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beared up against

Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers

Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers (often referred to as simply "the Motherfuckers", or UAW/MF) was an anarchist affinity group based in New York City. This "street gang with analysis" was famous for its Lower East Side direct action and is said to have inspired members of the Weather Underground and the Yippies.

History

The Motherfuckers grew out of a Dada-influenced art group called Black Mask with elements of another group called Angry Arts. Formed in 1966 by painter Ben Morea and the poet Dan Georgakas, Black Mask produced a broadside of the same name and declared that revolutionary art should be "an integral part of life, as in primitive society, and not an appendage to wealth. In May 1968, Black Mask changed its name and went underground. Their new name, Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers, came from a poem by Amiri Baraka. Abbie Hoffman characterized them as "the middle-class nightmare... an anti-media media phenomenon simply because their name could not be printed.

Early Motherfuckers included Tom Neumann, the stepson of Herbert Marcuse, John Sundstrom, Alan Hoffman (who was subsequently killed in a highway accident in Northern California), and numerous others. The political ideology of the Motherfuckers was strongly influenced by the writings of anarchists, and by "The Mass Psychology of Fascism," an essay by Sigmund Freud's rebellious student Wilhelm Reich. The Motherfuckers thought of themselves as "a street gang with an analysis"; an affinity group. In fact it was they who coined the term and first used it. This analysis grew out of a rigorous study of the works of such historic anarchists as Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin, the Wobblies and others.

The Motherfuckers contributed to New York City's counterculture by setting up crash pads, serving free food, starting a free store, and helping radicals connect with doctors and lawyers. They were opposed to and resisted on principle any attempt to impose order on the political demonstrations they participated in. Among other things, the Motherfuckers instigated brawls with Stalinist groups such as the Progressive Labor Party.

  • 1967 - Forced their way into The Pentagon during an anti-war protest.
  • 1967 - Became the first and only non-student chapter of Students for a Democratic Society.
  • 1968 - "Assassinated" poet Kenneth Koch (using blanks).
  • 1968 - Helped occupy and hold one of the buildings at the Columbia University takeover.
  • 1968 - Dumped uncollected refuse from the Lower East Side into the fountain at Lincoln Center on the opening night of a gala "bourgeois cultural event" during a NYC garbage strike (an event documented in the 1968 Newsreel film Garbage.
  • 1969 - Organized and produced free concert nights in the Fillmore East, featuring such groups as the MC5, after successfully demanding that owner Bill Graham give the community the venue for a series of weekly free concerts. These "Free Nights" were short-lived as the combined forces of NY City Hall, the Police and Graham terminated the arrangement.
  • 1969 - Cut the fences at Woodstock, allowing thousands to enter for free.

Eventually, as the political and economic climate changed toward 1970-1971, the Motherfuckers ceased concentrated activities in New York City, stopped referring to themselves as UAW/MF, and many members moved to New Mexico, California, and other states. Morea himself moved with his wife to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, where they lived for five years on horseback, gathering and poaching game. Other UAW/MF members became loosely absorbed into an interconnected network of communes and collectives known as Armed Love or simply, "The Family" (not to be confused with some other counter-culture and religious groups which also referred to themselves as "the Family") With Black Bear Ranch as a spiritual center, the Armed Love collectives spread out along the rural and urban coastline of California and Oregon, existed in Vermont, New Mexico, and other locations. As Motherfucker Terry C. once stated, "Motherfuckers was just a form. That time is past. It's time to move on."

Associations

Valerie Solanas, a radical feminist and would be assassin of Andy Warhol, was friends with Morea and associated with the Motherfuckers. In the film I Shot Andy Warhol, the gun used in her attack is alleged to have been taken from Ben Morea.

When Morea was asked in a 2005 interview by John McMillian of the New York Press how he had been able to rationalize supporting Solanas, Morea replied, "Rationalize? I didn't rationalize anything. I loved Valerie and I loathed Andy Warhol, so that's all there was to it." He then added "I mean, I didn't want to shoot him." But then he 'doubled back' again: "Andy Warhol ruined art."

The Motherfuckers were never part of the Situationist International. Situationist Raoul Vaneigem did not want to have anything to do with them during his visit to New York City; Morea castigated Vaneigem in correspondence, for his out-of-touch 'person of letters' persona; and the English section of the Situationist International was expelled in 1967 for its ties to the Motherfuckers. They went on to form the King Mob group.

Influence as a slogan

One of the first appearances of the phrase "Up against the wall Motherfuckers!" as a revolutionary slogan was in April, 1968, on a famous piece of graffiti found scrawled in the mathematics department (the building they helped occupy), following the Columbia University protests of 1968. The catchphrase even spawned a fairly sophisticated 1969 boardgame of the same name based on the protests, which is today a rare collectors' item.

Most of the lyrics for the 1969 song "We Can Be Together", by the acid rock band Jefferson Airplane were used virtually word for word on a leaflet written by Motherfucker John Sundstrom, and published as "The Outlaw Page" in the East Village Other newspaper. The lyrics read in part, "We are all outlaws in the eyes of Amerika. In order to survive we steal, cheat, lie, forge, fuck, hide, and deal... Everything you say we are, we are... Up Against the Wall, Motherfucker!" The song marked the first use of the word "fuck" on television, when the group played it uncensored on The Dick Cavett Show on August 19, 1969. This song also helped popularize the phrase as a counterculture rallying cry, over and beyond the immediate impact of the anarchist group.

On Beatles bootlegs taken from the January 1969 Get Back Sessions at Twickenham Studios in London, John Lennon asks the group, "Has anybody heard the Motherfuckers? American group. He says that they'll never get a billboard with that or to imagine if they get a number 1 hit: "The number 1 this week is the Motherfuckers followed by Engelbert Humperdinck." This excerpt first appeared on the 1987 vinyl Beatles bootleg The Real Case Has Just Begun.

At various times, the line became popular among several groups that came out of the sixties, from Black Panthers to feminists and even "rednecks." In the 1970s, Texas country singer-songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard adapted the famous phrase for a song he wrote entitled "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother". It has similarly been incorporated in a number of other musical compositions including the album Penance Soiree by The Icarus Line and that of Lucien Francoeur's band Aut'chose.

References

Further reading

  • Black Mask & Up Against The Wall Motherfucker, ISBN 1-873176-70-8, Unpopular Books, 1993
  • The Brown Paper Bag Theory of Affinity Groups, Up Against the Wall Motherfucker, available online at
  • McMillian, J. (2005) Garbage Guerilla, New York Free Press, available at

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