In Spain, as in almost all countries whose governments turned to repressive violence to stop student agitation, one could see a significant "resurrection" of the theses of revolutionary anarchism as the foundation and stimulus of the anti-authoritarian youth revolt.
It is quite probable that the "acrata phenomenon" in the University of Spain would not have grown to such dimensions if the academic authorities and the government had confronted student agitation with greater insight and liberalism, by proceeding to apply the structural reforms demanded by the most politicized sectors (the vanguards of the political parties) among the students. Francoism not only refused this, but with its habitual authoritarianism and refusal to compromise, it opposed any concession that could, in its view, result in the slightest risk to acquired privileges in the academic domain. When the second semester of 1967-1968 began very quietly throughout the entire Spanish University, the authorities decided, on January 11, to close the Faculty of Political and Economic Sciences in Madrid until the month of March, with loss of registration for all students. This measure, taken in "anticipation of new disturbances, and -- without a doubt -- in an impatient hurry to apply an exemplary punishment, caused indignation everywhere and fanned the flames. Indeed, the students responded without delay. On the same day, a bus was burned and a few others escaped destruction. The activists' actions surprised even the student leaders. The right-wing leaders resigned, because the Faculty administration `had lost command and control of the situation.'" The press began to understand the real nature of these disturbances:
"(...) No country can withstand the student convulsion for long. Everywhere they are sporadic movements. Here we have clearly seen, from the beginning of the affair, the intention of altering the student order in a permanent way." (Pueblo, 12-1-1968).
The next day, another bus was burned. At the same time, the first cartoons about the University appeared in the Spanish press. The Director of Education announced that no Center would be closed. The disturbances continued in an intermittent way, and, on January 20, a crucifix was thrown from the window of the Faculty of Philosophy, leading to the closing of that Center. Four days later, the Faculty of Science was closed, and on the 26th it was the turn of the Faculty of Medicine. That same day, the academic situation was discussed in the Council of Ministers. On January 29, the iron fist was put to work in the form of the University police. On the 30th, Minister Fernandez Miranda declared: "Passion and subversion want to destroy our University."
At the beginning of February, the government reacted by summoning a general seminary, led by the hard-liners, to expiate the desecration of the Faculty of Philosophy's crucifix. On February 3rd in Barcelona, at the start of the proceedings against the 137 students who had attempted to occupy the Faculty of Architecture, "sit-in" occupations began in the vestibules of the Centers under the inquisitorial eyes of police bearing the insignia of the University. On the 15th, the Faculty of Political and Economic Sciences was finally re-opened. However, the students attacked the "greys" (CRS) who controlled the entrance, spraying them with a fire extinguisher and throwing a few firecrackers at them when they tried to get as far as the bar.
The activists knew the line to follow, but the SDEUM did not hesitate any longer, four days later, in pursuing its "respectful" policy.1
On February 16, having understood that the delegates constituted a precious obstacle to student spontaneity, the authorities allowed the delegates then on trial to begin their courses again. However, the sit-ins continued, as well as frequent incursions by the police into the Centers, to silence people singing subversive songs and tear down posters. On the 26th, the acratas distributed a pamphlet2 denouncing the professors. On the same day, the University police withdrew from the Faculties of Philosophy and Law. On March 4th, "Student Day", La Actualidad Española published an analysis of the University political groups:
"(...) Acratas: a group of activists which, even though composed of university students, usually meets and plans its activities outside the University. The ideology of its members is utopian anarchy, but they do not belong to the anarchist groups in exile. With the PCML, they are the shock troops of the university movement.3
Independents: groups of people who, repeating their coincidental appearance at all acts of protest, have established well-defined political and personal bonds among themselves, which leads them to join their activity with the many different calls of the delegations, commissions or the various groups (...)"
Finally, on March 8th, the acratas caused the expulsion, in the midst of catcalls, of J.-J. Servain-Schreiber from the University of Madrid, even though the latter had offered the publishing rights to the Spanish edition of one of his books to the COs and the SDE. Indeed, the "flamboyant manager of modern journalism" had wanted to pull off the same act he did in Barcelona, where he held a moderate seminar with 2000 Catalan students, praising the political maturity of Spanish students. This incident marked the apotheosis of the Madrid student movement of the 67-68 academic year, and gave it its international dimension by the repercussion of the snub suffered by J.-J. S.-S.
That same day, the student revolt reached its peak4 as the universities of Seville, Saragossa, Santiago de Compostella, Bilbao, La Laguna and the one in Navarre (which belonged to Opus Dei) went on strike. Shortly afterwards, a few of the best-known acratas were arrested, and a furious persecution was unleashed against the rest. In the space of about a month, fifteen people more or less vaguely associated with acracia were located and sentenced to different sentences (ranging from a fine of 5000 pesetas to 10 years'imprisonment, which was asked for certain others). It was only after they had been put out of action that the acratas realized the extent of their influence and the reach of their basic ideas. Even after the disappearance of the original public figures who, like it or not, were "representatives" of acracia, their ideas and their praxis would remain well assimilated into the anti-authoritarian student revolt.
During the month of February, four anarchists from Seville, accused of the crime of "illegal propaganda" (distribution of the magazine Presencia-Tribuna Libertaria and other publications of the FIJL), were tried and convicted by the Court of Public Order. They were sentenced to terms ranging from one to four years' imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 pesetas each.
On March 8th, le Monde published a dispatch from the Reuter news agency in Brussels that said:
"The police have confirmed that a month before, they carried out the arrest of a Spanish anarchist leader, and that he was held in preventive detention. It concerns Mr. Octavio Alberola Surinach, forty years old and the principal leader of the clandestine anarchist movement called the First of May Group. His arrest occurred on February 9 (...)"
Actually, without giving any reason, the Belgian police appear to have kept completely silent. The newspaper The Times was the first to break the news5, tying it to the actions of May 3 against American organizations in Turin and London, and against the Spanish, Greek and Portuguese embassies in the Hague, claimed by the First of May Group. A few days later, the French paper l'Aurore returned to the attack, on the occasion of a series of bombings of an aviation company's head office and two American banks in Paris:
"Here we go again! The summer will be red hot! The rotten Western world will be blown to pieces! This is what the First of May Group declared in a series of incendiary flyers, after the wave of attacks unleashed on March 3 in the Hague, London and Turin against the Greek and Spanish embassies and American consulates and cultural clubs (...). The "group" also specializes in helping American soldiers desert (...). Meanwhile, the management of the group is always in the hands of a small nucleus of Spanish anarchists, who were its founders. The big boss Octavio Alberola, 40 years old, called Big Juan and a professional revolutionary (...) was arrested for illegal carrying of firearms in Brussels. The Belgian police, anxious to protect the new US NATO installation, picked him up in transit, thinking that the movement, having been decapitated this way, would perhaps remain quiet. The response came seven days later (...) The First of May Group proved that it did not intend to remain inactive. Its leader, Big Juan, had taught it how to get along on its own."
In the Express of March 11-17, the report of a special correspondent in the Netherlands was entitled "The Anarchists are Preparing a Hot Summer":
"(...) The First of May Group, which claims responsibility for the recent explosions, is in fact a nucleus of French-Spanish anarchists operating in liaison with different groupuscules of the international extreme Left (...). In all, 3000 militants ready to mobilize for the cause of revolutionary solidarity (...)."
For its own part, the First of May Group introduced a series of clarifications as to the nature and objectives of its actions in the fourth information bulletin of the International Revolutionary Solidarity Movement:
"These actions, like the kidnapping of Mgr. Ussia in Rome, the machine-gunning of the American embassy in London and the attacks on the Greek and Bolivian embassies in Bonn, which certain newspapers remembered on this occasion, are of an essentially psychological nature. They have two goals:
* To bring to public awareness, via the press agencies, the demands that motivate these actions;
* To show by these demands the reality of the escalation of terror that is developing now in the world under the supervision of the United States government, and to oppose it with a counter-escalation of revolt in all its forms and in all domains (...)"
It is fitting to indicate that in Frankfurt at that time, arrests took place of several members of the group which would later form the Red Army Fraction (popularized by the press under the name of the Baader gang). Among them was Andreas Baader himself.
At the end of April, the Belgian press commented on the outcome of our trial in the following way:
"As we have indicated, the 22nd courtroom of the Brussels Correctional Court, presided over by M. Fischer, has clearly understood the illegal situation of Octavio Alberola, an anti-Francoist militant arrested on February 8 of this year for illegal entry into Belgium. Mr. Alberola was the object of four charges: using a false name and a false passport, illegal entry into the country and possession of a weapon. He was acquitted on the first two charges and sentenced to a minimal sentence for the other two: one month's suspended sentence and one month covered by his preventive detention (...). Mr. Alberola, an engineer and journalist, came to Brussels to meet Mr. Ullastres, the head of the Spanish delegation to the Common Market, to obtain from this Minister the liberation of political prisoners (...). If he did not obtain satisfaction, he was determined to denounce the horrors of political repression in Spain -- where prisoners were tortured to uncover his whereabouts! -- before the press and the organizations of the EEC (...)" (Le Peuple, 30-4-1968)
"(...) His friend Mme. Ariane Gransac, from Paris, arrested while accompanying him but later released, was acquitted." (La Dernière Heure, 30-4-1968)
On April 2, the Madrid Court of Public Order sentenced young libertarian David Urbano to six years' imprisonment for the mere fact of having belonged to the FIJL in France. This case proved, once again, that exchanges of political information took place between the services responsible for watching Spanish exiles in Europe and the Francoist police.
A few days later in Madrid, the commemoration of May 1st was poorly attended. However, one can appraise as a more interesting phenomenon the spread of protest to the provinces, which, like Badajoz, were previously very far removed from it, as well as the acts of commandos of young workers and students stoning banks and then reappearing later in other neighbourhoods. This new form of struggle was practiced for the first time by groups of acratas and groups of libertarian youth from the Workers' Commissions who made contact with each other for this purpose. Even though these actions were carried out with the implicit and sometimes explicit opposition of the CP, the latter still did not hesitate to claim responsibility for them two or three days later.
Apart from the hardly serious appearance of a pretended "international conspiracy", it is obvious, as the press emphasized, that anarchist revolutionary activism had ties to the movement of student and youth contestation in Western Europe. So, as it happened in the United States and Latin America, where the youth coordinated the fight against American imperialist politics, in Europe this attitude of solidarity was equally widespread. But if the symptoms which announced and prefigured the explosion of youth revolt were many and significant, one could not foresee that it would be in France that it would succeed in shaking authoritarian society to its foundations. Even less could one imagine that after having contaminated the working class and causing an unprecedented movement of demands, it would force the CP to unmask its politics of counter-revolution and support for the established order.
We are not going to go into the details of the French May events. Nonetheless, we cannot refrain from referring to them in their most profoundly significant aspects. Both because they were the result of the joining together of revolutionary activism and student contestation, and because they represented the totality of the youth movement's critique of all of society's authoritarian structures and of all the ideological dogmas then in effect.
Without believing in fate or historical determinism, it seems opportune to us to emphasize, with regard to the May phenomenon, that one of the traditionally characteristic objectives of revolutionary activism was to serve consciously or unconsciously as a detonator for all forms of revolt against power. But while agreeing that May 68 might simply have been the result of chance ("History would have too mystical a nature if "chances" played no part in it")6, one must admit that May 68 gave a new historical dimension to the anti-hierarchical and libertarian movement, and that there were many intellectuals, workers and youth who became conscious of the role played by (working class) parties and organizations in the overall revolutionary demobilization.
The interest and effectiveness of the resurgence of May 68's anti-hierarchical and libertarian ideas is based precisely on its later repercussions, more than on its immediate results or in the particularities of the events themselves. What was important was that from May 68 on, many youth understood ... and became impatient. They demanded, and denounced all compromises. They wanted to live today, not tomorrow ... They revolted and made a clean sweep of all taboos and dogmas -- including the ones that claimed to be revolutionary -- and endangered the supposedly safe Order. This negation of the dominant system was the reflection of common aspirations and anxieties arising from similar situations experienced by youth all over the world. At its source we find, as favourable ground for its development, the poorly controlled worldwide explosion of student populations. Next, playing a certainly important role, there was the opposition to the war in Vietnam, which aroused the beginnings of a growing consciousness in student and intellectual circles. For even though opposition to the war had hardly gone beyond the limits of traditional verbal protest -- apart from a few violent demonstrations and the actions of the revolutionary activist groups -- it is unquestionable that the tragedy of the Vietnamese people traumatized a sizeable part of public opinion and clearly brought to the fore the dialectic of the Order imposed on the world's peoples by the democratic and communist bureaucracies. Whence the fact that the student insurrection would attack the foundations of the authoritarian system. In Berkeley, the site of the most important university in the United States and for many the birthplace of the protests, the students had already asserted their total opposition to the system, to the machine, for several years. In Berlin, a year before the occupation of the Sorbonne and the barricades in the Latin Quarter, the students of the Free University occupied its offices, declaring themselves in equally clear and energetic terms. In France, from the end of 1966 on, in the famous pamphlet: On the Poverty of Student Life, considered in its economic, political, psychological, sexual and especially intellectual aspects, and a few means to remedy it7, published by the General Federative Federation of the Strasbourg students, they denounced student alienation and urged people to revolt.
Thus, during the long and confused gestation of May 68, all the concerns and hopes of youth were turned toward the search for a new revolutionary model which would allow them to go beyond the contradictions and barriers which, inside the old revolutionary formations, had prevented progress in the direction of the revolution, whether through acceptance of bourgeois legality and the institutions through which the proletariat's integration is arranged, or because of an inability to overcome the sectarian practices which divided and paralyzed the classical left.
As a result, in France, March was teeming with events of crucial importance for the following years. On one hand, the formation of an completely new anti-hierarchical and libertarian movement, which, with ups and downs, continued to project its influence through the movements of contestation that followed. On the other hand, precisely in Paris, the United States began to negociate their "retreat" from Vietnam in return for the Vietnamization of the war --- which would lead to a new epoch in international relations between the great powers, and to the detriment of the already so precarious autonomy of peoples. But curiously, neither the formidable French social upheaval nor the international repudiation of the American Pentagon's bellicose and imperialist policy prevented its Russian equivalent from continuing to prepare the invasion of Czechoslovakia, which was living through the last weeks of the so-called Prague Spring.
At another level, and in the socialist camp this time, authoritarianism showed its true face. As a result, Bolshevik imperialism proved that it was not very different from American imperialism. In an interval of less than a month, and in the West as well as the East, it was well established that the worst enemy of the socialist revolution -- of socialism with freedom -- was the totalitarian sectarianism of the communist parties that were obedient to Moscow. And not just because the latter continued to claim they were revolutionaries and socialists, and as a result neutralizing millions of workers around the world, but because in their efforts to take power or maintain themselves there, they were capable of objectively allying themselves with capitalism in defence of the old authoritarian society and maintenance of the international status quo. It is not surprising, then, that the communists were the bitterest enemies of contestation, which, as well as demanding the revolution not for tomorrow but precisely for today, put the Party and the organizations close to it to the right of the revolutionary movement.
In July, at vacation time, the student "storm" appeared to have finally calmed down ... But in September, with courses having hardly begun, agitation reappeared forcefully, accompanied by repression. In fact, the forces of order rivalled each other everywhere in a veritable repressive competition. Clubs and tear-gas grenades were replaced by rifles and real bullets. It was clear that the established Order was not inclined to tolerate new "disturbances", and even less so if they reflected an authentic popular grievance. How could one be surprised that, in such an atmosphere of glorification of Order, the Mexican authorities did not hesitate to put an end to student agitation with a bloodbath without precedent -- in "peacetime" -- to "ensure the progress of the Olympic Games in an atmosphere of calm and carefree joy." The massacre8 of students and everyday people in the Plaza of the Three Cultures by an army of soldiers with machine-guns and tanks was the culmination of the international State's repression of "student disturbances". The cold-blooded decision to kill defenceless people was justified -- once again -- by the simple invocation of the re-establishment of order. The horror and indignation were great, but as we saw with American atrocities in Vietnam and the Red Army's invasion of Czechoslovakia, international public opinion was quick to forget.
Power's complicity in the crimes committed in both camps was such that, inevitably, honest criticism had to lead to a critique of power in general.
But although the impact of youth contestation contributed to anarchism once again becoming a focus of ideological attraction in revolutionary circles, the imbalance between thought and action continued to be one of the principal causes of the rigidity and decadence of the classical anarchist movement, in Spain and the rest of the world.
This was made obvious one again on the occasion of the International Anarchist Congress of Carrara, which took place in the beginning of September, in the euphoria of the recent reactualization of anarchist theses.
May 68 had deepened the already existing division between the partisans of a combative anarchism and those who assigned to themselves, as their principal mission, the safeguarding of the Ideal. Despite this, many militants had grand illusions about this Congress, at a time which could not have been more opportune for the renewal of the movement, which had existed frozen in inaction for many years, broken up by a number of personal and sectarian grudges. The progress of the Congress proved that the opposition between the two attitudes was irreconcilable and that the divorce between the youth and the old guard was definitive. The incompatibility of the points of view and courses of action were, therefore, obvious and irreparable. The youth had taken the anti-authoritarian contestation to its ultimate conclusion, criticizing any form of ideological paternalism and bureaucratic deviation from the revolutionary ideal at the same time. As a result they could not go back on what they had done, for sentimental or partisan reasons, when faced with the damaging paternalism which had distorted the classical anarchist movement. As it had to, the International Anarchist Congress would conclude without any positive result for Anarchy. On one side there remained the defenders of organized tradition, and on the other, those of revolt renewed by each generation.
As far as Spanish anarchism was concerned, it is useless to say that this Congress deepened the de facto split which already existed in the MLE. The presence in Carrara of Federica Montseny, railing against the Libertarian Youth, had no other goal than to isolate the FIJL from international anarchism. As if the Spanish Libertarian Youth didn't have enough problems with clandestinity and the repression, which was hitting them hard.
Precisely on September 11, the Spanish press revealed with a great flourish "the arrests of the Libertarian Youth activists who were operating in the area of the Levant."
"Seven members of the Libertarian Youth and the FAI were imprisoned in Valencia after a big investigation, announced the Madrid newspaper ABC this Wednesday. An abundant amount of anarchist propaganda material, books and documents of a subversive nature, was confiscated (...) Still according to this newspaper, the prisoners were in contact with the First of May Group, which also operates outside the country (...)"(le Monde, 13-10-1968).
Indeed, the ABC of September 11 announced the imprisonment of seven libertarian militants in an article signed by Alfredo Semprun (a "journalist" in the service of the Francoist Ministry of Information) in which it was said, among other things:
"For several days now we have reported9 to our readers that probably, and according to the information at our disposal, Belgian justice has released after a brief period the leader of the anarchist libertarian group known as First of May, named Alberola, but better known under the alias of "Big Juan". Yesterday, a magnificent operation by the Spanish police returned to the most intense newsworthiness the name of this subject of Spanish-American nationality, who feels compelled to "liberate" the Spanish people on the pretext that his father lost his life, killed by the bullets of the Francoist police (...). A few hours ago, police officers, and especially the personnel of the regional Brigade of Social Investigation of Valencia, arrested the members, presently in Spain, of the above-mentioned First of May Group, which, under the direct orders of the same Alberola, came to act in this province, completely breaking it up (...)."
It is clear that the imprisonment of this group10, which would have been responsible for the distribution of libertarian propaganda in the central and southern zones of the peninsula, served as a pretext for the Francoist Ministry of Information to support the actions of the European police forces against the anti-Francoists.
With the American elections, which would give the ambitious Nixon the much sought-after possibility of becoming the new President of the United States, 1968 drew little by little to a close. The negociations on the war in Vietnam followed their "normal" course in Paris, while the American military continued to destroy the countryside and villages of that country.
On the horizon of 1969, the arrival of Nixon, with his slogan of the "primacy of law and order", promised nothing good for the peoples who struggled against imperialist and oligarchic oppression. In addition, the progressive breakdown of contestational leftism into groupuscules caused the marginalization of revolutionary activism, thus making a more selective oppression easier not only in its objectives, but in its methods.
1 The SDEUM declared: "We want a dialogue, and at no time do we want violence. We only demand that the dialogue be authentic, and as such we expect that it must be established between the representatives of the two bodies, a situation which does not presently exist, as the academic authorities are not the representatives of the teaching body."
2 This pamphlet began with a sentence of Pablo Neruda's: "Silent accomplices of the executioner ..."
3 The Gaceta Universitaria described the acratas as "the panzer of the University, the ones who can stay in the middle of the fights from one day to the next without showing any signs of fatigue."
4 Le Monde of 8-3-1968, after having described the various University centers on strike and police measures to prevent the "free assemblies", brought out: "The Madrid University students, expelled from the Faculty of Sciences when they were holding an assembly there, faced the police with cries of "Neither Franco Nor Carrillo (the General Secretary of the Spanish Communist Party) will move us; we are struggling for freedom!"
5 "It is a clandestine Spanish anarchist group (...) which is credited with the responsibility for a wave of bombings committed in London and the Hague. Its leader, known by the name of Big Juan (Juan el Largo) is a prisoner in Belgium, and we think that his group will probably try to prove that this inconvenience has not diminished its readiness to fight (...)" And from this moment on, the fable of Juan el Largo -- invented by some police agent -- would often be exploited by the sensationalist press, and especially by the Spanish press.
6 Marx (letter to Kugelmann, 17-4-1871).
7 The theses developed in this brochure and its style of publication show the influence of the review Internationale Situationniste in certain student circles.
8 Even though no exact figure was even given for the victims, the foreign press repeated a figure which ran to between 300 and 400 dead.
9 In fact, on September 4, ABC published an article -- signed by the same Alfredo Semprun -- which said "(...) The imprisonment, however momentary, of Juan el Largo, brought an end to a series of illegal activities against the Spanish State, which, since the kidnapping of Mgr. Ussia in Rome, the placing of bombs in several foreign Spanish consular delegations (Geneva, London, Amsterdam and Bonn, among others) via the bombs put in a few aircraft, which did not explode, as well as the one put in the General Directorate of Security in Madrid, has culminated in acts of violence of the calibre of the attacking and imprisonment for a few hours of two functionaries of the Spanish embassy in London, where a letter was even left in the main office, addressed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs containing threats, demanding the release of members of the Group imprisoned in Spain, and an amnesty for "political prisoners" who "fill our prisons (...)" All this at a time when the foreign press and radio as well as all the other means of propaganda available to them carried out an intense publicity against the Spanish regime. (...) If our sources are as dependable as we think, in a few days he will once again enjoy the freedom to undertake exploits similar to the ones we have just described (...)"
10 These seven libertarian militants were later condemned to harsh prison terms, without any proof of them having carried out any violent act, apart from distribution of propaganda and possession of firearms. Floréal Rodriguez de la Paz, who owned the truck used to transport the propaganda, was sentenced to more than 18 years' imprisonment.