With workers and employers clashing over stagnant wages and work/life balance, we could all use some good political punk rock songs to help put things into perspective.
To say that these are uncertain economic times would be a massive understatement. Are inflation, high gas prices, an increasingly unstable climate, and an out-of-control housing market just the opening act for even greater economic upheaval?
The last few years have been especially hard for working-class people. Then again, hasn’t the entirety of human history been a litany of stories about how difficult life is for workers?
Things are so bad right now that terminology that was previously the sole domain of leftist academics has entered mainstream vernacular – practically everyone now knows what “late-stage capitalism” means. But you know things have gone from bad to worse when new terms to describe the struggles we face in the world of work are being minted fast enough to make your head spin: quiet quitting, new normal, and return to work are just a few examples of neologisms that evoke the turbulent times we’re in.
If all of that leaves you feeling as exhausted, defeated, and burned out as your job does, we’ve got some political songs that will hopefully kick your ass in a good way – a veritable slugfest of hard-hitting protest music that has capitalism (and your crummy boss) in their crosshairs.
So if you like political punk songs, you’ve come to the right place! Let’s dig in to our picks of 10 anti-capitalist punk rock songs that are perfect for these dark times.
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10. Dead Kennedys: Take This Job and Shove It
The opening track on their final album, 1986’s Bedtime for Democracy, The Dead Kennedys’ “Take This Job and Shove It” works overtime by serving as both a final, sarcastic kiss-off for the band, and a raucous take on the classic song by Johnny Paycheck.
Honestly, there are entire Dead Kennedys albums full of great political punk songs that would fit nicely on this list (and so would any Jello Biafra spoken word album), but a song about telling off your abusive boss to their face seems like the perfect way to kick off this list.
If you like your protest songs with a side of twang, the David Allen Coe version of this song is pretty great, too!
9. The Dils: I Hate the Rich
Released in September 1977, “I Hate the Rich” by The Dils was one of the first political punk songs to be be recorded, and it’s still a great example of the speed, aggression, and cynicism that set punk rock apart from other music genres, especially in its earliest incarnations.
This song isn’t just a rant against the rich; it’s also a rant against the entire rich/poor paradigm that capitalism begets, artificially segmenting people into groups of “haves” and “have nots” that have little choice but to oppose and disdain each other. The Dils are bored and disgusted with the whole thing. Aren’t you?
8. D.O.A.: General Strike
Another great punk rock protest anthem, Canadian punk band D.O.A.’s “General Strike” was released in 1983, and it’s a great example of how punk rock can serve as an outlet for anger at a system that keeps us divided, exploited, and oppressed.
The lyrics to “General Strike” aren’t exactly subtle and the message behind them is clear: we need to unite and fight back against the powers that be, because they’re keeping us all divided and fighting each other when we should be uniting against our common enemy – the rich elites that own and control everything.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Almost like something George Carlin would say, eh? (Spoiler: this is not the only George Carlin reference to sneak into this list.)
7. Propaghandi: …And We Thought Nation States were a Bad Idea
Say what you want about that “Fat sound“, Canadian punks Propaghandi are as well-known for their left-leaning, labor-friendly political stance as they are for sounding like a NOFX clone. Nestled right in the middle of their ironically-titled 1996 album Less Talk, More Rock (it’s ironic because they did the exact opposite on this album), “…And We Thought Nation States were a Bad Idea” is a scathing attack on the idea that so-called “poor” people are basically owned by the rich and decadent oligarch class.
Oh, and it rocks pretty hard, too.
6. Circle Jerks: When the Shit Hits the Fan
Pioneers of the hardcore punk scene of the early 1980’s, California’s Circle Jerks reacted to the Reaganism of their former governor taking hold at the national level, and his laughably wrong-headed “trickle-down” economic policy robbing middle-class families with the same level of disgust that any reasonable person would. Luckily for us, they also happened to have guitars and drums and a howling madman vocalist in Keith Morris, so they could write and record brilliant punk songs like this scorcher from the Repo Man soundtrack, “When the Shit Hits the Fan”.
5. The Clash: Magnificent Seven
One of the most (in)famous punk bands ever, London’s The Clash had some of the most politically-charged songs of any band in history, and this track from 1980’s Sandinista! is a perfect example of why. It’s a deep critique of how capitalism make us into consumerist wage slaves by pushing us to constantly strive for more money and material belongings. In the end, we finally see that after all of the time we spent trying to climb the corporate ladder and acquire more wealth, we’re really no further in life than where we started.
4. Embrace: Money
Embrace was a transitional band for Ian MacKaye between his time in Minor Threat and Fugazi, and it was one of the major bands contributing to Washington D.C.’s “Revolution Summer” in 1985. The instrumentation on “Money” may be more complex and nuanced than hardcore punk, but its message is still fairly simple and straightforward: You are more important than what you have. You are not what you buy and own. You don’t need to prove yourself through the accumulation of material things, and furthermore if everyone lived like that, we’d all lose out in the end.
3. Discharge: Drunk with Power
From Discharge’s brutal-sounding 1982 masterpiece of a debut album, Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing, “Drunk with Power” takes aim at the greediest members of society, treating others as disposable chess pieces. This simple song, with its repetitively-chanted lyrics serves as a blistering indictment of plutocracy, and it implores you to think about just how dangerous things can get when wealthy special interest groups buy their way into power.
2. Aüs Rotten: American Ethic
When Crust Punk and Anarcho-Punk were ascendent in the American hardcore punk scene of the early-to-mid 1990’s, Aüs Rotten released what was arguably the definitive album of those genres, The System Works For Them. With songs like “American Ethic” Aüs Rotten took aim at the rampant consumerism and cultural imperialism of America while exposing the true nature of the American Dream – you know, the same dream that, according to George Carlin, you’d need to be asleep to believe in. (I told you there’d be another George Carlin reference!)
1. Crass: Do They Owe Us a Living?
The original crusty punks, Crass were one of the first British bands to take an overtly political stance against Thatcherite policies and the rise of New Right politics in Britain. One of the standout songs on their 1978 album The Feeding of the 5000, “Do They Owe Us a living?” is a biting satire of the way working-class people are treated like they’re disposable, something many Britons began to experience as the country became increasingly polarized and economically unstable under Right-Wing leadership.
Sadly, we can’t really do a list of anti-capitalist songs without leaving out a lot of really great punk bands. Therefore, we’d like to suggest basically the the entirety of the Anarcho-Punk and Crust Punk sub-genres as an honorable mention. Go forth, down a Wikipedia-sized rabbit hole of new-to-you punk rock band discovery, or a refresher course on the songs of your angry punk youth. That or just watch a bunch of George Carlin standup routines from the late 90’s onward. It’s practically the same experience.