The Brick Lane Commune

Being a member of the working poor in the late Victorian era was a life lived in hell. With no employment rights, health and safety legislation, education, medical cover or social welfare, men, women and children were at the mercy of uncaring employers and ruthless landlords.
The gap between the rich and the poor had never been wider. The Class system in most ‘civilised nations’ was rigid with the upper classes seeing their position in society as God-given and the poor as underserving of assistance.
Little wonder then that the alleys, slums and tenements were awash with resentment and revolutionary sentiments.
At the end of the Franco-Prussian war Paris had been besieged and was defended by egalitarian republican revolutionaries. When it fell, its barricades crushed beneath the feet of the new armoured walking machines, many of these spread across Europe.
Here they mixed their firebrand political philosophies with those of disenchanted and often exiled bourgeois German, Russian and Polish  academics and demagogues. In each country their activities were suppressed, often with extreme violence.
It was not long before the East End of London, the gateway to Great Britain for immigrants from the Continent, filled up with these malcontents. Here they wrote and distributed pamphlets, plotted revenge and revolution for their home countries, held underground meetings and formed communes. There were even running battles in the streets of London between these ‘anarchists’ and the Metropolitan Police.
Their ideals quickly rubbed off on the ‘undeserving poor’ that eked out a precarious and vile existence in the ‘dark satanic mills’ and docks. Where Methodism failed, the anarchists, communists and revolutionaries succeeded.
The Brick Lane Commune is one of the most active and dangerous of these groups in the East End. Through violence and intimidation they have carved a small slice of freedom for the poor and dispossessed that flock to hear their fiery lectures.
The number of assassinations, bombings and outright assaults on common decency are beginning to be noticed by the powers that be and there are regular clashes between the Police and under-armed but fanatical men and women.
Usually a Cadre of the Commune is led by a Working Class Hero, a man, and on occasion a woman, whose example sets the hearts of their men ablaze. Always first into the fray and the last to leave, they know their time is short but they are going to make the bourgeoisie and the running dogs of the aristocracy pay for their crimes against The People.
Often at their side is a Political Commissar. A relatively well-educated young man or woman who has learned their dogma at the feet of one of the giant thinkers of the revolution. They go into battle reading aloud from political tracts to encourage the revolutionaries.
The majority of the revolutionaries are working men, with some army deserters and radicalised sons of the bourgeoisie mixed if for good measure. Their armour is their belief in the cause and they are  armed with a motley collection of old rifles, shotguns, pistols, knives, clubs and even bricks.
As dangerous as these desperate revolutionaries can be, few would mess with an Incendiary. These young women have taken their example from the lady Incendiaries of the Paris Commune. Armed only with old gin bottles filled with oil or petroleum, they ignite and hurl them at the enemies of the revolution from close quarters and laugh as their victims burn.
In the East End they have devised a deadlier version of this terrible weapon. Shortly before they throw it they push three shotgun cartridges into the bottle. Not only their victims, but anyone who comes to their aid, risks being blasted with shot as the flames ignite the cartridges. This has been named ‘The Brick Lane Bottle Grenade’ by the London Daily Chronicle.
Deputy Commissioner Sir Lionel Cavendish KCBE MC has commented on these women being “harpies from hell, who shall be gunned down where they stand. We shall not endure this lawlessness at the heart of the Empire“. However, in the buildings, streets and yards surrounding Brick Lane few Constables dare to tread. Several have been maimed or killed by Bottle Grenades hurled down on them from the windows above.
Within their small territory the Commune keeps good order while trying to feed and clothe the poor and helpless. They run soup kitchens, a school and have a few friendly doctors who secretly hold free clinics.
To support this work though takes money and resources. They regularly send Revolutionary cadres out to secure these. Although the Police have a cordon around the commune the revolutionaries use the sewers, the rooftops, the river and the fog to slip through and work their chaos.
The whole situation is turning into an armed insurgency and it may not be long before the Government has to put troops onto London’s streets to excise this canker.

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