Things fall apart. The Angry Brigade and "the violent reformists of the bomb". The emerging malaise of issue politics. Putrid academic recuperation – The Sociology of Deviancy and others. Love, breakdown and schizophrenia. The new limbo. Lamenting the lack of radical tradition in these islands! The Irish end-of-culture experience. Thoughts on severe role crises. Down with careerism! Critical look back on the British shop steward movement. Re-birth of the old ultra-left – its value and limitations.
By late 1969, all kind of necessary balances began to dissolve quickly. The earlier glorious, well–intentioned though naive enthusiasm had slipped away and a certain weariness was setting in, fostering an initially reluctant cynicism about intentions. Suspicion about motives was clearly gaining impetus. It was fertile ground on the one hand for extreme voluntarism and careerism on the other and there was often some overlap between the two.
It's been said before that the Angry Brigade was a realisation of King Mob. Well, partially this is true although big differences must be mentioned purely for the sake of accuracy. The terrorism of the word (or the terrifying address King Mob sometimes excelled at) was followed by one of the deed. Angry Brigade communiqués testify to these links, e.g. the "Dear Boss" letter, the using of the name of Geronimo (from the Motherfuckers) and more general references to the Spectacle and the attack on the fashion industry (like the poetically sensitive communiqué accompanying the bombing of Biba's boutique in west London) etc. All this set the Angry Brigade well aside from the cruder anti-imperialist leftist terrorist groups throughout Europe and America at the time, as undoubtedly, the Angry Brigade was the most advanced and had the best critique of all. Leftism was pushed well to the side though it hovered over some of their milieu and began to make even greater headway as the times became more dire. Moreover, as we've mentioned elsewhere, the Angry Brigade wasn't infiltrated by the state as was the case with most other outfits, most spectacularly within the ranks of the Red Brigades in Italy and even more alarmingly, some of those exemplary autonomous commando groups which appeared in Spain in the late 1970s whose plight in Spanish prisons we helped publicise in the earlier 1980s (the Segovia prisoners appeal was put out in poster form in collaboration with BM Piranha). However, during the time the Angry Brigade was active, most military motivated terrorism was specifically and quite rigidly Leninist inspired, anti-Imperialistic (though only as regards the United States) and its only drift, apart from the exquisite knee-capping etc of particularly vicious foremen etc, in Italian factories, tended towards a kind of schizoid despair-cum-pathological disposition. For instance, the Japanese assassins at Lydda airport in 1972 aimlessly killed anybody like some ultimate Surrealist act or like those individuals who shot people at random – like the guy in the University of Texas in 1966 – which Heatwave had mentioned without specific comment other than to say this is what modern alienation in extremis can do to you. Yet the diary of one of the Japanese terrorists reads sensitively like some paranoid disassociation: "DDT has poisoned the world" and "I love a cherry tree". We must say that quite categorically none of this disassociation was in the Angry Brigade. They were sane very human, principled people.
Though there were similarities with King Mob, what were the differences? The Angry Brigade milieu was also somewhat into the ideology of "serving the people" though not quite with the emphasis the Maoist spontanists and the other straighter though disintegrating Leninist groupuscules would have put on it. In that sense they did have some kind of distant identity with the energetic Italian movement of the time which John Barker explained more clearly in the magazine Transgressions1 published by some lecturers from the Geography Dept of Newcastle University. Groups like Potere Operaio, (Workers' Power) and we guess Autonomia Operaia (Workers' Autonomy) must come to mind. These groups were at the time richly critiqued by the Italian Situationists, Ludd and Ceasarano etc, but most likely the Angry Brigade milieu were unaware of this. Thus some of the AB cadre did work through the Notting Hill People's Association that King Mob had thoroughly disrupted only a couple of year's earlier (see the later note on John Grevelle). Elsewhere, they began to orientate themselves around the arena of an emerging community politics which despite its fresh-faced and clued-in appearance was basically no more than an updated face-lift of the old forms. They got involved in those well-meaning, social democratic campaigns like winter heating for the elderly, schemes to set-up Adventure Playgrounds plus more modern concerns like shelters for the victims of domestic violence. Fair enough, but they did throw these concerns at you as though they were cutting edge subversion, and they weren't funny or relaxed about it either, so there was little chance some subversive drift might derail their missionary character. They immediately and uncritically took feminism on board, most clearly exemplified in the bomb against the Miss World TV spectacular. Social workers were tolerated, but only in their new guise as revolutionary social workers and then replete with a new title, were more than welcomed. Case Con, "The journal of the revolutionary social worker" was such an example and to some degree, was informally regarded as part of a hoped for extending Angry Brigade network – its base as it were. Pauline Conroy, a lecturer in social work at North Western Poly, was involved in the creation of Case Con as she was also part of the milieu surrounding the Angry Brigade, though never a member of it. In 1971, she got picked up in one of the last trawls for the AB, the cops wrecking her Powis Square flat, even tearing apart her kid's Teddy Bear to find incriminating evidence. The only evidence they presented at committal was the phrase "Power to the People" written in her handwriting; naturally, the case against her was thrown out - after all, John Lennon could have been charged with conspiracy to bomb on that basis. Like the AB itself, Pauline Conroy was very much uncritically pro-IRA and not surprisingly seeing she hailed from the embassy belt of Dublin's south side, as, to be sure, the Irish professional classes from the late 1960s onwards were to become the only real base for nationalism remaining in modern-day Ireland and even now she appears occasionally on Irish TV – still in her role of sociology lecturer – spouting some trendy bullshit concealing an everyday life where she shacks up with one bank robber, psycho-nationalist thug after another, who moreover cynically deploy 'nationalism' merely as a money-making scam.
One cannot deny there's a certain jaundiced disposition here and we can never forget one of the leading protagonists of the AB, Jake Prescott's bitter reminiscences 30 years later in The Observer Sunday newspaper and the fact that at the time he recalls how they callously used people not in the AB itself (e.g. demanding the use of someone's car for a bombing – easily traceable back to them - and putting them down along the lines of 'Call yourself a revolutionary!' when they didn't comply). On a more general level guilt-tripping like this is a real sign that any uplifting revolutionary spirit is on the wane; more essentially indicating that guilt–tripping is counter revolutionary.
There were others like Chris Bott who initially played the militant role to the hilt, even getting banged up for a while, though quickly he back-tracked, getting fascinated by the sheer pleasure of money itself gained through crime, that "left-handed form of human endeavour" as Brecht bitterly and wittingly called it in Arturo Ui. As was the inclination around the AB milieu and indeed for some years after, some of the money had to be put to useful purposes as well as for personal conspicuous consumption, particularly in expensive restaurants. After helping fund the short-lived Autonomy Centre in London's up and coming docklands, by the early 1980s, Chris Bott was getting involved - and putting money up-front - in the project for a very traditional leftist, anti-Thatcher, weekly newspaper called News on Sunday which rapidly bombed (pun intended). In fact, Bott was always rather arrogant and apart from his destruction of the Essex University computer – which was obviously a good thing to do in 1970 – he switched quickly to a heavy anti-imperialism, supporting the Vietcong, etc; this despite having distributed Arson News, Phil Meyler's crazily chaotic but nonetheless reasonably OK broadsheet a year previously. By the mid-970s he was contemptuously dismissing the Situationists.
Some of the extending AB milieu also went in for day to day participation in the emergent Claimants Unions which had sprung up. However, it must be said only the more unusual CUs, particularly the Notting Hill one which hardly surprisingly, considering the recent King Mob activity, contained a strong "never work" profile which at times resulted in aggressive attacks on dole workers administering officious government rules behind the office counter. Although this had its merits at times as there were enough dole workers who sadistically enjoyed their petty powers, there were equally enough nervous and shy claimants who just wanted to know their simple rights who often scurried away frightened by the militant posturing of the Claimants Union. All this helping the people activism was pretty chaotic though and there was enough of it that was part and parcel of a hoped for sensitised and renewed state (the beginnings of political correctness etc). Certainly the Angry Brigade was less anti the state than King Mob had been. Inevitably, as previously mentioned, this meant some kind of leftist drift aided by a more general drift as unofficial action by the fully employed workers was rapidly unfolding who took to the streets against Barbara Castle's (Minister of Labour in PM Wilson's Lab government) proposed In Place of Strife legislation against wildcat strikes. Around the time of their inception, some core Angry Brigade participants attended (and probably financially helped out) the launching of the radical newspaper, Big Flame, in Liverpool in 1971. Big Flame in many respects was somewhat similar to the disintegrating Leninism of Lotta Continua (The Struggle Continues) in Italy and was a pot-pourri of all sorts of things. It was better than the usual leftist effort but nonetheless still hanging on, initially by its finger-tips, to leftism. Thus, it was able to dig up very interesting facts here and there as, for a while at least, many of its adherents threw over the allotted career roles and, as it were, joined the workers for a couple of years or so. Most didn't stick at it. Some of these facts though, particularly as put together in its more theoretical Red Notes journal, did however prove to be useful when put within a clearer more autonomous perspective. Mike Bradley of BM Piranha and Nick Brandt went to a Big Flame meeting about Portugal during 1975-76 and because they criticized the uncritical praise of Otelo Cavalho, the ultra-left Leninist type army captain later to be imprisoned during the counter-revolution, they put them down for things they'd never said, irrelevantly categorising them with some Solidarity members who'd criticized workers for just demanding wage rises, to which Mike Bradley wittily said, "We support workers getting paid a thousand pounds a week", and a comment which was ignored.
Once Angry Brigade activities really did kick-in, some ex-King Mob individuals called the Angry Brigade, "violent reformists of the bomb" which was OK as far as it goes, but such a description failed to pinpoint essential nuances. The individuals who made up its centre had been university students mostly studying in and around liberal arts / social studies courses. Included elsewhere on this web in Lost Ones around King Mob, there's a pretty intelligent text by John Barker one of its members, published in the Birmingham Radical Arts magazine just prior to forming The Angry Brigade. Though falling short of the lapidary edge of say, The Revolution of Modern Art and the Modern Art of Revolution2 – that good text written at the moment of the demise of the English section of the SI - it did contain some razor sharp lines about culture, particularly pop culture. Apropos of The Who in a text called Art + Politics = Revolution, Barker memorably said: "we contemplate other people destroying the environment we want to destroy". In many ways it was a quite remarkable acute piece of writing, pinpointing all the cultural foibles modern capitalism throws at us plus making an essential connection with the present day vacuity of Eng Lit. Though originally written as a series of footnotes to A Critique of the Study of English Literature published in an obscure magazine called Red Texts No 2, it was weak in other ways, especially in its justification of street theatre, tepid though the justification was. Nonetheless, this anti-art stance did figure in the turn to incendiary acts. A disillusioned and freaked out Chris Gray by 1972 was calling The Angry Brigade, "the last bourgeois artists". Whilst this coinage wasn't accurate enough and sounds too disparaging – which wasn't intended – as two years later he was to praise them for their sincerity even though of the opinion they'd gone "straight up the wall", it did point to an historical dilemma that hasn't ever been considered. Art had reached an unbelievable nadir with no place within its orbit whereby any real creativity could unfold and, at the same moment, the proletariat still didn't possess the steely impulse and vision to creatively transform the world and everyday life. Between this rock and a hard place, the Angry Brigade erupted. Finally apropos of, Art + Politics = Revolution, it is important to remember that John Barker objected to the title because it had been imposed on the piece by editor Bruce Birchall and implied an acceptance of both art and politics when the separation had to be broken down but by then the magazine had been printed, though Birchall was sympathetic to this auto-critique.
To be accurate, the Angry Brigade weren't really terrorists at all – in the dire sense the term has come to mean - but in reality violent saboteurs employing, if you like, whiffs of gun smoke. Remember nobody was killed or even physically hurt by their actions. One of the AB protagonists, Hilary Ann Creek, distancing herself from all that horrific terrorism that nation states world-wide use as a final raison d'etre for their survival was undoubtedly right when she said 30 years later: "Nobody picked up that it wasn't the bombs themselves that they were worried about. It was the fact that it exposed the vulnerability of the system... How could someone go and do in the back door of a minister? It wasn't so much the criminal damage; it was the fact that it made them look stupid."
Did the Angry Brigade have an effect elsewhere? Although it's difficult to say, it's highly likely, as surely their example also lay indistinctly behind a massive wave of small bombings that took place throughout England, Wales and Scotland (leaving N. Ireland aside) in 1971. According to a report in The Guardian newspaper around Dec 3rd 1972, there was something like 14,000 to 16,000 of what were defined as "explosive devices and not incendiary devices like molotov cocktails". It seems it exceeded in quantity anything England had previously known including the Fenian campaign of the 1870s-80s. What's amazing though is that none of this massive though dispersed assault of mainly soft bombs ever really penetrated the national press (although seeing its England its hardly surprising it was given, as it were, the Royal blank). Most likely though mention was made in local newspapers and probably those who carried out such acts got some high from the effect rubbing off on the local media. Moreover, it must also be remembered that the firebomb was in the air in any case (where else?) and there was the case of a few 17 or 18-year old anarchists who, between 1969 and 1970, carried out loads of petrol bombings before they were eventually caught and given 8 months to 2 years borstal. When arrested they were asked if they knew who X, Y, Z group were – a list consisting of at least 7 different names of bombing groups - amongst which was the Angry Brigade. Puzzled, the accused shook their heads as they hadn't heard of the AB and it wasn't till the end of 1970, with the bombing of Robert Carr's front door, that the name became public knowledge.
On the other hand careerism began to reappear and as mentioned there was even some tenuous overlap between this and avant-garde terrorism. A recuperation (via a supposed "explanation") of criminality was part of a revolutionary becoming became the stock in trade of a new wave of college lecturers supposedly with a lot of bright ideas, who were fashionably daring for a brief moment. Well "daring" at any rate within the constraints of academia. The most prominent were grouped around the Sociology of Deviancy who wrote accounts about petty criminality (shoplifting and the like) forms of industrial sabotage, accounts of the activities of the Weathermen in America etc. Elsewhere in this web text cum book they are mentioned here and there in relation to some obnoxious particulars like their cultivation and trashing - at one and the same time- of certain individuals around King Mob who unwittingly helped set them on the career ladder. For brevity's sake and giving some kind of idea about their disposition, we'll mention here something about a book one of this dismal crew wrote.
Prof Stan Cohen's book, Psychological Survival is a sociological survey of prisoners' attitudes to the top security "E" Wing of Durham jail that housed some of the most "dangerous" inmates in the country. He forsakes criminologists like Becker and Matya and instead purloins revolutionary material, particularly Victor Serge's Men in Prison which is based broadly on the time he was banged up because of his association with the anarchist Bonnot gang prior to the First World War. It is a powerful and moving account and full of life, despite an often antiquated literary flourish. It's obviously so much better than the lifeless writings of professional criminologists and was possibly in turn based on the unprecedented excellence of Alexander Berkman's late 19th century, Prison Memoirs? Maybe the deviant sociologists occasionally mentioned Berkmam but one must also remember they strongly opted for Serge because he was also a hallowed figure in the Trotskyist, Socialist Workers' party and most of these academics belonged to this organization. Cohen's great contribution was to recognise this simple fact, (the sheer daring of the man!). And as for content, Cohen (surprise, surprise) like any run-of-the-mill, knee-bending academic sociologist doesn't stray too far in his views on prison reform and come the crunch he backs off. Serge in his descriptions of the architecture of modern prisons (even in 1914 !) is far more contemporary, ending on a sublime, prophetic and utterly partisan note: "Modern prisons are imperfectable, since they are perfect. There is nothing left but to destroy them."
This was too much for our aspiring Prof to fully endorse and like any academic slime ball, merely hints at an endorsement of such comments as, after all, he didn't want to jeopardise his future career. Interestingly, a few years later, John Barker wrote a book on prisons obviously based on his experiences of prison from the sharp end. To this day, the book remains unpublished though one or two chapters have been printed here and there in relatively obscure publications. Again that is so typical of an England which always prefers the shadow to the substance. Cohen is acclaimed for writing on such a subject whilst Barker is silenced. When writing Psychological Survival, Cohen taught at Durham University and knew something about the Newcastle agitation. The attempted wrecking of the Durham Surrealist festival left a mark on him and in response, our Stan read Situationist material and included it in his miserable sociological survey and most likely occasionally lectured to some of the "E" wing inmates about their activities, especially in relation to May '68 in France, though prudently he kept such facts out of his publications. In Psychological Survival he recounts how the prisoners enjoyed reading about Dada and Surrealism. For the future though, his greatest success story was the transformation of John McVicar, one of the great train robbers, into becoming a leading criminologist himself and now an on/off Blairite. If this is the outcome of education for prisoners, you can keep it.
The aftermath of the late 1960s was like some gigantic cave-in when venturing through a cavern where all passages and avenues to the open air had now become blocked. We were left stumbling in the dark, without oxygen, confused and not knowing which way to turn or how to get out. Perhaps too this was partly due to the fact that faith in the hopes of the revolution meant we'd put all thoughts of work to the back of our minds – after all, if there was going to be a revolution, work would be abolished – and then suddenly we found ourselves having to think up some way of making money. On top of that, we suddenly realized that a fair number of our erstwhile friends and / or comrades were quickly selling out? For some and may it be said some of the best, suicide was the choice. There were many – once three friends topped themselves in one week – an act so often finally precipitated by the end of some desperate love affair which had gone bitterly wrong. It was the last straw. Victor Scklovsky's Zoo: Letters Not About Love and Mayakovsky's poem, About This were read as a means of consolation and it seemed only too prescient and compelling, though in no way were you an exile from a failed revolution in another country (Russia) living in a Berlin-type situation of the 1920s. Both guys though had been spurned by the bourgeois sister of his choice, resulting in the creation of two desperate memoirs wracked with grief mourning the death of love experienced so painfully within their now tortured minds and bodies. This time though there could be no exile or escape and no Berlin to rush to as it was the same bitter defeat which had occurred more or less on a worldwide scale. We note here two suicides among many: Alain Abelard around Ron Hunt in Newcastle and Spooks, the ex-scientist on the far fringes of the King Mob milieu. Without appearing moralistic, were these suicides wrong, for surely the emotional pain would gradually have eased somewhat? Well no it wouldn't, not really as it was too late in day for that. Finally you come up with the same general reflection and sad ratification as that which troubled the aging Goethe on the suicidal young man in The Sorrows of Young Werther he'd written about in his youth whereby, "Lotte, a bourgeois woman instinctively holds onto her marriage with a capable and respectable man and draws back in alarm from her own feelings" (George Lukacs). Werther through "thwarted happiness, hampered activity, ungratified desires" (from Conversations with Eckermann) commits suicide because he can be satisfied with nothing less than everything. However, now, for our time, the erotic composition was greater because it also involved the destruction of the "oceanic feelings" (Freud) that could transform the world – a transformation that could have stopped the world flinging itself headlong into a suicidal trajectory. But what to do about the increasing sense of pain you felt inside yourself? For some it was drugs and relief in heroin or mandrax, for others booze or an incessantly mindless fucking devoid of feeling. It's this kind of grim reality and context which Chris Gray's call for mass therapy at the time, must be placed However, Mass therapy doesn't exist, unless one means by that mass class struggle, the struggle of the masses of individuals – but then that's just a tautology, and Chris Gray never defined what he meant by this mass therapy. It is within such a context that his decision to join the Bhagwhans that he asserts 'mass therapy', which was more a therapy for the masses of rich individuals who flocked to it (see later appendix on Chris Gray). The real truth of the matter though was much more unpalatable. There was no way that personal agony could be abolished short of another revolutionary upheaval more profound than the one we'd been through. In which case, why hang around nursing that grim pain for decades? "All length is torture now the torch is out" as Shakespeare's Mark Anthony had howled on hearing of Cleopatra's death. It's still a moot point. In a sense, one was historically traumatised by having a glimpse of an almost palpable freedom of the good life and tantalizingly near enough to be virtually touched.
At this point and in such confusion and pain, it was difficult to put any thing together apart from some passable pastiche mouthing eternal verities which superficially could look very smart providing the right phrases and words were used: spectacle, play, individual autonomy etc when, as someone said at the time; "surely it would be more appropriate to talk about automated individuality"! Certainly that was beginning to feel more applicable. A little later, in 1974, Howard Fraser very accurately said: "the revolution is dead meanwhile write good prose" which was also a kind of quip against the belle-lettrisme of Vaneigem. Both quotes however, sum up the sense of jaded passions, sheer hesitancy, questioning and self-questioning which was setting in. Indeed self-questioning was to prepare the way for the ubiquitous therapy industry which was gradually taking off. And there was a grim laugh on noticing a more precise wall slogan reflecting this essentially new anguish: "Is suicide the highest form of self criticism?"
All such instant acknowledgements merely reflected the ghastly pain inside. Thoughts and feeling, intellect and soul, mind and heart did not correspond with each other. Truly it was like Hegel's "spirit in absolute dismemberment". All equilibrium had vanished and everything inside was locking into ugly combat. Having no money in the background to fall back upon meant worry upon worry as the financial situation was rapidly moving towards hyper-inflation. It seemed suddenly cynically rich to talk about the hunt being "on for the last proletarian" as Vaneigem had naively put it. At the same time, there was a desperate desire for some kind of revolutionary love full of compassion and understanding simply to provide a little shelter from a howling storm you felt was turning into a hurricane. A state of frenetic chaos existed inside you and quite frequently it was as though knowledge disappeared from the mind with that cursed adrenalin ceaselessly pumping up and down inside the veins and arteries making all sustained concentration impossible. You could write – only very occasionally may it be said - in a way which had lost all sense of literary merit, although in retrospect maybe that was to the good! Even though, theory is most useful when it relates to the present or near past things were so dire that that was the last thing on your mind?
In the early 1970s, it seemed there were more than a few genuine revolutionaries, dismayed by the renewed onslaught from all sides and having to deal with a capsised utopianism, were experiencing a profound crack-up. They were to write many a page of what Howard Frazer later was to call, "schizophrenic drivel". However, in a way, some of this "drivel" though mostly unreadable was perhaps – though maybe it's a big perhaps - trying to reach a greater depth than a pre-schizoid "revolutionary" sanity, if that's not too strong a description? Modern history has taught us it can be a prelude to a different even better take on things and one must never forget Antonin Artaud's example. His notes and mostly ravings from the lunatic asylum at Rodez are, apart from one or two sentences, virtually unreadable. But can we clearly separate these incomprehensible ravings from the profundity of his writings a few years later like his essays on Van Gogh and Coleridge? In one sense "schizophrenic drivel", was also an attempt to get beyond that everyday language we use and deploy trying desperately to encompass ever more nuances, even though in that state of "absolute dismemberment" which the first King Mob Echo had emphasised. But the trouble is because it's a language which has lost all sense of an everyday, recognisable connection with others; it hasn't arrived yet upon The Other Shore as it were and thus is impossible to understand. In a way, it was another response to a 'new' language taking on "a revolutionary air" in early King Mob to be quickly followed by an avant-garde quasi-terrorist, "language of the deed". In a sense, all these responses were a passage to a something else which never arrived or was rudely aborted before it was born. "The language of the whole man will be a whole language: perhaps the end of the old language of words" as Vaneigem was to perceptively put it. Perhaps all we experimentally wrote in this vein did point to the supercession of the written word, maybe of that repression evident within its form which Henri Lefebvre had noted in one of his long discourses? As we've mentioned previously, we wanted to get away from writing, especially the role of writer as a little later we wanted to get away from the role of revolutionary, particularly now that the bonehead militant of everyday life seemed to be everywhere. Maybe this was the backdrop which created the broken omelette of "schizophrenic drivel"? And then Nietzsche's Zarathustra spoke; he did not write. Over 100 years later, Patrick Cheval who painted up so many perceptive wall slogans – not only in Paris, May '68 but long afterwards – right up to his death by drink in the 1990s and who sparingly put down little which was traditionally durable in written form memorably said, "books burn, words remain".
Things seemed to ossify very quickly as new roles reappeared in the most unexpected quarters. That spring-like exuberant, infectious spontaneity which really did communicate congealed into the militant of daily life whereby a kind of milieu oriented, closed-off super-activism ensued which was basically puritanical in relation to the increasing disintegration at the heart of everyday life. Thus, Jim Greenfield (later of The Angry Brigade) could rant on about nobody should be in bed at 10 in the morning when there was so much to do. It became so much empty posturing like when Jim turned on a young woman with sweeping brush in hand cleaning the floor of a squatted building: "What are you doing sweeping up – are you a fucking housewife or something". Others quickly made their disenchanted comments directed against this unforeseen expansion of the traditional militant politicos' role into something far more off-putting. The American militant, Yippie type paper Rising Up Angry with its Maoist inclined spontaneism became with a bitter laugh, Rising Up Shattered. In retrospect there's no point in being too harsh on these extremes of daily life critique. We were all into these comments at one time or another - including ourselves. In some ways, it marked the urgent apocalypse of the age and what was to replace these off-the-cuff remarks was to be far, far worse in bland and usually underhand, viciousness. And need it be said, Jim Greenfield was throughout the years to be one of the nicest guys one could wish to meet talking eloquently about the steel mills and endless walks in the Pennines. It's also true most of the individuals around the Angry Brigade have throughout the lengthening years remained put, surviving in reasonably low profile survival scenes in contrast to some of the high-ups of the King Mob elite.
Once the revolution didn't immediately materialise within two or so years, the whole impetus became clothed in a wish-fulfillment which increasingly had little basis in reality. Everybody was susceptible, even willing themselves to have thrown off more past conditioning than they had or were even capable of throwing off given the vague outline of dark skies on the horizon. Increasingly a posture was adopted – a pretence of having cast off career, family, marriage, money-grubbing, etc. - when what was being felt inside was a lot more complicated and contradictory. It became a truth that dared not speak its name. The more the situation began to take on a desperate edge, the more an abstract "revolutionary" wish fulfillment, well at least for 2 or 3 years, took over. It became a mask enforced through a "liberated" personal charisma projected by a certain caste of self-appointed revolutionary leaders whom appeared free. Many of these often super-star inclined, self-appointed leaders were so full of themselves they couldn't see – nor even wanted to see – the look of sheer misery on somebody's face who'd slunk off from the crowd, gripped with a sense of a new loneliness and a renewed death wish as life was fast disappearing under the slime of slogans and posturings. It was part and parcel of the militant of everyday life syndrome and was so completely out of synch with most people's gutted everyday life that alienation was rapidly reinforced. Simply put, it meant the lie was returning big time aided and abetted by a complete lack of transparency (remarkably enough in an atmosphere where transparency was encouraged but with the rider, provided it was a right-on transparency). Skeletons in the cupboards were again entering our hoped-for new world! The postscript of Ten Days That Shook the University emphasised the destructive damage of the lie and The Great Communications Breakdown from the Bash Street Kids in Newcastle (see Lost Ones around King Mob elsewhere on the RAP [Revolt Against Plentey] web) had more subtly gone into the essential differences between lying to the state and lying to each other. What this amounted to was that open talk – without moralist censure – was of the utmost importance, and once this essential was lost, defeat was looming large.
In one sense, Hunter S Thompson's novel of the time, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was succinct about this come-down and full of a truth about all these, worse than ever, nervous, psychotic states you were experiencing and which, with maybe a little less intensity here and there, were set to continue and continue and continue. Certainly the book emphasised lying. With the disappearance /eclipse of the hoped for new sense of community, the only way out was lying (of course the book on purpose grotesquely over-emphasised this in order to bring out the point). The more self-preservation became uppermost, the bigger and bigger became the lie as you began to con your way through life. Transparency between each other was to become about as transparent as the ugly glass façade of a post-modern building together with the rank misery of permanent psychosomatic pain manifested as a pain in the throat that just wouldn't go away.
Looking back, even within the desperation, it certainly would have been worthwhile to have collected together some of these scattered thoughts and insights and put them together and a fair number of individuals did scribble their reflections down and to judge by the conversations, some seemed pretty good. On a more general level, there were tentative moves to explain more fully the failure of any on-going coherent radicalism to take hold in these islands since the collapse of romanticism. The outlines of a text took shape linking the inadequacies of the workers' movement here in comparison to Germany, Italy or France which however, in retrospect was rather wooden and councilist (noting, for example, that the only two significant workers councils to have taken place were in the armed services and in the context of Empire – in Alexandria and somewhere else). Well, it was meant to be provocative! On the other hand, placed side by side with the paucity of radical cultural breakthroughs it did attempt something. Only the single figure of Lewis Carroll received fulsome praise and the more general movements like Vorticism and Blast and English Surrealism were marked by their insipidness. And apropos of the time, the failure of any real Dada movement was emphasised, noting that those who could have made a difference like that superb, insulting anti-artist Arthur Craven found more sympathetic streets in Paris to express his anger.
It could be said that King Mob had created an opening out of nothing in these islands and that is something that adds up to La gloire! Aggressive tactics had split something asunder as basically we were absolute beginners without any immediate reference points to hand. It's like as though we were forced into the quasi-terrorist address against a back drop of quite terrifying incomprehension. Hardly surprising therefore that it was followed by direct action terrorism in the form of The Angry Brigade even though both were heading clean up the wall. By 1972, we realised we had nothing to fall back onto. Nobody would possibly publish anything we'd done or would even propose to do so. After all translations of radical French books quite acceptable in their own country were turned down by everybody, including trendy publishers like Paladin who were quite prepared to publish shits like Jock Young of the Sociology of Deviancy and Richard Neville's Play Power. By then we also realised we had no Gallimard or De Bonato, no Buchet-Chastel or Feltrinelli.The Situationists had after all access to publishing firms the Surrealists had used years previously; we had nothing to fall back upon and now really knew it! Cape Editions and New Left Books merely proved the point. Howard Frazer rightly said at the time: "We'll need a revolution in England before we can disseminate revolutionary theory". This however could be an overstatement as post-68, every independent revolutionary critique apart from the SI, was mostly self-published and as true of Britain, France or the States – and probably elsewhere. Nonetheless a tradition of radical publishing in France allowed the SI to be distributed widely, though it took two years for Vaneigem's Traite to get published, and that on the recommendation of the ex surrealist Queneau. This was prior to May '68 and afterwards, how could one get round such an impasse? Turn a critique of property into the property of a publisher? This is what happened with Champ Libre. And when Khayati complained bitterly about the exorbitant price of On the Poverty of Student Life (and pamphlet Khayati himself had written) and the copyright Lebovici had put on it, Debord claimed to be disinterested and uninterested, copping out of the contradiction of remaining 'friends' with Lebovici by saying it wasn't his problem and nothing to do with him.
Moreover, in the UK there was nobody around - most likely much older - on our doorstep we could look to for some kind of bearing or example we could maybe improve upon - maybe a few more clear headed anti-artists or revolutionary theorists - with at least some take on the totality. As we've said elsewhere here, though it's worth emphasizing again, we didn't even have an academic we could remotely consider intelligent in the sense of a Bataille or Lefebvre. There wasn't even a Noam Chomsky or a Marcuse like in the US. Sure there were social historians like EP Thompson and Christopher Hill who were empirically very absorbing and we read them avidly, but that didn't help in terms of establishing something more rounded, giving us some toe hold on this intolerable society on a day to day level. If anything, in turn, Christopher Hill was to be influenced by ours (and others) "mad" antics regarding further fascinating researches on those wildly imaginative movements like the Ranters unleashed in the English revolution of the 1640s in books like The World Turned Upside Down. Autonomous academic social historians like Cleaver and Linebaugh had of course yet to appear and then, as in Linebaugh's case, he was of course an ex-student of Thompson's. In any case, by the time they did appear, no thought of a more generalised merit was issuing from any university in the world. The totalising intellectual was indeed finished and post-modernist posturings made that all too clear. If anything, the cretinism we encountered in our youth had intensified over the years the more subversive memory was eliminated. Journalists here - surely the most cretinised in the advanced world - weren't and still aren't capable of making the slightest informed connection. They profess themselves bamboozled by slogans like "Desire Armed" on the walls of Seattle during the WTO riots of 1999. Sometime before, commenting upon the jailing of Florence Rey and Audrey Maupin in Paris - the two revolutionaries jailed for shooting a cop – British journalists could only call upon, in tones of shock horror, the tendential influence of the psycho-film, Natural Born Killers, unable to comment upon on the manifesto Maupin and Rey had written which in places was a straight lift from Vaneigem's passionism linking-up with the creation of workers councils.
The simple fact was that the tiny postscript to the Ten Days That Shook The University pamphlet was the most interesting and profound general commentary upon modern-day England at the time hitting the nail on the head more precisely than any of the New Left Review Trotskyite fellow travelers like Tom Nairn and Perry Anderson were doing around the same time. As the latter were not experiencing defeat in the same devastating way, they were able – well, for a short time at least – to continue with a kind of balanced analysis of the peculiarities of a commoditised English everyday life in an almost seamless update of past fixations, especially an all pervasive emphasis on a neo-ruralism which had become a world of substitute nature, of "weekend landscapes far more synthetic than the most plastic products of Hollywood" and, apropos of figures like the MP, Enoch Powell, inhabiting, "this Disney-like English world where the Saxon ploughs his fields and the sun sets to strains of Vaughan Williams." However, these insights were short lived, as Nairn was completely incapable of making more relevant points about the real situation unfolding in Britain the more he removed himself from basic everyday struggles, falling into various nationalist perspectives especially Scottish at the same time as he embraced a modified free market perspective.
Perry Anderson, the other notable New Left Review ideologue, expressed some of the on-going vacuum we'd grown up in his notable Components of the National Culture which most of us thought was good if too starchly intellectual and limited in its analysis of how a "white émigré" culture fleeing from revolution in continental Europe settled here, reinforcing a conservative English intellectual life, whilst the "red emigration", the Frankfurt School, Neumann, Reich and Brecht finally ended up in the USA and for Anderson, these latter individuals "did not opt for England, because of a basic cultural and political incompatibility". Inevitably, we added our own rather more meaningful figures when individual figures like Andre Breton, Marcel Duchamp and Richard Huelsenbeck, escaping the Nazi occupation of mainland Europe again opted for America. We had of course well noted that neither Anderson nor Nairn had the ability to understand the self-destruct of modern art, music, poetry and what have you and it was a massive and gaping hole in their critique which otherwise contained good insights. We could respond to comments like Anderson's: "Throughout this desolate panorama the very notion of totality is banned.....The British Bourgeoisie had learnt to fear the meaning of "general ideas" during the French Revolution: after Burke, it never forgot the lessons". Although more than sympathetic to such comment, despite our youth, we felt this concept of totality remained limited within an academic framework putting far too much emphasis on university learning. This though was the best most of them could accomplish and their cutting edge rapidly blunted.
Interestingly, within this context, the uniqueness of the Irish experience was finally raised, perhaps a little too late, but only to be passed over and this omission hasn't been rectified or fleshed-out since. For sure it's an experience which is very difficult to deal with in the way it needs to be dealt with in Ireland where an attack on the specifics of that distorted accumulation which now makes up the Irish cultural spectacle must surely be one of the starting points of any modern revolutionary critique there as it inevitably crosses the path of a now retard nationalism. To be sure, in the beginning of the 20th century, the rebellion within Irish culture in the Gaeltaic and the flight to the western coasts of Kerry, Sligo and Connemara did produce movement and experimentation that had long been suffocated in England. More formally inventive than anything in England, it was based simply on the recognition of that remarkable story-telling capacity of the extraordinary language of the Irish common folk. Nowadays all that once was authentic has become mere pastiche and the role of the Irish writer nothing more than a dollar mark up on a cultural stock exchange. Something of that had always perhaps been there in the 20th century from the moment perhaps the Anglo-American canonising of W B Yeats as the greatest poet of the 20th century was made just at the general moment of poetry's self-annihilation. We certainly emphasised the superb paradoxical provocations of Oscar Wilde (whilst criticizing him for conforming to the role of playwright) together with some of those formal experiments in the early decades of the 20th century that pointed to the transcendence of art. In passing, we point to Synge's, almost El Lissitsky-like factographs of the people of the Arran Islands which composed of photographs is written as if it was nothing more than a diary, though the content was for its time, explosive. Inevitably we couldn't help reflect on Bram Stoker and his journey in the other direction to the east coast of Yorkshire and Whitby where he encountered as well as invented the legend of Dracula, noting that the first person Dracula fanged was one of the new rail-link tourists to this fishing port of wild tales, legends and drink! Was this an early critique of consumer leisure? In a way, we saw Bram Stoker's novel as a sexy metaphor about necrophilia subconsciously related to the coming death orgy of modern capitalism. Most of these insights were developed in conversations with Phil Meyler which themselves were, typically very drunken affairs. Inevitably James Joyce would crop up and his beautiful destruction of the novel as the point we must start from – particularly that fast, musical language which tended to fuse with the multi-levelled flow of "the craic" in drunken flight. Although it's often said that Joyce's final novel, Finnegan's Wake, is unreadable, its recommended reading some if you've had more than a few and the typography is dancing around on the page. And just listen to the sense of musical drift: "All moanday, tearsday, wailsday, thumpsday, frightday, shatterday till the fear of the Law." After that the role of "The Irish Writer" gradually became a hideous abomination and pathetic imitation of a once glorious past. Examples constantly keep coming on promo-stream from Roddy Doyle, to Angela's Ashes to...(wait for next year's writer's commodity). The world of Irish poetry hasn't been bequeathed to Seamus Heaney but as Phil Meyler said so long ago, that world has slipped to the drunks in the back of the bar. At least it's a starting point. As Patrick Campbell rather cynically said somewhere, "every generation in Ireland produces an army of poets," which in his choice of terms, reflects the Irish cultural equation with the nationalist volunteer on "K. O. Sempatrick's day and the fenian rising" as Joyce also reminded us!
The problem is the demolition and realisation of Irish culture – essentially its imaginative, multi-levelled association offering such pundreamed of possibilities has essentially been lost e.g. where pornography can mean placing the girlfriend in the piano. Thus, ex-Pogues Sean MaGowan calls out: "Yeats? That old fairy", which is quite as bad as Julie Burchill's/Tony Parson's insults in the late 1970s about individual musicians being fat or old. Unpleasantness like this does not amount to critique.
Past revolutionary defeats never really investigated the experience of wipe out. Glimpses were there like the vicious racketeer mentioned by Ciliga in Stalin's gulag who'd been a Kronstadt mutineer but who showed his former passion when his hatred for Trotsky momentarily broke through his normally unbounded cynicism, like Makhno's alcoholism in Paris or Fergus O'Connor's "madness" in Notting Hill after the defeat of the northern Chartists, etc. But you had no idea defeat would be so overwhelming. Perhaps if there been more recognition, more discussion even, of this dreadful feeling inside, perhaps if so many hadn't immediately cut their losses, thrown in the towel and headed upstairs in such unseemly haste, possibly, just possibly, much of that cruel edge could have been blunted. The darkening situation was made a lot worse by a sickening and now, long term, opportunism. The horrible ploys of some of the men are enumerated at greater length elsewhere here, but it was almost as bad among a fair proportion of the women. How could so many women with a sure sense of what mattered end up as public school head mistress like Phillippa D'Eath? Cathy Pozzo Di Borgo becoming a high flying journalist hack when in the flush of youth she'd rightly despised journalists? Anne Ryder cutting free in a very nasty way, pouring endless calumny on former close friends in order to pursue a nice little mediocre niche in High Wycombe, making sure that hypocritical respectability and money honey was what love was all about. It was even worse. For some, the cut off was so complete and rancorous that if it had been Latin America, they would have embraced a Chilean Pinochet-style coup, momentarily delighting in the spilt blood of former lovers, friends and associates. Make no mistake about it, the outcome of defeat was as cruelly vengeful even if the practice couldn't be as savage, simply because it was Europe. Instead excessive calumny and abrupt cut off were the tools of wipe-out treating those who still wanted to continue with the subversive quest as lower than vermin. We weren't only air-brushed out of the picture but reduced to an abandoned anonymity to be placed in some new or updated privatised Gulag. Responses like these continue to this day. These little Pinochet's of personal relationships – men and women alike - did what they could to destroy all hope of that love "invented afresh" which Rimbaud long ago had yearned for. Certainly, Annie Le Brun, despite her too restricted notion - and perhaps fetishism - of love (and thus reducing the scope of eros) makes feminists from Germaine Greer to Sheila Rowbotham look idiotic. It took nigh on a couple of hundred years for De Sade's 120 Days of Sodom to be translated into English, and just how long will it take for Annie Le Brun's critique of glass ceiling, Anglo-American feminism, Lachez Tout (Abandon Everything) to be translated into English? Extolling the life of insurrectionary anarchist women like Flora Tristan and Louise Michel in 19th century Paris in comparison to those contemporary feminists who merely desire greater representation in the world's police forces no publishing company in the English speaking part of the world dare touch it. It is however available for perusal in French on the RAP web. Worse still for Annie Le Brun's reputation in a puritanically hypocritical Anglo-America, she also managed to write the finest book on De Sade ever written!
In many ways though this experience couldn't be compared to past defeats in the earlier years of the 20th century, there was something far more total about it, mirroring the fact that something like a total revolution though resulting in far less bloody repercussions had been posited. Instead of shooting us, reaction tried to force us into suicide, so where could we go? With the defeat of the social revolution between 1917-21, it was possible for those, après Dada, to gain a greater theoretical coming together of disparate tendencies of thought (Marx and Hegel, Fourier and Freud, Lautreamont, Duchamp, and Ciliga) which slowly but surely was to coalesce into something a lot more coherent, especially throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. After that mind-blowing experience of the late 1960s, it was as if you couldn't make major breakthroughs in thought and experience, only make minor additions. What seemed to be needed was its application everywhere and that just wasn't happening. Because of that impasse / block, the choices seemed stark: either stepping back into a desperate careerism or surviving through some kind of hum-drum work, hoping for some break where you could again confidently speak your mind. More and more though, you were seeing this "breakthrough" coming from the outside rather than through anything you could instigate or do yourself and lines like, "the critique which goes beyond the spectacle must know how to wait" (Debord) came in handy in this quandary of neo-passivity. Nonetheless, for those who resolutely and salutary refused the path of careerism, they also quickly got into the habit of toning down their voices and usually didn't speak their mind in the way they should have done or at least, nowhere near forcibly enough. Pissed off they allowed the shit to rise to the top instead of giving 'em hell. That cull of insurgents with hardly a shot fired was also to be a thirty year plus cull of the mind. Those "left behind" (just look at how reaction appropriated and inverted subversive description!) were "self-destructive ghosts" and "shadows". To be sure, many of these individuals had cracked up – and often in a not too pleasant a way – but then crack up is never a picnic for anybody concerned even though you generally come through it.
Defeat wasn't a pretty sight. To slightly amend Rimbaud - we smelt of burning that's for sure – and who wants to be near that smell? And as Ron Hunt perceptively said at the time, "From the avant-garde of hope we've become the avant-garde of misery." It was true. The trouble is there was no way you could escape it and for all those who ran for money and / or recuperation, they merely delayed, in a pastel coloured, mealy-mouthed agonizing way, that day when that pushing aside of misery would devastatingly catch up with them again. Always, everyone fears the on-set of that constantly beckoning nightmare, no matter how much they may deny it.
Engels' comment: "Drink is the quickest way out of Manchester" was scribbled on the wall in a local pub in Notting Hill. Two days later, underneath somebody had scrawled: "Suicide is the quickest way out of Birmingham". If such slogans could be sprayed up in the mid-1970s think how much worse it is now? To return to a diary from those times in an entry from May 12th, 1973: "Drugs and alcohol have become sheer pain killers for an increasingly, unbearable reality. They're no longer that much different from sex. To be sure after the 1960s, a kind of free sexuality has continued but the game has altered. Here too, sex has also become a desperate and immediate pain killer and an explanation for the sport of promiscuity and the huge amounts of money to be made from pornography. If not that, embedded in the id, people don't fuck each other any longer; they fuck each others roles: the potential whore, the enlightened critic, the property speculator, the burly shop steward etc".
The immediate reaction; this running away, this forgetting, this even more hideous attempt at self-repression getting ever more dire was, in macrocosm, what was to unfold across the breadth of society in the decades following to the point where all sense of history and historical memory was to become a virtual crime to be vanquished forever by power. The pain of course didn't go away, even though an alienated society spent billions on eliminating those it regarded as the source of its pain. In such a pursuit money was no object. Slowly but surely an all conquering depression envelopes the whole of human kind –perhaps even some of sentient nature itself – embedded in the process of a capitalist mode of production in suicide formation. And what were we saying about self-destruction ?
Its been said, perhaps most tellingly by the Enclopaedie de Nuisances in 1984, in a text called The History Of The Last Ten Years3 , that in the late 1960s we knew how to destroy alright but we didn't know what to put in its place. Surely though, there wasn't sufficient of the right kind of subversive destruction carried out with enough clarity and sensitivity? After all, everything remained intact even after receiving a remarkable battering and in these islands, at the so-called height of the "destruction" in the late 1960s, there wasn't that much of a battering. Violence and physical destruction here was something that was to unfold in the 1970s and particularly the early 1980s, when virtually everywhere else throughout Europe especially had quieted down, lapsing into an unusual silence, a fact which again points to the sheer idiosyncratic turbulence of this unpredictable place and as Hamlet had said centuries before, "I will to England where they are all mad too". To create that point where no turning back is possible just didn't happen and other routes were directing us back into a new and venomous dark age. What happened initially was more generally a tendency towards the reform of the impossible rather than its destruction. It was a reform that fairly rapidly petered out as a hideous nightmare society was reconstructed. Contesting hierarchy on all levels just wasn't strong enough among the combatants themselves where single issue campaigns, particularly anti-sexism, became a powerful antidote to the total critique of a hierarchy which really did strike at the fundamentals of capitalism. Only a tiny minority of men and women alike took on board the critique of the cadre – refusing and rightly dismissing, the roles of painter, sculptor, architect, writer, teacher, lecturer, musician, town planner, social worker, psychiatrist and especially (as it turned out to be) revolutionary, as well as the usual leftist targets such as vicar, cop, business person, lawyer etc. For those who didn't ineluctably arrive at such a point of no return, critique of role was conceived – nay provided – as therapeutic relief and as a means of altering the same role so as to carry on as before. The proclivities and subtleties of this new therapy industry necessarily had to increase its hold as the world became darker and darker.
For those who couldn't go back, for those who did burn their boats, role crises with the waning of the late 1960s revolutionary became severe. We mean here roles in the socio-economic sense, those pertaining to your position within society as that's finally the crux of role crises. It's not be any means just some kind of abstract, vaguely intellectual decision involving calmly thought out choices as the very essence of your being revolts against the role. You feel sick inside – physically throwing up and sweating – if you try and carry on within its stifling scope. Finally, left with no choice, you have to abandon the damn thing despite the fear of losing sanity, money and personal relationships. For most of us – for all those who were forced from within themselves to take such a path – and so often wishing they hadn't had to take it in the face like this, did mean you were sunk. It implied severe proletarianisation together with a growing bitter hatred of those who felt sufficient equanimity to be able to carry on with increasingly cancerous roles (of course with the necessary facelift) of an updated yesteryear. Well, for those of us who were now well and truly stuck at the sharp end, you fucking well despised them. This hidden hostility grew and grew as the character of the times became more and more reactionary with the slow unfolding of a nightmare, neo-liberal free market.
For those who refused to compromise right from the beginning of this extra long and increasingly hideous downturn, or refused to apologise for their " youthful excesses" it meant a future of pared down survival engaging in hum- drum part-time work (manual/clerical or what have you) petty criminality, welfare scrounging or longer periods as a full-time worker. There really was no other choice if you wanted to keep your mind clear, incisive and uncluttered. It wasn't a moral choice nor was it the dreaded ouvrierism as some cadres described it, wishing to rubbish such a drastic, life changing decision. Glorifying work like that was well out of the frame as in reality we were little more than scoundrels! You were a worker yet not a worker. Though The Real Break In The International4 (1972) written by Debord and Sanguinetti is rather ludicrous as regards its fantastical hopes for the times, its assessment and attack on the cadre was pointed and excellent still remaining the relevant and best part of the polemic. Would it were that simple and life has a habit of being more than a fine piece of writing. Over a long period of time, it slowly dawned on those who had taken on board the ineluctable, practical logic of the critique of the cadre and more numerous than one cares to think were, for all their hesitations and mess ups living rather truer lives than most of the original Situationists who had so rapidly abandoned the implications of their fine words. Most fled into the professions in one way or another or in the worst case scenario like Rene Vienet became a business man. The individual who wrote perhaps their most well-known provocative text On the Poverty of Student Life, Mustapha Khyati, himself became a lecturer and then a university Professor. Need one say more! Shakespeare's old maxim comes readily to mind: "lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds". The background to all this bullshit was the unfolding of a long winter of economic crises, the slow erosion of all welfare and the emergence of a two tier health care system etc. It plainly wasn't that nice and you often yearned for some modicum of economic protection or just some dosh to ease a few pressing problems.
Finally you realised the great Guy Debord was taking steps in that direction too as he fell into the role "of the last great artist in an age without art" (see Abrege - translated as Compendium5 - in Encyclopedie de Nuisances) care of his benevolent patron, the extremely rich cinema entrepreneur, Gerard Lebovici, who handed out to Guy - by the economic differentials of the time - what amounted to big sums of money which were far higher than most university Professors could expect to earn. It seemed like having the money, without the concomitant role compromise but in practice things didn't work out like that. They never do. Sure his thought wasn't compromised like that immediately, but it did mean Debord was permanently removed from that raw economic cutting edge invading most people and making everyone, everything and everywhere a lot meaner. Inescapably, Debord was cut off from the reality of on-going workers struggles, having nothing to say about them after 1982 or thereabouts. You might have expected TJ Clark to have suggested some criticisms in his laudatory homage in the foreword to Anselm Jappe's biography on Debord. Of course, his foreword is more forthright than all the deliberate scholastic disinformation that is the stock in trade of all TJ's art market books, but even here, artistic roles must be slyly acclaimed. Waffling on about Debord being a great writer ("nay, I'd call it great writing") TJ knows he must put "writing" in apostrophes to forestall criticism from those who would sharply contest such literary categorisation because you can't let things like this pass. To be sure, Debord collapsed into the role of writer towards perhaps in the late 1970s – most certainly afterwards – but at the high point of the Situationist critique, describing yourself as a writer would have provoked a contemptuous dismissal. Debord's expression was always eloquent and accurate and that classical elegance was always too, an ever-threatening future artistic role. Does this cautious emphasis surprise coming from an academic who hopes to satisfy almost everybody? Although Clark uses commas about an obnoxious role, immutably fixed categories are the bread and butter of these creeps with a high ideological job profile. To be sure, the vast majority of people are all wage labourers now but in itself this abstraction doesn't mean too much, as putting it baldly, even top executives are on a wage. This simple fact has produced some interesting apologists implying we are all against capitalism now. Would it were that simple!
The problem is with these few critiques which look OK on paper mapping out a world colonised on all sides by commodity fetishism and where alienation has reached a degree of objective intensity far greater than ever experienced in the late 1960s, we come up against the concept of a classless capitalism and where it becomes dubious to refer to any kind of workers' movement. After Camatte in the 1970s, we now have the academic, Moishe Postone.(Robert Kurz – somewhat of the same 'school' - it must be said is much more hard-edged, incisive, even apocalyptic, and not unrelated to the fact he was merely a humdrum taxi driver). A kind of pupil of Postone, Anselm Jappe, who once referred to himself as an "independent scholar" before becoming a professor, berates Debord and the Situationists for falling back on notions of a workers' movement which is now nothing but a shadow of its former self, a mere leftover of failed past critiques. For Postone, workers can only aspire to state capitalism and are nothing but the object of capital as he places his hopes on the Feminist or Ecology movements without ever mentioning they are also largely very state capitalist oriented. Here's not the place to go into Postone's theories, though his discussion of time is quite good. But do we all fall more or less evenly under the weight of the commodity and value and do some more actively participate in the reproduction of commodity relations than others? For those who aspire to achieve this usually much better paid collaboration, perhaps they do feel the agony of their particular alienation more precisely because they have sold themselves to the commodity regime rather more than the vast majority of others. On the simplest of levels, they cannot speak in a straight forward way to anybody which surely still is the necessary pre-requisite for any collective action? Do we really wait for the great strike of the professors, or the top judges and social workers because they experience alienation so keenly? Just where is the praxis, which comes from all of this? Once it was dropping out with a few of the best, making a fanfare farewell to their former roles. Now it's a lot more difficult to do so seeing capital has plugged its defences with the desiccation of welfare systems. So what's it to be: early retirement?
There's an interesting account by a Belgian guy called Yves Le Manach, which appears to have all the hallmarks of authenticity about it. It's basically about his fraught and unpleasant encounter with Debord. Yves had been a full-time worker in a Parisian car factory in the late 1960s and early 1970s and had written considerably about his experiences. He'd slowly, hesitantly and unsurely grasped the relevant core of the Situationist critique and it was proposed to publish some of his writings in Editions Champ Libre, only to be dismissed (after publication) in a high handed and nasty way by Lebovici and Debord. Stunned and very aggrieved by this experience, Yves Le Manach has continued writing – often increasingly scathingly – about this incident and its implications, refusing to be ashamed of describing himself as a worker and despising career Situationists.
And that's where the real break lies: between those cadre Situationists and those who can also talk well about Marx, Debord, Lukacs, Breton and Nietzsche etc, but who have no position in this untenable society, refusing to reproduce the ideology of this insane system as little as possible simply by trying to remain human. They've acquired a simple and forthright hatred for all those cultural specialists in academia/journalism and what have you who cannot write anything officially without putting in obscure but knowing asides harking back to a radical pedigree. The latter, of course, would like to be friendly with those at the sharp end but the sharp end, won't have it as too much murky water has flowed under the bridge since then. In any case, you always feel their friendship has a powerful hidden undertow and it's all about making certain you keep your trap shut.
But how can you when the general solution of the powers that be - involving both hard and soft cops - has been to enact a whole raft of formidable laws, ferociously strengthening the chasm of the UK's social apartheid and a move that is virtually unprecedented in the highly developed world. Naked capitalism in this archaic form was put back in the saddle here and despite all appearances to the contrary like the property owning, share owning democracy con, etc. was finally due to our own general lack of insight in not sufficiently taking appropriate action to prevent it happening. We allowed this situation to come about by at times, the crassest of responses in not sticking together when the simplest of simple solidarity actions was absolutely essential. England, in particular, since the late 1960s to the early 1990s, was wracked by one of the most profound, though disparate social conflicts in the world. If these conflicts had gelled together and even had a limited success, we would have seen sparks fly that would have transformed the protagonists themselves and most importantly, transcended the all too dismal limitations of the social apartheid which often can be an opportunistic, guilt-producing springboard for the most contemptible careerism and go-getting. The way such demagoguery was used after the late 1960s, was nothing short of disgusting - probably because it was so effective - as for certain, those radicals from the middle classes who'd admirably refused compromise, didn't dare for a long time confront this hideous side of the social apartheid. The general atmosphere though was increasingly not conducive to anything which might have stimulated the meagre beginnings of a more general, truthful hope, whether in some kind of written down memories or even actions (involving the publicity of anti-publicity perhaps?). Whatever, the real ground of the modern revolution would have had something a darned sight more substantial to stand upon than the ruins we survey and agonizingly experience in these islands. It maybe a world ruin but the set back here hasn't helped at all.
The working-class revolt in these islands which amazingly followed the defeat of the 1960s (we mean here "working class" in an almost generic sense and not whether you worked or not) certainly compared favourably to The Great Unrest and about which most people still generally know nothing which preceded the First World War and which continued on its way afterwards, culminating in the General Strike of 1926. However – and this cannot be said too often – it was also very different. There was no general impetus heralding a greater grasp of abstract revolutionary theorising or even some political or economic education for the working classes as had happened previously in the 20th century with talks given by Marxist teachers like John McLean to eager manual workers (e.g. his lectures on basic Marxism to Cumbrian miners during their strike in 1912 etc). Theory was also something which was pushed aside and not really bothered with. Facts yes but not a theoretical construct. In a sense, it was also a yearning too for a fulfilled life in the tenor of Rimbaud's exclamation: "come to me oh absent life!" and like the revolt of the 1960s, very much partook of that visceral anti-theoretical revolt which King Mob had emphasized too crassly. The fact that the insurgent workers neglected theory and failed to see just what was so new and original about what they were doing was also a glaring omission here and one that contributed to a terrible defeat. We noted this omission in a sympathetic though critical way, putting it in a longer historical perspective at the end of A Summer With A Thousand Julys6 published in 1982 and said it may just help in avoiding disaster. In retrospect it was probably already too late....
Although the late 1960s in these islands was a period of youth revolt, it was less marked in its real essence than that in America, West Germany, France or Italy. In the latter two countries, the student revolt was immediately followed by a profound workers' revolt which contained within it, a considerable degree of independence, the like of which had probably never before been experienced in terms of its distance from the machination of workers parties and trade union bureaucrats. Here within the UK, there were no such obvious lines of flow. Everything was much more haphazard and unpredictable. There was also a feeling that total collapse was immanent and even the Young Tories in the early 1970s wished to rename the Conservative party, "The Movement"! Nonetheless, among those who'd genuinely tried to realise a new society, as we've reiterated and reiterated yet again, despair and misery were clearly in the air. Then in 1972, one of the biggest revolts in working-class history in these islands broke out which in a way was the pointer towards the storms which were to follow over the next twenty years. By then however King Mob was truly dead and buried and even though a big subterranean re-think was in the offing, it was taking a long time to come into any focus. In a sense, this was all part of the difficulty in trying to get to grips with a society which you thought you knew yet also plainly didn't know well enough. If we couldn't make head nor tail of it, then who the fuck could and somehow this still remains the dilemma even after all these years.
For those leftovers of King Mob who hadn't disappeared upstairs in some scared, unseemly haste, they were really thrown in more ways than one. And as for the rest of our generation by 1972, instead of thinking about images, pop groups or chasing and changing the sound of pop music, to put it crudely, we were more concerned about proletarianisation and economic marginality and quite fearful about it. A Marxist theory of economic crises that you had tended to glibly dismiss four years previously suddenly began to make a lot more sense as it enmeshed with a period of class struggle the intensity of which, these islands hadn't known since perhaps the English civil war. You ineluctably became immersed in the unfolding revolt simply because it was on virtually everybody's doorstep. It took a number of years to acquire some clearer perspective on what was taking place in front of your eyes – on just what was old hat about it and what was moving towards a more precise perspective which might one day usher in the elusive goal of autonomous revolt. A reborn though limited traditional ultra left certainly helped this process on its way despite its limitations, but the biggest effect by far was the impact of failed social revolutions in Portugal and Spain from 1974 to 1979.
The Situationists originally had lauded the excellence of the British shop stewards movement, more or less praising their pivotal influence in the increasing number of wildcat strikes which began to break out here from the mid- 1960s onwards. No doubt this was gleaned from the pages of the Solidarity journal as well as Le Monde plus personal friendship with individuals from these islands. The implication was that this movement was a breakthrough, suggesting autonomy was just around the corner. In a way this was understandable, as from the French perspective where a rigidly disciplinarian Stalinoid CGT union apparatus managed to prevent any independent self-activity, Britain in this respect looked remarkably libertarian. The Situationists rightly applauded the efforts of Solidarity whilst criticising its Castoriados / Cardanite disposition, noting that combative workers made up its core membership and, for sure, some were shop stewards and were undoubtedly acquiring an advanced revolutionary critique. However, this wasn't the main impetus behind the shop stewards movement as a whole and by the early to mid-1970s one was becoming aware - all too aware - of its woeful inadequacy in controlling and suppressing wildcats as much as instigating them (see especially the two texts written by us, one concerning a critique of The Lump7 in the building industry which was published by the Wildcat group in Germany on the Revolt Against Plenty website and the other a critique of Brendan Ward's, Builders, Chancers and the Craic. Both webs contain much personal experience of the limitations of shop stewards). In a way, it was to the credit of a narrow, though often searching, born again, ultra left in the early 1970s that started the ball rolling, pointing out the recuperative role of the shop stewards movement, though by then the shop stewards were becoming more like bureaucratic functionaries than a movement. A leaflet handed out by the recently formed World Revolution in the mid-1970s on a textile workers strike in Leicester was perceptive in this respect (and, in passing, well before World Revolution ossified into a baneful ultra leftist Leninist party it now is). However as Nick Brandt said even then – in 1974 World Revolution saw itself as possessing the truth and put down rivals to this claim – e.g. they deliberately lied about the Situationists saying that they'd said that the working class was integrated into capitalism, misquoting by omission, The Decline and Fall of the Spectacular Commodity Economy8 on the Watts riot in California, where they'd said that the white working class were apparently integrated into modern capitalism – omitting the 'apparently'.
Certainly this disparate but growing critique of shop stewards did crystallise quite a few things for us, as with increased proletarianisation plus increased day to day personal contact with shop stewards in work place situations as well as the pub, their limitations and repressive role was often becoming all too obvious. A few years later, we made a very quick translation of Cajo Brendel's, Autonomous Class Struggle in Britain 1945-77, making about 15 photocopies for friends to comment upon. We did it because we thought it was interesting as it put the early 1970s in particular into some kind of relevant perspective, although we thought the analysis wasn't rounded enough in the way it downgraded the momentum of thought and consciousness – that admittedly difficult process, even conundrum. Unfortunately, it was then published elsewhere without our knowledge and the translation hadn't been subject to the very necessary revision it needed. In other respects, the early 1970s threw up small ultra leftists groups like Socialist Reproduction and Workers Voice which decimated a much forgotten theory and history of past workers' revolt with some sensitive analysis on workers councils (particularly in Germany from 1918 to 1923) as well as the limitations of the old ultra left.
Although this searching analysis by a worker oriented ultra-left was welcome indeed, nonetheless at the time, you were aware of its inadequacies in terms of any bridge towards a more totalizing critique. Admittedly this is something that is extremely difficult to achieve and out of necessity, that critique must always be aware of its febrile existence, ever receptive to renewal. However, among this re-borne ultra left, a critique of art was non-existent. This really was completely inadequate as the actual shaping, production, promotion, buying, selling and general marketing of commodities in modern capitalism is much dependent on its realisation via advertising and design that is upon the fall out from modern art, design and poetry. The surface of modern art was ransacked by the need for capitalisms omnipotent visual display, whilst its inner increasingly subversive essence was utterly excluded the more the transcendence of modern art shaped up into a revolutionary critique of modern capitalism. As Nick Brandt said, "The critique of art starts off with the recognition of individual desires and creativity being falsely realized in the work of art. The Situationists began with the social individual, subjectivity. But for ultra-left groups all this is bourgeois individualism because, seeing only things from a crude 'objective' political point of view, they always affirm an ideology of the collectivity in which individual needs are subsumed into the group. The masses are never the masses of individuals. Isn't it for this reason above all that the ultra-left have no critique of art?"
Unfortunately, this glaring omission was to be fatally re-enforced by Jean Barrot in France who missing out on the relationship between the fall out from modern art and the increasingly fetishistic scope of the commodity in the very basic (though marvellous) original analysis of the fetishistic value of the commodity in Chapter 1 of Das Kapital, contributed to a limiting of perspectives. In England in particular it tended to reinforce an unimaginative mundane. Thus a pared-down ultra-leftism here periodically brings out Barrot reprints without noting these inadequacies. If only something of this anti-art critique which had been to the forefront in King Mob had been worked out more precisely to deal with such a coming impasse! Instead, the essential critique of art fell into a calamitous disuse where now all memory of it has been long forgotten in a period in which even some interesting though opportunist recuperator like Naomi Klein in describing her life talks of "having grown up after history ended".