Rocking the State

As most of you know, we’re not allowed to say too much about what happened to us on our Eastern European tour back in ’85. But you don’t need to know about us. Obsessing about what Thee Faction did is akin to buying into some sort of ‘Great Men’ theory of history. We all know that’s not how it works. The shifting of the tectonic plates of history never comes down to individual agents. But it can come down to mass movements.

That’s why we recommend this book: Rocking The State – rock music and politics in Eastern Europe and Russia. It’s edited by Sabrina Petra Ramet and was published by Westview in 1994. Don’t know if it’s still in print – we got ours back in 1995.

The trick, when overthrowing regimes and systems, is to take over civil society first. Once you’ve got that, the state topples pretty painlessly. That, in a nutshell, is why most of the Central European revolutions in 1989 were fairly bloodless. Civil Society had been lost by the State in the decades leading up to 1989. In one of my favourite remarks by Antonio Gramsci he points out why the Bolsheviks had to attack the State in 1917, rather than win hearts and minds in civil society. There was no civil society:

“In the East the state was everything, civil society was primordial and gelatinous; in the West, there was a proper relation between state and civil society, and when the state trembled a sturdy structure of civil society was at once revealed. The state was only an outer ditch, behind which there stood a powerful system of fortresses and earthworks”

Rock music played a huge part in taking over the fortresses and earthworks of civil society in the years leading up to 1989. Civil society was still massively under-developed in Central and Eastern Europe – indeed, strip out the Anglo-Saxon propaganda of the time and you’ll see that very few people wanted a capitalist economy. They wanted freedom within civil society. Freedom to negotiate. Freedom to aggregate public opinion. Freedom to express themselves. That’s what the movements we knew were all about – they were building civil society, creating a space between the individual and the state, an oppositional space where, safe from state interference, people could express themselves . Everyone knows about Solidarnosc, or Charter 77. Fewer recognise the part that Polite Refusal, Televizor, Bravo or any of the other revolutionary rock bands played in creating this space.

This book documents all of that, and brings perfectly to life the history, and the possibility, of rock bands embedding themselves within a counter-hegemonic movement, and being a joyful part of its fulfillment. Thee Faction aren’t mentioned directly – perhaps surprisingly – but there are enough oblique references to us to leave you in no doubt of our role.

Beg, steal or borrow a copy, and witness how rock music can not just fight, but beat, the power. And then join Thee Faction in helping history to repeat itself: this time in the West.

There is also, incidentally, a fascinating chapter on Dean Reed, the American singer who chose to live in the German Democratic Republic.

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