Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League were formed in 1977 and 1978 to combat the rise of Nazi parties in Britain and their subsequent attempt to hijack popular music for their own ends.
ANL and RAR created fun campaigns with a hard hitting message. They staged two huge London carnivals and concerts, both attracting more than 100,000 people, to spread the anti-racism message. Both organisations were wildly successful in halting the rise of the far right by working with the emerging punk and new wave music scenes and gaining the support of bands like Sham 69, X-Ray Spex and The Clash who played gigs in support of the cause.
Both causes were highly visible – they produced street posters with striking designs, those designs inspired by Russian and other revolutionary avant garde art movements, which could be found fly-posted on walls throughout Britain. Local groups made their own designs to promote concerts that brought the anti-racist message home to the country’s youth.
Martin Smith (a former RAR activist) has built a collection of these somewhat ephemeral posters over several decades. This unique collection is being exhibited in Scotland for the first time. Added to this vibrant material is a collection of local Edinburgh Rock Against Racism posters including the infamous concert in Craigmillar where The Clash were billed to play but on their non-appearance a mini-riot took place.
In more recent years the racist, fascist right has regrouped and is now trying to regain its former popularity amongst alienated parts of society. A new campaign, rooted firmly in the Rock Against Racism tradition and utilising similar campaign material, has sprung up amongst musicians and young people under the ‘LOVE MUSIC HATE RACISM’ banner. Smith’s collection contains several examples of these more recent colourful campaigns in this fascinating and still sadly relevant exhibition of political posters.