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  • Writer's pictureLaurence Dunn

Anna Mendelssohn & The Angry Brigade

Anna Mendelssohn was a British anarchist, writer, performance artist and poet of Jewish descent. She came from a left-wing family, her father having fought in the Spanish revolution on the side of the Republic and was a Labour Councillor for Stockport. She was steeped in political radicalism and developed deep convictions on justice, freedom and an anti-capitalist perspective from her youth. She would stay up late and listen to the political discussions held by her parents and their friends. She described her parents as 'deeply human people' during an interview with News In Action.

In her late teens, she attended Essex University to study for a Bachelor's in English Literature and American History. This was during a period of deep turmoil in labour relations that saw a sweep of industrial action throughout the country. In 1968, alongside many students, she went to Paris to support the student uprisings; the direct action, street politics and Situationism that defined this movement influenced her political thought throughout her life.

 After returning from Paris in 1969, she dropped out of university. She moved to the Kings Cross area alongside university friends and other political radicals and began helping local squatters and groups living semi-communally in Stepney. During this period, she would meet many of her future co-defendants, most notably John Barker, who was deported from France due to his participation in the '68 uprisings. He is regularly credited with the first English translations of Guy Debord's "Society of the Spectacle."

After this, she and many others within her circle formed a newspaper named 'Strike'. The group often funded their activities and paper through illegal means, notably chequebook fraud, and suffered police harassment and observation.

During this time, the Angry Brigade, Britain's first urban Guerrilla group, carried out a bombing campaign, destroying symbols of capitalist repression to act as the militant edge of ongoing disputes. These attacks took place during heightened periods of class struggle—with the bombing of the Department of Employment and Productivity on the day of a large demonstration against The Industrial Relations Bill. The bombing of Robert Carr's home, who was the Employment Secretary (orchestrator of the Bill). The bombing of John Davies', Minister of Trade and Industry, during the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders crisis & many other targets such as banks and state infrastructure.

No one was harmed or killed during this campaign. An attack was also made on the (Francoist) Spanish Embassy using a submachinegun, frequently thought to have been the group's first act. There are too many attacks made under the name of the Angry Brigade to list here - as they continued long after the imprisonment of the purported ring-leaders.

As a result of these attacks, Special Branch and the Metropolitan police, determined to catch the perpetrators, carried out invasive and thorough searches of political squats in London. They believed that the assailants were using these squats as bases of operations and knew many of their supporters were a part of the then-thriving political squats that littered the city.

Eight anarchists were accused of these attacks: Anna Mendelssohn, charged with writing AB Communiques and participating in the bombings; Stuart Christie, made famous for his attempted assassination of General Franco at the age of 18; John Barker, Jim Greene, Hillary Creek, Angela Weir, Kate Mclean and Chris Bolt.

The defendants were dubbed 'The Stoke Newington 8', and their trial was the longest recorded in British History, receiving enormous sympathy from sections of the militant left.

Barker, Greenfield, Creek, and Mendelson received 15-year sentences for "conspiring to cause explosions likely to endanger life or cause serious injury to property," which were reduced to 10 years after pleas of clemency from the jury. Two of the Jury became anarchists as a result of the hearing.

The press heavily sensationalised the trial, and many believed it to have been a stitch-up by the police. Attacks and sabotage continued throughout the '70s and into the '80s after the incarceration of anarchists purported to carry out the attacks.

 Mendelssohn maintained her innocence throughout her life but chose to defend herself in court and defended the actions of the Angry Brigade. Much of the political left branded these revolutionaries as 'adventurists', middle-class imposters and all manner of things to evade being implicated and suffering from police crackdown.

After her 10-year sentence, she became an author, poet, and performance artist. Friends ensured that her work was published and given space in various galleries. Much of her art was done under the penname 'Grace Lake'.

Her most significant collection, '𝐼𝑚𝑝𝑙𝑎𝑐𝑎𝑏𝑙𝑒 𝐴𝑟𝑡,' contains many of her ink drawings, wordplay, and poetry, including a mix of surrealism and a conversational, though disjointed, tone throughout. The themes include the heartbreak of incarceration, losing her children to social services, the utopianism of youth, and the struggles of womanhood and war.

The Whitechapel Gallery recently displayed her first exhibition, Anna Mendelssohn: Speak, Poetess. She died in 2009 from an inoperable brain tumour and spent the last two weeks of her life unconscious and reliant on hospital care. To some, Mendelssohn and her cohorts were little more than terrorists; to others, they were a shining example of creativity, militancy and uncompromising dedication to a brighter world here and now.

All Power to the Imagination. Long Live Anarchy!

A documentary on The Angry Brigade

Podcast with interviews of defendants involved

Chronology of Attacks and Communiques

A wonderful collection of Mendelsohn's art and poetry:

    'the ribbon & white did it irk the crowd

     how could the crowd see it drifted

    I was told off for loving my own children.

    I didn't think that they would have to be removed

     and that I would be spoken to as though I were

    Pigswill. We are of different species.

        I don't incarcerate artists.'

Anna Mendelssohn

1948 – 15 November 2009 by Max Autonomy

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