The Blast
Alexander Berkman
(AK Press)
The subtitle of this is the "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." More or less. Although it wasn't always bi-monthly, and at the end, it came out of New York City.

The Blast may be of interest to those who want to know more about revolutionary literature in America. Many WWI radicals are represented here: Enrique Flores Magon, Margaret Sanger, Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman: "A Series of Lectures by Emma Goldman," says an ad, "Just Out of the New York Workhouse Where She Spent Fifteen Days for Advocating Birth Control."

It is hard for many to remember how feared anarchists were in their day (they were the early 20th Century equivalent of our "terrorists.") And newspapers like The Blast worked hard at being in-your-face. The rich were pilloried. The issues of the times were hashed and rehashed: preparation for war, the proposed draft, the Everett Massacre ("Bloody Sunday"), the Soviet Revolution, the Irish Easter Uprising, memories of the Haymarket Riot, Prohibition, the Mexican Revolution.

There is little room for subtle argument. The writing is didactic and angry. It's no wonder that the newspaper was raided more than once by the San Francisco police and private detectives, who spent "Three hours rummaging through the house, prying open bureau drawers, reading personal letters and taking mailing lists, manuscripts and cartoons." One of the editors, Eleanor Fitzgerald, reported:

    I said to [Assistant District Attorney] Ed Cunha: "How can a man like you engage in such dirty work? As a boy or young man, you must have had a spark of decency in you." To his credit, he blushed. Then stammered: "If I don't do it, someone else will. Life is short; it doesn't matter much after all. "Yes," I said, "life IS short, but that's all the more reason why one should be on the side of right and decency."

The Blast was not without its intellectual appeal, with extended quotes from Romain Rolland, Leo Tolstoy, Guy de Maupassant, Pascal, Nietzsche ("There the gallows, rope and hooks,/And the hangman's beard is red/People 'round and poisoned looks,/Nothing new and nothing dread!") Voltaire, G. B. Shaw and Shelley:

    Rise like lions after slumber
    In unvanquishable number,
    Shake your chains to earth like dew
    Which in sleep had fallen on you ---
    Ye are many, --- they are few.

But the anger overshadows any possible humor, wit, or subtlety:

    The munition factories are working double shifts, night and day. Labor is getting its share of the prosperity." American wage slaves double shifting to slaughter European wage slaves. Isn't it funny!

Why did The Blast finally move too New York? Perhaps an ad that appears in Issue #8 explains: "For Sale. At a sacrifice, a two-acre chicken ranch, modern four-room house, good well water, large chicken house, chicken coops and all implements ... three blocks from wharf. Good terms. Inquire at office of THE BLAST. Owner must leave the State."

--- María Lopez Huerta
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