Interview with Osha Neumann: Up Against the Wall Motherfucker and the 60s Counterculture

Osha Neumann, son of Franz Neumann and stepson of Herbert Marcuse, member of the Motherfuckers; lawyer, artist, and author of the book Up Against the Wall Motherf**ker. A Memoir of the ‘60s, with Notes for Next Time. Interviewed by Adrian Mengay and Maike Pricelius in 2010, first published in datacide fifteen in 2016.

AM: In the 1960s you were a member of a radical political group called “Up against the Wall Motherfuckers” based in New York City. Could you explain what the Motherfuckers were?

ON: The Motherfuckers were a small group that formed on the Lower East Side in 1967. The Lower East Side of New York was a predominantly Puerto Rican ghetto at this point. It had been the entranceway for immigrants for many, many years. It had been a Jewish ghetto before the Puerto Ricans moved in. We have been called many things. Some people called us ‘a street gang with an analysis’. Ben Morea, who was one of the key figures, was identified as an anarchist. Others of us did not particularly identify either as anarchists or as Marxists or in any of the traditional political categories. We considered our base to be what the media called hippies – dropouts, freaks, countercultural youth who swarmed into this ghetto around the time when we were forming. It had been a place where the beatniks had been before the hippies, and then the punks came afterwards. It had cheap, cheap rents. There were squatters mixed in with the Puerto Rican population. At that point our base was, as I say, these hippies primarily, although attached to us at various times were groups of young Puerto Ricans, who would come to our events and our demonstrations.

AM: How was life in the Lower East Side? And what exactly did you do as Motherfuckers aside from organizing demonstrations?

ON: We lived largely communally, in crash pads or houses we had. We put on free nights, we gave out free food, we had feasts, we had a free store where people could come and give away things for free, and various other institutions. We published lots of – at that point – mimeographed flyers and then some pages in an underground newspaper that was published in the Lower East Side. After only a couple of years, actually, the situation began to change, both internally and externally, and the Lower East Side, the counterculture, although subject to the stresses of survival and repression from the police, had been still more or less free and joyous. But it got a harder edge. The drugs changed from pretty good acid to heroin, crack and speed. Gangs moved in – biker gangs – to contest with us for the turf, and also our rhetoric changed.

MP: How was the interaction between the Motherfuckers, the black community, and the Puerto Rican community on the Lower East Side? [Read more →]

Identity, Commodity, Authority: Two new Books on Horkheimer and Adorno

Book review by Marcel Stoetzler

Abromeit, John, 2011, Max Horkheimer and the Foundations of the Frankfurt School, Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press

Benzer, Matthias, 2011, The Sociology of Theodor Adorno, New York etc: Cambridge University Press

John Abromeit and Matthias Benzer have published two detailed and highly informative monographs, one on Max Horkheimer (1895-1973), the other on Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969). The two books are written in styles that could hardly differ more: Abromeit’s is a primarily historical presentation that engages in exegesis of key texts mostly in chronological order, covering the period from Horkheimer’s birth in 1895 to 1941, whereas Benzer’s presentation rarely references historical context and draws in each of its chapters on the entire range of Adorno’s writings insofar as they make explicit or implicit statements about society. Adorno’s position is shown not in its gradual emergence but from the perspective of its most developed stage, Negative Dialectic being one of the most often quoted works. Furthermore, while Benzer almost completely disappears behind his subject matter, which he presents in a detached but faithful manner, Abromeit frames his argument within an evaluative, historical narrative that presents the Horkheimer of the 1930s as the most genuine representative of Critical Theory, whereas the Horkheimer of 1941ff is suggested to represent a lesser version. Abromeit chose the year 1941 as the cut-off point because in that year Horkheimer reduced to a minimum the activities of the Institute for Social Research in New York, ended the publication of the Institute’s journal Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, and moved to Los Angeles to concentrate on theoretical work with Adorno. Abromeit also emphasises that Erich Fromm had departed from the Institute in 1939, which is around the time Adorno became a member.

Key to Abromeit’s narrative is his view that Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s co-authored Dialectic of Enlightenment (first published in 1944) ‘fits seamlessly into the larger trajectory of Adorno’s work, but represents a break with Horkheimer’s early Critical Theory’ (Abromeit 2011:4).1 The decisive point here is the interpretation of the Enlightenment: [Read more →]

From Adorno to Mao, or: the Decomposition of the ’68 Protest Movement in Germany

Extended book review of:

Jens Benicke: Von Adorno zu Mao – über die schlechte
Aufhebung der antiautoritären Bewegung (ça ira, Freiburg im
Breisgau 2010)

Jens Benicke describes in his book the development of the German far left in the years around 1968 from positions strongly influenced and informed by the Critical Theory of Adorno, Horkheimer and Marcuse to the neo-leninist cadre organisations, which became in the 1970’s the strongest formation on the far left. In this article I’m using the book as a starting point to elaborate on some topics I touched upon in the text Hedonism and Revolution in datacide eleven.

The situation of the German Left after the War until 1967
The Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School provided an intellectual pole of critical Marxism amidst the general post-war West German anti-communist consensus. After the war, the holocaust, the eventual defeat of fascism and the ensuing occupation which produced two German states, the Institute for Social Research, originally founded in 1923 and exiled in 1933, finally returned to Frankfurt at the beginning of the 50’s, and took a unique place in the development of the left.
In terms of left wing organisations and parties which had reformed/ returned from exile after 1945, there were two key dates eventually leading to the student movement of the 60’s. In 1956, the Communist Party (KPD) was made illegal in West Germany.
In 1959, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) declared its transition from a workers party to a “people’s party” in its Godesberg Program. The more radical student organisation associated with the SPD, the SDS, didn’t go along with this move towards the political center. The SPD banned dual membership with the SDS and thus effectively expelled its members.
Far from being delivered to political oblivion, the SDS became the driving organizational force for the “extra-parliamentary opposition” (APO) in the 60’s. [Read more →]