Luther Blissett on Mon, 21 Sep 1998 02:40:14 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Songs From The Wood

Songs From The Wood
Net-Culture, Autonomous Mythology and the Luther Blissett Project

by F. P. Belletati
All rights dispersed

keywords:  mythology - class war - identity - sabotage

_As Down Home As I Can Get_

     The prime mover was a loose-knit current of Italy's Marxism labelled
'operaismo' [workerism], which had absolutely nothing to do with the
Communist Party.
     In the early 1960's the Operaisti started to investigate changes in
the sociological composition of the working class.  At that time, the young
mass-worker of Fordist-Taylorist factories was still the tongue of the
compass, the most important segment of the proletariat. The operaista
intervention in class struggle was based upon a participant observation of
the mass-worker's behaviour. The mass worker explicitly refused the older
generation's work ethic and discipline. This insubordination was the main
mover of conflict in the workplace. Sabotage was not invisible anymore:
along with moments of open struggle (strikes and demonstrations) there was
a flourishing of micro-tactics to slow down or stop the assembly line.
     Operaisti were committed to studying those behaviours and defining the
dialectics between class struggle and capitalist development which I'm
going to sum up - taking some shortcuts. The continual confrontation
between capital and living labour was the cause of all technological
innovations and changes in management, which would provoke further changes
in the class composition, therefore the conflict would continue on a higher
     After the so-called Hot Autumn (1969), a season of general strikes
and radical struggles with millions of workers taking the streets,
proletarian insubordination increased. Struggles became more and more
'autonomous' (this was the adjective by which wildcat strikers would
describe their occupations: "assemblea autonoma"). In 1973 the
self-disbanding of the post-operaista group Potere Operaio [Workers' Power]
gave origin to the scene renowned as autonomia operaia organizzata
[organized workers' autonomy].
During the 1970's, Italian Autonomia theorists (Toni Negri first among
equals) started to investigate and define the existence and subversive
behavior of the 'operaio sociale'.
Such an ambiguous collective noun - hardly translatable into English -
served to describe both the youngest generations of industrial workers who
had broken away from the work ethic once and for all, and the whole cast of
frustrated service workers, 'proletarianised' students and white collars,
unemployed wo/men and members of youth subcultures whose conflict was
clearly 'anti-dialectical'.
     'Anti-dialectical' means that self-organization, wildcat strikes,
occupations and acts of sabotage did not take place within the realm of
negotiated class struggle, indeed, they even cut loose from the traditional
dialectical bond between struggles and development, and challenged the
recuperative function of the unions and the Left's political control.
In order to repress those uncontrollable eruptions and outbursts (the 1977
movement above all), the ruling class had to impose a state of emergency.
It was a bloodbath. By the end of the decade, most militants had been
killed, thrown in prison, escaped from the country or started to shoot up
heroin. But that's another story.
     As some have suggested, from now on I'm going to use the term
'composizionismo' instead of '[post-]operaismo', because the former is more
precise and does not automatically correspond to a particular segment of
the working class (the "blue collars").
     The so-called 'third industrial revolution' made capital supercede
the fordist-taylorist paradigm, and turned information into the most
important productive force.
     Appealing to those passages of the *Grundrisse* where Karl Marx used the
expression 'general intellect', compositionists began to use such
descriptions as 'mass intellectual' and 'diffused intellectual' making
reference to multifarious subjectivities in the new class composition.
     'Mass intellectuals' are those people whose living labour consists,
broadly speaking, in a subordinated output of "creativity" and social
communication (in compositionist jargon: 'immaterial work'). This segment
of the operaio sociale ranges from computer programmers to workers of
Toyotist factories, from graphic designers to copy writers, from PR people
to cultural workers, from teachers to welfare case-workers etc.
     Negri's analysis in particular is based upon the 'prerequisites of
communism' immanent to post-Fordist capitalism. By 'prerequisites of
communism' Negri means those collective forms that are created by past
struggles and are constantly re-shaped by the workers' tendencies,
attitudes and reactions to exploitation. Some of these forms even become
institutions (e.g. those of the Welfare State), then they go through a
series of crises: social conflict created them, social conflict keeps them
open and necessarily unfinished. Their crisis reverberates on the whole
society, so conflict continues on a higher level.
     The most important prerequisite of communism is the collective
dimension of  capitalist production, which brings about more social
     The stress must be laid upon the most strategic form of today's
living labour, i.e. 'general intellect', immaterial work, "creativity", you
name it. 'General intellect' (unlike labour in Taylor's 'scientific
management') is self-activated. The mass intellectual's workforce is not
organised by capital, because social communication is prior to
entrepreneurship. Capital can only recuperate and subdue social
communication, control the mass intellectuals from the outside after having
acknowledged and even stimulated their creativity and far-reaching
     The conflict continues on the highest level: capital's
"progressive" spur is over, autonomy is becoming a premise rather than a

_The Common Being And The Net_
     A compositionist approach to computer networking reveals that:
- The Net's horizontal and trans-national development brings about a
potentially autonomous social cooperation.
- Most netizens fall within the anthropological, sociological and
economical descriptions of  'mass intellectuals'.
- Today's Net landscape is the synthesis of many molecular insubordinations
and some important molar victories, (e.g. the anti-CDA 'Blue Ribbon'
campaign) and is continually re-shaped by conflict.
- The Net is also shaped by software piracy and copyright infringement:
private property of ideas and concepts is challenged and often defeated. If
any one of you is without copied or cracked programs, let them be the first
to throw a stone at me.
- As an "institution", The Net is going through a growth-crisis that is
reflected upon the whole society. In its turn, this crisis is a mover of
     In plain words, the Net seems to be the prerequisite of communism
*par excellence*. This is not an uncritical utopian view of computer
networking, of course there's a huge gap between the potential and the
actual: work-force vs. work, *langue* vs. *parole*, capital vs. living=
consumerism vs. social communication. The Net is the OK Corral. It's
paradoxical that, after all the schmoozing about 'molecular revolution',
we're heading straight to a new molar impact.
The global anti-"paedophilia" mobilization is the state of emergency by
which the powers that be want to gag netizens. The reappropriation of
knowledge and the self-organization of mass intellectuals require the
defense of the Net from slanders and police raids. We must keep this
"institution" unfinished and open to any possibility, prevent capital from
filling the abovementioned gap with censorship and commodification. It
isn't just a liberal battle for free speech: it's class war.
     But this is not enough yet. We've got to make history, no less -
fill that gap with autonomy and self-organization. We also need myths,
narratives that incite mass intellectuals to take action. Each historical
phase of class war needs propelling mythologies, there's nothing wrong with
that. Georges Sorel has been slandered and misunderstood for too long. As
Luther Blissett put it:

'...the trouble is not the "falsehood" of myths, but the fact that they
outlive the historical forms of the needs and desires they channelled and
re-shaped. Once ritualised and systematised, the imaginary becomes the
mirror image of the powers that be. The myths of social change turn into
founding myths of the false community built and represented by the power
[...] The myth of the "Proletariat" was rotten as well: instead of fighting
for the self-suppression of proletarians as a class, the communist movement
had mystical wanks over any sign of  "proletarianship", such as the
"hardened hands" of the workers, or their "morality" [...] proletarians
were defined according to sociology and identified with blue collars
themselves at best, or with the "poor" of the Scriptures at worst, or even
with both figures, while Marx had written: 'Either the proletariat is
revolutionary, or it is nothing'. The direct consequences were Zdanov's
Socialist Realism, puritanism, sexual repression vs. bourgeois "decadence",
and all that shite.
However, [...] the "destruction of myths" makes no sense, we must
concentrate our efforts in another direction: let the imaginary move,
prevent it from crystallising, try to understand when and how myths are to
be deconstructed, dismembered or forgotten before the plurality of images
is reduced to one and absolute. [...]'
(*Mind Invaders: Come Fottere I  Media*, Rome, 1995 - a partial translation
available at <>)

We need open, interactive... rhizomatic mythologies. But mythologies are
always created, modified and re-told by some community. What community are
we talking about here?
Let's start again from 'general intellect'. 'General' means 'common',
literally 'belonging to the genus', i.e. wo/mankind, our species. In *On The
Jewish Question* and the *Economic And Philosophical Manuscripts* (1844),
Marx appealed to two important concepts: *Gemeinwesen* (common being) and
*Gattungswesen* (species-being). Class struggle, the self-suppression of
the proletariat as a class and, eventually, revolution were to overcome the
alienation of human beings from their own *Gemeinwesen* and
*Gattungswesen*, in order to build a global human community that coincided
with the species itself, beyond races and state-nations, beyond
citizenship. We cannot understand the compositionist theory which stems
from the *Grundrisse* if we don't stick to Marx's humanistic idea of

_The Waldganger's Black Game_

The Luther Blissett Project consciously started as an experiment of
networking as myth-making. 'Luther Blissett' is a multi-use-name that can
be adopted by anybody. The goal is an anthropomorphization of 'general
intellect': since 1994 many people who don't even know each other have
endlessly improved the reputation of Luther as a "Homo Gemeinwesen". And
yet, as Bifo put it: 'One must not overvalue the importance of Luther
Blissett. We could even say that Luther Blissett doesn't count for
anything. All that really counts is the fact that we're all Luther Blissett

Here are some sub-mythologies studied and put into practice by Luther

1. The nordic myth of the *Waldganger*, the rebel who "takes to the woods".
In 1951 the German reactionary writer Ernst J=FCnger wrote a pamphlet titled
*Der Waldgang*. J=FCnger described the society as ruled by plebiscitary
patterns and panoptical systems of social control. In order to escape from
control, the rebel must go to the woods and organise resistance. In
nineteen-fucking-fifty-one! What should we say nowadays? Echelon,
interceptions, video-surveillance everywhere, electronic records of our
bank operations... Taking to the woods is more necessary than ever.
     Some hacks have compared "Luther Blissett" to Robin Hood. Actually that
hazy myth has much to do with multi-use-names. In XIIIth century England,
Saxon peasants ill-treated by the Norman ruling class expressed their
malcontent and everyday resistance by ascribing many anonymous actions
(real and imaginary) to one outlaw whose figure gradually became that of
"Robin Hood". The surname suggests that this folk hero (at least at the
beginning) wore a hood - he had no face, he represented anyone. That's the
way the myth works, though in the Middle Ages it could only bring temporary
consolation for a very limited *gemeinschaft*.

2. Some other journalists described Luther Blissett as a "pirate" or a
"buccaneer". It is an error. OK, net-culture and orthodox underground
culture are clogged with maritime metaphors and, yes, "pirate" also means
someone who illegally copies material protected by copyright. But Luther
Blissett is a terrestrial myth. You don't breathe brackish air in the
woods. The sea is far away, maybe a utopian horizon to which the outlaw
gradually moves.
     If there's a utopian element in the Luther Blissett narrative, it
is the utopia of the criminal class: 'fuck them over and take the French
leave', as melancholically evoked in Gary Fleder's *Things To Do In Denver
When You're Dead*, a gangster-movie whose characters greet each other
saying: 'Boat drinks!'. This is the happy end of all the movies whose
protagonists manage to pull a fast one (a fraud, a robbery...). In the last
sequence you see them sailing around the Antilles, quietly sipping their
     Of course 'boat drinks!' can only be a propelling sub-mythology,
certainly not a realistic project, because there is no "elsewhere" left -
misery is all around. The epilogue of Jim Thompson's *The Getaway* is very
instructive. Sometimes one can achieve 'boat drinks!' though. Ronald Biggs,
the Englishman who made the Great Train Robbery of 1963, fled to Brazil
and, as far as I know, he's still there. But the Waldganger is too far from
the sea, indeed, only those who stand in the middle of dry land can
cultivate 'boat drinks!' as their utopia: 'This is Denver, what do you need
a boat for?'.

3. The last recurrent description is 'cultural terrorist', which is less
unacceptable but it is improper all the same, because 'terrorism' is a term
that the ruling class uses to defame anything and anybody, and also because
"terrorism" and state repression always mirror each other (the ETA vs. the
GAL, the Armed Islamic Group vs. the 'ninjas' of the Algerian Army etc.).
The dialectic between police state and "terrorism" is based upon emulation.
     And yet, even the apparatus of the state can provide us with some
useful images. I'm talking about "intelligence" and black propaganda.
Multi-use-name bearers from Italy and other countries often mention and
cite a book, Ellic Howe's *The Black Game: British Subversive Operations
Against the Germans During the Second World War* (Queen Ann Press, London,
UK, 1982).
     During WW2, Mr. Howe was the secret Political Warfare Executive's
specialist for the manufacture of printed fakes and forgeries. PWE's
instructions were to undermine the morale of German soldiers and civilians,
by means of disinformation and psychological warfare. Thanks to a network
of agents in the enemy-occupied territories, PWE issued fake NSDAP circular
letters about feuds in the Party, bogus government edicts about desertion,
a frightening *Plague Booklet* supposedly published by the German Ministry
of Health and leaflets advising the female army personnel not to have sex
with soldiers because of venereal diseases. PWE even produced half a dozen
issues of *Der Zenit*, a bogus astrological magazine that dissuaded sailors
from weighing anchor on a certain "inauspicious" day (of course it was the
date of some important naval operation). PWE also invented Gustav Siegfried
Eins aka *Der Chef*, a non-existent German dissident talking on a bogus
clandestine radio station (actually the broadcasts were from the UK),
entertaining the audience with invectives against nazi politicians and
detailed (albeit false) gossip about their sexual perversions.
     Since the dawnings of the project, Luther Blissett has been playing
a black game like that. This is another viable mythology for mass
intellectuals. Given the new molar dimension of conflict, this is the
molecular we can find and work with. Try to figure all those tricksters,
impostors and transmaniacs meeting up in the woods, spreading rumours and
black material, inoculating lethal viruses in the territories of this
global electronic Fifth Reich and then... 'Boat drinks!'.

September 1998
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