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Was John Lennon really a revolutionary?

Maurice Hindle and Tariq Ali go head to head.

 

As we reported at the time, Maurice Hindle's previously unpublished interview with John Lennon, which appeared in the Christmas issue of the New Statesman, attracted a good deal of media attention -- not least in the Guardian, where Maev Kennedy concentrated on Lennon's remarks about a letter critical of him that had appeared in Tariq Ali's far-left journal Black Dwarf. (Lennon had railed against the revolutionary posturing of gauchistes such as Ali: "The system's a load of crap. But just smashing it up isn't gonna do it.")

Anxious lest Lennon's radical credentials be impugned, Kennedy concluded that the story ended happily:

John Lennon died on December 8 1980, shot on the doorstep of his Dakota building home in New York by Mark Chapman -- but by then had long since made his peace with Tariq Ali, and regained his radical laurels. The American journal Counterpunch four years ago finally published in full a long 1971 interview by Ali and Robin Blackburn, originally for the Trotskyist Red Mole, in which Lennon agreed with Ali that he was becoming "increasingly radical and political".

Maurice has responded to Kennedy's gloss on the interview in the Guardian today. And he rejects the suggestion that Lennon's flirtation with revolutionary politics lasted right up until the end:

Lennon much regretted his earlier association with the radical left, as the contents of the chapter entitled "We'd all love to see the plan" (quoting from the song "Revolution") make clear.

Writing in 1978, he stated: "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."

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.

The debate hasn't stopped there, however. Tariq Ali himself has now entered the fray, conceding that Lennon's views did shift somewhat in the years following an interview he gave to Ali and Robin Blackburn in 1971, but insisting that they didn't move as far as Hindle suggests. His piece ends with this uncharacteristically breathless swoon:

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.

The loss of his voice was a tragedy for millions.