Saturday, July 09, 2016

The Latest From Massachusetts Citizens Against The Death Penalty-As The Anniversary Approaches Honor Sacco And Vanzetti In Springfield

The Latest From Massachusetts Citizens Against The Death Penalty-As The Anniversary Approaches Honor Sacco And Vanzetti In Springfield

The Latest From Massachusetts Citizens Against The Death Penalty-As The Anniversary Approaches Honor Sacco And Vanzetti

The Latest From  Massachusetts Citizens Against The Death Penalty-As The Anniversary Approaches Honor Sacco And Vanzetti 

Trouble In Paradise-A Jesse Stone Novel By Robert B. Parker-A Review

Trouble In Paradise-A Jesse Stone Novel By Robert B. Parker-A Review 

Book Review

By Sam Lowell

High Profile, Robert B. Parker, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York,2007  

Funny what will turn up on your summer reading list and why. Sure I am like any other heated, roasted urban dweller and am looking for a little light reading to while away the summer doldrums. Most days I review high-toned literary masterpieces or squirrelly little historical books fit for the academy. But those kinds of books cannot survive the summer siege. Which brings us to the book under review, one of Robert B. Parker’s Police Chief Jesse Stone series, High Profile.  Or rather I will bring us to the book under review after I go through a little of how I came to read this book. How I came to read yet another a crime novel for crying out loud. That is not as condescending as it sounds since long ago I learned the very hard lesson that serious crime writers like Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Nelson Algren, Ross MacDonald and a few others, had earned their places in the American literary canon. Their hard-bitten sparse dialogues and plotlines were worthy of emulation, or if not that then a thoroughgoing serious read.

That is how in a roundabout way we get to this book. See, as I have mentioned elsewhere of late in reviewing some other Parker-etched books every year when the doldrums come I automatically reach for a little Chandler or Hammett from my library to see the real deal, to see how the masters worked their magic, in order to spruce up (and parse, if possible) my own writing. This year when I did so I noticed a book Poodle Spring by Raymond Chandler and Robert B. Parker. This final Philip Marlowe series book was never finished by Chandler before he died in 1959. Parker finished it up in 1989. Robert B. Parker, of course, had been a name known to me as the crime novel writer of the Spenser series of which I had read several of the earlier ones before moving on to others interests. While checking up on what Parker, who died in 2010, had subsequently written I noticed another Chandler-Parker collaboration Perchance To Dream: Robert B. Parker’s Sequel To Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. Since I was on a roll, was being guided by the ghost of Raymond Chandler maybe, I decided to check out what turned out to be Parker’s last Spenser effort, Sixkill. And because we still have several weeks left of summer and crime novels have the virtue of not only being easy on the brain in the summer heat but quick reads I figured to play out my hand a little and read a few other Parker works. Now we are all caught up on genesis.

Frankly Police Chief Jesse Stone’s tales are not as interesting to me as the early Spenser pieces. Although they share many of the same attributes, clever, intrepid, resourceful, seeking some smidgen of rough justice in this wicked old world (characteristics of hard-boiled windmill chasers they share along with Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, the godfather along with Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade) I  couldn’t get excited about his character. His past as a broken down (meaning a drunk) former homicide detective in the sprawling LAPD moving to a small town post, his incessant attention to an ex-wife whom he can’t get out of his mind (which provides a weird subplot involving that ex-wife and his current girlfriend in the book under review) and his working the other side of the street (professional cop) has left me cold. Just personal preference in crime novel heroes, okay.

In High Profile we get to see him in action in his little bailiwick of Paradise (that’s a small imaginary town in seacoast Massachusetts, seemingly on the North Shore up Cape Ann way which given the number of books in the series by Parker and later writers was something like the murder capital of the world), managing his small corps of officers, through the travails of yet another big time case, a vicious murder case. The high profile part comes in because the murder, or better murders, are connected to the death of big time nationally known talk show host, Walter Walker, and his pregnant assistant and mistress Cary. The bizarre nature of the murders, the talk show host shot and then hung from a tree and the mistress also shot found in back of a restaurant dumpster had Stone and his minions perplexed especially when no respective relatives expressed any great anguish over the deaths.

As the plot unfolds though there are certainly reasons why somebody would want to murder that talk show host, and through him that mistress. See our boy Walker was married, very married, wife number three married, to a dish, Lottie, beautiful but ruthless from nowhere, who had divorced her ex-copper husband turned Walker personal bodyguard, Conrad, to marry him. That ex-husband though strangely remained as Walker’s bodyguard throughout the marriage. Something should smell fishy in that combination right away. The solving of this one got into high gear though as Stone and his gang connect the dots. Stone found out that Walker was going to marry that pregnant mistress. Also found out that Lottie was still seeing her ex on the side (as well as Walker’s chief researcher) that Lottie got around) and found out that there were still a million reasons why Conrad (and Lottie) needed the deceased pair out of the way. Greed, as usual, and hatred when Conrad on what amounted to his death bed confession told Chief Stone the whole sordid plan (an overkilled plan with that tree business and having the bodies refrigerated to throw the cops off) that he AND Lottie had worked out once the meal ticket looked like it was going to run out. Naturally the warrior Conrad as he took Stone’s waiting bullets after the confession when the deal went down did so to keep his sweet viper Lottie away for serious jail time. So, as it turned out Conrad and Jesse were brethren, were love addled to the nth degree. Ouch. I’ll though take any already read Spenser tale and his healthy thing with Susan anytime over this overwrought tale.                        

*In The Time Of The Teenage Music Counterrevolution- The Music Of The Everly Brothers

A YouTube's Clip Of The Everly Brothers Doing "All I Have To Do Is Dream".


The Everly Brothers: All-Time Original Hits, Rhino Records, 1999

There was a time in my youth, in the late 1950's, just after the hullabaloo of the original emergence of rock&roll as a threat to national security with the rise of the likes of Bill Halley, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry and the like had subsided and before the British invasion that revitalized rock had surfaced teenage popular music hit a bump in the road. During that time young male singers like Ricky Nelson, Bobby Dee, Fabian, Conway Twitty and the singers under review, the Everly Brothers, emerged or were pushed forward to fill in the blanks. This was a period where there was a conscious effort to tone down, sweeten up and bastardize rock. Although the Everly Brothers cannot be said to have been the cultural force behind that movement, after all they just wanted to sing, make money and be popular with the girls, they certainly benefited from this shift in the popular music industry. Other more sinister adult forces led the charge to this homogenized music.

That said, on their own terms the brothers were hardly the worst of the lot in presenting this kind of music to their teenage public, especially those adoring, dreamy-eyed white suburban girls whose allegiance drove their material up the pop charts. Some of their work, included for your inspection here, can and should be considered classics of this dark period in American teenage music. While the Everly Brothers on their best days will never have the force of Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle and Roll", Elvis' "Jailhouse Rock" or Jerry Lee's "Breathless', their clean, well produced music and okay instrumentation will survive on the second or third echelon of the rock pantheon.

Who, from that generation, can forget the panic lyrics that drive the story line of "Wake Up Little Susie" or the very danceable "All I Have To Do Is Dream" and "Let It Be Me". Teen angst, meaning not having a boy or girl friend is well represented by "Crying In The Rain" and "Cathy's Clown". Can't you just visualize those old school gym dances now. Ya, that is what the brothers were successfully catering to don't you know. For those of us who could not dance, were girl-shy or lacked the proper boffo- haired appearance of the singers of the period we got our chances later but for those guys handy with a slick comb this was their time-and the Everlys'.

Wake Up Little Susie Lyrics
Artist(Band):The Everly Brothers

Wake up, little Susie, wake up
Wake up, little Susie, wake up
We’ve both been sound asleep, wake up, little Susie, and weep
The movie’s over, it’s four o’clock, and we’re in trouble deep
Wake up little Susie
Wake up little Susie, well

Whatta we gonna tell your mama
Whatta we gonna tell your pa
Whatta we gonna tell our friends when they say “ooh-la-la”
Wake up little Susie
Wake up little Susie, well

I told your mama that you’d be in by ten
Well Susie baby looks like we goofed again
Wake up little Susie
Wake up little Susie, we gotta go home

Wake up, little Susie, wake up
Wake up, little Susie, wake up
The movie wasn’t so hot, it didn’t have much of a plot
We fell asleep, our goose is cooked, our reputation is shot
Wake up little Susie
Wake up little Susie, well

Whatta we gonna tell your mama
Whatta we gonna tell your pa
Whatta we gonna tell our friends when they say “ooh-la-la”
Wake up little Susie
Wake up little Susie
Wake up little Susie

All I Have To Do Is Dream Lyrics
Artist(Band):The Everly Brothers

Drea-ea-ea-ea-eam, dream, dream, dream
Drea-ea-ea-ea-eam, dream, dream, dream
When I want you in my arms
When I want you and all your charms
Whenever I want you, all I have to do is
Drea-ea-ea-ea-eam, dream, dream, dream

When I feel blue in the night
And I need you to hold me tight
Whenever I want you, all I have to do is

I can make you mine, taste your lips of wine
Anytime night or day
Only trouble is, gee whiz
I’m dreamin’ my life away

I need you so that I could die
I love you so and that is why
Whenever I want you, all I have to do is
Drea-ea-ea-ea-eam, dream, dream, dream

I can make you mine, taste your lips of wine
Anytime night or day
Only trouble is, gee whiz
I’m dreamin’ my life away

I need you so that I could die
I love you so and that is why
Whenever I want you, all I have to do is
Drea-ea-ea-ea-eam, dream, dream, dream
Drea-ea-ea-ea-eam, dream, dream, dream

Drea-ea-ea-ea-eam, dream, dream, dream

Bye Bye Love Lyrics
Artist(Band):The Everly Brothers

Bye bye love
Bye bye happiness, hello loneliness
I think I´m-a gonna cry-y
Bye bye love, bye bye sweet caress, hello emptiness
I feel like I could di-ie
Bye bye my love goodby-eye

There goes my baby with-a someone new
She sure looks happy, I sure am blue
She was my baby till he stepped in
Goodbye to romance that might have been


I´m-a through with romance, I´m a-through with love
I´m through with a´countin´ the stars above
And here´s the reason that I´m so free
My lovin´ baby is through with me


Bye bye my love goodby-eye
Bye bye my love goodby-eye

FADE: Bye bye my love goodby-eye
Bye bye my love goodby-eye

Cathy's Clown Lyrics
Artist(Band):The Everly Brothers

Don’t want your lo-o-o-o-ove anymore
Don’t want your ki-i-i-i-isses, that’s for sure
I die each time I hear this sound
“Here he co-o-o-o-omes, that’s Cathy’s clown”

I’ve gotta stand tall, you know a man can’t crawl
But when he knows you tell lies and he hears ‘em passin’ by
He’s not a man at all


When you see me shed a tear and you know that it’s sincere
Dontcha think it’s kinda sad that you’re treatin’ me so bad
Or don’t you even care


That’s Cathy’s clown
That’s Cathy’s clown

***On The Anniversary Year Of The Defeat Of The Spanish Revolution- A Critical Look At The POUM (Party Of Marxist Unification)

Click on title to link to an important article from the theoretical journal of the International Communist League, "Spartacist-English Edition", Number 61, Spring 2009. For those who seriously want to understand the role of the POUM (Party Of Marxist Unification), either as defender or critic, and Leon Trotsky's characterization of that party as the key roadblock to revolution in Spain this article will serve as the modern pole of controversy around that issue. Read on.

Markin Commentary:

As a look at the archives of this blog will testify to, I have been interested, seriously interested, in drawing the lessons of the Spanish Civil War of the 1930’s since childhood. As many of the blog entries will also testify to as well, I have probably spend more time, with the exception of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Paris Commune of 1871, thinking through the problems of that struggle in Spain than any others. Why? Well, as not less than of an authority than the great Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky has pointed out, the situation in Spain during the 1930s posed the question of the creation of the second workers state point blank. In short, the Spanish working class was class conscious enough, Trotsky would argue more than the Russian working class of 1917, to carry out this task. I believed that proposition, in a much less sophisticated form than Trotsky’s, to be sure, well before I read his views on the situation. Why did it fail?

Obviously, depending on the point of view presented (or ax to grind) there are a million possible subjective and objective reasons that can be given for the failure. Some, such as the general European situation, the perfidious role of the Western democracies, the shortcomings of the various bourgeois governments are examples of situations that I had believed at one time to be the prime reasons. However, since I have come of political age, in short, have gone beyond the traditional liberal explanations for the failure in Spain I have looked elsewhere for an explanation.

That elsewhere hinged more on the role that the various working class organizations and their policies than the objective world situation or other factors that have been used to argue the impossibility of success. Again, some organizations came up short. For a long time I followed the reasoning, in a general sense at least, of Trotsky’s dictum, repeatedly argued out all through the 1930s, about the crisis of revolutionary leadership. With this proviso- for a long time, a very long time I absolved the POUM (Party Of Marxist Unification in English) and the Nin/Andrade leadership from political responsibility for the debacle, especially in Catalonia. I was more than happy to blame the Stalinists (blameworthy in the end on other grounds, without question), the vacillations of the Social Democrats (ditto the Stalinists) and the theoretical idiocies of the Anarchists. But not the POUM, after all they were the most honest revolutionaries in Spain (along with, perhaps, the Friends of Durritti). Honest I still believe they were but revolutionary in the Bolshevik sense. Hell, no.

The leading cause of that long time absolution of the POUM, initially in any case came from my reading of George Orwell’s “Homage To Catalonia”. Orwell found himself in a POUM military unit and spent much of his time in Spain before being wounded with that unit, as well around POUM organizations. Hey, they were fighting Franco, right? They had their own militias, right? That was enough for me for a while. But then the fatal mistake occurred many years ago. I read Trotsky’s work on Spain in the 1930s, “The Spanish Revolution, 1931-39, and, more importantly, the Trotsky/Nin correspondence in the appendix. No one who truly reads those documents and looks at the real POUM actions (including that left/right unification with friend Maurin to form the POUM in 1935) will ever be the same after. That is where every mistake that the POUM made becomes a veritable indictment against them.

Okay, so I got ‘religion’ on the POUM. So, as the linked article points out, why then, and now did serious leftist militants alibi this group. Well, read the article. But, bear this in mind, if those who defended the POUM and Nin/Andrade then, and now, are right that means that, subjectively they believe that Spain could not be a workers state in the 1930’s. That same subjectivity has led to their view of the Russian October revolution of 1917 as a failed experiment as well. But, my friends, such reasoning leaves only this conclusion. Outside the short-lived Paris Commune we have to go back to the revolutions of 1848 for our models of what is possible for the modern international working class to do. If that is the case then we better start thinking about a possibility that Trotsky pointed to in the 1930s- the working class may be organically incapable of ruling in its own name. As an orthodox Marxist I cringe at that notion. Better this- abandon this abject defense of the POUM and accept that, honest party that it may have been, however, in the final analysis it was a roadblock to socialist revolution in Spain.

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

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

From The Pen Of Bart Webber

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****This Land IS Your Land- With Folk Troubadour Woody Guthrie In Mind

*****This Land IS Your Land- With Folk Troubadour Woody Guthrie In Mind         


By Bradley Fox


Back in 2014, the summer of 2014 Josh Breslin the now retired old-time alternative newspaper and small journal writer from Olde Saco, Maine was sitting with his friend Sam Lowell from Carver out in Concord in the field behind the Old Manse where the Greater Boston Folk Society was holding its annual tribute to folksinger Woody Guthrie he had thought about all the connections that he, they had to Woody Guthrie from back in the 1960s folk minute revival and before. He mentioned that to thought to Sam whom he queried on the subject, wanted to know his personal take on when he first heard Woody (and to Laura Perkins, Sam ‘s long-time companion sitting between them whom Josh had an on-going half flame going back who knows how far but who made it clear to Josh on more than one occasion that she was true blue to Sam although she had thanked him for the attention compliment. Sam was aware of Josh’s interest but also of Laura’s position and so he and Josh got along, had in any case been back and forth with some many collective wives and girlfriends that attracted both of them since they had similar tastes going back to ex-surfer girl Butterfly Swirl that they just took it in stride.)  Here is what Sam had to say:   

Some songs, no, let’s go a little wider, some music sticks with you from an early age which even fifty years later you can sing the words out chapter and verse. Like those church hymns that you were forced to sit through with your little Sunday best Robert Hall white suit complete with tie on or fi a girl your best frilly dress on when you would have rather been outside playing, or maybe doing anything else but sitting in that forlorn pew, before you got that good dose of religion drilled into by Sunday schoolteachers, parents, hell and brimstone reverends which made the hymns make sense.

Like as well the bits of music you picked up in school from silly children’s songs in elementary school (Farmer In The Dell, Old MacDonald, Ring Around Something) to that latter time in junior high school when you got your first dose of the survey of the American and world songbook once a week for the school year when you learned about Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven, classic guys, Stephen Foster and a lot on stuff by guys named Traditional and Anonymous. Or more pleasantly your coming of age music, maybe like me that 1950s classic age of rock and roll when a certain musician named Berry, first name Chuck, black as night out of Saint Lou with a golden guitar in hand and some kind of backbeat that made you two left feet you want to get up and dance, told Mr. Beethoven, you know the classical music guy, and his ilk, Mozart, Brahms, Liszt, to move on over there was a new sheriff in town, was certain songs were associated with certain rites of passage, mainly about boy-girl things.

One such song from my youth, and maybe yours too, was Woody Guthrie surrogate “national anthem,” This Land is Your Land. (Surrogate in response to Irving Berlin’s God Bless America in the throes of the Great Depression that came through America, came through his Oklahoma like a blazing dust ball wind). Although I had immersed myself in the folk minute scene of the early 1960s as it passed through the coffeehouses and clubs of Harvard Square that is not where I first heard or learned the song (and where the song had gotten full program play complete with folk DJs on the radio telling you the genesis of a lot of the music if you had the luck to find them when you flipped the dial on your transistor radio or the air was just right some vagabond Sunday night and for a time on television, after the scene had been established in the underground and some producer learned about it from his grandkids, via the Hootenanny show, which indicated by that time like with the just previous “beat” scene that you were close to the death-knell of the folk moment).

No, for that one song the time and place was in seventh grade in junior high school, down at Myles Standish in Carver where I grew up, when Mr. Dasher would each week in Music Appreciation class teach us a song and then the next week expect us to be able to sing it without looking at a paper. He was kind of a nut for this kind of thing, for making us learn songs from difference genres (except the loathed, his loathed, our to die for, rock and roll which he thought, erroneously and wastefully he could wean us from with this wholesome twaddle) like Some Enchanted Evening from South Pacific, Stephen Foster’s My Old Kentucky Home, or Irving Berlin’s Easter Parade and stuff like that. So that is where I learned it.

Mr. Dasher might have mentioned some information about the songwriter or other details on these things but I did not really pick up on Woody Guthrie’s importance to the American songbook until I got to that folk minute I mentioned where everybody revered him (including most prominently Bob Dylan who sat at his knee, literally, Pete Seeger, the transmission belt from the old interest in roots music to the then new interest, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott who as an acolyte made a nice career out of continued worshipping at that shrine) not so much for that song but for the million other songs that he produced seemingly at the drop of a hat before the dreaded Huntington’s disease got the better of him. He spoke of dust bowl refugees of course, being one himself, talked of outlaws and legends of outlaws being a man of the West growing up on such tales right around the time Oklahoma was heading toward tranquil statehood and oil gushers, talked of the sorrow-filled deportees and refugees working under the hot sun for some gringo Mister, spoke of the whole fellahin world if it came right down to it. Spoke, for pay, of the great man-made marvels of the West and how those marvels tamed the wilds. Spoke too of peace and war (that tempered by his support for the American communists, and their line which came to depend more and more on the machinations of Joe Stalin and his Commissariat of Foreign Affairs), and great battles in the Jarama Valley in Spain where it counted. Hell, wrote kids’ stuff too just like that Old MacDonald stuff we learned in school.     

The important thing though is that almost everybody covered Woody then, wrote poems and songs about him (Dylan a classic Song to Woody well worth reading and hearing on one of his earliest records), affected his easy ah shucks mannerisms, sat at his feet in order to learn the simple way, three chords mostly, recycled the same melody on many songs so it was not that aspect of the song that grabbed you but the sentiment, that he gave to entertain the people, that vast fellahin world mentioned previously (although in the 1960s folk minute Second Coming it was not the downtrodden and afflicted who found solace but the young, mainly college students in big tent cities and sheltered college campuses who were looking for authenticity, for roots).                 

It was not until sometime later that I began to understand the drift of his early life, the life of a nomadic troubadour singing and writing his way across the land for nickels and dimes and for the pure hell of it (although not all of the iterant hobo legend holds up since he had a brother who ran a radio station in California and that platform gave him a very helpful leg up which singing in the Okie/Arkie “from hunger” migrant stoop labor camps never could have done). That laconic style is what the serious folk singers were trying to emulate, that “keep on moving” rolling stone gathers no moss thing that Woody perfected as he headed out of the played-out dustbowl Oklahoma night, wrote plenty of good dustbowl ballads about that too, evoking the ghost of Tom Joad in John Steinbeck’s’ The Grapes Of Wrath as he went along. Yeah, you could almost see old Tom, beaten down in the dustbowl looking for a new start out in the frontier’s end Pacific, mixing it up with braceros-drivers, straw bosses, railroad “bulls,” in Woody and making quick work of it too.      


Yeah, Woody wrote of the hard life of the generations drifting West to scratch out some kind of existence on the land, tame that West a bit. Wrote too of political things going on, the need for working people to unionize, the need to take care of the desperate Mexico braceros brought in to bring in the harvest and then abused and left hanging, spoke too of truth to power about some men robbing you with a gun others with a fountain pen, about the beauty of America if only the robber barons, the greedy, the spirit-destroyers would let it be. Wrote too about the wide continent from New York Harbor to the painted deserts, to the fruitful orchards, all the way to the California line, no further if you did not have the do-re-mi called America and how this land was ours, the whole fellahin bunch of us, if we knew how to keep it. No wonder I remembered that song chapter and verse.             

A View From The Left-Construyendo El Movimento Por Los Plenos Derechos De Los Immigrantes

A View From The Left-Construyendo El Movimento Por Los Plenos Derechos De Los Immigrantes

Frank Jackman comment:

Usually when I post something from some other source, mostly articles and other materials that may be of interest to the radical public that I am trying to address I place the words “ A View From The Left” in the headline and let the subject of the article speak for itself, or let the writer speak for him or herself without further comment whether I agree with the gist of what is said or not. After all I can write my own piece if some pressing issue is at hand. Occasionally, and the sentiments expressed in this article is one such time, I can stand in solidarity with the remarks made. I do so here.     

*****Out In The 1960s Corner Boy Be-Bop Night-With Jersey Boys In Mind

*****Out In The 1960s Corner Boy Be-Bop Night-With Jersey Boys In Mind   


From The Pen Of Sam Lowell 


Frank Jackman’s old friend Jack Dawson, his old friend from corner boy days starting in the fifth grade down in back of the Myles Standish Elementary School in Carver about thirty miles south of Boston in the 1950s, had a while back written a short review about seeing the film Jersey Boys. With the wizardry of modern technology Frank had had the review placed in a blog dedicated to all things retro 1950s and 1960s (two slightly different retros but guys like Frank and Jack squeeze both eras.) Prior to Jack’s viewing the film with his lovely wife, Anna, Frank had told him a summary of the plot-line (and the song playlist) one night when they were having one of their periodic “watering hole” get- togethers to cut up old touches at the Sunnyville Grille in Boston when Frank was in town for a conference. Based on that exchange Jack was determined to see the film. A few days later after seeing the film, seeing how a bunch of “from hunger” working class kids from Jersey (but given the plot-line it could have been lots of places including the “projects” down in Carver where he had come of age), how they made it big, made their fifteen minutes of fame and then some Jack started to think about those old days. About the days when chance had caused him to meet Frank at Myles Standish after his family had moved from Clintonville a few miles away in the summer before fifth grade and the two of them along with a couple of other corner boys, Red Radley and Jimmy Jenkins, in sixth grade created their own (imitative) doo-wop group in an attempt to break out of their youthful jails and gain their own fame (although their standard had not been fifteen minutes but infinity, or when the girls started gathering around, whichever came first).    

What got Jack thinking along those lines was something Frank’s long-time companion, Laura, whom he had seen the film with, had told Frank. She said to him that she had had trouble “getting into” the story line at the beginning because as Frank told Jack before he gave him the details of the film the scenes were far too removed from her own strait-laced middle-class upbringing in Manhattan. Laura did said that she assumed that part of the film’s story line, the part about the furious growing up “from hunger” strivings of the guys who would become the Four Seasons out in the 1950s New Jersey night, had dovetailed with Frank’s experiences in his own youth and as well with the kind of things he have been writing about from that period of late. The kind of things that Frank wrote about after Jack and he discussed various incidents in growing up absurd in the 1950s at their “watering hole” sessions which they initiated after they had then recently rekindled their friendship after many years of going their own ways. Laura had been right about that part, about going back to the mist of time and grabbing some thoughts about how those days had formed Frank, for better or worse, no question. And that feeling got through to Jack as well.

Frank’s had told Jack when he asked why he was writing some many sketches about the past, also placed in retro blogs dedicated to such reflections, that his purpose in writing about the old days had not been to put paid to some ghosts of the past as a lot of guys they knew were interested in doing by physically revisiting growing up hometowns like Josh Breslin going back up to Olde Saco in Maine and getting the wits scared out of him that somebody might recognize him at every turn he made, like brawny Bart Webber going back to Carver to re-flame old sport’s dreams by attending the home football games with other old geezers from his high school, or like one of their other pals, Jimmy Jenkins, who had gone to his (their) fiftieth class reunion at Carver High and came away more depressed than anything since all the old gang, those still walking, talked about was various medical conditions and their grandchildren which left him cold. No, that part was done with this late in the game and the fates had called their shots on that saga already. Moreover Frank said he certainly had not intended to evaluate, Jesus, not to always evaluate, how this or that thing that happened back then turned the great Mandela wheel any particular way but merely to put together some interesting tidbits for Jack, Jimmy, and a couple of other of his later acquaintances Josh and Phil Larkin who were also from the same era when everybody got together at the Sunnyville, or at the Kennebunk Pub up in Maine where Josh lived when they all tired of the city and needed to be washed clean by the ocean spray off the fearsome blue-green Atlantic Ocean. 

Of course lately Jack had begun, feeding off Frank’s tidbits as well as that film, writing sketches about his own musical coming of age time in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the time frame that the Four Seasons had blossomed. Strangely both Frank and Jack agreed that except for the classic doo wop be-bop song, Sherri, they were not fans of the Four Seasons although unlike other groups and singers of the time Jack did not hate their sound. What had perked Jack’s big interest in this film had been the almost chemically pure corner boy aspect, Jersey corner boy aspect, which was not at all unlike his (and Frank’s) Carver corner boy growing up saga.        

In fact at certain points the early story of the guys who formed the core of the original group, Frankie, Tommy and Nick was so very, very similar to parts of Jack’s corner boy experiences that he had to laugh. The options for corner boys, guys who grew up “from hunger” in the working class neighborhoods, usually “the projects,” around the country had those same options mentioned early in the film once they came of age, the Army one way or another many times under some judge’s “trying to make a man out you” threat of the Army or jail, for those who rap sheets were too long to warrant options then just jail or for a guy they knew, Slammer Johnson, who was as tough as they come at age twelve and even older guys, serious corner boys who knew a thing or two about whipsaw chains and brass knuckles, the reformatory, or become famous. Jack knew that part, knew that “wanting habits” hunger that all the young guys in Carver were trying break from, break from when they saw Elvis or Jerry Lee burning stages up and so he and the boys had tried the latter, the fame game, at one point.

It all started in the summer before sixth grade when doo wop was all the craze after Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers had asked the magic question-why do fools fall in love- and drove the song by the same name to the top of the charts. There were other guys groups (doo wop girls’ groups too who were cruising to the top the charts but the Carver guys really weren’t interested in them because there was no way they could get anything to help them break-out from paying attention to girl groups, yeah, foolish guys) that hit it big, the Five Satins, The Dubs, The Chasers, The Be-Bop Boys and a bunch of others, mostly black guys (and an occasional girl mixed in) which they knew were hitting it big from watching American Bandstand in the afternoons after school. Dick Clark and that Bandstand was in elementary school anyway, in elementary school at the time when they were getting hipped to music was mandatory to see who was who in the teenage song firmament, see what guys were wearing, see what dances guys were expected to know how to do, sweaty palms and two left feet not withstanding, and, and what chicks looked cool on the show. That last maybe the biggest draw of all as everybody rushed home after school to catch the show.     

Funny the black group thing was not a big deal, or Jack and the others didn’t think much about it since the only time they saw black people was on television. Jack would never really since a live black person until years later when he ran track and would run against black guys in the big meets up in Boston Garden. Other than grabbing tips, like having the lead singer off to the side, everybody having the same outfit, the harmony guys snapping their fingers to the beat, and staying on beat with the lead singer they had no racial options about the music and they,  meaning mainly Jack at first, figured their niche would be as white guy doo-woppers so they would be working a different street. (Jack and Frank, later in high school, when the civil rights movement was on the television every night practically would get a very rude awaking both within their families and among their fellow students and neighbors when they expressed the slightest sympathy for the black liberation struggle but back in sixth grade there was nothing to it)  That niche was not all thought out in such a refined manner as Jack was now recalling in retrospect but what was thought out was that fame part, thought out big time.   

That summer before sixth grade right after school got out for the summer was when the Myles Standish corner boys’ natural leader, Red Radley, driven to distraction by the notion of fame, got them together around their corner every night to practice. Since there had not been any stores to stand in front of holding up the wall in the “projects” where they lived like in the pictures they had seen on music magazines they looked through up in the main library up in Carver Square their corner had been in back of the Myles Standish Elementary School. On hot summer nights the back was all lit up brightly since the night basketball leagues would be holding forth across the field from the gym entrance where they hung out. So under “the street lights” just like those New York City and Philly street corner guys they sang. Sang the doo-wop craze stuff which Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers had started and which Red following Jack’s lead about the white boy doo-wop niche figured they could cash in on.

For a couple of weeks they practiced like crazy each night, no paying much attention to much else except exchanging fantasies about what kind of suits they would by, how to act when the crush of the crowds came on, what to do with swooning girls, kids’ stuff dream stuff. But mainly the practiced, trying like hell to work a smooth harmonious sound on the material they covered, covered by Frank copying down the lyrics each time a song they wanted to cover came on WMEX the local rock station (fortunately the big hits got played endlessly each cycle so Frank mainly got the words but on few he missed a couple and so they just incorporated what was there) with Red in the lead. Red really did have the best voice, really could project his voice, and Jack thinking back thought Red with some work and breaks could have made a nice career maybe as a lounge act out of his talent.      

That doo wop practice worked, well, worked for what their other purpose was, gathering interesting girls around them. See, a lot of this doo wop jail break out had to do with sexual stirrings, with this cohort of corner boys finally noticing that those shapeless girls from fifth grade class like Cindy, Linda, Bessie, Rosalind (Jack’s favorite), some of them, were starting to get shapes and who the year before had been noting but nuisances but now were, well, interesting. So each night all through that summer as day turned to night Red and the Roosters (nice name, right) crooned, kept working on their timing, and talking about their look, their niche.

At first they were left all by themselves, maybe the older serious basketball players would chuckle as they left the courts, but then one night a couple of girls, girls they knew from class were standing maybe fifty yards away up against a fence not hiding or anything but just kind of listening and swaying back and forth to the songs. (Jack thought the song they were working on was Little Antony and the Imperials Tears On My Pillows, although he would not swear to that. In any case that was the song that got him a dance with Rosalind so maybe he was confusing the two situations.)

A few nights later there would be several girls, including sixth grade girls and one from the other fifth grade class, Lorna who they called Lorna Doone for no particular reason but who was hot, standing at that fence. Jack thought that night if they did a song that all the girls could join in on they might come closer. So they switched up and did the Tune-Weavers’ tear-jerker Happy Birthday Baby everybody knew and was easy to sing. Sang it several times. The girls came running on the excuse that they thought it was somebody’s birthday, somebody who needed consoling. Yeah, it was like that in the innocence boy-girl thing then, probably still is. The summer passed that way with the boy-girl thing working its virginal way through the old neighborhood just like since Adam and Eve time, maybe before. Jack never got to Rosalind then only later after school started and then she moved to another town and that ended his first serious love affair. Frank even with his two left feet got a date for the movies with Bessie, and Jack thought Red (with that mass of red hair), the best looking guy of the bunch from what the girls said but maybe that was just because they wanted get near the lead singer, as always, had gone “steady” with Lorna for a while until Red kind of went off by himself.           

See here is where things broke down. Sure Red and the Roosters could draw the local girls in, girls who, well, had sexual stirrings too but here is what had happened. Their problem was, unlike Frankie and the Four Seasons from the get-go, they really did not have any serious raw musical talent (except Red) and did not as Frankie and his guys did really have a new angle on the music of the times. Moreover Frank’s voice changed about mid-way through sixth and threw everything off (later Jack’s and then Jimmy’s did too but that was after the group broke up). So, sadly, this edition of the corner boys broke up in the summer before junior high. Red was bitter since he more than the rest of them was staking his life, his break-out from the ‘from hungers,” on musical fame.

Red would a little later after they moved on to junior high turn against any musical aspirations, get himself into a new career path, the life of crime, which had Jack and to a lesser extent Frank in its thrall for a while, remember they were from hunger too, before they backed off but it was a close thing, very close. Both of them had been “look-outs” when Red began his “clip” five-fingers discount rampage of the various stores up in Carver Center and Jack had worked with Red one night when they jack-rolled a drunk for fifty bucks. Frank and Jack soon moved away from that business though once they realized it was too much work and they felt too much anguish over what they were doing to make a career out of that life.     

Red would go on to form another corner boy crowd with some older tougher boys who hung around Jimmy Jack’s Diner based on midnight creeps and some of those corner boys later wound up in the Army, a couple dead in Vietnam for their troubles names now etched in black marble down in Washington and on a granite monument on Carver Commons, or in jail (including Billy later who did a nickel’s worth for an armed robbery after he failed to make a half-hearted one more chance career singing alone and who in the end wound up on the short end of a shoot-out with the cops trying to rob a two-bit White Hen down in some godforsaken town in North Carolina after a second nickel stretch for another armed robbery).       

Jack as he thought about Red as he had not done so in a long time, thought about those last parts of the Carver corner boy story, the parts about the fate of the Reds of the world as against the luck of the Four Seasons thought the difference was important because no matter how “from hunger” you are you need the talent and the quirky niche in order to survive in the musical world. Even then as Jack noted in that review he had written and as became apparent as the film unfolded fame is a very close thing. A couple of twists one way or another and the fifteen minutes of fame is up, gone. And fame as Frankie Valli and the boys found out the hard way despite their hard work doesn’t shield you from life’s woes as the break-up of the group, Frankie’s daughter’s death and the financial problems created by “from hunger” Tommy who thought the money would rain in their faces forever attest to. Not an unfamiliar fame story but one worth seeing once again. And telling the Carver corner boys story too.   

[By the way as the film moved on to the performance parts the when the Four Seasons started getting some breaks, got a natural song-writer, and got tight and in synch both Laura and Anna said they did settle in and liked the rest of the film. And why wouldn’t they as children of that time as well the Carver corner boys when they were glued to their transistor radios up in some bedroom listening to the aforementioned Sherri, other like Dawn, Walk Like A Man,  Rag Dog, Big Girls Don’t Cry and all the rest that drove the young girls wild back then.]

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-Women And The French Revolution

Markin comment:

The following is an article from an archival issue of Women and Revolution, Spring 2001, that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of Women and Revolution during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.


Women and The French Revolution-Spring 2001

We publish below an edited version of a presentation given by our comrade Susan Adams at a Spartacist League forum to celebrate International Women's Day 2000 in New York City, first published in Workers Vanguard No. 752, 16 February 2001. Susan, who died this February (see obituary, page 2), was a longtime leader of the ICL's French section and maintained an intense commitment to the study of history and culture throughout her years as a communist. These interests were put to particular use in her work as a member of the Editorial Board of Women and Revolution while that journal existed.

International Women's Day originated in March 1908, with a demonstration here in Manhattan by women needle trades workers. They marched to oppose child labor and in favor of the eight-hour day and women's suffrage. March 8 became an international day celebrating the struggle for women's rights. And then on International Women's Day in 1917, right in the middle of World War 190,000 textile workers, many of them women, went on strike in Petrograd (St. Petersburg), the capital of the Russian tsarist empire. They rose up from the very bottom rungs of society, and it was these most oppressed and downtrodden of the proletariat who opened the sluice gates of the revolutionary struggle leading to the October Revolution, where Marx's ideas first took on flesh and blood.

The Soviet state was the dictatorship of the proletariat. It immediately enacted laws making marriage and divorce simple civil procedures, abolishing the category of illegitimacy and all discrimination against homosexuals. It took steps toward replacing women's household drudgery by setting up cafeterias, laundries and childcare centers to allow women to enter productive employment. Under the conditions of extreme poverty and backwardness, those measures could be carried out only on a very limited scale. But they undermined the institution of the family and represented the first steps toward the liberation of women. The collectivized planned economy laid the basis for enormous economic and social progress. Fully integrated into the economy as wage earners, women achieved a degree of economic independence that became so much a matter of course that it was barely noticed by the third generation after the revolution. We fought for unconditional military defense of the Soviet Union against imperialist attack and internal counterrevolution up until the very last barricade.

The great October Russian Revolution has now been undone and its gains destroyed. Surrounded and pounded by the imperialists for seven decades, the Soviet Union was destroyed by capitalist counterrevolution in 1991-92. The responsibility for that lies primarily with the Stalinist bureaucracy which usurped political power from the working class in 1923-24 and betrayed the revolutionary purpose of Lenin and Trotsky's Bolshevik Party and the revolutionary Communist International that they founded. Not the least of the Stalinists' crimes was the glorification of the family and the reversal of many gains for women. We called for a proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy and return to the road of Lenin and Trotsky.

In celebrating International Women's Day, we reaffirm that the struggle for women's rights is inextricably linked to revolution and we honor the women fighters through the centuries whose courage and consciousness has often put them in the vanguard of struggles to advance the cause of the oppressed. The Russian Revolution was a proletarian socialist revolution; it overthrew the rule of the capitalists and landlords and placed the working class in power. The Great French Revolution of 1789-94was a bourgeois revolution, the most thorough and deep going of the bourgeois revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries.

The French Revolution overthrew the rule of the monarchy, the nobility and the landed aristocracy and placed the bourgeoisie in power. It swept Europe with its liberating ideas and its revolutionary reorganization of society. It transformed the population from subjects of the crown to citizens with formal equality. Jews were freed from the ghettos and declared citizens with full rights; slavery was first abolished on the territory of the French nation. It inspired the first successful slave revolt in the colonies, the uprising led by Toussaint L'Ouverture in what became Haiti. And, within the limitations of bourgeois rule, it achieved gains for women that were unparalleled until the time of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Today's capitalist ruling class is unsurpassed in bloody terrorism against working people around the world in defense of its profits and property. As hard as it is to imagine, the ancestors of this bourgeoisie played a historically progressive role then, sweeping away the backwardness, irrationality and inefficiency of the previous feudal system. The leaders of the French Revolution, who represented the most radical sector of the French bourgeoisie, spoke with—and for the most part believed—the words of the Enlightenment, justifying its fight to destroy the nobility as a class and take political power itself as the advent of "liberty, equality and fraternity" for all. They could not, and the majority of them did not intend to, emancipate the lower classes. Nevertheless, something changed in the world.

Particularly since "death of communism" propaganda has filled the bourgeois press and media following the destruction of the Soviet Union, there's been a real attempt to demonize not just the Russian Revolution but any revolution, the French Revolution in particular. The push for retrograde social policies has been historically justified with a virtual flood of books and articles attacking the humanist values of the Enlightenment philosophy which laid the ideological basis for the French Revolution. Today, while the bourgeoisie in its decay disowns the rationalist and democratic values it once espoused, we Trotskyists stand out not only as the party of the Russian Revolution but the champions of the liberating goals of the French Revolution.

Bolshevik leader V. I. Lenin identified with the Jacobins, the radical wing of the French revolutionary bourgeoisie, whose most prominent leaders were Maximilien Robespierre, Jean-Paul Marat and Louis-Antoine de Saint-Just. Lenin wrote that the "essence of Jacobinism" was "the transfer of power to the revolutionary, oppressed class" and that Jacobinism was "one of the highest peaks in the emancipation struggle of an oppressed class." You can better understand why Lenin was inspired by the Jacobins from the following words by Saint-Just: "Those who make a revolution, with half-measures are only digging their own grave."

Women's Oppression and Class Society

In the early 19th century, a French socialist named Charles Fourier carefully studied the French Revolution. He wrote biting, witty and humorous criticism of existing social relations, including working out a whole scheme—kind of nutty but fun and food for thought—for perpetually satisfying sexual relations. Needless to say, he thought sexual monogamy was a curse worse than death. In a famous statement quoted by Karl Marx in his 1845 book The Holy Family, Fourier said:

"The change in a historical epoch can always be determined by women's progress towards freedom, because here, in the relation of woman to man, of the weak to the strong, the victory of human nature over brutality is most evident. The degree of emancipation of woman is the natural measure of general emancipation."

And that quite profound observation guides us today in our understanding of society.

Women's oppression is rooted in the institution of the family and has been a feature of all class societies. At one point before recorded history, it didn't much matter who the father of a child was, since children were largely cared for communally. But then inventions such as agriculture made it possible to produce more than the producers could actually consume. This ability to produce a surplus meant that a leisure class could live off the labor of others and accumulate property. It became important to know who the father of a child was so that he could pass on his property to his own children. Monogamy appeared, making the man dominant and the woman subservient, enslaved.

The family is a key social unit for the maintenance of capitalism. For the capitalists, the family provides the basis for passing on accumulated wealth. And where there is no property to pass on, the family serves to rear the next generation of workers for the capitalists and to inculcate conservative social values. It is the family—and the necessity to control sexual access to the woman to ensure that the man knows who his real heir is—which generates the morality codified in and reinforced by religion. It is the family which throughout a woman's life gives definition to her oppressed state: as daughter, as wife, as mother.

We Marxists fight to rip the means of production out of the hands of the capitalists in order to put them at the service of the needs of the working people that create the wealth. Only then can household drudgery be replaced with socialized child-care, restaurants, laundries and so on. The program of communism is for a classless society in which the family is transcended by superior sexual and social relations which will be free of moral or economic coercion. Our slogan is: "For women's liberation through socialist revolution!"

Marx said that revolution is the locomotive of history. In the Great French Revolution, the women of Paris were often the engineers in that locomotive. I'm going to be talking about the role of thousands of women leaders, military commanders, propagandists and organizers whose role at key junctures of the French Revolution was quite simply decisive. Groups like the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women literally shaped history. Count Mirabeau, one of the major actors in the beginning of the revolution, was an extremely sleazy guy, firmly in favor of a constitutional monarchy, occasionally in the pay of the king. But even he said: "Without women, there is no revolution."

Most histories of the French Revolution concentrate their chief attention on the upper levels of society and the top layers of the plebeian masses. In recent years, a number of French and American women historians have done very interesting and important research into the dusty archives of the revolution in Paris—police reports, newspaper articles. Some of these historians are feminists; that is, they see the fundamental division in society as that between the sexes.

At the time of the revolution, a movement focused specifically on women's rights was in the minority. One person who was what you would call a feminist today, at least as far as I have been able to put together her history, was Olympe de Gouges. In her pamphlet, The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and Female Citizen, written in the fall of 1791, she implicitly called for the vote for women, for a women's assembly and for equal rights with men. She also dedicated her pamphlet to the despised queen Marie Antoinette! De Gouges was not an aristocrat but a butcher's daughter from outside Paris, yet she remained a royalist throughout most of the revolution and was guillotined in November 1793.

Some of the recent analysis by feminist historians feeds right into today's reactionary climate. Taking aim at the French Revolution itself, they claim that the failure of women to secure the right to vote for national parliaments and the suppression of the exclusively women's political clubs during the most radical period of the revolution proves that misogyny triumphed. This view is also promoted in an article in the New York Times Magazine (16 May 1999) called "The Shadow Story of the Millennium: Women." The article states that the French Revolution's "new philosophy of rational natural rights placed all men on an equal footing in regard to citizenship and the law" but adds: "Men of the revolution said that women should stay home and rear their sons to be good citizens."

Let us allow a participant to refute this falsehood. Mere Duchesne was a domestic servant, a cook, who, unlike most domestic servants then, defied her aristocratic masters. She was described in a police report as "the satellite and missionary to all women under Robespierre's orders, a most ferocious woman." The Mere Duchesne newspaper wrote in September 1792:

"In the past, when we wanted to speak, our mouths were shut while we were told very politely, 'You reason like a woman'; almost like a goddamn beast. Oh! Damn! Everything is very different now; we have indeed grown since the Revolution."

"The Columns of French Liberty"

Now I want to go into some detail about the French Rev¬olution itself. A revolution is a monumental military and social battle between classes. The dominant class in any society controls the state—the police, courts, army—which protects its class interests. In modern society there are two fundamental classes: the big capitalists who own the means of production (the mines, factories, etc.) and the workers who own absolutely nothing except their personal effects and are compelled to sell their labor power to the capitalists. At the time of the French Revolution, there were essentially four
classes. The king and the nobility who owned nearly all of the land, the rising bourgeoisie, the peasants (who constituted over 80 percent of the population) and the urban sans culottes. The latter consisted of artisans, who worked either at home or in very small workshops, shopkeepers, day laborers, the poor and unemployed. Those who did manual labor wore loose trousers and were sans—without—the tight silk leggings worn by aristocrats and those imitating them.

A revolution happens when the ruling class can no longer rule as before, and the masses are no longer willing to be ruled in the same way. We're talking about a political crisis in which the rulers falter and which tears the people from the habitual conditions under which they labor and vegetate, awakening even the most backward elements, compelling the people to take stock of themselves and look around. That political crisis was provoked in France by the 1776 American Revolution.

France had taken the side of the American colonies against its perpetual enemy England and so had emerged on the side of the victors, but totally broke. In May 1789, King Louis XVI convened an Estates General—a meeting of representatives of the nobility, the clergy and the non-noble property owners and lawyers (the so-called Third Estate)— at Versailles, where his palace was located, about 12 miles from Paris. He hoped to convince some of them to pay more taxes. But they refused, while every village throughout the country wrote up its grievances to be presented at Versailles. The meeting of the three estates transformed itself into a National Assembly.

It was clear that the king was gathering troops to disperse the National Assembly. The negotiations out at Versailles might have gone on forever, except the Parisian masses took things into their own capable hands and organized to arm themselves, seizing 60,000muskets from armories like the Invalides and the Bastille prison fortress around the city on 14 July 1789. You know of this event as the storming of the Bastille. The freeing of the handful of prisoners was incidental; it was the arms that were the goal. The Paris garrisons had been deeply influenced by revolutionary propaganda following a massacre of rioters in the working-class quarters of Faubourg Saint-Antoine some months earlier. In June, the troops paraded through the streets to shouts of "Long live the Third Estate! We are the soldiers of the nation!"

The king backed down, but the monarchy still had its army and its throne. The bourgeoisie and the aristocracy, mutually hostile classes, were relying on essentially incompatible government institutions, the National Assembly and the royal throne. One or the other would have to go. Either the king (and his many royal cousins and relations by marriage ruling other countries of Europe) would crush the National Assembly or the king would meet up with what came to be known as "Madame la Guillotine."

The weeks following the July 14 events were known as the "Great Fear," the fear that the aristocrats were coming to take the land back and were organizing brigands and robbers and bands of pirates and so forth. So the peasants armed to protect themselves. Then it turned out to be a rumor, but there they were, armed and ready, and being practical sorts, they turned on the landlords' manor houses and made use of the arms that they'd gotten.

The people's representatives, who were deliberating out at Versailles, took note of the insurrection and on August 4 passed laws eliminating feudal privileges, which had been the original issue all summer. The problem was that you had to buy your way out of your feudal duties and pay 25 times your feudal taxes in order to free yourself from them. Most peasants simply ignored that and had been seizing the land all over the country since July 14. They also would burn down the lord's manor house, where the records and the deeds were kept. You know, straightforward and practical.

The next major event is crucial to our understanding of the women's role. It was October and the people of Paris were starving again. October is usually a cold and wet month in Paris. It was indeed raining at 8 a.m. on the morning of 5 October 1789. Thousands of women—eventually some 8,000—had already gathered in front of City Hall. They knew where to find the arms because it was they who had helped store them here after July 14.

The king had allowed the symbol of the revolution—the red-white-and-blue cockade (rosette)—to be trampled underfoot by some foreign troops brought in to protect him and his Austrian queen, Marie Antoinette. The women intended to stop this anti-revolutionary activity and they wanted bread. Huge stores of fine white flour waited at Versailles. They began to walk there. They couldn't get anyone to come with them, but later in the afternoon about 20,000 troops of the National Guard—which had been formed by the bourgeoisie—forced the very reluctant General Lafayette, whom you might know as a hero of the American Revolution, to lead them there. One of the women was Pauline Leon, a chocolate maker, who was later to lead the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women. That day she was armed with a pike, which was known as the people's weapon, because it was so easy to make. You could pull something off the top of a railing and attach it to a good hefty stick. It was said that "the pikes of the people are the columns of French liberty."

This was no protest march—it was a sea of muskets and pikes. The women were determined not to come back without the king and his family. There were still plenty of illusions in the king, but they wanted him under their watchful eye, in Paris. At one point the crowd apparently invaded the palace and was wandering through Marie Antoinette's chambers and some things were getting broken and stepped on and stomped and so forth. One very respectable woman in a velvet hat and cloak turned around and said very haughtily, "Don't do that, we're here to make a point, not to break things." And a woman from the artisan class turned around and said, "My husband was drawn and quartered for stealing a piece of meat." Finally the women demanded that the royal family get into their carriage. Lafayette's troops led the way and the women marched in front carrying on their pikes loaves of fresh, very white bread—the kind reserved for the upper classes—and the heads of two of the king's bodyguards.

The Revolutionary Jacobin Dictatorship

While pretending to be happy with the situation, the king was secretly corresponding with the other royal heads of state and nobles began to emigrate en masse, establishing counterrevolutionary centers outside the country. In June 1791, the king and queen disguised themselves and tried to escape, intending to return with the backing of the Austrian army. But an observant revolutionary recognized them in the town of Varennes, and they were brought back to Paris. This destroyed the people's remaining illusions in the monarchy and triggered an upsurge in revolutionary agitation. But the bourgeoisie, fearing things could get out of hand, sought to maintain the monarchy and clamp down on the mass turmoil. A month after the king's arrest, a petition to abolish the monarchy was being circulated among the crowd on the broad expanse of the Champs de Mars. The National Guard fired on the crowd and many were killed. Commanded by the aristocrat Lafayette, the National Guard had been organized as a force not only against the king but also against the threat that the bourgeoisie had already seen coming from the Parisian working people.

The Champs de Mars massacre marked a split within the bourgeois revolutionary forces. The two main factions that emerged—the Girondins and the Jacobins—represented the same social class, but they were deeply politically divided. The Prussian monarchy and the rest of royal Europe were mobilizing militarily and in April 1792 revolutionary France went to war. The Girondins sought a "negotiated solution" with the reactionary feudal armies combined with concessions to the nobility and the clergy. The Jacobins were ready to make temporary concessions to the hungry urban masses in order to thoroughly vanquish feudal reaction. You could say that the Girondins were the reformist wing and the Jacobins the revolutionary wing of the bourgeoisie.

In June 1792, thousands of armed marchers, including numerous women armed with sabers, paraded through the Assembly in the first of what became known as journees, or days of action. One official observed at the time, "The throne was still standing, but the people were seated on it, took the measure of it." The monarchy was finally overthrown by a second journee on 10 August 1792, when the masses invaded the king's residence at the Tuileries Palace in Paris and imprisoned the royal family.

The war was not going well. Most of the former officers, aristocrats, had emigrated. A government representative appealed for recruits by invoking "the heartbreaking thought that, after all the efforts that have already been made, we might be forced to return to the misery of our former slavery." While the best of the revolutionaries volunteered for the front, they were untrained and assumed to be undisciplined. Most of the new recruits were trades people, artisans and journeymen, not the sons of the bourgeoisie as before. The road to Paris seemed open to the Prussian royal armies.

The king of Prussia expected the French troops to scatter in disarray when his troops moved to drive them out of a strip of land near Valmy in eastern France. But not a man flinched as the French general waved his hat in the air on the point of his sword, shouting "Long live the nation!" The sans-culottes fired straight and repeatedly at the enemy. With a torrential rainstorm some hours later, the armies fell back. The German writer Goethe was present at Valmy, and as he looked out over the battlefield that night he said, "This day and this place open a new era in the history of the world."
He could not have been more prescient. On that day, the Assembly gave way to the Convention, which was elected by universal male suffrage and convoked expressly to give the nation a constitution which codified the overthrow of the king. Also, as we will see, the most progressive marriage and divorce laws until the Bolshevik Revolution were passed on exactly the same day as the victory at Valmy. Five months later, the king was beheaded.

In a third uprising in June 1793, the people of Paris and 80,000 National Guard troops surrounded the Convention and demanded the arrest of the Girondins and a comprehensive program of revolutionary defense of the country. This ushered in the Jacobin revolutionary dictatorship, which irremediably abolished seigneurial (feudal) rights, instituted the price controls (referred to as the "maximum") demanded by the sans-culottes and destroyed the resistance of the feudal order through a reign of revolutionary terror carried out by the Committee of Public Safety.

A month after the foreign troops were driven from France in mid-1794, on July 27 (9 Thermidor in the revolutionary calendar), the conservative wing of the bourgeoisie took the reins of power. The next day Robespierre followed the Grindings to the guillotine. The Thermidorians thought they could do without the alliance with the lower classes. That calculation was proved false, and they were themselves replaced in 1799 in the coup of the 18th Brumaire (November 9) by Napoleon Bonaparte, who subsequently declared himself emperor. But the Jacobin dictatorship had irreversibly consolidated the central achievement of the French Revolution, the rooting out of feudal relations in the countryside.

Marriage, Divorce and Inheritance

As materialists, we understand, as Marx put it, that "Law can never be higher than the economic structure and the cultural development of society conditioned by that structure." The rising capitalist class was firmly committed to the preservation of private property, as indeed it had to be. It was precisely this which staked out the limits of the revolutionary social changes that could be carried out, although the most radical years of the French Revolution went very far indeed.

The family was temporarily undermined in order to serve the needs of the revolution against its enemies, the feudal nobility and Catholic church. This is one demonstration of the fact that social institutions which seem to be immutable, to be "natural" and "eternal," are in fact nothing more than the codification of social relations dictated by the particular economic system that is in place. After the bourgeoisie consolidated its power as the new ruling class, it re-established the constraints of the family. But nothing would ever be the same again. The contradictory reality of the French Revolution—the breathtaking leap in securing individual rights and the strict limits imposed on those rights by the fact that this was a bourgeois and not a socialist revolution—was captured by Karl Marx in The German Ideology:

"The existence of the family is made necessary by its connection with the mode of production, which exists independently of the will of bourgeois society. That it was impossible to do without it was demonstrated in the most striking way during the French Revolution, when for a moment the family was as good as legally abolished."

The feminists who want to dismiss the bourgeois revolution as anti-woman end up echoing those who justify suttee (widow-burning) in India and the imposition of the chador in Iran and Afghanistan as "cultural differences." Where the bourgeois revolution did not triumph, the status of women is qualitatively inferior. It is enough to contrast the condition of women today in West Europe with Afghanistan, groaning under the rule of the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban.

I'll give you a very small example of what it meant to have a society in which a rising, vigorous, productive class—the bourgeoisie—was held in check by outmoded institutions. France was a Catholic country. In 1572, tens of thousands of French Protestants were killed in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, and more fled the country. The 1598 Edict of Nantes assured them the free exercise of their religious beliefs, but this was revoked in 1685. Some of the richest merchants were Protestant, but marriages performed by their own pastors were not officially recognized. At the death of a spouse, you would have distant Catholic relatives claiming the inheritance, because legally there was no spouse and the children were illegitimate. Both Protestants and Jews accepted divorce. In 1769, according to James Traer in his Marriage and the Family in Eighteenth-Century France (1980), a respected author advocated permitting divorce on the grounds that "the Protestant nations of northern Europe were enjoying both population growth and prosperity while the Catholic states of southern Europe were suffering from declining population and poverty." But the conservatives always managed to get the law postponed.

Under the Old Regime, women had the right to exactly nothing. The monarchy consistently sought to reinforce, supplement and extend the father's control over the marriage of his children. Women found guilty of adultery were sentenced to public whipping or imprisonment. Women were also put into convents for life for adultery. Marriage was indissoluble—a life sentence. If you were a man, you couldn't marry until you were 30 without your parents' permission. If your family had property, your father could get the king to issue a lettre de cachet, something like an unlimited arrest warrant, and you could be locked up indefinitely. If you married a minor (under the age of 25 for women) without permission, the penalty was death for rape notwithstanding the woman's consent. By the way, actors and actresses couldn't marry either, because their profession was viewed by the church as immoral.

The aristocracy was hardly committed to the sanctity of marriage. It was said at the court of Louis XIV some decades before the revolution that the aristocracy frowned on marital fidelity as being in bad taste, and a German visitor noted, "I know of not a single case of mutual affection and loyalty." I introduce this to make the point that marriage for the upper classes was all about property. Many of the sans-culottes did not marry at all. But in the Paris of the French Revolution, women were still largely dependent on men for economic reasons (whether or not they were legally married).

Much debate and several pieces of draft legislation on marriage and divorce had already been considered by the National Assembly before September 1792. All proposed to make marriage d simple civil affair. However, what stood in the way of this was the Catholic church. Those clergy who refused to swear an oath of loyalty were threatened with deportation. But the Pope forbade it, and a lot did refuse. Though some were deists or free thinkers, the bourgeois deputies in the Assembly had no intention of suppressing religion; they nearly all agreed that some kind of religion was necessary to keep the people pacified. But now they had a big problem on their hands as the village priests became organizers for counterrevolution.

The local priests not only carried out marriage ceremonies, baptisms and funerals, but also recorded them. If these records were in the hands of hostile forces, how could you count the population? You wouldn't even know if you had enough draftees for the army. When in June 1792 the Minister of Justice wrote that the civil war launched by the aristocracy and the church in the Vendee region in southwest France had completely disrupted the keeping of records, one delegate rose to propose that the marriage ceremony be abolished with the cry, "Freedom or death!" So in some ways, the progressive marriage and divorce laws enacted in September the same day as the victory at Valmy were war measures.

The age of adulthood was lowered to 21 and marriage without parental consent was legalized. This was followed by a June 1793 decree that proclaimed the right of illegitimate children to inherit from both their mothers and their fathers. At a stroke, the institution of the family lost one of its main functions as the framework for the transfer of property from one generation to the next. While inheritance rights didn't mean much to those without property, the new laws also tended to legitimize "free unions." For example, soldiers' common-law wives could receive government pensions.

Divorce had not been high on the list of grievances before the revolution, but as the pamphlets flowered, so did the notion that divorce was a necessary right in society. Probably rarely in history had a simple law so delighted the female population. When a certain citizen Bellepaume came to the town hall intending to oppose the divorce demanded by his wife, he found that she had organized "a considerable number of citizens of both sexes, but chiefly women" who pursued him in the corridors, abused him and tore his clothes. In the first year after the divorce law was passed, women
initiated over 70 percent of all divorces. One woman wrote to the Convention:

"The female citizen Govot, a free woman, solemnly comes to give homage to this sacred law of divorce. Yesterday, groaning under the control of a despotic husband, liberty was only an empty word for her. Today, returned to the dignity of an independent woman, she idolizes this beneficial law that breaks ill-matched ties and returns hearts to themselves, to nature, and finally to divine liberty. I offer my country six francs for the expense of war. I add my marriage ring, which was until today the symbol of my slavery."

The Society of Revolutionary Republican Women

The question of women's status in society had been a subject of debate throughout the Enlightenment. The Encyclopedia, published just before the revolution and intended as a compendium of all knowledge, contained four contributions under the category "Women": one in favor of equality, one ambiguous and two against. Even in a very radical work like Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), woman's role as subordinate to man inside the family was not seriously called into question. Wollstonecraft was part of a circle of British radical-democratic revolutionaries who supported the French Revolution against English monarchical reaction, even participating in the French government.

Most of the Enlightenment thinkers and writers concentrated on education for women, and that was about it. Now, this is undeniably a very important question, and it refuted the prevalent idea that women were inferior to men and their brains worked in an inferior way. Only about a third of French women at the time were literate. You'd find them during the revolutionary years at the corner cafe with their glass of red wine, reading or listening to someone else read Robespierre's latest speech. The hunger for knowledge was totally linked to the desire to change society. Before 1777, France had no daily newspaper. Two years later, there were 35 papers and periodicals and by 1789 there were 169. Thousands of political pamphlets rolled off the printing presses.

One of the novels based on the new research published in the last few years has the Enlightenment philosopher Condorcet, who wrote very eloquently about women's rights, and his lovely young wife enjoying long mornings reading a bit of Voltaire or the equivalent of the Sunday New York Times in bed with their cafe au lait, making love, and then getting up in the afternoon to walk in the garden and do their very serious intellectual work. Not a bad life, right? But it wasn't available to most people, of course. Condorcet ended by opposing the execution of Louis XVI, ostensibly on the grounds of opposition to the death penalty.

The working women of Paris who were a motor force in the revolution lived very different lives. Perhaps 45,000 women in Paris, some 20 percent, were wage earners; a similar percentage of women in cities like Lyon and Rouen worked. Because of the war, women were able to break into traditionally male professions and they were also employed at sewing, as domestic servants. Some were proprietors of shops. Wives, legal or otherwise, of soldiers at the front were given subsidies. The Paris municipal government and the political clubs set up spinning workshops that at a certain point employed several thousand women, though the wages were miserable. They were centralized by the government office responsible for producing clothes for the troops.

It was from among these women of the sans-culottes that the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women was formed in the spring of 1793. One of the leaders of the society was the chocolate maker Pauline Leon, whom we last saw with her pike on the October 1789 march to Versailles. Another was the actress Claire Lacombe, who always followed her signature with "A Free Woman." A third was Anne Felicite' Colombe, who owned a print shop. Typography was generally a man's job, so she was already exceptional for this. In 1791, she had been one of the four women arrested when the National Guard shot down demonstrators at the Champs de Mars calling for the overthrow of the monarchy. Colombe printed the revolutionary newspapers of Jean-Paul Marat, L'Ami du Peuple (The Friend of the People) and L'Orateur du Peuple (The Orator of the People). She was dragged into a libel suit, which she eventually won, and distributed the 20,000-//vre settlement to the poor in her neighborhood.

While women did not win the right to vote for delegates to the Convention, especially after the establishment of the Jacobin dictatorship in 1793 they played a full role in the Parisian sectional assemblies, intervening, presenting positions, voting and being elected as delegates. They refused to be "servile women, domestic animals," as one put it in May 1793. Interestingly, the one widespread demand for formal equality was for the right to bear arms. In March 1792, Pauline Leon had led a delegation to present a petition to the Assembly declaring:

"You cannot refuse us and society cannot remove from us this right which nature gives us, unless it is alleged that the Declaration of Rights is not applicable to women and that they must allow their throats to be slit, like sheep, without having the right to defend themselves."

The women demanded the right to arm themselves with pikes, pistols, sabers and rifles, and to assemble for maneuvers on the Champs de Mars. After much debate, the Assembly moved to put the petition in the minutes with honorable mention. Dozens of women actually went to the front when the war began, a few as officers.

The Society of Revolutionary Republican Women solidly backed the Jacobins as the revolutionary government and politically supported the extreme left Enrages around Jacques Roux, who spoke for the popular masses. Just after the Revolutionary Republican Women was founded, they mobilized the support of the masses in the streets for the Jacobins, whose battle to oust the Girondins was then coming to a head. As the split deepened, there were many more women than men in the street gatherings, according to police reports. The Revolutionary Republican Women dressed in military clothes and carried sabers. One account has them waging a military battle in the Convention to get back the seats which had been taken from them by supporters of the right-wing Gironde.

Reversal of Gains Under Thermidor

In October 1793, the society became one of the first organizations to be banned by the Jacobin government. Those feminist historians I mentioned earlier claim that this proves that the French Revolution was essentially hostile to women. That's wrong. The society was banned not because it was composed of women, but because it was one of the most radical expressions of the sans-culottes.

Here's what happened. The Enrages and the Revolutionary Republican Women fought for strict price controls, especially on food, and an upper limit on the size of personal fortunes. In October, the Revolutionary Republican Women launched a campaign to force all women to wear the revolutionary cockade. They brought their campaign to Les Halles, the central marketplace in Paris. The market women were of course hostile to the price maximum on food that had just been imposed by the Jacobin government as a concession to the sans-culottes. The question of the cockade was just the pretext for the major-league brawl that ensued between the market women and the women revolutionaries. This fight represented an early split in the Jacobins' base, and the Jacobins sided with the market women, banning the Revolutionary Republicans.

The peasants wanted maximum food prices, the artisan-proletariat in the cities wanted minimum ones, pointing to the spectre of a civil war which the sans-cullotes could not win. The Jacobins could have tried to strike a deal, but ultimately they could not satisfy the conflicting demands of the urban poor and the peasantry. When revolutionary Russia in the early 1920s was confronted with the "scissors crisis," as the price of scarce manufactured goods rose and the price of agricultural products fell 3nd the peasants threatened to withhold their produce, Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky proposed a course of planned industrialization to make more manufactured goods available to the peasants and maintain their support for the proletarian dictatorship. Trotsky's proposal was rejected at the time (only to be implemented at forced-march pace a few years later by Stalin). But such an option was objectively unrealizable in the capitalist economic system of pre-industrial France.

By the fall of 1793, the Jacobins and revolutionary France were gasping for air. Mandatory conscription had provoked mass uprisings in the Vendee; there had been treachery at the front; the armies of the European monarchies had reinvaded France; and Girondin provinces were seceding; Marat, the "friend of the people," had been assassinated by the royalist Charlotte Corday. Against this backdrop, the Revolutionary Republican Women, in their revolutionary zeal against the market women, threatened to get in the way of prompt and regular deliveries of food to the city from the countryside, without which the Jacobins would have lost the allegiance of the urban masses.

Many of the revolutionary women continued to be active as individuals. Even after being arrested by the Jacobin government, Claire Lacombe stayed loyal to Robespierre. She never renounced her support, and after Robespierre's execution she always refused to point out that she had been arrested by his revolutionary government because she hated the idea of becoming a hero of the Thermidorians. Women played a vanguard role in the last uprising of the French Revolution in the spring of 1795, after Thermidor. The rallying cry was "Bread and the Constitution of 1793!"

The modern feminist historians believe that the role of women who rose up from the "cellars and catacombs" has been largely obscured because of prevailing patriarchal attitudes in society. Or they seek to show that women acted only on "women's issues," mainly food shortages. While there's some truth in both these observations, they fundamentally miss the point. The mass of active women in the French Revolution did not fight and organize as women but as revolutionaries. And, as the October 1789 march that brought the king back from Versailles showed, it wasn't simply the question of bread that motivated them.

Thermidor marked the end of the radical phase of the revolution, and women were among the first to feel this. This was especially true for divorced women, who would have trouble finding work and maintaining themselves under the conservative Thermidorians. Divorce became identified with the "ruin of society" and the "torrent of corruption that invaded the cities and especially Paris" during the Terror and the months that followed it. Proof of a legitimate marriage became a requirement for soldiers' wives seeking to receive aid. After May 1795, the Convention banned women from "attending political assemblies," urging them to withdraw to their homes and ordering "the arrest of those who would gather together in groups of more than five."

The Napoleonic Code saw a further reversal of the gains of women. It's reported that the only part of the deliberations on the Napoleonic Code that Bonaparte sat in on was the Family Code enacted in 1804. The Family Code again made women minors from the standpoint of the law, mandating that they had to have the approval of their husbands for all contracts and so forth. In 1816, a year after Napoleon was overthrown and the monarchy restored, divorce was abolished.

For Women's Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

I want to briefly trace the revolutionary continuity extending from the French Revolution through the 19th century. The French Revolution, refracted through Napoleon's armies, brought the first notions of women's equality to hideously backward tsarist Russia. Following Napoleon's defeat, Paris was occupied by Russian troops for a period of time. A number of young officers spent a lot of time in the cafes talking to people about what had been going on, and went back to St. Petersburg and led the Decembrist Uprising against the tsarist autocracy in 1825. They fought, among other things, for women's equality.

The very first communist ideas came out of the analysis developed by some of the radical Jacobins while in prison after the defeat of the Jacobin dictatorship. Revolutionaries like Gracchus Babeuf, who organized the Conspiracy of Equals, and Philippe Buonarroti came to believe that private property itself was the cause of oppression. They provided a living link to Marx and Engels, who issued the Communist Manifesto as the next revolutionary wave swept Europe in 1848, declaring: "The bourgeois family will vanish as a matter of course when its complement vanishes, and both will vanish with the vanishing of capital." In France, a program was advanced for women's emancipation that called for replacing domestic slavery with socially organized and financed services. I found this 1848 program reprinted in an early 1920s women's journal published by the French Communist Party, L'Ouvriere (The Woman Worker).

In the Paris Commune in 1871, women once again played an extremely important role. Marx described the Commune as the first realization of the dictatorship of the proletariat, though it lasted less than three months. The women of the Paris Commune were called the "incendiaries" by the reactionary press, and a correspondent for the London Times wrote, "If the French Nation were composed of nothing but women, what a terrible nation it would be." But Marx hailed them: "The women of Paris joyfully give up their lives on the barricades and execution grounds" (quoted in Edith Thomas, The Women Incendiaries [1967]). When the French capitalist rulers finally defeated the Commune after heroic resistance, they slaughtered at least 30,000 people in one week, and many thousands more were sent to penal colonies.

Today, bourgeois France is an imperialist power, where the July 14 storming of the Bastille is celebrated as a chauvinist glorification of the "grandeur of France"—much like July 4 here—while French colonial atrocities are carried out to the music of the once-revolutionary hymn, the Marseillaise.

We Trotskyists know that it will take world socialist revolution to do away with the institutions which are the root cause of women's oppression. In our fight to reforge Leon Trotsky's Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution, to lead new October Revolutions around the planet, we are guided by the words of the Fourth International's founding document, the 1938 Transitional Program: "The sections of the Fourth International should seek bases of support among the most exploited layers of the working class, consequently among the women workers. Here they will find inexhaustible stores of devotion, selflessness, and readiness to sacrifice." Join us!