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Anarchism in America (1983)

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A colorful and provocative survey of anarchism in America, the film attempts to dispel popular misconceptions and trace the historical development of the movement. The film explores the ... See full summary »

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Title: Anarchism in America (1983)

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Credited cast:
Paul Avrich ...
Jello Biafra ...
Murray Bookchin ...
Karl Hess ...


A colorful and provocative survey of anarchism in America, the film attempts to dispel popular misconceptions and trace the historical development of the movement. The film explores the movement both as a native American philosophy stemming from 19th century American traditions of individualism, and as a foreign ideology brought to America by immigrants. The film features rare archival footage and interviews with significant personalities in anarchist history including Murray Boochkin and Karl Hess, and also live performance footage of the Dead Kennedys. Written by Harvard Film Archive

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15 January 1983 (USA)  »

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Generous look at anti-state sentiment in the USA
8 December 2002 | by (America) – See all my reviews

This documentary focuses on the state of anarchism in America during the early 1980s, with brief looks at the history of anarchist movements. The narration and several of the interviewees imply that anarchism is deeply rooted in American character and tradition, more so than other countries. Students of anarchism will enjoy the interviews with prominent anarchist writers like Murray Bookchin and Karl Hess. Given the hostile split in anarchism between "right" (free-market) and "left" (socialist) anarchists, each claiming that the other faction doesn't deserve to be called "anarchist," it is gratifying to see this documentary treating both philosophies as equally valid, and indeed not so far off from each other. Many anarchists of both "right" and "left" persuasions will be shocked to hear Hess (a former speechwriter for Barry Goldwater!) favorably compare Emma Goldman with Ayn Rand, or hear him claim that anarchism embodies what he had always thought the Republican Party stood for.

In addition to interviews and photographic history, we see footage of demonstrations, worker-owned businesses, and Thoreauvian independent farms. The punk-rock scene is represented by the Dead Kennedys, who give an interview and perform. We even see a Libertarian Party convention (with special guest Murray Bookchin), even though the official Party position has always maintained that government should be minimized, not eliminated.

Both newcomers and those with an already developed interest in the subject will enjoy this film, which unfortunately is hard to find nowadays. I was rather bemused at the ending, however, when a caption reveals that this rather sympathetic portrait of anti-government ideas was partially funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, _a government agency_. I'm getting a headache...

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