Police infiltrations & a trip to the 2010 London anarchist bookfair

Main hall and banners at London anarchist bookfairAnother October and it's another London anarchist book fair. It's the biggest event internationally of its kind with dozens of stalls and meetings and thousands of people going through the doors. Most years at least three groups travel over from Ireland for it, WSM, Rag and Organise! and both WSM and RAG use it to launch new issues of their respective magazines. I spent last weekend at the bookfair (perhaps the 8th London one I have attended) this blog is a mixture of notes taken at the time,some thoughts edited in afterwards and the news of a police infiltrator discovered in the moved in Britain.

I'm starting drafting this blog at Dublin airport, laden down with about 30kg of the Irish Anarchist Review 2. This is the new WSM magazine, we aim to have it out twice a year to conincideIt should be 34 kg but we were 7kg over weight so I crammed another 3 kg into my hand luggage and had to abandon 100. The excess baggage which would have cost 100 euro and still needed up to abandon 2kg didn't seem like a good use of resources at 2e per copy ( print cost 33c)

Such are the logistics of international travel, book fairs and the shift to the free distribution model. Printing 3000 copies of a magazine with the aim of doing mass distribution at the Dublin and London book fairs seems fine until you get to the point of how the hell do you get a pallet with 60 bundles on it to London. You don't is the answer, the surviving 15 of the 17 bundles we packed this morning will have to do, hopefully some of the other 4 WSM members traveling over will have picked up more.

I've been going to the London anarchist book fair since some point in the early 1990's when in used to be held in the Conway hall in Red Lion square.  It's long outgrown that venue but I'm nostalgic for that odd Victorian building and it's radical humanism shoved into a hidden square at the edge of the modern city. If you ever happen to find yourself in Holborn it's worth walking the five or so minutes from the Tube to have a peek inside if it's open. Back then it seemed impossibly huge but today the Dublin bookfair occupies more floorspace, something that was unimaginable in the 1990's when our biggest events might have attracted 60 people rather than the 800 to a 1000 or today.

The London book fair has moved at least a couple of times, this year as with the last few it has been in Queen Mary college in the east end. Location wise this is my least favourites of all the venues as the surrounding area is pretty sterile (Update- my fault for never really checking our where I actually way, see below). My favourite was the Holloway road venue mostly because just down the road was a giant Weatherspoons, the Cornet, in an old Edwardian cinema where the seating had been stripped out leaving a vast cavernous space with a bar running down the length of one side enough space in fact for 40 guest taps in addition to the standard beers that were sold. The last bookfair I was in 2006 when they had 40 half kegs of Halloween themed ales, by 5 in the afternoon thirsty book fair participants had drained everyone of them dry.

The previous year which i had missed the Cornet had been the scene of a mini riot when some dope had insisted on playing their boom box inside, the cops had been called and a small fraca had broken out on the pavement outside. This quickly passed into legend with people taking strident positions on one side or another mostly because it offered them an opportunity to moan.

There is generally some drama in the wings at every book fair. One year some daft 3rd positionist fascist thought it was a bright idea to take stroll through and took a beating for his foolishness. At one of my first book fairs I was part of a group that was trying to prevent an idiot author taking a beating at the bookfair from someone he had slandered. This year is no different, the Thursday night before the bookfair indymedia.uk published the news that it had been discovered that Mark Kennedy/Stone, a long time and central activist in the more Eco end of the movement, had been exposed as a secret policeman who had spent 9 or 10 years in deep cover. Bets are that he is from the Hairy Squad, a nickname for the section of the secret police who undertake such long term infiltration of the left. Last year another of them was exposed who had infiltrated the CWI and Youth Against Racism in Europe. This sort of thing has to be expected from time to time, after all we know the political police exist and we know part of what they do is infiltration so when you don't know who the infiltrator is you still have to assume they are there somewhere without becoming mad paranoid. In retrospect this guy seems a little obvious, lot of money with no particularly visible means of generating it but also seems to have made himself indispensable through having a van (and you always need someone with a van) and being a cool head in tense situations. That second thing being easy enough when you know your not facing a prison sentence or whatever should things go wrong.

I recognized his picture instantly although I can't quite place from where, I feel I probably saw him a few times. He stayed with people I know and was around at least a couple of things I was centrally involved in the organising of including the Mayday 2004 EU summit protest in Dublin. Curiously he was also down in Rossport at least once which raises some interesting questions about quite how much the Irish state and secret police were aware of this foreign agent on their soil. I'm guessing there must have been some international cop cooperation going on here through Interpol or something similar.

I'm now drafting this section of the blog on the flight to London, I'm sure I'll here some more details of just what was up with this guy over the next 36 hours. It's obvious from reading the indymedia thread that a number of those who he know him years are seriously wounded by the whole thing. There is however an inevitability about all this, if you are doing anything right than the state through the secret police will try and infiltrate and disrupt you and from time to time, as here, they are likely to succeed. In most cases paranoia about infiltration can do a lot more damage than the infiltration itself although this guy does seem to have managed to disrupt a couple of very significant actions.

Getting to London we spent our traditional first night in some London Irish pub that time forgot - I'm not quite sure why but this always seems to happen. This time it was one decked out with a huge volume of Celtic memorabilia as well as three cats and one dog. Much of the discussion was about the recent revelations and their implications.

Next morning it was off to the bookfair itself. We rapidly got the WSM stall set up beside RAG and I spent most of the rest of the day in 5 to 10 minutes 'what have you been up to for the last year' conversations. Apart from that I caught the very end of a meeting on the PIIGS and almost all of the meeting on rebuilding the workers movement, the notes I jotted down on what was being said at the time are below

Notes from Rebuilding the Workers movement meeting
This is just nots on what people were saying, its not a record of everything said and it doesn't indicate I necessarily agree with what was said. Some of the contribution are speakers disagreeing with each other.

- Looking at doing stuff around 2012, 1911 Liverpool strike, 1913 in Dublin to remind people of radical history that it wasn't always top down. Donnacha, Vice President of the National Union of Journalists, says there is likely to be massive strike in BBC with a dispute led by shop stewards in opposition to the stealing of pension funds.

- Shop Stewards Network - syndicalism has only really kicked off this year, it's been pretty riven the last couple of years with SP v SWP infighting with SWP setting up Right to Work campaign as a rival when they didn't get their way. Various libertarians are building a syndicalist faction as the alternative to this infighting.

- Want to do a membership audit of the SSN, 300 at AGM, want to build up activist base as opposed to lobbying for big demos. The syndicalists opposed the SWP call for general strike at steering group. SP supported SWP in vote. Syndicalists feel the need is to focus on building work that enables us to build power.

- Cuts and need to build base means there is a space that hasn't been there for a while in the unuons particularly with labour out of power.

- Shop Stewards need to look in two directions, one of which is radicalising rank and file. Slow can be dangerous as people being made unemployed. Unions committed to partnership for 20 years, SWP / SP right that Labour shift to left opens up opportunity.

- Need to listen as much as speak but need to undermine legality view of membership. Would be stupid of government to make strikes more illegal as there would be more illegal strikes.

- Three fronts of struggle, workplaces, community and co-ops.

- Thatcher brought riots back onto the street

- Spanish general strike didn't paralyze country need to look at French model, General Strike now would bring it the idea into disrepute, rank & file not looking for General Strike, can't be just created by activists shouting slogans.

- Unions making noise now as going to lose huge numbers of members by public sector layoffs.

- While the unions do support privatised workers but fail to do so when protection runs out after 3 years and lose members then, some of which can't afford tenner a month subs. Before the Great Unrest there was 20 or 30 tears of kept ideas fermenting that went into it including tradition of fighting back. Many places now don't even have union noticeboards.

- Need class struggle agitation to build audience for syndicalist ideas - workers have to be looking for answers

- Are we talking of building union membership or worker militancy?

- Fundamential problem is that people see these two as separate rather than part of the same process

- Issue is that some of Tory rhetoric about community management sounds OK it's just we know that they are lying. Labour Party responses are rubbish

- Lack of exchange of skills as part of formal conference process in a problem, too much about ideas.

- Training is the key, left parties too keen on standing out as left & radical, lack Labour Notes type stuff where workers will come together for training.

- Example of recent community invasion of council meeting in Stockport to stop baths being closed, but occupation ended once police called as most present had no experience of that sort of confrontation.

----

I found the discussion around the call for a general strike quite provoking.  On the one hand I'm quite familar with just how annoying the SWP can be with their calls for action of various sorts being rhetorical without much consideration of implementation.  On the other I think there was a failure to recognise how fast things change when there is an offensive of this scale from the bosses and as importantly how quickly demoralisation will set in unless there is succesful resistance.  In Ireland we quite rapidly moved to the situation where a national strike was not only realistic but actually happened even if just for one day and restricted to the public sector.  The problem, and it was talked about in this discussion that on its own even that is not enough as was demonstrated by the recent general strike in Spain.

As with the Dublin bookfair a lot of organisation and planning goes into the meetings. With the London bookfair the (over worked) organizers really only make rooms available, co-ordinate who gets which room when and then prepare a program that lists the meetings. They do organize a couple of big name meetings but otherwise this means quite a lot of the meetings tend to be poorly prepared for, little more than meandering chats about whatever the topic is. It's not true of all the meetings but its true of enough to mean that generally I don't bother trying to get to many of them.

We distributed the 800 copies of Irish Anarchist Review 2 that we had brought over along with dozens of back issues of our paper and issue 1 by four o'clock, well before the bookfair closed. We were not even particularly organised, I reckon if we got our act together next year 1500 would be a reasonable distribution target.

Post bookfair it was pints in the Weatherspoons, followed by a curry in Brick Lane (for some reason I never realised Brick Lane was right next to Freedom press in the 20 years I've been doing there. I blame a tendency to substitute the Tube for navigation, since I started to use the bus network thus summer I've been linking up all the islands that London used to be composed of). Then off to Freedom press for a last couple of cans before I headed home and a few brave souls headed off into the night in the search for a party that was supposedly underway in a squatted ex police station. I was informed the next day that by the time they found it all that was present was "three dead hippies and two sleeping dogs."

I spent the next day wandering around the Brick Lane and Cumberland Road flower markets in the morning, complete with a Bloody Mary in a market bar. I was last in Brick lane which squatting 20 years back in nearby Old Street. Back then it had a seriously dodgy vibe with stuff being sold out of the back of vans that was "so hot its burning me" and a regular National Front (fascist) paper sale. The NF were driven out by AFA in the 90's and (co-incidentally I presume) since then the area has seriously improved, perhaps a little too much. Now its all food stalls and the modern version of arts & crafts stalls (eg stylish t-shirts, lamp shades etc) although it still has the traditional stretch where people sell their junk on the pavement. The junk has also gone upmarket and a large percentage of the sellers are now Chinese. It's quite strange seeing a space quite as transformed between those two visits 20 years apart, where both the structure of the buildings and the purpose they are being put to is almost unchanged.

So another year and another bookfair under my belt. As with every year I come away wishing I'd had more time to talk to people, there were at least 3 people I had very brief conversations with thinking I'd meet them later but whom I missed. I'm also thinking I should spend some more time politically in London, its really not that far from Dublin and I could travel over a few times a year. Dublin of late is feeling a little small.

Comments

you know in some parts of

you know in some parts of london you're known at The Floodster, in other parts floodinsky?

Do us a summary and i can tell you how big dublin is

  


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