Who benefits from shutting down the Anarchist Bookfair?

I have only just found out that there will be no Anarchist Bookfair in London this year. It is not entirely surprising, but it is entirely unfortunate. One of the problems facing socialist events in the UK, is that in our hurry to ensure that all voices are heard, we inevitably allow those who would undermine us the opportunity to do so. One of the key strategies of the state, in its capacity as proxy for the exploiter class, is to infiltrate our communities, fragment us when we try to come together, divert us away from our objectives and criminalise us by driving us into direct confrontation with the paramilitary arm of the state when we are in no position to gain anything from it.

To see these methods in actions, one need only go to a few public meetings of progressive politics, of almost any significant size. There is always someone, or a small group of people trying to stop any significant progress. The Anarchist Bookfair is no different. A few years ago I was at a talk being given by Parecon UK at the London Bookfair. At the time, I sort of understood the basics of the proposal, but really hadn’t grasped the full potential of the Parecon model. If I remember correctly, I was still very much at the stage of trying to make sense of practical anarchism in the UK, in relation to historical and theoretical anarchisms.

As I sat there listening, the talk very quickly descended into one attendee effectively stopping the presentation by undermining each point the presenters made. In fairness, some of his points were valid, but others were quite obviously so flawed, that it was difficult not to think that the intention was to disrupt the meeting. And whether it was or not, that is exactly what happened.

The meeting eventually came to a close, and as I moved through the bookfair to the next meeting I was left with a cold realisation. Amidst the progressive left, in all it’s guises, there seems to be individuals and small groups that feel that they have the right to determine who can speak, and to whom others can listen. It is difficult to see how the arrogance needed to behave in this manner is any different to the feeling of entitlement that allows the privileged to monopolise the mass-audience communications channels.

It is irrelevant whether this method of oppressing debate within the radical events space is done at the behest of the ruling class, or because certain people feel that their experience of exploitation is more urgent than that of everyone else, or simply to satiate the egos of attention seekers. Whatever the motivation, it is only the ruling class that are benefiting from it.

And it appears that we never learn. Once again, I was at last year’s Anarchist Bookfair in London. And just as in all the years I have attended previously there were quite obviously individuals and small groups going from room to room disrupting the talks, monopolising the meetings, and belittling the speakers. For me, it doesn’t matter whether they are doing that because they are paid to, or they think that they are blessed with an enlightenment that the rest of us have missed. Behaviour of that kind is quite clearly diametrically opposed to communities coming together to use solidarity to bring about equality through cooperation and collaboration. Free speech means nothing, if it is not equally available, or anyone is refused it.

I didn’t see the course of events that caused all the post-event debate at last year’s bookfair. What I do know is that there will now be no bookfair this year, and any new comrades that may have joined us for the first time there this year, or any progress that would have been nurtured there this year now won’t be. The only people that are going to benefit from that are our exploiters. The may not have been the instigators, but they are as sure as shit going to be the beneficiaries.

One of the things that came out of the disrupted Parecon meeting I attended at the Anarchist Bookfair several years ago was that I knew that I needed to find out more about Parecon. After getting hold of a copy and going through it several times, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I was so taken with it. That is until I read Michael Albert’s RPS/2044. One of the things that Michael does better than most, is to create a platform from which debate can move beyond criticism of the current, and into a constructive negotiation over a future direction of travel.

Unfortunately very few people are willing to say ‘here is an idea for the future, lets pick it apart, and see if we can’t come up with something better’. Michael Albert does exactly that. Whether you agree, disagree, build on, or counter his work, Michael Albert, in both Parecon and RPS/2044 gives us something tangible to discuss, a possible alternative.

I reviewed RPS/2044 and it was published by the Morning Star on Friday 10th November 2017. It was subsequently republished on Znet. To read the unedited version here or to download a .txt version please click through to the page.

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