Saturday, September 26, 2009

*Labor's Untold Story-The Class Wars In The Mines Of Colorado-Cripple Creek 1892

Click on title to link to Wikipedia's entry for the Cripple Creek strike of 1982-this was class war, rare and ugly, down at the base.

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.

Friday, September 25, 2009

*Labor's Story Told-The Grant Administration (1869-1877) and the Rise of U.S. Imperialism- A Guest Commentary

Click on title to link to a 1960 article, "American Radicalism: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow", by James P.Cannon, noted in the commentary below, about the history of American radical movements in the early 20th century from one who was involved in the American Socialist Party, IWW, American Communist Party and the American Socialist Workers Party. I would say with that pedigree he knows some things we need to think through about our political forbears.

Workers Vanguard No. 938
5 June 2009

The Grant Administration (1869-1877) and the Rise of U.S. Imperialism

Part One

We print below, in slightly edited form, a presentation by Don Cane to a Spartacist League educational in the Bay Area on March 14.

The German Social Democratic leader Karl Kautsky, in reference to the early English settlers in North America, wrote that they:

“carried the peculiar Anglo-Saxon mode of thought along with them across the ocean. They did not find anything on the other side that could have shaken them in their views. No class free from the work for a living was formed that could have cultivated arts and sciences for their own sake. We only find farmers and city dwellers whose maxim was that of the home country: Time is Money.... This also became the principle of the gradually arising proletariat for the simple reason that they did not feel as a proletariat, but considered their position only as a stage of transition for the purpose of becoming farmers, capitalists or at least lawyers....”

—“Socialist Agitation Amongst Farmers in America” (1902)

I will not be able to cover all subjects related to this class in a timely manner. I will address the Ulysses S. Grant administration (1869-1877) and imperialism in detail, Reconstruction in general and some details as well as the emergence of the organized labor movement and Populism.

In his classic book, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916), Lenin defined imperialism as:

“The monopoly stage of capitalism. Such a definition would include what is most important, for, on the one hand, finance capital is the bank capital of a few very big monopolist banks, merged with the capital of the monopolist associations of industrialists; and, on the other hand, the division of the world is the transition from a colonial policy which has extended without hindrance to territories unseized by any capitalist power, to a colonial policy of monopolist possession of the territory of the world, which has been completely divided up.”

It is generally accepted by Marxists that American capitalism entered the imperialist stage with the Spanish-American War (1898), when the U.S. took over the Spanish colonies of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. But is it possible to fix a date for such a dynamic process? I do not believe it is possible to fix such a date. The following quote is from an American business journal:

“Excess capacity became a problem in a number of industries well before the depression of the 1890s. Efforts begun in the 1870s and 1880s to limit or regulate production were spurred on by the depression of the 1890s. Experiments with trade associations, pools, and trusts often culminated in the late 1890s with the creation of large holding companies. These companies concentrated control over production and pricing decisions in fewer hands, and they often bought out and closed down the most inefficient firms in their industries.”

—Quoted in William H. Becker, “American Manufacturers and Foreign Markets, 1870-1900,” Business History Review (1973)

The journal further asserts that by 1890, “America’s industrial might had reached a point where supply exceeded domestic demands and its need for foreign markets was sharply increasing.” Emily Rosenberg in Financial Missionaries to the World (1999) states that the American economist Charles Conant’s “theory, identifying overproduction and declining profits as the motive forces behind late-nineteenth-century imperialism, reappeared in the analysis of [J.A.] Hobson and ultimately became enshrined in the writings of V.I. Lenin.”

The thing that is most characteristic about U.S. imperialism is that it did not reach world dominance by a gradual ascent, but by leaps and bounds. American products were in demand in foreign markets. By 1900 American capitalism, firmly based on the gold standard, began the work of manipulating world finance away from London, transforming New York into a world financial center. J.G. Wright, in an article in the June 1936 issue of the Trotskyist New International covering much of this same material in detail, concluded, “In 1898 the United States was a world power conducting a colonial policy with the perfect consciousness of her major imperialist interests.”

With the Northern capitalist victory over the Confederate South in the Civil War all the elements compelling U.S. capitalism toward the imperialist stage cohered. Overproduction and the formation of finance capital were evident early on.

I would like to say a few words about Grant himself. The popular historical image of him is of a dimwitted and bloody drunk. But I believe that this image is a product of the same forces that wish to rewrite the history of the 1861-1865 American Civil War as a “war between the states” or, more grievously, “a struggle for Southern Independence.” Grant was an intelligent, politically astute and brilliant bourgeois military officer. It is for this reason much venom is directed at him. His administration was no more corrupt than the rest of the American political structure. I believe that Grant, himself, was too financially incompetent to be a good thief.

The Grant Administration and Emerging U.S. Imperialism

A closer examination of the Grant administration presents much evidence of the beginning consolidation of an American capitalist-imperialist class. However, a general understanding has prevailed (including among ourselves), to quote the first sentence of Lenin’s Imperialism, that “especially since the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902), the economic and also the political literature of the two hemispheres has more and more often adopted the term ‘imperialism’ in order to describe the present era.”

It was the Grant administration that took the first steps to convert the Caribbean into an American lake—recognizing the importance of securing an island with a large harbor and building the Panama Canal connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. It was the Grant administration that anticipated the Anglo-American alliance—deferring to the British as the world’s superpower as it simultaneously sought to be both competitor and ally of British imperialism. It was the Grant administration that recognized the need for a strong navy to pursue Pacific Rim trade under the banner of “free trade.”

It was a politically moderate Grant administration that oversaw Radical Reconstruction—a turbulent decade of interracial bourgeois democracy in the South, the most egalitarian experiment in U.S. history, ultimately betrayed by the Northern bourgeoisie. It is today an accepted view that Grant was sympathetic to black demands. But this view is simply shallow. Grant both understood and accepted the legitimacy of what he referred to as the “governing classes.” For Grant, the bourgeois military officer, black people were allies in the struggle against a hated enemy, the Confederacy. Thus, he supported the recruitment of black troops into the Union Army as an effective military measure in the struggle to destroy the Confederate Army. Grant, the bourgeois politician, feared that the Johnson administration, which took over after Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, would surrender to the defeated Confederate enemy what had been gained by the Union Army on the battlefield. Thus, he supported black voting rights in the political struggle against a still hostile enemy.

The Grant administration came into power on the slogan, “Let there be peace.” But it also understood that the war had not ended with the surrender of Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s army. The Civil War, a military contest between two property classes—the capitalists and the slave masters—ended with the victory of the Northern-based capitalist class. Reconstruction was a struggle to consolidate this victory and reshape the whole of American society in the image of the bourgeoisie.

In an historical irony, Abraham Lincoln created the U.S. Secret Service the same day he was assassinated. When Grant entered the White House as president it was common for several Secret Service agents to be present on every floor of the White House. Nonetheless, it was also common that the general public was allowed use of the White House grounds and free entry into the White House to await the arrival of the president or other officials. It was the Grant administration that padlocked the White House gates, denying use of its grounds to the public. Under the Grant administration, access to the president was by appointment only. The Grant administration was the first to recruit military officers for the White House staff. Responding to the pressure of Republican Party politicians, Grant replied, “I am not the representative of a political party.” In a letter accepting the Republican nomination, he clearly stated the president was “a purely administrative officer,” elected “to execute the will of the people” (quoted in Geoffrey Perret, Ulysses S. Grant, Soldier and President [1997]). In all of this we see shades of the imperial presidency to come.

Grant strongly opposed the Tenure of Office Act (1867), which denied the president the power to remove from office anyone appointed by the president and approved by the United States Senate unless the Senate also approved the removal. He consistently fought for the power to hire and fire his appointed cabinet. At the same time, he supported the British model of civil service in opposition to party patronage. It was political tradition that the party that won the election carried out the wholesale firing of political opponents then in government employment, replacing them with its own supporters. This spoils system was a source of incompetence in government. In the British government it was those officials whose work concerned military affairs who first came to appreciate the advantages of a hiring and promotion system based on competitive examination—civil service. It should be no surprise that Grant, a professional soldier who witnessed firsthand the incompetence of politically appointed Union Army officers, would also appreciate the advantages of such a civil service system.

U.S. Expansion into Asia

In 1871 the Grant administration sent a naval force into Korean waters. Some of the senior officers of this force were experienced Civil War veterans. This naval force sent out survey teams to map the Korean coast. When this act was not sufficient to provoke a Korean response, survey teams armed with artillery and rifles were sent upriver in the direction of the Korean capital, Seoul. Needless to say, they were fired upon, and the Americans retaliated by killing over 250 Korean soldiers at a loss of only three of their own. Journalists wrote about the episode as a pivotal event in 19th-century U.S.-East Asian relations—as one wrote, “by far the most important political action undertaken by the United States in Asia until the occupation of the Philippines in 1898” (quoted in Gordon H. Chang, “Whose ‘Barbarism’? Whose ‘Treachery’? Race and Civilization in the Unknown United States-Korea War of 1871,” Journal of American History [March 2002]).

The war was one of the largest and bloodiest uses of military force overseas by the United States in the 50 years between the Mexican-American War of 1846-48 and the Spanish-American War of 1898. It was also the first time that American ground forces actually seized, held and raised the American flag over territory in Asia. The American objective was to “open” Korea for trade—just as Commodore Matthew C. Perry had “opened” Japan in the 1850s. Korea was a protectorate of China, paying tribute to the Chinese court in exchange for being left alone. American diplomats pressured Chinese officials to obtain a Korean invitation for this naval force. The Chinese officials reluctantly complied, but the Korean invitation never came. To the imperialists, a backward nation’s refusal to open itself up for trade was an affront to their “civilizing” mission of world conquest. The Koreans, of course, forced to capitulate, protested that it was the right of any nation to defend its borders. At an earlier time they had defeated a French military excursion attempting to accomplish similar objectives as the Americans. Indeed, the American officers consulted the French, following the same upriver route of the French forces.

In the summer of 1879, Grant and his wife were in the final stage of a two-year pleasure trip around the world following the end of Grant’s second term. In Grant’s words he was a “private citizen” touring the world on U.S. warships. With his arrival in China, a very revealing incident took place. The Japanese government had seized a group of islands belonging to the Ryukyu island chain (including Okinawa) claimed by China. The Chinese appealed to Grant to intercede on their behalf. Grant responded, “I have no knowledge on the subject, and no idea what opinion I may entertain when I have studied it.” But it is clear in Grant’s negotiations with the Japanese that he did, in fact, have some knowledge on the subject. To the Chinese he had nothing much to say, except to deplore the Europeans’ treatment of Asian nations. To the Japanese he had a lot more to say, first of all, urging them to come to a negotiated settlement with the Chinese—a settlement that they easily and readily came to.

Grant reminded the Japanese that the United States was their nearest neighbor in the West. He went on to state, “No nation needs from the outside powers justice and kindness more than Japan, because the work that has made such marvelous progress in the past few years is a work in which we are deeply concerned” (quoted in Horatio Wirtz, “General Ulysses Grant: Diplomat Extraordinaire,” in Wilson and Simon, eds., Ulysses S. Grant: Essays and Documents). This, of course, was in reference to Japanese capitalist modernization under the Emperor Meiji at the time (see “The Meiji Restoration: A Bourgeois Non-Democratic Revolution,” Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 58, Spring 2004).

Again, Grant deplored the European treatment of Asian nations. But Grant also raised the problem of extraterritorial rights forced on Japan by European powers, supported by the United States, which was now willing to revise these. These treaties limited to 5 percent the tariff Japan could place on imports. Grant urged the Japanese to defy the Europeans and claim a greater percentage of profit from commerce that they were rightly entitled to. He explained that such a move would make it possible to relieve the Japanese people of a great burden—the land tax. At the time only 3.8 percent of Japanese revenue came from customs duties while 64.8 percent came from the land tax. The land tax was clearly an obstacle to development. Furthermore, Grant advised the Japanese to avoid European bank loans. Grant explained to the Japanese that the British, after the experience of the Afghan and Zulu campaigns, were in no position to take counteraction.

In 1872 the United States Navy acquired a mid-Pacific coaling station at Samoa, Pago Pago Harbor. Such coaling stations were of immense importance for the extension of naval power. The Germans were alarmed and laid claim to an interest in the Samoan islands group. This solicited a response from the British. All three nations then sent battleships to the Samoan waters. But the American and British naval forces were clearly acting in concert to block the Germans. After some period of jockeying, these islands passed permanently under American control. At a later period, 1893, the American sugar plantation owners, supported by American military forces, staged a Texas-style revolt overthrowing the native monarchist government of Hawaii. The strategic Pacific islands were soon annexed by the United States.

U.S. Expansion in the Western Hemisphere

In 1869, seeking Caribbean harbors, Grant had concluded an annexation agreement with the dictator of Santo Domingo (the modern-day Dominican Republic). Grant’s administration also sought the purchase of the Caribbean islands of St. John and St. Thomas from Denmark. The purchase agreement of these islands was concluded at a later period. The annexation agreement of Santo Domingo failed in the Senate, which was angry that the Grant administration had negotiated it without consultation with the Senate. Grant envisioned the future of Santo Domingo as an annexed American state with a black majority. He also viewed it as a solution to the black question. He wrote of blacks that they were “brought to our shores by compulsion, and now should be considered as having as good a right to remain here as any other class of our citizens. It was looking to a settlement of this question that led me to urge the annexation of Santo Domingo.”

Grant explained that the island was capable of supporting 15 million people and he “took it that the colored people would go there in great numbers, so as to have independent states governed by their own race. They would still be states of the union, and under the attention of the general government; but the citizens would be almost wholly colored” (U.S. Grant, Memoirs and Selected Letters). But it was the race question that led ultimately to the Senate rejection of the annexation agreement. They did not desire more “colored” U.S. citizens. They felt the same way about Hawaii, but the strategic importance of these islands overcame race prejudice.

Grant played an active role in countering European influences in the Western Hemisphere. It was General Grant, in his military capacity, who urged the use of the American army to help expel the French from Mexico. In 1865, General Philip Sheridan was dispatched to the Mexican border with a large armed force prepared to do just this. The French withdrew from Mexico.

In 1867 the United States purchased Alaska from Russia. The purpose of this purchase was to contain the British. Grant, like many other representatives of the American ruling class, viewed Britain as a natural ally, but with wary bitterness. During the Civil War, the British government had permitted Confederate cruisers, built in British ports, to escape and prey upon the commerce of the U.S. The most famous of these Confederate cruisers was the Alabama. In 1871 the British and American governments entered into arbitration, known as the Alabama claims. Grant was the spokesman for a section of the American ruling class that demanded not only that the British pay a heavy fine but also that they concede Canada to the United States. It was rumored that the British were willing to give up Canada, though the Canadians objected. But other members of the American ruling class pointed out that London was still the center of world banking and the heavily indebted Americans coming out of the Civil War could not afford to confront them. The British paid a fine of $15.5 million and the matter was closed.

Marshall, Harrison County, Texas: A Microcosm of the Defeated South

We have always noted that imperialism abroad has a domestic reflection at home. Predatory imperialism’s devouring of smaller nations, in competition with other imperialist powers, requires the suppression of class struggle at home. The American Civil War unleashed a great expansion of wealth and democracy. However, this expansion of political democracy was short-lived, as the American ruling class quickly entered upon the imperialist stage.

Michael Goldfield in The Color of Politics (1997) uses the term “dual power” loosely to describe the short-lived period of expansion of democracy based on the class struggle as it presented itself at this time. But to pose the question as one of a dual-power struggle between the Northern capitalist class and the defeated slave-master class is wrong. The American Civil War ended with the destruction of the slave-master class as a class and with the class emancipation of the slaves. In other words, slavery was abolished. What ensued in the aftermath was a struggle of contending class forces to reshape American society, in particular the South. C. Vann Woodward’s Tom Watson: Agrarian Rebel (1963) described the time: “A few old heads recognized ‘Reconstruction’ for what it was––a Yankee euphemism for capitalist expansion.”

The essence of the struggles between the contending class forces after the Civil War was over control of the wealth created by labor—old wealth created by slave labor, new wealth created by the “free labor” of the freedmen. The following is a description of this struggle as it unfolded between 1865 and 1868 in Marshall, Harrison County, Texas (the home of Wiley College of The Great Debaters fame). [See “Communist Organizing in the Jim Crow South: What’s Not in The Great Debaters,” WV No. 925, 21 November 2008.]

General Sheridan, commander of the Union occupation troops in Texas, declared that if he owned both Texas and hell he would “rent out Texas and live in hell.” It was reported that 2,700 blacks were killed in Texas between 1866 and 1867. The Freedmen’s Bureau reported that between 1 January and 1 July 1867, 2,316 murders or assaults with attempt to kill occurred in Texas. The vast majority of victims of these assaults was black. There existed a state of lawlessness as senior Confederate officials fled to Mexico—from state to county to local towns, governmental authority ceased to function. Demobilized Confederate soldiers plundered Confederate and state properties, roaming the countryside robbing whites as well as blacks of anything of value.

The only semblance of law and order to prevail was with the Union Army deployed at county seats such as Marshall. In 1860 Harrison County was the wealthiest county in Texas and had the highest percentage of slave ownership. Of the total population of the county of 15,000 persons, 59 percent were slaves. Over 60 percent of white households owned at least one slave. The average slaveholding family possessed eleven slaves. Sixty-eight slaveowners owned 20 or more slaves; one slaveowner owned 104 slaves.

The emancipation of Harrison County’s 10,000 slaves meant an immediate loss of approximately $7 million to the slaveowners. The misfortunes of war—high taxes, high cost of living, loss of fugitive slaves and the inability to market cotton at a profit—forced many planters into bankruptcy. During the war, Harrison County residents had no access to Northern financial institutions and Texas, like much of the South, had few banks. The local economy, reliant on the Confederate dollar, was reduced to bartering since neither cash nor credit was available. Large land holdings enabled a significant number of pre-Civil War planters to retain their status after emancipation. They did, however, suffer a real loss of wealth.

Northern capitalist interests and Southern planter interests both wanted a stable black labor supply. The system of contract labor was introduced by the Union Army and overseen by the Army’s Freedmen’s Bureau. The purpose of the contract was to keep black labor in place. The freedmen’s desire to be paid in wages could not be met. Ready cash in the form of Union currency was still severely restricted. The Freedmen’s Bureau intervened to negotiate sharecropping in lieu of wages. What is revealed here is the beginning of the South’s notoriously oppressive sharecropping system of farming.

But one key element of the sharecropping system had not yet found its place. The planters sought to continue the work practices and organization that were typical of the slave system—to work gang labor under an overseer. The planters sought to continue working conditions similar to slavery—the planter possessed absolute authority and the worker no rights at all.

The freedmen resisted any work practice and organization similar to slavery. They resisted gang labor in preference to a division of the land to be worked individually. This breakup of the large plantations into smaller units was, of course, inefficient. But on this score the freedmen prevailed over the wishes of the planters with the planters retaining ownership of the land. The freedmen resisted any work contract that required the women and children of the family to work the fields. However, success on this point was entirely uneven. To the planters’ displeasure, the freedmen resisted work outside of the crop—the planters defined the work to encompass the whole of the farm operation.

The freedmen faced powerful class enemies. Cotton, the leading export crop in the U.S. during the 19th century, secured foreign exchange for the U.S. Treasury. With $1.5 billion in war debts, the U.S. government was under pressure by European creditors to resume the exportation of cotton.

Marshall, Texas, attracted large numbers of freedmen who sought the security and assistance offered by the Union Army and the Freedmen’s Bureau stationed there. Blacks who were either too young or too old for productive labor were simply dumped. Harrison County authorities refused to allocate funds to care for orphaned black children. County authorities devised a system of apprenticeship of black youth that committed them to labor for a master until the age of 21. This measure, of course, lessened the labor costs of white landowners. Oliver Otis Howard, the first Freedman’s Bureau chief, declared: “State laws with regard to apprenticeship will be recognized...provided they make no distinction of color” (quoted in Kenneth Hamilton, “White Wealth and Black Repression in Harrison County, Texas: 1865-1868,” Journal of Negro History [1999]). This color-blind approach of Howard’s masked forced labor of black youth under the title “apprenticeship.”

The initial Reconstruction government of Texas was composed of white pro-Union partisans exiled under the Confederate regime and now returned with the Union Army. Black Republicans entered the stage a little later, changing the character of the state government. Like the Northern capitalists, this state Reconstruction government recognized the benefits of a tax-supported education system; however, it established schools solely for white students. Blacks relied on the Freedmen’s Bureau school that, with a black staff, taught blacks who supported the school with a monthly fee of $1.50 per student. Whenever blacks attempted to establish schools outside of the county seat of Marshall and the protection of the Freedmen’s Bureau, their schools were broken up and the teachers forced to flee for their lives. This was Marshall, Harrison County, Texas, a microcosm of the defeated South in the period immediately following surrender—one can see why Sheridan preferred to live in hell than to live in Texas.


Workers Vanguard No. 939
3 July 2009

The Grant Administration (1869-1877) and the Rise of U.S. Imperialism

Part Two

We print below, in slightly edited form, the conclusion of a presentation by Don Cane to a Spartacist League educational in the Bay Area on March 14. Part one of this talk, published in WV No. 938 (5 June), focused on the consolidation of an American capitalist-imperialist class during the administration of Ulysses S. Grant. What follows is a discussion of the rise of the American labor movement in the decades following the Civil War (1861-65).

An 1860 pamphlet promoting British investment in American railways made this observation: “The valley of the Mississippi and the basin of the St. Lawrence alone have been truly described as capable of furnishing breadstuffs, coal, iron, and other articles of prime necessity, equal to the consumption of the world.” In 1888 an American writer, William H. Harrison Jr., wrote a book called How to Get Rich in the South that reported that there was “no country that offers such tempting inducements to the capitalist for profitable investments” (quoted in C. Vann Woodward, Origins of the New South, 1877-1933 [1951]). Both Northern and British capital flowed into the former Confederate South in the period after the Civil War. This great influx of capital found its way not only into cotton production, but more importantly into mining and railroad construction. Of course, banking interests expanded in the South along with the flow of this capital.

It was the construction of a national railroad system that made possible the creation of a national market. The pre-Civil War Southern railroad system could have been described as branches without a trunk. The year 1880 witnessed the first major consolidation movement among Southern railroads, where once independent railroads coalesced into large systems. This consolidation was accomplished by Northern and British capitalist interests. By 1890 more than half the railroad mileage of the South was in the hands of a dozen large companies, mainly centered in New York City. In the process of this consolidation, Southern railroad gauges were adjusted to Northern standards—a difference of three inches involving 13,000 miles of railroad track and significant bottlenecks. The largest railroad company, the Louisville & Nashville, hired 8,000 men who in one day adjusted 2,000 miles of track and the wheels of 300 locomotives and 10,000 pieces of rolling stock to conform to Northern standards.

V.I. Lenin, in the preface to Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916), observed: “Railways are a summation of the basic capitalist industries, coal, iron and steel; a summation and the most striking index of the development of world trade and bourgeois-democratic civilization.... The uneven distribution of the railways, their uneven development—sums up, as it were, modern monopolist capitalism on a world-wide scale.” Lenin noted that by 1890 the U.S. had surpassed all of Europe in total railroad mileage. Railroads spread beyond West Europe and North America in the years after 1860; by 1900, Asia, for example, had 34,700 miles of railroad, representing 7.1 percent of the world’s total in that year. Even more dramatic was the replacement of wood and sail by iron, steel and steam in ocean shipping. From the national market to the world market this resulted in a dramatic drop in freight rates.

The U.S. capitalist ruling class profited handsomely. But this accumulation of profit did not come without bloody resistance. During the 1900 Boxer Rebellion in China, one Boxer poster proclaimed, “The will of heaven is that the telegraph wires be first cut, then the railways torn up, and then shall the foreign devils be decapitated” (quoted in Diana Preston, The Boxer Rebellion [1999]). At home, within the U.S., the class struggle was unfolding. This was inevitable at a time when half of the country’s vast wealth was owned by 1 percent of the population—the ruling class that ruled with blatant corruption and violence.

Quoting Friedrich Engels, Lenin’s The State and Revolution (1917) established that “in a democratic republic, Engels continues, ‘wealth exercises its power indirectly, but all the more surely,’ first, by means of the ‘direct corruption of officials’ (America); secondly, by means of an ‘alliance of the government and the Stock Exchange’ (France and America).” Lenin added: “A democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capitalism, and, therefore, once capital has gained possession of this very best shell…it establishes its powers so securely, so firmly, that no change of persons, institutions or parties in the bourgeois-democratic republic can shake it.”

In the U.S. South after the Civil War, both the progressive Reconstruction governments and the reactionary post-Reconstruction “Redeemer” governments fit Lenin’s description. Both governments handed out millions of acres of public lands free or at nominal cost to railroad and mining interests. Officials of both governments could be bought.

These governments, however, represented the competing interests of different factions of exploiters. The Reconstruction governments were alliances of the Republican Party and the freedmen. But the Republican Party was moving quickly away from its historic roots, the alliance of Northern capitalists and small farmers that had dislodged the slave power from the federal authority through the Civil War. The Republican Party became the party of the big capitalists with a fig leaf of interest in the rights and advancement of black people. Under the Republican Party the rights of free blacks in the North were greatly expanded—the right to vote, access to public schools and the protection of the law. (In pre-Civil War days the movement of free blacks was restricted, and kidnapping and being sold into slavery was a constant threat.) It was under Republican Reconstruction governments that social advances were made in the South. Under these circumstances the Democratic Party recuperated by becoming a “big tent” encompassing all those disgruntled with the policies of the big capitalists and hostile to black rights.

The Compromise of 1877, which formally ended Reconstruction by pulling the last Union troops from the South in exchange for allowing Republican Rutherford B. Hayes to become president in the disputed election of 1876, ceded political control of the South to the Democratic Party (see “Defeat of Reconstruction and the Great Rail Strike of 1877: The Shaping of Racist American Capitalism,” WV No. 701, 20 November 1998). The Southern Democratic Party, under the banner of “rule of the taxpayer,” openly constituted themselves champions of the property owner against the propertyless and allegedly untaxed masses. They abolished large numbers of government offices, departments were cut to skeletal staffs, and some public services were simply dropped. One “Redeemer” governor considered public schools “a be paid for like any other luxury, by the people who wish their benefits.” Unlike the North, there was no tradition of public schools in the South; it was the Reconstruction governments that brought public schools to the South. The Northern capitalist understood the greater productivity of an educated workforce. The development of the South was to be hindered by high rates of illiteracy. Here are a few examples of how the South’s high illiteracy rate hindered development:

• Deposit banking developed slowly among a population that could not read or write checks;

• The normal business of lawyers and bankers requiring the use of documentation was hindered among the population that could not read or prepare these documents;

• Modern agriculture depended upon many things, including the learning of agricultural colleges; pamphlets and books were of no use among a population that could not read.

The Republican Reconstruction governments and the Democratic “Redeemer” governments were both bourgeois governments, but their particular policies had concrete implications for the historic development of this country and its various regions.

The Emergence of the Working Class

In “Socialist Agitation Among Farmers in America” (1902), German Social Democratic leader Karl Kautsky made this observation:

“Even when a permanent proletariat arose, in which born Americans began to take their places by the side of foreign immigrants and Negroes, the Anglo-Saxons still remained ‘practical politicians.’ They did, indeed, begin to understand that they must go into politics for themselves, but like true practical politicians, they demanded that it should be a shortsighted policy which should take heed only of the moment and regard it more practical to run after a bourgeois swindler who promises real successes for tomorrow, instead of standing by a party of their own class which is honest enough to confess that it has nothing but struggles and sacrifices in store for the next future, and which declares it to be foolish to expect to reap immediately after sowing.

“If at any time Anglo-American workingmen had come to the conclusion that they must keep clear of the old capitalist parties, then this ill-starred ‘practical’ sense would mislead them into founding a party on some single issue, which was supposed to cure at once all evils, free silver, single tax, or the like. But when this agitation did not bring any immediate success, then the masses soon tired of it, and the movement which had grown up over night collapsed quickly. Only the workingmen of German origin kept a Socialist movement alive among their countrymen. However, such a movement of immigrants could never hope to become a serious political factor. And as this emigration from Germany decreased considerably…and as the Germans in America soon became anglicized, this German Socialist propaganda not only made no progress, but actually fell off after a certain time.”

These “single issues” to “cure at once all evils” were Greenbackism, free silver, bimetalism and the single tax, all of which reflected the pressure of the farm on the worker. I am not an economist so I will give you what I understand to be the broad strokes of these single issues. It was a question of cheap money versus the gold standard. After the Civil War, the federal government was $1.5 billion in debt; this was mostly held in war bonds. These war bonds when due were payable in gold dollars. To conduct the Civil War the federal government for the first time began printing paper money. What Grant meant by “balancing the budget” was reducing the amount of paper money in circulation.

The U.S., however, was actually on two standards—gold and silver. The ruling class favored the European gold standard and felt the necessity to adopt this standard as the one-and-only. The American farmer had already been brought into the capitalist world market where prices were established. It was to the advantage of the farmer to pay his debts with cheap currency—paper and silver. While the European and U.S. ruling classes conducted their business on the gold standard, much of the colonial world was on a silver standard. This raised the costs of maintaining military forces abroad. At home and abroad the U.S. sought to eliminate the use of the silver standard.

At the same time, the American farmer and worker did have one common enemy, the railroads. The privately owned railroad was a powerful means of exploiting the farmer by the capitalist, using higher freight costs. The same railroad owners stood opposed to the railroad workers and the iron workers, the two most important branches of labor. But a labor-farmer alliance was not tenable given the campaign for the eight-hour day, which farmers necessarily opposed.

The Knights of Labor

In 1869, a secret labor organization called the “Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor” was founded by a handful of garment cutters in Philadelphia. The founding leader of the Knights of Labor was Uriah Stephens, a former abolitionist and Lincoln supporter. Early in the Civil War Stephens was described as “one of the first and foremost to urge upon the Lincoln administration the securing of the right to the soil for the liberated freedman of the south” (quoted in Sidney H. Kessler, “The Organization of Negroes in the Knights of Labor,” The Journal of Negro History [July 1952]). He later left the Republican Party when it became clearly dominated by big capitalists.

The organization Stephens helped to found developed into the first real national trade union and a genuine product of the American workers, encompassing a broad swath of the American working class. The Knights of Labor stood on a modest program. In their own words, they meant “no antagonism to capital.” They sought to “create a healthy public opinion on the subject of labor” and aimed to achieve “a full just share of the values or capital it [labor] has created.” The bourgeois press hysterically denounced the Knights of Labor as a “dangerous underground political organization.” All trade unions were secret organizations by necessity. When the Knights of Labor ended their status as a secret trade union in 1881, their membership experienced steady growth. In 1885 the Knights of Labor won a strike against Jay Gould’s Southwest Railway conglomerate. After this victory the Knights of Labor membership mushroomed.

The motto of the Knights of Labor was “an injury to one is the concern of all.” This is the origin of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” The Knights of Labor drew into their ranks tens of thousands of workers who had never been organized before—men and women, black and white, foreign-born and native-born. The Knights of Labor was not organized on an industrial but on a geographical basis, in the form of assemblies. Each assembly was independently chartered and given a number. All assembly halls featured a reading room with a recommended list of readings. Organizers were appointed by the Grand Master Workman, Terence Powderly, who had superseded the founding leadership by the 1880s.

The Knights of Labor established roots in the South, recruiting blacks and whites alike, skilled labor and unskilled labor. Local assemblies were sometimes integrated and other times segregated, by no particular plan. Some assemblies in the South began as all-black and gradually recruited white members. The biggest demand of the black workers in the Knights of Labor was for black organizers. As one letter writer wrote, “Down in this country the wt. [white] people have set a decoy and fooled the colored people so much it is simply impossible for a wt. organizer to orgze them” (The Journal of Negro History [January 1968]). Nonetheless, Powderly appointed very few black organizers. In spite of this, blacks continued to join the Knights of Labor even after it entered a period of decline.

The Knights of Labor, like other labor organizations in the decades after the Civil War, practiced the reactionary exclusion of Chinese workers. In spite of this ban there were attempts to organize Chinese assemblies of the Knights of Labor in New York and Philadelphia. This pitted the General Executive Board, which refused to grant charters to these assemblies, against local organizers (among whom blacks were represented). Anti-Chinese bigotry was centered in California, where Chinese immigrants made up some 25 percent of the wage workers in the early 1870s. This reactionary ban was a litmus test of labor leadership. It was the IWW that later brought industrial unionism to the American working class, welcoming into its ranks all workers regardless of race.

Powderly, an Irish nationalist, was rumored to have considered petitioning the Pope for his blessing. This was his answer to the reign of terror that fell upon the labor movement after the Haymarket bombing in Chicago in 1886, when working-class leaders, mainly anarchists, were framed up and sentenced to die. Of course, such an effort to gain the blessing of the church aroused distrust among the Protestant members—many of the Knights of Labor leadership were Irish and the pressure of the Catholic church was felt. Powderly was an anti-communist who believed the anarchists were guilty in the Haymarket bombing. But given the enormous support for the Haymarket men among the Knights of Labor workers, it was impossible to openly denounce the anarchists. Powderly fought to keep politics out of the Knights of Labor. But this was difficult as all political currents within the workers movement found expression within the organization.

Henry George was the leader of the United Labor Party and author of a popular book titled Progress and Poverty (1879), a central tenet of which was the “single tax.” The single tax was a tax on land values, to replace all other taxes. As a candidate for New York City mayor in 1886, George outpolled Republican Teddy Roosevelt and likely the Democratic candidate as well. But by the tried-and-true American method of election fraud, he was denied his victory.

Henry George also joined the Knights of Labor. This was the beginning of an uneasy alliance between George and Powderly. Both leaders were anti-communists and believed that the Haymarket martyrs were guilty. But George favored clemency for the convicted Haymarket men, while Powderly opposed even this call. Haymarket martyr Albert Parsons was expelled from the Knights of Labor, and the Knights of Labor General Executive Board refused to endorse the first May Day general strike. This boycott was successful, except in Chicago where the Knights of Labor ranks joined the strike. The differences between George and Powderly were strictly within the bounds of capitalist politics—protectionism (Powderly) or free trade (George). The fortunes of the United Labor Party began to wane and George reversed himself, making a public statement asserting that the violence each Haymarket man had espoused made him guilty of conspiracy under Illinois law. He implied that even if none of them had thrown the bomb, their fates were the logical outcome of their dangerous ideals. In 1887, all United Labor Party members holding dual membership in the Socialist Labor Party (SLP) were expelled.

The SLP was the organization of the German socialists in the U.S. to whom both Kautsky and Engels had addressed their remarks. A section of the Socialist Labor Party was to go on to play an important role in the founding of both the American Socialist Party and the IWW later on. Throughout the period that we are discussing the SLP fought to carry out a revolutionary perspective. They stood out as a principled party among labor opportunists of all sorts.


By 1890 two organizations that stood outside the labor movement claimed over three million members: the National Farmers’ Alliance and Industrial Union, based in the South and West, and the Farmers’ Alliance, based in the North. In 1892 the two organizations held a joint convention, nominated a candidate for president, and adopted the name of “People’s Party,” from which they became known as Populists. They declared that “the newspapers are largely subsidized or muzzled; public opinion silenced; business prostrate; our homes covered with mortgages; and the land concentrating in the hands of capitalists.... The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few.”

Having delivered this sweeping indictment, the Populists put forward their remedies: the free coinage of silver, a graduated income tax, postal savings banks and government ownership of railways and telegraphs. At the same time, they called for the popular election of Senators—who at that time were appointed by state legislatures—but not the president, who to this day is still elected by the Electoral College. They also condemned the use of federal troops in labor disputes. On this platform, the Populists polled over a million votes in the 1892 elections, captured 22 presidential electors and sent a powerful delegation to Congress.

In 1893 the American capitalist economy was shaken by a periodic crisis: banks and businesses went into bankruptcy; factory production came to a halt; the unemployed searched for work that did not exist; and the prices of farm products (including cotton) fell disastrously. These conditions sent Populism on the march, with the working class being pulled behind the petty bourgeoisie.

Shaken by economic fluctuations, workers and farmers protested the economic inequalities of the capitalist order, and they found common ground in this multi-class populist movement. They protested the domination and outright corruption of the big financial and industrial interests that controlled the economy and the party machines of both Republicans and Democrats. Looking back at an America that used to be, they protested the inevitable centralization of the economy and state power in the hands of the capitalists. They voiced a theme that we still hear today: share the wealth more fairly and improve the living standards of the masses. They sought to remove the government from the hands of the big capitalists and put it in the hands of the people. They sought to stop imperialist war and keep the nation at peace. What they won fell well short of these objectives. But they did eventually win some reforms: recall of elected officials, direct election of U.S. Senators, the graduated income tax, gains in social welfare, prison reform, child labor legislation and many of the public commissions that regulate capitalist business practices.

The support for the People’s Party crossed not only the class line but also the race line. The People’s Party was crushed by heavy repression that included the utilization of vicious anti-black racism. But what finally ended and destroyed the People’s Party as a national party was the co-optation of its forces into the Democratic Party. Democrat William Jennings Bryan voiced their sentiments in his “Cross of Gold” speech at the Democratic Convention in 1896, invoking the image of Christ on the cross: “You shall not press upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” He declared that their cause “was as holy as the cause of liberty—the cause of humanity.” He exclaimed that the contest was between the idle holders of capital and the toiling millions. Then he named those for whom he claimed to speak: the wage-earner, the country lawyer, the small merchant, the farmer and the miner.

The Democratic Party’s appeal to labor voiced by Bryan in his “crown of thorns” speech was reinforced in its radical-sounding platform in 1896. “As labor creates the wealth of the country,” ran one plank, “we demand the passage of such laws as may be necessary to protect it in all its rights.” Referring to the 1894 Pullman strike, led by railway workers union leader Eugene Debs, the platform denounced “arbitrary interference by federal authorities in local affairs as a violation of the Constitution of the United States and a crime against free institutions.” A special objection was lodged against “government by injunction as a new and highly dangerous form of oppression by which federal judges, in contempt of the laws of states and rights of citizens, become at once legislators, judges, and executioners.” The remedy advanced was a federal law assuring trial by jury in all cases of contempt in labor disputes.

Early American Communist leader and founding Trotskyist James P. Cannon made the following observations regarding the founding of the American Socialist Party, a party that in part arose out of the People’s Party. In an article in International Socialist Review (Winter 1960), “American Radicalism: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” Cannon wrote, “The distinctive factor which made possible the development of this new socialist movement at that time was the turn of a number of influential individuals and groups away from the policy of class collaboration in politics to the policy of independent socialist action.” Eugene Debs and others who promoted the formation of the Socialist Party in 1901 had supported Bryan and the Democratic Party in 1896. Cannon went on to explain:

“The composition of the party was also unfavorable in some respects.... The Populist movement in the South was deflected into a reactionary channel. But there was another part of this Populist movement which was drawn into the Socialist party. The Socialist party in many parts of the country consisted of a very large percentage of former Populists. The composition of its membership in the western part of the country was very heavily weighted on the side of the petty bourgeoisie in the cities and in the countryside. At one time the largest single state membership of the Socialist party, and, if I’m not mistaken, the largest socialist vote proportionally, was in the state of Oklahoma. In the other western agrarian states also the hard-pressed tenant and mortgaged farmers and desperate petty bourgeoisie streamed into the Socialist party from the Populist movement and swelled its ranks. So the class composition of the party was not as proletarian as an ideal Socialist movement should be.”

This unfavorable class composition of the Socialist Party, the weakness of the trade unions, the mistakes of the militant IWW and the treachery of labor reformism prepared the way for the decline of the American labor movement’s impulse to class struggle. What we see here are the historical roots of American labor and the black struggle. Much has, in fact, changed, but evidence of these roots can still be seen today.

*Canada: Reformists and the Quebec National Question-A Guest Commentary

Click on title to link to guest commentary from the pages of "Workers Vanguard", September 25, 2009.regarding the struggle for independence in Quebec. This, today,as I have mentioned before on this question, is basically my position. It is not clear to me, However, other than some anecdotal evidence from some local sources who keep up with events back home in Quebec, about the heat of the question compared with a decade or so ago when it was definitely a "hot button" question. In any case, the article is very polemical and takes a number of other left organizations to task for their wishy-washy (at best) positions. Comment is therefore expected and welcome.

*From The Pages Of “Workers Vanguard”-Trotskyists and the Second World War

Markin comment:

As almost always these historical articles and polemics are purposefully helpful to clarify the issues in the struggle against world imperialism, particularly the “monster” here in America.

Workers Vanguard No. 943
25 September 2009

Trotskyists and the Second World War

(Quote of the Week)

Bourgeois scribblers and reformist swindlers falsely assert that the Second World War, which began in September 1939, was a battle for “democracy against fascism.” In fact, World War II was driven by the same underlying economic impulse as the First World War: the struggle among the imperialist powers to seize new arenas of exploitation around the planet and to defend their existing ones. Against the tide of reactionary patriotism, Trotskyists carried out their internationalist duty to rally the proletariat in its own class interests: standing for the unconditional military defense of the Soviet Union, a workers state despite its Stalinist degeneration, and opposing all the imperialist combatants in that carnage—a position for which U.S. Trotskyists were imprisoned in 1941. We print below excerpts from a resolution adopted by the Eleventh Convention of the American Trotskyist movement in November 1944 that was originally printed in Fourth International, published by the then-revolutionary Socialist Workers Party.

When the United States entered the second World War, Roosevelt, chief spokesman of American capitalism proclaimed that this war was a crusade for democracy, for the “Four Freedoms,” for the destruction of fascism and totalitarianism. The labor bureaucrats, recruiting sergeants for the war machine, volunteered their services to sell the war as a conflict between “free labor” and “slave labor.”

After three years of America’s participation in the war, the demagogic slogans under which the people were dragooned into the slaughter have been stripped bare. Democracy and freedom are among the first casualties of the war. The slogans of “national unity” and “equality of sacrifice” are a snare. The pledges to take the profits out of war to prevent a new crop of wartime millionaires, are proved a monstrous hoax.

The capitalist government logically began its reactionary campaign by striking its first blows at the class-conscious vanguard of the American working class. On the very day war was declared, December 8, 1941, sentence was passed on the leaders of the Socialist Workers Party. They were convicted under the anti-labor Smith “Gag” Act for their uncompromising and outspoken opposition to the war program and because of their firm adherence to the principles of revolutionary Socialism. The conviction and imprisonment of the 18 was accompanied by a whole series of measures designed to throttle the unions and paralyze labor’s resistance to the onslaught of Big Business.

The right to strike, basic to the freedom of the labor movement, has been virtually outlawed. Workers have been frozen to their jobs at frozen wages while the cost of living continues to rise. A “modified” version of forced labor has been imposed by executive decree. An increasing weight of taxes is being saddled on those least able to pay while corporation profits soar to the highest levels in history.

The war immediately strengthened the most reactionary groups and institutions. The surge of reaction, especially the persecution of minorities and the spread of race-hatred, is a wartime continuation of tendencies inherent in capitalist decay. Brutal discrimination and humiliating segregation of the Negro people in the armed forces as well as in civilian life reduce the slogans of “democracy and freedom” to a hideous mockery for 13-million American citizens. The wave of anti-Semitism unloosed by capitalist reaction has already risen to alarming proportions. Jim Crowism and anti-Semitism march hand in hand with the assault against the organizations of the working class. This is the reality behind the demagogic facade of the “Four Freedoms.”

Prior to America’s entry into the war, this reactionary trend was analyzed and forecast in the Manifesto of the Fourth International on The Imperialist War and the Proletarian Revolution which stated:

“Seeking to gain the advantages of a totalitarian regime, the imperialist democracies launch their own defense with a redoubled drive against the working class and the persecution of revolutionary organizations. The war danger and now the war itself is utilized by them first and foremost to crush internal enemies. The bourgeoisie invariably and unswervingly follows the rule: ‘The main enemy is in one’s own country’.”

—“The U.S. and the Second World War,” Fourth International (January 1945)

***Writer’s Corner- The Avatar Of American Letter, Mark Twain

Click On Title To Link To PBS's Web Page For Ken Burns' "Mark Twain" documentary.

DVD Review

Mark Twain, a film documentary directed by Ken Burns, PBS, Florentine Productions, 2000

No, this will not be a paean to the `transformative' nature of reading Samuel Clemens' (hereafter Mark Twain) seminal works, "Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer" in childhood. I spend no long nights reading his works under a blanket, flashlight at the ready, until I fell asleep exhausted. (I did do that form of reading but not for Mr. Twain's work.) I, frankly, could not relate to the characters and the dialogue that seemed rather stilted (although I would not have known enough to call it that then). I do admit to having built a raft to try to `escape', along with my brothers, from some unfair sentence imposed my parents for some childhood transgression. But that can hardly be lain at Mr. Twain's door.

Nor will this review be a homage to Twain's treasure chest of humor and witty sayings that are sprinkled through out this documentary, and that have become part of the common language (and were, in the old days, very quotable newspaper filler). This film only reinforced the notion, other than the famous ditty about his response to the premature announcement of his death and his comment about San Francisco in August, that I did not find his humor funny. That said, after viewing this fine almost four hour Ken Burns PBS documentary I will admit to an on-going curiosity about this, arguably, first great modern American writer. Hey, I said Mark Twain didn't "speak" to me. I know that he is a great writer, and I think I sensed that notion even as a kid.

Ken Burns is probably the latter day master of the educational film documentary, most famously, and justly so, from the time of his ten-part PBS "Civil War" epic that I can still take in with my mind's eye. To a lesser degree, but with the same close attention to detail, a fine eye for selecting just the right photograph to make his point and appropriate musical scores in the background (including many variations of Stephan Foster songs that give a feel to the "gilded age" in which Twain lived and to which he added his own imprint).

Here Burns goes through the obligatory life of the author, starting from the rough and tumble days in Missouri and on the Mississippi River, on through to the fits and starts of finding a niche for himself (and a job) in the American literary market to success, fleeting as that was at times, and the fame, fortune, and in the end misfortune that went with that final acknowledgement that he was the premier literary man and storyteller of his times. The heart of this exploration of Twain's life, and what made it intriguing for a skeptical non-literary man like me was the way in which Twain was portrayed as a representative man of his age. That included both in his appetites for success, financial and otherwise, and to be, and be seen, as a successful product of the rough and tumble democratic American social system of the time. No small part of that persona is attributed to his wife and family that seemed, through thick and thin, hard times and good, to be his anchor. Not every successful writer has had that stable foundation but Twain literally thrived on it.

This film spend some time on Twain's literary production, his methods of work, his witticisms and his successful career as a public storyteller. I need not detail that information here. I would only say this-those who argue that Twain was first great American writer certainly have the best of the argument. In retrospect I can see where my own favorite from the 19th century, Nathaniel Hawthorne, really was not writing for the great democratic masses beginning their long search for some cultural expression to which they could relate. Twain, for literary and financial reasons, was trying to reach that audience.

Finally, and here is where Mark Twain gets high marks from this reviewer, as the documentary pointedly highlights on many ocassions. Twain positioned himself as a truth-telling about the inequities of the world, the absurdities of racism and its cultural expressions and about the foolhardiness of the upcoming rise of the American empire that he was, in the end, helpless to stop. That he did so while feting kings and queens, the rich and famous and liking such activities points out the contradictions of his life as a man. A contradiction that more than one American would-be radical had faced unsuccessfully. But here is a home truth. We can always use an extra truth-teller or two, a rather rare commodity in any age. We can sort out Twain's contradictions from there. Twain devotee, or not, this documentary is worth four hours of your time.

*A Short Note On The Question Of The Politics Of “To The Streets”

Click on title to link to my blog entry, dated September 21, 2009, concerning the latest talk of of American Afghan troop escalations by chief commander there, General Stanley McChrystal. The Markin commentary there is an example of my "to the streets" perspective.

Markin commentary:

Of late I have been on something of a tear concerning the need for us, that is leftists, labor militants, radicals and the odd, assorted left liberal, to get back on to the streets in opposition to various policies of the Obama administration, especially of the probably endless future troop escalations in Afghanistan(only limited by the shrinking supply of cannon fodder, mainly our working class and minority youth) and the insidious immigration policy of en mass deportations of ‘’illegal’ immigrants that has put the wretched Bush Administration policy in the shade. In response to an inquiry in this space- NO, I do not have a “street” fetish political deviation. Hear me out.

Underlying my political perspective in the various commentaries on “to the streets” politics has been the understanding that we left militants do not, as a practical matter, have very much leverage today, over the political agenda in America. Moreover, Obama, for the most part, still enjoys a “honeymoon" period of unknown duration with the mass of people that we want to get to- labor militants, minority activists, and various other left-leaning constituencies. I have also noted that the Afghan troop escalation question is a wedge that we can use to pry those "folk" away from the Democratic Party. That is the simple politics of my latest my propaganda and agititional proposals.

I pose the question this way to those who offer another perspective. What is it? What is your alternative? Reliance on that slim, very slim parliamentary formal, somewhat half-hearted anti-war opposition? The labor bureaucracy? The “ghost” of Ted Kennedy? You get my drift. Furthermore, that parliamentary opposition to the February Obama Afghan troop escalation while heartening, as any objectively anti-war action is, was very narrow, very narrow indeed. On the real issue, the funding for Afghanistan (and Iraq) there was a very small left Democratic group of Congressional figures who voted the straight up NO vote required on that bill.

And that sad reality points to part of our political problem here in America. We have no independent working class party, we have no worker party representatives to act as “tribunes of the people” on our behalf in the halls of Congress, we, if we are principled, moreover, do not want a workers party executive running this imperialist show so what we have, or don’t have, will be determined by those mean downtown city streets. I will add, under a theme that I have used repeatedly before, that “those streets are not for dreaming now”. But with the hell to come over Afghanistan and other issues we better be there. And this slogan, above all, should be emblazoned on our banners- “Obama- Immediate Unconditional Withdrawal of All U.S./Allied Troops From Afghanistan (and Iraq).

Note: I have railed, endlessly, about the limits of “peace crawl” demonstrations in stopping imperialist war, at the time of Vietnam and Iraq (I&II), that are the total sum of the strategic perspectives of many leftists and left organizations. I stand by those prior polemics, as a general proposition. The point is that politics, including revolutionary politics, has a lot to do with timing. The timing now calls for a turn to the streets. We will yell at the “peace crawl” strategy and those who endlessly advocate it when those who advocate the strategy are an an obstruction to stronger actions. For now –“To The Streets”

Thursday, September 24, 2009

From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-"Silkwood"-A Film Review

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for Karen Silkwood

Markin comment:

The following is an article from the Spring 1984 issue of "Women and Revolution" that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of "Women and Revolution" during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.


Silkwood. Directed by Mike Nichols. Written by
Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen. ABC Motion Pictures.
A Twentieth Century-Fox release, 1984.

By Amy Rath

The long-standing controversy over the death of Karen Silkwood is being debated yet again, as the release of the movie Silkwood brings the case into the public eye. Silkwood has long been embraced by feminist and ecology groups as a heroine and martyr to the atomic power industry—the "no-nuke" Norma Rae; many believe she was deliberately poisoned with radioactive material and murdered to shut her up. Now, the movie, starring Meryl Streep and directed by Mike Nichols, has been seized upon by such bourgeois mouthpieces as the New York Times and the Washington Post to propagandize for the nuclear energy industry and smear her name.

"Fact and Legend Clash in "Silkwood'," cired the Times' science writer William J. broad, masquerading as a movie critic in the Sunday Arts and Leisure section. "Chicanery," "meretricious," "a perversion of the reporter's craft," blasts a Times (25 December 1983) editorial. That same day the Washington Post printed a piece by one Nick Thimmesch, a free-lance journalist with ties to Silkwood's employer, the Kerr-McGee corporation, charging "glaring discrepancies between the known record and the film's representations."

These are lies. In fact, Silkwood sticks remarkably close to the documentary record. If anything, it is surprisingly devoid of politics for such an alleged propaganda tract. Frankly, it's a little dull. It includes a lot of material (some of it made up, presumably for dramatic interest) about Karen Silkwood's unremarkable personal life. Like most people, she had problems with her lovers and roommates, didn't get along with her ex-spouse, was often troubled, and drank and took drugs. The bulk of the movie is a retelling of the last few weeks of her life, and raises more questions than it answers. How were Karen Silkwood's body and home contaminated with plutonium? Was Kerr-McGee deliberately covering up faulty fuel rods, which could lead to a disastrous accident at the breeder-reactor in Washington state where the rods were to be shipped? What happened on that Oklahoma highway on 13 November 1974, when Karen Silkwood was killed in a car crash, en route to an interview with a New York Times reporter?

The ending of the movie shows Silkwood blinded by the headlights of a truck on the highway, then her mangled body and car, seeming to imply that she was run off the road, as indeed independent investigators have concluded from an examination of her car and the tire tracks on the road and grass. Then a written message on the screen reports that Oklahoma police ruled her death a one-car accident and found traces of methaqualone (Quaalude) and alcohol in her blood¬stream. The conclusion is left for the viewer to decide We may never know the answers to these questions. As we noted in Workers Vanguard (No. 146,25 February 1977) in an article titled "Conspiracy and Cover-Up in Atomic Industry: FBI Drops Inquiry in Karen Silkwood Death":

"The abrupt cancellation of the second Congressional investigation into FBI handling of the case of Karen Silkwood has added to a widespread belief that the facts surrounding the death of the young trade unionist two years ago are being covered up at the highest levels of industry and government.

"...her documentation of company negligence and falsification of safety records was damning to powerful interests and as long as the bourgeois courts and commissions are running the investigations of her death, the only results will be successive cover-ups of the cover-ups."

In the fall of 1974 Karen Silkwood had been working for two years as a laboratory technician at the Cimarron, Oklahoma plutonium processing facility owned by Kerr-McGee, one of the largest energy conglomerates in the U.S. She became interested in health and safety issues at the plant. She brought her worries to the union, the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers (OCAW), and was elected as a union safety inspector, the movie makes this appear to be her first interest in the union. In fact, she had been one of the few die-hards in a defeated strike the previous year; she never crossed the picket line and she remained in the union even when its membership went down to 20. Along with fellow unionists, she traveled to union headquarters in Washington, D.C., where officials assigned her to gather documentation of company cover-ups of faulty fuel rods, as well as other safety violations.

Early in November 1974, Silkwood was repeatedly contaminated with plutonium, one of the deadliest materials known to man, in circumstances which have never been fully explained. In the Hollywood movie Meryl Streep ends up with raw pink patches over her face from decontamination scrubdowns. Her panicked expression when she knows she has to face a second one imparts the horror of it. Yet it is only a pale image of the reality. Silkwood's first scrubdown was with Tide and Clorox; the two others which, occurred over the next two days employed a sandpaper-like paste of potassium permanganate and sodium bisulfate. De¬spite this chemical torture (try scrubbing yourself with Ajax sometime), her skin still registered high levels of radiation. Worse yet, three days of nasal smears (to monitor inhaled radioactive contamination) increased to over 40,000 disintegrations per minute (dpm)— normal background radiation from cosmic rays and naturally occurring isotopes is roughly 30 dpm.

Silkwood's house was contaminated as well; it was stripped and her belongings were sealed and buried— one scene poignantly portrayed in the movie. An examination conducted at the medical facility at Los Alamos showed that she had received internal contami¬nation possibly as high as 24 nanocuries of plutonium (about 50,000 dpm). The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC, now Nuclear Regulatory Commission) has set a lifetime limit of 16 nanocuries; many specialists consider this hundreds of times too high. The fact is that plutonium is an extremely potent carcinogen, inhalation of which is virtually certain to induce lung cancer at levels where other radioactive nuclides can be tolerat¬ed. And Silkwood was particularly susceptible—she was female, had lung problems (asthma) and was small, under 100 pounds. In short, the plutonium she received chained her to cancer and a painful, slow death.

It is for this contamination, which an Oklahoma jury ruled the responsibility of Kerr-McGee, that $10.5 million in punitive damages was assessed against the company for the Silkwood estate. On January 11 the Supreme Court ruled the court had a legitimate right to assess this penalty; however, the case has been returned to a Jower court where Kerr-McGee may challenge the award on new grounds. Kerr-McGee has held that the contamination was "by her own hand," as a plot to discredit the company, a contention repeated by the New York Times in its editorial, which doesn't even mention that a jury had ruled this imputation not proved.

Since then, theories about Silkwood's contamination have included such slanderous tales as that put forth by alleged FBI informer Jacque Srouji, who claimed that Silkwood was deliberately contaminated by the union, to create a martyr. This is a telling indication of how far the capitalists will go to discredit the only thing that stands between the workers and total disregard for any safety. In the movie the International union representatives are made to appear as a bunch of slick bureaucrats who push Silkwood way out front without anywhere near sufficient backup. Certainly the OCAW is as craven before the capitalists as any other union in the U.S. But it has fought, however partially, for safer conditions for the workers it represents.

In the movie, Silkwood posits that someone purposely contaminated her urine-specimen jar with plutonium while it was in her locker room, a jar she later accidentally broke in her bathroom at home. This explanation is plausible, but we can't know for certain. We do know that Silkwood had been a straight A student in school, the only girl in her high school chemistry class, a member of the National Honor Society. She had studied medical technology. She knew that tampering with plutonium was death. The idea that she would deliberately contaminate herself could originate only in the sick and vicious minds of a profit-mad industry like Kerr-McGee.

Even the New York Times had to admit that Kerr-McGee was "a hellish place to work." Between 1970 and 1974 there were 574 reported exposures to plutonium. Dr. Karl Morgan, formerly a health physicist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, testified at a Congressional investigation that he had never seen a facility so poorly run. The plant was constructed in a tornado alley; the tornado warnings were so frequent that the company never bothered to remove the plutonium to a safe place. Yet the hazards of the plant get barely a nod in the film. Only one other instance of contamination is shown, Silkwood's friend Thelma. But when Silkwood is shown leaving off her urine sample at the lab for analysis, the audience sees many such samples lined up, thus many more contaminations.

Yes, nuclear power is dangerous. An accident such as almost happened at Three Mile Island could kill thousands of people. But the only "solution" to this problem provided by the movie Silkwood—and shared in real life by the OCAW union tops—is, ironically enough, the New York Times! Get the Times to publish the damning evidence, and the AEC will make Kerr-McGee straighten things out. The crusading press will save America by publicly exposing wrong, and the government will step in and perform justice. Sure. This is a liberal pipedream: the AEC serves the interests of power conglomerates like Kerr-McGee, and the New York Times worships money, not justice.

The "no-nukers" hail the name of Silkwood in their campaign to abolish nuclear power. But the problem is that you have to replace it with something, and in this capitalist society there is no such thing as a danger-free source of energy. For generations workers have died miserably in coal mines and suffocated to death with black lung disease. Like any technology, nuclear power can be used and abused. It is not so much a question of a special technology, but the irrationality of the capitalist economy which makes all industry in the U.S., including the nuclear industry, hazardous. Meanwhile, Ronald Reagan threatens to blow up the world hundreds of times over to save American profits. Over 90 percent of the nuclear waste in this country is military. And that's nothing compared to the global nuclear holocaust plotted in the Pentagon. That is the real danger of nuclear power.

The no-nuke movement is part of a middle-class ecological concern that the disastrous conditions which workers have faced for generations might spread to the suburbs, perhaps even onto a college campus. Anti-nuke groups actively publicize and collect funds for the Silkwood lawsuit but not a peep is heard in protest against the murder of Gregory Goobic during a two-week strike by OCAW Local 1-326 in Rodeo, California last January. Goobic, a 20-year-old union member, was run down by a scab truck while picketing a Union 76 oil refinery. A company boss, with arms folded, stood in the dead striker's blood as cops kept the other picketers away. The capitalists and their government are not interested in the lives of their employees, particularly when adequate wages, work¬ing conditions and safety precautions stand in the way of profits. Obviously one thing militants in unions such as OCAW must do is fight for safety committees with the power to close down plants. But equally necessarily is the struggle to replace the pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy with a leadership that will break with both bourgeois parties and build a workers party. The world will be safe to live in when the ruling class has been expropriated by a workers government that runs society for the benefit of all, not the profits of a few.

Silkwood has been denounced by corporate spokesmen at the New York Times for portraying Karen Silkwood as "a nuclear Joan of Arc" when she was really "a victim of her own infatuation with drugs"; it has been denounced by anti-nuke fan Anna Mayo of the Village Voice for portraying her as a dope-smoking "bad girl" when she was really "beloved daughter, sister, friend, union martyr and heroine of the largest, most viable grass-roots force in the U.S. and Western Europe, the anti-nuclear movement."

Actually, Karen Silkwood was simply a union militant fighting the best she could for a better life for herself and her coworkers against one of the least safe, most powerful, biggest price-gouging capitalist enterprises in the country. And we think the movie did a nice job showing it."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

*Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By-Phil Och's "Hazard,Kentucky"

Click on the title to link to a site to hear Phil Och's Hazard, Kentucky.

In this series, presented under the headline “Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By”, I will post some songs that I think will help us get through the “dog days” of the struggle for our communist future. I do not vouch for the political thrust of the songs; for the most part they are done by pacifists, social democrats, hell, even just plain old ordinary democrats. And, occasionally, a communist, although hard communist musicians have historically been scarce on the ground. Thus, here we have a regular "popular front" on the music scene. While this would not be acceptable for our political prospects, it will suffice for our purposes here. Markin.


Markin comment:

Of course this one has special meaning as my father was born and raised down in that country, coal country.

Hazard, Kentucky Lyrics
Artist(Band):Phil Ochs

Well, some people think that Unions are too strong,
Union leaders should go back where they belong;
But I wish that they could see a little more of poverty
And they might start to sing a different song.

Well, minin' is a hazard in Hazard, Kentucky,
And if you ain't minin' there,
Well, my friends, you're awful lucky,
'Cause if you don't get silicosis or pay that's just atrocious
You'll be screamin' for a Union that will care.

Well, let's look at old Kentucky for a while.
It's hard to find a miner who will smile.
Well, the Constitution's fine, but it's hard reading in the mines,
and when welfare stops, the trouble starts to pile.

Well, minin' is a hazard in Hazard, Kentucky,
And if you ain't minin' there,
Well, my friends, you're awful lucky,
'Cause if you don't get silicosis or pay that's just atrocious
You'll be screamin' for a Union that will care.

Well, the Depression was ended with the war,
But nobody told Kentucky, that is sure.
Some are living in a sewer while the jobs are getting fewer
But more coal is mined than ever was before.

Well, minin' is a hazard in Hazard, Kentucky,
And if you ain't minin' there,
Well, my friends, you're awful lucky,
'Cause if you don't get silicosis or pay that's just atrocious
You'll be screamin' for a Union that will care.

Well, the badge of Sheriff Combs always shines
And when duty calls he seldom ever whines.
Well, I don't like raisin' thunder, but it sort of makes you wonder
When he runs the law and also runs the mines.

Well, minin' is a hazard in Hazard, Kentucky,
And if you ain't minin' there,
Well, my friends, you're awful lucky,
'Cause if you don't get silicosis or pay that's just atrocious
You'll be screamin for a Union that will care.

Well, our standard of living is highest all around,
But our standard of giving is the lowest when you're down,
So give a yell and a whistle when they light that Union missile
And we'll lift our feet up off the ground.

Well, minin' is a hazard in Hazard, Kentucky,
And if you ain't minin' there,
Well, my friends, you're awful lucky,
'Cause if you don't get silicosis or pay that's just atrocious
You'll be screamin for a Union that will care.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

*The Echo Of Vietnam, The Echo Of Iraq, A Voice Of Afghanistan on Obama's War Policy- A Radio Discussion

Click on title to link to an interesting discussion on National Public Radio's (NPR)"On Point" talk show, September 21, 2009, hosted by Tom Ashbrook about General Stanley McChrystal's 'private' report, as summarized by Bob Woodward's story in the "Washington Post", asking for more troops in Afghanistan

Markin comment:

The guests included Daniel Ellsberg, a governmental opposition voice of the Vietnam era and 'leaker' of "The Pentagon Papers", Lawrence Wilkerson a severe governmental critical of the Bush II Iraq War while deputy to the State Department's Colin Powell, and George Packer of "The New Yorker" magazine and a knowledgeable source about the inner workings of the current American Afghan war policy. They painted a grim picture of the future, at best. That, however is not our problem. Our problem is to get people into the streets under the banner of -"Obama- Immediate Unconditional Withdrawal Of All U.S./Allied Troops From Afghanistan (And Iraq)!. The way things are quickly coming to a head we had better get to it fast.

*Our Tasks Today In Opposition To Obama's Afghan War Policy-To The Streets!

Click on title to link to my blog entry, dated September 3, 2009, that includes commentary on the "united front" and the Joseph Seymour article mentioned below. Forward in opposition to the warmonger-in-chief Barack Obama.

Recently I have been asked by a couple of young concerned people, by not means yet radicals, about the nature of the tasks for revolutionaries, radicals, and the occasional good-hearted left liberal in the fight against the Obama Afghan war policy in particular, and the struggle against capitalism and imperialism in general. Needless to say, today, September 22, 2009 the forces mentioned above are minuscule, as Obama and his operation still have plenty of political capital to expend with elements, like the youth, minorities and working people, that we need to reach in this country. That is not to my liking but it is reality, and should be recognized as such.

That said, I have staked out a position on the Obama Afghan war policy that is the only fairly clear cut pole of attraction that can be offered by leftists today to the emerging, if naïve, left opposition to the Obama administration. We, today, have no leverage on health care, the immigration question, the regulation of financial markets, the fight to save the working class from further immiseration, or a number of other issues that cry out for solution. I have bet, and that bet, unfortunately for the working class youth in the military that will be the cannon fodder for actions ahead, seems to be a winning one, that Obama has decided, as least in the foreign policy arena, to stake his place in history on a successful outcome in Afghanistan.

In the not distant past I posted an entry from the “Young Spartacus” pages of the Trotskyist newspaper, “Workers Vanguard” concerning the application of the “united front”.(See link) In that issue one of the leaders of the Spartacist League in the United States, Joseph Seymour, had an article, based on a talk he had given at an educational, about the history of the “united front” in the international Leninist movement, especially targeting the various controversies in the early Congresses of the Communist International (Comintern). The key point for today’s commentary is that the Comintern spent some time on just the kind of situation we are confronted with today, a lack of an independent working class party and the need to set out current tasks accordingly.

Seymour, in his talk, noted that the early Comintern directives indicated three separate and mainly distinct stages, for lack of a better word, of communist political work. They are: propaganda, which he encapsulated as presenting many complex ideas to a few people, basically cadre formation; agitation, where a few ideas are used to animate some mass action, basically struggling to win on a few demands; and, party formation, where the struggle for power is realistically placed on the agenda.

We are, and here I agree with Seymour, at that propaganda stage, for most of our day to day tasks. But here I want to make an exception for the Obama Afghan war policy because, frankly, it is our only serious leverage today to break people, particularly the young, from capitalist politics. Thus we need to fight to get back to the streets, where believe it or not, the issues of war and peace are ultimately decided. And emblazoned in bright red on those banners that we should fill the streets with- Obama- Immediate Unconditional Withdrawal Of All U.S./Allied Troops From Afghanistan (And Iraq Too)! That is the easy part. On the others, we shall see.

*Miss (Ms.) Rhythm Is In The House- The R&B Of Miss Ruth Brown

Click On Title To Link To YouTube’s Film Clip Of Ruth Brown Doing "Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean". Wow!

CD Review

Ruth Brown, Miss Rhythm (Greatest Hits And More), 2CD Set, Ruth Brown, Atlantic Records, 1989

Okay, I have spent a fair amount of time tracing the roots of rock and roll back to the early 1950s and the heyday of rhythm and blues. And of course part of that process required a look, a serious look, at the pivotal roles of the likes of black male R&B performers like Big Joe Turner, Ike Turner and Little Milton. Those are some of the key forces that drove the sound. Unlike the early blues, however, where black female singers dominated the charts and the flow of where the music was heading women were not as prominent in the link between R&B and the emergence of rock and rock as a national (and later international) musical genre. But they were there. And the black (and proud) female singer under review here, Ruth Brown, rightly known under the moniker "Miss Rhythm", was right there along with Dinah Washington and Lavern Baker to sing up a storm. Thanks, gals.

The name Ruth Brown has come up a number of times in this space when talking about 1950's blues, R&B and rock. However, those occasions have usually been as a "talking head" commentator in documentaries like Martin Scorsese's multi-part PBS blues series of 2003. And the tale Miss Brown had to tell about the background to her performing career was not pretty concerning the segregated dance halls, second-rate accommodations and other intolerable conditions that black musicians, great and small, male and female had to work under. Despite that, she still had a few crossover hits and got those white teenagers jumping. That doesn't make up for the indignities she suffered, nothing will, but she has to know that in her prime she had that thing- "Miss Rhythm, indeed!"

Some of this material on this 2CD set sounds as fresh today as when it was first recorded. Others, as is the nature of such compilations, are either gimmicky, second-rate or both. Here are some of the fresh sounds that highlight Miss Brown's talent; "So Long", "Be Anything", "5-10-15 Hours", "Daddy Daddy" and "Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean" (Wow, on this last one). From Disc One. From Disc Two; "Why Me', "This Little Girl's Gone Rocking", "Somebody Touch Me" and "Don't Deceive Me".

"This Little Girl's Gone Rockin'"

I wrote my mom a letter
And this is what I said

Well-a, well-a, well-a, well-a
I washed all the dishes
And I did a lot more
I even bought the dinner
At the grocery store

Now, Mom, you'll find
The key next door cause
This little girl's gone rocking

I left some biscuits for the pup
I put fresh water in his cup
And now I'm off
I'm gonna live it up cause
This little girl's gone rocking

Well, I'm be home about
Twelve tonight and not a
Minute, minute, minute later
Don't forget the front door lock
That's all for now
I'll see you later, mater

You'll find these things
That you wanted done
I'm off to meet that special one
Boy, oh, boy, will we have fun
Cause this little girl's gone rocking

Well, I'm be home about
Twelve tonight and not a
Minute, minute, minute later
Don't forget the front door lock
That's all for now
I'll see you later, mater

You'll find these things
That you wanted done
I'm off to meet that special one
Boy, oh, boy, will we have fun
Cause this little girl's gone rocking
Yeah, this little girl's gone rocking.....

"(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean"

Mama he treats your daughter mean
Mama he treats your daughter mean
Mama he treats your daughter mean
He's the meanest man I've ever seen

Mama he treats me badly
Makes me love him madly
Mama he takes my money
Makes me call him honey

Mama he can't be trusted
He makes me so disgusted
All of my friends they don't understand
What's the matter with this man

I tell you mama he treats your daughter mean
Mama he treats your daughter mean
Mama he treats your daughter mean
He's the meanest man I've ever seen

Mama this man is lazy
Almost drives me crazy
Mama he makes me squeeze him
Still my squeezes don't please him

Mama my heart is aching
I believe it's breaking
I've stood all that I can stand
What's the matter with this man?

I tell you Mama he treats your daughter mean
Mama he treats your daughter mean
Mama he treats your daughter mean
He's the meanest man I've ever seen

Monday, September 21, 2009

***Just An Old Country Boy- Bob Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline”

Click On Title To Link To Bob Dylan And Johnny Cash Doing Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country”

CD Review

Nashville Skyline, Bob Dylan, Columbia Records, 1969

In trying to get a handle on reviewing the long musical career of Bob Dylan I have worked under the general outline that his early work constituted one segment, his various ‘bootleg’ and ‘basement’ materials a second and the later post -1990s stuff a third. The album under review, “Nashville Skyline” falls under that first category. The work of this period is reviewed here under the sign of the following paragraph:

“In a review of Bob Dylan’s “The Freewheeling Bob Dylan” elsewhere in this space I noted:

In reviewing Bob Dylan’s 1965 classic album “Bringing All Back Home” (you know, the one where he went electric) I mentioned that it seemed hard to believe now that both as to the performer as well as to what was being attempted that anyone would take umbrage at a performer using an electric guitar to tell a folk story (or any story for that matter). I further pointed out that it is not necessary to go into all the details of what or what did not happen with Pete Seeger at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 to know that one should be glad, glad as hell, that Bob Dylan continued to listen to his own drummer and carry on a career based on electronic music.”

That said, originally I was not “glad as hell” when I first heard “Nashville Skyline”. I had no problem with Dylan protest songs like “Blowing In The Wind”. (In fact, those were the songs that first drew me to his work.) Nor did his turn to the electric guitar and to more personal, inward songs like “Desolation Row”. However, at the time of this album, I thought he had sold out to Nashville. Well, we are all wiser now and so that initial scorn has turned into at least partial delight.

A couple of things have contributed to that re-evaluation. First, seeing Dylan as part of the New York folk milieu of the early 1960’s hid the fact that he was raised in rural Hibbing, Minnesota (and influenced by the country sounds he picked up there in his youth). So while the Grand Ole Opry would be “square” to an urbanite like me it was the bill of fare for Dylan and others out there in the hinterlands. Secondly, it took me a long while to realize that Bob Dylan was deeply immersed and interested in knowing about and understanding the so-called American Songbook. If that is one’s frame of reference then country music has to be part of one’s musical repertoire. What really made the me shift though was hearing a ‘basement’ tape recording of Dylan in his hide out days in the mid-1960s (along with The Band) doing a hard to hear but incredible version of the country classic “I Forgot To Remember To Forget”. A lot of country artists cut their teeth on recording this one; virtually all have to take a back seat to Dylan on it. Including Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis. Who would have thought?

Needless to say the duo with Johnny Cash on Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country” stands up against the test of time. As do “Lay Lady Lay” and “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”. The others you can judge for yourselves.


Girl of the North Country Lyrics

Girl From the North Country

If you're travelin' in the north country fair,
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline,
Remember me to one who lives there.
For she once was a true love of mine.

If you go when the snowflakes storm,
When the rivers freeze and summer ends,
Please see she has a coat so warm,
To keep her from the howlin' winds.

Please see if her hair hangs long,
If it rolls and flows all down her breast.
Please see for me if her hair's hanging long,
For that's the way I remember her best.

I'm a-wonderin' if she remembers me at all.
Many times I've often prayed
In the darkness of my night,
In the brightness of my day.

So if you're travelin' the north country fair,
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline,
Remember me to one who lives there.
For she once was a true love of mine.