Stuart Christie needs no introduction to British anarchists. If the subtitle doesn't give it away, he's notorious for being arrested in Spain (carrying explosives to assassinate Franco) and acquitted in Britain of conspiracy with the Angry Brigade. He has refounding the modern Anarchist Black Cross and running Cienfuegos Press (both with Albert Meltzer) to his credit, too. So this is not just the story of a life: it covers a lot of history, of CND and 'Scots Against War', of the anarchist movement in Europe in the sixties and seventies and of the wider political turmoil of those times. The sixties seem relatively idyllic now, what with May '68 and the global resistance to capital and authority. But this was partly a response to the grimness of the times: Cold War, Cuban missile crisis, imperial war in Vietnam and everywhere governments (East and West) preparing to suppress their unruly subjects. A book like this has no easy answers of how to rebuild that kind of movement (and momentum), but it should get people asking the question.
This book talks about armed struggle, but more importantly the context of high expectations and general combativity in which it took place. Christie makes it clear that political violence wasn't one-upmanship or some kind of revolutionary shortcut but a response to conditions of the time.
"How you get change is by pushing at the boundaries with whatever methods are available to try and ameliorate things - writing to your MP, demonstrations, petitions, pickets, civil disobedience and occupations. Violence only comes into the equation when people reach the limits beyond which the powers-that-be will permit no more reform. It is then up to each individual whether or not they should turn back or go beyond those limits. But, to paraphrase Mrs Beaton and Noam Chomsky, you first have to reach those limits."
The Anarchist resistance to Franco had two strands. First were the many plans to kill Franco; not to re-enact the 1890s, but because he was the lynch-pin holding competing factions of the regime together. Alongside this were direct actions against Spanish targets: attacks on buildings and planes - without causing casualties - and kidnappings to pressurise and isolate the regime. Christie was part of a failed plan to do the first, and with hindsight he reflects that failure probably did more to expose the regime than success would have. The First of May Group probably were fighting a losing battle to destroy the Spanish tourist industry (which kept Franco's economy going, but like emigration also broke down the fear and ignorance on which the regime depended). However, the careful targetting of their attacks kept public opinion on their side and defeated the insinuation (beloved by governments and the media) that political violence has to be irrational and homicidal - unless sanctioned by the state, of course.
Christie also recounts how the anarchist movement and the activist groups in particular moved beyond purely anti-fascist actions to revolutionary solidarity. Franco's regime remained a target, but it was by no means the only one as the events of the sixties hotted up. Part of this development was the rise of the Angry Brigade, who also followed the policy of symbolic actions which were obviously not attacks on the public. Christie places them in their domestic context of Heath's class war: an earlier version of what we came to know as Thatcherism. Even the show trial arranged for the 'Stoke Newington Eight' was not the triumph the police imagined: half the defendants acquitted, and an appeal for clemency from the jury for the rest. The three who made their own spirited political defence almost turned the tables on the police conspiracy case. Christie's account of the grim months on remand in Brixton shows how the legal system makes sure even the innocent get punished.
Acquitted but unemployable, Christie tells of the origins of Cienfuegos Press, one of the most important libertarian publishing projects, before finishing, aptly enough, with the (drawn-out) demise of Franco. This is described with well-earned venom: "Jesus clearly didn't want him as a sunbeam." Finally, he can reflect with satisfaction that "I at least had no one's blood or life on my conscience - not even Franco's."
Granny made me an Anarchist is an edited version of the rewritten Christie File (originally published in 1980, now expanded to three volumes: My Granny made me an Anarchist, General Franco made me a Terroist and Edward Heath made me Angry). Both new versions are much more reflective than The Christie File, inevitably, given the extra time between them and the events they discuss. They're also much more open: the original Christie File was started while Franco was alive, but there's little chance of the Spanish secret police reopening any of their files now. Granny made me an Anarchist lacks some of the background on the Anarchist resistance and also some of the anecdotes from Christie's own adventures which appear in the various volumes of the long version. However, the publishers have thankfully retained the layout of integrated illustrations and text boxes to help the reader navigate the many people, places, films and songs which form the chorus to Christie's story. Granny made me an Anarchist is a worthy successor to The Christie File and an excellent account of the anarchist movement from the inside. Intelligent and well written, covering both the personal motivation (how anarchists are made) and political activity (what anarchists do, and why) it effortlessly punctures most journalistic stereotypes of Anarchism. There more widely it's read, the better, so get a copy and then pass it on!
Granny made me an Anarchist: General Franco, the Angry Brigade and Me by Stuart Christie
Published by Scribner, September 2004. ISBN 0-7432-5918-1 £10.99