a balance sheet of more than 150 years of struggle of the International of the Free Though
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Dear Comrades, dear friends,
First I would like to thank those who organized this World Congress for allowing the Research Institute of the Free Though which I have the honor to head, to say a few words in front of you.
If you want to know more about the Research Institute founded in 1999 under the aegis of the National Federation of the Libre Pensee, feel free to come and see us.
It is hard to draw a balance sheet of more than 150 years of struggle of the International of the Free Thought in a few minutes and I wouldn’t dare to do so.
We can only have a quick look back on some major events.
As the world congress of 1936, the Free Though is "par essence" universal, international, therefore "internationalist".
The first international congresses took place quite rapidly in the history of the Free Thought.
We can mention the Anti-Concile of Naples in 1870, organized against the Vatican I Concile.
If we want to compare with our meeting today, there was in 1880 in Brussels the Foundation of the Free Thought International that held a Congress with some VIPs such as Louis Buchner, the great German materialist scientist, the German revolutionary deputy to the Reichstag Wilhelm Liebknecht, who protested in the Reichstag against the annexation of Alsace and Loraine in 1871 ; Charles Bradlaugh Bonner, the first British MP who refused to take the oath on the Bible and who was expelled from the House of Commons for this action, Caesar De Paepe, one of the founders of the Belgian labor Party, and many others.
Trully, the Rome Congress of 1904 is a landmark in the history of the Free Thought especially because of the Charter that was unanimously adopted by the participants after a long debate, on September 22.
This text is reaffirmed at the Luxembourg Congress in 1929, then at the merger of the Internationals in 1936 at the Prague Congress and it is natural that the "Manifesto" summoned our Congress quotes it once again : "The Free Thought is secular, democratic and social, that is to say in the name of dignity of the Human Being it rejects the triple yoke : the excessive power in religious matter, the privilege in political matter and the capital in econmic matter".
In 1905, a century ago, the World Congress was symbolically held in Paris, because, precisely, the law of separation had just been passed in the French Parliament, one century ago, on that very day, and that it was to be adopter by the Senate at the next stage.
I don’t want to be cruel but there was a reception of the participants of the Congress at the Town Hall in 1905.
This Congress was held at the Trocadero, which is not far from here. They took the opportunity to inaugurate the statue of Chevalier de la Barre, just opposite the Sacré Cœur on September 3. The Congress took special attention to the problems of militarism, of peace and war.
The First World War did not allow the meeting of Congresses between 1913 and 1919.
In 1920, a Congres was held in Prague that was exceptional in many aspects. Some of the participants who had supported the " Sacred Union" , that is the war, had proposed to pass a resolution in the Congress to condemn the Russian Revolution although Russia had proclaimed the separation of the Church and the State in 1918.
Emile Noel managed to prevent the vote of this resolution.
As Leon Prouvost noted in the review "L’Idée Libre" - edited by André Lorulot - in 1921 that clearly shows the "confusionism" after the war.
Let us note three names ; Lorulot, the main leader of the French Libre Pensee from 1920 to 1963 ; Prouvost who was driven to commit suicide by a real police harassment during the First World War and the early years after the war ; Emile Noel, a participant in the Rome Congress, organizer of the 1905 Congress, founder of the World Union in 1936.
The Congress of 1925 in Rome never met, neither did the Warsaw Congress, because of the situation in these countries.
After many years of split, followed by partial reunification, a World Congress of reunification was held in Prague in 1936.
The explanation is quite easy to understand : As the President Terwagne - a great Belgian Free Thinker - said : "Fascism and Hitlerism, killers of liberty, must meet all the freethinkers of the world on their path" . And they met them.
Since the following Congress of 1938, this International was to be named "World Union of Free Thinkers".
After the World Congress of 1938 in London, the World Union met in Rome in 1949 for the first time, under the patronage of Jean Rostand and Joliot-Curie among others.
The World Union Congress held in Luxembourg in 1954 was in line with the previous congresses and condemns "the Vatican, that is the clerical fascism", among the participants, we can see the name of our comrade René Labrégère, a remarkable example of continuity.
That was undoubtedly an important event even if it was limited to Western Europe.
Since the 1960’s the situation for the Free Thought becomes obscure paradoxically. Or more accurately, the state of the archives makes the situation obscure. The situation of the archives is not the result of a coincidence or a piece of bad luck.
Let’s take the highly significant example of a very important year : 1968. This is the only text as far as I know that was passed by the World Union. In July 1968,, in Turin, the International Council of the World Union wrote the following text :
"Considering the continuation of the aggression of the US government in Vietnam not only adds repeatedly the horrors of an endless war, but also feeds an atmosphere of insecurity and violence throughout the world which is contradictory to our humanist ideal, notes that the Roman Church, with its ambiguous attitude towards the American military-capitalism keeps betraying the mission that it is assuming of a force of peace and human fraternity".
It is deeply concerned of the rebirth of more or less open fascism in some countries, among which Federal Germany and France.
It is therefore the duty of every member of the World Union to fight with all their strength against the powers of political, social and religious reaction that are more and more threatening. It welcomes the revolt of the youth against a decaying regime, based on the exploitation and the conditioning of Man by Man and its encourages every man of progress to help the youth in their revolt with their encouraging hopes, their militant help and the advice of experience.
Considering that in the Roman Church, against the collusion of the hierarchy with the reactionaries more and more sincere believers who are spurred by their ideal stand up, it appeals to the free thinkers, not to engage in a fruitless debate with them on metaphysical statements, but to help them liberate themselves from what is left of their passive submission to dogmas and to the clergy".
This text cannot but appeal on us by its rarity and its briefness. But also by what is not mentioned :
Although Czechoslovakia was to be invaded one month later, but no reference is made of Eastern Europe, particularly what was called "the Spring of Prague" or inaccurately "socialism with a human face.
Is the a Free thinker ’s internationalism or cold war diplomacy ?
Not a word is written either, on the biggest general strike in History that gathered ten million workers in France; this is very surprising in a "social organization".
Nothing on the democratic movement for civil rights for Blacks in the USA ; this is very surprising in a democratic organization.
As to the word "ambiguous" that would characterize the attitude of the US clergy during the war in Vietnam, this is shocking. Thus, if we want just an example, at Christmas 1968, before US troops in Cam Rahn, Cardinal Spellman, bishop of New York, explained : "I believe the war in Vietnam is a war for civilization". Nothing is ambiguous then. And this is not the only statement.
As to the paragraph on the "sincere believers", it is hard to believe that it was written by the highest international body of Free thinkers.
I would like to insist on an important point : the men who participated in this body were not responsible for that body, but the structure or more accurately the orientation that led this body was responsible.
When you read that text you are very far from the 1904 Charter.
Little by little, national associations left that structure, starting with our friends from the British NSS.
History proves it, even with this short overview : there is a relationship, a dialectics between a strong international organization and strong national sections. For this, we need an orientation with no concession to clericalism, without hesitation on the secular Charter of international Free Thought, asserted in the Congress of Rome, reaffirmed throughout of our history, and particularly today.
Thank you very much.