Finster, Ramon, 1944-1996

Ramon Finster
Ramon Finster

A founding member of the French ORA, anarchist militant, artist, writer, animator of cultural and artistic events.

Submitted by Battlescarred on June 16, 2008

The Butte aux Cailles in the 13th arrondissement of Paris, lies south of the Seine. It is one of the least known old neighbourhoods of the French capital, like its working class cousins north of the river – Batignolles, Belleville and Menilmontant. The Butte rises gently beside the now subterranean course of Paris’s forgotten river the Bievre. It still retains a village atmosphere with its winding streets and small gardens. Here the Communards held up the advance of Thiers’s troops under the generalship of the Pole, Wroblewski. As Lissagaray wrote: ‘ The only success of our defence was at the Butte aux Cailles, where, under the impulsion of Wroblewski, it changed into the offensive. During the night the Versaillese had examined our positions, and at daybreak they mounted to the assault. The Federals did not wait for them, and rushed forward to meet them. Four times the Versaillese were repulsed, four times they returned ; four times they retreated, and the soldiers, discouraged, no longer obeyed their officers ‘. Here also, Ramon Finster, fondly known as the ‘Mayor of the Butte ’, has left his mark.

Son of a Spanish anarchist teacher, Ramon Finster was born during the Second World War (March 24th 1944) in the 13th arrondissement. His mother died when he was 17 and he began working in many different jobs -hotel porter, storeworker, worker at the Les Halles meat market, bricklayer etc before starting work in the 1960s as an éducateur de rue ( a sort of outreach educational worker) in the 13th and becoming a leading light in the Jules Vallés group of the Fédération Anarchiste, which published the paper L’Insurgé (13 issues from January 1967 to March 1969).

A staunch advocate of organisation and contributor to Le Monde Libertaire, the paper of the FA, he took part with many of the groups of southern Paris around Maurice Fayolle in the foundation of the Organisation Révolutionnaire Anarchiste (ORA) which functioned as a tendency within the FA before leaving it in 1970 to become a separate organisation . A new series of L’Insurgé (Paris, 10 issues from 15th April 1969 to June 1970) was published as the national organ of the ORA before changing its name to Front Libertaire des Luttes de Classes (Paris, 113 issues from October 1970 to 30th July 1979). Ramon contributed to all of these papers as well as from Autumn 1971 to the bulletin Chiens de Garde (Paris, at least 2 issue at the end of 1971) organ of the Cercle Front Libertaire Socio- éducatif in which also colloborated the important militants Michel Cavallier, Rolf Dupuy and J. P. Sauvage.

In the 1970s he opened with his companion Corinne in the Butte-aux-Cailles, the bookshop La Commune which also served as the meeting place of the ORA group in the neighbourhood with 20 members among whom were Gérard Mélinand, Daniel and Marie Guérin, and Michel Ravelli. This group was behind the creation of a larger and broader neighbourhood grouping and which brought out a paper of counter -information Le Canard du XIIIè (Paris, at least 32 issues from Novembre 1972 to December 1982) and which opened an adventure playground for children (1973-1974) and a self-managed mechanics’ workshop. This type of neighbourhood work carried out by the ORA served as a model for other counter-information papers set up by ORA like Le Cri du 5è (Paris 5th arrondissement), Le Petit Libertaire de Vitry, La Commune du XXè, Le Cri du Boulonnais (Boulogne sur Mer), La Biscotte du Val d’Oise, etc. Ramon , who took part in all the national meetings and assemblies of the ORA, was often its orator at libertarian public meetings in Paris.

In the 1980s, Ramon, whilst retaining his anarchist convictions, stepped away from militancy, and founded with Vincent Absil of the musical group Imago, l’association Cultures au quotidien (Every Day Cultures) which ran music cafes in the neighbourhood. He opened le musical café Le Merle Moqueur (his son Liberto is still involved in this) and the cafe La folie En tete, close by, in Butte aux Cailles in 1991.They were both named after phrases from the celebrated chanson Le Temps de Cerises in honour of the famous local restaurant of the same name in the neighbourhood which was taken over after his death by Corinne and their children Clara and Liberto .He also ran evenings- les soirées Goguettes- at another cafe where people got up from the floor to sing songs, tell stories or recite poems basing these on the old goguettes of the 19th century.
Not long afterwards he moved to southern France in the 90s where he sold his paintings on the port at Sète. Here he met Franck Dumouilla who was sketching caricatures for the tourists. Together they worked on a two volume graphic novel Comme un Vol des Flamants which appeared in 2000 , four years after Ramon’s death.

Ramon Finster died at Marseille on the 9th April 1996 after a heart operation. More than 200 people,including many old militants of ORA attended his funeral on the 13th April and at the memorial meeting the following 19th May at the old offices of the ORA at 33 rue des Vignoles in Paris 20.

Ramon was also the author of an autobiographical novel Deux doigts dans la bouche et l’amour en plus.

Nick Heath

Much of this article is based on information on Ramon Finster at Dictionnaire international des militants anarchistes.