BASTARDized Anarchy: “What’s Left?” March 2007, MRR #286

What’s the latest, earth-shattering controversy in the Bay Area anarchist milieu? Is it a profound disagreement over an analysis of state power or a viable revolutionary strategy? Is it a weighty difference over what is appropriate day-to-day anarchist practice? Is it an intense dispute over how anarchists should respond to the war in Iraq or the erosion of civil liberties or police brutality in minority communities?

In your dreams!

The thing that’s got the knickers of local anarchos in a twist is that the Anarchist Bookfair Committee (ABC/BT), an autonomous part of the Bound Together bookstore, expanded the 2007 book fair from one Saturday in March to two days, the weekend of March 17th and 18th. Those who put on the BASTARD (Bay Area Students of Theory and Research & Development) Conference the Sunday after the usual Saturday book fair cried foul. The BASTARDs wrote an open letter charging that the ABC/BT had made the change without first consulting Bay Area anarchists who schedule their events around the book fair date, and the far-flung vendors who set up merchandise tables at the book fair. The BASTARD letter ended with “requests” that ABC/BT make their decision-making more transparent, consult with other local anarchists before changing the book fair, and allow vendors the option of signing up for one day instead of two.

Folks to the left of the Left here really are trying to keep a straight face.

After putting on the immensely successful Without Borders anarchist continental gathering in 1989, individuals from Bound Together decided to turn their newly acquired expertise into organizing an event in 1996 that became the annual Anarchist Bookfair. The book fair did so well, and attracted so many people to the Bay Area to attend, that other local anarchists jumped on the book fair’s coattails. For a while, there were Anarchist Coffee Houses, and about seven years ago the BASTARDs started doing their conferences. Presently, there’s a week’s worth of events scheduled around the book fair, and a few things need to be said about them.

First, none of the individuals or groups behind the non-book fair events ever asked or consulted with the book fair about scheduling or organizing their events. Second, while the ABC/BT folks were happy to see other anarchist-type events happen around their book fair, they neither officially endorsed nor worked on nor coordinated with any of those events. Finally, without exception, the other anarchist events never drew more than a fraction of the attendance of the book fair.

As for the organization of the book fair, the Anarchist Bookfair Committee has always been affiliated with the Bound Together bookstore, but never subject to it. The ABC is completely autonomous, which means it makes its own decisions independent of the bookstore. In fact, individuals can be members of the ABC and work on the book fair without being members of BT. That said, the ABC/BT never actively solicited outside participation or input. This self-containment and disinterest in matters outside the book fair raised the ire of non-anarchists when, in 2006, plans for the book fair coincided with the mass antiwar demonstrations scheduled by ANSWER in San Francisco on the anniversary of the start of the Iraq war. Efforts to have ABC/BT move the book fair so as not to conflict with the demo fell on deaf ears, and the book fair organizers were accused of divisiveness, sectarianism, and a desire to stick it to the Leninist asswipes behind ANSWER. Those criticisms have resurfaced this year because the book fair once again overlaps with ANSWER’s plans to sponsor their antiwar events on the exact same weekend in March.

To rephrase, those who regularly attend ABC/BT meetings work on the book fair. In turn, the ABC/BT adheres to the idea of workers’ control, that those who work on organizing the book fair have the right to make all the decisions concerning the book fair. At first blush, the BASTARD letter would seem to raise an equally valid, and frequently conflicting anarchist principle of workers’ control, that of community control. The ABC/BT anarchists are part of a larger Bay Area anarchist community, so the argument goes, and therefore should consult with and defer to that community in making decisions about the book fair.

Invoking some mythic, feel-good anarchist community does not make that community a reality however. Indeed, BASTARD’s own actions belie the existence of any community among Bay Area anarchists. Quick to insist that ABC/BT consult other anarchist “comrades” when BASTARD’s conference ox was gored by the decision to run the book fair for two days, BASTARD completely ignored the outrage of many in the anarchist “community” when they scheduled police snitch Bob Black to speak at their conference last year. Thus, BASTARD’s talk of anarchist comradeship and community is utter bullshit.

The other issue raised in the BASTARD letter, that ABC/BT failed to consult with vendors who set up tables at the book fair, is also equally bogus. It was the book fair vendors themselves, many of whom travel long distances to set up for a one-day event, who suggested making the book fair two days. Out of fifty-odd vendors, only two approached ABC/BT directly to voice concerns that a two-day book fair would cause them problems, and ABC/BT immediately accommodated their concerns. Oddly enough, even though the BASTARDs decry “uncritically embrac[ing] the development of anarchist shop keepers at the expense of other aspects of anarchist activity,” they go on to admit that their main conflict with a two-day book fair is that many members of the BASTARD organizing group are vendors at the book fair, as are many of the presenters at the conference. Were Marx witness to this bit of hypocrisy, he would correctly label the BASTARD mentality petit bourgeois in the extreme.

Finally, there’s the way in which BASTARD chose to address their differences with ABC/BT. A BASTARD representative attended a Bound Together bookstore collective meeting, instead of going directly to the Anarchist Bookfair Committee meeting. Then the representative BASTARD said that he would read their open letter out loud, but that he would only allow “clarifying questions” afterwards. This numbnuts insisted that, because BASTARD as a group was entirely ad hoc, it didn’t really exist, and that he was not really a representative of BASTARD, so he couldn’t talk to Bound Together, but only read the open letter written by a group that didn’t really exist. That went over as well as you might expect, and anarchists being anarchists, the Bound Together folks proceeded to rip the BASTARD rep a new asshole, after letting him read his letter, of course.

Not getting the response they’d hoped for from BT, the BASTARDs then posted their open letter all around the internet, thinking to elicit sympathetic outrage over ABC/BT’s book fair process and decision. That also didn’t work out quite as planned. By my admittedly subjective count, comments defending ABC/BT and attacking BASTARD have predominated in a rather feeble debate. A disturbing sideshow to the BASTARD internet campaign has been the expression of the usual conspiracy idiocy based on the charge that ABC/BT’s actions represent the triumph of shopkeeper anarchism.

According to the anarcho-conspiracy buffs in question, it was actually AK Press’s idea to extend the book fair to two days because AK Press has the most tables, merchandise and sales at the book fair. And, “as everyone knows,” AK Press secretly controls the BT book fair committee or the BT bookstore or both. AK Press is further derided as the Nike of anarchism whose monopolistic marketing practices drive other anarchist distributors like Left Bank out of business, and whose success depends on paying its collective members shit wages while not paying its authors at all.

These very well might be legitimate criticisms of AK Press’s business practices. Yet, in this context, they are used to bolster the idea that an ultra-capitalistic AK Press is manipulating its sock puppet Bound Together in a sinister conspiracy to maximize profits at the book fair at the expense of the much nobler pursuit of knowledge and discourse as epitomized by the BASTARD conference. Complete nonsense.

For their part, the BASTARDs insist that they won’t give in to this anarchist shopkeeper mentality and so will hold their conference on Sunday, March 18, come what may. Of course, that means that now the BASTARD conference is also in direct conflict with the ANSWER-sponsored antiwar demo, scheduled for Sunday in San Francisco. True to my hooligan tendencies, I do delight in seeing how well BASTARD’s idyllic anarchist community functions. I also gloat that the anarcho-dilettante who called my columns sectarian at last year’s book fair, and who I took to task a few columns ago, is one of the main BASTARDs denouncing “the rise of the age of the anarchist merchant” and conducting internet jihad against ABC/BT. A sterling example of the pot calling the kettle sectarian.

My greatest pleasure, though, comes from seeing how weak the controversy is, despite all of BASTARD’s efforts to the contrary. There’s not a whole lot of flaming outrage going on in various anarcho forums or IndyMedia or InfoShop about BASTARD’s po’ widdow conference getting trampled by that evil Bound Together/AK Press capitalist cabal. It’s truly a tempest in a teacup, perhaps because everybody else realizes that a two-day Anarchist Book Fair will neither conflict with ANSWER’s antiwar demo nor hurt the BASTARD conference. If anything, a two-day book fair will bring more people to town for the weekend, more people who can then participate in all three events at their leisure.

This should be a no-brainer.

Not that my former haunt, the ultraleft, doesn’t have its share of incredible assholes. Remind me sometime to talk about left communism’s drunken, venomous one-man-sect I affectionately call K-Squared. I attended two different years of the BASTARD conference. It’s a glorified, pseudo-academic circle-jerk in my estimation. I might get roped in to tabling for comrades at the Anarchist Bookfair again this year. There’s a lot more entertainment value at the book fair, but I don’t think I could handle more than a day of that lifestyle zoo. What the whole book fair brouhaha unfortunately points up is the oh-so-sad state of anarchism in this country.

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