Fifth Estate (periodical)

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Fifth Estate (FE) is a US periodical, originally based in Detroit, Michigan, but now produced in a variety of locations. Its editorial collective shares divergent views on the topics the magazine addresses but generally shares an anti-authoritarian outlook and a non-dogmatic, action-oriented approach to change. The title implies that the periodical is an alternative to the fourth estate (traditional print journalism).

Fifth Estate is frequently cited as the longest running English language anarchist publication in North America, although this is sometimes disputed since it became only explicitly anti-authoritarian in 1975 after ten years of publishing as part of the 1960s Underground Press movement.




Fifth Estate was started by Harvey Ovshinsky, a seventeen year old youth from Detroit. He was inspired by a summer trip to California where he worked on The Los Angeles Free Press, the first underground paper in the US. The name came from The Fifth Estate coffee house on the Sunset Strip, where the Free Press had its office in the basement.

The first issue was published on November 19, 1965—"That's what we really are—the voice of the liberal element in Detroit," it said. It was produced on a typewriter and then reproduced by offset lithograph, in an 8-page tabloid newspaper format with two pages left blank. It featured a critical review of a Bob Dylan concert, a borrowed Jules Feiffer cartoon, alternative events listing and an announcement of a forthcoming anti-Vietnam War march. None of these things would have been included in contemporary newspapers.

In 1966 Ovshinsky moved the office from his parents' basement to a mid-town storefront near Wayne State University. Here the paper was saved from extinction by the Detroit Committee to End the War in Vietnam, John Sinclair's Artist Workshop, and other radicals, with Sinclair signing on as the paper's first music editor. Later in 1966 the paper moved to Plum Street where they also established a bookshop. Fifth Estate thrived in the late sixties, a period when over 500 underground papers emerged in the US. Thousands of copies were distributed locally with hundreds more being sent to GIs in Vietnam. Fifth Estate openly called on soldiers to mutiny. In 1967 the Fifth Estate offices were tear-gassed by the National Guard during the 12th Street riot. In this period the print run reached 15,000 – 20,000 copies, publishing biweekly in a tabloid newspaper format of 20 to 32 pages, with local ads and listings.

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