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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Yes! Counter-Culture can be revolutionary

In the past I’ve used a few items of interest from Mike Ely and his site the Kasama project. Kasama focuses mainly on political strategy and the various revolutionary movements in the world today. What makes this article different is that he has taken a look at the 1960s – 1970s counter culture and pointed out that the culture itself had elements of rebellion and potential for revolution.
It just so happens that Ely has covered a topic I’m keen on. It overlaps between counter-culture currents and political rebellion. Here Ely talks about the New Left or new Communist Movements of the 1960s and 1970s and how the smart leftist joined in with the youth movement while others shunned or criticized it. There is no question that the music of the ‘60s – ‘70s played a part in opposing the Vietnam War. Country Joe McDonald sang his anti-Vietnam war song Feel Like I'm Fixing To DieRag at the Woodstock music festival while a few hundred thousand hippies sang along while smoking dope.
While using drugs may not be particularly revolutionary and most of the well known revolutionaries were not known for doing it, the police repression, and the constant lying about it was a real lesson in just how repressive the U.S. system could be. For some of us, it was a real eye opener. Strangely enough, communist leaders in the Soviet Union claimed the hippie movement was counter-revolutionary while right-wing people in the US claimed rock music and the counter-culture in general was a communist plot to ruin America. The hippies and communists were considered one and the same in the eyes of the older generation, even though most hippies were against getting involved in politics. That changed by the 1970s when it was almost impossible to be a freak (the later metamorphism of hippies to a more edgy less pacifist counter- culture figures). I personally started out taking an interest in the marijuana laws. Although that may have been self serving, I also took up the issue of capital punishment. In College I took up the issue of US support for the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi. I began to see that oppression of hippies and druggies were not the only thing our government oppressed. The more I studied politics the more I realized how repressive the laws were. Unions, workers rights, and the rights of people in smaller countries to determine their own destiny were constantly under attack by our government.
Simple things like nudity, which I was exposed to at Kansas University in Lawrence, KS were acts of liberation. I also began to realize that it was not just a coincidence that drugs, such as peyote, where religious symbols to Native American Indians and they represented a challenge to the religious hegemony by U.S. Christian leaders. Drugs might lead us away from Christianity, so they and the hippies that took them became enemies of the state, next to communists. All were seen as a challenge for those who wanted Christianity to remain the dominant religion of the United States.
Religion is a form of culture and it certainly has its roots deeply imbedded in US culture.
In the 1960s we had just come out of an error when conformity was a bed-rock for US culture. There were the beatniks, a counter-culture barely noticed by the rest of the country. By the 1960s, long hair, marijuana, hallucinogens and rock music helped develop a new culture. Even today the right-wing and the religious right are doing their best to re-write history so that the counter-culture that emerged almost two generations ago would be blamed for everything that has gone wrong in this country. As Ely points out, there were those leftists who rejected and distanced themselves from the counter-culture. What good did that do? I agree with Ely that this was a mistake. Anytime a new fad or youth culture questions the power structure, it is our opportunity to encourage them. We may have some of the answers to the youth of out society. That society has denied both questions and answers.
There are people on the right today who try to use the ‘60s and ‘70s counter-culture as an example of why young people should never question their country’s norms and rules. There have been drug addiction problems and sexual problems such as venereal disease. All change has its risks. It is our duty to encourage young people to question all rules, religious, political or cultural. -សតិវ អតុ

Here is Ely’s article:

by Mike E
August 4, 2010
“If we (as a new revolutionary movement) are not prepared to ‘get it’ when some new wave of alienation breaks, and if we are not prepared to see the positive factors within cultural explosions (and their intimate connection with political possibilities), and if we are not prepared to fuse our communist insights with such new radical social divergence emerging within growing pockets of new generations — then everything else we do now is a waste of time.”

by Mike ElyDave Palmer kicked off this discussion by saying:“I didn’t live in the 1960s, but it seems to me very tragic that Abbie Hoffman and people like him promoted the idea that drug use was somehow revolutionary. (To his credit, Hoffman discouraged the use of heroin and methamphetamine — but on the other hand, he also claimed that cocaine wasn’t addictive). Abbie Hoffman seemed to truly believe that the 1960s youth culture, including (and maybe even especially) the aspects revolving around drugs, presented a radical challenge to capitalist society. In fact, the 1960s youth culture was easily co-opted by capitalist society, and continues to be sold today. Meanwhile, I can’t help but think that the widespread use of marijuana and other drugs may have seriously reduced the revolutionary potential of US radicals in that time period.”I think it is hard for post-60s generations to “capture” for themselves the social meaning and impact of various 60s cultural forms.In themselves, long hair, worn clothes, smoking pot, public dancing, new forms of music (especially Black music and its descendants), traveling instead of careers, experiments with communal living, erosion of traditional sexual mores, saying fuck in public, the sense of getting back in touch with the natural …. they don’t all look sharply subversive , or that obviously connected with a revolutionary overthrow of an existing empire.But that is (in part) because they had a huge impact on the subsequent culture, and so (now) don’t look that shocking. You can’t recapture the shock of the new two decades later. It always just looks old. But we live history going forward — and we have to anticipate that there will be new, shocking and highly attractive ruptures (that in their initial content often don’t seem literally revolutionary).It is hard to re-capture today how threatening the Temptations could be. Or the idea of young white girls listening to Little Richard.

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Country Joe McDonald - "Feel Like I'm Fixing To Die Rag"

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