Sheffield Anarchist Bookfair, or, why anarchism needs to sort itsfuckingself out.

Trigger warning: discusses misogyny, transmisogyny, rape apologism, Julian Assange, physical harassment.

Yesterday (Saturday 12th July), I attended Sheffield Anarchist Bookfair. It’s a notably smaller affair that its big sibling London Bookfair, but still appeared to have plenty to offer: films, stalls, and workshops on everything from arrest avoidance to WW1. Notable absences from the day were events on feminism, trans* rights, POC struggles, disability activism, queer identities, and the struggles of parents and carers. It seems, yet again, that anarchists seem to have forgotten who really feels the brunt of ‘class war’.

I avoided the morning’s sessions after the presence of a member of a trotskyist group known for its abuse apologism was present, instead I left, smoked a tonne of cigarettes and had a pint of cider in the sunshine. I cannot vouch for anything that happened before about 2pm, and I’m not going to pretend to.

However, at 2pm I attended a Plan C meeting ‘What would a popular left look like?’ – as I’m known for my ‘divisive’ ‘intersectional’ politics (a label I actually don’t give myself after a number of black feminist writers pointed our how frequently white, racist feminists appropriate the label), I thought I’d go along to see if anywhere at all the constant sidelining of survivors, women (especially trans and of colour) and sex workers might be in any way blamed for the failure of ‘the left’; the mythical monolithic revolutionary entity. Naturally, that wasn’t discussed.

I raised that perhaps a reason why ‘the left’ fails to be popular (both in terms of public opinion and size) is because left organisations are rife with abuse- from SWP, to SP, to AWL (yep, I named you. So sue me). When these abuses are raised, those raising them are dismissed as divisive ‘creeping feminists’ time after time after time. Huge numbers of people are not safe to organise within our mythical monolithic revolutionary left. This was dismissed, with one person telling me we *should* work with SWP, because they helped chip in for someone’s bail. Apparently, in this person’s mind, SWP could literally buy away rape.

I rebutted that perhaps that’s alright for some, especially men, as they’re not the ones likely to be raped, abused and assaulted at the hands of ‘comrades’. If we need a ‘popular’ left- our first step should be to make it safe for the oppressed people already at the point of ‘revolutionary’ politics. This suggestion, apparently, is ‘violent no platforming’.

One man, a friend of Ciaron O’reilly called me and my ‘type’ ‘violent intersectional feminists’ – claiming that we ‘violently attacked’ Ciaron, who is just a valiant defender of Wikileaks (read: Julian Assange) at last year’s London Anarchist Bookfair in October. There was no violent attack on Ciaron, however, Ciaron and his friends were responsible for a number of horrific, oppressive acts. At one point, transmisogynistic abuse was shouted at a trans woman, calling her ‘a man in a dress’, ‘free hugs’ were given out to people read as trans women so that they could be felt and figured out whether they were ‘actual’ women (read: cis). At one feminist workshop, they arrived drunk with cans of lager and when asked to leave because their actions could clearly be intimidating and triggering, childish cries of THIS ISN’T ANARCHISM, WE HAVE NO MASTER, YOU CAN’T TELL US WHAT TO DO and banging on walls spewed from their fucking shitty mouths. I might add, just so you’re certain of the type, V masks and whitelocks were involved.

When I questioned Ciaron’s friend on these actions, there was no response: just eye-rolling, sniggering and sighing from the older man contingent of the room. At that point I said if we’re serious about anti-hierarchical organising, we must challenge hierarchies within our own communities, *especially* when those actions endanger and abuse trans women. Then, another older man piped up ‘WE’RE NOT ALL ANARCHISTS YOU KNOW’ – no, but you’re at an *anarchist bookfair*, the clue is kind of in the name, and perhaps you should have sympathies with anarchist organising, or just not be there. At this point the chair interrupted, told me that if this was the conversation he’d wanted to have, he’d read it on the internet. Apparently, one can’t read about ‘left’ figures like Owen Jones or Russell Brand on the internet.

Further to this event, some of the literature placed on the stalls was astonishingly bigoted. Stickers reading ‘Religion is stupid’, ‘Religion is silly’ and ‘Fairy tales are for children, it’s time to grow up!’ scattered the stalls, with one white man attending a stall even wearing the latter as a t-shirt. This is racism. This is white ‘enlightenment’. This is white men knowing better. These are, apparently, the same white men who believe in an international revolutionary movement. I’m not sure how they’re going to work with, well, the majority of the world who are non-atheist/agnostic if their response to religion is simply ‘you’re stupid, grow up’. How are we making anarchist spaces accessible for Muslim activists who are targeted by communities, the police and the media as violent terrorists, paedophiles, and misogynists, if we’re just perpetuating these ideas?

The women’s library was also a delight, with a Julie Bindel book right next to ‘Queering Anarchism’. Apparently, literature that advocates harassment of trans women, that denies their identities, their bodies, and their autonomy is allowed in an ‘anarchist’ space. Apparently the work of a woman who hates those who do not ‘choose’ their lesbianity, who are queer, or bisexual, or sex-worker is allowed in an ‘anarchist’ space. 

If the anarchist community of Britain is ever seriously going to have a strong, anarchist community that stands with and for the rights of the most oppressed, we’ve got a lot of work to do. Events without a comprehensive safer spaces are a joke- permitting racism, trans misogyny, abuse apologism and sexism in ‘anarchist’ spaces is not anarchist. It is a crass reproduction of all that we are supposed to fight against. We need a space where not ‘everyone’ is ‘equally’ welcome to participate, but spaces where oppressed groups can safely self-organise. Where women can organise without abusers hailed as heroes. Where non-binary, genderqueer and agender people can self-organise without being mis-pronouned and pushed into binaries. Where black communities can organise without whitewashing. Where communities of faith can organise without being labelled stupid and childish. Where disabled communities can organise without the steamrollering ahead of able bodied and or minded people. Where queer communities can organise without straight people crying that they *are* allies, and you’re too mean to Macklemore. Where sex workers can organise without being called sluts and whores and patronised by the middle class.

We need a space that prioritises the voices of the oppressed and isn’t afraid to tell the privileged to shut up and fuck off.  We need a zero-tolerance attitude towards oppressive behaviour, without being decried as an authoritarian circle jerk. We need, in short, actual anarchist spaces.

Until then, I’m out.