Stuart Christie, the Eternal Young Rebel Always in the Fight for Life

Stuart Christie was born in Glasgow in 1946, too late to enlist in the International Brigades and go off and fight alongside the Spanish republicans in the 1936-39 war. As a child, though, he befriended some Scottish miners who had fought with the International Brigades in that faraway war that he was to take so closely to his heart. A war for ideals that were and are universal. He used to listen in wonder to the tales they used to tell. Taking a pride in them. Such conversations moulded his sensibility to life and struggle.

He did not know it yet, but Stuart would later be ready to carry on with their fight. He would try to complete his friends’ task in Spain. From then on, that was to be his mission and his life. A commitment to the struggle that would be deployed across many fronts. Internationalist, revolutionary antifascist activism, direct action and history, publishing and investigative journalism. Stuart Christie was the real thing, a free man.

As he was to put it in the first volume of his memoirs The Christie File: Part 1, 1946-1964: My Granny Made Me An Anarchist (2002), his granny “by her example and the wisdom she showed […] gave me a clear moral map and inculcated in me an inerasable ethical code – a sort of secular Calvinism – which led me directly and inexorably through the political and ethical quagmire to anarchism – to me, the only honest non-religious ideology which aspired to social justice without seeking social, political or economic dominion over others.

On reading the first edition of that book, his friend Noam Chomsky was to write: “His fascinating personal narrative is a remarkable portrait of the late 20th century, seen through discerning eyes and interpreted by a compassionate and inquisitive mind.” And in private, if memory serves, was to comment tongue-in-cheek: “Who would have guessed that the good-looking young lad on the cover would finish up as a dangerous terrorist and all through the fault of his granny.”

Professor Paul Preston also teased about the title whilst highlighting and praising the book’s values: “What exactly Stuart Christie’s granny is being made responsible for is rather a lot. Given that the opening scene of this riveting autobiography is a bitterly funny account of his trial for attempting to murder General Franco, it seems that the poor lady is being saddled with more responsibility than is fair. As this marvellously readable and often moving book reveals, the real responsibility lies in part with the post-1945 break-up of a social system based on deference.”

Whether it was thanks to his granny, the miners and workers of Glasgow or his learning about the Spanish Civil War – “the most important moral reference point in the whole of the 20th century” – as he put it, Stuart was to commit himself wholly to everything he did. Heedless of the risks. With every action and every publication.

He must have had a lot of guts to volunteer at the age of 18 in the summer of 1964 to enter Spain on his own, hitch-hiking, carrying a load of explosives to be used in an attempt on General Franco’s life in Madrid. Only a year before the regime had used the garrote vil and fake evidence to murder the young libertarians Francisco Granado and Joaquín Delgado for having made the very same attempt. Less than a year had elapsed since then. The Francoist police were infuriated. Police cooperation between France and Spain, between De Gaulle and Franco was very intense. De Gaulle was afraid of OAS personnel who had fled to Spain and Franco of the Spanish anarchists living as refugees in France.

Yes, he must have had a lot of guts. Or he might have been a bit of a nutter. Might have been Stuart, in fact. In his eyes the judicial murder perpetrated on Granado and Delgado was not about to stop him; quite the opposite, it made up his mind to act. It acted as a detonator. Rather than being scared or reckoning, as most people in Spain and abroad did, that he was not about to run the same risk, he volunteered his services in a further action designed to eliminate Franco, an action planned by the secret anarchist Defensa Interior (DI) agency; he made contact with Octavio Alberola in Paris. These young anarchists believed that the removal of the General would lead to the progressive crumbling of the regime which was at the time riven by internal differences between the various ideological factions of which it comprised. They did not achieve their aim but were to show the whole world – especially the prisoners and the exiles – that Franco was not untouchable and had not frightened everyone off. He still had his enemies and there was a fresh generation prepared to fight him.

The plan scarcely got off the ground. Most likely the victim of some informer or ‘plant’, Christie was to find himself arrested upon his arrival in Madrid with the explosives, just as he was about to pick up a letter containing further instructions This led also to the arrest of Fernando Carballo, the activist he was due to contact. There followed arrest, interrogation, torture, Council of War, a twenty-year sentence and imprisonment. Until after three years, he was released in 1967 thanks to a special pardon. In diplomatic terms. Stuart’s case was very delicate. International pressure was to play a very important part, whether coming from the British government or from a long list of intellectuals that included Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Fernando Carballo was not released until the 1977 amnesty.

Carabanchel prison, where he served three of the twenty years to which he had been sentenced, proved to be, as he himself admitted, a veritable university education. Stuart was a discreet and blunt sort. He may well have learnt the ideas of the “anonymous militant” and the “enlightened labourer” from his friend and comrade Luis Andrés Edo, whom he met there behind bars. Allow me to place it on record here too that Luis Andrés Edo’s partner and Stuart Christie’s friend Dora Ensinger passed away just a few days ago in Barcelona.

Stuart always shunned the limelight. And was not one to preen himself on his own importance. When setting out or writing down his own story and that of his comrades, he always paid special attention to human details and anecdotes. He was politically and historically rigorous, to be sure, but he was at all times prompted by an easy-going, intense curiosity about people and the world that opened up to him in the labyrinthine ways of clandestinity, repression, imprisonment and activist struggle.

Stuart Christie had a dry, twinkling sense of humour and a sardonic approach that drained the mythology out of and breathed oxygen into the harshest of stories, injecting sense and truth into them. Like some elegant cavalier, he shied away from and was oblivious to the heroics and delusions of so many who nearly always finish up slavishly welcoming the praises of the establishment in return for discreet abdications and silences.

Stuart chose to caption My Granny Made Me An Anarchist with a quotation from the English mathematician and philosopher William Kingdon Clifford which in my eyes sums him up to perfection:

“There is only one thing more wicked than the desire to command and that is the will to obey.”

The Second Wave of International Brigaders

Christie always did what he thought needed doing. The stories he had heard from those Glasgow miners pointed the way to him. At the age of eighteen he too was to enlist as a volunteer in the underground struggle against Franco and, just as they had done way back in 1936, he was to gamble his own life for his libertarian antifascist ideals of justice and freedom that were his life’s blood.

Stuart Christie plus other British, French, Italian and Portuguese anarchist comrades were, during the 1960s, to make up a little second internationalist wave of young activists ready to offer up their lives to the clandestine fight against Franco. Compared with the International Brigaders of 1936-1939, they were but few, a handful. Anarchists and anti-authoritarians. With no Communist Party behind them. Indeed, it was against them, the communists having years since washed their hands of the armed struggle, on Stalin’s orders. 

Those keen to learn the full story of this history as set out by Stuart can refer to Franco Made Me a Terrorist, this being volume two of Stuart’s memoirs The Christie Files, the opening volume of which was My Granny Made Me An Anarchist; the third volume was Edward Heath Made Me Angry (2004). The latter volume covers the years 1967-1975 when Christie was charged with membership of “The Angry Brigade” which, between 1970 and 1972 carried out a series of bomb attacks (around twenty five of them) across England, without ever causing any personal injury.

Franco Made Me A Terrorist

When Stuart’s book was about to be released in Spanish in 2005, I wrote this comment for the newspaper Avui: “There is much to recommend this book. It is an account of events which, with the benefit of hindsight, one can see from the viewpoint of the protagonist, without losing a single iota of his enthusiasm or commitment. It offers a portrait of a certain Spain that was just staring to wake up economically thanks to the tourist trade and it comes from a young 18 year-old European alive to the cultural and counter-cultural developments of the day. It offers his personal reflections, complete with historical rigour, on that reality and in full detail.

But as far as I am concerned, the most salient factor here is the personal insights which are of course subjective but highly focused in their detail, profiling the repressive liturgy of Francoism and its goons: the police, the military, the prison officials, the chaplains, etc. His account of his imprisonment, his entry into the dungeons of the DGS in Madrid, the interrogations, the character of his questioners, the head of the DGS Intelligence Service, Eduardo Blanco, and the superintendent from the Brigada Político-Social, Saturnino Yagüe. These are pages of huge historical value in terms of the exactitude of the facts, the accuracy of the descriptions and the denunciation these constitute today of that machinery of repression.”

Christie closed his foreword like this: “It cannot begin to reflect the vicious, cruel and bloodthirsty nature of the Franco regime and its prisons between 1939 and the early 1960s, but I hope that my own highly subjective experiences in Spanish prisons will connect the reader in some way with the experiences of others and prompt some thought about the struggle to be human and the hundreds of thousands of brave people who fought, suffered, died and lost loved ones in the selfless cause of resisting the reactionary, priest-, gun- and prison-backed ideology that was Francoism.”

There are other books by Stuart that deserve a mention: books such as Pistoleros! The Chronicles of Farquhar McHarg (Vols 1-3), Stefano Delle Chiaie: Portrait of a Black Terrorist and We, the Anarchists! A Study of the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI), etc.

In the late 1960s Stuart Christie and Albert Meltzer were to launch the Anarchist Black Cross in support of the Spanish anti-Francoist resistance and anarchist political prisoners; and the newspaper Black Flag. Stuart also did important work as the publisher of the Cienfuegos Press and Christie Books. Not to mention the trojan work invested over the years into creating the Anarchist Film Archive, the best and most comprehensive on-line digital film archive, I believe. A thousand films on the 1936-1939 war, Francoism, anarchism and revolutionary movements. 

London, Stuart Christie and the Shade of Xavier Vinader

In the end, everybody finishes up finding himself. In the end, everybody finishes up in the know. Given such forever undergrounders as Stuart Christie and Xavier Vinader [see note], it is all but impossible now to carry on in ignorance of authentic history.

It is worth remembering that Vinader, while in exile in France, had come under threats from the GAL [Anti-Terrorist Liberation Group] and that the Batallón Vasco-Español [Spanish Basque Battalion] attacked his apartment in Barcelona. Luckily, he was out of the country at the time. Xavier Vinader, a journalist who had lifted the lid on the then embryonic GAL, and an expert in the Spanish and European far right, was one of the targets of the Black International operating right across the continent. Stuart got wind of this and made every effort to protect him and offer him support.

When Xavier Vinader died, I wrote a book called El Cas Vinader, El Periodisme contra la guerra bruta (Editorial Portic, 2015) [The Vinader Affair, Journalism versus the Dirty War], in the course of which I contacted Stuart to follow up a few leads which had been left out of the documentation due to problems with cross-matching them.

When I asked him about his dealings with Vinader in London and the threat of far-right attacks hanging over him, his response was: “Sure, we met up lots of times over the years, especially in 1983. I frequently dropped in on him at his hotel in Marble Arch. We would have dinner together and chat about matters of mutual interest with regards to far-right plots and activities in Europe and the connections with European special services agencies. Primarily about the GAL and ‘plants’, informers and provocateurs. I wrote a book Stefano Delle Chiaie: Portrait of a Black Terrorist (Anarchy Magazine, London 1984). I believe that Dell Chiaie was living and operating in Spain at the time. And I had just published The Investigative Researcher’s Handbook (Towards a Citizens’ Intelligence Agency) which had triggered a scandal in the British media (TV, radio, press). In line with another book that I had published earlier Towards a Citzens’ Militia, which had a similar impact …Vinader’s was a pretty boring life in London. He was living in a noisy hotel filled with Saudi families! You can just imagine … I don’t remember him being particularly paranoid, but it was obvious that he was careful about his security and was aware of everything going on all around him..”

One day, I was chatting with Xavier Vinader and the Scotsman’s name came up. “You know Stuart?” Vinader asked me. His face lit up. “Sure, I have warm memories of him. When I was in exile in London because of my trial, Stuart Christie and a comrade of his refused to let me go out on my own. They used to escort me everywhere…”

Months after that, as I was still gathering documentation for my book, I stumbled across an article by Vinader for Interviú, published from London in his “My Exile Diary” column. It was the title that caught my eye – “Thank you, friend Stuart! Thanks you, Jaén journalists!” The article opened with a description of his frame of mind, pretty downcast after a year in exile. The conditions upon which he might return to Spain had yet to be sorted out and the delay was really hitting home. And then, as if harking back to a time of peace and brotherhood, he mentioned Christie. Here is the excerpt in which he mentions him:

“Stuart Christie is a Scottish friend well familiar with Spanish prisons because, during the dictatorship, he had to spend a long time there after he was arrested with a suitcase laden with explosives meant for Generalissimo Franco. A few months back, in the tiny living room of his house in Cambridge, over a glass containing a good dose of Glenmorangie, one of the oldest and most renowned malt whiskies produced in the Scottish Highlands, Stuart told me that he had no difficulty understanding how I was feeling: ‘If you were in prison you would at least have an end-date for it all. You would have a time-table and schedule by which to get your life organized. But in your position, that is not on. Living the way you do, waiting for some solution whereby you can slip back to Spain quickly, is tough, very tough. Like being in prison. Maybe worse, in my opinion. But bear up, bear up. Sooner or later it will be over. There is nothing else for it.’  I took his advice to heart. And will carry on bearing up.”

That text had a hidden meaning, Vinader was secretly negotiating his homecoming and would hand himself over to the Spanish authorities, as he was to do a few weeks later. He was allowed back. I sent off a copy to Stuart without delay. He was delighted. “I wasn’t aware that he had written that!”

And now to bring this article to a close. History has no end. Let me say my goodbyes. Thank you for so many things, Stuart. As a Glasgow anarchist friend of yours once said, be it in Heaven or in Hell, they’re getting their best arguments ready for you.

KSL note:

Xavier Vinader – 1947-2015 – Spanish reporter whose coverage of far right activists and infiltrators operating in the Basque Country resulted in his being charged with “moral authorship” in relation to ETA’s killing of two of the people he named. He was sentenced to a 7-year jail term for “professional recklessness” but fled the country before negotiating his return and surrender in 1984. He served two months in prison before being pardoned. Went on to become president (1990-1993) of Reporters Without Borders NGO.

Translated by: Paul Sharkey.