I spent yesterday at the Anarchist Bookfair in east London - the nineteenth London Anarchist bookfair I have attended in the past twenty years.
The Anarchist Bookfair remains an inspiring event. If a martian landed on Mile End Road during it, our little green friend would see a vibrant, diverse and open movement that was determined to change the world. Whether our intergalactic visitor would be as impressed landing on Mile End Road a few days later is more questionable.
I spent most of the day working on the Notes From the Borderland stall, selling the cuurent issue of NFB, back issues and having the opportunity to talk about NFB's research, my PhD and meeting current and former activists who come along each year to the bookfair to remind people they haven't died. Yet.
One consequence of NFB being public is that those featured in our research take the opportunity, not to discuss and debate with us, but to monitor and observe. People from both Searchlight and Hope Not Hate - neither group sympathetic to or interested in the Bookfair's ideals - flitted about during the course of the day. In the morning a young woman with ginger hair subtly took a picture of the NFB stall from the top end of the hall. When my eyes met her's - her face dropped. I do hope, for her own physical safety, that when/if this individual is deployed to monitor fascists - rather than anti-fascists like myself - she develops a more convincing persona.
At the stall, some interesting discussions emerged. I finally got to meet Michael Ezra, who shared his obscure - but fascinating - knowledge of Gerry Healey and the Workers Revolutionary Party, whilst appearing blown away at the size of the bookfair. One of the ways the Anarchist Bookfair can be analysed is to compare it to similar events organised by others on the left - the SWP's Marxism Festival has celebrity speakers, but is now smaller and has always been lacking in diversity and genuine open debate. Attend both, and see the difference between hierarchical and horizontal approaches to politics.
Via regular readers and subscribers, several new subject areas for the next NFB emerged, whilst the opportunity was also taken to discuss the nature and future of the English Defence League (who by the way, seem to have spent more time in pubs in Westminster yesterday rather than seriously trying to reach Waltham Forest) the Economic League and the monitoring of 'subversives' during Mrs Thatcher's Premiership. That in a way is how organisations and publications benefit from the Anarchist Bookfair - for one day of the year it least, it brings people together to openly discuss ideas.
There were one or two grumbles. By the end of the day the building looked a litte ragged - the Gents toilets were barely functioning, and the lifts did not work. Having retrieved the boys from the creche (thank you to all the workers there) we ended up carrying the pram down the stairs, as struggling stall holders lugged boxes alongside us. I did not spot Anarchist caterers Veggies, who would have been a welcome alternative to the Starbucks Coffee in the University cafeteria. Then again, survival is getting harder and harder for small businesses and ethical organisations like Veggies - they pay tax, Starbucks does not.
And so, that was the 2012 Anarchist Bookfair. Here's to next year - and the hope that, at some stage, that little green man lands and decides to stay.