"One minute I felt like Arthur Scargill and the next I was acting like Mick Jagger, you know what I mean?" says Andy of anarcho-rap combo D&V, articulating the dilemma that faces all those into dabble in political pop.
From Nazi white-noise bands to the Redskins to the Wedge, every shade of politico has attempted to weld a worldview to a tune. 1977 saw the weird flowering of the Punk Front in Leeds a real contradiction that was soon swamped by the Frankensteins monster of Rock Against Racism. But by 1979 with "blue scum" replacing the master race as the object of hate in the RAR zine Temporary Hoarding, with the Front smashed off the streets, with an increasingly cynical music press finding salvation in New Pop or down Gary Bushells trousers, with the SWP discovering that it didnt share the same periphery an The Tom Robinson Band the hard left and punk said bye-byes and went their separate ways.
Left behind was an audience radicalised by the fight against the Front, by disillusionment with Labour, by the left-wing rhetoric or the Clash bands and by a literal interpretation of the Pistols "anarchy". The demise or RAR left a vacuum which would be filled by bands preaching spiky-haired peace and love. The Anarchists would inherit the earth.
were a mixture of newly cropped 60s libertarians, art college graduates and bitterly disillusioned gut-reaction Clash fans. They were fuelled and inspired by an exciting mish mash of Kerouac, Last Exit to Brooklyn, Kropotkin, Situationism and, perhaps above all else, the example of Italian Autonomism. They professed a belief in the literal truth or the idealistic anti-authoritarian manifestos that had dribbled from the curled lips of the now discredited first wave of London art school punks. At the peak of their popularity they were shifting 100,000 copies of every single they released. Considering their total refusal to have anything to do with the mass medias, their rising popularity was staggering. They pulled off some remarkable publicity coups, particularly over the Falklands War and the Royal Wedding. Their role in revitalising the moribund pre-Greenham CND was significant. Apoplectic Tory backbenchers went so far as to demand police action to shut them up. Their constituency was a broad swathe of usually unemployed, alienated and disenfranchised youth who would brook no compromise with the system be the system ICI or be it Better Badges.
And yet, by the mid 80s, anarcho-rock was a spluttering, scruffy mess. One reason for its decline was a staggering lack of originality, a smothering blanket of non-conformist conformity. Crass were like the false prophet in The Life of Brian "Piss off!" theyd roar. "And how shall we piss off?" roared back the sheep...
"Youd end up with 40 bands doing songs about Cruise Missiles, all dressed in black" says Crasss Steve Ignorant. "I got to the stage where I thought. if I hear one more bastard song about Cruise bastard missiles "
Massive emphasis was placed on not trusting leaders. This soured into a savagely self-destructive and petty iconoclasm, various "big names" would be fingered in fanzines for eating meat, hitting a heckler or, horror of horrors, putting milk in their tea.
Justifiable derision of what was seen as the book-bound mainstream of the wrinkled arm-chair-anarchist intelligensia degenerated into an oafish anti-intellectualism.
Some anarchist zines saw no contradiction in using barely doctored British Movement "anti-communist" stickers (with the Aryan superman given a tasty mohawk!). The discovery by thousands of political virgins of the horrors of factory farming and vivisection led to a bitter and ever tightening holier-than-thou lifestylism. In a word, the log that smashed the anarcho-camels back was Moralism.
Almost as important a reason for anarcho-punks decline was the belief that many of its devotees had, that by singing and shouting on a stage, they could change the world.
"We had this idea that by saying that the Government is wrong, that eating meat is wrong, that the police are wrong, that Northern Ireland is wrong that we could actually change enough people to mean something." says Geoff of Flux Of Pink Indians.
Now its a name-shortened and poppified Flux who sing "Im not angry anymore ". Along with bands like D&V they were genuinely shocked to discover that despite all their well-intentioned hollering the Falklands War took place, that the police could kick the shit out of the miners, that the Tories could bring in Cruise, that Stop The City could be smashed and that Thatcher could be re-elected. They were that naive.
Flux also identified a rising tide of state violence. Police brutality at Orgreave and at Greenham convinced them that confrontation was a no-no.
"Effectively what we were doing was mobilising people into actions where theyd eventually have to take up weapons. Thats essentially what Conflict, Chumbawamba and Class War are still doing: I thought I aint prepared to shoot nobody, I aint prepared to crack skulls "
Around the same time the Poison Girls reached similar conclusions about what they considered to be the "male violence" of the scene. The pacifist punks, dismayed that they hadnt changed the world in a day and conceding, as pacifists do, a monopoly of violence to the state, defected to more tranquil pastures.
. . should not be lumped together so easily. The Chumbas were once the epitome of the moralistic dont-eat-meat dont-smoke dont-smile punk puritanism. Their baptism of fire came during the miners strike. Working with Labour Party and SWP members convinced them that being veggier-than-thou is not enough, that priorities are important, that class isnt "irrelevant" and that their own spectacular brand of imaginative agit prop would never, on its own, even start to usher in the utopian millennium.
The political grouping Class War is the most concrete expression of this rejection of moralism. Originally its "Bash the Rich" marches and furiously violent propaganda sheets attracted many of the anarcho-punks who, identifying the same rise in state violence as Flux, found an answer in confrontation and counter-violence rather than pacifism. Increasingly though, Class Wars paper has turned its bile as much on "the glue heads and drop outs" as on the stiffs of the wrinkled anarchist mainstream. Tottering green mohicans dont "shit the rich", they merely make them titter. Class War continues to kick itself into shape, hamstrung by its violent and contradictory anti-intellectualism, finding an increasingly important role in Anti-Fascist Action and the campaign against the gentrification of Londons East End.
Conflict are the most successful heirs of the anarcho-prole bands like Zounds, The Mob and The Apostles who, whilst espousing such traditionally middle class causes as animal liberation and vegetarianism, were always more in tune with their lumpen audience than were Crass.
Led by south London school janitors son, Colin, Conflict have continued to plod on, preaching class hatred against the police to a small but active and dedicated band of followers. The police have returned the compliment and both the band and its audience have been regularly brutalised.
The idea was that Steve Ignorant would join Conflict on stage at the Brixton Academy and to hell with the "contradictions", the accusations of "sell out" and the "anarcho-superstar" jibes. It was to be a fresh start. On the night of the gig, April 19, a leaflet circulated:
"ENOUGH IS ENOUGH...TURNING CONFLICT INTO REALITY.. .We stand obediently beneath our heroes, dumbly singing along as the same old chords crash out, screaming defiance but meaning nothing. Punk is as threatening as Tescos. - from Conflict to Coronation Street, it is all one big spectacle..."
Backstage I met New York poet Annie Anxiety Who has gone from supporting Crass to supporting Laibach. For her disillusionment came at a No Nukes demo where CND stewards helped the police attack anarchists who were attacking the mealy-mouthed middle class spokespeople on the platform. As she turned away in disgust at the whole mess a Patio pacifist threw up her hands and pleaded "Dont hit me, please dont hit me!"
I watched from the balcony in the company of four police sergeants as Conflict/Ignorant ran through a set of anarcho-punk classics whilst 5,000 time-warped punks mouthed along. I left just before the end and so missed a riot.
According to eyewitnesses, the crowd was hustled from the hall by the Academys enthusiastic security to meet outside several coach loads of tooled-up riot police. As the police waded in, the back ranks of the audience attempted to regain an admission. This was refused. There then followed a Brixton riot by 5,000 almost exclusively White kids which didnt make the front page of a single national newspaper.
Thirty-eight Conflict fans, only one of them from London, face prosecution under the Tories Public Order Act. Conflict are being investigated by the Met who seem convinced that the band planned the riot. Most venues booked for a Conflict tour have been pressured by the police into cancelling.
Perhaps this proves that Flux and D&V are right or perhaps it indicates that angry politics which offer nothing more than a superficial analysis inevitably peter out into piecemeal confrontations with the state which the state inevitably wins.
Id say its the latter. Id go further and say that the fragmentation of anarcho-punk was the inevitable result of Libertarian Anarchisms crippling weakness its refusal to prioritise (claiming that abattoirs are as bad as Nazi Death Camps), its paranoic fear of leadership and organisation, its sectarianism and its dalliance with the dead ends of animalism, vegetarianism, pacifism and moralism.
Meanwhile. 39 kids face going to prison on the evidence of Brixton policemen. Conflict Fighting Fund PO Box 488 London SE9.
From the New Musical Express, 23rd May 1987, pages 14 & 33.