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Naked Rambler Organisation

The Sons of Freedom” were a radical naked activist group from a religious order known as the Doukhobors and were considered to be the first people in society to use nudity as a form of political protest in the Western World.

There is a very interesting essay by Isaac Souweine who writes an account of Naked Protests and the Politics of Personalism. Steve Gough and Russell Higgs are both mentioned on page ten of the article at the bottom in a pdf format. UK Naked Activist Russell Higgs’ name is misspelled “Biggs” on that same page. Click on the Doukhobors image opposite for the full story.

Extract (2005);

As a means of interpreting naked protest, Boyd and Duncomb’s notion of a politics of spectacle is compelling. Mediatainment institutions are built largely around the packaging of the barely clothed female figure. Presented with public nudity that speaks to an entire different set of concerns, mainstream media cannot resist. And so, though they make anchormen squirm and force newspaper editors to make hard choices about photo editing, these subversive nude bodies inevitably receive coverage that far outstrips their frequency or mass appeal.

In America and Australia especially, naked anti-war protests have garnered extensive coverage, with 50 naked women from Marin county making it onto the docket for CBS Sunday morning in 2003. In India, the naked protest of 13 Manipuri women in July 2004 sparked serious national debate over an issue – the abuses of the Indian army in quelling separatist movements in the country’s troubled North-East – that had been dormant in the national consciousness for most of its thirty-year history. In England, Steve Gough (the naked hiker) and his friend Russell Higgs, two idiosyncratic naked protestors and social critics, continue to receive considerable attention in a media environment particularly attuned to spectacle.

Considering naked protest as an almost archetypal form of personalist politics however, Boyd and Duncomb’s politics of spectacle in the end only covers half of the story. For while naked protest is without doubt a spectacular form of mass communication, its capacity to create effective political spectacle cannot be divorced from its ability to provide moments of personal moral speech and redemption. As a personalist act, naked protest allows its practitioners to achieve a sense of autonomy and empowerment in the face of political realities over which they have little control. Through their nudity, naked protestors reject available terms of political debate in favour of a type of performative speech that is at once absurd and penetratingly incisive. Whether performed by Western bourgeois elites or Asian subalterns, the act of stripping in public forces spectators to engage with the sense of personal moral outrage that it conveys.

In the end, the result of naked protest is undoubtedly political spectacle of the first order. But the power of such spectacle resides ultimately in the pursuit of individual moral redemption that it communicates. By baring their bodies, naked protestors create bodily tableaux of “truth force” that cannot be ignored. While they do not therefore resolve the tensions inherent to all versions of political personalism, they do remain true to its most basic assumption: that the public expression of individual morality is the ground of political dissent”.

To be continued...

Known by the single name “Lordly,” he was revered as a semi-deity by Doukhobors. Peter Vasilievich Verigin inspired his Doukhobor followers to build a communal empire that spread over three western provinces in the years after 1899, when they arrived in Canada. Source from Flashbak.com - The Sir Magazine retrospective article.

Russell Higgs under arrest outside Downing Street on December 17th 2000. Click on highlights and image for more stories and pictures.

Vincent Bethell, who has been repeatedly arrested for his nudity, spent five months in solitary confinement at south London's Brixton Prison because of his refusal to wear clothes in the year 2000. Click on highlights and image for more details.