In my last post, I discussed The Anarchist Cookbook, which was originally published in 1971 by William Powell. It’s a fascinating book, not only because of its literally explosive contents but also because of the transformation of its author from violent activist to emotionally intelligent teacher. More than forty years later, the Cookbook continues to be circulated and read. However, it is no longer the polemical text, in which Powell wrote:
I believe that the people in power – not only political power, but also economic and social power – will not non-violently give up that power to the people. Power is not a material possession that can be given, it is the power to act. Power must be taken, it is never given (Powell, 1971, p. 27).
Thanks to the Internet, the Cookbook’s contents have been revised and updated by a number of anonymous authors. According to Rocco Castoro, former Editor-in-Chief at Vice magazine, a text file called The BHU’s Handbook started to circulate during the 1980s on the ‘bulletin board system’, a primitive version of Reddit. The Handbook was an updated version of the Cookbook with new ‘recipes’ that took into account the latest technologies. It became known as the ‘electronic Anarchist Cookbook’ and included many new methods for mayhem written by authors calling themselves Exodus, The Jolly Roger and more.
As a result, there now exists an Anarchy Cookbook 2000 and other versions. These new iterations have been stripped of the ideology in Powell’s text. You won’t find any quotes from Abraham Lincoln or Malcom X in their pages. They are now just compendiums of violence and petty crime. In fact, the vast majority of recipes are not found anywhere in the original Cookbook, including information on how to get free postage, various methods of hacking, credit card fraud, and even a section on knowing your legal rights if you happen to be arrested in the United States. Some parts of Powell’s text remain; Cookbook 2000 still claims you can get high from banana peels.
In some ways, it makes sense that the original Cookbook was updated. Powell’s text was written in the days before the Internet, smart phones or even cable TV. The new Cookbooks are about causing anarchy in the world we live in now.
I’ve decided to make a recipe from the 2000 version: the flour bomb. Contributed by The Jolly Roger, it is for those ‘who do not wish to inflict bodily damage on their victims but only terror’.
… [the bomb] covers the victim with the flour… which will put the victim in terror since as far as they are concerned, some strange white powder is all over them (Anarchy Cookbook 2000, p. 46).
The reason people would panic is because we now live in an era of terrorism, chemical weapons and other random acts of violence. An unknown white powder could spark fears of ricin, a highly toxic substance that has been mailed to various politicians including American President Barack Obama in 2013. It was even featured on an episode of cult TV show Breaking Bad.
How to make a flour bomb
Here’s what you need:
- Spray bottle with water
- Paper towels
- Rubber band
Separate the layers of paper towel. Use only one layer for your flour bomb, or it won’t explode open.
Wet a single layer of the paper towel with your spray bottle.
Pour in a good amount of flour.
Fold up the edges.
Tie up with a rubber band.
Spray with more water to ensure it explodes upon impact.
Test out your bomb.
Then find a victim… and bomb away.
The flour bomb is obviously harmless and seems more appropriate for a Halloween prank than any kind of serious protest. However it represents the on-going life of an important book in protest culture. The Anarchist Cookbook may have been the result of youthful anger, but there’s no doubt it was borne out of a genuine desire to battle against tyranny and oppression.
This is not a revolutionary book in any traditional sense, but its premise is the sanctity of human dignity. If this human dignity and pride cannot be obtained in the existing social order, there is only one choice for a real man and that is revolution (Powell, 1971, p. 29).
Post by Elena Yeo
Elena has just completed a Masters Degree in Curating & Cultural Leadership at UNSW Art & Design. This post was written as part of a capstone project undertaken between the university and the Powerhouse Museum.
William Powell, The Anarchist Cookbook, Barricade Books, New York, NY, 1971