Here and Now magazine

Complete online archive of scanned issues of Here and Now, a UK-based situationist magazine published 1985-1994.

Here and Now magazine was formed by members and former members of the Clydeside Anarchists, and by issue 5 was joined by more members from Yorkshire.

Partly digitised by, 2015. With thanks to Spikymike for donating the publications. Partly also taken from Spirit of Revolt.

Here and Now #01

First issue of Here and Now magazine from 1985 with articles about the miners' strike, teachers and class, the situationists, the Khmer Rouge and more.

here-now-01.pdf5.59 MB

Here and Now #02

Issue of Here and Now from summer 1985 with articles about computer technology, the working class community in Clydeside, consumerism, letters, reviews and more.

here-now-02.pdf3.54 MB

Here and Now #03

Issue of Here and Now from spring 1986 with articles about life in the Eastern Bloc, Poland, the Soviet ruling class, animal liberation and more.

here-now-03.pdf4.45 MB

Here and Now #04

Issue 4 of Here and Now with articles about libertarian municipalism and more.


Letters: Riots Crossfire
The Invasion of Exchange
The Demise of the Class Object
Animal Liberation - A Loss of Clarity
Murray Bookchin's Libertarian Municipalism
West German Eco-politics
West German Politics & Chernobyl
The Age of Hyper-reality - Jean Baudrillard and Politics Today.

here-now-04.pdf3.85 MB

Here and Now #05

Issue of Here and Now, some 1987 with articles about art and fashion, new social movements, the commodity and more.


here-now-05.pdf4.76 MB

Here and Now #06

Issue of Here and now with articles about a civil service strike, Scotland, sex, Eastern Europe, right libertarianism and more.

here-now-06.pdf5.12 MB

Here and Now #7/8

A double issue of Here and Now magazine (issue 7/8) including an Eastern Europe supplement.

A compressed and cropped version of the PDF version from the Spirit of Revolt collection here.


Baudrillard at the ICA
Bedford Fenwick - The Tyranny of Normalization
Arch Stanton - Cash In Hand
Postmodernism Can Make You Go Blind
Frank Dexter - Language, Truth and Violence
Martin Walker - Policing The Truth
Ian Sampson - Sigh for Redemption

Eastern European Supplement.

cropped_Here-and-Now-7-8.compressed.pdf9.51 MB

Here and Now #09

Issue 9 of Here and Now with articles about the poll tax, Charter 88, situationist capers at the ICA and more.


Openers and Correspondence

The Tigers of Wrath (Satanic Verses Protest)
The Shroud A Fake - Official! ("New Times" and CPGB)
No Poll Tax Rebellion

We Need Solidarity Not Charter 88
Assemble And Dissemble
An Insomniac's Dream (Youth TV)

Rebellion Remodelled (Situationist event at the ICA)
To Make Shame More Shameful ("Thatcherism Goes To College")
Nothing To Lose But Their Jobs (various pamphlets about autonomous workers struggles)
Listings, Demolish Seriousness

here-now-09.pdf4.15 MB
here-now-9-p10-11.pdf3.42 MB

Here and Now #10

Issue 10 of Here and Now from 1990 with articles about Euromania, the politics of panic and more.


here-now-10.pdf8.13 MB
here-now-10-art-supp.pdf9.37 MB

The Politics of Panic: the Kedichem case - Arjen Mulder and Geert Lovink

Critcal reflection on the militant anti-fascist disruption of a 1986 meeting of far right parties in the Netherlands, which resulted in a hotel being destroyed by fire, the amputation of the leg of one of the attendees and 72 anti-fascists being arrested.

From Here & Now magazine issue 10.

Mass action has often escaped criticism in radical circles. In this story Arjen Mulder and Geert Lovink show how, despite the anti-authoritarian make-up of the participants, manipulation and passivity emerged in a crowd engaged upon an anti-fascist action.

“Immer mehr bin ich davon uberzeugt, dass
Gesinnungen aus Massenerlebnissen entstehen.
Aber sind Menschen an ihren Massenerlebnissen
schuld? Geraten sie nicht vollig ungeschutzt in sie
hinein? Wie muss einer beschaffen sein um sich
gegen sie wehren zu konnen?

Muss man imstande sein, eigene Massen zu bilden,
um gegen andere gefeit zu sein?”

Elias Canetti, Das Geheimherz der Uhr.

“More and more I am convinced that mentalities
spring from mass experiences. But are people
responsible for their mass experiences. Don ’t they
end up in them without any protection? With what
should one be equipped, to be able to protect oneself
against them?

Should one be able to form one’s own crowds to be
immune against others?”

Elias Canetti, The Secret Heart of the Clock.

During ten years of experience in organizing mass actions in the Netherlands practical knowledge has been acquired about the planning of panic, both among those against whom the action is directed and among the activists themselves. But to be able to use this panic effectively in the street, in politics and in the media there has to be a taboo about its actual existence among the activists. No matter how much panic arises during an action, people will always deny that they have been in a panic and later on only the effect of the action will be discussed openly, but never the role of panic during the action. The only situations in which it is discussed are squat-bars, chaotic action-meetings and once in a while the underground media. They will look for two things there:

1) the people who instigated the panic and
2) how it can be avoided in the future.

There will be an increasing desire for an organization of mass actions which could preclude panic. But the authoritarian consequences of this will, at least in the Netherlands, never be accepted by the activists who enjoy these actions as long as they are spontaneous, chaotic and without a rigid organisation. Such actions can lead, in the activists’ own myth about what the old mass actions were like, to the most bizarre burglaries and attacks without lapsing into terrorism.

A classic example of planned panic is the so-called Kedichem-case. On March 29th, 1986 300 anti-fascist activists disturbed a secret meeting at Kedichem, a village in the middle of Holland, where two ultra-right splinter parties made an attempt at reconciliation. The hotel where they met was destroyed by fire, a number of party members were seriously injured and 72 activists arrested. Since 1982 the ‘Centrumparty’ (CP) had held one seat in the Dutch Lower House on a programme which declared itself to be anti-fascist and anti-racist, but which made out a case for the ‘protection of the Dutch cultural values’, a modem form of racism which particularly blames foreign workers in the Netherlands for housing problems, unemployment, pollution and overcrowded roads. Since that time increasingly firm measures were being taken by activists against public assemblies of this party, while at the same time a broad anti-fascist movement developed which was internally strongly divided on the question of banning the CP and measures that should be taken against it. This movement is grounded in the anti-fascist attitude and resistance in World War II. It can be seen as the way in which a new generation reshapes the memory of the horrors of fascism, which is still at the forefront in Dutch education, media and literature. Therefore everyone in Holland is concerned in the new movement, everyone is a ‘natural’ anti-fascist.

Ten days before ‘Kedichem’ a ‘fascist’ was elected as a municipal councillor for the first time since the war in Amsterdam. The swearing in of the new councillor would take place on April 29th and discussions about its prevention were in full swing. Aside from that, on the 26th of May parliamentary elections would be held and it was of vital importance for the CP that the internal disputes, which existed since 1982, should be settled. To this end the meeting in Kedichem was summoned. The violent disturbing of the reconciliation meeting prevented the formation of a reunited ultra-right party and led to the loss of their seat in the Lower House of the Dutch Parliament.

For a considerable time there has been a tradition of research into the wheeling and dealing of ultra-right and fascist individuals and groups in Holland. In this way it was found out that the secret negotiations would be on the 29th of March, but the place was kept secret, even in CP-circles. Two days before, a meeting was held between activists in Amsterdam where it was explained to about 1 50 people the crucial importance of not only disturbing the CP-meeting, but also how to disturb it. A small group of experienced activists assumed the responsibility for the organization. There was no discussion at all about the plan of action, apart from a vague reference to the ‘Boekel-model’.

Two years before, the last convention of the CP took place in Boekel, a small town in the South of Holland. Activists from all over the country had entered into a physical confrontation with the 300 party members who were present. The ‘Boekel-model’ consisted of surrounding the conference room, demanding the fascists leave and, if they ignored this demand, ‘smoking out’ the conference room with tear gas or smoke bombs. In real terms however, there had been a great difference between on the one hand the non-violent ‘demonstrators’ who wanted to press charges against the CP in order to mobilize public opinion, and on the other hand the ‘heavy’ faction who were out for a direct confrontation and actually prepared themselves for this by taking along helmets, leather coats, clubs and smoke bombs.

Because the latter faction was the first to arrive at the secret conference room, their strategy was directly put into action: windows were smashed, tear gas was thrown in and outside there was heavy fighting between the fascist thugs, the ‘heavies’ and the newly arrived ‘demonstrators’. Afterwards there was a serious disagreement among the activists, but shortly before Kedichem this all seemed to be forgotten: it was assumed that everybody knew what the ‘Boekel-model meant, it was time to take action now, quarrels were put off until later, a typical feature in Dutch action tradition: act first, talk later.

On Saturday morning the 29th of March about 300 activists gathered at 9.00 a.m. in an old squatted hospital in Utrecht, a city in the centre of Holland. Because it was unknown where the CP-meeting would take place, this seemed to be the best location. It was known that a number of CP members would gather at the soccer stadium of Utrecht. These members were secretly followed by people on motor-bikes who regularly called up the meeting-point to pass on how many fascists were on their way and where they were going. Not until 2.30p.m. did it become clear that the fascists had gathered in the ‘Cosmopolite’ hotel in Kedichem.

During the long hours of waiting in Utrecht there hadn’t been one joint discussion about what exactly was going to happen. Only the almost magical phrase ‘the Boekel-model’ flitted through the place. “In the ocean of time and the relatively cosy atmosphere in Utrecht it was explained insufficiently and too hastily what exactly was going to happen” Marlie concludes afterwards in the autonomous weekly Bluff!

“Was it fear of confronting opinions within the group and heated discussions right before the action? Was everyone already occupied with their own fear of violence and the heavy odds of fascists we expected to meet there? Afterwards I could have kicked myself because I too only dozed around there, while in the back of my mind I had the hazy feeling that a lot of things were not completely right”. [/i]Caspar, asked about it: “In the rumours in Utrecht the fascists became more and more. And we went for more and more beer and drank it, because it all took a very long time. Our nerves went to pieces. For three hours all those people were waiting, drinking and smoking dope. And then we finally got on our way."

Among the waiting crowd in Utrecht there was already a clear distinction between those who were sublimating their fear into a worthy demonstration and the ‘heavies’ who were cultivating their anger into a frenzy for attack. The fact that the crowd didn’t interfere at all with the organization was because it appeared to be very professional. [i]“The organization had a mafa-like, secret-service style”, says Caspar. “They were driving motor-bikes throughout the country, people were tailing the fascists, everything was running smoothly, it all looked like a well-oiled machine. Everything was taken care of, you could hand it to them.” It was a comforting feeling that the power was delegated: in a subculture which doesn’t recognise an organization, the people in charge are those who take up the practical organization beforehand. In case of trouble afterwards the guilt will be pushed across to them: the crowd will always be innocent, for the crowd only the fascination of being with so many counts. Ronald: “When I went for something to eat I saw that the centre of Utrecht was swarming with people in leather jackets. It was really insane.” The certainty of belonging to a crowd gives individuals a possibility to concentrate exclusively on their own emotions.

At 2.30 p.m. it became clear that the fascists had gathered in the Cosmopolite hotel in Kedichem. Because this is a very small hotel, the motor-cyclists thought that the fascists would first gather at this place. Therefore it was decided that the activists would first meet at the station of Leerdam, a town near Kedichem. Finally the waiting crowd was allowed to move:

“We burst into a cheer when we heard the word Kedichem. I’m dancing with joy. To the vans. People are shouting. We still have to make some arrangements. Who is the mouth-piece here? Several people appoint themselves. One of them wins. He organizes a car which will drive ahead to check out the situation. He says that a couple of things are still to be arranged, such as 'entering the scanner-frequencies’. No one asks what this means. Neither do I, but I think it will be alright. Then comes a message that there are only 18 CP-members in the hotel. But we don’t really listen to this. The message isn’t very clear anyway. We’ll see when we are in Leerdam.”

At this point almost 100 vans and cars left Utrecht. In Leerdam the procession posted itself before the small station. In front was the ‘commanding-van’ of the leaders which was crammed with scanners to bug the police-radio. Around it the vans of the ‘heavies’ drew up so that they wouldn’t miss a thing. When a police car came along and the scanners indicated that more police were on their way and when a message came from Kedichem that Cosmopolite was indeed the meeting place of the CP, the cars in the front decided to leave immediately.

There had hardly been any contact between the separate vans and the geographical situation in Kedichem was unknown to everyone. Geert Burgomaster, who wrote the most controversial criticism in Bluff! (from which we also quoted the above passage): “Suddenly we had to leave. Who gave the starting signal ? That is not clear. We’ll see in Kedichem.” In the waiting crowd in Utrecht something like an anxiety for command had formed: the forced apathy of the people could only be broken by the signal that they had to leave, the command of the leaders was felt as a relief.

The road from Leerdam to Kedichem is five miles long. The touristic experience brings about the ‘we-sensation’ which belongs to such an outing of ‘the Movement’. Ronald:

“A long row of vans left for Kedichem, we made a mess of the traffic, ignored traffic lights and began to drive through the polder-landscape, a kind of caterpillar on those dykes. It was an incredibly nice route. You drove on a very narrow dyke along the river Linge, where no oncoming traffic could pass. Halfway we came across a police car which was parked on a parking lot and in which two frightened policemen were prattling in their radio-telephone. The road on which we drove wasn’t straight but winding, so that you saw the procession ahead of you and behind you all the time”.

Betsy: “It was a real caravan, a convoy”.

Coming from Leerdam the Cosmopolite hotel is situated upon the left side of the dyke, with the village of Kedichem on the right hand side. From the dyke there is a road which leads down into Kedichem. The vans in front were of course the first to arrive at the hotel, they examined the situation and parked their cars so that they would be able to leave quickly in another direction than where they came from. When they got out of their cars the vans at the back were still about a mile from the hotel. When these arrived the long procession parked along the road on the dyke and the people began to walk from there in the direction of the hotel.

The proceedings in front of the hotel took place at a terrific speed. Caspar was part of the group up front who had decided for a direct confrontation with the CP-members: “When we got out we put up our balaclavas. We saw that a lot of cars hadn't arrived yet. We all had sticks and clubs and quite a lot of adrenalin and everyone rushed towards the hotel. We waited for each other so that we would be many. We were about 40. There was a police car in front of the hotel”. Ronald: “The police car said that we had to clear the area or ’violence would be used'. We all were in laughing fits, of course: 3-400 people with clubs and helmets and only one police car.” The conservative newspaper De Telegraaf quoted a party-member:

“We hadn’t been in hotel Cosmopolite for 10 minutes when two policemen came in. 'We have some nasty information for you ’, they said, ‘about 200 thugs are on their way and we can do nothing to protect you’. The policemen left immediately and at the same moment the first bricks came in through the windows”.


"We started to shout: 'Fascists, fuck off and ‘Fascist pigs!’. Then the hotel-owner showed up and the police said: 'Let’s keep quiet ’. The owner said that they were not fascists and that we should leave them in peace, he only wanted to make some easy money. But people started to throw stones toward the owner and shouted at him that he was a fascist-collaborator and that he should piss off. The windows were smashed and all kinds of things were thrown in. The police had gone away by then, up the dyke because they couldn ’t control the situation. More and more people showed up and windows kept on rattling and there was beating with clubs on the windows. From the cafe downstairs ashtrays were thrown at us. We also heard a lot of screaming inside, those people were really frightened.”

Ronald: [i]“You couldn’t see who was inside, the curtains were drawn and the light was switched off. You only saw shadows. Then the smoke bombs went in”.

“More and more smoke came out of the front”, Caspar continues. “We didn’t have a strategy, onlv to smoke them out. So we thought let’s throw in some smoke-bombs, let me do it; but almost everyone wanted to throw in his own bomb. I think there was too much ammunition. And too much adrenalin, because we had had to wait so long, the bottled up aggression. Then one smoke bomb got stuck in the curtains, I saw that too.’’

Ronald: “If there is throwing during a riot everyone does one’s bit. The pavement went to pieces at once and also the parking lot on the side of the hotel with those handy cobble stones. One smoke bomb got stuck in the curtains. It probably was an old one which had got wet and which combusts with a flash. Suddenly the white smoke got a little darker and the flames shot out of the building.”

“When we saw that the hotel was burning we went to the back. I said to my buddy: 'Let’s look if they can get away, it’s getting quite dangerous ’. Then we saw that nobody got out, but also that it was impossible to get in, for we still wanted to beat up some fascists. We got scared when we saw that they couldn’t leave the hotel. I thought: there is water behind the hotel, they can jump in there of course, but yet . . . Later it turned out that there was another exit. I was really worried. Then I went to the other side of the hotel to see if they got away there. First I only thought: if they get away we can really give them a thrashing. But when we saw those flames coming from the first floor we thought: this isn’t going to work, those people are all going to die in there”, says Caspar.

Geert Burgomaster saw it like this:

“All the windows are smashed out. The room is full of smoke, I look inside and can only see some shadows walking in the back. But the throwing of smoke bombs doesn't stop. Enormous whoppers are thrown in. In the panic - or is it enthusiasm ? -everyone wants to get rid of his stuff. I think: this has been enough. But you are part of the stream, you have no say anymore. Your shouting fades away. And then: white smoke turns into black smoke. Suddenly there is the crackling of fire. I tear my helmet off my head, throw away my club and start to run: I don’t want to have anything to do with this.’’

Panic is always fear of murder: the murder that can be committed against you or the murder you commit yourself. The assailants behaved like a classical baiting-crowd. Canetti says about it:

“The baiting-crowd forms with reference to a quickly attainable goal. The goal is known and clearly marked, and is also near. The crowd is out for killing and it knows what it wants to kill. One important reason for the rapid growth of the baiting-crowd is that there is no risk involved. There is no risk because the crowd has immense superiority on its side”.

The waiting crowd of Utrecht was not out for killing but was preparing itself for a confrontation with shadows. How many, how strong, unknown. But when the front ranks formed themselves on the Lingedyke, they had one goal: “In the van we talked all the time about fascist thugs, whom we expected to meet there. We were all really fucked up and we wanted to hit fascists. Everyone was ‘in the mood for killing’. But there was nobody to fight with, nobody showed up" (Caspar). When they came near the hotel (and parked their cars as close to it as possible) and found out that they had a large superiority there was no restraint to prevent the group turning into a baiting-crowd. The people had concentrated on their individual fears of being beaten and on their desire to beat, but not on the collective experience which awaited them. They had protected their bodies with leather coats and helmets, but they were not protected against their own crowd. For the crowd there was no danger, it was definitely superior to its opposition. The real danger lurked in the crowd itself: as individuals they suddenly recoiled from the act which the crowd committed.

First the crowd was innocent: a white crowd. When the smoke turned black this changed: guilt spread itself among the crowd, it turned black. That guilt was the panic. The sense of being responsible for murder turned the crowd into a group of individuals whose only interest was to get away from the scene of the crime. And they succeeded in getting away, because their cars were free and within reach.

Consequently they all escaped, as individuals. Caspar:

“We wanted to save our skins, threw away our gloves and balaclavas and went back to the van, without bothering to look back at the other people. We heard a lot of sirens and the police car came again and tried to drive right into us, but then we threw bricks at the vehicle. In the car we took off our black clothes because they would attract too much attention and we switched on the radio. In this way we dashed home. Every time we came to another junction I felt more relieved, because we were incredibly anxious, at least I was, about what might have happened to those people in the building. I thought of babies who would be sleeping on the first floor of the hotel.”

And Ronald:

“Some of us were really panicking to get back to the cars, they left their clubs and helmets behind in the roadside. The dyke was strewn with them when the greater part of us had gone. We were quite relaxed when we drove back through the polder. But afterwards you had this feeling, was this alright, or was it a stupid action by a bunch of stupid people? We were convinced of the fact though, that we could have thrown in less smoke bombs.”

For the group that came behind the assailants, the demonstrators, it was all very different. Oliver:

“We had lost our way. When we arrived in Kedichem we parked the van in town and began to walk up the dyke. I was walking in the direction of the hotel. It started to smoke more and more. The nearer you came, the more smoke you saw. From a distance it was a great spectacle. But I had no idea about what was going on there. I thought it would be a kind of siege, that we would go inside and expose those CP-members. In fact we arrived too late for the action. When the flames came from all sides of the building we heard: ‘Back to the cars!’. I was still coming closer when the others were already retreating. ‘Take it easy, take it easy!’, people shouted.”


“I was halfway along the procession of cars. I had the idea that it was a demo. After a while we stopped and walked towards the hotel. Then I heard the shattering of windows and I saw smoke. But I never reached the building. Suddenly everyone began to run back: clear off! I saw a cop car driving criss-cross through it all, he didn’t know what he was doing either. When we were back at the car we first waited for the others to come. The car turned round on the small dyke, it was all very chaotic. All cars were jumbled up, you couldn’t get away. It was quite heavy, further away you saw all those clouds of smoke, quite a spectacle. I thought: you will never get away from this dyke, there were no side-roads. I found it stupid to go back, better to go straight on, but almost everybody turned their cars”.

The demonstrators who had been waiting all day were initially strongly attracted towards the fire from which the assailants were fleeing. They had not yet, as a crowd, come to a ‘discharge’: they had not yet reached that stage when each individual who belongs to the crowd feels equal to all others. When they learned that for them the party had come to an untimely end, they had to turn back, but they formed, against all common sense, into a flight-crowd for which by definition the danger comes from behind. Only as a flight-crowd could they come to that desired discharge, to experience that attractive common equality. But forming a flight-crowd was for them the only possibility to avert the panic which they were part of, but which they didn’t understand. And they had to deal with that panic (although they didn’t know anything about the possible murder):

“The incoming wave which threatened to crush the building suddenly turns back. On top of the dyke there is a jumble of vans which try to turn around. People are gesticulating wildly and shouting. Two vans bump into each other. An empty van tells two escapees to find their own van: you don't belong here. Meanwhile some of the townsfolk stop being just onlookers: they head towards us. Some of us get heavy blows but no one does anything: it is every man for himself now"

(Geert Burgomaster).

Not only panic determined the behaviour of the fleeing demonstrators, but also their sense of not being guilty. Oliver: “Our car didn’t start, on top of it all. We tried to push start it. Meanwhile we were harassed by locals who were holding their lighters near our gas tanks. They said: ‘What have you done! You set the place on fire!' When actually we were the last to arrive there. It was only a wild guess on their part that we did it.” The fact that the flight-crowd didn’t feel responsible for the fire for which they fled, proved to be fatal: it resulted in the return of the apathy which characterised the waiting crowd of Utrecht.

After the chaotic reversing the procession drove back to Leerdam. But: “After a while a cop car came which posted itself right across the road, we all had to stop. Nobody knew what was happening. There were a lot of cars ahead of us. Then we got out of the cars. We were standing there for more than an hour, we were shut in at the front and the back. If you wanted you could still get away through the grassland, but I thought: we are in the middle of nowhere anyway." (Betsy).

All people from the cars were arrested and transported to Leerdam in a police wagon. There was no resistance. One person who hid himself in the reeds along the river until 9.00 p.m. managed to escape by joining a group of Turkish boys who were playing soccer on the dyke. All the others who managed to reach the Leerdam station were arrested on the directions of the locals from Kedichem. Oliver was already arrested in Kedichem itself: “We were running behind the car we were pushing. At the moment that the cops were two metres behind us the engine started. We got busted and another one of us was caught by the locals who couldn't keep out of it. It was funny: the car drove away and we were the first to be caught.” The police car in which the three handcuffed detainees were kept blocked the road when the fire department came. The car had to be pushed to the roadside which delayed the fire engine for a couple of minutes. When they arrived at the was already in a blaze. Over the police radio the detainees heard that the leg of a woman had to be amputated. They didn’t hear who the woman was.

The CP-Member of Parliament Janmaat, who arranged the meeting, told De Telegraaf about the leg:

“I fled with my secretary, Mrs Corselius-Schuurman, and some other people upstairs. From the window we could see the flames and the other people getting out 5 metres below us. Within three minutes everything was on fire, including the stairs. We tied sheets together. I was the first to climb down, to test it out. The sheets were too short, I had to jump. My secretary came after me. But hanging on those sheets she swung right through a big window and she crashed to the ground. She was bleeding terribly, I tried to help her, but later her leg had to be amputated. Horrible, a disaster. In this same suit, which is full of bloodstains, I will ask questions in the Lower Chamber: why were our people not protected against this rabble?”

For those who were arrested, of whom the majority would be detained for 4 days and eventually only a few would be sentenced to three months imprisonment, it was impossible to keep their clothes: after they had thrown away their helmets and caps, the police in Leerdam took all their other clothes for laboratory investigation into gasoline-traces. Oliver wouldn’t even get his clothes back, ten days later he ended up in the street in his underpants.

The group of assailants returned unharmed to their home base: “We drove back with the group to a squat-bar. We didn ’t see any cops and we ran out of beer too. Back in the bar we learned that no one had been killed, that one woman was injured and we had a good laugh about it. We also heard about the 72 arrests and we found that really shitty.” (Caspar). The assailants soon got over their panic when they were home: the murder had not been committed against people, but against a leg. They expressed their relief in a wave of laughter. Ronald, who went back to another bar: “We watched the 6 o’clock news and only then heard about the arrests and some seriously injured people. This really chilled the party. Anyway, you can talk about if this was or was not a very clever action, but it really is a kick to see a hotel burn down”.

At the same time a press release came from the organizers who called themselves ‘Radical Anti-Fascists’ (RAF) for the occasion. The phrase in this press release that “The events in Kedichem could be repeated" was immediately connected by everyone to ‘The Leg’. The interpretation was that they would not shrink back from making new serious casualties in their fight against fascism. The shocking implication of this statement was that the organizers did not shrink back from admitting ‘murder’ and thus indicated that the panic was planned and that when the majority of the activists, once they were at home, exerted themselves to eliminate the panic of the action in themselves by discussing the effect and the strategy. Ronald went directly into politics: first by organizing lawyers for the people who had been arrested, and one day later in a press group which was formed “Because nobody liked the sound of the RAF press release. After that release we didn’t see anyone of the leading organizers again. We tried to make the most of a hopeless situation”.

The first goal of the press group was to distract attention from The Leg, which was leading its own life in the media.

“A news programme on T. V. had an interview with the bitch, lying in bed, without her leg. And that hotel
owner also behaved like a madman. Our aim was to explain that it hadn’t been our intention that a leg had to be amputated. Besides we wanted to bring forth our own arguments why we did it and subtly incorporate our criticism of how things went.”

They also made a press release, signed with “The activists of March the 29th” which said: “We literally smoked out the fascists. That the Cosmopolite hotel went up in flames was not our intention. We regret if any non-fascists were injured”. In this way the kick and the panic was written out of the Kedichem story. While the story for the big media was stripped of panic, the underground media explicitly pointed out the culprit of the panic. It was quickly found because the RAF itself had already claimed that they had included the panic in their planning beforehand.

In Bluff! Geert Burgomaster wrote about the spokesman of the RAF: “I think he is an incredible bastard. But I don ’t think he’s the only one who is guilty. After all we are all responsible”. And he goes on about the RAF: “It is a very small group of people who decide that Holland is ready for terrorist actions, but they are too spineless to do it themselves”. And he concludes: “We have much more important things to think about. We shall have to learn to discuss and organize things together, otherwise the future movement will be ruled by ingenious madmen once again”.

In the analysis Geert B. makes about the relation between the individual and the crowd, the individual is not to be blamed for the actions of the crowd. He sees the crowds of Utrecht and Kedichem as victims of those who know how crowds react and how to direct them. In order to exclude these evil leaders he suggests to form an ‘own’, ‘good’ crowd which will be able, through discussion and democracy, to withstand the devious leaders. The fear of violent anti-fascist actions and the suppression of panic is a result of the fact that an anti-fascist mass movement in Holland basically includes the whole Dutch population. Even the CP admits this. Their comment on Kedichem was: “They didn’t serve the anti-fascist committees well, for there are a lot of good people in these committees”.

Anyway, Geert B’s characterisation “ingenious madmen” also, shows respect for these leaders. But he doesn’t ask the question why the crowd of Utrecht delegated power to them. Why did they let themselves be enticed into apathy ? And why did the group of assailants let themselves be worked up to such an extent that they were prepared to kill ? Geert B. circumvents this question by talking directly about “the perspective of the movement”, since he is not able to conjure up his ‘own’ crowd in other than vague terms, he doesn’t do anything else but to make the panic a taboo once again.

The very fact that the activists in Kedichem got into panic, proves that they were no fascist horde themselves. There is no panic in fascism. Fascist thugs or bureaucrats never shrink back from murder. The planning of the panic by the leaders was prompted by the assessment that it would enable them to get away quickly. This could gain them the reproach that they have a terrorist tendency, something Geert B. actually reproaches them for. But terrorists do not need a crowd to be able to operate. The only thing the organizers can be reproached for is that they had knowledge about what crowds actually are and how they function, and that they knew how to use this knowledge. All those who, with or without secret amusement, disassociated themselves from the RAF and by doing so stuck to their own myth of mass actions as a spontaneous and chaotic event within an unorganized structure, denied themselves access to this knowledge. They will end up “without any protection” in the next mass experience.

With what should one be equipped, to be able to protect oneself against mass experiences and to cope with them? The refusal of Dutch activists to think about their own mass experiences and the tabooing of panic makes it impossible to find an answer to this question.

Knowledge of books with cunning theories is not necessary, only a thorough digestion of the experiences of the dozens of actions a la Kedichem would be enough.

Afterwards the sons of the owner of hotel Cosmopolite said to a newspaper:

"Two years ago we also had a fire in our home furnishing shop in Leerdam. By now it has almost been rebuilt. We have almost finished the job. We thought we could quieten down a little. But now we have this fire in Kedichem again. It was an unexpected blow. For me and my brother it only means a material damage of about a hundred thousand dollars. But for our father it goes much deeper. He feels it as an attack on his life”.

This attack happened during Easter weekend, on the 29th of March 1986, but the movement in the Kedichem case came to a standstill two months later:

“The 62 year old owner Mr. In den Eng bought, according to the police, a second-hand mechanical shovel to take up the demolition of the hotel Cosmopolite himself. Earlier the facade of the building was pulled down by the local authorities for fear that it would collapse. On this Saturday the owner wanted to remove the remains of his hotel on his own. Because the shovel didn't want to start he had placed a battery on a pair of steps between the right front and rear wheels. He had to connect the battery with wires to the starter inside the machine. As soon as the connection was made the heavy machine unexpectedly set itself in motion. Mr. In den Eng, whose way out was blocked by the pair of steps, couldn 't get away and was run over in full length. He died on the spot. The machine crossed the dyke, sweeping away a crush barrier, piercing an iron bar through a window at the other side of the dyke, and, thanks to a security system in the shovel, came to a standstill”.

The only thing the organisers can be reproached for is that they had knowledge about what crowds actually are and how they function, and that they knew how to use this knowledge.

Here and Now #11

Issue 11 of Here and Now, with articles about professionalism, health, social work, culture and more.

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Here and Now #12

Issue of Here and Now from 1992 with articles about serial killers, economic reason, managerialism and more.


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Here and Now #13

Issue 13 of Here and Now with articles about the NHS, serial killers, Fordism, reviews and more.


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Review: Revolution as Merchandise - "Unfinished Business-The Politics of Class War" - a British road to Anarchism

A review by "Nat Turner" of Class War's book Unfinished Business from Here & Now issue 13 (1992).

The review covers autonomist currents in London in the early 80s as well as a discussion of "identity politics".

"The Class War Federation is not another party seeking to gain power or a new way of telling you what to do. Class war is what happens when ordinary people have had enough of being pushed around and decide to fight back,"

So starts Unfinished Business, the book produced by Class War as a definitive statement of their politics following their stocking filler, Class War: A Decade of Disorder. This statement of populism is followed by a list of “working class” resistance in Britain, ranging from the 1381 peasants revolt up to the poll tax and prison revolts of 1990. Finally there is a call for the destruction of wage labour, capitalism and the state rounded off with a denunciation of middle class intellectuals of the Left and Right.

Whereas Left wing populism has rooted itself in admiration for the old 'Soviet Union', and the Right has cultivated a nostalgia for Nazi Germany, Class War centre their populism on a British sense of identity. Rather than relying on an imported ideology (which always gives the intellectuals undue predominance) they are trying to rekindle a radical ordinariness drawing on a sense of working class identity rather than on formulae for saving the world. Very nineties.

In the revolts of the sixties and early seventies, the very process of struggle opened up a series of problems which have shattered the universalism of eurocentric socialism. The radical subjectivity of Black Power, the Women's Liberation Movement and the Gay Liberation Front erupted through the workerist gloss which dominated all discussion of Revolution. Of course, this lead to a counter-offensive by the state and its cultural organs — universities offered courses in Women's Studies, Black Studies, the New Left then participated in the promulgation of insidious “identity politics” — a veritable perestroika of the political subject manifest both at the level of the introduction of professional advertising to political campaigning and the organisation of radical conferences. Increased individualisation is shown in both areas — the advertisers with their careful analysis of the voting population based on analysis of consumption patterns developed for target adverts at distinct segments of the population. and amongst radicals a recognition of distinct interests within an increasingly fragmented opposition.

This was directed by the state’s cultural organs. Television viewing was fragmented with an increasing variety of channels. The local state funded a variety of community groups stressing ethnicity. The Greater London Council offered sine¬cures particularly from the Women's Committee to ensure that welt paid middle class women dominated the discussion about gender. Meanwhile Gay capitalists from the Pink Economy increasingly dominated such events as Gay Pride.

In the eighties the Leftist sects lost a lot of ground. Key cadres left, sometimes taking leftists business with them (e.g. Pluto books cut its links with the Socialist Workers Party and published a book about Princess Diana), others preferred a state sinecure to unpaid party work. Despite the "Beyond the Fragments" conference and the Debate of the Decade at the end of the seventies, the left has been unable to contain the disparate interests. This should come as no surprise as within its ranks are those who have been championing identity politics, using all manner of post-modern theorisation to bamboozle the casual reader with a list of continental writers who can only be read in the original foreign.

It was in this context that the proletarian fundamentalism of British autonomism emerged in distinction from the Left. From the mid-seventies a boisterous anarchist fringe used to gather at the tail end of demonstrations using bad language and such slogans as "Two, Four, Six, Eight, Masturbate and drown the state!” Not content with ideological positions drawn from Kronstadt and the Spanish Revolution, we saw it as essential to see the Left as counter-revolutionary in the here and now. This meant confrontation with the Left.


Unfinished Business is peppered with quotes from Eclipse and Re-emergence of the Communist Movement by Jean Barrot and Francois Martin. This book, published in 1974 by Black and Red, became a source book. It offered a critique that was rooted in a close reading of Marx, it offered a Marx uncontaminated by Lenin or Trotsky:

"Communism is not a program one puts into practice or makes others put into practice, but a social movement"

This book also gave a theoretical basis to a rejection of democracy and anti-fascism.

After the battle of Lewisham in 1977, where a demonstration against the National Front led to riotous assaults on the police, the Anti Nazi League was set up. Those of us who had seen the Left in action that day knew exactly what they were up to. At Lewisham they had called on people to stop fighting the police with crap like the police are not the real enemy, and we should not alienate (middle class) support. For many Black youth it was a good opportunity to strike back at a form of organised thuggery much more significant than the Hitler groupies. The Anti Nazi League wanted to control opposition to the Nazis and funnel this opposition into voting Labour ('without illusions' in the case of the SWP). The autonomist wing emerging from anarchism saw clearly that the Left was the first line of defence of the state and had to be treated as such.

Things came to head when the Anti Nazi League staged a meeting in Friends Meeting House featuring a French 'anti-racist' cop, and the Mayor of Bologna (in fact only his deputy turned up). Tony Benn was also there. He had been active in developing links with the Italian Communist Party during the period of the Historic Compromise between the Italian CP and the Christian Democrats. This was a declaration of war, in that the Mayor of Bologna had called out tanks to attack workers and students on the streets of Bologna.

A contingent of forty occupied a corner at the hall, to the dismay of the stewards. Malicious rumours were circulated about the autonomists being fascists — an old technique favoured by the CP during the Spanish civil war. The meeting was heckled, but when four women went to the toilet (in a group for protection) they were physically attacked by some leftist men. Word got through to the body of autonomists still in the hall, who then joined the fracas In the corridor. Having thus been manipulated out of the hall the leftists made a desultory attempt to attack us. There were fights in the street later that night.

From then the spirit of confrontation with left continued. The annual CND rally always offered a good occasion. Sometimes we would take the head of the march, we would never go where political groups were meant to be. The CND was simply a leftist front building up electoral support for the Labour Party as the ANL was used before. We knew that the Labour leader Clement Attlee sanctioned the dropping of nuclear weapons on Japan in 1945 and at each rally we wanted to attack the current Labour leader, who then had to be protected by the police. At other meetings such leftist politicians as former energy minister Tony Benn came under attack, This hypocritical scumbag who was personally involved in importing Namibian Uranium called us a product of Thatcherism.

This was the background for the emergence of Class War. As the autonomist wing of anarchism sharpened its attack on the Left, more traditional wings of anarchism did not know what to do, They found that their ideological grip was being weakened over the influx of post-punk youth. Sometimes they joined in the fascist smears organised by the media and the left, sometimes they treated [us?] as irrelevant councilists. However faced with the increasing irrelevance of syndicalism particularly amongst unemployed youth who had no great desire to become industrial workers, they tried to go with the flow. But they always kept most of their ideological baggage even if it was kept for Sunday best. Class War however developed through a process of innovation — taking up Lucy Parsons’ slogans to hold the Rich personally responsible:

“Now is the time for every dirty lousy tramp to arm himself with a revolver or a knife and lie in wait outside the palaces of the rich and shoot or stab them to death as they come out.”

This was rhetorical and no rich people were assassinated.

This first phase of Class War reached a crunch in the crisis of autumn 1985. First off there was a riot in Handsworth, Birmingham. When Douglas Hurd, the current Home secretary visited the area next day he was attacked and had to scurry away. A week later Brixton erupted in riots after the police had bust into a Black woman's house and shot her in the back (she has not walked since). Class War produced its next issue with a Black man carrying a petrol bomb with the slogan "The Working Class Strikes Back". This was a challenge to identity politics echoed by the Tory election poster in 1987 picturing a Black Person — 'Labour say he's Black, We say he's British'. The paper appeared on News at Ten. The media were ready to set Class War up, with the Guardian publishing lies that Class War was sat up by former leading NF-ers. Plans to organise a march in Brixton the next weekend were sabotaged by the Left. The state was scared that a new wave of riots would spread the country as in 1981.

Then a week later still, the cops barged their way into another Black family’s house and pushed a woman to the ground. She died, The Broadwater Farm Estate, Tottenham became the scene of one of the most important uprisings. Guns were used on the police, and a police officer was stabbed to death. This created an ideological necessity for the police. Their day to day operations are based on maintaining a myth of police invulnerability. In the sixties when Harry Roberts killed to policemen a national hunt was mounted tor him with his face spread over the front of the newspapers for several weeks. He was eventually cornered camping in a wood. Here again the police had to reassert themselves with a campaign of terror on Broadwater Farm which exceeded anything they did against the miners during the previous miners’ strike.

The police stole people's clothes ('for analysis') and prevented Giro cheques reaching those on benefit. Children were kidnapped and kept incommunicado, their parents not knowing where they were. The truth was that despite the rhetoric Class War could not deal with the new state offensive. Suddenly the state was going to take everything a lot more seriously. Having kicked its way into the headlines, Class War discovered its position was exposed.

“A revolutionary organisation is like a bank.”

It is from this point that Class War became succeeded by the Class War Federation, a retreat. Unfinished Business represents a summation of that retreat. Under the guise of fostering a positive working class identity they attempt to resolve a problem -the destruction of the original English culture and identity- and its recreation in the late nineteenth century around the Royal family. This is seen at the heart of the British nationalism. Their book is careful to avoid dealing with the changes being wrought by the development of the European Community, in particular that a unified Germany must seek a disunited Kingdom if it is to succeed in uniting Europe as a continental empire. It is this which underlies the growth of Scottish nationalism, and such things as the readiness of the government to ban the Ulster Defence Association and the normalisation of Northern Ireland. Class War simply see this as increasing 'resistance from within'. Class war put forward the view that while racism and sexism are used to divide the working class, "Other People's Nationalism" is equated with identity... and they do not want to limit or deny this.

In the appendix, there is evidence of some contusion in the section about Ireland. They 'quote' themselves from Chapter 1, — but as it happens this paragraph is not in Chapter 1. Perhaps it was edited out of the main text. They say:

“What we must understand is that in the face of often brutal oppression nationalism gives working people something. This ‘something’ is identity, pride, a feeling of community and solidarity and of course physical self defence. We need to combat capitalism and its nationalism with something as strong i.e. with our identity, pride, community, solidarity, history, culture and inspiration of the international working class's. To achieve this effectively will require courage, imagination and determination. To challenge nationalist ideas means doing more than saying they are bad, we must prove that fighting for our class is better than fighting for a country."

This occurs in the middle of a muddled apology for Republicanism. CW suggest that:

“The situation is similar to what we expect to find in a revolutionary situation in Britain and elsewhere, a shifting set of political, military and social alliances.”

In fact the situation is as far from being revolutionary as Yugoslavia or the Lebanon. What is remarkable is that Ireland has shown a maturity of class struggle despite loyalism and republicanism. E.g. during the seamen's strike Belfast seamen occupied the ferries and were only removed when cops with machine guns turned up.

Republicanism is as 'revolutionary' as social democracy was in Europe during the forties when it organised underground armed cells to fight the Nazis/German occupation forces - i.e. not revolutionary at all. A willingness to use violence is a poor guide to political soundness. In Britain an illusion has been fostered of an effete middle-class preventing a 'virile' working class from expressing itself. From this the question of violence has been tied to the assertion of masculinity. This is of course bollocks as regards revolutionary strategy. O.K., organisations like the British National Party offer white working class male youth the opportunity to 'be real men' and this is symptomatic of the self-contempt which this society induces in working class boys. But whether such youth are manipulated to defending 'their' country, or defending their 'class', neither is revolutionary.

What is needed is to overcome the self-contempt which means unravelling the mish-mash of conditioning and breaking free of identity politics. Identity politics appeared from women-identified women, Black and Gay identities. It [is] based on a liberal pluralism which offers alternatives. But these alternatives turn into ghettos, with an implicit demand for the re-assertion of white, male, heterosexual identities. This has been the outcome of twenty years of reaction. Such newspapers as The Sunday Times can popularise an attack on Political Correctness, and this is readily picked up by so-called revolutionaries. This is not a call for a return to navel-gazing consciousness raising, but a call to action e.g. actually dealing with gender issues instead of talking about them.

CW's reactionary views on class are most adequately illustrated when they talk about two Irish working classes, one catholic and one protestant. When this is compared with the anti-religious actions performed by anarchists during the Spanish revolution, which are held up as a model for dealing with religion, it is obvious that Class War are just taking the piss. In a largely secular society like England it is easy to slag off religion. It is a different story in Ireland (where presumably they haven't lost their original culture or identity). People there are killed for their religion — which is not so much the pious piece of interior consciousness as it is presented in English society — but a social fact around which identity is organised. As Class War are only interested in Brits and not 'Other People', this is an irrelevancy. Faced with an earthquake in terms of national identity stemming from European integration Class War have produced an ideology of class around an unstated nationalism. Thus in Heavy Stuff 5 in an article they say:

"If a united Europe is inevitable, it at least offers the potential to develop a European working class with a genuine internationalist outlook… More than ever the struggles of other workers within Europe really will be our struggles." (page 6).

So presumably the struggles of workers outside this new superstate will remain secondary and unimportant. Thus despite all their calls to set the agenda they still tail end the state, only this time a Euro-state instead of a Brit-state.

Communities of Resistance

At the end of September, CW organised the Communities of Resistance Rally in that familiar venue, the Friends' Meeting House. From the chair they made it clear that they did not want an ideological debate but wanted to concentrate on practical struggles. This fitted in with their general policy of exercising hegemony over the other various anarchist movements. Having abandoned a central ideological structure they have been able to link up with activists involved in a range of spark off points where riots and the like have erupted across Britain. Much to their chagrin the other Anarchist groups are obliged by their ideology to turn up, but have little say. As the guiding hand behind the rally, CW can take the credit for any ideas that come up and work, and also distance themselves from less successful ideas.

It was certainly useful to hear people talk about the struggles they were involved in up and down the country. And the calls for less thought and more action are certainly worth consideration. The speeches from chair however reflected a shift from sociology to business studies. There was less talk about getting across to those alleged 'ordinary people', and more about 'product'. For a moment lulled into sleep by the dull melody of the speaker’s voice I drifted into a reverie—I was at a quality circle meeting with some low grade manager giving us a pep talk about how we must work harder. The illusion was shattered by a burst of applause and as I regained consciousness it was the exceedingly long beard of the man across the room which reminded me of where I was…

Nat Turner

Here and now #14

Issue of Here and Now from 1993 with articles about reality TV, anti-fascism, race and space, ecstasy, an exclusive interview with Satan and more.


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The Hidden Injuries of Theory - Tom Jennings

Tom Jennings talks about the real contradictions in Class War and questions whether revolutionary theorising doesn't disguise more particular interests behind its all-embracing eloquence.

Despite readers' criticisms and editorial self-doubts, Here and Now is steering a fruitful path between academicism and the risks of self-marginalisation and ritualistic ultra-leftism. Assessing the power of middle class ideology (eg managerialism, professionalism, bureaucracy) is long overdue, given that middle class groups and agendas are instrumental in making quite fundamental decisions in the running of capitalism and the disposition of State resources; control of resources and personal ownership of capital no longer necessarily correspond; and when the course of so much of our day to day experience follows directions moulded by scientific and professional power.

A close attention to the complexities of new middle class discourses and practices, in terms of their effects in real life situations, could begin to answer some of the desperation and plaintive demands of older generations of radicals, such as ex-Solidarity member Andy Anderson,1 without mistakenly expecting answers from specific theoretical currents.

The role of theory itself in radical politics (ie as employed by professional revolutionaries') should also be questioned, given that one of the libertarian left's most conspicuous failings must be its inability to talk about modern Western class structures without, falling foul of vulgar marxist fantasies of class struggle.

The kind of pitifully inadequate formulation which has 'capitalism' exploiting either: industrial workers; or, everyone who is waged; lingers on even in more dynamic recent movements such as Class War. Ironically, this may partly be a result of giving a privileged position to theory itself - felt as a necessity, having value prior to its use or any relation to practice. This parallels the structure and effectivity of middle class discourses in general, which also create realities (in the sense of shared frameworks for expression, communication and action) with considerable potential and actual force in the world, but which take little account of their effects - except those given high status within the discourse. Perhaps the traditions of classical anarchism and syndicalism, and of postwar left communism (eg councilism, situationism, autonomism) can now function only by reproducing the tensions always inherent in marxism - relating to the desire for a theory of total and conclusive causes and explanations. When undermined, the arrogance of this desire is unveiled for what it is, and so are its links with other imperialising middle class discourses. Remember, it is only 'theoretical' ground that is lost, and in terms of revolutionary politics this is a traumatic prospect mainly for those who stand primarily on theoretical ground2.

A humility of theory, on the other hand, may allow more critical practices to emerge that guard against individual moral idealism as well as ridiculing those with totalising ambitions - perhaps appropriate for a postmodern context where radical hope lies more in alliances of local practical struggles, campaigns for self-determination and expressions of class anger. Rather than fantasies of a unified world proletariat, such a politics may pay more regard to differences among the poor and oppressed, and the consequent diversity of our potential - and working towards even more effective meshings than could be achieved, for example, in the Poll Tax Rebellion or the LA uprising. In the meantime, the following (fairly mundane) examples from the last issue of Here and Now show some of the consequences of prioritising the demands of theory when conducting political analysis.

Funny Business: the Interpreting of Class War

If the above analogy – between professional, managerial and other middle class discourses and revolutionary doctrines – is not completely spurious (or mischievous), an unexpected effect of analysing them properly might be that some hitherto radical perspectives may lose some of their allure, when, for example, a class-specific disgust and hatred lurking under the purity of revolutionary rhetoric is exposed. In mapping the development in Britain of the “autonomous wing of anarchism” (‘Revolution as merchandise’, Here & Now 13, p35-37), Nat Turner gives a timely reminder of the Left’s shortcomings. More to the point here is that special kind of contempt reserved by some radicals for any sign of human weaknesses – such as pleasure gained in and through aspects of the present evil set-up, or maybe thinking that the implications of a given situation may be, perhaps, ambiguous (just a little?). Oh no – that’s reformist, even downright reactionary! Sacred theory must be protected at all costs, even if that means losing any connection to the real world. If there’s joy or anger – it should be a consequence of theoretical analysis and the righteousness, and self-righteousness, that goes with it, rather than arising from our sensual engagement with the world and its attendant frustrations.

The sheer puritanical zeal of this kind of revolutionary politics runs counter to all of the irreverence, conviviality and passion – seedbeds of solidarity and direct action – that characterise so much of the diversity of lower class cultures across the world and throughout history. Strange, then, to hear this evangelism called, in the British context, “proletarian fundamentalism” (Turner, p35) – meaning, presumably, proletarian in the sense of being on the ‘side’ of the theoretical proletariat conceptualised by Marx. Of course, awareness of these theories is utterly absent from working class communities, whereas some of the down to earth attitudes of Class War, for some reason, are familiar to many thousands of working class people.

So, Nat Turner’s discussion of Class War’s Unfinished Business pinpoints serious weaknesses in the book, especially its inability to deal with CW’s own historical, geographical and social specificity. However, to write off their views on class as ‘reactionary’, refusal of middle class leftist political correctness (including the “proletarian fundamentalist” varieties) as “macho”, and the robust populism as merely “marketing”, completely misunderstands the wide, complex appeal of the Class War paper and the diversity of its supporters and members. CW do spend a lot of time sneering at the middle classes, but their explicit politics defines the bulk of the middle classes as part of the working class (waged work/subject to extraction of surplus value) whilst many members and supporters would not count as working class at all according to such criteria (e.g. underclass or new middle class). Worse, such fundamental questions are hardly addressed within the organisation. Many members are confused or have little consciousness of these issues, yet those who write CW’s ‘theory’, draw up ‘business plans’ and develop ‘rigorous approaches’ react hysterically to comradely debate from CW supporters, presenting their artificially unified opinions as “the Politics of Class War”.

Nevertheless, a fairly straightforward exposition of classic anarchism, from a modem working class perspective, ends up in a glossy paperback stocked by High Street bookshops, regularly selling out (good pun, eh?). It passes itself off as ‘The Politics of Class War’, but it’s really the dogmas of a few bores and loudmouths in CW who shout over, wear down and tire out a more independent, realistic, down to earth and politically naive membership. The theoretical confusion and political redundancy of Unfinished Business described by Nat Turner lies in its resort to classic anarchist and left communist theory, whereas the potential of the CW phenomenon resulted from bypassing such straightjackets. The view of class in the book is only reactionary if its gender, race and cultural bias is generalised to apply universally, having already been tied to archaic marxist economics. I prefer to interpret this as the effort on the part of some in CW to establish themselves as leading cadres, via their grasp, use and control of these particular theories – illustrating the role and principles of operation of middle class discourses in general.

The whole episode says little about the CW rank and file except that they were unable to prevent such manoeuverings, now that the organisation is a revolutionary organisation along classic anarchist lines. It’s a far cry from the mould-breaking tabloid swagger that spoke to many of our feelings, and went down a treat with working class people across the country – helped by the rudimentary politics and refreshing lack of refined theoretical sensitivities. The CW project began by mobilising working class identity and pride, drawing on richly varied traditions from working class cultures to describe patterns of resistance that are and will be equally diverse. But to suit the needs of CW’s theorists, this is transformed into a call for working class cultural unity. Of course such unity couldn’t happen without the obliteration of differences – unfortunately CW members seem wholly unaware of the implications of this shift in perspective – they’ aren’t even sure what they mean by ‘working class’ at all, let alone a (singular) ‘international working class’. They don’t really want to have to think about it either.

Middle class politics is forced to attack the directness and vulgarity of working class behaviour and attitudes, because these are the dimensions of collective action most resistant to guidance, control or harnessing – the functions middle class discourses best serve. CW’s treatment of ‘working class violence’ reflects their debunking of the mainstream political discourses of criminality and social cohesion. When the category of violence is complicated by questions of direct bodily engagement as opposed to rationalised detachment, then it has little to do with working class “virility” being hampered by the “effete middle class” (Turner, p37).

Middle class individuals can, of course, be as violent as anyone else, though associated meanings will usually be gathered into discourses such as legalism, rights or nationalism. The point is that these ideological underpinnings have to play down effects of social class, in order to be coherent – middle class knowledge and action, whether via State institutions or, less concretely, in scientific, theoretical or ‘common sense’ understanding. The point is that although working class people can ‘operate’ middle class discourses – if less readily and seamlessly – the institutional practices and material inertia associated with them can still exert their power in the world, and still need to be exposed – as Here and Now is trying to do from one set of perspectives, and as Class War also helped to do from an entirely different starting point. Class identity, like any other aspects of identity, is fragmentary. It is the structure and effectivity of a discourse that concerns us in the first instance, not the ‘essence’ of those individuals momentarily mohilised by it. Yet, of course, ideas are not, in themselves, important – only their capacity to enlist, mobilise and animate strategic groups of people, in deploying specific material resources.

The failure to grasp any of the implications of this is evident in the idea that “action … instead of talking” (e.g. about gender issues; Turner, p37) has any relevance to politics (revolutionary or not); or that identity politics should stick to “unravelling the mish-mash of conditioning” (ibid). That hoary old dichotomy of mind-language versus body, elaborated into identity via ‘learning’, may fit postwar far-left theory, but should otherwise be relinquished as the anachronism it has been since the sixties. “A willingness to use violence” may be “a poor guide to political soundness” (Turner p37, my emphasis), but we know that self defence is no offence – and to revolutionaries, ‘offence’ should be no offence either. Liberal pluralist identity politics, and its tactic of political soundness – sorry correctness – refer to the lifestyle choices of those whose institutional positions allow them to disavow the world’s unpleasantnesses, while the structures they serve do the same old business. It’s not a case of gratuitously hating middle class people, but the need to be clear about the dominance of certain types of discourse (which, more often than not, coincide with middle class positions).

Similarly, CW’s honest sense of rootedness in specific British working class cultural environments doesn’t have to lead to nationalism, or be denied with illusions of universality – even if CW’s ideologists don’t understand this (proved by their discussions of Ireland and Europe in Unfinished Business). In general the Class War newspaper had considerable propagandising potential, which it was able to fulfil for several years without needing to appeal to or engage with the agendas, priorities and sensitivities of its near neighbours in far-left politics3.

These and other political interests respond by resurrecting the kind of smears4 aimed in the past at Bakunin and Sorel, among others – expressing an intense fear of collective explosions of unrest – in particular that these may evade the grasp of the political cadres, and, more pertinently here, reveal the bankruptcy of theory. Many people would be relieved to see the end of Class War, not least because its success threatens to undermine all sorts of “proletarian” pretensions5. However, a combination of the effects of CW’s own ‘theorists’ (lending contingent support to equations of populism with demagogic orchestration of hate), plus the surprisingly intense levels of enmity and contempt from other revolutionaries for its rashness and vulgarity, have helped to stifle CW’s progress.

Dream Off

This contempt is open in Blob's 'Hot Time on Desolation Row' {Here and New 13, p7) - an otherwise valuable and incisive summary of recent patterns of British rioting, most successful when based on information from local contacts as opposed to playing guessing games with the inaccuracies of media coverage. But the arrogance referred to above about the theory and politics of class struggle lead to Blob's comments (p26) about Amber Films' production of 'Dream On', commissioned and shot on the Meadow Well estate in North Shields long before the riots there.The account given of the film's development, production and reception is in most respects falsified (bad guesswork?), apparently so as to preclude any analysis of events other than the predictable left communist rant. It seems most appropriate to interpret this as reflecting the submission to theory which has displaced commonality of experience and motivation as the grounds political engagement among many revolutionaries.

Class War's review of the film (issue 53, pi 5) did not refer to any of the so-called theory of Unfinished Business. It was simply one CW member's immediate and emotional response to the film. Though rather naive about the film's producers, this was refreshingly free of the pretentious, alienating garbage dragged in by many radicals' when they wish to sneer at ordinary folks enjoying something so blatantly commodified (and admitting it is almost beyond the pale!). Unsurprisingly, the sneering is rationalised as ideological correctness. So we learn from Blob that Class War have no critique of art', causing the reviewer (and the editors and entire membership?) to misunderstand the film. Apparently, not only should a film review be scrutinised for its adherence to doctrine, but film viewers are supposed to interrogate the motives of its producers before deciding on whether to laugh at the jokes, empathise with characters or be engaged by the narrative. I'd like to see Blob trying to convince 'Dream On's large and enthusiastic audiences (huge in the NE) of this - because the film did not 'bomb' at all. Being a Channel 4 TV production, only modest debts were incurred in printing the film for the cinema - to be repaid when foreign TV rights etc come in.

This may be thought too trivial to mention - it's only a film - a media product made and sold, like any other, according to various institutional and market constraints. So, why does Blob go to such trouble to trash it? Class War s reviewer liked the film partly because it portrayed its chosen aspect of working class culture accurately, plus it hinted that positive responses to anti-social behaviour and suffering could be autonomously generated through community links. There was no sign of any middle class characters or discourses within the narrative (pretty unusual eh?), although passion, fantasy and empathy among the characters were prominent. The screenplay was based on the experiences of women residents of the Meadow Well estate in a writing group in the mid-80s. Their book6 ends with a copy of a letter to Thatcher, including the words, "We're amazed you haven 't been assassinated yet," plus the polite reply from a Downing Street minion, ending, "...your comments have been carefully noted!' These women had no illusions about the significance or likely effects of their activities, and were unlikely to be 'recuperated' in any sense. Maybe CW and I lack a critique of literature' too!

The writing group was self-originated, but only developed the way it did because of the recuperative efforts of various hinders and professionals. For example, the interests of the group's co-ordinator - as writer, community worker and Amber Films partner - require a certain intensity of working class suffering and a supposed inability for this to be expressed positively (let alone in 'art' or worthy culture) without the ministrations of middle class culture entrepreneurs. However, the pivotal role in the film narrative - the 'wise woman' character - is clearly based on the co-ordinator. This identity is mystified in the narrative as a working class older woman tied organically to the community, rather than being parachuted in as a paid middle class expert.

This crucial manoeuvre allows all of the social and economic relations of production of the film to be denied. The council can cite a community worker to justify their image as caring while they get on with the main cuts and yuppification business at hand. Amber build up their catalogue of documentary realism, reinforcing their claims of expertise in objectifying, patronising and rendering as tame the working class communities that they target. Yet all signs of the institutional networks and forces that plague the real life community have been purged from the film's narrative. But, this amazing evacuation of reality, in the passage to fairy tale, allows the fantasy elements of the narrative (including the wise woman character) their full effect. This level of paradoxical realism' suggests how contradictory and how crucial creative fantasy may be in working class culture and politics, as a key factor in its resilience and relative imperviousness to the stultified managed passivity that the professionals work towards (whether they know it, or like it, or not).

This double irony reflects the ambivalence of many professional social and community workers from working class backgrounds. They rely on poverty, oppression and external imposition for their material security, yet wish-fulfillingly fantasise that they are really part of the communities they police. If we were assessing Dream On' from a perspective of measuring the pretensions of its makers against some ideal revolutionary motives, then "savaging it as ... miserable ... recuperative junk "(Blob, p26) makes sense. But to identify so blatantly with the film s makers (even to slag them off) betrays the bias of revolutionary proletarian theoreticians, including the fascination with "drowning people" who •clutch at anything". Meadow Well residents may be depressed at times, but aren't -drowning". Condescending charitable attention - whether from radical theorists with critiques of art or more conventional sources - is not constructive and will not be welcomed. Class War may be slated for its populism, but taking the perspective of the film's viewers allows these traps to be avoided. The reviewer need not assume a position of superior knowledge - most viewers couldn't care less about the careers, agonies and postures of film makers, or their friends and rivals on the left - all competing for the right to know and represent the truth of working class suffering, claiming a position of privileged access to its essence. Meanwhile, the CW reviewer accurately perceived that many working class viewers will have been affected, in some small way, by this film - either at the pictures or on the telly - but in ways that media professionals can't have access to - to use, spoil or manipulate. Most wouldn't even be awar of these effects. Thanks to self-imposed theoretical blinkers, neither is Blob.


Unfortunately Class War's editors may have taken on board the left communist-type of critique' - perhaps so as to compete more credibly for status in the anarchist ghetto. A film reviewed recently was Reservoir Dogs' - a Scorcese-style bloodbath movie about as far from Dream On's kind of realism as you could get. The film strips down the usual "phony macho Hollywood crap" (CW 58, pi 5) - male bonding in extremes of pain, terror and death -by forcing several Hollywood styles to their logical extremes. The glamorous image of careers in serious crime and police investigation are comprehensively tarnished, whereas the film is saturated not only with fake blood, but also the dominant media representations (the clothes, the music, the poses) that associate such
danger with sexiness. This is a clever and powerful film, although designed and marketed as a cult object for trendy youth and film buffs, rather than for a blockbusters audience. However, Class War no longer seems able to pitch a review at a simple and effective level - raiding the film text for messages conducive to their own purposes and trampling all over other contrary meanings in the narratives - as with Batman as assassin, or with Terminator as nemesis of the ruling classes7. Instead the review of 'Reservoir Dogs' hints vaguely at its "vacuous arguments"; complains that sympathy is evoked for the wrong' characters; and ends by calling it a "distasteful" film. Distasteful ... ?! Yes ... but is it recuperative?! Well, quite.

  • 1. Andy & Mark Anderson, "Why the Revolutionaries Have Failed" Splat Collective, c/o 5 Cadbury Rd, Birmingham 13.
  • 2. For various perspectives on these questions, see:
    Cornelius Castoriadis, Marx Today: the Tragi-Comical Paradox' (interview with Lutter journal),
    Solidarity, Issue 17, 1988, p7-17;
    DickHebdige, Hiding in the light: On lmages and Things, Routledge 1988;
    Mark Poster, The Mode of Information: Poststructuralism and Social Context, Polity 1990;
    Sadie Plant, The Most Radical Gesture: the Situationist International in a Postmodern Age, Routledge 1992;
    Tom Jennings & Mike Michael, Culture Shocked: Passion, Truth and Politics, AK Press (forthcoming, 1993).
  • 3. For example:
    Stewart Home, The Assault on Culture: Utopian Currents from Lettrisme to Class War, AK Press 1992 -
    as well as Class War's own Decade of Disorder, Verso, 1991;
    and Unfinished Business: the Politics of Class War, AK Press, 1992.
  • 4. And the criticisms in Here and Now, which confuse "Unfinished Business" with CW as a whole, fit nicely into the agenda of those currently attacking a wide range of anti-fascist libertarians - an unfortunate irony, given Turner's account of 1970s autonomists and the Anti-Nazi League (Here and Now No.13, p35).
  • 5. Not just on the libertarian left, either, eg: 'The Passing of an Old Warrior', Analysis magazine's sympathetic but premature obituary (early 1993) circulated to CW groups - presumably hoping for conversions to Leninism?
  • 6. Mixed Feelings: Writings from Cedarwood Centre Women's Group, Cedarwood, North Shields, 1988.
  • 7. See: Tom Jennings, 'The Lynch Mob: Watching New Film' in Jennings & Michael, Culture Shocked.

Here and now #15

Issue 15 of Here and Now with articles about the search for security our society disintegrates, surveillance technology, left intellectual culture, east Germany, reviews and more.

here-now-15.pdf7.11 MB

Corrupting left intellectual culture. Essay - Tom Jennings

Tom Jennings’ 1994 essay in Here & Now magazine highlighting the need to modernise radical theory.

Corrupting Left Intellectual Culture by Tom Jennings
1. From diversity...
In the last couple of years Here & Now has steered clear of the grand theoretical schemes which many people use to try and get our heads round the important trends of our times. There are recurrent themes, such as the need, or hope, for radical renewal, reiterating just how far the Old and New Lefts are past their sell-by dates ... plus the insistence that commodity relations and social alienation are furthering their grip. But much less often, now, do articles periodise history according to the Spectacle of the pro-and post-situationists, post-Fordists, or Gus Macdonald's Third Assault (Here & Now, issue 5), for example. Instead, some tentative dalliances with post-modernism and cultural studies have led to more focused analyses of specific social arenas. Sociological and cultural research is mined for subversive potential and insights that overflow respectable academic or critical opinion, and which exceed the desires or intentions of its authors.

By looking at the modes of operation and social implications of professionalism, academicism, managerialism, media, marketing, science and technology expertise, and the contours of current and developing (consumer) cultures - without too narrow an insistence on any of the more familiar leftist jargon - a space may have been opened in which to look again at a broader application of radical theory. Even if this is premature, it could encourage an assessment of what future directions should be taken. Given the conspicuous vacuum of ideas on the rest of the left, there doesn't seem to be much to lose. If all language is, in any case, as riddled with theory as the textual analysts tell us (even, or especially, when posing as or appearing to be common sense, neutral, or simple) then avoiding explicit theorising is merely a trick, a rhetorical device, destined to be unmasked as soon as more general conclusions are sought.

Promiscuous knowledge
A provisional conclusion from Here & Now's attention to the power of middle class discourses is that the major problem with theory revolves around who comes out with it, in what context, along with and linked to what practices, and for what direct and indirect purposes - as much as the content, truth value or inherent significance of the ideas themselves. Given that any kind of rationality which poses as universal attracts a righteous and severe suspicion, how will it be possible to articulate or use theory, without immediately becoming just as irrelevant and discredited as many people now perceive these activities to be? Rather than playing down or apologising for theory, a more honest and appealing strategy may be to stress its tentative nature, intrinsic assumptions, dubious origins, contradictory components and self-reflexive and self-critical operation; and to demonstrate that these are among its most important and useful attributes.

A way out of the impasse of left thinking means first of all relinquishing the grandiose claims of communist and revolutionary theorists (Lyotard 1984), instead trying to concoct unexpected interpretations from the symbolic material of culture and ideas (Featherstone 1991, Gorz 1993, Ross 1989). This means making sense of grass-roots, oppositional political and social currents using theoretical tools that relate to this history in conjunction with our own direct experiences and those of people involved in the same events and processes. But because the legacy of ideas that comes to us is one of outrageous arrogance and almost wilfully blinkered determinism, we plainly need explicit checks and balances on the imperial tendencies of marxist theory. Marxists, after all, even if not academics, are really no more than dissident economists (some are very, very dissident).

But the development and contestation of economic domination has to be one axis of understanding, even if the classical marxist interpretive subordination of all variables to the dynamic of capital in history is refused. The diverse strands of 'libertarian marxism' are crucial here (e.g. Aufheben 1994, Plant 1992, Ross 1991, Witheford 1994). Secondly, the mediation of knowledge specialists (such as the 'new' middle classes) in operating productive, reproductive and regulative spheres of society is also taken as fundamental. Recent sociological work on the fine-grained complexity of economic, social and cultural dimensions of class (such as Bourdieu 1984, 1991; Bourdieu & Eagleton 1992; Eder 1993; Frow 1993; Lee 1993) makes the prospects of grasping this area more realistic.

My third point of departure is an area of theory ('governmentality' - see Gane & Johnson 1993) - which has been largely passed over in English speaking radical currents, and which I use to bring out the partiality and unevenness of discourses which tend to present themselves as true, straightforward, seamless, and/or disinterested. All three perspectives have developed partly in academic research and debate as part of careers and institutional growth. However, for political implications as to what directions are worth following, the products of academic disciplines are in themselves virtually useless, not least by presuming and striving for the eternal centrality and market ascendancy of their own discourses - whereas the inevitability that they will need, at best, to be ignored or transcended would be, to them, unthinkable.

2 .... From diversity, through perversity
Future articles will try to apply a strategic combination of these critical approaches (the history and development of capitalism; class/power structure and process; and governmentality) to a range of recent, emerging or popular theoretical orientations which are found attractive by people on the libertarian left or its potential supporters. These will include: analyses of science and technology, ecology, biology, computers; the social impact of the media and developments in art; critiques of identity politics and cultural difference; and explorations of consumerism, new social movements, and radical democracy and pluralism. The three interpretative methods will be mobilised so as to pervert, energise and limit each other, in addition to the literature and positions being tackled.

The aims of all this are: to draw together radical ideas which in today's fragmented social and political milieus otherwise remain isolated; to develop an approach to the questions of knowledge and leadership, which to me are the most serious problems inherent in radical politics; to build on the experiences of grass roots community and political action of recent decades - to find ways that our ideas and practices can find useful expression together; and to question the position and role of intellectuals and theoretical activity generally, asking how experts can be thoroughly kept in their place in radical politics without sacrificing the tremendous potential of theory in the search for ways to change the world; finally, to try and do this in a way that augments Here & Now's scope and intentions so far.

In reviewing these areas of left intellectual culture for political significance and potential, no pretence of authority is implied, either of perfect understanding or fair interpretation, nor is academic status or institutional interest being defended. And while no-one should trust such claims of humility, neither should ideas in themselves ever be left alone or respected at face value, whether in awe, elitism, cynicism or defeatism.

Desiring domination
An overemphasis on the contours of the development of late capitalism as determinant and causal, can impede appreciation of the ways these variables are produced or co-produced, in a historical matrix which may involve more than one or two basic dimensions. The marxist pre-emptive determination of phenomena has been criticised by many radical theorists, some of whom fully appreciate the achievements of marxism but refuse to treat it religiously. For example, Foucault's studies of power and discourse (eg Foucault 1977 and 1979a) provide a framework in which to understand human history, in which processes of power are not translated or ultimately subsumed into the economy. It then becomes possible, for example, to treat adequately the limits and productivity of biological bodies (without resorting to biologism), and the effectivity of language through real-world historical and material practices (avoiding idealism) - in short, to conceive of the growth of systems of domination and resistance which may corrode or overwhelm the logic of capital (but more typically become intertwined with it). One such system is governmentality (Foucault 1979b).

With roots in Greek democracy, medieval Christian practices and feudal statecraft, governmentality is the basis of modern politics. Its forms of practice entail the knowing, calculating supervision of social and material forces. The State "becomes a particular form that government has taken, and one that does not exhaust the fields of calculations and interventions that constitute it" (Miller & Rose 1993, p77). Policies, strategies of control and spheres of expertise and influence (by diverse authorities: Johnson 1993) create fields of legitimacy and knowledge which require the power of their proponents. This knowledge constitutes the world-views of all those mobilised, as active agents and clients. It crystallises, as discourse, into rules, texts and practices, and precipitates institutional solidity (buildings, resources, 'manpower') whose inertia immediately conditions what is possible next (Latour 1987).

Compelling fantasies
Discourses are far less expensive and problematic for rulers than physical coercion. In addition to generating specific desired effects, they produce knowledges of individuals and groups that conform to their agendas. A discourse persuades through translating one's interests into its own terms (Callon 1986) - and not only persuades, but enlists as a supporter of that discourse (in terms of behaviour, if not 'ideology'). Across the whole social field, the strength of this effect has been termed 'government at a distance' (Callon & Latour 1981). In mapping out regimes of truth (what can be known and said) and acting on people accordingly, the paraphernalia of governmentality has two specific attributes of interest to us. Firstly, it is arbitrary. Random, surprising, marginal, mundane, obscure or technical developments can catapult to the centre of the political stage, as long as the field of expertise in question argues the case effectively that it can solve a transient but pressing political problem. Also, the logic of government means that whatever is to hand has to be adapted to a new task, even if through accident or design this means using bizarre or hopeless tools (the present Tory government springs to mind!). Hence the "unplanned historical convergence of the disciplines of [humanistic] cultivation and the technologies of government" (Hunter 1993, p153); and in the opportunistic marriage of commercial tactics and the ethics of the psychological self (Rose 1989). In both these cases and many others, it is utterly misguided and politically disastrous to perceive an all-knowing, all-powerful State/Capital conspirator.

Secondly the exercise of power must itself produce resistance as an intrinsic part of its operation - if it didn't there would be no social momentum to mobilise. Resistance also is arbitrary, and as likely to manifest itself unprogrammably as in an orderly fashion. So even in these days of the superpower of information, the chaos of the world can potentially work as much against authority as for it. But capitalism also benefits, in its ability to adapt, to maintain its forms amidst wildly fluctuating contents - even if this flexibility is so wasteful of human and material resources.

So, quite apart from its commodification (although that's bad enough), there are other extremely serious and deep-rooted problems with the colonisation of the intimate life-world by the rules and apparatuses of surveillance, calculation and administration. A general conclusion from this might be that the major limitation of most strands of modernised radical theory is that as well as refusing to acknowledge its own multi-faceted class-saturated anchoring (and the highly complex dynamics of class fractions this implies), it also fails to realise its role (or potential role) in the elaboration of governmentality. Furthermore the forcefulness of each of these two factors may derive, in part, from the effects of the other.

Prostitution in politics
Taken together these factors can provide a compelling explanation for the dislocation of political practice (among those purporting to have left political motivations) from those living through the same social upheavals, but who are neither interested in theory for its own sake, nor attracted by the jostling for status among those who are. For many of the latter, badges of ideology are merely vestiges of a subversiveness that long ago collapsed into a scramble for careers, secure identities, patronage, and politically correct or morally tasteful lifestyles. Since these ambitions mainly depend on cornering resources from the local state, welfare or education, it's no wonder that PC was such an easy target (see, for example, Berube 1994). The despicable agendas of the New Right were at least perceived as honest, in their old-fashioned, openly corrupt, way (Thatcher on one side of the coin, Camille Paglia on the other) - compared to the self-deluding self-interest of the middle classes finding its ultimate expression in identity politics.

Corporate mission statements of rights and equality are pretty shabby strategic and theoretical responses to the suffering planned for generations of working class women and black people. Something more meaningful will only come from purposefully perverse and scrupulously class-conscious theory (eg Butler 1990, Marable 1993) that expects and intends to bring into question all levels of vested interests, just as grass-roots political action always must if it's ever to achieve anything.

The challenge for the near future involves much more than the possibility of knowing 'what went wrong' with the left. Younger generations understandably have less patience with the various blindnesses and weaknesses of the radicals of recent decades. They're growing up with a far keener appreciation of the reality of globalisation, and the degradation of all life. What we may write off as apathy and narcissism in others can have more to do with what we deny of ourselves - conveniently projecting it into others. Our input now into all levels of oppositional activism, political involvement and ideas (not just in the areas we're more comfortable and familiar with) may have a significant impact on the patterns of recomposition and mobilisation that become possible. But not if our patter and demeanour only appear to hold the promise of disciplining and regimenting newly active groups who reach out from different cultures and sub-cultures, and from different geographical and discursive locations.

3.... And from perversion, to subversion
At the very least, it can't be left to experts to assess their own bias. Intellect comprises an unconscious amalgam of the echoes of other people's material and ideological clutter, always already incorporated and more or less integrated into what we fancy is our own 'self', self-knowledge or identity. So, knowledge is fundamentally dishonest in appearing to be a property of individuals, because its material effects only ever appear in the coordinated social practices that accompany its use. The least that can be expected by trusting in well-meaning rationality is a network of mutually reinforcing intellectuals, who spiral off into orbit while the 'real' world continues to operate normally. The 'orbit' may be the higher reaches of a bureaucracy or academy, or a central committee or political affinity group (or publishing venture!), or some other formal or informal hierarchy. Business as usual will require the familiar submission to systems and techniques of management and control - exploiting personal, official and/or symbolic power - that make a mockery of the claims to heralding a radical alternative.

Two things at least should be necessary for radical movements to include knowledge specialists and information-based workers without undermining grass roots autonomy and effectiveness. Firstly, those whose expertise is rooted in institutional interests should be firmly and clearly acknowledged as such, and treated with corresponding suspicion. In particular, alliances of those with such partial interests would be extremely negative trends. Diversity within, as well as between, autonomous groups is a measure of progression. Secondly, in parallel networks, layers and groups, unattached or uncommitted intellectuals with no specific institutional investments can represent the transient embodiments of an accumulated history and capacity of knowing and acting, while lacking the institutional backing, professional networks, discursive immersion, charisma or other attributes which would attract power or encourage demagoguery.

The pleasures of theory
In crude terms these two functions (which are, in practice, more complex and fragmentary) do to some extent correspond to conventional political visions of the role of intellectuals. The first is the middle class theorist or expert, whose obvious and specific biographical trajectory, institutional position, and immersion in suspicious practices makes their special knowledge persuasive to some degree, but who is recognised as far too interested for the knowledge or the person to be politically trustworthy. And the second is the much more neglected (in left circles) position of working class intellectual, who almost by definition has moved away from traditional activities without shaking off the roots or the material position. Judged by academic criteria such a person doesn't rate, but politically a capacity to handle and puncture the pretensions of specific intellectuals, while being less likely to be swayed (lacking the corresponding material or symbolic investments) may be an essential safeguard, and a crucial point of passage and interpretation for information and ideas that could otherwise sediment into rigid paths, paving the way for dominance.

The unspoken third category to this schema is, of course, the majority of people who don't feel or think themselves to be personally 'knowing' (who are not as perverted, in this respect, as the intellectuals). The more sophisticated proliferation of points of knowledge and power suggested here can mean that no-one is in a position to so easily form those hidden agendas, or knowledge cartels, that, intentionally or not, restrict potential, and which mirror (basically they constitute) the hierarchies and patterns of domination which the participants assumed they were resisting in the first place. How useful the interpretive framework sketched out here may be depends on its application to specific problems, both at the level of understanding phenomena per se, and as part of the process of political action. But the insistence on a wide dispersal and diversity of knowledges and capacities, where no special interest groups are able to exert a consistent pre-eminence, may promote and exploit the older, informal expressiveness of wisdom, respect, affinity, maturity and mutuality. Along with the subversive potential of spontaneous, unmediated and unthinking passion, these really have no genuine place in the planned social world of government and commodity. Yet they would surely figure strongly in the practices and value systems of a free society.

Aufheben (1994) Decadence: the theory of decline or the decline of theory. Part II. Aufheben 5, Summer 1994, p24-34.
Berube, Michael (1994) Public access: literary theory and American cultural politics. Verso.
Bourdieu, PIerre (1984) Distinction: a social critique of the judgement of taste. Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Bourdieu, Pierre (1991) Language and symbolic power. Polity.
Bourdieu, Pierre & Terry Eagleton (1992) Doxa and common life. New Left Review, 195, p111-121.
Butler, Judith (1987) Gender trouble: feminism and the subversion of identity. Routledge.
Callon, Michel (1986) Some elements of a sociology of translation. In: J. Law (Ed) Power, action and belief, Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Callon, Michel & Bruno Latour (1981) Unscrewing the big leviathan. how actors macro-structure reality and how sociologists help them to do so. In: A. Cicourel & K. Knorr-CetIna (Eds) Advances in social theory and methodology, Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Eder, Klaus (1993) The new politics of class: social movements and cultural dynamics in advanced societies. Sage.
Featherstone, Mike (1991) Consumer culture & postmodernlsm. Sage.
Foucault, Michel (1977) Discipline and punish: the birth of the prison. Penguin.
Foucault, Michel (1979a) The history of sexuality. Vol 1: An Introduction. Penguin.
Foucault, M (1979b) On governmentality. Ideology and Class, 6, p5-22.
Frow, John (1993) Knowledge & class. Cultural Studies, 7, p240-81.
Gane, Mike & Terry Johnson (Eds) (1993) Foucault's new domains. Routledge.
Gorz, Andre (1993) Political ecology: expertocracy versus self-limitation. New Left Review, 202, p55-67.
Hunter, Ian (1993) Personality as a vocation: the political rationality of the humanities. In: Gane & Johnson (1993).
Johnson, Terry (1993) Expertise and the state. In: Gane & Johnson (1993)
Latour, Bruno (1987) Science In action. Open University Press.
Lee, Martyn J. (1993) Consumer culture reborn: the cultural politics of consumption. Routledge.
Lyotard, Jean-Francois (1984) The postmodern condition. Manchester University Press.
Marable, Manning (1993) Beyond racial identity politics:towards a liberation theory for multicultural democracy. Race & Class, 35, p113-30.
Miller, Peter & Nikolas Rose (1993) Governing economic life. In: Gane & Johnson (1993).
Plant, Sadie (1992) The most radical gesture: the Situationist International In a postmodern age. Routledge.
Rose, Nikolas (1989) Governing the soul: the shaping of the private self. Routledge.
Ross, Andrew (1989) No respect: intellectuals and popular culture. Routledge.
Ross, Andrew (1991) Strange weather: culture, science and technology in the age of limits. Verso.
Witheford, Nick (1994) Autonomist marxism and the information society. Capital & Class, 52, p85-125.

Essay published in Here & Now, No. 15, October 1994.
For further essays and reviews by Tom Jennings, see:

Here and now #16/17

Double issue of Here and Now with articles in defence of humans, on the warfare of everyday life, cyber drivel and more, with a supplement on Guy Debord.


here-now-16-17.pdf11.84 MB

Guy Debord supplement

Here and Now special supplement magazine on Guy Debord.


  • A posthumous fame - Mike Peters
  • Guy Debord and the metaphysics of Marxism - Steve Turner
  • Deaths of the author - Mark Goodall
  • Neoist tracts
  • Surrealist evidence
  • Debord: the aesthetic, the political and the passage of time - Phil Edwards
  • The situationists as Rosicrucians - Luther Blissett
  • A personal view - Lucy Forsyth
  • After Debord - Steve Bushell
supplement.pdf3.41 MB

Natural Born Killers: cultural studies and left politics.

Tom Jennings’ discussion of Oliver Stone’s 1994 blockbuster in terms of contemporary trends in media and politics.

Natural Born Cultures
The notion of culture has been a problem for radical politics. Socialists and Stalinists, the PC, ultra-lefts and liberals all tend to narrow the concept to elite producers, whose quality validates a status quo possessing the standards of taste to appreciate it. Anything else may be scorned as imperfect, less than fully human, to be ignored, transcended, or educated away. Radicals stand outside received culture, presenting alternatives of rationalist criticism, avant garde art, lifestyle posing, or simply a cynical distaste for popular pleasures. Such self-marginalisation coincides with the Left's disarray, the right's appropriation of public agendas, the resurgence of a purportedly mute, rebellious underclass, and rampant consumerism.

Marxist critics tend to discuss these phenomena in terms of their interests as leaders and theorists. Communist Party intellectuals affiliating to Media Studies and identity politics gave us the hilarious spectacle of filofax Lefties dissecting the corpse of authoritarian communism on behalf of a whole catalogues of oppressed groups. Careers were built in a democratic pluralism that finally, if surreptitiously, could admit its class-specific position. Blairism is the political consequence - tight-lipped censorious Christian snobs allied with respectable folk wishing to 'better' themselves and partake of expanded cultural markets. Liberals are outflanked on the right on social and moral issues, exposing fear and hatred for the vulgar, informal, spontaneous, dangerous, ambivalent passions of the masses.
More generally unable to come to terms with their absorption into elite hierarchies since the 1950s, and with interests opposed to substantial social change, 'political practice' has become political 'good taste' (how to be right-on) for bureaucrats, teachers, cultural 'workers' and scholars. The hidden agenda of leaving their privileged positions intact permeates the new cultural theory. Criticism of the functions of leaders, intellectuals and theorists may risk leaving the new middle classes bereft of progressive roles - so it is avoided.1

Common Creations
Conversely, oppositional politics can be grounded in the experiences of ordinary people - the cultures that surround and suffuse our everyday lives and what we make of them. As practices producing meanings with emotional resonance in groups of people, culture expresses how we make sense of life, identify and position ourselves with respect to internal and external forces and to our material and social surroundings. Seen from below, the focus of culture shifts to hopes, fears, fantasies and expectations as much as beliefs and feelings about the past and present. Our inherently social nature is evident, from community and collectivity, language and discourse. The material basis of culture is clear from the sites of its operation - 'oral' cultures rooted in the structures of schools, workplaces, streets or communities, the elite institutions of the arts and academies, and the products of the mass culture entertainment industries.

The culture sold by capitalism may seem impoverished and imperialistic when compared to the diversity of human life and its persistent impulses for self-determination. Worse, the trajectory of media market development relies on military and security-led technological determinism, bringing corporate and state control and class-based hierarchies of choice.2 But global marketing is leading to such a saturation of mediated images, stories and symbols, that officially sanctioned public forums and channels of communication cannot connect with the masses' expressions of feeling. This distrust of the forms of knowing, being or aspiration that experts and politicians trade in doesn't inevitably lead us to cynicism, apathy, quietism or a celebration of consumerism.3

The importance of culture lies in its open-endedness, its continual re-creation and reproduction within lived experience, where cultural materials are present at every level.4 Efforts to contain it within restricted discourses - to imprison culture in the imperialism of theory - mirror existing systems of control and oppression. These justify themselves in explaining the world via regimes of knowledge which themselves developed in support of coercive and exploitative structures and processes.

Irrespective of the intrinsic value of the cultural commodities we are immersed in, their use entails creating meanings and feelings that resound and echo in social networks, and that don't map directly onto the supposed intentions of the producers or financiers. Not only may meanings produced oppose those intentions, but the very success of cultural products as commodities may depend on consumers creating excess meanings tailored to their desires. Possibilities for radical propaganda may open for those who accept their part in the culture and its aftermath,5 but not for those posing as distanced observers bemoaning the alien horrors of the cultures of others.

Big Screen Distraction
Cinema films are the most expensive, elaborate and spectacular cultural commodities, and are the organising centre for much of our relationship with the mass media. Going to the cinema is a public, social act where we physically separate ourselves from the everyday world in dream-like or festive states, attracted by overwhelming sounds and images. At home special efforts are made to view films and videos on television, compared to the visual wallpaper of most TV output. Films live on thanks to the commodification of stars, symbols and spin-offs. But characters, elements of narratives or film styles may become markers of experience and identity, incorporated into everyday life like, say, soap operas, but with a special quality due to the strength of their impact. Film cults and fan hobbyism are extreme examples of this. But for millions of others not investing such immense personal significance, films are as prominent as sport or music, and are as thoroughly woven into social and cultural life.

Contemporary cinema is dominated by outrageously expensive Hollywood blockbusters which profit from merchandising and globalising hype. Smaller studios, independent producers and (usually government sponsored) non-US film industries break even on a combination of cinema attendance, video and television rights. Increasingly, as viewers become used to differentiated media, film producers minimise risk by combining styles and genres, appealing to multiple groups of viewers at once and playing havoc with established critical categories.6 So Natural Born Killers mixes conventions from action and crime thrillers, romances, road movies, documentary, melodrama and social satire; plus exploiting assorted avant garde film devices and state of the art computer graphic, video and television techniques.

Realism In Fantasy
Engagement with films furnishes fantasy experiences for viewers that may enhance their own potential competence in understanding and embracing their own agency. Only to the extent, crucially, that they read into (and explode out of) the narratives salient elements of their own lives - and such processes, of course, the producers of cultural commodities have relatively little power over. The capacity of cultural products to inspire their audiences may have unequivocally negative effects, which conventional wisdom exaggerates and agonises over if it works contrary to or exposes accepted dominations (such as children assaulting each other as opposed to adults doing it). Ironically, the resulting censorship neutralises the power of cultural products to be used for those resistive strategies which would render policing and interpretation by experts as well as moral guardians redundant.7

Cinema's attraction to new middle classes seeking cultural distinction has developed in tension with the vulgarities of Hollywood, especially in dealing with social conflict. Not so much the lifestyle dilemmas that a tradition of safe bourgeois film and television dramas has milked; but in the collective untidiness and mass tragedies of the lives of the oppressed. Social realism appeals to those insulated from it, but it's difficult to sell the masses films about our suffering because it implies some kind of exotic uniqueness of the problem treated - as opposed to the everyday connotations, for us, of crime, exploitation, misery and drudgery.

Popular cinema narratives portraying the unpredictability of large scale social discord have to appeal to powerful groups in order to be financed and produced, but also need to convince a popular audience that the cards are not all stacked in advance, and that whatever levels of realism are employed have any integrity. In navigating this uneasy path, pleasure must still be afforded to viewers with agendas of hope, fear and expectation, and patterns of desires, likely to diverge wildly from the educated taste of the film makers.

The static cinematic viewpoint leaves watchers distanced from the seething film spectacles of diffuse and sublime social or community processes. Passively connected to events on-screen, one person's voyeur can be someone else's carer, and another's gaoler. Treating one extreme of suffering as the be-all and end-all of a story is the classic strategy of 'social realism' genres of cultural production, with the intimate lives of a few standing as exemplars of the many. This resolution of systemic social and political conflict into a multitude of individual problems reproduces the discursive intersection of the middle class charitable gaze with the ministrations of a benevolent liberal State. Thus the film maker's task, rendering onto the screen the chaos of the social world, helplessly follows a similar logic.

Crime and Punishment
The enduring archetypal social issue is crime, where the cumulative weight of cultural material produced to try and explain what is wrong with society is conveniently funnelled into separate working class bodies. This fragmentation of collective reality - a narrowing of focus onto the 'problem' of the lone working class object - forces the development and resolution of processes into a rut of heroic voluntarism. Implacably opposing moral forces are divided arbitrarily and simplistically so that no-one can doubt where guilt lies - inside the bad individuals (as opposed to the more general intuition that institutions are far less trustworthy).

Given global, divisive and corporate barbarisms, it is ironic that the banality of a diametrically opposed evil is celebrated instead: that of the serial killer.8 Popular novel and film treatments have experimented with every conceivable fiction and media convention, even interrogating the cultural significance of the serial killer genre's popularity itself. The disasters of capitalism have very definite purposes - in consolidating the power to profit - whereas the actions of serial killers seem utterly pointless in any social sense. Thus the nihilism of the political world is displaced into the moral vacuum of the ultimate criminals. Now, when Hollywood gloss meets TV soap, tabloid news sensationalism, social issue movie, MTV editing and video diary 'realism', the scoop has to be serial killers. And if we're really supposed to think that Natural Born Killers is serious, then the director must be Oliver Stone.

Tablets of Stone
Stone has consistently tried to achieve popular Hollywood expressions of contemporary history, abusing in cavalier fashion the conventions of social issue and social realism genres in his 'state of the nation' stories.9 But despite his avowed intention to radically criticise existing institutions, viewers are usually left mystified about the social and political scenario portrayed. Crippling liberties are also taken with the historical record, so precipitating fatalism about the prospects for effective political agency.

This is compounded by gross narrative oversimplification, supposedly in the interests of populism, but in practice going so far as to evacuate the complexity of situations down to a comic book shorthand. Viewers have to do their own work in transcending the indiscriminately childish patterns of motivation Stone's characters have to operate with. But by that stage, such a large proportion of any recognisably social context has been eviscerated that few strategies remain for imagining how the fictional problematic might relate to our real lives.

Noddy and Big Ears Go Psycho
Renewed child violence and copycat scares gave Natural Born Killers free hype - the calibre of 'evidence' being more laughable than usual (e.g. Panorama, BBC1, 27/2/95). Sure enough its characters seem indiscriminately deranged grown-up babies, even if their personalities and development are hidden from us. Backgrounds of horrific abuse and random misfortune would be convincing precursors of this killing spree only if the action took place inside the psychopaths' vengeful unconscious fantasy-lives. In that case the moral - it was the telly wot did it - would be a provocative comment on media zombification. We could speculate on how destroying the tissues of community enhances, as it cuts adrift, violent infantile impulses which otherwise get woven back into intersubjective creative experience. But we learn nothing about how any real world phenomena are generated, overdetermined, conditioned, articulated and driven.

If the media bewitch us exactly so that we do remain ignorant, that can't account for the desperation of liberals like Stone trying to recuperate disenchantment with the information age and its media, while striving to maintain coherent positions for themselves (where all those 60s gurus failed?). Worse, such familiar leftist elitism would concur with Natural Born Killers' implicit argument that specifics don't matter: of cultural connection, social context, or how viewers' experiences are woven into our lives. Since the media turn it into a glossy celebrity distraction; it is, in effect, distracting us in precisely that way; and that's all it does. Or has someone read too much Baudrillard?

The film's main innovation is its constant background visual noise of distorted, agitated fragments of film, hand-held, home video, black and white TV, animation, pop video, computer simulation and other visual styles infesting walls, skies or any surface that holds still long enough. Now and again one of these techniques infiltrates the main action for sustained moments, profoundly enthralling and unsettling the viewer, forcing even closer attention. This breathtaking strategy of montage serves as multiple analogy: TV segmentation and random juxtaposition (channel-hopping, succession of images etc); the jumbled chaos of symbolic, social, and urban environments; and the crazy work of the id, here magically materialised. A mythical media junkie's unconscious is filtered through the director's ego and projected (cinematically and psychologically) within a cinema screen. Despite these layers of processing, artifice and distanciation, it is a marvellous metaphor for media saturated culture.

Action films are utterly (unwittingly) spoofed. The irony and subtlety of a Tarantino script is sacrificed for pompous seriousness, so the actors have no choice but to caricature infantility. Formal pyrotechnics replace pulp devices of affectionate banter and wry humour amidst humdrum horror. Clumsy, staged references to other films are paradoxically more comical amid the ad hoc existentialism and romantic fatalism which show no sign of the reflexiveness that might give them integrity. And in the prison riot, the police, media and governor's decadence, the execution of the media pundit, and the outlaw woman's bodily refusal of victimhood, middle class America's nightmare of underclasses out of control comes into sharp focus.

As usual Stone can't handle the complexities of politics plus media in the face of social forces beyond a superficial individual level. Like its woeful TV predecessor, Wild Palms, this film poses as a serious cultural object by neurotically hamming up the technological wizardry. It falsifies and trivialises the way the media deal with crime and violence, and is irrelevant to their real contemporary expressions. It is transparently parasitic on its cultural context - usually commercial products parade social conscience as niche marketing, not hiding behind it as a crusading principle.

Stone will convince those whose grasp of structures of power and capacity for agency in the world are as shallow, cynical and narcissistic as he is. Natural Born Killers and its ilk only have corrosive effects on those whose smugness and jaded tastes are relatively untouched by the material immediacy of 1990s impoverishment and brutalism. We can interpret it (and the panic-hype reception) as a display of intense hysterical anxiety by the elite middle classes at the predicament their ethics, technology and aesthetics are bringing their children to; and at the same time abject fear as they see their brave old world beginning to slip away, threatened with ease by the demons of their own creation. That they hate themselves so much, and know us so little ......

Blood From A Stone
Stone's films unwittingly reproduce the alienating social effects of the media and government operations he claims to want to change. This banal grandiosity contributes to their success as films - but in the ambivalent pleasures they evoke, we glimpse the tragically robust persistence of government-by-capitalism. More optimistically, his films demonstrate that conventional wisdom about possible paths to personal, social or political change (as expressed by the film maker or his leading characters) are definitely not going to be useful as such in our lives. They are the social and political opiates of the enemy - their weakness, not ours, and crying out to be travestied as such.

The cinema audience may use the power of film images to resonate with our fantasy lives - which is another way of saying, the exploration of possibilities, catalysts and raw materials for thought and intention, dream and action. And if we fantasise about what we don't have, those in control fear what they may lose. Given their contemporary cinematic visions of the world and its people, their confidence seems to be at a surprisingly low ebb, balancing subversion and containment more hysterically than ever. Even if we can't take that much heart from their discomfiture, surely we can at least take every opportunity to expose it publicly.

1. Main sources for the left on culture: Bourdieu, P. (1984) Distinction; Callinicos, A. (1989) Against Postmodernism; Featherstone, M. (1991) Consumer Culture & Postmodernism; Jameson, F. (1991) Postmodernism; McGuigan, J. (1992) Cultural Populism; Ross, A. (1989) No Respect; Szczelkun, S. (1993) Conspiracy of Good Taste. My contributions to Here & Now 11, 14 & 15 also cover some of this ground.
2. see Ian Tillium, 'Technological Despotism', Here & Now 15; and Bonnano, A. (1988) From Riot to Insurrection.
3. Some examples of pessimism, cynicism, quietism etc: Lash, S. & J. Urry (1994) Economies of Signs and Space; Poster, M. (Ed) (1988) Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings; Fiske, J. (1989) Understanding the Popular and Reading the Popular.
4. For culture and the grass-roots, I used: Bourdieu, P. (1991) Language and Symbolic Power; de Certeau, M. (1984) The Practice of Everyday Life; McGuigan (1992); Willis, P. (1990) Common Culture; and E.P. Thompson's studies.
5. Sadly this seems to exclude most of the libertarian left.
6. Books on cinema I found useful are: Collins, J. et al (1993) Film Theory Goes to the Movies; Corrigan, T. (1991) A Cinema Without Walls; Kuhn, A. (1990) Alien Zone, Tasker, Y. (1993) Spectacular Bodies; Turner, G. (1993) Film as Social Practice.
7. Seen most clearly in exploitation genres like horror and porn. See for example Clover, C.J. (1992) Men, Women and Chainsaws; Newman, K. (1988) Nightmare Movies; Segal, L. & M. McIntosh (Eds) (1992) Sex Exposed; Williams, L.R. (1993) 'Erotic Thrillers & Rude Women', Sight & Sound, July, pp.l2-14.
8. see F. Dexter, Seriality Kills, Here & Now, Issue 12, and the ensuing debate in Here & Now, Issue 13.
9. including a Vietnam War trilogy - Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, Heaven and Earth; the parapolitics of JFK; a biopic of The Doors; gangster stories in Wall Street and the script for Scarface; and accounts of the media and US politics, from Salvador and Talk Radio to Wild Palms (TV series) and Natural Born Killers.
Essay review published in Here & Now[i], No. 16/17, pp.48-51, 1995.

For more essays and reviews by Tom Jennings, see:

Here and now #18

Issue 18 of situationist magazine Here and Now, subtitled "life is too short".

The final issue, produced Winter 1997/98.


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