Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Rock against reformism? (1978)

From the June 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

What do Paul Foot (editor of Socialist Worker) and Vera Lynn have in common? Answer: they both entertain people with illusions. During the last war, while workers were being slaughtered in defence of their masters' property, Vera Lynn was employed to sing to the troops to keep up  their morale; tell them what a worthy cause they were dying for, how life would be so much better when it's all over — "There'll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover . . . " It was an exercise in cynical hypocrisy which made Vera Lynn rich and famous and those who attended the concerts all the readier to sacrifice themselves. So what's this got to do with Paul Foot?

If you were in Victoria Park, Hackney, on the afternoon of Sunday 30 April you'd have seen a gathering of fifty to sixty thousand people. At a first glance it looked like a rock concert. There was a stage before which sat thousands of rock enthusiasts listening to the music of Steel Pulse, The Clash and The Tom Robinson Band. But from another angle the scene looked like yet another futile political demonstration, complete with SWP banners demanding the right to work, Lefties selling every shade of newspaper from Worker's Voice to Worker's Arse and the usual contingent of Young Liberals who weren't quite sure why they were there. The organisers of the event were the Anti-Nazi League (for which read Rock Against Racism for which read SWP for which read Paul Foot and friends). The object was to win support for the Socialist Workers' Party's policy of physically preventing the National Front from operating. Emotional propaganda mixed with powerful music is a sure way to build up a politically opportunist movement. The SWP are not original in discovering this. Consider the following remarks:
The great mass of people consists neither of professors nor of diplomats. The scantiness of abstract knowledge possessed by the mass confines its perceptive faculties to the realm of feeling. Within these limits, its attitude is either positive or negative. It can perceive only a forceful stimulus in one of these two directions, and can never appreciate a middle ground lying between them. This emotionalism of the mass, however, is responsible for its extraordinary stability. Faith is more difficult to shake than knowledge, love undergoes fewer changes than respect, hate is more powerful than aversion, and the impetus to the most powerful revolutions upon this earth has lain at all times less in scientific cognition dominating the masses than in the fanaticism inspiring then and sometimes in the hysteria driving them forward. He who wishes to win the broad mass must know the key which opens the door to its heart.
The writer was Adolf Hitler (Mein Kampf, p. 371). The Socialist Party of Great Britain does not oppose racist, fascist and nationalist ideas in isolation, as if capitalism will be humanised without them. Our case is that wages system can not be made to run in the interest of the working class. This message can only be impressed upon fellow workers by reasonable argument. Anti-social behaviour will not cease by getting people to wear 'Stop the Nazi' badges. 

There is no  doubt that music can be used to spread ideas and even to increase class consciousness, but this will only happen when those who organise the concerts and perform the music are themselves aware of what Socialism means. In the meantime, we understand that Paul Foot is auditioning for Hughie Green's old job on 'Opportunity Knocks'—opportunism and bad music rolled into one; whay more could he want.
Steve Coleman