It is 36 years now since I wrote ‘Stefano delle Chiaie. Portrait of a Black Terrorist”, an investigation into the so-called Strategy of Tension that led to the Piazza Fontana bombing of 1969, the subsequent murder by the Milan police of Anarchist Black Cross secretary Giuseppe Pinelli, and the eleven years of indiscriminate terror that followed, up to and beyond the Bologna Rail Station massacre on August 1980. I haven’t written much about it since then, but I recently received the following ‘L’Europeo’ (November 1974) article by three journalists — Incerti, Ottolenghi and Raffaelli — on AGINTER PRESS (International News Agency). It was sent by long-time comrades of the Circolo Anarchici Ponte della Ghisolfa (the original meeting place of the Milan Anarchist Black Cross) who continue to publish relevant documents in the interest of historical memory, and as a means of understanding the historical and political context of the Strategy of Tension.Continue reading “Aginter Press and the Strategy of Tension (Translated by Paul Sharkey)” »
It is quite an experience discovering Stuart Christie’s “Spanish” background. This Scottish lad, barely 18 years old, knowing nothing of Spain and without speaking a word of Spanish, hoisted a rucksack full of explosives on to his back, strapped packets of plastic explosive to his body using bandages and secreted the detonators, wrapped in cotton-wool, in the lining of his jacket and headed off to Spain to put paid to the infamy of a populace terrorised by a bloodthirsty dictator and his sinister cabal of generals, bishops, latifundists and bankers.
Now, 40 years on, he is back again, bringing us his book leaving us a bittersweet taste of “auld lang syne” (Stuart will get my reference here) from the good old days, back when we were all a lot younger. The rest is just the filthiness that Stuart had to endure: beatings, torture, interrogation and imprisonment. Typical of those times and of the ignominy, nonsensicality and mediocrity into which a people that had fought bravely and right to the finish for freedom had been thrust.
Maybe a reading of Chesterton’s story The Man Who Was Thursday holds the key to the reason why Stuart was arrested the moment he set foot in the Puerta del Sol. The author himself suggests that spies fall into three categories: journalists, security service personnel planted inside an organisation (especially an organisation with such an all-embracing banner as the red-and-black flag) and those bribed by the police into acting as informers from within (see pp. 36 et seq).
The book offers an endless parade of personalities from the time: the old fighters in exile: Salvador Gurruchari, Laureano Cerrada, Cipriano Mera … The men and women who, to borrow Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s words, “are neither weary, nor neurotic nor drug-dependent. They do not complain. They do not curse fate. Their defeats have not made cynics of them. They know that they made mistakes, but they do not try to wipe out the memory of them. These elderly men, revolutionaries still, are stronger than all who came after them”
And the boys from the Puerta del Sol – Eduardo Blanco and Saturnino Yagüe – pop up too … Further comment unnecessary. Forenames and surnames suffice. The military judges, the sentencing, Carabanchel. In Carabanchel we find the ‘ordinary’ prisoners of the Seventh Gallery, astutely depicted by someone who was just starting to learn so many new things, and the political prisoners in the Sixth Gallery, with a sprinkling of not particularly fond references to the inmates belonging to the PCE (Communist Party of Spain), real personalities such as the counterfeiter Miguel de Castro who, as Stuart remembers him, was “a prison mentor, a wise guide versed in the art of the possible”, the comrades from the ‘First of May’ Group, and Luis Andrés Edo, my own beloved comrade and friend.
Half-history and half-reportage, the book is a supremely interesting read. We find frequent flashes of Stuart’s British sense of humour inviting us to smile: “In real life, there was never a cavalry troop around when you needed one”, a reference to the cells of the Brigada Político-Social; or the fear he feels when they moved him to what was then the Yeserías Prison Hospital, when he suspects they are going to “trepan him or subject him to some other sort of sub-Pyrenean psycho-neuro-surgery.” Or the delicate touch displayed by the kidnappers of Monsignor Ussía in furnishing him with a Bible, only to discover that, “they were not particularly well-versed in matters of theology”, it turned out to be a Protestant Bible; or, indeed in his inspired brief description of Don Pablo, a fascist brute of a prison officer “he was the A to Z of anal retention.” The passage which I personally most enjoyed reading, on account of my repeated fond readings of the adventures of both characters, was the one where he says that “Don Quijote had taken on the personality of William Brown.”
In short, in my view, there is another aspect to this book which is not to be sniffed at: its verfremdungeffekt, that distancing, elegant gift for recounting events, no matter how dramatic, as if he were not involved, as if they were happening to someone else. As Carlos Fonseca has stated in his Foreword, which is spot-on and as clear as water, “Go ahead and read”.
Octavio Alberola Suriñach (Alaior, Menorca, 1928), anarcho-syndicalist and Franco’s public enemy No. 1 from 1962 to 1975. Exiled with his parents to Mexico in 1939, Alberola studied civil engineering and theoretical physics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), where he became involved with the Libertarian Youth and the CNT in exile. He also worked, from 1956, with the exiled Cubans of the July 26 Movement and the Student Revolutionary Directory until the fall of the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. In 1962 the Defense Committee of the Spanish Libertarian Movement (MLE) formed the clandestine Interior Defence (Defensa Interior) Committee, to which Alberola was delegated as a representative of the Iberian Federation of Libertarian Youth (FIJL). Consequently, Alberola moved to France to coordinate the DI’s harrying, propagandist and solidarity actions across Europe, including inside Spain. These actions included an assassination attempt against Francisco Franco in San Sebastián in the summer of 1962, the first of a number of attentats. The San Sebastian attempt failed due to technical problems with the triggering device — and because Franco arrived later than expected.
The fight put up by workers in order to learn their own history is but one of the many class wars in progress. It is not sheer theory, abstraction nor banality, in that it is part and parcel of class consciousness per se and can be described as theorisation of the historical experiences of the world proletariat and in Spain it has to embrace, assimilate and inevitably lay claim to the experiences of the anarcho-syndicalist movement in the 1930s.
There is spectre hanging over historical science, the spectre of falsification. The amnesia worked out between the democratic opposition’s trade unions and political parties with the last management line-up of the Francoist state at the time of the dictator’s demise, was yet another defeat for the workers’ movement during the Transition and it had important implications for how the Francoist Dictatorship and the Civil War are remembered historically. An amnesty amounted to a clean slate and a fresh start with the past. This required a deliberate and “necessary” forgetting of all pre-1978 history. There was a brand new Official History to be rewritten, since the Francoist and the anti-Francoist versions of the past were of no further use to the new establishment, its gaze focused upon papering over the antagonisms that triggered the Spanish Civil War.
He never got the chance to go to school and, from a very young age, he was forced out to work by the need to make some contribution towards the running of his humble household. At the age of 16 Mera made up his mind to become a bricklayer and, so that his rights would be protected, his father enrolled him the UGT-affiliated ‘El Trabajo’ bricklayers’ society. From then on, Mera was up to his neck in social issues and labour affairs. But he soon found that the what the UGT stood for and what he was looking for were not the same thing, and he found the socialists’ trade unionism a bit restrictive. Cipriano Mera was out for a revolutionary change that reformism just did not offer.