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