Obituary: Georges Fontenis

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Date:

Georges Fontenis One of the best known French anarchists, Georges Fontenis, died on August 9th at the age of 90.

Our comrades of Alternative Libertaire described him as “an untiring fighter for libertarian communism, a supporter of the Algerian independence fighters, a trade unionist, one of the leading figures of May 1968 in Tours and a pillar of the Freethought movement”.   Until the very end he was also a member of Alternative Libertaire.

Born into a modest working-class family in the Parisian suburb of Lilas, Georges Fontenis became an active anarchist militant as a result of June 1936 and the enthusiasm over the Spanish Revolution.  A member of the clandestine CGT under the nazi Occupation of France, this young was to become, after the Liberation, one of the most outspoken militants of the Federation Anarchiste (FA).  In 1946 he was elected general secretary of that organization and became a pole of resistance to the Stalinist dominance in the workers’ movement of the time.

In 1946-50, Fontenis, who was very close to the exiled Spaniards of the CNT-FAI, was one of the promoters of the French CNT (CNT-F), as an alternative to the Stalinized CGT and the pro-USA CGT-FO.   After the collapse of the CNT-F in 1950, he joined the main teachers’ union (the FEN) and was active within its revolutionary tendency.

Fontenis went on to become one of the leading players in the struggles which affected the anarchist organization in 1951-53 and which led to the FA changing into the Federation Communiste Libertaire (FCL).  The events around this (and the FCL’s flirtation with using parliamentary elections) would leave him with a badly damaged reputation.  He later explained everything in his memoirs, first published in 1990.  Republished in 2008 by Alternative Libertaire under the title “Changer le monde” (Changing the world), these memoirs constitute a vital font of information for historians of anarchism, but also a political appraisal of this period, one that is not entirely free of self-criticism.

At the outbreak of the Algerian insurrection in 1954, the FCL dedicated itself to supporting the independentists and Fontenis together with his comrades established one of the largest networks of “couriers”.  But it was not its covert actions which were responsible for the FCL being dismantled by the forces of repression, it was its open propaganda.

Arrested for questioning by the intelligence services (DST) after several months on the run, Fontenis spent almost a year in prison and was finally banned from teaching within the state schools system in the Paris region.

After his release, Fontenis moved to the Tours region, which he was never to leave. The FCL was destroyed, but he continued nonetheless with his activities in the support network for Algerian independence.

He was again called to play a role in May-June 1968, as one of the leaders of the Tours Committee for Revolutionary Action.  In 1980, he joined the Union des Travailleurs Communistes Libertaires (UTCL) and its successor organization, Alternative Libertaire.

The life of Georges Fontenis was for decades linked to the labour movement and its libertarian current.  He shared its progress, its setbacks and its impassioned struggles.  As a political activist, he could draw lessons from failures without giving in to discouragement.  But the path of Georges Fontenis was also a personal journey.  Shaped by anarchism, he wanted to transform it in a profound way. For this he was sharply criticized by some and viewed by others in France and elsewhere, as a reference point.  But does his assessment for all that form a single block, which we must either take or leave?  Not at all.  But Alternative Libertaire and indeed the international libertarian communist movement know what they owe to him, and it is for this reason that we honour a man who now belongs to history.

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Many anarchists will have read his best known pamphlet, the Manifesto of Libertarian Communism

Georges Fontenis has died
edited from an Alternative Libertaire statement: Alan MacSimoin

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