by John Barker
I only got to know Stuart Christie in A Wing HMP Brixton, the Victorian prison on Jebb Avenue in 1971-2. We were both on remand for the same conspiracy rap and there his name, what he had done to try and kill the fascist dictator Franco, gave him instant respect in the jail, something the others of us had to earn over time. He had been at that time working as a gas fitter and had a history of work whereas I was an ex-University person with little of the nous that Stuart had. I’ve written a little about this time but just to give a brief impression, while outside there was working class confidence and hedonism in the jail screws were ex-army and the Governors at various levels ex-colonial police or military. Something had to give and Stuart’s rep and wise thinking enabled us to be part of forcing change to the benefit of cons especially in the matter of Visits with a wave of sit-downs
As a teenager I’d read a lot about the Spanish Civil War, knew a girl whose dad was an anarchist refugee from it and not just heroized Durrutti but believed here was a case of an individual who could have changed the course of the war had he not been killed. But I was not an anarchist and even though we shared a belief in active resistance to the fascisms evident in Spain and Italy- a time when in both states comrades were being excecuted by the state officially or unofficiall -, we argued over theory and history. I couldn’t stomach Bakunin and he Marx but when it came to the politics of the prison we acted as one. And something else, the great thing about Stuart as comrade and friend is that he was always cheerful and ready to make things both happen, and to work. Even when in later life he had a lot less luck with a hip replacement than I, he was saving and expanding the wonderful film library – big Respect to Colin also – he created at Christie Books and full of support and suggestions about self-publishing and ebooks. He and Brenda had worked hard and mastered all the technologies needed to make radical publishing work.
It was the same in our six month long trial when things could have gone badly wrong for him, a Grade A mis carriage of justice , he was the one who could find a lightness of tone needed while Brenda saved us a lot of grief one way or another by working long nights to produce our own transcripts of the trial. This unforced cheerful can-do nature mattered and matters. It is not from a blindness to the horrors of the capitalist world and its supporting states but sat and sits with the real anger he felt and without which there is going to be no transformation for the good. With Stuart there was never any need to say, Don’t Let The Bastards Grind You Down. In recent years on social media he put himself on the line in asserting the rights of Palestinians and showing the systematic nature of Israel’s settler colonialist dynamics and leading role on the technologies of repression.
What with one thing and another I didn’t see much of him for some years though I did what I could for the international anarchist prisoner support group the Black Cross which Stuart had made both active and effective. Then, having been out of the game again for a while and after a decade of being fucked about with the manuscript of my own prison ’memoir’, Stuart tired of prison reform literature said Lets just do it. And then some years later at the time of the US-UK invasion of Iraq in 2003 he published a very different work, “Frankenstein and the Chickenhawks” on Christie Books. I remain grateful for the space and time he gave me. In these years too we both participated in work by the artist Duncan Pickstock. One involved doing a mock version of Desert Island Discs. What music we chose separately was very different and Stuart had a wide knowledge of Scottish music and culture, folk and comedy I was completely ignorant of but in the course of the recording, one of my choices being Georgie Fame’s “In the Meantime”, we found out we’d both knocked about in the Pink Flamingo in Wardour Street, one of the few all-nighters around 1966-7 and where Georgie played Hammond organ.
That ‘knowledge’ of Stuart was a wide and rich culture of music, books and film that was always just popping up at the right moment when we talked which a lot of the time was on the phone in recent years. I last saw him early this year before the lockdown in London. We gave a quick-run down of our aches and pains but nothing sounded serious and then went to Mayday Rooms which he had never visited but to which he had given books. The Statewatch office there was open and though he had little time Stuart was both impressed and thought of spots where if he dug around at home he might find something to add.
We talked too of the dragged out business of his moving house which had been in his mind since the death of Brenda last year and to be close to his daughter and grandchildren and should have been completed. His illness and death was sudden, leaving little time to enjoy the move. I miss him and shall miss him and his final Toodleoo at the end of a phone call. I hope too that he by his life makes clear that it is not some ‘natural course of things’ that one loses one’s youthful revolutionary commitment, rather that as in his case he was constantly finding new ways to express it.