“Today’s social science is like the production apparatus of modern society: everyone is within it and uses it, but only the bosses draw the profits. You cannot smash it apart – we are told – without pitching mankind back into barbarism. As a first objection, we might ask who said that human civilisation is indeed capital’s dearest concern. And modern workers know of very different ways of defeating capital, beyond the prehistoric cry, ‘Let’s break the machines!’ In short, big industry and its science are not the prize for whoever wins the class struggle. They are the battlefield itself. And so long as the enemy occupies that field, we must spray it with bullets, without crying over the roses that get destroyed along the way.”
— Tronti, M. (2019) Workers and capital, Verso Books: London, p.20.
DIY zines and the capitalist division of labor
DIY zines are not utopic objects made 100% by hand. These publications can be created at home, without industrial grade machinery. Which means, they don’t set out to be identical, profitable, or printed and distributed on a corporate scale. In other words, they are not books you think will sell, they are the book you want to read.
Industrialized mass production is a tool for maximum profit within an expanding capitalist system, therefore, its antithesis would be the self-production of goods. To do-it-yourself is an art form as well as a political statement, because, in late capitalism, it is impossible to live 100% outside this current industrial system. Therefore, the conversation about this system happens as an abstract representation, provocation, and at best — praxis. In this sense, the DIY zine is the antithesis of the mass-produced bestseller book.
Books and publications may depend on a capitalist production, but creating them step by step can help us demystify the process of production in order to make it more comprehensive and accessible. The issue of division of labor was discussed in print, and about print, throughout much of the 19th century, and is still a relevant discussion today. In the book What is Art, Tolstoy exclaims that “the laborers produce food for themselves and also food that the cultured class accept and consume, but that the artists seem too often to produce their spiritual food for the cultured only — at any rate that a singularly small share seems to reach the country laborers who work to supply the bodily food!” (1897). This anti-capitalist approach towards art and publishing through doing away with borders between classes and their labor is further highlighted by Lucy Parsons, who invites her readers to “make of [the paper] what [they] choose” (Salutation, 1905), and that freedom will only come to be when “labor is no longer for sale” (What Freedom Means, 1905). In removing the distinction between the producing and the authoring, we remove (to the best of our abilities) the capitalist division of labor. Therefore, the artistic anarchist publication is a legacy, a valuable resource passed on through generations, for approaching persistent global socioeconomic issues.
DIY culture, as a facet of the punk movement, addressed, specifically, the question of massive mainstream consumption and how it led to a pervasive form of homogenization of human expression. Punk, from its inception, was at the intersection of music, aesthetics, and politics — being anti the establishment which permeated significant realms of the human experience.
It’s a misconception “that punk is essentially a white (or Anglo) Do-it-Yourself participatory subculture” (Ensminger in “Coloring Between the Lines of Punk and Hardcore: From Absence to Black Punk Power”, 2010). Race and class were at the root of punk rock, which was moved by an angered white working class in direct contact with black people and black culture in the US and the UK. And the only reason why there were marginalized black people in these places where punk sprung up was because of an African Diaspora induced by colonialism. Punk is, as is DIY culture and its publishing, an intersectional experience.
Throughout history and throughout the globe, be it 1880s Russia in the eyes of Tolstoy or 1980s UK in the eyes of the Clash, marginalized communities have needed art to have their voices heard. Art as aesthetics, music or literature has to always be subversive in nature. And we need to subvert the status quo now more than ever.