A lil' somethin I whipped up for the Zed Blog:
A Brisbane drifter’s account of the Bristol Anarchist Bookfair
Did you know that the A and O of the anarchist symbol, seen graph’d on walls across the world, actually stands for ‘Anarchy is Order’, a slogan first penned by Frenchman Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in the 1800s? Or that early radicals in the West counties of the UK (Somerset, Devon and Dorset) formed a bike group called the National Clarion Cycling Club in 1895 with a view to ‘promote socialism by being social’? No? Well neither did I before attending the Bristol Anarchist Bookfair in Stokes Croft on the weekend, the third so far of this annual refreshingly well-organised event. The neighborhood of Stokes Croft is home to a varied and active group of residents and is renowned for its rich history of squatting and community organising, such as their ongoing struggle to oppose a massive Tesco (the UK version of Coles or Woolies) being built smack-bang in the middle of their ‘buy local’ oriented district. Hamilton House was the venue for the very well-attended book fair and three floors of stalls and meeting rooms meant that punters like me were kept busy browsing and chatting to local and traveling anarchists and organisers from diverse groups and distros such as Bristol ABC Prisoner Support, Labour Behind the Label, Bicycology, AK Press, Bristol & South West Hunt Sabs and of course the old wobblies, the IWW. I got in at about lunchtime and chowed down on luscious vegan polenta-lentil bake with salads for £3. Food was cooked and served by local coop the Kebele Social Centre. At one point I looked up from my lunch to see at least five people stuffing ridiculously oversized pieces of vegan chocolate cake into their mouths, the revolution will be delicious with folk like these in the kitchen. With my hunger for food sated it was time to gorge on the smorgasbord of books and zines available. Limited by funds and lack of backpack space I still got the latest copy of Morgenmuffel, a zine hand-drawn by Brighton feminist anarchist activist Isy who also co-authored vegan cookbook Another Dinner is Possible. I was just about to moan about the lack of anarchist fiction available when I came across Edward Douglas Fawcett’s Hartman the Anarchist, republished after more than 100 years out of print. Fawcett wrote his apocalyptic vision of Victorian-era anarchists raining bombs on the houses of parliament in London from a revolutionary airship in 1892 when he was 16 years old, now that is some teenage emo angst put to good use!
There were many workshops and talks on offer throughout the day and I took time out from bookish pursuits to attend a talk in the Radical History Zone on South-West anarchism in the olden-days by local historian Steve Hunt. I was most inspired and intrigued by the information Hunt presented about the middle-class women of Bristol in the 1830s and 40s who left their cushy Clifton residences to show solidarity for the workers in poorer areas, moving into working-class digs and advocating for better conditions and pay for Bristol’s struggling dockers, factory workers and homeworking seamstresses. And then there was the aforementioned National Clarion Cycling Club, determined to spread people power through the countryside. Armed with wheatpaste and socialist propaganda in their saddlebags they would set off on picnics with tea and crumpets packed, leaving no turnstyle, fencepost or farmgate unadorned with their boldly printed poster proclaiming loudly ‘Fellowship is life! Lack of fellowship is death!’. It seems that long before Critical Mass was a twinkle in anyone’s eye the Clarion Club were escaping their industrial towns and villages and assembling and biking for truth, freedom and, well, the sheer pleasure of it. Brisbane fixie kids take heed!
I scarce had time to consult my program to see what was next when the room was invaded by the very boisterous presence of Ray ‘Roughler’ Jones, a stalwart bad boy of the Welsh punk scene in Swansea. Jones paced up and down the room launching into titillating stories of his time in a rag-tag punk/striptease band with the infamous Ian Bone of Class War. His witty recollections and thick Welsh brogue kept all entertained even if we didn’t know what the bloody hell he was saying half the time. Jones was promoting his new book Drowning on Dry Land, a memoir of booze, drugs, prison, chatting up Marianne Faithful and his time editing Roughler magazine. I left the room mentally exhausted after the indomitable Jones explained he had to ‘fuck off’ and catch a train to Penzance to see a friend. The only thing left to do was to sample some local beers and ciders at the Canteen bar downstairs, a perfect tribute to Jones’ tales of intemperance and indulgence. For the rough and ready of the bookfair crowd there was a follow-up fundraiser/afterparty (the fair costs between £800 and £1000 to run and there is no entrance fee) at an old tailors’ shop down the road with entertainment by COP ON FIRE (Belgium)
D’ONDERHOND (Belgium) and THE DAGGER BROTHERS (Bristol). Although I am of the opinion one can have too much ska and dub-step in one night the bands played with spirit and defused the only fight that arose, commenting on the futility of left-wing activists warring against each other when there is so much else in the world to rise up against. Here here.
In all the bookfair was a fortifying experience for this Brisbane escapee. I marvel at how Bristol can support so many social centres, squats and co-ops and wish this were true also for my own hometown. The event made me rethink my own complacency in getting active in grassroots organising in Brisbane because it seemed to hard, I was too busy, or I couldn’t find a group that exactly represented my politics. After seeing so many self-reliant individuals working hard to confront capitalism through direct action, creativity and mutual-aid I am inspired to join the battle. Coz if it was easy, they wouldn’t call it “struggle” right?