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…
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”.
Cyril Connolly (1903-74) was a prominent British writer, editor, well known in particular for his book reviews. His biographer Jeremy Lewis described him as “Precociously brilliant in his youth, haunted for the rest of his life by a sense of failure and a romantic yearning to recover a lost Eden.” He was a schoolmate, from their earliest days, and friend of George Orwell, of whom he remarked: “He reduced everything to politics; he was also unalterably of the Left. His line may have been unpopular or unfashionable, but he followed it unhesitatingly; in fact it was an obsession. He could not blow his nose without moralising on conditions in the handkerchief industry.” Connolly himself is famous for his dictum addressed to would-be literary types: “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.” And reviewing for Harold Evans’s Sunday Times Miguel Garcia’s book Franco’s Prisoner (1972), his comradely words for the veterans, alive and fallen, of thirty years of anarchist resistance to fascism in Spain far surpassed in commitment any of the liberalistic phrase-mongering appearing in what passed for the mainstream anarchist press in Britain at the time.
THE FIRST THING ONE NOTICES ABOUT GOING TO BARCELONA is the peculiar meaningful handshakes of one’s friends. Accompanied though they are by some such phrase as “I wish I were going too,” one cannot avoid detecting in the farewell a moment of undertaker heartiness, of mortuary appraisal. In the early morning among the lagoons, the brown landscape and rainy sky of Languedoc, one begins to share it, only at the Spanish frontier does it completely disappear. As a rule, the change from Cerberé to Port Bou is one from gaiety and comfort to gloom and emptiness; to-day it is the Spanish end which is alive. The first thing one notices is the posters, extremely competent propaganda, of which that of a peasant’s rope-soled foot descending on a cracked swastika in a cobbled street is the most dramatic. The frontier is guarded by cultivated German and Italian anti-Fascists, and one begins at once those discussions on political ideology, which are such a feature of present-day
From their first manifestations Anarchists have [been] nearly unanimous as to the necessity of recourse to physical force in order to transform existing society; and while the other self-styled revolutionary parties have gone floundering into the parliamentary slough, the anarchist idea has in some sort identified itself with that of armed insurrection and violent revolution.
But, perhaps, there has been no sufficient explanation as to the kind and the degree of violence to be employed; and here as in many other questions very dissimilar ideas and sentiments lurk under our common name.
As a fact, the numerous outrages which have lately been perpetrated by Anarchists and in the name of Anarchy, have brought to the light of day profound differences which had formerly been ignored or scarcely foreseen.
Maggie Torre’s welcome and rigorous study analysing the CNT’s trajectory during its thirty-five years of clandestinity and exile, describes, convincingly and in satisfying detail, the internal and external vicissitudes and complexities that led, in December 1979, to the steady eclipse of anarcho-syndicalist influence following the CNT’s first Congress in Spain since Zaragoza in 1936: the carrot and stick of thirty-five years of vicious and murderous repression and co-option of militants into the Francoist vertical unions; thirty years of the baleful and corrupting influence of the Gestapo-compromised Federica Montseny (1905-1994) and Germinal Esgleas (1903-1981) controlling an oligarchic mutual aid society in exile, and seeking to control — and betray, —the clandestine union organisation inside Spain; the changing nature of Spain’s labour movement in the 1950s and 1960s; the impact of the guerrilla action groups and Defensa Interior’s direct actions targeting Spanish tourism and its attempts to kill Franco; ‘cincopuntismo’ and the CNT’s relations with the vertical union; the ideological evolution of Spanish anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism in the 1960s and 1970s; the Scala-type machinations of the ‘Bunker’ to ensure a seamless, Dr Who-like transition to power and retain control in the brave new world of post-Francoist democracy.Continue reading…