* *



Lacking the patience, time and a suitable temperament to do more than offer a summary of what an orthodox scholar could spend a lifetime researching, I cannot pretend to have produced a definitive history. However, the sketch I have presented should prove sufficient to convince even the most cynical observer that there is a tradition that runs from futurism to Class War, and that from Lettrisme onwards it has - to date - remained (in English at least) largely unwritten. This discourse is a form of politico-cultural agitation and protest - and if a term is required to describe it, the word samizdat is more suitable than any of the conventional names. It is a dissident tradition, concerned with self-organisation, its adherents often carrying out actions and simultaneously documenting them. The vast majority of its texts are self-published, as are many of the commentaries on the individual movements that make up this lineage.

However, Samizdat - when one applies the term in a context wider than the original Russian meaning - is far more than self-publishing. As a tradition it is by necessity collective. Politically, it usually takes the guise of anti-bolshevik communism - although a minority of its partisans have adhered to Trotskyism, fascism, and even Stalinism. Since it is not - strictly speaking - a political tradition, its ideological base is not always explicit. However, since in most manifestations it emphasises collective action, there is an implicit socialism.

Virtually all those involved with samizdat since 1945 have been aware of futurism and dada as precursors to their own activities. For example, Gordon W. Zealot in "Neoism Om Taka Taka" (Computer Graphic Conspiracy, Montreal 1986) wrote the following:

"I was a pilgrim in the parched bleakness of official culture, the bankrupt paucity, the de-colapso (sic) of organized art. I was kicked out of school at I5 yrs for reciting Tristan Tzara's poetry at the parent-teacher night at our art school. My assistant threw buckets of wet cooked spaghetti on the guests and teachers and we chopped up the stage with axes."

While Guy Debord wrote in "Society Of The Spectacle":

"Dadaism and surrealism are the two currents which could mark the end of modem art. Though only in a relatively conscious manner, they are contemporaries 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 decay they had announced, is the basic reason for their immobilization. Dadaism and surrealism are at once historically related and opposed. This opposition, which constitutes the most important and radical part of the contribution of each, reveals the internal inadequacy of their critique, developed one-sidedly by each. Dadaism wanted to suppress art without realizing it; surrealism wanted to realize art without suppressing it. The critical position later elaborated by the situationists has shown that the suppression and the realization of art are inseparable aspects of the same overcoming of art."

While all the samizdat traditions from Lettrisme onwards recognise the importance of futurism, dadaism and - to a far lesser extent - surrealism, the use each of these later tendencies make of their precursors vary; although all ultimately use such history as a justification of their own position. While these early developments have been subject to varied interpretations and their historification has tended to take the form of blatant misrepresentation, at least the lies and distortions made about them are not as great as those made about the tendencies that emerged after 1945. Specto-situationism, in particular, has been subject to distortion by its participants and followers. In the English speaking world, only the political texts of the situationist movement have been translated and published by the movement's followers. Thus it is possible for a pro-situ such as Larry Law to make the following claims in his pamphlet "Buffo!" (Spectacular Times, London 1984):

"In 1958 in Italy, Situationist International member Giuseppe Pinot-Gallizio exhibited the first examples of 'industrial painting'. A machine spoldged paint as the canvas was fed through from a large roll. A leaflet by Michele Bernstein read: "Among the advantages... no more problems with format, the canvas being cut under the eyes of the satisfied customer; no more uncreative periods, the inspiration behind industrial painting, thanks to a well contrived balance of chance and machinery, never drying up, no more metaphysical themes, machines aren't up to them; no more dubious reproductions of the Masters; no more vemissages. And naturally, very soon, no more painters, not even in Italy".
Despite their great difficulty in keeping a straight face, the perpetrators exhibited and sold 'industrial painting' in Turin, Milan and Venice."

As we have seen, Gallizio and the SI were serious about industrial painting (IP) as a subversive force; and the term was used to describe the volume in which it was produced rather than the method of production. IP was created using traditional craft methods, and there were never any machines that splodged paint onto canvas - despite Law's fantasies.
Samizdat movements, being Utopian, seek to intervene in all areas of life.
However, the anti-professionalism of samizdat biases it in favour of cultural and political activities and away from serious scientific investigation. Since western society encourages specialisation, once any given samizdat movement looses its dynamism it tends to be pushed into a single arena of contestation. Thus when the Situationist International split into two rival factions in 1962, one faction became known as artists and the other as political theorists.

Although in most cases samizdat movements tend to be most dynamic in their early period, this is not always the case. Neoism, for example, consisted of little more than juvenile pranks until the Montreal group was augmented by groups and individuals in other parts of North America - and later Europe. However, this is an exception, and it is unfortunate that many samizdat movements did not call it a day long before their final disintegration.

Samizdat adherents find a sense of identity in their opposition to what is considered conventional by Western society. Shock tactics are often employed to help maintain a sense of differentiation. If similar tactics are repeated too often they soon lose their impact. Iconoclasm has, by its very nature, a limited life-span. A movement such as fluxus would be far more satisfactory if it had disbanded in 1966.

Samizdat is riddled with contradictions. However, this does not prevent the listing (as has been done in the introduction) of certain key characteristics.
Despite being a sensibility, it is possible to give a meaningful description of samizdat to sympathetic observers who have had no personal involvement with the tradition. Even those who place themselves in opposition to the samizdat tradition are made aware - usually to their distaste - of certain cognitive and physical possibilities, upon coming into contact (either first-hand or through media reports) with the actions of those who adhere to this brand of madness.

To make the task of documenting a part of its history easier, I have not dealt with the relationship of terrorist groups (such as the Angry Brigade) to the samizdat tradition. (1) I have also failed to deal with certain seminal contributions - such as Valerie Solanas's "S.C.U.M. Manifesto" - (2), or to resolve all the contradictions regarding the treatment of art and politics as discourses that samizdat opposes. These omissions can be dealt with at a later date.

Samizdat is a living tradition. As long as the present society persists there will be opposition to it. Any individual movement that attempts to locate itself a priori at the beginning or end of this tradition is not worthy of a place within it. The construction of this particular history does not mark the end of samizdat as a tradition. New movements will emerge and obviously I am - as yet - in no position to document them.

I hope the successes of samizdat are more than sufficient proof that cultural, as well as political, agitation is required if radical ideas are to have any impact on the repulsive society in which we live. This cultural agitation does not attempt to hide its propagandist purposes behind a charade of universal meanings. As a result, I don't expect single strands of it to speak to even a majority of the population at any given time. Everyone likes entertainment that panders to their own particular ideological beliefs, samizdat speaks to those who want it - and negatively to those who don't.
Considering that the mental sets of the ruling class are imposed on the general population through the education system and the mass media, samizdat is remarkably successful.

1. I have also tended to ignore geographical differences and have over-emphasised the various movements' similarities. For example, Lettrisme and specto-situationist theory are very obviously a product of French culture (in the broadest sense of the term), whereas punk and Class War are just as obviously British in origin. Similarly, specto-situationist theory, with its implicit belief that capitalism has overcome its economic contradictions, is clearly a product of the fifties and sixties - when the world economy was expanding rather than depressed. I have not dealt with the geographical and time specificness of these movements to any great degree, so that I could shorten and simplify my argument.

2. Ignorance of ultra-feminism forces me to refrain from speculating about the place of Solanas's text within the samizdat tradition. It seems wrong to divorce it from the milieu within which it emerged, and then simply slot it in with other material to which I feel it has a conceptual affinity. Similarly, I have not written about Japanese phenomena such as Gutai, because I simply don't have enough information with which to judge whether they form a part of the tradition I am writing about.

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