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Burn it down! Anarchism, activism, and the Vancouver Five, 1967–1985

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
Author: Martin, Eryk
This dissertation investigates the experiences of five Canadian anarchists commonly known as the Vancouver Five, who came together in the early 1980s to destroy a BC Hydro power station in Qualicum Beach, bomb a Toronto factory that was building parts for American cruise missiles, and assist in the firebombing of pornography stores in Vancouver. It uses these events in order to analyze the development and transformation of anarchist activism between 1967 and 1985. Focusing closely on anarchist ideas, tactics, and political projects, it explores the resurgence of anarchism as a vibrant form of leftwing activism in the late twentieth century. In addressing the ideological basis and contested cultural meanings of armed struggle, it uncovers why and how the Vancouver Five transformed themselves into an underground, clandestine force. At the same time, it also situates these five activists into a broad social, political, and cultural context that extends beyond the boundaries of anarchist armed struggle, and beyond the local political environment of Vancouver. The dissertation argues that the Vancouver Five were part of a wider phenomenon of armed struggle taking place across the United States and Europe in the wake of the 1960s. Drawing inspiration from an eclectic mixture of leftwing guerrilla movements, these activists sought to disrupt specific political projects, and expand the militant scope of social movement activism in Canada. While this global context shaped the political contours of the Vancouver Five, the dissertation also argues that their militancy reflected local patterns of anarchist activism, politics, and culture in Vancouver that originated in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Moreover, the dissertation illustrates that anarchism’s development across the late twentieth century took place through conscious engagement with non-anarchist social movements. Therefore, it maintains that both the Vancouver Five and the broader anarchist resurgence developed in conjunction with a range of activist struggles against patriarchy, militarism, environmental degradation, capitalism, and imperialism that flourished after the 1960s. Based on oral interviews and archival research, is not only one of the first sustained histories of anarchism in post-war Canada, it also the first academic history to focus extensively on the Vancouver Five.
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Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Leier, Mark
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