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(en) Swiss, Alt. media, Anarchism still inspires
Wed, 29 Aug 2012 14:22:29 +0300
Anarchists have always been a small minority on the Left. Their history is littered with
failures but their basic libertarian ideals are enjoying a resurgence in social movements
like Occupy Wall Street. ---- Anarchism has “largely taken the place of Marxism in the
social movements of the 1960s”, according to the American anthropologist David Graeber,
one of the intellectuals most quoted by the Occupy movement. ---- “Even those who do not
consider themselves anarchists feel they have to define themselves in relation to it,” he
wrote. ---- That may be wishful thinking on the part of a militant anarchist, but classic
libertarian thought is increasingly being picked up by today’s social movements. For
example, the principle of “self-management” where decisions are based on consensus and
hierarchies are rejected.
Anarchism today appears to be feeling the belated after-effects of 1989 and the fall of
the Berlin Wall.
“In the last 15 years anarchism has been on the up,” says Gabriel Kuhn, an anarchist
philosopher originally from Austria.
Kuhn attended a recent global anarchists gathering in one of the “cradles” of anarchy, St
Imier in northwestern Switzerland. The event marked the 140th anniversary of the founding
of the anti-authoritarian International Workingmen’s Association (see related story).
Kuhn believes that the fall of the communist regimes proved anarchists right to some
extent. For the anti-capitalist Left, he says, traditional Marxist thinking has lost its
“In the 1990s, many people were prepared to criticise dictatorial forms of socialism, but
still had their reservations about anarchism” he told swissinfo.ch.
“It was considered utopic, romantic and chaotic. But those same people have since ended up
taking over many of anarchism’s principles: a democracy where everyone has his or her say,
a horizontal structure, a sceptical attitude towards hierarchies and politicians, as well
as the principle of direct action.”
St Imier was a milestone in the initial phase of the anarchist movement, which saw
significant numbers of anarchists taking part in the workers’ struggle in different
countries, getting revolutionary experience during the Paris Commune, in the Ukrainian
Soviets and finally Republican Spain.
But this phase of anarchism is considered to have ended with the Second World War.
From class struggle to social change
Anarchist thought re-emerged among the movements of the 1960s, where libertarian
inspiration was strong.
“As part of the New Left of 1968, anarchism changed its character. Cultural aspects took
on a more important role. Rebelling against the bourgeoisie replaced traditional class
struggle,” Kuhn said.
Anarchism influenced the New Left and was influenced by it in turn, and the movement
opened up to other perspectives.
“Economic issues were considered more critically, while attention also shifted to other
forms of domination: patriarchy, racism, sexual discrimination and the destruction of the
environment,” Kuhn added.
After 1968, anarchism branched out. Generational cycles followed.
“Nineteen sixty-eight was a first turning point, then perhaps the 1980s, with the punk
movement, and the 1990s, with the insurrection of the Zapatistas in Mexico, the beginning
of the anti-globalisation movement and the arrival of the Internet,” said Marianne
Enckell, archivist at the International Centre for Research on Anarchism in Lausanne.
The 19th century vision of a great revolutionary reawakening, although not entirely gone,
has now given way to the idea of living life as autonomously as possible.
“It is less and less about change, and more and more an attempt to apply anarchist ideals
in daily life,” said Edy Zarro, one of the organisers of the Ticino anarchist publishing
house La Baronata, who was also at the Saint-Imier meeting.
The concept of self-management is key.
The self-managing organisations that have sprung up in Italy, Spain and elsewhere in
recent decades have been able to experiment libertarian theories. Thanks to their
horizontal structure and flexibility, it was possible to integrate ideas from other social
Il Molino, a self-managing social centre that started in Ticino in 1996, was strongly
influenced by the Zapatista movement in Mexico.
“Comrades went to the Chiapas region, bringing back new ideas from which we extrapolated
theories and practices that are now helping us,” said Paolo Casellini, one of the centre’s
“It is interesting for anarchists and libertarians to adopt methods of horizontal,
self-managed consensus,” added Michele Bricòla, one of the editors of the Ticino anarchist
magazine Voce Libertaria.
“You don’t have to go far – not as far as Mexico – it’s enough to look at what’s going on
in Val di Susa, with the NoTav movement,” he added, which is opposing a high-speed rail
link under the Alps between France and Italy.
However, among anarachists themselves, not everyone is comfortable with cosying up with
other movements or ignoring authority rather than fighting it out in the open.
Most anarchists seem to have given up the claim to political power that was developed by
the movement’s theoreticians during the 20th century, preferring to network with other
“Before, we would spout our theories, but now we are here to learn,” said Peter Schrembs,
an anarchist in Ticino for the past 40 years.
“In any case, anarchists are such a minority that if they aren’t willing to work with
others, they won’t achieve much,” said Michel Némitz of the self-managing cultural centre
Espace Noir in St Imier, one of the international meeting’s organisers.
“And it won’t just be anarchists who will kick off the revolution, but also ordinary
people. We don’t want to do anything in the name of the people. We are not some kind of
Anarchism today seems to focus not so much on theory but on practical aspects, concrete
action inspired by libertarian methodology.
As Graeber has written, “anarchism has tried to be an ethical discourse about
revolutionary practices.” This discourse is based on the assumption that freedom cannot be
achieved with authoritarian methods, and that social change begins with change in everyday
Andrea Tognina, swissinfo.ch
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