Summaries of RSN events

Summary of RSN 4

The fourth meeting of RSN on 24 April 2013 featured talks by Nottingham Trent’s Cathy Clay and the University of Salford’s Elinor Taylor.

Elinor Taylor, a final year PhD student at the University of Salford (and RSN co-convenor) gave the first paper, entitled  ‘James Barke and the Popular Front: Communism, Scottish Nationalism, and the Spanish Civil War’.

Taylor’s paper drew on her doctoral research and discussed the relationship between the Scottish novelist James Barke and dynamics of communist politics in the 1930s. In particular, her paper sought to explore how Barke negotiated the ‘national turn’ in Communist politics introduced by the Comintern in the 1935. While for socialist writers like Edgell Rickword and Jack Lindsay the new popular front line opened a space in which to imagine a new Englishness, celebrating traditions of popular radicalism and resistance, the new line presented problems for leftist Scottish writers like Barke.

The discussion focused on two of Barke’s novels, Major Operation (1936) and The Land of the Leal (1939) to consider the differences in their relationships to Scottish history. These differences, Taylor argued, can be related to the outbreak of the war in Spain in 1936, just as Major Operation was about to be published. Overtly, The Land of the Leal seems the more conservative text, with its emphasis on a long history of struggle narrated through the formal paradigm of the family saga, as against the aggressively modern, experimental Major Operation.

Barke’s Major Operation is fiercely anti-nationalist: nationalism is a middle-class affectation figured as kitsch: he describes the ‘city folks’ with ‘their kilts and their bastard Gaelic’ drawing from their ‘peculiarly dull wit, a superficially attractive semi-Celtic tartan ragstore twilight’ (Major Operation, London: Collins, 1936, p.81). The novel does not imagine a national or nationalised solution to the crisis it depicts. Instead, the solution is obviously implied in the novel’s title: a massive and immediate intervention in the body politic: revolution. Taylor sketched the novel’s arguments to this end at the level of its form – the central plot of physical collapse and painful rehabilitation, and the regular figuration of Glasgow as an afflicted beast – and argued that were a sign of the novel’s ‘sustained dialogue’ with Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s novel Grey Granite (1935).

Taylor then drew on published letters and unpublished manuscripts held at the Mitchell Library to identify the way Barke’s thinking exhibits an interlocking of two issues: the national turn and the defence of the Spanish Republic. She described how Barke argued that it was against the traditions of Scotland to abandon the Republic at its time of need – a marked shift from his earlier line.

Finally Taylor turned to Barke’s 1939 epic of the Scottish working class, The Land of the Leal, which she described as ‘a history of Scotland that ends in Spain, but also a story of Spain that begins in Scotland’. She described the novel’s positioning of the war in Spain as the latest front in the working-class struggle that was both national and global. This in itself is quite a conventional proposition, and can be found elsewhere in the literature of the period. But what is most compelling in the novel is the way that the text suggests that the war in Spain is also a war for definition, for the meaning of class experience: the communist character Tom senses that:

‘Only now was his life having point and significance. But not only his own life. Now the life of his father and his mother might be fulfilled. They had toiled and laboured from the Galloway fields to the city itself – from one century into another. […] They had been exploited and victimised without ever understanding why and without being able to make any conscious effort to save themselves’. (The Land of the Leal, 1939; London: Collins, 1950, p.596.)

Taylor noted the rather strained, even hyperbolic feel to this passage, but also pointed out that through it Barke is attempting to resolve the contradiction between the national and the international. It maintains a kind of national emphasis: a connection to the land, and to the labouring of the land, in a particular place; and it’s crucially about family, about inheritance, while also accepting that those things cannot be fought for or won on home ground alone.

Cathy Clay’s talk — ‘Eleanor Farjeon’s “Weekly Crowd”: Work, Leisure and Socialist Politics in the Feminist Periodical Time and Tide’ — was exemplary in its handling of poetry in periodicals and the politics of print culture. As a poet Farjeon came into conflict with Time and Tide’s editorial policy on the subjects of socialism and war. For the periodical’s editors, the intersection of socialism and feminism in Farjeon’s poetry was a liability. Post 1922 there was an overt tension between feminism and socialism, which impacted on Farjeon’s position in the periodical. The poetry in her column ‘Weekly Crowd’ advocated pacifism, while its editorial line was that ‘war was the only way out’ of the dispute in Greece between 1919 and 1922. She was, however, extremely popular with readers, with one writing that her contributions were ‘worth the price of the whole paper’.

Another major flashpoint in the relationship between Farjeon and Time and Tide was the General Strike of 1926. The wealth of Lady Rhondda, Time and Tide’s owner, came from coal and the periodical was dependent on this wealth as it did not generate profit. Time and Tide was, unsurprisingly, unsympathetic to strikers and ‘Weekly Crowd’ did not appear in the periodical during the strike. Farjeon’s poems in which she expressed solidarity with the strikers were printed in this period, however, by the British Worker.

Clay’s analysis took into account the formal qualities of periodical culture and poetry. She argued that ‘Weekly Crowd’ functioned as a liminal space in Time and Tide with Farjeon’s poetry introducing a nineteenth-century oral aesthetic associated with radicals and the working class that was in tension with the editorial line. Changes in the periodical’s title banner, with the icon of Big Ben being reduced in size to make way for the depiction of a crowd on Westminster Bridge but later shifted back to prominence, reflected Time and Tide’s politics.

The Radical Studies Network will reconvene after the summer break with a seminar scheduled for October 23rd, when we will be hearing from three postgraduate researchers. Full details will be published soon.


Summary of RSN 3

The third Radical Studies Network Seminar (13th February) took a slightly different form from our previous events; rather than two academic speakers the seminar heard papers from two postgraduate students and two practicing artists grouped around the common theme of education. These three interventions together made for a really stimulating exploration of the meaning of education within a range of cultural formations.

Our first speaker, David Wilkinson, a PhD candidate the University of Manchester whose research concerns leftist post-punk, gave a paper entitled ‘Prole Art Threat: The Fall, The Blue Orchids and the Politics of the Post-Punk Working Class Autodidact.’

At the heart of post-punk, David argued, is a political struggle to define freedom and pleasure. David examined this through a discussion of The Fall and the Blue Orchids, both of whom were negotiated post-punk at the start of Thatcherism, signed to Rough Trade and, David argued, both expressed the interaction of traditionally working-class and residual hippie structures of feeling – though both in different ways.

The Fall‘s ‘Fiery Jack‘ is aware of the problems a particular version of ‘pleasure’ takes in a working-class culture without clearly rejecting it; indeed the lyrics seem to disavow social responsibility  and politics altogether, moving towards and egalitarianism coincident with the philosophy of the New Right (‘And put down left-wing tirades/ And the musical trades’). The lyrics echo Smith’s frustration with the attempt by Rough Trade’s ‘socialist’ principles, which to Smith amounted to priggish left-wing interference in the artistic process (‘What the fuck has it got to do with you? Just fuckin’ sell the fuckin’ record you fuckin’ hippy’ was his response). Smith’s caricature of Rough Trade’s management as naive and middle class, lazy and privileged, aligned with the neo-liberal stereotype of the ‘politically correct’ left.

In the work of the Blue Orchids, meanwhile, a complication of class stereotypes is in evidence. The influence of a residual working-class ideal of self-education. interacting with the residual influence of the hippie movement, crucial to their work.The Blue Orchids, by contrast, expressed what David described as ‘an alternative ethos of personal fulfilment.’ Formed by two former members of The Fall, Una Baines and Martin Bramah, the band’s influences included the Russian mystic G.I. Gurdjieff , the hippy movement and a faith in self-education, and mutual self-education, which combine to imbue their work with the quality of ‘a socialist ethics of flourishing.’ But the band were sceptical about the capacity of the state to deliver that type of fulfilling self-development, as exemplified in their ‘Bad Education‘.   The band’s self-educating approach – through which they could challenge material definitions of wealth – was aligned with an aesthetic that valued music for its own sake, as a source of freedom and pleasure, a feeling that made them more at home at Rough Trade than The Fall were. But paradoxically the comfort and the discomfort come from the same source: the Blue Orchids’s rejection of a commercial approach to art, on the one hand, and Mark E. Smith’s rejection of the meddling of what he saw as Rough Trade’s bourgeois socialists reflect both groups’ effort to defend the autonomy of their work.

Our next speaker was Matt Kavanagh, a second-year doctoral student at the University of Salford. Matt’s paper, ‘Class against Class and the Classroom: The CPGB, Teachers, and Education in Schools, 1929-33’, explored a question alluded to by David’s paper – the question of whether a radical education can take place within the education sysyem of the state. Matt’s paper contested a common assumption about the Communist Party of Great Britain’s attitude to education during its ‘Class against Class’ period, which is that the Party considered there to be no point in trying to reform the education system or develop any new pedagogical approaches during this era. Teachers played a prominent role in the CPGB since its inception: key members such as Ellen Wilkinson, Marjorie Brewer (later Pollitt), G.T.C Giles, Nan McMillan, and Ben Ainley were all schoolteachers.

Althogh this was a time when the cultural impetus in British Communist was in the direction of forming radical working-class organisations, such as the Workers Theatre Movement, rather than reforming existing institutions, Matt argued that there was an effort by Communist teachers to discuss and intervene in the established processes of education. Matt argued that the Communist-dominated Educational Workers League saw itself as concerned with the industrial politics of education – working conditions, salary cuts, etc. – rather than with questions of curricular content or pedagogy, but this was not its exclusive focus. Critics have tended to assert that these questions were not topics of discussion in British Communism at this time, but Matt’s paper disputed this; drawing especially on the Library’s holdings of The Educational Worker, journal of the Teachers’ Labour League/ Educational Workers League, he argued that discussion of content did take place. In particular, the question of how to oppose imperialist teaching was subject of much debate, activated particularly by opposition to the observance of ‘Empire Day’. Matt’s research suggests that the cultural and intellectual politics of this notorious period of British Communist history are more complex that is often supposed.

Finally, artists Ruth Beale and Amy Feneck spoke about their projects based on the Library’s holdings in a paper entitled ‘The Alternative School of Economics: Art Practice, Politics and Education’. Ruth and Amy described their interest in the way that histories are told and retold, and considered the role of artists in that process. Their exploration of self-education was stimulated by their explorations of the Library’s material, such as Eddie Frow‘s notebooks, and by their residency at Cove Park. Ruth and Amy described the parallel between the artist’s pursuit of their own path and the self-educator’s pursuit of knowledge, and described how these questions have becoming more prominent over the past decade, amounting to something of an ‘educational turn’ in art, and a renewed interest in such thinkers as William Morris, John Ruskin, and in Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society.

Ruth and Amy participated in an exhibition at the Jerwood Space, London, called ‘Now I Gotta Reason‘, co-curated by Grizedale Arts and Marcus Coates, showcasing work by artists who place themselves firmly within communities. The work was expected to be useful, to work within the existing activities run by the gallery, and to be managed collectively.  One way Ruth and Amy responded to this challenge was a series of study groups on the subject of money, using books from the Library as start points. Other projects included a weekly skills swap inspired by Robert Owen’s notion of ‘equitable labour exchange’. Topics of discussion included the nature of money, and alternatives to the present system, but also drew attention to the fact that economics is not routinely taught in schools. During the question and answer session there was a definite feeling that this lack of economic education is real problem, and an issue that those interested in radical education should consider.

Elinor Taylor

Summary of RSN2

We were pleased to see that for the second RSN seminar we retained a healthy audience, in terms of both numbers and the broader mix of people than seminars tend to attract. The new exhibition in the NALGO room of the WCML, ‘Snap! – my life in the Working Class Movement Library’, also made for a bright and interesting backdrop to discussion, and it attracted praise from attendees. You only have until Halloween to see it! Here are a few pictures:

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Joseph Maslen, ‘Confession to Contentment: Growing Old on the Left in Late-Twentieth Century Britain’.

Joe, of Edge Hill University, kicked us off with a talk on Margot Kettle’s project in the 1980s, interviewing Communists who had been born between 1910 and 1922. This was intended to counteract images of Communists in the 80s media, which she felt distorted the reality of their lives in the 30s. By asking that generation to reflect on and make sense of their youth, Kettle would offer her interviewees the opportunity to come together, and come to a ‘reckoning’ on their past. It was a structured process that was both public and private; personal and interpersonal, but for a public audience.

Kettle’s unspoken motivation, according to Joe, was towards the private and internal, specifically the confessional. As her project developed so too did an ambivalence towards its dual nature as both private and public. Her questions to interviewees encouraged a subjective and emotive response, and she was very choosy regarding publishers for the work. She became uncertain about the truth of project, which was her primary aim. She did not want the work to be ‘academic’: heavily footnoted and remote. This was not to be an ‘official history’ but conversations with people of that time. Was there an element of defensiveness, here?

Questions and answers:

As we might expect from an audience comprised of non-academics and academics, the talk resulted in discussion about the nature of Kettle’s project. Kettle was seen to be passionate about her interests, but was she intimidated by academic convention? Is this actually about a (not unrelated) issue: the status of the emotive within history? Kettle’s method produced personal and emotional testimonies: was this outside the scope of history as a discipline within academic circles at the time, and her work did not have a place in the academy for this reason? Did she have a novelistic bent that the work could have been channeled into, or is it more important to stake a claim for this content within history as it is practiced in Universities? Joe replied that it was a shame that academia in the 80s was not more open to this area, the ‘literariness and historicity of life stories’. Kettle was ahead of her time.

Was there evidence that interviewees wanted redemption? Joe saw contentment and evidence of enthusiasm in interviewees’ responses to Kettle’s questions. She also provided them with the opportunity to check the accuracy of her reportage; she was among her interviewees rather than above them. One question addressed this collaborative aspect, noting that Kettle used ‘we’ in her questions to interviewees, and established a collective identity by doing so. Joe noted that this identity excluded the Cambridge spies; Kettle used the phrase ‘ordinary boys and girls of the 30s’ to characterize that generation. The issue of sexuality was then raised, since the Cambridge spies were associated with homosexuality. Margot’s project didn’t address sexuality explicitly but the implicit focus was on heterosexual, monogamous relationships, since she interviewed married couples. ‘Corruption’ of the left made it vulnerable to homophobic critique, whereas Kettle was keen to stress the domesticity of Communism in Britain at that time.

Andy Merrifield, ‘The Enigma of Revolt: Occupy and Beyond…’

Andy, currently a Leverhulme Visiting Professor at the University of Manchester, opened his talk with noting that, unlike Kettle’s project on ‘dying happy’, his talk would be concerned with ‘living happy’. His old teacher, David Harvey, had published The Enigma of Capital, but the ‘enigma of revolt’ will be to understand the means by which revolt will be possible and the forms it can take. Andy saw a clear divide between the 60s and 70s: the Doors wanted the world and now, but the Sex Pistols thought that there was ‘no future’. The 80s saw the return of harmony in popular music, but also the Miners’ strike. Fredric Jameson’s Postmodernism was published, and on the left critical distance had been abolished. The current stance of the ruling class is to state that we are now in a ‘post-political’ position. It placates and absorbs protest, managing dissensus with the aim of preventing conflict.

For Andy, the problem is not the deconstruction of neoliberalism, as it is easy to do this using Marx’s texts, but how we might identify and challenge the agents of neoliberalism. The administration of power in this system is illusive; it is not clear who we might bring to account. In figuring out the enigma of revolt we should not enter neoliberal strongholds and demand our rights, because this is too rationalist. Neoliberalism as a doctrine is irrational and so we cannot approach it wearing our ‘Cartesian hats’. For Andy, the Occupy movement is different, demanding nothing but occupying symbolic sites. Its actions demonstrate that the supposed division between public and private is blurred; Zuccotti Park in New York is not, in fact, a public space but a private one.

Andy identified and labeled ‘archetypes of dissent’: professional revolutionaries, ‘secret agents’, ‘the 99%’, the ‘great escapees’, the ‘great refusers’ (such as Marcuse, and Bartleby in Bartleby the Scrivener), and ‘double agents’; the latter were foreseen by Marx in the Communist Manifesto. He stressed that rather than inhabiting only one of these identities, it was possible, even desirable, to ‘float in and out of them’. Movements that bring these archetypes together will have to figure out a way of relating them internally. If they are put together, in a process, then they have the capacity to create a cultural counter-flow of revolt. The concept of the ‘99%’ has a class aspect, though this becomes a division between a ‘ruling class’ and the multitude, rather than a ‘working class’ that Marx would recognize.

Questions and answers:

The first questioner suggested that the Zapatista movement saw the coalescence of the ‘archetypes of dissent’ that Andy identified. This was picked up by a later question on the Zapatistas, on its military aspects. Andy talked about their use of symbolic violence, that they are armed but this has a symbolic aspect. Another wondered about the role that anger and rage have to play in revolt. Andy thought it could be a little defeatist; rage is the ability to say no, and critical negativity is important, but we also need something positive and affirming. Rage internalized can become corrosive.

Another question related Andy’s talk to the work of Theodor Adorno, and wondered if Adorno had influenced his thought? Andy thought that Adorno was more of a cultural snob than himself, and that he prefers a more affirmative style. He prefers Herbert Marcuse, who he identified as a ‘great refuser’. In Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man, the ‘great refusers’ were outcasts but Andy thinks that, today, they are part of the mainstream: sub/multi employed, made redundant, with little to gain from the current system.

One question touched on the issue of class that Andy raised, asking if he saw a role in revolt for the working class rather than the ‘middle-class kids now disadvantaged’ who are a key part of the Occupy movement. What about the role of other forms of revolt, for example, urban rioting? Andy thought it’d be interesting to see who took part in both the summer riots of 2011 and occupy. He thought that dissent can go in different directions, it can be reactionary, though there is clearly energy to be tapped, a latent political constituency.

Jen Morgan

Summary of RSN1

On 25 April we had the first RSN event at Salford, hosted by the Working Class Movement Library. It proved to be an excellent venue; we were keen to have a broad mix of people forming the audience, and as a non-academic space it attracted people from outside universities. Numbers exceeded our expectations, and the NALGO room at the library was packed!

The first paper was given by Will Jackson of the University of Central Lancashire and Waqas Tufail of the University of Salford, on the subject of urban regeneration in Salford as the backdrop to the riots in the city last summer. The paper came out of their collaboration with Bob Jeffery, currently at Sheffield Hallam University. Together, they brought expertise in urban geography, political theory, and the politics of policing to bear on the event. The recent history of Salford was discussed; the deprivation of the ward of Langworthy was juxtaposed with the recent influx of capital to the city, as indeed it is in the geography of the city itself — deprived areas and pockets of affluence sit cheek by jowl. The dominant narrative of the riots as ‘shopping with violence’, as David Starkey had it on Newsnight, does not explain what happened in Salford. The Precinct is not populated with high-end brands such as Bang & Olufsen and yet it was the target of the rioters’ actions; if they had wanted to steal such items then Manchester city centre is extremely close, a fact not likely to be forgotten by Salfordians.

This relates to Zygmunt Bauman’s concept of ‘defective consumers’, which only partially fits the context of the Salford riots. Most Salfordians fail to consume property as well as other goods, and the polarisation of the city into vastly unequal areas is a result of choices made by the local elites and council, rather than, as Bauman has it, a free and politically uncontrolled play of market forces’ (2011). Working-class Salfordians are seen as ‘hindering the trajectory of regeneration’ and their presence must be managed. This stratification of the urban space has not been seen as inherently problematic by academics such as Tim Butler and Garry Robson, who propose that ‘tectonic social interactions’ serve to limit the potential for conflict. Different class communities exist and move along side one another and peace is maintained precisely because they do not mix. Will and Waqas argued that the opposite is the case, that the arrangement of populations tectonically produces such conflict as was evident in the riots, rather than being a ‘tension management strategy’.

The policing of communities in Salford is connected to this influx of capital and the construction of gentrified areas in the city, and is recognised as such by many of the city’s working-class inhabitants. The re-colonization of the city by the monied middle class results in social tensions, which are managed by police, producing resentment and more tension. This ‘fabrication of social order’, this creating of a milieu amenable to the needs of capital, is the historic role of the police. Will and Waqas concluded the paper by showing the audience clippings from local news archives, showing how these conflicts occur periodically, evidencing a pattern of social relations that is only continued by the summer riots, rather than them being a random and meaningless event.


The question and answer session showed how stimulating the paper had been, and the presenters were congratulated on such timely and necessary research. The first comment was about the need to situate this process historically; such gentrification is a contemporary example of ‘enclosures’, or ‘primary accumulation’ as Marx had it. The presenters agreed, saying that the process of gentrification considered historically contests the idea that neoliberalism is distinct from earlier forms of capitalism. There was a question on whether Will and Waqas had considered the opinions of participants in the riots, and what kinds of justification they offered for their actions. In response, they pointed to the archive material from 1981 which showed how police harassment was adduced in that context, too, as a reason for riots. This was linked back to their analysis of the police as having a particular role within capitalism, and the speakers were wary of working-class consciousness being viewed in terms of traditional formulations and hierarchical organisations. One comment drew a parallel between Salford and Derry in Northern Ireland; policing was thus seen to have a colonial dimension. The lack of jobs for local residents in the Quays development was suggested as important, in exposing the failure of the promise that the influx of capital would ‘trickle down’ to local residents. One questioner took issue with the speakers’ use of the term ‘working class’ as if working-class Salfordians were a homogenous group; not all of them had poor relations with the police. Will’s response was that they did not imagine the working class to be undifferentiated, but that it was crucial to retain the concept in order to understand the politics of the situation. Class is not dead, and it is indisputable that Salford has been polarised geographically along class lines. Police relations with local residents may be various, but the role of the police within capitalism is to maintain the social order that allows it to develop in a secure environment. Lastly, the idea that the riots were driven by gangs was dispensed with, as the police could not produce evidence of this at a recent discussion in Salford which had been organised by the Guardian and LSE.

Matt Worley’s paper, ‘Shot by Both Sides: Punk, Politics, and the End of Consensus’, addressed the relations between punk, youth culture, and political groups between the mid-70s and mid-80s. Youth cultures such as punk were a means of expressing fault-lines in the post-war consensus. Matt gave a definition of punk as music and cultural practices informed by the Sex Pistols: as opposing the status quo and rejecting status symbols, giving a voice for the disenfranchised, and committed to a DIY ethic and aesthetic. He went on to look at the ways in which various political groups on both the left and right saw potential in punk. In the summer of ’77, the Young Communist League published an open letter in Challenge, proposing that they and punks ‘get together […] to fight for their rights […] for the kids in Britain today, the situation STINKS’. It argued that music was only one channel in which dissent might be aired, punk had neglected the streets.

But the YCL was just one of many such organisations to court punk, or attempt to infiltrate its audiences. The SWP, the Young Socialists, the International Marxist Group as well as the National Front all saw potential in the anger and disaffection it expressed. Gigs were disrupted by competing political factions, and intimidation put an end to the career of at least one band. Matt argued that punk’s attraction for political groups lay in the breakdown of the post-war consensus, of which punk was a sign. The crumbling of consensus undermined the groups’ ideological suppositions, and they saw in punk a means of engaging with the disaffected youth.

The left was characterised by internecine struggles and tensions in the midst of a capitalist crisis; new sites of struggle were demarcated in which the ‘personal became political’. It was unclear to the Communist Party of Great Britainwhether punk was a potential site of class struggle, or gave expression of capitalist forces. The SWP saw punk as a cultural response to a capitalist crisis and sought to channel its energies into class struggle. Punk was an opportunity for women to challenge normative ideas of femininity, and masculine conventions in popular music. There were concerns that punk would drift into fascism, as its use of icons like the swastika suggested it might.

The right also saw potential in punk, and a constituency in its fans. While it had taken a conservative attitude towards culture, opposing non-modernist art forms with the ‘manifestations of the jungle’ and described punks as ‘freaks’, punks’ use of the swastika suggested that it might suit the purposes of the right. Even anti-fascist bands were recommended to the readers of far right’s magazines, and gigs were seen as recruiting grounds.

Matt argued that punk’s energy was generated from its contradictions, and refusal to commit to either left or right politics. It was fascinated by fascism as a lesson from history but it was also a source of tabooed material. To Johnny Rotten, the NF was ridiculous but the far left were condescending. Joe Strummer, likewise, refused to be recruited by the SWP, describing it as ‘dogma’. Howard Devoto was told by a friend he would be shot by both sides when the barricades went up. Punk, therefore, was formed by a dialectic that could only be threatened by a formal alignment with either left or right. It did provide an outlet for protest but in a reflexive fashion that was not consistent. Both left and right abandoned their strategies of trying to co-opt punk; the SWP abandoned music as a site of politics and the NF blamed its own degeneration on its focus on youth culture.


Matt’s paper was also well received, and resonated with the personal history of at least a couple of audience members! The first question was on the extent to which political groups’ contact with punk affected its lyrics. The answer was that some bands, like the Gang of Four, did use a Marxist lexicon in their lyrics, whereas other bands were wary of being used by ‘other forces’. One audience member noted that Chelsea had a song called ’Right to Work’, but Matt pointed out that it was in protest against a union stopping them from working rather than against unemployment! Another audience member was conducting research on post-punk and argued that it was part of a shift from the counter-culture to libertarianism, with youth culture eventually being co-opted by neoliberalism. He asked, was punk always negative in spirit? The record label Rough Trade showed how sometimes it tried to build an alternative. Matt quoted Jon Savage on the need to do something after the ‘No’, and that post-punk was perhaps doing that. One audience member was in the SWP and helped organise a carnival in 1978, after which, he argued, the NF never returned to Manchester. He claimed that the SWP were never confident that punk’s energy could be harnessed, saying that sometimes they wondered if punk was exploiting them, rather than the other way round, and that the politics could often get lost in events under the umbrella of Rock Against Racism. Matt’s research presented at this seminar will inform the forthcoming book, Anarchy in the UK: Politics, Punk and Society, 1976-84: we look forward to its publication.

We were pleased with how well the first RSN seminar went, and hope to maintain the energy and quality in subsequent events. Feel free to continue the debate in the comments box below, and submit abstracts to radicalstudiesnetwork[at] if you wish to present your work at future RSN events.

Jen Morgan