Listen Punks: Anarchist politics and punk rock – Henry Black (Black Flag Vol IV, No.13, 1977)

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With one record (‘Anarchy in the UK’) and a small amount of pissing and televised swearing, the Sex Pistols punk-rock band burst into the British press in a big way. To the papers they are anarchists, plain and simple. Our comrades Noel and Marie Murray, though, whilst awaiting their appeal on Dublin’s death row, were ‘anarchists’ — with inverted commas, and ‘self-styled’ ones as that! The Sex Pistols conform to the Fleet Street view of what anarchism is of course —wild-eyed and vomiting, spreading outrage and vandalism. Anarchism as a revolutionary creed is dismissed or left to gentle academics for dissection. When in doubt reach for inverted commas, or better still substitute ‘Marxist’ or ‘nationalists!’

Still for all Fleet Street’s calculated ignorance, what about the Sex Pistols? Does their brand of punk-anarchism bear a second startled look? Not as anarchist propaganda it is sure; but then it is only music (or noise, or theatre). ‘You pays your money, and you takes your choice.’ Need we expect more? Some clearly do, though perhaps it would be more fruitful for the anarchist movement if they expected more of themselves. One after the other, half a dozen ‘self-styled’ comrades, impress on me how punks like the Sex Pistols and their like are giving anarchism a bad name. Could it be worse already? Apparently so. Johnny Rotten has succeeded where Winston Churchill failed; les Enragés are outraged! Yet if punk-rock IS getting anarchism a bad name it is certainly getting the crowds too; whilst the anarchists with ruffled feathers, who assure this is the case, certainly are not, for all their righteousness.

Punk bands are chastised for paving the way for fascist hordes because a few of their number sport Nazi emblems (next to pictures of Karl Marx) and have a passion for leather gear. If fascism did seize power the punks and their young working class fans, who revel in the ridiculous and violent, would be marked down for early entry into concentration camps. Authoritarians of any brand can not tolerate the outspoken. Trendy pacifist liberals who snigger at the Sex Pistols but raise Bob Dylan to King should laugh while they can. If fascism does engulf Britain they would be the first to suffer; the advantage of shooting at pacifists is that they don’t shoot back. But the street punks, like every generation of working class youth before them, are not so tame. The dumb insolence and aggression bred into them at school or in the dole queue is fertile ground for resistance. It may be that they will be future storm troopers, but it needn’t be. It is not the Sex Pistols who are to blame if every teenager doesn’t become a revolutionary. If the National Front are attracting disillusioned Labour voters from the working class it would be more useful to think why WE are not attracting them.

The same people who hailed Mick Jagger as an “anarchist” in the 60s and now wax so hot under the collar over a few punks having fun ought to ask themselves a few questions. Mr. Jagger is not the ‘street fighting man’ he used to be, but then he never was. Perhaps Johnny Rotten will climb the same ladder to tax-evading seclusion as part of the musical establishment too. That is not the point. People can listen to what music they like. The Sex Pistols, or any musician will not inspire the unemployed to revolt, but then we shouldn’t need them to. It is not the punks who give anarchism a bad name, it is too many people who are anarchists in name only.

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