Friday, July 22, 2011

Review: Granny Made Me an Anarchist

Granny Made Me an Anarchist, by Stuart Christie

One of the few books to live up to a promising title, this terribly entertaining memoir chronicles the life of a Scottish anarchist.  It's effective and educational on several levels, and highly recommended for anyone looking for a first-person perspective on social change and anarchy in the latter half of the twentieth.  Stuart Christie achieved notoriety early in his life when, at 18 years of age, he participated in a plot to assassinate Franco, then-dictator of Spain.  Much to his credit, he did not parlay that into a life of speaking engagements and public policy statements, but of direct action and hard work.

The book is split into three sections, each initially published as a separate pamphlet.
The first section addresses his early life and initiation, via anti-war and anti-nuclear protest groups, into anarchist thought and action.  The title refers to his grandmother's inspirational participation in many labor-rights groups.
The second section discusses the attempt on Franco's life, and the three-and-a-half years he spent in Spanish prison after that.
The third section details his life and projects after his release, especially the year and a half he spent imprisoned in Britain. The government accused him of participating in an illusory "Group of 12," or unknown circle of people detonating bombs a la Weather Underground, and held him without bail for some time.  By his account, they had no evidence against him other than his self-proclaimed status as an anarchist; the jury agreed and freed him.  Upon his acquittal, his former employment was not available to him, so he started a publishing house and has been involved in related industry ever since. 

I found Christie admirable for several reasons.  For one thing, he has not confessed shame and indignation at his part in the attempt against Franco.  It would be easy for him to shrug it off as a youthful mistake, but he chooses a more nuanced approach than that.  He outlines why various anarchist and exiled groups wanted Franco to be gone--highly justified reasons--and why they thought only a violent act could prevent more death and torture.  The closest he comes to expressing regret is saying that he hadn't thought through the possibilities of killing innocent bystanders, and that he is ultimately glad that he has no blood on his hands, even tyrant's blood.  

For another thing, he emphasizes that he worked a day job, and did the very best he could at it; anarchists must be very good laborers, in his estimation, in order to effectively join unions, exert pressure on employers, and ultimately to control production.  None of the Edenic paradise free of labor for him--a focus on justice, equality, and mutual aid, but not on leisure.

Christie's writing is fluid and subtle, funny, arresting, convicting.  This success, despite his lack of formal education, made me wonder what we do wrong in formal writing education.

Finally, he helped reorganize the Anarchist Black Cross.  I am ashamed to note that when I first read that name, I thought this must be an underground group of freedom fighters!  Not a bit of it.  It's a support network for anarchist political prisoners.  Often other aid groups ignore people accused of participating in violent actions (never mind that, like Christie himself, they may not actually have done the violent action, or had defensive purposes twisted for the sake of conviction).  He remains an advocate for justice in the courtroom, as long as such things must remain.

I learned a lot from the memoir about international anger towards the Vietnam War, circumstances of life in prison, the ease of turning our legal system towards people with unpopular ideas, etc.  If you find yourself interested in these topics, please, ask your library to ILL a copy and read this delightful book on your own!

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