Josh MacPhee first encountered the Liberation Support Movement while working in a “lefty” print shop in the late 1990s. There, on top of a stack of other publications, he came across a copy of LSM’s interview with ANC leader Alfred Nzo, which was published in 1974 as part of its Interviews in Depth series. As an artist, what first struck MacPhee was the cover design. “It was all so simple, but somehow perfect,” he says. The contents were also striking, dealing with the ANC’s armed struggle against apartheid, a very different tale than the organization’s official line since becoming South Africa’s ruling party. Having discovered this first pamphlet, he began seeking out other examples of LSM’s printed output. Then, a couple of years ago, a mutual acquaintance put him in touch with several LSM members.
The Liberation Support Movement was founded in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1969 by anthropologist Don Barnett and several of his students at Simon Fraser University. Over time others joined, expanding the organization into a number of cells scattered across the North America, but eventually the group found a home in Oakland, California, where it consolidated. Members in other areas either moved to Oakland or left the group. The LSM was one of many emerging anti-imperialist organizations during the era whose focus had shifted away from Vietnam and towards other, lesser-known struggles in areas with active liberation movements: Southern Africa, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Eritrea, Oman, and Palestine. During its existence from 1969 to 1982, the LSM operated not only as a small press, issuing pamphlets and other material to publicize these struggles, but was also very active in a number of other areas. During its existence members of the group conducted information tours across North America, collected and sent tons of medical supplies and clothing to the MPLA in Angola, sent several teams to southern Africa to interview freedom fighters and to record music that was later released on a pair of LPs, produced a short film, and even trained a pair of SWAPO militants from Namibia in the fine art of offset printing.
Josh MacPhee’s Liberation Support Movement: Building Solidarity with the African Liberation Struggle was published in 2016 by the Interference Archive, a Brooklyn-based organization of which he is a founding member. The pamphlet includes extracts from interviews he conducted with three members of the LSM—Ole Gjerstad, Steve Goldfield, and Rick Sterling—followed by a preliminary (but very thorough) checklist of the group’s output. The booklet’s bright colors and simple yet striking graphics echo the design aesthetic of many radical publications of the 1970s.
The history of small radical social movements in the US is tangled and complex. Individuals moved from one group to the next frequently and fluidly. Schisms were common, often resulting in the creation of new groups or the renaming of existing ones, and many seemed to pop up and disappear overnight leaving barely a trace. The traces that do survive are often in the form of the published output these organizations left behind. The discovery of a long-forgotten pamphlet or flier may be the first hint to a researcher that a previously undocumented group ever existed.
When researching small presses from this era, bibliographers are often frustrated by the lack of information available regarding the actual printing process. In the interview section, MacPhee helpfully includes a statement from Rick Sterling explaining that the LSM ran its own print shop, equipped with a Multilith 1250 offset press. The shop was originally located in Richmond, British Columbia, but was later moved to Oakland. Eventually the group formed a relationship with a politically sympathetic shop in Ithaca, New York, called Glad Day Press. Glad Day had larger presses and so printed posters and other jobs the group thought too large for its own shop. This sort of information might seem peripheral to the cultural historian, but is essential for the bibliographer.
Through collating the information he has collected over the years and publishing it in what is basically a very simple format, MacPhee has not only created a major resource for anyone interested in the LSM, but has also provided an excellent model that other researchers could use to present their own work. Very little bibliographical research has been done on the printed output of the huge number of radical leftist organizations of the 70s and 80s so MacPhee’s work fills a gap. I can envision this gap being further filled by a series of pamphlets (or their digital equivalents) on other imprints of the era using MacPhee’s model: a narrative of the organization’s history, wherever possible from the mouths of the people involved, followed by a checklist of all known output from the group. With each pamphlet detailing a single group or imprint, these publications could serve as entry points to wider and deeper studies. In the meantime, MacPhee’s pamphlet is essential for anyone interested in the topic (as well as for any institution collecting in this area.)
Liberation Support Movement from MSU’s African Activist Archive