An interview with the editors of Do or Die
This inteview with the editors of Do or Die was conducted at the end of 2006 for the American Earth First! Journal.
Describe the project: its inception/inspiration…
None of the current ex-editors were involved at the beginning of the project. The editorial group has changed over time, with quite a few people passing through.
Do or Die started in 1992, within a year of EF! starting in Britain. It pushed a green anarchist, direct action perspective. At this time EF! was split and was half liberal and half radical.
Do or Die has never fulfilled the role of the EF! Journal in the States. The Journal is the official voice of EF! with the editors accountable to the gatherings. Do or Die was always a voice of Earth First! Do or Die explicitly gave publicity to sabotage and had a no compromise attitude. Some people in EF! didn’t like it at first and even tried to expel DoD from EF! The Earth First! Action Update has worked more like the Journal – it has had a rotating editorial collective and has been accountable to gatherings.
Early on DoD was supposed to carry more news and was supposed to be more frequent – every three months or so. It started out as a 24 page zine photocopied at night at American Express by members of staff (the European headquarters of AMEX is a well-known and much-hated landmark in Brighton). It kind of mutated into a massive book over time.
It might be useful for American readers to point out the other ways in which DoD is different from the EF! Journal. DoD has always been all voluntary – no one has ever been paid to work for DoD. Also DoD has pretty much always been all anonymous – no writers, photographers or artists were credited. This is something which is pretty much taken for granted in the EF! scene in the UK (the EF!AU was also pretty much anonymous after the first two or three years) but is more unusual in the USA. This has sometimes caused confusion amongst people who didn’t realise that DoD was written by lots of different people. Some of the articles in DoD were written by people from the editorial collective, but there were probably 50 or 60 contributors per issue. An article being in DoD didn’t necessarily mean it was written by us or that the editorial collective supported everything in it. Hence there was lots of stuff in DoD that contradicted lots of other stuff in DoD. Sometimes this was explicit – like when we had ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ articles on some subject – e.g. legal social centres in issue 10 or the issue of mental illness at the Newbury Bypass protest in issue 6.
Anonymity was a point of principle and mostly due to repression of known ‘leaders’ and ‘personalities’ in EF! in the USA (e.g. Judi Bari) and in the British animal lib movement (e.g. Arkangel) at around the time that EF! was getting going in the UK. It seemed sensible to avoid a cult of personality – there was an awareness of how EF! in the USA had been split by groupings forming around particular charismatic individuals – e.g. Dave Foreman and Judi Bari.
It also needs saying that the people involved in putting together DoD were not ‘writers’ or ‘journalists’. Pretty much everyone involved in DoD spent more time on actions than they did on DoD. We did not want to be journalists – reporting on other people’s struggles, we wanted to report the voices of the people involved in the struggles themselves. If we couldn’t bully them to write for us we would often interview them.
DoD was produced by and largely aimed at a few hundred people in the UK eco scene. Although it had a wider circulation than this, it was largely produced with this audience in mind. But, DoD has also been really liked by all sorts of other people who often didn’t like each other at all. For example lots of more traditional anarchist communists really liked DoD, as did lots of conservationists – the magazine was big enough that very few people read all of it – people just read the bits they liked and ignored the rest. We’d get comments from more traditional anarchists saying that they really liked it, but it was a shame about the articles about beaver restoration or Native American spirituality. And then we’d get almost exactly opposite comments from other people who liked the beavers but weren’t so into class struggle.
DoD was at its strongest when it had the most contributors and also when the editorial collective was at its biggest (6-ish, as opposed to 2-ish at some other points). Personally I think issue 8 was a bit of a high point. But then again – it’s also what you’ve got to work with – there was a lot to write about in 1999. It also maybe depends what you like. For example DoD 9 was more anti-capitalist, summit protest oriented and it’s some people’s favourite issue - more traditional anarchists liked it, but it had less eco stuff in it and was less of a mish-mash than some other issues. That was partly a reflection of what was going on at the time and of the people who were putting it together and of the fact that that issue had a very small editorial collective and so it just was not possible to have such a varied contents.
Each of the people involved in the editorial collective brought their own interests and knowledge to it, so it was partly the make up of the editorial collective that made the magazine what it was – one person knew about conservation biology, one knew about counter-insurgency theory, one knew about ultra-left theory, one knew about European punk squats etc. So we missed out on stuff when the editorial collective shrunk sometimes.
There was more of an international focus in recent issues – this was possibly due to a slow down of ecological resistance in the UK – there was less day-to-day stuff happening than there was in the mid-‘90s. However, there was still a lot of stuff going on. Also the movement as a whole gained a more international perspective and DoD reflected that as people started looking to the wider causes of what they were fighting - to globalisation and to the summit meetings of the global elite for example.
Describe its role/influence in the UK’s eco-anarchist movement…
Basically what happened within EF! was that we won. DoD and the political perspective it represented was relatively unpopular at the beginning. DoD was essentially trying to fulfil the same role that Live Wild or Die! did in the States – a radical anarchist fringe publication trying to ginger things up a bit. When we say that we won, in that the green anarchist perspective went from being the minority to the majority perspective within EF! in the UK over the course of the 1990s, that isn’t quite as arrogant as it sounds… this may have been partly due to our efforts but is probably more due to people’s own experiences of resistance over time. This resulted in lots of people dropping much of the non-violent pacifist ideology, moving more towards an anarchist position and supporting sabotage actions.
The reason maybe why our ideas reflected the way things were going a bit more than some other people’s was perhaps that the people involved in doing DoD had been influenced by other tendencies, mostly animal liberation, as opposed to others who had come to EF! from more liberal environmentalist organisations like Friends of the Earth.
How long did it run for? Why did it cease production?
DoD ran from 1992 to 2003-ish - over ten years. We stopped it because most of the people in the editorial collective did not personally want to be doing this anymore and wanted to move on to other things. The project was very time consuming and always seemed to end up with us spending the summer sitting in front of a computer in some sunless basement. We did not want to hand the project over to an entirely different group of people – that would have made it into something entirely different (this is kind of what happened to Fifth Estate – and maybe it would have been better to have just ended it). We didn’t stop producing DoD for financial reasons. Our ‘suicide note’ in the last issue has led some people to assume this. Neither did we stop producing the magazine because of lack of popularity or distro problems or because we thought it had no point anymore - right up to the end there was no lack of submissions or sales or of things to write about. Ideally, in the abstract, DoD would have carried on, it’s just that personally there weren’t enough people who actually wanted to carry on with it. As one ex-collective member memorably said: “kill it while it's good”. It wasn’t that we felt it wasn’t relevant anymore, or wasn’t serving a useful purpose.
Another reason behind ending DoD was a desire to actually do some of things on the ‘Four Tasks’ list, not just to produce the world’s biggest English-language anarchist journal.
I want to focus on the last issue a bit. What kind of response did you all get to the Down With The Empire, Up With the Spring article? Was it circulated independently of the book format in the UK?
Some of the ideas from Down With The Empire (DwE) were originally circulated in a discussion document in ‘97/’98. But the real first appearance of it was about a year before DoD 10 came out. The second part of the article (‘The Four Tasks’) was circulated as a little free pamphlet (that became known as ‘The Little Grey Book’) at the EF! Winter Moot.
That stimulated things – people acting on what it said; some good criticism that was incorporated into the final version; and quite a common response – “good strategy, shame it’s too late – why didn’t you write this when we still had a movement?” The answer to this is probably that the author was too busy being in the movement when it was in its heyday to be able to stop and think about it. He sat down afterwards to strategise. DwE came out at a point when the movement was in downturn. This might be another thing perhaps not appreciated by Americans – the US and British EF! movements have had their peaks and troughs in different places - when one was on the up the other has been in decline… The starting point for DwE was the need to change because of changing demographics – people getting older, having kids, getting jobs, the dole becoming harder and harder, it becoming harder and harder to live as a traveller.
Reactions to it over the past three years or so have been varied… DwE said that summit demonstrations were a good thing but the article found favour with those that opposed them. There was an emerging split - or perhaps rather a divergence - within the movement between those who were more into the anti-capitalist/anti-globalisation thing – summit demonstrations, no border camps etc. and those who were more into the green anarchist/primitivist angle. New people came into the movement around summit demonstrations etc. in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s with whom DoD was not such an influence. DwE influenced one half of the movement more than the other, but even this wasn’t black and white – e.g. the section on social centres in DwE fits very well into a lot of what the anti-globalisation folks have been doing. Various people have used DwE to justify what they were doing anyway – people on both sides have quoted it – picking and choosing different bits to suit their purposes.
The British response to DwE came more early – many people in the movement read it in its early ‘Little Grey Book’ version and by the time it appeared in DoD 10 and became more widely distributed many people had already started acting on what it said. There have been a couple of DwE reading groups.
An international response to DwE came about two years later once it had appeared in DoD 10 and then been distributed around the world. DwE has been translated into French (where there have been reading groups reading it) and Dutch (where it has been republished in a journal and then as a book, with added material about the Dutch radical eco movement). It has also been republished in the USA in two separate editions, again with added material making it more relevant to the local conditions. We are still hearing about translations and reactions – you get delayed reactions from around the world as it is translated into other languages etc.
A number of projects have been solely inspired by DwE in the UK and Europe. Some of these have been successful and saved bits of nature from destruction. On a wider level DwE reflects what was going on anyway… the author was not the only person thinking these things – he was drawing on a shared pool of ideas.
What do you see occurring within the EF! Movement/network at the present?
Well, Part One of DwE gives you a pretty good background up to about 2002-ish and since then… well the ageing process has continued – the generational, cyclical nature of British radical politics. There has also been the sort of split that we mentioned above. But there is still stuff happening… In a way for ecological resistance, the situation now feels quite similar to about 1992 – before the anti-roads movement took off and before the movement against the Criminal Justice Act brought lots of people together.
It’s all relative – ecological resistance obviously had a heyday in the mid-‘90s. It was not obvious at the time that it was the heyday. This has only become clear in retrospect. So from the perspective of people who lived through that, the situation now must seem like a bit of a comedown but there’s still quite a lot going on – there are at least 5 active permanent protest sites, we just had all the G8 protests last year, two years running large numbers of people from the radical ecological movement in Britain have gone over to defend the wilderness in Iceland, we also just had the Camp for Climate Action this summer when several hundred people tried to shut down the biggest CO2 producing power station in Britain… just check the web and you can see there’s actually a lot of stuff going on. People’s ‘it’s not like the good old days’ feeling probably says more about them getting older than what’s actually going on…
In some ways the movement has been a victim of its own success – we won quite a lot – against road building for example. They cut the road building programme almost to nothing and so then there were far fewer protest sites, but not for any bad reason, but because there wasn’t so much need for them. Likewise a few years ago you might have been hearing about lots of anti-GM sabotage actions and you might not be hearing about them so much anymore. That is attributable not to the decline of the movement but to the fact that we won and there have been as far as I’m aware NO GM test sites at all for the past few years (They are just now talking about trying some again next year).
In the mid-‘90s the radical eco movement was really the only game in town. In a very moribund political scene, it was the only thing going on with any life or vitality. Every other radical tendency was in decline. For a few years it was THE social/political trend to which everything else had to orient itself – everyone wanted to jump on our bandwagon. The mainstream environmental movement had to reposition itself relative to us; the anarchist movement had to do the same; aspects of this movement were picked up in fashion, music, on radio and television etc. (there was a point where it was de rigueur for every TV soap opera to have its own road protestor character). This is different now - by comparison the radical eco movement seems not so significant now, but that may be partly because there’s more other stuff going on… the radical eco scene is now merely one thing among many – anti-capitalism/social centres/the anti-war movement etc.
Talking about the radical eco movement is one thing, talking about the EF! network is another – they are not the same thing, although I guess the radical eco movement is bigger than and encompasses EF! Earth First! existed before there was a big wave of eco-direct action and now it exists again after that wave has come and gone as a network of groups, individuals and social centres etc. most of whom probably don’t actually call themselves Earth First! But in a way that’s not much different from how it has always been. There are still EF! gatherings every summer, attracting 200-300 people, occasionally Winter Moots, attracting less, the EF! Action Update on paper has kind of died at the moment, but there is now a website for Earth First! action reports. There are now less EF! groups, the network itself is less visible – you could say it barely exists, but then it has barely existed or existed in a very underground, invisible way for most of its existence! Many of the most famous EF! things were never done under that name. June 18th was organised by the J18 Network, there was The Third Battle of Newbury, there was Road Alert, The Genetic Engineering Network… Even in the heyday of ecological resistance in the UK, Earth First! was often a largely invisible part of it – many Earth First!ers chose not to use that name and worked under a variety of ‘flags of convenience’ – using different names for different actions.
One reason EF! now might seem more non-existent than it is, is due to lack of infrastructure – the Action Update has stopped, DoD has stopped – pretty much the only thing that keeps Earth First! existing as a thing is the Summer Gathering. There’s actually a lot of stuff happening on a local level – there’s a lot of people out there being very busy, but half the time we don’t even know what we are doing, let alone anyone else. When there have been national campaigns like the anti-roads thing (especially in the heyday of the camps, because people were travelling from camp to camp and hitch-hiking constantly back and forth across the country) or the genetics campaign there has been more of a sense of national unity (ooo-err!) and more of an awareness of what everyone else was doing, of what we were doing as a collective entity.
So maybe that’s a problem with the non-existence of DoD – it was one of the things giving us some national-level infrastructure – a channel of communication between us and us and between us and the rest of the world. Now though there is a new generation that watched the battles at Newbury on the television as they were growing up and has been reading DoD and DwE because there hasn’t been so much going on recently.
Do we need another Do or Die style publication? Is there still an existing movement that would make use of a publication for “voices from the ecological resistance”?
One criticism of DoD that was expressed sometimes was that us producing such a well-produced huge magazine was ‘shading out’ other independent media publication that would otherwise exist. We can now see that this criticism is the rubbish that I always suspected it was. DoD died ages ago and nothing has sprung up to replace it – there is realy nothing filling that niche… lots of things, like the Iceland campaign or the Climate Camp will probably go pretty much un-analysed, un-recorded…
It’s hard to say what the influence of DoD will be. DoD will retain some influence for longer because it’s a book and therefore gets kept on people’s bookshelves when they clear out and throw away magazines. It survives better also in libraries and archives than zines or whatever. Newsprint decays. For us the change to a journal format was a very good thing – it survives longer…
Generational info gets lost – our underground history gets lost as people get older, drop out, clear out their old pamphlet collections... DoD is endlessly referenced by academics whereas all zines disappear. What survives for posterity will be a view of history based largely on what academics write. When we’re all 70 and the actions of our youth have been totally rewritten and distorted by historians, DoD is going to be one of the only surviving sources for the actual voices of the people involved. Because of its format it has for some become THE representation of a time period because it has survived better than other things.
DoD has also had quite an afterlife in academia. For people trying to write about the radical eco movement in the ‘90s, or about anti-globalisation or whatever, DoD makes very good source material – it’s all straight from the horses mouth as we have articles written by activists. It’s not academic so referencing it probably looks like you’ve done your research, but it’s also very easy to find as most of it is on the web and due to our clever webmaster we always get very high search results on search engines.
We never exploited it as much as we could have done. We could have pushed the distro loads more and done a lot more of getting it distributed all over the place. For example for sure we could have sold about 100 times more copies in the USA if we’d had some way of sorting out the distribution. It’s just that that’s a boring bureaucratic job that no one really fancied doing very much – we wanted to have lives instead. Hence why we stopped doing it too.
What do you think of a proposal that the EF! Journal in the US change format to be less frequent, but larger with more analysis and broader in scope, accompanied by a more regularly published ‘Action Update’? Did that model seem effective for disseminating news and ideas in the UK?
We can’t really give advice to the US. Things don’t just simply transfer to the USA. But that said, the way it worked with the combination of the AU and DoD wasn’t bad – seemed to work pretty well for a while. The AU was always written in a pretty neutral objective way because it had to keep everyone in the movement happy – it couldn’t too obviously take sides. The idea of something that is the official voice of a movement that also takes sides in ongoing arguments is pretty problematic. The AU just did news and info and contacts. Also, it’s worth pointing out, that it wasn’t only the AU and DoD – various other publications did and still do come out of the radical eco scene and more widely the various overlapping direct action/anti-capitalist/anarchist scenes… The AU was the only thing that was ever officially EF! and that didn’t try and cover all the divergent opinions. Other publications covered all the divergent ideas – e.g. Corporate Watch, DoD, Green Anarchist and various other local ones…
Anything else you want to discuss or mention?
There should have been more about climate change in DwE. It’s later than we thought when we published DwE. There should have been more stuff on preparing for crisis in it. The ‘Four Tasks’ of DwE will be affected by climate change. Things are speeding up more than anyone thought. The Hotspots analysis is still useful but we’re further down the road than anyone thought. In DwE we said give the Hotspots 10 years and then maybe swap to Coldspots. We probably haven’t got that long. But even then, the idea of switching to Coldspots is still assuming that habitat destruction is the main problem, but if the Amazon catches fire we’re in a different place altogether.
Things have happened since we published DoD 10 – e.g. the stuff that James Lovelock has come out with and the realisation of the effects of global dimming – which puts us about 10 years further down the road than we thought we were. The increasing realisation of the severity of the climate crisis affects different people in different ways. Some people think it’s too late and have given up. Other people are inspired to take action NOW – e.g. the Climate Camp.
Discussion of collapse is becoming increasingly mainstream (at least here in the UK). People now are thinking that they will live to see the collapse. This was not necessarily true of eco radicals in the early ‘90s – we were getting bigger and stronger and the problems didn’t seem quite so insurmountable… The default then was that you were involved in these politics because you thought that you could save the world. Now that’s not necessarily true – there’s no implicit assumption that we can save it – there’s less hope.