My politics have been influenced by my background, including class, and the era that I grew up in. So trade unions, community and the women’s movement have dictated where I have put my political energies in past years. But in 2012 where would someone like me growing up on a council estate in the north west look for a vibrant political lifestyle? Unfortunately trade unions and the left are not particularly inspiring to me at the moment, never mind to younger people!
Last week I went to the Manchester and Salford Anarchist Bookfair because, just looking at the publicity, it seemed to be offering a way of exploring a different way of life that had some resonances with the lives that younger people lead today.
The bookfair took place at the Peoples History Museum, quite a formal venue, but once inside the main hall I was surprised at the numbers of young people mingling with an older generation of anarchists. Yes, many people were wearing black, but there was an interesting array of stalls displaying books, photos, cartoons, veggie food as well as the more mainstream North West Labour History Society and International Brigade Memorial Trust.
Dave, one of the organisers of the bookfair, told me how it started;
It started 10 years ago and the idea behind it is to show what anarchism is, to get political people together, not to recruit them but to inspire people to do something whether it’s to get involved in some activity from squatting to writing or setting up a website. It’s about being outwardly looking and a space to show people what they can do.
Running alongside the bookfair were a series of talks offering people the chance to find out more about anarchism, and providing a venue for debate. The talks included: an introduction to anarchism, squatting, women and abortion in Ireland, and parenting and anarchism.
There are two main anarchist groups in Manchester; the Anarchist Federation and Solidarity Federation. They reflect different political strains of anarchism; the former describe themselves as “anarchist communists and revolutionary class struggle anarchists”, whilst the latter describe themselves as “ a revolutionary union initiative: a working-class organisation which seeks the abolition of capitalism and the state”.
What does it mean to be an anarchist today? Dave says that just looking around the bookfair it reflects some of the activities that people are involved in and which are relevant to their lives:
For example, there are hundreds of empty houses around Manchester and we can do something about it by squatting and this is a direct action. The idea is one of do it yourself, rather than waiting for someone else to tell you what to do, and this is our response to the issue of homelessness
In the talk An Introduction to Anarchism the speakers explained some of the political roots of anarchism and looked reasons why it continues to be attractive to new activists. Anarchism opposes the state and capitalism, and concentrates on individuals achieving their potential as political and creative beings. Contributions from the audience reflected on the difficulties of working with other mainstream left organisations in movements ranging from Occupy to strikes.
In another talk two members of the Anarchist Federation showed a film called Why Women Travel which they had made to highlight the issue of the lack of abortion in Ireland. In the film Irish women were given the opportunity to explain how difficult and expensive it is to find out about abortion services abroad from Ireland and the obstacles faced in accessing these services. The AF have made the film to encourage people to take part in protests against the lack of abortion in Ireland and also to offer practical support (such as accommodation) to the women once they come to England. Although I think that it is good that people are organising to support a very vulnerable group of women the bigger issue is the unresolved political situation in Ireland.
In the age of the internet it was good to see that the anarchists are still producing paper leaflets and zines and books. One that caught my eye was Footnotes issue four, produced by the Footprint Workers Co-operative in Leeds. They are printers and produce the occasional paper zine, as well as having their own website and Facebook page. They use these to share campaign updates from direct action groups including Corporate Watch who have produced information on the housing crisis and a Nuts and Bolts Guide to Banking and Finance.
Within issue four one of the footprinters, Claire, gives her account of being at Dale Farm when 86 Traveller families were evicted from their land. Although a co-operative, they came out on strike in solidarity with the striking public sector workers as they stated;
Public sector pay, job losses and pension cuts are one major and high profile battleground in the fight against Tories’ frontal attack on public services and the welfare state.
Spending a day at the anarchist bookfair I could see why they attract such a mixture of ages and people. It is a movement that does respond to the creativity that most people have within themselves. It does offer a more direct solution to some of the problems that young people face including homelessness, low pay and isolation. And at a time when more traditional organisations such as trade unions and the left are struggling to cope with the Con-Dem attacks it seems that the anarchists, to use an old adage, understand that the personal is political.
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