PM Press: Ten Years of Literary Molotovs

  • Posted on: 7 August 2018
  • By: Anonymous (not verified)
PM Press: Ten Years of Literary Molotovs

From Fifth Estate, Summer 2018.

PM Press celebrated its tenth anniversary of publishing in May with a bang-up party in Oakland, Calif., where staff, authors, and various well-wishers howled at political sketch comedy, smashed a captured Amazon delivery drone, and danced the night away to good old punk rock.

PM Press was founded at the end of 2007 by a small collection of people with decades of publishing, media, and organizing experience. At the outset we strived to create and distribute radical audio, video, and text releases through every available channel in all possible formats. True to one expanded variation of our name, “Print Matters,” we’re shamelessly biased in favor of hardcopy books as the best format to communicate ideas for social change.

In many ways, book publishing is similar to entertainment-related industries like professional sports or music, where the pressure is heavy to produce recognized, celebrity-driven material aimed at the lowest common denominator, as quickly and cheaply as possible. Our peers in publishing too often chase the wild goose they hope will carry them into a financially secure situation. This includes not just authors but every part of the industry involved with publishing a physical book, most of whom have little active role in promoting social change: rural paper mills, industrial park printers, strained freight carriers, overstocked distributors, and brick and mortar stores.

PM Press has never had a New York Times bestseller, and you will not find our books reviewed in its pages. It’s not part of the financial equation for small presses to reach the mainstream by moving millions of copies of single titles—although we have sold millions of copies of books in total, often one at time, face to face. Events like anarchist book fairs and the existence of radical book shops are critical to exposing our work around the world. We organized, promoted, or attended 370 author events and 200 tabling exhibits in 2017 alone. PM is currently staffed by 10 people: several scattered around the West Coast, others working from the Rockies, Appalachia, New England, Montreal, and in the UK. After years of volunteer work, we are able to pay living wages by producing 30 books per year for gross sales surpassing a million dollars. And like Fifth Estate, PM just celebrated our 400th release.

There is a shrinking audience in 2018 for what we’d call historical anarchist texts, which have long been the staple of movement publishers. While anarchism has earned respect as a topic of intellectual study and debate in the universities, the discourse too often takes place apart from the poor and working-class communities that nurtured the movement in the 19th and 20th centuries; defanged by spring-break symposiums and backslapping sabbaticals.

One of our tasks as anarchist publishers, then, is to inject the historical politics of anarchism—active self-organizing, promotion of equality, opposition to hierarchy, the state, and organized religion—into the movements, milieus, and media of the times. Anarchism is always on the side of the oppressed. It never seeks mainstream respectability.

The good news is that we have a broad enough umbrella to be a part of the discussion within many different cultures and experiences, from political prisoners to punk rockers, social scientists to cartoonists. Among our bestsellers, books such as Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology, the full-color Understanding Jim Crow: Using Racist Memorabilia to Teach Tolerance and Promote Social Justice, and the West Virginia history book Gun Thugs, Rednecks, and Radicals, bridge perceived gaps between traditional supporters of anarchist publications, those involved with grassroots social justice activism, and professional writers and educators doing some of the best work in their fields.

At the tiny level on which independent publishers operate, selling 3,000 copies of a book in one year makes it a bestseller. A handful of anarchist-specific backlist titles, including books on the CNT in the Spanish Revolution, German philosopher Gustav Landauer’s collected works, and titles by UK activists Stuart Christie or Colin Ward, may not sell 100 copies annually, combined.
Many of the problems facing independent publishers today are the same as decades ago. Rising physical costs of producing a book—paper, freight, storage, advertising, distribution—are still everyday concerns. And who wants to do the unglamorous and physically demanding work of warehousing, or spend years learning the highly-detailed, solitary skills of proofing, indexing, and book design for projects that will rarely be financially profitable?

Yet countless writers, artists, and activists are submitting more manuscripts and proposals than PM could ever publish. If a dozen independent publishers formed tomorrow to disseminate these texts, in every format and genre, they’d have plenty of work to do, and we would all benefit.

Anti-authoritarian books garner plenty of attention within the modern anarchist movement, but building lasting alternatives to capitalism is what we have to do, not just churn out books. The ideas and examples contained in these books must inspire the doers who create community lending libraries, food-growing and sharing co-ops, non-capitalist child and elder care, prisoner support networks—and yes, as dated as it sounds, revolution against oppression by any means necessary.



The decrepitude of The Fifth Estate is on rich display here: PM Press is a capitalist enterprise whose chief resident upper-middle class business creep Ramsey Kanaan keeps his business afloat by scamming well-intentioned people into donating free labor for him. And among the people PM Press has published are the U.S. neo-conservative war bird Stephen Schwartz, in a journal titled 'Arena' a few years back, as well as a number of texts extolling the antics of Stalinists.

The motto of this ersatz anarchist publisher should be that line from Stalin: paper will take anything that is written on it. It certainly applies to any business enterprise that Ramsay Kanaan gets his sticky grasping bourgeois paws on -- and to The Fifth Estate as well.

I suspect you're actually thinking of the line from Octave Mirbeau, with regard to Emile Henry's bombing of a working class cafe: "anarchism has a broad back, like paper it endures anything."

So not only does your half-remembered "Stalin" paraphrase fail; it absolutely backfires.

As far as I know PM doesn’t claim to be anarchist, so complaints about their publishing and distribution decisions based on some supposed lack of radical integrity are misplaced. This was/is definitely not the case with AK during and since Ramsey’s tenure there, Kanaan’s influence and business sense are certainly questionable from a generically anticapitalist perspective, but really Kevin, aren’t you just angry because Ramsey wouldn’t publish your novel?

To say, 'PM Press isn't anarchist, so, any lack of integrity they display is cool with us" say a lot about the lack of credibility and integrity of the person who puts this gutless and brainless position forward.

A capitalist business endeavor is a capitalist business endeavor, and to expect it to be answerable to some impossibly lofty standards that would rapidly put it out of business is to expect too much from it. Without defending capitalist businesses as such, there are some, many in fact, that are run in a consistently honest manner, and whose owners are fundamentally honest people -- to pretend otherwise would be stupid -- but that's not the case with business enterprises associated with Ramsay Kanaan.

The Bound Together anarchist bookstore in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury district is not a capitalist business, but an experience that a friend of mine had as a collective member at Bound Together when Kanaan was also a collective member is telling. My friend had some qualms about the fact that Bound Together was selling a black and red anarcho-syndicalist flag at a price that this person regarded as exorbitant -- forty bucks, fifty bucks, something like that. Ramsay Kanaan's response was that anyone gullible or stupid enough to pay what the anarchist collective bookstore was asking deserved to get ripped off. I'd hate to be an idealistic teenage kid, new to anarchism, whose first encounter with anarchy in action was to get fleeced by a nominal anarchist dirtbag business creep with a long track record of cynical and exploitative antics of this sort. This isn't some kind of minor lapse in Kanaan's track record; it's consistent with what this guy is about.

This also relates to the question of why Kanaan has run his business endeavors -- which his defenders proclaim aren't pretending to be anarchist or anti-capitalist -- with free labor from some, while Kanaan and others earn a living from the business. And then we can examine the politically dubious quality of a number of the titles they sell as well, ranging from a neo-conservative who energetically applauded Reagan and Bush's crimes against working and poor people in Central America in the 1980's to avowed Stalinists.

Imputing positions — and with quotation marks, as if it were an actual quotation! — to others and then attaching those false positions is the definition of a straw man argument. It’s a rather pedestrian logical fallacy and totally bad faith because you know it’s false.
We can agree that Kanaan is a disreputable and dishonest sectarian con artist without holding PM Press to an unreasonable standard of radical integrity because they wouldn’t publish your novel.

Attacking, not attaching

I have never submitted a novel to PM Press -- get you ad hominem facts straight. And, yes, the real world actions of the proprietor of PM Press have something to do with what PM Press is about.

Along with publishing and promoting the authentically 1/64th Native American and 100% authentically fraudulent academic Ward Churchill, PM Press has also published neo-conservative Stephen Schwartz, an ardent fan of the Nicaraguan contras, and the leading apologist in the West for Uzbekistan's late and unlamented torturer-tyrant Islam Karimov -- and as an officially designated expert on anarchism no less -- in Stuart Christie's 'Arena Two: Anarchists in Fiction':

For more on Schwartz, see:

Paper will take anything that's written on it -- especially when it has ink on it from the publishing endeavors of Ramsay Kanaan and Company.

Never getting titles reviewed in the New York Times isn't exactly a mark of distinction. It might just mean nobody reads your stuff.

Yeah... Too bad PM keeps selling books by avowed authoritarian and transphobe scumbag Derrick Jensen.

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