“Anarchists don’t seek political power, only moral authority. Nor do they plot to bring down democratic governments through aimless acts of malicious, visceral hatred; but they do seek to sideline them as much as possible by empowering people through education, example, and by fashioning events wherever possible to promote the general principles of mutual aid and self-management.”
In the lively memoir, Granny Made Me an Anarchist: General Franco, The Angry Brigade and Me, author Stuart Christie deftly blends his intensely personal story against the background of the explosive politics and shifting culture of Britain in the 60s and 70s. Christie was born and raised in Scotland and heavily influenced by the female figures in his life–including his indomitable grandmother. After a brief flirtation with socialism, Christie landed squarely into anarchism, and as a teenager in the 60s, Christie was heavily involved in the anti-nuclear movement and in protests against the Vietnam War.
Moving to London, Christie met members of the Iberian Federation of Libertarian Group and soon became part of a plot to kill Franco. The plot was ill conceived, and non-Spanish speaking Christie–who acted as a courier transporting explosives–was apparently dogged the minute he entered Spain. The fact that Christie never got within arm’s length of his mission to hand over the explosives did not stop the Spanish courts from sentencing the 18 year old “kilted assassin” to twenty years in a Spanish prison. But Christie, who could have received the sentence of public garroting–a grisly practice still prevalent under Franco’s rule–was at least alive.
Christie recounts the trial, and while it’s a deadly serious situation with the possibility of a barbaric execution, nonetheless, Christie never loses his sense of humor. As the highly ceremonial trial conducted entirely in Spanish begins to assume surreal qualities, Christie asks the question: “How in the name of the wee man had I ended up here?”
Christie spent several years in prison, and during this time he learned Spanish and even managed to take his A-levels. When conditions inside prison improved, he felt like a “rare animal in a zoo conservation project.” Thanks in part to international political undercurrents and also increased tourism to Spain, Christie was released. He returned to a media circus in Britain, and refusing to be anyone’s pet monkey, he managed, instead, to alienate most of the press. After the media frenzy died down, and the exploitation of the tacky headlines ended, Christie settled down to a job converting coal gas appliances to North Sea gas. Christie’s time in jail served only to strengthen his anarchist beliefs. He maintained friendships with anarchists both in Britain and abroad–and for rather obvious reasons “revived” the Anarchist Black Cross–a “prisoner support organization” that originated in tsarist Russia in the late 1800s. But the story doesn’t end there….
With sharp insight, and biting commentary, Christie describes a troubled Britain in the late 60s and 70s–fraught with labor problems, social discontent, the horrifying revelations of My Lai, the tawdriness of the Profumo Affair, the French riots of 68, the actions of the First of May Group, and even details a bizarre plot organized by publisher Cecil King, Lord Mountbatten, and various Ministry of Defense officials to overthrow British Prime Minister Harold Wilson whose socialist tendencies were interpreted as a communist plot. And it is in this turmoil that the mysterious Angry Brigade emerged and began a bombing campaign targeting embassies, government buildings, and various Tory members of the British government.
Christie–already ludicrously labeled by the press as “Britain’s Number Two Anarchist” is–naturally–on the ‘watch list’ as a troublemaker, and he’s eventually hauled in on conspiracy charges in the Angry Brigade trial of the “Stoke Newington Eight.” Christie documents the published communiqués from the Angry Brigade–along with his analysis of their actions (he describes the Angry Brigade as libertarian socialist). The trial proves to be an infamous landmark in judicial history for many reasons. Christie describes the trial, and further jail time, but at least he was able to compare British jails to Spanish jails and emerge ‘not guilty.’
Christie, who founded Cienfuegos Press with Albert Meltzer, includes several philosophical comments on issues such as violence, and while he argues that as for the “anarchist position on violence all I can say is there is none,” he also notes: “One of the main planks of anarchism is the removal of violence and coercion from all human relations.” Emphasizing that “violence and direct action are techniques, not an ideology, or philosophy” he argues that the decision to use violence as a tool is fraught with problems: “Pursing moral and ethical objectives by violent means can be a very fine and dangerous line to walk.” And he notes that a “crippled conscience is as irretrievable as a lost life.” Rife with witty, sharp observations, Christie always maintains a sensitive, self-critical eye and analyzes his thought processes in every step he takes. In spite of the dire situations he finds himself in, he never loses his keen sense of humor. For example, right after he’s arrested in Spain, he notes that his copy of Candide is confiscated while he’s allowed to keep de Sade’s Justine. That gave me a good laugh. Granny Made Me an Anarchist is a marvelously well-written roller coaster ride through wild times, and for those of us who couldn’t be there, this book is the next best thing.
AK Press 10/07