Stuart Christie 1946-2020
Stuart Christie, a friend and inspiration, has died aged 74. Although he always eschewed any leadership role the response to his death is testimony to his life, with tributes pouring in from movements across the world from France, Greece, Spain, Latin America, England and the states. He was undoubtedly the most influential Scottish anarchist of the 20th Century.
He was made famous as the young man who went to Spain from Glasgow to assassinate Franco and was arrested in Madrid in 1964. He gained notoriety again for his involvement in the trial of the Angry Brigade, but both moments of fame overshadow a lifelong commitment to writing, publishing and disseminating radical film and revolutionary ideas. He co-found the Anarchist Black Cross with Albert Meltzer, (to promote solidarity with anarchist prisoners in Spain) and Cienfuegos Press.
“I’ve just been reminded it was 55 years ago this week that I was arrested in Madrid by the Gestapo-trained Brigada Político-Social (BPS). Around this time of night, 11-12 p.m., I was still being interrogated on the second floor of the Dirección General de Seguridad in the Puerta del Sol (El Ministerio de la Gobernación).I remained in their direct custody for three days before being transferred downstairs to the infamous subterranean cells, los sótanos, under the jurisdiction of the Jefatura Superior de Policia de Madrid, the policia armada (the grises). Subsequently we were brought back up to the BPS offices for further interrogation, as and when required.
Being a UK citizen, just turned 18, and with the regime sensitive to the negative media and diplomatic impact my trial would have in the wake of the international outcry that followed the previous year’s judicial murders of Julian Grimau, Joaquin Delgado and Francisco Granado, my treatment was relatively benign.
I was pushed around a bit and had my face slapped and hair pulled, but it was nothing compared with that dished out to my Spanish-born comrade, Fernando Carballo Blanco, whose torture I was forced to witness through a two-way mirror.
They pistol-whipped his wrists while he was tied to a chair and subjected him to relentless kidney punches. His wrists and midriff were still massively bruised when we met up after our release from solitary confinement two weeks later in the patio of Carabanchel prison.
Also, for the record, although it’s a good canard, I wasn’t wearing my kilt when arrested — or indeed at any time during my travels; it was folded, neatly, under the flap of my Bergen. Also, although arrested on the 11th of August the DGS sat on the news for five days until August 16.”
He produced three volumes of his life story (My granny made me an anarchist, General Franco made me a ‘terrorist’ and Edward Heath made me angry 2002-2004) which were condensed into a single volume as Granny made me an anarchist : General Franco, the Angry Brigade and Me (2004).
Reminiscing about the 1960s – writing for Bella in 2008 Christie wrote:
“Where are today’s angry young people? They can’t all have been muzzled by debt or seduced by the idea that freedom is somehow linked to property ownership. What if anything are they doing to vent their anger about Britain’s criminal military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, the blatant infringement of habeus corpus, the stifling of free speech, the medievalising of the public realm with the so-called anti-terrorism laws which allow police officers to shoot suspects dead and detain people without trial, charge or even explanation. Or to halt the present onward march to an undeclared permanent state of emergency – and the constant, grinding erosion of our liberties.
But idealism – the human search for something beyond ourselves, a star to follow has not died, nor will it. You can see it today in the anti-globalisation, ecological as well as human and animal rights movements – even though they are still fringe activities – but then again, perhaps our activities in the sixties/seventies were probably fringe too!”
“What about the legacy? It’s difficult to say what, if anything, that might be. We now live in a disproportionately more authoritarian and socially controlled society than we did forty years ago, a big-brother world in which we are under constant surveillance and our civil liberties are being steadily eroded under the guise of preserving our liberty. I am reminded here of Goethe’s dictum that he would rather choose to suffer injustice than countenance disorder. It seems we have sleepwalked into becoming a banana republic run by Taliban-like committees of public health and safety in which even personal lifestyle choices such as smoking, drinking and eating are no longer simply disapproved of, but criminalised. Brown’s cabinet is even considering obliging our children to swear loyalty to the crown just like the old days! of the Killing Times of the 1680s.”
“But I don’t worry too much about it. As the American psychologist William James wrote “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.”
The need for anti-fascism is never greater than it is today. The need to fight against state surveillance and police violence is clearer than ever before. We have much to learn from the inspirational Stuart Christie, a man known for anger that was really about love.