Fifth Estate

From Academic Kids

For the Canadian news programme, see the fifth estate

Fifth Estate (FE) is a periodical published in Liberty, Tennessee and in Detroit, Michigan. Its editorial leaning tends from anarchist to bioregionalist.

Fifth Estate is the longest running, English language, anarchist publication in North American history.

FE was started by Harvey Ovshinsky, a seventeen year old youth from Detroit. He was inspired by a summer trip to California where he worked on The Los Angeles Free Press, the first underground paper in the US. The name came from a coffee house he liked to visit on the Sunset Strip.

The first issue was published on November 19, 1965 - "That's what we really are - the voice of the liberal element in Detroit," it said. It was produced on a typewriter and then reproduced by offset litho. It featured a critical review of a Bob Dylan concert, a borrowed Jules Feiffer cartoon, alternative events listing and an announcement of a forthcoming anti-Vietnam War march. None of these things would have been included in contemporary newspapers.

In 1966 Ovshinsky moved the office from his parents basement to a mid-town storefront near Wayne State University. Here the paper was saved from extinction by the Detroit Committee to End the War in Vietnam, John Sinclair's Artist Workshop, and other radicals. Later in 1966 the paper moved to Plum Street where they also established a bookshop. Fifth Estate thrived in the late sixties, a period when over 500 underground papers emerged in the US. Thousands of copies were distributed locally with hundreds more being sent to GIs in Vietnam. FE openly called on soldiers to mutiny. In 1967 the FE offices were tear-gassed by the National Guard during the massive Detroit uprising. In this period the paper published 15,000 - 20,000 copies.

By 1972 the optimism of the sixties had worn off and the tone of the paper became more concerned with struggle than fun. Ovshinsky left, leaving a group of young people (teenagers or in their early twenties) to run the paper. Some of their na´vetÚ wore off as they sent delegations to Vietnam, Cambodia and Cuba. With the massive defeat of George McGovern and the election of Richard Nixon for a second term with an increased vote damaged the movement - many underground papers stopped coming out and the alternative news services such as the Liberation News Service, and the Underground Press Syndicate had collapsed. By 1975, FE was lingering on - many staff had burnt out through too much activism and they had their share of internal disputes. The debts were mounting up.

In August, 1975 Vol. 11, No.1 declared "The issue you are now holding is the last issue of the Fifth Estate - the last issue of a failing capitalist enterprise . . . This is also the first issue of a new Fifth Estate." This was the first explicitly libertarian issue of FE. The paper had been taken over by the Eat the Rich Gang. They were a group that had successfully published several pamphlets and were particularly influenced by Fredy Perlman, Jacques Camatte, Jean Baudrillard, Council communism, and Left Communism, as well as the Situationists. They did not originally identify themselves as explicitly anarchist and had no contacts with the anarchist currents of the 1930s. However they were contacted by veterans of that period, who they saw as powerful role models. They developed a close relationship with Black and Red, a radical printers/publishers group which Fredy and Lorraine Perlman were involved in.

From 1980 when they came up with the dictum "All isms are was-isms." the paper became more anti-technological and anti-civilisation, something for which it was well known throughout the '80's. Fifth Estate continues to publish from the Detroit-area but has added a new editorial base in Tennessee. The current editorial collective has taken the magazine in a direction that refuses sectarianism and attempts to unite all of the disparate strains of anarchism into a more unified force. The group also distances itself from anarchism as ideology, embracing a more inclusive, yet still radical, anti-authoritarian perspective.


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