Frenetic Militancy

sayarsan's picture

The anti-Vietnam war protests in the late sixties made an impression along with the war itself and a generalised sense that ‘things are not all they seem’ gave rise to a desire to see ‘things as they are’, a self-serving exercise that can easily absorb a lifetime. Along with protests against the war came protests against everything and a social paradigm of consumerism predicated on global rape became the focus for so many different protests it is as if a convulsive change in our society is inevitable and also a good thing. Even school students are audacious enough to organise demonstrations in the city and at their own school, a stunt which probably led to my expulsion. The population bomb is responsible for a radical rethink of social roles and an acquiescent acceptance of a life disconnected from the natural world. The prospect of an old age at the end of a life which has seen little and achieved less becomes all the more abhorrent and all the while the prospect of finding a stable vocation becomes all the more competitive and even educational institutions are bare of niceties, growing more crowded and foreboding. A regimented youth was all the grounding it took to become efficient at performing the simplistic tasks of an urban militant but to do it with some imagination was more than a lot of fun and required a range of skills from an ability to draw to a grounding in history and an imperviousness to authority resistant even in prison.

The only failure lay in acquiescence to a life unlived, as true as it ever was and I have seen it in the faces of those who do acquiesce what a mean life it must be. To awake to a sinking feeling five days out of seven, travel through peak hour with a hangover after skipping breakfast, arrive to a job with absolutely no bearing on your existence whatsoever other than credit at the bank and providing you with a whole lot of relationships you would rather not have, return home in such a state of agitation you cannot think straight and soon enough you are convinced existence has ganged up on you and there is no alternative but to give in to a perversion that is your downfall. No not a nice prospect and I am happy to say this militant deftly avoids it still. Not so with the bulk of those who embark on a career of agitation who, finding themselves lacking in the fortitude and audacity to keep at it, yield to the compromises that punctuate their lives, marriage, procreation, isolation, impotence. The infantile need for a mother substitute becomes the primary force in their lives again and it’s as if they were never really alive. The masquerade continuous while the person ages and enthusiasm gives way to a tired insistence that life is special. Clothes that look absurd, makeup to frighten people, loud claims to an original and meaningful life that belie the tragedy until it can’t be ignored by which time it is far too late. A large group of well adjusted people taking a quick peek at social change before settling into mediocrity is the best that can be said, while on the other hand there are the hard core misfits who find no purchase in any pursuit which requires elementary principles of hard work, trust, delegation, command, commitment and faith. In a city there is always some tradition but in a parochial backwater like Brisbane traditions of this sort were never tolerated and it is a mean little facsimile that takes their place. Brisbane veteran anarchist Joe Toscano who has lived in Melbourne since the early 70’s laments the state of Brisbane anarchism and after 40 years including 10 spent in Sydney I wholly endorse the opinion.

The frenzy of activity around the University of Queensland Student Union gave opportunities for veterans of private school debating teams, bookish intellectuals and would be demagogues to make a name for themselves for the first and only time in their lives and they brought all the qualities of the playground to bear as they formed gangs like keystone cops in a Russian Revolution, a line of work reserved for highly competitive egomaniacs peddling their delusions to anyone who listens. People who would never in all likelihood involve themselves with those less fortunate, particularly in Asia, were rewarded by attention from the opposite sex and were hooked, playing out a tired line even when grey. This is a far cry from the intellectual traditions that gave substance to the Workers International before Marx took it over and delivered it to the bourgeoisie in a play that is mimicked in almost every workers’ struggle in history, big and small. From the tradition of craft printers they are too lazy to clean the ink off the rollers, from a tradition of guerrillas they pose with hunting weapons like landed gentry, from a tradition of insurgency they don’t even get the clothes right or the names, from the tradition of working class solidarity they patronise the blue collar and presume to know better, from a tradition of inquiry they inevitably settle for what they already know, from a tradition of tolerance they are overly suspicious and despise that which they don’t find acquiescent. In cities like Melbourne and Sydney there are enough strangers coming in and out every day to expose the ridiculousness of such types but a backwater like Brisbane gives them the cover they need to continue their delusions until it’s time to give up and settle into bitter old age bereft of any real achievement at all save for that endorsed by the state and fading memories of pubescent sex smothered by the bloated fornication of middle age.

Without sufficient stamina to keep working together for more than a few years the radical groups all fell into decline after the war ended. The one I was in did the same despite insistences that we were above ‘issues’ and collapsed under its own weight when it ceased to grow, echoing the capitalist mentality of the star demagogue who went on to shine as a tennis poof. In a scenario reminiscent of a cruel peasant flogging a dead horse the tired old act of distributing crude roneo leaflets to a disinterested public was re-enacted to the tune of 250,000 leaflets in a campaign which encouraged people not to vote in the one election they probably should have, after the dismissal of the Whitlam Government. Over the four to five years I worked with the group we did nothing other than distribute tired looking leaflets full of left wing jargon to a disinterested public and the only variation on this was a broadsheet printed on offset for the high schools. The two factions did the right thing and separated temporarily in a display of farcical behaviour that left me in no doubt about their utter hopelessness. If it hadn’t been for punk rock I would have moved to Sydney four years earlier.

When I did I was on the trail of a ‘philosopher’s stone’ by which I could transmutate base substances into gold and succeeded well enough after being dragged by an obsession that wouldn’t let me go for several years. Eventually it was time for a change so I packed it away for a rainy day which dawned when I was a fulltime student living in a squat. A textbook example of the radical demagogue showed up wanting to set up a similar operation but unlike me he was incapable of doing it. In the end I wrote down the instructions which had taken me more than a year of travel, research, luck and hard work to get right, gave him all the glass-ware which included a host of Quickfit ground glass-ware that was worth some hundreds of dollars to buy, eventually taking him by the hand to find a flat to put it in so he would stop hanging around our veranda drinking beer only to see him lose the plot and ultimately fail when he succumbed to smoking the product, a few months was all he could manage after I had worked diligently and alone for more than a year before there was even any product. Just another example of the overbearing demagogue who has nothing of their own to offer while he tucks another feather of ‘success’ into his grubby cap and retreats back to more familiar haunts with familiar sycophants. Returning to Brisbane for a year during the bicentennial I was treated to an example of squatting, Brisbane style. A token affair in inner city West End where overseas back packers provided a raison d’etre and they could raise a banner of anti-development then a few of us decided to occupy a place to live in but nowhere was there any seriousness about the enterprise. The luminaries in this movement were living in a deceased estate under the aegis of the owner and never took any risks and even left the job of cleaning the place out to the owner. Being in Brisbane they all think it will never last so there’s no reason to take it seriously which pretty well sums up Brisbane anarchism….a game indulged in by narcissistic people looking for a diversion that will make them appear involved, interesting, anything other than the dull suburban wage slaves they deride and ultimately join while they are too inept, lazy, fearful or just plain stupid to defend anything because they never have anything to defend after a lifetime of dissipation they retreat to alcohol and oblivion and when the time comes they have nothing to recall.