The Howard Zinn Book Fair

Yesterday I spend a few hours at the Howard Zinn Book Fair. It was a fascinating experience.

The first thing you notice is that the book fair is Right There. The tables are set up in a big room right next to the entrance to the college.  

The second thing you notice is your own bright-eyed, slightly glassy response to all the stimulation around you. See a friend. Talk to him? Yes, but also while browsing a table full of 1$ books on sale.

Have you heard of Bolerium Books? (Their motto: “Fighting commodity fetishism with commodity fetishism since 1981″) It’s a rare and antique book store run by a couple of communists. Mostly left wing historical pamphlets, posters, books, periodicals, etc.

I remember visiting the physical bookstore about a year ago. It felt … still. A memorial to a world gone by, a portal to understanding the stories behind the stories they teach you in history class. Rooted, as it were, in the past. The two high priests who run it a dying breed.

One might find a very different scene at the book fair. Chatting with Alexander Akin, a proprietor (and friend), I got his help rooting through his 1$ book pile. Argued about Eurocommunism with a former volunteer with the PKK, who was browsing for books on Lenin. Found a compilation of key articles from the jewish wing of the communist party of the 1950s. Exclaimed as I found another copy of Teamster Rebellion by Farrell Dobbs, perhaps the best and most exciting account of labor organizing in America I have ever found.

Then, whisked away to the Jacobin Magazine booth, I talked shop about the business of magazine publishing with Bhaskar Sukara, the founder. Spent some time learning about the history of the founding of Itsgoingdown Magazine. Picked up some more posters from the justseeds artists collective.

Not to mention all the juicy conversations I must have missed between different groups. For example: Indivisible SF had a booth across from the Democratic Socialists of America.  

I started the day with strict orders to myself that I didn’t need any new books. After all, I have a library full of ones I have yet to read, including from this very event last year.

So I only left with 10 or so.

What conclusions or observations can we take from the whole experience?

  1. The big left wing upsurge of November 2016 might be receding. Or at least isn’t compounding. There weren’t noticeably more tables this year, maybe less.
  2. The DSA presence, year of year, has vastly improved (last year, five of us on the organizing committee wandered around the book fair, this year, DSA members were running and speaking on panels).
  3. Things feel less… fringey. There were fewer tiny ultra-revolutionary sects than last year. But there was a booth from Rainbow Grocery Cooperative.

Maybe that old time religion of american radicalism isn’t dead after all. Maybe those priests keeping the flame alive will have a new generation to light a new torch off from it, after all.

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