I could only spend about six hours at the Anarchist Bookfair yesterday, but feel the event is important enough to offer some comments upon it.
Organisation was exemplary. The old Anarchist Federation line that anarchy is organisation is actually demonstrated by the bookfair, comfortably the largest Anarchist event in the UK. It remains the case that if a martian were to land and wander in, we might not be able to take him to any leaders, but we would be able to take him into a political movement that is confident, aspires to do something and is both open and accessible.
My twins were placed in the creche, which was divided into two rooms - one for older children, the other for toddlers and below. The Anarchist movement and its publications never talk about the family (even vague critiques of the nuclear family seem to be taken as read now) but the creche was well staffed, clean, safe and the children happy. Anarchism was again organisation.
Reunion wise it was great to meet so many people I had not seen for several years - I even kissed and made-up with John from Libcom. One interesting issue to emerge from speaking to people like Conor, Dave from Preston and Joni from Manchester (eighth in the UK strongman competition this year) is how serious some activists, but more usually semi-retired activists take their participation in sports.
I wonder if martial arts, boxing and strength training all offer more instant and more personal success, than the long grind of political activism? In gyms there tends to be little of what makes politics unattractive - the sectarianism,the negativity, the lack of defined or achievable goals, the police harrassment - all are absent. At some stage I would like to write more about this, but would welcome comments here.
Of course there are downsides. It is depressing to see American leftist ideas on race enter the UK Anarchist movement, as evidenced by the meeting on "white privilige and racism" or the rise of related literature over the past couple of years. Such guilt tripping is common to approaches to race in what were 'settler' societies - the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. They don't and won't work here - and are probably very far from applicable now in the likes of the US either. The bookfair still faces the challenge of spreading its influence and strength over the following 12 months. It would be useful to see all the meeting organisers for 2011 asked to write a brief follow up report in six months time, and again in time for the 2012 bookfair website, on how the bookfair helped - or did not help - their campaign.
One final point. I was slightly alarmed on leaving to see, on the free table in the hallway, leaflets in support of the campaign to Free Babar Ahmad. A long term Islamist activist in the UK, Ahmad was injured fighting for the Mujahideen in Bosnia in the early 1990s, and went on to set up Azzam.com, the most important Jihadi website the UK has seen. It was named after Abdullah Azzam, who ranks alongside Osama bin Laden or Aayman al-Zawahiri in terms of importance as a Jihadist leader over the past 25 years. Azzam.com was particulary praised by Chechen Islamist fighters for its support, and such connections were to lead to Ahmad's eventual arrest and the closing of the site. There are perhaps reasons to have some sympathy for Ahmad - he was badly beaten up by the Territorial Support Group on his arrest in 2003, and has waited far too long to be extradited to the United States, where he faces serious charges.
I can't help thinking his treatment in the UK has probably been fairer than that Anarchists would receive under Sharia, and that whoever placed a pile of his support leaflets at the bookfair either thinks Anarchists are a bunch of liberal idiots who will support any cause going, or is already such an idiot themselves.
The odd gripe aside, overall it is a big thumbs-up to the bookfair organisers, and toall those who make it such an excellent event to attend. If the revolution has not been achieved, I shall go along next year.