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(en) Canada, montreal alternative bookshop responds to boycott

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Tue, 18 Nov 2003 17:17:46 +0100 (CET)


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From: alternative-A-dojo.tao.ca To: a-infos-en@ainfos.ca
Recently the problems of the Librairie Alternative Bookshop have become a
point of discussion in the Montreal anarchist community. Until now, there
has been very little official response from the bookshop collective. This is
our attempt to join a dialogue that would hopefully resolve the current
tensions. This is a complex situation with a long history and there are a
range of perspectives and interpretations of it. The building was bought in
the 1980's in order to secure a location for the bookshop, which has existed
for over 30 years, something that despite all the messiness, we are quite
proud of. The AEELI (Association d’Espece d’Espace Libre et Imaginaire—the
collective that owns and maintains the building) has been badly split for
ideological reasons since its origin. Although, due to the split in the
AEELI, over the past few years, the responsibility of maintaining the
building has fallen largely on the shoulders of the two AEELI members who are
also members of the bookshop, we reject the suggestion that this means the
Bookshop has been privatized. During this time the day-to-day business of
running the AEELI (dealing with rent paying tenants, paying the bills,
renovating and repairing this old building) has been carried out by the two
AEELI members in the bookshop collective, not by choice or in some attempt
to "privatize" the building, but because the rest of the AEELI either never
responded to calls for general assemblies, or actively boycotted anything to
do with the functioning of the AEELI.

The bookshop collective is made up of 15 members, out of whom only 2 are
members of the AEELI. The Bookshop is a non-hierarchical collective that
operates on consensus, and the Bookshop members are certainly not lackeys
working under the two AEELI "bosses." In fact, one of the reasons we rejected
the La Sociale proposal (see attached) is that it might create a situation
where the Bookshop collective would have to work under bosses, thus
undermining our collective autonomy.

Due to the fluid nature of the membership at the bookshop, few current
members were even around when incidents leading up to the present conflict
occurred. But the current members do wish to be accountable, and we are
striving for transparency and better process. We have also formed a new
outreach committee to better network with the larger community, anarchist and
non-anarchist alike, as we believe anarchism is only relevant if it is
engaged in social struggles of real people.

Over the years the bookshop collective has had its ups and downs, and has
struggled at points. We are a volunteer project, and like most other
volunteer run projects, we are always limited by the amount of time that
volunteers are able or willing to put into the project. However, the
anarchist milieu in Montreal has been steadily growing and it is our
intention to grow with it. For the last year or so, we have been
consistently open 6 days a week. Recently we moved from our marginal second
floor location to the ground floor, and this has significantly increased our
sales and opened up our bookshop to those who were previously intimidated by
the stairs or unable to walk up the stairs. There is now also an activist
internet radio station that broadcasts every day from our front window.

It is also true that the bookshop has had a lack of Francophone
participation and a terrible selection of books in French, though the latter
was often a result of circumstances beyond our control (e.g. difficulty in
obtaining French language books in terms of price, distributors’ terms, our
being in North America). We acknowledge that these problems do exist, and
are taking steps to overcome them. But there was certainly never an active
attempt to limit our selection of French books.

As well, the bookshop has excluded some people from our project in the
past. Some of these decisions were right, some of them may have been wrong.
We have been accused of being exclusive in terms of who we let into our
project. But we have never rejected any interested person on grounds that
they speak French. We recognize the bookshop collective is predominantly
Anglophone, and we’re taking steps to rectify this problem. In addition, we
are moving towards a policy of multilingualism and diversity. Not only do we
want to increase Francophone participation and the selection of French books
in the bookshop, we are also seeking participation from a wider range of
communities in struggle as well as literature on a broader range of anti-
authoritarian and anti-capitalist struggles. Our vision is to have a
bookshop where all the different tendencies within anarchism are represented,
although this is made difficult sometimes by that fact that not all
tendencies are willing to work with each other. But we also reserve the
right to reject individuals based on their personal practices and whether or
not they would work well with our current collective, even if they are
anarchists. We are an autonomous collective, and we retain the right to
decide who is and who isn't a member of our collective. This is a very basic
anarchist principle.

Until now, both sides of the conflict have taken a very adversarial
approach, leading to an escalation in the conflict and splits in the
anarchist scene that could divert energy from concrete struggles for a long
time to come. But it doesn't surprise us. The whole fiasco has scarcely
been about dialogue. It is about power. The bookshop is finally functioning
better. The mortgage is a couple years away from being paid off. Some
members of the AEELI are owed money by the AEELI and likely want to ensure
that their investment will be paid off. There are two other floors of the
building above the bookshop, that for stupid financial reasons are occupied
by non-anarchist projects. The building, badly taken care of throughout its
entire existence, is old and in need of much work, and finally there are
people around who care about it and are slowly building the knowledge, skills
and contacts needed to fix it.

We have recently been criticized for our rejection of the La Sociale proposal
(see as follows). Though we genuinely want to develop a stronger working
relationship with the co-signers of the proposal, we could not accept the
proposal’s heavy-handed rhetoric and the way it was presented. We were
attacked for not being "real anarchists," with the assumption that the
coalition behind the proposal were. The criticisms resembled the sectarian
attitude that has long plagued the left, with groups calling each other names
just because they don’t fully share in the others’ vision. In addition,
there was hardly any attempt at dialogue with the bookshop before we were
presented with a take-it-or-leave-it proposal which would have involved the
wholesale reorganization of our project and would have placed the bookshop in
the hands of a group of people with no previous involvement with the
bookshop. Our fundamental autonomy was at stake.

After we rejected the proposal, we attempted to start a dialogue with some of
the groups in the coalition to discuss their grievances and the possibility
of working together. We only contacted two of the groups at first, with the
idea that we could contact the other groups one by one in order to avoid
another disastrous meeting like the one on August 5, where 80 people were
tripping and screaming at each other because there was no space for
dialogue. Unfortunately, our initial attempts at engaging groups within the
coalition were perceived as an attempt to divide the coalition.

This whole dispute is a perfect example of the problems inherent in opening
up the control of the building to the entire anarchist community. We heard
of various ideas for change, including bringing in an anarchist printing
press, providing free space to anarchists groups, and having a bookshop that
would only carry capital A anarchist literature. Although we would love to
share the building with other anarchist groups, the reality is that due to
the mortgage on the building and other expenses, non-anarchist tenants had to
be brought in to ensure the building is not put at risk. We also reject the
idea of a bookshop that has only a strict selection of capital A anarchist
literature, as we believe anarchism should be brought beyond the confines of
a narrow anarchist milieu, and to do that we need literature that would speak
to people involved in a range of different struggles and movements. However,
we are still open to dialogue with different

anarchists in Montreal. And we would like a speedy resolution to the
current conflict because the boycott is already hurting the bookshop, and if
we lose the building, everyone loses.

What happened this summer is that people with certain legitimate grievances
began mobilizing against the bookshop using questionable pressure tactics and
heavy polemics, making it difficult for us to even engage them in any
meaningful dialogue. If the bookshop appeared slow in responding to
criticisms, it is because the day-to-day running of the bookshop is already a
demanding task, and opinions diverge even within the bookshop collective as
to where to go with the project and how to deal with the conflict. The
conflict was exacerbated by poor communication between the bookshop and its
detractors and unfortunate power-politicking. We genuinely regret the
failure to develop a better-connected bookshop. We have the double aim of
supporting a burgeoning anarchist movement and also spreading anarchist ideas
beyond the anarchist scene, and to do this we need the participation of
activist groups, community groups, and anarchist publishers/distributors
alike.

We have continued our internal work of making our collective structure more
adequate at addressing the informal hierarchies and lack of transparency at
the bookshop. We have started doing book trades with a distro in France,
which will help us expand our selection of pertinent and affordable French
books. We have also struck an outreach committee to focus on the ever needed
work of networking and outreach in our communities.

Rather than factionalizing, we would like to work with other anarchists to
fight the common enemies (capitalism, authoritarianism, racism, sexism,
homophobia and all other forms of oppression). We are still open for a
dialogue, as always. We welcome new input from anarchists, activists, and
people at large as to how this split can be healed. We especially welcome
the Anarchist Kiosk, because any work on the distribution of anarchist
materials in Montreal is good work.

We hope that we can all come up with a better solution than waiting for one
side to give up, because the bookshop and the tired old building at 2033 Blvd
St-Laurent are going to be around a lot longer than any of us.

THE "LA SOCIALE PROPOSAL":

ABOUT THE SITUATION: OSBL/ALTERNATIVE BOOKSTORE

This short text is addressed to the collectives,
organizations and individuals that are directly
interested in the distribution in Montreal of
libertarian/anarchist texts, books, periodicals etc.
and of radical critique in the broadest sense. This
text will try, briefly, to shed light on the
OSBL/Alternative Bookstore (AB) saga and the ways that
we see for getting out of the present situation in
favour of better distribution.

In three short points:

1 We will introduce ourselves, for those who don't
know La Social/CDL or for those who are unaware of or
who misrepresent our activities, simply with the goal
of clarifying our interest in any future distribution
project.

2 We will draw up our short assessment of the OSBL/AB.

3 We will present a few ideas that could resolve the
present impasse and which, for us, constitute the
framework for participation in the process that may
follow.

First we should add that our desire to be as clear as
possible will perhaps rub some people the wrong way,
but that we are not aiming to have any kind of trial
or ad hominem accusations against anyone. Again we
will point out that if we assume certain
responsibility for the present situation in
distribution, we believe that it is now possible to
move on "for the greater good of the movement" [« dans
les intérêts supérieurs du mouvement »] as was said in
earlier times...

Finally, let it be clear that we are not aiming for
any kind of hegemony in a prospective distribution
project, and that this modest contribution is just
that, one contribution... all of us can do as much to
widen the debate and add to the concrete proposals to
come.

LA SOCIALE/CDL (Centre de Diffusion Libertaire)
[Libertarian Distribution Centre]

Here we refer you to our short presentation text in
our catalogue (annex 1), which in a few words situates
us and our activity since the end of the 1970s.
Currently, we distribute in a modest way, we must
admit (either by mail, catalogue, booktable sales,
bookfair and bookstore drop-offs.) the following
publishers: Spartacus, Nuits Rouges, Ab Irato,
Insomniaque, Senonevero, Belles Émotions, Etcetera as
well as specific titles, magazines and brochures and
our own publications. Our catalogue thus exactly
reflects what we wish to and can distribute for now,
with the means available to us. We have always
practiced an affinity-based distribution, aligned
mainly around texts we can defend, if not because they
are in keeping with our ideas then at least for their
relevance as radical social critique in the class
struggle.

It is through this intent which we have expressed and
applied so often, that one must understand our
estrangement from the OSBL/AB project as we know it
from its beginnings.

We also created and operated two public bookstores
(around '76 and '84) despite the presence of
Alternative Bookstore (AB) because at these times, an
upsurge in social struggles required a more active
presence to distribute these texts which were
beginning to be put to use, even in a partial and
minoritarian way. It was this view of distribution
that was absent from the OSBL/AB and which finally led
us to oppose one another. During these active periods,
there were more than 10 persons in our collective
compared to 3 to 5 persons presently. Later, in the
late 80s, some of us joined the OSBL and AB
collectives thinking that we could continue an
activity of coherent distribution according to the
considerations mentioned above. It was not to be the
case, and our conclusions about this period, written
in a letter sent to AB several years ago (annex 2) are
damning and harsh. At the time it was written to
protest, together with other anarchist groups like
Main Noire, against the exclusion of certain
left-communist periodicals from the bookstore's
shelves. Here's a part of it which, while very
polemical, gives our view at that time of the OSBL/AB,
which brings us to point 2 of the text.

SHORT ASSESSMENT OF THE OSBL/ALTERNATIVE BOOKSHOP

Quote from a La Sociale letter sent to the AB (at the
end of '90)
" ...At least three persons from La Sociale have
already participated for a long time as individuals in
AB and on the OSBL board which owns the building. It
was a pure waste of time and energy. It would take too
long to list all the aberrations we saw, and all the
unending discussions we took part in, without any
result (back then, these individuals or their
ancestors shamelessly distributed on their shelves
publications of all the patriotic fronts, from the
Basque ETA to the Palestinian PFLP not to mention
garbage like MIM Notes - the pro-Shining Path Maoist
Internationalist Movement - so you will understand
that as for anarchist principles, we can forget that;
these days, we bet it's civil society and pacifism
that are the trend). Let's just say we definitively
ceased all collaboration with Alternative during the
privatization of your bookstore. (underlined today).

Concerning the little history, recall that few years
ago, a "generous and mysterious" patron (whose
identity has never been revealed even to those on the
OSBL board...) had tied his important financial
contribution to the expulsion of members of the
Alternative bookshop collective (yet it's a distinct
entity from the OSBL). These members were generally
affiliated with ideas and practices more radical than
the vaguely anarchistic humanism of the other "McGill
ghetto" members controlling the OSBL and the bookshop
for decades, and who backed this expulsion."

At the moment, at least for the OSBL, we don't have
any reason to think that the situation has changed.
It's for that reason that we've gone over a rapid
history of our relations, in order that it come to an
end once and for all. In our opinion, to go forward,
we'll have to be able to let the dead bury the dead
without bitterness but without pretence either.
The situation seems different for the bookshop
collective where new actors seem to have a
considerable weight, as the move to the first floor
shows. They say that they want to go move beyond the
old contradictions. If there were to be a redefinition
of the OSBL, those persons should obviously
participate fully. A final word on the many years of
declared opposition from both inside the OSBL/AB as
well as at its margins. These friends have for a long
time denounced and struggled so that the situation be
set right and undoubtedly deserve recognition for
their perseverance. The unfair situation they
experienced unfortunately led them to see, as a remedy
to the situation, no more than a changing of the guard
in the power structure of the OSBL. We should free
ourselves of this sterile vision that is so similar to
the never-ending activist-putsches common, for
example, to the trade union, student or community
group milieus. Which brings us to some avenues that we
suggest here.

WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

Obviously, we make no claim to answer this ironic
question… we have only a few ideas to share, and we
insist on the fact that these are not proposals to
take or leave, but ways to get out of a crisis…
Firstly, the central question for us is the OSBL;
without an OSBL the bookstore is incapable of
surviving with rent, etc. to pay. Moreover, we must
make a clear distinction between legality and
legitimacy. At present, it appears that the OSBL no
longer exists legally (according to information to be
verified: no decisional GA for a very long time, no
quorum in the board, non submitted annual reports,
etc.) and is less legitimate than ever in regard to
the aim of distribution, which is its raison d'être.

Presently, a collective movement is taking shape which
includes the quasi-totality of libertarian collectives
and many libertarian individuals who are active in
Montreal in the field of distribution. There have been
meetings and at least one assembly to take back this
distribution project; perhaps the time has come to
examine one way, among others, to continue.

To clarify this situation, we think that all the
persons involved with, or who currently call
themselves members of this non-existent OSBL
(including the historic leaders, the opposition and
the phantom members who are brought out of the closet
every five years) should step aside unconditionally,
and hand over all pertinent documents to a provisional
commission chosen by the general assembly of August
5th, which we, together with the great majority,
consider the only decisional one.

This is to prevent old quarrels and rivalries from
poisoning the work to be done. These people have for
the most part given a great deal of their time and
energy according to their convictions, but they must
take note of the present impasse and understand that
their departure, apart from the fact that it will
bring them a well-deserved rest, will permit a renewal
essential to libertarian distribution in Montreal. It
is an act of responsibility that is being asked of
them, and which does not imply any blame of them.

We think that the assembly of August 5th should elect
a provisional commission which could, for example,
have 7 members, including the delegates of collectives
and unaffiliated individuals. The chosen delegates
presented by the collectives should be ratified by the
assembly just as the individuals should be. An
interesting proportion might be to have 5 delegates
from the collectives (for example: NEFAC, Mauvaise
herbe, Librairie Alternative, La Sociale, Maikan, Le
Trouble or others) and two individuals.

Why 7 members? For example, one person for
coordination, three working teams of two persons each
to deal with, for example, a financial report for the
OSBL, the condition of the building and technical
matters, legal incorporation, assessment and proposal,
etc. to be defined by the assembly.

Why this proportion of representatives from the
collectives? So that this commission will be
representative of the “movement” as a whole and to
avoid the pitfall of assembly-packing dear to so many…

Why these collectives in particular? They are all
interested in distribution, have all been in existence
for long enough to have shown proof of their
seriousness, but obviously the list is open. For our
part, we would like to emphasize that we do not
consider organizations like student associations,
unions or popular groups as belonging to this list, or
that proposed delegates be people currently in open
(and personal…) conflict over the question of the
OSBL.

Obviously this commission would not, for the moment,
have any decision-making power; it should inquire into
the real situation of the OSBL and put forward
recommendations to a later GA which will itself be
decisional and composed of members of the collectives
present and interested individuals and which could
then redefine the membership and elect a true
decision-making coordinating committee or any other
approved solution.

In the meantime (a time lasting two months, more or
less) the commission would perform the usual
administrative tasks and the collective of Alternative
Bookstore would continue its work as well… We could
also take advantage of this time to discuss the form
that a new distribution space might take by means of
an electronic mailing list, for example.

Well, here it is, then: if this proposal seems too
exact to you, keep in mind that it was with the aim of
seeing this matter more clearly that we undertook to
defend this course of action. We’re not irreversibly
committed to it, but it shows the direction we
personally would take.

As for ourselves, we will continue our activity of
distribution even if this plan fails.

Anarchist greetings.

La Sociale and its friends


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