Taylor Caldwell described Aldred's early sermons: "He was pale complexioned, one-eighth Jewish, large-eyed, generous-lipped, holding in leash a merry smile, like that of his grandfather incarnate. He wore a Norfolk jacket, pleated and high-lapelled. He had a starched Eton collar and a starched shirt front. The ends of his black bow tie were tucked under his wide collar. He wore knickerbockers, thick grey stockings and heavy, hiehly polished black boots."

Aldred became an atheist and in 1904 he founded the The Clerkenwell Freethought Mission and spoke under the banner: "For the promotion of Religious, Scientific and Secular Truth, and the advocacy of the right and duty of every man to think for himself in all matters relating to his own welfare and his duty to his Brother Men." This created considerable hostility and on several occasions he was beaten-up by devout Christians.

In 1904 Aldred also met William Stewart Ross, the editor of the Agnostic Journal. Ross predicted that Aldred would become an important preacher: "This Guy, born on Guy Fawkes' Day, and intent on an argumentative blowing up of the House of Priestcraft, has done so much at eighteen that I am sure the readers of A.J. would all like to see what he will have done by the time he is eighty."

Later that year Aldred heard Daniel De Leon, the leader of the Socialist Labor Party, speak on Clerkenwell Green. He wrote in his autobiography, No Traitors' Gait (1955): "De Leon saw and taught that the system of government based on territorial lines has outlived its function: that economic development has reached a point where the Political State cannot even appear to serve the workers as an instrument of industrial emancipation. Accumulated wealth, concentrated in a few hands, controls all political governments."

Aldred became a socialist and a regular reader of The Clarion, a journal edited by Robert Blatchford. He was also influenced by the ideas of William Morris and he eventually joined the Social Democratic Federation. However, he clashed with the SDF's leader, H. M. Hyndman, and in 1906 he left the organisation.

Aldred was also a pacifist and was a strong opponent of the First World War and publicized his views in his newspaper The Spur. He joined forces with the No Conscription Fellowship and during 1914 and 1915 he took part in several anti-war protests and spoke on the same platforms as John Maclean and James Maxton. He wrote: "The world is at war. The puny rulers of the world have coerced their subjects into dancing at the feast of death. And whoever will not indulge in the orgy, the same shall not enjoy the kiss of nature's sun."

Due to heavy losses at the Western Front the government decided in 1916 to introduce conscription (compulsory enrollment). The Military Service Act of January 1916 specified that single men between the ages of 18 and 41 were liable to be called-up for military service unless they were widowed with children or ministers of religion. Conscription started on 2nd March 1916.

On 14th April 1916, Aldred was arrested and charged with failing to report for Military Service. When he appeared in court he explained that he refused to fight because he was a conscientious objector. On 4th May he was fined £5 and handed him over to the military authorities. At his Court Martial on 17th May he was sentenced to six month military detention.

Aldred refused to comply with military orders and on 27th June he was sentenced to nine months hard labour. On the 4th July 1916, Aldred was moved to Winchester Prison and the following month he was transferred to the village of Dyce in the north of Scotland where a camp of tents had been erected. Over the next few months a total of sixty nine conscientious objectors died in these work camps.

Aldred escaped from the camp but was arrested in London on 1st November 1916 and sent to Wormwood Scrubs prison. On 28th March 1917, Aldred was released from prison and taken under escort to Exeter Military Camp. He was given another order but he refused and was confined to the guardroom. Two months later he was taken to Deepcot Military Camp and when he refused to parade he was once again remanded for Court Martial.

On 17th May 1917 Aldred was sentenced to 18 months hard labour and sent to Wandsworth Prison. Over the next few months there was considerable unrest and protest by the conscientious objectors. The ringleaders, which included Aldred, were sentenced to 42 days of solitary confinement with 3 days on bread and water and then 3 days off while locked in a bare unheated basement cell.

Aldred continued to refuse military orders and on 20th August 1918 he was transferred to Blackdown Barracks and was once again placed on remand for Court Martial. Throughout his terms of imprisonment Aldred managed to smuggle out several articles to Rose Witcop who published them in their paper The Spur.

The First World War ended on 11th November 1918 but he was not released on licence until 7th January 1919. He travelled to Glasgow where he addressed a large meeting in St Mungo Halls, York Street, where he spoke on "The Present Struggle for Liberty".

On 31st July, 1920, a group of revolutionary socialists attended a meeting at the Cannon Street Hotel in London. The men and women were members of various political groups including the British Socialist Party (BSP), the Socialist Labour Party (SLP), Prohibition and Reform Party (PRP) and the Workers' Socialist Federation (WSF). It was agreed to form the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB).

Willie Paul argued strongly against the strategy suggested by Lenin that the CPGB should develop a close-relationship with the Labour Party. "We of the Communist Unity Group feel our defeat on the question of Labour Party affiliation very keenly. But we intend to loyally abide by the decision of the rank and file convention." Aldred agreed:"Lenin's task compels him to compromise with all the elect of bourgeous society, whereas our task demands no compromise. And so we take different paths, and are only on the most distant speaking terms".

Aldred summarised the position in 1920: "I have no objection to an efficient and centralised party so long as the authority rests in the hands of the rank and file, and all officials can be sacked at a moment's notice. But I want the centralism to be wished for and evolved by the local groups, a slow merging of them into one party, from the bottorp upwards, as distinct from this imposition from the top downwards." He added: "It was hoped to create a communist federation out of those remaining groups. The principle of federation - a federation of communist groups developed voluntarily from below, rather than an imposed centralism from above - was always an important and consistent part of the anti-parliamentary movement's proposals for unity."

In 1921 Aldred established the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation (APCF), a breakaway group from the Communist Party of Great Britain. This became the main British anarchist group in Britain. He edited the organisation's newspaper, The Communist. The authorities began to invistigate this group and Aldred, Jenny Patrick, Douglas McLeish and Andrew Fleming were eventually arrested and charged with sedition. After being held in custody for nearly four months they appeared at Glasgow High Court on 21st June 1921. They were all found guilty. The Socialist reported: "Lord Skerrington then passed sentences: Guy Aldred, one year: Douglas McLeish three months: Jane Patrick, three months, Andrew Fleming (the printer), three months and a fine of £50, or another three months."



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sir Walter Strickland, a long-time supporter of Aldred, died on 9th August 1938. He left Aldred £3,000 and with this money he bought some second-hand printing machinery and established The Strickland Press. Over the next 25 years Aldred published regular issues of the United Socialist Movement organ, The Word and various pamphlets on anarchism.

After the Second World War Aldred became a supporter of world government and his office at 106 George Street, Glasgow, became the headquarters of the World Federalist Movement in Scotland. He argued: "In a world growing smaller we must develop an all-embracing world outlook. We must propagate the idea of a world republic, with a world citizenship. Nationalism must be ended... And so must inter-nationalism, for internationalism implies nationalism, and the representation of national governments. What we require is the direct representation of the people of the world as world citizens in a non-national assembly."

Aldred continued to campaign against injustice. He played a leading role in the efforts to persuade Francisco Franco not to execute Julián Grimau. He also published an important article entitled The Evolution of Stalin's Communism. He wrote several articles in favour of civil rights in the United States. Aldred also wrote to John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev urging restraint during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Guy Aldred continued to promote social justice until his death on 16th October 1963. As one historian has pointed out: "Guy Alfred Aldred had worked ceaselessly at his propaganda, writing, publishing and public speaking, he took on injustices wherever he saw it. He had spoken at every May Day for 60 years except the years he spent in prison. He never once asked for a fee nor sought personal gain, throughout his 62 years of campaigning his principles never faltered."


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in

Sign In Now
  • Create New...