STUDENT RADICALISM IN THE SPANISH SIXTIES

Yet Spanish Catholic dissidence within the student milieux did not solely find its outlet in the ranks of the rapidly swelling Frente de Liberacion Popular. They also joined forces with secular anti-Franco activists to found an underground university student federation, the Union Democratica de Estudiantes (UDE), in 1957, which eventually merged into a larger umbrella of underground student organizations, the Federacion Universitaria Democratica Espanola (FUDE), founded in late 1961.[1] The sole officially approved university student organization was then the regime-friendly Sindicato Espanol Universitario (SEU). Spanish student politics, however, soon got so heated that the dictatorship decided in 1965 to dispense with the SEU, as it no longer served as a smooth transmission belt of regime policy on the university level. Along with the FUDE, yet another product of Catholic dissidence, the Union de Estudiantes Democratas (UED), had contributed to the marginalization and eventual disappearance of the Francoist SEU. In fact, the historian of the Spanish student opposition to the dictatorship, Gregorio Valdelvira, writes: ‘The collaboration between FUDE and UED was one of the key forces in the ultimate struggle against the SEU and in favour of autonomous student organizations.’[2] The massive and almost continuous student mobilizations against Franco in the succeeding years between 1965 and 1968 saw the FUDE and UED battling side-by-side, together with the underground Spanish Communist Party (PCE) and the New Left FLP.

One of the most important component parts of the largely Catholic UED was the Spanish section of the Jeunesse Etudiante Catholique Internationale (JECI), the Juventud Estudiante Catolica (JEC).[3] Already in the late fifties, this classic organization belonging to the core groupings of specialized Catholic Action had begun to embark on an autonomous and regime-critical path. The adoption of the organizational principles of specialized Catholic Action almost inevitably—given the contours of Spanish underground politics in the university milieu—led to a cycle of ever-increasing radicalization. By the mid- 1960s, the JEC formed part and parcel of radical university student politics and at first concentrated on work within the UED. After the removal of the SEU from campuses by 1965, the JEC threw all its forces into the emerging wave of ever-multiplying, seemingly unstoppable student activism tout court. A former member of the JEC national leadership team recalls that now ‘JEC activists mutated from engagement with underground student unions of Christian Democratic orientation (UED) towards activism within groups of the [largely secular] Left, such as the FUDE or within political parties, such as the PCE or the FLP.’[4]

A former national student chaplain of the JEC reports that ‘in those years, until 1967, the JEC as such—obviously more directly on some campuses than in others—played a strong and dynamic leadership role within the overall student movement’.[5] By the mid-1960s, the Spanish JEC witnessed a multiplication of its membership to roughly 5,500 active members.[6] In 1959, the predecessor organization of the JEC had reported a core membership of a mere 521 activists.[7] Much of the growth in membership in the first half of the 1960s had been due to a phenomenal increase in high school student interest.[8] But even within the university milieu, the relatively low membership figures should not be misinterpreted as a sign of minimal presence. The Spanish university system under Franco had then not yet embarked upon the huge expansion of student numbers characteristic of much of the rest of Western Europe.[9] Moreover, as most Spanish university students were then still practising members of the Catholic church, the ideological influence of the JEC ‘was far superior to its actual physical presence’;[10] and, last but not least, JEC members, as already mentioned, often expended most of their energies in activism within larger umbrella groups where their efforts could have a multiple, if somewhat indirect, effect.

The cycle of radicalization by Spanish JEC members was merely one element—though a crucial one—in a more general radicalization of specialized Spanish Catholic Action. In response, from 1966 to 1968, the Spanish Catholic hierarchy unleashed a no-holds-barred campaign of intimidation and repression against the rebellious divisions of both the youth and the adult wings of specialized Catholic Action. For the JEC, as for other battalions of the fledgling Spanish Catholic Left, this had disastrous consequences. The entire logistical infrastructure was dismantled, leading to massive membership loss. A former member of the JEC national leadership in the years 1969-73 suggests that, in 1969, JEC membership in Spain as a whole had melted down to a grand total of 141 activists.[11] By 1972, numbers had increased to 680 members, of whom 400 were high school students, still a pale shadow of its former glory days.[12] It was a setback from which the JEC never really recovered.[13]

The years after 1966 were crucial years for Spanish underground politics. Until 1968, student—and worker! (see Chapter 5)—radicalization proceeded apace. From 1968 onwards, new waves of repression hit university campuses, but in the end this merely served to further heat up campus politics. With Catholic dissidence under frontal attack by the Catholic hierarchy, the path was thus artificially widened for the almost uninterrupted growth and development of the secular Left which, in turn, underwent a further important evolution in the wake of 1968. The pluralist and anti-authoritarian New Left (FLP) dissolved in 1969 and gave rise to a plethora of mostly Trotskyist and Maoist organizations of the Far Left, further hardening the battle lines.

The UED, the predominantly Catholic underground student federation, got caught up in the rapidly changing atmosphere and dissolved itself in 1967, many of its members joining the revolutionary Left, as did one of the UED’s founders and principal actors, Julio Rodriguez Aramberri, who switched his allegiance to the Trotskyist Liga Comunista Revolucionaria.[14] What had remained of the JEC succumbed to identical temptations. JEC members’ activism within political parties of the secular Left became the norm in the period of its greatest radicalization from 1968 to 1973. Such double membership, however, only further complicated the situation ‘as not all JEC members carried out political work within the same party. By this is meant that some placed their bets on the Communist Party, others on the [Trotskyist] Liga Comunista. Some cast their lot with Moscow, others for Beijing’; each choice entailed distinct and often conflicting strategies.[15]

The upshot of the cycle of radicalization of Spanish (in this case: student) politics, coupled with repression by the Spanish curia, was thus a curious contradiction and a missed encounter. The uncompromising engagement by grassroots Catholic (here: student) activists against the vicious dictatorship by the late sixties had resulted in a growing acceptance of Catholic militants as equal partners by activists in the Spanish secular underground Left, who had earlier on, certainly up to and including the mid-1960s, on occasion expressed grave reservations against the presence of Catholics amongst their ranks. But by the end of the decade, the church hierarchy’s determined crushing of specialized Catholic Action reinforced the incipient trend of Catholics to agitate within the ranks of the secular Left. Growing distance from the official church furnished powerful energies for the deepening of the trend towards secularization. ‘Some of the leading activists within Marxist organizations in the second half of the sixties and the first half of the seventies emerged out of this particular conjuncture.’[16]

The Spirit of Vatican II

  • [1] Gregorio Valdelvira, La oposicion estudiantil alfranquismo (Madrid: Sintesis, 2006), p. 34.
  • [2] Valdelvira, Oposicion estudiantil, p. 61.
  • [3] On the relevance of the JEC for the dissident Catholic UED, see for instance Jose AlvarezCobelas, Envenenados de cuerpo y alma. La oposicion universitaria al franquismo en Madrid(1939-1970) (Madrid: Siglo XXI, 2004), p. 127.
  • [4] Francisco Tauste Alcocer, ‘La crisis de la JEC en la epoca de la contestation universitaria(1967-1970)’, in Feliciano Montero (ed.), Juventud Estudiante Catolica 1947-1997 (Madrid: JEC,1998), p. 95.
  • [5] Jesus Lasagabaster Medinabeitia, ‘La JEC de los anos sesenta. Testimonio del consiliarionational’, in Montero (ed.), Juventud, p. 91.
  • [6] Inmaculada Franco Candel, ‘El final de la crisis. Primeros pasos de un movimientorenovado (1974-1978)’, in Montero (ed.), Juventud, p. 120.
  • [7] Feliciano Montero Garcia, ‘De la JUMAC a la JEC. Aproximacion a la historia de la A.C.Estudiantil’, in Montero (ed.), Juventud, p. 48.
  • [8] Franco Candel, ‘El final de la crisis’, p. 120, reports that of the 5,500 JEC members in themid-1960s, 4,000 were high school students. Further information on the importance of the highschool student milieu within JEC circles is provided in an email communication by FelicianoMontero to this author, 9 December 2013.
  • [9] Concrete data to this effect are provided in Montero to author, 9 December 2013.
  • [10] Alvarez Cobelas, Envenenados, p. 127.
  • [11] Manuel Alvarez Fernandez, ‘El paso del desierto. Desde la ruptura hasta el inicio deldespegue (1968-1973)’, in Montero (ed.), Juventud, p. 101.
  • [12] Franco Candel, ‘El final de la crisis’, p. 120.
  • [13] On the crisis of Spanish specialized Catholic Action, see above all Feliciano MonteroGarcia, La Action Catolica y el franquismo. Auge y crisis de la Action Catolica Especializada enlos anos sesenta (Madrid: Universidad Nacional de Educacion a Distancia, 2000). More generallyon the radicalization of significant sections of Spanish Catholicism after 1956, see FelicianoMontero, La Iglesia. De la colaboracion a la disidencia (1956-1975) (Madrid: Encuentro, 2009),especially his third chapter, ‘De la Democracia Cristiana al Cristiano-Marxismo’, pp. 171-219.
  • [14] Lizcano, La generacion del 56, p. 289. Alvarez Cobelas, Envenenados, p. 191, reports 1967 asthe endgame for the UED. Valdelvira, Oposicion estudiantil, p. 235, laconically notes on the fateof the UED: ‘It was likewise swept away by the tempest of radical leftism.’
  • [15] Rafael Rubio Gomez-Caminero, ‘De Hellin a Valladolid. El debate politico en la JEC(1972-1975)’, in Montero (ed.), Juventud, p. 112.
  • [16] This paragraph is based on Francisco Fernandez Buey, ‘La influencia del pensamientomarxista en los militantes cristianos durante la dictadura franquista’, in Jose Maria Castells, JoseHurtado, and Josep Maria Margenat (eds), De la dictadura a la democracia. La accion de los
 
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