No Quarter: an Anarchist Zine about Pirates

Wednesday, January 31, 1990


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.


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