A Summer in the Park

Review by Kate Sharpley - KSL

This is a cracking and highly entertaining read by the guy who apparently coined the term 'alternative comedy' and who describes himself as “an anarchist troublemaker dedicated to decoding the Zeitgeist”. Covering the summer of 2000 spent as a speaker and heckler at Hyde Park's Speakers' Corner, Allen's journal offers many valuable insights into the often perilous craft of the public speaker and street entertainer.

The eclectic and very personal topics that are covered over the course of these regular Sunday slots include, amongst many others; drugs, paedophilia, religion, cyberspace, the (anti) work ethic and the myriad advantages of living in a free anarchist society. A committed anarchist for over thirty years, Allen's humorous routines and rants are all delivered from a well-informed libertarian perspective as we follow him expounding his own personalised version of a “larky plan of action for a non-violent grassroots (and flowering tops) anarchist revolution”. Sounds good to me!.

For anyone brave enough to actually stand upon a milk-crate and hold forth to a crowd of perfect strangers, the crucial skill is of course the ability to hold the collective attention and convince them of the merits of your particular argument. Allen is quite honest about his many failures on this score, but showing us the hit-and-miss nature of public speaking only adds to the overall interest of the book.

Allen is never over-earnest or deliberately obscure, unlike many other advocates of anarchism, and his sly wit and sheer performance ability mean that he is more than able to argue the anarchist position on a range of contemporary issues whilst still getting in the gags and keeping the crowd laughing all the way home, or to the next speaker. Many readers may well groan as he fields such questions as “Who will clean the sewers in an anarchist society?” or “What is the significance of the black flag?”, but considering the level of popular misunderstanding about the nature of anarchist philosophy , this back-to-basics stuff is probably essential in such a forum. It's great fun to follow the line of Allen's arguments and his one-man mission to “comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable”.

As somebody who rarely gets down to London and who has never been to Speakers' Corner, I found the descriptions of its many colourful characters very interesting. One things for sure - the next time I'm down there (probably for the anarchist bookfair!) I'll be heading for Hyde Park to see this important arena for free speech and debate for myself.

As one would expect, the place is also clearly full of religious zealots, fundamentalists (of various persuasions) and tired old advocates from the authoritarian left. Although Allen is dismissive of the points of view that they express, he refrains from merely sneering at these misguided souls and is more often indulgent and affectionate towards these eccentrics and minor-league demagogues.

As many people may have noticed, there have recently been a number of very welcome and long-awaited changes for the better within Freedom Press and the editorial team on Freedom newspaper. No longer subject to the personal tyranny of the late Vernon Richards, the past year or so has seen a marked shift towards a more combative and class-struggle based perspective. Although not directly connected with class-struggle anarchism as such, it is certainly hoped that A Summer In The Park will form part of a new dynamic and diverse publishing programme from the folks at Freedom Press. I would highly recommend this to all KSL bulletin readers.

A Summer In The Park costs £8.50 and is published by Freedom Press, 84b Whitechapel High Street, London, E1 7QX www.freedompress.org.uk

In KSL: Bulletin of the Kate Sharpley Library No. 41, January 2005

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