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31 August 2007

Counter-cultural Surrey

[This article was originally posted here]

Often regarded as a staunchly conservative English county, Surrey does have something of a history as a focus point for counter-cultural activity. During Cromwell's Republic, Gerrard Winstanley set up a commune on common land at St. Georges Hill, near Weybridge - now one of the most exclusive areas of the country. Those gathered around Winstanley were known as the Diggers (although they called themselves the True Levellers). They promoted a form of Christian anarcho-communism, stating in The True Leveller's Standard Advanced (1649) that:

[the] Earth (which was made to be a Common Treasury of relief for all, both Beasts and Men) was hedged in to In-closures by the teachers and rulers, and the others were made Servants and Slaves: And that Earth that is within this Creation made a Common Store-house for all, is bought and sold, and kept in the hands of a few, whereby the great Creator is mightily dishonoured, as if he were a respector of persons, delighting in the comfortable Livelihoods of some, and rejoycing in the miserable povertie and straits of others. From the beginning it was not so.


Winstanley explained his forward-thinking egalitarian beliefs in The New Law of Righteousness (1649):

Every one that gets an authority into his hands tyrannizes over others; as many husbands, parents, masters, magistrates, that live after the flesh do carry themselves like oppressing lords over such as are under them, not knowing that their wives, children, servants, subjects are their fellow creatures, and hath an equal privilege to share them in the blessing of liberty.

Needless to say the Diggers were harassed by local land owners and eventually the group dispersed. Nevertheless, their legacy lived on. In the 1960s a group in San Francisco called themselves the Diggers in memory of Winstanley et al.

In the Nineteenth Century, Surrey again played host to another experiment in communal living. A group centered on the christian socialist and education reformer James Pierrepont-Greaves set up a commune at Alcott House in Ham Common called the Concordium. The group, including Charles Lane, William Oldham, and Henry Gardner-Wright, believed that spiritual and social renewal would be achieved by a change of lifestyle. As such they promoted vegetarianism, hydrotherapy, mesmerism and other 'new age' ideologies.

3 August 2007

Forty years on: the 'Summer of Love' in retrospect (Part 2)

[This article was originally posted here]

Since the summer has returned here in the UK, I have returned to my review of online articles about the summer of 1967. First up, we have several reminiscences shared by denizens of San Joaquin County, CA on Recordnet.com's 'Recalling 1967's Summer of Love'. For other memories of that summer see the comments on James M. Kushiner's 'The Summer of Love at 40' article at Touchstone Magazine's Mere Comments blog.

The 2b1 Records website gives details of an Anniversary Concert co-ordinated by Boots Hughston, to be staged in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco on September 2nd. Many famous faces from 1967 will be performing, including 'Country' Joe McDonald and (what remains of) Canned Heat. A site dedicated to 30th anniversary celebrations of 'the Summer of Love' is still on-line.

9 July 2007

A quick 'shout out'...

... to Mark R. Stoneman and his History Survey Links blog. He has kindly added a link to my blog on that site. Check out his History Survey blog too.

7 July 2007

Forty years on: the 'Summer of Love' in retrospect (Part 1)

[This article was originally published here]

Four decades have now passed since what must rate as the high-point of counter-cultural activity in living memory. In early 1967, the simmering 'hippie' counter-culture of west-coast America boiled over into the mainstream media, which lapped it up and created the 'Summer of Love'. Now, as then, the media focuses much of its attention to the musicians who suffused their music with counter-cultural ideology: peace, love ('free' if possible) and psychedelic experience. At the time, these musicians became spokespersons for a generation, now they are spokespersons for an age.

Many of these appear on MSNBC's "Summer of Love +40" site, including 'Country' Joe McDonald, whose late-60s wedding service appears in one of my recent blog entries. MSNBC include pages on all the expected themes, however, the site does draw attention to less pastoral experiences of that summer by including civil-rights activists such as Bobby Seale and Jesse Jackson in their 'Where are they now?' section. Elsewhere in the mass media, PBS have made the "Summer of Love" episode of the American Experience series available to view on-line.

San Francisco was the epicentre of hippie counter-culture but the San Francisco Chronicle's "Summer of Love: 40 Years Later" website takes a more critical view of events of the time. They contrast the fleeting experience of 'peace and love' that many felt with the long-lasting impact that summer had on America. San Francisco was not the only place that a smelled change in the air, as Mark Jacobson recalls in his article "Long Hot Summer of Love" for New York Magazine.

More links to sites celebrating the fortieth anniversary soon.

27 June 2007

So, what is counter culture anyway?

The term 'counter culture' was coined by Theodore Roszac in 1968. Roszac used the term to refer to those western left-leaning youths and a few of their older mentors who challenged what he saw as the Technocracy (as Roszac defined it: 'that social form in which an industrial society reaches the peak of its organizational integration'). Roszac noted that, unlike previous revolutionary movements, the counter culture operated during a time of plenty (between 1942 and 1972), as opposed to the times of dearth more commonly associated with revolutionaries - such as the sans culottes of the French Revolution. Roszac also associated the movement with the middle-class youth, those best equipped to challenge the political status quo from a position of relative economic security. These leftist youths of the 'middling sort' eschewed traditional methods of resistance, which would only have co-opted them into the Technocracy, but rather offered an alternative communal lifestyle where every act could be an act of resistance.

My usage of the term 'counter culture' is much wider. I use it to refer to any movement which promotes a lifestyle that is a direct challenge to the socio-political norms. This usage allows me to include movements and groups that emerged in a variety of societies and economic conditions, such as the Diggers during the British Republic. What makes a counter culture, as far as I am concerned, is the choice of lifestyle as resistance; a lifestyle which is independent of the wider politics of the day.

Sources: T. Roszac, The Making Of A Counter Culture (1995 edition) [pdf]

14 June 2007

Wedding Service For Country Joe

What follows is a transcript of the wedding service of 'Country' Joe McDonald (of Country Joe and the Fish fame) and Robin Menken. Dating from the late 1960s, the text is a mix of hippie irony, idealism and iconoclasm that gives us an insight into the all pervasive nature of politics at the time.


Dear friends, the pastor would say,
You are gathered together to witness,
He would continue, a ceremony of holy matrimony.
What a beautiful dress
Doesn't he look nice
Is she crying
It's just because she's happy
And what has this got do with Vietnam
and what city is it this time?
Khe San, Memphis, Hue, Panama
No, it is San Francisco
The Mission
A slum
And what are Protestants doing in this neighborhood?
No matter
The Lord spoke unto Abraham and said
ye shall have faith in my wisdom and ye shall
do my bidding, ye shall convert the Indians and Niggers and Spics
He always uses ye not you; he's not talking to us
Ye shall return to the spirit of the Sierra Maestra
and ye shall be ascetics and make the world cry
with electric music and sad and funny theatre
for ye are the blessed children and carry the seed
of the new, always new, hope and faith that this
world shall be and it shall be and it shall be
Boroch ataw adenoih elehanu meloch olum
Yatta, yatta, yatta rabbi
Cut all that shit and tell us why we are here
You're here because you're invited except for the crashers
and you have to sit through this part because if you
want to eat the food and drink the booze you have
to sit through this part. That's the way it's always been.
There is a specter haunting the world
And it's not Phil
and hammers and sickles castrated our parents, the good ones anyway
Eisenhower and Krushscev buried together
in Disneyland or Outer Space
and we have come back to the heritage of Moses
stuttering, stammering poor kike, diddled by
Egyptian chicks, and fed with the affluence
of slavery and one day like the good hippie
he was he said Feh, which was the old way to say Fuck it
and he said to his people let's split and sure enough
on the way to the rural commune some Ingmar Bergman character
jumps out of a burning shrub of marijuana and says
I'm God buddy and you listen to me
And the sons of Moses listened and the prayed and
by the large they were peaceful but their music
got behind and they got righteous and full of pity for the Dead and
they kill
Arabs and burn villages just like Americans,
just like Germans, just like Christians and Muslims
But enough of foreign religion
Mah Fellah Americans, says the Great Potato, we are
gathered here today for the purpose of national unity
The bride and groom grow edgy,
the audience murmurs,
What the fuck is he doing here
He's everywhere
and we shall overcome for there's an old American saying
oh no
When the going gets tough, the tough get going,
Get him out of here, this is a church
And just as our ancestors persevered in the past against
our deadly enemies, the Injuns, the Mescans and the Nigrahs
so too will we persevere against the communists, the hippies
the kikes and all the other great unbelievers who menace our
precious civilization
And in our ears the Great Society responds with applause
led by George Meany
but George is alone
the applause is canned
the TV camera supers behind the face of the Great Potato
and it reveals
an electric razor and an oil well
and a painter taking a photograph and pasting it on his canvas
And there is a thin blue line of cops between the barbarians & Harlem
There is a specter haunting us today
And we don't know what it is
My children join hands
At last say the parents
By virtue of the power invested in me
Who the hell would invest in him
and by the laws of Moses and of Jesus and of The Buddha
of the holy ghost and the millions of other ghosts who don't give a damn
In Hanoi it is one day later, in Cuba it is 6 o'clock
and the workers come back from the cane field
We don't know it but they are looking at our ceremony
They are saying
Stay as you are Country Joe
Stay as you are Robin
Do not fall prey to the temptations of the Great Potato
Stay with Moses, stay with Fidel, stay with Che
And the ghost of Che lurks in the church and his
death wail booms from the mighty Fenders
Don't forget me
And the ghost of Malcolm stands guard against the blue eyed devils
and the burning monk takes the uncollected garbage with him
in a purification of the holy
And it is we who are holy
By the laws of all who were holy and who have invested this power
in us to join and to cry and to make each hatred a deepening of love
Under the Laws of Moses, Jesus, Mohamed and Ho Chi Minh
Under the Laws of Ginsberg, O'Casey and Mayakovsky
How about the laws of California
How about the lynch law
How about the Geneva convention
How about Pacem en Terris
How about kissing my ass, says the Great Potato
Again he sneaks in
and his friends hover over him, shaking giant Bar B cued ribs,
clutching their genitals in their pistol pockets
Begone says Moses
Beat it says Jesus
Que se vayan, says Fidel
And the ghost of the Che and Malcolm and the burning monk
surround them, and give them a powerful revolutionary hex
and for a brief instant there was light and the specter
hovered in the sky and became a rainbow
and the guns were turned into plowshares in Israel
and into electric guitars in the Great Society
And they joined together in bodies and with the sound
in their heads, like millions of fish in the great ocean
and the audience pushed onto the stage and the stage became
the tabernacle and the power was invested in all of them
and it was all of them who shouted
Country Joe, Robin, and all the friends in Vietnam and Cuba and
Texas and the Mafia
Lay down, and they all lay down, and the couple stood alone, still
alone, but the friends were near, each time nearer
They carried their burden, alone, together, and they took each others'
hands, just as they would do in the unholy temples
And the Most Reverend Bishop Mackerel said "May the Lord bless you
by giving you children" and the audience didn't laugh
For the time had come when the laughter became serious, the moment,
the instant at which the laws of God, of the Great Potato and the
State of California were to come together for the most sacred of rituals
which would be reported in tomorrow's paper and would include
details about where the bride bought her dress
That Moment has come
That Moment has gone
Relax, said the minister,
because we are where it is at.
And Country Joe and Robin's hands began to sweat as any hands
held together would sweat
and the Minister now told Country Joe that if he wanted
he could kiss the bride
and the audience peeked to see if they blushed
and some thought they did and some said they didn't
And the Great Potato was frying in lard
And Malcolm said these were good blue eyed devils
and he would protect them when the time came
and ghost of the Great Che shouted that They Would Triumph
And the ceremony came to an end
as the Minister pronounced the lovely couple
He said I hereby pronounce you and he pronounced them Country Joe
and Robin
and ye shall remain Country Joe and Robin
and today we feel your love and you must feel ours
For you are know locked together in holiness, give or take the matrimony
for as long as you want to be
and May you groove with the great guru
and may your children be Great Fish, and birds, and beautiful
Country Folk
And now the Great Ring bearer comes forth
bearing the Ring of the Niebelomin, and
the Carousel ring - and the ring of truth
and the ring of love
And the best man and the bride's father
fumbled and hands touched and another part of
the ancient ritual is completed
All that remains is the blood of Christ,
dry for a thousand nine hundred odd years.
And bottled by Mogen David. Drink he said
and together they drank. And none else shall
drink from that glass.
(They stomp on the glass).
Robin do you yattayatta take Joe, more or
less the way he is, for more or less forever.
And do you Country Joe yatta blah yatta
take Robin the way she is.
Yeah, said the groom.
Go in peace.

Source: P. Stansill and D. Z. Mairowitz (eds.), BAMN: Outlaw Manifestos and Ephemera 1967-70 (Harmondsworth, 1971)





7 June 2007

More links: Situationists

The subject of my last two articles, the dutch Provos, drew inspiration in part from the Situationists. Formed in Northern Italy in 1957, the Situationist International also influenced many other activists including some French student revolutionaries of May '68, particularly one of their figureheads, the enragé Daniel Cohn-Bendit known as Danny-the-Red. I will explore the influences of situationism on popular culture at a later date.

Read original material produced by this little-known yet formative group on the Situationist International Archives and the Situationist International Online at the Virginia Tech Center for Digital Discourse and Culture. For more information about the Situationists see the excellent Art & anti-art site.

27 May 2007

The trailblazing Dutch Provos: Radical print culture in the 1960s (Part 2: Sources)

Provo’s Bicycle Plan

Figure 1: Provocation No. 5 (1965)[1]

Provo’s Bicycle Plan[2]

Amsterdamers!

The asphalt terror of the motorized bourgeoisie has lasted long enough. Human sacrifices are made daily to this latest idol of the idiots: car power. Choking carbon monoxide is its incense, its image contaminates thousands of canals and streets. Provo’s bicycle plan will liberate us from the car monster. Provo introduces the white bicycle, a piece of public property. The first white bicycle will be presented to the press and public on Wednesday July 28th at 3pm near the statue of the Lieverdje, the addicted consumer, on the Spui. The white bicycle is never locked. The white bicycle is the first free communal transport. The white bicycle is a provocation against capitalist private property, for the white bicycle is anarchistic. The white bicycle can be used by anyone who needs it and then must be left for someone else. There will be more and more white bicycles until everyone can use white transport and the car peril is passed. The white bicycle is a symbol of simplicity and cleanliness in contrast to the vanity and foulness of the authoritarian car. In other words: A bike is something, but almost nothing!

Provocation No. 5 – Provo Anarchist Booklet




Quiet Procession

Figure 2: Provocation No. 6 (1965)[3]

Quiet Procession[4]

Amsterdamers!

Police brutality cannot stop the happenings around the LIEVERDJE, THE ADDICTED CONSUMER OF TOMORROW. A happening is a magic event neither uniforms nor swords nor truncheons can change that.

The anarchist movement PROVO issues the following proclamation:

Let people who take part in happenings follow the Catholic example and hold a quiet procession along the imaginary MAGIC CIRCLE around the Lieverdje.

MODESTY, SILENCE.

Participants will identify themselves by making the carbon monoxide sign with their handkerchiefs.

FLOWERS at the feet of the Lieverdje.

SSH! SSH! SSH! SSSH! SSSSH!

Provocation No. 6




Provo’s White House Plan

Figure 3: Provo’s White House Plan (1966)[5]

There is a house in Holland[6]

And nobody lives there. It stands in the Dam square in the heart of Amsterdam. The Palace on the Dam is the symbol of the housing shortage. In Amsterdam there are thousands of empty houses around the canals and in the Jordan, the city’s bastion of freedom.

Your house is your pleasure temple. You have a right to your own house, a fair share of the community’s housing. No house in the Magic Centre can be allowed to be demolished if it still being occupied. New Amsterdam!

The Provo ‘White House Plan’ workshop puts forward a grand revolutionary solution to the housing problem, the White House. Anyone can enter the White House and choose his own apartment. New Babylon!

The White House Plan

The White House Plan workshop has taken the following steps:

  1. Declaring the Palace on the Dam the Town Hall, the collective Klaas Temple of the Magic Centre;
  2. Publishing every week a list of addresses of empty houses for distribution on Saturday mornings at 10 in the Dam Square;
  3. Painting the doors and doorposts of empty houses white to indicate that anyone can use them;
  4. Founding an employment agency to mobilise young people in the summer months to combat the housing shortage;

The White House Plan will form part of the New Amsterdam Plan.

SAVE A BUILDING OCCUPY A BUILDING JUST FOR FUN



[1] Provocation No. 5 (1965) on University of Michigan, Netherlandic Treasures [2] Translation by Stansill and Mairowitz (eds.), BAMN, pp. 26-27 [3] Provocation No. 6 (1965) on International Institute of Social History, A Dozen Souvenirs of Provo [4] Translation by Stansill and Mairowitz (eds.), BAMN, p. 30 [5] Provo’s White House Plan (1966) in Stansill and Mairowitz (eds.), BAMN, p. 28 [6] Translation by Stansill and Mairowitz (eds.), BAMN, pp. 27-28

The trailblazing Dutch Provos: Radical print culture in the 1960s (Part 1)

Policeman shouts but I don’t see him
They’re one thing I don’t believe in
Find some judge, but it’s not leavin’
Lift both hands, his head in disgrace
Shines no light upon my face
Through the darkness, we still speed
My white bicycle and me
Tomorrow, “My White Bicycle” (1967)[1]

This seminal psychedelic anthem, by the English band Tomorrow, drew inspiration from a scheme for lending bicycles in Amsterdam without charge, this scheme was the work of the Provos.[2] As with psychedelic music, the development of countercultural activism in the 'sixties is associated with the United States. Yet, before the San Francisco Diggers, before the Yippies, and emerging at roughly the same time as the Hippies of Haight-Ashbury, there were the Provos of Amsterdam. They published magazines and pamphlets, held theatrical public spectacles to demonstrate against what they saw as the ills of modern living, they dabbled in conventional politics, took consciousness altering drugs, and drew attention to environmental causes. They not only provided a template for the satirical anarchic countercultural movements that are popularly associated with the second half of the 1960s, but also the later environmentalist and anti-capitalist movements. The pamphlets that the Provos produced provide an insight into the inspirations, ideology and mythology of their movement. This review focuses on three such pamphlets, two of which detail their “white plans”: Provocation No. 5 (1965)[3], the aforementioned white bicycle plan, and Provo’s White House Plan (1966), a radical scheme to alleviate the housing shortage in Amsterdam.[4] The third was an announcement of a public demonstration against what the oppressive policing that they felt they were subjected to: Provocation No. 6 (1965).[5]

In May 1965 a group of Dutch anarchists announced a new monthly magazine called Provo (short for ‘provocation’) in a leaflet. In this announcement, they bemoaned the lacklustre ritual demonstrations of socialists and anti-nuclear campaigners. In addition to the magazine they announced the publication of numbered pamphlets titled Provocatie (provocation). The Provos - as the group came to be known - preferred the direct revolutionary action of anarchism to the empty ‘slogans and gestures’ of the traditional political left. Their aim was to actively oppose capitalist, bureaucratic and militaristic society. The members of which, the Provos thought, were ‘brought up to worship Having and despise Being’: they could ‘only become creative, individual people through antisocial conduct’ and ‘now had nothing to look forward to but certain death by atomic radiation.’ In order to mount a challenge to this society the editorial board of Provo wanted ‘to gather around [the magazine] a core of anarchist youth’.[6] The Provos intended these youths to form the vanguard of the ‘Provotariat’, a loose counter-cultural popular front, who would bring about a social and political revolution by provoking the authoritarian forces to such a degree that it shed its benign mask.[7] The term was clearly a pun on ‘proletariat’, showing the Provos mocking attitude to traditional class politics.


They published the first issue of Provo in July 1965,[8] only to see the five hundred duplicated copies seized by the police because it contained (rather outdated) instructions for making explosives that they copied from a 1910 pamphlet, The Practical Anarchist. Nevertheless, publication of the magazine continued and within a year its issues were selling around twenty thousand copies.[9] Good to their word, the Provos also published their Provocations: free street leaflets that they distributed around Amsterdam. These pamphlets varied in form, some detailed the Provo’s various “white plans”, others contained announcements of “happenings” or other demonstrations, and later pamphlets were election material, when they ventured into democratic politics. The Provos were trailblazers in the publication of counter-cultural magazines and pamphlets, which became a major media for the expression and dissemination of radical political and social ideas in the latter half of the 1960s.



Figure 1: Provos promote their bicycle plan.[10]


The Provo’s Provocation No. 5 published in the Summer of 1965 detailed what was arguably the most famous of their “white plans”: the White Bicycle Plan.[11] The author of the plan was the industrial designer Luud Schimmelpennink who wrote an article on the plan in the second issue of Provo published in August 1965.[12] Provocation No. 5 attacked ‘the motorized bourgeoisie’ who brought daily ‘sacrifices’ to the roads of Holland and who polluted the air with their ‘incense’: carbon monoxide. The Provos offered liberation from ‘the car monster’ through ‘the white bicycle, a piece of public property,’ which they claimed to be ‘a provocation against capitalist private property.’ The text contrasts the anarchistic, simple and clean white bicycle with the vane, foul and authoritarian car.[13] Thus the Provos were a precursor to later environmentalist and anti-capitalist movements. The idea of communal bicycles was not new: in 1958, H. Brandt Corstius wrote somewhat optimistically in the Amsterdam student publication Propria Cures:


Why not nationalise bicycle ownership for the common good? This could be accomplished by a simple Act of Parliament: 'It shall be forbidden to have in one's possession a bicycle or to make said bicycle unavailable for the use of others.' Everyone who needs a bicycle simply takes one, rides it to his or her destination, and leaves it there. They need have no concerns about return, theft, parking, storage, maintenance or whatever. The State will undertake repairs and ensure that the 'fleet' is kept up to strength. The police force can be halved immediately. It will mean an end to all the world's troubles, once the bicycle is public property to the same extent as the road itself.[14]



The Provo plan did not go as far as criminalizing the private ownership of bicycles and whilst, like Brandt Corstius, the Provos saw the communally owned bicycle as a utopian tool, they primarily saw it as a cure for traffic congestion and pollution rather than a panacea for the ills of society.[15] They called upon the population to donate their own bicycles, which volunteers would paint white at the Spui, a square in Amsterdam, at midnight each Saturday night. Their goal was to provide twenty thousand white bicycles on the streets of Amsterdam available for anyone to use.[16] Yet, the white bicycle plan met with failure. The police confiscated the first fifty white bicycles because they were an enticement to theft. In retaliation, the Provos stole a few police bicycles.[17] Suspicion aroused by the radical politics of the Provos prevented the plan from achieving widespread approval and unsurprisingly many people took the white bicycles for their own personal use, defeating the plan’s objective.[18] Nevertheless, other institutions and city authorities across the world resurrected the Provos forward thinking proposals as the problem of city traffic congestion worsened. Amsterdam itself saw the return of white bicycles in 1999, however, technical problems meant that the project ended in 2002.[19] Other schemes have met with more success such as the “city bikes” instituted in Copenhagen in 1997, which works on a deposit system,[20] and in Holland’s largest national park, De Hoge Veluwe, which has provided white bicycles for use within the park without charge since 1975.[21]




Figure 2: Presentation of a white bicycle.[22]



The only image used on the Provocation No. 5 pamphlet was a rotated apple, which also formed the central motif on Provocation No. 6 (1965).[23] This symbol, which they dubbed the “Magic Apple”, represented the shape of central Amsterdam on maps, with the stalk corresponding to the Amstel River. This illustrates that the Provos prime concerns centred on their home city rather than international politics, such as the Vietnam War, and that they were more interested in implementing social plans at home rather than larger ideological struggles. The Provos repeatedly used the ‘Magic Apple’ image in their pamphlets. The artist that created the White House Plan leaflet (1966) used the ‘Magic Apple’ image many times, again as a major motif containing an image of the Royal Palace in Dam Square, but also smaller versions containing images of a white bicycle and a white chicken in acknowledgment of previous “white plans”, thus creating a Provo mythology.[24] In the White Chicken Plan, the Provos dealt with reform of the police. The name of the plan derived from the Dutch slang for the police: “blue chickens.” As part of the plan the Provos founded ‘The Society of Friends of the Police’, an ironic response to the strong-arm tactics the police began to employ against demonstrations. The plan was to ‘re-establish the image of the policemen as your best friend’ by taking away their weapons and giving them ‘a bag containing medicine, aspirin, matches, little orange slices with chicken meat.’[25] The Provos drew up many other white plans dealing with issues from industrial pollution to schools.


In the White House Plan pamphlet, the Provos drew attention to Amsterdam’s housing problem. They considered that the Royal Palace, which also acted as the Town Hall, provided an ironic symbol the shortage of housing. ‘There is a house in Holland,’ the pamphlet begins, ‘And nobody lives there.’ The Provos’ ‘grand revolutionary solution’ to the problem was the implementation of squatter’s rights on an unprecedented scale. Anyone could enter the Palace, which would be renamed the White House, and choose their own apartment to live in. Also, the ‘thousands of empty houses around the canals and in the Jordan’ (a working class district of Amsterdam) would have their doors and doorposts painted white to ‘indicate that anyone can use them.’ As part of the plan, the Provos also ‘proposed the mobilisation of young people in the summer months’ to work on providing more accommodation, an indication of the Provos’ collectivist ideology.[26] The pamphlet contains other elements, which indicate the Provos’ inspirations. The reference to ‘New Babylon’ indicates the influence of Constant Nieuwenhuys, an architect who designed a utopian city with that name in 1950. According to the French sociologist Henri Lefebvre who was friends with him, Nieuwenhuys helped instigate the Provo movement with whom he shared disquiet about cars and commercialism dominating city life.[27] The pamphlet contained other references to Provo mythology: the Palace in Dam Square would be renamed ‘the collective Klaas Temple of the Magic Centre.’[28] ‘Klaas’ was Provo’s messiah-like figure derived from Sinterklaas, the Dutch Santa Claus, and Klaas Kroese, restaurant owner and patron of Robert Jasper Grootveld who was also an inspiration for the Provos.[29]



Figure 3: A “happening” with Grootveld at the Lieverdje.[30]


As well as producing social plans, the Provos held regular “happenings” centred on the Lieverdje, a statue of a street urchin on the Spui, which the Hunter cigarette company donated to the city.[31] Provocation No. 6 (1965) referred to the Lieverdje as ‘the addicted consumer of tomorrow’, no doubt a satirical reference to its origins.[32] The Lieverdje had been the centre of countercultural “happenings” since 1964 organised by the window cleaner turned Dada-inspired anarchist and anti-smoking campaigner Grootveld. These weekly theatrical events attracted Amsterdam’s bohemian community including the Nozems, a Dutch subcultural group that wore leather jackets and rode mopeds, who included many founders of Provo such as Roel van Duyn.[33] Van Duyn was the author of a book on the Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin, who inspired him greatly, as evidenced by the anarcho-syndicalism of the White House Plan and many of Provo’s other projects that sought the creation of a new communalist society within the capitalist state.[34] This inspiration, along with that of the Dada artistic movement, provided the Provos with a feel for anarchic satire that was much in evidence in their public protests, such as the ‘Quiet Procession’ announced in Provocation No. 6. This protest was Provos’ response to the ‘police brutality’ they had suffered during previous ‘happenings’ on the Spui. The pamphlet announced that participants would ‘identify themselves by making the carbon monoxide sign with their handkerchiefs’, which probably involved holding them over their mouths in a continued protest against the car. Like the Hippies on the other side of the Atlantic, the Provos emerged from the drug culture of the 1960s. One of Provo’s prime inspirations, Grootveld, promoted the smoking of marijuana, and as Lefebvre recalled: the Provos ‘seemed to count on drugs to create new situations – imagination sparked by LSD.’[35] Other similarities included the staging of public “happenings” and a taste for the mystical as with the ‘Magic Apple’. The Provos considered a “happening” to be a ‘magic event’ and as such Provocation No. 6 called upon demonstrators to ‘hold a quiet procession along the magic circle around the Lieverdje.’ Provo called upon those who attended to ‘follow the Catholic example’ of ‘modesty’ and ‘silence’ – another playful provocation in a predominantly Protestant country.[36]


In July 1965, the police broke up an anti-car “happening.” At another gathering the following week, the police arrested seven attendees after having scuffles with a much larger crowd, who turned up to satisfy their curiosity, piqued by sensational press coverage of the Provos during the week. Around two thousand spectators turned up to the ‘Quiet Procession’ in August 1965, but only two Provos attended. When they tried to lay flowers at the feet of the statue – as they had announced in Provocation No. 6 – the police arrested them, resulting in a riot by the crowd.[37] The following year Provo demonstrations resulted in their international notoriety. The focus of their ‘provocations’ was the royal marriage between Princess Beatrix and Claus von Amsberg, a German and former member of the Hitler Youth. The “provocations” of 1966 were the culmination of an extended campaign against the monarchy. Following the announcement of Princess Beatrix and von Amsberg’s engagement in 1965, the Provos published the pamphlet Provocation No. 3 (1965), which posed some awkward questions about not only von Amsberg, but also the husbands of Queen Juliana and her other daughter Princess Irene and their links to fascist regimes. They went as far as dropping copies of the pamphlet into the barge that carried the betrothed couple during the public celebrations to mark their engagement.[38] Before the wedding, tensions were running high: civic dignitaries boycotted the wedding, German flags were absent, and the authorities drafted in eight thousand police and soldiers to maintain order along the route.[39] Despite the presence of the forces of law and order, the Provos managed to disrupt the wedding procession by hurling smoke bombs that they smuggled past the police, who responded by clubbing protestors. During the following months, the repressive response of police to demonstrations became a centre of attention.[40] On 14th June, the police opened fire on a group of demonstrating workers resulting in a fatality, which provoked further riots.[41] On 20th September, the Provo Bernhard de Vries accused the police of assaulting him after his arrest for throwing smoke bombs at the Queen’s carriage during a procession to the Dutch Parliament at The Hague.[42]


At that time, De Vries was a Provo member of the Dutch City Council. They won the seat during the 1966 municipal elections in which they received thirteen thousand votes.[43] The adoption of electoral means to pursue Provo policies caused a split within the movement, which was never much more than a loose affiliation of like-minded activists anyway. Some of the group, such as van Duyn, began to devote their time to developing political careers for themselves by touring the country and giving lectures. While these ‘celebrities’ were away at a Provo conference the printer of Provo magazine, Rob Stolk, staged a fake coup declaring that a Revolutionary Palace Council had taken power, much to the annoyance of van Duyn. The adoption of many Provo ideas by the authorities signalled the institutionalisation of the movement. Thus, seeing that Provo’s raison d’ĂȘtre no longer existed, Grootveld and Stolk decided to liquidate the movement in May 1967. Yet, the Provos had one last prank to perform, they spread the rumour that American universities were interested in buying their archives, which prompted Amsterdam university to make an offer for documents that turned out not to exist.[44] The spirit of Provo lived on for a short while in the form of van Duyn’s Kabouter (elf) movement, which folded in the early 1970s. Veteran Kabouters went on to form Holland’s later Green movement: surely Provo’s greatest legacy.[45]



The various publications of the Provo movement provide an insight into the short life of the movement. The Provos were an exemplar of the many countercultural movements that emerged and declined in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Like other groups they found inspiration in anarchist theories; no doubt, an indication of disappointment with the traditional political parties and movements of the left. They also had a taste for humour, mysticism and mythologizing, which are common factors in the various movements associated with the hippies. These tastes gave shape to their public demonstrations, their provocations against society, as evidenced in Provocation No. 6. Yet, there are a number of features of the Provo movement that set them apart. They focused their aims on changing their own society from within, aiming their plans at their home city of Amsterdam, rather than seeking to change the world. Their white plans, like those detailed in Provocation No. 5, and Provo’s White House Plan, provide evidence of the parochial, and indeed anarcho-syndicalist, nature of their concerns although they did generate global interest. Although few of their plans were implemented and despite their electoral success effectively ending the movement, the Provos left behind them a number of lasting legacies: Holland’s liberal drug laws, the anti-capitalist protest movements – especially the more playful “fluffies”, and the environmentalist movements – particularly where transport is concerned. The white bicycle, if nothing else, may be an idea whose time has come.







[1] K. Hopkins and K. Burgess, My White Bicycle (Getaway music, 1967) [2] W. Sergeant, “The Ten Best Psychedelic British Songs”, The Independent Online Edition [3] Original pamphlet and a translation to follow [4] Original pamphlet and a translation to follow [5] Original pamphlet and a translation to follow [6] ‘Provo’ Magazine Leaflet (1965) in P. Stansill and D. Z. Mairowitz (eds.), BAMN: Outlaw Manifestos and Ephemera 1967-70 (Harmondsworth, 1971), pp. 20-21 [7] What is the Provotariat? (1965) in Stansill and Mairowitz (eds.), BAMN, pp. 22-23 [8] University of Michigan, Netherlandic Treasures [9] Stansill and Mairowitz (eds.), BAMN, p. 17 [10] Source: Dutch National Archive at http://beeldbank.nationaalarchief.nl/ [11] Original pamphlet and a translation to follow [12] J. Huffener, Bikes on Dikes: a Dutch plan for (almost) free wheeling (Amsterdam, 2000) [13] Provocation No. 5 (1965) in Stansill and. Z. Mairowitz (eds.), BAMN, pp. 26-27 [14] H. Brandt Corstius, Propria Cures (1958) cited in J. Huffener, Bikes on Dikes [15] Provocation No. 5 (1965) in Stansill and Mairowitz (eds.), BAMN, pp. 26-27 [16] J. Huffener, Bikes on Dikes [17] T. Voeten, “Dutch Provos”, High Times (January 1990) on Oregon NORML [18] J. Huffener, Bikes on Dikes [19] Stansill and Mairowitz (eds.), BAMN, p. 30 [20] The City Bike Official Website [21] De Hoge Veluwe, White Bicycles [22] Source: GKf fotografen [23] Original pamphlet and a translation to follow [24] Original pamphlet and a translation to follow [25] White Chicken Plan (1966) in Stansill and Mairowitz (eds.), BAMN, p. 33 [26] The White House Plan (1966) in Stansill and Mairowitz (eds.), BAMN, pp. 27-28 [27] Ross, K., and Lefebvre, H., “Lefebvre on the Situationists: An Interview”, October (Winter, 1997), pp. 69-83 [28] The White House Plan (1966) in Stansill and Mairowitz (eds.), BAMN, pp. 27-28 [29] T. Voeten, “Dutch Provos” [30] Source: International Institute of Social History, A Dozen Souvenirs of Provo [31] Provocation No. 6 (1965) in Stansill and Mairowitz (eds.), BAMN, p. 17 [32] Original pamphlet and a translation to follow [33] T. Voeten, “Dutch Provos” [34] S. Plant, The Most Radical Gesture: The Situationist International in a Postmodern Age (London, 1992), p. 91 [35] Ross, K., and Lefebvre, H., “Lefebvre on the Situationists: An Interview”, October (Winter, 1997), pp. 69-83 [36] Provocation No. 6 (1965) in Stansill and Mairowitz (eds.), BAMN, p. 17 [37] T. Voeten, “Dutch Provos” [38] Provocation No. 3 (1965) on International Institute of Social History, A Dozen Souvenirs of Provo [39] “Royal Wedding Boycott”, The Times (9th March 1966), p. 8 and “Tension In Amsterdam On Eve Of Princess's Wedding”, The Times (10th March 1966), p. 8 [40] T. Voeten, “Dutch Provos” [41] “Amsterdam police fire on rioting workers”, The Times (15th June 1966), p. 1 [42] “Assault accusation against police”, The Times (5th October 1966), p. 9 [43] Plant, The Most Radical Gesture, p. 91 [44] T. Voeten, “Dutch Provos” [45] P. Marshall, Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism (London, 1993), p. 486


© K.M.H. Grieves (2006)




23 May 2007

Introducing a few links

Oz Magazine was one of the seminal counter-culture publications in Australia and Britain during the '60s and early-70's. The magazine's editorial team twice faced trial on obscenity charges, once in Australia and later in the UK - for the infamous 'schoolkids' edition. On both occasions the appeal courts acquitted the editors. Follow the link to see digitised issues of this controversial magazine.

The Principia Discordia is a 'holy' book written by Malaclypse the Younger (Greg Hill) and Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst (Kerry Thornley). Predating the mysticism of the hippies by several years, Hill and Thornley founded an anarchic creative religion known as Discordianism. This religion is best known through the works of an associate of Hill and Thornley, Robert Anton Wilson (who died recently and will be sadly missed). The advent of the Internet provided those interested in Discordianism with a means to spread the word, as a search on Google for 'Discordian' will testify.

11 May 2007

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