Considerations on Anarchy

Gian Piero de Bellis

Considerations on Anarchy2022
(Saint-Imier, 29-31 July 2022)





Some considerations on the anti-authoritarian gathering held in Saint-Imier in July 2022.



On 29-31 July 2022 many libertarians gathered in Saint-Imier (Swiss Jura) to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Congress of the Anti-Authoritarian International held in Saint-Imier in September 1872.

This meeting was a prelude to an even bigger gathering, involving a larger number of people, to be held, again in Saint-Imier, from 19 to 23 July 2023.

Various events (screenings, discussions, concerts) were organised during the 2022 meeting, involving around 500 participants from Switzerland and neighbouring countries.

The overall balance of this event is essentially positive, both in terms of having focused attention on the anarchist conception and of having attracted new people to the discovery of libertarian thought. At the same time it is necessary to formulate some criticisms (and self-criticisms) that point, in particular, at those who openly qualify as anarchists or have been so for a long time.

Based on personal experience gained from seminars and debates in which I have directly participated, I would like to present the following considerations, which are, of course, entirely subjective and therefore open to any criticism and correction. They refer to three aspects:

1. Knowledge. Some people with whom I conversed told me that they came to the event out of curiosity to discover a subject that was fairly new to them (anti-authoritarian thinking). In this case the lack of knowledge is amply justified and is compensated for by the desire to want to find out more about it. I am sure that many of these people will return next year with more knowledge about anti-authoritarian thinking and practices and a desire to learn more about them. What is less positive, however, is the fact that some self-professed anarchists seem to me to have of anarchy a

a. Partial knowledge. They only know a few conventional slogans of the anarchist movement (e.g. property is theft) and a few episodes in its history (e.g. the civil war in Spain) without ever having bothered to deepen their knowledge. They would then have discovered that Proudhon, who coined the phrase ‘property is theft’ also stated that ‘property is freedom’, from which one can deduce how complex the subject of property is, not reducible to convenient slogans. As for the civil war in Spain, the fact that anarchists participated, with four ministers, in the government of Largo Caballero (the Spanish Lenin) speaks volumes about the ambiguities and shadows of that experience that should be studied in depth, without myths and illusions.

b. Sectarian knowledge. Many anarchists nowadays know only a part of the rich elaboration of the anarchist thinkers and activists of the past, namely the current to which they are linked, generally anarcho-communism and anarcho-collectivism. It seems as if, for them, libertarian thought is exhausted in these two visions, and that all those who do not qualify as communists or collectivists should not be part of the movement. This is a classic case of ideological authoritarianism that should not exist at all in a movement whose main common value is precisely anti-authoritarianism. Unfortunately, pointing out this sectarian intolerance runs the risk of being branded as authoritarian, as if ignorance were a quality to be celebrated or accepted supinely (see Emmanuel Goldstein’s slogan, ‘Ignorance is Strength’, and his Theory and Practice of Oligarchic Collectivism).

2. Visibility. One of the most inexplicable aspects of the anarchist movement at a time when communication technology has given to everybody phenomenal tools that make possible to spread the message, everywhere, is its lack of visibility. Some established exponents of the movement still seem to reason in very romantic terms of clandestine struggle, and of defending the purity of the movement from external contagion. They are afraid of the arrival of infiltrators and provocateurs who, in the past, have had good game but who would now be immediately unmasked using the very media, if only the anarchists themselves were clear about their genuinely anti-authoritarian and essentially non-violent message and practice. Unfortunately, the idea that violence must be an integral part of the movement’s tactics is shared not only by many who qualify as ‘anarchists’ but also by all those who fight anarchy in defence of their authoritarian power. To give an idea of the secrecy in which some would like the meetings to take place, during a seminar-debate at a recent meeting, I was expressly asked that the discussion not be recorded and broadcast on the radio set up for the occasion, as if we were there to talk about bombs and the targets for which they were intended. Furthermore, a friend of mine who was taking photos to document the event was asked to refrain from doing so. In essence, some would like nothing to leak outside their closed group. How it is then possible for some message of liberation and call for anti-authoritarian practice to get through is a mystery that these self-proclaimed anarchists should clear up once and for all.

3. Projects. The sorest point, however, is the fact that, compared to a past made up of various experiments carried out under the sign of anarchy, at present there do not seem to be any projects of great and profound relevance that show everyone what anarchists are capable of. And this is despite the fact that there are technological tools available (information, production, exchanges) that could be used, at low cost, to really get hundreds of projects off the ground. Others are doing this but not expressly referring to the anarchist conception. One issue in particular on which an anarchist project would have a disruptive effect is that of money. If anarchists were to engage on the issue of the means of exchange, along the lines of Proudhon’s and Greene’s thinking, they would deal a deadly blow to the state and its monetary monopoly. Unfortunately, the mind-set of traditionalist anarchists is not even fit to explore the possibility of starting such projects. If some did, these projects would immediately be characterised as surrendering to capitalism and, if they were successful and led to the availability of resources to finance other projects, their promoters would be branded as capitalists and would be obstructed by hard-line anarchists for whom persecution, defeat and misery are unquestionable signs that one is, like a good masochist, on the right track.

Unfortunately, if these aspects continue to be present in the current historical components of the movement, it will be very difficult to effect a paradigm shift from statism-authoritarianism to anarchy and the overcoming of authoritarianism. It is only to be hoped that new people will feel attracted to the message of the classic exponents of anarchy and that is why their writings and experiences must be known and made available everywhere.

As people say: hope is the last to die.

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