[News] "Power to the People" The Lost John Lennon Interview
news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Dec 8 18:10:52 EST 2006
December 8, 2006
"Power to the People"
The Lost John Lennon Interview
By TARIQ ALI
and ROBIN BLACKBURN
Editors' Note: It was twenty-five years ago today that John Lennon
was murdered outside the Dakota building on Central Park West in New
York City. We doubt many CounterPunchers have read the following 1971
interview with Lennon done by CounterPunchers Tariq Ali and Robin
Blackburn. It's a lot more interesting that the interminable Q and A
with Lennon done by Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner. Tariq and Robin
allowed Lennon to talk and spurred him on when he showed signs of
flagging. Lennon recounts about how he and George Harrison bucked
their handlers and went on record against the Vietnam War, discusses
class politics in an engaging manner, defends country and western
music and the blues, suggests Dylan's best songs stem from
revolutionary Irish and Scottish ballads and dissects his three
versions of "Revolution". The interview ran in The Red Mole, a
Trotskyist sheet put out by the British arm of the Fourth
International. As you'll see, those were different days. The
interview is included in Tariq Ali's
Years, recently published by Verso. AC / JSC
Tariq Ali: Your latest record and your recent public statements,
especially the interviews in Rolling Stone magazine, suggest that
your views are becoming increasingly radical and political. When did
this start to happen?
John Lennon: I've always been politically minded, you know, and
against the status quo. It's pretty basic when you're brought up,
like I was, to hate and fear the police as a natural enemy and to
despise the army as something that takes everybody away and leaves
them dead somewhere.
I mean, it's just a basic working class thing, though it begins to
wear off when you get older, get a family and get swallowed up in the system.
In my case I've never not been political, though religion tended to
overshadow it in my acid days; that would be around '65 or '66. And
that religion was directly the result of all that superstar
shit--religion was an outlet for my repression. I thought, 'Well,
there's something else to life, isn't there? This isn't it, surely?'
But I was always political in a way, you know. In the two books I
wrote, even though they were written in a sort of Joycean
gobbledegook, there's many knocks at religion and there is a play
about a worker and a capitalist. I've been satirising the system
since my childhood. I used to write magazines in school and hand them around.
I was very conscious of class, they would say with a chip on my
shoulder, because I knew what happened to me and I knew about the
class repression coming down on us--it was a fucking fact but in the
hurricane Beatle world it got left out, I got farther away from
reality for a time.
TA: What did you think was the reason for the success of your sort of music?
JL: Well, at the time it was thought that the workers had broken
through, but I realise in retrospect that it's the same phoney deal
they gave the blacks, it was just like they allowed blacks to be
runners or boxers or entertainers. That's the choice they allow
you--now the outlet is being a pop star, which is really what I'm
saying on the album in 'Working class hero'. As I told Rolling Stone,
it's the same people who have the power, the class system didn't
change one little bit.
Of course, there are a lot of people walking around with long hair
now and some trendy middle class kids in pretty clothes. But nothing
changed except that we all dressed up a bit, leaving the same
bastards running everything.
Robin Blackburn: Of course, class is something the American rock
groups haven't tackled yet.
JL: Because they're all middle class and bourgeois and they don't
want to show it. They're scared of the workers, actually, because the
workers seem mainly right-wing in America, clinging on to their
goods. But if these middle class groups realise what's happening, and
what the class system has done, it's up to them to repatriate the
people and to get out of all that bourgeois shit.
TA: When did you start breaking out of the role imposed on you as a Beatle?
JL: Even during the Beatle heyday I tried to go against it, so did
George. We went to America a few times and Epstein always tried to
waffle on at us about saying nothing about Vietnam. So there came a
time when George and I said 'Listen, when they ask next time, we're
going to say we don't like that war and we think they should get
right out.' That's what we did. At that time this was a pretty
radical thing to do, especially for the 'Fab Four'. It was the first
opportunity I personally took to wave the flag a bit.
But you've got to remember that I'd always felt repressed. We were
all so pressurised that there was hardly any chance of expressing
ourselves, especially working at that rate, touring continually and
always kept in a cocoon of myths and dreams. It's pretty hard when
you are Caesar and is saying how wonderful you are and they are
giving you all the goodies and the girls, it's pretty hard to break
out of that, to say 'Well, I don't want to be king, I want to be
real.' So in its way the second political thing I did was to say 'The
Beatles are bigger than Jesus.' That really broke the scene, I nearly
got shot in America for that. It was a big trauma for all the kids
that were following us. Up to then there was this unspoken policy of
not answering delicate questions, though I always read the papers,
you know, the political bits.
The continual awareness of what was going on made me feel ashamed I
wasn't saying anything. I burst out because I could no longer play
that game any more, it was just too much for me. Of course, going to
America increased the build up on me, especially as the war was going
on there. In a way we'd turned out to be a Trojan horse. The 'Fab
Four' moved right to the top and then sang about drugs and sex and
then I got into more and more heavy stuff and that's when they
started dropping us.
RB: Wasn't there a double charge to what you were doing right from
Yoko Ono: You were always very direct.
JL: Yes, well, the first thing we did was to proclaim our
Liverpoolness to the world, and say 'It's all right to come from
Liverpool and talk like this'. Before, anybody from Liverpool who
made it, like Ted Ray, Tommy Handley, Arthur Askey, had to lose their
accent to get on the BBC. They were only comedians but that's what
came out of Liverpool before us. We refused to play that game. After
The Beatles came on the scene everyone started putting on a
TA: In a way you were even thinking about politics when you seemed to
be knocking revolution?
JL: Ah, sure, 'Revolution' . There were two versions of that song but
the underground left only picked up on the one that said 'count me
out'. The original version which ends up on the LP said 'count me in'
too; I put in both because I wasn't sure. There was a third version
that was just abstract, musique concrete, kind of loops and that,
people screaming. I thought I was painting in sound a picture of
revolution--but I made a mistake, you know. The mistake was that it
On the version released as a single I said 'when you talk about
destruction you can count me out'. I didn't want to get killed. I
didn't really know that much about the Maoists, but I just knew that
they seemed to be so few and yet they painted themselves green and
stood in front of the police waiting to get picked off. I just
thought it was unsubtle, you know. I thought the original Communist
revolutionaries coordinated themselves a bit better and didn't go
around shouting about it. That was how I felt--I was really asking a
question. As someone from the working class I was always interested
in Russia and China and everything that related to the working class,
even though I was playing the capitalist game.
At one time I was so much involved in the religious bullshit that I
used to go around calling myself a Christian Communist, but as Janov
says, religion is legalised madness. It was therapy that stripped
away all that and made me feel my own pain.
RB: This analyst you went to, what's his name. ..
JL: Janov ...
RB: His ideas seem to have something in common with Laing in that he
doesn't want to reconcile people to their misery, to adjust them to
the world but rather to make them face up to its causes?
JL: Well, his thing is to feel the pain that's accumulated inside you
ever since your childhood. I had to do it to really kill off all the
religious myths. In the therapy you really feel every painful moment
of your life--it's excruciating, you are forced to realise that your
pain, the kind that makes you wake up afraid with your heart
pounding, is really yours and not the result of somebody up in the
sky. It's the result of your parents and your environment.
As I realised this it all started to fall into place. This therapy
forced me to have done with all the God shit. All of us growing up
have come to terms with too much pain. Although we repress it, it's
still there. The worst pain is that of not being wanted, of realising
your parents do not need you in the way you need them.
When I was a child I experienced moments of not wanting to see the
ugliness, not wanting to see not being wanted. This lack of love went
into my eyes and into my mind. Janov doesn't just talk to you about
this but makes you feel it--once you've allowed yourself to feel
again, you do most of the work yourself.
When you wake up and your heart is going like the clappers or your
back feels strained, or you develop some other hang-up, you should
let your mind go to the pain and the pain itself will regurgitate the
memory which originally caused you to suppress it in your body. In
this way the pain goes to the right channel instead of being
repressed again, as it is if you take a pill or a bath, saying 'Well,
I'll get over it'. Most people channel their pain into God or
masturbation or some dream of making it.
The therapy is like a very slow acid trip which happens naturally in
your body. It is hard to talk about, you know, because--you feel 'I
am pain' and it sounds sort of arbitrary, but pain to me now has a
different meaning because of having physically felt all these
extraordinary repressions. It was like taking gloves off, and feeling
your own skin for the first time.
It's a bit of a drag to say so, but I don't think you can understand
this unless you've gone through it--though I try to put some of it
over on the album. But for me at any rate it was all part of
dissolving the God trip or father-figure trip. Facing up to reality
instead of always looking for some kind of heaven.
RB: Do you see the family in general as the source of these repressions?
JL: Mine is an extreme case, you know. My father and mother split and
I never saw my father until I was 20, nor did I see much more of my
mother. But Yoko had her parents there and it was the same....
YO: Perhaps one feels more pain when parents are there. It's like
when you're hungry, you know, it's worse to get a symbol of a
cheeseburger than no cheeseburger at all. It doesn't do you any good,
you know. I often wish my mother had died so that at least I could
get some people's sympathy. But there she was, a perfectly beautiful mother.
JL: And Yoko's family were middle-class Japanese but it's all the
same repression. Though I think middle-class people have the biggest
trauma if they have nice imagey parents, all smiling and dolled up.
They are the ones who have the biggest struggle to say, 'Goodbye
mummy, goodbye daddy'.
TA: What relation to your music has all this got?
JL: Art is only a way of expressing pain. I mean the reason Yoko does
such far out stuff is that it's a far out kind of pain she went through.
RB: A lot of Beatle songs used to be about childhood...
JL: Yeah, that would mostly be me...
RB: Though they were very good there was always a missing element...
JL: That would be reality, that would be the missing element. Because
I was never really wanted. The only reason I am a star is because of
my repression. Nothing else would have driven me through all that if
I was 'normal'...
YO: ... and happy ...
JL: The only reason I went for that goal is that I wanted to say:
'Now, mummy-daddy, will you love me?'
TA: But then you had success beyond most people's wildest dreams...
JL: Oh, Jesus Christ, it was a complete oppression. I mean we had to
go through humiliation upon humiliation with the middle classes and
showbiz and Lord Mayors and all that. They were so condescending and
stupid. Everybody trying to use us. It was a special humiliation for
me because I could never keep my mouth shut and I'd always have to be
drunk or pilled to counteract this pressure. It was really hell ...
YO: It was depriving him of any real experience, you know...
JL: It was very miserable. I mean apart from the first flush of
making it--the thrill of the first number one record, the first trip
to America. At first we had some sort of objective like being as big
as Elvis--moving forward was the great thing, but actually attaining
it was the big let-down. I found I was having continually to please
the sort of people I'd always hated when I was a child. This began to
bring me back to reality.
I began to realise that we are all oppressed which is why I would
like to do something about it, though I'm not sure where my place is.
RB: Well, in any case, politics and culture are linked, aren't they?
I mean, workers are repressed by culture not guns at the moment ...
JL: ... they're doped ...
RB: And the culture that's doping them is one the artist can make or break...
JL: That's what I'm trying to do on my albums and in these
interviews. What I'm trying to do is to influence all the people I
can influence. All those who are still under the dream and just put a
big question mark in their mind. The acid dream is over, that is what
I'm trying to tell them.
RB: Even in the past, you know, people would use Beatle songs and
give them new words. 'Yellow submarine' , for instance, had a number
of versions. One that strikers used to sing began 'We all live on
bread and margarine' ; at LSE we had a version that began 'We all
live in a Red LSE'.
JL: I like that. And I enjoyed it when football crowds in the early
days would sing 'All together now'--that was another one. I was also
pleased when the movement in America took up 'Give peace a chance'
because I had written it with that in mind really. I hoped that
instead of singing 'We shall overcome' from 1800 or something, they
would have something contemporary. I felt an obligation even then to
write a song that people would sing in the pub or on a demonstration.
That is why I would like to compose songs for the revolution now ...
RB: We only have a few revolutionary songs and they were composed in
the 19th century. Do you find anything in our musical traditions
which could be used for revolutionary songs?
JL: When I started, rock and roll itself was the basic revolution to
people of my age and situation. We needed something loud and clear to
break through all the unfeeling and repression that had been coming
down on us kids. We were a bit conscious to begin with of being
imitation Americans. But we delved into the music and found that it
was half white country and western and half black rhythm and blues.
Most of the songs came from Europe and Africa and now they were
coming back to us. Many of Dylan's best songs came from Scotland,
Ireland or England. It was a sort of cultural exchange.
Though I must say the more interesting songs to me were the black
ones because they were more simple. They sort of saidshake your arse,
or your prick, which was an innovation really. And then there were
the field songs mainly expressing the pain they were in. They
couldn't express themselves intellectually so they had to say in a
very few words what was happening to them. And then there was the
city blues and a lot of that was about sex and fighting.
A lot of this was self-expression but only in the last few years have
they expressed themselves completely with Black Power, like Edwin
Starr making war records. Before that many black singers were still
labouring under that problem of God; it was often 'God will save us'.
But right through the blacks were singing directly and immediately
about their pain and also about sex, which is why I like it.
RB: You say country and western music derived from European folk
songs. Aren't these folk songs sometimes pretty dreadful stuff, all
about losing and being defeated?
JL: As kids we were all opposed to folk songs because they were so
middle-class. It was all college students with big scarfs and a pint
of beer in their hands singing folk songs in what we call la-di-da
voices-'I worked in a mine in New-cast-le' and all that shit. There
were very few real folk singers you know, though I liked Dominic
Behan a bit and there was some good stuff to be heard in Liverpool.
Just occasionally you hear very old records on the radio or TV of
real workers in Ireland or somewhere singing these songs and the
power of them is fantastic.
But mostly folk music is people with fruity voices trying to keep
alive something old and dead. It's all a bit boring, like ballet: a
minority thing kept going by a minority group. Today's folk song is
rock and roll. Although it happened to emanate from America, that's
not really important in the end because we wrote our own music and
that changed everything.
RB: Your album, Yoko, seems to fuse avant-garde modern music with
rock. I'd like to put an idea to you I got from listening to it. You
integrate everyday sounds, like that of a train, into a musical
pattern. This seems to demand an aesthetic measure of everyday life,
to insist that art should not be imprisoned in the museums and
galleries, doesn't it?
YO: Exactly. I want to incite people to loosen their oppression by
giving them something to work with, to build on. They shouldn't be
frightened of creating themselves--that's why I make things very
open, with things for people to do, like in my book [Grapefruit].
Because basically there are two types of people in the world: people
who are confident because they know they have the ability to create,
and then people who have been demoralised, who have no confidence in
themselves because they have been told they have no creative ability,
but must just take orders. The Establishment likes people who take no
responsibility and cannot respect themselves.
RB: I suppose workers' control is about that...
JL: Haven't they tried out something like that in Yugoslavia; they
are free of the Russians. I'd like to go there and see how it works.
TA: Well, they have; they did try to break with the Stalinist
pattern. But instead of allowing uninhibited workers' control, they
added a strong dose of political bureaucracy. It tended to smother
the initiative of the workers and they also regulated the whole
system by a market mechanism which bred new inequalities between one
region and another.
JL: It seems that all revolutions end up with a personality
cult--even the Chinese seem to need a father-figure. I expect this
happens in Cuba too, with Che and Fidel. In Western-style Communism
we would have to create an almost imaginary workers' image of
themselves as the father-figure.
RB: That's a pretty cool idea--the Working Class becomes its own
Hero. As long as it was not a new comforting illusion, as long as
there was a real workers' power. If a capitalist or bureaucrat is
running your life then you need to compensate with illusions.
YO: The people have got to trust in themselves.
TA: That's the vital point. The working class must be instilled with
a feeling of confidence in itself. This can't be done just by
propaganda--the workers must move, take over their own factories and
tell the capitalists to bugger off. This is what began to happen in
May 1968 in France...the workers began to feel their own strength.
JL: But the Communist Party wasn't up to that, was it?
RB: No, they weren't. With 10 million workers on strike they could
have led one of those huge demonstrations that occurred in the centre
of Paris into a massive occupation of all government buildings and
installations, replacing de Gaulle with a new institution of popular
power like the Commune or the original Soviets--that would have begun
a real revolution but the French C.P. was scared of it. They
preferred to deal at the top instead of encouraging the workers to
take the initiative themselves...
JL: Great, but there's a problem about that here you know. All the
revolutions have happened when a Fidel or Marx or Lenin or whatever,
who were intellectuals, were able to get through to the workers. They
got a good pocket of people together and the workers seemed to
understand that they were in a repressed state. They haven't woken up
yet here, they still believe that cars and tellies are the answer.
You should get these left-wing students out to talk with the workers,
you should get the school-kids involved with The Red Mole.
TA: You're quite right, we have been trying to do that and we should
do more. This new Industrial Relations Bill the Government is trying
to introduce is making more and more workers realise what is happening...
JL: I don't think that Bill can work. I don't think they can enforce
it. I don't think the workers will co-operate with it. I thought the
Wilson Government was a big let-down but this Heath lot are worse.
The underground is being harrassed, the black militants can't even
live in their own homes now, and they're selling more arms to the
South Africans. Like Richard Neville said, there may be only an inch
of difference between Wilson and Heath but it's in that inch that we live....
TA: I don't know about that; Labour brought in racialist immigration
policies, supported the Vietnam war and were hoping to bring in new
legislation against the unions.
RB: It may be true that we live in the Inch of difference between
Labour and Conservative but so long as we do we'll be impotent and
unable to change anything. If Heath is forcing us out of that inch
maybe he's doing us a good turn without meaning to...
JL: Yes, I've thought about that, too. This putting us in a corner so
we have to find out what is coming down on other people. I keep on
reading the Morning Star [the Communist newspaper] to see if there's
any hope, but it seems to be in the 19th century; it seems to be
written for dropped-out, middle-aged liberals.
We should be trying to reach the young workers because that's when
you're most idealistic and have least fear.
Somehow the revolutionaries must approach the workers because the
workers won't approach them. But it's difficult to know where to
start; we've all got a finger in the dam. The problem for me is that
as I have become more real, I've grown away from most working-class
people--you know what they like is Engelbert Humperdinck. It's the
students who are buying us now, and that's the problem. Now The
Beatles are four separate people, we don't have the impact we had
when we were together...
RB: Now you're trying to swim against the stream of bourgeois
society, which is much more difficult.
JL: Yes, they own all the newspapers and they control all
distribution and promotion. When we came along there was only Decca,
Philips and EMI who could really produce a record for you. You had to
go through the whole bureaucracy to get into the recording studio.
You were in such a humble position, you didn't have more than 12
hours to make a whole album, which is what we did in the early days.
Even now it's the same; if you're an unknown artist you're lucky to
get an hour in a studio--it's a hierarchy and if you don't have hits,
you don't get recorded again. And they control distribution. We tried
to change that with Apple but in the end we were defeated. They still
control everything. EMI killed our album Two Virgins because they
didn't like it. With the last record they've censored the words of
the songs printed on the record sleeve. Fucking ridiculous and
hypocritical--they have to let me sing it but they don't dare let you
read it. Insanity.
RB: Though you reach fewer people now, perhaps the effect can be more
JL: Yes, I think that could be true. To begin with, working class
people reacted against our openness about sex. They are frightened of
nudity, they're repressed in that way as well as others. Perhaps they
thought 'Paul is a good lad, he doesn't make trouble'.
Also when Yoko and I got married, we got terrible racialist
letters--you know, warning me that she would slit my throat. Those
mainly came from Army people living in Aldershot. Officers.
Now workers are more friendly to us, so perhaps it's changing. It
seems to me that the students are now half-awake enough to try and
wake up their brother workers. If you don't pass on your own
awareness then it closes down again. That is why the basic need is
for the students to get in with the workers and convince them that
they are not talking gobbledegook. And of course it's difficult to
know what the workers are really thinking because the capitalist
press always only quotes mouthpieces like Vic Feather* anyway. [Ed.
Note: Vic Feather 1908-76 was General Secretary of the TUC from 1969-73.]
So the only thing is to talk to them directly, especially the young
workers. We've got to start with them because they know they're up
against it. That's why I talk about school on the album. I'd like to
incite people to break the framework, to be disobedient in school, to
stick their tongues out, to keep insulting authority.
YO: We are very lucky really, because we can create our own reality,
John and me, but we know the important thing is to communicate with
JL: The more reality we face, the more we realise that unreality is
the main programme of the day. The more real we become, the more
abuse we take, so it does radicalise us in a way, like being put in a
corner. But it would be better if there were more of us.
YO: We mustn't be traditional in the way we communicate with
people--especially with the Establishment. We should surprise people
by saying new things in an entirely new way. Communication of that
sort can have a fantastic power so long as you don't do only what
they expect you to do.
RB: Communication is vital for building a movement, but in the end
it's powerless unless you also develop popular force.
YO: I get very sad when I think about Vietnam where there seems to be
no choice but violence. This violence goes on for centuries
perpetuating itself. In the present age when communication is so
rapid, we should create a different tradition, traditions are created
everyday. Five years now is like 100 years before. We are living in a
society that has no history. There's no precedent for this kind of
society so we can break the old patterns.
TA: No ruling class in the whole of history has given up power
voluntarily and I don't see that changing.
YO: But violence isn't just a conceptual thing, you know. I saw a
programme about this kid who had come back from Vietnam--he'd lost
his body from the waist down. He was just a lump of meat, and he
said, 'Well, I guess it was a good experience.'
JL: He didn't want to face the truth, he didn't want to think it had
all been a waste...
YO: But think of the violence, it could happen to your kids ...
RB: But Yoko, people who struggle against oppression find themselves
attacked by those who have a vested interest in nothing changing,
those who want to protect their power and wealth. Look at the people
in Bogside and Falls Road in Northern Ireland; they were mercilessly
attacked by the special police because they began demonstrating for
their rights. On one night in August 1969, seven people were shot and
thousands driven from their homes. Didn't they have a right to defend
YO: That's why one should try to tackle these problems before a
situation like that happens.
JL: Yes, but what do you do when it does happen, what do you do?
RB: Popular violence against their oppressors is always justified. It
cannot be avoided.
YO: But in a way the new music showed things could be transformed by
new channels of communication.
JL: Yes, but as I said, nothing really changed.
YO: Well, something changed and it was for the better. All I'm saying
is that perhaps we can make a revolution without violence.
JL: But you can't take power without a struggle...
TA: That's the crucial thing.
JL: Because, when it comes to the nitty-gritty, they won't let the
people have any power; they'll give all the rights to perform and to
dance for them, but no real power...
YO: The thing is, even after the revolution, if people don't have any
trust in themselves, they'll get new problems.
JL: After the revolution you have the problem of keeping things
going, of sorting out all the different views. It's quite natural
that revolutionaries should have different solutions, that they
should split into different groups and then reform, that's the
dialectic, isn't it--but at the same time they need to be united
against the enemy, to solidify a new order. I don't know what the
answer is; obviously Mao is aware of this problem and keeps the ball moving.
RB: The danger is that once a revolutionary state has been created, a
new conservative bureaucracy tends to form around it. This danger
tends to increase if the revolution is isolated by imperialism and
there is material scarcity.
JL: Once the new power has taken over they have to establish a new
status quo just to keep the factories and trains running.
RB: Yes, but a repressive bureaucracy doesn't necessarily run the
factories or trains any better than the workers could under a system
of revolutionary democracy.
JL: Yes, but we all have bourgeois instincts within us, we all get
tired and feel the need to relax a bit. How do you keep everything
going and keep up revolutionary fervour after you've achieved what
you set out to achieve? Of course Mao has kept them up to it in
China, but what happens after Mao goes? Also he uses a personality
cult. Perhaps that's necessary; like I said, everybody seems to need
a father figure.
But I've been reading Khrushchev Remembers. I know he's a bit of a
lad himself--but he seemed to think that making a religion out of an
individual was bad; that doesn't seem to be part of the basic
Communist idea. Still people are people, that's the difficulty.
If we took over Britain, then we'd have the job of cleaning up the
bourgeoisie and keeping people in a revolutionary state of mind.
RB: ...In Britain unless we can create a new popular power-and here
that would basically mean workers' power--really controlled by, and
answerable to, the masses, then we couldn't make the revolution in
the first place. Only a really deep-rooted workers' power could
destroy the bourgeois state.
YO: That's why it will be different when the younger generation takes over.
JL: I think it wouldn't take much to get the youth here really going.
You'd have to give them free rein to attack the local councils or to
destroy the school authorities, like the students who break up the
repression in the universities. It's already happening, though people
have got to get together more.
And the women are very important too, we can't have a revolution that
doesn't involve and liberate women. It's so subtle the way you're
taught male superiority.
It took me quite a long time to realise that my maleness was cutting
off certain areas for Yoko. She's a red hot liberationistand was
quick to show me where I was going wrong, even though it seemed to me
that I was just acting naturally. That's why I'm always interested to
know how people who claim to be radical treat women.
RB: There's always been at least as much male chauvinism on the left
as anywhere else--though the rise of women's liberation is helping to
sort that out.
JL: It's ridiculous. How can you talk about power to the people
unless you realise the people is both sexes.
YO: You can't love someone unless you are in an equal position with
them. A lot of women have to cling to men out of fear or insecurity,
and that's not love--basically that's why women hate men...
JL: ... and vice versa ...
YO: So if you have a slave around the house how can you expect to
make a revolution outside it? The problem for women is that if we try
to be free, then we naturally become lonely, because so many women
are willing to become slaves, and men usually prefer that. So you
always have to take the chance: 'Am I going to lose my man?' It's very sad.
JL: Of course, Yoko was well into liberation before I met her. She'd
had to fight her way through a man's world--the art world is
completely dominated by men--so she was full of revolutionary zeal
when we met. There was never any question about it: we had to have a
50-50 relationship or there was no relationship, I was quick to
learn. She did an article about women in Nova more than two years
back in which she said, 'Woman is the nigger of the world' .
RB: Of course we all live in an imperialist country that is
exploiting the Third World, and even our culture is involved in this.
There was a time when Beatle music was plugged on Voice of America....
JL: The Russians put it out that we were capitalist robots, which we
were I suppose...
RB: They were pretty stupid not to see it was something different.
YO: Let' s face it, Beatles was 20th-century folksong in the
framework of capitalism; they couldn't do anything different if they
wanted to communicate within that framework.
RB: I was working in Cuba when Sgt Pepper was released and that's
when they first started playing rock music on the radio.
JL: Well hope they see that rock and roll is not the same as
Coca-Cola. As we get beyond the dream this should be easier: that's
why I'm putting out more heavy statements now and trying to shake off
the teeny-bopper image.
I want to get through to the right people, and I want to make what I
have to say very simple and direct.
RB: Your latest album sounds very simple to begin with, but the
lyrics, tempo and melody build up into a complexity one only
gradually becomes aware of. Like the track 'My mummy's dead' echoes
the nursery song 'Three blind mice' and it's about a childhood trauma.
JL: The tune does; it was that sort of feeling, almost like a Haiku
poem. I recently got into Haiku in Japan and I just think it's
fantastic. Obviously, when you get rid of a whole section of illusion
in your mind you're left with great precision.
Yoko was showing me some of these Haiku in the original. The
difference between them and Long fellow is immense. Instead of a long
flowery poem the Haiku would say 'Yellow flower in white bowl on
wooden table' which gives you the whole picture, really....
TA: How do you think we can destroy the capitalist system here in
JL: I think only by making the workers aware of the really unhappy
position they are in, breaking the dream they are surrounded by. They
think they are in a wonderful, free-speaking country. They've got
cars and tellies and they don't want to think there's anything more
to life. They are prepared to let the bosses run them, to see their
children fucked up in school. They're dreaming someone else's dream,
it's not even their own. They should realise that the blacks and the
Irish are being harassed and repressed and that they will be next.
As soon as they start being aware of all that, we can really begin to
do something. The workers can start to take over. Like Marx said: 'To
each according to his need'. I think that would work well here. But
we'd also have to infiltrate the army too, because they are well
trained to kill us all.
We've got to start all this from where we ourselves are oppressed. I
think it's false, shallow, to be giving to others when your own need
is great. The idea is not to comfort people, not to make them feel
better but to make them feel worse, to constantly put before them the
degradations and humiliations they go through to get what they call a
Tariq Ali is author of the recently released
Fighting Years (new edition) and, with David Barsamian,
of Empires & Resistance. He can be reached at:
<http://www.counterpunch.org/maiilto:/firstname.lastname@example.org>tariq.ali3 at btinternet.com
Robin Blackburn, a frequent contributor to CounterPunch, is the
former editor of <http://www.newleftreview.net/>The New Left Review
and author of the excellent history of the slave trade,
Making of New World Slavery and the new book from Verso
on Death: the Future of Pensions.
The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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