The State It's In
A view from SQUALL central
Squall 11, Autumn 1995, pg. 2
When a country wishes to conquer another, it must first undermine the strength of its intended target. In modern warfare this is done economically. If you can weaken or even destroy another country’s economy then their flag will surely follow.
In its most obvious global manifestation this approach takes the form of economic sanctions but there are of course many underhand ways of bringing another country to its political knees. This ‘military economics’ is also used by governments to destroy unwanted cultural forces within its own borders.
When public opinion was so maliciously manipulated against the travelling culture, it was the alternative economy the conquistadors sought to destroy. What once flourished as a packed summer festival season has, over the course of a decade, been severed by laws and red tape. Public event licenses now cost a small fortune, whilst the attendance fees insisted upon by British Police pic, increase ever more prohibitively. And what happens if you don’t have a licence and if you neither want, nor can afford, Old Bill wandering up to your fireplace like walking CCTV? Well then there’s the Public Order Act 1986 and the Criminal Justice Act 1994 to facilitate the strict control of cultural freedom.
With no festivals, a whole economic support system is swept away. An economy of exchanging wares, selling tat, swapping favours, trading vehicles and doing odd paid jobs associated with running a festival. The festival circuit represented a fast growing alternative economy, supporting a culture of late night cafes and bars, theatre, music, dance, story-telling, rants, raving beat-heads and talking in tongues. A culture where people with crafts and performance skills could both learn and ply their trade, and a place where such talents were rewarded and encouraged in recognition of their necessity.
Much to the concern of the established economic system, it was also proving itself viable without any dependence upon the state. What’s more, the alternative economy was attracting more and more people disillusioned with the kind of deskilling and spiritually decommissioning employment increasingly on offer from the officially condoned economy.
But whilst the divisive ‘military economists’ have had a decisively detrimental effect on the growth of the alternative cultural economy, they have not yet destroyed it completely.
However, certain measures must now be taken to ensure that they don’t.
For many people who live their lives in the alternative culture, ‘economics’ is a dirty word. Not surprising really, considering its dramatic and culturally catastrophic over-emphasis in the society in which we all have to live. However, ignorance is not bliss, it is a temporarily comfortable state which simply postpones the problem until it has grown unavoidably bigger. Every country faced with potentially crippling economic sanctions has to sit round the table and discuss how it will adapt to survive.
This will inevitably entail incorporating a few economic realities into our cultural interactions.
When one religion wishes to supersede another, it builds temples on the sites of previous worship. Thus throughout the summer there are still festivals in the UK. However, they are differently motivated to those that occurred previously. Whereas the old festivals were multiple economies that fed a culture, the new festivals are uni-economies which fatten one pocket. The new festivals are run by organisations with the money to pay for a licence, to pay off the police, to pay off the local authorities and then to reap the rewards of their capital expenditure by draining the pockets of eager festival goers.
The atmosphere of all festivals reflects the motivations of the authors. If that motivation is profit-oriented, then the fruits of the festival will undoubtedly taste of money. Glastonbury is the only large nationally known festival that still in some way reflects a motivation of authorship going beyond the financial. Each year however, stricter and stricter economic controls are forced upon those that attend, squeezing alternative cultures to the edge and even out all together. More and more of the highly commercial food and product stalls paying the £2000-£3000 to be on site, are consequently demanding that strict controls are kept on alternative economic competition. Thus like a cuckoo in a foreign nest, the aggressive commercial economics sidelines and then replaces the alternative cultural exchanges that fostered the festival circuit in the first place.
Whereas the old festivals were multiple economies that fed a culture, new festivals are uni-economies which fatten one pocket.
Having recognised the mechanisms by which ‘military economics’ usurps its competitive opposition, it is then perhaps possible to make a stand and ensure the carpet is not swept from beneath our feet. How?
Living outside the official economic framework is undoubtedly a major exercise in financial survival. In response, many people have understandably adopted an individualistic approach. It is the symptom of modern capitalism that Britain has witnessed a serious erosion of any meaningful sense of co-operation and community beyond immediate financial gain. It is thus important that we recognise this symptom as it manifests itself in our lives and so enable ourselves to adapt an anti-dote to its pervasive creep.
The burgeoning culture of free-party sound systems is a prime example of a new movement in this direction. The power of their non-mammon community stance is an inspiring flag, flying in the face of official economic thinking. ‘We do it for the sake of the dance’, they say, like a bunch of aliens. ‘Let the queen have the pieces of paper that bare her head and leave us to dance with each other instead.’
Except of course, they are not left alone. Simply because they are unattracted by the usual economic maggot and are not to be found wriggling on the hook, they are a threat and a competitive force. Consequently the ‘military economists’ gather in the war rooms and plot the next Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill.
One of the strengths of the alternative culture is its imagination and ingenuity and, to some extent, this has developed directly as a result of not having the money to buy its way out of sticky situations. However, there is a point at which finances are required to facilitate that ingenuity, particularly as it now finds itself employed in the fight for cultural survival. Having recognised the economic attempt to undermine and destroy a culture, it is now necessary for us all to rally round each other economically and to give respect where respect is due. This boils down to some mundane but essential realities.
If you have the money then pay the entrance fee at a benefit gig and drop some significant money in the donation bucket when it comes round. Nothing drains a freedom fighter more than letting someone in for 26p because ‘that’s all they’ve got’, only to see them waving a £20 note at the bar-staff half an hour later. If you receive help and materials from a grass-roots organisation, then pay them if you can. Always enclose at least an SAE if you want a reply. If you are a band, a theatre troupe, a sound system or the guardian of a venue then, if possible, help support the groups defending the culture.
Those on the periphery must realise that we now have a collective identity, if for no other reason than we are under collective attack. There are plenty of other reasons besides.
Recognition and respect of alternative economic realities will help ensure that the ‘military economists’ plotting the downfall of diverse cultures do not have the winning game plan. In fact it will surprise the living daylights out of them to find we are one step ahead of their malicious intent. They certainly aren’t counting on that.
Assemblies Of Celebration, Assemblies Of Dissent - an overview of recent decades of festivals, raves, travellers and protesters - 1998
The Culture Cash-in On Raves And Festivals - the corporate crush on festivals. Squall 10, Summer 1995.
Wally Hope - A Victim Of Ignorance - the life and death of Stonehenge Festival founder. Squall 11, Autumn 1995.