Over the years, most of the books I’ve read about punk have caused me to blurt out a barrage of expletives, before I toss them in the bin.
Later on, when I’ve calmed down, I’ll hoke the book back out and grumpily read on (hey, some of these books are expensive!) But you DIY Conspiracists out there probably know the feeling—most of the stuff that gets published about punk completely fails to represent the lived experience of punks.
And it is infuriating.
The Anarchism and Punk Book Project
This has started to change in the last ten or fifteen years, as punks have begun to take back the publication narrative of our historical and contemporary scenes and movements, including a growing number of punks working in academia (but please don’t call them ‘punkademics’). One such publishing initiative is The Anarchism and Punk Book Project, edited by Jim Donaghey, Caroline Kaltefleiter and Will Boisseau.
What they do is producing four books about the relationships between anarchism and punk, with a contemporary emphasis, featuring 96 chapters by contributors from all over the world. The books, to be published in regular instalments from late 2021 onwards, are on Active Distribution (stalwarts of DIY punk and anarchist publishing, now based in Croatia). They’re currently running a Crowdfunding campaign to help cover translation and publication costs—which you can support right here.
It’s Time to See Who’s Who
All three of the editors have backgrounds in their local DIY punk scenes: Jim is based in the north of Ireland, and currently plays with the Belfast d-beat band Lawfucker; Caroline, now living in upstate New York, was an activist and zinester with the Riot Grrrl scene and the Positive Force House in Washington, D.C., in the 1990s and beyond; Will was a member of a gig collective in Guildford, England, in the 2000s, as well putting his energy into vegan and animal liberation activism. They described the punk scene as a place of ‘activist education’, and all three editors started out writing zines and getting stuck in with Food Not Bombs activism and more besides. As Will put it:
Punk was hugely significant in my activist education, partly because I read anarchist and radical leftist zines and leaflets on distro stalls, but mainly because of the prefigurative aspects of DIY culture. Here were groups of anarchist punks doing it together—organising for themselves, without (or with less) hierarchy.
Caroline’s punk and activist experience was especially shaped by Riot Grrrl, but, like Will, the DIY ethos has been an inspiration:
Riot Grrrl helped to create safe spaces, and whilst working on zines I made connections between anarchism, feminism, and social justice. Riot Grrrl helped forge a politics of everyday life and do-it-yourself resistance and inspire a global horizontal grassroots network that championed solidarity and mutual aid.
They have all taken this particular introduction to anarchist ideas, and the underpinning punk ethos, into their academic work. Jim’s PhD thesis (2016) was on anarchism and punk in the UK, Poland and Indonesia (he now works as a Research Fellow at Ulster University), Caroline’s (1995) was on the Riot Grrrl movement (she now directs an Anarchist Studies Research Programme at the State University of New York, Cortland), and Will’s thesis (2016) was on anarchism and animal rights (he now works full time with a trade union). But, despite the editors’ scholarly backgrounds, The Anarchism and Punk Book Project is more than just another academic publishing initiative, and the lived experience of DIY punk and anarchist activism is especially valued. Lots of the contributors are activists or ‘cultural producers’, and under the watchful bullshit detector eye of Jon Active, the books are being written for a general readership.
By the Punks, For the Punks!
The main motivation for the publishing project was the lack of sustained examination of the relationships between anarchism and punk, neither in the fields of ‘anarchist studies’ or ‘punk studies’, nor in activist networks. Punk’s influence on anarchism is often belittled or taken-for-granted, and while anarchism is sometimes recognised as ‘punk’s primary political companion’ (as Matt Worley puts it in his 2017 book No Future), the shape of this ‘punk anarchism’ is not closely analysed. Jim, Caroline and Will sent out a ‘Call For Chapters’ in late 2020, and the response was far beyond their expectations.
As Jim puts it: ‘we were worried about getting enough contributors for just one book—we would have been happy with 10 chapters!’ In the end they invited chapters from 96 contributors, from all over the world. That huge response indicates how strongly this subject matter resonates with people, but the internationalism is crucial too. As Caroline puts it: ‘The series charts new ground [in] the curation of four unique global texts’. Punk may have its earliest roots in the US and UK, but punk scenes have spread globally, and punk has played a key role in reinvigorating tired old anarchist movements and (re)introducing anarchist ideas to places suffering under authoritarian regimes. As Will said:
Punk sustains a collective identity and culture of resistance … through horizontal grassroots networks and direct action. Through punk we can glimpse how we could work together in a free society and what we can achieve through solidarity and mutual aid.
To help break down the barriers to international collaboration, the Crowdfunder campaign is raising money to pay for translation costs for contributors writing in their own languages. They also have a version of their Crowdfunding video in Spanish.
The Crowdfunder campaign is also intended to help keep the price of the books as low as possible. This is something Active Distribution have always done, but it highlights a problem with a lot of books by ‘mainstream’ and academic publishers—they’re just far too expensive for people to access.
As Jim says: ‘if it ain’t cheap, it ain’t punk’, so why not support the project’s Crowdfunder? (You can even get a free book while you’re there!)