As the ebb of the international movement of student protest became more pronounced, the temptation to move into armed action became stronger for the most radicalized revolutionary groups. Particularly with the groups that had survived the formidable mobilization of the youth revolt.
Now, to the extent that this temptation materialized in an attempt at violent and clandestine activity, the isolation of these groups was only more profound and significant as a result. It is not surprising, then, that after a few brief skirmishes with the forces of Order, most of them abandoned action and dispersed in the nostalgic retirement of those who piously awaited the revival of contestation.
Leftism, at least the most organized element, finally resigned itself to occupying the place reserved for the legalist extreme left, as a result completing, with this backward step, the isolation of the activist groups which continued to be tempted by armed struggle against the established Order.
Such, in 1971, was the context in which European revolutionary activism evolved, searching for a new impetus in the direction of revolution. Excepting, of course, the specifically autonomist revolutionary movements (the Basques, the Bretons, the Irish, etc.) and the "resistance" movements in Spain, Greece and Portugal, which developed in particular contexts, and whose objectives were more political than revolutionary. This new impetus cleared the way for a new radicalization of struggles aiming to denounce bourgeois legality from a truly revolutionary standpoint. This radicalization ran from simple anti-fascist solidarity (until then the fundamental objective of anarchist activism) to class solidarity in national social struggles, to confrontation with the repressive forces of the bourgeois State. This was how the Angry Brigade and the Red Army Fraction, which, in 1971, represented the most radical European revolutionary activism, demonstrated both in their theoretical analyses and their praxis the firm intention of developing an urban guerrilla activity adapted to their material capacities and the political and social conditions of their respective countries. To do this, and given that they could only count on their own resources and on the fruit of their clandestine actions, their struggle would be basically oriented toward the creation and consolidation of a support infrastructure, and toward sensitizing public opinion to their strategic line of direct action. The objective of most of their actions was the acquisition of the necessary means to support the struggle; its real revolutionary projection appeared more in their texts than in their actions:
"(...) The practical revolutionary example is the only path to the revolutionizing of the masses, which contains the historic chance of the realization of socialism.
(...) Didn't the events of May 1968 in France show that the contradiction between organization and spontaneity is the central problem of revolution? The renewed debates over this question show essentially that one does not achieve the synthesis of opposites by choosing this or that theoretical position; here Luxemburgist, there Leninist, at best perhaps Trotskyist: we cannot liquidate the question of organization with a repeat of anarchism, but only by starting the practice of revolutionary struggle (...) We must attack in order to awaken the revolutionary consciousness of the masses. In this, we will inevitably come up against resistance mobilized by a false consciousness trying to maintain adaptation; to maintain a mental equilibrium painfully acquired in the situation of oppression. This resistance, quite precisely similar to mechanical inertia, is the guard dog of the system of exploitation in the head of the oppressed person. The bombs that we throw at the apparatus of oppression we also throw in the consciousness of the masses (...)"1
Indeed, the actions of the Red Army Fraction, like those of the Angry Brigade, sought -- above all -- to awaken the consciousness of the masses by showing them that the real enemy of their liberation was their faculty of adaptation.
"We have sat quietly and suffered the violence of the system for too long. We are being attacked daily. Violence does not only exist in the army, the police and the prisons. It exists in the shoddy alienating culture pushed out by TV films and magazines, it exists in the ugly sterility of urban life. It exists in the daily exploitation of our Labour, which gives big Bosses the power to control our lives and run the system for their own ends.
(...) But the system will never collapse or capitulate by itself.
More and more workers now realise this and are transforming union consciousness into offensive political militancy. In one week, one million workers went on strike ... Fords, Post Office, BEA (...)
Our role is to deepen the political contradictions at every level. We will not achieve this by concentrating on 'issues' or by using watered down socialist platitudes.
In Northern Ireland the British army and its minions has found a practising range: the CS gas and bullets in Belfast will be in Derby and Dagenham tomorrow.
OUR attack is violent ...
Our violence is organised.
The question is not whether the revolution will be violent. Organised militant struggle and organised terrorism go side by side. These are the tactics of the revolutionary class movement. Where two or three revolutionaries use organised violence to attack the class system ... there is the Angry Brigade. Revolutionaries all over England are already using the name to publicise their attacks on the system.
No revolution was ever won without violence.
Just as the structures and programmes of a new revolutionary society must be incorporated into every organised base at every point in the struggle, so must organised violence accompany every point of the struggle until, armed, the revolutionary working class overthrows the capitalist system."
(Communique number 6 of the Angry Brigade)
So, starting from these analyses, the urban guerrilla movement advocated by British and German revolutionary activists would continue to develop all through 1971.
In France, on the other hand, a completely different phenomenon was occurring. From social democracy to the Maoist ultra-left, everything was done to overcome the division of the left and its electoral failure in the face of Gaullism and the most representative parties of the French bourgeoisie.
The French leftists, with the monthly J'Accuse -- led by J.-P. Sartre -- continued to denounce "bourgeois policy today (...) which seeks to integrate the working classes of the "new society" (...) and which occasionally even tries to recuperate the leftists (...)" But in the final analysis the latter's old inclination toward parliamentary government also made them want the unity of the left and its triumph ... Which did not prevent them from attacking reformism and the C.P. in the streets or in the courts, giving rise to the irrational response of the communists, who called them provocateurs and leftist-fascists2, although they were the object of repressive measures and many trials. The Maoists' shift into French prisons certainly contributed to the politicization of prison support groups, which spread the agitation that culminated in the mutinies in French penitentiary centers at the end of the year -- shortly after the brutal repression of the prisoners' revolt at Attica federal prison in the United States.
Among the reasons for the neutralization of French leftism -- and that of other countries -- by the parliamentary left was the experience of the Popular Union in Chile. Although from May onward the MIR (Movement of the Revolutionary Left) denounced "the police repression of Salvador Allende's Popular Union government against peasants who have occupied agricultural properties" in that country. Despite this, and although the contradictions of the Chilean experience of the "peaceful road to socialism" became increasingly obvious, the left persisted in using it as an example.
At the beginning of August, the second International Congress of Anarchist Federations met in Paris -- the second of the new epoch, in which only national federations recognized by the Organizing Committee were permitted to attend. This Congress was called to form the new International and "define a revolutionary strategy", which the presence of the anarcho-leftists had prevented from forming at the Congress in Carrara.
With the euphoria of May 68 over -- and continually subject to internal struggles -- organized anarchism went from bad to worse. The deliberations and final result of the Congress were the peak of the incoherence and sectarianism that prevailed within institutionalized anarchism. As a journalist of Le Monde summed it up:
"... if the Congress did nothing concrete, it was because it could not do anything. The disagreements were too deep, in fact, for a discussion of the essentials to take place. Any precise strategic opinion inevitably leads to a split in the organization. Convened in order to make a choice, the second Congress handed over this responsibility to a third assembly, of which we know neither where nor when it will assemble."
There were many disagreements, but fundamentally they revolved around the primacy of the organic institution as opposed to spontaneism and free associationism. The old nuclei, traditionalist and passive, with the exiled Iberian Anarchist Federation3 at its head, hung onto the official seals and the rigidity of structures in a vain attempt to control the movement. So the movement escaped them through groups of youth who denounced them, and above all through revolutionary action carried out outside the organized movement and against its will.
Therefore, it is not surprising that, faced with the sectarianism and paternalism of these leaders, many anarchists ended up separating from institutionalized anarchism. Particularly in the Spanish libertarian milieus. In the introduction to the study entitled "The Theoretical Basis of Libertarian Communism", published in Bulletin No. 5 of Tribune Libertaire, published by the autonomous groups of the interior, one reads:
"The anti-authoritarian current suffered a great eclipse after the defeat of the social revolution in Spain. The contemporary period indicates, on the contrary, a great resurgence of this in the workers' aspirations. An analysis of current events leads us to rely once more on Libertarian Communism, the backbone of anarchism, which implies a break with the traditional anarchist milieus, which have lost sight of any kind of social transformation, or which cannot find the means for such an objective. Reality forces us to go beyond fixed positions, schemas worked out in other times and in other circumstances (...)"
Contrary to most of the old libertarian militancy, the characteristic of these new militants was based on total rejection of all the ideological sectarianisms that had divided the Libertarian Movement into factions that were implacable and sterile in revolutionary terms. This is why they repeated in all their bulletins (Tribuna Libertaria, Tierra Libre, etc.) that they were spokespersons "open to anarchist thought, which we believe requires the participation of all (revolutionary) libertarian militants involved in the current process of ideological clarification and revolutionary action." The content of these bulletins was irrefutable proof of this doctrinal eclecticism, and at the same time proof of their desire for "ideological clarification and revolutionary action" in the dangerous and difficult context of clandestinity in Spain.
In the international Marxist camp, polemics and divisions were also the order of the day. The incidents of the "normalization process" in Czechoslovakia, the Sino-Soviet struggle -- which turned into a true doctrinal polemic and "geographical dispute" -- and, to complete the crisis, the policy of peaceful coexistence with the capitalist world, including the fascist dictatorships, which forced the communists to resort to all kinds of dialectical pirouettes to explain their serious internal contradictions and justify their collaborationist attitude. All of this fed dissent, and served as a pretext for many internal oppositions and personal rivalries, and, in the end, for splits in most communist parties. The latter not only split into pro-Chinese and pro-Soviet factions, but were denounced from the grass-roots by many marginal Marxist-Leninists.
On the Spanish scene, the "conflict" between the official leadership (Carrillo-Passionaria) of the native CP and the Soviet CP increasingly appeared to be a mere tactical justification intended to distance it from the Russian posture in Czechoslovakia. Despite the entry into this jousting match of generalissimo Lister and his group, eagerly contesting their leadership of the Party and advocating unconditional loyalty to the leaders of the Kremlin, one could feel a deeper rift. But aside from this conflict of personalities, the confrontation with Moscow only served to camouflage and sweep under the rug the too obvious contradictions of the USSR and the socialist states concerning Spain. Since then, totally disregarding Spanish workers' struggles, these states continued to increase their commercial and diplomatic exchanges with the Francoist regime.
Moreover, with its policy of flattering the Church and the army, Carrillism applied the same Manicheanism by favouring "infiltration" and the collaboration of its militants in Francoist organizations. The same thing applied to its trade union policy through the Workers' Commissions, which encouraged the workers to participate in elections organized by the vertical unions. And this went on when Francoism continued to murder workers4 to try to crush the exemplary combativeness of the Spanish working class.
During 1971, the capitalist world grew accustomed to the aggressive policy of the United States, whose objective was re-establishing the equilibrium of its balance of payments and recovering the ground it had lost to Japan and the European Community. In this economic war between the great powers of western capitalism, which brought about the first devaluation of the dollar, all the contradictions of the capitalist system were put on display, as well as its inability to resolve them to the advantage of the world's peoples.
In Britain, with the actions of the Angry Brigade following one after the other, the police, aided by the reactionary press5, threw themselves into the search for the revolutionary activists. Two young anarchists, Jake Prescott and Ian Purdie, were arrested. They were accused of having committed the bombings of the home of the Minister of Employment (January 1971) as well as other bombings of the previous year, simply because they corresponded to the bourgeois stereotype of "subversive persons", as Jake Prescott had been in prison on a drug charge and Ian Purdie had been jailed for six months for a would-be attack on the Department of Irish Affairs in London during a demonstration. The fact is that after their imprisonment the Angry Brigade continued its actions6, to the great indignation of the press, which cried of sacrilege against British pride, a sentiment that the methods of the police must have further injured afterwards. The continuity of the actions caused the creation of a special branch of the police to break up the Angry Brigade. And in late August, six British anarchists were arrested at the home of one of them, where arms and explosive substances were found. But after having given extensive publicity to this repressive operation, because one of the six prisoners was British anarchist Stuart Christie, the police were forced to admit that the Angry Brigade had not been decapitated, as the actions not only continued but became even more intense. Like the spectacular bombings of the Post Office Tower in London and several bombings of police stations and army barracks.
On December 1st, Jake Prescott was sentenced to fifteen years' imprisonment for "conspiracy", Ian Purdie having been acquitted. Meanwhile, the police had arrested four other young anarchists, who were in contact with the ones arrested in August.
The sentence against Jake Prescott caused great indignation in leftist circles and among British intellectuals, who immediately organized a protest campaign against the severity of the sentence.
The British press devoted many editorials and long articles to the trial and the actions of the Angry Brigade. The big dailies insisted on the fact that "the basic ideas of the Angry Brigade were supported without reservation by the London "underground press", and some of them insulted the women linked to the defendants because they lived together. On the other hand, the Daily Telegraph (Conservative), which could not be expected to trouble itself to think about the matter, published a remarkably lucid editorial:
"Against tyrants and dictators who cannot be overthrown legally and peacefully by the vote, the use of bombs or arms, as distressing as it can be in particular cases, is understandable. Where democracy is imperfect, where the poor, for example, or women, or religious or ethnic groups see themselves refused the right to vote, violence might seem to be the only way to enlarge the electoral franchise. The actions of Prescott and the Angry Brigade constitute a salutary reminder that perfect democracy, in the sense of "one man (or one woman), one vote" does not prevent all likelihood of violent contradiction; Ulster, to be sure, is another. We tend to consider the will of the majority as the general will, the will of all; we expect the minorities to peacefully await their hour in the hope of one day becoming majorities. This is not always the case. There are those who think our democracy, as perfect as it might be, is a simulation, a perfect simulation if you like, corrupted -- to the point of forbidding all hope -- by the economic and social framework, supposedly tainted to its foundations, in which it functions. For these people, its mechanisms are purely arbitrary (...)"
But in general, the attacks directed against the anarchist groups conveyed the need the State apparatus felt to attack, in a spectacular way, those who most symbolized the total negation of the State and the willingness to question the whole of society, those who struggled, according to the Evening Standard, for a "revolution that includes workers, students, professors, trade unionists, homosexuals, the lazy, and women seeking liberation." The offensive carried out against anarchist groups in several countries conveyed the importance of the simultaneous development of the revolutionary movements in these countries.
In Germany, the police mobilized nationwide to organize a search for the Red Army Fraction, which led to a series of confrontations during the year in the principal cities of that country. Following these confrontations, during which the police resorted to expedient methods, several presumed members of the revolutionary activist group were killed. Thus, on July 15, Petra Schelm was killed during a police operation in the streets of Hamburg. On October 21, Norbert Schmid was killed, and Margit Schiller, who accompanied him, was arrested. On December 4, young anarchist Georg von Rauch was murdered in cold blood by the West Berlin police during an identity check.
This whole wave of murders (because there was a huge disproportion of force between the police and the victims) led to protest demonstrations by German leftist groups, as well as intellectuals. But in late December, the Springer press monopoly began a crude campaign of defamation against the Red Army Fraction, using as a pretext the fact that during a bank raid a policeman was killed, without any proof that the group was responsible for the raid. Writer Heinrich Böll took a stand, in an article published in Der Spiegel, against attempts by the reactionary press to inflame public opinion. Later, the proper Chancellor Brandt was obliged to publicly address the population to persuade them to stay calm.
In Turkey, following actions by activists of the People's Liberation Army, which triggered the police intervention in the University of Ankara (three dead and twenty-five wounded) to free four American soldiers held there by the leftists, the army imposed a new government which declared a state of emergency on April 26 and proceeded to arrest many students, university professors and union members. All of which did not prevent the kidnapping on May 17 of Israeli consul general Ephraim Ebrom, who was found dead a week later when the police and the army began an operation of intimidation in which more than ten thousand soldiers and policemen participated. From then on, the trials and death sentences of People's Liberation Army militants followed one after another.
In Spain, the police centered the repression on the Basque country and Catalonia, as the autonomist groups were the most active ones. In Catalonia, an activist group appeared called the Freedom of Catalonia Group, which claimed several bombings of official institutions (the courthouse, the syndical organization, etc.) that were carried out in May7. Two weeks later, the arrest of a Marxist-Leninist group, the Catalan Liberation Front, which claimed to be the equivalent of the ETA in Catalonia, was announced.
In Portugal, the groups of Armed Revolutionary Action (ARA) claimed two important bombings: the first, in June, of the Lisbon telephone exchange during the NATO meeting, and the other, at the end of October, of the new NATO central barracks.
In Latin America, the guerrilla groups continued a difficult struggle against the repression, which was aided by the "Special Forces" sent by the American government to assist the oligarchic regimes.
Finally, in Northern Ireland, the conflict between Protestants and Catholics worsened following the new policy imposed by Heath, with his measures of "administrative internment" (more than four hundred people were imprisoned in early November) and with tortures inflicted on IRA militants. A conflict which, in a certain way, was reminiscent of the Algerian war, and which grew more complicated from year to year, politically and socially.
1 On Armed Struggle in Western Europe. A text by the Red Army Fraction, reproduced in the book La Bande à Baader où la violence révolutionnaire, published by Editions Champ Libre.
2 Particularly after the "profanation" of the tombs of communist leaders Maurice Thorez and Marcel Cachin during the [ultra-]leftist demonstration of May 1, and on which persons unknown wrote: "Long Live the Commune!" and "Traitor".
3 Dominated by the Esgleist (pro-status quo) sector.
4 A worker, during the demonstration in support of the construction strike in Madrid in August, and two others in October, during the SEAT strike in Barcelona.
5 The Daily Mirror offered 10,000 pounds to anyone who would provide information on the members of the Angry Brigade.
6 The Angry Brigade carried out several actions: against a generator and a Ford administrative building, and against the residence of Ford's managing director in Europe. Against a big luxury store, having taken care to telephone in order to evacuate the store. Against Scotland Yard's computer room, causing a great deal of damage. At the same time, there were similar actions in Paris against British companies, also claimed by the "International Revolutionary Solidarity Movement". These bombings obviously proved that the charges against Jake Prescott and Ian Purdie were only a manoeuvre.
7 The Catalan Committee of Libertarian Coordination circulated a declaration refusing support for these actions, and denouncing the "calumnies" directed by "certain groups with a Marxist-Leninist ideology (...) whose only purpose is to draw police repression down on the libertarian movement."