In the early 1980s, I worked at Fourth Idea Bookshop in Bradford. This was a radical bookshop, tucked away on a small alley in the city centre between the Co-Op car park and a seedy pub where the local fascists (mainly NF and BNP at the time) used to drink. During the football season, we knew that every Saturday when Bradford City was playing at home some fascists would come in to the shop in the hour between closing time and kick off (back then, pubs had to close for two hours in the afternoon), and attempt to trash the shop and intimidate us.
Sometimes, these attempts were just pathetic macho posturing by social inadequates; but they could also be more serious. I was physically attacked one Saturday; another time, a fascist punched a customer, who turned out to be a plain-clothes Special Branch cop who had come in to check us out – on that occasion, the thug was actually prosecuted. And one local fascist leader was eventually gaoled after repeated threatening and antisemitic phone calls and bomb threats.
Our bookshop enjoyed strong community support – though not always the most helpful support. After one Saturday attack, members of the local SWP came to us and offered to lie in wait in the upstairs room on the following weekend, and when the fascists came in, to charge down and beat hell out of them. We replied “Thank you very much, comrades. And we presume you will then come back in force the following Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to defend us against the inevitable revenge attack”. They refused to offer this commitment, and when we politely refused their offer they declared that we were refusing to take part in the fight against fascism.
Other bookshops also faced fascist threats and attacks. A worker at the IMG’s Other Bookshop in Islington was hospitalised after one such attack, and a fascist leader was gaoled after being found with a car full of explosives on a mission to blow up the WRP’s bookshop in Clapham. News From Nowhere bookshop in Liverpool was a regular target, as were others across the country.
And the attacks continue. News From Nowhere still faces incessant threats. The anarchist bookshop Freedom was firebombed a few years ago, and London’s Gay’s the Word had its windows smashed earlier this year. Although the number of left and radical bookshops has decreased, the threat remains.
In Bradford, although we never considered closing the shop, and despite the clownish behaviour of some of the thugs, it was on occasion a daunting prospect to go in to work in the morning, knowing that you would very likely be attacked, or at the very least subject to foul abuse, later in the day. So I feel an immediate and instinctive solidarity with the workers in the SWP’s Bookmarks in Bloomsbury, who faced an invasion by a dozen fascist sympathisers last Saturday. Although no-one was injured, and the actual damage seems to have been limited, it must nevertheless have been a scary experience to face a dozen tanked-up thugs, who could easily have turned to physical violence without warning or provocation.
This solidarity is unconditional. Despite the controversy over the SWP’s appalling handling of rape allegations against one of its leaders; despite the fact that in 2005 I organised a picket of Bookmarks to protest its hosting of a talk by the antisemitic charlatan Gilad Atzmon. A fascist attack on a left-wing bookshop is an attack on all of us, and should be resisted and condemned even by the harshest critics of the SWP. And no workers, whoever their employer, should be faced with the intimidation and abuse displayed by the fascists on Saturday.
In the face of fascism, we must fight together or risk being defeated one by one. Solidarity with Bookmarks and its workers! Resist fascist attacks!