The brutal repression of the urban guerrilla movement by State terrorism and the passivity of the masses revived the old discussion about the effectiveness of revolutionary activism as a factor in the development of the revolutionary cause. Thus, in Britain, the most important criticism of the partisans of the Angry Brigade's actions was precisely that "after the catastrophic results of the repression, there is no other way to get out of this ditch than an ignominious retreat to more conventional political action, or else sinking deeper into the quicksand of terrorism, with all the dangers this represents -- a dilemma that has always imposed itself in previous campaigns and which can only be dodged with difficulty ..."1 In Germany, where the repression turned into a real manhunt, the critique was even more severe: "One can find the origin of the depoliticization of the Red Army Fraction's activity in the fact that it wants to take almost every action as the final goal of the revolution, while at the same time being mistaken about objective relations. Attacking the centers of capitalist decision-making bears a greater resemblance to raving madness that goes round in circles in the circle of capitalism than a revolutionary strategy."2
Revolutionary activists, when they have consciously decided to confront oppression on the terrain of violence, chose the extreme solution: to kill or be killed for their ideas. They knew that the choice of not killing would put them, at that very instant, out of History3, for the oppressive State has always chosen to kill in order to maintain itself and perpetuate itself, in order to continue to shape History in its own image. It is the very nature of the State, then, that forces this irreversible choice on activists, and not the nature of their ideal itself, which is not made up of a sick desire for violence, whatever efforts the manipulation of public opinion might make to persuade people of it. And if in certain situations it lets itself be criticized, the State does not tolerate disobedience, and even less the violation of its power; in that case it does not hesitate, in order to defend its Order, to kill and impose its terror if it considers it necessary, and no State differs in the concrete application of this authoritarian line of behaviour, whether it is totalitarian or democratic.
What should the revolutionary's attitude be? He cannot isolate himself from the world and from history without denying the very principle of his revolt, choosing the security of non-transgression without resigning himself, in a certain sense, to the triumph of the counter-revolution. If he wants to be a consistent revolutionary, without looking for excuses to escape his responsibility, he must go all the way; because if he does not, he makes a caricature of his revolt, reducing it to a mere provocation, and by accepting the system's "protection", he contributes to transforming it into an archetype of domination: the most subtle form of oppression.
As a rule, revolutionary activists avoided the trap of the ideological illusion, which affirms that the modern world -- and principally the capitalist world -- is inevitably condemned to disappear, and that then, overnight, everything will change, and that nothing is possible before, but that everything will be possible after. However imperfect their struggle may be, revolutionary activists are convinced that only the violent negation of the established order will change the course of history, causing the awakening of collective consciousness and the beginning of the evolutionary process, starting with situations created by the dialectical development of activism confronting the oppressive violence of the system. For them, the lesson of history is clear and conclusive: it is not the classic political game, which relies on stability and the inertia of the electorate which constitutes the future, but the interaction of collective consciousness with certain events and situations. It is demands made material in actions, in deeds, that begin the evolutionary process. Institutionalized forces are content to transform demands into rights and conquests into laws ... All "reforms" were imposed by means of the struggle; nothing was gained for free. History is the evolution of the struggle of the oppressed classes against the oppressing classes, of freedom against tyranny, of revolt against repression. And in this struggle, oppression, which is the real crime, always entrenched itself behind Order, calling criminal the subversion of the established Order, which is actually liberation.
In this sense, revolt is the most (morally) vulnerable phase of political combat, where everything is falsified in advance and where generosity and sincerity carry no weight in the face of the enormous means unleashed by the arbitrariness and hypocrisy of the established Order. In such a way that, unfailingly, we describe as criminal and punish all behaviour which might, directly or indirectly, endanger the system of exploitation.
On January 24, the German newspaper Der Spiegel published a declaration by Horst Mahler, a member of the Red Army Fraction, in which this view of the struggle is well defined:
"(...) The essence of legality is the perpetuation of domination out of respect for institutions (...) We make an abstraction of concrete historical formations, we ignore and consider as natural the power and violence of the ruling class (...) Such a sclerotic and unrealistic representation of Order is the smokescreen behind which the exploiting classes commit their crimes against humanity. The present order of developed capitalism could be worse, more fascist, but that does not justify participation in something inhuman, which is inevitably linked to any recognition of this order (...) To live and act humanely today means struggling against legalized capitalist rapaciousness and destroying the bourgeois order (...) For this, we need an infrastructure, carefully built in clandestinity, extreme mobility, training, experience in technical and tactical fields, a base of support, information networks, etc. The guerrilla will use the necessary means with those who have enriched themselves on the backs of the people. That is criminal, as it goes against the laws of the ruling class. That is revolutionary, as this aspect of the struggle is a necessary precondition of the revolution. Common criminality serves private interests, whereas the aim of revolutionary criminality is the satisfaction of social needs. It is directed against the rich and powerful and protects the oppressed, those who possess nothing. We will win."
Unlike fascist activism -- which was deliberately terrorist4 -- European revolutionary activism (especially the anarchist and leftist kind) limited itself to symbolic, psychological violence; systematically avoiding making victims, as it was directed against oppressive institutions and not people, as opposed to the repression, which is directed more against people than against revolt itself. As has been proved by the obviously premeditated way the German police killed several presumed members of the Red Army Fraction.
In 1972, the confrontation between repressive forces and the revolutionary activist groups was much more violent than before. The State hierarchies had decided to mobilize all their repressive power to "crush subversion", but revolutionary activism had also decided to graduate from symbolic, psychological violence to armed resistance.
The disproportion of force was such that although it did not succeed in totally crushing the resistance, much less subversion in general, the result of the confrontation was favourable to the repressive forces, all the more so because they did not hesitate to use the most inhuman and expedient procedures, even going as far as instigating real massacres in their determination to not compromise with the revolutionaries and to protect the prestige of their Order. The Order which, led at the summit of planetary power by the trio of Nixon, Brezhnev and Mao, and orchestrated by Kissinger with his strategy of "hot solutions", had no other purpose than the maintenance of the international status quo, so as to guarantee the survival of the authoritarian capitalist and communist order. Indeed, with Order having been reconciled at the summit, the repressive rank-and-file was free to devote itself more safely to the liquidation of the revolutionaries, whose "significant reality" was precisely the destruction of this Order.
Revolutionary activism did not abandon its activity, in both its anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist form, and in the more political and nationalist form of national liberation movements. The confrontation with repressive forces would turn into an uninterrupted series of bloody clashes throughout the year, whose outcomes were generally catastrophic for the urban guerrilla movements which had decided to fight at a higher level than their real strength allowed.
Thus, in Turkey at the end of March, or several hours after the authorities had prolonged martial law, the activist group of the Turkish Liberation Army kidnapped three British technicians in order to obtain the release of three revolutionary students who had been condemned to death and were about to be executed. A few days later, the group having been located and surrounded by a large contingent of military forces, the authorities, refusing to negociate, assaulted the house where the activists and their hostages were hidden. Fourteen bodies were recovered from the ruins (offensive grenades were thrown) including those of the three British technicians. Satisfied with their actions, the military continued with the repression against student and trade union circles with progressive views.
Thus, in Germany, in response to the escalation of American bombings in Vietnam, the Red Army Fraction carried out a series of bombings5 in May against offices of the American forces stationed in that country; also against the Springer newspaper monopoly, which was continuing a campaign to inflame public opinion, calling for the "extermination of the Baader gang bandits". These bombings, which caused the deaths of several officers of the American general staff in Europe, caused a great commotion and led to a general mobilization of the German police in order to search for the members of the activist group. The press and television reproduced their photographs and offered substantial rewards to those who would give "information to locate the terrorists". The hunt was organized with an impressive deployment of forces, supported by an intense and insidious publicity intended to create an atmosphere of terror in the population. On June 1, more than two hundred and fifty police surrounded the house where three activists were hiding in a suburb of Frankfurt and assaulted it, transmitted live on television ... Andreas Baader and two members of his group were wounded and finally arrested. A week later, three other members of the group were arrested, and on June 19, Gerhard Moller and Ulrike Meinhof were also arrested, Meinhof having been presented by the reactionary press as the "brain" of the group. These arrests brought an end, temporarily, to the experience of "urban guerrilla warfare" in Germany.
In France, the activist action that had the greatest effect was the kidnapping of a member of the management of Renault by a Maoist commando unit in protest against the killing of a young Maoist, Pierre Overnay, by a member of the aforementioned company's private militia. Condemned by all the organizations of the Left and even by many leftist groupuscules, anti-legalist leftist "activism" went no further than this action, with European leftism orienting itself instead toward communitarian experiences and working class militancy.
In Italy, the official repression remained oriented toward leftist circles, even though the fascist origins of the bombings was increasingly obvious. Even in the case of the "mysterious" death of leftist publisher Giangicomo Feltrinelli, killed by a "bomb explosion", and whose body was found beside a high-voltage pylon, the authorities sought to direct suspicion toward leftist circles, and in particular the Red Brigades. This remained the case until the arrest, thanks to the decision of two judges who did not allow themselves to be "guided" by the theses of the police, of three notorious fascists implicated in the bombing of the National Bank of Agriculture, which was attributed to anarchist Pietro Valpreda. This was not enough, apparently, to prove the latter's innocence, as the fascist plot continued to enjoy substantial protection from high government circles -- as was proven later. Faced with a situation as murky and threatening as this, leftism was forced to make an alliance with other anti-fascist sectors, and Valpreda himself, still a prisoner, agreed to be a candidate of the Il Manifesto group in the general election. As for the Nazi-fascist groups, they continued their strategy of tension, proving with bloodthirsty violence that the fascist peril was not a mere leftist invention but a tragic reality in Italy, and in another form in the rest of the world.
In Latin America, despite the resistance of revolutionary activism, authoritarian or openly dictatorial regimes (Brazil, Bolivia, etc.) established themselves. "Creole neo-fascism" also appeared behind the boots of the Uruguayan and Argentinian militaries, which prepared Peronism's return to power. At the same time, reactionary opposition to the Chilean Popular Unity government grew stronger; the government did not seem to grasp that it was isolated on a continent increasingly subject to American domination. A domination which was obvious in Uruguay, where President Bordaberry suspended democratic liberties and handed over power to the military, whose officers had been trained in the special anti-subversive schools of the Yankee army. In such a way that, willingly or unwillingly, the Tupamaro urban guerrilla movement was forced to confront the army, which had taken over the management of the repression. The final phase of this confrontation ended in the military's favour, although the Tupamaros, converted into the National Liberation Movement, carried out a series of important operations6 before the government was forced to declare a "state of internal war" and suspend individual rights. So, having experienced a climate of civil war for several months, all those who managed to escape the repression were forced to hide or go into exile. This scattering put the finishing touches to the crushing of the Tupamara national liberation movement, and weakened Latin-American international revolutionary activism, which was inspired by it, although in various contexts revolutionary activism continued to appear in other countries of the continent7 and in other latitudes.
Elsewhere, while practicing methods of struggle generally objected to by revolutionary activists, the activism of the IRA and the Palestinian resistance fighters was understood by them. Especially because in both cases, the armies of occupation (British and Israeli) set an example with their brutal actions of intimidation.
Thus, in Northern Ireland, after the shootings of Sunday, January 30, when thirteen Catholics were killed in Londonderry, the IRA intensified its attacks against British troops stationed in Ulster, and even in England. In this way the IRA showed its decision to respond to the terrorism of the British military with an even more violent counter-terrorism. In the same way, the stubbornness and repressive terror of the Israeli government against the Palestinian resistance generated a real escalation of violence in 1972.8
In 1972, two important trials occurred that could be linked to revolutionary activism, although they had different motivations: one in the United States against black communist militant Angela Davis; the other in Britain against the eight anarchists accused of belonging to the Angry Brigade.
The latter trial began in London on May 30 and ended on December 6. It was the longest political trial in all of British history, and British justice was able to judge the eight anarchists without being disturbed by any international denunciation. The Left and progressive forces quite simply ignored it. The old political sectarianism caused a new discrimination at the level of revolutionary activism. Yet the trial of the Angry Brigade revived interest in the theses of anarchist revolutionary activism in the most radicalized sectors of European leftism. The result of the trial, four sentences of ten years' imprisonment for conspiracy, showed -- despite four acquittals -- British democracy's decision to severely punish "subversion of the established order".
Indeed, if the acquittals of Stuart Christie, Chris Bott, Kate McLean and Angela Weir showed that the evidence provided by the police was "falsified" and insufficient, "Justice" still sentenced the four other defendants (Jim Greenfield, John Barker, Anna Mendelson and Hilary Creek)9 to heavy sentences, despite the jurors' request for "clemency".
In Spain, Francoist totalitarianism went a great deal farther than "democratic" authoritarian repression, not that the democracies were sensitized by the tragedy of Spanish anti-fascism, abandoned to all exactions and all crimes. The case of Julio Millan Hernandez is a scandalous example of this: this libertarian militant was judged by a court-martial on February 11 after four and a half years of preventive detention, for two bombings committed almost ten years earlier, and which left no victims and little material damage. He was sentenced to twenty-three years' imprisonment.
But obviously, it should not be forgotten that Francoist Spain was an exceptional case, and that the real tragedy was the disunity of the anti-Francoist sectors, which were incapable of benefitting from either the fighting spirit of broad student and working class sectors or the activity of the activist groups that constantly harassed the regime.
Thus -- once again -- the possibilities offered by a strong student agitation (which lasted from January to May, with constant confrontations with the repressive forces) and a general strike movement at La Coruña (during which the police killed two workers) were lost, without the opposition of the interior or the exterior doing anything more than casting the usual anathemas against the regime. Even the actions10 of the ETA, which developed an intense activity throughout 1972, and several of whose militants died in shootouts with the police and Civil Guard, were incapable of either shaking off anti-Francoism's defeatism or creating a new spirit of unity.
In Catalonia, new generations of libertarian activists began a new stage of anarchist revolutionary activism by putting into practice the methods of expropriation that permitted the ETA to finance its actions. The events at the Ferrol shipyards contributed, without a doubt, to radicalizing the positions of the marginal Catalan revolutionary groups. But among those who adopted positions increasingly close to libertarian ones, there was only one that adopted "revolutionary violence by word and deed" as its line of action: the MIL. Its evolution in the direction of activism was slow and somewhat "chaotic" -- as were also those of the European activist groups that sprang from the depths and disappointments of May `68.
"(...) In April 1970, the MIL developed an open critique of all the reformist and leftist lines (The Workers' Movement in Barcelona). The same year, it distributed a paper on the critique of Leninism (Revolution All the Way). Its critique of interventionism, groupusculism and authoritarianism, etc., led, at the time, to it breaking with rank-and-file organizations that wanted to take over shared struggles and experiences -- like the one at Harry Walker -- and thus to make themselves into groupuscules. The MIL, beginning in political isolation, and for its own politico-military survival, was forced to make political agreements with military groups: for example, with the nationalists, who at the time were the only ones willing to begin armed struggle. Agreements like these, forced by the group's isolation, caused it to forget its previous positions (...) Present-day society has its laws, its justice, its guards, its judges, its courts, its prisons, its criminal offenses, its normality. Facing this appear a series of political organs (parties and unions, reformism and leftism) that pretend to thwart this situation, when in reality they do nothing but consolidate this society. Justice in the street is nothing other than denouncing and attacking all of this society's mystifications (...)" (Taken from CIA, International Anarchist Conspiracy, published by the MIL)
In the last months of 1972, the MIL appeared on the front pages of the national press, following a series of spectacular expropriations (bank raids) and distributions of propaganda in the region of Barcelona.
This new libertarian activism appeared at the same time as a new flowering of autonomous anarchist youth groups, which refused all relations with classical anarchist formations, the FIJL included. The latter, however, having suspended its participation in violent action against Francoism, was practically non-existant. The common characteristic of all these autonomous anarchist groups and the autonomous combat groups (MIL) was precisely a break with the organizational line of classical anarchism, and, in a more general sense, their May`68-style anti-authoritarianism:
"(...) We refuse everything that is not topical, but we reaffirm what world revolutionary practice has shown to be topical in libertarian socialist thought, and in the actions of anarchism: popular direct action, in its many aspects, as a method of anti-capitalist struggle, and for the construction of a true socialist society ..."(Direct Action Group, January-February, 1972)
"(...) Armed agitation, like any other form of agitation, marks the direction of the class struggle of the broad masses by helping them to orient themselves, to radicalize and to advance with greater firmness. At the same time, the concrete objectives of the above-mentioned agitation also have the function of support for the class struggle (...)" (Autonomous Combat Groups, No.1, December 1972)
The appearance of these groups marks a new stage in the history of Spanish anarchism, both because they ensure a continuity to historical anarchism -- which is dying with its old organizational structures in exile -- and because they represent their own liberation from visceral anti-Marxist ideological sectarianism. For although they are profoundly anti-authoritarian, they do not reject the Marxist critique of the capitalist system a priori, or refuse to meet revolutionary Marxists in struggle against the Dictatorship and Capitalism. A struggle which, with the nomination of Admiral Carrero Blanco as head of the government in case of the inability or death of the Caudillo, was expected to be particularly harsh.
On the international scene, what is significant is the triumphant re-election of Nixon to the Presidency of the United States in November, although the end of the Vietnam war was not in sight, and the Watergate affair had already appeared on the front pages of American newspapers. What is certain is that Nixon's re-election, which ensured the continuity of the foreign policy advocated by Kissinger, would be celebrated with great satisfaction in Moscow and Peking. And to finish the year in a full euphoria of "international peaceful coexistence", the USA began to bomb North Vietnam again; American B-52s even bombed Hanoi and the dikes protecting large urban and rural zones, showing, with this action, their determination to impose certain conditions on the Vietnamization of the conflict following the withdrawal of Yankee troops.
1 Taken from Freedom, the organ of the British Anarchist Federation.
2 Taken from Hochschulkampf, the organ of a Marxist-Leninist group in West Berlin.
3 Albert Camus, The Rebel.
4 As proven by the bombings organized by the Nazi-fascist cells in Italy, which had already claimed more than a hundred victims among the population.
5 Just two months after the police had killed a member of the group and wounded another, the Red Army Fraction exploded, on May 11, a powerful explosive charge at the headquarters of the American forces in Frankfurt, killing one colonel and wounding 13 officers. The next day, another bomb exploded in the police barracks at Augsburg, where one of the group's members had been murdered. On the 15th, the car of the investigating judge presiding over the trial of the group was destroyed. On the 19th, two bombs exploded in the Springer offices, wounding several people. On the 24th, another bomb exploded at the headquarters of the American army in Europe, killing three people: one captain and two sergeants.
6 In mid-April, the Tupamaros went on the offensive, killing in the space of a few hours a Secretary of State, a naval officer and two police officers responsible for torture and repression of the guerrillas (torture confirmed by the testimony of 15 Tupamaros who escaped from Punta Carretas prison a few days earlier). After the proclamation of an "internal state of war", which led to the imprisonment of more than a hundred Tupamaros and discovery of the "people's prison" where the president of the telephone company and the ex-Minister of Agriculture had been held for almost a year, the Tupamaros succeeded in killing an army colonel who had participated in the repression of the MLN. As for the anarchists of OPR 33 (Popular Revolutionary Organization 33), they still held the son of an industrialist who was in conflict with his workers.
7 In Argentina, with the kidnappings of the presidents of Fiat and the Philips affiliate, the Trotskyists of the People's Revolutionary Army (ERP) asserted themselves as the principal revolutionary organization of South America. In Mexico, despite the death of guerrilla leader Genaro Vazques Rojas, several guerrilla groups implanted themselves in the rural regions of the Pacific coast and carried out several kidnappings of industrialists in order to gain ransoms and the release of political prisoners.
8 The participation of Japanese revolutionary activists side by side with the Palestinian resistance seems to be the result of their decision to internationalize their activity, after having reformed the clandestine structure of the Unified Red Army outside Japan (a group with student origins that the Japanese police thought they had completely broken up during the February operation against a mountain chalet where the young activists had hidden).
9 Except for Stuart Christie, who was a worker, the four convicted defendants and the three other acquitted defendants were young university students who had participated in the anti-authoritarian and communitarian movements of British leftism. As soon as the trial was over, the British press devoted entire pages to the Angry Brigade and the defendants. The television (the BBC) even produced a documentary on the Angry Brigade and international anarchist activism.
10 It is enough to mention the kidnapping of insustrialist Lorenzo Zabala in January, the occupation of a church by an armed commando unit in Galcacano in early April, which interrupted a church ceremony and distributed propaganda; the destruction of the monument to the composer of the Falange's hymn, and a private club and several newspaper workshops in San Sebastian, still in April, the gunfight near the French-Spanish border in early September, in which a Civil Guard was killed; and lastly, in December, the destruction of the offices of the [fascist] Union Houses in Hernani, Tolosa, Renteria and Irun.