Unrast has just published the first full-length book of German CrimethInc. translations, Message in a Bottle: Selected CrimethInc. Communiqués 1996-2011. Our comrades in Black Mosquito have worked hard to translate and prepare this collection. A speaking tour throughout German-speaking Europe is currently underway to discuss the issues it raises.
A Brief History of CrimethInc., 1996-2001
This overview depicts the trajectory of CrimethInc. projects across a decade and a half. It originally appeared in German in the collection Message in a Bottle: Selected CrimethInc. Communiqués 1996-2011.
Lighting the Fuse: mid-1990s to 2001
The original CrimethInc. networks arose at the margins of the 20th century do-it-yourself underground, before internet access began to homogenize it. One can find early CrimethInc. material in ’zines like Icarus Was Right and Inside Front; a version of “The Contents of Your Daily Life” appeared among the promotional materials of the 1996 “Unabomber for President” campaign.
The first protagonists of this era were self-styled exiles, angry dishwashers and pizza delivery drivers whose only experience of anything beyond the stifling routines of Middle America had come through youth subculture or their own personal rebellions. From these humble points of departure they forged new ties, elaborating a romantic vision that something else must be possible and extrapolating what it might be from their immediate experiences. In a time when capitalism seemed unassailable and the general public hostile to social change, this vision was necessarily individualistic and anti-social.
With few prospects or precedents for another way of life, it was difficult to distinguish between liberation and self-destruction. At hardcore shows that sometimes ended in stabbings or riots, CrimethInc. agents propounded a philosophy of total refusal and criminality. In hindsight, it’s possible to read this as the most extreme manifestation of the lifestyle politics of the era: where others advocated veganism, CrimethInc. material stressed that all consumption was destructive and unethical under capitalism; where others advocated civil disobedience, CrimethInc. material championed all-out illegalism. Yet in contrast to some of the propaganda coming out of radical subcultural milieux, this material was accessible to a general audience and tapped into common frustrations and desires. In a society that delegitimizes all dissent, absolute antagonism can be more seductive than piecemeal objections.
Someone stole a car and sold it to finance the first issue of Harbinger, a free paper proclaiming itself “the propaganda of desire” and challenging readers to analyze their daily lives. The networks continued to grow. When the anti-globalization movement surfaced in the US at the end of the 20th century, linking the radical currents that had developed in punk, ecological, and activist circles over the preceding decade, there were active CrimethInc. cells across the US. The first CrimethInc. book, Days of War, Nights of Love, appeared less than a year after the historic protests at the summit of the World Trade Organization in Seattle in 1999. Though the contents had largely been prepared in the preceding era of individual revolts, it spoke to a new generation of radicals struggling to chart their own paths to liberation. As this explosion of momentum opened up new possibilities, CrimethInc. material became less anti-social and more optimistic, urging all who wished for personal freedom or a better world to stake their lives on revolution.
Casting the Bottle: 2002-2007
After September 11, 2001, the context turned grim; the anti-globalization movement contracted, succeeded by the more reactive and reactionary anti-war movement, while government repression steadily increased. Yet while other anarchist efforts died down, CrimethInc. projects only picked up steam. In 2002, the increasingly central Far East cell published Fighting for Our Lives, a primer introducing anarchist ideas in accessible language, offering it free in any quantity throughout the US. Many young anarchists cut their teeth distributing Fighting for Our Lives; as of this writing, some 650,000 copies have entered circulation.
Meanwhile, other cells continued to appear. The first issue of Hunter/Gatherer [PDF, 5.34 MB], a paper published by the Far East group, challenged readers to publish the second issue themselves; dozens of second issues appeared in a variety of formats.
In the absence of nationwide anarchist coordination, CrimethInc. took a role in pushing the anti-war movement towards more radical tactics and analyses. Posters with the familiar bullet logo covered walls from coast to coast, proclaiming “Your leaders can’t protect you—but they can get you killed” or promoting days of action like the one that shut down San Francisco at the beginning of the Iraq war: “When the bombing starts, America stops.” In 2004, the “Don’t Just Vote” campaign spearheaded by CrimethInc. gave anarchists a rallying point against the presidential campaign, culminating upon Bush’s reelection with mobilizations and attacks from South Dakota to North Carolina.
In the course of these efforts, CrimethInc. agents turned their attention to practical matters such as refining graffiti techniques or acting en masse in black blocs. Instructional guides to these skills and others were collected in the 624-page tome Recipes for Disaster, an anarchist cookbook extending this hard-won knowledge to another new generation.
A few months later, in 2005, a new editorial group launched Rolling Thunder, a biannual journal chronicling direct action. Ten issues followed between 2005 and 2011, covering everything from responses to sexual assault to full-scale uprisings. In contrast to many earlier CrimethInc. projects, Rolling Thunder focused on strategy, assiduously investigating and analyzing current events to inform long-term anarchist organizing.
At the conclusion of 2007, immediately before the end of the Bush era and the onset of the economic recession, the Far East cell published Expect Resistance, the third major CrimethInc. book. A sort of sequel to Days of War, this book combined revised versions of the best philosophical and theoretical CrimethInc. texts that had appeared since 2000 with a narrative allegorically recounting the trajectory of anarchist activity since the 1990s.
During a time when anarchism could have died down once more in the United States, CrimethInc. projects helped it proliferate. In the process, these projects matured, evolving from isolated expressions of revolt to frame a vision of collective liberation.
Disaster [PDF, 18.47 MB]
Crowd Dynamics and the Mass Psychology of Possibility [PDF, 18.47 MB]
Maximum Ultraism! [PDF, 18.47 MB]
The Future [PDF, 18.47 MB]
It Explodes: 2008-2011
The economic recession hit; Obama replaced Bush; the context shifted once more. The year 2008 closed with massive rioting in Greece, inaugurating a new phase of crisis and rebellion.
Rolling Thunder had already published reports like “Green Scared?” deriving lessons from the wave of repression following the previous high point of struggle. In this new atmosphere of escalating tension, CrimethInc. set out to fan the flames and scatter sparks, circulating interviews with Greek anarchists alongside painstakingly thorough coverage of the anarchist mobilizations against the Democratic and Republican National Conventions of 2008 and the Pittsburgh G20 summit of 2009. Whereas early CrimethInc. projects had been diffuse in focus and scope, now the collective began to function as a kind of think tank.
In “Fighting in the New Terrain,” published in 2010, longtime CrimethInc. agents re-evaluated the ideals promoted in their earlier material, exploring how many of the radical demands advanced in Days of War had been granted within a capitalist framework and reflecting on how this should inform future anarchist endeavors. On the basis of these insights, CrimethInc. agents undertook to formulate an updated critique of capitalism for a general audience.
The result appeared in 2011 as Work, the fourth major CrimethInc. book. Although some misunderstood it to be a retraction of the collective’s earlier focus on marginality and the refusal of work, in fact it was a matter of catching up to a world in which increasingly broad swaths of the population had been marginalized within the economy. What had appeared to be a matter of personal choice in 1995 was clearly visible by 2011 as the result of massive global processes.
In these conditions, new outbreaks of resistance were inevitable; indeed, Work appeared at the onset of a new wave of global uprisings. CrimethInc. operatives continued to chart the spread of revolt—from North Africa through southern Europe to the occupation movement in the United States—and produce ammunition for those in the front lines. Whether or not this phase of struggle will be the last one, the future is an open question once more.
The Mythology of Work [PDF, 5.2 MB]