War Commentary: Background

War Commentary figured in a tradition of libertarian publications in England dating back to 1886, when Freedom was launched, at the initiative of Charlotte Wilson and others. In the early years Peter Kropotkin was the main writer for the journal. In 1912 Tom Keell became the publisher and printer of Freedom Press and acting editor of the journal Freedom. Keell guided Freedom to its anti-war stand in 1914. This position was adopted by the majority of anarchists. Freedom was among the organizers of the Anti-Conscription League and disseminated anti-militarist publications. In 1916 Freedom Press was raided four times by the police. Tom Keell and his partner Lilian Wolfe were arrested and imprisoned for these activities.

After World War I, anarchism appeared to have passed its peak. First the spirit of the Russian Revolution and communism, later the fierce opposition from fascism corroded the influence of anarchism. The last official issue of Freedom appeared in November/December 1927. But Keell continued to issue a Freedom Bulletin until 1932. A group of fellow anarchists who were opponents of Tom Keell also published a periodical entitled Freedom from 1930 until 1936. Interest in anarchism was revived upon the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. In 1936 Vernon Richards founded Spain and the World, which appeared until 1938. In 1939 this journal was succeeded by Revolt! Following the outbreak of World War II, the title was changed to War Commentary. Most of the key figures from the case described above were actively involved in this journal: Vernon Richards, Marie Louise Berneri, John Hewetson, Philip Sansom, and Ethel Mannin were among them. John Olday regularly contributed cartoons to the journal. After the war ended in Europe, the title was changed to Freedom. Freedom continues to be published to this day.

Philip Sansom

Born 19 September 1916 - died 24 October 1999. Raised in Hackney in an educated working class home. Influenced by Herbert Read's Education Through Art, Sansom decided to study art. Later Sansom learned about Read's anarchist views. In World War II he refused to serve in the armed forces. In 1943 he was a member of the Anarchist Federation. As an artist, he was interested in the surrealist movement and was involved in E.L.T. Mesen's London Gallery, which may explain why the police categorized the three convicted men as the Surrealist Party. Sansom was also interested in 'sex reform' and the syndicalist movement. He was a gifted public speaker and debater and was often active in the speaker's corner. Sansom campaigned against the death penalty. In July 1963, he was among those who occupied the Cuban Embassy in London to protest the treatment of Cuban anarchists. He was active in the CND. Sansom, who was somewhat sloppy, earned his keep as editor of the Loading Machine Times and the Sewing Machine Times. In some issues of these trade journals readers were surprised to find articles featuring an analysis and militant defence of a miners' strike.

Marie Louise Berneri

Born 1 March 1918 (Arezzo, Italy) - died 13 April 1949. Daughter of the well-known Italian anarchists Camillo and Giovanna Berneri. In 1926 the family fled to Paris. After the Spanish Civil War started, Camillo Berneri went to Spain. In May 1937 Marie Louise's father was shot and killed by the communists in Barcelona. Marie Louise Berneri travelled to Spain twice. In 1936 she emigrated to England and married Vernon Richards, thereby acquiring British citizenship. In England she remained involved in all publications of Freedom Press for the rest of her life. She participated in relief efforts for Spanish war orphans and refugees. Thanks to her extensive international contacts and linguistic proficiency, she was an important figure in the English anarchist movement. While Richards, Hewetson, and Sansom were in prison, she became largely responsible for publishing Freedom. Her only child was stillborn in late 1948. On 13 April 1949 Marie Louise Berneri died very unexpectedly of a viral infection.

John Hewetson

1913-1990. Joined the Forward Movement via a group of militant pacifists who broke away the Peace Pledge Union to become anarchists. He wrote for War Commentary. Hewetson was a physician and worked at Paddington Hospital in London during the war. Following his release from prison, he worked as a doctor in London's poorer neighbourhoods. He advocated free distribution of contraceptives and legalization of abortion. He also opposed repressive measures against the use of narcotics.

Vernon Richards

Vero Recchioni, later anglicised to Vernon Richards: born in London 1915, died in Hadleigh, Suffolk 2001; civil engineer, anarchist and editor; helped his father with propaganda work against Mussolini; arrested in Paris in January 1935 and extradited from France; in 1936, he published in collaboration with Camillo Berneri a bilingual anarchist and antifascist paper Italia Libera/Free Italy; founded and edited Spain and the World, which became Revolt in 1939, and eventually was followed by War Commentary 1939-1945 and Freedom; editor of Freedom until 1964. Among his publications are Lessons of the Spanish Revolution (1953) and Errico Malatesta - Life and Ideas (1965).

• Freedom Press circular letter, 25th October, 1944
• Archives Vernon Richards
• Freedom Defence Committee Archives
• Freedom Archives
• 'Freedom. Our first centenary', Freedom january/february 1986 10-12
• 'Freedom. A hundred years. October 1886 to October 1986', Freedom October 1986
• Marie Louise Berneri 1918-1949. A Tribute (London 1949)
• Peter Grafton, You, you & you. The people out of step with World War II (London 1981)
• Alber Meltzer, The Anarchists in London 1935-1955 (Sanday 1976)
• Herbert Morrison, An autobiography by Lord Morrison of Lambeth P.C., C.H. (London 1960)
• Philip Sansom , '1945-The victory against fascism and FREEDOM goes to jail. - VE Day The view from the nick', Freedom vol.46 no.6 june 1985 8
• George Woodcock, Anarchism (Peterborough 2004)
• George Woodcock, Letter to the past. An autobiography (Don Mills 1982)