A life for struggle against inequality
Stuart Christie, founder of the Anarchist Black Cross and Cienfuegos Press, co-author of The Behind the Scenes of Anarchy, died in August 2020 peacefully after a battle with lung cancer.
Born in Glasgow and raised in Blantyre, Christie credited her grandmother with shaping her political perspective, giving her a clear moral sense and code of ethics. His determination to follow his conscience led him to anarchism : “Without freedom, there would be no equality, and without equality, there would be no freedom, and without struggle, there would be neither. » This led him first to campaign against nuclear weapons and then to join the struggle against the Spanish fascist dictator Francisco Franco (1892-1975).He settled in London and came into contact with the Spanish underground anarchist organization Defensa Interior. He was arrested in Madrid in 1964, carrying explosives for use in an attempt to assasinate Franco. To conceal the fact that there was an informant in the group, the police claimed that they had agents operating in Britain and (falsely) that Christie had drawn attention to him by wearing a kilt.
The threat of the tourniquet and its sentence of 20 years in prison drew the attention of the international community to the resistance to Francoism. In prison, Christie made lasting friendships with anarchist activists of his generation and those before. He returned from Spain in 1967, older and wiser, but equally determined to continue the struggle and use his notoriety to help the comrades left behind. In London, he met Brenda Earl, who would become his partner, both in politics and in life. He also met with Albert Meltzer, and both will re-found the Anarchist Black Cross to promote solidarity with anarchist prisoners in Spain and resistance in general. His book Behind the Scenes of Anarchy promotes a revolutionary anarchism that breaks with the attitudes of some who joined anarchism after the 1960s peace movement. At the International Congress of Anarchist Federations in Carrara in 1968, Christie approached a new generation of activists who shared her ideas and approach to action.
Christie’s political commitment and international relations made him a target of the British Special Branch. He was cleared of the charge of conspiracy to provoke explosions at the « Stoke Newington Eight » trial in 1972, claiming that the jury could understand why someone wanted to blow up Franco and why it would make him a target for «conservative policemen.»
Free but apparently unemployed, Christie launched Cienfuegos Press, which was to produce a multitude of anarchist books, and the encyclopaedia Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review. Orkney quickly became an anarchist publishing center before the lack of money ended the project. Christie will, however, continue to publish and explore new ways to do so, including e-books and the Internet. His website christiebooks.com contains many films about anarchism and biographies of anarchists. He used Facebook to create archives of anarchist history that were not available anywhere else, while recounting memories and events of his own and others’ lives.
Christie wrote The Investigator’s Handbook (1983), sharing the skills he put into practice in his denunciation of the Italian fascist terrorist Stefano delle Chiaie (1984). In 1996, he published the first version of his historical study We the Anarchists : A Study of the Iberian Anarchist Federation (IAF), 1927-1937.
The printing of small prints allowed him to produce three illustrated volumes of the history of his life (My grandmother made me an anarchist, General Franco transformed me into a « terrorist » and Edward Heath made me angry – 2002-2004) which were condensed into a single volume, How Grandmother Made Me an Anarchist : General Franco, The Anger Brigade and Me (2004). His last books were the three volumes of Pistoleros ! The chronicles of Farquhar McHarg, the accounts of a Glasgow anarchist who joined the Spanish anarchist defense groups in the years 1918-1924.
Committed to anarchism and publishing, Christie appeared in many book fairs and film festivals, but disdained any hint that he had come to « take » anyone anywhere.
Christie’s partner, Brenda, passed away in June 2019. She slipped away peacefully listening to Pennies From Heaven (Brenda’s favorite song) with her daughter Branwen.
Stuart Christie, July 10, 1946-15 August 2020
A bomb to Franco
Christie’s Franco-related mission was to deliver explosives to Madrid for an attempt to blow up the Spanish leader while he attended a football match at the city’s Bernabéu stadium. Telling his family that he was going grape-picking in France, he went first to Paris, where it turned out that the only French he knew, to the amusement of his anarchist hosts, was “Zut, alors!”
There he was given explosives and furnished with instructions on how to make himself known to his contact by wearing a bandage on his hand. As his knowledge of Spanish was even more limited than his French, he had to be taught a phrase – me duele la mano (my hand hurts) – as a coded response to his contact.
Having been kitted out in Paris, Christie began to hitchhike south with the explosives wrapped around his body and wearing a kilt as an aid to getting lifts. His attire later led to reports in the Argentinian press that the man who tried to assassinate Franco was a “Scottish transvestite”.
Once he arrived in Madrid, however, it turned out that Christie’s group had been infiltrated, and he was arrested along with his Spanish contact, Fernando Carballo. After being forced to watch Carballo being tortured, Christie signed a confession. Convicted of “banditry and terrorism” after a brief trial in a military court, he faced the possibility of execution by garotte, but was instead given the 20-year jail term. His sentence prompted international protests, including from Jean-Paul Sartre and Bertrand Russell.
In the notorious Carabanchel prison in Madrid, Christie was warmly welcomed on to the political wing by fellow anarchists and republicans, who admired his courage for their cause.
In jail he studied for A-levels in history, English and Spanish, and worked as a nurse. His mother wrote regularly to Franco to ask for clemency, and the Spanish authorities, noting “her dignity and motherly concern”, released him after just under four years. “The most beneficial thing was that my arrest provided a focus for what Franco was doing,” he said later. “He was trying to pass himself off as an old avuncular gentleman on a white charger while in fact he had all these political prisoners, thousands of whom were tortured and some killed.”
Stuart Christie Memorial Archive
Stuart’s life may have been plastered with headlines, Britain’s most famous anarchist was the usual description, but the small print of it was what was important. His courage, imagination, his loyalty, not just to what he believed in, but to his friends and family, his remarkable intelligence, his self-deprecating, droll and spiky humour. He was a man of parts, each one of them remarkable.
To reveal the richness of Stuart’s life and the many histories he was a part of, we intend to establish a memorial archive in his name. The Stuart Christie Memorial Archive will be housed at the MayDay Rooms in Fleet Street in London.
This project has been brought together by his family, close friends and comrades and is supported by the MayDay Rooms collective. The memorial will include photographs, letters, personal mementoes, art works, his writings, as well as the output of his publishing arms, Cienfuegos Press, Christie Books and his Anarchist Film Archive.
The archive will also be available online. With the money raised from you, we will be employing a part-time archivist and researcher. Jessica Thorne, a doctoral researcher, whose work focuses on anarchist prisoners in Franco’s Spain, has already started work on the archive. Stuart’s daughter Branwen is contributing personal photographs and letters.
Much of the material will be new, including letters from Carabanchel prison in Spain where he was incarcerated after his failed attempt to assassinate the dictator Francisco Franco, as well as early childhood photographs. It will cover his involvement in the Angry Brigade trial, his period on Orkney – and his newspaper, the Free-Winged Eagle – with previously unseen photographs.
Stuart’s writing was prolific, including his ‘autobiography’ Granny Made Me An Anarchist, which was published by Scribner. That was the expurgated version, there were three previous volumes he published himself. Part of the memorial’s work will be to re-publish the three-part autobiography, as well as Pistoleros!, his trilogy, novel/memoir, the Chronicles of Farquhar McHarg.
An important part of the project will be to make the archive available online so that people throughout the world will be able to access it, to gain an insight into a life lived to the full, but also for study and research. Alongside the archive, the money raised from donations will help fund a series of educational events, addressing Stuart’s history and the histories of the movements he was involved in.
Depending on the amount of money raised, we are also hoping to commission an artist to create a physical memorial to Stuart. We are currently drafting designs for a secular, stained-glass window, which will be placed in the renamed Stuart Christie Library.
The collective will meet to discuss how we can expand the project further – or alternatively, re-allocate these funds to prisoner support groups/educational projects.
Finally, thanks are due to MayDay Rooms for readily making the space available and for their suggestions and insights and to the many, many friends and comrades throughout the world who have offered their help and suggestions. ✪