The exact details of June 3, 1968 are murky. What is known is that throughout that morning a woman named Valerie Solanas went around to places haunted by the artist Andy Warhol, asking for him specifically. On her person was handgun. Around 2 PM at Warhol’s art studio known as ‘The Factory,’ Solanas caught sight of her target. She fired at Warhol three times, hitting him once and damaging a number of his internal organs. She then shot an art critic in Warhol’s company and tried to shoot his manager in the head before placing an envelope containing her address on a table and leaving. All involved in the shooting survived, Solanas was arrested and would eventually face jail time in an event that would soon become a footnote in the catalogue of radical actions that characterized American politics in the late 1960’s. Solanas, a horrifically abused woman, sex worker and aspiring author, had acted in one of Warhol’s films and claimed Warhol had stolen a script she had sent him, hoping he’d produce it. Her subsequent trial and fleeting fame lead the elevation of her radical screed, The SCUM Manifesto (written about a year before the shooting) to a level of underground celebrity among radical circles of the time. The book is many things, a guide to revolution against the very idea of being a male, a vicious critique of the patriarchy, a manifesto of mental illness and rage on par with the greatest hits of the Unibomber. In a world torn up by political division and gun violence, does this call to revolution have a place in modern political discourse? Should it? This is The SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas.
‘SCUM’ is an acronym. It refers to an organization Solans hoped to inspire, which she named ‘The Society for Cutting Up Men.’ This acronym gives a pretty good description of Solanas’ political goals. Masculinity and the male gender are a disease upon society, referred to by Solanas as a ‘biological accident’ resulting from men being incomplete females. To Solanas, the male drive for power and wealth has led to all the excesses of modern society. Capitalism, war, oppression in all it’s forms, is directly caused by maleness, which must be stamped out if humanity is to proceed to a better, all-female future. According to Solanas, this will be done with targeted acts of aggression on male political and cultural figures by a loosely connected web of SCUM activists that will destabilize every form of social order from Wall Street, to world governments to the family unit. Leadership positions will be taken up solely by women, to act on women’s behalf, relegating men to a second-class citizenship in society that Solanas believes men have forced women into for the full course of human history.
And then the book really gets crazy. Solanas closes her screed with a vision of a utopian future free of money, useless work and patriarchal domination. All women vote on every government decision in a direct democracy through voting machines in every home. Factories are automated, and men are either killed or allowed to live a harmless existence, devoid of political rights but cared for in ‘stud farms,’ unless they choose to end their lives in Futurama-style suicide booths.
While reading the book, it’s impossible to take your eyes off the page. Solanas’ rage is almost hypnotic, and this rage gives an emotional, if not practical legitimacy to her most outrageous claims. It’s all crazy as cat-shit, but it makes you wonder what kind of society could produce a person with Solanas’ anger. In her work, we see an end-goal that is common to anyone who is any degree an anarchist: the abolition of money, the abolition of oppressive systems, a rudimentary mutual aid system that provides basic needs to all members of a society. These particular goals of Solanas can be commended, but all the bullshit she had to deal with under capitalism twisted her and her ideas and to something much more dystopian than utopian.
Solanas’ as a person and a writer represents a crusty aesthetic that many anarchists choose to adopt. She was of the working class and knew it. Was marginalized her whole life and knew it. Her book is full of cursing and furious imagery that would do any underground zine proud. She knew the peaceful protests of 1960’s wasn’t going to change what needed changing. The SCUM Manifesto discourages peaceful protests in favor of radical, direct action. The same direct action Solanas herself would engage in. Valerie Solanas believed she could incite political change in American society. She ended up shooting a 40-year old autistic man.
Quote of the Book:
“If SCUM ever marches, it will be over the president’s stupid, sickening face; If SCUM ever strikes, it will be in the dark with a six-inch blade..” –Valerie Solanas
Keep or Donate:
If the work of Valerie Solanas has a place in the history of anarchism, it’ sure as hell not as a serious piece of Anarchist writing. Her beliefs are based on the idea of an entire half of the world’s population being irredeemably evil and who should be stamped out. If you believe this, you are not an anarchist. The writing of Valerie Solanas serves as a warning to us all. This is what a society that is uncaring enough and cruel enough can do to us. It will warp us and if it cannot use us, break us and cast us aside. The glimmer of a better world in Solanas’ manifesto is brought about by nothing short of a genocide, an idea that was born in the head of a woman broken by capitalist society. One need not look further than the long history of school shootings in America or violent right-wing conspiracy theories to see that the rage of Valerie Solanas appears again and again in those who feel cast aside by modern-day capitalism. When cartoonishly evil men weild the reins of power solely for their benefit, cartoonish acts of violence will follow. Read this book, heed it’s warning, laugh awkwardly at the so-crazy-it’s-almost-funny ragings of Valerie Solanas. Then tuck it away somewhere on a shelf, where it can fade away into your memory, like a nightmare upon waking.