“You may not want to admit it but you know very well that whenever you revert to a certain form of struggle that might be described as armed struggle, there is a very good chance that things are not going to come to a happy conclusion.”
I am Michel Camilleri and I was known as Ratapanade, meaning Bat, but between ourselves and as Jean-Marc (i.e. Jean-Marc Rouillan) has stated in his books, back in the day a lot of folk reckoned that that was my real surname.
I am 66 years and 2 months old, whereas Jean-Marc is 66 years and 1 month. It is like when you were a kid, you used to say you were 13-and-a-half and to begin with you counted in halves and then when you come to the end you are still counting in halves. No need to kid yourself. Your impression is that time passes slowly whereas it whizzes by (Laughter).
I lived in Madagascar from the age of 4 until I was 16.
My father was a gendarme and my mother was, like a lot of women back then, “a home-maker”.
My mother was of Spanish/Toulousain stock and my father was petty much what one might call a metèque. A sort of a half-caste. He was of Sicilian extraction and his father had been a freemason and poor and was born in Tunisia.
He was not a member of the resistance in the traditional FTP (Franc-Tireur Partisan) sense, but he served during the war in the French army which fought alongside the British and the Americans.
Come the end of the war, he needed to eat so he rejoined the gendarmerie but, for a gendarme, he was a bit of a rebel. At the same time, you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. I think that is what allows me these days to be somewhat more nuanced in passing value judgments based on people’s roles in society.
I heard about the CRS=SS, as there was a lot of such talk at the time. There is no need to exaggerate: a CRS man is not the same as an SS man; he is a proletarian, maybe even a sub-proletarian who may well be a shit or turn into one (as in most cases), that being the role in which they are cast. At the same time, he was prompted to do so because working in a factory was not an option for him. It all has to do with social roles.
The CRS=SS slogan became pat of the repertoire of the activist challengers during the 1960s. In actual fact, though, it dates back to 1948. Three years after the end of the war, the miners mounting one of the toughest and most violently repressed strikes in social history came up with the CRS=SS formula.
Later, as I saw it, there were individuals who are socially of note, but, having said that, an enemy is still an enemy. What I mean to say is that these days a cop, no friend of mine, cannot become such unless we can go out for a drink together and I do not know who he is (or, even if I do know, I don’t give a damn!)
When I arrived in France at the age of 16, it was to Toulouse in July-August 1968, just after the May ’68 events. I was the only person frisked as we got off the plane because I had shoulder-length hair. Those were the days.
On which basis I can state that one’s social trajectory is not necessarily a choice made by individuals. Which is why I have chosen to fight to ensure that people do get to make real choices. Or at any rate to believe that they might, some day.
During my first year at technical high-school in Toulouse, I was deep in depression. Life in Madagascar and life there had nothing in common. And then I moved to the Lycée Berthelot which was regarded as one of the unruliest high-schools in Toulouse. The dunces’ high-school.
I was pretty much un-politicized, other than through the stories I had heard from my father about the war-time resistance. Ultimately, his adventures, as discussed in the family setting. Of necessity they left their mark, albeit without my noticing it. I had some sort of a consciousness but it was not political.
1969/70 was an extremely unruly time everywhere, bit I think that Toulouse was one of the unruliest cities in social and political terms. There was a lot going on here. Even Paris was a lot quieter.
The gaining of political consciousness:
I was at the only high-school with a significant proportion of leftists or would-be leftists. I made a fair number of contacts during the high-school unrest at the time. Strikes, classroom take-overs, sabotage (small stuff) and I was at every demo.
The cops were often lined up outside but they never came inside. That was around the time that I met up with Jean-Marc and Mario Ines Torres, two of my friends and comrades. I took up with them from then on.
Well, that went on for 2 or 3 years and little by little I was drawn into the struggles that were going on at the time. Some pretty violent demonstrations, though. We were pursued most, not by the cops, but by the stewards from the League (the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire) and I have some very happy memories of that; it was great fun.
We marched in the van of the demos (the way the vanguard groups do these days) and we were at least as violent as them but the media dd not make the song and dance about it that they do these days. Besides, that was part of everyday life, unremarkable and gradually it evolved into what one might term something more “radical”. But that is not at all how I saw things; as far as I was concerned, it had a logical continuity to it. Mingling with folk with whom you see eye to eye, with whom you share a number of ideas, ambitions and day-to-day life is what initially brought me to get involved in MIL activities (Movimiento Ibérico de Liberación). I was already acquainted with Jean-Marc, Cricri, Auriol and Puig Antich whom I had bumped into a few times.
The MIL (Iberian Liberation Movement) was a movement that advocated “armed agitation” and it was active inside Spain from 1971 until it wound itself up in August 1973.
It was an organization that defied definition and its very existence was as much irksome to the European theoretical ultra-left (because of the equation of bank robberies with criminality) as to those who all too quickly became “professional activists”. The MIL never quite came up with a centralized organization: it was more a case of a set of initials around which militants rallied at the intersection of two keynote ideas: linking up intelligently with the anarchist activist tradition of supporting and inciting more radical struggles [and] moving beyond antifascism, syndicalism and leftism’s unarmed stance in order to grapple with a modern revolutionary project.
The MIL practised direct action against the Franco dictatorship, notably by means of bank robberies which sustained solidarity with labour strikes and funded the acquisition of printing equipment and the Mayo 37 publishing imprint.
Its best-known militants were Salvador Puig Antich and Oriol Solé Sugranyes, the latter killed in Barcelona in 1976 by the Civil Guard.
In ‘72/’73 I was around in Toulouse and helping out with finding places to stay and other minor things.
You mean during the school year?
Yes it coincided exactly with the school year but I knew that I would not ‘finish’ because I hadn’t the slightest interest in doing so. It is very interesting, but I could not see myself staying the course, as they say these days, and becoming a student. It wasn’t a value-judgment, it was just the way things were. So, naturally, I surrounded myself with somewhat socially unruly pals and back then that had more to do with the way one thought.
And you were a member of ‘Vive la Commune’ (Long live the Commune)?
No. I knew them, I knew Jean-marc, but no, I was on the look-out for some stroke to pull. It was like belonging to the MIL. I was not a member of the MIL. I regularly supplied them with shelter or help and when I say help, I mean small joky things: it might be a small thunderflash, etc. It was all part of the support we fed to people.
When I started out I had no contact with Spain.
I had no idea where they were, nor did I need to know that. Sometimes pals would say to me, “I did this or I did that” (back in the day, I mean). “I wasn’t there, so you shouldn’t be telling me this. Shut your trap.” Not that that did any good.
I was drawn in without thinking too much about the future. I never asked myself what I was going to do later and even at the age I am today I still don’t as myself that question. I do know that I am going to die though. (Laughter)
By my reckoning neither Jean-Paul nor Cricri (who committed suicide) and other comrades who were in Action Directe and in the GARI , I don’t think most of them ever questioned themselves about the future of society. The issue was never raised and one can understand why not.
Cricri was Jean-Claude Torres, a member of the MIL/GAC (Autonomous Fighting Group).
Whilst I have certain queries to raise these days they certainly have nothing to do with querying the personal options exercised by youngsters these days. I know that the world has changed, big-time. Back in the day, as far as many of us were concerned, it was not even an issue; we were caught up in a process and we knew that we were taking part in history at an extremely important time. What happened afterwards was proof to us of that. These days I think it is hard to appreciate that unless one has been through it oneself.
We pretty much all come from families that had lived through the war (and many of which had been involved in the resistance in one manner or another) and we had come to a point ( I was born in ’52, or a very sort time after the war) when the economic and social status quo could have been redirected. Towards what, I do not know and I have no clue as what might have come of it and, in any case, nothing did.
I am talking here only about the East/West blocs and the Cold War when things were very tense. But even so there were struggles and most of the time it was former resistance members, most of them communists or the most radical far leftists that one ran into in Toulouse, anti-Francoists who had fought (ad I mean really fought) against Franco’s rule and then, more widely, those who were fighting around the Third World, in Cuba, the Tricontinental, Africa, the war in Vietnam. We were really awash with all this and there were stirrings everywhere one looked.
What we went through during the GARI years was wholly contemporary with what was going on in Italy and Germany, the Baader Gang (mark one) it came slightly later. It was all going on at the same time, except that in Italy and Germany there were things that were happening that were both close matches and had idiosyncrasies of their own.
In Germany it was the children of the Nazis, collaborators or resisters who represented the successors to Nazism and who therefore reacted in a certain way. Italy has always had her fascist past, but with a tremendous history of resistance. In Greece, there was the colonels’ coup (17 November 1973) and then there was the Pinochet coup (11 September 1973). We lived through all of this.
Thinking back to the days of Aldo Moro, we were up to our necks in militant activity by then (1978).
Aldo Moro was born on 23September 1916 in Maglia and died in Rome – or thereabouts – on 9 May 1978); he was an Italian statesman and a member of the Christian Democrats.
During the Second World War he had been a lecturer in criminal law. In 1946 he was elected as a deputy, first joining the government in 1955 and he was leader of the Christian Democrats from 1959 to 1963. He served wo terms as prime minister in Italy and twice handled Italy’s foreign affairs portfolio.
An advocate of the “historic compromise” between Christian Democrats and the communists, he was kidnapped in March 1973 by the Red Brigades. He was held for 55 days before finally being murdered by his captors. The circumstances of his death and the inability of the authorities of the day to rescue him remain matters of controversy within the Italian political class and media.
Those were extremely turbulent times and the world underwent huge changes. The world was turned upside down and I reckon in fact that it looked like anything was possible. Whether anything was possible, I do not now, but, be that as it may, it was looking that way. At the time we were adolescents or just out of our teens and so we were forever asking ourselves “where do we go from here?”
The GAI (Groupe Autonome d’Intervention) 1973-1974
Group portrait: The GAI, 1973. Top left, Mario Ines Torres; top right, Cricri; bottom left, Michel Camilleri; bottom right, Jean-Marc Rouillan.
The thing that most pushed me over the edge was when Puig Antich (i.e. Salvador Puig Antich) was arrested in the wake of a shoot-out in Barcelona. Given that a cop had lost his life (and to this day we cannot be sure if it was Salvador that killed him), he had the death penalty hanging over him and further arrests were made in MIL circles. Nevertheless, it was this that pushed me over the edge. Since I was in touch with Jean-Marc, I volunteered along with a bunch of male and female pals who had expressed a wish to get involved. (As Jean-Marc pretty much explains what happened in his Tome III – De mémoire, Tome 3. La courte saison des GARI, Toulouse 1974). There was some urgency to this so I was very quickly drawn into a bunch of GARI actions (albeit that the name GARI was not yet being used), but we were the GAI (Autonomous Intervention Group).
“You may not want to admit it but you know very well that whenever you revert to a certain form of struggle that might be described as armed struggle, there is a very good chance that things are not going to come to a happy conclusion.”
That enters your mind because, knowing a bit about history and having seen those ex-members of the anti-Franco resistance, you tell yourself that you have no desire to be the first to go but, even so, you are aware of the sort of risks you are running. Your are simultaneously thinking about everything and nothing. I don’t think there is any need to take a Manichaean view of things. At the time (I was 22, 23 years old) I analysed everything, I knew where I was going, I knew what I wanted to leave behind me, but in reality, things do not happen that way.
I mean to say that “revolutionary or radical” militants are just human beings and they live like human beings. One does certain things out of conviction, out of an eagerness to do them and, I hope, for the pleasure of it (when I say pleasure, it is not an unwholesome pleasure. I take no pleasure in the planting of a bomb. That has nothing to do with it), I take pleasure in trying to rock this world as much as I can and to rattle it. And at the same time, you are perfectly well aware of what you are risking. But if that starts to turn into your main concern, you’d be better stopping right away.
On certain operations with friends and comrades (especially during my Action Directe period as my there was a great cohesion between us during my GARI days) I felt a certain apprehension or fear regarding certain actions. I do know that other comrades may have felt the same way. Not that it happened to me often but I never made any bones about announcing ‘I don’t feel this is right.’
I remember one friend, on the morning of a stick-up, telling me “I don’t think I have the mettle for this’, and I told him ‘You don’t do it because you are putting everybody in danger if you do’ and that put the guy more at his ease, that was pointless. I think it has to do with a basic honesty. Forcing someone to act against his will is the less combative course.
I don’t want to force myself if I do not feel that it does not sit well with me for the moment. But, later one, when I went underground, things were a bit more complicated.
Sometimes you cannot tell whether it has to do with caution or paranoia. You are continually on your guard. The dividing line is very delicate but what matters if there is somebody who is not willing, basically, he should not be doing it.
Putting oneself in danger is not good but endangering an entire group is even more problematic.
I came through it of course. Whenever I try to ponder what could have been motivating me … I had already dipped my toe. So I never broached the question of my future. I sat part one of my baccalauréat but I did not sit the second part.
The GAI was put together as a matter of urgency in the wake of the arrests in Catalonia, essentially of MIL personnel. Given that everybody knew that Puig Antich that he was facing a call for the death penalty with a cop having died, then, of course, the urgent thing was to react and stop that happening. That was before the GARI had properly arrived.
Our first plan was to kidnap the Spanish ambassador to UNESCO.
Unfortunately, one very well-known Spanish comrade’s cover was blown and that operation had to be knocked on the head. It was time to look around for something else and our group had decided to mount a symbolic action targeting Spanish interests (his was prior to Salvador’s execution by garrotte vil).
As it turned out, the action we should have mounted was an emergency option. An attack on a plane belonging to the Iberia airline.
Let me be specific, just a ground attack. We did not want to blow people up. We had no desire to hut anyone, let alone kill them. That was not the aim. These days we would be told that it was counter-productive. Killing somebody … I am no humanist but I do not see the point.
We sprang into action, 4 of us driving out to Ivry. We had two cars, one of which was clapped out and which had had its plates changed. The other one belonged to a curate who had left his garage door open for us. He did not know what we were up to but he quite sympathetic. As it happens, whenever we set off, it was between 2.00 a.m. and 3.00 a.m. and a carload of cops watched as two cars passed them by.
Obviously, they pulled us over. There is no one around in Ivry at 2.00 or 3.00 a.m. and those two cars (one of which was a stolen car) contained folk from Toulouse who claimed not to know one another. They found that fishy and locked us all up. This was a week to ten days after the Carrero Blanco assassination at the hands of ETA. As I recall, they reckoned we were ETA when they stopped us.
16 January 1974: In Ivry 4 anarchist militants (Pierre Roger, Michel Camilleri, Angel Moreno Patino and Jean-Claude Torres) were caught with weapons and phony papers whilst planning a n attack on an Iberia plane in Geneva.
I also reckon that the Carrero Blanco assassination (which I thought was super and wonderful) guaranteed that Puig Antich would get a death sentence. After that sort of an attack on the Spanish state, had there been even the ghost of a chance of its being commuted or of the death penalty’s being dropped, then, following the assassination of Franco’s intended successor, that could be ruled out.
That is how it turned out, and then we were caught preparing to mount a fairly minor or at any rate un-spectacular action. Obviously, they were going to execute him.
After the arrest, I served a month or two behind bars with a mate. They had no evidence against us. As for the others (weapons having been found in the home of a Spanish friend known as ‘The Swiss’), they served a year; these days that would be 15. So I, along with my mate (a friend from high-school), was freed and of course dived straight back in …
The GARI (Groupe d’Actions Revolutionnaires Internationalistes/Internationalist Revolutionary Action Group) 1974-1975
The GARI came into being after Puig Antich’s death, notably because there were others facing the death penalty and in order to insist on the implementation of Spanish law, which called for prisoners who had served ¾ of their sentences to be released. Among the participants in the GARI there were very few MIL people. The MIL people stayed in Spain and the ones I had met and who really did belong to the MIL were Jean-Marc and Cricri.
Anyway, groups were set up that consisted of people who were already acquainted with one another so there was a degree of trust and an affinity. My experience of the GARI was of a body coordinating pretty much autonomous groups working in concert using their own networks in pursuit of shared aims and yet enjoying a measure of freedom of action, as long as they did not trespass against certain rules (doing no harm, attacking Spanish interests, bringing pressure to bear on the French state and on public opinion, which was extremely important at that point).
For what was never an organization but more a coordination of groups, we were fairly well-organized. Which just goes to show that these things can be done without recourse to a pyramidal organization. Attacks were coordinated.
February 1974: A whole series of actions was carried out notably (and here the decision had been made by our group) the machine-gunning of the hoe of the Spanish consul in Toulouse, who lived in the same street as my parents. He had two daughters, so I was a regular visitor there and I knew exactly where it was, but I was not directly involved in the action myself. I needed an alibi so I stopped over at my parents’ place.
My father, who was familiar with the sound of a machine-pistol jumped to his feet: “Michel, that’s a machine-pistol!”, to which I replied “No, it’ll just be some fir-crackers.” Go figure.
April 1974: Decided upon by my group (myself, Jean-Marc, Pierre Roger) – Cricri was sill in jail. There were 4 or 5 of us plus another colleague (now deceased) and we decided to head for Amsterdam to mount a support campaign (we were quite close to Belgium and Amsterdam/Brussels were about 1½ hours’ drive away) and some fund-raising operations, recuperations, big stick-ups. Because all of this cost money.
Just before we set off we went out to Montesquieux-Volvestre to stick up the Courtois bank. It was a huge haul, 5 million francs (the equivalent of 50 or 60 thousand of today’s euros). That cash allowed us to operate independently and to go to Amsterdam, rent some rooms, posing as underground journalists ‘in the know’. Which worked at the time.
3 May 1974: Bank of Bilbao director Ángel Baltasar Suárez was abducted in Paris (he was set free on 22 May). On the very same day the Banco Español de Crédito was held up in Brussels.
A kidnapping was carried out, the kidnapping of the banker Suárez. The guy was fed well and was even served up some rabbit as you can see in Nico Régla’s film GARI.
Ángel Balthasar Suárez, director of a French branch of the Bank of Bilbao, was kidnapped on 3 May from the basement of his home in Neuilly-sur-Seine. His abductors later released him in the Bois de Vincennes.
GARI – a documentary by Nicolas Régla [1hour 23 mins]
Spain 1973. Three members of the MIL (Iberian Liberation Movement) are in danger of being sentenced to death by Franco’s courts. In France, several groups of libertarian activists therefore decide to coordinate their efforts in a network dubbed GARI (Internationalist Revolutionary Action Groups) to secure their release. The director provides a platform to GARI members who recount the abduction of the banker Suárez and the actions mounted over the summer of 1974.
From BASTA, No 21, March 1981)
Internet link to PDF: https://cras31.info/IMG/pdf/bastano21.pdf
17 July 1974: Attacks on vehicles belonging to the Tour de France in Saint-Lay-Soulan; several trees were felled along the road between Barèges and Col du Tormalet and, in Lourdes, 13 pilgrim coaches were set alight.
28 July 1974: Attack on the Spanish consulate in Toulouse. 6 people were injured. An explosive device destroys part of the automatic signage in Hendaye railway station.
The Spanish consulate. This delighted a lot of people. We were the only ones successfully to have blown up the Spanish consulate (and others had had a go at it). Two people were hurt there, but that was down to the police.
3 bombs were planted. One failed to go off because the delay mechanism failed at the last moment. These days the cops arrive in all their gear to defuse the device. Not there. The guy from La Dépêche told him: “No, no, hang on.” The cop tugged at the string because the reporters wanted to take a photo. Boom.
A total of 6 policemen and three firefighters were hurt. The cops did not take it too well that we sent bottles of champagne to the firemen by way of apology. We had phoned them to say we were sorry, that there was a box behind a certain tree and some champagne for them.
They immediately phoned the police and checked it out. When it emerged in La Dépêche that the cops had made off with the champagne, we set out a further 3 bottles, telling them that it was no bother. Just you drink them and that’s that (Laughter).
At the screening of the Nicolas Régla film at the ESAV [Higher Audio-Visual School, U. of Toulouse] , at the end, one guy spoke up. He was the son of one of the injured firefighters and had come to watch the film and he explained to us that his father had never held it against us and had understood the operation but that he had been injured in the course of it. A turn-up for the books.
Accidents happened but there were more risks involved with the gear we had back then when we were mixing things (because we mixed our own explosives). We learned that from our elders who had learnt how to do it and passed it on to us. I can tell you that the arrangement for detonation was not done using a mobile phone.
There was a touch of Tex Avery to the whole thing, with a big alarm clock with wires trailing from it and the detonator inside a condom with some gunpowder and a flash bulb, from which the glass had been removed so that, as soon as contact was made … I cannot recall the procedure these days, other than that there was some charcoal and flowers of sulphur, some icing sugar and some chlorate. And the ratios? They were all mixed together in a basin. Which was easily come by anywhere. It was transported inside some 20-kilo suitcases. It was DIY, DIY terrorism.
Ever have any accidents?
Us? No, but later, by which point Mario, Jean-Marc and I were in jail, some other guys from Toulouse had accidents. Some were killed trying to mount an attack on a CRS barracks in the south of Toulouse and others whilst retrieving gear from a hiding-place. It blew up in their faces.
January 1975: Toulouse, noisy support for J. Claude and Co. outside the hospitals and prisons where they were being held. An electronic device placed high up triggers a cassette player and starts taping. The whole this beamed to a loudspeaker.
Jean-Marc, Mario and I were all on the wanted list so when we came to Toulouse we used to run across RG (Renseignements Généraux) vehicles at random. The car chases were pretty good fun (Laughter). They were seething because they could never catch us and as we were extremely mobile, this pissed them off and they told us: “You were spotted there but the following you were somewhere else”. It was a fairly rock-and-roll way of life.
Mario’s luck ran out when he was arrested in September 1974 at a silly routine checkpoint. I had already rented some vehicles that had already been blown up with phony papers on board.
18 September 1974: The police announce the arrest of four anarchist militants, charged with GARI membership: Victor Manrique in Hendaye, Jean-Michel Martinez in Ciboure; their arrests were followed by those of Mario Inez Torres and Michel Camilleri in Toulouse.
After that it was straight to Paris because there were 6 days to be held on remand back then, The first four days really were not fun. Jean-Marc was arrested in Paris at a road checkpoint along with others in December and he finished up joining me in La Santé. After a time, we were held alongside folk from French Guyana, Martinique, the soldiers’ committees, Corsicans, Edmond Simeoni (the Corsican nationalist) and a whole spectrum of others.
The soldiers’ committees or the soldiers’ struggles were part of a soldiers’ revolt that had surface in barracks around France in the years 1973 to 1978; they orchestrated conscripts who wanted to lift the lid on what was going on in the barracks and who were pressing human rights demands in a very rigid setting where challenges were swiftly crushed using emergency measures through the notorious TPFA (Armed Forces Standing Tribunals).
Were actions mounted inside the prisons?
Yes, notably hunger-strikes. Apparently, we did not look good (Laughter). By the time we were over that it must have been December ’74. To begin with there were 4 of us. There was Mario and me and two Basques, Jean-Michel Martinez and Victor Manrique (we were all arrested two days apart).
There were 4 of us in La Santé prison before the State Security Court (which was later dissolved) and held in separate cells. But the State Security Court was soon filled with people from Guyana (I think) and then Jean-Marc arrived.
That brought our numbers up to 7 or 8 and we refused to enter our cells and applied for political status which was special status.
In France the State Security Court is a former emergency jurisdiction designed to sit in judgment of people charged with offences against states security. So, it had to do with political offences. It was set up in 1963 and abolished in 1981.
In peace-time, its task was to judge crimes and offences against the internal and external security of the state such as espionage and terrorism. Its writ covered the entirety of the national territory. Most of those hauled in front of the State Security Court were former members of the OAS, so they enjoyed political status. They each had cells to themselves, the right of assembly and improved rations, etc. So we asked for the same treatment and it was refused to us.
We found ourselves in solitary and were not allowed to return to our cells so we mounted quite a long hunger strike.
I remember I had lost 26 kilos. I was crushed. We had not been bluffing. All the same, we had help from the Corsican and Guyanese warders. I was taken aback at first. On one’s way to the showers you would see a warder arrive and in his cap he had a bowl of soup and a hard-boiled egg and would say “Get that inside you, young lad. I’m not going to lay a hand on you”. They were Corsicans and this was solidarity.
Life is not that simple. One can indeed be a prison warder and yet show a bit of solidarity. I have come across a warder with whom we could play table tennis as long as the senior officer was not around. Almost tearfully he would ask us: “Do you think I get any pleasure out of locking you up in the evenings and opening up in the morning? The problem is that I used to work down the mines, I am married and have two kids.”
Such relativism has a radical side to it. I have a tendency to take a nuanced view of things and. n the other hand, to say that when you’re in a fight, you’re in a fight. No point getting relative about the enemy at a certain point; he is still the enemy. Even though it may not be of his own choosing, he has a part to lay in society and becomes a de facto enemy. Unfortunately.
You served three years behind bars?
We remained there until a year after Franco died, whereas in Spain they had begun granting amnesties to the anti-Francoist prisoners. But we were not all brought before the courts. In the end they released us on licence in ’77. After which we carried on.
And what age were you then?
I was 22
And what was your parents’ reaction to all this?
To be honest, they supported me throughout. On the one hand I think affection had its part to play in this: “Hands off my kid”. And then again, there was the conscience factor. My father had taken on the Nazis after all. Although he was a gendarme, he knew fascism when he saw it. Besides, he wound up on the verge of a coma after having been clubbed in a demonstration in Toulouse for having gone around in a cop car distributing handbills saying “these guys are colleagues”, which they were not.
Furthermore, my father was entrusted with the files and everything. They had been storing files at home for years. Most of us with parents always had an easy time of it. They were always there on the support committees. Same goes for Jean-Marc’s parents, Mario’s, Pierre Roger’s and my own. At the same time, it was patently obvious and reasonable and I don’t see why they wouldn’t have supported us … but it must have irked them that I went to jail. They were fed up with the toing and froing and the visiting-rooms.
On the one hand the actions carried on and on the other the ‘fund-raisers’ continued. But there was more to it than that.
There was Nuits Bleues (Blue Nights) with its all-France coordinating body for anti-nuclear struggles and a host of things and there was mayhem pretty much everywhere. There was a coordinating body for “autonomous groups”. I mean a real coordination. That had sprung up overnight, simultaneously and in different locations.
The term Nuit bleue refers to a series of bomb attacks timed to go off together or over a relatively limited space of time (a single night, say). Thus was was a nuit bleue that targeted the building of the Malville power station, 23 attacks claimed by CARLOS (Coordination Autonome des Revoltés en Lutte Ouvriére contre la Société/ Autonomous Coordination of Worker Rebels at odds with Society), an on-off coordination for several autonomous groups which, on the night of 19 November 1977 targeted various nuclear-linked infrastructural assets during an “anti-nuclear nuit bleue”.
The struggle carried on with whatever means we had available to us. Not that that was the only struggle going on at the time. There was a huge number of strikes. The social movement was not dormant as I get the impression it is these days when it seems utterly at a loss and anaesthetized. It was really thriving. I reckon that for us it was another form of practice not cut off from the unrest in society. We resorted to this sort of spectacular actions in order to further a struggle that had been started – in our anti-Francoist capacity during our GARI phase – but carried on in our anti-capitalist and antifascist capacities; that goes without saying. When you’re anti-capitalist you are ipso facto antifascist; that goes without saying. Or when you’re antifascist and not anti-capitalist, you have missed the point entirely. Therefore, we kept going. It never stopped us from going along on demos. As Charlie used to say when he lived in Paris, it was a case of “In the morning, hold-up; in the afternoon, demo.” Besides, he took a lot more pleasure in that. He would carry out an armed robbery in the morning, go for lunch at noon and trot along to a demo in the afternoon and smash a few shop windows.
Who is this Charlie?
Charlie was the last guy I was arrested with; he was with Action Directe and in the same group as me, the group that issued the “August 1st Communiqué”.
On August 1st there was a complete parting of the ways between the minority “hard-liners” and the “movement-ers”. The “hard-liners” (around Jean-Marc Rouillan) were all for internationalization of the armed struggle and Action Directe;s joining a broad terrorist struggle front alongside the Italian Red Brigades, the German RAF and some Belgian and Palestinian groups. The “movement-ers” (around Eric Moreau, Meyer (Meier) Azeroual, Michel Camilleri, Pascal Magron and Charles Grosmangin) favoured struggle from within the ranks of the masses and their ventures. Banding together into the “August 1st Revolutionary Collective” they issued a communique and denounced the “authoritarian, bureaucratic procedures of one of the Action Directe collectives, designed to draw all units into a voluntarist, elitist strategy and polity line (for all the many internal discussions.” They decided “to blow Action Directe apart” by explaining: “What was previously merely a watchword relating to a political regrouping no longer belongs to us: we are therefore abandoning the Action Directe name to those who might want to use it. The social war is fought against capital on all fronts at the grassroots level.”
THE AUGUST 1ST COMMUNIQUÉ
We have to be very clear and Jean-Marc knows this and I have discussed the matter with him; we disagree about it but not seriously and we remain friends and comrades.
At this point in Action Directe’s history, which is to say, in ’82, Mitterand had just been elected (10 May 1981). As I see it, Action Directe was not an organization but a coordination of groups, each group being autonomous in terms of what it had it in mind to do. But this was les and less the case. There is no value judgment in what I am saying here, merely facts. The group Charlie and many others were with was the largest, best organized and best armed group. We had virtually everything. Gear for listening in on the cops, bullet-proof vests, etc.
The other groups had adopted a much more anti-imperialist approach (broadly speaking). The group to which Jean-Marc, Nathalie (Menigon), Joëlle Aubron, etc., belonged had gone down a pretty internationalist, anti-imperialist path more and more focused on opposing Israeli policy (meaning Israeli interests). At the time we had no quarrel with that. We just thought that the accession of Mitterrand and the left which was pretty much disregarded (which should not have been the case as it led directly to today and to Macron) represented a real break with the record of the preceding years of Giscardism and the hard right.
Meaning that much of the working class had high hopes of the accession of the left. We knew that this hope was going to blow up in its face. The problem was that we needed to change a way of thinking as well as recasting the methods of action that we needed to use.
At that point, we did not want to be caught up in this dynamic and to engage in internationalism and anti-imperialism alone. We reckoned that the best course from our point of view was to carry on with one-off armed actions that were directly linked with the social context in France and Europe.
We were arrested in September ’82 (and suffered a further arrest in September) while we were preparing some attacks in support of steelworkers who were extremely radical at the time. I don’t want to talk nonsense, but it strikes me that they had set alight to two big chateaux belonging to top stele bosses. A demo these days trying to set somewhere alight would be unthinkable. In their case it was a case of “Get on with it, lads, no hoods, just light it up and bugger off”. It is as if today one were to set fire to the MEDEF [the French Employers’ Association] without wearing a disguise of any sort. That’s how the social situation was in France at that point. But there were lots of differences of opinion between the groups and, at the same time (to be honest) we pretty much missed out the progress of the left. We knew that it was going to alter the context but to what extent we could not tell.
Just prior to our being arrested, we had made up our minds to stash away all the gear we had and to slip away in groups of 2, 3 or 4 on the basis of affinities with each one lying low for 3 to 5 months at a time, to meet up again at a later date with everyone thinking through what we might be able to pull off. At which point we were arrested. Our disagreements were of that sort. Who was right and who was wrong I could not say, but it’s al past history, so no harm done.
Later on, the Action Directe collective was to turn into an organization. We could sense that things were on the move, or so we thought at the time and that thigs were heading in the direction of executions. Let me say it again: the death of some general or big employer was the last straw for me. I went completely nuts.
When the issue of morality is put to me, yes, and in any case I have never killed anybody, but that is not what bothers me. I know that these people are human beings but for a general or an arms-dealer to perish or when some big employer has just sacked a thousand workers or when somebody who was in charge of a nuclear power station kicks the bucket, I could not care less. Because they have absolutely no morality of their own.
It boils down to a question of effectiveness. We knew what was coming and we knew how it was going to end. Because getting drawn into that sort of dynamic at that specific time could only end as it did and you can only hold your tongue and be isolated.
Whenever that sort of thing happens at a socially explosive – I mean to say, insurrectionist – time, it is not the same. At that point, you fall back on the real grassroots and the social movement does exist. I know that we do not see eye to eye with Jean-Marc on this, but I have my point of view and once againit does not matter much whether one is right or wrong.
I must remind you that people were nicked because they had begun to act extremely imprudently. They started frequenting bars and, pretty much, night-clubs. We found out later that the pretty faces that flirted with us turned out to be cops. And we had our doubts too; I remember a friend telling me: “All they would need to do would be push a pretty face into our arms and they’ll bring the lot of you down like flies”. He was not wrong. And finally, let me be clear that I’m not saying those girls were slept with.
There was a recklessness and people had had their fill of the semi-clandestine lifestyle and ought to have moved on three months earlier. That much was plain. It is important that we say what the enemy facing us was capable of doing. They played some dirty tricks. Whenever I tell of these, somebody tells me “You mean you wouldn’t have gone that far had they not done that?”. No, not at all! I’m not into conspiracy theories and not a follower of Sanguinetti when I say that the state was behind the manipulation. No, we’d have done the same thing, differently perhaps, but I am merely pointing out what the cops were capable of.
They played their tricks on us and then took us to task for being naïve, but if they had been the ones who had had to cope with infiltrators, etc. … I don’t mean to encourage paranoia but we were faced with the state and its armoury. And the state is not a monolith, the police agencies are not monolithic. There was more to the police than Pochon’s Renseignements Généraux. They have their ideologies too, you now.
The guy that shopped us was the one who had egged us on to seek out dynamite from a community in the Ariège department. A far as I am concerned, that much is plain and clear cut. The cops were able to nick us thanks to that guy’s help.
It needs saying that at the time quite a few cops had it in for us. We would be arrested and remanded; it came as a package deal. Some of them, as I recall, and counting Jean-Marc there were 7 or 8 of us, they pretty much had evidence and witnesses and so on and then they would let us walk. I can still see the face of the police commissioner, as grey as ashes, “Get them out of here”. Some of them were awarded medals.
Back in the day it was thought that the “autonomous” movement was powerful. Wrong! All it took was a phone call from the ministry and I’m sure of that. Once Mitterand was gone, I met high-ranking government representatives (and initially I thought I was the only one, but they were meeting folk all over France) who also negotiated with the Basques and Corsicans as well as ourselves. They made certain proposals to us that virtually every one of us rejected, except for maybe 1 or 2 people.
There is one guy who claims to have turned them down and he was with the GARI and wrote “Comme un chat”. That was Floreal Cuadrado. If he says he ‘worked with’ the cops, then he worked with the cops.
They even put proposals to us like “we might be inclined to turn a blind eye if you were to lend us a helping-hand with the far right”. Broadly, they put it to us that we turn gun-slingers, barbouzes. I witnessed that at a meal at the home of a prosecutor guy. I know that he met ETA people. I know that for a fact.
They targeted far left folk because they feared the far right and were eager to neutralize us. I’m not saying that they pulled it off but to show they did whatever they wanted and the French state genuinely did turn a blind eye to certain strokes that were pulled.
Mitterrand granted an amnesty to all political prisoners. We campaigned for that too, which is where I came in. Firstly, in Spain and secondly in France. Our aim was to free all the political prisoners, whether they were Action Directe, GARI or Basques …
But they chose to negotiate with the other side. First you grant the widest possible amnesty and then we’d have a second look. But, in the end, they pulled to wool over our eyes because they were the state and the state is powerful.
Symbol or martyr?
As to martyrdom, that horrifies me. But to be quite honest, I can also live with it. It gives me the willies but I am not exempt from it. Whenever you mention Che to me, I was a fan and there was this image. The image of Che on his death-bed is so Judaeo-Christian , Christ-like, no kidding. The half-opened eyes, the smile, the beard, to me that’s a martyr. But when you read his history he was a human being: a killer, a drinker, gross but nobody’s fool and he was a fighter and fought to the end.
And do you still go on demos?
Yes, at every opportunity I turn out for them. Not that I have any illusions. To be quite honest, they piss me off more than anything else. Because they coat-trailing exercises. Chants of “Macron is done for, the young folks are on the streets”. Frankly, that is a joke.
It’s like the SNCF [French National Railways Company] demos, the “go-slow strike”; they can stick that up their arse. There has to be an end of it! You either go on strike or you do not … I hear people saying “we’ve been held to ransom”. At times like that I itch to give them a smack about the head and tell them “quite your whingeing; you either rise up or you stay in your beds and take your money. Your boss isn’t about to pay you but at least have a siesta.”
What the hell is a “go-slow” strike? The only effective strike is a open-ended strike and a general strike and that’s that. The only thing capitalism understands is the balance of strength and rest is a pipe-dream. And the balance of strength has nothing to do with “I’d like this”. No. It comes down to “I want this and I’m having it.” No one is going to persuade me that those people have failed to understand that they are doomed to lose. They now it and they are the ones most responsible for it.
Whenever I hear it said “We’ve lost”, I think, no, you have not lost. You have failed to win and that is not the same thing. We did what we thought was right. We took risks, we’ve been behind bars (Jean-Marc for a long time, a much shorter time in my own case). We thought we might get somewhere. We didn’t lose and we had the state standing against us. There’s no point in kidding ourselves.
The real shits, on the other hand, are the trade unions and the union leaders. They are the ones who lost deliberately and they knew if from the word go. Because their “go-slow” strikes pissed everybody off. They successfully negotiated that the old hands should retain their SNCF status, but what did Guillaume Pepy do then? He countered with “Ah well, ultimately that would be too unfair in comparison with the new in-take so we’ll just do away with the lot of you.” And now the others are up in arms.
You mount a strike, you do not stop it. That much is plain and clear cut and if people are afraid of getting the sack, you engage in sabotage. Sabotage is pretty straightforward. There is no need for you to clam responsibility for it. You drop a grain of sand into the works and the job is done. That will put the wind up them.
When I see all these demos, sure, I carry on turning out for them, it’s just another one. When they start counting people and dividing them into two, at least I’m one person extra. But … well … I wonder sometimes. I mean to say that demos are violent but they are serious business. Mind-boggling. Media propaganda which is to say state propaganda … as I see it, the state has ceased to exist in France and in the countries of the west.
Meaning that the state’s men are no longer people based within the state, as should be the case (I can’t even tell whether I am for or against the state and can’t even tell whether I’m an anarchist or a commie. I don’t care if I throw it all up, but I’ll be the one to choose my moment) but the state, as it was up until the Mitterrand years, (which is when everything began to change), it had folk from the right and left alike and they were individuals in the service of the collectivity (including dirty tricks and gradually falling out with one another) and thus were high officials. The ENA [National School of Administration] was set up to produce people like that. Les private interests interfere with the interests of the states.
These days, most of the high officials of the French state (I have no precise figures but at least ¾ of them) are drawn from the financial and the private sectors and will be going back there. Thus, whenever you have something that needs sorting out, you can’t do it. You cannot ask a banker to regulate the banks and the head of state, Macron is a banker. He never worked behind the counter, you can sure of that. He’s an investment banker. The current Finance minister and his entire staff are drawn from the world of finance. But why are they where they are? In that respect, the state has disappeared and everything has been privatized. It’s a swindle.
The people who voted for Macron to keep the Front National out have been sold a pup. We have to have an end of such nonsense. Let people simply stop voting.
It is mind-boggling but in Brazil during the first round of voting, Jair Bolsonaro took 46% of the votes and the very next day the Sao Paulo stock exchange was up by 6 points. The financiers have picked their side; that much is plain and clear cut.
As I stated in an interview: “Given a choice between killing Pinochet and some suburban fascist, killing Pinochet (and he is dead now, anyway) would not trouble my conscience at all.” I’d happily do it but this suburban fascist nitwit is just an idiot. I can’t recall who it was that said it – I think it was Senghor – “Racists are folk that misdirect their hatred”. The problem is that whenever they set out to duff up some Arab or a black guy, so much the worse for them; at that point they are enemies. They would need to reflect for a moment. Amon the identity-obsessed, not many are going to become great dictators; for the most part they are doomed to become fools. For whatever reason, these racists are cretins.
What is your view of the younger generation?
I have no criticism to make. Talking about the younger generation in the round, very few of them are active; there are lots of them who are consumers. Now, if you are talking about the radical or rebel youth, obviously I have a lot of sympathy with them. The ones who shift their arses in demos, the Black Bloc, of course I have a lot of sympathy with them. Now, as to the future … I get the feeling there is a logic to history, that we must fight on, but my feeling is that this is going to be very, very hard to do.
We have been well and truly hamstrung and have gone along with it. At the same time, it is a bot complicated staying permanently on one’s guard. By my reckoning, a militant’s life is a brief one. After that, living under the radar, requires adaptation … that goes without saying. There are questions one does not ask oneself and those who did pose the questions who refused to move on or shied away because of fear or indeed the ones that reckoned things were not going well stepped back and were well-advised to do s. They were right. Once more: if your heart is not in it, don’t do it.
I find this photo quite odd.
At the same time, it shows that we did not take ourselves seriously. You are serious when you do things, but after that? Thankfully there was mockery and above all, self-mockery. Otherwise there would be no way to let off steam.
Didn’t you ever think about writing?
I have been asked to set our history down in writing. I haven’t had the time and, even if I had had the time, I reckon I’d essentially be relying on the anecdotal. I like a good laugh and have some very happy memories and reckon that that is important too. But there is a dangerous aspect it as well whereby it might be thought that we were a bunch of clowns looking for fun. There is more to it than that but one must never let that fade from one’s life. Laughter is good. One can be scared and then you brighten up and tell yourself that it was all great fun.
That is a part of life, the please we take in defeating a world that gives us the willies. Obviously you take pleasure in it. Otherwise, I could hardly piss myself off even more than this world does.
It all depends on the times you are living in. History moves on. As Lenin used to say, it stutters.
Living in France is not the same as living under Franco. The social context, the repression are quite different. Even so we did live through a time and we are not complaining. I’m not going to argue the case for western capitalism. I’m simply saying that the France of ’74-’75 can hardly be compared with Chile and Pinochet. And there is no possible comparison with the Nazi occupation.
I reckon there are certain periods when resisters, combatants and revolutionaries were and will be faced with situations a lot tougher and harder than anything we have seen, and maybe they will be less inclined to laughter. And yet I am not sure of that.
In my view, the best time was the GARI phase. Yip! We were young and up for a laugh. But those days are gone.
It was straightforward and very nearly simplistic. There was good and there was evil. I am no Manichaean but we were fighting a dictatorship. You grapple with an enemy and the democrats won’t spit in your face, or they feel bad about it.
What did you do after you were freed from prison in ’85?
After ’85, I was with …. (we even got married) …. who was in Action Directe. She was taken very, very ill so I had to look after her. She passed away later on … I was remanded a few times. Their minds were made up to make life hard for me. After that, I slogged away. I became a bookbinder, did a bit of painting, stacks of jobs … demos and what have you.