The experience and memory of King Mob and its immediate off-shoots has never gone away in Britain and Ireland, though it is one surrounded by much mythologising, dreadful interpretations and analysis from the resentful denigrations of Stewart Home to the superficial laudings of Tom Vague. Serious re-evaluations and critique is what was - and still is - needed though all of that seems further way than ever, reflecting the dire stasis and profound counter-revolution of these ultra-capitalist times. Nobody belonging to the original movements has, in anything like depth - apart from ourselves (Dave & Stu' Wise) ' commented much on what took place and, in some ways more importantly, what happened afterwards. Thus, it appears everything has been vanquished from history and historical interpretation apart from ever reoccurring logos on T shirts and general readjustment of empty images. We feel finally this has had more to do with appalling compromises many of the individuals involved made in their daily lives especially their means and mode of survival.
As for ourselves what we've provisionally committed to cyberspace on two websites particularly www.revoltagainstplenty.com deals with King Mob and what for us preceded it in the Icteric experiment in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. They are essentially unfinished, incomplete statements/notes in need of re-working. For sure one can legitimately ask in which case why weren't they completed? Well, they were put together in haste at a time of near absolute hell when death was beckoning on two fronts: one concerned grave physical illness, the other, because a long with a few others - brave guys and gals - who lived at the sharp end without role or status, we'd literally been forced to take on heavily capitalised and armed drug gangs who'd made life impossible in the social housing complexes we occupied. Our effective action against these brutalised crack dealers meant, on the word of the grapevine, there were contracts out on us and the police, housing authorities and local Labour party MPs were more than happy about this seeing we'd also been forced to take on these intermediaries with a full frontal of stinging analysis in letters and leaflets. (We won't list here some of the direct action tactics 'for obvious reasons - we deployed against the dealers though they were very effective). As a way of making certain that many decades of thoughts and diaries meant something before a bullet through the head, a flood erupted in the shape of "The Hidden History of King Mob" written by David Wise, though twin brother has still fought shy of making a contribution and no doubt, stern auto-critique.
Three or four years later and still alive, an email arrived from Servando Rocha and the publishers La Felquera in Madrid and the Canaries asking for information on King Mob and those times long gone. For once it was an email that made a lot of sense and you felt the presence of intelligent probing, one cutting through the crap, was finally taking place. A correspondence then ensued and one of us responded elaborating certain details Servando requested, so in a way it may be best if some of this correspondence is made available by La Felquera. It did though seem Servando had grasped the real critique and perhaps finally the times were again beginning to open up again to a restless searching'?
Normally we wouldn't respond to such requests as over the past decades, most of these have been on the lines of requesting journalistic interviews or concerned aspects of image/media rebellion we have absolutely no interest in whatsoever. Amusingly (if it wasn't so pathetic) the publication of "The End of Music" produced a rash of them, even though it was a publication and title we had nothing to do with or even knew about as, moreover, the text was judiciously altered every which way. Interestingly a few of the letters asked us for advice on how to proceed in pop music and if we could be so kind, would we help in forming a band or pop group that was truly revolutionary! With a grimace you laughed bitterly realising no matter how baldly you put things, there was no way anything you'd written was remotely getting through! It reminded you of a slogan that appeared on nearby walls sometime in the mid 1970s, itself obviously influenced by the Situationists and perhaps King Mob: 'WORDS DO NOT MEAN ANYTHING TODAY' (Possibly the slogan was by Nick Brandt)
King Mob in Britain partook of a moment and movement - that of the original Situationist critique - which should have been far greater than the rebellion of modern art and, much further back, of revolutionary romanticism before and after the fulcrum of the French revolution of 1789. Romantic revolt in Britain was, if anything, the wildest and most splendid of international responses and, which we have written about in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek, academic kind of way designed to provoke these dead relics of nothingness, the university lecturers. Indeed the Situationist critique - and as we are writing about King Mob - promised to supersede all the better, unworked out though experimental tendencies and contradictions in both movements and, as such, was the most explosive critique the world has ever unearthed and potentially still is, though with far greater consequence. Instead, turning tail so quickly with a more or less collective failure of nerve our response was to be far, far weaker. It is the latter, which over the decades has been so galling to endure as individual after individual betrayed their promise.
This failure of nerve was initially also unfortunately understandable as we were dealing with and encountering a new, vast social/personal arena that was, to say the least, unpredictable and although the shock waves from the revolt of the late 1960s took a long time to ebb especially in the UK, which idiosyncratically just seemed to keep on going and going up to the Poll Tax riots of 1990 and even, a little later with the anti-road protestors, the actual razor sharp edge of profound critical incision was blunted very quickly. As Ron Hunt of Icteric in Newcastle put it at the time: 'The avant garde of hope has given way to the avant garde of despair'. Breakdown and depression quickly followed suit engulfing a fair number in suicide. Needless to say, police pressure and fingering by state security personnel didn't help in this mix. Personal, sexual relationships foundered, often giving vent to terrible recriminations and inter-personal nastiness, strained, ir-real, unhappy and phoney, and sometimes violently we all went mad with sheer agony. In a fit of sheer desperation, Love, love, love: desperate for a love that had yet to be borne was the final solution and yet wasn't as yet there historically as fulfilment. This 'new' agony was a portend of the future for everybody and in reality the basis for the novels of a dark, latter-day, Fluxus-inspired dystopia which Stewart Home was to indulge in, forgetting Lautreamont condemned the formal paradigm of the novel etc. In retrospect, these horrific experiences were also something you had to go through simply to understand something of the agonising depths of experience, of real life, 'of the minds other kingdom' as Shakespeare had surprisingly, quite delicately put it. Though naively, even superficially we'd learnedly quoted the horror and illusive transcendence inherent in the writings of Lautreamont, there was something far too stylish about it when most of us had yet to personally encounter the depths of Maldoror's inferno. Rightly, at this moment of this self- realisation, TJ Clark of King Mob produced a small, vituperative pamphlet, which got the Sunday tabloid The News of the World baying for his blood. The pamphlet reversed De Sade's loudly proclaimed slogan of the time: 'Nihilists one more effort to be revolutionaries' into: 'Revolutionaries one more effort to be nihilists'. This acute reversal was in response to the fact that everywhere you seemed to turn there were individuals spouting revolutionary phrase-mongering that simply sounded hollow with individuals, nay, barely individuals whom you sensed a month earlier had basically been good little boys and girls never having set foot in the big wide world and taken a walk on the wild side. The trouble is; though our TJ had made a correct diagnostic it was also a self-analysis.
Despair bred obedience and even worse, at the heart of the rejection of money, paradoxically a love of money was rekindled from dying embers. It was to turn into an imperious lust the likes of which, as time went by, we've never ever historically experienced. A course, a passage inherited perhaps from previous derives; a journey had been roughly envisaged if not by any means accurately mapped-out if we were to continue in our subversive quest. Fundamentally, it meant the abandonment of all professional role, not just artist or writer, poet or architect etc but academic ones along with all the rest of what could be taken as cadre roles buttressing the dominant ideology. We, and echoing Rimbaud's exhortations in 'A Season in Hell', had necessarily to be very severe with ourselves. With no immediate sign of a revolutionary breakthrough on the horizon it was a tall order and hardly surprisingly all of us without exception ' ourselves included ' twisted and turned at the implications. Surely one could work a couple of days per week lecturing on some crap or hang out as a nondescript, part time town planner? Simply be a bit knowingly cynical about survival? Alas, alas it doesn't work out like that. There was no escape you had to journey on downwards and the path to eternity as Nietzsche had said, 'is bent', though we weren't sure what 'bent' meant and probably Nietzsche wasn't too sure of that neither though he was clearly pointing in the right direction.
The rebellion against art and all other manifest alienations such as the family, monogamy, religion and work, gave way to a much more fundamental, day to day, agonised survival, thrown down more and more into a starker thoroughly proletarianised reality knowing you had no dosh to fall back upon. You began to hate the fact the majority of your former privileged King Mob 'comrades' from the middle or, upper middle classes, gradually made some agonised peace with their backgrounds, slowly distancing themselves from your vulgar reality, finally disappearing altogether into safer niches and the latest tranche of inherited wealth, which this time they firmly kept glued in their pockets. Finally though, you hated even more those from your own poor backgrounds who seeing clearly the hypocrisy of their former friends, in a convulsion of twisted class resentment, simply made a play for the crudest means of making vast amounts of money. Truly it was all so utterly sickening as this sad vista unfolded in the years to come.
Some individuals didn't compromise but increasing fragmentation, encouraged by general community breakdown and urban dispersal which emerging asset capitalism was beginning to find good profits from, found themselves bit by bit in a state of limbo and, without profile, though remaining fine people, increasingly finding their rebel spirit smashed to smithereens. None of this need have happened. Even though, by ourselves, we couldn't have stopped the advance and domination of finance capitalism, we could have more than continued to make a mark and kept on giving the system lucid scares they never ever quite recover from. Ever after those goons who encounter this implicit retribution are diminished human beings and usually, somewhat paranoid afraid of a reoccurrence. Every Little Helps as the Tesco supermarket ad goes. We also could, on a more collective level, have kept the perspective of total social revolution and the transformation of everyday life alive and kicking so that others, much younger could have taken up cudgels en route to more definitive and happier conclusions.
It was to be even worse. In general submitting so utterly and greedily beginning to grab all the goodies on offer, the ground was being prepared, especially in Anglo/America for the neoliberal experiment and the worst counter revolution in history, which is in the process of making Stalinism and fascism look like crude child's play. It's more than just a copping-out like Lenin complaining about Parvus's creature comforts as he distanced himself from Bolshevism or, London's anarcho-syndicalist, dockers' 'leader' Tom Mann in the late 19th century becoming a pub landlord subsequently watering down the beer to increase profits, this was money-grubbing gone insane. It's become horrifying to contemplate just how many of your former friends, subversive companions, beloved former partners ' call them what you will - are now millionaires while the street crackheads upstairs from where you live fall yet again on the floorboards above your head!
It wasn't so much the revolutionary critique of art was left behind, rather it was waylaid at the time by more basic considerations forced, as you were, to be part of the movement from below, pushing towards conflict with the trade union apparatus and a growing statist-oriented community politics increasingly ensconced in the broader arena of issue politics. Inevitably though there was no arena to turn to which you could feel at home in either that of Trotskyism or traditional anarchism and the growing ultra left like World Revolution and the neo-Bordigists were so reductive, throwing their constant absolutes at you like a chant that you had no choice but to keep well clear! It was essentially unchartered territory you were entering and rather more than the gap between art and life that had so occupied your youth. Your life began to hinge on strikes, on the nuances of the strength and weaknesses of the bosses and the ambivalences inherent in the shop steward apparatus that you seemed to be endlessly bumping into and rubbing up the wrong way.
Hatred of sub-contractors in the building industry reigned supreme together with an eye for all the un-named acts of revolt which happen on a day-to-day basis which, though never receiving official recognition, are the warp and woof endlessly reinvigorating the failing sense of life imposed by a re-invigorated, now missionary-like, powers that be. These unnamed acts were and are part of ' though only a part ' of the entr'e, the day to day precursors pointing to the longed for 'poetry made by all not by one' which the life/art practises of the bullshitters of long extinct artistic roles surviving through an aestheticized, monetarised inertia cannot ever relinquish.
The yearning for revolution never diminished rather it re-established something of its essence in the communal relations and often exhilarating antics which spontaneously break out and, behind your welcoming back, began to affect the things you wrote when the urge came upon you as much as you held in disdain - and rightly so - the role of writer. Like then, with joire de vivre analysing the great strike wave of The Winter of Discontent in 1979 as it was taking place. Around this time, Michel Prigent intimately then connected to Guy Debord, suggested, seeing we had no money and wanted to publish a number of things, we should become sub-contractors and mini-capitalist in the building trade to fund these efforts. It was meant well but it was the one thing we couldn't do as at that point, unadorned, utterly loyal comradeship on the building site was all we had left of a wrecked personal life. If we'd betrayed that, if we'd betrayed friends seeing we always worked together on the principal of equal wages, we may well have topped ourselves. Fuck the revolutionary theory let someone with real dosh pay for that!
The great urban riots of 1981 hit us like a welcome blow to the head clearing away so much of the tedious procedurialism that dogs day to day conflict in the workaday world. It was also thirteen years later the realisation of the great riot King Mob had so desired something equivalent to the Gordon Riots of 1780 when London had previously been put to the rioters sword and the slogan King Mob appeared on the walls of the smouldering wreck of Newgate prison. Inevitably with passion and with this in mind in Like A Summers With A Thousand Julys we wrote about it (see the Revolt Against Plenty web). We hoped the riots would spill over into the work scene which in some ways they did especially during the big printers and miners' strike of the following years. We even personally enjoyed a much smaller fracas on a building site we were working on in London at the time! All this you could say was very basic stuff though we never once forgot however, no matter how pushed into the background, the recuperative role culture via a growing media circus was playing in the background. Beyond that patiently you watched, waiting for renewed youthful bursts in the manner and lucidity of the best of late 1960s King Mob ' though we hoped they would be rather better than our own paltry efforts - and a force disrupting on a grander scale than ever, beginning with the cultural perspective. Alas, so far it has never happened.
And then everything was vanquished as the neoliberal counter revolution really set in. All revolt was wiped out and the best of the most combative element of 'the working class' destroyed through drink, drugs, madness, raving isolation, despair and slow motion suicide (when it wasn't simply the deft slitting of beckoning wrists). Some of our dearest friends departed down these pathways to Hades leaving us only with ghostly memories haunting the rest of our days as a face in the crowd becomes yet again a John Dennis or Pam Smith followed by a desperate cry from within your own heart.
The final twist was to be strange, very strange indeed as almost everything you'd done, every route you'd opened up especially in your youth around Icteric and King Mob was thrown back in your face as intensifying commodification. The age of heavy industry passed in these islands as capitalisms' project became more and more the construction of an aesthetic economy, more inhumanely vicious, and programmed, more anti-liberal in the better sense of the term, more pointlessly workaholic, more polarised between the haves and have nots than perhaps anything experienced before especially in England. But this aesthetic economy is one of constant moving images, of advertising as endless intervention and seeming disruption, of neoliberal economics disguised as green art installation, of invention become not exhilarating phantasy but permanent sinister lie. All so reminiscent on the surface of King Mob yet minus the essential.
We end on the tale of a tiny rare butterfly called the Dingy Skipper which flies in their thousands on the old colliery spoil heaps of Yorkshire and Co Durham. It was the butterfly of our youth in these areas. It is now being destroyed here like the miners before them by a grotesque but well-funded environmental makeover eliminating everything of the past which stood for some kind of humanity. Increasingly, these makeovers are deploying an aesthetic dimension to assist in their real dirty work deploying all that is 'absolutely modern' ' to detourne a phrase of Rimbaud's ' to finish off what is left of spontaneous subversion. It's precisely the fall-out from some of our very early experiments before the point of discovering revolutionary praxis and with some further assistance of a hidden Fluxus-oriented dimension via some of the recuperated fallout from Reclaim the Streets that is playing a major part in hoodwinking everybody as all biodiversity is eradicated. We have more or less completed some films on what is taking place and the voiceovers in text form have been placed on the Revolt Against Plenty web under the title Miner/Butterfly Destruction, especially what is happening at Frickley colliery. Already we have been blanked as the central committees of eco organisations as everywhere doors have been slammed in our faces And in this King Mob/anti King Mob saga yet again, the familiar process of repression/shock horror is repeated.
Dave & Stu' Wise, March 2007
For further recent commentary related to the above read the following in the "Wreckage & bric-a-brac" series: