Report from St. Imier International Congress, 8th-12th August 2012

Report from St. Imier International Congress, 8th-12th August 2012

This year marks the 140 year anniversary of the first anarchist International held at St.Imier, Switzerland, in 1872. In celebration of the anniversary an international gathering was called in St.Imier in mid-August. A contingent of Collective Action militants attended the gathering along with thousands of other anarchists from around the world to discuss politics, create new international ties and, of course, have some fun.

From August 8th to the 12th, the small Swiss town was taken over by anarchists attending the gathering. It was hard to calculate the exact number of attendees as the venues and sleeping sites was spread across the entire town and there was a constant flow of people leaving and joining the gathering throughout the week, but estimates have ranged from 2,000 to 4,000. Needless to say with such huge numbers of attendees, and an international gathering of this magnitude being so rare for the current generation of anarchists, the organisation of the event held up in many areas but also had it shortcomings.

The accommodation for the attendees consisted of three camp sites and a sports hall hired by the organisers, and many more attendees hiring out hotel rooms and houses. The two biggest camp sites were located on top of Mount Soleil, and for a small fee of 10 Swiss Francs transport from St. Imier to Mount Soleil was provided for the duration of the gathering via a funicular. The Collective Action militants were staying in one of these camp sites on Mount Soleil and the facilities provided were very good. There was an adequate amount of toilets and hot showers available all day and night. A kitchen was present to provide breakfast every morning and then double up as a bar to provide alcohol in the evening. The camp sites were big enough for everyone’s tents and allowed enough room for fires in the evening that provided a good environment to drink and get to socialise with comrades from around the world. Despite the chilling nights and one alcohol induced violent situation the accommodation was well organised and made as comfortable as camping can be.

The food throughout the gathering was fantastic! There were three kitchens in all organised by three different food collectives. One kitchen already mentioned was located in the Mount Soleil camp sites that only provided breakfast. The other two kitchens were located in St. Imier, one by the book fair and the second in the middle of the town conveniently located between the venues. The two kitchens in St. Imier provided breakfast, lunch and dinner, and tea, coffee and water throughout the day. Considering the huge amount of people the kitchens had to provide food for, all the meals well cooked, tasty and well proportioned. The kitchens were well organised and based on co-operation allowing people outside of the kitchen collectives to prepare and serve food. There was a recommended daily donation of 10 Swiss Francs per day for the meals and unfortunately it appears that not everyone respected this because on the last day the kitchens were stressing that they were currently down 3,000 Swiss Francs.

All the daily activities took place in St. Imier, and the social centre, ‘Espace Noir’, was the main hub. There were another 7 venues spread across the town that were holding talks, round-tables, gigs and movie showings throughout the week, and the local ice rink was drained for the week long book fair. Unfortunately the spaces, organisation and content of the talks had many shortcomings.

The format to the talks was too open and at times frustratingly disorganised. Minus a few talks there was no system in place for translations which lead to many talks opening by asking if someone was able/willing to translate x language into y and z. It wasted a lot of time that could have been used to talk about more topics in greater detail and, at its worst, lead to arguments and vital details being lost in translation.

The content for many of the talks and round tables also lacked depth. A lot of them felt like introductions to topics, which is fine if talks are provided for the more seasoned anarchist as well, which in this case were not. Anarchists from all over the world were present and not enough effort was made to allow the experiences faced by anarchists in different regions of the world to be shared. Moreover the talks were frustratingly retrospective, which again is not a bad thing if they are balanced out with talks on praxis, or used to highlight problems we face today, but this was not the case. Historic internationals have debated both the social ills of the day as well as attempting to find unity on the relevant praxis to create a coherent anarchist response but this was missing from many of the presentations. There is by no means a shortage of topics in this area - from new social movements (like Occupy and anti-austerity coalitions) to the emergence of new tactics in struggle ( like direct unionism or insurrrectionary riots). Instead references to these things were either cursory or needlessly triumphalist, for example, uncritically citing the Occupy movement as a "gain" for anarchist ideas. Areas of essential interest, such as the situation in Greece, were presented by outside observers and raised disputes from Greek activists in attendance. The plenary was also marred by a similar incoherence of political vision with interventions ranging from the essential adoption of Esperanto to the need for the formation of a parliamentary party!

We were also forced to question as to why in a congress held in the middle of an economic crisis, and presented publicly to the press as "an anarchist response to debt", was only one round-table devoted to the subject. This meeting, billed as 'the Crisis and the PIIGS', also raised critical questions on the interpretation and cause of the crisis, particularly the views of the IAF-IFA representative that it could be largely attributed to the activity of a select core of financial institutions and banks. However aside from the intervention of a member of the CGA (Coordantion des Groupes Anarchistes) and the excellent presentation by Paul Bowman of the Workers Solidarity Movement (the technicalities of which I suspect were largely lost in translation) no space for debate and criticism was permitted on this topic in the limited time available. This should have been a central theme of the congress.

There was also a lack of gender and colour politics, no safe space from the beginning and next to zero accessibility for the disabled. As a movement we need to be tackling problems of inclusiveness and accessibility, and creating a safe environment for everyone to express their opinions, concerns and struggles so we can learn to counteract these areas of struggle. Unfortunately, this seems to be a problem still prevalent within the international anarchist movement.

The general organisation of the event was carried out by a small collective that spent most of its time isolated in a room in Espace Noir. If another international gathering is called in the future it would be great to see anarchist principles of co-operation and shared responsibility at the forefront of the organising. If this were the case we probably would see a lot of the highlighted problems remedied. In spite of the negatives we would like to congratulate the organisers of the gathering as the amount of hours put in to organising such an event must be astronomical, but we should learn not to make the same mistakes twice.

During the gathering the CA militants were able to build new international contacts and further forward some debates within our own theory. The Anarkismo tent and delegates had the biggest influence on us, showed the highest level of organisation as well as, in spite of a more limited programme, the clearest political content. This included an excellent presentation by the FARJ (Federação Anarquista do Rio de Janeiro) on the history and lessons to be drawn from the First International, something again that was conspicuously missing from the main programme. It was also one of the few disabled accessible spaces.

One stand-out talk we attended was by a Zimbabwean comrade known as Biko - connected to the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF) - on the historical and contemporary political and economic situation in Zimbabwe. The talk was comprehensive, eye opening and the start of a new friendship for us. It gave us an opportunity to hear about the situation in Zimbabwe from the other side of the news coverage. This was presented as an anarchist communist perspective but also incorporated the experiences and problems faced by everyday workers and trade unionists when trying to organise against the regime. Despite huge repression Biko and his comrades have organised around four fronts consisting of a political studies circle, an arts collective, an Indymedia collective and a permaculture collective that provides herbal remedies for HIV sufferers in communities where medical treatment is inaccessible. The ‘Uhuru Network’ has managed to set up a commune where the four fronts can live collectively. Biko supplied us with CDs made by the network to sell here in the UK - they will be up on our website shortly - and CA will be putting on benefit gigs for these comrades to help supply them with literature and printing equipment for the political studies circle, and recording equipment for the arts collective.

Our meeting with Anarkismo delegates was a high point of the gathering for us, and we would like to send our thanks to them for providing such an informed, stimulating debate. It felt encouraging to be talking and debating comrades that share our passion for political education and critical thinking. It was uplifting to know that some were using an international forum to exchange and debate theories and praxis to better understand how anarchists today need to organise. The breadth of experience was truly astounding and it was great to conduct discussions with like-minded people from across the globe. This was in contrast to other parts of the gathering where it felt that Swiss, French and German (perhaps understandably) anarchists were over-represented.

In all, for the CA militants attending, the gathering was highly enjoyable. As in all big meetings it is often the conversations and debates conducted outside of the official meetings that prove must useful and it was great to be around so many funny, caring and interesting people. We didn’t feel like the shortcomings were big enough to make the gathering unsuccessful but they gave us lessons to take forward to any future international gatherings.

Comments

yeksmesh
Sep 5 2012 12:26

Not wanting to start purist nitpicking or anything, but I am a little confused by the name "uhuru network" as I associate that name primarily with the pan-africanist black power movement with a pinch of maoism that is also active in the US. Although by your account it seems that it is primarily an anarchist group in Zimbabwe, could you clarify this?

no1
Sep 5 2012 12:42

afaik 'uhuru' means freedom in Swahili, so a libertarian 'uhuru network' makes perfect sense in Zimbabwe (what makes less sense to me is herbal remedies for AIDS sufferers).
Interesting report, thanks!

jonthom
Sep 5 2012 12:44

These interviews with an anarcho-communist member give a bit of detail, though they're more about the situation in Zimbabwe than the Uhuru Network specifically.

Uhuru means "freedom" apparently, which might explain it being taken up by different groups.

RedAndBlack
Sep 5 2012 13:24

FYI we are hoping to secure a (either audio or transcript) of Biko's presentation. This will be posted to our blog when ready.

My understanding was that the herbal remedies were designed to alleviate some of the symptoms as opposed to curing the disease. Admittedly this was something we did not discuss in great detail so perhaps someone with better knowledge of permaculture projects in Sub-Saharan Africa will be better qualified to answer.

zavatap
Sep 5 2012 19:53

Enjoyed the article but it could have done with some proof-reading! (For a start, it's funicular not vernacular....)

Chilli Sauce
Sep 5 2012 20:24

No1, please tell me you speak Swahili?!

Battlescarred
Sep 5 2012 21:05

Jambo. Tafadhali nataka bia baridi. Kwaheri.
interesting, although it seems clear that there were quite a few meetings that the CA comrades did not attend. For example you appeared to miss the opening meeting on ST Imier attended by about 400 people, the meeting on Nationalism, the meeting on Anti-Authoritarian Ways of Organising etc etc.
"The general organisation of the event was carried out by a small collective that spent most of its time isolated in a room in Espace Noir. If another international gathering is called in the future it would be great to see anarchist principles of co-operation and shared responsibility at the forefront of the organising."
Yes there were some problems with this, but the biggest problem was the autocratic stance that members of the Organisation Socialiste LIbertaire((OSL) took and they are a member ( if you can have membership of a fairly informal network) of Anarkismo and were very much part of the "small collective" you mention above. One of the AF speakers interrupted and cut short by one of them acting as the chair at one of the public meetings( to the general disgust of the audience) etc etc.
"There was also a lack of gender and colour politics, no safe space from the beginning and next to zero accessibility for the disabled. As a movement we need to be tackling problems of inclusiveness and accessibility, and creating a safe environment for everyone to express their opinions, concerns and struggles so we can learn to counteract these areas of struggle. Unfortunately, this seems to be a problem still prevalent within the international anarchist movement." Agree with this to a extent although the CA comrades seem to be unaware of the Anarchist Feminist meetings that took place right throughout the events.
Not sure that component organisations of Anarkismo were as enthusiastic about CA as CA was about Anarkismo but then they are a whole lot less enthusiastic about Liberty and Solidarity ( which is mean to be an adherent of Anarkismo)!!!

Dumfries
Sep 5 2012 23:56

Thanks for the spell checking smile

DanielBaker777
Sep 6 2012 00:12

In fairness, I was under the impression that tha anarcha-feminist dailys were a response to both the cringeworthy opening statement of the congress in which one of the speakers (possibly from the OSL again) declared that it was wonderful that anarchists now "allowed women" to participate in internationals, and also to the obvious lack of anything approaching a safer spaces policy from the outset, so I kinda understand what the author is getting at when they bring up the lack of gender politics.

The interruption of our AF comrade was pretty dispiriting to be honest. If I recall, the interruptions came from the same fella who was pied a few moments later.

Dumfries
Sep 6 2012 01:18

The anarcha-feminist/safe spaces meetings were set up because of the lack of inclusion attitudes and policies of the conference. CA members were involved in those various meetings. We were also involved in dealing with the particularly nasty situation that arose in one of the camps, shining an example on precisely why it was important for those meetings to be taking place.

The lack of gender politics wasn't just within the conference organisation, it was within the politics and attitude of people in attendance, as demonstrated by the incident that we had to deal with involving a mentally ill man attacking his girlfriend as well as other campers (amongst other things). The response to that situation by some "anarchists" in the camp was disgusting, as well as being thoroughly depressing.

Battlescarred
Sep 6 2012 06:45

Yes it was, and I personally berated one of those people who excused the man's behaviour at the camp.

Collective Action
Sep 6 2012 16:20
Battlescarred wrote:
Not sure that component organisations of Anarkismo were as enthusiastic about CA as CA was about Anarkismo

This is a baseless and needlessly sectarian assertion.

Battlescarred
Sep 6 2012 17:07

How so? How is it sectarian?
You know you have differences with at least some major components of Anarkismo over the unions and national liberation ( which to your credit you still maintain revolutionary positions on)
I was talking to various people that I've known for a long time within the Anarkismo current and because of the above they seemed only lukewarm towards CA.
How do you reconcile those positions with this newly discovered enthusiasm for Anarkismo?
How do you reconcile the dodgy behaviour of some members of the OSL-Switzerland ( a component of Anarkismo) with an open and directly "democratic" practice?

Chilli Sauce
Sep 6 2012 18:04
Quote:
If I recall, the interruptions came from the same fella who was pied a few moments later.

I haven't followed this thread too closely, so I apologize if this has already been covered, but who was pied and why?

Collective Action
Sep 6 2012 18:29
Battlescarred wrote:
How so? How is it sectarian?
You know you have differences with at least some major components of Anarkismo over the unions and national liberation ( which to your credit you still maintain revolutionary positions on)
I was talking to various people that I've known for a long time within the Anarkismo current and because of the above they seemed only lukewarm towards CA.
How do you reconcile those positions with this newly discovered enthusiasm for Anarkismo?
How do you reconcile the dodgy behaviour of some members of the OSL-Switzerland ( a component of Anarkismo) with an open and directly "democratic" practice?

The problem is that the point you're making and the way in which you're making it seems only for the purpose of gossiping and being antagonistic, neither of which are useful or necessary.

We are well aware of our differences with Anarkismo. We had some very frank and open discussions with comrades of the network and we hope to continue having those discussions. Anarkismo have expressed the same comradely feelings about our interactions. If any individual of Anarkismo has had conversations with you privately, then I would imagine those conversations were private, between you and them, and not for Lib Com, and certainly not for the purposes of interactions with CA. Especially since you're neither in CA or a member of an Anarkismo organisation...

As for the incident involving someone from the OSL, we weren't involved in the incident and none of our members were there when it happened, so we have absolutely no comment to make about it. We certainly aren't going to condemn OSL or Anarkismo because of one person's behaviour we neither witnessed or participated in. If you have an issue with something a member of OSL has done, I suggest you take it up with them.

georgestapleton
Sep 6 2012 19:40
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Quote:
If I recall, the interruptions came from the same fella who was pied a few moments later.

I haven't followed this thread too closely, so I apologize if this has already been covered, but who was pied and why?

Some guy in OSL was pied by some insurrectionists because he was 'a cop'. Seemingly what he was was a policy advisor to a Mayor of some town in the 90s and in Switzerland the Mayor controls the police. The anarchist scene in Swtizerland is very small but the pro-organisational class struggle element is about the same size as insurrectionist milieu. There's a big conflict between the insurrectionists and OSL (and this guy in particular) going back years. Seemingly he keeps on denouncing black blocks and saying anarchism has 'nothing to do with terrorism' etc. etc.

I don't know much about it to be honest and what I do know comes from reading the 'communiqué' issued by the pie people and talking to people in OSL and Eiszeit, a Swiss libertarian Marxist group I'm friendly with. So I'm reasonably confident the above is accurate. But there was lots of gossip about the pie incident that went everywhere, that he was pied because he was actually a cop, because he interrupted the AFed speaker, because he was the guy who assaulted his partner the night before, because lots of stuff. I don't really think speculation about it is that useful. Its some guy in Switzerland and some people have a problem with him. Maybe he's terrible, maybe he's not. It's not something I'd get worked up over.

[CA - I'm the ginger Irish guy who'd lived in england for the last few years and is now back in Dublin. Hiya!]

Collective Action
Sep 6 2012 20:18

Hello smile

Billy Bostickson
Sep 8 2012 03:45

Sounds Brillant, a little disorganised, pie fights, sectarian conflicts, multilingual, camp fires, communal kitchens, I'm sorry to have missed it, without all the snippets of chaos it could hardly be called an Anarchist International Congress. Congratulations to the organisers and looking forward to the next one!

Battlescarred
Sep 8 2012 12:51

For information on the "guy who was pied"- Aristides Pedraza- see below
"Josef Zisyadis (born 17 April 1956) is a Swiss politician, a member of the of the Swiss Party of Labour, and of the Alternative Left (since 2010). Born to Greek parents in Istanbul, and after a sojourn in Athens (1958–1962), he moved to Switzerland with his family in 1962, aged seven, and was later[year needed] naturalized as citizen of Lausanne. He studied theology in Lausanne, graduating in 1979. During 1979-1983 he worked as pastor in the Mission populaire évangélique in Paris, returning to Lausanne in 1983, where he joined the Parti Ouvrier Populaire of Vaud. During 1994–1996, he acted as secretary of the Party of Labour.
He was a member of the Swiss National Council (1991–1996, 1999–2011) representing the Canton of Vaud. During 1996-1998, he was a member of the cantonal government of Vaud (Conseil d'Etat), heading the department of Justice, Police and Military affairs." The Swiss Party of Labour is a derivative of the Communist Party, and Pedraza and Zisyadis had worked together over a long period It was in this period 1996-1998 that Pedraza was appointed as personal adviser to Zisyadis. This caused a lot of problems inside the OSL itself.
In 2003 as a leading light in the anti-G8 committee at Lausanne, he said he was ready to line the forthcoming demonstration there with its own service d'ordre (stewards) to prevent "casseurs" highjacking it.

888
Sep 10 2012 00:34

sounds like he deserved it then. not that pieing is a good way to deal with things.

georgestapleton
Sep 10 2012 13:49

That sounds even more inconsequential than what I said. He was pied because:

1. In 96-98 he was personal advisor to a politician from a far left party
2. He advocated that a demonstration in 2003 have stewards

Doesn't sound like he deserved it all from that.

But as I said earlier "I don't really think speculation about it is that useful. Its some guy in Switzerland and some people have a problem with him. Maybe he's terrible, maybe he's not. It's not something I'd get worked up over."

georgestapleton
Sep 10 2012 13:52

I'm guessing 888 didn't notice that in Josef Zisyadis isn't the guy who got pied. According to Battlescared he's the politician who Aristides Pedraza (the guy who got pied) advised in 96-98.

Battlescarred
Sep 10 2012 15:20

Zisyadis was not "some mayor of some town" he was in the cantonal government of the Vaud and he was responsible for Justice , Police and Military Affairs and Pedraza worked for him as an "adjoint" (personal councillor). As such I think valid questions should be asked.
I'm not in favour of juvenile stunts by people who don't seem particularly serious about their politics. Problems with Pedraza's record could have been dealt with in a different way. Nevertheless after, Pedraza's attempts to curtail speeches by both a member of the AF and on a different occasion by a member of the Italian Anarchist Federation ( the latter of which Pedraza had to apologise for) the thought "poetic justice" did fleet momentarily across my mind.

akai
Sep 10 2012 18:51

Well, the problems with that person are not just the problems of some "insurrectionalists" as I heard about this from totally different people. Also, the police behaviour from the Evian summit was widely criticized. It shouldn't be assumed that anybody who has criticized Pedraza or OSL for this is an insurrectionalist because it certainly isn't the case.

syndicalist
Nov 18 2017 18:54

I gather this was just a "one off", with no follow up or informal info/soli networks?

Serge Forward
Nov 18 2017 19:26

It was a follow-up to an earlier meeting in 1872. We might have to wait a bit for the next one wink