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(en) MEDIA: Vernon Richards Obituary in The Times 12/12/01)

From "Chris Robinson" <christopher@nodo50.org>
Date Fri, 21 Dec 2001 03:38:12 -0500 (EST)


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Vernon Richards was for more than 60 years one of the most significant
figures in the anarchist movement in Britain and beyond. As a prolific
writer and editor he produced newspapers, pamphlets, anthologies and several
books. As the guiding light of the Freedom Press, he was at the heart of
British anarchism's most enduring organisation, and did more than almost
anyone else to sustain and propagate anarchist ideas.

He had been drawn decisively to the anarchist movement - in which his father
had been prominent for half a century - when the Spanish Civil War began in
1936. He took the initiative in mobilising British opinion on the side of
the Spanish anarchists and syndicalists in their struggles against not only
the right-wing Nationalists and Fascists before them, but also against the
left-wing Republicans and Communists behind them.

In December 1936 Richards founded Spain and the World, a fortnightly paper
that originally concentrated on documenting the events in Spain on the basis
of first-hand information. It soon developed into the main anarchist paper
in Britain, effectively the resumption of the original paper Freedom, which
had been founded in 1886 but suspended in 1932.

With the help of such veterans as Max Nettlau and Emma Goldman, Tom Keell
and Lilian Wolfe, Richards helped to bring together the scattered elements
of the anarchist movement which had flourished before the First World War
and the Russian Revolution, and to re-establish the old Freedom Press as its
base.

In 1937 he brought to Britain his 19-year-old companion, Marie Louise
Berneri, the daughter of the leading Italian anarchist Carnillo Bemeri (who
had been assassinated by the Communists in Spain), and married her to give
her British citizenship.

When the Spanish war ended, Spain and the World was replaced by Revolt!, and
when the Second World War began that in turn was replaced by War Commentary,
Richards remaining the principal editor and manager. War Commentary
militantly opposed the war effort, and inevitably ran into trouble, just as
Freedom had done. during the First World War. Richards was in a reserved
occupation as a railway engineer and also registered as a conscientious
objector, but in December 1944 he was arrested with his wife and two
comrades for their anti-war propaganda. In April 1945 they were tried under
the Defence of the Realm Act for conspiracy to incitement to disaffection.
Marie Louise was found not guilty - for the technical reason that a wife
cannot legally conspire with her husband -, but the other three were
convicted and sentenced to 12 months' imprisorunent.

After the end of the war and his release from prison, Richards continued to
take a leading part in producing the paper, which resumed the old name
Freedom, and in publishing'most of the anarchist books and pamphlets which
appeared in Britain from the 1940s to the 1960s; he also developed a keen
interest in photography.

Like many other British anarchists, Vero Benvenuto Costantino Reechioni came
from immigrant stock. He was born over the famous King Bomba Italian food
shop in Soho, which was kept for several decades by his parents, Emidio and
Costanza Recchioni. He was educated at the Emrnanuel Grammar School,
Wandsworth, and King's College London, where he obtained a degree in civil
engineering 1939, having Anglicised his name, a couple of years earlier. He
worked for five years in railway construction, first for the London
Underground and then at the stations in Oxford and Cambridge.

Even as a boy he was drawn to the political life of the exiled Italian
cormmunity, in which his family and friends were active participants. His
first involvement was in the anti-Fascist propaganda against Mussolini's
regime, and at the age of 20 he initiated the paper Italia Libera. He was
arrested in Paris in 1935 and expelled from France.

A double personal blow came when Marie Louise first gave birth to a
stillborn child in 1948 and then died of viral pneumonia in 1949; a powerful
writer and a beautiful woman, she was universally mourned in the
international anarchist movement. Vernon Richards continued his political
activity, earning a living by working as a travel courier, but spending more
and more time and energy on market gardening, in which he was a pioneer both
in the use of organic methods and in raising exotic fruit and vegetables.

In 1965, after thirty years of continuous effort, Richards handed over the
editorial control of Freedom to a collective and moved from London to
Suffolk, where he concentrated on producing food on his smallholding both
for himself and for a few select customers. He continued to control the
business of the Freedom Press, devoting much effort to raising funds to
finance the publication of anarchist literature from old anarchists who had
more money than they needed. He also formed the Friends of Freedom Press, a
trust to preserve the integrity of anarchist publishing.

As well as his many articles, Richards produced several books. The first
were literally labours of love. Marie Luise Bem eri: A Tribute (1949) was a
symposium of obituary articles from around the world, and Neither East Nor
West (1952) was an anthology of his wife's writings. His main contribution
to anarchist historiography, Lessons of the Spanish Revolution (1953), first
appeared as articles in Freedom and was reprinted in several editions over
thirty years.

Richards's main work of anarchist biography, Errico Malatesta: His Life and
Ideas (1965), was a tribute to the leading Italian anarchist who had been
his father's friend and was his own hero; he also edited a further
collection of Malatesta's articles as The Anarchist Revolution (1995). Later
came two collections of his own articles: The Impossibilities of Social
Democracy (1978), on parliamentary socialism, and Protest Without Illusions
(1981), on nuclear disarinament. Why Work? (1983) was an anthology drawn
front many writers, including William Morris and Bertrand Russell.

Richards produced annual volumes of selected articles from Freedom for
several years, and later produced more ambitious anthologies of selections
from Spain and the World, Revolt!, War Commentary and Freedom. Finally came
three books gathering some of the thousands of photographs he hid taken over
the decades, together with George Orwell at Home (1998) including his well
known photographs of the author, who was a personal friend despite their
political differences.

Richards's anarchism was inherited rather than developed, and he was
impatient both with theoretical discussions and with sectarian arguments. He
took a straightforward and almost simplistic view of the task of
anarchists - to make propaganda for political and personal liberty - and for
half a century he did more than anyone else in the English-speaking world,
to stimulate and support such work and to make it intellectually respectable
and commercially viable.

For more than 30 years Vernon Richards lived in Polstead with his companion
Peta Hewetson. who died in 1997. He then retired to Hadleigh. He had no
children.

Vernon Richards, anarchist editor and publisher, was born on July 19,1915.
He died on December 10, 2001, aged 86.



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