AK Press is a worker-run collective that publishes and distributes radical books, visual and audio media, and other mind-altering material. We're small: a few people who work long hours for short money, because we believe in what we do. We're anarchists, which is reflected both in the books we provide and in the way we organize our business. Decisions at AK Press are made collectively, from what we publish, to what we distribute and how we structure our labor. All the work, from sweeping floors to answering phones, is shared. When the telemarketers call and ask, "who's in charge?" the answer is: everyone. Our goal isn't profit (although we do have to pay the rent). Our goal is supplying radical words and images to as many people as possible. The books and other media we distribute are published by independent presses, not the corporate giants. We make them widely available to help you make positive (or, hell, revolutionary) changes in the world. As you probably know, the stuff we carry is less and less available from the corporate publishers and chain shops.
What do you mean by "anarchism"?
"Like all really good ideas," writes Clifford Harper, "Anarchy is pretty simple when you get down to it—human beings are at their best when they are living free of authority, deciding things among themselves rather than being ordered about." Anarchism means abolishing the state and all coercive social relations. It means a society in which individuals create and control their own collective organizations to meet their social and economic needs. These organizations would federate and democratically coordinate (rather than compete) among themselves without any government oversight. Some say that this is impossible, that without governmental authority we’d descend into violence, lawlessness, and corruption. But, look around: isn’t that pretty much what we have now? Government is a centralised force that imposes rules from above, suppressing individual initiative in the interests of a small minority. Capitalism is an economic system based on exploitation, private ownership (theft) of society’s resources, and a logic of ruthless competition. Rather than accept these human constructions as "natural", AK Press draws on a rich history of folks from all over the planet and from all walks of life who have imagined, fought for, and actually achieved something better.
No government, "revolutionary" or otherwise, has ever liberated its citizens from gender, racial, or class oppression. No government has ever developed a model for an environmentally sustainable society. With a record like that, it’s strange that anyone still backs that particular horse. Back in the day, as socialist ideas were developing and confronting the emerging capitalist system, revolutionaries claimed that "the emancipation of the working class is the task of the workers themselves". Anarchists still make that claim. We don’t advocate "no control", but insist on asking "control by whom?" We work to destroy arbitrary power (political, economic, and social), to take decision-making power away from "officials", while developing our ability to fill that void and provide for ourselves. "People's governments" invariably become calcified and abandon the struggle for human freedom. This is why we identify with the liberatory strains within the history of socialism—the unbroken thread of impassioned resistance against both the terrors of capitalism and the tyranny of government.
Anarchism doesn't tell people what to do. It tells them that they have the ability to make decisions about the issues that affect them. Anarchism, and the anarchist movement, is about emancipation, empowerment, and agency. Ask yourself this: what would your ideal transportation system, agricultural system, neighborhood, school, or workplace look like? Now ask yourself how much influence you and the people around you have over these issues? Can we afford to leave these decisions to the same people who have been screwing up our lives thusfar?
Evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould once wrote, "I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein's brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops". The repressive hierarchies of capitalism and the state create human beings who are mere shells of what we could be, stunting us mentally, physically, and emotionally. Adding insult to injury, we’re then taught to blame ourselves for this situation, instead of looking for the institutional roots of our problems.
Because destroying one form of oppression only leaves the others to fester, anarchism tries to focus on all unequal power relations simultaneously. Capitalism and the state didn’t invent racism, patriarchy, or gender oppression, but they use a variety of divisive tactics to bolster our dependence on them. Understanding how oppressions are interlinked is an important step in overcoming them, as well as a way to practice freedom here and now, rather than relegating it to some distant future.
For us, anarchism is a practical framework for working out these issues. It’s a revolutionary analysis that helps us understand the roots of domination, both as individuals and as members of exploited social groups. It offers a useful and instructive history of theoretical and practical experimentation by people who have worked to expand the definition of freedom itself by fighting those who violently constrain and deny it.
What is a collective?
A collective is a group of individuals who work together on a common project without relying on internal hierarchies. Collectives can be large or small. They might exist temporarily or over long periods, and membership in them is voluntary. Any group—whether it’s a social club, NGO, or political organization—that has a board of directors, boss, manager, guru, or president is not a collective. In our current society, most formal organisations use a system of ranking that concentrates decision-making power in the hands of a minority that then uses this power to serve their own interests. This is exactly what collectives are designed to prevent.
In collectives, leadership happens naturally and fluidly. All skills and knowledge are shared, not hoarded by an elite. This means that duties and responsibilities can be rotated among a collective’s members and that they can be revoked if anyone starts abusing their power. This horizontal structure is a dynamic and vital way to constantly increase worker-empowerment.
Isn’t an “anarchist business” an oxymoron?
There’s definitely something strange and contradictory about the concept of an anarchist business. AK Press works hard to destroy and move beyond capitalism, toward a non-exploitative, sustainable, and just economy. However, like it or not, capitalism is the only game in town at the moment. The paper that books are printed on, the building we work in, the packages we send and receive, the computers we use—all are the result of the exploited labour of the working class. Until we take power away from private economic tyrannies like corporations and investment groups, until we’re in control of our creative energies, almost every good or service we use or provide is administered by capitalism. AK Press doesn’t exist to enrich its members at the expense of consumers. We’re here to provide much needed tools for intellectual self-defense. When we call ourselves an "anarchist business" it’s with the full knowledge that the economy is not in our hands. Yet.
So what makes AK Press “anarchist”?
We operate without a corporate structure. No boss, no managers, no bullshit. We’ve replaced hierarchy with cooperation, accountability, and responsibility of our individual members. New ideas aren't generated by specialists in air-conditioned offices, but in open meetings—where ideas are discussed freely and a course of action is decided democratically by everyone directly affected by the decision. It’s our way of creating the better world we carry in our hearts, and trying to live it in some small way while carrying on the legacy of those revolutionaries who came before us. Yes, we are continually battling the constraints of a market economy, but we’re also learning the pathway to autonomy, while challenging some of the most basic structures of capitalism. Freedom is a constant struggle.
While each of us has our own definition of anarchism, they overlap in enough ways to maintain our common project. At the same time, we understand that the anarchist movement is made up of many historical and contemporary strands, whether they call themselves "anarchist", or "socialist", or refuse labels altogether. We don’t have a problem spreading the ideas of people with whom we don’t always see eye-to-eye. No idea is so infallible that it can’t be examined, questioned, and debated. Humans have self-organised since the dawn of recorded time, in varying ways, with varied results. We strive to abolish the systems that control and separate us, and try to draw important lessons from these struggles so that we can all move forward together.
A key component of our struggle is the sharing of knowledge, history, and information. Through our publishing and distribution efforts, we see ourselves as part of a long tradition of getting the word out by any means necessary. In many historical periods, books, pamphlets, and other forms of written communication were clandestine, relying on networks of individuals keeping revolutionary ideas alive with secret printing presses, tattered facsimiles, and underground distribution systems. Our mission is to keep circulating these important texts, while producing new analyses and documenting the history of our struggle as it unfolds. We’re proud to call ourselves propagandists and hope that the materials we provide both agitate and provoke.