Safety In Numbers / Kill Your Pet Puppy / CRASS

Once Were Punks

I’ve been reading The Story of Crass by George Berger (Omnibus, 2008). “The author”, according to the blurb on the back cover, “has written for Sounds, Melody Maker and Amnesty International among others”, and he reads like it too, unfortunately. I may write a review when I finish, but in the meantime, a few things stand out. One is the fact that, as Berger presents their ideas, they’re often incoherent. However, “Rimbaud denies the idea that Crass built up an ideology on the fly as people asked them about the meaning of ‘anarchy and peace'”. Secondly, the book makes reference to another, Anti-Fascist by Martin Lux (Phoenix Press, 2006; see also the Vice interview with Martin):

Martin Lux’s Anti-Fascist (Phoenix Press) is a hugely entertaining memoir about being a left-wing street fighter during that decade. He was a righteous and hyper-eloquent boot-boy who spent his spare time in the East End and travelling across the country in order to lay into the steel-capped “Ubers” who were marching in favour of repatriation. Lux is particularly cruel to those around him, “the bourgeois feminists, pacifists, lifestylists, revolutionary anoraks”, who favoured discourse over direct action: “This is the fuckin’ East End, not Hampstead!” He’s also hilariously unsentimental about the white working-class people he encounters: “Frenzied old bids brandished packets of Daz: ‘Washes Whiter Than White!’.” Another volume, this time on the 1980s, is hinted at on the final page: it can’t appear too soon.

The reference to Lux’s book emerges during a discussion of the fact that, over time, Crass gigs increasingly attracted unwanted attention from boneheads. One gig in particular, at Conway Hall in London in November, 1979, became infamous for violent clashes between boneheads from the British Movement, on the one side, and anarchists and members of the Socialist Workers Party, on the other. Berger quotes Bob Short on the period:

“I think the big difference is that in that era there was so much that you didn’t want to remember. I look at the period between ’78 and ’83/’84 as one of the few modern wars without correspondents. There was the birth of a thriving (and genuine) counter culture that almost completely eluded the possibility of corporate manipulation and takeover. Unfortunately, it was set against a backdrop of violence that most people I now know have little comprehension of.

The punk of ’76/’77 was a wild energy rush but by ’79 it had definitely split into a battle between the reactionary and the creative. The rise of the large squat estates created a genuine cultural identity. The rise of the British Movement gave it a dark mirror and a wolf at the door.”

Lots of punk kids had flocked to London and ended up living in squats, the exodus from the provinces becoming the beginnings of punk as a way of life and a movement. Often these squats would be viciously attacked by organised gangs of boneheads. Stories of gang rapes and people doused in petrol and threatened with being set on fire abound…

The punk squatters saw the reaction of Crass to the Conway Hall incident as a clear case of Crass being out in Epping and out of touch with their everyday lives in London. Some I’ve spoken to are incensed that Crass could even think [that those who fought the boneheads were in the wrong], given how heavy the violence was at the time…

Martin Lux: “I suppose in my heart of hearts the reaction following the Conway Hall bloodbath didn’t really surprise me, although I was taken aback for a while. After years of abuse, insults and cold-shouldering from many in the anarcho scene, it came as no great shock. Even so, it infuriated me. The group Crass and their support band The Poison Girls issued weighty statements. There were shock horror reports of the carnage in the Guardian and Time Out. The BM Nazis were treated as sacrificial lambs, despite them outnumbering us over two to one. We and our friends from the left were ‘Red Fascists’, a ‘Football Gang’, ‘their leaders appeared to be Scots’, even in the supposedly liberal press of the day a by-word for ‘nutter’. Such parochialism — even the Nazis would blush. The odium was heaped on me and others, but I withstood it with the usual fortitude, a couple of minor outbursts aside. After all, my critics would soon disappear into the halls of academia, respectability, the Labour Party, the media and property-owning classes. Fuck ’em.”

Following this incident, and the protagonists’ subsequent ostracisation from the anarchist and Socialist ‘establishment’, Martin Lux and his fellow ‘comrades at arms’ would go on to form Class War and Red Action/AFA, the respective histories of which have been since well documented.

On what became of the ‘squaddists’ from the SWP, see No Retreat | Fightdemback interview with Dave Hann, co-author No Retreat. As for Crass, they responded to the unexpected cancellation of their gig at Conway Hall by producing a statement which was re-printed in an issue of Kill Your Pet Puppy, a punk zine, along with a response, and a further reply by the band. On a related but somewhat cryptic note, see also: The Thought Criminals | The Rondos | T.H.U.G. | one two three four

In the meantime…

What are you going to do with your new ways?
What are you going to do with your new wave?
Maybe it’s that you no longer care
Now you’re so great
You’ve just got to stand there
Or were you never even bothered anyway
About the new wave

What about the new wave?
Did you think it would change things?

Here we all are in the latest craze
Stick with the crowd
Hope it’s not a passing phase
It’s the latest thing to be nowhere
You can turn into the wallpaper
But you know you were always there anyway
Without the new wave

What about the new wave?
Did you think it would change things?

It’s just safety in numbers

When it’s tricky, when it gets tough
When you need to feel that you’re good enough
All you pretty people who’ve been taken over
Had better start looking for your own answers
‘Cause there’s no safety in numbers anyway
Or in a new wave

What about the new wave?
Did you think it would change things?

It’s just safety in numbers

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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