Italy’s ‘Metropolitan Indians’ (Indiani Metropolitani) have only more recently become the subject of English-language scholarship, notably barely getting a mention in Robert Lumley’s important volume States of Emergency: Cultures of Revolt in Italy from 1968 to 1978. Patrick Cuninghame has written a very helpful piece contextualizing and discussing the group(s) (here), and there are other research projects in development. For example, Martina Caruso’s project (here), in which she notes: “In Rome, an extreme left-wing political faction, the Indiani Metropolitani (Metropolitan Indians) sought to imitate Native People’s dress and ways of life as a form of protest. With twenty-first century decolonial hindsight, the imitation of Native Cultures can be considered an unrefined form of cultural appropriation.”
Lumley does a does a good job contextualizing the faction, which we quote at length:
“The novelty the new [youth] movement sprang from its assertion of a ‘youth identity’, which had been repressed or displaced the student and worker politics of the late sixties and early seventies. But that identity was not perceived exclusively in terms of a youth experience or situation; rather it was taken to be emblematic of a situation typical of the modern metropolis. Youth was made to signify exclusion, marginality, and deviance. To be young and working class in a city like Milan meant living in the housing estates of the outskirts and making a living on the margins of the labour market. In official discourse, this situation was described as a ‘social problem’ and a ‘sickness’ that needed to be cured (once, that is, young people began to protest). But, in the language of the movement itself, the identity associated with deviance and marginality was claimed and appropriated by its participants. The ‘Metropolitan Indian’, who wore warpaint and uttered transgressive chants, did not ask to be ‘integrated’; s/he mocked Western ‘civilization’ and its values. The unemployed asked not for the right to work, but for the right to develop their individual capacities to enjoy themselves” (p. 296).
The instant article was published in 1977 in Rolling Stone. We couldn’t locate it online, so we scanned it. Much of the article provides a rather intense depiction of the years of lead, the strategy of tension in real-time, and a contemporaneous account geared toward an English-speaking audience. Emotionally, it is a difficult article to read. As an introduction to the Movement of ’77 and its context, and the Metropolitan Indians, it is recommended. We have uploaded it as a PDF to Libcom, here. The remaining pages are also posted below.
Following the dissolution of the U.S. section of the Situationist International, Bruce Elwell, one of its founding members, published many writings under the pseudonym “Barbarians for Socialism” (obviously a play on ‘socialism or barbarism’). To the best of our knowledge, many (probably most) of these writings were not actually published (Bill Brown of NOT BORED! has a listing of some of them on his bibliography of American SI writings, here). OCLC locates two holdings: a folder held by MoMA (here and also mentioned in the book Dark Matter, p. 53, here) and this 1979 piece, which is held by just a handful of institutions internationally.
Little has been written about Elwell’s publications following the dissolution of the American branch of the SI. The Wise brothers (BM Blob) in their classic pamphlet A Summer with a Thousand July’s mentioned that Elwell had written “one of the best leaflets” on the Brixton riots of ’81 (here). But we’ve been able to find little else.
The piece by Elwell is entitled “Caged Heat” ands refers to the former site of the Brooklyn House of Women’s Detention. The prison was built on the location of a former prison and courthouse. It was demolished in 1974. Here is a piece from the January 9th edition of the Daily News that illustrates its transformation:
Just Another Asshole was a No Wave zine that was an important piece of the Lower East Side artist and underground scene of the late 1970s/early 1980s. Issue #3 was unique to the publication in that it was a graphic arts issue, and there were over a hundred contributors. It’s really a beautiful publication that we got lost in for a couple of hours.
The Barbarians for Socialism piece, written in “cooperation” with the “Anti-Stupefactionist League” is on a page split with artist Dan Graham. It is on the right side of the page.
We reproduce “Caged Heat” below, as it is not otherwise found online:
The Van Der Plas Gallery in Manhattan’s Lower East Side is nearing the end of its Doo Da! Forever!exhibit of E.F. Higgins III work, and its 10 Ton Show group exhibit. We were finally able to get to the gallery this weekend to see it and were quite excited to do so.
The relation between autonomist Marxism and these showings may not be readily apparent, and for the most part the connection is peripheral, but there are some connecting threads.
Higgins, who died last year, was a legend in the world of mail art, in which hundreds, possibly thousands, of individuals created an important international network (what would be called “the eternal network”) of autonomous artistic communication, with its heyday between the late 1970s and into the early 1990s (of course, mail art networks still exist). Mail art wasn’t a banner-waving form of politics, but the very act of subverting the entire gallery system to the extent these artists did, while crafting alternative networks of collective creativity, was an important example of circulating self-organizing and, perhaps, “self-valorization” or even “substruction” (to use a loose reading of p.m.’s concept in bolo’ bolo). It would be fundamentally wrong to make the argument that mail art, in its heyday, was a political project aimed at overcoming capitalism – it was not. However, the substance of mail art networks had important subverting and creating effects, and within the world of mail art there were some artists that incorporated autonomist and situationist concepts, including self-activity, class struggle, and detournement. (On the question of the possibilities for DIY to subvert capitalist relations, readers may be interested in this article we co-authored many years back, see p. 44-61).
In New York City some of the mail artists were also involved in what would be called the Rivington School. Higgins was one significant participant; so was Istvan Kantor – who began using the name Monty Cantsin in the late 1970. Cynthia Carr, in her stinging essay “The Triumph of Neoism. The Millionth Apartment Festival” (1988) explains:
“Monty Cantsin” – an “open pop star” – was a name, an identity, an idea invented in the late seventies by David Zack, a mail artists. Anyone could be Monty Cantsin. The name would then become famous, to the benefit of every Monty Cantsin. But the person most identified with the name is Istvan Kantor – construction worker, nurse, Canadian citizen, and native of Budapest. For this, Kantor/Cantsin has taken some neoflack in the neozine Smile (“Free to Shoplifters”). In a philosophy where nothing matters, it’s funny what does matter (p. 106).
Cantsin/Kantor is also the person often associated with “Neoism,” which as a provocative tradition (if it could be called that), which picks up inspiration from nihilism, situationist practice, punk, among other schools of activity and thought (notably, its participants would likely deny any of that). As a child, Kantor was a participant in the Hungarian Revolution and in a wide-ranging and important interview with Rafael Gonzalez he explained:
“Traumatic experiences are often the driving forces, the sources of motivation for making art. My most important traumatic experience was the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. I ran out from the air raid shelter where my whole family and other people stayed during the uprising, and in the street I pointed my toy gun to a convoy of Russian tanks. They stopped and a soldier jumped out from the leading vehicle and approached me. I ran back to the building and hid in a dark corner. The Russians surrounded the buildings and looked for me. In those times lots of kids threw MOLOTOV cocktails to Russian tanks and got killed. I only used a gesture but it was powerful enough to scare them. I was lucky enough that the janitor of the building could speak some Russian and calmed them down. And perhaps they were on some other mission anyway and so they left. People in the air raid shelter ritualistically broke my toy gun, that my grandfather made me, to small pieces. That was the first time that I confronted authorities at gunpoint using a gesture and it determined the rest of my life. I was 7 years old.”
The name “Monty Cantsin”, along with Karen Eliot and other ‘multiple identities’ would become commonly used among explicit participants in neoism in the mail art networks internationally (Stewart Home was another notable participant. Some of the works of these folks also show up in Cleaver’s listing of autonomist Marxist-related materials, here).
The exhibit at the Van Der Plas gallery occur on two floors – one at street level and one in the downstairs show room. The Higgins work is in the main gallery space, at street level, while the 10 Tons show is in the basement. Our main interest in the 10 Tons Show was Cantsin’s pieces. We include pictures of those here:
The gallery is on Orchard Street, right near Rivington Street, in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The neighborhood is largely unrecognizable from what it looked like in the 1980s. The last remaining quasi-anarchist bookstore lost its space in the neighborhood due to rising rents, and there’s a CBD shop now in its place. The towers on Ludlow are overwhelming. One can’t help but wonder how an artist like Kantor experiences the area now. That curiosity aside, it was nice to see an exhibit of Higgins’ work, in particular. The gallery produced a small catalogue for the show and below is a picture of the opening pages, a picture of Kantor and Higgins and a short essay penned by Kantor about Higgins:
A rare broadside produced by the French group Les Fossoyeurs du vieux monde, early into their collective interventions, likely printed in 1977. In May of 1977 the group hung a banner reading “FETE DE L’Alienation !!” [Festival of Alienation! or Alienation Day!] over the May Day march in Paris, apparently stunning those who saw it. The piece is full of contempt for the CGT and the ritualized march.
Les Fossoyeurs du vieux monde, and the participants’ later project Os Cangaceiros, became known in France, and later in anarchist and post-situationist circles internationally, for their analyses and direct actions. (We have mentioned them briefly elsewhere on this blog).
There is little available about this broadside. The picture from the action was later reproduced as a postcard (see here), and a collection of Les Fossoyeurs du vieux monde’s writings can be found here. We locate no institutional holdings.
For english-language speakers we produce a rough translation below (with significant help from Deepl).
MAY 1, 1977. FOR 25 MINUTES AN IDEA PARALYZES 500 BUREAUCRATS AND 100,000 ASSHOLES.
The police union is once more defeated by the truth. While the sinister convoy was heading, as every year for 40 years, to its dreary destiny and the cappa maffiosi were at the level of the Hotel Sully, on Saint-Antoine Street, a banner 15 meters long, thanks to an ingenious mechanism, was instantly and majestically deployed at 12 meters above the heads of the union racketeers and their clients. It proudly snaps in the wind and strikes with astonishment the greedy tramps of the big men of the security service. It simply asserts, in letters 1 meter high, perfectly visible and perfectly readable by the 10 000 people massed from the Place Saint-Paul to the Place de la Bastille, the truth of this subhuman gathering: ALIENATION FESTIVAL!
Where the enemy thought he was invincible, we found the weakest point: the cegetistas [members of the CGT] big guns proved to be totally impassive in front of the idea’s omnipotence. An idea triumphs undisturbed with sobriety and elegance (for 800 francs including alcohol). For 25 minutes  it immobilizes the ridiculous march and generates a fantastic banner giving to the enemy a preview of its next rout. Following the derisory braying of the common programmers yelping their usual slogans, a stupefying silence of 1,000 meters long falls on the grotesque cohort. The cheerleaders stand still with one thigh in the air, disembodied [desemparees]. But above all, thanks to the clever set-up mechanism , which required the intervention of only one person, we were able to savor, together with the public and the scavengers themselves, the stupefied and furious discomfiture of our victims. Some of us had even pushed the concern of anonymity to the point of wearing infamous C.G.T. badges.
We witnessed a clear movement of sympathy, approval and cheerful chatter among the public on the sidewalk, which was not smothered by the union salute. A good number of amateur photographers equipped with splendid Japanese cameras shot all this time the infamy which hung over all this disorder.
We had a good laugh. That’s an understatement. Only we knew why we were there. We didn’t suffer any losses, not a single scratch, and all the pictures are good. Thank you for your help. Bureaucrats you got it in the ass and you will get it again. SOWETO. LISBON. DAKAR. ROME. See you next time!
 We have thus immobilized the union shit 25 times longer than the first emergency valve of the Ecofisk platform immobilized the black shit [likely referring to the massive oil blowout at the Ekofisk Bravo platform in April 1977].
 However, this was not yet expertise: if, in addition to the strong chain which ended the cable and which gave the union acrobat a lot of trouble, we had put black soap on the lamp post, the banner would have lasted 30 minutes longer and, in addition to the regular troops of the bureaucracy, all the leftist scum and small unions of everyday life would have come under our yoke.
Black Out: Giornale Metropolitano Delle Lotte Autonome (“‘Metropolitan Journal of Autonomous Struggles”) is a bit of a mystery. An internal note states it was sent to the printers on 1 February 1977 as a supplement to issue 24-25 of Rosso. However, it references the New York City Black Out of 1977, which occurred in July of that year, and there was no issue 24-25 of Rosso(there was a #23-24 and a #25-26). Mangano (1998, p. 93) states that it was published in February of 1978.
Black Out was produced during the years of lead and its content relates to struggles in Milan in that context. It positions itself as a place for analysis and development for collective struggle in the wake of the heavy year and movement of 1977, within the theoretical framework of class composition: “The enormous pulverization of the struggle movement in Milan has pushed us to create this newspaper as a possibility to have an instrument of connection of aggregation…giving voice to that enormous proletarian layer that has found in the movement of 77 its political reference and that today and scattered in the enormous metropolis of Milan” (a very rough translation from the introductory article).
The publication lists Emilio Vesce, an important militant in the Italian extra-parliamentary left, as the director responsible for the publication (Vesce was also the director of Rosso in 1978). Mangano (1998, p. 93) notes that there are other issues, though it’s unclear to us how many were published. Some of them, through the late 1980s (issue 9) are made available through the Archivio Autonomia site, here, with different subtitles.
This issue of the journal is scarce with none available in the trade at the time of writing and a single institutionally-held copy in the world (at Yale’s Beinecke Library). We have scanned the issue we hold and uploaded it to Libcom, here, for those interested.
There is frustratingly little about the struggles among the French autonomous left during the 1970s and 1980s that is written or translated into English. A useful, if brief, reflection can be found in an interview published in Jacques Lesage de La Haye’s small book, The Abolition of Prison (AK Press, 2021, pp. 103-116), as well as Leopold Roc’s discussion of Os Cangaceiros, published in the eighth issue of the anarchist journal Rolling Thunder (2009, here and here). Matin d’un Blues was one of the many interesting publishing efforts that autonomous organizers put together during those years, and ran for three issues, from 1978-1979. Most of the contents of the journals can be found online, via the Fragments d’Histoire de gauche radicale archive, here.
Sebastien Schifres has written a chapter on the group and posted it to his website, here. According to Schifres, the group was founded by former members of Camarades, most notably Bob Nadoulek, as well as participants in Marge, and was inspired by Italy’s Metropolitan Indians. The emphasis in Matin d’un Blues on ‘desiring autonomy’ (“autonomie désirante”) and cultural interventions, rather than the more strictly class struggle focus of Camarades. There is a strong situationist influence in both aesthetics and various written pieces in issues of the journal. Commentary found in the 1979 piece by Bob Nadoulek in Le Monde, entitled “La politique et le quotidien” (roughly, ‘politics and everyday life’) is also worth reading for a brief introduction to the group’s perspectives (here).
Issues of Matin d’un Blues are scarce and we locate only four archives holding copies internationally (here and here), all in Europe. We have only issue #2 in our holdings.
This striking poster uses the image on the cover of issue #2, though we have been unable to figure out if the poster was used to advertise for the specific issue or for the publication more generally. (We purchased our copy from someone who ran a bookshop in Paris in the 1970s, but did not recall any background of the poster). The smaller text along the top reads “autonomie offensive et creativitie” (roughly ‘offensive autonomy and creativity’) followed by “mais quand il ne reste que le choix des armes le desespoir n’a pas besoin de caution politique” along the bottom (roughly, ‘but when only the choice of weapons remains, despair does not need a political guarantee’).
To the best of our knowledge this is the sole poster that Bewick Editions, Martin Glaberman’s press, published. The poster measures 22 inches by 29 inches and is offset printed on thick white stock. As of 2001, Glaberman was selling poster for $6.00. It is scarce. OCLC locates a holding, at Penn State University library in their Special Collections department, which is an earlier (and similarly undated) version of the document.
The poster/pamphlet is a stunning piece. The text is from an interview published in the McGill Reporter on November 4, 1968. The interview was conducted by Michael Smith during the Congress of Black Writers, held in October of that year at McGill University in Montreal. Glaberman’s publication of the poster almost entirely a replica of the document as it appeared in the Reporter (pictured below). The text on the earlier version, pictured above, has a publication address of Facing Reality at 14131 Woodward in Detroit. The text on the later version that we hold simply states “Poster Pamphlet” on the bottom left and, on the bottom right, states Bewick Editions at the PO Box in Detroit. Presumably the “#1” is removed on the latter version because Glaberman did not print any other posters.
The phrase “you don’t play with revolution” is a near quote from James, as Smith’s interview notes, from his book Party Politics in the West Indies(1962). In 2009, AK Press printed a book entitled You Don’t Play With Revolution: The Montreal Lectures of C.L.R. James edited by David Smith. The book includes Smith’s interview as a chapter. Below we pull out the section of the interview where James clarifies what he means when he says not to play with revolution:
Dan Georgakas passed away yesterday, November 23rd, 2021. The National Herald ran an obituary here, and he maintained a sparsely updated website here.
Georgakas is one of those figures in the radical left whose work had a major impact across sectarian splits and whose name always seemed to be mentioned with appreciation. He helped found Black Mask/Up Against the Wall Motherfucker in the 1960s, was a prolific poet, a scholar of cinema among other subjects, and a lifelong activist.
A native of Detroit, Georgakas, in 1975, co-authored the classic study Detroit: I Do Mind Dying: A Study in Urban Revolution with Martin Surkin, which is one of the most important studies of revolutionary Black working class struggles in the 1960s and early 1970s.
There have been three editions published of the book:
Our copy of the first edition is signed by Georgakas.
Marxism and Freedom is the most impactful book that Raya Dunayveskaya would write in her decades of scholarship. Coming on the heels of Dunayevskaya’s split with Correspondence in 1955, Marxism and Freedom includes a breathtaking and brilliant analysis of Marxism, Trotskyism, and state capitalism. Dunayevsakya follows a militantly dialectical approach, building a narrative of Marxism that is carried and re-evaluated by proletarian struggles, this tour de force begins with the French Revolution and ends with mid-20th-century automation. It is the key text by which one can understand how Dunayevskaya’s reading of Marx’s ‘humanism’ was central to the split with James, and also learn how she situates the concept within Marxism, past and present.
It would be silly to try and do any sort of review of the book as a whole given the focus of this blog, so we’ll note just a handful of thoughts and observations that occurred to us while preparing this post.
There has been a growing number of Marx reading groups formed in recent years. Simultaneously, there has been an increasing interest in ‘guides’ to reading Capital: Harvey, Cleaver etc. It’s of note that Marxism and Freedom hasn’t seemed to draw attention as a guide, of sorts, to reading Marx, specifically but not limited to Capital. We hope that changes.
If one is interested in understanding the Marxism of the News & Letters group, in its best articulation, this is the go-to.
Dunayevskaya’s analysis of the French Revolution includes this stand out observation: “Democracy, thus, was not invented by philosophic theory nor by the bourgeois leadership. It was discovered by the masses in their methods of action. There is a double rhythm in destroying the old and creating the new which bears the unmistakable stamp of the self-activity, which is the truly working class way of knowing.”
Key to Dunayevskaya’s analysis is her centering of relations of production in understanding capitalism, rather than distribution.
In her analysis of the Russian Revolution, this quote: “Without the Humanism of Marx, and later, of Lenin, the economic theories of both are meaningless. Leaders are not classless creatures floating between heaven and earth. They are very much earth men. When they lose close connection with the working class, they begin to represent the only other fundamental class in society – the capitalist class.”
Marxism and Freedom is a very good example of efforts by Marxists within the broad autonomist tradition to rescue Lenin from Stalin and embrace Lenin as a revolutionary thinker. It’s often forgotten in discussion of autonomist Marxism as a broad tradition that many ‘autonomists’ – from Johnson-Forest through Negri and so on – have a deep appreciation for Lenin and Leninism. From our perspective this is generally cringeworthy, but nevertheless it is an important piece of the tradition, both organizationally and analytically.
In Marxism and Freedom, Dunayevskaya spares no blow at anarchists. This is seen in her analysis of Proudhon, but it shows up most forcefully in her analysis of anarchists during the early years of the Russian Revolution. She notes: “At this moment in our history – Lenin turned sharply to Shlyapnikov – you and your “Workers’ Opposition” are the greatest danger to our continued existence. Just look at your position, look at the Kronstadt mutiny and see how quickly the White Guards have grabbed on to the anarchistic, syndicalistic talk of ‘freedom from political leadership,’ and with guns in their hands, are threatening the new workers’ state.” In the endnote for that paragraph Dunayevskaya writes: “No one is as inventive in creating new words as those who try to hide an ugly truth. Thus, the Social Revolutionary, I.N. Steinberg, has invented for the word, counter-revolution, the expression “revolution within the revolution,” as the explanation for Kronstadt.” This is, from our point of view, a very unfortunate analysis of Kronstadt, which surely shouldn’t be reduced to a “counter-revolution.” Nonetheless, it is Dunayevskaya’s perspective.
We have a few copies of this book in our collection, but this copy is unique and a bit of a treasure. Dunayvskaya inscribed the book to John Miller in 1962:
John Miller was an autoworker who wrote a column for News & Letters for nearly two decades under the name John Allison. He died in 2003. News and Letters published an obituary:
This copy of the book seems to have traveled the used book trade. There’s a pricing of $.75 on the inside from a seller different from the one we purchased it from. A unique copy of this important text.
State Capitalism and World Revolution, first published in 1950, is perhaps the definitive polemic of the Johnson-Forest Tendency (JFT). The JFT’s lead theorists were C.L.R. James, Raya Dunayevsakaya, and Grace Lee (later Grace Lee Boggs). The essay provides a demolition of Stalinism and Trotskyism. It lays down an analysis of “state capitalism” based on a sharp reading of Capital, and also Lenin, which centers class struggle in production and locates the proletariat as the source of capitalist crisis. Paul Buhle (1986) has noted that the piece was “the last of James’ texts to be set in the classic Marxist-Leninist strategic framework” (p. xx).
There are at least 5 English-language editions of State Capitalism and World Revolution:
1950: The essay originally appeared in the September, 1950 Discussion Bulletin of the Socialist Workers Party (a scan is available here) and was credited to “Johnson-Forest.”
1956: Published by “a Marxist Group” with a preface by James, Castoriadis, Brendel et al (see below) in England. There was no new authorship claim in the second edition, and the collectively-signed preface, likely written by James, references authorship of State Capitalism with “The writers of the document” and that “They bring all phenomena into one integrated and growing body of theory, shedding new lights as new events unfold.”
1969: Published by Facing Reality Publishing Committee with authorship credited to James.
1986: Published by Charles H. Kerr with authorship credited to C.L.R. James. “[w]ritten in collaboration with Raya Dunayevskaya & Grace Lee.”
2013: Published by The Charles H. Kerr Library and PM Press, with authorship credited the same as the 1986 edition.
Authorship of State Capitalism is a bit contested. Martin Glaberman’s preface to the 1969 edition attributes the document to James in a context of collective activity.
However, Frank Rosengarten, in his important biography Urbane Revolutionary, credits the document to all three thinkers: “Two chapters of State Capitalism and World Revolution, jointly written by James, Raya Dunayevskaya, and Grace Boggs and published in 1950…” (p. 57). Rosengarten goes on to mention Lee and Dunayevskaya’s involvement in “discussions of the work-in-progress that eventually bore the name State Capitalism and World Revolution, but which first entitled Marxism and State Capitalism” (p. 61). And then Rosengarten challenges Glaberman’s claim on authorship (pardon our highlights/notes):
In a speech in 1985, Dunayevskaya stated the the work was written “under [James’] direction” (Dunayevskaya, 2013, p. 2). It seems to us that the collectively attributed authorship is likely the most accurate, so we are attributing it that way.
While the first edition of State Capitalism and World Revolution was published in the SWP’s Discussion Bulletin, based in New York City, the second edition was published in England. The publication was credited to “A Marxist Group” based in Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire. James had been in England for more than three years at this point, after he had been expelled from the United States. In his introduction to the 1969 edition, Glaberman notes: “When the second edition of State Capitalism and World Revolution was at the printer, the Hungarian Revolution exploded.”
The preface to the 1956 second edition, which was republished in the 1969 and 1986 editions (posted online here), is signed by six men: Johnson (C.L.R. James), Alan Christianson, Chaulieu (Cornelius Castoriadis), Cajo Brendel, Maassen (Theo Massen), and IP Hughes. In his 2006 essay, “Beyond the Boundary of Leninism? C.L.R. James and 1956”, James scholar Christian Høgsbjerg explores this eclectic grouping:
The second edition of State Capitalism and World Revolution is rare. OCLC locates one holding, in the Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan, but it’s also held in the C.L.R. James Papers at Columbia. At the time of writing there is one copy found in the trade at the indomitable Bibliomania in Oakland.