Having gone to college in the 1960s, I belong to the Beatles generation.Last week, we mourned John Lennon on his 30th death anniversary. How the Beatles lit up our lives in the 1960s! 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.
FBI surveillance reports said Lennon was sympathetic to Tariq Ali’s International Marxist Group, and Ali himself confirmed this. When the Marxist Clydeside workers in Britain went on a “work-in” in 1971, he sent them a cheque for 5,000 pounds.
Britain had very high tax rates, exceeding 90%, in the 1960s, so Beatles manager Epstein envisaged a corporate tax shelter—a company with subsidiaries for music, films, electronics and so on, called Apple Corps. He died before implementing this, but Apple came into being in 1968.
Rather than present it to the world as a tax shelter, the Beatles claimed that they had more than enough money, and so wanted to work for humanity. Apple would not be a profit-maximizer, they said, but would finance innovative people in every sort of creative activity. Paul McCartney called it “a kind of western communism.”
Soon their mailboxes and telephones were jammed with thousands of requests for money from supposed creative artists. George Harrison moaned “we had every freak in the world coming there.” Almost all the “creative artists” disappeared after pocketing the cash. Meanwhile, the Apple staff expanded hugely, treating themselves to sumptuous perks in the pursuit of saving humanity. Finally, not even the Beatles could tolerate this mess. They had rediscovered a sobering lesson of history—ordinary people rarely behave as Marxists want them to, save at gunpoint.
The Beatles decided to bring in professional management. But McCartney wanted Apple to be managed by his prospective father-in-law, Lee Eastman. John and the others insisted on Allen Klein. This violent business disagreement led to the break-up of the group. Ironically, John, George and Ringo Starr would later sue their choice, Klein.
Multiple issues complicated the evolution of Apple, but these did not include Marxism or the brotherhood of man. Apple Corps was revamped and went on to become one of the biggest, most profitable music companies globally. 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.