This space is dedicated to the proposition that we need to know the history of the struggles on the left and of earlier progressive movements here and world-wide. If we can learn from the mistakes made in the past (as well as what went right) we can move forward in the future to create a more just and equitable society. We will be reviewing books, CDs, and movies we believe everyone needs to read, hear and look at as well as making commentary from time to time. Greg Green, site manager
Saturday, April 25, 2015
Songwriters' Corner- Spain 1936- The
Irish Connection -Viva La Quince Brigada
In Honor Of The 99th
Anniversary Of the Easter Uprising
word on the Easter Uprising
In the old Irish working-class
neighborhoods where I grew up the aborted Easter Uprising of 1916 was spoken of
in mythical hushed reverent tones as the key symbol of the modern Irish
liberation struggle from bloody England. The event itself provoked such
memories of heroic “boyos”(and “girlos”
not acknowledged) fighting to the end against great odds that a careful
analysis of what could, and could not be, learned from the mistakes made at the
time entered my head. That was then though in the glare of boyhood
infatuations. Now is the time for a more sober assessment.
The easy part of analyzing the Irish
Easter Uprising of 1916 is first and foremost the knowledge, in retrospect,
that it was not widely supported by people in Ireland, especially by the
“shawlies” in Dublin and the cities who received their sons’ military pay from
the Imperial British Army for service in the bloody trenches of Europe which
sustained them throughout the war. That factor and the relative ease with which
the uprising had been militarily defeated by the British forces send in main
force to crush it lead easily to the conclusion that the adventure was doomed
to failure. Still easier is to criticize the timing and the strategy and
tactics of the planned action and of the various actors, particularly in the
leadership’s underestimating the British Empire’s frenzy to crush any opposition
to its main task of victory in World War I. (Although, I think that frenzy on
Mother England’s part would be a point in the uprising’s favor under the theory
that England’s [or fill in the blank of your favorite later national liberation
struggle] woes were Ireland’s [or fill in the blank ditto on the your favorite
oppressed peoples struggle] opportunities.
The hard part is to draw any
positive lessons of that national liberation struggle experience for the
future. If nothing else remember this though, and unfortunately the Irish
national liberation fighters (and other national liberation fighters later,
including later Irish revolutionaries) failed to take this into account in
their military calculations, the British (or fill in the blank) were savagely committed
to defeating the uprising including burning that colonial country to the ground
if need be in order to maintain control. In the final analysis, it was not part
of their metropolitan homeland, so the hell with it. Needless to say, cowardly British
Labor’s position was almost a carbon copy of His Imperial Majesty’s. Labor
Party leader Arthur Henderson could barely contain himself when informed that
James Connolly had been executed. That should, even today, make every British
militant blush with shame. Unfortunately, the demand for British militants and
others today is the same as then if somewhat attenuated- All British Troops
Out of Ireland.
In various readings on national
liberation struggles I have come across a theory that the Easter Uprising was
the first socialist revolution in Europe, predating the Bolshevik Revolution by
over a year. Unfortunately, there is little truth to that idea. Of the
Uprising’s leaders only James Connolly was devoted to the socialist cause.
Moreover, while the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army were
prototypical models for urban- led national liberation forces such
organizations, as we have witnessed in later history, are not inherently
socialistic. The dominant mood among the leadership was in favor of political
independence and/or fighting for a return to a separate traditional Irish
cultural hegemony. (“Let poets rule the land”).
As outlined in the famous
Proclamation of the Republic posted on the General Post Office in Dublin,
Easter Monday, 1916 the goal of the leadership appeared to be something on the
order of a society like those fought for in the European Revolutions of 1848, a
left bourgeois republic. A formation on the order of the Paris Commune of 1871 where
the working class momentarily took power or the Soviet Commune of 1917 which
lasted for a longer period did not figure in the political calculations at that
time. As noted above, James Connolly clearly was skeptical of his erstwhile
comrades on the subject of the nature of the future state and apparently was
prepared for an ensuing class struggle following the establishment of a
That does not mean that revolutionary socialists could not
support such an uprising. On the contrary, Lenin, who was an admirer of
Connolly for his anti-war stance in World War I, and Trotsky stoutly defended
the uprising against those who derided the Easter rising for involving
bourgeois elements. Participation by bourgeois and petty bourgeois elements is
in the nature of a national liberation struggle. The key, which must be learned
by militants today, is who leads the national liberation struggle and on what
program. As both Lenin and Trotsky made clear later in their own experiences in
Russia revolutionary socialists have to lead other disaffected elements of
society to overthrow the existing order. There is no other way in a
heterogeneous class-divided society. Moreover, in Ireland, the anti-imperialist
nature of the action against British imperialism during wartime on the
socialist principle that the defeat of your own imperialist overlord in war as
a way to open the road to the class struggle merited support on that basis
alone. Chocky Ar La.
Peter Paul Markin Commentary
I have spilled no small amount of
ink, and gladly, writing about the heroic military role of those Americans who
fought in the American-led Abraham Lincoln Battalion of 15th International
Brigade during the Spanish Civil War. The song "Viva La Quince
Brigada" can apply to those of other nationalities who fought bravely for
the Republican side in that conflict. Here's a take from the Irish perspective.
Note the name Frank Ryan included here, a real hero of that operation.
Viva La Quince Brigada
Ten years before I saw the light of
A comradeship of heroes was laid.
From every corner of the world came
The Fifteenth International Brigade.
They came to stand beside the
To try and stem the rising Fascist
Franco's allies were the powerful
Frank Ryan's men came from the other
Even the olives were bleeding
As the battle for Madrid it
Truth and love against the force af
Brotherhood against the Fascist
Vive La Quince Brigada!
"No Paseran" the pledge
that made them fight.
"Adelante" was the cry
around the hillside.
Let us all remember them tonight.
Bob Hillard was a Church of Ireland
From Killarney across the Pyrenees
From Derry came a brave young
Side by side they fought and died in
Tommy Woods, aged seventeen, died in
With Na Fianna he learned to hold
From Dublin to the Villa del Rio
Where he fought and died beneath the
Many Irishmen heard the call of
Joined Hitler and Mussolini too.
Propaganda from the pulpit and newspapers
Helped O'Duffy to enlist his crew.
The word came from Maynooth:
'Support the Fascists.'
The men of cloth failed yet again
When the bishops blessed the
blueshirts in Dun Laoghaire
As they sailed beneath the swastika
This song is a tribute to Frank
Kit Conway and Dinny Coady too.
Peter Daly, Charlie Regan and Hugh
Though many died I can but name a
Danny Doyle, Blaser-Brown and
Liam Tumilson and Jim Straney from
Jack Nally, Tommy Patton and Frank Conroy,
Jim Foley, Tony Fox and Dick
Written in 1983
Copyright Christy Moore
Here are a couple more Yeats
THE SECOND COMING
by: W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)
TURNING and turning in the widening
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and
The ceremony of innocence is
The best lack all conviction, while
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those
When a vast image out of Spiritus
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the
sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head
of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the
Is moving its slow thighs, while all
Reel shadows of the indignant desert
The darkness drops again; but now I
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking
And what rough beast, its hour come
round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be
"The Second Coming" is
reprinted from Michael Robartes and the Dancer. W.B. Yeats. New York:
ON A POLITICAL PRISONER
by: W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)
HE that but little patience knew,
From childhood on, had now so much
A grey gull lost its fear and flew
Down to her cell and there alit,
And there endured her fingers' touch
And from her fingers ate its bit.
Did she in touching that lone wing
Recall the years before her mind
Became a bitter, an abstract thing,
Her thought some popular enmity:
Blind and leader of the blind
Drinking the foul ditch where they
When long ago I saw her ride
Under Ben Bulben to the meet,
The beauty of her country-side
With all youth's lonely wildness
She seemed to have grown clean and
Like any rock-bred, sea-borne bird:
Sea-borne, or balanced in the air
When first it sprang out of the nest
Upon some lofty rock to stare
Upon the cloudy canopy,
While under its storm-beaten breast
Cried out the hollows of the sea.
"On a Political Prisoner" is reprinted from
Michael Robartes and the Dancer. W.B. Yeats. New York: Macmillan, 1921.
As The 100th
Anniversary Of The First Year Of World War I (Remember The War To End All Wars)
Continues ... Some Remembrances-Artists’ Corner- Wyndham Lewis
In say 1912, 1913,
hell, even the beginning of 1914, the first few months anyway, before the war
clouds got a full head of steam in the summer they all profusely professed
their unmitigated horror at the thought of war, thought of the old way of doing
business in the world. Yes the artists of every school the Cubist/Fauvists/Futurists/Constructivists,
Surrealists or those who would come to speak for those movements (hell even the
Academy spoke the pious words when there was sunny weather), those who saw the
disjointedness of modern industrial society and put the pieces to paint,
sculptors who put twisted pieces of metal juxtaposed to each other saw that
building a mighty machine from which you had to run created many problems;
writers of serious history books proving that, according to their Whiggish
theory of progress,humankind had moved
beyond war as an instrument of policy and the diplomats and high and mighty
would put the brakes on in time, not realizing that they were all squabbling
cousins; writers of serious and not so serious novels drenched in platitudes
and hidden gazebo love affairs put paid to that notion in their sweet nothing
words that man and woman had too much to do, too much sex to harness to
denigrate themselves by crying the warrior’s cry and by having half-virgin,
neat trick, maidens strewing flowers on the bloodlust streets; musicians whose
muse spoke of delicate tempos and sweet muted violin concertos, not the stress
and strife of the tattoos of war marches with their tinny conceits; and poets,
ah, those constricted poets who bleed the moon of its amber swearing, swearing
on a stack of seven sealed bibles, that they would go to the hells before
touching the hair of another man, putting another man to ground or lying their
own heads down for some imperial mission. They all professed loudly (and those
few who did not profess, could not profess because they were happily getting
their blood rising, kept their own consul until the summer), that come the war
drums they would resist the siren call, would stick to their Whiggish,
Futurist, Constructionist, Cubist worlds and blast the war-makers to hell in
quotes, words, chords, clanged metal, and pretty pastels. They would stay the
And then the war
drums intensified, the people, their clients, patrons and buyers, cried out
their lusts and they, they made of ordinary human clay as it turned out, poets,
beautiful poets like Wilfred Owens who would sicken of war before he passed
leaving a beautiful damnation on war, its psychoses, and broken bones and
dreams, and the idiots who brought humankind to such a fate, like e. e.
cummings who drove through sheer hell in those rickety ambulances floors
sprayed with blood, man blood, angers, anguishes and more sets of broken bones,
and broken dreams, like Rupert Brooke all manly and old school give and go, as
they marched in formation leaving the ports and then mowed down like freshly
mown grass in their thousands as the charge call came and they rested, a lot of
them, in those freshly mown grasses, like Robert Graves all grave all
sputtering in his words confused about what had happened, suppressing, always
suppressing that instinct to cry out against the hatred night, like old school,
old Thomas Hardy writing beautiful old English pastoral sentiments before the
war and then full-blown into imperium’s service, no questions asked old England
right or wrong, like old stuffed shirt himself T.S. Eliot speaking of hollow
loves, hollow men, wastelands, and such in the high club rooms on the home
front, and like old brother Yeats speaking of terrible beauties born in the
colonies and maybe at the home front too as long as Eliot does not miss his high
tea. Jesus what a blasted night that Great War time was.
And do not forget
when the war drums intensified, and the people, their clients, patrons and
buyers, cried out their lusts and they, they, other creative souls made of
ordinary human clay as it turned out
And then the war
drums intensified, the people, their clients, patrons and buyers, cried out
their lusts and they, they made of ordinary human clay as it turned out,
artists, beautiful artists like Fernand Leger who could no longer push the
envelope of representative art because it had been twisted by the rubble of
war, by the crashing big guns, by the hubris of commanders and commanded and he
turned to new form, tubes, cubes, prisms, anything but battered humankind in
its every rusts and lusts, all bright and intersecting once he got the mustard
gas out of his system, once he had done his patria duty, like speaking of
mustard gas old worn out John Singer Sargent of the three name WASPs forgetting
Boston Brahmin society ladies in decollage, forgetting ancient world religious
murals hanging atop Boston museum and spewing trench warfare and the blind
leading the blind out of no man’s land, out of the devil’s claws, like Umberto
Boccioni, all swirls, curves, dashes, and dangling guns as the endless charges
endlessly charge, like Gustav Klimt and his endlessly detailed gold dust
opulent Asiatic dreams filled with lovely matrons and high symbolism and
blessed Eve women to fill the night, Adam’s night after they fled the garden,
like Joan Miro and his infernal boxes, circles, spats, eyes, dibs, dabs,
vaginas, and blots forever suspended in deep space for a candid world to fret
through, fret through a long career, and like poor maddened rising like a
phoenix in the Spartacist uprising George Grosz puncturing the nasty
bourgeoisie, the big bourgeoisie the ones with the real dough and their overfed
dreams stuffed with sausage, and from the bloated military and their fat-assed
generals stuff with howitzers and rocket shells, like Picasso, yeah, Picasso
taking the shape out of recognized human existence and reconfiguring the forms,
the mesh of form to fit the new hard order, like, Braque, if only because if
you put the yolk on Picasso you have to tie him to the tether too.
And do not forget
when the war drums intensified, and the people, their clients, patrons and
buyers, cried out their lusts and they, they, other creative souls made of
ordinary human clay as it turned out sculptors, writers, serious and not,
musicians went to the trenches to die deathless deaths in their thousands for,
well, for humankind, of course, their always fate ….
Where Have All The Flowers Gone- With Legendary Folk-Singer Pete Seeger In Mind
A while back, a few months ago now I think I mentioned in a sketch about how I came to learn about the music of Woody Guthrie I noted that it was hard to pin just exactly when I first heard his music since it pre-dated my coming to the folk minute of the 1960s where the name Woody Guthrie had been imprinted on lots of work by the then “new breed” protest/social commentary troubadour folk singers like Bob Dylan (who actually spent time in Woody’s hospital room with him when he first came East from Hibbing out of Dinktown in Minneapolis and wrote an early paean called Song To Woody on his first or second album), Ramblin’ Jack Elliott (who made a very nice career out of being a true Woody acolyte and had expected Dylan who had subsequently moved on, moved very far on to more lyrical work), and Stubby Tatum (probably the truest acolyte since he was instrumental in putting a lot of Woody’s unpublished poems and art work out for public inspection and specialized in Woody songs, first around Harvard Square and then wherever he could get a gig, which to say the least were not among the most well know or well thought out of Woody’s works. After some thought I pinpointed the first time I heard a Woody song to a seventh grade music class, Mr. Dasher’s class whom we innocently then called Dasher the Flasher just for rhyming purposes but which with today’s sensibilities about the young would not play very well and would probably have him up before some board of inquiry just because a bunch of moody, alienated hormonally-crazed seventh graders were into a rhyming fad that lasted until the next fad a few weeks or months, when he in an effort to have us appreciate various genre of the world music songbook made us learn Woody’s This Land Is Your Land. Little did we know until a few years later when some former student confronted him about why we were made to learn all those silly songs he made us memorize and he told that student that he had done so in order to, fruitlessly as it turned out, break us from our undying devotion to rock and roll, you know, Elvis, Chuck, Jerry Lee, Wanda, Brenda, Bo, Buddy, the Big Bopper and every single doo wop group, male or female. If anybody wants to create a board of inquiry over that Mister Dasher indiscretion complete with a jury of still irate rock and roll will never die-ers you have my support.
In thinking about Woody the obvious subsequent question of when I first heard the late Pete Seeger sing, a man who acted as the transmission belt between generations, I came up against that same quandary since I know I didn’t associate him with the first time, the first wave of performers, I heard as I connected with the emerging folk minute of the early 1960s. That folk minute start which I do clearly remember the details of got going one Sunday night when tired of the vanilla rock and roll music that was being play in the fall of 1962 on the Boston stations I began flipping the small dial on my transistor radio settling in on this startling gravelly voice which sounded like some old-time mountain man, some old time Jehovah cometh Calvinist avenging angel, singing Come All You Fair And Tender Ladies (who turned outto be folk historian and seminal folk revival figure Dave Von Ronk, who as far as I know later from his politics had no particular religious bent,if any, but who sure sounded like he was heralding the second coming. I listened to a few more songs on what turned out to be a folk music program put on every Sunday evening between seven and nine at the request of some college kids in the area who were going crazy for roots music according to the DJ.
After thinking about it for a while I realized that I had heard Pete not in solo performance but when he was with The Weavers and they made a hit out of the old Lead Belly tune, Good Night, Irene (a song that in the true oral tradition has many versions and depending on the pedigree fewer or more verses, Lead Belly’s being comparatively short). In those days, in the early 1950s I think, The Weavers were trying to break into the popular music sphere and were proceeding very well until the Cold War night descended upon them and they, or individual members including Pete were tarred with the red scare brush.
Still you cannot keep a good man down, a man with a flame-throwing banjo, with folk music DNA in his blood since he was the son of the well-known folk musicologist Charles Seeger who along with the father and son Lomaxesdid so much to record the old time roots music out on location in the hills and hollows of the South, and with something to say to those who were interested in looking back into the roots of American music before it got commercialized (although now much of that early commercial music makes up the key folk anthology put together by Harry Smith and which every self-respecting folkie performer in the early 1960s treated like a bible. Pete put a lot of it together, a lot of interests. Got the young interested in going back to the time when old cowboys would sing themselves to sleep around the camp fire out in the prairies, when sweat hard-working black share-croppers and plantation workers down South would get out a Saturday jug and head to the juke joint to chase the blues away, and when the people of the hills and hollows down in Appalachia would Saturday night get out the jug and run over to Bill Preston’s old seen better days red-painted barn and dance that last dance waltz to that weeping mountain fiddle.
Stuff like that, lots of stuff like that to fill out the American songbook. But Pete also put his pen to paper to write some searing contemporary lyrics just like those “new breed” protest folk singers he helped nurture and probably the most famous to come out of that period, asking a very good question then, a question still be asked if more desperately than even then, Where Have All The Flowers Gone.Now a new generation looks like it too is ready to pick up the torch after the long “night of the long knives” we have faced since those days.
The Labor Party Question In The United States- An Historical Overview-Fight For A Worker Party That Fights For A Workers Government
These notes (expanded) were originally intended to be presented as The Labor Question in the United States at a forum on the question on Saturday August 4, 2012. As a number of radicals have noted, most particularly organized socialist radicals, after the dust from the fall bourgeois election settles, regardless of who wins, the working class will lose. Pressure for an independent labor expression, as we head into 2013, may likely to move from its current propaganda point as part of the revolutionary program to agitation and action so learning about the past experiences in the revolutionary and radical labor movements is timely.
I had originally expected to spend most of the speech at the forum delving into the historical experiences, particularly the work of the American Communist Party and the American Socialist Workers Party with a couple of minutes “tip of the hat” to the work of radical around the Labor Party experiences of the late 1990s. However, the scope of the early work and that of those radical in the latter work could not, I felt, be done justice in one forum. Thus these notes are centered on the early historical experiences. If I get a chance, and gather enough information to do the subject justice, I will place notes for the 1990s Labor party work in this space as well. ********* The subject today is the Labor Party Question in the United States. For starters I want to reconfigure this concept and place it in the context of the Transitional Program first promulgated by Leon Trotsky and his fellows in the Fourth International in 1938. There the labor party concept was expressed as “a workers’ party that fights for a workers’ government.” [The actual expression for advanced capitalist countries like the U.S. was for a workers and farmers government but that is hardly applicable here now, at least in the United States. Some wag at the time, some Shachtmanite wag from what I understand, noted that there were then more dentists than farmers in the United States. Wag aside that remark is a good point since today we would call for a workers and X (oppressed communities, women, etc.) government to make our programmatic point more inclusive.]
For revolutionaries these two algebraically -expressed political ideas are organically joined together. What we mean, what we translate this as, in our propaganda is a mass revolutionary labor party (think Bolsheviks first and foremost, and us) based on the trade unions (the only serious currently organized part of the working class) fighting for soviets (workers councils, factory committees, etc.) as an expression of state power. In short, the dictatorship of the proletariat, a term we do not yet use in “polite” society these days in order not to scare off the masses. And that is the nut. Those of us who stand on those intertwined revolutionary premises are few and far between today and so we need, desperately need, to have a bridge expression, and a bridge organization, the workers party, to do the day to day work of bringing masses of working people to see the need to have an independent organized expression fighting programmatically for their class interests. And we, they, need it pronto.
That program, the program that we as revolutionaries would fight for, would, as it evolved, center on demands, yes, demands, that would go from day to day needs to the struggle for state power. Today focusing on massive job programs at union wages and benefits to get people back to work, workers control of production as a way to spread the available work around, the historic slogan of 30 for 40, nationalization of the banks and other financial institutions under workers control, a home foreclosure moratorium, and debt for homeowners and students. Obviously more demands come to mind but those listed are sufficient to show our direction.
Now there have historically been many efforts to create a mass workers party in the United States going all the way back to the 1830s with the Workingmen’s Party based in New York City. Later efforts, after the Civil War, mainly, when classic capitalism began to become the driving economic norm, included the famous Terence Powderly-led Knights of Labor, including (segregated black locals), a National Negro Union, and various European social-democratic off -shoots (including pro-Marxist formations). All those had flaws, some serious like being pro-capitalist, merely reformist, and the like (sound familiar?) and reflected the birth pangs of the organized labor movement rather than serious predecessors.
Things got serious around the turn of the century (oops, turn of the 20th century) when the “age of the robber barons” declared unequivocally that class warfare between labor and capital was the norm in American society (if not expressed that way in “polite” society). This was the period of the rise the Debsian-inspired party of the whole class, the American Socialist Party. More importantly, if contradictorily, emerging from a segment of that organization, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, Wobblies) was, to my mind the first serious revolutionary labor organization (party/union?) that we could look to as fighting a class struggle fight for working class interests. Everyone should read the Preamble to the IWW Constitution of 1905 (look it up on Wikipedia or the IWW website) to see what I mean. It still retains its stirring revolutionary fervor today.
The most unambiguous work of creating a mass labor party that we could recognize though really came with the fight of the American Communist Party (which had been formed by the sections, the revolutionary-inclined sections, of the American Socialist Party that split off in the great revolutionary/reformist division after the success of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917) in the 1920s to form one based on the trade unions (mainly in the Midwest, and mainly in Chicago with the John Fitzgerald –led AFL). That effort was stillborn, stillborn because the non-communist labor leaders who had the numbers, the locals, and, ah, the dough wanted a farmer-labor party, a two class party to cushion them against radical solutions (breaking from the bourgeois parties and electoralism). Only the timely intervention of the Communist International saved the day from a major blunder (Go to the James P. Cannon Internet Archives for more, much more on this movement, He, and his factional allies including one William Z. Foster, later the titular head of the Communist Party, were in the thick of things to his later red-faced chagrin).
Moving forward, the American Communist Party at the height of the Great Depression (the one in the 1930s, that one, not the one we are in now) created the American Labor Party (along with the American Socialist party and other pro-Democratic Party labor skates) which had a mass base in places like New York and the Midwest. The problem though was this organization was, mainly, a left-handed way to get votes for Roosevelt from class conscious socialist-minded workers who balked at a direct vote for Roosevelt. (Sound familiar, again?) And that, before the Labor Party movement of the 1990s, is pretty much, except a few odd local attempts here and there by leftist groups, some sincere, some not, was probably the last major effort to form any kind of independent labor political organization. (The American Communist Party after 1936, excepting 1940, and even that is up for questioning, would thereafter not dream of seriously organizing such a party. For them the Democratic Party was more than adequate, thank you. Later the Socialist Workers Party essentially took the same stance.)
So much then for the historical aspects of the workers party question. The real question, the real lessons, for revolutionaries posed by all of this is something that was pointed out by James P. Cannon in the late 1930s and early 1940s (and before him Leon Trotsky). Can revolutionaries in the United States recruit masses of working people to a revolutionary labor party (us, again) today (and again think Bolshevik)? To pose the question is to give the answer (an old lawyer’s trick, by the way).
America today, no. Russia in 1917, yes. Germany in 1921, yes. Same place 1923, yes. Spain in 1936 (really from 1934 on), yes. America in the 1930s, probably not (even with no Stalinist ALP siphoning). France 1968, yes. Greece (or Spain) today, yes. So it is all a question of concrete circumstances. That is what Cannon (and before him Trotsky) was arguing about. If you can recruit to the revolutionary labor party that is the main ticket. We, even in America, are not historically pre-determined to go the old time British Labor Party route as an exclusive way to create a mass- based political labor organization. If we are not able to recruit directly then you have to look at some way station effort. That is why in his 1940 documents (which can also be found at the Cannon Internet Archives as well) Cannon stressed that the SWP should where possible (mainly New York) work in the Stalinist-controlled (heaven forbid, cried the Shachtmanites) American Labor Party. That was where masses of organized trade union workers were.
Now I don’t know, and probably nobody else does either, if and when, the American working class is going to come out of its slumber. Some of us thought that Occupy might be a catalyst for that. That has turned out to be patently false as far as the working class goes. So we have to expect that maybe some middle level labor organizers or local union officials feeling pressure from the ranks may begin to call for a labor party. That, as the 1990s Socialist Alternative Labor Party archives indicates, is about what happened when those efforts started.
[A reference back to the American Communist Party’s work in the 1920s may be informative here. As mentioned above there was some confusion, no, a lot of confusion back then about building a labor party base on workers and farmers, a two -class party. While the demands of both groups may in some cases overlap farmers, except for farm hands, are small capitalists on the land. We need a program for such potential allies, petty bourgeois allies, but their demands are subordinate to labor’s in a workers’ party program. Fast forward to today and it is entirely possible, especially in light of the recent Occupy experiences, that some vague popular frontist trans-class movement might develop like the Labor Non-Partisan League that the labor skates put forward in the 1930s as a catch basin for all kinds of political tendencies. We, of course, would work in such formations fighting for a revolutionary perspective but this is not what we advocate for now.]
Earlier this year AFL-CIO President Trumka made noises about labor “going its own way.” I guess he had had too much to drink at the Democratic National Committee meeting the night before, or something. So we should be cautious, but we should be ready. While at the moment tactics like a great regroupment of left forces, a united front with labor militants, or entry in other labor organizations for the purpose of pushing the workers party are premature we should be ready.
And that last sentence brings up my final point, another point courtesy of Jim Cannon. He made a big point in the 1940s documents about the various kinds of political activities that small revolutionary propaganda groups or individuals (us, yet again) can participate in (and actually large socialist organizations too before taking state power). He lumped propaganda, agitation, and action together. For us today we have our propaganda points “a workers’ party that fights for a workers (and X, okay) government.” In the future, if things head our way, we will “united front” the labor skates to death agitating for the need for an independent labor expression. But we will really be speaking over their heads to their memberships (and other working class formations, if any, as well). Then we will take action to create that damn party, fighting to make it a revolutionary instrument. Enough said.
Yes, You Had Better Shake, Rattle And Roll That Thing-With Big Joe Turner In
From The Pen Of Bart Webber
In the old days, the old days when the songs were just starting to be weaned off of the old time religion gospel high heaven savior thing and come down in the mud and of hard drinking, hard lovin’, hard woman on your mind, yeah, the old birth of the blues days, the blue being nothing but a good woman or man on your mind anyway, around the turn of the 20th century and you can check this out if you want to and not take my word for it a black guy, a rascally black guy of no known home, a drifter, maybe a hobo for all I know, and who knows what else named Joe Turner would come around the share-cropper down South neighborhoods and steal whatever was not nailed down, including your woman which depending on how you were feeling might be a blessing and then leave and move on to the next settlement and go about his plundering way. Oh sure like lots of blues and old country music as it got passed on in the oral traditions there were as many versions of the saga as there were singers everybody adding their own touch. But for the most part the story line about old ne’er-do-well Joe Turner rang very similar over time. So Joe Turner got his grizzly self put into song out in the Saturday juke joints out in places like the Mississippi Delta where more legends were formed than you could shake a stick, got sanctified once old when Willie’s liquor, white lightning home-made liquor got to working, and some guy, maybe not the best singer if you asked around but a guy who could put words together to tell a story, a blues story, and that guy with a scratch guitar would put some verses together and the crowd would egg him on. Make the tale taller as the night went until everybody petered out and that song was left for the next guy to embellish.
By most accounts old Joe was bad man, a very bad man, bad mojo man, just short of as bad as Mister’s plantation foremen where those juke joint listeners worked sunup to sundown six days a week or the enforcers of Mister James Crow’s laws seven days a week. Yeah, Joe was bad alright once he got his wanting habits on, although I have heard at least one recording from the Lomaxes who went all over the South in the 1930s and 1940s trying to record everything they could out in the back country where Joe Turner was something like a combination Santa Claus and Robin Hood. Hell, maybe he was and some guy who lost his woman to wily Joe just got sore and bad mouthed him. Stranger things have happened. In any case the Joe Turner, make that Big Joe, Turner I want to mention here as far as I know only stole the show when he got up on the bandstand and played the role of “godfather” of rock and roll.
That is what I want to talk about, about how one song, and specifically the place of Big Joe and one song, Shake Rattle and Roll in the rock pantheon. No question Big Joe and his snapping beat has a place in the history of rhythm and blues which is one of the musical forbear strands of rock and roll. The question is whether Shake is also the first serious effort to define rock and roll. If you look at the YouTube version of Big Joe be-bopping away with his guitar player doing some flinty stuff and sax player searching for that high white note and Big Joe snapping away being very suggestive about who and what should shake you can make a very strong case for that place. Add in that Bill Haley, Jerry Lee, and Elvis among others in the rock pantheon covered the song successfully and that would seem to clinch the matter.
In 2004, the fiftieth anniversary of the debut of Shake by Big Joe, there had been considerable talk and writing again by some knowledgeable rock critics about whether Shake was the foundational song of rock. That controversy brought back to my mind the arguments that me and my corner boys who hung out in front of Jimmy Jack’s Diner in Carver, a town about thirty miles south of Boston, had on some nothing better to do Friday nights during high school (meaning girl-less, dough-less or both). I was the primary guy who argued for Big Joe and Shake giving that be-bop guitar and that wailing sexy sax work as my reasoning while Jimmy Jenkins swore that Ike Turner’s frantic piano-driven and screeching sax Rocket 88 (done under an alias of the Delta Cats apparently for contract reasons a not uncommon practice when something good came up but you would not have been able to it under the label you were contracted to) was the be-bop beginning and Sam Lowell, odd-ball Sam Lowell dug deep into his record collection, really his parent’s record collection which was filled mainly with folk music and the blues edge played off that to find Elmore James’ Look On Yonder Wall. And the other corner boys like our leader Frankie Riley lined up accordingly (nobody else came up with any others so it was those three).
Funny thing Frankie and most everybody else except I think Fritz Taylor who sided with Jimmy Jenkins sided with me and Big Joe. The funny part being that several years ago with the advent of YouTube I started to listen to the old stuff as it became available on-line and now I firmly believe that Ike’s Rocket 88 beats out Shake for the honor. As for the old time Joe Turner, well, he will have to wait in line. What do you think of that?
In Search Of Lost Time… Then-With 1960s School Days In Mind
Several years ago, maybe in 2007 or 2008 Sam Lowell, the locally well-known lawyer from the town of Carver about thirty miles south of Boston, wrote some small pieces about the old days in the town, the old days being for him the 1950s and 1960s. At that time the town was mainly a rural outpost, a place where instead of the usual rural occupation of farming the cranberry bogs and boogers held sway and dominated a fair part of town life, ran the town politics and determined the ethos, determined the ethos to the extent that was possible in post-World War II America where the older cultural norms were rapidly being replaced by a speedier and less homespun way of doing business. In the teenage life line-up, the only one that was important in Sam’s world then, since he was not a booger and had no bogger roots he gravitated to those whose families like histhat were connected with the shipbuilding industry about twenty miles up the road. So you would have seen Sam and his corner boys on any given Friday or Saturday if not dated up holding up the wall in front of Jimmy Jack’s Diner over on Main Street daring, with the exception of Jack Callahan the great school football running back and fourth generation bogger who hung with them because he thought they were “cool,” any boggers to do anything but go in and order food or play the jukebox. (Seemingly every boy in town from junior high on, if not before, had his corner boys for protection against a dangerous world, or something like that if you asked them. Professional sociologists and cracker barrel tthe angst-driven night).
Sam had seen that all change over his long association with the town, including a few terms as a town selectman, although the boggers were still there, still moaning about their collective water tax bills, and still a force on the board but the drift over the decades was for the town to become a bedroom community for the sprawling high tech industry running the corridor about ten miles away. Wrote about the old neighborhood now still intact (the new developments were created on abandoned bog lands to the benefit mainly of Myles Larson, the largest bogger around), largely still composed of the small tumbledown small single family homes with a patch of green like that he grew up and came of age in on “the wrong side of the tracks (along with three brothers all close in age in a five room shack, Sam had never, except in front of his parents, ever called it anything but that).
Wrote too about the old (painful, the painful being that the school drew the more prosperous new arrivals staring to come into town leaving the boggers over at John Alden Junior High and subjecting him to lots of taunts about his brother hand-me-down clothes, stuff like that) days when he attended the then newly built Myles Standish Junior High School (such places are now almost universally called middle schools) where he and his fellow class- mates were the first to go through starting in seventh grade. In that piece he mentioned that he was not adverse, hell, he depended on “cribbing” words, phrases and sentences from many sources. One such “crib” was appropriating the title of a six-volume saga by the French writer Marcel Proust for one of those sketches, the title used here In Search of Lost Time as well. He noted that an alternative translation of that work was Remembrances of Things Past which he felt did not do justice to what he, Sam, was trying to get a across. Sam had no problem, no known problem anyway, with remembering things from the past but he thought the idea of a search, of an active scouring of what had gone on in his callow youth (his term) was more appropriate to what he was thinking and feeling.
Prior to writing those pieces Sam had contacted through the marvels of modern technology, through the Internet, Google and Facebook a number of the surviving members of that Myles Standish Class of 1962 to get their take on what they remembered, what search that might be interested in undertaking to “understand what the hell happened back then and why” (his expression, okay). He got a number of responses from people speaking of where they lived now, what they had done with their lives and so forth who also once Sam brought the matter up wanted to think back to those days. One of those classmates, Melinda Loring, after they had sent some e-mail traffic to each other, sent him via that same method (oh beautiful technology on some things) a copy of a booklet that had been put out by Myles Standish in 1987 commemorating the 25th anniversary of the opening of the school. Sam thoughtfully (his term) looked through the booklet and when he came upon the page shown above where an art class and a music class were pictured he discovered that one of the students in the art class photograph was of him.
That set off a train of memories about how in those days, days by the way when the community freely offered every student a chance to take art in school and outside as well unlike today when he had been informed that due to school budget cuts art is no longer offered to each student but is tied to some cumbersome Saturday morning classes at the out-of-the-way community center, when Mrs. Robert’s encouraged him to become an artist, thought he had talent (later at Carver High Mr. Henry thought the same thing and was prepared to recommend him to his alma mater, the Massachusetts School of Art in the Back Bay of Boston).
Art for Sam had always been a way for him to express what he could not put in words, could not easily put in words anyway and he was always crazy to go to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to see some artwork by real professionals, especially the abstract expressionists that he was visually drawn to (and would leave after viewing feeling like he at best would be an inspired amateur). The big reason that he did not pursue that art career had a lot to do with coming up “from hunger,” coming up the hard way and when he broached the subject to his parents, mainly his mother, she vigorously emphasized the hard life of the average artist and told him that a manly profession (her term) was better for a boy who had come up from the dust of society. He wondered about that after seeing the photograph, wondered about the fact that after a lifetime of working the manly profession of the law all he could conclude was that there were a million good lawyers but far fewer good artists and maybe he could have at least had his fifteen minutes of fame in that field. He resolved to search for some old artwork stored he did not know where to see if that path would have made sense.
Sam had had to laugh after looking at the other photograph, the one of the music room, where he spotted his old friend Ralph Morse who went on in the 1960s to some small fame in the Greater Boston area as a member of the rock group The Rockin’ Ramrods. That look too set off a train of memories about how in those days, days by the way when the community freely offered every student a chance to take music in school and outside as well like with art classes unlike today when he had been informed that due to school budget cuts music is no longer offered to each student but is also tied to some cumbersome Saturday morning classes at the out-of-the-way community center. However unlike with his art teachers Mr. Dasher the music teacher often went out of his way to tell Sam to keep his voice down since it was gravelly, and off-key to boot.
At the time Sam did not think much about it, did not feel bad about having no musical sense. Later though once he heard folk music, the blues and some other roots music he felt bad that Mister Dasher had put a damper on his musical sensibilities. Not that he would have gone on to some career like Ralph, at least Ralph had his fifteen minutes of fame, but he would have avoided that life-long habit of singing low, singing in the shower, singing up in the isolated third floor where no one would hear him. The search for memory goes on….