THE ORIGINAL: The End of Music
PUNK ROCK, NEW WAVE, REGGAE - A CRITIQUE…….
“A taste for change, satisfied by a change of taste.” (Vaneigem)
“For sale anarchy for the masses” (Rimbaud, Clearance Sale)
Punk rock / new wave or something similar had inevitably to come about. Pop music was getting jaded and many people from the record consumer to the journalist wordsmiths of the musical trade papers were aware of that. The wordsmiths at least breathed a sigh of relief – their jobs were no longer in jeopardy for another season at least - as the record buying public were consuming again with something like enthusiasm. In retrospect what is amazing is that the insipidness, (within of course its own terms) of early to mid 1970s rock, didn't produce an active revolt against the musical spectacle but merely the urge to update it.
There had been similar downturns in rock history but this time around, it took ex-revolutionaries from the late 1960s to make the spectacle compelling again, and some moreover who had embraced one of the most radical revolutionary perspective of the late 1960s, that of the Situationists.
Punk coincides with the long, protracted end of post second world war capitalist re-construction. The relatively affluent base of previous rock eras is no longer there. Primary poverty is returning with a vengeance after an epoch of capital expansion when it was thought there was no end to a surfeit of commodities - hence the-critique of the poverty of abundance in the 1960s, which was a major factor in the potentially revolutionary explosions of the late 60’s among, alienated youth (though not necessarily of the productive working class, where, combating productivity deals played a greater part as subversive departure, than, immediate aesthetic / ecological objections to frozen chickens mini cars and TV shows.)
Punk, like previous rock movements is based upon youth but a youth which has in increasing numbers being thrown out of work and has become part of the growing surplus population which is allowed minimally to consume through welfare relief and various scrounges. Punk rock uses the desperation of this social base but only finally to reinforce this desperation. As long as the spectacle lasts, it will equally be superceded by something different but which sounds really very familiar; probably, more desperate and schizoid, if only more frantically to try and hold some attention. Who knows? Megadeath rock / Happening-cum-suicide rock where the lead guitarist slowly electrocutes his cock to cinders and a splendid media sensation and total sacrifice to an art, long since thoroughly colonized by capitalism? And what an exit for a very highly paid wage labourer!
Through its acts and lyrics, punk music has caused a furore but largely as a fight between various representatives of the bourgeoisie. Journalists at odds with each other - some praising, some blaming - with MP’s, council bureaucrats, managers of chain stores, generally united in condemnation.
Because of the sound and fury, (also signifying nothing) the left have been forced to take note of punk but with differing degrees of emphasis. The Communist Party with its fossilized commitment to archaic forms of art has again missed the boat and its paper, the Morning Star, following the legacy of Milton, Marlowe, Shakespeare and Eng Lit snobbery, still retains a greater coverage of theatre than any other art form just at the very moment theatres are thankfully being closed by capital through cuts in state expenditure. Privately however, the Communist party is grieved by its failure to make any headway among youth but recently because it has recruited into its ranks, disillusioned radicals - now quiet reformists from the late 1960s (both theoretically and practically), the cultural image has been given a facelift. Thus, The Soft Machine was billed alongside Santiago Carrillo (boss of the Spanish CP) in the Communist party’s People’s Jubilee at Alexandra Palace. But hippy music was no longer even then the trend and those late 1960s ex-revolutionaries wallowing in nostalgia cannot put a Communist party Humpty Dumpty back together again, even if, being hip to racism, they at least had the savvy to bring the reggae band Aswad from Ladbroke Grove. But to really grab the centre stage, they should have taken a cue from those other ex-revolutionaries who processed punk.
The Trotskyists, particularly the Socialist Workers party, quicker off the mark and more hipply opportunist rushed to recruit punk by setting up front organizations, like Rock Against Racism accompanied by appallingly banal photo news sheets, such as Temporary Hoarding and Rentamob to bring together punk and reggae in a pathetic pseudo attempt to combat racism, seeing that blues drenched rock stars like Eric Clapton were sounding off about “wogs”. The libertarian, ultra left quickly grabbed the content of punk lyrics and the movement was discussed with approval in the pages of Social Revolution. But the common factor, which seemed to underlie the debates from the left to the ultra-left, was the fear of fascism, which again is making a re-appearance amidst all the modernizing tendencies in post 1968 capitalism.
After having first gagged at the image of punk, the left and ultra left, quickly realized that the content was all about lousy social conditions and therefore OK. (After all the photo of The Clash on their first CBS recording suggested all the complex trajectories of the 1970s; a kind of melange of the Russian Red Army mixed in with Manchester United’s football club’s Red Army - “we’re the worst behaved supporters in the land” and who can at times even give off an aura of Ernst Rohm’s Storm Troopers). The common denominator on the left was the anti-fascist alliance, which of course, the ultra-left quite rightly scorns, but in both camps, the material processes behind punk and reggae consumption were left without comment. That is the quantative technical changes in the mode of production of the music in the 1970s, its form of capitalization, (the relation / antagonism between small and big capital) and marketing outlets. As usual, the left concentrated on the content of the lyrics and not the form of production and what makes them even more pathetic was their pitiful analysis of the source of the content. The spectacle cannot be changed in its essential dictatorship but it can and is constantly altered.
Periodically, pop music has floundered into no-go periods but it did seem as if it had reached an ideological, if not economic dead-end in the I970s. It was the most severe ideological rock crisis ever and the next will be even better for us. The Golden Age of protest - at $5 dollars a throw - of Dylan, the Stones, Sly and the Family Stone etc., had come to an end. The large music companies, with their periodic sclerosis had again turned their backs on innovation even within a recuperated capitalist framework. More fundamentally, the revolutionary hopes of the 1960 s lay in schizoid turmoil with some hesitant forward movement. Some of the most famous superstars lay dead, (read: some of the most sacrificial, fucked over and naive victims of capital) – Janis Joplin Mama Cass, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix etc. Others had simply cracked up and were trying to play some fine tricks on madness, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Mick Jagger etc. But amidst this grave yard-cum-asylum, some aspects of capital, particularly film, were willing to explore with a greater objectivity, the structural relations vis-à-vis exploitation in musical capitalism. Stardust accurately portrayed the musician as a highly paid, surplus value producing worker (perhaps part of a new labour aristocracy) who is virtually forced to sell every part of the self to the company and is suicided by this total alienation.
"Any person in today’s music scene knows that rock, classical, folk and jazz are all yesterday’s titles”-
Sleeve cover remark on Ornette Coleman’s ‘new’ LP Dancing in your Head
Even such a jazz superstar, has been forced to accept some of the inevitable but leaves a suitable opening back into the artistic fold and like so many artists unable to recognise in the self activity of the proletariat the only authentic creativity left. Was the beginning of such a realization confusedly present when Albert Ayler threw himself off Brooklyn Bridge in 1970? Perhaps he sensed jazz was dead and that improvisation was moving onto another terrain - towards unlimited revolutionary improvisation - ultimately freeing daily life from the shackles of bourgeois political economy? Certainly there can occur at such fundamental juncture an impasse, which an individual cannot immediately supersede, an impasse resulting in desperate madness. Perhaps Ayler didn’t know which way to turn apart from a downturn into the black waters of the Hudson River? Like so many of his colleagues, he could have withdrawn; settling for the null business Jazz had become and as substitute produced relatively unimaginative political music. The reggae superstars were to do no less, but in so doing neglected “the recovery through transfer” (Marx) which the essence of subversive creativity now historically demands.
At such an impasse where to turn? Part of the answer came from a not totally unexpected quarter. The most revolutionary critique of the late 1960s - that of the Situationists - suddenly had a raison d’etre for capital. After being suitably doctored, such a critique could be used as a force able to keep pop music kicking as pacification agent of the young proletariat both in terms of channelling energy into hierarchical aspiration, fake liberation from drudgery and the goal of a higher level of wage slavery with all its alluring but alienated sexual appeal.
A musical situationism was born in the dressed up rebel imagery of punk and new wave. While, the Situationist influence can only be thoroughly credited in the one specific instance of the Sex Pistols, the rebellion of modern art forms, first expressed pictorially and in literature, though now recuperated, has been increasingly applied to the production of music through intermediaries like The Velvet Underground and Lou Reed. Antecedents from the old cultural avant-garde run into and feed the musical new. Ms Patti Smith, ‘radical’ star, all the way from New York to Barcelona, quotes on the cover of her LP Radio Ethiopia, Andre Breton’s clarion call in Nadja, “Beauty will be convulsive or not be at all.” After being phased out from a radio broadcast because she said “fuck”, Patti Smith wrote in The Yipster Times March / April 1977, “the political awareness of the 1960s was a result of the political repression of the 1950s. The 70s have represented the merging of both….. political – artistic / activism expression.”
And the emphasis is on bourgeois representation - precisely that which turns against proletarian realization. With all the panache of a Yippee sale and perhaps a bourgeois about turn, a detournement of Black Mask’s, “We seek a form of action which transcends the boundary between art and politics: it is the act of revolution”, Patti Smith plays a clever, lethal game more deadly than the relative naiveties of earlier phases of pop consumerism. These new stars are doubly dangerous because someone as sophisticated as Patti Smith will in all probability have access to real revolutionary material and the skill to market it with a few essential lobotomies. Not that Patti Smith wants to transcend either art or politics, for she has a great respect for bourgeois specializations. Where would her money, audience, bogus rebel charisma be without it? Take the following: “The colonial year is dead. Rock and Roll is not a colonial art. We colonize to further the freedom of space.” Well, for sure this is pure mumbo jumbo as Patti Smith colonises the imagination of wage slaves, to limit the freedom of space. Not that Patti Smith is a stranger to the real owners of capital. A backer of the film version of William Burrough’s Junky in which Patti Smith will star was Stern de Rothschild, heir to the Rothschild fortune.
“Nihilism idealizes in the direction of disgust” - Nietzsche, The Will to Power
Part of the genesis of punk goes back 10 years to the English section of the Situationists and the subsequent King Mob group, a loose aff1iation (hardly a group) of disparate though confused revolutionary individuals in England in 1968.
King Mob lauded and practised active nihilism. In desperation one of them said and wrote, “Revolutionaries, one more effort in order to be nihilists” thus upturning the familiar De Sadian comment deployed by the Situationists in their heyday, though for good reason as by 1969 we felt that the praxis of active nihilism should be directed against the pseudo-revolutionary pretensions of the extreme left of capital especially marked by those who insisted on abiding by a straight job. A tremendous interest was shown in the praxis of deviants: psychotics, the mentally collapsed, (it was somewhat hip to have been through a mental asylum) and petty crooks. The most deranged manifestations of hate against the present organization of society were greeted with fascination - Jack the Ripper, child killer Mary Bell, John Christie – we even sprayed up a big Christie Lives slogan opposite the former Rillington Place mews where he lived in Notting Hill.
Just look at these monstrosities produced by bourgeois society – isn’t that sufficient to condemn the golden afternoon of hippy ideology? There was a greater emphasis on such horrific negatives than the revolutionary negative. Socialism or barbarism? Rosa Luxembourg’s stark choice was giggled at - better barbarism. Better to be horrible than a pleasant, altruistic hippy, as a kind of un-dialectical over-reaction to hippy. Chris Grey had the idea of creating a totally unpleasant pop group, those first imaginings, which were later to fuse into The Sex Pistols plus writing a spoof, hip, in depth, sociological report of utter degeneration in the sub-cultural milieu to be published by Penguin books and then exposed for the farce it was.
Ideas were mooted in 1968 that were sufficiently tasteless to horrify the prevalent hippy ideology and its older more, conservative forms like romantic English pantheism. For instance the dynamiting of a waterfall in the English Lake District was suggested together with a message sprayed on a rock saying, “Peace in Vietnam” not because there was a deep on-going interest in the war like there was in the United States but because the comment was an absurdist response to ruralism and the revolution had to be aggressively urban. There was a suggestion to blow up Wordsworth’s house in Ambleside, alongside a Delphic comment, “Coleridge Lives”. Inevitably, ideas for action also produced the psychotic suggestion: why not hang the peacocks in west London’s Holland Park. That much beloved brilliantly plumed bird of the aristocracy, (largely now nationalized) would thus be found hanging on a rope in front of a huge graffiti, “peacocks is dead”. But the inverted detournement of this psychically maimed, active nihilist critique was to be found within itself, that of a tranquillising agency as laughing at the nature mystique was also combined with a subconscious love for it. The lines from Coleridge’s, Ode to Dejection graffitted on a wall in Moorhouse Rd, London W 11 already contained the seeds of a passage back into rural romanticism; “a grief without a pang, void, dark and drear, a stifled drowsy unimpassioned grief”. With the degeneration of King Mob, (at the instigation of Chris Grey playing the songs of Leonard Cohen) a tranquillizing acceptance largely won out, bringing about a delayed fusion with hippy ideology and junkie clamouring, of Aleister Crowley cum the Brethren of the Free Spirit, all heading in the direction of the new mysticism. Even rain on a window pain was fetishized as conceptual art.
In terms of revolutionary critique however, no sound basis was there and neither did one gradually unfold. History was too frowned upon and the spontaneous act was sufficient unto itself. The name King Mob itself, came from the Gordon Riots in London in the late 18th century when on the walls of the newly built gutted prison of Newgate the signatories of the insurgents, “His Majesty King Mob” were placed. On the one hand, King Mob applauded uncritically the black riots and the activities of the Motherfuckers in the USA while on the other hand, opportunistically collaborated with a whole consortium of Trotskyists and Maoists, (Maoist spontaenists) under the umbrella of the Vietnam Solidarity Committee. The actions only could have, (and did have) reformist conclusions. Powis Square in Notting Hill was aggressively opened up as a children’s playground though in reality it was a kind of King Mob guerrilla theatre bringing imagination to the assistance of social democracy. Such activity was well recuperated in advance supplying the muscle against the cops for the benefit of the Labour left and providing a cunning debut for the future careers of Adventure Playground Leader. In themselves, adventure playgrounds’ limit and contain a youthful sense of play, (as vandalism or whatever) to an area designated by the social worker-cum-artist under the guidance and money of local councils and charities.
King Mob’s hysterical over emphasis (without adequate explanation) of violence, whether Futurist or contemporary hooligan outbursts played into the hands of a charismatic romanticism of deeds that mistakenly equated genuine theoretical development with the dead hand of academia. Without such a distinction the way was open for the grotesque return of English philistinism and the renewed acceptance of the university salon. It was energy itself that was needed, an excess of energy, which fostered an apocalyptic fear of the imposed extending passivity; the big sleep, the hunkering down under, the steady job. Fear too, that this fate lay around the corner for each individual who wasn’t seen to be radiating personal energy. Do Something: it didn’t matter that you carried Vaneigem in one pocket, while the other contained a manual on the ‘new’ participatory social democracy, (peoples’ associations, law centres, neighbourhood ‘soviets’ in twilight areas, all coupled with a ‘militant’ market research manual cum con for finding out “the wishes of the people”) .In any case one could always threaten bombs and call for the arming of the working class. The superman / woman militancy and the subsequent terrorism came with the tragic loss of the sense of game and vandalism through theoretical and practical confusion caused by having to confront a fresh series of problems.
From the breakdown of King Mob, other tendencies developed. One trying to live out the ideologies of a politically conscious hippy life style, somewhat akin to the American Yippees but more honest became openly terrorist (the tragedy of' the Angry Brigade) while others became careerists in the university set up. Those university arseholes, The Sociology of Deviancy were able to maintain Trotskyist connections (mainly Socialist Workers’ Party) dealt - and still deal with - all kinds of issue problems generated by capitalism (modern or otherwise) sabotage, survival in high security prisons, drug taking, thieving, suicide, soccer violence, Weatherman bombing,(uncritically clapped on the safer sidelines) with dubious paradigms derived from the Chicago Sociology School. It’s an academic sociological situatiomism there to promote reforms, to awaken top state functionaries to their own glaring insufficiencies, and more pointedly keeping sociologists on relative sinecures as intelligence spies of the state. Others settled for obscurity but even as they accepted lowly positions, reproduced capital’s status quo as low-grade social workers, teachers, shop stewards, production managers - even though they were all suffering from schizophrenia. Only a small minority avoided recuperation and they were mainly women in a one parent family situation.
Chris Grey continued with the same opportunisms but on a well-publicised level, as his charisma was very appealing to dippy rich women whom he could then part from their wealth in smart parts of the city. Although maintaining independence from state institutions of ideology, Chris Grey increasingly glamorised, to keep up his image when the revolutionary passion faded, forms of breakdown and vandalism before moving into a neo-religion which put together, Reich, Vaneigem, some aspects of Eastern religions and business. Vandalism became promoted like the sales hype for a vacuum cleaner, and by picking on certain moneyed freaks into a bit of destruction (before settling down into some professional role) were held up as examples to the more proletarian voyeurs of a now jaded King Mob leadership to faithfully mimic themselves even though they had been veterans of many acts of spontaneous vandalism years previously. But this was working class vandalism and therefore not blessed with the same quality. A certain tendency towards the ideology of individualism manifest in Vaneigem was incorporated into the old petite bourgeois perspective of the “self made man” now hip entrepreneur. Chris Grey preferred to cover up the social relations involved in his invocation of how great it is to be a “self made man” and, as always upset – with the immediate straight forward come back, “No, he’s a capitalist”. The small entrepreneurial capitalist extended in this milieu from Benny Gray’s Antique Emporium, Alan Marquason and his carpet business, “we’re only ripping of the rich” quite forgetting who made the carpets, the small Reichian mystical firm, “here’s mud in your third eye” to the situationist turned semi spiv McLaren (though there are others ).This form of hip capitalism coming from the overt recuperation of a bowderalized Situationist critique in the UK was really the capitalizing of active of nihilism inherent in the activities of King Mob continuing to exist as a nostalgic, dearly beloved memory, static and un-self critical. In the case of punk, it meant returning active nihilism to a consumed passive nililism via rock venues. King Mob eventually gave an extra fillip to the marketing of disintegration, and ironically, becamemore noticeable in the late 1970s than in the late 1960s because of the sale of the mass market of artistic anti-art with pop music gone Futuristic / Dadaistic (e.g. Eddie and the Hot Rods use of Crowley’s photo of himself wearing Mickey Mouse ears looking like a pervy Oxford Don).
Malcolm McLaren, manager of The Sex Pistols had been friendly with individuals versed in the Situationist critique in England and had picked up some of the slogans and attitudes of that milieu. He fairly quickly realised not much money was to be made through revolutionary subversion and after taking over Goldsmith’s College of Art union and freely distributing national union of students cards to who ever needed them, (like some mini situationist 1966 Strasbourg university scandal) and heckling James Baldwin as “the black man’s Billy Graham”, by the early 1970s McLaren had turned to the sale of a chic sado masochism, which was a growing market with the1970s accelerating sexual chaos and the flip side to earlier Reichian therapy relaxation sessions. His shop SEX was opened up in Kings Road, Chelsea which sold T shirts on which were stencilled, “Be reasonable demand the impossible”, or “Take your desires for reality”, (slogans from Paris 1968), which now meant, buy some of my kinky gear - that rubber suit on your left for example - and help make me a rich man. Capitalizing on all the miseries of fucked up sexuality and love, McLaren nevertheless had a mission. Under an ostensible ‘liberation’ he wanted to promote repressive de-sublimation voyeuristically. Get your repression out on the street for everyone to have a look at with the aid of various sexual commodities. Loosen up repressive de-sublimation and give it a more rebel image vis-à-vis more archaic forms of sexual sublimation and practise. Make your alienated privacy into a public thoroughfare, but don’t try to supersede repression, as that would not be good for business.
The Sex Pistols were merely the musical extension of SEX. McLaren spotted the kid who was to become Johnny Rotten loafing around next to the jukebox in SEX. In addition to that McLaren was no stranger to avant-garde pop and before owning the shop, he managed briefly The New York Dolls still flashing on about the Situationists. Also two pro-situ’s who had worked on Surburban Press in south London’s Croydon, (a marginally better underground paper which had printed texts of Lefebvre and Vaneigem) became roadies for the Sex Pistols. Others among the pro situ’s produced sleeve cover designs and prepared blurb paperback promotion books like Fred Vermorel who had once produced the intelligent and witty International Vandalism and amusing one off gestetnered sheets. Rotten and Co were fed lyrics from this formidable source now having slid over to the side of reaction. The title of the Sex Pistols first EP, Anarchy in the UK, is a vinyl Ravachol blaring out a message of destruction though in fact it was the opposite of destruction, was lifted straight from the title of a defunct anarchist magazine. lggy Pop’s No Future the B side to God Save The Queen was fronted by a snarling, “Here’s a sociology lecture, a neurology lecture, Fuckology” read, 1960s subversion of specialisms and the lecture bazaars turned into the music of salesmanship. A subversion that was lived directly, active though confused, had been turned into its opposite, a consumerism for a passive audience and no longer an incitement to the destruction of the university but an adjunct to the university as Saturday night entertainment. The ambience neatly fits in with the present conformism of students scared by the presence of high unemployment.
Posters advertising Sex Pistols’ records were imitative of the Situationist comic strip. The EP, Pretty Vacant was promoted through a poster campaign displaying cut out photos of long distance coaches heading for BOREDOM and NOWHERE and lifted straight from the pages of Point Blank, the now defunct American situationist group. Holidays in the Sun, is the musical cache of the bubble speak of the SI pamphlet Ten Days that shook the University, ten years on. Accurate revolutionary comments, “Culture, ugh, the one commodity which helps sell all the others, no wonder you want us all to go for it” become culture again, the raison d’etre behind bubble diversion now lost in a welter of meaningless bubbles.
“Wanna see some history cos I got a reasonable economy" (????!!?!????)
"I don’t want a holiday in the sun, l wanna go to the New Belsen" (huh, you what???)
The only reasonable line is the last one:
“A cheap holiday in other people’s misery”
The sleeve cover itself is decorated with an almost straight lift from an early situationist drawing, reproduced in Free Fall’s publication, Leaving the 20th Century.
McLaren, having a situationist pedigree knew only too well that the image of theSex Pistols should be as against other punk groups. Anti traditional academia, he snidely said, “The Stranglers will work well on the college circuits” probably because they are ‘good’ accomplished musicians for ‘good’ accomplished students. Anti intellectual as befits a capitalist inclined pro-situ, McLaren chides The Clash for being the intellectuals of the movement. There’s only one real forte left after that: and its spontaneity. For McLaren, the Sex Pistols are disturbing because “their spontaneity is something people feel a little threatened by”, (all quotes from New Musical Express, March 19th, 1977) no matter that it is another variation of spontaneous substitutionism so well described by John Barker, theoretical protagonist of The Angry Brigade even as he was trapped by a further substitutionism, terrorist substitutionism. Re, The Who, Barker had said, “We contemplate other people destroying the environment we want to destroy” (Birmingham, Radical Arts magazine, 1969.
The society of situationism is in the process of appearing in the Anglo American world, largely through recent tendencies in pop music, academic situationism in sociology and art history, the new religions, (Sri Bagwhan and the insertion of Vaneigem into Taoism, the sexuality which says anything goes. In production the mystique of ‘self management’ and workers control which the experiences of the last few years (the Clyde shipyard work-in, the Lip watchmakers work-in and the Portuguese ‘revolutionary’ co-operatives between 1974-77) has called into question and affects the validity of workers councils, at least as they have been previously conceived e.g. the Workers Parliament in Russia, and the broadly social democratic content of all previous workers councils. Unlike, France or Italy, there are no Vaneigem-ist town planners or Debord-ist economists writing for influential journals or ensconced in the state apparatus. But no matter, their practise will be broadly the same, that is some kind of modernism whether their forlorn inspiration comes from “small is beautiful” Schumacher or Debord. The extent of the recuperation is slowly emerging in spite of the economic crisis, which one mistakenly assumed would have curtailed such experiment. The gaps in previous revolutionary critique are becoming painfully obvious.
Punk is the admission that music has got nothing left to say but money can still be made out of total artistic bankruptcy merely acting as a surrogate substitute for creative self-expression in our daily lives. Punk music, like all art, is the denial of the, revolutionary becoming of the proletariat. When the Situationists said, “art is dead” they weren’t wrong, merely, that the capitalization of music wasn’t developed as a critique, preferring instead to concentrate on The Angry Young Men rather than Bill Haley and his Comets. Indeed “Art is dead” had something of the aura of revolutionary nostalgia about it encompassing the Dada period and the failed German revolution of 1918-20, Russian constructivism and early Surrealism. With the Situationists the critique of art had developed from traditional activities confined to the studio or garret, to include the film maker of nouvelle vague persuasions, the Happener, the Architect, the Town Planner but music was left without explanation. Perhaps this can be explained by the fact that France and Italy were effectively insulated from the rock ‘n’ roll craze of the 1950s and 60s.But such neglect did mean that pro-situ’s in Anglo / America could flirt with rebel musicians of the spectacle and enjoy the romantic posturing of the latest American films like Pat Garret and Billy the Kid, Easy Rider, The Wild Bunch which had an effect on the style of active nihilism and on The Angry Brigade.
Intervention against music was almost totally absent, as far as can be ascertained. Frank Zappa at the London School of Economics was heckled and disrupted, to the point where he could no longer perform and shouts of “Up against the Wall Mothers” in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne were heard. An insurgent Billy Howell, in I973, for more subconscious reasons put Zappa in hospital for a few weeks at the Rainbow, Finsbury Park. One bloodthirsty leaflet hinted at assassination, The Death of Art spells the Murder of Artists and called for imitations of Valerie Solonas’s shooting of Andy Warhol, together with a rub-off list of choice targets including (among others), Bob Dylan and John Lennon. Although the leaflet had shock value, it was basically two faced, (not withstanding the hermetic terrorisms no assassination was remotely intended) because Dylan, along with The Who, and the Rolling Stones and particularly The Velvet Underground were regarded as something meaningful in this radical milieu. In this identification, the participants were still marked by the pop era. A number of pro-situ’s hung for a while expectantly around Max’s Kansas revue bar in New York, venue of Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground. There was no desire to negate music, (“great music falls short of our desire”- Rimbaud) merely to make it free, but leaving intact the antagonistic structure which turns audience against performer, creator against consumer and vice versa in a relationship of near reciprocal alienation. The violent clashes at rock concerts (e.g. the Isle of Wight, 1970) were attempts to have the commodity without the cash nexus so it wasn’t really an active critique of the capitalization of music. Only now, is a more developed critique shaping up.
THE NON-POLITICS OF MUSICAL RECUPERATION
(“Yeah, like man, I do think Baader Meinhof should be given independence”)
Although, Situationist theory was a general theory of subversion against world capitalism, as a movement, it nevertheless did not encourage any investigation of particular differences vis-à-vis national capitals. It's long been recognised but never developed, that English revolutionaries influenced by the Situationists should develop a critique of the peculiarities – the swamp - of English society. Failure to have done so is precisely what helps punk acquire rebel status with minimal contestation of that status.
The much lauded punk politics is more accurately an attempt to update the mores of a fossilized bourgeois structure in the UK through a form of guerrilla tactics in music, (placed in terms of the capitalist mode of production) which is meant to shake awake England's dreaming. Vinyl violence bred its predictable mirrored response in everyday life. Thus, although Johnny Rotten had his faced slashed by Queen and Country mobs and Paul Cook had to spend time in hospital with head wounds received from thugs wielding iron bars, it is still a movement through trends in consumption for modernizing capitalism, which even Tom Nairn with his desire for an efficient, meritocratic capitalism in the UK shouldn’t find that amiss. Basically punk is an attack by capital against “the enduring quintessentially English archaisms”.How is this expressed? It is expressed, not only in rebellion against the influence of the aristocracy (God Save the Queen) but pretends to contest, the cachet of social provenance and its fall out, the-know-your-place, lurid class fetishisms of the English obsession with genealogies’ which usually is an effective barrier to a scientific analysis of class structure. As punk is populist spectacle, the popular responses are reflected there too, even though the demagogic anti-county, anti horse and hounds bias is merely good rhetorical cover for punk musicians to head in the very direction they criticize thus making a mockery of clear-cut class vengeance. Expressing venom against public schools, inherited privilege based on birth, accent, manner and pleasant behaviour, can in a minority of instances be the entrance ticket to that very domain. Initially, punk expressed itself as a musical class-in-itself ouvrierism encapsulated by capital. Ironically, even in the beginning, it was already typical demagogic ouvrierism, as the musician who emphasized class the most, Joe Strummer of The Clash went to public school. Punk is merely another response, this time in terms of art, to the complex miseries of the ‘social apartheid’ in the UK. Working class is middle class; middle class is working class in this tortured state of affairs. At one and the same time class is emphasized in order to promote career stridently, through resentment of the more traditionally cultured and secure middle and upper classes, who are prepared to give way to, be turned on to, the new members to their ranks with all their slovenly habits, natty dress and accents, because these new members have relinquished all desire to rid society of classes and the wages system and therefore their ouvrierism can be acknowledged as exciting entertainment. On the other hand, the loudly proclaimed working class emphasis while one is in fact, middle class - in whatever profession - is often used as a rhetorical gambit to confuse the proletariat keeping them in their place through manipulation. One of the more subtle, subjective reasons for the success of the present ‘social contract’ and the management of increasing austerity since the Labour government came to power, has been PM’s Callaghan’s often repeated comment - like some subliminal ditty - that he is working class himself because he came from a working class background.
A critique of the monarchy and the aristocracy in general, is not irrelevant, because as a class fraction, it is still the focal point of privilege in the UK. The snooty, Oxbridge, amateurish ways, a Civil Service of Eng Lit persuasions and, most importantly, the Official Secrets Act, which is there to protect the public school product from any public scrutiny, floats free from its social base and spreads throughout the whole fabric of society enforcing secrecy and deviancy everywhere throughout English life. Ironically, the Sex Pistols, God Save the Queen though banished by the state, did more to harm the image of the monarchy in Jubilee Year than any of the campaigns of the left, which again demonstrates their nullity when in competition with a rebel spectacle they invariably support. The banning of God Save the Queen on radio and TV (both private and state) even caused a ripple of interest on the continent where it was sometimes said that the function of the British Monarchy applied to other European monarchs. The comparisons were arbitrary for the simple reason that European monarchs present themselves more as the common people, thus, the Swedish and Norwegian monarchs queue at bus stops.
Gut hostility against the aristocracy outside of the UK produces more incomprehension than anything else. Even American anglophiles find it difficult to understand and even a knowing musician like Randy Newman said, “Why get worked up about a goddam Queen anyway” and apropos of Rotten and Co, “I thought it was funny for anyone to come on that vicious” (New Musical Express, Sept 24th 1977).
For the West Indians things are different. Gut hostility against the aristocracy is well understood but through the refracting lens of an old ultra-colonialist perspective, which helps the rebel reggae spectacle on its way, emphasising past roots and slavery which is now a sentimental cultural diversion from the real problem, the abolition of wage slavery which could never be conceived of in terms of ‘progressive’ racial identification. In Third World’s, Slavery Days, the taught, sleek and spare voice of English upper class command is imitated, “Prices are at an all time low, I think we should free them niggers actually” piss take on that accent the demagoguery is again to the fore for the reggae artists what are like the professional spokesmen / women at black meetings in Britain, grieved by the bone hard hierarchies of the fossilized, almost pre-bourgeois superstructure in the UK which will not fully accept them.
In parenthesis however, this musical nostalgia must be seen also in terms of a democratization of the music market, where many different types of “Roots” culture has been recently promoted to keep the near corpse of rock ‘n’ roll alive by countless blood transfusions. A near corpse that moreover, will try anything to keep interest in sales alive, like bringing punk and reggae together in a fine gesture of anti-racist sales hype. But this democratization must be seen in terms of world changes in capitalism and the necessity of finding ever new consumer markets. When Island Records looks to the Nigerian market with African hopefuls, it is not out of whimsy but because advanced Black African nations with growing and powerful working classes, (e.g. Ghana and Nigeria) have experienced a consumer take off, which could take them out of the category of third world countries.
Although punk, is political, it has hardly been used as such excepting the Trotskyist, Rock against Racism - a Socialist Workers party front organization - for example, arranged a gig in Wigan Casino, Lancashire on Sept the 8th 1977, to coincide with the arrival of the Right to Work march on their way to the TUC conference at Blackpool. Fossilized protest and fossilized rock together - 800 marchers with 800 boppers. But this use of white rock by politicians, or aspiring politicians is in its infancy when compared with reggae. Where would the clever and cunning, social democratic PM of Jamaica, Michael Manley be without reggae? As Manley said, “reggae is much more accurate than a political machine when it comes to gauging mass reaction.”
In the 1972 election campaign, Bob Marley and the Wailers, like the majority of Jamaica’s musicians supported him - a factor enabling him to win at the polls and Marley’s campaign song was, Better must come. The same was true for the 1976 election where one of Marley’s concerts was scheduled to take place in front of the Presidential Palace before the December election in Jamaica. The gesture was reciprocated and one of Michael Manley’s political tactics was to watch a whole reggae concert, clearly visible and without protection at the Cayamanas race track so the vast crowd could dig his courage.
In 1976, Marley’s election song was Under Heavy Manners - the phrase used by Manley and repeated ad nauseaum - when he introduced his draconian security measures in 1976 against the gunmen. There had been 300 political murders before the bill was passed. The use of the term “gunmen” was quite arbitrary - it didn’t matter if you were left, right or revolutionary. Marley acted as faithful apparatchik:
“This is a State of Emergency in a Jamdown.
Gunmen, you better change your plans”
Bob Marley paid the price with a bullet in his head but he wasn’t the only reggae musician to be tailed by a hit man. Jah Stitch working in Marley’s, Tuff Gong record shop was also shot in the head. Both recovered. This seemed like the realisation of leftist wish fulfilment- artists for radical politics even to the death. Despite the real ferment below which found its musical recuperation through reggae, the violent conflict in Jamaica is between two formations of capital. One, the Jamaican Labour party supported by the United States and the CIA, the other, Manley’s Peoples’ Progressive Party, which seems more ‘independent’ with its programmes of social democratic, state capitalist nationalizations and increased monetary benefits for the huge and growing surplus population. It’s a social democracy which is attractive to the economically deprived Rasta base from which reggae has largely drawn its audience. Manley merely uses the music for his own electoral ends as his strongest constituency support comes from a combination of those Jamaican middle classes supporting an emotionally nationalistic, primitive anti-imperialist perspective and (more importantly) the surplus population. Inevitably, the latter are more conned by him than the Jamaican middle classes who may now prefer a more right wing solution. Manley has no choice but to use reggae as a ploy to keep in with the surplus population, precisely because reggae cannot be a revolutionary force and is only Rastafarian chic sold under the guise of Dread rebellion. For example, capital was made out of the shooting of Jah Stitch by his promoter Bunny Lee who even produced a record of the event to boost Stitch’s record sales, “No Gun Can’t Dead a Man Wid A Dread Pon Him Head” (Oh really.) Drama must never be taken at face value and for good measure, the dub group; The Revolutionaries are in everyway pillars of the reggae establishment.
Rebel music has been inserted into the state apparatus of Jamaica – more or less - as a stabilizing ingredient, even though the production of the music continues to remain in private hands. Until recently, maximum surplus value was often extracted from Jamaican musicians who frequently didn’t get paid (c/f Perry Hensel’s film The Harder They Come). This manipulation by the state of rebel music is without precedent in western type social democracies but in the more thorough going totalitarian state capitalist regimes like Mao’s China and Castro’s Cuba it’s fairly common.
Consider the use Castro has made of subversive music - trova cubana - and note how a form can be turned into its opposite by skilful manipulation. The following is from El Pais 24th of July 1977.
“La trova cubana, commenced some years ago when popular singers lacking the means to get a piano, (the dominant instrument of the epoch) made their own guitars cut mostly from materials as basic as boxes of packing. Going from town to town like real troubadours inventing a song for each bend in the road utilizing the particular materials and themes of the places through which they passed. This music was a mixture of African that was imported with slavery and Spanish themes, (above all Andalusian) that came with colonization. These first troubadours had never complied with the general public that was under the sway of the demoralizing effects of melodramatic songs called La Habana. But in spite of it, the first troubadours introduced new forms - its basic innovation was the “filin” (degeneration of the English word “feeling”) Filin was marked by popular language and was slow in being accepted by fashionable singers.”
With Castro’s putsch, things changed. On the cultural terrain, spectacular advances were made. [El Pais ibid]
“Singers like other branches of the arts came to be considered as elements of cultural dynamization receiving a fixed salary and having access to the mass communication media. Many troubadours applied themselves henceforth to singing about the revolution and its successes……. the great majority threw themselves into this new employment utilising the same colloquial expressions and the same expressive simplicity as always.”
In reality of course, the troubadours were helping cement together the fabric of a Cuban society which was to become more totalitarian and oppressive than Batista’s Cuba (C/F Sam Dolgoff’s, Cuba, a Critical Perspective despite the anarcho-syndicalist illusions.) Cuba’s, army managed state capitalism, along with its countless spies, to maintain the illusion of social revolution and the troubadours assisted in this image making. In 1967, a festival was held in Havana named “Protest song get together” which resulted in the creation of a movement by young Cuban authors and singers that has called Nueva trova which uses new styles of Latin American songs, jazz and El Rock -while retaining the same ‘radical’ content in love songs and elegies to fallen revolutionaries.
In terms of social democracy, reggae fulfils something of the same function in Jamaica – rebellion becomes pacification agent. It was so, even before reggae was used by the political machine. Marley’s first record, Simmer Down was a tranquilliser for unemployed Kingston “rude buoys” A few years later, Curfew asked, “How many bridges do l have to cross, before I get to talk to the boss” even though the chorus was for “a burnin’ and lootin’ tonight”. Lacking a theory of structures, Marley’s records are now regarded as a “sell out” by Rasta youth who formulate their dislike by objecting to Marley’s Swiss bank account and his refusal to invest his money in Jamaica. On a similar footing is the naïve bitterness of black writers like Henderson Dalyrmple who object to Marley moving from Trenchtown to hilly, wooded, uptown Kingston to join the likes of Noel Coward and Ian Fleming. Both are in a quandary through their romantic personalizing of structures which are lost to capital in the first place which they think can be magically changed by radical ‘black’ personnel. Rasta base will move on from Marley to apparently more radical, ethnic, roots bands that presumably won’t “sell out”. It’s one of the oldest and saddest illusions of all.
Pop musicians through their super star status and wealth defend the spectacle. Nevertheless when under contract with recording companies, the structure is that of musician worker producing wealth for a capitalist. Often too, the degree of exploitation is much higher than that of an industrial worker selling his labour power to an industrial enterprise. Elvis Presley in his working life produced a massive amount of surplus value (in terms of profit, $160 million for the record companies plus $30 million for the film companies) He will probably produce as much again through his death with the re-cycling of Elvis product.
Between musician and owner, the bitter antagonism of capital and labour is again reproduced. Socially however, the hyped musician is isolated within the reality of exploitation and to achieve success must defer to capital more than a mass of industrial workers gaining confidence through numbers. Thus the revolt against capital by the pop stars is more bizarre and histrionic (e.g. the endemic freak out, or clandestine obtuseness like Eric Clapton refusing to play until his recording contract ran out, guitarist Jimmy Page dropping out onto a building site.) The frustration has never been expressed as a direct, generalized assault on musical capital as such. In all probability, it never will be because the function of art in modern day capitalism is pivotal and this ‘new’ labour aristocracy should it successfully revolt against its employers, will also have to revolt against its own role. As Gianfranco Sanguinetti said, “All rebellion expressed in terms of art merely ends up as the new academy”.
Punk and reggae are merely the latest recruits to enter the new academy.
THE ECONOMIC AND MORAL STATE VERSUS ‘REBEL’ MUSIC
Fossilized representatives of capital tried to silence punk. Who are they? Various formations of the State apparatus - the British Broadcasting Corporation / The Greater London Council, Local Councils in the provinces and Parliament where MP’s like Marcus Lipton said, apropos of God Save The Queen, if pop music is going to destroy our established institutions, then it ought to be destroyed first. In truth punk was against certain fuddy-duddy attitudes embodied in some institutions though accepting others that are rooted in capital. Who else tried to silence punk? Well, various distribution outlets in influential private hands, the International Buyers Association (IBA) / the chain store of WH Smith’s and some venue ballrooms.
While the state is necessary for business, it is generally so for Dept I - the production of the means of production (heavy machinery etc). Exceptions of course are giant monopolies like British Leyland, Rolls Royce etc, which fall into the category of Dept II - the production of the means of consumption. Often however, state functionaries are at loggerheads with some tendencies which they regarded as distasteful in the arena of consumer capital. Punk and pornography are two examples. In spite of the hysteria which spills over into the media, it is still an internecine conflict between bourgeois archaisms and those modernizing representatives of capital who are more daring in terms of marketing lurid possibilities.
An appearance to the contrary, the state is always fighting a losing battle. As Marx said, in a different context, (that of the industrial bourgeoisie against feudalism) “profit is a born dissenter” and punk is profit. Zombies in the UK state apparatus finally have to recognise the real interests of an important fraction of capital even if it is marketing the disintegration of moral values. As Al Clarke, press officer for Virgin Records said on November 9th 1977, with reference to Never Mind the Bollock’s Here’s the Sex Pistols, “The LP was released 11 days ago. It brought in £250,000 before it was even released and went straight to no 1 in the charts.”
Punk was initially suppressed through a moral force present in the UK state apparatus. No law in Parliament was needed after the moral outrage of some mainly Labour party MPs who ensured through their diatribe, that the English puritan consensus was respected. This morality was faithfully driven home by intermediary bodies of the state hypocritically using safety regulations to ban punk concerts in local council halls virtually ensuring that insurance companies no longer financially cover concerts in private halls. But what a loud silence, as punk music got a wider and wider audience and the more the thumbscrews were turned the more the cash registers jingled. The UK state once able to enforce bans on music it regarded as popularly subversive, (C/F the fate of calypso and festivals in the Caribbean prior to 1850) was made a mockery of. Now, in spite of real threats, the state lost because music has become more capitalized since the early phases of industrial capitalism. With the unprecedented development of the production of the means of consumption after the second inter-imperialist world war, the state cannot maintain any effective ban on a musical style which is capitalized by private companies. Only if a state has full control over marketing and distribution outlets can pop music be silenced. In Czechoslovakia where the state has far greater control over pop music than in the west, the pop group, The Plastic People has been silenced through the cover of a smear campaign suggesting that pop musicians are against communist society (e.g. potential fascists etc.)
Punk rock has been promoted by small entrepreneurial record companies like Stiff Records / Anchor / Berserkely / Polydor / etc. These are companies in a kind of semi-competition with the big monopolies like EMI (Electric & Musical Industries Ltd), CBS, (Columbia Broadcasting System) WEA, (Warner Bros / Electra Records / Atlantic Records) etc, who tend to handle the record distribution of the smaller companies through superior servicing outlets (c/f the arrangement between United Artists and Island Records). Thus competition is more in terms of hip image promotion with the small record companies winning hands down because they have their ear to the ground unlike the cumbersome, bureaucratic ways of the large companies. As companies, they seem more liberal and hip but when the going gets tough the tough get going. Biba’s was a trendy clothes boutique catering for 1960s swinging London. Once class conflict erupted in the early 1970s in the UK and the fall of sterling had made “the right little, tight little island”, the troublesome sick man of Europe, Biba’s for safeties sake, moved to the calmer situation of Brazil where fascism rather more abruptly, guaranteed profits. However they end up, the point is small capital is generally the innovator but the big companies don’t remain outside of the mad scramble for long. CBS quickly signed up The Clash and United Artists signed up The Stranglers and The Buzzcocks. EMI in chagrin after their cold feet and the aborted contract with the Sex Pistols promoted the Tom Robinson Band - of all the new wave bands the most obviously leftish - supporting George Ince, (a gangland guy framed for a murder he did not commit) Gays and Blacks.
Punk managers want to modify the superstar system but they can only do so in terms of the spectacle itself. Some of their more sophisticated apologists confront the problem of the spectacle but in a very halfhearted way. After all, their jobs would be at stake if they went any further. Rock wordsmith Charles Shaar Murray said in New Musical Express, July 9th 1977.“We have a new kind of rock star now, and like all other new kinds of star it arose out of an attempt to break down the star system”. He goes on to note what the star system does to those caught in its “veritable Pandora’s box” and it’s the predictable, frightening conclusion (but without analysing the essential compulsion which drives individuals to become stars.)“So its not surprising that people get pissed off with stars, except it was exceptional naivety to believe that those folks who hit the Stardom Jackpot wouldn’t get affected by it.” (Murray, ibid).
Then the big comedown
“Radio, television, movies, rock and roll, politics and sport alike all create stars by their very natural stardom is implicit and unavoidable. To talk of destroying the star system is completely and utterly utopian.” (ibid)
On the contrary, what is demonstrated is CS Murray’s utopian cum-social democratic perspective because he does not recognise the spectacle as an historical category, which will be superseded by a communist mode of production. Like all previous modes of production, the society of the spectacle exists as an historical finite and there’s nothing eternal about its existence.
The spectacle is in flux and because capitalist society has become direr, its image reflects this misery and questioning. Thus, the new superstars must somehow be ordinary people - e.g. Elvis Costello isn’t allowed by Stiff Records managers to have a fan club as it would look like an earlier era of rock ‘n’ roll. Nor would it fit in with the contemporary superstar populism of dole queue artists. Because of these glaring contradictions manifested in the spectacle effect - in the programmed marketing of an image schizophrenia, punk / new wave, is literally forced into being more dishonest than any other previous rock ‘n’ roll epoch. They must be poverty stricken but necessarily rich. They ride in Rolls Royce’s’ and wear bin liners. If the new stardom is too obviously into conspicuous consumption they’ll lose the support of a no longer marginally affluent social base in comparison to the 1960s. Already, the recuperated fallout from 1968 had made its impact before the dawn of punk. Chris Jagger informed big brother and his radical chic partner, Bianca (famous daughter of Nicaraguan Latifundista / Paris barricade fighter and new friend of Princess Margaret, Rhoddy Llewellyn) of the subversive use of graffiti in ‘68. Mick Jagger, (in admiration) then hired down and outs to promote his new record; It’s only Rock an' Roll. With the birth of record company graffiti, many musical con stars followed, I fought the Law / Whatever happened to Slade, etc. Punk promotion followed on from this tendency but with a DIY kit. Punk musicians had to be more sacrificial and do their own street wall graffiti promotions. They were forced into being the living embodiment of image rebellion. Thus Joe Strummer ended up in a Kentish Town magistrate’s court for spraying The Clash on a wall in Camden Town.
Why was punk / new wave greeted with such hysteria? Indeed, the UK state reared itself up in a frenzied religio-secularized frothing at the mouth at the excesses of a licentious and amoral capitalism over which it pretends to preside. What greeted punk was not a critique of its pro-capitalist role but a quintessentially English moral outrage which unites in uneasy alliance, state functionaries, managers of record companies, hip musicologists, journalists and ex-revolutionaries gone respectable. Although the American record companies were for the Sex Pistols, i.e. CBS and WEA, their local English managers were not, obviously realizing they would offend the morality of the English state. In spite of the fact that the major record companies are international corporations, they nevertheless have to take into account national ideologies.
Punk gave aspects of capital an illusory radicalism again. Small record retailings businesses-owned by Virgin records were unsuccessfully prosecuted by the state for exhibiting Never Mind the Bollocks in shop windows. Dusty laws were brought from out the statute books - the 1889 Indecent Advertisement Act and in Notting Hill and Marble Arch; managers of record shops (owned by Virgin) were charged and cleared with contravening the indecent advertisement section of the 1824 Vagrancy Act. Victorian morality? It points to the state’s antediluvian character as a moral if not as an economic force in the era of state capitalism. However, with the disintegration of values, the state must insist on the antediluvian to make the fabric of bourgeois society appear intact, as it must also act economically to maintain many an archaism.
State capitalism has moved into the arena of culture. Once various arts companies can no longer survive economically through the aid of trusts, private donations and charities, the state then becomes the most important benefactor. Artistic forms that are entering into a social and historical demise (Opera / Theatre etc) have then a preservation order taken out on them by the state, artificially arresting their decline. (Sadler’s Wells, The Royal Court Theatre, Glynbourne etc) These artistic events must be maintained in the major metropolitan centres if not in the provinces. If the state adhered to its logic (always somewhat ideological anyway) laissez faire capitalism would have allowed them to die an artistic death but the state confronted with the decay of bourgeois - and even pre-bourgeois - aesthetics, has a moral necessity to maintain their existence and the semblance of a higher aesthetic order. The state and state capitalism generally and ineffectually opposes changes in the mode of artistic production (e.g. the opposition to rock ‘n’ roll). Moreover, the state must try and enforce the separation between high and low art but has great difficulty in so doing.
Consequently, private capital is credited with the image of rebellion in the arts because it operates as a subversive force against more traditionally bourgeois attitudes. It is this tendency that holds the attention of youth, (Elvis Presley, pirate radio stations and now new wave / Reggae.) Absolutely contrary to the leftist faith in state capitalism, culturally it is private capital, which is the progressive force, as it records more accurately the bankruptcy and potential of supercession at the heart of the last phase of bourgeois society. Is it therefore not surprising, that leftist parties like the Communist party and the Trotskyists with a large theatrical / artistic membership support culturally archaic etatist tendencies.
The modern state oscillates between acknowledging the revolt of artistic forms encompassing the 20th Century and suppressing them. Is it possible that a highly developed modern state thoroughly abandons outmoded art forms and emphasizes modernist forms like Jamaica? We will have to wait and see. As it stands, entrepreneurial capital will more readily acknowledge the void at the centre of modern survival if it is good for business. Perhaps a paradigm may be drawn from Yves Klein selling “the void” of a pocket of air - drawn with his finger- at $300 a throw.
The state subsidizes avant-garde experiments but rather more in the period of capitalist expansion than in the present period of economic crisis. Only those states with a greater economic power, (West Germany / America and Japan) can still with something like aplomb, finance the nothing exhibition (C/F Kassel 1976 and the construction of expensive earth works funded from the proceeds of taxation). But precisely because these exhibits are not directly profit making and largely act as a drain an that part of accumulated surplus value deposited in the coffers of the state, the fury expressed over such events is more successful in preventing follow ups, than journalist-cum-TV diatribes against a profit making punk rock like for instance the Genesis P Orridge / Cossi Fanni Tutti and the Prostitution in the Mall exhibition at the ICA, (the Institute of Contemporary Arts). The ensuing campaign in the media and Parliament, centered around the frittering away of tax payers moneys, re ‘good’ and ‘bad’ causes for state funding was effective in curbing the funding of such future ventures by that state aesthetic body, the Arts Council. Here media persecution worked in suppressing avant-garde events, whereas for private capital, scurrilous persecution of avant-garde commodities generally acts as incitement to surplus value realization.
Why do youth continually fall for the myth of stardom in rock, its recurring attraction? Because it seems more exciting than most other things, because it appears to breakdown accepted patterns of socialization? What has to be reckoned on is the enormous attraction of Punk / new wave and glib dismissals of its ability to grab will leave the revolutionary perspective tailing the dominant spectacle.
“In England, in response to every little emancipation from theology one has to reassert one’s position in a fear-inspiring manner as a moral fanatic….. For the Englishmen morality is not yet a problem”. Nietzsche: The Twilight of the Idols.
To what extent has punk put English morality into a tighter corner than it has been in for sometime? Moreover, has it really put morality in a corner, or is it really making chic play of the horrible? Isn’t the anti-morality staged managed as a new sales gimmick, the ‘bad’ language, the cheapo clothes, the recuperated revolutionary contempt for the audience and journalists and the presentation of states of mind of the deranged 1970s psyche. And doesn’t the blistering, almost psychotic nihilism encountered everywhere - no fun, no feelings and savage dreams of mayhem - even towards those closest to you - becomes the language of cash registers? Bourgeois society has bred its monsters. It objects to them at the same time as it makes money out of their deformations. Punk / new wave blandly accepts sado-masochistic sexuality almost as a riposte to the leftists who denounce it with such moralistic vehemence. Militant feminism and red puritanism have ironically added to this syndrome by ‘purging’ the repressions through a noisy moral outrage which has merely succeeded in burying repressions deeper and as a fallout, ironically, increasing S/M compulsions.
Though at loggerheads with each other, there is a connection between Victorian morality a la Mary Whitehouse and the moralism of militant feminism. In their methods both want the state to act against sex exploitation - a de facto recognition of the state and the excesses of the capitalization of fantasy (the capitalization of fantasy being an important factor in Dept II - the production of the means of consumption). Even one or two lapsed militant women, have finally recognised vis-à-vis English moralism that the acceptance of pornography with all its attendant alienations is better than old time English moralist hypocrisy. The problematic of sado masochism and fetish sexuality is extremely complex and ever changing nuancing seems to move in terms of epochs too.
The late 1960s and the potential revolutionary upheavals glimpsed the overcoming of repression. Punk is part of the 1970s return of the repressed and the return of fetish. As against, the idealist, almost Feuerbachian concept of love, of hippy mythology, S/M is recognised though it is not explained essentially as the savagery of commodity relations promoted visually. S/M, in major or minor manifestations is a form of sexuality that imperfectly adapts itself to commodity society, at the sametime, as the bourgeoisie must denounce it as a form of sexual ‘sickness’. (It is to be noted in passing, that Freud never used the term ‘sick’ except with reference to those physically ill precisely because it was a too morally loaded a term.) While the left must retain their hip image and support the latest trends, they feel somewhat uneasy about the S/M characteristics of punk and the manipulation of ‘depraved’ tendencies outside of conscious self control. It clashes too starkly with the purified sexuality of the Christ dyed red, socialist martyr syndrome, which in reality of course, testifies to the existence of a powerful masochistic momentum, which must have at times, a sexual manifestation, if only in fantasy. It’s not a question of being for or against S/M in major or minor manifestations but recognising a powerful determinant in bourgeois society, which is difficult to transcend. While it may be contested in theory, in practise, the difficulties are enormous. Marcuse in his book Eros and Civilization recognised some of the basis of a free sexuality in the complex conflict between Eros and Thanatos. In parenthesis – this is merely a hypothesis - possibly it can be said that the 1960s was Eros and a life-in-death, the 1970s, death-in-life and Thanatos. For sure, the 1970s is an epoch where the revolts of the 1960s in the loosening of everyday life, (marriage etc) has reached something of an impasse. A growing number in the highly developed world are coming to the conclusion that all relationships are now virtually un-workable whether of the old or new varieties. While such a position may encourage a false despair, it should not be dismissed lightly as it could perhaps be the negative frontier of new fulfilments. Certainly militant lesbianism and women’s separatism have revealed their limitations when the same violent dominated / dominating syndrome of orthodox heterosexual relationships has been reproduced in the supposed avant-garde of sexual relationships. Revolutionary love will be something different but we can only know what that that will feel like with either a prolonged break with existing conditions or a general insurrection.
Dialectically too, the failure of the new experiments and more terribly, the failure of the new love could be a fact or in scraping together an insurrection (C/fF, the written introduction by the Surrealists to the film L'Age D'Or). Generally however, failure in love and its shattering pain brings nothing but the wistfulness of unrequited longing, which were the despair of the romantic poets and the misery of their many kitsch but no less real successors.
Although, punk has reflected the changing status of women in bourgeois career possibilities and their greater integration-cum-independence largely in and through the professions, it has done so with no subversion in view. In new wave, there are more women pop groups than in previous rock ‘n’ roll eras and not just a la Diana Ross and the Supremes. These new women’s’ groups have taken the commodity in all its barbarity at face value e.g. The Slits) and at one and the same time, accepting economic feminism whilst still ensconced in the brutality of the commodity.
How can the moralism which Women’s Lib uses with such crusading zeal and which is a factor in creating punk notoriety, be explained….. A moral force that’s become an inherent part of the state apparatus in the UK, which has rarely to resort to law though there recent exceptions like what happened at Gay Lib News.)
What is the source of this moralism? Seeing the Church is now (and has been for a long time) a weak institution morally in the English state apparatus, there has developed throughout the last 100 years or so, a formation of self appointed guardians of public morality. Though these powerful individual presences from Ruskin to Carlyle to Firmin and Muggeridge have no statutory force, they nevertheless influence those who do like local government bosses and the chiefs of WH Smiths, etc. There is therefore some collusion between these mighty secular priests. Typically in the Jubilee year, they all took offence at the Sex Pistols, God Save the Queen. What they protect is a traditional, inflexible morality - a secularised absolutism which though very formidable, is still not as inflexible as Catholic morality. Those few thinkers who have commented upon this morality - Nietzsche being perhaps the most incisive – have only made profound observations and have never gone onto formulate a theory of this stifling phenomenon. Part of its basis is in John Ruskin and the doctrine of good works, incorporating attractive labour and skill which he’s carried over into the ideology of the Labour aristocracy, the most important foundation of morality in the UK and the backbone of the Labour party. Thus it is important to focus on this general tendency and not on the cranky individuals of far right persuasions like Mary Whitehouse - the left’s bete noire - which so often functions as nothing more than a noisy smokescreen for their own acceptance of a modified moral consensus. On the contrary, the over-publicity afforded to the rightist cranks means this self appointed elite which aims for the heart of the official representatives of the Labour movement is let off the hook.
This elite, which generally holds leftist sentiments garnished with Christian sympathy, cannot be separated from moral control of the aesthetic, which is why, apropos of certain developments in Dept II - the production of the means of consumption - they react with such vehemence against visual “pollution” in advertising, banning sex shops and cinema front displays, etc. Basically, this elite wants a moral austerity in consumer habits, as against a consumption which is ‘vulgar’. Their psyche is one of salacious puritanism, together with a romantic feudal idyll of anti-consumerism that is popularly translated into a predilection for craft now transformed into DIY, as against passive, laid back entertainment e.g. a haughty dismissal of TV. It’s really a patrician transmission of English aristocratic values to the literate / skilled working class which keeps alive the moral skill equation. (What role does Methodism play in this conjuncture?) This transmission and class extension of the puritan revolution, applied to industrial capitalism is one of the main factors in keeping together the austerity of the social contract in the present epoch, as well as a force which can try to obstruct developments in consumer capital like for instance, the CBS workers’ strike in London who downed tools against producing God Save the Queen.
In all its recuperated display, punk / new wave in the consumer musical-cum-fashion syndrome has again upset the seemingly intractable English moralist dualism of good / evil, ugly / beautiful, right / wrong, etc. Bad taste has again been promoted in a country obsessed with the ‘good’. Then the continent of Europe and the United States has periodically delighted in the pleasures of bad taste expressed most lucidly in Andre Breton’s comment, “In the bad taste of my epoch, I wish to go farther than anybody” Why does bad taste have such subversive potential? Surely because it reduces ideological standards and the social base of these standards plus the pretence of state ideologists and professionals like teachers who insist on good English, etc. A leveller, it reduces elitism and the vanity of vanguardist theories of revolution (a la Lenin / Trotsky and the residual forms of Jacobinism in Marx and Bakunin and thus helps to reduce self-appointed leaders of the proletariat to ashes. More broadly bad taste is a factor undermining the obsession with craft so dear to moralist olde Englande - an obsession that extends from craft trade unionism to technically expert guitar playing so beloved of musical moralists like Charlie Gillet.
“I kind of hate the way the Sex Pistols remove all musical standards” Randy Newman NME, Sept 24th 1977
Punk has been termed “minimalism” by that slippery opportunist Mick Farren – ex leader of The White Panthers, strike breaker at the New Musical Express, musician, (punk and otherwise) and promoter of grotty, gestetnered mags which complain about the official music press. Although an accurate description in so far as it consciously equates minimalism in the plastic arts of the 1960s to the one minute, three chord performance of some punk bands, as usual, the description remains at the level of empiricism. Not minimalism but a theory of artistic dilution is needed and how and if it parallels dilution of skill in the industrial working class. While there maybe similarities technically, in terms of personal mystique, there is a great deal of difference; art is “sexy” in spite of its anti-art overtures, while skilled work (say on a lathe) is decidedly un-glamorous. When, Marcel Duchamp said in the early years of the 20th Century, there’s no point in creating a “work of art unless it shocks” he had the minimalism of the ready-mades and the concept of “aesthetic inertia” in mind. Music had yet to shock in terms of the mass consumer market – Rock was still 40 years away - and when it came, it was to be more policed than any previous historical art form (the live rock venues which no doubt could provide a good subject for some aspiring sociologist). Punk is the most extreme form of dilution in the trajectory of rock ‘n’ roll, even more so than skiffle.
Malcolm McLaren was right when he said, “Christ if people bought the records for the music this thing would have died the death long since”. Youth listens to punk for the attitude and not for the quality of performance, But it is the capitalisation of rebel ‘attitude’ and in terms of surplus value, is a bowderlised realisation of Lautreamont’s maxim: “poetry must be made by all and not by one”. Anyone can be a punk musician but (the Catch 22 and the bourgeois detournement) only those singled out for promotion.
The effect of modern art experiments on pop music has become of increasing significance. By the 1960s, pop musicians were fina1ly beginning to experiment with techniques which avant-garde artists had used in other fields of artistic expression years earlier though for a more isolated coterie, (isolated in terms of the mass consumer market). Natural sounds used by John Cage appeared in Beatles / Pink Floyd recordings and Hendrix imitated the sound of the machine gun etc. It has however been in the 1970s that technical innovation in the mode of musical production has made the greatest strides making manual dexterity on an instrument the legacy of a prior historical period. It has also eroded the difference between the black musical ‘genius’ and the poor white musical imitator. Sounds have been produced in the 1970s which nearly bear comparison with Hendrix’s skill, (e.g. the reggae reverb ricochet) and increasingly, records are processed which use all the techniques of a recuperated Dada montage like say, David Bowie borrowings from William Burroughs. Mixing, dubbing and tracking are gradually becoming more necessary than individual genius with the production managers having a more central function in music. The electronics expert has become more of a musician at the same time as the musician has to become more acquainted with electronics. The greatest impetus to this development has come through the evolution of reggae in Jamaica where the processed recording has played a greater part than live performance.
Dub grew from the mobile discos and sound systems. King Tubby, one of the first innovators, was originally, by trade, an electrical engineer who built sounds systems and was able to use the essentials of bass and drums, keyboards and vocals and drop them in and out of the mix in random sequence shot through with massive voltages of reverb, echo and ricochet. No wonder, black kids in the UK are more interested in sound systems than in becoming musical artists themselves and in contradictory ways have already left behind the concept of the artistic individual. Moreover in terms of artistic dilution, the development of synthesizers has played a hidden and subtle role. Now a novice can make a sound like a skilled musician in 15 minutes even with a one finger melody. Inevitably, the Trade Fairs promote these technological developments. For instance, the Skywave Synthesizer was launched in August 17th in London at the British Musical Instruments Trade Fair. The guy who designed the Skywave also developed an instrument called the Bio Activity Translator which translates plants natural electrical signals into sound and was exhibited at the Festival for Mind and Body at Olympia, London, in the spring of 1977. (How about a new thing, minimalist plant music with a, beat???) Dealers can now customize organs to suit individual needs such as those customised by Thomas Musical Instruments in California. In a sense, music already heralded its own demise. In jazz, the importance of sound was favoured much more than the actual music as such (e.g. Coltrane’s later music), when under the influence of African music, it was necessary for the music to follow the pitches of the language. Now music has to following the pitches of voltage and musicians can sound entirely different according to which producer mixes the product.
The more pop music, experiences and repeats the conflicts of modern art (Duchamp’s double barrel effect) and the more it is processed by the application of scientific technique to a musical mode of production which is capitalized, the more the possibility is there for pop music to move to the point of negation. This time, it will no longer only be of relevance to the private affairs of an aesthetic elite but through its extensive capitalization in the mass music market, the end of music will be of relevance to the mass of the proletariat.
The Critique of Unemployment
The social base of punk and reggae is largely the unemployed. Marx in his analysis of the surplus population divides the unemployed into three categories.
A. “The floating population” which relates to the periodic lay offs experienced by the industrial working class.
B. “The latent population” -agricultural workers who are thrown out of work or displaced (c/f today, emigration from the Iberian peninsula to the North European states.)
C. “The stagnant population” those under the rubric of “domestic industry” which grows proportionally in comparison to the other two categories. Those involved in the farming out of work, (e.g. Conway Stewarts use of cheap labour in the Welsh Valleys) disabled employment and most importantly, those people who “succumb to their incapacity for adaptation due to the division of labour”. (Marx, Capital 1)
It’s a pointed sentence from and one which now be greatly expanded because it relates to a huge social crisis of roles which goes beyond the actual surplus value producing proletariat often concomitant with a stultifying repetition, (e.g. the routine of the detail worker) which “cripples to the point of abnormality” (Capital: The Working Day) and extends to a huge role rejection of the agencies of capital and the final trajectory of state capitalism - roles which mystify the proletariat, (teacher, lecturer, ad man, foreman, artist, town planner, social worker, etc). The crisis is so pervasive that there is not a single role, paid up or otherwise and / or the subtler manifestations in the arena of personal relationships that is immune from revolutionary critique.
The stagnant population is on its way to becoming a permanent welfare proletariat. However, to add to the complexity, subversive careerism often begins within the stagnant population where there’s a whole branch of capital which feeds off its negative social standing, (its loser position). It’s here that The Clash’s, Career Opportunities, “the one’s that never knock” knock at last. There’s nothing like the complaint of bitter resentment to help you get on in the world.
The process of formation of a permanent welfare proletariat means that a group of ‘marginals’ are being formed who will either never work in their lives or will work very infrequently. These marginals are no longer in the great urban areas a source of labour power loafing around and being a general nuisance as a rowdy, bawdy, riotous mob, (rather like the participants who were the core of London’s Gordon Riots in 1780) in the interregnum before coercion into the mechanistic drudgery of the factory routine but are now a permanent characteristic of the final phase of capitalism as much as plumbing is to a building. The more intelligent bourgeois economists have in the last few years begun to see this as a disturbing reality (for them). For even if capital partakes of a partial economic upswing, fewer workers will be needed in newly built, capital-intensive plant. Marx suggests that there is no definite certainty as regards numerical reduction in the working class in terms of the valorization of surplus value. However, the history of capitalism has provided adequate evidence (with the advent of relative surplus value) that fewer workers are needed to produce the requisite surplus value, and their exploitation increases (c/f Solidarity and the labour shake out in the new Ford plant in Valencia). Such a process of capital formation is truer of the West with its greater technological developments than at present in the East where extensive exploitation of the proletariat -rather than intensive exploitation - is the rule. Over the years extensive exploitation has combined increases in productivity of labour with a shortening of the working day. Any renewed Stakhanovism in Russia would be an embarrassment to the bureaucrats where going slow on the job has given way to gangs of painters and decorators working so minimally that many sleep three quarters of the day on the job.
In the more highly developed economies of Europe and the USA, that famous, beautiful slogan of the Situationists, “never work” acquires a harsher reality because of the economic penalties involved, though this penalty is virtually eliminated in those countries where earnings related benefits are up to 90% of the previous wage. However “never work”, is no longer the trajectory of voluntaristic anti-work of the English hippy and pro-situ milieu of the late 1960s and early 1970s but a never work imposed by the dictatorship of a capitalist economy in severe crisis. “Never Work” as practised by the English Situationist elite was merely an extension of class privilege and moneys from rich parents. Money from the fruits of exploitation gave them space to look ultra radical and not for these situationist gentry the humiliation of the Labour Exchange. In reality, it was more a cultural challenge with its antecedents in La Boheme, even though it was flung as a challenge to capital and propagandized as such. In Notting Hill Gate, Rimbaud’ s, “Oh we shall never work, Oh seas of fire” was sprayed on a wall and as quickly painted out by a property conscious owner-occupier. “Never Work” was never thought through and as practised by the Situationists in the UK, it was experienced as a highhanded gesture. One cannot doubt the radicalism inherent in the never work perspective as such a refusal does not reproduce capital unlike the working class submitting slavishly to the boss but there is a difference between the proletarian non-workers and those who have been cushioned from the despotism of capital through being directly in receipt of surplus value through family inheritance.
Such refusal of work can however be open to all kinds of manipulation through intermediary bodies of the state such as becoming the unpaid, voluntary social worker, (particularly intense now with the cuts in state expenditure), and concomitant with the show people their rights syndrome. Through the use of guilt - that great panacea of presumptuous leftist state bureaucrats and the aristocratic and imitative aristocratic, feminist Pollyanna’s of social work – and a guilt which merely benefits liberal aspects of the state, you are coerced into falling into line. Unfortunately, the sheer marginality of those forced into the surplus population / ‘never work’ positions make them particularly prone to the pseudo involvement of community politics. The commendable inability and refusal to cope with alienated social roles, which often expresses itself in a kind of delirium, can be slightly pacified by the many faceted aspects of community politics, which so often traps those with the beginning of a negative perspective into unwittingly becoming, often through naivety, fifth column social workers. This is often the trap laid for the ex-educated members of the surplus population.
The stagnant population is also one of the formations where ‘bogus’ alternatives make their appeal and where “small is beautiful” schemes find their mug workers, with, form example, the ruralisation of the inner cities (C/F Ed Burnham’s county type, cabbage patch in Camden Town). In Notting Hill, Meanwhile Gardens was built by cheap labour from the surplus population who built their hippy-cum-OD park with wages almost at the level of pauperisation.
Capital does not want a permanent welfare proletariat and where possible, is prepared to go to considerable lengths to conceal the evidence. Thus President Carter’s proposals for the creation of social work type would be more likely to kick - rather than help - old ladies across the street. Here economic imperatives are not to the fore as it costs the treasury of the state more than expenditure on welfare. In the UK because of the economic crisis, expenditure is more limited, but the Queen’s Jubilee year (1977) provided a few paternalist gestures like the making of Portobello Green by a largely Black labour force. However, the most important factor for the state is to instil the work discipline into youth and the long term unemployed in order to renew in the workless proletarian, the necessary submission demanded by capital vis-à-vis, its regular time schedules. The employment state subsidies, (job creation schemes, etc) although meant to provide a pseudo labour intensive work experience is, in fact, merely cosmetic surgery, unlike in under-developed capitalist economies where subsidized jobs, are of necessity labour intensive, (e.g. in Jamaica, where some of the unemployed are used on sugar plantations). Consequently, in the highly developed economies, reactions of work nihilism are bound to increase. For example, youths daily clean up Sunderland beach, even when there’s no rubbish to be disposed of.
The logic of capital is however to try and ‘do’ something for the unemployed, particularly, the young unemployed before they become a revolutionary force, or before they become an overtly tragic, vandalistic-cum-suicidal fraction of the proletariat. Either outcome will not do much for the promotional image of capital. At the moment, the unemployed are a disintegrating force in capital, prone to looting, mugging and more generally, an important factor in precipitating a break down of the fetishism of law so dear to Olde Englande and the tiresome rituals of workers lobbying parliament. Having no definite target to react to everyday - unlike the wageworker, the situation of the workless is often chaotic, and they can easily take their aggressions out on each other when the commodity is not there to hit at clearly. For instance, the shutters on all the big supermarkets in the Notting Hill Carnival riot of 1977 was one of the main factors which turned the battle against the police in 1976 into the sad inter-personal fracas with heavy black racist overtones of 1977.
There is a third possibility for capital, apart from growing unemployment amidst the sop of job creation schemes and that is, job sharing. But, this will involve many difficulties not the least of which would be the unlikely acceptance of wage cuts by the unemployed. If proposed, it would be a tacit recognition by capital that the long working week is historically complete.
The permanent welfare proletariat is no longer the “industrial reserve army” of productive workers, or “the floating population” forced out of the factory because of periodic economic crisis, but also those middle class, unproductive wage labourers, forced into the surplus population because of cuts in state expenditure. Also, it is essential to recognise the hidden unemployment of many aspects of higher education (a friend cynically accurate called the art schools, a cross between the Labour Exchange and Tesco’s supermarket). The unemployed do not suddenly become an undifferentiated mass with a like identity or common aim. The ex-middle class often remain the same by becoming new elites as claimants’ union organizers, left party cadres at dole offices and even aspiring punk rook journalists. The Blacks have a similar elite of pukha Locksmen and pukha Natty Dreads and have spawned the growth of black social worker agencies, run no longer by Johnny too Bads but Johnny DO Goods (e.g. the Black People’s Information Centres).
The present unemployed are however ambiguously staged for capital. Either the system has to reluctantly recognize them as workers or as the harbingers of anti workers. These workless proletarians, although prone to recuperation on other levels, (social work, job creation, punk and reggae music) are forced to claim social security), and wherever possible, to augment the meagre offerings of the state, work on the side and off the insurance cards. They are therefore, (along with many others) fighting for a living wage but under a criminal guise where there are often less restrictions placed on them like in the trade union policed workaday world but because of their petty criminal position re the state and the resultant paranoia, open communication, even among themselves, is hindered. The rule rather than the exception is who’s a cop, who’s going to shop me to the Inland Revenue etc. Consequently foci of friends discuss their position with each other but are quite legitimately afraid to open up communication with other proletarians because of the ever-present fear of the nark. It is a socio economic position, which acts as a damper on forthright proletarian anger, as no one wants to get bust by the states’ welfare detection agencies whose main aim, is the maintenance of the smoke screen from the authorities. Many whiles are forthcoming. The constant changing of names has become a feature of the surplus population and was even reflected in the punk spectacle, as Mark P. and Gaye Advert were bust by the SS (before they made the big time and could look on such practises as juvenilia) for earning money on the side as punk artists). The supercession of such paranoia is necessary but it cannot be done through an idealistic ignoring of the obstacles. The material and subjective basis must be there. For instance, one of the commendable effects of cuts in state expenditure and of use to the proletariat has been the redundancy notices meted out to Social Security visitors and detectives. Furthermore, the process of criminalization of the employed proletariat is also developing. Due to inflation and the social contract, many workers have taken second jobs where there are no tax or insurance cards. Increasingly too, members of the armed forces have been forced to do the same and will thus help to break down the separation between a professional army and the proletariat - a factor which could have great weight in an insurrection. There’s no accurate statistical record of how many workers are involved in such rackets but it’s obviously a large movement, and workers quite rightly are reluctant to come forward and tell those plain clothes cops of state accountancy - the statisticians - just how they earn their money.
The subjective factor is more difficult to evaluate within the proletariat as a whole. For workers to lose any identification with trade unionism would, of course, open up all the possibilities for real dialogue between the employed and the unemployed over work / non work, the possibilities of large scale automation, unrestricted pleasure etc. Increasingly, the objective position is there, now that the trade unions have become a state monopoly of variable capital, (of wages). A rather more favourable terrain has been created for this historic conjuncture between the waged and the unwaged because increasingly, trade unions will be identified with the state as boss. But that is only so theoretically. Practically, for now, the gap between the waged and the un-waged has never been so wide. The employed are hostile to the unemployed and vice versa. Hostile, because the employed see the unemployed as having an easy time, because more cushioned by welfare benefits than in previous eras of mass unemployment. In reality, the unemployed are scroungers in the process of forming a more or less anti-work life style through various fiddles, even within terms of the capitalist monetary economy. On the other hand, the unemployed are hostile to the employed because they view them as straight, caught in the web of capitalist drudgery and hardly distinguish between the exploited and the exploited. All are mugs therefore and worth mugging. Mugs because they have no sense of riot and adventure, lack spontaneity and the grand passions, which lefties narrowly see as self-destructive. On the contrary, so-called self-destruction is often a prerequisite for a higher, more lucid grasp of life. Many of the employed undoubtedly have genocidal fantasies towards the unemployed, perhaps because they jealously resent their negative perspective. When long termers sign up for Xmas post, the regular workers increasingly give them a very hard time and are often partiou1arly vindictive to the ex-middle class, (only economically speaking) who have dropped out from a professional role because generally, the working class still has some respect left for the professions.
Workers in this process of re-orientation must lose all sense of social democratic moralism, something much easier said than done. It’s been one of the major factors in hindering their attempts at self activity in the past. A moralism about money must be superceded in the productive working class as it has had such a deforming effect upon insurgent perspectives when accepted as a permanent historical reality. Take one example. A lot of the venom in the building workers strike in 1972 was directed against The Lump by shop stewards who said that Lump workers depressed the earnings of unionized workers. By this ploy, the stewards were able to whip up a false aggression against the Lump, which really was nothing other than a foil for their own respectability yearnings because the building trade was held in such contempt by various fractions of the bourgeoisie, in particular the trade unions. The number one reason in the declamations against the Lump and writ large on agitational posters, was that Lump workers did not pay taxes and little better than criminals. That the Lump was often divisive and often a counter tendency to unified class action was really not part of the strike strategy and action of UCATT (United Construction & Allied Technical Trades) in 1972 shows only too typically the tendencies in the early 1970s to redirect strikes onto the terrain of social capital and statifications by leftist aspiring politicians who demagogically insisted that taxation was primarily for the subsidizing of the welfare state.
In the building workers strike of 1972, a typical comment of a shop steward organizer of left labour persuasions was “workers must put their own house in order first by paying taxes correctly before we can fight capitalism and the tax havens for the rich.” The idealism is terrifying because bourgeois political economy is accepted with the Keynesian face-lift and which is now no longer possible to practise coherently the managers of capitalism. When will it become obvious to the proletariat, that taxation is only minimally for the welfare state, (about 5% of taxes) and the rest is spent on the repressive state apparatus, (the police, servants, politicians etc,) and more importantly supplies the necessary extra revenue required by the huge corporations to fund their long term investment programmes, guided by state technocrats with the aim of making British capital competitive again on the world market. But this moralism is not only an English phenomenon because the trade union structure worldwide exhibits similar moralisms. In the West German state, it has probably been a factor which has grimly termed those forced into a position of social marginality, as “schwartz arbeiters” (black workers) with all its suggestions of black-legging and strike breaking.Precisely because the unemployed are no longer quite the moral force to be pitied as they were before the Second World War, certain breaks with past traditions have been made.
These breaks are one of the reasons why The Right to Work marches have got nowhere, (in fact, rather less than The Right to Work EP by punk group Chelsea and working on the side is experienced as a better deal than job creation. The musicians cannot show the way for the unemployed. Delroy Washington’s, The Streets of Ladbroke Grove, is a Rasta Jarrow March set to music. “Give them their fair share, Give them what is theirs”, which ironically buttresses that great English social democratic fairness ideology again. Until all those factions who make up the unemployed, recognise that their common interest lies with all those consigned to surplus oblivion, (young and old alike) and are able to overcome their reactive, futile opposition to the employed and grasp the potential of the revolutionary becoming of the industrial working class, their potential radicalism will defeat itself in a plethora of media charged false oppositions, of which music is the blackest dead end.
The unemployed must become part of the revolutionary movement against the commodity and wage labour but at the moment in the UK, the unemployed are sorting out a deviant survival, are low profile, (excepting black youth) and remaining well-laid back. For the unemployed white youth, this is surprising, considering punk’s emphasis on energy but not surprising when seen that punk energy is more stage style than a living factor within the social base, which is more withdrawn in terms of self-expression and more contained than the hippy base of ten years ago. But the unemployed have a long way to go in comparison to their Italian counterparts, who are increasingly tending to refuse all mediators and representatives and where anonymity is proclaimed. Truly, unlike The Stranglers, no more heroes. Although, somewhat lost in a yearning for the idyll of crafts, small co-operatives, a utopianism about money, (“wages for laziness”) and an elaborately garnished language reminiscent of Yippee / Motherfucker poetics, the marginalized Italian insurgents are now an ever present violent and armed threat to the very existence of the Italian state.
JOE SOAP INTELLECTUALS