Friday, February 08, 2013

Arm the Spirit Archive

For those of you unfamiliar with Arm the Spirit, it was one of the only publications devoted to reporting on the armed resistance movements in the 1990s. There were a very few magazines and newspapers with this purview at the time, and yet in the days before the internet they played an important role in allowing the broader left to understand the guerilla struggle, especially as since the mid-80s this struggle had primarily been occurring outside of the English-speaking world.

For a variety of reasons, Arm the Spirit would eventually cease to exist. Just recently, though, a former member has begun scanning and uploading documents from the group's archive - not only copies of the ATS magazine, many other pamphlets and newspapers from the radical left, dealing not only with themes of armed struggle, but also repression, political prisoners, the squatting movement, and more. Many of these documents have not ever been made available in this form before. It is a quickly swelling treasure trove, straight from the memory vault.

The archive can be viewed on the issuu website here.

For those of you interested in knowing a bit more about Arm the Spirit, here is a retrospective the group wrote in their last print issue in January 2000:

Arm The Spirit Ten Years On ...

A decade has passed since the first issue of "Arm The Spirit - For Revolutionary Resistance" was published. Ten years on and a new millenium is a good a time as any to reflect back and look at what we've accomplished with this project and where we hope to go. In the late 80s a small group of us had been doing solidarity work around political prisoners in the U.S., particularly around anti-imperialist guerrillas - the "Ohio 7" and the "Resistance Conspiracy Case" - who were on trial for seditious conspiracy and other charges. At that time there was a few magazines (Resistance, The Insurgent, Breakthrough ... ) that published documents from armed groups but they came out infrequently and some were in the process of ceasing publication (indeed none of them are around today). Also much of the solidarity work around the trials mostly consisted of a "right to a fair trial", denouncing repressive measures in the courtroom, etc. We wanted to do more than this in our solidarity work by focussing on the political aspect of the armed struggle by disseminating documents from the armed groups and other related material. So in June of 1990 we started with a small 4-page bulletin that quickly grew in size over the next few years.

The aim of 'Arm The Spirit' was never to place excessive political importance on armed struggle, even though the content of the magazine was largely comprised of communiques from guerrilla organizations and discussions about the aims and means of armed resistance. But we felt that there was a need, particularly in North America, for a publication which offered a forum for such information. Although most clandestine resistance in North America had been defeated by state repression by the mid-1980s, the armed left was still very much alive and well in Europe when ATS began publishing. Early issues of ATS, for example, devoted a great deal of space to the armed antiracist actions of the Dutch organization RARA, communiques from Germany's Red Army Fraction (RAF) and the Revolutionary Cells/Rote Zora (RZ), the Basque organization ETA and the Spanish guerrilla GRAPO, and so on. We wanted the left in North America to be informed about the actions by, the politics of, and the discussions within such movements. But of course, we also provided coverage of other forms of militant struggle, such as the squatters' movement and actions against biotechnology, for example, and we always placed a great emphasis on solidarity with political prisoners and prisoners of war.

In addition to publishing the ATS journal and occasional info-bulletins, we also published other materials on certain occasions. For example, when the Kurdish liberation struggle led by the PKK was at its peak in 1992-93, we published a separate "Kurdistan Solidarity Bulletin". We also produced pamphlets on various guerrilla organizations, such as the RAF and the RZ, to distribute at political events. Our ideas have always been much larger than our budget, however, and many projects never made it off our harddrive and onto paper. Such unfinished works include "Fire And Flames: A History Of The German Autonomist Movement", a book which we translated but were unable to publish. Several pamphlets as well were never completed, usually due to a lack of funds.

Without dwelling upon the collapse of the "real existing socialism" and so on, it goes without saying that the political situation changed dramatically during the 1990s. This had an effect on our publication as well, in that most of the movements which formed the bulk of our content in the early-1990s had either disbanded or disappeared by the mid-1990s. Most of the armed left in Europe gave up the fight, and scores of national liberation movements signed "peace accords" which brought guerrilla struggle to an end in many parts of the world. These changes, as well as our eventual shift to online publishing, brought about some changes in the work of Arm The Spirit.

ATS as an organization began utilizing email and the internet for communication purposes as early as 1992, and by 1995 we had established a basic web site and two online email news lists: ATS-L, a general news list for articles and discussions concerning left-radical political movements, armed resistance, political prisoners, and so on; and KURD-L, a list devoted specifically to the Kurdish national liberation struggle and the PKK. We are proud to say that we have consistently maintained both of these free news lists for 5 years now, with all postings archived and accessible on the web. Several hundred people are subscribed to these lists, with more subscription requests coming almost on a daily basis. (These online projects were made possible by the generous assistance of the comrades of the BURN! collective in California and the Etext collective in Michigan.)

It was never our intention to become solely an online information collective. There are many contradictions and limitations involved in using the internet, such as the lack of access by many groups and organizations outside the metropoles, not to mention the fact that political prisoners cannot participate online. But being consistently active on the internet for several years has helped us to establish new contacts and solidify others. And on some occasions, the effects of our work have been felt well outside the narrow confines of the radical-left. For example, immediately after the MRTA unit "Commando Edgar Sanchez" took over the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima in December 1996, in one of the most daring guerrilla actions of the decade, we immediately set up an English-language solidarity site, intending to provide news and updates on what we expected to be a very short-lived event. As the weeks went on, however, our site became an important source of information and attracted tens of thousands of visitors, "thanks" in part to exposure in the capitalist media (CNN, The Wall Street Journal, etc.). Now, of course, web sites devoted to revolutionary movements are all over the Net, but at that time such sites were still relatively new.

As ATS enters the year 2000, our aim is to continue on with our work as much as possible. We slowly have resumed hardcopy publishing, while at the same time maintaining our online presence. We are also looking forward to continutng our cooperation with other projects, such as Antifa Forum, a collection of groups providing information orr militant antifascism.

With this issue, the first in over 5 years, we had to make a hard decision of what to include. We easily could have filled a couple hundred pages but that was logistically impossible, so we decided to focus on a narrow selection of documents and information on and from European political prisoners and guerrilla organizations. In a way this is a return to our roots as we're the only group to be publishing this kind of material in North America. In particular we felt it was important to publish the RAF's final communique and related documents, as well as ETA's return to armed struggle. We hope to have another issue out by the summer and in it we'll publish material that we had to leave out of this one. This next issue will focus on political prisoners in the U.S., the guerrilla struggle in Colombia, the splintering of the Kurdish national liberation movement and several perspectives on the Irish "peace process".

We hope that our distribution and translation of news and political discussions is useful for the left in North America. Information is only power if it is put into use. If movements continually pass on their histories and their discussions, then we can avoid having to re-invent the wheel as new high points of political activity arise. Most importantly, we plan to continue to provide a non-sectarian forum for a variety militant movements and struggles, from a variety of perspectives and locations, based on the slogan "Solidarity Is A Weapon!".

Ann The Spirit - January 2000

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