In presenting yourself as a magazine called AUTOTOXICITY you have chosen a certain form / format. What is your history in printed theory?
There are always varying strange forces that act upon me as an individual and push me into extended bouts of writing, and writing in a particular style, or on a particular subject. So my history in printed theory begins slightly before my first printed works i.e. there was a history of forces and situations.
I had moved to Sheffield as a young student and for the first time had been introduced to an organised and vocal hard (styled) left, and also the company of non-working class people of my own age (of course there was some intersection between these two sets). Lacking in any confidence (a middle class thing - and my father had always had a labouring job which he resented and he sent me confused messages regarding what I should do with my life) I got swept away by the language. sophistication and the glamour of the politics and the political radicals. After finding myself on the anarchist fringes at a time of frenzied activity (the defeat of the miners, the resurgence of militant animal rights) I gradually became more and more disillusioned and dubious about it all.
For what reasons?
To list them all seems petty, pedantic and even pointless. It became increasingly apparent that organised hardline politics was more like a psychological flophouse crossed with a local branch of the Air training Corps. I remember massive clashes of egos with groups congregating around personalities and ousting each other with behaviour that comes from public school politics. Around this time I was involved with a group of squatters (who in turn existed in some bad light regarding the 'official' local anarchists) and I was scolded for doing something that was apparently above my humble station.
So what has this got to do with your writing?
Well I never felt moved to study and understand (and so contribute towards) anarchist political development. I just seemed to get involved and get disillusioned by all the fucked up people. At the same time I began to dig out what may have been called post-punk Situationist inspired magazines, and I felt that these were a breath of fresh air. I was also in an uncomfortable job situation suffering the usual feelings of time humiliation, wasted life, boredom, etc.
Give us some details of this scene.
Obviously there was the very important AntiClockwise which I picked up on after issue 6. This came out quite regularly and linked into other projects such as Leisure, Smile(s), Armchair, early Variant, Here and Now, and a previously unseen glut of American magazines.
What distinguished them?
There just seemed to be a freshness that was obviously (with hindsight) merely a difference. Rants on things that were more important to bored working class youth - the leisure system, culture, football hooliganism, urban form, car mania, drudgery - tied into a historical body of theory. The American material was distinguished by its intensity of subject and total lack of class perspective. At the time I found it quite incredible - detailed debates on speciesism, sacredness, language, spiritualism - but there was an inevitable backlash on this.
On both a personal level and in the Iight of the fact that many of the key publications have since dried up, I still consult back runs of US magazines like 5th Estate and Anarchy, but I always try to acknowledge a class perspective in my writing and editing of Autotoxicity - even if this is just simply a recognition that much of today's cultural systems try to hide the sharp class realities.
And so you felt you could add to the flow?
Well, it was more complicated than that. Most of the projects
I attempt are approached with a desire to prove something to myself as much
as in producing something I consider as some kind of contribution to development
or communication. In part I still carry this approach forward today. But combined
with my naivety it proved somewhat fatal. I produced 2 issues of a Situationist
type magazine called ‘Unimpressed' which covered critiques on architecture,
the self styled football fanzine movement, ecology, libertarian fiction, etc.
It became apparent that once I had produced them then something had immediately
ended - much like meeting a boyhood popstar and finding them to be a stumpy
balding midget with bad breath.
So what followed?
Well, pretty soon I quit my job, and so I kicked back a bit more and didn't get so wound up. That was a major thing! Then Rick from AntiClockwise wound up the project after 30 issues (20 of ACW and 10 of NO), and there was a rumour that a North based joint project might emerge, pooling energy and time into a newspaper. Mainly people who had contacted Rick and formed a loose network through getting their rants aired or reviewed in AntiClockwise. I was as guilty as anyone when this failed to materialise, as Rick felt that everyone was waiting for him to make all the moves.
Then the London based rump got together and launched their own newspaper 'Underground' which lasted 6 issues, got loads of respect from shit like iD, but was actually pretty abysmal! I tried to get Rick into joint authoring a book on Information War which never got off the ground as it appeared plain that Rick wanted to have a break from it all. So things fell apart and I ended up being a fulltime dad, while AntiClockwise was recollected as a 'best of' by a small publisher and had the dubious distinction of including one of my only contributions.
Was there a critique of that period?
Yeah, obviously, though I never felt I needed to present one personally. For me they were good times, the best since I had been involved in the punk scene. It seemed that there had always been a core of Situationist influenced counter cultural zines - though maybe I am reading too much into it - there has always been a core of magazines driven by and against the torrent of boredom that passes itself off as everyday life, Larry Law‘s SpectacuIar Times, Modern Times, Combustion, Blob, Pleasure Tendency, International Times etc. Maybe this even extends forward today. I'm not so sure. The internet has changed the way we all work (and think). Certainly there were jokes about us being a group of people all swapping our grumbles about architecture etc, looking for who could find the wackiest angle, and maybe there is even an element of truth in this. I can only speak from my own perspective - that is that it had been a disillusioning time in mid-80's anarchism, that I had been wound up in a depressing job and felt that the zines from this scene best explained what I wanted to say. The ideas in everyones' heads scenario. Of course there was a lack of practical activity, but this is a sticky question best illustrated by its opposite attraction in anarchist projects. Certainly 'Underground' left many people bemused and it opened the way for establishments like Warwick University to create new stars in the blossoming milieu of cultural studies. Many people got their fingers burnt. Thankfully I wasn't one of them.
So next up was Communist Headache - what were the circumstances for creating an ultra left magazine?
Well I had to get another job as we were skint (we now being a family unit). I resumed working in late 1993 and it took about 6 months to get fired up with the usual hate and time loss stress! My one and a half years off had been taken up with looking after the baby and it had become apparent that the remnants of the old scene were drifting away. For some reason I got a taste for collecting old anarchist and left communist material. Thus began a massive reading spree facilitated by the fact that my job allowed me time on my own to do such things. As usual I flew headlong into this with a trainspotter mentality and began indexing complete back runs of political essays going back into the 1980's. Inevitably I got drawn into theoretical 'developments' and the contrasting of different ideas (amid ideologies) and eventually began collecting notes and producing my own works. I was fascinated (once again) by the different cores of people who produced hard political magazines (Wildcat, Subversion, Organise, Heavy Stuff...), however I felt that I had to put across my own views. In many ways this was different to Unimpressed because I felt it was important that people read my ideas, and less important that I achieved the status of producing my own magazine, claiming a 'patch' or whatever. The issues that I dealt with, like class structure and relationships, were central to understanding all that had gone before in my life. I felt that there was a necessity to interpret all events through this spectrum, something that still provides both a force and a problem in the present.
What was happening on a practical level?
There was always the strange dynamics of the local anarchist group. I tried to be involved and develop some kind of theoretical discussion group, but this was always difficult, as there is always an element that sees little role in revolutionary theory. Practically there were things happening - campaigns against the World Student Games, the Criminal Justice Bill. There was a national call for left communist groups to come together (summer 1994 I think) and by then I had launched the name Communist Headache, though it was only a name on a flyer. The union of forces never came to be (personal differences again!) and by early 1995 I had produced a few texts that had been speed written in a weekend while the family was away.
I circulated these texts for general discussion - pieces on animal rights, a rant on the current situation, a rant on football and a commentary on the demise of the situationist 'scene'. During this time I was working on a mammoth piece on class theory that still exists as a mass of notes, photocopies and scribbled references. There is as also my theoretical 'punk payback' piece which appeared in Autotoxicity - this was, and is, important to me because it attempts to understand culture class perspectives and my own participation.
And Communist Headache emerged from this?
Yes. I wanted it to be the ongoing work of myself and a few others from the local anarchist group, but that never happened. Maybe that says something about myself at the time - that I was too intense. I had planned to announce myself with a publication at the 1995 anarchist bookfair (October) but I got carried away with climbing for that summer and most of my reading / writing projects were put on the back burner. When I returned to work in the college library I quickly got into the swing of hatehatehate and estimated that I had a month and a half to get something ready. I completed my contribution to understanding class struggle Marxism, my problems with contemporary anarchism, and a complicated discussion of class sociology into issue 1. With about 2 weeks left I had enough for a second issue, using mainly the flyers I had circulated before and an essay on political violence and anti-fascism. Finally I even managed to get out a third issue by tying up essays on information theory, anti- social behaviour, middle class dynamics, and the longstanding punk essay. So I had the ridiculous situation where 3 issues appeared at one time!
How do you feel about this material now?
As written theory I stand by it all. But in terms of seeing the anarchist / left communist milieu as a place for ideas to develop then I am not so sure. This work had emerged from a period of intense research spanning left communism, autonomism and Situationism anthologies. Various influences crept through in terms of subject (Marxist economics, autonomist concepts of desire, and form (a tendency to use Situationist anti-poetry). Whether the whole thing is of any use is difficult to gauge - I have always received feedback from this project even though I never promoted it. I am interested now in understanding a use value of radical theory - something I am applying to my current projects.
How did future issues of Headache span out?
Issue 4 was a product of responses and reactions to the first three issues. Also I was increasingly seeing problems with the anarchist movement. Petty differences being blown up by inflated egos. I tried to put this across in the big essay 'Internal Bleeding' which formed the backbone of issue 4 and then found myself running into familiar questions whose only answers seemed to remain out of reach. What is class? What is middle class? What is the category work? What about social control as work and vice versa? At the same time I unearthed a series of articles from about 15 years ago that arrived at and posed the same questions as I now posing. This seemed to suggest some sort of terminus or barrier. I kind of collapsed into a weird style of literature that drew from a long bout of illness and watching the X-Files and lost most of my readership. The whole of that issue was a kind of practical joke, literally from front cover to back. The target of this joke was me, for daring myself to take my contributions to politics so seriously!
Did this coincide with the 'Parasite trilogy'?
Yes. Things began to get accelerated here. Initially I had been following the ICC (International Communist Current) and their attempts at positioning themselves as the true heirs of Marx. This involved a rabid disassociation with all things vaguely anarchist and a weird on/off relationship with the CWO (Communist Workers Organisation).
There was a Sheffield connection here?
Yes. The CWO took part in organising the study circle which was quite enlightening. This was attended by about 5-6 CWO members and 2-3 anarchists. Apparently a few more used to come but I caught it in its dying days. It was a strange experience to say the least. This was the first time I had dealings with a group who had solidly and consciously rejected the anarchist movement, and at the same time held a rigid understanding (belief?) in Marxist crisis theory. Part of the reasoning behind Headache 1 was to document my attempts to come to terms with this idea. However, at the level of operation which the CWO employed, it seemed to become abstracted, academic and useless. Of course I didn't see this at first - there was a thirst to find out - and even now I'm not sure I gathered an understanding of all the mechanisms. And it gets even more complicated with the likes of Camatte and the 'real' and 'formal' domination of capital. I think it is important to understand these concepts and where they have come from - this is something I still try to do when I have the time and energy. I have found that with writing and producing Autotoxicity it is something that I am enthusiastic about, so I have to temper this enthusiasm with analysis (or it just comes across as indulgence).
Anyway, the study circle became increasingly dominated with subjects revolving around crisis theory, though not necessarily a fault of the CWO as no-one offered any new directions (myself included). The whole thing just fizzled out without any acrimony.
So how did the ICC manage to site themselves in your targets?
Well they blew a couple of trivial incidents right out of proportion. Firstly there was a tirade of words accusing the CWO of fishing in the parasite swamp by participating in the study circle (so I am immediately classified as a parasite). Then there was the 'Manchester Altercation' which gave a ridiculously pompous account of a meeting attended by 3 people where one person was obviously unswayed by the ICC's arrogant methods and chose to put his feet on a chair. It became increasingly apparent that there was some serious derangement going on and for about a year, their paper 'World Revolution' contained dialogue of weird insult slinging coated with a frantic truth bending in the name of establishing the true heirs of Marx.
The first part of the parasite trilogy 'Sleeping Sickness' had a few motives - it was kind of auto-dissolution/auto-historification of the Headache project. For the back cover I had used a letter of rejection from the CWO to take part in a new, more controlled study circle. The grounds for this rejection was my unsound understanding of Marxism (which I wouldn't disagree with). Sleeping Sickness extrapolated certain behavioural patterns of the ICC and certain concrete things they were trying to do, and twisted them into a work of total sci-fi paranoia.
How did it go down?
Well the people who had been spectating on the incredible demise of the ICC found it quite amusing but the ICC didn't see the funny side (as the saying goes). In fact, the ICC used this element of fiction and seemed to place themselves in the story (which was obviously a pisstake) and change the conclusion. The whole thing had a surreal ‘Wizard of Oz" feel, with a totally manufactured (even by film industry standards) ending.
The storyline went something like this: a mystery document which needed to be passed between the CWO and the ICC to create a bond of historical proportions was subject to a blood and death scramble. The actual document was the letter of rejection I received from the CWO, but the ICC claimed that the publication of 'Sleeping Sickness' constituted a very real document of unification and its existence had actually pulled the ICC and the CWO towards a unification.
Is this of any relevance?
Probably not! The ICC are a good example of a well disciplined left communist organisation that has digested an uncomfortable ideology. Maybe there is a natural tendency towards which I would have drifted... we are back to the idea of the terminus that I mentioned earlier. Something I think that is very important. But it all becomes so wooden and dead, reflecting all light and criticism. There have been numerous criticisms of the organisation, written mainly by bitter ex-members, but there is undoubtedly a good core of Marxist analysis that we have to consider seriously. Something I always bear in mind.
So what was next in this trilogy?
'Abduction' - a short piece that added to the ridiculous crossfire around the psychotic parapolitcal investigator Larry O'Hara. It also allowed me to continue flexing my X-Files obsession! I wanted to focus more on O'Hara's behaviour, his psychological malfunctioning and stunted logic, than on the well documented events that sprung from this behaviour. The story set itself in a ridiculous fictional context.
And how will you conclude the trilogy?
Well the final part will be split into two sections. The first will unite Sleeping Sickness and Abduction using an X-Files type logic that traverses subjects such as alien implantation, E-coli and political intrigue. This heads towards a conclusion in the magical lands of Scandinavia where I will try to bring in some of the reasoning behind Autotoxicity. It is a very cool time to write with all the paranoia about the millennium, and the very real burden of the 'year 2000 problem' regarding computer systems!
So this takes us to Autotoxicity - is there a conscious break from Communist Headache?
Difficult to say as there are so many reasons for starting the ATX project. In terms of a break with Marxism, then I would disagree. Certainly I felt there was a tendency within anarchism / left-communism to reach a certain set of questions within a certain framework and be unable to move without turning towards quasi-religious/rightwing/ultra-moralist perspectives (e.g. Green Anarchist and much of the US anarchist scene at present). I was getting to a point where the more I studied capitalist dynamics and the mechanisms of workplaces the more it becomes necessary to see workers as deluded fools who can only get ultra miserable.
What about primitivist perspectives?
Well, yes. I fell for this a little and got into some arguments that suggested it is a subject that goes to the heart of disagreements as to how to model and eventually change the world. Though again it has a tendency to see workers as deluded, stupid, or worst of all, at fault. I think there is a crucial element of primitivism that criticises classical determinist Marxist economic theory - but used in this sense it defines it's existence through a negativity - "I am here only to prove something is wrong". I think Here and Now (possibly the best post-punk theoretical magazine) best summed up both the appeal and crux of primitivism when they commented upon the debate between the magazines Aufheben and Wildcat: "...the absence of a vision of communism more concrete than Hegelian-Marxist metaphysics constitutes a serious brake on the project to abolish and supercede capitalism. It is this perceived gap that primitivism plugs, however inadequately".
Has a theoretical strand emerged in Autotoxicity?
In terms of a developing theoretical magazine I suppose that ATX was a conscious break from Communist Headache - at least for the first two issues. There is a residue of dogma present at times, and this is something I have to address in my writing. I am trying to position a new theoretical assault with issue 3. The essay 'Travelling Innerspace' was an attempt to update the initial Marxist enquiry I made in the early issues of Headache, to bring it into line with the concept of ATX and the ideas of cultural systems and dynamics. Circumstances and a lack of strength meant that I wasn't happy with the 'finished' article - though I emphasise that even something I would be happy with could never be finished. It is an important time if we are to develop strategic tools and analyses.
This essay has become subject to some criticism?
Fuck, yes! The concepts I wanted to explain were so difficult to put across. I initially played with the ideas of fractal maths as some kind of experiment towards creating new fictions - but they slowly began to seem more applicable to my undefinable theories. For instance it is useful to take the reference point of the everyday commuting process.
Now, there have been Marxist critiques of this for years to the extent that it should be included in the wage equation, etc. or even this autonomist concept of time and creativity as a basic premise of struggle... but I found commuting to be a total deadspot. It happened to me one hour, twice every day and I couldn't remember a thing. I was totally switched off - where the fuck was I? Certainly not wasting my creative potential because there seemed to be nothing there... an ultra-subjective state taken to the point of pure trance.
Then I realised that much of my work was the same. Grueling repetitive tasks that bore no relevance to creating a tangible product whatsoever. This totally shifts the equations of thought. Work becomes the internalisation of dead time, the premise of ultra-subjectivity, the blocking of the brain in the worship of the deadspot, and the subsequent creation of a need to feed this 'empty sector'. I remember my Dad's frustrations when he got home from work. All day turning a lathe to clean huge bobbins for fashion industry yarns. This went beyond hard economics and into the realm of the psychological. Where he used to reach for the anti-depressants we now have an array of spectacular culture.
So Autotoxicity can be seen in this light?
YES! Primarily it is part of a process of reclaimed self-activity. A personal project and a prompt for others to do the same. The magazine is a challenge to create before I have even got onto deciding what theoretical substance I want to include. I began to be influenced by my 4 year old daughter who had a great perspective on looking at situations - she just looked at the balance of fun and hurt involved, and if it didn't create some enjoyment for all those concerned then it wasn't worth doing. Practices such as psychogeography can be better explained from these perspectives. They are truly revolutionary because they are visionary and they disrupt the flows of the traffic of everyday life.
There has also been this intense 'midnight notes' feel to it. Of creating and utilising hidden circuits at work - of getting people to pull together and create spaces, time, resources and adventure at work to benefit themselves outside of the work/consume continuum. There are obvious things like printing for cheap, but then we got into experimental printing and binding techniques, and raiding the science for stickers and other effects things. Of course we put into play other circuits, but we cannot talk about those here!
What about the category Art?
I have never felt the need to consider my activity as art, nor to assume that people should see what I create and so imprint the category artist upon myself. Of course there is always this problem in the underground printing milieu. I have always put it down to class! I come from common breeding stock - a lathe worker and a dinner lady - so I've no great urge to pull everybody along on some great journey of self-discovery.
From my experience when networks begin to coagulate then
there is this strange tendency for the group efforts to be interpreted as art
- it only takes a few individuals to fuck it up for everyone and this is a shame.
Artists kill me - especially now they consider everything they do as art. I
was checking a newspaper put together by artists who all communicate across
the net and somehow they had decided that their internet connectivity might
be classed as art - kind of like a new movement or whatever. This had been debated
across the net and the commentary of this had been made into this newspaper,
which was by now conceived as an art project. So it was a self-fulfilling prophecy
typical of the confident, smug bullshit they all ooze.
Finally, what about music?
That's my big secret. I remember Stewart Home stating about how he didn't want the misdemeanor of immersing himself in some 'youth music culture' - about how punk was his field and that's what he'd stick to. Being active in the early punk movement myself and then in the early 80's noise scenes, I suppose I have taken the opposite strategy to Stewart. I find it all quite interesting and still very exciting. Music changes minds. It is a big issue and means a lot to many people. Of course there are possibilities but I will say no more than that.
Originally appeared in Autotoxicity 3
If you liked this, you might also want to check out:
White Punks on Bordiga (in the anarchopunk section)
Interview with Parasol Post