As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...
- Name: Alistair Livingston
Friday, February 22, 2008
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Immanetizing the Eschaton: part 2.3
The following article seems to be the origin the 'anarcho-punks were lifestylists' theory
The anarcho-punk scene soon became a vibrant alternative to the punk scene it declared dead. The anarchism of the typical anarcho-punk was however little more than militant liberalism. Crass had their roots in the old peace movement, and largely ignoring the harsh realities of class warfare in the world outside their commune, set about promoting the ideas of pacifism and lifestyle politics.
Pic is click to enlarge- highlighted phrase is 'immanentizing the eschaton'. For light relief - watch this by KLF.
I am shoving the AWG text here rather than in Kill Your Pet Puppy
cos I don't want to fill up KYPP with this kind of theorising. But will put in a link to it.
According to Ben Franks: Rebel Alliances:AK Press: 2006 : 83
The Anarchist Workers Group membership never rose above 20 and its influence was further reduced, partly as a result of taking sides with the Iraqi dictatorship during the 1991 Gulf War. As if to conform to its critics' accusations of incipient Bolshevism, several of its members joined the revolutionary Communist Party...
Anarchism in the Thatcher years
[This is from issue 1 of the Anarchist Workers Group magazine, Socialism from Below, it was published in August 1989]
"As the global economic recession has taken its toll we have seen 10 years of a viciously anti working class government prepared to squeeze working people harder and harder, to protect the interests of its capitalist paymasters. The crisis of capitalism has been reflected by a crisis in the left, with the disintegration of the two major revolutionary forces - the Workers Revolutionary Party and the International Marxist Group of the 70's and the continued rightward shift of Neil Kinnock's Labour Party. One current that has remained strangely unaffected by all this, and indeed has begun to develop politically and grow in size and influence, is the anarchist movement. Here; SOCIALISM FROM BELOW examines the recent history, the political content and the way forward for anarchism after a decade of Tory rule."
For the first time in years, the start of the decade saw a real increase in the number of people referring to themselves as anarchists. This growing movement of mainly young people was in no small way influenced by the rock group 'Crass' and the imitators they spawned. Their "anarchy and peace" agit-prop was in part inspired by the "do-it yourself" ethos of the punk-rock explosion, and in part hankered back to the pacifistic "alternative lifestyle" tradition that had become a major facet of what passed for the British anarchist movement in the previous 20 years.
Anarchism has always had, to varying degrees, its liberal wing. This is partly because terms bandied around by anarchists, such as anti-authoritarian, freedom and justice, are in themselves meaningless and open to a wide range of interpretations when divorced from their specifically anarchist context: the day to day realities of class society, and an understanding of capitalism and why and how it should be smashed. Going right back to the days of the First International. there were those anarchists who in contrast with Bakunin (1)
"Abandoned the field of struggle of the working class in favour of a particular form of radicalised liberalism."
In Britain in the 1980s anarchism was still tightly in the grip of a rot that set in during the heyday of the l950's peace movement. Many rank and file anti-nuclear activists (7% of the movement during 1958-65(2)) disillusioned with limitations, in terms of politics, leadership and strategy, of the CND adopted anarchism: in part as a reaction to this, and often not fully aware of the political legacy behind their new label, confusing anarchism "with a more militant liberalism" (3). Their confusion was not helped by the sectarianism of the existing - and increasingly isolated - anarchist movement who made little effort to provide a political lead or a class perspective to the new 'anarchists'.
Living in a state of blissful ignorance of class struggle, they promoted their ideas in "Freedom", "Anarchy Magazine" and "Peace News", taking on board and developing the ideas of pacifism, personal liberation and alternative lifestyle. The "punk anarchy" of Crass and their camp was but a continuation of this: a dressed up version of militant liberalism with electric guitars and a brand new haircut, but the same tired face
But it did catch on, striking a chord with the disaffected, young rebels - without a cause but on the look out for one. The small groupings of class - struggle anarchists "active" in the early 1980's repeated the mistakes of the l950's by failing to acknowledge - let alone give a lead to - the new generation who were left to their own devices to "reinvent" "anarchy". In this case it meant inventing a loose, anti-statist pacifist "movement" that left the theory question of class conflict to the trots, instead proclaiming that
"Anarchists believe that if each individual can learn to act out of conscience, rather than greed the machinery of power will collapse." (4)
The small groupings that started to spring up around the country responding to Crass's challenge were soon to be seen on CND demos clustered around their ragged black flags and handing out their leaflets and fanzines, telling the world;
"Don't give in to the authorities, make them give in to you" (5)
but never quite managing to go so far as to suggest a way that this awesome task might be achieved.
In some of the literature of the time, however, the way forward for anarchists was spelled out a bit more clearly. And reading it, you would be forgiven for believing that the anarchist movement was less a political current, more a bizarre religious cult:
"to give back to life what we have taken from it ... understand the seasons, the weather, the soil .. reject the grey filth and shit" (6).
It seems there was quite an obsession with shit. Stripping away the mystical nonsense we are left with naked personal politics: the revolution begins - and ends - within. There are, for those whose imaginations have perhaps been tainted by years of dealing with the "grey filth" some useful practical examples of how this discovery of self can be put into practise. And it's the classic lifestylist romanticism of a small band of worthy converts struggling to build the society within the shell of the old with:
"housing co-ops or communes ... gardening groups to squat and farm disused land ... and grow medicinal herbs to cure each others headaches " (7)
All very commendable and laudable stuff, but about as revolutionary and "anarchist" as sharing your 1ast Rolo with someone you love. Of course there is nothing wrong with being nice to your mates and eating a lot of organic garlic, the danger was that this was substituted for the more pressing and difficult task of developing and testing out a coherent and workable revolutionary strategy that could win people over to the struggle against capitalism. Bakunin asserted that:
"the serious realisation of liberty, justice and peace will not be possible whilst the majority of the population remains dispossessed. (8)
However, the punk anarchists hadn't cottoned on to this, and busily sought personal solutions to social problems. Therefore, the groups were little more than consciousness-raising rap groups existing in navel gazing isolation from the real world, helping their participants along on the quest for personal purity.
The movement in the early eighties displayed the worst kind of elitism - the politics of "if everyone was like me wouldn't the world be a wonderful place." The concept of working class mass self-activity didn't get a look-in because there was no understanding - or will to understand the class nature of society. In fact the working class categorised as "grey-nobodies", as people who were:
"in their willingness to bow down to authority ... the real fascist threat." (9)
So count out the working class in terms of having any positive role to play in fighting. The action to be taken - aside from changing your own life - was to be taken by the anarchists on behalf of the class and amounted to little more than adventurism and propaganda by deed:
"jam up the locks of banks and of with superglue or cut down fences around government installations ... sabotage operations at work." (10)
Aside from that, ever living for kicks you'd be more likely to find an anarchist a on a hunt sab than a picket line, at a free festival than a march against deportations, advocating shoplifting than fighting cuts in welfare provisions. After all, we're trying to get away from the grey filth and we mustn't forget that:
"boredom is counter-revolutionary militants are people for whom boredom is part of the struggle and being miserable and downtrodden is part of the revolution. (11)
This phase of modern day anarchism had its swan song in the "Stop the City" demonstrations in 1983-4. These were mass demonstrations of anarchists. pacifists and other members of the counterculture that took place in the City of London with the aim of closing it down for the day.
Little attempt was made to broaden them beyond the lifestyle ghetto and although they received national media coverage. they were not much more than adventures of the same type as the beloved super gluing expeditions. albeit on a larger scale. They were a spectacle, and a substitute, for the hardwork of building and organising the fightback, and there were those in the anarchist movement who were beginning to recognise this:
"If we are to build a meaningful anarchist movement we have to go beyond Stop Business as Usual and be prepared to argue our case in the workplace and the community." (12)
The start of the upheaval that transformed the movement in Britain was the great Miners Strike of 1984-5 where the anarchist movement was forced to test its ideas out against a backdrop of genuine struggle. Those who did. found contemporary anarchism wanting. They started to rediscover the class roots of anarchism and realise how far the movement had strayed from them. From the Miners Strike and through to the end of the printers dispute at Wapping many were forced - in one way or another - to make the break and embrace the class struggle.
Not everyone in the movement chose to make that break. There were some who chose to distance themselves from the struggle of people who through lack of time, opportunity or inclination, had not reached the same dizzy heights of personal sanctity as they had. Thus we saw so-called anarchists refusing to dirty their hands in the Miners Strike, blithely dismissing them en masse as sexist and racist without making any attempt to get to a picket line let alone have any argument about the need to fight. Another way out was to blame workers for the effects of the industry they worked in: thus the miners were not worthy of support because they exploited the earth, as the 'green' anarchists were want to put it. This mistake was repeated over the Wapping dispute. where an anarchist paper claimed to support the printers but:
"I detest the racist and sexist shit they print ... many have said they are only doing a job like anyone else with no control over what they do. BOLLOCKS" (13)
It gets better. The author goes on to say, talking of the fight for better pay and conditions at work:
"Suddenly all our aims and dreams are thrown aside in the euphoria of class struggle ... playing the capitalist money game." (14)
So the class struggle is reduced to an annoyance. something that gets in the way of the real task of building the anarchist revolution, once again in isolation by the anarcho elite on behalf of everyone else. Again it shows the complete and seemingly wilful ignorance of the anarchist movement about how exciting its is going to be making the revolution, and failing to realise that workers fighting back against the attacks of the boss class are far more relevant to the struggle than any number of obscure and turgid anarcho-rags.
There was however. a considerable section of the movement who saw the need to leave all this behind. Unfortunately some of them - seeing the need for political, tactical and organisational coherence - and seeing it to be conspicuous by its absence in the anarchist movement, ended up gravitating towards and in many cases eventually joining the various Leninist parties - notably the SWP - who were active during the Miners Strike and Wapping. The anarchist movement drove away through its own folly - good, active revolutionaries who wanted to fight and for whom the movement had nothing more to offer.
Most of the anarchists who did start to relate in some way to the Miners Strike found a voice in Black Flag. Up until this point the paper had in large been a pot pourri of prisoners news, investigative journalism and articles about various dubious European armed Leninist groups. However, throughout the Miners strike - and the Wapping dispute - Black Flag was almost entirely given over to the latest news from the front-line of the struggle.
However, news was all it was. There was woefully little attempt made to provide any sustained anarchist analysis, still less a political lead or the tactics needed to win. Hence their refusal to criticise the NUM leader, Arthur Scargill, which is particularly pertinent as an anarchist rank and file workplace strategy should always incorporate a critique of the role of the union bureaucracy, especially the left bureaucracy.
In practise. Black Flag, and by implication much of the anarchist movement, as it looked to Black Flag for a lead, ducked the issues and chose to merely tailend the strike: selling a paper that reported but did not analyse; collecting money and joining support groups: and on occasion, joining picket lines to swell numbers. These activities are all necessary and should never be neglected, but for revolutionaries who have an understanding of capitalism, and why and how it should be fought, they are inadequate. What happened was that anarchists got involved in the struggle apolitically, as good activists but terrible revolutionaries. Their anarchism was rendered irrelevant.
The Direct Action Movement
The Miners Strike was good news for the existing national organisation operating at the time, the Direct Action Movement. Involvement in the strike, and a growing awareness of the futility of activity in isolation meant that there were those who had newly developed class politics and did not want to jettison the anarchist movement, who were looking around for an organisation to join. The Direct Action Movement (DAM), founded in 1979 from the remnants of the defunct Syndicalist Workers Federation was the British section of the anarcho-syndicalist International Workers Association.
Although without a doubt seeing itself as an, anarcho-syndicalist propaganda grouping, the Direct Action Movement (DAM) was not a wholly unified or coherent organisation. This meant it was able to welcome to its ranks a steady influx of new members. formerly liberal anarchists, from the Miners Strike through to Wapping, without fully challenging - and in some cases accommodating the residue of their lifestylism. Although it varied branch by branch, new members were not provided with a great deal of political education by the DAM and were often not challenged beyond a basic agreement with the aims and principles. This led later to some dubious practices such as DAM members advocating self managed health centres in response to NHS cuts- an abdication from the responsibility to fight for decent welfare provision. The central problem with the DAM, though was the lack of any unified industrial strategy until the national conference in 1988. This meant it could not until this date, argue with workers as an organisation, what tactics were necessary, in its view, to win struggles - an appalling state of affairs for an anarcho-syndicalist organisation which. by definition, should have its industrial strategy as a central plank in its raison d'etre. Therefore during the Miners Strike and Wapping its role was reduced, in common with Black Flag to one of mere "supportism" where good work was done but anarchist politics were not on the agenda. For example, during the Silentnight Strike the DAM called for: (16)
"rebuilding the strike support groups and the various rank and file groups on an open syndicalist basis".
without explaining what a syndicalist "basis" actually meant, how this task was to be achieved and what the point was in doing it. Instead it concentrated on calling for people to (17)
"continue to give financial assistance (and) send food parcels"
Of course financial support is crucial, but the blossoming of strike support groups during the Miners Strike showed that the problem was not one of support or the lack of it, but of politics and the strategies needed to win. The DAM never really seriously attempted to provide either.
DAM's final adoption of an industrial strategy at its 1988 National Conference was the classic anarchosyndicalist idea of building a revolutionary union. It was a sure sign of an organisation seriously out of touch with the realities of class struggle in 80's Britain. This decision was expressed in a change to the organisations Aims and Principles to include an extra clause (18)
"The DAM is resolved to initiate encourage and whole heartedly support the creation of independent workers unions based on the principles of anarcho-syndicalism"
A union is an organisation built by the working class to defend its interests under capitalism. The aims and actions of the union are determined by whoever is in control be it a bureaucratic caste, or in the case of a syndicalist union, the rank and file. For a syndicalist union to be revolutionary the rank and file would also have to be- it is not enough to merely have an anarchist constitution or structure. A union that accepts members irrespective of their politics is, by definition, not revolutionary. Yet to have a mass base and therefore be effective in day to day struggles it would have to be an open membership policy. To allow membership solely on the grounds of political agreement would be the other alternative, the one chosen by the CNT in France which is a good reason why the CNT only has 500 members and is not strong enough to fulfill its function as a union. It is an ideological faction masquerading as a union. The syndicalist approach is flawed because it attempts to combine the political role of anarchists with the economic form of a union and simultaneously grow into a mass organisation able to determine the course of the class struggle in the here and now. In practice, taking into account the high density of union membership in this country, what would probably happen would be that militant workers who joined the revolutionary union would become divorced from the bulk of the workers who remain within the reformist unions. This would, in turn lead to an abandonment of the essential task of winning reformist workers to the need to fight.
Anarchists should be seeking to unite, not further divide, the working class and unions, whether organised along trade line in this country, or ideological lines, as on the continent, are always divisive.
The boss class do a good enough job of dividing us as it is. without anarchists pursuing strategies that will make matters worse. Finally the example of Spain, where in July 1936, Catalan workers had economic power in their hands when they controlled the streets and factories, showed the failure of the CNT- one of the most militant unions ever- to destroy the capitalist state and establish working-class power. The lesson anarcho syndicalists have yet to learn, is that a revolutionary union does not guarantee a revolution.
It remains to be seen. whether once the DAM have tested out their strategy in the real world, and observed its tragic short comings, they will cut their losses and jettison classic anarcho-syndicalism. It must be hoped they will. and that the good committed activists in the DAM will be released from the ideological prison of revolutionary unionism in which they have incarcerated themselves.
Meanwhile, back in 1986, with the Miners Strike having exposed many of contemporary anarchism's shortfalls and those young activists who were not of an anarcho-syndicalist bent looking for something more viable than banging their heads against a brick wall, something fresh was astir in the ghetto. January 1986 saw the launch of the Class War Federation. Class War, as a paper, and a London grouping had already existed for over a year and had burst forth seething with scorn and contempt for the pacifists and life-stylists of the anarchist movement and preaching an uncompromising class hatred. "Murdoch you are scum!", "Behold your future executioners" "Rich Bastards Beware," screamed the headlines, so what went wrong? Class War played an important role in helping to turn the ghetto upside down, but no organisation can hope to maintain itself purely on sustained anger without degenerating into self parody. The Class War Federation did not develop viable organisation, coherent politics and clear strategies. A former member complained:
"Unity, coherence and democracy are something that revolutionary anarchist organisations are built upon, not something we are forced to establish.' (18)
Class war- in the final analysis a rainbow coalition of disaffected non-pacifists- was an organisation who's predominant ideas were neither revolutionary nor anarchist but populist, never getting very far beyond generalised anti-rich anti-state rhetoric and betraying a poor understanding of class- politics. It was an organisation in the business not of encouraging working class militancy but of glorifying working class violence. Class War has:
"No clear industrial strategy and prefers to encourage street violence and open physical rather than political confrontation with the establishment." (19)
An example of this can be seen in the headline of the article the paper carried about the Silentnight strike. "Silentnight, violent night, get the scabs and kick 'em to shite" without offering a workable strategy for winning the dispute and without seeming to understand that there is more, unfortunately, to the class struggle than caving a few heads in. In many ways Class War has ended up a mirror image of the pacifist ghetto it so despises- chaotic, disorganised and lacking politics and strategy firmly stuck in the ghetto of its own making. It has become an organisation in a rut of
"desperate publicity-seeking stunts (and an) ultra leftist and street fighting mentality" (20)
The last straw was the decision taken by the London group to stand a candidate in the Kensington by-election the ultimate example of the tendency within the organisation, that has been there through-out its existence to turn Class War into a circus intent on performing tricks for the media.
Class War should be applauded for giving the anarchist movement the timely shake up it needed, and deserved, so desperately. However, it has now served its purpose, and its continued existence is a waste of time, energy and commitment of the good activists who are still within it. The party was good while it lasted but now its over and its time to go home.
A third national organisation, the Anarchist Communist Federation was launched in March of the same, year, 1986. The impetus from this came from the Anarchist Communist Discussion Group, that produced the 'magazine Virus' and could trace its history back to the Anarchists Workers Association of the 1970's. The Anarchist Communist Discussion Group (ACDG) had merged with Medway based Syndicalist Fight Group and developed a network of contacts around the country, The situation was looking healthy Only a couple of months earlier the Syndicalist Fight had carried an article arguing:
"The anarchist movement...is isolated from even the most militant sections of the working class. Most anarchists lack a clear understanding of theory and understanding of working within the labour movent. These are serious problems and we cannot hope to become an influential movement in this country until we begin to solve them...the key to future success for British anarchism is interventionism. 1986 could be the year our movement begins to grow"
The Anarchist Communist Federation
And in some ways it was. Whilst DAM was searching for syndicalism's lost youth and Class War Federation was remaining strictly prepubescent. the ACF wanted to develop an anarchism that was politically mature. However when the organisation was launched problems began to set in. In fact, the founders of the ACF can be seen as victim to their own enthusiasm for the type of organisation they had hoped to create, and putting cart before horse rashly flung open the doors of the ACF to all newcomers. And many responded, bringing with them the same problem that was brought to the DAM- the residual trappings of their all too recent liberalism. The original members wary of alienating the new-comers were slow to challenge this. The problem with a defacto open door membership policy is that it can lead to one of two consequences. One is that the relationship between the more politically developed members and the rest of the organisation, is militarised. The "cadres" then constitute a formal or informal leadership who "hand down" the politics to everyone else, whose role is to repeat it and digest it parrot fashion. This means that regardless of the political content, the form would cease to be anarchist, and become the worst kind of "democratic" centralism. The other option is that either individually or as a faction the founder members would argue that their particular politics were the best on offer inside (or outside) of the organisation and in effect attempt to win the membership over to the very ideas the organisation was set up with the intention of promulgating. This option was plumped for in the ACF. The crucial mistake was to invite people to join and then try to win them to the politics rather than winning them to the politics-and then inviting them to join. In practice, the initial vision of the ACF became clouded, and this political dilution and disunity had the effect of militating against successful intervention in the class struggle. The ACF substituted numerical growth for political development.
The ACF claims- and this is a claim that must be taken seriously, to stand in the tradition of the Platform, the Friends of Durruti and the French Libertarian Communists: that is the tradition of coherent, political anarchism. Initially, the group discussed "the Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists" a document drawn up in 1926 in response to the disorganisation of the anarchist movement in Russia at the time of the revolution, and arguing for a tighter, harder movement. This was a bold move in view of the fact that whilst most of the anarchist movement had never heard of the Platform, those who had were practically unanimous in dismissing it out of hand as "Bolshevised Anarchism". A group of DAM members even went so far as to produce a leaflet entitled " Anarchism or Platformism " roundly condemning it:
"The Platform was rejected by most of the anarchist movement and denounced as an attempt to Bolshevise anarchism"
And on the British platformists ..
"The first critics of the platformists had described them as being just "one step away from Bolshevism", in this case (the ORA) it seems to have been a very short step indeed".(22)
The combination of this external pressure together with internal pressure from the more liberal elements of the membership led to the ACF distancing itself from the Platform, and thus- in common with most of the anarchist movement- distancing itself from one of the most important documents ever written by any anarchists:
"We differ with the Platform on the question of absolute theoretical and tactical unity. An organisation must be allowed the convergence of ideas through a dynamic dialogue between its members. A federation does not smother its membership with doctrine- even if it is adopted democratically.' (23)
And this is from the "pro-platform" tendency within the ACF! A false dichotomy has been created here - of course "dynamic dialogue" between members is essential if an organisation is to remain healthy and democratic. However the aim of such dialogue is to force a democratically achieved unity, theoretical and tactical. Talking till your blue in the face is meaningless if everyone then goes off and ' argues their own thing to the class'. It reduces internal discussion to little more than sterile intellectual game playing. Democratically adopted positions are not "smothering members with doctrine" they are an essential prerequisite to successful intervention in the class struggle as an organisation. The leadership of ideas means nothing unless you can agree what those ideas are.
Recently the ACF has started to transform its politics. Unfortunately the direction they are taking smacks of ultra-leftism rather than anarchism. On the issue of industrial strategy, the unions are seen as the fifth column of capitalism within the working class. They are:
"part of the array of ideological forces used by the state against workers." (24)
This misses the point that the function of the union is to defend workers interests under capitalism. A contradiction exists between the rank and file, which are objectively anti capitalist, and the interests of the bureaucracy, which are to maintain a role as permanent mediators between labour and capital. The ACF claim that 'a steward who is revolutionary cannot last'. So anarchists should stay in the unions but abstain from the struggle over who controls them- the bureaucracy or the rank and file? If rank and file workers have the potential power to take on the capitalist state it is a contradiction to say that they don't have the power to take on their own bureaucracy.
A second example of the creeping ultra-leftism of the ACF is in their attitude to the imperialist struggle In their revised aims and principles they state:
'We are opposed to the ideology of national liberation movements which claim there is some common interest between the native bosses and the working class in the face of foreign domination' (25)
In another article , specifically about the Irish War, the ACF state that they are opposed to:
'the unification of Ireland on any basis other than in the context of international socialism. (26)
In effect, this means abdicating from the struggle against British imperialism in Ireland - unless it is in the context of international socialism! Thus, by default siding with British state against those fighting for the re-unification of Ireland. It is not the role of British anarchists to impose pre-conditions on our call for troops out of Ireland. To build the necessary solidarity in Britain, amongst British workers, we must unconditionally support the Irish peoples right to self-detern ation, backed up by providing political and practical support to those Irish anarchists who are counterpoising the fight for anti-imperialist working class unity,to the bourgeois nationalism of the republican movement. Despite these political, organisational and tactical mistakes it would be sectarian and churlish to dismiss the ACF and what they stand for out of hand. A group who claims to stand in the best traditions of anarchism is a rare and welcome sight in the British anarchist movement. It is essential that all serious anarchists engage in political dialogue with ACF members as they share our traditions and our aim of building a strong libertarian communist movement capable of winning workers to anarchist ideas and strategies.
It was not just rational anarchist organisations that grew and flourished as a result of the Miners Strike and Wapping. The local groups, many of whom had sprung up during the heady days of Crass inspired liberalism- were on the upsurge. The local groups phenomenon was a strange beast- a growing , but not always healthy movement, that engaged in flurry of activity wherever anything was happening. It did very little else.
Many of the local groups were a classic example of the synthesis where irreconcilable differences, irreconcilable ideas- liberal individualism and class struggle anarchism - sat side by side. However, many of those in the local groups who claimed not to be influenced by liberalism had an analysis of class rather than a class analysis. For them, class struggle was narrowly characterised as a single issue amongst a series of single issues that were all mysteriously related. Thus:
"Although we put most of our ideas into class struggle issues we do not by any means regard issues like racism, feminism, and animal rights as secondary" (27)
This quote is a classic example of the mistake of seeing the class struggle as, for example, strike support work alone. Fighting for abortion rights, fighting immigration controls or fighting the NHS cuts are seen as separate issues rather than the central and integral part of the class struggle they actually are. This means that such groups could only relate to the class struggle in a limited fashion, unable to proceed far beyond the level of supportism and activism. Hence they were also unable to give a clear political lead because they lacked any coherent view in the context of which strategies and tactics could be worked out. This means the local groups intervened apoliticaly, not as anarchists but as individual activists. Unfortunately, this cult of movement without direction was held up by many in the local groups as a positive development. The only acceptable criteria to most groups was the extent to which someone was prepared to 'get stuck in'. Anarchist theory was a low priority, which led to a bob-a-job response to struggle: the non-politics of 'let's do something'. Rejecting theory means that political education is also rejected. In the local groups new members had little hope, other than through their own efforts as individuals, of gaining a deeper political understanding, if the supposedly more experienced members were themselves ill-equipped to provide a political lead. A lack of theory and education inevitably led to a lack of unity, and activity was therefore on an individual rather than collective basis. There existed no agreed and predetermined political, tactical or organisational framework around which to operate. This was seen by many as healthy, with the subsequent problems dismissed:
"The problem with the anarchist movement is ....Well there a number of them really. There will always be with such a wide based and growing movement." (28)
Disunity, as we have said, militates against successful interventionism. However, with the local groups it was not so much the inability to politically intervene that was the problem as the very horror at the thought of doing so. This essential role for revolutionaries was repeatedly rejected on the spurious and ill-considered ground that "the trots do it". This ignores the fact that throughout the history of the anarchist movement, "doing it" has been a crucial tactic- and by "doing it" we mean formulating clear positions around key issues and arguing them in a principled way to the class. The 'movement' however does not agree, interventionism is:
"Trying to tell people how to conduct their struggle...moving into an issue or cause and trying to make it your own" (29)
In the quote the author is referring to the Revolutionary Communist Party. Yet to reject a tactic simply because it is shared by Leninists is to prove nothing but the absence of any real understanding of why anarchists reject Leninism. We are not at odds with the fact that the Leninists "do it", or even how they "do it". What we reject is the specific political content and basis of their arguments.
The local groups could not break free from their fragmented and apolitical response to struggle, because as already stated, there was no organisational framework around which to operate. And this was a conscious choice. Thus the absence of politics both dictated and was dictated by the absence of structure. It is sobering that Piotr Arshinov's comment on the Russian anarchists in 1917 is as relevant today as it was then:
"Disorganisation is the twin of irresponsibility and together they lead to impoverished ideas and futile practices' (30)
This lack of organisation has manifested itself in an inability to build a national federation of anarchist groups or any lasting regional federations. This means that ever if it wanted to, the anarchist movement is incapable of responding to struggle on a national level, or adopting national policy. In short it is incapable of acting as the movement it claims to be. It lacks aims and principles, democratic decision making structures and any basis of accountability. This means the movement is unable to come to the attention of militant workers, and, even if it were has nothing to offer them. Anarchism stands firmly in a ghetto of its own design, whilst the people it should be having the arguments with remain shackled by reformism or are won over to various Leninist brands of socialism.
There were those within the local groups who sought to make the break from all this. Back in 1986 one group argued for:
'greater co-ordination between the class-conscious and genuinely revolutionary elements within the anarchist movement' (31)
Although they received some positive feedback ultimately nothing emerged from their call. More recently local class-struggle anarchist groups have begun to spring up around the country However unless they rid themselves their antipathy to theory, interventionism, and coherent organisation their longevity and ability to operate meaningfully is open to serious question. They will ultimately have to ask themselves whether they are to remain ineffective and irrelevant or turn their backs once and for on the local group mentality that hamstrings them.
It was in this context, that in the summer of 1988 the ANARCHIST WORKERS GROUP was formed, as a recognition of the fact that if the anarchist movement is to have any real impact and lasting influence on the class struggle, it will have to undergo a radical transformation. We saw the need for a political organisation of anarchist workers, firmly rooted in the labour movement and able to intervene decisively in the class struggle. We saw the need for an organisation with a clear political program and coherent strategies that were democratically arrived at, by an active, participating membership. This being achieved through a thorough analysis of day to day reality and a re-evaluation of existing revolutionary theory. It needs to be an organisation controlled by the membership with the commitment and self-discipline to consistently take the ideas they develop, the strategies and priorities they adopt to the class. One which would provide its members with a sound political education and develop within them the agitational skills needed to win the battle of ideas. Furthermore, an organisation that would constantly encourage and promote working class self-activity, self management of struggles and the confidence to fight but would not shy away from giving political lead. We looked at the anarchist movement and reluctant concluded that no such organistion existed. Neither was there, it seemed, a grouping with the will or capacity to build or transfer itself into one. The AWG does not pretend to be that organisation however we want to build just such a libertarian communist organisation that can - for the first time in this country - put it truly where it belongs centre stage in the arena of class struggle, and, in doing so, play a role in making libertarian communism a reality.
1 "Putting the Record Straight on Michael Bakunin" Libertarian Communist Review 1976
2 R Taylor, C Pritchard "The Protest Makers" Oxford 1980
3 A Meltzer "The Anarchists in London 1935-1955" quoted in P Kane "British Anarchism Surveyed" Virus No 7
4 P Rimbaud "The Last of the Hippies" in "A Series of Shock Slogans and Mindless Token Tantrums" Existence Press 1982
5 "Prisoners of War" No 1 1983 Page 7
6 P Rimbaud ibid
7 R Rimbaud ibid
8 G Maximof "The Political Philosophy of Bakunin" quoted in P Kane "British Anarchism Surveyed" Virus No 7
9 P Rimbaud ibid
10 P Rimbaud ibid
11 The Beano No 3 June 1986
12 Steve T "Anarchosyndicalism?" Virus No 7
13 The Beano No 3 June 1986
14 The Beano ibid
16 Direct Action No 36 Jan/Feb 8,
17 Direct Action No 36 Jan/Feb 87
18 David Luton resignation letter to CWF
19 A Reid "An Analysis of Contemporary British Anarchism" Feb 89
20 David L. ibid
21 Phil Kane "The Movement in 1986" Syndicalist Fight No 2 Jan 86
22 "Anarchism or Platformism" 1986
73 "A note on the Libertarian Communist Platform". Virus No 7
24 "What is the potential of Rank and File Action" Organise No 14 Feb/Apr 89
25 ACF"Aims and Principles" Organise No 14 Feb/Apr 89
26 "From Imperialist War to Class War" Organise 14 Feb/Apr 8
27 Manchester Fight Back No 1
28 "Notes from NAN" Northern Anarchist Network Bulletin in No 3 Dec 86
29 "Fly this Revolution to Sutton Manor" Liverpool Anarchist Newsletter No 2 Nov 88
30 Quoted in "Anarchism in Britain 1986" from Freedom: 100 Years, Freedom Press Oct 86
31 Statement by "Streatham Action Group" in New Anarchist Review No 9 Oct 86
Monday, February 11, 2008
Deva/ Dea/ Dee - Sovereign Goddess of the LandRiver in photo beneath the mist.
Here are three poems inspired by the river Dee (my local Galloway one - there are others). They are descriptions of actual places betwen her source in the hills and her union with the Solway Firth. 'Dee' has the meaning 'goddess' and she may well have been the 'sovereign goddess of the land' if local people had similar beliefs to the Irish 2000 + years ago. Physically she has shaped and created the land ever since she was born out of a glacier 15 000 years ago.
For images/ photos see:
http://www.gla.ac.uk/medicalgenetics/suplands.htm Loch Dee and hills- excellent site
http://www.orrnamestudy.com/images/short.jpg One of Bob's ancestors? Covenanter grave, Balmaghie
http://www.nwl.ac.uk/ih/nrfa/spatialinfo/Elevation/elevation080002.html Dee at Glenlochar coloured contours map
http://www.ushistoricalarchive.com/photochroms/2742.html crannog site small island in middle of loch
http://www.old-kirkcudbright.net/books/telford.htm Telford's bridge over Dee at Kirkcudbright
http://www.scottishradiance.com/light/light204.htm Little Ross lighthouse
Will find more.
Deva - On Dungeon Hill 13 June 2003
Listening to the stream as it runs
through granite pools
the fractured rock in great slabs
still marked by the ice.
Each pool has a different voice
the clear water cold even in summer heat
raging torrents with the rain
waterfalls spouting from the cliffs
the great Dungeon wall
tawny as a lion crouched
high over the silver flecked flowe.
Upturned bowl of sphagnum
resilient surface quaking with each step
a living, breathing, growing creature
still holding charcoal grains
the memory of hunters' fires.
The forest of the before times
wolf times, bear times, wild times
eagle and deer, beaver and boar
another forest then
no sitka in serried ranks, square cut and drained
then the forest stretched from hill to sea
Deva, how much have you known
how much do you recall?
Now you are bound, confined, constrained
your marshes drained and forests forgotten
yet still you flow, ever from the hills unto the sea.
Tracing your path, summoning the memories
of Loch Dee and Clatteringshaws,
the Otter pool and Loch Stroan where the railway ran
Hensol and the Ken, long deep loch an arrow pointed north
following its flight up each dammed step
once more unto the hills and each tribute paid
Polmaddie, the Deuch, even the Doon, by the hand of man
spills her waters towards the Solway now.
Onwards towards the twin towers
Balmaghie and Crossmichael reflect each in the other
Glenlochar and the Romans
Still march and clash their spears over the green fields
rich fields, the wealth of the land
your blackness slow uncoiling
hidden pearls- do they still gleam in your depths?
And the salmon, fewer now
but the geese return each autumn
yapping like dogs in the night
flying between the stars
above Archibald's grim castle
feasting all done, the walls are silent now.
Once you ran straight for the sea
your path marked by marshes and the witches' loch
The cauldron must return - so mote it be.
Poor Carlinwark, a shadow of her self
A green puddle left by the departure of our lady
As she found a new way to the sea.
Three bridges and the Grainyford
By Druim Cheate Edward Bruce fought and won
but he could not hold this land, your land.
Beneath another wall of hills
Screel, Bengairn, Bentudor
another dam, another brief surge of power
electricity sparking in the turbines and the wires
where once the salmon gathered in the deep pool
no more, no more.
Beyond Telford's bridge salt water mingles
with your sweetness, the race is nearly run
back and forth the tides flow
echoing the moon
and the mud banks stretching from Cutherbert's kirk
to the Ross's ever blinking eye.
Here you fall at last into Solway's embrace
the great firth accepting your offering
while above the clouds sail
a great fleet of grey and white ships of the sky
to pour their cargoes of rain
upon the hills wherein your are ever renewed
Dea -Threave Castle Observation Hide - Autumn 2003
At dusk and dawn, the raucous chorus of a crowd of geese
Carries clear across the marshes from the Dee
Heard even in town, where street lights shine at night
Orange daubs against the blackness of the starry sky.
Today the clouds are sunk heavy on the hills
Pressing close upon Bengairn
Neilson's pyramid holds the horizon
Against the encroaching grey of Galloway
Autumn has rusted the trees
Wreathes of oak leaves
Like damp russet confetti
Lie scattered on the path.
The earth is dry along its edge
The river low between the Stepping Stones
The clouds promise rain
Hanging in ragged sheets above the fields
Their summer green flecked with yellow now
Reeds rustle before a breath of wind
Which carries the plaintive peewits
Of lapwings across the river's murmuring.
Now a buzzard, briefly majestic as an eagle
Floats down to pause upon a leafless tree
Casting the lapwings up like a plume of smoke
They hover hesitant, wheel and circle
The buzzard lifts its tawny wings
They beat a few strokes, then it is gone
Letting the lapwings return
To their contemplation of the river.
Finally the expected, anticipated sound
On creaking, rusted wings
Making and unmaking patterns in the air
Raggedly they jostle and spiral round
The turning of the year, confirming with their cries
The cycle of the seasons
As the geese descend once more
To graze beside the Dee.
Dee- Lamb Island - June 2003
Here Dee glides between three islands and the fields
white and black of cattle against green grass
white on black and orange billed
against silvered blue reflections
a solitary oyster catcher paused on a rock
a reminder of the sea.
A cow and brown calf slowly circle
between buttercups and other yellow flowers
a swaying island of water weeds
entering the flow their hooves find the stones
framed by the fractal leaves of an oak tree
hanging motionless, moss drying on the bark
insect haze dances over the river
amongst the reflections of sky and trees
almost still, shimmering.
Trees and sky broken open as a cormorant dives
ripples circling ever outward
waiting for black head to re-emerge
and now a heron follows the ripples rush
shadowing the cormorant
back and forth the heron's heavy flight
crossing and re-crossing from shore to shore
briefest glint of silver, the cormorant holds a fish
a fleeting moment of triumph and then
takes wing leaving the heron in its wake.
Here Dee takes her final twisting turns towards the sea
here the path ends
one bridge stands alone, its partner gone
one bridge, corroding gently
an iron trough on sandstone pillars
a tree grows between the stones
grass masks the metal, greening the grey girders
no whisps of steam, no scent of oil and smoke
no burning coals to fall like tiny blazing comets
into the black waters.
The single line of gleaming rails is gone
the baulks of sleeping timber dark with creosote
the fractured grey ballast - all lifted now
in their stead the whispering roar
of rubber on asphalt
of traffic ever hurrying, hurtling along the road
faster and faster, never ceasing, even in the night
juggernauts grind in a blaze of light
racing each other towards distant destinations
against deadlines and paper thin profit margins
as overhead a jet fighter banks
brief screeching flight endlessly rehearsing
preparing for another desert war
whilst beyond the tree lined horizon
a grey plume of smoke rises.
At Druim Cheate beside the Grainy Ford
Edward Bruce's soldiers fought the men of Galloway
and burnt the Isle of Threave
scene of other battles, nameless wars
between namless warriors, blood spilt into the black waters
forgotten conflicts with outcomes hidden in place name patterns
Threave and Netherhall, Aireland, Slagnaw
Bridge of Dee and Balmaghie
Welsh and Anglo-Saxon, Gaelic and Norse
English and Scots, layers of languages mark the land.
Cormack's chapel by Dildawn - did an Irish saint
ever break his hard bread and sip his bitter wine
murmuring Latin translations of Greek and Hebrew words
beside the pagan Dee?
Saturday, February 09, 2008
Brief history anarchist punk
This is by Richard Cross who is/ was/ will be writing a book on anarcho-punk.
Thought about putting this in KYPP but maybe a bit long.
It has foot notes. These may not work.
‘The hippies now wear black’
Crass and the anarcho-punk movement, 1977-1984
Few social historians of Britain in the late 1970s would dismiss the influence that the emergent punk rock movement exerted in the fields of music, fashion and design, and art and aesthetics. Most would accept too that the repercussions and reverberations of punk’s challenge to the suffocating norms against which it rebelled so vehemently continue to be felt in the present tense.i Behind the tabloid preoccupation with the Sex Pistols, a maelstrom of bands, including such acts as The Damned, The Buzzcocks, Slaughter and the Dogs, X-Ray Spex and The Raincoats, together redefined the experience of popular music and its relationship to the cultural mainstream. Bursting into the headlines as the unwelcome gatecrasher of the Silver Jubilee celebrations, punk inspired the misfits and malcontents of a new generation to reject the constraints of an exhausted post-war settlement, and to rail against boredom, alienation, wage-slavery, and social conformity.
Yet, in retrospect, the purity of punk’s ‘total rejection’ of ‘straight society’ (if not seen as comprised from the outset) appears fleeting. By the tail-end of 1977, the integrity of punk’s critique seemed to be fast unravelling. What had declared itself to be an uncompromising cultural and musical assault on an ossified status quo, was become increased ensnared in the processes of ‘incorporation’ and ‘commodification’. Punk bands which had earlier denounced the corporate big-time were signing lucrative deals with major record labels, keen to package and promote their rebellious messages. Specialist retailers, mimicing punk’s innovate experiments with fashion and adornment, began to market new lines of standardised punk clothing. Punk rock’s non-negotiable hostility to the marketplace and the mainstream appeared to be collapsing. It had, in the words of one cynical observer been ‘bought up, cleaned up, souped up’ to become ‘just another cheap product for the consumer’s head.’ii Yet at the same time that punk appeared to be losing its way, a current emerged within the movement declaring itself committed to the prosecution of the punk ideal and determined to rediscover what it saw as punk’s authentic and original intent.
The story of the birth of punk rock in Britain and the US is being rehearsed in every greater detail in the burgeoning historiography of this ‘new wave’ of music, fashion, art and culture — which, alongside individual biography, offers accounts of different subcultures within punk, and treatments of local scenes and time frames.iii Yet despite the proliferation of such studies in recent years, the political history of punk is painfully underdeveloped. The history of what can be claimed as the most intensely radical expression of punk’s politics and aesthetic – anarcho-punk – remains almost entirely unrecorded. In the flood of publications addressing different aspects of the punk phenomenon that have appeared in the last few years, it’s striking how often the experience of anarcho-punk is absent.iv Although a few short treatments of Crass have been published,v most of the key debates currently animating both the academic and the popular literature on punk simply exclude anarcho-punk from their frame of reference.vi This is an all the more glaring omission given the sophistication of anarcho-punk’s own critique of punk practice, and the profound significance which Crass and other artists invested in the medium of punk.vii In part, the exclusion of anarcho-punk from the majority of histories of the genre is a reflection of the reluctance of many authors to confront anarcho-punk’s critique of ‘conventional’ punk’s own practice. Yet it is also the unintended consequence of anarcho-punk’s own fiercely independent sensibilities, which often resulted in its effective separation from punk rock’s own ‘orthodox’ mainstream.
Centred around the work of the band Crass, anarcho-punk asserted a belief in the politics and practice of punk ‘as it was always supposed to have been’ – autonomous, subversive and free from commercial corruption. Embracing the politics of anarchism, anti-militarism and pacifism, Crass worked to popularise the notion of a consciously revolutionary punk rock culture. It was an approach that inspired many thousands to immerse themselves in the highly distinctive ‘do-it-yourself’ (DIY) milieu of anarcho-punk and to commit their energies to what were recognised as the critical political struggles of the hour. The results of this ‘reclamation’ of the punk imperative were often remarkable, but as the years passed it became clear that the movement was struggling to realise what it hoped was its true potential. Because it thrived with little permanent structural form, anarcho-punk existed as an intriguing example of a movement defined by the contours of its subculture.
The emergence of anarcho-punk
In 1978, the release of the debut mini-album The Feeding of the Five Thousand by the band Crass announced the birth of a new current within the evolving British punk movement which came to be celebrated — and sometimes derided — as ‘anarcho-punk’.viii Musically, anarcho-punk certainly represented a further recalibration of the punk sound. After the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks, or the self-titled first album by The Ramones, only a handful of records comprehensively reinvented the notion of what punk rock album could sound like. In that, Crass’s early releases could stand alongside artists as diverse as Joy Division and Discharge. When The Feeding of the 5000 was released it sounded like no other punk record before it had — the signature military drum-beat; the skittery power-buzz of the two guitars; the relentless lyric-chewing vocal; the shift without pause from one song to another; the lack of rock pretensions. More notable than the musical presentation, was its content – from the stunning, disturbing cover artwork, and the densely typed lyric sheet; to the uncompromising, compelling polemic with which the whole package bristled. It would be just these jarring juxtapositions between the content of the message and the medium of delivery that would give this new subculture so distinctive an edge, and infuse it with an infectious appeal that quickly attracted the interest of tens of thousands of young punks and displaced radicals.
The anthemic track ‘Punk Is Dead’ encapsulated the tension at the heart of what Crass were about, and what anarcho-punk would become — a band and a movement that both embraced and celebrated and shunned and denounced punk:
I see the velvet zippies in their bondage gear / The social elite with safety pins in their ear / I watch and understand that it don’t mean a thing / The scorpions might attack, but the system stole the sting.ix
As drummer Penny Rimbaud subsequently explained, this critique of punk was also intended as a rebuttal to what was perceived as the nihilistic declaration by Sex Pistols’ frontman Johnny Rotten that there was to be ‘no future’.x Even though the ever-resourceful Rotten has since rejected pessimistic readings of this lyric as shortsighted, Crass were, in contrast, claiming punk as a rallying cry to ‘make history’ rather than as the soundtrack for its end.xi
Although a sizeable youth movement quickly burgeoned around them, Crass’s position as the catalyst and engine for anarcho-punk was never seriously in question — however awkward Crass felt about their ‘leading role’. Most of those involved with Crass were significantly older than the people who bought their records and turned out for their concerts. Unlike the majority of their contemporaries, Crass sought to highlight connections between the aspirations of 1960s counter-culture and the original impetus of 1970s punk. Importantly, Crass claimed punk as an extension and redefinition of elements brought forward from the culture of hippy. Several of the occupants of the Dial House commune from which Crass emerged had had long associations with hippy and other counter-cultural movements.xii This notion of a rekindled hippy ethos sat problematically with punk’s insistence on outright rejection of the political and musical forms of the past, but punk — drawing, as it had to do, on antecedents of all kinds — could not sustain the pretence that 1976 was some kind of ‘year zero’. More problematic than hippy’s pre-punk origins, was its content — and the difficulty of reconciling The Clash’s declarations of ‘hate and war’ with Crass’s insistence on ‘love and peace’. Ultimately, such approaches could not be reconciled, even though both claimed to be legitimate representations of punk. Even so, Crass’s was never an uncritical reading of hippy, but rather a reclamation of what were seen as common principles — a rejection of crushing social conventions; of miserable wage-labour; of war and militarism; and a celebration of freedom, both collective and individual. It was also, as many of the band’s critics appeared slow to acknowledge, a vision of hippy which offered its own bi-polar view – castigating the self-satisfied hedonism of sixties counter-culture, whilst romanticising its more consciously political elements. The band’s assertion of a counter-cultural continuity linking hippy and punk immediately aroused the suspicion of some within the punk movement concerned to protect punk from the contagion of the ‘failures’ of earlier generations. Disappointment with the decline and corrosion of hippy may help to explain the intensity of Crass’s subsequent investment in punk. It had to work where hippy had failed. In their farewell written statement, Crass insist that the anarcho-punk brand of punk rock had eventually become ‘almost synonymous with punk’.xiii They may have wished that this had been so, but in fact things were more complex. In reality, anarcho-punk was in perpetual contest with ‘mainstream’ punk, its take on the punk project opposed, ignored and challenged by those who saw their own readings as equally (or indeed more) authentic.
Anarcho-punk reclaimed the notion of punk autonomy – rejecting all approaches from the pop industry, establishing in their place the movement’s own record labels and distribution networks; working directly and collaboratively, without agents or intermediaries, to set up tours, produce publications and record music. Remarkably, none of the bands whose reputation gave them a national, and indeed international, profile broke this self-imposed embargo to ‘sell-out’ to the majors. Crass themselves were approached by a would-be impresario, already responsible for a roster of mainstream acts, offering to ‘market’ the band’s revolutionary message through the established channels. His offer of a large advance and a lucrative deal was summarily dismissed. In 1984, the band were amused to reject a tentative expression of interest in their work from thinly-disguised representatives of the Soviet Embassy in London — but not before Crass’s own delegation had sunk the supply of vodka on offer from the agents of the Russian ‘literary magazine’ who had invited them for talks.xiv All aspects of the group’s work, from its appearance on stage, the packaging of its records, to the band’s relationship to its ‘fans’ were subject to a political critique which, it is claimed, tried to subvert usual rock’n’roll conventions, to reclaim what were seen as the essentials of ‘punk’. Messages of anarchy, peace and love were now delivered in anguished howls, over distorted guitar riffs and thundering drum beats, by bands who sought to honour the principles of ‘do-it-yourself (DIY) punk’ in every aspect of their work – records were stamped with the instruction to ‘pay no more than’ the breakeven price fixed by the band; concert tickets were sold for the barest minimum; all of the affectations and decadence of the rock-star lifestyle were shunned; and genuine efforts made to minimize the gap between performer and audience.
By 1984, the year in which Crass disbanded (a cut-off point set by the band in 1977), the anarcho-movement had reached the height of its powers, and was beginning to strain against its own political and sub-cultural limitations, and encroaching sense of fatigue.xv Throughout the intervening years Crass remained the central focus and organising hub for anarcho-punk, at the centre of a network of bands, labels, artists and publications which rallied around the anarcho-punk banner, and which, taken together, loosely defined this movement within a movement.
A defining feature of anarcho-punk was the refusal to co-operate with the established music industry on all levels. To the consternation and incredulity of many music journalists Crass and other anarcho-bands declined to be interviewed and photographed for the pages of Sounds, the NME or Melody Maker. Instead anarcho-punk sought to stimulate its own outlets for its message, through the distinctive network of fanzines, and through handouts, mailings and publications under its own imprint, where control over content and presentation remained total, and unsullied by pop trivia around it. Crass’s own position on the question was not absolute. When controversy propelled the band into the limelight, members of the group would appear on television and radio shows, to put an anarchist case, but the band’s own minimum criteria for participation usually made such appearances difficult to agree. Despite the efforts of many officials in the pop industry to exclude them (a fate earlier endured by the Sex Pistols) Crass’s records regularly sold sufficient quantities to break into the Top Thirty of the BBC’s chart. There was no prospect of the BBC’s producers agreeing to appearances by the band (they had only to cite the band’s ‘unbroadcastable’ lyrics and the court actions for ‘obscenity’ that were a recurrent and unwelcome byproduct of the band’s published work), but Crass had their own impossible counter demand. Asked by Tongue in Cheek fanzine if there were any circumstances in which they would agree to appear on Top of the Pops, Crass replied: ‘That we could talk uninterrupted on any subject of our choice for the length of time that the record that got us there took to play.’xvi
Such uncompromising statements of independence were, of course, criticised for being willfully counter-productive, by those arguing that the most effective acts of subversion were undertaken from within the industry – by those who heralded the Pistols and other as the ‘poison in the machine’ – and not by those denouncing it from the outside. As the movement mushroomed, Crass could counter that their own practice was drawing the attention of tens of thousands young people to anarchist ideas on an unprecedented scale, something that the movement’s incorporation into the pop industry would immediately jeopardise. For Crass, the position remained self-evident:
We believed that you could no more be a socialist [band] and signed to CBS (The Clash) than you could be an anarchist and signed to EMI.xvii
Crass also powerfully asserted that if the practice of anarcho-punk was to mean anything, then it was self-evident that it had to demonstrate the validity of its precursor politics. Anarcho-punk performers everywhere insisted that it would trivialise and diminish their revolutionary message to align themselves with those complicit in reducing punk to product – by this time typified by the transformation of Adam and the Ants from a darkly sexualised art-punk ensemble into a sanitised pre-teen pop machine – and expose their DIY manifestos to ridicule.
And yet, inevitably, the integrity of anarcho-punk was sustained at no little cost. The movement’s reliance on its own networks and outlets meant that to those engaged with it, the movement could appear vibrant and vital. But many outside of the immediate punk subculture were almost entirely unaware of its work. The movement’s high principles made the negotiation of alliances difficult, but the very completeness of anarcho-punk’s own defiant subcultural independence made it difficult for the movement to accurately assess its own political and cultural worth.
The politics of anarcho-punk
The politics espoused through the medium of anarcho-punk reflected a hectic and eclectic mix of aspirations – which drew as much on moral as on material considerations. There was no singular ideology in play, with – in Crass’s case – inspiration being drawn from Ghandian principles, radical philosophy, the aesthetics of the Beat and Bohemian poets, and the words of Rimbaud and Baudelaire, as much as from the formal anarchist tradition. Crass probably overstate the case when they claim that in the bands’ early days they ‘probably would have thought’ that Bakunin ‘was a brand of vodka’xviii, but the profound suspicion of ideologues and fixed ideologies remained. It afforded a politics largely free of debilitating baggage, but at the same time the anchor points that it provided were few and far between.
Initially replete with expletives and rich in harsh invective, Crass’s own writing and pronouncements developed into what were often sophisticated, lucid and poetic writings. Alongside early songs such as ‘Fight War, Not Wars’ (in which the only lyrics were those of the title), came such detailed and intensely argued polemics as ‘Bumhooler’, ‘Rival Tribal Rebel Revel’, and ‘Bloody Revolutions’, and spoken word pieces such as ‘Demoncrats’, which concludes:
Taken aside, they were pointed a way,
For God, Queen and Country. Now in silence they lie.
They ran before these masters, children of sorrow
as slaves to that trilogy they had no future.
They believed in democracy, freedom of speech,
yet dead on the flesh piles I hear no breath,
I hear no hope, no whisper of faith,
from those that have died for some others’ privilege.
Out from your palaces, princes and queens,
out from your churches, you clergy, you Christs,
I’ll neither live nor die for your dreams.
I’ll make no subscription to your paradise.xix
Many other bands and performers within the anarcho-punk orbit chose a less poetic and literary timbre, grounding their work in the language and iconography of the radical campaigns and issues of the day. Crass’s own reading of anarchism retained hippy’s concern with the freedom of the individual from the intrusions of the state, but infused it with militant opposition to the ‘war machine’, and an excoriating critique of the alienated social relations of capitalism. In Crass’s original lexicon, anarchism and pacifism were seen as synonymous and symbiotic. Around the calls for ‘anarchy, peace and freedom’, anarcho-punk’s varied political impulses pushed the movement in diverse directions. Anti-militarism, and in particular, opposition to the nuclear arms race, remained definitional concerns throughout. But anti-war cries did not exhaust the anarcho-punk remit. The movement engaged — sometimes more successfully than others — with feminist, atheist, anti-capitalist and eco- politics. For bands such as Conflict and Flux of Pink Indians, the politics of animal rights, animal liberation, vegetarianism and veganism were central.
Crass’s early work ensured that the politics of atheism took a prominent place in the movement’s propaganda and artwork. After assembly line workers refused to press copies of the band’s first record in protest at the sacrilegious content of the opening song ‘Reality Asylum’, Crass were obliged to replace the offending article with a silent track – which the band bitterly retitled ‘The Sound of Free Speech’. Denunciations of the culpability of organised religion in the persistence of war and human suffering, and attacks on the church’s position within the hierarchy of the ‘ruling elite’ became recurrent themes of the wider movement.
Punk had provided numerous outlets for women performers and feminist messages, but anarcho-punk offered a platform for a distinctively anarcha-feminist politics. Poison Girls combined impassioned invectives against capital and militarism, with sophisticated critiques of the alienated nuclear family, and subtle explorations of gender relations. The women artists and performers within Crass had explored feminist themes since the band’s formation, and in 1981 the band released the album Penis Envy, conceived as a specifically ‘feminist attack’, on which only the band’s female vocalists appear.xx The record’s lyrical preoccupations were directed as much at the group’s predominately male fan base as to the world beyond, driven by an awareness that many of the punks enthused by the driving and aggressive agit-punk that was seen as Crass’s stock-in-trade often appeared to find the complexities of gender politics challenging, of secondary concern to the ‘more pressing’ conflict with the war state, or even an uncomfortable irrelevance.
The complications of Crass’s own political position, and by extension that of anarcho-punk, were acute. Explored in the extended essays of Crass’s 1982 book A Series of Shock Slogans and Mindless Token Tantrums the politics of anarcho-punk emerge as an interplay between nonviolence, counter-culturalism, spartan anti-consumerism and the exploration of personal liberty that might provide the supportive context for a relentless struggle against the forces of capital and the war state. Criticised by some anarchist opponents as a confusion of revolutionary perspectives with the ‘politics of lifestyle’,xxi anarcho-punk was premised on the adoption of radical practices in the personal lives of its adherents – co-operative and communal living, not-for-profit publishing and artistry, squatting, re-appropriation – that could together help generalise the culture of disobedience and direct action. Throughout, Crass’s politics remained an unresolved fusion of the utopian and absolutist, and the acutely personal and immediate.
Crass certainly attacked head-on the assertion that the legitimacy of punk itself rested on its working class origins, and condemned those whose sought to exclude participation in punk culture to those who measured up to the bogus criteria of ‘street credibility’ externally imposed by journalists and music industry pundits.xxii As a critique of the fetishisation of young white male working class street-culture – exemplified by the political schizophrenia of the early eighties Oi punk wave – and as an attempt to hold open the boundaries of the movement, the argument held great merit. Additionally, anarcho-punk was able to offer something almost entirely absent from the campaigns against rising unemployment of the time – a rudimentary critique of wage-labour itself. In the far less punitive welfare climate of the time, Crass suggested that the young unemployed should reject the passivity of their place in the ‘reserve army of labour’ and seize the opportunities that freedom from the factory and office afforded them. Celebrated in the band’s riotous Do They Owe Us a Living?, this was a raucous and uncompromising defence of a new subversive ‘giro-ethic’.
There were points, however, at which this rejection of alienated labour found expression in destructively hostile language – in which, for instance, the workers on the Ford production lines were seen as willingly complicit in their own subjugation.xxiii And yet, those keen to dismiss anarcho-punk’s ‘déclassé’ politics faced the difficulty that so much of the movement’s energies were directed at encouraging collective action against multiple capitalist targets, through language, imagery and song intimately concerned with exposing the social relations of power, ownership and wealth in Thatcher’s Britain. By 1984, as many anarcho-punk benefits were concerned with raising money and support for striking miners as for anti-nuclear causes, and the peace movement’s conflict with the nuclear state was itself seen as developing an increasingly revolutionary logic. Committed anarcho-punks ran with the hunt saboteurs, whilst denouncing the military and economic imperialism of the USA; they organized public fasts against world hunger, while they prepared clandestine spray-paint attacks on army recruitment offices. What kept the movement connected was the shared subculture of gigs, records and fanzines, not the diktats of any central organizing committee, or ultimately the pronouncements of Crass. Anarcho-punk’s politics remained a moving target. For critics and supporters alike, even as the movement’s manifestos evolved, they remained frustratingly imprecise.
It was a politics that left the movement noticeably separated from both the anti-militarist and anarchist traditions that it initially hoped to fuse. Crass’s enthusiasm for some of the venerable institutions of the British pacifist tradition produced some interesting intersections and cultural clashes. Respectable organisations such as the Peace Pledge Union (or in other contexts, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection or the National Council for Civil Liberties) found that their postbags were now bursting with envelopes scrawled with garish subversive slogans that revealed letters from young punks eager for the latest news on ‘the struggle’. Somewhat taken aback by the attention, the PPU showed little enthusiasm for reflecting the imagery or vocabulary of anarcho-punk in any of its materials, prefering to rely on the organisation’s time-honoured imagery and language, and sidestepping the punks’ feverish appeals for ‘anti-war action’. It revealed a mismatch of expectations on both sides.
Of necessity, much of anarcho-punk’s political identity was defined in oppositional terms. Crass’s profound suspicion at the motivations of the trotskyist left, ensconced within some of the key campaigning organisations of the day, was in large measure reciprocated by those left activists wary of Crass’s anarchist credentials. Crass’s association with the Rock Against Racism initiative, which many punk bands lent their name to, proved to be short lived, with Crass attacking what they claimed as disingenuous motives of RAR promoters, and the hard-left’s hidden agendas.xxiv More controversial still was the role of the Anti-Nazi League, and the street-level anti-fascist squads which at that time operated on its fringes. After such squad arrived uninvited at a Crass gig at London’s Conway Hall and began setting about those in the audience with close-cropped or skinhead haircuts (on the assumption that this identified them as fascists), the band were incensed – going on to denounce in song the ‘left-wing macho street-fighters willing to kick arse’ who revealed their own ‘bigotry and blindness’ in the process.xxv It served to reinforce the band’s anarchist insistence on the parallel between the power aspirations of the hard right and hard left.xxvi
The culture of anarcho-punk
The defining visual aesthetic of anarcho-punk was the colour black. Crass maintained that the band had opted to clothe themselves almost entirely in black was a reaction against the ‘peacock preoccupations’ of the ‘fashion punk industry’ – to adopt a plain, uniform colour circumvented such ‘irrelevances’.xxvii When combined with other elements of the band’s design and performance, it made them an imposing presence on stage. Many of those drawn to the music and philosophy of Crass soon adopted a similar dress code, refreshing their wardrobes from Army Surplus and charity shops, with cotton-drill and moleskin displacing Levis and leather. At gigs and demonstrations, anarcho-punks sought each other out, in an earlier manifestation of the kind of ‘black bloc’ seen in today’s anti-globalisation protests. Although the similarity of appearance sometimes offered anonymity in the cut and thrust of a lively street march, police forces quickly recognised the hallmark of the new anarchist contingent, and responded accordingly. Critics mused on the apparent irony of ‘uniform anarchists’ urging the freedom of all from imposed rules (while Crass countered that this was both a trivial observation and a misrepresentation).
And yet the dress sense of anarcho-punks – however unmissable it remained – was actually one of the least significant aspects of the movement’s culture. Far more important was the sub cultural expectation of co-operation and self-activity. However partial and halting it proved to be in practice, anarcho-punk was premised on the notion that the movement would sustain and extend its influence through the self-directed activities of its adherents – who would form more bands, produce ever greater numbers of publications, set-up record labels and radical co-operatives, and so generate the cultural infrastructure through which the movement’s influence could be multiplied. Although many of those who bought the records and turned out for the gigs ignored the exhortation, there remained a hopeful expectation that anarcho-punks would commit themselves to building the culture of the movement itself, and engage in political activity beyond it. Some anarcho-punks certainly functioned largely as ‘fans’ of the genre, who bought the music, checked-out the gigs and — subject to sufficient pestering — bought the fanzines, but did little more than act in the role of consumer. Even so, the organisers, promoters, printers, composers, designers and authors of anarcho-punk tended to be thrown up from within the ranks of the movement.
The visual and graphic work of both Gee Sus and Mick Duffield was ground breaking. The disfigured Crass logo; the all-black-clad appearance; the trademark stencil typography, and all the other elements of Crass’s graphic packaging offered a striking identity to rival Jamie Reid’s work for the Sex Pistols. Gee’s stunning artwork of collage and montage gave visceral and graphic reinforcement to Crass’s musical messages. Duffield’s and Gee’s video presentations turned punk gigs into film shows and punctuated Crass’s live performance. The work was stunning, and often appalling and horrifying – using juxtaposition, and a fusion of decollage, gouache and photorealist techniques to breathtaking effect.xxviii For a band opposed outright to the commercial packaging and presentation of punk, Crass developed a visual identity that was distinctive and unmistakable. In retrospect, Vaucher’s work in particular is increasingly recognised as ‘having been seminal to the iconography of the “punk generation”.’xxix
Records functioned as another tool in the agit armoury. Cover, defined by their stencil lettering and circular motif, were stripped to black and white, but reconceived as wraparound sleeves – opened up to provide multiple panels of information and artwork. Anarcho-punk gigs were also distinguishable from the mainstream commercial circuit in innumerable ways, tending to be organised in youth clubs, scout huts and church halls outside the usual rock circuit, and usually put together by amateur fan promoters. Larger gigs, involving artists such as Crass, Flux of Pink Indians, Conflict or Poison Girls, offered a wide variety of performers: poets with backing tapes, films, drum and vocal duos, alongside full bands. The presentation would be as comprehensive as possible, as halls would be decked with banners of anarchist and anarcho-punk emblems, TV sets and film screens. There would be no row of bow-tied bouncers on the door; no capitalist promoter in the background; certainly no merchandising stall or hot dog concession; and few incentives for ‘ticket touts’ to lurk outside. Entrance would be phenomenally cheap, and inevitably the evening would be a benefit for at least one cause if not several – although the discounted door price might generate fairly meagre receipts. Events got underway the minute the doors opened and were usually wound-up before last buses, tubes and trains so people could get home. These would also be, as they are characterised now, ‘all ages show’, without access restrictions.xxx
Despite, and partly because of these distinctions from the punk rock norm, anarcho-gigs were vulnerable to attack, and were sometimes marred by outbreaks of violence, usually fairly minor but at other times more serious.xxxi In addition to the tensions inherent in anarcho-punk’s ‘confrontational pacifism’, there are a number of other factors that explain this apparent anomaly. As has been mentioned, anarcho-punk’s political critique extended to the dominant trotskyist politics of the hour, and explicitly condemned the highjacking of causes and the manipulation of ‘front organisations’ by the authoritarian left. At same time anarcho-punk was implacably hostile to the peripheral far-right and Nazi movements then trying to mobilise in Britain in the context of early Thatcherism. In consequence, anarcho punk gigs could be seen, by sections both the hard-left and the far-right, (as well as by thugs or no particular political affiliation), as ‘soft targets’:xxxii the gigs would be found outside the usual club circuit; there would be few security staff able to intervene; and no enthusiasm amongst organizers for summoning the police. On top of that, would-be assailants surmised that the readily identifiable core audience at these gigs subscribed to a form of pacifist politics, which for some included a reluctance even to resort to physical self-defence. Many of the audience were people in their early teens, and — although bands would respond to any violent incidents and protect people as best as they could — in many respects the audiences were expected to fend for themselves in a culture that, for the most part, frowned on the use of violence. All of which meant that large-scale anarcho-punk gigs were usually characterized by a palpable atmosphere of exhilaration and anticipation — sometimes defiant and celebratory, at other times uncomfortably threatening.
Gigs were also a forum in which innumerable anarcho-punk ‘fanzines’ would circulate. ‘Fanzines’ had been a central part of punk culture since titles such as the seminal Sniffin’ Glue began to document the emerging London punk scene in 1976.xxxiii As the literary and design equivalent of punk’s musical exhortation to ‘do-it-yourself’, fanzines had become the defining ‘xeroxed texts’ of the original punk original wave. Self-produced and self-published, the cut-and-paste collage and stencil design ethos of the punk fanzine was enthusiastically taken up by such publications as Rock Against Racism’s Temporary Hoarding and (to the evident disquiet of some Communist Party officials) the Young Communist League’s Challenge. Yet what had effectively begun as a range of amateur publications by young punk music fans was transformed into something more specifically didactic through the experience of anarcho-punk. Often reconceived as ‘zines’ (to dispense with the associations of the ‘fan’ prefix) anarcho-punk generated a quite remarkable subterranean network of anarchist publications, which struggled against the design limitations imposed by the now-archaic ‘duplicator’ presses on which so many were produced to augment the movement’s musical output. Direct, uncensored and strident, titles such as Acts of Defiance, Kind Girls, No New Rituals, Children of the Revolution and Pigs Will Fly used shocking imagery and crude juxtaposition, alongside poetry and song lyrics, to urge the intensification of the struggle against the nuclear state, animal cruelty, unemployment and police harassment. Individual print runs could run into several thousand copies, or be restricted to a few dozen. This entirely uncoordinated and uncatalogued outpouring of young people’s radical political writing remained as ephemeral as it was passionate – the turnover of titles proved relentless, and few imprints reached a double-figure issue number – and yet, for a brief while, it provided important confirmation of anarcho-punk’s ability to inspire and engage.
Yet this sub-culturally distinct anarcho-punk milieu proved more adept at defining and defending its own independence than in forging effective alliances with other groups recognised as engaged in struggle with a shared set of enemies. Outside of the networks of venues, bands and fanzines, the organisational framework around which the movement might rally its forces remained rudimentary where it existed at all. Crass, reluctant to accept the burdens of political leadership which some in the movement wished them to take on, rarely issued calls for unified action of any sort. Enthusiasts for the spontaneous and the temporary, the band sought to redirect the energies of those keen to be recruited to new anarchist organisations – concerned that the once innovative culture of anarcho-punk risked becoming an impediment of its own.xxxiv At one point, Crass did set in motion plans for an ambitious mass ‘walking tour’ of some of the ‘key institutions’ of the nuclear state – beginning at the Windscale plant, and ending in Parliament Square – intended to demonstrate the movement’s political clout. But as the momentum of the initiative grew, and with it the likely scale of the turnout of young, militant punks, Crass reconsidered. Concerned by the possible serious consequences of a series of set-piece confrontations between groups of anarchist punks and the forces of law-and-order, Crass cancelled the event, and weathered the resulting criticism. Although the organisational clarity of anarcho-punk never once matched its subcultural distinctiveness, it was still capable of asserting its influence in some of the prominent political and campaign movements of the day.
A list of Crass’s own claims to political notoriety in this period would need to include the funding of the promising but short-lived Anarchy Centre in London (a follow-on for the band’s support for the defendants in the Persons Unknown trial); high profile opposition to the Falklands War (which led to ‘questions in the House’ about the band’s ‘depraved and scurrilous’ attack on her majesty’s government in the guise of the ‘How Does it Feel to be the Mother of a Thousand Dead?’ single); and the ‘Thatchergate’ stunt (a gloriously subversive tape montage of an alleged telephone conversation between Thatcher and Reagan in which the leaders share war plans, which fooled both the FBI and KGB, as well as the British broadsheet press, for many months).xxxv Yet behind anarcho-punk’s own headline history, lay the countless actions and political initiatives, self-selected by the movement’s own adherents, which blossomed uncollated and largely undocumented.
The most striking example of the collective mobilization of anarcho-punks were the series of anti-capitalist Stop the City (STC) demonstrations in London’s financial centre between 1983 and 1984 called to protest ‘against war, exploitation and profit’ and to ‘celebrate life’.xxxvi Although not initiated solely from within anarcho-punk, Crass’s own film documentary of the second STC confirms the extent to which these were primarily, though not exclusively, anarchist and punk affairs.xxxvii These part-carnivals, part push-and-shove fracas effectively illustrated both the capabilities of the movement and the limitations of its political coherence — demonstrating its disrespect for the routines of traditional law-abiding demonstrations; while at the same time highlighting the movement’s uncertainty over questions of strategy and agency.
In their own writing, Crass somewhat overstate the contribution that anarcho-punk made to resuscitating the moribund Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in the early 1980s.xxxviii The initiation of a new arms race, confirmed by plans to deploy first-strike Cruise and Pershing nuclear missiles across Europe, revived anti-nuclear movements across the continent, and would have arisen with or without the intercession of anarcho-punk. What Crass and anarcho-punk can quite legitimately claim is to have convinced a substantial number of radical youth to commit their energies to the most militant anti-militarist wings of the disarmament movement, which laid siege to nuclear installations across the country and which saw no conflict between its pacifist precepts and its willingness to commit acts of ‘criminal damage’ on the military property of the nuclear state.
There can also be no question that Crass and anarcho-punk together also reinvigorated the ranks of the once-more marginalised British anarchist movement,xxxix which had slid back into the fractious periphery after a brief resurgence in the early 1970s — although the ‘old hands’ and the ‘new punks’ never became fully reconciled to one another. Despite the misgivings of some longstanding activists, anarcho-punk both infused the movement with new blood, and refashioned its existing pre-occupations the better to reflect the primary concerns of the new militants.
Crass’ political position shifted significantly, particularly in the latter years of the band’s work (something which could only alter the centre of gravity in the movement as a whole). In the aftershock of the 1982 Falklands War, and Thatcher’s re-election in 1983, the band began a process of political reassessment that saw the group’s commitment to pacifism publicly corrode. The final material produced by the band also indicated the degree to which the ‘corporate’ position projected by the group since 1977 was beginning to unravel. Typified by the desperate remonstrations of the band’s final single ‘You’re Already Dead’ the band were directly castigating the wider peace movement for its own ‘appeasement’ with the ‘war state’, and its hesitation at so critical a juncture — the imminent deployment of Cruise missiles. It was the most explicit call to action ever articulated by Crass, and the ‘increasingly militant and increasingly covert’ trajectory along which the movement was being pointed appeared to be darkening.xl
The sense of impending catastrophe that came to define Crass’s endgame had a number of unintended consequences. The sense of desperation at the inability to defuse the ‘ticking time bomb’ of nuclear conflagration halted the development of the movement’s politics. Shifts in that politics, in part encouraged by the experience of the Miners’ Strike, were held in check in the shadow of ‘The Bomb’. Such reasoning helped to reinforce the sense of isolation, and indeed siege, preoccupying the movement, and encouraged the development of a distorted sense of its own significance — as if, on its own and unaided, it might yet ‘save the world’. Conflict’s 1986 album would announce, without a hint of self-parody, that The Ungovernable Force is Coming. Yet the culture of anarcho-punk made the forging of political alliances outside of its own ranks immensely difficult. In that combination of urgency and dread, the anarcho-movement lost perspective and began to substitute itself for the popular uprising it so desperately wanted to see.
The ferocity and intensity of Crass’s condemnation of war, the church, the state and ‘the system’ could prove intoxicatingly attractive to disgruntled and disaffected teenagers, who had already seen in punk rock a way to channel their own rebellious energies, and whose own political perspectives remained fluid. Some of the movement’s critics suggested that – despite the informality of anarcho-punk’s manifesto – many of its adherents absorbed its messages unreflectively, to become, in effect, ‘Crass punks’. There was, they suggested, an unresolved tension between anarcho-punk’s advocacy of individual creativity and the political uniformity by which the movement appeared to be defined. Whatever the validity of such a critique, it overlooked what might be seen as a more critical weakness in anarcho-punk’s veracity – that many of those intrigued by its musical and cultural passions, did not take the movement’s political ambitions as seriously, or as literally, as Crass and others around them had hoped. Some were attracted by the music, others by the graphic anti-war imagery, and still others by the sub-culture’s seductive appeal. Many punks turning out for anarcho-punk gigs did not make sharp distinctions between bands such as Crass and other ‘commercial’ punk acts of which they were also ‘fans’, and inevitably for many involvement proved to be transitory.
And yet, Crass’s fidelity to the principles of independence and self-direction that the band (and the wider movement) took as self-evident, left the critics eager to decry the ‘selling-out’ of anarcho-punk disappointed. The music and culture of anarcho-punk exposed many tens of thousands of young people to a kaleidoscope of radical ideas and practices, which aimed to stimulate their sense of self-belief, uncluttered by the party-left’s fixations with recruitment, bureaucracy and empire building. The fact that Crass, and anarcho-punk as a whole, attracted such intense critical reaction from others within punk should, in many respects, come as no surprise. Crass in particular provided an easy target. By most measures of ‘street credibility’ they ought not to have registered at all — many of the band were the wrong side of thirty; they were open hippy sympathisers; they lived in a commune in the country and grew their own vegetables; and, on top of that, they had the audacity to get stuck into the punk ‘aristocracy’. Not only was their work an explicit critique of the ‘for-profit’ operation of many other punk outfits; their insistence that punk be recognised as seditious and propagandist infuriated (or left bemused) those who saw punk as the expression of things outrageous, escapist or plain stupid.xli Punk itself, meanwhile, eluded simple categorization - proving itself capable of providing the soundtrack to a multiplicity of political projects, from the subtle and jazz-infused ‘sex-pol’ of the Au Pairs, through the gut socialism of Sham 69 and the UK Subs, the studied art-school Marxism of The Gang of Four, and the makeshift sloganeering of Oi.
Much of the significance and many of the peculiarities of anarcho-punk are revealed in the tensions — some of them ‘creative’, others of them more problematic — within the movement and its practice. For Crass themselves, such tensions were manifold. There was the sharp contrast between the sophistication, complexity and subtlety of much of the message and the stripped-down, raw directness of the delivery. In every sense, it was not always clear that anarcho-punk’s intentions were audible above the noise. Then there’s the discord between Crass’s irrefutable position as the movement’s figureheads and agenda-setters and the band’s refusal of that leadership role and reluctance to assume responsibility for it. Crass’s own determination to try out different forms of attack, to re-invent their own format and to strain at the creative limits of their project was not always matched in the work of the wider movement, where, in the work of lyric writers, fanzine editors and graffiti artists, evidence grew of a slide into formalism and routine, and where — through familiarity with the subject matters of war, animal suffering and the nuclear threat — the law of diminishing returns made itself felt. This was another illuminating conflict — exposing the contrast between the sophistication of anarcho-punk’s analysis of punk and its betrayals, and the inability of the movement to acknowledge anarcho-punk’s own limits, as well as celebrate its strengths.
If Crass and the movement they inspired sought to invest in punk a weight it could not bear, anarcho-punk remained an unanswerable riposte to the buffoonery, compromise and squandered principles which had corrupted so much of punk’s original potential. To the tens of thousands of young people who found its intensity inspiring rather than repellant, anarcho-punk suggested that personal politics, counter-cultural work and ‘revolutionary practice’ might once again be the catalyst for a new mass movement for ‘peace and freedom’ — one which had ultimately eluded the ‘rainbow warriors’ of an earlier generation. If the ambition went largely unrealised, that was a fate which most other contemporary ‘progressive’ movements found themselves sharing. Crass, at least, saw the challenge as unchanged: ‘It’s our world stolen from us every day. We set out to demand it back. Last time they called us hippies. This time they call us punks.’xlii
i See, for instance, Gina Arnold, Kiss This: Punk in the Present Tense (London, 1997)
ii Uncredited journalist from Radio Caroline, sampled on the Crass LP Christ – the Album (Crass, 1982).
iii See, for example, Erica Echenberg and Mark P, And God Created Punk (London, 1996); Adrian Boot and Chris Salewicz, Punk: The Illustrated History of a Music Revolution (London, 1996); Mark Spitz and Brendan Mullen, We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk (New York, 2001); Mark Andersen and Mark Jenkins, Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation’s Capital (New York, 2001); Blank Generation Revisited: The Early Days of Punk Rock (London, 1997); Dennis Morris, Destroy (London, 2002); Stephen Colegrave and Chris Sullivan , Punk (London, 2001); David Nolan, I Swear I Was There (Bury, 2001), and dozens of other titles.
iv In Jon Savage’s now ‘classic’ general history of British punk, for example, he acknowledges his inability to do justice to the phenomenon of Crass and anarchist punk, concluding that due to the complexity of Crass’s work ‘they deserve a book to themselves.’ Jon Savage, England’s Dreaming: The Sex Pistols and Punk Rock, (London, 1991) p.584.
v These include: George McKay, ‘Crass 621984 ANOK4U2’, in McKay, Senseless Acts of Beauty: Cultures of Resistance Since the Sixties, (London, 1996) pp.73-101; ‘Postmodernism and the Battle of the Beanfield: British Anarchist Music and Text of the 1970s and 1980s’, in S Earnshaw (ed), Postmodern Surroundings, (Amsterdam, 1994) pp.147-166; Ritchie Unterberger, ‘Crass’, in Unknown Legends of Rock’n’Roll, (San Francisco, 1998) pp.259-264.
vi Essays in Roger Sabin (ed), Punk Rock: So What? (London, 1999), for instance, contain passing references to the work of Crass, but make no effort to integrate the experience of anarcho-punk into the analytical frameworks on offer.
vii This may begin to change now that members of Crass have begun to publish their own autobiographical and retrospective work, notably: Penny Rimbaud, Shibboleth: My Revolting Life, (Edinburgh, 1998); and Gee Vaucher, Crass Art and Other Pre Post-Modernist Monsters, (Edinburgh, 1999).
viii Crass, The Feeding of the 5,000, (Small Wonder, 1978).
ix ‘Punk is Dead’, The Feeding of the 5,000.
x Sex Pistols, God Save the Queen (Virgin, 1977).
xi Jon Savage, England’s Dreaming, pp.355-359; Julian Temple (director), The Filth and the Fury (UK, 2000); Penny Rimbaud, ‘The Last of the Hippies’, A Series of Shock Slogans and Mindless Token Tantrums (London, 1982) pp.62
xii Penny Rimbaud, Shibboleth, pp.36-68.
xiii Crass, ‘…In Which Crass Voluntarily “Blown Their Own”’, (insert with the retrospective Crass LP Best Before 1984, (Crass Records, 1984).)
xiv ‘Still Ignorant, not so Crass’, Living Marxism, February 1999; Penny Rimbaud, Shibboleth, pp.259; ‘Preface’, Crass: Love Songs (Hebden Bridge, 2004); p.xxviii; Crass, ‘In Which’.
xv Crass’s own contemporary accounts of the development of the band and the anarcho-punk movement can be found in: Crass, A Series of Shock Slogans and Mindless Tokens Tantrums, (London, 1982); and, Crass, ‘In Which’.
xvi Tongue In Cheek, No 2, n.d. but circa mid-1982.
xvii Rimbaud, ‘Preface’, Love Songs, p.xxiv.
xviii Crass, ‘…In Which Crass’.
xix ‘Demoncrats’, Stations of the Crass (Crass Records, 1981).
xx Crass, Penis Envy (Crass Records, 1981)
xxi See, for instance, the features on Crass and Poison Girls in Anarchy, No 34, n.d., but circa 1982.
xxii Music journalist Garry Bushell – a persistent and vocal critics of the band and of anarcho-punk – repeatedly attacked Crass for proposing such views, see, for example, ‘The Mystic Revelation of Crasstafari’, Sounds, 30 August 1980.
xxiii The lyrics of Crass’s ‘End Result’, from The Feeding of the 5,000, conclude: ‘I hate the living dead and their work in the factories / They go like sheep to their production lines / They live on illusions, don’t face the realties / All they live for is that big blue sign / It says… Ford.’
xxiv See Crass, ‘…In Which Crass’; A Series of Shock Slogans.
xxv Crass, ‘White Punks on Hope’, Stations of the Crass, (Crass Records, 1979).
xxvi See the discussion in, Paul du Noyer, ‘At Crass Purposes’, New Musical Express, 14 February 1981.
xxvii See, for instance, Mike Holderness, ‘Crass’, Peace News, 18 May 1979; Rimbaud, ‘Preface’, Love Songs; ‘Still Ignorant, not so Crass’.
xxviii See Gee Vaucher, Crass Art and Other Pre Post-Modernist Monsters; and all Crass record sleeves and artwork.
xxix ‘Artist profile: Gee Vaucher’, 96 Gillespie Gallery, London: http://96gillespie.com/artists_profiles/vaucher.htm (accessed 20 April 2004).
xxx These latter aspects – ‘all ages access’ and public transport-friendly finish times are familiar enough features in today’s music scenes, but they were significant breaks with the dominant rock’n’roll conventions of the day. For an evocative account of a 1981 Crass, Poison Girls, and Flux of Pink Indians gig at the 100 Club, London, see, Edwin Pouncey, ‘Tea and Anarchy’, Sounds, 20 June 1981.
xxxi The fraught and atmosphere of a volatile and sporadically violent Crass gig (Perth, Scotland, 4 July 1981) is captured on the CD: Crass, You’ll Ruin it for Everyone (Pomona Records, 1983).
xxxii Rimbaud describes the attack on an early Conway Hall, London Crass audience by leftists seeking ‘Nazi scum’ in Shibboleth, p.119: ‘Anyone with hair shorter than half an inch… was regarded as fair game. The resultant carnage was ugly, unnecessary and utterly indefensible.’; and other attacks by right and left, p.127.
xxxiii See the collected Sniffin’ Glue, (London, 2000).
xxxiv Rimbaud, ‘Preface’, Love Songs, p.xix.
xxxv See, ‘Crass Statement’, Freedom, 27 November 1982; ‘…In Which Crass’; Shibboleth, p.250-254.
xxxvi Leaflets and posters advertising ‘Stop the City’ events, 1983-1984, in author’s possession.
xxxvii Crass and Exitstencil Films, Stop the City 29-03-84 (Rough Cut, August 1984), (Crass, 1984).
xxxviii Savage, England’s Dreaming, p.584; Rimbaud, Shibboleth: ‘our efforts on the road slowly bought CND back to life.’. p.109
xxxix Savage, England’s Dreaming, p.584.
xl Penny Rimbaud, quoted in, Neil Perry and Hugh Fielder, ‘Crass: A Militant Tendency?’, Sounds, 25 October 1986.
xli For an exploration of such views of punk, see Stewart Home, Cranked Up Really High: Genre Theory and Punk Rock, (CodeX, Hove) 1995.
xlii Penny Rimbaud, ‘The Last of the Hippies’, A Series of Shock Slogans, p.63.