Anarchy 66/Explaining Provo

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Explaining Provo


From some other people on the Dutch ABC March here in April, I under­stand that you were in­ter­ested in the Dutch anarch­ist Provo move­ment. There exist many mis­under­stand­ings even here in Holland about the Provos. It is very im­port­ant to us that Provo gets more inter­na­tional in­flu­ence. Some pro­gress has already been made in this re­spect in France and Belgium, but we believe that there must be even greater op­por­tun­ities for Provo to spread in England.

  The Provo move­ment was started in April of last year by a few anarch­ist stu­dents and work­ers, some of whom had already worked with De Vrije (the Dutch equi­val­ent of freedom); they saw, however, that the methods of the old anarch­ist move­ment were too isol­ated, too small, and too stupid. Do not forget that the anarch­ist move­ment here is, unlike in England I think, only the re­main­der of the big move­ment Holland once pos­sessed. Provo under­stood that anarch­ist theory was very rel­ev­ant to present so­ciety and that its im­pact should, there­fore, be, basically, an im­medi­ate one. So we wanted to create a move­ment di­rected towards what we later called the “Provo­tariat”, i.e. the con­glom­er­ation of all stu­dents, artists, beat­niks, mods, rockers, and so on, who are all already pro­test­ing in their own way, but not as yet polit­ic­ally con­scious; to make them polit­ic­ally con­scious was our task.

  From April 1965 Provo has grown amaz­ingly quickly. Our organ­isa­tional prin­ciples are thor­oughly anarch­ist: no hier­archy, only solid­ar­ity; no orders, only spon­taneity; every­one who joined the move­ment changed it a little with his per­son­ality and new ideas. I think that it is this aspect that has made Provo so at­tract­ive to young people of all kinds.

  Provo is based upon two fun­da­mental prin­ciples, a cul­tural and a polit­ical one. The cul­tural part is most evident in our “hap­pen­ings”; which were, ini­tially, the creat­ive activ­ity of some un­en­gaged beat­niks, but which are now a con­stant pro­test against au­thor­ity. The police now sup­press these activ­ities as much as they can. The “hap­pen­ing” has another func­tion, in our the­or­ies, con­trib­uted by the famous con­tem­por­ary Dutch artist, Constant Nieuwen­huys, con­cern­ing the “New Babylon”—the coming world of auto­ma­tion; but it would lead too far afield to ex­plain all this now. Many artists are sup­port­ing us, in­clud­ing the well-known Dutch fok and pro­test song singer <span data-html="true" class="plainlinks" title="Wikipedia: Simon

  The polit­ical side of Provo is re­flected both in its monthly pub­lica­tion Provo and in the demon­stra­tions which we organ­ise. We feel our­selves very near to, almost a part of, the Dutch “New Left” ideas. We have con­tacts with the Ameri­can “New Left” organ­isa­tion, and I think there is a new left organ­isa­tion in England also, with the Com­mit­tee of 100 and the Anarch­ist Fed­er­a­tion of Britain. We think these move­ments are linked to one anotherm, and the fact that they actually exist at all is in­dic­at­ive of the death of the ant­agon­ism between the Bour­geoisie and the Pro­let­ariat, which have both melted into one big in­dif­fer­ent mass of un­en­gaged people worry­ing only about their tele­vision and their second car. The only re­bel­lious group left in the Welfare State is the “Provo­tariat”. Hence our “Ap­peal to the Inter­na­tional Provo­tariat”.

Amsterdam, May 1966 m. j. lindt  

Comments by Jim Huggon:

I have a few things to say con­cern­ing this art­icle which was written in re­sponse to a re­quest to the Provos to ex­plain their posi­tion more fully.

  The first thing is that I have writ­ten to them cor­rect­ing their opin­ion of the Com­mit­tee of 100 and the Anarch­ist Fed­er­ation of Britain as part of the “New Left”. Both, I feel sure, would dis­own the de­scrip­tion.

  Secondly, I have told them that, at least in my opin­ion, there is little pro­spect of the Provo move­ment as such becom­ing a force over here because (a) It is to a large ex­tent a re­ac­tion to a <span data-html="true" class="plainlinks" title="Wikipedia: neo-fascist">neo-fascist (and I do not use this term lightly) at­ti­tude pre­val­ent in the police and the ranks of the ad­min­ist­ra­tion. The forces of law are only po­ten­tially and oc­ca­sion­ally neo-fascist in England, de­spite what we say in mo­ments of just­ifi­able ex­aspir­a­tion; in Holland the epi­thet would seem more nearly to de­scribe the normal day-to-day situ­ation. (b) It is a move­ment more typ­ical of the “con­tin­ental” tem­pera­ment and, as such, not really in keep­ing with the English way of think­ing. (Yes, even bud­ding re­volu­tion­aries dis­play cer­tain socio­lo­gic­ally con­form­ist tend­en­cies, and the liber­tar­ian move­ment in Britain is not as overtly emo­tional as this.)

  Thirdly, it is, I think, true to say that the Provo move­ment on the con­tin­ent, due perhaps to its new and very at­tract­ive ideo­logy, has acted as a magnet to many tot­ally de­struct­ive ele­ments that have given the ordin­ary Dutch­man a tot­ally false im­pres­sion of its real stand­point. In this art­icle, indeed, the writer not only admits this, but also cites it as a basic ob­ject­ive to en­cour­age such ele­ments into its fold in order to change them, and make them ore polit­ic­ally aware. I am not sure, however, who changes who in the end.

  Finally I think the Provo move­ment has seri­ous flaws in its lo­gical basis; among these is its at­ti­tude to viol­ence and non-viol­ence. The Provos ad­voc­ate non-viol­ence but say that anarchy cannot be cre­ated without viol­ence. This typ­ifies, to my mind, the con­fu­sion in­her­ent in their out­look. Never­the­less, much con­fu­sion has arisen in England con­cern­ing their ideas, and I thought it ne­ces­sary to at­tempt to clar­ify the situ­ation some­what.