Saturday, January 09, 2016

Gee But It’s Hard To Love Some One When That Someone Don’t Love You-Josie's Tale


Gee But It’s Hard To Love Some One When That Someone Don’t Love You



“Hey, turn that record over and play Empty Bed Blues will you,” yelled Stanley Peters to his sweetheart of a couple of years now Josie Davis. Of course if any records were being turned over that day, by "pretty please" request or not, any long-playing records that meant that this pair, Stan and Josie, was in the midst of their periodic all stops out listening to the four album double records Columbia version of Bessie Smith, the Empress of the blues.

That periodic part bears some further explanation. See a couple of years before, a little before they had met Josie had heard a blues singer, a woman blues singer on WCAS the low watt radio station over in Cambridge that she listened to at night while working like crazy on her Master’s degree in social psychology. Josie was just then attempting to finish up at Boston University on her way to a doctorate since in the crowded field of fiery liberal arts students who had honed in on that discipline after being frozen, totally frozen out of the English Lit market by the endless line of applicants, as a place to make their mark a Master’s degree could only be a stepping stone. Otherwise all that blood and sweat provided was a chance to wait on tables at some swanky bistro for tips and some leers. The radio, that station, and Jim Miller’s American Folk Show was her way of staying focused pouring over the endless statistics that she had culled over the previous two years in order to fill out her thesis about the close correlation in 1968 between those kids who drop out of high school and their ability to spent a lot of time tied up in the justice system. (According to Stan later, later when things had gone awry he had to agree that she did a very good job of proving her point and her research would not look shabby even later when tracing the fates of lumpen kids, projects kids really, went out of fashion, along with the liberals who had previous championed their cause.) 

About ten o’clock in the evening on Wednesday nights Jim Miller would have an hour of blues, usually featuring a single performer or group, although Josie no fan of blues despite her love of folk music ever since high school, Hunter College High, in Manhattan back in 1962 when she got caught up with the folk minute craze running through the campuses and urban oases and hung around Washington Square Park and the Village seeing what was what. Usually tired, having to get up early the next morning she would pass on the show, couldn’t see what the big deal now was all about with old black guys from Mississippi or hot shot black or white guys pushing their electric guitars to some netherworld. But as she was beginning to head to the radio on the shelf above her refrigerator she caught the beginning Bessie Smith’s Down-hearted Blues and decided to listen until the end of the song since the words “spoke” to her, the words about some two-timing man who spent all her hard-earned money on whiskey and dope, ran off with her best friend and left her sad and blue.
Josie didn’t know about the whiskey and dope part but she certainly knew about her guy running off with her best friend. Well actually she did know about the whiskey and dope part. Or at least the dope part because she did not like whiskey the one time an Irish boyfriend, a real Irish boyfriend from Ireland, from Cork, a IRA guy on the run one way or another she had picked up in a bar one night when dating Irish rebels was the flavor of the month for liberal/radical Jewish girls like her, gave her some even when it was watered down. Her liquor desires centered more on generous glasses of wine, mainly reds, when she needed to relax a bit but her dope flavor of the month, especially at Wisconsin where she had been an undergraduate was almost anything anybody had in their stash, bennies, and diet pills a specialty. Guys were always asking her to buy "product" as they called it, would get the stuff, maybe give her a few joints or pills and then split-sometimes to "find themselves, sometimes to just split because that was the kind of age the 1960s was. She had been willing to take her lumps on that score. She had left a few guys flat-footed herself so she was not crying, feeling blue about that. It was the running off with best friend that enraged her, make her more than sad and blue.

Before she had come to Boston her best friend from way back in high school, Hunter High which was a well-known elite school for girls then in the city filled with Jewish-American Princesses (JAPs) looking to have that school on their resumes when husband hunting , Frida Hoffman, who was a grind like her, although she could travel with the JAPs when they wanted something from her, had taken her boyfriend, blue-eyed, blonde hair, Midwestern “aw shucks” Todd Morgan from Wisconsin right from under her nose. After graduating from Wisconsin and before heading to Boston, dreading to have to live at home with her parents over in Stuyvesant Town, she had lived with Frida in her Soho apartment for the summer.  She had brought Todd along, after Frida insisted that she could put him in touch with some music people she knew in the Village who might help a budding folk rock singer like Todd. Josie had introduced Todd when they first met and Josie half-saw the "look" in Frida's eyes then but Frida was Frida and checked out  half the guys in the world. This time though Frida landed a low blow and one night had run off to summer of love San Francisco with Todd with whom she was having an affair on the side when Josie had to travel to Boston to find an apartment and to checkout her internship through Boston University.

So the song hit home and as she reached to finally turn the damn thing off on came Empty Bed Blues and she was hooked, listened to the whole hour and heard that soulful melancholy voice all night in her sleep. Here is the funny part, the part that ties everything together as she listened she found that she got more and more into the music, that it kind of grew on her, she didn’t want it to end. She was haunted by the whole experience and the next day she ran over to Central Square in Cambridge, got off at that stop on the Red Line anyway and walked up to Sandy’s Record Shop heading toward Harvard Square to see if he, a connoisseur, the guru of all things folk unto the famous Brahmin Brattle Street Child collected ballads if not before, which if you thing about it really encompassed the blues for lyrics, just not the beat, and asked him, since in those days he ran the store himself mostly, if he had any Bessie Smith records available for purchase. Sandy gave her a big smile and said-“I’ve got a not bad condition, not too scratchy used complete four album eight record Columbia vintage set of her stuff that you won’t want to turn off.” Sold. Sold after Josie explained that effect that her feature on Jim Miller’s show had on her. Sandy gave a sly nod. Needless to say that weekend she perhaps drove her fellow tenants on Commonwealth Avenue batting, or murderous, playing the compete set while drinking wine, red, to drown her sorrows. Drinking her blues away and it was six, two and even which of the two drugs was chasing her blues away.                        

Bessie safely in her grasp Josie got more interested in other women blues singers available for sale at Sandy’s like the newly “discovered” Sippy Wallace who told one and all in her time not to “advertise your man,” good advice if the man was anything worth keeping like Stan who had helped her get through the male fright Todd blues,  Big Mama Thornton who did the original version of Hound Dog which she had heard Elvis do when she was young and was crazy see him do with that swagger and snarled look on his face and whose version pull Elvis to shame and a whole bunch of women named Smith, or so it seemed beside Bessie. Got into those little old guys from hot-house Delta Mississippi too although she was still stand-offish toward those bad ass Chicago blues guys with the wicked bad lyrics of lust, dope and booze.

One afternoon at Sandy’s while she was looking for a Skip James recording she saw a sign that Big Tommy Johnson who was reputed to be the latest reincarnation of blues legend Robert Johnson, a singer who she could take or leave, was playing at a club in Inman Square a few blocks up from Sandy’s  called Joe’s Place. She asked Sandy about Johnson and about the place, including about whether she was going to get hassled if she went alone and sat at the bar. Sandy told her he was not that familiar with Johnson (but don’t ask, please don’t’ ask about Skip James because you will get harangued for an hour or more with every arcane fact known to man about that bluesman) but that she would have to take her chances, as always, when guys see a single pretty young women after they have had a few drinks.    

So that Saturday night feeling a little blue about her progress on developing a theme for her thesis, a little fearful about going alone but also a little man hungry if she was honest with herself especially if a guy knew something about the blues and wasn’t just sitting there at Joe’s leering at his next “conquest” she went into Joe’s and sat unmolested at the bar while Johnson was playing. As it turned out he wasn’t what she was interested in for blues music but she wasn’t hassled, half damn it, either. She would go there a few more times until the night she met Stanley who had walked to her and told her he had seen her in the place before, did she like the blues, did she know the blues and about six thousand bits of other information. And not once did he “hit” on her, didn’t ask her what she was doing after the show. What did get him somewhere, get him two years of loving as it turned out, although not that night when he left, half damn it, her at the door of the club with a “hope to see you here again” was a date after he mentioned about three thousand stray facts about Bessie Smith. Including this observation-“You know when you start listening to Bessie, especially if you start at Volume One of the Columbia record set, you half want to shut the thing off but as you listen more you don’t want it to end, want to play the thing all day and night.”  Yes, Josie thoughts, a kindred. A kindred who she was getting ready to go to her record player and turn over the vinyl so Stan could hear Empty Bed Blues.             

Where Have All The Flowers Gone -Josie's Tale Redux


Where Have All The Flowers Gone-Josie's Tale Redux   




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. (She had had guys, mostly nice Jewish boys that her mother picked out for her but also a few met through her friend and classmate at Hunter College High who was also immersed in the Village folk scene, one who "deflowered" her, although she was ready to be deflowered if it came to that while in high school. Naturally she lied like the devil even to Frida for a while before Frida wore her down and proclaimed to one and all she was a virgin if for no other reason than she didn't want every  guy she met to expect her to "haul his ashes" as the old blues standard had it.) 

Of course coming from the big city, from New York she had to get used to the smaller scale of things on campus, smaller although the campus was large by college, public college standards, it was no bigger than the apartment complex she had grown up in Manhattan, in Stuyvesant Town, and the more sanitary slower life-style of not having to hail taxicabs, having campus buses come on time, no rushing from store to store over any blocks since downtown was for her several shopping blocks and that was it since she was not concerned with the various governmental buildings in the capital, 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 friends Dora, Frida and the 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, or not on the prowl at Hunter. 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 in the Quad, involved in a serious campus project against nuclear proliferation and whose friends were too. Normal Midwestern kids.

Susan had met Jason at the Rathskeller, a 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 if you can believe that but were just being blown in the wind by the craze and playing to the girls that came to listen in hopes of a date or something, 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 and a couple of other pleasantries on his part eventually led to that boyfriend status.

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. Had, he said, two thousand facts at his disposal for any occasion and guarded then like a king’s ransom. Josie had known plenty of guys, Jewish guys she dated at her mother’s whim who had two thousand facts at their disposal but unlike Rudy they had some motive for knowing them, some get ahead motive and so they didn’t guard them with any kind of intensity like Rudy. More importantly Rudy seemed to pay special attention to her and while he was a campus big shot politico he rather shyly, almost apologetically, asked her for a date after a few talks with her. Naturally that winsome approach got him a date, got him plenty of dates if anybody was asking.

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 on this date. 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 watching 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 Grog (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 have to 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 playing  so 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 then having seen Joan Baez or Judy Collin wearing one in a performance and so everyone, every young woman who wanted to make a statement had to run out and get one, or rather more than one since unlike the flannel shirt, black chinos, sneakers young folk men young folk woman at that time still would not be seen in the same outfit too often (same thing with the long-ironed straight 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 so she gave up the one time she tried it and scorched her hair although she did wear that fizzled hair much longer than she had in high school and made her oval-shaped face more attractive).

They talked as they walked to the Grog, or rather Rudy talked a mile a minute about Guy who had gone to Wisconsin and about an anti-nuclear bomb demonstration he, Rick, was helping to plan on campus. When they got to the Grog they found a table for two toward the back which Josie was pleased about since he might hold her hand, something like that at least that is what she hoped, that is what she thought Rudy was about with women. 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 to perk her up (and also to help finish off the that brownie she was nibbling at since she was a little nervous about whether Rudy 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 now with her father’s good fortune through Uncle Larry 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 question.                                                  

30th Annual PDC Holiday Appeal-Free the Class-War Prisoners!

30th Annual PDC Holiday Appeal-Free the Class-War Prisoners!




Workers Vanguard No. 1080
 

















11 December 2015
 
30th Annual PDC Holiday Appeal-Free the Class-War Prisoners!

 
(Class-Struggle Defense Notes)
 
This year’s Holiday Appeal marks the 30th year of the Partisan Defense Committee’s program of sending monthly stipends as an expression of solidarity to those imprisoned for standing up to racist capitalist repression and imperialist depredation. This program revived a tradition initiated by the International Labor Defense under James P. Cannon, its founder and first secretary (1925-1928). This year’s events will pay tribute to two former stipend recipients: Phil Africa of the MOVE 9 who died under suspicious circumstances in January and Hugo Pinell, the last of the San Quentin 6 in prison, who was brutally assassinated in August. We honor the memory of these courageous individuals by keeping up the fight for the freedom of all class-war prisoners. The PDC currently sends stipends to 14 class-war prisoners.
 
Mumia Abu-Jamal is a former Black Panther Party spokesman, a well-known supporter of the MOVE organization and an award-winning journalist known as “the voice of the voiceless.” Framed up for the 1981 killing of a Philadelphia police officer, Mumia was sentenced to death explicitly for his political views. Federal and state courts have repeatedly refused to consider evidence proving Mumia’s innocence, including the sworn confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, shot and killed the policeman. In 2011 the Philadelphia district attorney’s office dropped its longstanding effort to legally lynch America’s foremost class-war prisoner. He remains condemned to life in prison with no chance of parole. Mumia now faces a life-threatening health crisis related to an active case of hepatitis C which brought him close to death in March. The Pennsylvania prison authorities adamantly refuse to treat this dangerous but curable condition.
 
Leonard Peltier is an internationally renowned class-war prisoner. Peltier’s incarceration for his activism in the American Indian Movement has come to symbolize this country’s racist repression of its Native peoples, the survivors of centuries of genocidal oppression. Peltier was framed up for the 1975 deaths of two FBI agents marauding in what had become a war zone on the South Dakota Pine Ridge Reservation. Although the lead government attorney has admitted, “We can’t prove who shot those agents,” and the courts have acknowledged blatant prosecutorial misconduct, the 71-year-old Peltier is not scheduled to be reconsidered for parole for another nine years. Peltier suffers from multiple serious medical conditions and is incarcerated far from his people and family.
 
Seven MOVE members—Chuck Africa, Michael Africa, Debbie Africa, Janet Africa, Janine Africa, Delbert Africa and Eddie Africa—are in their 38th year of prison. After the 8 August 1978 siege of their Philadelphia home by over 600 heavily armed cops, they were sentenced to 30-100 years, having been falsely convicted of killing a police officer who died in the cops’ own cross fire. In 1985, eleven of their MOVE family members, including five children, were massacred by Philly cops when a bomb was dropped on their living quarters. After nearly four decades of unjust incarceration, these innocent prisoners are routinely turned down at parole hearings. None have been released.
 

Albert Woodfox is the last of the Angola Three still incarcerated. Along with Herman Wallace and Robert King, Woodfox fought the vicious, racist and dehumanizing conditions in Louisiana’s Angola prison and courageously organized a Black Panther Party chapter at the prison. Authorities framed up Woodfox and Wallace for the fatal stabbing of a prison guard in 1972 and falsely convicted King of killing a fellow inmate a year later. For over 43 years, Woodfox has been locked down in Closed Cell Restricted (CCR) blocks, the longest stretch in solitary confinement ever in this country. His conviction has been overturned three times! According to his lawyers, he suffers from hypertension, heart disease, chronic renal insufficiency, diabetes, anxiety and insomnia—conditions no doubt caused and/or exacerbated by decades of vindictive and inhumane treatment. Albert was ordered released by a federal judge in June, but the vindictive Louisiana state prosecutors are bringing him to trial yet again for a crime he did not commit.
 
Jaan Laaman and Thomas Manning are the two remaining anti-imperialist activists known as the Ohio 7 still in prison, convicted for their roles in a radical group that took credit for bank “expropriations” and bombings of symbols of U.S. imperialism, such as military and corporate offices, in the late 1970s and ’80s. Before their arrests in 1984 and 1985, the Ohio 7 were targets of massive manhunts. The Ohio 7’s politics were once shared by thousands of radicals but, like the Weathermen before them, the Ohio 7 were spurned by the “respectable” left. From a proletarian standpoint, the actions of these leftist activists against imperialism and racist injustice are not crimes. They should not have served a day in prison.
 
Ed Poindexter and Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa are former Black Panther supporters and leaders of the Omaha, Nebraska, National Committee to Combat Fascism. They are victims of the FBI’s deadly COINTELPRO operation, under which 38 Black Panther Party members were killed and hundreds more imprisoned on frame-up charges. Poindexter and Mondo were railroaded to prison and sentenced to life for a 1970 explosion that killed a cop, and they have now spent more than 40 years behind bars. Nebraska courts have repeatedly denied Poindexter and Mondo new trials despite the fact that a crucial piece of evidence excluded from the original trial, a 911 audio tape long suppressed by the FBI, proved that testimony of the state’s key witness was perjured.
 
Contribute now! All proceeds from the Holiday Appeal events will go to the Class-War Prisoners Stipend Fund. This is not charity but an elementary act of solidarity with those imprisoned for their opposition to racist capitalism and imperialist depredations. Send your contributions to: PDC, P.O. Box 99, Canal Street Station, New York, NY 10013; (212) 406-4252.

*The Genesis Of The World's "Greatest Rock Band"- The Rolling Stones

Click On Title To Link To YouTube's Film Clip Of The Rolling Stones Doing "Street Fighting Man".

DVD REVIEW

The Rolling Stones: Under Review, 1967-69, The Rolling Stones and various artists, 2007

Recently, in reviewing Jean Luc- Godard’s 1968 “Sympathy For The Devil”, an experimental film documentary montage that featured the creation of one of The Rolling Stone’s most well-known songs of that title noted that while I was more than happy to see The Stones creative process on that work I did not need to spend an hour and one half to do so. This had to do more with Luc-Godard’s pretensions and propaganda needs that with any problems with the creative process of The Rolling Stones. Here, in the film documentary under review, we are treated to an infinitely more noteworthy and worthwhile introduction to The Stones’ creative process at its height and their place in the cultural, or rather counter-cultural history of the 1960’s. Without the Luc-Godard hubris.

One should note the time frame of this exposition, 1967-69, that is important both for the period of Stones creative outburst and their connection with the various cultural events that defined the late 1960’s. A little time is spent by the “talking heads” British music critics, who also covered The Stones up close during this period and that drive the narrative of this film, on the early Stones and their efforts like “Satisfaction” and “Ruby Tuesday” as they attempted to compete song for song with the Beatles. However, the bulk of the time is spent discussing the latter period when The Stones went off to explore their own musical capacities. This period includes their efforts on “ Their Satanic Majesties” (an album that, while it has some historical value as acid rock, is virtually unlistenable, at least to this reviewer these days), “Between The Buttons” (a transitional album) and then on to the classic ‘Beggar’s Banquet”. “Beggar’s Banquet” is arguably the equivalent in the Stones discographic pantheon of Elvis Presley’s 1956 “Elvis” to his.

Along the way we get also get a look at the troubled relationship between the eccentric Brian Jones and the other Stones, his death spiral, and the eventual emergence of the Jagger/Richards songwriting partnership that has lasted until this day. We also get some fulsome analysis of individual songs like “Jumping Jack Flash”, the seminal “Gimme Shelter” and the above-mentioned “Sympathy For The Devil”. Various interesting arguments are made along the way for the role of music in the evolving counter-cultural/drug milieu of the time and whether and if that would be the revolution.

A lot of the argument centers on the meaning of “Street Fighting Man” as a personal statement by Jagger. We long ago learned- the hard way- that music, of itself, would not bring the revolution (here the fatal Altamont concert of 1969 kind of drives that point home) and that Mike was not going to lead, if he ever had such an intention, that revolution (“Gimme Shelter” is kind of his concession on that point). What is left then? Well, there is always that subjective question- Are The Stones the world’s greatest rock band? Pound for pound in those days I would argue that Jim Morrison and The Doors, on any given on night, could claim that title. But for the long haul, The Stones, hands down. View this well-done documentary to find out why.

"Street Fighting Man"

Everywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy
cause summers here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy
Tell me what can a poor boy do
cept for sing for a rock n roll band
cause in this sleepy l.a. town
Theres just no place for a street fighting man

A street fighting man
A street fighting man
A street fighting man

Do you think the time is right for a palace revolution
Where I live the game to play is compromise solution
Well then what can a poor boy
cept for sing for a rock n roll band
cause in this sleepy l.a. town
Theres just no place for a street fighting man

A street fighting man
A street fighting man
A street fighting man

Well what else can a poor boy do?
Well what else can a poor boy do?
Well what else can a poor boy do?
Well what else can a poor boy do?

Hey my name is called disturbance
Ill shout and scream, Ill kill the king, Ill rail at all his servants
Well what can a poor boy do
For sing for a rock n roll band
In this sleepy l.a. town
Theres just no place for
For a street fighting man

A street fighting man
For a street fighting man
A street fighting man
For a street fighting man
A street fighting man
For a street fighting man
A street fighting man
For a street fighting man

A street fighting man
A street fighting man
A street fighting man
A street fighting man
A street fighting man
A street fighting man
A street fighting man
A street fighting man


"Sympathy for The Devil"

Please allow me to introduce myself
Im a man of wealth and taste
Ive been around for a long, long year
Stole many a mans soul and faith

And I was round when jesus christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
But whats puzzling you
Is the nature of my game

I stuck around st. petersburg
When I saw it was a time for a change
Killed the czar and his ministers
Anastasia screamed in vain

I rode a tank
Held a generals rank
When the blitzkrieg raged
And the bodies stank

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name, oh yeah
Ah, whats puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, oh yeah

I watched with glee
While your kings and queens
Fought for ten decades
For the gods they made

I shouted out,
Who killed the kennedys?
When after all
It was you and me

Let me please introduce myself
Im a man of wealth and taste
And I laid traps for troubadours
Who get killed before they reached bombay

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah
But whats puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, oh yeah, get down, baby

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah
But whats confusing you
Is just the nature of my game

Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails
Just call me lucifer
cause Im in need of some restraint

So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or Ill lay your soul to waste, um yeah

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, um yeah
But whats puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, um mean it, get down

Woo, who
Oh yeah, get on down
Oh yeah
Oh yeah!

Tell me baby, whats my name
Tell me honey, can ya guess my name
Tell me baby, whats my name
I tell you one time, youre to blame

Ooo, who
Ooo, who
Ooo, who
Ooo, who, who
Ooo, who, who
Ooo, who, who
Ooo, who, who

Oh, yeah
Whats me name
Tell me, baby, whats my name
Tell me, sweetie, whats my name

Ooo, who, who
Ooo, who, who
Ooo, who, who
Ooo, who, who
Ooo, who, who
Ooo, who, who
Ooo, who, who
Oh, yeah


Gimme Shelter
(M. Jagger/K. Richards)


Oh, a storm is threat'ning
My very life today
If I don't get some shelter
Oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away

War, children, it's just a shot away
It's just a shot away
War, children, it's just a shot away
It's just a shot away

Ooh, see the fire is sweepin'
Our very street today
Burns like a red coal carpet
Mad bull lost its way

War, children, it's just a shot away
It's just a shot away
War, children, it's just a shot away
It's just a shot away

Rape, murder!
It's just a shot away
It's just a shot away

Rape, murder!
It's just a shot away
It's just a shot away

Rape, murder!
It's just a shot away
It's just a shot away

The floods is threat'ning
My very life today
Gimme, gimme shelter
Or I'm gonna fade away

War, children, it's just a shot away

It's just a shot away
It's just a shot away
It's just a shot away
It's just a shot away

I tell you love, sister, it's just a kiss away

It's just a kiss away
It's just a kiss away
It's just a kiss away
It's just a kiss away
Kiss away, kiss away


"Backstreet Girl"


I don't want you to be high
I don't want you to be down
Don't want to tell you no lie
Just want you to be around

Please come right up to my ears
You will be able to hear what I say

Don't want you out in my world
Just you be my backstreet girl

Please don't be part of my life
Please keep yourself to yourself
Please don't you bother my wife
That way you won't get no hell

Don't try to ride on my horse
You're rather common and coarse anyway

Don't want you out in my world
Just you be my backstreet girl

Please don't you call me at home
Please don't come knocking at night
Please never ring on the phone
Your manners are never quite right

Please take the favors I grant
Curtsy and look nonchalant, just for me

Don't want you part of my world
Just you be my backstreet girl

*Walking Down Those Mean Teen Streets-"Street Corner" Society Then and Now

Click On Title To Link To "Rebel Without A Cause" Website.

Commentary

One never knows what subject matter will come bubbling up to the surface in this space from comments on yesterday’s amorphous memories through to today’s harsh social reality. Sometimes they merge so that I can make my usual cogent and witty comment on them. Case in point. Recently I found myself on one of my infrequent visits to a suburban shopping mall. A moderately upscale one if I can judge by the well-known national brand stores that are located there, in any case, one that seemed not different from any other of the ones that seem to dot the landscape of every outer urban area in America. That social characterization of the mall may be neither here nor there in the grand scheme of things but, perhaps, what went on there may be more common than I assume. You are entirely free to add your own observations on this one if you have had any mall experiences.

While taking care of my business there (if shopping for an appropriate gift for a special occasion is business rather than something akin to a visit to the dentist) I noticed several teenage boys about fifteen or sixteen (and possibly a couple of younger teenage girls on the periphery, it was not clear to me at that moment what their relationship to the scene was) being harassed and told unceremoniously to move on from their “hang out” benches by a couple of rent-a-cops. There was the usual back and forth "macho" talk before the boys left the area. From all appearances (which I later confirmed independently) these kids were from some kind of middle class families, were something like professional “mall rats” and had all the cultural attributes of today’s “youth nation”. You know-the right sneakers, the right technological gizmos (including the ubiquitous Sidekick) and the right tribal “language”. In short, these kids were being harassed and threatened for hanging out while being teenagers.

Needless to say there is nothing new under the sun here. It is apparently a rite of passage in post-modern bourgeois society to steamroll the young at every opportunity. Of course this little episode that I witnessed allows me to segue into a tale of my own youthful “hanging out” for a couple of years in the early 1960’s. Obviously my tale is not centered on shopping malls which were just coming, for better or worst, into vogue. No, this is a tale of hanging around street corners. Or rather, a street corner as the etiquette of the day (enforceable by fists, if the occasion warranted) set the parameters of who “hung” where. Well, for my bravos and me this spot happened to be a very popular pizza parlor at the corner of two main streets of the section of town that I grew up in. Religiously, on Friday and Saturday nights seemingly at any time of the year , for that couple of years, we could be seen in or just out in front of that establishment “holding up the wall” by the automobile traffic going by. And just as religiously, the store owner or someone else would, on occasion, call the police to have us removed. Sometimes, just to keep in shape, the police would just do it on their own authority. And our offense- hanging out while being teenagers. Sound familiar?

The upshot of all this is that my boyos and I got something of an undeserved reputation for being “hard guys”. Oh sure, a couple of the guys wore the then common footwear for tough guys - big black engineer boots complete with silver buckets- that the ‘real’ motorcycle gang types wore. And we certainly affected a James Dean/Marlon Brando existential air about ourselves, without knowing what the hell it was all about. And, sorry to say, a couple of the guys later turned in some very wrong directions. However, in the main, we were just asserting, as of right, all the approved outward bravado of 1950’s alienated white working class youth.

A funny sidebar to our ‘reputation’ was that a Boston area graduate sociology student who was doing research on “street corner” youth society heard about us and interviewed us. And we were more than willing to comply with our ‘stories’, maybe too willingly. Now, for those who are unfamiliar with the times or with a film like "Rebel Without A Cause” starring the above-mentioned James Dean as the consummate alienated middle class youth, not only was mainstream society concerned about the “red menace” but also about this disturbing drift of that era’s “youth culture” toward nihilism.

At the working class level (and below) that translated into a concern about juvenile delinquency, especially the fascination with small-time crime, fast cars, booze, and ‘babes’. Actually, that too sounds familiar, right? So we probably piled it on for our very proper middle class professor. She later sent us a copy of her paper. I am a lot more jaded by such things now and nonplussed by the methodologies used to argue academic theories but I remember reading her thesis ( Ya, I liked to read that kind of stuff even then.) and scratching my head in disbelief about her narrative. Something, as I would later discover from reading, out of Nelson Algren. A vivid imagination is not confined to the literary types. Nothing new there either, right?

But let’s get to the real point of my entire ‘thesis’. What were we, young unattached teenage boys, doing "hanging out” at that corner with all that traffic flowing by? Well, for one thing when we went inside the joint the pizza was great-and cheap. For another it had a great jukebox where one could hear all the hits of those days, as long as the nickels held out. But who is fooling who here. We were standing there looking at (and for) girls going by. Are you shocked? And to bring this little tale to an end I’ll come forward to today again. I mentioned, rather obliquely, in describing the recent scene that I witnessed the presence of a couple of teenage girls on the periphery. Well, what do you think those teenage boys were doing “hanging out” at the mall? Hello.

******Will The Circle Be Unbroken-The Music OF The Carter Family (First Generation)

******Will The Circle Be Unbroken-The Music OF The Carter Family (First Generation)

 
 
 
From The Pen Of Bart Webber

You know it took a long time for Sam Eaton to figure out why he was drawn, seemingly out of nowhere, to the mountain music most famously brought to public, Northern public, attention by the likes of the Carter Family, Jimmy Rodgers, Etta Baker, The Seegers and the Lomaxes back a couple of generations ago. The Carter Family famously arrived via a record contract in Bristol, Tennessee in the days when radio and record companies were looking for music, authentic American music to fill the air and their catalogs. (Jimmy Rodgers, the great Texas yodeler was discovered at that same time and place. In fact what the record companies were doing to their profit was to send out agents to grab whatever they could. That is how guys like Son House and Skip James got their record debuts, “race record” debut but that is a story for another time although it will be told so don’t worry). The Seegers and Lomaxes went out into the sweated dusty fields, out to the Saturday night red barn dance the winds coming down the Appalachian hollows, I refuse to say hollas okay, out to the Sunday morning praise Jehovah gathered church brethren (and many sinners Saturday wine, women and song singers as well as your ordinary blasphemous bad thought sinners, out to the juke joint(ditto on the sinning but in high fiddle on Uncle Jack’s freshly “bonded” sour mash come Saturday absolution for sins is the last thing on the brethren’s minds), down to the mountain general store to grab whatever was available some of it pretty remarkable filled with fiddles, banjos and mandolins.

As a kid, as a very conscious Northern city boy, Sam could not abide that kind of music (and I know because if I tried to even mention something Johnny Cash who was really then a rock and roll stud he would turn seven shades of his patented fury) but later on he figured that was because he was so embroiled in the uprising jail-break music of his, our generation, rock and roll, that anything else faded, faded badly by comparison. (And I was with him the first night we heard Bill Haley and the Comets blasting Rock Around The Clock in the front end  of a double feature of Blackboard Jungle at the Strand Theater when it was playing re-runs so you know I lived and died for the new sounds)   

Later in high school, Lasalle High, when Brian Pirot would drive us down to Cambridge and after high school in college when Sam used to hang around Harvard Square to be around the burgeoning folk scene that was emerging for what he later would call the "folk minute of the early 1960s" he would let something like Gold Watch And Chain register a bit, registering a bit then meaning that he would find himself occasionally idly humming such a tune. (The version done by Alice Stuart at the time gleaned when he had heard her perform at the Club Nana in the Square one time when he had enough dough for two coffees, a shared pastry and money for the “basket” for a date, a cheap date.) The only Carter Family song that Sam consciously could claim he knew of theirs was Under the Weeping Willow although he may have unconsciously known others from seventh grade music class when Mr. Dasher would bury us with all kind of songs and genre from the American songbook so we would not get tied down to that heathen “rock and roll” that drove him crazy when we asked him to play some for us. (“Don’t be a masher, Mister Dasher,” the implications of which today would get him in plenty of hot water if anybody in authority heard such talk in an excess of caution but which simple had been used as one more rhyming scheme when that fad hit the junior high schools in the 1960s and whose origins probably came from the song Monster Mash not the old-fashioned sense of a lady-killer) But again more urban, more protest-oriented folk music was what caught Sam’s attention when the folk minute was at high tide in the early 1960s.           

Then one day not all that many years ago as part of a final reconciliation with his family which Sam had been estranged from periodically since teenage-hood, going back to his own roots, making peace with his old growing up neighborhood, he started asking many questions about how things turned so sour back when he was young. More importantly asking questions that had stirred in his mind for a long time and formed part of the reason that he went for reconciliation. To find out what his roots were while somebody was around to explain the days before he could rightly remember the early days. And in that process he finally, finally figured out why the Carter Family and others began to “speak” to him.         


The thing was simplicity itself. If he had thought about and not let the years of animosity, of estrangement, hell of denial that he even came from the town that he came from things had been that bad toward the end although all those animosities, estrangements, denials should not have been laid at the door of that simple, hard-working father who never got a break, a break that he saw. Didn’t see that the break for his father was his wife, didn’t see that whatever hardship that man faced it was better than where he had from, all that wisdom came too late and a belated public eulogy in front a whole crowd in town, that stingy back-biting Olde Saco of a town, some who knew the Sheik (he was so alienated some stranger, stranger to him, had to tell him that had been what his father’s moniker had been when he was in the Marines and later when a few ladies in town thinking with his dark good looks he was French-Canadian, one of them, had furtively set their sights on him) and some who didn’t but it was the kind of town that set store by memory glances of those who had lived and toiled in the hard-bitten bogs for so long. Hell, in the end, also too late but only by a whisper he realized that all those animosities, estrangements and denials should not have been laid at the door of his mother either but no private sorrows eulogy at a class reunion could put that wall back together.

Here is how the whole thing played out. See his father hailed (nice word, a weather word, not a good weather word and maybe that was a portent, another nice word for the troubles ahead) from Kentucky, Hazard, Kentucky long noted in song and legend as hard coal country. A place where the L&N stopped no more, where “which side are you on” was more than a question but hard fighting words, maybe a little gunplay too, a place where the hills and hollows had that “black gold,” that seamy dust settling over every tar-papered roof and windowless cabin with a brood, another nice word for the occasion for widower Father John and come Saturday night, rain dust, gun play, railroad-less tracks down at Fred Dyer’s old dilapidated red barn Joe Valance and the boys would play fiddle, guitar, mando, and Sweet Emma on mountain harp all the swingy and sad tunes that drove their forbears to this desolate land (so you can image what their prospects were in the old country to drive them out. Nelson Algren wrote profusely about such driven-out people and what it did to them over several generations so to wander aimlessly others to sit still aimlessly)

When World War II came along, not as infamy, not as catastrophe, but like rain he left to join the Marines to get the hell out of there. During his tour of duty he was stationed for a short while at the Portsmouth Naval Base and during that stay attended a USO dance held in Portland where he met Sam’s mother who had grown up in deep French-Canadian Olde Saco. Needless to say he stayed in the North, for better or worse, working the mills in Olde Saco until they closed or headed south, headed south back close to his homeland in North Carolina and South Carolina too, to  for cheaper labor and then worked at whatever jobs he could find. All during Sam’s childhood though along with that popular music that got many mothers and fathers through the war mountain music, although he would not have called it that then filtered in the background on the family living room record player.

But here is the real “discovery,” a discovery that could only be disclosed by Sam’s parents, if he had asked and if they had been willing to tell them like they did his older brother Prescott who got along with them better when he was young and they were first born proud of him and his looks. Early on in their marriage they had tried to go back to Hazard to see if they could make a go of it there, so you know things were dicey or getting dicey in Olde Saco if they were going to half-dying eastern coal country mainly played out or being replaced by oils and gases. This was after Prescott was born and while his mother was carrying him. Apparently they stayed for several months in Hazard before they left to go back to Olde Saco a short time before Sam was born since he had been born in Portland General Hospital, which is what it said on his birth certificate when he had to go get a copy for his first passport application. So see that damn mountain, that damn mountain music, those many generations of back-breaking work in the old country before the work ran out or they were run as vagabonds and thieves and that wandering and sitting still in the murky hills and hollows coal enough to choke you but also remember all those generations of Fred Dyer’s red barn Saturday fiddle, guitar, mando and some vagrant Sweet Emma on mountain harp playing the swingy and sad tunes that go back beyond Child ballad time, was in his DNA, was just harkening to him when he got the bug. Funny, isn’t it.            
 

*On The 111th Anniversary Of The Russian Revolution Of 1905- From The Pen Of Leon Trotsky

Click on title to link to the Leon Trotsky Internet Archive's copy of a section, "1789-1848-1905" of Trotsky's post-mortem analysis of the first Russian revolution, the 'dress rehearsal' for 1917, "Results And Prospects".

Markin commment:

On this the 100th anniversary of the proletariat-led march to the Winter Palace that started the first Russian revolution and ended, short term, in bloody defeat with many dead and injured a look at Trotsky's view, especially his advanced view that the Russian proletariat would lead the revolution first gets its worked-out form.

On The 111th Anniversary Of Russian Revolution of 1905 As We Honor Of The Three L’s –Lenin, Luxemburg, Liebknecht-Honor Another Historic Leader Of The Russian Revolution-Leon Trotsky

On The 111th Anniversary Of Russian Revolution of 1905 As We Honor Of The Three L’s –Lenin, Luxemburg, Liebknecht-Honor Another  Historic Leader Of The Russian Revolution-Leon Trotsky

 

EVERY JANUARY WE HONOR LENIN OF RUSSIA, ROSA LUXEMBURG OF POLAND, AND KARL LIEBKNECHT OF GERMANY AS THREE LEADERS OF THE INTERNATIONAL WORKING CLASS MOVEMENT. DURING THE MONTH WE ALSO HONOR OTHER HISTORIC LEADERS AS WELL ON THIS SITE.


THIS IS A BOOK REVIEW ORIGINALLY WIRTTEN IN 2007 OF LEON TROTSKY’S HISTORY OF THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION, ORIGINALLY WRITTEN IN 1930-32, (EDITION USED HERE-THREE VOLUMES, PATHFINDER PRESS, NEW YORK, 1980) BY AN UNREPENTANT DEFENDER OF THE OCTOBER REVOLUTION OF 1917. HERE’S WHY.

Leon Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution is partisan history at its best. One does not and should not, at least in this day in age, ask historians to be ‘objective’. One simply asks that the historian present his or her narrative and analysis and get out of the way. Trotsky meets that criterion. Furthermore, in Trotsky’s case there is nothing like having a central actor in the drama he is narrating, who can also write brilliantly and wittily, give his interpretation of the important events and undercurrents swirling around Russia in 1917.

If you are looking for a general history of the revolution or want an analysis of what the revolution meant for the fate of various nations after World War I or its effect on world geopolitics look elsewhere. E.H. Carr’s History of the Russian Revolution offers an excellent multi-volume set that tells that story through the 1920’s. Or if you want to know what the various parliamentary leaders, both bourgeois and Soviet, were thinking and doing from a moderately leftist viewpoint read Sukhanov’s Notes on the Russian Revolution. For a more journalistic account John Reed’s classic Ten Days That Shook the World is invaluable. Trotsky covers some of this material as well. However, if additionally, you want to get a feel for the molecular process of the Russian Revolution in its ebbs and flows down at the base in the masses where the revolution was made Trotsky’s is the book for you.

The life of Leon Trotsky is intimately intertwined with the rise and decline of the Russian Revolution in the first part of the 20th century. As a young man, like an extraordinary number of talented Russian youth, he entered the revolutionary struggle against Czarism in the late 1890’s. Shortly thereafter he embraced what became a lifelong devotion to a Marxist political perspective. However, except for the period of the 1905 Revolution when Trotsky was Chairman of the Petrograd Soviet and later in 1912 when he tried to unite all the Russian Social Democratic forces in an ill-fated unity conference, which goes down in history as the ‘August Bloc’, he was essentially a free-lancer in the international socialist movement. At that time Trotsky saw the Bolsheviks as “sectarians” as it was not clear to him time that for socialist revolution to be successful the reformist and revolutionary wings of the movement had to be organizationally split. With the coming of World War I Trotsky drew closer to Bolshevik positions but did not actually join the party until the summer of 1917 when he entered the Central Committee after the fusion of his organization, the Inter-District Organization, and the Bolsheviks. This act represented an important and decisive switch in his understanding of the necessity of a revolutionary workers party to lead the socialist revolution.

As Trotsky himself noted, although he was a late-comer to the concept of a Bolshevik Party that delay only instilled in him a greater understanding of the need for a vanguard revolutionary workers party to lead the revolutionary struggles. This understanding underlined his political analysis throughout the rest of his career as a Soviet official and as the leader of the struggle of the Left Opposition against the Stalinist degeneration of the Russian Revolution. After his defeat at the hands of Stalin and his henchmen Trotsky wrote these three volumes in exile in Turkey from 1930 to 1932. At that time Trotsky was not only trying to draw the lessons of the Revolution from an historian’s perspective but to teach new cadre the necessary lessons of that struggle as he tried first reform the Bolshevik Party and the Communist International and then later, after that position became politically untenable , to form a new, revolutionary Fourth International. Trotsky was still fighting from this perspective in defense of the gains of the Russian Revolution when a Stalinist agent cut him down. Thus, without doubt, beyond a keen historian’s eye for detail and anecdote, Trotsky’s political insights developed over long experience give his volumes an invaluable added dimension not found in other sources on the Russian Revolution.

As a result of the Bolshevik seizure of power the so-called Russian Question was the central question for world politics throughout most of the 20th century. That central question ended (or left center stage, to be more precise) with the demise of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s. However, there are still lessons, and certainly not all of them negative, to be learned from the experience of the Russian Revolution. Today, an understanding of this experience is a task for the natural audience for this book, the young alienated radicals of Western society. For the remainder of this review I will try to point out some issues raised by Trotsky which remain relevant today.

The central preoccupation of Trotsky’s volumes reviewed here and of his later political career concerns the problem of the crisis of revolutionary leadership of the international labor movement and its national components. That problem can be stated as the gap between the already existing objective conditions necessary for beginning socialist construction based on the current level of capitalist development and the immaturity or lack of revolutionary leadership to overthrow the old order. From the European Revolutions of 1848 on, not excepting the heroic Paris Commune, until his time the only successful working class revolution had been in led by the Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917. Why? Anarchists may look back to the Paris Commune or forward to the Spanish Civil War in 1936 for solace but the plain fact is that absent a revolutionary party those struggles were defeated without establishing the prerequisites for socialism. History has indicated that a revolutionary party that has assimilated the lessons of the past and is rooted in the working class, allied with and leading the plebeian masses in its wake, is the only way to bring the socialist program to fruition. That hard truth shines through Trotsky’s three volumes. Unfortunately, this is still the central problem confronting the international labor movement today.

Trotsky makes an interesting note that despite the popular conception at the time, reinforced since by several historians, the February overthrow of the Czarist regime was not as spontaneous as one would have been led to believe in the confusion of the times. He noted that the Russian revolutionary movement had been in existence for many decades before that time, that the revolution of 1905 had been a dress rehearsal for 1917 and that before the World War temporarily halted its progress another revolutionary period was on the rise. If there had been no such experiences then those who argue for spontaneity would have grounds to stand on. The most telling point is that the outbreak occurred in Petrograd, not exactly unknown ground for revolutionary activities. Moreover, contrary to the worshipers of so-called spontaneity, this argues most strongly for a revolutionary workers party to be in place in order to affect the direction of the revolution from the beginning.

All revolutions, and the Russian Revolution is no exception, after the first flush of victory over the overthrown old regime, face attempts by the more moderate revolutionary elements to suppress counter-posed class aspirations, in the interest of unity of the various classes that made the initial revolution. Thus, we see in the English Revolution of the 17th century a temporary truce between the rising bourgeoisie and the yeoman farmers and pious urban artisans who formed the backbone of Cromwell’s New Model Army. In the Great French Revolution of the 18th century the struggle from the beginning depended mainly on the support of the lower urban plebian classes. Later other classes, particularly the peasantry through their parties, which had previously remained passive enter the arena and try to place a break on revolutionary developments.

Their revolutionary goals having been achieved in the initial overturn- for them the revolution is over. Those elements most commonly attempt to rule by way of some form of People’s Front government. This is a common term of art in Marxist terminology to represent a trans-class formation of working class and capitalist parties which have ultimately counter-posed interests. The Russian Revolution also suffered under a Popular Front period under various combinations and guises supported by ostensible socialists, the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, from February to October. One of the keys to Bolshevik success in October was that, with the arrival of Lenin from exile in April, the Bolsheviks shifted their strategy and tactics to a position of political opposition to the parties of the popular front. Later history has shown us in Spain in the 1930’s and more recently in Chile in the 1970’s how deadly support to such popular front formations can be for revolutionaries and the masses influenced by them. The various parliamentary popular fronts in France, Italy and elsewhere show the limitations in another less dramatic but no less dangerous fashion. In short, political support for Popular Fronts means the derailment of the revolution or worst. This is a hard lesson, paid for in blood, that all manner of reformist socialists try deflect or trivialize in pursuit of being at one with the ‘masses’. Witness today’s efforts, on much lesser scale, by ostensible socialists to get all people of ‘good will, etc.’, including liberal and not so liberal Democrats under the same tent in the opposition to the American invasion of Iraq.

One of Trotsky’s great skills as a historian is the ability to graphically demonstrate that within the general revolutionary flow there are ebbs and flows that either speed up the revolutionary process or slow it down. This is the fate of all revolutions and in the case of failed revolutions can determine the political landscape for generations. The first definitive such event in the Russian Revolution occurred in the so-called "April Days" after it became clear that the then presently constituted Provisional Government intended to continue participation on the Allied side in World War I and retain the territorial aspirations of the Czarist government in other guises. This led the vanguard of the Petrograd working class to make a premature attempt to bring down that government. However, the vanguard was isolated and did not have the authority needed to be successful at that time. The most that could be done was the elimination of the more egregious ministers. Part of the problem here is that no party, unlike the Bolsheviks in the events of the "July Days" has enough authority to hold the militants back, or try to. These events only underscore, in contrast to the anarchist position, the need for an organized revolutionary party to check such premature impulses. Even then, the Bolsheviks in July took the full brunt of the reaction by the government with the jailing of their leaders and suppression of their newspapers supported wholeheartedly by the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionary Parties.


The Bolsheviks were probably the most revolutionary party in the history of revolutions. They certainly were the most consciously revolutionary in their commitment to political program, organizational form and organizational practices. Notwithstanding this, before the arrival in Petrograd of Lenin from exile the Bolshevik forces on the ground were, to put it mildly, floundering in their attitude toward political developments, especially their position on so-called critical support to the Provisional Government (read, Popular Front). Hence, in the middle of a revolutionary upsurge it was necessary to politically rearm the party. This political rearmament was necessary to expand the party’s concept of when and what forces would lead the current revolutionary upsurge. In short, mainly through Lenin’s intervention, the Party needed to revamp its old theory of "the democratic dictatorship of the working class and the peasantry" to the new conditions which placed the socialist program i.e. the dictatorship of the proletariat on the immediate agenda. Informally, the Bolsheviks, or rather Lenin individually, came to the same conclusions that Trotsky had analyzed in his theory of Permanent Revolution prior to the Revolution of 1905. This reorientation was not done without a struggle in the party against those forces who did not want to separate with the reformist wing of the Russian workers and peasant parties, mainly the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries.

This should be a sobering warning to those who argue, mainly from an anarchist or anarcho-syndicalist position, that a revolutionary party is not necessary. The dilemma of correctly aligning strategy and tactics even with a truly revolutionary party can be problematic. The tragic outcome in Spain in the 1930’s abetted by the confusion on this issue by the Party of Marxist Unification (POUM) and the Durrutti-led left anarchists, the most honestly revolutionary organizations at the time, painfully underscores this point. This is why Trotsky came over to the Bolsheviks and why he drew that lesson on the organization question very sharply for the rest of his political career.


The old-fashioned, poorly trained, inadequately led peasant-based Russian Army took a real beating at the hands of the more modern, mechanized and disciplined German armies on the Eastern Front in World War I. The Russian Army, furthermore, was at the point of disintegration just prior to the February Revolution. Nevertheless, the desperate effort on the part of the peasant soldier, essentially declassed from his traditional role on the land by the military mobilization, was decisive in overthrowing the monarchy. Key peasant reserve units placed in urban garrisons, and thus in contact with the energized workers, participated in the struggle to end the war and get back to the take the land while they were still alive. Thus from February on, the peasant army through coercion or through inertia was no longer a reliable vehicle for any of the various combinations of provisional governmental ministries to use. In the Army’s final flare-up in defense, or in any case at least remaining neutral, of placing all power into Soviet hands it acted as a reserve, an important one, but nevertheless a reserve. Only later when the Whites in the Civil War came to try to take the land did the peasant soldier again exhibit a willingness to fight and die. Such circumstances as a vast peasant war are not a part of today’s revolutionary strategy, at least in advanced capitalist society. In fact, today only under exceptional conditions would a revolutionary socialist party support, much less advocate the popular Bolshevik slogan-‘land to the tiller’ to resolve the agrarian question. The need to split the armed forces, however, remains.

Not all revolutions exhibit the massive breakdown in discipline that occurred in the Russian army- the armed organ that defends any state- but it played an exceptional role here. However, in order for a revolution to be successful it is almost universally true that the existing governmental authority can no longer rely on normal troop discipline. If this did not occasionally occur revolution generally would be impossible as untrained plebeians are no match for trained soldiers. Moreover, the Russian peasant army reserves were exceptional in that they responded to the general democratic demand for "land to the tiller" that the Bolsheviks were the only party to endorse and, moreover, were willing to carry out to the end. In the normal course of events the peasant, as a peasant on the land, cannot lead a modern revolution in even a marginally developed industrial state. It has more often been the bulwark for reaction; witness its role in the Paris Commune and Bulgaria in 1923, for examples, more than it has been a reliable ally of the urban masses. However, World War I put the peasant youth of Russia in uniform and gave them discipline, for a time at least, that they would not have otherwise had to play even a subordinate role in the revolution. Later revolutions based on peasant armies, such as China, Cuba and Vietnam, confirm this notion that only exceptional circumstances, mainly as part of a military formation, permit the peasantry a progressive role in a modern revolution.


Trotsky is politically merciless toward the Menshevik and Social Revolutionary leaderships that provided the crucial support for the Provisional Governments between February and October in their various guises and through their various crises. Part of the support of these parties for the Provisional Government stemmed from their joint perspectives that the current revolution was a limited bourgeois one and so therefore they could go no further than the decrepit bourgeoisie of Russia was willing to go. Given its relationships with foreign capital that was not very far. Let us face it, these allegedly socialist organizations in the period from February to October betrayed the interest of their ranks on the question of immediate peace, of the redistribution of the land, and a democratic representative government.

This is particularly true after their clamor for the start of the ill-fated summer offensive on the Eastern Front and their evasive refusal to convene a Constituent Assembly to ratify the redistribution of the land. One can chart the slow but then rapid rise of Bolsheviks influence in places when they did not really exist when the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, formerly the influential parties of those areas, moved to the right. All those workers, peasants, soldiers, whatever political organizations they adhered to formally, who wanted to make a socialist revolution naturally gravitated to the Bolsheviks. Such movement to the left by the masses is always the case in times of crisis in a period of revolutionary upswing. The point is to channel that energy for the seizure of power.

The ‘August Days’ when the ex-Czarist General Kornilov attempted a counterrevolutionary coup and Kerensky, head of the Provisional Government, in desperation asked the Bolsheviks to use their influence to get the Kronstadt sailors to defend that government points to the ingenuity of the Bolshevik strategy. A point that has been much misunderstood since then, sometimes willfully, by many leftist groups is the Bolshevik tactic of military support- without giving political support- to bourgeois democratic forces in the struggle against right wing forces ready to overthrow democracy. The Bolsheviks gave Kerensky military support while at the same time politically agitating, particularly in the Soviets and within the garrison, to overthrow the Provisional Government.

Today, an approximation of this position would take the form of not supporting capitalist war budgets, parliamentary votes of no confidence, independent extra-parliamentary agitation and action, etc. Granted this principled policy on the part of the Bolsheviks is a very subtle maneuver but it is miles away from giving blanket military and political support to forces that you will eventually have to overthrow. The Spanish revolutionaries in the 1930’s, even the most honest grouped in the Party of Marxist Unification (POUM) learned this lesson the hard way when that party, despite its equivocal political attitude toward the popular front, was suppressed and the leadership jailed by the Negrin government despite having military units at the front in the fight against Franco.

As I write this review we are in the fourth year of the American-led Iraq war. For those who opposed that war from the beginning or have come to oppose it the victory of the Bolshevik Revolution shows the way to really end a fruitless and devastating war. In the final analysis if one really wants to end an imperialist war one has to overthrow the imperialist powers. This is a hard truth that most of even the best of today’s anti-war activists have been unable to grasp. It is not enough to plead, petition or come out in massive numbers to ask politely that the government stop its obvious irrational behavior. Those efforts are helpful for organizing the opposition but not to end the conflict on just terms. The Bolsheviks latched onto and unleashed the greatest anti-war movement in history to overthrow a government which was still committed to the Allied war effort against all reason. After taking power in the name of the Soviets, in which it had a majority, the Bolsheviks in one of its first acts pulled Russia out of the war. History provides no other way for us to stop imperialist war. Learn this lesson.

The Soviets, or workers councils, which sprang up first in the Revolution of 1905 and then almost automatically were resurrected after the February 1917 overturn of the monarchy, are merely a convenient and appropriate organization form for the structure of workers power. Communists and other pro-Communist militants, including this writer, have at times made a fetish of this organizational form because of its success in history. As an antidote to such fetishism a good way to look at this form is to note, as Trotsky did, that a Soviet led by Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries does not lead to the seizure of power. That tells the tale. This is why Lenin, in the summer of 1917, was looking to the factory committees as an alternative to jump-start the second phase of the revolution.

Contrary to the anarchist notion of merely local federated forms of organization or no organization, national Soviets are the necessary form of government in the post- seizure of power period. However, they may not be adequate for the task of seizing power. Each revolution necessarily develops its own forms of organization. In the Paris Commune of 1871 the Central Committee of the National Guard was the logical locus of governmental power. In the Spanish Civil War of 1936 the Central Committee of the Anti-Fascist Militias and the factory committees could have provided such a focus. Enough said.

For obvious tactical reasons it is better for a revolutionary party to take power in the name of a pan-class organization, like the Soviets, than in the name of a single party like the Bolsheviks. This brings up an interesting point because, as Trotsky notes, Lenin was willing to take power in the name of the party if conditions warranted it. Under the circumstances I believe that the Bolsheviks could have taken it in their own name but, and here I agree with Trotsky, that it would have been harder for them to keep it. Moreover, they had the majority in the All Russian Soviet and so it would be inexplicable if they took power solely in their own name. That, after a short and unsuccessful alliance with the Left Social Revolutionary Party in government, it came down to a single party does not negate this conclusion. Naturally, a pro-Soviet multi-party system where conflicting ideas of social organization along socialist lines can compete is the best situation. However, history is a cruel taskmaster at times. That, moreover, as the scholars say, is beyond the scope this review and the subject for further discussion.

The question of whether to seize power is a practical one for which no hard and fast rules apply. An exception is that it important to have the masses ready to go when the decision is made. In fact, it is probably not a bad idea to have the masses a little overeager to insurrect. One mistaken assumption, however, is that power can be taken at any time in a revolutionary period. As the events of the Russian Revolution demonstrate this is not true because the failure to have a revolutionary party ready to roll means that there is a fairly short window of opportunity. In Trotsky’s analysis this can come down to a period of days. In the actual case of Russia he postulated that that time was probably between late September and December. That analysis seems reasonable. In any case, one must have a feel for timing in revolution as well as in any other form of politics. The roll call of unsuccessful socialist revolutions in the 20th century in Germany, Hungary, Finland, Bulgaria, Spain, etc. only painfully highlights this point.

Many historians and political commentators have declared the Bolshevik seizure of power in October a coup d’├ętat. That is facile commentary. If one wants to do harm to the notion of a coup d’├ętat in the classic sense of a closed military conspiracy a la Blanqui this cannot stand up to examination. First, the Bolsheviks were an urban civilian party with at best tenuous ties to military knowledge and resources. Even simple military operations like the famous bank expropriations after the 1905 Revolution were mainly botched and gave them nothing but headaches with the leadership of the pre- World War I international social democracy. Secondly, and decisively, Bolshevik influence over the garrison in Petrograd and eventually elsewhere precluded such a necessity. Although, as Trotsky noted, conspiracy is an element of any insurrection this was in fact an ‘open’ conspiracy that even the Kerensky government had to realize was taking place. The Bolsheviks relied on the masses just as we should.

With almost a century of hindsight and knowing what we know now it is easy to see that the slender social basis for the establishment of Soviet power by the Bolsheviks in Russia was bound to create problems. Absent international working class revolution, particularly in Germany, which the Bolsheviks factored into their decisions to seize power, meant, of necessity, that there were going to be deformations even under a healthy workers regime. One, as we have painfully found out, cannot after all build socialism in one country. Nevertheless this begs the question whether at the time the Bolsheviks should have taken power. A quick look at the history of revolutions clearly points out those opportunities are infrequent. You do not get that many opportunities to seize power and try to change world history for the better so you best take advantage of the opportunities when they present themselves.

As mentioned above, revolutionary history is mainly a chronicle of failed revolutionary opportunities. No, the hell with all that. Take working class power when you can and let the devil take the hinder post. Let us learn more than previous generations of revolutionaries, but be ready. This is one of the political textbooks you need to read if you want to change the world. Read it.