The Psychogeography of Tottenham – or the Landscape of Memory

När jag läste kring stadsdelen Tottenham i Londons East End, där de brittiska upploppen som pågår nu startade, så visade det sig att där redan 23 jan 1909 hade ägt rum något som kallas the Tottenham Outrage – ett väpnat rån mot en lönekassa utfört av två påstått anarkistiska letter, Peul Helfeld och Jacob Lepidus, i vilket de också mördade en polis och en liten pojke på 10 år, Ralph Joscelyne.

”The ‘Outrage’ became a cause célèbre in Edwardian London, with the route of the murdered policeman’s funeral cortège being lined by a crowd of half a million people. The event led to the creation of the King’s Police Medal, to reward the gallantry of the police officers involved. It also reinforced a feeling of xenophobia, fear of immigrants, and anti-Semitism, which influenced reactions to the Sidney Street Siege in 1911.”

1911, för exakt 100 år sedan, ägde alltså sedan i samma immigranttäta stadsdel rum ett formligt fältslag mellan polis och lettiska invandrare, och likaledes påstått nihilistiska anarkister, som sades ha flytt undan tvånget att göra rysk militärtjänst i det rysk-japanska kriget 1904 och i kölvattnet av den misslyckade revolutionen 1905 flytt landet, efter att de bestraffats och torterats svårt av tsarens polis, som också hade avrättat 14 000 män och kvinnor efter den lettiska resningen. 

Dessa invandrare, vars hemland ockuperats av Ryssland, menar man tillhörde de ”nationella anarkister” från Lettland som flytt till England, och då hamnat i Londons East End, där de fick de lägst betalda jobben i dåtigens sweatshops och umgicks med planer på att störta tsaren, dvs förbereda den ryska revolutionen.

De var också mycket illa sedda, redan då var området trångbott och då letterna tillhörde de som ‘sämst assimilerades’ levde de som outsiders och vagabonder och bodde under primitiva förhållanden, där ett av rummen de bebodde kunde befolkas med 25 personer.

Men att det verkligen rörde sig om några ”anarkister” eller ”revolutionärer” ifrågasätts av många som anser att historien exploateras för att piska upp hat mot de invandrare som nu bebor Londons East End:

The lesson the police took from the siege was not that they had overreacted but that they needed better weapons. The lesson the press took was that the Liberal government was soft on immigrants.

If you go down Sidney Street bears no sign of the battle today, and no memorial. Further down the street, identical blocks of dark brick Victorian tenements are still occupied by immigrants, but now they are Muslim, not Jewish.

The two dead men, identified as Fritz Svaars and William Sokolow, had been petty criminals, not anarchists. Seven others were put on trial at the Old Bailey but all had their cases dropped or were acquitted for lack of evidence.

One of them, Jacob Peters – who may even have been the Painter – returned to Russia, rose to be deputy head of the Soviet secret police, the Cheka, and was executed in Stalin’s 1938 purge.”

Till England sägs de ha smugglat mängder av automatvapen, och sas försöja sig på brottslighet för att finansiera revolutionen, vilket var en av anledningarna till att de kunde stå emot så många poliser, under jakten som följde efter ett rån i en juvelerarbutik då de mördat två poliser. Efter ett tips avslutades jakten sedan med belägringen på Sidney Street, dit till slut även inrikesminister Winston Churchill kallades.

”After 1905 Russian revolutionaries, at home and abroad, returned to partisan tactics, individual acts of terrorism, and the expropriation of state and private funds for party purposes. Russian banks and bureaux de change were put under round the clock armed guard, although fire arms were subject to very few controls.

In December 1905 it was reported that a Russian was stopped by British customs with 47 automatic pistols and 500 rounds of ammunition, but wasn’t detained. Expropriation was almost unanimously disapproved of by the revolutionary leaders. In 1904 Kropotkin said ‘Bourgeois money is not necessary for us, either as donations or as thefts’, but he was a prince. The 5th Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Party in Whitechapel in May 1907 denounced expropriations with only the Bolshevik
minority voting in favour; although it was widely known that Lenin depended on them for funding.

One of the Whitechapel Bolshevik delegates who voted for expropriation was Josef Stalin. The following month the future Russian leader was heavily implicated in the bloodiest Bolshevik expropriation in Tiflis, Georgia.

Stalin shared a room in a Whitechapel lodging-house with Litvinoff, the Riga party organiser, whilst
smuggling arms to Russia.”

Konfrontationen som sedan följde slutade med att 700 poliser belägrade Sidney Street, de två som hittades döda valde dock att hellre dö än att låta poliserna fånga dem, deras namn var Fritz Svaars och William Sokolow, båda tungt kriminella med ifrågasättbar ”anarkistisk” eller ”revolutionär” anknytning:

”On 2 January 1911, an informant told police that two or three of the gang, possibly including Peter the Painter himself, were hiding at 100 Sidney Street, Stepney (in the Metropolitan Police District). Worried that the suspects were about to flee, and expecting heavy resistance to any attempt at capture, on 3 January, two hundred officers cordoned off the area and the siege began. At dawn the battle commenced.

The defenders, though heavily outnumbered, possessed superior weapons and great stores of ammunition. The Tower of London was called for backup, and word got to the Home SecretaryWinston Churchill, who arrived on the spot to observe the incident at first hand, and to offer advice. Churchill authorised calling in a detachment of Scots Guards to assist the police. Six hours into the battle, and just as the field artillery piece that Churchill had authorised arrived, a fire began to consume the building. When the fire brigade arrived, Churchill refused them access to the building. The police stood ready, guns aimed at the front door, waiting for the men inside to attempt their escape. The door never opened. Instead, the remains of two members of the gang, Fritz Svaars and William Sokolow (both were also known by numerous aliases), were later discovered inside the building. No sign of Peter the Painter was found.

Flera anarkister sas ha haft kontakter med de två som mördade poliserna och enligt legenden blev en av dem, Peter the Painter, som lyckades fly sedan högt uppsatt i Stalins skräckvälde. Men egentligen har hans identitet aldrig kunnat fastställas. Vissa tror alltså att han var Jacob Peters, andra att han var den lettiske konstnären Gederts Eliass, återigen andra att han var  Janis Zhaklis.

Sarah Young, föreläsare i slaviska studier i London, tvivlar också på ifall sägnerna om dessa händelser och personer stämmer:

 Again, I’m not going to go into all the ins and outs as plenty of ink has been spilt of the subject, but just want to examine some of the myths that have grown up around the case. For more details of the affair as a whole, this article from the Guardian marking the recent hundredth anniversary of the siege is a succinct and sensible account; this article from the Manchester Guardian on 4 January 1911 gives an interesting contemporary eye-witness perspective; and this amazing early Pathe newsreel is well worth a watch. There is currently an exhibition about the siege at the Museum of London Docklands, but I haven’t managed to visit it yet. The Independent has a picture gallery feature on the exhibition.”

När det gäller ifall de inblandade personerna verkligen var revolutionärer och anarkister ägnar hon sedan sin artikel ”Russians in London: the anarchist threat”.

Secondly, although the gunmen were assumed at the time to be anarchists or revolutionaries, and have habitially been described as such ever since, the evidence for this is weak to say the least. Some of them had frequented the Jubilee Street club (although they weren’t members, and it had recently closed down), and Rocker states that the anarchist label was applied mainly because of the presence of copies of Arbeter Fraint in the room at 59 Grove Street where Morountzeff died, and the discovery during the investigation that he had been to Errico Malatesta’s Islington workshop (Rocker, pp. 116-8). But it seems clear that those involved were acting from personal not political motives, and that any apparent anarchist or revolutionary tendencies were – like their supposed Jewish identities – adopted for convenience rather than from conviction (see Rogers, pp. 193-4).

Memorial to Charles Pearson, the firefighter who died following the Sidney Street Siege

Then there’s the question of Peter the Painter: revolutionary, leader of the Houndsditch gang, and miraculous escapee from the siege at 100 Sidney Street. His real name was Peter Piatkov or Piaktov, and he was born in Pskov in 1883 (Rogers, p.167). In fact, beyond a vague acquaintance with one or two of the perpetrators, there is nothing whatsoever to connect him to the affair (this doesn’t stop theDaily Mail fulminating against him as the ‘Siege of Sidney Street killer‘ as recently as 2008), or even very much evidence that he was a revolutionary at all. But the absence of evidence is always the best evidence for conspriracy theorists, and this is where the idea of Russian government involvement comes in. Rocker – who is normally level-headed but accepts without question that Peter the Painter was part of the plot – dismisses the idea that Morountzeff was a Russian police agent, but deems it much more likely that Peter was (p. 122). He goes on to say that Peter resurfaced in the Cheka after the revolution. If this was the case, it would not be the only instance of an agent changing sides, but it seems to be the result of a confusion with another figure altogether: Jacob Peters. Peters was a cousin of Fritz Svaars, at best a peripheral figure in the plot, who was tried for his involvement but acquitted (Rogers, pp. 191-4). Apparently much more serious-minded than his cousin, he was a Social Democrat and participated in revolutionary propaganda in London. He returned to Russia after the revolution and became a senior figure in the Cheka, as this article by the American journalist Louise Bryant confirms.”

Se tidigare bloggposter: Josefine och Jonas – Ni behövs för att bryta kräftgångenVänster är inte lika med MarxistDemokrati – Hårkors och bombmattor?

Se: DN – Därför står London i lågorTottenham and Woodgreen Journal – Residents report ghostly sightings of Tottenham Outrage Boy, The Guardian, Manchester Guardian, The Independent

Se även: Sarah Young, lecturer in Russian at SSESS – Russians in London: the anarchist threatANARCHY IN THE UK 1910/11
THE HOUNDSDITCH MURDERS AND THE SIEGE OF SIDNEY STREET – 100th Anniversary Peter the Painter Cell Tribute Vague 64 London Psychogeography 2010/11
  [anm: intressant text om den historiska bakgrunden till dessa händelser]

Se också: Peter the Painter, Youtube – Psychogeography – The Landscape of Memory, Wikipedia – Tottenham, Sky News (Rubriker från de senaste dagarnas rapportering om upploppen i London, The Siege of Sidney Street (journalfilm från den tiden), Trailer – Sidney Street Siege    

Se också: SVD – Svensk dialogpolis kritisk till brittisk insats,  AB – Kravaller sprider sig till fler städer,SVT – från Manchester – Mycket orolig natt, SVT – Stor förödelse, SVT – Polisen om upploppen i Manchester: ”Värsta på 30 år”DN – Just nu: Stockholmsbörsen vände ned igen, DN2AB2 AB3, AB4SVD – Upploppen i Storbritannien minut för minutSVT – Upploppen sprider sig utanför LondonSearchligth – Hope not hateAB1AB2AB3AB4,SVT1SVT2SVT – Polisen tog omväg till UtöyaSVT – Han skickar ut 16 000 poliser på gatornaSVT – Matchen mellan England och Holland på Wembley ställs in

Bloggar: (S)ebastians tankar – Firma Borg och Reinfeldt känns som svaga kortJonas SjöstedtJöran FagerlundUnder den lugna korkekenRöda Malmö, BloggvänsternAlltid rött alltid rätt,AnnarkiaSvensson

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