Review: Melbourne Anarchist Bookfair 2013

I’m so late it’s embarassing.

Melbourne’s third annual Anarchist Bookfair went off at Abbotsford Convent, August 11.

The Melbourne Anarchist Bookfair is a fair representation of the state of anarchism in Melbourne. That’s not a ringing endorsement.

Jura Books were down from Sydney (thanks guys!), the Melbourne Anarchist Club brought their spread, and a couple of small zine distros had a diverse array of photocopied pamphlets. But if you were a tourist having a sticky beak, you might be left with the impression that anarchism had more to do with Sea Shepard, a rail tunnel, and reformist projects like Real Democracy Australia, than fighting capitalism. There were a few insurrectionists, some interesting queer literature, and self described “post modern anarchists” like Joe Toscano. It’s all a bit of a swamp.

The Good…

There were at least a couple of hundred people not normally engaged in the anarchist “scene” there, showing some kind of interest in alternative ideas.

The group I participate in had a stall! We had a bunch of interesting conversations with people about anarchism!

There was a bit of an interesting discussion in our workshop on strategy and tactics in the refugee movement in Australia. I am not sure we did it very well, but we tried to convey some of the concerns we have with the conservative approach of what is apparently the radical wing of the refugee campaign.

Liz of Renegade Activists gave an excellent presentation in the “Get it Together” panel (which I totally disagreed with, but that’s beside the point!). Discussion about organisation is critical if anarchism in Melbourne is to break out of it’s current stagnation.

The organising collective has continued with the strong Safer Spaces Policy adopted earlier this year for Camp Anarchy.

The organising collective recognised the problems of sexism in anarchism in Melbourne and continued with a policy of prioritising female voices in things like speaking lists.

The Bad…

This year was not as well promoted. Attendence was lower. A lot of people who did attend just happened to be at Abbotsford, more moved on for lentils than attended a workshop.Watch movie online The Transporter Refueled (2015)

The absense of a clear political understanding of anarchism in the organisation of the bookfair shows. For example, the panel I was on was lumped with the title “anarchism for everyone”. Sounds warm and fuzzy? But this idea of “anarchism can mean whatever you want it to mean” has been the gaping hole through which fascist arseholes like these have walked through in their attempts to lay claim to anarchism.

The decision making process behind what was represented and what was not, was flawed. Whilst they didn’t attend, the absense of a clear political understanding of anarchism saw the likes of the Henry Georgite Prosper Australia cleared to participate, seemingly because some members of that organisation consider themselves anarchists. On top of everything else that is wrong with Georgism, it is capitalist and statist.

The downright ugly.

For all the good intentions of the organising collective, to many who call themselves anarchist seem to believe that “anarchism” protects their right to be an arsehole.

All the good a policy of gender balance does, when the only woman on a panel is basically told to shut up and piss off by once of the first males called to speak (saw it in two sessions). Only one of the three sessions I made it to had gender balance on the panel.

I don’t blame the promising young anarchists who go off and join Socialist Alternative and alike. If the anarchist “scene” in Australia was how I judged anarchism, I would not be an anarchist.

I still think the Melbourne Anarchist Bookfair is a worthwhile endeavour. It is the only event that reaches people beyond what is presently anarchism in Melbourne. But still the challenge remains, to bring some anarchism along.

To build an anarchist movement in this country, as opposed to a small and nasty swamp, we need to bring a clear political understanding of anarchism to events like the Melbourne Anarchist Bookfair.


  1. i know the criticism of the anarchist and non-aligned left as an incoherent swamp is common. i have never been convinced that this is actually a problem. in fact i think the opposite is true. what a diverse community we are, with different experiences and interests! also just because mac and jura fly the big A flag doesnt mean they are more relevant to struggle. i.e is it more important to make sure everyone knows you’re an anarchist, or to just actually do stuff? obv we can do both (and i think doing both is ideal) BUT i just dont think priority #1 should be to make everyone know what our ideology is. for sure what i would like to see is more connection and collaboration between all those groups and i reckon thats what the bookfair provides opportunity for, and succeeds to some degree.

  2. Found a bunch of stuff in this review problematic…

    The notion that there was an “absence of a clear political understanding of anarchism” and it’s implication that ideological hegemony is a desirable thing is problematic. In contrast, I felt the diversity of anarchist ideological “tendencies” and tactics within the organising collective was super important and very healthy.

    To equate the act of running a workshop attempting to identify and discuss the diversity of tendencies within anarchism, with the reason why fascists attempt to claim anarchist language, is just silly.

    While I do agree that it is problematic that there were some speakers and facilitators of workshops who don’t identify as anarchists, I don’t believe this fact alone should exclude them from speaking. There was not a workshop on georgism, for example, each workshop was explicitly anarchist in it’s framing and facilitators of some of the workshops felt the inclusion of non-anarchist speakers and contributors was worthwhile. Needless to say, there were no fascists.

    Your review made no mention of the fantastic gender diverse, radical sex worker, women of colour and feminist zine distros that were present this year in contrast to the first two years. Nor did you mention the addition of a grievance collective and a dedicated grievance table and the amazing work by everyone involved in the grievance collective.

    The thing that most concerned me in this review is the notion that a few sexist pricks in workshops somehow represent the state of the “anarchist scene” in Australia. I know you know the gender politics of Marxist-Leninist/Tortskyist sects are far worse than the gender politics of the organising collective for the bookfair, so I don’t understand how you could empathise with anarchists who join them. Indeed, for every anarchist I know who’s joined one of the sects, I know ten who’ve left a sect for anarchism.

    To characterise anarchism in Australia as a small nasty swamp is belittling and disempowering. I’m not against critisism but that sentence was not critical, it was just offensive. The swamp may be small but it’s diversity shouldn’t be confused with inadequacy, nor it’s ideological and tactical diversity written off as ineffective in absence of the ideological and tactical unity favoured by the platformist tendency. It’s hegemonic to assert that platformism is the only worthwhile ideological and tactical pursuit within anarchism, which is the feeling I got after reading this review.


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