October’s Anarchist bookfair saw a gathering of likeminded individuals and groups come together under one banner, anarchy. This might bring to mind fist-raising scenes of violence or, dare I say it, the first Sex Pistols album, but it actually coalesced into a very friendly and warm event. Held at Park View School in Tottenham the annual event celebrates unity, community and resistance. This resistance is non-violent, showing that the decline of social spaces in London, and the social cleansing going on under our noses has some real active opposition
Anarchism: “Belief in the abolition of all government and the organisation of society on a voluntary, cooperative basis without recourse to force or compulsion.” – Oxford Dictionary
Like this definition, what this year’s event really succeeded in doing, through discussions, lectures, zine and books stalls, was in celebrating the vast possibilities of collective action; homage to what we can do as groups in an unfair society.
Prime example of this is in Cairne Ross, a social activist and commentator, and, as goes the title of his film, ‘Accidental Anarchist’. Watching his documentary at the fair I witnessed the very real successes of Anarchism in the modern word. This demonstrated that Anarchism is not about chaos, violence or disarray, but a political ideal that accepts the complexity of the world and does not attempt to stifle that complexity. Instead, as Ross demonstrates, we cannot control the world from the top downwards through hierarchical systems, but only through community and collective decision making. Once a government highflyer and diplomat, after the Iraq war Ross became disillusioned, quit his job and started looking for answers; answers for the question we should all be asking ourselves – isn’t there a better way?
Focusing his study of world order on the Kurdish state of Rojava, Cairne sees a state not in disarray, but ruled by a key principle, women’s freedom. This stateless democracy is fighting ISIS, a world problem, through anarchist principles of collective decision making. On the other hand, Cairne looks towards Spain in the 1930s, and exposes how anarchism worked in principle in Catalonia during the civil war; people fighting for their own interests without big business or bureaucracy. This state, praised in the 30s by artists and writers alike, such as George Orwell in ‘Homage to Catalonia’, and Picasso’s grand Guernica, is again relevant with the contemporary Catalonian question.
Such went my thoughts while watching the film, and, strolling around the bookfair, I found such artistic freedom went hand in hand with political freedom. This vital well of resistance was evident through independent publications; zines, books, comics, pamphlets, and other art miscellany, various expressions of anarchist thought. Used as a platform for debate, these publications carry an important political message, that we are autonomous and so are our organisations.
Leaving the fair, I met with Jenn Hart, a ‘DIY punk poet’, whose words really stick in your teeth, and take days to pick out. Her performance was angry, righteous, and lively, exploring a variety of themes from feminism to mental health, and how this all links up to the bigger political picture in Britain. We discussed her poetry and it is obvious that her writing is a product of the cold political landscape at the moment, from the polarisation of right and left to the more personal experience of gentrification in London. Navigating through deftly constructed snippets of real and imagined lives, Jenn, like the rest of the anarchist community, is passionately imagining alternatives to the ‘plain greyness’ that is contemporary life in London.
Words, by Ross Fraser-Smith.