[Marxism] Guy Debord, Motherfuckers, Andy Warhol's factory

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jun 28 11:06:44 MDT 2004


Not long after starting at the Chronicle of Higher Education, I told 
some friends that one of my goals was to do a story that would require 
mention of the 1960s radical group known at the Up Against the Wall 

Having now written this item about a new edition of Valerie Solanas's 
SCUM Manifesto -- and thereby contributing, however modestly, to the 
decline of civilization -- I have that feeling best summed up by the 
phrase, "My work is done here."

There was no room to mention this in the article, but a collection of 
writings by the Motherfuckers is available in a book called Black Mask & 
Up Against the Wall Motherfucker, available from Amazon -- which, quite 
unhelpfully, lists it only by the first two words of the title. Black 
Mask was a predecessor group, one of whose members was Dan Georgakas, 
who I know slightly via the world of C.L.R. James-iana. Dan went on to 
co-author a history of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers called 
Detroit, I Do Mind Dying, which is still in print, it's good to learn. 
An incredibly valuable book.

I only tracked down the collection of Black Mask and Mofo documents by 
searching Amazon for "Ben Morea," who I take it was the prototype of the 
character Mark Motherfucker in I Shot Andy Warhol. At one point circa 
1967, Black Mask was the U.S. contact for (if not actually a section of) 
the Situationist International. They were -- in due course, and in 
keeping with the rituals of the SI -- "excluded" from the communion of 
the Debordist-Vaneigemist faithful. Though some of the BM/MF texts in 
the collection do have elements of the Situ analysis, the fact is that 
analysis wasn't really what the New York group was about. In one of the 
documents, they refer to themselves as a "street gang with an analysis," 
a line that turns up in I Shot Andy Warhol.

Sure wish I could draw a map of the relationships here. The game of 
degrees of separation is intriguing, given the thematic links. For example:

-- In Paris (or wherever he was hiding out), Debord analyzes "the 
society of the spectacle." His American associates are in contact with 
Valerie Solanas, who takes a shot at the artist who embodies "the 
spectacle" at its most self-consciously self-emptying.

-- Warhol, the son of a steel worker, names his studio "the Factory." 
Debord's theoretical writings are, in large part, a critique of Marxist 
practice in the name of a more radical Marxist notion of alienation 
which stresses how pervasive it is at all levels of culture and society. 
Debord's ideas are lifted by French intellectual hustler Jean 
Baudrillard, who transforms the critical concept of "the spectacle" into 
a notion of "the simulacrum" purified of any possibility of revolt from 
below. In gratitude, American academics and/or hipster buy (and even 
occasionally read) lots of books by Baudrillard. One of which, Symbolic 
Exchange and Death, has on its cover a painting by Warhol.

-- Debord was briefly a member of Socialisme ou Barbarie, and so felt 
obliged, later, to include various insults at the group in Situationist 
publications. Still, lots of Situ theory is influenced by SouB, and in 
particular by the work of Cornelius Castoriadis.  (For a really 
interesting and useful selection of texts about CC, check out this 
recent page.) From the late 1940s through the early 1960s, Castoriadis 
and SouB are in contact with C.L.R. James's group in the United States, 
the Johnson-Forest Tendency, which consists largely of factory workers. 
Like Warhol's father? You are way ahead of me, dear reader.

-- One member of the Tendency in Detroit is my friend, the late Marty 
Glaberman, who liked few things better in life than teaching Marx's 
Capital.  In the mid- to late 1960s, his course was attended by some of 
the people who founded the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. Whose 
history is later written (as noted above) by Dan Georgakas, a member of 
Black Mask, which is (as noted above) the American sympathizing group of 
the Situationist International. The League wins the respect of the 
Italian extreme left. The latter translates a book of Marty's writings. 
They also read Debord.

-- Some of the Italian ultra left decides to "take up the gun." Some of 
the Motherfuckers join the Weatherman faction of SDS. Many years later, 
when Marty Glaberman got his files from the Detroit red squad, he 
learned that something called the Third World Liberation Army had been 
training with guns in the basement of his home. (Telling me about this, 
Marty was very amused. He said they never had a basement at the house in 
question.)  Meanwhile, one of the handful of Debord's major writings 
following the disintegration of the SI is a preface of the Italian 
edition of Society of the Spectacle.

A quotation from that text, published in 1979: "It is fair to recognize 
the difficulty and the immensity of the tasks of the revolution that 
wants to create and maintain a classless society. It can begin easily 
enough wherever autonomous proletarian assemblies, not recognizing any 
authority outside themselves or the property of anyone whatsoever, 
placing their will above all laws and specializations, abolish the 
separation of individual, the commodity economy and the State. But it 
will only triumph by imposing itself universally, without leaving a 
patch of territory to any form of alienated society that still exists. 
There we will see again an Athens or a Florence that reaches to all the 
corners of the world, a city from which no one will be rejected and 
which, having brought down all of its enemies, will at last be able to 
surrender itself joyously to the true divisions and never-ending 
confrontations of historical life."

I'm pretty dubious about the yearning to destroy any "patch of 
territory" occupied by "any form of society that still exists." The 
will-to-purity has written itself into history in ways that are 
horrific. A later text by Debord, from 1988, just about trembles on the 
page (or screen) from megalomania and paranoia.....Just add some 
speculations about the Y chromosome and you are well over halfway to 
SCUM Manifesto.


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