Angry Young Man by Leslie Paul – a chapter by chapter synopsis


I haven’t posted much on the history of political organising but recently someone recommended to me the out-of-print book Angry Young Man. This is the autobiography of Leslie Paul, a founder of the Woodcraft Folk who saw at first hand many of the political movements of the early 20th Century. It is well-written and an enjoyable read and includes so much that I found historically interesting – including chapters on Soviet Russia and the General Strike in South London as well as youth movements – that I thought I’d post up a chapter-by-chapter summary.

You can get the full text here:

PDF of Angry Young Man

Angry Young Man in epub format  (NB completely usable but has minor mistakes from scanning – the PDF is a perfect copy)

And the same in mobi format

Chapter 1: The Boy on the Beach: The author records his teenage years in the Whitechapel including his love of literature, his boring jobs and the development of his almost spiritual love of nature and the outdoors. He joins the Scouts, then leaves for the new anti-militarist youth organisation Kibbo Kift Kindred, the acronym for which I would use below if it weren’t what it is.

Chapter 2: A Young Chap in Fleet Street: In which he joins his fathers newspaper advertising business in Fleet Street. He starts writing articles and editing. He begins to become more politicised, joining the Labour Party and getting involved in party organising. A lot of the interest in these early chapters comes from seeing the life of a relatively uneducated if upper-strata working class man in London at this time.

Chapter 3: ‘Oh Young Men Oh Young Comrades’: More about his involvement with the Scouts and the beginning of Kibbo Kift Kindred. The author helps to start a South London network of Kibbo Kift groups called ‘The Brockley Thing’, having their first meeting at Deptford Town Hall. Not initially intended to be a new movement, it becomes the cause of a split with Hargrave, the founder of Kibbo Kift Kindred, who rejected formal alliances with the Labour movement. The chapter includes some detail of what these youth movements got up to, mostly based around escaping London to have intense experiences camping in the countryside. This is in part a rebellion against what they consider to be a ruined and dying civilisation.

Chapter 4: The Council of Action: Concerning the General Strike and the author’s involvement with it in Deptford and in Lewisham, where he headed a Council of Action to support the strike. We learn something about the reluctance of union leaders to engage in the strike while more radical elements in the union movement pushed it forward. There are clashes on the streets with Fascists.

Chapter 5: Death of An Informer: A chapter that examines the General Strike further, particularly as events unfolded in South East London.  Rather oddly this is all described through the lens of the discovery of an alleged government infiltrator of the local socialist groups. This ended up becoming something of a scandal after the infiltrator was discovered and committed suicide – but it now seems a rather minor detail in the wider story. The author hypothesises some reasons for the strike’s failure.

Chapter 6: The Dedicated Life: The failure of the strike leads to the decline of much radical socialist organising in Britain. The author puts most of his energy into the Woodcraft Folk, reaching for spiritual as well as political meaning within youth movements. He moves to a house in the Forest Hill/Sydenham area, at that time still semi-rural. He travels more widely in his outdoor adventures, meeting an assortment of eccentric pacifists and vegetarians, among them a man who is on a quest to find a way of eating only grass. He becomes more involved in promoting pacifism.

Chapter 7: Death of a Space Seller: Concerning the death of the author’s father. Changing business models in Fleet Street put his father out of a job. He is unable to adjust his self-image to unemployment and drinks himself to death. We learn a little of the author’s family history and his relationship to his father. His father’s death leaves them in a poor financial condition.

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