Libertarian Alliance asked to leave anarchist bookfair

The Hypocritical Alliance

This years Anarchist Bookfair was a great success, with the usual crowds of people visiting a wide range of stalls and meetings (at times I thought a bigger venue may be required!). The organisers should be congratulated in organising such a well attended event and in getting famous non-anarchist radical speakers like Michael Albert and John Pilger along to widen its appeal and get more people interested in anarchism.

One event has provoked some debate since though, namely the asking of Nigel Meek of the (so-called) "Libertarian Alliance" (LA) to leave. This action provoked US individualist anarchist Kevin Carson to compare anarchists to the Nazis. He reported on Meek's "negative experiences at the Anarchist Bookfair" and quotes one anarchist commenting (on the libcom forums) of another "harassing the capitalist Libertarian Alliance folks until they ran away." He concludes that "having a range of anarchist opinion that runs the entire spectrum from A to B is just hunky-dory. I don't guess 'joe public' is at all 'sensitive' to a bunch of self-proclaimed lovers of freedom acting like brownshirts."

Clearly Meek did not bother to inform Carson that the LA member simply turned up and took a stall. Neither he nor his organisation submitted a form requesting a stall, instead he came along to an event other people organised and paid for and simply took a resource over. This is ironic, given his ideology. For those who do not know, right-wing "libertarians" are against "the initiation of force" (such as taxes, stealing and fraud). This, of course, is a wonderful ideology for the owning class - now they have monopolised wealth (with the aid of extensive force), they can turn round and say that any attempt to expropriate their wealth (and so end their power) is "immoral."

What has this to do with the events of the bookfair? Simply that it exposes that dogma's hypocrisy. Meek "initiated force" on others and stole resources from them (i.e. they did not contribute to the event by helping to pay for it). Moreover, a strong case can also be made the organisation also commits fraud, as their wholehearted support for capitalist hierarchy is hardly compatible with genuinely libertarian ideas (and, as such, anyone who thinks they have anything to do with anarchism is a total liability to the movement).

In other words, he contradicted his own stated principles. Hardly surprising, for the LA are capitalists after all.

What is surprising is that normally sensible people like Kevin Carson comparing anarchists to members of the SA. He should know better and, at least, get the full facts. Is it acceptable for someone to simply turn up at an event others spend months organising uninvited and not contribute to paying for it? Does he think that those who do organise it should simply tolerate this activity? Is asking people to leave an event they parasitically exploiting the same as Nazism? Does anarchism involve tolerating non-anarchists simply turning up uninvited at anarchist events and taking resources they did not contribute to provide?

Ultimately, this boils down to freedom of association. This implies the freedom not to associate and so asking gate-crashers to leave is hardly infringing on their liberty, particularly if the event is one organised by anarchists, for the purpose of spreading anarchist ideas. At least the Leninists had the decency to set-up stall outside. If the LA had done that, then they would have been left alone -- just like the trots. Similarly, members of the LA were free to attend meetings and make their contributions along with the rest of the attendees, including Leninists. They are also free to organise their own bookfairs and events.

Freedom also means the freedom to criticise others verbally (what some may consider "harassment" if vigorous enough) and so an anarchist giving capitalists a verbal bollocking is part of freedom. As such, freedom does not mean biting your tongue when confronted by a group whose aim is to appropriate "libertarian" to describe various forms of private tyrannies and power (as has, unfortunately, already happened in the US). Or does freedom mean anarchists having an opinion, but not expressing it?

As the anarchist in question said on Kevin's blog, "I did not 'harass' him in any way, and merely expressed my (polite) disgust that a pro-capitalist group should have a place at the London Anarchist Bookfair. As an individualist I assume that he had no problem with me expressing my individual opinion. I believe that a short time later the Bookfair organisers realised that Meek had not actually booked a table, and ousted him..." How this means that anarchists are acting like Brownshirts is lost on me.

When I pointed out the reason why the LA left the bookfair, Kevin said that "to the extent that the dispute was over legitimate access rights to a vacant stall, I agree that the SA allusion was over the top and retract it." However, the issue "was about the presence of the Libertarian Alliance, period." And they should not have been there, as they are not libertarians but rather apologists for capitalist power and hierarchy. Anarchism is not, logically and historically, compatible with capitalism.

Anyone can, of course, call themselves an "anarchist" or "libertarian" but it does not make it true -- nor does it mean we have to tolerate it without protest. We must not let "libertarian" go the same way in the UK as it has in the US (where it means "free market" capitalist exclusively). The bookfair is about providing anarchists and other libertarians a forum, not their enemies. Long may it stay so!

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