Newspapers have described the tragic death of John Lennon as the end of an era. We wish they were right. We wish it was the end of a period of human society in which rock singers could accumulate millions of pounds from the sale of records while millions starve for want of a bowl of rice; we wish we could write an obituary to the violent social system of capitalism in which men like Lennon’s alleged murderer can easily obtain and use a gun; we wish we could report the end of the wars and malnutrition and the inequality which Lennon sang about so well. But the era of capitalism is still with us and there will be others to grow rich singing about the miseries it causes.
Lennon was a talented musician and lyricist who understood the world he lived in more than most of his musical colleagues. Some of his songs showed definite political perception and what is generally considered to be his greatest post-Beatles record, ‘Imagine’, showed an understanding of the meaning of socialism which is almost unmatched in the history of rock music. The song urges people to imagine a world without possessions, countries, wars, hunger or religion. When a meeting of our companion party, the Socialist Party of Canada, was shown on Canadian TV, ‘Imagine’ was selected by the producer as the most appropriate theme song to sum up our views.
Rock critics regarded Lennon’s message with predictable hypocrisy. While claiming that Lennon was a great musician and that they were in tune with what he was trying to say, they have disparaged such songs as ‘Imagine’ as an “idealistic vision”. (Robin Denselow, the Guardian, 12.12.80.) They prefer to stress Lennon’s more easily categorised leftist lyrics, such as those on ‘Some Time In New York City’ in which he expressed his support for the divisive nationalism of the IRA. Like many people, John Lennon vaguely perceived important socialist ideas, but these became confused with the pragmatic radicalism for which he will be remembered by the trendy sloganisers of the Left. For genuine world socialists the vision of a society of which Lennon sings in ‘Imagine’ is worth more than any of the sterile aggression of modern punk rock. The man may be dead, but the vision of a world of peace, equality and freedom lives on within the socialist movement which neither Lennon nor his supporters have had the wisdom to join. At the risk of being labelled a Marxist-Lennonist, this writer echoes the words of ‘Imagine’
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope one day you’ll join me
And the world will live as one.