09 The Iberian Liberation Council; How the Thames Was Lost

Submitted by Juan Conatz on January 5, 2011

The Iberian Liberation Council

In one of many visits to Spain prior to the death of the dictator, talking with old friends of the Resistance about how our mutual affairs were going, I was pessimistic about the British scene. I told Melchita sadly, “There’ll never be another Billy Campbell”. Events proved me wrong.

There were many in the younger generation of Spanish exiles, sons and daughters of the first wave of the emigration, who were taking a hard look at the facts of the Resistance. As there was an inrooted determination not to split the Spanish movement, the FIJL (Libertarian Youth), which had always had an independent existence within the CNT-FAI, preserved itself as a separate body into resistance until its militants were in their fifties and even over. In 1965 the FIJL broke with the MLE because of the refusal of the National Committee, under Montseny’s influence, to implement the decisions on clandestine struggle agreed on in 1961. They lined up with the Iberian Liberation Council (CIL), at that time with an assortment of nationalities.

Once Gomez was reproached by some followers of the Montseny line in London for having ‘compromised’ them by some action, and he was asked rhetorically what they could say if the police raided their premises. I intervened to say from my knowledge of the British police, there was a simple answer which would well satisfy them. Asked eagerly what it was, I said logically, “Say you were loyal in the Civil War. They can hardly say you should have been traitors. However, explain you now accept General Franco as Head of State”. There was an indignant protest at my ‘English sense of humour’ but the activist faction appreciated the irony.

I did not know then how the FIJL had affected some of the new wave of members of the SWF and linked them with Spanish youth in France, such as Pascual Santz, whom I knew was inspiring growing determination for the Iberian Liberation Council. The international secretary of the SWF, Margaret Hart, put some people in contact with the FIJL. One or two of them were only dabbling in politics but one, Stuart Christie, was in earnest. He had made the journey at the age of eighteen from Orange Lodge politics in Glasgow through the Labour Party Young Socialists and the Scottish Committee of 100 to Anarchism, eventually contacting the Iberian Liberation Council in 1963.

I saw him first at a concert held for Spanish prisoners at the Pindar of Wakefield, which was just opposite my bookshop, but as was my usual fate at such gatherings, my attention was claimed by a dozen or so old acquaintances.

Next day Stuart was one of several Young Anarchists invited to speak on a Malcolm Muggeridge TV programme, Let Me Speak. Muggeridge was dreading it, but the League of Empire Loyalists (a precursor of the National Front) had been given a similar programme and this was to balance it. Objecting to his questions, the fascists had afterwards daubed his house with swastikas, and if this was what the law-and-order people would do, the idea of what the dreaded anarchists might do next filled him with apprehension. They not unnaturally came as an agreeable surprise especially as the definition had been taken as broad enough to include a Catholic liberal-pacifist.

Muggeridge, going to the other extreme as people of his background generally do, asked if Anarchism wasn’t really just extreme non-violence. For him, like many academics and journalists, it had to be one extreme of nonsense or the other. On Stuart dissenting, “St. Mugg” asked him if he would actually kill someone — like General Franco, for instance — if he had the chance. Stuart said “Yes” — what could he say? — but he was off to Spain that day on that very mission, and when the programme was about to be shown he had been arrested in Madrid charged with being involved in a plot to kill General Franco. Muggeridge hastily had Stuart’s word deleted and Stuart appeared to British viewers merely opening and closing his mouth in reply.

Charged in Madrid with banditry and terrorism (the details are in his book The Christie File, and also in Miguel Garcia’s Franco’s Prisoner), he faced a court-martial which had a number of far-reaching consequences. It was an embarrassment to the Spanish Government which, with most of the Catholic restrictions on beach morality overcome and the Civil Guards less trigger-happy now Sabater and Facerias were dead, was just opening up to tourism in a big way. Now foreigners seemed to be suggesting an innocent young man was being framed and no-one could feel safe in such a country.

How unfair, just when their period of genocide was over and superb public relations policy had caused it to pass unremarked! Yet they could hardly not sentence him, and so declare open season for anyone to smuggle in explosives to send the dictator sky high. He got twenty years.

According to the press, Stuart had gone into Spain wearing a Scottish kilt (one Argentine paper misunderstood the reference to a ‘falda escosesa’ and said he was dressed as a woman!) The truth was he had a kilt in his rucksack, but the police already knew of his mission and had their eye on him from the start, and the kilt proved a good excuse for their suspicions of a hitchhiker. It is typical of the laid-back approach of the Resistance to such matters that they let the attempted removal of the dictator, murderer of millions, be left to a hitchhiker. The significance of the kilt was that it makes it easier to get a lift in France, as Scots are more popular than English, or at least have the same claim to popularity without the imperial hang-up. It has no such relevance in Spain.

It has been observed by those hostile to the Resistance that all their half-dozen attempts against Franco (and one against Franco and Hitler together) were ‘amateur’. But they were, for better or worse, amateurs, not professional assassins, which it seems their critics would have preferred. The Iberian Liberation Council had put off or sidetracked many half-baked youngsters from volunteering for daring missions. They knew Stuart to be of a different mettle.

Though Pascual was, I think, co-ordinating the resistance, Octavio Alberola, who returned from Mexico in 1961 and was living in Brussels, was then considered Public Enemy No. 1 by the Franco regime. It was after meeting him that French, Italian, Argentine and now British volunteers had gone to Spain to aid attempts to reform the dictatorship in the one way possible. In Christie’s case he was to contact Carballo and deliver the goods, but was arrested at the pick-up point.

I personally first learned of the case through the press, never reliable in cases like this, but confirmed it through Paris. ‘La inglesa’ lobbied the British Consulate inside Spain, which went through the usual motions, and the ‘pro-prisoners’ section of the Spanish Libertarian Movement took up the case for Christie and Carballo. In London, the SWF and others formed the Christie-Carballo Committee. I did not join because it included liberal fellow-travellers, who were afterwards very upset when they found he actually was guilty, and not an unjustly-accused pacifist.

However I chased around all the ‘names’ I could, feeling as ever in such cases if one had to eat mud one might as well make a meal of it. I can only record, without comment, that the rebuffs and slights I got in this, as in the later Angry Brigade defence, were from liberal-minded politicos and reformist trade union officials. On the other hand, eminent Church of England churchmen I contacted were invariably polite, at least to the extent of offering sherry and biscuits and promising to look into the matter, afterwards assuring me that I was mistaken and they feared the young man was guilty, as if that had anything to do with it.

It was good copy for the British press and they elevated Stuart to five minutes of fame as the unlucky Innocent Abroad. It was bad all-round publicity for the tourist industry of the Franco regime and triggered off slackening interest in its misdeeds. So far as the anarchist movement was concerned it was historic. It brought Christie into contact with anarchist prisoners like Juan Busquets, Miguel Garcia, and Luis Edo and awakened international co-operation. People started sending him food parcels, which he shared among his colleagues, which had a knock-on effect. It gave me an idea nobody had suggested before. We could get food parcels sent into Spanish prisons, alleviating need. The contact with resistance fighters also had the effect of encouraging resistance abroad, and not only to Franco.

Most countries have a sort of state-socialism in prison — you work as ordered and get what is allowed — families outside look after themselves as they can, or in some countries are looked after by the State. In Spain they had free-market type jails (it has changed only slightly). Prisoners worked for contractors in a semi-privatised jail system. They spent their wages on themselves or sent money to their families outside. The families starved unless they worked themselves. As a punishment, work was denied and the prisoner could only do cleaning type jobs for bare rations, thus being unable to contribute to family support and indeed being dependent on them. Hence the perennial interest in prisoners welfare by the Spanish libertarian movement.

The idea of sending postal orders or food parcels to prisoners serving a sentence was strange, but once it was found to be acceptable to the authorities, we got a lot of people doing it. I certainly did not realise how many until after Franco’s death, when people spoke more freely and dozens of Spaniards, not just in Resistance circles, told me about it. Miguel Garcia later jokingly complained I was guilty of the introduction of Tetley’s tea bags to Spain, since most included this handy item. If this be true, and I have never had a thank-you from the Tetley firm, I can only plead the cultivated wine palate of the Spanish never stopped Captain Morgan’s rum from getting off the ground (with Coca Cola it’s called ‘Cuba libre’). Miguel himself later became an aficionado of Guinness.

To add to the unwelcome publicity forced on Franco, there were also a series of attacks on Spanish official institutions, including one on the London Embassy. When attacks extended to American institutions as well they decided to throw in the towel. They did not release Carballo, a Spaniard charged with the same offence, as the official reason was a plea from Stuart’s mother. This was regarded cynically by anti-fascists, since not only were pleas by Spanish mothers, even against the death sentence, for their sons and daughters disregarded, but in the earlier post-civil-war days had led to their own imprisonment if they made their pleas at a police or Civil Guard barracks. If unwise enough to plead directly with the Falange, who probably made the charge, they faced having their heads shaved, given a liberal dose of castor oil, and being forced to run down the street with bullets dancing at their feet.

The British press made the most of the dictator’s clemency, and the Spanish press, which at least had an excuse for grovelling to the Caudillo, said exultantly that ‘England’ had sent a terrorist and Spain had returned a good citizen, a premature assumption from their point of view in the light of what was to come.

Stuart’s case was being handled by a British solicitor, Benedict Birnberg, and he flew out to Madrid with Mrs Christie. The Glasgow Daily Express were on board and they persuaded her with celebratory drinks to get her son to grant them an ‘exclusive’, since all the papers were clamouring for the story as to how he had abjured ‘terrorism’ and become a good citizen. They would pre-empt his acceptance by transferring him from the incoming plane to another Glasgow-bound. Mr Birnberg remained silent, and when they got to Madrid told Stuart what the Sunday Express were planning. Stuart telephoned a friend in London who told us, perhaps too strongly, the Express were planning to kidnap him at Heathrow and whisk him to Glasgow.

About half-a-dozen activists went to the airport to meet him. In the arrival lounge were dozens of reporters whom we thought were the Express, while they thought we were. But the Express team was on the tarmac waiting to take him to the Glasgow-bound plane, threatening a ‘dirty story’ if he didn’t acquiesce. He pushed them aside (the BBC News said ‘he pushed the Anarchists waiting to meet him aside’) and came out at the arrival lounge, when we surrounded him. There was a punch up with the press.

As cameras went flying I heard the plaintive cry “How dare the Express behave in this manner to fellow-journalists?” The Daily Mirror team had a private punch up with a group of French hippies who were waiting for another flight and thought a VIP had arrived. The Mirror knew Stuart had turned down their rivals and assumed from their own slanted perceptions the hippies must be the anarchists.

As we piled into a couple of taxis a plaintive woman reporter added the final touch of comedy by banging on the cab door and calling, “Let me in, I’m not a journalist, I’m in the Anarchist Party too”, getting her shibboleths in a twist.

Later that evening while we were celebrating, an ‘exclusive’ deal was struck with the People, who agreed not to do a ‘repentance’ story. Instead they concocted a bizarre one of their own. Meanwhile the Glasgow Sunday Express did their dirty story of ‘Sobbing granny waits in vain’. Unluckily for them, the truth about that story came out in a leaflet in their own paper inserted by their own distributive workers, a flagrant example of interference with the sacred rights of the freedom of the press.

The rest of the media made up their own stories and could not help but bring up everything they could think of to suggest the anarchists were discountenanced. None of them imagined for a moment that what had happened was that a young enthusiast had gone out and the dictatorship had sent back a revolutionary hardened in discussions with the best of the Resistance. Miguel Garcia commented later that in this young Scot, the British people had sent a worthier Ambassador than their government usually did. I was more pleased with the fact that we had got back another Wilson Campbell.

How the Thames Was Lost

It was during the Christie-Carballo campaign that Ted Kavanagh, an Australian Anarchist who worked for a time in my bookshop, had the idea that we could do something else with the grouping at our disposal. The dockers strike afforded an ideal opportunity to do something to help the strike and perhaps to advance anarcho-syndicalism. We started a strike sheet Ludd (1967), a daily paper no less! With recollections of The Syndcalist, we made sure that Freedom didn’t print it, and it was run off on the Gestelith I had. Bill Christopher and Pete Turner, from Freedom, participated as well as people from the SWF and other anarchist and councillist groupings. The main inspiration was Joe Thomas, a print union militant who became a long-time friend. The paper was typeset and laid out in the early evenings, rushed off on my offset press, and Albert Grace, ‘Digger’ Walsh and others were handing it around the docks in the early morning. It was free, with a run of some thousand and was subsidised by printing greetings cards (reproductions of Tenniell as an alternative to Father Christmas) and ephemera on the same machine, largely thanks to Anna Blume. Though the daily distribution could not be sustained more than a month, it marked a major revival in what could at last be called anarcho-syndicalist activism.

Twenty-five years later, Woodcock in his Penguin Anarchism thought the daily Ludd was still appearing, but of course not a patch on Freedom then coming out monthly with all of a few hundred copies. ‘Research’ often means looking up dated reference books, and passing it off as knowledge.

It was the association of Ludd with the dockers that brought me, with others, into the bitter resistance of dockers and lightermen against their being thrown on the scrapheap. It was broken by a faction fight, contrived by people who spoke about us being outside the industry when they were outside the class, or as Albert Grace put it, “outside bleeding humanity altogether”. By dividing it broke down resistance to the closure of the entire industry. The lightermen were marginalised, then the dockers whose struggles had gone on for years. The once-flourishing London Docks became a wilderness and its only use for years was for film makers needing bombsites.

We did our best to support the fight and help our colleagues establish unity. Joe Thomas and “Digger” Walsh, an anarcho-syndicalist, knew the background much more than I did. One of the organisers who was the first to be isolated and out-manouevred by both the Trade Union bureaucracy and the Dock Labour Board, was Sid Senior.

Internal contacts in the offices of the Dock Labour Board told us disturbingly of official reports coming in from one John William Walsh, which was the name of our friend “Digger”. We did not believe it. However Sid Senior, we found, was under some illusion that the Liberal Party might help him in his struggle against Labour bureaucracy, and an associate of his wrote to the leader of the Liberal Party on his behalf. It was then engaged in trying to establish its liberal credentials against the Labour Government. It may be the Party staff was full of well-intentioned ladies and gentlemen who had never done any work in their lives, and could not be blamed for putting things in the wrong envelopes, but at all events Sid Senior got back a copy with a note saying, “Dear Mr Walsh: Can you let us have your usual report on this matter?” signed by the Leader.

A frantic JW Walsh, but not our JW Walsh, turned up at my bookshop, the address given by the sender, to reclaim it. The envelope he received contained a note to say the matter was being investigated. He proved to be a so-called “Catholic Anarchist” who had hung around dockers’ and lightermen’s meetings, sending in reports to the Liberal Party. They in turn, like other responsible parties, kept Special Branch informed.

At least some learned the lesson that the Liberal Party was no more to be trusted than any other. The last Liberal Government was the most undemocratic this century, with more admittedly political prisoners than any other, with a record lack of civil rights including the torture of women political prisoners, as well as using the military for police duties, bringing warships into ports to crush strikes, and finally plunging into world war. Liberals need more than adding that much-abused word ‘Democrat’ to their name to change their ways.