Sunday, January 15, 2006

Practical Anarchy - Eleuthera

Elèuthera is an anarchist publishing co-operative
based in the heavily industrialised city of Milan, in
the North of Italy. It is operated by the same group
that organises the Centro Studi Libertari / Archivo
Giuseppe Pinelli, named after the anarchist railway
worker who was thrown from a Milan Police Station
window in 1969.

The co-operative developed from the activities of a
group of anarchist activists who came together in the
1960s. In the 70s they become increasingly convinced
that the political realm was becoming less and less
open to intervention and debate, so decided to
concentrate on the social sphere. The group was both
militant and articulate, and was able to engage with
wider intellectual currents beyond the anarchist

Elèuthera grew out of a need to promote anarchist
ideas outside the "ghetto" of the anarchist movement
so that anarchist ideas would start to circulate in
the wider culture of Italian society. Its members
were convinced that there was a widespread interest in
anarchism and they wanted to find a way to put these
ideas into circulation for serious debate.

From that starting point they took a calculated
decision that it was necessary get anarchist books
into the general bookstores rather than just see them
circulated within the anarchist milieu. When they
started Elèuthera in the late 80s and early 90s it was
comparatively easy to gain access to commercial
distribution networks, but it has gradually become
more and more difficult as the big publishers have
attempted to squeeze smaller publishers out of
business through their ability to offer larger
discounts and well-financed sales promotion.
Consequently the Elèuthera co-operative has to devote
an increasing amount of time and energy to
distribution. This has limited the level of other
activity at the Pinelli Centre. Nevertheless,
Elèuthera has managed to establish a distinctive
identity within Italian publishing. Their books are
frequently recommended on course reading lists and
attract the interest of the mainstream media.

Years of hard work, determination and effort have paid
off. The two original members of the co-operative
have increased to seven and there are now more than
150 titles in the Elèuthera catalogue including works
by Noam Chomsky, Murray Bookchin, Kirkpatrick Sale,
Colin Ward, Jacques Ellul, Ivan Illich, Claud Lefort,
Ursula LeGuin, and Kurt Vonnegut. Recent books
include Italian translations of Tim Jordan's Direct
Action, Sean Sheehan's Anarchism, and Colin Ward's
Water. Other new titles include a book on the
Zapatista rebellion, and Carlos Amorin's The Dirty War
Against Children - the story of Sara Mendez, a young
Uruguayan anarchist living clandestinely in Buenos
Aires, with her young son Simon. Captured by the
military she spent 5 years in prison. When she was
eventually released in 1981 Simon was, like many other
children, officially "disappeared" and forced to live
under a new identity.

The most popular books tends to be on architecture and
urbanism, and the application of anarchist ideas to
social organisation - the kind of topics pioneered by
Colin Ward in Britain - books which are not overtly
anarchist, but look at anarchist ideas in action. One
paradox that they have not been able to resolve is
that whereas big publishers are able to sell books on
anarchism in large quantities, the anarchist movement
finds that its books on anarchism sell in only limited
numbers, usually within the anarchist milieu.
Elèuthera's books that speak to a readership about
applying anarchist ideas to everyday life now and in
the future sell very well. Subjects range from art and
literature to sustainable cities, technology,
surveillance, and from social space to libertarian

Average print runs are often quite small - only 1,500
copies, but their best-selling title, by the French
sociologist Marc Augé, has sold more than 20,000
copies. Augé has identified a space within capitalism
that he defines as "no space" - impersonal, soulless
places such motorways, airports, shopping malls,
around which capitalism is increasingly organised and
within which people loose their identity and their
concept of space. People are only connected to these
spaces in a uniform and bureaucratic manner and
creative social life is not possible within them.

In addition to Elèuthera's publishing activities the
co-operative based around the Pinelli Centre also
produce a popular topical monthly magazine A Revista
Anarchica, which is sold throughout Italy (even in
many commercial newsagents as well as left-wing
bookshops) and Libertaria, a magazine with longer more
reflective, analytical articles. There is also a
regular bulletin, that narrates a "living anarchism",
related to the lives of ordinary anarchists, so that
it features biographies of ordinary activists, rather
than the great names of anarchism. In particular they
have been keen to publicise the activities of the
anarchist resistance to Italian fascism, which has
largely been written-out of the "official" histories.
So far 23 issues of the bulletin have been published,
and full pdf versions are available online.


Pinelli Centre

A-Rivista Anarchica