Lennon a Marxist or capitalist?
The best part of publishing 3L&3S is the reciprocal content we get from our readers. Last week’s edition featured a review of the book “Greed is dead” by Sir John Kay and Sir Paul Collier, where we asked: “What these two economists highlight is a powerful contradiction which runs through the mental models many of us use to live our lives, namely, with regards to matters of business, finance and economics, we believe in the free market and in capitalism. However, in matters regarding society, country and politics, we tend to be liberals who want to seen doing & saying politically correct things on climate change, the need to uplift the poor and the need to protect the rights of the oppressed. These contradictory lines of thought i.e. right wing beliefs when it comes to the economy and left liberal beliefs when it comes to society are untenable. Why? Because if we want the state to have less of a role when it comes to the economy (i.e. we want the state to tax and spend less) then how is the state supposed to protect the environment, uplift the poor and protect the oppressed?”
In response to this, a reader shared this piece by Swaminathan Aiyar from a decade ago about John Lennon’s life which depicted this contradiction:
“Lennon’s “Imagine” has been voted the greatest song of the 20th century. Both liberal globalizers and Marxists claim Lennon as one of their own. Which was he?
The second verse of “Imagine” portrays his liberal globalizing dream: “Imagine there’s no country. It isn’t hard to do Nothing to kill or die for, And no religion too…”
But Marxists prefer to highlight Lennon’s final verse. “Imagine no possessions I wonder if you can No need for greed or hunger A brotherhood of man…”
Lennon himself once said this stanza came straight out of the Manifesto of the Communist Party. He often spoke out against “bourgeois imperialism” . His opposition to the Vietnam War made him a hero of the left (although the war’s opponents included rich college boys wanting to avoid death in distant Asia). His hit song “Give peace a chance” became an anti-war anthem in the US. The CIA went after him for his activism, and sought (unsuccessfully ) to deport him from the US, where he sought permanent residence.
….At his Marxist zenith, Lennon sang “Imagine no possessions.” Yet he could not imagine himself without royalties. He was a multi-millionaire capitalist. He talked of a brotherhood of man, but did he share even his music free with his brothers? No, he negotiated high royalties to maximize his intellectual property rights. Yes, he sent a cheque to the Clydeside workers but can a mere 5,000 pounds be called sharing wealth with brothers?
Why did Lennon, proud of his hometown Liverpool, insist on settling in the US despite huge hurdles created by the US government? Yoko Ono was there, but she could have joined him in Britain. One reason must have been that income tax rates were far lower in the US than in Britain.
However, the land with lower tax rates had no gun control either. A psychotic American obtained a gun, and killed Lennon in 1980. Had he remained in high-tax Britain, he might have been alive today, like McCartney.
Let us not be harsh on him. He was hardly the first person to be carried away by Marxist rhetoric in his youth, before growing up. For me, Lennon will always remain a freedom seeker, a liberal globalizer who dreamed of a world with no country, with nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too. Impossible? Maybe , but dreams need to go beyond the mere possible.”