The Latymer School History Magazine - page 42

‘I think Stalin had the right
idea. Take one out of five
newspaper editors, and MPs,
and shoot them. Then they’d
buck up.’ – Mark E Smith, The
Fall
UKIP, ISIS, the Yes campaign,
Russell Brand. These four
examples illustrate the
tendency for political
disaffection and alienation to
manifest itself in
spontaneous movements.
Followers of each of the
above creeds rest their
politics not on empirical
evidence but on a vague
sentiment; a gut feeling; a
hunch. In the same way that
the kippers appeal to
nostalgia and a sense of
moral decay, punk rock
tapped into a streak of anti-
establishment rage, and
expressed it as one of the
most powerful counter-
cultural revolutions of the
20th century.
In strictly musical terms, punk
can be traced back to the
Velvet Underground’s
eponymous debut LP. In the
words of Brian Eno, 'The first
Velvet Underground record
sold 30,000 copies in the first
five years. I think everyone
who bought one of those
30,000 copies started a
band.' Perhaps the only thing
to rival this album in terms of
influence was the infamous
Sex Pistols gig at the Lesser
Free Trade Hall in 1976;
around 40 people attended,
but these included punk and
post-punk legends Howard
Devoto, Pete Shelley,
Morrissey, Tony Wilson, Peter
Hook, Bernard Sumner and
Mark E Smith.
The first wave of punk in the
UK was shorter than most
realise. It opened with New
Rose by The Damned in
1976, and ended with Shot
By Both Sides by Magazine
in January 1978. In the two-
and-a-bit years where it
dominated working-class
youth culture, punk was little
more than an expression of
contempt for the
establishment in all its forms;
the political establishment
yes, but more obviously the
music establishment (Johnny
Rotten, Sex Pistols frontman,
was often spotted wearing a
Pink Floyd t-shirt, above
which he had written 'I
HATE'). The Pistols were
vaguely anarchist (see God
Save the Queen and Anarchy
in the UK), and the Clash
were vaguely left-wing, but
this was more a stylistic thing
than any concrete ideology.
One of the more amusing
stances taken by first-wave
punk bands was that by The
Jam, who encouraged
people to vote Thatcher in
’79. Singer Paul Weller, who
toured as part of Red Wedge
(which aimed to get young
people to vote Labour) and
refused to speak to any right-
wing newspaper until 2010,
later claimed that he had
been pushed into this by the
record company. It is only
when the punk movement
split towards the tail end of
the seventies that its radical
politics fully emerged.
Crass were a fascinating
example of this. While other
punk bands vaguely
espoused anarchism as an
ideology in the same way
that any disgruntled youth
might, Crass took a much
more active involvement in
the movement. Often
performing their lo-fi brand
of punk in front of a ‘No
Authority But Yourself’
banner, they distributed
anarchist literature at gigs,
co-ordinated squats and
used stencils to graffiti anti-
state messages at tube
stations and on advertising
billboards. But anarcho-punk
never really took off as a
movement in this country,
and their wider influence was
minimal.
Nowadays the National Front
is like one of those 60s
bands that still tour without
any of their original
members, but back in the
heyday of punk it was a
sizeable fascist street
movement. Despite the
tendency on the Marxist left
to dismiss fascism as a ‘petty-
bourgeois ideology’, the
party was drawing recruits
from working-class
skinheads, and a
recognisable far-right music
scene was established.
Irksomely for many Oi!
bands (Sham 69 were
particularly bitter about this),
Oi! was the genre around
which racists chose to
congregate. Bands like
Skrewdriver began to openly
espouse Nazi politics; one
especially observant quote
from their singer Ian Stuart
Donaldson runs ‘It’s about
time the people of this
country started putting their
own people first.’ Bizarrely,
there is a strong crossover
between Nazi punks and gay
punks, but that’s a subject
worthy of its own article.
In response to the surge in
racist politics, both within
and without the punk scene,
anti-fascist campaigners set
up Rock Against Racism.
Politically, this is the most
important result of punk.
Founded in 1976 by
photographer Red Saunders,
RAR came into existence
when Eric Clapton drunkenly
announced his support
onstage for Enoch Powell
and shouted 'Keep Britain
White!' 80,000 people
attended the first RAR gig,
which featured Buzzcocks, X-
Ray Spex and
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