At 5:30am on Friday, February 1st London’s Freedom Press bookshop was firebombed. No one was hurt, but the shop interior and the building’s electrics are severely damaged, and crucial archives were lost.
Freedom Press has been publishing anarchist literature since 1886, including the UK’s only regular anarchist newspaper, and is no stranger to controversy. For instance, in 1945 the newspaper’s editor Vernon Richards was arrested for attempting “to undermine the affections of members of His Majesty’s Armed Forces,” prompting writers like George Orwell and E.M. Forster to form a committee for the defense of free speech in the UK. Freedom Press hasn’t endured aggression from the government alone, either; as the oldest and most robust anarchist press in the English-speaking world Freedom has entered the realm of myth, making it an occasional target for the militant right. In March of 1993 members of the neo-fascist group Combat 18 raided the bookshop, destroying the interior with wooden clubs before setting it alight. No one has yet taken responsibility for last Friday’s attack.
On Saturday, February 2nd I headed down to the bookstore, located at the end of an inconspicuous alley off Whitechapel High Street, to join in a community cleanup effort. When I arrived the building was structurally sound, but it appeared that about a quarter of the inventory was completely ruined, reduced to ash. Much of the remaining stock was blackened by smoke or warped by water from the fire hoses. Glass was broken, plastic chairs were melted down, and the black boxes containing 125 years of the Freedom Newspaper were charred, dealing a great blow to the press archive.
Members of the Freedom collective asked us to help move the surviving books up to the third floor of the building, so we formed a chain climbing the staircase and transferred the books up five or seven at a time. We glanced at their spines as we passed them along. Some had brazen titles like Bash The Rich, but there were also books on alternative medicine, on finding community solutions to the housing crisis, on raising happy kids, on empowering the elderly. There was Foucault, Bakunin, Chomsky (lots of Chomsky), Aristophanes, Ursula K. Le Guin, Charles Dickens, and Roald Dahl. There was one sooty copy of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, which elicited a sad chuckle as it ascended.