Book Review

The Angry Brigade 1967-1984: Documents & Chronology

After reading my new favourite novel, The Angry Brigade by Alan Burns, I immediately leapt to one of the two other books on my shelf with “angry brigade” in the title (don’t worry, the third one is coming next).

This tiny pamphlet published by Elephant Editions contains the text of several communiqués sent between 1970 and 1984 by people purporting to be members of the Angry Brigade, followed by a detailed yet functionally useless timeline discussing the incidents and people involved in this organisation, if such a thing ever existed.

The Angry Brigade was a moniker used by multiple distinct groups of leftist and anarchist insurrectionists, activists and terrorists during the violence-heavy 1970s.

By not having a firm organisational structure and therefore clear leadership – merely a supposed/presumed shared set of values – it was possible for people to commit bombing, shootings and various other acts without implicating other people with the same intentions and broad aesthetic/ideology.

Although this text is non-fiction rather than fictionalised documentary (like Alan Burns’ “documentary novel” The Angry Brigade), there is no author name provided. This is unsurprising given the almost aggressive carelessness exhibited throughout. The annotations and the timeline are full of frequent and distracting typographical errors, including of dates. The timeline (and the communiqués) fail[s] to maintain chronological order (i.e. communiqué 3 appears before communiqués 1 and 2), and the – ideologically justified but still distracting – editorial decision to prioritise the slang term “pig” over the (no less neutral to anyone with antiauthoritarian politics) term “police”…

Maybe it is the passage of time making the slang term seem more dated than it did when this pamphlet was first published in 1978, or perhaps this is me being victim to statist propaganda and I have internalised the idea that disrespect belies childishness.

Also, whoever was writing the annotations gave up halfway through, meaning that the contextual information (including dates, locations, and now obscure references) is unexplained and ignored for many of the later – and thus more significant due to the escalation of rhetoric and action – communiqués.

It’s interesting, of course, to see the texts as they were written by the people who were enacting the acts they describe, but as the introduction (written by Jan Weir) makes clear, the fact that this was not a rigid organisation means that it is a mantle that can be claimed by anyone, neutralising the certainty that the writers and the terrorists were the same.

This is a messy, careless, publication that treats neither its reader nor its subjects with respect.

Proper annotation and editorial organisation would have made this essential reading for anyone interested in this grouping and this period of violent activism, but the clear disinterest from the publisher in doing the job properly does as much of a disservice to the Angry Brigade as the wider leftist and anarchist movements did at the time.

A tiny group of people were sent to prison for a long time after acting on the beliefs and ideologies of a much wider selection of people, and rather than build on their beginnings to build a better society, we just allowed the establishment to quash demonstrative opposition, and this is why all of the things the Angry Brigade were acting against remain massive fucking problems to this day.

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