WE HAVE a poster in our shop window: “Books not bombs—weapons of mass instruction”.
People love it, because now more than ever the movement needs political ideas to understand what is going on in the world—whether it is the war in Iraq, globalisation or imperialism.
When we first opened in 1973 there were many left wing bookshops all over the country. Sadly, many of them have closed down over the years.
Obviously the years of Tory rule took their toll. But we have always seen our role as providing a service to the labour movement with the ideas it needs to move forward.
In the last ten years there has been such a huge radicalisation taking place that we have seen demand for political books soar.
We’ve seen this at the trade union meetings we go to. We are the official bookseller to the TUC, and take bookstalls to trade union conferences and training schools all over the country.
Usually delegates flock to the bookstall, and it’s great to talk to workers from all sorts of jobs and unions about books and ideas.
This year, because of this massive interest in socialist politics, we have seen some of the most successful bookstalls we’ve ever done at trade union conferences.
Now we are part of the great anti-capitalist and anti-war movements.
Half of the two million strong demonstration marched past Bookmarks on 15 February. We welcomed it with a gigantic anti-war banner hanging from our roof and played anti-war songs through loudspeakers over our bookstall.
With all this political activity going on our slogan is “There’s always time to read”. Reading isn’t just for when there’s nothing else happening. You need to learn about the world all the more when there’s loads going on.
This year for the first time we had a bookstall in the Left Field marquee at the Glastonbury festival.
Left Field was started last year by trade unionists wanting to bring the ideas of political activism to a new, young audience with music, comedy and debates.
The bookstall was mobbed as people bought books and pamphlets, even though they were at a rock festival and sleeping in tents!
We regularly invite political authors to the bookshop to give readings and talks. This way people can meet them, ask questions and get involved in discussion.
The shop has been crammed for events with people like Tariq Ali, John Pilger, Nawal el Saadawi and George Monbiot.
Six years ago Bookmarks moved from north London to Bloomsbury. We wanted activists to be able to get to us more easily, and there was no other socialist bookshop for people to go to in the centre of the city.
We wanted to be the alternative to the big corporate chains. Where else in central London will you find Trotsky on the Russian Revolution and Noam Chomsky on imperialism, alongside anti-racist children’s books and labour history?
We also wanted the shop to be bright and welcoming. There’s no reason for left wing ideas to be dull and dusty.
•FERGUS NICOLL was key to setting up Bookmarks in 1973. He adds, “When the bookshop opened in September 1973, the Tories were in power under Ted Heath.
“An early problem was dealing with the power cuts caused by Tory attempts to smash the miners!
“This was a high point of class struggle, and the left was buzzing with new ideas.
“Customers responded enthusiastically to a shop that was non-sectarian but committed to socialism.
“Within a couple of years Bookmarks was a local and national centre for political activity.
“Our north London premises also accommodated Rock Against Racism and the Right to Work Campaign.
“The political momentum we gained carried us through the Thatcher years, sowing the seeds for Bookmarks’ leading role today.”
Support Bookmarks by ordering all your books through them. Order any book you want through their mail order service or visit their website at bookmarks
Bookmarks can help stock your school or college library or send a bookstall to your anti-war rally. Need advice about what to read? Just phone 020 7637 1848.