Chapter 11 – Interlude of anarchism’s appeal to East End Jews

by Jason Lever

Posted on Sun, 01 Dec 2013 17:20:46 GMT

Its role in unionising Jewish tailors, bakers and cabinet-makers

Anarchism had a short but significant influence on Jewish political and trades union life, and anarchists played a notable part in the struggle to unionise Jewish trades (ref: Fishman, 1981) including two of those relevant to Solomon Lever.

This occurred during the transition between Jewish support for socialism and the municipal reformism of the pre-Second World War Labour Party that was taken up by Solomon Lever.

For one of its leading thinkers and activists of the time, ‘the fact is that all the Jewish trade unions in the East End, without exception, were started by the initiative of the Jewish anarchists... out of the[ir] ceaseless educational work’ (Ref: Rocker). This is supported by others, in that ‘the small band of Jewish social-democrats and anarchists in England found that they were in demand… as trade-union managers’ (ref: Alderman, 1983).

Anarchists were involved in the 1906 tailors’ strike, for example, which resulted in the working day being reduced to ten and a half hours. In the wake of the 1912 strike, shorter hours, improved sanitary conditions and union recognition were won with mutual anarchist and union support (ref: Glinert).

Anarchists founded the Jubilee Club, in Jubilee Street, hosting lectures on art and music by Jewish intellectuals and pauper scholars, translating Tolstoy and Chekhov into Yiddish and organising tours of of the British Museum.

Mass meetings of the Federation of Jewish Anarchists took place in the Great Assembly Hall in Mile End and in the Wonderland in Whitechapel, attended by thousands of people. The strapline of its Journal, the Arbeter Fraint, set out that it was ‘the organ of the Federation of Yiddish-Speaking Anarchist Groups of Great Britain and Paris’ ((Ref: Rocker). Its Jewish roots were also reflected in its motto, at the top of the front page, by Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be? And if not now, when?” (Ref: Rocker)

Nevertheless, the heyday of anarchism was brief in the radical currents of East End political life. It stood square against traditional Jewish identity, by rejecting all forms of authority – whether the state, the church/synagogue or the family. Unsuprisingly, this limited its popular appeal amongst Jewish East Enders.

In his 1956 autobiographical account of his days as a leading protagonist of anarchism in the East End, Rudolf Rocker argues that ‘the libertarian movement among Jewish workers in Britain not because its forces were spent.... fell a victim of the First World War, when it had reached its peak’ (Ref: Rocker). In the second year of the war (1915), the printing press of the Arbeter Fraint was closed by the government.

Soon a different left-wing ideology took hold – communism. A significant number of East End Jews joined the Communist Party, attracted by the Russian Revolution. At the same time, many also joined trades unions.

In Bill Fishman’s political eulogy, by the 1920s anarchists were ‘already an anachronism, shadowy ghosts of another era’– and, post-war, never recovered its adherents faced with ‘the triple pull of Zionism, Orthodoxy and Communism’ (Fishman, 1979).

Trades-Unions Jewish-Socialist-Movement Communism

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Chapter 1 - Introducing Solomon Lever and his l...Chapter 2 - The Jewish East EndChapter 3 - A family history of Solomon LeverChapter 4 - A Jewish East End education for Sol...Chapter 5 - Joining East End cultural and commu...Chapter 6 - Solomon as a cabinet makerChapter 7 – From cabinet maker to trade union g...Chapter 8 – Rise of the London Jewish Bakers UnionChapter 9 – Dealing with the challenges of a de...Chapter 10 – Solomon’s journey to Jewish trade ...Chapter 11 – Interlude of anarchism’s appeal to...Chapter 12 – Solomon Lever finds his home in th...Chapter 13 – The Liberal and Conservative partiesChapter 14 – The Labour Party consolidates its ...Chapter 15 – The appeal of East End councils’ s...Chapter 16 – The rise and fall of communist sup...Chapter 17 – Surging Labourism after the warChapter 18 – The Labour Party’s support for Zio...Chapter 19 – Short-lived Labour-Zionist honeymoonChapter 20 – Solomon Lever’s 1947 broadcast spe...Chapter 21 – Solomon Lever’s 1948 speech from t...Chapter 22 – Solomon Lever’s 1954 speech from t...Chapter 23 – Solomon Lever’s final TUC speech i...Chapter 24 – His Worshipful The Mayor and Mayor...Chapter 25 – Family connections in the Mayor’s ...Chapter 26 – Important social issues raised wit...Chapter 27 – The adbuction of Solomon LeverChapter 28 – Discovery of Solomon’s bodyChapter 29 – InquestChapter 30 – The death of Solomon LeverChapter 31 – Solomon’s funeral and obituaryChapter 32 – The death knell of the London Jewi...Chapter 33 – An appraisalChapter 34 – Bibliography