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NOTE: THIS INTERVIEW WAS PUBLISHED IN AUGUST 2019. AS OF NOVEMBER 2019 THERE IS A SECOND, UPDATED VERSION WITH NEW, SENSATIONAL INFORMATION. A NEW, EXPLANATORY PREFACE EXPLAINS WHY (TO READ IT SEE THE HOME PAGE.
Acid Outlaws: LSD, Counter-Culture and Counter-Revolution (BPC Publications, London 2019)
BPC: David Black, you published Acid: A Secret History of LSD in 1997 and Acid: A New Secret History of LSD in 2001. Why another book on Acid now?
DB: Acid: A New Secret History of LSD covered events in post-war era up to the 1980s. So does Acid Outlaws. However, since 2001, as I discovered when I started work a couple of years ago on a new update, there has been a lot of new information coming out on the subject. A lot of very interesting books on LSD have been published in the last few years, especially Andrew Roberts’ Albion Dreaming, Hank Albarelli on the Olson case, John Higgs on Timothy Leary, Robert Forte on Gordon Wesson and Leary, Stephen Bentley the ex-cop who was in Operation Julie and Leaf Fielding, who was one of the LSD manufacturers busted by Bentley and crew — I’ve used all of them shamelessly. I decided on another update because frankly some of the stuff I put in the book back in 2001 has turned out to be factually wrong or poorly analysed, so I thought some corrections and clarifications were in order. Secondly, although the previous book sold OK and got some good reviews, I was less than happy about certain of my findings and observations being cherry-picked by conspiracy theorists, whose views and analyses I strongly disagreed with. As soon as I got down to working on an update I realised that I really needed to do a completely new book, with a different emphasis.
BPC: Emphasis on what?
DB: Well the previous book was about the experiments of the CIA’s MK-Ultra project, and how LSD ‘escaped’ into the counter-culture that sprouted up in the mid nineteen-sixties; and how the counterculture never completely succeeded in throwing off the spook infiltration and manipulation. In the earlier period – the 1950s — the crudest aspect of the CIA’s weaponization of LSD in the 1950s was simply dosing ‘targets’ to destabilise them or just to see how they’d react. Also, the CIA secretly sponsored and monitored experiments in mental hospitals and prisons in the 1950s using LSD as what they saw as fundamentally a ‘psychosis-inducing’ drug. So it was seen as a tool for unlocking the patient’s unconscious to extract all kinds of ‘secrets’ — very useful for the secret police as well as shrinks — or in the case of the Freudians, to identify neuroses; or in the case of the Jungians to find the subconscious ‘archetypes’ underlying patients’ personalities. But I now think it’s important to point out that some of the researchers in the 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 a ‘mystical’ or ‘integrative’ enlightened consciousness, conducive to creativity and beneficial for the evolutionary development of humanity. This was recognised fairly early on by the British scholars, Gerald Heard and Aldous Huxley, but also by Alfred ‘Captain Trips’ Hubbard, who was ex-OSS, trained in psychological warfare, and close to the CIA.
I learned from Robert Forte that Gordon Wasson, who espoused the wonders of magic mushrooms in Life magazine in 1957 after his research field trip to meet Mexican shamans, was a CIA operative all along, though he tried to cover it up. So why did the CIA give the psychedelic experience such huge massive positive publicity at that time? A couple of years later Timothy Leary starts the psilocybin experiments on divinity students at Harvard, and then gets into LSD and moves on to that. And the CIA are monitoring his progress with interest.
Another new theme is the role of the 1950s ‘Beatniks’. The key figure for me is David Solomon, who as a ‘quintessential Beat Generation hipster’ edited Metronome, which was the main rival of the Jazz magazine Downbeat, Solomon was a New York leftist who saw the New Jazz represented by the likes of Ornette Coleman, and the Beat writers like Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, as representing a new sensibility, with implications for revolutionary social change which, for Solomon, was amplified by psychedelic drugs. In the anthology he edited, LSD: the Consciousness-Expanding Drug, Solomon claimed the psychedelic experience undermined what he called the ‘Social Lie’ which Guy Debord referred to as the ‘Spectacle’. I follow Solomon’s ‘Odyssey’ through the 1960’s, when he becomes an Acid Outlaw, supplying the underground labs with ergotomine tartrate, through to late-1970s when he is imprisoned as a result of Operation Julie.
So in the 1960s you have the counterculture, and you have acid-fuelled rebellion against the prevailing cultural norms and repression by the state; and the hippies are generally in solidarity with the Black Civil Rights movement and Black Power. You have Leary and the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, the Weather Underground, and there’s the British version of the Brotherhood founded by Richard Kemp, Christine Bott and David Solomon. And where is the CIA in all this? Well, they’re right there, with Operation CHAOS, not to mention Ronald Stark, who tries to take over the Brotherhood, and puts Kemp to work in a lab in Paris. So in short, the emphasis in the new book – as the subtitle suggests — is the relation between the psychedelic counterculture revolutionaries and the counter-revolutionaries of the state. That’s what I explore in the new book.
BPC: As with the previous book, you’re writing from the ‘British angle’. In 1977 the British police of Operation Julie broke up the so-called ‘Microdot Gang’ in a raid that arrested over a hundred people and resulted in dozens of very heavy prison sentences. What effect did that have?
DB: It effectively finished off the hippie counterculture. The hippie magazines such as Oz, International Times and Frendz were already defunct. The hippie acid revolutionaries had thought they could install transformative consciousness in the masses by tripping them and by developing alternative lifestyles, partly because they recognised that the straight Left couldn’t do it by selling boring pamphlets and papers. As the 1970s progressed, the hippie rock bands were becoming boring and respectable. Festivals were just pushing music industry product and making millions for the promoters. The feminists thought the hippy scene was riddled with sexism – which it was. And Punk was in rebellion against everything, especially hippies. There were still die-hard hippies organising, for example, free festivals, but it’s significant that the precursor of Operation Julie was Operation S.T. U. F. F. – Stop Unlawful Free Festivals, headed by the future Operation Julie commander, Inspector Dick Lee. The police saw the acid underground as outlaws and a threat to civilisation, but with their undercover shenagins and illegal surveillances they became ‘outlawish’ themselves.
BPC: In this book you distance yourself from conspiracy theory, but it’s certainly about conspiracies, right?
DB: Right. Don’t get me wrong. Some of my best friends like a bit of conspiracy theory (some more than others). Dick Lee, was a conspiracy theorist who, after banging up all those hippie acid-freaks,was left thinking he’d been conned by an ‘Establishment’ cover-up. In fact, at one stage in the investigation he thought Mossad was involved in the acid conspiracy. There really are conspiracies, of course. The illegal LSD industry was a collection of conspiracies. The CIA conspired to weaponize LSD — and failed miserably. The follies of the CIA undoubtedly fuelled the counterculture of the 1960s. Some conspiracy theorists see that as a plot by some secret society; and some on the Left think the drug culture was created by the secret state to undermine popular radicalism. So I write about the conspiracies, but rather than fit the findings into a preconceived ‘theory’ (involving the Illuminati, British Intelligence, Freemasons, or Elders of Zion, alien lizards – take your pick), the question for me as a journalist is ‘what’s the story’.
BPC: OK. Can you expand more on the ‘story’ then?
DB: The full title of the new book is Acid Outlaws: LSD, Counter-Culture and Counter-Revolution. Consider the categories of the ‘players’: psychedelic revolutionaries who wanted to change society by changing consciousness of the masses; the hippy capitalists who invested in LSD and money-laundering to make money; cops and bureaucrats, who had little idea about what they were dealing with and broke the law with impunity; unaccountable intelligence agencies who tried to weaponize LSD; medical professionals and academic researchers who were paid to serve the illegal agenda of the military-industrial complex and secret intelligence agencies. I contend that all five of these groups, to a greater or lesser extent, were ‘outlaws’, in the sense that they operated outside of accepted standards of ‘legality’, or didn’t even recognise them.
BPC: Right, so there are all these conspiracies, in place interlocking with each other in all sorts of ways. But writers you call ‘conspiracy theorists’ might say that there are powerful forces running the world – or at any rate trying to – which need to be exposed.
DB: And they’d be right. But ‘trying to’ is the point. Generally speaking, powerful finance capitalists, for example, are defined – often as not by themselves – as ‘masters of the universe’. But Karl Marx described such people as mere ‘personifications of capital’, trying to control a system that is ultimately uncontrollable. Recessions happen. The First World War breaks out because some nutter assassinates an archduke; and, in the case of Second World War, because well-meaning German capitalists – some of them liberals — thought the best bet for stabilising Germany was putting into power someone – Hitler — who – Whoops Apocalypse! — turned out to be a psycho.
BPC: So historical change through cataclysmic events is determined by accidents or fuckups rather than conspiracies?
DB: Ultimately, no. Accidents caused by conspiratorial fuckups don’t determine historical events longterm. Hegel’s philosophy tells us that essentially there are no ‘accidents’ in history in that sense, because the sum total of accidents indicates the true course of history, the principle underlying human experience. From the Greeks to the early Christians to the Mediaeval heretics, such as the Gnostics, through to Sans-Cullotes and Jacobins in the French Revolution, there is a drive to Freedom, with the recognition that every person is potentially capable of accomplishing anything and everything that humanity has explicitly realised. Marx said that great insights of Hegel’s ‘idealist’ philosophy and all the wonders of scientific innovation were the rightful inheritance and endowment of the workers’ socialist movements. So thought isn’t abstract; it has concrete consequences; it’s the movement from potentiality to actuality, as expounded by the old Greek philosophers. I attended a seminar by an American philosopher a few years back in which the question Hegel came up, and he said, well, reading Hegel is a bit like dropping acid: it’s dangerous to do it too often because it might confuse you. Fine. We live in a confused and confusing world.
BPC: In your new book you return to the strange case of Ronald Stark, who more or less takes over the Leary-inspired Brotherhood in 1969. In the 1970s Stark is posing as a Palestinian guerrilla, doing drugs and arms deals with Italian fascists and Mafiosi. Then when he lands in an Italian prison in 1974 he collaborates with imprisoned Red Brigades terrorists, amd informs on them. Furthermore, you suggest he is implicated in the events surrounding the kidnap and murder of the the former Italian Prime Minister, Aldo Moro.
DB: Right. And he gets out of prison in 1978 on appeal because he supplies the court with what the judge describes as ‘an impressive series of scrupulously enumerated proofs’ suggesting that from 1960 onwards Stark ‘belonged to the American secret services and had entered the Middle East drug world in order to infiltrate armed organisations operating in that area and to gain contacts and information about European terrorist groups’.
BPC: Well, that’s a conspiracy right there. So was the assassination Aldo Moro an accident?
DB: Twenty years ago a lot of investigative journalists were convinced that the Italian secret services in alliance with CIA played the terrorists as puppets, in order to scotch Moro’s plans to defuse Italy’s near civil war by means an ‘historic compromise’ between the Christian Democrats and the Eurocommunists. It was believed, or at any rate strongly suspected, that the people who murdered Moro and his body guards were secret service/CIA plants, and that the whole thing was a false flag operation as part of the ‘Strategy of Tension’. But it’s obvious forty years on that the Brigadistas who did the deed were definitely not infiltrators. They were the real thing. So was the assassination Aldo Moro an accident rather than a state conspiracy? Neither. At the time of the Moro business – 1978 – you had Margaret Thatcher taking over the British Conservative Party; Ronald Reagan preparing for power in the US; and Soviet Communism in a state of deep decay and about to be dragged by the US into a debilitating war in Afghanistan. In the West the Fordist economy was no longer delivering the high rates of profit, and neoliberalism was coming into play. Toni Negri, the Italian leftist who I quote in the book, is quite insightful on this.
BPC: We seem to be getting off the point… LSD.
DB: Not quite. In the previous book I rather simplified Leary’s role, as an effective proselytizer of psychedelia who took too much acid and lost the plot. But I now think he had quite a lot in common with Stark. Leary, after he gets thrown out of academia, takes up with the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, gets banged up in prison, is sprung by the Weather Underground, then takes flight to Algeria to collaborate with the most extreme and corrupt wing of the US Black Panthers, led by Eldridge Cleaver. And this is happening at a time when the CIA, as part of Operation CHAOS, is sending agents to Europe and the Middle East to monitor, manipulate and disrupt efforts to build alliances between the New Left and ‘Anti-Imperialist’ Arab movements in the Middle East – especially the Palestinians. And Stark is right in there as well, albeit in a different part of the field.
BPC: Leary, as you point out, did grass to the FBI to get out of prison after he was extradited from Afghanistan. Some people think Leary was a conscious CIA operator from the get-go in the 1950s. What do you think?
DB: I think not. However… Was the CIA trying to use him? Yes. Was Leary aware of that? Yes, because Mary Pinchot told him so. And she would have known, because she was the ex-wife of Cord Meyer, a senior CIA officer and for while she was one of John F Kennedy’s lovers; before she was murdered — shot by an ‘unknown assailant’ in Washington. I also stress that Leary’s enormous intake of LSD all through his career had the effect of allowing him to rebuild his own ‘reality tunnel’, i.e. to change his beliefs in ‘acting’ whatever new role he needed to in whatever new environment he landed in.
BPC: This new book is published as an ebook, which is a new departure for you.
DB: Yes. I’ve written half-a-dozen books, and I haven’t written one yet that I couldn’t find a publisher for. But since no literary agent has seen fit to take me on, and since most commissioning editors in the corporate publishing world can’t be bothered to read any submissions except what agents throw at them (and probably don’t even read the books), I’ve found myself for the last two years in the tedious position of sending proposals and sample chapters to what is left of independent publishers who are still prepared to consider un-agented authors. But, partly because the independents are so under-resourced, they sometimes take years to get back to you, if indeed they ever do. I have managed to get sections of the new book published in a few journals. Rab Rab Journal for Political and Formal Inquiries in Art, which is published in Helsinki, ran a chapter on the Jazz journalist David Solomon’s role in promoting Acid in the pre-Hippy Beat culture in the US (he was later imprisoned in Britain by the Julie squad). Pysychedelic Press ran a piece by me on how the CIA got into LSD in the 1950s. And there’s a wonderful zine in Sheffield called Everything is Everything which published extracts on the 40th anniversary of Operation Julie. I considered doing a self-published print-on-demand job, but I don’t have the resources or time to become a distributor as well as an author. So I thought I’d give e-publishing a go.
David Black’s previous books include 1839: The Chartist Insurrection (Unkant, London: 2012 — co-authored with Chris Ford) and The Philosophical Roots of Anti-Capitalism (Lexington, Lanham:2014)
(The following is a review of Acid: A New Secret History of LSD (2001) published by the Cult of the Dead Cow, www.cultdeadcow.com, 17 December 2005)
A Book Review of David Black’s Acid: A New Secret History of LSD
Review by Dark Sorceror
Weirdness reaches proportions usually only ascribed to bacterial life: just when we think we’ve discovered the extremes in which it resides, marine biologists manage to find one that lives three miles below the sea or in an active volcano.
So it is with the scope and meaning of history. Perhaps someone out there recalls the first time when it started to “click” that there was a lot more to history than the mere recitation of facts and names. Most people go through life thinking that wars are just the inevitable result of “people hating each other”, and that events happen more or less at random. If they dig a little deeper, they might find themselves reading a little Marx or Chomsky and resonating with the idea that history is explainable by the dynamics of capitalism or a cabal of shadowy power figures.
This is a step in the right direction, but the truth is that there is a “subterranean” dimension to history that escapes even the most assiduous critical analysis. “Subterranean” activity is not the manipulation of world affairs by secret societies and the like, although such groups do exist: rather, “subterranean” activity is thought of as activity that occurs on an occult plane outside of the confines of normal three-dimensional reality. Seen in this light, events are not explainable solely by simple “external” causes and happenstance, but are also pieces of a larger puzzle.
Robert Anton Wilson coined this overarching pattern of events “Synchronet”. In the words of one author:
Here we see the roots of psychic association, meaning, and synchronicity, as well as schizophrenia, paranoia, and conspiracy theory. Wilson coined the term SynchroNet to describe the web of interconnections glimpsed by the mystic and ourselves when we experience oneness and/or synchronicity. For a brief moment we are reconnected to the OverMind, the implicate order, the holographic cosmic organism, the noosphere, totality reality. But only for an instant. Those who dwell there, whether by choice or not, are described as shaman or schizophrenic, depending upon which society they live within.
Cue David Black’s Acid: The Secret History of LSD. Those still under the impression that history is little more than the sum total of visible events will greet Black’s book with incredulity: the synchronistic connections described in just one paragraph can amaze:
“For laundering, [Bill] Hitchcock used the facilities offered by the fiscal paradise of the Bahamas, where he already had a private account at the Castle Bank and Trust. This laundromat [Castle Bank and Trust] for Mafia narcotics trafficking had been co-founded by Edward Halliwell, a CIA asset involved in Air America and Civil Air Transport. These ‘airlines’ were agency front companies for flying heroin around the Burma Triangle to bankroll covert operations in Indo-China. He made arrangements for the Brotherhood [of Eternal Love, the Californian LSD manufacturing/trafficking organization described in Tendler and May’s book of the same name] at Resorts International, a conduit for huge amounts of Mafia money, and at the Fiduciary Trust Company, an offshoot of Investors Overseas Services, headed by the notorious and crooked financier Bernie Cornfeld.” (p. 18) And what about Bernie Cornfeld? Nothing less than sugar daddy to Heidi Fleiss: you can quickly see how this nebulous web of synchronicity starts to add up.
The implications present in Black’s book reach to the highest echelons of political power: not only does Black detail the complete history of the CIA’s experimentation with LSD in its covert MK-ULTRA project, but we learn that John F. Kennedy’s implied mistress, Mary Pinchot, was “turning on” a lot of higher-ups in Washington, D.c. with LSD supplied by Timothy Leary. When Kennedy was assassinated, Pinchot allegedly phoned Leary in a panicked state and said, ‘they couldn’t control him anymore. He was changing too fast… They’ve covered everything up.” (p. 61). In October 1964, Pinchot was shot to death in a Georgetown apartment in what appeared to be a “professional hit.”
The linchpin of Black’s book, however, is the “international man of mystery” Ronald Stark. Stark’s involvement with LSD trafficking began in the summer of 1969, when he approached the “hippie mafia” the Brotherhood of Eternal Love with an offer to bankroll their activities:
“In his talks with the Brotherhood, Stark impressed them with his knowledge of scams: smuggling drugs in consignments of Japanese electrical equipment, his use of business fronts in West Africa, and moving money through a maze of shell companies set up by his lawyers on various continents.
However, [Stark] projected himself as interested in a lot more than money. He had a mission, he explained, 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 did not hide the fact that he was well connected in the world of covert politics. He intimated, for example, that he had contacts with the Tibetan freedom fighters loyal to the Dalai Lama and with the Japanese Mafia who could help smuggle LSD into Tibet and dose the Chinese occupiers… however, the Idylwild hippies could not have possibly guessed that Ron Stark operated on four continents and compartmentalized his international activities so that those he did business with – be they American hippies, Lebanese warlords, corporate lawyers, British scientists, Japanese Mafioso or Italian train-bombers – would have little knowledge of his ‘other’ activities. He could speak ten languages fluently and had the ‘bottle’ [of LSD], cunning, charm, and knowledge to pass himself off in various situations as a businessman, chemist, doctor, art collector, drug dealer, political activist and even as a Palestinian guerilla.” (p. 20-21)
One of the most interesting sections of the book details Stark’s involvement with the “acid gang” responsible for the production of most of the UK’s LSD during the 1970’s. “Operation Julie” eventually brought the gang down, but the story behind this operation is interesting in its own right. Of all of the characters in Black’s book, only the “Julie” chemists Richard Kemp and Christine Bott are as intriguing as Stark: Kemp, once described as a “one in a million brainiac” by a fellow prison inmate, was a Cambridge-educated chemist and left-wing radical who hoped that LSD would inspire societal revolution. Kemp and Bott believed “…industrial society will collapse when the oil runs out and that the answer is to change people’s mindsets using acid. They believe LSD can help people to see that a return to a natural society based on self-sufficiency is the only way to save themselves.” Kemp was also responsible for a dramatic breakthrough in LSD manufacture, which was responsible for the “Julie” acid being the cleanest and strongest ever seen on a large scale in the UK.
The web of synchronicity deepens yet again when Kemp’s association with the famed DNA co-discoverer Francis Crick is revealed:
“Dick Kemp told me he met Francis Crick at Cambridge. Crick had told him that some Cambridge academics used LSD in tiny amounts as a thinking tool, to liberate them from preconceptions and let their genius wander freely to new ideas. Crick told him he had perceived the double-helix shape while on LSD.”
It was clear that Dick Kemp was highly impressed and probably bowled over by what Crick had told him. He told me that if a man like Crick, who had gone to the heart of human existence, had used LSD, then it was worth using. Crick was certainly Dick Kemp’s inspiration.” [Alun Rees, Mail on Sunday Aug 8 2004]
Like Kemp, Stark remains an enigmatic figure throughout the book, and we never get much more than speculation as to who he actually is. Was he a CIA asset? Scion of an ultra-wealthy family? Between Stark’s connections to radical groups on four continents (a mind-boggling list that includes the Weather Underground and the IRA) it is difficult to imagine that Stark was not an intelligence asset of some sort: he appeared to operate above the law. At the same time, he evidently exhibited some fuzzy political sympathies that definitely leaned in the direction of “One World Universalism.” Stark’s apparent tendency to latch on to “convenient” causes is all too indicative of someone operating as an agent of an Illuminati-type organization: if he did have a political agenda, it was certainly a bit more obtuse and sophisticated than anything revolving around simple “national liberation”. Black also infers that Stark maintained connections to the P-2 Masonic Lodge in Italy, but the extent of his involvement is not clear.
Perhaps Stark’s political orientation can be distilled from one of his few known influences: Robert Heinlein’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress:
“He saw it as a revolutionary ‘handbook’, every bit as inspirational as the writings of Che Guevara. Heinlein’s novel, a hard-boiled political fairytale set in the year 2075, is about a penal colony on the Moon. The million inhabitants – who are housed in huge domes containing artificial atmospheres – are either Earth deportees or their descendents. They cannot return because once their bodies adapt to the Moon’s gravity they can never readapt to the gravity of Earth. This lunar prison is brutally administered by a United Nations-appointed governor, who the revolutionaries try to overthrow. One of them, a character called ‘the Prof’, explains:
‘…revolutions are not won by enlisting the masses. Revolution is a science for the few who are competent to practice it. It depends on correct organisation and above all, on communications.’
The conspiracy starts with three eople… these three in turn recruit two other people to form three new cells. This recruitment process continues until a large network of cells is built up. The advantage of the structure is that if cell members do not know each other’s sub-cells, then they cannot give them away if captured. The drawback is that if a single cadre is arrested and cannot resist interrogation, then the enemy can arrest the half-a-dozen comrades he or she knows and thus reach the sub-cells. This, it becomes possible for the authorities to break the revolutionaries’ chain of command and communications.
A more sophisticated system discussed in Heinlein’s book is a pyramid-of-pyramids setup – a sort of ‘Internet’ without the computers:
‘Where vertices are common, each bloke knows one in an an adjoining cell… Communications never break down because they run sideways as well as up and down. Something like a neural net.’
Damage can be stemmed and repaired because the cell member who discovers a breach in the network can pass warnings without having to know who receives the messages.
The notion of revolutionary organisation as an imitation of a ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ hierarchy is not new. Historically, August Blanqui, the most accomplished revolutionary conspirator in 19th century France, had very similar ideas about revolutionary organisation. In Heinlein’s futuristic vision, however, the notion is given a neat twist: the conspiracy is helped by a miraculous super-computer, which is so powerful and complex that it ‘wakes up’ and becomes ‘self-conscious’. The computer develops a sense of ‘humour’ about the ‘stupidity’ of the colonial administration, plus a ‘rational will’ to overthrow them.
The conspirators use the computer to set up front companies and fraudulently appropriate funds on the terrestrial stock exchanges. They then use the money to set up secret facilities for development of revolutionary war technology. In this scenario, then Big Brother’s Brain, a scientific rationality, can be detached from ruling class control and harnessed to the revolution.
As a ‘rational anarchist’, the Prof believes that the concept of the State has no existence except as ‘physicall exemplified in the acts of self-responsible individuals.’ This implies that collaboration with the state is justifiable as a disguise within the strategy of systematic deception of everyone apart from those who are required to be ‘in the know’ for particular functions.
Stark’s keen interest in these ideas is perhaps a pointer to his modus operandi. And if he really did think of himself as a revolutionary who could make use of state agencies and capitalist technology on his own terms, he was not unique in the history of politics. In the 1840’s, Pierre Proudhon, a founding father of French socialism (and opponent of Blanqui), dismissed the problem of secret police spies and provocateurs in his movement. Such actions, he claimed, were ‘irrelevant’ to someone such as himself: a ‘new man… whose style is not the barricades but discussion, a man who could sit at a table with the chief of police each evening and take all the spies in the world into his confidence.’
In Ron Stark’s case, operating very much in the 20th century, political activism went far beyond discussion. Whilst he could sit at all sorts of tables, he had a certain liking for barricades as well.’ (p. 149-151)
In a more base sense, the highly intelligent Stark was probably just
having quite a bit of fun: between leading his jet set lifestyle (which included a Manhattan apartment replete with original Picasso paintings), setting up front companies to facilitate the manufacture of LSD, and inhabiting a social milieu replete with the most colorful “characters” that one could imagine, his life was certainly worthy of fiction. Stark was clearly motivated by profit, but if he could justify his actions with idealism, then all the better. Idealism mixed with lucre finds its most potent expression in the drug ideologue: yes, he’s helping people find God, but he’s also a capitalist.
In close, Black’s book comes with my highest recommendation: not only is the subject matter fascinating, but it’s a first-rate piece of journalism.
Posted by Dark Sorcerer 17 December 2005
FOOTNOTE: A correction is necessary for this otherwise excellent review from 2005. David Black writes in Acid Outlaws (2019):
“It cannot be pointed out often enough that the widely-circulated story that Francis Crick discovered DNA whilst tripping on acid is fake-news, and has been thoroughly debunked. See Andy Roberts, ‘Francis Crick, DNA & LSD: Psychedelic History in the Age of Science’, Psychedelic Press U.K., Volume 2. 2015.”