Saturday, 9 December 2017


'Bookfair couldn’t guarantee the banner’s safety', said Dave Douglass
by Dave Douglass (South Shields}
THE annual Anarchist Bookfair in London was for many many years the highlight of the Anarchist and radical Marxist calendar.   It brought together the most splendid , vivid fascinating and eccentric, profound and trivial, exciting and profane, hilarious and spiritual assortments of people.   They came in thousands, they bathed in the rainbow variety of factions, tendencies, visions and issues.   Workshops and presentations, entertainment and discussion filled the entire day as the crowds crammed past stalls laden with literature and art, T-shirts and stickers, posters and badges, cards and calendars, a myriad of interesting and unique stuff you would never find anywhere else under one roof.   The Vegan food commune outside the venues hawked the most interesting of pastries and butties, tatties and cakes, rich wonderful chocolate cakes and angel cakes which tested the will power of the most dedicated of health freaks.  In my own judgement the Anarchist bookfair almost vied with the Durham Miners Gala (almost) in terms of ‘not to be missed’ events.  Ancient aud Anarchists rubbed shoulders with the Mohican punks of yesterd-a-year, born again hippies, young activist, and what a Glasgow paper talking of the anti polaris demonstrators of the 60’s called ‘ beardies, weirdies and lang lagged beasties’ 
Sadly the great spirit of comradely diversity, the ‘let a million flowers blossom let ten thousand schools of thought reign’ which Mao had once said and may actually at one time believed, had started to change and smoulder into authoritarian intolerances.  In a gradual change of attitude which I think has spread from the Ultra PC ‘no platforming’ ‘shut them up’, ‘safe space’ evangelists of the US campuses, only very particular schools of thought would be allowed to be heard.  

Invited to speak one year I suggested I bring the famous ‘red’ miners banner of the Follonsby Lodge.   The banner originally drafted in 1928 famously sets forth the options and variety of radical working class ideologies and ‘roads’ depicting as it does Social Democracy, Bolshevism, and Anarcho-syndicalism, the ballot box and the gun, in the form of Kier Hardie, James Connolly in the uniform of the ICA, V.I.Lenin , A.J.Cook and George Harvey.  The banner encapsulates the trajectory of ideological struggle and events which led through the birth of the IWW, the ILP, the development of the Soviets, the General Strike, The Easter Irish rising and the Russian revolution.  In this trajectory the debate around the nature of the state and working class democracy ideas of the anarchists and syndicalists, the Industrial Unionists, how society could function once capitalism was defeated were all marked by the birth of this banner. 

I had concluded that the Anarchist Bookfair was an ideal platform to retell this story and the way in which working class history had developed.   'Nope’, I was told , the bookfair couldn’t guarantee the banner’s safety.  One look at the central portrait of Lenin flanked by the hammer and sickle would be enough to stifle any debate and could lead to the destruction of the banner.   It was an early demonstration of the chain of thought which would seek to re-write history by tearing down all statues and memorials and references to un-pc historic figures.   It would be the fingers in the ears while shouting 'lalala’ to stop the sound of words too wounding to be heard. 
Then four or five years ago we had a gang attack on Comrade Brian Bamford of the Northern Anarchist Network.  Brian has a knack of rubbing folk up the wrong way it must be said, he had been irreverent to an old stalward of traditional anarchism who had passed away, Brian’s obituary was thought to be insensitive, which it undoubtedly was.  But it led to his stall being turned over his books trashed and he beaten up and sprayed with ketchup.  This was in the middle of an event of Anarchists who are supposed to believe we can govern ourselves without enforcement and laws imposed upon us.   It got worse, as first Brian then members of his group were banned from regional anarchist bookfares, not simply from having a stall but attending on pain of violence.   Book and Newspaper shops which stocked the NAN magazine were visited and warned not to stock the journal, the printers likewise were given the Gypsies Warning.   He hasn’t mounted a bookstall since. 
Last year, a section of the Anarchist wing fighting alongside the PKK against ISIS were invited to speak at a workshop.  The hall was invaded by students from the Gulf states who although purporting to be progressives were basically supporters of the Jihadists and Theocrats.  They stamped and chanted and no platformed the speakers.  Bending over backward to preserve our traditions of free speech they were invited to present an alternative view before the anarchists spoke, which they did, and then broke up the meeting and stopped them being heard. 
This year was the final straw.  One of the anarcho-feminists had been circulating a leaflet saying why they didn’t allow transmen to attend women only sessions and workshops, when she was surrounded and shouted down and threatened by a gang of 'transmen’, who not only stopped those sessions but demanded a whole list of demands from the bookfare in general be met.  This was as to content of stalls, workshops, items displayed and on sale.  The organisers under a constant barrage have just said ’bollox’ you organise your own, we’re done’.  ‘That’s it, were done organising this event’
I cannot in conscience blame them.  The only way to stop this march of intolerance would have been to not tolerate it and to physically impose free thought and free speech on people who plainly don’t believe in it.  Which would be a contradiction too hard for Anarchists to cope with.  Its a sad reflection on where mostly middle class ‘safe space’ victim-mongering, no-platforming , witch hunting, tyranny has taken us.   It is a very sad day in my view.  We have to ensure that this intolerance and denial of free speech and basic liberty is not fed into working class organisations and events. 
Tyneside anarchists in conjunction with the Follonsby Wardley Miners Lodge Association will be hosting a Guy Fawkes Workers Bookfare in Newcastle next year, Nov 3rd.   This will be an opportunity to present books on working class political ideology and history and progressive thought which one would not get the chance to see in conventional book venues. It will very much be in the tradition of the once famous bookfare although we don’t expect the same numbers.   At this bookfare the principle of free speech and political liberty will be guaranteed, and anyone who doesn’t accept the principle ‘left’ or right will be not invited and if necessary excluded.  

1 comment:

Dave Douglass said...

"I acknowledge I got the 'Syria' argument the wrong way round, the speakers who got shouted down were in fact supporters if the so called SFA which is aligned with the USA , and the protesters were in fact PKK supporters. Now in that row I would have identified politically with the latter and certainly not the former who have unsavoury links with the Jihadists and despite their claims at secularism have dubious outlooks and composition. Despite the fact I think them strange 'dinner guests' to an anarchist book fare, I defend their right to speak. We are surely not afraid to verbally and politically confront people we don't agree with rather than try and silence them ? Some people also didn't like my use of the term 'transmen'. Listen, I'm not even going to stray into that minefield, the picture looms of me stamping me way through it with two fingers in my ears listening for the bang ! Whatever way you term it, these were men who have assumed, developed, adopted, chosen, to identify as women. OK, the principle I am making is, you do not have to like all opinions, all opinions do not have to have been past some PC censor to be put forward. Even ideas and politics which one might find repellent, have a right to be heard especially when put by people who hold anarchist positions."