..........

..WHO’S AN ANARCHIST THEN?

 

 

There’s a second-hand-book/junk shop in Hastings Old Town where I often stop by for a chat. Usually this is with the guy who stands in for the proprietor. About a month ago a customer came in who was dressed somewhat smarter than the usual clientele. Nothing strange about that. But the guy minding the shop turns to this customer and says, ‘Hello Stuart…’ and then explains to me that way back in the 1960s in Franco’s Spain, Stuart was imprisoned for attempting to deliver explosives intended for the assassination of Franco, the dictator: “Banditry and Terrorism – a charge that came under military jurisdiction and automatically incurred the death penalty by the garrotte.” Stuart was 18, and the subsequent outcry caused the sentence to be reduced to 20-years - though he ended up serving just 3.

We talked for a few minutes, then Stuart left. Apparently, four years ago in 2004 he had published his autobiographical: ‘Granny Made Me an Anarchist’. In it he explains - as well as much else - details of his exploits in Spain and the ensuing ordeal. Soon after publication, some interesting articles and reviews appeared in the Guardian concerning anarchy. Being a sympathiser, although an idle and inactive one, I was intrigued. For instance, from The Guardian, April 2005 (on publication of a Scribner edition of Stuart’s book):

 

 
 

With a knapsack full of bombs

Can violence ever be justified? Peter Marshall finds the answers in studies of anarchism by Colin Ward, David Goodway and Stuart Christie

Saturday April 9, 2005
The Guardian

Anarchism: A Very Short Introduction
by Colin Ward
199pp, Oxford, £6.99

Talking Anarchy
by Colin Ward and David Goodway
149pp, Five Leaves, £6.99

Granny Made Me an Anarchist: General Franco, the Angry Brigade and Me
by Stuart Christie
423pp, Scribner, £10.99

Anarchy is chaos, anarchy is terror, anarchy is nihilism. This is the widely held view that these lively and thought-provoking books should help to dispel. In fact, far from being nihilistic, anarchism has a rich body of constructive ideas and values that have attracted writers and thinkers as diverse as Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Wilde, Tolstoy, Goldman, Read and Gandhi.

It is true that Bakunin argued in the 19th century that it is necessary to destroy in order to build, and that a few desperados calling themselves anarchists were involved in a spate of assassinations and bombings at the turn of the 20th century, but their outrages were fleabites compared with those perpetrated by monarchists, nationalists and, above all, state-sponsored terrorists. As anarchists have long pointed out, it is the state that is the principal cause of violence in the world.

In Greek, anarchy means "without a ruler". It is clearly in the interests of those in power to argue that without their rule chaos will prevail. Yet for most of their history humans have lived cooperative and peaceful lives without the interference of rulers, generals and politicians. As Godwin long ago observed, the alleged justification for government is to prevent insecurity, but in reality it has only perpetuated inequality and led to countless horrors of violence. By contrast, civil society is invariably a blessing.

These three books reflect two faces of British anarchism in the second half of the 20th century and show its relevance to the 21st. Both Colin Ward and Stuart Christie left school young and are largely self-taught, but the comparison ends there. Ward was a child of the 1940s, the son of an Essex schoolteacher. As he makes clear in the wide-ranging Talking Anarchy with the historian David Goodway, it was Ward's experience as a soldier in Scotland during the second world war and his association with Freedom Press that led him to anarchism. He worked subsequently in architecture and town planning, edited the journal Anarchy and was a regular fifth columnist on New Society. In a previous series of incisive books, covering such topics as schooling, transport and allotments, he has quietly shown the constructive side of what he calls "anarchist applications".

These concerns come through in his excellent introduction to Anarchism. Despite a history of defeat, he insists that it "continually re-emerges in a new guise or in a new country". He argues that the desire of the libertarian right "to roll back the frontiers of the state" is an excuse to erode community services and open up the market for exploitation: "Freedom for the pike means death for the minnow." At the end, he makes a strong case for a "Europe of regions" based on the twin pillars of federalism and decentralisation.

Unlike Ward, Stuart Christie is a man of the 1960s who grew up as a Presbytarian in a working-class district of Glasgow. Radical miners, fiery open-air speakers, disillusion with the Labour party, and the free-thinking nature of his granny led him to anarchism. "If you want something doing," she used to say, "do it yourself." This first part of his autobiography, originally self-published, offers fascinating insights into the mind of an angry young man who was thrown into prison twice. The first occasion was in Spain when he was arrested in 1964 at the age of 18 for carrying plastic explosives in his knapsack as part of a plot to blow up Franco. He admits that Franco's "unhindered existence became the dominant obsession in my life". Christie should have been garrotted, but because of the public outcry, which included the support of Jean-Paul Sartre, he was jailed for three years.

The second imprisonment was in 1972 when he was arrested - by false association - with members of the Angry Brigade who had blown up several London embassies and military targets. Christie was the only one arrested to be acquitted by jury.

Christie's entertaining autobiography shows an idealistic youth caught up in social movements and events way beyond his control. He adroitly interweaves his own personal story with developments on the left. A thread that runs throughout is a concern with the issue of violence. Can it ever be justified? Yes, he suggests, when there is no other alternative to opposing tyrants like Franco who massacre their opponents. But he observes that violence has no part in promoting anarchism since one of its main planks is "the removal of coercion and violence from all human relations".

For those unfamiliar with anarchism, these books are a good start. Christie shows vividly what it is like to be an anarchist activist harassed constantly by the agents of the state. Ward's work is a more thoughtful account of the principal concerns of anarchism and its relevance to the new millennium. In their different ways, they show that there is a third way between the Scylla of free-market capitalism and the Charybdis of authoritarian socialism.


· Peter Marshall's Demanding the Impossible is published by Fontana.

 

 
 

 

I recalled that even at age 5 (ie, see Chomsky), I recognised the same defects in the scheme of things as Chomsky: how adults in authority frequently abused their position, were often cruel and unjust and acted from self interest (or from some curious prejudice) to the detriment of those under their control.

It may be true that children often experience this perspective - which I think says quite a lot about how society is organised. But most children (and some adults) are quick to spot injustice, abuse, etc, even if they lack the confidence to actively respond.

I would have grown-up with an entirely different outlook had my teachers and other authority figures behaved in less arbitrary ways, and not for selfish reasons or the apparent benefit of some obscure ‘greater’ cause. This situation existed up until I left school, continually reinforcing my disapproval and indignation. It strikes me as odd that so few of us as adults notice, or care to reflect on - less still, do anything about - these kind of adverse conditions that children in particular (but also many adults) are frequently subjected to, and which are accepted without question in most areas of life. There is, it seems to me, no place on Earth more Fascist than a school - though the corporate system is a close second. See: Chomsky+.

So by the time we finally emerge from that (inconguously compulsory) vice-grip of school, we are well prepared for the next 50-years of obedience in some dreary slave-hole of a factory, office or other hierarchical corporate outfit. We oblige, so we think, in order to survive – though our true function in the grand scheme is to maintain the estates and mansions of the idle rich, those major clients of the City which is continually funded through our toil (and from nowhere else). And after our half-century of corporate enslavement, most of us will be too decrepit to make much use of our remaining years - or to make much sense of what our lives have been for.

In academic, technical and creative circles, authority can sometimes be justified. Learned skills and experience are important to technical competence. Otherwise - as it occurred to me all those years ago - authority is generally arbitrary, and never more so than in politics and compulsory 'education'. Nothing in my experience has contradicted these observations or given me reason to question them.

Stuart Christie's ‘Granny Made Me an Anarchist’, describes an extraordinarily bungling attempt, by a small number of well-meaning men, to blow up an obnoxious dictator. It is not only a compelling account of a personal journey: the author’s life from when he first became aware of politics, of finding an affinity for anarchism and becoming involved with like-minded people, but woven into that journey are explanations of how our pseudo-democratic government operates, how it uses deception to maintain power, and how it continually feeds us with propaganda and lies in order to perpetuate our acquiescence… though not of the elite whom it serves and exists for, and those few who THINK and OBSERVE - such as anarchists and some intellectuals.

Whether capitalist or socialist totalitarian or ‘democratic’, virtually all governments end up serving a small elite at the expense of the majority. And because agents of that small elite are in control, they stop at nothing to preserve this status quo. So it is that by the unremitting self-assertion of brutal greedy ‘right’ men (and occasionally women) this colossal fraud is maintained - the exploiters and swindlers who, if they weren’t part of the hierarchy, would reside with their robber-and-murderer kin in jail.

Though it might appear unrealistic and contrary to the nature of human groups, it seems to me that anarchy is virtually the philosophy of saints, and in contrast to those who care for nothing but power and wealth, who create hierachies and slave markets, and who vehimently oppose it, anarchy is an ideal that we should attempt to move towards in all areas of human endeavour.

So, I ask again: Who's an anarchist?

See: www.christiebooks.com

And ‘The Master Game

 

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