One of the reasons I love Manchester is that it’s always had an attitude of looking out for each other that comes with being broke. It’s written into the life and breath of the city and something I’d always grown up with, a sort of “In the shit together solidarity“, as a mate once said as we watched the last few locals hanging out in the well of a ring of fading maisonettes on a dying estate. You see it the world over wherever working-class folk are just left to be for awhile and long before I’d ever heard the term Anarchism, this city told me that you look after each other and pick each other up.
So it made me smile something rotten when outside Piccadilly station I drop my gear down with a sigh (looking like trash after a long journey and with a bunch of bags with me) only for a random women to say “eyar love you look like you need a cig” in an accent I’ve missed so very much. I take the offered smoke and only realise she thinks I’m homeless as she lights me up. She didn’t give a damn, she might be on her way to work but we’re in the shit together and she thought I looked like I needed a smoke.
I tell her it’s stuff for an Anarchist bookfair stall and she cracks a massive smile. Before I even ask, she’s griping about toffs ripping out the “soul of town” and tells me she’s not going to vote because “Look what Burnham has done round ‘ere, can’t trust any of them lot!” while giving me a conspiratorial wink. She’s echoing the sentiments I hear from fellow Mancunians all the time, Since the 1996 bombing, working class Manchester has been under attack. One of the areas this is most visible is in the housing market which has seen wave after wave of investment seeing neighbourhoods such as Beswick, Langworthy and Collyhurst be chopped up and sold off. The residents of these long established communities flung further and further out so that the rich people can live closer to the hub of business in the north west.
It’s probably one of the reasons why Manchester has for a while now been very hard to organise in, between people being spat up and chucked out to become a distant diaspora and those who remain in the last few working class communities within the ring road spend every moment working just to keep the landlord of their back. It’s not surprising that local organising then, has always suffered from a bit of waxing and waning. Which is why the Manchester and Salford Anarchist Bookfair is such an important date in the calendar.
Since 2001 there has been a near enough regular bookfair with it’s highs and lows and I think it’s safe to say it’s going from strength to strength, despite the fact that it’s currently put together by a crew you could count with one hand. This year they brought together just over 30 stalls and a day of talks to the Engine Hall of The Peoples History Museum for what was a well put on day of Anarchism, networking and learning. This year as well they had chosen to hold it in memory of Donald Rooum who passed away in August. Alongside the stalwarts of Active, PM Press, Anarchist Federation and such there was also a good showing from Manc folk and even a stall from the North Earth Anarchist Group who had missioned down from Newcastle and were no doubt taking a few notes for May’s Newcastle Ewan Brown Anarchist Bookfair which they are part of organising. (full list here)
OK, so the organisers could maybe do with a small PA system for the announcement of talks and the like (a mild fluff which may have contributed to the IWW standing like piffy on a rock bun ahead of their talk) and the absence of a gig afterwards was something of a shock for some (though they were happy to point the way towards a solidarity gig in support of West Papuans put on by MCR Punks 4 West Papua). Of course this is splitting hairs and it really was a well organised and executed day, with organisers on hand from start to finish helping everyone out and keeping it all ticking over with all but a single mild upset.
That mild upset came in the form of five or six of the local trans-exclusionary contingent distributing a leaflet titled “Gender Identity Ideology vs
Radical Feminism” which although more subtle in its bigotry than the usual and lacking the calls to join specific transphobic groups, still got a massive groan from everyone who read it. The organisers intercepted the group and asked them to leave, which after a discussion they did.
During this discussion a dozen or so people who had been handed a leaflet, the majority I suspect of those who had bothered reading it, came back over and handed it back to them which was so well timed it was hard to believe it wasn’t staged.
The organisers had made it very clear to all and sundry that any drama this year could jeopardise the existence of the bookfair as they’re heavily limited in the options for an venue which was universally accessible. Still they came, didn’t even pretend to be interested in any of the stalls, handed out a leaflet advocating a bigoted position and tried to to have a barney.
Instead they had their leaflets handed back or torn up and off they went.
It was very well handled and I applaud the intervention of the organisers who managed to keep it all civil and courteous, thus limiting their usual attempt to manufacture a victory in the optics of them being terfed out. So far I’ve only seen one bit about it online which amounts to griping about “how is it anarchy to stop someone handing out leaflets” which pretty much is on par with “how is it Anarchy to sell a book” and other such drivel from people who get their understanding of Anarchism from the Daily Mail.
Alongside the stalls there were six talks planned to go right across the day, five of which went ahead and they were generally well attended and saw a fair amount of engagement. I didn’t manage to attend any myself but I heard from folk who attended the afternoon sessions and they reported back that they were quite interesting and well worth it. They particularly enjoyed Ruth Kinna’s presentation on her book “The Government of No One” leaving one to remark “I’m not sure I really understood Anarchism until now” and another to be surprised by the changing face of the museum itself, the presence of Kropotkin in its archives, and unfortunately their lack of public presentation.
They also enjoyed the somewhat more controversial presentation of The Anarchist Party, who presented their informal organising methodology and tacit endorsement of voting Labour in the coming election as another weapon for social change. A somewhat unpopular position at the Bookfair but one that is increasingly more accepted in the Anarchist milieu as the campaigns usher in their final days and the Tories continue to exist.
The talks were rounded off with a session with D. Hunter, the author of “Chav Solidarity”. A book which collects “his experiences as child sex worker, teenage crack addict, violent thug and community activist to examine the ways in which our classed experiences shape the ways in which we think and do our politics”. A poignant full stop on the day reminding us of the worst aspects of this capitalist system and how it so keenly breaks people down into usable commodities and surplus humanity.
No doubt the Manchester Bookfair crew will take a breather, have some time out and then start putting together their 2020 event. If you’re able and inclined you should get in contact and see what you can do to pitch in when the time comes and if you’re not from Manchester, get in touch with your nearest crew! It’s very easy to start thinking that these events are put on by big crews, but alas they ain’t, it’s some very exhausted Anarchos who would love your support!
You can contact them and stay in touch for more info either on their website, or their social media pages on Facebook or Twitter.
~ Peter Ó Máille