Despite its brevity and its haste to remake everything, the great somersault of May 68 posed, in an uninhibited way, although in terms that were sometimes disorderly but almost always right, the problem of a change of orientation in all fields of human activity, including sectors which until then seemed more or less immune to authoritarian alienation, such as art and culture. With this alone it awakened the reflex of self-defence in all ruling castes. In the East, because the mere plurality of points of view was already considered a threat to the system. In the West, because liberalization of the imagination opened the eyes of the alienated, showing them the divorce, never before so flagrant, between the degrading monotony of everyday life and the prestige of the system's superior rationality: Democracy.
It is undeniable that May 68 caused the downfall of many taboos and a loss of respect for alienation, which until then was hardly discussed. But starting at the moment when this current of agitation showed its revolutionary potential, it saw itself undergo a double recuperative process, tending to either integrate it into the framework of legal reforms or into a laughable marginal folklore, only revealing specific sectarianism. Thus, with different objectives but the same paternalistic pretension, the organizationalist revolutionary groupuscules and political reformism (of the left or right) continued the slow dialectical "digestion" of the contestatory somersault of May 68. The former because they considered themselves its most "legitimate" heirs, sought -- each time through more legalistic forms of action -- the "organized" prolongation of revolutionary pressure, which, after having induced a profound, sudden awareness in the face of authoritarian alienation, threatened all the hierarchical structures of established society. The latter because, although feeling themselves to be under attack, they considered themselves the most "legitimate" instruments of "change", openly seeking the practical recuperation of contestation in favour of the system.
But without a doubt, originating from within the contestation itself and led by the revolutionary forces themselves, ideological recuperation was the least obvious but the most dangerous. In fact, in their effort to "organize" contestation, the revolutionary groupuscules killed spontaneism, shut in imagination once again, and ended up re-establishing bureaucratism, reducing action to language, and losing the street while gaining the local and the shop window. And this is without taking into account the "literary" recuperation -- which is also formidable -- with which the system directs the masses away from action by feeding them their concerns reduced to a mere literary style. Although we are well aware that the means of communication, language and signs in general, can serve to improve or modify people's behaviour patterns, never before have we seen a society seeking the recuperation of oppositional forces through the massive distribution of their literature.
As far as the recuperation of student contestation is concerned, and which in the end filled the ranks of the revolutionary new left, we must distinguish between two different but complementary processes: the pedagogical one and the ideological one. The student movement carries its enemy inside itself, for recuperation begins at the very instant that the student rediscovers and accepts his proper specificity; when he refuses to repel the operating modalities among the students themselves, through which the pedagogical process attempts to reconstruct itself, without understanding that "all the traits that characterize the old pedagogical and academic institutions: literature, pedantry, authority, sectarianism, submission to religion, the possession of knowledge, the spirit of social self-promotion and the "school spirit" constantly attempt not only to maintain themselves in what remains of the old institution, but to reproduce inside the very participants of the student uprising." As for the process of ideological recuperation, it is equally effective; for, as the pamphlet The Modes of Integration of the Student Uprising says, "With the meaning of educational institutions gradually disappearing, and with almost no one daring to support the dignity of academic goals, the attempt that gives the best results consists of finding another justification and another meaning for the activities of revolting students: a political meaning." That is, "an incorporation into the political lines and movements which were previously already known to manage the march of History (...) In spite of everything, the temptation to adopt the old methods and the old doctrines, more or less rejuvenated, was supported by very strong foundations. On one hand, precisely, the need for a channel, structure or system (both in the mind and in the organization of activities), all the more pressing in the moments when the frenetic appearance of the uprising makes it appear as an interlude of chaos itself; on the other hand, the way in which the "good will" of the bourgeois classes frequently continues to affect the sons of the bourgeoisie, in the form of compassion for the oppressed. This kind of attitude leads us to consider revolutionary proclamations as daydreams or paradoxes, and in the final analysis, to prefer instead a political line that can bring about a real transformation of exploitation and an improvement in the quality of life of the aforementioned oppressed, or of their little children. Finally, in third place, the fact that a few of these more serious political groups assume that the writings of Karl Marx are theirs, along with the writings of a few others who have brilliantly analyzed the mechanisms of poverty and denounced the reduction of man's labour power to a means of capitalist production, as a result of certain historical accidents only slightly related to the truthfulness of these writings."
Thus, it is clear that from the beginning of the student insurrection, the instruments of ideological recuperation were in operation, which in the best of cases would culminate in the "revolutionary" statements of the new left, not busy distributing propaganda or setting up mixed worker-student meetings, but transforming students into workers, so as to break the status quo of classical trade-unionism. This was the way leftism organized itself into different workers' leagues around the leftist newspapers and the more or less active groupuscules, which ultimately dissolved themselves into struggles for everyday demands.
Although it is true that in 1969 a clear withdrawal of student agitation could be observed, brought about by dead-end struggles, it did not, however, prevent it from moving into the streets on a few occasions for brief but violent demonstrations, particularly in France and the United States (Berkeley again), and to a lesser degree in Germany and Italy.
In Spain, the weariness caused by the constant and "primary" activity against the grises (CRS) of the year before was obvious. Fear had spread, and many feared a trap similar to the one prepared by the Institutional Revolutionary Party for the Mexican students on October 2 at the Plaza of the Three Cultures. The group of acratas ended up dissolving into the student groupuscules, which tried to pursue contestation in the educational domain in a context which was increasingly open to ideological recuperation:
"(...) The red nuclei appear to have decided to struggle against the source of alienation that was closest to hand (in the literal sense): the Faculty and the "science" it teaches. But unfortunately, we have only a low level of knowledge available to us, which does not facilitate direct confrontation with it or even the creation of an anti-university or a critical university inside the "other Alma Mater (...)"
However, even though the great mass of students were recuperated by the system, the essential thing was that the students -- and among them the acratas -- showed a decisive imagination in the search for a new type of non-hierarchical organization, and that in the radicalization of the struggle, they developed practices of direct action that gave it its true revolutionary dimension in the face of the State's repressive violence. For this youth, Marx was no longer "God", nor Bakunin a "bomber". They recognized the former's decisive contribution of the concepts of alienation or the need for a theory of freedom, and from the latter his economic knowledge and his insistence on the concept of self-management, without anyone thinking a priori of realizing their historical synthesis.
In reality, in Spain and in the other countries made aware by anti-establishment activity, the process of the formation and radicalization of the anti-authoritarian new left began with the spontaneous (theoretico-practical) joining of Marxists and anarchists during the student uprising. This formation of non-sectarian revolutionaries was carried on later against traps and recuperative obstacles, concluding with the reactualization of revolutionary activism in the period following the great tide of anti-establisment activity.
Paradoxically, the young Spanish libertarians assembled in the FIJL, who until then had been fervent partisans of the radicalization and internationalization of the anti-Francoist struggle -- as the most effective method for the revolutionary sensitization of the younger generations -- should have actively participated in the formative process of this anti-authoritarian and revolutionary new left, began to doubt the activist line they had maintained until then through thick and thin. They quickly moved from doubting to purely and simply abandoning their activity, causing the same crisis in the FIJL which, in the past, had caused them to confront the immobility of the Spanish Libertarian Movement's organizations.
When the FIJL's plenary assembly took place in the fall of 1969, one noticed the absence of many militants who, up to 1968, formed the most dynamic nucleus of the Youth Organization. But internal disagreements appeared during the plenary assembly of 1968, at which it was decided, a few months after the May events, to divide the Commission of Relations into three autonomous commissions. The separation of responsibility and activities seemed to correspond to a truly spontaneist intention, but in practice it produced the opposite effect.
In fact, at the plenary assembly of 1969, the FIJL (or what remained of it) had to face the real problem: the progressive disengagement of the Youth Organization's militants and the abandonment of the Internal Defence agreements, which had served as a vehicle for denouncing support for the status quo inside the MLE.
However, in a last effort to maintain a minimum of cohesion and organizational continuity, the plenary assembly agreed to "allow each group the necessary autonomy to pursue conspiratorial activity according to its capacities, with a promise to inform the C. of R. (Commission of Relations) so it can take proper measures to preserve propaganda activities." But although the initials were kept and cooperation increased with the new flowering of libertarian youth groups (autonomous groups) inside Spain, the FIJL was in fact dissolved in 1969.
The ideological disappointment caused by the long and useless internal fight of the old libertarian militants, the frustration arising from the crumbling of hopes that arose during the passionate days of May 68, weariness, social integration and "realism" caused the disappearance -- as it had on other occasions since the end of the war -- of many militants of the generation that had contributed to reactualizing the FIJL and Spanish anarchism during the last ten years.
In addition, the attitude of the immobilist gerontocracy, which still noisily pursued its campaign of expulsions within the Confederal organization, continued to be one of the most demoralizing and destructive factors. Confederal militants expelled by the immobilist bureaucracy tried to react, but their good intentions were often neutralized by the extreme diversity of the tendencies assembled in the groups with Confederal memberships. The principal objective of these groups was to gather -- outside the official structures of the CNT in exile -- the greatest possible number of Confederal militants inclined to give all of their support to to the libertarian groups inside Spain, for whom the common description of autonomous groups represented a promising foundation for the resurgence of the libertarian movement in Spain. But in reality, their efforts were principally intended to "influence" the sterile internal fight through a few of the Local Federations that had not yet been expelled. The only really serious attempt, for the purpose of creating a concrete project for the immediate future, was the one developed by the group of militants who began to publish Frente Libertario in 1969, which proposed to "reduce antagonisms among militants, facilitate common action, publish news of working class and anti-fascist struggles without falling into sectarian speculation, and raising at all times the objectives of Iberian anarcho-syndicalism's anti-authoritarianism."
So, for very different reasons and certainly without any prior planning, the groups that united the most active libertarian militants -- in exile as well as inside Spain -- organized themselves in an autonomous manner from 1969 on. But the only one that continued to lay claim to the FIJL's strategic line was the First of May Group.
In France, the struggle between the new left and the Communist Party for control of the Student Union (UNEF) intensified, and because of the leftist attempts to infiltrate the workers' unions and the aid and solidarity organizations for peoples victimized by Yankee agression, especially those which organized demonstrations and various actions against the war in Vietnam. There was also agitation of lesser importance related to the repression of the activism of the Breton autonomists (FLB), and of a group of young workers of the Bordeaux region, but they did not really manage to transcend the national level.
In Italy, after the "mysterious" bombs that exploded at the Exhibition grounds in Milan, a campaign of repression was unleashed against the most radicalized circles of young anarchists, without anyone being able to prove their responsibility for these bombings. It was the first stage of the fascist plot which, with the complicity of certain authorities, attempted to dump responsibility on anarchist activism for the climate of terror which this same fascism would gradually institute in Italy. In the first set of arrests, four anarchist militants from Milan were arrested, among them Giovanni Corradini and Eliane Vinceleone, who were the organizers of a current very active in new left circles in Milan. Shortly before the end of the year, on December 12, bombs in Milan and Rome exploded, killing 16. Once again, the authorities directed repression against anarchist circles, even though it was obvious that it was a fascist provocation. Among many other anarchists, Pietro Valpreda was arrested and a whole police conspiracy was assembled against him, which caused a real scandal when the authors of the massacre were finally discovered. But the most suspicious and criminal act of this plot was the murder -- camouflaged as a suicide by police -- of libertarian union militant Giuseppe Pinelli, on the night of December 15-16, during his interrogation at the police station in Milan. Great feeling was aroused throughout Italy, but the authorities persisted in accusing the anarchists for a while. The burial of Giuseppe Pinelli turned into a protest demonstration that brought together more than 5000 people. The anti-fascist press denounced the "fascist plot that tries to create chaos in order to justify a coup d'etat", but actually, the Italian "hot autumn" had only begun ...
Elsewhere, in Britain and Germany, the most radical groups (which in 1970 formed the most active nuclei of the Angry Brigade and the Red Army Fraction) continued their theoretico-practical evolution, which led them to the extra-parliamentary left and revolutionary activism.
Anti-Francoist activism went through one of its most difficult periods in 1969, for in addition to the very hard blow received by the ETA after the many arrests which followed the execution of police officer Meliton Manzanas, the internal crisis of the FIJL forced the First of May Group to undertake a long and difficult restructuring. Nevertheless, pursuing its cooperation with foreign activist groups that were close to its anti-authoritarian and revolutionary line, it appeared on several occasions, with actions against the head offices of Spanish banks in Britain and against the Spanish embassy in the German capital. After one of these attacks (against the Bank of Bilbao in London on March 15), two British anarchists were arrested. One of them carried a letter from the First of May Group justifying the action, and for this he was sentenced to a year in prison.
Elsewhere, the conflict in Northern Ireland worsened with the arrival of the British army. The violent repression of Irish Catholic activism caused a current of solidarity to appear in leftist circles, which appeared later in several actions of the Angry Brigade.
Thus, at the end of 1969, in the East and in the West, authoritarian Order had reconquered all the positions the anti-authoritarian protest movement had taken from it. For the first time since 1945, the struggles of 1968-1969 had created a real foundation upon which a non-authoritarian outcome for society might have been built, but the institutionalized Left could not or did not want to take advantage of the occasion to indicate the path leading to the revolution. Quite the contrary: its principal effort was directed toward the revolutionary demobilization of the masses and recuperation of the youth revolt, which led by affirming its active revolutionary anti-authoritarianism. As a result, the established Order was able, with the support of its repressive apparatus, to cynically display its supremacy once again. The ideological recuperation of anti-authoritarian contestation had accomplished its mission.
1. A pamphlet written by a Spanish university professor and dedicated to his students around the world.
2. Taken from the pamphlet A Brief History of the Aforementioned Acracia.
3. Called this so as to differentiate them from the "old men" of the CNT and the FAI.
4. These Commissions were located in places that were fairly distant from each other, and were mainly responsible for Relations, Propaganda and Prisoner Solidarity. As a result, the problem of conspiracy was left in the most complete ambiguity.
5. Among the expulsions that provoked the greatest indignation, and which led to the resignation and marginalization of several Local Federations, we should point out that of prestigious militant Cipriano Mera.
6. We should also point out that several "autonomous groups" of the Interior defended the theses of "urban guerilla warfare".
7. For more complete information, read l'Etat Massacre, published by Champ Libre in 1971.