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About the Red and Black Book Project
By Scott, Insurgency Culture Collective
What Is a Red and Black Book Project?
A Red and Black Book Project is a low cost way to make paperback Anarchist books that can be given away free to people who can't afford to buy books and to people who may take an interest in Anarchist ideas if they don't have to pay money to do so.
Our slogan is "Knowledge Should Be Free."
The Red and Black Book project started because there were a lot of people interested in Anarchism who didn't really know what it was and, because of this, didn't know how to apply it in their lives and political work. This created a lot of unnecessary and counterproductive internal conflict in the Anarchist Movement and made it hard for us to write propaganda and recruit others to the Anarchist Movement. Anarchism is not a set of rules we can go by to say we are part of a group. For most of us, it is a way we always saw the world and ourselves but, never really realized there was a name for it. By putting the books out, we help others to understand Anarchist ideas and find out if they are also Anarchists. Many people were interested in learning more about Anarchism but, most of them were unemployed or working wage slave jobs so they couldn't afford to BUY Anarchist books. In addition, even the most left-wing bookstores in Southern California didn't sell Anarchist books. Our experience with the (De)Center Infoshop taught us that an "Anarchist Book Store" was not the solution because it was too hard to raise money to pay the rent and bills and because, wherever you chose to locate it, most people wouldn't be able to get to it. We needed a cheap decentralized way to get out Anarchist books.
In the Summer of 1994 several traumatic events happened to the Southern California Anarchist scene:
(1) ICC pulled all their books and silk screening equipment out of the (De)Center Infoshop after several dozen T-shirts were stolen out from behind the counter and food was pilled on screens which ruined them. We had been printing there and donating some of the money from the shirts to the rent. Thefts got so out of control, we started falling behind in our rent and bills. When the landlord tried to evict us, he said we had said the place was closing which was a lie. Other people at the collective took his word over ours and tried to start a fight. We stopped actively helping to run the place.
(2) We held an Anarchist gathering at Arrowbear in the San Bernardino Mountains which fell apart because of sabotage and a failure to practice mutual aid to counter it. We spent months planning an event which was specifically advertized as not being a punk rock event. Then, someone put out a flier saying there was going to be a big crusty punk party at Arrowbear. We were invaded and some people who had come to learn about Anarchism were scared away. The crusties got drunk and started some fights. Instead of asking the crusties to leave, people canceled workshops and debated whether it was "authoritarian" to ask them to leave.
(3) There was a Food Not Bombs gathering in San Francisco which many of us attended. Many of our friends were arrested at demonstrations supporting housing and food for the homeless. While there, people we trusted to hold a fund raiser inside the (De)Center Infoshop, instead held a party with amplified music in the back parking lot where the sound carried for miles into adjacent neighborhoods until 2:00 int the morning. When we got back to Los Angeles, we received a letter that the neighbors had petitioned the landlord to have us evicted. We talked him into giving us a second chance. We never received any of the money from the so-called fund-raiser.
(4) "Redwood Summer" (An Earth First! Action against logging the Headwaters Forest redwood trees) attracted a lot of our people to direct actions in Norther California. When they returned, Falcon House, a co-op house in Long Beach where Food Not Bombs Long Beach was based, broke up.
(5) The (De)Center Infoshop was evicted from its space in Highland Park.
I did a lot of thinking about what had happened over the summer. I tried to think of how we could do things better and determined that I had to only work with "Serious People" in the future. A serious person is a person who does what they say they are going to do when they make you a promise or commit to do something. My friend Joaquin and I moved the T-shirt collective into a storage closet in a gas station which had been converted to an auto repair place. We started silk screening in the storage lot (more of a junk yard) behind the gas station where Joaquin lived in a camper. The summer had burned a lot of people out and Anarchism was virtually dead for a while. I though about what had happened and determined that I was going to continue doing Anarchist work. We kept making Anarchist T-shirts and I helped arrange a speaking engagement for Keith McHenry of Food Not Bombs. I started bootlegging Anarchist propaganda and tabling. While tabling at a college, I discovered that more serious "professional- looking" material was easier to give out than the old "punk rock" style stuff with a "zine" look which we had been putting out. I also discovered that no one was interested in buying books but, they would take stuff that was free even after arguing with us about Anarchism. A guy actually walked up to our table and said "is this a joke?" He was a philosophy student. He took a bunch of stuff when he left.
It was a guy named Jay who first gave me the Idea of the Red and Black Books. I don't even remember what he said now but, I started thinking that people needed to learn what Anarchism was if we were going to get anywhere. I started out with some of the shorter Anarchist pamphlets I had in my library and went out and bought some red paper and a long reach stapler from a local office supply place. That was almost a year after Arrowbear. A year and a half later, we now have dozens of titles in English and Spanish.
My friend Lyn said that her first experience with the Red and Black Books was at a Zapatista solidarity meeting. My friend Rain from Black Star Collective set a pile of the books in the middle of the floor and there was a feeding frenzy. I had bootlegged a bunch of books on the EZLN and women in the EZLN for him and turned them into Red and Black Books. I gave those to Rain along with a lot of Anarchist titles for his collective. I had been rationing the books because I wanted them to go out in as many places as possible.
My first experience was leaving them at a local vegetarian cafe only to find them almost gone when I came back a few days later. I wondered if people had stolen them or sabotaged the project but, the collective which runs the place assured me that the books were just popular. Lots of people just wanted to read about Anarchism!
We have been doing the Red and Black Book Project for about two years now. I think that one of the most important things we have learned is that photocopy machines start to ruin your copies after a while because they are not serviced regularly and photocopy dust gets in the mechanism and causes them to not do proper two-sided copies. What this means is that there is a physical limitation to how many books one person with one machine can do. It is important to find a way to get free photocopies if you can so you only pay for the paper. But, having done that, you will find that some places let their machine go to hell before getting it serviced. So, keep an eye on the machine you use and don't be shy about pulling an all-nighter making books the day after the machine is cleaned and serviced: BE SURE TO BE OUT OF THERE LONG BEFORE ANYONE COMES AROUND THE NEXT DAY. The advantage of bringing your own paper, is that jam free paper will make you more productive and make it less likely that your print place will notice that you ran several thousand copies off. We have done runs of over 8,000 two-sided sheets before the machine started to expand from the heat and started acting up. When the machine starts to act up, go home.
Since there are practical limits to how much stuff one person can get out on the street, it is common sense that we need to get a lot more people doing Red and Black Book Projects. You do this by making black and white master copies with black and white covers and giving them to people who want to do their own books. This web page was designed to allow you to get master copies like these so you could make your own books, fliers or posters, but not everyone will have access to the Internet. The more people there are doing books, the more material we can get out.
Get the books out if you can, but really, any good literature about Anarchism is useful. The Red and Black Books are a good attention-getter. We always put out Anarchist material along with material from other groups, so we may table for Food Not Bombs or Anti-Racist Action and put out their literature, but by including Anarchist literature as well, the table becomes an Anarchist table. Because it is not always possible to have books to give out (they get pick up quickly as soon as we put them on the table so you may run out) it is a good Idea to have an assortment of Anarchist fliers with a brief two-page text on various aspects of Anarchism. Brochures are also cheap to make and easier to make in quantity. All you have to do is copy them onto legal size paper and fold them twice to make them into a brochure.
It should be common sense that you should not work with authoritarian groups like Communist Parties, Socialist Parties, the Green Party or any group who claims to want to reform the current system. Also, try not to have our activities draw the attention of the capitalist press, the government or any institution of coercion like the Police. The reasoning for this is clearly evidenced from history which is spelled out in many of the Red and Black Books and it has been vindicated by our experiences dealing with these people. You are likely to run into them if you are involved in any kind of political activism, bu the safest thing to do is just not to trust them.
Red: It is an eye-catching color. It was chosen because it is a psychoactive color and people are drawn to pick it up. It is like eye candy.
Photo On Cover: Photos or cool graphics were used to personalize the books; to make people warm to them. Anarchists look like someone you could run into on the street today and talk to. When we can't find a photo, we try to use cool looking Anarchist graphics like woodcuts or ink drawings. We keep a scrap book of Anarchist graphics in document protectors so they stay in good shape and can be used later on.
Short Length: Books are short because more than 25 pieces of paper (100-125 pages) is hard to staple. But, they are also short because it makes them less intimidating to read.
Authors: Anarchist authors are chosen who write clearly in 20th century English and are easy to read. Some more intellectual "theory" and "history" books are also included when they address key ideas in Anarchism or key events in Anarchist History. The books in the Red and Black Series address key ideas of Anarchism, the history of Anarchism and the methods of Anarchism. This same principle is applied to the Spanish/Español books we print. Some additional books deal with the truths of the society we live in and what it takes to do organizing work.
Red and Black Books also deal with why we do not trust Communists and politicians.
Bridge Books: Some books we call "bridge books" because they are intended to relate Anarchist ideas to different cultures. These include books on Mexican, Latin American, African American, African and Asian Anarchism. We also print Anarchist books in Spanish/Español (for people more comfortable reading in Spanish/Español) when we can get hold of good titles.
Free Books: Red and Black Books are given away free because most people interested in Anarchism don't have enough money to buy books.
Credits: When we copy the books, we don't copy the publisher's name because many are capitalists (university presses especially fall under this category) and could come after us. This could also be used as a pretext by the government to harass us. CONTELPRO and other cases have taught us that the government tries to suppress political dissent by trumping up trivial charges on people then arranging to have the book thrown at them in court so they receive long sentence. We don't want to fall victim to that kind of tactics.
We do publish the authors name if we know it. When material was originally put out by another Anarchist group, we credit them in the book if we know who they are.
Contact Addresses: The first rule of covert action is, "if you don't want to get caught, don't take credit for your work." This is why we don't put OUR contact address or phone number on the red and black books. Our purpose is to get the information out. Putting our name on our work would announce to any cop or agent provocateur WHO to mess with to shut down the project. CONTELPRO has shown the lengths the government will go to hurt us financially or frame us with phoney criminal charges to stop our work. If they don't know who we are, they don't know who to go after.
Books We Don't Print: There are many writers who try to call themselves Anarchist to promote other agendas like environmentalism. There are also writers who try to say that their lifestyle is Anarchist when it is not. We try to focus only on ideas which will lead to a working Anarchist Society. We don't print books with the word "Communism in the title. Some Europeans also call Anarchism "Libertarian Socialism" or "Libertarian Communism." Some also call themselves "Anarchist-Communist." Because of the Cold war, it is better not to confuse people and to distinguish clearly between Anarchism and Authoritarian Communism. This is not a disparagement upon our hard-working Anarchist friends in Europe; merely a necessity for educating Americans in Anarchism. No doubt, this dilemma will also apply in other countries as well.
We read all the material before we decide to add a book to the project. Obviously, we do not print communist, right-wing or bourgeois liberal/"progressive" material. We don't put out stuff which is lifestylist.
Black and red are the colors of the international Anarchist Movement. Red is the color of the international Socialist Movement. Socialism is the historical idea that the welfare of people is more important than money, property or power and that people should govern themselves and not be ruled by kings, dictators or the wealthy. Socialists opposed Capitalism, Private Real Property, the Class System and Social Privilege, War, Slavery, the Chattel Slavery of Women, Child Labor, the Criminalization of Poverty, and the Church.
Red is the color of blood spilled to free working people from slavery and oppression. It is the color of anger against our enemies in the ruling classes.
Anarchism is the libertarian and federalist tendency of the Socialist Movement which is opposed to the Authoritarian and Centralist wing which includes Communist and Parliamentary Socialists.
Anarchists began carrying black flags in remembrance of all the Anarchists killed in the international labor movement. Black flags have historically been flown by movements who reject all government authority. Just as a white flag was a flag of truce easily distinguishable from national flags, the black flag was also easily distinguishable and was flown by people who had freed themselves from slavery to show they were loyal to no king and no government. Anarchists also wanted to distinguish themselves from authoritarian Socialists to show they believed in freedom. The first black flag is said to have been flown at the Paris Commune by women demonstrating against creeping authoritarianism within the commune.
Black and Red were first used together by Anarcho-Syndicalist movements to show the unity between Anarchism (Political freedom symbolized by the black) and Syndicalism (Revolutionary Unionism symbolized by the red). The Black and Red flag first used by the CNT in Spain had a red triangle of cloth in the upper corner next to the flag pole and a black triangle of cloth in the lower corner away from the pole, joined to form a rectangular flag. Red and black flags are traditionally used by Anarcho-syndicalist labor organizations around the world and by their international federation, the IWA/AIT (International Workers Association/Asociación Internaciónal de Trabajadores). Other groups like the IWW fly variations of this flag because of Anarcho-syndicalist influences (Many IWW members are members of the Workers Solidarity Alliance-IWA/AIT or other Anarchist groups.).
We are Class War Anarchists. We believe that a conflict must go on between those who work for a living and our enemies who get rich off our labor but, do nothing until those who live off our labor are laid low and the society with power and privilege based on wealth and class is abolished in favor of a free society based on mutual aid, voluntary cooperation and personal freedom and responsibility. We advocate the methods of Revolutionary Syndicalism to win the class war against the corruption of the rich and powerful. We believe that all forms of non-capitalist non-exploitive non-authoritarian economic organization can co-exist in an Anarchist society in a Federation of free people, free communities and free workplaces. We believe that the first step towards the creation of a free society is for people to organize, educate themselves and assert their autonomy from the government, the capitalist and organized religion.
Insurgency means to be against the established authority. Our collective is a propaganda collective which produces information intended to help build a culture of resistance to authority, to help to break the perceived legitimacy of the authoritarian and capitalistic status quo and persuade people not to cooperate with its exercise of authority over us, and to promote Anarchistic counter-institutions like counter-economic projects which can one day replace the capitalist system with an Anarchist society. ICC also supports other organizations in the Southern California Area who share our objectives and provides information to people around the World who are interested in Anarchist organizing. We thought up the name when we first got started silk screening T-shirts at the (De)Center Infoshop and Anarchist Center.