Thursday, 12 July 2018

Anarchy in Action?

by Chris Draper
ANARCHIST Bookfairs once demonstrated ‘Anarchy in Action’ – intellectually stimulating, friendly and welcoming to all-comers.  Now “Anarchist Bookfairs” routinely exemplify prejudice, bans, ejections and violence. First the London Bookfair was cancelled now Sheffield’s gone the same way. Manchester lost its prestigious “People’s History Museum” venue because of the blacklisting behaviour of its organisers and the 2018 Liverpool Bookfair first banned one anarchist and then physically ejected another. In an attempt to restore open-minds and open-access I recently emailed one of the ‘Liverpool Anarchist Bookfair’ organisers and I invite YOU dear reader to evaluate the response for yourself...
(a copy of the email sent by me to Maria, one of the Liverpool Anarchist Bookfair organisers)
Dear Maria,
I email you as one of the organisers of the recent Liverpool Anarchist Bookfair.

Whilst I appreciate that organising such an event is a thankless task you would probably agree that several aspects of what transpired were rather negative. As an aged, lifelong anarchist who devoutly believes ‘The Personal is Political’ it is almost anathema to me to ban people from anarchist events. We should practice what we preach and live the society we advocate. Would we ban people from a post-revolution anarchist world?

Three people were to some extent subject to bans; Barry Woodling, Brian Bamford and another unnamed male. Whilst Woodling was almost immediately reinstated, Bamford was left outside in the rain and the third character was ejected late in the day. In none of these three cases was any open, democratic, ‘due-process’ evident. The Woodling example underlines the quixotic nature of such bans as he had previously been refused entry to the Manchester fair and was informed on arriving at Liverpool he was again banned and then for no apparent reason this decision was quashed and he was allowed in to no ill effect. You surely recognise that such conduct betrays an absence of justice and consistency. Anarchism should model improved relationships not exemplify irrational prejudice.

Moving on from the Woodling example, I realise that some comrades disagree with views expressed by the other two individuals, in fact in both cases I expressed my own criticisms to them personally, BUT one of the defining aspects of anarchism is that we relish disagreement and win over critics by exemplary argument and behaviour rather than repression and exclusion. Of course, we have a right to physically defend ourselves but where is the evidence that any of these three individuals had to be excluded to prevent them physically attacking anyone? I can only presume Mr Bamford was banned on the basis of prejudicial testimony as the objective account of a violent attack upon him at a previous book-fair given by respected bookseller, Ross Bradshaw (and available on his own website), makes clear that Bamford was the victim. (Ironically I noted the presence of the perpetrator of that particular violent act inside the Liverpool fair).

I appreciate your efforts in organising the bookfair, of which many aspects were admirable, but I don’t think such injustice should be brushed aside and then repeated next year (you have doubtless seen the negative publicity in Peace News etc). I don’t claim to have all the answers but I would ask you and the other organisers to constructively address this problem and would be happy to correspond about possible solutions.

For Peace, Love & Anarchy
Christopher Draper
Dear Christopher,

Thanks for your email, which Maria has forwarded to the rest of us.  We are happy to clarify that there was no ban on Barry Woodling attending.  We are not sure who told him to leave, but one of us
stepped in to say that he did not have to leave.  We did not discuss him or communicate with him prior to the bookfair because there simply was no reason to, and most of us did not even know of him.
We emailed Brian Bamford in advance of our bookfair as follows, after some correspondence with him:

"Dear Brian,
We appreciate that blacklisting is an important issue to you, and we
wish you all the best in your own campaigning efforts against it.

However, unfortunately we have to ask you to not attend the Liverpool
Anarchist Bookfair. It has come to our attention that that there is a
history of disruption and conflict associated with yourself at
bookfairs and other occasions elsewhere, so we have decided that in
the interests of all concerned - including yourself - and the smooth
and peaceful running of our event, it is best that you do not attend.
Thank you in advance for respecting this. Our decision is final."
Therefore when Brian arrived, we peacefully but firmly insisted that
he leave, in accordance with our prior decision. Brian chose to stay
outside the venue to talk to people coming into the building, rather
than to do something else elswhere; there were plenty of places he
could have gone to be much more comfortable and sheltered, such as a
cafe, pub, shop, or the cathedral or a museum for example.
The other person asked to leave during the bookfair was someone who
was distributing a transphobic leaflet, literature that expressed
prejudice against an oppressed group, against our safer spaces policy
. We asked him to step out of a workshop to talk with us, but he
refused and escalated the situation. This resulted in him being asked
to leave, and we escorted him out of the building with the support of
the venue staff. On the way out this person kicked someone hard in the
back from behind on a flight of stairs - very fortunately the person
they kicked was not seriously injured.
A one day event like the bookfair is not a situation where you can
hold some kind of in-depth process to resolve a conflict or address
harmful behaviour. As organisers we have a great many practical issues
to manage on the day to keep the event running smoothly. We expect
that the vast majority of people will behave in a reasonable and
respectful way towards others, but we have the right, and
responsibility, to ask anyone to leave if they do not. We took care to
think about and plan for dealing with possible problems and we
publicised the safer spaces policy, in advance online and in the
printed programmes on the day,  to make it clear what was not
Our decision to ask Brian in advance not to attend was not due to
disagreement with his views, and was not at the behest of anyone else,
but was informed by learning of various conflicts and difficulties
involving him, in particular his threats to sue one of the Manchester
bookfair venues, the People's History Museum, and his behaviour at the
Freedom Press Friends meeting in June 2016. Since the bookfair he has
emailed Maria making a threat to block trade union bodies from
supporting any future financial appeals by News From Nowhere bookshop,
where she works but which had absolutely no involvement itself in
organising the bookfair. This only confirms to us that Brian can be a
difficult person who is very focused on pursuing grudges.
It's very understandable why Brian and his friends like yourself feel
that he should be given some sort of hearing for his side of what
seems to be very complicated history of conflicts, but as Liverpool
event organisers we have no obligation or capacity to somehow attempt
to adjudicate on any past events and incidents that took place
elsewhere. We simply were not and are not interested in being drawn
into these conflicts, nor for our event to be used as an occasion to
pursue such conflicts.
best wishes
Liverpool Anarchist Bookfair collective


Les May said...

When people start justifying themselves by writing "The other person asked to leave during the bookfair was someone who was distributing a transphobic leaflet, literature that expressed prejudice against an oppressed group, against our safer spaces policy", I ask myself "what is the difference between an authoritarian and an anarchist"? The answer seems to be "anarchists are more self-righteous".

Les May said...

I don’t intend to comment upon the grounds upon which Mr Bamford was excluded from the bookfair. I have known him for over 50 years and although I know there are substantial inaccuracies in the reasons given for excluding him any comments I made would no doubt reflect our long friendship.

I do however wish to comment upon the portion of the text which reads ‘The other person asked to leave during the bookfair was someone who was distributing a transphobic leaflet, literature which expressed prejudice against an oppressed group, against our safer spaces policy… ‘.

This is pretentious twaddle designed to prevent debate. Anarchists it seems are even more self-righteous than authoritarians when it comes to preventing people expressing views they do not like.

As for transphobics being ‘oppressed’, we are not exactly talking about Rohingya muslims in Myanmar. We are simply talking about an unwillingness on the part of some people, e.g. ‘radical’ feminists, to accede to the demands of some trans-sexuals, without any debate on the subject. And why should they remain silent if they have concerns?

But the icing on the cake for me is the authors referring to themselves as a ‘collective’. It conjours up images of a bunch of lads and lasses, or should I say ‘guys’ to be on trend?, sitting around solemnly deciding who they are going to designate as ‘oppressed group of the year’, because sure as hell by next year the trans-sexuals will have had their moment in the sun and it will be some other group who are ‘in fashion’.

By the way has anyone noticed that all the fuss is coming from men transitioning to women, and not women transitioning to be identified as men? A bit of residual testosterone at work perhaps?

Brian Bamford said...

THE Liverpool Bookfair Anarchist Bookfair Collective write that their decision to ban me from their event ‘was informed by learning of various conflicts and difficulties involving him (Brian Bamford), in particular his threats to sue one of the Manchester bookfair venues, the People's History Museum...’

It is news to me that there was any threat to sue the People’s History Museum. Indeed, after Barry Woodling had been excluded from the Manchester Anarchist Bookfair on December 1st, 2012, in circumstances in which he was being threatened by one of the organisers. At that time the then Museum organiser wrote to me as follows:

‘I understand there were some problems with the bookfair on Saturday.
‘Can I please note in the strongest possible terms that I am not happy with what I understand took place?
‘You are most welcome to email me and explain what you think happened.
‘However, if at any point the internal disputes between stall-holders spilled over into spoiling the visit of our other museum visitors, then I am afraid I shall have to take the matter further.’

Then as a result of my intervention and that of the Littleborough book-seller, George Kelso, the organisers of the Manchester Bookfair were allowed to continued to have the use of the People’s History venue until 2014.