Who Firebombed London’s Oldest Anarchist Bookshop?
Staff at Freedom Press, London’s oldest anarchist publisher and bookshop, woke last Friday to the news that someone had tried to burn their shop down in the early hours of the morning.
Founded in 1886, Freedom has been at the heart of radical East London for over a century, featuring on walking tours and seemingly, from my time spent in the shop, serving as the first stop-off point for every European crusty looking for a squat to stay in or a protest to rage at.
The shop sits just off Whitechapel High Street, down Angel Alley – wedged between an art gallery and a KFC. If you need to pick up something by Bakunin, Chomsky or the utterly bonkers John Zerzan then this is where you go, past the linoprint heads of Emma Goldman and Peter Kropotkin and close the door after you because it’s always cold in there.
At around 5AM Friday morning an arsonist entered Angel Alley, smashed a window, poured accelerant into the shop and sent the books, pamphlets and irreplaceable archives of Freedom newspaper up in flames.
That night I went inside the building with one of the shop’s most dedicated activists, Andy. It smelled awful, there was soot across the roof and charred books sat in piles. There was no structural damage to the building but Freedom has no insurance and were already mired in the financial shit. Looking at the horrific mess, I thought the shop would have to close for months, but this morning they’re back open for business.
Before you joke about anarchists owning a building, or organising a clean-up, read up on the rich history of working class self-organisation the movement draws on. At its height in 1930s Spain, anarchists ran collectivised hospitals and operated Spain’s most popular daily newspaper.