One of the few articles on punk that appeared in a leftist journal in the 1970s, this insightful and prescient piece by radical cultural critic Bruce Dancis holds up well today. He dissects the tensions between punk’s political potential and its nihilistic streak, and is particularly good about its ambiguous relationship to fascism, violence, and sexism. Also fascinating today is his documentation of the organized British left’s response to punk, beyond just the obligatory mention of Rock Against Racism. About punk he says:
“At its best, punk rock represents not only an energetic aesthetic attack on the dominant trends within popular music, but also a working-class protest against youthful unemployment, poverty, government censorship, authoritarianism, racism, fascism, the record industry, the star system, and the traditional performer/audience relationship. At its worst, punk is a manifestation of cultural despair and decadence, featuring nihilism, sexism, a glorification of violence and fascist imagery, sado-masochism, and musical incompetence.”
Dancis wrote for many years about music and politics, and his articles from In These Times from 1977 to 1981 are available here. This essay is reprinted with his permission.
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Bruce Dancis, “Safety Pins and Class Struggle: Punk Rock and the Left,” Socialist Review #39 (vol. 8, no. 3), May-June, 1978, pp 58-83.