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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Crass not an influence on nineties eco-protests.

Here is a review from Do or Die No. 6 1997(Earth First / eco- activist mag) of Senseless Acts of Beauty: Cultures of Resistance Since the Sixties by George McKay published Verso 1996.

See http://www.eco-action.org/dod/index.html for more details.

According to the reviewer, nineties eco- activists - road-protestors etc, had never heard of Crass. This rather undermines claims made by Crass themselves - which I have pasted after Do or Die article. Although I have found one of the road protedtors interviewed here http://www.homemadejam.org/carnivals/answers/whowhy-southdowns.html
was inspired by Crass.

Do or Die 6-Review of Senseless Acts of Beauty
The title is offensive. I thought of all the people present at the Battle of the Beanfield, the Molesworth eviction, Yellow Wednesday, the 1990 poll tax demo in Trafalgar Square, the Newbury evictions and the countless other landmarks of our "cultures of resistance". Most of these events were not inspired by "senseless" people. Some were far from beautiful.

A book claiming to chronicle and analyse our "cultures" should be one of two things: a pure academic analysis, or a personal account of one person's adventures in subculture land. Unfortunately, "Senseless Acts of Beauty" is neither.

Dense, laboured text suggests the analytical approach, rather an inappropriate way to chronicle people and ideologies who shun analysis and constantly re-invent themselves ahead of the state and academia. However, the scope of the book is a bit limited for it to fully attain this goal - there is scant mention of labour struggles, the Miners Strike or Greenham Common, all of which have had a profound effect on our politics and thinking. McKay's approach is rather too biased towards his own enjoyment for objective academia; many people have mentioned to me the extensive tracts on Crass and then said, "but I've never heard any Crass". There is hardly any mention of acts like Roy Harper or Hawkwind, stalwarts of free festivals in the 1980s, or of the current upsurge of fine musicians like Heathens All, Theo & Shannon or the Space Goats, who are not (and are often anti-) commercial, but are vital to our gatherings.

If the book is a journal of George McKay's own experience, then it is sad that the text and layout are so boring. There is little attempt to reflect how full ofjoy, fun and creativity "cultures of resistance" are. Reclaiming art is part of the resistance and to have all our creativity squeezed into such drab presentation seems rather tragic. For a more interesting read, try "A Time to Travel, an introduction to Britain's newer travellers" (Earle et al, Enabler Publications).

Ultimately, I am glad that someone has tried to write a book bringing together different strands of protesting and partying. We have only ourselves to blame if this is the only written history we ever get. The incentive now should be to impart our beliefs and history in our words and not just to ourselves, but to the mainstream, who live, largely, ignorant of the strength of our existence. If "Senseless Acts of Beauty" inspires one 16 year old to go out and lock on, set up a sound system or live in a bus, then it has done a good job. It is just a shame that it has been done by an academic, in a verbose, uncreative style and not by ourselves.

Crass' alternative point of view of their significance, taken from sleeve notes to Best Before 1984/ Crass complilation. Full text at

To offset claims in the press that we were nothing but leftist/rightist thugs, they never could quite make us out, we started to hang an anarchist banner alongside our own. At that time the circled-A was rarely seen outside the confines of established and generally tedious, small-time anarchist literature. Within months the symbol was to be seen decorating leather jackets, badges, and walls throughout the country, within a few years it spread worldwide. Rotten may have proclaimed himself an anarchist, but it was us who almost single-handedly created anarchy as a popular movement for millions of people.

At the same time, having discovered that CND did actually still exist, albeit in a downtrodden, self-effacing manner, we decided to promote its cause, something that at the time CND seemed to be incapable of doing for itself. From then on, despite screams of derision in the music press, we also displayed the peace symbol at gigs.

Our efforts on the road slowly brought CND back to life. We introduced it to the thousands of people who would become the backbone of its revival. A new and hitherto uninformed sector of society was being exposed to a form of radical thought that culminated in the great rallies, demos and actions that continue today.

The true effect of our work is not to be found within the confines of rock'n'roll, but in the radicalised minds of thousands of people throughout the world. From the Gates of Greenham to the Berlin Wall, from the Stop The City actions to underground gigs in Poland, our particular brand of anarcho-pacifism, now almost synonymous with punk, has made itself known.


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