(un)Popular Culture: Anarchy, Cake and Myopia

Partisan lives up to its name at the gloriously conventional anarchist fair.

All fringe groups suffer from the same delusion. Freud argued that any collection of individuals has a self-destructive neurosis whereby their opponents are those who exist outside the group, but enemies are those who have disagreements of a more granular level within the group. This ‘narcissism of small differences’ is a plague that threatens progress, pitting people with very similar views against each other on seemingly minor academic discrepancies. The Manchester and Salford Anarchist Book Fair was far from immune this neurosis.

The actual stalls were refreshingly well stocked with knowledge. I snagged an excellent copy of William Morris’ essays in mint condish, and there were lots of interesting looking books on heroes of the Spanish Civil War or dissections of the finer points of Chomsky’s anarchism. There is an unavoidable sense of melancholy at this determined and near-constant state of nostalgia for a time when anarchists were watched and feared, rather than ignored. The steady rise of inequality and cross-generational division has left the anarchists in a spot of bother. Just as meaningful change looks like a real possibility a schism has emerged. It is easy to be opposed something when you have no more than a negligible chance of affecting change. But when faced with proposing any substantial redesign it is quite another thing.

This was exemplified by a minor altercation. One of the anarchists wasn’t following the rules, and was attempting to flip over one of the stalls. Refusing to comply with any instructions, regardless of how reasonable they were, he embodied the spirit of Satyagraha by taking up as much room as possible and trying to trip everyone up. When I asked someone who the agent provocateur was he replied ‘they think they’re anarchists, but they’re actually just fucking mental.’

I suppose this interaction was a good summary of the problems that beset the anarchists. A suitably slovenly man thrust his magazine into my hands with the cry ‘I’m a communist, but I’m not a Trotskyist!’, as if being a Trotskyist was worse than a capitalist dog. The Radical Birdwalk guide informed me that ‘the difference between bird watchers and twitchers is that twitchers are mental’.

Their goals may be principled and idealistic, but they are also principled and idealistic. It would be so easy to dismiss the anarchists. Looking round at a rag tag communion of lost souls it is nigh-on impossible to firmly believe that the future will be shaped by any of these people. Many of them were inarticulate, or focused on outmoded and utopia ideals, refusing to compromise in spite of the evidence, and unwilling to adapt their views to the changing world. But in a world lacking idealists they are something special. Surely there are lessons that can be learned by any DIY music organisation. Sadly to suggest anything would be to fall into the same trap that the anarchist groups have, as any rule essentially seems to end up meaning ‘everyone should do what I say’, which is not a particularly good basis for progression.

Aside from the more structural issues an anarchist book fair is an excellent place to spend a rainy afternoon. The selection of vegan cakes and hot beverages are second to none, and most people are friendly. The talks themselves were either long-winded and opaque, or informative. The discussion of Spy Cops, despite sounding like a shit reboot of Spykids, was a fantastic opportunity to consider problems for a movement, rather than the multitude of problems from within.

Anarchism. Come for the vegan spread, self-published zines, and to find out where to get your next pair of boots. Just try to avoid the politics.

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