Belfast Anarchist Collective first opened Just Books back in June 1978.
Just Books was more than just an Anarchist bookshop however, the premises included a cafe and print workshop and provided a focal point for the collectives many activities until it closed sixteen years later in June 1994.
Set up without any form of state subsidy or grant, money was raised through running benefits and from interest free loans and donations from supporters. The bookshop, which became a feminist collective from the mid-eighties until it became a mixed gender collective again in the early nineties, was always run on a self managed basis with collective decision making at its core.
The bookshop was located at 7 Winetavern Street in the Smithfield area; “The location of the bookshop in the old Smithfield Market area of Belfast, at the bottom of the Shankill Road and the Falls Road, was important to the anarchists who set up Just Books in that they wished the building to be accessible to people from all communities”.1
When it first opened it became a centre for Anarchist ideas and activity – in its time the building included a short-lived library, the Print Workshop, a meeting and exhibition space, the Hideout Café, Belfast Independent Video, Belfast Unemployed Group and the Women’s News office.
The Belfast Anarchist Collective also printed a monthly paper, Outta Control, later joined by Gaining Ground an Anarcha-Feminist publication independently produced by women and distributed with Outta Control. Ainriail was also produced and copies of Organise! and Workers Solidarity, among numerous other publications, rolled off the Print Workshop’s presses in the early eighties. A Prisoners Book Scheme ran from the earliest days of Just Books right up until the Winetavern Street premises closed. Books were available to prisoners at one third off and books banned by the prison authorities were cannily recovered to ensure they got past the screws.
A victim of the general decline of the Smithfield area following the 1986 development of Castlecourt, a more general squeeze on radical booksellers brought about by recession, increased book prices and growing competition from bigger outlets Just Books closed its doors proclaiming that “16 years of providing an invaluable service to the community and being a focus for social change and revolutionary ideas is something to celebrate.”2
The collective seemingly disappeared for a while after that but we hadn’t really gone away you know. Just Books stalls appeared at the Belfast May Day celebrations at St. George’s Market, at numerous Grassroots Gatherings, Dublin Anarchist Bookfairs and from 2007 we’ve been central to the organising of the annual Belfast Anarchist Bookfair. Which have unfortunately been interrupted due to Covid-19 Lockdowns.
In March 2010 we opened new premises in a space shared with the Warzone Collective in Clarence Street. We ‘relaunched’ in the new premises on Thursday 1st April 2010 with the book launch Dave Douglas’s Ghost Dancers. At the time Dave was a member of the National Union of Mineworkers in Durham, the book was a first-hand about the last generation of miners and their Union. The release of Ghost Dancers coincided with 25th anniversary of the end of the miners’ strike.
After Clarence Street we organised a number of talks, workshops and seminars under the banner of Just Learning while we operated out of premises in Bedford Street.
On the 1st of May 2016 we opened premises as Just Books – Belfast Solidarity Centre on Berry Street in Belfast city centre. This again became a hive of anarchist activity and solidarity. Throughout the time these premises were open we ran movie nights, hosted campaign meetings, provided space for groups like Larne House Visitors Group, held social events, book launches, meetings and workshops and operated a drop in, library, silk screen printing workshop, and of course an Anarchist bookshop. We moved to shared space in Realta at the start of 2019 after a brief period of homelessness. Again we hosted socials, events about anarchism, movie nights and more before the premises closed in August 2019 due to the sad demise of Lunasa workers co-op.
While lockdowns have forced us to take something of a lower profile lately again, while we may be the stuff of ‘myth and legend’ we still haven’t gone away you know. This year we’ve started to develop this modest online shop and we have made the move into publishing! Our first title will be G P Maximoff’s Constructive Anarchism which will be out later this year. Originally published in 1952 Maximoff’s ‘constructive anarchism’ is itself largely informed by direct involvement in the anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist movements in Russia before and during the revolution.
We’ve also done a wee bit of re-organising and the Collective is now affiliated to Organise!
References 1) Elaine, Just Books 10th Birthday. Women’s News. Sometime in 1988. 2) Just Books Spokesperson, Market to close if shoppers don’t return. Bookshop goes under as Smithfield crisis deepens. Anderstonstown News, 04/06/94.