Saturday, June 04, 2016
*****In The Time Of The 1960s Folk Minute- With Tom Rush’s No Regrets In Mind
From The Pen Of Zack James
A few years ago, maybe more like a decade or so, in an earlier 1960s folk minute nostalgia incantation fit Sam Eaton, who will be described further below, had thought he had finally worked out in his head what that folk moment had meant in the great musical arc of his life. Had counted up, had taken up and put value on its graces, did the great subtractions on its disappointments, that lack of beat that he had been spoon fed on in his head having heard maybe in the womb the sweats of some backbeat that sounded an awful lot like a band of the devil’s angels giving battle to the heavens, and got his head around, his expression, its clasps with certain young women, some absolute folkie women met in the Harvard Squares of the heated horny sex night and loves too not always with folkie women but just the muck of growing up and taking what came his way. So he had taken a back-flip, his expression, when he was required not out of his own volition like that great prairie fire burning before about why he felt after all these years that he needed to go back to what after all was a very small part of his life now that he was reaching four score and seventy, going back over the terrain of a small part of the musics that he had cultivated since early childhood.
Some of those musics from his parents’ slogging through the Great Depression and World War II be-bop swing big band Saturday night get your dancing slippers imposed on his tender back of brain not to be revived and revisited until many years later when he had heard some ancient Benny Goodman be-bop clarinet backing up a sultry-voiced Peggy Lee getting all in a silky sweat rage because her man like a million others was not a do right man but had been chasing her best friend the next best thing when he got his wanting habit on and Peggy turned ice queen when he ran out of dough after shooting craps against the dealer and decided he had been wrong to dismiss such music out of hand. Some of the music along the edges of his coming from that edgy feeling he got when he heard the classic rock that just creeped into his pre-teen brain and lingered there unrequited until he found out what in that beat spoke to his primordial instincts, what caused his feverish nights of wonder, of what made him tick, of what he had missed.
Folk, the folk minute he deeply imbibed for that minute, at least the exciting part of the minute when he heard, finally heard, something that did not make him want to puke every time he turned on the radio, put his ill-gotten coins, grabbed from mother’s pocketbook laying there in wait for his greedy hands or through some con, some cheapjack con he pulled on some younger kids in Jimmy Jakes’ Diner jukebox to impress a few of the girls in town who were not hung up on Fabian or Bobby, heard something very new in his life and so different from the other musics that he had grown up with that he grabbed the sound with both hands. He thought that sweating a decade ago where he done a few small pieces to satisfy his literary sense of things and put them in a desk drawer yellow, fray and gather dust until he passed on and somebody put the paper in a wastebasket for the rubbish men, thought he had ended those thoughts, closed out the chapter. Recently though he did another series of short citizen-journalist sketches of scenes from that period for various folk music related blogs and social media outlets. Sam had done that series at the request of his old time friend, Bart Webber, who will also be described in more detail below, from Carver, an old working-class town about thirty miles south of Boston which at the time was the cranberry capital of the world or close to it, and close enough to have been washed by the folk minute that sprouted forth in Harvard Square and Beacon Hill in Boston.
Sam and Bart who in their respective youths had been very close, had been corner boys together when that social category meant something, meant something about extreme teen alienation and angst combined with serious poverty, dirt poor poverty as in hand-me-down older brother clothes, as in no family car for long periods between old wreak of cars, of many surly peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, many Spam suppers, all fashioned to make these young men forever talking about big break-outs, about getting something for them and theirs but also for big candy-ased dreams too all put paid to, as one would expect of sons of “boggers,” those who cared for and harvested those world famous cranberries, but also close because that was the way that corner boys were then, “having each other’s backs” was the term they used which confused even the best of the social scientists who investigated the phenomenon when that corner boy life meant juvenile delinquency, meant some unfathomed anger, some lack of socialization, some throwback to primeval muds, to some rising of the unkempt heathens they were payed to watch out for. Meant as well worry to those in power who were trying to weld society as one piece of steel to fight the internal and external red scare Cold War fight.
Like a lot of high school friends the cement that bound them in high school, that alienation, that comradery, those best left unsaid larcenous moments, the “midnight creeps” in Bart’s words when somebody asked him later what had made him and the corner boys put their reputations at risk for such small gain, a fact which also played a part in that “having each other’s back” broke apart once they graduated, or rather in their case once they had sowed their wild oats in the 1960s, those wild oats at the time meaning “drugs, sex, and rock and roll” combined with drifting the hitchhike road west in what one of their number, the late Pete Markin, called the search for the great blue-pink American West night.
Sam had stayed out in the West longer before he drifted back East to go to law school and pursue a professional career. Bart had returned earlier, had gotten married to his high school sweetheart and had started up and run a small successful specialty print shop based on the silk-screening tee-shirt and poster craze in Carver. They would run into each other occasionally when Sam came to town but for about twenty years they had not seen each other as both were busy raising families, working and travelling in different circles. One night though when Sam had been sitting in Jimmy Jakes’ Diner over on Spring Street in Carver having a late dinner by himself after having come to town to attend the funeral of a family member Bart had walked in and they then renewed their old relationship, decided that some spark from high school still held them together if nothing else that they both had been deeply formed, still held to those old corner boy habits toward life whatever successes they had subsequently enjoyed.
Along the way to solidifying there new relationship they would alternate meetings, some in Carver, some in Boston or Cambridge where Sam lived. On a recent trip to Boston to meet Sam at the Red Hat at the bottom of Beacon Hill Bart had walked pass Joy Street which triggered memories of the time in high school when he and his date who name he could not remember but she was a cousin of Sam’s “hot” date, Melinda Loring, who they went to school with and whom Sam was crazy to impress even though Melinda was not the daughter of a “bogger” but of school teachers and so from among the town’s better element and he was constantly on eggshells that she would toss him aside once she had figured out he was just another Fast Eddie corner boy trying to get into her pants, had taken them on a cheap date to the Oar and Anchor coffeehouse which stood at the corner of Joy and Cambridge Street to hear Lenny Lane who was an up and coming folk singer whom Sam had met on one of his clandestine midnight trips to Harvard Square on the Redline subway to hang out at the Hayes-Bickford.
That cheap part of the cheap date thing was important since Bart and Sam were as usual from hunger on money in the days when around Carver, probably around the world, guys paid expenses on dates, girls just looked beautiful or if not beautiful glad to not be forever hanging around the midnight telephone waiting for some two-timing guy to call them up for a date, and so short of just hanging at the Hayes for free watching weirdoes, con men, whores plying their trade, drunks, winos and occasional put upon artists, poets, writes and folk-singers perfecting their acts on the cheap, for the price of a couple of cups of coffee, a shared pastry and a couple of bucks in the “basket” for the performer you could get away with a lot especially when Bart was doing Sam a favor with that cousin (and worse could have gotten in trouble if Besty Binstock, his high school sweetheart. found out he was two-timing her although the two-timing involved the possibility of some off-hand sex with that cousin who was supposed to be “easy” but that in another story although come to think of it the situation could serve as another prime example of “having each other’s back” when one of them was up against it).
Bart remembered that he had been very uncomfortable that night since he had had some feelings of guilt about two-timing (and lying to) Betsy starting out, had had trouble talking about anything in common, school, sports, the weather, with that cousin since she said she was doing Melinda a favor in order that she could go to Boston with Sam which Melinda’s mother would have balked at if she had told her they were going into Boston alone, going into Boston with a “bogger” alone. Moreover she knew nothing, cared nothing for folk music, didn’t even know what it was, said she had never heard of the thing, was fixated on Bobby Vee, dreamy guys, or something like that. What made that date worse was that Bart too then could hardly bear the sound of folk music, said repeatedly that the stuff was all dreary and involved weird stuff like murder and mayhem done on the banks of rivers, in back alleys, on darkened highways just because some woman would not come across, Jesus, strangely thwarted love reminding him of Sam’s forlorn quest for Melinda which seemed like some princess and pauper never the twain shall meet outcome, or hick stuff about home sweet home down in some shanty town in some desolate cabin without lights or water which sounded worse than Boggertown, singing high holy Jehovah stuff that made him wince, and of the hills and hollows in some misbegotten mountains made his teeth grind. So not a good mix, although it did turn out that the cousin was “easy,” did think he was dreamy enough to have sex with (with their clothes mostly on which was how more than one quicky one night stand wound up down by the boathouse near the Charles River after they had split from Sam and Melinda after the coffeehouse closed and that helped but had been the result of no help from the folk music they half-listened but more some dope that she had in her pocketbook after she passed had a joint around to get things going.
After telling Sam about his recollections of Joy Street and that cousin, whose name was Judy Dennison Sam told him and who Sam had gone out with and agreed was a little sex kitten once she was stoned Bart started asking some questions about folk music. Sam said he was not finished with that Judy story, told Bart that fling was after the thing with Melinda had passed due not to class distinctions but to that hard fact that she was saving “it” for marriage, and had been very glad that he had that run and was not sorry he did. Bart started in again and asked Sam a million questions about various folk-singers and what had happened to them, were they still playing, still alive since Sam although he did not have the same keen interest of his youthful folk minute still kept small tabs on the scene, the now small scene through his long-time companion, Laura Perkins whom he met one night at the Café Nana several years before when Tom Tremble was playing there after Sam had not heard him in about forty years. The reason for Bart’s interest given that above he had said that the genre made his teeth grind was that after that night with Judy Bart did go on other double dates with Sam and Melinda, and later Suzanne when she was Sam’s next flame and a real folkie, to folk places and while he still would grind his teeth at some of the stuff did develop more tolerance for the genre, especially if the date Sam set up was a real foxy folkie girl (thinking on it now he couldn’t believe how unfaithful he had been to Betsy in those days but she too was saving “it” for marriage and some of those young women were very willing and had apartment or dorm rooms too).
The upshot of all of Bart’s questions was that Sam found that he was not really except for Tom Tremble who had lost his sweet baby James voice, forgot lyrics and had “mailed it in” that night he had met Laura and was cold “stonewalled” by the audience but possibly motivated by that old folkie feeling, or maybe just feeling sorry for a guy who had a big local following back in the day when the “basket” went around everybody put some dough in, Sam and Laura included, and a couple of other guys up on what had happened to the old-time folkies since for years he had merely listened on radio station WCAS and when that station went under WUMB out of U/Mass-Boston or listened to records, tapes or CDs. (Sam got big points from Laura that first night when he panned Tom, who Laura had never heard before being enough younger not to have been bitten by the folk minute craze and she agreed that Tom had “mailed it in”.) Since he was not all that familiar with what had happened to most of them he thereafter did some research, asked Laura some questions to lead the way and wound up writings that series of sketches. One series entitled Not Bob Dylan about the fate of prominent male folk-singers was a direct result of the Sam and Bart conversation. Here’s what he had to say about Tom Rush who back in the day he knew best from hanging around the old Club 47 on Mount Auburn Street:
“…Other than enigmatic Bob Dylan who is the iconic never-ending tour male performer most people would still associate with that folk minute period they would draw a blank on a list of others who also were aspiring to make names for themselves in the folk milieu. I am not talking about guys like Lenny Lane who had one hit and then went back to graduate school in biology when he couldn’t get another contract, when his well ran dry, or like Tom Tremble who had a big local following around the old Club Nana when it was on Mount Auburn Street in Cambridge not where it is now on Brattle Street but who did mainly covers and just never broke out or Mike Weddle who had good looks, a good stage presence, had the young women going crazy but who just walked away one day when some good looking woman from Radcliffe came hither and he “sold out” to her father’s stockbroking business.
I’m talking about people like Tom Rush from New Hampshire who lit up the firmament around Cambridge via the Harvard campus folk music station, Dave Von Ronk the cantankerous folk historian and musician who knew more about what happened in the early, early days in the Village at the point where “beat” poetry was becoming passe and folk was moving in to fill in the gap, Phil Ochs who had probably the deepest political sensibilities of the lot and wrote some of the stronger narrative folk protest songs, Richard Farina who represented that “live fast” edge that we were bequeathed by the “beats” and who tumbled down the hill on a motorcycle, and Jesse Collin Young who probably wrote along with Eric Andersen and Jesse Winchester the most pre-flower child lyrics mid-1960s hippie explosion before folk got amplified of the bunch.
My friend Bart had just seen a fragile seeming, froggy-voiced Bob Dylan in one of stages of his apparently never-ending concerts tours up in Maine and had been shaken by the sight and had wondered about the fate of other such folk performers. That request turned into a series of reviews of male folk-singers entitled Not Bob Dylan (and after that, also at Bart’s request, a series entitled Not Joan Baez based on some of the same premises except on the distaff side (nice word, right, you know golden-voiced Judy Collins and her sweet songs of lost, Carolyn Hester and her elegant rendition of Walt Whitman’s Oh Captain, My Captain, Joan’s sister Mimi Farina forever linked with Richard and sorrows, and Malvina Reynolds who could write a song on the wing, fast okay, and based as well on the mass media having back then declared that pair the “king and queen” of the burgeoning folk music minute scene).
That first series (as had the second) had asked two central questions-why did those male folk singers not challenge Dylan who as I noted the media of the day had crowned king of the folk minute for supremacy in the smoky coffeehouse night (then, now the few remaining are mercifully smoke-free although then I smoked as heavily as any guy who though such behavior was, ah, manly and a way to seen “cool” to the young women, why else would we have done such a crazy to the health thing if not to impress some certain she) and, if they had not passed on and unfortunately a number have a few more since that series as well most notably Phil Ochs of suicide early, Dave Von Ronk of hubris and Jesse Winchester of his battle lost over time had come, were they still working the smoke-free church basement, homemade cookies and coffee circuit that constitutes the remnant of that folk minute even in the old hotbeds like Cambridge and Boston. (What I call the U/U circuit since while other church venues are part of the mix you can usually bet safely that if an event is scheduled it will be at a U/U church which is worthy of a little sketch of its own sometime in order to trace the folk minute after the fanfare had died down and as a tribute to those big-hearted souls at radio stations like WCAS and WUMB and in places like Club Passim whose efforts have kept the thing going in order to try to pass it on to the younger generations now that demographics are catching up with the folkies from the 1960s heyday). Moreover, were they still singing and song-writing, that pairing of singer and writer having been becoming more prevalent, especially in the folk milieu in the wake of Bob Dylan’s word explosions back then. The days when the ground was shifting under the Tin Pan Alley Cole Porter/Irving Berlin/ Jerome Kern kingdom.
Here is the general format I used in that series for asking and answering those two questions which still apply today if one is hell-bent on figuring out the characters who rose and fell during that time:
“If I were to ask someone, in the year 2005 as I have done periodically both before and after, to name a male folk singer from the 1960s I would assume that if I were to get any answer to that question that the name would be Bob Dylan. That “getting any answer” prompted by the increasing non-recognition of the folk genre by anybody under say forty, except those few kids who somehow “found” their parents’ stash of Vanguard records (for example, there were other folk labels including, importantly, Columbia Records which pushed the likes of Dylan and John Hammond forward) just as some in an earlier Pete Seeger/Weavers/Leadbelly/ Josh White/Woody Guthrie records in our parents’ stashes. Today’s kids mainly influenced by hip-hop, techno-music and just straight popular music.
And that Dylan pick would be a good and appropriate choice. One can endlessly dispute whether or not Dylan was (or wanted to be since he clearly had tired of the role, or seemed to by about 1966 when he for all intents and purposes “retired” for a while prompted by a serious motorcycle accident and other incidents) the voice of the Generation of ’68 (so named for the fateful events of that watershed year, especially the Democratic Convention in America in the summer of that year when the old-guard pulled the hammer down and in Paris where the smell of revolution was palpably in the air for the first time since about World War II, when those, including me, who tried to “turn the world upside down” to make it more livable began to feel that the movement was reaching some ebb tide) but in terms of longevity and productivity, the never-ending touring until this day and releasing of X amount of bootleg recordings, the copyrighting of every variation of every song, including traditional songs, he ever covered and the squelching of the part of the work that he has control over on YouTube he fits the bill as a known quality. However, there were a slew of other male folk singers who tried to find their niche in the folk milieu and who, like Dylan, today continue to produce work and to perform. The artist under review, Tom Rush, is one such singer/songwriter.”
“The following is a question that I have been posing in reviewing the work of a number of male folk singers from the 1960s and it is certainly an appropriate question to ask of Tom Rush as well. Did they aspire to be the “king” of the genre? I do not know if Tom Rush, like his contemporary Bob Dylan, started out wanting to be the king of the hill among male folk singers but he certainly had some things going for him. A decent acoustic guitar but a very interesting (and strong baritone) voice to fit the lyrics of love, hope, and longing that he was singing about at the time, particularly the No Regrets/Rockport Sunday combination which along with Wasn’t That A Mighty Storm and Joshua Gone Barbados were staples early on. During much of this period along with his own songs he was covering other artists, particularly Joni Mitchell and her Urge For Going and The Circle Game, so it is not clear to me that he had that same Dylan drive by let’s say 1968.
I just mentioned that he covered Joni Mitchell in this period. A very nice version of Urge For Going that captures the wintry, got to get out of here, imaginary that Joni was trying to evoke about things back in her Canadian homeland. And the timelessness and great lyrical sense of his No Regrets, as the Generation of ’68 sees another generational cycle starting, as is apparent now if it was not then. The covers of fellow Cambridge folk scene fixture Eric Von Schmidt on Joshua Gone Barbados and Galveston Flood are well done. As is the cover of Bukka White’s Panama Limited (although you really have to see or hear old Bukka flailing away on his old beat up National guitar to get the real thing on YouTube).”
Whether Tom Rush had the fire back then is a mute question now although in watching the documentary, No Regrets, in which he tells us about his life from childhood to the very recent past (2014) at some point he did lose the flaming “burn down the building fire,” just got tired of the road like many, many other performers and became a top-notch record producer, a “gentleman farmer,” and returned to the stage occasionally, most dramatically with his annual show Tom Rush-The Club 47 Tradition Continues held at Symphony Hall in Boston each winter. And in this documentary appropriately done under the sign of “no regrets” which tells Tom’s take on much that happened then he takes a turn, an important oral tradition turn, as folk historian.
He takes us, even those of us who were in the whirl of some of it back then to those key moments when we were looking for something rooted, something that would make us pop in the red scare Cold War night of the early 1960s. Needless to say the legendary Club 47 in Cambridge gets plenty of attention as does his own fitful start in getting his material recorded, or rather fitful starts, mainly walking around to every possible venue in town to get backing for record production the key to getting heard by a wider audience via the radio and to become part of the increasing number of folk music-oriented programs, the continuing struggle to this day from what he had to say once you are not a gold-studded fixture.
“Other coffeehouses and other performers of the time, especially Eric Von Schmidt, another performer with a ton of talent and song-writing ability who had been on the scene very, very early on who eventually decided that his artistic career took first place, get a nod of recognition. As does the role of key radio folk DJ Dick Summer in show-casing new work (and the folk show, picked up accidently one Sunday night when I was frustrated with the so-called rock and roll on the local AM rock station and flipped the dial of my transistor radio and heard a different sound, the sound of Dave Von Ronk, where I started to pick up my life-long folk “habit”).
So if you want to remember those days when you sought refuse in the coffeehouses and church basements, sought a “cheap” date night (for the price of a couple of cups of coffee sipped slowly in front of you and your date, a shared pastry and maybe a few bucks admission or tossed into the passed-around “basket” you got away easy and if she liked the sound too, who knows what else) or, ouch, want to know why your parents are still playing Joshua’s Gone Barbados on the record player as you go out the door Saturday night to your own adventures watch this documentary and find out what happened to one Not Bob Dylan when the folk world went under.
Scenes For An Ordinary Be-Bop Life-Coming Of Age, Political Age, In The Cold War Red Scare 1960s Night
Scenes For An Ordinary Be-Bop Life-Coming Of Age, Political Age, In The Cold War Red Scare 1960s Night
[A while back we, a bunch of us who knew Markin who wrote the sketch below back in sunnier days, in hang around corner boy high school days and afterward too when we young bravos imbibed in the West Coast dragon chase he led us on in the high hellish mid-1960s summers of love, got together and put out a little tribute compilation of his written sketches that we were able to cobble from whatever we collectively still had around. Those writings were from a time when Markin was gaining steam as a writer for many of the alternative magazines, journals and newspapers that were beginning to be the alternative network of media resources that we were reading once we knew the main media outlets were feeding us bullshit on a bun, were working hand in glove with big government, big corporations, big whatever that was putting their thumbs in our eyes.
On big series, a series that Markin was nominated, or won, I don’t remember which an award for, which I will tell you about some other time was from a period toward the end of his life, a period when he was lucid enough to capture such stories. He had found himself out in Southern California with a bunch of homeless fellow Vietnam veterans, no homeless was not the right word, guys from ‘Nam, his, their word not mine since I did not serve in the military having been mercifully declared 4-F, unfit for military duty by our local draft board, who having come back to the “real” world just couldn’t, or wouldn’t adjust and started “creating” their own world, their own brethren circle, such as it was out along the railroad tracks, rivers and bridges. Bruce Springsteen would capture the pathos and pain of the situation in his classic tribute-Brothers Under The Bridge. Markin’s series was called To The Jungle reflecting both the hard ass jungle of Vietnam from which they ahd come to the old-timey hobo railroad track jungle they found themselves in.
Yeah, those were the great million word and ten thousand fact days, the mid to late 1960s, and after he had gotten back from Vietnam the early 1970s say up to 1974 or so when whatever Markin wrote seemed like pure gold, seemed like he had the pulse of what was disturbing our youth dreams, had been able to articulate in words we could understand the big jail-break out he was one of the first around our town to anticipate. Had gathered himself to cut the bullshit on a bun world out.
That was before Markin took the big fall down in Mexico, let his wanting habits, a term that our acknowledged high school corner boy leader Frankie Riley used incessantly to describe the poor boy hunger we had for dough, girls, stimulants, life, whatever, get the best of him. Of course Frankie had “cribbed” the term from some old blues song, maybe Bessie Smith who had her habits on for some no good man cheating on her and spending all her hard-earned dough, maybe Howlin’ Wolf wanting every gal he saw in sight, skinny or big-legged to “do the do” with that Markin also had turned us onto although I admit in my own case that it took me many years, many years after Markin was long gone before I appreciated the blues that he kept trying to cram down our throats as the black-etched version of what hellish times were going through in the backwaters of North Adamsville while the rest of the world was getting ahead. Heading to leafy suburban golden dreams while we could barely rub two dimes together and hence made up the different with severe wanting habits-even me.
From what little we could gather about Markin’s fate from Josh Breslin, a guy from Maine, a corner boy himself, who I will talk about more in a minute and who saw Markin just before he hit the lower depths, before he let sweet girl cousin cocaine “run all around his brain, the say it is going to kill you but they won’t say when” let the stuff alter his judgment, he went off to Mexico to “cover” the beginnings of the cartel action there. Somewhere along the line the down there Markin decided that dealing high heaven dope was the way that he would gather in his pot of gold, would get the dough he never had as a kid, and get himself well. “Well” meaning nothing but his nose so full of “candy” all the time that the real world would no longer intrude on his life. Somehow in all that mixed up world he had tried his usual end-around, tried to do either an independent deal outside the cartel, a no-no, or stole some “product” to start his own operation, a very big no-no. Either scenario was possible when Markin got his wanting habits on and wound up dead, very mysteriously dead, in a dusty back street down Sonora way in 1975, 1976 we don’t even have the comfort of knowing that actual date of his passing.
Those were the bad end days, the days out in Oakland where they were both staying before Markin headed south when according to Josh he said “fuck you” to writing for squally newspapers and journals and headed for the sweet dream hills. But he left plenty of material behind that had been published or at the apartment that he shared with Josh in Oakland before the nose candy got in the way. That material wound up in several locations as Josh in his turn took up the pen, spent his career writing for lots of unread small journals and newspapers in search of high-impact stories and drifted around the country before he settled down in Cambridge working as an free-lance editor for several well-known if also small publishing houses around Boston. So when the idea was proposed by Jack Callahan to pay a final written tribute to our fallen comrade we went looking for whatever was left wherever it might be found. You know from cleaning out the attics, garages, cellars looking for boxes where an old newspaper article or journal piece might still be found after being forgotten for the past forty or so years.
The first piece we found, found by Jack Callahan, one of the guys who hung around with us corner boys although he had a larger circle since as a handsome guy he had all the social butterfly girls around him and as a star football player for North Adamsville High he had the girls and all the “jock” hangers-on bumming on his tail, was a story by Markin for the East Bay Other about the transformation of Phil Larkin from “foul-mouth” Phil to “far-out’ Phil as a result of the big top social turmoil events which grabbed many of us who came of political, social, and cultural age in the roaring 1960s. Markin like I said before had been the lead guy in sensing the changes coming, had us following in his wake not only in our heads but his gold rush run in the great western trek to California where a lot of the trends got their start.
That is where we met the subject of the second piece, or rather Phil did and we did subsequently too as we made our various ways west, Josh Breslin, Josh from up in Podunk Maine, actually Olde Saco fast by the sea, and he became in the end one of the corner boys, one of the North Adamsville corner boys. But before those subsequent meetings he had first become part of Phil’s “family,” and as that second story documented also in the East Bay Other described it how Josh, working his new life under the moniker Prince Love, “married” one of the Phil’s girlfriends, Butterfly Swirl. The third one in the series dealt with the reality of Phil’s giving up that girlfriend to Prince Love and the “marriage” and “honeymoon,” 1960s alternative-style that cemented that relationship.
Yeah, those were wild times and if a lot of the social conventions accepted today without too much rancor like people living together as a couple without the benefit of marriage, same-sex marriage, and maybe even friends with benefits let me clue in to where they all started, or if not started got a big time work-out to make things acceptable. But that was not all he wrote about, just the easy to figure a good story about 1960s. Markin also wrote about those wanting habits days, our growing up poor in the 1950s days which while we had no dough, not enough to be rich was rich in odd-ball stuff we seemingly were forced to do to keep ourselves just a little left of the law, very little sometimes. Naturally he wrote about the characters like the one here, Stew-ball Stu, whom I hope doesn’t read this sketch if he is still alive because he might still take umbrage and without Markin around he might come after me with a wrench or jackknife, who we young boys, maybe girls too but then it was boys’ world mostly looked up to. The actual Stew-ball Stu he sued here was from a story told to him by Josh Breslin long after he shed his 1960s moniker of Prince Love when Markin was looking for corner boy stories. But believe me while the names might have been different old North Adamsville had its own full complement of Stus.
When Markin was on his game, when he was “walking with the king,” an old religious expression that did double-duty as a local drug term out in the West Coast ocean night, he could write about anything and it sounded like something like the “second coming.” And maybe that “second coming” was what drove his work, what pushed his buttons when he was walking with that king. I mentioned above that Markin well before any of the rest of us corner boys could “give a fuck,” a term we often used when he would bring up his idea that a new breeze was coming that would change what was driving us like big jobs, a nice house, a “boss” car, maybe a wife and kids down the road all upside down. A lot of what he was driving at in the beginning was something like a cultural revolution, you know first that rock and roll that loosened things up a little before it was crushed beneath our feet by irate parents and gutless record companies, then Markin’s discovery of the blues, folk music, wild wind poetry which we all yawned at. But as he got older say about fourteen or fifteen he started putting that cultural stuff together with what today would be called a political revolution. Started to see the break-down of the red scare Cold War night, yeah, that’s what the bastard called the thing, the escape from that dead air, dead ass night. That’s what he wanted to lay on a candid world, candid a word he said he got from Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence. Jesus. No wonder there was no room for him, no air for him to breathe once the 1960s took a nosedive
For those not in the know, for those who didn’t read the first Phil Larkin piece where I mentioned what corner boy society in old North Adamsville was all about Phil was one of a number of guys, some say wise guys but we will let that pass who hung around successively Harry’s Variety Store over on Sagamore Street in elementary school watching the older guys playing pinball and planning various midnight creeps which enflamed our telltale hearts, Doc’s Drugstore complete with soda fountain and more importantly his bad ass jukebox complete with all the latest rock and roll hits as they came off the turntable on Newport Avenue in junior high school when we finally figured out that girls were, well, okay, and Salducci’s Pizza “up the Downs” in high school, don’t worry nobody in the town could figure that designation out either, as their respective corners as the older guys in the neighborhood in their turn moved up and eventually out of corner boy life. That latter corner is where all the business about wanting habits got played out, for good or evil.
More importantly Phil was one of the guys who latter followed in “pioneer” Markin’s wake when he, Markin, headed west in 1966 after he had finished up his sophomore year in college and made a fateful decision to drop out of school in Boston in order to “find himself.” Fateful in that without a student deferment that “find himself” would eventually lead him to induction into the U.S. Army at the height of the Vietnam War, an experience which he never really recovered from for a lot of reasons that had nothing to do directly with that war but which honed his “wanting habits” for a different life than he had projected when he naively dropped out of college to see “what was happening” out on the West Coast.
Phil had met, or I should say that Josh Breslin had met Phil, out on Russian Hill in San Francisco when Josh, after hitchhiking all the way from Maine in the early summer of 1967, had come up to the yellow brick road converted school bus (Markin’s term for the travelling caravan that he and Phil were then part of and which the rest of us, including even stay-at-home me would be a part of later for a few months ) he and a bunch of others were travelling up and down the West Coast on and had asked for some dope. Phil was the guy he had asked, and who had passed him a big old joint, and their eternal friendship formed from there. (Most of us would meet Josh later that summer as we in our turns headed out. Sam Lowell, Frankie Riley, Jack Callahan, Jimmy Jenkins and me all headed out after Markin who had “gone native” pleaded with us to not miss this big moment that he had been predicting was going to sea-change happen for a few years.) Although Markin met a tragic end murdered down in Mexico several years later over a still not well understood broken drug deal with some small cartel down there as a result of an ill-thought out pursuit of those wanting habits mentioned earlier he can take full credit for our lifetime friendship with Josh.-Bart Webber]
From The Pen The Late Peter Paul Markin
Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for Peace Action (successor organization to the SANE organization mentioned below).
He was scared. All of fourteen year old Peter Paul Markin’s body was scared. Of course he knew, knew just as well as anybody else, if anybody thought to ask, that he was really afraid not scared, but Peter Paul was scared anyway. No, not scared (or afraid for the literary correct types), not Frannie DeAngelo demon neighborhood tough boy, schoolboy nemesis scared, scared that he would be kicked in the groin, bent over to the ground in pain for no reason, no reason except Frannie deep psycho hard boy reasons known only to himself. Markin was used to that kind of scared, not liking it “used to it” but used to it. And this certainly was not his usual girl scared-ness (yes, girls scared him, except in the comfortable confines of a classroom where he could show off to no avail) on the off chance that one, one girl that is, might say something to him and he would have no “cool” rejoinder. This was different. This, and his handkerchief-dabbed wet palms and forehead did not lie, was an unknown scared.
See, Peter Paul had taken a bet, a “put your money where your mouth is" bet, from best high school friend Frankie, Francis Xavier Riley, if you want to know the full name. Now these guys had previously bet on everything under the sun since middle school, practically, from sports game spreads to how high the master pizza man and owner at Salducci’s Pizza Parlor, Tonio, would throw his pizza dough one strange night when Frankie needed dough (money dough that is) for his hot date with girlfriend Joanne. So no bet was too strange for this pair, although this proposition was probably way too solemn to be bet on.
What got it started, the need for a bet started, this time, really had to do with school, or maybe better, the world situation in 1960. Peter Paul, a bundle of two thousand facts that he guarded like a king’s ransom, went off the deep end in 9th grade Civics class when he, during a current events discussion, exploded upon his fellow classmates with the observation that there were too many missiles, too many nuclear bomb-loaded guided missiles, in the world and that both sides in the Cold War (The United States and the Soviet Union and their respective hangers-on) should “ban the bomb.” But you have not heard the most provocative part yet, Peter Paul then argued that, as a good-will gesture and having more of them, the United States should destroy a few of its own. Unilaterally.
Pandemonium ensued as smarts guys and gals, simps and stups also, even those who never uttered a word in class, took aim at Peter Paul’s head. The least of it was that he was called a “commie” and a "dupe" and the discussion degenerated from there. Mr. Merck was barely able to contain the class, and nobody usually stepped out line in his class, or else. Somehow order was restored by the end of class and within a few days the class was back to normal, smart guys and girls chirping away with all kinds of flutter answers and the simps and stups, well the simps and stups did their simp and stup thing, as always.
Frankie always maintained that that particular day was one of the few that he wasn’t, and he really wasn’t, glad that Peter Paul was his friend. And during that class discussion he made a point, a big point, of not entering the fray in defense of his misbegotten friend. He thought Peter Paul was off the wall, way off the wall, on this one and let him know it after class. Of course, Peter Paul could not leave well enough alone and started badgering friend Frankie about it some more. But this was stone wall time because Frankie, irreverent, most of the time irreligious, and usually just happy to be girl-smitten in the world, and doing stuff about that, and not worried about its larger problems really believed, like the hard Roman Catholic-bred boy that he was underneath, that the evil Soviet Union should be nuclear fizzled-today.
But Peter Paul kept egging the situation on. And here is the problem with a purist, a fourteen year old purist, a wet behind the ears fourteen year old purist when you think about it. Peter Paul was as Roman Catholic-bred underneath as Frankie but with this not so slight difference. Peter Paul’s grandmother, Anna, was, and everybody who came in contact with her agreed, a saint. A saint in the true-believer catholic social gospel sense and who was a fervent admirer of Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker for social justice movement started in the 1930s. So frequently The Catholic Worker, the movement newspaper, would be lying around her house. And just as frequently Peter Paul, taking grandmother refuge from the hell-bend storms at his own house, would read the articles. And in almost every issue there would be an article bemoaning the incredible increase in nuclear weapons by both sides, the cold war freeze-out that escalated that spiral and the hard fact that the tipping point beyond no return was right around the corner. And something had to be done about it, and fast, by rational people who did not want the world blown up by someone’s ill-tempered whim. Yah, heady stuff, no question, but just the kind of thing that a certain fourteen year old boy could add to his collection of now two thousand plus facts.
Heady stuff, yah, but also stuff that carried some contradictions. Not in grandmother Anna, not in Dorothy Day so much as in Peter Paul and through him Frankie. See, the Catholic Worker movement had no truck, not known truck, anyway with “commies" and "dupes”, although that movement too, more than once, and by fellow Catholics too, was tarred with that brush. They were as fervent in their denunciation of the atheistic Soviet Union as any 1950s red-baiter. But they also saw that that stance alone was not going to make the world safer for believers, or anybody else. And that tension between the two strands is where Frankie and Peter Paul kind of got mixed up in the world’s affairs. Especially when Peter Paul said that the Catholic Worker had an announcement in their last issue that in October (1960) they were going to help sponsor an anti-nuclear proliferation rally on the Boston Common as part of a group called SANE two weeks before the presidential elections.
Frankie took that information as manna from heaven. See, Frankie was just as interested in knowing two thousand facts in this world as Peter Paul. Except Frankie didn’t guard them like a king’s ransom but rather used them, and then discarded them like a tissue. And old Frankie, even then, even in 1960 starting to spread his wings as the corner boy king of the North Adamsville high school class of 1964, knew how to use his stockpile of facts better than Peter Paul ever could. So one night, one fiercely debated night, when Frankie could take no more, he said “bet.” And he bet that Peter Paul would not have the courage to travel from North Adamsville to Park Street Station in Boston to attend that SANE rally by himself (who else would go from old working- class, patriotic, red-scare scared, North Adamsville anyway). And as is the nature of fourteen year old boy relationships, or was, failure to take the bet, whatever bet was social suicide. “Bet,” said Peter Paul quickly before too much thinking time would elapse and destroy the fact of the bet marred by the hint of hesitation.
But nothing is ever just one thing in this wicked old world. Peter Paul believed, believed fervently, in the social message of the Catholic Worker movement especially on this nuclear war issue. But this was also 1960 and Irish Jack Kennedy was running, and running hard, to be President of the United States against bad man Richard Milhous Nixon and Peter Paul was crazy for Jack (really for younger brother, Bobby, the ruthless organizer behind the throne which is the way he saw his own future as a political operative). And, of course, October in election year presidential politics is crunch time, a time to be out hustling votes, out on Saturday hustling votes, especially every Irish vote, every Catholic vote, hell, every youth vote for your man.
On top of that Jack, old Irish Jack Kennedy, war hero, good-looking guy with a good-looking wife (not Irish though not as far as anyone could tell), rich as hell, was trying to out-Cold War Nixon, a Cold War warrior of the first degree. And the way he was trying to outgun Nixon was by haranguing everyone who would listen that there was a “missile gap,” and the United was falling behind. And when one talked about a missile gap in 1960 that only meant one thing, only brooked only one solution- order up more, many more, nuclear-bomb loaded guided missiles. So there it was, one of the little quirks of life, of political life. So, Peter Paul, all fourteen year old scared Peter Paul has to make good on his bet with Frankie but in the process put a crimp into his hoped-for political career. And just for that one moment, although with some hesitation, he decided to be on the side of the “angels” and to go.
That Saturday, that October Saturday, was a brisk, clear autumn day and so Peter Paul decided to walk the few miles from his house in North Adamsville over the Neponset Bridge to the first MTA subway station at Fields Corner rather than take the forever Eastern Mass. bus that came by his street erratically. After crossing the bridge he passed through one of the many sections of Boston that could pass for the streets of Dublin. Except on those streets he saw many young Peter Pauls holding signs at street corners for Jack Kennedy, other passing out literature, and others talking up Jack’s name. Even as he approached the subway station he saw signs everywhere proclaiming Jack’s virtues. Hell, the nearby political hang-out Eire Pub looked like a campaign headquarters. What this whole scene did not look like to Peter Paul was a stronghold place to talk to people about an anti-nuclear weapons rally. Peter Paul got even more scared as he thought about the reception likely at the Boston Commons. He pushed on, not without a certain tentative regret, but he pushed on through the turnstile, waited for the on-coming subway to stop, got on, and had an uneventful ride to the Park Street Station, the nearest stop to the Common.
Now Park Street on any given Saturday, especially in October after the college student hordes have descended on Boston, is a madhouse of activity. College student strolling around downtown looking for goods at the shops, other are just rubber-necking, other are sunning themselves on the grass or park benches in the last late sun days before winter arrives with a fury. Beyond the mainly civilized college students (civilized on the streets in the daytime anyway) there are the perennial street people who populate any big city and who when not looking for handouts, a stray cigarette, or a stray drink are talking a mile a minute among themselves about some supposed injustice that has marred their lives and caused their unhappy decline. Lastly, and old town Boston, historic old town Boston, scene of many political battles for every cause from temperance to liberty, is defined by this, there are a motley crew of speakers, soap-box speakers whether on a real soap-box or not, who are holding forth on many subjects, although none that drew Peter Paul’s attention this day. After running that gauntlet, as he heads for the Francis Parkman Bandstand where the SANE rally was to take place he is amused by all that surrounds him putting him in a better mood, although still apprehensive of what the day will bring forth.
Arriving at the bandstand he saw about twenty people milling around with signs, hand-made signs that showed some spunk, the most prominent being a large poster-painted sign that stated boldly, “Ban The Bomb.” He was in the right place, no question. Although he was surprised that there were not more people present he was happy, secretly happy, that those twenty were there, because, frankly, he thought there might be just about two. And among that crowd he spotted a clot of people who were wearing Catholic Worker buttons so he was now more fully at ease, and was starting to be glad that he came here on that day. He went over to the clot and introduced himself and told them how he came to be there. He also noted that one CWer wore the collar of a priest; a surprise because at Sacred Heart, his parish church, it was nothing but “fire and brimstone” from the pulpit against the heathen communist menace.
Get this-he also met a little old lady in tennis sneakers. For real. Now Frankie, devil’s advocate Frankie, baited Peter Paul in their arguments about nuclear disarmament by stating that the “peaceniks” were mainly little old ladies in tennis shoes-meaning, of course, batty and of no account, no main chance political account, no manly Jack Kennedy stand up to the Russians account. Peter Paul thought to himself wait until I see Frankie and tell him that this little old lady knew more about politics, and history, than even his two thousand facts. And was funny too boot. Moreover, and this was something that he had privately noticed, as the youngest person by far at the rally she, and later others, would make a fuss over him for that very reason talking about young bravery and courage and stuff like that.
Over the course of the two hours or so of the rally the crowd may have swelled to about fifty, especially when a dynamic black speaker from the W.E.B. Dubois club at Harvard University linked up the struggle against nuclear weapons with the black struggle down South for voting rights that those in the North had been hearing more about lately. It was not until later, much later, that Peter Paul found out that this Dubois club business was really the name of the youth group of the American Communist Party (CP) at the time but by that time he was knowledgeable enough to say “so what.” And it was not until later that he found out that the little old lady with the tennis sneakers was a CPer, although she had said at the time he talked to her she was with some committee, some women’s peace committee, within the Democratic Party. Oh, well. But then he would also be able to say “so what” to that accusation in proper “family of the left” fashion.
But forget all that later stuff, and what he knew or did not know later. See, that day, that October 1960 autumn day, Peter Paul learned something about serious politics. If you are on the right side of the angels on an issue, a central issue of the day, you are kindred. And although there were more than a few catcalls from the passers-by about “commies”, “dupes”, and “go back to Russia” he was glad, glad as hell that he came over. Although nothing turned inside him, noticeably turned inside him that day, about his politics and his determination to see Jack Kennedy and the Democrats take the White House he thought about those brave people at the bandstand and what they were standing for a lot for a long time after the event faded from memory. Oh yah, it was good to be on the side of the angels. And it didn’t hurt that he won that Frankie bet, either.
*In Honor Of Our Class-War Prisoners- Free All The Class-War Prisoners!-Hugo Pinell "Dahariki"-The Last Of The San Quentin Six and Black Panther Martyr George Jackson’s comrade.
*In Honor Of Our Class-War Prisoners- Free All The Class-War Prisoners!-Assassinated!!! Hugo Pinell "Dahariki"-The Last Of The San Quentin Six and Black Panther Martyr George Jackson’s comrade.
A link above to more information about the class-war prisoner honored in this entry.
Make June Class-War Prisoners Freedom Month
Markin comment (reposted from 2010)
In “surfing” the National Jericho Movement Website recently in order to find out more, if possible, about class- war prisoner and 1960s radical, Marilyn Buck, whom I had read about in a The Rag Blog post I linked to the Jericho list of class war prisoners. I found Marilyn Buck listed there but also others, some of whose cases, like that of the “voice of the voiceless” Pennsylvania death row prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal, are well-known and others who seemingly have languished in obscurity. All of the cases, at least from the information that I could glean from the site, seemed compelling. And all seemed worthy of far more publicity and of a more public fight for their freedom.
That last notion set me to the task at hand. Readers of this space know that I am a longtime supporter of the Partisan Defense Committee, a class struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization which supports class war prisoners as part of the process of advancing the international working class’ struggle for socialism. In that spirit I am honoring the class war prisoners on the National Jericho Movement list this June as the start of what I hope will be an on-going attempt by all serious leftist militants to do their duty- fighting for freedom for these brothers and sisters. We will fight out our political differences and disagreements as a separate matter. What matters here and now is the old Wobblie (IWW) slogan - An injury to one is an injury to all.
Note: This list, right now, is composed of class-war prisoners held in American detention. If others are likewise incarcerated that are not listed here feel free to leave information on their cases in the comment section. Likewise any cases, internationally, that come to your attention. I am sure there are many, many such cases out there. Make this June, and every June, a Class-War Prisoners Freedom Month- Free All Class-War Prisoners Now!
American Indian Movement -ANISHINAABE/LAKOTA
*In Honor Of Our Class-War Prisoners- Free All The Class-War Prisoners!- Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin,
A link above to more information about the class-war prisoner honored in this entry.
Make June Class-War Prisoners Freedom Month
Markin comment (reposted from 2010)
In “surfing” the National Jericho Movement website recently in order to find out more, if possible, about class- war prisoner and 1960s radical, Marilyn Buck [now deceased], whom I had read about in a The Rag Blog post I linked to the Jericho list of class war prisoners. I found Marilyn Buck listed there but also others, some of whose cases, like that of the “voice of the voiceless” Pennsylvania [former] death row prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal, are well-known and others who seemingly have languished in obscurity. All of the cases, at least from the information that I could glean from the site, seemed compelling. And all seemed worthy of far more publicity and of a more public fight for their freedom.
That last notion set me to the task at hand. Readers of this space know that I am a long -time supporter of the Partisan Defense Committee, a class struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization which supports class- war prisoners as part of the process of advancing the international working class’ struggle for socialism. In that spirit I am honoring the class war prisoners on the National Jericho Movement list this June as the start of what I hope will be an on-going attempt by all serious leftist militants to do their duty- fighting for freedom for these brothers and sisters. We will fight out our political differences and disagreements as a separate matter. What matters here and now is the old Wobblie (IWW) slogan - An injury to one is an injury to all.
Note: This list, right now, is composed of class-war prisoners held in American detention. If others are likewise incarcerated that are not listed here feel free to leave information on their cases here. Likewise any cases, internationally that may come to your attention. I am sure there are many, many such cases out there. Make this June, and every June, a Class-War Prisoners Freedom Month- Free All Class-War Prisoners Now!
MOVE POLITICAL PRISONER
As The 100th Anniversary Of World War I Continues -The Anti-War Resistance Builds –The Russian Revolution Breaks The Logjam
As The 100th Anniversary Of World War I Continues -The Anti-War Resistance Builds –The Russian Revolution Breaks The Logjam
The events leading up to World War I (known as the Great War before the world got clogged up with expansive wars in need of other numbers and names and reflecting too in that period before World War II a certain sense of “pride” in having participated in such an epic adventure even if it did mow down the flower of European and in some cases colonial youth from all classes) from the massive military armament of almost all the capitalist and imperialist parties in Europe and elsewhere in order to stake their claims to their unimpeded share of the world’s resources had all the earmarks of a bloodbath early on once the industrial-sized carnage set in with the stalemated fronts (as foretold by the blood-letting in the American Civil War and the various “small” wars in Asia, Africa, and, uh, Europe in the mid to late 19th century once war production on a mass scale followed in the train of other less lethal forms of industrial production).
Also trampled underfoot in the opposing trenches, or rather thrown in the nearest trash bin of the their respective parliamentary buildings were the supposedly eternal pledges against war in defense of one’s own capitalist-imperialist nation-state against the working masses and their allies of other countries by most of the Social-Democrats and other militant leftist formations (Anarchists, Syndicalists and their various off-shoots)representing the historic interest of the international working-class to stop those imperialist capitalist powers and their hangers-on in their tracks at the approach of war were decisive for 20th century history. All those beautifully written statements and resolutions that clogged up the international conferences with feelings of solidarity were some much ill-fated wind once bullet one came out of gun one.
Other than isolated groups and individuals, mostly like Lenin and Trotsky in exile or jail, and mostly in the weaker lesser capitalistically developed countries of Europe the blood lust got the better of most of the working class and its allies as young men rushed to the recruiting stations to “do their duty” and prove their manhood. (When the first international conference of anti-war socialists occurred in Switzerland in 1915, the famous Zimmerwald conference, one wag pointed out that they could all fit in one tram [bus].) Almost all parties assuming that the damn thing would be over by Christmas and everyone could go back to the eternal expressions of international working-class solidarity after the smoke had settled (and the simple white-crossed graves dug in the vast bone-crushed cemeteries that marked the nearby battle fields too numerous to mention). You see, and the logic is beautiful on this one, that big mail-drop of a Socialist International, was built for peace-time but once the cannons roared then the “big tent” needed to be folded for the duration. Jesus.
Decisive as well as we head down the slope to the first months of the second year of the war although shrouded in obscurity early in the war in exile was the soon to be towering figure of one Vladimir Lenin (a necessary nom de guerre in the hell broth days of the Czar’s Okhrana ready to send one and all to the Siberian frosts and that moniker business, that nom de guerre not a bad idea in today’s NSA-driven frenzy to know all, to peep at all), leader of the small Russian Bolshevik Party ( a Social-Democratic Party in name anyway adhering to the Second International under the sway of the powerful German party although not for long because “Long Live The Communist International,” a new revolutionary international, would become the slogan and later order of the day in the not distant future), architect of the theory of the “vanguard party” building off of many revolutionary experiences in Russia and Europe in the 19th century (including forbears Marx and Engels), and author of an important, important to the future communist world perspective, study on the monopolizing tendencies of world imperialism, the ending of the age of “progressive” capitalism (in the Marxist sense of the term progressive in a historical materialist sense that capitalism was progressive against feudalism and other older economic models which turned into its opposite at this dividing point in history), and the hard fact that it was a drag on the possibilities of human progress and needed to be replaced by the establishment of the socialist order. But that is the wave of the future as 1914 turned to 1915 in the sinkhole trenches of Europe that are already a death trap for the flower of the European youth.
Lenin also has a "peace" plan, a peace plan of sorts, a way out of the stinking trench warfare stalemate eating up the youth of the Eurasian landmass. Do what should have been done from the beginning, do what all the proclamations from all the beautifully-worded socialist manifestos called on the international working-class to do. Not a simple task by any means especially in that first year when almost everybody on all sides thought a little blood-letting would be good for the soul, the individual national soul, and in any case the damn thing would be over by Christmas and everybody could start producing those beautifully worded-manifestos against war again. (That by Christmas peace “scare” turned out to be a minute “truce” from below by English and German soldiers hungry for the old certainties banning the barbed wire and stinking trenches for a short reprieve in the trench fronts in France and played soccer before returning to drawn guns-a story made into song and which is today used as an example of what the lower ranks could do-if they would only turn the guns around. Damn those English and German soldiers never did turn the damn things around until too late and with not enough resolve and the whole world has suffered from that lack of resolve ever since.)
Lenin’s hard-headed proposition: turn the bloody world war among nations into a class war to drive out the war-mongers and bring some peace to the blood-soaked lands. But that advanced thinking is merely the wave of the future as the rat and rain-infested sinkhole trenches of Europe were already churning away in the first year as a death trap for the flower of the European youth.
The ability to inflict industrial-sized slaughter and mayhem on a massive scale first portended toward the end of the American Civil War once the Northern industrial might tipped the scales their way as did the various German-induced wars attempting to create one nation-state out of various satraps almost could not be avoided in the early 20th century once the armaments race got serious, and the technology seemed to grow exponentially with each new turn in the war machine. The land war, the war carried out by the “grunts,” by the “cannon fodder” of many nations was only the tip of the iceberg and probably except for the increased cannon-power and range and the increased rapidity of the machine-guns would be carried out by the norms of the last wars. However the race for naval supremacy, or the race to take a big kink out of British supremacy, went on unimpeded as Germany tried to break-out into the Atlantic world and even Japan, Jesus, Japan tried to gain a big hold in the Asia seas.
The deeply disturbing submarine warfare wreaking havoc on commerce on the seas, the use of armed aircraft and other such technological innovations of war only added to the frenzy. We can hundred years ahead, look back and see where talk of “stabs in the back” by the losers and ultimately an armistice rather than decisive victory on the blood-drenched fields of Europe would lead to more blood-letting but it was not clear, or nobody was talking about it much, or, better, doing much about calling a halt before they began the damn thing among all those “civilized” nations who went into the abyss in July of 1914. Sadly the list of those who would not do anything, anything concrete, besides paper manifestos issued at international conferences, included the great bulk of the official European labor movement which in theory was committed to stopping the madness.
A few voices, voices like Karl Liebknecht (who against the party majority bloc voting scheme finally voted against the Kaiser’s war budget, went to the streets to get rousing anti-war speeches listened to in the workers’ districts, lost his parliamentary immunity and wound up honorably in the Kaiser’s prisons) and Rosa Luxemburg ( the rose of the revolution also honorably prison bound) in Germany, Lenin and Trotsky in Russia (both exiled at the outbreak of war and just in time as being on “the planet without a passport” was then as now, dangerous to the lives of left-wing revolutionaries and not just them), some anti-war anarchists like Monette in France and here in America “Big Bill” Haywood (who eventually would controversially flee to Russia to avoid jail for his opposition to American entry into war), many of his IWW (Industrial Workers Of the World) comrades and the stalwart Eugene V. Debs (who also went to jail, “Club Fed” for speaking the truth about American war aims in a famous Cleveland speech and, fittingly, ran for president in 1920 out of his Atlanta Penitentiary jail cell), were raised and one hundred years later those voices have a place of honor in this space.
Those voices, many of them in exile, or in the deportations centers, were being clamped down as well when the various imperialist governments began closing their doors to political refugees when they were committed to clapping down on their own anti-war citizens. As we have seen in our own times, most recently in America in the period before the “shock and awe” of the decimation of Iraq in 2002 and early 2003 the government, most governments, are able to build a war frenzy out of whole cloth. Even my old anti-war amigo from my hometown who after I got out of the American Army during the Vietnam War marched with me in countless rallies and parades trying to stop the madness got caught in the bogus information madness and supported Bush’s “paper war” although not paper for the benighted Iraqi masses ever since (and plenty of other “wise” heads from our generation of ’68 made that sea-change turn with him).
At those times, and in my lifetime the period after 9/11 when we tried in vain to stop the Afghan war in its tracks is illustrative, to be a vocal anti-warrior is a dicey business. A time to keep your head down a little, to speak softly and wait for the fever to subside and to be ready to begin the anti-war fight another day. “Be ready to fight” the operative words.
So imagine in the hot summer of 1914 when every nationality in Europe felt its prerogatives threatened how the fevered masses, including the beguiled working-classes bred on peace talk without substance, would not listen to the calls against the slaughter. Yes, one hundred years later is not too long or too late to honor those ardent anti-war voices as the mass mobilizations began in the countdown to war, began four years of bloody trenches and death.
Over the next period as we continue the long night of the 100th anniversary of World War I and beyond I will under this headline post various documents, manifestos and cultural expressions from that time in order to give a sense of what the lead up to that war looked like, the struggle against its outbreak before the first frenzied shots were fired, the forlorn struggle during and the massive struggles after it in places like Russia, Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, and the hodge-podge colonies all over the world map, in order to create a newer world out of the shambles of the battlefields.
THE STRUGGLE FOR STATE POWER
Democracy, Pacifism and Imperialism
(June 30, 1917)
There have never been so many pacifists as at this moment, when people are slaying each other on all the great highways of our planet. Each epoch has not only its own technology and political forms, but also its own style of hypocrisy. Time was when the nations destroyed each other for the glory of Christ’s teachings and the love of one’s neighbour. Now Christ is invoked only by backward governments. The advanced nations cut each other’s throats under the banners of pacifism a league of nations and a durable peace. Kerensky and Tseretelli shout for an offensive, in the name of an “early conclusion of peace.”There is no Juvenal for this epoch, to depict it with biting satire. Yet we are forced to admit that even the most powerful satire would appear weak and insignificant in the presence of blatant baseness and cringing stupidity, two of the elements which have been released by the present war.
Pacifism springs from the same historical roots as democracy. The bourgeoisie made a gigantic effort to rationalize human relations, that is, to supplant a blind and stupid tradition by a system of critical reason. The guild restrictions on industry, class privileges, monarchic autocracy these were the traditional heritage of the middle ages. Bourgeois democracy demanded legal equality, free competition and parliamentary methods in the conduct of public affairs. Naturally, its rationalistic criteria were applied also in the field of international relations. Here it hit upon war, which appeared to it as a method of solving questions that was a complete denial of all “reason”. So bourgeois democracy began to point out to the nations – with the tongues of poesy, moral philosophy and certified accounting that they would profit more by the establishment of a condition of eternal peace. Such were the logical roots of bourgeois pacifism.
From the time of its birth pacifism was afflicted, however, with fundamental defect, one which is characteristic of bourgeois democracy; its pointed criticisms addressed themselves to the surface of political phenomena, not daring to penetrate to their economic causes. At the hands of capitalist reality the idea of eternal peace, on the basis of a “reasonable” agreement, has fared even more badly then the ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity. For Capitalism, when it rationalized industrial conditions, did not rationalize the social organization of ownership, and thus prepared instruments of destruction such as even the “barbarous” Middle Ages never dreamed of.
The constant embitterment of international relations and the ceaseless growth of militarism completely undermined the basis of reality under the feet of pacifism. Yet it was from these very things that pacifism took a new lease of life, a life which differed from its earlier phase as the blood and purple sunset differs from the rosy-fingered dawn.
The decades preceding the present war have been well designated as a period of armed peace. During this whole period campaigns were in uninterrupted progress and battles were being fought, but they were in the colonies alone.
Proceeding, as they did, in the territories of backward and powerless peoples, these wars led to a division of Africa, Polynesia and Asia, and prepared the way for the present world war. As, however, there were no wars in Europe after 1871 – in spite of a long series of sharp conflicts – the general opinion in petty bourgeois circles began gradually to behold in the growth of armies a guarantee of peace, which was destined ultimately to be established by international law with every institutional sanction. Capitalist governments and munition kings naturally had no objections to this “pacifist” interpretation of militarism. But the causes of world conflicts were accumulating and the present cataclysm was getting under way.
Theoretically and politically, pacifism stands on the same foundation as does the theory of the harmony of social interests. The antagonisms between capitalist nations have the same economic roots as the antagonisms between the classes. And if we admit the possibility of a progressive blunting of the edge of the class struggle, it requires but a single step further to accept a gradual softening and regulating of international relations.
The source of the ideology of democracy, with all its traditions and illusions, is the petty bourgeoisie. In the second half of the nineteenth century, it suffered a complete internal transformation, but was by no means eliminated from political life. At the very moment that the development of capitalist technology was inexorably undermining its economic function, the general suffrage right and universal military service were still giving to the petty bourgeoisie, thanks to its numerical strength, an appearance of political importance. Big capital, in so far as it did not wipe out this class, subordinated it to its own ends by means of the applications of the credit system. All that remained for the political representatives of big capital to do was to subjugate the petty bourgeoisie, in the political arena, for their purposes, by opening fictitious credit to the declared theories and prejudices of this class. It is for this reason that, in the decade preceding the war, we witnessed, side by side with the gigantic efforts of a reactionary-imperialist policy, a deceptive flowering of bourgeois democracy with its accompanying reformism and pacifism. Capital was making use of the petty bourgeoisie for the prosecution of capital’s imperialist purposes by exploiting the ideologic prejudices of the petty bourgeoisie.
Probably there is no other country in which this double process was so unmistakably accomplishing itself as in France. France is the classic land of finance capital, which leans for its support on the petty bourgeoisie of the cities and the towns, the most conservative class of the kind in the world, and numerically very strong. Thanks to foreign loans, to the colonies, to the alliance of France with Russia and England, the financial upper crust of the Third Republic found itself involved in all the interests and conflicts of world politics. And yet, the French petty bourgeois is an out-and-out provincial. He has always shown an instinctive aversion to geography and all his life has feared war as the very devil – if only for the reason that he has, in most cases, but one son, who is to inherit his business, together with his chattels. This petty bourgeois sends to Parliament a radical who has promised him to preserve peace – on the one hand, by means of a league of nations and compulsory international arbitration, and on the other, with the cooperation of the Russian Cossacks, who are to hold the German Kaiser in check. This radical depute, drawn from the provincial lawyer class, goes to Paris not only with the best intentions, but also without the slightest conception of the location of the Persian Gulf, and of the use, and to whom, of the Baghdad Railway. This radical-“pacifist” bloc of deputies gives birth to a radical ministry, which at once finds itself bound hand and foot by all the diplomatic and military obligations and financial interests of the French bourse in Russia, Africa and Asia. Never ceasing to pronounce the proper pacifist sentences, the ministry and the parliament automatically continue to carry on a world policy which involves France in war.
English and American pacifism, in spite of the differences in social and ideological forms (or in the absence of such, as in America), is carrying on, at bottom, the same task; it offers to the petty and the middle bourgeoisie an expression for their fears of world cataclysms in which they may lose their last remnants of independence; their pacifism chloroforms their consciences – by means of impotent ideas of disarmament, international law and world courts – only to deliver them up body and soul, at the decisive moment, to imperialism, which now mobilizes everything for its own purposes: industry, the church, art, bourgeois pacifism and patriotic “Socialism.”
“We have always been opposed to war: our representatives, our ministry have been opposed to war”, says the French citoyen, “therefore the war must have been forced upon us, and in the name of our pacifist ideals we must fight it to the finish.” And the leader of the French pacifists, Baron d’Estournelles de Constant, endorses this pacifist philosophy of an imperialist war with a pompous jusq’au bout. [To the end – Ed.]
The English Stock Exchange, in its prosecution of the war, has need first of all of pacifists of the Asquith (Liberal) and Lloyd George (radical demagogue) type. “If these people go in for war,” say the English masses, “right must be on our side.” Thus a responsible function is allotted to pacifism in the economy of warfare, by the side of suffocating gases and inflated government loans.
More evident still is the subordinate role played by petty bourgeois pacifism with regard to Imperialism in the United States. The actual policy is there more prominently dictated by banks and trusts than anywhere else. Even before the war the United States, owing to the gigantic development of its industry and its foreign commerce, was being systematically driven in the direction of world interests and world policies. The European war imparted to this imperialistic development a speed that was positively feverish. At a time when many well-meaning persons were hoping that the horrors of the European slaughter might inspire the American bourgeoisie with a hatred of militarism, the actual influence of European events was bearing on American policy not in psychological channels, but in material ones, and was having precisely the opposite effect. The exports of the United States, which in 1913 amounted to 2,466 million dollars, rose in 1916 to 5,481 millions! Of course, the lion’s share of this export fell to the lot of the war industries. The sudden breaking off of exports to the Allied nations after the declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare meant not only the stoppage of a flow of monstrous profits, but threatened with an unprecedented crisis the whole of American industry, which had been organized on a war footing.
It was impossible for this thing to go on without some resistance from the masses of the people. To overcome their unorganized dissatisfaction and to turn it into channels of patriotic cooperation with the government was therefore the first great task of the internal diplomacy of the United States during the first quarter of the war.
And it is the irony of history that orncial “pacifism”, as well as “oppositional pacifism”, should be the chief instruments for the accomplishment of this task: the education of the masses to military ideals.
Bryan rashly and noisily expressed the natural aversion of the farmers and of the “small man”generally to all such things as world-policy, military service and higher taxes. Yet, at the same time that he was sending wagonloads of petitions, as well as deputations, to his pacifist colleagues at the head of the government, Bryan did everything in his power to break the revolutionary edge of the whole movement. “If war should come,” Bryan telegraphed on the occasion of an anti-war meeting in Chicago last February, “we will all support the goverment of course; yet at this moment it is our sacred duty to do all in our power to preserve the nation from the horrors of war.”These few words contain the entire programme of petty bourgeois pacifism: “to do everything in our power against the war” means to afford the voice of popular indignation an outlet in the form of harmless demonstration, after having previously given the government a guarantee that it will meet with no serious opposition, in the case of war, from the pacifist faction.
Official pacifism could have desired nothing better. It could now give satisfactory assurance of imperialist “preparedness”. After Bryan’s own declaration, only one thing was necessary to dispose of his noisy opposition to war, and that was, simply, to declare war. And Bryan rolled right over into the government camp. And not only the petty bourgeoisie, but also the broad masses of the workers, said to themselves: “If our government, with such an out-spoken pacifist as Wilson at the head, declares war, and if even Bryan supports the government in the war, it must be an unavoidable and righteous war ...” It is now evident why the sanctimonious, Quaker-like pacifism of the bourgeois demagogues is in such high favour in financial and war industry circles.
Our Menshevik and Social-Revolutionist pacifism, in spite of apparent differences, is in reality, playing the same part as American pacifism. The resolution on war passed by the majority of the All Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers, Soldiers and Peasants, condemns the war not only from a pacifist stand-point, but also because of the imperialist character of the war. The Congress declares the struggle for an early conclusion of the war to be “the most important task of revolutionary democracy”. But all these premises are merely mobilized so that they may lead to the conclusion: “until such time as the war may be ended by the international forces of democracy, the Russian revolutionary democracy will be obliged in every possible way to cooperate in strengthening the fighting power of our army and rendering it efficient for both offensive and defensive action.”
The revision of the old international treaties, the Congress, like the Provisional Government, would make dependent on a voluntary agreement of Allied diplomacy, which in its very nature, neither desires nor is able to relinquish the imperialist aims of the war. The Congress, following its leaders, makes the “international forces of democracy” depend on the will of the social-patriots, who are bound by iron chains to their imperialist governments. Voluntarily restricitng themselves in the question of “an early end of the war to this charmed circle, the majority of the Congress naturally arrives at a very definite conclusion in the domain of practical politics: an offensive on the military front. This “pacifism”, which solidifies and disciplines the petty bourgeois democracy and induces it to support an offensive, ought manifestly to be on most friendly terms not only with the Russian imperialists, but also with those of the Allied nations.
Miliukov says: “In the name of our fidelity to our Allies and to the old (diplomatic) treaties, we must have an offensive.”
Kerensky and Tseretelli say: “Although the old (diplomatic) treaties have not yet been revised, we must have an offensive.”
The argument may differ; the policy is the same. Nor could it be otherwise, since Kerensky and Tseretelli are indissolubly bound up in the government with the party of Miliukov. As a matter of fact, the social-patriotic pacifism of the Dans, as well as the Quaker pacifism of the Bryans, are both operating in the service of Imperialism.
In view of this state of affairs, the chief task of Russian diplomacy is not to make Allied diplomacy refrain from this act or that or to revise this thing or that, but to make Allied diplomacy believe that the Russian Revolution is safe and sound and solvent. The Russian Ambassador, Bakhmetiev, in his speech before the Congress of the United States, delivered on June 10, characterized the Provisional Government chiefly from this point of view.
“All these circumstances,” said the Ambassador, “point to the fact that the power and significance of the Provisional Government are growing day by day, that with each passing moment the Provisional Government is becoming better able to cope with all those elements that mean disaster, whether they take the form of reactionary propaganda or that of an agitation by the members of the extreme left. At the present time the Provisional Government is determined to take the most drastic steps in this direction, resorting to force, if need be, in spite of its constant ndeavours for a peaceful solution of all questions.”
There is no doubt that the “national honour” of our “defenders” remains absolutely unruffled while the Ambassador of “revolutionary democracy” fervently persuades the parliament of the American plutocracy of the readiness of the Russian government to pour out the blood of the Russian proletariat in the name of “order”, the chief ingredient of which is its fidelity to Allied Capitalism.
And at the very moment when Bakhmetiev stood hat in hand, a humiliating speech passing over his lips, in the presence of the representives of Capitalism, Tseretelli and Kerensky were explaining to the “revolutionary democracy” how impossible it was to dispense with armed force in its fight with “the anarchy of the left”, and threatening to disarm the workers of Petrograd and the regiment which made common cause with them. We know that these threats came just in the nick of time; they served as a strong argument in favour of the Russian Loan in Wall Street. You see, Mr. Bakhmetiev was in a position to say: “our revolutionary pacifism differs in no respect from your own brand of pacifism, and if you put your faith in Bryan, there is no reason why you should distrust Tseretelli.”
There remains to us only the necessity of putting one question: How much Russian flesh and Russian blood will it take, on theexternal front as well as in the interior, in order to secure the Russian Loan, which, in its turn, is to guarantee our continued fidelity to the Allies?
June 30, 1917