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SAT at 100

SAT, now 100 years old, came into being in an era in which class struggle for a large segment of the public, including the Esperanto-speaking public, was the “motor of history”. Many people aimed to link the cause of Esperanto to that of the working class, then at the centre of left politics. The wording of SATʼs foundational documents reflect the spirit of a revolutionary age. While they now may sound anachronistic to some, caution is advisable. We know that in the countries, in which Esperanto has become most widespread, the emphasis in movements of the left have shifted, with class politics becoming one of several focuses of activity, not at the top of everyoneʼs list. But conditions in those countries are not typical of the whole world. Moreover, it is noteworthy that the core political worldview of SAT was multi-faceted from the outset. Where has SAT been located, and where will it be, in the Esperanto communityʼs history of ideas?

undogmatic: from the start SAT aimed to counteract dogmatic attitudes among its members. As its Statute prescribes: “SAT, an educational and cultural organisation rather than an overtly political one, tries to induce its members to be understanding and tolerant of the political and philosophical schools or systems that lie at the base of the various workersʼ parties that are oriented toward class struggle and of trade-union movements; it seeks, by means of comparison of facts and ideas and by means of free discussion, to enable its members to avoid the dogmatisation of the teachings they encounter in their particular milieus.” And if you open an issue of Sennaciulo (SATʼs bimonthly periodical), you can see that SAT still aims for that. The range of topics and the relative absence of a discernible political line attest to that. SAT is an association of people with divergent views, and not similar to a political party. That has never changed. Contention between tendencies is typical of the left in 2021, as it was in the past. In SAT likewise.

prefigurative politics: Until a few years ago, “prefigurative politics” was not a widely familiar notion. It has recently gained currency in anarchist and other milieus, and refers to functioning of an organisation and social relations, which attempts to reflect here and now the future society that a group is striving to bring nearer. It is desired that forms of social relations, decision-making, culture and human experience, which constitute the ultimate aim, be embodied in the ongoing political practice of a movement. The concept, if not the term, is much older. Prefigurative politics is often summarised in a quotation attributed to Gandhi (though it actually paraphrases a statement he once made): “Be the change you want to see in the world.” SAT formulated the concept in a document written just prior to its establishment in November 1920, “Liberiga Stelo” al la Verdruĝuloj: “because we share a language, we want to take advantage of that fact to operate in embrionic form a society that reflects the way universal society may be run in the future”. The egalitarian and unauthoritarian spirit characteristic of SAT anticipates that of the emancipated society members desire.

antinationalism: As its name indicates, SAT is an “anational” association. The slogan “Members of SAT should develop their capacity for extranational sensitivity, thought and action”, on the cover of every issue of Sennaciulo, manifests a desire to anticipate in practice a society that will get beyond nationalism. Many members, however, engage with the idea of anationalism, now understood by most as an umbrella concept. Anationalism since the first attempts to pinpoint its precise content aims to incorporate not only radical antinationalism, but also a positive alternative to nationalism. It anticipated at an early time an attitude now evident in progressive circles that make explicit reference to cosmopolitanism, once often negatively connotated. In this respect too, the tradition of SAT is far from antiquated.

world governance: One aspect of Lantian anationalism that most have given scant attention is what he called “world management”. Lanti referred to it in his Manifesto of the Anationalists: “Anationalism – a cultural doctrine, the main purposes of which are: 1) the disappearance of all nations, regarded as independent, sovereign units; 2) world management and rational utilisation of all energy and matter for the benefit of all people on our planet; 3) standardisation of all measurements and units of calculation; 4) practice of an anational language (Esperanto) with the aim of having it become the only language of culture in use.” It is likely that Lanti imagined management of energy and matter in the productivist way his contemporaries did. But in a general way the statement can still stand. An effort to achieve exactly that, world management – this time ecological and postproductivist – is appearing now, as the world hesitantly acts on the climate crisis. It makes slow headway, despite the urgency of the situation. The process is obviously hampered by nationalism, still virulent and of all ideologies probably the most pervasive in the world, just as it was almost a hundred years ago, when Lanti predicted: “Not too many decades will elapse before world management becomes an objective possibility; but then it will be rendered impossible by the subjective force of nationality. One can discern a constantly growing disequilibrium between two factors: 1) the human mind, saturated with all that is national; 2) continuous development of science and technology, a result of which, among other things, is a reduction in the time needed to cover distances. Such a state of imbalance may bring total chaos into social life and threaten with demise the norms of civilisation.”

self-education: SAT carries out its cultural and educational activity without outside funding, and does not seek subsidies that might compromise its independence. Since the crisis of the 1930s, when SAT managed to avoid subordination to the Third International, it has remained independent and now occupies a broad political space, in which conflicting opinions confront one another.

Though SAT has no political line, it might be cautiously claimed that it occupies a political space in the Esperanto community. SAT is at the cosmopolitan pole of what Esperanto-speakers call the “intrinsic idea of Esperanto”, something often invoked, but never a unified concept. Rather, it is subject to various interpretations, which reflect the ideological diversity of Esperanto speakers. Cosmopolitan Esperantists are those that lean toward the old Zamenhofan goal of “unifying humanity”, as opposed to those particularistic Esperantists who would rather apply it as a tool to positively influence relations between nations, ethnic groups and civilisations (imagined in an essentialistic way). Drawing a distinction between a cosmopolitan and a particularist faction among Esperantists, I think, describes an important ideological divide.

SAT does have weaknesses: it is now common for new SAT members to come from the ranks of those who have already been socialised in the UEA-dominated “movement”, in which they absorbed its specific notions about Esperanto and its assumed purpose. SAT has vanguard ideas, but its members have taken them onboard to varying degrees. Another weakness is that some members view SAT as some others do: as a special-interest organisation, as opposed to the “neutral” and “universal” UEA.

Now that a “victory” of Esperanto within the worldwide language system is no longer sought after by increasing numbers of users, antinationalist educational activity offers itself as an area in which Esperanto-speakers – and not only those in SAT – can engage with the world. Itʼs not as if there were no alternative to language politics. It would seem sensible to apprehend and present Esperanto as an instrument of practical cosmopolitanism and antinationalist reflection, available to anyone who wants to get beyond their particular cultural environment to a greater extent than they could without it. It has been a central theme throughout the history of SAT.

Gary Mickle

 

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