Sunday, 1 November 2009

Anarchism in action

When people used to say that anarchism would never work other than on a small scale, Colin Ward used to mention (quoting Kropotkin?) that you could send a letter to any country in the world and it would be delivered. The local post office takes the money for the stamps in whichever country the letter is posted, the recipient does not have to pay and the local postal service of the recipient does not receive any of the money. This is all done regardless of differences of politics and economics, and everyone benefits.

I thought of this again at this year's Anarchist Book Fair, held at the end of October at Queen Mary and Westfield College in London. Anyone can book a room for a meeting and it goes into the programme; anyone (of libertarian bent) can have a stall; everyone helps advertise the event. This year was the biggest ever, with around ninety stalls taking part, mostly from the UK but also from Ireland, Israel and elsewhere and thousands of people attending.

Though there appears to be a history of conflict at the Fair, I've not seen any over the last three years and everyone just seems to get on with it, and if you have to go to the loo or want a break next door's stall will look after yours.

I confess that Five Leaves did pretty well, and the stall was rarely quiet. Some - like Active Distribution and Northern Herald were mobbed all day. The former is cool, trendy and modern, the latter sells old books at decent prices.

I noticed this year there were more people from other traditions attending and soaking up the friendly atmosphere.

As book fairs go the range is relatively limited, but not that limited, and I picked up a copy of John Sommerfield's 1938 novella Trouble in Porter Street that I'd been looking for. The original was priced at two old pennies but £6 did not seem so bad, being about half the price of an internet copy. And pamphlets! Rarely do you see pamphlets on sale these days.

There's a small collective running the Festival, and it is not cheap to book a massive space at Queen Mary and Westfield so they do well keeping entry free and stalls affordable.

There's smaller fairs now in Bristol, Manchester and elsewhere. They can never take the place of the old network of radical bookshops, but there's movement - and thousands of people attended the London book fair.

Well done to all concerned.

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