The 4th annual Sheffield Anarchist Bookfair took place last Saturday 11th May at the Showroom Workstation. A member of Bristol AFed went to the Bookfair as part of the Kebele Social Centre/Infoshop Collective. This is their personal account of the day:
After a slow start to the day – waking up at 4am and being stuck on the side of the motorway until 9am – we finally arrived at the Sheffield Anarchist Bookfair at around midday. We set up our stall next to Bristol Against Arms Trade (BAAT) and were happy to find ourselves nestled between comrades from Collective Action and The Commune with The Cowley Club Social Centre (from Brighton) and Sheffield IWW opposite us.
Once we’d finished setting up I took some time to look around the other stalls. There were at least 28 stalls at this year’s Anarchist Bookfair. Despite this the Bookfair gave off the impression of a bustling and active movement with lots of people walking between stalls and talking to eachother. This really felt like a local Bookfair and I loved it.
There was a ride range of groups and organisations represented from The Anarchist Federation to Sheffield Animal Friends; Corporate Watch to The Communist Worker’s Organisation; Feminist Library to the Stop G8 Infotour. It really showed off the wide range of opposition to capitalism and the State both in Sheffield and nationally.
The highlight of the day was the projector screen which had been set up at one end of the room to display Tweets sent to the #sheffbookfair hashtag. At the beginning of the day this was used by the organisers to post announcements about the Bookfair but soon descended into light-hearted trolling. Some personal favourites included: “Would Collective Action please come to the front desk as your Platform is about to be towed #sheffbookfair” and “Why don’t Afed and Solfed merge? The name would be Asol. #sheffbookfair” all sent – in good spirit to our fellow comrades – by attendees of the Bookfair.
I managed to attend three of the planned eleven workshops. The meeting rooms were initially hard to find but after a bit of searching (and asking one of the organisers for directions!) I finally found my way to my first meeting: “Anarchists! Know your theory!” organised by Collective Action.
This was the second meeting hosted by Collective Action at the Bookfair (and it was only 1pm!). The speaker started off by talking about what he saw as some of the obstacles that the anarchist movement in the United Kingdom needed to overcome before becoming effective and then laid out their definition of Specifism (a school of anarchist communist thought similar to platformism), the “Specific Anarchist Organisation” (SOA) and it’s tactic of social insertion. After they’d finished they opened the floor to questions and a lively discussion about the organisational structure of Collective Action and the wider anarchist movement followed.
The next workshop I attended was “The Idea of the Commune” hosted by a comrade from the Anarchist Federation and based on an article from the most recent issue of Organise. He talked in great detail about the history of the idea of the commune and it’s roots in the Paris Commune, the role of the it in revolutionary struggle as well as giving a brief history on anarcho-syndicalism and the differences between it and anarchist communism. The discussion then moved onto the role of the commune in a contemporary context. People talked about the role of the encampments in the Occupy movement (with specific mention given to the Oakland Commune AKA Occupy Oakland), the recent call out for a People’s Assembly Against Austerity by people like Tony Benn, the differences and role of worker’s councils/soviets within the commune, the organisational structure of communes and the practicalities of federation between them.
The third and final meeting I attended was: “Anarchism, Marxism and the state: the real divide amongst revolutionaries?” organised jointly by The Commune and The Communist Worker’s Organisation. This was a packed meeting with several people having to leave to go pick up more chairs to accomodate the large numbers of people.
The workshop began with members from both organisations talking about Marx and the role of the state within Marxist thought. The Commune suggested that the idea of the “transistional state” or “worker’s state” which is often cited as one of the major differences between Marxists and anarchists was infact a concoction of social democrats and Bolsheviks like Lenin and Trotsky. He argued that Marx did not advocate for the formation of a state and thus Bakunin’s commonly cited argument against Marx was infact invalid.
The Communist Worker’s Organisation then went on to discuss the trouble of reformists in all revolutionary organisations using the members of the CNT who joined the government during the Spanish Civil War as an example from the anarchist side. He then took the oppurtunity to quote from SolFed’s “Fighting for Ourselves” but about what though has escaped me!
A lively discussion followed with people talking about the role of the state in a pre-, present and post- revolutionary context as well as the trouble of defining what exactly a “state” was. The subject of civil war cropped up alongside the validity and practicalities of violence versus non-violence. There were various ideas about how the revolution should come about and what form it should take but the general consensus within the room was that a state should not be apart of it!
If you weren’t lucky enough to visit the Bookfair yourself several of the workshops were recorded and uploaded to Sheffield Indymedia alongside photos of all the stalls! It’s just like being at the Bookfair yourself (minus everybody else of course)!
Overall I felt like the Sheffield Anarchist Bookfair was a well-organised, exciting event that really showed off the revolutionary character of Sheffield. Having never been to Sheffield before I got a great sense of what the city was like and I will definietly be visiting again in the future! A big shout to the organisers of the event, as somebody who helped organise Bristol Anarchist Bookfair I know how stressful it can be! Here’s to next year!
The next Anarchist Bookfair will be in London on 19th October! The Manchester & Salford Anarchist Bookfair will take place 23rd November and there will also be a Working Class Bookfair in Sunderland on the 8th June.
Check out the Anarchist Bookfairs of the World website for a list of all the international bookfairs!