Thursday, March 11, 2010

John Lennon and the radical Left

Early last month, the topic of John's tenuous relationship with the radical Left in the 1970s was briefly treated by Maurice Hindle, a British author and academic, and Mohammed Abbasi, a leftist blogger (and maybe much more; I'm not sure). Hindle wrote a piece for the Guardian arguing that, despite his flirtation with radical politics in the early '70s, John ultimately lacked the disposition and the necessary beliefs to be a committed participant in these groups. Though elements of the New Left tried to claim him, he simply didn't belong. He wasn't one of them. In the article, Hindle included this excerpt from John's Skywriting by Word of Mouth :

The biggest mistake Yoko and I made in that period was allowing ourselves to become influenced by the male-macho 'serious revolutionaries', and their insane ideas about killing people to save them from capitalism and/or ­communism (depending on your point of view). We should have stuck to our own way of working for peace: bed-ins, billboards, etc.

Hindle continues:
Lennon's primary gift was for writing and recording songs that communicate with millions in ways that no ideologically driven political creed – whether of the left or right – ever could.

In response, Abbasi wrote a blog post that doesn't really dispute the substance of what Hindle was asserting but merely affirms that John remained a man of the Left (even if not the radical Left) up until his death in 1980. Abbasi points out that John was a stalwart opponent of British imperialism in Ireland; he never retracted any of the utopian sentiments he expressed in "Imagine;" and he was no proponent of Thatcherism. This doesn't add up to a portrait of a radical leftist, but I don't know that Abbasi was necessarily trying to make that case. If he was, he came up well short.

He wanted to leave Britain because he and Yoko were repulsed by its provincialism and by the tenor of tabloid racism that was directed against her. I last spoke with him in 1979 when we discussed the likely impact of Thatcher’s victory. He didn’t sound too unradical in that conversation. If there is a record of it in some British intelligence archive, I would be grateful to see a transcript. Clearly, his views changed somewhat but I can’t see him as a neocon supporting the wars and occupations in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.

No, John would certainly not be a neocon if he was alive today. But to argue that he wouldn't be is to argue with a straw man. Hindle was only submitting that John wasn't a practicing radical, and this strikes me as a very reasonable conclusion.

For more on John's politics, read my analysis of "Revolution." I love this topic as a whole.

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