Everyone has had the same experience at a party. You’re in the kitchen or the garden at 2am, feeling like a worn-out shoe, trying your hardest to listen to your mate across the table who’s been pouring their heart out to you for the past half hour. You’re about to conjure up some excuse to leave, when suddenly that song comes on. You drop whatever it was you were holding, leave your poor buddy out in the cold, and sprint inside to belt it out.
Now, what that song happens to be is probably rather relative, although classics like Mr. Brightside and Come on Eileen seem to be international staples. In the UK, I’ve noticed that any song from Madness or the Specials, or any 2-tone hit, for that matter, seems to be sufficient.
While today, these songs are just fun tunes that everyone can sing and dance to, many overlook the turbulent political history of British ska. It’s probably quite surprising to think that, in their early days, the band now known for fun hits like Baggy Trousers and House of Fun faced Nazi salutes and racist chants at their shows, even being linked to the far-right movement by the press.
Inspired by the Jamaican styles of ska and reggae, the 2-tone revival of the 70’s was undoubtedly a multicultural, inherently anti-racist movement. Yet, despite songs like It Doesn’t Make it Alright and Do the Dog calling for peace, integration, and shouting against the tribal violence of British politics at the time, the subculture quickly became infested by the far-right.
This infiltration was, unfortunately, pretty successful. So much so that the stereotypical boots ‘n braces skinhead continues to be associated with neo-naziism to this day, despite finding its roots as an inclusive youth movement of working-class Brits and the newly-arrived Jamaican immigrants.
Punk, too, experienced a similar infestation both in the UK and across the pond, as more and more ‘white power’ punk bands began establishing themselves. The problem was such that seminal American punk band Dead Kennedys wrote the iconic track Nazi Punks, Fuck Off, in response to the violent behaviour of extreme right-wingers at punk shows.
Both the UK ska and skinhead movements as well as the more-global punk genre represent two side of the same cautionary coin; well-intentioned movements can quickly be turned entirely on their heads by the actions and behaviours of a few. As the old saying goes: ‘A few bad apples spoil the whole bunch’. In these cases, a few bad apples turned a movement of inclusion into the poster children of the far right.
This danger, however, is as present in modern political movements as much as it was 40 years ago, though not just from the far right. The modern left, for instance, has seen its appearance change from the protectors of the working class, to IDPol-obsessed ideologues, alienating their original support base and damaging their credibility.
Libertarianism, a philosophy and movement in which I myself am active, sadly faces a similar threat from a few bad apples, leading some to view an ideology structured around individual liberty, coexistence, and tolerance as being a gateway to the alt-right. This is both heartbreaking and extremely frustrating to see a movement of peace, love, and liberty be tarred with the same brush as a minority of (inherently un-libertarian) alt-righters masquerading as freedom fighters.
Regardless of political or social beliefs, or position on the spectrum, no movement is safe from a small fraction of extremists misrepresenting everything it stands for, and dragging its reputation below the point of no return. Learn from the skinheads – don’t let a few bad apples spoil your whole bunch.