“They were strictly home-grown subversives, owing allegiance to no one but themselves.”
Some time ago, I read Tom Vague’s book about the Angry Brigade, so it was with great delight that I finally got my hands on a copy of The Angry Brigade. The Cause and the Case: A History of Britain’s First Urban Guerilla Group by Gordon Carr. Carr produced a BBC documentary on the subject of the Angry Brigade, and although Tom Vague’s book is easier to find, Carr’s book is far superior, and includes a great deal more comprehensive analysis.
The book begins with an explosion at the home of Britain’s Secretary of State for Employment, Robert Carr. It’s January 1971, and there’s a great deal of labour unrest in Britain. Bombs were not an unknown phenomenon in Britain at this time, and there had been numerous explosions attributed to various groups–including The First of May Group. Up until this point, Britain’s Special Branch had been aware of the existence of a group calling themselves The Angry Brigade, but they weren’t given much attention. The bombing of Carr’s home changed all that, and from that point on considerable resources were applied towards the capture and conviction of those who called themselves The Angry Brigade.
Special Branch detectives soon made connections between Angry Brigade Communiques and Guy Debord’s book Society of the Spectacle. Carr provides a marvelous background portrait of the times, and includes a splendid analysis of Debord’s fascinating, but somewhat impenetrable and didactic theories of consumer society. Carr also examines the ties between the First of May Group and the Angry Brigade, and states that the First of May Group were the first to use communiques “to explain the reasons for a particular act of violence.”
Carr examines the evolution of The Angry Brigade–its actions (including the bombing of the Miss World contest), and the communiques–as well as the political and social lives of those who were finally convicted of involvement–John Barker, Hilary Creek, Jim Greenfield and Anna Mendelson. These four dropped out of university, moved to London, established a commune, became involved in the Squatting movement, formed a Claimant’s Union, and eventually moved away from activism and protest to Direct Action acts of violence against property and the State. Carr details the police investigation, and the final cracking of the case. A considerable amount of the book examines the trial of the “Stoke Newington Eight” (this refers to the eight people who were eventually tried for conspiracy and weapons possession). Large portions of speeches given at the trial are included–as well as evidence, police procedure, forensic connections between The Angry Brigade and The First of May Group, portions of the cross-examinations etc. The trial stands as a landmark in the judicial system for many reasons–and ultimately the guilty verdict comes down to whether or not those accused were aware of a plot to bomb–even if they did not directly participate.
One of the most fascinating things about the book is the way in which it’s quite evident that the police finally made their arrests through the investigations of ‘normal’ crimes (check forgery and credit card theft)–an arena that proved much easier to penetrate. By far the most surprising element of the police investigation is the way in which subversives/agitators are only seen in a one-size-fits-all category. Therefore, to the Special Branch investigators, there is no distinction made between a communist, a Situationist, an anarchist, or a neo-Marxist, etc. The book includes a great postscript–a retrospective–by John Barker, an introduction by Stuart Christie, as well as a chronology and index.