Only a Beginning: An Anarchist Anthology, Edited by Allan Antliff

This fat anthology of stuff from Canadian anarchist newspapers and magazines is important because anarchism by its nature--as the denial of rigid ideology, bureaucracy, and hierarchy--must therefore lack the artificial memory built into formal political institutions. So anarchism is to politics as the blues is to music: when the improvisers aren't busy despairing of the present, they're passing on a sense of the past to the next generation. Here the past in question is the immediate one of 1980s and 1990s, when punk culture breathed new life into the subject.

Toronto was an important centre of commotion with such periodicals as Bulldozer (founded 1980, raided 1983) and Kick It Over (published since 1981, though rather discontinuously). Montreal too had quite a scene, as with Rebelles (1993), which begat Démanarchie (1996). But Vancouver was the heartland of disorganized protest against corporatism, globalization, and environmental degradation, to name only three nemeses. Few now recall Endless Struggle (1987) or No Picnic (1988). All the better, then, to find facsimiles of representative pages in all their chaotic glory, along with memoirs by the principals and reprinted manifestos. By contrast, Open Road, which lasted a remarkable 14 years from its founding in 1976, is still mourned as the most journalistically sound and graphically sophisticated of them all. Vancouver's fecundity spilled outward, as when transplanted Vancouverites started BOA in Montreal in 1986. The initials stood for "bevy of anarcha-feminists".

Sometimes the jargony writing can numb the mind and the wretched typography strain the eyes. Even Open Road was capable of this: "To counter the dead hand of the centralist vanguard organizations which have hindered and confused serious organizing possibilities over the past few years [we intend] to give voice to the emergent anti-authoritarian tendencies identifying themselves with various labels, including: anarcho-communism, anti-authoritarian or libertarian socialism, revolutionary humanism, anarcho- or revolutionary syndicalism, libertarian or anarcho-Marxism."

The book's compiler, Allan Antliff of UVic, arranges the material loosely and provides running commentary. The turning point is the story of the Squamish Five, so named after the scene of their arrest in 1983 for bombing a Vancouver Island hydro substation and a defence plant in suburban Toronto.