Anarchism in America
Pacific Street Films (2009)
Despite its 2009 release, this fascinating documentary is largely based on 1980s interviews with America’s most prominent anarchists, including Karl Hess, Molly Stermer, Murray Boochkin and Ed Edamen. As well as a rare interview with Emma Goldman at age 64 (1933) when she was granted a 90-day permit to return to the US.
There is also footage from the 1919-1920 Palmer Raids, in which thousands of anarchists (including Goldman) were rounded up and jailed and/or deported; the global protests triggered by the police frame-up (1920) of Boston anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti; the Spanish Civil War (during which 3 million anarchists ran their own towns, schools, clinics and cultural centers for three years); and the anarchists involved in civil disobedience during the 1980s anti-nuclear movement.
Dispelling many common misconceptions about anarchism, the filmmakers depict anarchist political philosophy as the belief that people are capable of governing themselves independent of any state or hierarchical authority. They challenge all hierarchy – whether in male-female relations, the family, schools or work. Instead they champion decentralized participatory democracy.
Several of the anarchists interviewed view anarchism and distrust of authority as innate in the American cultural identity. This is evidenced by pervasive anti-government and anti-corporate sentiments among the greater US population. Hess asserts that right wing writer Ayn Rand borrowed most of her so-called “objectivist” philosophy from anarchist Emma Goldman.
Edamen asserts that at the end of the 20th century (before it was captured by the Koch brothers and other corporate elite), there were more anarchists in the US libertarian movement than any other group.
The filmmakers also highlight the anarchist roots seen in worker-run cooperatives and the homesteading (now called “prepper”) and anti-government punk rock groups such as the Dead Kennedys.