Fifth Estate Records, 1967-2016 (majority within 1982-1999)
Using These Materials
- The collection is open for research.
- Fifth Estate
- Politically and socially radical underground newspaper founded in Detroit, Michigan, in 1965. The tabloid reflected an anarchist-libertarian philosophy during the 1970s under the influence of the "Eat the Rich Gang," which included editors Peter and Marilyn Werbe. Throughout the 1980s, the Fifth Estate continued to cover local issues and events, along with critiques of modern industrial society and articles covering the radical environmental movement. In 1999, the "Alternative Press Review" described the paper as an "anti-technology, anti-civilization, anarcho-primitivist quarterly."Collection consists of correspondence, business and office records, submissions for possible publication, clippings, flyers, posters, and photographs documenting the activities of the Fifth Estate primarily from the mid-1980s to the early 2000s. Financial documents, advertising, subscription and book orders, as well as legal documents regarding lawsuits are included. Correspondents include Bob Black, Peter Werbe, Marilyn Werbe, David Watson, John Zerzan, Lorraine Perlman, and editor (2002- ) Andy Smith (also known under the pseudonyms Sunfrog, Anu Bonobo, and Andrew Smith). The bulk of the audiovisual and digital media relate to Peter Werbe's Late Night radio show that dealt with similar topics as Fifth Estate.
- 17 Linear Feet (34 manuscript boxes)
- Encoded finding aid prepared by Nadia Seiler, 2005.
- Scope and Content:
The Fifth Estate Records document the activities of the Fifth Estate newspaper, one of the oldest underground newspapers in the United States. The records date primarily from the mid-1980s to the early 2000s. The record group has been divided into eight series: Historical, Correspondence, Publishing Material, Business and Office Records, Topical File, Miscellaneous Anarchist and Social Protest Ephemera, Photographs, and Audiovisual and Digital Media. There is a good deal of overlap among the series due to the work processes of the staff at the Fifth Estate and the lack of organization among the various accessions received by the library.
- Biographical / Historical:
The Fifth Estate began publishing in Detroit, Michigan in 1965. Originally a bi-weekly tabloid publication, the Fifth Estate was among the first of the underground newspapers of the 1960s. By the 1970s the paper evolved into an anarchist publication. Known for its irreverent tone as well as its critiques of modern industrial society, the Fifth Estate is the longest publishing English language anarchist newspaper in North America.
The Fifth Estate was founded by 17-year-old Harvey Ovshinsky in the basement of his father's house in 1965. During a brief move to Los Angeles Ovshinsky became involved with the L.A. Free Press. Captivated by the paper's anti-war politics and interest in developing a radical community, as well as its coverage of the local music scene, Ovshinsky became inspired to begin publishing an underground newspaper in Detroit. He named the paper the Fifth Estate after a coffee house on Los Angeles' Sunset Strip, near the offices of the L.A. Free Press. The first issue appeared on November 19, 1965.
Ovshinsky's efforts to sell the first issues of paper helped broaden his circle of acquaintances. After producing the second issue of the Fifth Estate , Ovshinsky met John Sinclair, head of the Detroit Artist Workshop (and later the founder of the White Panther Party), who agreed to write a column for the paper. Ovshinky also began to interact with students involved with groups such as the Detroit Committee to End the War in Vietnam, including Peter Werbe, who would go on to work at the Fifth Estate for over twenty-five years.
New volunteers provided the paper with a wealth of material, and advertising, primarily from recording companies anxious to reach young people, helped the paper continue to grow. The Fifth Estate's offices moved from Ovshinsky's basement to a space next to the Detroit Committee to End the War in Vietnam's near the John Lodge Freeway and West Warren in Detroit. The paper, like many other "underground papers," focused on topics such as youth culture and rebellion, civil rights, opposition to the Vietnam War, music, and sex. Staff members reported on major events in Detroit, including the riots of 1967. Police abuse and the surge in Black activism in Detroit in the aftermath of the civil unrest were particular focuses of the paper in the late 1960s. The paper continued to evolve in the late 1960s and early 1970s, devoting issues to feminism and gay lifestyles as the women's and gay rights movements gained momentum. The Fifth Estate 's coverage of labor issues in the early 1970s was especially noteworthy.
By the summer of 1975 the Fifth Estate had taken a turn towards anarchist-libertarian philosophy. A group that called themselves the Eat the Rich Gang, which included Peter Werbe and his wife Marilyn, who had both left the paper for a short time, abolished all paid positions and refused to take any paid advertisements. They also established a bookstore in order to help support the publication of the paper, and to serve as a focal point for its ideas and political organizing. According to Bob Hippler, the politics of the post-1975 Fifth Estate "could best be described as anarchist, although it has extended classic anti-capitalist, anti-statist libertarian politics to include opposition to the industrial system itself, and the civilization it has spawned." (Bob Hippler, "Fast Times in the Motor City: The First Ten Years of the Fifth Estate" (Box 1, "Fast Times in the Motor City…" folder) The paper published theorists such as Fredy Perlman, David Watson (a member of the Fifth Estate staff), and John Zerzan. From 1975 to 1980 the Fifth Estate published as a monthly; in 1980 it began publishing as a quarterly, with a worldwide circulation of approximately 5000. In addition to its coverage of local issues and events and its critiques of modern industrial society, it has devoted extensive coverage to the radical environmental movement. In 1999 the paper was described as an anti-technology, anti-civilization, anarcho-primitivist quarterly by the Alternative Press Review. ( Alternative Press Review. Vol. 3 No. 3 (Spring 1999) available online at http://www.altpr.org/apr11/apr11_israel.html)
The publication of the Fifth Estate became increasingly sporadic throughout the 1990s due to the staff's commitment to other projects and efforts to support themselves financially. In the fall of 2002, after 37 years of publishing in Detroit, the Fifth Estate 's operations moved to Pumpkin Hollow, a rural commune near Nashville, Tennessee. Editorial offices, as well as a new Fifth Estate bookstore, were opened in Pumpkin Hollow. The Detroit staff continued to contribute articles, and oversaw the business operations of the paper. The Tennessee collective helped to publish four issues in 2002, the first time the Fifth Estate had met its quarterly publishing schedule since the 1980s.
For a more detailed history of the Fifth Estate see Bob Hippler's article "Fast Times in the Motor City: The First Ten Years of the Fifth Estate," and various clippings in the Historical series of the collection.
- Acquisition Information:
- The collection was donated in various accessions from the 1980s to the 2010s.
- Processing information:
Collection originally processed and finding aid created by Dan Santamaria. New accessions received between 2008 and 2016 processed and added to the existing finding aid by Eve Bourbeau-Allard.
- Rules or Conventions:
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Click on terms below to find any related finding aids on this site.
Anarchism -- United States.
Radicalism -- Michigan -- Detroit
Socialism -- United States.
Underground press -- Michigan -- Detroit.
Environmentalism -- United States
Protest movements -- Michigan -- Detroit
Radio programs -- Michigan -- Detroit
Smith, Andy Sunfrog, 1967.
Watson, David, 1952-.
- Detroit (Mich.) -- Newspapers.
Using These Materials
The collection is open for research.
- USE & PERMISSIONS:
Copyright has not been transferred to the Regents of the University of Michigan. Permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s).
- PREFERRED CITATION:
Fifth Estate Records, University of Michigan Library (Special Collections Library)