Tom Vague on Situationists

The Boy Scout’s Guide to the Situationist International:

The Effect The S.I. Had On Paris ’68 And All That, Through The Angry Brigade And King Mob To The Sex Pistols by Tom Vague

Found at


Constructed Situation: a moment of life concretely and deliberately constructed by the collective organization of a unitary ambiance and game of events.

Situationist: having to do with the theory or practical activity of constructing situations. One who engages in the construction of situations. A member of the Situationist International.

Situationism: a meaningless term improperly derived from the above. There is no such thing as situationism, which would mean a doctrine of interpretation of existing facts. The notion of situationism is obviously devised by anti-situationists.

Psychogeography: the study of the specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour on individuals.

Psychogeographical: relating to psychogeography. That which manifests the geographical environment’s direct emotional effects.

Psychogeographer: schoolteacher who hacks up his pupils…Sorry! One who explores and reports on psychogeographical phenomena.

Derive: a mode of experimental behavior linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of transient passage through various ambiances. Also used to designate a specific period of continuous deriving.

Unitary Urbanism: the theory of the combined use of arts and techniques for the integral construction of a milieu in dynamic relation with experiments in behaviour.

Detournement: short for: detournement of pre-existing aesthetic elements. The integration of present or past artistic production into a superior construction of a milieu. In this sense there can be no situationist painting or music, but only a situationist use of these means. In a more primitive sense, detournement within the old cultural spheres is a method of propaganda, a method which testifies to the wearing out and loss of importance of those spheres.

Culture : the reflection and prefiguration of the possibilities of organization of everyday life in a given historical moment; a complex of aesthetics, feelings and mores through which a collectively reacts on the life that is objectively determined by it’s economy. (We are defining this term only in the perspective of the creation of values, not in that of the teaching of them.

Decomposition: the process in which the traditional cultural forms have destroyed themselves as a result of the emergence of superior means of dominating nature which enable and require superior cultural constructions. We can distinguish between an active phase of the decomposition and effective demolition of the old superstructure – which came to an end around 1930 – and a phase of repetition which has prevailed since then. The delay in the transition from decomposition to new constructions is linked to the delay in the revolutionary liquidation of capitalism.

You’ll find the term ‘Situationist’ liberally sprinkled throughout contemporary agit-prop/pop culture. A lot of people name drop it but what it actually means and where it comes from is never properly explained and mapped out for people. This particular effort is going to be no exception to that. However “Situationist” is most definitely not some arty term that Malcolm Mclaren dreamed up to con people. It goes back many years before Talky Malky’s reign of terror and had already been used to far greater effect.

The term came to the attention of certain sectors of the British populus, 5 years before Malcolm Mclaren borrowed some situationist ideas for the Sex Pistols, when on the night or January 12th, 1971 the country, and more specifically the house of Robert Carr, Ted Heath’s Secretary of State for Employment, was rocked by two bomb explosions. Old Blighty had, of course, already felt the anti-imperialist anger of the I.R.A. in a similar way. But this was different. The IRA used bomb attacks for very specific purposes; troops out and home rule. The Carr Bombing was undoubtedly connected with Carr’s controversial industrial relations bill, but the people responsible were not part of any traditional revolutionary group. All Special Branch had to go on was a communiqué from an organization calling itself “drumroll.” “The Angry Brigade- Robert Carr got it tonight. We’re getting closer.”

Special Branch had heard or them before, but always dismissed them as (relatively) harmless anarchistic cranks. After the Carr Bombing they took them rather more seriously, asking themselves if this was the beginning of something big – the Revolution that people had been predicting throughout the 60’s? Special Branch informants and files on political groups were useless. In fact the only real clue they had was a list of targets included in an earlier communiqué: “Embassies, High Pigs, Spectacles, Judges, Property.” The third from last term “Spectacles” intrigued one enterprising Special Branch sergeant, who started visiting Liberatarian bookshops and sifting through underground magazines and literature.

The enterprising Special Branch sergeant found that the word Spectacle was a popular slogan, used by a Paris based group known as Situationists, to describe capitalism, the state, the whole shooting match. Owing as much to the Surrealists and Dada as Marx and Bakunin, the Situationists starting point was that the original working class movement had been crushed, by the Bourgeoisie in the West and by the Bolsheviks in the East; Working class organizations, such as Trade Unions and Leftist political parties had sold out to World Capitalism; And furthermore, capitalism could now appropriate even the most radical ideas and return them safely, in the form of harmless ideologies to be used against the working class which they were supposed to represent.

Unlike the Special Branch sergeant, Malcolm Mclaren obviously did’nt do his homework properly (Or maybe, schoolboy prankster that he is, he did’nt care about the exam results as long as he became a personality cult). However in 1957 the soon to be Situationists did not accept this as the way things would remain, not if they had anything to do with it. In opposition to this process they formed ‘the Situationist International’: a group consisting mostly of artists, intellectuals and the like (it has to be said), which set out to develop a new way of interpreting society as a whole. (Prior to the S.I. the Lettrists, who predated Punk by almost 30 years sporting trousers painted with slogans).

On the surface the Situationists appear as extremely cynical fatalists. They began by condemning as redundant and articulately destroying anything that came before them. Everything from the Surrealists and the Beat Generation fell in their wake. Yet they had a fundamental, utopian belief that the bad days will end. Their criteria was basically, “if we explain how the nightmare works, everyone will wake up!” An inevitable optimism absent, by the very fact of their existence, from traditional political groups: who always operate on the premise that people are too thick to decide for themselves.

This was how (and why) leading Situationist, Guy Debord formulated his theory of The Spectacle. He argued, in their journal (‘Internationale Situationniste’) that through computers, television, rapid transport systems and other forms of advanced technology capitalism controlled the very conditions of existence. Hence the World we see is not the Real World but the World we are conditioned to see: THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE (the name of Debord’s book). The Spectacle’s audience is the lumpen proletariat, the bourgeoisie, even the bosses now merely look at the Show: Real Life: thinking about it as spectators, not actually participating or experiencing it.

Debord saw the end result as Alienation. Separation of person from person; crowds or strangers, laughing and crying together but ultimately isolated from everybody and everything. The Spectacle makes spectators of us all, because we’ve been conned into substituting material things for Real experiences. However, Debord felt this feeling of alienation could eventually break the stranglehold of the Spectacular society. People were already rebelling against being kept apart by mass culture/ commodity/ consumer society. In the early 60s thousands of young americans questioned their role in middle morality America and dropped out in the anonymous tenements of Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco. In 1965, in the Watts suburb of Los Angeles, thousands of black kids burnt down their schools and factories.

To Debord these unconscious revolts against the Spectacle were evidence of it’s vulnerability. It wasn’t as invincible as it seemed. But before the Spectacle could be overcome it’s safety net, Recouperation, had to be dealt with: to survive Spectacular Society has to have strict social control. This is retained, without much fuss, by it’s ability to recouperate a potentially revolutionary situation. By changing chameleonlike it can resist an attack, creating new roles, cultural forms and encouraging participation in the construction of the world of your own alienation into the bargain.

For example alternative lifestyles can be turned into commodities. The Haight-Ashbury hippies were eventually packaged off into commodity culture, as, of course, the London punk rockers were a decade later. And, with a lifestyle safely recouperated, after a certain amount of time it can be dusted off and sold back to people, inducing a yearning for the past.

The Spectacle had gone that whole step further. For those bored with the possession of mere things, it was now capable of packaging even the possession of experiences: package holidays, community schemes, pop culture.
Spectacular Society is made complete by the recuperation of the environment in which all this must be experienced: The Recouperators realized that people would no longer accept the damage the growth of the Spectacle: heavy industry: was doing to their physical surroundings: the world. Hence environmental recuperation or “Urbanism.” This consists of replacing disordered urban-sprawl with more manageable structures; factory-towns, new-towns, shopping-malls, super-markets. Huge areas designed solely for the purpose of work and the creation of profit, with total disregard for the needs or the people forced to service it. The workers kept apart in ‘new architecture, traditionally reserved to satisfy the ruling class…for the first time, directly aimed at the poor: ‘Dwelling Unit, Sweet Dwelling Unit.’ Rabbit hutches designed soullessly to isolate and instill formal misery.

The Situationists’ answer to “Urbanism” ‘was the reconstruction or the entire environment, according to the needs of the people that inhabit it. Their answer to modern society was to be nothing short of the “REVOLUTION OF EVERYDAY LIFE” (the title of the companion book to ‘The Society Of The Spectacle’ by Raoul Vaneigem). Unlike traditional revolutionary groups, the Situationists were not concerned with the improvement of existing society, or reforming it. They were interested in destroying it completely and pulling something new and better in it’s place. No half measures. No gestures. No immediate solution.

The Situationist programme began where art ended. They argued that mechanization and automation had potentially eliminated the need for all forms of traditional labour: leaving a gaping hole, now known as leisure time. Rather than fill this hole with ‘Specialist Art’, the Situationists wanted a new type of creativity to come out of it, which would be inseparable from everyday life. This new environment has to be brought about by the ‘construction of situations’. Never an easy one to grasp that. Basically it’s confronting the Spectacle with it’s own irrelevance;
“To make the World a sensuous extension of man rather than have man remain an instrument of an alien world, is the goal of the Situationist Revolution. For us the reconstruction of Life and the rebuilding of the World are one and the same desire. To achieve this the tactics of subversion have to be extended from schools, factories, universities, to confront the Spectacle directly. Rapid transport systems, shopping centers, museums, as well as the various new forms of culture and the Media, must be considered as targets for scandalous activity.”

Areas For Scandalous Activity; Strasbourg University, 1966.
So by appropriating a bit of Marx, a bit of anarchist practice, plenty of Dadaism (Situationist practice owes more to Groucho Marx than Karl), even some Rimbaud, and by refusing absolutely to have anything to do with traditional hierarchies and the transfer of power from one ruling elite to another, the Situationists were ready to become a social force. By the mid-60’s they were looking around for opportunities to intervene in existing radical situations; in order to speed up the inevitable collapse of the Spectacular Society.

Their first major opportunity arose in 1966 at Strasbourg University; a notoriously inactive careerist student body but with a leftist student union. 5 Pro-situ students infiltrated the union and set about scandalizing the authorities. They formed an anarchist appreciation society, appropriated union funds for situationist inspired flyposters and invited the SI to write a critique of the university and society in general. The resulting pamphlet, “On The Poverty Of Student Life (Ten Days That Shook The University)” was designed to wind up the apathetic students by confronting them with their subservience to the Family and the State. And it was none too subtle about it;
“The whole of (the Student’s) life is beyond his control, and for all he sees of the World he might as well be on another planet…Every student likes to feel he is a bohemian at heart; but the student bohemian clings to his false and degraded version of individual revolt. His rent-a-crowd militancy for the latest good cause is an aspect of his real impotence…he does have marginal freedoms; a small area of liberty which as yet escapes the totalitarian control of the Spectacle; his flexible working hours permit adventure and experiment. But he is a sucker for punishment and freedom scares him to death: he feels safer in the straightjacketed space-time of the Lecture Hall and the weekly essay. He is quite happy with this open prison organized for his benefit…The Real poverty of his Everyday Life finds it’s immediate phantastic compensation in the opium of cultural commodities…he is obliged to discover modern culture as an admiring spectator…he thinks he is avant-garde if he’s seen the latest Godard or ‘participated’ in the latest ‘happening’. He discovers modernity as fast as the market can provide it: for him every rehash of ideas is a cultural revolution. His principal concern is status, and he eagerly snaps up all the paperback editions of important and ‘difficult’ texts with which mass culture has filled the bookstore. Unfortunately, he cannot read, so he devours them with his gaze.'”

The pamphlet went on to dismiss the university as “The Society for the propagation of ignorance…high culture with the rhythm of the production line…With out exception the lecturers are cretins…bourgeois culture is dead…all the university does is make production-line specialists. But on the positive side, it pointed out that away from student life, in the Real World, working class kids were already rebelling against the boredom of everyday life;
“…the ‘delinquents’ of the world use violence to express their rejection of society and its sterile options. But their refusal is an abstract one: it gives them no chance of actually escaping the contradictions of the system. They are it’s products – negative, spontaneous, but none the less exploitable. All the experiments of the new social order produce them: they are the first side-effects of the new urbanism; or the disintegration of all values; or the extension of an increasingly boring consumer leisure; of the growing control of every aspect of everyday life by the psycho-humanist police force; and of the economic survival of a family unit which has lost all significance.
“The ‘young thug’ despises work but accepts the goods. He wants what the spectacle offers him – but NOW, with no down payment. This is the essential contradiction of the delinquent’s existence. He may try for a real freedom in the use of his time, in an individual assertiveness, even in the construction of a kind of community. But the contradiction remains, and kills (on the fringe old society, where poverty reigns, the gang develops it’s own hierarchy, which can only fulfill itself in a war with other gangs, isolating each group and each individual within the group). In the end the contradiction proves unbearable. Either the lure of the product world proves too strong, and the hooligan decides to do his honest day’s work: to this end a whole sector of production is devoted specifically to his recuperation. Clothes, records, guitars, scooters, transistors, purple hearts beckon him to the land of the consumer. Or else he is forced to attack the laws of the market itself either in the primary sense, by stealing, or by a move towards a conscious revolutionary critique of commodity society. For the delinquent only two futures are possible: revolutionary Consciousness, or blind obedience on the shop floor.”

However existing student rebels, such as The Dutch Provos, the British ‘Committee of 100’ and the Berkeley students got the thumbs down: Basically for fighting the symptoms (Nuclear Arms/ the Vietnam war/ Racism/ Censorship) not the disease: And specifically for their tendency to sympathize with western society’s apparent enemies; China especially whose cultural revolution pamphlet considered “a pseudo-revolt directed by the most elephantine bureaucracy of modern times.” (it did begrudgingly have a good word for the Committee of 100’s “Spies for Peace” scandal: where, in 1963 the anti-nuke movement invaded secret fallout shelters reserved for the British government.)
Summing up, “On the Poverty…” outlined the solution as confronting the present social system with the negative forces it produces;
“We must destroy the Spectacle itself, the whole apparatus of the commodity society…We must abolish the pseudo-needs and false desires which the system manufactures daily in order to preserve it’s power.”
Using appropriated union funds, 10,000 copies of the pamphlet were printed and handed out at the official ceremony, to mark the beginning of the Strasbourg academic year. There was an immediate outcry. The local, national, and international press condemned it as incitement to violence, which of course it unashamedly was. The Rector of the University said they should be in a lunatic asylum. The students responsible were expelled and the student union closed by court order.

The presiding Judge pronounced; “The accused have never denied the charge of misusing the funds of the student union. Indeed, they openly admit to having made the union pay some 650 pounds for the printing of 10,000 pamphlets, not to mention the cost of other literature inspired by the ‘International Situationniste’. These publications express ideas and aspirations which, to put it mildly, have nothing to do with the aims of a student union. One only has to read what the accused have written, for it is obvious that these five students, scarcely more than adolescents, lacking all experience of real life, their minds confused by ill-digested philosophical, social, political and economic theories, and perplexed by the drab monotony of their everyday life, make the empty, arrogant and pathetic claim to pass definitive judgements, sinking to outright abuse, on their fellow students, their teachers, God, religion, the clergy, the governments and political systems of the whole world, rejecting all morality and restraint, these cynics do not hesitate to commend theft, the destruction of scholarship, the abolition of work, total subversion and a worldwide proletarian revolution with ‘Unlicensed pleasure’ as it’s only goal.
“In view of their basically anarchist character, these theories and propaganda are eminently noxious. Their wide diffusion in both student circles and among the general public, by the local, national and foreign press, are a threat to the morality, the studies, the reputation and thus the very future of the students of the University of Strasbourg.”

Areas For Scandalous Activity; Paris ’68 And All That.
This work is part of a subversive current of which the last has not yet been heard. It’s significance should escape no one! In any case, as time will show, no one is going to escape its implications!”
-Raoul Vaneigem, “The Revolution Of Everyday Life”

At first the events in Strasbourg didn’t seem to have much effect. But in the following months the ideas and tactics of the Situationist International (or at least a fair old bit of discontent, fueled by the Strasbourg pamphlet spread like wildfire through the universities of France.
In the mid-60’s the French University system was heading for trouble anyway – largely due to overcrowding. The government tried to deal with the crisis by setting up overspill colleges in the provinces and slum-outskirts of Paris. This made matters worse. One of the Paris overspill colleges in particular, Nanterre, situated amidst waste disposal tips and the spanish immigrant ghetto, was almost perfect for intervention. There was already a strong feeling of alienation amongst the students; uprooted from their former teeming cafe lifestyle in the Latin Quarter and dumped in council flat style blocks; separate residential blocks for males and females, no recreational facilities, everything controlled by a faceless centralized bureaucracy in Paris. It was all straight out of Debord’s Society of the Spectacle.

However Nanterre did have one of the few Sociology departments in France and, at the beginning of 1968, a lot of radical students were concentrated there. In due course a list of reforms was drawn up. Quite reasonably they wanted to specialize in subjects of their own choice, but that wasn’t all by any means. They deliberately pressed on with claims they knew would be rejected, and all talk of reform was soon forgotten: As they used to say, be realistic demand the impossible.
The students involved became known as ‘LES ENRAGES’ because of their theatrical nature and the violence of their demonstrations (the name originally comes from an 18th Century revolutionary group led by Jacques Roux, who ended up being guillotined by the Revolutionary Tribunal). To support their reforms they began disrupting lectures, breaking down all communication between lecturers and students: then escalating the ensuing disorder by spreading rumours that plain-clothes police had infiltrated the campus to compile a black-list of trouble-makers. The SU protested. The situation was developing.

The first major incident occurred when the Minister of Sport came to open a new olympic-swimming pool. A vandal orgy had been planned for the opening ceremony and the minister’s route was sprayed with graffiti. But nothing happened until the minister was about to leave. Then, so the story goes, a red-haired youth stepped out from the crowd and shouted;
“Minister, you’ve drawn up a report on French youth 600 pages long but there isn’t a word in it about our sexual problems. Why not?”
The minister replied, “I’m quite willing to discuss this matter with responsible people, but you are certainly not one of them. I myself prefer sport to sexual education. If you have sexual problems, I suggest you jump in the pool.”
To which Danny Cohn-Bendit countered, “that’s what the Hitler Youth used to say!” and immediately shot into the headlines and secret police files (if he wasn’t in the latter already.)

Les Enrages capitalized on this development by parading up and down the hall of the Sociology building, with placards displaying blown-up pictures of alleged plain-clothes police. One of the staff complained and tried to enforce the college ban on political demonstrations. There was a scuffle and the Dean called the police. This was just what Les Enrages were waiting for. Within an hour 4 truck loads of armed police were let into the University by the Dean. Les Enrages threw everything they could lay their hands on at them, luring them into the University so everybody could see exactly what was going on. The Police were no longer a rumour, they were very much fact. Moderate students duly joined in to drive the police out of the University. Provocation had drawn repression, which in turn had rallied mass support. It was a classic Situationist victory.

Les Enrages continued to build on this emotional reaction to the authorities repression, until 3 anti-Vietnam War bombings took place in Paris. 5 members of ‘The National Committee For Vietnam’ were arrested. On March 22nd, as a protest against the arrests, a group of Les Enrages and some anti-Vietnam war demonstrators occupied the administration offices at Nanterre and decided to get a real Movement going. “THE MOVEMENT OF MARCH 22nd” was to have no organization as such, no hierarchy and no hard and fast programme. Obviously it was political, but it did’nt follow one political doctrine. There were anarchists, Marxists, Leninists, Trotskyists, all manner of -ists, and of course, a bit of Situationist in there somewhere.
Dany Cohn-Bendit soon established himself as the principal spokesman; describing himself as ‘a megaphone’ for the Movement and ‘an anarchist by negation’. He said he despised authoritarian Marxist-Leninist hierarchies almost as much as capitalism itself but, “I don’t live in Russia, I live here, so I carry on the fight against the French Bourgeoisie.” Cohn-Bendit and the situationists wanted a horizontal, federal organization of Workers’ Councils, who act together but preserve their autonomy, Direct Democracy. The hard-line Leftist factions did’nt always share this view but the Movement was held together simply by a desire to change society.

They had no illusions of overthrowing Bourgeois Society in one foul swoop. No Revolution. The plan was to stage a series of revolutionary shocks. Each one setting off a irreversible process of change. The March 22nd Movement acting as detonator but not attempting to control the forces it unleashed. They realized such a revolt could not last, but at least it would provide a glimpse of what was possible. If they failed it was just a matter of time before another situation developed in another place in another way.

Anyway, at Nanterre the threat of The March 22nd Movement and what the Dean described as “a real war psychosis”, led to the University being closed down and Red Danny and some others being summoned before a disciplinary tribunal. On May 3rd hundreds of left wing students gathered at the Sorbonne, the originally overcrowded University in Paris, to protest. The Rector of the University became worried, especially when he heard that a group of right-wing students were gathering nearby. He rang the Minister of Education and together they decided to bring in the police, despite what happened at Nanterre.

Silently groups of students were bundled into police trucks. Then, as the first load was being driven away, shouting and jeering broke out from the assembled crowd. Someone threw a stone through the windscreen of the truck and hit one of the police. The students surged forward and tried to liberate their comrades (woops!…friends). Tear gas was fired and the violence escalated: The police beating innocent by-standers and street fighters alike. The students setting light to cars and tearing up paving stones, iron gratings, traffic signs, anything that could be hurled at the police.

The rioting spread throughout the Latin Quarter and at the end of the day 597 people had been arrested and hundreds more injured. The Authorities heavy handling of the situation had provided tens of thousands of young parisians with something concrete to release their pent-up anger/ frustration/ alienation/ resentment on. The cry of ‘Liberez nos Camarades!’ went up and the students held their ground for a week; during which more and more young people joined their increasingly militant demonstrations. Finally, on May 11th, M. Pompidou withdrew the police from the Latin Quarter and said the case of the arrested students would be reconsidered and the University reopened.

As news of the Events spread, via TV-footage of the burning barricades and street battles, thousands of young people from, not just France but, all over Europe made for Paris. Many of them from affiliated student groups but also individuals drawn by something relevant to their own situation. Amongst the English contingent were John Barker, Anna Mendelson and Christopher Bott, who would put the ideas they experienced into practice back home and go down in history (as well as literally) as part of “The Stoke Newington Eight” Also, if you believe the story, Malcolm McLaren was given a guided tour of the barricades by his art school buddy Fred Vermorel and returned to put the ideas in practice in a different way.
“A good time to be free,” was how Christopher Bott described it, “Imagination was seizing power” ‘ The Sorbonne was transformed from an institutionalized bureaucratic conditioning centre to “a Volcano of revolutionary ideas”. Everything was up for debate, everything was being challenged. Day and night every lecture hall was packed. Passionate debates on every subject went on continuously. The spirit of Arthur Rimbaud had returned. The Paris Commune had become a reality. Nothing like it had been seen before anywhere.

This is how another english student described it in ‘Solidarity’: “First impression was of a gigantic lid being lifted, pent-up thoughts and aspirations suddenly exploding, on being released from the realm of dreams into the realm of the Real and Possible. In changing their environment people themselves were changed. Those who had never dared to say anything before suddenly felt their thoughts to be the most important thing in the world and said so. The helpless and isolated suddenly discovered that collective power lay in their hands…People just went up and talked to one another without a trace of self-consciousness. This state of euphoria lasted throughout the whole fortnight I was there.”
It was then that the inspiration for the Sex Pistols best lyrics and t-shirt slogans was written, on the walls;


But while the Sorbonne became the hip place to be in ’68, all the Centre Censier members of the Situationist International, Les Enrages and some others were forming ‘The Council For The Maintenance Of The Occupations. Their aim was to set up Worker/Student Action Committees to maintain the many sit-ins and strikes that had spread from Paris to the rest of France.

By May 21st, 10 million french workers were on strike, most factories were occupied, the french transport system had come to a standstill, everybody from pro-footballers to film directors (though not Polanski) were supporting the students. But nobody seemed to know what to do next: they had taken over the factories; the means of production and thrown open the doors to the institutions. But where to from there?

The SI and Les Enrages at the Centre Censier tried to show how it could be followed up by producing leaflets on self-management and workers’ councils. Whilst, at the same time, denouncing the leftist recouperators who were trying to take the credit and manipulate things for their own party political ends. The Communist Party, who refused to acknowledge any individual revolutionary activity actually by the people, were having decidedly unproductive dialogue with Cohn-Bendit. Dany the Red ended up calling them “Stalinist Filth” and the big Communist Trade Union, the CGT, refused to back the Revolution because it wasn’t under the control of their central committee. The same story as the Spanish Civil War where the communists blew it because it wasn’t on their terms. But at least they did’nt back the elections called for by the opposition.

De Gaulle formally (and characteristically) called on the Army. On May 28th he made a secret flight to Baden-Baden in West Germany, where General Massu, the Commander of the French troops, was stationed on NATO exercises. The following day he returned to Paris with Massu’s assurance that the army was still loyal enough to support him in any confrontation. First he called M. Pompidou and his Cabinet to tell them he was going to dissolve the National Assembly and call an election. Then, at 4:30 that afternoon, he addressed the Nation and basically lied that the Country was threatened by a “communist dictatorship” to rally support for the Republic. Promised to give greater powers to the Prefects of the Provinces and, that if necessary, he would have no hesitation in calling in General Massu and his troops (as if anyone thought he would have anyway). Vive La France!

And that was it. Of course it worked, the old communist bogeyman was all that was needed to whip up enough patriotic fervour to get the Centre to join with The Right and recouperate the situation. Extra petrol rations and free coaches were laid on and they came from all over France to La Place De La Concorde (De Gaulle’s face?), for a carefully orchestrated march to The Eternal Flame at L’Arc De Triomphe; the symbol of Nationalism. In the elections that followed De Gaulle was returned to power by the biggest majority in recent french history… well and truly recuperated.

Despite the millions on strike and the hundreds of thousands on the streets, it was always true that the Movement was basically the work of an intellectual elite and at the end of the day the silent majority couldn’t be lured away from the capitalist carrot. They did’nt understand the intellectual repression felt by the students and their theories were all so much idle rubbish compared with the day to day reality of earning a crust. But having said that, De Gaulle had been lucky. Maybe not so lucky next time. The students had succeeded in bringing out the discontent in French Society at the ever increasing distance between the bureaucrats and those whose lives they control.
The physical recuperation took several months: State property had to be reclaimed, slogans painted over and foreign students deported; including Dany Cohn-Bendit and John Barker. But with France back in the grip of a right-wing, nationalistic fervour (which it has never really shook off to this day), the show was over. (The Situationist International itself, which had already split in 2, was further decimated by various expulsions, resignations and scissions until it’s eventual demise in 1972 – It seems that half the fun of having an International in the first place is so you can expel people).

From this point on the action moved with John Barker and chums, to England. A certain group of germans also incorporated some situationist ideas and, in America, groups such as the Yippies, Motherfuckers, SLA and The Weathermen (but by 1969 the hippies had been recuperated to such an extent that there wasn’t anywhere much to intervene in America).

The legacy of May ’68 was to be felt for some time yet. The nights on the barricades and the exhilaration of new ideas had proved to the people there that revolution/ change was possible, not only possible but inevitable, and that capitalist society was in it’s death throes. The situationist idea of intervening in a situation, with deliberate and systematic provocation, as put into practice by the 22nd March Movement, had been proven to work very effectively and very dramatically.
Where Paris had succeeded and the most important lesson of May ’68 was final proof that the traditional revolutionary groups were now as outmoded, institutionalized and oppressive as the capitalists in power and were just as much slaves of the Spectacular Society. Final proof, that since the halcyon days of Marx, Bakunin and Lenin, they too had been recouperated and indeed become recouperators in their own right. They lost face to thousands of young people when they came out in their true colours, against the anti-hierarchy, self-management notions of the 22nd March Movement. And especially when it was proved, contrary to communist dogma, that self-management does in fact work. Why not let the people decide?
“People who talk about revolution and class struggle without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding what is subversive about love and what is positive in the refusal or constraints, such people have a corpse in their mouth.”
-Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution Of Everyday Life.

Merry Punky Pagan Solstice

I think winter solstice is 22 Dec this year (difference of a few seconds), but looking festive from here in bonnie Galloway – had a few days of hard frost so countryside  all white n sparkly .

So have a very merry  punky pagan solstice everyone…

AL Puppy

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If you would like to contribute to Shit-Fi, please get in touch. We are looking for talented writers who love primitive or marginal music and who are willing to examine the political and economic aspects of the production of this music with clear eyes and ears, unclouded by the fog of commercial ambition. Special consideration given to writers knowledgeable about music other than punk and hardcore!

If your band is the type that would send a promo, we probably don’t want to hear it. But if your label, distro, or store believes in advertising, please
get in touch.


All content written by Stuart Schrader unless otherwise noted.

Anarchy Centre in Wapping remembered

Just found this review  of tape on site called

AL Puppy

V/A“In the Old Days! 1980–1982” Cassette (Distributed by BBP)
by Mike Clarke

As naive constructs go, anarchopunk probably takes the biscuit. Built on the idealistic shipwreck of original punk ethics (themselves largely mythical and half-baked), hindsight has it that Crass and their acolytes injected said leftovers with a fundamentalist zeal, then drove them once more onto the rocks of uniformity and cult-oblivion. Seen through the cartoon lens of prepackaged, learned stereotype, it actually depends on your level of critical objectivity or, if a participant yourself, the color of your own hindsight, whether rose-tinted or best-forgotten. For children of the 60s like myself, the 60s themselves were best-forgotten; after all, by the time I was old enough to enjoy them, they were over, and punk proved a final escape from the sepia-tinged sterility of the 1970s. And then, suddenly, punk itself was “over,” apparently, its initial promise bought up and commodified. The young kids of 1980–1981 had become victims of the same con: by the time they were old enough to catch the wave, the tide had gone out again. Sorry, Punk’s Dead, proclaimed the journalists, authorities in all beyond keeping themselves in a job. Ironically, the contempt displayed by the corporate music press/industry for “Last Year’s Youth” meant that anarchopunk thrived on its own, imposed margins.

By donating cash for a proposed Anarchy (here, “Autonomy”) Centre in 1981, Crass were making a truly grand gesture, a repudiation of all that the likes of The Clash promised, but failed miserably to deliver. That the whole venture ended in ignominious, apathetic failure is no statement on Crass, or anarchopunk per se, but it was typically human and typically of its time, inevitable and incorrigible to the last. By seeking to realise the utopian punk dream of 1977, or their own perception of such, those behind the Autonomy Centre were inevitably doomed to similar failure.

The Autonomy Centre was situated in a warehouse on Metropolitan Wharf in Wapping, a district of London’s East End docklands. Crass used the proceeds from their “Bloody Revolution” single to help set up what was to be London’s first anarchy centre. It lasted from summer 1981 to early 1982 and was characterised, as quoted in George Berger’s The Story Of Crass, by “an uneasy tension between old school anarchists and anarcho punks.”

Wapping, in those days, was a deadzone, a cross between Blade Runner and Stalingrad (after the battle). OK, I exaggerate: it was dominated by long, largely disused, wharves flanking the river and lined with derelict warehouses or storage depots. Gentrified—sorry, regenerated—in the late 1980s, it now has the Docklands Light Railway, its own small airport and a forest of glittering luxury flats, wherein Crass’s noble ten-grand donation might buy you a doorframe, if you could live cheek-by-jowl with yuppies and city-slickers that is. Anyway, New Years’ Eve 1981 promised a stellar line-up of The Mob/Apostles/ Null & Void/Flack/Blood And Roses and more. Entrance to the Autonomy Centre was facilitated by handy spray-painted/stencilled circled-A signs (what else?) on walls and pavements, which gave the evening the air of an urban treasure-hunt, the code of entry to a secretive, exclusive society, unknown to the desultory trickle of festive revellers braving the icy wind. Originally, six of us were due to make this trip, but most wisely pulled out, leaving just me and a local skinhead mate (whose mum had once refused me and my sister entry to their house,shouting from an upstairs window “You’re not coming in here looking like that!” I quite reasonably asked if she’d noticed her son’s choice of attire recently). Anyway, on arrival in not-so-sunny Wapping we found a pub, hoping for a few festive pints amid a throng of boisterous, friendly East Enders, only to enter a musty vault wherein two very young girls, either drunk or deficient in the mental-health department, were vainly trying to chat up a barman ossified in repose over his beer-pumps. At midnight, a booze-sodden old soak in a flat cap crashed through the doors, claimed a pint, sat opposite us and proceeded to hawk up a lifetime’s phlegm, discharging it squarely atop the end of a single cigarette me and my friend were just sharing and had placed in the ashtray before us. Happy New Year indeed. The girls giggled. Two of us, two of you, their eyes seemed to say, and we made swiftly for the door.

The Autonomy Centre had a library of turgid anarchist tomes. (I’d rather have seen The Dispossessed, or better still, say Atlas Shrugged, if only to provoke some debate—anything but the simpering decay of damp conformity on display.) When I flicked through one lofty polemic and pointed out that the (WWI-era, Russian, and very dead) author had been a noted antisemite, a bearded anarchist calmly took the book from my hand, replaced it on the shelf, and walked away with a kind of contemptuous flourish worthy of a disgruntled feline. Luckily, the gigs themselves were organized by people like Andy Martin of the Apostles and the Kill Your Pet Puppy (KYPP) Collective, so there was at least some prospect. Only these two crews had the vaguest idea of how to liven up such a turgid miasma of smug, ineffectual tedium: Andy Martin & co via no-bullshit action, KYPP by vivaciousness and a colourful verve. Without them, the Autonomy Centre would have lasted a night and I wouldn’t be writing this.

I’d like to finish with some great anecdotes, but there weren’t any: half the bands didn’t show up and most of those that did were unlistenable or forgettable. The beer went flat, then ran out. I eventually dozed off in a comfy chair, until my pal jabbed me awake at 7.30am with a pool-cue and, bleary-eyed, we got the first tube home. I do recall him saying “That’s the last fucking New Year’s Eve you drag me out of the pub.” He’s probably still there (I went another couple of times and it was much better, to be fair).

Listening to this tape reminds me of a time (1980) when the original punks had died off/sold out, but before the whole anarcho scene became labelled and codified. The bands are poorly recorded and largely formative in their delivery. “Conjure up” is probably the right phrase, because it reminds me of autumnal, leafy Stoke Newington streets, dimly-lit and musty squats, the oppressive aroma of printers’ ink at Kentish Town’s Interaction. It evokes a brief period in time, one that I remember neither negatively nor positively, but merely as it was. Whilst basic and often inept, the bands herein are far from three-chord caricatures, the lyrics already somewhat inspired by Crass but not yet in thrall to what became a standard. Admittedly, a gig at the Autonomy Centre was a long way from Gen X at the Vortex, the Damned at the Marquee, the Clash at the Music Machine, but it was similarly a lot better than a 6 identikit leather/bristles “Real Punk” Sunday night extravaganza at the Lyceum. Also, for all the rhetoric about “black-clad anarcho hordes,” bands such as Rubella Ballet, Part 1, Rudimentary Peni, Blood & Roses, The Mob, Cold War, Committee, Omega Tribe, Apostles, Hagar The Womb, and Flowers In The Dustbin may have shared lyrical/political/social sentiments and stages with Crass, but they were vastly more diverse in everything from dress-sense to musical style than pop history pigeonholes them as. The other important thing to remember is that these bands formed an alternative network, away from the standard London music circuit of the Marquee/Nashville/Lyceum/Music Machine/Roundhouse/Dingwalls, preferring instead cheaply hired halls and youth clubs without need of bouncers and self-aggrandizing promoters. There was no internet and no text-messaging, merely a small line in the general-listings at the back of Sounds, perhaps a flier in Rough Trade or Kensington Market if you were lucky, then a quick look at the London A-Z, 4–6 bands for 50p/£1, a long walk from the nearest tube station, cans of beer from the local offy, always someone selling their latest fanzine from a plastic bag, then more often than not a long walk home after the last train.

This tape was recorded “live” (ostensibly) at the Autonomy Centre by Rich G (aka Scarecrow of the Scum Collective) and compiled by Andy Martin. I picked it up from Big Banana Products last year. Perhaps it’s a reissue (like many BBP listings) of an old title, or maybe a recent compilation from newly discovered archives.

Androids of Mu Interview

Androids of Mu Interview (From No Class fanzine)

As the people from No Class landed in Shepherds Bush, London W12, the keys to the flat were thrown out of the window to us, ready to let an interview with Bess and Corrina from the Androids of Mu take place, which went like this:

NC: Why was the LP called Blood Robots?
C: By calling it Blood Robots we threw more light on what our name is about. I don’t wanna be too precise about that, because I wanna leave a bit more to the imagination. A lot of our stuff at the same time was about everyday people and situations, but through our minds, from a completely different point of view.
NC: So are your songs protest songs?
B: Yes, most of them.
C: We would like to change things if we could. Generally we are supporting change, of attitudes and for the better. But on the other hand, sometimes what we do is just observation. It’s more like making people think, rather than opinionating and asking for people to accept our opinions.
NC: So you do benefit gigs?
C: Yeah, loads, cos we’re not playing for money. We aren’t making any money and even when we play ordinary commercial gigs we only get our expenses and when we play benefits we get our expenses, so from that point of view it’s not much different. It’s better that we’re actually supporting something that is worthwhile if we play a benefit, so we do.
NC: Did you lose money on the free tours?
C: Yes we did, because it cost us a lot to set it up in the first place, like posters and getting a vehicle in condition, so that we could do it. Our actual expenses on the road had been met but not the expenses that it cost us to prepare the whole thing. Everyone involved lost about £70. If you put all that together, there was three bands, it cost a lot of money.
B:Doing about two tours, free tours, made us realise that we didn’t wanna do it again cos…
C: We can’t do it, we can’t afford to.
B: As well as that, we realise that people want to pay. I really think so. They wanna pay to get in and enjoy themselves.
C: It was all part of an attempt to change existing attitudes, in the sense that if a person comes into a venue and they pay because they realise that by paying they support the whole idea, and at the same time they give opportunity to people who have got nothing to come in, That’s good but it just doesn’t work like that, because people’s attitudes were that if it’s free it’s not worth anything.
B: But another idea why we started doing free tours was because we thought music is something so nice there shouldn’t be a packaged price on it. You get gigs at Rainbow, £3 or whatever, depends on the seats if you’re at the front or the back, but we thought music should be left to people: what they think it’s worth. Some people at the time thought it was 10p, others 50p. I think that’s great because people paid money what they think; they don’t feel ripped off.
NC: I think it’s a good idea.
B: But it doesn’t work that way. There’s not many people thinking that. Maybe more down in London, they’re more open minded about things, but in North of England… It’s being conditioned, isn’t it? Most young people they work 9 till 5 and they go out on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. And if they pay money to get into a gig they enjoy themselves. It’s like a routine.
NC: Didn’t you get people going along to try it out, because it was free?
B: Yeah, half of it was like that, they were really supporting us, but not other half.
C: Another thing was that usually they spent all their money on drinks, so that even if they wanted to give, they didn’t have any money left.
B: No, but we sussed that out didn’t we? We were doing a gig with three bands. By the time the second band came on we would go round with the hat and collect money.
NC: Could you tell us how Girlfriend Records came about?
C: It just sprung out of the fact that I’m a sound engineer and I’ve been working at Street Level studios. All the time I’ve been working in there there’s been about one percent of the people that come to the studio were women. Because of that I knew a lot of female musicians. They used to say we really wanna come into record something but we can’t afford to or we don’t know where to start or …. things like that. I realised that there was a need to do something and I was just in the right place at the right time. It wasn’t that we decided it was gonna be Girlfriend Records, it just came out of the events leading up to it that I started recording all these women bands and it grew into an LP (Making Waves various artists compilation). Everyone thought it was a good idea that it came out on an independent label and we thought ‘Why not start a label?’
B: It involved all twelve bands, they all helped out in some way. It’s very difficult to be a record company by yourself.
NC: And what about Blood Robots?
C: Suzy who was with us at the time, she found this poster…
B: There was a big gallery, posters and poetry done by women. We saw this painting on a wall and she said that could be the cover, and we all went Wow! What a good idea. We did a coloured printing, but the colours didn’t come out right. It was too much contrast, black and brown.
NC: Is it the original that was used, the one in the gallery?
B: Yes, the woman who done that (Monica Sjoo), we wrote to her. We haven’t met her. She said of course you can use it.
NC: Can you tell us about your deal with Crass?
B: Two years ago, when they wanted to do a single with us, they didn’t want our drummer to play on it cos she was playing out of time. They wanted their own drummer, and we all thought it would sound like Crass again, so we refused it straight away.
Read the rest of this interview HERE

Roseberry Avenue Autonomy Centre

Remember 1984? George Orwell’s book that is. Winston Smith had the job of re-writing history, to erase any and all aspects of the past which didn’t agree with the Ingsoc Party line…

Well its 1984 (again) time folks. The nice Wikipaedia people are about to erase a part our collective history. They reckon if it ain’t on Google, it doesn’t exist.

All a bit Spectacular really. Cretinisation. Banalisation.

AL Puppy

PS thanx to Southern’s Crass forum for this news flash.

This message will be erased in 5 days.

Archaeology of Punk

Archaeology of Punk : Our Life, Our World

I am freezing cold. Just spent ½ hour standing at a bus stop waiting to go to an Industrial Workers of the World meeting. My own fault. Didn’t wrap up warm enough! And… allowed myself too much time to catch the bus – well it might have been early – so by the time it actually came I was numb with cold and just watched it pass. Now I am thawing out and coming back to life. So instead of Plan A – plotting world revolution in a pub, I must fall back on Plan B – finish writing this. Which has a vague connection with Plan A. I was going to meet Ben Franks in the pub and have a chat with him about anarchism and punk. In his book [Rebel Alliances: AK Press: 2006] on British anarchism, Ben seems dubious about punk as anarchist. Talking about Crass [as = to anarcho-punk] on page 73 he says :

“its vision was often closer to that of pacifist individualism than to radical anti-capitalism. For this reason it was derided as merely ‘prosaic laissez-faire individualism’. On other occasions it promoted ‘an anarcha-feminist sensibility alongside forceful anti-militarism.’. The sizeable following around Crass became interested in environmental direct action, animal rights, vegetarianism and veganism.” [The quotes above turn out third hand: firstly George McKay quoting Tom Vague quoting Simon Reynolds from Q magazine and secondly George McKay quoting Stewart Home quoting Craig o’ Hara: The Philosophy of Punk – which is about USA anarcho-punk. None of these, apart from Tom Vague are primary/ reliable sources.]

And then we have:

“The anarchist-punk agent for change was unclear. On the few occasions it was explicitly elucidated it seemed to reject class, and appeal to the same great hope of the ‘60s hippie culture-’youth’. As a result of such shared characteristics, it is no surprise that punk met a similar fate to that of the 1960s (counter) cultures it originally despised. It became a youth orientated marketing niche, subsumed into the mainstream of corporate business. Punk clothing and records could be found in companies owned by multinationals.”.

So that is us telt then, to speak my native Scotch. Now read on…

Part 1 – Intro.
I have dug out some 25/ 30 year old cassettes. Was thinking about sending them in to KYPP online so the excellent Mr. Penguin could upload ‘em here for you, dear listener, to download. But before posting them off, thought I had better check them out for sound quality. Hmmm. Perhaps not. I guess it depends how ‘authentic’ you want the sound to be. Even with headphones on (so as not to trouble the delicate ears of my teenage kids) still pretty rough. Bit like the Time Team when Tony ‘Baldrick’ Robinson shouts out “Great news, Carenza’s found another skeleton in trench 23 ”. Dead bodies as entertainment.

Anyhow, so far listened to two tapes. One is a collection of Blood and Roses songs/ demos, other a mix of four demos by Raped [who became Cuddly Toys] plus a random mix. I was listening to the Blood and Roses tape when I spotted that “I know where Syd Barrett lives” by the Television Personalities is now up on KYPP. Here is the ‘Comment’ I wrote:

Part 2 – No Comment
Syd Barrett was a punk rocker… hang on just had a flash of deja vu – or is it just a carry over from The Soft Boys/ Vegetable Man comment I made earlier? Doesn’t help that I am listening to some 25 year old + tapes trying to work out if they are still listenable. Its the archaeology of punk. Tape playing now is some early Blood and Roses demos, but it keeps speeding up and slowing down and one track over-recorded with some song off the radio.

Right at the end of side one there is a sample/ quote from a tape of Tony Puppy’s interview with Bob- the Zig Zag one which is on here. Bob says: “They can exploit me, they can exploit the band, but they can never exploit the idea… ”

and then the tape cuts to Blood and Roses live at Centro Iberico – Love under Will and Curse on You. Lisa’s vocal on Curse on You is still -scary. The sheer venom with which she spits out “I put a curse on you… there is nothing left for me to say… except I HATE YOU, GO AWAY ….” ….and the anarchist punks call out for “More, more. more…”. What had happened was that the other bands on that night over ran, so Blood and Roses only got to play two songs. So? So they took the stage, incandescent with rage and laid waste to half of west London.

Then another jump to Adam and the Ants – the song “Dirk Wears White Socks”, the version we spent hours playing and replaying trying to work out the words for back page of KYPP 4…. “gotta concentrate on camp, in a concentration camp”. The sound is coming and going , it is like listening to a pirate radio station, on AM/ medium wave ….from a long time ago, ‘beaming waves from the sea’ … dark and dangerous, disturbing. Occult punk, weaving spells and invoking demons. Really dangerous demons – having just watched ‘Downfall’ on tv, last days of Hitler in Berlin. Going to save this now and recycle as a longer article. [Comment ends]

Part 3: Really dangerous demons?
So what does ‘really dangerous demons’ mean -apart from a tabloid sub-editor style shock horror headline? How about this ?:

“They seem to have some weird notion that if they ignore every limit of taste/ morality this will in some way promote a ‘sensual revolution’ and everyone will come out of their particular closet improving the mental health of humanity no end. This is their rationalisation for the obsessional images of Nazi/bondage/pain which saturate the pages [of Ripped and Torn]” – text taken from “In Transition from R & T to KYPP” – flyer for benefit gig with Charge and Barracudas: the Squat, 13 St James St. Covent Garden Friday June 15th 197? – in Photo Gallery here- as is Page 11 of KYPP 2- from which:

“Fascism is the child of the marriage between repression and frustration” [Wilhelm Reich]
“Love is the Law, Love under Will” [Aleister Crowley]

And now for some Ant lyrics:

“We’ll go to a Berlin nightclub
All the acts are so risqué
Many people have the motto
‘Boy tomorrow, girl today‘

Now’s the time to leave your wardrobe
Just forget your social bent
Bring it all out in the open
We could use your decadence

You gotta concentrate on camp
In the concentration camp
Auswitz [?] the blood lay then
In the concentration camp”

So that the ‘really dangerous demons’ would be occult/ Nazi chic, the idea that in it is embrace of all that was/is transgressive, forbidden, suppressed and denied; punk danced too close to the decadent edge between ‘a bit of a laugh’ and ‘the horror, the horror’ – came too close to the real heart of darkness. [as in Joseph Conrad/ Apocalypse Now]. Maybe it did. Even stronger, yes it really did. But go back to the Wilhelm Reich quote.

Reich was there in the Berlin / Weimar Republic of Cabaret in 1930, where he joined Communist Party of Germany. His book, The Sexual Revolution, was published at this time in Vienna. Advocating free contraceptives and abortion on demand, he set up clinics in working-class areas and taught sex education, but became too outspoken even for the communists, and eventually, after his book The Mass Psychology of Fascism was published, he was expelled from the party in 1933. In this book, Reich categorized fascism as a symptom of sexual repression. The book was banned by the Nazis when they came to power and Reich left, ending up in the USA. Reich was expelled from the International Psychological Association in 1934 for political militancy. [Note : Reich inspired three good bits of music : Hawkwind’s Orgone Accumulator, Patti Smith’s Birdland and Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting. ]

4. Sex and Economic crises
The Nazi’s seized power on the back of an economic crisis, or rather the fear that without strong leadership Weimar Germany would be taken over by communism. Which led to WW2 . Which led to ‘the post-war consensus’ – a mix of state control and capitalism designed to smooth out the extreme economic boom and bust cycles of pure free-enterprise capitalism and so keep totalitarianism [fascist/ communist] at bay. The World Bank and IMF were created at Bretton Woods in 1947 to manage the global economy to this end. For almost a whole generation [= 33 years = 1947 to 1980] this created a prolonged consumer led boom but by mid seventies the cost to the USA of financing the Vietnam war and the oil price shock which came out of the Arab/Israel war of 1974 saw the Bretton Woods (see above on World Bank/ IMF) structure melt down. Result? An old fashioned global economic crisis. Response? A quick turn to the right under Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

Now you might have thought that all the sixties radicals would have responded to this assault on their newly acquired freedoms by having a real rather than spectacular revolution… so why didn’t they? Maybe because of the fear factor. As I hope most readers will recall, Reagan and Thatcher frightened the shit out of anyone with half a brain cell by re-inventing the Cold War. The spectre which haunted Europe in 1980 was nuclear war – remember all the nuclear armed Cruise missiles? Which provided a neat distraction from the simultaneous outbreak of a renewed class war. They had a bomb, but would they ever really use it? Obviously not, otherwise we’d all be dead.

Back to Wilhelm Reich in 1930s Berlin and the dangerous demons of sexual politics/ the politics of sexuality. What if punk emerged out of intercourse between a crisis of capitalism and a crisis of sexuality? Jon Savage/ England’s Dreaming picked up on this:

Just as McLaren and Westwood simultaneously used and despised sixties libertarianism, the Sex Pistols gained power at exactly the moment when the freedoms of the 1960s were reaching their high water mark. In the summer of 1976 they existed on the cusp of the New Right: nothing shows this more than their confused use of the swastika and their attitude to sex. For despite the free and easy sexual milieu within which the Sex Pistols moved, the strongest element to come over from their songs is sexual disgust….When asked to write a song about submission [BDSM /sexual fetishism], Lydon had produced a lyric with punch line which was a dissolution of the ego, submerged in the mythical female: ‘I’m going down you’re dragging me down/ Submission I can’t tell you what I found/ Submission/Submission/ Going down down/ Under the sea/I wanna drown drown/ Under the water/ I’m going down down /under the sea.’
This accords with the fear of the female described by Klaus Theweleit in ‘Male Fantasies’, his masterly study of the image of woman in the collective unconscious of the German Freikorps, the early fascist shock troops. ‘A river without end, enormous and wide, flows through the world’s literatures: the woman-in-the-water; woman as water; as a stormy cavorting, cooling ocean.’.

Scott Bukatman [Terminal Identity: 1993] takes the fear further:

The fear of women amongst the Freikrops, Theweleit points out, is more than mere castration anxiety : soldier males exhibited the desire to annihilate the female and reduce her to a ‘bloody mass’… Ultimately women exemplify that flow which threatens to wash away all that is rational (all that is the subject) in a final cataclysmic flood, and thus ‘anti-woman’ is a code for anti-life.

Bukatman is talking about cyborgs (e.g. the Terminator movies) in science fiction not punk, but you get the picture. To simplify Reich (ha!) his idea of revolutionary practice connected -intimately, orgasmically – sexual and political revolutions. In which case, to argue against what I think is Ben Franks ‘missionary’ position on punk , punk’s ability to evolve from the Sex Pistols to the Poison Girls and so ‘promote an anarcha-feminist sensibility alongside forceful anti-militarism’ was quite a feat. Revolutionary even.
This didn’t just happen. It got argued out. Take the cover of KYPP 3. Brett’s original illustration of two punks kissing was changed after one such discussion when Val suggested the female punk should wear boots and the male punk some make-up. Hagar the Womb were formed in response to the ‘all boy-band’ line-ups of gigs at the Wapping A Centre. And, strange though it might seem, at least one ‘decadent’ era/ pre- pop Adam and the Ants fan went on to become a Greenham Woman. [Pinki – who thanks to Dave Morris of Stop the City and McLibel trial and Richard Cabut of Kick and Brigandage – even got her obituary as a punk Greenham woman in the Guardian in May 1996]

5. Imminent zing the Eschaton (think KLF)
What am I meant to be going on about? Not sure. I suppose what I am trying to say is that punk found its own way to a vaguely situationist version of revolutionary practice by passing through / becoming a nightmare version of everyday life. By invoking all the really dangerous demons, by picnicking in graveyards whilst singing songs about fascism and war, anarchy and peace and all the other shit, we inoculated ourselves against the sickness of society, half-killing ourselves in the process. Punk did not get
“ subsumed into the mainstream of corporate business [such that] punk clothing and records could be found in companies owned by multinationals ” . We went DIY not corporate business. Was this ‘prosaic laissez-faire individualism’ rather than ideologically sound ‘class-struggle anarchism‘? Maybe it was. But how about this:

Overemphasis on the “class struggle” however, can lead to a misapprehension of the nature of the classes… The proletariat and the bourgeoisie cannot be anything but the living instruments of variable capital [ = workers] and fixed capital [= bosses]: they have their roles to play, but they are in no sense the directors of economic and social life… the existence of a powerful proletariat, united by working conditions but also an entire culture and style of life, and more or less excluded from bourgeois society was in reality nothing but a precapitalist relic, an ‘estate’ in the feudal sense and not a direct development of capitalist development at all. It was precisely class struggles that helped capitalism realise itself ….
[ Anslem Joppe: Guy Debord: 1999]

This is brilliant stuff. No wonder all serious revolution types hate the situationists. Personally, I blame Hegel. Raw Hegel is pretty indigestible, but after soaking for 24 hours and boiling for at least ten minutes you can cook with him safely. In cooked form, what you get is history as a magickal mystery tour. Not sure if there were any gnostic punk bands, but if there had been they would have sung songs about the descent of divine sparks into the material world. Any one for Sting? :

There is no political solution
To our troubled evolution
Have no faith in constitution
There is no bloody revolution
We are spirits in the material world

But you got it all wrong Sting. The correct gnostic versions is that the ‘spirits’, the sparks of divine fire (= our souls) are trapped in matter and keep trying to escape back to the divine realm. Some Christian gnostics (= heretics to be burnt) went so far as to claim God the Creator was EVIL, and made this world as a trap for naïve souls. Only through the direct action of rejecting the material world could a trapped soul return out of bondage and return to the limitless light, no longer a dweller in darkness. OK, this all sounds like bullshit to the nth degree, but have you ever touched a dead body? Before she died (5th Jan 1996) Pinki / my partner and wife left me a whole set of instructions about what to do after she died. One instruction was that she wanted a proper wake – to have her open coffin in the house, with her dressed up in her best magical robes, with her punk make up on and wearing her Sumerian style wig/headdress. Whicvh with help from Tinsel was duly done.

The funeral was 12 days after her death and … her flesh was cold and hard like clay. Really. To touch/ kiss her was just like kissing/ touching a sculpture made out of cold hard clay. So the ’primitive’ idea that we are lumps of clay mould by a goddess/god and given life by the breathing ( or capturing if you are a gnostic) in to the clay of a divine spark feels/ felt ‘true’. Back to Hegel.

Hegel took this idea and turned it into a stupendous and stupefying work of philosophy as history. He started [ Hegel: Science of Logic: 1812: 1969 translation Chapter I ] by equating pure Being ( = existence) with pure Nothing (= non-existence) and carried on for another 800 indigestible pages. Soaked for nearly two centuries and boiled for nearly 40 years, we get this:

Spirit descends into/ becomes Matter (= Nothing becomes Being?? ) and this starts History moving. For most of History, Spirit exists as an Unconscious Force and so History looks like One Damn Thing After Another. But then, Miracle of Miracles, and Coincidently just around the time Hegel started Writing Stuff, Spirit managed to become Conscious of its Material Existence and bring History – as the Unconscious Struggle of Spirit against/within the Material World – to an End. This Heaven on Earth (also coincidently) was Manifest in the Prussian State of Germany, within which Hegel just Happened to Live.

Don’t quote me on the above, have prob. got it wrong. As no doubt this next bit.

Hegel was a university professor/ lecturer and inspired a bunch of his students who called themselves/ were called ‘Young Hegelians’ and who were so German. Karl Marx was a Young Hegelian, though I don’t think he was actually taught by Hegel. What Marx did was re-mix Hegel, editing out the mystical magickal stuff to create a scientific theory of history in which the Proletariat rather than Spirit become the force which will bring about the End of History. ‘End’ here meaning both ‘final result’ and ‘stop’. The Proletariat being the working class who had been brought into being by the Bourgeoisie Revolution which had overthrown Fuedalism. The Bourgeoisie liked to pretend that their Revolution was the final one but it wasn’t. Once the Proletariat realised that their work/ labour/ backs was/ were the foundation upon which the Bourgeoisie were standing, smoking cigars and sipping champagne – then the Final Revolution would happen. The Proletariat would become conscious of History and choose (or be impelled by the Historic Imperative) to seize the Means of Production and Distribution and bring about a class free society – one in which there would be neither masters /mistresses nor slaves. [So no S’n’M] With neither oppressors nor oppressed, the tensions and conflicts which had previously driven history forwards would end, and so history would end.

Theoretically it should have happened by now. But it hasn’t. So what went wrong?

A beginning of sorts ?

Kill Your Pet Puppy

So where to begin?   Hell, I don’t know. Faced with the same blank page  problem two years ago, I  said:

“In the beginning there was punk. It was the summer of 76, the summer the earth stood still and burnt…”

Which became the first entry – 01 March 2005 – on my blog site. To my surprise it got six positive comments, which encouraged me to persevere with the blog, although it has yet to become the record of Green (as in eco- social politics) Galloway that inspired the title. The idea for doing a blog came from  reading Mogg Morgan’s one.  Mogg being a Thelemic (as in Aleister Crowley,  Kenneth Grant and Maggie Ingalls) magickian and publisher – Madrake of Oxford.

A year  later I got a scanner and started pasting images with the text. I posted  some scans of  Kill Your Pet Puppy as a way to illustrate that  ‘anarcho-punk’ was not all black and white, but a colourful and creative chaos  which gave birth to a still expanding universe of  revolutionary possibilities.

Having written that sentence, I can either let it stand  or  put a bit of meat on its bones.  The punk in me says ‘let it stand’ – either you get it or you don’t; but the historian in me says ‘go for the meat’. [Or veggie option if you prefer].   

Punk was once an answer to years of crap
A way of saying no when you’d always said yep

Well was it? Yes it was, but … there is a big difference between ‘punk’ as it has been  recuperated by observers and ‘punk’ as it was/ is/will be for participants.  The punk of Kill Your Pet Puppy  was punk as a totality of lived experience. This was not the   punk  of  (un)popular music – as in the Sex Pistols  God Save the Queen which reached No. 2 in the UK charts in 1977 – it was the punk  of the few thousand teenagers  who flocked to London from around the English speaking world in response to the (un)popularisation of punk. [This movement of young people to the  perceived centre of a popular music based  counterculture was similar to that which occurred in San Francisco in 1967.]

The teenage  punks who moved to London from 1976/7 onwards  were effectively ‘homeless  persons’ and so gravitated to squatting as a  practical way to  survive. Squatting – the  occupation of unused land/ empty houses and other  properties  – already existed as part of  London’s  pre-punk counterculture and had a previous history stretching back several hundred years to the 17th century Diggers  and medieval occupiers of  commons,  forests and wastelands.  At the same time, the UK benefit/welfare system still reflected the post – world war two consensus  that  unemployment  was a crime and so it was just  about possible for punks to get paid a pittance by the state.

Squatting was not an easy option though. Few managed to stick it out.  Punks were also, thanks to the UK’s tabloid press, figures of hate. Punks were folk devils at the centre of a moral panic, liable to be beaten up on the street, raped or have their squats fire-bombed. [These  all did happen – see the Gay Punx page in KYPP 4].  And the drugs didn’t help much either. Since many of these  teenage punks were escaping intolerable/abusive  family situations,  personality  disorders ranging  from the mild to the extreme were common.  Far from their spectacular image as anarchist folk devils hell bent on destroying the state, these teenage punks were psychically disturbed  street kids for whom even the most disgusting squat  offered  temporary respite from their actual status as victims of society.

To read most accounts, even that  of Jon Savage [ England‘s Dreaming : 1986], the most perceptive and sympathetic (=participant) historian of punk; by 1979  punk was dead. The mass media circus had long since moved  on  and the tabloid press were urging the newly elected Conservative government  to begin  their assault on  the post-war consensus (=  start  a class war). The pop media, the music papers, had got bored with punk and were busy promoting ‘post-punk’ [ See Simon Reynolds : Rip it Up and Start Again: 2005].

But  what such retrospective accounts  miss is the reach and depth of the punk explosion. Like the shock wave of a nuclear blast, the events of 76/7 spread out  well beyond London as ground zero. The  do it your self ethic of punk  continued to inspire, infecting a next generation. This generation began creating  their own  version of punk, starting bands, making music, putting on gigs in village halls  or urban pubs up and down the land, churning out  cheap photocopied fanzines, dying their hair and adopting the punk attitude as their own. This phenomenon has never been documented, but  from Cornwall to  Cumbria, from  Suffolk to Somerset, across  Wales, Ireland and  Scotland where ever three or four  youths gathered together, there was a punk scene.

It was this underground punk scene which Crass tapped into from 1978 onwards, playing in community centres and village halls up and down the land. What drove Crass towards this DIY punk community was their  ideological commitment to ‘anarchy and peace’ – a commitment and attitude closer to that of the pre-punk  counterculture of underground groups like Hawkwind, the Pink Fairies and the Edgar Broughton Group, but delivered as a hardcore punk package. What this package delivered was a total assault on the senses, a sonic and visual attack  equivalent in its way to that of Hawkwind’s  acid  rock  Space Ritual.

But what worked outside of London  was less easily achieved in the city itself. By 1979, London’s punks existed as survivors, politicised by the necessity of survival in their squats and on the streets.  Here a harsher reality prevailed and Crass’ pacifist stance was challenged [specifically in relation to conflict at a Crass event at the Conway Hall] in the pages of Kill Your Pet Puppy. Simultaneously,  punk’s anarchist credentials were being challenged by the Persons Unknown anarchist conspiracy trial. This was not about ‘Anarchy in the UK ’ as mouthed mindlessly by many punks. It was an attack on real anarchists who were part of  a political tradition stretching back  a hundred years or more. It was a defining moment. Could punk engage with actual anarchists, or would the moment pass?

The Poison Girls and Crass chose engagement, as did the Kill Your Pet Puppy collective. The Poison Girls and Crass released a record – Persons Unknown/ Bloody Revolutions. The profits from this record allowed Iris Mills and Ronan Bennett (two of the ‘Persons Unknown’ accused) to set up an anarchist social centre in Wapping.  As such, the venture was a failure. But out of failure came success. Taken over by punks (who  senior anarchist Albert Meltzer later described as destroying it), the Wapping Autonomy Centre spawned  a mutant child – anarcho-punk. And the Kill Your Pet Puppy collective were there at the birth.  The Wapping Autonomy Centre scarcely survived into 1982, but found a new home at the Centro Iberico [ an abandoned school  already squatted by  Spanish  anarchist refugees]  in west London.

This home did not last very long, but the idea  did. 

a punk magic marx chaos poetic moment (17/10/07)

 Had a punk magic marx chaos poetic moment tonight. pasted below two paragraphs of attempted explanation.


I have a book I want to review for It is called ‘Rebel Alliances’ by Ben Franks  {AK Press: 2006] and is a lengthy history  and review of contemporary British anarchism. There is not much in it on punk/ anarcho-punk since the main focus is on ‘class-struggle anarchism’ and Ben does not reckon punks contributed much  to this.  It is a hefty book (470 pages) and through with it so hard to do more than question a few parts from an anarchist  punk point of view. But  yesterday I found  ‘Adventures in Marxism’ by Marshall Berman [Verso: 1999] which has a 60 page chunk in it – All that is Solid Melts into Air – and a reference to the Sex Pistols/ No Future…

Part of what Berman says is that  the same disruptive/ chaotic forces which drive capitalism/modernity, forces which keep breaking down all ‘fixed’  social relationships  also fragment opposition to capitalism, including class struggle revolutionary groups. No such group, however coherent its theory or direct its practice is immune to this fact of life under capitalism. British anarchism may have had its roots in late 19th century workers struggles – Jewish/ Russian refugees in east end of London. But the ceaseless turmoil of capitalism swept those foundations away. The process continues – the two factories I worked in 1977-1984 have been swept away, as havebeen whole industries – coal-mining, steel-making, ship-building… so that the  basis for class struggle anarchism in the solidarity of the  industrial working class  is destroyed by capitalism’s drive to ‘modernise‘. Not just the factories are destroyed, the communities built around them are as well.

In which case – why not punk as a response to this process? The nihilism of punk as nothing to the nihilism of the social destruction of modernist capitalism… The half- formed thought sparked these words.

Spell bound. We art entranced , naked in the  freezing night, a whirlwind  with no end, silent flashes of light no thunder heard here in the eye of the storm where all roads meet, pavements cracked and the asphalt and concrete fractured, fragmented into a black sharp dust picked up by the wind and hurled against our naked flesh. So cold here, in the maelstrom of the present when all solidity is gone gone gone gone and a voice now a roar and now a whisper lost in the hurricane  echoes a refrain no…. future…. No… future… a sigh a howl, a moan, a cry. Anguish, despair. What remains? Nothing, no one, nowhere, no now, no then, no past no present, no future.

Bank notes and coins , like a blizzard of mingled snow and hail rain down and we drown, the cash nexus like a whirlpool sucking us down down, under the sea, an endless sea of useless  currency.  Miners hacking at the foundations of  great towers  so they crash down  in rubble picked over by builders already constructing  the next tower. We cannot speak, but wordless point at each commodity, each thing made and re-made out of our  alienated flesh and blood, flesh and blood become metal and steel, become concrete and glass, become plastic and wire, wheel upon wheel, the mechanisms of industry grind and crush us bodily fluids the grease and oil reducing the friction which would otherwise bind the gears solid.

But as soon as the image  forms, becomes solidified it is already being melted down, all that is certain is the frozen air which the blasts of furnace heat whip into this perfect storm, caress yourself my urchin one, we are the dead dancing here entranced  by the noise of the machines, the feedback whine cut with staccato pulses , discordant rhythm da. Da . datta. The sound of the thunder breaks at last through the cacophony of  the whirlwind. Lightning flickering strobe like light illuminates a nuclear flash  which conceals in shadows the forms of our bodies as they dance compulsively a sequence of movements broken into moments.

Can there be recall? Can we re-member one moment? Or is all forgetting, all lost, all profaned? The moments flicker past so fast .. But see this shadow cast, caught and not yet erased. And there, there another lies. Was a life lived between these shadowed moments? Did time elapse? A sunrise. A sunset. A day. A life. A life lived in this here that is no where, in this city that is no city, in this world that is no world. From a past that is not past to a future that is not yet consumed, commodified, bought and sold and sold and bought.

Seize a scrap of paper from out of the whirlwind , over written with an account of profit and loss, lines of figures – hold it up to the light that is no light and there discern the faintest of scripts, a jumble of symbols which resolve their chaos into a string of words, of images. The wind from nowhere howls, pulling at the scrap of paper, trying to snatch it, and cast it once more into the abyss, into the furnace flames. But fingers clench it tight. Now there is a hand, an arm, a torso, a body, a being stands amidst the mighty ruins.

Re-membering with a scream of rage and pain. ‘Pay it all back. Pay it all back. Every bit you have stolen.’ There is a moment of stillness in the chaos. A moment in which a world is seen, is known. A world of time and duration, a world of everyday lives. The world familiar? Perhaps.

It is hard to grasp – that  the world we experience through lives lived as relationships in time and space, a world which has a history, as our lives have our histories as memories and which seems so solid and substantial is continually ‘melting into air’- as Karl Marx put it in The Communist Manifesto. Marx was describing a vision of the world of industrial developments driven by  the profit motive which is constantly breaking down and tearing apart the physical and social places/ spaces we actually inhabit. For Marx, this vision was so destructive and chaotic he assumed it could not last. But it has. 


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