The Fifth Estate Magazine at 50


by Dane

“The Fifth Estate, founded in 1965, is an anarchist, anti-capitalist, and anti-authoritarian, anti-profit project published cooperatively by a volunteer collective of friends and comrades. We are committed to non-dogmatic, action-oriented writing and activity to bring about a new world.”

– from the About Us section of the Fifth Estate website


This past fall, the Fifth Estate magazine celebrated its 50th Anniversary. The celebrations were primarily in the form of art gallery exhibits and a staff reunion party. For the whole span of its history, the Fifth Estate (FE) has been an independent, radical publication (the term Fifth Estate represents the alternative to the “Fourth Estate,” a term to signify mainstream media.) The past 40 years of the publication’s run have promoted anarchist/anti-authoritarian ideas and perspectives. With the Slingshot publication in its 27+ years of production, the Fifth Estate has served as either an influence or a model to be looked upon by many of the volunteers who make Slingshot happen each time.*

Started by Harvey Ovshinsky in 1965, FE started as an alternative publication with a focus on arts and culture with it adopting New Left-style politics over the next ten years with an editorial collective developing within this time. By the mid-70s, the FE collective started to adopt the writing of such individuals as Freddy Perlman, Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Camatte, the Situationists (Guy Debord and Raoul Vanegeim primarily), and others. Perlman was a significant influence as he and his partner, Lorraine, lived in Detroit where FE has existed for most of its history. Marcus Graham, who published an anarchist magazine titled “Man!” in the 1930s (when Marxism/Stalinism was unfortunately seen as the primary challenger to class society and other capitalist values), got in contact with FE. By the late 70s, John Zerzan started writing for the publication as well. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, FE became well-known for its radical critique of technology and civilization as a whole. This has continued to the present in some aspects, but it is not quite the same focus as it used to be (the FE Summer 2015’s theme was the critique of technology though). This overall critique of civilized ways of living was to counter, or go beyond, the State and Capital as the foundations of authoritarian ideas and systems. Other writers like David Watson (aka George Bradford), Bob Brubaker, and Peter Werbe, helped in the development of these critiques of technology, progress, and civilized thought.

From 2002-2009, FE was removed from its primary base of Detroit (but still published there occasionally) and began to be edited in Tennessee, New York, and Wisconsin. Pumpkin Hollow, a rural commune in eastern Tennessee was the primary site of production. Since 2009, FE has been published in Detroit again with a decentralized editorial collective scattered across North America. The magazine today has a broad, non-dogmatic perspective with writers coming from various tendencies of anarchist thought (anarcho-communist, anarcho-primitivist, queer anarchist, eco-anarchist, anarcha-feminist, anarcho-syndicalist, and anarchists-without-adjectives). This aspect of FE serves as a unique way to analyze how the anarchist philosophy isn’t monolithic with multiple ways of analyzing authoritarian ideas, philosophies, and institutions. This can be seen as a counter to other anti-capitalist philosophies such as Marxism, where Karl Marx is seen as a Messiah-like individual from where all Truth™ is initially or entirely understood (the FE Spring 2015 issue’s theme was “Anti-Marx.”)

Radical and anarchist publications have served as influence on each other and as a broad medium within independent media. Recently, Peter Werbe, who has been with FE since 1966, mentioned Slingshot newspaper as his favorite publication on the radio show “The Final Straw.” While it may be easy for some to get all their news and sources of information from the internet, others may be looking for such ideas in print form. A person in an infoshop, social space, library, or bookstore may first come across these ideas in a print publication rather than a website. For people who want to see further promotion of such anarchist and/or radical ideas and ways of living, it may be important to either support such magazines, newspapers, and other forms of print media to spark conversations along these lines. Also, anybody can submit articles to Fifth Estate for possible publication (especially if it fits in within the overall mindset and/or specific theme of FE), so you could be part of the next generation of individuals who introduce new perspectives, just like the assortment of individuals previously mentioned who changed FE in the 1970s. Either that, or start your own media; after all, the whole DIY (do-it-yourself) direct action aspect is an integral part of taking these radical ideas from abstract theory and putting them into practice and experimentation.


* Note: While the Slingshot newspaper is free based off raising funds from sales of the annual Slingshot organizer, Fifth Estate magazine is currently $4 an issue and survives off mostly subscriptions. Fifth Estate can be found at most infoshops and radical bookstores (there are issues at the Long Haul Infoshop).


For more info on subscribing or learning more about FE, check out:


Fifth Estate

P.O. Box 201016

Ferndale, MI 48220




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