Our 4th Reading group on Situationism and Crass was held on 21st August at Freedom bookshop where we discussed the following texts: Matthews: An Introduction to the Situationists, Debord: Decomposition: The Ultimate Stage of Bourgeois Thought, In: Report on the Construction of Situations, p.6, Guy Debord: Chapter 8 – Negation and Consumption Within Culture, In: Society of the Spectacle, p.68-77 and Cross: “There Is No Authority But Yourself ”: The Individual and the Collective in British Anarcho-Punk.
Ok, so the Situationist texts are incredibly difficult and have to be re-read a few times to make complete sense to them. The Matthews text was very useful to provide a summary and to explain the historical context and numerous references to Marx. A number of attendees admit to trying and failing to read Society of the Spectacle or have had to come back to it over the years.
Did this group really influence May ’68? It’s hard to imagine anyone but an arts/philosophy PhD taking this to heart. It appears to be one clique of artists writing to another clique rather than an easily understandable and actionable call to arms.
Beneath the difficult language there are some gems- Debord seems to have predicted the worst of consumerist culture when it was only at its very beginning. Linking to the Crass text he also predicts the co-option of subcultures and movements of resistance. He also is strongly critical of Leninism and Maoism which were fashionable at the time. The aim of the revolution is not just economic (how production is ordered or who controls it), it is cultural!
His ideas that the ruling class need maintain contradiction and confusion seems prescient- Putin does this by trying to manufacture criticism from both the left and right to create confusion and control the narrative from both angles. Bannon also seems to use the techniques discussed here- he is waging a culture war and is very good at distilling the ideas down to simple mantra people identify with (MAGA, the Muslims are coming etc). Perhaps someone needs to do this with Situationist ideas?
Remember when CND was massive and people didn’t just accept nuclear weapons? Great times.
In our last discussion group we discussed anarchist economics- Crass seem to be a working example of this as they did their own production, distro etc all not for profit. This has created a big legacy in the music scene, especially outside the UK which seems to have resisted the co-option of subversion better (hello, Sex Pistols).
Did the focus on one subculture and one musical style limit the possibility for expansion? Subcultures can be exclusive and have been critiqued extensively, particularly with reference to USA anarchist groups (we’re looking at you, early Crimthinc). There is also a lot of negativity/Nihilism in the lyrics- is this part of the art/performance or this just because under Thatcher the any future society seemed very far off and people needed to wake up to the reality before anything could be built?
A connection with the Situationists seems to be the ‘borrowing’ of ideas from different philosophers and different camps. Perhaps this is why they never subscribed to one particular form of anarchism but took the best bits of individualist and communist currents.
The rave scene was more inclusive, more working class and had better drugs according to the two people who lived through the Punk and Rave decades!
Our reading group will continue on the third Tuesday of the month at Freedom Bookshop.