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O. Katz, "Creating Anarchy"

"Creating Anarchy"

O. Katz

Reviewing Ron Sakolsky, Creating Anarchy. Liberty, TN: Fifth Estate Books, (2005)

The descriptor “eclectic” is overused, but I’m afraid there’s no better means for assessing the depth and breadth of Ron Sakolsky’s sustained personal history of involvement with libertarian theory and practice. Free-radio activism, radical musical expression, non-coercive educational strategies, Fourth World indigenous struggles, surrealist cultural experimentation—Sakolsky has submerged himself into all of these subjects (and more) over the years, and he has done so in the most open-minded and nonsectarian of ways. His smash-and-grab freestyle philosophies eschew rigid dogma in favor of what can most deliciously scratch the most insatiable itch. In this light, Sakolsky’s writings recall for me the ingenious and approachable do-it-yourself ethos of garage-band punks, tenement-yard turntablists, basement-workshop mad scientists, and the rest of Babylon’s most resourceful shipwreck survivors.

Creating Anarchy is a compilation of twenty of Sakolsky’s essays crisscrossing the last ten years. Most of the writing here has been reconsidered, rewritten and remixed with an eye peeled and an ear cocked for the latest mutations in the New World Order’s war of terror against terrorism, from post-9/11 compulsory consumerism and the state-sponsored mass media persecution of “un-American” teachers to the silly liberal ballot-box melodramas of the last two US presidential campaigns. But all this is not to say that Sakolsky’s thinking is just an enraged reaction to the toxic neo-puritanism and babbitry of what he calls “Fortress America fundamentalism.” Never self-righteously angry or haughtily prescriptive, Sakolsky’s solutions are simultaneously sensible and seductive, and they are grounded in the best sort of critical thinking and informed reflection that only comes from decades of experience fighting on the side of liberty and mutual aid.Poetry, song lyrics, collage art, and drawings from some of Sakolsky’s co-conspirators are scattered throughout the volume; sometimes these sounds and images are examples or illustrations of points that Sakolsky is making in the surrounding essays, but some also serve less obvious functions, or even act as challenging counterpoints. This makes for an engaging and provocative study that broadcasts on a couple different frequencies—some of Sakolsky’s most provocative insights and propositions stick under the skin of the consciousness like a stubborn sliver, only to grab the reader’s attention much later at some unexpected times.

Creating Anarchy is split into four broad, interlocking sections, spanning diverse topics related to anarchist activism, education, Afrodiasporic music, and radical cultural geography—the latter essays take readers along a road trip that stops off in Scotland’s Orkney Islands, Canada’s Pacific Coast, and a Springfield, Illinois as imagined by the early twentieth-century utopian poet Vachel Lindsay. The book’s third part, “Surrealizing Anarchy,” presents five intriguing investigations into the overlapping and intersecting origins, intentions and futures of anarchy and surrealism.

Sakolsky has looked at the web of mutual attractions between anarchists and surrealists before, most notably in the introduction to the collection he edited in 2002, Surrealist Subversions: Rants, Writings and Images by the Surrealist Movement in the US. Sakolsky is intent on clearing up the misperceptions and disinformation surrounding the historical ties between surrealism, the USSR, and authoritarian Marxist-Leninism. Surrealism’s enemies (including those who should really know better, like the Situationist International and its post-situ descendents) have exaggerated and lied about the movement’s streak of authoritarian leftism, and Sakolsky rightly believes that surrealism’s shady political reputation continues to discourage anarchists from exploring its ideas. Although a handful of the first-generation surrealists drifted in and out of rocky relationships with the Communist Party before 1935 and a few more aligned with Trostkyites during World War II, it was anarchism that, for the most part, held the greatest appeal for surrealists.

Sakolsky offers a galloping history of these vital connections in his solidly-researched article “Surrealist Desire, Anarchy & the Poetry of Revolt.” He hooks the story into fresh and germane angles on surrealism’s relevance for the dreams and schemes of the post-leftist anarchists of today who clash daily with the murderers, pimps, and racketeers of the state, religion, and capital. As he conceives it, the attractions and affinities between these two fiery “lived philosophies” have always been part of both movements’ histories and their futures. Surrealism and anarchism are two of the burning stars visible in the interlaced constellations of the insurgent imagination; when both are used to navigate the way, they are as mutually beneficial as they are mutually fortifying, and it is in the very spirit of these intimate connections that Sakolsky calls for more explicit and articulate fusions of these two unruly rebel mind-sets. “As for myself, the desire to live poetically has, at key moments of my life, been illuminated by dancing visions of both surrealism and anarchy,” Sakolsky explains in “Anarcho-Surrealist Poetics,” a piece that originally appeared in Social Anarchism. “And each has bounced off the other’s radiant energy with the intense dynamics of a spontaneous musical improvisation, taking me way beyond the stale chord changes of a settled (-for) reality and on to the subversive path of radical creativity.” That path is one that Sakolsky tries to map throughout his book, a trail that is choked with enough lush undergrowth to encourage even the most timid of travelers to wander off and blaze their own way.

Creating Anarchy is the first book put out under the imprint of that venerable and often idiosyncratic anti-authoritarian quarterly, Fifth Estate. I hope that they continue to publish other texts in this same vein; Sakolsky’s book is a refreshing, unbiased contribution to an anarchist community that is all-too-often riven with the most corrosive and ideologically narrow kinds of subcultural sectarianism. And though Creating Anarchy may strike some readers as too eclectic, many more will see it as holistic. Sakolsky’s passionate understanding of and appreciation for the key linkages between individual liberty and the global fight for freedom is bracing and energizing.