Interview with the collective of prisoners of Action Directe I: Armed Struggle (Section one)

This interview was conducted in the period between the

Spring of 1999 and the Summer of 2000. It took such a long time

mainly because of lack of time (on our side) and because of the

prison conditions imposed upon the interviewees. About these

conditions of detention this interview doesn’t talk much, we

chose to speak extensively about it in a second part (“Prison

Struggles”). For the moment, suffice to say that they are

exceptional in comparison with the “normal” conditions of

imprisonment which are already unacceptable. The fate of Georges Cipriani

and Nathalie Ménigon, both seriously sick as a consequence of the

“white torture” they have had to endure for much too long, is a clear

manifestation of this.

The aim of this first part – “Armed Struggle” – is to tell a part of

the history of revolutionary armed struggle in Europe, a history that

has been falsified, mystified, etc. in many ways. This ain’t surprising,

history always has been written by the conqueror, and AD has been

defeated…

So, period, let’s turn the page? Of course not, history isn’t

finished, and if a lot still has to be said and done, we are sure that a

new generation in search of another future will take advantage from

a better knowledge of the experiences, practices and reflexions of

these groups of men and women who dared to struggle.

Dare to struggle – Dare to win!

Wish you all a good reading,

Love and Struggle

ABC-Gent

Before entering the history of Action Directe itself, we

would like to talk about the “prehistory” of AD. Prehistory

which is if not largely unwritten in any case barely known,

and thus important as such. Prehistory which is also – in our

view – important to understand the internal history of AD.

So, AD is born, in 1979, out of a coordination of different

armed groups as the MIL, GARI, the BI or the NAPAP, and in

a time marked by Autonomy. Could you tell us more about

these groups and about the autonomous coordination itself?

From the beginning of the seventies, numerous groups tried to

resolve in practice the question of revolutionary counter-

violence. They agitated on the wave of the movement of the

barricades, the factory occupations, the rank and file struggles…

Made up as networks of self-defense, they carried within

themselves the whole resolution of the illegality of the masses

during the huge mobilizations that succeeded each other in

these years of antagonistic agitation. Concretely, these networks

constituted what la Gauche Prolétarienne (GP, the Proletarian

Left)1called a bit wishfully: “the bases of the popular armed

resistance to the dictatorship”.

In the Spring of 1977, while forming itself, the autonomous

coordination did break through the confines of all these leftist

groups. In particular, it left behind the old ideological cleavages

to unify, on the field of the clandestine struggles, the “Maoist”

tendency with the one coming out of Mai 68, made of a mosaic

of legal and illegal anarchist, anarcho-communist, ultra-left

groups. There were then the Maoist armed groups as the

International Brigades, the autonomes like the Noyaux Armées

Pour l’Autonomie Populaire (NAPAP, Armed Nuclei for Popular

Autonomy) or the organisation Camarades and the old anti-

francoist coordination of autonomous groups that formed the

MIL-GARI (Movimiento Iberico de Liberacion and

Grupos d’Accion Revolucionaria Internationalistas).

Between brackets. In the ritual negation and rewriting of these

years, it is common to pretend that the French state miraculously

escaped the armed revolutionary antagonism. “Move on, good

people, there is nothing to see!”. Nevertheless the numbers are

there: between 1974 and 1981 there were more than 3000

attacks attributed to the extreme left. Of these some hundred

with fire arms that caused the death of more than 50 people.

In no way, does this history come down to what the apologists of

the system and of the integrated opposition recollect: radical talk

and strategic resolutions for “conspirators” in slippers. It was

made of real acts, struggles, blood and prison.

But lets return to the prehistory as you say, because it is true that the youth do know

very little about these first armed organizations.

To synthesize: The International Brigades had been formed at the time of the

disintegration of the Maoist movement in the course of the year 1973.

Locally they were the answer to the liquidation of the GP-NRP

(New Popular Resistance)2 after having played a major role in the post 68′

antagonism, not only in France but likewise in the neighboring countries,

for example in Italy where they considerably influenced the creation of the

Red Brigades.

Many sectors refused categorically the institutionalization of the movement

after 5 years of insurrectionary struggles, appeals to armed

struggle and preparation for the guerrilla of the people. Young

militants of Western Paris formed this internationalist nucleus

and launched the first armed operations. They claimed in

December 74 the execution of colonel Trabal, Uruguyan military

attaché (Brigade Raoul Sendic); in October 75, the attempted

attack against captain Garcia, Spanish military attaché in Paris

(Brigade Juan Manot); in may 76, the execution of J. Zentano

Amaya, ambassador of Bolivia in Paris (Brigade Che Guevara);

in November 76, the attempt against Humayoune Keykavous,

attaché of the Shah regime (Brigade Reza Rezay); in July 77, the

attempt against Ahmed Ould Ghanahalla, ambassador of

Mauritania (Brigade El Ouali Sayed).3

The NAPAP consisted also partly of militants who had refused

the shipwrecking of the GP-NRP. They were joined by younger

and more “spontaneous” militants. Youngsters who reflected the

emerging antagonism of political autonomy. Besides, in a first

interview, the NAPAP refused the label “Maoist” and already

preferred that of “combatants for autonomy”.4 In the course of

their brief existence, only some months at most during the year 77,

they realized some fifteen operations (against the fascist union,

the employer’s headquarters etc). But they became known first

of all for their execution of the vigilante Tramoni responsible

for the assassination of the young worker Pierre Overney. 5

As for the organization Camarades and its magazine, of which

militants such as Nathalie and many others come from, it was before

anything else a political pivot around which numerous

expressions of the autonomous movement gravitated.

Camarades established in fact the first practical links between

the “spontaneous” heirs of the rank and file committees and the

many libertarian militants disappointed by the immobility of the

official anarchist movement. Obviously, most did practice the

illegalism of the masses, from sticks during demonstrations to

nightly sabotages. One could find there in particular the hard

core of the squats and the successive waves of young

syndicalists excluded for “leftism”… All these groups were very

heterogeneous but all were under the growing influence of the

new Italian movement.

In the South of the country, the context was very different. The

engagement to take up the gun after ’68 led the militants quite

naturally to confront the question of the Francoist dictatorship at

the other side of the Pyrenees. Barcelona and Bilbao are much

closer to Toulouse and Montpellier than Paris. So, a nucleus of

young Toulouseans (of which Jean-Marc) participated in the very

first outpost of the revolutionary guerrilla which constituted in

Catalonia the Movimiento Iberico de Liberacion (MIL). Formed in

1970, this organisation claimed simultaneously the anti-fascist

heritage of the “maquis” of the fifties and sixties, and the

complete anti-capitalist critique of its time. As such, the MIL was

not an anti-francoist resistance group like the others nor could it

be another ideological splinter group. The more because it

wasn’t ideologically homogeneous, it regrouped communists

claiming the historical experiences of the councils6 as well as

anarchists. These “contradictions” made it one of the most

radical groups that could experiment an armed practice very

close to the social struggles. But they were fiercely repressed

and definitively dismantled at the end of the year 1973. One of

its members, Salvador Puig Antich, was moreover the last

political prisoner to be submitted to the punishment of the

garrotte.

The experience of the MIL was spread to numerous French and

European autonomous groups through the GARI. In fact, during

the trials against the militants of Barcelona, the GARI did

assemble around the “exiles” from the MIL numerous

autonomous groups in solidarity. During the year 1974 they

realized several dozens of attacks against the interests of the

Spanish dictatorship while revealing and denouncing the

objective complicity of the European “democratic” regimes. But

here again, the GARI cannot be reduced to a simple

antifrancoist opposition, even when armed. They agitated at the

heart of the first great offensive of the guerrillas that shocked the

continent. And they cannot be detached abstractly from this

context. For example, during the kidnapping of the PDG of the

Bank of Bilbao, in May 1974, it is not by simple coincidence that

their revendications are an echo of those of other similar

operations in the neighboring countries. The comrades of the

2nd of June in Berlin did kidnap Peter Lorenz and the Red

Brigades the judge Sossi. All tried to deter the State at the field

of political detention and to pose the question of the liberation of

the revolutionary prisoners.

And neither is it a coincidence that it is on the field of political

detention that the first practical links of the autonomous

coordination were established. Numerous maoist and GARI

militants passed the quarters of the political prisoners in the

Prison of Santé (Paris). They have had to fight side by side

against the State Security Court. At the same time, numerous

groups outside did fight together against the same repression.

Then, in 1977, there were also the mobilisations following the

execution of the comrades of the RAF in Stamheim and the

extradition of their lawyer Klaus Croissant. The coordination did

play a dominating role in assuming numerous attacks and acts

of sabotage.

All this doesn’t mean though that we only agitated against the

repression. In the same year 77, the autonomous coordination

waged other agitation campaigns of which one very important

against nuclear energy, with at its peak an active participation in

the march on Malville and a blue night of 23 attacks all over the

territory. The coordination agitated also against the introduction

of temporary labor, the high costs of living, real-estate

speculation, the exploitation of the workers on the construction-sites

and by the slumlords.

And 1977 was a key date in this autonomous antagonism?

In 1977 there was of course the great Italian insurrectionary

movement, the “asambleas” on the Iberian Peninsula, but also in

France a broad proletarian movement refused the reformist line

and the liquidation of the experiences after ’68. We anticipated

the possibility to shovel ourselves into these places of

opportunities and to open others even more decisive. For this we

had to dynamise a new élan for the strategy of proletarian

autonomy and a new political jump towards the prolonged class

war. Both were closely related, we were well aware of the fact

that the autonomous praxis could only take root if firmly linked

with the calling into question of the monopoly of violence by the

state. The more since the general crisis and in particular the

crisis of the state pushed the institutions and the relations of

power to the authoritarianism of technocratic management. We

were certain that the use of state violence in social conflicts

would inexorably tend to be generalized while at the same time

the manipulation of the spectacle would guarantee the spotless

“democratic” image. The example of the massacres in Italy or

the creation of the police and juridical arsenal without precedent

were a confirmation of this.7 Even if in the metropoles state

violence assumes other forms than in the three continents of the

South, it does not disappear, neither does it soften, to the

contrary, the system militarizes itself in all domains and in

particular in the sphere of social control. By opening new

spaces, revolutionary counter-violence became thus more and

more indispensable for the revelation of the real character of the

bourgeois “democratic” system, and as such for the guarantee of

a correct conceptualization of the terms and implications of class

struggle.

Faced with this reality, we were before anything else convinced

of the historical failure of the sectarian left groups. The NAPAP

wrote: “the liquidation of the autonomous factory strongholds, of

the local Red Help groups, the immigrants movement at the origin

of the national strike of September 73, numerous experiences

since 1968 within the youth, offensive activities of farmer-workers,

often reduced to nothing due to quarrels between the cliques, etc.

This hard worked on liquidation is to be written on the heavy

account of leftism… Besides the remains of the cultural left still “in

vogue”, the traditional extreme-left has nothing else to propose

for 1978 than a critical support of the united left” (text of NAPAP

1977). Hence the necessity to rethink the concept of

revolutionary struggle itself “in the light of the objective conditions

and the real development of the autonomous movement of the

European proletariat”.

For us, the autonomous movement did express the antagonism

which was the closest to the composition, the interests and the

resistance of the new proletariat in the industrial countries.

Everywhere, from Berlin to Rome, from Barcelona to London, it

had broken with the traditional binomial of the Party-union

reproduced till grotesque by the leftist groups. The autonomes

diffused in the factories and the neighborhoods new forms of

struggle and generalized them, self-organization, wild struggles,

the takeovers and the redistributions… Hundreds of

confrontations revealed the growing power of the action and

grassroots’ committees as the fundamental political quality of the

organization of the masses in struggle. In France, there were the

wild struggles of the mass workers at Renault, the epic of LIP,

the struggle of the immigrant workers in the Pennaroya and

Chausson factories or against the merchants of private or state

social apartments. There was also the struggle of women, of

homosexuals, the farmer and wine growers committees.

Struggle that spread also to the prisons with the great revolts of

1974…

Of course this antagonism had nothing to do with the chic

radicalism reformism of those who, today in their Paris salons,

usurp the history of autonomy by appealing to the myth of the

Welfare State8. Autonomy is a critical rupture and not a state

office “on the left side of the left”. It represents the unifying

content of the antagonisms running through all the social

relationships and does not simply signifies autonomy from the

institutional organisms of the parties and unions of the old left. It

goes back to the liberation movement of the proletariat itself.

Autonomy is not born at the end of the 70’s, neither in the

momentum of ’68. For a century this movement makes it s

way, from the workers’ councils of 1905 to the Italian autumn of

’69. It’s a practice of struggle, a process of education and

organization. A combatant process revealing at its course the

complete break with and criticism of “the bourgeois political

institutions (State, parties, unions, legal institutions, etc.), the

economic institutions (the capitalist productive-distributive

machinery), the cultural institutions (the dominant ideology in all

its articulations), the normative institutions (customs, bourgeois

morality)”.

On this long travel, 1977 is really a key date in the history of

social revolt and even if not-too-distant in time, this is hardly

recognized. And with reason! As an Italian comrade wrote, if the

bourgeoisie was able to recuperate ’68 and to use its

mythology, this was not the case for ’77. The autonomous revolt

had brought the criticism to such a degree that it was impossible

to make it compatible with the colorful picture of the

contestation. It had to be denied, to be swept away from

memory, and the bearers of this experience had to be

eliminated.

Was AD this autonomous coordination (thus of more or

less different groups, organized in a rather loose structure)

or was there from the beginning a certain political and/or

organizational centralization?

No, one has to specify that this coordination cannot be resumed

to an organization AD “before AD”. In the course of some

months, the armed groups did converge in the fervor of the

autonomous movement which had the coordination as

backbone. Then, they slowly detached themselves from the

movement to assume their real role as a guerrilla organization.

The autonomous coordination and AD cannot be confused but,

from a historical point of view, they are indissociable.

The daily militant practice of autonomy consisted of occupations,

violent demonstrations, classical militant mobilizations but also

of attacks and expropriations. All this formed a political whole.

Nevertheless, the armed struggle couldn’t be handled like the

other practices of the movement. It demanded a specific

relationship of the militants towards its use, as well as towards

the political orientation of the ensemble of revolutionary

organisms. The guerrilla could only fuse with the dynamic of the

movement from the outside. The more the movement became

animated and grew, the more the guerrilla had to take in its own

hands its specific and strategic task. The more it had to reflect

the new step of proletarian autonomy in the center.

The guerrilla becomes the means to conquer the power at the

expense of the regime of formal powers. The armed struggle has

become the answer, the strategic weapon against the

generalization of the counter-revolutionary policies to all

institutions, even to the heart itself of the political and syndicalist

organisms which the working class had procured for itself. The

activity of the guerrilla points permanently to the revolutionary

essence; it is the strongest link between the struggle of today,

the criticism-rupture and the aim.

In a period of time where the spectacle banalises the

revolutionary word, recuperates it and exploits it endlessly while

waiting for the “mornings that chant”, this power to conquer

consists before anything else in the opening of new political

spaces for the autonomous movement and the whole class, to

offer a perspective, to define clearly the principal stakes, to mark

the front line faced with the State and the oppression. It is here

that the interactive relationship between the guerrilla and the

class movement as a whole takes place. And it was possible at

the end of the 70’s, because in Europe, the revolutionary politics

advanced steadily on its two legs: the movement and the

guerrilla. The one doesn’t develop without the other. We know it

is common these days to oppose them. For example, the RAF

joined this negligence and dissolved itself using the rhetoric of

the sanctification of “the basis”. Others present themselves as

eternal vanguards who have to mold the movement on the

image they have of it. This eternity has been conferred to them

in the psalms of more or less understood catechisms. But for

several decennial, the revolutionary experiences demonstrates

that there is no real revolutionary movement without organized

actions of sabotage and class war, just as their is no powerful

partisan warfare without the political responsiveness of a large

movement at the basis.

Since the end of the year ’78, AD agitated already as a specific

organization and prepares its first offensive which will start the

following first of May with the attack on the employers’ head

office and some weeks later with the operations against the

Ministries of Labor and of Health as well as the Secretary of

immigration. The relationship of the organization with the old

coordination had developed from an internal one into a

relationship between armed organization and movement.

As such, the emergence of AD in the heart of the coordination is

a constructive process within the initiatives of struggle. And its

internal political structuring equally took several years, from

experience to experience faced with repression and blows

endured. The organization had to evolve by force of

circumstances, it had to stick to the events and in the line of

struggle. An organization that acts on the front line like AD cannot

satisfy itself with organizational models or outlines. If this is of

less importance for a legal or semi-legal organization, for a

guerrilla, the slightest mistake in functioning has an

immediate sanction. This is why organizational questions are

debated permanently, re-evaluated, criticized and rectified. The

organizational relationships of 1978 have little in common with

those of 1981 or of 1983 or again with those of 1986. Very

briefly, in ’78, AD functions on the basis of relatively autonomous

colonies. In 1981, in semi-legality, the structure is very

“movementist”. In 1986, the organization functions on the same

organizational bases as the RAF with a very dense nucleus of

guerrillas.

However, one can say that the decision-making of a metropolitan

guerrilla always starts from the principle of collective decision-

making. In fact, the centralization of the guerrilla organization

has nothing to do with the myths of the authoritarian hierarchy

diffused by many libertarian comrades as so many alibis for their

non-engagement. The decision-making runs through all the

organisms and all debates and assures the autonomy and the

responsibility of the guerrillas. The general line is

determined in common and its reproduction in the tasks to fulfill

is assumed by every militant. But it is also true that we were

confronted with the realities of repression which imposed on us

secrecy and clandestinity, compartmentalization, separation of

tasks… for this reason collective decision-making is never

hundred percent.

Often one presents the history of AD as an evolution from

a more or less anarchist organization towards a more or less

Marxist (Leninist) one, is it that simple?

It is true that this is one of the commonplaces about

our history. Yet, already in 1982, in our piece “Pour un projet

communiste” we refused “the very old booby-trapped quarrel”

that wanted us to make believe that social history can be

resumed to a cartoon in black and white, with the good and the

bad ones, the just and the bureaucrats, the realists and the

adventurists…

Social history is a totality and to explore it, one

must be free to be able to criticize all diversions and all the

errors wherever they come from. We wanted to learn from the

experiences of Che, of Maoism, of council communism as well

as from the struggles of the Spanish anarchists. History

advances masked and with the times numerous periods and

positions come to stand in a different light. One always has to

be able to explore and to re-examine the essential questions of

the revolutionary road. And for this, one has to leave the old

paradigms and models. If our heads would have stayed filled

with “eternal” truths (that would be worse than religious

adoration!), we always would have been in the impossibility of

situating ourselves within the great mutations of our time. That’s

why we, in the course of our struggle, rejected the same old

doctrinal debates to rediscover the sense of social

experimentation and the theory of the real movement.

Precisely, one of the great victories of the bourgeoisie in the

years ’80-’90 was the reconstitution of the ideological zoo of

leftism as it existed in the 60ies. Since the post-war, everything

shows how in “the heart of the beast” the program of Capital and

its democratic mask desperately needs the extreme left chapels.

That’s a fact. While accepting the “democratic” game of the

regime, while recuperating and co-opting the outraged, these

“revolutionary” political expressions contribute to its permanent

re legitimation. They agitate in fact for the counter-revolution and

imperialist domination.

The return of these grouplets is based on the formation of sects

considered as the nec plus ultra of the rupture. Simultaneously,

the anathema replaces political criticism. One does not break

radically with the system but with the nearest “too anarchist”

or “too Stalinist” chapel. Political contradiction is no longer

the means for a dynamic of confrontation and practice, it

is simply used to divide and to ideologize. In this degrading

context, false ruptures are made absolute and neutralize the

response of the proletariat faced with the aggressive politics

of the bourgeois.

While one has to mobilize them to take action against reactionary

neo-liberalism, war, the pauperization of the masses.

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