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Bookfair herstory

Hanik Blackman recounts the origins and history of the London Anarchist Bookfair

The first London Anarchist Bookfair was held on 12 December 1981 in the (anarchist) Autonomy Centre in Wapping, East London. It skipped a year and has been held every year since 1983. In 1985, there were two.

The bookfair is currently the biggest and longest-running anarchist bookfair in the UK and has inspired many other bookfairs around the world.

The bookfair website states: ‘anarchy is pretty simple when you get down to it: human beings are at their very best when they are living free of authority, deciding things among themselves, rather than being ordered about. That’s what the word means – without government.’

Origin story

The London Anarchist Bookfair started with half a dozen stalls, no meetings and, according to its own website, ‘hardly anyone turned up’. This year, the 37th bookfair had dozens of stalls, 55 meetings and over 2,000 participants.

The idea for the bookfair came from anarchist groups who had had stalls at the now-deceased Socialist Bookfair. A Distribution, Freedom Press and Housmans Bookshop had found the Socialist Bookfair (organised by the Socialist Workers’ Party) too expensive and boring. So, together with others, they decided to organise their own event.

The support of the anarcho-pacifist punk band Crass was important in the early years.

After 16 years, the bookfair outgrew Conway Hall in central London. Since 2001, it has been at many venues including the Camden Centre in central London; Queen Mary University, east London; and, most recently, Park View School in Haringey, in north-east London.

There are speakers and meetings on nearly every topic an anarchist might wish for. This year, meetings covered ‘The Lucas Plan’, ‘Was My Friend a Spycop?’, ‘Free Everything’, ‘The Russian Revolution from Below’, ‘Class & Campaigning’, ‘Brandalism’, and more.

Peace News held two workshops: ‘Nonviolent Revolution’ and ‘Not Just Kronstadt’.

During the Bookfair there are various stalls selling books by radical and anarchist publishers, for example AK Press and Housmans. Other stalls promote organisations, campaigns and causes such as Peace News. There are films, music, and stand up comics throughout the day, along with the crèche and the older kids’ space.

There have been problems in other years. After the 2005 bookfair, a small dispute escalated in a venue outside the building, leading to a large police presence and the cordoning-off of Holloway Road. According to Indymedia UK, seven arrests were made.

Editorial note: In five articles ([1], [2], [3], [4], [5]), Peace News is documenting the free speech conflict at this year’s (2017) London Anarchist Bookfair. The origins of the Anarchist Bookfair are briefly recounted above, and the issues concerning free speech are the subject of this issue's editorial here.