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The Blast, San Francisco. 1916-1917
Article published on 17 June 2006
last modification on 27 April 2015

by r-c.
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THE BLAST. Complete collection of the incendiary San Francisco bi-monthly anarchist newspaper edited by Alexander Berkman from 1916-1917 that gave voice to the worldwide anarchist movement.

Introduction by Barry Pateman. AK Press. 2005 ISBN: 1-904859-08-9.

A long time ago, a number of nineteenth century American radical papers were reprinted. However, a few anarchist publications were omitted, among them Alexander Berkman’s The Blast, which appeared during World War I.

This reprint is an event. It was very hard to find the complete issues of The Blast, and often the paper was in very poor condition. It is now possible to enjoy the remarkable collection of cartoons that illustrated the first page and one must compliment Jonathan BH Rowland for his excellent restoration. It is a pleasure to discover the wide range of authors which, from Voltaire to Tolstoy, served as a reference for anarchist thought and action. This included Nietzsche on religion, but also Josiah Warren, the individualist anarchist, and the Italian Malatesta. These were times when American anarchists translated foreign thinkers, a tradition that may have started in the end of the 19th century under the pen of Benjamin R. Tucker. But workers also had many international links, which provided news of events abroad.

Barry Pateman’s introduction is, as usual, quite informative on the history of the paper, Berkman’s motivations and more generally the social setting in which the Blast appeared: such a provocative title cannot be fully grasped out of the social context of the times, which witnessed people jailed for their defense of birth control or the US army running to the help of Rockefeller and using machine-guns to shoot workers in their tents.

The Blast was a working-class paper with a distinct anarchist approach. It advocated insurrection and continually invited the people to free themselves from all forms of servitude. Thus it was both concerned with personal issues and with class war.

It shed light on an issue which is still topical, the manufacturing of news, such as the publication of a fake interview with Alexander Berkman. The fact that it appeared in war time, a period of constant censorship and compulsory patriotism makes it particularly important for today’s historian. The paper even opposed one of American anarchists’ most revered figure heads, Peter Kropotkin, who with a few comrades, had publicly taken side for the allies; it was active in the no-conscription movement and, at times, Berkman made the headlines of the San Francisco Chronicle. Last but not least, The Blast sheds some light on a still very little known aspect of Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman most important international activities.

Ronald Creagh

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