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The cultural politics of Rock Against Racism

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.

Art worlds and cultural production

This book explores the interface between musicological and sociological approaches to the analysis of music, and in doing so reveals the differing foundations of cultural studies and sociological perspectives more generally. Building on the arguments of his earlier book Sounds and society, the author initially contrasts text-based attempts to develop a ‘social’ analysis of music with sociological studies of musical activities in real cultural and institutional contexts. It is argued that the difficulties encountered by some of the ‘new’ musicologists in their efforts to introduce a social dimension to their work are often a result of their unfamiliarity with contemporary sociological discourse. Just as linguistic studies have moved from a concern with the meaning of words to a focus on how they are used, a sociological perspective directs our attention towards the ways in which the production and reception of music inevitably involve the collaborative activities of real people in particular times and places. The social meanings and significance of music, therefore, cannot be disclosed by analysis of the ‘texts’ alone, but only through the examination of the ways in which music is a constituent part of real social settings. This theme is developed through discussions of music in relation to processes of social stratification, the collaborative activities of improvising musicians, music as language, music as a ‘cultural object’ and music in everyday social situations.

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Chap 10 10/7/06 11:54 am Page 205 10 Everyday music Introduction One of the arguments for which Wittgenstein is most celebrated is his contention that linguistic meaning is not inherent in words, phrases, sentences and so on, but depends on the ways in which they are used (1972: 20). At first sight, this seems contrary to commonsense notions of how we communicate, and also to alternative theories of language which are based on the assumption that words represent states of affairs. After all, what could be more straightforward than a sentence like ‘The grey

in Music and the sociological gaze

Chap 4 10/7/06 11:50 am Page 56 4 Music and manipulation Adorno’s theory of contemporary society begins with the claim of a system integration which has become total; thus he can regard the entire media of the culture industry only as a means of domination and must rate popular forms of art as phenomena of psychical regression. (Honneth, 1995: 81) Introduction The idea that people may be subject to manipulation by music is a familiar one, yet efforts to develop it sociologically soon run into difficulties. For one thing, the ‘manipulation’ in question

in Music and the sociological gaze

Chap 2 10/7/06 11:49 am Page 13 2 Music and the sociological gaze Introduction ‘The history of musicology and music theory in our generation’, write Cook and Everist, ‘is one of loss of confidence: we no longer know what we know’ (1999: v). The reasons for this widely acknowledged crisis of confidence need not be rehearsed, but clearly arise from a series of challenges to the established discipline – from, for example, the critical and feminist theories of the ‘new’ musicologists, from various claims about the proper relation of musicology to

in Music and the sociological gaze
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6 Aftermath Over a quarter of a century has passed since RAR staged its final concert, and it would be implausible within the constraints of this study to consider all of the trends and movements that have attempted to unite popular music and politics since that time.1 It is possible, nonetheless, to assess the extent to which some of these projects have been informed by RAR’s style of culturally engaged agit-prop. Although a relatively modest undertaking, such an exercise will enable us to illuminate a number of the political and cultural assumptions

in Crisis music

a consistent anti-racism is feasible only on the basis of a wideranging theoretical assault on the institutions and ideas that underpin c02.indd 23 6/5/2009 10:57:52 AM 24 Crisis music the ‘establishment’. In accordance with this principle RAR constantly pushed against the constraints of traditional anti-racist campaigning by making propaganda around the issue of oppression in general. In doing so it gave expression to the idea that oppressive practices such as sexism, homophobia and racism are social lubricants of capitalism, since they sow divisions amongst

in Crisis music
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emphasis on the importance of rank and file organisation and its rejection of the pro-Soviet perspectives of much of the left. A generation of militants in and around the SWP, who combined revolutionary politics with a genuine love for popular music, provided many of RAR’s leading cadres. Meanwhile, the upsurge in radical trends in youth cultures such as punk and reggae, supplied a channel through which this small number of activists could communicate with much larger numbers of campaigners and sympathisers. But RAR was more than an ideological and organisational force

in Crisis music

consider not only what RAR was, but also what it was not. RAR was, first and foremost, a direct response to racism within the British music industry. David Widgery explained that ‘we chose pop music, not because of any illusions that it was intrinsically revolutionary, but because we knew the music on which the modern industry was based came specifically from the music of collective black resistance to racism and class exploitation’. He then went on to stress that, ‘Having seized c04.indd 81 6/5/2009 10:58:41 AM 82 Crisis music on this contradiction, we proceeded

in Crisis music

5 Rock Against Racism, culture and social struggle Many of those active in socialist circles during the 1960s and early 1970s confirm the suspicion with which ‘Americanised’ pop music used to be regarded. When the left attempted to give its politics artistic expression it was often through forms that had been filtered through the sieves of Eastern Bloc socialist realism or ‘traditional’ folk music – what Red Saunders has lampooned as ‘Hungarian linocuts’ and the ‘woolly jumper’.1 In this chapter I examine some of the political and cultural reasons for this

in Crisis music