STUART CHRISTIE: THOUGHTS OF A VETERAN ANARCHIST

ImagePerhaps the biggest challenge anarchists face is combating the masses of disinformation out there about anarchism, to educate the 99% and explain ourselves, and what anarchism means rather than what government and other propaganda tells us that it means. That’s part of the reason we set up Forest of Dean Anarchists. So here is the first in what we hope to be a series of asking prominent anarchists what it’s all about!

Stuart Christie, since 1962 has been an active anarchist, through writing, publishing and action. The Glaswegian author of Granny Made Me An Anarchist, General Franco Made Me A Terrorist and Edward Heath Made Me Angry (his entertaining and inspiring three-part autobiography), and The Christie File: Enemy Of The State, first achieved notoriety in 1964 when at the age of 18 he hitch-hiked to Madrid to assassinate Franco, and was caught and imprisoned.  He was freed three years later thanks to an international campaign led by Jean-Paul Sartre and Bertrand Russell. In the 1970s, he helped to reform the Anarchist Black Cross association (to support political prisoners), edited the Black Flag magazine and was acquitted of being part of the Angry Brigade. He remains active in the south of England, where he runs a book publishers http://www.christiebooks.com  and is looking for donations to get an anarchist/libertarian film archive up and running again (see appeal on his site).

One of FOD Anarchists sent him some questions, and when he got a spare few minutes from working on his latest book, he gave us/me his answers:

Do you feel that earlier anarchist methods, such as ‘propaganda by the deed’ can be effective today?

The tactic of propaganda by the deed is an essential and unchanging element in the struggle for justice and fairness. What may differ from time to time, generation to generation, is the methodology of that direct action. When called on, each new generation and/or individual finds its own way to resist tyranny or advance the struggle. Methods that, for one reason or another, were morally or technically feasible or 20 or even 10 years ago are often no longer possible today. To paraphrase Karl Popper: because our knowledge and understanding of the world is constantly changing and evolving, especially so in our digital age, we cannot, therefore, know today what we can only know tomorrow

I have seen little evidence that the protagonists of recent movements such as the Indignados of southern Europe, the Arab Spring, and Occupy describe themselves as socialists or anarchists, yet it seems to me that their calls for direct democracy, their holding of general assemblies and call for the end of capitalism are similar, or the same, as anarcho-syndicalism. Do you agree, and if so, why do you think the words ‘anarchism’ or ‘socialism’ are rarely, if ever, mentioned, and do you think they should be?

My understanding of these movements is that anarchists and libertarians were — and are — very active in these movements, indeed central to them, especially in the case of the indignados in Spain. What they didn’t do, however, quite sensibly and correctly as anarchists, is lay ideological claim to these popular movements or attempt to use them as fertile organisational ‘recruiting grounds’, as inevitably occurs with the Marxist-Leninist-Trotskyist and the Islamist/Jihadist groupings. Anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists and libertarian socialists are certainly active today in Egypt, Libya and other Maghreb countries, and I’ve no doubt there are also anarchists active in the Arabian Peninsula as well. If the terms ‘anarchism’ and ‘socialism’ are rarely heard that’s possibly down to the editorial policies of the mainstream broadcast and print media who have a different agenda and prefer to focus on the Jihadist/Muslim Brotherhood threat..

It seems that anarchism is regarded by many as a dirty word, partly due to successful anti-anarchist propaganda, partly due to the interpretation given to it by some anarchists themselves (such as ‘the black bloc’). Would you agree with me, and how might we ‘sell’ anarchism to the masses?

The words ‘Anarchism’ and ‘anarchists’ have always been demonised by the mainstream media; the time to worry is when the capitalist press and state spin doctors stop using them as ‘bogeymen terms. As for ‘selling anarchism to the masses’ the only way to do that is through education (spreading the Idea), inspiration — and example.

Would you consider yourself a socialist as well as an anarchist?

Yes

How hopeful, or hopeless, do you feel the anarchist struggle could be in the face of this current government?

It has never been a question of being hopeful or hopeless in the face of this or any future government/society; the struggle —with the human condition, not just the state — is forever with relentless struggle. All you can — or should — hope for along the way are a few little victories and, maybe, the occasional big one. ‘History’, Seamus Heaney says ‘Don’t hope on this side of the grave. But then, once in a lifetime, the longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme. So hope for a great sea-change on the far side of revenge. Believe that a further shore is reachable from here. Believe in miracles and cures and healing wells.’

If there were a general election tomorrow, would you vote, and if so, who would you vote for (if they were standing)?

No, I wouldn’t vote for a party or for an individual no matter how honourable, but I would certainly consider a protest vote against a party — or for something achievable. For example, in the Spanish elections of 1936 the anarcho-syndicalist CNT tacitly withdrew its overt opposition to participation in the parliamentary process (ie, voting) in order to force the release of 30,000 political prisoners imprisoned by the Republic over the previous three years

Do you think we could achieve a wholesale anarchist society? Could it happen transitionally or would a rapid revolution be necessary?

I’ve really no idea; what appeared to work rapidly and violently in particular places and times (e.g., Russia, 1917, and Spain, 1936) clearly, for a whole variety of reasons, didn’t endure.Similar events may happen again, who knows, all we can do is work, hope and carry on. Even so, as, when,and if an ‘anarchist’ society comes into being we’ll still have to face the perennial problems of co-existence human beings have faced since time immemorial. One saving grace we should have — as anarchists — is that we’d hope to be more realistic and conscious of our human failings, shortcomings and limitations, particularly with regard to the corrupting influence of the exercise of power. However, I am an optimist and I share the view of American psychologist William James: ‘The ceaseless whisper of the more permanent ideals, the steady tug of truth and justice, give them but time, MUST warp the world in their direction.’

Do you think that a. the NHS, b. Social security, c. police, d. military, could continue to function, or would be necessary, in an anarchist society?

An anarchist society is and always will be an aspiration, an ideal — a ‘star’ to follow — one that provides us with an ethical code, a moral barometer and a libertarian political template for our everyday lives. If and when a social revolutionary situation recurs again (in this country or anywhere) the role of the anarchist will be to do what they can to ensure that the social institutions required to ensure that any human society (including health and welfare,and security/defence services), function justly, fairly and as conflict-free as is humanly possible, are — and remain — fundamentally democratic, libertarian and answerable to the community. It’s not about achieving Nirvana or a Utopia, only religious zealots and ideological fundamentalists believe in the ‘rapture’ that creates the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, or the ‘last fight’ mentioned in ‘The Internationale’. Anarchists appreciate only too well how ‘imperfect’ human beings are and, doubtless always will be, which is why they reject institutionalised power structures as the bedrock for the creation of oligarchies (well-meaning or otherwise) and the corrupting of the body politic.

What examples can you think of as anarchy in action today?

Can’t think of any offhand, specifically, but I’m sure your readers can come up with lots of examples of voluntary self-help and direct organisations and bodies that would fit into the category of ‘anarchy in action’.

Can laissez-faire capitalists/ the US Libertarian Party be considered as anarchists?

Not in the slightest. These people are minimal statists, the minimal part being the defence and advancement of self-interest and property rights — and not even ‘enlightened’ self-interest.

Have your ideas changed much over the decades, and if so, how?

Yes, my thoughts and views on lots of things have changed over the years, which is inevitable as you acquire more knowledge through different experiences, and meeta wide variety of people with different views on life to your own — and of course reading, TV, cinema, the internet, etc.. But my anarchist view of the world remains fundamentally unchanged, ie – see the following:

What is anarchism?

Anarchism is the movement for social justice through freedom. It is concrete, democratic and egalitarian. It has existed and developed since the seventeenth century, with a philosophy and a defined outlook that have evolved and grown with time and circumstance. Anarchism began as what it remains today: a direct challenge by the underprivileged to their oppression and exploitation. It opposes both the insidious growth of state power and the pernicious ethos of possessive individualism, which, together or separately, ultimately serve only the interests of the few at the expense of the rest.

Anarchism promotes mutual aid, harmony and human solidarity, to achieve a free, classless society – a cooperative commonwealth. Anarchism is both a theory and practice of life. Philosophically, it aims for perfect accord between the individual, society and nature. In an anarchist society, mutually respectful sovereign individuals would be organised in non-coercive relationships within naturally defined communities in which the means of production and distribution are held in common.

Anarchists, are not simply dreamers obsessed with abstract principles. We know that events are ruled by chance, and that people’s actions depend much on long-held habits and on psychological and emotional factors that are often anti-social and usually unpredictable. We are well aware that a perfect society cannot be won tomorrow. Indeed, the struggle could last forever! However, it is the vision that provides the spur to struggle against things as they are, and for things that might be.

Whatever the immediate prospects of achieving a free society, and however remote the ideal, if we value our common humanity then we must never cease to strive to realise our vision. If we settle for anything less, then we are little more than beasts of burden at the service of the privileged few, without much to gain from life other than a lighter load, better feed and a cosier berth.

Ultimately, only struggle determines outcome, and progress towards a more meaningful community must begin with the will to resist every form of injustice.

In general terms, this means challenging all exploitation and defying the legitimacy of all coercive authority. If anarchists have one article of unshakeable faith then it is that, once the habit of deferring to politicians or ideologues is lost, and that of resistance to domination and exploitation acquired, then ordinary people have a capacity to organise every aspect of their lives in their own interests, anywhere and at any time, both freely and fairly.

Anarchism encompasses such a broad view of the world that it cannot easily be distilled into a formal definition. Michael Bakunin, the man whose writings and example over a century ago did most to transform anarchism from an abstract critique of political power into a theory of practical social action, defined its fundamental tenet thus: In a word, we reject all privileged, licensed, official, and legal legislation and authority, even though it arise from universal suffrage, convinced that it could only turn to the benefit of a dominant and exploiting minority, and against the interests of the vast enslaved majority.

Anarchists do not stand aside from popular struggle, nor do they attempt to dominate it. They seek to contribute to it practically whatever they can, and also to assist within it the highest possible levels both of individual self-development and of group solidarity. It is possible to recognise anarchist ideas concerning voluntary relationships, egalitarian participation in decision-making processes, mutual aid and a related critique of all forms of domination in philosophical, social and revolutionary movements in all times and places.

Elsewhere, the less formal practices and struggles of the more indomitable among the propertyless and disadvantaged victims of the authority system have found articulation in the writings of those who on brief acquaintance would appear to be mere millenarian dreamers. Far from being abstract speculations conjured out of thin air, such works have, like all social theories, been derived from sensitive observation. They reflect the fundamental and uncontainable conviction nourished by a conscious minority throughout history that social power held over people is a usurpation of natural rights: power originates in the people, and they alone have, together, the right to wield it.

Do you think we in Britain are still threatened by fascism?

Fascism of one sort or another — as with any other reactionary populist ideology and fundamentalist belief system  — is always a potential threat to society, especially when people’s fears and emotions can be manipulated and used in the furtherance of some elitist political or religious agenda. Who’d have thought twenty years ago that militant jihadist Islam or fundamentalist Protestantism/Catholicism would still be a serious and ongoing problem in the 21st century!

Should we try and build a movement and organise? If so, how might we do it and what form could it take?

Movements that are thrown up as a response to a particular threat or situation, yes, but you can’t just ‘set up’ a body with revolutionary aspirations in the hope of it developing it into a revolutionary movement’ without it — inevitably—degenerating into a self-perpetuating, self-serving vanguardist monster, e.g., the Communist Party, SWP, WRP, etc. A very useful text to read in that respect is Robert Michels’ ‘Political Parties’, especially the chapters outlining what he called ‘the Iron Law of Oligarchy’. The only way to build, organise, educate and proselytise anarchist libertarian ideas and solutions is through bodies with shared economic/class interests such as the trade unions, trades councils or other community-based groups.

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Some great quotes…

“Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them” Epictetus: The Enchiridion

Until now all human history has been only a perpetual and bloody immolation of millions of poor human beings in honour of some pitiless abstraction – God, country, power of state, national honour, historical rights, judicial rights, political liberty, public welfare.” Michael Bakunin: God and the State

“Down with a world in which the guarantee we will not die of starvation is purchased with the guarantee we will die of boredom.” Raoul Vaneigem: The Revolution of Everyday Life.

“Be realistic – demand the impossible! Beneath the paving stones – the beach! We will not be bored! An endless passion, an endless banquet! All power to the imagination!” Situationist International slogans from 1968.

“Common to all anarchists is the desire to free society of all political and social coercive institutions which stand in the way of the development of a free humanity.” Rudolf Rocker: Anarcho-Syndicalism.

“While the popular understanding of anarchism is of a violent, anti-State movement, anarchism is a much more subtle and nuanced tradition than a simple opposition to government power. Anarchists oppose the idea that power and domination are necessary for society, and instead advocate more co-operative, anti-hierarchical forms of social, political and economic organisation.” L Susan Brown: The Politics of Individualism

“Since it was thought that government was necessary and that without government there could only be disorder and confusion, it was natural and logical that anarchy, which means absence of government, should sound like absence of order… Change opinion, convince the public that government is not only unnecessary, but extremely harmful, and then the word anarchy, just because it means absence of government, will come to mean for everybody: natural order, unity of human needs and the interests of all, complete freedom within complete solidarity.” Errico Malatesta: Anarchy.

“[Anarchists are] the radical of the radical – the black cats, the terrors of many, of all the bigots, exploiters, charlatans, fakers and oppressors. Consequently we are also the more slandered, misrepresented, misunderstood and persecuted of all.” Bartolomeo Vanzetti: Letters.

“[Anarchism] attacks not only capital, but also the main sources of the power of capitalism: law, authority, and the State.” Peter Kropotkin: Anarchism

“Do you want to make it impossible for anyone to oppress his fellow-man? Then make sure that no one shall possess power.” Michael Bakunin: Political Philosophy.

“[Anarchism] was born in a moral revolt against social injustice… [the] specific causes of social ills [can be found in] capitalistic property and the State. [When the oppressed] sought to overthrow both State and property – then it was that anarchism was born.” Errico Malatesta: Life and Ideas.

“[In a truly free society] any interaction among human beings that is more than personal – meaning that takes institutional forms of one kind or another – in community, or workplace, family, larger society, whatever it may be, should be under direct control of its participants. So that would mean workers’ councils in industry, popular democracy in communities, interaction between them, free associations in larger groups, up to organisation of international society.” Noam Chomsky: Anarchism Interview

“[Anarchism is] the no-government system of socialism” Peter Kropotkin: Anarchism.

“We are convinced that freedom without Socialism is privilege and injustice, and that Socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality.” Michael Bakunin: Political Philosophy.

“[The] unifying link [within anarchism] is a universal condemnation of hierarchy and domination and a willingness to fight for the freedom of the human individual.” L Susan Brown: The Politics of Individualism.

“Anarchism… teaches the possibility of a society in which the needs of life may be fully supplied for all, and in which the opportunities for complete development of mind and body shall be the heritage of all. [It] teaches that the present unjust organisation of the production and distribution of wealth must finally be completely destroyed, and replaced by a system which will insure to each the liberty to work, without first seeking a master to whom he [or she] must surrender a tithe of his [or her] product, which will guarantee his liberty of access to the sources and means of production… Out of the blindly submissive, it makes the discontented; out of the unconsciously dissatisfied, it makes the consciously dissatisfied… Anarchism seeks to arouse the consciousness of oppression, the desire for a better society, and a sense of the necessity for unceasing warfare against capitalism and the State.” Voltairine de Cleyre: Anarchy! An Anthology of Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth.

“In common with all socialists, the anarchists hold that the private ownership of land, capital, and machinery has had its time; that it is condemned to disappear: and that all requisites for production must, and will, become the common property of society, and be managed in common by the producers of wealth. And… they maintain that the ideal of the political organisation of society is a condition of things where the functions of government are reduced to minimum… [and] that the ultimate aim of society is the reduction of the functions of government to nil – that is, to a society without government, to an-archy.” Peter Kropotkin: Anarchism.

“Anarchism is a movement for human freedom. It is concrete, democratic and egalitarian … Anarchism began – and remains – a direct challenge by the underprivileged to their oppression and exploitation. It opposes both the insidious growth of state power and the pernicious ethos of possessive individualism, which, together or separately, ultimately serve only the interests of the few at the expense of the rest.

Anarchism is both a theory and practice of life. Philosophically, it aims for the maximum accord between the individual, society and nature. Practically, it aims for us to organise and live our lives in such a way as to make politicians, governments, states and their officials superfluous. In an anarchist society, mutually respectful sovereign individuals would be organised in non-coercive relationships within naturally defined communities in which the means of production and distribution are held in common.

Anarchists are not dreamers obsessed with abstract principles and theoretical constructs … Anarchists are well aware that a perfect society cannot be won tomorrow. Indeed, the struggle lasts forever! However, it is the vision that provides the spur to struggle against things as they are, and for things that might be …

Ultimately, only struggle determines outcome, and progress towards a more meaningful community must begin with the will to resist every form of injustice. In general terms, this means challenging all exploitation and defying the legitimacy of all coercive authority. If anarchists have one article of unshakeable faith, it is that, once the habit of deferring to politicians or ideologues is lost, and that of resistance to domination and exploitation acquired, then ordinary people have a capacity to organise every aspect of their lives in their own interests, anywhere and at any time, both freely and fairly.

Anarchists do not stand aside from popular struggle, nor do they attempt to dominate it. They seek to contribute practically whatever they can, and also to assist within it the highest possible levels of both individual self-development and of group solidarity. It is possible to recognise anarchist ideas concerning voluntary relationships, egalitarian participation in decision-making processes, mutual aid and a related critique of all forms of domination in philosophical, social and revolutionary movements in all times and places.” Stuart Christie: My Granny Made Me An Anarchist

“Anarchism is founded on the observation that since few men are wise enough to rule themselves, even fewer are wise enough to rule others.” Edward Abbey

“If your object is to secure liberty, you must learn to do without authority and compulsion. If you intend to live in peace and harmony with your fellow-men, you and they should cultivate brotherhood and respect for each other. If you want to work together with them for your mutual benefit, you must practice cooperation. The social revolution means much more than the reorganization of conditions only: it means the establishment of new human values and social relationships, a changed attitude of man to man, as of one free and independent to his equal; it means a different spirit in individual and collective life, and that spirit cannot be born overnight. It is a spirit to be cultivated, to be nurtured and reared, as the most delicate flower it is, for indeed it is the flower of a new and beautiful existence.” Alexander Berkman

“[In America the] term ‘libertarian’ itself, to be sure, raises a problem, notably, the specious identification of an anti-authoritarian ideology with a straggling movement for ‘pure capitalism’ and ‘free trade.’ This movement never created the word: it appropriated it from the anarchist movement of the [nineteenth] century. And it should be recovered by those anti-authoritarians … who try to speak for dominated people as a whole, not for personal egotists who identify freedom with entrepreneurship and profit.” Murray Bookchin, The Modern Crisis (1986).

“So long as Socialism was understood in its wide, generic, and true sense — as an effort to abolish the exploitation of Labour by Capital — the Anarchists were marching hand-in-hands with the Socialists of that time.” Peter Kropotkin, Evolution and Environment.

“The only guarantee not to be robbed of the fruits of your labour is to possess the instruments of labour.” Peter Kropotkin: The Conquest of Bread.

“If labour owned the wealth it produced, there would be no capitalism” Alexander Berkman, What is Anarchism?

“It is said that Anarchism is not socialism. This is a mistake. Anarchism is voluntary Socialism. There are two kinds of Socialism, archistic and anarchistic, authoritarian and libertarian, state and free. Indeed, every proposition for social betterment is either to increase or decrease the powers of external wills and forces over the individual. As they increase they are archistic; as they decrease they are anarchistic.” Joseph A. Labadie: Anarchism – What It Is and What It Is Not.

“[The trade union] is the exemplification of gaining freedom by association… Without his union, the workman is much more the slave of his employer than he is with it.” Joseph Labadie, Different Phases of the Labour Question.

“The class struggle created by the enslavement of workers and their aspirations to liberty gave birth, in the oppression, to the idea of anarchism: the idea of the total negation of a social system based on the principles of classes and the State, and its replacement by a free non-statist society of workers under self-management.” Russian Makhnovists: The Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists.

“The man
Of virtuous soul commands not, nor obeys:

Power, like a desolating pestilence,
Pollutes whate’er it touches, and obedience,
Bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth,
Makes slaves of men, and, of the human frame,
A mechanised automaton.”
Percy Bysshe Shelley.

“[Anarchism] insists on Socialism . . . on true Socialism, Anarchistic Socialism: the prevalance on earth of Liberty, Equality, and Solidarity.” Benjamin Tucker.

“[Anarchism is] the autonomy of the individual within the freedom of association.” Luigi Galleani, The End of Anarchism?

“We are all egoists, we all seek our own satisfaction. But the anarchist finds his greatest satisfaction in struggling for the good of all, for the achievement of a society in which he can be a brother among brothers, and among healthy, intelligent, educated, and happy people. But he who is adaptable, who is satisfied to live among slaves and draw profit from the labour of slaves, is not, and cannot be, an anarchist.” Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas.

“[Real wealth] consists in things of utility and beauty, in things which help to create strong, beautiful bodies and surroundings inspiring to live in . . . [Our] goal is the freest possible expression of all the latent powers of the individual . . . Such free display of human energy being possible only under complete individual and social freedom… social equality.” Emma Goldman: Red Emma Speaks.

“No individual can recognise his own humanity, and consequently realise it in his lifetime, if not by recognising it in others and co-operating in its realisation for others . . .  My freedom is the freedom of all since I am not truly free in thought and in fact, except when my freedom and my rights are confirmed and approved in the freedom and rights of all men [and women] who are my equals… The abolition of this mutual influence would be death. And when we advocate the freedom of the masses, we are by no means suggesting the abolition of any of the natural influences that individuals or groups of individuals exert on them. What we want is the abolition of influences which are artificial, privileged, legal, official.” Michael Bakunin.

“The very fact. . . that a person has a consciousness of self, of being different from others, creates a desire to act freely. The craving for liberty and self-expression is a very fundamental and dominant trait… [Anarchism] proposes to rescue the self-respect and independence of the individual from all restraint and invasion by authority. Only in freedom can man [sic!] grow to his full stature. Only in freedom will he learn to think and move, and give the very best of himself. Only in freedom will he realise the true force of the social bonds which tie men together, and which are the true foundations of a normal social life.” Emma Goldman, Red Emma Speaks.

“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.” Henry David Thoreau: Civil Disobedience” (1847)

“The most noble, pure and true love of mankind is the love of oneself. I want to be free! I hope to be happy! I want to appreciate all the beauties of the world. But my freedom is secured only when all other people around me are free. I can only be happy when all other people around me are happy. I can only be joyful when all the people I see and meet look at the world with joy-filled eyes. And only then can I eat my fill with pure enjoyment when I have the secure knowledge that other people, too, can eat their fill as I do. And for that reason it is a question of my own contentment, only of my own self, when I rebel against every danger which threatens my freedom and my happiness.Ret Marut.

“Structural co-operation defies the usual egoism/altruism dichotomy. It sets things up so that by helping you I am helping myself at the same time. Even if my motive initially may have been selfish, our fates now are linked. We sink or swim together. Co-operation is a shrewd and highly successful strategy – a pragmatic choice that gets things done at work and at school even more effectively than competition does. . . There is also good evidence that co-operation is more conductive to psychological health and to liking one another.Alfie Kohn.

“The oppressed masses who have never completely resigned themselves to oppress and poverty, and who . . . show themselves thirsting for justice, freedom and wellbeing, are beginning to understand that they will not be able to achieve their emancipation except by union and solidarity with all the oppressed, with the exploited everywhere in the world.Errico Malatesta.

History tells us that every oppressed class [or group or individual] gained true liberation from its masters by its own efforts.” Emma Goldman.

To encourage popular organisations of all kinds is the logical consequence of our basic ideas, and should therefore be an integral part of our programme. . . anarchists do not want to emancipate the people; we want the people to emancipate themselves. . . , we want the new way of life to emerge from the body of the people and correspond to the state of their development and advance as they advance.” Errico Malatesta.

“History of human progress [is] seen as the history of rebellion and disobedience, with the individual debased by subservience to authority in its many forms and able to retain his/her dignity only through rebellion and disobedience.” Robert Lynn: Not a Life Story, Just a Leaf From It.

 

Many quotes taken from http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Anarchist_FAQ