Saturday, January 3, 2015

John Lennon and Yoko Ono interview in Trotskyist newspaper 1971

charlie kebdo

BLACKBURN: "I suppose workers' control is about that."

JOHN: "Haven't they tried out something like that in Yugoslavia; they are free of the Russians. I'd like to go there and see how it works."

ALI: "Well, they have; they did try to break with the Stalinist pattern. But instead of allowing uninhibited workers' control, they added a strong dose of political bureaucracy. It tended to smother the initiative of the workers and they also regulated the whole system by a market mechanism which bred new inequalities between one region and another."

JOHN: "It seems that all revolutions end up with a personality cult - even the Chinese seem to need a father-figure. I expect this happens in Cuba too, with Che and Fidel. In Western-style Communism we would have to create an almost imaginary workers' image of themselves as the father-figure."

BLACKBURN: "That's a pretty cool idea -- the Working Class becomes its own Hero. As long as it was not a new comforting illusion, as long as there was a real workers' power. If a capitalist or bureaucrat is running your life then you need to compensate with illusions."

YOKO: "The people have got to trust in themselves."

ALI: "That's the vital point. The working class must be instilled with a feeling of confidence in itself. This can't be done just by propaganda -- the workers must move, take over their own factories and tell the capitalists to bugger off. This is what began to happen in May 1968 in France...the workers began to feel their own strength."

JOHN: "But the Communist Party wasn't up to that, was it?"

BLACKBURN: "No, they weren't. With 10 million workers on strike they could have led one of those huge demonstrations that occurred in the centre of Paris into a massive occupation of all government buildings and installations, replacing de Gaulle with a new institution of popular power like the Commune or the original Soviets - that would have begun a real revolution but the French C.P. was scared of it. They preferred to deal at the top instead of encouraging the workers to take the initiative themselves."

JOHN: "Great, but there's a problem about that here you know. All the revolutions have happened when a Fidel or Marx or Lenin or whatever, who were intellectuals, were able to get through to the workers. They got a good pocket of people together and the workers seemed to understand that they were in a repressed state. They haven't woken up yet here, they still believe that cars and tellies are the answer. You should get these left-wing students out to talk with the workers, you should get the school-kids involved with The Red Mole."

ALI: "You're quite right, we have been trying to do that and we should do more. This new Industrial Relations Bill the Government is trying to introduce is making more and more workers realise what is happening."

JOHN: "I don't think that Bill can work. I don't think they can enforce it. I don't think the workers will co-operate with it. I thought the Wilson Government was a big let-down but this Heath lot are worse. The underground is being harrassed, the black militants can't even live in their own homes now, and they're selling more arms to the South Africans. Like Richard Neville said, there may be only an inch of difference between Wilson and Heath but it's in that inch that we live."

ALI: "I don't know about that; Labour brought in racialist immigration policies, supported the Vietnam war and were hoping to bring in new legislation against the unions."

BLACKBURN: "It may be true that we live in the Inch of difference between Labour and Conservative but so long as we do we'll be impotent and unable to change anything. If Heath is forcing us out of that inch maybe he's doing us a good turn without meaning to."

JOHN: "Yes, I've thought about that, too. This putting us in a corner so we have to find out what is coming down on other people. I keep on reading the Morning Star [the Communist newspaper] to see if there's any hope, but it seems to be in the 19th century; it seems to be written for dropped-out, middle-aged liberals. We should be trying to reach the young workers because that's when you're most idealistic and have least fear.

"Somehow the revolutionaries must approach the workers because the workers won't approach them. But it's difficult to know where to start; we've all got a finger in the dam. The problem for me is that as I have become more real, I've grown away from most working-class people - you know what they like is Engelbert Humperdinck. It's the students who are buying us now, and that's the problem. Now The Beatles are four separate people, we don't have the impact we had when we were together."

BLACKBURN: "Now you're trying to swim against the stream of bourgeois society, which is much more difficult."

JOHN: "Yes, they own all the newspapers and they control all distribution and promotion. When we came along there was only Decca, Philips and EMI who could really produce a record for you. You had to go through the whole bureaucracy to get into the recording studio. You were in such a humble position, you didn't have more than 12 hours to make a whole album, which is what we did in the early days.

"Even now it's the same; if you're an unknown artist you're lucky to get an hour in a studio - it's a hierarchy and if you don't have hits, you don't get recorded again. And they control distribution. We tried to change that with Apple but in the end we were defeated. They still control everything. EMI killed our album Two Virgins because they didn't like it. With the last record they've censored the words of the songs printed on the record sleeve. Fucking ridiculous and hypocritical -- they have to let me sing it but they don't dare let you read it. Insanity."

BLACKBURN: "Though you reach fewer people now, perhaps the effect can be more concentrated."

JOHN: "Yes, I think that could be true. To begin with, working class people reacted against our openness about sex. They are frightened of nudity, they're repressed in that way as well as others. Perhaps they thought 'Paul is a good lad, he doesn't make trouble'. Also when Yoko and I got married, we got terrible racialist letters -- you know, warning me that she would slit my throat. Those mainly came from Army people living in Aldershot. Officers.

"Now workers are more friendly to us, so perhaps it's changing. It seems to me that the students are now half-awake enough to try and wake up their brother workers. If you don't pass on your own awareness then it closes down again. That is why the basic need is for the students to get in with the workers and convince them that they are not talking gobbledegook. And of course it's difficult to know what the workers are really thinking because the capitalist press always only quotes mouthpieces like Vic Feather (Trade Union Congress, General Secretary) anyway.

"So the only thing is to talk to them directly, especially the young workers. We've got to start with them because they know they're up against it. That's why I talk about school on the album. I'd like to incite people to break the framework, to be disobedient in school, to stick their tongues out, to keep insulting authority."

YOKO: "We are very lucky really, because we can create our own reality, John and me, but we know the important thing is to communicate with other people."

JOHN: "The more reality we face, the more we realise that unreality is the main program of the day. The more real we become, the more abuse we take, so it does radicalize us in a way, like being put in a corner. But it would be better if there were more of us."

YOKO: "We mustn't be traditional in the way we communicate with people -- especially with the Establishment. We should surprise people by saying new things in an entirely new way. Communication of that sort can have a fantastic power so long as you don't do only what they expect you to do."

BLACKBURN: "Communication is vital for building a movement, but in the end it's powerless unless you also develop popular force."

YOKO: "I get very sad when I think about Vietnam where there seems to be no choice but violence. This violence goes on for centuries perpetuating itself. In the present age when communication is so rapid, we should create a different tradition, traditions are created everyday. Five years now is like 100 years before. We are living in a society that has no history. There's no precedent for this kind of society so we can break the old patterns."

ALI: "No ruling class in the whole of history has given up power voluntarily and I don't see that changing."

YOKO: "But violence isn't just a conceptual thing, you know. I saw a programme about this kid who had come back from Vietnam -- he'd lost his body from the waist down. He was just a lump of meat, and he said, 'Well, I guess it was a good experience.' "

JOHN: "He didn't want to face the truth, he didn't want to think it had all been a waste."

YOKO: "But think of the violence, it could happen to your kids."

BLACKBURN: "But Yoko, people who struggle against oppression find themselves attacked by those who have a vested interest in nothing changing, those who want to protect their power and wealth. Look at the people in Bogside and Falls Road in Northern Ireland; they were mercilessly attacked by the special police because they began demonstrating for their rights. On one night in August 1969, seven people were shot and thousands driven from their homes. Didn't they have a right to defend themselves?"

YOKO: "That's why one should try to tackle these problems before a situation like that happens."

JOHN: "Yes, but what do you do when it does happen, what do you do?"

BLACKBURN: "Popular violence against their oppressors is always justified. It cannot be avoided."

YOKO: "But in a way the new music showed things could be transformed by new channels of communication."

JOHN: "Yes, but as I said, nothing really changed."

YOKO: "Well, something changed and it was for the better. All I'm saying is that perhaps we can make a revolution without violence."

JOHN: "But you can't take power without a struggle."

ALI: "That's the crucial thing."

JOHN: "Because, when it comes to the nitty-gritty, they won't let the people have any power; they'll give all the rights to perform and to dance for them, but no real power."

YOKO: "The thing is, even after the revolution, if people don't have any trust in themselves, they'll get new problems."

JOHN: "After the revolution you have the problem of keeping things going, of sorting out all the different views. It's quite natural that revolutionaries should have different solutions, that they should split into different groups and then reform, that's the dialectic, isn't it -- but at the same time they need to be united against the enemy, to solidify a new order. I don't know what the answer is; obviously Mao is aware of this problem and keeps the ball moving."

BLACKBURN: "The danger is that once a revolutionary state has been created, a new conservative bureaucracy tends to form around it. This danger tends to increase if the revolution is isolated by imperialism and there is material scarcity."

JOHN: "Once the new power has taken over they have to establish a new status quo just to keep the factories and trains running."

BLACKBURN: "Yes, but a repressive bureaucracy doesn't necessarily run the factories or trains any better than the workers could under a system of revolutionary democracy."

JOHN: "Yes, but we all have bourgeois instincts within us, we all get tired and feel the need to relax a bit. How do you keep everything going and keep up revolutionary fervour after you've achieved what you set out to achieve? Of course Mao has kept them up to it in China, but what happens after Mao goes? Also he uses a personality cult. Perhaps that's necessary; like I said, everybody seems to need a father figure.

"But I've been reading Khrushchev Remembers. I know he's a bit of a lad himself - but he seemed to think that making a religion out of an individual was bad; that doesn't seem to be part of the basic Communist idea. Still people are people, that's the difficulty. If we took over Britain, then we'd have the job of cleaning up the bourgeoisie and keeping people in a revolutionary state of mind."

BLACKBURN: "In Britain unless we can create a new popular power-and here that would basically mean workers' power -- really controlled by, and answerable to, the masses, then we couldn't make the revolution in the first place. Only a really deep-rooted workers' power could destroy the bourgeois state."

YOKO: "That's why it will be different when the younger generation takes over."

JOHN: "I think it wouldn't take much to get the youth here really going. You'd have to give them free rein to attack the local councils or to destroy the school authorities, like the students who break up the repression in the universities. It's already happening, though people have got to get together more. And the women are very important too, we can't have a revolution that doesn't involve and liberate women. It's so subtle the way you're taught male superiority. It took me quite a long time to realise that my maleness was cutting off certain areas for Yoko. She's a red hot liberationist and was quick to show me where I was going wrong, even though it seemed to me that I was just acting naturally. That's why I'm always interested to know how people who claim to be radical treat women."

BLACKBURN: "There's always been at least as much male chauvinism on the left as anywhere else - though the rise of women's liberation is helping to sort that out."

JOHN: "It's ridiculous. How can you talk about power to the people unless you realise the people is both sexes."

YOKO: "You can't love someone unless you are in an equal position with them. A lot of women have to cling to men out of fear or insecurity, and that's not love - basically that's why women hate men..."

JOHN: "...and vice versa."

YOKO: "So if you have a slave around the house how can you expect to make a revolution outside it? The problem for women is that if we try to be free, then we naturally become lonely, because so many women are willing to become slaves, and men usually prefer that. So you always have to take the chance: 'Am I going to lose my man?' It's very sad."

JOHN: "Of course, Yoko was well into liberation before I met her. She'd had to fight her way through a man's world - the art world is completely dominated by men - so she was full of revolutionary zeal when we met. There was never any question about it: we had to have a 50-50 relationship or there was no relationship, I was quick to learn. She did an article about women in Nova more than two years back in which she said, 'Woman is the nigger of the world.' "

BLACKBURN: "Of course we all live in an imperialist country that is exploiting the Third World, and even our culture is involved in this. There was a time when Beatle music was plugged on Voice of America."

JOHN: "The Russians put it out that we were capitalist robots, which we were I suppose."

BLACKBURN: "They were pretty stupid not to see it was something different."

YOKO: "Let' s face it, Beatles was 20th-century folksong in the framework of capitalism; they couldn't do anything different if they wanted to communicate within that framework."

BLACKBURN: "I was working in Cuba when Sgt Pepper was released and that's when they first started playing rock music on the radio."

JOHN: "Well, hope they see that rock and roll is not the same as Coca-Cola. As we get beyond the dream this should be easier: that's why I'm putting out more heavy statements now and trying to shake off the teeny-bopper image. I want to get through to the right people, and I want to make what I have to say very simple and direct."

BLACKBURN: "Your latest album (Plastic Ono Band) sounds very simple to begin with, but the lyrics, tempo and melody build up into a complexity one only gradually becomes aware of. Like the track 'My Mummy's Dead' echoes the nursery song 'Three Blind Mice' and it's about a childhood trauma."

JOHN: "The tune does; it was that sort of feeling, almost like a Haiku poem. I recently got into Haiku in Japan and I just think it's fantastic. Obviously, when you get rid of a whole section of illusion in your mind you're left with great precision. Yoko was showing me some of these Haiku in the original. The difference between them and Long fellow is immense. Instead of a long flowery poem the Haiku would say 'Yellow flower in white bowl on wooden table' which gives you the whole picture, really."

ALI: "How do you think we can destroy the capitalist system here in Britain, John?"

JOHN: "I think only by making the workers aware of the really unhappy position they are in, breaking the dream they are surrounded by. They think they are in a wonderful, free-speaking country. They've got cars and tellies and they don't want to think there's anything more to life. They are prepared to let the bosses run them, to see their children fucked up in school. They're dreaming someone else's dream, it's not even their own. They should realise that the blacks and the Irish are being harassed and repressed and that they will be next.

"As soon as they start being aware of all that, we can really begin to do something. The workers can start to take over. Like Marx said: 'To each according to his need'. I think that would work well here. But we'd also have to infiltrate the army too, because they are well trained to kill us all. We've got to start all this from where we ourselves are oppressed. I think it's false, shallow, to be giving to others when your own need is great. The idea is not to comfort people, not to make them feel better but to make them feel worse, to constantly put before them the degradations and humiliations they go through to get what they call a living wage."

Source: Transcribed by from book reprinting