Showing posts with label capitalist class. Show all posts
Showing posts with label capitalist class. Show all posts

Sunday, March 05, 2017

From The Archives Of The Spartacist League (U.S.)-THE LEFT WING VIEWS THE KENNEDY ASSASSINATION (1964)

Click on the headline to link to an American Left History blog entry on the subject of my youthful reaction to the John F. Kennedy assassination on November 22, 1963 by way of comparison with more leftist views at the time.

Markin comment:

In October 2010 I started what I anticipate will be an on-going series, From The Archives Of The Socialist Workers Party (America), starting date October 2, 2010, where I will place documents from, and make comments on, various aspects of the early days of the James P. Cannon-led Socialist Worker Party in America. As I noted in the introduction to that series Marxism, no less than other political traditions, and perhaps more than most, places great emphasis on roots, the building blocks of current society and its political organizations. Nowhere is the notion of roots more prevalent in the Marxist movement than in the tracing of organizational and political links back to the founders, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the Communist Manifesto, and the Communist League.

After mentioning the thread of international linkage through various organizations from the First to the Fourth International I also noted that on the national terrain in the Trotskyist movement, and here I was speaking of America where the Marxist roots are much more attenuated than elsewhere, we look to Daniel DeLeon’s Socialist Labor League, Eugene V. Debs' Socialist Party( mainly its left-wing, not its socialism for dentists wing), the Wobblies (IWW, Industrial Workers Of The World), the early Bolshevik-influenced Communist Party and the various formations that led up to the Socialist Workers Party, the section that Leon Trotsky’s relied on most while he was alive. Further, I noted that beyond the SWP that there were several directions to go in but that those earlier lines were the bedrock of revolutionary Marxist continuity, at least through the 1960s.

I am continuing today  what I also anticipate will be an on-going series about one of those strands past the 1960s when the SWP lost it revolutionary appetite, what was then the Revolutionary Tendency (RT) and what is now the Spartacist League (SL/U.S.), the U.S. section of the International Communist League (ICL). I intend to post materials from other strands but there are several reasons for starting with the SL/U.S. A main one, as the document below will make clear, is that the origin core of that organization fought, unsuccessfully in the end, to struggle from the inside (an important point) to turn the SWP back on a revolutionary course, as they saw it. Moreover, a number of the other organizations that I will cover later trace their origins to the SL, including the very helpful source for posting this material, the International Bolshevik Tendency.

However as I noted in posting a document from Spartacist, the theoretical journal of ICL posted via the International Bolshevik Tendency website that is not the main reason I am starting with the SL/U.S. Although I am not a political supporter of either organization in the accepted Leninist sense of that term, more often than not, and at times and on certain questions very much more often than not, my own political views and those of the International Communist League coincide. I am also, and I make no bones about it, a fervent supporter of the Partisan Defense Committee, a social and legal defense organization linked to the ICL and committed, in the traditions of the IWW, the early International Labor Defense-legal defense arm of the Communist International, and the early defense work of the American Socialist Workers Party, to the struggles for freedom of all class-war prisoners and defense of other related social struggles.
Markin comment on this article:

By now, at least in this space, it should be obvious that communist militants are not born as such but come to certain political understandings depending on unfolding events, and their reaction, or non-reaction to them. At the time of the John Kennedy assassination I make no bones, as the above linked entry notes, about the fact that I was nothing but an idealistic young left liberal politico on the way to whatever form of glory that provided. Thus, my reaction, youthful or not, was appropriate. I would have found nothing wrong, or out of the ordinary, with the statements of the American Communist Party, Socialist Party or the Socialist Workers Party. The other anti-Kennedy diatribes presented here connecting him up as the “front man” for international capitalism and American imperialism would have been cause for outrage if I had seen them. The biggest thing that I held against Jack Kennedy then was around his handling of the Big of Pigs fiasco, and even that opposition was based on Cuba’s right to national self-determination (in the bourgeois Wilsonian sense) rather than class-based defense of the emerging Stalinist regime. In short, “fair play for Cuba.”

Obviously, those later unfolding events mentioned at the beginning of the last paragraph have changed my appreciation of Kennedy’s role in the world as, indeed, the "front man” for world imperialism at that time. I have also long adhered to the orthodox Marxist view that individual assassinations, acts of terror, or other forms of small group grandstanding are merely minor blips and will not produce the revolutionary change we need. That kind of big historic stage social action can only have a chance of occurring, and succeeding, when the masses take matters into their own hands. I nevertheless now scorn those messages of condolence and the reformist subservience behind the messages by the CP, SP, and SWP. Better to have said nothing than that drivel, especially by the SWP.

Note: Interestingly, intermingled throughout the various articles are early, half-formed versions of most of the conspiracy theories that would later create something of a cottage industry out of Kennedy assassination, most notably expressed in the hodgepodge of Oliver Stone’s film, JFK.

The assassination of President Kennedy was an add test of the class position of every left movement in the United States. Among the radical groups in America, a qualitative division, may be perceived between those tendencies which turned resolutely to the working class for an independent alternative to bourgeois statesmanship, and those formations which joined their cries to the liberal threnody for the late president.


Nov. 27, 1963 — "The assassination of President Kennedy, by a still unknown assailant, not only reflects the existence of serious political contradictions for the U.S. ruling class, but raises these contradictions to new heights....

"While it is essential that revolutionaries evaluate all of the political aspects of the assassination, it is also necessary for revolutionaries to reject assassination as a conceivable form of political struggle. The killing of one man cannot alter the course of history. Only efforts by millions to change the particular political and economic system can be decisive.. .. Finally, assassination only tends to confuse the real issues that face the workers. It encourages the ruling class to step up the oppression of the people.

"Assassination and individual violence, however, is part and parcel of the Capitalist system. . . .

". . . On several occasions our government has engineered or supported actual organized assassinations with great relish. The assassination of Patrice Lumumba was warmly welcomed by the Kennedy Administration. Furthermore, assassination has also been a way of eliminating friends who have outlived their usefulness to the Administration. Only weeks before the Kennedy assassination, the Administration (and many who now cry hypocritical tears for Kennedy) were laughing up their sleeves over the U.S.-inspired as¬sassination of Diem and his brother in South Viet-Nam. . . .

"In the face of this continued ruthlessness and terror, the people and especially those who consider themselves fighters for socialism, should not be caught up in the Whirlwind of ruling class contradictions. The people should utilize every moment for pressing their demands. They should not wait for the Johnson Administration to resume the offensive—as it will—against the people's fight for a better life. Johnson's record is part and parcel of-the oppression of the ruling class—with a dash of Southern seasoning added for good measure.

"The People are still faced with racism, unemployment, poor housing and schooling, high rents and high-priced (or no) medical services. The People, if they are really to unite, should unite around programs dealing with their problems."


Nov. 25, 1963—"The United States of America came close to a fascist coup d'etat, and the establishment of a Right Wing, reactionary, totalitarian dictatorship.

"This is really the main and funda¬mental fact to emerge from the assassination of President Kennedy.

"That the coup d'etat did not actually come off can only be explained by the fact that the forces of political reaction, virulent racism and 'preventive war' militarism, had failed to coalesce at the critical moment and emerge with 'a man on horseback.'

"The trend to totalitarian dictatorship can only be reversed by the intervention of an ever larger mass of the millionfold working class movement, and of unity between, black and white workers against the common oppressor."

(The Workers World deserves credit for reprinting excerpts from Fidel Castro's excellent statement on the assassination.)

(British organ of the Posadas group, the Latin-American-based Trotskyist tendency.)

Jan., 1964—"The assassination of Kennedy is the result of a struggle between bandits. One faction has liqui¬dated a member of the opposite faction.

"Within the heart of Yankee imperialism there are two tendencies. One tendency centers on what is called the Pentagon and is wrongly called 'right wing' (there is no left or right for capitalism but simply different po¬sitions in relation to the same policy) and the 'Kennedy' tendency. . . .

"Imperialism, the Kennedy tendency, tries to profit from the conservative interests of the Soviet bureaucracy to prolong its own existence to the maximum.

"The so-called Pentagon section is aware of this situation and feels that the very time delay means a direct loss for its economic, social and ideological interests. That is the reason for the offensive that it has just carried out.

"The Pentagon killed Kennedy within the framework of a policy designed to launch the war by surprise at that moment most convenient to itself."

From the publications of the three groups above, it can be seen that a basic class position was maintained during their discussions of the Kennedy assassination. A class line must not; only continue to orient the working class against their class enemy, the bourgeoisie, but must provide a correct analysis for the workers in a period of confusion and constellation. The three groups above never lost sight of their ruling class enemy—nor did they hesitate to point this out to their readers.
There were exaggerations and mistakes, such as the Workers World's confusion between fascism and a coup d'etat. Or the Progressive Labor group's referral to "our" government. And of course the Posadas tendency's conclusion that the Pentagon assassin¬ated Kennedy can only be considered interesting speculation at this point.

These positions stand out in bold contrast to those periodicals and organizations whose "Socialism" and "Marxism" led them in the moment of panic to genuflect to the ruling class. Statements about "Loving (!) This Country (!!)" and the like can only serve to confuse and misdirect socialist militants. Compare the following examples.


Dec. 13, 1963—"I am writing this on the day of mourning under a profound sense of shock and loss and shame. We mourn a gallant President, sincerely interested in peace and freedom, who was growing in strength. . . .

"You will be reading this column after Thanksgiving Day, when we will be putting this day of mourning into perspective. For what can we Americans be thankful in this time of tragedy? We can be thankful for some enrichment of memory. We can be thankful for the general outpouring of grief and recognition of the shame at the atmosphere of hate in which the trag¬edy took place. We can give .thanks for the orderly succession and the absence of bitter partisanship in President Johnson's accession to his high office." —Norman Thomas

"The Socialist Party joins the entire nation in deeply mourning the tragic death of our President. The senseless and dastardly murder which, took the life of John F. Kennedy was one of the greatest crimes and tragedies in the history of our country. To Mrs. Kennedy and the entire Kennedy family we extend our most sincere and heartfelt condolences."

Resolution of National Committee of
The Socialist Party


Nov. 26, 1963 —"Nation in Mourning for Martyred Leader" (Banner front page headline.)

"We share—along with all other Americans—immeasurable grief at the monstrous and shocking assassination of President John P. Kennedy.

"We extend our deepest synipathy to Mrs. Kennedy, to his son and daughter, and to his entire family. . . .

"Although anguished in sorrow over the loss of the highest officer of our nation, the American people will not be panicked. They will rally around the constitution, defend its basic Democratic traditions and rights, and they will not be diverted from the determination that our nation shall trod the path of ever-expanding democracy, social progress and peace."


"Let me then make clear as your President that I am determined upon our system's survival and success, regardless of the cost and regardless of the peril." —Speech of President Kennedy to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, April 21, 1961.(Following the Bay of Pigs fiasco.)


Dec. 2, 1963—"If We Really Love This Country We Must Abjure Hatred" (Front page headline quoting Chief Justice Earl Warren as a "Voice of Sanity.")

"The American people have undergone one of the most traumatic experiences in its history. The staggering news that President Kennedy had been assassinated, followed so quickly by the unexplainabte, televised murder of his alleged assassin in the Dallas, city jail by a crony of the police, left Americans reeling with bewilderment and shock. A wave of apprehension ran through the world with the news of the Kennedy assassination as people of all lands attempted to decipher the cause and portent of the tragic event. . . .

"Before all others, it is the federal government's duty to block the attempt to use the Dallas tragedy for the staging of an even more devastating witchhunt. Before all others, it is the duty of the federal government to furnish the people with a thorough-going analysis of the atmosphere of hate and violence which fostered that tragedy. Before all others, it is the federal government's duty effectively and fully to enforce the civil liberties of Americans of all political views, no matter how critical of those now dominant, and the civil liberties of all Americans, regardless of color. Only then can the cloud of violence and hate overhanging this country begin to be dispelled."
The Editors

"The Socialist Workers Party condemns the brutal assassination of President Kennedy as an inhuman, anti-social and criminal act. We extend our deepest sympathy to Mrs. Kennedy and the children in their personal grief .

"The act springs from the atmosphere created by the inflammatory agitation and. deeds of the racists and ultra-conservative forces. Political terrorism, like suppression of political freedom, violates the democratic rights of all Americans and can only strengthen the forces of reaction. Political differences within our society must be settled in an orderly manner by majority decision after free and open public debate in which all points of view are heard:"
—Farrell Dobbs,- National Secretary,
Socialist Workers Party

And Now, A Breath of Fresh Air!


(Organ of the Socialist Labour League, the British Trotskyists.) Nov. 30, 1963—

"This millionaire politician was destroyed by the very contradictions which he thought he could overcome smoothly and peacefully.

"Whether or not we ever learn the truth about the killings in Dallas, Tex¬as, Kennedy's death was without doubt the result of angonising conflict within the American ruling class.

"On the issues of Negro integration and foreign and defense policy, Kennedy's programme, reflecting the needs of one section of US big business, aroused sharp hostility from powerful economic and political groups.

"The roll of the Texas state authorities makes this very clear. If Oswald was framed, and this seems quite probable, the job was organized at a high level in the state machine. ...

"We do not mourn John F. Kennedy.

"As international socialists we see him as the world leader of the class enemy.

"If he was far-sighted, it was in the interests of the continuation of capi¬talist exploitation everywhere."
—John Crawford

Dec. 7, 1963—"Marxists and the Kennedy Assassination" (Headline, page two.)

"The assassination of President Ken¬nedy has given rise to a more than usual round of hysteria, tear-jerking and praise-mongering by the literary and political representatives of the middle class.

"Reading some of the articles in the so-called socialist and liberal press about his life, one might be forgiven for thinking that Kennedy stood for the freedom of the Negro people and was, in fact, a socialist in all but name.

"Thus do the hirelings of international capital endeavor to whitewash the most reactionary imperialist power in the world in its hour of crisis.

"Kennedy was, of course, a most able representative of his class. Everything that he did had but one objective, to strengthen American imperialism. . . .

"When he spoke about Negro rights, he was merely using high-sounding liberal phraseology so that he could all the better, on behalf of his class, continue to enslave the Negro people.

"Marxists express no sympathy what¬soever over Kennedy's death.

"We do not condone the act of individual terror responsible for his death, not because we are squeamish or humanitarian about how it was done, but because individual terror is no substitute for the construction of the revolutionary party.


"Terrorism is a weapon which in fact disorganises and leaves the working class leaderless. It creates the impression that the removal of prominent capitalist politicians and statesmen can solve the problems of the working class. "But for every tyrant shot, there is another ready to take his place. Only the overthrow of the capitalist system in the United States and its replace¬ment by working-class power and socialism can solve the problems of the American working-class whites and Negroes.

"Such a task cannot be accomplished by terrorists like Lee Oswald. The answer lies not with them, but through the preparation and building of a revolutionary party which, through mass action, will take the power. . . .

"The taking of power by th6 revolutionary party is not without terror. The ruling class will not hesitate to terrorise the working class, the Negro and colonial peoples. . . .

"The sympathy of Marxists, while not agreeing with the method of Oswald, must be given to the millions of Oswalds, black and white, who have been driven into pauperism by capitalism. The task of the American Marxist movement is to direct its attention towards these people, and not towards the sending of messages of sympathy to Mrs. Kennedy.


"When Lee Oswald fired the fatal shot, he did something more than assassinate a president.

"He also destroyed utterly and completely the lie that the Socialist Workers Party of the United States is a Trotskyist party and that it continues the traditions for which it was founded in the struggle to build the Fourth International.

"The Militant, weekly organ of the SWP which, according to its masthead, is 'published in the interests of the working people,' carried this news item in its issue of Monday, December 2, headed 'Socialist Leader Denounces

Murder of the President':
(Here follows the statement of Farrell Dobbs which is reprinted above.)

"This nauseating report repudiates every principle that Trotsky and the Bolshevik Party fought for. It is a report written by cowardly liberals, whose eyes are turned solely in the di¬rection of the. American middle class.

'"We extend,' says Farrell Dobbs, 'our deepest sympathy to Mrs. Ken¬nedy.' ;
"Indeed! And who is Mrs. Kennedy?


"She is the daughter of a Wall Street millionaire, and was the wife of the leader of the most reactionary imperialist power on earth. Marxists can have no sympathy whatsoever with Mrs. Kennedy and her class.

" 'Political differences within our society must be settled in an orderly manner,' says Dobbs.

"Indeed! Tell that to the Negroes of Birmingham, Alabama, and the miners of Kentucky. Tell that to the millions of colonial people in struggle against imperialism.

"The settlement of class issues will not take place in an orderly manner, but in a violent way, because the ruling class will never give up its power peacefully. To the millions of working people in struggle against imperialism all over the world, Dobbs is just one more American liberal,- who talks the language of 'order' so as to mask the brutality of his own imperialist government.

"How Trotsky would have loathed this statement of the leader of the Socialist Workers Party. He would have flayed its author alive in every language he could muster. This is cringing boot¬licking of the American petty-bourgeois by a man who claims to be a Marxist!


"Dobbs sends his condolences to 'Mrs. Kennedy and the children,' but not a word about Mrs. Oswald, a poor Russian woman whose children and herself will be singled out for attack wherever she goes.

"Instead of taking up the cudgels on behalf of the poor in the United States, Dobbs turns his eyes to to the representatives of the rich and mighty.

"There was, of course, a distinct possibility that anti-labour witch-hunters would utilise the Kennedy assassination in order to attack the left, but such an attack could not be answered by sending condolences to Mrs. Kennedy. The answer to any witch-hunt is to explain the class issues involved in the assassination, which ran only be done by a thoroughgoing exposure of Kennedy's role.


"Farrell Dobbs does not look to the working class as his only real ally in the fight against the witch-hunt. He looks in the opposite direction, towards the ruling class. On this, question, as on all others, Dobbs has betrayed the Marxist movement. . . .

"His political degeneration is a warning to Marxists everywhere. It follows closely on the heels of the so-called 'reunification' with the Pabloites, who supported the brutal assassination by the hired thugs of the FLN of the Algerian trade union leaders in Paris in 1957 and 1958.

"This unification was an alliance of renegades from Trotskyism to turn from the working class to the radical do-gooders whose sole aim is to white¬wash imperialism.

"We look forward to any news as to whether or not James P. Cannon, founder of the American Trotskyist movement, was prepared to sign the message of condolence to Mrs. Kennedy."

—Gerry Healy, National Secretary Socialist Labour League

The acid test of any organisation presenting itself as socialist takes place in periods of revolutionary opportunity or crisis. All such organizations were tested in their ability to maintain their principled positions at the time of the Kennedy assassination. To those for whom the concept of Trotskyism is synonymous with firm class positions under the most adverse conditions, the statement of Farrell Dobbs and the entire edition of the Militant on the Kennedy assassination came as a profound shock. At a calmer and more reflective moment, even the leaders of the Socialist Workers Party themselves must have been chagrined and surprised at their lack of stamina.

It is, of course, true that it is a perfectly principled tactic to carefully avoid the use of provocative phrases when the legal organizational existence, and possibly the lives, of revolutionaries are at stake. However, the words of Dobbs and the Militant were not those of a revolutionary Socialist, but rather of Social Democrats and bourgeois liberals, and richly merited the attacks of Gerry Healy and the Socialist Labour League.

The Revolutionary Tendency has repeatedly pointed out the attempt to convert the SWP into an appendage of petty-bourgeois radical formations. The abandonment of the concept that the working class and its vanguard must lead the masses, evidently and inevitably leads, at a moment of crisis, to the abandonment of the essence of all revolutionary working class positions.

Monday, September 19, 2016

*Labor's Untold Story- From The Other Side Of The Class War- The Black Legion

Class on title to link to Wikipedia's entry for the notorious anti-labor Black Legion. As long as they is a capitalist class there will be both public and private agents who do the class enemy's bidding. Here is one from the past but there are plenty of professional anti-labor outfits out there today.

Every Month Is Labor History Month

This Commentary is part of a series under the following general title: Labor’s Untold Story- Reclaiming Our Labor History In Order To Fight Another Day-And Win!

As a first run through, and in some cases until I can get enough other sources in order to make a decent presentation, I will start with short entries on each topic that I will eventually go into greater detail about. Or, better yet, take my suggested topic and run with it yourself.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

*In The Age Of The "Robber Barons"- A Witty Literary Take On The American "Republic Of Letters"

Click On Title To Link To Wikipedia Entry For John Singer Sargent. His artwork, especially the portraits, seem to be a window that expressed the essence of this period.

Book Review

The Mauve Decade: American Life At The End Of The 19th Century, Thomas Beer, Carol and Graf Publishers, New York, 1926

Every once in a while one comes across a gem of book and is not quite sure what to do with it. That is the case with this gossip-laden, satirically biting literary book, “Mauve Decade”, that deals with the highs and lows of American culture in the last decade of the 19th century. You, know the time of the well-known "robber barons who until recently were the main villains in the on-going American saga. And they were! And their descendants, literally or not, still are!

As a matter of course I should explain that I picked this book up for the purpose, I thought, of taking a look at the period of the emergence of the American imperial presence that we continue to live with. I also was looking to round out the milieu in which the American labor movement was beginning to feel its oats. The period of the great trade union, and later Socialist Party leader, Eugene V. Debs-led Pullman Strike and other bloody labor battles that should have told even the most naïve militant that the struggle ahead was going to be long and arduous. Those 'robber barons" meant to keep their profits. That is the book I bargained for but I got something quite different.

What I got was one of the most obscure, but intrinsically interesting, takes on the American literary scene, the so-called ”Republic of Letters” movement that was being pushed at the time in order to create a separate and distinct American cultural haven. The author, writing in 1926 (at least that is when the book was published) is taking a broad look back at the 1890’s based on his own observations, the recollections of literary friends and those with some kind of ax to grind. Thomas Beer is not a name that I am familiar with either in my various reviews of American literary history or in any other capacity. I have not, at this point when this review is being written, taken the time to find out exactly who he was. That, I do not believe is necessary, in order appreciate what a little gem he has produced.

Most of the names that Beer drops, and there is a great deal of name-dropping in the book,, are very familiar to readers of this space-Mark Twain, William Cullen Bryant (these were the days when every other Brahmin used three names to beef up his or her resume), William Dean Howells, Charles Godkin, The James brothers-in short, the literary establishment, make that the Brahmin establishment, that coalesced after the Civil War and was entering, according to Beer, its decline. I will not argue that point here but merely point out that his style is to be droll and venomous as he lists the roll call of the famous that get recognition at the expense of his own favored authors.

Needless to say this book centers on the Boston/New York literary scene with a few passing remarks about the Westerners who would go on to create a very different type of literature. There are also many, many dry comments on the “Irish” problem, which is the fact that this ‘race’ has started to come into its own politically. Along the way Beer comments on the then new obscure and now long forgotten political scandals of the day, the literary sexual censorship that was being enforced by public officials and magazine/newspaper editors alike (I can only imagine what Beer would have made of the current wide open sexual references.), the fashions and watering holes of the rich and famous and their pet peeves. Wonderful stuff, all done in a rather arcane style that would not pass today’s rapid repartee standards. This guy knows how to skewer even from long distance. We can always appreciate a little of that no matter what generation we are in. Nice work, Thomas Beer.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

* Hard Times In Babylon, Again- "Poor Man's Heaven"- Song Of The Great Depression Of The 1930's (The Other One)

Click On Title To Link To YouTube's Clip of Yip Harburg's "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" done by Bing Crosby.


Poor Man's Heaven: Songs Of The Great Depression, various artists,When The Sun Goes Down series, BMG, 2003

Banks are failing. Stock markets are in a nose dive. Unemployment is way up. Housing values are headed toward the floor. More and more people are seeking welfare and food stamps. Consumers are “tightening their belts” waiting for the other show to fall. And that is only the grim news on an average day. Other days ratchet up the doom and gloom from there. Oh, you thought I was talking about today’s headlines. No I am referring to the Great Depression of the 1930’s which in song is the subject matter of this CD review. Does sound familiar though, doesn’t it? The only thing I haven’t heard about lately is “Bushvilles” or "Obamavilles” to replace the “Hooverville” shanty towns of the 1930’s. But they could be on the way.

Even in the worst of times, at least to this reviewer’s understanding of the human endeavor, people have turned to song to relieve what ails them. Sometimes, as some selection here, it could be with a funny twist on the idiocy of the markets like old time comedian Eddie Cantor’s “Tips On The Stock Market” or Frank Crumit’s “Tale Of The Ticker”. Sometimes it could be the pathos expressed in “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?’ or “Remember My Forgotten Man”

Other times it can be ironic as on “Hallelujah, I’m A Bum” or the title track “Poor Man’s Heaven”. Or it can express social or personal reality like “Raising The Rent”, “Ten Cents A Dance” or “The Farm Relief Song”. And sometimes, it can express just pure desperation or frustration as in Alfred Reed’s “How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live?’, Daddy Stovepipe’s “35 Depression” or Joe Stone’s “It’s Hard Time”. Yes, we need our songs to get us through but here is the kicker. It’s not enough. We cannot sing these bad time blues away. For that we need to take social action. By and for ourselves. But that is a question for another day. Today we speak of our hard times musical heritage. Listen up.


A Tale of A Ticker

By Frank Crumit and Frank O'Brien

A Tale of A Ticker , a 1929 novelty song foreshadowing the 1929 stock-market crash, has music by Frank Crumit and lyrics by Frank O'Brien.

This little pig went to market,
Where they buy and sell the stocks,
This little pig came home again,
With his system full of shocks.

I don’t understand their language,
Don’t know what it’s all about,
For a bull buys up and a bear sells down and a broker sells you out;

And here is the song they sing the whole day long;
Oh! the market’s not so good today,
Your stocks look kind of sick,
In fact they all dropped down a point time the tickers tick;

We’ll have to have more margin now,
There isn’t any doubt,
So you better dash with a load of cash,
Or we’ll have to sell you out.

The stock exchange is a funny place,
It’s the strangest place in town,
The seats cost half a million cash,
But the brokers won’t sit down.

There’s the broker the bull and bear,
It’s queer but it’s not a joke,
For you get the bull till your bank-roll’s bare
and the broker says you’re broke,

And here is the song I hear the whole day long;
Oh! The market’s not so good today,
Your stocks look kind of sick,
In fact they all dropped down a point time the tickers tick;

We’ll have to have more margin now,
There isn’t any doubt,
So you better dash with a load of cash,
Or we’ll have to sell you out.

The market simply goes to prove,
That we still have loco weeds,
For the bull buys what he doesn’t want,
And the bear sells what he needs,

I bought an elevator stock,
And thought that I did well,
And the little bears all ran down-stairs
and rang the basement bell,

And here is the song I hear the whole day long;
Oh! The market’s not so good today,
Your stocks look kind of sick,
In fact they all dropped down a point time the tickers tick;

We’ll have to have more margin now,
There isn’t any doubt,
So you better dash with a load of cash,
Or we’ll have to sell you out.


Blind Alfred Reed - 1929

There once was a time when everything was cheap,
But now prices nearly puts a man to sleep.
When we pay our grocery bill,
We just feel like making our will --
I remember when dry goods were cheap as dirt,
We could take two bits and buy a dandy shirt.
Now we pay three bucks or more,
Maybe get a shirt that another man wore --
Tell me how can a poor man stand such times and live?
Well, I used to trade with a man by the name of Gray,
Flour was fifty cents for a twenty-four pound bag.
Now it's a dollar and a half beside,
Just like a-skinning off a flea for the hide --
Tell me how can a poor man stand such times and live?

Oh, the schools we have today ain't worth a cent,
But they see to it that every child is sent.
If we don't send everyday,
We have a heavy fine to pay --
Tell me how can a poor man stand such times and live?

Prohibition's good if 'tis conducted right,
There's no sense in shooting a man 'til he shows flight.
Officers kill without a cause,
They complain about funny laws --
Tell me how can a poor man stand such times and live?

Most all preachers preach for gold and not for souls,
That's what keeps a poor man always in a hole.
We can hardly get our breath,
Taxed and schooled and preached to death --
Tell me how can a poor man stand such times and live?

Oh, it's time for every man to be awake,
We pay fifty cents a pound when we ask for steak.
When we get our package home,
A little wad of paper with gristle and a bone --
Tell me how can a poor man stand such times and live?

Well, the doctor comes around with a face all bright,
And he says in a little while you'll be all right.
All he gives is a humbug pill,
A dose of dope and a great big bill --
Tell me how can a poor man stand such times and live?

"Brother, Can You Spare a Dime," lyrics by Yip Harburg, music by Jay Gorney (1931)

They used to tell me I was building a dream, and so I followed the mob,

When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear, I was always there right on the job.

They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead,

Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?

Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.

Once I built a railroad; now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet, and lime;

Once I built a tower, now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,

Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,

Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,

And I was the kid with the drum!

Say, don't you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.

Why don't you remember, I'm your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,

Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,

Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,

And I was the kid with the drum!

Say, don't you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.

Say, don't you remember, I'm your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Ten Cents a Dance

From Simple Simon

Lyrics by Lorenz Hart, music by Richard Rodgers


I work at the Palace Ballroom,
but, gee that Palace is cheap;
when I get back to my chilly hall room
I'm much to tired to sleep.
I'm one of those lady teachers,
a beautiful hostess, you know,
the kind the Palace features
for only a dime a throw.


Ten cents a dance
that's what they pay me,
gosh, how they weigh me down!
Ten cents a dance
pansies and rough guys
tough guys who tear my gown!
Seven to midnight I hear drums.
Loudly the saxophone blows.
Trumpets are tearing my eardrums.
Customers crush my toes.
Sometime I think
I've found my hero,
but it's a queer romance.
All that you need is a ticket
Come on, big boy, ten cents a dance.


Fighters and sailors and bowlegged tailors
can pay for their ticket and rent me!
Butchers and barbers and rats from the harbors
are sweethearts my good luck has send me.
Though I've a chorus of elderly beaux ,
stockings are porous with hole at the toes.
I'm here till closing time.
Dance and be merry, it's only a dime.


Sometime I think
I've found my hero,
but it's a queer romance.
All that you need is a ticket
Come on, big boy, ten cents a dance.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Once Again, Cops Are Not Workers


The following is a letter published in Workers Vanguard August 28, 2008 that addresses the always thorny and ill-understood question of the role of police in capitalist society. That role is not as the vanguard of the working class but the rearguard of the bourgeois class. This lesson has to be constantly addressed to avoid problems when we get on the barricades. (Hell, you don't have to wait that long, just check out the strike lines - then you will know what all orthodox Marxists know almost instinctively. They are on the other side.) Read, once again, as an example, Trotsky's comments on the Bolshevik (and most militant Mensheviks, as well) attitude toward the police in 1917 in his classic History Of The Russian Revolution. Their role has gotten no better since that time. (One could argue that they have actually become more like para-military forces). I find that political people who have an equivocal attitude toward the police and their role in society have usually never been confronted by that force personally. It ain't pretty.

Northern Ireland

Socialist Party Champions Former H-Block Warden Turned Security Guard

Security Guards Out of the Unions!

We reprint below a letter published by the Spartacist League/Britain, section of the International Communist League, in Workers Hammer No. 203 (Summer 2008).

26 May 2008

Dear Workers Hammer,

Over the last few months a number of articles have appeared in the newspapers of both Irish and British reformist organisations about a hunger strike by “airport workers” in a legal battle against the leadership of UNITE, the trade union that organised them. The articles describe how these “workers” have been betrayed by the union leadership, and now face legal bills arising from the period when they were being organised into the union. This all sounds like the sort of fights workers have faced time and time again. However, it is only further on into the articles that the reader finds out these are not “workers” but security guards from Belfast airport demanding the union pay their £70,000 legal bills. Security guards are not workers but hired company thugs! It is an outrage that UNITE was organising these thugs in the first place. It would also be an outrage to use genuine workers union dues to pay their bills!

The most vocal defenders of these security guards in their battle against UNITE is Peter Taaffe’s Socialist Party. The Socialist Party has long proclaimed these guards “workers,” in fact it played a central role in organising them into the trade union. To add insult to injury, these reformists are now calling on trade unionists around the world to support the bosses’ hired thugs. Knowing full well that security guards are not necessarily popular with workers, they have been circulating a petition which simply refers to them as “workers” and “shop stewards,” omitting what they really did for a job. Lying and hiding basic truths is nothing new to social democrats like the Socialist Party, who are committed to trying to convince workers that the capitalist state can be made to act in their interests.

Even more disgusting, they and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), have also completely disappeared the fact that, prior to patrolling Belfast airport, one of these “workers” was a prison warden at the infamous H-Block/Maze prison! According to the Belfast Telegraph (13 April), Madan Gupta was for years part of the murderous regime that beat and tortured [Irish] Republicans. He was an overseer during the Hunger Strike in 1981! By championing such thugs, the Socialist Party and SWP are spitting on the memory of heroic men like Bobby Sands and the nine others who died on hunger strike that year.

The Socialist Party’s support to security guards is of a piece with their notion that cops and prison guards are part of the workers movement. This includes elements of the Northern Irish security apparatus such as H-Block prison wardens. As Marxists we have a duty to expose and politically combat these cowardly frauds. This is part of the struggle to achieve clarity in the workers movement, in particular on the nature of the capitalist state, which at its core consists of cops, prisons and courts. Prison guards and cops in capitalist countries are not workers, but the hired thugs of the capitalist state. The state is not some neutral arbiter above all classes, as the reformists would like to portray it, but simply the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Cops and security guards are used against workers during class struggle, beating pickets and protecting scabs. Indeed, around the world airport security is at the very front-line of the imperialists’ ongoing “war on terror” targeting, in particular, Muslims. As usual, the Socialist Party cares little for the plight of the besieged Asian communities in Britain or the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland, seeking instead to rally the working class to the defence of the very cops, security and prison guards that are used to beat, torture and imprison them.

There are few places in the Western world where the precise nature of the state and its “special bodies of armed men” is clearer than in Northern Ireland. Since its inception in 1921 as an Orange statelet, the local capitalist class and their British imperialist masters in London maintained their rule through naked anti-Catholic terror. The heavily armed RUC [Royal Ulster Constabulary] and “B-special” auxiliaries tortured and murdered with impunity, in particular targeting Republicans or anybody that dared question Orange rule. When a mass civil rights movement, supported both by the majority of Catholics and many Protestants, erupted in 1968 demanding an end to the daily discrimination of the Catholic minority, the Orange state and their Loyalist terror groups responded with increasing violence. By 1969 the British government decided to “stabilise” the situation by pouring in thousands of imperialist troops onto the streets of Belfast and Derry. Soon, the army and the RUC were filling internment camps with hundreds of “suspected Republicans” without even the facade of a trial. Innocent civilians were gunned down on the streets—on one day alone paratroopers murdered thirteen in Derry, the infamous Bloody Sunday massacre in 1972.

In contrast to the reformists, the ruling capitalist class makes no apologies for its state and the actions it takes to defend it. To this day, the British ruling class has refused to admit that the troops murdered innocent civilians on Bloody Sunday. The fact that the slaughter of the unarmed civilians is on film, and dozens of eye witnesses have testified, is irrelevant to the arrogant imperial masters. Their message to the population is quite clear: we rule! This is the same message sent out when cops executed Jean Charles de Menezes in July 2005 in London, and repeated in every denial of any wrongdoing. And it was the gruesome message that Thatcher’s government sent to the world when it provoked the Hunger Strikes in 1981. After years of protests against the brutal and demeaning regime under vicious wardens, Republican prisoners led by Bobby Sands insisted on regaining the status of political prisoners, as indeed they plainly were, including the simple rights to wear their own civilian clothes and to organise educational pursuits. The British state saw an opportunity to provoke the threatened hunger strike. It not only refused to listen to the demands, calling Bobby Sands and the others “common criminals” but began reneging on earlier agreements. Thatcher looked on gleefully as Bobby Sands, aged 27, and the others suffered slow, painful deaths.

At the height of the hunger strike, Sands was elected to the House of Commons and, fellow hunger striker, Kieran Doherty to the Dáil [Irish Parliament] as part of mass protests against the system slowly killing them. Both the British and Irish states quickly introduced new laws banning prisoners from running for election—making it clear to all that bourgeois “democracy” is nothing more than a veneer. A veneer that the likes of the Socialist Party hold in the highest of regard.

Because reformists hold that the capitalist state can change its spots and that socialism can be achieved without any need for a workers revolution, i.e., the smashing of the capitalist state and the need to establish a workers state, they must deny the very class nature of this state. By lying to workers that their interests can be served within capitalism, they provide cover for the bourgeoisie. The Socialist Party holds that once the reformists win a majority vote in Britain, laws can be passed in Her Majesty’s Parliament bringing about workers rule. That is, a bourgeois government—for any government administering the capitalist state is bourgeois—will bring workers rule to Britain! The idea that the gentlemen from the City [London financial district], and their friends in Sandhurst [military officer academy], will simply step aside because of a plebiscite and a piece of legal paper, is muck the Socialist Party consistently tries to rub in the eyes of the working class.

It is their reformist programme that inevitably leads the Socialist Party to become craven apologists for cops and prison guards. Their disgustingly chauvinist line on members of the brutal security apparatus in Northern Ireland is nothing new. They have rightly earned themselves the title “Her Majesty’s Socialists” among leftists and Republicans in Belfast and Dublin. The Socialist Party on both sides of the Irish Sea has for decades been proud to refuse to call for British troops out! They defend the “right to march” of the Orange Order, whose annual “marching season” consists of months of anti-Catholic provocations. In 1995, the Socialist Party infamously hosted Loyalist UVF killer Billy Hutchinson, who had been convicted of the murder of two innocent Catholics.

Of course, the Socialist Party is not so “touchy-feely” when it comes to the Catholic minority and Republicans in the North. [Socialist Party leader] Joe Higgins, ex-TD (MP) in Dublin, regularly used the Irish Dáil to denounce Republicans and anybody standing up to Loyalist terror. Higgins seized on the brutal killing of a young Catholic father, Robert McCartney, by members of the IRA, to compare the IRA to Hitler’s SS (see Workers Hammer No. 190, Spring 2005)! And when working-class youth and Republicans bravely fought off riot cops for hours to prevent a Loyalist mob marching through the streets of Dublin, Higgins was quick to join every bourgeois politician in the Dáil to denounce the anti-Loyalist protest as a “sectarian riot” (see Workers Vanguard No. 866, 17 March 2006).

The Socialist Party is the antithesis of the revolutionary workers party, that is a Bolshevik party, that the Spartacist League is fighting to build. We demand the immediate, unconditional withdrawal of the 5,000 British troops in Northern Ireland. We stand for the defence of the viciously oppressed Catholic community in Northern Ireland against Loyalist/state terror. At the same time, we oppose Sinn Féin’s nationalist perspective of a capitalist united Ireland in which Protestants would become an oppressed minority, a prospect that only serves to consolidate the Protestants behind Loyalist bigots, laying the basis for communalist terror, which is antithetical to a polarisation along class lines. In this situation of interpenetrated peoples and fratricidal nationalism, there can be no equitable solution short of the destruction of capitalism and the institution of workers rule. Our perspective is proletarian and internationalist: for the revolutionary overthrow of British imperialism and the clericalist state in the South—which is hideously oppressive of women, Travellers and workers—and the sectarian Orange state.

At a recent Socialist Party meeting in Dublin hosting Peter Taaffe, a speaker for the ICL laid out our perspective while exposing the anti-revolutionary programme of their international, the Committee for a Workers’ International, from their support for “workers in uniform”—including an ex-H-Block prison warden—to their scabbing on the Chinese deformed workers state (see Workers Hammer No. 202, Spring 2008). Many Socialist Party members in the audience, including one who was a security guard, vented their fury at our insensitivity to the plight of these thugs, in particular the lowly security guard, and our call to oust them from the unions. Taaffe’s summary, in particular in response to the ICL, was a ten-minute lesson in just how dirty a business reformism is. After explaining that, as a result of the betrayals of New Labour, it is the task of the Socialist Party to build a “new mass workers party” which is explicitly not revolutionary (i.e., Old Labour), he went into a long rant on the glorious struggles of the British prison officers. He painted a picture of the Socialist Party’s new mass workers party: column after column of uniformed prison officers at the head of the working class! The Socialist Party actually dreams of building a “workers party” based on the brutally racist, BNP [fascist]-ridden, thugs from Wormwood Scrubs and the Metropolitan Police!

Such a reactionary, Labourite perspective, and such deadly illusions in the capitalist state need to be vigorously combated within the workers movement! Cops, prison wardens and security guards out of the unions! The Spartacist League seeks to build a multiethnic revolutionary workers party, a party that will act as a tribune of the people, fighting to mobilise the working class against every manifestation of injustice, racist oppression and state tyranny: Down with the racist war on terror! Full citizenship rights for all immigrants! For free abortion on demand! What is necessary is a revolutionary party that fights for the understanding that, as Lenin explained, “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes”; that the liberation of the working class cannot come about “without the destruction of the apparatus of state power which was created by the ruling class” (The State and Revolution). These words were written on the eve of the Russian Revolution, the first, and to date, only successful proletarian revolution. Under the leadership of the Bolshevik vanguard party, the working class smashed the capitalist state and established a workers state, consisting of the “special bodies of armed men” necessary to defend the revolution against the deposed ruling class. That revolution makes clear the kind of party the working class needs to once-and-for-all throw off their chains. And it is our task to build this vanguard party!

Derek M.