Anarchy 66/Day trip to Amsterdam

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Day trip to

Immigra­tion offi­cials eye long hair suspi­ciously: they want to check my ticket to en­sure that I will fly out again to­night. They tell me I must be on the 10 o’clock flight, as booked. Un­fortun­ately I have no choice anyway.

  Everyone talks of provos and riots. The air­port is dull and provin­cial and it is dif­fi­cult to be­lieve any­thing can ever really have hap­pened here. I take a coach into the city centre—curi­ously all the notices in the coach are in English. The city is flat but beau­ti­ful, fan­ning out from the centre with “islands” of houses and narrow streets, linked across the frame­work of narrow canals by narrow bridges. The houses are old, beau­ti­ful and some­how airy. (I am al­ready af­fected by roman­ti­cism.)

  The re­cent riots add a curi­ously ambi­gu­ous touch to Amster­dam’s es­sen­tially placid, pa­tient na­ture. The town seems full of kids, police and promen­aders. To a Londoner every­thing seems to move at half-speed; people have time to walk and talk in the streets. It is a city still small enough for people to live within the centre: the provos talk of urban crisis, smoke control, de­pop­ula­tion of the city centre. They are en­tirely right, of course, but they obvi­ously have acute en­viron­mental con­scious­ness. (In London we have al­ready toler­ated the almost total de­pop­ula­tion of the city centre, the con­struc­tion of giant, com­mun­ity-destroy­ing high­ways into the city centre and an air of breath­tak­ing poison­ous filthi­ness, with­out ap­par­ently even noti­cing. If the very na­ture of Amster­dam, built on water and with only very narrow streets, pro­hib­its the grot­esque ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity which has marked London plan­ning and secured for London its place among the truly in­human struc­tures of the world, it is never­the­less abso­lutely right that the provos should worry about such prob­lems now, before it is too late. Even if they have no­thing else to tell the world the saving of Amster­dam would be enough to just­ify them.)

  I walk into a book­shop sell­ing English paper­backs, China-friend­ship liter­ature, pamph­lets on Viet­nam, books on sur­real­ism and a few
New Direc­tions books. The guy behind the counter has a head covered in band-aid.

*   *   *

In the street out­side a kid, dressed pre­domin­antly in white, came up to me after see­ing my London nuclear dis­arma­ment pin and asked whether I was an English provo? Rather than con­fuse the issue I said yes. He asked a lot of ques­tions about the anarch­ists, CND, the Com­mit­tee of 100. I told him the anarch­ists, as such, were largely ir­rel­ev­ant, CND ab­sorbed into all that is wrong and the Com­mit­tee of 100 with­out the money to bury itself. I asked him about the provos and, in par­tic­u­lar, their pub­lic dis­soci­a­tion from last week’s riot­ing. (This worried me a great deal when I read about it in the English press, seem­ing to be a classic ex­ample of “intel­lec­tu­als” behav­ing ir­re­spons­ibly, isol­at­ing them­selves from the phys­ical con­se­quences of their ef­fect­ive in­tel­li­gence and, in this case, in­cite­ment of youth.) He thought that per­haps the issue was too simple for the provos—“the real provos were in the riots”. It was simply a case of Amster­dam’s youth against author­ity. The provos dis­ap­proved be­cause they did not want viol­ence which made author­ity stronger. I said I con­sidered that many of the provos’ state­ments had viol­ent over­tones and viol­ent im­plica­tions. He agreed but said the provos were not very con­sist­ent. Were the provos who demon­stra­ted with build­ing work­ers on Monday “of­fi­cial” or “Un­of­fi­cial”? He said they were “of­fi­cial” but that their ac­tions were the di­rect in­spira­tion of the later “un­of­fi­cial” youth riots. Was the provo­tar­iat dis­il­lu­sioned with the provos? He did not think so; most of the provo­tar­iat acted with lim­ited under­stand­ing of the provos’ actual posi­tion.