No Quarter: an Anarchist Zine about Pirates

Wednesday, January 31, 1990

intro

That pirates are a part of the popular imagination should be a surprise to no one. There is something very appealing about the pirate’s loose and roving way of life. In a world where people are more and more stuck in one place, working dull jobs, devoid of adventure – except adventure that they can consume, on tv, extreme sports, or adventure tourism – how can we help but daydream of treasure and the open sea.
It doesn’t escape our attention that the images of pirates that we consume are somewhat toothless. From movies to tv the pirates we see are ugly but jolly, often secretly good hearted (as in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean), or evil in a cartoonish way. We often see Royal Navy Officers desperate to hunt down the pirates, but perhaps we are never entirely sure why, other than that they are pirates and must be hunted down. We see images of pirates everywhere: in kitchy stores you can buy treasure maps and jolly roger flags, or lego and cheap toys. Somehow there is something deeply unsatisfying about all this.
For radicals, pirates offer something more. Adventure, yes, but potential too. There is something menacing about pirates that even hollywood can’t erase; something dangerous. We catch glimpses of Captain Robert’s short and merry life. We find reminders that the jolly roger is more than a clever logo; that rather than sailing under the colors, the authority, of any nation, pirates were sailing with death. Each captain had their own flag, but they all contained the same basic threat and reminder. Pirates were the enemies of all humanity; but we have to consider the context of such an idea. The enemy of all humanity, too true, but what did the concept of humanity entail in the 17th century (at least to those who made the accusation)? It certainly did not include workers, women, slaves, or indigenous peoples encountered in the imperialist expansion. In fact the humanity that pirates were the enemy of were only really rich merchants, slavers, governments and royals, and perhaps the church. In fact aren’t anarchists and other radicals also enemies of this impoverished ‘humanity’(or at least we ought to be).
When we look into the facts (as much as they can be discerned) of piracy we find a very mixed bag, as can be expected. There are certainly a selection of people who liked to kill and brutalize their crewmates. As several writers have noted, these people perhaps missed their calling, and should have been officers in the Royal Navy, or on merchant ships. We should note too, that the pirates themselves seldom had a chance to tell their own stories, and everywhere we look we see the taint of official propaganda describing the savagery of the pirates. We also find characters like Captain Mission (although he may have been fictionalized) who founded the colony of Libertatia upon the principles of liberty and justice. “Mission and his men thus created a radical-democratic utopia that condemned dispossession, capitalist property relations, slavery, and nationalism, as it affirmed justice, democracy, liberty, and popular rights” (Marcus Rediker – Libertalia: The Pirate’s Utopia p.125 in David Cordingly (ed.) – Pirates: Terror on the High Sea). And all this a century before the French revolution. Other pirate captains much better authenticated than Mission (such as Bartholomew Roberts) echoed these sentiments. We hear about other pirate utopias too, such as the independent pirate republic of Salé, on the coast of Morocco (in Peter Lamborn Wilson – Pirate Utopias: Moorish Corsairs & European Renegadoes). We hear of pirate women such as Anne Bonny and Mary Read, and Grace O’Malley, renegade Irish chieftain who met Queen Elizabeth I as an equal. We hear tales of mutinies, and runaway slaves, of violence and people trying to live their lives outside the interference of the great imperialist powers.
The purpose of this zine is to contribute in some small way to the exploration of the radical history of pirates, to the discussion of the growing body of work in this and related areas. To follow the threads running from the English Revolution to the Caribbean and the Golden Age of piracy, on to radical struggles on both sides of the Atlantic forward to today, if we can. We want to look at not just piracy but at bandits and mutiny, at the anarchist illegalist milieu of the turn of the (20th) century etc; anywhere we can find hope and inspiration. As noted in the Nabat Books statement: “the truly interesting and meaningful lives and real adventures are only to be had on the margins of what Kenneth Rexroth called ‘the social lie.’ Its with the dropouts, misfits, dissidents, renegades and revolutionaries, against the grain, between the cracks and amongst the enemies of the state that the good stuff can be found”. These are the cracks that we want to explore.

Tuesday, January 23, 1990

Bandits

Bandits by E. J. Hobsbawm (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1969)
Bandits is a vital book for anyone who wants to look at the social history of banditry. It is an amazing wealth of information on banditry all over the world. Hobsbawn defines social bandits as “peasant outlaws whom the lord and state regard as criminals, but who remain within peasant society, and are considered by their people as heroes, as champions, avengers, fighters for justice, perhaps even leaders of liberation, and in any case men to be admired, helped and supported”(p.13). In Bandits, Hobsbawm documents and analyzes social banditry all over the world. He talks about several types of social bandits, the noble robber (like the fictional Robin Hood or the historical Diego Corrientes and Juro Janosik), avengers (known for their violence such as Rio Preto from Brazil), and haiduks (groups of free armed men somewhere between bandits and occasionally what Hobsbawm [p. 62] characterises as “primitive movements of guerrilla resistance and liberation”).
Chapter 7 is on the intersection between banditry and revolution, which would seem to be a point of much interest for many readers. Unfortunately this is where Hobsbawm Communism comes across the strongest and he betrays some of his biases.

At this point the bandit has to choose between becoming a criminal or a revolutionary.
What if he chooses revolution? As we have seen, social banditry has an affinity for revolution, being a phenomenon of social protest, if not a precursor or potential incubator of revolt. In this it differs sharply from the ordinary underworld of crime, with which we have already had occasion to contrast it. The underworld (as its name implies) is an anti-society, which exists by reversing the values of the ‘straight’ world – it is, in its own phrase, ‘bent’ – but is otherwise parasitic on it. A revolutionary world is also a ‘straight’ world, except perhaps at especially apocalyptic moments when even the anti-social criminals have their access of patriotism or revolutionary exaltation. Hence for the genuine underworld revolutions are little more than unusually good occasions for crime. There is no evidence that the flourishing underworld of Paris provided revolutionary militants or sympathisers in the French revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, though in 1871 the prostitutes were strongly Communard; but as a class they were victims of exploitation rather than criminals (p.84).

What are we to think about the choice that the bandit is given by Hobsbawm? In the eyes of the state a bandit does not cease to be a bandit the moment she takes up the banner of revolution. Far from it. In fact the charge of bandit is often a term of abuse used by states against revolutionaries and resistance fighters. The Nazi’s used the charge against partisans. Franco used it against the anarchist guerrillas after the end of the civil war. I’m sure there are numerous other examples. Throughout Bandits there are examples of people criminalized in one way or another who become bandits. I’d guess they are probably less concerned with what historians and zine writers will think of them and classify them as, and more concerned with staying alive, looking after themselves, their families and communities.
At the beginning of Bandits Hobsbawm makes it clear he is writing about social bandits, not freebooters (common criminals), nor bandit gentry, nor bandits in urban settings. Here he is dividing the social bandits into the ones he wants to claim, and the others. As we can see from his example of prostitutes in the Paris commune, these distinctions can seem fairly arbitrary. Why are some criminals ‘anti-social’ and others members of an exploited class? Does it really make any sense to make a distinction like that? It raises the question as to what Hobsbawm is referring to when he wrote: “especially apocalyptic moments when even the anti-social criminals have their access of patriotism or revolutionary exaltation”(p.84).
The next chapter on “the expropriators”, perhaps offers us some clues. First he ridicules “Bakuninist anarchists”(p.94), then he talks about Lenin and Stalin for a while, then he decides to explain exactly what he means by the phenomenon of expropriation. He chose the example of Francisco Sabate Llopart (El Quico)*, the most famous of the anarchists who waged guerrilla war against Franco after the defeat in the Spanish civil war. Why did El Quico keep fighting Franco until his death in 1960? Indeed, what motivated all the other anarchist guerrillas? Hobsbawm explains: “’The idea’ of anarchism was their motive: that totally uncompromising and lunatic dream which we all share, but which few except Spaniards ever tried to act upon, at the cost of total defeat and impotence for their labour movement.” (p. 97). He proceeds to abuse Francisco Sabate Llopart, the anarchist guerrillas in general, and anarchists in the Spanish revolution for the next 11 pages. Then he writes a conclusion, 6 more pages, and then the end! So getting back to my somewhat disingenuous question about to which especially apocalyptic moment Hobsbawm was referring, I’m guessing it was the Spanish revolution. Can you believe the anarchists would be so bold as to open up the jails when they had the chance? And that many of the ‘criminals’ were not as anti-social as some might assume? Some even contributed to the revolution. Then again, as we learn from the biographical sketch of Sabate, the anarchists were all criminals anyway.
I was being serious when I said that this book is a great resource. I know of no other book that covers so much ground in the social history of banditry. The first 93 pages are well worth a read, despite their somewhat Stalinist sympathies and heavy handed approach. But what can be said about the ridiculous attacks against anarchism, and more importantly the intentional misrepresentation of Francisco Sabate Llopart especially, but also all the other anarchist guerrillas? To allow petty ideological concerns to attack the names of men who had the courage to fight and ultimately die in the struggle against Franco and fascism is disgusting. So until there is a book on bandits that approaches the thoroughness of Bandits, hold your nose and take it for what it is. Perhaps stop reading after chapter six or seven. And if anyone finds a better book, please let me know.

*For more information about Sabate and the anarchist guerilla resistance to Franco I encourage you to read Antonio Tellez’s Sabate: Guerilla Extraordinary translated by Stuart Christie and Tellez’s The Anarchist Resistance to Franco: biographical notes. The later is a pamphlet of photos and short biographical notes of an number of anarchist guerilla’s published by the Kate Sharpley Library. The former is published by AK Press and Elephant Editions.

Two Travel Books

Hunting Pirate Heaven: In Search of the Lost Pirate Utopias of the Indian Ocean by Kevin Rushby (Walker, 2003)
The Pirate Queen: In Search of Grace O’Malley and other Legendary Women of the Sea by Barbara Sjoholm (Seal, 2004)
Two books with some immediate similarities. Both with ‘pirate’ in the title, both more or less travel books, & both have little to do with pirates.
The Pirate Queen is a fascinating tale of travel and research that starts with Sjoholm's visit to Clare Island in Ireland, site of Grace O’Malley’s castle. Throughout her travels, Sjoholm does a wonderful job weaving together interviews with locals, research and her own impressions of the places she visits searching for women of the sea.
Besides Grace O’Malley, she finds folklore about Cailleach the sea hag, a sort of Goddess of storms in Scotland. She travels north by boat into the Orkneys, where she examines the persecution of witches and the practice of selling wind to sailors and the herring lassies, who drove the Scottish fishing industry for 100 years or so. Sjoholm seems to have a gift of being able to intertwine a huge amount of historical information into her travel narrative without getting bogged down. An amazing feat, especially when you consider that she was spending a great deal of time in her room because of the torrential rain. She evokes the rugged beauty of these islands, and the life of the sea without being overly romantic. She doesn’t paint a rosy picture of the lives of women working in the herring factories, but instead places them within the historical context and examines the relative liberty they had at a time when there was very little work or freedom for women.
Sjoholm also seems to have a knack for uncovering interesting characters in her travels. As if by chance she uncovers the story of Anne Robertson, a successful entrepreneur, supplier of ships, and recruiter for the Hudson Bay company and whalers, in the early 1800s. She continues by boat to the Faroe Islands, Iceland and then Norway. She encounters women sea captains, fishers, vikings, playwrites and feminist scholars. As I noted before this book has little to do with pirates, but of course it never claimed to. The section on Grace O’Malley is interesting, and the rest of the book is wonderful too. Another thing to note is that despite being a travel book the bibliography is wonderful. There are several books in there I’d love to hunt down.
Hunting Pirate Heaven grabbed my attention when I saw it at a used book store. : “In Search of the Lost Pirate Utopias of the Indian Ocean”! And this just a month after I had finished Peter Lamborn Wilson’s ‘Pirate Utopias’. What luck!
The story behind the book is that Rushby meets someone on the docks in London who talks up pirates as heroes and mentions in passing that he knows that Captain Mission (famous founder of the colony of Libertatia ) was real. Rushby decides that he should go to Africa and try to find evidence of the existence of Libertatia and of Mission, possibly find some descendents of pirates and generally have an adventure.
He certainly succeeds in the last part. He travels around the coast of Mozambique, over to the Comoros Islands, and down to Madagascar, often hitching rides on commercial freighters and other boats along the way. He quotes Captain Mission, Rousseau, and Gerrard Winstanley (leader of the Diggers), and meets various dropouts from North America and Europe, not to mention people who own their own islands.
He has quite the adventure in Anjoun (Nzwaan), one of the Comoros Islands, a former French colony. After gaining independence from France in the 70s there was a coup in 1975 overthrowing a corrupt dictator (Ahmed Abdullah) in favour of Ali Soilih. Soilih then hired a French mercenary/ adventurer, Bob Denard, to capture the former dictator, fearing that Abdullah might attempt to regain power. After Denard captured Abdullah, Soilih convinced Denard and his men to reluctantly leave Anjoun. “If history books are to believed, events on the Comoros now took a turn for the worse. Ali Soilih promptly disbanded the government, burned all records, legalized marijuana and put teenagers in charge”(p.196). Rushby did a little research and the books he read basically said Soilih was basically a crazy Maoist, compared him to Pol Pot, accused him of redistributing land owned by French absentee landlords to peasants, and said that he was a drug addict and was fairly debauched. Denard came back in 1978 and assassinated Soilih and took over, reinstalling the original dictator, Ahmed Abdullah, as a puppet. Eventually Abdullah rebelled against Denard, who’s militia was brutal, and who was running guns to apartheid South Africa. Abdullah died mysteriously and Denard tried to take over, but pressure from France forced him to flee to South Africa for four years. After which he returned with twelve men and defeated the virtually non-existent Comoran army. France sent in paratroopers and arrested Denard, trying him for Abdullah’s murder. He was acquitted. The funny thing is that almost no one Rushby talked to agreed with the official history about Soilih. Some were quite fond of him. Everything was very confused. I’d like to find out more. I think you could do a lot worse than burning government records, legalizing marijuana, redistributing the land of former colonialists, and putting teenagers in charge.
The one short coming of this book (and it’s a big one) is that despite all the interesting adventure, Rushby basically does very little when it comes to the point of the book. That is, looking for pirates or Captain Mission. He asks questions and gets some interesting answers, but unlike Sjoholm who seems to pull gold out of thin air, Rushby seems a lot more interested in drinking or hooking up with a French tourist than actually following up on leads. He eventually ends up in an area of Madagascar where supposedly everyone is descended from pirates. He finds a woman who can show him a family tree. And then the book sort of ends. No real conclusions, no real evidence. Just a sort of feeling that I got ripped off and that Rushby never really cared about finding anything, he just wanted an exotic premise for another adventure travel book.

Pirate Utopias : Moorish Corsairs & European Renegadoes by Peter Lamborn Wilson

For me this is the book that started it all. If not an interest in pirates, for what young boy is not interested in pirates, then certainly a burgeoning interest in radical piratology. When I saw a reference to this book I wondered at the title: What could it mean, Pirate Utopias? I could not resist my curiosity and thank goodness I didn’t. Wilson herein chronicles the Pirate Republic of Sale in Morocco. He focuses on European renegadoes - Christian converts to Islam (thousands of them) - who along with Moorish corsairs ravaged European shipping from the 16th to 19th century. He asks “Were these men (and women) the scum of the seas, apostates, traitors – “Renegadoes”? Or did they abandon and betray Christendom as a praxis of social resistance?”. How does he bring Ireland into the mix, or Brooklyn? I’m afraid you’ll just have to read it and find out. If you have any interest in radical piratology and you haven’t read this book, please do. It is easily the most inspired and inspiring book about pirates I’ve ever read. Wilson’s detailed research is coupled with the wild originality typical of his writing. I could hardly be more enthusiastic about this book.

The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution

If any book could make the case that radicals today should be interested in the English revolution, a period some 350 years distant, then this is the book. Conservative historical narratives represent this period as a civil war between Cromwell and King; between royalists and parliament. Instead of a history of great men, Hill gives us a history of “the lover fifty percent”, of rank and file soldiers, of common people, and of religious and political radicals.
Hill details groups such as the Levellers, radicals within Cromwell’s New Model Army, agitating for radical democracy within the army and in society at large, working against both the state church and the authority of the puritan divines. Hill looks at Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers who declared the world to be a common treasury for all and practiced agrarian communism on the commons. He looks at religious radicals of all stripes, Baptists, Familists, Muggletonians, Quakers and Seekers. He looks at conspiratorial groups such as the Fifth Monarchists, and perhaps the strangest and most interesting group, the Ranters. Various of these groups demanded the end of the state church, of tithes and religious courts, radical religious toleration (extending even to Muslims and Jews). They agitated for court proceedings in English instead of Latin (so that common people could understand the law) and the right to trial by jury and to represent oneself, even the abolition of lawyers. There was persistent agitation for universal suffrage (extending even to servants and women), universal healthcare, free universal education and various schemes of education reform, the redistribution of land seized from royalists to the poor, an end to Imperialist aggression in Ireland. The Diggers even went so far as to advocate ‘true levelling’, that is, the abolition of private land ownership, no wage labour and no law. Many religious communities allowed for easy divorce for men or women, various liberalizations of sexual morality including allowing wife swapping and destigmatizing adultery. Ranters argued that there was no sin and proceeded to practice what they preached. They loved to smoke, drink, curse, go nude, and have sex with whom they chose (supposedly in public at times). Hill documents that the revolutionary period was marked by widespread opposition and resistance to Calvinism and the protestant work ethic. Cottagers (people who built homes on common land) obstinately refused to work except when absolutely necessary or when wages were unusually high. Many of the radical religious sects and the Ranters were fond of drink and would often have their religious meetings in taverns rather than churches. It was common place for radicals (including George Fox, one of the founding Quakers, who later went on to respectability) to attend services at conservative congregations and challenge the pastor to a debate, demand the right to address the congregation, or simply to disrupt the service. Radicals declared the right of anyone to preach, not just the educated elite.
Hill argues that radical lay preachers in the New Model Army did a lot to spread the ideas during the civil war that blossomed into a social revolution. Ranters burnt the bible on at least one occasion. Many groups claimed that the bible was not literally true and should instruct by analogy. Others doubted its divine origins, pointing out the human element in translation, not to mention choosing which books are included in the bible. Many argued that God’s light existed in all and that one’s conscience was more important than anything in the bible or any other book, and that actions were more important than words ( a radical idea indeed at a time when education was restricted to a small elite). There were many wandering would-be messiahs and healers. Miracles and signs were common place. Many of the sects allowed women to preach (at a time when it was illegal for a woman to sit in the same pew as her husband at church). The claim that Jesus or God was within everyone was widespread, as was the denial of the historical Jesus, or even a creator God. Ranters cursed the bible, Jesus, puritans, the rich, almost anyone.
Hill provides evidence of all this and more, illustrating it with wonderful excerpts from primary sources. Censorship broke down during the revolutionary period and there is the most wonderful wealth of writings by and about the radicals. Hill’s scholarship is excellent but he never gets bogged down or boring. Despite being a well respected academic and perhaps the world’s leading authority on the English revolution (or perhaps because of it) his writing practically boils over with revolutionary enthusiasm. This book is consequently a wonderful introduction, especially for radicals to an amazingly radical period in the history of England, when common folk very nearly turned the world upside down. Hill notes: “The reader who wishes to restore his perspective might with advantage read the valuable book recently published by Professor David Underdown: Pride’s Purge (Oxford U.P., 1971). This deals with almost exactly the same period as I do, but from an entirely different angle. His is the view from the top, from Whitehall, mine the worm’s eye view. His index and mine contain entirely different lists of names.” I for one am glad I stuck with Hill.
This book is especially important if we want to take seriously Hill’s thesis in Radical Pirates (which unfortunately I’ve only read excerpts from), that English radicals, especially Ranters, may have ended up in the new world and influenced- perhaps even became- pirates themselves. I for one am willing to take seriously anything Christopher Hill says.

Monday, January 22, 1990

Women Pirates and the Politics of the Jolly Roger

Women Pirates and the Politics of the Jolly Roger by Ulrike Klausmann & Marion Meinzerin and Gabriel Kuhn (Black Rose, 1997).
This book is comprised of two essays which I have review seperately.

Women Pirates by Ulrike Klausmann & Marion Meinzerin
The book opens with an anecdote about the occupation of the vintage steamer City of Cologne, in Germany during the Rhineland carnival by a group called Pirate Women Against Patriarchy. The audacity of this act caught “the authorities” off guard to such an extent that no one knew what to do for six days. The pirate women did not wait for them to decide; they had made their point and subsequently disappeared into the night. This amusing incident ties the subject matter of this book to the present.
This book looks with a feminist lens at women pirates. Not only the pirates with whom many readers are probably acquainted with like Anne Bonny, Mary Read, and Grace O’Malley, but others as well. Like Ch’ing Yih Szaou, Lady Ch’ing, captain of the largest pirate fleet of her time (early 1800s), or Lai Sho Sz’en, a Chinese pirate in the first part of the 20th century who let a journalist travel with her, and who purportedly died fighting the Japanese during the Chinese-Japanese war, and French buccaneer Jacquotte Delahaye who allegedly turned down a marriage proposal stating: “I couldn’t love a man who commands me – any more than I could love one who allowed himself to be commanded by me”(p.168). Very interesting research.
Klausmann and Meinzerin also make the argument that Bartholemew Roberts, one of the most successful and interesting pirates of the golden age, was in fact a woman. Surely this is enough reason to pick up the book. They trace the history of women and sea robbery to various places where it clearly does not fit our usual definition of piracy. A nice reminder that history is seldom as neat and clear as we would like. Klausmann and Meinzerin do an excellent job tying all these loose threads up into a cohesive and very interesting book.

Life under the Death Head by Gabriel Kuhn
I think that there is a lot to be said for audacity. We are radicals after all. And where better than the subject of pirates to set out for uncharted waters? There is a lot to admire in Gabriel Kuhn’s Life under the death’s head: Anarchism and Piracy. In less than 50 pages Kuhn attempts to use Max Stirner, Nietzche, Pierre Claestres, and Deleuze & Guattari to look at pirates. Stirner fairly briefly, Nietzche only in passing, but both Claestres and Deleuze & Guattari are used extensively.
Kuhn argues that pirates are an example of Claestres’ society without a state (or against the state as it is more commonly translated)*. Kuhn argues that the pirate captain fills essentially the same role as a tribal chief, emphasising that a pirate captain’s authority was subject to recall and existed mainly in battle. Outside of battle the captain had little real power over the crew. In fact, one of the main functions was to mediate disputes, and that the captain constantly had to maintain adequate support from all sides or have his authority rescinded. Kuhn also uses some of Claestres’ observations about primitive economies, asserting that pirates didn’t accumulate wealth like European society, but rather squandered whatever they had until they had nothing left.
Kuhn uses Deleuze & Guattari’s concept of the nomadic war machine and argues that pirates as a whole constituted just that. By their nature and in order to exist pirates were at war with all states and their agents. “Nomadic war functions molecularly: no arrangement, no uniformity, no command, no regulations, no supervision. No rigidity, not of language or of thinking, or of body and play, or of living and working together. In short: a defence of singularities, of events, of nomadic (as opposed to despotic) unity, without compromises, using all available mechanisms”(p.267).
There are some fascinating assertions in this essay. One is that pirates were Christian.Kuhn goes on to assert that:

pirate Christianity was thoroughly pagan. Like everything else about pirates, pagan myths, deities, and principles fit into their tribal form of life. Their absoluteness never exceeded a particular limit. Everything was subject to permanent revision, and gods and rules were regularly switched according to circumstances(p. 248).

And further that pirate Christianity was:

constantly mixed together with the most divergent of other religious perspectives: African tribal rites, voodoo (influences of the escaped African slaves upon pirate communities) or so-called cosmopolitan convictions. For this reason it is probably true “that nomads [pirates] offer no favourable terrain for religion. A warrior is always sinning against priests or God”(p. 248) (here Kuhn quotes Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Tausend Plateaus [A Thousand Plateaus] Berlin: Merve 1992).

All very fascinating but there is no real evidence given for these claims.
In general the major weakness of this essay is that there is scant evidence provided to support most of the claims made. Clearly this is not meant to be an academic essay, and this reader at least is more than willing to give some leeway, but there is just no evidence given for many of the claims. Another problem is that for some reason Kuhn often makes claims as strongly as possible. Instead of saying that this essay will examine piracy during the following period or something of that nature Kuhn says: “True piracy represents only a small part of the history of sea robbery. Geographically concentrated in the Caribbean (and a little bit around Madagascar and African coastal zones) and historically spanning just 30 years – the period from around 1690 to around 1720 – the ‘Golden Age’ of piracy is in fact the only time when it ever really existed”(p. 228). He offers no evidence for such a controversial assertion. After reading the essay I can’t see why Kuhn even made the point! It is indeed a strange assertion in the same volume as Women Pirates, which spans the history of sea robbery. Likewise, Kuhn doesn’t argue that Pirate society was very similar to those societies discussed by Claestres, or that pirate society was similar to the concept of the nomadic war machine of Deleuze & Guattari. Rather Kuhn inserts the word pirate in square brackets after the word nomad in Deleuze & Guattari quotes. And then there is no indication that this is Kuhn’s insertion. Perhaps this is a fault of the translator or editor, but it is a problem none the less. Another problem is that Kuhn presents pirates (even defined in so narrow a way) as far too cohesive and uniform a group. Despite that Kuhn quotes Stirner: “for the individual is the relentless enemy of every generality, every band, meaning every binding tie” (p. 259) (from Max Stirner - The Ego and Its Own). I could go on, but I don’t think I need to. Obviously there are some shortcomings here. I would also emphasize a lot of interesting and audacious ideas that deserve further exploration.


* Its interesting to note that Peter Lamborn Wilson explores similar concepts in one of the essays in his Escape from the 19th Century, reviewed elsewhere (but not in his pirate book Pirate Utopias).

Thursday, January 04, 1990

Quote on the Back

“What are kingdoms but great robberies? Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, ‘What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled an emperor”
- Augustine of Hippo, The City of God (410 CE).