In the domain of revolutionary action and practice, the year of 1966 did not look very promising for the Spanish anarchists. And although the paralysis of the activist line was the CNT's responsibility, in practice it was the FIJL that felt the consequences of this prolonged paralysis most strongly. Organizational passivity continued to gain ground, and to an increasing extent fell into a vicious circle: "a lack of means equals paralysis; paralysis equals a reduction of means. The CNT had returned to its bureaucratic routines: assemblies, meetings, festivals, Congresses, etc. The FIJL, on the other hand, had to face not only illegality both inside and outside Spain, but as a result of its position of struggle, it could not accept or permit the paralysis of the activist line to go on. Also, conscious of the serious situation created in the interior by support for the status quo in exile and the continuation of "negociations" between Madrid cenetistas and Falangists, which served as a pretext for the enemies of anarchism to feed their smear campaign against the libertarian movement in general, the FIJL was in a hurry to react. All the more so when faced with the prospect of a "real" liberalization of the regime and despite popular discontent, the general tendency of the classical anti-Francoist opposition turned once again to conformism and the negation of any radical form of struggle. In these conditions, the FIJL considered they could wait no longer:
"(...) We think that the supreme objectives of the "tolerated opposition", aided by the "classical opposition", limited to the mere demand for "trade union freedom" and the "right to strike" must be added to by a more general, more concrete, more urgent and more positive demand: freedom for all political prisoners ... it is a matter, then, of making public opinion sensitive to the prisoners' situation to the utmost -- in this first phase. This campaign will undoubtedly serve, afterwards, to stimulate and develop all of the other forms of struggle against Iberian fascism (...)1.
As a result of the decisions of the latest Congress, which had decided in favour of "the autonomy of the action groups", the Commission of Relations proceeded with several of them to set up the "second phase". It consisted of adjusting the activist strategy of the FIJL, based on more precise points and with a more internationalist projection, by attacking the regime -- with international scandal -- at its weakest point: its demagogic "liberalization". At the same time, in Spain, this objective would be accentuated by publicly denouncing the group of Madrid cenetistas who were having a dialog with the leaders of vertical Syndicalism.
On April 6, the French daily Le Monde announced that Luis A. Edo, Secretary of the Local Federation of the CNT in Paris, had declared in a clandestine press conference held in Madrid on April 5 that "the Spanish libertarian movement energetically condemns the negociations between the leaders of vertical Syndicalism and a group of cenetistas."
It was only on April 18 that the director of Pueblo (the organ of the Falangist syndicates) spoke "without beating about the bush" and in public for the first time on the subject:
"(...) The possibility that a group of senior members of the National Confederation of Labour could have a positive discussion with the leaders of the Syndical Organization provoked the die-hard nuclei of the frenzied anti-regime enterprise (...) Nevertheless, if these conversations, or others, could be positive, agreeable or effective, nothing could be more politically beneficial, with the sincere intention of making peace and contributing to the greatness of Spain (...)"
The publication of this article stirred up lengthly commentaries in the Francoist press.
On Tuesday the 19th, the Barcelona evening paper Télé-Expres -- controlled by Opus Dei -- published an account on the front page by its Madrid correspondent Gerardo G. Martin, in which, once the news had been commented on, he complained that there had been such a delay in informing the public about these conversations, and, feigning incomprehension, asked a few questions:
"(...) But did they converse or didn't they? This is what the man in the street wonders when faced with that sentence, buried in a commentary on another theme (...) If Syndical Organization-CNT discussions took place, the right thing to do if this was the case would be, as soon as it took place, bring it to the notice of all Spaniards."
Starting on Wednesday the 20th, the commentaries multiplied throughout the national press as a result of long communiques sent by the Logos and Fiel Agencies. The relative objectivity of the news and the absence of severe criticism, so typical of the Francoist dialectic, allowed one to suppose a direct intervention by the Ministry of Information, proving that the Regime was very pleased by these contacts. The "conclusions" of the "negociators" were: "opposition to trade-union pluralism, independence with regard to the State and the employers' organizations, the right to strike ("to the extent that the structures of contemporary society permit anti-social abuse") and "maintenance of the administration of the entities included in the domain of the mutualism of labour."2.
Edo's denunciation aborted the manoeuvre. The old tactic of dismantling or absorbing what was most revolutionary in the CNT was unmasked once again. Thus, the FIJL could feel completely satisfied. All of the militants in Spain (except the four renegades) and those in exile (except the bureaucrats of the SI) identified with the denunciation by Edo, who, at the same time, had given prominence to the passive attitude of official cenetismo in exile.
On April 30, the evening newspapers of Rome announced "the mysterious disappearance of Monsignor Ussia, the Spanish embassy's ecclesiastic councillor to the Holy See." The following morning, the news was commented on in the international press, radio and television. Until that night, the bewilderment was total. People speculated on whether he had been a victim of amnesia, or whether he had disappeared for a night of "dolce vita", or whether he had been attacked by a fantastic rival ...
But on May 1, in declarations made to Agence France-Presse in Madrid, Luis A. Edo claimed the action. The communique confirmed that the Spanish prelate had been abducted by an anarchist commando, which demanded in return the release of all political prisoners held in Francoist prisons. On Monday, May 2, Edo's declarations were published on the front page of the international news organs. On Tuesday the 3rd, the news appeared again on the front page, after confirmation of Edo's declarations in a letter sent by a Spanish anarchist group, which signed itself the First of May Group (Sacco and Vanzetti), to the director of the newspaper Avanti.
"(...) We are a group of Spanish anarchists. We were forced to use this form of action in order that the Spanish ambassador to the Holy See would send a petition to the Pope, so that the latter could in turn publicly solicit the government of General Franco for freedom for all Spanish democrats serving various sentences in Francoist prisons (...)"
The Spanish press had to admit the publicity-related success of the First of May Group's action:
"(...) In this (propagandistic) sense, the operation succeeded, because the declarations of the cenetista Edo and the letter sent by a group of Spanish anarchists to the director of the socialist paper Avanti in Rome had what could be called a worldwide echo; yet everyone already knew through the press what were or are the aims of the authors of the abduction (...)"(La Vanguardia, May 4, 1966).
On May 3, in matching declarations to the correspondent of the newspaper France-Soir, Edo affirmed:
"(...) Our aim at the start was to unmask, by abducting them, former comrades Royano and Inigo, who usurped the title of the CNT in order to begin conversations with representatives of the Francoist regime's syndicates (...)"
Speaking for himself, the correspondent of the above-mentioned newspaper added:
"(...) Since yesterday, the police have established a discreet surveillance around Royano and Inigo in order to protect them. They seem to think that anarcho-syndicalists, partisans of the "hard line" represented by Luis Edo, might attempt a new settling of accounts. Moreover, all the ports, airports and borders are being watched to prevent Luis Edo, who is directly associated with the abduction of Mgr. Ussia, from leaving Spain. His capture can only be a few hours away."
Despite all this, and despite the widespread sympathy that this action aroused in anti-fascist circles, and even more among the libertarians, the leaders of the SI of the CNT in exile, Germinal Esgleas and Miguel Celma, condemned the action in a public declaration which the entire press reproduced, particularly the Spanish press:
"(...) We do not know about this affair. If members of the CNT are really the authors of this abduction, they did it without the approval of the Intercontinental Secretariat, and as far as we are concerned, we consider it to be a purely negative operation (...) Actually, at a time when the union of anti-Francoist elements is being achieved in Spain, it is not fitting to take initiatives capable of frustrating the efforts at unification that are appearing in substantial sectors of Spanish public opinion."
Voices of protest and clear reprobation were raised against an attitude as unworthy as this, which forced these leaders to make a semi-correction in an internal bulletin, saying that their declarations had been misinterpreted by the journalists.
On May 5, the press reproduced a new letter sent by the First of May Group to Agence France-Presse in Rome:
"(...) We promise to free Monseigneur Ussia as soon as we have obtained a declaration from the Church in favour of the liberation of political prisoners imprisoned in Spain (...) The objective of our action is to put the Church in a conspicuous position in the face of its conscience and its responsibility in this critical moment for the Spanish people; because after twenty-seven years of fascist dictatorship, democrats who demand a minimum of freedom of expression and association, recognized by the Declaration of the Rights of Man, are still in prison."
Moreover, the May 9 issue of ABC said:
"... Today, in this regard, we must report this afternoon's visit, following the intense contacts of the preceding days, by ambassador Garrigues to the Secretary of State (...) We have also been informed that Paul VI himself has been very interested, from the very start, in the most intimate details concerning the abduction of Monseigneur Ussia (...)"
After the Vatican, in an editorial of l'Osservatore Romano, showed a desire "that Spaniards quickly achieve a peaceful life together" the international press devoted its front pages on Tuesday, May 10 to the news of an immanent liberation of Mgr. Ussia. The First of May Group specified:
"(...) In order to show, on our part, the deep respect we have for freedom -- our own as well as that of others -- we will take the first step and return Monseigneur Ussia to his normal life, hoping that the current Spanish government -- which proclaims it is Christian with such pomposity -- very quickly shows, for its part, its conscience and its willingness to achieve concord by granting freedom to the Spanish democrats who are deprived of it today (...)"
After the prelate's release on May 11, the international press summed up its conclusions on the political and moral value of the event:
"(...) Once the abduction was made public, one could not count on a declaration by the Pope, which, in these circumstances, would have appeared to be obtained by threats. There was nothing left to do but denounce the existing situation in Spain. Which was done." (Le Monde, May 12, 1966).
The action of the First of May Group reactualized the struggle of Spanish anti-fascists against the Francoist dictatorship, winning everyone's sympathy, both for its happy conclusion and the just cause that motivated it. The editorial of the Belgian newspaper Le Peuple, of May 12 (entitled "On Abduction as a Political Act"), properly reflected the meaning and impact of the First of May Group's action:
"The conclusion of the affair of Mgr. Ussia's abduction is not likely to be surprising: the prelate was released after several days of well-organized captivity ... No doubt, the Vatican could not (?) decently give in to the ultimatum of the Spanish anarchists, the authors of the coup, and demand the liberation of political prisoners by the Madrid government.
So, you might say, what is the point of this operation?
This: in the society we live in, public opinion is generally prey to a torpor maintained by the ruling class, its press and its so-called news organs. The worst injustices, even the worst follies, arouse no protest, except from often small minorities. In order to awaken a moment of interest, to attract attention to a situation, there must be a huge "publicity coup" that forces the big press organs to put titles on the front page which, in their opinion, are unjustified by even the most outrageously unjust political and social events (...) It was Fangio's abduction by Cuban revolutionaries, in the decline of the Batista regime. It was the "Santa Maria" affair. It was even more, at the end of this tradition, Mgr. Ussia's abduction (...)"
Among Spanish libertarians -- particularly among those inside Spain, who saw the CNT and anarchism on the front pages of the Francoist press for the first time -- and in international anarchist circles, Luis A. Edo's denunciation and the action of the First of May Group awakened an enormous enthusiasm, which consolidated the current of sympathy and solidarity toward the FIJL. Particularly in Italy and France, the anarchists could confirm the publicity-generated reactualization of their ideas and the spontaneist theses of revolutionary anarchism. In Paris, in addition to interviews made by France-Inter and Europe No.1 with various anonymous cenetistas in exile, there were programs on Radio Luxemburg with Daniel Guérin and Ch.-A. Bontemps, solicited to explain the principal currents of libertarian action. It was not surprising, then, that in anarchist circles -- whether through their newspapers or in the resolutions of their congresses -- sympathy with the First of May Group and the FIJL arose spontaneously and sincerely.
However, the old anarchist support for the status quo, which held the "organic power" of the CNT and the FAI, did not forget either its bitterness or its opposition to the activism of the Youth wing. All the more when the FIJL constantly denounced the ideological and revolutionary deviations implied and protected by this support for the status quo.
The causes of the disagreements and ill-feeling among Spanish anarchists were too deep and too old for a mere action, as resounding as it was, to make them forget them. Paradoxically, all of the FIJL's efforts to return anarchism to its former prestige and influence on the masses deepened the organizational split even more. Thus, in local assemblies of the CNT in exile, discussions about the steps taken by Luis Edo and the action of the First of May Group degenerated more and more into bitter polemics.
In early June, a few weeks after Mgr. Ussia's release, the Spanish authorities released the young Frenchmen Bernard Ferry and Guy Batoux, who had been sentenced to thirty years' and fifteen years' imprisonment for subversive activities in October 1963.3 This release caused a certain surprise, although many saw it as an obligatory manoeuvre by the the regime in order to recover from the international impact caused by the action of the First of May Group.
The position of the Youth Organization gathered all of the militants and sympathizers -- independent of age -- who did not want to continue living in the past; all those who rebelled against the sectarianism and revolutionary ankylosis of the bureaucrat-anarchists who controlled the CNT and FAI in exile. The focus of convergence was the review Presencia -- Tribune Libertaire4, created in late 1965, which enjoyed a large audience and a wide distribution in Spain. The contacts established by the FIJL with various youth groups and old militants in Spain, as well as relations, consolidated by Luis Edo, with young militants of the AST (a clandestine union organization; the most left-wing one with Catholic origins) facilitated its distribution.
During this period, Presencia, with the review published by Ruedo Iberico and the review Mañana, which represented anti-dogmatic Marxism and intellectual neo-liberalism, was one of the most important doctrinal mouthpieces of the Spanish New Left in exile.
Not only had the language of the "old romantic anarchism" been abandoned by Presencia, but also the anti-Marxist sectarianism inherited from the past -- so deeply rooted among the Spanish libertarians since their confrontations with the Communist Party during the civil war. So it was not surprising that as soon as it appeared, all of the groups in Spain that were trying to re-build the foundations of a new revolutionary syndicalism5 saw new perspectives in the position it represented.
In Spain, the Francoist regime continued its evolution; an evolution, not the "decay of the Regime", like the parties and organizations of the classical opposition wrongly stated. However, the need for a preparation of Spanish institutions with a view to the new phase of industrial development forced the Regime to begin a genuine conversion of the system, and automatically created the conditions for other, more politicized struggles by the opposition. The new Spanish bourgeoisie and the generation of managers who occupied the key posts in government attempted to change the old useless mechanisms in order to perpetuate their economic and political rule, in a framework inspired by existing systems in industrialized European societies. The conditional right to strike, the new law concerning the press, and bills to reform the official unions were the natural complement to the reorganization of the economy that began in 1959 with the stabilization plan, and continued later with the development plan, marking the definitive renunciation of post-war autarchy. However, the radical revision of the economic foundations of Spanish society carried out by the regime itself -- in a country characterized by a lack of fluidity in social structures -- had led to a series of transformations which had shaken its stability.
Moreover, the dangerous political vacuum that Franco's disappearance would cause -- which obsessed not only Francoist leaders but also the leaders of the "respectable" opposition -- incited both groups to perservere with urgent "reforms" of the institutional framework. It was obvious that to an increasing degree the monopoly of power would shift from the Malthusian groups -- the epic remains of the civil war -- to the evolutionist technocrats and union leaders, and in general, to highly placed State officials and influential national corporations. This "evolutionism", intelligently defended by this new stratum of managers, did not refuse to enter into dialogue and did not hesitate to practice a policy of holding out a hand to former enemies who accepted the accomplished fact of the Regime's continuity and the inviolability of the interests that supported it. Hence the progressive increase in commercial exchanges between Spain and the Communist countries, the offer of a dialogue from the CNS to the CNT renegades, the press law that put an "end" to prior ccensorship (for the "legal" newspapers, of course!), the transfer of political trials to civil jurisdiction -- tried until then by military courts, without this reducing the harshness of the repression, which was still exercised against the Regime's opponents -- and all of the reforms hurriedly begun in order to effectively control this "evolution" (for example: the parody of the democratization of the SEU, and the legislation concerning workers' strikes).
But as if all this was not enough to maintain political and social instability within tolerable limits and without major risks, the Regime revived and intensified the publicity around its demagogic patriotic claim to Gibraltar and the coming referendum.
Conscious of the situation and the need to denounce manoeuvres whose sole aim was to demobilize and integrate the working class, and, at the same time, consolidate the appearance of liberalization outside Spain, the FIJL decided to prepare a new action with an international echo.
On October 28, 1966, the Spanish press and the international press agencies disseminated an official communique of the Spanish government announcing the arrest, in Madrid, of a group belonging to the Libertarian Youth.
"(...) A group of armed elements, consisting of five persons, all members of the Libertarian Youth who planned to abduct an important foreign personage in Madrid, was arrested following a brilliant action carried out by officials of the Social Investigation Service of the General Directorate (...) At the head of the group appeared Luis Andrés Edo, who was General Secretary of the Local Federation of the Libertarian Youth in Paris, and who belonged to the anarchist group that abducted, in Rome, the Spanish embassy's ecclesiastical advisor to the Holy See, Monseigneur Ussia (...)"
The first intentions of the authorities were perfectly clear: to present Edo's group as the First of May Group, both to highlight the incomparable effectiveness of the Spanish police -- the newspaper titles reported the dismantling of the First of May Group -- and not discuss the real objective of the action that Edo's group was preparing to carry out. Now this objective had greatly embarrassed the Spanish government, as it led to the immediate intervention of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fernando Castiella.
On that subject, the United States ambassador to Spain, Biddle Duke, specified in announcements to journalists in Madrid that he "had not been the object of any threat, and that he did not believe that anyone wanted to abduct him." Admiral Norman Gillette, commanding the American mission, declared: "I don't know very much about the case, but I would prefer not to reveal what I know!"
On November 1, 1966, Agence France-Presse made known, from Madrid, the declarations of the First of May Group:
"(...) The Spanish police intend to hold the group of anarchists arrested last week in Madrid responsible for the abduction of Mgr. Ussia, carried out in Rome by the First of May Group (...) Determined to prove that the accusations by the fascist regime of General Franco against Luis Edo and our comrades are false, we, the members of the First of May Group, will prove, at the appropriate time, what we are affirming in this communique, as well as our firm decision to continue our actions until we obtain the liberation of all political prisoners in our country."
Afterwards, lawyer D. Jaime Cortezo6 confirmed that the Court of Public Order had withdrawn,7 and that the dossier would be transferred to military jurisdiction, which meant that the five prisoners risked appearing before a court-martial sumarisimo.
News of this withdrawal dismayed libertarian circles, as this proved that partisans of the hard line inside the Regime had once again imposed their point of view. Given the personality of Luis Edo, the arms that had been seized and the type of action that would have been carried out, it was logical to assume that the military would speed up the trial and hand down extremely harsh senntences. So it was not surprising that the appeal for international solidarity launched by the FIJL as soon as news of the group's arrest was known, gave rise to a widespread response and once again awakened a current of sympathy in international anarchist circles.
Dated December 9, Agence France-Presse in New York announced that a clandestine press conference had been held in that city about the case of the five anarchists imprisoned in Madrid:
(...) It was not Mr. Angler Biddle Duke, the United States ambassador in Madrid, but instead Rear-Admiral Norman G. Gillette, Commander-in-Chief of the American forces in Spain, whom the anarchist commando arrested on October 24, 1966 in the Spanish capital would have abducted the following day, if the Spanish police had not discovered their trail in time, and thus prevented Operation Durruti. This information was given on Tuesday, December 8, in New York, to a few journalists assembled in a hotel in Manhattan by Mr. Octavio Alberola, the person responsible for coordination between the Peninsular Committee and the External Delegation of the FIJL, who declared that he had come from Spain especially for this press conference, the first one his organization has ever held in the USA (...) Rear-Admiral Gillette would have been transferred by his abductors (...) to an apartment in the capital, where, in the presence of a group of foreign journalists, he would have been present, "a living symbol of the American occupation of Spain" at the reading of a document of the FIJL. As this document had not been released, due to the discovery of the plot, it was brought to the attention of New York journalists shortly after a copy of it was sent to U Thant, the General Secretary of the United Nations, as well as all delegations of the UN member countries. In it, the FIJL denounced the patriotic demagogy of the Franco government in its claims on Gibraltar8 and its complicity in the aggressive projects of American military forces (...)"
As the Agence France-Presse communique affirmed, all of the delegations present at the General Assembly of the United Nations, and its Secretary General, received a letter signed by the External Delegation of the FIJL, which was attached to a copy of a document seized on the person of Luis Edo by the Spanish police, entitled: "The Patriotic Claim to Gibraltar and the Mortgaging of the National Territory: the American Bases in Spain". 9
Moreover, reactions of protest and solidarity began to appear; on December 26, the European press published the following AFP communique sent from Rome:
"Madrid, Beware. -- If the five Spanish anarchists arrested on October 25 in Madrid, and accused of having abducted, in Rome, Mgr. Ussia, the Spanish embassy's ecclesiatic advisor to the Holy See, are sentenced to more than three years' imprisonment, European anarchist youth will destroy five Spanish properties located in Europe. This is one of the resolutions adopted by the participants of the European Conference of Anarchist Youth, whose deliberations began on Saturday the 25th and ended on Monday, 27-12-66 (...) Fifty German, British, Danish, Spanish, Finnish, French, Dutch, Italian and Swedish anarchist representatives participated in this meeting."
1 A letter-memorandum of the Commission of Relations of the FIJL for June, 1965, specifying the objectives and various phases of the "International Campaign in Aid of Political Prisoners".
2 Among the "prospects" that succeeded in creating illusions was precisely the possibility of the "appropriation" by the "new unionism" of all the financial power that the "Mutualism of Labour" represented and still represents in Spain.
3 Alain Pécunia was released on August 17, 1965, following negociations between the French and Spanish governments.
4 In the publishing group there were, besides the FIJL militants, other comrades close to non-dogmatic Marxist currents.
5 Especially the AST militants, who began a dialogue and cooperation among the new groups of clandestine unionism in the pages of Presencia.
6 An important personality of Christian Democracy, who offered to defend Luis Edo.
7 In fact, in a Providencia magistrado of November 4, 1966, the judge of the Court of Public Order ordered:
"(...) The order of October 31, by which the withdrawal of this Court in favour of military jurisdiction was granted, and whose cancellation has assumed a definitive character, must be forwarded to higher authorities (...)"
8 At that very moment, the General Assembly of the UN was making a decision regarding the claim to Gibraltar, which had been tabled for discussion by representatives of the Spanish government.
9 A document which denounced "the mortgaging of parts of the national territory for the establishment of Yankee military bases in Spain."