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THE ANARCHIST COOKBOOK

PUBLISHED 02 July 2017

I got a copy of the Anarchist Cookbook from Dark Carnival Books in Berkeley, California when I was 13 or 14. I hadn't heard of it before but I picked it up because it had the word "anarchist" in the title & I had recently become the world's biggest Sex Pistols fan. The FBI called it "one of the crudest, low-brow, paranoiac writing efforts ever attempted". My friends & I were already into making bombs & weapons since elementary school & the Anarchist Cookbook gave the bomb making some kind of political urgency & the Punk Rock gave it a Rock&Roll, Pop Art, culturally relevant veneer - at least in my mind. The Anarchist Cookbook itself, written in 1971 by William Powell should ultimately be seen as a dark novelty book - for people like myself & you probably also. It was thrilling to bring the book to school & read about making LSD, contact explosives, zip-guns & how to take out suspension bridges while the other kids were talking about Beverly Hills 90210.  

Half of the teenage culture of the 90s was characterized by alienation & depression culminating in the school shooting at Columbine on 4-20-1999. I graduated high school in 1994 & thankfully the school shooting phenomenon hadn't started yet so I avoided being roped into America's hysterical navel-gazing over that particular issue, even though I fantasized about blowing up my school quite frequently. The Anarchist Cookbook was full of agitating revolutionary language & I ate it up. Me & Danny Shoup would plot ways to stop the machinery of "the system" as we worked on my zine Goblin's Armpit. At that point, inspired by the Situationists via Malcolm McLaren's work with the Sex Pistols, the Anarchist Cookbook & the explosion of alternative books being published by RE/SEARCH, Feral House & Loompanics - disruption for art's sake & destruction for the sake of collapsing a meaningless society were the motivating factors & we were full of it & figured out how to make some money to buy Chinese Food & studs by selling incendiary fanzines to the squares. In this way, it was very clear to me that the Anarchist Cookbook & myself were largely full of shit - hustling with what we had - emotions & energy & the chutzpah of self-expression - to sell some kind of agitational product to the public, hoping to light something off by throwing matches in the wind. At the same time - there was a definite liberatory aspect to the book - just in having the information - which made us feel more powerful or at least potentially more powerful.

  

Katie put this movie on last night - American Anarchist - a documentary about the Anarchist Cookbook & it's author William Powell by Charlie Siskel & it threw me back into those wild teenage years completely. American Anarchist mainly focuses on the Pandora's Box nature of the Anarchist Cookbook - dealing with Powell having unleashed an easily accessible book about violent overthrow of the government with easy to replicate recipes. Swept up in the youth revolt of the 60s, Powell wrote the Anarchist Cookbook partially as an exploitation piece of revolutionary kitsch. Serious revolutionaries could easily find everything in the cookbook & more at the library or order military manuals from various mail-orders but the Anarchist Cookbook put this content into the context of head shops & countercultural bookstores. By 1976 Powell had become an Anglican Priest, denounced the book & left the country to do the work in less fortunate countries. American Anarchist catches up with William Powell in 2016 (the year of his death) in what seems like an attempt to hold him at least emotionally accountable for the forces he unleashed with the book. Siskel grills Powell on the connections the book has had to American political violence & terrorism - frequently being found in the crash pad of school shooters, bombers, hi-jackers & other nasties - to which Powell claims ignorance, but the film makes it out that he knew quite well what he had done & instead of owning up to the book he ran away from it. Could be - but in our cultural sphere - we hold the people who do the illegal thing accountable for their actions - not the books they write or read & we believe that these & any books should be available, not banned & that we do better in discussing these things then trying to hide them under rocks or make them taboo. Despite trying to pin decades of Anarchist Cooking on Powell - the film shed quite a bit of light on the creation of this anonymous feeling book & the life & times of the man who wrote it & its publisher which was all quite interesting. The Anarchist Cookbook belongs in the home library of any ne'er do well along with the Simon Necronomicon, Anton LaVey's Satanic Bible & England's Dreaming by Jon Savage.

- Sean Äaberg

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2 comments

  • Benjamin Hayward: July 04, 2017

    I remember discovering the Anarchist’s Cookbook in high school and thinking I could get into a lot of trouble if I was caught reading it. What a thrill!
    The idea that a book (or anything) should be banned based on contents that are “scary” always has the opposite effect that the banner intends; demand and popularity of the book skyrocket. You can’t effectively ban anything anyway. If the people want it, they will get it.

  • Chloe: July 04, 2017

    I have such nostalgia for high school anarchy. I had a friend in my chemistry class who told me about that book. He gave me a sharpened railroad spike in a handmade sheath (sewn with dental floss) and a lighter (with a castle on it!) for my birthday— the best birthday present I’d ever received!

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