July 19th sees the first sessions of a five-day celebration of anarchist thought in the Swiss border town that hosted the visionaries of a definitive, and historic, break with Marxism.
St Imier is as far as history tells, one of those legendary events which would mark the moment in which anarchism finally nailed itself to the extra-Parliamentary path. In the years since Proudhon famously asked What is Property? and declared himself an anarchist in 1840 the movement had, for the most part, been travelling alongside and debating with more statist positions, most famously through the First International, to which famous libertarian intellectuals such as Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin belonged.
But in the wake of the defeat of the Paris Commune in 1871, amid increasing political rancour between Bakunin and the more authoritarian tendencies rallied around Marx, both Bakunin and a second leading anarchist, James Guillaume, were expelled causing an irrevocable split.
The following year two organisations, the Italian Federation and Swiss Jura Federation, went on to organise an alternative international congress – St Imier. A veritable who’s who of the time’s famous anarchist organisers from Errico Malatesta to Jean-Louis Pindy were part of delegations from Spain, Italy, France, the US and Switzerland, which passed four key resolutions:
- A rejection of the increasingly authoritarian and centralised nature of the First International,
- A pact of friendship to stand against such authoritarian behaviour in future,
- A declaration that the proletariat’s first duty was to destroy all political power, including the party form,
- That the task of emancipation could only be carried out through the free federation of all producer groups, based upon solidarity and equality.
That declaration, spread across the continent in the following weeks, months, and years, would go on to form a core of anarchist thought in Europe.
In the decades since, three further events have been held in the Swiss mountains to mark the 100th, 140th and 150th anniversaries of the original Congress. The first, in 1972, was a small affair with barely 100 people attending but the second, organised by the French section of the International of Anarchist Federations (IFA) was highly successful, pulling in more than 4,000 people (Freedom interviewed the organisers at the time).
This year’s event looks to be even larger, with more than 300 workshop sessions, concerts, film screenings, theatre, exhibitions and a large bookfair spread across a dozen venues. The sheer variety of topics speaks to an astonishing breadth of anarchist activity in Europe today, from decolonisation discussions to talks on on relationship anarchy, counter-surveillance culture, borders resistance, workplace solidarity, media, how to build infrastructure and direct action, among many other topics, many of which will be available via a radio livestream.
In a statement ahead of the event, organisers said:
“It is an opportunity for libertarian sympathizers, residents of the region and beyond, and people from all walks of life to meet, discuss, share and experience libertarian ideas and practices. It will also be an opportunity for those who have not yet discovered the rich history of this movement to learn about its contributions to social progress and struggles over the last few centuries, right up to the present day.
“What are the X anarchists/che/chx doing today? What are their ideas, their works and their actions? How have they contributed to world history over the past 150 years? What can we learn from this concept and why is anarchy more desirable than ever?
“Anarchy is by no means synonymous with chaos and lack of order, but quite the opposite: it advocates an anti-authoritarian, self-managed personal and social organization whose goal is the emancipation of all human beings.
“This means fighting against all forms of oppression, exploitation and imposed authority, trying everywhere to promote freedom (absence of domination), equity (absence of privileges) and mutual aid (mutualism).”
Information and updates:
- Mastodon: @[email protected] (you need to be signed up to find it)
- Telegram: t.me/anarchy2023
- Twitter: @anarchy2023
- Facebook event
To contribute to the organization of the event:
IBAN: CH28 0624 0575 1121 8190 1 – SWIFT (BIC) RBABCH22240, Caisse d’Epargne Courtelary SA, 2608 Courtelary, Switzerland in favor of “Association 150 ans du congrès de Saint-Imier”, Rue Francillon 29, 2610 St-Imier.
Email: [email protected]