Anarchism, Featured, Review (Books, Movie etc)

Crimethinc’s Rolling Thunder: A Review

A look at issue 10 of Crimethinc’s “anarchist journal of dangerous living”

by Mike Klepfer

Like many anarchists roughly my age, I remember being captivated by the Seattle World Trade Organization protests in 1999. The short, confrontational period that followed at trade summits all over the world, when coupled with radical environmental actions by the Earth and Animal Liberation Fronts, presented this incredible image of uncontainable, sustained war against the ruling class and oppressions of all forms that I, a scrawny kid from the middle of nowhere, felt I’d someday join the ranks of.

We all know what followed: 9/11, hyper-patriotism, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, eight years of George W. Bush and Obama’s “war on terror.” The flame of rebellion present at capitalist summits was contained and spurious terrorism charges and preemptive arrests at those events are now the norm. Earth and animal liberation warriors were betrayed by their former comrades and faced crushing repression. In short, malaise crept in.

It was during this time in the early 2000s that someone handed me a copy of Days of War, Nights of Love, which completely pushed my fucking wig back. Enjoining readers to reject work and social roles and embrace the promise of lives steeped in immediate enjoyment and struggle, this anarchist primer spoke to all the wounded little parts of my low-wage life. It prescribed stealing, sex and abandonment of bourgeois imperatives in favor of a full existence. It imagined a mythical underground populated by impassioned revolutionaries trying to break free everywhere. It was a powerful story.

The publisher, Crimethinc, enjoyed a brief and sometimes ignominious popularity, as it appeared to fail to connect with entrenched, working-class leftists who saw its exhortations as indicative of privileges few could actually enjoy and its dropout overtones as unprincipled and “lifestylist”. The collective published a useful “cookbook” of subversive tactics (to replace the better-known Anarchist Cookbook, which is just a lot of shit about crude bombs), as well as the oft-maligned dropout bible Evasion, albums, ubiquitous posters, stickers, and numerous journals.

One that stuck was Rolling Thunder. Billing itself as “an anarchist journal of dangerous living,” Rolling Thunder seeks to collect analyses of worldwide uprisings, anarchist projects, including squatted community centers in Europe, and Really, Really Free Markets in the U.S. This heady content shares space with comics, sheet music, and reviews, along with the slick graphic design that the collective has been able to constantly produce. Spanning ten issues so far, with the goal being biannual publication, Rolling Thunder last rolled out a summer issue in 2012. It’s been mothballed ever since.

I picked up issue 10 recently. It’s good shit. It contains the usual essays attempting to synthesize worldwide revolts over a period of two years, basically the precursors which “culminated” with Occupy Wall Street and lots of beautiful photos of wrecked cop cars. Also lots and lots of analyses of riots in London, Greece, Toronto. There’s a great text from Seattle mapping how anarchists came together after the 2010 shooting of John T. Williams to confront politicians and police and reject the empty, pacifying rhetoric of reforms which let power off the hook. There is a lot of talk of how riots played out, how they could have destroyed more property, each reportback containing the unacknowledged idea, an article of faith at this point, that these social rebellions would eventually result in a generalized social rupture, given the right conditions, and seizures of momentum by rioters before the inevitable crush of state repression.

Crimethinc was born during the events in the 90s already mentioned. They could be seen as trying to popularize the modes of resistance of the 90s, a time marked by massive, confrontational protests at WTO, IMF and G8 summits. They often imagine a meaningful anarchist intervention in world politics that has not yet arrived, yet continually presents itself as a frequently-occurring undercurrent, flare-ups of social unrest in times of crisis. But sometimes their analytical texts do more to confirm positions than to open up lines of inquiry. While acknowledging the nearly limitless ways of fighting the repressive, the normative, the gray facade of the state and capital, attacks by anarchists manifested in the streets which are well-worn, telegraphed and sometimes barely strategic are the ones most focused on. While anonymity and collective authorship is one of the collective’s hallmarks, it often leads to a hive-voiced consciousness, embodied by “Crimethinc,” the views inside of which don’t differ greatly.

Crimethinc is also the offspring of the late-60s French leftist arts movement Situationism, which railed against “the Spectacle,” an alienating, all-pervasive, diametrically false existence that exists in mediated non-participation, through passive viewership of culturally significant events which reinforces values of, and roles within, domination. It is then paradoxical for media that seeks to be liberatory (and we’re guilty, too), to get attention by using dramatic images of rioting. Those same methods of attracting eyes breed consumption of the ideas of rebellion, if they ultimately may not be effective at actually spurring revolt. Riots need to be examined, but other means to understand and combat power need to be heard, too.

A long feature about the U.S.-Mexico border was the best story in the journal; it allowed readers who have never experienced the hellacious experience of crossing, pursued by Border Patrol, Mexico’s Sonoran Desert, a glimpse of the lives of the people who have. The piece also gives readers a lengthy exploration of the power dynamics at play, which make the border the way it is. It is a damning critique of both capital and the state. Maybe current anarchist tastes dictate a focus on spectacular riots in major cities, but to become truly dangerous and knowledgeable of the various manifestations of the power of our enemies, as well as the needs and concerns of non-anarchists we could fight with, getting more content from places unfamiliar to many of us, and different ways to fight and live, would be welcome.

If it sounds like I’m ragging on color photos of shit burning, I’m not. While I certainly like being put in the driver’s seat for first-hand reports of dangerous actions, I also know there is more breadth and imagination to the ways we could rebel. The time that we could be impressed by definitively disrupting major meetings of world leaders is over, and it’s obvious we need to grow and do a lot more. Crimethinc, in their introductory essay, even admits that the political terrain and media they began with has changed. Fine. Let’s adapt.

One idea the journal presents is that, in lieu of people uniting as workers in their workplace, or students at their schools, or any class adhering to their place within the matrix of capitalist life, that in a time of increased economic flux, when production and jobs flow like water, finding people more ripe for exploitation when currently exploited people rise up, those most dispossessed should unite with those who may await their fate. An event like the Great Recession should teach us that nothing is guaranteed to anyone in this economy and the capitalists will be the ones to recover best in times of a crisis they manage. This reinforces the notion that we need to understand one another more fully and teach each other novel ways to fight, so that we can see the social tinder that a momentary revolt will bring the spark to, in order to bring about lasting revolutionary change. Anarchist media, to the degree to which it should exist at all, should not only popularize our means of struggle, but explain our ends and explore those of others. It’s something at which Rolling Thunder often succeeds, but sometimes fails.

The journal’s five bucks, meaning it’s sold at or below cost, so pick it up and, insofar as they’ve been an inspiration to me, tell them “Thank you” or “Fuck you” for my contribution to this paper.


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