[Yes this post is Late. Busy, y’know.]
The First of May Group/International Revolutionary Solidarity Movement was an ‘armed struggle’ anarchist direct action group, which carried out bomb and gun attacks, attempted kidnappings and more in the mid-late 1960s and early 1970s (though sporadic activities continued after this point).
The various loosely allied groups and individuals that made up First of May/IRSM had grown out of/been influenced by the armed resistance to the fascist regime of Francisco Franco in Spain, which had come to power at the end of the Spanish civil war, defeating both a leftwing republican government and an attempted social revolution influenced by anarchist and syndicalist ideas.
The vicious and murderous repression Franco’s regime unleashed from the beginning of the civil war in 1936 up until his death in 1975 was resisted throughout… After the military defeat of the Spanish ‘republican’ side in 1939, a struggle was carried out by guerillas, often based in the communities of thousands of exiled anarchist, communists and socialist forced to flee abroad. Anarchist guerillas, civil war veterans, crossing the Pyrenees from France, carried out clandestine attacks on state targets. Although it continued for decades, by the early 60s many guerillas had been killed, captured, executed (often by ‘garrotting’), tortured and jailed. Dedicated as they were, this struggle became one of isolation despair in many ways, as more collective resistance was crushed and cowed. The exiled Spanish Libertarian movement became divided and its support for the guerillas became sparse.
In the 60s, however, a new generation of activists, some Spanish, but others from other western European countries would take up armed struggle, inspired by the guerilla war against Franco. A new crop of armed groups emerged from both the mass radical movements of the 60s, but also grew from the disillusion with and apparent defeat of some of these wider struggles. Frustration with the seeming inability of mass protest to halt the Vietnam War, overthrow rightwing regimes or produce the urgent social change many desperately wanted both in developed and developing countries, and the harsh and deadly violence meted out by capitalist regimes against protest in Latin America, the US, and to a lesser degree Europe – groups of young activists and rebels felt clandestine armed action was the only effective way forward, or (some thought) could inspire mass action… Groups influenced by Maoism, by anarchism, nationalism, black power, in some cases a combination of some of these or other ideologies, some linked to each other, most targetting what they saw as legitimate targets of state repression, capitalist profitmongering, individual representatives of the oppressors…
The first known action of the First of May Group seems to have been a Mayday 1966 special, the kidnapping of a diplomat from the Spanish embassy in the Vatican. In 1967 their spokesman Octavio Alberola announced the failure of ‘Operation Durruti’, a plan to kidnap the US Commander of Chief in Spain…
The First of May Group were active in various countries; in Britain their first action was the drive-by machine-gunning of the US embassy in Grosvenor Square on August 20th 1967, accompanied by a communiqué:
“Stop criminal murders of the American Army. Solidarity with all people battling against Yankee fascism all over the world. Racism no. Freedom for American Negroes. Revolutionary Solidarity Movement.”
The IRSM went on a European tour in 1968; here their spree included attacks on the Spanish Embassy in Belgrave Square and the American officers’ Club at Lancaster Gate.
In March 1969, two anarchists, Alan Barlow and Phil Carver were arrested after the London Bank of Bilbao was bombed; a communiqué found in their possession claimed this as an ‘International First of May Group’ action:
“Sirs, the imprisonments, deportations, and murders suffered by the people of Spain since their subjection in the Civil War, the garrotted, and those who dies by the hand of Francisco Franco oblige us to respond. The blood of our brothers is as precious to us as all the money and the property belonging to Spanish capitalists and their Wall Street colleagues. Let them hear this week another noise other than the clink of bloodied silver. Cease the repression. If not expect more widespread reprisals. The International First of May Group.”
THE INTERNATIONAL REVOLUTIONARY SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT: A study of the origins and development of the revolutionary anarchist movement in Europe 1945-’73 (ed by Albert Meltzer) is worth reading. It can be bought here
Just Some thoughts… Not really intended as bigshot analysis. It’s a blog, Ok?
Violence is often necessary when fighting violence. Some people reading will disagree. For people in any number of dark and difficult situations collective resistance that breaks the bounds is necessary. I guess I would however question the fetishising of radical violence, even while celebrating many actions on this blog and elsewhere. To some extent I see a gulf between armed struggle as an all-consuming self-referential process, and collective acts as part of a wider social struggle. But it depends where you’re standing… Some disjointed thoughts follow.
The hugely unequal struggle between the violence of the organized modern capitalist state and the violence of leftists, anarchists and similar groups engaged in armed struggle pretty much resulted in most places as a disinterested observer might expect. A situation complicated by the widespread infiltration of state assets, informers, police spies into many armed groups, a process which led to both suspicion, divisions, internal feuds and to indiscriminate acts of terror which undermined what support armed actions did enjoy. This is reasonably well-documented in the case of Northern Ireland, the Italian Red Brigades… Intelligent directed operatives helped to foster the growth of armed struggle, which played a part in undermining and dividing the larger social movements these groups emerged from. But police/secret state penetration was not the only factor – many of the ideological bases of such groups offered a justification for seeing armed struggle as the only method of changing the world. The idea of a small vanguard leading the masses to enlightenment; that all the people of a powerful state are supporters of that state’s actions… it’s a short step to seeing yourselves as the only real ones fighting the Man. And from there to instituting your own repression against those not involved in your particular brand of radical armed revolution. To be continued when you seize power and need to keep the prisons open for the rebels who won’t obey.
To some extents, many groups attempted to substitute armed actions for what they saw as the inability of larger ‘peaceful’ mass movements to get results, but this also quickly became a game of Who’s More Radical: We’re the Real Revolutionaries and you Liberals are Just Playing or Afraid.
Although to some extent anarchist ideology refuses to abide by the concept of a vanguard who can act on behalf of the oppressed, in practice it’s often replaced by a sense of yourself as a super-radical, freer than the mentally enslaved masses who get up and go to work and thus prop up capitalist oppression. A cursory knowledge of the First of May Group/IRSM suggests a much more complex set of motivations, the fact that the oppression in Spain for example was somewhat more serious than a bit of Home Counties angst. None of the above discussion is intended to dismiss their actions, just to qualify what could otherwise just read like ra-ra cheerleading.
We’re not setting ourselves up as an authority, we just have a keyboard: there are as many ways of changing social relations as there are individuals and groups out there working out how to do it. Despite decades of thinking, arguing, doing actions, organizing this and that, I personally find my self scratching my head still about all of the above. A truly cataclysmic change in how the world is run economically socially and politically etc is needed, I still think, and that’s not solely going to happen by peaceful or legal means. If you can’t blow up a social relationship you can’t also gently expropriate the property of the rich, the corporations etc. If any use of ‘violence’ is problematic; it has to be said, the elitism of ‘armed struggle’ needs questioning.
An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online