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Vendors, Shoppers and Anti-Capitalists: Reflections on the Victoria Anarchist Bookfair

Blog posts are the work of individual contributors, reflecting their thoughts, opinions and research.
Vic Bookfair // dp
Vic Bookfair // dp
(non-vegan) found art, stretch limo near the Vic Bookfair // dp
(non-vegan) found art, stretch limo near the Vic Bookfair // dp

Last weekend I went to the sixth annual Victoria Anarchist Bookfair, and spent a good part of the weekend there observing the goings on around me. 

I was tabling for the VMC along with a couple other folks from Vancouver. Other than sitting at the table, I spent some time "doing laps" around the hall. Here's a shortened summary of what I consider one of the primary interactions between people (especially between strangers) at the bookfair:

Shopper X approaches table. Looks at books.

"Hey, let me know if you need help with anything," says Vendor X.

"Ok, thanks," says Shopper X.

Then later, perhaps:

"Uh, how much is this one," asks Shopper X.


At this point money and merchandise may or may not change hands.

Some tablers might make money off of this. Many don't. Don't get me wrong: the Victoria Bookfair was super well organized and there was a good steady crowd throughout the sunny weekend. Regardless, and this is certainly not specific to any one bookfair in particular, market relations involving money constitute the dominant form of interaction in the main hall.

There was also many workshops throughout the weekend, which were great. But their format was kind of modelled after a public school classroom, in which the presenter addresses a crowd, probably goes over time so there's no discussion, and everyone splits. Saved by the bell.

Again, allow me to repeat: Victoria Anarchist Bookfair went off without a hitch. 

But it left me wondering why anti-authoritarians and anarchists would allow the marketplace to dominate the common space that we shared over the weekend. Why do we gather to reproduce the same kinds of market based exchanges that are at the rotten heart of daily life under capitalism?

This critique doesn't stem from the fact that I prefer to borrow my reading material from libraries, or that I'm broke. I mean, both of those things are true, but having money at a bookfair doesn't change anything fundamentally, it just shifts the terms of the buyer/seller exchange.

I think an unprecedented number of people are on board with the idea that it is past time to smash that kind of relationship.

Imagine that a bookfair could be a space for assembly, a forum for extended, meaningful discussion, a place to learn and share with folks from around the region face to face. A bookfair where the market is not at the centre of our gathering space, and where other possibilities for gathering and exchange are explored. 

Well, maybe that kind of gathering would be called something else entirely, and bookfairs shall be bookfairs. The idea here is simply to share something that's been on my mind for the past few days. 

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Great reflection. I've always

Great reflection. I've always felt a bit uncomfortable that the one weekend in a year that is sort of reclaimed from capitialism, is still full of it. That said, there's certianly vendors at the bookfair that allow or even encourage the barter system, which can work well as long as you produce or have things that are valued.


I felt this too there. A lot of great energy around workshops, child-care, sharing food and so on; though everything was still centred around selling books. Book-share maybe one day?

Are markets really so bad?

Capitalist ones certainly are, but selling books a prices that compensate for sellers' labor and expenses doesn't strike me as especially capitalistic.

Maybe someone should just set up a kiosk where folks can just download all these books for only a small fee. Perhaps a Xerox would work better for the luddites. ::shrug::

Good with the Bad

This was the 2nd bookfair I've ever attended; (the previous one being Hamilton,) and I was excited to see a comrade all the way from Toronto setting up his table, not to mention the hundreds of local-area anarchists I finally got to patch-in with, in a venue that was highly accessible - even to the mildly curious.

I understand the misgivings about folks paying for books, but in context? So many connections were made, information about struggles related, and decidedly non-monetary things going on. Half the workshops I attended were deliberately set up in a 'speaking circle' fashion, and the chance to meet up with so many people is part of building up our strength - so that we can get beyond the cash barrier for one. So many of these same people strive to put these books in libraries, in prisoner hands, and as .pdf's online so that there is free access.

But a bound-book still costs money to produce, and until it don't, as has been noted above, I don't grudge anyone for putting forward their time, crossing the continent, and asking to recoup the costs of putting out fantastic literature.

That wil be great !!!

I think what Dawn said is very thrue and express the feelings of many of us about bookfairs.

''Imagine that a bookfair could be a space for assembly, a forum for extended, meaningful discussion, a place to learn and share with folks from around the region face to face. A bookfair where the market is not at the centre of our gathering space, and where other possibilities for gathering and exchange are explored. 

Well, maybe that kind of gathering would be called something else entirely, and bookfairs shall be bookfairs. The idea here is simply to share something that's been on my mind for the past few days.''

That will be great !!!

Community groups

I was at the table next to yours, Dawn. Like most of the other community groups at the bookfair, had nothing to sell, we just gave away free info. We were there not to make money, but to make connections.

For the vendors, the fair provides a unique opportunity to make new connections with publishers, writers, and distributors. Meeting people in person is the best way to forge real relationships. All those vendors have a job to do and they do it well. 

I've been invited to join the collective again next year, and I agree that the workshops and discussions may be the best part of the weekend for community members. Promoting those events will be a big priority.

If you have any concrete suggestions for how to improve the bookfair, I would be glad to hear them. You have my email address. Thank you.

More than just merch

As someone who has attended a few bookfairs in the last couple years, it is my opinion that the highlights and significant happenings that occur during the bookfair happen largely outside of the realm of property exchange, ie; laying in the grass discussing plans for fall, impromptu games of soccer, planting guerilla gardens, pooling money for a nights entertainment, camping out in parks, bon fires on the beach, and generally somewhat like-minded people from various geographies and backgrounds coming together to celebrate a culture and way of life often oppressed during the regular grunt of modern life.

That being said, I agree that more time to explore issues and strategies in non-hierarchical assemblies would be a great addition, and I look forward to working to make that happen with others for next year. A sort of anarchist street council to look for concrete ways for us to address our immediate concerns and struggles, assuming we actually have any.

For me, organizing an

For me, organizing an anarchist bookfair is all about giving back to the community I am a part of and faciliating its growth and development.  The VABF supports the work of independent anti-authoritarian publishers (CrimeThink Inc.; AK; PM; Little Black Cart; and Kersplebedeb come to mind), organizations like VIPIRG, infoshops (fyi we donated books to one that is starting up in the Kooteneys), indy distros, not-for-profit bookstores such as Camas Books (Victoria), and local activist organizations such as Forest Action Network.

 "Sales" also help sustain radical spaces and authors: Sparatcus Books, 12th and Clark, and Warrior Publications are regular and welcome participants.  I have no problem with people buying books, pamphlets, t-shirts, etc. from these projects and supporting them in that way. 

Keep in mind that books and information also build cultures of resistance. Where you see a hall full of market relations, I see something else entirely--perhaps a creative work being acknowledged, perhaps a new idea for social change being clarified, perhaps a connection being made or the start of a future action being hatched. For example, our 2009 bookfair focussed on anti-Olympics organizing: that encompassed videos, books, t-shirts, pamphets, and other activist items for sale at the tables as well as educational awareness workshops, informal organizing, and affinity building. 

Every year, many tablers give workshops--'for free': and later, a workshop participant might purchase something from these tablers--engaging in a monetary exchange by choice and for reasons that have nothing to do with capitalist values.

The Anti-Capitalist Bottom Line:

Behind the scenes, for months before our bookfair and workshops happen, organizers contribute their time, energy and funds towards making the VABF happen.  And making it happen includes renting a hall, printing and putting up posters, organizing housing for speakers and tablers from out of town, providing travel funds for Indigenous speakers and tablers, preparing lunches for hungry vendors (this year the salmon for the sandwiches which we prepared was donated by a local Indigenous activist), arranging child-minding for the kids, shipping and storage logistics for tablers and presenters from out-of-town, printing the venue zine, and so forth.  The entire bookfair is shot through with these anti-capitalist, non-commodifying aspects. In fact, it couldn't happen without them.

We exist in a world where our values can only be partially prefigured, pending their fullest realization. VABF organizers and participants (authors, creators, facilitators, publishers and tablers) come together to strenghten their struggles by subverting capitalist values, just like the Vancouver Media Co-Op does every time a collective member purchases another high tech item to faciliate your project.


thanks folks

it's super nice to see a discussion happening around this.

just to clarify, as stated above, "Blog posts are the work of individual contributors, reflecting their thoughts, opinions and research."

above is one person's opinion not a collective position.


I was also disappointed that

I was also disappointed that this year's bookfair didn't end capitalism. 


Maybe next year. 

context, focus & anarchist tension

I feel that it is important to keep this all in context. By that I mean that the Victoria Anarchist Bookfair is only one of many anarchist gatherings that occur every year in Vic. Earlier this year for example anti-poverty activists (many of which were anarchists) organized an amazing conference called Cracks In The Concrete, which had a somewhat different structure. Likewise there is also the wonderful Wild Earth gatherings where I have met great people and learned a ton. Even just this week coming up there is Earthfest, a event up at the university that has been infiltrated by anarcho-subversive types to try and pull it in a more radical direction. On a slightly smaller scale, there is events in Victoria almost every week that are anarchist, and offer many formats, many venues, and many opportunities for us to gather, meet, share and organize together. and there is the numerous events that are not specifically anarchist but where many anarchists participate or organize.

Beyond this, there is spaces like Camas Books and Black Raven records that exist to facilitate community building and face to face meeting. Spaces where you can simply come hang out and meet others, and choose your own level of involvement. As well as the numerous projects that people can be involved in that are ongoing such as the local chapter of Food Not Bombs.

I don't mean to dismiss your feedback, (I do appreciate it! thanks) I just feel that framed in a more holistic context that the anarchist bookfair is only one possible space of many and thus any shortcomings that a bookfair structure may present are addressed through the hundreds of other events and gatherings throught the year.


I also feel there is a question of choice of focus. By that I mean there was a lot of other stuff going on hardly mentioned here. There was a whole week of other events, a kids space, the tons of workshops, and so on that all created opportunities for face to face interaction and community building. As well as the music nights, poetry night, story night, etc. Also as Zoe mentioned above there was a huge amount of free tables that were giving away info and simply there to have conversations with folks. One was even a local organic farmer that was giving away free veggies all saturday! And tons of people took advantage of the great weather and hung out in the grass the entire time creating another space where ideas were exchanged and people met one another that had nothing to do with a "market." This plus the tons of workshops.

I am understanding your article as a reflection of your individual experience at the bookfair, which it sounds like for you it was dominated by the 'market' and the 'exchange. I dearly hope that if you attend in the future you will take advantage of the rest of the spaces and events. Thank you for sharing your experience. If you have suggestions for how we can create spaces at future bookfairs that highlight and prioritize the types of interactions you favor, please do feel free to let us know.


Lastly I would like to point to the tension that anarchism exists in, as we live in a capitalist world, & in a constant tension with it. In that type of space we have certain barriers to navigate. How do you bring 2000 people together, many from out of town, and prioritize the voices of people who may have additional barriers to their attendance while covering the basic costs to do so? The bookfair takes a lot of the year to organize, and there are many invisible costs associated with doing so. We as a collective work to find ways to negotiate those real expenses while trying to be as ethical as possible and at every available opportunity put any funds we need to spend entirely back into the community. We do many fundraisers to make it as free as possible come the actual event, and often we as individuals absorb some of those costs as well when the fundraising doesn't match up to the needs a gathering of this magnitude requires.
A bookfair is only one model of organizing a radical gathering, but it is one that seeks to address this with a practical answer not based entirely on funding from some outside source. For any possible shortcomings of the model I feel there is so much positive potential and we do work consciously to try and include a diversity of voices and to create a diversity of spaces for them to be shared in. The rest is up to you, the participants.

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