In the 1960s, small underground journals began springing up all over the United States of America. They had much in common: they opposed the Vietnam War, advocated sexual and artistic freedoms, and urged critical consciousness towards conventional authority and power relations. Some called for communal or cooperative living; and many warned of the dangers of uncontrolled technology, especially nuclear power. In many respect, the American underground press was a political and cultural break through. Among the many journals which emerged from that subversive American underground, the radical underground news agency Liberation News Service (LNS) is certainly key to understand the evolution of the American New Left but also of what has been called New Journalism. Former writers, photographers and printers of the LNS have begun establishing a web archive covering nearly every LNS news packet from 1968 through 1981.
[Editor’s note: the online archive of the Liberation News Service is the first part of our series dedicated to American subversive archives. The second part will be dedicated to the African Activist archives available online]
American underground Press
With the advent of photo-offset printing that revolutionized American print culture in the mid-1960s, underground stylized alternative newsheets florished across the country. As John McMillian aptly underlined in his book dedicated to the smoking underground typewriters of the 1960s, at that time all one needed was a competent typist, a pair of scissors, and a jar of tubber cement with which to paste copy onto a backing sheet, which was then photographed and reproduced exactly as it was set (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Smoking-Typewriters-Sixties-Underground-Alternative/dp/0195319923). The vast majority of radical papers produced during the 1960s circulated quite openly.Yet, they were genuinely subversive, openly flouting society’s conventions. Los Angeles Free Press, Washington Free Press, Second City, The Great Speckled Bird…. From Antiwar and student protests, radical feminism and gay liberation, ecology and LSD but also alternative graphic arts and rock music, these journals were echoing all these issues and events that were thriving in the unconventional part of the American society:
Humphrey Dumpty sat on a fence Counting the Empire’s dollars and cents But all the king’s horses and all the king’s men Couldn’t beat the Viet Cong [LNS, August 1968, page A-09]
Now the cops and the National Guard stood half a mile from the Hilton while acrid gray, white wisps of their tear gas drifted along behind hundreds of students. blacks, greasers, radicals and hippies as they walked right up to the front door. Naturally they freaked out. [LNS August 30, 1968 ano de guerillero heroico, issue 101 – The big story from the streets of Chicago, by Dan McCauslin, p.A-1]
These journals were steady outlets for news about Vietnam, Latin America, police repression here and there. Not all of them were championing the revolutionary overthrow of the United States government. Most of them were products of enthusiast people, actively participating in the events they wrote about and coloring their stories with their subjective responses, “at a time when mainstream journalism was dead in the water” (http://www.amazon.com/Unamerican-Activities-Campaign-Against-Underground/dp/0872861279). Sympathetic to the Left but also very often sensitive to the Left’s own controversies, these journals were also under the pressure of the FBI.
Liberation News Service, an American radical news agency
Liberation News Service has been created by Marshall Bloom (1944-1969) and Raymond Mungo in 1968 (http://www.amazon.com/Famous-Long-Ago-Liberation-Service/dp/0806512040). They were the editors of the student newspapers of Amherst College and Boston University and they have been fired from the United States Student Press Association in 1967 for their radical views. From its creation in 1968 in Washington D.C. until 1981, Liberation News Service has been an alternative news agency to the Associated Press or United Press International, aiming at providing inexpensive images and articles reflecting a countercultural outlook. From its 1967 inception in Washington, LNS shaped and united the nascent New Left underground media. For nearly twenty years, LNS issued twice-weekly packets containing news bulletins on American politics and the Vietnam war, feature articles on cultural revolution emerging from the underground and graphics detailing national liberation struggles:
Within six months of its creation, LNS had opened ofﬁces in Berkeley, Harlem, and London, and its packets circulated to nearly 300 outlets spanning the entire globe. The organization’s stories were read by millions (http://www.amazon.co.uk/New-Dawn-Left-Liberation-Montague/dp/1137280824)
Within the very first year of its creation, LNS became an international activist hub, receiving communiques from the four corners of the world. But within the very first year of its creation, LNS also splited in two. A split that encapsulates the main points of discord inside the leftist movement at the time: “hippies” versus “politicos”, counter-culture versus marxist hardliners, the Youth International Party versus the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) from which the Weather Underground Organization (WUO) would emerge (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bringing-War-Home-Underground-Revolutionary/dp/0520241193). The dispute sent one faction to a rural commune (Montague Farm) (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Buying-Farm-Peace-Sixties-Commune/dp/1558499717) and left another faction in the hustle and bustle of New York City’s Movement radicalism. During a couple of months, both groups claimed ownership of the LNS and produced rival news packets for subscribers. By January 1969, LNS ownership returned to the urban faction in New York. In covering racism, sexism and homophobia issues but also the prison reform movement, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, South African apartheid, and U.S. interventions in Latin America, LNS definitively contributed to spur new generations of activists. LNS reporters and subscribers faced all kinds of difficulties from ad boycotts by businessmen to physical attacks. The New York Review of Books was sympathetic to the LNS and published an article on the financial situation of the news agency in 1972:
Through the years, Liberation News Service has provided its subscribers with information many of them can get no other place: LNS wrote about the Tiger Cages long before Congressman Anderson went to Vietnam; LNS ran an exposé of C. Arnholt Smith, the man who wields so much power in San Diego, last July—a good six months before Jack Anderson broke the story.
Liberation News Service is currently in serious financial trouble. For a number of years LNS received substantial financial aid from various liberal denominations of the Protestant church. But in the spring of 1970, the Senate Internal Security Sub-Committee subpoened the LNS bank records, and leaked the information about the church funds to a right-wing midwest columnist. A conservative newsletter picked up the story, and the church offices in New York started getting irate letters from parishioners worried about their money supporting “pro-Mao, pro-Castro pornography.” By 1971, the church funds had dried up (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1972/sep/21/lns/)
With the end of the Vietnam War and the erosion of the new Left, LNS lost most of its funding and closed down in 1981.
Liberation News Service online Archive
Liberation News Service reporters and photographers have travelled to North Vietnam, Africa, and Latin America. They met guerrillas in the liberated zones of Guinea-Bissau and witnessed the beginnings of the new government of Salvador Allende in Chile… Not all the LNS news packages are made available online. The 1977 news packages until 1981 are yet to be uploaded. Nonetheless, flicking through the available issues is a joy to read and, without any doubt, a rich archive on the American subversive sixties to be (re)discovered.
October 16, 1968 #111: Laos: A War in progress — VIENTIANE, Laos (LNS) — Furious guerrilla warfare, universally ignored by the commercial Press, is being waged on the battlefields of Laos. The liberation forces there have racked up significant victories in recent months. Among the casualties are American advisors, Green Berets, and dozens of American aeroplanes. The following article on the Laotian situation appears in the current issue of the Havana magazine, Tricontinental […].
January 11, 1969 #130: Radical action in the classroom — New York (LNS) — Radical students at Columbia University have recently disrupted several classes to challenge the basic assumptions of hierarchical relations in the classroom and the bourgeois ideology inherent in the instruction [….]. September 25, 1969 # 197: Sisters Unite! — (LNS) — An important Women’s Liberation Movement is developing in this country. There is growing awareness among women of shared oppression and common problems; there is developing consciousness among men that the oppression is real and something they must individually and collectively deal with. This is cool. To leave it here however would be a copout. We still have a problem in understanding the roots of women’s oppression in our superPig-Capitalist-Imperialist-United States […]. April 21, 1978 #908: Students Anti-Apartheid Divestment Actions Grow in Militance and Numbers — New York (LNS) — “There hasn’t been anything like this on campus here since the end of the Indochina war,” exulted a Princeton activist when more than 800 students rallied to demand that the Ivy League school sell nearly $200 million worth of stocks in corporations which do business in South Africa. Less than two weeks later, on April 14, the Princeton campus saw something else that hadn’t taken place there in years-a building occupation. More than 200 students took over the administration building for two days in an effort to convince the trustees who were meeting on campus that they had better take the demand for divestment seriously […]