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Anarchism in Switzerland: A few historic examples

Presentation held in Zagreb at the 4th anarchist bookfair (11.4.08)

Maybe a few of you have been amazed at the title of this event. What could be the interesting point? Isn't it a contradiction to talk about the anarchist movement of one country? Shouldn't we consider the internationalism of the men and women declaring themselves as anarchists? Maybe you thought that – and you're right! Modern anarchism was and still is only understandable as an international movement. The banishments, the expulsions of activists since the beginning in the 19th century was an extraordinary important reason for the spreading of anarchist ideas. Today the internet is crucial for the communication between local activists in all parts of the world.

But we should consider the importance of local structures. To make anarchism possible we can't help but agitating in our neighbourhood. A future without a past is unthinkable – for that it's vitally to know the history further: The history of the anarchist movement and the special conditions which have been responsible for the upcoming and growing of anarchism. In other words: To know the anarchist tradition of the place we live at. To follow a tradition doesn't mean to live in the past. A moment of enduring changing lies in the anarchist tradition. Apart from a few basic assumptions like the abolishing of every thinkable kind of authority and an adequate adapting of the means to the end anarchism isn't thought as a forever-valid truth.

We can only profit by exchanging experiences made in the past. So the following lecture is meant to contribute a bit towards this goal. I'm going to talk first about the development of anarchism in Switzerland. Since it's quite difficult to show a continuity from the beginning in the second part of the 19th century to the present, I'll make only a few examples: the “Fédération Jurassienne” in the 1860ies and 70ies, the importance of foreign workers for the upcoming of the anarchist ideology, the nationwide strike in 1918 and its function as a turning point of the labour movement in Switzerland and at last the CIRA - “Centre International de Recherches sur l'Anarchisme” (International Centre for the Research of Anarchism) – in Lausanne.

Introduction

Before I begin to talk about the Fédération Jurasienne, I should say a few general things about the Swiss history which you probably know already - in this case I want to apologize. During the campaign of Napoleon a satellite state in Switzerland was established, the so called “Helvetische Republik”. Since then, there has been two main political blocs: the liberals and the conservatives. After a tiny battle in 1847, the “Sonderbundskrieg”, the liberals have prevailed, and only one year later the modern nation state of Switzerland was founded. The almost almighty liberal party formed the Swiss policy of the rest of the 19th century. Thus it isn't surprising that the first domestic leaders of the labour movement have been radicalised liberals.

In the aftermath of the foundation, Switzerland with its more or less liberal constitution has become one of the most important countries for left-wing refugees mainly from Germany and Italy. So the really radical thoughts were often imported from abroad.

We should consider further that Switzerland isn't a nation with one, but three main languages: There's a German, a French and an Italian speaking part. The differences between these three regions are not just linguistical, but cultural, too. Until today the so called “Röstigraben”, a word which is hardly translatable, between the German and the French speaking part exists.

We have to bear in mind these three points, the important outer influence on left-wing thoughts, the liberal formed, first domestic leaders of the labour movement and the cultural trench within Switzerland.

The “Fédération Jurassienne”

Probably the most important anarchist effort in Switzerland was also the first one: The “Fédération Jurassienne” was founded in 1871. It was the time of two major events for the labour movement: On one hand the splitting of the First Internationale, on the other hand the tragic end of the Commune of Paris. The foundation has been a direct consequence of the authoritarian tendencies of the general council of the First Internationale, which has been, let's put it this way, just the executive element of the will of Karl Marx. The fall of the Commune has influenced the founding, too, because many Communards fled in the aftermath to Switzerland, especially to the French speaking part and there preferably to wooded hills of the Jura.

So the “Fédération Jurassienne” was opposing the authoritarian wing of the First International since its beginning. After the expulsion of Michail Bakunin and James Guillaume, one of the most famous representatives of the federation, the congress of Saint-Imier, a village near the French border, in September 1872 was the basis of the new federalistic and anti-authoritarian International. This International existed five years until 1877 and united the former sections of the old International from Belgium, France, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the US.

Rolf Bigler in his book “Der libertäre Sozialismus in der Westschweiz” claims that instead of the crucial role of the “Fédération Jurassienne” the federation itself never truly was anarchistic. Originally arosen from a radical liberal movement in the French speaking part of Switzerland, a part of its programme was still formed from this influence. E.g. the militants were fervid boycotters of elections, but the actual reason for this behaviour had not been a theoretical approach, but the experiences they had made at the communal elections a few years before. Or despite their reputation as anarchists they called themselves as federalists or, a contribution to Bakunin, as collectivists. And at last, the federation was always a strong adherent of the autonomy of its sections. The power of the federal committee was very little, and the single sections must only agree with the statutes of the federation and the International.

The main field of interest lied in syndicalist action. Although there never has been a big rate of unionisation in the Jura, Bigler claims in referring to Guillaume that the federation and its syndicalist activities were a prototype for later anarcho-syndicalist organisation like the “Confédération générale du travail” in France around the turn of the century. Since it's quite difficult to reveal the connections and collaboration between the federation and the so called “Sociétes ouvrières”, I won't say much about this topic: There had been a few unions already before the federation rose. They had organised mainly the workers who had been connected to the watch manufacturers in some way. The collaboration between the “Fédération Jurassienne” and the so called “Sociétes ouvrières” began in 1872 after the founding of the anti-authoritarian International. Although attempts were made to collaborate locally, a whole incorporation of these workers' societies never took place. The interesting point about this Jurassic syndicalism is the fusion between the mere political activism with the social revolution as final goal and the will to organize workers in a syndicalist manner. This sort of organisation should anticipate the new society already. Adhémar Schwitzguébel, a watch maker and the leading character in syndicalist concerns of the federation, even tried to reorganize the whole anti-authoritarian International in this way.

It's remarkable that the influence on the international movement was much stronger than that on the local scene. On the apex of the federation in 1873 and 1874 there were only about 300 to 400 members organised in 20 sections in the French speaking part of Switzerland. Most of them worked for one of the many watch manufacturer in the region. Because this branch of industry has been very important, the members of the federation belonged to the upper working class, which means that they normally had more time to deal with political matters.

The congress in Berne in 1876 brought considerable change in the bias of the federation. When delegates had decided to propagate the “Propaganda of the Deed”, most of the workers couldn't get along with it. On the one hand, a radicalisation of the federation took place, mostly pushed by the well-known Peter Kropotkin and the later reformist Paul Brousse. On the other hand, an economic crisis of the watch manufacturer changed the priorities of many members from a radical, theoretical to a more practical, reformist syndicalism. In 1878, the emigration of James Guillaume, the guiding light of the federation, had amplified the tense situation. The “Fédération Jurassienne” came to an end after only five years of existence.

Despite of the short life, the federation still is an interesting phenomena in the history of anarchism in Switzerland - not only for its influence on the international movement. Marxist historians often claim that Bakunin was the actual mastermind of the federation. But this point of view is wrong. There was a close friendship between Guillaume and Bakunin, and the Russian was fascinated by the activists of the Jura. Nevertheless there were differences between the theoretical approach of Bakunin and the more practical way of the federation. The origins of the federation lied in this strange sort of radical liberalism which is typical for the ancient socialism in Switzerland and actually still is for modern approaches – at least in its fundamentals.

The example of the Fédération Jurassienne shows further the cooperation between locals and immigrants and the strong belief in international solidarity.

And interesting at last is the quick rise and fall of the federation itself which is unique in the Swiss history.

Foreign Workers

I already mentioned the important role of the refugees in Switzerland. Especially Italian workers were crucial for the spreading of anarchist thoughts. Between the fall of the “Fédération Jurassienne” and the extensive expulsions immediately before the outburst of WWI they worked all over the country, both in the Italian speaking regions and in the French and German speaking part of Switzerland. It isn't surprising that the biggest communities were situated in cities like Zurich, Basle, Geneva and Lugano. They can be considered as the most active part of the anarchist movement in Swizerland during this period. E.g. they published a huge amount of revues like “La rivoluzione sociale” (Social revolution) in 1872 in Neuchâtel, “I Malfattori” (the evildoers) in 1875 in Geneva, ten years later in the same city “Pensiero e dinamite” (Thoughts and dynamite) or the bi-lingual magazine “Le réveil/Il risveglio” (the awakening), which ceased to exist with the death of its main publisher, Luigi Bertoni, in 1947 after nearly 50 years.

At least two of the titles I mentioned shows the changing of the bias of a part of the anarchist movement in the last quarter of the 19th century: A new phenomena, the propaganda of the deed, determined the image drawn by the mainstream media. Many of the Italian anarchists were affected by the repression of the police and the aliens departments. After a few spectacular assassination attempts on politicians and even kings, the Swiss government installed a federal police department after being pressured by the German Bismarck in 1889. The files which have been penned on anarchists in the following are one of the main sources about anarchism in Switzerland, although they are very tendentious of course. A few years later the federal authorities went even further: In 1894 a law concerning anarchist crimes was brought in. But the reality has been different: As far as I know, there was never an anarchist attempt on persons during this period in Switzerland.

General Strike

Although there never has been a real chance for a revolution in Switzerland, the ghost of communism, or anarchism in our case, haunted in the hallways of the federal buildings. How paranoid the politicians were, demonstrates the events around the general strike between the 11th and the 14th of November of 1918: During and after WWI the income of many people decreased continually, while some persons profited by the war and by the false-faced declaration of neutrality by the Swiss government. Despite this declaration, many workers had to protect the borders and didn't get a serious compensation for their services. It's true that a lot of people were influenced by the revolutionary uprising in Russia in 1917, but the demands of the workers haven't been radical at all: They were on strike for an 48-hour working week, for the reorganisation of the militia to a people's army, for the women's suffrage (finally established in 1972 for federal affairs, 1990 in the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden after a decision of the federal court), for an old-age and disability insurance and other demands. As you can see, there wasn't a request for overthrowing the state or for the abolishing of capitalism. Nevertheless the army occupied Zurich, Berne and other important centres of the labour movement. Since most of the soldiers were farmers from the catholic and conservative regions of Switzerland, the general strike was something like the repetition of the struggle between the liberals and the catholics 80 years before.

The result of the general strike was - apart from a few slight achievements - disastrous for the radical part of the labour movement in the German speaking part of Switzerland. After the capitulation of the leading committee, the social democrats and the reformist labour unions, but also the new-founded communist party hardly has chosen forms of agitation besides of the local and federal parliaments. A more or less direct consequence of the lost strike was the implementation of the so called “Arbeitsfrieden” or “social peace” of 1937, which virtually abolished strike as a form of labour dispute. This “Arbeitsfrieden” is influencing the relation between the workers and the bosses until today.

The CIRA

As far as I know, the few anarchists which were involved in the general strike in 1918 like the ambitious medic Fritz Brupacher from Zurich gives us the last trace on anarchism in the German speaking part till about 1970. Different the situation in western Switzerland: It isn't just the fact that there's a tradition of radical or even revolutionary labour unions, but there were even consistently anarchist organisation. It would exceed the aim of this presentation to deliver a deeper insight in the history of the different anarchist movements in this part of Switzerland and I further have to confess that I'm not that familiar with this topic. But let's just say that the influence of the French anarchist movement and the political immigrants was much stronger than in the German speaking part. Nevertheless I want to say a few words about another piece of anarchism in Switzerland: It concerns the CIRA, the “Centre International de Recherches sur l'Anarchisme” - International Centre for the Research of Anarchism in Lausanne. The CIRA was a result and at the same time a bearer of the rich anarchist tradition in the “Suisse Romande”. Founded in 1957 by Pietro Ferrua, an Italian conscientious objector in exile, the archive contained firstly documents and books from the estate of the magazine “Le réveil / Il risveglio”, which I mentioned before. But it didn't take a long time to fill up the racks of the CIRA with many other books, documents, revues and even other personal archives. Today the CIRA embraces over 20'000 books, hundreds of different magazines (the oldest issue of 1848), films and personal correspondences of activists in more than 20 languages. Personally I think that the CIRA is one of the most important centre of anarchist history and philosophy nowadays.

It declares itself as the memory of the movement. But a memory is worth nothing if there aren't any ways to spread the experiences anarchists made in the last 150 years. For that the activists of the CIRA themselves organise exhibitions about different anarchist themes. With the structure of the library and the work of presenting achievements in public they reach a quite big audience. I think that's a great way to unite tradition, structural work and political activism.

Anarchism in switzerland – the last 20 years

I start with the 80ties, because i don't know much about the 70ties... (red army fraction, red brigades causes more policerepression > fichenaffaire).
At the beginning of the 80ties there was a widespread youth movement in zurich, involving many clashes and riots. Topic was the city-politic regarding houses. The people in this movement – squatter, punks, anti-nuke – were not especially concentrated on one political ideology, and there were a few anarchist elements in it. The events of the 80ties were very important for the future of political activism in the german-speaking part of switzerland. In the 80ties itself there were no anarchist groups active. There were only a few projects like magazins etc.
In the 90ties was founded the OSL (Socialist Anarchist Organistaion). This group exists until now. From 1993 there was monthly an anarchist meeting in Zurich. The people there also made a journal with articles from A-Infos. From 1994-1996 there was all half year an anarchyweek. After that time (1996) was founded the AA (Aussersihler Anarchisten). Important topics of this group were Worker agitation, 1. May, Antirepression in relation to Italy, Bonanno, Insurrezione and antifascist activity. At the same time there was also a youth-reading-group (IG Pan), which founded thogether with the AA a Solidarity Commitee for Michael Patera, a member of the AIT group in Tschechia. Some people connected to this groups went 1996 to a congress in Italy and when they came back, they had the idea to start with an anarchist forum. This Anarchist Forum was a half-yearly meeting of Anarchist from the hole switzerland, also including french- and italianspeaking people. This A-Forum took place from 1997-2000 and was everytime visited by 100-150 persons.
In 1999 some activists went to an anarchosyndicalist meeting in San Francisco. There were people from the Wobblies (IWW), FAU, IFA, AIT, CNT etc. Again coming back home they had the idea of founding a swiss section of the FAU (Free Worker Union). After a few conflicts with other sections also of the AIT, they decided to make the FAU switzerland independent from the FAU Germany and changed the name to FAUCH (Free Worker Union Switzerland). The FAUCH had once ca.7-8 local sections.
In hole one can say, that in the last 20 years there was no real anarchist movement in switzerland. There were a few groups, little projects and some tries to get connected to the hole switzerland. But the conntecting between the diffrent-speaking parts of switzerland never really functioned. In the 90ties there was the LiKo (Anarchist Coordinati), which tried to gather all anarchists in the Region of Berne. The city Biel is very important in this thing, because it is bilingual and almost the only city, were anarchists of diffrent languages get connected. The LiKo broke up, after many anarchists got activ in the sans papiers movement (illegal people with no passport). They also squatted churches.
At the moment there are a few active anarchist groups in switzerland:

  • ABC Luzern [Anarchist Black Cross Lucerne]
  • Anarchistische Aktion Bern [Anarchist Action Berne]
  • Autonome Gruppe Oberland (Bern) [Autonomous Group Oberland]
  • Autonome Gruppe Luzern & Zentralschweiz [Autonomous Group Lucerne & Innerswitzerland]
  • Freie Arbeiter Union Bern [Free Worker Union Berne]
  • Freie Arbeiter Union Thun / Murifeld [Free Worker Union Thun/Murifeld]
  • Freie Arbeiter Union Zürich [Free Worker Union Zurich]
  • Libertäre Aktion Ostschweiz [Anarchist Action of Easternswitzerland]
  • Libertäre Aktion Winterthur [Anarchist Action of Winterthur]
  • Libertäre Koordination [Anarchist Coordination]
  • Libertärer Lesezirkel Zürich [Anarchist Readingcircle Zurich]
  • OrgaGroup of the Anarchist Summercamp
  • OSL Biel [Anarchist Socialist Organisation]
  • Sowieso Basel [Bookshop in Basel]
  • Systembruch (Region Zug) [Group called "Systembreak"]
  • ZA - Zürcher Anarchisten [Anarchists of Zurich]
  • (Ex-) A-Vernetzung [Anarchist Network]
  • (Ex-) Schwarze Hilfe [Black Help]
  • Unia Jugend [Youthsection of a big TradeUnion, where some Anarchists are active]

But now to the history of founding the LAW (Anarchist Action of Winterthur):

Newer history of political activism in Winterthur

The history of Winterthur in the 80ties is full of nasty policerepression. Related to the youth movement in Zurich, also in Winterthur there were many activists.  Most of them were autonomous and more antiimperialist. They squatted houses and supported an autonomous subcultur. In the 80ties there were a few marxist and maoist groups, but no anarchist one. In the years 1983/84 there were many left-wing bombing attacs against different institutions in Winterthur. Many people lived under big repression and monitoring. In a big police action there were 32 activists arrested in one night. A young women was  cross-examinated for 9 hours and in the night after she died. The history of this period of political activism in Winterthur is also now very important for the actual activists.
In the 90ties was founded the infostore and an antifascist group. Winterthur had once (and now again) a big problem with fascists. The borader to Germany and Austria is near, and sometimes they cross the boarder to attac left-wing activities. But the Antifa in the 90ties was very straight and after there were almost no more Nazis in Winterthur.
The protests against the wars in Afganistan and Iraq after september 11 in 2001, were politicizing many young people in Winterthur. They built like a new generation of autonomous political activists.
The first new group, that was buildt in the summer 2003, was the ARK (Alternativ Revolutionrary Forces). The goal of this group was to gather all the different people in one group, equal if they were anarchists, communists, hippies or punks. In January 2004 they organized a demonstration against the WEF (World Economic Forum) in Switzerland, which was followed by – for Winterthur's proportions – big riots. That was also the beginning of a long history of policerepression and nasty media reports.

After that in February 2004 there was squatted a skyscraper of the company Sulzer for three days. This skyscraper was once the biggest in hole switzerland and is now an important landmark of Winterthur. Whitin this three days almost the hole partyfolk of Winterthur was chekin' up, what's going on in this building. There were many different concerts, parties, cinema, graffitisprayers and so on. The hole thing was a great success.
This was the beginning of a history of many squats, living in communities but also many evacuations. In the year 2004 there were three big sauvages (temporarly squattings for party) and nine houses/factoryhalls squatted. Of this nine squats tree could stay for longer time, two for two weeks and four were evacuated immediately.
The first squat (Sennhofweg 55) took place on the frist of May and was a landhouse outside the city. The owner of this house is Bruno Stefanini, which is also the owner of the skyscraper. The situation with this old man is a little bit ambiguous, because he is nasty and owns a big part (ca. 2500 houses) of the hole houses in Winterthur, but he is also the man who don't let evacuate easily squatted houses. He also gave an alternativ house in the city to the squatters of the Sennhofweg. The new house (Zürichstrasse 117) got a Gebrauchsleihvertrag for 3 years with possibility to extend it to 5 years. A Gebrauchleihvertrag is a conract for using something, that was lend to you temporaly. In Winterthur it is almost impossible to squat a house and stay in it, if there's not such a Gebrauchsleihvertrag. Some of these have to pay a little rent but the most only pay electricity and water. The house at the Zürichstrasse 117 called Sanatorium is the only one, which is still remaining from the squatted houses in 2004.
Also squats, which could stay for longer time, were the Rudi- (Rudolfstrasse 17) and the SIDI-Squat (Pflanzschulstrasse). Both of them were very important, because they gave a place for autonomous selforganistaion, parties, bars, presentation, discussion, artist studios, workrooms an so on.

In spring 2004 there was a split of the ARK (Alternative Revolutionary Forces) and there were founded two new groups: the LAW (Anarchist Action of Winterthur) - in which we are - and a Marxist group. The LAW had first a little startingproblem and so it got active first in autumn 2004. The marxist group splitted after a while in a Trotzkist group and a section of the RAS (Revolutionary Buildup Switzerland). Most members of the Trotzkist group are now organised in the trade union or in the parliament. At the beginning of the year 2005 there was also founded an independent newspaper called BrandSATZ, which means something like Molotov coctail or a burning sentence. And since almost a year there's also another group, which has no name, but gathers some members of the autonomous scene.

Squats in the year 2004:

  • February, squatting a skyscraper
  • 5. May, Zinsikerbergstrasse 25 (Hotel Garni) (2 Weeks 'til evacuation)
  • 21. May, Freibierparty Sauvage (Hegistrasse) (one night)
  • 13. June, Zürcherstrasse 117 (Sanatorium) (squatted until now)
  • 5. June, Oberfeldstrasse 114 – 3 arrestations for 24h, juged for 7-10 days on 2 years;  7. june Solidarity-demo bevor the policestation
  • 23. June, Rudolfstrasse 17 (squatted for ca. 1 year)
  • 4. Nov, Villa Rychenbergstrasse 71, (one day 'til evacuation)
  • November, Zürcherstrasse 61, Erb Garage, immediately arrestations with DNA-extraction
  • November, SIDI Areal (until summer 2005)
  • 13. Nov, Sauvage of a factoryhall of the company Sulzer
  • 30. Nov, Pflanzschulstrasse, (2 weeks until evacuation)
  • December, Wülflingerstrasse, (1 day until evacuation)

And the story got/goes on...

The Libertäre Aktion Winterthur (Anarchist Action of Winterthur)

The LAW is an anarchistic action in Winterthur and was established in 2004. The aim, which we aspire to is an association without authority, sex discrimination, exploitation of the nature, violence and racism. People should organize themselves, without the state or the church. So another aim is, that they learn to organize themselves without informal command structure. So everybody can use the LAW, because we like to catch people with different backgrounds against the state or the capital.
The LAW consists of different autonomous work group like one, which engage itself witch theoretical questions, another witch the environement, with media, internet or with anarchistical feminism and everyone can take part, where he/she wants.
At the moment we organize every month one or two events like lectures, showing videos or concerts and every winter we have got the anarchist days in Winterthur, where we in a fortnight every evening an event arrange with different instructors and themes.