jgeneric, February 07, 2008
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Some people are just born as natural rebels. Stuart Christie is such a person. He was born in 1946 in working-class Glasgow, Scotland, into a world split in two by the ever-present sectarian rift between the Catholics and Protestants. Christie was a member of the Orange Order growing up, an anti-Catholic Protestant fraternal organization. When he came of age, however, he went through a metamorphosis of left-wing thinking. After meeting with members of the Coal Miners' Union, Christie became an anarchist. He was 16. From that point on, his life would revolve around the ideals of anarchism, which stands for social justice, community autonomy, and individual liberty.
Soon after, Christie became involved with the anti-nuke movement in Scotland, where he saw all the different varieties of the radical movement, from pacifist liberals to labor party hacks to Trotskyites to the anarchists. He quickly became impatient with the nonviolent protest marches, which were seemingly ignored, and longs to do more. When talking to older Anarchists, he learns of the fight in Spain a mere twenty-five years before, where the ideas of Anarchism nearly achieved success in the farms and factories of Catalonia in Eastern Spain. If it hadn't been for the betrayal by the Stalinist forces, the anarchists would of beat Franco's fascists and prevented the dictator from taking power. This recent history had a huge affect on the young Christie and he decided to attempt to kill Franco, under the assumption that the end of Franco would mean the end of his regime.
At only 18 years in 1964, he links up with a Spanish Anarchist group and makes his way to Spain through France. Upon entering Franco's Madrid, he is almost immediately arrested by Brigada Politico Social (BPS), the Spanish secret police, who were supplied information on his arrival by the British Scotland Yard. That the British secret service would collaborate with the fascists amazed Christie. During the interrogation and beatings, his explosives are quickly discovered by the police, and the only thing that saves him and the Spanish anarchists arrested with him from a quick execution is his foreign citizenship, since Spain at the time was trying to soften it’s image to attract tourism and foreign money and didn’t want to scare either away by executing foreigners or those involved with them. Christie enters Spanish prison on a thirty year prison term, and quickly meets the "politicos" or political prisoners, which are a variety of trade unionists, anarchists, socialists, communists, and any other dissenter in Franco's Spain. Later in his life in British prisons, Christie realized that the liberal democracy of Britain's jails were much worse than the jails of Franco's fascist Spain, in brutality, isolation, food, and exercise, amongst other things. Quickly, he becomes the center of an international campaign to free him by radicals to free him, though he is ignored by Amnesty International for accepting violence and because he admits guilt.
Eventually after three years in a Spanish prison in 1967, Christie is freed when his grandmother writes to Franco and Franco decides to score points in order to attract more British and other European tourists to Spain by showing mercy. When he returns to Scotland, dogged by the press, he noticed that Britain has changed a lot during his years in jail, as rebellion and disobedience and rock music became the new norm for the Youths of England and the rest of the West, specifically protesting the US war in Vietnam, nuclear weapons, and a host of other actions attacking the established order of thing. Christie did his best to fit back into the world, moving to London and becoming an electrian for a trade. He joined Albert Meltzer's Wooden Shoe Bookshop on Compton Street, and restarted the Anarchist Black Cross which fights for political prisoners, and co-founded the long-running "Black Flag" magazine with Meltzer, an anarchist investigative and analytical magazine, and helped raise money for the "First of May Group", a Spanish-anarchist resistance group to Franco's regime. However, these activities also brought him near constant police harassment, surveillance, and media attention calling for his imprisonment.
In 1970, as the war in Vietnam roared on and the limits of pacifism and peaceful demonstrations became apparent, the author goes on to tell us that many left-wing youths involved started to turn to more militant and violent actions, like the Weathermen in the US, the Red Brigades in Italy, the Red Army Faction in Germany, and in the UK the Angry Brigade. These groups, with varying levels of success, took the guerilla warfare aspects of Mao Zedong and Che Guevera to "bring the war home", in actions such as bombing campaigns, kidnappings, propaganda deeds, and acts of sabotage. The Angry Brigade, a group influenced by anarcho-syndicalists and situationist politics but never outward about their politics, claimed responsibility for 25 bombings in the UK from 1970 to 1972, targeting at government offices, banks, and the homes of conservative politicians, though only targeting property and not killing anyone (unlike later bombings done by IRA, PLO, and Basque groups), as well as releasing political statements explaining their actions. Christie, though sympathetic to the Angry Brigade, has nothing to do with their activities and stays away from any extra-legal activities. This does not stop Scotland Yard from trying to scape-goat him as a well-known Anarchist as a member of the Angry Brigade.
In 1972, Christie was arrested on “conspiracy to cause explosions” from planted evidence by the British "bomb squad" which had been organized to catch the Angry Brigade. He was arrested along with a dozen other British radicals After a very long trial, he is found not guilty of all charges and the others only guilty of conspiracy. Christie notes that one of the keys to their victory is that in the trial, they made sure that the jury was as working class as possible. Why? Because during the course of the trial, the defense proved that the defendants were simply normal working class people, with regular worries and jobs, with different political beliefs who were being persecuted, to the point of even planting evidence, by the Crown as scapegoats. After the trial, Christie also notes that the British prosecution of political trials from then on would be held outside of the cities and in middle-class dominated areas, similar to how in the US, many trials against Blacks are stacked with White jurists.
Stuart Christie helped run Cienfuegos Press, a radical publisher which he founded, from 1974 until 1982, and continues to be active in anarchist publishing projects in the UK. "Granny Made Me An Anarchist" is a really humorous book, and a thing I really enjoyed was that he never assumed that you knew the terms he was talking about, and therefore inserts many excerpts throughout the book explaining terms, periods, groups, and historical events, like Anarchism, The First of May Group, Francisco Franco, the Angry Brigades, etc. He examines his past with a critical eye but never apologizes for anything he's done, since he has nothing to be ashamed of and remains true to the values and actions of his youth (though he hasn't tried to blow up anymore dictators since then.) He's also very funny and doesn't take himself so seriously at any point, a thing you can tell that he came from humble beginnings and never really got away his raising by his Granny and Mum, a truly good person he is. This book is a great find for anyone who has trouble keeping idealistic in troubling times.