Article from Organise! magazine about the relationship between Anarchists and the Esperanto movement.
The Voice of Internationalism
Anarchists have been at the forefront ofthe international workers’ Esperanto movement practicallyfrom day one.
The Anarchist Federation, rightly, has always taken its international work seriously. Our International Secretariat has contact with anarchists and other revolutionaries across the globe. The work they do may simply be a matter of letter writing, exchanging info with comrades about matters in their respective countries.
At other times, it has meant concerted solidarity actions on an international level. Furthermore, the AF also participates as a member section of the International of Anarchist Federations (IAF).
Point 4 of our Aims and Principles states, “The working class has no country and national boundaries must be eliminated”. But such boundaries might not only be political or economic constructs, they may also be social or psychological barriers. One major barrier between workers uniting on the international level, which is often overlooked or even ignored, is language. Language is always a problem, as anyone will tell you if they’ve attempted to communicate with overseas comrades, particularly if they have limited knowledge of a foreign language and if the overseas comrade knows very little English.
Yet for us as revolutionaries, this need not be an insurmountable problem. With a little bit of application and a degree of international cooperation, the language problem is something we can overcome without too much difficulty.
Of course, we could all spend loads of time attempting to learn lots of languages (badly)… Alternatively, we could spend just a little time learning one very simple and neutral international language (Esperanto) as a means of communicating with comrades in other countries. Now usually, at the mention of Esperanto, the cynical comments begin... “But hardly anyone speaks it. ”
Fact: Several million people worldwide speak Esperanto. Actually, even in Britain where Esperanto is relatively weak, Esperantists greatly outnumber anarchists. "But English is already a kind of international language, isn’t it?” True. But English is the international language of business, the multinationals, power, imperialism, etc. In many parts of the world English has been forced on people, in some cases literally at the point of a gun. Esperanto on the other hand, is not the property of any class, nation, corporation or government. As far as I know, there is no international Esperanto police force putting the boot into the workers. Another problem with English is, though it may be a relatively simple language if you want to learn the basics, a non-native speaker will still always be at a disadvantage. In fact English is riddled with countless bizarre and often incomprehensible grammatical forms, completely illogical phrases, strange idioms, as well as weird spelling and pronunciation.
In the end, English for the non-native speaker is yet another barrier to international communication. Much the same problems tend to apply to all other national languages. With Esperanto, however, everyone is a non-native speaker and therefore everyone is relatively equal — no one has the linguistic advantage. It is also incredibly simple and can be learned in a very short time. In other words, you don't have to be a linguistic egghead to benefit from it. Pronunciation is phonetic. The grammar is completely regular. There are no irregularities to painfully memorise with Esperanto. So, once you learn the basics, that’s more or less it. It's then simply a matter of putting it into practice and gaining the experience. We anarchist communists often talk about creating a “culture of resistance”. Well, on the international front, Esperanto can greatly contribute to that goal if we use it for the purpose of international resistance. But it’s up to us to build on this. I’m not saying that every class—conscious worker in the world has to learn Esperanto (though that wouldn’t be a bad thing). Yet Esperanto, should we choose to use it, is a very useful tool, which can only help the class struggle.
A bit of history
Anyone who’s read our excellent pamphlet The Anarchist Movement in Japan will notice that some of the reprinted pages from the old anarchocommunist journals are in two languages: Japanese and Esperanto. In the early part of the 20th century a group of Esperantists were executed by the Japanese state for their anarchist activities. In fact, anarchists have historically been at the forefront of the international workers’ Esperanto movement practically from day one. The first anarcho-esperantist group was formed in Stockholm in 1905. This was followed by the influential Peace Freedom group based in Paris in 1906. Meanwhile, in China and Japan, anarchists began publishing the Esperanto journals The Voice of the
People and New Century. The inﬂuential Chinese anarchist Shin Fu was an Esperantist and the famous anarchist writer Ba Jin originally wrote his novella Springtime in Autumn in Esperanto (later published in English, by the way). I believe Malatesta also understood the international language. Moreover, in 1907 the International Anarchist Congress in Amsterdam adopted a resolution to support the use of Esperanto. Subsequent conferences reaffirmed this aim.
In the early 1920s, the Ukrainian anarchists A. Levandovski and J. Zilberfarb founded the International Language Scientific Anarchist Library (ISAB). The ISAB called for the formation of a world anarcho-esperantist organisation. With the help of S. Haydovski and N. Futerfas in Russia, the French anarchist Julio Migny and others, the World League of Non-Statist Esperantists (TLES) was eventually formed. TLES had member sections in 15 countries and published the journal Free Worker from Berlin.
Between the two world wars, anarchists in Bulgaria published the journal The Worker, which was later transferred to Stockholm. Meanwhile, repression in Japan forced the Esperanto journal The Anarchist to close down when its editors were jailed. In Spain 1936-1939 the CNT— FAI regularly published its Esperanto information bulletin from Barcelona. The carnage and destruction of World War 2 saw the end of TLES. However, in 1946 the journal Non Statist began from Paris, published by the provisional Centre for International Anarchist Youth. These comrades carried on some of the work of the old TLES. In 1969, the anarchist fraction of the World Non-nationalist Association (SAT) began the journal Liberecana Ligilo (Libertarian Bond), which continues to this day — currently edited in Belgium.
The scene today
It goes without saying that not all Esperantists are revolutionary anarchists, far from it. The biggest international organisation is the Universal Esperanto Association (UEA), which is represented in this country by the British Esperanto Association (EAB). Traditionally. it has always aimed to be politically neutral in its orientation. The second biggest organisation is the World Non-nationalist Association (SAT). Since its foundation in 1921, the SAT has traditionally held a class struggle approach, seeing Esperanto as a tool to bring workers of different countries together and to further the workers’ cause on the international front. The SAT publishes a monthly journal Sennaciulo (Non-nationalist)'and has members across the globe. It provides the means for its members to directly communicate with their fellow workers overseas. Its British affiliate is SATEB (i.e. SAT in Britain) who publish La Verda Proleto (The Green Proletarian -- green traditionally being the colour of the Esperanto movement). SAT in Britain is predominantly leftist, although I have to say, very friendly and open. Though the international SAT is a bit of a mixed bag of anarchists and various types of leftist. Anarchists are fairly influential within the organisation. The Libertarian Fraction itself produces an excellent quarterly Liberecana Ligilo (Libertarian Bond).
Interestingly, the SAT pamphlet series also has some pretty good titles, including some by Anarchists like Bakunin, Kropotkin, Grave and the council communist Pannekoek.
Esperanto has the potential to be an incredibly useful and practical tool to further revolutionary communication and goals on the international level. it's also the easiest language to learn in the world and you can make yourself understood in Esperanto in an amazingly short time. It certainly has the potential to be the international language of freedom, resistance and solidarity.