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Bob Black

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Bob Black

Bob Black
Bob Black seated at the Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed booth, attending the 2011 Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair.
Born Robert Charles Black, Jr.
(1951-01-04) January 4, 1951
Detroit, Michigan
Alma mater University of Michigan
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Post-left anarchy
Main interests
refusal of work, post-industrial society, Hunter-gatherer societies, History of anarchism
Notable ideas
The abolition of work

Robert Charles "Bob" Black, Jr. (born January 4, 1951) is an American anarchist. He is the author of the books The Abolition of Work and Other Essays, Beneath the Underground, Friendly Fire, Anarchy After Leftism, "Defacing the Currency," and numerous political essays.


Black graduated from the New Left of the 1970s and undertook extensive readings in anarchism, utopian socialism, council communism, and other left tendencies critical of both Marxism-Leninism and social democracy. He found some of these sources at the Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan, a major collection of radical, labor, socialist, and anarchist materials which is now the repository for Black's papers and correspondence. He was soon drawn to Situationism, egoist communism, and the anti-authoritarian analyses of John Zerzan and the Detroit magazine Fifth Estate. He produced a series of ironic political posters signed "The Last International", first in Ann Arbor, Michigan, then in San Francisco where he moved in 1978. In the Bay Area he became involved with the publishing and cultural underground, writing reviews and critiques of what he called the "marginals milieu." Since 1988 he has lived in upstate New York.[1]

Black is best known for a 1985 essay, "The Abolition of Work," which has been widely reprinted and translated into at least thirteen languages (most recently, Urdu). In it he argued that work is a fundamental source of domination, comparable to capitalism and the state, which should be transformed into voluntary "productive play." Black acknowledged among his inspirations the French utopian socialist Charles Fourier, the British utopian socialist William Morris, the Russian anarcho-communist Peter Kropotkin, and the Situationists. The Abolition of Work and Other Essays, published by Loompanics in 1986, included, along with the title essay, some of his short Last International texts, and some essays and reviews reprinted from his column in "San Francisco's Appeal to Reason," a leftist and counter-cultural tabloid published from 1980 to 1984.

Two more essay collections were later published as books, Friendly Fire (Autonomedia, 1992) and Beneath the Underground (Feral House, 1994), the latter devoted to the do-it-yourself/fanzine subculture of the '80s and '90s which he called "the marginals milieu" and in which he had been heavily involved. "Anarchy after Leftism" (C.A.L. Press, 1996) is a more or less point-by-point rebuttal of Murray Bookchin, "Social Anarchism: An Unbridgable Chasm" (A.K. Press, 1996), which had criticized as "lifestyle anarchism" various nontraditional tendencies in contemporary anarchism. Black's short book ("about an even shorter book," as he put it) was succeeded—as an E-book published in 2011 at the online Anarchist Library—by "Nightmares of Reason," a longer and more wide-ranging critique of Bookchin's anthropological and historical arguments, especially Bookchin's espousal of "libertarian municipalism" which Black ridiculed as "mini-statism."

Since 2000, Black has focused on topics reflecting his education and reading in the sociology and the ethnography of law, resulting in writings often published in "Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed." His recent interests have included the anarchist implications of dispute resolution institutions in stateless primitive societies (arguing that mediation, arbitration, etc., cannot feasibly be annexed to the U.S. criminal justice system, because they presuppose anarchism and a relative social equality not found in state/class societies). At the 2011 annual B.A.S.T.A.R.D. anarchist conference in Berkeley, California, Black presented a workshop where he argued that, in society as it is, crime can be an anarchist method of social control, especially for people systematically disserved by the legal system. An article based on this presentation appeared in Anarchy magazine and in his 2013 book, Defacing the Currency: Selected Writings, 1992-2012.

Black has expressed an interest, which grew out of his polemics with Bookchin, in the relation of democracy to anarchism. For Bookchin, democracy—the "direct democracy" of face-to-face assemblies of citizens—is anarchism. Some contemporary anarchists agree, including the academics Cindy Milstein, David Graeber, and Peter Staudenmeier. Black, however, has always rejected the idea that democracy (direct or representative) is anarchist. He made this argument at a presentation at the Long Haul Bookshop (in Berkeley) in 2008. In 2011, C.A.L. Press published as a pamphlet "Debunking Democracy," elaborating on the speech and providing citation support. This too is reprinted in Defacing the Currency.


Some of his work from the early 1980s includes (anthologized in The Abolition of Work and Other Essays) highlights his critiques of the nuclear freeze movement ("Anti-Nuclear Terror"), the editors of Processed World ("Circle A Deceit: A Review of Processed World"), radical feminists ("Feminism as Fascism"), and right wing libertarians ("The Libertarian As Conservative"). Some of these essays previously appeared in "San Francisco's Appeal to Reason" (1981-1984), a leftist and counter-cultural tabloid newspaper for which Black wrote a column.

The Abolition of Work

"To demonize state authoritarianism while ignoring identical albeit contract-consecrated subservient arrangements in the large-scale corporations which control the world economy is fetishism at its worst ... Your foreman or supervisor gives you more or-else orders in a week than the police do in a decade."
— Bob Black, The Libertarian As Conservative, 1984[2]

The Abolition of Work and Other Essays (1986), draws upon some ideas of the Situationist International, the utopian socialists Charles Fourier and William Morris, anarchists such as Paul Goodman, and anthropologists such as Richard Borshay Lee and Marshall Sahlins. Black criticizes work for its compulsion, and, in industrial society, for taking the form of "jobs"—the restriction of the worker to a single limited task, usually one which involves no creativity and often no skill. Black's alternative is the elimination of what William Morris called "useless toil" and the transformation of useful work into "productive play," with opportunities to participate in a variety of useful yet intrinsically enjoyable activities, as proposed by Charles Fourier. "Beneath the Underground" (1992) is a collection of texts relating to what Black calls the "marginals milieu"—the do-it-yourself zine subculture which flourished in the 80s and early 90s. Friendly Fire (1992) is, like Black's first book, an eclectic collection touching on many topics including the Art Strike, Nietzsche, the first Gulf War and the Dial-a-Rumor telephone project he conducted with Zack Replica (1981-1983).

Black's most recent book,Defacing the Currency: Selected Writings, 1992-2012 was published by Little Black Cart Press in 2013. It includes a lengthy (113 pages), previously unpublished critique of Noam Chomsky, "Chomsky on the Nod." Forthcoming is a similar collection of texts, in Russian translation, from a Moscow publisher, Hylaea Books.


Church of the SubGenius controversy

According to two accounts by Black, he received a bomb in the mail at his street address on November 22, 1989.[3] Black claimed it was a member of the Church of the SubGenius, John Hagen-Brenner, who sent him an "improvised explosive device consisting of an audio cassette holder wired with four cadmium-type batteries, four flashbulbs, and five firecrackers",[4] as described in the charging document filed in Federal District Court. According to Black, he thought the package looked suspicious, then on impulse "threw it against the wall. There was a flash (the flashcubes) and a puff of smoke, but the firecrackers did not go off."[4] Black turned the device in to the police. Black believes that the device was sent to him because of criticism he had made of the Church, and he has repeatedly brought up the incident in his writings concerning the Church.[3] Ivan Stang and other members of the Church have denied any involvement in this incident, and no one else was charged. One of Black's texts was reposted and dismissed on the SubGenius mailing-list.[5]

Anarchy After Leftism, and the Bookchin controversy

Beginning in 1997, Black became involved in a debate sparked by the work of anarchist and founder of the Institute for Social Ecology Murray Bookchin, an outspoken critic of the post-left anarchist tendency. Bookchin wrote and published Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm, labeling post-left anarchists and others as "lifestyle anarchists" — thus following up a theme developed in his Philosophy of Social Ecology. Though he does not refer directly to Black's work, Bookchin clearly has Black's rejection of work as an implicit target when he criticizes authors such as John Zerzan and Dave Watson, whom he controversially labels part of the same tendency.

For Bookchin, "lifestyle anarchism" is individualistic and childish. "Lifestyle anarchists" demand "anarchy now", imagining they can create a new society through individual lifestyle changes.

In response, Black published Anarchy After Leftism. The text is a combination of point-by-point, dissection of Bookchin's argument, with bitter polemic, personal insult against Bookchin (whom he refers to as "the Dean" throughout).[6]

Besides quibbling over some minor biographical details, Bookchin refused to reply to Black's critiques, which Black continued in such essays as "Withered Anarchism", "An American in Paris", and "Murray Bookchin and the Witch-Doctors"; and which Black later collated into a single book-length critique of Bookchin's views entitled Nightmares of Reason.[7]

Processed World

Black has been accused of harassing the Processed World collective in the mid-1980s in San Francisco.[8][9] This included death threats, destruction of property, and Black, as an attorney, filing a complaint with the San Francisco Planning Commission over alleged zoning violations that led to the eviction of Processed World from its office.

Jim Hogshire

A visit by Black to writer Jim Hogshire in Seattle in 1996 led to a violent confrontation between the two. Accounts vary, but a religious argument - Hogshire is a Muslim - likely led to Black grabbing Hogshire's wife, possibly by the throat, after which he was put out of Hogshire's apartment at gunpoint.[10] A supporter of Black later claimed that Hogshire called the police on Black as a result of the incident.[11] Black subsequently reported Hogshire to the police as a manufacturer of opium, and informed them that Hogshire had written the book, Opium for the Masses, detailing the collection of opium from poppy flowers.[12] The resultant raid on Hogshire's apartment led to his arrest and yielded over 5 lbs. of opium poppies, five firearms, and a thermite flare. As a result of his arrest, Hogshire was evicted from his apartment.[13] The case, which received wide publicity, ended, over a year later, with Hogshire's guilty plea to a misdemeanor.

See also


  1. ^ Uri Gordon, "Bob Black", in The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest, Wiley-Blackwell 2009.
  2. ^ The Libertarian As Conservative by Bob Black, 1984
  3. ^ a b Black, Bob (1989). "Bomb 'Em If They Can't Take a Joke", 1989 (post-November 22), reprinted at
  4. ^ a b Black, Bob. "They Don't Call it SubGenius for Nothing". Spunk Library. Archived from the original on May 26, 2008. Retrieved October 28, 2008. 
  5. ^ Bob Black's 1989 story "Bomb 'Em If They Can't Take a Joke" reprinted and discussed in 1990, as archived at
  6. ^ Janet Biehl, "Introduction," Chaz Bufe's Listen, Anarchist, See Sharp Press [1]
  7. ^ Nightmares of Reason
  8. ^ Chaz Bufe (1987). "Listen Anarchist!". 
  9. ^ Bob Black. "Let's not forget...Fred Woodworth is a liar and a fool". Retrieved March 31, 2013. 
  10. ^ Bob Black. "MY DATE WITH JIM HOGSHIRE (Version 2.1)". Spunk Library. Retrieved March 31, 2013. 
  11. ^ John Connor. "Letter from John Connor". 
  12. ^ Chaz Bufe. "Bob Black's Letter to Seattle Police". Retrieved March 31, 2013. 
  13. ^ Michael Pollan (April 1, 1997). "Opium Made Easy". Harper's Magazine/ 

External links

  • Bob Black at the Spunk Library
  • at InspiracyThe Abolition of Work and Other EssaysThe entire text of Bob Black’s 1986 collection
  • The Abolition of Work
  • Gerry Reith archive at Inspiracy
  • Future Nexus
  • Listen Anarchist! a critique by Chaz Bufe
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