On the Banks of the River Styx
Two letters (March 2010) to a young American Latino woman concerning situationists, ultra leftists, Jacques Camatte, post modernism, 'mad' Maoism, Revolution in 1970s Portugal, Jean Barrot, Anna Mendelsohn and others.....
(This web was put up in 2010 on the Recent section of the RAP web but somehow got 'disappeared' probably before 2012. How this occurred and why it wasn't missed is a big question in itself. Then in October 2015, Siddiq Khan from South Africa asked what had happened saying that the web "seems to have pulled a hermitage act of its own?" and we were unable to supply a satisfactory answer. Siddiq is a young clued-in South African revolutionary and a recent fine article of his can be found at http://dialectical-delinquents.com/south-africa-street-sweepers-burn-their-uniforms-more/ )
Hi Conchita, (not her real name and had initially asked what had happened to Dave Brown, an English ultra leftist)
Yes Dave Brown took quite an interest in Camatte. I think he felt Camatte's theories were more rounded, or more relevant than those of the Situationists having greater knowledge of the old ultra left (especially Bordiga) and subsequently made even more coherent/relevant because The Unpublished Chapter of Marx's Capital had just come into print in France (around 1973) with its emphasis on the distinction between the formal and real domination of capitalism. Enough people quickly regarded this chapter as something of a revelation underpinning the need for an update of the critique of political economy. It coincided with a rebirth of ultra leftist, Marxist theorising via Negation, Nicholas Will, Jean Barrot and others - and all from France. It was as though the Situationist critique had henceforth to be bracketed alongside the Young Hegelians as searching but finally inadequate; at best a theory belonging to the sphere of the circulation of commodities and not overall production. (In America, Loren Goldner – though a little later - took this on board and there was a long essay by him whereby he reinterpreted salient moments in America's insurrectionary working class history in the light of these concepts. It was a dense text though very interesting). In no time there was also something of a backlash as post situs in France e.g. Semprun in say the smartly produced "L'Assomoire" (The Drunkard) magazine railed against "necro-Bordigists" etc. (Never forget that Bordiga was down on the Spanish revolution of 1936 which, before 1968 was the most advanced uprising in history). Moreover, previously Debord and Sanguinetti in "The Split" had sounded off about all those "Byzantine" debates around surplus value no doubt referring to all these discussions – post 1968 – about productive and unproductive wage labour, etc. No wonder too that latter day, sadly still reductive Marxists could point the finger as there was sufficient of the original Situationist 'economic' theorising that could have emanated from an enlightened, left social democrat who had read his / her Keynes! All that stuff about eternal welfare states updated through cybernetics and hunts on for the last proletarians etc. just didn't cut the mustard any longer as the long post war boom started grinding to a halt in the 1970s.
However, I also reckon Dave Brown didn't really grasp the merits of Situationist theory never mind developing it in original ways. I remember he once showed me a text on the SI in English which he may have translated and obviously approved of. I found it feeble though for the life of me, I cannot remember the gist of the argument! I think Dave also was of the opinion that the early post-modernist writings of Baudrillard and especially Lyotard showed up some of the deficiencies within the Situationist critique. Again that had become a quite common response from those 'in the know' as it were at the time. I never went along with this for one moment and tended to regard these early post-moderns as little more than recuperators merely adding the beginnings of what later became PC (political correctness) in order to dilute edgy critique. Among ourselves we'd laughingly refer to Lyotard as "Lyotard in leotards" etc. We could also see in our circle that it was those who couldn't leave teaching / university milieus that found them attractive. Indeed most of these post moderns were largely academics, many from the 1950s, who needed to update themselves by leeching off the younger and explosive late 1960s and thus our hackles rose. Ten years or more later and this miserable crew were shown up for what they were as nothing more than clever apologists for a status quo needing a hip front rapidly turning into the worst reaction in history. By then though I'm pretty certain Dave Brown may have had a similar response to ours.
Dave was interested in punk rock too but like the early 1970s amalgam group "Solidarity for Social Revolution" in Britain it was a critique that that never cut through to the real nitty gritty remaining on the level of preferences – one punk band better than another etc. - and that was usually Tom Robinson as he was obviously so cardboard leftist and gay. Essential fulcrums of the society of entertainment like the audience / performer dichotomy implying the passive consumption of images, especially rebel imagery, never came into the picture! Still I enjoyed talking to Dave and I remember him once showing me a terrific photo from the early 1920s (?) of a village scene in County Cork (Dave's background in Manchester was Irish) showing all the villagers in the main square – men and women alike – completely pissed to their eyeballs on potchin, a powerful home brew spirit! (Believe me, potchin is something else!) Half of them were slumped in horse troughs and the rest in utter disarray, skirts and trousers awry. I took off on it mentally viscerally seeing it as part of that radical moment in County Cork in the midst of a nationalist revolt when something really good did take off in "the garden of Ireland" among the un-common people in terms of a nascent self expression that was rapidly nipped in the bud. OK it was probably wild fantasy on my behalf but the photo was great. Nonetheless, recently some old Irish guy has written about this experience in County Cork and his meetings / lectures in Ireland are packed.
So it was possible to range over quite a lot of subjects with Dave and despite our differences that was enjoyable. I baulked at Camatte somewhat but was more than interested. Initially what excited me was the fact the guy was the first to really go on about fictitious capital in some kind of totalising, modern way and moreover, wasn't an academic! For myself I was beginning to think The Society of the Spectacle, etc., though brilliant, was too much Marx, Capital 1, based largely around productive capital e.g. the opening chapter more than mirrors the opening chapter of Capital 1 reflecting Lautreamont's dictum that "Ideas improve, plagiarism implies it". Remember the backdrop too. The 1970s were in full swing and you were beginning to see the outlines of continual boom / bust scenarios e.g. the first big housing boom was taking off in the UK etc., though little did we realise this cycle was going to dominate the next few decades as things got crazier and crazier and more outlandish capitalistically speaking. In fact, Camatte had been the first ultra-leftist in pointing to the absolute centrality of the change taking place in the fundamentals of the capitalist economy in the West which a few decades later has become something terrifyingly starker: No longer were armaments and war economy the basis of economic regeneration but credit or rather - somewhat later - crippling debt and with no end in sight. In a way we should have realised this contradiction at the heart of the Keynesian world: Why was Keynes who was such a brilliant financial speculator in his everyday life stand so blatantly in contrast with what was going on inside his head? Only latterly have we become acquainted with Hyman Minsky's insights on this dilemma and written around the same time in the early 1970s as far as I'm aware.
But then I couldn't stomach Camatte's classless capitalism thesis or his supposition that art had been realised in the context of this unbearable society. (Yes, in a way it had but as designer surface and lifestyle and increasingly the very mirror of a new era where fictitious capital was going to dominate in the West and which had nothing to do with the transcendence of art and the creativity released by people in general insurrection and the beginnings of the elusive "poetry made by all and not by one" etc). In these respects Camatte was rather glib and whatever his insights were they needed to be grounded a lot more. As for "classless capitalism" well, shit I was living in the UK and was well smarting over my accorded lowly status appended with the usual "chip on shoulder" adage coming from a revolutionary elite who'd attended fee paying schools. The same went for concepts like "capitalism in the head" whereby all notion of the law of value had been superseded. For sure, I could (and did) interpret this on the level of a developing turbo-consumption kicking in – an intensification if you like of the first part of that great wall slogan "consume more/live less" – and which, in its wholeness, had so fired our imaginations in the late 1960s. That's something I still find axiomatic and I'd still love to see the biggest bonfires in world history made up of all the cars, designer interiors, fashions and the rest of the useless crock of shit commodities piled up higher and higher ready for torching. In that sense people hooked on trivial consumption really is "capitalism in the head" and ecologically speaking is now bringing about the end of a huge swathe of life on our planet. In that sense too it is "classless" all the way from the upper working class through the middle class to the very top and the grotesque lifestyles of the super rich. (The central problem is: how to do we subvert these billions recognising that we'll have to put most of the super-rich to the sword but as for the others, what is to be done?) However, I do exclude the bottom end of the working class from this conundrum, plus the real poor in all the world's so-called underdeveloped countries and , of course, not forgetting the conscious alternatives who find conspicuous consumption utterly boring and anti life. It is a lifestyle for conned consumers hooked on commodity fetishism at its most lurid. It is also about "surplus" though not the often pedestrian notion of the redistribution of the surplus (surplus value) in terms of investment possibilities or "the economic whole" beloved of equally pedestrian left social democrats and Marxologists alike but something much stranger and apocalyptic. Ever since Marcel Mauss in the 1920s with his uncovering of the rituals of cargo cults in primitive societies, what to do with the surplus has become more explosive from Georges Bataille through Andre Breton onto International Lettrism (e.g. their mag had the title "Potlatch") and then placed in a more coherent perspective by Guy Debord re "destroying the machines of permitted consumption" via a new General Ludd acquiring shape and form through recurrent outbreaks of post second world war hooliganism. All vitally necessary destruction since then has had to become ever more coherent and in a sense the bonfires of consumption - the real 'bonfires of the vanities' – would/will be the biggest gift to the planet ever and also the most coherent act ever. But I get carried away.....so let's get back to past facts.
On a more mundane level what was Camatte's praxis? Well really not much more than living in 1970s French communes in far flung rural regions. I knew French people who spent time in these communes with Camatte and they were less than enchanted with them and some of the clued-in Americans I knew way back then – though never living as far as I know in these French communes - tended finally to see Camatte as the theoretical exposition of the hippy lifestyle. Most of these Americans had belonged to the Bay Area situ scene and I did spontaneously agree with them. Moreover, French hippydom was particularly excruciating and had nothing of the authentic drive of the American experience which increasingly crashed through so many boundaries in American society and - as "the alternative" - even managed briefly to be the fundamental force that subverted the United States army in Vietnam.
For sure there was something similar and authentically French – a rural re-evaluation if you like – but could hardly be likened to these Camatte-like communes. Instead it was manifested in a return to farming in remote regions like the Larzac plateau out of which evolved the innovative Confederacion Paysanne, Jose Bove and a bit later, the splendid latter day example of Rene Riesel with the fight against genetic engineering, industrial farming, pesticides and over-consumption. This was hardly the hippy anti-work practise but hard grind as sheep breeders and what have you on remote hillsides etc. and – typically French – backed up by formidable critique! Many of these hard-nosed people were guys and gals who'd been through the posturing bullshit ultra left / pro-situ milieus in Paris sending them crazy and they just had to get away. They weren't wrong as you simply had to abandon these milieus ..... which leads to the next point.
Ah yes, Camatte's thesis on the racket and the gang as the central organised form of modern capitalism. Again, it's not something that can be easily dismissed in the era of a racketeering capitalist mode of production fixated on hedging, derivatives and Ponzi schemes all built around myriad Mafia-like cliques penetrating virtually everything whereby corruption is the modus operandi of business and politics (i.e. the American Senate with its massive corporate sponsorship must surely be the most corrupt, all-important and influential racket in the world today).
Oh boy did I like these comments by Camatte but then they also led to further questioning as time went by. I remember Ken Weller – one of the leading lights of the Castoriadis oriented British Solidarity group – going on to me quite vehemently about Camatte's notion of the group/racket/gang. Ken had been a Ford assembly line worker who knew the streets of London's East End and he exploded, "Fuck, the guy doesn't know what street gangs are like. I grew up with them." But that's not what it was about and Ken, in this instance at least, knew it. He well recognised it was about Camatte's thesis and the way it had been interpreted to mean Solidarity too - an agitation instigated by one of Solidarity's members - name of Joe Jacobs. Joe was much older than other members of Solidarity, a Jewish electrician; he had fought fascist street gangs in London's East End in the 1930s. Now because of his belligerent stance he had been subsequently turfed out of the group influenced by his growing friendship with Henri Simon behind which stood Camatte. Interestingly (or not) Joe's daughter became Henri's partner for a while despite the thirty year age gap. Chris Pallas was the overall boss of Solidarity and he'd hailed from the well off surrounding himself with guys mainly from working class backgrounds. (There weren't so many Solidarity gals though I fell in love with one – Kathy Green from a working class background in Maidstone, Kent. – Oh, where are you?) Pallas was worshipped and Ken especially was over-awed by this enlightened member of the elite whom it is true made some really ground breaking contributions to revolutionary theory and practise in these islands. Joe however was made of sterner material lacking the deference the boss demanded......
Which then leads naturally to broader reflections on Echange and Henri Simon. When I first met Dave Brown he was more and more orientating himself towards Echange even, I think writing for them. Definitely though he was falling under Henri's spell as more and more (like Henri) he felt you couldn't really critique workers' struggles as workers did what they had to do in a given situation. Therefore all critique of particular strikes etc implied something like a Leninism, something from on top, something high-handed. And in a way that's what the Echange magazine became – a massive chronicle on workers' struggles – mainly strikes – without any overt comment interfering in the process. It was as though opinion wasn't much more than histrionics and presumption. Alongside this it was also no longer necessary to critique the overall superstructure of society or the myriad ideologies surrounding it. Inevitably the magazine became pretty pedestrian, even boring and I'm afraid Dave Brown's offerings did too. By then Echange was appearing in English as well as French, a situation which continued until the late 1980s. (Remember a helluva lot of us thought Britain at the time was on the primrose path of social revolution).
Moreover only strikes mattered and this narrowing down meant Echange was utterly unsympathetic to the great wave of rioting that broke out in the mainly English cities and towns in the early 1980s and which we enthusiastically wrote about especially in "A Summer with a Thousand Julys". In fact Henri Simon became quite incensed about this and he even appeared on French radio more or less saying riots were useless after a nascent Os Cangaceiros had translated our large pamphlet into French. Over the airwaves a heated row erupted with another guy who had welcomed the riots. For us these riots were magnificent, open-hearted events and they were to massively influence industrial struggle in Britain especially the strikes of miners and printers a few years later.
But then there was a welcome about turn and subsequently within the pages of Echanges French edition some really sensitive comment was to be made about riots particularly regarding the transformation/subverting of gang superstructure in the dialectical process of social upheaval. It was good stuff. However, it was also a bit late in the day as spontaneous urban rioting initiated by disaffected, downtrodden youth was losing its initial liberatory élan the more the hopes and aspirations of marginalized urban youth became colonised by image marketing especially gangsta rap. Alienated space was no longer to be trashed but taken over by drug dealing cartels - or hoped for cartels - ably assisted by vicious images derived from games consoles like Grand Theft Auto. It was sad, so sad.
Well let's end with some comments on Comite Invisible whose URL you included in your email. Though all this is welcome news from some French youth presumably coming from the high school/university nexus you cannot help but note a certain naiveté. They praise ghetto youth in a very simplistic way regarding general comments on the banlieu uprising of the mid noughties. No comment is made here of the many unpleasant - even brutal - incidents in that uprising, and after which contrasts starkly with the brilliant, multi-coloured/rainbow coalition uprising throughout England twenty four years previously which welcomed participation from anybody who wanted to join in. In that intervening period capital was indeed making horrific inroads inside the heads of those at the sharp end giving the "children of the image" an inflection to "capitalism in the head" Camatte would never have dreamed of. (It was happening everywhere and not only in the highly developed world and the heavy 'Asian' riot in Bradford in northern England in 2000 was no exception). Its worst effects though are surely to be seen in the favelas of Brazil and the barrios of Mexico etc. Although I never saw a copy of Echange's text on the banlieu uprising by all accounts it was quite good though I'm not so sure if it cut through to the nitty-gritty. I would therefore recommend to everybody Michel Prigent's piece in the Principia Dialectica journal because Michel doesn't flinch from making criticisms of the many horrible things that took place though at the same time recognising these were major riots and the splendour of the general torchings were also inescapable.
A little later and the CPE revolt erupted in France. Alas, ghetto youth – for want of a better term – used the occasion of a big school kid/student demo in Paris to mug some of the protestors' especially young women carrying handbags. All this was real bad and completely counter productive. If this was a deflected critique of French 'middle class' youth it was ridiculous and self defeating. Jack de Montreuil (ex Os Cangaceiros) was on that demo and he wrote me a long and excellent email about what took place (see below). It was incisive to say the least and I begged Jack to make it into a longer piece we could include on the RAP web but sadly he did not do so, At the time I felt Jack was nervous about his comments for as Pierre Coursin of Os Cangaceiros he'd spent time in gaol and had even been on the front page of the daily newspaper "Liberation". Inevitably for his subversive activities he'd acquired something of a following among French youth and I wonder if he was afraid of alienating them as they'd turned a blind eye to these mugging incidents? Possibly among their ranks could be some of the people whom a little later were to make up Comite Invisible?
And Conchita for the moment, I have nothing more to say! Also enclosed here is Vaneigem's account of the 2006 revolt in Oaxaca, Mexico. It's the best thing Vaneigem has done since about 1975 before he embarked on all that semi-mystical, passionism rubbish, or avoiding contemporary reality by steeping himself in the revolts of the Middle Ages.
Best: Dave W
(Some of the English in the following email from Jack de Montreuil on the 6th of April, 2006 has been spruced up by me to make it more readable)
I haven't been near my computer these days (or even weeks) as of course, as you can imagine, it was better to be on the streets... I will give you more stories about that as I'm trying to write something in English (for people in Greece!). Let's say just two or three things for the moment...
It's far from over: politicos (even on the left) and some unions would like to say so but they can't as so many young people have been really moving everywhere in France over the last three months. And as per usual, I would say that the most interesting place isn't Paris where there's all kind of parties, unions, militants and other "revolutionary professionals" concentrated - manipulating this way and that - plus also a certain unpleasant behaviour emanating from the banlieus – though I will go more into that later...). Young people everywhere have tasted this atmosphere and are enjoying it, and for weeks the CPE has become the point of departure for a larger critique of work and even capitalism. But be careful: it's not 1968 with all the ideas, dreams and desire... It's another time; it's harder and we gonna need more time to go beyond the fatalism and economic realism which is dominating so much of our lives. But time is moving on: At the beginning this movement was quite strange, like a political/ media event without a lot of concrete reality behind it. But playing with fire is dangerous: Little by little, then more quickly as school kids arrived joining the students on strike aiding their occupations or blockades, meaning it has become a real popular movement - at least among young people. The big problem is that except during huge demonstrations (a number of towns have never witnessed so many demonstrators, even in 1968, or even during the 'liberation' of 1945!) the workers don't join in, even on those strike days called by the unions! There hasn't been a massive workers' presence, even apparently less than last time. It's not only because of the unions (who refuse to call for a general strike as students and school kids ask them to do) but also because workers are simply afraid of losing money or jobs. Everybody is conscious that if workers aren't joining this movement it means the movement will be limited and will probably only go on till maybe the summer holidays though not after. So the main call from the student and school kid's assemblies is to try and force the workers out on strike, and true, some are beginning to place themselves in front of factories, railway stations, offices, and so on, and try to talk with the workers. It's a good idea and we will see the results soon... (Unfortunately on this point I'm not very optimistic for reasons I've stated before but I know also that sometimes things can accelerate and who knows in this country...).
The other main problem is that for the moment, at least in Paris, joining up with the banlieus is impossible though it's worse than that. On the day we have thought will be the day - the 23rd of March - there was a demonstration where there were thousands and thousands of young people, plus the banlieu rioters of November last year, together with the school kids who had been on strike last year too, plus radicalised students, and thousands of unemployed, young workers and so on: I had NEVER seen so much anger gathered together in this country... However, when we arrived at the Place de Invalides, where the demonstration terminated, maybe ten thousand people were ready to attack the CRS (riot police) who were all over the place... Instead something else happened: hundreds of youngsters from the banlieus (mostly black - it seemed like a visual, colour thing; a reverse prejudice) attacked other youngsters stealing their cell phones, clothes, money, even attempting to lynch individuals, sometimes with ten against one. Even stones were thrown at us!
Everybody was terrified and a lot went away, some never to return because they were so disgusted. I was horrified as the momentum of this precious situation was broken, a momentum that has been so long and hard in coming... It was impossible to talk with the banlieu insurgents except through individuals who knew them personally. It ended up with hundreds of young girls and boys been beaten up in an ignominious way. The worst is the banlieu crowd even called you "dirty whites" (these days you don't generally hear so much name calling like this!). You were defined by race and for these "children of the media", the demonstration was only an occasion for nicking a new jacket or a pair of Nike shoes ... Also girl gangs were doing much the same and it's probably stupid of me but it has been the thing which has shocked me the most: So much cruelty was perpetrated with some people receiving the worst injuries of all over the last two months of revolt carried out by these gangs and not by the police... Moreover there were some really vicious attitudes coming from girls sometimes only14/15 years old. During all this time the cops were also attacked - often by the same gangs - but not too much because primarily the gangs were concerned with assaulting the demonstrators. It's quite obvious that the police let these assaults happen and for obvious reasons. (There was a similar thing last year during the school kids strike and it seems that if the police don't want that pattern of assault they have the means to avoid it by mainly stopping the gangs before demonstrations in central Paris at the railways and tube stations in the banlieus: I'm not telling you that is what I want to see happen just that they have a the choice to do that if they so desire: the police can if they wish stop the massive presence of the gangs in Paris). All this manipulated mayhem has therefore been a magnificent pretext to do something the authorities have never done before: At the next demonstration (....and the one after that - and I bet it's gonna be the new rule...) they'll bring not only thousands of CRS and "Gardes Mobiles" (they're like the CRS but CRS are police and GM is from the army) as per usual but also augmented by a thousand or so plainclothes cops, disguised in every kind of way to look like gang members or, even as "anarchists"! It's even happening now as they place themselves among the demonstrators literally picking up troublemakers one by one. This afternoon in Paris, 609 were arrested with thousands of others nicked since the beginning of the trouble. They are then placed outside the demonstration, and then tucked away behind the CRS lines.... The unions have also beaten up troublemakers handing them over to the cops branding them "thieves" when most are simply angry people. It was quite horrible to feel so powerless today and you could do nothing because of the general feeling of paranoia: fear of being attacked by a "Garde Mobile"; fearful of being arrested by your neighbour on the demonstration because it turns out he is a plainclothes cop. In short everybody fears everybody else! It's all very tense and confused and it's gonna be difficult to supersede...
Nevertheless these things have apparently not happened in other towns and there are even examples of a coming together between young kids on strike and gangs with joint attacks against police and other targets.
Regarding this last point there have been some very good initiatives elsewhere throughout France: because students and young kids have no power through their strikes to paralyse the economy they try to do it their way by blockading roads, motorways, railways, airports, post offices, large markets and supermarkets. On some occasions like in Rennes, Brittany - the town where the protest started - and also the town where the participants are apparently most radicalized, the authorities have been obliged to close a whole commercial centre when thousands marched behind a banner saying "We are all hooligans" ("Nous sommes tous des casseurs"). As a result, they didn't need to break anything as the centre's top manager was so frightened he closed it immediately! Rennes' students have even voted in a general assembly (where they are regularly 4000 or 5000 in attendance) a motion saying that violence can be justified when you aren't listened to!
So we're gonna see if all this action spreads and if the young people succeed in persuading older people to go on strike... We're gonna see if we can find a way to join together with those living in the banlieus and if not to see if we are able to defend ourselves without unions or cops. We gonna see if we can go further than in 1968 - because if we don't then the consequences will be hellish - because if we lose we all know that the aftermath will be terrible as the authorities embark enthusiastically on their ultra-liberal programme...
......I will let you know more when it happens...I hope you are OK
All the best:
What follows is all a bit rambling with many long asides but, in a circumlocutory way, may deal with some of your questions. An interesting incident I forgot to mention yet quite illuminating concerning Jacques Camatte was also one I was almost personally acquainted with.
During the Portuguese uprising of the mid 1970s many 'revolutionaries' of all shapes, sizes and opinions visited the country alas mostly as revolutionary tourists, though that better form of tourism could drift into something a lot more real and I hope my experiences belong to the latter.....
My best friend at the time, Phil Meyler from Dublin and ex King Mob adherent had gone to live in Lisbon in 1973 though more in desperation than anything else surviving through teaching English as a foreign language. Portugal then could be described as an underdeveloped country – a description Marxist Leninists like Paul Baran of Monthly Review press in America subscribed too – even bringing to the fore. Whatever, everything seemed to be going pear-shaped in the more highly developed world after the great revolts of the late 1960s. Essentially most of us who had been in that marvellous melting pot were thrashing around all over the place not knowing which way to turn often clutching at straws and in an agonised self-questioning state. Quite a number committed suicide. Phil's temporary solution was to prove something else entirely as on the 25th of April 1974, the "The Revolt of the Carnations" or "Revolt of the Captains "(the MFA), erupted throughout Portugal. There's no point here in going into those exhilarating moments which followed suffice to say that Phil's letters to me became animated coming in thick and fast and all utterly fascinating. In retrospect they were the very beginning of his terrific book on that great moment "Portugal: The Impossible Revolution?" and which I helped bring to fruition and published by British "Solidarity". Bit by bit throughout the unfolding of that aborted revolution Phil became involved in putting together Contra A Corente, the major, vibrant ultra leftist grouping which made quite an impression throughout the course of events.
Contra A Corente / Combate (the accompanying newspaper) was more or less focussed around a small but excellent bookshop, of the same name, in one of the poorer quarters of Lisbon. The place was inevitably pretty lively and there were many, many open-house meetings for this unaffiliated body that hardly had a membership as such; a place of conviviality and inspiration where spontaneous friendships happened within a second, where interventions were discussed and pamphlets cobbled together. Foreigners were welcomed and nobody was quizzed as to who they were. Of course you could say these open debates meant infiltrators could come and go at whim but so what as by en large there really wasn't that much to hide? Everybody seemed so hospitable, warm and up front.
Nobody ever asked me who I was though most saw me as a friend of Phil's. Thus one day sometime in 1975 a French guy turned up at a few meetings made some - most likely - useful comments (French was really the second language in Portugal) and then left. Nothing unusual in that as so many French people passed through the bookshop/meeting arena and indeed I met some, though usually somewhat out of my brains on lethal bogacao and late in the evening, though in a blurred way I remember it was stimulating. Anyway after the anonymous French guy had left one clued-in Portuguese youth piped-up saying "Hey, do you realise that French guy was Jacques Camatte"........
And so he was! Now Contra A Corente/Combate wasn't just any old ultra leftist grouping as many of its informal participants were remarkably aware of up-to-the-minute theoretical developments like the collapse of the Situationists and/or renewed ultra leftist polemic. "So much for under-development" I remember thinking at the time! (Indeed, after I returned from Portugal I wrote a longish piece called "Memories of Underdevelopment" which was kind of nostalgic for a lost communality I grew up with in northern England and which I felt I'd rediscovered inside my soul in Portugal albeit with the essential add-on of a revolutionary perspective).This is now on the RAP web as Memories of the Portuguese Revolution in the Mid 1970s (Note added 2015).
So the fact Camatte never announced himself created quite an impression and this self-effacing gesture was basically thoroughly approved of. After all, it was anti-celebrity, or more precisely for those distant times, anti personality cults amidst the "there's no business like revolutionary show business" syndrome that was prevalent. (Remember even Debord had just been pronounced the third most popular 'pop' star in France in some weekly French gossip mag). In fact we'd all become so heartily sick of all this that Camatte plumping for anonymity was refreshing indeed as after all the guy had a lot to boast about if he had been that way inclined!
If you like Joao Bernardo was Contra A Corente's intellectual figurehead and I had quite a few relaxed, open-ended, 'intellectual' discussions with him at the time. The guy was good, real good and there was no comparable latter day Marxist of his calibre like him in the UK or America so I still consider it a scandal that his major book from that period "Para una Teoria do Modo de Producao Communista" has never been translated into English. (Actually my bro' translated parts of chapters a couple of years later). Joao now lives in Brazil and one of his recent, still interesting texts named Seven Thesis on the Present Crisis is on the Revolt Against Plenty web. More importantly during the 1990s I think he did a three volume edition on the evolution of the state which I know Loren Goldner was desperate to get into English four or so years ago but it would have been a mammoth task and only Phil in Dublin could have done it satisfactorily because sufficiently nuanced in Joao's train of thought. Needless to say way back in 1976 Joao, like many another in Combate knew and approved of Camatte as well as Barrot and others. He thought the Situationists were good on the critique of art but lacked sufficient knowledge on the critique of political economy... and so on.
On the other hand, despite appearances to the contrary Joao Bernardo also had no cutting edge critique of art as Phil Meyler often pointed out. We all no doubt remember a telling incident. A quite glossy, coffee table book had been published in Portuguese on Mao Tse Tung fronted by an Andy Warhol silk screen print of the Great Helmsman reprinted, as per usual, ad infinitum in different colour washes. One of us made some derogatory comment on Warhol and Joao looking a bit perplexed, fumbled a reply not quite knowing what to say though the gist was there was nothing wrong with the art work as such. However, Joao was hardly confident looking distinctly uneasy perhaps thinking we'd deliberately called his bluff. Although we didn't pontificate, inevitably afterwards we tended to think the guy had never considered the rise and fall of cultural form in any relevant way. Indeed momentarily you wondered if not so long ago Joao had been a fellow traveller of that simplistic Maoist evaluation of pop art as a mere expression of American imperialism pinpointing the worst aspects of modern arts' general decadence. In short it was all about content. Thus Warhol moving on from pin-ups of Marilyn Monroe to silk screen images of Chairman Mao meant for Maoists that the guy was on the way to becoming an enlightened even possible fellow traveller of the great cause and maybe the legacy of some of this was in Joao's half non-response. For sure over the ensuing years, he seems not to have confronted this omission when even the Dauve/TC nexus has made some desultory steps in that direction.
In particular I vividly remember Julio Henriques who was /is (?) a Portuguese situ guy saying he was really moved by this anti-statement of Camatte's as we were sitting in some kind of semi-alternative tasca drinking some lovely thick vinho verde (before the wine got devalued taste-wise courtesy of world market capitalisation). I must admit of all Portuguese revolutionaries, Julio was the one I really got on with and From the End of Empire, to the Empire of the End is on the RAP website. And perhaps something of more than interest here: In contrast to the English speaking world, individual theorists – for want of a better description - quickly gained quite a reputation in Portugal even during the years of the great reaction after the mid 1970s. They are kinda 'honoured' and how unusual in comparison to the dumb fuck philistinism prevalent in the UK and USA. Poor Julio! He owned a small house in the hills around Coimbra (...a town Byron loved...) and not that long ago he sub let for a while as travelling abroad. Unfortunately, unbeknown to him the short life tenants belonged to the 25th do Abril armed terrorist group who immediately turned his abode into a safe-house where at least one hostage was imprisoned. Their plots were uncovered by the police, which also meant Julio was arrested as an accomplice and faced many years in gaol. After a long trial he was cleared but not before the gutter press went to town on him pillorying the writings of this well known revolutionary. Fortunately Julio had always condemned terrorism a la Debord / Sanguinetti as a ploy of the state and/or easily utilised by the state for its own dark ends, so I guess all that stood him in good stead.
But there was more to my discussions with Julio regarding Camatte. A recent "Invariance" (Camatte and friends magazine) had kicked-off with a polemic on the recent suicide of Georgio Caesarano in Italy. Caesarano was a radical around "Ludd" an excellent group based in Milan in the late 1960s and was among the few perceptively saying that the infamous Piazza Fontana bomb in 1969 was "a bomb exploded against the proletariat". (Pinpointing the controversial longevity of this infamous bomb bringing on "the strategy of tension" a huge remembrance demonstration took place recently - December 2009 - in Italy aimed at trying yet again to get to the bottom of this monstrous provocation). Later Caesarano was to write an interesting book called "Apocalisse e Revoluzione" then suddenly the guy offed himself. "Invariance" proclaimed his death as a victory over and against capitalism. I found this senseless and so did Dave Brown, the latter remarking that during the second world war there was no records of suicide in Britain meaning a community spirit or something like "war-time communism" existed which sufficiently negated those recurrent end-your-life feelings essentially related to capitalised individualisation relentlessly curtailing any sense of togetherness. Dave Brown was adamant that suicide was a by-product of capitalist society and hardly surprisingly Julio Henriques tended to concur although I don't think the two ever met. Along with so many other interesting books no publishing outfit saw fit to publish "Apocalypse & Revolution" in a shite-hawk England and as true today as back in the 1970s. In Portugal, as previously mentioned, things were entirely different and the book was quickly published by a new outfit called Antigona obviously based on the example of Champ Libre in France. The conflicts around Antigona spilt over into the middle of the road Portuguese dailies especially a furore over whether the Portuguese Futurist Fernando Pessao around 1913-20 could be described as a fascist (see the Revolt Against Plenty web From the End of Empire, to the Empire of the End – for further details).
Obviously Antigona was an impressive publishing outfit and if only we'd had something similar in the UK we'd probably have really gotten on with those who'd put it together and perhaps the course of publishing in these islands might have changed forever! Indeed one of our friends set out to be a millionaire with the sole purpose of funding such a venture. He didn't get far struck down by hard drugs as he tried to unsuccessfully accommodate two utterly contrasting lifestyles; one as the sharp salesman of pop music gimcrack imagery, the other as a far-out visionary revolutionary. The contradictions imploded and sadly the guy is now probably a corpse though we've tried for ages to find out what happened after he made a dramatic disappearance. On the other hand if Antigona was anything to go by, things would not have been that easy. Luis who managed the outfit adopted a cardboard cut-out image of what a situationist should be as he displayed his publishing achievements. He was thus impossible to be with for any length of time. On one occasion in the early 1990s Luis visited Dublin and his stereotypical sneering, attitudinising and general high-handedness meant Phil Meyler whom he was ostensibly staying with was forever hiding around corners or under his bed trying to keep well clear of him. Later Phil confessed what he'd done and we all laughed as we recognised the syndrome only too well as since 1970 we've met literally hundreds of would be Guy Debord's (at the latest count the number stands at 637√(a^2+b^2 )) whose only effect is to bring you out in a sweat as you desperately look for the nearest exit.
Anyway, to return to the original story....Well, I too liked Camatte's anonymity as it spoke volumes to me regarding credibility and authenticity so Jack de Montreuil's comments about they guy becoming a "hermit" came as no surprise. I certainly nodded my head in silent approval because it all seemed a logical trajectory and a step or two on from a commendable anonymity. And perhaps a new definition of just what a hermit is should become current implying today a person who consciously refuses venues, programmed meetings and all the other accoutrements of the society of entertainment even encompassing 'revolutionary' milieus simply because the colonisation of everyday life is now completely unbearable. It's all made even worse because there's nothing really to see, no where to visit, or nothing to listen to any longer, compounded by the emptiness of all musical leftovers today and all the visual displays underpinned by a moronic massive passivity. Certainly the term "hermit" today has nothing of the implied resonance of romantic interpretations in the times of Jean Jacques Rousseau and William Wordsworth etc. denoting an outcast living misanthropically by themselves in some lonely dwelling or cave. (Even then, what was more interesting was how quickly the theme was taken up by the owners of stately mansions, especially in England, who'd often hire on a miserable pittance some poor guy to act the part night and day as an adjunct to their resplendent romantic gardens to be regularly displayed to equally resplendent guests). To be a hermit today might mean nothing more than an adamant refusal of the endemically inauthentic which is so central to this ultra alienated end game where programmed people perpetually gather and thus the polar opposite of self-activity and real communication. But here I speak of myself though perhaps with Camatte maybe it is something entirely different.
Seeing Contra A Corente has been put in the frame one of the things I found interesting about that group especially in the context of southern Europe was the way how quickly it attracted a fair amount of ex-Maoists. (J Bernardo had also been one). Generally though it was like as though they'd undergone a revelation on the way to an insurrectionary New Jerusalem, Maoist one day, ultra left the next but both marked by a certain rigidity of outlook that was to prove difficult to get rid of. En masse as it were the same was to happen with Spanish Maoists whom so often flocked into a borne again CNT though also a trajectory that still denied total enquiry. Indeed the meetings of this CNT were profoundly dull as I had cause to witness once or twice having nothing of the exploratory elan of Combate at its best. Interestingly, Maoists tended to have better insights though in a fragmentary way. Even in Britain in a distant way I was friendly with a Scottish Maoist name of Bob MacCullough who was an uneducated though darned bright electrician. He recalled his apprenticeship days working in Parkhead Forge steel works in Glasgow alongside the veteran Red Clydesider, Harry MacShane who was part of the post first world war scene unofficially aligned with the German ultra left and other such fractions throughout Europe. (Remember Glasgow was nearly insurrectionary at this moment).Though MacShane's radicalism cannot be doubted - in the 1970s he wrote a good introduction to the recently rediscovered William Paul's excellent book called simply "The State & Capitalism" which had been printed in Glasgow around 1917 – Bob was pissed off with the fact MacShane just hung around the furnaces never doing anything – management even OK'd it they were so in awe of him - surrounded by acolytes and forever pontificating about the past! Sometime later Bob travelled down the same general path as had happened in Spain and Portugal. Banging on about Red Guards and dutifully distributing Fidel Castro's English edition 'Granma' newspaper and forever a direct action militant by the late 1980s he was hanging around anarchist Class War in London always exhorting me to visit their "Fuck Off Cafe" on Elgin Avenue near where both of us lived.
Moreover, the 'madness' of the Maoists was always something we found comically refreshing and a cause for laughter like the Maoist couple in America in the late 1960s who called one of their off-spring "The Ho Chi Minh Trail". So once Maoists went awry – in a better way – some of the 'madness' acquired a more telling edge – hence Mao Spontex in France. In response to all of this Phil Meyler, my brother and I wrote a long piece at the time encompassing some of these complexities and oddities entitled "A Slow Boat Back from China" as a frontispiece of a book containing texts by Joao Bernardo on China plus a critique of the Italian Red Brigades – somewhat suffused with Maoism - written by Jorge Valadas (aka Charles Reeve) which emphasised the "other workers' party" i.e. the armed Stalinist influence based on the Italian resistance to Mussolini and an essential element in the RB make up. It was well researched as obviously Valadas knew his subject and some of the details emphasising how workers enjoyed kneecappings of particularly obnoxious foremen etc. who made their lives a misery whilst keeping well clear of the Red Brigades in organisational practise were valid counterparts to Sanguinetti's exposition which merely saw foreman or low grade managerial cadre as nothing more than pathetic functionaries you had no need to harm in this way. To me it showed how far Gianfranco was removed from everyday life at the sharp end.....Nevertheless the Sanguinetti/Debord critique of state directed terrorism is by far the most telling though now needs to be updated to include Islamo-fascism and the way its depredations reinforces repressive nation states everywhere becoming perhaps the most successful counter revolutionary strategy in history and the greatest ever marketing con. (Note added in 2015: see the RAP web Chinese Takeaway. Western Maoism )
Part of our collective text involved a critique of Le Dantec who was one of the major ideologists of Gauche Proletarienne and in its craziness something of a counterpart to Mao Spontex. After all by the mid to late 1970s Le Dantec had written a book "Les Dangers du Soleil" (The Dangers of the Sun") about some of their escapades, the kidnappings, interventions etc. and how it then started to unravel. How they went down south to help out gathering in the harvest – all done for free – (part of the beginnings of Confederacion Paysanne; a morphing if you like from Narodniki nostalgia to an excellent critique of a scientifically degraded agriculture product of a rapacious capitalism?) and then back to full-on support for Breton nationalism, or rather, the leftist leaning "Red Bonnet" variety with all its peasant throwback rituals together with something of an anti-nuclear, neo primitivist and neo-pantheist add-on as lost in awe Le Dantec experiences with delight "the storms that lash the Brittany coast." Somewhere in these pages Le Dantec remarks that French steel workers' militancy came from their love of pigeons as some boss in some steel town once tried to do away with their pigeon coops causing a very violent strike. In fact it was the type of knowledge/response you'd never get from a Trotskyist. At least you could casually mention to most Maoists everyday things like shoplifting, trashing cars, smashing shop windows etc without them batting an eye. You could never do that with a Trotskyist!
Though most of this drift found the clearest – or rather most fully documented expression - in France part of it becoming what we called at the time the "Maoist pro-situs" on account of their anti consumer jag and their spontaneous trashing of super market production just for the rush and high of joyful potlatch. Remember too, spontex was a French kitchen cleaning brand; a labour saving device for a stereotypical housewife and the latter role was in any case under attack as part of the nuclear family set-up. During the mid to late 1970s our building gang worked on the London houses of individuals who'd belonged to or hung-out with Gauche Proletarienne one of whom was friendly with Le Dantec. However all these youthful memories were about hi-jinks best forgotten as this lot had 'grown up' though Maoist posters of ducks around peasant small holdings still adorned the walls of their now chic abodes and the obligatory Renault was parked outside the door. And true to type of an evolving Maoist ideology they'd also tried to do their own building renovation after purchasing elegant Victorian terrace houses and they were fucking up the DIY real bad. So 'the professionals' (us for christssake!) were called in to make the bodged plastering as smooth as a baby's bum. By now though these individuals had really altered for the worst and were well on the way to becoming the emerging faces of the new middle classes in a changing social democracy underpinned by single issue awareness. One of the women had just published Chris Grey's "Leaving the 20th Century" - that would be critical eulogy on the Situationists - through an outfit called Suburban Press which included fledging young artists like Jamie Reid who were to provide the shock graphics of sleeve covers together with 'militant' fashion iconography that were to promote the Sex Pistols and Punk rock in general. Oh, the twists and turns of history and the way history works behind our backs....... and according to Nietzsche, "the path to eternity is bent"!!!!!!
One ex-Maoist affiliated to Contra A Corente I became friendly with in Portugal was Pimpao. I liked the guy a lot because he was larger than life, very cornball, and spontaneous and years later would be the kind of guy the PC (politically correct) crew would take pot shots at. From a peasant background in the Alentejo (the Portuguese bread basket) he quickly became a para state official (though for once a well-meaning official) of the agrarian reform apparatus (the Institute for the Reorganisation of Agriculture, aka the IRA) under the auspices of the Otelo government in 1975 aimed initially at any rate in assisting all the combative farm workers form rural cooperatives etc. (Talk about the typical Maoist drift, Phil remembered his first meeting with Pimpao and then going to his small apartment only to be confronted with a very large poster of Chairman Mao on the wall which, less than a year later, was then changed to an equally large one of Bakunin)! At first the IRA was of real assistance to the farm labourers, handing out credit to them etc, but once the top governmental echelons changed so did the tenour and responses of this essentially new para-statist organisation which from then on, lackeying the varying tide, wasn't so sympathetic to those at the sharp end. Travelling through the Alentejo at this time - say on the train - was an amazing experience passing through occupied farm, olive/cork tree groves one after another regaled with placards, flags and slogans, some even hanging from the cork trees.....But then the creepy reaction and suddenly nothing was what it seemed. A semi-duped Pimpao flipped his lid ending up in a loony bin (believe me particularly ghastly places in Portugal). Coming out, Pimpao still seemed just as irrepressible, though in a way saner yet also madder at one and the same time and I remember one night he insisted with good humour I try out his various medications while we both were drinking copious amounts of aguardente. I complied as after all I felt 'mad' too and not too dissimilar to Pimpao. And I forget the rest.....
With the waning of revolutionary hope in Portugal it was as though some variation of Freudian repetition compulsion was kicking-in but this time working within the paradigms of historical movement as shattered desires bit the dust yet again – and sadly so quickly after the defeat of the late 1960s - as madness and escalating suicides again became almost commonplace. Equally there was a rage against the dying of the revolutionary light and even those who still considered themselves 'sane' started doing crazy things that on reflection weren't that 'crazy'....as the following true story highlights!
One New Year's Eve around 1977-8 we visited ("we" here means mates from around Contra A Corente) a workers' tasca in Lisbon simply because at this club the drink was cheap and the atmosphere more than lively as most of our merry little band proceeded to get out of our brains finally endlessly dancing the rumba joining a snaking line of people getting ever longer which even wormed its way outside hitting loudly the cold cobblestones as hundreds of legs kicked out in rhythm from side to side. On and on we went until dawn was breaking and what was worse we had drunk the club dry! Somebody then had a bright idea remembering the bar in Lisbon zoo would be open if we wanted to carry on dancing. So we did just that. Arriving at the zoo our inclinations began to drift as we thought about dancing the rumba with the animals which then slowly morphed into the possibilities of liberating them. Inevitably there was also some playful improvisation in theory too: Didn't the liberation of the world's oppressed humanity and the suppression of money and the economy necessarily involve the liberation of nature too? Some of us had also read about the fate of the zoo in the Paris Commune of 1871 as animals were freed, trees dug up and turned upside down with their roots in the air substituting for leaves and branches. We'd also recognised these facts as examples of lived creativity that were precious to us alongside other 'mad' acts like those communards who shot the clock towers up, which we saw as a pointer to the end of what thousands of us referred to in the late 1960s as "fascist clock-time". (It was as though we needed this revolutionary romanticism quite neglecting the dismal reality that probably the animals in a starving insurgent Paris ended up on dinner plates and moreover for us the revolution in Portugal as in the Paris of 1871 was also dramatically failing!) Anyway so what, drunken communion with the animals in Lisbon zoo seemed to come so natural to us, so pleasant and so full of the most benevolent empathy as we climbed up a wire fence and fed the ostrich and then were able to put our hand through part of a cage – providing we hoisted ourselves over a forbidding stone wall – to stroke the tiger. Then with one or two others we managed to lower ourselves down a steep concrete incline into the hippopotamus compound where we began gently stroking the big beasts saying nutty but sweet things to them, looking deep into their kind, kind eyes. Stroking one hippo and giving a hug, I asked the animal if it would be OK if I put my head in its wide-open mouth. The big beast seemed to say "yes" even though the fumes from the aguardente in my mouth must have been near toxic though nonetheless I then put my head in those gaping, massive jaws. Then Phil did the same. Then another... Nothing happened. No kafuffle. No panic. This was a new form of communication; this was a breakthrough.... But then all hell broke loose though not emanating from this strange pow-wow of a meeting. Somebody had alerted the police and into the zoo they poured, machine guns at the ready. We had no choice but to scarper, to make a break for it, our destiny with a revolutionary nature curtailed by the state! It meant a permanent ban from Lisbon Zoo.... Years later Os Cangaceiros got wind of this escapade, though I don't know who told them, and Jack de Montreuil sent me a plastic toy hippo with its mouth open which still stands on my stone mantelpiece. Only years later too did I learn that hippos are among the most dangerous animals of all!
In a way a history of Contra A Corente was written, a collaborative effort by Joao Bernardo, Rita (Joao's girlfriend), Jose Mela e Silva and Phil Meyler and is up on the RAP website as O Jornal Combate . For sure it couldn't be anything else but interesting – indeed very interesting - though you also know a hidden history of Combate still awaits an airing and perhaps far more telling dealing with daily life. Only Phil Meyler could write it precisely because he had/has such a sharp eye for exquisite detail having the Irish "gift of the gab", that wonderful 'craic' with an often multi-levelled way of seeing things through a kind of worked on stream of consciousness that James Joyce was able to bring out and use to such effect in the final demolition of the novelistic form. No wonder Phil's book on the Portuguese uprising was the best of all in any language as the pages breathe with pulsating life with an unmistakeable "I was there". The problem with Joao despite his theoretical excellence is a certain dry as dust style in getting throbbing ideas across to us, the now half-crazed general public. In fact it isn't so much style implying a lack of 'gifted' writing ability (the writers' dubious skills) but a basic problem of lifestyle. Joao could never break away from his well off upper middle class upbringing and Phil used to complain about this to me as well as others that he had for instance, to take off his shoes whenever he entered Joao's parent's posh apartment. All very galling...
Thanks again for your website URLs. I am not too sympathetic to Theorie Communiste or Jean Barrot. I think it has all become highly reductive and equally, highly abstract. Somehow all notion of the totality has been lost sight of in pursuit of inflections on Marx's conception of value together with additions from the post first world war ultra left. I was talking with Nils just before Xmas as he showed me his recent book "End Notes 1: Preliminary Materials for a Balance Sheet of the Twentieth Century". In a way Nils was Aufheben but has now departed and he is much into that Dauve/Barrot (Douvet/Wheelbarrow) mode though I like the guy. Aufheben has done some very interesting things and my twin bro' translated an article for the mag from the 'famous' (infamous?) drunken 'autonomist' French train driver well over ten years ago analysing and commenting upon strikes in France at the time.
I never met Barrot but I used to stay with Mike Lucas in Paris in the mid 1970s and he used to often mix with Barrot via the usual one-to-one meals so typical of France (Mike had been with Ken Knabb in Contradiction in the Bay area and they'd had a heavy falling out with ML calling KK "a Jesuitical little corporal" and so on). Mike finally also just couldn't get along with Barrot and found basically an extreme divorce between his theory and his quite conservative everyday life which was an insight I agreed with. Mike once told me Barrot had confided to him that he was always "very suicidal" and that I can well believe. But then Mike concluded Barrot was "philistine". Well, I would say Barrot had no critique of art and its growing importance when discussing capitalism in its entirety but there again Mike called me "philistine" too when I started prancing about in some Parisian state gallery, showing off by imitating a worker's 'vulgar' response to art. It was a put-on but one I was sympathetic to – after all they were my childhood experiences - though Mike just didn't get it. Not that I minded Mike's response! The sad truth is he did! And then suddenly the guy disappeared completely from view and nobody but nobody has heard from him since. Some say he became a buyer for his Mother's art gallery in New York, running, running, running from his radical past but I just don't know; others say he died of asphyxiation unable to escape in any way from the economics – for him - of a class bound Oedipus Complex. (Again, wow, was the guy privileged and like an old familiar heartache, I felt afresh that fish still out of the water syndrome, as again, I was the yob, yob, yobbo – the "academic thug" – clearly with the imprint of the tough working class neighbourhoods, especially the miners, I grew up with).
However, again this might be a slur and you have to be careful about all of this as it can be hot-house milieu-ist. I too have been called all names under the sun like a millionaire businessman making production line 'living sculpture' garden furniture, a ganger and/or foreman on building sites who ripped-off workers, a flunkey in the pay of a brutal slum landlord and a sexist who would rape a woman at the drop of a hat. Jeez, did all of this hurt and mud sticks which, is why mud is thrown.
I guess it could have been a lot worse. For instance, an ex-King Mob woman told me Anna Mendelsohn of the Angry Brigade fucked with women screws when in gaol for ten years and even had a scene with Myra Hindley co-conspirator with Ian Brady of the horrific Saddleworth Moor murders of children and something we'd gone on about in the days of King Mob as an example of a forever lost nihilism that could never ever be rescued re Nietzsche's life-asserting drift from passive to active nihilism in "The Will to Power". The conclusion of this book had been superseded, or given a more coherent conclusion, by Vaneigem when in the SI, who threw aside all the superman nonsense the book is wrongly famous for. In retrospect, maybe, for the benefit of thickos, it would have been better, more understandable if Vaneigem had quarantined the concept by pointing out that Nietzsche's superman could really be nothing more than a precursor of that fictional commix invention from the planet Krypton we all know so well. Whatever, once such notions are cast aside the supercession of nihilism was then freed up enough to flower into full-blown, profound – and for the first time – collective togetherness of endlessly innovatory revolutionary critique. (In any case if Anna had fucked like this where does desperation begin and end in prison (?) and I've known enough women who have had long stretches in "her majesty's toilet" as Black guys in the UK laughingly describe it, and I know just how crazy sexually they can go and in this respect they are little different from men). However, am I to believe all this tittle-tattle in its condemnatory crudity? Until I know with cast iron certainty, all this goes in one ear and out the other which is one of the reasons I completely keep my distance from all milieus, now more than ever! Truly, I also savagely attack but I hope with much greater accuracy. Finally though – and the real crux of the matter - what I really dislike about milieus is their self-importance, competitiveness and like-think paradigms that seemingly invisibly impose themselves. I like to range far and wide – though one constant remains – always, always, always I keep away from business people, cadres and professionals....and you never know even at this late date, the world can still be ours......
Another tragedy though was to await Anna Mendelsohn and one more to the point. Like the rest of the Angry Brigade, Anna lacked any critique of art that had a transcending perspective. John Barker – the most aware theoretically of the AB – initially had a telling critique (see his text in the "Lost Ones around King Mob" on the RAP web) but it was quickly sidelined though elements of it resurfaced in the leaflet explaining the Biba boutique puff, smoke and big bang. In the despair of the ensuing years (the period when for a brief moment I really got to know Anna minus the 'militant' mask) of increasingly horrible reaction an utterly disoriented and freaked out ex Angry Brigadier retreated more and more into a bohemian cultural scene on the fringes of an elite Cambridge University artsy fartiness. Or rather she tried to recreate another neo-bohemian set as the original was in rags and tatters rejecting a technologically fixated modern world especially anything to do with IT and set about writing yards upon yards of hand-written poetry and scribbling one sketch after another which were then quickly tossed to one side probably to be forgotten. Some of this stuff was picked up by equally lost fellow travellers who made them into small publications like "Implacable Art" and the Parataxis mag and presented under the pseudonym of Grace Lake. (A word of caution here: After my brief encounter I really didn't know what had happened to Anna Mendelsohn as more and more she shunned contact with her old companeros, so some of this comment is based on facts learnt over the last four years). Inevitably this poetry compilation couldn't amount to much as the historical moment of this anti-syntax / jumble of words seemingly representing untrammelled spontaneity had passed years ago and was nothing more than boring repetition. That moment of "words in liberty" as letters and alphabets etc seemed to spring off the page; that moment of Futurism, Dada, sound poems, etc was irrevocably over or rather transcended in the poetic acts of subversion having cleared the page landing in the streets and fields of everyday life; that moment from the late 1940s onwards and ever since but which I fear Anna had little knowledge of and which no Eng Lit prof' would ever have countenanced or have told her about!
On the other hand, Anna's determined refusal of technology and IT could point to something that is liberatory, part and parcel of that neo-primitive momentum desiring a renewed face to face intense communication without the interference of electronic mediation demanding ever greater separation and human absence. Nonetheless these final years of Anna's life shows how she was unable to free herself from the dreadful, a-historical mantle of Eng Lit courses she studied so assiduously at Essex University and elsewhere: She really did believe in the bankrupt role of the genius poetess. To be sure, she implacably didn't want to talk about the Angry Brigade and was no doubt completely traumatised about its memory but this wasn't the way to overcome that ideological militant posturing role which characterised and still characterises such groupuscules. What perhaps this tragedy pinpoints is that so few who have lived authentic lives and made subversive contributions have been able to put together any self-reflective and deeply personal, intelligent assessment of what they'd experienced or, its effects on a subconscious that cannot be mentioned. Instead there's been a big shutting out as we allowed the agony inside ourselves to fester. It's as though these one-time protagonists daren't say anything leading for fear of creating offence or for fear of being wrong or worrying about so many other unknown fears lurking up front ready to pounce on vulnerable psyches. For sure in such vital reminiscences there will be faults, misinterpretations, fantasies and what have you – there always are – but it is far better this stuff is out there for all to dwell upon than to go into that last goodnight never having let it all hang out.