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Punk ideologies are a group of varied social and political beliefs associated with the punk subculture. In its original incarnation, the punk subculture was primarily concerned with concepts such as rebellion, anti-authoritarianism, individualism, free thought and discontent. Punk ideologies are usually expressed through punk rock music, punk literature, spoken word recordings, punk fashion or punk visual art. Some punks have participated in direct action, such as protests, boycotts, squatting, vandalism or violence.

Punk fashion was originally an expression of nonconformity, as well as opposition to mainstream culture and the hippie counterculture. Punk fashion often displays aggression, rebellion and individualism. Some punks wear clothing or have tattoos that express sociopolitical messages. Punk visual art also often includes those types of messages. Many punks wear second hand clothing, partly as an anti-consumerist statement.

One notable attitude common within the punk subculture is the opposition to selling out, which refers to abandonment of personal values in exchange for wealth, status or power. Because anti-establishment and anti-capitalist 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. Some punks argue that these artists have betrayed their communities, and that their creative integrity has become compromised. However, some artists argue that working in the major label system allows for the widest distribution of their messages. Another meaning of selling out is for a punk band to change its musical style, such as to progressive rock, pop or heavy metal. Selling out also has the meaning of adopting a more conservative, mainstream lifestyle and ideology.

The do it yourself (DIY) ideal is common in the punk scene, especially in terms of music recording and distribution, concert promotion, zines, posters and flyers.

Specific ideologies

The political ideology most often associated with punk is anarchism, and punk has also been associated with other leftist ideologies such as socialism and social liberalism. Some punks, however, perceive leftists as ineffectual, and sometimes just as objectionable as right wingers. Two non-leftist ideologies that have appeared within punk culture are conservatism and neo-Nazism. Philosophical ideologies within the punk subculture include: atheism, agnosticism, Christianity, Islam, the Rastafari movement and Hare Krishna (especially amongst the 1980s straight edge scene).


Many punks who support anarchism are known as anarcho-punks. However, some well-known punk bands, such as the Sex Pistols and The Exploited sing about anarchy but do not use the word in the sense of anarchism as a specific political philosophy. As such, they are not considered part of the anarcho-punk genre. Notable anarchist punks include: Tom Gabel, Steve Ignorant, Penny Rimbaud, Eve Libertine, Gee Vaucher, Jack Grisham, Colin Jerwood, Dave Dictor and Jello Biafra.


Some punks claim to be non-political, such as the band Charged GBH and the singer G.G. Allin. However, some socio-political ideas have appeared in these musicians' lyrics. Charged GBH have sung about social issues and have expressed anti-war themes, such as in the songs "Wardogs" and "No Survivors." G.G. Allin expressed a vague desire to kill the United States president and destroy the current political system, in his song "Violence Now". Punk subgenres that are generally apolitical include: glam punk, psychobilly, horror punk, punk pathetique, deathrock, pop punk and New Wave.


A small number of punks are conservative, arguing that certain conservative positions are similer to those of the punk subculture, most notably the push for a smaller government. Notable conservative punks include: Michale Graves, Johnny Ramone, Lee Ving, Joe Escalante, Bobby Steele and Dave Smalley.


Liberal punks were in the punk subculture from the beginning, and are mostly on the liberal left. Notable liberal punks include: Joey Ramone, Fat Mike, Ted Leo, Crashdog, Hoxton Tom McCourt and Tim McIlrath.

Neo-Nazism and white nationalism

Nazi punks, the smallest minority in punk subculture, have a far right, 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 music, also known as Rock Against Communism.


Centering around a belief in the abject lack of meaning and value to life, nihilism was a fixture in some protopunk and early punk rock. Notable nihilist punks include: Johnny Rotten, Iggy Pop, Sid Vicious and Richard Hell.


The Situationist International (SI) was allegedly an early influence on punk ideology in the United Kingdommarker. 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. 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. Jamie Reid's distinctive album cover artwork was openly situationist.


The Clash were the first blatantly political punk rock band, introducing socialism to the punk scene. Some of the original Oi! bands expressed a rough form of socialist working class populism — often mixed with patriotism. 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, Stewart Home, Dennis Lyxzén, Thomas Mensforth, Fermin Muguruza, Alberto Pla, Tom Robinson, Justin Sane, Seething Wellsmarker, Paul Simmonds, John Sinclair, Joe Strummer, Ian Svenonius, Mark Steel and Paul Weller.

Straight edge

Straight edge, which originated in the American hardcore punk scene, 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's a political stance. In many cases, it is a rejection of the perceived self-destruction of punk and hardcore culture. Notable straight edgers include: Ian MacKaye, Henry Rollins, Tim McIlrath and Dennis Lyxzén.

Criticism of punk ideologies

Punk ideologies have been criticized from outside and within. The anarcho-punk band Crass wrote the song "White Punks on Hope", which, 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 accused the punk magazine Maximum RocknRoll of "punk fundamentalism" when they refused to advertise Alternative Tentacles records because they said the records "weren't punk". On the Conservative Punk website, Michale Graves of The Misfits argues that punks have become "hippies with mohawks".

Author Jim Goad argues in his essay The Underground is A Lie!, that many punks are hypocrites. He writes that many punks act poor while hiding the fact they come from middle to upper class backgrounds. In his blog, Goad criticized Joe Strummer for pretending to be poor. Goad claims that punk is as outdated, obsolescent and bland as the mainstream it rails against. In Farts from Underground, he claims that the DIY ethic never produces anything original, and it allows poor quality work to be championed. In another blog post, Goad mocked punks' stereotypical lack of personal hygiene and overreaction to current events.

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

See also


  • O'Hara, Craig, The Philosophy of Punk, AK Press, 1999 ISBN 1-873176-16-3
  • Garofalo, Rebee, "Rockin' The Boat: Music and Mass Movements", South End Press, 1991 ISBN 0896084272
  • Sinker, Daniel, "We Owe You Nothing, Punk Planet: the collected interviews", Akashic Books, 2001 ISBN 1888451149
  • Taylor, Steven, "False Prophet: Fieldnotes from the Punk Underground", Wesleyan University Press, 2003 ISBN 0819566675


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