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Colin Ward


Encounters In Grenoble
[Symposium "La Culture Libertaire", Grenoble 1996]

It is certainly an indication of the changing audience for anarchist propaganda that the latest international anarchist gathering was set up by the Sociology Department of the Pierre Mendes France University at Grenoble in south- east France.


It is one of several universities sharing the same campus outside the town, reached by an enviably cheap and frequent tramway whose quiet and comfortable vehicles should be envied by British cities. [1]

The conference on "La Culture Libertaire" ran from 21st to 23rd March with over thirty sessions (some parallel) running from 9am to 7pm for three days. Admission was free to all and every session was packed with young and old, sitting in the aisles of the lecture theatre and often in an adjacent room with a television screen. As a non-polyglot, I skipped plenty of sessions, but each had audiences of between 100 and 150, and the problem was usually that of finding a seat and of sitting next to the right whispering translator among friends from Holland, Switzerland or France.

Downstairs a variety of bookstalls peddled the impressive range of anarchist literature in French, German, Italian and Spanish. In sheer volume, the most remarkable of all was probably the Atelier de Création Libertaire (BP 1186, 69202, Lyon, Cedex 01, France), and the associated bookshop Librarie La Gryffe,(5 rue Sebastien Gryphe,69007, Lyon, France). However, I also learned from Alternative Libertaire (BP 177, 75967, Paris, Cedex 20, France) that Jean Maitron’ s history of the French anarchist movement has recently been published in Arabic in Lebanon.

When we consider the failure of the international anarchist movement to penetrate beyond the European and North or South American world (apart from well-known incursions in China, Japan and Korea, as well as parallel trends in India), this is intriguing news. But why did it have to be history, rather than an application of anarchist ideas to the current ferment in what, to us, is the Middle East?

This question of contemporary relevance was one of the themes of several participants, and was phrased in various ways as the difference between the old and the new anarchism. It was tackled head-on by Rossella Di Leo from the Italian group who publish the monthly Rivista A, the quarterly Volontà and the Eleuthera series of books with authors ranging from Kurt Vonnegut to Marge Piercy (Edizione Volonta, casella postale 10667 20110, Milano, Italy). She urged us to avoid recriminations between different concepts of anarchism and to be conscious of current trends outside our private world. "Anarchism is not just a variant of industrial archaeology" she declared, and she talked about the links between anarchist thinking and the Green movement, the women’s movement, current citizen direct action campaigns, and ’chaos theory’- in geography and mathematics, as well as educational and biological theories about small self-governing cells as the foundation of social behaviour.

She was followed by Anna Niedzwiecka who circulated various anarchist journals from Poland, and stressed that the noteworthy fact about them was the youth of the participants. The only occasion when angry voices were heard from the audience was when Mimmo, a big bearded guy from Lyon, reported a comparison between the social characteristics of the anarchist movement in 1895 as reported at the time by Augustin Hamon in Psychologie de l’anarchiste-socialiste and in 1955 as discovered by his own research. His findings were much like those of two readership surveys conducted thirty years apart by Freedom, but he was accused of stealing anarchism from the industrial workers and handing it over to the graduate intelligentsia. I thought it a bit hard that he should be blamed for accurately reporting on social facts, but there wasn’t any time to explore the thought that sometime in the next century a new anarchist movement might arise from-the ’underclass’ created by the collapse of industrial employment throughout the western world.

But there was a series of arguments worth pursuing further. For example, John Clark from Louisiana was talking about links between the ecological movement and libertarianism, an issue nicely explored in the Freedom Press pamphlet Deep Ecology and Anarchism, but when we took the bus to Chamrousse to have a meal out of doors with snow all around us, we fell to talking about Cajun music instead of the issues involved. Personal enthusiasms took over from ideology.

Eduardo Colombo, a veteran from La Protesta in Buenos Aires but long settled in Paris, and a student of the psychology of anarchism, placed us at various points on an overlapping continuum. Anarchists, he felt, can be located in several categories of attitude.

They include:

1. The Millenarians, who believe that one day everything will change, after a ’ social revolution’.

2. The Post-Enlightenment radical relativists, who expect a series of different and uneven radical changes in society.

3. The Eternal Rebels, who become anarchists for reasons related to their personal psychology.

4. Those whose anarchism is part of their whole social situation. This, he argued, was true for example among unionists workers in various trades in the FORA in Buenos Aires or the CNT in Barcelona. This is the kind of anarchism that can actually provoke revolutions, but not necessari1y sustain them.

Rudolf De Jong from Amsterdam took as his title ’Anarchism after the Fall of the Berlin Wall’, in order to raise the issue of real and unreal revolutions. He remarked that there used to be a song about the fall of the Bastille in the French revolution. It said: "The Bastille has fallen / And nothing has changed." This, suggested De Jong, was both true and untrue. Nobody had actually resisted the attack on the Bastille and nobody had resisted the attack on the Berlin Wall. But there were deep differences between the two unresisted mass movements. Unlike the French revolution of 1789 or the Spanish revolution of 1936, the fall of the wall in 1989 was accompanied by no new ideas. Its aim was simply to bring to an end the absurdly oppressive old regime, whose population was contlnua ly decllnlng as people risked their lives just to get out. But the only alternative on offer was that of a capitalist market economy - dissenting voices from the left were either in prison or in exile or had given up the struggle. Nobody was left to produce new ideas on how to organise the production and distribution of goods and services, so the poor became still poorer and the victims of the old regime were also the vlctims of the new one too.

De Jong compared the Spanish revolution of 1936 which affected about ten million people at the most, with the events of 1989 which affected the three hundred million inhabitants of the Soviet Empire. Statistics apart, one of his important arguments was that if some selective virus killed off all the world’s anarchists tomorrow, anarchism as an idea would survive and emerge in every kind of society.

The same kind of issue was raised by a variety of speakers: Alain Pessin, our host, Ronald Creagh from Montpellier and Peter Schremps from Switzerland, who reminded us of the theme of ’Old and New Anarchism’ had been the subject of an international meeting in 1974 when Luce Fabbri called for a "soto voce anarchism" when it is likely to get a hearing, urged us to remember that it wasn’t necessary to pose the one against the other. I seem to remember the same sentiments in 1984 at the Venice gathering, and I certainly believe that adherents of both old and new anarchism, if in fact they differ, should push their own approaches, not among each other but in the unfnendly world outside.

In fact, I heard of about half a dozen experiments in applied anarchism when I was in Grenoble. Jean-Manuel Traimond, who was kind enough to act as my translator, is the author of a book of stories from the 25-year-old squatter settlement in Christiania, Copenhagen (see also article on page 7). Other people talked about the school called Bonaventure on an island north of Bordeaux, and about the community called Los Arenalejos, Spain). I learned how Peter Schremps had organised a cooperative cleaning agency in Switzerland, by-passing

Auzias about a progressive school venture in Nantes (the Lycée Autogéré) organized within the official system by Gabriel Cohn-Bendit. Anarchism does slip in with a quiet but persistent voice.

That was the message I brought back from Grenoble.


[1article taken from "ANARCHIST NOTEBOOK" in Freedom Marked-up by Chuck Munson on April 19th, 1996


To cite this page:
Encounters In Grenoble , What's new: 20 September 2014. [Online].
http://raforum.info/spip.php?article1078
[Accessed on 16 December 2014]



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