A ‘good example’: A Life For Anarchy: A Stuart Christie Reader [Book review]

A ‘good example’: A Life For Anarchy: A Stuart Christie Reader [Book review]

It seems to me that one of the recurring themes running through the history of anarchism is the avoidance of creating ‘idols’ (certainly in the anarcho-punk milieu from which my interest in anarchism grew), and yet, just as humanity in general seems intent on creating ‘heroes’ of one sort or another – some more deserving of the title than others (see the vacuous ‘cult’ of the modern day ‘celebrity’ – the deification of idiots), anarchism also is no exception, throwing up its own candidates for heroic veneration. 

However, despite this laudable aversion to hero worship, there are good reasons to keep in memory the events of the past and the deeds of those involved; not least of all in order to learn from the mistakes and victories of others. It is arguable as to whether anyone really learns from any mistakes other than their own (speaking for myself now), but leaving that aside; it is possible for us to celebrate, to praise the achievements, and commemorate the memory, of those activists among us who have exemplified themselves by their actions in life, while avoiding the pitfalls of mindless hero worship: for in life these people became what all communities and organisations need: ‘good examples’ by which to inspire and help guide us through the trials we face each day. We learn from each other, as each generation learns from the last, and the struggle goes on. For, as the publications of the Kate Sharpley Library attest, this struggle for a better world is not the preserve of an ‘elite’ or some Trot vanguard, but of everyone capable of taking up the fight. And anarchism was, as Stuart said and the book points out, not about ‘great thinkers and writers but was something made by the efforts and sacrifices of ordinary people.’ [217] 

These ‘role models’ exist throughout our communities and their histories, and largely unsung as they often are, they are the real ‘prime movers’ in the struggle for a better society; it is not those ‘painted idols’ promoted by the state and its supporters: the politicians and political parties; business leaders and entrepreneurs; the so-called ‘Captains of Industry’; the celebrities, sportsmen and women, and assorted fake ‘professionals’ peddling dodgy theories in the universities (who claim a monopoly on knowledge), but those forgotten people whose actions have helped drive us forwards; who held the banners of freedom aloft when all about them seemed a desert of authoritarianism and human slavery, and those who fought on against tyranny and overwhelming odds. Those who, as Miguel Garcia pointed out so poignantly, having ‘lost the war’ became the resistance and ‘fought on’ and in the process became ‘criminals’ to both the Falangist victors, and liberal democracies alike. Forgotten, marginalised, slandered or criminalised, these are examples worthy of emulation and admiration, while falling short of adulation and hero-worship for the simple reason that all of us are fallible. Unlike the fabled ‘utopian society’ dangled like a carrot on a stick before the working class donkey by the various 57 unwholesome varieties of authoritarian Marxism, and which can, by definition, never be attained – the personal examples of courage, fortitude and tenacity set before us in the pages of real working class revolutionary struggle are, having been done before, attainable by all possessing the spirit and courage to make the attempt.

In the articles included here, Christie mentions a number of such examples (particularly in ‘Introduction to MAN! An anthology of anarchist ideas, essays, poetry and commentaries.’), such as the anarchists Pa Chin in China, J.W. Fleming in Australia, and M.P.T. Acharaya in India. These three I pluck from many due to their lonely vigil in their respective countries, keeping the flames of anarchist struggle alive, when it must have seemed to them that all was lost (maybe that’s my pessimistic interpretation though). Ignored by conventional history, these are the real exemplars of our histories; those who lead by their example. Christie champions activists like these not only to rescue them from the obscurity conventional history would condemn them to, but to highlight those whose past deeds and actions help guide and inspire us in the continuing struggle for a better world.

People need no ‘leaders’ in the conventional sense of the word, what we need are those who ‘lead’ by personal example (especially when young and stuck in small towns like Scunthorpe). We need people who, when needed, do what is necessary; they take up the slack and show others the way forwards by their actions and clarity of thought; they show us how to work and to organise together. We need these ‘good examples’ today more than ever before. I would have to guess here, never having had the privilege of meeting him, but from the accounts of his friends, family and comrades, Stuart Christie was clearly one such ‘good example’. He was, like so many of those activists whose life’s work he championed, someone whose actions in life inspired others to work towards the creation of a saner, more equitable society. That we can do this without the creation of yet more ‘untouchable idols’, or ‘unaccountable notables’, is evidenced by the many deeds and struggles set forth in the publications of the Kate Sharpley Library and by Stuart himself. Flawed as we all may be – we raise ourselves through the struggle for a better world, rather than wallowing in pacific indifference. There is undoubtedly, a new world waiting to be built, and from those members of that ‘strange, unknown, unappreciated tribe’ [65] who came before us, and in whose ranks Stuart Christie now stands, we can find the inspiration to fight on; for as another of those fighters once said; ‘we are going to inherit the earth; there is not the slightest doubt about that.’ 

As you would expect, A Life For Anarchy contains a short biography, many articles, tributes and obituaries written by Christie himself, and tributes, memories and reflections written by his friends and comrades.
All-in-all a book well worth reading and a fitting tribute to the life and works of Stuart Christie; a true exponent of the ‘beautiful ideal of anarchism.’ [217]

Mark R.

A Life For Anarchy: A Stuart Christie Reader, edited by the Kate Sharpley Library. Copublished by KSL/ AK Press, 2021 ISBN 9781939202376 £14/ $18 https://www.akpress.org/a-life-for-anarchy.html (Copies are now available from AK Press in Edinburgh https://www.akuk.com/a-life-for-anarchy-a-stuart-christie-reader.html )