A Life for Anarchy: A Stuart Christie Reader edited by the Kate Sharpley Library 282pp. AK Press 2021
It must be difficult to be best known for something you didn’t manage to do, as was the case with Stuart Christie (1946-2020), who did not manage to kill Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. But like an excellent doctor who nonetheless loses a patient now and again, Christie must be lauded for the attempt. He should also be lauded for his successes, and A Life for Anarchy: A Stuart Christie Reader, edited by the Kate Sharpley Library, is an excellent step in cementing Christie’s posthumous reputation, and those of his comrades.
The work of creating a new world is slow and agonizing, and rather involves a lot of both publishing and prison time, to name two things Christie was very familiar with. Christie co-founded Cienfuegos Press, which thought big even while being small. One of its most notorious titles, Towards A Citizens’ Militia, was a guide to irregular, non-Soviet backed, warfare in case of invasion, and led to intense scrutiny from the state. And yet, at the same time, Christie summarizes the Cienfuegos project as the production of titles with a “limited circulation of around 3,000 anarchists and police agents.” Perhaps we won’t be fielding significant guerilla forces any time soon. But, then again, maybe…
The state is an implacable enemy, despite its role in, for example, mailing you a copy of this book review. It is omnipresent, but not omnipotent, as Christie makes clear via his memoirs of his prison time, where intraleft sectarianism vanishes, where so many of the people he knew and worked with continued to organize while facing privation, surveillance, and torture. Christie’s projects were not about building institutions that could conquer the state, create a new one, or produce checklists for either necessarily violent, or non-violent, revolution. “If people will say TO HELL WITH THE STATE (sic) then at least wish them well” as Christie said in his defense of the Angry Brigade, is the long and short of his politics, and this openness is what allowed him to be prolific and so connected to the international movement. A significant section of A Life for Anarchy is wisely dedicated to other lives through Christie’s appreciations and obituaries of anarchists from Scotland, Spain, and elsewhere across the mileu.
A Life for Anarchy is polyphonic in another way as well: the final third is a series of appreciations of Christie from many of the people he worked with. Some are touching politico-personal reminiscences, such as the funeral speech from his daughter Branwen, who shares both anecdotes about Christie’s grandchildren, and his commitment to social justice. Others are more explicitly political and biographical, detailing his activism, the state repression he faced, and what kept him going. As one comrade, MH, (shadowy!) explains, “Despite what he’s best known for – the big name actions, it always struck me that at heart he was very much an everyday anarchist who would get involved in whatever needed doing including the unglamorous stuff as well.” And that’s the kind of anarchist we need to remember, and the kind we need.
The Anarchist Review of Books #3 Winter/Spring 2022, https://www.anarchistreviewofbooks.org/