Throughout the summer the barbarism of pure culture will be linking to archived radio broadcasts from the Late Lunch with Out to Lunch on Resonance 104.4 FM.
Throughout the summer the barbarism of pure culture will be linking to archived radio broadcasts from the Late Lunch with Out to Lunch on Resonance 104.4 FM.
‘The form corresponds to the content. It does not describe this or that particular activity (merchant marine, oil exploration, some historic monument to admire — or even to demolish, as in Franju’s magnificent Hôtel des Invalides, but the very core of present-day activity in general, which is empty. It is a portrayal of the absence of “real life.” This slow movement of exposure and negation is what I was trying to embody in Passage. But very summarily and arbitrarily, I must admit. Despite the prevalent fixation on the economic obstacles, the main problem is actually that short films are quite unsuitable for truly experimental cinema. Their very brevity tends to encourage a moderate, neatly edited form of expression. But it does seem interesting to detourn the fixed form of the traditional documentary, and this tends to tie us to the inviolable 20-minute limit.’
Extract from David Black, The Philosophical Roots of Anti-Capitalism –Essays on History, Culture, and Dialectical Thought (Lexington Books (2014), Part 2, ‘Critique of the Situationist Dialectic: Art, Class Consciousness and Reification’
Derive and Detournement
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 who 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. Their youthful radicalism had been betrayed by the re-imposition of “traditional” conservatism on French society, with its authoritarian penal code and reactionary clericalism, its Gendarmarie who had in large part collaborated with the Nazi occupiers, and its conscription of French youth to fight imperialist wars in Indo-China and Algeria. They also felt betrayed by the bureaucratic class-collaborationism of the Communist Party, the ineffectiveness of Trotskyism, and the recuperation of the Surrealist avant-garde by the culture industry. 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!”’
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.’
Unlike the rest of the avant-garde, the LI refused to be “answerable” to the court of art criticism and the gaze of the “other,” refused to seek fame, and refused to market anything they produced. The LI’s mimeographed journal Potlatch, which appeared in 20 issues between June 1954 and November 1957, with an eventual print run of 500 copies, 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 in a 1953 article in Potlatch. 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. “Psychogeography” – “the study of the specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviours of individuals” – involved the “derive,” a form of daydreaming during Letterist excursions on foot through the urban environment, defined as “a technique of transient passage through varied ambiances.” Such pleasurable activity 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.”
This “first phase” of the LI lasted until 1954, when Debord moved the headquarters from the nihilist atmosphere of the Rue du Four to another bar, this time on the Rue de la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève. But, for Debord, that early phase of the LI, in which the bloom of youth, like the old Paris Left Bank, passed by them before it could even be seen as what it truly was, was the “golden age” of real struggle and potential; and it is this, rather any utopian vision of the future, that haunts all of his subsequent work. As Kaufman points out, in the Society of the Spectacle, written fifteen years later (1967), the first thesis states that in a world in which “all that was once directly lived has become representation,” the “separation from, and disappearance of, life has become perfected.” 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.
In 1954 the celebrated Danish painter Asger Jorn (1917-73) became aware of the existence of Potlatch and the Letterist International, and made contact with Debord. Jorn, who had founded the International Movement for an Imaginative Bauhaus in 1953, shared the LI’s hostility to abstract expressionism and socialist realism, and saw their concepts of unitary urbanism and psychogeography as in line with of his own critique of functionalist design and architecture. Constant Nieuwenhuys (1920–2005, known as “Constant”), the Dutch artist friend of Jorn, was also coming into the Letterist orbit. In 1948, Constant’s Manifesto for the Dutch Experimentalists, who later became part of CoBrA group (Copenhagen- Brussels-Amsterdam), argued:
‘A new freedom will be born that will allow mankind to satisfy its desire to create. Through this development the professional artist will lose his privileged position. This explains the resistance of contemporary artists.’
Debord’s new friendship with Jorn, Constant and other leading figures of the artistic avant-garde had convinced him that the time had come for the Letterists to shift their focus from the bars of Paris to developments in the wider cultural field of struggle. In an article published in Potlatch in 1957, entitled “One Step Back,” Debord argued that the LI, rather than constitute itself as an “external opposition,” needed to “seize hold of modern culture in order to use it for our own ends” and join forces with artists – even painters, whose activities has been generally despised by the Letterists. Debord accepted that the LI might have to initially settle for a minority position within a new international movement; although, he thought, “all concrete achievements of this movement will naturally lead to its alignment with the most advanced program”:
‘…we need to gather specialists from very varied fields, know the latest autonomous developments in those fields.. We thus need to run the risk of regression, but we must also offer, as soon as possible, the means to supersede the contradictions of the present phase through a deepening of our general theory and through conducting experiments whose results are indisputable. Although certain artistic activities might be more notoriously mortally wounded than others, we feel that the hanging of a painting in a gallery is a relic as inevitably uninteresting as a book of poetry. Any use of the current framework of intellectual commerce surrenders ground to intellectual confusionism, and this includes us; but on the the other hand we can do nothing without taking into account from the outset this ephemeral framework.’
Debord added that the LI needed an expansion of its “economic base.” He was well aware of the huge amount of money being made out of art by the artists themselves as well as the curators and galley-owners. Debord’s potlatch anti-book, Mémoires, consisted of collages produced in collaboration with, and financed by, Asger Jorn (whose financial support for Debord’s work continued long after Jorn decided in 1961 that he could not reconcile his working life as an artist with Debord’s organizational demands).
In July 1957 at the conference in Cosio d’Arroscia, Italy, the Situationist International was founded. Those attending the were: Guy Debord and Michèle Bernstein of the Letterist International; Giuseppe Pinot Gallizio, Asger Jorn, Walter Olmo, Piero Simondo, Elena Verrone of the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus; and Ralph Rumney, representing the London Psychogeographical Association (of which he was the sole member).
“I recommend this book; it is more historically accurate than earlier books on this subject.” – Tim Scully, underground chemist of the 1960s who produced “Orange Sunshine” LSD (featured in Cosmo Feilding-Mellen’s documentary film, The Sunshine Makers).
Psychedelic Tricksters: A True Secret History of LSD by David Black (BPC Publishing, London: 2020) is available as a Kindle ebook for £4.85 HERE
And in paperback dead-tree-format for £11.99 HERE
Read the PREFACE for FREE on this site HERE
New review. “A great read… a dramatic, almost Chandleresque narrative.” David Black on American nightmares revisited, in “CHAOS – Charles Manson, the CIA and the Secret History of the Sixties,” by Tom O’Neill.
“O’Neill studied the bestselling book, Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi, lead prosecutor at Manson’s trial. Bugliosi’s case went as follows. Manson was a huge fan of the Beatles, and believed that the lyrics on the White Album were somehow addressed to him personally. Tracks such as ‘Helter Skelter’ and ‘Little Piggies’ were taken to mean ‘the black man rising up against the white establishment and murdering the entire white race’. The Manson Family would escape Helter Skelter by taking refuge in a bottomless pit in the desert (‘a place Manson derived from Revelation 9’) and breed until he had 144,000 followers to take over the world. To O’Neill, this fable of bat-shit craziness didn’t explain anything. Bugliosi himself said in an interview with Penthouse in 1976 that he believed while Manson’s followers believed his Helter Skelter bullshit, Manson did not. In which case, why did he organise the murders and how could he have manipulated his followers into carrying them out?2 Bugliosi, as O’Neill was to discover, was corrupt, greedy and (according to his own family) psychotic. ”
The Small Blue butterfly at Woolley Colliery, Barnsley, South Yorkshire. Stop development. Stop ecocide. A rare butterfly in a noble miners’ community.
Two traditional Northumberland/Durham miner’s songs – Music and videos by David Black
1 – Byker Hill and Walker Shore
The song dates from the late 18th century. The music for this video was recorded in 2010, and released on Go Canny records.
The footage of the Sword-Dancers of Winlaton, County Durham is from a Pathe newsreel of 1926. The pitmen were carrying on a centuries old folk tradition, going back to beginnings of coal-mining in the area in the 15th century.
The pitmen veterans featured in the film would have been born in the 1850s and ‘60s. Their parents would have been around when the Winlaton iron foundaries were still working and the Chartists were active:
‘Winlaton was a hotbed of insurrectionary plotting and secret manufacture of weapons such as pikes, knives, caltrops (spikey metal contraptions for disabling horses’ hooves), and even cannon and grenades. Winlaton also had a lively branch of Female Chartists.’
( ‘1839: The Chartist Insurrection’ , Black and Ford, Unkant:2012).
90 years on, in 1926, with the General Strike looming, the iron works were long gone and Winlaton had become a coal-mining township. Now, 95 years later, Winlaton is a commuter village.
2 – The Blackleg Miner. In memory of the ‘Cramligton Train-Wreckers’ in the 1926 General Strike.
Preface to Psychedelic Tricksters: A True Secret History of LSD by David Black
BPC Publications. London 2020
1 – MK-Ultra: The CIA’s ‘Mind Control’ Project
Heartbreak Hotel: the Death of Frank Olson
Human Ecology: an MK-Ultra Front
2 – How the CIA Failed the Acid Test
Timothy Leary and Mary Pinchot
‘Captain Trips’: Alfred Hubbard
Coasts of Utopias
3 – London Underground
Centre of the World
The 1967 ‘Summer of Love’
4 – David Solomon and the Art of Psychedelic Subversion
5 – Steve Abrams: E.S.P., C.I.A., T.H.C.
SOMA, Solomon and Stark
6 – The New Prohibition versus the Acid Underground
Owsley and the Grateful Dead
The Brotherhood of Eternal Love
7 – The Atlantic Acid Alliance
Richard Kemp – Liverpool’s LSD Chemist
Tripping with RD Laing
8 – The British Microdot Gang and the Veritable Split
9 – The Downfall of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love
Ronald Stark and the Brotherhood
The Scully-Sand Conspiracy Trial
10 – Timothy Leary’s Reality Tunnels: One Escape After Another
Weather Underground: Stalinism on Acid
11 – Operation Julie: the Hunters and the Hunted
12 – The Many Faces of Ronald Hadley Stark
Busted in Bologna
Italy’s ‘Years of Lead’
The Red Brigades
13 – Tricksters
14 – Acid 2.0: Redux or Recuperation?
Like atomic power and artificial intelligence, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) was discovered in the closing years of World War Two. Since then, atomic bombs and computers have been the constant source of fears that combined they might bring about the destruction of humanity. LSD has aroused similar fears. Albert Hoffman, the Swiss chemist who discovered its effects in 1943, likened the LSD trip to an ‘inner bomb’. He warned that, if improperly used and distributed, LSD might bring about more destruction than an atomic detonation. But it has also been argued that, if properly used and distributed, LSD use might actually change people’s consciousness for the better and help to prevent nuclear war. Professor David Nutt, who sat on the British Labour government’s Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs until he was sacked in 2009, argues that the study of psychedelics is essential for understanding the nature of consciousness itself:
‘This is core neuroscience. This is about humanity at its deepest level. It is fundamental to understanding ourselves. And the only way to study consciousness is to change it. Psychedelics change consciousness in a way that is unique, powerful, and perpetual – of course we have to study them’.
As is well known, in the 1950s and early ‘60s the US Central Intelligence Agency used LSD, in secret and illegal experiments, on unwitting subjects. The CIA did so according to Cold War logic: if the Russians could work out how to use LSD in bio-chemical warfare — or in ‘brain-washing’, as a ‘truth drug’, or even as a ‘Manchurian Candidate’ — then the USA needed to work it out first.
In 1953, the CIA launched a top-secret ‘mind-control’ project, code-named MK-Ultra. The CIA’s assets in the US medical profession ‘officially’ labelled LSD as ‘psychosis-inducing drug’, only of use in psychiatric analysis and research. Many CIA officers, contractors and assets however, became enthusiastic trippers themselves, in full knowledge that LSD could produce atrocious as well as enchanting hallucinations. Knowing the secrets of LSD, they thought of themselves as a kind of anti-communist spiritual elite who, unlike the US citizenry at large, were ‘in the know’.
But by the end of the 1950s, with no sign of the Russians contaminating the water supply with LSD, there were plenty of signs in the United States that the psychedelic experience was escaping its captors. Some of the researchers in American hospitals – who had little awareness that their work was being secretly sponsored by the CIA — realised that LSD had ‘spiritual’ implications, i.e. for developing an ‘integrative’ enlightened consciousness, conducive to visionary creativity. These researchers stressed the importance of ‘set and setting’ in properly supervised LSD sessions. The English scholar, Aldous Huxley, who took his first LSD trip in 1955, related in his essay Heaven and Hell the hallucinogenic experience to the visionary works of William Blake:
‘Visionary experience is not the same as mystical experience. Mystical experience is beyond the realm of opposites. Visionary experience is still within that realm. Heaven entails hell, and “going to heaven” is no more liberation than is the descent into horror. Heaven is merely a vantage point, from which the divine Ground can be more clearly seen than on the level of ordinary individualized existence’.
Huxley, though an advocate for psychedelic drugs, wanted them strictly controlled. In contrast, Timothy Leary, who first took LSD in December 1961, became the ‘guru’ of psychedelia as LSD ‘escaped’ into the counter-culture of the 1960s. The ‘escape’ has been the subject of conspiracy theories which have been weaponised in today’s so-called Culture Wars. According to one widely-held view, the entire psychedelic counter-culture of the 1960s was engineered by the CIA as part of a plot by some secret global elite bent on mass mind-control. For elements of the Right, the psychedelic counter-culture undermined ‘traditional values’ such as patriarchy, nationalism and subservience to authority. On the Left, some see the 1960s hedonism of ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’Roll’ as having been a distraction from politics. The theory, as it has spread, has thrown in extra villains for good measure: satanists, MI6, the psychiatrists of the Tavistock Institute, the Grateful Dead, and Theodor Adorno of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory, etc, etc.
In truth, the extent of the CIA’s involvement in the psychedelic counter-culture of the 1960s has always been difficult to determine; not least because Sidney Gottlieb, head of MK-Ultra, illegally destroyed the project’s operational files in 1973. Nonetheless, some leading figures of the counter-culture, such as Timothy Leary, can hardly be discussed without reference to the CIA – not least because Leary himself had so much to say about it. In the present work, whilst I pay only scant attention to conspiracy theories, I make no apologies for investigating, where necessary, real conspiracies.
The underground networks of acid producers and distributors on both sides of the Atlantic were described after their downfall in the nineteen-seventies in such terms as ‘Hippie Mafia’ or ‘Microdot Gang’: so out of their heads that they didn’t know any better; or were ‘only in it for the money’; or were tools of organised crime and/or state agencies. In an earlier ebook I noted that nearly everyone involved – the psychedelic revolutionaries, the financiers, intelligence and anti-drugs agencies, CIA-sponsored scientists and researchers – operated to a greater or lesser extent outside of accepted standards of ‘legality’, or didn’t even recognise them; hence the title: Acid Outlaws: LSD, Counter-Culture and Counter-Revolution. But although the term ‘outlaw’ certainly fits many of people in this study, it doesn’t fit all of them by any means. Stephen Bentley, ex-undercover police officer and author of Undercover: Operation Julie – The Inside Story, takes exception to my use of the term ‘questionable legality’ regarding of some of the surveillance methods he and his colleagues used:
‘Questionable by who? Illegal – mostly not… Yes, I smoked a lot of hash… and did some cocaine. Technically, that was illegal. Tell me what I was supposed to do given I was undercover. I wasn’t Steve Bentley. I was ‘Steve Jackson’ – wild, carefree, giving all the impression I was a dealer. I’m now 72 years’ old. I don’t care for the historical revisionism applied to Operation Julie recently. It was a highly successful and unique police investigation carried out professionally under difficult circumstances’.
On my reference to the ‘ham-acting of drunken undercover officers’, Bentley retorts:
‘Maybe you should try living a lie for the best part of a year; doing things alien to you; becoming a different person. Those who know will scoff at the thought of it being an act. It’s not. You become someone else – believe me’.
The point is, I concede that although Stephen Bentley mixed with ‘acid outlaws’ and behaved like one when he was infiltrating them in north Wales in the 1970s, he certainly wasn’t one himself. Steve Abrams – who inspired me twenty years ago to write about this subject in the first place – wasn’t an outlaw either. He is described in an obituary in Psychedelic Press – quite accurately — as a ‘psychedelic trickster’. Many of the leading players who feature in this tale were certainly outlaws at various times but primarily they were tricksters. In Carl Gustav Jung’s definition of archetypes, the ‘Trickster’ surfaces in many stories in mythology, folklore and religion. More generally, anthropologists studying indigenous cultures in various parts of the world identify the trickster with cunning crazy-acting animals such as the fox or coyote, shape-shifting gods such as Loki in Norse mythology and rustic pranksters in human form. In the literature of Greek antiquity, Prometheus, the son of a Titan, tricks the gods with his buffoonery and steals fire from heaven for the benefit of human kind, for which he is severely punished by Zeus. As the historian of religion, Klaus-Peter Koepping, puts it:
‘In European consciousness Prometheus becomes the symbol for man’s never-ceasing, unremitting, and relentless struggle against fate, against the gods, unrepentingly defying the laws of the Olympians, though (and this again shows the continuing absurdity) never being successful in this endeavor, which, however, is necessary for the origin of civilized life (the ultimate paradox of rule breaking as a rule)’.
Like fire, psychedelic drugs can be dangerous as well as beneficial. In various ways the tricksters who feature in this book tended to believe that their antics were beneficial to humanity as well as themselves; and in most cases had to suffer the consequences of their actions. CIA MK-Ultra chief, Sidney Gottlieb, believed that that his immoral and dishonest actions were outweighed by his patriotism and dedication to science, but his reputation has been posthumously trashed (a biography by Stephen Kinzer calls him as ‘the CIA’s Poisoner-in-Chief’). On the ‘other’ side, the reputation of Timothy Leary, who likewise believed he was acting as a patriot and saviour of civilisation, has shape-shifted from brilliant scientist to mystical guru, wanted criminal, wild-eyed revolutionary, renegade informer and finally self-aggrandising ‘showboater’.
I sent a copy of the previous book to Tim Scully, a most significant actor in the events unfolded in this story. Scully is a meticulous researcher (he is compiling a history of LSD production in the US) and, as it turns out, a very reliable witness. Scully, born 1944, was in 1966 taken on as apprentice to the famous LSD chemist Owsley Stanley (AKA Bear Stanley). After Owsley withdrew from LSD production following a bust of his tableting facility in December 1967, Scully was determined to continue. After making LSD in successive laboratories in Denver, Scully began to work with fellow psychedelic chemist, Nick Sand (another trickster). Their collaboration led to the establishment in November 1968 of a lab in Windsor, California, which ultimately produced well over a kilo (more than four million 300 μg doses) of very pure LSD that became known as Orange Sunshine. Scully, in writing to me, pointed to a number of errors in my writings regarding events in the USA. Generously, he provided me with a lot of very useful information: firstly, on how underground LSD production was organised in the United States in the 1960s; secondly, on the relations between the American LSD producers in the United States, their collaborators in Great Britain, and the ‘Brotherhood of Eternal Love’; and thirdly on the alleged CIA asset, Ronald Stark, who Scully knew and did business with. With further research and fact-checking I realised that none of the previous books on the subject (including mine) have accurately covered these three issues. I hope – whilst making no claim to have written anything like a comprehensive or definitive history of the LSD underground – that this one does.
Lobster magazine (winter 2019) has an article by author David Black on why he has published a second, updated edition of his ebook, Acid Outlaws: LSD, Counter-Culture and Counter-Revolution. (now withdrawn and replaced by Psychedelic Tricksters: A True Secret History of LSD). The article, entitled ‘Getting it Wrong and Getting it Right: Ronald Stark, LSD and the CIA’ is available online.
A film by Peter Whitehead documenting the International Poetry Incarnation (1965) at the Royal Albert Hall. The video features, in order of appearance: Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael Horovitz, Gregory Corso, Harry Fainlight, Adrian Mitchell, Christopher Logue, Alexander Trocchi, Ernst Jandl, and Allen Ginsberg.