I went to London on Saturday for the Anarchist Bookfair which was again held at Queen Mary, University of London on Mile End Road. My first bookfair was in 2003 and I haven’t missed one yet, though this year I didn’t get there till about 3pm. Normally I spend most of the day wandering around the stalls and chatting or watching the cabaret but this year I went to a couple of meetings which I will briefly report on.
At 4pm Steve Ash of the London Anarchist Forum (LAF) introduced a session called “A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum”. The LAF used to meet regularly and the first meeting I attended was in 2004 at Conway Hall when Ron Heisler gave a fascinating talk entitled “Has the Anarchist Movement Been Infiltrated By Freemasonry?”. After that I was a regular attendee but numbers declined and the forum has been essentially dormant for a couple of years (though there has been some activity on an associated Facebook group). This meeting was intended to be a relaunch event but unfortunately it wasn’t well attended. Steve talked about his recent publication “Unstructured Anarchy”, which is basically a critique of The Tyranny of Structurelessness by Jo Freeman. There was good discussion amongst the few people present but I can’t see it leading to a LAF revival (I would like to be proved wrong on that).
I stayed in the same room for a 5pm session with Paul Cudenec who who gave a talk based on the themes that inspired his booklet “We Anarchangels of Creative Destruction”. He started out talking about “traditional values”. As you might expect, these are not the so called “traditional values” that Tories typically harp on about, things like empire, nationalism, respect for the church, the monarchy, money etc. He was talking about much older and more universal, natural, human, and “spiritual” values that can be found in pagan folklore, gnostic scriptures and indigenous wisdom. He talked a lot about Perennial Philosophy, which (according to Wikipedia) is “the notion of the universal recurrence of philosophical insight independent of epoch or culture, including universal truths on the nature of reality, humanity or consciousness (anthropological universals)”. He argued that these “universal” values are similar to those of collectivist anarchists and that anarchists would benefit from less hostility towards spirituality. He also argued that we each need to follow what is essentially a spiritual path to rid ourselves of ego and then come back down to earth to effect change. This lead to his second thread, which was that the “system” is now so broken and power so entrenched that it can not be reformed but must essentially be destroyed to make way for the new (which many anarchists would accept). He mentioned the ancient Upanishads which tell of a gradual descent from the Golden Age (Satya Yuga) to the Dark Age (Kali Yuga), which will end in destruction, followed by the dawning of a new Satya Yuga. Hence the anarchangels of creative destruction. Lively debate ensued.
After these two meetings it was nice to get outside, where a 19 strong French anarchist brass band called Les Judas were still rocking out. When they finished their set I got on my bike and headed back to Kings Cross, stopping briefly at Freedom Bookshop where people were starting to arrive for the traditional post-bookfair gathering. Despite missing most of the day it was still well worth the trip to London and I expect I will be back again next year.