The Blast - Alexander Berkman

Book Review by Alasdair Gillon | 16 Apr 2006
Anarchism usually stays well off the radar in mainstream political debate these days. When there's a periodic dose in the media (alongside reports from the WTO or G8) it's mostly footage of a disorganised rabble, smashing property and scrapping with the police, in pursuit of general mayhem and little else. Little attention is paid to the history and theory behind the movement. The Blast was a short-lived (1916-1917) but finely produced radical San Francisco newspaper, published by Alexander Berkman – writer, militant activist, labour-organiser and failed assassin. The complete run of 29 issues is gathered here in facsimile. There is virtually no editorial interference – everything, from small classified ads to the paper's viciously satirical cartoon covers, is included. Information on military spending by the main powers in 1916 appears alongside extracts from Tolstoy and Nietzsche. Reports about anti-imperial movements and labour struggles in Mexico, Britain, Ireland and India give some idea of the issues that were hot in alternative politics during the First World War. As America geared up to invade Mexico, The Blast became the focal point for a strong anti-war movement. American working men were going to die, Berkman said, to secure oil and mineral profits for big business. Rockefeller, Hearst and Carnegie are frequent culprits in these pages. All of this sorely tested American freedom of speech – The Blast was raided by police and subject to official censorship.
This collection gives today's alternative political movements an eloquent, angry partner in the past. It's worth the money just for the sake of an alternative outlook on its era, which it brings abruptly to life. [Alasdair Gillon]
Published by AKUK. Out Now. (Cover Price £17)