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It has become too easy to imagine the counterculture as a puff of smoke on the horizon of history. Some nebulous network of hippies appears for a brief instant only to quickly dissipate, ineffectively, into catastrophes of historical inevitability. Every attempt to grasp the moment seems to fail, or at best to fall into a peculiar Romanticism, like an overexposed photograph that claims to have captured an image of something precisely at the moment of its disappearance. Muther Grumble, a newspaper that was produced between 1971 and 1973, is both an archetype of this momentary swelling of the Underground, and at the same time gives the lie to any attempt to split its history from wider social motions.
The words in this issue are barbed in ways that remain familiar: the formalism of Leninists is picked apart. So too are the proclamations of social democratic trade unionists in a time of rising unemployment: the TUC’s “Right to Work” slogans and placards emblazoned with ineptitudes like “Happiness is Job-Shaped”. Hippies too are pillaried: the “freer consciousness” of the perpetual dope smoker is grilled by a Marxian argument for a revolution in praxis and not just in the mind. At the end of the issue a meditating hippy is caricatured amid the genocide in Bangladesh (profits from the sale of the newspaper - if there were any - were sent to refugees from the Bangladeshi war of independence.
The contents of the paper too are unusual: they include brief theoretical essays that tend sometimes towards prose experiments, to investigative reports of political intrigue in the local Durham Labour party, to a critique of the latest John Lennon album by someone who knew him personally, and a political call to the left on how to respond to the Troubles in Ireland. The irreverance of the moment is given shape by a description of “Operation Rupert”: a call for the underground to disrupt the massive Christian ‘Festival of Light’ in London, which turns out disorganised and hilarious. Cliff Richard gets eggs chucked at him. The Gay Liberation Front tussle with cops: “Meanwhile a fuzz was having the pleasure of being kicked in the nuts by an irate nun in drag. Big boots and hairy legs under her habit. Too few freaks turned out to make an arrest impossible, meanwhile the underground are happy with the myth that was Operation Rupert.” More importantly though, much the writing begins a critique of the new technocracy, linking together the shifts in production at that moment to rising unemployment. Some of the reflexes of this critique are recognisable: a regression into local myth, in which the giants and fairies of County Durham have their stories unearthed; a heady psychedelic existentialism; a wicked situationist verve.
But at the same time there is an attempt to reach out - to break down the divides between freaks and straights: community organising and local papers full of people’s everyday lives. A promise of help with benefits claims, struggles with landlords. Even the possibility of people dropping by the newspaper office if they need advice, for everything including questions on contraception, unwanted pregnancies, drug difficulties (busts, bad trips, hang-ups and addictions) and racial discrimination.
Details and pdf here
Muther Grumble’s issue on Crime from February 1973. Read the exposés of new forms of violence used by the state to undermine the underground, benefits claimants, striking miners. Here is the story of political policing in Britain, and how a criminally corrupt establishment tried to crush a movement.
“Perhaps we should get more angry.” This sentence must have been written with a wry smile with its nod to the Angry Brigade, in the wake of their long trial. By the beginning of 1973 all of those elements that had coalesced in Muther Grumble - hippies, striking miners, Marxist elements from the student movement, benefits claimants - were under sustained attack. The state was increasingly finding ways to criminalise the underground:
“A look at some recent events and a general pattern begins to emerge that indicates that pressure from the establishment is increasing far more than the pressure on it. For instance when a person or group of people is seen by the authorities to be a threat to their stability, it is becoming increasingly common for prosecutions to be brought for conspiracy, incitement or something equally non-specific. In fact there are a whole group of laws and acts, some new some archaic, which the authorities can use to suppress those they see as a threat. In other words, if they want to get you they don’t need to wait till you commit a ‘crime’. These are the laws relating to Official Secrets, Conspiracy, Incitement, Drugs, Censorship, Obscene Publications, Court Injunctions, and Special Powers, Housing Finance, and Industrial Relations Acts. Nearly all prosecutions under these laws could be described as political.”
But this violence not just a matter of finding the right charge to condemn the lives of the underground; it was part of a process in which the state at every level bolstered informal legal violence against those who wanted to change the world. By the end of the student movement the Special Demonstration Squad had been established. In the early 1970s political trials were brought against several underground newspapers (most notoriously the Oz trial), while Robert Carr’s Industrial Relations Act had put an end to wildcat strikes. Meanwhile, the colonial policing of Ireland was closer to home than ever. At the same time, individuals were subject to increasingly draconian sentences for possession of marijuana. One article in this issue details such a bust in which David and Sally were given 36 and 21 month sentences for possession of weed and acid, after the Drug Squad and Special Branch smashed down their front door and beat up Dave.
But their story is less than usual: most often this extra-legal violence was less about securing a conviction than justifying police violence, holding people on remand, The Crime issue of Muther Grumble testifies to how well understood it was by all those in different movements - from students, to miners, to drugged up dropouts - understood this new organisation of state violence. For them, the Angry Brigade trial became an avatar: a show of strength by the state, in running through a political stitch up. But for those who had been convicted, the paper describes the establishment of a new Prisoner solidarity and reform group, PROP.
So this issue - having understood the accusation of criminality to be entirely political - engages in an attempt at recrimination. Under the titles, “PORN”, “MURDER”, “ROBBERY”, “RAPE” the crimes of the establishment are exposed one by one. There is also plenty of investigative work on the Poulson scandal, which had originally been a scoop for Muther Grumble (and ultimately led to the toppling of a minister), alongside further articles on corruption among local officials. If calling something a crime had become a political accusation, here is the backlash from below!
Alongside this are the usuals from Muther Grumble: News about music (David Bowie and Rock ’n’ Roll revival), a lovely miners song from the 1880s about an overproductive but stupid who dies eating a greasy dishcloth, a semi-situationist reflection on Christmas, and listings of events all over the North East.
February- March 1972
Details and pdf here