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
When The Tin Can
Bended…. In The Time Of The Late Folk-Singer Dave Van Ronk’s Time
Sometimes Sam Lowell
and his “friend” (really “sweetie,” long time sweetie, paramour, significant
other, consort or whatever passes for the socially acceptable or Census Bureau
bureaucratic “speak” way to name somebody who is one’s soulmate, his preferred term)
Laura Perkins whose relationship to Sam was just described in parenthesis, and
righteously so, liked to go to Crane’s Beach in Ipswich to either cool off in
the late summer heat. July when they really would like to go there to catch a few
fresh sea breezes not being a period to show up at the bleach white sands beach
due to nasty blood-sucking green flies swarming and dive-bombing like some
berserk renegade Air Force squadron lost on a spree who breed in the nearby
swaying mephitic marshes the only “safe haven” then is to drive up the hill to
the nearby Crane Castle to get away from the buggers as the well-to-do have
been doing since there were well-to-do and had the where-with-all to escape the
summer heat and bugs at higher altitudes. By the way I assume that “castle” is
capitalized when it part of a huge estate, the big ass estate of Crane, now a
trust monument to the first Gilded Age, not today’s neo-Gilded Age, architectural
proclivities of the rich, the guy whose company did, does all the plumbing
fixture stuff on half the bathrooms in America including the various
incantations of the mansion.
Along the way, along the
hour way to get to Ipswich from Cambridge they had developed a habit of making
the time more easy passing by listening to various CDs, inevitably not listened
to for a long time folk CDs, so long that the plastic containers needed to be
dusted off before brought along, on the car CD player. And is their wont to
comment on this or that thing that some song brought to mind, or the
significance of some song in their youth. One of the things that brought them together
early on was their mutual interest in the old 1960s folk minute which Sam, a
little older and having grown up within thirty miles of Harvard Square, one the
big folk centers of that period along with the Village and North Beach out in
Frisco town, had imbibed deeply and which Laura, growing up “in the sticks,” in
farm country in upstate New York had gotten second-hand through records and a
little the fading Cambridge folk scene when she had moved to Boston in the
early 1970s to go to graduate school.
One hot late August
day they got into one such discussion about how they first developed an
interest in folk music when Sam had said “sure everybody, everybody over the
age of say fifty to be on the safe side, knows about Bob Dylan, maybe a little younger
too if some hip kids have browsed through their parents’ old vinyl record
collections now safely ensconced in the attic although there are stirrings of
retro-vinyl revival of late. Some of that over 50 crowd and their young
acolytes would also know about how Dylan, after serving something like an
apprenticeship under the influence of Woody Guthrie in the late 1950s singing Woody’s
songs in his style something fellow Woody
acolytes like Ramblin’ Jack Elliot never quite got over when he moved on but
who has actually made a nice workman-like career out of Woody covers, became if
not the voice of the Generation of ’68, their generation, which he probably did
not seriously aspire in the final analysis, then the master troubadour of the
He continued when Laura
said she was not sure about the connection, “troubadour in the medieval sense
of bringing news to the people and entertaining them by song and poetry as well
if not decked in some officially approved garb like back in those olden days
where they worked under a king’s license if lucky, by their wit otherwise but
the “new wave” post-beatnik flannel shirt, work boots, and dungarees which connected
you with the roots, the American folk roots down in the Piedmont, down in
Appalachia, down in Mister James Crow’s Delta. So, yes, that story has been
pretty well covered.”
Laura said she knew
all of that although not that Ramblin’ Jack had been an acolyte of Woody’s but
she wondered about others, some other folk performers who she listened to on
WUMB on Saturday morning when some weeping willow DJ put forth about fifty old
time rock and folk things a lot of which she had never heard of back in Mechanicsville
outside of Albany where she grew up. Sam then started in again, “Of course that
is hardly the end of the story since Dylan did not create that now hallowed
folk minute of the early 1960s. He had been washed by it when he came to the
East from Hibbing, Minnesota for God’s sake (via Dink’s at the University),
came into the Village where there was a cauldron of talent trying to make folk
the next big thing, the next big cultural thing for the young and restless of
the post-World War II generations. Us, but also those in little oases like the
Village where the disaffected could put up on stuff they couldn’t get in places
like Mechanicsville or Carver where I grew up. People who I guess, since even I
was too young to know about that red scare stuff except to follow your
teacher’s orders to put your head under your desk and hand over your head if
the nuclear holocaust was coming, were frankly fed up with the cultural
straightjacket of the red scare Cold War times and began seriously looking as
hard at roots in all its manifestations as our parents, definitely mind, yours
were just weird about stuff like that, right, were burying those same roots
under a vanilla existential Americanization. How do you like that for pop
“One of the talents
who was already there when hick Dylan came a calling, lived there, came from
around there was the late Dave Van Ronk who we have heard several times in
person, although unfortunately when his health and well-being were declining.
You know he also, deservedly, fancied himself a folk historian as well as
“Here’s the funny
thing, Laura, that former role is important because we all know that behind the
“king” is the “fixer man,” the guy who knows what is what, the guy who tells
one and all what the roots of the matter were like some mighty mystic (although
in those days when he fancied himself a socialist that mystic part was played
down). Dave Van Ronk was serious about that part, serious about imparting that
knowledge about the little influences that had accumulated during the middle to
late 1950s especially around New York which set up that folk minute. New York
like I said, Frisco, maybe in small enclaves in L.A. and in precious few other
places during those frozen times a haven for the misfits, the outlaws, the
outcast, the politically “unreliable,” and the just curious. People like the
mistreated Weavers, you know, Pete Seeger and that crowd found refuge there
when the hammer came down around their heads from the red-baiters and others
like advertisers wo ran for cover to “protect” there precious soap, toothpaste,
beer, deodorant or whatever they were mass producing to sell to a hungry pent-ip
market. Boston and Cambridge by comparison until late in the 1950s when
the Club 47 and other little places started up and the guys and gals who could
sing, could write songs, could recite poetry even had a place to show their
stuff instead of to the winos, rummies, grifters and conmen who hung out at the
Hayes-Bickford or out on the streets could have been any of the thousands of
towns who bought into the freeze.”
“Sweetie, I remember
one time but I don’t remember where, maybe the Café Nana when that was still
around after it had been part of the Club 47 folk circuit for new talent to play
and before Harry Reid, who ran the place, died and it closed down, I know it
was before we met, so it had to be before the late 1970s Von Ronk told a funny
story, actually two funny stories, about the folk scene and his part in that
scene as it developed a head of steam in the mid-1950s which will give you an
idea about his place in the pantheon. During the late 1950s after the
publication of Jack Kerouac’s ground-breaking road wanderlust adventure novel
that got young blood stirring, not mine until later since I was clueless on all
that stuff except rock and roll, On The Road which I didn’t read until high school, the jazz scene, the cool
be-bop jazz scene and poetry reading, poems reflecting off of “beat” giant
Allen Ginsberg’s Howl the clubs and coffeehouse of the Village were
ablaze with readings and cool jazz, people waiting in line to get in to hear
the next big poetic wisdom guy if you can believe that these days when poetry
is generally some esoteric endeavor by small clots of devotees just like folk music.
The crush of the lines meant that there were several shows per evening. But how
to get rid of one audience to bring in another in those small quarters was a
challenge. Presto, if you wanted to clear the house just bring in some
desperate “from hunger” snarly nasally folk singer for a couple, maybe three
songs, and if that did not clear the high art be-bop poetry house then that
folk singer was a goner. A goner until the folk minute of the 1960s who
probably in that same club then played for the “basket.” You know the “passed
hat” which even on a cheap date, and a folk music coffeehouse date was a cheap
one in those days like I told you before and you laughed at cheapie me and the
“Dutch treat” thing, you felt obliged to throw a few bucks into to show solidarity
or something. And so the roots of New York City folk according to the
Laura interrupted to
ask if that “basket” was like the buskers put in front them these days and Sam
said yes. And asked about a few of the dates he took to the coffeehouses in
those days, just out of curiosity she said, meaning if she had been around
would he have taken her there then. He answered that question but since it is
an eternally complicated and internal one I have skipped it to let him go on
with the other Von Ronk story. He continued with the other funny story like
this-“The second story involved his authoritative role as a folk historian who
after the folk minute had passed became the subject matter for, well, for
doctoral dissertations of course just like today maybe people are getting
doctorates in hip-hop or some such subject. Eager young students, having basked
in the folk moment in the abstract and with an academic bent, breaking new
ground in folk history who would come to him for the “skinny.” Now Van Ronk had
a peculiar if not savage sense of humor and a wicked snarly cynic’s laugh but
also could not abide academia and its’ barren insider language so when those
eager young students came a calling he would give them some gibberish which
they would duly note and footnote. Here is the funny part. That gibberish once
published in the dissertation would then be cited by some other younger and even
more eager students complete with the appropriate footnote. Nice touch, nice
touch indeed on that one, right.”
Laura did not answer
but laughed, laughed harder as she thought about it having come from that
unformed academic background and having read plenty of sterile themes turned
“As for Van Ronk’s
music, his musicianship which he cultivated throughout his life, I think the
best way to describe that for me is that one Sunday night in the early 1960s I
was listening to the local folk program on WBZ hosted by Dick Summer, who was
influential in boosting local folk musician Tom Rush’s career and who was featured
on that Tom Rush documentary No
Regrets we got for being members
of WUMB, when this gravelly-voice guy, sounding like some old mountain
pioneer, sang the Kentucky hills classic Fair and Tender Ladies. After
that I was hooked on that voice and that depth of feeling that he brought to
every song even those of his own creation which tended to be spoofs on some
issue of the day.”
Laura laughed at Sam
and the intensity with which his expressed his mentioning of the fact that he
liked gravelly-voiced guys for some reason. Here is her answer, “You should
became when you go up to the third floor to do your “third floor folk- singer”
thing and you sing Fair and Tender Ladies
I hear this gravelly-voiced guy, sounding like some old mountain pioneer, some
Old Testament Jehovah prophet come to pass judgment come that day.”
Laura then mentioned
the various times that had seen Dave Von Ronk before he passed away, not having
seen him in his prime, when that voice did sound like some old time prophet, a
title he would have probably secretly enjoyed for publicly he was an adamant atheist.
Sam went on, “ I saw him perform many times over the years, sometimes in high
form and sometimes when drinking too much high-shelf whiskey, Chavis Regal, or
something like that not so good. Remember we had expected to see him perform as
part of Rosalie Sorrels’ farewell concert at Saunders Theater at Harvard in 2002
I think. He had died a few weeks before. Remember though before that when we had seen
him for what turned out to be our last time and I told you he did not look well
and had been, as always, drinking heavily and we agreed his performance was
subpar. But that was at the end. For a long time he sang well, sang us well
with his own troubadour style, and gave us plenty of real information about the
history of American folk music. Yeah like he always used to say-“when the tin
can bended …..and the story ended.
As they came to the
admission booth at the entrance to Crane’s Beach Sam with Carolyn Hester’s song
version of Walt Whitman’s On Captain, My
Captain on the CD player said “I was on my soap box long enough on the way
out here. You’re turn with Carolyn Hester on the way back who you know a lot
about and I know zero, okay.” Laura retorted, “Yeah you were definitely on your
soap-box but yes we can talk Carolyn Hester because I am going to cover one of
her songs at my next “open mic.” And so it goes.
…walking, always walking , never, at least long time never, just running frantically down some stairs, pulling the keys out of his jeans on the fly, wrestling the front door open andjumping into the front seat ofsome souped-up, some Stewball Stu zen auto mechanic to the world, year old (broken in, see) 1949 Hudson, but always just walking down Larkin Street to the bay, ‘Frisco bay for the interested, to flush out his brain against the japan currents, against the pacific squalls, against the bay fogs, or whateverwas against handy. (Stewball Stu from back in Olde Saco, podunk Maine days, king of the chicken runs and max daddy of the streets ever since he took out some Farmer Brown from Arundel overgrown son’s souped-up Dodge back in 1945. Blew him off the Galway Road in nothing flat and later when he took on all comers when things moved to early morning deserted Seal Rock down at the far end of Olde Saco Beach away from prying cop and irate citizen eyes as well. He had been there that night, and later, riding shotgun, scared shotgun, in the passenger seat so he knew Stu was not blowing smoke about his exploits but that ,those Stu stories, were for another time.)
This night his always walking was to figure out how much longer he was going to have to wait around this damn old ‘Frisco town for some shipping clerk’s job down at the dock at the other end of the Embarcadero to open up so he could make some dough, pay off Carol, Allen, and Bill and blow some transcontinental dough with Stewball Stu on some lesser version of that dream 1949 Hudson and finally blow this now old tired out ‘Frisco town. His ticket was up here after a few mishaps (a couple of small “vag” busts for sleeping over in Golden Gate Park without a permit, some damn tent fee permit , jesus, was that all that they had to do over there. Down on the Embarcadero you could hardly walk late at night without falling over some stumblebum drunk, or guy down on his luck, and no cop ever bothered you. Jesus. More serious, a possession, a weed possession bust, for smoking some righteous mex herb, gold, in public. Thirty days suspended because he had been young, well-spoken, and not regular district court traffic surly before the judge. Jesus.So he needed the dock dough to break his string of bad luck and flee this burg, but he needed that clerk’s job, arranged by Bill through his father’s connections with guys down at the wharves who needed a guy who could do the shipping paper work fast and not steal everything not nailed down on the docks , to come through, needed it bad just then. And so the fret walk.
As he walked toward the womb bay he could just barely see the fogged-bemused dim spot Alcatraz search lights, eternal search lights against some phantom prison breaks like that search light, or that rock, was what held a man, any man, in thrall to his lesser instincts. His couple of minutes in jail had shaken him up enough to never want to test the outer edge of that theory, or come even close. Spending a few hours, maybe half a day, with stinking winos, pissed over, surly and not just before the judge, begging for a Tokay fix, or Thunderbird if you had it, bumming cigarettes or papers to make their own Bull Durham coffin nails, stinking, earth sweat stinking from some Gilroy onion patch or the fields down south mex braceros picked up for fighting or being mex, who knows, an odd con man or hustler, a street hustler, who worked a wrong john, an unprotected pimp daddy on those occasions when the irate citizens were demanding blood for some foul deed, some tough guy yeggs and assorted armed robbers wised him up to that road. And so the fret walk.
He laughed as he minute fret pause looked up and saw a couple of kids, really just kids, maybe sixteen, no more, wobbly, walking across Bay Street as he made his own turn onto the street, one with a bottle ready to be handed to the other, and from the look of it Tokay, the winos’ choice, and the“choice” of those too young to buy their own and hence resorting to some wino-snagged bought and that was what they got. He bet that the wino, in exchange for that courtesy, right now was sitting down in some Embarcadero back street, maybe Third, or in some Mission Street flop, room made up of bed, bureau and chair, not much else, no memory pictures on the walls, memory pictures in fact banished, if he was in the chips and not too far behind on his rent, was sipping on his own bottle of nectar Tokay, and that wino too maybe passing it around to his jungle campfire brethren.
He remembered his own virgin voyage down that gofer road. He, and a schoolboy corner boy, Spider, from back up in Olde Saco, had gotten in that corner boy’s souped- up 1939 Plymouth and driven to stardust Boston, down by the Commons, in the early 1940s looking for beat (although he would not have called it that then but that was the only unnamed name for the feeling, that beat down feeling, looking for what they had heard was a new breeze blowing in this wicked old world, hell, mainly looking for beat chicks away from put-off prim and prissy Gallic (French-Canadian forbears from up in Gaspe mostly) Catholic girls that ran amok in that town if the truth was known.
Of course like in Frisco townin those days every hustler, con man (and a few women), and everybody who had sense enough to cash in on the rube explosion was on the Common on any given Friday or Saturday teen break-out night ready to do business, to do wrong gee business. That night he and Spider had been walking through the Common working their way to Charles Street when a young guy, maybe twenty-five, came up to them and asked them if they wanted him to get them some booze to while away the evening (this was the part of the ‘40s before dope, weed, mary jane was the elixir of choice). Sure thing, brother, thanks.A bottle of Southern Comfort, large. This guy, explaining the city rules of the road, said how about a bottle for him. They said whatever was right and anted up the dough. About ten minutes later the guy came back with a brown bag with a bottle sticking out of the top. Thanks brother, as he left. They went over by the Public Gardens under the pond bridge to get a quick swig. Surprise, surprise that bottle was filled with plain old ordinary water. Yah, rubes. Then he remembered his own oath when it came his time to play teen gofer. He would always remember that night and while most times he would do the chore gratis, except when he was down on his luck and needed to pull that scam, he always gave what was asked for. He wished he could say that about some other things but such is life.
He looked back one last time as those boys veered off into their good night as he thought, thought too for just a minute about Sammy, Sid, Andre, and the Spider from back in his own old Southern Comfort days in sitting in front river , sitting in front ocean Olde Saco a few years back, and of some wino pete who got their Friday night booze from LaCroix’s Package Store in order to make them “rum brave,” girl-flirting rum brave, for the dance over at the Starlight Ballroom where, god, Benny, Benny Goodman was playing and of that Benny-blessed night, he had finally twisted old Sheila around his finger, if you know what he meant. Sheila (Capet) who broke the death of sex put-off prim and prissy Gallic Catholic girls that ran amok mode (keep this between us okay) and went, one Friday night, down to Seal Rock, the local lovers’ lane, in the back of Spider’s Plymouth with him and made him smile. And it was that same Sheila who, later,gave him the skinny about what was said on those school day Monday mornings before school girls’ “lav” talks of who did what with whom, and who didn’t.And the dids outnumbered the didn’ts.An earful. Women.
As he walked some more down Bay toward the chocolate smell of Beach he began taking that ancient thought out of his head as he passed the Red Fez for the ninety-ninth time (about ninety of them straight into the front door and low-shelf scotches and scored teas and, on occasion, bindles for the soul) since he hit ‘Frisco a couple of months back with some jack, a sweet girl, Lulu, all blonde, Iowa corn-fed and willing, and some idea that he would write the great American novel, a great American novel, or an American novel (depending on his mood), if he could just get his head in the right place, be in theright place, and have his freaking ‘Frisco golden-gate rust colored muse , his now completely fog-bound muse, working his corner.
Nada, nothing, no go, got it. And then like something from out of some mid-1940s film noir movie where an unnamed band, unnamed until you read the credits to find out why you spent the rest of the film with that sound in your brain, fired up the night in the middle of the movie out of nowhere, he heard a sound, a high white note, blown pure by some unseen sex tenor sax(not a Johnny Hodges, Duke’s’ boy Johnny , all fluffy around the edges pure, all satin and silk with a bow on it pure, mulatto pure, maybe black and tan pure , to keep the lid on for the paying customers, the paying white customers, the uptown mayfair swells out for weekly kicks, a little spindle tea to take the edge off, thecabaret café society crowd, a backing Billie swaying lilt crowd, who would freak out, who would call every variety of hell down on the player’s head, at what was played mex opium dream or tea high back to proud earth mother Africa times after hours) now coming steamed, sweaty jungle-steamed,out toward the bay from deep within the Red Fez (blown, he knew from other nights, from other highs, blown deep in the bowels of the club up against the back bar by angel Cody Reed, black, black as a starless night, black who devoured negro and had not regrets, blasting safe, fashionable negro safe, blasting flash, wide-brimmed white fedora, open shirt, white lapel suit, midnight sunglasses, negro pimp walking daddy and pink Cadillac with one hip-hop note, blasting back to primordial black Africa mother homeland, blasting apart first, middle and last passages in a foreign land, blasting, cool as a cucumber, plantation miseries, plantation lashes, blasting too jim crow, get back in your place, brother , old ‘Frisco Mister James Crow.
A guy on the other corner, dark, brown, brown skin, brown hair, brown eyes, brown soul too, angel mex fellaheen (wearing a kind of out of fashion zoot suit looking a little frayed on the edges, maybe from L.A., maybe a little too much loco weed down south, maybe too some hard-ass bracero up-bringing, father and mother working sweated lettuce, or you name the produce , fields, and then back to some brown shack, and sixteen kids, jesus), maybe a flip, a Filipino, benny high, tea high more likely (but high, high from an expert eye high) was be-bopping words, night, fright, fight, bite, throwing out one after another trying, trying like hell, to match his palabras (some en espanol, some in English a tough task)with that Cody Reed high white note that he was chasing, finally catching some of it, some vicious moloch fight to blast words and notes, some shake the bracero dust off of himself in the fellahin world that he was in his dreams fighting to break out of , making words slowly to match that floating note and passed . In the end he was not successful, reached for something, something for his head, in his pocket, threw it in his mouth and moved along Bay Street.
Nice try brother but it will probably take some gringo fellaheen warrior, some mill-town boy all river torrent bound, all fretting about his place in the sun, fretting about damn some damn woman-child or woman hell (his own F-C or Irish version of that Olde Saco madness, those prissy girls run amok are universal), fretting about his corner boy muses, some improbable combination of hulk hero all muddied from schoolboy playing fields but also library-bound reading Homer, Plato, Jack London, Thomas Wolfe, and the boys, listening to be-bop, endlessly humming some refrain in the river night, be-bop, be-bop, be-bop before be-bop bopped, endlessly searching for the jail breakout night on forsaken frozen wind-swept ships, in midnight veering route 6, 66, 666 cars driven by golden boy cowboy punk desperados, and driving million word exploits. Or it will probably be some street bandito from New Jack City, some prophet gangster risen all in white, all in holy garb,from among the pimps, the whores working those mean streets for nickels and dimes, the seventy-seven varieties of hustlers, the winos stealing dough and wine from each other or from young rubes, con men (and women, okay) hustling constantly hustling and looking out of forlorn drugstore windows from forlorn red vinyl stools, guys in need of fixes, yeggs, second- story men, drifters, grifters, midnight sifters, all the angels of the dark night. Yah, a street bandito risen in the night, beat beatified. Or some fag kid (sorry queer, with queer shoulderings against the storm , fag slang from corner boy Olde Saco hazy nights) from Hoboken, maybe Paterson, some death mill-town anyway, too small for his one million ideas and his two million curiosities in an age that banished curiosity, a slightly off-kilter kid who sang kaddish, or maybe better plainsong, yah, plainsong against the death-brought night, against all the not straight eyes forward, againstall the banishments, yah, some fag kid with time on his hands, to capture the words to the high white note. Meanwhile that note then floated down though the jazz-infiltrated streets pass wino jungles and wharf rough trade taverns to the bay and mixed and matched with the foam-flecked waves, the search light of the eternal rock, and his dreams. He had an idea…
Jack Kerouac: The Road Novels: 1957-1960, Jack Kerouac, Library Of America, 2007
…yah, 2007, fifty years after the mad max scrolled out publication ofTi Jean’s great autobiographical American West adventure, On The Road , complete with golden all-american west cowboy (okay, maybe not cowboy in occupational sense, but in the yearning for wide open spaces, for the self-reliance, for the non-conformity, for the lessons learned in jail, for the wild boy Saturday night let god count up the survivors Sunday morning, and, yes, for the con man, big hat braggadocio, and lonesome constant bewildered chatter to keep his inner demons away) bonded soul mate, for a while anyway, until the next best thing came along as it turned out, we get a bonanza, a plethora, an immense bigold volume of his road novels. And so once again we get to read all in one spot the zigzag cross continental comings and goings of Sal and Dean (and a cast of characters this age, this new age, has been unable to match). The struggle to break out of that encroaching red scare cold war night and its conformities,the jail break-out of those who suffered through the 1930s and the war and yearned to have a little space for themselves in this wicked old world. Some of the stuff, in retrospect, may have been merely silly, some of it frankly weird, and some of it only possible as we of the next generation learned only under a heavy drug veil but with at least two, if not more, major all-american literary talents that helped define the times through the be-bop beat movement that silliness, that weirdness, that heavy drug veil was a small price to pay for endless nights of reading and re-reading the book, the poems and the journals.
Add to that the Dharma Bums spiritual quest, fairly unsuccessful for Jack in the end as he vanished to his mother’s porch, vanished from the road anyway where he made his literary dough, but providing a good section on that famous Howl night when the adventurous bad boys of American literature threw down the gauntlet (rather than like Mailer, Jones, and Styron chase that great American novel idea to impress the New York, no, the Manhattan literary crowd) and said take that moloch America. Then a small novella, The Subterraneans, about tough love, tough interracial love, although really about being able to love and write that second million word. No go. Sorry Jack. And finish up with the beatest work, Tristessa, about the fellahin world, Mexican section, and the struggle to face the day under the spell of Mister Jones, this side of Nelson Algren’s Man With A Golden Arm, some “travelogue’ essays (including one of the best tributes to the long gone daddy hoboes from a non-hobo around) and journal entries to thrill the academics. Yes, a book cheap at any price. And get this-fifty years later the works still makes one, or should make one, want to reach for the car keys and go, leaving maybe just an e-mail address behind.
The Struggle Continues-No Justice, No Peace-Black Lives Matter-All Out In NYC-October 24
Frank Jackman comment:
Usually when I post something from some other source, mostly articles and other materials that may be of interest to the radical public that I am trying to address I place the words “ A View From The Left” in the headline and let the subject of the material speak for itself, or the let the writer speak for him or herself without further comment whether I agree with the gist of what is said or not. After all I can write my own piece if some pressing issue is at hand. Occasionally, and the sentiments expressed in this leaflet is one of them, I can stand in solidarity with the remarks made. I do so here.
Where Have All The Flowers Gone-With Pete Seeger In Mind
Josie had to laugh, an ironic laugh to be sure, about the days when she had
met her first serious beau, Jeff Patterson, freshman year at Wisconsin. Of
course coming from the big city she had to get used to the smaller scale of
things on campus and the more sanitary slower life-style but after a few weeks
she adjusted, an adjustment made easier by her roommate from Chicago, Susan
Phillips who was totally unlike girls like her high school best friend Frida
and the other JAPs (Jewish-American Princesses in the parlance of the time,
maybe now too except the princess probably is not capitalized in these more
democratic times) from Hunter College High who were catty and devastating to
those who were not JAPs. Susan was the daughter of a kosher meat butcher, a
working-class Jewish girl a type of Jew except for Uncle Rudy, her father
Nathan’s older brother who was a bricklayer, that she was not familiar with.
Susan was smart but also less pretentious in her manner than any girl at
Hunter, including Frida, who were using that institution as a resume builder in
order to catch some rich Jewish husband from Long Island, something like that.
Susan was different as well in that she did not eat, drink, breath her
Jewishness unlike Josie and her brown-eyed, brown-haired, brown everything world
crowd but had a boyfriend, a blue-eyed blonde boyfriend, Jason Robbs, from
Racine who was into folk music, illegally drinking at the constant frat parties
and involved in a campus project against nuclear proliferation and whose
friends were too. Normal Midwestern kids.
Susan had met Jason at the Rathskeller, the hang-out for all Freshman since
officially they could not go into the bars that dotted the streets around the Quad,
where he was tuning up his guitar to go out into the Quad and sing for a crowd
that would gather anytime a singer who could actually sing, some couldn’t,
would strum a tune, something from the protest songs that were then becoming a
staple of the folk milieu. Susan had asked him what he would sing and among the
songs on his playlist he listed Pete Seeger’s Where Have All The Flowers Gone which she had only heard once on
the campus radio folk hour on one Sunday night but which she had liked. Jason
said he would dedicate the song to her and that eventually led to that
So Susan certainly was a pleasant roommate to have around but here is where
the laugh part of what Josie was thinking about came into view. It was through
Susan, or rather through Jason that Josie met Rudy Jones, Jason’s roommate from,
Oxbridge, a small town outside of Milwaukee who was even more political than
Jason since he organized stuff on campus through Students for a Democratic Society
(SDS) and was building a reputation as a radical in the Quad. He was a
blue-eyed, brown haired guy, slender and could talk a mile a minute which
fascinated her. More importantly Rudy seemed to pay special attention to her
and while he was a campus big shot politico he rather shyly asked her for a
date after a few talks with her.
Here is the funny part their first date almost didn’t happen, or rather
almost didn’t lead into another. Of course in those days rich or poor the guy,
especially on the first date, was supposed to ante up the dough for the date.
Rudy though was a dirt poor kid, a working class kid at Madison on scholarship
and financial aid and so he was worried about whether he would have enough to
cover his expenses. See the cheap dates then, the cheapest except maybe going
to some ill-lit cafeteria and having a seemingly see-through cup of coffee and
watch the winos, con men, hoboes, drifters and other nightly flotsam and jetsam
do their thing hardly the stuff to impress on the first date, was to hit the
coffeehouses which also dotted the Quad. The one “assigned” to the Freshmen was
the Dusty Dog (a whole sociology dissertation could have been written about the
social class structure and where each class could or could not be seen at that
university then but that would await another day) and that night Guy Vander, an
up and coming folk singer who did covers of guys like Pete Seeger, Woody
Guthrie, and Josh White was playingso
beside the coffees and maybe a shared pastry he would have to throw a couple of
dollars into the “basket” that would be passed around and which up and coming
folk singers used to keep themselves going, at least keeping some ill-disposed
rent collector from the door.
Borrowing a dollar from Jason Rudy though he would be okay. Rudy picked up
Josie who looked lovely that night in a skirt and peasant blouse that all the
folkie women were wearing now having seen Joan Baez or Judy Collin wearing one
in a performance and so everyone had to run out and get one (same thing with the
long-ironed hair look that Joan Baez pioneered but Josie had such frizzled hair
it would have she said taken a steamroller to get the damn thing straight).
They talked as they walked to the Dog, or rather Rudy talked a mile a
minute about Guy who had gone to Wisconsin and about an anti-nuclear bomb
demonstration he was helping to plan on campus. When they got to the Dog they
found a table for two toward the back which Josie was pleased about since he
might hold her hand, something like that. Rudy ordered the obligatory two
coffees and asked Josie if she wanted some pastry thing to eat with the coffee
(this coffee or some drink other than tap water thing was a necessity since
although the place did not charge a cover you had to buy something to have in front
of you or face the boot out the door to let paying customers in). She said they
could share a brownie. Rudy breathed a sigh of relief.
Guy came on shortly after and did great job on the first set especially on
Pete Seeger’s Where Have All The Flowers
Gone which was starting to become very popular on campuses among the myriad
students worried about whether there would be a tomorrow what with the nuclear
bomb threat hanging over everything that happened in the world. Shortly before
intermission though Josie said she was thirsty and a little tired so she would
like another coffee (and also to help finish off the that brownie she was
nibbling at since she was a little nervous about whether would like her since
she had not been out with a non-Jewish boy since she was a junior at Hunter
College High in Manhattan, Ted Higgins, a budding folksinger who after a few
dates went off to try and “find himself” and had only selected, by mother or
friends, “nice Jewish boys after that). Rudy looked stricken at that moment.
Josie not having had to worry about money or about asking her “nice Jewish
boys” whether they could afford to pay on a date, momentarily thought it was
something she had done or said to make him turn red like that. Then a light
bulb or something went off in her head and she rescinded her request by say
“maybe I had better not have another cup I have to get up early to study for
that Western Civ test Monday and the coffee would keep me up all night if I
have it this late.” Beautiful, and Rudy immediately relaxed. As they were
leaving after the second set was over and Rudy had paid the check and put that
couple of bucks in the basket Josie said, “Hey, that anti-nuclear protest of
yours is going to require all your money so next time let me pay, call it a
donation, okay.” Needless to say there would a next date, more than one, no
From the Archives of Marxism-“Karl Marx” by V.I. Lenin-Part Three
We print below the third installment of “Karl Marx” by Lenin. The first two parts, which gave a sketch of Marx’s life and an overview of historical materialism, were published in WV Nos. 1073 and 1074 (4 September and 18 September). This selection addresses the motor force of history—the struggle between the classes—and also introduces Marx’s economic doctrine. Future installments will take up what socialism is as well as tactics to prepare the proletariat for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism.
The Class Struggle
It is common knowledge that, in any given society, the strivings of some of its members conflict with the strivings of others, that social life is full of contradictions, and that history reveals a struggle between nations and societies, as well as within nations and societies, and, besides, an alternation of periods of revolution and reaction, peace and war, stagnation and rapid progress or decline. Marxism has provided the guidance, i.e., the theory of the class struggle, for the discovery of the laws governing this seeming maze and chaos. It is only a study of the sum of the strivings of all the members of a given society or group of societies that can lead to a scientific definition of the result of those strivings. Now the conflicting strivings stem from the difference in the position and mode of life of the classes into which each society is divided. “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto (with the exception of the history of the primitive community, Engels added subsequently). “Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.... The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones. Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinctive feature: it has simplified the class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.” Ever since the Great French Revolution, European history has, in a number of countries, tellingly revealed what actually lies at the bottom of events—the struggle of classes. The Restoration period in France already produced a number of historians ([Augustin] Thierry, [François] Guizot, [François] Mignet, and [Adolphe] Thiers) who, in summing up what was taking place, were obliged to admit that the class struggle was the key to all French history. The modern period—that of the complete victory of the bourgeoisie, representative institutions, extensive (if not universal) suffrage, a cheap daily press, that is widely circulated among the masses, etc., a period of powerful and ever-expanding unions of workers and unions of employers, etc.—has shown even more strikingly (though sometimes in a very one-sided, “peaceful,” and “constitutional” form) the class struggle as the mainspring of events. The following passage from Marx’s Communist Manifesto will show us what Marx demanded of social science as regards an objective analysis of the position of each class in modern society, with reference to an analysis of each class’s conditions of development: “Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class. The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of Modern Industry; the proletariat is its special and essential product. The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all these fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history. If by chance they are revolutionary, they are so only in view of their impending transfer into the proletariat; they thus defend not their present, but their future interests; they desert their own standpoint to place themselves at that of the proletariat.” In a number of historical works (see Bibliography), Marx gave brilliant and profound examples of materialist historiography, of an analysis of the position of each individual class, and sometimes of various groups or strata within a class, showing plainly why and how “every class struggle is a political struggle.” The above-quoted passage is an illustration of what a complex network of social relations and transitional stages from one class to another, from the past to the future, was analysed by Marx so as to determine the resultant of historical development.
Marx’s economic doctrine is the most profound, comprehensive and detailed confirmation and application of his theory.
Marx’s Economic Doctrine
“It is the ultimate aim of this work to lay bare the economic law of motion of modern society,” i.e., capitalist, bourgeois society, says Marx in the preface to Capital. An investigation into the relations of production in a given, historically defined society, in their inception, development, and decline—such is the content of Marx’s economic doctrine. In capitalist society the production of commodities is predominant, and Marx’s analysis therefore begins with an analysis of commodity.
A commodity is, in the first place, a thing that satisfies a human want; in the second place, it is a thing that can be exchanged for another thing. The utility of a thing makes it a use-value. Exchange-value (or simply, value) is first of all the ratio, the proportion, in which a certain number of use-values of one kind can be exchanged for a certain number of use-values of another kind. Daily experience shows us that millions upon millions of such exchanges are constantly equating with one another every kind of use-value, even the most diverse and incomparable. Now, what is there in common between these various things, things constantly equated with one another in a definite system of social relations? Their common feature is that they are products of labour. In exchanging products, people equate the most diverse kinds of labour. The production of commodities is a system of social relations in which individual producers create diverse products (the social division of labour), and in which all these products are equated to one another in the process of exchange. Consequently, what is common to all commodities is not the concrete labour of a definite branch of production, not labour of one particular kind, but abstract human labour—human labour in general. All the labour power of a given society, as represented in the sum total of the values of all commodities, is one and the same human labour power. Thousands upon thousands of millions of acts of exchange prove this. Consequently, each particular commodity represents only a certain share of the socially necessary labour time. The magnitude of value is determined by the amount of socially necessary labour, or by the labour time that is socially necessary for the production of a given commodity, of a given use-value. “Whenever, by an exchange, we equate as values our different products, by that very act, we also equate, as human labour, the different kinds of labour expended upon them. We are not aware of this, nevertheless we do it.” As one of the earlier economists said, value is a relation between two persons; only he should have added: a relation concealed beneath a material wrapping. We can understand what value is only when we consider it from the standpoint of the system of social relations of production in a particular historical type of society, moreover, of relations that manifest themselves in the mass phenomenon of exchange, a phenomenon which repeats itself thousands upon thousands of times. “As values, all commodities are only definite masses of congealed labour time.” After making a detailed analysis of the twofold character of the labour incorporated in commodities, Marx goes on to analyse the form of value and money. Here, Marx’s main task is to study the origin of the money form of value, to study the historical process of the development of exchange, beginning with individual and incidental acts of exchange (the “elementary or accidental form of value,” in which a given quantity of one commodity is exchanged for a given quantity of another), passing on to the universal form of value, in which a number of different commodities are exchanged for one and the same particular commodity, and ending with the money form of value, when gold becomes that particular commodity, the universal equivalent. As the highest product of the development of exchange and commodity production, money masks, conceals, the social character of all individual labour, the social link between individual producers united by the market. Marx analyses the various functions of money in very great detail; it is important to note here in particular (as in the opening chapters of Capital in general) that what seems to be an abstract and at times purely deductive mode of exposition deals in reality with a gigantic collection of factual material on the history of the development of exchange and commodity production. “If we consider money, its existence implies a definite stage in the exchange of commodities. The particular functions of money which it performs, either as the mere equivalent of commodities, or as means of circulation, or means of payment, as hoard or as universal money, point, according to the extent and relative preponderance of the one function or the other, to very different stages in the process of social production” (Capital, Vol. I).
At a certain stage in the development of commodity production money becomes transformed into capital. The formula of commodity circulation was C–M–C (commodity–money–commodity), i.e., the sale of one commodity for the purpose of buying another. The general formula of capital, on the contrary, is M–C–M, i.e., purchase for the purpose of selling (at a profit). The increase over the original value of the money that is put into circulation is called by Marx surplus value. The fact of this “growth” of money in capitalist circulation is common knowledge. Indeed, it is this “growth” which transforms money into capital, as a special and historically determined social relation of production. Surplus value cannot arise out of commodity circulation, for the latter knows only the exchange of equivalents; neither can it arise out of price increases, for the mutual losses and gains of buyers and sellers would equalise one another, whereas what we have here is not an individual phenomenon but a mass, average and social phenomenon. To obtain surplus value, the owner of money “must...find...in the market a commodity, whose use-value possesses the peculiar property of being a source of value”—a commodity whose process of consumption is at the same time a process of the creation of value. Such a commodity exists—human labour power. Its consumption is labour, and labour creates value. The owner of money buys labour power at its value, which, like the value of every other commodity, is determined by the socially necessary labour time requisite for its production (i.e., the cost of maintaining the worker and his family). Having bought labour power, the owner of money is entitled to use it, that is, to set it to work for a whole day—twelve hours, let us say. Yet, in the course of six hours (“necessary” labour time) the worker creates product sufficient to cover the cost of his own maintenance; in the course of the next six hours (“surplus” labour time), he creates “surplus” product, or surplus value, for which the capitalist does not pay. Therefore, from the standpoint of the process of production, two parts must be distinguished in capital: constant capital, which is expended on means of production (machinery, tools, raw materials, etc.), whose value, without any change, is transferred (immediately or part by part) to the finished product; secondly, variable capital, which is expended on labour power. The value of this latter capital is not invariable, but grows in the labour process, creating surplus value. Therefore, to express the degree of capital’s exploitation of labour power, surplus value must be compared, not with the entire capital but only with the variable capital. Thus, in the example just given, the rate of surplus value, as Marx calls this ratio, will be 6:6, i.e., 100 per cent.
There were two historical prerequisites for capital to arise: first, the accumulation of certain sums of money in the hands of individuals under conditions of a relatively high level of development of commodity production in general; secondly, the existence of a worker who is “free” in a double sense: free of all constraint or restriction on the sale of his labour power, and freed from the land and all means of production in general, a free and unattached labourer, a “proletarian,” who cannot subsist except by selling his labour power.
There are two main ways of increasing surplus value: lengthening the working day (“absolute surplus value”), and reducing the necessary working day (“relative surplus value”). In analysing the former, Marx gives a most impressive picture of the struggle of the working class for a shorter working day and of interference by the state authority to lengthen the working day (from the 14th century to the 17th) and to reduce it (factory legislation in the 19th century). Since the appearance of Capital, the history of the working-class movement in all civilised countries of the world has provided a wealth of new facts amplifying this picture.
Analysing the production of relative surplus value, Marx investigates the three fundamental historical stages in capitalism’s increase of the productivity of labour: (1) simple co-operation; (2) the division of labour, and manufacture; (3) machinery and large-scale industry. How profoundly Marx has here revealed the basic and typical features of capitalist development is shown incidentally by the fact that investigations into the handicraft industries of Russia furnish abundant material illustrating the first two of the mentioned stages. The revolutionising effect of large-scale machine industry, as described by Marx in 1867, has revealed itself in a number of “new” countries (Russia, Japan, etc.), in the course of the half-century that has since elapsed.
To continue. New and important in the highest degree is Marx’s analysis of the accumulation of capital, i.e., the transformation of a part of surplus value into capital, and its use, not for satisfying the personal needs or whims of the capitalist, but for new production. Marx revealed the error made by all earlier classical political economists (beginning with Adam Smith), who assumed that the entire surplus value which is transformed into capital goes to form variable capital. In actual fact, it is divided into means of production and variable capital. Of tremendous importance to the process of development of capitalism and its transformation into socialism is the more rapid growth of the constant capital share (of the total capital) as compared with the variable capital share.
By speeding up the supplanting of workers by machinery and by creating wealth at one extreme and poverty at the other, the accumulation of capital also gives rise to what is called the “reserve army of labour,” to the “relative surplus” of workers, or “capitalist overpopulation,” which assumes the most diverse forms and enables capital to expand production extremely rapidly. In conjunction with credit facilities and the accumulation of capital in the form of means of production, this incidentally is the key to an understanding of the crises of overproduction which occur periodically in capitalist countries—at first at an average of every ten years, and later at more lengthy and less definite intervals. From the accumulation of capital under capitalism we should distinguish what is known as primitive accumulation: the forcible divorcement of the worker from the means of production, the driving of the peasants off the land, the stealing of communal lands, the system of colonies and national debts, protective tariffs, and the like. “Primitive accumulation” creates the “free” proletarian at one extreme, and the owner of money, the capitalist, at the other.
The “historical tendency of capitalist accumulation” is described by Marx in the following celebrated words: “The expropriation of the immediate producers is accomplished with merciless vandalism, and under the stimulus of passions the most infamous, the most sordid, the pettiest, the most meanly odious. Self-earned private property [of the peasant and handicraftsman—Lenin], that is based, so to say, on the fusing together of the isolated, independent labouring-individual with the conditions of his labour, is supplanted by capitalistic private property, which rests on exploitation of the nominally free labour of others.... That which is now to be expropriated is no longer the labourer working for himself, but the capitalist exploiting many labourers. This expropriation is accomplished by the action of the immanent laws of capitalistic production itself, by the centralisation of capital. One capitalist always kills many. Hand in hand with this centralisation, or this expropriation of many capitalists by few, develop, on an ever extending scale, the co-operative form of the labour process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labour into instruments of labour only usable in common, the economising of all means of production by their use as the means of production of combined, socialised labour, the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world market, and with this, the international character of the capitalistic regime. Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolise all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under, it. Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated” (Capital, Vol. I).
Also new and important in the highest degree is the analysis Marx gives, in Volume Two of Capital, of the reproduction of aggregate social capital. Here, too, Marx deals, not with an individual phenomenon but with a mass phenomenon; not with a fractional part of the economy of society, but with that economy as a whole. Correcting the aforementioned error of the classical economists, Marx divides the whole of social production into two big sections: (I) production of the means of production, and (II) production of articles of consumption, and examines in detail, with numerical examples, the circulation of the aggregate social capital—both when reproduced in its former dimensions and in the case of accumulation.
For The Frontline Defenders Of The Working Class!-Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up!”
An Injury To One Is An Injury To All!-Defend The International Working Class Everywhere! ******** Fight-Don’t Starve-We Created The Wealth, Let's Take It Back! Labor And The Oppressed Must Rule! ******** Ralph Morris and Sam Lowell a couple of old-time radicals, old-time now not being the Great Depression labor radicals who had been their models after a fashion and who helped built the now seemingly moribund unions but anti-war radicals from the hell-bent street in-your-face 1960s confrontations with the American beast during the Vietnam War reign of hell were beside themselves when the powder-puff uprising of the Occupy movement brought a fresh breeze to the tiny American left-wing landscape in the latter part of 2011. (That term “powder puff” not expressing the heft of the movement but the fact that it disappeared almost before it got started giving up the huge long-term fight it was expected to wage to break the banks, break the corporate grip on the world and, try to seek “newer world”). Although Ralph and Sam were not members in good standing of any labor unions, both having after their furtive anti-war street fights and the ebbing of the movement by about the mid-1970s returned to “normalcy,” Ralph having taken over his father’s electrical shop in Troy, New York when he retired and Sam had gone back to Carver to expand a print shop that he had started in the late 1960, but having come from respectable working-class backgrounds in strictly working-class towns, Carver about thirty miles from Boston and the cranberry bog capital of the world and Ralph in Troy near where General Electric ruled the roost, and had taken to heart the advice of their respective grandfathers about not forgetting those left behind, that an injury to one of their own in this wicked old world was an injury to all as the old Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, Wobblies) motto had it. Moreover despite their backing away from the street confrontations of their youth when that proved futile after a time as the Vietnam War finally wound down and yesterday’s big name radicals left for parts unknown they had always kept an inner longing for the “newer world,” the more equitable world where the people who actually made stuff and kept the wheels of society running and their down-pressed allies ruled.
So Ralph and Sam would during most of the falloff 2011travel down to the Wall Street plaza which was the center of the movement on weekends, long weekends usually, to take part in the action after the long drought of such activity both for them personally and for their kind of politics. They were crestfallen to say the least when the thing exploded after the then reigning mayor and the NYPD the police pulled down the hammer and forcibly disbanded the place (and other city administrations across the country and across the world and police departments doing likewise). Of more concern since they had already known about what the government could do when it decided to pull down the hammer was thereafter when the movement imploded from its own contradictions, caught up not wanting to step on toes, to let everybody do their own thing, do their own identity politics which did much to defang the old movements, refusing out of hand cohering a collective leadership that might give some direction to the damn thing but also earnestly wanting to bring the monster down.
Ralph and Sam in the aftermath, after things had settled down and they had time to think decided to put together a proposal, a program if you like, outlining some of the basic political tasks ahead to be led by somebody. Certainly not by them since radical politics, street politics is a young person’s game and they admittedly had gotten rather long in the tooth. Besides they had learned long ago, had talked about it even over drinks at Jack Higgin’s Grille more than once, how each generation will face its tasks in its own way so they would be content to be “elder” tribal leaders and provide whatever wisdom they could, if asked. Here working under the drumbeat of Bob Marley’s Get Up, Stand Up something of a “national anthem” for what went on among the better elements of Occupy are some points that any movement for social change has to address these days and fight for and about as well.
A Five-Point Program As Talking Points
***Jobs For All Now!-“30 For 40”- A historic demand of the labor movement going back to the 1930s Great Depression the last time that unemployment, under-employment, those who have just plain quit looking for work and critically those who are working jobs beneath their skill levels was this high in the American labor force, although it is admittedly down from the Great Recession of 2008-09 highs. Thirty hours work for forty hours pay is a formula to spread the available work around to all who want and need it. This is no mere propaganda point but shows the way forward toward a more equitable distribution of available work.
The basic scheme, as was the case with the early days of the longshoremen’s and maritime unions when the union-run hiring hall ruled supreme in manning the jobs is that the work would be divided up through local representative workers’ councils that would act, in one of its capacities, as a giant hiring hall where the jobs would be parceled out. This would be a simpler task now than when it was first proposed in the 1930s with the vast increase in modern technology that could fairly accurately, via computers, target jobs that need filling, where, and at what skill level, and equitably divide up current work.
Here is the beauty of the scheme, what makes it such a powerful propaganda tool-without the key capitalist necessity of keeping up the rate of profit the social surplus created by that work could be used to redistribute the available work at the same agreed upon rate rather than go into the capitalists’ pockets. The only catch, a big catch one must admit, is that no capitalist, and no capitalist system, is going to do any such thing as to implement “30 for 40” –with the no reduction in pay proviso, although many low –end employers are even now under the “cover” of the flawed Obamacare reducing hours WITH loss of pay-so that to establish this work system as a norm it will, in the end, be necessary to fight for and win a workers government to implement this demand.
Organize the unorganized is a demand that cries out for solution today now that the organized sectors of the labor movement, both public and private, in America are at historic lows, just over ten percent of the workforce and less in the formerly pivotal private industries like auto production. Part of the task is to reorganize some of the old industries like the automobile industry, now mainly unorganized as new plants come on line and others are abandoned, which used to provide a massive amount of decent jobs with decent benefits but which now have fallen to globalization and the “race to the bottom” bad times. (Strangely, or maybe not so strangely, the North American auto industry employed almost a million workers but only a third or less are unionized whereas in the old days the industry was union tight.)
The other sector that desperately need to be organized is to ratchet up the efforts to organize the service industries, hospitals, hotels, hi-tech, restaurants and the like, that have become a dominant aspect of the American service-orientedeconomy. Everyone should support the recent militant efforts, including the old tactic of civil disobedience, by service unions and groups of fast-food workers to increase the minimum socially acceptable wage in their Fight For $15.
Organize the South-this low wage area, this consciously low-wage area, where many industries land before heading off-shore to even lower wage places cries out for organizing, especially among black and Hispanic workers who form the bulk of this industrial workforce. A corollary to organizing the South is obviously to organize internationally to keep the “race to the bottom” from continually occurring short of being resolved in favor of an international commonwealth of workers’ governments. Hey, nobody said it was going to be easy.
Organize Wal-Mart- millions of workers, thousands of company-owned trucks, hundreds of distribution centers. A victory here would be the springboard to a revitalized organized labor movement just as auto and steel lead the industrial union movements of the 1930s. The key here is to organize the truckers and distribution center workers, the place where the whole thing comes together. We have seen mostly unsuccessful organizing of individual retail stores and victimizations of local union organizers. To give an idea of how hard this task might be though someone, probably Bart Webber in his more thoughtful moments, once argued that it would be easier to organize a workers’ revolution that organize this giant mainstay of the run to the bottom capitalist ethos. Well, as to the latter point that’s a thought.
Defend the right of public and private workers to unionize. Simple-No more defeats like in Wisconsin in 2011, no more attacks on collective bargaining the hallmark of a union contract. No reliance on labor boards, arbitration, courts or bourgeois recall elections either. Defeat all “right to work” legislation. Unions must keep their independent from government interference. Period.
*** Defend the independence of the working classes! No union dues for Democratic (or the stray, the very strayRepublican) candidates. In 2008 and 2012 labor, organized labor, spent over 450 million dollars respectively trying to elect Barack Obama and other Democrats (mainly). The “no show, no go” results speak for themselves as the gap between the rich, make that the very rich but don’t forgot to include them on the fringes of the one percent and poor has risen even more in this period. For those bogus fruitless efforts the labor skates should have been sent packing long ago. The idea presented, an old idea going back to the initial formation of the working class in America, in those elections was that the Democrats (mainly) were “friends of labor” and the Republicans are the 666 beasts but the Obama administration does not take a back seat to the elephants on this one. The past period of cuts-backs, cut-in-the-back give backs should put paid to that notion. Although anyone who is politically savvy at all knows that is not true, not true for the labor skates at the top of the movement. They always have their hands out.
The hard reality is that the labor skates, not used to any form of class struggle or any kind of struggle, know no other way than class-collaboration, arbitration, courts, and every other way to avoid the appearance of strife, strife in defense of the bosses’ profits. One egregious example from the recent past from around the time of the Occupy movement where some of tried to link up the labor movement with the political uprising- the return of the Verizon workers to work after two weeks in the summer of 2011 when they had the company on the run and the subsequent announcement by the company of record profits. That sellout strategy may have worked for the bureaucrats, or rather their “fathers” for a time back in the 1950s “golden age” of labor, but now we are in a very hard and open class war. The rank and file must demand an end to using their precious dues payments for bourgeois candidates all of whom have turned out to be sworn enemies of labor from Obama on down when the deal goes down.
This does not mean not using union dues for political purposes though. On the contrary we need to use them now more than ever in the class battles ahead. Spent the dough on organizing the unorganized, organizing the South, organizing Wal-Mart, and other pro-labor causes. Think, for example, of the dough spent on the successful November, 2011 anti-union recall referendum in Ohio. That type of activity is where labor’s money and other resources should go. And not on recall elections against individual reactionaries, like Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, as substitutes for class struggle when some form of general strike was required to break the anti-union backs (and which was overwhelmingly unsuccessful to boot-while the number of unionized public workers has dwindled to a precious few).
***End the endless wars!- As the so-called draw-down of American and Allied troops in Iraq reached its final stages back in 2011, the draw- down of non-mercenary forces anyway, we argued, Sam more than I did since he had been closer to the initial stage if the opposition that we must recognize that we anti-warriors had failed, and failed rather spectacularly, to affect that withdrawal after a promising start to our opposition in late 2002 and early 2003 (and a little in 2006).As the endless American-led wars (even if behind the scenes, as in Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and other proxy wars) continue now with a new stage against ISIS (common moniker for the Islamic State) in Iraq we had better straighten out our anti-war, anti-imperialist front quickly if we are to have any effect on the U.S. troop escalation we know is coming before that fight is over. Not Another War In Iraq! Stop The Bombings In Syria, Iraq, Yemen! Stop The Arms Shipments To The Middle East Especially To Israel and Saudi Arabia! Defend The Palestinian People-End The Blockade of Gaza-Israel Out Of The Occupied Territories. And as always since 2001 Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal Of Every Single U.S./Allied Troops (And The Mercenaries) From Afghanistan!
U.S. Hands Off Iran! Hands Off Syria!- Despite a certain respite recently during the Iran nuclear arms talks American (and world) imperialists have periodically ratcheted up their propaganda war (right now) and increased economic sanctions that are a prelude to war well before the dust has settled on the now unsettled situation in Iraq and well before they have even sniffed at an Afghan withdrawal of any import. We will hold our noses, as we did with the Saddam leadership in Iraq and on other occasions, and call for the defense of Iran against the American imperial monster. A victory for the Americans (and their junior partner on this issue, Israel) in Iran and Syria is not in the interests of the international working class. Especially here in the “belly of the beast” we are duty-bound to call not just for non-intervention but for defense of Iran. We will, believe us we will, deal with the mullahs, the Revolutionary Guards, and the Islamic fundamentalists in Iran in our own way in our own time.
U.S. Hands Off The World! And Keep Them Off!- With the number of “hot spots” that the American imperialists, or one or another of their junior allies, like Saudi Arabia and France over the recent period have their hands on in this wicked old world this generic slogan would seem to fill the bill.
Down With The War Budget! Not One Penny, Not One Person For The Wars! Honor World War I German Social-Democratic Party MP, Karl Liebknecht, who did just that in 1915 in the heat of war and paid the price unlike other party leaders who were pledged to stop the war budgets by going to prison. The only play for an honest representative of the working class under those conditions. The litmus test for every political candidate must be first opposition to the war budgets (let’s see, right now no new funding in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran preparations, China preparations, etc. you get the drift). Then that big leap. The whole damn imperialist military budget. Again, no one said it would be simple. Revolution may be easier that depriving the imperialists of their military money. Well….okay.
***Fight for a social agenda for working people! Free Quality Healthcare For All! This would be a no-brainer in any rationally based society. The health and welfare of any society’s citizenry is the simple glue that holds that society together. It is no accident that one of the prime concerns of workers states whatever political disagreements we may have with the Cuban leadership like Cuba, and whatever their other internal political problems caused in no small part the fifty plus year U.S. blockade, has been to place health care and education front and center and to provide to the best of their capacity for free, quality healthcare and education for all. Even the hide-bound social-democratic-run capitalist governments of Europe have, until recently anyway, placed the “welfare state” protections central to their programs. Be clear Obamacare is not our program and has already been shown to be totally inadequate and wasteful however we will defend that program against those who wish to dismantle it and leave millions once again uninsured and denied basic health benefits.
Free, quality higher education for all! Nationalize the colleges and universities under student-teacher-campus worker control! One Hundred, Two Hundred, Many Harvards!
This would again be a no-brainer in any rationally based society. The struggle to increase the educational level of a society’s citizenry is another part of the simple glue that holds that society together. Today higher education is being placed out of reach for many working-class and minority families. Hell, it is getting tough for the middle-class as well.
Moreover the whole higher educational system is increasing skewed toward those who have better formal preparation and family lives leaving many deserving students from broken homes and minority homes in the wilderness. Take the resources of the private institutions and spread them around, throw in hundreds of billions from the government (take a big chuck from the bloated military budget and the bank bail-out money, things like that, if you want to find the money quickly to do the job right), get rid of the top heavy and useless college administration apparatuses, mix it up, and let students, teachers, and campus workers run the thing through councils on a democratic basis.
Forgive student debt! The latest reports indicate that college student debt is something like a trillion dollars, give or take a few billion but who is counting. The price of tuition and expenses has gone up dramatically while low-cost aid has not kept pace. What has happened is that the future highly educated workforce that a modern society, and certainly a socialist society, desperately needs is going to be cast into some form of indentured servitude to the banks or other lending agencies for much of their young working lives. Let the banks take a “hit” for a change!
Stop housing foreclosures and aid underwater mortgages now! Although the worst of the crunch has abated there are still plenty of problems and so this demand is still timely if not desperately timely like in the recent past. Hey, everybody, everywhere in the world not just in America should have a safe, clean roof over their heads. Hell, even a single family home that is part of the “American dream,” if that is what they want. We didn’t make the housing crisis in America (or elsewhere, like in Ireland, where the bubble has also burst). The banks did. Their predatory lending practices and slip-shot application processes were out of control. Let them take the “hit” here as well.
***We created the wealth, let’s take it back. Karl Marx was right way back in the 19th century on his labor theory of value, the workers do produce the social surplus appropriated by the capitalists. Capitalism tends to beat down, beat down hard in all kinds of ways the mass of society for the benefit of the few. Most importantly capitalism, a system that at one time was historically progressive in the fight against feudalism and other ancient forms of production, has turned into its opposite and now is a fetter on production. The current multiple crises spawned by this system show there is no way forward, except that unless we push them out, push them out fast, they will muddle through, again.
Take the struggle for our daily bread off the historic agenda. Socialism is the only serious answer to the human crisis we face economically, socially, culturally and politically. This socialist system is the only one calculated to take one of the great tragedies of life, the struggle for daily survival in a world that we did not create, and replace it with more co-operative human endeavors.
Build a workers’ party that fights for a workers government to unite all the oppressed. None of the nice things mentioned above can be accomplished without as serious struggle for political power. We need to struggle for an independent working-class-centered political party that we can call our own and where our leaders act as “tribunes of the people” not hacks. The creation of that workers party, however, will get us nowhere unless it fights for a workers government to begin the transition to the next level of human progress on a world-wide scale.
As Isaac Deutscher said in his speech “On Socialist Man” (1966):
“We do not maintain that socialism is going to solve all predicaments of the human race. We are struggling in the first instance with the predicaments that are of man’s making and that man can resolve. May I remind you that Trotsky, for instance, speaks of three basic tragedies—hunger, sex and death—besetting man. Hunger is the enemy that Marxism and the modern labour movement have taken on.... Yes, socialist man will still be pursued by sex and death; but we are convinced that he will be better equipped than we are to cope even with these.”
Emblazon on our red banner-Labor and the oppressed must rule!
Bob Marley Get Up, Stand Up Lyrics
Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up: don't give up the fight!
Preacher man, don't tell me,
Heaven is under the earth.
I know you don't know
What life is really worth.
It's not all that glitters is gold;
'Alf the story has never been told:
So now you see the light, eh!
Stand up for your rights. come on!
Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up: don't give up the fight!
Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up: don't give up the fight!
Most people think, Great god will come from the skies,
Take away everything And make everybody feel high.
But if you know what life is worth,
You will look for yours on earth:
And now you see the light, You stand up for your rights. jah!
Get up, stand up! (jah, jah! )
Stand up for your rights! (oh-hoo! )
Get up, stand up! (get up, stand up! )
Don't give up the fight! (life is your right! )
Get up, stand up! (so we can't give up the fight! )
Stand up for your rights! (lord, lord! )
Get up, stand up! (keep on struggling on! )
Don't give up the fight! (yeah! )
We sick an' tired of-a your ism-skism game -
Dyin' 'n' goin' to heaven in-a Jesus' name, lord.
We know when we understand:
Almighty god is a living man.
You can fool some people sometimes,
But you can't fool all the people all the time.
So now we see the light (what you gonna do?),
We gonna stand up for our rights! (yeah, yeah, yeah! )
So you better: Get up, stand up! (in the morning! git it up! )
Stand up for your rights! (stand up for our rights! )
Get up, stand up!
Don't give up the fight! (don't give it up, don't give it up! )
Get up, stand up! (get up, stand up! )
Stand up for your rights! (get up, stand up! )
Get up, stand up! (... )
Don't give up the fight! (get up, stand up! )
We Don’t Want Your Ism-Skism Thing- Dreadlocks Delight- “One Love: The Very Best of Bob Marley And The Wailers”- A CD Review By Ralph Morris (2012)
One Love: The Very Best of Bob Marley And The Wailers, Bob Marley And The Wailers, UTV Records, 2001
Admit it, back in the late seventies and early eighties we all had, Sam and me included, our reggae minute, at least a minute anyway. And the center of that minute, almost of necessity, had to be a run-in with the world of Bob Marley and the Wailers, probably I Shot The Sheriff. Some of us stuck with that music and moved on to its step-child be-bop, hip-hop when that moved onto the scene. Others like me just took it as a world music cultural moment and put the records (you know records, those black vinyl things, right?) away after a while. And that was that.
Well not quite. Of late the Occupy movement, the people risen, has done a very funny musical thing, at least funny to my ears when I heard it. They, along with the old labor song, Solidarity Forever, and, of course Brother Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land , have resurrected Bob Marley’s up-from-under fight song, Get Up, Stand Up to fortify the sisters and brothers against the American imperial monster beating down on all of us and most directly under the police baton and tear gas canister. And that seems, somehow, eminently right. More germane here it has gotten me to dust off those old records and give Brother Marley another hear. And you should too if you have been remiss of late with such great songs as (aside from those mentioned already) No Woman, No Cry, Jamming, One Love/People Get Ready (yah, the old Chambers Brother tune), and Buffalo Soldier. And stand up and fight too.