Alexander Berkman was a leading writer and participant in the 20th century Anarchist movement. The young, idealistic Berkman practiced "propaganda by deed" attempting to assassinate Henry Clay Frick during the Homestead Steel Strike of 1892. While imprisoned, he wrote the classic tale of prison life Prison Memoirs of and Anarchist. After his release, Berkman edited Emma Goldman's Mother Earth and his own paper The Blast!. Deported from New York City to his native Russia in 1919, were he saw first hand the failure of the Bolshevik revolution and dedicated himself to writing the classic primer on Anarchism, What is Anarchism?.
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The Blast from the pastMarch 7 2008
- Published on Amazon.com
The U.S. entered World War I in April, 1917. On June 1, the Russian-American anarchist Alexander Berkman wrote an editorial in his newspaper "The Blast" urging young men of draftable age not to register. "To register," he wrote, "is to acknowledge the right of the government to conscript. The consistent conscientious objector to human slaughter will neither register nor be conscripted" (p. 236 in this edition). Two weeks later, the offices of "The Blast," as well as those of "Mother Jones," the magazine founded by Berkman and Emma Goldman, were raided by the cops. Berkman and Goldman were charged with sedition and sentenced to two years in prison. After their release in 1919, they were deported to the Soviet Union.
That was the end of "The Blast." Begun in San Francisco in mid-January 1916, it would run for about a year-and-a-half and put out 29 issues. The newspaper was intended as agitprop: its purpose was to stir up revolutionary action in the working class. As one of the initial editorials stated (p. 18), the writers were neither philosophers, nor scholars, nor professional journalists. They were activists, first and foremost. But (perhaps in spite of themselves) Berkman and his writers produced a quality anarchist newspaper that spoke eloquently and lucidly on some of the day's burning issues: the exploitation of labor by capitalists, birth control, the rise of militarism in the world and the nation, and the corruption and power of government. Along the way, the paper agitated in support of Tom Mooney and others accused of bombing a pro-war parade held in San Francisco. (Mooney, sentenced to life in prison, was later proven innocent--although only after serving over 20 years in San Quentin.)
AK Press has reproduced "The Blast" in its entirety, and the whole makes for fascinating reading. Of particular interest is the paper's agitation against militarism, which was a prominent feature almost from the first. Beginning with a huge article in the 3rd issue (pp. 30-31) against "preparedness," the jingoistic word adopted by William Randolph Hearst and friends to lobby for entry into the Great War, "The Blast" consistently spoke against the rise of the military establishment throughout the rest of its run. In fact, the very last page of the very last issue consists of an intriguing article denouncing shady recruitment practices (false promises of recruiters) and a boxed ad announcing an anti-draft rally. A fascinating rundown of military spending throughout the world is printed in the 1 November 1916 issue (p. 176) which shows that the U.S., which had yet to enter the Great War, nonetheless spent more on the military than any of the powers then in the conflict (Russia came in second, followed by Great Britain, France, and Germany).
All in all, well worth reading. The cover drawings, many of them by Robert Minor, are biting--as is entirely appropriate for a newspaper with the stated aim of blasting complacency and injustice. Would that we had a newspaper with similar passions today.