Punk ideologies

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A punk protests against an ACT! for America counter-protest against refugee policy in Boise, Idaho, in November 2015.

Punk ideologies are a group of varied social and political beliefs associated with the punk subculture and punk rock. In its original incarnation, the punk subculture originated out of working class angst and the frustrations many youth were feeling about economic inequality and the bourgeois hypocrisy and neglect of working people and their struggles.[citation needed] It was primarily concerned with concepts such as mutual aid,[1] against selling out,[2] egalitarianism, humanitarianism, anti-authoritarianism,[3] anti-consumerism,[3] anti-corporatism, anti-war, decolonization, anti-conservatism, anti-globalization, anti-gentrification, anti-racism, anti-sexism, gender equality, racial equality, health rights, civil rights, animal rights, disability rights,[4] free-thought and non-conformity. One of its main tenets was a rejection of mainstream, corporate mass culture and its values. It continued to evolve its ideology as the movement spread throughout North America from its origins in England and New York and embrace a range of anti-racist and anti-sexist belief systems. Punk ideologies are often left-wing and go against right-wing authoritarian ideology.

Punk ideologies are usually expressed through punk rock music and lyrics, punk literature such as amateur fanzines, spoken word performances or recordings, punk fashion, or punk visual art. Some punks have participated in direct action, such as protest or demonstration disruption, political violence, ecotage, street barricades, squatting, pirate radio, off-grid energy, graffiti, vandalism and public and business property destruction. Indirect action through counter-propaganda, protests or boycotts. They support and squat in urban and rural collective houses with held group funds in common. Punk fashion was originally an expression of nonconformity, as well as opposition to both mainstream culture and the status quo. Punk fashion often displays aggression, rebellion, and individualism. Some punks wear accessories, clothing or have tattoos that express sociopolitical messages. They stage Punk Rock Food Drives such as D.O.A's Unity for Freedom. Punk visual art also often includes political messages. Many punks wear second-hand clothing, partly as an anti-consumerist statement.

An attitude common in the punk subculture is the opposition to selling out, which refers to abandoning of one's values and/or a change in musical style toward pop (e.g. electropop) and embracing anything in mainstream capitalist culture or more radio-friendly rock (e.g. pop rock) in exchange for wealth, status, or power. Selling out also has the meaning of adopting a more mainstream lifestyle and ideology. The issue of authenticity is important in the punk subculture—the pejorative term poseur is applied to those who try to associate with punk and adopt its stylistic attributes but are deemed not to share or understand the underlying core values or philosophy.

Because anti-establishment attitudes are such an important part of the punk subculture, a network of independent record labels, venues and distributors has developed. Some punk bands have chosen to break from this independent system and work within the established system of major labels. The do it yourself (DIY) ideal is common in the punk scene, especially in terms of music recording and distribution, concert promotion, and photocopying magazines, posters and flyers. The expression DIY was coined by commentators after the fact.

On religious issues, punk is mostly atheist or skeptic, but some punk bands are theist and have promoted religions or spirituality such as Christianity, Islam, Umbanda, the Rastafari movement, Neo-Paganism, Buddhism, Vedanta or Krishna.

Specific ideologies and philosophies[edit]

The following include some of the most common ideologies and philosophies within the punk subculture (in alphabetical order).


A punk protester carries a sign including an anarchy symbol.

There is a complex and worldwide underground of punks committed to anarchism as a serious political ideology, sometimes termed "peace punks" or "anarcho-punks." While some well-known punk bands such as the Sex Pistols and The Exploited had songs about anarchy, notably the Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK", they did not embrace anarchism as a disciplined ideology. As such, these bands are not considered part of the anarcho-punk scene.[5]

Anarcho-punks typically believe in direct action. Many anarcho-punks are pacifists (e.g. Crass and Discharge) and therefore believe in using non-violent means of achieving their aims. These include peaceful protest, squatting, legal graffiti, culture jamming, ecotage, freeganism, boycotting, civil disobedience, hacktivism and subvertising. Some anarcho-punks believe that violence or property damage is an acceptable way of achieving social change (e.g. Conflict). This manifests itself as rioting, illegal graffiti, vandalism, wire cutting, hunt sabotage, participation in Class War-style activities, melee weapons and in extreme cases, bombings. Notable anarchist punk artists include: Aus-Rotten, Dave Insurgent, Crass, Subhumans (British band), Colin Jerwood, and Dave Dictor.

Animal rights and veganism[edit]

In the 1980s, both straight edge hardcore punk in the United States[6][7] and anarcho-punk in the United Kingdom[8] became associated with animal rights. Consequently, vegetarianism and veganism became a feature of the punk subculture.[8][9] This association continues on into the 21st century, as evidenced by the prominence of vegan punk events such as Fluff Fest in Europe.[10][11]


Some punks claim to be non-political, such as the band Charged GBH and the singer G.G. Allin, although some socio-political ideas have appeared in their lyrics. Some Charged GBH songs have discussed social issues, and a few have expressed anti-war views. G.G. Allin expressed a vague desire to kill the United States president and destroy the political system in his song "Violence Now".[12] Punk subgenres that are generally apolitical include: glam punk, psychobilly, horror punk, punk pathetique, deathrock and pop punk. Many of the bands credited with starting the punk movement were decidedly apolitical, including The Dictators, Ramones (which featured staunch conservative Johnny Ramone alongside liberal activist Joey Ramone), New York Dolls, Television, Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers, and Richard Hell & The Voidoids.


Christian punk is a subgenre of punk rock with some degree of Christian lyrical content. Some Christian punk bands are associated with the Christian music industry,[13] while others reject that association. Ideologies within Christian punk vary, though a number of bands lean towards traditional left-wing politics, most prominently Crashdog, Ballydowse and The Psalters, the latter two of whom identified as Christian anarchists.[14][15] Further examples of notable Christian punk bands include Altar Boys,[16] The Crucified,[17] Five Iron Frenzy,[18] Flatfoot 56,[19] and pop-punk band MxPx, who earned a gold record in 1998.[20]


A small number are conservative, rejecting leftist-anarchism, liberalism, communism and socialism in favor of conservatism. Notable conservative punks include Johnny Ramone, Dee Dee Ramone,[21] Forgotten Rebels, Billy Zoom,[22] Joe Escalante, Bobby Steele, Duane Peters and Dave Smalley. Some Christian punk and hardcore bands have conservative political stances, in particular some of the NYHC bands.[23] And Glenn Danzig[24].


Riot grrrl is an underground feminist punk movement that began during the early 1990s within the United States in Olympia, Washington and the greater Pacific Northwest. Riot grrrl is a subcultural movement that combines feminism, punk music and politics. It is often associated with third-wave feminism, which is sometimes seen as having grown out of the riot grrrl movement, and has recently been seen in current fourth-wave feminist punk music. Riot grrrl bands often address issues such as rape, domestic abuse, sexuality, racism, patriarchy, classism, anarchism and female empowerment. Primary bands associated with the movement include Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy, Excuse 17, Huggy Bear, Skinned Teen, Emily's Sassy Lime and Sleater-Kinney, as well as queercore groups such as Team Dresch and the Third Sex.

Hare Krishna[edit]

The Filipino punk band the Wuds which was formed in the early 1980s is the first known punk band who composed songs dedicated to Hare Krishna movement.[25] In the 1990s, some notable members of the New York hardcore scene, including Ray Cappo (Youth of Today, Shelter and other bands), John Joseph (Cro-Mags) and Harley Flanagan (Cro-Mags) converted to Hare Krishna.[26] This led to trend within the western hardcore scene that became known as Krishnacore.


Taqwacore is a punk subgenre centred on Islam, its culture and its interpretation. The Taqwacore scene is composed mainly of young Muslim artists living in the United States and other western countries, many of whom openly reject traditionalist interpretations of Islam. There is no definitive Taqwacore sound, and some bands incorporate styles including hip-hop, techno, and/or musical traditions from the Muslim world. Examples of Muslim punk bands include Alien Kulture, The Kominas and Secret Trial Five.


Liberal punks were in the punk subculture from the beginning, and are mostly on the liberal left. Notable liberal punks (second wave, mid-1990s to 2000s) include: Joey Ramone, Fat Mike of NOFX, Ted Leo, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, Crashdog, Dropkick Murphys, Hoxton Tom McCourt, Jared Gomes of Hed PE,[27][28][29][30] Tim Armstrong of Rancid and Tim McIlrath of Rise Against. Some punks participated in the Rock Against Bush movement in the mid-2000s, in support of the Democratic Party candidate John Kerry.


Libertarian (or right-libertarian) punks advocate free market capitalism, a minimal government and private ownership of property. Joe Young of the band Antiseen,[31] Exene Cervenka,[32] Krist Novoselic founding member of Nirvana[clarification needed][33] and Mojo Nixon have expressed support for libertarianism. Though originally a conservative, Michale Graves has shifted towards libertarianism in recent years.


Nazi punks have a white nationalist ideology that is closely related to that of white power skinheads. Ian Stuart Donaldson and his band Skrewdriver are credited with popularizing white power rock and hatecore (for its hateful lyrical themes), or Rock Against Communism. Nazi punks are different from early punks such as Sid Vicious and Siouxsie Sioux, who are believed to have incorporated Nazi imagery such as Swastikas for shock or comedy value.


Centering on a belief in the abject lack of meaning and value to life, nihilism was a fixture in some early punk rock and protopunk.[34] The Sex Pistols were central to the association of punk and nihilsm, with the Trouser Press Record Guide writing that their "confrontational, nihilistic public image and rabidly nihilistic socio-political lyrics set the tone that continues to guide punk bands."[35] However, researcher Neil Eriksen argues that though "much of the critical realism [of punk rock] expresses cynicism and nihilism, it does serve to question existing relations in such a way that listeners are forced to think about what is being said",[36] so that overt rejection of meaning is primarily concerned with challenging existing values.


Flyer for DUST happening circa. 1992

The Situationist International (SI) was an early influence on punk subculture in the United Kingdom.[37] Started in continental Europe in the 1950s, the SI was an avant-garde political movement that sought to recapture the ideals of surrealist art and use them to construct new and radical social situations. Malcolm McLaren introduced situationist ideas to punk through his management of the band Sex Pistols.[37] Vivienne Westwood, McLaren's partner and the band's designer/stylist, expressed situationist ideals through fashion that was intended to provoke a specific social response. 15% Pus and DUST, subversive 1990s Manchester bands, staged psycho-geographic walks around Hulme and created human collages from road signs as part of what became known as 'psycho-spectre.' Jamie Reid's distinctive album cover artwork was openly situationist.


The Clash were a blatantly political punk rock band, introducing socialism to the punk scene.[38][39] Clash frontman Joe Strummer said of his socialist views "I believe in socialism because it seems more humanitarian, rather than every man for himself and 'I'm alright jack' and all those asshole businessmen with all the loot. I made up my mind from viewing society from that angle. That's where I'm from and there's where I've made my decisions from. That's why I believe in socialism."[40] Some of the original Oi! bands expressed a rough form of socialist working class populism — often mixed with patriotism.[41][42][43] Many Oi! bands sang about unemployment, economic inequality, working class power and police harassment. In the 1980s, several notable British socialist punk musicians were involved with Red Wedge. Notable socialist punks include: Attila the Stockbroker, Billy Bragg, Bruce La Bruce, Garry Bushell (until the late 1980s), Chris Dean, Gary Floyd, Jack Grisham, Stewart Home, Dennis Lyxzén, Thomas Mensforth, Fermin Muguruza, Alberto Pla, Tom Robinson, Seething Wells, Paul Simmonds, Rob Tyner, Joe Strummer, Ian Svenonius, Mark Steel and Paul Weller (guitarist for British powerhouse, new wave band, The Jam). Neil Eriksen wrote in 1980: "... we feel that elements of punk rock fulfill a revolutionary cultural function".[36]

Straight edge[edit]

Straight edge originated in the Washington, D.C. hardcore punk scene with the Minor Threat song "Straight Edge" written by frontman Ian MacKaye and guitarist Brian Baker. Straight edge involves abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, and recreational drug use. Some who claim the title straight edge also abstain from caffeine, casual sex and meat. Those more strict individuals may be considered part of the hardline subculture. Unlike the shunning of meat and caffeine, refraining from casual sex was without question a practice in the original straight edge lifestyle, but it has been overlooked in many of the later reincarnations of straight edge. For some, straight edge is a simple lifestyle preference, but for others it is a political stance. In many cases, it is a rejection of the perceived self-destructive qualities of punk and hardcore culture. MacKaye has often spoken out against others labeling themselves as being Straight edge, which was never his intentions for it being a label but it became a movement one which he became annoyed with. Notable straight edgers: Tim McIlrath, CM Punk and Davey Havok.

Ideological Conflict Within Punk Subculture[edit]

Due to the ethos of non-conformity, and anti-establishment, anti-corporate, and anti-authoritarian values that gave rise to the punk subculture, groups and individuals that self-identify as being a part of the punk subculture, while holding right-wing views (such as those associated with the Conservative Punk website), libertarian views, neo-Nazi views (Nazi punk), or are apolitical (e.g., horror punk), may often be considered by others within the punk scene to not be legitimately a part of it, but, rather, only using the fashion and visual aesthetics of the subculture. This conflict of ideological values has resulted in the prevalence of a sentiment that it isn't possible to be both right wing and punk at the same time, among much of the punk scene, considering the two to be incompatible and mutually exclusive.[citation needed]

A notable example of this phenomenon manifesting in the punk music scene can be seen in an incident that occurred during the 2016 American Music Awards, where the punk rock band Green Day chanted anti-conservative, anti-racist, and anti-fascist messages, in response to current events,[44] Another example of this push against right-wing ideology in punk culture, occurred during a show by the celtic punk band Dropkick Murphys, where bassist and singer, Ken Casey, tackled an individual that gave a nazi-salute. Shortly after the incident, Casey spoke to the audience, stating "Nazis are not fucking welcome at a Dropkick Murphys show". Band member Tim Brennan later reaffirmed this sentiment.[45]. Of additional note is the song "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" by hardcore punk band, Dead Kennedys, which has come to be considered an anti-nazi anthem.[46]

Criticism of punk ideologies[edit]

Punk ideologies have been criticized from outside and within. The Clash occasionally accused other contemporary punk acts of selling out, such as in their songs "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais" and "Death or Glory". Crass's song "White Punks on Hope" criticizes the late-1970s British punk scene in general and, among other things, accuses Joe Strummer of selling out and betraying his earlier principles. Their song "Punk is Dead" attacks corporate co-option of the punk subculture. Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra wrote many songs, such as Nazi Punks Fuck Off, criticizing aspects of the punk subculture: "Punk ain't no religious cult Punk means thinking for yourself You ain't hardcore cos you spike your hair...”

Misfits frontman Michale Graves, who cofounded the Conservative Punk website, argued that punks have become "hippies with mohawks". However, he has since distanced himself from conservatism.

The English Maoist organisation, the Progressive Cultural Association published a track called "Punk Rock Is Fascist", which says punk rock is part of a reactionary plot to spread fascism by diverting youth's energy away from revolutionary activities. They also claim punk acts as part of the divide and rule stratagem of American imperialism by creating both a Generation gap and pitting youth against each other. One of its founders, the classical composer, Cornelius Cardew, called The Clash "Reactionary".

In their book The Rebel Sell, Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter argue that counterculture politics have failed and that the punk understanding of society is flawed. They also argue that alternative and mainstream lifestyles ultimately have the same values.

See also[edit]


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