KICK IT GOOD

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What happens when an anarchist creates rules for football? Laura Spinney heads to Switzerland's International Centre for Research on Anarchism to find out ...

Special to MORE INTELLIGENT LIFE
 
At the heart of Europe, Switzerland has long been a convenient pit-stop for travellers, from Hannibal and his elephants to Hannibal Gaddafi. Writers, artists and musicians have all found inspiration here, en route to somewhere else, and many have left their mark. But geography is not the sole reason for Switzerland's motley cultural history. The Swiss have always welcomed other people's intellectual rejects.
 
In 1950, when Pietro Ferrua was 18, he was sentenced to 15 months in an Italian prison for refusing to serve in the military. Anointed the country's first anarchist conscientious objector, he soon fled to Switzerland, where he created a library of anarchist thought. When his political activities began to irk even the tolerant Swiss, they politely asked him to go. He departed in 1963, leaving behind his library, the International Centre for Research on Anarchism, or CIRA.
 
CIRA is a surprising place. For starters, it sits next to a busy, sprawling hospital in the middle of urban Lausanne. Yet once you penetrate the high laurel hedge that screens it from the road, the modern world falls away. A path leads towards what looks like a farmhouse, beneath the shade of an enormous tree. Visitors are greeted by birdsong, some ramshackle sheds in the garden (also strewn with tools and deckchairs), and a note pinned to the front door that directs them to the next door along. CIRA occupies half of a house; the other half is home to Marianne Enckell, who inherited the library from her mother, who in turn inherited it from Ferrua himself.
 
On entering, the first thing you see is a portrait of Mikhail Bakunin, a famous Russian anarchist, followed by a poster of an unidentified old woman giving the finger. CIRA doesn't purchase material, but relies on donations. Judging by the 300 new works it receives annually from all over the globe, anarchy is alive and well. Every inch of space is filled, right up to the rafters, and the library is now threatening to encroach on Enckell's living space. But then she spends a great deal of her time in the library, doing research for herself and others. She also catalogues the works as they come in, with the help of a team of volunteers. On the day I arrived they were all busy repackaging old revolutionary posters into airtight containers.
 
The oldest documents in the collection date from the Paris Commune of 1871. There are works by Bakunin, Emma Goldman and Peter Kropotkin, an anarchist prince so admired by Oscar Wilde. Kropotkin spent a lot of time in prison for his belief that peasants and princes should have the same rights to land. In 1902 he waded into the evolution debate by suggesting that nature wasn’t always red in tooth and claw. The idea that mutual aid could also be an important factor in shaping species, which he espoused, is now well accepted.
 
Goldman, famous for her anarchist views and activism for women’s rights, features in CIRA’s catalogue as an author, biographical subject and—in E.L. Doctorow’s "Ragtime"—as a fictional (and unwitting) instigator of one of the most spectacular fictional ejaculations ever chronicled within a “literary” novel.
 
Other treasures include original posters from the Spanish Revolution; a beautifully illustrated underground newspaper published by Italian immigrants in New York from 1922 until 1971; and everything you ever wanted to know about squatters, including a lot of information on Freetown Christiania, the self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood of central Copenhagen, which came into being when squatters occupied an obsolete military base in 1971.
 
For three francs you can even buy a postcard with the very un-Swiss legend, "Property is crime". This is a recurring theme at CIRA, as is utopia, civil disobedience and the futility of prison as a deterrent to antisocial behaviour. Many of the printed materials are pamphlets, the traditional vehicle of radical thought, all of which seem to share a disregard for copyright, a constant pleading for funds and a disinclination to reveal where and by whom they are published. These are rare and valuable relics of some of the most important underground movements in history.
 
The works in the CIRA collection come in 30 different languages, including Esperanto. The English section includes an illuminating pamphlet called  "Anarchist Football (Soccer) Manual", published by a collective called Alpine Anarchist Productions in 2006, the year of the last World Cup tournament. (Gabriel Kuhn, the driving force behind AAP, was a semi-professional footballer in his time. He used to live in the Austrian Alps, but has moved to the sea in Sweden.) This pamphlet teaches that modern football is a commercial enterprise controlled by the middle and upper classes, who exploit man’s natural competitiveness to extinguish any fraternal feelings and reinforce their own authority.
 
Anarchists reject authority and the notion of the state, cherishing liberty, equality and freedom of individual expression. Few care for the idea that one football side must aspire to beat the other. The anarchist manual prescribes a solution to radical fans: play less competitively.
 
soccerInstead of having matches in the traditional sense, for example, anarchists could just kick the ball around. Or they could organise "open-ended pick-up games", in which no-one keeps score, people join in and leave when they feel like it, and play continues until too many players have wandered off the pitch, or everyone is tired. A third option is for players to swap sides occasionally, discouraging team loyalties. Or three or more teams take turns to play, with the "losers" being replaced each time someone scores.
 
It is odd to consider this pacifist football universe in the midst of the World Cup. Discovering such ideas in a well-ordered library of anarchist thought is also strange. But then the Swiss are rare for respecting minority views even as they encourage community-mindedness. Citizens have been known to vote to raise their own taxes, and extend their own working hours. They may recently have rejected minarets, but they have a long tradition of offering asylum to the victims of religious and political persecution. Perhaps it isn’t so odd to find this anachronistic, anarchistic library in a modern Swiss city, after all.
 
So here's a fifth option, which doesn't appear in the Anarchist Football (Soccer) Manual. The radical fan could forget the ball altogether, doze in a deckchair to the sound of birdsong and dream of a world in which anarchists and capitalists forget their differences and unite in an eternal open-ended pick-up game. Sepp Blatter, president of football’s governing body and the man in charge of the current World Cup, might not approve, but Kropotkin, Goldman and Wilde surely would. Vive la révolution, Swiss-style.

 

(Laura Spinney writes on science for The Economist. Her last article for Intelligent Life magazine was "A neurologist strikes a nerve")

Picture credit: Guillaume Mégevand and 1Happysnapper (photography) (both via Flickr)