Rock Against Racism (RAR) operated between 1976 and 1981, and was a mass campaign that combined anti-racist politics with popular culture. Throughout this period RAR used the medium of concerts featuring black and white musicians as a focus for, and practical demonstration of, its politics of 'inter-racial' unity. This book deals with important theoretical issues that are particularly pertinent to the party's relationship with RAR. It covers three areas: the theory of state capitalism, the relationship between the party and the working class, and the united front. The book then examines the state of the Socialist Workers Party - formerly the International Socialists (IS) - during the mid- to late 1970s. The youth cultures with which RAR most closely identified were contested between political tendencies and music industry interests before RAR appeared on the scene. Punk had emerged as a significant, if somewhat ambivalent, radical phenomenon in its own right and reggae was implicated in the politico-cultural struggles between black people and the British state. Furthermore, it is clear from the testimony from the far-right that black culture was not immune to co-option by forces opposed to the kind of multiculturalism that RAR espoused. The book also looks at some of the political and social influences on the organisation's politics. It argues that RAR's approach entailed a rejection both of the Communist Party's Cold War-inflected point of view and of those theorists who despaired of any attempt to break the grip of bourgeois ideology on the working class.
Rock Against Racism (RAR) operated between 1976 and 1981, and was a mass campaign that combined anti-racist politics with popular culture in Britain. The two musical forms became most closely identified with RAR: punk rock and reggae. The author aims to locate RAR within a lengthy tradition of left-wing engagement with popular culture. He also locates a tradition which had imbibed some of the spirit of the so-called 'New Left', a political tendency which was in itself a reaction against both the stultifying dogmatism of official Communism and the patently reactionary nature of Stalinism. The author then suggests how the RAR developed a cultural politics that accepted the necessity of engaging with the products of the capitalist 'culture industry', without succumbing to the pacifying effects of what Marxists term 'commodity fetishism'.
Rock Against Racism (RAR) was a mass anti-racist movement that used rock concerts as a medium through which to organise resistance to the British far-right. One of RAR's most distinctive features was its strong visual identity, which drew heavily upon the art and graphics of early twentieth-century radical cultures, but was also influenced by punk graphics, pop art and the availability of new printing technologies. To understand RAR, the author details some of the contextual issues, such as the decline of post-war consensus, and the politics of despair. The collapse of consensus in the 1970s was hastened by economic and ideological crises that shattered many people's dreams of progress and prosperity and the Keynesian world view upon which they were based. Up until this point a degree of complacency regarding Britain's social and economic prospects was evident in certain quarters.
The most obvious place to start in assessing Rock Against Racism's (RAR's) politics and its links with the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) is the account in David Widgery's book Beating Time. Written from an insider's perspective, Beating Time advances the argument that the RAR/SWP partnership was crucial, both for the success of RAR and the health of socialism in Britain. When viewed as a popular-cultural phenomenon, it is accepted that punk rock and reggae were key components of RAR's success. RAR events were given prominent coverage in the music papers, with Sounds offering RAR space to promote itself in the journal's special report on racism in the music industry. Dick Hebdige famously described post-war British youth cultures as 'a succession of differential responses to the black immigrant presence in Britain'. RAR itself was founded in defence of the proposition that popular culture and multiculturalism went hand in hand.
This chapter deals with important theoretical issues that are particularly pertinent to the Socialist Workers Party's (SWP's) relationship with Rock Against Racism (RAR). These cover three areas: the theory of state capitalism, the relationship between the party and the working class, and the united front. It examines the state of the SWP, formerly the International Socialists (IS), during the mid- to late 1970s. The chapter suggests how the SWP attempted to relate its theory to events in the world at large and how these events, in turn, shaped the party's interventions. To gain an insight into the SWP's attitude to RAR, it is useful to examine the party's internal discussion documents. These offer a forum in which political perspectives are discussed with little need to make concessions to populism and public perceptions.
Some of the most vehement criticisms of Rock Against Racism (RAR) are concerned in one way or another with the organisation's cultural basis. To clarify the understanding of RAR's mission, this chapter considers not only what RAR was, but also what it was not. As with punk, RAR's attitude towards reggae was not simply a positive affirmation of the genre's radical potential; it also has to be viewed as an attempt to build a cultural coalition in an area vulnerable to incursions from the far-right. These contradictory cultural interactions help people to understand the importance of the anti-racist multiculturalism that RAR addressed to white youth. RAR's major polemical point, that a streak of racism ran through the music industry, provided an organisational focus for the movement as well as a cultural boundary.
This chapter explains different cultural and political issues and discusses how Rock Against Racism (RAR) responded to these challenges, and looks at some of the political and social influences on the organisation's politics. One can understand the urgency with which RAR sought to find a practical basis for its anti-racist work; this led the organisation to reject a number of elitist assumptions which had characterised some attempts on the left to marry culture and politics. RAR's approach to popular culture was influenced by a particular interpretation of modernism, which in turn was shaped by a specific strain of Marxist politics. Karl Marx's notion, that 'social being determines consciousness', provides a clue to understanding RAR's permissive attitude towards highly commercialised popular music.
This chapter focuses on two initiatives which exemplify, at least in their explicit intentions, contrasting attitudes towards the cultural politics of Rock Against Racism (RAR). These are Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR), and the series of appeals, led by Bob Geldof, to combat famine and poverty in Africa. For his part, Geldof has long insisted that the aims of the movement against poverty and famine can be achieved only through negotiating with the handful of powerful political actors who dominate global economics and politics. The chapter also examines some of the recent social and technological influences on pop music's ethnic boundaries. RAR, in association with the Anti-Nazi League (ANL), was part of an anti-fascist front that aimed to physically prevent the far-right from mobilising in public spaces. In this atmosphere RAR gigs became frequent targets of fascist hooligans, and physical security was consequently a vital consideration.
Rock Against Racism's (RAR's) politics and its relationships with the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and other organisations and individuals have been interpreted via crude assumptions regarding the left and movements of popular protest. Insufficient attention has been paid to the specific historical context in which RAR operated and the political and cultural traditions that informed its activities. The author addresses these issues in his study and he proposes a number of conclusions on this basis. RAR was an important partner in the anti-racist and anti-fascist mobilisations of the 1970s. Many of RAR's leading activists may have been Marxists, but those who were in the SWP represented not only a Trotskyist perspective, but a dissident, state capitalist, variant at that. Far from expressing a monolithic Marxist approach to culture, RAR broke ranks with most of the left by choosing to orient itself on the products of the capitalist music industry.