Anarchism swept us away completely, because it demanded everything of us and promised everything to us. There was no remote corner of life that it did not illumine … or so it seemed to us … shot though with contradictions, fragmented into varieties and sub-varieties, anarchism demanded, before anything else, harmony between deeds and words.
Victor Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary
It is an easy approach to libertarian thinking to express the iniquitous violence of the State, and contrast it with the complete non-violence of a non-governmental society. Yet it is dishonest to show the goods without mentioning the price, and a free society can only come about through determined resistance. It is not only a question of overthrowing a ruling class, but making it abundantly clear that no rule may exist again. The aim of the free society is not the “rejection” of the repressive organs of the State. It is their abolition.
Stuart Christie, The floodgates of anarchy
The anarchist militant, writer and publisher, Stuart Christie died on the 15 of August. The erasure of history is such in our time that Christie’s name, as that of so many others who dedicated themselves passionately to the struggle against capitalism, is almost unknown. Christie’s anarchism grew in the shadow of the spanish revolution (about which he would write extensively) and it would lead him to an assassination attempt against the dictator Francisco Franco. He would also gain notoriety for his participation in britain’s The Angry Brigade. And throughout all of his “activism”, and inseparable from it, he would write and testify to what can be called an ethics of anarchism.
In an “obligation of rememberance”, we share below an obituary which retraces his life, followed by an excerpt from Christie’s Granny Made Me An Anarchist covering the assassination attempt, an interview looking back at The Angry Brigade, video documents and a ballad for Stuart Christie …
Stuart Christie 1946-2020 Anarchist activist, writer and publisher
Stuart Christie, founder of the Anarchist Black Cross and Cienfuegos Press and co-author of The floodgates of anarchy has died peacefully after a battle with lung cancer.
Born in Glasgow and brought up in Blantyre, Christie credited his grandmother for shaping his political outlook, giving him a clear moral map and ethical code. His determination to follow his conscience led him to anarchism: “Without freedom there would be no equality and without equality no freedom, and without struggle there would be neither.” It also led him from the campaign against nuclear weapons to joining the struggle against the Spanish fascist dictator Francisco Franco (1892-1975).
He moved to London and got in touch with the clandestine Spanish anarchist organisation Defensa Interior (Interior Defence). He was arrested in Madrid in 1964 carrying explosives to be used in an assassination attempt on Franco. To cover the fact that there was an informer inside the group, the police proclaimed they had agents operating in Britain – and (falsely) that Christie had drawn attention to himself by wearing a kilt.
The threat of the garotte and his twenty year sentence drew international attention to the resistance to the Franco regime. In prison Christie formed lasting friendships with anarchist militants of his and earlier generations. He returned from Spain in 1967, older and wiser, but equally determined to continue the struggle and use his notoriety to aid the comrades he left behind.
In London he met Brenda Earl who would become his political and emotional life partner. He also met Albert Meltzer, and the two would refound the Anarchist Black Cross to promote solidarity with anarchist prisoners in Spain, and the resistance more broadly. Their book, The floodgates of anarchy promoted a revolutionary anarchism at odds with the attitudes of some who had come into anarchism from the sixties peace movement. At the Carrara anarchist conference of 1968 Christie got in touch with a new generation of anarchist militants who shared his ideas and approach to action.
Christie’s political commitment and international connections made him a target for the British Special Branch. He was acquitted of conspiracy to cause explosions in the “Stoke Newington Eight” trial of 1972, claiming the jury could understand why someone would want to blow up Franco, and why that would make him a target for “conservative-minded policemen”.
Free but apparently unemployable, Christie launched Cienfuegos Press which would produce a large number of anarchist books and the encyclopedic Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review. Briefly Orkney became a centre of anarchist publishing before lack of cashflow ended the project. Christie would continue publishing, and investigating new ways of doing so including ebooks and the internet. His christiebooks.com site contains numerous films on anarchism and biographies of anarchists. He used facebook to create an archive of anarchist history not available anywhere else as he recounted memories and events from his own and other people’s lives.
Christie wrote The investigative researcher’s handbook (1983), sharing skills that he put to use in an exposé of fascist Italian 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 (FAI), 1927-1937.
Short-run printing enabled him to produced three illustrated 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). His final books were the three volumes of ¡Pistoleros! The Chronicles of Farquhar McHarg, his tales of a Glaswegian anarchist who joins the Spanish anarchist defence groups in the years 1918-1924.
Committed to anarchism and publishing, Christie appeared at many bookfairs and film festivals, but scorned any suggestion he had come to ‘lead’ anyone anywhere.
Christie’s partner Brenda died in June 2019. He slipped away peacefully, listening to “Pennies From Heaven” (Brenda’s favourite song) in the company of his daughter Branwen.
John Patten, Kate Sharpley Library
Stuart Christie’s account of his actions in a Franco assassination attempt, 1964
An extract of Stuart Christie’s book Granny Made Me An Anarchist which describes his involvement in an attempt to assassinate Spanish dictator General Franco. He describes his experiences from picking up the plastic explosive in France to his arrest by Franco’s police in Spain.
‘My stomach churned. Something had gone badly wrong …’
By August 6 1964, everything was ready for my mission. My ticket had been booked on the night train from Paris to Toulouse. I met Bernardo and Salvador, my Spanish anarchist contacts from London, at the place d’Italie, and from there we walked down the rue Bobilot and into a narrow and neglected side street with grubby grey tenements.
Checking to ensure we had not been followed, Salva gave a prearranged knock on the curtained street-floor window and, when the door opened, we filed quickly through the dark and narrow hallway and into the front room. This was the quartermaster’s stores, where the weapons, explosives and forged documents could be kept with some degree of safety.
Three people were already in the room. Two were seated, one of whom I recognised as Octavio Alberola, the charismatic coordinator of the underground anarchist group Defensa Interior, and the man on whose shoulders lay the responsibility for killing Franco.The third man, referred to as “the chemist”, was standing by the sink wearing rubber gloves, measuring and pouring chemicals.
Being thirsty, I went to the sink for water, and was about to put a glass to my lips when the chemist turned round and saw what I was doing. He shouted at me to stop and rushed across, removing the glass carefully from my hands, explaining that it had just been used for measuring pure sulphuric acid.
Shaken, I stood back to lean on the sideboard and went to light a cigarette. This triggered another equally volcanic reaction from the chemist as he explained that the sideboard drawer was full of detonators. I retreated to the table, and was very cautious after that.
The chemist placed on the table five slabs of what looked like king-size bars of my granny’s home-made tablet (a crumbly Scottish toffee similar to butter fudge), each containing 200 grams of plastic explosive, along with detonators.
Alberola went through the details of the operation while Salva translated. My job was to deliver the explosives to the contact, together with a letter, addressed to me, which I was to collect from the American Express offices in Madrid. Then, at a rendezvous in the plaza de Moncloa, the contact would identify me by a handkerchief wrapped around one of my hands. He would approach me and say, “Qué tal?” (“How are you?”), to which I was to reply, “Me duele la mano” (“I’ve a sore hand”).
I spoke no Spanish, so to avoid the embarrassment of forgetting my lines and unloading a kilo of high explosives on the first friendly Spaniard I met, Octavio wrote the words down for me, along with all the instructions. (This was, with hindsight, extremely foolish.) Once the contact had identified himself, I was to hand over the parcel, together with the letter, and leave immediately.
My train pulled into Toulouse station shortly before dawn on Friday August 7 after a clammy and uncomfortable night. After a hurried coffee and croissant I caught a train to Perpignan. Here, I prepared myself for crossing the border; I would hitchhike the rest of the way to Madrid.
The best way to take the explosives in, I thought, was on my body, not in my rucksack in case it was searched by a punctilious customs officer. In Perpignan, I found the public baths and paid for a cubicle. After a hot soak, and still naked, I unpacked the slabs of plastique, and taped them to my chest and stomach with Elastoplasts and adhesive tape. The detonators I wrapped in cotton wool and hid inside the lining of my jacket.
With the plastic explosive strapped to me, my body was improbably misshapen. The only way to disguise myself was with the baggy woollen jumper my granny had knitted to protect me from the biting Clydeside winds. At the risk of understatement, I looked out of place on the Mediterranean coast in August.
I walked through the outskirts of Perpignan until I came to a junction with a road sign pointing to Spain. After what seemed like hours, a car pulled over. It was driven by a middle-aged English commercial traveller from Dagenham. He was going to Barcelona.
It soon became apparent that his charity was driven to a large extent by enlightened self-interest. Every few kilometres the old banger would chug to a standstill and I would have to get out in the full blast of the August Mediterranean sun and push the bloody car up the foothills until we got it bump-started. Between pushing a car uphill and granny’s jumper, the sweat began rolling off me. Waterproof tape was yet to have been invented, and the cellophane-wrapped packets of plastique began slipping from my body. I had to keep nudging them up with my forearms.
Traffic was heavy when we reached Le Pérthus, the busiest of Spain’s frontier mountain passes. This was where we would have to clear a customs check. On the other side was fascist Spain.
After queuing for a bowel-churning eternity, I had to push the car on to the ramp while my companion steered. I pulled my jumper taut and waited with my heart in my mouth while two dour-faced Civil Guards with shiny patent-leather three-cornered hats and sub-machine guns at the ready looked me up and down. I handed my passport over to the border guard while the customs officers examined the boot and searched behind the seats of the car.
“Why have you come to Spain?”
“Turista!” I replied, hoping my accent didn’t make it sound like “terrorista”.
A pair of dark eyes looked at me suspiciously for a moment before the stamp finally descended on the passport.
The car made it as far as Gerona’s main square, where it broke down again, this time in the middle of the rush hour. Eventually we got going again and before I knew it we were driving through the dilapidated red-roofed outskirts of industrial Barcelona.
“I never thought we’d make it,” said my companion.
“Neither did I,” was my reply.
We said goodbye and went our separate ways.
The possible dates for my rendezvous in Madrid were from Tuesday 11 to Friday 14 August. I left Barcelona on Monday, this time keeping the explosives in my bag. I could have flown or taken the train, but I enjoyed hitch-hiking and it also meant I would have a bit more money in the event of any emergency.
My destination in the capital was the American Express office. Instead of going to the railway station for a left-luggage locker and leaving my rucksack there, which is what a more experienced anarchist would have done, I swung it on to my back and strolled down the carrera San JerÃ³nimo to collect the letter for my contact.
It was siesta time and the streets were quiet. Turning the corner to enter the American Express office, I was immediately aware of three smartly dressed and tight-lipped men in heavy-rimmed sunglasses standing by the entrance muttering among themselves. I breathed deeply and tried to control my anxiety. Walking past this group, I went into the American Express office where I asked for the poste restante desk. A clerk pointed me in the direction of a desk at the far end of the room.
Handing my passport to the receptionist I asked whether any letters were waiting for me. At this same moment I noticed out of the corner of my eye two men and a woman sitting in an alcove to my right. Again, I knew immediately they were police. The blood and lymph drained from my face and heart. My stomach churned. Something had gone badly wrong.
The girl with my passport found my letter among the tightly packed trays behind her and pulled it out. As she did, I noticed it had been marked with a pink piece of paper the size of a bookie’s slip. The woman from the alcove, a supervisor, approached the girl, now bringing the letter to me, said a few words to her and removed the slip.
What was in the letter? How much did they know? Would I be arrested there or would they wait until I had met my contact? But if they knew about the Amex pick-up, they probably knew the details of my rendezvous as well.
The supervisor handed the slip to the girl, indicating she should take it across to the two men in the alcove. The supervisor then handed me the letter and my passport. I turned to see the two men from the alcove quickly walking out. I made a mental note to shaft American Express at every conceivable opportunity, if I were ever again offered an opportunity.
My diaphragm tightened even more and my heart thumped like a tight Lambeg drum. Yet I felt curiously detached as I took a deep breath and walked out of the office, trying to keep my face expressionless. Mustering all the confidence I could, I paused at the doorway to look at the group of five men now standing to one side of the entrance. Until I appeared at the doorway they had been deep in conversation. They stopped briefly, exchanging knowing looks with one another, and carried on.
Attempting the jaunty air of a well-heeled tourist who had just cashed his letters of credit, I walked back the way I had come, and as slowly as I could. I had only gone a few yards when the knot of men began to follow me up the street, still talking among themselves. My eyes darted everywhere, desperately searching for any opportunity to escape. I continued up the carrera San Jeronimo, stopping to peer in shop windows I passed, as though I was window shopping, but in fact to see how far they were behind. They had allowed me a 20 yards’ start before moving, and they kept to that distance.
An empty taxi pulled in to the pavement beside me. But when the driver appeared to invite me to get in, I knew it was an undercover police car. I was being hemmed in.
By this time I had reached the corner of the busy calle Cedaceros. As I steeled myself to make a dash through the crowds I was suddenly grabbed by both arms from behind, my face pushed to the wall and a gun barrel thrust into the small of my back. I tried to turn my head but I was handcuffed before I fully realised what had happened. It was all over in a matter of moments.
This extract first appeared in The Guardian newspaper on Monday August 23, 2004
Looking Back at Anger
“All I can say is that we couldn’t know then what we could only know today. Things that appeared possible 30 years ago — and the way to achieve those ends — wouldn’t work today. Times change, as do tactics and strategies. The currency of that particular form of gestural protest has been debased since the mid-1970s with the murderous campaigns targeting innocent bystanders run by the IRA and ETA, culminating in the crusade-like slaughters of 11 September and the recent Madrid train-bombings. The philosophy and attitude of these guys is exactly the same as Franco’s old Foreign Legion commander, General Millan Astray whose constant watchword was ‘Viva la muerte!’“
Andrew Stevens interviews the Angry Brigade’s trial defendant, Stuart Christie — the man who tried to assassinate General Franco. (3:AM Magazine)
SC: I have always had my own publishing operation, from Simian, Cienfuegos Press in the early 1970s, through Refract Publications in the 1980s, the Meltzer Press in the 1990s to the current ChristieBooks. The Kate Sharpley Library has recently published John Patten’s annotated bibliography of our output between 1969-1987 under the title Islands of Anarchy. My view has always been if you want something published, particularly in the field of anarchist or libertarian history, commentary, biography or whatever, then do it yourself. Few if any commercial publishers will look at the books we do, and frankly I couldn’t be arsed trying to sell ideas to them, then argue the toss as to content, what can and can’t be said, and the word-length or pagination of the book.
Publishing books on anarchism is not normally a commercial proposition, at least at the moment. At ChristieBooks I do short-run editions, 200 copies maximum, of books I feel ought to be in the public domain as a matter of record, as and when I can afford to print them. They are pricey at a retail price of around thirty pounds, but the actual printing and binding costs work out at around ten pounds, to say nothing of the pre-press costs.
SC: There probably would be a wide demand today for Gordon Carr’s book, but I don’t have the money, resources or inclination to be a mass market publisher. If someone is prepared to finance a trade paperback I’d certainly discuss it with them. In fact, I’m currently writing a one-volume version of my ‘memoirs’ (My Granny Made Me An Anarchist) for Simon and Schuster, which is due for publication in September/October this year. This also covers the years 1967 to 1975, which includes, among other things, the Angry Brigade and its context. It certainly doesn’t romanticise the Angry Brigade, but it does try to put it into a political perspective.
Incidentally, I am also currently working on a documentary on the background to the Spanish Civil War and Revolution. It’s called Red Years, Black Years and covers the history of the Second Republic (1931-1936); the history of the Spanish anarchist and labour movement; the employers’ hit squads of the 1920s; the military uprising of July 1936; the CNT’s put-down of that uprising in Catalonia, Aragon, the Levante and Castille and the subsequent social revolution between 1936 and 1937; the Stalinist repression and the collapse of the Republic; the role of the Spanish anarchists in the Allied escape networks from Nazi-occupied France, their role in the Resistance and the Liberation of France; the post-war Franco-ist repression and the mass murders of 1939 to the late 1940s which have only been talked about openly over the past two years. It’s in the early stages at the moment, but we’ll only be able to finish it if we get a commission from a TV channel or a grant from someone.
3AM: On a stylistic note, you use pictures within the text in all of your books…
SC: The reason for juxtaposing pictures (and poetry, quotes and songs) with the relevant text is to try to give a documentary feel to the books. They help bring the people, objects and situations described, to life.
3AM: You describe your birth era as that of the baby-boomers brought into the world during an era of Keynesian consensus — what effect did this have on your later life and convictions?
SC: When I was old enough to understand at least a little of what was going on in the world, that is between the ages of 15 to 17, I joined the Labour Party Young Socialists. Being exposed to the machinations and power struggles within the Glasgow Labour Party had the effect of turning me against the Party, and stimulating my libertarian instincts. I soon realised that the strong sense of idealism, justice and fairness that had led me to socialism and which I had confused with the Labour Party, as exemplified by Clause 4 of its Constitution*, was being exploited for crass local political power plays: electoral canvassing, party-building, office-grabbing and contending sectarian power agendas. The bottom line was that there was no difference between the parties. Parliamentary politics was all about ruling elites trying to acquire or hang on to power. So, you can see, the Labour Party was not for the likes of me. I then became more deeply involved in the libertarian socialist group, Solidarity, and the direct-action oriented Scottish Committee of 100, and from there to my natural political home, anarchism.F
[*“To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their Industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”]
3AM: Similarly, could you say something about the “secular Calvinism” which you claimed as an influence?
SC: Although I was an atheist, I suppose my Presbyterian upbringing helped inasmuch as it was rooted in the principles of popular sovereignty, the perfectibility of man, and the belief that it was neither safe nor right to act against one’s conscience.
3AM: Can you say a few words about your involvement in the Committee of 100?
SC: I became involved fairly early on in the campaign to stop US Polaris missiles being based in the Holy Loch. It was a very serious development having the US Polaris submarine fleet based in the Holy Loch. It effectively turned Glasgow into ground zero for any Soviet pre-emptive nuclear missile strike. There was also a strong sense of anti-American feeling at the time, particularly as a result of the aggressive imperialist policies of the Kennedy administration. I’m thinking in particular of the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961. In spite of Castro’s authoritarian Marxist regime, Cuba was a revolutionary beacon in those years, and it was the only country to have the bollocks to stand up to America.
Anyway, my libertarian instincts had begun to develop around this period and I quickly became disenchanted with the passive celebrity-and-politician-dominated CND, especially its obsession with influencing the Labour Party. It was for this reason I became involved with the more libertarian and action-oriented Scottish Committee of 100 soon after it was set up in Glasgow, and was involved in most of the demonstrations, almost from the time the submarines arrived.
I was never really into civil disobedience and sit-downs. That part of the Committee of 100 never really took off in Glasgow, certainly with my generation, although there were lots of fine and brave people who did sit down out of principle and got carted off to jail and paid fines. We became more involved in research and direct action projects such as locating and publicising secret government shelters and military installations around central Scotland… and so on.
One thing led to another, particularly after the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962 which seriously impacted on a lot of my generation, and I began to see a lot more clearly that it wasn’t the weapons themselves that were the problem, it was the states that possessed them and appeared willing to use them for their own strategic geopolitical advantage, no matter what the cost. After the Cuban missile crisis I became a lot more focused on issues from a specifically anarchist perspective.
3AM: How did this fit in with what was going on culturally at the time?
SC: I’m sure our take on politics, society and justice/fairness was part and parcel of everything that was going on at the time. I’m talking about the 1950s and very early 1960s here. It was an apocalyptic world run by shabby and deceitful politicians for their own self-serving ends. The dynamic and enthusiasm for change was in the air. We were remaking society by default. The future was ours. We had moved beyond the instigation and control of the political parties — including the Communist Party. Culturally, you could see it in our dress and hairstyles, the music — skiffle, folk songs and rock’n’roll — television, cinema, and satire. We no longer deferred to authority, that went out with Profumo, Private Eye and That Was The Week That Was. I suppose television had a lot to do with it. It was the most important element in my case inasmuch as it provided me with role models who showed me how the world worked: how to get things done, and how to right wrongs, Zorro, The Lone Ranger… and the subversive Sergeant Bilko among others.
We also saw lots and lots of wonderful old films on TV which we could never have seen at the cinema. Some of these had real transcendental and moving moments of great insight as to how people should — and could — behave. These were people driven by passion and ideas of honour and fairness. There are too many to recall, but I’m thinking in particular of Jimmy Stewart in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life and Leslie Howard in Pimpernel Smith, in which he plays the unassuming Professor Horatio Smith who is in reality a totally committed anti-Nazi (which he was in real life). Howard’s monologue in the final scene in which he confronts the Gestapo chief on a railway platform on the eve of the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 literally made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. In the cinema itself the films which spoke for their time were, in my view: High Noon, The Night of the Hunter, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Wild One, The Blackboard Jungle which introduced Bill Haley and rock’n’roll, Paths of Glory, Twelve Angry Men, The Manchurian Candidate, Dr Strangelove, Seven Days in May — not forgetting, of course Spartacus. Mad Magazine was also influential in lots of ways, particularly in helping wee Glaswegians get our heads around American culture, and seeing that Americans could be sophisticated and self-critical as well as being crass rednecks, megalomaniac right-wingers and imperialists. The Lady Chatterley trial was also quite pivotal in terms of weakening the Establishment’s McCarthyite control over what we could and couldn’t read. The appearance of the Sunday Times Colour Supplement in the early 1960s was also a progressive development I suppose. It opened up a new era in dramatic international photo-journalism which did resonate and contribute to our political awareness.
3AM: What was the impetus for your ‘trip to Spain’ and your involvement in the attempt on General Franco’s life?
SC: The reason I went to Spain in 1964 was directly as a result of the judicial murder the previous August by garrote-vil of two young anarchists, Joaquin Delgado and Francisco Granado, for actions in which they did not participate and which killed no one — the bombing of Franco’s secret police headquarters and the fascist union headquarters. Also, the Spanish Civil War and Revolution played an important part in the political culture and history of the West of Scotland. Lots of people from the area — all over Scotland in fact — had gone to fight fascism in the International Brigades and the militia columns. There was also a strong working-class anarchist tradition around the Scottish industrial belt and the sacrifices and achievements of the social revolution and revolutionaries in Spain between 1936 and 1939 had become the stuff of legend when I was in my formative years. By 1963-1964, Franco was at it again. The repression was worsening, trade unionists were being arrested, brutalised, tortured, imprisoned and in some cases shot and murdered. None of the European democracies were doing anything and we didn’t have the Bush-Blair doctrine of pre-emptive invasion in place. So, like George Orwell in 1936, because at that time, in that atmosphere, it was the only honourable thing to do.
3AM: Why do you think the likes of Bertrand Russell campaigned for your release?
SC: The Franco regime was detested across the political spectrum, except of course by the US Administration, the far right and the traditional and fundamentalist elements within the Catholic Church. My arrest and conviction by a Francoist drumhead court martial was seen by many as the latest development in the Spanish Civil War, or as a reminder that the last of the Axis dictators was still among us. It was unfinished business. I had a lot of support from all sorts of people, mostly ordinary people, who saw what I had done in terms of the struggle against fascism and injustice. But I also had support from European intellectuals such as Jean Paul Sartre and, as you say, Bertrand Russell, even though he was a committed pacifist. Russell had been closely involved with various international anarchist movements throughout his life and many of his best friends were anarchists, even though I’m not sure he would have described himself as one. But his works, as they say had the ‘tendency’. Also, Russell was a great campaigner for ‘just’ causes and he certainly wasn’t exclusive when it came to people like me being arrested with explosives. Remember, he had supported imprisoned anarchists from the time of the Bolshevik repression in Russia, through to the justice for Sacco and Vanzetti campaign, and had also written in support of a British visa for Emma Goldman. None of these people were pacifists.
Also, I had been involved with the Committee of 100 so that might have had something to do with it as well. Personally, I think it was because anti-Francoism was the last great cause of the time.
3AM: A relatively short time after your incarceration in Spain, once again you were accused of terrorist activities. Did you feel your previous conviction would prejudice the Angry Brigade case?
SC: It was three years between my release from a Francoist jail and my arrest under the right-wing Conservative government of Edward Heath. The reason I was arrested was because the Special Branch, the British political police, had my card marked as a ‘likely candidate’ in the Angry Brigade investigation: I had the knowledge, the experience and the connections, ipso facto I was in the frame. The fact that I turned up at the house where the four main suspects had been living — the day after their arrest — also helped. The police and the prosecution hoped that my previous conviction in Spain would clinch their case for them, but the jury thought otherwise. In fact I think it had the opposite effect and probably helped the jury find in my favour. They heard lots of evidence as to the degree of surveillance and harassment I had been subjected to since my return from Spain. Detective Superintendent Habershon, the officer leading the Angry Brigade investigation had turned it into a vendetta almost, something which the jury picked up on — and they acquitted me on all charges, including possession of two detonators which the police had planted in my car. The positive and important thing that came out of the Angry Brigade case in my view, was — apart from the trial providing us, the defendants, with a public platform — the fact that the jury system shone out as the last defender of justice over law. Once the jury goes, we all go…
3AM: Do you view the Angry Brigade as a specifically British political response to life at that time or as having some form of correlation with the more infamous European groupings?
SC: No. I don’t believe that the Angry Brigade reflected any national characteristic distinct from any other at the time. Remember — apart from the First of May Group, which had a long history of clandestine activity rooted in the anti-Francoist Resistance — all the other groups begin to appear in 1969, such as the Tupamaros West Berlin, or in 1970 — the 2 June Group, the Red Army Fraction, the Weather Underground, the Red Brigades, the Partisan Action Group — and the Angry Brigade. They all grow out of the aftermath of May 1968, state repression, discontent with the poor moral and ethical quality of people’s lives, but probably mainly in response to a widespread perception of incipient class war, all aggravated by Nixon’s escalation of the Vietnam war and the invasion of Cambodia. I’m sure none of the people in the groups started out with the intention of killing or injuring innocent people, certainly not in the case of the Angry Brigade.
The same applied with the First of May Group. Their members did not get involved in any criminal actions, such as bank robberies. They came together to do whatever they had to do — which did not involve killing or injuring people — and then went back to their everyday jobs, until the next time. The problems for groups such as 2 June, the Red Army Fraction, the Red Brigades and so on began with the descent into clandestinity as a result of shoot-outs in botched bank jobs or deaths as a result of bombings, accidental probably at first. But these things have a dynamic of their own.
In clandestinity the activists become removed from the idealism and reality which motivated them in the first place, and what started out as gestural means towards ends become ends in themselves. Then the inexorable spiral into criminality begins. In the case of the Red Brigades, I am convinced they were infiltrated very early on — probably around 1974/1975 — by one or more of the Italian intelligence service at the behest of the Americans. The murder of Aldo Moro for example, in May 1978 was one of the maddest, stupidest criminal acts which served only the Italian right and the Americans.
Fortunately, the Angry Brigade didn’t go the same way, not because they were British but because they kept a firm grip on reality. Also, they had luck on their side and they didn’t go out tooled up.
3AM: How do you feel about the whole terror chic/Prada Meinhof phenomenon?
SC: They’re having a laugh, aren’t they? I suppose it’s being going on at least since that iconic Christ-like image of Che Guevara began appearing on T-shirts and posters in the 1960s. It’s what the Situationists called ‘recuperation’. All I can say is I haven’t seen my photo on any T-shirts recently. But then again, maybe my books are part of this process. Mind you, they are too big to stick in the back pocket of designer jeans.
3AM: In that light, how do you view the political situation 30 years on?
SC: Well, all I can say is that we couldn’t know then what we could only know today. Things that appeared possible 30 years ago — and the way to achieve those ends — wouldn’t work today. Times change, as do tactics and strategies. The currency of that particular form of gestural protest has been debased since the mid-1970s with the murderous campaigns targeting innocent bystanders run by the IRA and ETA, culminating in the crusade-like slaughters of 11 September and the recent Madrid train-bombings. The philosophy and attitude of these guys is exactly the same as Franco’s old Foreign Legion commander, General Millan Astray whose constant watchword was “Viva la muerte!” [“Long live death!”]. His most famous outburst came after listening to a wonderfully brave speech to the great and the good of the new Franco regime delivered by Miguel de Unamuno, Spain’s leading intellectual in 1936:
“I have always, whatever the proverb may say, been a prophet in my own land. You will win, but you will not convince. You will win, because you possess more than enough brute force, but you will not convince, because to convince means to persuade. And in order to persuade you would need what you lack — reason and right in the struggle. I consider it futile to exhort you to think of Spain. I have finished.”
When Unamuno sat down Millan Astray rose to his feet and shouted “Muera la inteligencia!” [“Death to intelligence!”].
Their objective is to spread terror among the wider population through a strategy of tension by the random slaughter of innocent bystanders. These people don’t even pretend to target the individual political-military-industrial leaders. But the good thing is that new forms of anti-capitalist protest have emerged, and these are constantly being developed and adapting to the changing situation. The new kids on the block are finding more imaginative and exemplary ways to make the bad guys uncomfortable than blowing them, or their houses, up.
Christie has an extensive bibliography (See: The Kate Sharpley Library), a great deal of which is available online. Christie’s Building Utopia: The Spanish Revolution 1936-1937, We, the anarchists! A study of the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) 1927-1937 and The floodgates of anarchy are available at the libcom.org website. The website Christie Books is an exceptionally rich archive of written material and film dedicated to anarchism.
Angry Brigade and Persons Unknown documentaries
Two documentaries on anarchist activism (and trials) in the seventies and eighties. Both were made by Gordon Carr, the first was the basis of his book on the Angry Brigade. Contains archive footage of events varying from Miguel Garcia to snippets of a Crass gig in 1980. With introductions by Stuart Christie.
The Angry Brigade (1974 – Gordon Carr)
Between 1970 and 1972 the Angry Brigade used guns and bombs in a series of symbolic attacks against property. A series of communiqués accompanied the actions, explaining the choice of targets and the Angry Brigade philosophy: autonomous organisation and attacks on property alongside other forms of militant working class action. Targets included the embassies of repressive regimes, police stations and army barracks, boutiques and factories, government departments and the homes of Cabinet ministers, the Attorney General and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. These attacks on the homes of senior political figures increased the pressure for results and brought an avalanche of police raids. From the start the police were faced with the difficulty of getting to grips with a section of society they found totally alien. And were they facing an organisation — or an idea? Gordon Carr’s film explores covers the roots of the Angry Brigade in the revolutionary ferment of the 1960’s and the anarchist First of May Group, and follows their campaign and the police investigation to its culmination in the ‘Stoke Newington 8’ conspiracy trial at the Old Bailey — the longest criminal trial in British legal history. It remains the essential study of Britain’s first urban guerrilla group.
Persons Unknown (1980 – Gordon Carr)
Documentary by Gordon Carr on the so-called ‘Persons Unknown’ case in December 1979 in which members of the Anarchist Black Cross were tried at the Old Bailey on a charge of ‘conspiring with persons unknown, at places unknown to cause explosions’. A concise look at the ‘Persons Unknown’ trial. A fascinating snapshot of history in the making, The Persons Unknown pieces together an intricate web of radicals at a thriller’s pace. Carr crisply relates the correspondences of a Black Cross secretary and imprisoned Irish republican and reaches all the way back to the Paris Commune to discuss the secretive, internationalist elements of radical leftist politics. Where mainstream media tends to become hysterical where anarchism is concerned, The Persons Unknown remains keenly factual throughout. Among those featured in the film are Stuart Christie, publisher of the “Black Flag” newsletter and former would-be Generalisimo Francisco Franco assassin, and the anarcho-punk group Crass.
Stuart Christie of Glasgow, by Ryan Harvey