Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the second Melbourne Anarchist Bookfair.
The bookfair featured nearly forty stalls and some twenty one workshops. It drew a diverse range of individuals identifying as Anarchist, and plenty who did not.
I am absolutely thankful to the organising collective for putting on such an excellent event, and I hope to be able to support the future events by the collective.
UPDATE: Posted 8-August-2012
NOTE: The original post is the non-italisized text above and below this section.
It is clear in light of the criticism I have recieved from people I respect that I need to revisit, review and reconsider my remarks, in particular those about the ‘Decolonisation’ session.
Broadly speaking, there have been three kinds of response to three aspects of my original post.
The first was to the fact that I had dared write a critical review. The responses were generally ad hominem in their nature, and some appear to have been posted before the poster had even read the post in question. These kinds of remarks focused on my apparent arrogance, the supposedly unhelpful or unproductive nature of my writing, and the apparent disrespect I’ve show the organisers of the bookfair.
I do not consider such responses credible, for the reasons I put forward here on a previous thread.
It is clear that a small group of people reading this blog have taken a personal dislike to my remarks on ideas and groups dear to their heart. Being unable to disentangle political disagreement and personal affront, they respond to my presence with an almost hilarious venom.
I’ve come to expect a response along those lines, hence the joke about “denunciation bingo” and the less than welcoming introduction to the Comments Policy on this website.
However, in hindsight it is clear that my less than welcoming tone served to scare off or alienate people who would otherwise have put forward the comradely criticism that I actively seek. It is Lia’s remark in particular that makes me regret taking such an abrasive approach:
I’m a bit hesitant to comment here because I’m not sure either of us is going to get much out of this, but hey.
The second area of response concerned my remarks about “lifestylist trendies”. I would like to thank those comrades, Leigh M in particular, who pulled me up for my inappropriate remarks about clothing.
I stand by the remark “the real disappointment in these two sessions was that the large number of anti-organisationalists and life-stylists present at the bookfair decided not to participate”. The post-left vision of anarchism that many self described Anarchists embrace is obviously not something I agree with.
And this brings me to the ‘Decolonisation’ session.
I would like to thank Lia for her remarks as one of the organisers of the session.
Clearly, where I stated “I realised there was not going to be any opportunity to raise any kind of objection or contrary thought”, I had misunderstood the purpose and nature of the session.
The fact that I left the Decolonisation session has caused no end of negative comment, one person in particular posted “Kieran Bennett is a racist dickhead” no less than twelve times.
I now regret leaving the session. It is clear that I would be in a better position to explain what I find problematic, where I agree, and what I dispute, if I had stayed in the session and done a better job at listening.
I take the point made by Rebecca, Lia and others, that it is inappropriate of me to somehow expect Robbie Thorpe or any indigenous Australian to discuss the genocide of their people dispassionately.
My remarks about “white crimes” were not meant to indicate that I somehow believe there is no genocide against Australia’s first people, or that this issue should be dismissed. But I can see why some people have read them as such, and I apologise.
I take on board what Rebecca and others have said about the appropriateness of an indigenous speaker denouncing the crimes of colonisation to a predominantly white audience.
And upon reflection, I should know better. It seems my own assumptions and prejudices are not as well examined or dealt with as I sometimes like to think.
To those who offered comradely criticism despite my abrasiveness, thank you.
I only managed to attend four workshops, ‘Economic Collapse’, ‘Power and Capitalism’, ‘Introduction to Anarchism’ and ‘Decolonisation’, a comrade accompanying me to the bookfair also attended ‘Life after Capitalism’, ‘War on the Poor and Austerity Capitalism in Europe’ and ‘Indigenous Activism’.
The session ‘Economic Collapse’ was disappointing, even if it was interesting in what it revealed about the economic understandings some groups are advancing.
The host of the session presented a confidence and money supply centred explanation for the business cycle; damn that fractional banking! The talk then diverged into peak oil alarmism and pseudo mathematical explanations for why there was absolutely no hope of preventing the imminent collapse of civilization as we know it. Apparently we all have to sell our houses.
I would have loved the chance to inject some thoughts about the actual nature of the economic crisis, but unfortunately the breathless urgency of our peak oil enthusiast did not relent for the entirety of the session.
The comrade I was attending with attended the later session on the situation in southern Europe, and found the economic analysis much more rigorous.
The sessions ‘Power and Capitalism’ and ‘Intro to Anarchism’ were very productive.
‘Power and Capitalism’ saw an interesting discussion about what is an anarchist understanding of ‘Power’ and of ‘Capitalism’. Discussion centred around the questions: what is the relationship between the state and capitalism? Does capitalism occur within a state or market, or does it form an overarching world-system? Do states and the ruling class act in a manner determined by the economic system, do they show agency within capitalism? The tentative conclusions of this discussion might confound those who are only accustomed to dealing with a crude caricature of anarchist thought.
‘Intro to Anarchism’ actually drew in a range of people keen to learn more about what it was anarchists proposed! The discussion fell into the expected clichés, as new participants raised the usual objections about human nature, crime and the need for coercive authority to achieve organisation.
In these kinds of sessions, I like to focus more on what anarchists see as wrong about the present situation, and the prospects for changing it, before delving into the specifics of a hypothetical future. But of course the discussion in any brief Q & A has to respond to the questions of curious non-anarchists, and I was pleased to see the discussion go a bit beyond cursory answers to questions.
The real disappointment in these two sessions was that the large number of anti-organisationalists and lifestylists present at the bookfair decided not to participate.
The lifestylist trendies with their fashionably ripped clothing, badges and carefully cultured state of unwash, managed to spend the day pretending to be anarchists whilst carefully avoiding any exposure to actual anarchist ideas.
A comrade I met at the bookfair summed it up perfecting, “They’re anarcho-fashionalists!” [Retracted: See Apology at end of post].
And that brings me to the ‘decolonisation’ session.
I was looking forward to participating in this session. It would apparently focus on ‘what would decolonisation in Australia look like’, an idea that I had hoped to challenge. But it was not to be.
I’ve seen Robbie Thorpe present his talk “Australia is a crime scene” before and on youtube. It’s an odd, if interesting stream of different thoughts. Unfortunately Robbie utterly missed the mark in his presentation at the Melbourne Anarchist Bookfair. He decided to berate the audience. Heck, they’re white after all?!
As I saw Robbie get increasingly passionate in his denunciation of white crimes, I realised there was not going to be any opportunity to raise any kind of objection or contrary thought. I left the room. Many followed.
The comrade who accompanied my on this trip went to the later talk on Indigenous Activism. Unfortunately Gary Foley was unwell and unable to present, and Robbie Thorpe presented again. The two talks appear to have been much the same, both in content and tone.
Robbie’s talks seem entirely unplanned, almost stream of consciousness in their quality. I wonder if we simply caught him on a bad day. There is much that he presents that is worth discussing, there are several concepts that he advances that anarchists should challenge, and some things that are factually inaccurate.
Unfortunately the two workshops at which Robbie presented did not provide a safe space for this discussion. [Update: Having reviewed and reflected on these remarks in light of the criticism of comrades I respect, I now consider the above remarks about the Decolonisation session mistaken].
I would be interested in hearing other participants thoughts on these sessions, and on the sessions I was unable to attend!
The Melbourne Anarchist Bookfair was representative of where Anarchism in Australia is at the moment. Anarchism is a tiny milieu, with only the most basic level of development and organisation.
The explicitly anarchist groups in Melbourne have memberships in the tens, they constitute a small core that is committed to the anti-capitalist class struggle focus of Anarchism.
Unfortunately most self-described anarchists do not appear to be involved in any type of anarchist organisation, and appear to remain committed to explicitly anti-organisationalist thinking and lifestylist practice.
The bookfair is a very important step in changing this.
For the first time in a number of years, a great many of those who call themselves anarchists in Melbourne are getting together in a largely neutral setting, and having the discussions that I hope lead to more defined politics and a growth in anarchist organisation.
I am already looking forward to next year!
Apology: I should not have generalised about the politics of crusties. To every crusty at MABF who’s political practice extends beyond lifestylism, I apologise.
Over Determined Contradiction:
A Marxist goes to an Anarchist Bookfair (link broken).
Slackbastard: Melbourne Anarchist Bookfair 2012 (Review)
Melbourne IWW: Melbourne Anarchist Bookfair: Report back from Indigenous Workshop