Originally appeared in The Coldest Issue # 1

The Redskins were a UK band of skinheads that briefly existed during the 1980s. Releasing 7 singles and 1 full-length album between 1982-1986, the group stood out from other skinhead bands in that they mostly eschewed oi, hardcore and ska in favor of soul influences and were also open and committed socialists.

Closely associated with the broad movement in solidarity with the National Union of Mineworkers’ strike, they planned numerous benefit shows for the strikers and even brought a striker on to a BBC performance of theirs to speak. They were also aligned with the Socialist Workers Party, a radical left political party considered within the Trotskyist tradition of socialism.

I was curious on how influential the band was on the skinhead subculture at the time and couldn’t think of anyone better to ask than Kieran, who originally introduced me to Neither Washington Nor Moscow, the Redskins sole album, about a decade ago.

Kieran was a member of the 1980s Minneapolis, Minnesota (USA) skinhead crew, The Baldies. Coming out of the punk scene, The Baldies were a multiracial working class skinhead crew formed through the love of the music and style. They shortly come into conflict with neo-Nazis, making a choice to fight them out of having a public presence in Minneapolis. They then went on to form links with other skinhead crews around the US, resulting in the creation of Anti-Racist Action, a group whose influence on the US radical left, antifascist and antiracist circles is underestimated, in my opinion.

Anyway here’s what Kieran had to say.

Q: The first Redskins singles came out in 1982-1985, with their only album coming out in 1986. Were you aware of the band during these years or were you only exposed to them after the full length album came out? Where were you and what were you involved in when you came across the band?

KFK: I first heard the Redskins in 1986. A bunch of the Baldies/SLK Posse (including three of my cousins) went to an alternative public high school called Loring-Nicollet, then at Franklin and Nicollet in Minneapolis. The school was very “loose” compared to most schools, including having a record player available to the students. The Baldies commandeered the record player between classes and played their music. I was visiting the school one day – in my freshman year. I was learning a lot of new music from my cousins and their friends, but mostly hardcore (Bad Brains, Cro-Mags, Minor Threat) Oi! (Cock Sparrer, the Business, the 4-Skins, the Oppressed), or Ska (The Specials, Selecter, Bad Manners) – and so the Redskins sound stuck out – much different than punk or even ska. Equally striking were the band’s lyrics, which explicitly made working-class revolution its battle cry.

I loved the Redskins, and became one of the main collectors of their music in our scene. I had their album, the “Peel Sessions” record, a benefit compilation for the British Miners Strike that they had a song on (a gorgeous, haunting cover of Billy Bragg’s “Levi Stubbs’ Tears”, a couple 12″ and four or five 7″. I don’t remember anyone having T-shirts or other gear until Red and Anarchist SkinHeads (RASH) came around in the mid 90s.

Minneapolis Baldies Circa 1988

Q: What kind of influence did the Redskins have on the skinhead scene at the time? In the past you’ve said you thought the Redskins were an important band for the skinhead scene because they put forward a positive, working class worldview. What exactly did you mean by that within the context of the scene and groups you were involved in at the time?

KFK: For the Minneapolis Baldies, I would say the Redskins had a tremendous influence. Their album “Neither Washington Nor Moscow” was on heavy rotation at parties and in the cassette players in our friends’ cars – most of us knew the lyrics to a bunch of their songs. I still remember the chill when Chris Dean begged “Lets get this situation sorted out Mhmmmm”. I’d say the Redskins lyrics gave us all a political education (the Russian Revolution, Spain, Hungary) and bolstered our class perspective (pro-union, pro-strikes, pro-organization, anti-rich – “Lets keep those bosses on the run”). Most of the Baldies were quite open to radical left-wing politics and the Redskins were one reason why. Our affection for the band was proof to our enemies that we were “communists” – tho few, if any, Baldies actually identified as such.

Minneapolis Baldies Circa 1989

But interestingly – we were one of the few 80’s skinhead crews that made the Redskins one of the core touchstone bands. When we traveled to Milwaukee, Chicago, New York City, most other crews hadn’t really heard them, or dismissed them derisively as “commies”. But we definitely introduced the band to a lot of other crews. 

Q: Another thing you’ve said in the past is that the Redskins re-introduced soul music roots to the American skinhead scene? Could you explain this more?

KFK: The soul-influenced, heavy horns of the Redskins opened up our musical palette, where most skins were on a steady diet of only the hardest of hard Oi! and hardcore music. 

I’m a bit embarrassed to remember one time, I had an older anarchist friend with a massive record collection helping me make a mix tape for a girlfriend, and he played me “Bernadette” by The Four Tops, and I was like “this sounds like the Redskins! – Is this where they got their sound?” and he was like “duh”. haha!

Q: The band was strongly associated with the UK’s Socialist Workers Party, a Trotskyist political party. What is your view of the band’s specific politics and its relationship to the SWP? Did it benefit the band’s message or take away from it?

KFK: The Redskins were definitely affiliated with the British SWP, a significant Trotskyist group over there. This had a good side and a bad side, in my opinion. 

On the good side, the Redskins carried forward a basically workerist, internationalist outlook that rejected Stalinist state-capitalism (which confused the right-wing skinheads) and had an orientation towards the masses, rather than just intellectual political bubbles. “Kick Over the Statues” is an anti-Stalinist anthem, in keeping with SWP style politics.

But I always questioned why a British based skinhead band would be effectively silent about two of the biggest political fronts for leftwing militants there: Anti-fascism and Ireland.

Ireland was a dangerous topic for the Left in Britain. The sympathy for the struggles for Civil Rights and Irish independence often ran into the complicated realities of an armed struggle led by nationalists aimed at the British establishment (including the Labor Party – long targeted by the British Left for influence within and recruitment from), soldiers (overwhelmingly poor and working-class, with much patriotic support across the Empire), and only very occasionally working-class civilians. Instead of taking a principled stand in defense of Irish self-determination, or even a liberal stand against British repression in Ireland – the Redskins just stayed mum.

And as crazy as it sounds, a band that was created at least in part to challenge the Right over its hegemony over working-class youth subculture, the Redskins never really had an anti-fascist anthem or even verse. It wasn’t that the Redskins were ignorant of or removed from the anti-fascist struggle. The first band that Chris and Martin played in together were called “No Swastikas”, and the Redskins had been attacked on stage by the National Front at a big outdoor concert in 1984.

Later I learned that there had been a small but important split from the SWP in the early 80s that had been kicked out over charges of “squadism”, i.e forming militant affinity groups to physically attack fascist targets and personnel. This group, which was disproportionately young, blue collar, male, and from Irish backgrounds, went on to form the group Red Action, which was one of the main political forces within the Anti-Fascist Action united front (along with the anarcho-syndicalist Direct Action Movement, and the anarcho-populist-insurrectionist Class War). Red Action criticized the SWP for being effectively pacifists for their refusal to organize effective anti-fascist defense forces, and for their refusal to take a clear stand in favor of the Irish armed struggle. Ironically, Red Action was a political organization largely made up of actual red skins – the types of youth that the band had set about trying to cohere and motivate.

But to this day, the Redskins get me going, and “Lean on Me” is one of my favorite songs of all time.

For more on The Baldies, see PBS Minnesota’s documentary

For more on Anti-Racist Action, PM Press recently released a book

2 responses to “The Redskins and the US skinhead scene: an interview with Kieran”

  1. hotter scorcher Avatar
    hotter scorcher

    Gotta love some revisionist history. Just because some poorly dressed bumpkins in the Midwest had never heard of them doesn’t mean the rest of us hadn’t.


  2. conatz Avatar

    By ‘revisionist history’, that seems to imply there is an existing history on the Redskins influence on the US skinhead scene. Can you point me to this? I’ve not come across anything like this…


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