Montreal - there's a lulling predictability to anarcho demonstrations, and last Saturday's march through Montreal's tony Westmount neighbourhood as part of the fourth annual Anarchist Bookfair was no exception.However varied the music du jour, chances are some Beastie Boys will grace at least one or two intervals between political chants: "Our backs are now against the wall / Listen all of y'all / it's a sabotage.' And you can always count on the incredulity of gaping observers who seem unsure about how to gauge the passing malcontents, some of whom have a penchant for minor vandalism and one of whom thinks to serenade a police van with his banjo.
One resident standing on the porch of his parents' three story Westmount home watches the parade with skepticism. "They just seem really angry. Angry and bitter," says Nick Yanovich, a student at the University of Western Ontario who also says he feels unduly targeted. "I'm really environmentally friendly. I give money to PETA," he says, pronouncing the acronym "pet-ah." It's unlikely Yanovich's social conscience would win much praise from the march's organizers, who staged the demo as a reminder of "class domination.' Or to put it another way, as one organizer does, "They are rich because we are poor.'
I'm a little queasy tagging along on this odyssey, especially when we come to a halt in front of a sturdy fenced-off building at the heart of Westmount. "This,' announces a woman with a megaphone, "is where the rich send their children!' The private school for girls, called the Study, seems deserted and benign in the evening light, but its mere existence earns some heavy boos from the crowd. I look around nervously, worried the crowd will unmask me as a four-year Toronto private school attendee and dole out a little public retribution. But we surge on from the school. My hypocrisy undetected, I'm free to attend the book show the next day.
The march ends quietly without the expected rash of arrests, and with predictable triumphant praise from organizers: "I think a few more people [in Westmount] are a little more scared tonight," announces a man via megaphone, "and that's a fucking good thing." I haven't seen much fear on the faces of the onlookers gathered on their lawns, some with beers in hand, to watch the passing dissidents, but perhaps they are now mulling in terror over their alleged vulnerability.
The second-largest gathering of radical booksellers in North America, the fair is organized by an ever-changing leaderless collective of anarchists. The driving force is Montreal's CLAC, or Anti-Capitalist Convergence, an anti-parliamentary group that helped mobilize thousands of demonstrators during the anti-FTAA protest in Quebec City. CLAC has since worked on refugee and immigration issues ("No one is illegal") and Palestinian rights, often gracing the pages of Canadian dailies thanks to CLAC member Jaggi Singh's bewildering media popularity.
"Revolution requires organization,' announces one of the pamphlets littering the tables crowded into a building on Delisle Street, the fair's home for a day. Anarchist opposition to authoritarian governments drives the spirit of revolt that's often painted by critics as a devotion to violence. But compared to the carnage perpetrated in the name of other political or economic theories such as communism, free enterprise or fascism, anarchism's history is appealingly less lethal. Of course, that history is much sparser, with just a few experiments: the Paris Commune of 1870, a few Spanish cities in the 1930s.
My personal regard for anarchism has been fuelled by a look at former devotees like Henry David Thoreau, William Blake and George Orwell. As I wander the aisles at the Bookfair, I'm not seeking political conversion -- just looking for a good read. The beauty of a radical book fair is the boundless opportunity to undo years of miseducation. Perhaps if more ex-private-school brats eager to unlearn their education rummaged through works by Mikhail Bakunin, Emma Goldman and Ward Churchill and oodles of zines and mags, it would be harder for critics to dismiss anarchism as marginal.
At one point during the festivities, I end up in a friend's apartment near St. Catherine Street, leafing through a zine titled Fuck Gender. I hadn't realized until then that some people, in support of transgenders and transsexuals, are suggesting we weed out the use of gender-specific pronouns like "he' and "she.' The zine offers alternatives such as, "Question: What time is Mike coming over? Answer: I don't know. Ze didn't say." It's a surprising dash of knowledge, and I doubt aloud whether the new grammar will catch on. But maybe it will. Stranger things - like the exploding number of followers tagging behind a fringe philosophy that preaches against leaders - have happened.