This is a by email interview Andrew did with Black Άκυροι from from Thessaloniki Greece in April 2015 about the Dublin anarchist bookfair, squatting & policing in Ireland, Syriza and horizontalism. At the end you will find a link for the interview as published.
Part 1 - The Dublin Anarchist bookfair
Q: When (and why: its purpose) did the Anarchist Book Fair first start?
The first Dublin anarchist bookfair took place around 2004/5 at the end of a period of sudden but sustained growth in interest in anarchism in Ireland. This peaked in 2004 with a huge anarchist organised demonstration agains the 2004 EU summit that took place in Dublin.
A few of us had been in the habit of going over each October to London for the London anarchist bookfair and we realised a similar event could be a way of both retaining a lot of the people who had become interested in anarchism and providing an easy entry point for new people.
Those are its twin purposes. It’s a space for those who have been active to meet up and renew friendships and networks, even if perhaps they activity now is very low. In some cases the bookfair is the only occasion we will see such people,
And on the other hand if people have had no contact with the movement but are curious than the bookfair provides a very easy entry point for them. They can wander in, looks at the stalls, perhaps go to a meeting and chat with a few people. In that process there are therefore more likely to become more involved and also more likely to self-identity as anarchists.
Q: Who took the initiative to organize it?
The Dublin branch of the Workers Solidarity Movement. We have organised every bookfair since but we do so on a very broad inclusive basis that seeks to involve not only other anarchists but also feminist, anti-racist, environmental and international solidarity organisations. It’s also open to the broader left and left republican movements who want to orient themselves towards the anarchist milieu. For those reasons its by far the biggest radical left convention type even in Ireland each year.
Q: Where does it take place?
It takes place in central Dublin. It grew from a small beginning in a church owned community centre to a number of other larger venues. In fact the limit on it is the lack of availability of large venues with the sort of multiple spaces required for bookstalls and meeting rooms in central Dublin.
Q: What does the Book Fair include? What kind of events take place in it? What kind of books are usually included? Are the prices cheaper than the market pricest?
We organise 12-15 distinct meetings at the bookfair each year. These cover a range of issues, along the lines of the sort of organisations who attend that we have already described. Some of these meetings take the format of a lecture but many are workshop based where there is a high level of participation by whoever attends guided by facilitators.
What books are present and what prices they are sold for will be determined by the organisations that have stalls at the bookfair. We don’t try and micro manage that, once an organisation has been given a stall we don’t involve ourselves in its stocking or pricing decisions. As there are no racial bookshops of note in Ireland the stock will go very much beyond what people could normally access without shopping online.
Q: Is it popular? Among who?
Attendance in recent years has been around 800 people which is many times the size of the active anarchist movement. Actually at this moment when the formal movement in Dublin is at the lowest ebb in a decade we can say the attendance is perhaps 25 times the membership of the formal & informal organisations. So I would say that yes this indicates it is popular.
The who is much harder to answer. As already discussed people who have been active in the anarchist movement certainly, but they would make up no more that 20% perhaps. Then people on the general left, republican left, feminist, anti-racist and environmental movements. Perhaps that would bring us to 50% of the total. The other 50% are people more or less new to such movements who has seen the bookfair advertised online and via posters.
Q: What were this year’s main themes and events?
The specific list of meetings is at www.wsm.ie/bookfair There wasn’t really a theme beyond current struggles & issues effecting the movement in Ireland but the sessions with the largest attendance were those on the upcoming referendum on Marriage Equality from A Queer perspective, an anarchist analysis of the revolution in Rojava and a discussion about the upsurge in squatting in Dublin.
Second article - About the anarchist movement in Ireland
Q: Are there many anarchist groups and assemblies in Ireland? In which cities (mainly) ?
There are few. The anarchist movement in Ireland was historically weak to non-existent, apart from fragments it had no continuous existence until the 1980s and really until 2000 it was only a dozen people in a couple of organisations on the whole island.
From 2000 to 2006 it went through a period of rapid growth, perhaps by 2006 there were more than 100 members of groups, projects and collectives, 2/3 of them in the WSM which had 5 branches at that point. But then from 2007 to the current time most of those people stopped being actively involved so that today there is really only ongoing activity in Dublin and Belfast with a little sporadic activity in Cork, Derry and starting up again in Galway. Perhaps there are 40 people who are active members of ongoing projects now, with maybe 60-70% of them being involved around the WSM. And the existence and activity level is much lower per person that it was at the highpoint.
In terms of groups we have mentioned the WSM already but also there was Organise, Seomra Spraoi, Revolutionary Anarchist Feminist Group and Solidarity Books all of which no longer exist. Some of the people around Organise set up the Belfast local of the UK IWA section Solidarity Federation and some of those around Seomra Spraoi recently set up a new squatted social centre called The Barricade Inn. There has also been the emergence of a loose informal group of insurrectionalist squatters although so far they are mostly a friendship/affinity group without much specific political activity outside of squatting.
Q: What are their usual actions? (events, marches, riots etc) Do they focus their attention and actions in specific subjects, like social or labour issues or are they more theoritical?
Riots apart from sectarian riots between catholics and protestants in northern Ireland are very rare, certainly not a regular political activity that can be said to have a progressive content. Some of the organisation listed were projects to maintain / create social centres (Seomra, Solidarity Books, Barricade Inn) and RAG was mostly a publishing project.
WSM is in the platforms / especificst model of organising which means it involves itself in broad struggles, unions etc at the same time as producing more ideological and anarchist agitation material, meetings etc. In the current period the struggle against the introduction of water charges has been very important as this has resulted in a very large scale and diverse community based mobilisation. In the period before that pro-choice organising was very strong and before that union organising against the crisis. In general the focus is determined by what struggles are happening in society with anarchists going into those struggles rather than trying to insist that other ones are more important.
Q: How many squats (approx.) are there in Ireland? How does the state deal with them? (evictions, police oppression?) Is the society supportive of them?
Until recently there was no sustained squatting anywhere in Ireland. In the last three years there has been the emergence of a small organised movement that has managed to hold spaces for reasonable periods of time. But that movement is very small, perhaps in Dublin at this moment we are talking of 3-5 buildings and 30-60 people living in them.
Because the crisis in Ireland was very centred around property speculation it created the conditions for this growth. Enormous falls in property value and the subsequent bankruptcy of many speculators meant that no one had a strong short term interest in the buildings squatted. They were waiting for recovery and the rise in the value of the land and buildings again to make the legal or other costs of evicting squatters worthwhile.
The legal situation and police practise was very hostile to squatting, it was routine that police forced would be used to intimidate people out of occupying a building soon as the police were aware they were present. The other reason for the emergence of more sustained squatting at this moment was that an initially small group of people decided to challenge this situation through both fully informing themselves of the law so they could argue with the police and through creating a network of people willing to turn up when a threat was evicted.
It’s my opinion however that the brief opening created by the crisis and these new tactics will be closed soon. Rent and property costs are soaring and the speculators are returning which will greatly increase their incentive to move against squatters fast. In that context its very likely that the Garda will be ordered to step up their hostility towards squatting, to date they have not really taken it seriously enough to make any real attempts to evict by force. The key question will be whether the movement that has developed will be anything like popular enough to resist these twin threats.
Central to this will be how supportive society is of squatting. The first encounters at a very large squat under eviction in Grangegorman in Dublin have been quite positive with many other people in the area including some small businesses expressing public support for the squatters. However the specific circumstances of internal division among the residents of that squat means it is likely it will be evicted in the next days without significant resistance. So an actual test is yet to come, I suspect it will not be that far away.
Q: Are there LGBTQI groups that participate in anarchist groups and squats? Is the LGBTQI movement strong in Ireland?One consequence of the success of the struggle for marriage equality - it will probably be overwhelming passed by referendum in a few days - is that the LGBTQI movement is massive but also quite mainstream. Pride in Dublin is enormous, of similar scale to the St Patricks day Parade but also now very commercial and depoliticised.
There are some attempts at building more radical Queer movements (with Queer generally being the self-description that is used to indicate a deeper criticism of the heteronormative politics of assimilation) but to date these attempts have been informal or short lived. It may be in the aftermath of the referendum that this will change but as with other areas of radical politics the low number of people with a high level of commitment makes sustaining movements difficult.
Q: How is the behavior of Garda against the protesters?
In comparison with other European countries the police here are not very political. In the south they are not equipped with riot guns, tear gas or water cannon and only a small number have proper riot training and equipment. This is because political riots are very rare in the south so they have little need for such equipment or for large numbers trained to use it.
Outside of certain marginalised sections, in particular Irish Travellers (a traditionally nomadic ethnic group) and areas of high multi generational unemployment the general experience of policing for most people was based on community consent to be policed. This is not an uncommon post colonial experiencel where the anti-colonial struggle creates a false impression that what was bad in the old society is a thing of the past now that ‘we’ are in charge. After the expulsion of British rule from the south those who won the civil war were clever enough to demilitarise and depoliticise the new police force constructed once stability had been imposed.
However with the emergence of the widespread community movement against water charges this has shifted for those at the core of that movement. A regular activity sees residents mobilise to stand in the way of workers trying to install water meters outside their houses and the police have been deployed in large numbers to physically remove these residents. This has meant many people are exposed to non consensual political policing for the first time. The ‘real’ role of the police is exposed and many are quite shocked by that role.
Likewise the larger demonstrations of that movement often involve some struggle with police at particular points, of a sort that elsewhere in Europe would probably become a riot but the lack of weaponry on both sides means instead its a shouting, shoving & hitting match. If and when the crisis ends it remains to be seen whether these changes in practise and perception will be entrenched or fade into memory. I suspect the latter as from the point of view of government and police commanders the consensual system is very much more effective at maintaining social control at a low cost and avoiding the inevitable radicalistion that comes from sustained active police repression of popular movements.
And finally three questions "inspired" by your articles:
1. In the article you wrote right before Syriza’s victory in the Greek elections, on the 25th of January, you mentioned that there are three possible scenarios for Syriza’s faith: the implementation of a hard force with a coup d’ etat, a soft force with market “terrorism”, or Syriza’s retreat from its initial political plans. Do you still find those possible, or have you excluded one/some of them?
I am wary of the arrogance of telling a Greek publication how things are developing in Greece. But from what I know I think the first route of a coup looks not very likely now because a combination of the other two forces of market terrorism and Syria’s retreat will probably deliver enough for international and domestic capital to be satisfied. Yes I would say I think that question is largely going to be determined by the level of resistance in Greece to the Syriza capitulation and Syrizas reaction to that in turn. And that is a question for you rather then me!
2. In your opinion, should the attitude of the anarchic movement towards a government differ if this government is (supposedly) of the “radical” left?
I think its useful to acknowledge certain differences, notably that many of those politicians are not yet of the super cynical say what they can to get into power type. And to present their retreats as not so much based on them lying in the first place but on a certain naiveté on what the markets would allow and how real this ‘democracy’ we live on is. So yes I’d certainly say our message should not sound identical to what you might have written about PASOAK for instance.
But beyond that our criticism was never simply of individuals or parties selling out, lying or being corrupt. It is of the parliamentary system of representation. And that criticism applies even more when a radical left government is in power trying to use that system in a way opposite to its design. In that regard we must be louder rather than quieter so that the reasons for failure or understood not as a consequence of selling out the struggle but of the wrong road being chosen.
3. In your article “An anarchist critique of horizontalism”, where you are taking as examples three cases of big modern social movements (the Argentina uprising in 2001, the Occupy movement in 2011, and the Gezi Park in 2013), you are more or less rejecting their dynamics, for their participators have no "common vision". Don’t you think that the mere participation of people - who might have never experienced similar conditions before- may help them develop a new form of conscience?
That article was one of a pair, the second, Turnips, Hammers and the Square critiqued the more traditional left concept of how revolution emerges. Probably on its own that first one seems overly one sided.
The other side of that argument is indeed the question as to whether and in my opinion when the horizontalist movements will give birth to new sustained ways of organising that overcome the short comings we have seen. The challenge at the moment is to take the best of the old experiences of the anarchist movement and the new experiences of horizontalism to anticipate and perhaps act as mid wife towards that painful and difficult birth, speeding its progress and increasing the chances of success. Theory will have some role to play in this but the iteration of practises informed by understand each iteration will be essential.
WORDS: Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )
I'm generally happy to do 'by email' interviews if I'm sent clear questions like the above.