IFA-IAF Congress St-Imier August 9-11, 2012. Conclusions on St Imier


The IAF-IFA sees itself as the heir to the first anti-authoritarian international, the founding of which we have been commemorating over these past 5 days. We strive to maintain the basic anarchist principles that emerged out of the conflict with the authoritarians in the workers movement in the 19th century. This is why we decided to hold our Congress concurrently with the St Imier anniversary event.

Our international is composed of a number of national federations including Spain, France, Great Britain, Italy, Germany and German-speaking Switzerland, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Belarus and Argentina. We therefore have different histories, traditions and practices yet are united around certain common anarchist principles that form the Associative Pact and can be described as organised social anarchism. This coming together of a wide-range of people from different countries in a process of on-going collective work is a rich source of ideas and practices.

The St Imier event has attracted anarchists from all facets of the movement. This movement is very diverse and though we share some points in common, following on from the development of organised anarchism at St Imier, there are many different perspectives and practices on how to achieve our final goal. The federations affiliated to the International share a common political perspective and practice which has much in common with other anarchists but also some distinct differences.

During the St Imier anniversary event, individuals from all the different affiliated federations have shared their ideas and experiences in a range of different meetings and forums. Most of these contributions reflect the particular ideas and practices of one or two federations and not the entire International. Nevertheless, there are some common themes that have emerged, the result of both our adherence to the principles of the Associative Pact and the years we have spent working together, sharing ideas and practices. This document will attempt to summarise some of these common themes as well as give examples of some of the content of our contributions from specific meetings.

Common Themes
• Defining a specific current within the anarchist movement which is rooted firmly in the social, economic, political, ecological and cultural struggles of the working class.
• Opposition to any tendencies within the anarchist movement to act as intermediaries or substitutes for the action of the people themselves
• Stressing the importance of non-hierarchical ways of organising at all times and contexts; the importance of prefiguring the kind of society we want to create in the way we organise today. The refusal of the majority imposition on the minority.
• The recognition that there are other oppressions that cannot be subsumed into the wider struggle but need their own space and autonomy to organise and develop their ideas about how to emancipate themselves as well as participating fully in the common struggle for a new society
• The importance of exploring the complexity of the social reality of the working class, such that we can devise meaningful ways of transforming struggles into a movement for complete social transformation
• Introduction of new ideas and ways of thinking about things that can stimulate thought and discussion
• The recognition of the importance of learning about are history as a means of both appreciating the contributions of the past and learning lessons for today
• The importance of being engaged with and learning from current social movements and struggles as well as offering an analysis and critique of these. There needs to be an integration of theory and practice.
• International perspective

1. Defining a specific current within the anarchist movement which is rooted firmly in the social, economic, political and cultural struggles of the working class

This theme is in many ways an underlying theme, a given, of all the presentations and contributions. As said by the IFA speaker in the Round Table on Anarchism in Practice Today, 'We aim to help create mass movements based on class struggle. Anarchist organisations aim to build solidarity, confidence and experience in the working class to help create mass movements'. This theme will be further developed within the other key themes.

2. Opposition to any tendencies within the anarchist movement to act as substitutes for the action of the people themselves

This complements the first theme. If an anarchist society is to be created by the working class itself, then we have to make sure that we do not act 'on behalf' of others but operate from 'within' struggles. This was the key message of the workshop led by the British Federation entitled: Neither Insurrectionism nor reformism- anarchism! 'The main point of this talk is to argue that there are, unfortunately, no short cuts to creating a new society. The only way we will overthrow capitalism and the State is through a revolution that is carried out by the large majority of the working class.

We are not against 'insurrection' nor are we against 'reforms'. What we are against is when these two tactics become the only tactic, that is to say, an actual strategy that frustrated revolutionaries resort to. They replace the strategy of the actual transformation of social relations and become the basis for ideologies that undermine social-revolutionary ideology.'

A contribution from a IFA comrade during the discussion clarified this point further. He stressed that we must make sure that we do not act as intermediaries between the masses and the struggle for emancipation. It is vital that all are actions are connected to the wider movement.

Speaking about insurrectionalism:
'Activity is undertaken by affinity groups and are largely independent of the rest of the movement, let alone an underclass. This is because the kind of activities that they are engaged in are necessarily illegal, and therefore must be kept secret from others. So insurrectionism is essentially a political current that uses violence, whether against people or property, to attack specific targets associated with capitalism or the state, often in relation to environmental issues. The effect is to shock rather than mobilise exploited people. The actions could take the form of smashing a window of an ATM or MacDonalds or kneecapping a politician or capitalist. It is not the actions themselves that make the current insurrectionists but that fact that these actions are elevated to being more than one tactic. Communiques are issued using very vivid and passionate language that expresses struggle as something personally liberating, but there is little thought as to how the action fits in with an overall collective strategy, because there is no other strategy.'

Speaking about reformism tendencies within anarchism:
'Anarchist organisations are often subjected to the pull of reformism. This is because of the difficulty of being part of wider working class struggles and also because of the difficulties inherent in anarchist methods of organising and decision-making. Quite rightly, social anarchists do not want to be isolated from the wider working class movement and this necessitates being involved in reformist organisations and campaigns such as trade unions and support for the struggles against oppression around the world. However, once involved, the new role often takes over and instead of the individual being kept from 'corruption' by being part of a solidly revolutionary anarchist movement, the individuals begin to change their views on what anarchism is and affect the politics of the organisation that they are in or else become dissatisfied and want to create a new organisation that can accommodate their new views. The end result is an anarchist political organisation in which the members are heavily implicated in union structures and/or support for national liberation struggles.

3. Stressing the importance of non-hierarchical ways of organising at all times and contexts; the importance of prefiguring the kind of society we want to create in the way we organise today.

The importance of sticking to anarchist principles in ways of organising was raised in a number of workshops. In the workshop on authoritarian and anti-authoritarian ways of organising presented by the Slovenian and British federation, they looked at both the historic conflict within the first international as well as the continued fight against authoritarians, even within the anarchist movement. Authoritarian ways of organising are most clearly seen in the interventions made by Bolshevik organisations within campaigns. They do not want to create non-hierarchical structures but instead are keen to elect 'leaders' and committees who then end up making most of the decisions. In Slovenia, they do not have to face such organisations but they are very aware of the importance of creating structures within their own federation and the campaigns they are involved in which can ensure full participation and equality. They had the problem of the dominance of the group from the capital city and were determined to rectify this by rotating tasks and responsibilities between groups.

However, not all anarchist organisations have been able to resist the temptation of bureaucratisation and centralisation. As said in the workshop on Neither Insurrectionalism nor Reformism but Anarchism:

'The other aspect of reformism comes with views on the organisational structures. Trying to create revolutionary anarchist structures is both time-consuming and painful. As we are trying to prefigure the new society we want to maximise participation and not have a system where decision-making responsibility is handed over to a small group of people in the name of being more effective. This can be seen in support for simple majority voting. Though we in the AF do not reject the principle of voting, the aim of decision-making should be consensus, in which the group or organisation. This can be very time-consuming as it involves a lot of discussion. Understandably, some anarchists become frustrated and want to be more efficient. Simple majority voting with limited discussion, committees of 'leaders' who make decisions about policies and actions, are all aspects of this frustration. Unfortunately such structures lead to a reformist outlook- a belief in representative democracy and the abandonment of any attempt to actually revolutionise common decision-making processes.'

4. The recognition that there are other oppressions that cannot be subsumed into the wider struggle but need their own space and autonomy to organise and develop their ideas about how to emancipate themselves as well as participating fully in the common struggle for a new society.

Many members of federations affiliated to IFA participated in the anarcho-feminist round table of the wider Saint-Imier event. For ourselves, we noted in our final statement that:
(Attempts to create an anarchist society) often fall short of what is possible because meaningful social change requires also that we change as individuals. We seek to be free and equal as individuals, but there must also be voluntary, personal responsibility and self-organisation. The working class itself contains divisions and oppressions and hierarchies which do not disappear just because we want to have no rulers and want to be equal. As members of the working class we therefore struggle internally against our own racism, sexism and patriarchal attitudes and practices. Equally we fight the assumption that heterosexuality is the norm, or that clearly defined categories 'male' and 'female' are 'normal'. We must identify and oppose discrimination and stereotyping on the basis of age or ability. Until internalised inequalities and deference towards hierarchy are identified and abolished we cannot be free, and so we identify and oppose them in social movements and workers organisations as well as in society in general.

5. The importance of exploring the complexity of the social reality of the working class, such that we can devise meaningful ways of transforming struggles into a movement for complete social transformation

Comments were received by many people who attended meetings organised by IFA affiliated federations. They were considered to be serious and thoroughly thought-through. The presentations were clearly based on knowledge and experience of the issues and did not just deal in platitudes or abstract generalisations.

In the presentation of New Territories for Anarchism, the speaker from the French Federation raised a number of complex issues that need to be thought about. He was made the distinction between two kinds of new 'territories': the need for new concepts in order to deal with the realities of 21st century anarchism and the new territories in the sense of anarchism being spread beyond its traditional home.

One example of theoretical 'new territories' is the need to redefine the notion of working class so that ii is more meaningful. Combined with the second aspect of new territories, we must understand that in many countries, such as Brazil, there is so much unemployment and precarious employment that we cannot think about organising in the same way as we have in the past. We cannot talk about workers taking over the process of production if in fact they are not involved in that production.

An example of understanding the complexity of social reality in countries outside Europe, was the need to discuss the role of religion. For many anarchists in countries such as Tunisia, this is difficult issue that cannot be ignored if an effective anarchist movement is to be built.

In the meeting organised by the AF (GB) and MASA from Croatia, the speakers emphasised the complex nature of nationalist ideology. While it is clear that workers have no country and that we are against right-wing nationalism, the question of left-wing nationalism is more complex. There are various responses to left-wing nationalism- from outright rejection to being sympathetic. The speaker from the AF (GB) gave an example from Britain in which a group calling itself the Anarchist Workers Group used the slogan of Victory to Saddam in the first Gulf War in an effort to show that it was against US imperialism. This was in contrast to other anarchists who organised themselves under the slogan 'No War' but the Class War'.

However, it is not a always a straight forward question of opposition to the struggle as there are aspects of the struggle that are important to support. We do support the working class in face of foreign domination. We do support working class struggles against racism, genocide, ethnocide and political and economic colonialism.

6. Introduction of new ideas and ways of thinking about things that can stimulate thought and discussion

The federations of IFA are continually developing ideas as a result of both thinking and experience. One example of a presentation that explored new ways of thinking about things was the Open Meeting on Anarchism and Geography that was the result of the collaboration of comrades from both the French and the Italian Federation.

What follows is a brief summary of the presentation.
There is a long tradition that comes from the First International of a link between geography and anarchism. Geography is defined as the scientific understanding of the world and how to modify this world. Some of the most important geographers of the end of the 19th century became the founders of the modern anarchist movement. These include Kropotkin, the Reclus brothers, Lev Mecnikov and Perron. Their focus was the critique of the colonial process of state building. They have been an influence on geography today in its efforts to construct a different representation of the world that does not rely on the concept of the State. Traditional geography is based on the division of the world into nation states. Anarchist geography challenges this and seeks to develop a way of thinking about people and their relation to place without reference to the State.

Some examples of anarchist work include understanding and assisting the global protest movements, to analyse neo-liberalism and to bring together the necessities of human well-being and social justice with the respect for global resources.

The anarchist geographer is also concerned the question of cosmopolitism and a world without borders- social international solidarity and recognising differences between individuals. For example, both France and the US have a concept of ignoring the origins of people and stressing the fact that everyone is a citizen of the country. However, these are still nationalist ways of thinking about things. You cannot have true cosmopolitanism in the framework of borders.

7. The recognition of the importance of learning about are history as a means of both appreciating the contributions of the past and learning lessons for today

Members of the IFA-affiliated federations made crucial contributions to the understanding of the St Imier event that we are celebrating in these 5 days. In the opening meeting of the St Imier event, one of the IFA speakers presented a thorough and detailed history of what actually led up to the formation of the anti-authoritarian International and of the significance of the events for what followed. This was a vital beginning to the five days that followed. We needed to know and understand what we are actually commemorating.

8. The importance of being engaged with and learning from current social movements and struggles as well as offering an analysis and critique of these. There needs to be an integration of theory and practice.

During the Round Table of 'Anarchism in Practice Today' IFA federations made a critical contribution, showing how they are embedded in social struggles as well as developing political analyses of these struggles.

The speaker for the French Federation stressed the importance of combining theory and practice. All practice must be informed by theory and vice versa. Anarchism must be some that is lived and not just theorised about. It is something that is constantly transforming itself and must not be trapped in dogmatism. The speaker gave specific practical examples of the activities that they are engaged in with the aim of giving anarchism a reality in people's lives. These include educational activities such as popular universities, libraries, including mobile libraries, a radio station, film showings, festivals and consumer co-operatives. In addition, they are involved in class struggle in whatever is the most radical union. In all these interventions, there is a double function- to live anarchism and show that it is possible for things to be different.
The Italian Federation showed clearly the way that IFA federations are involved in social struggle. She presented their work around the struggle against the TGV train link which is not just an anarchist struggle but is based firmly in the local community.
The speaker from the British Federation combined theory with practice by analysing the Occupy Movement. He showed how we can understand the significance of social movements by identifying the extent to which these movements are making a positive contribution to social change as well as by seeing what their weaknesses may be. He showed how our anarchist principles are relevant for evaluating what is going on today.

9. International perspective

The fact that IFA is made up of federations from different countries provides many opportunities to live our internationalism. Many of the people invited to St Imier from outside Europe were invited by IFA federations as the result of contacts built up over years of international work. Many of the meetings were the result of collaboration between more than one IFA federation. A particularly important example of such collaboration is the organisation of the Balkans meeting by the Italian and Slovenian federations. What follows is a report by one of the organisers of the meeting.

The initiative came from Italian and Slovenian federation so the fact that we have an International made it possible to have this meeting. By preparing this meeting in advance and having it on the programme of the St Imier meeting made it possible to bring together many people from the Balkans that had come to St Imier. The main goals of the meeting were:

• Exchange information on the political and economic situation in each country, social struggles and our involvement as anarchists in the social movements. We wanted to find points where there was basis for co-operation.
• Search for a way for future co-operation on some concrete issues. We wanted to identify specific issues that we thought were important and that groups were already working on so that we had a basis for immediate joint activity rather than just exchanging information.
• Discussion of the actual issues.

One key common issue which we identified is the rise of nationalism as an answer to the crisis. It is very dangerous development for which we need immediate action. With an international, anti-nationalism campaign, the chances of success are greater.

Another issue is militarism. This is a common problem because NATO is building army bases in the Balkan countries. Other issues identified for potential co-operation include immigration and the economic crisis and austerity, and ecology.

There was a strong feeling in the meeting that internationalism is essential in the Balkans in order us to survive as anarchists and in general against the offensive of the State. In the past small anarchist groups survived because they built a network with other groups. We decided on the next steps to build this co-operation. The two next points of contact will be the international meeting of the Mediterranean in Athens and the 10th Balkans Bookfair which will be held in May in Ljubljana.