'Anger is a Gift': Post-Cold War Rock and the Anti-Capitalist Movement , in Jonathan C. Friedman (ed), The Routledge History of Social Protest in Popular Music, Routledge, 2013, pp198-210. (Chapter)

"'Anger is a Gift': Post-Cold War Rock and the Anti-Capitalist Movement", in Jonathan C. Friedman (ed), The Routledge History of Social Protest in Popular Music, Routledge, 2013, pp198-210. (Chapter)
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   Anger is a Gift: Post-Cold War Rock and the Anti-Capitalist Movement. Dr David Alexander Robinson, Edith Cowan University, Western Australia. It’s set up like a deck of cards They’re sending us to early graves For all the diamonds They’ll use a pair of clubs to beat the spades. ‘Freedom’, Rage Against the Machine. 1  “Capitalism kills … It is right to respond to overwhelming injustice with anger.”   Protestor against the Évian G8 Summit, 2003. 2   Introduction: On 30 November 1999 a new social movement debuted on the world stage, with more than 40,000 demonstrators disrupting the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Seattle. “The numbers and militancy of the protestors, and the innovative methods of organizing they used, took the authorities by surprise”, 3  and the public opposition helped ensure the meeting’s collapse. The transnational movement launched an important pattern of political struggle, regularly challenging meetings of neoliberal institutions through “boisterous and well-attended protest events”, 4  particularly over the following two years. Known as the ‘Anti-  Globalization Movement’, this outburst of activity was the early twenty-first century’s most significant social campaign, 5  and presaged the contemporary Occupy Wall St movement. The ‘Anti-Globalization’ moniker was always questioned by activists as unsuitable “for a movement that revels precisely in its international character”. 6  As David Graeber asserts, “Insofar as this is a movement against anything, it’s against neoliberalism … a kind of market fundamentalism … wielded largely through unelected treaty organizations like the IMF [International Monetary Fund], WTO or NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement]”. 7  Thus activists later adopted such titles as the ‘Alter-Globalization Movement’ and ‘Global Justice Movement’. Though neoliberals echo Margaret Thatcher’s dictum that ‘There Is No Alternative’, this movement reinvigorated debate about creating more socially, economically and ecologically just global processes. 8  At one level this movement was anti-capitalist in nature , not because all its members embraced explicitly anti-capitalist politics, but because it opposed core elements of the global capitalist system. 9  However, significant sections of the movement were also  self-consciously  anti-capitalist, drawing on Marxist and Anarchist traditions – Ronaldo Munck describing, “an anarchism that takes on board much of the Marxist analysis of the nature of global capitalism and the anti-corporate movement’s emphasis on consumerism”. 10  The movement’s explicitly anti-capitalist fraction also advanced the most incisive critique of neoliberalism, and a meaningful program for social change. T.V. Reed writes, “culture is always involved dialectically with the goings-on at the level of economics and politics, contesting for the meanings that can be made from … economic and  political event-texts”, 11  and indeed various musicians prefigured or later interpreted the  movement’s anti-capitalist politics. This is particularly true of rock music – always popular amongst youth counterculture because of its “undeniably antagonistic impulse”. 12  This chapter explores the anti-capitalist movement’s politics through predominantly American and British post-Cold War rock music - the definition of ‘rock’ liberally spanning from Folk Rock to Hip Hop and Electronica. Some thinkers periodize the Post-Cold War era as ending with the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, thus this study takes 1991-2008 as its scope. 13  Relevant lyrics from post-Cold War music are ‘sampled’ to explore key elements of anti-capitalist  politics and demonstrate their expression. This examination begins with the protest movement’s evolution, then surveys its perspectives on environmentalism, marginalized social groups, exploitation of the developing world (the Global South), war and domestic securitization, and finally anti-capitalist systemic critique. The term ‘Anti-Globalization’ is used when describing the diverse protest movement, and ‘anti-capitalist’ when discussing the anti-systemic fraction on which this study focuses.  The Music:   Robin Ballinger argues music is important politically because, “through its complex system of signification … [it shapes] awareness, individual subjectivity, and social formations. … [it] is a powerful site of struggle in the organization of meaning and lived experience”. 14  Music encourages individuals’ activity by helping them feel part of a coherent group, and reinforcing “movement values, ideas, and tactics … provid[ing] information in compact, often highly memorable and emotionally charged ways, both to educate new recruits and to refocus veterans”. 15  Political songs also work as propaganda for “potential recruits, opponents, and undecided bystanders”. 16  This study examines anti-capitalist lyrics on the   basis that, regardless of whether musicians identify completely with anti-capitalist politics, anti-capitalist activists are buoyed by political memes reflecting their core beliefs. Cultural theorist Lawrence Grossberg differentiates between, “oppositional rock … [that]  presents itself as a direct challenge or threat to the dominant culture … [and alternative rock, which] mounts only an implicit attack”. 17  This study surveys oppositional rock explicitly expressing politics congruent with anti-capitalist beliefs. While many songs voice a general social ennui , or vague rage against authority, countercultural revolt has been so highly commercialized that ‘rebellion’ and ‘revolution’ are “catchphrases of the new standard marketing strategy”. 18  Indeed, neoliberalism itself is a rebellion by capital against government impositions. So lyrics carrying unambiguous anti-capitalist memes are identified here to demonstrate core elements of that radical social critique. The extreme concentration of music industry ownership with a handful of corporations forces musicians to accept “the advertising, marketing, styling, and engineering techniques of increasingly uniform and narrow profit-driven criteria”. 19  However, this study addresses radical messages that have  entered popular circulation – corporations still cannot (completely) control “the meanings,  practices, and pleasures of listening, dancing, and partying at the site of consumption”. 20  As Vladimir Lenin remarked, ‘the capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them’.  The Movement:   The Anti-Globalization Movement srcinated in the late 1980s as neoliberal advocates  pushed to create regional free trade blocs in North America and Europe, limiting government regulation of national economies. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher “successfully  pioneered free-market policies… [and by] the end of the decade the world scene had become  highly favourable to the generalization of these innovations”. 21  The Canada-US Free Trade Agreement provoked Canadian opposition from 1988, and from the early 1990s European  protest grew against the Maastricht Treaty’s fiscal austerity and social cutbacks – the massive 1995 French general strike being the most dramatic example of this. Radiohead’s lyrics later embodied these popular doubts: “When I go forwards you go backwards and somewhere we will meet/ Riot shields/ Voodoo economics/ It’s just business/ Cattle prods and the IMF”. 22  Civil society campaigns continued to grow in Canada, the US and Mexico with NAFTA’s signing in 1992, though they would not prevent the treaty’s ratification – Rage Against the Machine (RATM) warning of its impact in their 1996 lyrics, “NAFTA comin’ with tha new disaster/ …Flip this capital eclipse/ Them bury life with IMF shifts”. 23  Parallel to these campaigns a guerrilla uprising in Chiapas, southern Mexico, coincided with  NAFTA’s implementation on 1 January 1994. Led by the enigmatic Subcomandante Marcos, the ‘Zapatista Army of National Liberation’ denounced NAFTA’s neoliberal agenda on  behalf of Chiapas’ poor indigenous people. 24  Geoff Eley writes that the rise of the Zapatistas was the, “founding event of recharged anti-capitalist political formation”. 25  Various RATM songs later celebrated the Zapatistas, praising the, “Southern fist/ Rise through tha jungle mist/ Clenched to smash power so cancerous/ A black flag and a red star/ … Tha masked screaming land or death”. 26  The WTO’s creation in 1995, and Multilateral Agreement on Investment negotiations to reduce international investment barriers, spurred campaigns against the WTO, World Bank and IMF. Activists, recognizing that neoliberal policies reinforced global corporate privilege and threatened established human rights, labor and environmental standards, successfully coordinated through new internet and email technology. 27  Anti-Flag later voiced their
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