What a shame
August 22, 2010 7:43 AM   Subscribe

An oral history of DIY pioneers CRASS - with details about the court battle that may soon mar 30+ years of advocacy for anarchism, permaculture, workers' rights, and free thinking.

A dispute between members over a proposed reissue series may, improbably, end up being resolved by the courts.

For anyone who was inspired by CRASS, Pat Graham's beautiful photos of Gee Vaucher and Dial House are a nice balm after the depressing last few pages of this article.
posted by ryanshepard (39 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Dial House looks worthy of its own post. Interesting stuff.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:52 AM on August 22, 2010


"Then Pete Wright showed up and said that he was fed up of playing in the folky band he was in. I think it was called Friends of Wensleydale or something like that. I’m not sure what they were singing about, probably trolls and Tolkien, things like that."

Soy milk out the nose.
posted by Beardman at 8:04 AM on August 22, 2010


A dispute between members over a proposed reissue series may, improbably, end up being resolved by the courts.

Shades of Dead Kennedys all over again...
posted by symbioid at 8:14 AM on August 22, 2010


Curious about the scientology connections referred to in the comments. Is this just bollocks?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:25 AM on August 22, 2010


I always liked their music, don't really care about arguments between them, and the photo link was really neat.
posted by Forktine at 9:15 AM on August 22, 2010


Anarchist movement dissolves in court battle, film at 11.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:39 AM on August 22, 2010


Great article, thanks.
posted by ciderwoman at 9:41 AM on August 22, 2010


Rob Newman did a standup routine about the time he went to a Crass show as a young teenager, and everyone got arrested after some trouble broke out.
Rob said that he was embarrassed to be seen being rescued from the police station by his middle class parents...until he saw that Crass had phoned their parents to come get them too.
posted by w0mbat at 9:41 AM on August 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


Glass houses, first stone and motes in eyes. Anyone who has run as hard, fast and beautifully as those men and women have for as long as they have is welcome to gloat for each mis-step.

"We know enough of the sickness of the world, we should be careful not to add to it through our own physical and mental exhaustion and ill health. We have all failed and we have all succeeded. This is no tail between the leg ending, but a proud, albeit painful and confused, beginning." - CRASS, In Their Own Words
posted by eccnineten at 9:43 AM on August 22, 2010 [8 favorites]


Thank you. This is just a brilliant journey down memory lane for me, even if it's a little saddening to hear they never did end up building their perfect consensus community..

It wasn't just the music on Crass's albums that was so amazing, it was the huge confronting posters, and books like A Series of Shock Slogans and Mindless Token Tantrums that came with them. It was stuff that felt like it gave both political and artistic spine to jumping up and down and being an angry teenager.

The fact that we had to smuggle the books and the posters into the country (or so we believed) made the message all the headier. Salad days!
posted by Ahab at 9:50 AM on August 22, 2010


...until he saw that Crass had phoned their parents to come get them too.

I can't help but picture a middle-aged dowager dressed for Sunday tea arriving with her valet.
posted by griphus at 10:25 AM on August 22, 2010


Isn't workers' rights the opposite of anarchy?
posted by gjc at 10:28 AM on August 22, 2010


Downstream Wikipedia trawling educated me about Steve Ignorant's involvement in Current 93. I never had an inkling.
posted by mwhybark at 10:29 AM on August 22, 2010


Also, according to wikipedia, the first reissue went out on Aug 16, 2010, so perhaps the dispute is resolved.

Review.

Purchase here or here. No Amazon availability yet at first trawl.
posted by mwhybark at 10:39 AM on August 22, 2010


gjc: "Isn't workers' rights the opposite of anarchy?"

gjc, you seem to not know the historical context of what anarchy means in political discourse (as opposed to the colloquial usage which is what you seem to be proposing).

Anarchism has its roots in the concept of workers ownership of the means of production. There's many different schools of anarchist thought on what this means and some schools that call themselves anarchist have gone so far as to be fundamentally unrelated to traditional anarchism (c.f. Zerzan and "Green Anarchy")

But the original proponents of Anarchism in the mid-19th century were counterparts to Marx in the sense that both sides believed in worker ownership, but the Anarchists explicitly denounced hierarchy in the formulation of this seizure of ownership. In fact, the term anarchy in this context means precisely "without-hierarchy". It doesn't mean no political organization. Merely that the organization needs to be decentralized. How this organization happened and the various levels/units that exercised this autonomy are the source of debate within anarchist thought, so you have people like Bakunin who believed in Anarchist-Communism, Kropotkin who believed in a sort of Guild Socialism and then the Anarcho-Syndicalists of the late 1800s/early 1900s with "leaders" like Emma Goldman. The first person to call himself an "anarchist" in the historical political contest was Pierre Proudhon who espoused a bit of a different, more moderate view of ownership of the economy in decentralized collective means (credit unions, co-operatives, etc...)

Anyone, please feel free to correct any misperceptions/labellings of my brief overview of the concept of anarchism...
posted by symbioid at 10:59 AM on August 22, 2010 [12 favorites]


Isn't workers' rights the opposite of anarchy?

It depends on who you ask, I guess, but many anarchist thinkers (e.g. Albert Parsons and Lysander Spooner) would likely have said "no".

In any case, CRASS seemed more interested in mutual aid than with wringing concessions from the state, and in showing - through direct action - how appalling the lives of many working people became under Thatcher.

Penny Rimbaud, from the article:

[CRASS did] a benefit gig for the sacked miners in Aberdare. We went down in the van as we usually did, loaded with bins of food because people were literally starving in those villages. It was inevitably raining, which it always does in those valleys, and it was just so sad, the sense of destruction and the sense of despair. There were lots of men who didn’t know what they were doing anymore. Lots of men who just didn’t know what had happened. It was horrible. And the gig was great and everyone enjoyed it, but it was still just so sad.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:03 AM on August 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


No, symbioid that's pretty accurate. Hell, anarcho-communism, which is descended from Kropotkin and Marx, is probably one of if not the most popular strain of anarchism in the last decade or so. The Zerzan/Black-ish "green anarchy" is a lot more prominent in a lot of ways, particularly since they tend to go for ecotage and so on, and "individualist anarchism", which is descended from folks like Lysander Spooner and Max Stirner, is fairly popular on the internet but, again, bears little resemblance to historical anarchism and is named "anarchism" because they think "Well, I don't like government, so I must be an anarchist!"

Historically, anarchism is the libertarian wing of the socialist movement, and a lot of the big advances in worker's rights in the first part of the 20th century had anarchists at the front of the lines and doing a lot of the organization- if you like the eight-hour day, thank the Wobblies!5
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:13 AM on August 22, 2010 [10 favorites]


Screaming Babies!
posted by Dr. Zira at 11:14 AM on August 22, 2010


until he saw that Crass had phoned their parents to come get them too.

What? Crass were from the generation just before the punks-- they were slightly jaded hippies before they started the band. Vi Subervsa, of the closely connected Poison Girls, was in her 40s.

A couple of friends filmed them for a documentary in 1983 and went out to the place where they lived (in the country) to find friendly people doing Tai Chi on the lawn. One of the guys mocked the scenester punks, talking about how he could walk down trendy roads in London and know they looked down on him as being far too 'ordinary', when in fact he was, you know, in Crass. I'm sure the jail anecdote was amusing in context, but it's not historically accurate. They'd all be pushing, or over, sixty by now.

The nature of your oppression is the aesthetics of our anger!
posted by jokeefe at 11:14 AM on August 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


Penny Rimbaud and Gee Vaucher were born in the 40's, but the rest of Crass were teenagers and in their twenties when the band began.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:17 AM on August 22, 2010


Wow, memory lane.

As a teenager in the 80s in suburban Orange County, CA, Crass blew my freaking mind. The Sex Pistols singing about anarchy was one thing, Crass was something entirely different.

Here, I'll type out a mail interview that was in Flipside (an LA area punk zine from the 70s and 80s) #24... errors were in the original, at least mostly.

Flipside: Did you go to schools, are you artists?
Crass: What is an artist?

F: How many Feeding of the 500 were sold?
C: About 50,000 Feedings were sold (We've reissued it as a second sitting on crass records since small wonder didn't want to do it anymore). The record company is doing well although there are times when we have to scrimp and scrape.

F: Explain: love, anarchy, and peace?
C: Anarchy does not mean chaos and disorder as so many people are quick to say it is, it's respect for ones self and others as human beings. So peace goes hand in hand with anarchy (I'm writing it very short here) and out of that must come love.

F: What do you think of hippies?
C: I try to see people as people and not labels, eg: hippies, skinhead, mod, punk, etc. I think most people are alright.

F: Where did G or whoever does all of the artwork become skilled?
G: Yes I did go to art school and like all such places it teaches fuck all. They're institutions to be used by you not you by them. It gives you space and time.

F:How did you manage to play in New York? Any plans on returning?
G: I lived in New York for a while some new contacts and fixed up some places as none of us wanted to deal with the usual clubs. We fixed up places like the Puerto Rican center and the original 57 Club, consequently the whole thing was an experience and one we won't repeat.

F: Does violence occur at your gigs? How do the kids respond?
C: We got some fights at gigs but only had a couple stopped because of it. Normally we can control it. People respond in different ways, some fight, some run, some people seem more able to handle a situation like that than others.

F: As perfect as anarchy sounds in ink, in reality some people are pigs. How do you propose to stop them from screwing it up?It seems that complete trust is a key, but we know that a lot of people are not trustworthy.
C: It's like, although you may offer someone trust and respect, it doesn't mean that they will give it back. Obviously a state of anarchy will never spring up overnight, so it's more individuals, in different places living in anarchic situations. Of course people will try to fuck it up, and that's the establishment, police, government, army, etc... Quite a battle. All I can do is keep trying.

F: Have you had any offers from major record companies? How does the band support itself?
C: We had an offer from Polydor the day after Small Wonders got in touch with us about doing a record, they offered us a 7 year contract with 250,000 pounds and 23,000 cash across the table. We didn't take it because all they wanted us for was our "rebel rousing stance". We are now in a position where we don't have to go out and pick bloody potatoes or decorate someones house anymore. We get 280 between 9 of us each week and we just about manage. Most of the finance, in fact, all comes from "Stations of the Crass", which is the only record we get a little profit from. All the rest of the other records goes on other stuff like magazines, more records, and that.

F: What exactly is ment by your Crass symbol?
C: Many people ask us about the symbol, basically it is a mix of the symbols of oppression. The church, the state the family into which a serpent is curled, the serpent will devour itself eating itself, eating its own tail, evil destroys evil, power corrupts, power destroys itself. Please don't imagine that we are pleased about the commercialization of the Crass, the t-shirts, armbands, etc. We have nothing to do with that. We still give away badges and believe that it's better to do things yourself. Making stencils is really easy and if you use car spray paint you can decorate your cars with your own design. Punk is ment to be about doing it your own way. Give the merchants a big V sign.
posted by Huck500 at 11:40 AM on August 22, 2010 [8 favorites]


Crass catalogue update on Southern Records' blog.
posted by NoMich at 12:02 PM on August 22, 2010


Poison in a Pretty Pill. Ah, this takes me back...
posted by jokeefe at 12:33 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


And Bata Motel from Penis Envy. My favourite.
posted by jokeefe at 12:38 PM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm excited for a remastered Penis Envy, but the whole "remastered Crass albums!" thing does remind me of something...
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:48 PM on August 22, 2010


Crass catalogue update on Southern Records' blog.

Thanks for adding this, NoMich - I'm glad this appears to have been resolved in-house and (hopefully) without lawyers.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:04 PM on August 22, 2010


Am I missing the "printer friendly" link, with the entire story all on one page? I'd love to load it into a reader for later (but not in ten pieces if I can help it.)
posted by salvia at 1:33 PM on August 22, 2010


Ok, back in 84' we had just sat through all 6 sides of Sandinista. We were all like "that english punk stuff blows compared to Black Flag or Dks."

Then someone said hey I have this Crass album on tape, 'Feeding of the 5000'.

It saved the day.

We couldn't find any Crass albums in Chicago, so a friend went to some store in NYC (if they don't have it no one will!). Came back with The Feeding, Stations, Penis Envy and Who can Smell Bullshit 2, he also found Ever Feel Like Killing Your Boss from the Feederz. All for like 40 bucks.

I was never the same after that.

I gave all my records to an ex girlfriend at one point, got them back like 15 years later, most of my punk stuff was gone, even the Crass. Thanks for the memories.

Then around '05 i got a hold of an old friend and she was like "I still have those Crass albums you hid with me, but I sold the Venom."

We still live together.
posted by Max Power at 4:14 PM on August 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


We were all like "that english punk stuff blows compared to Black Flag or Dks."

Admittedly most stuff blows compared to those bands. :D
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:17 PM on August 22, 2010


"I still have those Crass albums you hid with me, but I sold the Venom."

Talk about a bittersweet moment.
posted by NoMich at 4:30 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Talk about a bittersweet moment.

It broke my baboon heart.
posted by Max Power at 6:01 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sigh. The mileage that can be expressed in the tale of a few records, listenings, discoveries, and musical friendships over the years. The damn good bittersweet important miles.
posted by freebird at 9:09 PM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Great stuff.


I grew up through the anarcho punk scene in Eighties Britain (though towards the tail end of it), and, well, I have a t-shirt that says 'punk rock saved my life' and suffice it to say I really mean it.

I would be the last to deny the importance of what they did and the impact they had, the echoes of which, filtered out through the wider world, still play a part in my life going on for nearly thirty years later but looking back there is always an ambivalence about certain aspects of that that are very much tied to that particular place and time. These short coming became clear even a few years afterwards. I remember, very clearly, sitting round in a squat as the eighties turned into nineties (and my teens not long turned into my twenties) discussing the impact that Crass had had on our lives, and coming to realize that maybe dressing in black all the time and getting depressed because we believed the bomb might drop at any moment might not have been the healthiest thing to do to ourselves in our teenage years. (Still they were depressing times, and I still don't believe we were that far wrong about things despite the post cold war triumphalism that came about with the fall of the Berlin wall). So it was fascinating to read the two of them talking along the same lines.


When Margaret Thatcher came in, it all went up a notch. It was endless. Looking at horrible images, living in a horrible time, dealing with things like the Falklands War, the miners’ strikes, unemployment. It was a horrible time. There was violence at gigs; I was wearing black clothes all the time... (Steve Ignorant)

He never had a laugh; he never had a fucking adolescence. It was denied him by our hard line. I realize that now, I didn’t realize it at the time. I thought we were having fun, but Jesus what fun it was. (Penny Rimbaud on Steve Ignorant)



Folks might also want to read this amazing Blog post/autobiography extract from Little Annie (Anxiety) about turning up a Dial House, just as things were starting to get going, in a pair of High Heels straight out of New York, with no idea she was going to end up in the middle of the English countryside! There is some great stuff about the time (the early 80's) when Crass we starting up.



Curious about the scientology connections referred to in the comments. Is this just bollocks?


Its a bit weird, no? Somebody had (anonymously) added him to English Scientologists on Wikipedia but the only thing they were citing was a book of short stories.
I'm not sure it really matters either way if it's just John Loder's personal beliefs. Its not like they were stuffing adverts for Dianetics somewhere in the small prints of those fold out covers is it? The most that can be said is he might have given some of his own money to the Scientologists, the rest seems like shit-stirring and insinuation that can't be backed up by anything.


please feel free to correct any misperceptions/labellings of my brief overview of the concept of anarchism...
The basics are good, Symbiod, but the details are a little confused.

An anarcho-pedant writes:
It is Kropotkin who is the father of Anarchist Communism, Bakunin and his followers (in the First International) were known as collectivist, i.e. they believed in the direct ownership of industry by the workers. Emma Goldman is best described as just an Anarchist. She was associated, at least early on, with Propaganda by the Deed, which is pretty much the antithesis of anarcho-syndicalism with its belief in mass, rather than individual, action. As a side note it's perhaps better to talk about syndicalism in the American context, rather than anarcho-syndicalism. Though the IWW with its belief in One Big Union is close kin, form the bigging it has contained socialists such as Big Bill Haywood, and non-aligned militant unionists alongside anarchists form its beginnings, and continues to do so. Guild Socialism is most often associated with William Morris, who called himself a socialist, though his ideas are sometimes seen as close to Anarchism today. Of those mentioned its is probably Proudhon, with his belief in (Fourier-ist & Owenite) co-operatives, mutual credit and other common institutions who come closest. Proudhon was a Mutalist — he believed that workers were entitled to the full product of their labour . He envisaged a society where they would own the means of production, both individually and cooperatively. He did still believe in the market place and private property (though not private ownership of land , however, which distinguishes him from those that came afterwards, including Kropotkin & Bakunin.

posted by tallus at 4:14 AM on August 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


I might just have to re-buy Yes Sir, I Will. My favourite by far.

I recently re-listened to Eve Libertine's 2 solo albums, which I think are fabulous artsy projects.
posted by Theta States at 7:26 AM on August 23, 2010


I take syndicalism to be simply another spin on the core concept of socialism, which is that the workers control the means and outputs of their labor. It's less outright collectivist than what we usually think of when we think of socialism, but I think it's in the same family.

Also I think there used to be more inter-tendency solidarity and less specificity of terms; you hardly ever see the words "libertarian communism" these days, though they're all over anarchist writing from seventy to a hundred years ago.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:21 AM on August 23, 2010


Am I missing the "printer friendly" link, with the entire story all on one page? I'd love to load it into a reader for later (but not in ten pieces if I can help it.)
posted by salvia at 3:33 PM on August 22 [+] [!]

This may be of help

posted by jtron at 10:53 AM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I take syndicalism to be simply another spin on the core concept of socialism, which is that the workers control the means and outputs of their labor.It's less outright collectivist than what we usually think of when we think of socialism, but I think it's in the same family.

Oh definitely. It's a minor point I would argue that its roots lie in the labour movement that grew up alongside, and gave birth to the socialist one. It first arose from the need to organize, and the way this was done had political consequences, but it is not necessarily a politics first tradition in some ways. At its simplest Syndicalism is form the French word for trade unionism and came to denote labour organizing across industries in one big union (Industrial Uninonism) , as opposed to the tradition of many different trades based union (Crafts Unionism), typical of the UK, America and other English speaking countries (though America, of course, also has a syndicalist tradition arising in the Western Federation of Miners, who gave birth to the IWW, and in opposition to the AFL).

It is a distinction with important consequences. Craft unionism came to be associated with a kind of narrow factionalism in some cases. This is especially true of the historic union movement in the UK. In the weaving industry, in some places, there was one union for workers who worked with the warp, another with the weft. Famously The Sheffield Wool Shear Workers Union had only ten members. This lead to craft unions becoming pre-occupied with the narrow interests of their own members, even at the expense of other union workers (a fact often exploited by employers) and sometimes even workers in their own industry as people used a dependency on skilled labour to exploit the closed shop as a barrier to entry, in order to create job security for already employed workers and act as an upward pressure on wages.

By contrast, Labour unionism, almost by its very nature, acted to create a solidarity among workers, regardless of their trade, (defined against the boss class) something that was explicit in its program from the start.

Combine this with the growing realization through out the 19th and early 20th century that labour organizing on its own was not enough, political organizing was also needed, and things took off in a number of different directions — in the UK craft based unions gave birth to the Labour Party, while elsewhere the revolutionary syndicalist tradition arose at the turn of the 20th century, exemplified by the Spanish CNT but originating with the French CGT. (At the time they were dominated by anarcho-syndicalists, it is only later that they became heavily associated with the French Communist Party. This seems fairly typical as the different union confederations are seen as aligned with one particular political position or other — there is a Christian confederation for example — those these alignments do shift: different blocks have associated with the right/reformist tradition at different times, but this is not my area of knowledge).


Also I think there used to be more inter-tendency solidarity and less specificity of terms; you hardly ever see the words "libertarian communism" these days, though they're all over anarchist writing from seventy to a hundred years ago.

For sure. If I was pushed to define my political position these days (which tends towards the 'It's complicated Facebook relationship status) I'd say Libertarian Communist for something like these reasons.

Its possible that in recent years its become associated with the narrow 'Platformist' position (i.e. The Organizational Platform of Libertarian Communists or wannbe trot party for anarcho's if I'm being rude). Though the existence of libcom.org might suggest otherwise. They define themselves by an emphasis on the politics of solidarity, co-operation and mutual aid, calling themselves libertarian communists explicitly to include both class based anarchist strands such as anarcho-syndicalism and anarchist communism and the currents of ultra-leftism, left communism, autonomism, council communism etc (which is similar to how I would use the term).
posted by tallus at 5:07 PM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


This lead to craft unions becoming pre-occupied with the narrow interests of their own members, even at the expense of other union workers (a fact often exploited by employers) and sometimes even workers in their own industry as people used a dependency on skilled labour to exploit the closed shop as a barrier to entry, in order to create job security for already employed workers and act as an upward pressure on wages.

Oh, absolutely. That's a big part of why the anarchist IWW insisted on one big union of workers rather than the more popular, more factionalized model.


Libcom also has a really excellent library section on their website which has all kinds of interesting writings.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:07 PM on August 23, 2010


Wish I'd know about this when I created this post, so I'm adding it as an addendum:

There is No Authority But Yourself

Inspring 1 hr. documentary about Crass, with lots of great footage of life at Dial House.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:45 PM on August 24, 2010


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