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(en) Swiss, Alt. media, The forgotten history of the libertarian Left (it)

Date Mon, 03 Sep 2012 09:47:47 +0300

The libertarian movement has been part of Swiss history for 150 years. Marianne Enckell, archivist at the International Centre for Research on Anarchism in Lausanne, tells swissinfo.ch about the cradle of anarchy. ---- In 1872, the Jura Federation, a workers’ organisation, provided a meeting place at St Imier for delegates of anti-authoritarian groups opposed to the centralist policies of the International Workingmen’s Association. -- Karl Marx had just succeeded in getting Michail Bakunin and other anarchists expelled from the International. ---- swissinfo.ch: How important was the St Imier congress for the history of the anarchist movement? ---- Marianne Enckell: One could say that the anarchist movement started here, even though the 1872 congress was not a specifically anarchist congress.

It was rather an anti-authoritarian, federalist congress
opposed to the central power of the International Workingmen’s
Association (also known as the First International).

Among the many issues decided on that occasion, the best known and the
most symbolic was the affirmation that the first duty of the proletariat
is the destruction of all political power. The congress also created a
pact of solidarity between the groups represented, based on two
principles: autonomy and federalism.

The thinking behind this was that every person is autonomous and belongs
to a group on a voluntary basis. A group unites with other groups
federally, maintaining its autonomy at all levels. The federation serves
to develop contacts, providing for solidarity in the event of a strike
or an insurrection. At that point they were not yet talking about a
final insurrection.

swissinfo.ch: What role did Michail Bakunin play in this event?

M.E.: The idea of anarchism had existed for about 50 years, for it had
been expressed by Proudhon. But there were no anarchist groups, or an
anarchist movement. The key to the birth of the anarchist movement was
the encounter between Bakunin and the workers in the clock- and
watchmaking industry of the St Imier valley.

At this point Bakunin had a long experience as a revolutionary behind
him: he had been all over Europe and a prisoner in Russia, but he
remained attached to the revolutionary model of the earlier half of the
19th century – secret brotherhoods and small groups of conspirators.

In 1869, he came to Le Locle to give lectures, and he met the
watchmaking industry workers who were starting to create the first
autonomous resistance groups. These workers wanted to organise
themselves, educate themselves and win better working conditions.

So it was an encounter between a theoretician of revolution and people
just starting to experience the concrete task of organising. And there
was an attraction on both sides. Bit by bit, the Jurassians moved to
anarchist positions, and Bakunin got more interested in practical issues
regarding the workers’ movement.

swissinfo.ch: The Jura Federation did not last long. But in Switzerland
the anarchist movement went on, didn’t it?

M.E.: In the first half of the 20th century the centre of the movement
was Geneva, where Luigi Bertoni published the magazine Il Risveglio/Le
Réveil. Before World War One, revolutionary syndicalism also took hold
in French-speaking Switzerland with the Fédération des Unions Ouvrières
(federation of workingmen’s associations).

After the war, new syndicalist groups for direct action were founded. In
Geneva, there was the Ligue d’action du bâtiment (construction industry
action league), led by Lucien Tronchet. But from the 1920s on, one of
the main preoccupations of anarchists became the struggle against fascism.

swissinfo.ch: How did the anarchists react to the Spanish Civil War?

M.E.: Lucien Tronchet, who had many useful contacts for getting across
the border under cover, sent trucks with humanitarian aid to Spain.
Under the humanitarian goods, arms were hidden. Tronchet’s Spanish
contacts were asking for arms, but they did not want men, especially men
not ready to fight. That is why the anarchists who went to Spain were
not too numerous. But other volunteers fought in the anarchist columns
and came back with experience not only of war, but of social change and

swissinfo.ch: During the Second World War, anarchist activities in
Switzerland were banned. What condition was the anarchist movement in
after 1945?

M.E.: In the early postwar years, the anarchist movement was very weak.
Luigi Bertoni and Fritz Brupbacher, the Zurich doctor who was the
rallying figure of anarchism in German Switzerland, both died. Anarchist
activity was reduced to almost nothing. But the movement got new wind in
1968, as in other parts of the world; indeed perhaps even earlier, in
the Sixties, with the struggle for freedom in Franco’s Spain.

This was a different movement from what it had been before: a movement
of young people, students rather than workers, not a mass movement.
There were generational cycles – 1968 was a turning-point, then perhaps
the Eighties, with the punk movement, and the Nineties, with the
insurrection of the Zapatistas in Mexico, the beginning of the
anti-globalisation movement and the coming of the internet.

swissinfo.ch: What was the role of women in anarchism?

M.E.: In all the history of the anarchist movement only two emblematic
female figures really stand out: Louise Michel, who fought in the Paris
Commune, and Emma Goldmann, a Russian Jewish immigrant to the US who
promoted the emancipation of women. But there were others, too, less
well known.

There was Virginie Barbet of Lyon, who wrote in newspapers and debated
with Bakunin. She advocated the abolition of the right of inheritance
and the rejection of military service. For some time she took refuge in
Switzerland. Then there was Margarethe Hardegger, a trade unionist, who
advocated birth control and free love. Or Nelly Roussel, a Frenchwoman,
who gave many lectures in Switzerland on the emancipation of women.
There were not many, but they were there.

Andrea Tognina, swissinfo.ch
(Translated from Italian by Terence MacNamee)
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