Violence Is... 7"
I've been meaning to write up some more extensive explanations for these songs for ages as the record has been out for a while now and a recent review mentioned the fact that I hadn't put anything online yet. For now, here is a summary of the ideas behind the songs, which I gave in a interview we did a little while back.
‘Violence Is…’, both the song and the 7” as a whole, is based around the insidious, normalised violence enacted by the state onto ordinary people on an everyday basis, yet ‘violence’ is only accepted as a term for when working class people fight back.
‘Sanitised’ is more specifically about our local council, which is more concerned with making our city more superficially palatable to apparently ‘liberal’, middle class people and shoppers, rather than tackling the issues that lead to homelessness and other issues that people suffer from, with those people just treated as an inconvenience and pushed further towards the margins of society.
‘Rotten System’ is about capitalism and other elements of the status quo which people often assume act in their best interests or towards some mythical concept of progress, rather than the suppression of dissent and the fundamental maintenance of existing inequalities.
‘Military Indoctrination’ is about the transformation of what things like Remembrance Sunday stand for, in line with general attitudes towards war and militarism. In a lot of sectors, discussion of war and the army has shifted from a futile tragedy which leads to the slaughter of millions of people, to an uncritical celebration of militarism, and the stuff that comes with that, like jingoism and nationalism.
‘Isolation’ is kind of an extension of the stuff I wrote about in No Solution, although it is more specifically focused on the nature of vegan ethical consumerism, and how in isolation it doesn’t actually remedy the ills which drive people towards veganism in the first place. Ultimately, if your activism is purely focused upon trying to reform or adapt capitalist practices or is based around replacing one form of capitalist consumption with another- all of which were built and utilise varying forms of exploitation, with abuse therefore inherent to the system- then it is doomed to fail from the outset. This kind of thing is pretty central to a lot of the ideas upon which our lyrics are based.
We propose that instead of reform, liberalism, or acceptance of the imposition of austerity and a superficial adaptation of consumerism, the way to do something about the ills of society that so many people are aware of and suffer from, is to utterly dismantle the system which allows them to exist in the first place. We believe that ordinary people have the potential and power to do that.
No Solution 12"
The title for this song is taken from a term used in the new history curriculum, originating from a process during European colonial imperialism, by which ‘great powers’ would intimidate other states into concessions and trade agreements, with superior military power demonstrated without actually opening fire. Despite the term being out of use amongst historians for many years, it found its way into Michael Gove’s revision of the system, which appears to be based upon text books you’d find in classrooms decades ago. The history curriculum that Gove promotes appears nothing more than an instruction in national pride, citizenship and institutionalised racism, a superficial chronological narrative with the focus more on mindless hero worship of predominantly white, male, British figures and the ‘glory’ of our imperial past, rather than genuine analysis, evaluation or even education, with children learning by agenda based dictat. This approach will only serve to put off vast swathes of children and young adults through sheer boredom and disenfranchise even more, with this method of study utterly alien to an approach to history at a higher level. This farce inspired half of the lyrics to this song, with the other half focusing on the changing attitudes towards higher education- whereby it is increasingly justified, valued and viewed only in economic terms. The implications of this can be seen in increases in tuition fees, but also in the rhetoric which is used to encourage people to go to university, with degrees presented purely as a key to economic advancement and career prospects, rather than as a laudable use of time in itself, purely for the personal and societal benefits that higher education can provide. The impact of this seems to be that any subject which doesn’t directly contribute to future careers from an economic standpoint becomes devalued, neglected and treated as an unjustifiable and expendable luxury. As we have seen over the past year or so especially, any attempts to challenge the idea that university education should represent something other than a consumer product, or means towards economic advancement, for example through civil disobedience, occupations and solidarity with striking university staff, are swiftly met with police violence and intimidation from institutions themselves.
On the 1st April 2009, Ian Tomlinson was killed on his way home from work, in the aftermath of the G20 summit protests, as a result of a gratuitous show of aggression from Simon Harwood, a police constable. Serious allegations against Harwood, including racially abusing and punching a teenage girl had consistently been made prior to the incident, but were seemingly ignored. Harwood was charged with manslaughter in July 2012 as a result of Tomlinson’s death but was acquitted. He was eventually sacked for gross misconduct later that year, having been suspended on full pay since 2009, but continues to collect a police pension. Tomlinson’s stepson Paul King described the disciplinary hearing that resulted in Harwood’s sacking as a ‘whitewash.’ This incident is not an isolated example of some rogue copper falling through the net. It represents a recent example of the lengths to which police officers and the force as a whole are prepared to go, in the 'line of duty'. Recent revelations regarding information gathering and spying on political activists, with conduct amounting to institutionally endorsed rape through coercion and deception are part of a continual and systemic method of policing rather than a historic example. The police force operates as an aggressive, corrupt, bigoted institution employed to violently uphold existing power structures, with the TSG (Territorial Support Group) seemingly immune from criticism in most quarters despite a paramilitaristic approach and frequent evidence of bullying, physical aggression, corruption, racism and discrimination, with political bias essentially integral to their operation, racism institutionalised and attempts towards greater accountability targeted and prevented by the police covering for their own.
The modes of ‘justice’ associated with Guantanamo Bay and the treatment of prisoners are well known, and this has been the case for a number of years, yet the torture of indefinite detention continues. The success of the rhetoric of a ‘war on terror’ encourages a disregard for self imposed, illusionary commitments to human rights, which are themselves often simply a product of the very dehumanisation they seemingly oppose. Breaches of these rights are framed and often accepted as necessary and conducive to public safety and Guantanamo has become a mere footnote in collective consciousness, legislated by an administration led by a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Closing the camp or expecting the existing US system to see that justice is done for those imprisoned seems naive given the myriad examples of the justice system’s impact across American society. It remains an example of America’s military empire and a simultaneous symbol and realisation of the inherent injustice inherent within American society, demonstrating the ease with which rights and basic liberties that are handed down from above can simply be ignored.
The development and alteration of the nature of discourse that has seen culmination in coalition policies surrounding social security has genuine implications for attitudes towards those who are unemployed or receive benefits. Discussions amongst even the liberal media are increasingly framed in a way which only allows the marginalisation of structural aspects of unemployment, poverty, low wages and high rents, transforming them into individual pathologies of benefit dependency, which serve to justify policy measures that further punish the vulnerable. This poisoning of attitudes towards benefits as a whole utilises the terminology of dependency, with vicious divisions between the ‘strivers’ and ‘skivers’ within society propagated by negative political rhetoric and media coverage that frequently reproduces such statements uncritically. Ordinary people subsequently have wildly inaccurate impressions of the economic ‘burden’ which is placed upon public expenditure by social security or ‘dependency culture’ which is placed in opposition to seemingly endless references to 'hardworking people'. Whilst some have quite rightly criticised this change in language it is only the most notable example of a more widespread and insidious shift in attitudes towards ‘welfare’ which is accepted across the mainstream political landscape, as yet another indictment of the failures of parliamentary democracy to offer genuine alternatives. New Labour embraced Thatcherite notions of welfare dependency and offer no genuine opposition to the framing of debate that has continued under the coalition.
The implications of this framing also goes beyond political discussion by major parties, with division and animosity amongst the working class a product of this influence. Not only this, but it actively serves to prevent those who benefit (or believe they benefit) in some small way from the current society from expressing solidarity with those who don't, something only exacerbated by sensationalist television programmes and the prevalence and acceptability of language which demonises the working class. Ultimately this strengthens wider processes of division and stigmatisation which serve as a distraction from the real enemies, the genuine drain on society which comes from above and the inadequacy of neo-liberal parliamentary democracy to address this. The end result is that some of the most powerless members of society are blamed and attacked for the ills from which they suffer the most.
Energy drink/Jagermeister/misogynist magazine/car manufacturer sponsored festivals paying predominantly middle aged men on nothing more than a cash fuelled nostalgia trip to reform, perpetuate an acceptance of this ‘industry’ orientated bullshit within punk. The effect of this can be seen in this acceptance of corporate sponsorship, ‘management agencies’ or the artificial fetishisation that comes with ‘limited’ releases designed to sell out immediately. The reproduction and normalisation of ‘industry’ led tactics by apparent 'DIY/punk' bands continues to grow insidiously, which makes it more important for those actually committed to DIY to voice their opposition. Respect and reverence for influential bands is fine, but the idea that playing alongside these bands at soulless festivals or moving on to ‘bigger’ things via the pages of Rocksound/Kerrang/Front magazine represents the only validation that a punk band can have is utterly false, yet is accepted by swathes of those who work under a banner of ‘punk’ or ‘hardcore’, with bands enticed by the idea that ‘success’ can be defined by money, merch sales, media coverage and endorsements. As with countless other examples of corporate involvement in genuine 'sub-cultural' movements, everyone involved exists purely to leech off and exploit an aesthetic and authentic way of existing based on utterly ignoring and attempting to undermine DIY, with endless reformations filling the soulless void. Whilst of course DIY can not only survive, but thrive regardless of the existence of this industry, these parasites should be viewed with nothing but contempt, no matter how good a ‘deal’ it seems involvement with them offers. There is an increasing need to stand against those bands/promoters who see short term 'pragmatism' as more important than the wider implications involvement with major companies will have in undermining DIY efforts in the future. Spend your time and money seeing and ‘supporting’ stuff that is vital and exciting in 2013, whether this just results in going to DIY shows, helping to set up and support DIY spaces or offering support to those making efforts towards setting them up, like those in London, Bradford, Leeds, Nottingham, Sheffield etc. forming your own band or putting on your own gigs, rather than convincing yourself that allowing major companies and booking agents to profit off the back of DIY is acceptable. If not the end result is that 'punks' just naively line the pockets of companies who have latched onto hardcore as a means of gaining popularity and credibility, who will be gone again as soon as they have milked it for all it is worth.
Misanthropic statements inevitably tend to come from people who inhabit some of the least dispossessed, most privileged sectors of society. Whilst to an extent posturing of this nature is usually no more than short-sighted and ignorant regurgitation of well established tropes rather than a genuine indication of someone’s faith in humanity, the acceptance of such statements reinforce and justify attitudes with concrete consequences. Inaction with regards to discrimination and abuse of humans and animals, acceptance of state oppression, authoritarianism and general apathy are common symptoms seen across society in general but specifically within punk and hardcore when it’s considered cooler to sing in abstract terms about humanity as an inherent blight upon the world, than to tackle agents of exploitation propagated under capitalism by the rich and powerful. Misanthropy is a one dimensional cop-out and the result of people attempting to define something as abstract as 'human nature' by attributing to it the worst aspects of existing social orders, rather than realising that these orders are inherently weighed towards the suppression of the best aspects in order to maintain dominant hierarchies.
Right to Protest
Despite frequent declarations to the contrary, dedication to the ‘right to protest’ in the UK often extends no further than platitudes and dull rhetoric, with the supposed protection of the right to publicly assemble replaced by criminalisation as soon as they are deemed to be problematic to existing interests. The police implement repressive tactics which serve only to disparage protest, with outright acts of police violence such as that suffered by Alfie Meadows mixed with measures such as kettling, the application of vague legislation to victimise and target political expression, corrupt and deceptive surveillance measures, and the facilitation of fascist marches by targeting and arresting anti-fascists en masse. In addition, the semantic division between ‘good protestors’ and ‘bad protestors’ within the media and mainstream liberal left frequently sees anyone who engages in anything ranging from property damage and direct action to antifascist action which physically confronts the far right, disparaged and stigmatised, with only ‘peaceful’ marching, banner waving, inviting racists to tea parties and reformist approaches seen as legitimate. This undermines and exposes the shallownees of apparent commitments to ‘left unity’ and plays into the hands of the media and political hierarchy, with ordinary people decrying and disavowing protests on the basis that a window might have been smashed or that anti-fascists and the BNP/EDL are as ‘bad as each other’, based on basic ignorance.
History has shown that direct confrontation of the far right at street level is a successful means by which those spreading hate and violence can be stopped and those tactics continue to be necessary. When the façade surrounding the right to protest is so easily revealed to be just that, it is increasingly important that we stand with all protestors victimised by the police and the state. One of the ways this can be done is in supporting organisations like the Green & Black Cross which provides vital legal support to grassroots social justice struggles, or by directly challenging liberal rhetoric which seeks to disparage direct action by ignoring the reality of state violence.
Illusion of Choice
The dominant discourses regarding economic crisis in the UK rest upon interpretation of neo-liberal values and economics, justifications for why ‘austerity’ measures which hit hardest the members of society who are already dispossessed and victimised are necessary, or insufficient ‘anti-austerity’ measures of limited scope. Whilst the liberal left frequently reports upon exploitation, dispossession, and a ‘crisis’, this mainstream and ‘progressive’ rhetoric is influenced by a reproduction of capitalist structures and acceptance that ‘reformism’ and faith in existing processes present an alternative to the current situation, rather than the dead end path towards empty personal pacification, appeasement and betrayal without transformation or liberation that history has consistently demonstrated it to be. As long as solutions are confined within this framework and geared towards tactics such as media absorption and appeasement of dominant interests then people outside of this will continue to suffer. Often those engaged in attempts to appeal to the ruling class to grant ‘rights’ or concessions, regardless of how good their intentions, will remain oblivious to the fact that their attempts to change society are permitted as long as they don’t actively change the fundamentals of class and capitalist society and can be integrated within the status quo.
‘Their remedies do not cure the disease, they merely prolong it.’
The idea that 'ethical capitalism' or changes in lifestyles, diet or economic habits alone represents a challenge to the capitalist hegemony or a genuine vehicle for a fundamental change seems to enjoy a large deal of legitimacy amongst myriad factions of 'well meaning' and 'conscientious' people, but essentially operates to prop up capitalism and maintain the illusion that it offers the path to eventual prosperity for all, through the handing down of ‘rights’ and the enactment of legislation, if we simply wait long enough. Consumer dissidence and the illusion of ‘alternatives’ within a capitalist framework exist only as a substitute for profound and genuine change and whilst they may be justified as 'better than nothing', this dichotomy is a misinterpretation of the genuine choices people have. If said alternatives are so easily absorbed into the very process which produces the injustice that they purport to remedy, then they are no more than institutionalised irrelevancies, a capitalist product profiting on the anger of those who are angry about the ills of capitalism, serving only to strengthen the system which creates the impetus for them to exist.
A narrow view and stigmatisation of those who are in themselves powerless to tackle the issue as though if only they shopped ‘compassionately’ or avoided cheap supermarkets, sweatshops would cease to exist, animal cruelty would end and the ills of capitalism would crumble overnight, achieves nothing, with a desire for change replaced by middle class guilt and working class stigmatisation.
Capitalist society purports to offer choice and this is reflected in the myriad illusory ‘ethical’ products increasingly co-opted and available in commodity form, but importantly for a lot of working class people this is just the illusion of choice. For the middle classes, due to blind indifference to the daily suffering produced by society reinforced by the middle class dominated media and politicians, it is seemingly easy to exercise the privilege of economic and cultural choice and attempt to boycott a specific part of the hurt, even though that is an impossible goal, offering only the illusion of some control over the system, with appearances more important than genuine action.
Environmental destruction, economic devastation, widespread poverty, suffering and discrimination should be viewed within a context of hierarchical domination across all of a profoundly sick society, rather than superficial changes which perhaps alleviate some symptoms for certain people. A response to the inevitable anger that comes from awareness of modern exploitation must come from a realisation that movements must not focus on one symptom or repugnant feature in isolation. If your response to pain and misery is based only on the misery itself rather than the cause and insidious influence of wider ills, then outright liberation is impossible.
Everyday Fabric 7"
All 300 copies of the record came with lyric explanations. (Click to view larger version)
Note: A mistake that was subsequently pointed out to me- for the song 'Profit' the word AIDS in this context is inaccurate, and should be replaced by HIV.