The following is an article on Ben written by Eve Hinderer. It is to be included in the forthcoming book on the Tompkins Square Resistance Movement edited by Clayton Patterson.
BEN MOREA, BLACK MASK AND MOTHERFUCKER:
A SAGA OF THE ‘60S Lower East Side
The first time I saw Ben Morea was in the fall of 1967 while he and anarchist theoretician Murray Bookchin locked horns in a small room in a tenement on Avenue B, a building that no longer exists. Ben was speaking in favor of direct action, a strategy bypassing the establishment and many times involving street insurgency. Murray maintained that consciousness came first. ‘ I Was [Ben] going to take a mallet and chisel and chip away at the buildings of Wall Street?’ Bookchin asked, by way of a challenge. Later Ben and his affinity group, affectionately known as the ‘Motherfuckers’, captured the imagination of revolutionaries of the time, including the Weatherman faction of SDS, Students for a Democratic Society.
It was in signing off on a flyer, distributed at a local SDS meeting and a later Lincoln Center demonstration that Morea and others had first come up with UAW/MF, or ‘Up Against the Wall Motherfucker,’ a line from a poem by Amiri Baraka. Close associates of the group were referred to as the family’. A denizen of the Lower East Side myself at the time and an avowed anarchist, I took my place on the periphery of the group, being primarily involved in the beginnings of women‘s liberation, in a group calling itself New York Radical Women.
Motherfucker had a ‘cross over’ effect on other ideas and groupings of the time. The Yippies also espoused a prankish irreverence in their activities, but never approached the seriousness of UAW/MF. Likewise, although the SDS splinter Weatherman had been influenced by the insurgent activity of Motherfucker, it is doubtful they consciously thought of themselves as anarchists.
It was while still a teenager that Morea first came under the tutelage of Julian Beck and Judith Malina of the Living Theatre. Under their wing, Ben gave up the heroine-tinged culture of the jazz musician and turned instead to painting and politics. His first political formulation declared a connection between art and revolution and resulted in Black Mask, the broadside Morea and friends produced for 10 issues from November of 1966 to May of '68. Part of Black Mask theory was an opposition to European culture, saying instead that revolutionary art should be ‘an integral part of life, as in primitive society, and not an appendage to wealth.’
In the melting pot of the ‘60s, however, and against the backdrop of the militant opposition to the Vietnam War, Morea discontinued Black Mask, declaring that Motherfucker had transcended it, and that the real call was ‘into the streets’. While the group engaged in the serious business of fomenting revolution in theory and practice, their actions also included a playful, irreverent sabotage. Some of them were:
Distributed a flyer along the Bowery falsely advertising that a gallery opening on Manhattan’s upscale East 57th Street would have free liquor and food. When the group arrived on the scene to see what had transpired, ‘there were 1000 people there,’ with the Tactical Police Force everywhere.
Closed off St. Mark’s Place between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, which ultimately resulted in a riot. Ben said that when Abbie Hoffman emerged out of his apartment on the same block, he immediately joined in.
During NYC garbage strike in 1968, brought garbage up to Lincoln Center where it was dumped in the fountain. This event was filmed by the Newsreel collective, with the name Garbage.
Cut the cyclone fence at Woodstock in 1969, opening the door for the mass phenomenon that followed. That action has never been publicly acknowledged even by Wavy Gravy, a friend;
Did a mock shooting of poet Kenneth Koch during at reading at St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery. An MFr pulled out a fake gun and shouted ‘Koch’ and shot a blank. The poet was so shocked that he fainted. Leaflets were then thrown from the balcony with photos of Leroi Jones and the slogan ‘poetry is revolution.’
The group specialized in what Morea refers to as ‘breakaways.’ During the Pentagon demonstration in the fall of ‘68, for example, they actually forced an entry into the building.
Ben was always interested in the history of the anti-authoritarian, anti-Leninist left. He looked up old anarchists and went to see them. He was interested in Alexandra Kollantai, who was suppressed by Lenin. He went to see Raya Dunaskaya, Trotsky’s secretary, in Detroit. Raya and Ben argued, and she threw him out.
The Becks assisted Ben and Motherfucker in taking over the Fillmore East, and pressured Bill Graham into letting ‘the community’ have it free one night a week. Ben’s theory was that as in art and revolution, theatre and revolution also went together. After 3-4 weeks the cops forced Graham to renege on the deal or they would shut him down.
Many politicized people and groups passed through Ben’s East Broadway loft;
— A leader of the Japanese Zengaukoren, a group that frequently engaged in pitched battles with the police. This fellow later joined Che in Bolivia;
— King Mob, from the UK, who Ben has described as ‘a great guy’
— The Situationists. Situationist Guy DeBord later concluded that Ben and Motherfucker were ‘too mystical.’
— Jean Jacques Lebel, a leader of the French uprising in ‘68;
— Valerie Solanas was a close friend. [She was the author of the SCUM Manifesto: the Society for Cutting Up Men. She later made an assassination attempt on Andy Warhol.] Ben’s character appears in the movie made of her life (I Shot Andy Warhol); and although the relationship was platonic, it was portrayed as being sexual: the only way Hollywood could really conceive of it. Ben remembers asking Valerie, ‘You’re about cutting up men, that means killing them, right? What about me?"‘ She said, ‘I promise you Ben, you’ll be the last man to go.’
As part of Ben’s involvement in art and painting, he met with Richard Huelsenbeck of the Berlin Dada movement and also visited Nicholas Calas, the critic who supported the surrealists. He was greatly influenced by Aldo Tambellini, early independent filmmaker and artist, who eventually became his mentor.
Morea coined the phrase ‘affinity group.’ Marcuse had just talked at SVA (School for Visual Arts) and after the talk, went down to Murray Bookchin’s apartment in lower Manhattan. At the ensuing meeting were Morea, Marcuse, Bookchin and Tom Neuman, Marcuse’s stepson, who was part of MF. Ben heard the Spanish term aficionado, and substituted the word affinity to approximate the Spanish meaning. Neuman later gave the term, ‘affinity group’, it’s definition: ‘a street gang with an analysis,’ later used by King Mob. This term has gained widespread usage in the anarchist youth movement of today.
Ben and Motherfucker supported crash pads, and fed hundreds of people twice a week with mislabeled yogurt from Dannon and stews made with fish market surpluses. They hooked people up with doctors, worked with lawyers and ran a free store. They did this with grants from Judson Church, through ESSO: East Side Services Organization, the moniker they adopted in order to apply for money.
Ben was active in NYC between 1959 and 1969, encompassing the end of the ‘50s Beat scene and the beginnings of ’60s ‘hip’ counterculture. He was good friends with Alan Ginsberg and Leroi Jones (aka Amiri Baraka) among others, and continuously engaged the resistance movement of the ‘60s in its entirety: artistic and political.