Let’s have a revolution for fun
New Statesman & Society 29th July 1994
Photographs by Dave Hendley
Awake. awake O sleeper of the land of shadows, wake! expand!
I am in you, and you in me, mutual in love divine:
Fibres of love from man to man thro’ Albion’s pleasant land.
William Blake: Jerusalem.
There is a place where Contrarieties are equally true
William Blake: Milton.
AS I’M writing this the first of many mountain-sized chunks of rock will be plunging headlong into the thick, gaseous stew of Jupiter’s swirling mass, sending a huge plume of matter and radiation into the Solar System. Everyone I know is talking about it. It may be the most important cosmic event of the last 2,000 years. My friend Joe, an Astrologer, tells me that the resulting explosions will release what he calls “Jovian forces” into the Solar System, by which he means peace, justice and natural goodness. Consciousness will change, he tells me. And he quotes the song from Hair to prove it: “When the Moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars, then peace will guide the planets, and love will steer the stars.” According to Joe this is pretty much the configuration as the cataclysm erupts.
What has this to do with politics? Everything.
The point is, Joe, who has never felt the need to express himself politically before, will be on the March and Rally against the Criminal Justice Bill on the 24th of July. As will assorted Pagans, Witches, Druids, Tarot-readers, Buddhists, Celtic tribes and English posses, travellers, ravers, dossers, space-cowboys, self-proclaimed gurus, pranksters, visionaries, poets, as well as the usual assortment of lefties, anarchists and professional protesters. A measure of Joe’s previous political involvement is a conversation we once had about a particular field that was threatened by a new by-pass. Joe wanted to stop the road. I suggested I could help him. “No thanks,” he said. “I’ll meditate in the field and create an invisible psychic barrier.” Joe has also been known to proclaim himself immortal.
Justice, peace and natural goodness. However you put it, whatever the rhetoric that leads up to it, whatever the structures of thought, justice, peace and natural goodness is what we all want and what we all need. And anyone who states these things as his or her principles, and acts upon them, is one of us. Simple.
To me this is the essence of the new politics. Here’s an analogy. It’s as if we’ve reached a cross-roads in human evolution, or in political life. There are a number of choices open to us, some of them exceedingly dangerous. It’s fairly pointless standing round debating how we all got here. What we need to do is work out where we go next. The world is full of rhetoric. Political, spiritual, scientific rhetoric. The first thing we have to admit is that we really don’t know all that much. It’s fundamental that there are people around us we can trust. Anyone can adopt a stance. What matters is the intention behind the words.
Joe is not a nutter, by the way – the usual description for anyone whose belief-structures are different than ours – he is perfectly sane, chases women, drinks beer, watches the Soaps like the rest of us. These are his beliefs, that’s all, just as Marxism is a belief, or the idea that we are all simply accidental lumps of matter running round like headless chickens with no other purpose than to reproduce and then die. Belief is one of the things that defines us as human beings.
Marxism is a belief, I said. Of course the Marxists would deny that. Marx himself, humanitarian though he was, was also deeply enamoured of the mythology of 19th century materialist science, and the idea that, one day, all things would be reduced to simple, non-contradictory laws. This in itself is a faith. In the 20th century science itself took us into areas where apparent contradictions exist concurrently. Is light formed of waves or particles? Depending on your point of view it can appear as either one or the other. In fact it is both at the same time. Are human beings distinguished by consciousness or production, asks Marx? And he answers the question: by production, by work. And from this first step the socialist movements that followed him proceed relentlessly along a line that takes us into work, work and more work. Cultural expression is an irrelevance and can be ignored. Joy, celebration, pleasure are the gaseous by-products of the digestive processes of labour: consciousness as fart.
– But does Marx really know that production is the distinguishing factor of human existence? Is work the only thing? –
My profoundest political revelation (is revelation the revolution of the mind?) came not during a strike, or at a committee meeting to discuss the future of socialism: it came at a rave. The event was held deep in the Sussex countryside, nestled high in the soft folds of a chalk escarpment, hidden away in a little bowl of land like a natural amphitheatre. We took our drugs and danced to the pulsing beat. I took my shoes off at one point to feel the cool grasses tickling my feet. The summer breezes bustled about my limbs, warm and relaxing, and tiny shivers ran up my spine. This was heaven, the perfect union of body and mind, of earth and air, of personal expression and communion with others. Some months later I went back to visit the place. There was no sign that anything had ever happened there.
– So what is work? –
The labour that the DIY crew put into the event was real enough. Planning it, shifting gear, clearing up afterwards. And the joyous expression of dance certainly cost a lot of energy. But what did we make on that occasion? Nothing but love.
But afterwards I knew, with an understanding that went deeper than the rational, that the land was truly mine, all of the land, all mine and all everyone else’s at the same time; that the land contained ecstasy, beauty, sensuality, love, and that the pulsing heart beat of the music was rippling through her body like a shiver and that she was being awakened by it. Take it or leave it: it is my belief.
OF COURSE Karl Marx’s theories are based in part upon his observations of the British Working Class during a crucial period of political and economic change. Frederick Engels actually owned a factory in Manchester and his Condition Of The English Working Class is a seminal work of 19th century social observation. But what is the most abiding contribution that the British Working Class have made to the state of Britain and to the world as a whole? Trade Unionism? To some degree, though we have seen how self seeking the leadership can be, and how fragile and inept the structures of economic dissent. The National Health Service? Perhaps, though the drug companies seem to do a lot better out of it than the rest of us. The Labour Party? At one time maybe, though the current fraternisation with the City of London – Champagne Socialism – makes you question where their loyalties really lie. Or is it something else? Isn’t there another thing that working class history has given us, not just the British people, but the world as a whole?
– I’ll tell you what it is: it is football. –
Of all the things formulated in the golden age of British Imperialism, when Britain was the world economic power, and the engineers of Birmingham and the cotton workers of Manchester were producing goods that would help reshape the world, the only thing that has lasted is football. And what working class community does not play football these days? And what is football but a strange ritual performance involving 22 men and a ball, surrounded by taboos and fetishes, on which the whole world’s hopes and fears are pinned, like an icon, like a religion? What is it but cultural expression?
Who is to say really what the earliest human beings were thinking when producing the first artefacts? Did they sing as they did so? Did they perform magical acts? When the first animal was brought down by the first arrow, did it feel like sport? And did they dance around the fire afterwards with the sheer joy of being alive?
Joy and labour are not separable things. Cultural expression and means of production are from the same source. Humanity is not a machine wedded to work but a living, breathing act of consciousness, expressive of joy. The world is a better place than we imagine.
The new politics arises precisely out of this awareness. People don’t go on demos these days, they celebrate. They don’t protest, they party. 23rd July, Hailli Sellasi’s birthday: the Kent Freedom to Party, Travel and Protest Campaign held a “Picnic against the Criminal Justice Bill” on Folkestone Pleasure Beach, including a March to Lobby Michael Howard’s surgery. Like so many of the events taking place in this current period it was characterised by a genuine party atmosphere. Dancing, drums, good natured banter, chants that owed more to their rhythmical qualities than to their content, whistles, war-whoops, a lot of noise: what you might call, in old fashioned terms “good vibes”.
THE main point was that people were enjoying it. It was fun. In a sense even the word “politics” is misleading. A substantial segment of the current movement would not see their actions in political terms at all. For them it is a spiritual commitment, to the Earth, our Mother. Theirs is an expression of love, of sorrow at the pain and joy at the beauty of our world. And their fundamental understanding is not that they are facing the blind structures of Capitalism, but manifest evil. There are black magicians out there, in control, behind the scenes, people who understand perfectly well the energy systems of the Earth and who are channelling dark energy to destroy her. For both sides materialism is a front, a myth that the rest of us have bought, Capitalist and Communist alike, and through which the secret societies manipulate our very thoughts.
Someone told me a wonderful story. Apparently George Bush is a member of a secret society called the Skull and Bones Club. George Bush’s father actually stole the skull of Geronimo, and even now acolytes drink from it in memory of the defeat of this celebrated nomad. But as part of the admission ceremony you have to lie naked in a black coffin with your genitals tied up with ribbon while you recite your sexual experiences to the assembled audience. Picture it: George Bush, future President of the United States of America, one day to become the world’s most powerful man, with the entire might of the US war-machine at his disposal, lying naked in a coffin with his genitals tied. Maybe this explains as well as anything the motives behind the Gulf War. I don’t care if the story is true or not. I’m only glad that someone told it to me.
And maybe there are Black Magician’s channelling negative energy into the Earth, who can tell? Better to be safe than sorry. And it’s in anticipation of this that the exponents of the new politics – the eco-warriors and pagan travellers of Little Solsbury Hill and Twyford Down – perform their own magic rituals. May 1st on Solsbury Hill, the Donga Tribe built a “Wicker-digger” from sticks, set fire to it, and leapt through the flames. July 2nd, Twyford Down: balls of wool (unfortunately some of them acrylic) were cast around the crowd to create a web of unity and to remind us of the sheep that have for centuries shaped the landscape.
– Gobbledegook, you say? Who cares? Fun, frolic and celebration in the sunshine, I say. –
But it goes further than this too. If through ritual magic we can free the human spirit, then it is more than mad frolics: it is essential to the progress of consciousness on this planet. Magic empowers, prayer diminishes. In magic you depend on yourself. In prayer you depend on the good will and intervention of a higher authority. The practice of magic is the psychological anticipation of a world of self-determination. The practice of prayer is the psychological reflection of this world of disempowerment. Again I cite the Donga Tribe. On July 2nd many of the women of the tribe were bare-breasted, and there was something absolutely extraordinary in this. Not the sight of breasts – we see these on beaches the world over, lying inert, soaking up the sun – but whole women, straight-backed and proud in a mixed crowd of generally clothed people, staring the world in the eye. I must admit it made me shy, like a little boy not knowing where to look. I caught one woman’s eye. She smiled at me and her eyes gave off little electric sparkles like a static charge, and I knew she knew exactly how I was feeling. The new politics is new because it is innovative and arresting and because it challenges all the assumptions we make about ourselves and others. It is more than politics, it is love.
– These women have no need of legislation or the censorship of Political Correctness. They prove themselves stronger than men in everything they do. –
I said the new politics isn’t really about politics. Actually it’s not even new. There’s a history there. It’s a culmination. The roots go back to the 60s (doesn’t everything?) and many of the elder statesmen of the current movement are happy to recite their 60s credentials. And if anyone doubts the historical relevance (resonance) of that decade, they only have to meet people too old or too emotionally restricted to have enjoyed those heady days when they were upon us. Prior to the 60s people may have had sex before marriage, but then they ran guiltily to the nearest registry office once the tests proved positive, and had to live through years of unhappy marriage as a consequence. Prior to the 60s people did not grow their hair, or come out openly as homosexuals, or experiment with lifestyles or drugs or political and communal options. They stayed within limits. And all of the emotional and sexual freedoms that we now cherish (loving friendships, partnership not ownership) have their roots in the sexual revolution that those years brought. Revolution is not too big a word. The world was changed as a consequence.
– Revolution, you see, is not necessarily about overthrowing governments. It can also describe abiding social and cultural change. –
One of the great qualities of that era was that politics was fun. It was full of scams and taunts and it mixed its metaphors no end. The Yippies tried to levitate the Whitehouse as a protest against the Vietnam war, and put up a pig for President. Oz magazine was irreverent and spooky and packed with wild graphics. Slogans were off the wall and witty with a sometimes strange resonance. One I remember came from the 68 Paris revolution. “Under the cobbles, the beach” it said. What does that mean? Partly, that beneath these civilised structures lies a simpler reality. But you can imagine some tripped-out revolutionary picking out a cobble to chuck at the lines of riot police, and finding the bedding sand beneath. “Wow, man: the beach!”
– The trouble with the 60s, though, is that they came to an end. –
As yet there was no distinction between the search for personal and political emancipation. The two things went hand-in-hand. Timothy Leary wrote a book called “The Politics of Ecstasy.” And there you have it: in a nutshell. Later the movement divided into what Tom Wolfe called the Me Generation and The New Left (Radical Chic). And it is this division we have lived with ever since. The New Left became ever more relentlessly Marxist and materialist until they were indistinguishable from the old left. The Me Generation – what became known as the New Age – turned to crystals, aromatherapy, Buddhist chants, and began to scorn politics altogether, as beneath them. Both approaches were flawed.
The movement fragmented. All you had left was lifestyles. Me: I’m into motorbikes and black leather and a girl with a tattoo on the pillion. Me: I’m into Transcendental Meditation and free love and I think I’ll open a carpet emporium. Me: I’m into Karl Marx and the revolution, and that cushy job as a sociology lecturer at the nearest red-brick university. Me: I’ve taken so many drugs I get lost in my own toilet. Me: I just give up.
But one thing held: the festivals. Glastonbury, the Windsor Free Festival, The People’s Free Festival, Stonehenge until ’85, as well as countless Albion Fayres, small gatherings the length and breadth of the British Isles. Punk came along, a new urban rebellious spirit, and rejected the hippies as Boring Old Farts. But even they joined in the end. Travelling became a lifestyle, moving from festival to festival during the summer months, scraping a degree of self-sufficiency and a suntan from these sterile Islands. Travellers were and still are the heart of the movement, whether as Hendrix-inspired psychedelic gypsies, or as politically motivated Mutant hordes, or as Crusties with a drug-habit: they kept the thing going.
Travellers have always had a political agenda, whether they know it or not. But it’s a negative agenda: rejection. The travelling lifestyle says simply: “Fuck your low paid jobs, your miserable, low-grade housing, your rooted, sedentary lifestyle, your Ping-Pong politics of deception, your wars, your poverty, your loneliness, your despair. I’m gonna get a bus and watch the sunset from a hilltop whether you like it or not.” Like the official propaganda on drugs, it just says no. I spoke to travellers on a wooded site somewhere in the South of England. I asked them why they travelled. “What’s the choice?” said one of the girls. “A crummy bedsit.”
Other things happened in the intervening years, of course. There was the Anti-Nazi League in the 70s, Peace Camps in the 80s, The Miner’s Strike of 84-85, the Poll-Tax Protests that brought down Thatcher. They all served to keep the rebellious spirit alive. But they were still all essentially negative. No to this, and no to that. The synergistic moment – to me – comes when rave meets the festivals and all heaven is let loose. All of a sudden the answer is yes. Yes, yes, yes, emphatically yes!
RAVE was and is about as non-political as you can get. If anything it was welded to the ideals of Thatcherism. Early Acid House party organisers made big bucks running illegal pay-parties in fields and warehouses. The so-called second summer of love in 88 was one long hedonistic binge. But it was joyful. It was spiritual. And it was positive.
What was first class about it is that these people really knew how to throw a party. The music was good: no more crap amateur bands trudging through pedestrian versions of ancient songs. New, interesting, vibrant sounds fresh out of the USA, a sampled amalgam of deep soul R’n’B and sparkling Salsa. The equipment was good: a 10k solid wall of sound to unfurl your intestines, rather than the Woolworth’s stereo with one blown speaker I remember. The effects were good: swirls of fractal images, smoke machines and lasers, rather than a single, naked red bulb and a Hendrix album cover. And the drugs were good too, of course: warm, heart-swelling MDMA, enough to make you fall in love forever… or until the next party, that is. No violence. No sexual rivalry. No meat-market. Just human beings, dancing and having fun.
– People say drugs are bad for you. But so’s living in a drab council estate with no money and no prospects. So are motorways. So is breathing their noxious fumes. –
The pay-parties became licensed Raves and entry fees went through the roof, and more and more people were excluded, until someone came up with the bright idea of doing it themselves. Only to discover that people had been doing it themselves for decades. Rave met the festivals. The party had just begun.
I often think of these events as like the Ghost Dance, the last ecstatic-despairing expression of the Native American Peoples before they gave in and crawled back to the miserable culture-crushing welfare-drudgery of the Reservations.
FROM the late-1880s to the mid-1890s the Indians danced. They danced and danced and danced. Danced to ecstasy, to drive the white man from the spacious plains, to bring back the buffalo, to shake off despair. In my romantic moments I imagine that the sounds of their footsteps have resonated ever since, to emerge in this great party spirit that unites us now: new tribalism, new communion, new consciousness. The Party party: political spirituality. Action Yoga, as a friend of mine puts it: emancipation of the self through collective action.
The only way to properly define the new politics is to compare it to the old politics. Politics was, and always will be, a dull affair. Committee meetings, endless wrangles, pompous, meaningless speeches, being forced to work with people you don’t like, and certainly don’t trust. Committees for this and committees for that. The EC of the GC. Strings of incomprehensible letters: EEC, RCP, TCP, DDT. And of course there’s always a certain person that loves all of this, who can tell you who was who on what committee in what year; eats, sleeps, dreams and dies by committee, and who scorns anyone who can’t hack it. Talking shops, talks about talks, and then talks to discuss the outcome of talks. In the end you give up. Anyway, what’s the point, nothing ever changes? A vote for Labour is a vote for yet another potential criminal to get his hands on the purse-strings. Can you really believe that the Labour Party, the Liberal Party, or any other Party will ever do anything, even if they have all the good will in the world? Do you really expect the super-rich to give away power because a Labour Prime Minister goes to them, cap-in-hand, to beg a few crumbs? Isn’t it far more likely that he’ll keep the crumbs for himself, or find a cushy little pay off for himself in Brussels even if he never gets to be Prime Minister? Democracy is about empowering someone else and then praying that they don’t turn out to be too corrupt.
The new politics is about self-empowerment. It’s about tribes not structures. What’s a tribe? A tribe is a network of friends who’ve gone through the same things as you. That way you know you can trust them. It’s intuitive, not legislative. People are “sound” because you sense they are, not because they show you a set of white teeth and say all the right things. More than at any time in my life I truly feel that I’m surrounded by my brothers and sisters.
That was the atmosphere on the March and Rally on the 24th. A mobile sea of humanity, all brothers and sisters, all beautiful. Someone shouted to a scowling police officer, “Smile, it doesn’t cost anything,” which merely deepened the scowl. I asked the officer what he thought when the guy had said that. “Same as I’m thinking now about you: go away!” But generally even the police were OK. Some sporadic violence, most of it more symbolic than real. A couple of hundred people attempted to force the gates of Downing Street, and actually managed to make the foundations creak. I saw only one arrest, someone who fell down on the wrong side of the gates and who was summarily punished by the quivering riot police as a consequence. Aside from that, just one long, happy party. I overheard someone on the tube. “You’re never too old to have a happy childhood,”he said.
The new politics is about change, it’s about freedom, it’s about liberty. “Freedom to travel, party and protest,” as my mate Tim has it. But freedom from want too, from oppression, from ridiculous waste. The CJB has united us through it’s ineptitude, it’s stupidity and it’s vicious petty-mindedness. But it shows simply and clearly the prejudices and hang-ups of it’s authors, and clarifies – for the first time for many people – that the government can be as out-of-control as any of us. If the government can’t govern wisely, why do we allow them to govern us at all? It leads us to question the very foundations of government itself.
I don’t mind saying it: we’re moving into a New Age. Either that or we’re all Party Lemmings dancing off the edge of the world. But at least we’ll die happy.
The new politics is about revolution. All that refers to is the cycle of change, the turning of the great wheel. This can be Buddhist or Taoist or anything you like. Either we change things or we’re finished. And there’s no time left for debates or factions or Royal Commissions on the state of the environment on nice fat salaries: jobs for the boys. Cars stop or we all stop. Society changes or there’ll be no society.
But it’s optimistic though. There’s a new spirit about, a new consensus. The road-protesters have shown us a way, ancient though it is, and with unity with the railway workers it could become an unstoppable force. The solution is non-violent direct action. Refuse to believe in the structures of madness any more. Just say no. And then afterwards, with your friends at the party, you can shout yes, yes, yes and dance till you drop!
As DH Lawrence put it in a poem titled A Sane Revolution:
If you make a revolution, make it for fun,
don’t do it in ghastly seriousness,
don’t do it in deadly earnest,
do it for fun…
Don’t do it, anyhow, for international Labour.
Labour is the one thing a man has too much of.
Let’s abolish labour, let’s have done with labouring!
Work can be fun, and men can enjoy it; then it’s not labour.
Let’s have it so! Let’s make a revolution for fun!