The Angry Brigade
Quartet, London, 1973
For Peter and Pat
dedication: For Peter and Pat
The blurb on the back:
Who are the Angry Brigade? Are they psychopaths? Mindless anarchists? Or are they truly representative of the New Left at its most activist and ruthless? Nobody knows, except the Angry Brigade's members, and they have chosen to remain silent.
The Italians had the Red Brigades, the Germans had the Red Army Faction, we had the Angry Brigade. Ever feel you've been cheated? Why weren't they just called the Really Cross Faction and have done with it? Or - if we were going to allude to earlier literary movements - the Kitchen Sink Army?
Anyway, the Angry Brigade were a loose group of anarchists in the early-1970s who planted a few bombs (including, absurdly enough, one in Biba), failed to build any significant levels of support amongst the British working class, and were consequently crushed as soon as the State turned its attention to them. Which it did quite quickly in a major trial of eight people at the Old Bailey: four of the accused were sentenced to ten years each for conspiracy, four were acquitted. (Amongst the latter, incidentally, was Stuart Christie, whose book, The Floodgates of Anarchy - co-written with Albert Meltzer - is one of the few works to come out of British anarchism that's worth reading.)
Having achieved nothing at all, the Angry Brigade soon found that their entire contribution to the fight against international capital was eclipsed by the arrival on the British mainland of Irish terrorism. And that was serious stuff: where the Angry Brigade had exploded over a hundred bombs without killing anyone at all, the IRA took the more direct option of putting a bomb in a Birmingham pub on a Saturday night and murdering lots and lots of people. Which made the anarchist version seem quite quaint really. Consequently, they've been largely largely forgotten. Or else relegated to the fringes of the post-hippie counter-culture.
This book by Alan Burns dates from a time before the Angry Brigade were written out of history and it's an early example of the docu-drama. Unfortunately, that means that it shares all the irritating elements of that bastardized artform: when you want a coherent, structured story, you get episodic realism, and when you want documented fact, you get leaps of imagination.
The story's told in the first person by six characters in search of an action. They're reasonably convincing portrayals of the types found on the left fringes of politics, though there's not much to choose between their narrative tones and the sheer subjectivity soon becomes wearing. You get the impression that Burns has done his research, but it's really no substitute for a decent account of the 'movement' that you could actually rely on to be truthful. As far as I know, such a thing doesn't exist.
Angry Brigade supporters
at the Old Bailey trial
PS There's a lovely note at the beginning: 'The author would like to acknowledge the financial assistance of the Arts Council of Great Britain.' That's your actual anarchy, right there, that is.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: 2/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT: 3/5
Europe After The Rain
visit an interview with Alan Burns
or a history of the Angry Brigade
Harry Arvay, Blow the Four Winds