George (Ballard) Barrett

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George (Ballard) Barrett, 1888?–1917

The Early Years

George Ballard was born in Hertfordshire, his exact date of birth is unknown but is thought to be around 1888. At a very early age he became active in socialism and soon joined the Bristol Socialist Society. He rapidly became opposed to electoral political action, by February, 1908 George was a committed anarchist promoting direct action as opposed to parliamentary activity. By mid 1909 he had moved to Walthamstowe, London and was working on Waltham Abbey. At this time he was active in the anarchist movement in London and an active and popular speaker often speaking at lunchtime meetings and cycling twenty miles a day after work to speak at evening meetings.

The Glasgow Period

It was in April, 1910 that George moved to Glasgow. It was here that he began a solitary campaign of street-speaking, on occasions assisted by John McAra from Edinburgh. He proved to be an able and very eloquent speaker whose passion and conviction impressed all who heard him and soon began to attract a considerable following. It was at this time that George Ballard with John Paton formed the Glasgow Anarchist Group. There had been no or little anarchist propaganda in Glasgow for some years. The idea was to have it as a free commune idea with no leadership. The first meeting was held in the Clarion Club, Gorbals, Glasgow, George Ballard made a short statement and invited the floor to express its self and then sat down. There was silence, obviously this was not what was expected by those who had turned up. There were three such meetings before it was agreed that George should be chairperson and give an opening speech. From then on things moved forward. The Group held regular meetings, mainly outdoors meetings were also held in the Clarion Club. As a prominent member of the Glasgow Anarchist Group, George helped to swell the numbers of the Group’s active members, at the Group’s first business meeting called later in the year the Group had 20 active members and by May 1st. 1911, the group had 50 active members.

Peter the Painter

After the “Siege of Sydney Street” in London, on January, 1911, in which Peter Piatkov, “Peter the Painter”, was the only one to escape, the authorities thought he had escaped to Glasgow and was being sheltered by the Glasgow Anarchist Group. The police called at the Clarion Club and asked the caretaker for names and addresses. At the following meeting two plain clothes police officers sitting in the group as new members were exposed. After being exposed they politely excused themselves and left.

The Seamen's Strike 1911

The Glasgow Anarchist Group was actively involved in the Seamen’s Srike of 1911. George’s activity in the Seamen’s Strike saw him arrested and charged with leading an attack on the wharves. The reason for the attack was that the wharves were employing scab labour during the strike. However due to the strength of the strike the charges were dropped, but this activity cost him his job, the usual way of trying to starve activists into submission. George Ballard, in an attempt to avoid victimisation became George Barrett, a name he had used as a nom-de-plume in the past. The same year the Group began to expand its activities beyond Glasgow. Soon they were holding meetings at two places in Glasgow, as well as Paisley, Clydebank, Maryhill and Parkhead.

== May Day 1913

On May day 1913 George Barrett with the help of George Davidson started to produce the weekly paper “The Anarchist”. The paper ran for 34 issues and was to prove George Barrett to be every bit as good a writer as he was a speaker. His involvement in the paper was at every level, writing articles doing all the editing, plus lots of odd jobs such as folding, packing, getting the paper rolled off and even rushing with things to the post, there were times things had to go to the pawn to pay the “comps” wages. Even with the extra workload of the paper George continued to speak at every opportunity, lunchtime and evening meetings being the normal routine, his energy seemed to be boundless. George Barrett’s ability as a speaker took him on several speaking tours of Scotland and England. On these tours he would help to set up anarchist groups wherever he was speaking, most of these groups lasted throughout the 1914-18 war.

The DUblin Connection

When the government suppressed James Connolly’s newspaper in Dublin it was the Glasgow Anarchist Group that took over the printing of the paper for them and smuggled it into Ireland. The British mainland police, although they raided several anarchist presses, including “Freedom Press” in London, they never managed to get the right one.

An Early Death

Speaking at a meeting in Edinburgh in March 1913 George Barrett caught a chill from which he never fully recovered. He developed tuberculosis which proved to virulent and deadly and died in January 1917.

George Barrett was certainly one of the clearest thinkers and ablest of speakers of his era, his passion, intensity and faith never wavered even although he lived to see most of his work undone by the war. He profoundly believed that the system could not be merely altered to make the ordinary peoples’ lives better, it had to be a complete revolution. His pamphlets were written with clear, precise thought and simple language. His pamphlet “The Last War” showed that the war was the workers being used to settle a quarrel between their masters and that the real war was the taking over of the means of production and distribution by the workers. The government condemned the pamphlet “The Last War” but not before 10,000 copies had been sold. Just a few months before his death George Barrett produced two more brilliant pamphlets, “The Anarchist Revolution” and “Objections to Anarchism”, proving that right to the end he was an accomplished propagandist who had never strayed from his anarchist convictions.

Posted by John Couzin

The book Radical Glasgow

Radical Glasgow website