Punk Rock: A Criticism

“In every gimmick hungry yob diggin’ gold from rock ’n’ roll
Grabs the mic and tell us he’ll die before he’s sold
But I believe in this and it’s been tested by research
He who fucks nuns will later join the church” -Joe Strummer, “Death or Glory”

“ A thing is good only when it brings real benefit to the masses of the people.”-Mao Tse Tung, “Talks at the Yenan Forum”

The musical and artistic subculture of Punk Rock is popularly identified with revolutionary politics, by its members and by its critics. Popular wisdom holds, though it seems nigh impossible to definitively prove this, that the first American musicians to ever issue a direct call in lyrics for political revolution were MC5, the titans of early Detroit punk rock. Of course, Maoism tells us that the creation of a radical New Culture for the masses is a necessary component and supporter of the effort to build and cement socialism in a country. It is prudent, then, for we as students of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and of the universal components of Gonzalo Thought (in short, as students of contemporary communist thought) to take a critical look at what Punk represents as a movement and set of ideals, what it means politically and ideologically, where it succeeds and where it fails.

In its ideology, Punk Rock at its best is quite clear about that which it opposes. The Sex Pistols, arguably the inaugurators of Punk, fearlessly indicted monarchy as a “fascist regime” without compromising to the political establishment. The Clash, their successors and pretty inarguably a much better band and a better representative of Punk politics, in much the same way attacked drug trading (on “Hateful”), alienating capitalist culture (on “Lost in the Supermarket”) and police brutality (on “The Guns of Brixton”). Since these early works, and continuing on in later bands and works, Punk has cultivated in its followers a ready and uncompromising rejection of the capitalist system and of its various objectionable features. This is its positive aspect, and something we should seek to emulate in producing the artistic works of a revolutionary New Culture: an unapologetic indictment of the enemy in terms clear, understandable, and relatable to the broad masses.

Where Punk as a cultural-political movement begins to flounder is in trying to define exactly what it supports. The Sex Pistols were awash in antagonistic ideological contradictions, shouting for “Anarchy in the UK” while at the same time flirting with fascism and wearing swastika armbands on stage. The Clash never went any further towards establishing a political line than clumsily tacking the name of the Sandinista revisionists onto one of their albums. In later generations of Punk Rock we find some semblance of a political programme with Crass’s anarchist posturing, but even anarchism itself lacks any practical plan to create a social system better than the present one, it is just a pretense used by the hardcore and anarcho-punks to cover for the same vague criticisms of already existing state and religious authorities, and even for attacks on those actually striving to make improvements in society (according to Crass, in their moronic screed of a song “Bloody Revolutions,” revolutionary violence is “the same false logic all power-mongers use”). Looked at as a politicocultural movement, Punk is good at promoting animosity towards the establishment, but it is very bad at actively combating it or producing a plan-of-action for building a better political-economic mode of production or social order.

Underlying the individualist, non-constructive ideology of Punk, an ideology that lashes out against authority but fails utterly in defining a programme for the liberation of the wider masses of humanity, is its class character. Punk Rock is a lumpenproletarian cultural phenomenon. Crass is a good example of the class identity of Punk: a loose collective of youths, artists, and squatters. Punk Rock has always been a culture of those on the fringes of the capitalist system, the unemployed, the underground artists, the disaffected youths. In a word, the lumpenproletariat. The lumpenproletariat are of course well-acquainted with the miseries of capitalism, so it is not surprising to see a lumpen cultural movement thrashing against capitalism in rebellion. But the problem with a revolutionary movement of lumpenproletarian class character is it lacks a sense of class unity, and therefore an ability to design a new social order for their class, because they are by their nature a disorganized class. Survival under the capitalist system for those that bourgeois society has rejected outright depends on clawing and fighting for anything one needs, on looking out for oneself and finding every shelter or meal or source of cash one can without worrying about larger things. For the proletariat, on the other hand, survival under the direct blows of the hammer of exploitation depends on solidarity: it depends on the ability to forge mutually beneficial relationships with one’s fellow-exploited in order to manage under the eyes of exploitative bosses and higher-ups. It is no wonder then that the class ideology of the proletariat has produced a scientific guiding light for organized liberation, while that of the lumpenproletariat has not. Ergo, it must be the proletariat and their Great Leaders and Communist Parties which lead the liberation of the world from capitalism, and for other class groups (like the lumpenproletariat) that liberation must come through proletarianization under the socialist mode of production and the social order of the Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

There are exceptions to the individualistic and chaotic character of Punk ideology: one that springs to mind is the Minutemen, and especially brilliant frontman D. Boon, who always expressed a loyalty to Marxist principles and who were in class character proletarian. But, by and large, the ideology of the Punk movement is simply lacking in the scientific rigor and organized planning that centuries of proletarian struggle have produced. This means that, for all its radical posturing, Punk Rock does relatively little to combat capitalism and in fact often finds itself coopted by capitalist companies and institutions.

Punk Rock as a cultural and political movement or lifestyle has aspects in its art and its approach to that art which are positive, which are genuinely revolutionary and which those striving to build New Culture should emulate. But it also lacks a sense of unity and organization, and a proper political-economic programme guiding its art. Its ideology is vague, chaotic, disorganized and individualistic without a plan-of-action for real social progress. These are its negative aspects, which represent mistakes the artists who strive to build New Culture must avoid. The way we avoid this is to ensure that the guiding leadership of the movement for socialist revolution in every country in the world comes from the most ideologically advanced segments, and those most directly exploited under capitalism, of the proletariat. And that the construction of New Culture is guided by this leadership as both develop.

Marxist-Leninist-Maoist political-economic philosophy, from a perspective mainly regarding the movement for revolution in the US. https://tinyurl.com/yxhq4w8h