The English Situationists and the Newcastle rebellion join forces. Similarities and differences. Reading Marx, Lefebvre and Hegel. Black Mask and the Gordon riots of 1980. English romanticism and the guerrilla/gorilla actions of King Mob. Intervention against theatre. King Mob potlatch. Subversive wall slogans.
Libcom note: includes images which are not safe for work
Initially what resulted was a series of euphoric get-togethers in London ardently discussing everything under the sun in flats, pubs and other venues. A meeting - if you like – between north and south - (to give a posthumous revision to Disraeli's book of the same name) between us, Chris Gray, Don N Smith, Tim Clark and Charles Radcliffe. In short, the English section of the Situationists. There was nothing formal at all about these passionate conversations and no thought of making groups, reconstituting ourselves etc and nothing about organisational forms/structures and what have you. Nor did we discuss much about our different survival situations – us on the dole, them with some money or other. Mainly it was all about what was unfolding in America – the student rebellion and the urban insurrections especially in Watts, Newark and Detroit, along with endless piecing together of radical theory coming together from the best of the old world of art and politics - usually emphasising their most destructive aspects. Marx smashing the street lamps in London's Kentish Town, Durutti smashing up chairs as bourgeois domesticated articles and inevitably the practical demolition of the world of art as conceived by the most aware artists, especially Lautreamont. We equally lauded anti-art measures deployed by people other than artists. Insurgent anarchists were praised like when Bakunin hauled masterpieces from art galleries, hanging them on the barricades of 1848 knowing full well the military top brass would balk at destroying priceless artefacts thus giving some protection to the insurgents. The latter was communicated to Ben Morea in New York who, duly impressed, incorporated the same action during the barricaded sit-in around Columbia University in New York sometime later. Of course a lot of this re-reading and re-interpretation of history was affected by what was taking place on the streets in the here and now, particularly the outbreaks of youth hooliganism in the western world of commodity domination which we saw as the potlatch festivity bringing about the contemporary destruction of capitalism. It was all, to be sure, rather too simplistic as others, much later, pointed out. Even at the time, though ready to virtually destroy anything in sight, nonetheless we felt such vandalism had to be improved upon and initially, at the very least, accompanied by a theoretical explanation saying why we should encourage others to do such things. Everybody was also reading voraciously at the same time anything from Hegel to Marx, to Lefebvre to histories of the Spanish revolution of 1936 etc. A rapid coming together of revolutionary knowledge and thought from all over was kind of quickly assembled and in haste. In retrospect, there was too much haste as the immanent pressure of the times wasn't allowing much space for good, reflective digesting. A few years later we sadly realized this was to prove a much more serious omission.
Of course we also passionately discussed the Situationists and their predecessors finding out by word of mouth - from the horse's mouth if you like - all the unknown history of post second world war cultural and political subversion and how we could no longer separate the two as they inevitably tended more and more to enmesh. Astonished, we heard about the International Lettrist interventions in the 1950s, particularly Michel Mourre's invasion of Notre Dame dressed as a priest incarnating a litany proclaiming "God is Dead" only to be set upon by the Swiss Guards with swords drawn ready to hack him to pieces finally escaping with some nasty cuts. Why had all this information been withheld from us was an initial response and only confirmed what we'd felt deep down all our lives: England was a truly conservative shit hole!
It was all compelling stuff between us though Charlie Radcliffe was the most subdued, not to say a trifle cynical about it all, something that must have happened recently as remember he had been through the ordeal of a possible prison sentence because of his involvement with printing fake bank notes with a declaration against the Vietnam war printed across them. He was also becoming somewhat wearily hostile (well to some degree) with the Situationist scene and even in late 1967 could say: "You've got to have money to be a Situationist". It was a fair enough comment on the English section of the SI - and it went home alright – as we'd quickly realised these were people of means and obviously were in receipt of tranches of inherited wealth which funded their refusal of work, allowing them to experiment with a much greater freedom in acts of blatant refusal than the vast majority of those at the sharp end. On first meeting Chris Gray in an instance we thought "shit, this guy's posh" but fuck it, it didn't matter let's get down to the real nitty gritty and does it matter where anybody comes from? We were aware of this privilege but equally we were aware at the time of the profundity of their comments and theoretical take on things that really were quite inspiring. Differences in economic position weren't though an obstacle at the time as all of us wanted to immediately engage in subversive acts together, accompanied by high quality theoretical explanation which was way beyond anything the left could conceive. We knew we were capturing the hidden subversive tendency of the times and we knew it was really going to communicate. No question about it!
Knowing Charlie Radcliffe so briefly, it may have been better to have put some of this in the personal biography section here. It would also have been inappropriate because his figure is so shadowy. He never overcame his disillusionment though one forgets how brilliant the guy had been. To take one example; memorably he asked some draughtsman to help him make a vicious satire Walt Disney's world. Dollar signs were plastered all over the cartoon as the familiar characters indulged in all kind of rude things. Mickey Mouse was having a piss, Goofy was humping and so on. It was hilarious. The limited print run is now surely lost as the poster has never been reproduced. Slowly Charles Radcliffe was to disconnect himself from all contact, shying away, finally blanking you in the street in an embarrassed sort of way and rather ashamed about it. It sure was disconcerting as you were left wondering just what had you done? Little did we realize the man, along with Howard Marks (of "Mr. Nice Guy" fame) was getting into a lucrative hash and grass dealing syndicate which drew the line at hard drugs.
(A long time after the text was initially put together the poster was found in some belongings left abandoned in Newcastle decades previously)
Interestingly, despite the increasing distance, he was mimicking some of the romantic themes King Mob was going a bundle on though the latter was utilizing them in a more revolutionary way. Charles Radcliffe's cat and mouse game with custom and excise was straight out of Robert Louis Stevenson or maybe putting into play a pirates fantasy construct complete with pieces of eight buried in secret chambers on wild cliffs! Moreover, it wasn't all for personal gain as some of the dosh was diverted to help fund some of the more radical underground press, especially INK. However the whole scene though superficially rather swash-buckling was full of 'grasses' in the real sense of the term overlapping with spooks, the secret service and some gun running possibly related to the IRA. Though at a distance it could look attractive but isn't also part of the very essence of the modern-day entrepreneur?
Of course there had been Situationists from these islands previously in the persons of Alex Trocchi and Ralph Rumney but we hardly referred to them except to note they couldn't escape the clutches of art as both their reputations were based within the cultural sphere: Trocchi as a novelist and Ralph Rumney as a painter. Interestingly, Ralph Rumney who grew up in the north of England, called his home town Halifax: "A town without culture". On first reading this there was something of a "jeez that's really getting somewhere" having experienced that warm, untutored behaviour which is so typical of the inhabitants of that town. No such thing however! He meant it in a derogatory way as a criticism of Halifax as Ralph Rumney never could let go of the role of artist except for a brief moment in the mid-1950s in Paris. What undoubted merit had been in the man in his early years picketing army recruitment centres in Bradford, draft dodging reading a forbidden copy of the Marquis de Sade and travelling – simply because he was forced to flee Halifax as well as England was simply lost, overshadowed by all those dreadful collages and montages no better or worse than your average LP cover from the 1950s or 60s. Ironically, that "town without culture" in 2002 hosted an exhibition of their rehabilitated son. Exile from art was never an option and truly today there really is no out of the way place escaping the deadly aesthetic embrace!
King Mob was a spontaneous coming together of subversive youth from middle-class and working-class backgrounds though most had been through aspects of higher education, which they'd found to be a constant stream of ridiculous mumbo-jumbo. Distancing themselves from this experience, they were engaged in a process of overthrowing all the received wisdom from their respective backgrounds. There was for a brief - too brief – moment a remarkable similarity between them and little class hostility was evident in the paramount need to express the coming together of what we thought at the time was the first total revolutionary critique in history. Sheer passion and the desire to live a life free of money (the intensified invasion of exchange) and the social relations of commodity production was the very essence of what we were about, so why should class matter in all of this? It was our negation and what we wanted – a new world – which mattered. In retrospect, class mattered quite a lot particularly when the revolutionary moment had passed and there was a necessity to more accurately reflect on what had gone wrong in order to create a more substantial base for any future assault on the old order and to make certain a true history of the times and its failings would not be lost, if only to assist those coming. At the time though it was the pure desire to live authentically, to experience "Christmas on earth for the first time" as Rimbaud put it, that really mattered.
There was no thought of breaking away from the Situationist International among the original members and indeed at that time a magazine was been put together containing original texts freshly written. They were of a high standard and the projected SI mag was indeed better than what was to appear in the pages of King Mob a little later. They had a greater lucidity and coherence even though they tended to be somewhat repetitious of the French centre. On the other hand, they were shot through with asides on Anglo/American society, drawing somewhat from previous Heatwave articles, making them specifically pertinent to these societies. Most of these polemical texts have unfortunately been lost as the proposed magazine was abandoned very quickly though they'd all been collectively written, some making greater contributions than others. We saved the only known one: The Revolution of Modern Art and the Modern Art of Revolution put together by Chris Gray and Don with occasional help from Tim Clark. Ten years later because of its outstanding quality we made photocopies of it, handing it around various individuals particularly ex-Infantile Disorders people in Leeds. One eventually found the way to BM Chronos who quite rightly published it as an important historical link as well as a very good piece of writing in itself. In that text there are references to Black Mask couched in a comradely critical way.
And then came Vaneigem's bombshell communication after his meeting with Black Mask in New York in late 1967. Principally, Vaneigem objected to Alan Hoffman, a kind of mystical but political acidhead who'd started to show an interest in Black Mask. We'd met him on the lower East Side with Ben Morea though Ben was thoroughly dismissive of him in mid-1967 and just thought of him as a passive hippy unwilling to actively take on American society unlike the ghetto blacks or, to a lot lesser extent, the students. Actually, we couldn't get on with Alan either finding him not that dissimilar to the Newcastle Morden Tower poets whom we detested. It seemed as though he had more of a Beat take against American society, like some more clued-in Ferlinghetti than clearly anti-art and what have you - what with his Reichian orgone box psychologising tendencies which really were more the by-product of Wilhelm Reich's persecution for adhering to revolutionary perspectives in the atmosphere of an American society experiencing the first taste of what was to become McCarthyism. Generally Ben was really down on the hippies in the Lower East Side and when panhandling asking us for spare change, he'd aggressively turn on them, saying, "ask the fucking tourists". Ben in any case at the time survived through part-time shit jobs, window cleaning and what have you and he didn't have many benign liberal sympathies on that level. He'd come from a fairly poor Italian American background and wasn't that enamoured of those more economically privileged although, unlike these islands, he wasn't always mouthing off about the middle classes. One forgets the speed of events and individuals were changing themselves within days and hippies rapidly became a lot more than hippies starting to fight back, taking on the police etc. It was this general movement that brought Ben and Alan closer together. Also, Ben had a serious liver complaint and he couldn't touch alcohol, thus acid went down very nicely. What became the counter culture though was fast developing in subversive directions and the overlap between Alan Hoffmann and Ben Morea was something that must have been repeated countlessly throughout America in the late 1960s. Of course there were bad things to it and mysticism was one of them. Ben was inevitably very upset about Vaneigem and started raving on in letters about the man of letters disposition he put across, accusing him of not knowing anything about those at the bottom of the pile and street life in general. This created quite a dilemma in London as Chris Gray and Don N Smith in particular wanted to keep all the newfound friendships here alive and kicking. Knowing our friendliness with Ben Morea, they didn't want to cause too many upsets before things had really kicked in in terms of doing something together. Presumably because of their prevarication they were excluded from the Situationists and the rest, as they say, is history. It was a major factor though that never came out in the officially recognised reasons for the exclusion as put out by the French section.
Out of this lacunae and initial disorientation followed by a kind of re-think, King Mob developed. The biggest influence in it by far was Chris Gray who moved his abode from the Earls Court area to Shrewsbury Rd in Notting Hill, an area chosen as one that offered possibility for finding other similar people with its air of general marginality. It was also cheap and flats and bed-sits were easy come easy go. Although unique in London Notting Hill had other equivalents like Balsall Heath in Birmingham and Whalley Range in Manchester. The split off from the Situationists caused soul searching but the spirit of the times was clearly moving fast and the need to work out some on-going activity keenly felt. At the time, Smiths, the popular newspaper and trashy mag newspaper chainstore brought out a series of attractively presented folders on various events in the history of these islands. One of them was on the Gordon riots of 1781 in London when a huge swathe of the capital's destitute population was swept up in an orgy of looting, burning and bitter revenge. A guy called Hillary had written a book on the subject, which though reactionary in tone and stance brought out the awesome majesty of that splendid occasion. On the walls of a destroyed Newgate prison some insurgent had painted up: "His Majesty King Mob". This seemed too good to miss as a title for a magazine cover and moreover we were connecting with a great though relatively unknown past. Obviously the book provided the basis for the modern presentation sold by Smiths which also included lots of drawings, paintings and lithographs illustrating the fury of the event. We avidly poured over it liberating further copies for others to read. We weren't really interested in the whys and wherefores of the riots like its "No Popery"; it was the fact that London was put to the force of fire and we were thus liberally interpreting the picture ourselves as we dreamed of doing the same thing all over again! From the fall of 1967 we began doing just that well before any such magazine came into existence, preparing the ground as it were by spraying up big wall slogans and producing lots of small stickers viciously satirizing the "I'm Backing Britain" campaign promoted by the then Labour party PM, Harold Wilson, who was trying to encourage workers to spend a few hours every week working for nothing thus, according to the propaganda, helping save the country! Some schmucks did and were congratulated on camera by Wilson himself. Stickers were produced with slogans on them like "Bugger Britain", " IWW - I Won't Work", "Never Work" (Marx), "Fuck Exploitation" - while underneath the wording there was a miniature Union Jack. Basically Don was behind all of this and he handed lots of them out to anybody mindful to gum them up wherever they could.
Of course, the title King Mob Echo suggested we wanted to make an impact – essentially a popular impact without being populist which meant something quite different to a mass circulation, 20th century Daily Echo type newspaper. The magazine itself became the first of a bunch – the first and the best – though that's not saying much. By 1971 even run of the mill leftists were doing things along similar lines. 7 Days, for instance was heralded as a left wing tabloid harking back to the days of Picture Post but unlike King Mob Echo, it was full of specialist articles on rock music, TV and what have you written by various left wing career specialists who were already doing very well for themselves (e.g. Stuart Hood, the former controller of the BBC etc). Somewhat later, John Barker (ex-Angry Brigade) proposed producing the Pink-Un, a kind of popular news-sheet mimicking in style, if not in content, the old Saturday night sports gazette. No doubt a man with the insight of a John Barker would have created something OK but like many schemes we've all had, it never saw the light of day.
Quite quickly King Mob developed into the most consequential critique emanating from the detritus of culture in Britain in the 20th century and far superseding anything posited by the Vorticists around Wyndham Lewis and the anemic English Surrealists. Its influence was widespread only for its cutting edge to be blunted almost immediately and over the ensuing years, to be completely lost. It changed a climate only to linger on as a distorted shadow and a trendy image. In its pristine condition, King Mob challenged all artistic form – something, which had never remotely happened in these islands before though there had been precursors during the Romantic movement in the late 18th and early 19th century though those early essential innovations were to be eradicated by subsequent events not least through the Imperial triumph of Britain in Europe and the world during the Victorian epoch, a legacy the enemy within still hasn't recovered from.
Most of the actions were spontaneous affairs, though a few were planned a few days – at most a couple of weeks – in advance and were worked out to some degree, although always allowing a lot of autonomy in this provisional working out. We never informed the police and the broad outlines of what we intended doing was passed on down through eager friends into that new grapevine/diaspora which so quickly hove into the horizons of existence in the late 1960s. There was sufficient advance warning of the action allowing others to make their personal contributions if they were so minded. In fact, when the interventions occurred there were always enough unfamiliar faces to add interest plus the anticipation of getting to know them personally afterwards. The well-produced Selfridges leaflet was perhaps the only real advance publicity even though no date and time was placed upon the proposed action as it was up to those enthusiastic individuals who took away bunches of these leaflets to communicate these facts. This leaflet, along with those sparse others we produced, always went from hand to hand. We shunned leftist or anarchist bookshops in distributing these leaflets (though not for magazines like King Mob I etc, but even this was done sparingly as we really did hate bookshops!). This way of hand to hand distribution also did mean that the police were always taken by surprise even though, inevitably they turned up within half an hour to round up and sometimes arrest the usual suspects, more or less in the time it took for any old pub brawl to get sorted by them.
The intervention in the Powis Square dispute in Notting Hill in the spring of 1968 that basically announced King Mob in the arena of an anti-publicity publicity, was arranged entirely by word of mouth and with no accompanying leaflet. Although most of us had just recently moved into the West London area (it was in the days of the ubiquitous cheap bed-sit and the rented shared small flat existing before the squatting era) we were quickly aware of local anger about the lack of play space for children which in Notting Hill had resulted in children being knocked down by cars. Finally, a child had been killed. There were green spaces around alright – big enclosed garden areas – but they were for the leisure activities of an isthmus of rich people who in a pastiche of ribbon development, extended down into the "Gate" from the rich folks on the (proper) Notting Hill. At the time they were seen as the colonisers and sadly three decades later were finally to completely occupy our homeland and steal our very lives from us. In 1968 they were fenced off from the local community by seven foot high iron railings and the poor were denied access to their lovely green lawns. Complaints were visible alright but the protest was led by the paraphernalia of Labour and Communist party types via the umbrella of the Notting Hill Peoples Association, a multi-racial ad hoc community forum made up of largely unpaid community activists hanging on to the shirt tails of reasonably well-funded do-gooders like George Clarke whose charisma induced a resentful though somewhat acceptable subservient response from his subalterns. The "protest" - if you could call it that - was a lack-lustre, pusillanimous, official affair. We decided to change all that simply to test our mettle and we didn't even bother to inform the local leftist worthies just what we were about. They'd have objected in any case to our proposals and would, most likely, have informed the police. Instead, we arranged through word of mouth to attack the fences surrounding the square on a Saturday afternoon when there'd be enough people having a weekend drink-up or strolling through Portobello market to get perhaps a few of them to join us. A gorilla suit and a circus horse outfit were hired for the occasion.
Thus, in a crowded Henekeys' pub on one Saturday lunch-time in April '68, one of us went into the lavatory and put on the gorilla suit. A black bomber speed lozenge helped which though encouraging confidence, also made things hotter inside the imitation fur. Like Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment (an English film about schizophrenia at the time) the theme of man/gorilla was put into real play – and consciously so - meaning put whatever the recent spectacle contains into concrete action - in order to come up with some real subversion. Roaring out the lavatory and pounding the gorilla's stiffened cardboard chest - a la Morgan – causing some drinkers to shriek and drop glasses, the creature shot out of the pub immediately (as planned) meeting the circus horse and all those other (unplanned) people who we hoped would be there. We needn't have worried. There were plenty. Together we all set off down Portobello Road shouting our heads off asking all onlookers to join us in pulling down the fences around Powis Square so that local kids could have somewhere safely to amble about in. Well, a lot more other things were shouted out too because this had become instantly an occasion where you could shoot your mouth off and if it was ostensibly about kids it was also much more about total revolution - for us big kids - and that came across loud and clear. Arriving at Powis Square we set about the fences though within minutes, as expected, police vans arrived and the arrests started during some violent scuffles. The gorilla and the circus horse were arrested along with a fair number of species of homo sapiens. In the dock at Marylebone Magistrates Court, (that familiar place!) two days later, the judicial procedures turned into an act of hilarity, particularly when the front end of the horse pleaded "guilty" and the back end "not guilty" ("Irish" and Abbo) simply because the back end couldn't see what was happening up front! A copper objected to having been bruised by one of the gorilla's paws – and so on. Well, people were rolling around in the court with barely suppressed laughter though later the local press hardly mentioned this laughable commotion. Remember, it was in the days before the let-it-all-hang-out sensationalism which sells more copy than ever it did in the late 1960s. Finally the court farce received attention in a This England column in the New Statesman. At the time this was called publicity and even high-profile! Even the Selfridge's invasion, a year later, only received a bit column in the liberal Observer Sunday, culture-bug news rag. Yet, much later the event was to become some kind of talisman - although if it hadn't been for the spectacular recuperation of Malcolm McLaren and Punk Rock, most likely this wouldn't have been the case.
In the aftermath of this attractive but violent intervention, demonstrations then began to take place regularly. Finally, one Saturday afternoon, soon after the initial eruption, a determined assault was made and the fences were torn down with the police more or less looking on. They were torn down with the assistance of mainly, direct action Maoists from the local Vietnam Solidarity Committee. Some of the local community stalwarts – mostly working class and who'd been having a rough time – though flattered by the attention of middle-class community activists with funded means and now acquiring a modicum of status – people like Pat McDonald (who now has a blue plaque to her name over Powis Square) - were the most vociferous in attacking the insurgents. Yet they were almost immediately – with the fences flat on the green grass - to regain the campaign initiative instituting all the legal requirements, as Powis Square became an official children's playground. They were essentially the worker bureaucrats and need we say more! Well, truth to say, all of us – Maoists and Autonomist Situationists alike - let them get on with it as we really weren't that interested in mealy-mouthed council machinations. All of us – ersatz Stalinists to the "Nameless Wildness" people - just wanted everything to explode everywhere. It was our only concrete overlap though an impassioned one. More particularly, us lot certainly weren't interested in institutionalised space or even in a controlling space delivering an anodyne version of a child's increasingly desperate desire for play administered by aspiring youth workers well interested in an easier job via those new frontiers of the State which were (just to say) beginning to open up. On the contrary, we wanted to see uncontrolled children's play. If that was a further liberating factor in urban riot so much the better, and spontaneous, vandalistic exuberance – a real throwing off of the history of civilization as well as its application to the needs of capitalism – was beckoning.
On a hot and barmy evening during June 1968 in the midst of a rare drinking bout downing whisky (in the heady days of that year pure grass or hash – or nothing at all – were preferred), somebody amongst us presented us with a leaflet advertising a play by the contemporary Spanish avante gardist playwright, Arrabel. The performance was taking place nearby up by the tube station at Notting Hill Gate. It was actually occurring in a church obviously run by some hip vicar. (In fact it was the venue where that obnoxious and trendy Gate Theatre aestheticism sprang from - later to situate itself above a nearby pub). This montage of modern art and religion was rather appropriate and certainly enough to glowingly invite attack. We just couldn't pass this chance up and drunkenly stumbled up there, laughing and joking and intent on trouble. We went in through the door and saw this bunch of obviously avant- garde performers strutting their stuff on a stage. It didn't really matter to us that Arrabel was a persecuted artiste in Franco's Fascist Spain. For us, the avante garde – wherever they were situated – were the enemy too regardless of the particular repressive conditions they lived in. Maybe this at the time was too simplistic. Certainly, a distinction should perhaps have been made between the differences performing Arrabel in Madrid and London. True, but what the fuck when you are also coherently drunk! After all, at the time, you would have had no hesitation in disrupting the anti-theatre theatre, nihilistic presentations of Samuel Beckett, even though he had excommunicated himself from Ireland - having suffered a nervous breakdown on Dun Loaghoire pier a product of a state-enforced Catholic repression making things impossible for him. But were such personal experiences adequate enough reasons for the existence of The Theatre of the Absurd? Whatever - back to that lovely evening! Immediately we took over the stage pushing the actors aside and from this platform started mouthing on loudly about the need to destroy the separation between art and politics in the search for a new form of self-activity which must involve social revolution.. Some tried unsuccessfully to drag us off the stage mostly (and interestingly) from the audience, picking on women disrupters more than men. Some of the actors came up to us and said they were in agreement with France May '68 that was still taking place at the time though in its final death throws. We replied: "how can you when you are still prepared to accept the acting role reinforcing the audience/performance separation – the very lynch pin of modern day capitalist passivity" - or some such words. It was anyway more or less that. We weren't thrown out. We left in disgust as nobody came up to us and said they agreed. The strength of the Emperor's Clothes of an "art" having lost all creativity – yet how this awesome vacumn was to grow! "Love Thy Void" a contemporary slogan was to say but as Nietschze wrote so long before that: "The desert grows, woe to him that bears the desert unto himself". Wasn't Malevich's, White Square that very desert devastatingly posited in another form and wasn't avant garde art to repeat this statement from then on, endlessly? The amazing fact is: why hasn't there been thousands more of these Arrabel-like disruptions and getting ever better? The last thing we wanted our disruption to be was as a one-off pointing to nothingness. A voice to be spectacularised as a contemporary Mallarme-like Dice Throw of unique subversion. How we failed!
Later, during 1968, on one of the summer demonstrations against the Vietnam war which frequently took place in central London, King Mob made a contribution of a different sort. Abbo made a gigantic mock hamburger with a dummy American G.I. stuffed between a kapok imitation of a giant bread role. It was then trundled through the streets of central London around Mayfair and Tottenham Court Road accompanied by a replica of a huge baked bean can (again made by Abbo) which housed 4 people. Obviously this play on gigantism was also a comment on the pop art of Oldenburg and Warhol – putting it to real purpose and not fetishising it via the now purely marketing con of the gallery product – and needless to say the way it should be used. The demonstration was supposed to be a serious moment of opposition to U.S. Imperialism. After the Powis Square events, the Maoists more than any other leftists showed interest. Thus some of the individuals on the inside of the can belonged to various Maoists "splittists" – as they bizarrely referred to themselves and much to our amusement. Although a couple of them were unreconstructed Stalinists, nonetheless inside the can they quite merrily shouted; "beans, beans, beans, beans" endlessly picking on the same ditty some others had recently deployed in a disruption in Newcastle! In a minor way it was part of the birth of that Maoist spontaneism which produced Mao Spontex in France in 1969 and ten years later, Mao Dada in Italy and which still finds an echo in the early 21st century in a similar Mao Dada movement in Brazil. Was it just pure opportunism to collaborate with such people or was not the momentum of the time daily changing these people too, though only in a piecemeal and not a unified way, which despite our own manifest shortcomings, nonetheless we were also possessed. The trouble is "unity" for these spontaneous though disintegrating Maoists never seemed to arrive; like the "beans" there were only glimpses. One of the Maoists had until recently been an engineering worker in a very large Glasgow factory and was fed up listening endlessly on reverential knees to Harry McShane – one of the most principled of the old Red Clydesiders. Simply, the Maoist guy was open to making changes and fresh discoveries. Are you to reject such a person out of hand? Later he was to live for years on Chicago's south side and was the only pale face around.
There were also a number of other things broadly done in the same way as the interventions described above. In 1969, we intervened within and against the Notting Hill Carnival, hiring a truck and fitting it out as a moving Carnival float. At that time the Carnival was a polyglot affair and anybody who lived in the Notting Hill environs was welcome to join in and make a statement with the minimum of bureaucratic hassle or exacting procedure from the organisers, just as long as it wasn't fascist or racist. The Carnival had been going for a number of years and was – typically for Notting Hill – the invention of Ronnie Lazlitt, a white woman, community worker. Only during the 1970s did the Carnival gain an almost exclusively Caribbean flavour with the formation of the Carnival and Arts Committee. We only decided to join in as a wind-up, as an occasion to demonstrate some real (black!) humour and not to affirm any shallow media image the area was rapidly acquiring. Mind you we weren't open with the Carnival organisers about what we proposed to do. In fact the truck simply joined the parade surreptitiously but no one much seemed to care. A "Miss Notting Hill 1969" at the centre of the float was a piss-take on the scantily dressed Miss World TV contest as it was also a means of mildly detourning the glitzy, somewhat razzmatazz image of the Carnival. Simply put, "Miss Notting Hill" was nothing other than a heroin addict with a mock three-foot long hypodermic full of red paint stuck in her arm. The trouble is as the parade went through the street few tried to stop it and nobody really objected to its presence with any conviction. Enough people though were perplexed as to what was being stated. Some did laugh at the cynical joke side of it. It's possible the float might have had more effect but unfortunately a torrential downpour lasting hours scuppered all of that. On this occasion though it would have been better to have provided some explanatory leaflet even if it was only some hotch potch of our reflection on drugs etc, some of which – as this text gives some idea about – were pretty interesting. As it stood, it could have easily meant something else entirely. The "intervention" was thus more like a dissident, bad stage-prop contribution that wasn't really questioning the audience/performer fulcrum and which the changing face of the spectacle would soon well enough accept and with alacrity. Hardly surprising then that it was around this time Chris Gray came up with the idea of the utterly atrocious, vile and offensive pop group which became the spawning ground of punk rock and which would functionng through exactly the same fulcrum as the Carnival float thereby negating any assault on modern capitalism.
In most of these actions though there was a common underlying way of doing things. Most of them involved carnival-like, post-Dada like props in one way or another. Again, as the comment by Vaneigem which fronts this book suggests, this had its legacy in the collapse of modern art as it moved towards its demise dialectically transforming itself as some of its impulse moved into a creativity made by all and not by one. More needs to be said however. These actions accompanied by bits and pieces of paraphernalia, also provided a cue for performance art or, later, the active advertisement or, simply, those TV japes without any profundity like Trigger Happy TV etc and which really are quite nauseating. Even at that time, John Fox – in what became The Welfare State troupe - was to use something of a similar formula suitably emasculated of all subversive content. A little later he collaborated with the musician Mike Westbrook in inane events deploying elaborate sets with costumes/puppets and what have you which brought him cultural accolade in real nonsense extravaganzas like The Apocalyptic High Dive which involved 50 participants jumping from a tower whilst symbolically disemboweling ravens. (A kind of Maldoror without depth like an Eric Cantona poem without Rimbaud's lucidity). John Fox had been involved in the mid-60s agitation in Newcastle but was one of those who quite quickly turned rancorously against the revolutionary negation it was leading to. "Art is Dead do not consume its corpse" didn't go down well at all because that was what John Fox was very precisely to finally design as product. Moving with the globalising times, by 2001 John Fox was calling his outfit, The International Welfare State. Still capitalising on frozen moments (well for him) of the Newcastle revolt with his "Art of Death" installation in London's Round House (Winter 2001) which recalled the Icteric death questionnaire and the reconstruction of Malevich's coffin, Fox now manufactures differently conceptualised but still trivial funereal commodities as a supposed new way of dealing with death! Well, someone's got to do it.
On the cusp of the 1970s some of us were becoming all too keenly aware of just how those far more principled interventions we'd been involved in could be used by a power eager for fresh stimulus. We were becoming more and more critical of the trappings, thinking we should become more severe on ourselves and more spare in what we did, in order to further distance ourselves from any semblance of the aura of a late and moribund modern art which we might be in danger of becoming decked-out with. After all some of the English Beat poets - Mike Horowitz etc – were beginning to patronise our wall slogans, reproducing them along with the odd flyer of ours in newly published avante garde books with their names prominently splashed all over them. We heard they wanted to meet us and get to know us etc. We naturally blanked this with disdain. By the early 1970s, sad to say, it seemed Chris Gray also wanted also to somehow formalise and find funding for this type of more explicit intervention enumerated above (c/f appendix on Chris Gray), but the essential people he would have needed to carry this project through were, by then, too pissed-off to step back into a recent past just at the moment they were finding it virtually impossible to go forward!
On another level and nowhere near so semi-formalised as this, bit by bit we hoped through weaving in and out,that we'd begin to encounter the forces which could materially realise the dreamt-of real potlatch of destruction as daily we contributed our small offerings to the process of furthering decomposition. Some of us almost on a daily basis kept gate-crashing the offices of the burgeoning underground press slagging them off for their lack of any theoretical grasp as well as their failure to get involved in any form of cutting-edge direct action. It was also hardly surprising that we tried to turn ritualised demonstrations into orgies of generalised destruction. On March the 17th, 1968 we started to turn over cars in Oxford St getting quickly pushed aside rather heavily by demo stewards. Obviously we were nervous anyway about provoking such a break in England's recent tradition of peaceful protest and thus connecting again with its distant but deep riotous past! By October of the same year such assaults had become easier to carry out (in the meantime, insurgents had quite magnificently smashed up a lot of cars in France) and we were a lot less fearful as we contributed to violent disorder, smashing show room windows and trashing the regalia of the rich near the Hilton Hotel in Hyde Park as well as giving many a camera a good seeing to when those stupid idiots within our own ranks of protestors started clicking shutters. (The latter tactic seems much in need of revival when nowadays there are often more cameras than demonstrators on demonstrations).
For us at the time, Vaneigem was one of the first individuals bringing into clear focus the destructive potlatch of rebellious youth and wildcat strikers in their first mass outbreak of spontaneous violence when they smashed up cars, neon signs and burnt out newspaper offices in the Belgium general strike of 1961. We didn't then know there had been a more theoretical history leading up to this which had come from a gelling together of ethnographers like Levi Strauss and latter-day Surrealist academics like George Bataille. Did this really matter because we'd certainly got the real point when put in a contemporary context? At the time and well into the 1970s, the official left ( including Trotskyists) condemned or generally dismissed these manifestations as unfortunate excesses of the proletariat and not as manifestations of their revolutionary essence. At the same time though even in these actions things quickly turned out to be not quite so simple.
As thoughts from a 1972 diary was to reflectively elaborate.
"On the other hand by the early 70s, certain small groups – probably initially recognising this potlatch for the joy it was – tended in a loose, pointlessly-organisational sense (and sometimes as a limbering up prelude to terrorism) to imitate and spectacularise this potlatch in various pre-meditated, voluntaristic actions like trashing whereby this, by now processed, false potlatch, became a "doing it for the proletariat", a kind of violent, worked out – dare one say active, - by rote game not too dissimilar to smashing crockery at a fun-fair stall though, minus the real fear of the police who fortunately never see the subtlety in all of this. Finally it's like the fair ground. No fun. No pleasure. University students tend to be some of the worst recuperators of this genuine assault on the commodity. The Cultural Festival at the University of Essex in 1969 was just such an example and in response, Tim Clark, then a lecturer at this institution, produced the pamphlet; Revolutionaries One More Effort In Order To Be Nihilists with its excellent cartoon front cover of a well-ageing Prince Philip trying to fuck an even more ageing Queen Elizabeth."
But amongst all this basic action – this maelstrom of an apocalyptic interval that was closing in on us so rapidly – other forces were unleashed as, it seems, we were slowly swallowed up. We'd undoubtedly become more crude as some of us became a lot "simpler" – and nothing wrong in that. A comment of Brecht's sprang to mind at the time: "The main thing is to learn how to think crudely. Crude thinking, that is the thinking of the great". Well, while a term like "great" suggesting the aura of a great individual no longer meant anything to us, certainly crudity did. Much may be said about the subsequent telling silence on some of the King Mob cartoons, especially those executed in 'collaboration' with a pure phantasy group called comically The Black Hand Gang we'd invented just for the hell of it and sounding like something out of J M Barrie's tales on the adventures of Captain Hook and Peter Pan! It's a censorship persisting to this day. In their recent book on King Mob, Vague and Co never reproduced these cartoons obviously rather ashamed about them because they didn't fit within acceptable trendy paradigms emanating from official, state registered, Women's Lib. They forgot we were out to upset and we really didn't care that much just how we did it. If that meant public lavatory walls as our sources of inspiration too – well so be it! Cocks and Cunts and Shitting – well I never! Unforgiveable when pictorially used in the context of a critique of leftist hijacking, it was these simple, dirty, forceful cartoons that really put future cadres backs up and meant that King Mob could never really be mentioned again in respectable PC circles! One forgets at the time that Fritz Teufel from Commune I in Berlin when on trial bent over and had a shit in the dock. We weren't any different in using bodily functions to shock and obviously we weren't even as open or courageous. Nonetheless, it was these posters that really upset the first feminist wave who then rapidly described the whole of King Mob as male chauvinist. That was enough! Need one say more! Such criticism could only be effective precisely because it had come from a gender base that none dare dispute even if this criticism on all other matters firmly (though a little waveringly) kept itself within the scope of a nicey, nicey, leftism. Well, they may have been male chauvinist but that was really a very limited take and there was too much of a Victorian puritanism overlapping with another censorship which was ill-defined in its critique of the commodity. The return of such puritanism distilled by tut-tut tutting leftism could only be effective precisely because it had returned from a gender base that none, it seemed, had the guts to question. But it was precisely what Punk was to take up and it was these small posters which McLaren put up everywhere which produced some of the ingredients of success. As a far more powerful undertow, that scatological basic crudity was to be used by Punk sales imagery which the feminists, in an about turn, then embraced simply because women were involved in this marketing and promotion of rebel images. (See further comments upon this phenomenon in the final section long appendix).
King Mob was the most important moment since late 18th century, early 19th century English Romanticism in terms of breakthrough in form and we have to go back to that time to get any idea of what was attempted. It perhaps could be said that King Mob is at the apex so far of this movement marking the finality and completion of that breakthrough and breakaway from art. This was the lineage, which had been initially developed by the English Romantics and was so brutally cut short and eclipsed during the rise of the Victorian era. At its best, English Romanticism broke through poetic form into simple impassioned lines (e.g. in Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey, Nutting etc), in Shelley's Notes on London etc. In fact, these formal breakdowns were typical and not exceptional in English Romanticism and made German Romanticism – Schiller, Goethe and Holderlin, formally conservative in comparison, despite the fact that Classical German Philosophy on an abstract level was on an altogether higher plane. Throughout the late 1960s amongst us there were many informal discussions about some of these things and the possibilities of direct creations from where the Romantics left off. In a way, English Romanticism broke through artistic forms more than any other European Romanticism – and we recognised this, noting that all those who'd written so well about them in other respects - most noticeably and recently - Raymond Williams, had completely failed to grasp this essential essence. Ironically, in their time not one of the English Romantics could express this as well as Holderlin had done in a letter to his friend, C. L. Neuffer: "If we must we shall break our wretched lyres and do what the artists have only dreamed of doing!" As we've said before none of this was elaborated too clearly, though there was enough in these discussions around King Mob to have merited putting together some of the nuances of these arguments in a more tangible written presentation. Later with the stalling of revolutionary momentum, some notes were jotted down and Phil Meyler also spent quite some time putting together a document on Romanticism in these islands which was never completed. It's a shame these efforts bore no real fruit. A few years later we learnt that Alexander Trocchi's essays on the Romantics when a student at Glasgow University were considered excellent and you wonder if he'd approached the subject on broadly the same lines a few years earlier? Most likely not. There was however a quite stark dichotomy between our thoughts and our actions. On reflection, when we spray painted lines of romantic poetry on the walls of Notting Hill, particularly lines from Coleridge's Ode to Dejection and phrases from William Blake etc ("The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction" / "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom" etc.). We surely gave the wrong impression: It was as though we wanted to revive Romanticism and the poet and not as we were doing in spontaneous conversation, subjecting them to relentless though appreciative critique, destroying them whilst bringing out their essential kernel in that "recovery through transfer" - a phrase of Marx we so admired at the time.
The illustrations above demonstrate how we used (and abused) the past history of poetry and painting. Obviously Coleridge's letter on Wordworth's sister Dorothy is ironically and provocatively related to today's prevailing, denuded pornographic imagery...As for the diverting of Peter Paul Ruben's Head of Medusa, the bubble-speak suggested a more Lautreamont-like take -"as beautiful as the trembling of an alcoholic's hand" etc. and with the word 'beauty' deliberately misspelt suggesting a language beyond an Oxford educated English.....
The confrontation with the landscape in King Mob or nature as such wasn't done with an eye to beauty and subversion inextricably mixed like that well known comment Coleridge made to his friend whilst walking through the Quantock Hills: "this dell is an admirable place to talk treason", nor was it that selecting of odd, interesting feature, hermits dwelling or rustic cottages etc and so typical of romantic iconography or even unusual incidents like the peasant in the Lake District lying in a hammock looking at the moon on a cold, almost freezing night which so stunned the observant De Quincey. Remarkable as these things were that wasn't the point. We wanted to play with nature in a provocative way like we wanted to play with everything else and we wanted to shock those who had embalmed everything as artistic afterthought, bringing out the explosive potentialities in Romanticism as well as contradictorily giving it the two fingers up treatment.
It was literally explosive. Suggestions were made about blowing up the waterfall which, after spouting ferociously out of a cave in a steep forbidding cliff face, descends in leaps and bounds down the back of the great chasm of Gordale Scar in North Yorkshire. Before the simple explosive device was detonated, we were going to paint in huge letters on the side of the gorge: "Peace in Vietnam". We knew no one would understand what on earth we were up to and that was, it seemed, the whole point, giving us the greatest of thrills and reducing us to helpless laughter. We knew a limited take on reason would never comprehend our subliminal truths! Let's try and explain. None among us were really interested in peace in Vietnam as, after all, could there ever be any peace under an always murderous capitalist exploitation and "Victory to the Vietcong" meant for us just another Stalinist state with many worker dissidents murdered. On this point we wholeheartedly went along with a recent, ultra leftist Solidarity pamphlet on Vietnam. Of course, we wanted to see the American military defeated but with our eyes glued to the hope it would help ignite revolution inside America. What we wanted was a real socially creative civil war throughout the whole world but this creative war had to be engaged across the totality of life and in England this also meant confronting and utterly subverting the powerful ideological vestiges of Eng' Lit' which itself had smothered, suppressed and destroyed those sublime revolutionary pointers in English Romanticism that had irrevocably exploded traditional poetic form. To mark the occasion of that by now famous March 17th 1968 Vietnam demo to the American Embassy, one brilliant King Mob guy had sprayed up: "March 17th: Start The War In England". What could be more pointed than the knowing weed killer, lead pipe, bomb with nice fuse perhaps pointing out the baneful poem of Wordsworth's on Malham Cove and Gordale Scar - and theoretically too - pointing to the failure of Romanticism, even though Wordsworth's poem on Malham Cove is, despite its jaded feel, also about the transformation of nature in the sense that he would like to see the awesome natural phenomena completed into a more total amphitheatre. Something of this, in the late 1960s was meant to be communicated through a scorched earth black humour emphasizing the active part of Romanticism and perhaps, more benignly, putting into play too Van Gogh's frenzy of a "nature in delirium". How about such an act to change perceptions helping bring about what was needed? Later some of us experimented with weed killer/lead pipe bombs in the remote sea lochs of Sutherland in north west Scotland but only managing unintentionally to frighten tourists on a chugging rust bucket plying cheap trips. To be sure, we also entertained phantasies of blowing up the home the Queen occasionally stayed in situated between Ullapool and Drumbeg as it didn't seem that well protected, security-wise. By then though the dream was waning.............
In a similar vein we painted up slogans on the walls of the ultra smart avenues and garden walls surrounding Holland Park, West London saying "Peacocks is Dead". Obviously we were in a let go drift, playing about with the old slogans like, "God is Dead"/ "Art is Dead" etc. A drift in thought also ensued inevitably trying to put these differences together. One of us wrote a rather wild piece – which has since been lost - inspired by James Ward's huge painting of Gordale Scar in the National Gallery. Encouraged by present day events on the streets it was an attempt to bring out materially some of the brooding presence of the painting reclaiming its foreboding pent-up drama which partially seems to be suggesting a thunderstorm about to erupt but instead of a thunderstorm why not suggest an immanent explosion? Well, it was something like this connecting together with hi-jinks and some laughter that must be taken into account when reassessing the validity of these provocations concerning nature, urbanism or work. We didn't any longer perceive them as separate anyway, as everything was pacified and lost under the universal sway of commodity relations. Nobody, incidentally, went up Notting Hill and on to Holland Park to kill the Peacocks but a point was trying to be made that even we weren't fully aware of; though it's such an absurd proposition that most likely there was no point at all! But let's simply think about it? Like many things in everyday life what can you say about Peacocks? A bird like the pheasant, introduced for the pleasure of the aristocracy as part of their elite consumer collections both symbol of ancien regimes and booty of Imperial conquest, before the democratisation of such consumer collections meant such snootiness got rather lost? Remember, during the French Revolution in the aftermath of 1879, the sans-culottes would sometimes destroy stuffed bird collections simply because they were an aristocratic appendage. There was nothing very nature friendly in our slogans or our actions but nor were they unfriendly. But that was the point: an object of incomprehensible assault shaking people up, helping them find their real desires, jolting them into some recognition and action. A little later, someone walking around the formal rose beds of Holland Park had written on one of those keep off the grass boards which park managers insist on putting everywhere: "Alienation Gardens." Truly, more precise but not so upsetting and it seems the slogan was penned by Michel Prigent.
In fact, if you like, our nature proclivities were working somewhat subconsciously behind our backs as it were because we didn't have such knowledge at the time of an active, practical, critical engagement with some of the nature drift in Lautreamont's Songs Of Maldoror. Lautreamont was an Argentinean, a country much influenced by English Imperialism and by way of fortune too, English Romanticism. Lautreamont pirated all this in amazing ways and in the atmosphere of Lautreamont's Paris in the 1860s, Byron's Manfred seems to have met Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace, the co-authors of evolutionary natural selection in the momentum of the self-destruct of modern poetry, creating a new appraisal cum parody of natural selection – or if you like - its creative detourning. A dialectically insistent creative liberation of natural selection perhaps and quite unlike what a maimed future DNA programmed designer baby could ever be conjured up by banal, bourgeois scientists.
If these activities were somewhat Against Nature, they were also Against Human too – or more precisely if you like - against those functionaries who wanted to deny communication. But then can functionaries be called human now that we were surviving under a mode of capitalism wanting to destroy all life? To be sure we weren't very nice. We even stuck razor blades on the edges of an English-oriented free translation of an original French Situationist poster which was pasted up with polyester resin reinforced with fibre glass on a few out of way walls in Notting Hill in the dead of night. There weren't many put up in this way simply because it took so long to do and was simply a too paranoid creating situation, constantly looking out for the cops whilst wondering if the boosted chemicals would go off like smoking rocket fuel thus giving the game away. Some, not surprisingly, stayed up a very long time – a few years in fact – as they were effectively coated from penetration by rain, so much so that the congealed resin successfully (and thankfully in retrospect) coated the razor-sharp edges because the people who would have had to take them down would be poorly paid council employees. Obviously they gave up after a few attempts.
Much has been made about all the wall slogans both at the time and since and as is well known were once endlessly reproduced and repeated. They were wide-ranging, critical about many aspects of contemporary life. Hippies were ironically lambasted: "hash is the opium of the people" etc right through to comments on the 'new' sexual freedom even affirming Freud's "polymorphous perversity" on the walls, though without reflecting on what this could mean. Interestingly, comments on class struggle didn't get sprayed up apart from one desultory "Workers Councils" in an out of the way place in Holland Park, ironically were the real super-rich live. In a slightly more down-market area in nearby Notting Dale "Remember Peter the Painter" was sprayed up as a tribute to the armed anarchist gang in the east end of London just prior to the First World War, despite the contrast between the two urban environments! True, these things happened en route as it were as we were on a night-time foray to do a bit of damage to the then League of Empire Loyalist, Fascist party headquarters which was situated in the same area. Unable to get in, we contented ourselves with a few decorations on their shuttered, rolled steel windows –"this too will burn" - being one of them.
Some of the slogans though didn't really have any cutting edge and were perhaps artistically pretentious or at least could be immediately reinterpreted as such now that the old saw, but is it art? could mean anything merely by applying a signature. In effect, after all the critical attack on the hippies we were making at the time, some wall slogans merely fell into that hippy orbit of get-togethers around the camp fire when the drums come out and the dope is smoked. How else can "percussion music is revolution" (a quote from John Cage) be situated? Even "poetry is revolution" which, if not more precisely clarified, can be stupidly taken to mean that sitting down at a table and writing a piece of doggerel - which is all contemporary poetry can ever be now that the form has lost its historical raison d'etre- is revolutionary activity! In the last 35 years or so, nothing has changed on that score! Some slogans along the same lines were somewhat better though. "The sky had died" though evocative was perhaps too imprecise. It hinted at eco-collapse at the same time as it resonated like a line from some 19th century fin de siecle poem. Swinburne perhaps. Did this matter? In the same vein "cars are dead" could be construed as eco-critique, though truth to tell condemning this manufactured lump of tin had then more to do with the hubby, wife and two kids and an increasingly manufactured nuclear family. The slogan referred to the destruction of the social potentialities for encounter offered by the street, an encounter pregnant with unlimited possibilities and as sure as hell giving notice to the force-fed, nuclear family unit. Though the car is a polluting monstrosity our 1968 critique may remain the valid one as there's still no reason why clean technology cannot produce say the electric car en masse meaning the street as an arena of encounter will still remain gutted.
The best slogans though were those which were simple, direct and had little leftovers of literary appeal to them – like the straight forward attack on acid merchants and impresarios castigating them as "psychedelic racketeers". Then there was the big slogan by the Hammersmith and City line beneath the West Way between Westbourne Park and Ladbroke Grove tube station – a terrifyingly accurate commentary on the double alienation of work and programmed leisure forcibly consumed in passivity. "SAME THING DAY AFTER DAY –TUBE – WORK – DINNER – WORK – TUBE – ARMCHAIR – TV – SLEEP – TUBE – HOW MUCH MORE CAN YOU TAKE: ONE IN TEN GO MAD – ONE IN FIVE CRACKS UP". The slogan survived throughout the 70s with its message imprinting itself on the minds of millions of commuters only to be air brushed out by the rising tide of hip-hop tags and pieces which never had an ounce of the subversive impact those huge words on bare concrete had. Seeing all that tags and pieces had to offer was mindless competition they won out. Interestingly, a kind of inventive re-creation of it still remains on blackened brick walls strung out over a couple of miles on the line between Bradford and Leeds and beginning near Pudsey station and still resisting to this day banal hip-hop makeovers.
Revolution as the great crime?
From relevance to irrelevancy. Life-style passionism and the re-invention of life. Up with reading down with the readist even down with theory!? Revolution perceived as a higher, material form of drug-induced ecstasy. Riot and a shock through incomprehensibility.
Perhaps however, one slogan must be mentioned above all others, not just because it was exquisitely said, but because it marked a tendency that was to become all pervasive in this renewed revolutionary impetus and wasn't by any means always to the good. One night in 1968, we sprayed up a slogan on the walls of a tiny mews which opened up onto Portobello Road. It was from De Sade - whom we were avidly reading at the time and said, "Crime is the highest form of sensuality". Its implications were to be massive. To be sure it was fine to take this quite literally, simply because you do get a buzz or high from shop lifting, phone phreaking and what have you; the trouble is the slogan tended to increasingly encourage all kinds of crime as an end in itself. At its worst, illegality became a revolutionary must if you wanted to remain within what was rapidly becoming a revolutionary in-crowd. Thus theory, or rather what there was of it, began almost obsessively to applaud virtually all type of crime e.g. like the " illegal" university in King Mob 2, or searching out a form of survival based entirely on crime vis-à-vis kiting cheques and what have you etc. In practice, it could also justify some of the worst and most reprehensible acts of lumpen behaviour like turning your mates over or robbing them of a few pence in "the revolution of dirty little tricks" as we quickly termed it. Some 'revolutionaries' actually did think it was OK behaviour to steal from all and sundry regardless of an individual's particular property status and looking back you can hardly believe such shit was allowed to do the rounds. In no time for some, the emphasis on crime began to move into rather more big time money making and "psychedelic racketeers" was given a new inflection meaning how to get in on the act yourself. However, to be fair, some rather splendid bank heists were imaginatively pulled off and nobody for a while strayed into hard drugs though that too wasn't to last. 'Crime' despite its revolutionary romantic overtures quickly became the old story, as an obsession with making easy money took over. Only a little of these 'left-handed endeavours', as we politely put it, were ever used to help fund radical projects and when that did happen, 99% of the time these projects were bullshit. However, it was a road basically paved with good intentions as finally the simple acquisition of money became the be all and end all and no different from the capitalist game itself. The danger was in the process itself. When illegality is gradually pushed to this point, contact with friends not in on the act is increasingly lost or more simply those necessary ties with other people at the sharp end tend to get weakened and no longer can you have relaxed conversations in the pub just shooting the breeze. Inevitably paranoia takes over wondering just who is going to shop you. Illegality like this sets you apart from others the more you become a kind of criminal elite getting off on the feel of becoming someone special! Then one day the scams are bust wide open and at ground zero you want to feel part of that cut-above the common crowd feeling all over again. Perhaps this is the simple reason why so many revolutionary illegalists then fall back onto the dog days of culture – anything to keep up a self-image of floating freely above the mass of working or non-working stiffs. Moving from the glamour of heists to the glamour of culture, there's always that underlying emphasis on glamour. Essentially though, "crime is the highest form of sensuality" wasn't taken in the fullness of its implication: the "crime" of critical theory, the "crime" involved in subverting State-manipulated propaganda and falsification, or even Rudolf Stirner's conception of revolution as, "the great crime" etc.
In our often lucid delirium, we emphasised a different take on things rather than a superficially accepted 'reality'. Through this same skewered but also enlightened prism, the beginning of the renewed violence in Northern Ireland was taken on board. Again, the issues hardly concerned us vis-à-vis Unionism or Republicanism as it was the pure act in itself which mattered. Chris Gray loved the TV footage of a blown up meat vendor's van leaving hundreds and hundreds of sausages strewn all over the streets like some Surrealist exhibition-in-action, one no longer stuck in a gallery and which ironically was to be somewhat encouraged a few decades later, only then alas, to be funded via the financial auspices of the Saatchi's cultural emporium. However, in our youthful, pure, anti-money days, we wished to encourage such incidents everywhere, as at the very least maybe they could help in deranging things sufficiently to kick start some of the other reified jams blocking everyday life! Catholic nationalism versus the Scots/Irish basis of this conflict (now that the former aristocratic Anglo-Irish Ascendancy had been defeated only for the age old brutality of the British State to step in) was pushed to one side as a more emanciptory take - if too aesthetic – was imposed across this civil, rather than class war. In fact, truth to tell, some of this emancipatory take was reflected in bemused and imaginative slogans appearing elsewhere on Belfast's walls like "shop now while shops last". Behind the barricades of Free Derry in the late 1960s, there was also a permanent rent strike and a mass hot wiring of basic gas and electricity utilities. Similarly, young Republicans in prison, in no matter how half-assed way could say "down with bourgeois culture and art" though the arguments, of course, were none too lucid and if anything was to come of the situation (which didn't happen), these arguments would have had to be a lot sharper.
Quite quickly the nascent King Mob began to gather a fair amount of attention and individuals started appearing from nowhere to contact a group that didn't basically exist. If anything it was a kind of personalised, magnetic force of attraction immediately sending waves out over then coming back to source. This arena that was to become King Mob was the first revolt in Britain against the total colonisation of everyday life by capitalism and therefore any corner of this totality was deemed a fit place for spreading subversion mainly of an unpremeditated, spontaneous daily out-pouring. However to be accurate, the more planned interventions were usually the best and had the most impact in terms of influencing similar actions elsewhere but these were much rarer than the cacophony of just having a go as part and parcel of a general exuberance. There were constant life-giving and life-enhancing expressions and acts which had a fresh, spring-like feel to them....well initially though more about this later. And as befitted the increasingly revolutionary temper of the times, there was always some on-going action proposed or acted upon immediately. It's a shame but a fair amount of leaflets conjured up fairly spontaneously have been lost or mislaid. Similarly many of the actions went unrecorded and obviously unreported (they usually had no signature or identifying logo) as they were merely part and parcel of an everyday praxis, or rather more accurately as part of an attempted leap into a new life-style free of capitalism forever and thus of no more importance than say socking a cop. As for the leaflets, certainly we didn't regard them as literature to be a filed away for future perusal in the archives of a museum, though this is what they became. And how!
From its inception, what became the King Mob milieu was a pick 'n' mix of those youthful middle classes on the lam – those that were more privileged, anomic, unhappy and often desperate about a palpably felt disappearance or flattening out of the essence of life and often working this out with amazing clarity and in the process finding allies from lower down the social scale whom, initially at least, just weren't as clued-in in terms of general theory. A strangely inventive pick 'n' mix!
King Mob wanted to recreate a passionate life now that life itself had been called into question and was becoming more and more absent. We readily identified with comments from the past which gave pointers to this historical malaise like Baudelaire's, "I appeal to every thinking man to show me what remains of life" etc. To find it again meant abandoning all intellectualism even, at one point, theory itself, in search of an authenticity that, we perceived dimly overlapped with that random violence against the commodity and which seemed to manifest itself everywhere. To others outside this flow it must have appeared as insane as we consoled ourselves with Artaud's comment; "for it is the anonical logic of modern man for never having been able to live, nor think of living except as one possessed." It could be said that a kind of anti-theoretical philistinism was somewhat distantly but perhaps uncomfortably embraced which also encompassed that traditional, anti-theoretical persuasion of these islands social apartheid and, in a similar vein, the new delinquent sub-cultures from mods and rockers to football hooligans. One or two provocative leaflets were handed out affirming unfolding football hooliganism which, though they emphasised a different take on a wooden interpretation of violence as put forward by the far left parties at the time (e.g. its OK to fight the police but don't trash cars, set fire to shops or generally wreck things etc), nonetheless, and in retrospect, fell far short also of what was needed. It was a too simplistic identification (C/F the leaflet from us reproduced in David Widgery's, The Left in Britain) which didn't even begin to acknowledge the limitations of these outpourings nor that the protagonists who wrote these leaflets were very different to the average hooligan. However, at the time this simplistic stance, even though we were lying to ourselves, was effective and necessary in shaking up perceptions and actions.
And now we hit further difficulties. In mentioning class here we encounter a major problem which perplexes these islands set adrift from the rest of Europe and which is so peculiar to the English make-up especially. It was as though we were reaching out wanting to grasp authentic life – a life that surely must be out there and at all costs to be had - though within such a perspective unwittingly we were also embracing a kind of stupidity which was evident in the very first lines of the manifesto of the Black Hand Gang: "Theory has really had it this time". It was if the self-destruction of modern poetry and high art had collided head on, interweaving with that distrust of books and academic learning so endemic among the working classes here. In retrospect and subconsciously it seemed to imply that together we could produce a libidinal vandalism and self-consciously delinquent life-styles accompanied by incendiary leaflets on some event or other which could create instant adherents as against the backdrop of a bewildered but instant open-mouthed shock response among the majority of people they were handed to, though those who picked up and understood these leaflets would finally erode this reactive, dumbed-down mass response. It was all rather confused to say the least! But why this anti-theory and why was there this mistrust of theory among these islands working classes? EP Thompson, the social historian, explained it by relating to the lacunae between our early, unfinished bourgeois revolution of the 1640s and the new, unprecedented rise of a rebellious industrial working class in the early 19th century. Sheer reaction throughout most of 18th century Britain meant we had a much-reduced radical artisan sector in any broad sense to act as some kind of link. We had no cobblers like Joseph Dietzgen whom Marx admired or even a Proudhon. True, we had some fine ones – individuals like William Benbow – but it was as if they had no profile. A "social apartheid" was thus created, more basically referred to as an "us and them" which meant class separation was virtually a deep and fast flowing river with no bridges linking up to the other side. Thus, there just couldn't be any "recovery through transfer" - in that excellent dialectical comment by Marx previously mentioned – as all books, all written knowledge was to be regarded by the exploited – in a broad, generally conservative, protective and even at times, despotic sweep – as suspect, despite the fact that an infinitesimal fraction of the dispossessed did make attempts at a more general learning (e.g. the Bradford Chartists who using the French tricolour as their flag also read the early Robert Southey etc). And so it continued right on into and through the 20th century. Jack Common, who hailed from Newcastle, in his book, The Freedom of the Streets written in the late 1930s contains a poignant passage on the difficulties a working-class kid had in a school playground whose parents were clued-in, self-educated working-class radicals. Later, with post second world war corporatism and the hoped for inclusion of the working classes as a fraction of capital ism, more particularly through aspects of higher education, there was (almost) a similar poignant mirroring of Common in a chapter by Richard Hoggart in his Uses of Literacy called, The Uprooted and the Anxious. The kid, though now a little older, moves around in a far more alienated world cast adrift from a fixed sense of class who doesn't know whether he or she is coming or going. Despised by your background, looked down as clumsy, gauche and awkward by the traditional middle classes, where could you go? Believe us one of the outlets was indulging in a more clued-in than your average yobbo, and often drunken, vandalism. Despite all these nuances, nonetheless, a simplistic class hatred came into it; a kind of combination of a comment like Bakunin's: "social hatreds, like religious hatreds, are much more intense, much deeper, than political hatreds" as it was also a breakthrough from that sullen, resentful passivity which Tom Nairn had described at the time as a, "social exclusion felt (even if not intellectually asserted to) as a fact of nature. This was one of the most powerful weapons any conservative regime has ever had in its hands, worth any number of policemen." Others have said it but in the student revolt of the late 1960s, especially in England, most of the violence and general destruction inside the colleges was carried out by precisely that class fraction which seemed to combine some enmeshing drift illustrating these two very different quote from Bakunin and Nairn. As Howard Fraser was to say a little later, " They turned the corridors of learning into the very streets they'd recently left". It was just some of this mix plus a quick grasp of essential theoretical markers together with that often destructive pattern of play from a recent childhood in industrial towns which found such an expression in some of the King Mob leaflets.
On reflection, maybe other things can be pointed out. How did all this seamless 'classlessness' come about in terms of revolt when there was also this simplistic though nuanced and different class revolt taking place within this conundrum too? After the "us and them" revolt of the early 1960s (- c/f the history of "Irish" who emphasised this distinction) and which really did result in some kind of victory for "us" from the mid-1960s onwards, "them" changed and not only chameleon-like – though this came into the mix too. They, "them" also, for a time, really meant it. Socially and psychologically however it was to create a massive confusion particularly among "us". However, - and not to be cynical – adaptation was always the way of survival for the ideologies of the ruling class when in crises and youthful energies play such a large part in this. But, in this moment they, "Them" also experienced a breach, a lacunae within their own lineage and they also wanted a completely different future than the one, more or less securely, mapped out for them. They also wanted the thrill of authentic adventure too – even prepared to precipitate one – though alas most never finally followed the newly found adventure through to a hoped-for, welcome end as once the impulse falters, the old order sets in and the return to the status quo quickly, if very deviously, sets in. A bizarre, "knowing one's place" returned, as those who, necessarily, still remained at the sharp end because of economic circumstances were in awe of the new revolutionary theoreticians – even by 1967. It was an awe which was short-lived as a quick back-sliding, usually via inherited wealth, with the verities of an English cultural poise being a very viable asset on the market, meant a final "no your place" gave way to contempt and derision. Just how many of those Situationist influenced individuals in England with their supposed disavowal of a public school they'd never talk about, felt all the cultural pulls of old England; of George Eliot's, "loves and sanctities of our life" with their "deep immovable roots in memory" with the caveat, of course, of a very modernised veneer. How could it be other as many of them sent their off-spring to public schools?
Perhaps we need to say something more about this theory/ anti-theory conundrum as it still perplexes. To recapitulate, anti-theory – a kind of just do it - was prevalent at the time among those who were desperate to have a go and to get rid of the misery of capitalism quickly in the contemporary spirit of, "we want it all and we want it now". As stated too it is also a tendency which habitually reoccurs here, and inevitably as a side effect, tends to brings on demoralisation in the not too distant future. Furthermore, it unwittingly lends itself to a vein of conservative empiricism here which is deeply engrained in the national psyche which is now reinforced by the onslaught of a right wing free-market ideology from the late 1970s onwards which contradictorily has also torn up root and branch so many traces of a more enlightened side of the same British empiricism. More is the pity its shattering side effects aren't a simple matter to deal with as further compounded by an increasing social alienation making focused concentration much more difficult as seemingly endless media distraction grows. It was as if one had willy-nilly become oppressed by the sheer weight of books together with a kind of 'new' dislocation via the very act of trying to write coherently. For some it was fetishised affirmatively – even as "revolutionary" often knowing it harked back to Rimbaud's final words as he left poetry behind forever, in the spirit of, "I cannot write anymore". Thus an extreme exasperation is turned into a revolutionary "virtue" and half-recognition became a misunderstanding. Then there's a further nuance to all of this. Henri Simon has written extensively on fully employed workers struggles here and produced one of the only books from an ultra leftist perspective on the miners' strike in 1984-85, though it's never been translated into English. Simon's underlying emphasis – that workers consciousness is irrelevant – runs throughout all of these writings. Only the workers' actions are to be recorded and, increasingly with a minimum of interpretation, despite the fact that the workers' actions in this instance haven't seen much of the light of day except as recorded in cretinus national newspapers. All intervention moreover is merely some form of extraneous and irrelevant substitutionism. Whilst having some sympathy with such responses in France where nearly every event seems to merit some often unconnected though charming poetic outpouring packed with revolutionary verities, in these islands, where all attempts at relevant dialectical theory is hounded to extinction, such comment are often woefully wide of the mark. (See the compare/contrast introduction between the two countries in France Goes Off the Rails1 on the 1986 French railway workers, student and public sector workers' strikes by BM Blob and BM Combustion).
Back in the late 1960s though we weren't the only ones to fall into this trap, such an attitude seemed to spread across most of the English speaking world. Similar responses, though perhaps in a different more enlightened way, were present in Murray Bookchin's article for RAT (Sept/Oct 1968), an American underground magazine of the time, on the previous May '68 revolt in France when he says, "There is no theory, programme or party that has greater significance than the revolution itself". However, after taking into account all these manifold ambiences surrounding the anti-theoretical, it's also necessary to note that with such perspectives social revolution can become an almost ineluctable, mechanistic event even courting something mystically transcendental and completely severed from any theoretical analysis. On the simplest of levels again it must be reiterated that people taking action do think about what they're doing even if conditioned by outdated concepts. Theory flows, all depending, in multi-faceted ways. An individual can say something, can have an effect. It happens continually. Admittedly Murray Bookchin did not go as far as the Black Hand Gang and did not dismiss theory out of hand, but neither did those around the King Mob scene. There was also the element of a willfully provocative statement. Such iconoclastic statements must also be put into the perspective of the need to shock inherited from the classic days of avant-garde art or even considered as an extension of a flaneur Dandy type of verbal provocation which in certain instances can be effective.
In the same vein, reading – as a form more than its content – was objected to despite the fact even at the same moment, most of us tended to read considerably. It wasn't quite an embrace of being stupid like that (although laudatory remarks on the delights of being a village idiot were welcomed) more that reading had become one of the main vehicles of torpor, propaganda and passivity. It was in this spirit that "Don't Read" was sprayed up in huge letters 6ft high on the front wall of the Porchester Hall library and reading room on Queensway, West London. Although nicely outlandish, just how many people understood the point behind it? Some will have done but others most likely were disturbed by its unexplained ambiguities? What the fuck did it mean but do you have to explain everything? One night, about the same time, a foraging party out spray painting slogans stopped in front of a house in Holland Park as Chris Gray, disdainfully, pointed to a bearded Allen Ginsberg lookalike lying on a bed calmly reading a book. The contempt from everyone in this little party standing in the dark street for this passive, contemplative readist was palpable. It was as though nothing much needed be said about this cameo of society at large as it was all just so obvious, so what more could be said about the readist? In a way such a critique is more applicable than ever as wherever you look people are reading yet basically learning nothing. In cafes, on trains, on buses it's all the same. Couples even hold hands reading separate installments of junk. Mostly they are paperback novels packed from cover to cover with complete nonsense. Everywhere people sit and read, never talking to the person next to them as isolation and emptiness grows in an essentially cancerously growing privatized space. It's all words without meaning and the very antithesis of what once reading implied and the vacuous counterpart of an even more vacuous TV.
Reading, school, academic learning, the role of writer, all were rightly scorned. A little later Rimbaud's lines were sprayed up nearby: "To Lulu Demon and her Incomplete Education". One could say this was a contradiction in terms - the great poet Rimbaud - yet scorning reading and writing? For those who knew, had read and had understood there was no such contradiction at all. The history of modern art, or more nearly, the long moment of its self destruction was trawled for pointers and relished because we knew we were on the right track. Mallarme's, "the flesh is sad and I've read all the books," to Tristan Tzara's comment at the height of Zurich Dada, "thought comes from the mouth" to Andre Breton's "Seeing everything has been said, life rather" etc, etc, etc. Cultural disintegration had to be explained but first of all it had to be dug up and proclaimed in a country with it's high falutin', dead duck Eng Lit platitudes and sheer conservatism. Everything transcendentally posited on the extremes of the greatest moments in the last 150 years of culture was pointing to its demise. From Turner moving into Jack (the dripper) Pollock to Beethoven going out of tune heralding the atonal, to Rimbaud's rejection of poetry, as well as comprehending the crisis of the former: "knowing music falls short of our desire" to Mallarme's empty page in The Dice Throw to Malevich's white square announcing the death of painting, to Jacques Vache's pistiol leveled at Apollinaire's theatrical performance, to Lefebvre's discussion of the oppression inherent within the written word, to Artaud's "All writing is pigshit" etc, etc, etc. All were pointing to the absence of life; to our denuded bodies at this extreme nadir of life where a point's been reached where there comes about a visceral need to totally re-create life by a practical/critical revolutionary upheaval. Ironically, as suggested previously, to come up with these examples and quotes and to remember them so well, meant an awful lot of reading was taking place – and quotes which would be eagerly communicated to each other along with episodes recounted from great historical upheavals from the Luddites, to the Paris Commune, to Barcelona in 1936, etc. as though all were pointing to some goal and all finally coming together on the same path we were now embarking upon. Newspapers were eagerly read simply to find out those disturbing accounts and facts from everywhere illuming the soft underbelly of this grotesque society or to find reports on disturbances throughout the world encouraging our sense of certainty that this impossible society was in its death throws. In the same breadth, it was a reading between the lines equipped beforehand with a greater theoretical take and the journalists who wrote these articles treated with complete disdain.
Subconsciously in this unknown but excellent conjunction, something of Lautreamont was expressed in the imaginings and practical beginnings of King Mob. It was completely amoral as well as anti-aesthetic, holding no truck with any bleeding hearts leftism. It was our own alienation amidst the new poverty's that was paramount. It wasn't simply the extension of the English Romantics desire to transform the world but its active re-engagement, sufficiently estranged, promising something amazing and unknown. It was nature and the city completely transformed which beckoned. Conservation didn't come into it. A high-rise point block was as equally capable of becoming the foci of a transformed take-off as much as say, The Shambles, a 16th century Elizabethan street, preserved in aspic in the city of York. No sympathy was shown for Ebenezer Howard's Garden Cities Movement at the same time as William Morris's utopian News from Nowhere was given short shrift for its placid, boy scoutish interplay of people, urban scene and country all serenely gelling together. Something altogether more convulsive and remarkable was called for. And this must be the basis of any consideration of what could in the future find some legitimate inspiration from King Mob with the proviso that the motive behind any actions undertaken must be explained in some kind of accompanying communication – if at all possible – against a background of deepening ecological crisis that could convulse the earth's crust in any case, never mind the convulsive beauty we desired.
Although ecological critique played no part in the coming together of King Mob, ironically, Murray Bookchin was a kind of intermediary between London and New York, between Black Mask and a nascent King Mob. Murray Bookchin, an Anarchist it has to be said, was the first modern theorist in a document on chemical industry pollution in Germany to put ecology at the centre of a renewed revolutionary critique and his Institute of Social Ecology predated Rachel Carson's supposedly seminal Silent Spring in the 1950s. In the 1960s though, Murray sought out young people who moving fast were in the process of grasping a relevant theory of modern alienation, which invariably partook of Situationist critique. Inevitably as time went on, blows followed. Murray was roundly criticised for his emphasis on the New England democratic small town polis as somehow a still functioning relevant organisational base for any modern subversion. Whilst this critique was right, the balance was lost in not recognising his ground breaking ecological studies and his claim that, "ecology is the only revolutionary science". Moreover, after really lauding Black Mask, he quickly became critical of the supra-militant activism of the Motherfuckers, noting the extent of internal nervous breakdown engendered. In retrospect we must also recognize the simple fact that most subsequent ecologists simply didn't see the question of revolution in the sharp way Murray did and were quite unable to connect with anything like an updated critique of political economy, one that recognizes capitalism has lapsed into suicidal mode intent on destroying most life on this planet.
Although most of our conversations where we discussed past events and figures had to do with other countries, particularly France, rebel figures, as we've suggested, were particularly plucked out from English literature. Regarding the Romantics, the main emphasis was on De Quincey and Coleridge, though not from the revolutionary angle which Hazlitt in the 1830s and Artaud in the 1940s had railed against the "traitor" Coleridge. Hardly surprising, as for our time our biased emphasis had more to do with modern drug taking habits with more than a sympathetic ear applied to the opium habits of both Coleridge and De Quincey. Not for nothing had the latter made that memorable statement embarking on Saturday night pre-derives through the old urban rookeries east of Tottenham Court Rd in London swallowing his laudanum alongside workers and artisans: "I identified with the poor not through their miseries but through their pleasures". Collectively, in early 1968 some of us indulged in a spontaneous opium session during one of our usual nightly witty and brilliant discussions. Nobody got where they wanted to go on the drug! We were hoping for damsels with dulcimers and sunless seas or the walls of this basement flat to fall away revealing a scene reminiscent of some kind of geological apocalypse courtesy of a scene from say, a painting by Mad Martin. The sensation predominating for some was colour everywhere, particularly orange, orange and orange again. In fact these sessions were beginning to enmesh with a kind of drug reinterpretation of history, in which Chris Gray at times evinced a kind of psychotropic Feuerbachianism. On the level of, man is what he eats, particularly psychedelic mushrooms, we had discussions about the people who went mad after eating wheat in the churches of the Albigensians and those insurrectionary peasants who felt so transfixed by a moment of revolutionary beauty that they were unable to say anything! In terms of the present, these discussions encouraged an interesting take on chemical substances that never saw the light of day in a press crammed full with fearful tirades against drugs. None of us liked that stern moral tone which was applied to our early day's recreational drug taking as indeed we thought we were making breakthroughs. Remember, it was before heroin and later crack started wrecking working-class communities and therefore out of necessity, became something to fight against. Even so that hip/beat aspect to heroin still had kudos and hadn't Burroughs and Trocchi made certain of that. Moreover hadn't Art Pepper, the great white Californian alto sax player, imitated in an amazing musical flow the surge and laid back feel of a fix in Smack Up? We listened to the man's great music not knowing that the whirlwind of heroin had been blamed – rather scapegoated - by fellow saxophonist, Jackie McLean, for the death of jazz. Once learning about this take we shook our heads in disbelief.
In any case, we recognised that it was a drug obsessed society with the urge to consume acres of trivial commodities becoming by far the most powerful drug around and if we noted something had gone dreadfully wrong with jazz music it had more to do with dialectics and the historical rise and fall of cultural forms than anything else. Chemical drugs though could play upon real needs and desires, which found no satisfaction in the mundanity of purchasing power. Chris Gray rightfully emphasised the drug high and reckoned we should do things which brought into play that "revolution is something higher than drugs" – its material process and final existence bringing about a higher state of being and pleasure. It was a notion of ecstasy that made former pleasures merely a feeble foretaste. Although one can appreciate such an original take, it also had the effect of perceiving revolution as a purely sensory act, despite the fact that this aspect must always be emphasised as against the baneful militants who look to a future without repression conceived and facilitated through a militant role. As a newspaper headline said at the time referring to some revolt in West Africa and which we picked up on, "Natives go Berserk with Freedom". One must not forget that drugs in the late 1960s had something nebulously subversive about them anyway – though this was because they were, at the time, associated with a resistance to the work ethic and to the lifestyle of marginal blacks – a notion that was soon to be lost in the increasing twilight and dusk of the following decades. Naively we thought all kinds of legalisation were coming soon and the marketing of brands no more than months or a couple of years away, so does our naivety really need to be spelt out?
We did, of course, take a huge interest in the black revolt in American cities at the time and some of our general theories of a spontaneous, festive potlatch producing a HIGH, greater and more real than any beatific drug rush, was all based on that often bloody revolt. It was more than interest it was identification. We desperately wanted something like the same thing coursing through our own cities. What was worth preserving in these cities? Hardly anything and the ball of flame engulfing urban America pointed to one of the answers. Many who'd come to King Mob with upbringings in small towns throughout the UK had been steeped in the blues and jazz since childhood so much so that many an old bluesman's or jazzman's death was treated as an occasion for more tragic grieving than that of your own grandah. The blues had become your music as an expression of a keenly felt alienation mediated through the equally felt social apartheid, even though it was largely white apartheid at the time. We wanted to see Notting Hill go up in flames in 1968 and at times we tried our damndest but of course, spontaneous organic riots don't happen like this – and such hopes were a reflection too of our own naiveté attempting to detonate a confrontation between locals and cops. It was all too crude and quickly abandoned. In practice though, it also meant developing friendships with some of the more clued in talking back black guys – though not so much the women (which, at the time, had a kind of exclusion zone around them) in Notting Hill. And for those few who stayed on in the area, those friendships became more on going. As we all now know, nothing cataclysmic did happen though later we noted disappointingly that some of these rebel guys swiftly became bureaucratic representatives in an emerging and abysmal community politics scene. But for those who really did talk back, among both black and white alike, the police in Notting Hill were waiting for them and some police sadists took a delight in terrorising the neighbourhood. In a way, they became a grotesque clued-in parody / inversion of the revolutionaries themselves (c/f the later appendix on 'Irish') by way of reply perhaps? After all we'd sprayed up slogans plagiarised from America like, "Burn Baby Burn" and the nihilist declaration of a rioter in Detroit: "I don't believe in nothing. I just want to burn down the whole world – just let it burn down baby". Well, we'd got this quote from a Newsweek article!
Although we were constantly affirming the struggles of the blacks in America and not only by the above and other slogans, we also didn't really delve too much into the different situations of the blacks (and Asians) in Britain who were at most second generation immigrants – though most were first – and didn't feel "at home" as it were as much as their "Americanised" counterparts. Confidence generally was still lacking, notwithstanding a small minority (e.g. in Notting Hill those who'd fought against the racist attacks 10 years previously in that area) and who readily identified with the American revolt. When a huge urban rebellion instigated by black youth did burst into flames in most English towns and cities some 14 years later in 1981, they were largely class riots as there was a far larger white participation than in the American ghettoes of the 1960s. Moreover, the mass character of the 1981 riots mirrored the mass character of the huge strike wave of the Winter of Discontent during 1979 as these two uprisings were in many ways basically interconnected.
Whether it be drugs, nature, the city, a procession, a demonstration or anything else for that matter, the whole point was to try and turn it into the pivot for some kind of detonator that was either aggressive, absurdist or seriously playful (or all three) but would contain elements of an enlightening shock value. In retrospect, one might well ask if some of these proposals would be enlightening. For instance, Chris Gray proposed hanging up some dreadful looking skewed up skeleton in a wood which would freak out a gamekeeper or else how about hiring a bed-sit for a week to turn into a faked scene of a recent weird, incomprehensible but bloodthirsty event which would, or could, shake a landlord rigid. Although he toyed with this idea for sometime it was never carried out. Despite the shock horror headlines, then in their infancy, which probably would have resulted it was essentially a detourning of a landlord's bed-sit as an active extension of modern art, a provocation in the spirit of the old avant-garde shocking through incomprehensibility. And there's the rub. Fine as far as it goes, but the historical time had now come – we had to make our explanations comprenhensible as well as keeping the shadow of the incomprehensible - otherwise such bizarre interventions could again be seriously misinterpreted. Developing the idea a little further, Chris Grey suggested it might be a good ploy to make such interventions during a local rent strike as there were always more than a few going on at the time as at least this would have the merit of deploying more imaginative tactics unlike the usual leftist poster campaigns and what have you. This made a lot more sense even though there was still no suggestion we should in some way distribute a leaflet after the hoped for furor and publicity had died down in order to provide a coherent explanation. If not these provocations, a lot more than the slogans, would be open to hopeless misinterpretations as the acts of deranged, weird, even psychotic fantasists. As it stood, it was like putting a variation of a Lautreamont juxtaposition into real, active play together with more than a touch of an English neo-gothic horror story but if we didn't make these connections as clearly as we could, our actions weren't going to influence others in the desired way. Coherence though can be an easy word and how can it encompass some of the bizarre in terms of clear explanation? There was also a streak in other King Mobbers too which wanted to actively realise some of that macabre, sinister, grotesque but nonetheless fascinating side of English Romanticism and its fall out that was crystallised in Frankenstein and Dracula, and earlier on in the novels written by Monk Lewis and especially, (and specifically) Walpole's Castle of Otranto. We wanted to bring some of this into play without falling into some Hammer Horror film reenactment or Hollywood ketchup-like bloodbath. At the time, none of this was adequately perceived in anything like the rounded way needed in raising the problems you would have with such 'invention' or, in a sufficiently dispassionate way if you like for it to become useful as an effective subversive scalpel. It's probably impossible in any case but some day it may be worthy of another try.
Moreover it's necessary to make things as clear as possible to others; otherwise an event without explanation, can pander to mysticism, obscurity and the irrational when it's precisely the society of the spectacle which is insane and irrational. By all means play with an absurd insanity simply because it excellently demonstrates the real insanity/inanity of runaway suicide capitalism, but when everything is put into play it must be done with the objective of ever greater clarity. Unfortunately, this was pushed - albeit with complaints - into the background once the rapid disintegration of King Mob set in. There was a tendency to even glory in the obscure, devilish act and not by chance did Chris Gray start suggesting we all should read Charles Fort. The introductory blurb to Fort's LO reads: "I closed the front door on science and opened up the back door to frogs and periwinkles" as if that was sufficient reason in itself. Although King Mob by then had acquired even more ex-scientists than ex-artists, Fort's writings provided no real critique of science – a critique which is, of course, necessary and which Phil Meyler in the mid-1980s attempted in And Yet It Moves2 . You have a real problem here as it feels more comfortable reading a scientific book like, for instance The Floating Egg by Roger Osborne – a recent examination of geographical terrain in Yorkshire – than any equivalent book on an artistic topic. Some scientific books feel more honest or at least less mendacious, simply because science (we are meaning science here placed within some kind of totality) never has had to confront or point to revolutionary activity - until perhaps recently - anywhere near the same extent as art ineluctably has had to. (However it also must be added since we reached this cross-roads in the late 1960s everything surrounding art has been engaged in extinguishing and smothering that ineluctable outcome). As it stands, science, here and there can still make a contribution (astrophysics, terrestrial biologyetc) but a necessary critique of science per se cannot take a Fortean route. Chris Gray though has the dubious honour of launching that Fortean take on things which individuals in other situ influenced groupuscules flirted with when visibly falling apart. The most notable example is Paul Sieveking of BM Piranha who later was to become the lucrative editor of the best selling, The Fortean Times, for all those dumb-fuck new ageists to purchase and marvel at. Prior to that Sieveking produced Omphalos a ridiculous text made up largely of a translation about religion which was pretentious and seemed to know little about developments in religion. It would suggest that Sieveking's interest in the Situationists had little to do with the subversion of class society and more to do with a fascination with the esoteric hence his interest in Fort.
Ironically, though an American, Fort surely reinforced something we were trying to put an end to in England; an eccentric, half-mystical, odd take on things which eschews rationality – even formal logic – never mind the supposed horrors of dialectical thought! It was a process, which was to gain the upper hand during the following decades the more the irrationalities of neo-liberal economics were to gain supremacy in England making both oddly compatible. Whilst bourgeois science doesn't explain many things, the love of the inexplicable seems like a revolt against bourgeois science, as if the question wasn't the failure of bourgeois science to be rational enough.
Quasi-terrorist posturing. England as "A right little tight little island." Critical re-evaluation of the King Mob magazines. Is there any longer any relevance to "a street gang with an analysis"?
Although some of the above may sound like a deliberate courting of incoherence there was, though just to say, an internal lucidity to such experiments, if one can separate the actual King Mob magazines which in many ways hardly mirrored accurately what we were doing, although it's these which have obviously remained as evidence of the existence of King Mob and will have to be gone into point by point remembering that what we were doing practically didn't see much of the light of day in these magazines. However, what must be remembered above all is that neither in the magazines, flyers or in our daily life activities in no way could it be said that we ever tried to rehabilitate any art/anti–art nexus, or engage with politics or court initially at any rate, any cadre status. Thus in no way can King Mob be denigrated by comparing it to the Nashists of the so-called second Situationist International who carried on deploying the remnants of artistic practice or all those people who supposedly anti the system, still thought (or indeed still think) that some useful artistic contribution can still be had. To be fair, although the decapitation of the famous bronze mermaid in Copenhagen Harbour in 1962, ostensibly 'executed' by Jorgen Nash, was for its time, not at all bad, today such action would have no relevance when capital itself is actively destroying the meaning of all past monuments and antiquaries etc. Be that as it may – and Chris Gray told us with glee about this act - for us, on the contrary, it wasn't past artistic symbols which mattered, but attacks against all kinds of artistic activity in the here and now which mattered , attacks which had to be unsparing and heavy. We especially pinpointed the most avant-garde of these activities like street theatre and experimental performances, happenings and the hippy arts and crafts entrepreneurial ventures. As if to make this point, hippy stalls were turned over and wrecked with earthenware pots and ornaments thrown on the ground. Gradually, the attack on art acquired a quasi-terrorist edge later highlighted in the leaflet celebrating Valerie Solanas's attempted offing of Andy Warhol in New York. A leaflet was rapidly gestetnered entitled, "The death of art spells the murder of artists. The real anti artist appears" which rounded off with a death list of mainly English artists playing on and detourning the Bob Dylan lyric; "So don't think twice it's alright".
Again, though our leaflet said little or nothing about this and despite having this leaflet to hand, an intervention was done without sufficient explanation, though for sure it helped promote our terrifying image but not much else. A band of King Mob adherents with masks covering their heads and faces burst into a meeting of students occupying Hornsey College of Art, in north London and showered the gathering with leaflets. Insults were traded, "fucking art students without an idea" and inevitably the protagonists were thrown out. To be sure, the level of action and discussion among Hornsey students was fairly abysmal – even stupid – but perhaps there were better ways of getting something essential across rather than exclusively utilizing threatening images. Well, maybe because nonetheless a tiny minority of these art students did pick something up from the King Mob, Valerie Solanas leaflet even though we weren't aware of it at time. Our mock death threats had however been building up over the previous months. A slogan had been sprayed upon a Notting Hill wall saying, "Kill Miles", which referred to Barry Miles, a small-time entrepreneur who played out a managerial role on the underground newspaper The International Times and ran Indica gallery where Chris Gray only two and a half years previously had put on a happening. We regarded him as the absolute drippy liberal pits. Finally it must be emphasised that these death threats were nothing more than aggressive image making tactics to purposefully inspire fear as none of us entertained the slightest intentions of offing artists; we merely wanted to encourage them on their way, pushing them towards the self-destruction of their own artistic roles.
Perhaps though we are now going masochistically overboard in self-criticism? We can hardly forget that the ideology of the conservative Little Englander still tightly controlled the minds of students in these islands in the late 1960s, though most of us thought it was only a matter of time before a full-blown explosion would materialise on the level of France, Germany or Italy. Even leading - and for the time – interesting "intellectual" theorists in New Left Review, particularly Perry Anderson and Tom Nairn were of this opinion and mapped out probing theses on the almost total control of conservative ideologies over institutions of higher education in the UK. True, they were unable to intelligently deal with modern art as such but then we were trying to fill in this alarming vacuum and were getting nowhere fast. Time and again we tried to explain coolly but accurately the disintegration and possible transcendence of art only to be met with a continuing outright hostility. During the summer of 1968, there was a demonstration of art students, who were sufficiently focused to take to the streets ending up in London's Trafalgar Square and who were obviously spurred on by the Hornsey and Guildford Art College sit-ins. For the occasion, two leaflets were handed out, one by ourselves, and the other by Ron Hunt from Newcastle together with a banner proclaiming the death of art. One of us grabbed a loud hailer and from the plinth of Nelson's Column made an impromptu speech on the failure of rebellious art students to adequately make a critique explaining the demise of art and the subsequent emptiness which denied all creative merit to any of their artefacts or those of their teachers. We criticised the ineptitude of students in allowing themselves to be taken up by the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) that had quickly put together an exhibition of their protest work together with posters, banners and what have you. We suggested the ICA should be occupied along with colleges everywhere. All other previous speeches had been applauded but ours was barracked furiously by people saying, "Who are you to make such outrageous suggestions". We replied, "We're nobody but nobody" and the loud hailer was brusquely snatched from us. A bunch of supposedly rebel students then proceeded to tear up our leaflets. We saw them as nothing other than loyal servants of the status quo. These leaflets then disappeared from view for 30 years before one of them finally turned up in Tom Vague's, King Mob Echo booklets. Three years later we'd already written an auto-critique of the leaflet but which, along with so many other things, was never published. It complained about the plethora of jargon in the tirade of phrases like, "an empty, meaningless, culture of death" placing too much emphasis on commodity appearances with no analysis of what makes up the basis of appearances, noting that the leaflet was more an expression of profound disgust written in a rather gloomy and nihilistic tone and presented in a too aggressively apocalyptic way. In fact two people at the demo who really liked the leaflet and the verbal intervention were soon to be part of the Angry Brigade milieu. One was Ian Purdie who three years later was to go to jail for bombing incidents. On his release he was to return to the artistic fold as an art historian, though it was to prove a mere dalliance as like so many of us he found it impossible to return to the stifling suffocation of an academic role and Ian has finally ended up as an ecological brickie with many a wonderful tale to tell about life on the buildings! The Trafalgar Square leaflet itself, though not quasi-terrorist, bordered on the brink of something like it. Basically, we only saw one way out: a frenzied, relentless, "deranged" destruction obviously harking back to Rimbaud's, "prolonged and systematic derangement of the senses". For us though, derangement appealed more than "systematic" or "prolonged" which was passed over with eyes closed, therefore reducing the scope and timescale of its effect. Moreover, though perhaps understandable for the times, the brief and chaotic manifesto was built round a vain-glorious hope that the art system couldn't last much longer: "For the Fine Arts, the game's up – no possibility of a last minute transfusion". By late 1971 (from thoughts from a diary), we were to retort to ourselves: "How wrong. There's plenty of room for transfusion. The more Fine Art is pure commodity, the more it is integrated into business, the more it extends to the whole of alienated life". By then though we were more than dimly aware that a long night of counter revolution was setting in even though the workers here had yet really to make their play as they were to so magnificently do so from 1972 onwards, up to their final defeat in the late 1980s.
You can well understand from this distance in time how we were forced by historical circumstances peculiar to England's "right little, tight little island" mentality in frustration to adopt a quasi-terrorist posture. Nothing was going on here in comparison with Western Europe or America, so consequently you were merely regarded as incomprehensible and / or just plain nasty. You began to think there hadn't been much that was relevant here for nigh on 130 years. OK, there were one-offs, but nothing in a general sense was unravelling. Even those we found ourselves closest too like the Castoriadis influenced group, Solidarity – what would now be called an autonomous workers' group - we found ourselves clearly distant from. They had no critique of the totality, merely something of a beginning that had a long way to go. Chris Gray regarded Chris Pallas (a.k.a. Maurice Brinton) its erstwhile leader, as "philistine". He wasn't wrong and in that sense, Brinton was a more than faithful follower of his mentor, Cornelius Castoriadis, theorist-in-chief of Socialisme ou Barbarie in France. Though S.O.B. did make profound breakthroughs in the 1950s vis-à-vis workers' autonomy and the need for workers to throw off all party / union shackles, they couldn't apply the same rigour to their own credentials which was rapidly morphing into a bunch of professional careerists, occasional very minor stardom and integration into the status quo, mainly via academia. Their critique of art was appalling. (In parenthesis one of the reasons we wrote what became known as The End of Music was in response to Solidarity's groveling, even unctuous fawning at the spiked heels of punk rock). When the S.I. had said about S.O.B representing; "the furthest left and the most deluded fringe of those managers and mid-functionaries of the Left who want to have a revolutionary theory of their own actual career in society" (S.I. 9/34) was also true of most of those individuals belonging to Solidarity. Those who haven't turned out like that – those whom we don't know – are probably still the best.
We weren't averse ourselves to making some clever, clever, in-jokes about Socialisme ou Barbarie as a way of pointing out their limitations. Knowing the catch phrase had originally come from the passionate pen of Rosa Luxembourg and had been turned into the group name by among others Castoriadis with his sophisticated critique of modern capitalism which one of it members – Charles Lefort - if his testimony is reliable, had communicated to Guy Debord on many a long absorbing drift through Paris in the early 1960s. For us amidst a lot of laughter we made another choice preferring "barbarism". But of course by this we didn't mean a wish to bring about further horrors to a "capitalism which was is and ever shall be horror without end" as Lenin poignantly described it. (Although we utterly rejected Leninist ideology and its baneful historical outcome, we did recognize Lenin's capacity for trenchant one-liners.) What we wanted to find or re-find was a new spontaneous, wild self – a self (most likely a collective self) - lost in our deepening experience of increasing alienation. Maybe something of a return to Athens twenty five centuries ago where love according to Nietzsche was last really consummated or better, just before that to the time of the "Great God Pan" with a reflection of the intensity of the moment of transition from the hunter gatherers. (c/f some of this flow in the transcript of Culture and Revolution from 1967 in Lost Ones around King Mob elsewhere on the RAP [Revolt Against Plenty] web). Essentially though, we ached for something entirely different – something we occasionally had glimpsed in our very youthful lives, but essentially historically had never ever seen the light of day and survived for any significant period of time - which would combine sensitivity to a long buried historical or even pre-historical id together within a new dimension of fulfillment. In no way was the barbarism of fascism or Stalinism intended as example nor, need it be said, was the forthcoming horror of a totalitarian free market society of pseudo-individualism envisaged. On the two counts then known to us, such connections would have horrified us. As for the third – and now the most durable and horrific totalitarianism – sadly enough many ex-68ers were prepared to side with its take-off.
Inevitably, the wrath of avant-garde artists – by way of reply – was also particularly heavy and they expressed more hatred of King Mob activities than ever they did of the more sclerotic, fuddy-duddy parts of a culture they professed themselves to be in revolt against. In fact the latter response, like a toughening character armour, was to remain and if anything intensify. Remember, as previously indicated, a fair amount of those around King Mob had also come from such a background but had moved through it speedily; from acceptance to transgression, as it were, in the space of a year. It's therefore, true to say that these protagonists hadn't started off with the same ludic, gradually evolving lapidary coherence which characterised the development of the Situationists in the more slowly-paced, reflective time of the late 1950s, early 1960s. (But then the late 1960s weren't like that, so it was our luck to be so young in such tumultuous times as it was also disastrous as we often didn't grasp things sufficiently coherently – which has now become something like a mantra endlessly repeated in this text!) On the contrary, the changing general tempo of the times meant huge changes within you were taking place within a few weeks as the subversive character of the times widened and accelerated. Those who couldn't keep pace or were insensitive to Lautreamont's maximum written a century previously, "There are new tremors running through the atmosphere all we need is the courage to face them" (headlines of a poster distributed in Newcastle-upon-Tyne at the time), quickly found themselves in bitter opposition to the most advanced and were determined to have their guts for garters. They probably rightly sensed that it meant the end of all artistic hangers-on career prospects or any hope of retaining a modicum of artistic privileges: no name or a name-in-waste!
However, in our youthful naivety we were quite astonished at the hatred and furious backlash our critique and dismissal of art produced. It was a salutary lesson and that hatred was to keep on coming year after year, decade in, decade out. Nothing is likely to fray tempers so much as expounding a critique of art and, almost by default, proving its centrality to revolutionary subversion. In fact it's more centre stage now than ever it was in the late 1960s at the same time as its critique has never been so absent! It's tended to fall into disuse simply because it hasn't been updated and as such, is one of the pressing tasks of the time. From Portugal, we translated and produced a text by Julio Henriques written in the late 1980s which attempted such an update (together with our own introduction concerning such absence) but, as usual, it didn't get anywhere. Since the days of King Mob there's been a number of interventions against art in these islands, but they are lost without trace simply because no one seems capable of putting together a half decent text alongside such acts which would help considerably. There was a memorable one during the Notting Hill Art Festival in 1987 when a number of people made junk out of 'junk sculptures' when exhibits were spontaneously re-arranged, together with bits of rubbish brought in from the streets as a means of making nonsense out of nonsense. It was light-hearted stuff and probably didn't have sufficient cutting edge and those who did it kept getting slung out of the galleries. Well, what can you expect? It was quickly glossed over and forgotten simply because it wasn't accompanied by any thought provoking and accurate statement announcing themselves and their ideas. We'll keep insisting on this – especially in these islands – because if you don't, such actions are usually interpreted as philistinism when it's those who ideologically commit themselves to, "The art of an artless world" mirroring Marx's comments on religion. who are the real philistines. Moreover, these actions which pass without comment can also be performance art acts in themselves and which are now at the very cutting edge of advertising. A long time ago the Situationists lucidly remarked that, "we are on the same path as our enemies" which is why pseudo interventions have to be so remorselessly attacked. With a grim laugh looking at an internet compilation entitled Basic Banalities listing some situ influenced publications, we noted a BLOB programme on prime time Italian TV which no doubt had been pirated from the various European translations of Like A Summer with a Thousand Julys3 .
In a sense it came as no surprise to be confronted with the obnoxious bile of Stewart Home in the early 1990s initially distilled in his pathetic book, The Assault on Culture, a latter-day defence of the art / anti-art syndrome with its origins in Fluxus Happenings. The difference is, Home's defence of the old order with a face-lift, unlike those of a couple of decades previously, is littered with knowledge and facts (though both are half-arsed) of the movement he's attacking, well able to trace its origins in Dada, Surrealism, Lettrism etc. whilst leaving out all reference to Hegel, Lukacs, the German ultra-left and so on. In any case, Home has no intention of ever deserting the cultural plane. The end result is an even more nasty and hysterical tirade than anything experienced in the late 1960s and 1970s against those who would theoretically explain and act upon the negation and supercession of art.In part, Home's explicitly anti-Situationist defence of the artistic role is motivated by the fact that an installation of his in the mid-80s got attacked with graffiti ("Another radical wank", "The dadaists did this all before" etc.) and his magazines got pissed on. The installation had to close down just a couple of days after it had opened, shortening it by 10 days. The attack was believed by Home to be partly Situationist inspired. Home put a gloss on the whole thing, boasting how much he'd made out of the insurance he collected from its early closing, but beneath this it must have niggled.
Most of this can be explained by the character of the times in which all sense of history, movement and any meaningful attempt at dis-alienation has been utterly lost. The colonisation of virtually all space and time in the ever more intensified expansion of the commodity economy has meant that all movement that could lay claim to be historical dialectical movement has been so slowed down that it's virtually frozen over! And the more it is frozen, the more it can be instantly capitalized, thus prevented from escaping down fruitful paths. "The worst alienation is the blocking up of development" as Henri Lefebvre had said in the early 1960s. Thus as previously suggested, happening, performance art, installation and what have you instead of proffering some possibility of their self-negation and subsequent disappearance see their potentiality in big money spinning promo and / or incorporated immediately into the world of active advertisement ably facilitated by the old power station, Tate Modern, which attracts more visitors than ever the Millenium Dome did in its heyday. Surely, this single fact alone points to the need to re-launch the assault on art? In the mid-1960s, trashy neo-dadaist anti-art art works using living, re-arranged nature etc and having no monetary significance (if for no other reason than the wall of money and commodity wasn't so in-your-face at the time) was often rapidly superceded, replaced by a real, thorough going critique of art. Three decades later they are everywhere re-packaged and sold as high price commodities by the advertising, art promo world of a Damien Hirst type brand, purveyed most notably by the Media Dept of London's, Goldsmiths College of Art. The difference is, the neo-Dada/anti-art artefact colonises space everywhere and none of us can escape it as it relentlessly stares down at us. One day we can only hope for a potlatch of trashing and destruction of these monuments to (and about) nothingness. It will inevitably meet with a furious response as this capitalised emptiness must be defended at all costs. Of course, there are schisms and rifts within this. Although Stewart Home bitterly defends generally this emptiness, no doubt he would distance himself from the more mainstream Damien Hirst/Turner Prize ambience. If questioned, he probably would also distance himself from everything, sarcastically blaming the protagonists for behaving like dopes for having such a serious take on things. The present climate of ultra-nihilism reduces all arguments to equivalents to be, all depending, sneeringly dismissed and as substitute for all meaningful historical action, meaningless provocation together with self-promotion becomes a be all and end all.
For those who would endlessly regurgitate the disintegration of modern art, all these creeps can do is make endless repeats of artefacts and gestures in this era of frozen time, which was briefly superceded by an historical movement now long gone. Somehow their bile cannot be separated from these historical circumstances simply because these artefacts and gestures cannot be recreated in such a-historical ways. Hegel in his Philosophy of the Fine Arts was the first to historise the movement of artistic form. At times re-reading this great tract with its undertow that the arts were dying is, with its emphasis on the rise and fall of form, like picking up an earlier version of Lettrist theory. We always have to move on whilst developing ever wider, the subversive momentum of history. Although you cannot doubt the beautiful contribution of Ivan Chtcheglov to a wider subversion in the Paris of the late 1950s, it would seem any repeat when it's not mere whimsy, heads straight today into the role of artistic entrepreneur, mysticism, the occult and the ley-line bollocks of the London Psychogeographical Society which Home connects with. As examples of this, one only has to consider the Hacienda Club in Manchester or Irvine Walsh's list of symbols of consumer conformity at the end of the film Trainspotting and whatever truth there is in ley-lines, is obscured by the fetishism of these mysterious esoteric forces that, once again, is intended to parade one's individuality in the form of a kind of 'interesting' eccentric pose. All this has absolutely nothing in common with the moment of derive which came into fruition at that intense lacunae between the disappearance of the old city neighbourhoods during the 1950s and there colonisation by a bureaucratic, traffic-oriented town planning, commodity outlet promo and an arid, financially anchored theme-ing which uses the ghost and shadow of the past city ambience through the aid of a psychogeographic memory as a means of estate agent hype. In the late 1990s, Hoxton, a bleak and poor area of East London was thus embellished for a rising property market by artists delving into its 20th century past. Looking for their "roots", artists Rachel Lichtenstein and Ian Sinclair turned up some Jewish, Kurt Schwitters-like figure from the 1940s-50s, by the name of Rodinsky (a guy who produced some mildly interesting collages and montages about Hoxton) and made a book around him called Rodinsky's Room. Basically Rodinsky was used as a means of providing a past aura to hype the gentrification of Hoxton seeing that Notting Hill had lost its fashionable cutting edge. In passing, its worth trashing, Transgression, that other load of sub-psychogeographical nonsense and academic bilge emanating recently from the Geography Dept at Newcastle University. Obviously, these hip lecturers know nothing about what took place in Newcastle in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It's like a raft of recuperation on recuperation as all memory of authenticity fades from view. Thus Manchester's Hacienda, (named by Tony Wilson, the entrepreneur, after a piece from early situationist Chtchegelov's in the late 1950s) itself a rip-off of real experiment, finally becomes a canal-side development purchased by Crosby Homes North West, utilizing its name and shadow as sales pitch.
Home's writing became somewhat influential in these islands, if not in the States, if only because they gave off an air of learning and knowledge which can pass without comment as to their veracity, simply because this history is unknown. Home has presumed to make himself a specialist and therefore an available source of information for would-be academics writing their Phd dissertations with the aim of future publication. Confusion and fudge are handed down everywhere like in Simon Sadler's recent, The Situationist City - the title itself being a giveaway. In this coffee table book the Situationist critique is quite wretchedly placed alongside that of artists like Richard Hamilton, architects like the early (now Sir) Richard Rogers, critics like Lawrence Alloway and groups like The Independents and Archigram! Sadler never states there cannot be any such comparison when all the latter baulked at revolutionary critique! After all his historical research, translations and factual details about the psychogeographic times of the 1950s /early 1960s, Sadler even ventures the dumb comment that Happenings had a greater impact and were more worthwhile than thoughtfully experiencing and reflecting upon the ambience of city neighbourhoods!
The recent spate of books on the Situationists written in English are rather different from their predecessors. Those by Anselm Jappe and Len Bracken, in particular, are much more weighty affairs altogether and most likely mark a shift in making the SI more academically respectable and an object more worthy of university study and not as previously, an intellectual footnote in the pre-history of media studies, precursors of post-modernism or as part of a cultural studies curriculum where the Situationists are portrayed as avant-garde artists sympathetic to advertising who spent their time altering bill boards and hoardings. Even McLaren in his memoirs was to claim us as "revolutionary artists" with such characterisations paving the way in England for a King Mob punk group and a King Mob theatrical promotions company hiring Gary Synder and his Merry Pranksters for a nauseating tour of concert hall performances. Falsely consigned to an artistic role meant the venom was drawn and the major practical/theoretical contribution to a relevant contemporary social revolution cast aside. This deliberate falsification has been ably assisted by art collectors looking for new fields of auctioneering where the inflated price tags of art gallery originals can now be applied to subversive texts and magazines. In the famous piece about the fetishism of commodities in Capital 1, Marx writes about "the theological capers of the commodity" hinting at fantastical twists and turns in commodification having endless ramifications. In the light of present times, we could fruitfully perhaps alter this. How about "the artistic capers" resembling more Rimbaud's proclamation in Clearance Sale: "For sale, anarchy for the masses"!
It wasn't only the disintegration of modern art which was trawled for insight, giving out many an excited illumination when the protagonists around King Mob got together in a heated, euphoric atmosphere as equally Freud and Marx especially were avidly read. In fact, it was a line from Marx's 18th Brumaire; "I am nothing but must become everything" that was placed underneath the photo from a Feuillade film of a menacing masked guy grasping a bottle on the front cover of the first King Mob magazine in Feb 1968. It wasn't as though the 18th Brumaire had been read rather carefully and reflectively from beginning to end but had merely been dipped into in a somewhat fevered, high-as-a-kite state culling a profound sentence as a one-liner that could have been penned in pages marking the disintegration of modern poetry. However it did the job well enough, pointing to a future totality beyond the division of labour and reification.
Although the first King Mob magazine was to have a big impact, its content wasn't that precise and was certainly a step back from , The Revolution of Modern Art and the Modern Art of Revolution. Apart from a good translation of part of Vaniegem's, The Revolution of Daily Life which freely transcribed a few facts more appealing to an English audience which weren't there in the original French but which nonetheless added to it, the centre piece was the inclusion of a text by the American psychiatrist, Norman O' Brown playing somewhat glibly with dialectical curlicues and written in a form of poetic stanza which entirely put the wrong message across to people. The last thing needed was a poetically formal presentation of a critique which was rather slickly written, in comparison to Norman O' Brown's earlier, soberly assessed and innovative, Life Against Death. Moreover, Norman O'Brown was a professor at an American university (when 99% of the King Mob protagonists at that time were completely anti the university). In no time though some around King Mob were calling the Professor, "Dr Normal O'Brown". It was an accurate enough snide remark.
On another though equally worrying level, the project elaborated on the back cover for some kind of intervention amongst youth in the East End of London had a social work disposition even though possessing a much heavier edge than typical nondescript social work which simply wouldn't have dared deploy such imaginative language of at the time with its up beat assessment of, "the do badders and do-madders". It was a project of Phil Cohen's, which came to nothing, though certainly, the initial outline probably added impetus to the squatted London Street Commune in central London that Phil Cohen played quite an extreme part in initiating one and a half years later.
If the first King Mob had perhaps one common theme running through its pages it was the dialectic of "madness" – going mad with freedom; of breakdown as breakthrough; of disintegration as prelude to a new unity, or as justification for previous "mad" interventions via the rantings of King Mob and with further actions coming your way soon. Also, it was "mad" in terms of the usual leftist or anarchist protest, which often was quite similar in character. In retrospect, 'madness' was probably the one thing providing a continuum – "madness" in the good up and "madness" in the long, long, bad down that was to go on for decades. Many of the participants around King Mob were, in no time "to play some fine tricks on madness" – as Rimbaud's, A Season in Hell put it, while a few adherents really did go mad, some committing suicide. It was sadly a familiar story of our times everywhere. Remember though, we were also putting further emphasis on a tendency somewhat prominent in the late 1960s vis-à-vis the psychoanalytical-cum-Artaud quoting researches of Richard Cooper and especially, R D Laing, the existential psychiatrist who emphasised the important role of the family in the manufacture of schizophrenia. Though we were aware at the time of Laing's limitations, they were certainly better than subsequent searches for schizophrenic genes, artistic genius genes, etc trumped up by a subsequent banal modern "science" without any understanding of social processes, and little else besides and a sad reflection of the dull, conformist, petite bourgeois lives scientists tend to lead. However, Laing had no real understanding of social processes or culture either, though he did put madness in some kind of social context, and a little later, Russell Jacoby made a good critique of Laing. Indeed it could be said that Laing had a bad influence on some subversives around that time by valorizing a tendency to distance from the standard roles of this world without trying to oppose them. "Madness" was then a result, in a potentially revolutionary epoch, of withdrawing from confronting this world and from confronting normal daily life – and Laing always saw the mad purely as victims, rather than those who made a choice neither to accept what this society wanted of them nor to confront the spectacle; as victims, of course, they clearly needed his specialist help.
As for the other King Mob magazines more has to be said. The critique of students didn't really have a lot to say and was far too simplified and emptily raving, contrasting their spurious intellectualisms with a Brixton where youths with "sheer speed" wrecked the place every single night – which they didn't! King Mob 2 and 3 were brought out with the aim of reflection and critical suggestion in a rapidly unfolding situation of increasing activity and both generally were responses to the student revolt and the more consequent drop out/hippy revolt (at least as experienced in America and a lesser extent, in the UK), a revolt which in its essence, was a revolt against most professional roles and the training that went into such roles as well as more fundamentally also being a revolt against work as such. We were well aware that this essence was well masked with a whole array of bullshit ideology and it was this carapace which had to be shaken off.
In both instances though, King Mob 2 and 3 coming out after the heady year of 1968 were well over the top. Some kind of dialectical sober assessment was completely lacking. However, given the increasingly messianic temper of the times, this was hardly surprising. In retrospect perhaps what was really needed was something far more analytical than what was published if only to keep something in prospect which was more on-going and clearer for the future. It would have made more sense as by then, all within the King Mob milieu, had begun to recognise that a social revolution was going to take a lot longer than the sheer exuberance afforded by the apocalyptic tenor of 1968.
Although King Mob's On Student Power rightly disparaged the student milieu, rightly criticizing and condemning the "Alternative University" along with Alex Trocchi's cultural jam-sessions for the nonsense they were, the "criminal" activism which was then proposed – a kind of chain of ripped-off goodies from higher educational institutions then carted off to marginalised areas of the cities - wasn't much better. It was as though our lauding of criminal survival means (e.g. shop-lifting, fare dodging, scrounging on the dole etc) needed to be more comfortably augmented by flogging-off expensive items of university equipment. If not that, how about dipping into the pockets of student's overcoats left on college clothes racks where you could always find the occasional cheque book handy for kiting? It was reckoned that such practices would help create a kind of permanent network feedback involving more and more people. It was really quite ridiculous and merely nothing more than a fanciful mock guerrilla construct over a stark and mostly mundane reality of growing proletarianisation. Put simply; a lot of students increasingly and for a lot of complex reasons - and not just simplistic materialist ones - weren't going to arrive at "their" future role in the higher echelons of wage labour. Their future was bleaker, more hum-drum and more likely to be relatively poorly paid. There's nothing pretty or romantic to say about that stark fact. By all means try get up to some scam to augment survival as long as it didn't harm any fellow voyagers embarked on the same route, so heroic role play a la this version of King Mob simply didn't come into it! It was within the wider paradigms of a generalized wage labour where the real choice lay: were you to remain poacher or become gamekeeper? And the last thing poacher meant (and still should mean) is arbitrary rip-off. Inevitably, a lot of the more craven were to become gamekeepers and it was no good King Mob vamping this up with literary flourishes about "hideously dressed" lecturers who'd be some essential link in this criminally conceived survival process. Lecturers would never be able keep up such a front in any case as they were involved in something far more devious: a hideous, permanent lie as they spieled on and on! The most they could ever be would be enfant terribles of fashion and even that but rarely!
As for Tim Clark's reply in the second letter what can you say? Pouring cold water on this criminally inclined survival process didn't hit the nail on the head either. Remember by then, the only thing Clarke had nailed down was his first full job as a university lecturer at Essex University placing himself on the first rung of a very high career ladder he was to exploit to the best of his abilities. In the letter he is defensive in the extreme. Nay worse and none so more than that execrable line, "The poetic is dead along with poetry". The poetic will hopefully never be dead so wasn't this rather a comment upon himself on the threshold of a cadre lifestyle in fawning denial of everything poetic because his acceptance and submission to a university career was becoming the paramount factor in what he wanted out of life? The last thing he wanted was a new world because the guy wasn't prepared to risk anything.
By way of prelude to the King Mob / Motherfuckers, pamphlet, it's worth saying that King Mob didn't navigate well the moment of the self-destruct of modern art to more clearly (and collectively?) face a future of proletarianisation which wasn't only about the destruction of aesthetics. That moment was mentioned, then emphasised and re-emphasied as though the legacy of the artistic ego, which in many ways we were all still full of couldn't find its way – necessarily its way down - to another socially lower plane. Beyond lay the world of working (or non-working) stiffs and wasn't it best to conceive of them more as a theoretical category something perhaps like, "the worker as object" thus keeping 'them' at a safe distance as you quit for safer, more professional harbours? On a crude level that meant simple, face to face friendships or personal relationships over a long period of time could never be contemplated; nonetheless some of us were to begin to intrepidly navigate our way through this seeming impasse.
In a way too this "hideously dressed college lecturer" phantasy syndrome perhaps pinpointed something more possible which you had to think more carefully about. Obviously we all discussed ways of making money, even deploying means of cynical self-recuperation. So why not let's write crap ourselves! Let's consciously pull our punches and make ourselves a bit of money providing we don't put our names to it. After all, hadn't Michelle Bernstein done this in the early days of the French Situationists with her imitations of Nouvelle Vague/Robbe Grillet type of novels like All the Kings Men etc? They sold well and hadn't the money been used to subsidise real subversion? OK then let's do it ourselves. We experimented writing a nonsensical spoof about Notting Hill which we called Balls (c/f Lost Ones around King Mob elsewhere on this web) and got well paid for it which came in handy after working for the low wages a casualised agency like Manpower offered you. In fact Balls had been commissioned at the behest of Dan Richter, the Beat poet resident in London who was a distant friend of Chris Gray's. It wasn't, therefore an honourable detournement but which one ever is? However the connection with Richter was a missing link, we weren't informed about until later, so was Chris Gray embarrassed about this and if we had known would it have made a difference anyway? A moot point perhaps? We embarked on other things setting about doing a book on Berlin Dada and the failed German revolution after 1918. Recently, on reading a few mildewed pages of that aborted book, it still retains some relevance acutely picking on comments by Rosa Luxembourg noting her penchant for traditional forms of art as she herself dabbled in drawings, paintings and poetry. We simply asked: "How far is this relevant today"? Perhaps, more interestingly, we noted how Lenin and Rosa Luxembourg couldn't understand how individual workers had no stomach for being reduced to "nought – the better to prepare themselves for becoming all". Well, negation here, through fruit of bitter experience, doesn't follow through in the same way as dialectics can do in terms of professional specialisms. Obviously in picking this comment up of Rosa's, we must have had in mind that somewhat related comment by Marx fronting the first issue of King Mob that we previously mentioned: "I am nothing but I must be everything" which perhaps also brought into play the self-destruction of modern art which in the here and now when Marx wrote it might even have trawled some unknown musings between the negation of art and the self-negation of the worker?
Generally though everything heading towards degree zero fascinated us. For the same proposed book on Dada interesting jottings were made on the de-materialisation , or rather de-commodification, of the object though how on earth would any recuperative publishing business in England at the time have accepted any of this never mind in the early noughties? taking as its cue Breton's comments in 1936 that, " the hateful reign of common sense is founded on the world of concrete objects" noting that if there's a revolution, the subsequent change in consciousness would mean that the conventional value of the object freed from the commodity form, would be subservient to the desire of the observer implying an "evocative capacity" creating a freer relationship would then ensue. Interestingly too, notes were prepared on De Sade relating his thoughts to present times emphasising "imagination is pleasures spur" and that inclination towards a love that can set us on fire. To be sure, in attempting recuperation we weren't playing their game and maybe that was why nothing came of it? We were simply too serious!
The long text on the Motherfuckers in King Mob 3 was to become a real advertisers / promo job and the critical content of the text was small beer indeed. In fact, the best part of the text described in detail some of Black Mask and early Motherfucker attacks on modern art, including the magnificent attack on the Madison Avenue gallery hosting a retrospective exhibition on Dada, Surrealism and Constructivism in 1968 culminating in a splendid riot. This intervention really did put anti-art on the map in New York as more and more people began to pick up on it which was no mean feat indeed. For example, though the Motherfuckers had immediately produced a leaflet supporting Valerie Solanas' SCUM manifesto justifying the shooting of Andy Warhol, they also, it seems, never realised their prior effect upon Valerie! She had obviously imbibed that anti-art disposition spreading across the Lower East Side and that had given her confidence to act and was possibly spearheaded by the example of the Madison Avenue gallery riot. Maybe, it could be said that Valerie Solanas combined an adoration-cum-hate of pop stars, plus a growing anti-art critique derived from Dada and that initial more open and genuine explosion of feminist critique – a critique which hasn't been surpassed in this respect. The spur to Valerie's action never forget was Warhol's rejection of her play, though she rapidly from then on developed a much higher critique. Initially it must be said that Solanas's attack on Warhol wasn't really a sharpened critique of art and culture having everything to do with Warhol's refusal to fund her provocative anti-art play on stage the contents of which had however been influenced by the Motherfuckers. Only later did Valerie's SCUM manifesto produce some really good insights into culture. Subsequently, popademia-feminism was never to mention this critique which surely in its condemnation of fashion and the reduction of everything to the show was very pertinent. Feminism so far has never overcome this retardation.
Finally despite all these activities it wasn't enough to point Dada away from an artistic interpretation towards a new though unrealised creative future. Perhaps there was far too much simplistic crudity. Bruce Elwell, of the then American section of the SI noted the "atrocious anti-art manifestoes" Black Mask tended to write. Ben Morea's anti-art was also oddly mixed in with an acceptance of some aspects of modern art, especially a reverence for Jackson Pollock which was mirrored in the new movement everywhere. It was a serious shortcoming. Consider Guerrilla, the Free Newspaper of the Street which coming out about the same time republished a manifesto called; Poetry Demands Unemployment put out originally by, The Central Committee of the Dadaist Revolutionary Council, Berlin 1919, with its somewhat Bolshevised title. This was set alongside some of Walt Whitman's poems, together with "guerrilla" poetry by "revolutionary" Nicaraguans. Again this was hardly the point and certainly wasn't what the best of Berlin Dada would have meant by poetry as for sure the German Dadaists really didn't want everybody sitting around composing sonnets hither and thither! In his own time, of course, Whitman had been exceptional but to arbitrarily re-print his poems merely gave out the wrong idea – basically that the role of poet was still OK, alive and kicking. What Berlin Dada had in mind by poetry in this manifesto hardly happily co-existed with traditional poetic form in the New York street newspaper. A far larger picture was envisaged creating a new poetically fulfilled life style for everybody having left behind the sacrifice of wage labour, and capitalism in general. Surely by 1968 it would have been better if such a trajectory had been stated even more clearly than the Dadaists had put in 1919 rather than needlessly obscuring it. In that sense, it fell in line with the silly act by the nascent Motherfuckers a little later when they fired a rifle into the air at a Kenneth Koch Beat poetry reading whilst proclaiming a manifesto entitled, Poetry is Revolution when they were merely defending the Black Power poet, Leroi Jones who'd been arrested in the Newark riots. Leroi Jones had also provided the name Up against the wall Motherfucker which came from a line from one of his poems. In no way had he ever questioned, never mind abandoned, his role as a poet writing poetry and he was no better or worse as a poet than Koch, the Beat guy's poetry venue which had been disrupted. The same could be said at the time about Adrian Mitchell or Adrian Henri in England. When all is said and done, poetry can only revolve historically now around the paradigm of Private Eye's, E. Jarvis Thribb's doggerel. It's as true today as it was in 1968, even more so.
But this was the best part – and a small part – as the rest of the King Mob magazine quickly fell into the completely ridiculous. True, Black Mask had made a few interventions against modern art before the Madison Avenue riot, but the King Mob presentation of their activities made it look as though this was happening every other day! This was a lie purely and simply and it didn't stop there. The Macy's superstore "mill-in" was exaggerated to the point of becoming ridiculous. It was in fact rather like the Selfridge's invasion of Oxford St. According to the heavily embellished King Mob blurb, all kind of crazy things happened. However, among the bric-a-brac at Macy's, no rabbits were released nor was a vulture set free among the china section! As for other accoutrements e.g. the snake with graffiti all over it – it was pure bullshit. It was Chris Gray's English gothic fantasy "realised" in reality – an artistically fantatised macabre imposed upon a reality which in an American context might have appealed to those who had a predilection for what could come out of the novelist H.P. Lovecraft's sewers. The same goes for all the various quasi-terrorist attacks in California which were quite gratuitously attributed to the Motherfuckers. They really had no part in them but making such suggestions and using the Motherfuckers to hang an ideological construct on – the path from the destruction of art through to terrorism – was the real purpose. Whoever blew up the pylons, we certainly had no idea who they were though obviously, considering the mood of the times, we were sympathetic to these actions. However, the way it was pitched in King Mob 3 was on that level of suggestion that had been there in the previous On Student Power text and one that was now getting completely out of hand. On receiving the magazine, Ben Morea laughingly dismissed it as "an advertising phantasy" and by then, seeing he was into such militant image making himself, it was quite a derisory comment. His militant reputation really had grown and women swooned. Opportunistically, the Motherfuckers became a chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The King Mob pamphlet never criticised this entryism concentrating on the direct action the Motherfuckers took in the occupation of Columbia University where, in a quite exemplary way, they hung college art treasures on the makeshift barricades, a tactic as previously mentioned, derived from Bakunin in 1848 in order to deter the police from attacking the insurgents. However, when the Motherfuckers burst into some locked up parts of the university, they burnt, it seems, a lot of "priceless documents" as well as prepatory theses by students including one on the French Revolution. Well so what, as certainly there was no sense of personal gain coming from this pillaging, unlike say the pillaging recently of Baghdad museums in 2003 concomitant with predatory Anglo / American war against that country. Obviously they had some real feel for just how destructive and vandalistic real revolutionary ferment is. Unfortunately, it was also becoming flawed the more they conceptualised themselves as some avant-garde of militant vandals dominated by something like a pop group image of themselves inevitably projected upon their somewhat star-struck followers. They were mirroring somewhat the repetitive guitar smashing performances The Who was performing nightly only more real and exciting. It was becoming ritualised and losing the necessary spontaneity of that real anger preceding authentic destructive riot. There was no waiting or reflection in any of this, just at the moment when a lot of people were becoming seriously worried and unsure, sensing that things were beginning to go awry. The presentation itself had become part of the problem and as the old saying goes: you cannot attack alienation through alienating means.
As for today in Iraq, The pillaging in Iraq has been universally condemned by all sections of the bourgeoisie, whether for or against the war. Likewise, it was almost universally, and unconditionally, praised by most sections of the ultra-left, one guy even praising the looting of the hospitals because 'capitalist medicine is crap'. True, but the looted medicine and medical equipment was further capitalized by the looters, who, in conditions of scarcity exacerbated by the looting, could make big profits from selling the stuff. As for the museums, this turns out to have been much exaggerated – besides, better that poor people make money out of something that no longer has use even for research than that they should be forced to work for a pittance or starve. Anyway, after the revolution, if there is one, museums won't exist since they accept a purely passive and fetishised awe-inspired respect for artefacts rather than any playful or practical use of them. As for the looting of shops - well, without some organized democratic distribution of necessities, looting is the only way those who'd been subjected to the near-starvation of sanctions could redress a little of their deprivations. And the same goes for the looting of the houses of the rich.
Perhaps we are being too harsh here and isn't the suggestion of lying regarding the King Mob tract on the Motherfuckers too strong a word? Really it was more the case of the legacy of poetic license absorbed in the mind-set of an imaginative novelist of the ilk of a Robert Louis Stevenson. It was hoped this embellishment of reality would encourage and inspire many another to take it all literally even copying at will or perhaps carrying out a pattern of similar, unpredictable and imaginative intervention. (Wasn't this later to become some of the theory behind the copycat riot and too much media exposure?) This was different because the problem was a form of poetic license that hadn't left the literary/artistic dimension without arriving at a new kind of factual analysis (an analysis with a poetic/imaginative edge) which passionately told the truth. Therefore, some kind of sympathetically critical appraisal of the Motherfuckers would have been more to the point than the hopelessly laudatory approach King Mob came out with. Interestingly, as far as we know, no ex-Black Mask or Motherfucker has made such critical remembrances of things past although, from what we know, in the latter days of the movement, many made the beginnings of such critiques and which never came to anything. Even the 'mystic' Alan Hoffmann, which Vaneigem had complained about so readily in the Situationist bible, in conversation with one of us in San Francisco in the summer of 1971 said things were becoming geared towards publicity concomitant with a growing and internalized image worship. He said it with a practical sensible air of confidence even as he distributed a really absurd mystical A3 sheet abounding with sun / moon / star / new age tripe during the process of demonstrating his impressive Japanese martial arts skills. A few weeks later Alan was dead, having fallen out of the back of a pick-up truck hitching a lift while lying on the duck boards in his sleeping bag. Giving out the illusion of inner control, externally Alan was exhausted and beat up internally and finally unable to take simple precautions like keeping the truck's tailboard up and fixed. On the other hand, a much more basic Motherfucker in the latter-days of the group's really supra-militant style in New York, went screaming down to the Brooklyn Bridge frantically gesticulating that he'd been," Consumed and consumed and consumed by the Motherfuckers". It seems the Motherfuckers had pressured themselves to such an extreme degree that they inevitably turned on themselves, encouraging hatred for each other as well as self-hate as they failed to live up to their self-appointed image. They imploded. The critique of the capitalist mode of production and consumption wasn't meant to be like this! Don't make too much out of this though. All of us who were there and meant it went through similar experiences in the very early 1970s, as the grim and stark "reality" of one of the worst counter-revolutions in history began to bite. As Phil Meyler said at the time and so poignantly with his short subversive, friendly laugh, ever inviting further comment, "Be militant, go home and beat yourself up".
In some sense though there was a hidden undertow of polemics in King Mob more or less centered in and against the French Situationists meaning they weren't much more than de-classe intellectuals who were brilliant at fighting paid-up intellectuals but hopeless at a down home punch-up. It's certainly a moot point and one that the French indignantly answered by pointing out that Rene Vienet had been a docker in Rouen. Well, perhaps but for how long? It certainly didn't get in the way of him becoming much later, a friend of Asian bankers! Memorably, Vaneigem said in the re-orientation debate that there'd never been a worker in their ranks. True, but on the other hand the Situationists conducted themselves admirably throughout the explosion of May '68 and the occupations movement. They did what they could and lucidly. However, here isn't the occasion for going into all of that. Engagement with the workers – if you like – came more organically and rather later for both Situationist influenced individuals in France and England and many of these people were to be far more principled than the original members of the group.
In England – as we've pointed out their was a frenetic desire to break on through farther to become some kind of tough gang adept at the ways of the street but also possessing a trenchant critique. This kind of ideology was projected onto the Motherfuckers who had moved (it was suggested), "from the Situationist salon to the street". Of course such a drift was there in the Motherfuckers, but they went over the top utilizing the street as the arena to parade the militant role. The best interpretation – meaning the overthrow of roles – not only intellectual ones but even the finest theoretical ones, lay well outside the occupation of an intellectual, calling in question also the role of revolutionary, which wasn't how it was taken on board. Considering the frenetic tempo of the times, it meant voluntarism in the sense of what you could do to endlessly set an example for others to follow. 'Revolutionary' for this new militant milieu, meant piling as much pressure on yourself as you could possibly take though without cracking up! Indicative of that line of thought was an inane introduction written by Chris Whitbread for his translations of two texts by Vaneigem and Rene Riesel, broadly around workers councils, and published in the magazine Anarchy in 1972 where he criticised the Situationists for their passivity during 1968. It was almost in the vein of failing to organise some military putsch a la Blanqui himself or, perhaps, some Maoist ideology had made its fashionable entrance? At the time, one felt the shades of Leninism were taking a long time to pass on by. Military problems in such situations – even more so now – are complex and for sure, it's the last thing one can rush into without a lot of careful consideration.
It wasn't Leninism as such but some kind of cocktail of Durutti in the Ramblas heading a posse of insurrectionary bikers. It seems this idea of some clued-in street gang persisted as it also moved with the times. A recent text from Not Bored in New York locates its beginning in The Revolution of Modern Art and The Modern Art of Revolution redefining itself over the years and reaching its realisation in the Sex Pistols! – a gang of street lumpens who'd got it! No doubt McLaren will be pleased as the text utterly fails to point out the musical pop star recuperation inherent in Punk from its beginning. It's as though our contemporary critiques brought out by us and others in the late 1970s were to be set at naught.
King Mob 5 did not exist and was a simplistic invention not unlike that section of Class War calling itself King Mob in Cork City in Ireland during the early 1990s. As for King Mob 6, it was mainly written by Ian and Di Clegg with a little distant help from their low down but scummily-aware friends from Newcastle! (This is meant to be ironical!) Although parts of the analysis are perceptive and telling, particularly the emphasis upon a future of capitalised leisure recuperating Belsen as a Butlin's holiday camp on Spanish beaches which McLaren and Punk rock were to take on board, there wasn't that much of interest in the text. Nonetheless, these paragraphs were probably the inspiration behind punk slogans like, "Cheap Holidays In Other Peoples Misery" and the EP, "Belsen was a Gas" The text itself we baulked at and wanted certain lines removed. To be sure, it welcomed the need for a re-appraisal of the fully employed working class which was beginning to come into focus with opposition to the then Labour Government's proposed bill, "In Place of Strife" limiting wildcat strikes. Where King Mob 5 went pear-shaped was in referring to the marginals in a virtually Stalinoid way. Consider, "As long as it [capitalism] remains, the rebel youth, the hippies, the long haired squatters are mere parasites". This really was too much as was the absurd accompanying notion that somehow everything could become free under capitalism with comments like: "Monopoly capitalism will establish the biggest free fair known to mankind". A likely story which was put even more fancifully a little later, "As long as capitalism exists, even after work is abolished and everything is free, there will always be one class which is more exploited than the other". Well for us who were short of money (Oh, the Situtionist shame of it!) and having a real lack of purchasing power, no such perspective simply felt in the gut, could be endorsed. We blatantly knew money ruled with a vice-like grip and that reality was to slowly triumph, the more everything became subject to a commodification previously unimagined. That "piratical entrepreneur" whom the Cleggs regarded as a has-been of capital was on the cusp of making a terrifying and ghastly comeback ably assisted by yippie transmogrifying into yuppie often embracing the new technology and the stock market at one and the same time. Remember the earlier years of the Microsoft Corporation were to have a very alternative image. By then the reality had become an old, old story. The Cleggs when writing KM 6 had plenty of inherited wealth to comfort themselves with as well as owning properties in London, Sussex and a croft in north east Scotland. It seems that to be able to talk and write about freedom from monetary constraints as an immanent tendency of capital comes much easier for such people than those at the sharp end.