Saturday, October 12, 2013

***A Man Of Africa- The Music Of Tony Bird

I could find nothing on YouTube of Tony Bird doing anything but "Mango Time" although the incredible "Rift Valley" and my personal favorite "She Came From The Karoo" are better to the ear. Maybe someone else will have more luck.


Sorry Africa, Tony Bird, Rounder Records, 1990

Blues and rural folk music, historically important on the American music scene, have always been in debt, acknowledged or not, to the sounds of Africa. Without getting into a treatise here on that subject if one is interested in the blues then it should be one's business as it was for a poet like Langston Hughes, for example, to dig into the African roots. The same quest, obviously, needs to be taken for those in who live in an increasing urbanized Africa today. Tony Bird, the artist under review here, is a man of Africa and takes that identity seriously. Moreover he is a white man of Africa. And to top that off he is a white man, one of the few unfortunately when it counted, who stood up against colonialism, neo-colonialism, white racism and apartheid. Hats off.

Somehow, someway Tony Bird through that experience has incorporated the language, the sound and, most importantly, the spirit of Africa in his music. That feat is put on display front and center in this nicely done, although all too short, CD that shows that he has assimilated those traditions. Starting from the lushly poetic, upbeat "Rift Valley" through to his signature jump tune "Mango Time" through the politically-driven title track "Sorry Africa" his sense of his African homeland shines through. He is not as successful when he slows down the beat and gets caught up with trying to deliver a message on a track like "Athlone Place" but that is merely a minor flaw in this well-produced CD by Rounder Records. By the way, Tony, for your efforts against colonialism and white racism there is no need to say sorry. The new Africa that is struggling, painfully, fitfully and with reverses to be `aborning' should recognize that.

Note: I first heard Tony Bird many years ago on an old vinyl record album entitled "Tony Bird" where I was mesmerized by his "Rift Valley" and more so by "She Came From The Karoo". The reason that I am reviewing this 1990 CD is that I recently attended a Tony Bird concert where he did a few of the songs from that old album. I make the same comment about that performance as I do about this CD. He does his Africa-centered songs as lustily and with the verve of twenty years ago, and still is as mesmerizing. His `message' songs, none of them included here, are more uneven. "New Jerusalem' is very powerful (if a little long) concerning the need for some kind of just settlement to the Palestinian question. However, "Mr. Meanie" a parable about the Bush years, "Aint't Nobody's Business Who You Love" about the varieties of possibilities inherent in the love experience and "Well Done, America", his Africa tribute to the election of Barack Obama as the first black American president were less so. Still, if you get a chance, he is well worth seeing when he hits his stride.
***From The Archives (2009)The Duke Is Rockin’ His Castle- In Honor Of The 110th Birthday Anniversary Of Duke Ellington

A YouTube Film Clip Of Duke Ellington And His Band Performing "Mood Indigo"

CD Review

In Honor Of The 110th Birthday Anniversary Of Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington: The Blanton-Webster Band, 1940-42, Bluebird, 1986

Those who follow the reviews in this space may have read a response to a commenter that I wrote recently in reviewing John Cohen’s (from the old folk group The New Lost City Ramblers) “There Is No Eye: Music For Photographs” CD. That CD contained many country blues, urban folk, city blues and rural mountain musical treats (as well as a little tribute to the “beats” of the 1950’s). The gist of my comment was an attempt to draw a connection between my leftist sympathies and the search for American roots music that has driven many of my reviews lately. That said, no one, at least no one with any sense of the American past can deny the importance of the emergence of jazz as a quintessentially American black music form of expression. In short, roots music. And if you want to look at the master, or at least one of the masters (if you need to include King Oliver and Louis Armstrong, as well), of the early years of this genre then look no further- you are home. Duke is in his castle.

Now I am by no means a jazz aficionado. In fact, if anything, I am a Johnnie-come- lately to an appreciation of jazz. More to the point as a youth I never really liked it (except some of the more bluesy-oriented pieces that I would occasionally hear like Armstrong’s “Potato Blues” that I was crazy for when I first heard them) as against the other musical genres that I was interested in. Then, with all the hoopla over Duke’s 100th birthday anniversary ten years ago, in 1999, I decided to investigate further. I had to ask someone what would be a good CD of Duke’s to listen to. This Blanton-Webster Band of 1940-42 was what was suggested. And that person was not wrong. This thing is hot, extremely hot.

Remember these Ellington tone poems, that is all I can think to call them, were done back in the day when dukes, counts, kings, queens and empresses ruled the jazz empire. Others may have their favorites from this period but can one really beat a jazz combo that has Cootie Williams, Barney Bigard, Harry Carney, Jimmy Blanton, Ben Webster and my favorite Ellington player, tenor sax man Johnny Hodges, on it. You had better go “big” if you’re going to beat that group of talented musicians. Okay, what about the pieces. On Disc One how about a jumping “Jack The Bear, “Ko-Ko’, “Dusk” and “In A Mellotone”. On Disc Two “Five O’clock Whistle”, the classic “Take The “A” Train”, “I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good) and “Blue Serge”. On Disc Three, a sultry carib-flavored “Moon Over Cuba”, the sardonic “Rocks In My Bed”, “Perdido”, the haunting “Moon Mist” and the famous “Sentimental Lady”. Nice. I may not be a jazz aficionado but that isn’t a bad list, is it?
***Once More Into The Time Capsule, Part Three- The New York Folk Revival Scene in the Early 1960’s-The Late Richie Havens

A YouTube' film clip of Richie Havens performing Bob Dylan's "Just Like A Woman"

CD Review

Washington Square Memoirs: The Great Urban Folk Revival Boom, 1950-1970, various artists, 3CD set, Rhino Records, 2001

Except for the reference to the origins of the talent brought to the city the same comments apply for this CD. Rather than repeat information that is readily available in the booklet and on the discs I’ll finish up here with some recommendations of songs that I believe that you should be sure to listen to:

Disc Three: Phil Ochs on “I Ain’t Marching Anymore”, Richard &Mimi Farina on “Pack Up Your Sorrows”, John Hammond on “Drop Down Mama”, Jim Kweskin & The Jug Band on “Rag Mama”, John Denver on “Bells Of Rhymney”, Gordon Lightfoot on "Early Morning Rain”, Eric Andersen on “Thirsty Boots”, Tim Hardin on “Reason To Believe”, Richie Havens on “Just Like A Woman”, Judy Collins on “Suzanne”, Tim Buckley on “Once I Was”, Tom Rush on “The Circle Game”, Taj Mahal on “Candy Man”, Loudon Wainwright III on “School Days”and Arlo Guthrie on “The Motorcycle Song”

Richie Havens on “Just Like A Woman”. I have mentioned earlier that good Pete Seeger covers are hard to find. That is definitely not the case with Brother Dylan. While he has placed his signature on many of his songs there have been so many that other singers had a chance to make their mark covering his work. That is the case here. Haven’s version of this song is the definitive one for timing, sense of the song, phrasing, hell, everything. He is also one of the few, Taj Mahal being another, black folk artists who came out of that 1960s folk revival. Strange in a way, because back then without the ‘discovery’ of old black 1920s country blues singers like Son House, Skip James and John Hurt, and other black sources of the revival it would have lost quite a lot of it authentic flavor.

Just Like A Woman

Nobody feels any pain
Tonight as I stand inside the rain
Ev'rybody knows
That Baby's got new clothes
But lately I see her ribbons and her bows
Have fallen from her curls.
She takes just like a woman, yes, she does
She makes love just like a woman, yes, she does
And she aches just like a woman
But she breaks just like a little girl.

Queen Mary, she's my friend
Yes, I believe I'll go see her again
Nobody has to guess
That Baby can't be blessed
Till she sees finally that she's like all the rest
With her fog, her amphetamine and her pearls.
She takes just like a woman, yes, she does
She makes love just like a woman, yes, she does
And she aches just like a woman
But she breaks just like a little girl.

It was raining from the first
And I was dying there of thirst
So I came in here
And your long-time curse hurts
But what's worse
Is this pain in here
I can't stay in here
Ain't it clear that--

I just can't fit
Yes, I believe it's time for us to quit
When we meet again
Introduced as friends
Please don't let on that you knew me when
I was hungry and it was your world.
Ah, you fake just like a woman, yes, you do
You make love just like a woman, yes, you do
Then you ache just like a woman
But you break just like a little girl.

Copyright ©1966; renewed 1994 Dwarf Music
***Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By- As We Dodge The Bullet (For Now) On Syria- Pete Seeger's "Waist Deep In The Big Muddy"

A "YouTube " film clip of Pete Seeger performing his classic anti-war cautionary tale, ""Waist Deep In The Big Muddy".

No, today I am not going to beat you over the head with a screed about how music, in whatever form, is not the revolution. You know that already, and if not life itself should have disabused you of that notion long ago. Music, however, has always had an important place in the history of progressive movements as a way to rouse the troops and keep the faith. I think back to the days of Cromwell’s plebeian New Model Army, singing New Testament psalms, while going off to do battle against England’s King Charles I’s royalist forces that started the whole modern revolutionary movement. Or the songs of the French revolution. Or those of the modern labor movement like “The Internationale”. I could go on, but you get the point.

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 comment:

This is a repost of an entry I have placed on this site many, too many times. Today, unfortunately, it bears repeating:

Every once in a while (more frequently than I would like) old Pete Seeger's song about his World War II adventures that served as a parable for President Lyndon Johnson and his constant Vietnam escalations, "Waist Deep In The Big Muddy” just seems appropriate. This is one of those occasions. Just switch "Big Poppy" for "Big Muddy" and you will have it just about right. And to make sure we have it right- Obama- Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal Of All U.S./Allied Troops And Mercenaries From Afghanistan !

"Waist Deep In The Big Muddy"-Pete Seeger

Click on the title to link to a "YouTube " film clip of Pete Seeger performing his classic anti-war cautionary tale, ""Waist Deep In The Big Muddy".

No, today I am not going to beat you over the head with a screed about how music, in whatever form, is not the revolution. You know that already, and if not life itself should have disabused you of that notion long ago. Music, however, has always had an important place in the history of progressive movements as a way to rouse the troops and keep the faith. I think back to the days of Cromwell’s plebeian New Model Army, singing New Testament psalms, while going off to do battle against England’s King Charles I’s royalist forces that started the whole modern revolutionary movement. Or the songs of the French revolution. Or those of the modern labor movement like “The Internationale”. I could go on, but you get the point.

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 comment:

This is a repost of an entry I have placed on this site many, too many times. Today, unfortunately, it bears repeating:

Every once in a while (more frequently than I would like) old Pete Seeger's song about his World War II adventures that served as a parable for President Lyndon Johnson and his constant Vietnam escalations, "Waist Deep In The Big Muddy” just seems appropriate. This is one of those occasions. Just switch "Big Poppy" for "Big Muddy" and you will have it just about right. And to make sure we have it right- Obama- Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal Of All U.S./Allied Troops And Mercenaries From Afghanistan and Iraq!

"Waist Deep In The Big Muddy"-Pete Seeger

It was back in nineteen forty-two,
I was a member of a good platoon.
We were on maneuvers in-a Loozianna,
One night by the light of the moon.
The captain told us to ford a river,
That's how it all begun.
We were -- knee deep in the Big Muddy,
But the big fool said to push on.

The Sergeant said, "Sir, are you sure,
This is the best way back to the base?"
"Sergeant, go on! I forded this river
'Bout a mile above this place.
It'll be a little soggy but just keep slogging.
We'll soon be on dry ground."
We were -- waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.

The Sergeant said, "Sir, with all this equipment
No man will be able to swim."
"Sergeant, don't be a Nervous Nellie,"
The Captain said to him.
"All we need is a little determination;
Men, follow me, I'll lead on."
We were -- neck deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.

All at once, the moon clouded over,
We heard a gurgling cry.
A few seconds later, the captain's helmet
Was all that floated by.
The Sergeant said, "Turn around men!
I'm in charge from now on."
And we just made it out of the Big Muddy
With the captain dead and gone.

We stripped and dived and found his body
Stuck in the old quicksand.
I guess he didn't know that the water was deeper
Than the place he'd once before been.
Another stream had joined the Big Muddy
'Bout a half mile from where we'd gone.
We were lucky to escape from the Big Muddy
When the big fool said to push on.

Well, I'm not going to point any moral;
I'll leave that for yourself
Maybe you're still walking, you're still talking
You'd like to keep your health.
But every time I read the papers
That old feeling comes on;
We're -- waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.

Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep! Neck deep! Soon even a
Tall man'll be over his head, we're
Waist deep in the Big Muddy!
And the big fool says to push on!

***California Dreamin’- The Music Of The Mamas And The Papas

A "YouTube" film clip of the Mamas and the Papas performing "Monday, Monday".
CD Review

The Best of the Mamas and the Papas, The Mamas and the Papas, SPA, 1998

Over the past couple of years I have reviewed a fair number of performers from the folk revival of the 1960s. Looking over quickly the names of those reviewed discloses a personal predilection for individual performers, although there were plenty of good to excellent groups around at the time, like the New Lost City Ramblers, The Greenbriar Boys, The Chambers Brothers, The Clancy Brothers, and other such groups who did traditional folk music.

As folk evolved, in the mid-1960s, a little away from those more traditional forms and into something like folk rock, younger groups picked up on the spirit of the movement with their own more modern lyrics and more harmonic works. The classic example in this genre would probably be Peter, Paul and Mary but the group under review, the Mamas and the Papas, also fits that description as well. Led vocally by big-voiced "Mama" Cass and with lyrics written by lead male singer "Papa" John Phillips the group had a number of hits in that folk rock moment, many of them on this compilation.

So what is still good almost half a century later? Well, "California Dreamin" still holds its own as a signature song for the foursome. As does "Monday, Monday" and "Words Of Love". The real surprise is their cover of the old Benny King classic (written by Jerry Leiber and Phil Spector), "Spanish Harlem". That song also displays the great harmonics, the feel and balance, as well as the understated performance that was the M&P hallmark.

California Dreamin' Lyrics-John Phillips, Michelle Phillips

All the leaves are brown
(All the leaves are brown)
And the sky is gray.
(And the sky is gray).
I've been for a walk
(I've been for a walk)
On a winter's day.
(On a winter's day).

I'd be safe and warm
(I'd be safe and warm)
if I was in L.A.
(If I was in L.A.)
California dreamin'
(California dreamin') on such a winter's day.

Stopped in to a church I passed along the way.
Well I got down on my knees
(got down on my knees)
And I pretend to pray.
(I pretend to pray).
You know the preacher likes the cold.
(preacher likes the cold).
He knows I'm gonna stay.
(knows I'm gonna stay).
California dreamin'
(California dreamin') on such a winter's day.


All the leaves are brown
(All the leaves are brown)
And the sky is gray.
(And the sky is gray).
I've been for a walk
(I've been for a walk)
On a winter's day.
(On a winter's day).

If I didn't tell her
(If I didn't tell her)
I could leave today.
(I could leave today).
California dreamin' (California dreamin')on such a winter's day,
California dreamin' on such a winter's day,
California dreamin' on such a winter's day.
***You Don’t Need Thomas Wolfe To Know You Can’t Go Home Again-Redux

Damn memory twist. Damn memory stick. No, not the techno-gismo gadget, the old noggin, noodle, gray matter or whatever you call the place, the dark hidden place mainly, where memory haunts you every once in a while. And won’t let go of you. Won’t let go of you like it will not let go of me lately. Damn stick.

Who knows when you first realized that, to use Thomas Wolfe’s book title as reference and refrain, you can’t go home again ever, even in deep memory recess, in deep memory haunt. Certainly it was not when you were young, a mere child, memories then came and went like the flittering light, or like some unwashed foam-flecked ocean wave receding as fast as it hit the receiving shore sand. Later, in young adult time, you were just too freaking busy, busy making the stuff of memories, to actually pay attention. So, maybe, it works like this once you get that memory bank filled and overflowing filled they come back, come back in memory haunt fashion. All I know is that a few years back, bank filled or not, I felt that old time feeling, and worst, tried to do something about it. Tried to change the course of events already etched in stone, to rewrite history if you like. Silly me, although easier to say now than then.

See, memory makes no sense, makes no stored-away sense, unless it can be properly subjected to certain tests. The could have, would have, should have tests. Like a penitent reprobate you think through, seriously think through, a variation of the theme of how you could have kept that old chestnut from Sunday school times about obeying and honoring parents and kin better. Stuff like that. Hey, after all that is where you got your memory chance anyway. And probably, like me, you have your armful of regrets about why you missed this thing and that, did or did not do the other thing. But I am here to speak of no avails, no avails at all when the deal goes down.

The storm and stress of any growing up absurd in any period in America (or anywhere else for that matter but I am here so I will keep it narrow) need not detain us here. You know the where-were-you-late last night-did-you-know-Johnny- X-did-(or didn’t)- do-this-or-that-what-are-you-going-to-make-of-your-life, and I have run out of hyphens drill. The maddened jail break-out from the home nest has taken many forms, especially in the 1960s, but the fall-out lasted much longer, much, much longer. Then just when you were ready to call a truce, an adult to adult armed truce, ten thousand childhood foam-flecked ocean wave came washing to shore and you had to start over from square one. Then some dark shadow time hovered over the earth and you didn’t get to observe that truce, or anything else. Then you realized, you finally realized, that some hurts, harms, and just plain orneriness could not (the could have test, see) have been resolved this side of heaven’s door. It was just too basic, to primordial to get resolved. Next.

A scrabble. Two young tow-headed boys, fast friend and fierce enemies, walking along the hard-scrabble beach throwing stones, really trying to skip stones to see who can skip their stone the farthest. Eighteen young boys haphazardly “bucking up” sides in a game of baseball, a nineteenth boy left out. One young boy, walking, endlessly walking, in the 1950s fetid sweaty shirt night, passes a certain she’s house afraid to glance in the window for fear of discovery. Another boy, a little older, walking some fugitive streets mulling over this or that endless question, that endless he-she question. A teenage boy, late at night, yet another sultry sticky summer’s night, clad in tee-shirt, Chuck Taylor sneakers (no knock-offs either), black of course, long, un-cuffed chino pants runs dustbowl oval laps in search of glory. Two teenage boys, one clad in tee-shirt, Chuck Taylor sneakers, black of course, and those vagrant black, un-cuffed chinos, the other a variation of the same, sit on the steps of some granite-gray high school and talk of dreams, small dreams but dreams. A teenage boy, the Chuck Taylor-shod boy, does not drive a ’57 Chevy, does not belong to the school great books club where he might find kindred spirits, does not belong to the glee club, does not go to the senior prom, and, emphatically does not go on Saturday night, honey she girl in tow, to watch the “submarine” race down at that eternal foam-flecked wave ocean swells beach. And no amount of later money, no amount of time, early or late, and no amount of desire, ditto, can change that. None. Next

Two teenage boys, one clad in tee-shirt, Chuck Taylor sneakers, black of course in the 1960s night, and those vagrant black, un-cuffed chinos, the other a variation of the same, except no Chucks, some sleek-toed running shoes, sit on the steps of some granite-gray high school and talk of dreams, small dreams, inconsequential, but dreams. Well, maybe no so small dreams but small expectations. But with a fierce desire to get out from under, under hard rocks, and the key is to run, run like there was no mercy in the world. One boy, the Chuck Taylor sneaker-less boy, ran like the demons and had his glory, his fifteen minutes, although he did not know that was what he had had then. He thought he could fuel himself forever on such fumes, and crashed. The other, ran like he was running in cement, just hardening cement, but he had big dreams, big social dreams anyway, and he never did get his fifteen minutes of fame. Secret: he didn’t need them although he desperately wanted them, wanted his hero moment. And, maybe, when the great Mandela made its unseemly turn, that was why that schoolboy-shared memory on granite-gray steps could never sustain ancient times, or should have. Next

An old man, a 2009 old man if you must know although the year only framed the frenzy, an overwrought man, endlessly pacing within a few feet parameter, endlessly speaking of Roy Rodgers and Dale Evans, maybe Trigger too, who knows, as if they were right in front of him, nodded to another man, a little younger but still old, 2009 old, and who rolled his eyes every time a reference was made Roy, Dale, The Cisco Kid, or some Annie Oakley of the older man’s mind. The younger man, who had known the older man in his youth, known him well, although they had not spoken for many years, started to speak about some movie, some movie like The Gladiator just to change the topic. The older man, listened for a few seconds, then spoke of black and white television cowgirls and their fates, maybe Belle Starr, old-time rustlers and desperadoes, and occasionally of black-hatted Hopalong Cassidy. The younger man, sensing an opening, spoke of Neal Cassady. Who? Futile. Totally futile. Next

A young man, brown hair starting to fill out, a brown beard starting to go beyond wisp, sporting slightly scuffed high-top black boots, hell army boots, denim bell-bottomed trousers, army-jacket one size too large, always one size too large, stared across the great hall. The garment “style” just described reflecting a recent discharge from some army, some shooting army, that aimed to join another less rigid army, if less rigid are the right words for the explosion among the young of his generation, the generation of ’68. He eyed, fierce piercing goy blue-eyes that spoke of ancient sadnesses and a little treachery eyed, a young woman on the other side of the room, a dark-haired, pert, petite young woman, who was also present at that same umpteenth helter-skelter workshop to save this or that part of this wicked old world. And she eyed him right back. And they kept eying each other through immediate snows, gentle first kisses, leafy bikes rides, be-bop dead of night drug hazes, east coast hitch-hike trips, massive explorations of the blue-pink great American West night, some misunderstandings, some serious misunderstandings, some rages against the night, some double rages against the day and night, some fitful irresolute break-ups, some infidelities (agreed to, or not), some two-roads-taken, and then, strictly reflecting that young man’s broken-down sense of the world, silence, no more words spoken, in anger or otherwise. Except later, much later, some cosmic message spoken by him speaking of that helter-skelter meeting, the snowy night, the walk, and the “moment” when he first held her firmly, to keep her from falling, without a kiss, but with an understanding that their stars had crossed, and he, they, knew some high adventure was ahead. The unadorned cosmic message was all that was left. What hadn’t he had the sense to have a sense of her and kiss her right there in those immediate falling snows? Next.

No, no next, didn’t you get it, you can’t go home again.
***Where Is Perry Mason When You Need Him-Raymond Burr’s “Blue Gardenia”

Blue Gardenia, starring Anne Baxter, Raymond Burr, Richard Conte, title song sung by Nat King Cole, directed by Fritz Lang, Warner brothers, 1953

Yes, where is Perry Mason when you need him. And not just because one of the lead actors in this film noir is Raymond Burr, who made Perry famous on 1950s black and white television (hey, look it upon Wikipedia if you don’t believe me there really was a time when that is what T.V. viewing looked like. Yah, I know, the dark ages.), but because there is a murder to be solved. His. Or rather the ne’er do well, roué, lady’s man, whatever, character he plays here, Harry Preeble, an artist with a very roving eye.

If there is a murder, then there must be a murderer, right, or in this case a murderess, and here hard-working, get ahead, and just jilted Norah (played by Anne Baxter) is picture perfect for the frame, and a step off to the big house, women’s side. See, she was old boy Harry’s last known date, last know drunken date taken up to his apartment, from the wilds of the Blue Gardenia club, Chinese food, blue gardenias for the ladies, and serious rum drinks a specialty, to see that old chestnut, his etchings. Yes, silly girl, especially with Harry’s reputation. But birthday, jilted, and blue, flowers for your hair or not, would make any girl, hell, any human, a little out of sorts.

Out of sorts or not, Anne Baxter, who is reduced to sharing an apartment with two other fellow female workers (including one incredibly fierce chain-smoking Ann Sothern), is not going to take any fall for one little off night. And here is where hard-hitting reporter Casey at the press (played by Richard Conte) comes in to wrap things up, wrap them up so tight that even the police have to cry “uncle,” let her go, and go off in some corner and pout. That leaves only one thing. If Ann Baxter didn’t do it, then who did? I am not telling. But think back a minute, old Harry had that roving eye and so the number of female suspects could have stretched around the block. It’s too late for Mr. Harry, but remember that old saw about a woman scorned. Well don’t say you were not warned.
***From The Archives (2011)- On The Centenary Of Tennessee Williams' Birthday-Homage To The Outsider- Some Of The Work Of Playwright Tennessee Williams

Play/DVD Reviews

Enough Mendacity To Sink A Ship

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, The Theater of Tennessee Williams, Volume Three, New Directions Books, New York, 1955

The first couple of paragraphs here have been used as introduction to other plays written by Tennessee Williams and reviewed in this space. This review applies to both the stage play and the film versions with differences noted as part of the review

Perhaps, as is the case with this reviewer, if you have come to the works of the excellent American playwright Tennessee Williams through adaptations of his plays to commercially distributed film you too will have missed some of the more controversial and intriguing aspects of his plays that had placed him at that time along with Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller as America’s finest serious playwrights. Although some of the films have their own charms I want to address the written plays in this entry first (along with, when appropriate, commentary about Williams’ extensive and detailed directing instructions).

That said, there are certain limitations for a political commentator like this reviewer on the works of Williams. Although his plays, at least his best and most well-known ones, take place in the steamy South or its environs, there is virtually no acknowledgement of the race question that dominated Southern life during the period of the plays; and, for that matter was beginning to dominate national life. Thus, although it is possible to pay homage to his work on its artistic merits, I am very, very tentative about giving fulsome praise to that work on its political merits. With that proviso Williams nevertheless has created a very modern stage on which to address social questions at the personal level, like homosexuality, incest and the dysfunctional family that only began to get addressed widely well after his ground-breaking work hit the stage.

“Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” is a prime example of the contradiction that a radical commentator is placed in. The themes of duplicity, latent homosexuality, adultery and dysfunctional families topped off by more than enough mendacity to sink a ship are the stuff of social drama that NEED to be addressed as outcomes in the modern capitalist cultural sphere. However, in the end nothing really gets resolved truthfully here. Old 1950’s-style All-American boy Brick, the ‘great white hope’ of the family, may or may not sober up after the ‘lost’ of his dear friend and fellow football player, Skipper. Saucy and sexy wife Maggie (the cat) may or may not really get pregnant by Brick and save the family heritage for him, or die trying. The only certainty, despite all that above-mentioned mendacity, is that Big Daddy is going to die and that 28,000 acres of the finest land in the Delta is going to need new management, either Brick, brother Goober (along with his scheming wife and their ‘lovely brood’ of children) or some upstart. Off of these possible outcomes, however, I would not get too worked up about the final outcome.

In the movie version, done in the 1950’s as well, which starred the recently departed excellent actor Paul Newman as Brick and a fetching Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie the question of Brick’s possible homosexual relationship with Skipper is far more muted than in the play. The implicit question seems to concern Brick’s fading youth, his search for perfect meaning to life in Mississippi and that one’s existential crisis can be eliminated by reliance on the bottle. The relationship between the dying Big Daddy and his ever suffering wife, Big Mama, is less dastardly than in the play as well. The scheming Goober and wife and family and those ‘lovely’ children, however, run true to form. My sense of the movie, unlike the deeper issues of the play, is that a few therapy sessions would put old Brick back on the right track. The play was far less hopeful in that regard.

The Fickle Bird Of Youth

The Sweet Bird Of Youth, Three Plays of Tennessee Williams, New Directions Books, New York, 1959

“Sweet Bird Of Youth” is a case in point. Not for the first time, a seemingly 1950’s style All- American boy Chance who has left his hometown, his home town girl and his roots behind to drift in that endless spiral toward fame- Hollywood and the movies, naturally- comes back to claim what is his by right. On this little hometown reunion Chance is in the service of one aging and fretful actress who has her own issues with that elusive ‘bird of youth’. On return to town it appears that Chance has stirred up a hornet’s nest with the local political establishment in the person of one red-neck preacher turned politician in order to better do “god’s work”, old Tom Findley. The object of this dispute is one Heavenly Findley, old Ton’s daughter and Chance’s left behind paramour who is now the subject of some scandal (due to the amorphously stated need for female-related medical treatment due to Chance’s irresponsibility). Along the way we get to see how political power is distributed in a small Southern town as well as the inevitable tempting of the fates by Chance in order to win the ‘brass ring’ before it is too late (apparently somewhere over thirty, by my reckoning). At play’s end though, where he is between a rock and a hard place, Chance may not get the chance to be Chance at thirty. Oh, that fickle bird of youth. Still, Chance, go for it.

In the movie version the recently departed excellent actor Paul Newman, a classic example of a 1950’s All-American boy type (among his other acting talents), as the movie star ‘wannabe’ and Geraldine Page as the aging actress recreated their stage performances although with a greater screen presence for Ms. Page. Moreover, Chance’s strivings to reconnect with Heavenly are more central to the plot. More importantly, the endings differ in that, despite some mauling by Tom Findley’s boys Chance takes my advice from the play version and runs, with Heavenly, just as far and as fast as his now aging legs can carry him.

Waiting For A Sign

The Rose Tattoo, Three Plays of Tennessee Williams, New Directions Books, New York, 1959

“The Rose Tattoo” is a little different look at the family. Although the geography of the play is still the American South this play is not peopled with Williams’ usually WASPy characters but rather a little conclave of immigrant Italians who have somehow made a beachhead in the Gulf Coast area. The central character is a previously abandoned but now widowed Italian seamstress trying to survive, mainly through her hopes for her daughter, on her wits, her memories of youth, her integrity and her fierce instinct to survive in alien territory. A philandering husband the obsessive subject of her adoration, a daughter trying to learn to fly on her own in the love game, and an incidental encounter with a fellow, younger Italian truck driver come together to give her the sign she needs to start over. Maybe. This play, more than most of Williams’ efforts, depends on the strength of the dialogue and not the plot line. That is what gives its dramatic edge as Williams explores yet another tangled up dream gone awry story.

In the movie version, the role of the young Italian truck driver as played by Burt Lancaster and the seamstress as played by the fabulous Anna Magnini is more central to the unfolding story from the beginning. The dramatic tensions between this pair and the ‘waiting for a sign’ by the seamstress are still fairly similar. It is however Lancaster’s enhanced role that really makes this a visual treat and gives one hope that this new family ‘aborning’ can survive.

Take A Walk On The Wild Side

Orpheus Descending, The Theater of Tennessee Williams, Volume Three, New Directions Books, New York, 1955

On reading “Orpheus Descending”, Williams’ take on the old Greek legend in modern grab I was struck by the similarity in the character of the Orpheus figure, Val ,and Nelson Algren’s Dove Linkhorn in “ A Walk On The Wild Side. Both are loners, outsiders, have checkered pasts and are ready for anything from deep romantic love to murder and mayhem. And because they are capacity of that range of emotions and reactions they are also as capable of getting burned by a complacent society that does not take kindly to those that it cannot control. Val drifts into town, gets a job at a store by the enigmatic Lady and then the wheels begin to turn and to deal out his fate. Could he have stopped and turned away? Although that is a question that drives many dramatic efforts it is not always resolvable in a play- or in life. Lady’s terminally ill husband lurks in the background with nothing to lose, once the romantic sparks start to fly. I do not understand why this play was not more successful in its earlier manifestations as was pointed out in the introduction, especially as this is a culture that has made space, if only grudgingly, to for the outsider to tempt the fates if only symbolically.

The Sweet Bird Of Youth Gone Awry

Suddenly Last Summer, The Theater of Tennessee Williams, Volume Three, New Directions Books, New York, 1955

“Suddenly Last Summer is an odd little beauty of a play. Odd in that the appetites of the main (unseen in the play) character Sebastian seem to be both beyond the pale and obsessive. Odd, also that his protective monster of a mother is determined to keep the truth about her “genius” son from the world even after his ‘untimely’ death ……last summer. As if to add fuel to the fire of an already bizarre tale of exploitation, sexual and otherwise, Sebastian’s beautiful lure of a cousin used as bait for Sebastian’s appetites is to be permanently taken out of the picture in order to keep this world beautiful. Nobody believes the sordid tale she has to tell about dear cousin Sebastian. The play ends with the ‘hope’ that there may actually be someone to believe the girl’s story before she becomes one more sacrifice to ‘beauty’ in the world. Frankly, old Sebastian got what was coming to him over in the islands.

In the movie version, the stories that have to be told verbally in the play get told as flashbacks as well. Katherine Hepburn is in high dudgeon as Sebastian’s mother and ‘keeper of the flame’. Montgomery Clift is a more sober, somber and searcher for the truth psychiatrist than the one in the play and Elizabeth Taylor is the beautiful lure cousin is a mass of confusions whose memories of last summer have to be erased ….some way. Old Sebastian and his twisted sense of life and his place in history is still a guy who had it coming to him. Well, he did, didn’t he?
***Playwright's Corner- Tennessee Williams’ Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

Play/DVD Reviews

Enough Mendacity To Sink A Ship

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, The Theater of Tennessee Williams, Volume Three, New Directions Books, New York, 1955

The first couple of paragraphs here have been used as introduction to other plays written by Tennessee Williams and reviewed in this space. This review applies to both the stage play and the film versions with differences noted as part of the review

Perhaps, as is the case with this reviewer, if you have come to the works of the excellent American playwright Tennessee Williams through adaptations of his plays to commercially distributed films you too will have missed some of the more controversial and intriguing aspects of his plays that had placed him at that time along with Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller as America’s finest serious playwrights. Although some of the films have their own charms I want to address the written plays in this entry first (along with, when appropriate, commentary about Williams’ extensive and detailed directing instructions).

That said, there are certain limitations for a political commentator like this reviewer on the works of Williams. Although his plays, at least his best and most well-known ones, take place in the steamy South or its environs, there is virtually no acknowledgement of the race question that dominated Southern life during the period of the plays; and, for that matter was beginning to dominate national life. Thus, although it is possible to pay homage to his work on its artistic merits, I am very, very tentative about giving fulsome praise to that work on its political merits. With that proviso Williams nevertheless has created a very modern stage on which to address social questions at the personal level, like homosexuality, incest and the dysfunctional family that only began to get addressed widely well after his ground-breaking work hit the stage.

“Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” is a prime example of the contradiction that a radical commentator is placed in. The themes of duplicity, latent homosexuality, adultery and dysfunctional families topped off by more than enough mendacity to sink a ship are the stuff of social drama that NEED to be addressed as outcomes in the modern capitalist cultural sphere. However, in the end nothing really gets resolved truthfully here. Old 1950s-style All-American boy Brick, the ‘great white hope’ of the family, may or may not sober up after the ‘lost’ of his dear friend and fellow football player, Skipper. Saucy and sexy wife Maggie (the cat) may or may not really get pregnant by Brick and save the family heritage for him, or die trying. The only certainty, despite all that above-mentioned mendacity, is that Big Daddy is going to die and that 28,000 acres of the finest land in the Delta is going to need new management, either by Brick, brother Goober (along with his scheming wife and their ‘lovely' brood of children) or some upstart. Off of these possible outcomes, however, I would not get too worked up about the final outcome.

In the movie version, done in the 1950’s as well, which starred the recently departed excellent actor Paul Newman as Brick and a fetching Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie the question of Brick’s possible homosexual relationship with Skipper is far more muted than in the play. The implicit question seems to concern Brick’s fading youth, his search for perfect meaning to life in Mississippi and that one’s existential crisis can be eliminated by reliance on the bottle. The relationship between the dying Big Daddy and his ever suffering wife, Big Mama, is less dastardly than in the play as well. The scheming Goober and wife and family and those ‘lovely’ children, however, run true to form. My sense of the movie, unlike the deeper issues of the play, is that a few therapy sessions would put old Brick back on the right track. The play was far less hopeful in that regard.
*** Out In The Be-Bop Night- Fragments On Working Class Culture- Scenes From The Search For The Blue-Pink Great American West Night- The Siren Call Of The Mountain Wind Song

Markin comment:

The scene below stands (or falls) as a moment in support of that eternal search mentioned in the headline .

Scene Five: The Siren Call Of The Mountain Wind Song In The Search For The Blue- Pink Great American West Night

Hey, not every aspect of the 1960s blue-pink night was a search for some kind of transcendence. Mostly it was that, and its glow has kept a few of us warm through many a desperate dark, cold night since. But sometimes it was running away from the past, from roots, or maybe better, from rooted-ness. Or just plain old running away from what lurked ahead, and ahead did not seem as good as the road, the road with all its troubles. For those who have read the previous scene, the scene where I got stuck down in a Steubenville, Ohio 1969 truck stop diner and got “lucky” finding a woman friend to share the road with, you know at the end of that episode we were heading out, or trying to head out West. For those who have not read that scene let me introduce my new lady friend, Angelica. Angelica, who, as fate would have it, was working in that diner truck stop where I got stuck and happened to think I was “nice” and after a little of this and that decided that her search for meaning in her young life entailed accompanying me on the road west. Whoa! In any case there she was walking beside me as we tried to hitch a ride from one of the rigs idling at the stop. If you want to know the details of the “how come” of our walking together just now go read that last scene, otherwise I will try to fill you in as we go along.

In the process of getting you filled in, let’s get one thing clear. When you were on the road, on the 1960s hitchhike road, and trying to get across the country the rules, the rules of the road, were a little different than the rules in workaday life. Your take on life and your, usually, transient relationships with passing strangers, male or female, got a little twisted. Not necessarily in a bad way, but twisted. I was pleased, pleased beyond belief, as least privately, to have winsome, fetching Angelica along. As I mentioned before in those hitchhike days it was always easier to get rides when you had a female companion, and one with good legs and a good shape, a shape that drivers could notice as they sped by was a plus. Maybe, thinking it was a mirage anyway, not every benny high, moony, overstretched transcontinental truck driver, running overweight anyway, would put on the airbrakes for her on the Interstate at eighty miles an hour. But those young, slower lane sedan drivers would slam on the brakes, and gladly. Ya, I know now it is not cool, nor should it be, to be using a woman as a “decoy” in that way but that was the way it was then “on the road.”

Now, if you don’t know, meaning you haven’t read the previous scenes, I, by this time, had been periodically crossing the country for some time in search of …... well, in search of something because just now, some forty years later, I am getting just a little weary of calling it the blue-pink night but this was Angelica’s whimsical maiden voyage. Angelica, was, moreover, pretty naïve about life and clueless about the road having just a few weeks earlier left home and hearth in cozy mid-country Muncie, Indiana. (Don’t tell me all about the famous Lynd sociological study of squaretown, oops, I mean, Middletown, that used that town as its sample back in the 1920s I already mentioned that before.) Therefore she was crushed beyond my comprehension, as we walked closer to the idling trucks on the other side of the diner, when I mentioned to her that the small suitcase (neatly packed) she was carrying was not a good road item compared to a nice fungible knapsack for when we had to do some walking between rides. I do not know, and I never found out, whether the look, not the nice sly, coquettish look that she greeted me with early in our “courtship” at the diner and that hooked me, but some volcanic devilish look when I mentioned that to her the fact that she was going to have to abandon that suitcase or that the “road”, the real hitchhike road meant some walking. Later, and not much later at that, she saw my point about the suitcase, but that does not erase that look from memory’s eye.

Nor was that little episode the end of out little road “adjustments.” In the few weeks that Angelica had been working long hours at the diner she served many of the truckers whose rigs were idling in the truck stop rest area we were cruising for rides. So, naturally, she tried to find out where some of those that she knew were heading. This day, they are heading mainly east, or anyway not west. Finally, she ran into one burly teamster, Eddie, who was heading down Route 7 along the Ohio River to catch Interstate 64 further down river and then across through to Lexington, Kentucky. Angelica was thrilled because, as it turned out, she had kin (her term, okay), a cousin or something, down in Prestonsburg, Kentucky whom she hadn’t seen in a while and where we could stay for a few days and take in the mountain air (her idea of rest, mine then and now, was strictly ocean breezes, thank you). I tried, tried desperately, without being obnoxious about it, to tell her that heading south was not going to get us to the West very easily. She would have none of it, and she rightly said, that we were in no rush anyway and what was wrong with a little side trip to Kentucky anyway. Well, I suppose in the college human nature course, Spat-ology 101, if there was such a course then, and they taught it, I should have had enough sense to throw in the towel. After all this was Angelica’s first, now seriously, whimsical venture out on the road. And I did, in the end, throw in the towel, except not for the reason that you think.

What Angelica didn’t know until later, and you didn’t know until now, was that I was deathly afraid of going to Kentucky. See, I had set myself up to the world as, and was in fact in my head, a Yankee, an Oceanside Yankee, if you like. I was born in Massachusetts and have the papers to prove it, but on those papers there is an important fact included. My father’s place of birth was Hazard, Kentucky probably not more than fifty to one hundred miles away from Prestonsburg. He was born down in the hills and hollows of mining country, coal mining country, made famous in song and legend. And also made infamous (to me) by Michael Harrington’s Other America which described in detail the plight of Appalachian whites, my father’s people. And also, as a result of the publicity about the situation down there, the subject in my early 1960s high school of a clothing drive to help them out. My father left the mines when World War II started, enlisted in the Marines, saw his fair share of battles in the Pacific, got stationed before discharge at a Naval Depot in Massachusetts and never looked back. And see I never wanted him to look back. That’s the way it was back then, make of it what you will. Sure, now, among other things, I can thank winsome, head-strong Angelica for making that move, but then, well, like I said I threw in the towel, but I was not happy about it. Not happy at all.

Actually the ride down Route 7 was pretty uneventful and, for somebody who did not feel comfortable looking at trees and mountains, some of the scenery was pretty breath-taking. That is until we started getting maybe twenty miles from Prestonsburg and the air changed, the scenery changed, and the feel of the social milieu changed. See we were getting in the edges of coal country, not the serious “Bloody Harlan” stuff of legend but the older, scrap heap part that had been worked over, and “worked out” long along. The coal bosses had taken the earth’s assets and left the remnants behind to foul the air and foul the place.

But, mostly, and here is where I finally understood why my father took his chances in World War II and also why he never looked back, shacks. Nothing but haphazardly placed, unpainted shacks, hard-scrabble patched roofs just barely covering them. With out-houses, out-houses can you believe that in America in the 1960s. And plenty of kids hanging out in the decidedly non-manicured front yards waiting… well, just waiting. Look, I came up in my early youth in a public housing project that had all the pathologies one has come to associate with that form of social organization. Later, in my coming of age days we lived in a tiny, very tiny, single family house but I was not prepared for this. All that I can say about my feelings at the time was that I would be more than willing to crawl on all fours to get back to my crummy old growing up homestead rather than fight the dread of this place.

Fortunately Angelica’s kin (second cousin), Annadeene, husband and two kids all at about age twenty, lived further down the road, out of town, in a trailer camp which the husband, Fred, had expanded so that it had the feel of a small country house. Most importantly it had indoor plumbing and a spare room where Angelica and I could sleep and put our stuff. Fred, as I recall, was something of a skilled mechanic (coal equipment mechanic) who worked for a firm that was indirectly connected to the Eastern Kentucky coal mines.

This Prestonsburg, as you can imagine, in the 1960s was nothing but one of a thousand such towns that I had (and have) passed through. A main street with a few essential stores, some boarded up retail space and then you are out of town. Then hardly worth, and maybe now too, putting a strip mall into. Moreover, Route 7 as it turned into Route 23 heading into Prestonsburg and then further down turned into nothing but an old country, pass at your own risk, country road about where Angelica’s cousin lived. What I am trying to get at though is that although these people were in the 20th century they were somewhat behind the curve. This is, as it probably was in my father’s time, patriotic country, country where you did your military service came home, worked, if you could find it, got married and raised a family. Just in tougher circumstances than elsewhere.

I understood that part. What I did not understand then, and am still somewhat confused about, is the insularity of the place. The wariness, serious wariness, of strangers even of strangers brought to the hills and hollows by kin. I was not well received at least first, and I still am not quite sure if I ever was, by Angelica’s kin and I suppose if I thought about it while they had heard of “hippies” (every male with beard, long hair, and jeans was suspected of belonging to that category) Prestonsburg was more like something from Merle Haggard’s Okie From Muskogee lyrics than Haight-Ashbury. Angelica kept saying that I would grow on them (like I did on her) but I knew, knew down deep that we had best get out of there. I kept pressing the issue but she refused to listen to any thoughts of our leaving until after Saturday night’s barn dance. After all Fred and Annadeene had specially invited us to go with them. We could leave Sunday morning but not before. Christ, a hillbilly hoe-down.

Probably about twenty years ago I would have felt no compulsion to go into anything but superficial detail about this barn dance. Today though I do. Otherwise this scene lacks completeness. I will say that I have, twenty years ago or now, a very clear picture of Angelica being fetching for this dance. All her feminine wiles got a workout that night. What I can’t remember is what she wore or how she wore her hair (up, I think) but the effect on me (and the other guys) was calculated to make me glad, glad as hell, that we stayed for this thing. What I can remember vividly though is that this barn dance actually took place in a barn, just a plain old ordinary barn that had been used in this area for years (according to the oldsters since back in the 1920s) for the periodic dances that filled up the year and broke the monotony of the mountain existence. The old faded red-painted barn, sturdily build to withstand the mountain winds and containing a stage for such occasions was something out of a movie, some movie that you have seen, so you have some idea of what it was like even if you have never been within a hundred miles of a barn.

Moreover the locals had gone to some effort to decorate the place, provide plenty of refreshments and use some lighting to good effect. What was missing was any booze. This was a “dry” county then (and maybe still is) but not to worry wink, wink there was plenty of “white lightning” around out in the makeshift dirt parking lot where clusters of good old boys hovered around certain cars whose owners had all you needed. Just bring your own fixings. After we had checked out the arrangements in the barn and Annadeene had introduced us to her neighbors Fred tapped me on the shoulder and “hipped” me to the liquor scene. We went outside. Fred talked quietly to one of the busy car owners and then produced a small jar for my inspection. “Hey, wait,” he said “you have to cut that stuff a little with some water if you are not used to it.” I took my jar, added some water, and took a swig. Jesus Christ, I almost fell down the stuff was so powerful. Look, I used to drink whiskey straight up in those days, or I thought I drank whiskey straight up but after one swig, one swig, my friends, I confess I was a mere teetotaler. Several minutes later we went back inside and I nursed, literally nursed, that jar for the rest of the night. But you know I got “high” off it and was in good spirits. So good that I started dancing with Angelica once the coterie of banjo players, fiddlers, guitarists and mandolin players got finished warming up. I am not much of a dancer under the best of circumstances but, according to her, I did okay that night.

Hey, you’d expect that the music was something out of the Grand Ole Opry, some Hee-Haw hoe-down stuff, some Arkansas Jamboree hokum, right? Forget that. See back in the mountains, at least in the 1960s mountains, they did not have access to much television or sheet music or other such refinements. What they played they learned from mama and papa, or some uncle who got it from god knows where. It’s all passed down from something like time immemorial and then traced back to the old county, the British Isles mainly. Oh sure there was a “square” hoe-down thing or two but what I heard that night was something out of the mountain night high-powered eerie winds as they rolled down the hills and hollows (hollers, if you are from there). Something that spoke of hard traveling first from the old country when luck ran out there, then from the east coast of America when that got too crowded and just sat down when it hit those grey-blue mountains, or maybe, although I never asked (and under the circumstances would not have dared to ask) formed their version of the blue-pink great American West night, and this is as far as they got, or cared to go.

Some of this music I knew from my folk experiences in Boston and Cambridge earlier in the 1960s when everybody, including me, was looking for the roots of folk music. Certainly I knew Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies when the band played it instrumentally. That was one of the first songs, done by gravelly-voiced Dave Van Ronk, I heard on the folk radio station that I listened to. But, see, back in those early days that stuff, for the most part, was too, well you know, too my father’s music for me to take seriously. Bob Dylan was easier to listen to for a message that “spoke” to me. But this night I thrilled to hear real pros going one-on-one to out-fiddle, out-banjo, out-mandolin, out, out-any instrument each other in some mad dash to appease the mountain nymphs, or whatever or whoever was being evoked to keep civilization away from the purity of the music. That night was as close as I got to my roots, and feeling good about those roots, and also as close as I got to Angelica. I could go on and give examples that you could go check out on YouTube and listen to but this is one of those moments you had to be there, okay.

About 12:30 or one o’clock the dance broke up, although as we headed down the rutted, jagged street we could still hear banjos and fiddles flailing away to see who really was “king of the hill.” Angelica said she was glad that we stayed, and I agreed. She also said that, yes, I was right; it was time to head west. She said it in such a way that I felt that she could have been some old time pioneer woman who once she recognized that the land was exhausted knew that the family had to pull up stakes and push on. It was just a matter of putting the bundles together and saying goodbye to the neighbors left behind. Needless to say old resource road companion Angelica, sweet, fetching Angelica put that fetchiness to good use and had us lined up for a ride from another Eddie truck driver who, if he was sober enough, was heading out with a load at 6:00 AM to Winchester just outside Lexington from where we could make better connections west. 6:00 AM, are you kidding? I am still wearing about eight pound of that white lightning, or whatever it was. Angelica merely pointed out in her winsome, fetching way that nobody forced me to drink that rotgut (her word) liquor when softer refreshments had been available inside. Touché, 6:00 AM it is.

Dog tired, smelling of a distillery, or some old time hardware store (where the white lightning ingredients probably came from) Angelica and I laid our heads down to get a few hours sleep. Gently she nuzzled up to my side (how she did it through the alcoholic haze I do not know) and gave every indication that she wanted to make love. Now we are right next door to the two unnamed sleeping children, sleeping the sleep of the just, and as she gets more aggressive we have to be, or we think we have to be, more quiet. No making the earth under the Steubenville truck stop motel cabin shake this night. And, as we talked about it on the road later, that was not what was in her mind. She just wanted to show, in a very simple way, that she appreciated that I had stayed, that I had been wise enough to figure out how long we should stay, and that, drunk or sober, I would take her feelings into account. Not a bad night’s work. And so amid some low giggles we did our exploration. Oh, here is the part that will tell you more than a little about Angelica. She also wanted to please me this night because she did not know, given the vagaries of the road, when we would be able to do it again. Practical girl.

In the groggy, misty, dark before dawn, half awake, no quarter awake night Angelica tapped me to get up. We quickly packed, she ate a little food (I could barely stand never mind do something as complicated as eat food), and we made our goodbyes, genuine this morning by all parties. As we went out the front trailer door and headed up the road to the place where Eddie had said to meet him I swear, I swear on all the dreams of whatever color that I have ever had, that the background mountains that were starting to take form out of the dark started to play, and to play like that music I heard last night from those demon fiddlers and banjo players. I asked, when we met Eddie, who was only a few minutes late, and who looked and felt (as he told me) worst that I did (except that he proudly stated that he was used to it, okay Eddie) if those musicians were still at it over at that old devil of a red barn. “No,” he said. “Where is that music coming from then?” I said. Old Eddie (backed by Angelica) said “What music?” That angel music I said. Eddie just looked bemused as he revved that old truck engine up and we hit the road west.

Several years ago I was half-listening to some music, some background eerily haunting mountain music coming from a folk radio station when I had the strangest feeling that I had heard the tune before. I puzzled over it sporadically for a few days and then went to the local library to see if they had some mountain music CDs. They did and I began on that date a feverish reaquaintance with this form of music that I have occasionally reviewed here, especially the various Carter Family combinations. I, however, never did find out the name of that song.

And in a sense it has not name. It was the music from that old mountain wind as it trailed down the hills and hollows that I heard that last night in Prestonsburg. See here is what you didn’t know as you read all this stuff, and I only half knew it back then. I had been in Kentucky before that trip down from Steubenville, Ohio with sweet Angelica. No, not the way you think. My parents, shortly after they were married and after my father got out of the service, took a trip back to his home in Hazard so his family could meet his bride, or maybe just so he could show her off. They stayed for some period of time, I am not sure exactly how long, but the long and short of it is, that I was conceived and was fussing around in my mother’s womb while they were there. So see, it was that old mountain wind calling me home, calling me to my father’s roots, calling me to my roots as I was aimlessly searching for that blue-pink great American West night. Double thanks, Angelica.
***Out In The Be-Bop 1950s Night- Out In The Adventure Car Hop Night

A YouTube film clip of Sonny James performing the classic Young Love to set the mood for this piece.

CD Review

The Rock ‘N’ Roll Era: 1957: Still Rockin’, various artists, Time-Life Music, 1988

Now 1957 was a good year for rock, for "boss" cars, and for car hops if you could keep them, at least that was what some of the older guys told me later. In 1957 my drive-in restaurant experiences were limited to, when we had a car, a working car in our family which was an iffy proposition at best, sitting in the back seat of some beat up sedan (Packard, Hudon, Nash Rambler all  the forgotten cars of that era up against that '57 Chevy that still evokes dreams) and waiting during the daytime (the night belonged to the teens and no self-respecting or smart parent would bring tender children to such a place at night) for some cold plastic hamburger with fries. Jesus.

But the music was on fire as the breakout of the previous couple of years hit the pre-teen audience that was just as starved for its own not parent-seal-of-approval music as the older kids. Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and a ton of other talent was hitting the airwaves so that if you tired of hearing one song after the one thousandth consecutive playing you could move right on.

In this The Rock ‘n’ Roll Era series some years, I believe reflecting banner years, have two CDs dedicated to the greatest hits for that year. For 1957, which has the magic two, I think that the other 1957 CD is a bit better but this one covers the rest of what should have been preserved. Stick outs here include Chuck Berry’s Rock & Roll Music (Christ, he had about ten hits in those years and most of them still crank up the teen-memory dark night air with their electricity); The Platters’ classic last dance, school dance I’m Sorry (oh, please, please save that last dance for me certain she that I have eyed until my eyes got sore all night, and she, certain she, peeked at me too); Little Richard’s Jenny, Jenny (another guy who had a ton of hit in a short period, although they haven't worn as well as Chuck's); and Fats Domino’s Blue Monday (ya, back to school days Monday blahs, except for Monday morning boys' "lav" bragging rights if that certain she I just mentioned really did mean to look my way for that last dance, otherwise why have a Monday anyway).
In Honor Of The 64th Anniversary Year Of The Chinese Revolution of 1949- From The Pen Of Leon Trotsky-Problems Of The Chinese Revolution (1927) –The Chinese Revolution and the Theses of Comrade Stalin-May 17, 1927

Click on link below to read on-line all of Leon Trotsky's book, Problems Of The Chinesee Revolution

Markin comment (repost from 2012):

On a day when we are honoring the 63rd anniversary of the Chinese revolution of 1949 the article posted in this entry and the comment below take on added meaning. In the old days, in the days when I had broken from many of my previously held left social-democratic political views and had begun to embrace Marxism with a distinct tilt toward Trotskyism, I ran into an old revolutionary in Boston who had been deeply involved (although I did not learn the extend of that involvement until later) in the pre-World War II socialist struggles in Eastern Europe. The details of that involvement will not detain us here now but the import of what he had to impart to me about the defense of revolutionary gains has stuck with me until this day. And, moreover, is germane to the subject of this article from the pen of Leon Trotsky -the defense of the Chinese revolution and the later gains of that third revolution (1949) however currently attenuated.

This old comrade, by the circumstances of his life, had escaped that pre-war scene in fascist-wracked Europe and found himself toward the end of the 1930s in New York working with the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party in the period when that organization was going through intense turmoil over the question of defense of the Soviet Union. In the history of American (and international) Trotskyism this is the famous Max Shachtman-James Burnham led opposition that declared, under one theory or another, that the previously defendable Soviet Union had changed dramatically enough in the course of a few months to be no longer worth defending by revolutionaries.

What struck him from the start about this dispute was the cavalier attitude of the anti-Soviet opposition, especially among the wet-behind-the-ears youth, on the question of that defense and consequently about the role that workers states, healthy, deformed or degenerated, as we use the terms of art in our movement, as part of the greater revolutionary strategy. Needless to say most of those who abandoned defense of the Soviet Union when there was even a smidgeon of a reason to defend it left politics and peddled their wares in academia or business. Or if they remained in politics lovingly embraced the virtues of world imperialism.

That said, the current question of defense of the Chinese Revolution hinges on those same premises that animated that old Socialist Workers Party dispute. And strangely enough (or maybe not so strangely) on the question of whether China is now irrevocably on the capitalist road, or is capitalist already (despite some very un-capitalistic economic developments over the past few years), I find that many of those who oppose that position have that same cavalier attitude the old comrade warned me against back when I was first starting out. There may come a time when we, as we had to with the Soviet Union and other workers states, say that China is no longer a workers state. But today is not that day. In the meantime study the issue, read the posted article, and more importantly, defend the gains of the Chinese Revolution.

Leon Trotsky

Problems of the Chinese Revolution

The Chinese Revolution and the Theses of Comrade Stalin-May 17, 1927

The theses of comrade Stalin entitled Problems of the Chinese Revolution were published in Pravda on April 21, 1927, a few days after the close of the plenary session of the Central Committee [1], to which these theses were never presented and at which they were never discussed (although all the members of the plenum were still in Moscow).
Moreover, the theses of comrade Stalin are erroneous to such a point, they turn the matter upside down to such a degree, they are so permeated with the spirit of chvostism, they are so inclined to perpetuate the mistakes already made, that to remain silent about them would be a positive crime.

The Lessons of the Chinese Events Must Be Drawn

1) The prohibition of an open discussion of the theoretical and tactical problems of the Chinese revolution has been motivated of late by the fact that such a discussion would delight the enemies of the USSR. Naturally it would be quite impermissible to make public facts that could be seized upon by enemies, who, incidentally, do not shrink from the direct invention of “facts” and “documents”. But there is no need at all for such a discussion. It is only a question of determining the driving forces of the Chinese revolution and of estimating the basic line of its political direction. In other words, it is a question of discussing the same questions to which the theses of comrade Stalin are devoted. If these theses can be published, then why cannot a criticism of them be published?
It is an unheard-of mistake to contend that a discussion of the problems of the Chinese revolution can injure our state interests. If this were so, then not only the Communist Party of the Soviet Union but every other party of the Communist International, including the Chinese, would have to abstain from any discussion. But the interests of the Chinese revolution, as well as the interests of the education of all the Communist parties in the world, demand an open, energetic, exhaustive discussion of all the problems of the Chinese revolution, especially those in dispute. It is not true that the interests of the Communist International conflict with the state interests of the USSR. The renunciation of discussion of the mistakes is not dictated by the interests of a workers’ state, but by a false “apparatus-like”, bureaucratic attitude towards the Chinese revolution as well as towards the interests of the USSR.
2) The April defeat of the Chinese revolution is not only a defeat for the opportunist line but also a defeat for the bureaucratic methods of the leadership, through which the Party is confronted with every decision as an accomplished fact: the decision, it is explained, does not justify criticism until facts demonstrate its annulment, whereupon it is just as automatically, that is, behind the back of the Party, replaced by a decision which is frequently more erroneous, like the present theses of Stalin. Such a method, which, in and by itself, is incompatible with the development of a revolutionary party, becomes an especially heavy obstacle to young parties that can and should learn independently from the experiences of defeats and mistakes.
The theses of comrade Stalin are published. At least within the limits of these theses, the questions of the Chinese revolution can and must be discussed openly and from every angle.

The Yoke of Imperialism and the Class Struggle

3) The peculiarity of the Chinese revolution – in comparison, for example, with our revolution of 1905 – lies above all in the semi-colonial position in China. A policy that disregarded the powerful pressure of imperialism on the internal life of China would be radically false. But a policy that proceeded from an abstract conception of national oppression without its class refraction and reflection would be no less false. The main source of the mistakes in the theses of comrade Stalin, as in the whole leading line in general, is the false conception of the role of imperialism and its influence on the class relationships of China.
The imperialist yoke is supposed to serve as a justification for the policy of the “bloc of four classes”. The yoke of imperialism leads allegedly to the fact that “all” (!) the classes of China look upon the Canton government as the “national government of the whole of China in the same way” (!). (Speech of comrade Kalinin, Izvestia, March 6) This is essentially the position of the right Guomindang man, Dai Tshi Tao, who pretends that the laws of the class struggle do not exist for China – because of imperialist pressure.
China is an oppressed semi-colonial country. The development of the productive forces of China, which is proceeding in capitalist forms, demands the shaking off of the imperialist yoke. The war of China for its national independence is a progressive war, because it flows from the necessities of the economic and cultural development of China itself, as well as because it facilitates the development of the revolution of the British proletariat and that of the whole world proletariat.
But this by no means signifies that the imperialist yoke is a mechanical one, subjugating “all” the classes of China in the “same” way. The powerful role of foreign capital in the life of China has caused very strong sections of the Chinese bourgeoisie, the bureaucracy and the military to join their destiny with that of imperialism. Without this tie, the enormous role of the so-called “militarists” in the life of modern China would be inconceivable.
It would further be profound na‘veté to believe that an abyss lies between the so-called comprador bourgeoisie, that is, the economic and political agency of foreign capital in China, and the so-called “national” bourgeoisie. No, these two sections stand incomparably closer to each other than the bourgeoisie and the masses of workers and peasants. The bourgeoisie participated in the national war as an internal brake, looking upon the worker and peasant masses with growing hostility, and becoming ever readier to conclude a compromise with imperialism.
Installed within the Guomindang and its leadership, the national bourgeoisie has been essentially an instrument of the compradors and imperialism. It can remain in the camp of the national war only because of the weakness of the worker and peasant masses, the lack of development of the class struggle, the lack of independence of the Chinese Communist Party and the docility of the Guomindang in the hands of the bourgeoisie.
It is a gross mistake to think that imperialism mechanically welds together all the classes of China from without. That is the position of the Chinese Kadet, Dai Tshi Tao, but in no wise ours. The revolutionary struggle against imperialism does not weaken, but rather strengthens the political differentiation of the classes. Imperialism is a highly powerful force in the internal relationships of China. The main source of this force is not the warships in the waters of the Yangtze Kiang – they are only auxiliaries – but the economic and political bond between foreign capital and the native bourgeoisie. The struggle against imperialism, precisely because of its economic and military power, demands a powerful exertion of forces from the very depths of the Chinese people. To really arouse the workers and peasants against imperialism is possible only by connecting their basic and most profound life interests with the cause of the country’s liberation. A workers’ strike – small or large – an agrarian rebellion, an uprising of the oppressed sections in city and country against the usurer, against the bureaucracy, against the local military satraps, all that arouses the multitudes, that welds them together, that educates, steels, is a real step forward on the road to the revolutionary and social liberation of the Chinese people. Without that, the military successes and failures of the right, semi-right or semi-left generals will remain foam on the surface of the ocean. But everything that brings the oppressed and exploited masses of the toilers to their feet inevitably pushes the national bourgeoisie into an open bloc with the imperialists. The class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the masses of workers and peasants is not weakened, but, on the contrary, is sharpened by imperialist oppression, to the point of bloody civil war at every serious conflict. The Chinese bourgeoisie always has a solid rearguard behind it in imperialism, which will always help it with money, goods and shells against the workers and peasants.
Only wretched philistines and sycophants, who hope in their hearts to obtain freedom for China as an imperialist bounty for the good behaviour of the masses, can believe that the national liberation of China can be achieved by moderating the class struggle, by curbing strikes and agrarian uprisings, by abandoning the arming of the masses, etc. When comrade Martynov proposes that strikes and the struggle on the land be replaced by a solution of the questions through the medium of governmental arbitration, then he differs in no way from Dai Tshi Tao, the philosophical inspirer of Chiang Kai-shek’s policy.

Democratic or Socialist Revolution?

4) The senseless contention is attributed to the Opposition that China now stands on the eve of a socialist dictatorship of the proletariat. There is nothing original in this “criticism”. On the eve of 1905 and later on, the Mensheviks frequently declared that Lenin’s tactic would be correct if Russia were directly on the eve of the socialist revolution. Lenin, however, explained to them that his tactic was the only road to the radical victory of the democratic revolution which, under favourable conditions, would begin to grow over into a socialist revolution.
The question of the “non-capitalist” path of development of China was posed in a conditional form by Lenin, for whom, as for us, it was and is ABC wisdom that the Chinese revolution, left to its own forces, that is, without the direct support of the victorious proletariat of the USSR and the working class of all advanced countries, could end only with the conquest of the broadest possibilities for the capitalist development of the country, with more favourable conditions for the labour movement.
5) No less basically false is the contention that the question as to whether the Chinese proletariat needs an independent party; whether this party needs a bloc with the Guomindang or must subordinate itself to it; whether soviets are necessary, etc., must be solved in accordance with how we conceive the course and the tempo of the further stages of the Chinese revolution. It is quite possible that China will have to pass through a relatively prolonged stage of parliamentarism, beginning with a Constituent Assembly. This demand is inscribed on the banner of the Communist Party. If the bourgeois democratic revolution does not grow into a socialist revolution in the near future, then in all probability the workers’ and peasants’ soviets will pass from the scene for a definite stage and give way to a bourgeois régime, which, depending on the progress of the world revolution, will in turn give way, at a new historical stage, to the dictatorship of the proletariat.
6) But first of all, the inevitability of the capitalist path has by no means been proved; and secondly – this argument is now incomparably more timely for us – the bourgeois tasks can be solved in various ways. The slogan of the Constituent Assembly becomes an empty abstraction, often simple charlatanry, if one does not add who will convoke it and with what program. Chiang Kai-shek can raise the slogan of a Constituent Assembly against us even tomorrow, just as he has now raised his “workers’ and peasants’ program” against us. We want a Constituent Assembly convoked not by Chiang Kai-shek but by the executive committee of the workers’ and peasants’ soviets. That is the only serious and sure road.
7) Basically untenable is the endeavour of comrade Bukharin to justify the opportunist and compromising line by referring to the allegedly predominant role of the “remnants of feudalism” in Chinese economy. Even if comrade Bukharin’s estimation of Chinese economy rested on an economic analysis and not on scholastic definitions, the “remnants of feudalism” would still be unable to justify the policy which so manifestly facilitated the April coup d’état.
The Chinese revolution has a national bourgeois character principally because the development of the productive forces of Chinese capitalism collides with its governmental customs dependence upon the countries of imperialism. The obstruction of the development of Chinese industry and the throttling of the internal market involve the conservation and rebirth of the most backward forms of production in agriculture, of the most parasitic forms of exploitation, of the most barbaric forms of oppression and violence, the growth of surplus population, as well as the persistence and aggravation of pauperism and all sorts of slavery. No matter how great the specific weight of the typically “feudal” elements in Chinese economy may be they can be swept away only in a revolutionary way, and consequently not in alliance with the bourgeoisie but in direct struggle against it. The more complicated and tortuous is the interlacing of feudal and capitalist relations, the less the agrarian question can be solved by legislation from above, the more indispensable is the revolutionary initiative of the peasant masses in close union with the workers and the poor population of the cities, the falser is the policy that clings convulsively to the alliance with the bourgeoisie and the large landowner and subordinates its work among the masses to this alliance. The policy of the “bloc of four classes” not only prepared the bloc of the bourgeoisie with imperialism, but also meant the preservation of all the survivals of barbarism in administration and in economy.
To invoke the bourgeois character of the Chinese revolution, in particular against the soviets, is simply to renounce the experiences of our bourgeois revolutions of 1905 and February 1917. In these revolutions, the immediate and essential objective was the abolition of the autocratic and feudal régime. This aim did not exclude, but demanded the arming of the workers and the formation of soviets. Here is how Lenin treated the subject after the February revolution:
“For an effective struggle against the tsarist monarchy, for a real assurance of liberty not only in words, not in elegant promises of the rhetoricians of liberalism, the workers must not support the new government, but the government must ‘support’ the workers. For the only guarantee of freedom and of the final destruction of tsarism is the arming of the proletariat, the consolidation, the extension, the development of the role, the significance, and the power of the workers’ and soldiers’ soviets. Everything else is phrases and lies of the politicians in the liberal and radical camps who are deceiving themselves. Support the arming of the workers or at least do not obstruct this process, and freedom in Russia will be invincible, the monarchy irretrievable, the republic assured. Otherwise the people will be deceived. Promises are cheap. They cost nothing. All the bourgeois politicians in all the bourgeois revolutions have ‘fed’ the people with promises and stupefied the workers. Our revolution is a bourgeois revolution, therefore the workers must support the bourgeoisie; that is what the worthless politicians from the camp of the liquidators say. Our revolution is a bourgeois revolution, say we, the Marxists; therefore the workers must open the eyes of the people to the deception of the bourgeois politicians, must teach it to put no trust in words, to rely upon its own forces, its own organization, its own unity, its own arms.” [2]
The Chinese revolutionist who casts the over-cunning resolutions and comments on the bloc of four classes out of his head, will firmly grasp the sense of these simple words of Lenin, will be sure not to go astray and will attain the goal.

The School of Martynov in the Chinese Question

8) The official leadership of the Chinese revolution has been oriented all this time on a “general national united front” or on the “bloc of four classes” (cf. the report of Bukharin; the leader in the Communist International, no.11; the unpublished speech by Stalin to the Moscow functionaries on April 5, 1927; the article by Martynov in Pravda on April 10; the leader in Pravda of March 16; the speech by comrade Kalinin in Izvestia of March 6, 1927; the speech by comrade Rudzutak in Pravda of March 9, 1927; etc., etc.). Matters had gone so far on this track, that on the eve of Chiang Kai-shek’s coup d’état, Pravda, in order to expose the Opposition, proclaimed that revolutionary China was not being ruled by a bourgeois government but by a “government of the bloc of four classes”.
The philosophy of Martynov, which has the sorry courage to carry all the mistakes of Stalin and Bukharin in the questions of Chinese policy to their logical conclusion, does not meet a trace of objection. Yet it is tantamount to trampling under foot the fundamental principles of Marxism. It reproduces the crudest features of Russian and international Menshevism, applied to the conditions of the Chinese revolution. Not for nothing does the present leader of the Mensheviks, Dan, write in the last number of Sotsialisticheski Vestnik:
“‘In principle’ the Bolsheviks were also for retaining the ‘united front’ in the Chinese revolution up to the completion of the task of national liberation. On April 10, Martynov, in Pravda, most effectively and despite the obligatory abuse of the Social Democrats, in a quite ‘Menshevik manner’ showed the ‘Left’ Oppositionist Radek the correctness of the official position which insists on the necessity of retaining the ‘bloc of four classes’, on not hastening to overthrow the coalition government in which the workers sit side by side with the big bourgeoisie, not to impose ‘socialist tasks’ upon it prematurely.” [3]
Everyone who knows the history of the struggle of Bolshevism against Menshevism, particularly in the question of relations to the liberal bourgeoisie, must acknowledge that Dan’s approval of the “rational principles” of the Martynov school is not accidental, but follows with perfect legitimacy. It is only unnatural that this school should raise its voice with impunity in the ranks of the Comintern.
The old Menshevik tactic of 1905 to 1917, which was crushed under foot by the march of events, is now transferred to China by the Martynov school, much the same as capitalist trade dumps its most inferior merchandise, which finds no market in the mother country, into the colonies. The merchandise has not even been renovated. The arguments are the same, letter for letter, as they were twenty years ago. Only, where formerly the word autocracy stood, the word imperialism has been substituted for it in the text. Naturally, British imperialism is different from autocracy. But the Menshevik reference to it does not differ in the slightest from its reference to autocracy. The struggle against foreign imperialism is as much a class struggle as the struggle against autocracy. That it cannot be exorcized by the idea of the national united front, is far too eloquently proved by the bloody April events, a direct consequence of the policy of the bloc of four classes.

What the “Line” Looked Like in Practice

9) On the past period, which terminated with the April coup d’état, the theses of comrade Stalin announce:
“The line adopted was the only correct line.”
What did it look like in practice? An eloquent reply is supplied by Tang Pingshan, the Communist minister of agriculture, in his report at the Seventh Plenum of the ECCI in December 1926.
“Since the establishment of the national government in Canton last July, which is nominally a government of the left wing, the power has actually been in the hands of the right wing ... The movement of the workers and peasants cannot develop to its full breadth as a result of various obstacles. After the March putsch a military dictatorship of the centre [that is, Chiang Kai-shek] was established, while the political power remained as before in the hands of the right wing. The whole political power, which should properly [!] have belonged to the left wing, is finally lost.”
So: the left “should have” had the power, but finally lost it; the state power belonged to the right, the military authority, which is incomparably more powerful, arid was entirely in the hands of the “centre” of Chiang Kai-shek, which became the centre of the conspiracy. Under such conditions, it is not difficult to understand why “the movement of the workers and peasants” could not develop as it should have.
Tang Pingshan gives an even more precise characterization of what the “only correct line” looked like in reality:
“... We sacrificed the interests of the workers and peasants in practice ... After lengthy negotiations with us, the government did not as much as promulgate a trade-union law ... The government did not accept the demands of the peasantry, which we presented to it in the name of various social organizations. When conflicts arose between the large landowners and the poor peasants, the government always took the side of the former.”
How could all this happen? Tang Pingshan cautiously names two reasons:
a) “The left leaders are not capable of consolidating and extending their influence by means of political power”;
b) The right wing “won the possibility to act, partly as a result of our wrong tactic”.
10) Such are, the political relations that received the pompous title of the “bloc of four classes”. Such “blocs” abound in the revolutionary as well as the parliamentary history of bourgeois countries: the big bourgeoisie leads the petty-bourgeois democrats, the phrase-mongers of the national united front, behind it, and the latter, in turn, confuse the workers and drag them along behind the bourgeoisie. When the proletarian “tail”, despite the efforts of the petty-bourgeois phrase-mongers, begins to stir too violently, the bourgeoisie orders its generals to stamp on it. Then the opportunists observe with an air of profundity that the bourgeoisie has “betrayed” the national cause.
11) But did not the Chinese bourgeoisie “nevertheless” fight against imperialism? This argument too is an empty commonplace. The compromisers of every country, in similar cases, have always assured the workers that the liberal bourgeoisie is fighting against reaction. The Chinese bourgeoisie utilized the petty-bourgeois democracy only in order to conclude an alliance with imperialism against the workers. The Northern expedition only served to strengthen the bourgeoisie and weaken the workers. A tactic that prepared such a result is a false tactic. “We sacrificed the interests of the workers and peasants in practice,” says Tang Pingshan. What for? To support the bloc of four classes. And the results? A colossal success of the bourgeois counter-revolution, the consolidation of shattered imperialism, the weakening of the USSR. Such a policy is criminal. Unless it is mercilessly condemned, we cannot take a step forward.

The Theses Justify a Line for Which There Is No Justification

12) The theses endeavour even now to justify the policy which united the party of the proletariat with the big bourgeoisie within the framework of one organization, the Guomindang, where the whole leadership was in the hands of the bourgeoisie. The theses declare: “This was the line ... for the utilization of the rights, their connections and experiences, in so far as they submitted [!] to the discipline of the Guomindang.” Now we know very well how the bourgeoisie submitted to “discipline” and how the proletariat utilized the rights, that is, the big and middle bourgeoisie, their “connections” (with the imperialists) and their “experiences” (in strangling and shooting the workers). The story of this “utilization” is written in the book of the Chinese revolution with letters of blood. But this does not prevent the theses from saying: “The subsequent events fully confirmed the correctness of this line.” Further than this no one can go!
From an enormous counter-revolutionary coup d’état, the theses of Stalin draw the positively miserable conclusion that the policy of “isolating the right” within the united Guomindang must be “replaced” by a policy of “determined struggle” against the right. All this after the right-wing “comrades” have begun to speak in the language of machine-guns.
13) The theses refer, to be sure, to a “previous prediction” on the inevitability of the bourgeoisie’s withdrawal from the revolution. But are such prophecies by themselves sufficient for a Bolshevik policy? The prediction that the bourgeoisie will quit is an empty commonplace unless definite political conclusions are drawn from it. In the already quoted article, which approves the semi-official line of Martynov, Dan writes: “In a movement that embraces such antagonistic classes, the united front cannot of course last forever.” [4]
So Dan also acknowledges the “inevitability of the bourgeoisie’s withdrawal”. In practice, however, the policy of Menshevism in the revolution consists of retaining the united front at any cost, as long as possible, at the price of adapting its own policy to the policy of the bourgeoisie, at the price of cutting down the slogans and the activity of the masses, and even, as in China, at the price of the organizational subordination of the workers’ party to the political apparatus of the bourgeoisie. The Bolshevik way, however, consists of an unconditional political and organizational demarcation from the bourgeoisie, of a relentless exposure of the bourgeoisie from the very first steps of the revolution, of a destruction of all petty-bourgeois illusions about the united front with the bourgeoisie, of tireless struggle with the bourgeoisie for the leadership of the masses, of the merciless expulsion from the Communist Party of all those elements who sow vain hopes in the bourgeoisie or idealize them.

Two Paths and the Mistakes of the Past

14) The theses of comrade Stalin, to be sure, seek to oppose to each other the two paths of development of the Chinese revolution: one under the leadership of the bourgeoisie, with its suppression of the proletariat and an inevitable alliance with foreign imperialism; the other under the leadership of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie.
But in order that this second prospect of the bourgeois-democratic revolution should not remain an empty phrase, it must be said openly and plainly that the whole leadership of the Chinese revolution up to now has been in irreconcilable contradiction to it. The Opposition has been and is subjected to a rabid criticism precisely because, from the very beginning, it brought to the fore the Leninist manner of putting the question, that is, the path of the struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie for the leadership of the oppressed masses of city and country within the framework and on the foundation of the national-democratic revolution.
15) From the theses of Stalin it follows that the proletariat can separate itself from the bourgeoisie only after the latter has tossed it aside, disarmed it, beheaded it and crushed it under foot. But this is precisely the way the abortive revolution of 1848 developed, where the proletariat had no banner of its own, but followed at the heels of the petty-bourgeois democracy, which in turn trotted behind the liberal bourgeoisie and led the workers under the sabre of Cavaignac. Great though the real peculiarities of the Chinese situation may be, the fundamentals that characterized the development of the 1848 revolution have been repeated in the Chinese revolution with such deadly precision as though neither the lessons of 1848, 1871, 1905 and 1917 nor those of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Comintern had ever existed.
That Chiang Kai-shek played the role of a republican-liberal Cavaignac has already become a commonplace. The theses of Stalin, following the Opposition, recognize this analogy. But the analogy must be supplemented. Cavaignac would have been impossible without the Ledru-Rollins, the Louis Blancs and the other phrasemongers of the all-inclusive national front. And who played these roles in China? Not only Wang Jingwei, but also the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, above all their inspirers of the ECCI. Unless this is stated openly, explained and deeply impressed, the philosophy of – the two paths of development will only serve to screen opportunism à la Louis Blanc and Martynov, that is, to prepare a repetition of the April tragedy at a new stage of the Chinese revolution.

The Position of the Chinese Communist Party

16) In order to have the right to speak about the struggle for the Bolshevik path of the democratic revolution, one must possess the principal instrument of proletarian policy; an independent proletarian party which fights under its own banner and never permits its policy and organization to be dissolved in the policy and organization of other classes. Without assuring the complete theoretical, political and organizational independence of the Communist Party, all talk about “two paths” is a mockery of Bolshevism. The Chinese Communist Party, in this whole period, has not been in alliance with the revolutionary petty-bourgeois section of the Guomindang, but in subordination to the whole Guomindang, led in reality by the bourgeoisie which had the army and the power in its hands. The Communist Party submitted to the political discipline of Chiang Kai-shek. The Communist Party signed the obligation not to criticize Sun-Yat-Sen-ism, a petty-bourgeois theory which is directed not only against imperialism, but also against the class struggle. The Communist Party did not have its own press, that is, it lacked the principal weapon of an independent party. Under such conditions, to speak of the struggle of the proletariat for hegemony means to deceive oneself and others.
17) By what is the submissive, indistinct, and politically unworthy position of the Communist Party in Chiang Kai-shek’s Guomindang to be explained? By the insistence upon the unity of the national front under the actual leadership of the bourgeoisie which allegedly “could not” withdraw from the revolution (the school of Martynov), that is, the rejection in practice of the second, Bolshevik path of which the theses of Stalin speak as an afterthought, solely for camouflage purposes.
To justify such a policy by the necessity for an alliance of the workers and peasants, is to reduce this alliance itself to a phrase, to a screen for the commanding role of the bourgeoisie. The dependence of the Communist Party, an inevitable result of the “bloc of the four classes”, was the main obstacle in the path of the workers’ and peasants’ movement, and therefore also of the real alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry, without which the victory of the Chinese revolution cannot even be thought of.
18) What should the Communist Party do in the future?
In the theses, there is only a single sentence on this, but one capable of sowing the greatest confusion and causing irreparable harm. “... While fighting in the ranks of the revolutionary Guomindang,” say Stalin’s theses, “the Communist Party must preserve its independence more than ever before.” Preserve? But to this day the Communist Party has had no such independence. Precisely its lack of independence is the source of all the evils and all the mistakes. In this fundamental question, the theses, instead of making an end once and for all to the practice of yesterday, propose to retain it “more than ever before”. But this means that they want to retain the ideological, political and organizational dependence of the proletarian party upon a petty-bourgeois party, which is inevitably converted into an instrument of the big bourgeoisie.
In order to justify a false policy, one is forced to call dependence independence, and to demand the preservation of what ought to be buried for all time.
19) Chinese Bolshevism can rise only under a merciless self-criticism by the best elements of the Communist Party. To support them in this is our direct duty. The attempt to cover up the mistakes of the past by artificially curbing a discussion of them, will cause enormous harm, primarily to the Chinese Communist Party. If we do not help it to purge itself, in the shortest period, from Menshevism and the Mensheviks, it will enter a prolonged crisis, with splits, desertions, and an embittered struggle of various groups. What is more, the heavy defeats of opportunism may clear a road to anarcho-syndicalist influences.
If, in spite of a workers’ mass movement, in spite of the powerful rise of the trade unions, in spite of the revolutionary agrarian movement on the land, the Communist Party should remain as before an integral appendage to a bourgeois party, and what is more, should it enter the national government created by this bourgeois party, it would be better to say frankly: the time has not yet come for a Communist party in China. It is better not to constitute any Communist party at all than to discredit it so cruelly at the time of a revolution, that is, just at the time when the Party is being joined to the working masses with bonds of blood and when great traditions are being created that are destined to live for decades.

Who Was Mistaken on the Tempo?

20) In Stalin’s theses there is of course a whole section devoted to the “mistakes of the Opposition”. Instead of hitting out at the right, that is, at the mistakes of Stalin himself, the theses are intent upon striking at the left, thereby deepening the mistakes, piling up confusion, making the way out more difficult, and driving the line of the leadership down into the swamp of compromise.
21) The main accusation: the Opposition “does not understand that the revolution in China cannot develop at a rapid tempo”. For some reason or other, the theses drag in here the tempo of the October revolution. If the question of tempo is raised, it must not be measured with the external yardstick of the October revolution, but with the internal class relationships of the Chinese revolution itself. The Chinese bourgeoisie, as is known, paid no attention to the precepts about a slow tempo. In April 1927, it considered it quite opportune to throw off the mask of the united front which had served it so well, in order to open an attack upon the revolution with all its strength. The Communist Party, the proletariat, as well as the Left Guomindang people, showed themselves completely unprepared for this blow. Why? Because the leadership counted upon a slower tempo, because it remained hopelessly behindhand, because it was infected with chvostism.
On April 23, that is, after the coup d’état by Chiang Kai-shek, the Central Committee of the Guomindang, together with the “left” Wuhan government, published a manifesto, which said:
It only remains for us to regret [!] that we did not act when there was still time. For that we apologize [!] sincerely.” [5]
In these doleful and whining avowals lies, against the will of their authors, a pitiless refutation of the Stalinist philosophy on the “tempo” of the Chinese revolution.
22) We continued to maintain the bloc with the bourgeoisie at a time when the working masses were driving towards independent struggle. We attempted to utilize the experiences of the “rights” and became playthings in their hands. We carried on an ostrich policy in the press, by suppressing and concealing from our own party the first coup d’état by Chiang Kai-shek in March 1926, the shootings of workers and peasants, and in general all the facts that marked the counter-revolutionary character of the Guomindang leadership. We neglected to look after the independence of our own party. We founded no newspaper for it. “We sacrificed the interests of the workers and peasants in practice” (Tang Pingshan). We did not take a single serious step to win over the soldiers. We allowed the Chiang Kai-shek band to establish a “military dictatorship of the centre”, that is, a dictatorship of the bourgeois counter-revolution. On the very eve of the coup d’état we blew the trumpets for Chiang Kai-shek. We declared that he had “submitted to discipline”, and that we had succeeded “by a skilful tactical manoeuvre in forestalling an abrupt turn to the right that threatened the Chinese revolution”. [6] We remained behind the events all along the line. At every step we lost in tempo to the benefit of the bourgeoisie. In this way we prepared the most favourable conditions for the bourgeois counter-revolution. The Left Guomindang at least offers us its “sincere apology”. The theses of Stalin, on the contrary, draw from this whole chain of truly unparalleled chvostist mistakes the remarkable conclusion that the Opposition demands. a too rapid tempo.
23) Ever more frequently one hears accusations at our party meetings against the “ultra-left” Shanghaiers and in general against the Chinese workers for having provoked Chiang Kai-shek by their “excesses”. No one cites any examples; and what would they prove, anyway? Not a single real people’s revolution, drawing millions into its vortex, proceeds without so-called “excesses”. A policy which seeks to prescribe for the masses just awakening a line of march that will not disturb the bourgeois “order” is a policy of incurable philistines. It will always break its head against the logic of civil war when, while pronouncing belated curses upon the Cavaignacs and Kornilovs, it denounces at the same time the alleged “excesses” of the left.
The “mistake” of the Chinese workers lies in the fact that the critical moment of the revolution found them unprepared, unorganized and unarmed. But that is not their mistake, it is their misfortune. The responsibility for it falls entirely upon a bad leadership, which let every interval pass.

Does a New Revolutionary Centre Already Exist
or Must One First Be Created?

24) On the present state of the Chinese revolution, the theses proclaim: “Chiang Kai-shek’s coup d’état means that there will now be two camps, two governments, two armies, two centres in the South: a revolutionary centre in Wuhan and a counter-revolutionary centre in Nanking.” What an inexact, superficial, vulgar characterization! It is not simply a question of two halves of the Guomindang but of a new grouping of class forces. To believe that the Wuhan government is already a finished centre, which will simply continue the revolution from the point where it was brought to a stop and beaten to the ground by Chiang Kai-shek, is to regard the counter-revolutionary coup d’état in April as a personal “desertion”, an “episode”; in a word, it is to understand nothing.
The workers were not simply crushed. They were crushed by those who led them. Can one believe that the masses will now follow the Left Guomindang with the same confidence that they accorded the whole Guomindang yesterday? From now on the struggle must be conducted not only against the former militarists allied with imperialism, but also against the “national” bourgeoisie which, as a result of our radically incorrect policy, has captured the military apparatus and considerable sections of the army.
For the struggle on a new, higher stage of the revolution, the deceived masses must above all be inspired with confidence in themselves, and the not yet awakened masses must be aroused. For this, it must first of all be demonstrated that not a trace has been left of that disgraceful policy which “sacrificed the interests of the workers and peasants” (cf. Tang Pingshan) in order to support the bloc of the four classes. Anyone who will lean in the direction of this policy must be mercilessly driven out of the Chinese Communist Party.
The miserably superficial and bureaucratic idea must be thrown aside that now, after the sanguinary experiences, millions of workers and peasants can be set in motion and led if only the “banner” of the Guomindang is waved around in the air a little. (We will surrender the blue banner of the Guomindang to nobody! cries Bukharin.)
No, the masses need a revolutionary program and a fighting organization which grows out of their own ranks and contains within itself the guarantee of contact with the masses and of loyalty to them. The Wuhan authorities are not enough for this: workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ soviets are needed for this, soviets of the toilers.

Soviets and the Arming of the Workers and Peasants

25) After rejecting the vital and indispensable slogan of soviets, the theses of comrade Stalin declare somewhat unexpectedly that the principal “antidote [?] to the counter-revolution is the arming of the workers and peasants”. The arming of the workers is undoubtedly a necessary thing. We will have no differences at all on this point. But how are we to explain why it was considered correct up to now to arm the workers to a “minimum” extent for the welfare of the revolution? that the representatives of the Comintern actually opposed the arming of the workers? (cf. the letter of the four comrades to the delegation of the CPSU in the Comintern); that in spite of the full possibility of arming themselves the workers found themselves unarmed at the moment of the coup d’état? All this is to be explained by the desire not to break with Chiang Kai-shek, not to offend Chiang Kai-shek, not to push him to the right. The marvellous “antidote” was lacking precisely on the day when it was most needed. Today the workers are not arming themselves in Wuhan either – so as “not to drive away” Wang Jingwei.
26) The arming of the workers and peasants is an excellent thing. But one must be logical. In Southern China there are already armed peasants; they are the so-called National armies. Yet, far from being an “antidote to the counter-revolution”, they have been its tool. Why? Because the political leadership, instead of embracing the masses of the army through soldiers’ soviets has contented itself with a purely external copy of our political departments and commissars, which, without an independent revolutionary party and without soldiers’ soviets, have been transformed into an empty camouflage for bourgeois militarism.
27) The theses of Stalin reject the slogan of soviets with the argument that it would be a “slogan of struggle against the government of the revolutionary Guomindang”. But in that case, what is the meaning of the words: “The principal antidote to the counter-revolution is the arming of the workers and peasants”?Against whom will the workers and peasants arm themselves? Will it not be against the governmental authority of the revolutionary Guomindang?
The slogan of arming the workers and peasants, if it is not a phrase, a subterfuge, a masquerade, but a call to action, is not less sharp in character than the slogan of workers’ and peasants’ soviets. Is it likely that the armed masses will tolerate at their side or over them the governmental authority of a bureaucracy alien and hostile to them? The real arming of the workers and peasants under present circumstances inevitably involves the formation of soviets.
28) Further: Who will arm the masses? Who will direct the armed men?
So long as the national armies marched forward and the Northern armies yielded ground, the arming of the workers could proceed with relative ease. The timely organization of workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ soviets would have meant a real “antidote” to the counter-revolution. Unfortunately, the mistakes of the past are irreparable. The whole situation has now taken a sharp turn for the worse. The few weapons seized spontaneously by the workers (are not these the “excesses” that are spoken of?) have been torn from them. The advance to the North has been suspended. Under these conditions the arming of the workers and peasants is a labourious and difficult task. To declare that the time for the soviets has not yet arrived and at the same time to launch the slogan for arming the workers and peasants, is to sow confusion. Only the soviets, at a further development of the revolution, can become the organs capable of really conducting the arming of the workers and of directing these armed masses.

Why Is It Impossible to Form Soviets?

29) To this, the theses reply: “In the first place soviets cannot be created at any convenient moment, they are created only in the period of a special rise of the revolutionary wave.” If these words have any sense at all, it is this: We let pass the favourable moment when we did not call upon the masses to create soviets at the beginning of the last period of powerful revolutionary rise. Once again: the mistakes of the past are irreparable. If we are of the opinion that the Chinese revolution has been crushed for a long time, then the slogan of soviets will naturally find no echo in the masses. But all the more unfounded then is the slogan of the arming of the workers and peasants. We do not believe, however, that the consequences of the false policy pursued are so heavy and profound. There are many facts that speak for the possibility and the likelihood of a new revolutionary rise in the near future. Among other things, it is indicated by the fact that Chiang Kai-shek is forced to flirt with the masses, to promise the workers the eight-hour day, and all sorts of relief to the peasants, etc. In the event of a further extension of the agrarian movement and a turning of the petty-bourgeois masses of the city against Chiang Kai-shek as an open agent of imperialism, more favourable conditions can arise in the near future under which the now battered proletarian vanguard will reassemble the ranks of the toilers for a new offensive. Whether this will take place a month sooner or later is of no concern; in any case we must prepare for it now with our own program and our own organizations. In other words: the slogan of soviets will henceforth accompany the whole further course of the Chinese revolution and reflect its destinies.
30) “In the second place,” say the theses, “soviets are not formed for chattering; they are created primarily as organs of struggle against the existing state power, and for the conquest of power.” That soviets are not created for chattering is perhaps the only correct point in the theses. But a revolutionist does not propose the arming of the workers and peasants for chattering either. Whoever says here: at the present stage only chatter can be the result of soviets, but on the contrary, something serious will come out of the arming of the workers and peasants, is either making fun of himself or of others.
31) A third argument: since there is now a series of Left Guomindang organizations in Wuhan, which in their solemn manifesto of April 23 apologized for having overslept the coup d’état of Chiang Kai-shek, the theses draw the conclusion: the creation of soviets would mean an insurrection against the Left Guomindang, “for there is no other governmental authority in this region at present than that of the revolutionary Guomindang”.
These words fairly reek with the apparatus-like, bureaucratic conception of revolutionary authority. The government is not regarded as the expression and consolidation of the developing struggle of the classes, but as the self-sufficient expression of the will of the Guomindang. The classes come and go but the continuity of the Guomindang goes on for ever. But it is not enough to call Wuhan the centre of the revolution for it really to be that. The provincial Guomindang of Chiang Kai-shek had an old, reactionary, mercenary bureaucracy at its disposal. What has the Left Guomindang? For the time being, nothing or almost nothing. The slogan of soviets is a call for the creation of real organs of the new state power right through the transitional régime of a dual government.
32) And what will be the attitude of the soviets to the “government of the revolutionary Guomindang”, allegedly the “only” governmental authority “in this region”?A truly classic question! The attitude of the soviets to the revolutionary Guomindang will correspond to the attitude of the revolutionary Guomindang to the soviets. In other words: to the extent that the soviets arise, arm themselves, consolidate themselves, they will tolerate over them only such a government as bases itself upon the armed workers and peasants. What makes the soviet system valuable is the fact that, especially in directly revolutionary epochs, it furnishes the best means of guaranteeing agreement between the central and local government authorities.
33) Comrade Stalin, as far back as 1925, called the Guomindang a “workers’ and peasants’ party” (!?). [7] This definition has nothing in common with Marxism. But it is clear that with this incorrect formulation comrade Stalin wanted to express the idea that the basis of the Guomindang is an anti-bourgeois alliance of the workers and peasants. This was absolutely false for the period in which it was said: the workers and peasants, it is true, did follow the Guomindang, but they were led by the bourgeoisie and we know where it led them. Such a party is called bourgeois, and not workers’ and peasants’. After the “withdrawal” of the bourgeoisie (that is, after it massacred the unarmed and unprepared proletariat), the revolution, according to Stalin, passes over to a new stage, in which it is to be led by the Left Guomindang, that is, by one, at least so we are to assume, that will finally realize the Stalinist idea of the “workers’ and peasants’ party”. The question arises: why then will the creation of workers’ and peasants’ soviets mean a war against the authority of the workers’ and peasants’ Guomindang?
34) Another argument: To call for the creation of soviets “means to hand the enemies of the Chinese people a new weapon to combat the revolution, to manufacture new legends and to pretend that there is no national revolution in China, but an artificial transplanting of Moscow sovietization”.
This stupefying argument means that if we develop, extend and deepen the revolutionary movement of the masses, the enemies of the Chinese people will redouble their efforts to calumniate it. This argument has no other sense. Therefore it has no sense at all.
Perhaps the theses have not in mind the enemies of the Chinese people, but the fear of the popular masses themselves of a Moscow sovietization? But on what is such a consideration based? It is well known that all the varieties of the “national” bourgeoisie, right, centre and left, zealously smear themselves with a protective Muscovite colouration in all their political work: they create commissars, political army posts, political departments, plenums of the central committee, control commissions, etc. The Chinese bourgeoisie is not at all afraid of transplanting Muscovite forms, which it carefully debases to serve its own class aims. But why do they apply them? Not out of love for Moscow, but rather because they are popular with the masses of the people. The Chinese peasant knows that the soviets gave the land to the Russian peasant, and whoever does not know this ought to learn it. The Chinese workers know that the soviets guaranteed the liberty of the Russian proletariat. The experience of the counter-revolution of Chiang Kai-shek must have made the advanced workers understand that without an independent organization embracing the whole proletariat and assuring its collaboration with the oppressed masses in the city and on the land, the revolution cannot triumph. The creation of soviets follows for the Chinese masses from their own experience, and is far from being an “artificially transplanted sovietization” for them. A policy that is afraid to call things by their right name is a false policy. One must be guided by the revolutionary masses and by the objective needs of the revolution, but not by what the enemy will say.
35) It is said: The Hankow government is nevertheless a fact. Feng Yuxiang is a fact, Tang Shengzhi is a fact, and they have armed forces at their disposal; neither the Wuhan government nor Feng Yuxiang, nor Tang Shengzhi wants soviets. To create soviets would mean to break with these allies. Although this argument is not openly formulated in the theses, it is nevertheless decisive for many comrades. We have already heard from Stalin on the Hankow government: the “revolutionary centre”, the “only governmental authority”. At the same time an advertising campaign is launched for Feng Yuxiang in our party meetings: “a former worker”, “a faithful revolutionist”, “a reliable man”, etc. All this is a repetition of the past mistakes under circumstances in which these mistakes can become even more disastrous. The Hankow government and the army command can be against the soviets only because they will have nothing to do with a radical agrarian program, with a real break with the large landowners and the bourgeoisie, because they secretly cherish the thought of a compromise with the right. But then it becomes all the more important to form soviets. This is the only way to push the revolutionary elements of Hankow to the left and force the counter-revolutionists to retire.
36) But even if the soviets do not carry on a war with the “only” government of Hankow, will they not still bring with them the elements of dual power? Without a doubt. Whoever is really for the course towards a workers’ and peasants’ government, not only in words but in deeds, must understand that this course leads through a certain period of dual power. How long this period will last, what concrete forms it will assume, will depend upon how the “only” government in Hankow conducts itself, upon the independence and initiative of the Communist Party, upon how rapidly the soviets develop, etc. It will be our task, in any case, to strengthen the element of the workers and peasants in the dual power and by that provide the genuine workers’ and peasants’ soviet government with a fully developed democratic program.
37) But dozens of foreign warships are anchored in the Yangtze river which can sweep away Shanghai, Hankow, etc. Is it not insanity to form soviets under such conditions? This argument too is, of course, not formulated in Stalin’s theses, but it is paraded around everywhere in Party meetings (Martynov, Yaroslavsky and others). The school of Martynov would like to kill the idea of the soviets with fear of the British naval artillery. This artifice is not a new one. In 1917, the Social Revolutionists and the Mensheviks sought to frighten us by declaring that the seizure of power by the soviets would mean the occupation of Kronstadt and Petrograd by the Allies. We answered: only the deepening of the revolution can save it. Foreign imperialism will only reconcile itself to such a “revolution” as strengthens its own positions in China at the price of a few concessions to the Chinese bourgeoisie. Every real people’s revolution that undermines the colonial foundation of imperialism will inevitably meet with the latter’s furious resistance. We did try to stop halfway, but this “only correct line” protected Nanking from the cannon of imperialism as little as it did the Chinese workers from the machine-guns of Chiang Kai-shek. Only the transition of the Chinese revolution to the phase of real mass action, only the formation of workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ soviets, only the deepening of the social program of the revolution, are capable, as our own experiences prove, of bringing confusion into the ranks of the foreign armed forces by arousing their sympathy for the soviets and thus really protecting the revolution from blows from without.

What Do the Theses of Stalin Propose in Place of Soviets?

38) The creation of “revolutionary peasant committees, workers’ trade unions, and other mass organizations as preparatory elements for the soviets of the future”. What should be the course of these organizations? We do not find a single word on this in the theses. The phrase that these are “preparatory elements for the soviets of the future” is only a phrase and nothing more. What will these organizations do now? They will have to conduct strikes, boycotts, break the backbone of the bureaucratic apparatus, annihilate the counter-revolutionary military bands, drive out the large landowners, disarm the detachments of the usurers and the rich peasants, arm the workers and peasants, in a word, solve all the problems of the democratic and agrarian revolution that are on the order of the day, and in this way raise themselves to the position of local organs of power. But then they will be soviets, only of a kind that are badly suited to their tasks. The theses therefore propose, if these proposals are to be taken seriously at all, to create substitutes for soviets, instead of soviets themselves.
39) During all the preceding mass movements, the trade unions were compelled to fulfil functions closely approaching the functions of soviets (Hong Kong, Shanghai, and elsewhere). But these were precisely the functions for which the trade unions were entirely insufficient. They embrace a too small number of workers. They do not at all embrace the petty-bourgeois masses in the city that incline towards the proletariat. But such tasks as the carrying through of strikes with the least possible losses to the poorer population of the city, the distribution of provisions, participation in tax policy, participation in the formation of armed forces, to say nothing of carrying through the agrarian revolution in the provinces, can be accomplished with the necessary sweep only when the directing organization embraces not only all the sections of the proletariat, but connects them intimately in the course of its activities with the poor population in the city and country. One would at least think that the military coup d’état of Chiang Kai-shek had finally hammered into the mind of every revolutionist the fact that trade unions separated from the army are one thing, and united workers’ and soldiers’ soviets, on the other hand, are quite another thing. Revolutionary trade unions and peasants’ committees can arouse the hatred of the enemy no less than soviets. But they are far less capable than soviets of warding off its blows.
If we are to speak seriously of the alliance of the proletariat with the oppressed masses in the city and country – not of an “alliance” between the leaders, a semi-adulterated alliance through dubious representatives, but of a real fighting alliance built and steeled in the struggles of the masses against the enemy – then such an alliance can have no other organizational form than that of soviets. This can be denied only by those who rely more upon compromising leaders than upon the revolutionary masses below.

Should We Break with the Left Guomindang?

From the foregoing remarks may be seen how ill-founded are the whispers about a break of the Communist Party with the Guomindang. “This is tantamount,” say the theses, “to deserting the field of struggle and leaving our allies in the Guomindang in the lurch to the delight of the enemies of the revolution.” These pathetic lines are quite out of place. It is not a question of a break but of preparing a bloc, not on the basis of subordination but on the basis of a genuine equality of rights. A revolutionary Guomindang has yet to be formed. We are in favour of the Communists working inside the Guomindang and patiently drawing the workers and peasants over to their side. The Communist Party can gain a petty-bourgeois ally, not by prostrating itself before the Guomindang at every one of its vacillations, but only if it appeals to the workers openly and directly, in its own name, under its own banner, organizes them around it and shows the Guomindang by example and by deed what a party of the masses is, by supporting every forward step of the Guomindang, by relentlessly unmasking every vacillation, every step backward, and by creating a real revolutionary foundation for a bloc with the Guomindang in the form of workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ soviets.
40) It is absurd to assert that the Opposition stands for the “political isolation” of the Communist Party. This assertion contains just as much truth as the one that the Opposition stood for withdrawing from the British trade unions. Both accusations have only served to mask the bloc with the right Guomindang and with the traitorous General Council. The Opposition is energetically in favour of strengthening and developing the bloc with the revolutionary elements of the Guomindang, for a compact fighting alliance of the workers with the poor population of the city and country, for the course towards the revolutionary dictatorship of the workers, peasants and the urban petty-bourgeoisie.
For this it is necessary:
  1. to recognize as disastrous such forms of the bloc in which the Communist Party sacrifices the interests of the workers and peasants to the utopian aim of holding the bourgeoisie in the camp of the national revolution;
  2. to reject categorically such forms of the bloc in which the Communist Party hauls down its banner and sacrifices the growth of its own influence and its own authority in the interest of its allies;
  3. to approve a bloc with clearly formulated common tasks, but not to base it upon misunderstanding, diplomatic manoeuvres, sycophancy and hypocrisy;
  4. to lay down the conditions and limits of the bloc with thorough precision and let them be known to all;
  5. for the Communist Party to retain full freedom of criticism, and to watch over its allies with no less vigilance than over an enemy, without forgetting for a moment that an ally who bases himself upon other classes or depends upon other classes is only a temporary confederate who can be transformed by the force of circumstances into an opponent and an enemy;
  6. to set the connection with the petty-bourgeois masses higher than a connection with their party leaders;
  7. finally, to rely only upon ourselves, upon our own organization, arms and power.
Only by observing these conditions will a really revolutionary bloc of the Communist Party with the Guomindang become possible, not a bloc of the leaders, which vacillates and is subject to contingencies, but a bloc based upon all the oppressed masses of the city and country under the political hegemony of the proletarian vanguard.

The Problems of the Chinese Revolution
and the Anglo-Russian Committee

41) In the direction of the Chinese revolution we are confronted not by tactical errors, but by a radically false line. This follows clearly from everything that has been presented above. It becomes still clearer when the policy in China is compared with our policy towards the Anglo-Russian Committee. In the latter case the inconsistency of the opportunistic line did not express itself so tragically as in China, but no less completely and convincingly.
42) In England, as in China, the line was directed towards a rapprochement with the “solid” leaders, based on personal relations, on diplomatic combinations, while renouncing in practice the deepening of the abyss between the revolutionary or leftward-developing masses and the traitorous leaders. We ran after Chiang Kai-shek and thereby drove the Chinese Communists to accept the dictatorial conditions put by Chiang Kai-shek to the Communist Party. In so far as the representatives of the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions ran after Purcell, Hicks, Citrine and Company and adopted in principle the position of neutrality in the trade-union movement, they recognized the General Council as the only representative of the British proletariat and obligated themselves not to interfere in the affairs of the British labour movement.
43) The decisions of the Berlin Conference of the Anglo-Russian Committee mean our renunciation of support in the future to strikers against the will of avowed strikebreakers. They are tantamount to a condemnation and a flat betrayal of the trade-union minority, all of whose activity is directed against the traitors whom we have recognized as the sole representatives of the English working class. Finally, the solemn proclamation of “non-interference” signifies our capitulation in principle to the national narrowness of the labour movement in its most backward and most conservative form.
44) Chiang Kai-shek accuses us of interfering in the internal affairs of China just as Citrine accuses us of interfering in the internal affairs of the trade unions. Both accusations are only transcriptions of the accusation of world imperialism against a workers’ state which dares to interest itself in the fate of the oppressed masses of the whole world. In this case as in others, Chiang Kai-shek, like Citrine, under different conditions and at different posts, remain the agents of imperialism despite temporary conflicts with it. If we chase after collaboration with such “leaders”, we are forced ever more to restrict, to limit and to emasculate our methods of revolutionary mobilization.
45) Through our false policy we not only helped the General Council to maintain its tottering positions after the strike betrayal, but, what is more, we furnished it with all the necessary weapons for putting impudent demands to us which we meekly accepted. Under the tinkling of phrases about “hegemony”, we acted in the Chinese revolution and the British labour movement as if we were morally vanquished, and by that we prepared our material defeat. An opportunist deviation is always accompanied by a loss of faith in one’s own line.
46) The businessmen of the General Council, having received a guarantee of non-interference from the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions, are undoubtedly persuading Chamberlain that their method of struggle against Bolshevik propaganda is far more effective than ultimatums and threats. Chamberlain, however, prefers the combined method and combines the diplomacy of the General Council with the violence of British imperialism.
47) If it is alleged against the Opposition that Baldwin or Chamberlain “also” wants the dissolution of the Anglo-Russian Committee, then one understands nothing at all of the political mechanics of the bourgeoisie. Baldwin justly feared and still fears the harmful influence of the Soviet trade unions upon the leftward-developing labour movement of Britain. The British bourgeoisie set its pressure upon the General Council against the pressure of the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions upon the traitorous leaders of the trade unions, and on this field the bourgeoisie triumphed all along the line. The General Council refused to accept money from the Soviet trade unions and to confer with them on the question of aid for the mine workers. In exercising its pressure upon the General Council, the British bourgeoisie, through it, exerted pressure upon the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions and at the Berlin Conference obtained from the latter’s representatives an unprecedented capitulation on the fundamental questions of the class struggle. An Anglo-Russian Committee of this kind only serves the British bourgeoisie (cf. the declaration of The Times). This will not hinder it from continuing its pressure in the future upon the General Council, and demanding of it a break with the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions, for by such a policy of pressure and blackmail the British bourgeoisie wins everything we lose by our senseless and unprincipled conduct.
48) The insinuations that Chiang Kai-shek is “in solidarity” with the Opposition, because he wants to drive the Communists out of the Guomindang, have the same value. A remark by Chiang Kai-shek is being circulated in which he is supposed to have said to another general that he agrees with the Opposition in the CPSU on this point. In the text of the document from which this “quotation” was picked out, the words of Chiang Kai-shek are not adduced as an expression of his views, but as a manifestation of his readiness and aptitude to deceit, to falsehood, and even to disguise himself for a few days as a “Left Communist” in order to be better able to stab us in the back. Still more, the document in question is one long indictment against the line and the work of the Comintern’s representatives in China. Instead of picking quotations out of the document and giving them a sense contrary to that contained in the text, it would be better to make the document itself known to the Comintern. Leave aside, however, the misuse of alleged “quotations” and there remains the “coincidence” that Chiang Kai-shek has always been against a bloc with the Communists, while we are against a bloc with Chiang Kai-shek. The school of Martynov draws from this the conclusion that the policy of the Opposition “generally” serves the reaction. This accusation is not new either. The whole development of Bolshevism in Russia proceeded under the accompaniment of Menshevik accusations that the Bolsheviks were playing the game of the reaction, that they were aiding the monarchy against the Kadets, the Kadets against the SRs and Mensheviks, and so on without end. Renaudel accuses the French Communists of rendering aid to Poincaré when they attack the bloc of the radicals and the Socialists. The German Social Democrats have more than once pretended that our refusal to enter the League of Nations plays the game of the extreme imperialists, etc., etc.
The fact that the big bourgeoisie, represented by Chiang Kai-shek, needs to break with the proletariat, and the revolutionary proletariat on the other hand needs to break with bourgeoisie, is not an evidence of their solidarity, but of the irreconcilable class antagonism between them. The hopeless compromisers stand between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and accuse both the “extreme” wings of disrupting the national front and rendering assistance to the reaction. To accuse the Opposition of playing the game of Chamberlain, Thomas or Chiang Kai-shek is to show a narrow-minded opportunism, and at the same time to recognize involuntarily the proletarian and revolutionary character of our political line.
49) The Berlin Conference of the Anglo-Russian Committee which coincided with the beginning of British intervention in China, did not even dare to allude to the question of effective measures to take against the hangman’s work of British imperialism in the Far East. Could a more striking proof be found that the Anglo-Russian Committee is incapable of moving as much as a finger towards really preventing war? But it is not simply useless. It has brought immeasurable harm to the revolutionary movement, like every illusion and hypocrisy. By referring to its collaboration with the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions in the “struggle for peace”, the General Council is able to soothe and lull the consciousness of the British proletariat, stirred by the danger of war. The All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions now appears before the British working class and the working class of the whole world as a sort of guarantor for the international policy of the traitors of the General Council. The criticism directed by the revolutionary elements in Britain against the General Council thereby becomes weakened and blunted. Thanks to Purcell, Hicks and Company, the MacDonalds and Thomases get the possibility of keeping the working masses in a stupor up to the threshold of war itself, in order to call upon them then for the defence of the democratic fatherland. When comrade Tomsky, in his last interview (Pravda, May 8), criticized the Thomases, Havelock Wilsons and the other hirelings of the Stock Exchange, he did not mention by a single word the subversive, disintegrating, lulling, and therefore much more pernicious work of Purcell, Hicks and Company. These “allies” are not mentioned by name in the interview as though they do not even exist. Then why a bloc with them? But they do exist. Without them Thomas does not exist politically. Without Thomas there exists no Baldwin, that is, the capitalist régime in England. Contrary to our best intentions, our support of the bloc with Purcell is actually support of the whole British régime and the facilitation of its work in China. After all that has happened, this is clear to every revolutionist who has gone through the school of Lenin. In a like manner, our collaboration with Chiang Kai-shek blunted the class vigilance of the Chinese proletariat, and thereby facilitated the April coup d’état.

The Theory of Stages and the Theory of Socialism in One Country

50) The chvostist theory of “stages” or “steps” repeatedly proclaimed by Stalin in recent times, has served as the motivation in principle for the opportunist tactic. If the complete organizational and political independence of the Chinese Communist Party is demanded, it means that steps are being skipped over. If soviet organizations are demanded for drawing the worker and peasant masses into the civil war, it means that “stages” are being skipped over. If the dissolution of the political bloc with the traitors of the General Council, who are now carrying on the basest work, is demanded, it means that stages are being skipped over. The conservative bourgeois-national Guomindang government, the military command of Chiang Kai-shek, the General Council – in a word, any one of the institutions created by the pressure of the possessing and ruling classes, and constituting a barrier for the revolutionary class movement, becomes, according to this theory, a great historical stage, to which one’s policy must be adapted until “the masses themselves” pass through it. Once we set out on this road, our policy must be inevitably transformed from a revolutionary factor into a conservative one. The course of the Chinese revolution and the fate of the Anglo-Russian Committee are an imminent warning in this regard.
51) Such facts as the defeat of the great strikes of the British proletariat last year, as the Chinese revolution this year, cannot go by without consequences for the international labour movement, just as the defeat of the German proletariat in the autumn of 1923 did not pass without leaving its traces. An unavoidable temporary weakening of the revolutionary positions is in itself a great evil. It can become irreparable for a long time if the orientation is wrong, if the strategic line is false. Precisely now, in the period of a temporary revolutionary ebb, the struggle against all manifestations of opportunism and national limitedness and for the line of revolutionary internationalism is more necessary than ever.
By recognizing the principle of non-interference, our delegation, regardless of its intentions, promotes the most conservative, most defeatist tendencies in the working class. There is nothing perplexing in the fact that the most backward and weariest sections of the workers of the USSR consider interference in the British strike struggle or the Chinese revolution a mistake. Ever more frequently they argue: “Are we not taught that we can build up socialism in our country, even without the victory of the revolution in other countries, if only there no intervention? Then we must carry on such a policy as does not provoke intervention. Our interference in British and Chinese affairs is a mistake, because without yielding positive results it drives the world bourgeoisie on to the road of military intervention and thus threatens the construction of socialism in our country.”
There is no doubt and there can be none that now, after the new defeats of the international revolutionary movement, the theory of socialism in one country will serve, independent of the will of its creators, to justify, to motivate and to sanctify all the tendencies directed towards restricting the revolutionary objectives, towards quenching the ardour of the struggle, towards a national and conservative narrowness.
The slightest digression towards the side of “non-interference”, whether covered or not with the theory of socialism in one country, only increases the imperialist danger instead of diminishing it.
It is perfectly clear and incontestable with regard to the Chinese revolution that only a deeper mass impulsion, a more radical social program, the slogan of the workers’ and peasants’ soviets, can seriously shield the revolution from a military attack from without. Only a revolution on whose banner the toilers and oppressed write plainly their own demands is capable of gripping the feelings not only of the international proletariat but also of the soldiers of capital. We know this well enough from our own experiences. We saw and proved it in the years of the civil war at Archangel, Odessa and elsewhere. The compromising and traitorous leadership did not protect Nanking from destruction. It facilitated the penetration of the enemy ships into the Yangtze. A revolutionary leadership, with a powerful social movement, can make the waters of the Yangtze too hot for the ships of Lloyd George, Chamberlain and MacDonald. In any case, this is the only way and the only hope of defence.
The extension of the soviet front is simultaneously the best defence of the USSR. Under the present circumstances, the talk that our international position has become worse, or can in any way become worse, as a result of some kind of “left” mistake, sounds absurd. If our position has grown worse, it is a result of the defeat of the Chinese revolution, a historical and international event, regardless of whether or not we interfere in it. Were we not to interfere in the intervention of imperialism, we would only facilitate its work – against China, and against ourselves as well. But there is a difference between interference and interference. The falsest and most dangerous interference consists of the endeavour to halt the development of the revolution half-way. The struggle for peace occupies the centre of our international policy. But even the most extreme representative of the Martynov school would never dare to contend that our policy of peace can be in contradiction to the development of the Chinese revolution, or inversely, that its development can be in contradiction to our policy of peace. The one supplements the other. The best way to defend the USSR is to vanquish the Chiang Kai-shek counter-revolution and to raise the movement to a higher stage. Whoever rejects soviets for China under such conditions, disarms the Chinese revolution. Whoever proclaims the principle of non-interference in the relations of the European proletariat weakens its revolutionary vanguard. Both weaken the position of the USSR, the principal fortress of the international proletariat.
Thus we see how one mistake is heaped upon the others and together produce a line which digresses ever more from the line of Bolshevism. Critical voices and warnings are regarded as obstructions. The shifting of the official line towards the right is supplemented by blows at the left. To continue on this path would involve the greatest dangers for the soviet state as well as for the Comintern. Were we to conceal these dangers from the international proletarian vanguard, we would be betraying the banner of Communism.

* * *

We do not doubt for a moment that the mistakes can be repaired, the deviations overcome, and the line rectified without violent crises and convulsions. The language of facts is all too eloquent, the lessons of experience all too plain. It is only necessary that our party, of the Soviet Union as well as of the International, obtains the full possibility to weigh the facts and draw the proper conclusions from them. We firmly believe that they will draw these conclusions in the spirit of revolutionary unity.

Postscript on Comrade Chen Duxiu’s Speech


1. The theses of Comrade Stalin are published in the name of the Central Committee. This does not change the fact that the theses were not examined by the plenum of the Central Committee. The Political Committee charged three members, Comrades Stalin, Bukharin and Molotov, to look over the theses of Comrade Stalin and, in case of agreement, to publish them in the name of the Central Committee. Naturally, it is not a question of the formal side of the matter, which nobody raises. But it is quite clear that such a “simplified” method of deciding questions of world importance, after the mistakes made and the heavy defeats, in no way serves the interests of the party and of the Chinese revolution. – L.T.
2. First Letter from Afar, Lenin, Vol.XIV, part 1, pp.10-11; Pravda, March 21, 1917.
3. No.8, April 23, 1927, p.4.
4. Sotsialisticheski Vestnik, April 23, 1927, p.3.
5. Pravda, April 23, 1927.
6. Raskolnikov’s foreword to the pamphlet by Tang Pingshan.
7. Problems of Leninism, page 264.

Problems of the Chinese Revolution Index