Heatwave thirty years later

(#26, 1996)

This originally-mimeographed magazine, published in July 1966, was reprinted as a photocopy in 1993 by Chronos Publications (BM Chronos London WC1N 3XX). Though only two issues of Heatwave were ever published, it remains a noteworthy publication. In their November 1966 pamphlet "On the Poverty of Student Life," the Situationist International -- apropos of "profoundly revolutionary tendencies in the critique of all aspects of the prevailing way of life" -- wrote, "One thinks here of the excellent journal Heatwave, which seems to be evolving toward an increasingly rigorous radicality." In December 1966, Heatwave's editor Charles Radcliffe was admitted into the Situationist International as a member of its British section. But within a year, the British section no longer existed: Radcliffe resigned in November 1967, and Christopher Gray, Donald-Nicholson Smith and T.J. Clark were excluded in December 1967. The British never did produce a review of their section of the SI -- though they did write a detailed manifesto in 1967 -- and so the reprinting of Heatwave #1 furnishes us with a rare opportunity to examine and evaluate a (pre)situationist discourse that speaks to us in our native language and not in translation. (Other situationist publications originally written in English were published by the American section of the SI.)

"On May Day [1966], the first Anglo-American edition of the Chicago wobblies' The Rebel Worker was published here [in London] because a group of us felt there was an audience in Britain for an experimental, perhaps slightly crazed libertarian socialist journal," Radcliffe explains at the very beginning of Heatwave #1. "The Rebel Worker will continue to be published from Chicago; the London group will publish HEATWAVE." The Rebel Worker group in Chicago -- which seems to have included Franklin and Penelope Rosemont, and Bernard Marszalek -- was strongly influenced by the situationists: they rebelled against being workers. In 1965, these Chicago wobblies (that is to say, these members of the persecuted but undefeated Industrial Workers of the World) distributed copies of the situationists' reading and encouragement of the riots in Watts ("The Decline & Fall of the Spectacular Commodity Economy," first published in English and only later translated [back] into French) as well as their own pamphlets. Issue #6 of The Rebel Worker -- "the issue that started HEATWAVE" and is advertized in it -- contains an essay on subject matter that the situationists found interesting; furthermore, this essay bears the type of title ("The Precursors of the Theory of Total Liberation") that the SI favored in its publications.

This point of contact between the "old" form taken by the international workers' movement (as embodied by the Wobblies, founded in Chicago in 1905) and the "new" form taken by that movement (as embodied by the Situationist International) is highly unusual and very instructive. For one thing, situationist style demands that, in general, there be as few points of contact between the "new" and the "old" forms of struggle as possible. In this way, the SI attempted to prevent current struggles from clinging to spectacular fragments of the past and thus losing the ability or opportunity to construct a totally new world in part based upon what has happened since the crushing of the earlier revolutionary movements. But there have to be some points of contact between past and present, "old" and "new," for the latter to come into existence and sustain itself.

In marked contrast to the Wobbly/Heatwave group and perhaps to the British section of the SI as well, the Lettrist International and the other small European groups that came together to form the SI only found points of contact between itself and prior movements in the artistic field; none of their points of contact were in the field of the labor movement. Guy Debord's crucial June 1957 "Report on the Construction of Situations and on the International Situationist Tendency's Conditions of Organization and Action" is mostly interested in what, in 1957, was left of revolutionary surrealism, and not what was left of the socialist labor movement. And yet, from beginning to end, situationist theory relies very strongly -- perhaps even ultimately -- on terms and concepts drawn not from the vocabulary of art criticism or art history, but from the vocabulary of a German 19th century economist and the international revolutionary labor movement he helped to launch.

Unfortunately, Marxism is a revolutionary philosophy of history and action that has never had an adequate appreciation for or relationship to the creative arts. Indeed, the very premise of the foundation of the Situationist International in 1957 was that it was urgent and (at last) possible to reconcile or realign Marxism with anti-bourgeois art, and thus begin again the proletarian assault on capitalism. But, despite its successes with re-introducing the "modern world" to revolution, the SI only transcended the contradiction between revolutionary politics and revolutionary art in its words. Significantly, the SI's most notable internal battles were fought between "artistic" situationists and "political" situationists, not between "proletarians" and "militant intellectuals," which would have been the case had the SI had been a "traditional" (i.e., Leninist, Stalinist, Communist, Trotskyist, Bordigist, or Maoist) revolutionary organization, which it obviously was not. But the SI cannot be spared from the criticisms that its members, whether they were "artists" or "politicos," were drawn from the bourgeoisie, and not from the working-classes; that the proportion of workers to nonworkers in the SI was even worse than the proportion found in the first congresses of the Russian Social-Democrat Workers Party -- a proportion that is mocked by the situationist Rene Riesel in his "Preliminaries on the Councils and Councilist Organization" (a text under discussion elsewhere in this issue).

The striking thing about Heatwave #1 is that it shows aspects of the "traditional," revolutionary socialist labor movement and the newly-emerging situationist project co-existing in a single, relatively coherent format. Written between July 1965 and June 1966, and presented in chronological order, the essays in Heatwave #1 are pretty much equally divided between texts written by members of the Rebel Worker/Heatwave group and texts written by nongroup members and originally published elsewhere. Among the former group of texts are short, precise and insightful articles about income policies and the Dutch trade union movement ("Strange Adventures in Holland," by Gaby Charing); the Puerto Rican riots that took place in Chicago during June 1966 (Bernard Marszalek's "Footnote to The Long Hot Summer"); and the Dutch "Provo" movement (Charles Radcliffe's "Daytripper: A Visit to Amsterdam: June 22, 1966"). The reprinted texts include news reports on and statements issued by the Provos in Amsterdam (one such statement, entitled "What is the Provotariat?" was originally published in French in the socialist workers' publication Informations, Correspondence Ourviers); a statement from a NYC group -- apparently lead by one Jonathan Leake -- called the Resurgence Youth Movement; and a flyer or two (one of which is about the war in Vietnam) issued by Wobblies in Chicago. The overall feel is inclusive, nonsectarian and in-touch: the "Advertisers' Announcements" page features spots for English luddites, Belgian provos, and the Solidarity group (an English version of Socialisme ou Barbarie in France).

It is also striking that several of the articles in Heatwave #1 are about cultural and personal subjects. Mixed in with the aforementioned essays on current events and oppositional groups -- all of which are sober, well-considered and "detached" -- there are several unabashed, "slightly crazed" and still fresh forays into pop culture. These include an addiction diary in the style of William S. Burroughs ("The Expanded Journal of Addiction," written during 1965, the year the censorship of Naked Lunch made it and its author international news items); a book review of Dave Wallis' Pop dystopian novel Only Lovers Left Alive (originally published in 1964 and reprinted the following year as a paperback); and a long piece by Charles Radcliffe (entitled "The Seeds of Social Destruction") on such "groupings of disaffected youth" as the Teddy Boys, the drag-racing Ton-up Kids, the Beats, the Ban-the-Bombers, the Ravers, the Mods and the Rockers.

The reasons for the inclusion of these articles into Heatwave are clear: pop culture, consumerism and subcultural "style" are phenomena that modern workers have directly experienced, have questioned deeply, and have understood at a profound level. It isn't at all relevant, important or even interesting that classical Marxism and its contemporary adherents disapprove of these phenomena as distracting, degenerate or "superficial." What is truly relevant, important and interesting is the question, Toward what end will modern workers put their understanding of these phenomena? Heatwave answers: Toward the autonomous creation of a society without classes and exploitation. If this goal seems fantastically out-of-reach to those who pride themselves on the "fact" that they "live in the real world," Heatwave is not worried. "Nothing can stop me! I'm the Hulk! I'm the strongest there is!" says a comic book hero on the page Radcliffe devotes to past issues of The Rebel Worker and to future issues of his own zine. "Careful? Ya never get to be a comic book hero by bein' careful," says another. And, of course, he is right.



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