Meltzer: ‘…only a few Intellectuals’

By Albert Meltzer
Black Flag VOL III, No. 19 April 1975

”We seldom have articles like the one on Anarchism and the South Wales miners. Frankly I know more about the history of the Spanish or the Russian movements than I do about the British… Most of the historians one consults tend to assume that British anarchism has no history. The snippets one gets sometimes in other papers wets the appetite but none of them ever trouble to go deep – just a bit of self-advertisement as if they existed in a void…”

So say letters resulting from our article on Anarchism and the Welsh Miners. I have followed it up in this issue on one concerning Anarchism and the West of Scotland. Also scheduled to appear as a separate book is the pre-announced ”Anarchists in London” (which will refer to anarchism in the rest of the country, too and I hope may bridge the gap between some of the published references to anarchism in the past, and the present time).

Most historians deliberately overlook working class movements unless they make a decided, successful impact and become noteworthy. Working-class theoreticians who express and formulate theories are totally ignored as of no consequence: what they say is attributed to the next available ”Intellectual” ..(e.g. published works on British anarchism, such as they are never fail to mention Herbert Read who played a very small part in the periphery of the movement; totally omitting every single theoretician the movement produced between the wars).

An interesting comment may be seen in George Lichtheim’s ”History of Socialism” published as a Penguin where he explains that anarchism was too ”romantic” a movement to be influential in Germany where only a ”few intellectuals” espoused it.

He echoes the generally held argument of the bourgeois intellectual that the hardened German workers had no use for the ”romance” of anarchism as compared with the lightheaded Latins (Mr. Lichtheim is not a German for nothing!) But police records tell us another story. Just as the Social Register said there were only ”Four Hundred” people in New York – when (as O. Henry pointed out) a fairer analysis was the Census which saaid there were four million – the German police – from Bismarck to Hitler – told quite a different story from Mr. Lichtheim. They listed hundreds, and even thousands, of anarchists – only a few of the ”intellectuals”!

These records have been preserved, for any fair historian. After the fall of the Reich the Allies microfilmed the whole of the SS records. Not only are the Munich police files (relating to the Munich Commune, and with material on Landauer and Muehsam) now in the Rehse Collection of the Library of Congress, the archives of the German Foreign Office located at Bonn have documentation on the period 1892/1919 and are described in the Catalogue of Files and Microfilms of the German Foreign Ministry (in Ann Arbor and Washington). This contains a great deal of information on German surveillance of anarchism throughout the world.

In the Bundesarchiv of the SS however, a full nine volumes of documents dealing with the anarchist movement up to the period 1928/38, have been preserved. There are details of arrest, search of domicile, confiscation of libraries, records of the FAUD and other anarcho-syndicalist bodies, surveillance of suspected anarchists and also the international surveillance of which the Nazi police were a part. These records have been microfilmed with the other SS records seized in 1945 and are held in Washington. Guide to German Records microfilmed at Alexandra Va.) The Staatsarchiv in Hamburg has ”fiffteen feet of shelf space” on anarchism and anarchist activity, as well as a three volume ”Anarchist Album” with the photos of 1163 anarchists, states the Newsletter of European Working Class History (published by the University of Southern California)… not bad for ”harheaded” Germany, Mr. Lichtheim!

The records in Eastern Germany are even more vast as they contain material from Communist sources about anarchism. ”In the Staatsarchiv Potsdam are located the files of the Police Presidium Berlin, to which all information on anarchism was sent and from which all measures taken against the anarchists emanated”. Not only would careful research tell us much about European anarchism, it would also tell us a lot about ”international police surveillance” and how the Nazis worked with the international police.

Albert Meltzer.

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