Vancouver Yippie! and Anarchism

VANCOUVER YIPPIE! AND ANARCHISM

The Yippie Movement, while anti-authoritarian, was not overtly or ideologically anarchist. However, over the course of two years of militant action, many members began to consider themselves part of a distinctly anarchist tendency. The roots of the Vancouver Anarchist Movement can be traced back to those Yippies. To see how anarchist ideology developed within this (non) organization, it is necessary to examine one of the three original founding groups, the Simon Fraser IWW.

The Simon Fraser IWW and How It Came To Be

SFU IWW was a very loose grouping of about a dozen people disatisfied with the direction the student power movement called SDU (Students for a Democratic University) was taking. SDU had lost its sense of humour, lost the free and open ways of the early New Left and was drifting into Maoism. Some disgruntled members ran a slate in the student elections called the Fart Party, slogan Fart Now! and cut into the SDU vote. Fart Party and IWW memberships overlapped.

So how did the SFU IWW come about? You have to go back to the summer of 1968. Up till that time, I had been a fairly conventional New Leftist, like so many others, was drifting over to Marxist-Leninism, out of a lack of anything better to do. Then a friend of mine, Willy E., who has a talent for digging up the most interesting books you can imagine, handed me a copy of George Orwell’s “Homage To Catalonia” and said, “You gotta read this!”

So I did, and couldn’t put it down. I had met people who called themselves anarchists before, in the Ban the Bomb movement, they were nice enough, said they were anarchist-pacifists, but seemed rather vague. Certainly not the sort to start a revolution, and anyway they dropped out and became hippies a year later. Wanting something with teeth, I drifted over to the Trots and the Maoists for influence.

Well, as you can imagine, “Homage” floored me. Here were anarchists – several million of them in fact, who created a true form of socialism, based upon worker-controlled collectives. And to top it off, they were stabbed in the back by the Stalinists, the ideological forebarers of the Maoism to which I had been attracted.

The let down was, there didn’t seem to be any anarchists around any more. I though that the movement was dead and wandered around in a political quandery for a couple of months. Then, one day in late September I happened to glance at the bulletin board in the SFU quadrangle. Pinned to the bulletin board was a smudgy, badly typed leaflet full of spelling and punctuation errors. It exhorted the reader to build the One Big Union, join the IWW and provided a phone number and address. I tore the leaflet down, reading it over several times. The IWW still existed! The very same sort of people who made the revolution in Spain were present in Vancouver.

That evening Willy E. and I went to the address and were met at the door of a Kitsilano basement suite by a strongly build old man who suffered the effects of a stroke. This was “Old John” McAndrew, IWW delegate for Vancouver. We joined the IWW on the spot. Since I lived only a few blocks away, I often drifted over to see him in the evenings. I would return with armloads of anarchist and syndicalist books, pamphlets and newspapers which I read until my eyes gave out.. All of this was vastly more interesting than my course work.

Not only did the IWW still exist, but there were anarchist groups in a number of different countries. Soon, London’s “Freedom Weekly”, London “Solidarity” and the Chicago “Rebel Worker” were tumbling through my mail-slot. I tore through the SFU library, reading every book on anarchism and syndicalism there. With the exception of Jim Harding and a couple of my friends, no one else seemed to have the slightest knowledge of anarchism and how important it was. Indeed, the radical students seemed to be pulled ever deeper into the Marxist-Leninist mire. I had to do something to get the truth out.

I had a part time job as printer for the SFU student society, which gave me the ability to self-publish. With Old John’s manual type writer I pecked out an article on the the Spanish collectives based on information taken from an eye-witness account from a Wob who was in Spain. This had been written up in a 1936 edition of OBU Monthly, the IWW magazine. Bob M. drew a cover, and “Solidarity Magazine” of the SFU IWW was born in June of 1969. This must have been one of the earliest zines in Canada, the only one I know that preceded it was Art Bartell’s “Libertarian” which came out of Toronto in 1968. I also reprinted half a dozen libertarian socialist pamphlets, most of which were copies of the British Solidarity Group. Hundreds of pamphlets and zines were given away on campus. But the effect on other student radicals was absolutly zilch.

In the meantime, this little group of dissidents who joined the Wobs, only a couple of whom considered themselves anarchists, felt a sense of comradeship. When the Yippie founding meeting was called by Kitsilano and East Side radical hippies, we joined as a block.

Yippie Anarchists

The Yippie newspaper,”The Yellow Journal”, first published in April of 1970, was mainly in the hands of former SFU dissident radicals. Bob M. was editor and Willy E. did as series of articles examining the Russian Revolution from an anarchist perspective. Once I got to know the other Yippies a bit better, I quietly suggested that they should check out anarchism. But I was not the only overt anarchist, as Bill F. was also associated with the Yippies. Bill was one of the pioneer anarchists in Vancouver, having been involved in the League for Total Disarmament back in the early 1960′s. They put on a number of anti-war actions and I believe Doug W. of Sooke – an old friend of George Woodcock’s – was instrumental in setting up the League.

The energy that fueled Yippie began to peter out in the fall of 1971. Some of the members sought a new direction. I found Eric S. increasingly interested in my anarchist ideas and I gave him articles to read. Soon we were meeting on a regular basis. I remember that Bob S., Peter P. , Ken L. and David S. were there as well. I was all fired up about Murray Bookchin’s writings published in a copy of Colin Ward’s “Anarchy.” magazine. Soon after, Ramparts published Bookchin’s “Post Scarcity Anarchism” and the whole group started reading it. The upshot was, early in 1972, a handful of us formed an anarchist ecology group with the unfortunate name of “Volunteers” after the Jefferson Airplane Album. (The name was Eric’s idea, not mine!) Volunteers never got off the ground, folding eight months later after a couple of small actions. Ken, who did not join the the collective, set up an anarchist study group. People I had never seen before networked and became active anarchists. The one important thing Volunteers did do was to bring Murray Bookchin to the University of BC where he spoke to several hundred people.

In 1975, Ken got the idea of publishing a high-quality anarchist tabloid, modelled in part on Akwasasne Notes and Rolling Stone, and David proposed the name “Open Road”. Yippie anarchists and some new people (also anarchists) got together to form the Open Road Collective. The first issue of Open Road was published in the spring of 1976. It is from this point that an overt and permanent anarchist tendency exists in Vancouver.

Larry Gambone July 28 2006

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