NEFAC Interviews Alternative Libertaire
NEFAC: When was Alternative Libertaire formed?
AL: Alternative Libertaire was formed in 1991, on the basis of the `Manifeste pour une Alternative Libertaire’ (which can be read at our website in French, English and Arabic). The goal was to create an organisation that could go beyond the small libertarian communist groups of the time. Consequently, two components were the principal contributors to the formation of Alternative Libertaire: l’Union des Travailleurs Communistes-Libertaires (UTCL), which was primarily made up of libertarian syndicalists, and le Collectif Jeunes Libertaires (CJL), a youth organisation.
NEFAC: Reading Alternative Libertaire (monthly magazine of the organisation) or Débattre (theoretical magazine), we see very few references to platformism. Does AL consider itself a platformist organisation as such?
AL: Arshinov’s Platform and “platformism” are indeed a part of our “ideological baggage”. But we’re not attached to them in a dogmatic way. We think that part of the text, written in the 1920’s, is now obsolete and is not adapted to the political realities we live with in France today. That is why we rarely make references to `The Platform’ or to platformism. We identify with the spirit of platformism, and say so, but we don’t identify with every word written in the original platform! We are still convinced of the importance of anarchists being organised, and to also have a clear political and strategic line. To that effect, yes, we are platformists.
NEFAC: What areas of struggle is Alternative Libertaire most active in?
AL: A wide question, because the militants of Alternative Libertaire are active in many social movements. In unions, first, and in particular with the alternative unions of Groupe des 10-Solidaires. For us, the struggle of workers, direct victims of the capitalist system, remains central. Unionism, syndicalism and interventions in workplaces are thus fundamental. The rail workers of Alternative Libertaire produce a workplace bulletin, for example.
We are also present in many other movements: anti-fascist, anti-racist (including support for non-status immigrants), anti-sexist and anti-militarist (we are particularly involved in mobilisations against war: it’s important to remember that Alternative Libertaire was constituted during the first Gulf War, so it’s a big issue for us), ecological (against nuclear energy, for example), movements of the unemployed and precarious workers. Another important area of intervention is our international activity. It consists of international solidarity through our participation in the ILS (International Libertarian Solidarity) network, occasional support actions, and support for the anti-colonial struggle in Palestine. It also consists of our participation in the anti-globalisation movement. We are right now mobilising against the next G8 summit, which will take place in France in June 2003.
NEFAC: During the last French presidential elections, we heard that you called on the voting population to vote for Chirac (right) against Le Pen (far right), can you explain to us the context within which this choice was made?
AL: We didn’t call to vote for Chirac. But we didn’t call for abstention either. We called that not one voice, and in particular a worker’s voice, be for Le Pen, which is totally different. We respect the autonomy of all local AL groups, and some took a position in favour of voting for Chirac, but that wasn’t a majority position nationally. The militants of Alternative Libertaire are active and convinced anti-fascists, and we know that above all it is social struggles that can push back the far-right. That’s mainly what we expressed, much more than on the fixed question in the second round of voting. A minority of militants from Alternative Libertaire, myself of them, think however that the ballot box can sometimes, when necessary, be an anti-fascist weapon, as during the last presidential elections.
NEFAC: Can we understand that you reject anti-electoralism, a traditional anarchist position?
AL: A position on elections is a totally secondary tactical decision compared to social struggles. It’s quite surprising to see anarchists spending hours talking about elections when we give them so little importance. We think we have a non-dogmatic position about voting. Although we think nothing positive will come out of them for the exploited, we also think that very negative things can. We positioned ourselves on elections because we feel concerned by these issues. But we consider every situation, without any prior reasoning.
NEFAC: Considering unionism and syndicalism, there exist a wide variety of unions and syndicalist organisations in France (at least by North American standards). Does AL as an organisation have a particular preference for one type of unionism or do your members get involved with the union that make the most sense at their workplace?
AL: What’s most important is the organisation of workers against the bosses. For us, a union is a tool of mass struggle that goes beyond political divergences (anarchists, Communists, and more importantly the large mass of non-politicised people). The militants of Alternative Libertaire are unionised in all kinds of labour organisations (SUD and other unions of the US-G10, CNT-Vignoles, CGT, FO, CFDT), in connection with what’s going on the ground and within the company. We don’t have any kind of union policy, and we scrupulously respect the autonomy of labour movements.
We work in unions to impel struggle, and to push positions that are democratic and advance social change. That’s why we are more comfortable in alternative and rank and file based unions like SUD.
NEFAC: About revolutionary organisations, what is your relationship with the other political anarchist organisations that are active in France? We are thinking particularly about the Fédération Anarchiste (FA)…
AL: Until two years ago, relations between the different French anarchist organisations were really tense, even prone to open conflict. But things have changed a lot. We now have cordial relations with the Fédération Anarchiste. We meet regularly, locally as well as federally. That’s how we were able to make common proposals in preparation for the anti-G8 mobilisations in France next June.
Our relations are also much improved and have clearly increased with the No Pasaran network and Organisation Communiste Libertaire (OCL), thanks to our international work. Our three organisations are members of the network International Libertarian Solidarity. We work really closely together on these issues, which allows us to create relationships of confidence and helps minimise conflicts.
A good example of these new relationships between anarchist organisations is “le Forum Libertaire de Montreuil” (the anarchist forum of Montreuil, which is an east Parisian suburb), which brings together Alternative Libertaire, la Fédération Anarchiste and the CNT. This forum is a common voice, and the first meeting last June brought together about a thousand people, which is a first for the anarchists in Montreuil.
Another initiative that was unthinkable a few years ago: Alternative Libertaire, la Fédération Anarchiste, le reseau No Pasaran, CNT-Vignoles, l’Organisation Communiste Libertaire et l’Organisation Socialiste Libertaire (Switzerland) met together to prepare opposition to G8 meetings, discussed openly and accepted to work as a whole in the same direction!
NEFAC: On the other hand, we can imagine that the heritage of a strong and organised anarchist movement (as it is the case in France) brings benefits to today’s anarchist organisations. What is the influence of having worked with important theoreticians such as Daniel Guérin from the time of the Union des Travailleurs Communistes Libertaires (UTCL) or Georges Fontenis within AL today?
AL: We hold today a rich theoretical heritage. One of the past weaknesses of the anarchist movement has been to either perpetually reinvent the wheel by forgetting it’s past, or refuse to get out of a sacred anarchist dogma, which doesn’t permit advancement. People like Daniel Guérin broke with these vicious circles and made it possible to rethink our struggle along a non-sectarian basis. Unfortunately, for years this has been misunderstood by other components of the French anarchist movement…
NEFAC: You participate in the International Libertarian Solidarity (ILS), an international network of anarcho-communist and anarcho-syndicalist organisations that seeks to help the material development of the international anarchist movement, notably the Latin American movement. Can you explain briefly the projects of the ILS?
AL: The International Libertarian Solidarity network was formed in 2001 on the initiative of the Spanish Confederation General del Trabajo (CGT) to share reflections on our struggles, to network the international relations that everyone has bilaterally, and to support concrete projects of international solidarity that prove that anarchists can build on a day to day basis.
The current projects are supportive of South America. In Uruguay, we are helping the FAU finance a free space in Colon, and a truck for street propaganda. In Brazil, we’re helping the FAG finance the construction of a community hall in Sepe Tiaraju, the creation of an anarchist press and the reconstruction of the warehouse for a co-operative of (steel) recycling workers. In Argentina, we support our OSL comrades publication `En la Calle’. Our network now has about twenty organisations and we’ve already given, together, many thousand dollars to our South American comrades.
NEFAC: Finally a big question. How do you see the future of the international anarchist movement?
AL: At the last AL conference, in November 2002, we’ve noticed a qualitative and quantitative progress of our organisation. We’ve moved one step ahead. However, we’re still far away from bringing about the project of a true anarchist left, a revolutionary project that has a real political impact. But things are advancing politically. The formation of the ILS network, the capacity of the main French anarchist organisations to regroup and work in the same direction on the anti-G8 mobilisation are encouraging signs. But at the same time, we also see the limitations. We’re lacking spaces of debate, to confront ideas, to elaborate collectively. You always progress better being numerous than alone.
It’s not a question here of falling into bureaucratic slips. But if our tendency wants to profit from today’s struggles and from the development of our ideas, we must invent new forms of common work.
This interview is from the “The Global Influence of Platformism Today” series in The Northeastern Anarchist #6 (Winter/Spring 2003). Further interviews include platformist-influenced anarchist groups from Ireland, United Kingdom, Italy, Czech Republic, South Africa, Brazil, and Chile. The NEA is the English-language magazine of the Northeastern Federation of Anarchist-Communists (NEFAC), covering class struggle anarchist theory, history, strategy, debate and analysis in an effort to further develop anarchist-communist ideas and practice.