February 4, 2013

Britain’s largest anarchist bookshop firebombed


A view of the damage, before Sunday’s clean up.

The Freedom Press Bookshop in London, Britain’s largest and oldest anarchist bookstore, burned early in the morning on February 1st. Representatives from the store are calling it a firebombing. The London Metropolitan police, more reticent, are saying merely that the fire is “suspicious.” According to the Guardian, only about 15% of the store on the ground floor was affected by the fire, and the flats above were unharmed. Much of the damage was caused by water in efforts to quench the fire. Brian Whelan talks to a representative of Freedom about the blaze in the video below. The Press and the store have a legendary history. As Verso writes:

Freedom was founded in 1886 by volunteers including Peter Kropotkin and Charlotte Wilson. As well as arson attacks, the paper has also suffered repression at the hands of the state, with four editors being arrested for attempting “to undermine the affections of members of His Majesty’s Forces” in 1945. Contributors to the paper have included Emma Goldman, George Orwell and Ethel Mannin. The bookshop remains a vital and lively hub for the anarchist movement in Britain.

Among chief concerns with the fire are damages to their extensive newsprint archives, and disruption of the activities of many working groups that meet in the building. While no suspects have been named thus far, it is safe to consider Britain’s far-right groups as likely culprits. The store has metal shutters over its windows, in large part because of a 1993 bombing by members of the neo-fascist group Combat 18. The Guardian quotes a Freedom volunteer, Jayne:

“This wasn’t an accident. Somebody had to lift up a mental shutter to break the window to start the fire. We do get this kind of trouble sometimes.”

Clean-up efforts have been swift, and the store plans to open again on Monday. Efforts have been so smooth, in fact, that it almost behooves honest observers to point to them as an argument for the anarchist approach to horizontal mechanisms of labor.


Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.