Siqueiros’ Machine Gun – Part III: White Is The New Black, Discipline Is The New Freedom!

April 15, 2011

Ben Watson, the Blakean wit and poetic insurgent extraordinaire, is a difficult man to pin down. Only utilising his slave name for the purposes of communicating and proselytizing at the frequency of Babylon[1], via the medium of Quartet Books and its suitably eccentric owner Naim Attalah[2] and Wire magazine he slips out of the grip of administrative positivism like a lubed-up marsupial mole. Under the guise of his nom de poesie, Out To Lunch, Watson has been responsible for the death of seventeen accountants and twelve welfare reports. Though Watson shares Žižek love of ‘radical’ totalising theory in the form of Hegel, Žižek’s less-than-absolute embrace of Bolshevism condemns him to soft-cock, academic leftism in Watson’s eyes (Art, Class & Cleavage: Quantulumcunque Concerning Materialist Esthetix [beeyatchh!]: 121). 

Out To Lunch taking precautions against blowing his own mind

NO MEANS S&M: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE EXTERNAL CONSTRAINTS

For Watson it is Trotsky, re-actualised and funkified through a surrealist, Frank Zappa aesthetic, who provides the best model of hardcore revolution with a dash of risqué cool. So how do you make tight-sphinctered vanguard discipline risqué and cool? Simple, you associate discipline with the radical cred of S&M: “The material crux is the S&M interchange of the roles of master and slave.” (A,C&M: 339) Contrary to those who repress their fear of dissolving power relations (hey, I want a revolution as much as the next person, but S&M is going too far) under the smug assertion that the fluid inversion of dominator(rix)/dominated is a safe, feeble, licensed simulacrum that does not threaten, in the least, power relations outside the Hellfire Club and simply provides a necessary psychic vent to keep the status quo humming, Watson counters with, er, well the opposite view. Of course Watson uses the word ‘interchange’ rather than ‘dissolution’ because, like all Trots, he is not interested in the dissolution of power, merely a change in the coordinates. ‘Interchange’ is dialectics, ‘dissolution’ is merely the infantile anarchist fantasy of the rhizome. Nor is this ‘interchange’ particularly fluid given the fact that Watson spends time gushing (in every sense) about John Norman’s series of cum rags cum novels where “women have been reduced to slave-girl huskies, dressed in the briefest of fur bikinis and harnessed in teams pulling sledges across the ice.” (A,C&M: 155) Watson quickly shows how right-on this is because it corresponded to a photo taken of Frank Zappa and his bitch, er, wife Gail in a similar position, so it’s O.K. In any case it is ironic…no? O.K, then it is dialectical…well anyway at least Watson is honest about his ‘sexual materialism’, any heterosexual man who claims he has not fantasised about being pulled on a sled by frostbitten women dying of hypothermia is a liar!

As might be gathered Watson isn’t really interested in all the gender political implications of S&M, except in pathetic gestures to try and hose off the more exoteric elements of his misogyny with rigour-free hyperbole about S&M breaking “through the binary blandishments of gender and race: an esemplasticity of revolutionary consequence.” (A,C&M: 97) Hey, he’s jerked off to S&M soft-core porn, so he knows the plight of Korean women forced into prostitution (probably better than they do):

there is no problem with being aroused[3] by news of Gor [Norman’s ‘satirical’ pot-boiler Gor series]. We are the slave girls. By reducing itself to absolute object, the sadomasochistic imagination can speak for other non-subjects. It is a sexual version of proletarian negation, of the minus sign of thought. (A,C&M: 159)

The Ass-assin of Gor: Show Me More of Your Minus Sign

Only the really churlish would point out that it is easy for a white male (who has never been raped or racially assaulted and whose own race and gender is a neutral dick-shaded beige in his society) to cavalierly dispense with gender and race, especially a Trot white male who pays lip-service to such liberal ‘identity politics’ before transcending them faster than you can say ‘Inessa Armand’ or ‘Frida Kahlo’. Though not explicit – that would take too much spine – feminism and black power, in Watson’s mind, simply descend into ‘dualistic moralism[4]’ against which the radical ‘oneness of existence’ stands in infinite superiority (A,C&M: 97). I guess only a middle-class, white male like Watson can see the unity of being when the world is catered to him, all nigger chicks see is their own petty bifurcation. In referring to a work by Duchamp, Watson notes: “By proposing that imagination is not gendered, this argument subverts the whole of liberal feminism [i.e. feminism] and its paranoid projection of the ‘unity’ of male interests.” (A,C&M: 159 n75) One can only assume that the gendered nature of ‘non-imagination’ (whatever that is) is tenuous to non-existent, otherwise we are left with the notion that gender ideology turns on and off like a light switch (open my eyes, the world is gendered, close them, it is not). However Watson is certainly right that only a paranoid bitch could think there was unity of male interests, isn’t that just like the ladies.

Referring to Zappa’s ‘notorious’[5] sex ballad “Dinah-Moe Humm” (about betting he could fuck a chick and bring her to orgasm which, being Frank, he does) with HILARIOUS puns and double entendres about fucking (‘in and out’, get it!!):

The feminist campaign against sex objectification, predicated on the right of the liberal citizen to equal treatment, failed to pinpoint commercialism’s most heinous crime: its location of sexual feeling outside the aroused body in a sexual ‘object’, its denial of the subjective sphere. (A,C&M: 43)

Yeah, advertising that sells products through sexual suggestion is a far worse crime than rape. Whereas the decadent ‘freedom’ of capitalist consumerism objectifies eroticism by placing our desire on to products, “S&M eroticises external constraints.” (A,C&M: 43) In other words, through discipline we obtain the power of revolutionary animism to imbue handcuffs, leather straps, nails, pliers and guns (which we stole or borrowed so that they are not commodities) with sexual subjectivity, but through [spit] formal liberties of liberalism our blenders, microwave ovens and dildos steal this sexual energy from us.

Uppity chicky-babes need to accept the fact that fighting against ‘sex objectification[6]’ is just liberal and they should loosen up; what they need is a good, hard fuck[7]! As per usual the undialectical, frigid, uptight feminazis completely miss the Zappaesque joke, not being able to see beyond the end of their buttoned-down liberal noses.

In ‘The Torture Never Stops’ Zappa gleefully invites the whole weight of feminist opprobrium for the ‘modernist rape of nature’. Zappa sets a trap for the uptight, middle-class listener. (A,C&M: 355)

Yes, what a cunning trap it is, for if

we allow the words of the song to dictate the meaning it is indeed a portrait of analytical cruelty. However non-English speakers (or music fans who do not suffer from the logocentricity of the ‘educated’ [i.e. hillbillies and Eric Prydz fans]) assume they are hearing cries of pleasure.” (A,C&M: 355)

Wow! They’re dogs and they’re playing poker!! Those who lack Watson’s dialectical rigour could easily fall into the trap (covered in leather-padded anal rapers) of seeing this as pathetic apologetics; non-English speakers and those resistant to logic…I mean ‘logocentrism’, who hear Eminem’s Kill You will hear a chainsaw and screams (probably of a safety inspector telling the operator to hold the chainsaw correctly); non-English readers and the anti-logocentric will see in a letter to Barely Legal about the joys of pack rape strange and wondrous shapes on the page. Ha, ha, the joke is on them, for the more materialist amongst us can see how Zappa is oh-so-cunningly blurring the line liberals desperately try to etch between pleasure and pain, consensus and domination, discipline and liberation. Can you really have one without the other? Well, can you!!? Not so sure now, are you?

No, suck it like this, bitch!

Still not convinced about the erotic liberation of ‘external constraints’? Well, “Sun Ra, too, insisted on discipline, a view that surprises those with an undialectical understanding of the term ‘Free Jazz’.” (A,C&M: 43) FUCK ME! SUN RA IS LIKE THE EPITOME OF X-TREME, OUT-THERE BLACKFUNKANTIAUTHORITARIANISM! BUT HE IS INTO DISCIPLINE…MY GOD! MAYBE I’M TURNED AROUND ON THE WHOLE SUBJECT! Quoting the sleeve notes to Hours After (which includes a tune called “Discipline ‘99’”):

Musicians, if they’re going to play in an orchestra, they have no freedom, they have to be disciplined [killers, if they are going to join the army, they have no freedom], above all men on the planet [women can just clean the kitchen without discipline or a musical instrument]. Other men [factory workers, garbage cleaners, nuclear technicians], they can get by, but musicians got to hit the right note, they got to be in there, got to be in tune. A musician is really the model for men who want to be in accord, in the way accord got the word ‘chord’ in it, you see[8]. Musicians really represent the harmony department of the universe” (A,C&M: 43)

Ra[ge for Machinic Discipline] goes on to dribble about tuning people to their in-built harmony, “just like each automobile have to be tuned according to what kind of automobile it is.” (A,C&M: 44) But lest any ‘wisefaced rat[9]’ accuse Sun of Pythagoreanism, Platonic essentialism, or hippie bullshit:

anyone who has listened to Sun Ra’s music will know that his idea of cosmic harmony…is not restricted to the triads of tempered scale, but based on chaos [wow, chaos and discipline!], physical limits, rhythm, attraction and repulsion. (A,C&M: 44)

Well there you go, anyone who accuses me of mendacity, distortion or Malebrancheanism can just look at my finger-painting to see how wrong he or she are. The point of all of this is not really to argue the content of Sun Ra’s bullshit thesis on discipline[10] but to try and displace the hipster legitimacy of edgy pop culture from vacuously ‘free’ anarchism to ‘dialectically’ disciplined vanguard socialism.

Sun Ra lectures in UC, Berkeley on the need for control and order

So you thought Socialism Meant Everyone Could Play? Punk’d!

The egregiously tendentious nature of this displacement is best represented in the way that Watson deals with punk. Given the association of punk with general anarchist egalitarianism, and even more explicitly in its connections with Situationism (about more of which below), it would take great theoretical finesse to give punk a Trotskyite clean-shave and a hair cut…or you could just cheat.

All of Watson’s references to punk are of a one-dimensional signifier of prolier-than-thou righteousness, slapped against various cardboard cut-outs of bourgeois propriety: ‘I think we should look reasonably at the excesses of Leninism,’ ‘Ooooh, reeeeeeaaasonably, ay? well…PUNK!’; ‘Do you like my new suit?’ ‘No, because PUNK!’; ‘Rave culture is a form of resistance against macho rock aggression and fascistic determinants of style and expression’, ‘Bullshit, Johnny Rotten wouldn’t be seen dead dancing like a spastic under a strobe…PUNK! (A,C&M: 244); ‘I think that the links to Situationism give punk an academic legitimacy,’ ‘Academic? PUNK!!’ (A,C&M: 156). The content of punk is irrelevant to Watson, as it would needlessly confuse the message that anarchism= bad, Trotskyism=good. For that reason he is only really interested in the vanguard, exclusive pop culture (what he would probably call ‘dialectical elitism’) of free (but freedom ain’t fuckin’ free) jazz and Zappa. If you are not technically proficient then fuck off, Art is only for Artists!

The most radical thing about punk and its legacy from Situationism was the idea that anyone could play, regardless of their legitimated skill, and that this act was pushed beyond the by-all-means-have-your-hobby-in-the-garage-while-you-do-your-proper-skill-aligned-job of the Spectacle. It is certainly not sitting back and absorbing the message of approved ‘radical’ Artists – however unruly and prolie they are – who can show us sheep the way[11]. Who knows, maybe after the Revolution has been safely instituted, and bore communism has been magnanimously revoked by the Party, you may be able to fish in the morning, plumb at noon and write poetry in the evening. But if not at least you’ll know you are Spectators in a fairer world.

Zappanomics: We’re only in it for the Money…Or Are We?

It is not just the discipline of art production that a truly revolutionary artist embraces, dialectically of course, but also the discipline of the market. Only the juvenile anarchism of punk would try to constitute an anti-capitalist cultural economics of independent production in the here and now. Before beginning the dialectical path out of capitalism one first must embrace what Watson calls ‘materialist esthetix[12]’, the first lesson of which is that our “very selves are products of an exchange economy.” (A,C&M: 10) Well, that is the faggotty ‘intellectual’ version, but it is Frank Zappa who is able to render it into proletarian cerebral realism[13] through the scathing anti-humanism of We’re Only in It for the Money, an eviscerating critique of both capitalism and bourgeois morality. Rather than preach anti-capitalist jeremiads from the safety of the tofu stand, Zappa fully embraces capitalism and is thus able to bring the system down from within, as his

business practice has enabled him to keep his radical, critical art afloat in the market. The achievement of substantial art under capitalism entails running it like a business [hey, the only way to achieve substantial art under Nazism was to join the Nazi Party]. Small-press lyric poetry, by contrast, with its minimal capital investment, is much freer of economics [as it can subsist on itself without any need of exchange] – but also, in being commercially invisible, closer to an ‘imaginary’ guitar solo [or some other solo activity]. (FZ&TNDOPP: 132-3)

Of course to be ‘substantial’ means selling commodities, but the sting in the tail is that unlike other commodities Zappa’s are “truthful to the social forces they embody” (FZ&TNDOPP: 133) – listen…can you hear the Truth? – and don’t confirm anyone’s lifestyle. The notion that anyone could just use a Zappa record like any other record is impossible. Just try and make it part of your yuppie, avant-garde lifestyle…see, you can’t do it! Every owner of a Zappa anti-product is having their consumer identity negated. Thus it is that Zappa The Employer, Zappa The Hater of Trade Unions[14] is redeemed through the mind-bending dilemma he poses:

for those social determinists [i.e. ‘materialists’ when he is making the same determinist point] who think that economics is inevitably reflected in ideology, his music presents an anomaly: why should he bother with moves that are so obviously uncommercial[15] if he is merely a capitalist swine? (FZ&TNDOPP: 133)

The tendentiousness would be staggering, if you weren’t already bored with seeing it on every alternate page. Apart from the ‘capitalist swine’’ hyperbolic red herring,[16] designed to make the ‘contradiction’ that much bigger,[17] the lameness of the ‘dilemma’ is evident in the ubiquity of middle-class avant-garde ‘uncommercialism’ from Radiohead to Lars von Trier to South Park and how easily it is valorised; almost as easy as the way Rykodisc/Festival Records valorised Zappa (obviously almost, as this is Zappa the Unvalorisable). Watson, of all hack-polemicists, should know this, given the fact he becomes a pedantic sell-out-seeking missile when shitting on avant-gardists he just doesn’t like[18]. Yet he bends over backwards to explain away Zappa’s boring business-as-usual, just because he lost his cherry to The Grand Wazoo.

Of course this is all at the level of consumption and circulation. As a good Marxist I am sure Watson’s materialist esthetix has a lot to say about commodity production. No? Oh well, let’s see if Trotsky himself can elucidate a Zappanomic relations of production via his masterwork The Dialectic of the Joy of Ants[19]. Firstly

we must develop a maximum of conscientiousness, devotion to duty, creative joy [this one is very important], in a word all those qualities which characterize the class of real builders. […] The next step must consist in the self-restriction of comradely initiative, in the healthy and redeeming self-restraint of the working class which knows when the elected representatives of the working class can speak with decision and when it is necessary to give place to the technician, the specialist, who is equipped with definite knowledge, who must be given greater responsibility, and who must be kept under watchful political control. But it is necessary to allow the specialist free activity, the possibility of free, creative work[20], for not a single specialist who is at all talented and capable can work in his field if in his special work he is subordinated to a staff of people who do not know this field.

Trotsky’s dialectic of self-restraint and free creativity is the same as a Zappa solo, which is, like, xenochronous and wild but uses a known language (and is thus not ‘anarchic’). It is also like relations of production under Zappa Inc, where the specialist has to be given creative freedom, supported by the self-restraint of the workers, whether reproduction workers making records and t-shirts or the rest of the band.

Trotsky refuses the positivist ‘radicalism’ of voting in the workplace, I mean, did Frank’s band members vote on songs!?

Is the election principle applied throughout in your industrial unions? No. Do you elect the officials, bookkeepers, clerks, cashiers, the employees of definite professions [etched in stone in God’s Book of Professions and certainly not socio-political]? No. You elect from among the workers of the Union in whom you have the most confidence your supervisory council and leave to this body the appointment of all the necessary employees and experts[21]. […] Since we have once established the Soviet Government, that is, such an apparatus in which the head executives are persons directly elected by the Soviets of Workers’ Peasants’ and Soldiers’ Deputies[22], there can be no contradiction between the executive power and the masses of workers, just as there exists no antagonism between the supervisory council of a union and the general assembly of its members[23].

Just as Zappa fired and fined his band members[24] who lacked discipline, so too did Trotsky’s prosecute the cause of his proto-Stakhanovist ‘working courts’, which would seem like a Fordist’s wet dream except for the fact we are talking about Trotsky (and listening to Zappa):

Through the agency of our Communist Party we must form in every factory a model cell, as it were, which should be the working conscience of the factory. […W]orking-courts should be established, so that the worker who does not devote all his working-time to work – so that such worker may be brought to trial, so that the names of all such offenders against socialistic solidarity may be printed in the Soviet publications as the names of renegades.

TROTSKY AND THE MADONNA LAW OF DISSONANT ASSOCIATION

Having softened us all up for the fact that authoritarian discipline, when applied dialectically, is edgy, avant-garde and cool (you kids still say ‘cool’, don’t you?), Watson moves to redress the historical crime of Trotsky ending up in the dustbin of history. If anyone has suffered harshly at the hands of revisionism it is Trotsky, so it seems only fair that he should get some of his own back with a new revisionism that not only restores him next to Lenin haranguing the crowd but places him next to whatever implies funky hardness. Using the Law of Madonna Reinvention, whereby one is associated with some new, fascinating cultural extrusion (wow, it’s an old, washed-up has-been with Massive Attack, Junior Vasquez, Guy Ritchie, The Prodigy, Jean-Paul Gautier etc., she must be as exciting and innovative as them, why else would she be associated with them?) and thereby borrows the hip animus, Watson hopes to show that Trotsky was not only a hard-ass, but an all-round renaissance man to boot; breaking the necks of Krondstadt sailors with one hand, while the other mans the turntable.

Examples in Watson are everywhere and they mean you don’t have to bother with the inevitably fruitless task of trying to elevate this self-aggrandising functionary-butcher at the level of content[25]:

Leon Trotsky could have been describing the tenor of Materialist Esthetix when he said: [‘]Its most important characteristic is a complete and ingrained independence of official public opinion at all times and under all conditions.[’] This anticipates what tenor saxophonist Sonny Simmons wrote when the free-jazz legend finally made it to compact disc in 1996: [‘]The music here represents a time of Great Spiritual Depression. The world will be judged by the Sound of Holy Music. Black hail is one of the forces that will be used for the judgement of all Mankind. It has been said, among some musicians, I can’t play the tenor saxophone. So I am settling the score to silence these egotistical bastards for all time.[’] (A,C&M: 2)

My God, it’s like they’re the same person, or at the very least brothers from different mothers!

Trotsky the Surrealist Warrior-Poet

If Madonna-style juxtaposition doesn’t succeed then find a funky association with some actual historical legs and up the ante. The most predictable is via Trotsky’s relationship to Breton: “After discussions with Trotsky in 1938, Diego Rivera and André Breton wrote a text called ‘Manifesto: Towards a Free Revolutionary Art’.” (A,C&M: 10) Wow, well that means Trotsky practically wrote it! In this vein it is worth noting that Marx wrote The Gundrisse after taking a huge dump.

To defend the political intimacy of Trotsky to surrealism, Watson pulls out the casuist playbook: 

1)     Slur your opponents, even (well actually, especially) when they make irrefutable statements. Ahh, what a beautiful old standard this is, one never tires of the mud-slinging strains of what is unfairly called ‘negative campaigning’ in the electionism that passes for American politics. Though unable to deny Trotsky’s claim that he associated with Breton out of tactical consideration rather than ideological resonance[26], Watson shoots the messenger and then kicks him to make sure he is dead. Trotsky’s revelation was made to René Etiemble who, according to Watson, was (gasp) an associate of a Stalinist and once published a Maoist review (A,C&M: 10 n28). Well, bang go his credentials. The more telling opponent is Raoul Vaneigem, whose A Cavalier History of Surrealism causes the most problems to Watson’s assertions of a Trotskyite militant-surrealism, but by an amazing miracle Watson avoids this work. This is certainly not because he is unaware of Vaneigem, as he bags him in Poodle Play for daring to compare Zappa to Warhol and Hockney as just another avant-garde Spectacle (the very idea!) (FZ&TNDOPP: xxii). By an amazing coincidence this is one of the few occasions where Watson parts company with the Situationist critique of consumption, or just ‘anti-consumerism’ as he derides it here.

2)     Deny the personal is political, unless the personal suits your own agenda. Unable to shake off the stubborn reality, indeed ‘materialism’, of Trotsky’s bourgeois aesthetic tastes, Watson attacks the “regressive fixation on Trotsky the individual [as opposed to Trotsky the Phlogiston of Revolutionary Energy].” (A,C&M: 10 n28) Yet in the same sentence he thought it necessary to share the claim that Trotsky “carried a book of Mallarmé’s poetry in his pocket when leading [yeah, ‘leading’, on a white stallion, charging into the ranks of Whites and infantile socialists, absorbing their imperialist and reformist bullets and discharging them as projectile sweat] the Red Army” (A,C&M: 10 n28) But, yeah, let’s not get bogged down in pedantic detail.

3)     End by repeating your assertion regardless of whether it has been contradicted or not. “The point is to establish [not ‘manufacture, God no] the objective link between the surrealist aesthetic and revolutionary politics: the surrealists could see through Stalinism without surrendering to Cold War liberalism (unlike Rolland, Malraux, Aragon, even Brecht [wow, even Brecht]).” (A,C&M: 10 n28) Pulling out the trick we saw earlier, used by Žižek (nothing up this sleeve, nothing up that sleeve, nothing in this assertion), Watson makes ‘revolutionary politics’ equal Trotskyite vanguardism by making the only other political choices Stalinism and its Cold-War flipside, liberalism. Revolution becomes a synonym, to the point of tautology, for meetings, minutes, sectarian squabbles, military coups by an elite vanguard, followed by more meetings and business as usual[27]In other words ‘revolutionary politics’ is just office politics writ large: martial arts of bureaucracy; formal procedures at twenty paces; the first up against the noticeboard; corridor gossip as the ‘battle of ideas’; petty backstabbing and purges before we come back to work the next day. Well you can see the obvious link with surrealism, ‘avant-garde’, after all, meaning ‘vanguard’.

Ceci nest pas discipline

Facetiousness aside there is indeed a link between Watson’s (palace) revolutionary (office) politics and surrealism that cannot be denied. Without regressively fixating on Breton and Debord The Individuals, these two self-styled leaders of their respective surrealist movements exhibited many fine revolutionary traits. It is not surprising that Watson should claim a personal (not in a regressively ‘individual’ kind of way, of course) affinity between Breton and Trotsky, as both were socially-retarded users of people who saw through the bourgeois weakness of ‘friendship’ in striving for new, revolutionary social relations[28]. In the same way, Watson’s contention that, while the Situationist International was not Leninist (an admission made through gritted teeth and clenched bowel) it was an SWP analogue (A,C&M: 169 n25), has more than a grain of truth in it. Indeed Watson is probably being too cautious here, as both the SI and the Bolsheviks shared a love of libertarian rhetoric and authoritarian practice. Watson’s claim that “Debord’s substantial positions were similar to any the SWP might have taken at the time” (A,C&M: 169 n25) cannot be denied, as Debord most ‘substantial’ position was to split the SI with his petty sectarianism and set up a revolutionary/domestic division, where his comrade wife did the housework and he did the politics.

Of course there will always be petty gainsayers, like Vaneigem, who point out that the adoption of Marxism, “as revised and corrected by Lenin” (A Cavalier History of Surrealism: 67), was based in the guilty conscience of Dada, unable to provoke a serious reaction from the French right wing or revolutionary groups in their mock trial of a nationalist, pseudo-anarchic litterateur (ACHoS: 14-15). The political vibrancy of surrealism came not from the Party line but a vibrant strand of anarcho-dadaism.

[I]t was the ferment of revolt that they kept on the boil, and the precision with which they continued to denounce the permanent outrageousness of the prevailing organization of society…that would prevent the best Surrealist from reducing their dream of a global revolution, no matter how confused it was, at the mediocre level of Bolshevism. It was these, together with the cult of the passions, and especially of love, that saved the movement from any outright compromise with infamy. (Surrealism’s passing alliance with Trotsky, the butcher of Kronstadt in 1921, may be put down to ignorance.) (ACHoS: 18-19)

Many surrealists were enticed by the dangerous image of the Bolsheviks propagated by a shocked bourgeoisie:

[T]he image of the Bolsheviks with a knife between his teeth, much exploited by the Right, continued to be very seductive. What they [the surrealists] did not know was that the freshest blood on that knife, fresher than that of the Whites, was that of the Makhnovists and the left opposition[29] (ACHoS: 20). 

Of course the outcome of this momentous collaboration between surrealists and a small group of Communist Party avant-garde was…fuck all. However a pattern for clumsy, disjointed collaboration between surrealist flair and Bolshevik dour commitment had been set, though it generally was provoked out of guilt and ended nanoseconds later in embarrassment for all. For example Breton officially joined the Communist Party in 1926 and was assigned to the ‘gas workers’ cell’ (get a real job and join the class struggle!) and then, frustrated with the bureaucratic tendencies, left (ACHoS: 21). After such dalliances there was more of a turn to the banished Trotsky, who represented convenient potential, rather than tedious actualisation, but

before long…Breton was admitting his astonishment that Trotsky could invoke the old Jesuit precept that ‘the end justifies the means’, and he called immediately for a thoroughgoing critique of certain aspects of the thought of Lenin and even of Marx. He himself never followed up on this. (ACHoS: 73)

There were repeated associations with ‘revolutionary politics’ into the 30s, until the idle flaneur image of surrealism met the immovable object of Bolshevik (Watson and Žižek would say ‘Stalinist’) workerism at the Congress of Writers for the Defence of Culture (ACHoS: 27). Even where surrealism came closest to the rhetoric of Trotskyite Bolshevism, in the call for total, bloody, permanent revolution, there was this little contradiction catching in the throat: “The greatest Revolutions are born of strict adherence to a single principle; the motive for the Revolution that is coming [this was written after 1917] will be the principle of absolute freedom.” (Desnos qtd. in ACHoS: 69) Oh dear. The libertarian anti-workerism of surrealism would prove to be an irresolvable contradiction, with no dialectical Absolute, between Trots and surrealists, no matter how much guilt and a vague sense of duty pushed surrealists towards ‘sensible, realistic’ politics[30]. At the other end was the general disregard for the surrealists by the Communists, demonstrated by Trotsky’s aforementioned indifference to the “For an Independent Revolutionary Art” manifesto and the fact that generally “the Communists never gave a hoot for these butterflies and their fascination with that great proletariat-crushing machine, the party bureaucracy.” (ACHoS: 70)

But, in all seriousness, those who small-mindedly contest the proper Trotskyite (i.e. ‘revolutionary’) credentials of surrealism are conducting a

debate for the twilight zone of retrospective sectariana…[.] When the murk generated by insistence on historical detail muddies the difference between reform and revolution it serves an objectively reactionary purpose, one that has obscured too much ‘Trotskyism’ from contemporary debate.” (A,C&M: 169 n25)

Once again, don’t let uncomfortable details ruin the beautifully smooth edifice of a screed. By all means use the most tenuous details to support the ‘materialism’ of your argument (hey, Trotsky was a carbon-based form of life, just like Coltrane and had a beard, just like Hendrix), but unhelpful, contrary details are obviously the wrong kind of materialism (non-dialectical, positivist and reactionarily empirical), and those who put these details forward are not only pedantic, but sectarian too[31].

Warrior-Poet and Intellectual

The most patently obvious way in which Trotsky is a surrealist exists in his non-linear (but not rhizomatic, by golly gosh!), anti-stageist thinking – as opposed to Stalinist historicism – and his economic theory of ‘combined and uneven development’, which resonate in Trotsky’s typically overlooked theories of knowledge. “Trotsky’s psychology and epistemology have never been credited as such by the dullards of official knowledge. They cannot afford to.” (A,C&C: 162-3) Yes, the fact that the grey-shirts don’t give a shit about Trotsky’s dazzling theories of everything can only mean that they are scared and in denial, and it is easy to see why. Trotsky’s mercurial, off-the-cuff, kinda, maybe, sort acceptance of Freud becomes an act of Kierkegaardian genius; back again as we are in the land of “an either…or…or” (A,C&C: 190). At the same time the very non-egg-headed nature[32] is evidence of an intellectually searing, street-wise materialism.

Thus logocentric empiricists, sitting comfortably in their academic eyries can only read “Work, Discipline, and Order to Save the Socialist Soviet Republic” in a fatuous, positivist manner, totally ignorant of the semiotic implications of Trotsky’s anti-stageist approach[33]. To read this text in its proper, sweaty, dynamic materialist form we have to read it to Zappa’s xenochronous guitar solo in ‘Yo Mama’, thus freeing ourselves from logoocularpancreaticentrism. Zappa’s critique of degenerate ogynocentric maternal authority[34] situates Trotsky’s law-and-order campaign as an attempt to counter infantilising feminine restraint with productive, paternal discipline. How else do we explain the use of the masculine in Trotsky’s text in the generic first person? Trotsky was a staggeringly progressive radical, who was well aware of feminist issues and stuff (more so than any woman in his day), so to say that this is just typical, pedestrian chauvinism is patently wrong. The only explanation [cue Zappa chord structure] is that Trotsky is deliberately seeking to undermine the hysterical liberalism that happens when we let our hormones speak instead of our cocks.

Thus Trotsky’s humour (something those frigid chicks and mummy’s boys lack) suddenly becomes apparent, not only in hilarious puns[35] but also in a dry wit that orthodox dullards and jackanapes cannot get[36]. As he was crushing independent workers’ power and centralising authority away from the soviets and into the organs of the Party, he was obviously not above a joke or two and, indeed, his joyful play with the so-called truth, is also seen in the anti-gradualism of his smearing of Ukrainian anarchists. In contrast to po-faced bourgeois intellectuals, who carry the hollow morality of ‘sincerity’ and ‘honesty’ on their sleeves, while blood-stained money lines their pockets, Trotsky knew that real, non-formalist truth can only be born dialectically in outright deception and fabrication.

Let’s start with this:

If the Ukrainian Rada [Skoropadsky’s bourgeois government] has triumphed, or is at the present moment overcoming the Soviet power in the Ukraine, it is accomplishing this only with the aid of the powerful machine of German militarism.

Later, after writing about the “utter helplessness” of Ukrainian anarchist guerrillas, in the face of the German military machine, Trotsky, on wings of lyrical fancy, states:

The example of what is happening in the Ukraine shows us that if we are to speak seriously about the defense [sic] of the Soviet Revolution by force of arms, by means of war, we must reject all the empty talk of the Left Social Revolutionaries about partisan or guerrilla warfare, and all measures that make use of small bands, and proceed to the task of creating a regular army.

Anyone familiar with what was happening in the Ukraine at this time may see this as barefaced slander, given that it was the Bolsheviks who signed away the Ukraine to the ‘machine of German militarism’ in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, and it was the Red Army that proved the most helpless against the White generals, who sought to claim it for reactionary rule after the German defeat. Indeed, it was Nestor Mahkno’s small band of guerrillas who proved most effective in fighting both the Germans and the Whites in the Ukraine and who were only defeated in the end by the deliberate treachery of Trotsky. Trotsky’s following sentence carries the final delicious irony, as he outflanked Mahkno with his promises of support: “Only if this regular army exists can these partisan bands play a positive part on its flanks.” The ‘regular army’ here becomes the dialectical synthesis of the immature, crude efficacy of ‘partisan bands’ and the formalising influence of Bolshevik centralised militarism, which mops up the remnants of White reaction, broken by partisans, and then takes credit for the whole enterprise (what a team!). Of course, for the dialectic to retain its dynamism it is necessary for Trotsky to perform the unpleasant duty of betraying these anarchist partisans, for to not do so would be to accept liberal hand-wringing ‘good will’ as a reformist salve for real revolution.

The Prophet Armed…With Love and Kisses

But, as with Žižek’s Lenin-in-Becoming, in the necessary rush to resurrect the image of Trotsky the Avant-Garde Slayer of Reformists, we can overlook the fact that underneath the blood-spattered painter’s smock a beautiful human heart pulsed liquid teddy bears and flowers.

Trotsky’s objection to vacillation about war [war is hell, man…or at least limbo] can only be understood in light of his radical humanism. He cannot view human beings as statistics, the bourgeois overview that manifests itself in market reports, electoral politics and war plans. For Trotsky, one soldier’s life is as important as the president’s. (A,C&C: 192-3)

Those who regressively fixate on details will, once again, try to contradict the dialectical truth of this observation by dredging up what seems like drab brutality to the positivist eye. But it is important to know that even when threatening all opponents of Bolshevism with the guillotine (L:AB: 302), gloating about his use of terror, shooting deserters and disobedient officials (L:AB: 383), proposing the militarisation of labour as a long-term economic strategy (banning strikes and ‘unofficial’ trade unions[37]), deceiving and then slaughtering the Kronstadt mutineers, recklessly pushing his own troops into the front, “underestimat[ing][38]…the importance of the workers’ councils[39]” (A,C&C: 309), doing deals with Henry Ford and singing the praises of Fordism (Peacock, Two Hundred Pharaohs, Five Billion Slaves: 76), he wept quietly inside for every individual life he had to take and felt the suffering of every worker he had to exploit to save the Revolution. You despicable ingrates! This man bled for you! Do you think he enjoyed having to crush rebellions and create slave conditions for workers?! Do you think he was just being a slimy, two-faced git when he wrote in his History of the Russian Revolution that “Bolshevism had absolutely [ABSOLUTELY, I tell you!] no taint of any aristocratic scorn for the independent experience of the masses [not ‘people’ of course, that’s far too bourgeois in describing independent experience].” (A,C&C: 193) You bastards, this hero of the Revolution used to cry himself to sleep with the memories of each individual he not only killed or immiserated, but even those whose feelings he’d hurt! Everyone forgets the Trotsky who used to tousle his daughter Natalia’s hair while rescuing baby birds who had fallen from their nests; a cruel but fair humanist, who loved each and every one of us…and who is thus no use to us at all.


[1] Jah Funkadialectic Trotliquidsky100% III is an impossible soubriquet to engage with the Forces of the Man. Just try and join the army with this name, go on, try it!

[2] Whose wacky non-conformity includes wearing different coloured socks and high-finance consultancy for royalty and the bohemian elite.

[3] As long as you don’t come during a moment of submissive empathy everything’s fine, indeed better than fine, it is a greater revolutionary act than lobbying to outlaw sex trafficking. Want proof? Fine: “André Breton, who proselytised for De Sade, was quicker to condemn Hitler and Stalin than either Bernard Shaw or H.G. Wells.” (A,C&M: 159) Case closed. Christopher Hitchens, who proselytises for Philip Larkin and hates women, was quicker to condemn Clinton than Naomi Klein. Ray Martin, who picks his nose, was quicker to condemn granny raping than Pee-Wee Herman. What stunning, iron-clad logic!

[4] “Since the Nazis exterminated trade-unionists along with Jews, all active socialists are in the same boat. We leave the racial distinctions to the racists.”(A,C&M: 294 n154) Yeah, to be a trade unionist in London is the same as being black in segregationist Alabama or a Tutsi in a Hutu militia-dominated Rwanda, I mean both know the experience of oppression and only a racist would try to ‘privilege’ one oppression over another. Such a smug assertion about all being in the same boat coming from someone who has never had to renounce his tacit white privilege while screeching about his radical credentials.

[5] Woooaahh, ‘notorious’! Wow, that must mean he has a ‘bad reputation’ like Lenin!

[6] A more neutral term than either ‘sexual objectification’, the usual term which highlights the sexual aspect of this use of power rather than ‘sex’, which could simply refer to gender, or, say ‘misogynist exploitation’.

[7] Watson writes about “legitimate pro-sex demands of the working class” (A,C&C: 45), a class whose gender composition is obviously irrelevant. Who’s to judge what is legitimate? I guess we are to assume that this is self-evident and that the demands of the (male) working class to rape and harass are illegitimate. Obviously such questions are not worth the time of a dialectical warrior with bigger fish to fry. Anyway, reactionary misogyny will be solved by the Revolution. On the other hand Watson goes to great lengths to make sure we know that Zappa was not ‘anti-gay’ and that “his sons Dweezil and Ahmet aren’t homophobic either, because [wait for it] I asked them in an interview” (Frank Zappa & The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play [I know, does it get any zanier or more intellectual]: 316). Pheeeeww, glad that’s cleared up, misogyny is one thing but homophobia is not cool. The context is Watson’s analysis of Zappa’s “anal sadism towards women” (FZ&TNDOPP: 316), which of course is fine, unless you are a stuck-up heteronormative bigot who fascistically represses non-procreative sex.

[8] Well, Sun, if that is your real name, it actually has ‘cord’ in it, as in restrain, bind you down and imprison, you see, but we get the long-drawn bow. It also has ‘or’ in it, as in Kierkegaard’s notion of either/or, or, to quote Consolidated’s fans, why don’t you shut up and play music!

[9] No kidding, Watson really uses this pejorative, you doity bum!

[10] What is the antithesis of the musical discipline Ra refers to? All music by definition is ordered and ‘disciplined’, otherwise it would just be ‘noise’. What is the ‘chaos’ Watson is talking about? What is ‘chaos’ anywhere? It is all relative, unless you assume a Universal consensus of rules that can measure ill-discipline. You say I am out of time and I say ‘whose time? I’m in tune with my in-built harmony!’

[11] If you listen attentively, yet non-logocentrically, to the chord changes in ‘Rat Tomago’ you can hear the licks, in unison with the muted, tortured cries at the beginning, dialectically unify as ‘Join the SWP!’.

[12] Note the use of the anglicised transliteration to avoid the perceived fine art connotations of ‘aesthetics’. The ‘x’ suffix is, I assume, just a painful defamiliarising pretension of cool to the x-crable X-TREME!

[13] Just as Žižek stretches the bow until the lactic acid is churning in his mighty bicep reading Kierkegaard into Lenin, Watson tries desperately to force profundity down Zappa’s unwilling throat: “The conversation moved on to the fact that Frank did not read philosophy, and therefore could not have consciously parodied The Phaedo [in the way Watson claimed he had]. Frank remained enigmatically silent [like the silence of an aubergine after you tell it to gabbagabbahey, sooo enigmatic. Not like those silences of incomprehension, no way!]. I countered that artists deal intuitively with words and concepts, do not consciously plot every resonance of the symbols and themes they play with [unlike plumbers, who do. Dude, artists are like spirit mediums, that like are just conduits for energy. Or, more likely, they need other mediums to explain what they are actually saying…can I be your medium, can I, Frank, can I?! Suddenly the trope of ‘poodle consciousness’ that Watson evokes makes sense].” (FZ&TNDOPP: 540) This is an example of what Zappa’s bitch wife called Zappa’s ‘prescience’.

[14] We have to be sympathetic to this because he was not a boss of any other business producing commodities like oranges or love beads, he was producing ‘radical commodities’, so we should have cut him some slack on labour laws.

[15] Obviously not ‘uncommercial’ in the vulgar ‘social determinist’ sense of uncommodifiable, i.e. unable to be used in commerce, but the more ‘dialectical’ and generous sense of vague gestures against, like, grey suits and The Man and stuff; uncommercial the way Nigel Kennedy understands it.

[16] So to call someone a ‘capitalist’ is to call them a ‘capitalist swine’? What about being a cod-ordinary, boring capitalist who is too unimaginative to think outside the structural conditions of it’s capitalist existence, rather than someone who wacks off at the thought of lay-offs, while trying to invoke Beelzebub using the blood of freshly fisted puppies and waif entrails?

[17] Hmmm, ‘how can a capitalist do such uncommercial things?’ Nah, they won’t buy that one. Aha, got it! ‘How can such uncommercial things come from an evil, intergalactic, baby-eating sith-capitalist?’

[18] You can always tell it’s because he ‘just doesn’t like them’ because the pretence of rigour is replaced with the pretence of witty name-calling, such as “psychedelic, hippie doodlie-shit” (A,C&C: 67 n54) and “jumping up and down” to describe rave dancing (A,C&C: 244) Ha, ha, ha, get it! It’s not even proper dancing, like Tango or Morris Dancing is.

[19] Unfortunately rendered as Work, Discipline, and Order to Save the Socialist Soviet Republic by bourgeois, logocentric reality.

[20] It is a little known fact that the Bolsheviks did not just accept the ‘naturalness’ of inherited labour activity, but sought to make this activity as free and creative as possible. It is little known ‘cos it did not happen.

[21] Wow, so different from our ventilated timocracy.

[22] And the ‘we’ who established this Government and actually run it through ruling councils? Hey, remember, we can’t have everything directly elected.

[23] Yeah, just imagine a contradiction between union bureaucracy and the rank-and-file.

[24] Keyboardist Tommy Mars: “We were doing this rehearsal in London and Frank was getting very tense. He expected certain things to be there when we got to rehearsal, and certain things were not there. We were gonna do the song ‘Zoot Allures,’ and he started playing this 11th chord and got very angry at everybody because nothing was happening right. I got fined because I hadn’t memorized this little piece called ‘Little House I Used to Live In.’” http://globalia.net/donlope/fz/songs/Yo_Mama.html

[25] Hey, “form is just sedimented content” (FZ&TNDOPP: 541) anyway.

[26] Which I find personally shocking as it impugns Trotsky as some kind of opportunist! For evidence of Trotsky’s rather straitlaced cultural politics one can use his refusal to reply to an enthusiastic letter from Aleister Crowley offering his aid to help rid the world of Christianity. At the very least this would have been a great opportunity for Trotsky to deploy his rapier-like wit.

[27] “For men like Robespierre and Lenin [and Trotsky], the central revolutionary rite was the meeting – experienced in a sitting position, requiring no form of participation other than an occasional speech, and conducted according to strict rules of procedure.” (Ehrenreich, Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy: 176)

[28] Trotsky, in dying with one friend/supplicant/wife-ego-supporter, did at least have one more friend than Breton, due to a better-developed rat-charm. But the repulsive campaign to make Trotsky more liberal-amenable by highlighting his cuddly humanism, à la Julie Taymor’s toothless arthouse widget Frida, is a distortion based on the fact he was out-manipulated by a better, even more empathetically-challenged politician. Vile revisionists, who seek to clean Trotsky for middle-class consumption, should have the image of Trotsky proudly gloating about the effectiveness of Bolshevik terror shoved in their clean-cut faces before they insult the political credentials of the People’s Commissar of Military Affairs as a beautiful naïf outmanoeuvred by Stalin, the ruthless bully.

[29] Given that Vaneigem (ACHoS: 20) singles out Artaud as one of the few surrealists to reject an accommodation  with the Communist Party on political grounds, it is maybe less than a remarkable coincidence that Watson (A,C&C: 177) bags Artaud mercilessly  as a ‘psychotic junkie’, whose ‘specious blongo-bung’ (a more visceral neologism you could not find outside of Seuss, is there nothing this man can’t do?!) merely “looks like Hugo Ball or Finnegans Wake or Frank Zappa”, a sinister illusion given the self-evident diametrical opposition between the two.

[30] That being said Vaneigem (ACHoS: 69) makes a pertinent point that the way this surrealist anti-workerism descended into unconcern for the actualities of class struggle can explain why many “were able for a time to accept the role of faithful disciples, first to the Communist Party and later to Trotsky.” (ACHoS: 69)

[31] Those who would laugh till near-prolapse at the notion of a nit-picking, pedantic, puritanically sectarian Trot lecturing those that disagree with him about their nit-picking, pedantic, puritanical sectarianism would do well to note Watson’s own insistence that we should not get bogged down in petty squabbles, lest we lose sight of our overriding solidarity against anyone who disagrees (A,C&C: 169 n25).

[32] ‘Like his aesthetics and epistemology [or indeed those of this guy I met at a bus stop], Trotsky’s psychology is not a theoretical system.” (A,C&C: 191)

[33] Which, staggeringly, xeroxes Lenin’s passionate anti-gradualism, in his poetically titled Conspectus of Hegel’s Science of Logic, where he screams the disruption of the dialectic: “Leaps! Breaks in gradualness. Leaps! Leaps!” (A,C&C: 68) A spasm of dialectical energy, a textual embodiment of the revolutionary contradictory energy of a man who relied on the Kaiser to see him safely back to Russia, who set up a ruthless secret police force and the institutions of party authoritarianism and accumulated power, yet at the same time preached freedom from oppression. Weren’t the bastards aware that bare-faced lying, back stabbing and repression was the only way for the dialectic to maintain its sudden, powerful, spontaneous energy.

[34] “Maybe you should stay with yo Mama, she could do your laundry and cook for you. Maybe you should stay with yo Mama, you’re really kinda stupid and ugly too. You ain’t really made for being out on the street.”

[35] “we have a tremendous percentage of invalid locomotives and…the healthy ones don’t move along the rails the way they should (the war had gotten everything off the track)”.

[36] “the heavy hand of the working class which had taken power into their hands”; “Now that the power of the Soviets is assured”.

[37] “Trotski argued that under the dictatorship of the proletariat there was no need for the workers to have a class organisation for protection against their own ‘workers’ state’.” (L:AB: 422)

[38] A technical term that means ‘deliberately undermining’.

[39] Which is a technical phrase Watson uses to describe what would be rather vulgarly termed ‘giving the fucking bird to the workers’ councils as he accumulated power.’

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