Granny Made Me An Anarchist

Cover of Stuart Christie's bookGranny Made Me An Anarchist by Stuart Christie.
Stuart Christie is probably a completely unknown name for anyone under fifty (in fact, he’s probably equally unknown to most over-fifties too); he was deeply involved in anarchist politics and activism in Britain, Scotland and Europe in the 60s and 70s. His main claim to fame is being involved in a plot to assasinate General Franco, the despotic right-wing Spanish leader, then getting arrested a few years later in Britain for supposedly being part of the Angry Brigade bombing conspiracy (he wasn’t). This is his life story, and also a an anarchist polemic.
“If I get her the wool, will she make me one too?” was the line that rose unbidden to my lips when I first saw the title of this book. I hoped, before I started reading, that the double meaning was intentional; far too many politicos are so rigidly humourless as to be unable to see the funny side of anything. I wasn’t disappointed – Christie does actually have a sense of humour, albeit a somewhat lugubrious one; for instance, after spending a couple of paragraphs describing in rather too much detail just how prolonged and protracted General Franco’s death was, he concludes with “Jesus obviously didn’t want him for a sunbeam.” And he has some nicely tart things to say about people like Billy Connolly, who started out as Socialist firebrands and ended up as multi-millionaire members of the Establishment.
It’s sheer coincidence that I happen to be reading this right now, as self-styled anarchists are rioting over on the other side of Scotland – I ordered it from the library weeks ago. But if coincidence it was, then it was a good coincidence – I’ve learnt an awful lot about anarchism from reading it. Christie manages to do a good job of presenting his political philosophy, but it’s not going to tempt me into becoming an anarchist – alt least not the kind of anarchist that he is. Oh, you didn’t know there where different kinds of anarchists? Well, it seems there are at least as many sects of anarchism as there are of any religion – anarcho-syndicalists, Marxist anarchists, Catholic anarchists (?), pacifist anarchists and so on. “Anarchism” writes Christie, “encompasses such a broad view of the world that it cannot be distilled into a formal definition.” Nevertheless, he promptly does so, just a couple of sentences later: “Anarchism is a movement for human freedom…” Sounds OK to me. But then he goes on: “Its central tenet is that the fundamental problem of human society is power and the quest for power.”
Like Christians and their belief in salvation through Jesus, this last statement, for Christie, is clearly so self-evident that it is beyond debate or doubt; it is anarchism’s very own immutable Clause IV that every True Anarchist™ signs up to. So, I’m never going to be one.
Overall, it’s not a bad book – he’s a good writer and seems to have excellent recall of events of forty or more years ago. And it’s a good introduction to anarchism and anarchist thought. However, it left me unsatisfied on several levels. First, he is in dire need of an editor – his writing is occasionally clumsy and opaque, plus there are some typos and at least one misquotation. What is needed even more is an index, references and a glossary. He gives huge amounts of information about the 70s British political scene, much of which was hidden in official files at the time, but fails to give any sources at all. He quotes from numerous books, but doesn’t give a booklist. Without an index it’s almost impossible to go back and find anything. And without a glossary, it’s quite impossible to keep up with all the groups, people and organisations that he writes about.
Although this is also an autobiography, there is surprisingly little personal information. He writes several chapters on his childhood, but is reticent about anything personal in his grown-up life. For instance, there are several references in the later chapters to a “Brenda” who is evidently a partner. But (unless I missed something) he never tells us anything about her, or even how and when they met. This reticence may well be due to not wanting to reveal any more than strictly required about a loved one, but it has the unfortunate effect of painting her as some meek, silent “little wifey” who spends her time loyally visiting him in prison and keeping the home fires burning; we never find out what she does for a living, what thoughts she has, what she is like. Equally annoyingly, the book ends in 1975 – Christie’s life in the last thirty years surely can’t have been totally uninteresting?
Altogether, this could and should have been a better book. However, it’s a good book to be reading right now!

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  1. Glad you liked the book (sort of, anyway), but thought you should know that each of the three separate volumes of my memoirs (My Granny Made Me An Anarchist; General Franco Made Me A Terrorist; Edward Heath Made Me Angry) had appendices and detailed indexes. I asked the publishers (Scribner) to provide an index, but they saId it would have been too expensive for them to index. I’d appreciate hearing what the misquotes and typos were — for future reference.

    Best wishes

    Stuart Christie

  2. Jane Watson(nee Chistie)

    Hi Stuart,
    I’m your cousin, second daughter of Joe Christie, your uncle. I am trying to understand you. All I was told at time was that you had been imprisoned for your political belief. I never did understand things. Now I will read the book and make up my own mind.