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

Monday, July 25, 2011

Hegel on Acid part two

Hegel on Acid part two: Barefoot in the Head.

Barefoot in the Head is a novel by Brian Aldiss published in 1969 and set in a post-war Europe. The war was fought with psychedelic weapons which had blown the minds of the participants. As a result civilisation is slowly collapsing.

Albion Dreaming is a popular history of LSD in Britain by Andy Roberts published in 2008. In Albion Dreaming, Andy discusses the secret experiments with LSD in the 1950s which inspired Brian’s fiction. When soldiers were exposed to LSD, military discipline broke down. However, the unpredictability of acid meant it was never used as a weapon.

Although never used as a weapon, the fear that exposure of the civilian population to LSD might lead to a break down of respect for authority/ discipline and hence of civilisation remained. When it became apparent that LSD was working its way into pop(ular) culture in the early sixties, the drug was banned in 1966.

Unfortunately for the British state, after taking acid some people became convinced that the intense reality it revealed could ‘immanentize the eschaton’- that is bring about an end to original sin and overcome the alienation of humanity from the divine. Eric Voegelin connected this originally religious belief, held by the Gnostics; with the philosophy of Hegel and the politics of Marx- but also threw in Nazism. [See The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Vol. 5 -Modernity Without Restraint, 1952/ 2000, 234 and 240-1].

The latter-day acid gnostics were determined to manifest the Absolute and so began producing huge quantities of LSD, which was then distributed through free-festivals. The British State reacted to this threat to obedience its authority by instigating Operation Julie in 1976/7 in an attempt to de-immanentize the eschaton. The doors of perception may have been slammed shut, but the gnostic horse had already bolted.

Voegelin’s anti-gnosticism was constructed in the infancy (crica 1950) of acid so was not originally directed against the pyschedelic prophets. However, as popularised by USA conservative William Buckley, Voegelin’s work later was - thus becoming part of Robert Wilson and Robert Shea’s Illuminatus Trilogy.

That Voegelin’s theories could be applied to the acid inspired counterculture suggests that it had a pre-history. In such a context the acid visionaries become revolutionary mystics- or mystical revolutionaries. Such figures and the movements they inspire tend to emerge in times of crisis- for example during the English (and Scottish and Irish) civil war which unleashed a host of religious and political revolutionaries.

One of Andy Roberts’ themes in Albion Dreaming is the conscious parallels that were made between LSD and the (atom) Bomb. So just as the political crises of the 1640s led some participants to believe they were living through the ’end times’ of biblical prophecy, awareness of a potential nuclear war gave an apocalyptic edge to the acid visionaries gnosis. Aldiss’ Barefoot in the Head neatly reversed this fear, so that the book’s survivors were living through a world suffused with psychedelic rather than nuclear fallout.

If a parallel can be drawn with the 1640s, then there was also a similar movement from revolution to reaction and the suppression of the Levellers and the Diggers- followed by the end of the Republic and the ultimate Restoration of Charles II…followed 28 years later by a further Revolution. But it still took nearly 300 years for the democratic ideals of the Levellers to be achieved.

Will it take that long to realise the creative visions of the acid inspired counterculture? Perhaps. The problem is that, as Hegel explained, ideas have to work themselves out- exhaust all their possibilities- before they can negate themselves.

One way of understanding what has happened and is happening is to interpret recent history as following on from the breakdown of the ‘post-war consensus’. In the UK, the need to fight WW2 as a ‘total war’ -involving the mobilisation of the civilian population- led to the post-war creation of the welfare state, the end of empire and the nationalisation of key industries. The counterculture emerged out of the first generation to grow up in the relative security of the post-war consensus. Their urge was to try to expand the boundaries of the possible, to be optimistic about the future.

Then in the seventies, the advances being made by the counterculture encounter its negation. This negation was neoliberalism, which used the rhetoric of ‘freedom from state control’ to start reversing the ‘socialism’ of the post-war consensus. Almost as soon as they had begun, the advances made by the counterculture were first checked and then slowly reversed. Over the past thirty years of the neoliberal counter-revolution/ reaction, even the preceding advances of the post-war consensus have been negated.

It is only now, as the neoliberal project begins to unravel, that the damage it has inflicted can no longer be denied. The problem is that the social and environmental damage which has been done over the past thirty years is so profound that the optimistic visions of the future embraced by the counterculture seem like delusions. They may have been possible then but they seem impossible now.

Possible. Impossible. Real. Unreal. Finity. Infinity. Understanding. Incomprehension. As with Voegelin and his gnostics, there is always the temptation to look for and find some bold explanatory principle which can make sense out of the otherwise inexplicable. After the immediacy of the experience/ text comes the memory. So with Albion Dreaming acid becomes the bold explanatory principle, inducing gnosis and creating a new wave of gnostics who mistake their visions for reality and thus set in motion a cycle of delusionary events which crash upon the rocks of the world as it really is.

Which is also (see Hegel on acid part one) Marx’s criticism of Hegel. Marx, with the benefit of Engel’s experience of industrial Manchester, could see that material forces - those of steam-powered industrial capitalism- rather than ideas, shaped and were shaping the world. Against the physicality, the solidity of a world hewn out of coal, cast in iron and dripping with the sweat and blood of human labour, the insubstantial poverty of Hegel’s philosophical speculations appeared obvious.

What was obvious then is less so now. The materiality of science has melted the solid world into emptiness and the physical has become the insubstantial play of strong and weak forces fluctuating in a vacuum. Even our conscious awareness of being selves in the world can be questioned. The ‘world’, the reality of space/time/energy has become an afterthought, a mental reconstruction generated by brain activity as a from of waking dream.

From this perspective, the confusions and contradictions of Aldiss’ Barefoot in the Head are a realistic description of the world as it is before it has been processed and interpreted. The psychedelic experience which Aldiss’ text represents is the world as it is. The interplay of Hegel’s pure being and pure nothing.

The randomness of this chaotic reality resolves itself into meaning through memory, through history. The recalled pattern of events assume/become a structure which then builds upon itself, reflects upon itself. It is a necessarily circular and evolutionary process. For the world as universe to exist it must be observed but for the observer to come into being there must be a world as universe. Evolutionary theory is essential since it allows for random fluctuations to achieve relative permanence and become more complex.

Except that evolutionary changes are tested for survival within an already existing environment. So what is being proposed here is the evolution of a universe through hindsight. The only universe we can observe is one in which successive random fluctuations cohere into the conditions suitable for observers to exist.

But if our observations of the world are brain activity which creates a seemingly realistic representation of the world…it all gets very confusing. Is there a point where physicists descriptions of reality will collide with neurologists descriptions of brain activity? My vague expectation is there will be such a collision and that A better understanding of Hegel may emerge/ be required.

In the meantime, since most people don’t worry much about problems with reality and haven’t experienced acid, they/ we accept the world as it appears to be/ is. Which is fine unless, for example, we really are living through a crisis of capitalism and/or are approaching peak oil and/or there is global warming. Even then, they are structural problems which get ignored until/ unless we are directly affected by which time they have become a crisis of survival.

To bring this meander back to Albion Dreaming, one of the practical outcomes of the acid inspired counterculture was the belief ’we are what we eat’- which led onto vegetarianism and organic farming. Related to this were ideas about self-sufficiency and alternative/ radical technologies. The UK magazine Undercurrents which ran from 1974 to 1981 explored these possibilities.

If these possibilities had made the shift from minority to majority acceptance and implementation, the threat of global warming would have been diminished. But it didn’t happen and the unsustainable fossil fuel economy prevailed.

Could there have been a different outcome? It is difficult to see how. Forty years later on, such a profound change still seems a distant prospect. The science of climate change may be solid, but the economic, social and political will is lacking. The status quo has an overpowering inertia such that only once the consequences are so disruptive that the necessity for change becomes overwhelming will a shift happen. But by then it is likely to be too late.

So that even if the counterculture was Hegel on acid, Marx’s materialist critique still remained. Hegel had expected / hoped that the French revolution (the breakthrough of Reason into history) would be the last revolution. Now that history had achieved consciousness/ consciousness had realised itself through history, the bloody nightmare of unconscious historical struggle was over. Guided by an enlightened elite, an era of liberation through peaceful progress was about to begin.

Marx was less optimistic. The French and British (industrial) revolutions had advanced the ‘consciousness of history’, but the bourgeoisie who had emerged as victors were only partly enlightened. They were an elite only interested in progress so far as it liberated them from the feudal past. A further struggle for liberation would be required. This would only be achieved once the bourgeoisie’s revolution had exhausted itself and revealed its limits and contradictions.

Marx assumed that there would be something left for the workers of the world to inherit at the end of this process. That the proletariat would be able to take over a going concern, not a burnt out wasteland. Marx’s assumption was based on his belief that the limits to capitalism would be internal, not external.

From the current (early 21st century) perspective, it seems more likely that it will be external rather than internal limits which will bring capitalism to its end. Marx developed his theories when coal was the main energy source of industrial capitalism. Coal required a large workforce to extract it and miners (at least in the UK) were militant Marxists. The shift to oil came after Marx. Extracting oil does not require a large labour force and so the balance of power shifted from labour to capital. Oil is also a more concentrated energy source than coal.

The twentieth century shift from coal to oil as the power source for industrial capitalism may therefore explain why it is only now - as we approach or are at peak oil- that capitalism is running out of steam. It may also explain the apparent failure of Marx’s analysis. The shift to oil has taken us past the point where the internal contradictions of coal based capitalism would have become critical. Beyond the point where a rational steady state economy and society could have been established.

To conclude with a nice line of wild speculation- about the time that the UK was shifting from a steam powered (trains, homes and industry) to an oil powered (motorways, plastics and jet planes) economy the acid revolution was beginning. Without oil, this would also have been the moment of a Marxist revolution.

Marx plus acid would have created a Hegelian transformation of historical consciousness…and we would all have lived happily ever after in a world without history.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Pinki /Tanith Stonehenge 84


Hard to tell, but circled person could be Pinki/ Tanith inside Stonehenge Solstice 1984.
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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

BR Standard 2-6-0 76073 at Castle Douglas 1965

Friday, July 15, 2011

Gaelic in Galloway talk and introduction to learning

From Gaelic Castle Douglas

Scottish Gaelic Adult Learners Day. Michael Ansell will be giving a talk on Gaelic in Galloway at Castle Douglas Town Hall on Saturday 3 September 2011. The talk will be followed by taster sessions for adult Gaelic learners. The cost for the day 9.30 am to 4.30 pm will be £10.

For more details contact Anndra Wilson via adult.learning@dumgal.gov.uk

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tanith / Pinki in print

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Acid punks and Albion's dreaming.

Albion’s Dreaming the History of LSD in Britain by Andy Roberts. I got this book after Nic Bullen asked me about the Brew Crew recently.

I first remember experiencing 'Brew Crew'-esque behaviour when we were trapped by police on the road in Wiltshire near Stonehenge in 1985 when a few (maybe 5 or 6) swarmed up and down trying to scrounge anything they could (in a manner which would be called 'aggressive begging' now). I don't remember any of them at the Westbury White Horse festival a couple of days later though...

My interest is in just HOW it developed: how did the 'Peace' dream slip very quickly into the nihilism and 'medieval brigand' mindset of the 'Brew Crew'? Was it something to do with the climate within the 'Peace Convoy' (and environs), or to do with the surrounding political / economic climate? 
The Brew Crew don’t get mentioned, but Chapter 12- Coming Down Again , pages 203- 211, covers the period from punk to acid house. There isn’t much on punk directly, apart from a mention of LSD (‘the most unfashionable drug in Britain at the time’) being taken at the Liverpool punk club Eric’s and how Julian Cope / Teardrop Explodes were on acid when they played Top of the Pops in 1981.

Since it is unlikely to surprise readers of KYPP that the UK government really did test acid on ‘volunteers’ (who weren’t told what they were being given) at Porton Down in the fifties, the most interesting aspect of the book is about the social impact of acid. For example (page 134) that acid inspired an upsurge of interest in whole foods/ organics/ vegetarianism. Another impact is connected to the ‘set and setting’ theory that the difference between a good trip and a bad trip depends on expectations and environment. Chapter 10 Bring What You Expect to Find shows how the first free-festivals emerged out of the desire to create spaces /environments which would facilitate good trips.

Night clubs and commercial rock festivals did not appeal to the sensitivities of acid sensitized hippies who were questioning the ideas of profit and control; wanting to be more than just consumers of entertainment industry product. There was a demand for events self-generated by the counter-culture, which would provide hippies with gatherings where they could live out their life-style with like minded people in a spirit of celebration and purpose.

The first such free-festival was Phun City held in 1970. Stonehenge became the most well known and Castlemorton in 1992 was ( I think) pretty much last.

At this point I was going to say that the reason there is not much on punk in the book is because punk was an anti-acid subculture. That punk was a counter-counterculture in which, to quote the Clash, that ‘hate and war’ rather than ‘love and peace’ was the reality/ currency punk had to deal with ‘today’.

I even had a quick look through the index to Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming (1991) and found not a trace of acid nor LSD. But then I realised the index had no entries for any drugs at all. The book then fell open at page 187 … and there was John Lydon talking about going to Louise’s (a Soho lesbian club) in 1976. ‘ We used to take acid at Louise’s. It heightens the enjoyment’ …

So acid was there right at the beginning of punk. Which means that the argument that I was going to make - that it was only after becoming entangled with the acid orientated free-festival/ traveller culture that punk subculture became part of the counterculture- doesn’t work.

On the other hand, the fact that a neat distinction between acid- taking hippies and acid- rejecting punks can’t be made is significant. What Albion Dreaming re-emphasises is that the sixties ‘revolution in the head’ had a profound impact on society. Briefly, it seemed that the imagination really had seized power and that it was realistic to demand the impossible. What drove this revolution was the potential of LSD to radically restructure perceptions of reality. The acid revolutionaries had a vision of a new world in their hearts and minds and were determined to realise their vision in the everyday world. Despite the best attempts by the forces of reactionary conservatism to force the genie back in its bottle, thanks to the acid inspired counter culture we still live in a more open and liberal society.

Albion Dreaming can therefore be read as struggle between open and closed minds. It can also be read as a struggle between idealists and realists. In this reading, punk emerged at/ out of the ‘come down’ from the counterculture’s collective acid trip. Punk’s scepticism towards the hippie counterculture was not a conservative reaction, nor (as the Lydon quote above shows) was it because punks didn’t do acid. Rather, it was a reality check.

Since Albion Dreaming is a history of LSD in Britain rather than a history of the counterculture, it would be wrong to criticise the book for failing to engage with punk. Yet, perhaps because of its scepticism of ’psychedelic dreams’, punk was able to renew and revive the counterculture as a culture of resistance through the eighties - for example the Stop the City protests of 1983/4- and on to the present where ’anarchist punks’ are still the folk devils blamed by the media for sparking trouble at demonstrations.

Or did all the acid at free-festivals turn punks into hippies? Maybe. But compared to the first wave of visionaries who thought acid would start a new religion, the hippies who travelled the free-festival circuit were pretty punk already.

AL Puppy

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hegel on Acid

So which is it? Does the world as it already is shape and structure our understandings of reality? Or do our understandings of reality shape and structure the world? Karl Marx thought Georg Hegel had got the relationship upside down. Marx said Hegel had said that ideas shape reality. Marx said reality - the material forces of production- shapes ideas. What led Marx to this argument was his analysis of late eighteenth/ early nineteenth century political economy.

Marx was a doctor of philosophy. He wrote his doctoral thesis on The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature with an Appendix in 1841, ten years after Hegel‘s death. [Democritus and Epicurus were ancient Greek philosophers.] So a few years later, after his mate Friedrich Engels had drawn Marx’s attention to the ‘industrial revolution’ in Manchester and its importance, Marx started reading up on the theories of political economy which were supposed to explain this industrial revolution, he was shocked. They explained nothing. All they really did was provide a set of justifications for exploiting the labour of the workers in the new factories. It became obvious to Marx that the theory, the idea of industrial capitalism came after the system was already up and running.

So first came the shift from traditional ( originally medieval style) ways of making things to the modern, steam-powered factory way of making stuff and only then did political economists come up with their theories about how the new way was the only way to organise this form of production. Not only that, but the political economists then made out that this new way of organising and ordering society was natural and inevitable.

Although Hegel had also read up on political economy, but, by the time he died in 1831, the industrial revolution had hardly begun in a still ununited Germany. Hegel, influenced by the French Revolution which broke out when he was 19, saw history as a long struggle through which an idea- reason- would eventually achieve self-consciousness and thus liberate humanity. At the same time, Hegel also believed that the world was rational so the idea of reason was also material and physical. Optimistically, Hegel expected that having broken through into the collective consciousness with the French Revolution, the political, social and economic structures of the post-Revolutionary world would be based on reason and enlightenment.

Instead, the forces of political reaction, social conservatism and (industrial) economic exploitation prevailed. So Marx had to re-structure Hegel’s work to take into account these realities, focusing in particular on the irrationality of rapidly expanding industrial capitalism. To overcome this new form of unreason, Marx realised, would require a further revolution. Capitalism had become the new superstition which only a new enlightenment could banish.

Marx hoped that as it expanded, the internal contradictions, the irrationality of capitalism would become increasingly obvious and socially divisive until the proletariat were forced to organise its overthrow for their own survival. So far, Marx’s restructuring of Hegel has not led to this expected outcome, although the crisis of capital which began in 2008 shows no signs of ending.

While Marx’s revolution may happen corner, its continued delay is a reason to stand Hegel back on his feet again to see what results. This is no easy task. With Hegel we have a ‘foundationless’ or ‘presupposition- less’ account of reality. With Hegel the map is/ becomes the territory and the territory is/ becomes the map. Hegel’s account cannot be summed-up or condensed, it can only be re-presented in slightly different ways which themselves become as dense and complex as Hegel’s account itself. We set out to try and know the world, but to know the world we have to understand the world. To understand the world we have to enter into a relationship with the world. As this relationship unfolds our knowledge and understanding expands to encompass the world, so we become more and more conscious of the world. The end result is that we come to realise ourselves as the consciousness of the world understanding itself - through reason.

This may sound very close to a form of mysticism, but Hegel believed it was the Science of Logic and set out the workings of this science in minute detail over hundreds of densely written pages exploring each stage of the process. In mysticism there is usually a gnostic ‘jump’ to the conclusion- the whole is suddenly realised all at once and in its entirety. There are no such jumps with Hegel, he slows the process down so much that it becomes almost exhausting to read.

Which is a bit of a problem in this age of instant access. So I will take the very un-Hegelian step of jumping forward to Andy Roberts’ book Albion Dreaming - the History of LSD in Britain (London, 2008). The key suggestion I want to focus on is the influence of LSD/ acid on the UK counterculture. One example is that after taking acid, some people became ultra aware of the food they ate - which led to the organic/ whole food movement. Similar experiences stimulated interest in ecology and the environment - and all things Green.

Lumped altogether we get a radical and revolutionary counterculture which challenged/ rejected the structure of capitalism from a perspective closer to Hegel than Marx. The effect of acid was/is to challenge taken for granted preconceptions about the nature of reality in itself (in ourselves). To an extent, the commodification of nature and human labour under capitalism is (as Marx argued) taken for granted and unquestioned, so the acid inspired counterculture was a critique of capitalism and so Marxist…but the countercultural critique went beyond Marx to question -as Hegel did- notions of knowledge, meaning and understanding which had developed since the time of Plato.

This aspect of Hegel’s work, its deep structure, has generally been rejected as ’meaningless’. It is still too revolutionary, too radical to be accepted- since if it was accepted our understandings of ourselves and our world would be turned upside down. After reading Andy Roberts’ book I now wonder if what acid/ psychedelics reveal is a ‘foundationless’ reality similar/ equivalent to that so minutely constructed by Hegel in his Logic. This would also fit with the quantum information theory of reality explored by Vlatko Vedral in Decoding Reality (London, 2010). This connection can be established via Robert Ware’s Hegel The Logic of Self-consciousness and the Legacy of Subjective Freedom (Edinburgh, 1999).

The point of overlap between Ware (1999, pages 52 and 230) and Vedral (2010, page 198) is mathematician John von Neumann’s ’empty set’ theory where - quoting Vedral ‘The mind observes the empty set. It is not difficult to imagine the empty set also containing an empty set within itself. But hold on, now we have an empty set containing an empty set, so does this mean that the original set now contains an element (albeit the element is an empty set)? Yes, the mind has thus generated the number one by producing the empty set containing an empty set…’. Thus something has emerged out of nothing.

In his Logic, Hegel starts with pure being which is also pure nothing and something only emerges after pure being has (immediately) become pure nothing - so pure being precedes or rather becomes von Neumann’s empty set. This allows Hegel to get around the problem that Vlatko’s interpretation of von Neumann presupposes an observing ’mind’.

Although the experiment has never been ( is unlikely ever to have been) performed, engaging with Hegel’s Logic while under the influence of LSD - Hegel on acid- would reveal the revolutionary potential of the Logic. On the other hand, is there any need to carry out such an experiment? As Andy Roberts shows, acid has already had a revolutionary impact on society . And, as the ecological/ environmental impact of global climate change through global warming kicks in, the useful/truthful value of the acid inspired counterculture’s critiques of the dominant culture will become increasingly pertinent. The big problem is that through its attempts to suppress / repress the counterculture, the dominant culture has made it much harder - almost impossible- for alternatives to emerge, evolve and reclaim the future.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Punk as Counterculture

What would have been the Fourth Windsor Free Festival in 1975

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force… The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar… as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, [they] rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch.
Karl Marx 1845 The German Ideology

I thought I’d throw the Marx quote in to illustrate how tricky it could get if I follow Gerard’s suggestion (see his comment on previous post below) that I should write a book. I spent 18 months sweating over a 50 000 word academic thesis on a suitably obscure historical incident and got conditioned to the style and the footnotes and bibliography, sources and references. So a book could end up pretty indigestible.

In the meantime here are some thoughts on punk as counterculture. One starting point is the ongoing global economic crisis. This could be capitalism’s final crisis, sparking a wave of revolutionary actions. Or it could be the beginning of a long recession which will create mass unemployment and force wages down far enough to ensure capital once more prevails over labour…

Complicating this crisis are two new factors. One is global climate change and the other is peak oil. Both are fiercely argued over because of their implications. These are the need for a global to shift to a low/ no growth economy which is not based on burning fossil fuels. The problem with taking any steps in that direction is that capitalism requires continuous growth - usually measured as gross domestic product - at a minimum of 3% per year… every year for ever and ever. Without this continual growth, there is no point in re-investing capital in the economy because over time you would end up with less capital than you started with - due to loss of value through machines wearing out, buildings needing maintenance and such like. For a proper explanation try David Harvey’s book the Enigma of Capital £8.99 from Housmans

So we really could be getting close to the end of the (capitalist) world as we know it. So it would seem sensible and rational to start planning for what will happen next. Lots of people are and have been doing so for a long time. But - so long as the ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class - the capitalist class in our era- the ideas cannot get turned into actions. It would mean the ruling class planning their own downfall, making themselves and the whole social/ economic system they rely on for their power, redundant. Which is impossible for them to imagine so nothing new happens or can happen.

Wearing my woolly Green hat, I know that back in the early seventies there was a branch of the counterculture which ’talked about windmills and psychedelic dreams’ [Crass, General Bacardi]. There was more than talk, people tried to built their own wind generators and even attempted to a company- Lucas Aerospace- to adopt such alternative/ radical technologies. For a brief moment, sparked by the 1974 oil crisis the ideas almost became mainstream. [The 1975-78 Good Life tv sit- com was a popular culture response to this.]

Although it was mainly a rural phenomenon, there was an urban dimension which involved the reclaiming and transformation for community use of buildings (through squatting/ housing associations) and also derelict spaces. Meanwhile Gardens, established in 1976, is an example which should be familiar to readers of KYPP. The radical technology movement had a strong DIY ethic, which included how to guides to setting up your own pirate radio station.

There was also a global dimension. For years, until I passed it on to some folk living in a tipi in the back garden of a squat in Lewisham, I had a copy of Victor Papanek’s book Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change. The book included a description of a transistor radio, made from ordinary metal food cans and powered by a burning candle, that was designed to actually be produced cheaply in developing countries. Papanek also came up with an innovative method for dispersing seeds and fertilizer for reforestation in difficult-to-access land. See

While parts of the Radical Technologists’ vision led on to the Ecology Party, later Green Party, some of the DIY aspects were adopted and adapted by punk. Which is where things get tricky.

A central part of punk’s self-definition was that it marked a distinct and definite break with the immediate past - with the preceding hippy generation. ’I hate Pink Floyd’ as one well-known punk said on his t-shirt. Musically, punk’s short sharp statements could not be confused with prog rock’s 20 minute meanderings. Punk was a revolution, and 1976 was Year Zero.

As a music and style based sub-culture, punk was new and different and nothing like what had happened before. It was also, on the same grounds, dead by the end of 1977, to be replaced by something now called ’post-punk’. Such journalistic definings of punk are the first draft of history. Second and later drafts of history are also available. Just like 1984, history is always being re-written.

But who is writing the history? Usually it is the victors who get to (re)write histories, recuperating the past so it always conforms to the (ruling) ideology of the present. Ah, but what if the ruling ideology is bankrupt and about to be consigned to the dustbin of history? What if all that is seemingly so solid is about to melt into air? Well, then the countercultural historian can reconstruct an other version of what really happened. Not ‘the’ version, just one amongst many other possible versions.

Such a countercultural approach might look for continuities rather than breaks. It might see punk as part of rather than apart from a turbulent undercurrent of idealist/ materialist opposition to the material ideas of the ruling class. This would involve recognising a process of constant/continual challenging and questioning of the ruling ideology, the ruling class. So long as the ruling ideology can keep fracturing and fragmenting and suppressing these challenges, they can never achieve the crucial breakthrough to become the ‘thought’ or ‘consciousness‘, of a revolutionary class.

Through divide and rule -through the Brew Crew strategy- every challenge gets defined as isolated and unique, as a one-off. To get beyond this victor’s version of history, we have to step back and see the bigger picture. [Edward Thompson’s The History of the English Working Class is useful tool for learning how to do this.] Applying this countercultural approach to the history of the counterculture itself - as Ken Goffman did with his Counterculture Through the Ages, 2004 - punk ceases to be an isolated fragment of resistance to the ruling ideas of the age, but becomes a particular instance or moment of the counterculture.

So punk drew on/ defined itself against, the range of oppositional strategies available at the time to create a ’new’ set of oppositional strategies which then became available to/ were recycled back into - the ongoing counterculture.

It may appear that the counterculture has more recently died or otherwise ceased to exist/resist. It hasn’t. Its apparent absence from the present is a sign of the immanent demise of the ruling ideology. So profound is the crisis of the dominant culture that it can no longer effectively function as the ruling ideology - it is now splintering and fragmenting and so can no longer write the history of what is happening right here and right now.

Monday, July 04, 2011

You must be honest to live outside the law.

Stacia and Hawkwind at Windsor Free Festival 1973

Just woken up at 4 20 am by the early morning light, still close enough to the solstice so not much darkness. Usually I would try to get back to sleep, but Nic asked me a question on Facebook about the Brew Crew which has burrowed its way down into the depths and re-emerged as a dream about people fighting at a gig which has woken me up.

Half- asleep it seemed to make sense but now half-awake in the greyness of dawn mist, it is more difficult. I think the answer to Nic’s question is ‘To live outside the law you must be honest’…Mick (Luggy) came up with it when we - the (Kill Your Pet) Puppy Collective- were looking for vaguely situationist style slogans to print on stickers to stick on bus stops or to send people who wrote in asking for ‘info’.

It is a Bob Dylan quote, but along with Mark (Mob)’s description of anarchy as being about trusting people, it summed up our approach to living outside of society. You could say that put us in the same political space as Margaret Thatcher and her ’there is no such thing as society’- but she then said ’there are only individuals and families’. But what we were trying to do was find an alternative between the (often intolerable/ abusive) constraints of family life and extreme isolation as individuals surviving in a city.

Punk was not an answer. As originally constructed by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm Mclaren, punk was a reaction to and rejection of the collectivist values of the preceding counterculture and its failure to turn dreams of an alternative society into reality. But as punk was propagated as a moral panic and punks became folk-devils, it attracted thousands of alienated teenagers to London. While many soon returned home, for others the enforced individuality of being homeless in a hostile environment led them to squatting. It was a steep learning curve and the pressure of survival forged connections with the pre-existing squatting scene.

Some of these connections -e.g. between the Clash and the big west London squats- had been there from the beginning. Others developed organically as punk squatters had to learn the same skills as hippy squatters.

By the beginning of the eighties squatting had become part of the punk subculture in London. At the same time punk was emerging and developing, the free-festival and travelling subculture was also emerging and developing. The Windsor Free Festivals which began in 1972 and ended, after violent police actions in 1974, were a major influence and inspired the Stonehenge Free Festivals which ended in similar circumstances 11 years later. While rock music festivals influenced Windsor, over in East Anglia folk-music and the tradition of medieval fairs inspired a different type of free-festival, more of a Green gathering than a rock music event.

Although the distinction between a small free-festival and a large fair eventually became blurred, their different origins meant there was always a tension between fairs and free-festivals. While the tensions came to a head in the mid-eighties and involved punk as a scapegoat, they had their origins in the early seventies and divisions within the sixties counterculture. As the optimism of the sixties counterculture began to fade there was a ‘back to the land’ movement’ which involved attempts to set up rural communes and adopt a more self-sufficient and ecologically sustainable lifestyle. The East Anglian fairs came out of this movement, but there were communes and back-to-the landers scattered across the countryside - including Wales and even south-west Scotland where a commune (now a housing co-op) was set up in 1972.

Others within the counterculture stayed in the cities, especially London, and became active squatters and/or engaged with the feminist and gay liberation movements. The Angry Brigade were the most dramatic manifestation of the post-sixties urban counterculture. Apart from the free-festivals, groups like Hawkwind, the Pink Fairies and the Edgar Broughton Band frequently played benefit gigs for political causes and also free gigs underneath the Westway or on Parliament Hill Fields.

John Robb [Punk Rock an Oral History, 2006] quotes Brian James, Rat Scabies, Captain Sensible and Mick Jones as going to and being influenced by these events. International Times, which was started in 1966, revived itself in the seventies and reported on punk. If the 1976 /Year Zero version of punk history is demystified, what emerges is an aspect of punk which was the next-generation of the seventies urban counterculture, urban guerrillas with guitars instead of guns.

According to Brig Oubridge [in George McKay, Senseless Acts of Beauty, 1996], 1976 was also the year the convoy was born- as a means of moving from one site to another from May through to September. Don Aitken lists the festivals and fairs- May Hill in May, Horseshoe Pass, Stonehenge, Ashton Court, Inglestone Common, Cantlin Stone, Deeply Vale, Meigan Fair and various in East Anglia and finally the Psilocybin Fair in Wales in September.

Before 1976, people had started using trucks and old buses to get to and stay in at the Windsor Free Festivals. But it was only once there were enough festivals to go to that the idea of swapping squatting for full time travelling could take off. It was a gradual process and required learning a new set of skills, although previous experience of squatting no doubt helped. Since the idea of travelling round festivals was contemporary with punk, it was first adopted by members of the pre-punk counterculture who had been teenagers in the late sixties and were now in their mid-twenties or older.

Most of the festivals and fairs listed by Don where not very well known, but as Stonehenge festival got bigger, it became a media spectacle, introducing thousands of people to the travelling scene, including punks. These punks confused their elders. ‘When I first saw punks at Stonehenge, I thought they were aliens’ I was once told. But by the time of the last Stonehenge festival in 1984, some of the punks has already become travellers. Looking back in 1989, John Pendragon told me that it was the influx of punks onto the travelling scene which ’destroyed it’.

Yet in 1982, too early for the punks to be blamed, an alternative community newspaper from Waveney in Suffolk was worrying about the impact of the ‘Peace Convoy’ on the fairs of East Anglia and how far the tolerance and openness of such alternative gatherings could be extended. A year later a different reality intruded, with a ’picnic not a fair’ to be held at the Lakenheath Peace Camp. McKay [1996, 42- 44] links the two together, pointing out that to blame the Peace Convoy for the demise of the Albion Fairs is to confuse symptom with cause. Brig Oxbridge’s 1976 convoy became the Peace Convoy when a group [including KYPP’s Tony D] moved from the Stonehenge festival to Greenham Common Peace Camp in June 82. In contrast to 1976, in 1982, ‘ everything vaguely or coherently alternative was more difficult to achieve under Thatcher [and] became more extreme in its response.’

Given the political climate - with mass riots in 1981 and the miners strike, mass arrests at Nostell Priory, eviction of Molesworth peace camp and battle of the Beanfield - even if no punks had become travellers, John Pendragon would still have been affected by the culture of repression.

To get back to Nic’s original question about the Brew Crew. Part of the answer is in George McKay’s summary of the Albion Fairs/ Peace Convoy conflict-

If the Peace Convoy turned up at green fair, its members would intimidate punters out of money, rip other fair goers and organisers off, squat the land a month after everyone else had left and when they did go, leave burnt out cars and piles of rubbish behind…soon the Peace Convoy put people off holding fairs altogether. [1996, 43]

So behaviour attributed to the ‘Convoy’ in 1982 was attributed to the ‘Brew Crew’ a few years later, and (at least by John Pendragon) blamed on the influx of punks to the travelling scene. A few years later again, when there were mass raves similar problems arose.

By way of a conclusion, the Dylan quote is useful. Where ever you have a group of people ‘living outside the law’ the problem of self-policing arises. Where such an alternative society is even vaguely anarchist in its form, there is a real difficulty of adaptation. Without obvious signs of external authority, an attitude of ’I will do what the fuck I want’ can emerge which is often destructive. Given time, so long as there are no underlying mental health difficulties, a form of mutual self-respect emerges - the honesty of the Dylan quote. With honesty comes trust and a sense of solidarity. Which is fine a for relatively small group working/ living together for long enough to become self-organising. But when the there are suddenly thousands of people at a free festival, or hundreds deciding to become anarcho-punks or travellers - it gets much much harder.

In late summer 1985 I was at a gathering to discuss the future of Stonehenge festival. There was a lot of discussion about how the festival could become self-policing, how to create a minimal order out of the chaos. In 1975 the feat was managed with the semi-official Watchfield free festival - see here

But in 1985 there was no way the Conservative government would adopt an idea used by a Labour government ten years earlier. Instead they id their best to make life as hard as possible for ’new age travellers’ and conflicts over Stonehenge became a annual event for many years afterwards.

Finally - in the early nineties there was a re-radicalisation of travelling and squatting through the road-protest movement- with large scale squatting on the M11 protest and ‘new age travellers’ active at Twyford Down. One of the travellers (who called themselves the Donga tribe) was Donga Alex and George McKay quotes her complaining about the protest being plagued by ’young people on dodgy chemicals who leave their rubbish and literally crap everywhere’… At Claremont Road (a row of squatted houses on the route of the M11) the protestors practiced some self-policing - evicting a group of ‘lunch-outs’ from the street…

AL Puppy