Joëlle Aubron, July 1996
We, members of Action Directe, have been incarcerated since February 1987. When the four of us were arrested it became a symbol for the government of its fight against the guerilla on this territory. It brought its propaganda and counter-revolutuionary methods to bear on us, isolating us by reorganizing, for example, a section of the Fleury-Mérogis Maison d’arrêt des femmes. The first trials were meant to show off the omnipotence of bourgeois justice. Certain cases, for which other comrades had already been incarcerated for years, were at last closed in the delirium that surrounded our “participation” in this show.
On December 1st 1987 we began our first hungerstrike to be reunited together and for an end to solitary cofinement. Before it ended on April 15th 1988, two of us had appeared in five trials after more than two months on strike. Ill at ease, semi-conscious, receiving transfusions behind the scenes, it didn’t matter, the Special Sections’ show had to go on1.
Everyday, the powers that be deploy their forces against many hostile realities. Although there were activists from the organization or from other realities behind bars, it was our arrests, trials, and detention that the State made into the perfect expressions of its monopoly of violence, of its will to triumph and to triumph quickly at that.
A perfect example if there ever was one of this show of force was the trial of January 1989. Dealing with the “Pierre Overney” Commando’s action against Georges Besse, the final act in this drama just had to be in step with the hateful barrage of propaganda that had followed our action. Named President Director General of Renault by the social-democratic government, Besse specialized in brutal restructuring, laying off tens of thousands of workers at a time (34 000 at PUK-Péchiney, 25 000 at Renault). Despite the slander the bourgeoisie’s media lackeys and trade union collaborators, the action met with sympathy amongst the workers2. So the trial had two objectives : to maintain the line put forward from the beginninng that the attack was not a political act, and to take yet another opportunity to hammer in the wonders of neoliberalism. We were treated to the spectacle of both a minister and an ex-minister paying hommage to the perfect technocrat G. Besse; Edith Cresson, who had assigned Besse to Renault while Minister of Industrial Restructuring and Foreign Trade and then became Minister of European Affairs in the new socialist government in 1988, and André Giraud who was Minister of Defense in the previous right-wing government. Whatever contradiction there was in two such high-ranking political figures testifying at the trial of “four criminal fanatics” was simply buried under the violent consensus of the media and political establishment. They enthusiastically hailed our first sentence of life plus 18 years3 as if it were their own personal victory, the crowning glory of their strategy to annihilate the revolutionary left-wing struggle.
We called off our first srike without having most of our demands met. Any slight remedy to our isolation would prove to be only temporary. Two months after this trial the four of us were once again subjected to the torture of solitary confinement. In April 1989 we again went into battle with the same demands, namely an end to solitary confinement and the reunification of political prisoners. In July 1989 our detention in solitary confinement was officially ended and we were partially reunited; wer were furthermore promised that accomodations would be made so we could speak with one another (a promise that was never kept).
In fact, that Fall we found ourselves in partial solitary in a section specially built for us. The right we had won to be grouped by sex, two women and two men, was not withdrawn, and yet neither was the State’s strategy of destroying revolutionary hostility on this territory, as expressed through its actions against us.
In January 1991 we began a new battle. Once again our demands were to be reunited together and for an end to solitary confinement. At the same time we were trying to build a Resistance Front to class justice and prison. So for two years, up until April 1993, we took turns going on hungerstrike for a week at a time each.
In May 1995 we received our second life sentences. Before the trial had even started it was clear that all over the world a cycle of struggle had petered out. Whatever its errors, on this territory Action Directe was without a doubt the most advanced expression of this cycle. This explains the extreme symbolization that surrounds us.
Time will judge our contribution to the proletariat’s long march towards political autonomy, the proletariat being the only class that is fundamentally revolutionary to the end. Like many others throughout history and in our own generation, we have made choices that demanded a total commitment of our lives. We have no regrets. Our individual paths are intertwined with an important era for the proletarian movement on this continent at a time of growing inter-relatedness between the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist struggles.
JEAN-MARC ROUILLAN was sixteen years old in 1968. From a left-wing family, he was nevertheless not very political. He has suggested that this might be what enabled him to engage in the revolt against totalitarianism with no hesitation. He was active with the CAL (Comité d’action Lycéen – Student Action Committee) in events in the neighborhoods north of Toulouse. He then joined the anarcho-communist movement, notably the Autonomous Libertarian Groups (translater’s note: Groupes Autonomes Libertaires – it is important to note that in Europe the word “libertarian” is not associated solely with anarcho-capitalism as in the United States, but also with left-wing anarchism and anti-authoritarianism). These months were a time of intense learning where direct action was a common occurence in the many struggles within the revitalized revolutionary movement. Occupation committees in the factories, rent strikes in the cities, struggle against the police state…
Given that the city was rightly considered the capital of antifrancoist Spain, he then became involved in support work for the revolutionary struggle against Franco’s dictatorship. In 1970 he was a member of the first nucleus of the Movimente Iberico de Liberacion (MIL), the armed organization of the Barcelona (Catalunya) underground workers movement.
The MIL acquired funds for the solidarity chests and lent its political and technical support to the self-organized groups and the different fighting assemblies that were growing on the ground. It functioned as a network of anti-fascist resistance (the GACs, Groupes Autonomes de Combat – Autonomous Fighting Groups) but it also developed an anti-capitalist praxis tailored to this period: political autonomy for the working class, radical critique and anti-revisionism, against all collaboration with the “democratic” forces that only wanted to shepherd Francoism into a new authoritarian bourgeois regime. The MIL-GAC was destroyed by fierce repression. One of its members, Salvador Puig Antich, was the last political prisoner to be sentenced to death by garrotting (March 2nd 1974). Back in France, Jean-Marc worked to bring together many libertarian and autonomist groups willing to carry out international armed struggle against the dictatorship. Out of this came the GARI (Groupes d’Action Revolutionnaire Internationalistes – Internationalist Revolutionary Armed Groups) which were active at this time in many European countries. Jean-Marc was arrested in 1974, but when Franco died he was amnestied and released in Spring 1977.
He then started working to bring together the post-May ‘68 autonomist movement with the new expressions of autonomous working class struggle that came out of ’68 and the battles of the late seventies, and which found most of their inspiration in the various Italian theses. He worked to set up underground groups like the Coordinations Autonomes (trans: Autonomous Coordinations) and to generalize actions and resistance. The fruit of this labor was Action Directe (trans: Action Directe), born in early 1978.
NATHALIE MENIGON was born in 1957 in a working class family. In 1975 she began working at a bank, joined the CFDT trade union after a strike. She was then kicked out of the union and joined the autonomous communist group “Camarades” (trans: Comrades). Like the Italian group Autonomia Operaia (trans: Workers Autonomy), “Camarades” called for anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist social revolt and lent its support to the Italian guerilla movement. Nathalie took part in discussions and demonstrations in the Paris autonomist scene, and at the same time contemplated the necessity of armed combat.
In 1978 she and several comrades, including Jean-Marc, founded the revolutionary communist organization Action Directe. It was about concretely fighting the system and promoting the organization of the working class and its strategy: armed struggle. Both she and Jean-Marc participated in the first action claimed by the group: the machine gunning of the French chamber of commerce on May 1st 1979.
AD launched its first campaign of armed propaganda in Fall 1979. It would last until 1980. From the very beginning AD attacked those places where the State’s most important policies were thought out, decided upon and put into practice. AD chose its targets based on those questions that it described as being decisive at this stage (restructuring of the factories and neighbourhoods; military intervention in Tunisia, Chad and Zaire). More globally, AD was throwing down the red line that it intended to defend to the end: unity of the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist struggles. As an example of this unity AD also attacked those involved in the exploitation of immigrant workers, responsible for the conditions they lived in and against which they were struggling.
Nathalie and Jean-Marc were arrested in September 1980 following a firefight with the police. After the election of Mitterand (1981) and the first social democratic government, a political battle erupted in the prisons. Solidarity movements were formed calling for an amnesty of political prisoners and for an end to the special courts. The massive mobilisation and the contradictions among the new powers led to the release of all communist and anarchist prisoners and the abolition of State Security Court. Jean-Marc was freed in August 1981, Nathalie in September.
Action Directe took action again in November and December of that year. It participated in the occupation of sweatshops in Sentier and buildings in Barbès. Over a hundred mainly Turkish foreign families were thus rehoused. At the same time this campaign was accompanied by several actions and demonstrations against sweatshops and for housing. It was also a matter of supporting Turkish comrades who had fled to France after the US-supported coup d’état in their country in 1980. The reconstruction of underground structures continued on at the same time.
In June 1982 AD led an important mobilization against the G-7 Summit in Versailles. It was a decisive step towards the integration of the imperialist countries along the lines elaborated by the Reagan administration.
On the last day of the Summit, June 6th, Israel attacked Lebanon. One of the lines of imperialist redeployment was thus illustrated in the most concrete way possible. There followed the invasion of Lebanon by Israeli troops, with all that followed for the Lebanese and Palestinian people. This led to AD reorienting itself towards new targets, claiming responsibility for the machinegunning of the car of the Israeli embassy’s chief of security and a number of actions against Israeli companies. After a massacre-attack against a Jewish restaurant (Goldenberg) on Rosiers street in Paris, the powers that be orchestrated directed a counter-revolutionary propaganda campaign throughout the media. In an interview with the newspaper Libération, Jean-Marc defended the machinegunning of the chief of security and condemned the massacre attacks. At the same time as the Council of Ministers tried to isolate the organization’s militants by ordering the dissolution of Action Directe, a series of raids were carried out against squats and known revolutionaries. Nathalie was still recovering from a serious car accident that had taken place when she was bringing posters against the G-7 Summit back from Brussels. Nevertheless, both she and Jean-Marc went underground.
GEORGES CIPRIANI was born in a working class family in 1950. In the late sixties he worked at the Renault “artillery”, a machine-tool factory. He was working as a revolutionary activist in the base committees at “Devil’s Island” (a part of the Renault site at Boulogne-Billancourt) when Pierre Overney, a communist activist, was assassinated by a security guard while passing out pamphlets in front of the factory (February 25th 1972). After the large mobilizations that followed this assassination, Georges left for Germany where he lived for ten years, participating in the anti-imperialist movement there. He took part in the organization’s activities between 1982 and 1987.
Today, Georges is no longer a member of the Action Directe prisoners’ collective. In the summer of 1993 , after years of total and partial solitary confinement, Georges had to be committed to the Villejuif psychiatric hospital. After our two hungerstrikes of several months each, our hungerstrikes of one-in-four weeks from ’91 to ’93 certainly must have contributed to his weakened psyche.
JOËLLE AUBRON: I was born in 1959. My family came from the traditional French bourgeoisie, but lived in a working class neighbourhood in Paris. I learned quickly that social equality was just a word engraved over my public school doorways.
The other even more important factor was the renewal of the revolutionary movement that took place in the sixties. Its anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism and anti-revisionism infused the atmosphere of that period.
By the late seventies very radical levels of confrontation had already been tried out and were still taking place, the Black Panther Party in the United States, the guerilla movement in Latin America, the Palestinian struggle… Closer to home, in Italy and Germany other guerillas were hitting the system at the heart of its cities. While there were many different struggles with specific demands, they all existed within a common dynamic against the system. So I lived in squats, in working class neighbourhoods in Paris that were facing real estate development. There was the anti-nuclear demonstration in Malville in the summer of 1977, where a demonstrater was was killed by a cop’s grenade. In October, at the same time in France was getting ready to extradite the lawyer Klaus Croissant to Germany, the RAF prisoners were executed at Stammheim. I was not a member in any group, but at these times I was going to demonstrations armed with molotov cocktails and took part in minor actions (against Equator’s embassy after the bloody repression of sugar workers in Guyagil; the truck that was rigged to look like it was booby-trapped and left in front of the Minister of Justice following the sentencing of revolutionary activists….) Revolutionary violence was integrated into the everyday praxis of activists, guerilla attacks showed us that we too would have to engage in armed struggle in our class warfare, it was a period full of discussion about the armed experiment, specifically the Italian situation.
To give a very short summary, one of the things we discussed was whether or not it was necessary to have a political-military organization. In 1980, even though the autonomist group that I was a part of participated in AD actions and lent our logistical support, its members were not members of Action Directe.
I was arrested with a comrade from AD in 1982 while leaving a place where there were arms. I did not declare myself to be a member of AD. I continued to think about things while in prison. It was a period marked by the cowardice of the French extreme left in general and the inanity of the French autonomist movement in particular. Imperialism advanced in all its splendor: the Israeli intervention in Lebanon, Thatcher in the Malvines, the French bombing of Beeka in Lebanon, Reagan’s attack on Grenada, the mining of Nicaragua’s harbours… The supposedly left-wing French government’s policies revealed the social-democrats’ submission to the neoliberal line that was dominant around the world. At the same time the former revolutionary movement was going to pieces. On the one hand were those who would jump at any chance of acquiring power, on the other those whose who did nothing but recite the old formulas that left the proletariat just as defenseless against the attacks of the bourgeoisie. I now saw not only the usefulness of armed struggle, but also the necessity of the strategy of having a guerilla organization. Despite this, when I was released from prison in 1984, at first I only engaged in legal activities : support for the organization’s prisoners, book distribution, newspaper. Even though I had decided to get back with AD I did not want to go underground as soon as I got out of prison. It was almost a year later, when the repression was intensifying, that I went underground.
We identify as revolutionary communists. Between 1982 and 1987, the organization developed its actions following two related strategies, the Unity of Revolutuionaries in Western Europe and the Anti-imperialist Front.
“For us, connecting the strategy of the Anti-imperialist Front to the question of capitalist rule in Western Europe and the changes in its power relations meant establishing and actualizing the unity between revolutionary class’s struggle and internationalism, as a living politic.”4 This corresponded with the reinvigorated proletarian Internationalism that had come out of the revolutionary wave of the sixties. It was also based on changes in the system of capital accumulation, which had accelerated since the Versaille Summit. This new take on the anticapitalist struggle was necessary as European integration became an essential terrain of struggle, as important as the local or international terrains.
The West European bloc was both a source of logictical support for the imperialist rollback and a competing pole within the imperialist triad and its adoptation of the new liberal-toyotist model of accumulation. On the other hand, the worlwide threat of war resulting from the militaristic policies of Reagan and his friends underlined the urgent need to build a proletarian front in all the parts of the movement from the guerilla to the neighbourhood groups to the factory cells, with the goals of revolutionary sabotage and construction. At the heart of these factors that carry within them the spark of communism — that movement whose praxis abolishes the existing order of things — the Front embodied the united attack on imperialism’s core policies, not just of the communist forces but of all the revolutuonary and anti-imperialist realities. In January 1985 Action Directe and the RAF issued a joint text, signed by both organizations.
The dozen actions claimed by the organization during its first offensive as a unified West European guerilla included attacks on NATO structures, arms factories, the nerve centers of conomic and military power, and the assassination of René Audran, the Ministry of Defense’s director of International Affairs, who was thus responsible for French arms sales abroad. In November 1986, at the end of the second offensive, the “Pierre Overney” Commando put an end to Georges Besse’s career.
Today, after ten years of imprisonment, our incarceration is not so much marked by the project of destroying us as by the wish to bury us. Several factors should be noted when analysing this strategic reorientation on the part of the State. First of all, our struggles in prison. The partial success in breaking Georges should also be taken into account along with the continuing weakness of the French revolutionary movement as well as the need to resolve the contradiction between exceptional detention and an official claim that there are no political prisoners.
One way in which the system tries to constantly maintain its legitimacy is by denying the existence of revolutionary prisoners. If things were as they should be no one would know how to resist its judicial or economic laws. “Necessary adaptation to globalization” or building a fortress Europe to protect against “the whole world’s problems”, as barbaric and unjust as they may be in the eyes of the growing number of people who are marginalized, impoverished, deported on charter flights, reduced to begging,… these laws must be respected by those very people who they exploit, oppress and alienate. Erasing the revolutionary prisoners from the picture of contradictions wracking our societies is a central element in the process of preserving this submission to Capital’s prestige.
Our arrests followed many other attacks by the forces if repression. They put an end to Action Directe’s politico-military activity. In the late eighties an undeniable historic break was made. This observation is not at all apocalyptic when understood within our continent’s revolutionary history. What is obviously much more serious are the widespread and unreasonable criticisms of the accumulated experience of twenty years of struggle, especially of the guerilla struggle. Instead of a critique of our actual errors, there is only a litany of confusion. Instead of building bridges towards new perspectives it only leads to the liquidation of the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist Left in Europe.
We believe that this revolutionary experiment can only be surpassed by a new revolutionary experiment taking into account and distilling the general interests of the entire class. We know on which heritage we ourselves based our search for new pathways. Nothing we see leads us to doubt the maxim “communism or barbarism”, because never before have the “projects” of “capitalism with a human face” seemed more vain. Thus we have no reason to recant. Despite the conditions in which we find ourselves we continue our political work, discussing things with other revolutionary prisoners in writing, participating in a publication (Front), translating discussion texts or actions, especially those regarding the European revolutionary movement….
(1) The distinct characteristics of these Special Sections come into play in two ways:
a) First, regardless of where the actions were committed the cases are heard by judges working in a special section of the Public Prosecuter’s department in Paris, the 14th section.
b) Secondly, the Assize court jury is made up of “professional jurors”. This means that it is not a “people’s jury” but rather magistrates chosen by those in power, who are supposed to judge according to their “innermost convictions”. Set up in 1986, this special jurisdiction is meant to tie the sentences directly to the level of confrontation while simultaneously depoliticizing them as much as is possible.
(2) Discussions between workers at the factory gates, which included threats and hopes of an action against Besse, were reported in the court records. In a similar vein, there were the union delegates who threatened their bosses that they would end up like Besse, or the poster that appeared that winter with a photo of the new President Director General with a bullseye on his forehead and the words “After Besse whose turn is it?”, also handed out as a tract by the workers at Renault-Vivorde.
(3) This means we are supposed to spend eighteen years in prison. It is only after these eighteen years that our sentence will become a “normal” life sentence with the hope for a possible release. So it is that we could be released after twenty five years of prison.
(4) Trial statement – 1991.
This text was translated by Solidarity, a Montreal collective that existed in the early 2000s. The original in French is available on the Action Directe website at http://www.crosswinds.net/~actiondirecte
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