The Libertarian movement in the fight against Franco (1962-1974) : The Internal Defence agency (DI) and the Iberian Libertarian Youth Federation’s (FIJL) First of May Group

The Spanish Libertarian Movement in exile (MLE), split into two camps since November 1945, managed to bury its differences for a time and was reunited in 1960.

The Spanish Libertarian Movement’s Second Inter-Continental Congress was held in Limoges (France), starting on 26 August 1961 and continued into early September. This was the first congress of the unified National Confederation of Labour (CNT).

In secret session on 2 September, the congress gave its unanimous backing to a so-called (secret) “Proposition” whereby it decided to proceed with the creation of an agency called “Internal Defence” (DI), the chief object of which was to lay the groundwork for an attempt upon the life of General Francisco Franco Bahamonde, the dictator of Spain. The Iberian Libertarian Youth Federation (FIJL) gave its enthusiastic backing to the decision.

In February 1962, the Defence Commission, which was the MLE’s conspiratorial agency, comprised of the co-ordinating secretaries of its three branches (CNT-FAI-FIJL), appointed the seven comrades who were to be responsible for Internal Defence.

The decision deserves a few comments.

The decision to establish a specific combat agency intended to overthrow the Franco regime was made without any amending of the errors made in the recent past – not even the most negative of these errors, the direct linking of the underground struggle with the bureaucracy of an organisation that operated within the law and was subjected to close surveillance by the French authorities, and which might be subjected to all manner of pressures and blackmail.

It was a mistake to think that the MLE could hold “secret sessions” without the Ministry of the Interior’s getting wind of the fact.

Without question, the launching of Internal Defence came at the lowest ebb of a lengthy period of exile.

Indeed, there was the unhappy conspiracy of circumstances that whilst in France an organisation of Spanish refugees was plotting against the life of the Spanish head of state, another organisation of French refugees inside Spain was planning to kill the French head of state, General Charles de Gaulle. As a result, both countries held all the trumps when it came to bringing pressures to bear on each other and in the reaching of agreements to co-operate in neutralising in their respective countries the opposition groups which represented a genuine common threat.

Even so, it is not correct to say that if the DI was set up at the aforementioned time, it was because it could not have been set up earlier on account of the schism within the CNT which had been split into two factions with very different, not to say, mutually antagonistic goals.

1 November 1954 had seen the initiation in Algeria of the uprising that signalled the beginning of the bloody Franco-Algerian war.

When the French authorities came around to the notion that the most sensible course had to be the conclusion of an agreement that might lead to peace and to recognition of Algerians’ right of self-determination, this triggered a violent backlash by the European element in Algeria, leading, in January 1960, to the so-called “Barricades Week” which was quickly snuffed out, obliging the chief instigators of it to flee to the safety of Spain.

On 22 April 1961, after General de Gaulle had come out in public in favour of Algerian independence, a group of French generals rebelled in Algeria, setting up a sort of Directory, announcing a state of siege and operating as a counter-government in opposition to the policy emanating from metropolitan France. Their coup collapsed after a few days.

In May 1961, the Secret Army Organisation (OAS) emerged in Spain: it embraced the supporters of Algérie Francaise: by June it had ramifications in place in Paris and in July its organisation inside the Iberian Peninsula was formally complete.

It was from this point on that the OAS spread its tentacles wider and engaged in extensive terrorist activity which lasted until the Evian Agreements of 18 March 1962 which put an end to the war in Algeria and led to the formation of an independent Algerian state, as resoundingly endorsed in a referendum held in Algeria on 1 July 1962. A National Assembly elected on 20 September appointed Ahmed Ben Bella to head the first government of the Algerian Republic. Algérie Francaise was laid to rest, but the OAS was still around.

The result of the aforesaid referendum caused dismay in Spain where some 60,000 pieds noirs (French of European extraction who had settled in North Africa) who supported a “French Algeria” had taken refuge.

50% of these refuges were in camps on the outskirts of the city of Alicante. Large numbers of ex-OAS personnel wandered around not knowing what to do and with a very uncertain future ahead of them. Every ex-OAS leader had his supporters there and they had to be supported, kept busy and assigned missions.

Training Centres” were improvised in various locations around Spain to provide training in the elements of underground existence and close-quarter combat, but neither the mutinous ex-legionnaires nor the pieds noirs were in any hurry to play at being heroes of the counter-revolution. So, for want of a dazzling political education, they were indoctrinated with one obsessive idea: preparing for the “great day” when a hand-picked commando would breach the Franco-Spanish border to kill De Gaulle.

On 8 September 1961 the first attempt was made on the life of the French head of state. Only the skill of his driver aborted the attempt.

From June 1962 onwards Internal Defence sprang into action and its bombs exploded in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia… In Valencia, on 15 July, an explosive device went off on the balcony of the City Hall from where Franco had made a speech only days before.

On 19 August 1962, a bomb exploded near the Ayete Palace, General Franco’s summer retreat in San Sebastian: there were further bombs in Madrid, at the offices of the newspapers Ya and Pueblo.

Franco’s arrival in San Sebastian had been announced in advance and Internal Defence had scheduled its bomb for the appropriate date. However, something still went wrong, because Franco delayed his departure and the device had to be detonated because the batteries used did not have sufficient life left to wait for the dictator to show up.

Three days later, on 22 August, at Petit-Clamart near Paris, bullets fired by an OAS commando passed within centimetres of General de Gaulle’s skull.

On 10 February 1963, even as a further attempt on De Gaulle’s life was being prepared, a number of OAS leaders was arrested by the Spanish authorities and deported to South America: others were interned in the South of Spain.

In August 1963, acting on intelligence from Renseignements Généraux, and at the request of the Spanish authorities, France’s General National Security Directorate, issued warrants for the arrest and capture of a long list of FIJL militants living in several cities in France, as well as instructions that searches be made of MLE premises and documents seized. Just one from a long list of back-scratching favours exchanged between the French and Spanish authorities.

This phase of the fight against Francoism had its share of victims too: dozens of youths were arrested and sentenced to lengthy prison terms and two were executed: Francisco Granados Gata, 29, and Joaquin Delgado Martinez, 30, were executed by garrote vil on the morning of 17 August 1963, in the yard of the Carabanchel Provincial Prison (Madrid): both had been picked up along with a significant quantity of explosives destined for a fresh attempt on Franco’s life.

Internal Defence’s life was a short one. The Third Congress of CNT Local Federations was held in Toulouse in October 1963. It appointed to positions of leadership militants who were susceptible to the threats emanating from the French authorities and who were keen to preserve the Organisation’s lawful status. Whereupon the campaign against Internal Defence was escalated. Needless to say, DI’s performance can only be hinted at here for a detailed account of it would fill page after page.

When the DI was wound up, the youth organisation (FIJL) made up its mind to carry on with its activities, come what might. It ought to be pointed out that the French authorities had already anticipated just such a decision and banned the FIJL from operating within France. The relevant order was carried in the Journal Officiel de la République Francaise of October 1963, all but coinciding with the holding of the congress.

It was at this point that the “First of May Group” emerged: this was nothing but the armed wing of the FIJL carrying on the fight launched right after Franco’s victory in 1939, “a fight against the Dictatorship on the terrain of revolutionary action, that being the only positive means of answering with force the repressive violence of the Franco regime and of recovering the Spanish people’s liberty”.

The “First of May Group”, right from its inception, was plainly internationalist in composition, with branches in many countries in Europe, particularly in Italy, Great Britain, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland.

However, the “First of May Group”’s “terrorist” activity was always and everywhere marked by a scrupulous respect for human life. Its policy was always “solidarity between all peoples subjected to oppression and capitalist aggression”, as was stated in one of its manifestoes:

In our estimation, the true revolutionary goal is to secure the liberty of all peoples, and, within each people, of all individuals without exception, and neither private capitalism nor State capitalism can lead to Man’s emancipation and to the establishment of a genuine free society”.

In late April 1966 the Spanish Embassy’s church attaché to the Vatican, Monsignor Marcos Ussia, mysteriously disappeared in Rome. Within days the “First of May Group” had claimed the abduction with simultaneous statements issued in Rome and Madrid. The abduction served to trigger an international campaign on behalf of political prisoners in Spain: the cleric was released safe and sound after a fortnight’s fruitless inquiries by the Italian police.

In the early months of 1968, there was a flurry of attacks on premises owned by US companies and against US military bases in Europe, as well as against the embassies of dictatorial governments like Spain, Portugal, Greece, Bolivia, Uruguay… attacks mounted simultaneously in Great Britain, France, Germany, Holland, Switzerland and Italy.

Between 1969 and 1971, the keynote of “First of May Group” activities was attacks upon aircraft belonging to the Iberia airline company in a number of international airports – all part of a campaign against tourism in Spain.

The last action in which members of the “First of May Group” were involved alongside other French activists was the kidnapping of the Paris director of the Bank of Bilbao, Angel Baltasar Suarez, on 3 May 1974. The kidnapping was claimed by the “International Revolutionary Action Groups” (GARI). Suarez’s release was made conditional upon the release of political prisoners held in Spain. On 28 May the banker was freed, and that day and over the succeeding days militants of the “First of May Group”, among others, were arrested.

Between 19 and 31 January 1981 (Franco having gone to meet his maker in November 1975) ten anti-Francoists, indicted in connection with the Suarez kidnapping, appeared before the Criminal Court in Paris. Every one of them was acquitted of the charges.

  1. 1The Renseignements Généraux comes under the Interior Ministry. Its specific remit covers “the investigation and collation of public order, social and economic intelligence of which the government must be kept informed”. In the performance of this intelligence-gathering it has antennae (posts) wheresoever it deems necessary.
  1. 2A complete account of the abduction of Monsignor Marcos Ussia can be found in No 57 of the magazine Polemica (April-June 1995, pp 28-30). [Reprinted in this collection.] The magazine can be contacted at Polemica, Apartado de Correos 21.005 – 08080 Barcelona Spain.

Translated by: Paul Sharkey.