This classic booklet of post-Situ flyers was made by John Zerzan and Dan Todd, probably in 1985. The version this is made from lists the publisher as Oh! Press in San Francisco.
Archive for the 'Situationist' Category
WAR CHEST TOUR
Schiz-flux held a ‘roving’ demonstration last May Day called the War Chest Tour. We sought to emphasize a total critique of the war economy by ‘hitting’ various businesses and institutions ranging from McDonald’s to the ROTC. In between these confrontations were excursions into ‘liberated zones’, areas pre-designated for the free (fore)play of radical subjectivity. Plans included a smoke-in at the Memorial Union, the burning of American, Soviet and McDonalds flags, and a May Pole dance in Peace Link park where participants would dart from the dance to the porn shops on State St. where, charged with fertile adrenalin, they would form a circle inside of which a ‘free exchange of pleasure’ could occur. Artsy props and banners were prepared for the whole occasion and over 500 flyers were distributed prior to the event asking other activist groups to plan actions on the same day.
The response was dismal. At noon we arrived with sundry props at the steps of the union and danced around while taking turns with the bullhorn exhorting students to quit work, quit school and join the ‘revolution of desire’. About 40 students gathered while huge joints of homegrown were shared with all in the vicinity. Chief of Campus Police Bozo Hansor appeared with a walkie talkie in hand to keep an eye on this small-scale insurrection as we walked around the back of the union chanting “Smash the war machine”. Once inside more joints were shared and students were invited to join the march.
The pot must’ve spaced everyone out, though, because only 10 of us made it to the next target on the tour, the ROTC building. Also, the concept behind the Tour was not understood by the initial participants: the War Chest Tour was conceived as a fast-moving, highly-charged performance which integrated a militant anti-capitalist perspective with the liberating energy necessary to subvert the system. It was a failure because the crucial link between art, politics and pleasure is unfamiliar to most of the liberals, peaceniks and leftists that the Madison area is positively crawling with; where political asceticism and sad militancy are the prevailing models. But WATCH OUT! We may be back. If you’re interested in organizing War Chest Tour this May Day, get in contact with us!
from SMILE #2 (Madison, WI), 1988, p13.
RADICAL ARCHIVES is happy to finally present our ‘Origins of Primitivism’ set. It consists of 16 documents related to the development of contemporary primitivist thought, which were first printed in Fifth Estate between 1977 and 1988. All of these documents (listed at bottom) are available online for the first time.
Additionally, David Watson has contributed a short introduction and reflection on these texts for the occasion of putting them online; it is available here.
The most important of the these texts is David Watson’s “Against the Megamachine” (originally published in 1981), which outlines his distinct version of primitivism. Watson renounced ideological primitivism with 1997’s “Swamp Fever, Primitivism and the ‘Ideological Vortex': Farewell to All That”, two years before the demonstrations in Seattle against the WTO. Partly because of Watson’s exit from the discourse, Zerzan’s version (which actually had been developed later) became synonymous with the concept “anarcho-primitivism”.
Watson’s essay is the only document of this set which was previously in print; it is available as the title essay of the Autonomedia book Against the Megamachine: Essays on Empire and Its Discontents. Prior to this, the other texts were only accessible in specialized archival holdings.
Also of importance is “Confronting the Enemy: A Response on Time”, which is a long critique of Zerzan’s article “Beginning of Time, End of Time” (which was the first of his five “origins” essays). Written under Watson’s pen name “George Bradford”, this much-overlooked critique summarizes what are the basic objections to Zerzan’s view from a sympathetic perspective: that the notion of purely unalienated being (and along with it, the abolition of agriculture) is a misguided – and impossible – approach to these issues. Paralleling many discussions within the Western Marxist and Existentialist milieu (especially regarding Georg Lukács’s early work on reification), Watson argues that separation is something intrinsic to human nature, and cannot be seen as ‘outside’ of our own human existence. To abolish separation is to return to the womb or ascend into heaven.
The third essay of special importance is Bob Brubaker’s “Community, Society and the State”. Brubaker was a Fifth Estate writer who was involved in the magazine’s dialogue as primitivism was developed. Brubaker’s work has been largely forgotten.
The fourth essay of special importance is Fifth Estate‘s 1977 review of Gary Snyder’s The Old Ways, Six Essays. Steve Millett has identified this as the first complete statement of a primitivist perspective to appear in Fifth Estate.
Last, a letter from Marcus Graham, who had edited the anarchist magazine MAN! in the 1930s, shows the issues Fifth Estate was grappling with around technology, organization, etc. had been long-standing discussions in the anarchist milieu, well back into the classical era.
By making these documents available online, hopefully a richer understanding of the different strains of primitivism will result, as well as a constructive and critical dialogue regarding this intellectual and political current. Important questions were asked by the founders of primitivism, including: critiques of political organization, spontaneity and resistance; the role of technology and the question of its autonomy; and basic ontological questions about civilization, alienation and environmental domination. With the partial exception of insurrectionism, these questions have largely been shelved by the post-Seattle anglophone anti-authoritarian milieu.
While Radical Archives is neither “primitivist” nor “anti-civ”, our position is that these questions have not been answered by Murray Bookchin’s brand of social ecology, John Zerzan’s version of primitivism, or any version of ‘green syndicalism’.
It is partly for this reason, and partly out of interest in anarchist intellectual history, that we are returning to the time in which these questions were being actively grappled with in the anti-authoritarian milieu.
Radical Archives would like to thank Steve Millet for pointing out many of these works in his dissertation, as well as to David Watson and Peter Werbe for their help in identifying who wrote many of these articles. We would also like to give special thanks to Dylan Smith for the many hours he spent transcribing all of these works; without his labor, none of this would be possible.
THE ORIGINS OF PRIMITIVISM SET
Situationist critique of Harvard’s 1969 Left politics
I Accuse Harvard University (PDF, 28 MB – will probably take a bit to download)
“Whereas this project was undertaken by individuals at different points in their growth to consciousness, i.e to revolutionary coherence (unity, totality) as persons, and
Whereas there was more or less lack of engagement in the practical task of carrying out the project – due partly to unavoidable difficulties of spatio-temporal coordination, and
Whereas the struggle against bourgeois mystification, i.e. domination of consciousness, is a permanent process of dialectical praxis or it is nothing,
Then it is minimally for these reasons that this cartoon critique was partial only, and to that extent incoherent.”
= = =
RADICAL ARCHIVES NOTE: Special thanks to the Kate Sharpley Library for providing us with a copy of this publication. Gregoire, Ziegellaub and Supak all later worked with Fredy and Lorraine Perlman. Supak worked on the first translation of Society of the Spectacle. Gregoire co-authored Worker-Student Action Committees with Fredy Perlman, but later went on to denounce Black & Red in 1971.
According to Ken Knabb at the Bureau of Public Secrets, Gregoire and Linda Lanphear had moved to Paris in 1969, and (with Gerard Lambert) formed a group which issued a few pamphlets and leaflets during the early 1970s. In the following years they were also part of an informal grouping around Jean-Pierre Voyer.
On a more pedestrian note, we are hoping to get our scanner adjusted soon, as it adds a slight rotation to the PDFs.
91. The first successes of the struggle of the International led it to free itself from the confused influences of the dominant ideology which survived in it. But the defeat and repression which it soon encountered brought to the foreground a conflict between two conceptions of the proletarian revolution. Both of these conceptions contain an authoritarian dimension and thus abandon the conscious self-emancipation of the working class. In effect, the quarrel between Marxists and Bakuninists (which became irreconcilable) was two-edged, referring at once to power in the revolutionary society and to the organization of the present movement, and when the positions of the adversaries passed from one aspect to the other, they reversed themselves. Bakunin fought the illusion of abolishing classes by the authoritarian use of state power, foreseeing the reconstitution of a dominant bureaucratic class and the dictatorship of the most knowledgeable, or those who would be reputed to be such. Marx thought that the growth of economic contradictions inseparable from democratic education of the workers would reduce the role of the proletarian State to a simple phase of legalizing the new social relations imposing themselves objectively, and denounced Bakunin and his followers for the authoritarianism of a conspiratorial elite which deliberately placed itself above the International and formulated the extravagant design of imposing on society the irresponsible dictatorship of those who are most revolutionary, or those who would designate themselves to be such. Bakunin, in fact, recruited followers on the basis of such a perspective: “Invisible pilots in the center of the popular storm, we must direct it, not with a visible power, but with the collective dictatorship of all the allies. A dictatorship without badge, without title, without official right, yet all the more powerful because it will have none of the appearances of power.” Thus two ideologies of the workers’ revolution opposed each other, each containing a partially true critique, but losing the unity of the thought of history, and instituting themselves into ideological authorities. Powerful organizations, like German Social-Democracy and the Iberian Anarchist Federation faithfully served one or the other of these ideologies; and everywhere the result was very different from what had been desired.
92. The strength and the weakness of the real anarchist struggle resides in its viewing the goal of proletarian revolution as immediately present (the pretensions of anarchism in its individualist variants have always been laughable). From the historical thought of modern class struggles collectivist anarchism retains only the conclusion, and its exclusive insistence on this conclusion is accompanied by deliberate contempt for method. Thus its critique of the political struggle has remained abstract, while its choice of economic struggle is affirmed only as a function of the illusion of a definitive solution brought about by one single blow on this terrain–on the day of the general strike or the insurrection. The anarchists have an ideal to realize. Anarchism remains a merely ideological negation of the State and of classes, namely of the social conditions of separate ideology. It is the ideology of pure liberty which equalizes everything and dismisses the very idea of historical evil. This viewpoint which fuses all partial desires has given anarchism the merit of representing the rejection of existing conditions in favor of the whole of life, and not of a privileged critical specialization; but this fusion is considered in the absolute, according to individual caprice, before its actual realization, thus condemning anarchism to an incoherence too easily seen through. Anarchism has merely to repeat and to replay the same simple, total conclusion in every single struggle, because this first conclusion was from the beginning identified with the entire outcome of the movement. Thus Bakunin could write in 1873, when he left the Fédération Jurassiene: “During the past nine years, more ideas have been developed within the International than would be needed to save the world, if ideas alone could save it, and I challenge anyone to invent a new one. It is no longer the time for ideas, but for facts and acts.” There is no doubt that this conception retains an element of the historical thought of the proletariat, the certainty that ideas must become practice, but it leaves the historical terrain by assuming that the adequate forms for this passage to practice have already been found and will never change.
93. The anarchists, who distinguish themselves explicitly from the rest of the workers’ movement by their ideological conviction, reproduce this separation of competences among themselves; they provide a terrain favorable to informal domination over all anarchist organizations by propagandists and defenders of their ideology, specialists who are in general more mediocre the more their intellectual activity consists of the repetition of certain definitive truths. Ideological respect for unanimity of decision has on the whole been favorable to the uncontrolled authority, within the organization itself, of specialists in freedom; and revolutionary anarchism expects the same type of unanimity from the liberated population, obtained by the same means. Furthermore, the refusal to take into account the opposition between the conditions of a minority grouped in the present struggle and of a society of free in dividuals, has nourished a permanent separation among anarchists at the moment of common decision, as is shown by an infinity of anarchist insurrections in Spain, confined and destroyed on a local level.
94. The illusion entertained more or less explicitly by genuine anarchism is the permanent imminence of an instantaneously accomplished revolution which will prove the truth of the ideology and of the mode of practical organization derived from the ideology. In 1936, anarchism in fact led a social revolution, the most advanced model of proletarian power in all time. In this context it should be noted that the signal for a general insurrection had been imposed by a pronunciamiento of the army. Furthermore, to the extent that this revolution was not completed during the first days (because of the existence of Franco’s power in half the country, strongly supported from abroad while the rest of the international proletarian movement was already defeated, and because of remains of bourgeois forces or other statist workers’ parties within the camp of the Republic) the organized anarchist movement showed itself unable to extend the demi-victories of the revolution, or even to defend them. Its known leaders became ministers and hostages of the bourgeois State which destroyed the revolution only to lose the civil war.
= = =
from Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Detroit: Black & Red, 1983), np.
This text is from the 1977 revision done by a group of translators, which included Fredy and Lorraine Perlman. Debord’s book originally appeared in French in 1967, and the first Black & Red edition appeared in English in 1970. Donald Nicholson-Smith and Ken Knabb have also produced translations.