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No Regrets: Counter-culture and Anarchism in Vancouver

By Larry Gambone

Review By Eryk Martin

November 25, 2015

BC Studies no. 190 Summer 2016  | p. 170-171

Since the 1960s, anarchist activism has played a critical role in shaping the radical political landscape of Vancouver. Nevertheless, there are very few scholarly considerations of this history. Instead, most of the work that has gone into documenting anarchism’s recent past has come from activists themselves, many of whom were participants in the assorted array of anarchist political and cultural initiatives that emerged at the end of the 1960s and expanded rapidly across the 1970s and 1980s. Larry Gambone’s autobiography, No Regrets: Counter-culture and Anarchism in Vancouver, is an exciting and thoughtful contribution to this body of writing. Through a compelling personal narrative, the author effectively demonstrates how anarchism and the counterculture shaped Vancouver’s radical history, and passionately defends their continuing relevance in the present.

Starting with Gambone’s early experiences in the Comox Valley during the 1950s, the author quickly moves to describe and explain the politics, activism, and culture of the radical left in Vancouver during the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s. In doing so, Gambone discusses his involvement with a host of leftwing movements and cultural influences. These include the bohemias of the beatnik scene, the counterculture, and an eclectic array of Maoist, Trotskyist, and anarchist political traditions. From this narrative, Gambone effectively explores the complicated political diversity of the New Left, and argues that the activism and culture of the 1960s was crucially important for the expansion of social movements in the decades that followed.

At the same time, the author situates this personal narrative within a wider pattern of social activism taking place both locally and globally. Gambone places his personal involvement with the growth of the counterculture, the student New Left, anti-war protests, environmental activism, labour and community organizing, and the creation of a dynamic array of anarchist political projects taking place in Vancouver into a broad geographical context. In doing so, he demonstrates that activists in Vancouver filtered local experiences through a global political imagination. No Regrets also illustrates that activists in Vancouver did more than merely imagine themselves as part of a larger political community. Instead, they actively created links with activists in other places, connections that facilitated the movement of people, ideas, and material items between Vancouver and the wider world.

Narrated with both humour and wit, Gambone’s autobiography provides an accessible and engaging entry point into a series of social, political, and cultural themes that have defined recent historical writing on activism in the post-war period, from the fluidity of the New Left, to the influence of transnationalism, to the legacies of the long sixties. At the same time, he also provides a passionate examination of anarchism’s contributions to modern political life, a topic that has been constantly underappreciated or misunderstood. In the end, No Regrets tells a fascinating story about Vancouver’s radical past that will be of interest to academics, activists, and the general public alike.

No Regrets: Counter-culture and Anarchism in Vancouver
Larry Gambone
Edmonton: Blackcat Press, 2015. 200 pp. $19.95 paper