Radical simply means ‘grasping things at the root. - Angela Davis
“These students believe in democracy and most importantly they believe in the maximum participation for the individual.
Believing that democracy is a continuous process that does not finish at the polls they are prepared at any time to check abuses by working through the legal and administrative channels. However if this does not work they are prepared to commit civil disobedience.
The students believe that our society develops continually an ethos of war, where values of love, sincerity, honesty and respect are sacrificed to a rule of thumb called expedience, which is defined at any time by what group is in power.
The students therefore are united in the belief that our society needs to be re-oriented… to communication of life. The program to do this is found in the American “New Left” students concepts of Grass Roots Democracy” Brian Laver (1967)
There have been a line of radical bookshops in Brisbane since Mick Healy, Dave Surplus and Gilbert (Geordie) Burns set up the Anvil Bookshop in a rundown premises in Elizabeth street in Brisbane in 1935. There was The East Wind which became The Independence bookshop (Maoist) The Peoples Bookshop previously, the Anvil bookshop, (Communist Party) and The Red & Black (Self Management Group) Bookshop which became Emma’s and until March 2009 became Zapata’s (Anarchist).
The last in this line was Zapata’s run by Brian Laver at AHIMSA house in West End.
Brian Laver (shown) says that he chose the name to identify it as a Libertarian Socialist bookshop as distinct from Emma’s which was named after Emma Goldman whom Brian refers to as a Libertarian feminist (thanks to John Tracey for correcting the spelling) .
Zapata’s may well be Brian’s favoured name but that does not prevent it having some of the classics of feminism in the collection. There are overly sexist books there as well.
With a countless number of books acquired over two generations of the Brisbane Left such an eclectic mix is not surprising.
One could barely believe that Laver, looking every bit the fine old gent of libertarianism, was once the same fiery radical student thrown to the ground and pinned down by wharfies to prevent him from speaking during the 1970 May Moratorium against the Vietnam war in Roma Street Brisbane.
One of the wharfies, Phil O’Brien, not given to either aggression or sectarianism, later apologised to Brian and gave him a signed copy of his book, Peace – a workers journey (published by SHAPE in 1992).
Brian, with no wish to carry a grudge, accepted Phil’s token of regard and placed a $35 price tag on the book thus ensuring that it remain in the bookshop for over 16 years until it was sold with all the other books for a good deal less to Archives Books near the Elizabeth Arcade in the city. Ironically only a few metres from where the Red & Black Bookshop was in its heyday.
I found three copies in Archives after Laver called it quits.
The recommended retail price of Dawn to Dusk was originally only $16.95. Not to mention Phil O’Brien motivated by his own brand of socialism was selling the book to fellow workers for $5. I noticed that someone at Zapata’s wavered, rubbed out the pencilled-in price of $35 and had written $10 over the top.
I know this part of history well because I was one of the LeftPress collective that slogged day and night printing Phil’s book. Not to mention the typing, editing, typesetting and proofreading that we all did. It is hard to watch in silence the genuine efforts of a collective exploited by others, no doubt in their minds at least, in the interests of Libertarian or some other brand of socialism. There certainly was not any money in it for Laver or any of the radical bookshop collectives .
There was a wide range of books to be found in Zapata’s, including kids books, science fiction, cookbooks, as well as political books like O’Connell’s Ruling Class Ruling Culture.
Walk beside the boxes and shelves and see authors like Paul Jennings, Nancy Drew, Noam Chomsky, and Le Carre. But I suppose this is what you should expect from the libertarians. Contrast this with the other radical bookshops in Brisbane.
The East Wind on Charlotte Street near Elizabeth arcade in the 1960s and ending up in George Street as the Independence Bookshop, now long gone, was more ‘purist’ politically than the Red and Black, at least this is how Brian Laver put it. Like the Red and Black and the Peoples Bookshop it was attacked by the right, or crazies who pretended being on the right. Perhaps on reflection it was the slow demise of the CPA-ML (Maoist) in particular and the Left in general that led to its closing. Perhaps it was just that people moved elsewhere, away from books, as part of a trend to instant communication on the TV screen. That is all before the invention of the Booker and the Mile Franklin awards that did tend to bring people back to books and led to a revival of both corporate and independent bookstores.
Regardless of its political purity (or perhaps because of it), The East Wind bookshop did not last, even though it could be seen as a mobile bookshop on May Day many years after it closed down its premises in George Street.
In the 1970s and 80s there was also The People’s Bookshop down Barry Parade in the Valley on the ground floor of the Communist Party headquarters (in the 1950s it had been in Brunswick Street). The People’s Bookshop had a wide range of books including one of the best collections of Australiana you’d find anywhere. Brian Laver tells us Billy Sutton, himself a working class writer (Comrade George and Other Stories), was responsible for that. Unfortunately this great collection of books were sold for a song prior to the liquidation of the Communist Party by people, one (at least) of whom (Lee Birmingham) ended up as a ministerial advisor to the Qld Labor Government. The People’s Bookshop, built by workers sweat and union struggles over a period of 70 years, was liquidated during a shameful period for the Left locally in Brisbane and in Australia generally.
What was the best bookshop in Brisbane, Brian? I asked, "That was the American Bookstore, it was set up like Shakespeare's in Paris".
Methinks. Another time, another place on the left bank in Paris. But that does not stop revolutionary groups re-living the days of the Paris ’68.
CPA Building ‘291’ now 4ZZZ bombed in 1972 – interview with Ted
Riethmuller by SBS’s Stefan Armbruster.
Socialist Alternative presents:
Paris 68: An eyewitness account
In 1968, French society was rocked to the core by a series of student and worker revolts.
These protests epitomised the much vaunted student and youth radicalism of the 1960s. They inspired a generation of political activists to think that social change was not only necessary, but possible.
Today, this historic event can still serve to inspire us.
Socialist Alternative is proud to present Dick Pitt, a long term English socialist, who was working in Paris when the upheaval broke out, giving his eyewitness account of this inspirational event.
But wasn’t it Ernest Mandel who attended the barricades in Paris ’68 declaring that revolution had begun yet took no further part, preferring instead to promptly return home to Belgium to write his thesis on ‘The Crisis of the International Monetary System‘?
Laver made his mark in bookshops back in the days of the Red and Black in Elizabeth Arcade.
That was the era of books being banned and special branch raids. Gary Manghan then “leader of the Fascist Party,” was charged over the bombing of the Communist Party headquarters in Brisbane, but ultimately acquitted in September 1973.
Manghan was let off by the court on a technicality despite very strong evidence against him. There was an extradition order for him to be questioned on the bombing of the CPA building. He had been arrested in NSW and held on a holding charge under the Vagrants Gaming and other offences laws. It was while he was held that he confessed to the bombing of the CPA. Manghan was not a vagrant because he had money on him when he was arrested. Since there was no basis for the holding charge the confession was excluded by the trial judge.
Manghan worked at Bothwicks meatworks sometimes. The Meatworkers union was led by communists back then and so the special branch needed a spy there and this budding fascist no doubt got the job. Manghan was also involved in other crimes and prostitution. He bragged how he was given lifts to demonstrations and public meetings by Special Branch.
Ross “The Skull” May, was an agent provocateur at rallies, mainly tried minor attacks on buildings. Don Wilson watched the Skull one evening as he tried to glue up the locks of the East Wind Bookshop in George Street, Brisbane.
Another Nazi, Dr Jim Saleam, gave an account of the bombing in The Other Radicalism – An Inquiry Into Contemporary Australian Extreme Right Ideology, Politics And Organization 1975-1995
Dr Jim Saleam (aka Jamelle Salim) was from Maryborough, and in a bizaare twist, his mother was a German immigrant and his father, a Lebanese migrant. Like Hitler, he hid his ancestry. Fightdemback states that Jim Saleam was behind the firebombing of a left-wing Brisbane bookshop, the East Wind. It states that he was arrested and convicted in 1974.
One member of the Red and Black collective, Murtek, was arrested in the bookshop 1977 or 1978 by the special branch for writing an anarchist critique of the bible. Before that time other books by overseas writers were banned under that ‘bible bashing bastard’*, Joh Bjelke-Petersen and the moral police in the Literature Board of Review. Books like Portnoy’s Complaint, Mao’s Little Red Book to name a couple. [* quote from Gough Whitlam]. Esmae Campbell was another who was arrested in the special branch raid to confiscate Mao’s writings.
“Zapata’s is named after wiry Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata.
The 1952 Viva Zapata biopic starred Marlon Brando whose body later blew out to epic proportions.
Brian Laver of Zapata’s decided the bookshop needed to trim down and he has announced a massive book sale this weekend, July 26-27.
“To keep Zapata as lean and elegant as he normally looks, the massive book sale will be from 8am until 6pm,” Mr Laver said.
He said kids’ books would sell from $1 with most books at $2 and the rest half-priced.
Mr Laver said Zapata’s had to be Brisbane only bookshop with stock accumulated over 40 years, enhancing browsers’ chances of finding a rare first edition.
“Zapata’s is the inheritor of caches of stock accumulated over 40 years, from the days of the Red & Black Bookshop, Maria Luisa Bookshop and the Brisbane icon Emma’s Bookshop.”
Emma’s bookshop was in the heart of West End near the corner of Vulture & Boundary Streets. Its financial structure was a partnership of Brian Laver & Judith Given and ran at a loss for many years. Like so many Left activities it was financially non sustainable and folded in the early 2000’s (like so many of Brian Laver’s projects). It was, in a way, the precursor to a successful bookshop called the Avid Reader run by Fiona who had previously worked at Emma’s.
Avid Reader is still going strong nine years later fitting into the intellectual life of West End as one of few viable independent bookshops in Brisbane (along with Folios, the American Bookshop, & Coldrakes). There is one state owned bookshop at the State Library on SouthBank. However all these fit more into the liberal and intellectual life of Brisbane than its radical past.
Brian Laver was a prominent student activist in the late 1960s. He is still left-leaning even when the wind does not blow in that direction.
However the range of book styles at Zapata’s was wider than the shades of anarchy.
“We have fantastic contemporary literature, classics, kid’s books, and biographies, Mr Laver said. “Politics and history are our specialty,” he added.
Brian Laver said he and the Zapata’s collective promised to make a cup of coffee for browsers who wished to stroll around the book shelves.
Zapata’s was next door to Ahimsa House (now the Ellen Taylor Community Centre), in Horan St, West End.
As a prelude of things to come, Brian Laver closed Zapata’s in March 2009 after the failure of the community project called AHIMSA house. An interim committee of the centre was appointed. AHIMSA was renamed the Ellen Taylor Community centre. The last radical books collection can be found in the library on the second floor. It is owned by the Institute of Social Ecology.
“Cast a cold Eye
On Life, on Death.
Horseman, pass by.”— W.B. Yeats
Finally, there are no radical bookshops left in Brisbane in 2009.
The one sizeable collection of radical books that remains is the library owned by the Institute of Social Ecology. It is a library of 2,000 different titles with copies of some books and perhaps 2,000 magazines currently housed at the Ellen Taylor Community Centre at 26 Horan Street West End. Its main problem was lack of a social dynamic in the struggle for a world beyond capitalism. People were never drawn to it, and it had an exclusive feel despite claims by the ISE group that they wished to make it accessible. Unfortuneately this never happened. There was never an ongoing book club or a reading group or similar social dynamic.
Administrative control of the Ellen Taylor Community Centre passed to the public trustee in July 2009, at least on an interim basis. And the bank is owed nearly $1.4M as a result of borrowing against equity in the building at 26 Horan Street.
The question is what to do with the Institute’s books?
It is interesting to trace the history of this collection.
It was begun on the floor above Emma’s bookshop when it was in Vulture Street West End. When Emma’s folded the collection was moved to the old Commonwealth bank building in Boundary St West End. When that venture folded for non-payment of rent the books were moved yet again to the ABSOE building in West End.
Then in 2004 along came the great dream, AHIMSA house was set up at 26 Horan Street West End from a large gift of money by Ellen & Ross Taylor. Five years later, after much division and debts going through the roof, the institute’s radical books no longer have a secure home.
So what is to be done? Or is it all an illusion? A dream? The revolutionary ideas from the middle of 19th century Europe transported around the world: to China, to Latin America, to Algeria, the middle east — all these ideas that can be found in the anarchist and Marxist books in the institute’s library, are they just a defunct memory, a hope of achieving dual power one day with the capitalists?
One Brisbane radical recently circulated an article “On the ‘Return of the Master’… meaning John Maynard Keynes. So thirty years since the Keynesian heyday here are his economic theories emerging from the ashes of the Global Financial Crisis.
Will the radical ideas of Bakunin, Proudhon, Marx and Engels, Lenin, Emma Goldman, Mao, Kropotkin, Simone de Beauvoir, and all the others re-emerge in another 30 years, perhaps after the Keynesian bubble has burst and capitalism is flat out on its back, yet again?
Perhaps in 30 years time, a homeless person looking for somewhere to camp for the night under a house in West End will come across these dusty tomes from the bygone era of the Radical Books of Brisbane.
I bet Mick Healy, Dave Surplus and Gilbert (Geordie) Burns would have had no idea that it would end up here when they started this radical books tradition and set up the Anvil Bookshop in a rundown premises in Elizabeth street in Brisbane in 1935.
This brief history was complied and written by Ian Curr with thanks to Bernie Dowling, Richard (at Zapata’s), Brian Laver, Don Wilson (proprietor of the former East Wind Bookshop), Jim Sharp (former meatworker), Maggie, John’s J. + T., Peter, for this piece of the radical bookshop history in Brisbane.
References: ‘Radical Bookshops’ by Connie Healy in Radical Brisbane – an unruly history edited by Carole Ferrier and Raymond Evans.
Persons Of Interest Out take #1 – Brian Laver, Anarchist from Smart Street Films