.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}


As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Everything turned into its opposite

Via John Eden's Uncarved site I have found a King Mob archive.

Who were King Mob? They were a late-sixties part of the brief English section of the Situationist International and had a much argued over influence/ non-influence on punk. However, the site does confirm that Malcolm Maclaren really did take part in the anti-Xmas Oxford Street action - see flyer here. Should work as a 'click to enlarge' one.

The following is a short (but still 3400 words) section taken from the last part of the main King Mob article on the revoltagainstplenty.com website.

If it was not 11pm and if I did not know that I will be woken up at sometime between 5 and 6 am tomorrow (clocks change to British Summer Time tonight) I would comment on it.

But it is and I will. And any way, I am sure that, if you choose to read through the following, you will come to your own conclusions. And post as a Comment.

So here we go now, another sociology lecture, a bit of neurology, a bit psychology, a bit of fuckology... no fun... my babe, no fun...

On the same path as our enemies? Were we then ? Are we now?


Double-reflection. We were necessarily on the same path as our enemies. From recuperation to brutal hi-jacking as everything turned into its opposite.

Looking back on King Mob and its times one is struck by how different the general social situation is between then and now. Superficially everything appears so similar. Temples of consumption are literally everywhere and the Society of the Spectacle is now more omnipresent than ever it was in its more youthful phase in the sixties when the spectacular commodity economy still entertained a certain innocence through which genuine revolt could finally unfold.

Fashion did indeed accelerate as revolution was treading on its tail. Since then all the attributes of this new and terrible phase of capitalist accumulation have intensified to degrees unimaginable over 30 thirty years ago. The grand manufactured lie is now all-encompassing and pervasive invading every detail of daily life. Truth is silenced like never before as the smoke and mirrors of a deadly magicians trick nightmarishly triumphs everywhere. Without our collective web site – Revolt Against an Age of Plenty - numbering merely four individuals, none of our utterances would ever see the light of day. Truly there has never been such a dark time to elaborate the subversive theory of our age; a theory no longer seamlessly bound to the late 1960s.

What we once said in the late 60s cannot be said again as most of it (as has been elaborated here) needs much qualifying and auto-critique if we are to get anywhere. A lot is irrelevant. As Nick Brandt once pointedly said: “We write from the present moving back over” and though at the risk of some repetition, it’s a serious of long querulous backward glances that must conclude this hidden history.

In the 1960s we emphasized the totality alright and that essentially distinguished us from what was to come. The totality of what we trail-blazed was immediately lost in all its roundness as the mood was instantly recuperated and modified by a general ‘new’ culture of hydra-headed, issue politics successfully lobotomizing the general, totalising intent. Thrown back in our faces we hesitantly looked at our uncalled for offspring shaking our heads in bewilderment muttering; “no, no, a thousand times no, that isn’t what we meant” even though we were hard put to explain what we really did mean!

It’s easy enough to say things after the event and one of the constant refrains through this book is an, ‘if only’ especially the ‘if only’ of a more reflective foresight. It unfortunately could be said that King Mob did realize itself in anticipating many tendencies and trends that mainstream society was to take up with a vengeance later on though it did so by essentially disconnecting each from the other as all notion of the totality evaporated to be replaced, at best, by a plethora of inter-disciplinary measures.

As was mooted in Once Upon A Time in Nothing Hill (1988) things were turned into their opposites, or as Vaneigem quipped in the early 1970s; “everything was realized minus the essential”, allowing, with the passage of time, a certain glibness in such an assertion considering this society now has no revolutionary undertow. To be more precise, our take on riot, on never working, on anti-art, on crime, on individual self-expression – and so many other things beside – got more than turned into their opposite as it became impossible to even begin to recognize ourselves in a disastrous outcome we never remotely intended or, even in our most desperate nightmares, we never imagined could happen. Then too if you had a libertarian disposition in everyday life and were especially against racism it was acquainted with an anti-capitalist rebellious perspective. This is no longer the case.

Indeed you can be all these things - and with feminism thrown in for good measure - whilst maintaining a deeply submissive, anti-life identification with present day capitalism. A strange and alarming conjuncture is brought into focus not too different in broad outline, if not in subtlety, to that broadly based, cosmopolitan elite perfecting repression and newspeak in the Oceania of George Orwell’s 1984.

Of course what we meant by the totality in the late sixties was relatively limited in comparison to what now would be considered a totality – if ever that crying need is to reassert itself again. Moreover, the totality as envisaged then was set in an everyday life still containing more than a whiff of genuine freedom. By revealing everyday life we also revealed it to the market that was to make brutal mayhem with the concept as our desires and social space were colonized at the same moment as our authentic self was exterminated.

In its infancy then, it must be remembered that totality was a concept also aimed for rather than immediately grasped – a way of praxis if you like – as obviously we were often woefully short of sufficient knowledge and experience. The fact that we aimed for totality was in itself remarkable. Essentially it was a notion underpinned by commodification spreading everywhere though in terms of discussed content we couldn’t really then have possibly had any thoughts say on neuro-science, astro-physics, genetics, computers or, surprisingly in retrospect, just how serious the ecological crises was going to be. It could be said too that our analysis of the law of value as the corner stone of total critique was rather woefully absent. Nonetheless, it was rather better that that coterie now who eternally emphasizing the law of value in relation to everything under the sun, completely miss out on the totality of alienation.

Seeing our very essence was instantly denied (the counter revolution was quick, very quick to announce itself) our influence, becoming more diffuse by the day, was merely to change surface appearances which inevitably could only end up by making matters worse as we increasingly, were unable to combat changing (for the worse) times. Truly we were on the same path as our enemies as they rested control from us – a control they’ve grimly and powerfully hung onto ever since.

Centrally for us who had so vehemently tried to realize the rich subversive core of modern art saw our efforts over the decades turned into the very artistic commodities we so despised. We, in turn, were destined to be hung on walls as we became nothing more than a missing link in contemporary cultural history. If not that we only altered the shape of the environment our long shadow providing an occasion for new artistic roles most obviously from graffiti to graffiti artists and a step back into the picturesque.

It may seem ironical after emphasizing the totality but perhaps it’s necessary to go into some of the facets of the totality by deploying a kind of compartmentalization – a contradiction in terms if you like – if only to more exactly pinpoint how, from all sides, we’ve been had! Essentially though one underlying truth pervades throughout: a general drift towards monetary psychosis.
We lauded riot as the great truthful expression which would truly purge us of our present day conditioning and socializing, the authentic voice of our anger and essential in the creation of a new world.

Well, we were right as for sure big riots then were impassioned social explosions full of communication and dialogue with strangers about to become friends ever ready to explore all frontiers of liberation. Riots were all-encompassing events and though one could get easily hurt or even killed in them, nevertheless they welcomed allies, were inclusive rather than exclusive. Don’t be afraid - even if shy or timid – join us! And then somehow, bit-by-bit, the whole mood of riot began to almost imperceptibly change as the decades unfolded and the revolutionary impulses waned. Finally riot was either done by militant rote or, as in those spontaneous urban outbursts, began reflecting more and more the hideous fears of the bourgeoisie in seeing an underclass hell bent on the attack and rape of ordinary citizens. This wasn’t what was intended by riot. And for every glorious Seattle or Genoa there were to be all the sickening others providing a venue for a maimed psyche giving more gist to the mill to the lurid fantasies of a sensationalist press seeing (perhaps even wanting) brutal mayhem everywhere.

On our website, Revolt Against an age of Plenty, the introduction to the text on the 1979’80 Winter of Discontent notes the deterioration in the capacity to riot. In an article in the Leeds based Here and now in the early 1990s we noted a similar deterioration in the Newcastle-Upon Tyne riots of 1993. The sociopathic activities in the huge Bradford riot of 2001 where a gang of youths tried to murder drinkers bevying in a nearby cut-price Working Men’s Club by blocking all entrances to it with burning cars, meant that what was liberating in this event got lost by the imprint this dreadful incident was to make upon the minds of local people. The first firebomb lobbed at the club was thrown by a mid 40s businessman which in itself clearly states the overlap between gang activity and capitalism.

This example of pure fuckhead hate-culture only served to reinforce the judiciary in handing out long prison sentences to those well-intentioned rioters who didn’t deserve this judgement and calumny. Now, more than ever, riot, to rewrite Rimbaud, “must be reinvented afresh” by rediscovering its lost innocence.

Closely related to the above we played on the form of the gang more as a two fingers up more than its reality, notably its often repressive and authoritarian hierarchy and most decidedly coloured by the recent experiences of mods, rockers and greasers than more traditional forms of the gang with their baneful lumpen overtones. A gang was a means suggesting violent and vandalistic escape from the strait jacket of a straight (and dull) society as well as something which put a distance to that party structure so enamoured of Social Democrats and Leninists. A gang proclaimed the aura of the urban streetwise at loggerheads with all the new forms of social control spawned by the new era of post war capital.

In retrospect all this other emphasis had some kind of raison d’etre to it if only as a perspective putting some kind of clear blue water between ourselves and orthodox, procedurial leftism In short to bring to things a sense of life and urgency. As we’ve suggested before, unfortunately this positive side was at the expense of a more lucid analysis which should have reminded everybody that the gang unit had to be transcended and that gangs in themselves must acquire the ability to listen to what is going on around them (which necessarily implies their immanent end) as in themselves gangs are also useless and going nowhere.

Unfortunately, much of our gang emphasis, and unforeseen ourselves during the brief moment of King Mob, was as the decades passed by to become the form most perfectly compatible with an absolute finance capital. Times now favoured the racket, the vicious clique, the renewed robber baron tendency, the para-state drug cartel which could run a government. Mirroring this, on the street, the gang, in its most avante garde form, became the non-racist posse colonizing the very essence of a riot having lost its revolutionary innocence utilising a warped, almost psycho-geographical marker, as a means of mapping out its essential stake out, its future market. The dominant feature of the contemporary street gang was to become that of an un-licensed, wildcard, brutal business superceding the image of the old lumpen gang and, more latterly, that of sub-cultures and marginality.

Spontaneous urban riots dominated by gangs thus no longer presaged victory over the machines of permitted consumption but a means of grabbing the commodity within its own term minus the drag of having to pay for them.

Fuckhead culture and its general reflection in Rap is the horrific recuperation of a revolutionary praxis emanating from visceral impulses marking the end of modern art nuanced by the free market and capitalist aggression in everyday life. Ending up with maimed praxis it now means vicious psycho assault proclaimed everywhere. To be sure the revolutionary praxis coming from the fall out of modern art must upset and disturb in its urgency but it mustn’t capsize into a blatant elimination of those people existing all around us (just in case everyone’s forgotten) who are the subject and means of generalized escape from these hellish conditions. Such a process must be infinitely dialectical full of an ever-increasing wisdom and forthright criticism plus more than a dash of seeming madness and imaginative leaps.

Art throughout the early decades of the 20th century had to envelope and develop by fits and starts, revolutionary praxis. There was literally no escaping such realization. It could though be diabolically side-tracked and this has become the very putrid essence of the achievement and tragedy of the epoch we are enduring, hanging on as we are to sanity by our very fingertips.
Again we must reiterate that all these things are inseparable from each other as each flows into the other. The same goes for crime. To put a new or at least revived emphasis on crime regarding the part it plays in social revolutionary acts was, in the late 60s, justified but look how rapidly such emphasis lost its radical cutting edge as the capitalist mode of production itself has since then taken on more than a gangsterish hue.

In fact crime and gangsterism has become its very essence permeating its highest echelons and well mimicked on a street level by a plethora of mugging, petty burglary and never ending assaults on poor neighbours. And we who loved the street; that aura where encounter and liberating potential lay, where the real future would unfold, saw it stolen from beneath our eyes meaning that emphasizing crime as something emancipatory in itself and set against unimaginative and routine ways of a deadening daily life, will never again be at the heart of a liberating social critique. Society isn’t dull so much as just plain frightening and we don’t need to be terrorized anymore.

Terrorism has become the foil, the means by which to seal our fear – a method the authorities have engineered to perfection to suit their own diabolical ends – that chimera and sometimes reality which stalks our everyday life. In this grim reality our terrorist style address which King Mob deployed and which had a certain innovatory dash to it at the time couldn’t be more inapplicable. True, we must still critique forcibly and be unrelenting but we can no longer give the State any leeway on this matter and we cannot supply them with the arms - meant here in the broadest sense of the term - which can assist in our future demise.

While we are mentioning arms we can only be more than careful in proclaiming old shibboleths like the arming of the working class. What resonance can we get from that old maxim with arms proliferating everywhere in the midst of mass paranoia and sociopathic impulses everywhere? As we’ve said before; arm the working class the better to shoot each other and/or as a means of proclaiming gangland ways or securing immediate survival – and perhaps a little bit more – for some small unit of people. Now we have under our belt examples like Albania in 1999 when an armed and seemingly insurrectionary population staged an ‘uprising’ which despite some anarchist eulogies made not the slightest difference in creating any hoped for wider social revolution. Basically Albania was a gun fest reinforcing crime and general gangland activities as the small amount of true subversive actions and tendencies retreated into almost total insignificance.

As for all the youthful zest which is essentially at the core of all genuine social revolt when will we see the likes of it again? Will we ever be able to eulogise youth like we once did now that a huge part are so enmeshed by the specific logic of the commodity they behave according to its inherent table turning mystifications? Once we could readily enthuse over Lautreamont’s maxim; “The storms of youth precede brilliant days” noting (even then!) he cautions with “precede”. We could identify with the sub cultures from Teds, to Mods and Rockers and most obviously, the Hippies (though well noting the Hippies obvious inadequacies) while we, rather masochistically perhaps, lauded far too much, the more violent sub-cultures. Generally though we were thrilled by the better qualities of all of them as truly at the time, they were indeed pointing to something better than passive acquience to spectacular consumption.

Today we are presented with the end of sub-cultures, themselves living on as mere shadows and ghosts of their former glories. Within this lacunae “Fuckhead culture” has been spawned supported by a veritable industry of social workers and agencies empowering a victim syndrome never apportioned to the real sub-cultures of yester year. Thus moulded by an arm of the state their hazy use to capital isn’t like the traditional Marxist “reserve army of labour” as these people simply aren’t “good enough for work” as one of the characters at the beginning of Reservoir Dogs says. Fuckhead culture does equate though with an arditti of out of control community scabs readily attacking all and sundry (ironically a kind of nightmarish pastiche of King Mob provocative intervention) assisting – unbeknown to themselves – the state in curtailing many hard won rights the people forged for themselves over centuries resisting enclosure, limiting the power of landlords, and keeping some social space relatively free of capital.

Worse than that, an outrageous free market finds Fuckhead culture useful, if only be selling its image back to them and the state finds its role useful, even perhaps formidable, in helping suppress authentic protest simply in keeping people locked safely up behind doors during their leisure time. It’s as though spontaneous youth rebellion is more split down the middle than ever before, a stark choice between splendid children’s riots opposing war on Iraq and a form of anarchically driven Fuckhead authoritarianism claiming and maiming the street. No wonder there’s been a hideous revival in its fortunes in the wake of the so-called ‘victory’ in Iraq. We weren’t the only ones aware of the subterranean relationship between these two seemingly disparate phenomena, but then the concept of totality always was a bonus.

Between these two extremes, for a brief period there was the inspiration of marginality. For certain King Mob and the more committed hippies were its harbingers forging “dole culture” as it was once nostalgically called. In the despotism of the free market dole culture could no longer be an option even though this form of resistance was, more often than not, safely recuperated and hedged in exhibiting itself as nothing more than harmless rebellion. (e.g. things like the “Demolition Decorators” of the 1970s). All such different ways of attempted survival, living and outlook were to be completely eclipsed in a brave new world of what American neo-liberalism was to call presenteeism i.e. the worker instead of never working never leaves work.

Thus sub-culture has given way to sociopathic expression and become perfect foil of a sociopathic mode of production and consumption with its nexus located in the image of the crackhead gang. It is also in the light of such developments that we must also put our fascination with the deranged and psychotic in the late 60s. No longer interesting examples of damaged psyches pushed to a limit, the hideous underbelly of a capitalism with necrophiliac tendencies but something tending to more closely dog us personally penetrating into our inner being. Shortly we shall all be mad, utterly depressed or – as a kind of reflex tragic outcome – suicidal exponents of a suicide capitalism.

If all this is over the top nonetheless you cannot be blamed for such a bleak take on things t possibly coming our way soon. Over the last three decades conditions have got worse and for those who’ve lived through it, there’s probably nobody on this planet that would deny it. As for us, the heady, well-intentioned protagonists of total revolution, for certain we weren’t prepared one iota for the long, drawn out, hideous collapse in the offing and still with no end in sight. Everywhere subversive tendencies stalled, even lost sight of going into sharp reverse or turning into their opposite. We played with all kinds of drugs, some light, some heavy only to quickly oppose Class A drugs like heroin and especially – though much later – crack, as once hitting the working class poor, they created mayhem severly hampering open class struggle. We welcomed the breakup of the uptight and impossible nuclear family only to see its disintegration often spawning monsters.

As Henri Lefebvre said sometime in the sixties: “The worst alienation is the blocking up of development”. Instead of changing things, things changed us. Disoriented and in increasing limbo we gradually lost all sense of ourselves and where we’d even come from as memory was consciously assisted in its annihilation by absolute capital. Thus with our own physical space broken into pieces and increasingly hapless we became prone to an easier-by-the-day manipulation.

Let’s as a finale return to the very beginning of this book – to the moment of the depassement of art – and where King Mob stepped in only to come to a quick and abrupt end without hint of intelligent supercession. Isn’t it a horrible though mighty achievement that absolute capital can successfully (seemingly forever?) divert the revolutionary consequences of modern art freezing its essential critique into spectacular effect in the general display of the modern commodity in urbanism, in media, in fashion, in language and performance etc, reproducing modern art’s more innocuous legacy everywhere without even a hint of its explosively revolutionary core? There was more than a hint of that in the late 60s. It has to return.

Dave Wise : 2003


Post a Comment

<< Home