2007 - 2020

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.

Christie bridged the gap between a generation of anarchists fleeing Franco’s fascism and a new post-68 generation and seventies radicalism in London. But he also bridged the traditions of Scottish anarchism between the Glasgow Anarchist Group of Guy Aldred and figures like Charlie Baird, Robert Lynn and Eddie Shaw. In Glasgow weekly anarchist meetings were held outside Yarrow’s, John Brown’s and Blythswood shipyards, Dalmuir Ordnance Factory, in Paisley, Hamilton and on the Mound in Edinburgh.
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Christie was the lynchpin between Scottish political movements joining the old radical Scottish anarchists with the peace movement and the Committee of 100 – outwards to the sixties squatting movement via the twin beacons of anti-fascism and direct action.
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If the history of Scottish anarchism has yet to be written, and the history of the 1960s been obscured by lifestylism and drug-memoire, the story of the more radical element of political movements which genuinely threatened the British state has also yet to be fully told. Christie was at the heart of both these untold stories.
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Stuart’s activities were the stuff of myths and legends. One often repeated story has been repeated after his death: “11 Aug 1964 18-year-old Scottish anarchist Stuart Christie was arrested in Madrid, Spain with explosives to assassinate dictator General Franco. He was wearing a kilt, which confused the Spanish press, who described him as “a Scottish transvestite”.
This is not true, as Stuart laid out in an article for Bella in 2019 (“55 Years Ago in Madrid”):

“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.

Comments (15)

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  1. Cathie Lloyd says:

    Sad news

  2. Paul Newton says:

    An inspirational comrade/brother, and, as I’ve said on my FB tribute; ‘A giant of modern @narchism.’ This is a wonderful obituary, even though it’s quite short, and evokes the nature of the man very well. Long live @narchism! Long live the struggle! Long live the truth!

    1. Sorry Paul, yes a short tribute rather than a full and proper obituary, that’s a harder task for such a life (!)

  3. Paul Newton says:

    Keep me posted, please. Thank you.

  4. Frances McKie says:

    He was a very brave man. The world- this country in particular- seems more frightening now he is gone.

  5. Crìs says:

    I read his book “my granny made me an anarchist” (still got it somewhere). And I met him at a talk he gave at Mac Donald road library in Edinburgh. Nice guy; you’d never have guessed he was an anarchist by stereotypes! Looked like a slightly distracted librarian!

    He was asked the obvious question by someone in the audience: “why did you call your book. “my granny made me an anarchist?””. He never answered by diverted the question without the person who asked the question realising.

    Never did find out the answer. I suppose Stuart has taken that secret to his grave with him.

    We need more characters like him in the world!

    Crìs

  6. SleepingDog says:

    I think Christie is right to stress the steady erosion of civil liberties as a major threat to the kind of social movements that can bring positive change (monitoring and reversing these oppressions are worth the effort). I think Christie is wrong on comparing public health to the Taliban, and massively-profitable smoking has never been restrained as a personal lifestyle choice here to my knowledge: it has been taxed as a burden on the NHS and restricted when others are put in harm’s way. Anyway, the people demonstrating against the COVID-10 restrictions of their ‘liberty’ (such liberty generally amounting to licence to infect other people) appear to be mostly associated with what are usually considered far-right groups, while anarchists here are generally critical that the government is not taking sufficient measures against the pandemic, is failing to provide sufficient support for workers, and is prioritising The Economy (or profit-making).
    https://freedomnews.org.uk/the-surveillance-state-doesnt-want-you-to-mask-up/

  7. Graham Ennis says:

    There is lots that I, and others, could say about all this. I am 75 and have been an activist (of sorts) since 8, when I became aware of nuclear weapons.
    67 years later, I am full of despair, but also full of hope. The old regimes are falling apart from their own contradictions. The UK now has a Government that resembles that of a Banana Republic, in many of its aspects. The thing about regimes is that eventually, they decay, fall apart from within, and collapse. Its not revolution, its the death of a wounded and broken old beast, that no longer cope. The truths harshly exposed by the present Epidemic, the utter inability to cope with a modern diverse complex world, are all absolutely normal, historical processes, but its painful to be sitting in the middle of them. People get hurt. Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold, as Yeats said. When a great Celtic Bard like Yeats utters such things, we discover they are universal. We are in for a very rough ride. in 10 years, when the dust, fire and smoke settles, Scotland will be free, Ireland will be made whole again, and a new and harsh light of day will shine upon things. Scotland will probably have a Government run by carpet baggers, opportunists, and psychos, like Ireland after its war of Independence. But it will have been violently swerved onto a new track, which will end in a new Scotland. Revolutions happen quickly, evolutions happen slowly, and the attrition rate is large. But I sense a large slow shaggy rough beast, slouching towards its destiny, and waiting to be born.

  8. robert Hughes says:

    Excellent piece Mike . Nothing to add other than to urge anyone who hasn’t already done so to read Stuart’s work , a veritable goldmine of political insight , history and an bracing example of what a committed life entails , all leavened by a distinctly Scottish humour .

  9. florian albert says:

    ‘The need for anti fascism is never greater than it is today.’

    Seriously ?

    Fascism is – thankfully – almost entirely discredited as a political force. There are, to all intents and purposes, no fascists worth bothering about in Scotland and the rest of the UK today. Numpties, like Tommy Robinson, are utterly irrelevant politically.

    It is also worth remembering that anarchists – people like Stuart Christie – were murdered in Barcelona in 1938 – in the name of ‘anti-fascism.’

  10. Daniel Raphael says:

    Just ordered his book. Glad to know of Stuart Christie.
    Anarchists I knew early in my life were in Seattle–Louise and George Crowley and Stan Iverson, prominent in memory. One year–I think it was 1967–Stan ran for Mayor of Seattle. I recall his brightly colored campaign poster, showing a small human figure surrounded by abstract, towering machinery, with the slogan “Screw The Machine.”

    Stan was one of a kind–as, I’m sure, was Mr. Christie. May the spirit of their insurgent impudence continue to inspire.

  11. Tommy Seiler says:

    He was a hero to many ‘Americans’ also…read him since the 90’s. Just an exhilarating and pure bottom up view of anarchism, and how we can rebel….through art, music writing or direct action…..His collection of information on his website, is testament he never gave up, or stopped believing in ‘us’ and that someday we will realize our love, yes, and solidarity with each other. …..to stop the madness. Stuart was just one of my many ‘grannies’ when I was a young punk rocker…..He will only rest in ‘power’….when we build our power…..

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