Communalists use meeting at St. Imier to strengthen bonds and build collective power

Written by Netzwerk für Kommunalismus. Below we present an English translation of the original German text.
July 24, 2023

150 years after the foundation of the Anti-Authoritarian International more than 4000 anarchists and left-libertarians met at St. Imier, a small town in the Swiss Jura mountains. Among them were also Communalists. During the five-day meeting it became clear that their basic idea – confederated, directly democratic assemblies – has supporters in many countries, even across tendencies. The international congress was an opportunity to network in order to develop more collective power in the future. Social ecology was seen as a “proposition how we can leave capitalism behind and take our lives into our own hands.”

On a Friday morning in Juli 2023 the “Salle des Spectacles” in St. Imier filled up with more and more people, curious to find out more about social ecology and Communalism. When Floréal Romero of the Reseau Écologie Sociale et Communalisme (RESC) finally began with his workshop there were around 150 participants gathered around him.

The activist and writer described social ecology as a critique of conventional environmental movements that ignore capitalism and the growth imperative. He made it clear: “It will be the end of humans on this planet if we do not succeed in ending capitalism.”

The ecological crisis and the social crisis are two sides of the same coin – a crisis that stems from our relations of domination. With his theory of Communalism, Murray Bookchin provides a pointed analysis how to confront this problem.

According to Floréal Romero, Murray Bookchin bases his theory on three analyses:

  • • Marx: analysis of capitalism
  • • Anarchism: confederalism and the refutation of domination
  • • Ecology: Capitalism destroys ecological diversity as well as the bonds that are holding society together – “That is the same thing!”

However, the dialogue is difficult, noted Floréal Romero, because capitalism is not just something external, but a structure that all uf us have internalized, emotionally and intellectually. Nobody knows the right solution, not even Bookchin – what is needed is our collective intelligence. “Communalism is not an ideology but a very open thing, a horizon”, Romero stressed. The free commune is a strategic proposition to break out of capitalism. Bookchin shows certain directions, said Romero, but it is up to us to develop a collective intelligence to move forward on this path.

But how can we act? How can we manage to take our life in our own hands? The audience pointed out indigenous, decolonial or ecofeminist perspectives. Take Rojava, for example: There, the womens’ revolution is a central pillar, not only an incidental element. As one person in the audience said, patriarchy, binarity, and the exploitation of labor and of nature are subject to the same logic that capitalism profits from. On the other side, care for humans and care for ecosystems complement each other.

Not an avantgarde, but an open horizon

Murray Bookchin has unrolled the history of domination and the history of emancipation, Floréal Romero continued. He explored the modern revolutions, from the “Levellers” in England to the Paris Commune of 1871 to the Spanish Revolution of 1936. His finding: whenever people were dominated, there was automatically a counter-movement.

The Greens in Germany, too, were an emancipatory movement at the beginning – until the “Realos”  won over the “Fundis” and fashioned the Greens into a state-supporting party. Bookchin pleaded instead for self-organized movements in society that emancipate themselves from the state: politics should not be in the hands of politicians, but decision-making power should belong to all people. For example, citizens’ assemblies (“assemblées citoyennes”) can discuss what people really need and how to organize it. From there, a movement that is based on real needs could develop in a parallel fashion to the state.

But this movement should not be an avantgarde that tells everyone what to do, Romero emphasized. It’s about popular education which empowers us to act. “These are only propositions”, Romero said, “a horizon that makes a convergence possible for us.” We should realize what power we have when we connect our struggles: unions, ecologists, feminists, decolonial struggles, neighborhood movements.

Form networks and build power

But without a common goal there is no convergence, therefore a dialogue about the following questin is needed: “How can we accomplish to leave capitalism?” Individual alternatives like co-operatives do not have the power to really bother the market. In addition, isolated initiatives such as the ZADs are constantly attacked by the state. That is why Floréal Romero suggests creating networks. The RESC in France is a beginning. But we still need more reflexion among us what capacity we have to create something. A movement is needed that forms a parallel to the market and the state and links everything, also culture and ethics. Internationally, too, connections must be cultivated, for example with the Zapatista movement.

In the discussion additional commumalist and related projects were addressed, such as Nantes en Commun, municipalism in Spain, citizens’ lists at local elections, alimentary initiatives in Montpellier, neighborhood assemblies in Rennes (e. g. to organize child care), or the cooperation with the Kurdish womens’ movement in Marseille. Keyword Kurds: One person called for people to take part in the demonstration “100 years of the Treaty of Lausanne” – a bus to the demo in Lausanne was organized from St. Imier.

Also present were the French Mouvement Municipal, which issued a flyer calling for democratic assemblies to be held in neighborhoods, and Ecologie from Geneva.

Another person at the workshop said that precarious neighborhoods should be included as well. If people discuss daily questions around food, accomodation and work they gain more confidence to collectively take their lives into their own hands. “A momvement needs the support of the population if it wants to build power”, another person added. Floréal Romero followed up on this statement in his final remarks, which he saw not as an ending, but as the beginning: “A revolution doesn’t just happen like that!” Organizing is fundamental to establishing power. Above all, networking and a continuity of reflection is needed: “We all have to create a movement together!”

A movie about the life of Murray Bookchi

The RESC workshop was on of over 300 workshops that were organized in twelve localities in the whole town during the five days. Additionally there was a big book fair as well as concerts, theatrical plays and movie screenings. A screening of a movie about the life of Murray Bookchin was another focal point where people interested in Communalism met and engagend in dialogue. “Beyond Domination and Hierarchy, Libertarian Practices for an Ecological Society” by Alex Pasco, presented by Centro Studi Libertari/Archivio Giuseppe Pinelli, Milano, in collaboration with elèuthera editrice, is a biographical documentary that was produced in 2021 for the 100th birthday of Murray Bookchin. In St. Imier a new, overdubbed version of the Italian original film was shown. The English narrators’ voices are those of Debbie Bookchin und Paul McIsaac.

July 27, 2023

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