ⓘ Punk ideologies


ⓘ Punk ideologies

Punk ideologies are a group of varied social and political beliefs associated with the punk subculture and punk rock. In its original incarnation, the punk subculture originated out of working class angst and the frustrations many youth were feeling about economic inequality and the bourgeois hypocrisy and neglect of working people and their struggles. It was primarily concerned with concepts such as mutual aid, against selling out, egalitarianism, humanitarianism, anti-authoritarianism, anti-consumerism, anti-corporatism, anti-war, decolonization, anti-conservatism, anti-liberalism, anti-globalization, anti-gentrification, anti-racism, anti-sexism, gender equality, racial equality, health rights, civil rights, animal rights, disability rights, free-thought and non-conformity. One of its main tenets was a rejection of mainstream, corporate mass culture and its values. It continued to evolve its ideology as the movement spread throughout North America from its origins in England and New York and embrace a range of anti-racist and anti-sexist belief systems. Punk ideologies range from left-wing views to right-wing views or apolitical.

Punk ideologies are usually expressed through punk rock music and lyrics, punk literature such as amateur fanzines, spoken word performances or recordings, punk fashion, or punk visual art. Some punks have participated in direct action, such as protest or demonstration disruption, political violence, ecotage, street barricades, squatting, pirate radio, off-grid energy, graffiti, vandalism and public and business property destruction. Indirect action through counter-propaganda, protests or boycotts. They support and squat in urban and rural collective houses with held group funds in common. Punk fashion was originally an expression of nonconformity, as well as opposition to both mainstream culture and the status quo. Punk fashion often displays aggression, rebellion, and individualism. Some punks wear accessories, clothing or have tattoos that express sociopolitical messages. They stage Punk Rock Food Drives such as D.O.As Unity for Freedom. Punk visual art also often includes political messages. Many punks wear second-hand clothing, partly as an anti-consumerist statement.

An attitude common in the punk subculture is the opposition to selling out, which refers to abandoning of ones values and/or a change in musical style toward pop e.g. electropop and embracing anything in mainstream capitalist culture or more radio-friendly rock e.g. pop rock in exchange for wealth, status, or power. Selling out also has the meaning of adopting a more mainstream lifestyle and ideology. The issue of authenticity is important in the punk subculture - the pejorative term poseur is applied to those who try to associate with punk and adopt its stylistic attributes but are deemed not to share or understand the underlying core values or philosophy.

Because anti-establishment attitudes are such an important part of the punk subculture, a network of independent record labels, venues and distributors has developed. Some punk bands have chosen to break from this independent system and work within the established system of major labels. The do it yourself DIY ideal is common in the punk scene, especially in terms of music recording and distribution, concert promotion, and photocopying magazines, posters and flyers. The expression DIY was coined by commentators after the fact.

On religious issues, punk is mostly atheist or skeptic, but some punk bands are theist and have promoted religions or spirituality such as Christianity, Islam, Umbanda, the Rastafari movement, Neo-Paganism, Buddhism, Vedanta or Krishna.


1.1. Specific ideologies and philosophies Anarchism

There is a complex and worldwide underground of punks committed to anarchism as a serious political ideology, sometimes termed "peace punks" or "anarcho-punks." While some well-known punk bands such as the Sex Pistols and The Exploited had songs about anarchy, notably the Pistols "Anarchy in the UK", they did not embrace anarchism as a disciplined ideology. As such, these bands are not considered part of the anarcho-punk scene.

Anarcho-punks typically believe in direct action. Many anarcho-punks are pacifists e.g. Crass and Discharge and therefore believe in using non-violent means of achieving their aims. These include peaceful protest, squatting, legal graffiti, culture jamming, ecotage, freeganism, boycotting, civil disobedience, hacktivism and subvertising. Some anarcho-punks believe that violence or property damage is an acceptable way of achieving social change e.g. Conflict. This manifests itself as rioting, illegal graffiti, vandalism, wire cutting, hunt sabotage, participation in Class War-style activities, melee weapons and in extreme cases, bombings. Notable anarchist punk artists include: Aus-Rotten, Dave Insurgent, Crass, Subhumans British band, Colin Jerwood, and Dave Dictor.


1.2. Specific ideologies and philosophies Animal rights and veganism

In the 1980s, both straight edge hardcore punk in the United States and anarcho-punk in the United Kingdom became associated with animal rights. Consequently, vegetarianism and veganism became a feature of the punk subculture. This association continues on into the 21st century, as evidenced by the prominence of vegan punk events such as Fluff Fest in Europe.


1.3. Specific ideologies and philosophies Apoliticism

Some punks claim to be non-political, such as the band Charged GBH and the singer G.G. Allin, although some socio-political ideas have appeared in their lyrics. Some Charged GBH songs have discussed social issues, and a few have expressed anti-war views. G.G. Allin expressed a vague desire to kill the United States president and destroy the political system in his song "Violence Now". Punk subgenres that are generally apolitical include: glam punk, psychobilly, horror punk, punk pathetique, deathrock and pop punk. Many of the bands credited with starting the punk movement were decidedly apolitical, including The Dictators, Ramones which featured staunch conservative Johnny Ramone alongside liberal activist Joey Ramone, New York Dolls, Television, Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers, and Richard Hell & The Voidoids.


1.4. Specific ideologies and philosophies Christianity

Christian punk is a subgenre of punk rock with some degree of Christian lyrical content. Some Christian punk bands are associated with the Christian music industry, while others reject that association. Ideologies within Christian punk vary, though a number of bands lean towards traditional left-wing politics, most prominently Crashdog, Ballydowse and The Psalters, the latter two of whom identified as Christian anarchists. Further examples of notable Christian punk bands include Altar Boys, The Crucified, Five Iron Frenzy, Flatfoot 56, and pop-punk band MxPx, who earned a gold record in 1998.


1.5. Specific ideologies and philosophies Conservatism

A small number are conservative, rejecting leftist-anarchism, liberalism, communism and socialism in favor of conservatism. Notable conservative punks include Johnny Ramone, Dee Ramone, Forgotten Rebels, Billy Zoom, Joe Escalante, Bobby Steele, Duane Peters and Dave Smalley. Some Christian punk and hardcore bands have conservative political stances, in particular some of the NYHC bands.


1.6. Specific ideologies and philosophies Hare Krishna

The Filipino punk band the Wuds which was formed in the early 1980s is the first known punk band who composed songs dedicated to Hare Krishna movement. In the 1990s, some notable members of the New York hardcore scene, including Ray Cappo Youth of Today, Shelter and other bands, John Joseph Cro-Mags and Harley Flanagan Cro-Mags converted to Hare Krishna. This led to trend within the western hardcore scene that became known as Krishnacore.


1.7. Specific ideologies and philosophies Islam

Taqwacore is a punk subgenre centred on Islam, its culture and its interpretation. The Taqwacore scene is composed mainly of young Muslim artists living in the United States and other western countries, many of whom openly reject traditionalist interpretations of Islam. There is no definitive Taqwacore sound, and some bands incorporate styles including hip-hop, techno, and/or musical traditions from the Muslim world. Examples of Muslim punk bands include Alien Kulture, The Kominas and Secret Trial Five.


1.8. Specific ideologies and philosophies Liberalism

Liberal punks were in the punk subculture from the beginning, and are mostly on the liberal left. Notable liberal punks second wave, mid-1990s to 2000s include: Joey Ramone, Fat Mike of NOFX, Ted Leo, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, Crashdog, Dropkick Murphys, Hoxton Tom McCourt, Jared Gomes of Hed PE, Tim Armstrong of Rancid and Tim McIlrath of Rise Against. Some punks participated in the Rock Against Bush movement in the mid-2000s, in support of the Democratic Party candidate John Kerry.


1.9. Specific ideologies and philosophies Libertarianism

Libertarian or right-libertarian punks advocate free market capitalism, a minimal government and private ownership of property. Joe Young of the band Antiseen, Exene Cervenka, Krist Novoselic founding member of Nirvana and Mojo Nixon have expressed support for libertarianism. Though originally a conservative, Michale Graves has shifted towards libertarianism in recent years.


1.10. Specific ideologies and philosophies Neo-Nazism

Nazi punks have a white nationalist ideology that is closely related to that of white power skinheads. Ian Stuart Donaldson and his band Skrewdriver are credited with popularizing white power rock and hatecore for its hateful lyrical themes, or Rock Against Communism. Nazi punks are different from early punks such as Sid Vicious and Siouxsie Sioux, who are believed to have incorporated Nazi imagery such as Swastikas for shock or comedy value.


1.11. Specific ideologies and philosophies Nihilism

Centering on a belief in the abject lack of meaning and value to life, nihilism was a fixture in some early punk rock and protopunk. The Sex Pistols were central to the association of punk and nihilsm, with the Trouser Press Record Guide writing that their "confrontational, nihilistic public image and rabidly nihilistic socio-political lyrics set the tone that continues to guide punk bands." However, researcher Neil Eriksen argues that though "much of the critical realism expresses cynicism and nihilism, it does serve to question existing relations in such a way that listeners are forced to think about what is being said", so that overt rejection of meaning is primarily concerned with challenging existing values.


1.12. Specific ideologies and philosophies Situationism

The Situationist International SI was an early influence on punk subculture in the United Kingdom. Started in continental Europe in the 1950s, the SI was an avant-garde political movement that sought to recapture the ideals of surrealist art and use them to construct new and radical social situations. Malcolm McLaren introduced situationist ideas to punk through his management of the band Sex Pistols. Vivienne Westwood, McLarens partner and the bands designer/stylist, expressed situationist ideals through fashion that was intended to provoke a specific social response. 15% Pus and DUST, subversive 1990s Manchester bands, staged psycho-geographic walks around Hulme and created human collages from road signs as part of what became known as psycho-spectre. Jamie Reids distinctive album cover artwork was openly situationist.


1.13. Specific ideologies and philosophies Socialism

The Clash were a blatantly political punk rock band, introducing socialism to the punk scene. Clash frontman Joe Strummer said of his socialist views "I believe in socialism because it seems more humanitarian, rather than every man for himself and Im alright jack and all those asshole businessmen with all the loot. I made up my mind from viewing society from that angle. Thats where Im from and theres where Ive made my decisions from. Thats why I believe in socialism." Some of the original Oi! bands expressed a rough form of socialist working class populism - often mixed with patriotism. Many Oi! bands sang about unemployment, economic inequality, working class power and police harassment. In the 1980s, several notable British socialist punk musicians were involved with Red Wedge. Notable socialist punks include: Attila the Stockbroker, Billy Bragg, Bruce La Bruce, Garry Bushell until the late 1980s, Chris Dean, Gary Floyd, Jack Grisham, Stewart Home, Dennis Lyxzen, Thomas Mensforth, Fermin Muguruza, Alberto Pla, Tom Robinson, Seething Wells, Paul Simmonds, Rob Tyner, Joe Strummer, Ian Svenonius, Mark Steel and Paul Weller. Neil Eriksen wrote in 1980: ". we feel that elements of punk rock fulfill a revolutionary cultural function".


1.14. Specific ideologies and philosophies Straight edge

Straight edge originated in the Washington, D.C. hardcore punk scene with the Minor Threat song "Straight Edge" written by frontman Ian MacKaye and guitarist Brian Baker. Straight edge involves abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, and recreational drug use. Some who claim the title straight edge also abstain from caffeine, casual sex and meat. Those more strict individuals may be considered part of the hardline subculture. Unlike the shunning of meat and caffeine, refraining from casual sex was without question a practice in the original straight edge lifestyle, but it has been overlooked in many of the later reincarnations of straight edge. For some, straight edge is a simple lifestyle preference, but for others it is a political stance. In many cases, it is a rejection of the perceived self-destructive qualities of punk and hardcore culture. MacKaye has often spoken out against others labeling themselves as being Straight edge, which was never his intentions for it being a label but it became a movement one in which he became annoyed with. Notable straight edgers: Tim McIlrath, CM Punk and Davey Havok.


2. Criticism of punk ideologies

Punk ideologies have been criticized from outside and within. The Clash occasionally accused other contemporary punk acts of selling out, such as in their songs "White Man In Hammersmith Palais" and "Death or Glory". Crasss song "White Punks on Hope" criticizes the late-1970s British punk scene in general and, among other things, accuses Joe Strummer of selling out and betraying his earlier principles. Their song "Punk is Dead" attacks corporate co-option of the punk subculture. Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra wrote many songs, such as Nazi Punks Fuck Off, criticizing aspects of the punk subculture: "Punk aint no religious cult Punk means thinking for yourself You aint hardcore cos you spike your hair.”

Misfits frontman Michale Graves, who cofounded the Conservative Punk website, argued that punks have become "hippies with mohawks". However, he has since distanced himself from conservatism.

The English Maoist organisation, the Progressive Cultural Association published a tract called "Punk Rock Is Fascist", which says punk rock is part of a reactionary plot to spread fascism by diverting youths energy away from revolutionary activities. They also claim punk acts as part of the divide and rule stratagem of American imperialism by creating both a Generation gap and pitting youth against each other. One of its founders, the classical composer, Cornelius Cardew, called The Clash "Reactionary".

In their book The Rebel Sell, Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter argue that counterculture politics have failed, and that the punk understanding of society is flawed. They also argue that alternative and mainstream lifestyles ultimately have the same values.


3. Bibliography

  • Garofalo, Rebee, Rockin The Boat: Music and Mass Movements, South End Press, 1991 ISBN 0-89608-427-2
  • OHara, Craig, The Philosophy of Punk, AK Press, 1999 ISBN 1-873176-16-3
  • Sinker, Daniel, Owe You Nothing, Punk Planet: The Collected Interviews, Akashic Books, 2001 ISBN 1-888451-14-9
  • Taylor, Steven, False Prophet: Fieldnotes from the Punk Underground, Wesleyan University Press, 2003 ISBN 0-8195-6667-5