Do you know an association, whose members interconnect using a single language – even though they come from many different linguistic regions of the world, and even though hardly any of them belong to the social and intellectual elite in their respective home regions ? Such is the Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda (World Anational Association), in short, SAT.
SAT, founded in 1921, is a worldwide workers’ association, generally left-leaning, that engages in activity of an educational nature. As a worldwide association with individual membership – and with the kind of members and the aims that it has – it is unique. Two recurrent themes in its history since 1921 are workers’ solidarity and self-organised educational activity that work by way of direct grass-roots contacts. This contrasts with internationalism of the most common sort (contacts between national organisations, managed by "experts" that know foreign languages). SAT deals with the latter problem, that of language, by using linguistically neutral Esperanto. As one of the founders of SAT, Eŭgeno Lanti, explained : "Intellectual contacts between proletarians of various countries take place in reality only through the medium of polyglot intellectuals. The activity of SAT, which aims to unite the working people of the world and bring them together directly, is revolutionary in its essence."
Because its members relate to one another as individual members, and because it has no structures that reflect the national divisions of the world, SAT calls itself "anational", going a step beyond internationalism. That explains its name : World Anational (sometimes translated as "non-national") Association.
SAT holds its annual congress in a different country each time. This year’s 82nd congress took place in Milan from July 18 – 25, 2009. As always, the language was Esperanto, though Italian was also used sporadically (accompanied by translation) when communicating with representatives of local society.
But what is this Esperanto ? Esperanto was proposed in 1887 as a neutral international language by Dr. L. L. Zamenhof, a Jewish ophthalmologist living in the (now Polish) western part of the Russian Empire. His aim was to develop an easily accessible, regular language and try it out with colleagues, so that it might eventually be introduced as a second language for everybody. Such a language is usually called a "constructed" (sometimes "artificial" or "auxiliary") language. It is a language referred to by its initiator, who aspired to break down barriers between the world’s peoples, as "international" or "anational", neutral in the sense that it is non-national and non-ethnic. He also hoped it would help to resolve conflicts and promote peace. Esperanto has achieved one initial breakthrough : it has become a living language that spans generations and which hundreds of thousands throughout the world have learned. Some of them are organised in associations. SAT has around 600 members. The larger Universal Esperanto Association (UEA) has around 6000 individual members in 120 countries. Esperanto continuously demonstrates its viability. It provides practical services to its speakers and, beyond that, enables them to have a much more cosmopolitan (or transnational, if you prefer) life-style than they could ever have without it.
This congress was organised by ARCI Esperanto, one of several workers’ Esperanto associations linked to SAT and active in individual countries or language regions. ARCI Esperanto is at the same time a section of ARCI, Associazione Ricreativa e Culturale Italiana, which has 1,150,000 members in around 6000 local groups that are active in various fields of culture (art, cinema, television, literature, poetry, music, theatre and dance), tourism, human rights, social welfare and service, and international solidarity. ARCI, which is traditionally associated with the political left, takes part in the World Social Forum. This congress did a lot to strengthen relations between SAT and ARCI, giving them a chance to notice their complementarity, along with the fact that they share a common transnational spirit. That can be expected to facilitate cooperation in the future, something that came up for discussion during the congress. ARCI organised some of the fun parts of the cultural programme : excursions to the Borromean Islands on Lake Maggiore, by train from Domodossola to Locarno (Switzerland), and guided tours of Renaissance and Roman sites in Milan itself.
Other parts of the educational programme were lectures on the attitude taken by Antonio Gramsci with respect to Esperanto, unknown (Esperanto) authors from the Ukraine, class struggles in the United States, ethical banks (ARCI is an active participant in the Italian Banca Popolare Etica), forums on Latin America, the Middle East and Madagascar (during which participants heard a Malgasy woman describe recent events on that island and answer questions on various subjects, examined the development of the Latin American political situation and various possible solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – with members resolving in the two latter cases
to contact directly inhabitants of the areas concerned, in order to acquire more information on the subjects), by Anna Löwenstein on her new historical novel in Esperanto about the Roman emperor Nero, Morto de artisto. Highlights of the evening programme were concerts by the groups Vojirantoj and Reverie, which highlighted the theme of the congress, one of great current interest : "Migration without borders, living anationally", by calling to mind the anti-immigrant policies of Italy and many other countries – in a world in which peoples’ living conditions are more and more difficult.
SAT tries to practice grass-roots democracy to the greatest extent possible. For congress participants that meant devoting much time and energy to general meetings of the membership that took up four mornings. Members had an opportunity to request information and state their views about all aspects of SAT’s activity, as well as to query the Executive Committee, the decision-making organ, and assign tasks to it.
For a few sections of SAT and organisations linked to SAT, the congress provides an opportunity for an annual meeting of their members. ARCI Esperanto convened, as did several "factions" of SAT – in actual fact, platforms of particular political tendencies, one of whose purposes is to relate to analogous groups outside of SAT. The Pacifist, Communist, Libertarian and Anationalist factions of SAT convened. The Pacifist Faction is active in favour of the Oslo Convention on cluster munitions, calling for intervention to push as many states as possible to sign and ratify that Convention. Members of the Communist Faction met this time with Alessandro Rizzo, an opposition member of the district council and a member of the alternative-left party Democratic Left. The anationalists are members of a broad current that embraces universalism, radical antinationalism and practical utilisation of Esperanto as an instrument of education toward extranational thinking.
One of the highlights of the congress was a panel discussion (with much intervention by the public) between Probal Dasgupta, president of the UEA, and Jakvo Schram, chairman of the Executive Committee of SAT. It helped to shed light on the different approaches that the two associations have with respect to Esperanto : while the UEA is engaged mainly in propagating Esperanto throughout the world, SAT essentially uses it for its own purposes (defined in its statute by use of the term "class struggle", notwithstanding a debate that flares up periodically over the question of whether this self-definition is still sufficient or indeed suitable). What was new was that the president of UEA did not exhibit the tendency that is sometimes discernable within the UEA to embrace SAT in a way that looks like an attempt to incorporate it. Probal Dasgupta called upon SAT to "be SAT", having understood that its specific role is not that of a branch of the Esperanto movement.
Despite the friendly atmosphere and, compared to some congresses of the past, a less acrimonious course of debates at the Milan congress, participants could hardly be oblivious to one problem that has been a cause for worry in the association for several years : shrinking membership, reflected in meagre participation in the congress – which with its 70 participants was much smaller than SAT congresses have been in past decades. A variety of explanations have been provided, though the problem has not been well researched until now. Yet a revival now appears to be underway. New projects have gotten off to a start, the most outstanding of which is
the Cooperative Publishing Section of SAT, which has now been operating for several years. This year it published two new works – both of them educational and about topics of current interest : Kompendio de la Kapitalo by Carlo Cafiero, a useful summary of Karl Marx’ Capital, and Plano B by Lester R. Brown, a synoptic, yet complete description of the general (i.e. ecological, social, economic etc.) world crisis and the possible ways to mitigate it. The long-term future of SAT looks promising, considering that the tasks ahead relate to an increasingly difficult world situation, in which use of Esperanto for political ends makes more sense than ever. SAT’s recently more evident self-awareness, together with the association’s renewed emphasis on its original aims, has created a mood that allows it to loosen its ties to the Esperanto movement and enhance its visibility as an independent partner to debate.
As it turns out, it is precisely some of SAT’s traditional qualities and motives that are in tune to some of the left’s current themes and motives :
– increased readiness on the part of many tendencies that are organised as parties to interact in a less dogmatic and sectarian way than once was the case with one another,
– networking in place of hierarchical organisation and democratic organisation of activity from the bottom up, and
– antinationalism, which little by little – alongside antiracism and anti-sexism – is becoming one of the areas of activity on the part of the left, as it was right from the outset in SAT.
Six new members joined SAT at this congress, quite a few in proportion to its size, and something that attests to the comradely atmosphere and the quality of the programme.
The old slogan "Workers of the world, unite !" became a reality once again in 2009 – be it on a tiny scale – in Milan, bolstering participants’ hopes that the human race will advance toward a more just and classless world society.
Text : group of congress participants
Translation : SATeB (WORKERS’ ESPERANTO MOVEMENT for ENGLISH-SPEAKING COUNTRIES)
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