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As we reported at the time, Maurice Hindle's previously unpublished interview with John Lennon, which appeared in the Christmas issue of the New Statesman, attracted a good deal of media attention -- not least in the Guardian,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.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

Show Hide image

Leader: Mark Carney — a rock star banker feels the heat

Rather than mutual buck-passing, politicians and central bankers must collaborate in good faith.

On 24 June, the day after the EU referendum, the United Kingdom resembled a leaderless state. David Cameron promptly resigned as prime minister after his humiliating defeat. His closest ally, George Osborne, retreated to the safety and silence of the Treasury. Labour descended into open warfare; meanwhile, the leaders of the Leave campaign appeared terrified by the challenge confronting them and were already plotting and scheming against one another.

The government had not planned for Brexit, and so one of the few remaining sources of authority was the independent Bank of England. Its Canadian governor, the former Goldman Sachs banker Mark Carney, provided calm by announcing that Threadneedle Street had performed “extensive contingency planning” and would not “hesitate to take additional measures”. A month later, the Bank cut interest rates to a ­record low of 0.25 per cent and announced an additional £60bn of quantitative easing (QE). Both measures helped to avert the threat of an immediate recession by stimulating growth and employment.

Since then the Bank of England governor, who this week gave evidence on monetary policy to the economic affairs committee at the House of Lords, has become a favoured target of Brexiteers and former politicians. Michael Gove has compared Mr Carney to a vainglorious Chinese emperor and chided him for his lack of “humility”. William Hague has accused the Bank of having “lost the plot” and has questioned its future independence. Nigel Lawson has called for Mr Carney to resign, declaring that he has “behaved disgracefully”.

At no point since the Bank achieved independence under the New Labour government in 1997 has it attracted such opprobrium. For politicians faced with the risk, and the reality, of economic instability, Mr Carney and his colleagues are an easy target. However, they are the wrong one.

The consequences of loose monetary policy are not wholly benign. Ultra-low rates and QE have widened inequality by enriching asset-holders, while punishing savers. Yet the economy’s sustained weakness as well as poor productivity have necessitated such action. As Mr Osborne consistently recognised when he was chancellor, monetary activism was the inevitable corollary of fiscal conservatism. Without the Bank’s interventionism, government austerity would have had even harsher consequences.

The new Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has rightly taken the opportunity to “reset” fiscal policy. He has abandoned Mr Osborne’s absurd target of seeking to achieve a budget surplus by 2020 and has promised new infrastructure investment in his Autumn Statement on 23 November.

After years of over-reliance on monetary stimulus, a rebalancing is, in our view, necessary. Squeezed living standards (inflation is forecast to reach 3 per cent next year, given the collapse in the value of sterling) and anaemic growth are best addressed through government action rather than a premature rise in interest rates. Though UK gilt yields have risen in recent weeks, borrowing costs remain at near-record lows. Mr Hammond should not hesitate to borrow to invest, as Keynesians have long argued.

The Bank of England is far from infallible, of course. In recent years, its growth and employment forecasts have proved overly pessimistic. Mr Carney’s immediate predecessor, Mervyn King, was too slow to cut rates at the start of the financial crisis and was ill-prepared for the recession that followed. Central bankers across the developed world, most notably the former Federal Reserve head Alan Greenspan, have too often been treated as seers beyond criticism. Their reputations have suffered as a consequence.

Yet the principle of central bank independence remains one worthy of defence. Labour’s 1997 decision ended the manipulation of interest rates by opportunistic politicians and enhanced economic stability. Although the Bank’s mandate is determined by ministers, it must be free to set monetary policy without fear of interference. The challenge of delivering Brexit is the greatest any British government has faced since 1945. Rather than mutual buck-passing, politicians and central bankers must collaborate in good faith on this epic task.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage