A radical history zone?

Strangely, a few people have been frowning at us after the announcement of the Radical History Zone at this years Bristol anarchist bookfair.

They aren’t all anarchists we are told, some are even anti-anarchist; they do their own events it seems; and one plonker even wondered what history had to do with the bookfair! You just cant please some people can you?

electionBack in the mists of time, maybe 9 months ago, we were asked if we’d be interested in participating in a ‘radical publishers/history’ gathering that Bristol Radical History Group were considering. Seemed interesting to us. Things went a bit quiet, a general election was called, and many of us got on with doing our own things, which for us included proceeding with this years bookfair, whilst BRHG of course ran a series of events around the election. Around June the idea arose again, by which time we had Hamilton House provisionally booked, and there was a suggestion of the radical publishers/history event running simultaneously nearby (or even in the same venue…except we’d booked it all up). So heads were put together in a boozer we all tend to visit, an idea was hatched, a deal was made, and logic ensued – a Radical History Zone at this years bookfair, to include a designated stalls area, and a meeting space. BRHG have had autonomy to organise their meetings programme as they see fit, and invite stalls they think are worth having. In return they have donated towards bookfair costs, helped with publicity, and will help with set up etc.

We really dont see how anyone could have a problem with this? The first two bookfairs have seen us collaborate with Bristol Indymedia and Kebele social centre in particular, along with all the other groups/individuals who have contributed in some way including stalls & meetings at the event. We’ve asked endlessly for other people/groups to get involved and come up with ideas they are prepared to follow through, and thats what BRHG have done, ending up like Bristol Indymedia with their own autonomous space within the bookfair. We hope others will follow their examples next year, because believe us the bookfair takes a fair bit of effort! Maybe next year someone will come up with a Temporary Insurrectionary Zone? (obviously a permanent one is preferable).

As for not everyone being anarchists at the event, well come on! One of the points of the bookfair is to encourage in people new to radical alternatives, and to debate ideas and discuss opinions on events and why things are as they are now. There are many anarchist flags, and many self-styled anarchists, its a pretty broad bunch, far too broad and lacking in commonality some would say.

Crowbar - hard core Brixton based squatters mag in the 80's
Crowbar - hard core Brixton based squatters mag in the 80's

And there are anarchists involved in radical history, along with many others. Take Steve Hunt for example, who launches his own pamphlet ‘Anarchism in the Bristol and west country upto 1950’ at 3pm in the RHZ. Not the snappiest title so far, but he’s a radical historian, and an anarchist since the 1980’s, who also helps organise the bookfair. Or take the speaker from Past Tense Press, a former long-term squatter involved in one of south London’s longest running squatted centres, a mate of Albert Meltzer’s (RIP), a very busy activist with the Anarchist Black Cross in the late 1980’s and 90’s, who also helped pull off more than one major Reclaim the Streets event. He’d also being doing South London radical history since well before BRHG came about. Case rested we think.

rhz_posterHistory at the bookfair? Anyone looked at the stalls the last two years? Loaded with books and pamphlets and films that are about or based on our histories of struggles. Its worrying that so many newer, younger active people (anarchists and others), have no knowledge of even the most important social struggles and actions the last 30 years. History is a tool in our box of tricks. It helps us understand why shit is like it is. It helps us learn how & why the bosses and state operate and recuperate and maintain their control of us most of the time. It should help us learn from our own mistakes and those of others in the past…so we hopefully wont make them again. Above all radical history tells us, or perhaps reminds us when times are grim, that people, we, will always struggle and fight for a better world and life for ourselves and others. It tells us about many events and happenings that are otherwise kept from us, or rewritten for us in ways designed to keep us down where we are.

So here’s the full Radical History Zone programme below, or downloadable here as a pdf rhz_programme We definitely think it adds to this years bookfair.

RHZ stalls
Bloom n Curll Bookshop; Breviary Stuff Publications; Bristol Radical History Group; Just Seeds (New York); Living Easton; Long John Silver Trust & Fiducia; Northern Voices (Northern anarchist network); Past Tense Press; Richard Hart; Tangent Books.

RHZ Meetings & Workshops

11 – 12.00noon: ‘Every Cook Can Govern’: From Athens to the Electoral Lottery
by Dan Bennett (BRHG)
Cheerleaders for parliamentary democracy often hark back to semi-legendary ‘golden ages’ as a foundation of the modern electoral process. Do these myths have any basis in reality & what relevance do they have today? Bennett uncovers the hidden history of Athenian popular democracy and proposes a modern alternative.

12 -1: Doing Radical History
by Lord Twankum and Bristol Radical History Group
The recent resurgence in ‘doing radical history’ includes researching, writing and speaking to provocative recreations, media stunts and interventions in civic debates. South London Radical History group were pioneers in this process, and with our own Bristol ‘mob’ will survey the ideas and experiences of the ‘new wave’.

1 – 2: Directional Discourse and Counter-History
by John Desmond
Desmond’s concept of directional discourse might interest radical historians for two reasons. It incorporates the two concepts of ascending discourse and counter-history. And it produced the challenge: ‘Is undertaking counter-history preferable to undertaking radical history?’, which he will only have time to float.

2 – 3: Do It Yourself Publishing
by Richard Jones (Tangent Books), Randall Brantley (Bristol Radical Pamphleteer), Alex (Past Tense Press), Paul Mangan (Breviary Stuff Publications)
Panel of experienced independent publishers discusses the ins and outs of producing history texts from short-run reprinting, running a small publishing outfit to the revival of the ‘radical history pamphlet’. So if you want to knock stuff out come and find out how to ‘do it yourself’.

3 – 4: Pamphlet Launch: ‘Anarchism in Bristol and the West Country to 1950’
by Steve Hunt (BRHG)
Hunt looks at home-grown anarchism, with its roots in a tradition of West Country radicalism. Many colourful and inspiring characters believing in ‘The Cause’ were here. So let’s put on our black cloaks and wide-brimmed flowerpot hats and wander down to the coffeehouses of 1880s Bristol to see who was around.

4 – 5: ‘Drowning on Dry Land’: Swansea’s Jack Kerouac
by Ray Jones (author of ‘Drowning on Dry Land’), with an intro by Ian Bone
From working-class Wales through drugs, gambling and prison to punk, Paris fashion houses and San Francisco’s underground. Jones, editor of the notorious ‘Roughler’ magazine, recounts his surreal life. If chatting up Marianne Faithfull and rat arsing it with Keith Moon & Joe Strummer takes your fancy, then Ray’s yer man.

5 – 6: ‘The Atmosphere of Heaven’: Dr. Beddoes and revolutionary Bristol
by Mike Jay (author of ‘The Atmosphere of Heaven: The Unnatural Experiments of Dr Beddoes and his Sons of Genius’)
Beddoes (1760-1808), fervent humanitarian & chemist, was inspired by the heady ideals of the French Revolution and the wonders of Nitrous Oxide gas. In Bristol he gathered a dazzling circle of like-minded artists & scientists, who created a grand vision of providing free healthcare to the poor of the south-west.

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