With typical self-deprecating understatement, Stuart Christie opened his memoir with a scene from his drum court-martial and the dry observation: “It was a trying time.”
He was in a military tribunal in Madrid charged with banditry and terrorism, risking death at dawn by vile garrote – gruesome, slow strangulation by an iron collar – for intending to blow up the Spanish dictator, General Franco. “Trying” didn’t begin to cover it.
Freshly 18, he was hitchhiking through Spain in his kilt when he was arrested with plastic explosives concealed under his wool sweater. Less than three weeks later, he was tried by the authoritarian regime and wondered “how in the name of the ‘little man’” he had ended up there.
It was an extraordinary journey for the boy from Partick who grew up to be a socially conscious iconoclast, a charming and committed anarchist who, disgusted by Franco’s repression and brutality, felt his mission in Spain was “the only honorable thing to do.”
Eventually he was sentenced to 20 years, released after three years, but then found himself on trial at the Old Bailey accused of being a member of the Angry Brigade, a militant group behind a series bombings in England in the early 1970s – another sensational episode from a life recounted in her entertaining autobiography My Granny Made Me An Archist.
Born in Glasgow and raised in a God-fearing family, he was brought up in a flat in Partick where, aged five or six, he had his tonsils removed on the kitchen table. He and his mother later moved to Blantyre where he attended Calder Street Secondary School.
His maternal grandmother, Agnes, who helped raise him, had a huge influence on his childhood, instilling in him a strong sense of right and wrong and introducing him to the concept that “we are not spectators of the life”. She gave him a clear moral map and an indelible ethical code, he said, which he said led him to anarchism.
At 16, he joined the Anarchist Federation of Glasgow, became active in the CND and campaigned to prevent American Polaris missiles from being based in the Holy Loch. He also became a member of the Young Socialists of the Labor Party, but soon became disillusioned with Labor and the CND. It was after the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 that he focused on issues specifically from an anarchist perspective. He says he went to Spain in 1964 following the tourniquet death of two young anarchists. Warning his family that he was going to harvest, he collected the explosives in Paris and hitchhiked to Madrid, but his cell had been infiltrated and he was arrested with a Spanish accomplice. Christie, who had to witness his co-accused being tortured, told the court he thought he was carrying leaflets – a blatant lie to save his own neck. He served his sentence working as a printer and medical assistant in the penitentiary workshops and in the prison of Carabanchel – a fact which he proudly recorded on his Facebook profile.
Pressure from intellectuals Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre helped secure his freedom in 1967, although the Franco regime claimed much of the credit was due to the pleas of his mother, who sat on his court-martial and put pressure on Franco.
Back in the UK, he worked in the bookshop of English anarchist and writer Albert Meltzer and helped revive the prisoner support organization Anarchist Black Cross. But just five months after Christie’s return, her apartment was raided by police investigating a mortar device placed outside the Greek embassy. They found no explosives but discovered propaganda leaflets similar to fake dollar bills and he was charged with forgery and bound for the sum of £300.
He later worked as a gas conversion engineer and in 1972 was one of eight defendants charged with conspiracy to cause explosions as part of The Angry Brigade. After being held in Brixton Prison for 18 months, Christie was acquitted of all charges, including possession of two detonators which he claimed police placed in his car.
At that time he was married to Brenda, another political activist whom he had met in London on July 14, 1968. Kept under surveillance for years, they were asked to leave London after the 1974 kidnapping in Paris of a Franco banker. They went first to Yorkshire and then, in 1976, to Sanday in Orkney, where their daughter Branwen was born. The couple had founded the anarchist publishing house Cienfuegos Press and continued this work in Orkney. There he also edited and published a local newspaper, the Free-Winged Eagle.
They then moved to Cambridge, Hastings and Clacton, Essex. Over the years, Christie held a variety of jobs, including as editor of an unauthorized UK edition of Pravda and as editor and publisher of the English version of the Russian weekly Argumenty i Fakty. He also edited Hastings Trawler magazine under the pseudonym Francisco Ferrer I Guardia.
In addition, he has published, via Christie Books, his Pistoleros Trilogy, an account of the life of fictional Glasgow anarchist Farquhar McHarg caught up in the Spanish Civil War.
Interviewed a few years ago by the literary magazine 3:AM Magazine (slogan: “Whatever it is, we are against”), he reflected on the political situation three decades after the trial of The Angry Brigade and observed that things that seemed possible 30 years ago – and the way to achieve those goals – would no longer work.
“The good thing is that new forms of anti-capitalist protest have emerged… New neighborhood kids are finding more imaginative and exemplary ways to make the bad guys uncomfortable than to blow them up or blow up their homes.”
Christie, who was widowed last year, last lived in Chelmsford, where he died with Branwen by his side. He is survived by his daughter and granddaughters Merri and Mo.