History of the Autonomous Groups of Valencia in the Second Half of the 1970s

Here is another text about our series of revolutionary struggles in Spain and repression/prison. This time it is about the Autonome Prolos from Valencia in the 70s.

This article was published in the anarchist publication Ekintza Zuzena No. 34, from the Basque Country, in 2007, continuing our series on the history of revolutionary movements in the Spanish state. We have already translated an interview on this topic, in which 2 former members of the Autonomous Groups spoke, the text can be found here [German language], and on the struggles against prisons in the 70s, which can be found here [German language]. The translation is by us [Soligruppe für Gefangene]. More info on panopticon.blogsport.eu

Autonomous groups of Valencia in the second half of the 1970s

In fact, in those years there were a large number of autonomous groups of all kinds, spread over the whole Spanish territory without taking into account other delimitations (Portugal, Italy, France, Germany, etc.). Groups of people linked by friendship or by more or less subjective common interests: Projects of coexistence, of social and political activism, of living in a different way from the dominant one… Their existence was more or less ephemeral. Thus many of them, or the people who formed them, gave up their autonomy by participating in the hasty reconstruction of the CNT that took place after Franco’s death, or by joining other trade unions or vanguard groups of the extreme left; others became heroin addicts, founded cooperatives or became Muslims; others became simple thieves or drug dealers, or regular workers or parents. Of those who continued to resist, many ended up in prison, and some were killed by the police, by the lock-keepers, by drugs, by illness or by road traffic; some others committed suicide… In short, some accepted, at the same time or one after the other, a greater or lesser sum of these fates, or others of the same kind; I don’t know whether this was the result or the cause of the defeat of the movement in which they had participated, or both at the same time.

Although violence or “armed struggle” was not the only or principal form of action, some of these persons and groups occasionally, more or less frequently, resorted to more or less violent actions, sometimes using weapons. Robbery, hold-ups, sabotage, attacks on banks, barracks, police stations, courts, educational institutions, prisons, employment offices, department stores, capitalist infrastructures… Apart from the Autonomous Anti-Capitalist Commandos of the Basque Country, who, although they made very similar theoretical and practical proposals, they also made a great deal of violence, but which arose in a different context, the immediate background of most of these groups is marked by their own choice, by their way of thinking and acting, by their relationships and by some of the people who belonged to them were, for example, the Grupos Autónomos de Combate – Autonomous Combat Groups and the MIL (Movimiento Ibérico de Liberación – Iberian Liberation Movement), which existed in Barcelona from 71 to 73, as an attempt to make a theoretical and practical critique of the vanguardism and reformism of the “Left of Capital” and to support the autonomy of the workers’ struggles, whose followers from the Comisiones Obreras – Workers’ Commissions and other attempts at self-organization that emerged from them had fought against the manipulation of Stalinists and other leftist bureaucracies at a disadvantage. Or the GARI (Grupos de Acción Revolucionaria Internacionalista – Revolutionary Internationalist Action Groups), who acted on French and Belgian territory in 1974 in response to the legalized assassination of Salvador Puig Antich and in defense of the other prisoners of the MIL, some of whom were also threatened with execution. Or the multitude of unnamed autonomous groups that emerged in the campaigns of repression against the former.

Grupos Autónomos Libertarios – Libertarian Autonomous Group is the name used by the police and taken up by the press to identify certain people arrested in Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia in 1978 on charges of robbery, assault and possession of weapons and explosives. Later, some of them and others who joined them after their case in prison signed some written appeals, which were submitted from prison under the name Grupos Autónomos. At the end of 1980, when a compilation of these communiqués was first published, there were about thirty people in the prisons of the Spanish State who, grouped according to personal affinity, between 75 and 79 had actually carried out actions such as the following: throwing Molotov cocktails at banks, employment offices, department stores, police stations, Guardia Civil barracks and similar targets, for example, in response to the assassination of Salvador Puig Antich or on the anniversaries of the same or the last executions of the Franco regime (in September 1975), or in response to the massacre in Vitoria in 1976 or the police murders in the streets of Euskadi in early 1977. A series of bomb and cocktail attacks in ’77 against German companies when several RAF prisoners committed suicide [1] , against French companies for the extradition of Klaus Croissant – the lawyer of some of the predecessors [2] – and during the hunger strike at Apala to prevent his extradition, carried out simultaneously several times in Madrid and Barcelona, others also in Valencia and others in coordination with French groups. In mid-1978, during the visit of Giscard d’Estaing to Spain, bangers [3] and cocktail parties [4] were directed against French companies in Spain and against Spanish companies in France: Actions which were intended to give an internationalist solidarity response against the oppression of capital without frontiers. Support for the autonomous workers’ struggles through attacks on the companies’ premises and facilities: In 1976 in Barcelona the “Roca” strike and the “Mateu Mateu” transport company strike; in 1976 in Madrid the construction workers’ strike, “Roca” in the same year and in 1977 the metro strike and again in early 1978 against the metro because of the fare increases. In support of the prisoners’ struggle, in 1977 and early 1978, numerous attacks were carried out in Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia against banks, courts, prisons, educational institutions and juvenile courts. In addition to a large number of expropriations aimed at buying weapons and other goods that they needed to maintain and expand their activities, and as a direct criticism of bourgeois property and the immediate abolition of paid labour, at least in their own lives. There was never any “collateral damage”.

In practice, these groups were indeed autonomous, even those operating within the same city among themselves. Each individual and each group decided on their own actions without accepting any authority or hierarchy. They agreed on concrete actions and shared weapons and other material means as well as the necessary techniques and information. All these things were socialized between them and were available to any like-minded group that was willing to “roll up its sleeves”, i.e. to act on its own initiative and at its own risk, and that was reliable, which was valued on the basis of personal relationships and joint participation in the struggles of the moment. But they never formed a firm organization, and the name of the autonomous groups or the word autonomy was hardly ever used, neither in the public demands of the actions nor in the internal discussions of the groups. I think it was common knowledge that whoever talked most about autonomy – or anarchy – or claimed to represent it had less chance of actually achieving it and more chance of becoming its enemy. The idea of “propaganda through action” was not alien to them, but they did not do things in terms of their spectacular impact. In fact, they never used a fixed acronym or name, and some actions they did not even claim them. They were not interested in being identified by the spectacle and in attributing to them a being in their manipulated world, as they once did when they were imprisoned. What they wanted was to express their rejection of the capitalist system through meaningful actions so that those who thought and felt the same way would know they were there, hoping to meet them in struggle. To show, as the MIL proposed, that the level of violence with which one could and should respond to capitalist violence was much higher than was commonly believed. This was not an ideological option, but a practical tendency, one of the main aspects of which was the theoretical and practical criticism of any ideology, the attempt to make theory its own practice and to put their own ideas and projects into practice. These were concrete characteristics of certain concrete actions, the concrete experience of which brought with it a way of understanding action and organization, even a way of life in which there was no definitive separation between the political and the personal. And, above all, it was a matter of defending this way of acting and living against any kind of imposition or manipulation, that is, against a rather negative attitude: anti-capitalist, anti-state, anti-bureaucratic, anti-authoritarian, anti-hierarchical, anti-avant-gardist, anti-dogmatic… The affirmative, creative part was left to the unpredictable, to the freedom of each group and each person, and above all to the self-organisation of each struggle through a process of direct dialogue and constant decision-making by the participants.

Another question was that of the autonomy of the struggles that were taking place at that time in real waves throughout the territory of the Spanish state, an autonomy on which we had our revolutionary expectations and which we wanted to support and share, not to tell it how it should be or what it should do. In those years there was an accumulation of wildcat strikes, in which the workers organised themselves through assemblies and forced the entrepreneurs and the State to negotiate their demands directly with the elected delegates, which could be revoked at any time, leaving the trade union, the Francoist or democratic bureaucracy and other professional mediators out in the cold. Often these strikes spread spontaneously, out of solidarity and organized by delegate coordinators, until they spread and went beyond the framework of the demands in which they had started. They became a major political problem: a practical conception of democracy that was completely at odds with what the coalition of Francoist politicians and “democrats” was trying to impose at the time in order to modernise the regime of rule. At the same time, the direct attacks on capitalist property, especially bank robberies, actions aimed at the immediate liberation of alienated labour in order to regain part of the power that capital is taking away from us multiplied; while the social prisoners literally destroyed the prisons through fires, riots and escapes and demanded a general pardon, also self-organised through assemblies and a Coordinadora de Presos En Lucha – Coordination of Prisoners in Struggle (COPEL). Many other protest movements understood the practice of democracy in a similar way, in the neighbourhoods, in the madhouses, in the universities and institutes, in the streets… everywhere the predictions of the Party of Order got out of hand. All these things played a not insignificant role in the breakdown of social control that was taking place at that time. Disobedience spread, governance became impossible, politicians and journalists complained daily about social and political instability.

Around 1976 in Valencia there were a number of people from very different backgrounds: workers, students and people without work or social benefits, individuals and groups linked by personal affinity and a common understanding of participation in the social and political upheavals of the time and of action in general. Most of us would rather free ourselves from wage labour now, with our own resources, than wait for a hypothetical revolution, which on the other hand is not what we thought was imminent at the level of society as a whole. In fact, some of us agreed with the idea that the opportunities to “pick up the pace/break a fight” offered by the instability resulting from the “Transición ” [5] would only last a few years, and we intended to take advantage of them while there was still time, and to go to Mexico [6] just before the end of that time to get out of military service, incidentally. For us, what was worthwhile was the revolution, the one we could make every day in our own lives and in our personal relationships. We were mostly people who had been burned out by the ideological dogmatism and the authoritarian and manipulative procedures of the extreme left-wing groups, and although the average age was very young, for many people the echoes of the recovery of the Comisiones Obreras [7] – Workers’ Commissions by the PCE (Partido Comunista de España – Spanish Communist Party) were a point of reference for many people, or those of the neighborhood commissions and assemblies and the subsequent attempts to organize workers’ struggles autonomously, such as the anti-capitalist platforms, which were also taken over by vanguard groups [8] , and the experiences of autonomous armed struggle, such as those of the MIL or the GARI. There were a variety of neighborhood groups, some of which had come into existence through participation in neighborhood struggles, for example, overflowing community clubs (for example, from the church), places where the church tried to convert the youth in the working-class neighborhoods, and where the priests, but also the leftist bureaucrats, ended up completely losing control. Among these people, some were workers with experience in strikes and labour struggles, others had deserted from the military or were on the run, others lived in the bush and tried to escape from work, surviving by dealing, robbing supermarkets, etc., others had been participating for some time in solidarity actions with the autonomous prisoners, others in the “Committees in support of COPEL” and other activities in solidarity with the prisoners’ struggle against the prison, others had recently left the prison where they had participated in the struggles that had taken place, others were on the run..: from the military, from the factory, from the construction site, from the classrooms, from the family, from religion, from ideology, from prison, from society…

In the demonstrations and mobilizations of all kinds that were abundant at the time, we were always the last to leave the streets and the first to confront the police, the fascists or the forces of order of the political and trade union bureaucracies of the left. We met and got to know each other at these (demonstrations) and at the festivals that almost always followed them. We recognized each other mainly through our anti-bureaucratic attitude, which was aimed at letting the moderate slogans of the “democratic forces” get out of hand. At every moment they tried to channel the energies of the social, personal, political conflicts that were being raised at that time, daily and everywhere, almost always organizing themselves through assemblies and bringing them to the town halls, parliaments, negotiating tables, “consensus” pacts and other “democratic” institutions. On the contrary, we wanted them to continue to be reared on the streets, in the prisons, in the neighbourhoods, in the factories and in the shanty towns, until the last consequences were felt, without the assemblies and individuals losing their power. While they watched over the bourgeoisie of the masses and applauded the police, we threw stones and Molotov cocktails at them, but also at banks, department stores and other targets. While they contented themselves with a partial amnesty for the moderates in their ranks, we demanded a total amnesty, which included those who had been convicted of violent crimes – among them were still some people from the MIL and later from autonomous groups, with whom solidarity was also a factor of unity for us. While they discriminated against “ordinary prisoners”, we demanded a general pardon and supported the destruction of the prisons, which the prisoners themselves carried out. While they shouted “Down with the dictatorship” and “democratic freedoms”, we shouted “Death to capital” and “workers power”. In short, while they (trade unions, opposition parties, left-wing groups, etc.) tried, in close collaboration with the other forces of order, to divert or cut off any initiative that wanted to go beyond the project of democratization of Francoism agreed between the regime and the opposition, we expressed our anger for freedom and our desire to destroy everything that sought to exploit or manipulate us, while we tracked down those who thought, felt and acted as we did to unite with them.

From there we started to coordinate, for example at cocktail parties against banks, employment offices and similar targets: On the same day, at the same time, in different points of Valencia, sometimes with one motive and sometimes with another, at least ten or fifteen groups of two or three people threw some Molotov cocktails, setting their targets on fire. On several occasions we also coordinated with people from Madrid, Barcelona, France…as we said at the beginning. In actions like these, we established relationships and developed the custom and procedures to agree on initiatives that would go beyond the impulse to flood the “democratic” calls. Before, during and after we met more experienced people from whom we learned techniques such as the use of weapons and explosives, forgery of documents, making “swords ” [9] , car theft, etc. We started to commit robberies, we learned how to fire fire bangers, our action became more and more intense. But at the same time, almost without realizing it, the social situation changed and the ground on which we were standing began to fail under our feet. As time went by, we ended up in jail – which began in early 1978, when we became more and more isolated due to the weakening of the general movement, while the police and their army of informers were able to pay much more attention to us – the companions who were free in Valencia and elsewhere, and some who managed to escape, set their sights on freeing the prisoners. There were several tunnels built from outside to inside and from inside to outside, attempts to free people in the transfers and journeys to the trial or to the hospitals, and other actions whose percentage of success was not very high, so that the people in them or in the expropriations that had to be carried out to preserve them were imprisoned more quickly than they managed to get the prisoners out. In the end, almost all of them were imprisoned or burned out, while at the same time the movement in general was definitely defeated. And so we were plunged into the 1980s, years of disappointment and isolation for us and the arrogance of capital and the state.

For us, the revolution consisted not only of the destruction of the state and all its instruments of violence and oppression, but above all in the abolition of wage labour. Instead of fantasizing about how a future process of liberation from labor would come about (not that we did not do so at some point), we tried to immediately free ourselves from exploitative conditions in general, for example by living from small and large robberies, whose emotions and risks we shared as much as their products. As far as the future was concerned, the revolution was to be for us the beginning of a permanent process of self-transformation of society, through the free and equal participation of all participants in all decisions and activities that make up social life, through the constant creation of the conditions for freedom, liberation from the painful part of work and free participation in the creative part, in the construction of the human world. How this is to be done must be decided by those who do it from the moment they decide to do it. We have tried to do this, within the scale of our own lives, starting from our small communities and trying to coordinate with other similar communities that were emerging and that we could meet, as well as with the Assembly Workers’ Movement and the other disobedient movements that we have spoken about and that for us were already the beginning of the revolution. The fact of autonomy, that is the actions, the attitudes, the procedures such as wildcat strikes, the strikers’ assemblies, the commissions of the delegates elected in them and revocable at any time, the solidarity, the pickets, the affinity groups or the spontaneous agreements made at the moment of the action, by coinciding in it, all this had become a custom for many people, but their enemies were numerous and well organized, it was very difficult to put these “good customs” against the procedures of the bureaucratic ones, manipulating and leading organisations, the left organisations, parties and trade unions had to prove their power of mobilisation and above all demobilisation, their control over the working masses in order to sell something in exchange for their share of the “democratic” cake, and they could rely on all the means of the ruling power, from monopoly to manipulation of information to intervention by the police.

At that time, “autonomy” was a set of customs, procedures, tactics that were spontaneously adopted in the concrete struggles in the streets, in the factories, in the prisons, in the neighbourhoods, etc., directly and in many cases intuitively applying the lessons of the immediate past without most of its protagonists wondering why they were doing things the way they did. They collapsed under their own weight (i.e. they were a logical consequence), there was no other way to achieve this. Perhaps the main fault was the lack of a clear awareness of what, was done, how and why, and who the enemies of this way of doing things and the procedures by which they opposed it were. Unconscious spontaneity, lack of a critical theory, lack of a sufficiently expanded strategic thinking. On the other hand, the people who were willing to fight without mercy were a minority, most of them belonging to what was then called the “silent majority”, who passively identified themselves with the “democratic” project, completely blinded by the illusion of the “welfare state” and the “society of plenty” and unaware that Spanish society was late in all this, when it was already in full disintegration. There may not have been a real “movement”, a large number of people fighting together for their own common goals. Most of those who mobilised, even many of those who defended the assemblies, did so for improvements in their working and consumption conditions and other “special” demands that could be perfectly translated into the language of the State and capital.

Perhaps the situation was not as “revolutionary” as some of us would have wished. Nevertheless, it can be said that the assembly wave of 76-78 had a great force which conditioned the entire development of the “Transición” and, as long as it lasted, created an ungovernable situation which extended from wage labour to many other areas and at all times threatened the profits of capital. The whole “Transición” can therefore be seen as a confrontation between those who wanted to channel the energies released by the weakening of the Franco regime into “democratic” channels and those who wanted to flood/overrun them.

But these rebellious perspectives were defeated, here as in the rest of Europe, by the combined action of police violence, political and trade union deception and spectacular seduction. Since the revolution did not win, the counterrevolution triumphed. In an ironic response to our rejection of wage labour, capital gave us industrial restructuring [10] , unemployment, undeclared work and precarious employment, the restructuring of production, a reorganisation of the social territory based above all on the criteria of preventive counterrevolution. Capital, the “nascent world of commodities”, is more relevant today than ever. Without forgetting the great development achieved through consumerist stupidity, wage labour remains slavery, the servitude of our time; the concrete, current fact of alienation; the mode of exploitative social relations through which we lose our freedom by selling our energy in such a way that capital, according to its own guidelines and interests, produces and reproduces with it its market world, in which we have to live by force, without the slightest possibility of changing or shaping it according to our own wishes and needs. Technological development, which diminishes the importance of human labour in the production process, has made wage labour less and less necessary, so that it has acquired the form and content of a domination which only makes sense in itself, namely that of arrogance, sadism on the part of the exploiters and voluntary servitude as far as the exploited are concerned. The bad thing is that we are still prisoners of it, like our parents and grandparents, but we no longer have the strength that the working class of yesterday had, derived from its position within the mode of production and its class consciousness. We are still dependent on capital, while it depends less and less on us. There is no longer any effective human criterion that can judge and change the course of history; it is the current of progress that judges and decides above all. The exploitative mega-machine, technologically amplified, rules as a parasitic power over life, as the absolute substance that makes up all reality, and infinitely prevents the formation of an individual or collective subject that could oppose it.

I would like to make it clear that I do not intend that this story should now serve as an example to anyone. On the contrary, in the same story of what we thought, or of what I think now, what we thought then, one can distinguish certain ideological nonsense and illusions that have no other basis than alienation – which ultimately consists in a detachment from reality, even if forced – and in our practice many weaknesses and some stupidities. For example: a certain fetishism for weapons, a kind of armed activism which often led us to confuse violence with radicalism, and which, by specialising in clandestine actions and dynamics, distanced us from the real social struggles, which obviously took place in a much broader field. An immediate counter-culturalism which, by placing too much emphasis on personal everyday life, made us neglect the search for social, historical and strategic perspectives. A certain self-sufficient spontaneity that made us forget the need for concrete practical coordination between the various struggles and those who were fighting. In reality, we still retained much of the determinist belief that the proletariat would make its social revolution fatal, so that we could allow it to happen while we devoted ourselves to our own. All this favoured the dominant tendencies in all areas – politics, the world of work, neighbourhood, anti-repressionism, etc. which, through the suppression of all procedures and opportunities for direct dialogue, reflection, decision, self-organisation and collective action, starting with assemblies, their replacement by state, mercantile and, finally, technological mediation mechanisms and the seclusion of everyone in their private lives, left individuals, starting with ourselves, at the mercy of the police and the market.

What was wrong then as delirium and illusion will be completely different today, just over twenty-two years later, in a much more difficult and complex situation and in some essential aspects. Nothing and nobody should be mythologized. All these things only make sense if they are to serve as material for those who read them, in order to understand the immediate past as it has contributed to constituting the present, that is to the extent that you are able to judge what is and is not said here, which presupposes that you build up concepts from your own practical experience yourself, if they are good for anything, even to judge them… In a world in which all “realities” and especially “reality” in general are constituted according to the dictates of the commodity fetish, what appears to be real is by definition false, a component of the ruling lie. To postulate a different truth means to question the truth that is imposed on us, which we should not do if we do not have enough strength to do so. First of all, that strength must be built up. Otherwise, defeat is assured, and the small and partial “realities” that are declared against capital and defeated beforehand also become a commodity or fetishes and rituals, the consecration of powerlessness, acclimatization, the falsification of rebellion. The enemy also has a great advantage over us at the level of consciousness; he knows a territory that belongs to him much better than we do, and he also knows us better than we know ourselves. All this is the result of the defeat and the consequent dispersion of a revolutionary movement which was interrupted for years by the fact that it was defeated as a subject and at the same time suppressed the material, objective conditions of its existence. The resumption of this movement is not simply a question of faith, ideology, feeling or something of the sort. Nor is it enough to wish it, it is necessary to restore a collective critical consciousness, to resume a conscious practice, to engage in a process of communication based on the rejection of the capitalist way of life and on the desire and struggle for freedom, justice and dignity, and through it to find new practical bases, material levers to confront capital. It is also necessary to stop and reflect on the actual results of the armed struggle as a direct confrontation of some increasingly segregated and militarized groups with the state in the “counterrevolution” of the late 1970s and 1980s, especially in terms of manipulation and distortion, and on the strategic changes that have taken place since then in the field of social warfare. How to act without having done so, uncritically and without any preparation, imitating attitudes that were in many cases wrong even then, makes it too easy for the enemy.

[1] here a play on words is used, since the official state version around the deaths in Stammheim 1977 is still that of suicide, therefore suicide.

[2] former members of the RAF are meant here.

[3] the original text says Petardo, which literally means firecracker, but here no normal firecrackers are meant, but explosive charges with a lower explosive power, like dynamite for example.

[4] the original text says Cocteladas, which literally means cocktail party, this means (described in detail below) coordinated actions with the use of Molotov cocktails and not social events like a cocktail party.

[5] Transición means transition, as Transición is meant the transition phase of the fascist administration of capitalism, into the democratic administration of it. From a revolutionary point of view, it is considered that the end of the Transición was the destruction of the radical and uncontrolled workers’ movement, which was the case in the early 80’s.

[6] (At that time there were no extradition treaties between Spain and Mexico)

[7] Comisiones Obreras – CCOO, is the largest trade union in Spain Its origins lie in wildcat miners’ strikes in Asturias in the early 60s. At that time CCOO was banned and autonomously organized until the PCE infiltrated it and abused it according to its interests.

[8] in the original text it says Recuperado, which literally means regained, recycled, reclaimed, reconquered and similar. The concept of Recuperación (Recuperation, Recycling, Reclamation, Recapture), inspired by the Situationist International, is based on the idea of the political instrument of domination, which also means avant-gardes (all leftist and ML ideologies), using and appropriating and emptying a movement, theory and practice. Thus, it loses its original character and becomes reformist.

[9] in the prison language within the Spanish state, a sword is a lock pick.

[10] in the original text Reconversión Industrial – industrial restructuring, this explains, or stands for the decision of the Spanish state, still under Franco, in 1973, as a result of the capitalist crisis, to dismantle industry, especially heavy industry, in Spain because, according to capitalist logic, they no longer made enough profit. This hit especially the industrial centers in the Spanish state very hard, the metal industry, mining, shipbuilding, etc. Thousands lost their jobs, which led to an immense wave of class struggles.

(via Deutschland Indymedia / Tor, translated into English by Anarchists Worldwide)

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