Tag Archives: politics

Oh Bondage Up Yours

X-Ray Spex and Black Slate gig in an abortion benefit, as reviewed in Spare Rib, issue 68, March, 1978.

National Abortion Campaign benefit

Girls in pink stilettos with pink plastic specs in their hair; clumps of boys pogo, shooting up and crashing heads together, staking out territory in front of the stage; a smattering of feminists commiserate “I feel about 70 – they all look so young.”
London’s Roundhouse was crammed on January 15 for NACPUNK – a benefit concert for the National Abortion Campaign, an amazing mixture of people and bands, with X-Ray Spex ‘top of the bill’. (New wave and women’s movement may resist stars, but Poly Styrene is quite a name!)
Sadista Sisters, on first, really piss me off – I suppose they’re sending up sexism with charades of musical entrepreneurs fucking queues of young hopefuls, but their anti-sexism is ambiguous, and so clumsy and slow. Between acts they alternate tough liberated songs with sweetening slush. Only the slapstick made me laugh, making grotesque tomato sandwiches to throw at the audience. And that’s been done before.
Dead Fingers Talk I did like, but some people had the same problems about the ambiguity of what they were doing. I’d been told in advance they were a gay men’s band, so I saw their song There’s Something Not Quite Right About Harry as strong satire. People round me seemed clear what it was about; one black leather heavy jeering ‘wankers’ and ‘queens’ at the band knew what he was afraid of. Only later I heard left-wing indignation that NAC had booked a queer-bashing band.
Black Slate played polished but predictable reggae, then X-Ray Spex bounced on – Poly Styrene in fifties suit, silver blue and knee-clinging, with a ribbon in her frizzy hair. “I don’t know about aborrrtions…” she drawled, ripping into her latest single Oh Bondage Up Yours. She’s got fantastic stage presence and witty lyrics:
When I put on my make-up
The pretty little mask, not me
That’s the way a girl should be
In a consumer society

The concert made loads of money – £2350 to get NAC out of the red (the bands all played for nothing) – and it drew a huge crowd. Politically it was a wasted opportunity – a few leaflets and posters would have helped, some badges for sale, a lurex ‘Woman’s Right To Choose’ banner over the stage. There were no clues it was a benefit, let alone what for, until one woman tried to make a speech near the end and got booed off – inevitably: speeches are boring. Only Rock Against Racism were at work outside, selling their paper Temporary Hoarding, complete with Poly Styrene interview.
Many feminists felt the event was out of their control: the Roundhouse ruled, men guarded the doors, put on the records, brought on the bands. I felt that too, but would have been glad that the music wasn’t just ‘ours’, the audience not just ‘us’ – if only we’d made clear who ‘we’ were.

Jill Nicholls


Izik Wittenberg

In June 1943 the Germans arrested two communist activists in Vilna. One of them, Kozlowski, broke under interrogation and admitted to having links to Yitzhak Wittenberg, the Commander of the United Partisan Organisation. These were Jewish partisans fighting the Nazis. On the 8th of July the SiPO (security police force created by the Germans in 1942 in occupied Lithuania) demanded that Jacob Gens, head of the Ghetto, arrest Wittenberg. On the 15th of July Gens summoned the UPO to a conference in his house. The Staff Command, including Wittenberg, arrived at midnight. During the meeting Lithuanian police entered the room and demanded to know which was Wittenberg. Gens pointed at Wittenberg and the Lithuanians handcuffed him and took him away. Members of the FPO attacked the Jewish police and the Lithuanians that were transporting Wittenberg and forcibly freed him. Wittenberg decided on a full mobilisation of the underground, distribution of weapons and manning the positions that had been predetermined for an emergency situation. Wittenberg himself went into hiding on the advice of his friends.
At 3:00 am Gens called the police, the heads of the work groups and the shtarke (“The strong ones” in the ghetto, some of whom were gangsters; they were a supplementary force to the police and were also active in smuggling) to the courtyard of the Judenrat. Rumours about the release of Wittenberg spread through the ghetto and many of the ghetto inhabitants came to the courtyard. Gens informed them that the Germans were threatening to enter the ghetto if Wittenberg was not arrested. Fearing that the ghetto would be liquidated, a hunt for Wittenberg began. A delegation from the ghetto leadership and public figures turned to the underground Command requesting that Wittenberg be turned in to save the rest of the ghetto. The Staff Command faced a difficult decision. On the one hand, they had reached a situation that could lead to an uprising, and on the other, the UPO members found themselves before a united public demanding Wittenberg’s arrest. UPO members were even physically accosted by the public.
The German’s ultimatum was postponed. Gens promised that he would try to free Wittenberg. During the day Wittenberg met with members of the Staff Command. The difficult situation in the ghetto was described to him. He considered suicide but according to Gens the Germans had demanded him alive. Once even the Communists in the ghetto demanded his arrest, Wittenberg accepted the decree. He gave his pistol to Kovner, appointed him leader and went out into the street.

Wittenberg’s prayer ‘Ich gehe’ (Yiddish – I Go) spread like thunder through the ghetto. Cries suddenly became silent. Jews began to swarm outside. Doors and windows were opened again.

Shmerke Kaczerginski, I Was A Partisan

Wittenberg turned himself in to Gens, was taken out of the ghetto by a side gate and delivered to the Germans. In the prison cell, he took poison and was found dead in his cell the following morning.

Following this episode many underground members abandoned the idea of an uprising and decided to leave for the forests. The pursuit of Wittenberg by the ghetto leadership in order to turn him over to the Germans had proven to the underground members that the majority of the Jews in the ghetto were not prepared to fight. Following stormy arguments, the UPO Staff Command decided that although for the most part they would remain in the ghetto, some members would begin leaving for the forests. The first group of UPO members to leave, left on the 24th of July 1943, numbered 21 members and was called “Leon” (Wittenberg’s pseudonym in the underground).

Shmerke Kaczerginski was a poet, communist and member of the UPO. He wrote this poem about Izik Wittenberg

Somewhere the enemy
Lies hidden like a beast
The Mauser is ready in hand,
Watch out – the Gestapo!
They’re leading a captive
At night – our Commander-in-Chief!

Night in the Ghetto
Was torn by lightning
“Beware!” warns a tower, a wall ;
Rescue our comrades
They’re with our Commander-in-Chief!

The night is foreboding
Death is lurking around us
The Ghetto, in fever and dread;
The Ghetto is restless
As Gestapo threatens
“Your commandant, or Death!”

Itzik then spoke up –
Words that struck like lightning
“Don’t take any risks for my sake
Your lives are too precious
To give away lightly.”
Proudly to his death went our Commandant!

Again, somewhere the enemy
Lies hidden like a beast;
My Mauser is ready in hand
My gun is my guardian,
Be you the liberator
Be you my Commandant now.

Izik Wittenberg

S’ligt ergets fartay-et
Der faynt, vi a chaye,
Der Mauzer er vakht in mayn hant;
Nor plutzim – Gestapo!
Es feert a geshmidtn
Durkh fintsternish dem Commandant!

Di nakht hot mit blitsn
Dos geto tseshnitn:
“Gefar!” Shrayt a toyer, a vant
Khaveyrim getraye
Fun keytn bafrayen
Farshvindn mit dem komendant…

Di nakht iz farfloygn
Der toyt- far di oygn
Dos geto es fibert in brand;
In umru dos geto –
Es drot di gestapo:
“Toyt, oder dem komendant”

Gezogt hot dan Itsik
Un durkh, vi a blits iz:
-“Ikh vil nit, ir zolt tsulib mir
Darfn dos lebn
Dem soyne opgebn!”…
Tsum toyt geyt shtolts der komendant

Ligt vider fartayet
Der faynt, vi a khaye
Kh’halt vider mayn mauzer in hant:
“Du bist bay mir tayer,
Zay du mayn bafrayer,
Zay du itster mayn komendant!”

Shmaryahu (Shmerke) Kaczerginski
Photo of Kaczerginski, UPO fighter.

Punk And Censorship

There’s a spat between Scouse punk band The Accelerators and Merseyside Women’s Action Group in the letters page of Spare Rib, 65, December, 1977.

Fascist Punk?
Dear Spare Rib,
Our experience of punk has been really bad. A local punk band, The Accelerators, offered to play at a benefit for two people who’d been busted, one of whom was in the women’s movement, so a lot of movement women were there. One of the band was wearing a patch on his clothes saying ‘All women’s libbers are cunts’. The volume of the music was so loud that there was no possibility of talking together. One of us went and tipped a pint of beer over the player’s head. She was attacked by the singer, as a result of which she had to have 20 stitches in her face. The band carried on playing and their music became even more aggressive. The women from the movement left.
Was one of us right in acting on her own initiative in such a situation? Some people saw it as a personal, not a political, act. It has been looked at as a trivial incident magnified out of all proportion by hypersensitive feminists. We don’t think that a band with such an anti-women attitude should be playing at alternative or left-wing events. If the band had displayed equivalent racist sentiments what would the reaction have been?
It seems difficult to discuss the relationship between direct sexism and the way music is performed. Still, we don’t think that the volume at which the music is played, the aggressiveness of the sound and rhythm and the violence in the gestures of the lead singer are separable from a contemptuous and subordinating attitude to women.
Just because something is against established authority doesn’t seem to us to mean that it should be regarded as progressive. For us, the sounds and mannerisms of punk rock are an expression of fascism in music and we want nothing whatever to do with it.
In sisterhood,
Anne Cunningham, Carol Riddell,
Liverpool 8.

… or just noisy rock ‘n’ roll?

Dear Spare Rib,
I play rhythm guitar with The Accelerators. On August 2, we played a benefit gig and several of the Merseyside Women’s Action Group (WAG) were present. Some of them persisted in haranguing the drummer’s girlfriend because of the sexy clothes she was wearing. He reacted by writing a slogan on his overalls, which read ‘All women’s lib. are cunts’.
In the middle of our first number, one of the WAG, Ms Tasker, walked onto the stage and poured a glass of beer over Brian, his drums, and a plugboard. He hit her once, and Chris, the singer, bundled her offstage. Some of her friends rushed forward, one of them wielding a mikestand. In the brief fracas Ms Tasker’s face was cut, either by the glass she was originally holding, or by one held by one of her friends. No-one in the band was holding a glass. We later learned that she had to have 20 stitches.
The WAG has been trying to make things hard for The Accelerators. They influenced the Merseyside Area Students Association to propose a motion to ban us from local colleges. Now a nationwide NUS ban is being requested. Isn’t democracy wonderful?
We were requested to play a benefit gig for Rock Against Racism (RAR) at a local pub. We arrived to find a picket line of feminists outside, urging people not to see the “sexist” Accelerators. All the wrangling delayed us and we didn’t get to play. The WAG may see this as a blow for women’s liberation, I see it as a blow against RAR and as a blow against rock’n’roll.
No-one in the band denies that the slogan Brian wore was offensive to some, but we refuse to let anyone dictate our individual opinions. We defend the right of the band to wear any slogans they want and will always abhor censorship, be it from Mary Whitehouse or extremist feminists. We see Ms Tasker’s act as physical censorship.
It is sad that the WAG’s campaign has totally ignored the music itself. My political stand is to play a dirty, noisy, rock’n’roll guitar. But the WAG wants to silence the band I play in. What a great step for women’s liberation.
Yours sincerely,
Liverpool 8.

Turning The Clock Back

A song, that’s sadly bang up to date, by Geordie singer Alex Glasgow (1935-2001).

Turning The Clock Back
(Alex Glasgow)

My granny tells me that she’s seen it all before
And at 94 she’s seen a thing or two
She’s seen the stockbrokers all sighing
And the speculators crying
And the millionaires relying on a war to pull them through

And they’re turning the clock back I can hear me granny say
Yes they’re turning the clock back and the working man will pay

My Gran remembers the way it used to be
with Baldwin and MacDonald in the chair
She fetched the soup from down the kitchen
Heard the speeches
Saw men marching
Read how Churchill brought the troops in
Which the papers said was fair

And they’re turning the clock back I can hear me granny say
Yes they’re turning the clock back and the working man will pay

My granny tells me that they’re at it once again
The nobs can’t get their profit quite as high
And Tom and Dick and Harry
Have forgotten that they carry
On their shoulders all the parasites
That sucked their bodies dry

And they’re turning the clock back I can hear me granny say
They may call it social contract but the working man will pay

My granny tells me that it’s getting very late
And we’ve got our silly heads stuck in the sand
She says she has a nasty feeling
We may very soon be reeling
From the evil dealing jackboots
As the Blackshirts haunt the land

And they’re turning the clock back I can hear me granny say
Yes they’re turning the clock back and the working man will pay

The Voice Of The People

This poem was published in The Northern Star and Leeds General Advertiser, 4 December, 1841. This was a Chartist newspaper published between 1837 and 1852, and best known for advancing the reform issues articulated by proprietor Feargus O’Connor. The paper published poetry from poets such as Shelley as well as poems sent in by working class readers.

The Voice of the People

Tis the voice of the people I hear it on high,
It peals o’er the mountains – it soars to the sky;
Through wide fields of heather, it wings its swift flight
Like thunders of heaven arrayed in the night.
It rushes still on, like the torrents wide roar;
And bears on its surges the wrongs of the poor.
Its shock like the earthquake shall fill with dismay,
The hearts of the tyrants and sweep them away.

Asian Girl

Breaking The Silence is a book of writing by Asian women put out by Centerprise in 1984. In it various women, identified only by their first name, wrote of their experiences. The work is in English as well as a handwritten in their mother tongue. There’s writing in Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi, Hindi, and Urdu.

When You Don’t Feel Like A Foreigner

It is never easy being a foreigner in a country; it is even more difficult when you don’t feel like a foreigner.

I am an Asian girl, originally from India, though I was born here in England 18 years ago. I live in relative comfort in an exceptionally nice area of town, with all the amenities and many of the luxuries at my disposal. I enjoy my life here and would find it difficult to imagine living in another country.

I think people in all spheres of life are bound to experience prejudice at one time or another, be it for their race, colour or creed but perhaps we are subject to prejudice in all these areas. I have found that there are two main types of prejudice, the kind that is expressed in loud explicit and often violent tones, and the other a more subtle though no less expressive type. The former I do not experience directly very often and as yet never in its violent form. It is intimidating to have to walk past a group of young ‘skinheads’ and suffer being called names such as ‘smelly paki’ or ‘chocolate drop’ or have to cross the road to avoid a group of older ‘skinheads’. I believe these human beings who look and sound as they do are as much a pest to English people as they are to us Asians.

The second form of prejudice is the type I encounter with my good friends. My best friends are all English and white. Phrases like ‘I don’t think of you as being an Indian, I mean you don’t smell of curry or speak with an Indian accent’. Often they astonish me in their naivety of thinking that all Indian are like that. Another interesting example of prejudice amongst friends is a conversation I had with a boy I was going out with at the time. He simply adored me and I him but he could not accept my being superior to him in any way. We were discussing our ‘O’ level results and although he did not do as well as me he insisted that had he worked harder or even worked at all he would have done better than me. I thought at first that this was because I was a girl, but from later conversations I realised that it was because I was an Indian girl.

Parental care, to all appearances , is much more protective and thus restrictive in Indian homes than English ones. From my own experience I find it extremely annoying especially since my friends are not treated in the same way. My parents insist on knowing where I am when I do out, though not necessarily who I am with, what time I will be home and how I am getting home. Whereas my friends are allowed to walk home after a party, although they must tell their parents at what time they’ll be home. Personally I find this an overprotective part of my parents’ nature, but of course, having spoken to many other Indian girls in my college this constitutes complete freedom in comparison to them. Naturally since most of us are influenced to a high degree by the views of our parents, maybe many of my own ideas are simply extensions of those of my parents and often my own ideas are in conflict with my friends.
Marriage of course is a major topic of conversation for girls of my age, since hopefully, within the next few years we all hope to be married. My friends find my marriage arrangements interesting because they are never sure whether or not a marriage is to be arranged for me. My views on this subject have changed over the years. Until a few years ago I felt arranged marriages to be very unromantic and I couldn’t understand how couples could be content with this arrangement. I then began speaking to girls who considered an arranged marriage to be acceptable, in some cases even desirable, Having increased in years and experience my views have been somewhat tempered. I now believe that, from reading recent statistics, ‘love’ marriages are not more successful than arranged marriages; however, I feel that I should have a complete choice in the man to whom I am to spend the rest of my life with, the chance to make up my own mind about the person I could be happy with, the freedom to decide my future be it right or the wrong choice.

Religion is a subject which many of us have no choice about. If one is born into Hindu, Muslim or Christian households, one is compelled to live by rules and traditions dictated by that religion. Personally I do not believe that religion is in any way a wonderful thing. Blind faith in anything is short-sighted but following traditions when they are not your true beliefs is perhaps worse.

I am an Indian girl in England and the conflicts this causes are sometimes quite frightening but I would rather live in England with all the faults than anywhere else.