Revolutionary Positions

Still from ‘Revol’ video (dir. Chris D’Adda, 1994). Quote from Black Mask Issue 10 – April/May 1968

“And you’ve organised the show around the polarities of love and revolution, isn’t that right?”

“That’s right, it’s a quotation by Che Guevara that goes, ‘A true revolutionary is motivated by great feelings of love’. So you have this idea that to be a revolutionary you have to want to love something enough to want to fight for it or die for it. And I think artists are also revolutionaries or can be in the way that they’ve changed how we look at the world. So it’s that idea of political revolution and also personal revolution that I was interested in.” – Jeremy Deller, speaking at the opening of Unconvention, an exhibition inspired by Manic Street Preachers

“Thank God, something did begin! But everything that began was done wrongly. So what do you do? Celebrate or weep?” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Lenin’s tomb

In April 1994, the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction was awarded to David Remnick for Lenin’s Tomb. Based on four years of journalism written for the Washington Post, the book chronicles the last days of the Soviet Union. Explaining his choice of title, Remnick said:

“I think it’s an ironic image, symbolising – at first it was meant to symbolise the eternal god Lenin… the old saying in Soviet lore was, ‘Lenin lives, Lenin lives and Lenin will always live’. And now we find out that underneath Lenin there’s a gymnasium where the soldiers work out, and the tomb itself is run by the Russian Institute of Aromatic Plants… And there have been instances when the body has disintegrated when Lenin had to be shipped out to the Urals during the war, so it’s a fairly sad and pathetic story, symbolising a fairly sad and tragic history of the Soviet Union.” [1]

As if echoing the sentiment, an image of Lenin lying in state was selected by Richey Edwards to appear in the booklet of The Holy Bible alongside the lyrics for ‘Revol’, the second single to be released from the album. The revolutionary leader is the first of a number of political figures namechecked in the song, the first verse of which follows the arc of Communist rule after 1917. In his own unusual way, Edwards was commenting on the history of the Soviet Union, and revolution in general – expressing a pessimistic view of human relations and collective action. By comparison with songs like ‘Yes’ and ‘Ifwhiteamerica…’, ‘Revol’ foregoes a documentary approach to its subject, such that Remnick’s book might have inspired. It is not written with the same type of moral vehemence found in ‘Of Walking Abortion’ and ‘Archives of Pain’, either (though we do see the reappearance of Boris Yeltsin, and further traces of fascist themes). ‘Revol’ is among the most idiosyncratic lyrics on The Holy Bible, and in Manic Street Preachers’ entire discography.

In interviews, Edwards articulated his point of view plainly, but ‘Revol’ is nevertheless open to much interpretation. It appears to mark a shift in Edwards’s writing style that would be developed further in the lyrics later used for Journal For Plague Lovers – playing with formal structure, juxtaposition, metaphor and black humour, in ways distinct from the collaborative lines traded with Nicky Wire. But this is not to say that it does not share certain characteristics with earlier songs by the band, or even other tracks on The Holy Bible; that it might not seem an altogether revolutionary transformation in lyrical approach, once we pay attention to it in some detail. A closer look at ‘Revol’ is also necessary to get past the brief, puzzled responses offered by critics and writers – many of whom all too easily lapse into inaccurate summaries that present it as a kind of Cold War ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, with Stalin in place of ‘Little Joe’, overemphasising the references to sexuality in the lyrics, while ignoring the blander romantic sentiments and vaguer phrases Edwards associates with an array of political figures – and not only those from Soviet history.

According to Nicky Wire, the song came together at a late stage in the recording process and although Bradfield claims that it was ‘This Is Yesterday’ that finally helped him and Sean Moore bring the album together musically, he felt ‘Revol’ was another “lighter moment”. [2] Still, Bradfield delivers the lyric with that familiar combination of cold announcement and barked refrains heard across The Holy Bible. After the frenetic coda of ‘Archives of Pain’ slows to its ominous conclusion, ‘Revol’ soon revives the antic zeal. The heavy, distorted, swirling chord patterns that burst forth after the song’s intro blend the guitar styles of John McGeogh and contemporaries such as tour mates Therapy? and the US band Girls Against Boys, whom Bradfield claimed were a mainstay of his stereo while recording the album. [3] The modal approach, using tritone, semitone and minor intervals and the quickly shifting chord progression of the chorus creates a sense of sustained tension and unease throughout, while on the surface it remains a blazing post-punk anthem. Bradfield has also credited Stuart Adamson in particular, most likely through his work in The Skids, as a key inspiration for the track. On their 1979 track ‘Vanguard’s Crusade’, a B-side from the Days in Europa album – which is likely to have inspired Bradfield and Moore’s music for The Holy Bible with its propulsive, machinic rhythms and heavily modulated guitar sound, using chorus and phasing effects – singer Richard Jobson narrates the story of an old man looking back on the political struggles of his youth and the betrayals suffered, before the call to unite is repeated again.


In early 1994 David Remnick travelled to Cavendish, Vermont to interview the writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn shortly before his return to Russia after twenty years, bringing some of the central historical matters of Lenin’s Tomb to the fore. The revolution which gave birth to a Communist empire had also brought about mass killing, impoverishment and fearful silence. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was great uncertainty about the future. Solzhenitsyn said of seeing the statue of the Bolshevik official Dzerzhinsky, or ‘Iron Felix’, come down outside the KGB building in 1991, after a failed coup d’etat against Mikhail Gorbachev:

“You know, I felt deep inside that this was not yet a victory. I knew how deeply Communism had penetrated into the fabric of life. Afterward, for two years, we tap-danced about, and what were we doing? What was Yeltsin doing? We forgot everything else and fought one another. The same is true now. All is in decay. It’s too early to celebrate.” [4]

By 1993, critical attitudes towards president Boris Yeltsin and his economic reform policies saw growing opposition in the Russian parliament, with increasing support for the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, as well as the Communist party. Solzhenitsyn was hesitiant in offering hope, despite his determination to return home.

Away from Russian politics, in February 1994 The New York Times published an article on the mysterious life of the Cambodian political leader Pol Pot, who had overseen his own murderous Communist regime, the Khmer Rouge, from 1975 to 1979 and was now living comfortably, propped up by Thai money and armaments. In the same edition, the paper ran an opinion piece focusing on anti-Semitism within the Nation of Islam and the complicity of its leader, Louis Farrakhan. [5] No doubt aware of the history of all these political movements, all the ideological fervour which had led to slaughter, racism, economic disaster, Richey Edwards captured the sense of dismay in ‘Revol’.

Though its cast of historical figures means that the lyrics bear a surface resemblance to those of ‘Archives of Pain’, ‘Faster’, ‘Ifwhiteamerica…’ and ‘Of Walking Abortion’, adding to The Holy Bible‘s encyclopaedic quality, it is out of step with the album’s use of religious imagery and language, and its journalistic nature.

Still from ‘Revol’ video (dir. Chris D’Adda, 1994). Quote from Black Mask Issue 10 – April/May 1968

Visions of dead desire

In an early interview for Snub TV, Nicky Wire announced matter-of-factly: “We will never write a love song ever. Full stop.” As if to prove their aversion to ballads, serenades and those teenage confessions of sexual attraction and heartache that shaped early rock ‘n’ roll, so inspired as the Manics were by the confrontational, political music of The Clash and Public Enemy, the band recorded ‘You Love Us’ and ‘Love’s Sweet Exile’, songs of arrogance, disillusion and contempt, for their debut album Generation Terrorists. Remaining true to Wire’s words for the most part, The Holy Bible era does, somewhat surprisingly, see the theme arising across B-sides but again framed in a pessimistic way; from the bleak certainties of ‘Comfort Comes’ on the Life Becoming a Landslide EP, to the sparse, melancholic ‘Too Cold Here’ and finally ‘Love Torn Us Under’. ‘She Is Suffering’ speaks against desire altogether. ‘Revol’ is as close to a love song as one can find on The Holy Bible – and it too is characteristically cynical, with suggestions of celibacy, vanity and divorce.

According to Edwards, ‘Revol’ was meant as a palindrome, reading ‘Lover’ backwards. [6] While this might at first suggest an affinity with Che Guevara’s concept of the true revolutionary being ‘guided by a great feeling of love’, Edwards explained his own point of view bluntly in the band’s tour programme:

‘All adolescent leaders of men FAILED. All love FAILS. If men of the calibre of Lenin and Trotsky failed, then how can anyone expect anything to change. Won’t get fooled again.’ [7]

The passing reference to The Who is worth picking up on. It suggests that Edwards had in mind another, musical, reference point in writing about political disillusion and the impossibility of revolution, best captured in one immortal line, sung by Roger Daltrey: ‘Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.’ There is a curious overlap here with the sentiments of ‘Revol’, at least in its ‘revolution’ aspect, as well as the idea of left and right mirroring one another that encompasses much of The Holy Bible, as we find when we look at the song’s lyrics:

There’s nothing in the streets

Looks any different to me

And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye

And the parting on the left

Is now parting on the right

Speaking with RAW magazine, Edwards expanded on his idea:

“Revolutionary leaders are very powerful icons when you’re young. They were all idealistic and ill-fated, ‘cos power corrupts, but they are a very extreme symbol. They offered something to believe in, something that went very sour. I linked that theme to the same theory with love. The words start off with love being all-consuming and fantastic and ends up falling apart with ‘alimony, alimony’ being repeated.” [8]

This is perhaps the clearest explanation of the lyric that Edwards gave to the press; a negative counterpoint to Marx and Engels’ stages of the proletarian revolution as outlined in their 1848 Communist Manifesto. Still it fails in its own way to account for the unexpected array of people named, and the vaguer poetic phrases that Edwards weds to certain of those people. It seems that it is easy, too, to be fooled into thinking the song is merely about the kinky private lives of communists.

Four lines in particular have shaped most of the critical interpretations of the song:

‘Mr Stalin – bisexual epoch

Brezhnev – married into group sex

Gorbachev – celibate self-importance

Yeltsin – failure is his own impotence’

In Triptych, a book which focuses in-depth on the lyrical themes and style of the album, the song is given reasonably little consideration by all three of its authors; all of whom misrepresent the lyrics in varying degrees. Rhian E Jones describes the song as ‘juxtaposing political figures with images of sexual and emotional dysfunction or debauchery’. Larissa Wodtke narrowly focuses on the first verse, referring to ‘Revol’ as ‘a track that places Russian leaders next to sexual acts with no apparent correlation to reality’. Meanwhile Daniel Lukes considers the song ‘a puerile joke, imagining the sex lives of politicians’ and compares Edwards’s approach with that of JG Ballard in his short story ‘Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan’. [9] In another recent study of the album, writer David Evans arrives at a summary somewhere between all three, saying the song ‘matches twentieth-century politicians with various sexual acts’. [10]

There is precisely one sexual act mentioned in the song: ‘group sex’. Whether or not Leonid Brezhnev was ever involved orgies, the remaining lines contain no descriptions of sex, or ‘debauchery’ at all. The listener might imagine the naked figure serenaded in the second verse engaging in coitus before or after the passionate tribute (and might even imagine that it is Leon Trotsky singing if they so wish); the references to sexuality, however – ‘bisexual’, ‘celibate’, ‘impotence’ – are used in a vaguely metaphorical way.

But Lukes and Evans are alert to another key aspect of ‘Revol’: its psychoanalytic quality; seeing sexuality, the stages of sexual development and the dynamics of interpersonal relationships mirrored in politics, power and the revolutionary impulse. [11] Mathijs Peters also considers the effect of this approach in the lyrics:

‘It could also be argued that the song is driven by the attempt to de-mystify the leaders mentioned in its lyrics, embedding them in references to narcissism, group sex, impotence and bisexuality. These references reduce the often horrible role that these people played in history to a longing for power that, the lyrics suggest, is born in the pathology of their psychosexual self-formation.’  [12]

Edwards treats his subject matter, sex and power, in a way distinct from that of ‘Yes’ – but similarly hopeless. As with that song’s picture of prostitution and exploitation, Edwards seems to be promoting a view of liberated sexuality, love and revolution not as positively transformative but inevitably doomed. His way of doing so, however, is apt to confuse listeners. As compared with the judgmental, didactic style of much of The Holy Bible and the admissions of personal vulnerability in other songs such as ‘4st 7lb’ and ‘Die in the Summertime’, it is hard to square the lines with what Edwards deemed them to be saying.

Still from ‘Revol’ video (dir. Chris D’Adda, 1994). Quote from Black Mask Issue 9 – January/February 1968

The double thinkers

In his ‘Two Encyclopaedia Articles’ of 1922, Sigmund Freud explained the concept of free association:

‘The treatment is begun by the patient being required to put himself in the position of an attentive and dispassionate self-observer, merely to read off all the time the surface of his consciousness, and on the one hand to make a duty of the most complete honesty, while on the other not to hold back any idea from communication, even if (1) he feels that it is too disagreeable or if (2) he judges that it is nonsensical or (3) too unimportant or (4) irrelevant to what is being looked for.’

There is something of The Holy Bible in this; in its interweaving of the personal, the ephemeral, the oblique, the factual, the baffling and the brazen. It is at once dispassionate and searingly personal; cogent and conflicted. It is also opposed to censorship – the subject of the album’s final track, ‘PCP’.

There is a way of reading ‘Revol’ as if it is a product of the sort of repressive regime under which the Soviet populations lived; as if it is oddly in keeping with the Communist Party’s prose, as described by David Remnick, with its ‘great clots of language that had no purpose other than meaninglessness’; a language ‘of indirection and euphemism’. [13] Read the opposite way, Edwards’s words can be seen to be breaking free of any such deadening constraints, reaching for poetic constructions unhindered by influence and connecting names and concepts that would ordinarily remain far apart, unthinkable together. This, despite Solzhenitsyn’s condemnation of popular music and movies as culture.

In contrast to the generally dense lyrical content of the songs on The Holy Bible, the style is as simple as that of ‘Repeat’, from Generation Terrorists – and it contains within it a similar tension. [14] Just as ‘Repeat’ demands the listener to ‘Repeat after me’, while promoting the idea of overthrowing traditional power structures – the push and pull of the group and the individual – ‘Revol’s images of vanguard revolutionaries are punctuated by the orders of fascism – in German and Italian phrases: ‘raus raus, fila fila’. These also link the song with ‘Of Walking Abortion’ and ‘The Intense Humming of Evil’, and the album’s repeated warnings of the impulses towards authoritarianism – whether in spite of, or precisely as a consequence of, the type of political and romantic failure that Edwards judges to be unavoidable. Remnick described the pathetic reality beneath the memorial of Lenin, idolised and apparently calmly at rest – and the way in which one Moscow statue representing the Soviet space programme was commonly referred to as the ‘Impotent Man’s Dream’. ‘Revol’ speaks of what is rampant, self-delusional and futile behind romantic images; the band’s commanding and abrasive delivery sounding only the dissolution of youthful dreams. The middle eight section of the song has a melodic progression that suggests the sombre air of a Soviet symphony in a sped-up post-punk style – an atmosphere later echoed in the doleful orchestral music that opens ‘The Intense Humming of Evil’.

There is a surfeit of possible meanings or associations that present themselves when re-reading ‘Revol’. Given the focus on revolutionary communism throughout the song, what are we to make of the references to Napoleon and Chamberlain? Is the analogy broadened here, to connect the desire for political conquest and later appeasement, with the beginning and ending stages of a relationship? (How easily ‘childhood sweethearts’ might have been rendered as ‘love’s sweet exile’, in reference to both another Manics song and the French emperor’s fate. Thankfully not.) A draft of the lyrics reprinted in The Holy Bible 20 reveals that the opening line was at one point going to be: ‘Mr Lenin – descent of arousal’ while certain other non-English-language phrases were considered by Edwards for the chorus: ‘Via cessionis’ (referring to the Great Schism in the Catholic church in the 14th century); ‘Anschluss’ and ‘Festung Europa’. All suggestive of dissolution and dominance, of break-ups and land-grabs, that Edwards was obviously seeking to link with personal relationships – with ‘lebensraum’, or ‘living room’ being the most eye-opening way of comparing a shared domestic arrangement with a malign political project.

The critical shorthand descriptions that refer to the more overt references to sex and sexuality in the song rarely reflect the second verse, in which the quickly established pattern already begins to break down. As with the phrase ‘awaken the boy’, ‘childhood sweethearts’ and ‘honeymoon, serenade the naked’, rather than suggesting deviance in the Politburo, evoke the romantic poetry of an earlier century. Edwards mentioned Philip Larkin’s ‘Aubade’ as a favourite poem, in which Larkin draws on a traditional poetic form, that of the morning song. [15] Typically an aubade is sung by a departing lover, but finds a despairing reinvention in Larkin’s verse. It is possible to look at ‘Revol’ as an attempt at something similar: Edwards’s description of a honeymoon serenade followed swiftly by ‘withdrawn traces’ and ‘alimony’, and their associations with separation and divorce.

We find similar experiments in form when we look to some of the later lyrics that Edwards wrote, that appeared on Journal For Plague Lovers in 2009. Rather than the recognisable splicing of quotes and statements gathered from an array of media and expressing Edwards’s and Wire’s own perspective on contemporary culture and politics, ‘Revol’ has a lyrical structure that is more schematic. The sentiments of the second part of each verse line seem to bear no relation to the lives of those historical figures mentioned. It is as if Edwards has gathered a group of phrases (and they might have been taken from an as yet unidentified source) and each one has been juxtaposed with a leader. There seems to be a similar approach at play in a lyric such as ‘Pretension/Repulsion’, which might have been a highly disciplined expression adopting the style of Blake’s or Shakespeare’s writing, with contractions within as well as Edwards’s absence of linkages between words – but which equally suggests that Edwards used a found text and isolated every word that contained a contraction, foregoing any readily interpretable meaning in favour of stretching the possibilities of the lyric and the creative use of existing material.

Following her brief, unilluminating overview of ‘Revol’, Larissa Wodtke nevertheless points to the temptation to read more into it, and the album as a whole:

‘The tension between leaving fragments unresolved and the desire to make connections for meaning is indicative of a struggle with confronting and learning from difficult knowledge, a fever to keep returning to the archive and make sense of it.’ [16]

Finally it is impossible to land on a definitive meaning behind ‘Revol’ beyond that suggested by Edwards himself but musically it is no less captivating for all the bewilderment it causes. Journalist Keith Cameron called it ‘Unexplainable’ in his liner notes for the 2014 reissue. As with ‘Faster’ it continues to throw up odd details and new perspectives years after it was written and recorded. Sticking with the simplest of interpretations, however, James Dean Bradfield recalled: “Talking about ‘Revol’ I said to him [Richey] ‘You’re just making a load of despots get together aren’t you?’ And he said that was pretty much it.” [17]

At the time of the album’s release, Nicky Wire described ‘Revol’ as a characteristically “Richey lyric”:

“All those lines like ‘Breshnev [sic] married into group sex’, are just analogies, really. It’s trying to say that relationships in politics, and relationships in general, are failures. It’s very much a Richey lyric, and some of it’s beyond my head. He’s saying that all of these revolutionary leaders were failures in relationships – probably because all his relationships have failed!” [18]

For several years following the release of The Holy Bible, Edwards’s writing about love and revolution seems only to have inspired the title of one otherwise unrelated song: ‘Enola/Alone’, from Everything Must Go, in which Wire uses a palindrome of his own. But the coupling of romantic themes with references to left-wing and even Soviet politics do in fact run through the rest of the band’s work. Wire took a similar approach on Lifeblood with ‘Glasnost’, which uses the drama of late Soviet history as a way of describing a desire for love and meaningful communication in the face of a complex, fraught present. The video for ‘(It’s Not War) Just the End of Love’ sees Cold War opponents united, in the passionate embrace of two chess players. ‘Golden Platitudes’, a companion song of sorts to ‘Glasnost’, again returns to Edwards’s metaphor: ‘Born to be a communist / but then the marriage failed.’ But it is Bradfield who has most recently carried on the theme, in his lyrics for ‘Distant Colours’, where a depiction of a romance in collapse is linked with images of banners falling to the ground, expressing a disillusion brought about by the way in which former political ideals have been betrayed, and the blurring of left- and right-wing politics that leaves only a ‘cold war for the mind’.

Detail from The Holy Bible 20 showing an alternate opening line for the song. Other non-English-language phrases were also considered for the song’s chorus

Revolution or its abortion?

‘And in the absence of any relevant politics they make false separations and throw around labels. Well, who are the saboteurs and the terrorists??? We are. All of us… who strike terror in the heart of the bourgeois honkies and all their armchair bookquoting jive-ass honky leftists/white collar radicals who are the VD of the revolution.’ – Up Against the Wall Motherfucker

One radical political movement of the post-war era that set out its stall with an acknowledgement of the failure of previous revolutionary groups, antipathy towards other leftist groups, and an emphasis on the body and sexuality was Black Mask. Between 1967 and 1968 the group, which was founded by Ben Morea, undertook countless actions and produced a series of ten magazines focusing on issues around US imperialism (specifically the war in Vietnam); the conditions of the working class, black and other minority ethnic citizens; police violence; high art culture and the peaceful protests of hippy movements, which they judged to be ineffective against the ‘racist pig oppressor’ and the bourgeoisie.

In a 2006 interview, Morea explained: “From my perspective and that of the people we worked with we saw a need to change everything from the way we lived to the way we thought to the way we even ate. Total Revolution was our way of saying that we weren’t going to settle for political or cultural change, but that we want it all, we want everything to change. Western society had reached a stalemate and needed a total overhaul. We knew that wasn’t going to happen, but that was our demand, what we were about.” [19]

Described as a “street gang with analysis” Black Mask were defiant in the face of what they saw as doctrinaire, weak, faux-revolutionary movements – with some members of the group rejected by the more well-known Situationists. When one friend, Valerie Solanas – from whose SCUM Manifesto the song title ‘Of Walking Abortion’ is derived – was arrested and widely vilified for shooting Andy Warhol, Morea rallied to her defence, saying: “Everybody I met was very negative about it, but, hey, I disliked Andy Warhol immensely and I loved Valerie. I felt she was right in her anger and that he was way more destructive than she was because he was helping to destroy the whole idea of creativity in art.” [20]

Black Mask writings explicitly draw upon the psychoanalytical theories of Freud as well as Wilhelm Reich, author of The Mass Psychology of Fascism and The Sexual Revolution (original German title: Die Sexualität im Kulturkampf). In Issue 9 of the group’s magazine they examine the repression in daily life and the rise of egotism and fetishism that inhibits a successful revolution, and call for a liberation of sexuality. There is an emphasis on stultifying political structures and language forms and on the importance of using the body:

‘Thus, we must find our way back to the body; language must be made to destroy itself; we must find a way of communicating our feeling of our bodies, subverting all the scientific and historical categories that have so far only been agents of repression.’ [21]

As the group’s activities increasingly drew the involvement of law enforcement, leading to the dissolution of Black Mask, another movement grew outwards. The Family, commonly referred to as ‘Up Against the Wall Motherfucker’, was a larger collective interested in unconventional communal forms, the potential of psychedelics and disruptive activities at political and cultural centres. As with the Black Mask group, The Family produced many pamphlets mixing agitprop and Dadaist poetry. As if rejecting the pessimism of The Who in advance, one summed up the breakthroughs they saw as a possibility for their self-described ‘Armed-Love-Motherfucker’ tribe:

‘Those for whom the century old oppression has loosened cannot be fooled again… we challenge the total oppression of man of which until now the revolution has been part. We challenge the revolution itself. Power to no one. Life to everyone.’ [22]

Up Against the Wall Motherfucker magazine, 1968. Tamiment and Robert Wagner archive, New York

The Black Mask and Up Against the Wall Motherfucker writings clearly made an impact on Richey Edwards – whether before writing ‘Revol’ or afterwards is not clear but the link was made nonetheless. A selection of lines from the groups’ magazines and leaflets flash briefly in the promotional video for the song, three taken from a ‘Bulletin’ of June 1968, following a clash with members of the hippie community:




Other striking lines are taken from an array of Black Mask magazines, including Issue 9 – ‘The proletarian revolution is the sexual revolution’ – while Edwards repurposed one derisive turn of phrase, used in promos for the Revol single and in later editions of the album: ‘The white liberal is the VD of the revolution’, adapted from the text ‘Another Carnival of Left Politics’. [23] Though Edwards was expressly doubtful about the efficacy of such movements, the combination of ideas, themes, the creative art design and Dadaist poetry seems to have reflected his own interests such that he began to incorporate phrases into the presentation of The Holy Bible.

‘Hype!’ feature by Lucie Young, The Face, No 69 (June 1994). The same issue of the magazine featured an interview with the band during their visit to Thailand

Celebrate or weep?

In April 1994, Manic Street Preachers were preparing for a series of concerts in Thailand. The trip was the subject of two remarkable feature articles, written for the NME and The Face, in which Edwards’s own sexual proclivities and forthright political perspectives were a source of fascination. In the same issue of The Face in which journalist Andrew Smith’s report was featured in June 1994, another news item was published, written by Lucie Young, which reported briefly on a current art movement in the US, known as F.I.R.E. [First Issue Reserved Edition] and based around subversive stamp art. A full-page illustration showed colourful examples. Edwards noticed the article, using it as the basis for artwork that would accompany the single release of ‘Revol’.

From the photographic reproductions of working materials that appear in The Holy Bible 20, we can see that Edwards has handwritten the Solzhenitsyn question – Celebrate or weep? – underneath one of the featured stamp artworks. Applying the same idea to a then recently issued set of D-Day commemorative stamps, Edwards extended his approach to collage, bringing yet another medium into the art of The Holy Bible, while also extending the lines of reference across history – political, musical (the stamp design also resembling the 7-inch sleeve for The Skids’ Working for the Yankee Dollar) and artistic. All given the band’s own hammer and sickle imprint, which, along with Martin Kippenberger’s painting Sympathetische Kommunistin used as the cover image, is liable to cause as much puzzlement as the song’s lyrics. The confusion would seem to be part of the point. A reflection of the situation; of the conflicting motives and emotions felt within the individual in Western society, as eloquently expressed by the French writer Octave Mirbeau on the back cover of The Holy Bible.

Detail from The Holy Bible 20: a photocopy of Lucie Young’s feature with handwritten direction by Richey Edwards. Part of the design plan for the sleeve art for the Revol single, released 1 August 1994.

The quote on the insert is from that most penetrating commentator on the dangers of ideology and idolatry, of the evils of communism and fascism: George Orwell – who saw that it was possible to look in one direction and then another and see only the same thing, mirrored:

‘Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.’

D-Day commemorative stamps, issued in June 1994, were used as the basis for the artwork included in the Revol single, which also features a quote from George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945)


[1] TV interview with Charlie Rose, 8 June 1993. Accessed online at (23 February 2021)

[2] Cameron, Keith ‘Chapter and verse. Track by track. 13 Reasons to believe in The Holy Bible’, liner notes in The Holy Bible 20 (2014)

[3] ‘6 influences that have shaped Manic Street Preachers… in ways you wouldn’t expect’, BBC Radio 6 Music, 12 February 2018. Accessed online at (21 March 2021)

[4] Remnick, David ‘The Exile Returns’, The New Yorker, 14 February 1994. Accessed online at (23 February 2021)

[5] See ‘The Stew of Hate’, The New York Times, 6 February 1994. Accessed online at (23 February 2021). And Shenon, Philip ‘Pol Pot, the Mass Murderer Who Is Still Alive and Well’, The New York Times, 6 February 1994. Accessed online at (23 February 2021).

[6] Akao, Mika, ‘Richey James talks about The Holy Bible’, Music Life, September 1994. English translation by M. Jun, accessed online at (20 February 2021). Sonic Youth had already used a similar play on words, with their 1986 album title Evol.

[7] Edwards, Richey The Holy Bible tour programme, 1994. Accessed online at (20 February 2021)

[8] Johnson, Howard ‘Sex, Scars and Revolution…’, RAW, 17 August 1994. Accessed online at,_Scars_And_Revolution…_-_RAW,_17th_August_1994 (23 February 2021)

[9] Jones, Lukes, Wodtke Triptych (Repeater Books, 2017). The links with Ballard that Lukes makes are tenous – but comments on ‘Revol’ in general would seem more appropriate as descriptions of Ballard’s short story. Edwards does follow Ballard’s line of thinking on society’s ‘periodic need to re-conceptualize its political leaders’.

[10] Evans, David The Holy Bible (Bloomsbury Academic, 2019)

[11] The use of the term ‘self-love’ is associated with the German sociologist and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm. Sex and power also preoccupied another writer closely linked with The Holy Bible: Michel Foucault.

[12] Peters, Mathijs Popular Music, Critique and Manic Street Preachers (Palgrave, 2020)

[13] Remnick, David Lenin’s Tomb (Viking, 1993)

[14] That song also makes reference indirectly to Pol Pot, with a passing mention of the Khmer Rouge.

[15] See Price, Simon ‘Richey Edwards of Manic Street Preachers chooses his Men of the Year’, Melody Maker, 25 December 1993. Accessed online at,_25th_December_1993 (12 March 2021)

[16] Wodtke, Larissa ‘Architecture of Memory: The Holy Bible and the Archive’ in Triptych

[17] Doran, John ‘New Testament: Manic Street Preachers on Journal for Plague Lovers’, The Quietus, 30 April 2009. Accessed online at (12 March 2021)

[18] ‘Manics’ New Testament’, Melody Maker, 27 August 1994. Accessed online at,_27th_August_1994 (20 February 2021)

[19] Black Mask and Up Against the Wall Motherfucker: The Incomplete Works of Ron Hahne, Ben Morea, and the Black Mask Group (PM Press, 2011)

[20] ibid.

[21] ibid.

[22] ibid.

[23] A photocopied detail from another leaflet, ‘Self-Defense’ can also be seen among the archival items reproduced in the twentieth anniversary edition of The Holy Bible.

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