Friday, December 6, 2013

Special Branch (Police) records at Archives New Zealand

I wanted to share a new collection with you all that will be of interest.

Archives New Zealand has recently acquired a set of Police Special Branch recording sheets for the years 1920-1945 (1945-57 is coming next year):

This series contains records that were known as Old Police Records (OPRs) in the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS). The OPRs index the reports of the New Zealand Police Special Branch, which existed from 1920 to 1956, and consist of individual Special Branch Recording Sheets, each recording the receipt of a report and collected (mostly) into annual files.

The Recording Sheets contain things like name of individual, and a line on their movements (ie 'attended CP meeting 21/5/31' for example). The actual files and reports referred to in the sheets are held on separate classified files, which will be coming to Archives New Zealand next year.

Of what I have seen so far, they are amazingly detailed, although a number of personal files have been destroyed. For example, I've recently had copied full reports of the founding of the Communist party in 1921, including a speech by Andy Barras in which he is challenged by a wobbly about putting communists in Parliament!

Will update you all once the full set is there.

Friday, November 22, 2013

New Zealand soldiers charged with mutiny during the First World War

click to enlarge
This is a list of 34 New Zealand soldiers charged with mutiny during the First World War. It comes from the book British Army Mutineers 1914-1922 by Julian Putkowski. It is organised by unit, rank, name, location, date, offence, finding/punishment, amendment, and archives reference (Public Records Office, Kew, UK).

It does not cover other court martials and those charged with desertion or other offences—offences that make up over nine packed boxes of records at Archives New Zealand.

I may look to write about this in the future, as unfortunately there's little or nothing online. There's some info about Sling Camp riots here: but the little literature on New Zealand WW1 mutinies is in print. The two main sources are Nicholas Boyack, Behind the Lines: The Lives of New Zealand Soldiers in the First World War, Allen and Unwin, Wellington 1989; and Christopher Pugsley, On the Fringe of Hell: New Zealanders and Military Discipline in the First World War, Hodder and Stoughton, Auckland 1991, which refers to several mutinies and the military executions of NZ troops

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

1913: still relevant after all these years? A talk by Jim McAloon, Melanie Nolan, MUNZ & RMTU

19 November 2013: 5.30pm at the Museum of Wellington City & Sea, Queen’s Wharf 

Dr Jim McAloon will introduce three speakers, discussing the relevance of the 1913 strike to workers a century later.

1913: still relevant after all these years?
The Great Strike was about local and particular labour issues which are canvassed well in the collection, Revolution, The 1913 Great Strike in New Zealand (Canterbury University Press in association with the Trade Union History Project, 2005), edited by Melanie Nolan. But the 1913 Great Strike was a battleground of democracy. Workers and others battled over the shape of New Zealand society and the role of unions in it. Professor Melanie Nolan will further explore how these issues are relevant today.

Melanie Nolan is Professor of History, Director of the National Centre of Biography and General Editor of the Australian Dictionary of Biography in the School of History at the Australian National University (ANU). As general editor she has published the Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 18 (2012) and a history of the Australian Dictionary of Biography, The ADB’s Story (2013).

The New Zealand Waterfront in 2013: Back to the future?
The 1913 general strike was fought on and around the waterfront in Wellington and other ports. In the century since, maritime workers have remained a central part of New Zealand’s social and industrial history and class struggle, through key events such as the 1951 lockout and more recent struggles against casualization and insecure jobs.

After a sustained attack on workers rights for the last generation, have we come full circle and are maritime workers fighting the same battles today? Joe Fleetwood, National Secretary, Maritime Union of New Zealand will explore how have things changed and how have they stayed the same.

Joe Fleetwood was elected National Secretary of the Maritime Union of New Zealand in 2009. Joe has been a seafarer and a member of the New Zealand Seafarers Union and now the Maritime Union for over thirty two years. He previously served a term as National Vice President of the Maritime Union, and served as Secretary of the Wellington Seafarers Branch MUNZ. Previous to this Joe served as job delegate for around 25 years. Joe is a fifth generation seafarer and dock worker.

Solidarity on the waterfront since 1913
The Rail and Maritime Transport Union will discuss the development of solidarity on the waterfront since 1913.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Reds & Wobblies: working-class radicalism & the state

NOTE: An updated and expanded version of this talk, Fighting War, is available here:

In July this year, political commentator Bryce Edwards led a NZ Herald article with the following quote: “Multiple spying scandals and sagas show that New Zealand is suffering from a democratic deficit.” He was, of course, talking about the Kim Dotcom, GCSB and Defence Force surveillance sagas.

That Edwards wrote of democracy in financial terms is both ironic and apt, considering that the protagonists of my talk tonight believed parliament was ruled by economic interests! So in keeping with this language; if democracy is to be judged on its use of surveillance, numerous records in the archives suggest that democracy in New Zealand has often been in the red. In fact, ‘seeing red’ has been a constant factor through New Zealand’s history, especially in times of social and industrial unrest. Working-class radicals who promoted an alternative to capitalism were particularly targeted by those in power. Arguably, those who were most targeted in the early part of the twentieth century were members of the Industrial Workers of the World (known as Wobblies).

During and immediately after the First World War, the actions of Wobblies were heavily scrutinised by the governments of the day, leading to sedition charges, jail time, or deportation from the country.

My talk tonight hopes to look at some of this working class radicalism, and the reaction to it by the state. Much of this activity was centred on the distribution of radical literature–‘mental dynamite’ in the form of penny pamphlets, newspapers, and other ephemera. Ports and postboxes became the battleground for an intense cultural struggle—a struggle that questioned the war, the nature of work, and authority itself. This battle for minds had material results. Intense state surveillance and a raft of legislation not only determined who could read what, but who would be considered a legitimate resident of the so-called ‘workers paradise’ that was New Zealand.

Wobblies 101

The Industrial Workers of the World was founded in the United States in 1905, by a conglomerate of socialists, Marxists and anarchists. Its founders were disenchanted by the craft nature of the American Federation of Labour and its exclusive membership criteria. Instead, the IWW sought to organise all workers, especially the so-called ‘unskilled’ neglected by the AFL. As well as being open to workers of any gender or colour, the IWW promoted the ‘One Big Union,’ a fighting union that—through the solidarity of workers organized along class lines instead of trade, and the tactical use of the strike weapon—would abolish the wage system.

Its widely quoted preamble stated:
The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.

Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, and abolish the wage system [1908 Version]
Although the IWW initially promoted both industrial and political action, it split in 1908 over the rejection parliamentary politics. For the Chicago IWW, the political arena was controlled by capital and therefore the place to make change in society was the workplace. As one New Zealand wobbly argued, “Parliament is a mirror reflecting conditions outside. When your face is dirty, do you wash the mirror?”

The IWW advocated building a new world in the shell of the old, which meant how the union and its struggles was conducted were just as important as the outcome. As a result, direct democracy and the curbing of power in the hands of a few was core to the organisation. “The IWW considered a reliance on leadership as fostering dependence amongst the working class,” notes Stuart Moriarty-Patten, whose forthcoming book on the IWW in New Zealand is being published by Rebel Press. New Zealand Wobblies decried the local labour movement as “cursed and hampered by leaders.” Instead, “active, intelligent workers [should] determine to do their own thinking… to fight on all occasions for complete control by the rank and file and against sheep-like following of leaders.”

As a result the IWW was much more than a simple union movement. As well as fighting for better conditions and shorter hours, the IWW fostered education, internationalism, and a radical working class counter-culture through the influential use of song and graphics. Although not without its faults, the appeal of the IWW made it social and cultural movement on an international scale.

The IWW in New Zealand

New Zealand’s first IWW local was formed in Wellington in December 1907, and other locals were formed in Christchurch and Auckland – both of which received official charters from the IWW headquarters in Chicago. Informal groups sprung up in industrial towns such as Huntly, Waihi, and Denniston, and the cultural norms and tactics championed by the Wobblies—such as the general strike, sabotage, and the go-slow—soon spiced the local discourse. The rally-cry of ‘a fair day’s wage’ was dropped for ‘abolish the wage system;’ ‘fellow-worker’ replaced ‘comrade’; and for a period, the New Zealand Federation Of Labor adopted the IWW’s revolutionary preamble.

Bert Roth Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand
Pamphlets and newspapers of the IWW had a wide circulation in New Zealand. According to the Secretary of the Waihi branch of the Socialist Party, imported IWW anti-militarist pamphlets were “finding a ready sale” in 1911. Chunks of IWWism and Industrial Unionism, two locally produced pamphlets, sold in quantities of 3,000 and 1,000 copies each, while the Industrial Unionist, newspaper of the New Zealand IWW, reached a circulation of 4,000. These figures do not indicate their true readership however, as workers shared their copies or would read the columns out loud in groups.

As Mark Derby has pointed out, the distribution of cheap printed propaganda was vital to the spread of IWW ideas and tactics. “New Zealand Wobblies relied on the impact of IWW literature such as the Little Red Songbook,” moving from town to town “sowing the seed of rebellion.” This constant agitation bore fruit, and the IWW played a visible part in the strikes that formed the upsurge of militant labour before the First World War.

Wartime activity

However, on the outbreak of war in August 1914, the IWW was fragmented and weakened by the defeat of the 1913 Great Strike. Many of their leading members had fled New Zealand to escape prosecution, but there were still IWW locals in Auckland, Wellington, Denniston and Christchurch. Wobblies continued to soapbox on street corners across the country and were active in the workplace, especially on the waterfront.

Members of the National Ministry of New Zealand. S P Andrew Ltd :Portrait negatives. Ref: 1/1-013626-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
Yet times were tough for those openly against militarism and capitalism. The IWW found itself up against a wartime government itching to prove its loyalty to the British Empire. The National Coalition of William Massey and Joseph Ward took measures to clamp down on any non-conformist activity it deemed seditious, using the pretence of war conditions to muzzle dissent—whether it was opposition to conscription (in the form of the 1916 Military Service Act), or highlighting economic conditions at home. Numerous War Regulations empowered the executive branch of the Coalition government to regulate without reference to Parliament.

Richard Hill notes that these regulations, initially used for military purposes, “gradually increased in severity and in political rather than military significance.” For example, war regulations were soon unleashed on socialist speakers and strikes in industries deemed essential to the war effort. Rather tellingly, those convicted of publishing information deemed valuable to the enemy were fined a maximum of £10, while anyone who publicly criticised the actions of the New Zealand government was fined £100 or received twelve months imprisonment with hard labour.

Not surprisingly, Wobblies were targeted due to their advocacy of direct action in the workplace, the fostering of an oppositional working class counter-culture, and their radical critique of militarism. New Zealand’s Crown Prosecutor “repeatedly stressed the distinction between sincere objectors… and ‘parasites’, ‘anarchists’, and other IWW types.” As a result, a number of Wobblies were arrested and given maximum jail time during the war.

Wobblies had been scapegoats for all kinds of scrupulous activity before 1914, but in wartime the press found new ways to discredit the IWW. Hysterical headlines were quick to dub Wobblies as ‘Hirelings of the Huns’ or ‘German-born children of the devil,” and any union radicalism was tarred with the IWW brush.

In one bizarre article, ‘The Critic’ responded to an auctioneer’s listing of ‘famous IWW hens’ in the Manawatu Evening Standard with: “‘IWW hens?’ If these belong to the order of ‘I Wont Work’ they will probably get it where the Square Deal would like to give it to their human prototypes—in the neck!” When the shipping vessel Port Kembla struck a German mine off the coast of Farewell Spit in 1917, one writer in the Ashburton Guardian put it down to pro-German sabotage, stating: “this Dominion is not by any means free of the noxious IWW element… this type of human being should be put out of existence on the first evidence of abnormality.”

Censorship of IWW propaganda

Ironically, scaremongering by the press publicised IWW methods such as the go slow far more than Wobblies could ever have done on their own. The go-slow used by watersiders, miners, drivers, and tramway was a major concern to employers and government, and abhorred as a significant threat to the established economic order. “It is the most serious problem that we face at the present time” wrote Defence Minister James Allen to Massey in January 1917. “[Alexander] Herdman has been taking evidence on behalf of the Police about going-slow… as far as Defence is concerned, if any man is proved to be going slow’ [before a military Service Board] we shall cancel his exemption… we cannot possibly allow this fatal practice to get hold in New Zealand or else the nation is doomed.” Not only did these tactics threaten war profits or the government’s lucrative trading deals with Britain; the go slow questioned the work ethic central to the wage system itself. As a result, the War Regulations of 16 February 1917 included going slow in the category of seditious strikes.

C1 Box 161 36/959/101-120. Archives New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand
Authorities were also dismayed at the volume of IWW ephemera still finding its way around the country. Bearing such lines as “Fast workers die young” or “Go Slow! Do Not Waste your Life,” IWW stickers peeked out from walls and lampposts across New Zealand. In a cheeky swipe at conscription, one sticker was stuck in the middle of a National Registration poster. As late as 1927, Wellington customs found 125 of these stickers in the baggage of a SS Maheno seaman named Evans.

Thomas Barker. Ref: 1/2-019136-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
Another ‘silent agitator’ that caused uproar was a satirical poster by ex-New Zealand Wobbly Tom Barker. ‘To Arms!’ called on “Capitalists, Parsons, Politicians, Landlords, Newspaper Editors and other Stay-At-Home Patriots” to replace the workers in the trenches. Four copies were “smuggled across the Tasman... and pasted up outside the Supreme Court in Wellington,” causing the judge to suspend the court until the offending posters were removed.

AD1 Box 995 51/3. Archives New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand
Anti-war pamphlets were also making their rounds. “War and the Workers” was a pocket-sized booklet printed by the Auckland IWW that implored workers not to become “hired murderers.” Sold from their Swanson Street office, the booklet insisted, “Those who own the country [should] do the fighting! Let the workers remain home and enjoy what they produce.” After being distributed at the Buckle Street Drill Hall in Wellington, the booklet was forwarded to Solicitor-General John Salmond. Salmond urged for war regulations to be extended so that immediate powers would be available to punish those responsible for such “mischievous publications.”

MP John Hornsby also raised concerns about IWW ephemera in Parliament, decrying the “circulation in this country of pamphlets of a particularly obnoxious and deplorable nature, emanating from an organization known as the Independent World’s Workers [sic]—commonly referred to as the IWW.” Hornsby asked whether immediate steps would be taken “to prevent the circulation through the post of the harmful publications in connection with the propaganda of this anarchial [sic] society—a society which openly preached sabotage, which meant in plain English, assassination and destruction of property?” The resulting Order in Council of 20 September 1915 specifically prohibited “the importation into New Zealand of the newspapers called Direct Action and Solidarity, and all other printed matter published by or on behalf of the society known as ‘The Industrial Workers of the World.’”

Reason and Revolt,
Direct Action was a lively newspaper published by the Australian IWW that found its way to New Zealand via seamen crossing the Tasman, or by mail. Two months after the Order of Council was in place, the Post and Telegraph Department reported the withholding of “14 single copies [of] Direct Action; 2 bundles [of] Direct Action;” as well as “6 bundles [of] Solidarity.” A number of these copies were then used by Police to chase up New Zealand subscribers listed in its columns. In December 1915 detectives in Auckland, Napier and Wellington hunted for a subscriber listed as Erickson. At first they thought he was a Wellington socialist named Frederickson, but soon concluded he was in fact Carl Erickson, a casual labourer and friend of Wellington anarchist Philip Josephs (who was also a Direct Action subscriber). The Police report noted that both men had donated to the Barker Defence Fund, set up after Tom Barker was convicted for publishing an anti-war cartoon in Direct Action.

The military also used a 1915 edition of Direct Action to investigate the Workers’ University Direct Action Group, a ‘workers university’ that had been set up by Auckland Wobblies. According to Direct Action, lessons dealt with “economics, biology, physiology, Social Democrat fallacies, State Ownership ie State Capitalism fakes, Law and Authority Bluff, the anarchist doctrines of ‘Total Abstention’” and “scientific sabotage, the most potent weapon of the intelligent militant minority.” They also had IWW literature on hand for the ‘worker students’. After their Queen Street landlord forced the workers’ university to disband, its members were lucky to escape imprisonment (if they did at all).

P12. Archives New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand
One radical who was not let off the hook was prominent 1913 striker Charles Johnson. When Johnson was arrested in 1917 and found to have “an enormous amount of IWW literature” in his possession, including three copies of Direct Action, the Chief Detective said “with the greatest confidence” that “this man is a danger to the community.” Johnson asked to be let off with a fine; the magistrate replied, “Oh, I can’t let you off with a fine in these conditions.” He was sentenced to twelve months imprisonment with hard labour.

Censorship of correspondence

As well as the suppression of IWW publications, war regulations also made it illegal to “incite, encourage, advice or advocate violence, lawlessness and disorder, or express any seditious intention.” What exactly constituted a “seditious intention” was interpreted broadly by the state, and included the contents of private correspondence.
Both Customs and the Post and Telegraph Department had a number of censors working within their ranks, the latter including the Deputy Chief Censor, William Tanner. But it was the military that managed censorship during the War. Tanner and other censors located across the country answered directly to Colonel Charles Gibbon, who was both Chief Censor and Chief of the General Staff of the New Zealand Military Forces. Postal censors were mostly officers of the Post Office and worked in the same building “as a matter of convenience”, but censors acted “under the instructions of the Military censor. As a result, the Defence Department’s earlier interest in the monitoring of agitators carried over to agitation of the handwritten kind.

PM9 Box 3 10. Archives New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand
“During the course of the late war,” wrote Tanner:
it was considered necessary to examine secretly the correspondence of certain persons who were supposed to be disaffected, and who were working to defeat the efforts of the New Zealand Government in meeting its obligations regarding the war by advocating [the] ‘go slow’ or inciting to resist the Military Service Act.
Instructed to “suppress whatever was of a seditious or treasonable nature,” Tanner believed his work “gave the Police the necessary opening… to break up the organizations whilst still in the act of formation.”

(Image) Caroline Josephs. (Letters) AD10 Box 10 19/16. Archives New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand
One of those under Tanner’s watchful gaze was the Wellington anarchist Philip Josephs. After letters to US anarchist Emma Goldman were spotted in October 1915, Josephs was arrested and “detained all day in the ‘cooler’ until 4 o’clock in the afternoon,” when he was released without being charged. While Josephs was in police custody, two detectives searched his shop in Cuba Street and took possession of all books and papers on anarchism found on the premises. They then repeated their search at his Khandallah home.

As well as holding a considerable stash of anarchist literature, it appears Josephs’ shop had been the Wellington Local of the IWW. Police found “a number of unused official membership books, rubber stamps, and other gear used in connection with that constitution,” as well as IWW correspondence, pamphlets and papers.

One such correspondent was the Christchurch Wobbly, Syd Kingsford. Two Police reports show that he was put under surveillance, while the chief military censor, Colonel Gibbon, made sure his correspondence was also censored.

AD10 Box 10 19/16. Archives New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand
Another was J Sweeny, a Blenheim-based labourer who was writing to Josephs to order anarchist newspapers. In a letter that never reached its destination, Sweeny asked Josephs to “remember me to the Direct Action Rebels in Wellington,” indicating there were still Wobblies active in the capital at that time. With typical Wobbly flair, Sweeney signed his letter: “Yours for Direct Action. No Political Dope.”

Other censored letters written by an Auckland Wobbly, William Bell, give a sense of the level of surveillance put in place by the state. “The Johns and military pimps are on the look out for the correspondence of men known in our movement,” wrote Bell, who was trying to secure a dummy address “for the purposes of ordering leaflets without an imprint for secret distribution at this end of New Zealand.” Also mentioned in Bell’s letter was “a private meeting of picked trusted militants” due to take place at his bach, confirming that Auckland Wobblies were still active in mid-1917, albeit discreetly. Obviously Bell was not discreet enough. He was arrested and sentenced to eleven months imprisonment.

(During his hearing, Bell provoked laughter in the courtroom. When the magistrate, referring to a comment in Bell’s letter, asked him what a ‘snide-sneak’ was, Bell replied: “A man who plays both ways. We have plenty in the Labor movement, unfortunately”).

Seditious soapboxing

P12. Archives New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand
The war regulations used against those in possession of seditious correspondence also targeted the spoken word. ‘Rabid Orator’ and past Committee member of the Wellington IWW, Joseph Herbert Jones, was imprisoned for sedition in January 1917 after soapboxing to 500 people in Dixon Street, Wellington. “I want the working class to say to the masters,” said Jones, “we don’t want war. We won’t go to the war.” During his court appearance Jones read a long and ‘inflammatory’ poem that received applause from onlookers in the court. The judge was not impressed, nor did he share Jones’ view that all he had done was defend the interests of his fellow-workers. He was sentenced to twelve months imprisonment with hard labour.

P12. Archives New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand
 Another radical to be jailed for 12 months was William Parker, a watersider who told a Wellington crowd in 1917 that the only way to stop conscription was with a general strike. In 1919 Parker was in court again, having distributed locally produced flyers promoting the go slow, the lockout of the oppressors, and building a new society in the shell of the old. After amusing the large crowd of watersiders in the back of the court by “verbally annihilating His Worship”, Parker was sentenced to 12 months for ‘IWWism’ (sedition).

For a few in power, the jailing of Wobblies was not enough. In 1917 MP Vernon Reed asked in Parliament whether Prime Minister Massey had considered the provisions of the Unlawful Associations Amendment Bill introduced in Australia, “aiming at the destruction of the IWW and kindred institutions, and providing for the deportation of undesirables; and whether he will introduce into Parliament a measure having similar objects?” In reply, Massey stated that such a law was under consideration. The eventual result was the 1919 Undesirable Immigrants Exclusion Act, of which more below.

AD10 Box 4 11/5. Archives New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand
 Wobblies not already in jail were kept under close surveillance during the later years of the war. In October 1918 the Defence Department had their eyes on Nita aka Lila Freeman, a female wobbly active in Wellington. Correspondence of “an anti-conscriptionist and seditious nature” between Nita and a fellow wobbly named ‘Don’ was discovered by the military censor, which sparked further surveillance. ‘Don’ had been giving classes on political economy and socialism in Blackball, and it was hoped ascertaining their identities would lead to arrests: “in all probability the woman will be arrested on some charge at an early date,” noted the file.

Although it appears Nita Freeman was never arrested, by the war’s end 287 people had been charged with sedition or disloyalty—208 were convicted and 71 sent to prison. That many Wobblies were among those arrested is hardly surprising, considering their radical opposition to militarism and direct action tactics.

Post-war surveillance

Despite the cease of hostilities in Europe, surveillance of the IWW did not end with the First World War. Industrial unrest and social revolution immediately after the war’s end was a deeply entrenched concern for the New Zealand Government. The Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, coupled with unrest around the globe in 1918-1919, was seen as potential source of increased revolutionary activity in New Zealand. Bolshevism would now compete with the IWW for the state’s attention, and for the title of New Zealand’s favourite scapegoat.

As well as international upheavals such as mutinous soldiers, police strikes and the downfall of various regimes, the cost of living and dissatisfied returned servicemen were also seen as catalysts to major unrest. The government passed a range of anti-firearms laws, and watched closely the rhetoric of political parties like the New Zealand Labour Party and the Communist Party of New Zealand.

The state also kept tabs on the second wave of syndicalist organizations, such as the Alliance of Labour and the One Big Union Council. Formed in 1919 to promote class solidarity between watersiders, seamen, miners and railway workers, the Alliance of Labour was decried by the Reform government as nothing less than the IWW in disguise. Indeed, their promotion of direct action and rejection of parliamentary politics saw them align with the IWW, causing the Employers Federation to lament the “lawless tendency on the part of Extreme labour.” In the end however, the Alliance failed to live up to its revolutionary rhetoric.

In Auckland, Wobblies like Bill Murdoch, George Phillips and Leo Woods helped to form the One Big Union Council. Leo Woods had sat on the Thames strike committee during the 1913 Great Strike, and in 1917 was thrown into what he called “one of Massey’s concentration camps, Kiangaroa Prison Camp,” for 18 months. After his release, Woods became the literary secretary of the One Big Union Council and was delegated to smuggle banned literature from Sydney. He would go on to co-found the Communist Party in 1921. The secretary of the Council was former wartime-secretary of the Auckland IWW, George Phillips, who, like Woods, had been jailed for refusing to be conscripted.

For those in power monitoring these developments, the possibility of a general strike seemed imminent. Recorded industrial disputes had risen from 8 in 1915 to 75 in 1921. As a result, Prime Minister Massey urged his party faithful to “secure good men to stem the tide of Anarchy and Bolshevism.” This radical tide, complained Massey, “is worse than folly… the matter must be taken in hand and stopped.”

Massey’s red baiting had significant support from a number of high profile allies. The Protestant Political Association, led by the vehement Reverend Howard Elliot, vowed to oppose “Bolshevism and ‘IWWism’ in every shape and form.” Also active was the New Zealand Welfare League, formed in July 1919 for the express purpose of curbing the activities of revolutionary labour, IWW doctrines, and Bolshevism. The League’s active press campaign featured newspaper articles on the IWW and their “criminal” attitudes towards work, property rights, and state authority.

The red scare whipped up by conservative interests allowed the state to extend its wartime grip into peacetime. Tanner was kept on as censor in July 1919 by Defence Minister Allen, who wrote to Massey that, “a good deal of valuable information comes to the government through the medium of the censor, and it was thought wise not to lose this information.” The war regulations that created Tanner’s job were also extended under the War Regulations Continuance Act of 1920 (which was not repealed until 1947).

Other forms of surveillance continued apace. In his history of the New Zealand Police Force, Graham Dunstall notes that in January 1919, Police Commissioner John O’Donovan sent a confidential memo to officers across New Zealand:
“In the view that considerable industrial and other unrest is reported from other countries and may extend to this Dominion it is necessary that special precautions be taken to keep in touch with the movements and actions of persons of revolutionary tendencies who are already here, or who may arrive” 
Meetings of radicals continued to be attended by police and fortnightly reports were sent to Police Headquarters. Detectives in each district systemised this work by compiling an index of individuals who had “extreme revolutionary socialistic or IWW ideas.”

P12. Archives New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand
One Wobbly to be caught in this post-war net was Henry Murphy, an Australian labourer based in Auckland. In April 1919 Murphy wrote to a fellow worker in Australia that military deserters were being picked up every day; detectives “run the rule” over passengers arriving by ship; and that two Wobblies, “Nugget and Scrotty,” had been “turned back”. The letter was intercepted by a censor and handed to police. “Murphy appears to be a dangerous character of the IWW type,” noted the censor. “He is an admirer of the Bolsheviks and is gradually drifting towards anarchy, revolution and outrage… his hatred of work is one of the traits of the IWW character.” Murphy was hauled before the court for failing to register as a reservist under the Military Service Act, where he declared, “anti-militarists have done more for democracy than all the soldiers who went to Europe.” He was sentenced to 14 days hard labour and was due to be deported under the war regulations, but instead he agreed to leave New Zealand voluntarily.

Deporting ‘undesirables’

Murphy’s ‘voluntary’ deportation foreshadowed a law change designed to further extend the state’s reach over radicalism. In November of that year, the Undesirable Immigrant Exclusion Act was passed into law. This Act gave the Attorney-General power to single-handedly deport anyone whom he deemed "disaffected or disloyal, or of such a character that his presence would be injurious to the peace, order, and good Government" of New Zealand. He could also prevent anyone landing in the country, which meant Customs and Police further cemented their wartime responsibilities of monitoring the harbours.

However the Defence Department was kept in the loop by having copies of every alien identity certificate sent to them. The military would then match these certificates up to their own black list of “revolutionary agents and undesirables.”

According to Massey, the Undesirable Immigrant Exclusion Act would be used against those who “favour Bolshevism and IWWism.” It was soon put to good effect. Two Wobblies named Nolan and McIntyre were prevented from landing in New Zealand and promptly sent on their way to Sydney – their fares paid by the government. But one Wobbly who wouldn’t go quietly was the Australian seaman and returned serviceman, Noel Lyons.
In May 1925 seamen on board the SS Manuka refused to leave Wellington until their food was improved. However as the Union Steamship Company made clear to reporters, the real issue was “the deliberate attempt to institute job control” via the go slow. Using the pretext of IWW literature and posters found on board the ship, Lyons was read the Undesirable Immigrant Exclusion Act and given 28 days to leave New Zealand. Instead, Lyons and the crew walked off their Sydney-bound vessel singing ‘Solidarity Forever,’ and convened a meeting at the Communist Hall.

300 people packed into the Manners Street Hall to hear Lyons speak about the ‘ham and egg’ strike. “I have been described as a paid agitator,” argued Lyons, “but it is a well known fact that all who take an active part in attempting to better the condition of the worker… develop whiskers overnight, and appear as a Bolshevik.” Despite resolutions of protest from numerous unions, Lyons was imprisoned for two weeks before being shipped to Australia. On his arrival Lyons made the most of what the NZ Truth called ‘the new spasm of [the] IWW,” organising mass meetings and reviving the Sydney IWW.

The deportation of Lyons highlights how the authorities would pick and choose when someone was to be considered a New Zealander, a British subject, or foreign immigrant. The Reform government’s loyalty to Empire and their making of the world ‘safe for democracy’ did not seem to contradict the deportation of British subjects. “New Zealand is more conservative than England,” noted Lyons on his arrival in Sydney. “They regarded me as a foreigner… It is too funny for words. When I was on my to France as an Australian solider, they did not say I was an undesirable… But now, when I put up a bit of a fight for humanity, they turn me out of the country.”


Noel Lyons was not the only radical to be deported in the post-war years, nor was he the first. But his case is indicative of the systematic surveillance put in place after the First World War, and the attitude of the New Zealand government towards the IWW. Although this treatment pales in comparison to the violence and mass deportations inflicted on the American IWW, the National Coalition and Reform governments clearly felt threatened. Class struggle and revolution from below; the flouting of law; the go-slow and the disregard shown to the work ethic; such tactics called into question the social relationships needed for capitalism and the state to function. As a result, the Defence, Police, and Customs Departments, as well as scores of legislation, was used to ensure the IWW never regained its pre-war strength.

Obviously the IWW formed but a tiny part of the working-class radicalism of the day, and the IWW label was thrown about rather hysterically. This makes the identification of Wobblies during the war even harder. However the actions of the IWW during 1915-1925, and the reaction to them by the state, indicates a discernible legacy of IWW radicalism in New Zealand—one that reached well beyond the Great Strike of 1913. While it is hard to measure their precise influence on the local labour movement, I hope the examples above help to question what Kerry Taylor has called the “premature obituary” of the IWW and revolutionary syndicalism in New Zealand.

 Records at Archives New Zealand - Army Department, Customs Department, Post and Telegraph Department, Department of Internal Affairs, Police Gazettes, Old Police Records, Sir James Allen Papers, Prime Ministers' Department
Records at the Alexander Turnbull Library - Bert Roth Collection, Papers Past
New Zealand Parliamentary Debates
New Zealand Gazette
New Zealand Official Yearbooks
Burgmann, Verity, Revolutionary Industrial Unionism – the Industrial Workers of the World in Australia, Melbourne, 1995
Davidson, Jared, Remains to Be Seen: Tracing Joe Hill's Ashes in New Zealand, Rebel Press, 2011
Davidson, Jared, Sewing Freedom: Philip Josephs, Transnationalism & Early New Zealand Anarchism, AK Press, 2013
Derby, Mark, 'Towards a Transnational Study of New Zealand Links with the Wobblies'
Dunstall, Graeme, Policeman's Paradise? Policing a Stable Society, 1917-1945, Dunmore Press, 1999
Eldred-Grigg, Stevan, The Great Wrong War: New Zealand Society in WW1, Random House New Zealand, 2010
Gustafson, Barry, Labour's Path to Political Independence: Origins and Establishment of the New Zealand Labour Party, 1900-19, Auckland University Press, 1980
Hill, Richard, The Iron Hand in the Velvet Glove: The modernisation of policing in New Zealand 1886-1917, Dunmore Press, 1996
Moriarty-Patten, Stuart, “A World to Win, a Hell to Lose: The Industrial Workers of the World in Early Twentieth Century New Zealand,” Thesis, Massey University, 2012
Olssen, Erik, The Red Feds – revolutionary industrial unionism and the NZ Federation of Labour 1908-1913, Auckland 1988
Roth, Herbert, Trade Unions in New Zealand: Past and Present, A. H. and A. W. Reed, 1973

Friday, October 18, 2013

People's History talk - Reds & Wobblies: working-class radicalism & the state 1915 -1925

As part of the People's History series organised by the LHP, the Alexander Turnbull Library and the Museum of Wellington City & Sea, I am giving a talk and slideshow of records/images at the National Library at 5.30pm this Tuesday. If anyone is interested the details are below

Reds & Wobblies: working class-radicalism & the state 1915 -1925

Tuesday 22 October, 2013
5.30pm – 6.30pm
Tiakiwai Conference Centre, Lower ground floor, National Library building (use Aitken Street entrance)

During and immediately after the First World War, the New Zealand Government enforced a strict censorship regime due to fears of political and industrial unrest. The mail, literature, and speeches of radicals – especially the Industrial Workers of the World (known as the Wobblies) – was under state scrutiny, and led to raids, arrests, and deportation of those deemed seditious.

‘Reds & Wobblies’ highlights the actions of a government fearful of social revolution in a time of worldwide turbulence, and discusses the working-class radicalism that caused such fears – from IWW stickers to the deportation of Noel Lyons.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

People's History talk: "Tatau tatau" vs "half-caste Maori" scabs

  • Date: 15 October, 2013
  • Time: 5.30pm – 7.00pm
  • Location: Tiakiwai Conference Centre, Lower ground floor, National Library building (use Aitken Street entrance).
Māori workers are largely absent from early twentieth-century New Zealand labour history. Commonly thought of as rural people, Māori are not mentioned in histories of organized urban craft workers and industrial unskilled workers who joined the socialist and syndicalist influenced New Zealand Federation of Labour in 1910.

Perusing the pages of the Maoriland Worker (the Federation of Labour newspaper) between 1910 and 1914, it appears Māori were subjects of political columns, union updates, and Red Fed organizing. Most striking is the figure of the half-caste Māori scab, who is demonized for endangering union organizing by their willingness to cross the picket line and join employer initiated arbitration unions.

Most regular in the pages of the Maoriland Worker is the Māori shearer, who unobtrusively is a member of the Shearers’ Union, has a Māori organizer, and is expected to become “one” with his or her Pakeha brothers and sisters in the “best interests” of the union. This talk analyses why there were such powerful differences between these two conceptions of Māori and focuses on shearing and mining work between 1910 and 1914.

Cybèle Locke is a history graduate of Otago and Auckland universities, who has published widely on labour history. Currently a lecturer in the History Programme at Victoria University of Wellington, she was a participant in the activist movements of the late twentieth century.

Part of a series of talks for the centenery of the 1913 Great Strike. Presented by the Museum of Wellington City & Sea, the Labour History Project and the Alexander Turnbull Library. Supported by the Maritime Union of New Zealand and the Rail & Maritime Transport Union.

More talks

October 1: Songs of work and workers and Sites of struggle
October 8: A century of remarkable women in the PSA
October 22: Reds & Wobblies
October 29: Dreadnoughts, Picture Palaces and Revolutionists
November 12: Savage, Fraser, Freyberg, Cullen
November 19: 1913: still relevant after all these years?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Radical and union posters now digitised!

From VIC: Victoria University of Wellington Library (New Zealand) is pleased to announce that the Dan Long Union Library Poster Collection and the Therese O’Connell Poster Collection are now online, complete with digital images of almost all the posters. To browse the collections, please follow the hyperlinks given above and then the various links on the webpages. To search for particular items, click the “Find” button near the top of the screen and select the appropriate fields (to search for names, select “Scope and Contents” and “Index terms”). The large digital images can be viewed by going to the individual poster records and then clicking on the thumbnails.

We hope you have a chance to peruse these collections and enjoy the fabulous posters!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Unpicking arcadia: Philip Josephs and early New Zealand anarchism

 Originally published in Imminent Rebellion 12.

“‘God’s Own Country’ is not safe from the vagaries of the person who believes in the bomb as opposed to argument,” bellowed the November 1907 Marlborough Express in response to a Wellington gathering of socialists and anarchists.[i] 

The group, which included the Latvian-born Jewish tailor Philip Josephs, had come together to mark the execution of the Haymarket anarchists—an occasion remembered simultaneously across the world. This event, as well as betraying the typical (and long-lasting) flouting of the anarchist-cum-bomber stereotype by the capitalist media, illustrates two key points: the existence of an nascent anarchist movement in New Zealand, and its rootedness in a wider, transnational milieu.

Yet despite the existence of anarchists and anarchist ideas in New Zealand around the turn of the twentieth century, early anarchism has been relatively neglected. Indeed, the most substantial work to date on anarchism in New Zealand during the twentieth century’s turbulent teens is the indispensable thirty-two-page pamphlet, ‘Troublemakers’ Anarchism and Syndicalism: The Early Years of the Libertarian Movement in Aotearoa/New Zealand, by Frank Prebble. The result of this collective omission is that the roots of our current anarchist movement are both obscured and forgotten.

Ignoring the early anarchist movement in New Zealand also gives weight to the traditional Labourist narrative that radical, direct action politics at the point of production was not enough to bring about socialism, and therefore the site of socialist struggle shifted from the workplace to the benches of parliament. Anarchist tactics are seen to be found wanting, and everything prior to the 1935 Labour government’s parliamentary election is simply its “pre-history.”[ii]

However, as Sewing Freedom: Philip Josephs, Transnationalism & Early New Zealand Anarchism (AK Press, 2013) shows, anarchism in New Zealand has a legacy that can date back to 1904, if not earlier, thanks to the personal perseverance of Philip Josephs and others like him. Anarchists were a valid part of the wider labour movement, imparting uncredited ideas, tactics, and influence. Likewise, anarchist agitation and the circulation of radical literature contributed significantly to the development of a working class counter-culture in New Zealand, and the syndicalist upsurge of the ‘Red’ Federation of Labor (FOL) era (as well as the syndicalist movements during the First World War and after).

This far-from-Labourist line—struggles throughout New Zealand’s history that have aimed to go beyond the limitations of state forms—can be traced from anarchists like Josephs and the upsurge of anti-parliamentary politics. Its early development was fragmented—typified by the decentralised activity of various anarchists placed in their immediate socialist milieu—but existed nonetheless, giving birth to both New Zealand’s first anarchist collectives in 1913, and “dissent from the [Labourist] consensus before, during, and after the [1913 Great] strike.”[iii] Despite the claim otherwise, reformism during the twentieth century has been challenged by New Zealand anarchism, albeit as a minority movement.

It is hard to squeeze Sewing Freedom’s evidence of such claims into one small article. I say this not as a crude attempt to promote buying my book, but because the activities of Josephs and other early anarchists across New Zealand—Dr Thomas Fauset Macdonald, Fay McMasters, Carl Mumme, Len Wilson, Wyatt Jones, Syd Kingsford, J Sweeney, Lola Ridge—were surprising rich in depth and detail. Their involvement in organisations like the New Zealand Socialist Party and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW); the trade union and anti-militarist movements; and all the strikes, struggles and radical cultural work these encompassed, deserves full appreciation.

Take the actions of Fay McMasters, for example. It is common knowledge (in labour history circles at least) that the building of the Otira Tunnel on the West Coast of the South Island was fraught with struggles between workers and management. Wildcat strikes, equally decried by bosses and union ‘leaders’, were a re-occurring form of direct action on the job. Yet what is not commonly known (or not seen as connected) was the presence of self-described anarchist communist, Fay McMasters. A former soldier of the ‘Black Watch’ with experience in giving popular lectures, McMasters would soapbox “in the evenings from 9 to 10.30... in the smoking room for the instruction of all who cared to listen.”14 A month after Jack McCollough noted this entry on McMasters into his diary, Otira workers were on strike—without the blessing of union officials.[iv]

What about the rise of syndicalist tactics, or the revolutionary ideas of the FOL—an organisation that welded a significance influence on the labour movement of the day and featured prominently in its key conflicts? Vocal members of the FOL, such as the fiery Bob Semple, and Paddy Web, subscribed to the anarchist newspaper Freedom through Philip Josephs’ tailor shop-cum-infoshop. Indeed, mere months after his arrival in 1904, Josephs was stocking international anarchist material in copious amounts—from Freedom to Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth. Not only that, he was publishing revolutionary critiques of the labour laws of the day before they became popularised by the FOL.

Of course it is wrong to conclude that Josephs was the key factor in the rise of revolutionary rhetoric in New Zealand. There is no doubt that him and the various individuals across the country who identified as anarchists, form but a small part of the revolutionary upsurge that was the pre-1920 period. But it is not a stretch to say that he and his pamphlets contributed to it in some way. Josephs’ activity, and the actions of other anarchists like him, surely had a hand in the normalisation of syndicalist tactics and the ideology of direct action—an ideology that crystallised into one of New Zealand’s most fraught and revolutionary periods.

Josephs’ transnational diffusion of anarchist doctrine, his links to the wider anarchist movement, and his involvement with Freedom Press (through the distribution of their anarchist politics), ensured anarchist ideas and tactics received a hearing in the New Zealand labour movement well beyond its minority status. Despite Erik Olssen’s suggestion that “few rank and file revolutionaries had much knowledge of syndicalist and anarchist ideology,” it is clear that anarchism—alongside other shades of socialist thought—contributed to the militancy of the movement on a scale not readily recognised by most historical accounts.[v] Likewise, Josephs’ activity places him, and New Zealand anarchism, firmly on the global anarchist map. While the two anarchist collectives that were formed in 1913—an Auckland group and the Wellington Freedom Group—were no Federación Anarquista Ibérica (Iberian Anarchist Federation), the fact that anarchists came together, formed collectives, and propagated the principles of anarchism, at the very least, deserves remembering.[vi]

The point of these examples is not some kind of shallow cry for attention on the part of anarchist historiography. As noted earlier, these past actions and ideas—of which today’s anarchist movement currently forms a part—stand as examples of alternative forms of struggle. They highlight the possibility of other possibilities, and form a continuum of practice that ground the work of today’s anarchists in a rich vein of radical history.

That said, capital and the struggle against it has changed considerably since the times of Philip Josephs and the Wellington Freedom Group. As Endnotes points out, “the ‘twentieth century’... its contours of class relations, its temporality of progress, and its post-capitalist horizons, is obviously behind us.”[vii] Yet the anarchist activity and the syndicalist surge of the early twentieth century serve as pertinent reminders of the successes (and failures) of New Zealand’s anarchist movement. If history is to be more than a nostalgic stroll through the past, and if the historian’s responsibility “is to find those social processes and structures which promise an alternative to the ones now dominant,” then awareness of New Zealand’s anarchist tradition should serve as “a key reminder that we still live in a society deeply divided by class. The actions of the past stand as inspiring, yet unfinished movements.”[viii]

[i] Marlborough Express, 16 November 1907.
[ii] Kerry Taylor, “Cases of the Revolutionary Left and the Waterside Workers’ Union,” in Melanie Nolan (ed.), Revolution: The 1913 Great Strike in New Zealand, Canterbury University Press, 2005, p. 203.
[iii] Ibid., pp. 203–204.
14 “12 June 1908,” McCullough Diary vol 1, McCullough papers, Canterbury Museum Library, Christchurch.
[iv] Marlborough Express, 25 July 1908.
[v] Eric Olssen, The Red Feds: Revolutionary Industrial Unionism and the New Zealand Federation of Labor 1908–1913, Oxford University Press, 1988, p. 86.
[vi] Formed in 1927, the FAI was a large and influential anarchist federation that included affinity groups spread across the Iberian Peninsula. It played a major role in the Spanish union movement, as well as the Spanish Revolution of 1936. See Stuart Christie, We, the Anarchists! A Study of the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) 1927–1937, AK Press, 2008.
[vii] Endnotes 1: Preliminary Materials for a Balance Sheet of the Twentieth Century, 2008, p. 3.
[viii] Jeremy Breecher, Strike! The True History of Mass Insurrection in America from 1877 to the Present—as authentic revolutionary movements against the establishments of state, capital and trade unionism, Straight Arrow Books, 1972, p. 319; Nicholas Lampert, “Struggles at Haymarket: An Embattled History of Static Monuments and Public Interventions” in Josh MacPhee & Eric Ruin (eds.), Realizing the Impossible: Art Against Authority, AK Press, 2007, p. 255.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Johann Sebastian Trunk, 1850-1933

In the windswept cemetery of rural Geraldine stands the headstone of Johann Sebastian Trunk, a German cabinet-maker, militant anarchist and advocate of making the world anew—violently if necessary. The tidy headstone betrays no indication of the radicalism once lived; indeed, many anarchists in New Zealand, England or Germany would know little more than the weekend adventurer scanning the concrete commemorations. For despite the part Trunk played in the international anarchist movement during its development in the 1870s to 1900s, little is known about him—a fate shared by many comrades who, although integral to the movement, have often been passed over for leading figures. Like the headstone, his name is often inscribed among others but without any further offerings of information.

As part of my own research on anarchism in New Zealand, I decided to check up a footnote in Frank Prebble’s ‘Troublemakers’ Anarchism and Syndicalism: The Early Years of the Libertarian Movement in Aotearoa/New Zealand: “S Trunk, the militant German anarchist, previously in London, migrated to New Zealand where his brother Lutjohann lived, and nothing more was heard from him.” After tracking down other one-liners and piecing together a family tree, I was able to make contact with Trunk’s 94-year-old granddaughter Joyce King, and other family members. I was excited about the possibility of learning more on this mysterious anarchist and possibly put a face to the name. But his anarchist activities were a surprise to the family too. “We never, ever, heard a whisper of anything of that,” recalled Joyce.

Who was Johann Sebastian Trunk? Was this transient and militant anarchist active in the New Zealand labour movement? And how did he end up in the South Island town of Geraldine—quite possibly the furtherist place from the meccas of European anarchism one could get at the time? What follows is a brief-but-nonetheless-needed biography of a transnational anarchist whose activities are grounded in the tension and conflicts of a movement coming of age.

Johann Sebastian Trunk was born on 1 November 1850 and grew up on a family farm in Breitenbuch, Bavaria. Little information is known of his time there, but family note that he was born a Roman Catholic and became an apprentice cabinet-maker. The story handed down to Joyce and the family was that to become fully certified in his trade, Trunk had to work two months in another country: “from Germany he went to Switzerland, from Switzerland he went to France, and while he was in France, Germany got involved in a war with some other country and he high-tailed it to London.”

The reality is only half true. Germany during the second half of the nineteenth century was home to a burgeoning socialist movement, personified by the German Social Democratic Party and the growth of numerous labour unions. Under the umbrella of ‘social democrat’ fell various tenets of socialist thought trying to find its feet—from those who believed in gradualism and parliamentary change, to pro-revolutionary, proto-anarchist advocates. For example, a number of social democrats like the fiery Johann Most, were becoming disillusioned with parliamentary politics and advocating more insurrectionary means to bring about social revolution. Support for revolutionary change was increasing in the German socialist movement, and Trunk was one such advocate.

A paragraph or two on Johann Most is necessary, as his political journey typifies that of Johann Trunk and many other socialists-cum-anarchists of the period. Born into a life of poverty, abuse and toil, Most drifted across the German empire as a bookbinder until finding socialism. He then dived into a number of editorial roles with instant success—saving fledging socialist newspapers with a rhetoric that fell on fertile ground. Despite his growing radicalism being suppressed by numerous stints in prison, Most was elected into parliament as a social democrat in 1874, a position of relative immunity held until exiled by the German government in 1878. A captivating and powerful orator, Most used the public platform to popularise his increasingly revolutionary views across Germany (and beyond).

The more time spent in parliament, the more radical his views became. Although he never committed such acts, Most helped to popularise ‘propaganda of the deed’—the insurrectionary use of violence against monarchs, state officials or employers in order to rouse the masses into revolutionary action, and to set right the daily wrongs of capitalist violence and exploitation. Terrorism to its detractors, propaganda by the deed became rife across Europe from the mid 1870s and for a time was uncritically adopted by many anarchists and other revolutionaries. Most’s rejection of parliamentary and legalist methods for spectacular direct action found his ideas edging closer to such an anarchist position—one he would associate with during his years in London and the Unites States.

Like Most, and as told to his family, Trunk did leave Germany in 1878. However, he left as both an apprentice cabinet-maker and a victim of Otto von Bismarck’s anti-socialist laws. “Under the law,” writes Gultsman in The German Social Democratic Party 1975-1933, “all socialist organization and agitation was prohibited… the distribution and publication of socialist literature was outlawed and in areas of strong socialist sentiment or on the suspicions of illegal activity the police were empowered to impose a ‘minor stage of siege’ under which persons could be made to leave the area.” According to contemporary anarchist historian and archivist Max Nettlau, Trunk was active in the socialist movement from the early 1870s onwards, and in all likelihood was in the Social Democratic Party. As a result, and alongside over 900 expelled socialists, Trunk left German repression for less hostile shores.

Amongst the “cacophony of foreign voices, and only the lurking presence of spies to remind the political refugees of their troubles back home,” Trunk found himself in the “most fecund source of banned works of literature, history or philosophy”—Switzerland.[1] A relative sanctuary for revolutionaries of all shades, Switzerland was then flourishing in the smuggling of revolutionary newspapers from centres like Paris and London. Paris was an important dissemination point for Most’s own newspaper (and home to Victor Dave, an anarchist with whom Trunk would later form a working relationship with). Trunk may have had a hand in this transnational anarchist network, for Nettlau believed that Trunk had written articles for the Swiss Berner Arbeiter Zeitung (Bern Workers Paper).[2] And like Dave, who was expelled from France in March 1880, Trunk also ended up in London via Paris. Hermia Oliver in The International Anarchist Movement in Late Victorian London notes, “among the crowd of refugee socialists in London were also a German joiner, Sebastian Trunk (deported from France in 1880, who was described as very close to Most).”[3] It appears that apprenticeship of a different kind—as an anarchist revolutionary—was the real reason for Trunk’s high tailing across the Atlantic.

The fugitives from Germany added an increasingly radical voice to the larger socialist community taking shape in London. This community often centred around the Social Democratic Club on Rose Street, Soho Square West, formed in 1877 by German expatriates in London “exasperated by the internal disputes within the Communistischer Arbeiter Bildungs Verein (Communist Workers’ Educational Society-CABV).” The new Club had five sections of various nationalities, including German and English sections—baptised in the midst of a lengthy stonemason’s strike.[4]

As well as being “packed to the brim with poor working class people,” the Rose Street tenement served as a landing point for foreign revolutionaries. As Mathew Thomas in his study of anarchist counter-cultures in Britain notes, “anyone visiting Rose Street would have encountered the European revolutionary world in miniature; its thought, atmosphere and ethos. Such visitors would have witnesses polemical debates about the aims and means of socialism and anarchism.”

Adding his vivacious voice to the debates was Johann Most, “who was received with open arms by the [CABV]. They backed Most financially in the founding of a newspaper, Freiheit.”[5] Johann Trunk, presumably fresh from his French deportation, “soon joined forces with Most,” cementing a relationship that would be as fraught as it was long. As a member of the Freiheit collective Trunk mixed his labour with the clutter that was its office; newspapers, type and presses strewn amongst furniture and bottles of beer. “Today Freiheit is what it should be. A newspaper that is completely for the revolutionary worker,” wrote Trunk in November 1881, pleased with the direction Freiheit and his comrades were taking.

However the British state was not, thanks to increasing pressure from Bismarck and other foreign representatives wanting to achieve in London what they had failed to do at home. On 30 March 1881 Most was arrested and sentenced to sixteen months hard labour, after applauding the assassination of Tsar Alexander II as “sterling propaganda-by-the-deed” and thundering for similar acts to continue, “until the last tyrant, the last plutocrat, and the last priest are dead.”[6] Yet his imprisonment simply inspired his followers and gave the nascent anarchist community in London a cause to rally behind. Comrades like Trunk, Frank Kitz and Johann Neve ensured that Freiheit presses continued to run hot, with sales jumping from 3 to 100 per week. Defence committees were formed at Rose Street by the English section of the CABV, organising protests, publishing an English-language Freiheit, and issuing scathing manifesto’s.

Despite ongoing harassment by police, Freiheit continued with interim editors and a rotating team of typesetters. However the paper’s celebration of the assassination of Lord Cavendish and Thomas Burke by Fenian revolutionaries in Dublin was a step too far for the authorities. Its description of their deaths as “a heroically bold act of popular justice” annihilating “the evil representatives of a malignant government based on brute force,” saw Freiheit falter under the weight of further police raids.[7]

With Most stewing in a London jail cell and Neve fleeing from persecution, Trunk boldly stepped into the hot seat, editing Freiheit from 20 May to 3 June 1882. Trunk and others also kept up spirits by “issuing fiery broadsheets designed to ‘prove to comrades far and near, that we are still there, and in no way prepared to throw our rifles in the corn’: but to no avail.”[8] Printers brave enough to run the presses were not forthcoming and Freiheit was moved to Paris, then Switzerland, never to be printed in London again.

Mandate for Trunk and Neve, delegates representing the CABV at the 1881 London Social Revolutionary Congress. IISH

During this period Trunk was also involved in other anarchist developments in London. In 1881 he, alongside 6 others, was the organising secretary for London Social Revolutionary Congress held in July, and attended with Johann Neve as delegate for the CABV. They were mandated to "stick with the strict principles of our club (ie. communist revolution) and to fight any compromise by the parliamentary social-democrats from Zurich." Among the 45 delegates present to further organised anarchism were key figures such as Peter Kropotkin and Louise Michel. Trunk, alongside Neve and the Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta, was elected to an International Committee created to maintain anarchist relations after the congress.

In June 1885, Trunk was among other German anarchists who helped form a North London branch of the Socialist League (SL). William Morris, influential textile designer and a key member of the League, mentions him in his diary: “I doubt if, except one or two Germans, etc, we have any real anarchists amongst us.” This would change over time as the Socialist League, and its paper The Commonweal, moved towards an overtly anarchist potion. As E P Thompson notes, anarchist influence in the SL reached its climax in November 1888 when Lucy Parsons, militant anarchist and widow of Chicago Martyr, Albert Parsons, addressed a series of commemorative meetings organised by the League. With Parsons and Kropotkin, Trunk also shared the platform on the speaking tour.

It appears Trunk, active as he was in the English anarchist scene, was also involved in the blossoming Jewish anarchist movement. “In February 1885,” notes Rudolf Rocker in The London Years, “the radical movement among the East End Jewish workers started a club in Berner Street… this club was for years the centre of propaganda and social life among the Jewish comrades.” According to Rocker’s memoir, Trunk was regular and welcome guest at the Club.

However Trunk and his fellow German anarchists were soon engulfed in an intense and bitter dispute know as the Bruderkreig, or Brothers War, which had been simmering since 1884. This complex split in the German movement was based on ideological positions, competing newspapers, and strong personalities, and was further clouded by the involvement of police spies.

In February 1887, Johann Neve was arrested by Belgian police while smuggling anarchist newspapers into Germany. As Andrew Carlson explains in Anarchism in Germany, “it was a route that Berlin police wanted to smash, and Neve was a person they wanted to imprison, but it took them several years of work and the assistance of several police spies before they were able to achieve these two goals.” After being thrown in a German jail, Neve wrote to Trunk that he had carved the date 1902 into his cell door—the year it would swing open and grant him freedom. It was the last letter anyone in the movement ever received from Neve, who died in police custody in 1896.

Neve’s imprisonment turned the anarchist’s political and literary debate into one of outright war. Accusations that Neve had fallen victim to a spy plot were rife, and friends quickly became enemies. Trunk initially found himself on the side of his Freiheit comrades such as Victor Dave—‘collectivists’ who were sometimes at odds with anarchist communists like Josef Peukert and the Die Autonomie group. However Trunk—despite hiring a private investigator to determine where the Autonomie group’s money was coming from—later joined forces with Peukert and the group. He cited Dave’s overbearing and tyrannical behaviour as the reason for his defection.[9]

Trunk’s move to anarchist communism ensured he continued to be active in London’s radical counter-culture. In March 1891 he spoke alongside John Turner, Michel, Malatesta and Kropotkin at a London meeting commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the Paris Commune. American anarchist Emma Goldman also visited him in 1900—his house being a distribution point for leaflets, handbills, posters (and people) from around the globe.

Daisy, Johann and Johanne, possibly before heading to New Zealand

Yet it was Trunk who was soon to be shipping out. At 56 years of age, and after personifying the development of anarchism in London, Johann left Europe for New Zealand in 1906. Trunk’s brother-in-law, Johannes Lutjohann, had already migrated to Christchurch and set up the billiards table company Lutjohann and Co. Being a skilled cabinet-maker, Trunk had been asked to join the company. Johann, his wife Johanne, and daughter Daisy, soon met them in Christchurch. Not long after, the company won a gold medal at the New Zealand International Exhibition for a patent dinning-room billiard-table (which are now highly sought-after).

Although Trunk was naturalised as a British subject in October 1908, when the First World War broke out his German background (and age) meant work was hard to find. The family decided to sell up, pool their money, and purchase a farm. With his carpentry tools in tow, Trunk and the extended family moved 140 km south to Geraldine. He contributed what labour he could: “He was too old to do any of the farm work,” remembers Joyce King, “so he took on the vegetable garden. He had beautiful gardens, nice and tidy, very neat. That would have come out of his cabinet making.” She recalls fondly that Trunk would take her to school in a horse and gig, a far cry from the metropolitan London he had left behind.

Indeed, little is known about this revolutionary’s activity in the antipodes. It does not appear that Trunk was visibly active in the local labour movement, despite some interesting family connections. Also working at Lutjohann and Co. was another brother-in-law, Frederick Schmidt (Smith), a socialist and avid reader of Marx. Frederick’s grandson Robert Smith was on the executive committee of the Christchurch Tramway Employees Union, and an active participant in the 1932 tramways strike. Yet Trunk seems to have left his advocacy of propaganda by the deed to days past. Having been involved in many of anarchism’s pivotal milestones, who could argue against limiting his plotting to that of the vegetable kind? After spending his final years in Geraldine, Johann Sebastian Trunk died on 4 June 1933, aged eighty-three—without an anarchist obituary but rich in transnational anarchist experience.

Many thanks are due to the family of Johann Trunk for their generosity and time, and for supplying the images above. Thanks also to Martin Veith, Barry Pateman, David Berry and Constance Bantman.

[1] Alex Butterworth, The World That Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists, and Secret Agents, Pantheon, 2010, p.58.
[2] Max Nettlau, Geschicte der Anarchie. I owe many thanks to Martin Veith for accessing and translating hard-to-find German-language texts on my behalf.
[3] Hermia Oliver, The International Anarchist Movement in Late Victorian London, Croom Helm, 1983.
[4] Nick Heath, ‘Neve, John, 1844-1896’, available online at
[5] Andrew Carlson, Anarchism in Germany: Vol, 1: The Early Movement, Scarecrow Press, 1972, p.182.
[6] Frederick Trautmann, The Voice of Terror: A Biography of Johann Most, Green Press, 1980, p.45.
[7] Trautmann, p.70.
[8] Bernard Porter, ‘The Freiheit Prosecutions, 1881-1882’ in The Historical Journal, 23(4), p.854.
[9] During my research for Sewing Freedom I located a lengthy text on Victor Dave and the Brothers War, written by Trunk. The text is in old-style German and awaits a keen translator to shed further light on the conflict.