Although the influence of the South American armed revolutionary movement, and especially that of the Tupamaros, had not been decisive in the rebirth and peak of revolutionary activism, it must be recognized that it was nonetheless considerable. Above all in the theoretical conception of the new activist dynamic. The echoes of these struggles in the press and the polemics that their analyses aroused in the most radicalized groups prepared the ground for a new activist opening. At the same time, the failure of the rural guerrilla struggle advocated by Castro-Guevarism, with its military conception of the struggle, proved that the Cuban example was an exception and that its exportation was more the result of a subjective analysis1 than the fruit of a serious evaluation of the concrete possibilities of its experimentation in other countries.
So, after the tragic end of the Guevarist adventure in Bolivia and the brutal dismemberment of the mixed (rural and urban) guerrilla movement in Brazil, only the urban guerrilla struggle of the Tupamaros in Uruguay was left as an example and reference point. A reference point all the more appreciated by European anarchist activism, as for the most part, it implied a clear demarcation from the Castroist objective of the seizure of power. It was because of the way they posed the struggle against bourgeois legality that the Tupamaros interested the European revolutionary activists. For although the South American revolutionaries were obliged to act in the context of the Third World, in reality their activity was closest to the concerns of European revolutionary youth: as much for its doctrinal anti-dogmatism as for its position in relation to other revolutionary organizations.
In Spain, even though the nomination of Juan Carlos as successor to Franco in July of the previous year had been presented as a symptom of evolution, the violence of the Francoist State continued unchanged. Though the state of emergency had come to an end, the arrests and tortures continued at the same rate as always. Particularly in Catalonia and the Basque country.
Social problems developed again throughout the country, and in early 1970, nearly 30,000 Asturian miners, 5,000 agricultural workers in Andalusia, 3,000 metal-workers in Barcelona and others in the Basque country were on strike. Government reaction always used intimidation and violence of all kinds by the forces of order. So much so that solidarity with political prisoners and the struggle against repression posed itself in urgent and pressing terms. At the international level, the Spanish people's struggle against the dictatorship was considered with the greatest indifference, to such an extent that in the middle of the Asturian miners' strikes, the ships of the socialist countries unloaded coal in Bilbao that had been mined in Poland, without the slightest wave of indignation appearing among the anti-fascists.
In order to break the silence and try to bring an effective solidarity to those who were brought to trial by Francoism, the anarchist activist groups carried out a few attacks against Francoist head offices in several European capitals, and attempted to kidnap the Spanish ambassador to UNESCO:
"Spain's permanent delegate to UNESCO, M. Emilio Guarriges, fifty-seven years old, was the object of an attempted kidnapping in Paris whose authors have been arrested. It involves three Spaniards: Mssrs. Juan Garcia Macareno, 24 years old; José Cabal Riera, 21 years old; and José Canizares Valera, 35 years old, who have refused to reveal what political organization they belong to.
"Our action had a solely political purpose", they said during their hearing. "We wanted to put pressure on the Spanish government to obtain the liberation of our imprisoned comrades in Spain." All three of them, anarchists, have lived in France since last summer ..."(Le Monde, 5-3-1970)
Nevertheless, the Spanish press again carried unlikely and tendentious accusations, while recognizing at the same time that the Spanish political police behaved as they pleased in Europe while watching exiled anti-Francoists:
"(...) Despite the official press blackout that surrounds the case of the failed kidnapping of the Spanish ambassador to UNESCO, we have been able to learn the names and the details ... the above-mentioned Spaniard Octavio Alberola, leader of the anarchist movement of the May 1st libertarian youth, which has ramifications in several European cities, came a few weeks ago from Belgium, his usual place of residence, to Paris for the purpose of implementing the kidnapping of a Spanish diplomat. The kidnapping had as its objective the exchange of this diplomat for several "libertarians" imprisoned in Spain, one of whom would be Luis Edo. All this allows us to suppose that Alberola's movements were followed perfectly by the Spanish police, who in turn alerted the French police (...)"(ABC, 5-3-1970).
The next day, ABC -- through the intermediary of the same journalist in the pay of the Ministry of Information -- returned to the attack:
"The three authors of the failed kidnapping have committed many subversive crimes in Spain":
"(...) The young Cabal Riera has fled Spain, where a sentence of the Court of Public Order weighs on him for his subversive activities at the universities of Madrid and Oviedo. At the time of his arrest, José Canizares Valera was carrying false papers ... And, like his comrades, he was accused of having committed offenses of a subversive nature inside the country (...). It appears that it was known through their declarations that their intentions were, as soon as Mr. Garrigues had been kidnapped and put in a safe place, for the above-mentioned Alberola, from his quiet post in Brussels, to send letters to the French head of State and to several accredited ambassadors in Paris, revealing to them the "reasons" for the kidnapping, and his demands to the Spanish government, already known. That is, freedom for certain individuals held as anarchists in Spain. According to their plans, all this would evolve in a large-scale international press campaign discrediting the Spanish regime, and in favour of an immediate general amnesty for the so-called political prisoners."
But the French press, whose sources were the proper French authorities, did not echo the false accusations2 cast by the Spanish press. On the contrary, it emphasized the joint objective, "drawing international attention to the situation of the 1200 political prisoners imprisoned in Spain" and the political objective sought by this action: (...) "It is undeniable that if the UNESCO kidnapping had succeeded, it would have had a resounding effect on Spanish public opinion", (France-Soir, 6-3-1970).
The fact is that the First of May Group, in collaboration with other European activist groups, had begun a campaign to denounce fascist repression in Spain which would continue to increase in intensity during the year. This operation would include simultaneous actions against the airplanes and offices of Iberia in the airports of the principal European capitals, as well as attacks on the Greek and Spanish embassies and several Italian properties outside the country, in solidarity with anarchist victims of the fascist plot, without omitting the machine-gunning of the Spanish embassy in London. All this created great feeling, shortly before the Burgos trial against the ETA was due to begin.
"(...) As much for the European anarchists as for those who live in other continents, it is not reasons to act that are lacking, nor practical possibilities of announcing their presence and showing the road to follow. Especially in this Europe, hypocritically indifferent and a real accomplice to the crimes committed daily inside its borders (in Spain, Greece and Portugal) there is still an opportunity to show with deeds, with obvious examples, which side reason and freedom are on ..." (Declaration of the First of May Group: "For an International Anarchist Practice")
The anarchists of the First of May Group actually proved that it was still possible to show anarchist solidarity; but showing a scrupulous respect for human life, they inevitably reduced the scope of their actions, and as a result, the possibility of producing concrete results with this strategy of pressure on the Francoist regime, itself used to expedient methods. Thus, in some way, the First of May Group showed a path to follow for an international anarchist practice. But it was not able to make its activist dynamic equal to new international circumstances that demanded from activism a high level of violence or an extraordinary breadth and continuity to really sensitize public opinion.
Actually, without forgetting that in 1970 Palestinian commandos sowed panic on the international airlines by seizing several airplanes in the air, as a result siting their struggle in the forefront of the news, inside the strict confines of Europe it was the anti-authoritarian groups, springing out of the commotion of May 68, which gave revolutionary activism its new dynamic. In England it was the Angry Brigade, in Germany the Red Army Fraction, and in Italy the groupuscules of Lotta Continua, Potere Operaio and the Brigate Rosse.
As a general rule, all these groups set out to give the same dynamic to the revolutionary struggle, but in fact each one acted on its own account, on its own national territory and according to the political and social situation of the time. The only similarities appeared at the theoretical level of anti-imperialist and anti-Bolshevik criticism without, for all that, opening onto a concrete cooperation at the level of practice.
Their prime objective, then, would be the denunciation of bourgeois legality, and their most important activity, apart from propaganda, a continuous confrontation with the repressive forces of the established Order. Not that resorting to clandestine struggle was considered the sine qua non for achieving their objectives, but more as an inevitable consequence of the denunciation of the capitalist system's repressive organization.
Apart from the Angry Brigade, which was clearly anarchist in origin and inspiration, the other revolutionary anarchist groups were strongly impregnated with Marxist-Leninist-Maoist analysis and language, though in their praxis and in many theoretical arguments, this influence was thwarted by frankly anti-authoritarian and spontaneist positions. As a result of which they would often be presented as anarchist groups, or as belonging to anarchist revolutionary activism.
In the case of the Angry Brigade, the anarchist influence was real and well-known, whence, during a first stage, a series of actions integrated into the struggle against Spanish fascism carried out by anarchist activism. This cooperation with anti-Francoist activity would not offer an obstacle, quite the contrary, to the Angry Brigade later turning its actions toward the denunciation of bourgeois legality and British authoritarianism's repressive apparatus. Hence the attacks on a police station, on the homes of London's Chief of Police and the Attorney General, and on the Ministry of Labour during the workers' demonstrations opposing the Anti-Strike Bill, and also on a BBC radio truck, to sabotage the ridiculous election of Miss Universe.
Meanwhile, in Germany and Italy, revolutionary activism had to face the fascist provocation of sectors nostalgic for Hitlerism and Mussolinism, who did not hesitate to resort to terrorism and large-scale blackmail against the revolutionary groups, which explains why these groups had to adopt fundamentally defensive positions. Actually, in these two countries, revolutionary groups had to organize in such a way as to face, simultaneously, police repression3 and neo-fascist attacks. So, given that German revolutionary activism succeeded in definitively structuring itself in 19704, forming the Red Army Fraction and going into action without further delay, the various tendencies of Italian revolutionary action, on the other hand, continued to search for adequate formulas capable of reconciling clandestine action and public mobilization of anti-fascism without being able, in 1970, to establish anything solid or structured. For, to tell the truth, not only had the fascist strategy of tension sowed panic and confusion in the streets, it also caused distrust5 and disorientation to appear inside the leftist groups which defended the theses of direct action in Italy.
In Spain, the repressive campaign orchestrated by Francoism reached its peak with the so-called Burgos Trial against the Basque guerrillas of the ETA, after they had killed the head of the Political-Social Brigade of the police in the Basque country. A repressive campaign which, with the arrests of April and May 1969, forced the ETA into a defensive withdrawal that would last until the end of 1970.
The long preparation and slow development of this court-martial permitted the sensitization of international public opinion and the organization of a protest campaign which, in some respects, equalled the anti-Francoist mobilization of 1963, during the trial of Julian Grimau. The final result, the commuting of the nine death sentences, was considered a retreat by the regime in the face of external pressures, inciting a series of demonstrations of fascist glorification by the hard-liners.
However, if it is true that the ETA acquired an international reputation as a result of this trial, and probably many and important sources of support, it also served to display its internal dissensions and thus the weaknesses of this organization. At the time of the kidnapping of the German consul, Eugen Beill, in San Sebastian, a faction of the ETA claimed responsibility for the act, which was generally well-received in anti-Francoist circles; the other faction criticised this action, considering armed struggle inappropriate. This faction, which the Burgos defendants belonged to, advocated the conversion of the ETA into a Basque Workers' Party. In reality, the ETA was divided into several currents, and since then would remain permanently split into what were called ETA V and ETA VI. This split caused the departure of a few minoritarian currents: the socialist and libertarian ones.
The ETA, then, remained divided into two radically opposed organizations, as much over political objectives as over the tactical means for achieving them. The one, strongly dominated by the Trotskyists, and the other by the nationalists (the "milis", so-called for their military "structure" and their choice of violent action).
Among the most significant events of 1970 relating to revolutionary activism in the international context, we should note: the seizure of an airplane of the Japanese airline by a Japanese revolutionary activist group not well known until then: the Revolutionary Red Army; the kidnapping and murder of Argentinian ex-President Aramburu, which was the point of departure for intense subversive activity against the military government, which later gave birth to a powerful urban guerrilla movement in Argentina; the kidnapping of British diplomat James Cross by a group of the FLQ, which was one of the last actions of revolutionary activism in Canada; the demonstrations in the United States against the war in Vietnam, which showed the power of the pacifist movement; the hardening, after Heath's rise to power, of the repression in Northern Ireland, where a climate of civil war prevailed with the generalization of bombings and preventive detentions; the diplomatic manoeuvres in the Middle East for the purpose of liquidating the Palestinian Resistance, whose revolutionary positions threatened the stability of Hussein's reactionary regime; the mysterious trips of Kissinger, the "special advisor" to the President of the United States, intended to put an end to the cold war and lay the foundations of a new international arrangement between the Great Powers; the electoral "victory" of the socialist Allende in Chile, which permitted the rise to power of the Popular Unity Front, which would experiment with the peaceful path to revolution; finally, the worsening of the political and social crisis in Italy, where fascist conspiracy reached truly alarming proportions -- not only because of the extent and seriousness of the provocations, but because its ramifications within the State itself were discovered, particularly within the army and industry. A conspiracy which, with the complicity of a part of the police, continued to blame the anarchists for the climate of "blind terror" which spread over the peninsula. The Italian police even killed a student during a support demonstration for the anarchist Valpreda and the anti-Francoists who were about to be tried in Burgos.
Meanwhile, in France, Maoist agitation against the established order gave rise to an almost permanent confrontation with the police and the judges6, until its reintegration into legal struggles through the leftist papers headed by J.-P. Sartre.
It was in this international context that the Left seized upon the "Chilean experience" to bring out Popular Front programs everywhere, seeking to neutralize anti-legalist leftism once and for all, and fill the cracks that the anti-bureaucratic contestation of May 68 had opened in the Left.
1 We are referring to the book by Régis Debray, Revolution in the Revolution.
2 In the final summation against the three defendants, there was only this reference to O.A. ... "The search carried out at the residence of Garcia Macareno (...) resulted in the discovery of many handwritten or printed documents, principally pamphlets of anarchist inspiration from the Iberian Federation of Libertarian Youth, letters intended for the Belgian embassy in France and the Belgian Ministry of Justice concerning a certain Octavio Alberola (...)".
3 Particularly in Italy, where, with the excuse of fascist terrorism, which the anarchists were officially accused of having committed, the police organized raids in leftist circles, carried out "anarchist and Maoist hunts" and arrested anarchist Yvo della Savia in Belgium.
4 Shortly after having broken Andreas Baader out of prison, the principal nucleus went to Jordan to train with the Fedayeen. When they returned, they announced the name they had given to their group, declaring: "We want to show that the struggle is possible here and now." From this moment on, and until the end of the year, they attacked several banks to finance their movement, as well as several town halls to obtain official seals, passports and identity cards. But in early October, the police succeeded in arresting three members of the group in an ambush.
5 Principally because of the psychosis caused by the discovery of several fascist agents who had infiltrated a few of these groups.
6 Many Maoist militants were sentenced under the anti-breakage law, and Alain Geismar was judged by the Court of State Security.