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Ron Sokolsky's Misrepresentation of Victoria Anarchism

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Dominion Stories

I see Ron Sokolsky has posted a lengthy rant on his Oystercatcher blog in which he characterizes me as a "Commissar" and Victoria Camas Books Collective as . . . a bunch of horrid stuff implying a 20 plus collective follows the Commissar's orders.

I have not written or published any such derisive characterizations of Ron Sokolsky. Nor have I circulated any insulting and harsh reviews of any of his books over the internet.

I did ask the Camas Books Collective to consider not purchasing Swift Winds if the offer arose at Ron Sokolsky's May 12th book launch because it contains a personalized attack on a collective member in the form of a book review. This was discussed by the collective, debated, and approved.

Incidentally, the Fifth Estate journal carried a review of Swift Winds that also deemed Ron Sokolsky's rant against my book 'regrettable' for similar reasons, because it adopts a very personal and vindictive tone.

As to "anarchist writings" being "banned" in Victoria, Camas Books has purchased all of Ron Sokolsky's other books and Ron Sokolsky was invited to sell Swift Winds at his latest book launch, a point worth noting, given the accusations he is circulating.

So Swift Winds is not "banned from Victoria" (it’s available in a record store right across the street from Camas), however the Camas Books Collective has chosen not to purchase it.

Is a collective decision not to purchase a book a violation of anarchist principles?

Recently AK Press ceased to distribute Anarchy Magazine after it published a review of the AK catalog that took on a hostile personalized tone, in this instance directed at Ramsey Kannan (who was no longer part of the AK collective at the time the review appeared).

Any anarchist bookstore collective can choose what book or magazine to purchase (or not) based on various criteria, just as any anarchist publishing collective may choose to publish or not publish this or that manuscript (which is why we have such a rich diversity of publishing collectives in our movement).

There are political, personal, and affinity related factors that figure in every instance.

For the record, I respect Ron Sokolsky's work to bring an anarchist politics to contemporary surrealism. Where we differ concerns some nuances in the history of the surrealist movement. Having discovered a number of anarchists in the arts criticized or moved beyond surrealism during WW2, I have written on that topic. I have also published book chapters on Herbert Read's more positive take on the surrealist movement, one of which Ron Sokolsky is aware of and approved of when it first appeared in the Fifth Estate.

So we have some differences, clearly, but they are not insurmountable. Ron Sokolsky could agree to disagree, respect my boundaries, and respect the decision of the Camas Collective to not purchase Swift Winds for the reasons already outlined.

Now, regarding Ron Sokolsky's blog posting:

Echoing the tone of his Swift Winds book review, Ron Sokolsky now posts a portrayal of anarchist activism in Victoria over the internet that belittles the entire Camas Collective, the Victoria Anarchist Bookfair Collective, and me gratuitously.

Since Swift Winds appeared I have participated in hosting Ron Sokolsky at the annual Victoria Anarchist Book Fair (where he has also given a workshop and where he has sold Swift Winds every year).

Before his latest book launch I placed other books by Ron Sokolsky in the Camas Books display window and made sure a new edition of one of them was on display on our new book shelf.

Ron Sokolsky sold Swift Winds at the book launch itself, because that is his prerogative as an author.

I recognize passions have been raised and I certainly do not wish to engage in any further escalations that start from a place of personal attack.  I have attempted to deal with this matter constructively in the past--here's hoping it can be resolved in that spirit. 

Allan Antliff

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Does this guy have a martyr complex or what? Seriously - he thinks he's being "censored" because Camas decides not to carry *one* of his books? And he accuses an entire collective of being brain-washed because he doesn't like one of the members?

This Sakolsky character sounds like every MANarchist I've ever known - acting like he's entitled to some kind of hero-worship, and hollering about his precious "rights" anytime people don't bow to his will. What a human tragedy! Here's a thought: Get over it, dude. Take your smear campaign somewhere else.

Where's the beef?


Can you elaborate a bit on what passages in the book review you consider to be offensive?

I've read Sakolsky's peice and failed to find anything that would merit any more than a rebuttle?

Where does the review cross the line, beyond a rather scathing criticism? What am I missing?

Crossing the line

Respectful reviews critique ideas, not the person. Ron Sokolsky's review crosses that line numerous times in various ways.   Most of it is taken up with what I ‘should’ have written; surrealist interpretations that interest Ron Sokolsky, as opposed to the issues I write about.

Ron Sokolsky writes “the remainder of the chapter is spent on the late Richard Mock, a political printmaker to whom Antliff has staked his claim as an anarchist art historian. Here Mock is made to play Courbet to Antliff’s Proudhon.”

Richard Mock was a close friend of mine, as Ron Sokolsky surely knew when he wrote this (I published an appreciation of Richard’s life and work in the Alternative Press Review and Anarchist Studies after Richard died).

Ron Sokolsky suggests that I am instrumentalizing Richard Mock—making him “play Courbet”-- for my own purposes. This insults my treatment of an artist’s work and my own integrity as an historian of anarchism and the visual arts.

Referring to my interview with Susan Simensky-Bietila, Ron Sokolsky characterizes me as a latter day Ad Rienhardt (an American Marxist painter) whom Susan Simensky-Bietila describes in the interview as a repressive personality; “an angry, thoroughly negative man. Every single thing that he is against, I advocate.”

Criticizing me for not following up on a connection to surrealism in a pamphlet, not the book under review, Sokolsky writes: “Antliff seems to be doing to surrealism . . .  just what Reinhardt did in his day at Brooklyn College.”  Thus I am equated with “an angry, thoroughly negative man” antithetical to the artist I interview based on a reference to another publication. This is a gratuitous attack on me personally and it has nothing to do with the book under review.

Ron Sokolsky pits Susan Simensky-Bietila’s voice against my “authoritative” one in derisive terms, writing that hers is “a refreshing change from Antliff’s authoritative voice as art historian. . . . Bietila’s passionate, candid and insightful comments here, and throughout the entire chapter, are a breath of fresh air in what is otherwise an unnecessarily stifling book.” Elsewhere he refers to “dry pages.” The review abounds with such off-hand remarks, which come off as insulting --“had he bothered to do the math”, “sadly reduced,” “deprive,” “ploys” and so forth.

Occasionally he outright distorts my argument, writing, for example, that I claim surrealism in its entirety, as a movement, is “homophobic” when I do no such thing.

Ron Sokolsky also questions my work on specious grounds, which, to give him his due, he might not have been aware of, though he is very knowledgeable concerning the history of Surrealism in the United States.

He asks: “Why aren’t we made aware that Ark, an anarchist magazine of the arts which Duncan compares favorably with View in his article, was produced by his Libertarian Circle comrade, Philip Lamantia, who himself was a surrealist poet?”

In 1947, when Duncan’s article appeared in Ark, Lamantia was no longer affiliated with the surrealist movement.  Lamantia wrote about this period of disaffiliation in Arsenal: Surrealist Subversions, where he announced “from having initially found the key (the road opening, 1943-1946) to having lost the key (the road close down, 1946-1966) and since recovering the key, (the road reopened in 1967): my solidarity with the surrealist movement, represented in this time and place by Arsenal, re-invents itself without the slightest ambiguity.” (Philip Lamantia, “By Elective Affinities, Then and Now,” Arsenal: Surrealist Subversions, 32)

Ron Sokolsky writes that Andre Breton, leader of the surrealists, founded the surrealist journal VVV to distance himself from the editor of View, Charles Henri Ford.  When Breton founded VVV (four issues, 1942-44), he asked Ford to be the editor (Ford declined). (Gerard Durozoi, History of the Surrealist Movement, 669)

Perhaps Ron Sokolsky was simply unaware of these details when he raised them to discredit me.  However when he writes that I am the one who “implies that Duncan’s critique of View not only takes a potshot at what the San Francisco poet considers to be the ‘deviant’ images portrayed in Ford’s magazine, but that this criticism is meant to be applied as an accusatory blanket statement to surrealism itself,” he is deliberately misrepresenting the facts in a bid to frame me as "accusatory."

I will quote from Robert Duncan’s article, which I cite. Duncan writes “certain artists and revolutionists, for all the wooing of the upper bourgeoisie remained clearly outside of their milieu. But others—for example the romantic painters, Berman and Tchelitchew, and the romantic revolutionists, Breton and Calas [a surrealist contributor to View and VVV), were taken in and taken in by the culture collectors. All the drama of the real political world was played in charade to give excitement to the boredom of rentiers. Refugees from their million dollar sense of uselessness became Stalinists, Trotskyists, and, in recent years, even anarchists; and there were Stalinists, Trotskyists, and anarchists to descend on them like seagulls in the wake of the ship.  Breton and Calas capitalized upon their revolutionary personalities: they turned their eyes upon the Medusa stare of the Princess Cassamassinmas who waited in New York, preached revolution in their parlors and arrived in the O.W.L.” Robert Duncan, “View: An Attack,” The Ark (1947), 66.

I suspect one of the parlors Duncan is referring to was millionaire Peggy Guggenheim’s. Peggy Guggenheim paid Andre Breton a monthly stipend while he was in New York. She also opened her own private gallery, “Art of this Century,” in 1942 and filled it with paintings and sculptures purchased with the guidance of Andre Breton, Max Ernst and Marcel Duchamp. (Gerard Durozoi, History of the Surrealist Movement, 403; Whitney Chadwick, Women Artists of the Surrealist Movement, 66)

“How can we take Antliff’s critique of surrealism seriously when it seems fueled more by his deep-seated contempt for that movement than any attempt to truly understand its many affinities with anarchism?” writes Solkolsky.

Firstly, I have addressed affinities between surrealism and anarchism elsewhere (in the Fifth Estate article, “Herbert Read’s Surrealism,” for example), so I am not adverse to that project at all.

Secondly, to paraphrase Sokolsky, how can I take his critique of my book as anything other than an egregious attack when it seems fueled more by his deep-seated contempt for me personally than a willingness to assess the book’s pros and cons respectfully and transparently?. 

Allan Antliff

A Proposal for a Debate on Anarchy and Art

Rather than spending any more time electronically refuting Antliff's latest dreary assertions from his previous comment in detail, I hereby challenge him to a debate on the subject of Anarchy and Art to be held at either the scene of the crime, Camas Books in Victoria, or at this year's Victoria Anarchist Bookfair. 

Ron Sakolsky

My proposal

I propose, Ron Sakolsky, that we debate the topic of anarchism and the arts in the on-line journal Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies. I have contacted the editors and they have agreed to it. This debate will be accessible world-wide through the internet and we can both circulate it to whom we see fit, including our local community media forums.

They require we stick to the topic and avoid argumentum ad hominem (of all types; cf.,

I am declining your invitation.


Allan Antliff


Alan I guess you just don't


I guess you just don't get it do you. I cannot be bought off with a chance to publish in Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies.Your debate offer is just an illustration of how you can use patronage to difuse an uncomfortable situation, coopt dissent and recuperate control. At this point, my opinion is that such a debate would better occur at the grassroots level in the Victoria community where the censorship incident occurred, not in the narrow online world of academic anarchism which you inhabit.

I have never sought your patronage as a gatekeeper of the academic domain of art and anarchy, and I never will. My review of your *Anarchy and Art* book offers a many-pronged critique of the erroneous ideas,misunderstandings, research gaps and design flaws in that book. Rather than being abusive, or a personal attack, as you claim; it takes its subject seriously. On the other hand, in requesting the banning of *Swift Winds* from Camas for including that review, there was clearly an abuse of power on your part and a personal vindictiveness which still remains unexamined by you.


Victoria: the town that died of Quaint

This is what passes for a discourse on the island ... two theory-wonks arguing the toss over a bunch of petit-bourgeois esoteric crap nobody gives a shit about.

Meanwhile the trifecta slow-motion apocalypse of the police state, wage-slavery and environmental rape goes on.

Tell us more about your hurt feelings and your book sales gentlemen!

I think you should fight to first blood with broken bottles at the bookfair.

Sliding scale donations to watch the "debate". No comrade turned away!

manarchist arm wrestle

echoing the last comment, i'd like to propose a manarchist armwrestle so you can both show everyone how important you are and why your petty debates should be taking up peoples' valuable time. you both seem sufficiently self absorbed for such a thing... 


manarchist arm wrestle

echoing the last comment, i'd like to propose a manarchist armwrestle so you can both show everyone how important you are and why your petty debates should be taking up peoples' valuable time. you both seem sufficiently self absorbed for such a thing... 


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