70s English Youth Culture and the Labour Party and the Unions

Jim heartfield jim at heartfield.demon.co.uk
Sun Aug 1 03:49:53 PDT 1999

In message <19990731.170529.-69553.0.alexlocascio at juno.com>, Alex LoCascio <alexlocascio at juno.com> writes

>Just because The Jam were (to use Jon Savage's phrase) "little Tories,"
>that's no reason to tar the whole movement as a reactionary one.

Forgive me, I didn't make myself clear. I certainly didn't mean to say that the Jam or Punk were reactionary. What I mean was that by the end of the 1970s it was the left that was reactionary. By contrast punk was a protest against the dead-end that the Labour Party had made of British society.

>I'd argue that punk was largely an apolitical movement; there's no
>politics behind, say, The Damned or Siouxie.

It was only 'apolitical' to those who could only recognise the two poles of welfarist labourism or free-market Toryism as the entire gamut of politics. What you call 'apolitical' was a rejection of the available alternatives.

It is politics, but not as we know it. Listen to the Damned's 'problem child' or ask yourself why Siouxsie and the Banshees sung the Manson fave Helter-Skelter. And Sid Vicious donned the swastika with a precise political motivation - not an endorsement of fascism, but a deliberate statement that the Pistols would never play a Rock against Racism gig, since they thought of that organisation as precisely what they were against, 'hippies'.

The Pistols were of course an extremely political band, all three of the first singles were political statements, rejections of country that Jim Callaghan's Labour government had made: Anarchy in the UK (straight- forward really); God Save the Queen (remember this was the year of the Royal Jubilee - an entirely artificial event dreamed up by Callaghan to take the country's mind off of the slump); Holidays in the Sun (an attack on Stalinism in Eastern Europe, at a time when Labour's connections with it were extensive - and the Labour cabinet all 'holidayed in other people's misery'.).

>But the few groups that
>made political statements did so from the Left.

Some did sing left-wing songs. But by and large those were the bandwagon jumpers who did not really understand the movement that they were in - like Bob Geldof, or, dare I say it, the Clash.

What happened was that the music establishment saw this youth rebellion going on, and did not understand it. Imagining that 'youth rebellions' are by definition left wing, they imposed a left-wing form upon it. Jon Savage is a case in point. I used to read Sounds in the 70s when Savage wrote for it. It was atrocious. The entire staff had nervously adopted this quasi-trotskyist rhetoric hoping that this would be a bridge between them and the uncouth bands that were being paraded before them. And in every interview the hapless musicians would reject any interest in 'politics' - meaning leftism.

> How then, do you explain the Gang of
>Four, whose politics seem to me like a weird hybrid of Situationism and
>the Frankfurt School?

Nobody ever listened Gang of Four so probably they missed the subtleties of their Wankfurt-Situationism crossover.

> And howzabout the fact, recently pointed out in
>the latest issue of The Baffler by Mike O'Flaherty, that the folks behind
>the post-punk label Rough Trade were actively involved in the SWP?

Yes, the SWP kept trying to jump on this bandwagon. Not surprising really, since, in considerable part it was a rejection of the politics of the SWP. -- Jim heartfield

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