BPC Books 2024: Dialectical Butterflies, King Mob, Helen Macfarlane


24 May 2024

New Title: King Mob: The Negation and Transcendence of Art (illustrated).

By Dave and Stuart Wise

Available as a paperback (£9.99) or an ebook (£4.99) from Amazon

Twin brothers David and Stuart Wise, as art students in mid-1960s Newcastle, immersed themselves in the radical ideas of Icteric (‘the often confusedly anti-art magazine’). The Wises participated in the saving and restoration of Kurt Schwitters’ Lakeland Merz Barn, and organised a controversial commemoration of the Russian Futurist, Kazimir Malevich. The documents in this book, written over a 50-year period, describe these and subsequent efforts by the Wises to subvert the ‘recuperation’ of ‘art’ into the capitalist culture industry. In reflection on their engagements with like-minded radicals – the English and French Situationists, New York’s Black Mask collective, the London-based King Mob, and more recent formations – the authors consider how and why the Revolution ‘due to unforeseen circumstances’ did not take place. They also analyze the recuperation of radical aesthetic ideas in the works of latter-day chancers like Damian Hirst and Banksy.

Introduction by David Black

1– New York 1967: King Mob and Black Mask
2 – King Mob at Selfridges, December 1968
3 – The 1970 Situationist Reorientation Debate … and the ‘Never Work’(ing) Workers…
4 – Nietzsche, Wagner and the Theatricalisation of MusiC Stewart Wise
5 – Kurt Schwitters’ Barn: A Tale of Two Cities
6 – Malevich in the 21st Century The Square as Recuperation
7 – The Physical Impossibility of Damian Hirst in        the Minds of the Living
8 – Meccano on Crack (Or Tatlin on Crack) A Psychotic Amalgam of Architecture/Sculpture/Engineering Stuart Wise – The Physical Impossibility of Damian Hirst in  the Minds of the Living
9 – All the Way to the Bank(sy) SOME REFLECTIONS…
10 – Mayakovsky and Tatlin A Catastrophic Social / Creative Impasse
11 – Ralph Rumney From Artist to Situationist and Back Again

King Mob: The Negation and Transcendence of Art is the third title to be issued as BPC’s WisEbooks Series this year.


20 March 2024 –

BPC Publications (London) announces release of two titles this week in the WisEbooks Series, compiled by, and featuring, Dave Wise and Stuart Wise, founders of King Mob.

Dialectical Butterflies

Ecocide, Extinction Rebellion, Greenwash and Rewilding the Commons – an Illustrated Dérive

Dave and Stuart Wise

This is published as an ebook because its 80 colour photographs would be too costly to print.

Amazon Link

Beautifully illustrated, Dialectical Butterflies is a psychogeographical exercise in butterfly preservation as part of the environmentalist, anti-capitalist struggle against ecocide, The lifelong fascination of David Wise and his late twin, Stuart, with the ecology of butterflies goes back to their involvement in the mid-1960s surrealist-inspired radical arts scene in Newcastle. From their contact with the Situationist International the Wise brothers adopted the concept of ‘recuperation’ which they see exemplified in today’s ‘greenwashing’ PR exercises. Their latter-day rewilding campaign is effectively a post-situationist Longue Dérive through the relatively forsaken terrains of derelict industrial sites and zones of autonomy in northern England; as well as the contested public space of Wormwood Scrubs in London.



Lost Texts Around King Mob 1968-72, published as an ebook in January 2024, is now by popular demand available as a paperback.

King Mob was initially a coming together in London of members of the English section of the Situationist InternationaI and like-minded individuals from Newcastle associated with the anti-art magazine, Icteric, and the Black Hand Gang.

Following Guy Debord’s expulsion of the English members of the SI in December 1967, the King Mob Echo was co-founded in April 1968 by former SI member, Chris Gray and ‘friends from the north’, Dave and Stuart Wise.

The material in this collection by King Mob writers and their associates still has a power to provocatively invigorate and open up new directions of thought and action emanating from a subversive critique of culture. For the most part, these documents have been forgotten and therefore never archived in the libraries of art history and the ‘popsicle academy’ of media/music studies. Indeed, they had to be rescued from what Marx called “the gnawing criticism of the mice”.


  • Dave Wise and Stuart Wise (King Mob), Introduction: By way of an explanation…
  • Ronald Hunt (Newcastle-based art historian), The Arts in Our Time: A Working Definition; The Great Communications Breakdown, (1968)
  • Dave Wise and Stuart Wise, Culture and Revolution (1968)
  • John Barker (Angry Brigade) Art+Politics = Revolution (1968)
  • Fred Vermorel, (music writer who collaborated with Malcolm McClaren in formulating Punk Rock), The Rewards of Punishment and On Whom Can the Workers Count? (1970)
  • Chris Gray (Situationist) and Dave Wise, Balls! (1970)
  • Phil Meyler (Dublin associate of King Mob), The Gurriers (1968) and Notes from the Survivors of the Late King Red (1972)

The book is dedicated to Stuart Wise, 1943-2021


Red Antigone: The Life and World of Helen Macfarlane 1818-60  – Chartist Journalist, Feminist Revolutionary and Translator of the Communist Manifesto
By David Black

Paperback (110 pages) – March 2024

Amazon Link

From Everyone has a favourite Chartist by Stephen Roberts, Chartism and the Chartists 2016

The Marxist historian David Black certainly has a favourite Chartist who he can’t shake off. That Chartist is Helen Macfarlane, who contributed to the Chartist press for just one year, 1850. Black has just released a collection of Helen Macfarlane’s journalism (Helen Macfarlane: Red Republican, 2014). This isn’t his first book about this undeniably interesting figure. And it won’t be his last. A full-length biography is under way. What we have for now, though, is an anthology of Macfarlane’s writings for Julian Harney’s journals, the Democratic Review (April-September 1850) and the Red Republican (June-November 1850). Reprints of these journals appeared in the 1960s, but aren’t that easy to find these days. So Black has done those who want to read Macfarlane’s contributions a favour. And they are so much easier to read than the original columns (Black thanks Keith Fisher who undertook the laborious task of typing them out). Be in no doubt, Black is a fan … ‘her words jumped off the page at me’, he writes, ‘no one had ever before written like this in the English language’

So who was Helen Macfarlane? She was undeniably a remarkable woman. Born into a well-to-do Glasgow family of calico-printers, she became a governess after the family business was ruined in 1842. She appears to have been radicalized whilst living in Vienna in 1848 &, back to London, came into the orbit of Marx. She translated the Communist Manifesto & sent her own political writings to Harney for publication. Black is certainly right about the quality of her work. What Macfarlane wrote is a cut above a lot of the material that appeared in late Chartist journals. Read ‘Fine Words (Household or Otherwise) Butter No Parsnips’ (reptd. here pp. 53-8) and you’ll see what I mean…

This is a fascinating story & certainly whets the appetite for the full-length biography Black promises.


Amazon Link

Red Antigone is also available as an Ebook – March 2024

The first title issued in the Red Antigone Series, this is the first biography of Helen Macfarlane, Scottish-born feminist philosopher and shooting star of late-Chartist journalism.

Born into a family of gentrified Highland lairds who moved to Glasgow and became rich capitalists, Helen Macfarlane was a child of the Scottish Enlightenment. Educated by the males in her family, she went further than any of them in her radicalism. Key sections of the Communist Manifesto, which she translated, explained for her how capitalist development led to disruption, such as the bankruptcy of the Macfarlane calico business, and unemployment and poverty for masses of workers. Red Antigone is also the saga of her ‘clan’ – of found and lost riches, and risky adventure, and tragedy – and its, at times, conflictual relationship with her revolutionary politics.  Alone amongst British radicals, her interpretation of ‘continental socialism’ was based as much on her understanding of Hegel as on her involvement in the 1848 Revolutions. Marx praised her as an ‘original’ and a ‘rara avis’.


The second title in the Red Antigone Series, is:

Red Chartist

The Complete Annotated Works ofHelen Macfarlane and her Translation of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto

(as published in the Chartist periodicals, The Democrat Review of British and Foreign Politics, History and Literature, the Red Republican, the Friend of the People, and Reynolds News.)

Amazon Link. This title is a paperback, NOT available as an ebook. The content can found, however, in the following book published by Unkant in 2014, now re-issued by BPC as an ebook print replica.

Red Republican

The Complete Annotated Works ofHelen Macfarlane and her Translation of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto by KarlMarx

Amazon Link


1839: The Chartist Insurrection

David Black and Chris Ford (with a foreword by John McDonnell MP), originally published as a paperback by the late and lamented Unkant Publishing, London in 2012, has now been re-issued by BPC Publishing as a KDP Ebook.

REVIEWS of 1839

Ben Watson, blurb-on-the back:

‘In retrieving the suppressed history of the Chartist Insurrection, David Black and Chris Ford have produced a revolutionary handbook.’

Dan La Botz, New Politics

Black and Ford have written a fast-paced, narrative history of the 1839 Insurrection, filled with thumbnail sketches of the Chartist movement’s major figures, descriptions of the most important Chartist organizations and their politics in brief, excerpts from contemporary speeches, and parliamentary debates, and wonderful descriptions of the movement’s rise, growth, and spread throughout Britain. All of this is based on the most masterful command of the sources: newspapers, parliamentary records, memoirs, private papers, and all of the secondary literature. They tell their story in the most straightforward way but at a breathtaking clip that contributes to the sense of the excitement of the movement and its culmination in the insurrection.”

Stephen Roberts, People’s Charter

I read this book in one sitting as I sheltered from the pouring rain at Bodnant Gardens in North Wales. Based on a wide range of secondary sources and easy to read, it provided a welcome way of spending a few hours whilst waiting for the weather to clear (it didn’t!). The authors tell the story of a year when they assert the conditions for a working class revolution existed. Their account, almost entirely based on such secondary sources as the studies of the Newport Rising by David Jones and Ivor Wilks (but noticeably omitting recent books by Malcolm Chase and Paul Pickering) cannot be said to add to the scholarship, but is full of vigour and engagement. Black and Ford see Chartism in 1839 as ‘a mass working class democratic movement with revolutionary and socialist tendencies’. So this is very much a political account from an avowedly Marxist stance. For the authors a hero of the Chartist story emerges … George Julian Harney. And rightly so: Harney should be a hero to us all.”

R. Reddebrek, Goodreads

A very detailed and readable account of the early Chartist movement, its origins the personalities that came to dominate it and the events that spurred it on to physical force demonstrations culminating in the attempted insurrection in Southern Wales. It also comes with two appendixes that add further context to the time and give a voice to some of the Chartist leaders.

Sharon Borthwick, Unkant Blog, June 26, 2012

This was an exciting time… Dave Black and Chris Ford bring this time alive with this thoroughly researched book which includes many first hand accounts of meetings, battles and the colourful protagonists, many of who fully supported ‘ulterior measures’ in other words arming themselves, should parliament reject the petition for universal male suffrage which really they knew was a foregone conclusion…

This is a period soaked both in romance and horror and our heroes are both romantic and practical. The young George Julian Harney is just 21 when he joins the National Union of the Working Classes. He has been schooled on The Pilgrims Progress, Robinson Crusoe, The Castle of Otranto and the Sorrows of Young Werther. He sports a Jacobean red cap, which he likes to pass onto the heads of pretty young women who favour him with their singing binnies. He was a dogged agitator who travelled extensively to spread the Chartist message…

The momentum is all towards the final battles of 1839 when thousands are amassing in Wales and the North. Harney is finally furious with London as in the North strikes had begun, Manchester succeeding in closing 12 mills, the colliers of Northumberland downing tools. In Newport 6,000 men marched on Westgate but their leader has fled.

Some have lost their lives and many are imprisoned. Dr William Price escapes to Paris where he hangs out with the poet Heinrich Heine. We get glimpses of other characters. We don’t know much about him but that there was a £100 reward on his head, but we are glad that Dai the Tinker has escaped.

James Heartfield, Spiked Online, June 2012

David Black and Chris Ford’s account of the Chartist uprising of 1839 is also written in part to save these agitators from the condescending judgement of an Althusserian, in this case Gareth Stedman-Jones, whose ‘fear of agency’ cannot recognise Chartism’s self-conscious attempt to overthrow ‘old Corruption’. 1839: The Chartist Insurrection is altogether a more rewarding read than Rancière’s for its unapologetic focus on people who are making their own history. Black and Ford make the case that the earlier 1839 uprising came closer to overthrowing the existing order than the later challenge of 1848. They situate the movement in the disappointment of the Reform Act of 1832 that gave the vote to middle- class property owners, but not to the working men who protested alongside them.

Black and Ford make a good case that, though the technology they worked with was not for the most part industrial, the core of the Chartist movement was much more than an outgrowth of radicalism. Of course, it was true that their Charter was a series of democratic demands – adult male suffrage, annual elections, paid Members of Parliament. On the other hand, popular among them was Gracchus Babeuf’s argument that the democratic revolutions in America and France left ‘the institutions of property’ intact as ‘germs of the social evil to ripen in the womb of time’. The common ambition among the Welsh miners that the owners be made to work their own mines tells us that their struggle for democracy was indeed mixed up with a class struggle between owners and hands.

As the authors show, the movement argued hard about how far it should go if its great petition, the Charter, on presentation to parliament, should be refused – as it was. The Chartist Convention, a national organisation with elected delegates, debated the use of ‘Ulterior Measures’ in that case.

George Julian Harney – anticipating modern Sinn Fein’s slogan ‘an armalite in one hand and a ballot paper in the other’ by 150 years – called on his audience to carry ‘a musket in one hand and a petition in the other’. Threatened with prosecution, many in the audience testified that he had in fact said ‘a biscuit in one hand…’. Arguing for the Ulterior Measures, Feargus O’Connor promised that ‘it would be a war of capital against labour, and capitalists would soon find out that labour was the only real capital in the world’.

Still, Black and Ford do not flatter the Chartists unduly, nor make them into cartoon heroes. All the weaknesses of the organisation are confronted here. Throughout the summer of 1839, there were a number of protests in towns across the north of England, notably Newcastle, and in Wales and Scotland, while many smaller groups took up the call to arm themselves. The planned general strike, or sacred month, though, was poorly executed and patchily observed. In some confusion and disarray, the Convention voted to dissolve itself after a number of setbacks.

As it turned out, the leaders’ retreat only opened the floodgates of a movement that was determined to fight on. Black and Ford tell the story of General Napier, who led the militia against the Chartists, though he was himself sympathetic to their cause, if not their methods. On 6 August 1839, Napier wrote: ‘The plot thickens. Meetings increase and are so violent, and arms so abound, I know not what to think. The Duke of Portland tells me that there is no doubt of an intended general rising.’ But Napier’s judgement is compelling: ‘Fools! We have the physical force, not they.’

Black and Ford tell a heartwrenching story of attempted insurrections in Bradford, Newcastle and, most pointedly, in Newport in south Wales, where the movement came to a head. The insurrection was led by the tragic figure of John Frost, who himself was hoping to dampen the movement down, explaining at his trial that ‘so far from leading the working men of south Wales, it was they who led me, they asked me to go with them, and I was not disposed to throw them aside’. Though the Chartists did succeed in taking the streets and the Westgate, their superior numbers were not enough to beat the special constabulary’s better organisation.

All over England, there were risings that failed to meet up, followed by suppression of the movement and a witch-hunt of the organisers. Some escaped, like Devyr, while John Frost was caught and tried – and would have been hanged but that the sentence was commuted to transportation (itself a sign that the authorities feared worse if they killed him). George Julian Harney concluded that ‘organisation is the next thing to be looked into.’

Adam Buick, Socialist Standard, September 2012

The insurrectionary element in the Chartist movement has fascinated left-wing historians who see in it a frustrated revolutionary potential from which a modern vanguard can learn lessons.

Adding to this literature is a new history of the Chartist insurrectionaries of 1839 by David Black and Chris Ford (1839 –The Chartist Insurrection, London, Unkant Publishing, 2012, £10.99). It is a compelling read, telling the story of Chartism through the experiences of George Julian Harney and other ‘firebrand’ Chartist leaders such as Dr. John Taylor and examining the ill-fated Newport Rising of 1839. The authors provide a vivid account of the revolutionary potential that had built up in Britain by the late 1830s, culminating in the aborted rising at Newport in which several Chartists were killed.,

The authors seem disappointed at what they see as the paucity of revolutionary leadership within the Chartist movement. The proposed general strike in support of the Charter is regarded as a failed revolutionary opportunity because Feargus O’Connor refused to see it as a chance for the “revolutionary seizure of power.” Black and Ford argue that “the strike had an inexorable revolutionary logic: with no strike fund to draw on, the people would have to violate bourgeois property rights in order to eat” (pp.88-9). But most Chartists did not want a revolutionary seizure of power; they wanted an extension of the vote backed by the threat that if it was not granted then ‘force’might follow. Chartist leaders such as O’Connor did not want a showdown with the state via a general strike because he knew that the likely consequence would be defeat.,,

The authors suggest that Chartism was neither the tail end of radicalism nor the forerunner of socialism. But it contained plenty of the old in with the new. In their words, “In 1839 the ideas of Thomas Paine stood in dialogue with the socialistic ideas of Thomas Spence, Robert Owen,“`

Psychedelic Tricksters: A True Secret History of LSD (New Edition) 

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A short ‘video of the book’ on Youtube


LSD UNDERGROUND: Operation Julie, the Microdot Gang and the Brotherhood of Eternal Love by David Black PAPERBACK – 21 Mar. 2022


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Cities of the Dreadful Future: The Legacy of Psychogeography, Urbanism and the Dérive in London and Paris

Unitary urbanism expressed a vision of city planning based on aesthetic and technological innovations in architecture, but freed from subordination to the needs of corporate developers and the endless expansion of private car ownership. Such pleasurable activity as the Dérive had yet to be impoverished by the pollution and noise of traffic jams, and the vandalism of planners and developers. Chtcheglev could still write of a future in which city dwellers would reclaim the streets: “we will construct cities for drifting… but with light retouching, one can utilize certain zones which already exist. One can utilize certain persons who already exist.”v

By David Black
9 January 2023
The British Dérive

Alex Trocchi, Scottish novelist, Francophile and one-time Situationist, once reminisced about his friendship with Guy Debord in the 1950s:

“I remember long, wonderful psycho-geographical walks in London with Guy. He took me to places in London I didn’t know, that he sensed, that I’d never have been to if it hadn’t been with him. He was a man who could discover a city… He had a magical quality… Distances didn’t seem to matter to the man. Walking in London, in the daytime, at night, he’d bring me to a spot he’d found, and the place would begin to live. Some old forgotten part of London. Then he’d reach back for a story, for a piece of history, as if he’d been there. He’d quote from Marx, or Treasure Island, or De Quincey.”[ Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces, p.388.

Alex Trochhi

“Psychogeography” was formulated by Debord and his colleagues as “the study of the specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviours of individuals.” The practice of Psychogeography involved the Dérive: a form of daydreaming during excursions on foot through the urban environment, defined as “a technique of transient passage through varied ambiances.”

Psychogeography has, directly or indirectly, influenced a number of British writers. In Michael Moorcock’s novel of 1988, Mother London,  the space-time of the city is explored through the fragmented voices of mental patients in the Thatcherite 1980s, whose traumas are traced back to the mythology and reality of the Blitz. As a lead character says, “All great old cities possess their special myths. Amongst London’s is the story of the Blitz, of our endurance.” Indeed, the primary cause for the fate of modern London was the Second World War, in which the Luftwaffe’s bomber squadrons, doodlebug missiles and V2 rockets killed 30,000 Londoners and destroyed 70,000 buildings. Ironically, the damage to the city empowered post-war planners, architects and property developers to impose further environmental disaster by bulldozing much of Georgian and Victorian London under the banner of ‘modernization’ — although, by way of recompense, money-making ‘heritage’ spots were saved for tourism, and the facades of many iconic buildings were preserved to cover up the gutting of the interiors.

In the 21st century, as the British economy sinks into the North Sea under the mists of Brexiternity, the London skyline continues its upward trajectory of dystopian skyscrapers; all of which appear to give-the-finger to rest of the city as a Psychogeographical “fuck you” from the non-doms, oligarchs, banksters and money-launderers who run the British economy through their tropical tax havens. The once sweet River Thames, regularly polluted with waste by the Thames Water company (that flagship of Thatcher’s privatisations), now flows softly only for tourists, millionaire party-goers on pleasure boats, and the tenants of the new yuppie-hutches which screen the river off from the Londoners who once enjoyed walking its banks.

In Britain, psychogeography, in the hands of academics, journalists, novelists and visual artists has become an inventive technique for exploring cities. Novelist, Will Self, an admirer of Guy Debord’s Situationist writings, teaches psychogeography at London Brunel University. One of Self’s nonfiction books, Psychogeography (2007), features accounts of his Dérives, walking the streets of London and other cities. By consciously suppressing the usual concerns of time and destination, Self finds for himself a more autonomous actualisation of subjective experience, capable of “dissolving the mechanised matrix which compresses the space-time continuum.” Karen O’Rourke writes in Psychogeography: A Purposeful Drift Through the City (2021), “If geographers ‘carve’, ‘draw’, or ‘write’ the earth, psychogeographers add a zest of soul to the mix, linking earth, mind and foot.” Psychogeography, “[i]n its diverse forms.. embodies the desire to renew language, social life, and oneself. For contemporary psychogeographers, the drift is purposeful; it can reveal the city’s underlying structure.” Sonia Overall, in Heavy Time (2021), drifts along the old pilgrim roads from Canterbury to London and takes in her home town of Ely and a landscape of ancient chapels, ruined farms and suburban follies, Overall, in her secular Dérive,  seeks out “thin places”, which constitute a sort of membrane where past and the present seem to collide and suggest  “where new ways of living might begin.”

Iain Sinclair, in his novels and poems from the 1970s onwards, has utilised psychogeographic techniques without paying much attention to their Situationist origins. His ’Lights Out for Territory, 9 Excursions in the Secret History of London (1997) inaugurated a twenty-year cycle of mainly non-fiction books on the unravelling of the city’s social and historical fabric, culminating in The Last London: True Fictions from an Unreal City (2017). The pragmatic nihilism which has “renewed” the London landscape has negated the Dérive as meaningful activity and has even changed the meaning of words to cover up old adages such as “never apologise, never explain”:

“So:​ the last London. It has to be said with a climbing inflection at the end. Every statement is provisional here. Nothing is fixed or grounded. Come back tomorrow and the British Museum will be an ice rink, a boutique hotel, a fashion hub. The familiar streets outside will have vanished into walls of curved glass and progressive holes in the ground. The darkened showroom of the Brick Lane monumental mason with the Jewish headstones will be an art gallery. So?…That insignificant ‘so’ has moved with the times… Now it’s a signifier, a warning bleep letting the recipient know that nothing that follows has any billable consequence. The speaker, the spokesperson, the hireling expert, is not accountable.”

Having charted the social-cleansing of the poorer parts of London by means of development projects and gentrification, Sinclair declared: “I don’t think there is any more that can be said. The topic has outlived its usefulness and become a brand.”

An especially banal example which illustrates this branding is a promotional piece by Frank Jacobs in the Big Think for the 2022 London Circle Walk. He advises,

“Don’t look up ‘psychogeography’. Again and again, you’ll come across Guy Debord, the Marxist theorist who coined the term in 1955… Persist in your research, and you’ll fall down a rabbit hole of mid-century French social, political, and philosophical theory, from which it is safe to say no one escapes entirely unscathed. Rather, think of it simply as what the term itself promises: the crossroads of psychology and geography… It’s unclear whether that would still be in keeping with the tenets of psychogeography as defined by Debord and practiced by the Situationists. But it does sound like a lot more fun than one of their meetings.”

If Jacobs was a bit more familiar with what he writing about, he might recognise himself as a “recuperator.” One of the key tenets of Situationist thought is the concept of recuperation, which describes the process of how subversive elements are contained,co-opted or neutralised by assimilation into the Spectacle as consumable commodities. As for “fun”, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “boisterous joviality or merrymaking”, there was, as we shall see, plenty of that, but a lot more.

Down the Rabbit Hole: How it Began

After Liberation from the Nazis, post-war revolutionaries in Paris dedicated to new ways of living began to challenge the dominance of Surrealism within the avant-garde. As Debord articulated it 20 years later in Society of the Spectacle:

“Dadaism and surrealism are the two currents which mark the end of modern art. They are contemporaries, though only in a relatively conscious manner, of the last great assault of the revolutionary proletarian movement; and the defeat of this movement, which left them imprisoned in the same artistic field whose decrepitude they had announced… Dadaism wanted to suppress art without realizing it; surrealism wanted to realize art without suppressing it.”

In 1947 a major Paris publishing house issued a book by the 20-year-old Romanian exile, Isidore Isou, entitled Introduction d’une nouvelle poésie et d’une nouvelle musique. Isou analyzed poetic language as having gone through an “amplification” process in the romantic period, followed by a “chiseling” process under Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Mallarme, until Dada finally destroyed it. For Isou, once the chisel of history had done its work, the truth and beauty of poetic language was no longer to be found in words, but in letters, representing figures and sounds. Isou’s “Letterists” (or “Lettrists”) experimented in paintings made up of letters, and sound-poems. They also challenged the separation between art and life. In a manifesto for a “Youth Front” Isou hailed the youth of France as a sort of sub-proletariat: alienated by the educational system, excluded from consumerism by low pay or unemployment, and oppressed by the archaic French Penal Code. The first act of the Youth Front was a riotous assualt on the staff at a brutal Catholic orphanage, which ended in arrest and imprisonment for some of the attackers. In a similar spirit, in 1950, a group of Letterists led by Michel Mourre, disguised as a Dominican monk, disrupted Easter Mass at Notre Dame by announcing “God is Dead,” and reading out an anti-religious poem. They were attacked with swords by the Swiss guards and almost lynched by the congregation before the police came to the rescue and arrested them. On the cultural front, venerable Surrealists, regarded by Isou as conformist and bourgeois, found their exhibitions and poetry readings disrupted by Letterists shouting ‘”surrealism is dead!”

Isou extended the “chiseling” concept to cinema with his Traite de bave et d”eternite (Slime and Eternity) which, when “premiered” at the Cannes Film Festival, caused a near riot (not least because Isou hadn’t finished it, so that for last 90 minutes the audience was subjected to the soundtrack in total darkness). In 1952 Isou recruited two other film-makers: Guy Debord and Gil Wolman.

Left to right: Wolman, Dahou, Debord, Chtcheglov

In 1952, at the Paris premiere of Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight, Debord and Wolman handed out a statement which ended with the words: “the footlights have melted the make-up of the supposedly brilliant mime. All we can see now is a lugubrious and mercenary old man. Go home Mister Chaplin.” As Chaplin had been barred from the United States for suspected “communist” sympathies, the French Left was deeply offended by the action. The attack was probably motivated at least in part by a statement of support for Chaplin put out by leading Surrealists. The Chaplin “disruption” was too much for Isou, who first praised it, but then backtracked and denied all responsibility. Debord and Wolman, along with writer Michele Bernstein, took this as their cue to break with Isou and form a rival “Letterist International.”

Guy Debord and friends in the film: On the Passage of a Few Persons
Through a Rather Brief Unity of Time

The members and fellow-travelers of the Letterist International were young; nearly all of them in their teens or early twenties. These “lost children” (les enfants perdus) were of the generation that had grown up during the Nazi occupation (some of their parents had been Jewish deportees or Maquisards), but had been too young to fight in the resistance. As political radicals, they felt betrayed by the re-imposition, post-Liberation, of a “traditional” conservatism which kept intact the authoritarian penal code and a Gendarmarie which had in large part collaborated with the Nazi occupiers. They also felt betrayed by the bureaucratic, class-collaborationist French Communist Party, the ineffective and dogmatic Trotskyists, and the recuperated Surrealist avant-garde. Also, they did their best to resist conscription for France’s imperialist wars in Indo-China and Algeria.

The headquarters of the new international was a bar in the Arab quarter of Paris’s Left Bank. According to one of the regulars, Elaine Papai (who married Jean-Louis Brau, the Letterist poet):

“The life of the Situationist International cannot be disentangled from Saint-German-des-Prés and the climate that once reigned in that neighbourhood. The Letterist International had set up its headquarters at Moineau’s, a low dive in Rue du Four where the letterists were joined by hitherto unaffiliated young revolutionaries. Drugs, alcohol, and girls (especially underage ones) were part of the folklore of the Letterist International, as revealed in certain slogans of that time which, curiously enough, reappeared on the walls of Paris in May 1968. ‘Never Work!’ ‘Ether is freely available,’ or ‘Let us live!’”

(Quoted in Vincent Kaufmann, Guy Debord: Revolution in the Service of Poetry)

Another young woman of the group, the Australian artist, Vali Myers, recalls,

“They were the rootless children from every corner of Europe. Many had no home, no parents, no papers. For the cops, their legal status was “vagrant.” Which is why they all ended up sooner or later in La Santé [prison].We lived in the streets, in the cafes, like a pack of mongrel dogs. We had our hierarchy, our own codes. Students and people with jobs were kept out. As for the few tourists who came around to gawk at “existentialists,” it was all right to con them. We always managed to have rough wine and hash from Algeria. We shared everything.”

(Quoted in Kaufmann, ibid)
Vali Myers (Ann), Roberto Inigez-Morelosy (Manuel) et Géraldine Krongold (Geri) Paris, 1950, Ed van der Elsken Nederlands Fotomuseum Rotterdam. © Ed van der Elsken / Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

Unlike the rest of the avant-garde, the Letterist International refused to be “answerable” to the court of art criticism and the gaze of the “other,” refused to seek fame, and declined to market anything they produced. The LI’s mimeographed journal Potlatch, which appeared in twenty issues between June 1954 and November 1957, had an eventual print run of five hundred copies. It was always given away free to friends of the group, or mailed to people who expressed an interest. The Letterist International’s theory of “unitary urbanism” was first formulated by the nineteen-year-old Ivan Chtcheglev:

“Darkness and obscurity are banished by artificial lighting, and the seasons by air conditioning. Night and summer are losing their charm and dawn is disappearing. The urban population think they have escaped from cosmic reality, but there is no corresponding expansion of their dream life. The reason is clear: dreams spring from reality and are realized in it. The latest technological developments would make possible the individual’s unbroken contact with cosmic reality while eliminating its disagreeable aspects. Stars and rain can be seen through glass ceilings. The mobile house turns with the sun. Its sliding walls enable vegetation to invade life. Mounted on tracks, it can go down to the sea in the morning and return to the forest in the evening… The architecture of tomorrow will be a means of modifying present conceptions of time and space.”

‘Unitary Urbanism’. International Situationists Issue !

Unitary urbanism expressed a vision of city planning based on aesthetic and technological innovations in architecture, but freed from subordination to the needs of corporate developers and the endless expansion of private car ownership. Such pleasurable activity as the Dérive had yet to be impoverished by the pollution and noise of traffic jams, and the vandalism of planners and developers. Chtcheglev could still write of a future in which city dwellers would reclaim the streets: “we will construct cities for drifting… but with light retouching, one can utilize certain zones which already exist. One can utilize certain persons who already exist.”v

In 1957 the Letterist International, the Movement for Imaginist Bauhaus, and the former-surrealists of CoBrA (Copenhagen-Brussels-Amsterdam) led by the Danish painter Asger Jorn, came together to found the Situationist International (1957-72). Within a few months other groups from Italy and West Germany affiliated to the SI, thus inaugurating a stormy fifteen-year process of fusions, schisms and expulsions, and an equally stormy spread across the globe of Situationist ideas, which were themselves by no means immune to ideological and cultural “recuperation.” The concept of détournement, in the hands of practitioners throughout the world, was to give rise to numerous innovations, such as the subversive use of comic books and pirate radio, the defacing of advertisements with additional images and words. But détournement. first conceived as a counter-measure against recuperation, was further developed by the Situationists into a more general concept of spontaneous rebellion against the technology of consumption.

By 1968, when the streets of the Paris were once again fought over, the city of the Letterists had disappeared and its utopian urbanist potential had already been destroyed by urban development and tourism..Debord observed in Society of the Spectacle (1967):

“Tourism, human circulation considered as consumption, a by-product of the circulation of commodities, is fundamentally nothing more than the leisure of going to see what has become banal. The economic organization of visits to different places is already in itself the guarantee of their equivalence. The same modernization that removed time from the voyage also removed from it the reality of space… Urbanism is capitalism’s seizure of the natural and human environment; developing logically into absolute domination, capitalism can and must now remake the totality of space into its own setting. ”

How it Ends

In 1988, Debord reflected that in the two decades since he wrote Society of the Spectacle, capitalist modernization had led to the stage of the “integrated spectacle”, characterized by incessant technological renewal; fusion of State and economy; generalized secrecy; forgeries without reply; and a perpetual present which “wants to forget the past and no longer seems to believe in a future.” His analysis foresaw the feed-back loop now perfected by electronic social media, “achieved by the ceaseless circular passage of information, always returning to the same short list of trivialities, passionately proclaimed as major discoveries.” Meanwhile, he continued, “news of what is genuinely important, of what is actually changing, comes rarely, and then in fits and starts. It always concerns this world’s apparent condemnation of its own existence, the stages in its programmed self-destruction.”

The “cancellation of the Future” – or rather of any positive “visions” of it – has been silently accepted by the pragmatists of the political class. Labour Party leader, Kier Starmer, having viciously suppressed Jeremy Corbyn’s mass following, blurts out meaningless abstractions about “security” and “stability” for a “dynamic, agile, strong and, above all, focused” nation, “driven by clear, measurable objectives”. As Adam Curtis suggested in a recent podcast, the future is seen by politicians as a dark and dangerous thing-in-itself, which the fearful and obedient masses supposedly rely of politicians to protect them from.  The politicians pretend that they know what they are doing. The public knows they are pretending. And the politicians know that the public knows they are pretending. And yet, any talk of actually doing something about the problems in the here and now is regarded as a dangerous and “unhelpful” heresy which our current Tory regime seems well on the way to making a criminal offence. I would suggest, by way of conclusion, that the Letterist and Situationist “extremists” had, as well as a sense of history, much more of a grasp of strategy and activist practice than today’s environmental campaigners have.


Asger Jorn, Détourned Painting and the Situationists

Alexander Trocchi: Psychedelic Situationist

Situationist Theses on the Paris Commune

Charles Radcliffe, former Situationist

Iain Sinclair: Poetry with the AMM All-Stars on Resonance FM


Karen O’Rourke, in Psychogeography: A Purposeful Drift Through the City

Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle

Guy Debord, Comments on Society of the Spectacle

Iain Sinclair, The Last London, London Review of Books Vol. 39 No. 7 · 30 March 2017

Adam Curtis on the fall of the Soviet Union’s worrying parallels with modern Britain (Youtube)

Ivan Chtcheglev, Formulary for a New Urbanism.


How Green was the Psychedelic Revolution? Acid King Richard Kemp breaks his 45-year silence


24 November 2022

“We need history, but not in the same way a loafer in the garden of knowledge needs it.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

In March 1977 the first national police operation in history, codenamed Operation Julie, carried out what the media hailed as the “biggest drugs raid in British history”. The drug was LSD, made by one gang in London and another in Carno, mid-Wales. In March 1978, at Bristol Crown Court, 29 defendants were handed down prison sentences totalling 170 years.

One of them – who got 13 years – was Richard Kemp, the brilliant chemist who had founded the illicit LSD enterprise back in 1968 with American Beat writer David Solomon (who got 10 years). As suggested by the six-part BBC podcast, Acid Dream, (October/November 2022), Kemp was also something a Green prophet. To a certain extent I think he was, but I fear that there is a myth in the making of what is otherwise sound history.

Acid Dream concentrates on the illegal goings in mid-Wales in 1976-7. Participants include LSD distributor, Alston Hughes; former undercover cop, Stephen Bentley; Kemp’s partner, the late Christine Bott (words spoken by an actor) and Kate Hayes, who knew Christine in her later years and published her memoirs in 2020.

What is certain is that Kemp, while on remand in prison wrote an 8,000-word statement which he intended to present at the trial in 1978, but he was dissuaded from doing so by his lawyers, who thought it to be too political and insufficiently repentant. A week after the Julie trial ended, parts of the document were published in the Cambrian News. Journalist Patrick O’Brien introduced it as ‘Microdoctrine – the beliefs behind Kemp’s LSD,’ and summarised Kemp’s views on ecology:

“On ecology and conservation Kemp believes it is obvious we are living on the world’s capital rather than its income. He says that to achieve a level of consumption that is reasonable, taking into account the Earth’s limited and dwindling resources, two things are necessary. People will have accept a lower stand of living by being content with having things which are necessary for survival, and luxuries will have to kept to minimum. Secondly these goods which are supplied will have to be built to have the longest possible lifespan, at the end of which they must be capable of being recycled… In common with expert scientific opinion he was convinced that, if Earth’s raw materials were to be conserved and pollution reduced to a tolerable level, there would have to be a revolution in people’s attitude. And he believed LSD could spark changes in outlook and put the world on the road to survival.”

Richard Kemp wrote in his own words:

“It has been my experience and that of many of those I know, that LSD helps to make one realise that happiness is a state of mind and not a state of ownership.”


“Insofar as LSD can catalyze such a change in members of the public, it can contribute to this end… I have never believed that LSD is the substitute for the hard work required to change oneself. One might say it is a signpost pointing a way to self-discovery.”

In the final episode of Acid Dream, Richard Kemp – now 79 years old – breaks his 45-year silence. Kate Hayes travelled beyond these shores to his home (which he keeps secret) and interviewed him. He is no longer the idealist he was. Sadly, he has lost hope of a rational ecological solution to impending doom, but recognizes that Kate, as a mother, has to live in hope and fight on. In the taped interview with Kate, Kemp admits making money was a serious motivation for making acid, but adds,

“I think my motivation was to change the course of human history. You can’t have a much higher motivation than that. The Earth’s resources are finite. And they are being used up, and when they’re used up they’re gone. We’re changing the ecology of the planet in a way we’ll be able to feed fewer and fewer people at the same time that population is continuing to grow. So for me it was like I was never quite sure what my purpose in life was to be, and then it was as if suddenly ‘now I know why I’ve been born and now I know what I’ve got to do’. I didn’t ask myself whether I was completely sure about this for very long. I just thought I’m the right man, the right person at the right time, with the right skills and right temperament. Everything about it said ‘do it man, do it, go for it’”.

Hayes interjects to say that the late Christine Bott (who got a vicious 9 years prison sentence for being Kemp’s partner) didn’t actually regret any of it. Did he?

“I regret getting caught, I regret the fact that she got dragged down with me. If I could have got her out of it I would have done.”

Hayes suggests. “The mistake it seems was having to do the tableting at the farmhouse.” Kemp responds,

“Yeah. Well I made plenty of mistakes. No doubt about that. And it was during that period when I had the [motor] accident and the poor vicars wife died as a result of that. That’s something that I’ve got on my conscience for the rest of my life.”

Finally, actor Rhys Ifans reads Kemp’s “words, taken from his Microdoctrine written 45 years ago”:

“Before too long our planet will be facing untold challenges. Maybe not in our lifetimes, but certainly in the ones of those who come directly after us. The earth does not have inexhaustible resources and we are living on its capital, not its income. We consume and consume and consume, and bear no thoughts for what we’re doing for the path it’s putting us on. Temperatures will soar, see levels will rise, animals will perish, natural resources will evaporate before our eyes – before we have a chance to come up with a Plan B.

We will no longer be able to live off the land because the land will no longer want us. And that, that is when things will get really ugly. People will starve, be dispossessed of the places they called home. And we’ll begin to fight over the last barrel of oil, the last drop of water, the last ear of corn. Wars will be waged, bombs will be dropped, the world will become about the haves and the have nots. And eventually the rift between the ultra-rich and the ultra-poor will become unassailable because the world will have been looking the wrong way.

Politicians, businessmen, moguls – they will step on the throats of their own people to save their billions while the earth is crumbling apart beneath their feet. Then you’ll get anarchy , the word you like to band about like it’s a walk in the park. Then you’ll see what real anarchy is like. We need a revolution in people’s minds. We need a spark to put the world on a road to survival. We are living on the worlds capital, not the world’s income. And when the capital runs out I dread to think what will happen next.”

Movingly read by Ifans, the text is beautiful and terrifying; the spell binding words of an eco-prophet in fact. But it should not be quoted by the BBC as a statement from Microdoctrine in 1978; because it isn’t. True, a few memorable sentences are Kemp’s (eg “We are living on the worlds capital, not the world’s income”) but the overall passage bears as much resemblance to Kemp’s political insights in 1978, as does Tacitus’s ‘creative’ first century account of Caledonian chieftain Calgacus’s speech denouncing Roman Imperialism (“To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they make a solitude and call it peace”).

Questions arise. Does an authentic copy of the 8,000 word document Kemp passed to the Cambrian Times in 1978 still exist? If so, who has it and what plans are there to publish it in full? The supposed extract from Microdoctrine features in Theatr na nÓg’s production of Operation Julie – the Rock Opera, which (desrvedly) was a huge hit touring Wales in the summer of 2022. The show was written by Geinor Styles, and the passage in question found its way into the theatre program as an extract from Microdoctrine, Could it be somewhere along the way to Acid Dream writer, Tim Price, the text somehow lost its warning label: “dramatic license”? Adopting (or distorting) historical facts to suit myth-making may be great for entertainment (never let the facts get in the way of a good story, as they say). But rewriting history is politically evil and manipulative as a contribution towards saving the ecosphere from disaster. In our perilous “post-truth” world of an unstable and volatile social media facts really are sacred.


22 February 2023 — The ending of the final episode, of the BBC Radio podcast, Acid Dream, ‘The Microdoctrine’, has been re-edited since it was originally broadcast on 22 November 2022. In this new version, the Microdoctrine “extract” has been cut, as has the statement that it consisted of Richard Kemp’s “words, taken from his Microdoctrine written 45 years ago.” The statement has been replaced by a segment featuring actors reading extracts from the dramatisation of Kemp’s views in 1978 written by Geinor Styles for Theatr na nÓg’s production of Operation Julie – the Rock Opera. There has been no explanation offered from the BBC regarding the change, or acknowledgement that it was this blog that pointed it out the error (after all it’s only a blog, right?). Still, The Barbarism of Pure Culture welcomes the BBC’s public-spirited rewriting of what was previously an unfortunate rewriting of history. The six-part podcast, Acid Dream, is on the BBC website for the rest of 2023.


Catherine Hayes, The Untold Story of Christine Bott

Andy Roberts, Albion Dreaming: A popular history of LSD in Britain

David Black, LSD Underground: Operation Juliem the Microdot Gang and the Brotherhood of Eternal Love

Adid Dream Podcast

Tragedy, Philosophy and Money – A Warning from Greek Antiquity

By David Black

Richard Seaford, who died a few months ago, was one of Britain’s most celebrated classicist scholars, specializing in studies of Greek Antiquity.  His most important book – one of several – is Money and the Early Greek Mind: Homer, Tragedy, and Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 2004).

Seaford was not the first Marxist to analyze the relationship between the advent of monetization and Greek philosophy. Alfred Sohn-Rethel (1899-1990) located the objective origin of abstract thought in the social nexus of relations behind the exchange of traded goods. Sohn-Rethel’s co-thinker, George Thomson (1903-87), located this origin in the spread of gold and silver coinage in Greek Antiquity. For the first time in history, the cosmology of pure abstractions (the One, the Many, Being, Becoming, etc.) appears in the pre-Socratic thought of Parmenides (the philosopher of Being, who thought change was an illusion) and Heraclitus (the philosopher of Becoming, for whom change through strife was everything). Sohn-Rethel saw Parmenides as the first exponent of ‘pure thought’ to emerge with ‘a concept fitting the description of the abstract material of money.’

Sohn-Rethel pays almost no attention to Heraclitus. But according to Seaford, the opposition between Heraclitus and Parmenides can be seen as expression of the opposition between money as the communal logos of circulation and money as the abstract oneness of value detached from circulation.

If money produces philosophy, what produces money?

Greek metaphysics developed under the influence, not only of money, but also of the social forms and practices which preceded monetized society; therefore, money can be understood as the diremption and subsumption of the ancient communal principle of (re)distribution.

In the Greeks’ religious sanctuaries – which were the ‘soul’ of the state – animals are sacrificed to the gods. In the feast that follows the ritual the roasted meat is distributed equally, according the principle of Moira, the goddess who presides over the allocations of land within the community. Coined money originates with the accumulation in these religious sanctuaries of metal objects associated with animal sacrifice and feasting, such as iron roasting spits, tripod cauldrons, figurines made of precious metals and bars of bullion. As befitting the temple, eventually the metals are graded according to value (as gold, silver, or base metals), then coined and stamped with the figure of the deity.  Some of the sanctuaries begin to function as banks.

In the philosophy of Aristotle, money is seen as having no value in itself, except as a  convention mediating things that do have value.  However, because of this convention, the metal substance is transformed by the state-approved ensignia into something greater than its intrinsic value.  This was a factor in a conceptual transformation, based on the new collective trust of the polis,(city state).

What is new in Greek philosophy is the idea of the universe as, in Seaford’s words, ’an intelligible order subject to the uniformity of impersonal power’, and  of a single substance underlying the plurality of sensuous experience. For the first time in history an impersonal all-powerful substance enters into the philosopher’s cosmic preconceptions, as when Heraclitus says ‘all things are in exchange for fire and fire for all things like goods for gold  and gold for goods.’

Monetisation, in marginalizing reciprocity and actualizing inequality, allows individual autonomy to appear in the figure of the tyrant. But the tyrant’s individual monetary  power depends on the general , socially constructed acceptance of the value of the money and its ability to circulate beyond his control.

The reason we see Greeks poetry and philosophy as much less alien to us than the culture of Egypt and Mesopotamia is because of the presence of monetization that we share with the Greeks.

In Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, Clytemnestra plots to kill her husband in revenge for his sacrifice of their daughter, Iphigenia. When Agamemnon returns from the wars he presents Clytemnestra with some expensive linen, which she urges him to trample on as a measure of his god-like status. Seaford sees the linen as representing the unlimited wealth of the sea trade, which gives Agamemnon the illusion, encouraged by Clytemnestra. that he is a god freed from material needs. Later, wrapped up in his expensive linen, he is murdered by his avenging wife for transgressing ‘family values’.

In Sophocles’ Antigone the tyrant Creon, who regards the polis as his own property, projects the corrupting power of money amongr his enemies.  Creon, however, actually himself projects the world of money, with his individualistic self-sufficency and drive to homogenize everything under his rule. Creon perverts the death-ritual of the ‘old’ world, by denying Antigone’s rebel brother Polyneices a decent burial’ and perverts marriage-rite  by entombing Antigone in what the chorus calls a ‘bridal chamber’. After  Antigone’s death brings about the suicide of Creon’s son Haemon, followed by his Queen, Eurydice, the chorus invokes Dionysus to cleanse the curse from the city.  Seaford develops this hypothesis in relating the illusion of autonomous  self-sufficiency illusion to the crime of incest. In Oedipus Tyrranus when Teiresius tell Oedipus he has committed patricide and incest, the tyrant accuses the seer of having been ‘bought’:  ‘Endogomy in Athens and elsewhere, preserved wealth within the family. In tragedy endogamy is associated with blindness, darkness… ‘.

The new society demands the-circulation  of money and females; the endogenous household of the Theban tyrants hoards money and imprisons its female kin below ground. Moreover, Seaford points out, money, like the female, may reproduce. Payment of interest seems to have developed out of the practice of reciprocating a gift with a more valuable one, except that money seems to produce more of itself.  Aristotle characterizes usury as incest, because interest transgresses the role of currency as a means for exchange, and is thus the most ’ unnatural’ mode of acquisition.

The unlimited monetized power of the tyrants is condemned by Aristotle, who says that the free man ruling over his oikos is only self-sufficient to the extent that he is part of the self-sufficient polis; for unity to prevail, in the face of the unlimited power of money and greed, the polis must limit itself in terms of its size, population and class inequalities. For Aristotle, acquisition of wealth within the oikos (the slave-owning household) was ‘natural’, whereas commerce had to do with ‘production of goods, not in the full sense but through their exchange’. The wealth derived from this latter form of acquisition he saw as “unnatural” and “without limit.” Its unlimited nature did not suit the order of the polis.

The modern era has so much internalized the ‘metaphysics of money’ as to imagine that money, like the weather is a force of nature rather than a social relation. Nevertheless, according to Seaford, it is hard to shake off ‘a lingering sense of arbitrariness of there being something indefinably unsatisfying… about the individual reification of money and injustice and alienation thereby produced. For those with sense, historical understanding of the relative recent (on the scale of human history) transition from premonetary to monetary society may be of particular interest.’


David Black,The Philosophical Roots of Anti-Capitalism:Essays on History, Culture and Dialectical Thought(Lexington:2013)

Richard Seaford, Money and the Early Greek Mind: Homer, Philosophy, Tragedy (Cambridge University Press: 2004)

Alfred Sohn-Rethel, Intellectual and Manual Labor: A Critique of Epistemology (London: Macmillan, 1976)

George Thomson, The First Philosophers: Studies in Ancient Greek Society (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1955)

New BPC Title: King Mob: The Negation and Transcendence of Art

New BPC Title: King Mob: The Negation and Transcendence of Art (illustrated).

By Dave and Stuart Wise

Available as a paperback (£9.99) or an ebook (£4.99) from Amazon

Twin brothers David and Stuart Wise, as art students in mid-1960s Newcastle, immersed themselves in the radical ideas of Icteric (‘the often confusedly anti-art magazine’). The Wises participated in the saving and restoration of Kurt Schwitters’ Lakeland Merz Barn, and organised a controversial commemoration of the Russian Futurist, Kazimir Malevich. The documents in this book, written over a 50-year period, describe these and subsequent efforts by the Wises to subvert the ‘recuperation’ of ‘art’ into the capitalist culture industry. In reflection on their engagements with like-minded radicals – the English and French Situationists, New York’s Black Mask collective, the London-based King Mob, and more recent formations – the authors consider how and why the Revolution ‘due to unforeseen circumstances’ did not take place. They also analyze the recuperation of radical aesthetic ideas in the works of latter-day chancers like Damian Hirst and Banksy.

Introduction by David Black

1– New York 1967: King Mob and Black Mask
2 – King Mob at Selfridges, December 1968
3 – The 1970 Situationist Reorientation Debate … and the ‘Never Work’(ing) Workers…
4 – Nietzsche, Wagner and the Theatricalisation of MusiC Stewart Wise
5 – Kurt Schwitters’ Barn: A Tale of Two Cities
6 – Malevich in the 21st Century The Square as Recuperation
7 – The Physical Impossibility of Damian Hirst in        the Minds of the Living
8 – Meccano on Crack (Or Tatlin on Crack) A Psychotic Amalgam of Architecture/Sculpture/Engineering Stuart Wise – The Physical Impossibility of Damian Hirst in  the Minds of the Living
9 – All the Way to the Bank(sy) SOME REFLECTIONS…
10 – Mayakovsky and Tatlin A Catastrophic Social / Creative Impasse
11 – Ralph Rumney From Artist to Situationist and Back Again

King Mob: The Negation and Transcendence of Art is the third title to be issued as BPC’s WisEbooks Series this year. The other two are:

 Lost Texts Around King Mob 1968-72: by John Barker, Chris Gray, Ronald Hunt, Phil Meyler, Fred Vermerol, Dave and Stuart Wise); and

Dialectical Butterflies: Ecocide. Extinction Rebellion, Greenwash and Rewilding the Commons by Dave and Stuart Wise


Culture Wars in the Spiritual Animal Kingdom

By David Black

From Culture to Cultures

Where does culture come from?’ is the question posed by Terry Eagleton in a piece for the London Review of Books (25 April 2024) As Eagleton explains, in trying to make sense of today’s ‘culture wars’:

’One of the original meanings of the word culture is the tending of natural growth, which is to say agriculture, and a cognate word, coulter, means the blade of a plough’.

However, since the Industrial Revolution kicked off in the 18th century, ‘Culture’ has tended to disavow its own origins. For Romanticism, the new art of Goethe, Beethoven and the like was autonomous and self-determining. But, as this ‘culture’ was born of material production in a class-divided society racked by conflict, culture developed a tendency to become ideology useful for legitimizing the social order and resolving endemic conflict.

In pre-modern (feudal) societies the position of ‘cultural workers’, such as ‘court poets, genealogists, licensed fools, painters and architects’ depended on the patronage of princes and the ennobled landed gentry. But with the growth of capitalism and impact of the  French Revolution the floodgate opened for cultural resistance to the old order:

‘This resistance is more likely to occur, curiously enough, once art becomes just another commodity in the marketplace and the artist just another petty commodity producer… in the marketplace your audience becomes anonymous. The world no longer owes the cultural worker a living.’

With commodification, culture becomes truly autonomous: ‘Deprived of its traditional features, it may curve back on itself, taking itself as its own raison d’être in the manner of some modernist art.’ This art of the avant garde finds itself ‘pushed to the margin’; but this process frees art ‘to claim visionary, prophetic, bohemian or subversive status’. Outside of the mechanised workplace ‘values and energies’ are ‘siphoned off into a sphere of their own, which consists of three major sectors: art, sexuality and religion’. The problem for utilitarian capitalism was that ‘A new actor had just appeared on the political scene – the industrial working class – and was threatening to be obstreperous.’

Edmund Burke saw in Revolutionary France an unstable political state of decision, calculation and practical rationality bent on a frenzied destruction of custom and tradition. Britain, in contrast (Burke was actually Irish): was contentedly mired in customs, habits, sentiments, prejudices expressed as spontaneity, gradualism, social improvisation, and a general imperviousness to rational political consciousness.

Matthew Arnold, a Gladstonian Liberal, school-inspector and minor romantic poet, is best remembered for his book, Anarchy and Culture, which upheld ‘culture’ in the face of what he called ‘the great Philistine middle-class, the master force in our politics’.  Culture, of course, had a canon, in which the Arnold, Goethe and Wordsworth were exemplary. In sum, according to Eagleton:

‘Culture, in the sense of the refined and civilised, was needed to buy off the other half of Matthew Arnold’s title, anarchy. Unless liberal values were disseminated to the masses, the masses might end up sabotaging liberal culture.’

And as religion was in crisis and in decline, ‘Culture, then, had to take over from the churches, as artists transubstantiated the profane stuff of everyday life into eternal truth.’

In Europe in the the course of the 19th century the ‘eternal truths’ of culture were interwoven with the Romantic mythologies of blood-and-soil nationalism: ‘With revolutionary nationalism, culture in the sense of language, custom, folklore, history, tradition, religion, ethnicity and so on becomes something people will kill for. Or die for.’

By the end of the 19th century, culture had become an industry churning out kitsch, nationalist propaganda. As Jack Hilton put it in Caliban Shrieks, regarding his pre-1914 school days:

‘What impartiality we got for history! Stories about little drummer boys’ valour, the minstrel boy and hearts of oak. The horrors of the Black Hole of Calcutta, the glory of Nelson and Drake’s game of tiddlywinks – or was it bowls? … What a fighting chance we were given to understand the happenings of world significance – it was not a dog’s chance. It worked out this way. 1st: Heaps of God; 2nd: England first – the world nowhere; 3rd: Blatant swagger; one good innocent honest Christian blue-eyed English schoolboy equalled twenty infidel Japs (Ju Jitsu being barred of course).’

Hegel: Adventures of the Unhappy Consciousness

Eagleton points out that for 18th and 19th century cultural theorists such as Friedrich Schiller and Matthew Arnold, the phrase ‘culture wars’ would have been an oxymoron: ‘Culture in their eyes was the solution to strife, not an example of it.’

From the befuddled perspective of the Far Right, ‘Cultural Marxism’ forms the Left’s intellectual cutting edge of the ‘Culture Wars’, supposedly formulated by German-Jewish intellectuals of the Frankfurt School; all of whom were well versed in the philosophies of German Idealism, especially Hegel’s. In his Phenomenology of Spirit Hegel traces the issue of ‘Culture’ in the development of the ‘Unhappy Consciousness’ under the legal tyranny of the Roman Empire. In this state of unfreedom, moral consciousness (conscience) retreats into spiritual inwardness and the community of Christians.

In the post-Roman world of feudalism there is no longer an abstract law of property distinguishing ‘persons’ (property owners) from ‘things’ (e.g. slaves). Consciousness is formed under the rule of a lawless barbarism in league with a corrupted church which depends on it and takes a share of the plunder.

The ‘Noble Consciousness’ is characterised by ‘virtue’, ‘honour’ and self-sacrificial devotion to the ‘divine’ universal Christian principle embodied by the hereditary monarch. Asserting the ‘Law of the Heart’, virtue fights its way through ‘the way of the world’ and places itself at the service of state-power, but more than that, Hegel writes, ‘it is the conscious essence of universal state-power’. But this power only resembles an actual state when its universality is asserted in times of war with a foreign power.

In war and in peace, the counsel of nobles are in fact vassals of the sovereign monarch, but are left with territorial sovereignty over their own vassals. Because of the nobles’ allegiance to, and dependence on, the monarch, their service degenerates into flattery. The very language of the courtier is inverted as ‘pure culture’.

The inversions of ‘pure culture’ culminate in what Hegel called the ‘last and grandest’ cultures of the Enlightenment: the German Reformation and the French Revolution. The German Enlightenment inaugurated by Luthers rebellion against Catholic corruption expresses itself as abstract spiritualism (culminating in the Kantian unknowable God); the French Enlightenment as abstract materialism based on the primacy of the finite..

Hegel’s Realphilosophie presents the idea of the state as the concrete mediation of interests and classes in civil society within a universal social totality. Marxʼs early essay, On the Jewish Question, is a crtitique of Hegel’s exposition on the state from the point of view of a critical ‘disciple’. The subject in bourgeois society is divided between the role of the private individual of civil society and that of the public citizen. But as the modern state is politically expression of the egoism of self-interest individuals in civil society, there is only an illusory unity of the political community.

The idea of autonomy for the atomised individual stems from the dilemma of the ‘Beautiful Soul’ of Hegel’s Phenomenology: consciousness as a self-willed impotence which utters morality but does not act; speaking a language ‘in which all reciprocally acknowledge each other as acting  conscienciously’. But, as Gillian Rose argues in Hegel Contra Sociology, in this scenario ‘in fact no-one is acting at all’. In the ensuing ‘frenzy of self-deceit’ conscience asserts its particularity as ‘law’:

‘It is opposed to others under the guise of furthering their particular interests as if they could be a universal law… we are left with the realization of the barbarism of our abstract culture, of how we have reproduced that barbarism by denying the ethical, by fixing the illusion that we are absolute or pure moral consciousness in our moral law or in the law of our hearts.’

Hegel does not trust the autonomy of the moral individaul in this sitituation, as its autonomy would exculpate it from what it is actually deeply implicated in: the violences of civil society now appearing as the ‘Spiritual Animal Kingdom’: ‘spiritual’ because of the apparent harmony of universal and individual which is in reality the rule of abstract property relations; ‘animal’ because it serves the particular ends of individuals and not the whole society. In this ‘kingdom’ – which is actually our modern world – society is vulnerable to fascist mob rule, anti-science quackery and authoritarianism – or worse.

Slavoy Žižek writes of an ‘ideological constellation’ in which the modernism of the Enlightenment  is denigrated and downgraded by postmodern ‘culture’. For Žižek the crucial point, which postmodernism seems to ignore, is that culture and barbarism do not exclude each other: the opposite of barbarism is not culture but civilization (designated as imperialist or cosmopolitan according to political stance, i.e. ‘non-civilized’). In fact, according to Žižek, ‘culture in itself, in so far as it is affirmed in its opposition to civilization, sets free an unmistakable barbaric potential. Apropos of Hegel’s description of ‘alienated consciousness’ under feudalism which is exposed as the ‘barbarism of pure culture’ Žižek offers the more modern example of the implementers of Nazi terror enjoying the supreme achievements of German culture such as Beethoven’s string quartets after a hard days work organizing the Final Soloution. In relation to the German Reformation, Žižek writes,

‘The first model of this German Kulturbarbarismus is Luther, whose Protestant refusal of Rome presents a reaction of pure, inner culture against the worldly Catholic civilization, and at the same time, by means of its savage, violent attitude, displays the latent barbarism proper to the German ideology.’

(Slavoj Žižek, For They Know Not what They Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor)

Terry Eagleton describes how in Britain the liberal ‘vision of culture as common ground’ held until late 1960s, when expanded higher education drew in students from the lower orders. The ‘sixties rebels challenged the liberal consensus and the academic canon, both of which had been compromised by  association with racist ideology and imperialist anthropology.

‘Postmodernism happens not just with the arrival of mass culture but with the aestheticising of social existence, from design and advertising to branding, politics as spectacle, tattoos, purple hair and ridiculously large glasses. Culture, once the antithesis of material production, has now been folded into production.’

Culture, having lost its autonomy from politics, is reduced to the zero-sum round of political demands. Language now becomes the law of framing the demands rather than a way of transcending the political. From being a spiritual solution, the linguistic turn has become part of the problem, as the process has shifted from concerns with culture to cultures. In today’s multicultural society, Eagleton concludes, culture, having become ideology becomes an ism – culturalism.

Eagleton bemoans the fact that from the standpoint of postmodernism, ‘

‘Most such life-forms today are out not to question the framework of modern civilisation but to be included within it. Inclusion, however, isn’t a good in itself, any more than diversity is. One thinks fondly of Samuel Goldwyn’s cry: “Include me out!”’

As Heinrich Heine prophesised a century before the rise of the Nazis, ‘those who burn books will in the end burn people’. Contrary to what elements of both sides in the culture wars seem to think (with both Christian priests and Trans activists gleefully burning Harry Potter books) the struggle for justice should not be about arguing over which books to burn.

Review: Jack Hilton’s Caliban Shrieks

In a previous post about the publication of the new Penguin edition of Caliban Shrieks by Jack Hilton, I ran George Orwell’s Adelphi review in 1935, which described it as ‘witty and unusual’ presentation of ‘a genuinely working-class outlook… exceedingly rare and correspondingly important. As promised, here is my own review of the book .

Caliban Shrieks by Jack Hilton, with hew introductions by Andrew McMillan and Jack Chadwick.

Penguin, March 2024

Reviewed by David Black

Jack Hilton’s Caliban Shrieks, now back in print after 90 years, is a forgotten ‘modernist’ classic. Breaking the mold of the ‘working class novel’ (such as Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole, published in 1933), Hilton’s narrative cracks along without any dialogue between characters and with no character development apart from the protagonist’s own and his circumstances. As George Orwell put it, the book ‘deals with its subject from the inside, and consequently it gives one, instead of a catalogue of facts relating to poverty, a vivid notion of what it feels like to be poor.’

The story begins in Oldham, Lancashire, where Hilton was born in 1900. As a victim of bullying in childhood, Hilton identifies with Shakespeare’s Caliban: an outcast treated as  ‘A freckled whelp hag-born – not honour’d with a human shape.’

‘From about five I began to have contact with my species, and the thing I remember most was the cruelty of it,’ he writes. He is aware from any early age that his class is being miseducated and prepared for a war by those who wouldn’t have to fight it. Schoolteachers especially:

‘What impartiality we got for history! Stories about little drummer boys’ valour, the minstrel boy and hearts of oak. The horrors of the Black Hole of Calcutta, the glory of Nelson and Drake’s game of tiddlywinks – or was it bowls? ‘

Being too young for the army (as a 14 year-old apprentice at the start of the First World War), Hilton’s Caliban  does a run of factory jobs. Of the ‘blasted reality in a cotton mill’, he writes:

‘Four walls, caged captivity, hellish noise, wheels going round, motion, speed, punches up the posterior to acclimatise you (golly, Mr Millowner’s daughter, marry me quick before I lose heart!)…What a price to pay for prestige; cotton the world and ruin the child! I was unbritish, got rebellious and, after a leathering from the jobber, ultimately fired as hopeless, much to my future benefit.’

In a subsequent job, as a washer turner on piece-work, Caliban learns the tricks of the trade:

‘Many were the times I took my gross of washers to the store room, had them booked and stole back with them under my bib. Such were the results of my earlier christian training.’

With the new war economy, workers become more ‘valued’ as national assets and thus less easy to sack:

‘As this dawned on me, my suppressed hatred of the browbeating foreman class, from whom I had received so much callousness, took concrete expression; I belted the old foreman…’

Caliban gets away with it and ‘escapes’ the factory by getting a job on the railway. This comes with the condition attached that he can only leave by joining the army, which he does in 1918. His reasons for doing so are attributed to a general ‘collapse of the youthful mind’ in the face of ‘jingo ditties’ and ‘Hang the Kaiser’ exhortations:

‘It had to be done, there was no escape…Played to the station, at the district barracks first barrage from a peppery colonel, given a regiment, a night at home, introduction to a tart, off the following day for training.’

Caliban describes his induction, training and embarkation in preparation for the ‘madhouse lunacy’ of trench warfare:

‘What honour had we on March 21st 1918? Five hours of fog, gas, cannonade, then attacked by mass hordes of beastly blondes. Dug in, yes, but not invincible, put on the run by overwhelming odds. Yes, British pluck on the run, demoralised, licked to a frazzle, from orderly retreat to a panic; yes, a panic born out of the hellish attack, too much for any human endurance. Civilisation, religion, what beastly tricks you get up to. Bow your heads in shame.’

Back from War, which he doen’t dwell on further, Caliban educates himself. Firstly by attending political debates:

‘Gallantry and British patriotism versus cowardice and conscientious objectionism seemed to be the two combating groups. Peculiarly, I was a freak in their midst, a silver-badger supporting with vote and energy labour pacifism. Oh yes, there was a reason; as a kid I’d had many pastings for carrying the coloured favours of socialism, Dad happened to be one, so I could not go over to the blue bloods. Nevertheless politics were to be the school whereby I grew a little out of my ignorance.’

Caliban’s intellectual curiousity even extends to an interest in the dismal pseudo-science of eugenics. But on reading further Caliban reflects that he shares too many of the traits in homo sapien types which the eugenicists, in their quest for ‘purity’, want to get rid of (by stopping them from breeding at the very least). Therefore, Caliban knows that by eugenic standards he can never be part of the ‘intelligentsia of culture… the super select race of oligarchic proportions’ (also, with an interest in sex and marriage, he is disinclined to comply by committing voluntary euthanasia or getting a vasectomy).

Having itchy feet in depression-hit Lancashire, Caliban hits the road and heads south. On his travels he gets to see those grand old British institutions associated with the tramping profession: the Sally-Army sixpence-a-night flophouse, the workhouse (a.k.a. the ‘spike’), the flea-ridden boarding house, and the unwelcoming rectory run by the Tory god-botherer who thinks bread, margarine and stewed tea are a just reward for a day’s work. On life ‘underneath the arches’ of London he writes:

‘London, the Embankment, the Charing Cross and Waterloo of life’s incompatibles… The home away from home, the killer of egoism, the gathering of affinities. .. All ‘stoney’, all on the level, all can prate about their pasts, few so foolish as to speculate as to their future success. Out of gaols, out of spike; out of works, out of respects, but all accepting this long promenade’s hospitality in preference to that of the one big union – the workhouse.’

Returning to Lancashire, Caliban, teams up with like-minded friends and turns to organising:

‘We lounge and walk, often look for work we now know intuitively is non-existent. We get somehow or other drawn to what is known as ‘working for a cause’. The cause of the unemployed, the cause of ourselves, the neglected and the despised, the unwashed, exploited by all political parties – yes, all I say, bar no one. They all take advantage of our misery.’

Caliban never gets to encounter any member of ruling class up-close, but he knows the mediating social strata (petit-bourgeois), those bastard descendents of Ariel who weave the spells of ideology and subservience to authority.

‘Civil certainly, but what’s it all mean? Understrapper servility, holy-Michael piety, meekness, watch your step, every step, a life sentence to orthodoxy. Stupid pawns, robots, unimportant pigmies, bowing, scraping, never getting within a thousand miles of the oligarchy you serve.’

Caliban finds escape In the Rochdale Public Library:

‘Great pages of philosophy, science, history, and antiquity, written by men of all times, could be got from the libraries and by this method, at least, minds could be in communion with those whose environments were opposite. It is from these I got a rough cynical bite into the trousers seat of banality. I had suffered much  from my lack of erudition, had often been made the butt of the petty supercilious wits. I was unabashed, undaunted and condemned everyone.’

Caliban’s efforts to organise unemployed workers are stymied by politicians (opportunist Labourites, the centrists of the Independent Labour Party  – ‘Inflated Little Pawns’ he calls them – fanatical and disruptive ‘Third Period’ Stalinists and undercover police.

‘The police showed plenty of tact, but the hungry groups of famished men acted like the beasts that poverty makes them. Here and there, there were small riots, disturbances were common. Even our group of half-inchers, more like fogged idealists, got in a scrape. Of course we were guilty: vile language was used, windows were broken, stones were thrown, assaults were committed. A mob was unleashed: it was angry, it was hungry, it had been underfed. Arrests were made. The evidence and the breaches of the law justified them. BUT the enforcement of the law does not remove the cause, it merely deals with effects.’

And so Caliban is remanded in Strangeways prison. There is a lot described in Caliban Shrieks which has fortunately passed into history, such as the work house and the means-test for the unemployed. One institution that is still with us, however, is the prison system (in 1934 the UK prison population was about 15,000; In 2024 it is over 100,000. What else is new?). Hilton’s account of his imprisonment is, as Orwell put it, ‘delivered with an extraordinary absence of malice’.

Jack Chadwick explains in his introduction that ‘Upon release he was bound over, barred from speaking for his cause for three years. Pen and pad became the only outlet for the voice he’d learned to wield just as well as any rosette-wearing Prospero.’

Shakespeare’s Caliban curses his exile by Prospero (‘In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me The rest o’th’island.’) ‘You taught me language, and my profit on’t is I know how to curse. The red plague rid you. For learning me your language!’ The ‘hard rock’ in Hilton’s tale is the class structure he can’t escape from.

As for the language of the 20th century Caliban, as Jack Chadwick puts, ‘Really, our Caliban had taught himself the language of the masters, at a time when the Prosperos of the industrial world had run out of profitable uses for their servants.’

Chadwick, a 28-year-old bartender and aspiring writer, discovered Caliban Shrieks while visiting Salford’s Working Class Movement Library. Chadwick tracked down Hilton’s lost heirs and secured the rights, on condition he’d get the writings republished. Chadwick got a deal with Penguin, which has just published it. It has been hailed by the New Yorker as a ;lost literary masterpiece;, whilst the Guardian, striking a typically snotty pose, judges that whatever its merits, it was ‘the eccentric form and chaotic style that doomed it.’
Chadwick’s assessment is more tantalising:

Caliban Shrieks has this unique quality that I hadn’t come across before and I found it so compelling,” Chadwick told the Independent. “It’s so raw, it feels like it’s coming to you from across the pub table.”


Loren Goldner on Jeremiah Moss’s Vanishing New York.

Jeremiah Moss, Vanishing New York. How a Great City Lost its Soul

(HarperCollins, 2017)

Reviewed by Loren Goldner

(This article is from Revolt Against Plenty, 2020. Republished with permission),

Jeremiah Moss came as a young man to New York City in 1993, in search of the Bohemia of which he had dreamed, growing up in a small, sleepy town in New England. Though he came at the first opportunity, by his own admission, he arrived too late. By the early 1990’s, Bohemia, such as it has existed since perhaps Walt Whitman held forth at Pabst’s Brewery in the 1850’s, was comatose, destroyed by various social and economic forces, large and small, but above all by the transformation of the city into a theme park that systematically eradicated the haunts of writers, artists, gays and a host of other sub-cultures which had previously survived there, catch as catch can, on the affordable margins. In a word, Bohemia was eradicated by gentrification.

And unlike many previous and premature obituaries for Bohemia, in Moss’s view, what distinguished the 1990s and thereafter from the demise of earlier generations of “garrets and pretenders” was conscious policy from City Hall, working with the banks and big real estate, aimed at destroying the “ecology” that had sustained Bohemia for well over a century, a policy enforced, when necessary, by those “husky workers in blue”, the New York Police Department (NYPD). This policy was conceived and carried out by a series of mayors from Ed Koch in the 1970’s through such luminaries as “Mayor Mussolini” (and now top Trump advisor) Rudy Giuliani, the billionaire Michael Bloomberg, up to and including the current, hapless liberal Bill De Blasio, who came in talking about the city’s soaring income  gap and promptly forgot such rhetoric once in power.

As Moss tells it, New York Bohemia did not die, it was murdered. This murder was complemented by the arrival, for the first time, of legions of young people from suburbia and the hinterland, no longer aspiring writers with unsold manuscripts, but a new generation of men and women, MBA’s, lawyers, fledgling bankers, stock brokers and CPAs, happy to dance on the grave of Bohemia (if they even knew it had existed or what it was) in blind weekend drunks, vomiting on the doorsteps of Moss’s and others’ remaining rent-stabilized apartments, shouting obscenities at the owners of older cafes, (whose coffee did not compare, in their view, with Starbucks) and generally acting like the philistine, boorish, well-heeled “frat bros” and riffraff that they were and are.

“I moved to New York,” writes Moss, “hoping to avoid such people for the rest of my life.” Moss is, moreover, quite aware that this gangrenous affliction is no mere New York phenomenon, but has its global counterparts throughout Europe, Asia and Latin America as well. But he has 400 pages of material on the one city he knows best, and leaves the critique of the gentrification of Paris, Berlin, Seoul or Sao Paolo to others. On Paris, Guy Debord had already written: “Paris no longer exists. The destruction of Paris is only an exemplary illustration of the mortal disease which is currently carrying off all the great cities, and this disease is itself merely one symptom of the material decadence of a society.”

One dimension that Moss does not discuss is the change in capital accumulation, beginning in the 1970’s, in which capital could increasingly no longer be profitably invested in “advanced” countries (advanced above all in social decay) in industry,  agriculture, or extraction (mining, etc.) but rather in unproductive sectors such as “services”, the military and real estate, the latter a purely parasitic activity that creates no wealth but merely appropriates wealth produced elsewhere (in this case, construction)  for income or resale. Thus it is not merely writers, artists, dancers and musicians who are seen off, but increasingly the urban working class, whose neighborhoods, not without tension, co-existed with Bohemia, and whose factories have closed down or relocated to the Dominican Republic or Sri Lanka or Myanmar.

It is often forgotten that as late as 1945, New York was the number one manufacturing city in the U.S.  Over the decades since the Second World War, New York was de-industrialized as surely as Detroit or Chicago, led in this case by the departure of the “needle trades” or the “schmatta” (clothing) industry, and the militant unions that emerged in them, first to the “open shop” American South and then overseas to Central America and beyond. They were replaced by miles of chains (Rite-Aid, Starbucks, Walgreen’s etc.) and hundreds of self-service bank branches, decimating the once tight-knit working-class communities they displaced.

This was part of America’s transformation into a “post-industrial” society, where the percentage of men and women producing “value” (in Ricardo’s or Marx’s sense) constantly declined in favor of those consuming it, probably 70-80% of the workforce today.  And nowhere was the concentration of the unproductive “creative classes” (to use the economically illiterate Richard Florida’s early and now discredited term) greater than in New York City.

It is, however,  not our purpose to linger over such lacunae in Moss’s generally outstanding book, but merely to pose a somewhat different backdrop to our review. Moss’s rich detail is like a banquet table sagging under a huge feast, from which we hope to extract a few choice morsels, urging others to further partake; a mere review can hardly do this book justice.

Moss makes no pretence of pseudo-objectivity; he is patently “shaking a fist” at the people and institutions that have ruined a once great city. His New York is one of “dark moods”. Gentrification evolved over several decades into what Moss calls “hyper-gentrification”, embodied in “luxury condos, mass evictions, hipster invasions, a plague of tourists, the death of small local businesses, and the rise of corporate monoculture.”

Gentrification is quite distinct from the older pattern of one poor group pushing out another, such as the immigrant Chinese takeover of most of Little Italy; gentrification is about class and power, as when an influx of techies and yuppies pushes out poor blacks and Latinos with few or no options for where to go.

While for now “the city’s soul still haunts pockets of the outer boroughs,”  Moss’s book is “not a Baedeker to those pockets. It is a journey among the ruins, a dyspeptic trip though the parts of town hardest hit during the Bloomberg years.”

Moss highlights, for starters, the East Village, which today is full of “hedge fund managers, millionaire celebrities, and marauding dude-bros” but they had been preceded long before by “Jewish lefties, Italian agitators, theatre people, avant-gardists, anarchists, mobsters, as well as the very poor…Emma Goldman, who hung out at Justus Schwab’s Saloon on East First Street” found there “a Mecca for French Communards, Spanish and Italian refugees, Russian politicals, and German socialists and anarchists…”

Moss describes the old/new dialectic that has emerged instead, as the gentrifiers see it: “…the stuff of old New York is smelly and bothersome, and probably should vanish. The new stuff, the extruded-plastic simulation that has nothing to do with New York, is so desirable you can never have too much…” Moss calls the litany of new stuff “a meme, a self-replicating thought virus”: “Old New York is bad…New corporate chains are good. Tenements are bad. Luxury condos are good. Preservation is bad. Gentrification is good.”

The new luxury apartment building, Red Square, whose very name embodies the cynical victory cry of yuppiedom over the radicalism of the old neighborhood. It was built in 1989 on Houston St., ”the dividing line between the East Village and the Lower East  Side…one of the first modern luxury buildings in the neighborhood, and probably the first to thoroughly exploit the poverty and socialist history in its marketing materials…(Red Square) created an image that would appeal to the rich by selling them on the grit, poverty and risk of the Lower East Side…designed to appeal to a narrow audience of people with resources who wanted to live in a hip, extreme and even dangerous neighborhood…Sweatshop workers, Latinos, musicians and poets become animatronic characters in a theme park designed for world-conquering Mr. Wall Street  and his Dutch model girlfriend.”

For Moss, “Red Square was revolutionary in the way it marketed the authentic culture of the Lower East Side—socialism, bohemianism, the working class—in order to sell it to an invading culture that would then destroy it.”

Here we have the cynical post-modern penchant for “quotation”, in this case in architecture and urbanism.  One poet, Taylor Mead, lived around the corner from Houston,  on Ludlow Street, for thirty-four years, “…until he was displaced from his rent-stabilized apartment at age eighty-eight by…(a )…real estate tycoon…(enduring)…construction noise and poor conditions, for as long as he could…Mead eventually surrendered  his apartment, accepting a buyout and leaving New York with the hope of returning one day. He never did. Within a few weeks of moving out, he was dead from a massive stroke.”

The fight over the Bowery Bar in 1994-95, which had taken over the site of an old gas station, is another chapter in Moss’s account. Its opening was resisted by activists and artists, “in the courts and in the streets”. A central figure was Carl Hultberg, living in a “rent-controlled apartment he’d taken over from his grandfather, jazz historian Rudi Blesh”, who’d moved there in 1944. In an email to Moss, Hultberg wrote that the nightclub developers Eric Goode and Serge Becker “in a few short months…had transformed our once sleepy Bohemian district into an open sewer of American crap culture.”

The building had been sold to Mark Scharfman, “a man who’d made New prototypical heartless landlord. Goode and Becker transformed it “into the ultra-exclusive boutique hotel Lafayette House.” “The match struck by Bowery Bar in 1994,” writes Moss, “had met gasoline. In the 2000s, the Bowery went supernova.”

As if on cue, artists of the Establishment arrived. As one landlord-artist Gamely put it, “…now that the neighborhood is nice enough for galleries, there aren’t many artists left.” Luxury hotels proliferated.

“From the beginning,” says Moss, “the locals hated the Cooper Square Hotel, viewing it as “an arrogant, entitled, fuck-you middle finger to the neighborhood.” Despite further protests, “all that righteous anger could not bring the tower down, even when the developers’ bank claimed they defaulted on $52 million in loans and filed a lawsuit to foreclose.”

It was taken over by a hotelier with sites in Hollywood, Miami Beach and New York’s Meatpacking District, and “renamed the Standard East Village, with a new restaurant aptly called ‘Narcissa’…”

This ongoing “quotation” of the earlier life of the East Village was shameless, an expression of contemporary capitalism’s own cultural emptiness.

Moss cites Neil Smith, the late CUNY professor of anthropology and geography, for an historical overview of gentrification: “The class remake of the city was minor, small scale, and symbolic in the beginning, but today we are seeing a total class retake of the central city .Almost without exception, the new housing, new restaurants, new artistic venues, new entertainment locales-not to mention new jobs on Wall Street—are all aimed at a social class quite different from those who populated the Lower East Side or the West Side, Harlem, or neighborhood Brooklyn in the 1960’s. Bloomberg’s rezoning of, at latest count, 104 neighborhoods has been the central weapon in this assault.”

Moss takes a fourth wave from London urbanist Loretta Lees, hyper- gentrification, who described it as “the consolidation of a powerful national shift favoring the interests of the wealthiest households, combined with a bold effort to dismantle the last of the social welfare programs associated with the 1960’s.”

For Moss, hyper-gentrification is “the return of the white-flight suburbanites’ grandchildren and their appetite for a ‘geography of nowhere’…in which monotonous chain stores nullify the streets,”

Neil Smith’s term “the revanchist city” ultimately traces back to the French bourgeoisie after the crushing of the Paris Commune in 1871. A century later, Giuliani’s New York took revenge on “people of color, the poor and working class, immigrants, feminists, homosexuals, socialists, bohemians.”

Moss’s vanishing New York is, then, “the twentieth century city, the metropolis born from a confluence of restless, desperate people who arrived as underdogs and became the city’s life force…”the people who don’t mince words and occasionally say “fuck you, you fuckin’ fuck” in a moment of proletarian poetry.

Thus we have glimpses of Moss’s exceptionally rich material, hopefully giving the flavor he maintains relentlessly for 400 pages. It is to be hoped that the book will be read far and wide, and beyond spurring the rage felt by this reviewer at the victory (to date) by the massive assault of big capital and finance on a once working-class town without equal, will also inspire the  activism initiated by anti-gentrification groups such as Take Back the Bronx and the Crown Heights Tenants Union listed in an appendix.

Helen Macfarlane,1850 – Reflections on the Socialist ‘Nazarean’

‘The Masses’ December 1913

Helen Macfarlane (1818-60) entered the world of radical journalism in April 1850, only to abruptly leave it in December of that same year, having translated Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto, which was serialised in George Julian Harney’s weekly Chartist paper, the Red Republican. Macfarlane may be regarded as an interesting footnote to the history of Chartism and Marxism, but a footnote nonetheless. However, when I first came across her essays and articles of 1850 – thirteen of them, which no historian had ever bothered to evaluate—her words jumped off the page at me; it struck me that no one had ever before written like this in the English language. In short, Macfarlane was the shooting star of late-Chartist journalism. Karl Marx, who was not easily impressed by anyone, described Helen Macfarlane  as a “rara avis,” possessed of “original ideas.”

The following text is an extract from a three-part essay published in 1850 in the Democrat Review. I represents the first – and arguably last – Hegelian engagement of nascent Marxism with Christianity.

From the Democratic Review, June 1850

Apropos of Certain Passages in No.1 of Thomas Carlyle’s Latter‑day Pamphlets by Helen Macfarlane
What a noble idea is this theoretical and practical freedom of man, his infinite possibilities—which lies at the bottom of the Christian myths and sagas, and has now assumed the form of Democracy! A noble idea, but—good heavens! What a miserable, contemptible reality.

All sects hedge me in with limitations. I cannot move a step in any direction without running against some creed, or catechism, or formula, which rises up like a wall between the unhappy sectarians and the rest of the universe; beyond which it is forbidden to look on pain of damnation, or worse. No sect has ever yet raised its voice against the iniquitous inequality obtaining between the different ranks of society, whereby the accident of birth alone determines whether a human being shall have the culture necessary to develop his moral and intellectual powers — the culture without which he cannot obtain dominion over his animal wants and appetites, but must remain — like a beast — under the sway of instinct. No sect, whether established or dissenting, has ever protested against the social arrangements, in virtue of which the existence of such human brutes as that poor boy lately discovered in the diocese of the Bishop of London, is permitted — I almost said — no — but encouraged, and indeed made inevitable.

Yet such a state of society is as much opposed to the Christian idea of universal fraternity as the Hindoo institution of caste. With us the poor are the Chandalas, the unclean outcasts of society, which ignores their very existence, unless it be to punish them for crimes, the commission of which society ought to have prevented by providing all its members — first, with the means of comfortable subsistence; and secondly, with the means of moral and intellectual cultivation. Hypocritical teachers of Paganism in the guise of Christianity!

Have done with this preaching and prating about things which you scarcely even profess, and undoubtedly do not practice. You talk of the “visible church of Christ”, but you do all in your power to make it an extremely invisible church. Some of you talk much about certain persons whom you call the “Fathers of the Church”, but if these venerable fathers could become cognisant of your proceedings, they certainly would refuse to acknowledge you for sons. For it impossible to find any two things more opposed than the doctrines concerning justice and brotherly love taught by the ‘Fathers’, and the system pursued by you. If these worthy men were to rise from the dead, they would be found in our ranks; they would be Democrats, Demagogues, Socialists, Communists, Jacobins, Enemies of Order, of society, and of you.

St. Ambrose says, in express terms, that “property is usurpation”. St. Gregory the Great regards landed proprietors as so many assassins:

Let them know that the earth, from which they were created, is the common property of all men; and that, therefore, the fruits of the earth belong indiscriminately to All. Those who make private property of the gift of God, pretend in vain to be innocent! For, in thus retaining the subsistence of the poor, they are the Murderers of those who die every day for want of it.

What an incendiary vagabond is this ‘Venerable Father!’ St. John, called from his eloquence, Chrysostomus, or Goldenmouth, says,

Behold the idea we ought to have concerning rich and avaricious men. They are robbers who beset highways, strip travellers, and then hoard up the property of others, in the houses which are their dens.

St. Augustine doing dialectics

St. Augustine says on the subject of inheritance,

Beware of making parental affection a pretext for the augmentation of your possessions — I keep my wealth for my children — vain excuse! Your father kept it for you, you keep it for your children, and they will keep it for theirs, and so on. But in this way no one would observe the law of God!

St. Basil the great, in his Treatise di Avarit. 21, p. 328, Paris ed. 1638, asks,

Who is the robber? It is he who appropriates to himself the things which belong to All. Art thou not a robber, thou who takest for thyself the goods thou has received from God for the purpose of distributing them to others? If he who steals a garment be called a robber, ought not the possessor of garments, who refrains from clothing the naked, to be called by the same name? The bread thou hast stored belongs to him who is hungry; the garment thou keepest in reserve belongs to him who is naked; the sandals thou hast lying by belong to him who goes barefoot; and the money thou hast hoarded — as if buried in the earth — belongs to him who has none.

Louis Blanc is a very tame and moderate person, I think, compared with the Communists I have just quoted. How comes it that you, soi-disant preachers of the gospel of Christ, never take these or similar extracts from the “Fathers of the Christian church”, as texts for your homilies? I have frequently heard you quote from St. Augustine on predestination and grace, but you preserve a mysterious silence regarding St. Augustine on property. It is because you neither teach the Christian idea, nor do you live in it; because you are a set of pitiable imposters. You do not even make a profession of those precepts of Fraternity taught by the Nazarean, and said by him to contain the true spirit of his religion. You wisely keep silence on such points, else—out of your own lying mouths—would you be convicted.

You leave an immense and ever-increasing mass of destitution and ignorance, and crime, lying untouched at your own doors; you enter no protest against the system of civilisation—rotten to its very core—which has produced, and which fosters, this hideous state of things; but you fly to the uttermost parts of the earth—to China or Timbuctoo—in search of objects for the exercise of your boundless and overflowing Christian charity; and some among you have been found impudent enough to raise objections when others have proposed doing somewhat to enlighten the ignorance of which I speak. Pah! one’s very soul is sickened by such atrocious humbug.

Is the democratic idea expressed with greater fidelity in any other phases of the civilisation now extant?

In class legislation? In the exorbitant price of Law, whereby what is called Justice is placed beyond the reach of any save the Rich? In the Knowledge Tax? [The ‘Knowledge Tax’ was the Newspaper Stamp Duty, which was finally abolished in 1855.]

In the scanty measure of sectarian education dealt out to us by priests? In our system of indirect taxation, whereby the public burdens fall heaviest on the class which is least able to support them?

In the law of primogeniture, whereby one member of a family is ‘made a gentleman’, and the rest left beggars, to be kept by the producers — as state priests, bureaucrats, soldiers, pensioners — whose name is legion?

In a caste of hereditary legislators? In the position of women, who are regarded by the law not as persons but as things, and placed in the same category as children and the insane?

Society, as at present constituted, is directly opposed to the democratic idea; and must, therefore, be remodelled. To ask, my proletarian brothers, is one thing, but to get is another thing — a hopeless thing, I should say, from a government which does nothing unless compelled by the pressure from without, and which — instead of being its proper place — at the head of advancing society, disgracefully lags in the rear.

From Helen MacFarlane: Red Republican: Essays, Articles and Her Translation of the Communist Manifesto

(Note to publishers; The above volume was published by the late, lamented Unkant Publishing in 2014. The introducton contained biographical information. Since then I have continued to research Helen Macfarlane and have discovered a mass of startling and dramatic details concerning her life and time – enough to warrant a new edition, with an extended introduction.)

Timothy Leary’s Reality Tunnels

Another serialised extract from Psychedelic Tricksters: A True Secret History of LSD by David Black (Amazon. Also on Kindle: HERE)


Armed Love

In January 1970 an Orange County judge handed Leary a ludicrous sentence totalling 20 years for two minor marijuana offences. As Leary’s friends organised a defence campaign, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love paid the Weather Underground $25,000 to soring him; a task made much easier by his transfer from Fulsom Prison to the minimum security establishment at San Luis Obispo.

In September 1970, Leary, according to his own account, took his life in his hands and climbed along forty yards of telephone cable which ran twenty feet-high from the prison roof to a telegraph pole on the outside. Leary was picked up on a nearby highway by Weatherman, Clayton Van Lydegraf. A former first lieutenant pilot in World War Two. Van Lydegraf was a veteran Stalinist who never had any time for the hippie counterculture or LSD. He told Leary, ‘I was against this whole thing from the start. If it were up to me you’d still be rotting in jail’. Presumably, Van Lydegraf was given the job of getaway driver precisely because he didn’t look or talk like a hippie. After few changes of cars and drivers Leary was taken to meet up with the group’s leaders, Bernadine Dohrn, Bill Ayers and Mark Rudd. The success of this first part of the mission was celebrated with an LSD tripping session.

The second part of the operation was to spirit Leary and his wife, Rosemary, out of the US and on to Algiers, where they were to hook up with Eldridge Cleaver, an exiled leader of the Black Panther Party. The FLN government in Algiers was at the time hospitable to an array of revolutionary exiles from across the world. Leary had always been anti-racist, but had never, until now, identified with revolutionary politics, especially armed-struggle politics. What had changed him? One factor was the influence of his wife, Rosemary who, much more than Tim, was a ‘natural’ radical, well connected with the more ‘extreme’ elements of American leftism. When planning to spring Tim from his prison she got him to approve the use of firearms by the rescue team that was being assembled. Another factor was the constant supply of LSD smuggled into prison by Rosemary. According to biographer, John Higgs:

By using LSD in prison he imprinted a new reality, and replaced his old beliefs with an outlook that made him better adapted to survive in his new environment… Tim had spent years talking about reprogramming the mind in just this way, yet when he did what he had described, his audience was bewildered… Tim had simply, to use his own jargon, rebuilt his ‘reality tunnel’.

Leary, facing decades behind bars, had come to believe that Rosemary and the revolutionaries were his only hope for freedom. Therefore his natural pacifism was put into suspension for the duration. Like any actor playing the good guy, Leary had a mission to fulfil in the cosmic drama: to promote solidarity and co-operation between the hippie counterculture and the Black Revolution.

Leary alienated many of his old friends after he appeared to buy the Weather Underground’s skyed-out politics and issued a statement from hiding that, ‘To shoot a genocidal robot policeman in defence of life is a sacred act’. Ken Kesey, the old Electric-Koolaid-Acid-Tester, published an open letter in response which pleaded more in sorrow than in anger: ‘Oh my good doctor, we don’t need one more nut with a gun’.

Leary, however, was doing revolution politics as a game. This is clear from an interview he did with Paul Krasner twenty years later:

Krasner: ..when you escaped from prison, you said, ‘Arm yourselves and shoot to live. To shoot a genocidal robot policeman in defence of life is a sacred act.’

Leary: Yeah! I also said ‘I’m armed and dangerous’. I got that directly from Angela Davis. I thought it was funny to say that.

Krasner: I thought it was the party line from the Weather Underground.

Leary: Well, yeah. I had a lot of arguments with Bernadine Dohrn,

Krasner: They had their own rhetoric. She even praised Charles Manson.

Leary: The Weather Underground were amusing, They were brilliant, Jewish, Chicago kids. They had class and dash and flash and smash. Bernadine was praising Manson for sticking a fork in a victim’s stomach. She was just being naughty.’

Alice in AlgiersFrom Cleaver to Crowley

With fake passports, Leary and his wife, Rosemary, slipped out of America in disguise and flew to Algeria to meet Eldridge Cleaver. Cleaver had joined the Black Panther Party after serving an eight year sentence in San Quentin prison for rape and attempted murder. Released in 1966, Cleaver became a journalist for Ramparts and served as Minister of Information of the Black Panther Party. In 1968 he led an ambush of Oakland police officers in which two officers were wounded and 17-year-old Panther Bobby Hutton was shot to death by police after surrendering.

Cleaver fled to Cuba, where he was at first welcomed by the communist authorities. However, when he was joined by Clinton Smith and Byron Booth, who had hijacked a plane from California and flown to Cuba, the hospitality cooled. Fidel Castro, not wanting his island to become a haven for plane-hijackers with dubious (possibly CIA) connections, packed the three of them off to Algeria. As other Black Panther exiles began to congregate in Algiers, Cleaver asked the FLN government of Algeria to provide the US Black Panthers with an ’embassy’. This request was granted shortly before the Learys’ arrival there.

Cleaver  was impressed by Nixon’s naming of Leary as ‘the most dangerous man in America’. Leary describes his first meeting with Cleaver at a villa in Algiers, which had been provided by the FLN government:

‘Eldridge greeted us warmly at the gate, recognising that our presence meant more cards in his hand. As Rosemary and I sat uneasily in the haute bourgeois French-provincial living room, Cleaver laid out his plan. He would obtain political asylum for us from the Algerians. Then we’d set up an American government in exile. The Algerians had already recognized the Panthers as the American Liberation Front and ultimately we could swing the entire Third World behind our cause.

I suggested that we could represent the non-political counter-culture forces of America. We’d invite dissident groups, draft resisters, anti-war activists, hippies, Weathermen, rock stars, beatniks, bohemians, poets. I agreed that we should form a highly visible, alternative government to the Nixon regime. There was no question that, if we could get a base operating, many counter-culture people would come by to visit. The most effective tactic would be to operate a media centre. If the Algerians will let us set up broadcast facilities, we can start a Radio Free America that would beam over to Europe and the armed forces bases. We could win the respect of the youth and the liberals and the anti-war people in Europe… [for] a popular front of the large majority of Americans who want a peaceful, friendly, prosperous world.’

Leary’s sentiments were received politely but with sceptical bemusement. Cleaver saw no future for any kind popular front, least of all one composed of the people Leary had in mind. When Leary began receiving visitors – old friends, revolutionary tourists, psychedelic pilgrims and journalists – Cleaver complained that the journalists tended to relegate the Panthers’ revolutionary politics to the colourful backdrop of the story of Leary’s prison escape. Anita Hoffman of the Yippies recalled,

‘…I revolted against Cleaver’s dictatorial rule, but was surprised to find I had no allies among the obedient lefties I was travelling with. So I escaped by climbing out of window and talking my way out at customs at the airport. Since the Panthers were guests of the Algerians, the Algerians wanted the Panthers’ approval to let me leave. But at that point they didn’t know I was gone.’

Cleaver assured the Algerian government that he could control Leary’s drug use and bouts of ‘nonsensical political eloquence’. First, Cleaver got Leary to participate in a film for the Panthers aimed at a US audience. Cleaver wanted Leary to publicly renounce drugs as a distraction from building armed resistance to US imperialism. Leary was diplomatic rather than apologetic:

If taking any drug postpones for ten minutes the revolution, the liberation of our sisters and brothers, our comrades, then taking drugs must be postponed for ten minutes … However, if one hundred FBI agents agreed to take LSD, thirty would certainly drop out.

Leary was still committed to fulfilling his promises to the Weather Underground. Now that the escape from prison and flight into exile had been accomplished, it was time for the third part of the mission: to organise a tripping session with Eldridge Cleaver, in the hope that he would became less insular and sectarian; and embrace unity between Black Revolutionaries and hippie radicals such the Weather Underground. Cleaver had actually tripped on LSD with Yippie leaders Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman in Berkeley back in 1968. They had failed to change Cleaver’s thinking, but Leary thought it was still worth trying to do so. As he had a good supply of LSD smuggled to him in Algiers, he suggested to Cleaver that they trip together, and Cleaver agreed. The session however, simply aggravated Cleaver’s paranoia, and plunged him into a mood of pessimism.

Cleaver, wishing to assure the Algerian government that he was hosting a real anti-imperialist revolutionary, rather than a white American drugs fiend, sent Leary on a Panther-led delegation to the PLO training camps in the Levant. The delegation consisted of Leary, Donald Cox of the Black Panther party, Panther fundraiser Martin Kenner, and Bernadine Dohrn’s sister, Jennifer, who represented a sort of ‘political wing’ of the Weather Underground. The idea was to have Leary appear before the world media at a PLO camp in Jordan alongside Fatah guerrillas, Black Panthers and white American sympathisers. However, when they arrived in Beirut via Cairo they found themselves besieged at their hotel and followed everywhere by the Western press, who had been tipped off about their arrival. The plan to visit Fatah training camps in Jordan and Syria had to be abandoned when the Lebanese government, under US diplomatic pressure, sent a police squad to escort them to the airport.

Leary and party returned to Cairo. According to Cleaver’s then collaborator Elaine Mokhtefi, Leary became ‘paranoid and hysterical… uncontrollable… scaling walls, hiding behind buildings, raising his arms and screaming in the streets’. The Algerian ambassador to Egypt put them on a plane back to Algiers. On their return Leary and Rosemary began partying with LSD at the desert oasis of Bou-Saada, much to Cleaver’s disapproval. Having recently returned from a conference in North Korea, Cleaver had become a devotee of Kim Il Sung. He now believed that the Panther strategy of uniting with white radicals of the psychedelic counterculture had been mistaken. And it was not just white hippies that Cleaver wanted to disassociate his movement from. In Leary’s words, ‘Eldridge invented himself a security crisis. Like Nixon, like Brezhnev’:

Everything the Panthers did was in the name of security. We were constantly lectured on the precariousness of our situation; American police were after us. All Algerians were racists. The town was crawling with enemies. Our foes were multiplying. The other national liberation fronts turned out to be racist too and riddled with double agents. Even our American allies became deadly rivals one-by-one: Angela Davis, Huey Newton, Stokeley Carmichael – all running-dog lackeys of imperialism.

A top-secret CIA operation had been set up after Cleaver’s arrival in Algiers in 1969. The CIA, as later revealed by Seymour Hersh in the New York Times, had recruited Black Americans to spy on members of the Black Panther Party both in the United States and in Africa, especially Algeria. One agent gained access to the personal living quarters of Cleaver in Algeria in the late 1960’s. Another later boasted to his colleagues that he had managed to penetrate Cleaver’s Algerian headquarters ‘and sat at the table’ with him. The CIA’s aim, in the case of the Black Panthers living abroad, was to ‘neutralize’ them; ‘to try and get them in trouble with local authorities wherever they could’.

According to Leary, the problem with Cleaver was that he was ‘totally American. He doesn’t want to change the system, he just wants to run it’. On one occasion Cleaver pulled a gun on Leary and threatened to denounce him to the Algerian authorities for his activities with LSD if a sum of $10,000 was not forthcoming. On 9 January 1971, Cleaver ‘imprisoned’ the Learys, placing them under armed guard. A CIA document dated 12 February 1971 noted:

Panther activities have recently taken some interesting turns. Eldridge Cleaver and his Algiers contingent have apparently become disenchanted with the antics of Tim Leary… Electing to call their actions protective custody, Cleaver and company, on their own authority, have put Tim and Rosemary under house arrest due most probably to Leary’s continued use of hallucinogenic drugs.

Tim and Rosemary were fearful about ever getting out of Cleaver’s personal prison. They had good reason to be. Unknown to Leary, months earlier Cleaver had shot dead his fellow exile, Clinton Smith, after accusing him of amorous intentions towards his wife, Kathleen Cleaver. Byron Booth, who witnessed the murder, helped Cleaver bury Smith’s body in the mountains and fled Algeria the next day.

Cleaver’s imprisonment of the Learys came just as a serious split in the Panthers became publically known in mid-February 1971. The California-based leadership of Huey Newton and David Hilliard wanted the party to focus on community service and avoid any armed actions beyond self-defense. Cleaver began to fear being overthrown by a coup at his own headquarters. The Learys took advantage of Cleaver’s distraction and escaped his clutches. Leary made contact with officials of the Algerian government, who told him that they themselves were unhappy about Cleaver’s activities in their country and assured the Learys that they could stay for as long as they wished.

Now under the protection of the Algerian government, Leary was visited by the English writer and dope-dealer, Brian Barritt, whose rebel status was very different from Cleaver’s. Barritt, who had been introduced to LSD by Alex Trocchi in London in the mid-1960s, was an enthusiastic student of ‘English Magick’ in the ‘tradition’ of John Dee and Alistair Crowley. He was to become Leary’s nominal co-author on the forthcoming book, Confessions of a Hope Fiend, in Switzerland, the next stop on the Leary’s journey. Leary’s archivist, Michael Horowitz, summarises Confession of a Hope Fiend as the story of his prison escape flight to exile and ‘revolutionary bust’ by the Black Panther Party leader ‘after he either won or lost the debate on the role of psychedelic drugs in the revolution’:

In Algeria, the role of Hassan-i-Sabbah – the founder of the hashishin and the first recorded person to brainwash with euphoric drugs – was not necessarily up for grabs. The Aleister Crowley persona emerged during an acid trip in the Sahara. But survival dictated another space time co-ordinate.

Hotel Abyss

In April 1971, Timothy Leary accepted an invitation to give a talk at Aarhus university in Copenhagen. Tim and Rosemary flew first to Geneva and visited his friend, Pierre Benoussan. Benoussan advised them to stay in Switzerland because he thought that if they went to Denmark, they were certain to be arrested and deported to the US. Benoussan gave them the address of Michel Hauchard, an arms dealer for the Palestinians, convicted fraudster and jailbird. Hauchard, as a gentleman rogue, told them he felt obliged to help Leary as a persecuted philosopher. He provided the Learys with a chalet at a Lake Geneva ski resort. Thanks to Hauchard’s generosity, Rosemary Leary was now able to seek the fertility treatment she needed to become pregnant. Hauchard’s largesse came with a price. Leary had to promise he would not leave Switzerland and had to sign away in advance half the royalties on the book, Confessions of a Hope Fiend. Leary had landed in the lap of luxury, and revolutionary politics was now irrelevant to him. As Higgs puts it in I Have America Surrounded: the Life Story of Timothy Leary:

‘Indeed, just three months after pledging “eternal solidarity” to the Brazilian Marxists who had escaped from jail and fled to Algiers, he found himself drinking with the Brazilian aristocrats who had jailed them in the first place. “Torture,” one of them told him, “was nothing more than an advanced form of acrobatics.” By now Tim was quite used to imprinting an entirely new worldview whenever he found himself in a different environment, but rarely was the process as effortless as this.’

Hauchard provided the Learys with a lawyer to obtain temporary Swiss residence for them. When, in June 1971, Tim was arrested by the Swiss police to face an extradition request from the US government, his lawyer got him out of prison on health grounds. In December, Leary’s appeal against extradition was upheld by the court, on condition that he would keep out of subversive politics and stay away from illegal drugs; the first was easy, the second was out of the question for Leary, who continued to take his daily doses of acid discreetly.  The downside was that the court ruled he would have to leave Switzerland before the end of the following year, 1972.

In September 1971, Leary got to meet Albert Hofmann, the discoverer of LSD. Hoffman told Leary that it was regrettable that investigations into LSD and psilocybin had ‘degenerated’ so much that continuance of psychedelic research in the academic milieu had become impossible:

‘In this conversation I further objected to the great publicity that Leary sought for his LSD and psilocybin investigations, since he had invited reporters from daily newspapers and magazines to his experiments and had mobilized radio and television. Emphasis was placed on publicity rather than objective information. Leary defended his publicity program because he felt it had been his fateful historic role to make LSD known worldwide. The overwhelming positive effects of such dissemination, above all among America’s younger generation, would make any trifling injuries or regrettable accidents as a result of improper use of LSD unimportant in comparison, a small price to pay.’

Timothy Leary and Albert Hoffman

Writer and LSD entrepreneur David Solomon travelled from England to Switzerland to see Leary and secure a role as an agent negotiating with publishers.  Another arrival in the Learys’ Swiss household was Dennis Martino, Leary’s hash-smuggling son-in-law from a previous marriage. He was wanted in the US for jumping parole, but in December 1972 made a trip to the US. This should have raised Leary’s suspicions, but didn’t.

Leary and Brian Barritt ventured into music production with German krautrockers. Barritt got Leary into heroin, until after a few weeks Leary wisely decided to quit. During this period Leary was constantly on LSD, though he was able to function rationally in his day-to-day interactions. Leary had now decided that ‘whereas the space games are survival, power and control, the corresponding time games are sex, dope and magic’.

By this time Rosemary Woodruff Leary had had enough of Tim’s new life and entourage. Rosemary took up with John Schewel, an associate of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, and spent the next twenty years hiding out in various parts of the world.

Meanwhile the US authorities were renewing pressure on the Swiss by drumming up more charges against Leary, accusing him of being ‘the godfather of the largest drug-smuggling ring in the world’ – the Brotherhood of Eternal Love (the charges were later dropped for lack of evidence).

Leary met up with a lawyer named Carlton Smith to arrange safe passage to Austria. Liz Elliot, Brian Barritt’s partner, was to accompany Leary to assist his border crossing to Austria from Switzerland. Suddenly, she recalled, an aristocratic Englishwoman, named Joanna Harcourt-Smith, who been introduced to Leary by Hauchard, ‘inserted herself’ into Leary’s plans:

Tim was looking for a woman to take with him in order to leave. Originally it was supposed to be me who went with him… However I was dithering because I couldn’t decide between Tim and Brian Barritt (my young son thought of the latter as his dad). At this point Joanna arrived and took her opportunity. I think we were all aware she was just after Tim’s celebrity. I don’t reckon she realised the gravity of Tim’s situation enough to guide him to Afghanistan with any intention other than showing him off to people she knew there.

At the end of 1972, Tim and Joanna moved to Vienna. Joanna wanted to take Leary to Ceylon, where she had rich relatives to put them up. Then Dennis Martino arrived in Vienna. He suggested that rather than head straight for Ceylon, the three of them should go firstly to Afghanistan, where, he assured them, he had Brotherhood of Eternal Love contacts who would help them. Leary, accompanied by Joanna Harcourt-Smith and Dennis Martino arrived in Afghanistan in January 1973. In Kabul, former CIA agent Terrence Burke, now working for the US Drug Enforcement Agency, was monitoring the brothers Aman and Nasrullah Tokhi, who were supplying the Brotherhood of Eternal Love with large shipments of hash. The Afghan authorities provided Burke with copies of American travellers’ disembarkation cards, so he was warned of the impending arrival of the Learys and Martino. Burke arranged for US Embassy staff disguised as Afghan immigration officers to be on hand to confiscate Leary’s fake passport. Burke then persuaded the Afghan authorities to deport Leary. Dennis Martino, also a fugitive, struck a deal with Burke in Kabul to become an informer. Or was he one already? What is certain is that Martino, spirited back to California after Leary’s deportation from Afghanistan, arranged for at least two dozen of his dope-dealing associates of the Brotherhood to be arrested.

Eldridge Cleaver left Algeria for France in 1972 and went into hiding. He returned to the USA in 1977 a born-again Christian. After some plea-bargaining and public repentance for his political past he got away with a sentence of 1,200 hours community service for the outstanding assault charge. His Black Panther rival, Huey Newton, came out of prison in 1970. He failed to revive the party and fell into gangsterism and cocaine addiction.

Leary ‘Co-operates’

At his trial in March 1973 for the 1970 prison escape Leary was sentenced to five years imprisonment in addition to the twenty he had been serving. For management of his affairs outside of prison Leary still relied on Joanna Harcourt-Smith. In November, 1973, Leary was transferred from Folsom to Vacaville Prison. There he learned that Martino had become a government snitch and that Joanna was sleeping with him. When Allen Ginsberg met Joanna Harcourt-Smith during a prison visit, he told her he suspected she might be a ‘double agent’. In response, Joanna turned to Leary and said ‘Oh, he just hates women’. Leary simply threw up his hands in exasperation. But for Leary himself, in this latest reality tunnel informing was taking on a new meaning: Leary, in return for early release, was prepared to talk to the FBI.

According to Leary, in his autobiography, Flashbacks, the ‘Leary Turns Fink’ story, which gained wide circulation in the late seventies, was, in part at least, the product of an FBI counter-offensive aimed at blunting the revelations about the Bureau’s own illegal actions against dissidents. When a transcript of Leary’s testimony was leaked to journalist, Jack Anderson, Leary complained that it made it sound as if he was testifying against anyone who had ever offered him a joint. But the story severely damaged Leary’s reputation among his followers. Becoming a political extremist under extreme circumstances might have been understandable; but becoming a renegade fink put him beyond the pale. After the FBI milked Leary for all the information they thought they get, Leary was finally given his freedom in April 1976.

According to Leary, he only wanted to convince the FBI that people like the Weather Underground and Brotherhood of Eternal Love were really just all-American kids who had grown a little too enthusiastic about realising their ideals. Regarding his ‘motives’ for talking, Leary said that he wanted an ‘intelligent, an honourable relationship’ with Government institutions:

‘So this does not just turn someone over to get out of prison, it’s part of a longer range plan of mine… I intend to be fully active in this country in the next few years however the things turn out… I’m never going to work at it illegally ever again, but I would prefer to work constructively and collaboratively with intelligence and law enforcement people that are ready to forget the past…’

Leary did talk to the FBI about the Weather Underground and name names, but in the long run the group was not impacted by his testimony. By the mid-1970s the Weather Underground leadership had grasped the reality that they weren’t going to be able to bomb US Imperialism out of existence. Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn believed they could avoid federal prosecution and lengthy prison sentences because of reluctance on the government’s part to reveal sources and methods such as illegal wire taps. Ayers and Dohrn favored a strategy of ‘surfacing’ as above ground revolutionaries. Bernadine Dohrn’s sister, Jennifer, organised an umbrella organization of radical groups which was named the Prairie Fire Committee (inspired by Mao Zedong’s polemic against ‘pessimism’: ‘A Single Spark Can Start a Prairie Fire‘).

In 1977 a pamphlet appeared entitled The Split of the Weather Underground Organization – Struggling Against White and Male Supremacy. This contained an abject ‘confession’ by Bernadine Dohrn, admitting to charges of racial and sexual chauvinism, and ‘opportunism’. An article by Clayton Van Lydegraf, ‘In Defense of Prairie Fire’, indicated that the new ‘line’ was a very orthodox Marxist-Leninism committed to supporting armed actions. But Van Lydegraf’s takeover of what was left of the Weather Underground’s military structure proved disastrous. Since 1969 the FBI had largely failed to penetrate the group, but they soon succeeded in doing so when the Bureau’s Weather hunters infiltrated a couple of undercover agents into the West Coast Weather Underground Organization as firearms instructors; one of whom actually moved in with Van Lydegraf as his housemate. In 1977, Van Lydegraf, and several Weather Underground members were arrested for plotting to bomb the offices of a California state senator and got two-year prison sentences. This essentially finished the Weather Underground. All three of the groups Leary had operated with during his 1971-73 fugitive period – the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, the Black Panthers and the Weather Underground – were broken up. In between 1970 when he escaped prison and 1976, when he was released, Leary created for himself one ‘reality tunnel’ after another: first with the Weather Underground, then with Cleaver’s Black Panthers, then with Hauchard, then finally with the FBI. As John Higgs puts it:

‘Enlightenment thinkers assumed that everyone operates in the same reality, but that, Leary believed, was not true on a practical level. Concepts, relationships and events were now relative, and could only be really understood when analysed alongside the reality tunnels that created them.’

As Leary said of his first LSD trip with Michael Hollingshead ten years earlier,

‘From that day I have never lost the sense that I am an actor, surrounded by characters, props and sets for the comic drama being written in my brain.’

Whatever importance we give to Leary’s crediting the CIA with the birth of psychedelia, it was Leary himself who gave the LSD-fuelled counterculture its character; without him it just wouldn’t have happened the way it did.

This post concludes the serialised extracts from, Psychedelic Tricksters: A True Secret History of LSD by David Black. Paperback available from Amazon. Also as ebook on Kindle: HERE

The Downfall of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love


(Continuing the serialisation of Psychedelic Tricksters: A True Secret History of LSD by David Black – available from Amazon. Also on Kindle: HERE )

In August 1970, Tim Scully dropped out of active involvement in LSD manufacturing. His chemist partner, Nick Sand, on the hand, had no intention of giving up. But the dangers were mounting. In July 1971 Richard Nixon declared the ‘War on Drugs’ and got Capitol Hill to put up an initial $84m for ‘emergency measures’. The new Narcotics Traffickers Program (NTP) coordinated a joint strike force formed by agents of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD) and Inland Revenue Service (IRS) to select targets. Nick Sand, on the strength of intelligence reports and his arrest records was high on the target list.

IRS agents raided the offices of Sand’s lawyer, Peter Buchanan. Crucially, Buchanan was unable to provide them with a credible explanation of how Sand made his money. A search of of his law firm’s files revealed that Buchanan had deposited Sand’s money for the $155,000 purchase of his Cloverdale ranch. Buchanan had converted large sums into cashiers’ cheques which were deposited in a bank account for which he was a trustee (Scully compares this with a cat pooping on the kitchen floor and trying to hide it by scratching the lino). Buchanan had passed the titles of land purchases to Sand’s Liechtenstein front company, Four Star Anstalt. The paperwork for this company was held by the elusive Ronald Stark.

Like Tim Scully, financier Billy Hitchcock had withdrawn from the LSD business. But his past began to catch up with him when his former Swiss bankers sued him in a US court for non-payment of money he owed them. When the Swiss brought Hitchcock’s bank records into the country, the US authorities duly scrutinised various accounts and subaccounts at the Paravicini bank, including those of Nick Sand, Owsley Bear Stanley, and Hell’s Angel, Terry ‘the Tramp’ Tracey – all of them opened using aliases.

In late-1971, Tim Scully learned he was off the hook for charges stemming from the bust of his Denver lab. Because the police hadn’t obtained a search warrant the search was ruled to have been illegal. Scully, in fact, was now going straight, developing bio-feedback instruments which could measure the electrical activity of the brain, and identify brain wave patterns associated with the peak experiences of meditation. But, in May 1972 Peter Buchanan telephoned Scully to say he had talked to the Feds in return for immunity from prosecution. The ‘good news’ was he had recommended to federal agents that they should also offer immunity to Scully and Hitchcock in order to convict Sand and Stark. When Scully told Billy Hitchcock what Buchanan had done, they both agreed not to take up Buchanan’s suggestion. Hitchcock consulted Brotherhood of Eternal Love leader, Michael Randall, who advised him, ‘Just keep quiet and everything will be fine’. Hitchcock warned Scully to stay off the radar, in case he too was subpoenaed. They both left the United States for several months to dodge possible grand jury subpoenas which would’ve left them with a choice of testifying to the grand jury or going to jail for contempt.

In June 1972, Buchanan was subpoenaed to appear as a witness before the federal Grand Jury sitting in San Francisco. As it happened, on the witness stand Buchanan did his best not to say anything too incriminating about his clients. But the prosecution drew enough information out of him for the IRS to begin investigations of Scully, Randall, Friedman and Stark.

In May 1972, a top-secret ‘war council’ was held by the BNDD and various police drug squads at a hotel in San Francisco to launch ‘Operation BEL’. It was determined that the Brotherhood of Eternal Love was a 200-strong ‘loosely-knit organisation with a core group’, and that it was responsible for an estimated 50 per cent of all LSD and marijuana sales in the US. There was a parallel investigation of the Brotherhood in Orange County, where the public prosecutor convened a meeting of the various state agencies.

According to Tendler and May’s book, The Brotherhood: From Flower Power to Hippie Mafia, a report that came out the San Francisco meeting included a chart detailing the Brotherhood’s organisational structure: it showed one arm of the organisation to be Robert Andrist’s team of twenty or so who brought in grass from Mexico and hash from Afghanistan, to be passed on to their distributors in the US. The ‘LSD arm’ stemming from Michael Randall and Nick Sand had twenty main distributors in California, Hawaii and Oregon. Brotherhood members were described as ‘mystics’ who studied the ‘religious’ philosophy of Timothy Leary. Billy Hitchcock was placed alongside Leary at the top of the organisational pyramid.

The ‘chart’ – which, strangely enough, has never been reproduced anywhere and may never have existed – served to conjure up the spectre of an organisational hybrid consisting of a dangerous cult led by Leary, the ‘spiritual’ guru, plus a mafia-style setup, in which the finances were controlled by Billy Hitchcock. Leary however, had no involvement in the Brotherhood’s decision to become the distributors of Scully and Sand’s LSD; and in no way participated in their marijuana and hash smuggling business. As for Hitchcock, he had never had any financial relationship with the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, if the Brotherhood is to be defined as the organisation founded by John Griggs, with its cadre of marijuana smugglers and distributors of LSD, etc. The gist of the elusive chart did however make it into the media: the New York Times referred to ‘Timothy Leary’s sex and drug sect, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love’.

In August 1972, an Orange County grand jury gave the green light for a series of raids in which fifty-three people were arrested at dozens of houses in California, Hawaii and Oregon. Those arrested included leading players such as John Gale and Glenn Lynd. Two and half tons of hash, thirty gallons of hash oil, and 15 million LSD tablets were seized. The Orange County District Attorney’s Office jubilantly announced that the Brotherhood of Eternal Love had been broken as an organisation and confidently predicted that Leary would soon be extradited to complement the round-up.

The raids were followed up with the release of a wanted poster featuring the mugshots of twenty-six alleged Brotherhood members, including Robert Ackerly, Hayatullah Tokri and Nick Sand. At this point the BNDD turned Brotherhood member, Glenn Lynd, who became their star witness when the Orange County grand jury sat again in November 1972. Lynd laid out the whole history of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love: from its pre-history in Anaheim to the Mystic Arts World Store, Lynd’s own travels in Afghanistan, the purchase of the Idyllwild ranch, incriminating conversations with Leary, and the arrangements with Sand and Scully for distributing Orange Sunshine LSD.

While Lynd was testifying to the grand jury, one ‘Leland Jordan’, alias Nick Sand, and Judy Shaughnessy were cooking LSD in a state-of-the-art lab in downtown St. Louis and at a smaller lab in their rented house in Fenton, Missouri. At the end of 1972, Nick and Judy went on vacation, but as they had forgotten to put a stop order on mail delivery, their mailbox overflowed. The mailman called the police when he noticed the overflowing mailbox and water leaking out from under the front door (Sand had also forgotten to put oil in their heater before going away; so as it ran out of fuel a pipe froze and broke). The police entered the premises found drugs in the upstairs bedroom and came across the laboratory in the basement. When Nick and Judy returned to Fenton they were arrested. Police claimed they had seized materials which were enough to make 14 million doses of LSD. They also found the address of the lab in St. Louis. Inconveniently for Tim Scully, the St. Louis police found an old flow-chart in his handwriting for making LSD. But fortunately for Scully, as well as for Sand and Shaughnessy, the police charges for the St. Louis bust didn’t stick, because the court later determined that the search, carried out without a warrant, was legally invalid.

In March 1972, an IRS agent interviewed Sam Goekjian at his Paris law firm regarding Stark’s ownership of a Panamanian paper company called La Hormega, which held the titles to Nick Sand’s Cloverdale ranch. In the summer of 1972 Goekjian was subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury in San Francisco. Before testifying, Goekjian attempted to contact Ron Stark repeatedly but was unable to trace his whereabouts. Chemist Lester Friedman was also subpoenaed. On October 13, 1972, he appeared before the San Francisco grand jury and testified extensively about ‘Doctor Stark’. He did not mention his own involvement with Stark’s laboratory at Le Clocheton, Belgium, but agents of the taskforce found documents at the Paris law firm relating to Ron Stark’s operation and Friedman’s role as a shareholder. When the lab was searched, its clandestine functions as an LSD factory had been dismantled, and there was no sign of Stark.

On February 21, 1973, a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh indicted Billy Hitchcock on charges of income tax evasion and Regulation T violations. Hitchcock finally cracked and struck a plea bargain. He agreed to testify before the federal grand jury in San Francisco as an ‘unindicted co-conspirator’ and name his fellow conspirators. In return he would write the IRS a cheque for $543,800 and walk with a five-year suspended sentence.

In April, 1973, Hitchcock gave grand jury testimony in which he admitted more or less everything about his role in LSD finances; and incriminated Tim Scully. Hitchcock’s testimony also gave the government enough leverage to force his assistant, Charlie Rumsey, to plea bargain. On 26 Apri 1973 an indictment returned ‘The US v. Nick Sand, Tim Scully, Lester Friedman, David Mantell, Michael Randall, Michael Druce and Ronald Stark’. Only Sand, Scully and Lester Friedman were ‘available’ to appear in court. Druce couldn’t be extradited from the United Kingdom, as the existing extradition treaty didn’t cover conspiracy charges (he turned down an offer to appear as a ‘non-indicted co-conspirator’). Mantell, Randall and Stark were nowhere to be found. Billy Hitchcock offered Scully a loan of $10,000 for legal fees with the recommendation that he apply for the same ‘unindicted co-conspirator‘ status. Scully took the money but declined to snitch.

The situation for both Sand and Scully was desperate. Presiding Judge Conti had made his feelings clear in pre-trial proceedings when he mentioned casually that he wished he had access to the death penalty in the case. The government had overwhelming evidence that the defendants had been making psychedelic drugs. Scully testified, untruthfully, that he had been making ALD-52 (1-acetyl-LSD), which the government had not yet specified as an illicit substance, rather than LSD-25. But the prosecution, basing their argument on the available scientific literature, were able to show that the synthesis of ALD-52 required LSD as an ingredient.

Also the government had come into possession of financial records which showed that very large sums of money had been used to make purchases of raw materials for making LSD. As it would have been clear to the jury that Hitchcock himself had been a major player in the conspiracy, the defence argued that Hitchcock was the mastermind of it all and tried to explain away all the money as all being his (not that this would have bothered Hitchcock greatly, as he had been granted immunity, and was in no further legal jeopardy).

Nick Sand’s lawyer, Michael Kennedy, tried to call Timothy Leary as a defence witness but Leary, who was negotiating a deal with the FBI to get out of prison, declined to appear. Scully naively tried to explain his idealistic reasons for making psychedelics; but that did not work either. In January 1974 the jury returned guilty verdicts on the conspiracy charges. Judge Conti, saying he regarded idealists as the ‘most dangerous people of all’, passed sentences higher than anyone in the Brotherhood of Eternal Love ever got. Scully got a sentence of 20 years and Sand 15 years. Lester Friedman was acquitted of conspiracy to make drugs, but later pleaded guilty to perjury.

Scully says now,

‘With 20/20 hindsight I regret having taken the witness stand. Lying on the witness stand is never a good idea. If you’re guilty it’s best to sit mute.’

He adds, regarding ensuing accounts of the trial in various books:

‘I was stuck with the fibs that I’d told for many, many years because I didn’t want to admit to having perjured myself. The result is that the historical record got very confused. I feel bad about that too.’

Sand and Scully were both incarcerated at McNeil Island high-security prison. Sand, true to form, had LSD smuggled in, courtesy of Judy, and organised tripping sessions with fellow inmates. Scully stayed straight and got a job in the prison library where he studied constitutional law in preparation for his appeal. In August 1974, after their bail-bonds were reduced, Sand and Scully were released pending their appeals. But, on September 13, 1976 the Ninth Circuit Court denied the appeals . Scully, now dependent on the legal services of the federal public defender, appealed this decision to the US Supreme Court. He submitted a petition for writ of certiorari: to have a judicial review by a higher court of Judge Conti’s proceedings. This petition was denied on February 22, 1977 and Judge Conti ordered him to turn himself in at McNeil Island by March 15, 1977. Scully complied.

Nick Sand hadn’t bothered with an appeal to the Supreme Court. As soon as he heard that the Ninth Circuit Court had denied the appeals he decided to abscond. With his ex-girlfriend, Nancy Pinney, driving the getaway car, Sand took off. The DEA, figuring he would do just that, tailed the couple but lost them. Sand bought a load of fishing tackle to look like a tourist and crossed into Canada, where he was joined by his partner, Judy Shaughnessy.

When Scully was on appeal bond in 1974, he had enrolled in an external degree program from the Humanistic Psychology Institute. This was for designing and building a computerized physiological monitoring system and gathering experimental data for research. During this respite, Scully also did volunteer work. One of his clients was a young handicapped woman for whom he designed a nonvocal communication system. When he was re-incarcerated on March 15, 1977, he was able to develop the system for her by having parts sent into the prison so he could assemble her computer and program it. Scully continued to do volunteer work from prison, and worked as an assistant to the prison psychologist. He was awarded a Ph.D a few months before he was paroled on February 11, 1980 and released to a halfway house.

Scully came out of prison in debt: an unpaid $10,000 fine, a substantial amount owed to the IRS, and tuition fees owed to the Humanistic Psychology Institute. Having to work to pay the debts, the amount of volunteer work he could do was limited but he continued to work through an organisation called Computers for the Physically Handicapped to develop microcomputer-based communication aids. From 1987-2005 he worked as a consultant and software/hardware designer for the Autodesk corporation. Currently, among other projects, he is researching and writing about the history of underground LSD manufacturing,

Most of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love fugitives who featured on Operation BEL’s wanted poster in 1972 were eventually caught. None of them had to serve very long prison terms; and most of them went back into dealing or smuggling drugs afterwards. The short sentences they got were indicative of the difference between the Orange County grand jury case and the federal grand jury case in San Francisco. Almost everyone indicted by the Orange County grand jury eventually was able to get the most of the charges thrown out because the evidence that been gathered was too fragmentary and too flimsy, while the federal grand jury in San Francisco worked under the direction of very professional prosecutors who gathered enough information to make their charges stick.

In 1977 Nick Sand, now using the false ID, ‘Ted Parody’, was converted to the ideas of the Indian mystic, Shree Rajneesh. Sand and Shaughnessy grew and sold magic mushrooms which made them enough money to travel to meet Rajneesh at his ashram near Pune, India. They bought a house there and Sand produced vegetables for the ashram in a large hydroponic garden. He also constructed an LSD lab at his house, having located a source of ergotamine tartrate in India. Sand helped Rajneesh get a passport to leave India and establish a Rajneeshee community near Antelope, Oregon. Posing as a Canadian, Sand moved there and remained until the ashram disbanded in late 1985 in the wake of a series of serious crimes by Rajneeshee’s followers, including a mass food poisoning attack with salmonella bacteria and an aborted plot to murder U.S. Attorney Charles H. Turner.

Sand returned to Canada, settling in Aldergrove, British Columbia and grew marijuana indoors using hydroponics. Trying his hand at a straight job for a change, Sand invested in gold mining machinery. But in the late 1980s his partners, the Smith brothers, who falsely accused him of arson. The resulting investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police revealed that Ted Parody’s ID was false. Released on bail, Sand fled to Mexico and Central America, eventually returning to Canada using another false ID.

In September, 1996 he was arrested while making DMT, MDMA, and LSD at a lab near Vancouver The RCMP soon worked out that they had arrested the notorious Nick Sand, who had been a fugitive from US justice for 15 years. In February 1998, Sand was given a nine year sentence which the Canadian authorities agreed to let run concurrently with his US sentence. His lawyer made a deal with the US authorities for him to be repatriated to California in return for credit for time served in Canada. But Judge Conti, who was specifically brought out of retirement to pass judgement on Sand, handed him an additional consecutive five-year term for jumping bail.

On 22 December 2000, Sand was released from prison after winning an appeal that overturned his conviction for bail-jumping back in 1976 on the grounds that he was never given a specific date to report to the court. In 2009 Sand told a National Geographic television interviewer that during his career he had made 140 million doses of LSD. Sand talked about writing a memoir but never got round to it. He died on 24 April 2017.

(NEXT UP: A serialised chapter on Tim Leary’s 1970 prison escape and his travels as a fugitive)

Orange Sunshine, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love and Ronald Stark


Continuing the serialisation of Psychedelic Tricksters: A True Secret History of LSD by David Black (Amazon. Also on Kindle: HERE)

John Griggs: belhistory.weebly.com

Business Matters

In late June 1968, agents of the Bureau of Drug Abuse Control (BDAC) busted Tim Scully’s second Denver lab. The BDAC failed, however, to nab Scully himself, or his new partner, Nick Sand. The two LSD chemists were determined to continue production, but needed to obtain the necessary chemical ingredients. To this end they Invited British commodity traders Michael Druce and Ronald Craze to come to California as guests of Billy Hitchcock at his house in Sausalito. Craze, according to his memoirs, wanted investment money for a livestock feeds company. The idea was that the new business – called ‘Alban Feeds’ – would sell Sand and Scully the chemicals they needed and then invest the sales money in livestock feeds production. As Alban Feeds wouldn’t actually be supplying LSD, the arrangement – to supply ‘specialist chemicals’ – was believed to be legally above board.

Nick Sand met the two Englishmen at the airport in San Francisco and showed them the ‘scene’. Michael Druce, for all his front as a straight businessman, was familiar with the ways of the Millbrook fraternity. He even occasionally indulged in psychedelic drugs. In contrast, Ronald Craze was thoroughly unfamiliar with the scene and found the psychedelic fraternity to be utterly bizarre. When Timothy Leary offered him a joint at a party, Craze had no idea what it was, and embarrassed himself by opening his cigarette packet and saying ‘Oh, have one of mine!’

Sand did the negotiating with Druce and Craze during their visit. Having made a packet from STP it was Sand who provided the money. Hitchcock invested in Alban Feeds acting as Sand’s nominee. A third of the money Druce and Craze received from Sand was for investment in Alban Feeds – in the form of a convertible debenture – while the other two thirds was a down payment on a shipment of ergotamine tartrate and lysergic acid. On returning to England, Druce and Craze persuaded an animal feeds expert, Michael Faulkner-Jones, to come onboard with the new company. Albans Feeds opened a new office in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, and produced an impressive-looking catalogue of animal feeds products.

Druze and Craze were paid for their services via the Americans’ new banking facilities. Billy Hitchcock had enjoyed a successful run as broker in American stocks for the Fiduciary Bank and Trust Company. But after the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) scrutinised his dealings and imposed a consent decree to restrict them, Hitchcock made a new arrangement with the Paravicini Bank in Switzerland. This latter arrangement provided an extra arm’s length for the purchase of laboratory facilities; because any attempt by US Federal agents to track the cash-flow of their targets would come up against the Swiss banking fraternity’s uncompromising defence of ‘confidentiality’.

Hitchcock convinced both Owsley and Sand to transfer the money they had stashed off-shore in the Bahamas to the Paravicini bank so he could profitably play the stock market – with both his money and theirs. On August 30 1968, $32,000 was transferred from the Paravicini bank to a London bank for Alban Feeds. Then Hitchcock had $100,000 of Sand’s money transferred from the Paravicini bank to another Swiss bank, the Vontobel. In early September, Sand passed the $100,000 on to Druce’s bank in London as payment for the lysergic acid.

Avenging Angels

Nick Sand, having successfully sold his stash of White Lightning LSD during the 1967 Summer of Love, had gone on later that year to make STP at his new D&H Custom Research laboratory. This was distributed by the Hell’s Angels. Sand, effectively putting one over on the Angels, mislabelled his STP – which wasn’t a well-known psychedelic brand – as LSD. Sand, however, soon found out that doing business with them was far from risk-free. When a delivery to the Hell’s Angels of 12,000 doses of STP was found to have been spoiled by moisture in storage, Angels’ leader Terry ‘The Tramp’ Tracey and his assistant, George Wethern, drove the seventy-five miles from San Francisco to Nick Sand’s Cloverdale ranch. They shot at the locks on the gate, went in and terrorised everyone staying there, including women and children, until Sand arrived to replace the spoiled STP.

Sand’s relations with the Hell’s Angels went from bad to worse. When a rival dealer began undercutting the Angels in sales of STP, Wethern beat him up until he revealed that Sand had supplied him at a cheaper price than he was giving the Angels. Wethern also learned that Sand had been diverting the lithium aluminum hydride the Angels had stolen for him to make DMT into his STP production. Wethern and a team of henchman took Sand to a cemetery and pistol-whipped him.

George Wethern was a dangerous thug in more ways than one. On a ranch he later bought in Mendocino County there were some abandoned water wells which the Hell’s Angels used to dump the bodies of people they had murdered. Later, in 1973, Wethern became a government informer and he eventually testified as a government witness against Nick Sand. Tim Scully had never harboured illusions that taking LSD would make the Oakland Hell’s Angels less violent, hedonistic and money-grabbing than they were. He had never been happy about Bear’s dealings with them, knowing that they also distributed heroin and methedrine. One of the reasons Scully wanted to give LSD away for free was because distributors like the Hell’s Angels were putting LSD into the same distribution channels as hard drugs and thus exposing young acid freaks to the risk of getting addicted and falling into their clutches.

John Griggs and Tim Leary

Now working independently of Bear Stanley, Scully turned to Billy Hitchcock for advice on finding an alternative distribution channel. Billy suggested Scully ask the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. In 1966, in California, John Griggs, leader of a hoodlum gang from Anaheim, read a newspaper article about a Dr Timothy Leary, who was supplying Harvard professors, movie stars and writers with a new legal ‘wonder drug’ called LSD. Griggs felt resentful. He figured why should plebs like himself have to risk imprisonment scoring weed and heroin when the elite were getting much higher with impunity, on something that was unavailable in the dope underground? When Griggs heard that a local Hollywood film producer was hosting LSD parties, he organised an armed raid on his house. Griggs and two accomplices – Tommy Tunnell and Joe Buffalo – donned ski masks, barged into a party that was in full swing, brandished their weapons and demanded acid. The film producer, relieved that the gang didn’t want anything in the house except LSD, shouted ‘Have a good trip guys!’ as they roared off on their motorcycles into the night with a stash of his LSD. Soon, Griggs and his friends were dancing on the beach, shouting ‘This is it! Thank you God!’, and throwing their guns into the sea.

Days later, Griggs had a near-death experience when he was hospitalised with hepatitis he had contracted through his heroin addiction. He immediately gave up heroin and put his epiphany down to the ‘ego-death’ experience he’d had with LSD. Griggs ordered Leary’s publications on how to program LSD trips and began to hold weekly group sessions, usually in the mountains or on the beach. Soon they drew in hundreds of local surfers and bikers, who adopted the group’s motto: ‘Stay High and Love God’. After Griggs read Leary’s book, Start Your Own Religion, he travelled east to meet the author at the Millbrook retreat. Griggs impressed Leary as a proselytiser. ‘He had this charisma, energy, that sparkle in his eye’, Leary recalled. In Brotherhood member Travis Ashbrook’s assessment of Leary’s relationship to Griggs,

‘A lot of people thought John was a acolyte of Timothy Leary, but Tim told me that he considered John to be his guru. But it’s true that Timothy was inspiring us in an important way. He was college professor, someone in our parents’ generation, and he was telling us we were doing the right thing when he said “tune in, turn on and drop out.” There is a lot of self-doubt when you are doing something as far out as what we were doing, and Tim came along to tell us not to doubt it anymore’.

Days after the anti-LSD legislation in California in October 1966, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love registered as a tax-exempt religious church, dedicated to upholding the ‘sacred right of each individual to commune with God in spirit and in truth as it is empirically revealed to him’, and bringing to the world ‘a greater awareness of God through the teachings of Jesus Christ, Buddha, Ramakrishna, Babaji, Paramahansa Yogananda, Mahatma Ghandi, and all true prophets…’ The paperwork for incorporating the group as a legally registered non-profit organisation was filed by Glenn Lynd, as he was the only member who didn’t have a criminal record.

The Brotherhood set up a store-front in Laguna Beach, named Mystic Arts World, adorned with paintings by Dion Wright, the group’s artist-in-residence. The venture did good business, selling records, books, clothes and drugs paraphernalia to the local head community. Behind the business front of Mystic Arts World, the Brotherhood was developing a well-organised drug smuggling and distribution business. The Brotherhood ran marijuana across the Mexican border and bought Owsley-made LSD from the Hells Angels in San Francisco. On a trip to Afghanistan in search of hash, Travis Ashbrook and Ron Bevan met with Nazrullah Tokhi in Kandahar. Nazrullah and his two brothers Hayatullah and Amanullah, helped establish the Brotherhood as the biggest hash-smuggling operation in North America; with tons of hash concealed in cars and mobile homes blending in with the migration of young long-haired travellers along the Hippie Trail. Ultimately, the dealing was intended to finance the move to a secluded place, far from the maddening crowd and the Feds, where the Brotherhood’s life-style dreams could be realised.

One inspiration was Aldous Huxley’s utopian novel, Island. The community on Huxley’s imagined Polynesian island blends certain elements of western science and eastern Buddhism to develop a technology that works with nature rather than against it. Tantric sex – the ‘yoga of love’ – is taught and practiced. The family unit is extended by communal child-rearing. For some, this utopian dream actually seemed like a practical option – if the alternative was long-term incarceration at San Quintin. Brother Edward Padilla recalled,

‘The idea of moving to an island was as serious as a heart attack. We were going to buy a yacht, a big boat and sail there. We were talking about how to deliver babies, how to plant seeds, what to grow’.

Brother Jack Harrington had even flown to Micronesia to check out an island he had heard about. But in spring 1968, John Griggs, on his own initiative, made a down payment on a 300-acre piece of land in the mountains above Palm Springs. Though it was not on an island, it was secluded. Nicholas Schou’s book, Orange Sunshine, gives the impression that Griggs’ move was seen by disgruntled comrades as something of a betrayal of the group’s ideals. Tim Scully disagrees:

‘I’m not convinced that all the Brotherhood shared the same dream of an island. My impression is that the Brotherhood was a large enough group that there were subgroups with different dreams. Each of those groups may have thought their dream was everyone’s dream but that was an illusion. At the time when the LSD subsystem led by John Griggs bought the Brotherhood ranch, another subgroup decided to move to Oregon and a third group moved to Hawaii. Each group followed their own dream. My point is that it was more complicated than the people that Nick Schou interviewed made it sound.’

Although Bear Stanley had a low opinion of the Brotherhood, Tim Scully begged to differ; having met John Griggs at Billy Hitchcock’s house in Sausalito, he had been very impressed by him. To Scully, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love (at least in their determination to disseminate LSD as a social good) had a philosophy which was genuinely spiritual and non-violent. Being idealists didn’t stop the Brotherhood from building up one of the most successful drug-smuggling operations in the world. In the summer of 1968, John Griggs and Michael Randall of the Brotherhood visited Hitchcock in Sausalito. The Brotherhood, says Scully, ‘were having trouble getting as much as they wanted to distribute, so when I came and said, “I’d like you to distribute the LSD I make,” they were very happy’.

A New Dawn

Nick Sand and Tim Scully

Tim Scully’s collaboration with Nick Sand led in November 1968 to the establishment of an LSD lab in Windsor, near Santa Rosa, California. In this new partnership Scully insisted that both Sand and he would sell everything they made at Windsor through the Brotherhood, and not the Hell’s Angels. STP production was dropped; Scully was having moral scruples about putting it on the streets. In 1967 the negative effects of STP became apparent when people suffering extreme panic attacks were admitted to the Haight-Ashbury Medical Clinic and the San Francisco General Hospital. The Haight-Ashbury Clinic was quick to warn the local freak community that overdosing STP could cause psychosis and an ‘acute chronic and toxic reaction’ lasting for up to 24 hours. Scully says,

‘Owsley Stanley talked me into making some STP. I don’t feel good about having done that; STP turned out not to be a good psychedelic’. He adds that STP ‘lacked heart. It did not lead to experiences of oneness the way that LSD often did. And quite a few people had terrifying experiences until they learned how to correctly use the drug’.

Scully’s priorities were to get money for the legal fees of his two lab assistants who had been busted in Denver lab, and to buy more raw materials. His ultimate ambition was still to make 200 kilos of acid – enough for several hundred million good doses – and give it away to help change consciousness on a global scale. As he says now, ‘That latter fantasy did not happen’. Sand brought on board Professor Lester Friedman, of Case Western University, Missouri, to train him in advanced production techniques in return for a lucrative ‘research grant’ plus a stake in the front companies being set up in Europe for procurement of materials.

In the fiscal paradise of the Bahamas, Billy Hitchcock had a private account at the Castle Bank and Trust. This laundromat for Mafia narcotics trafficking had been co-founded by Edward Halliwell, a CIA asset whose air transport company had flown heroin to bankroll covert operations in the Golden Triangle and Indo-China. Hitchcock also made arrangements at Resorts International, another Bahamas-based conduit for Mafia money, and at the Fiduciary Trust Company, an offshoot of Investors Overseas Services (IOS). Headquartered in Geneva, IOS was headed by the notorious and crooked financier,Bernie Cornfeld (user of the slogan ‘Do you sincerely want to be rich?’).

Hitchcock, who spent some time in London, may have learned some of the dark arts of finance from Cornfeld himself. As an investment advisor, Hitchcock certainly learned about the attraction overseas trusts had for wealthy people trying to dodge taxes without breaking the law. As Alan Block and Sean Griffin put it in the Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice:

‘He (the taxpayer) puts money in a Bahama central trust. Why in the Bahamas? There is no income tax or estate tax in the Bahamas. Why in a trust? A trust is like a corporation, a separate legal entity. This separate entity is a non-resident alien, and a non-resident alien can sell an asset in the United States with no tax. How delightful! Now, if that non-resident alien ties in with a distributing company in the Netherlands Antilles, which can earn interest in the United States without a tax under any circumstances, he has put together a perfect set-up. He takes losses and deductions in the United States and he takes gains and profits abroad, under a tax treaty’.

Sand and Scully’s San Francisco lawyer, Peter Buchanan, handled the details of purchasing property for the laboratory established in Windsor, in November 1968. Buchanan attempted to hide the source of the money by buying cashier’s checks with cash and depositing them at New York banks in his law firm’s trust account. As a means of covering up real estate purchase and avoiding taxes, this, as we shall see, proved to be ineffective.

How Orange Sunshine conquered America.

By May 1969, at their laboratory in Windsor, California, Nick Sand; his pregnant partner, Jill Henry; Tim Scully; and David Mantell had produced over a kilogram of LSD, enough for more than 4 million 300 μg doses. Sand took charge of the tableting, churning out tiny pills dyed in orange, which were to become known as Orange Sunshine.

Tim Scully, having just obtained his pilot’s license, was having a piece of navigation equipment fitted onto his plane at Napa County Airport, California. On May 26, 1969, he strolled into the hangar only to be greeted by the Feds: ‘Tim Scully? You’re under arrest!’ He was taken to the Federal Building in San Francisco where investigators quizzed him on incriminating evidence found in his second Denver laboratory, which had been raided in his absence the previous year. Scully refused to answer his interrogators questions without the presence of his lawyer and was released on bail.

Sand, on learning of Scully’s arrest, was worried that the Feds might have found a paper trail leading to his lab in Windsor. So not wanting to take any chances, Sand closed it and moved his equipment out. His next move, in the fall of 1969, was to set up the Tekton Development Company in San Francisco to obtain lab equipment.

The Brotherhood of Eternal Love, led by John Griggs at the ranch at Idyllwild, was now distributing the Orange Sunshine. When the Brotherhood first moved into Idyllwild, in spring 1968, it had toolsheds, tractors, a windmill for drawing water from the well, diesel generators and a corral full of cattle. Dion Wright, a frequent visitor, noticed that what had once been a fully functioning ranch had strangely become a primitive camp: most of the inhabitants were living in teepees and since they didn’t eat meat the cattle had been given away to local ranchers. Glenn Lynd, as quoted in Nicholas Schou’s book, Orange Sunshine, says he expressed concerns about group-marriage arrangements inspired by Aldous Huxley’s novel Island, which he claimed Griggs appeared to be enforcing in the name of free love. Lynd’s account however, may have been coloured by his later status as a government informer, i.e. it may have been a bit of self-justification for snitching. Tim Scully is adamant that Lynd’s claim that the people living on the Brotherhood Ranch practiced free love is ‘utterly untrue’. He says:

‘At that time it was very common for most of us in the Psychedelic scene to practice free love and it was relatively unusual that the people living on the Brotherhood Ranch practiced monogamy. But they did so. Carol Griggs was a strong force in insisting for monogamy on the ranch’.

On 4 August 1969 the Idyllwid community was shattered by the sudden death of John Griggs from a drug overdose. According to Lee and Shlain’s account, in Acid Dreams, Griggs’ demise in a teepee at Idyllwild was due to an overdose of PCP (Phencyclidine: also known as ‘Angel Dust’). During the 1967 ‘Summer of Love’ in San Francisco, large amounts of PCP had been touted as synthetic cannabis (tetra-hydro-cannibinol – THC) amongst the Haight Ashbury hippies. PCP, which had been tested on soldiers at Edgewood Arsenal, was stockpiled by the CIA as a ‘non-lethal incapacitant’ even though agents reported that high doses could ‘lead to convulsions and death’.

In Timothy Leary’s version, in Flashbacks, the fatal dose was a synthetic concoction of psilocybin Griggs had bought from an underground chemist in Los Angeles. Leary claimed that laboratory tests had revealed the pills contained strychnine and that during this period there were many reports of psychedelics laced with poisons circulating in the counter-culture. According to Leary, rumours spread ‘about federal drug enforcement agents circulating tainted drugs, but there was no proof’.* According to Dion Wright,

‘The role of the intelligence community is unclear, but they were undoubtedly some kind of factor. Certainly the density of agents from various levels of government was more than anyone perceived at that time. I have come down on the side of a government assassination that worked’.

The authors of Acid Dreams seem to imply that Griggs’ death was suspicious. They write:

‘In the aftermath of Grigg’s death there was shakeup in the Brotherhood hierarchy. A different breed took over, and their approach to dealing was more competitive and cutthroat than before’.

According to Tendler and May’s account in their book, The Brotherhood, Griggs died because he simply miscalculated a dose of psilocybin mushroom pills. Tim Scully, who obtained Griggs’ death certificate and talked with the people who were with him when he died, says that is precisely what happened:

‘He died after aspirating vomit on the way to the hospital lying down in the back of a pickup truck where his friends didn’t know enough first aid to keep his airway open after he took a very large dose of synthetic psilocybin which came from Switzerland and which was pure. A contributing factor to John’s death was his propensity to be macho about taking extremely large doses of drugs, something many of the Brotherhood guys did. You can get away with that with LSD since very large doses are still not physically toxic but that habit becomes very dangerous when applied to other drugs such as psilocybin.’

After John Griggs’ death Michael Randall took over the Brotherhood’s LSD distribution system and married Griggs’ widow. The Brotherhood carried on.

The authors of Acid Dreams claim that by the summer of 1969 the Brotherhood was ‘stymied by lack of raw materials’ for LSD production, and ‘It was at this point that a mysterious figure named Ronald Hadley Stark appeared on the scene’.

Ronald Stark was operating a secret laboratory in Paris, with the British scientist, Richard Kemp, as his chief chemist. Towards the the end of 1969, Stark decided to expand his operation to the US, through the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. To this end he reached out to Billy Hitchcock via his envoy, Tord Svenson. By this time. however, Hitchcock’s luck playing the stock markets was running out and he was facing an IRS investigation of his tax affairs. He decided to drop out of involvement with the LSD underground and move back east. So when Svenson, in early 1970, contacted Billy Hitchcock to do some LSD business, Hitchcock deferred and directed him westwards to contact Nick Sand and Tim Scully.

In Lee and Shlain’s book Acid Dreams, the account of Ronald Stark’s first meeting with the Brotherhood of Eternal Love goes as follows.

In August 1969, Ronald Hadley Stark drove across San Jacinto Mountains of California and descended on the bungalow and teepees at the Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Idyllwild ranch with an offer they couldn’t refuse. Stark was carrying a bottle containing a kilo of pure LSD made at a laboratory in Europe. Stark talked about his expertise in scams: smuggling drugs in consignments of Japanese equipment, utilising business fronts in West Africa, and moving money through a maze of shell companies set up by his lawyers in various continents. However, he explained, he also had a mission: to use LSD in order to facilitate the overthrow of the political systems of both the capitalist West and communist East by inducing altered states of consciousness in millions of people. Stark also hinted that he was well-connected in the world of covert politics.

This narrative would make a great scene in a psychedelic 20th century western directed by Quentin Tarantino. But it is largely a myth. The claim in Acid Dreams that by the summer of 1969 the Brotherhood was ‘stymied by lack of raw materials’ for LSD production, and that at this point Stark appeared is dismissed by Tim Scully. He points out that in the summer of 1969 the Brotherhood was busy selling vast quantities of Orange Sunshine and was not short of anything.

According to Acid Dreams, ‘Stark spoke ten languages fluently, including French, German, Italian, Arabic and Chinese’. Scully disputes this:

‘Everybody I know who knew him says that’s not true. He spoke English, French, German, Italian, and apparently some Arabic. He did not speak Spanish and tried to use his Italian unsuccessfully to substitute for it’.

Most importantly, Ron Stark didn’t suddenly appear on the California scene ‘coincidently’ following the demise of John Griggs in summer 1969. Stark first appeared in California in spring 1970. At Billy Hitchcock’s suggestion, Stark reached out to Tim Scully and Nick Sand, first by sending as an envoy his colleague, Tord Svenson. Tim Scully initially met Ron Stark in March or April 1970 and shortly thereafter introduced him to Nick Sand at the Cloverdale ranch. Scully recalls:

‘Ron Stark did not deliver a kilo of LSD to the Brotherhood. When he came to California to meet me, after a preliminary visit by his chemist, Tord Svenson, he convinced me to introduce him to Nick Sand and he brought that LSD along as his calling card. By the way, it wasn’t in a bottle, it was in a plastic bag. Nick remembered it as being a pound while I remembered it as being a kilo. He claimed to have European laboratories that could produce an unlimited amount of LSD and all he lacked was American distribution. I was thrilled to hear that because by then some of the gumption had leaked out of my enthusiasm for saving the world by making LSD. I still believed that it would be a positive force but I was becoming less and less convinced that simply spreading LSD to the four winds would save the world while at the same time I was free on appeal bond from the bust of my second Denver lab and facing a possible total of 56 years in Colorado state prison. Over a period of days Ron managed to convince us to introduce him to the Brotherhood and we took him down to the Brotherhood Ranch in Southern California.’

Ronald Stark takes over the Brotherhood of Eternal Love

Michael Druce and Ronald Craze’s company,Alban Feeds, had been paid handsomely in advance by Nick Sand to supply lysergic acid and ergotamine tartrate for LSD production. In 1970, however, the supply stopped, much to Sand’s unease. Accompanied by Donald Munson, he took a plane to London and went to see Druce, who could only excuses about the company’s cash-flow problems. Although Alban Feeds registered a profit of £128,000 in the first year of trading, it was heavily indebted to the National Westminster Bank due to overextended investments. But the most important excuse Druce kept to himself: he had been visited by a detective sergeant from Scotland Yard, who informed him that raw materials found in an illegal LSD lab in Denver had been traced back to his company  (the lab had actually been Tim Scully’s, raided back in June 1968). Druce was warned against supplying any more chemicals that might be used for making LSD in the US. Though Sand and Munson were kept in the dark about this, they sensed that Druce and Craze weren’t inclined to either deliver the chemicals or return the money that had been advanced.

They knew, however, that Craze had stashed ergotamine tartrate in a safe deposit box in Hamburg. The stockpile was a strategic asset of Alban Feeds: its market value was likely to increase over time; and served as collateral for loans from the bank. Ronald Stark hatched a plan to expropriate it. Lester Friedman, who acted as the go-between for Sand’s raw materials purchases, told Druce and Craze that a German firm in Switzerland called Inland Alkaloids wanted to make a bulk purchase of ergotamine tartrate. Craze didn’t suspect that Inland Alkaloids was in fact nothing more than a front company with a Swiss postal box number, whose directors were actually Friedman and Ronald Stark’s assistant, Simon Walton. Craze sent documents for the sale, expecting payment in return, but heard nothing. Craze thought he had ensured that the chemicals could not be collected without proper authorization, but his instructions had not been specific enough. Simon Walton walked into the firm’s offices, presented documents for the order, and walked out with the 9 kilos of ergotamine tartrate.

Craze also wrote letters to Sand, Friedman and Hitchcock, telling them that their scam had ruined his business and he wasn’t prepared to let the matter drop. Craze was soon visited in London by Nick Sand and Lester Friedman. Sand suggested to Craze that he wasn’t as innocent as he made out, as he had taken money from Billy Hitchcock for consignments that hadn’t been delivered. Craze pleaded innocence, saying that the only money he had received was to set up an animal feed business and that it was legitimate loan, legally endorsed. He had ousted Druce as a partner because he was convinced Druce had been swindling the company’s money and had been complicit in the scam. According to Craze’s memoirs:

‘Nick said that he was sorry for me but that there was nothing he could do to help me. Perhaps I should put it down to bad judgement and bad company and forget the whole thing as he couldn’t see how I was going to get anywhere. I told him that wasn’t an option. I had lost everything and my only way of surviving was to track down who was behind Inland Alkaloids, and if I couldn’t do it myself I would have to go to the police… if they knew anything at all or could find out anything I begged them to get in touch with me as time was of the essence.’

Craze’s threat to involve the police was not taken lightly. Next, Craze got an invite from a ‘Professor Ronald Stark’ to meet him at the Army and Navy Club, a plush gentleman’s club on Pall Mall, at 3 o’clock the following afternoon. When Craze arrived Stark told him he had been requested to meet Craze by ‘some friends’ who had been disturbed by letters Craze had written to them.:

‘He asked me politely if I could explain what happened. So I told him the whole story of Inland Alkaloids, Mike Druce’s treachery, the destruction of our business and possible bankruptcy. He listened patiently and when I finished he shook his head saying it was a most distressing business. He said that he wasn’t without influence and with my permission perhaps he could talk to the bank. Then, Craze recalled, Stark came to the point: He still needed supplies, we no longer delivered. In my heart I knew that I would never catch up with the people behind Inland Alkaloids, and it might be dangerous involving the police… He had read me correctly. I was to learn five years later that he had been sent over to see if I should be eliminated, and to arrange for a contract on me, but he had reported back that I was small fry, and as long as the organisation took preventative measures, I would probably cause them no more trouble.’

Craze’s claim that Stark had been considering having him ‘eliminated’ probably came from the police’s later investigation (‘Operation Julie’). But there is no record of anyone in the Brotherhood of Eternal Love or its LSD sub-system ever carrying out retribution by means of death threats or actual assassination (notwithstanding an FBI statement back in 1962 that ‘Stark is reported to possess a sidearm and his mental condition is reported to be questionable. Therefore care should be exercised in contacts with him’).

In any case, Craze’s self-image as a ‘legit’ entrepreneur dedicated to supplying farmers in under-developed countries with animals feeds, blissfully unaware of any illegality, never convinced Nick Sand; or Tim Scully, who says,

‘Craze was very disingenuous in claiming that all of that money was intended as an investment in Alban Feeds. The amount that was invested in Alban Feeds was essentially a tip or a bribe for Druce and Craze… I believe that Druce and Craze already knew that they were going to have trouble selling us more ergot alkaloids at the time when they accepted a large order from Nick.’

Over the years Stark had built up a network of very useful contacts for moving money and materials around the world through front companies. During his stay in Ghana in 1967, Stark as representative of the Interbiochemical company, had befriended an economic adviser at the American Embassy in Accra, named Charles Adams. They had resumed their friendship later in Belgium. Stark also befriended Ned Coffin, the principal of a company which sold heavy electrical equipment to West African countries. Coffin helped Stark obtain ergotamine tartrate through a state-owned pharmaceutical company. Stark persuaded Coffin’s son who worked at a New York law firm to handle his business affairs. The firm’s partner in Paris, Sam Goekjian, drew up papers for a laboratory Stark had set up at Le Clocheton, near Louvain-le-Neuve University, Belgium.

Leading Brotherhood of Eternal Love organiser, Michael Randall, travelled to Belgium under an assumed name and stayed in the town with his family. It seemed like a perfect cover: university staff thought Stark was a genuine scientist; and that the lab was making legitimate chemicals for export to Switzerland. Randall’s order for LSD was shipped to New York,concealed in Stark’s Jaguar.

Nick Sand later said he saw none of the ergotamine tartrate consignment he had helped to extort from Druce and Craze; it almost certainly went to Stark’s labs in France and Belgium, although Stark had assured the Brotherhood it was safely stashed in Tangiers. Tim Scully says, ‘Ron Stark and Nick Sand competed for The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s favors and Ron Stark eventually won’.

Back in California in, Tim Scully was trying to get the acid Stark brought over from Europe tableted:

‘The LSD that Ron brought was not very pure, having been precipitated by freezing rather than crystallized by gently cooling. It also had not been through preparative column chromatography — an important purification step. Ron wanted us to tablet the LSD so that the Brotherhood could distribute it. Nick was willing to do so but he wanted 50 per cent of the profits. I was somewhat reluctant but Ron managed to employ his skill as a con artist to convince me that it would be better for me to do the tableting than for Nick to do it. Ron offered to pay for all of the expenses involved and I soon found myself ordering a tablet machine from Joe Helpern in Chicago and organizing a crew to help me set up a tableting facility in Oregon. Sadly, when I went to pick up the tablet machine from Joe, it came with a free bonus of carloads of federal agents who followed me. Making a long story short, I eventually detected the surveillance when I turned off the interstate freeway at Pocatello, Idaho. I was unsuccessful at eluding them and eventually ended up parking the truck with the machine in it and flying back to California. I contacted my lawyer and arranged to have the machine sold for a legitimate purpose; he found a candy company that wanted to buy it.’

‘I had already started purifying Ron’s LSD at the tableting facility in Oregon which was waiting for the machine that would now never arrive. I started to finish up that task, but a lab accident got me overdosed on LSD without a tolerance and I started hallucinating federal agents in the trees around the lab. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I packed things up and handed the LSD over to the Brotherhood and told them I was sorry but I couldn’t do the work any longer. The risks had grown too high while my sense of the benefits had dropped too low and the balance tipped solidly against further involvement in the LSD underground. Nick ended up finishing the purification and tableting of Ron Stark’s acid by the way. And of course he collected his fee.’