THE ASSAULT ON CULTURE CHAPTER 12 (pages 65-68)
DUTCH PROVOS, KOMMUNE 1, MOTHERFUCKERS, YIPPIES AND WHITE PANTHERS
In the early summer of 1965 a leaflet appeared in the city of Amsterdam appealing for large sums of money to be sent to the editorial address of a new magazine called PROVO. The leaflet stated that the new magazine was needed:
"because this capitalist society is poisoning itself with a morbid thirst for money. Its members are brought up to worship Having and despise Being.
- because this bureaucratic society is choking itself with officialdom and suppressing any form of spontaneity. Its members can only become creative, individual people through anti-social conduct - because this militaristic society is digging its own grave by a paranoid atomic arms build-up, its members now have nothing to look forward to but certain death by atomic radiation."
The fIrst issue of PROVO appeared shortly afterwards and was immediately impounded by the authorities because it contained a diagram reprinted from "The Practical Anarchist" of 1910, which supposedly instructed the reader on how to produce explosives. The technique was actually useless. This scandal, and others, helped the circulation of PROVO rise from 500 to 20,000 within a year.
The early PROVO activists - including Roal Van Duyn (born 1942), Rob Stoik, Robert Jasper Grootveld (born 1932), Simon Vinkenoog, Bart Huges and the former situationist Constant - came chiefly from anarcho-communist and creative backgrounds. However, the PROVO's satirical politico-cultural actions soon brought much of Amsterdam's disaffected youth into the ranks of what quickly became a movement.
Amsterdam was considered a magic centre, and at its heart was the Spui, where - beneath a statue of a small boy called Lieverdja and referred to by the PROVOS as the addicted consumer - Grootveld had been organising weekly happenings since 1964.
The PROVOS hatched a series of 'white plans', as solutions to ecological and social problems facing the city, and which simultaneously acted as 'provocations' to the Dutch authorities. Among the more famous of these was the 'White Bicycle Plan'. The PROVOS announced in a leaflet that white bicycles would be left unlocked throughout the city for use by the general population. The prototype of this 'free communal transport' was presented to the press and public on 28th July 1965 near the statue of Lieverdja. The plan proved an enormous success as a 'provocation against capitalist private property' and 'the car monster', but failed as a social experiment. The police, horrified at the implications of communal property being left on the streets, impounded any bicycle that they found left unattended and unlocked.
The PROVOS became notorious with the Dutch medical community after Bart Huges - one of the PROVO leaders - drilled a hole into his cranium (skull trepanation). Huges believed that the membranes inside his head could expand as a result of the extra space he had created, thus increasing the volume of blood - and in turn oxygen - that his brain could contain at any given time. The result, Huges claimed, was similar to the expanded consciousness achieved during yoga exercises, or an LSD trip, but in his case the benefits were permanent.
The PROVOS' international reputation dates from their March 1966 smoke bomb attack on the wedding procession of Princess Beatrix and Prince Claus von Amsburg. The cops immediately retaliated by inflicting savage beatings on anti-royalist protestors. However, the people of Amsterdam demonstrated their support for the PROVO cause by voting a representative of the movement onto the city council in local elections three weeks later.
After this it became apparent that it was only a matter of time before PROVO's radical activities were recuperated by the Dutch authorities, and so in the spring of 1967 the movement was dissolved.
At the same time, in Berlin, the ex-Situationist and Gruppe Spur member, Dieter Kunzelmann, was assisting in the formation of Kommune 1. The commune came together in March '67, and its members introduced freak actions and political happenings to the conservative German environment. For their trouble they were expelled from the German Socialist Student Association. But the rage with which their activities were met, by traditionalists of both left and right, only increased their standing in the eyes of many of the younger kids. They soon became the heroes of school students on both sides of the Berlin Wall. The 'horror commune' (as it was called by the German press) was a hot bed of political and cultural agitation. It was in the commune and through meetings with its members and supporters that future terrorists such as Bommi Baumann of the June 2nd Movement were radicalised. One of the Commune's most famous interventions came after a fire in a Brussels department store. A leaflet was issued entitled "When Will The Berlin Department Stores Burn":
".....Our Belgian friends have finally caught on to how they can really draw the public into the lustful activities in Vietnam. They set fire to a department store, 300 satiated citizens and their fascinating lives and Brussels becomes Hanoi. No one reading his paper at an opulent breakfast table need shed any more tears for the poor Vietnamese people, for today he has only to go to the clothing department of Ka De We, Hertie, Woolworths, Bika or Neckerman and discreetly light a cigarette in a changing room..."
Although the leaflet - and the suggestion that the Brussels fire was started by anti-Vietnam protestors - was clearly a hoax, the press was outraged. Once again Kornrnune 1 was the focus of public attention which made it difficult for the bourgeoisie to sleep soundly in their beds.
Meanwhile, in New York some former cultural workers were about to be reborn as the street fighting Motherfuckers. The Motherfuckers (or 'Up Against The Wall Motherfucker' accompanied by a graphic showing a freak being shaken down by the cops) formed out of the Lower East Side branch of Students For A Democratic Society, but prior to this brief flirtation with New Left politics they had been grouped around the Dada inspired magazine "Black Mask". As the Black Mask collective, their chief public activity had been attacking gallery openings, museum lectures and rock concerts. As the Motherfuckers, and later the Werewolves, their activity was focused on two fronts - breaking up leftist meetings and carrying out a bombing campaign under the slogan of' Armed Love' - against banks and other symbolic targets.
Another group active at the same time, but more concerned with theatrical stunts than direct action, were the Yippies (Youth International Party). While the Motherfuckers had entered the freak milieu via the left wing of cultural agitation, the Yippies emerged straight out of the hippie subculture. In New York the Yippies held a Human Be-In at Grand Central Station during the rush hour - to the great inconvenience of the commuters trying to make their way horne - and caused pandemonium in the stock exchange by throwing hundreds of dollar bills from a balcony onto marketeers who promptly left off their business and fought over the money. In Britain they caused national outrage when they invaded the "David Frost Show". The Yippie nomination of a pig called Pigasus for president was part of the movement's intervention in Chicago during the August 1968 Democratic Convention. This piece of guerilla theatre turned into riots and in September 1969 eight left-wing radicals, including the Yippies Abbe Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, found themselves brought before Judge Julius Hoffman in what became known as the Chigaco Conspiracy Trials. In the course of court proceedings, the judge got into numerous arguments with the defendants and their council. When the jury retired to consider its verdict, the judge sentenced all the defendants, and their council, to periods of imprisonment for contempt of court during the trial. The obvious bias of the judge in conducting the trial and his sentencing was widely criticised; the Chicago Conspiracy Trials became the most famous in American history. The resulting prison sentences showed American capitalism as being more oppressive than the Yippies had imagined. The Yippie movement underwent a slow disintegration as its supporters discovered that the capitalist system really was as evil as their rhetoric implied.
The White Panther Party, inspired by the Black Panthers, emerged out of the Detroit Artists' Workshop in 1968 - showing once again that it was former cultural workers who were leading the radicalisation of Amerikan youth with the newly developed freak style of political agitation. The main aim of the White Panthers was to carry agitation into high schools, and the movement's rock and roll band - the MCS - was their most potent weapon for achieving this aim. However by 1970, John Sinclair (leader of the White Panthers) had denounced the MC5 for selling out. By this time Sinclair was in jail on a ten year prison sentence for passing two marijuana joints to an undercover drugs detective. Another White Panther, Pun Plamondon, joined the FBI's most wanted list after he allegedly bombed a CIA building in Ann Arbor.
The freak style of agitation, when employed by those who could withstand the onslaught of oppression such action would bring down upon them, was particularly effective because it presented both cultural and political alternatives to capitalist domination. The establishment, threatened by the influence of this violent vanguard, reacted by greatly over-emphasising the 'peace and love' aspect of hippie culture in the media. However, the militants didn't disappear because the media chose to misrepresent the movement: instead some of them returned in the guise of the urban guerilla. (1)
1. Obviously the sheer volume of movement activism during the sixties makes it impossible to cover even a fraction of it in the space available here. Among the more interesting groups I've omitted to mention are Emmett Grogan's latter-day Diggers who spent the late sixties providing free food, free clothes, free shelter &c., for the people of San Francisco's Haight Ashbury. Digger groups inspired by Grogan's activities later spread across America and into Europe. These groups represent an eminently practical side to a movement which the establishment often condemned for being impractical idealists.
Previous: Gustav Metzger and Auto-Destructive Art
Next: Mail Art
Assault On Culture contents page