Tag Archives: anarchism

The Possibility Of Counterculture

I feel like so far my posts on here have been slagging stuff off, without any positive suggestions. So now I’m going to be positive (going to have to slag some stuff off first, though..)!

To avoid confusion, it should be stated that I don’t use counterculture and subculture interchangeably. An example that I’ve heard (I think it might be on an A//Political record, but I’m not sure) is ‘Punk is a subculture, anarcho-punk is a counterculture’. I don’t really agree, if only because different definitions of both mean it’s nowhere near as black and white as that. Broadly speaking, a subculture is different to the dominant culture, but has no ambition beyond coexisting with it, whereas a counterculture is at least partly defined by its opposition to the dominant culture.

Often in radical circles an emphasis is put on trying to distance ourselves from subcultures as they’re alienating to ‘normal’ working class people. However, often this ends up being based on slightly archaic ideas of what the working class are like, and creates an equally irrelevant and subcultural identity. I can understand that this is in reaction to the idea that to be an ‘anarchist’ one has to adopt a series of lifestyle choices (veganism/freeganism, squatting, punk) that, realistically, are never going to appeal to the majority of the population (and in the case of freeganism, wouldn’t work if they did), and also that those choices are activism, in and of themselves.

However, this doesn’t mean that we should reject the idea of creating an inclusive radical counterculture. The best way of describing what I have in mind is actually ‘folk culture’, but without the geographical confines implied by that. There are numerous struggles that have made use of culture as a means for not only spreading the message, but passing on knowledge and memories to a new generation. One notable example here (no matter what your opinion of the politics) is clearly the use of music by the Irish Republican movement, especially when relating to historical events. The existence of shared culture brings movements closer and keeps significant historical events relevant. The only criticism in the case of Irish republicanism is the fact that, although the music when it was first being created was representative of the wider culture at the time, it has stylistically not changed much for over 100 years. Traditional folk music, and the identity that goes along with that, definitely has a place in the culture and should be preserved, but for music to continue to be a relevant tool, it also has to evolve with the times. On a positive note – Irish republican folk-hiphop anyone? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beltaine%27s_Fire

Now, to bring this back to where we are now. Personally, I think that in a limited capacity, the anti-globalisation movement has been relatively successful at chronicling itself culturally. The only time when this really struck me was when I realised how much I knew about the anti-FTAA protests in Miami in 2003. I’m not talking about the issues here, I’m talking about purely the events that took place. I’d never read any reports of the protests, or seen anything on the news. I don’t know anyone who was there. Everything I know about those protests comes from songs. From them, I know a bit about the tactics used on the day (by protestors and police), who the chief of police was at the time (John Timoney), which are important in terms of knowledge. But, in some ways more importantly, they convey the emotion of the days. Listened to as a whole, the songs* come across as an expression of collective grief and trauma, but also hope. For US activists, I’d assume that there’s enough people who remember those days, or know people who do, that the incentive to learn from them is significant. But in terms of an international radical movement, one of the best ways to spread the message is through music (as well as action reports, poetry, art, etc). I’m not arguing that these things are revolutionary in and of themselves, but the space they provide for us to express ourselves and learn I strongly believe can bring us closer together. This doesn’t mean we have to alienate ourselves from mainstream culture, you can listen to Lady Gaga if you want to. Rather, it’s a recognition of the fact that, although we’re ‘normal’ people, we’re also part of a wider resistance movement, and sometimes alternative culture can facilitate that. It only becomes an issue when there’s an exclusive culture created where you have to like punk, and can’t listen to anything on the radio. The message is what’s important, how it’s expressed has infinite possibilities, so let’s embrace that, have fun, and hopefully learn something too!

“Here we are a movement, suffering from the stains

of Genoa and Miami, and the question that remains is

When will we be ready, to surge once more,

Armed with visions of tomorrow, and the knowledge from before?”

Global Justice – Ryan Harvey

*I realise this list is probably not exhaustive, I’m pretty sure I’ve even missed out some out that I like, but for a general picture :

  • A Day In Miami, Talkin’ FTAA Preparations, South Florida and Global Justice by Ryan Harvey
  • Butcher For Hire and Miami by David Rovics
  • The Fence by Evan Greer

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It’s not us, it’s you…

So, there’s a blog post doing the rounds at the moment, seems to be every other link I click on, which is Tom Gabel from Against Me! defending their new song, ‘I Was A Teenage Anarchist’. I’m not going to link to the song, because if you’re reading this I probably like you, but to give you an idea: it wouldn’t sound out of place on a U2 album. I’ll link to the blog post because it’s unavoidable: http://ifeelsicktomystomach.blogspot.com/2010/05/i-was-teenage-anarchist.html Shit, just realised the song is on that page. I’m really sorry.

I know every anarchist on the internet is busy deconstructing this at the moment, but I’m going to go for it anyway. I’d like to say first that I’m not a disgruntled, betrayed, former Against Me! fan. By the time I was getting into that type of music they were already signed to Fat Wreck and on the road to generic pop rock. It might have been different if I’d heard them when they first released ‘Baby, I’m An Anarchist’, but I didn’t, so it isn’t. First off, I’d like to congratulate Tom on his justification of police brutality against himself:

Next thing I knew one of the cops had grabbed me by the neck, twisted my arm behind my back and started dragging me over towards their parked cruiser. They slammed my face down onto the sun-baked trunk of the car., kicked my legs apart and started going through my pockets. Every time I tried to get my head up off the burning trunk it was slammed back down harder. After a long and immature verbal exchange, most of the immaturity being on my part (I think the words “fucking” and “pig” were used quite a lot if I remember correctly)

Now, I have no doubt that he probably was fucking annoying. But he’s been followed by two cops, obviously picking on a teenage kid cos they can, and comes away thinking HE’S the most immature? Read the whole account and make up your own mind, but I think it’s disgustingly disrespectful to victims of police brutality to imply that he deserved what happened cos he swore a few times.

That wasn’t the main point of this though. The point was, that although I have respect for a lot of the stuff that Tom mentions he did when he was younger, it’s a case of¬† ‘if you’re not now, you never were’. The fact is that no matter what way you look at it, Against Me! have betrayed everything they claimed to stand for. In general, I don’t really give a shit about bands getting big and signing to major labels. It’s just a bit unfortunate when you spent the first half of your career claiming you never would.

Which leads me to the title of this post. IT’S NOT US, IT’S YOU. Yes, there are always people in activist circles who are fucking idiots and demonstrate the exact opposite of what it should be about. But, where I get a bit unclear, is how this justifies doing nothing, renouncing your ideals and signing to Warner Bros?

I feel like the revolution sold to me when I was a teenager by the punk scene, by the Anarchist scene was a lie. The real revolution was the political awakening. That initial spark that made me want to change the world. And that’s what I’m interested in, maintaining that fire.

If he ever felt like he was ‘sold a revolution’, he missed the point to start with. The beautiful thing about anarchism is that if you can find two anarchists who have exactly the same politics, you probably haven’t found two anarchists. I’m not sure whether Tom’s in a position to pass judgement on a movement he clearly never understood. He’s reduced that movement, incorporating everything from striking workers, to the black bloc, to people planting community gardens, down to his limited experience of the anarcho-punk scene in one part of America. The constant conflation of the anarchist and punk scenes as one and the same really doesn’t work. I got fucking sick of the punk scene pretty quick because yeah, it’s full of people who think anarchy means you can get drunk all the time and be an inconsiderate asshole. I could have dismissed it and left it there, but I knew there was more to it than that. And yeah, in the anarchist scene there are people who think they’re right, everyone else is wrong, they have the answer. The problems are nothing to do with punk or anarchism though, you’ll get people like that anywhere, whether or not they try to justify it with their political position. Maybe Tom didn’t spend enough time outside these circles to know that everyone else is exactly the same?

It also seems like pretty convenient marketing for the band. They clearly lost most of the anarchist and punk communities¬† back when they signed to Fat Wreck, and the remaining few when they signed to Sire. They had their tyres slashed, van graffitied (‘REMEMBER WHEN YOU MATTERED?’), and there was an article in Maximumrocknroll advocating pouring bleach on their merch table. Against Me! have a lot of reasons to hate ‘the scene’. But, if they hadn’t got signed to Fat Wreck, and could continue leaching off it, I’m sure they wouldn’t hate it. After all, if it was always just a fashion, might as well. One of the excuses they first used when signing to a major was that it would spread the message to more people. Clearly that meant the message that anarchism is a childish phase that we all need to grow out of! That’s…helpful. To be honest, if the band had stayed on an independent label, but renounced anarchism, nobody would care as much. Likewise, if they’d gone down the major route, but kept their ideals and continued to ‘spread the message’, yeah they would still have seemed like hypocrites, but it would have seemed more justifiable. As it is, it just seems like, and I really didn’t want to say this, but, selling out. Renounce your politics, make your music into generic stadium rock, and, hey presto! You make loads of money. It’s a tried and tested formula.

It’s not “heresy for an anarchist to say ‘FUCK Anarchy'”. However, Tom, when you say it after supporting Obama in the last election, it’s a bit different.


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