Saturday, March 02, 2019

*Happy Birthday Townes- In The Time Of My Country Music Moment- The Work Of Singer/Songwriter Townes Van Zandt-Road Songs

Click On Title To Link To YouTube's Film Clip Of Townes Van Zandt Covering The Classic Blues Song, "Cocaine Blues".

CD Review

On The Road With Townes Van Zandt

Road Songs, Townes Van Zandt, Sugar Hill Records, 1992

The main points of this review have been used to review other Townes Van Zandt CDs.

Readers of this space are by now very aware that I am in search of and working my way through various types of American roots music. In shorthand, running through what others have termed "The American Songbook". Thus I have spent no little time going through the work of seemingly every musician who rates space in the august place. From blues giants, folk legends, classic rock `n' roll artists down through the second and third layers of those milieus out in the backwoods and small, hideaway music spots that dot the American musical landscape. I have also given a nod to more R&B, rockabilly and popular song artists then one reasonably need to know about. I have, however, other than the absolutely obligatory passing nods to the likes of Hank Williams and Patsy Cline spent very ink on more traditional Country music, what used to be called the Nashville sound. What gives?

Whatever my personal musical preferences there is no question that the country music work of, for example, the likes of George Jones, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette in earlier times or Garth Brooks and Faith Hill a little later or today Keith Urban and Taylor Swift (I am cheating on these last two since I do not know their work and had to ask someone about them) "speak" to vast audiences out in the heartland. They just, for a number of reasons that need not be gone into here, do not "speak" to me. However, in the interest of "full disclosure" I must admit today that I had a "country music moment" about thirty years ago. That was the time of the "outlaws" of the country music scene. You know, Waylon (Jennings) and Willie (Nelson). Also Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash and Jerry Jeff Walker. Country Outlaws, get it? Guys and gals ( think of Jesse Colter)who broke from the Nashville/ Grand Old Opry mold by drinking hard, smoking plenty of dope and generally raising the kind of hell that the pious guardians of the Country Music Hall Of Fame would have had heart attacks over (at least in public). Oh, and did I say they wrote lyrics that spoke of love and longing, trouble with their "old ladies" (or "old men"), and struggling to get through the day. Just an ordinary day's work in the music world but with their own outlandish twists on it.

All of the above is an extremely round about way to introduce the "max daddy" of my 'country music moment', Townes Van Zandt. For those who the name does not ring a bell perhaps his most famous work does, the much-covered "Pancho And Lefty". In some ways his personal biography exemplified the then "new outlaw" (assuming that Hank Williams and his gang were the original ones). Chronic childhood problems, including a stint in a mental hospital, drugs, drink, and some rather "politically incorrect" sexual attitudes. Nothing really new here, except out of this mix came some of the most haunting lyrics of longing, loneliness, depression, sadness and despair. And that is the "milder" stuff. Not exactly the stuff of Nashville. That is the point. The late Townes Van Zandt "spoke" to me (he died in 1997) in a way that Nashville never could. And, in the end, the other outlaws couldn't either. That, my friends, is the saga of my country moment. Listen up to any of the CDs listed below for the reason why Townes did.

Townes Van Zandt was, due to personal circumstances and the nature of the music industry, honored more highly among his fellow musicians than as an outright star of "outlaw" country music back in the day. That influence was felt through the sincerest form of flattery in the music industry- someone well known covering your song. Many of Townes' pieces, especially since his untimely death in 1997, have been covered by others, most famously Willie Nelson's cover of "Pancho and Lefty". However, Townes, whom I had seen a number of times in person in the late 1970's, was no mean performer of his own darkly compelling songs.

This compilation with the aptly named title, “Road Songs”, gives both the novice a Van Zandt primer and the aficionado a fine array of his core works on the road theme in one place. Start with, naturally, “Automobile Blues”, work through the longing felt in “Texas River Song”, and the pathos of “Indian Cowboy” that could serve as a secondary personal Townes anthem. Then on to the sadness of the ill-fated story of Ira Hayes. Finally, round things out with the slight hopefulness of the Lightnin’ Hopkins classic “Hello Central” and the epic tragedy of Bruce Springsteen's “Racing In The Streets”. Additionally, Townes covers The Rolling Stones classic, “Dead Flowers” and Lightnin’ Hopkin’s wryly ironic “Shorted-haired Woman Blues”. Many of these songs are not for the faint-hearted but are done from a place that I hope none of us have to go but can relate to nevertheless. This well thought out product is one that will make you too a Townes aficionado. Get to it.

The Desert Flower Blooms-Joan Allen’s “Georgia O’Keeffe” ( )-A Film Review

The Desert Flower Blooms-Joan Allen’s “Georgia O’Keeffe” (2009)-A Film Review 

DVD Review

By Si Lannon

Georgia O’Keeffe, starring Joan Allan, Jeremy Irons, 2009

[When I was a kid I hated art, art as it was presented in art class where Mr. Jones-Henry held forth from freshman to senior in high school. Worse unlike some of the other guys I hung around in high school like Sam Lowell who loved art, was Mr. Jones-Henry’s star pupil I had not gone to North Adamsville Junior High School and had him for seventh and eighth grade at Snug Harbor Junior High before he transferred over to the high school.* So maybe I double-hated art especially after the time he took the whole eight grade class up to the famous Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The idea was to grab some culture I guess in his eyes by viewing some masterpieces they had there, especially a guy named Monet who did haystacks and churches that Jones-Henry was crazy for (guy is what I would have called him or any artist then). 

The big reason that I hated art from that museum experience on was that I was pretty naïve, naïve naturally if anybody is talking about budding teenagers and sex. I was sweet on a girl from the neighborhood named Laurie Kelly who I thought liked me (and actually did before the museum disaster) and we were paired together to view the works of art. I had never seen a woman, any woman naked so when we got to a painting by Renoir of a chubby woman bathing outdoors I turned bright red, maybe crimson red.  Laurie who was just beginning to bud out herself started laughing at me, started pointing out how red in the face I was to other students. After that she didn’t want anything to do with me according to my friend Ben Lewis who knew her older sister who told him that I was “square,” meaning social death in those days. After that horrible episode I hated Jones-Henry with a passion and I went crazy trying to get out of art class when he went over to the high school, No such luck and it is a good thing that Sam did a lot of my art projects or I might still be in that class. (The villain of the piece Renoir by the way who Sam and Laura in line with their theory recently claimed had a fetish for painting nudes with womanly bodies and girlish faces and have wondered out loud why the authorities didn’t catch on to his perversions.)     

[Mr. Jones-Henry was an Englishman in a heavily Irish school where almost everybody had some Irish blood and some family bad blood against the English for the 800 years of troubles, but nobody faulted him on that score, no me as I have mentioned above with other hatreds stirring. We all found it odd that he had that hyphenated name though and one day he explained it along with his art heritage. He was from some branch of the Burne-Jones family, I asked Sam recently, but he does not remember how the family tree went. One forbear was Edward Burne-Jones of the second wave of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood which had been started by the poet-artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti back in the mid-19th century.

More importantly Jones-Henry’s family had come to America due to his father’s work in Boston for some English firm and when it came time for him to go to college he went to the famous Massachusetts School of Art. From there he got jobs in North Adamsville. Why all of this was important was that he encouraged Sam to go to his alma mater and had worked to get Sam, a poor working-class family guy, a scholarship to the school. In the end Sam’s mother talked him out of it on economic grounds that she didn’t want him to become some starving artist in some cold-water garret.]            

After high school and after the Army, after Vietnam which changed a lot of ways I looked at stuff as it did to everybody from the old corner boy neighborhood I took up with a young woman, Kathie, my first wife and you should know that every corner boy from our corner wound up having at least two wives and two divorces which tells you something although not necessarily something good, who was an art student at the Museum School associated with that MFA that I hated from eighth grade. She gradually nurtured my interest in art, into going back to that tomb MFA since she got in free. When we got to that Renoir which had broken my heart indirectly when I was a kid I told her the story of the last time I had seen that painting. She laughed. The funny thing was that having grown up, having seen the adult world and women this time I looked at the masterly way he had painted and how he had used the space to almost make it seem like some Garden of Eden that his nude was entwined in. All taught to me by Kathie who would go on even after we were married to do her art work and after we divorced she went I think to the Village in New York or maybe San Francisco and then the Village and had a middling career (and two more husbands) as a regional artist. Me, I would eventually devour art every chance I got later on and hence this review which was assigned to me after I had told Greg Green, the site manager my hoary childhood tale. Si Lannon]        

 *Sam Lowell who like I mentioned loved art although turning down that scholarship opportunity as if to grab a second chance at the brass ring is now helping “ghost” an on-going series entitled Traipsing Through The Arts by Laura Perkins on self-selected works of art that interest her under the theory for 20th century art, serious art anyway from what I understand, that it is driven hard by sex and eroticism. I can understand how Sam, the old corner boy part of Sam half of our time spent grabbing at straws for girls and dates and back seats of hopped up cars, came by that theory but hearing prim and proper Laura was a proponent came as a shock to me.       

On the subject of Georgia O’Keeffe this part should have a field day with their exotic erotic theory of serious art. While they would be hard pressed to get much sexual mileage out of the barns up in Lake George, the hills and desert fauna and flora out in New Mexico or the skyscrapers in New York (except Sam in a wild frantic moment might see them as some phallic totem but he can figure that out for himself when it comes to her famous series of lush and symbolic flowers magnified many times larger than life and with a sensual feel they may get some mileage. At least one art critic has noted that almost vaginal depth and swirl that clearly suggests erotic possibilities anyway.
No question from early on once that first wife Kathie straightened out my head about art and art’s value as a cultural signpost I loved to look at the great 20th century artist Georgia O'Keeffe's works where possible including a visit to the Ghost Ranch out in New Mexico to get a first-hand view of what was driving her-especially her use of color. Hell, I even usually buy some kind of Georgia O’Keeffe calendar each year and if that isn’t love what is. Speaking of love the film under review simply but properly titled Georgia O’Keeffe (as opposed to say O’Keeffe and her husband-lover and pioneer photography as art organizer in New York City at various galleries Stieglitz or some variation on that idea) has one of its important strands beside a look at what drove her to her art was the seminal relationship for good or evil between her and Alfred Stieglitz –her most serious promoter and a great creative force as a photographer and exhibitor of modern art in his own right.     

Almost from the first frame of the film we are entwined in the obvious attraction that this pair, Alfred and Georgia had for each other sexually as well as artistically (although they called each other Miss O’Keeffe and Mister Stieglitz more often than one would think proper given that they were married but maybe the formalities were more carefully observed then). That attraction in the end would provide many emotional distraught moments for Ms. O’Keeffe as her Alfred proved to be another of those rascals who couldn’t keep away from the woman.

The relationship beyond Stieglitz's overwhelming desire to see Georgia take her place as a great artist of the 20th century was a roller coaster ride from the beginning since Alfred was very much married, although clearly unhappily. And also, via the great modern art promoter Mabel Dodge we know that women fell in love with him-and he responded for a while. That looked to be Georgia’s fate-another protégé of the great creative force. At some moments in the film it looked like she would never break from his spell (and whatever else he thought of her as an artist he wanted her under that spell) and break out to be her own artistic force creating some of the most primordially beautiful paintings ever produced.        

But break she did to signal a very important assertive streak that was not apparent at the start. Of course the painful cause that broke the camel’s back was Stieglitz’s infidelity with an heiress to the Sears fortune. That and his unwillingness to have a child with her (allegedly to avoid distracting her from her life-force art) tore her apart for a while-a long while. Heading to the rough and ready West, heading to the sullen beauty of New Mexico saved her sanity-and drove her art to another level. The great question posed by the film and posed by O’Keeffe herself was how much her art was driven by Stieglitz’s ambitions and her own. My guess is in the end it was her own. See the film and figure that one out for yourself.       

*From The Pages Of "Workers Vanguard"-Honor International Women's Day- A Workers' Holiday

Click on the title to link to an on line copy of the "Workers Vanguard" article on the subject mentioned in the headline.

The Trials And Tribulations Of Legendary Artist Jasper Johns-The Double Yoke Of Being A Closeted Gay Man And Growing Up In Bible- Belt Southern America-It Was A Close Thing.

The Trials And Tribulations Of Legendary Artist Jasper Johns-The Double Yoke Of Being A Closeted Gay Man And Growing Up In Bible- Belt Southern America-It Was A Close Thing.

By Ronan Saint James

Ordinarily I would not put the relationship between an artist and where he or she grew up and under what conditions under too strong a microscope letting happenstance and innate ability run its course as more determinative. But a recent trip to the South, close to where the artist under discussion, legendary Jasper Johns he of the Amerikkka flags, figures symbols, maps and other stuff hanging out of his artwork like the inevitably spending a life measured by coffee spoons and hence the need for coffee cans, grew up made me realize how close a thing it was that he escaped from the desperate ghost town he grew up in down in Allendale, South Carolina.

The first thing you notice, no, that I noticed in one town, Travelers Rest, I passed through was how many Baptist churches there were in a few mile area. I counted something like fifteen along one short stretch which seemed impossible given the size of the town and the actual population. Without knowing whether this number of churches represented a church for each person in the town or reflected various arcane theological differences it seemed frankly weird.

Living in a Northeastern secular cultural enclave, a bubble if you like, this bears more observation and study. All I know is that it goes a long way in describing why we are as Frank Jackman of this publication has described on many occasions a cold civil-these are partisans on the other side. Unless we can bridge some unbridgeable gap the die seems to be cast-and not our way necessarily so we had better dig in and organize like our lives depended on it.        

Of course when you talk about the South, about this South that a gay man like Tennessee Williams wrote plays about and the general attitude of Baptists and other evangelical toward gays then you have to address the long-term lovers’ relationship between Johns and fellow artist Ricard Rauschenberg and can totally understand why Johns had to flee that berg for his life in the closeted gay life 1950s. As a post-Stonewall, almost post-gay marriage man I feel though I have very little understanding how hard it must have been to thrive under those South Carolina circumstances. So hats off brother, hats off to your art too which has given me many an enjoyable and thoughtful moment.    

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-The Face (Book) Photo That Launched A Thousand Clicks- Or “Foul-Mouth” Phil Hits Pay-Dirt-Finally

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-The Face (Book) Photo That Launched A Thousand Clicks- Or “Foul-Mouth” Phil Hits Pay-Dirt-Finally

From The Archives Of Allan Jackson

[Recently in an introduction to a re-posting of one of this series involving a take on the mad monk writer Ken Kesey and the equally mad monk Phil Larkin from the old North Adamsville working class Acre neighborhood where, Sam Lowell, the late Peter Paul Markin, Allan Jackson and a few others who have written here including me, I pointed out that the by-line had changed. The by-line which had originally in the first thirty or so sketches been attributed to Frank Jackman another guy from the old neighborhood has now truthfully as far as it goes been attributed to the guy, Allan Jackson, who actually wrote, edited, and guided the series through about two or so years of heavy work.

This whole subterfuge had been the brainchild of Greg Green the current site manager who owes his position to having been on the “winning side” in the big internal fight that roiled this publication in the fall of 2017 after Allan, the old site manager and one of the founders of this publication back when it was in hard copy had been purged, retired take your pick after he lost a fatal vote of no confidence. To stem the continuing controversy in the aftermath of the struggle when writers on both sides of the dispute on the future direction of the blog which was tearing things apart for a while Sam Lowell, and old-timer and also a founder of the hard copy edition, and Greg worked out a truce. An “armed truce” as one wag put it where writers would no longer refer to Allan Jackson, his regime, his shortcomings and fixations about the 1960s nostalgia trip that he was pushing the publication toward, or for that matter his good points.

Greg used the “truce” to sort of underhandedly revive the series under Frank’s name without Frank knowing that he had unwittingly taken credit for what was essentially Allan’s work although he had written several of the sketches under Allan’s direction. What was Greg’s purpose? When Greg took over with the aid of the stable of younger writers who forced the vote of no confidence he had planned to take the publication away from the old time base of 1960s nostalgia freaks and aficionados and appeal to a younger audience by among other things forcing everybody on staff to do film reviews of super-hero movies, you know, Ironman, Batman, Superman those Marvel and DC comic book characters come to the screen. While every writer I think held his or her nose while  doing the damn thing they also tried in vain to tell Greg that the kids, Generation X, the Millennials frankly don’t read film reviews, book reviews, cultural takes, which is why the comic book companies went to the screen anyway. See they can’t even take the twenty minutes to read a fucking comic book. Greg finally got wise when that “old fogy” base which has stuck with the publication although that population is dwindling and was a cause of Greg’s unwise decision started complaining about the wall to wall coverage of this comic book madness. That is genesis on Greg seeing the light.

Enter one Allan Jackson who found out what Greg had done and had a fit although they was not much he could do about it since all the material on the site unlike the hard copy stuff in the old days was not copyrighted. We had gone the freely publish common copyright route assuming nobody would care to “filch” the stuff. Apparently from what Sam Lowell told me Allan got in touch with Sam to find out what he could do to see some justice done to his work. Sam said he would talk to Greg the result of which ended up with a “compromise” of attributing the material to Allan’s “archives” without recognizing his central role in putting the whole series together.

You have to realize how intense that internal struggle was which now by general consensus of the old-timers who sided with Allan and the Young Turks who forced him out, who using a term Sam used forthrightly “purged” him and sent him into exile. To have him through negotiation become a “non-person” in the old Stalinist terminology that the old-timers including Allan and Sam were addicted to from their radical pasts in that 1960s which to this day has marked them. All kinds of rumors have floated about what had happened to Allan since last fall. That have gone from innuendoes that Greg had him done away with like in old Stalin times once he lost the vote like this was some epic Stalin-Trotsky world historic dispute to his being forced into exile in Utah working for some Mormon newspaper touting the virtues of wearing clean white underwear and praying seven times a day to the shade of Joseph Smith to hiding out in La Jolla with some twenty-something part-time waitress surfer girl to running dope across the border for the Cuernavaca cartel to running a high end whorehouse in Argentina with old friend Madame La Rue for Chinese bigwigs on travel. The very latest rumors have him in Big Sur as a disciple of Buddha of the hills or pimping for a local Fox News outlet in Phoenix. Fortunately I have found out where he is, or maybe better, where he last was and will report what is what when I catch up to my old comrade who seems to have gone off the rails. Jack Callahan]      
Here's the story of the headline: 

Yes, I know. I know damn well that I should not indulge my seemingly endlessly sex-haunted old-time corner boys. After all this space is nothing but a high-tone “high communist” propaganda outlet on most days- the good days. I should, moreover, not indulge a “mere” part-timer at our old North Adamsville Salducci’s Pizza Parlor hang-out be-bop night “up the Downs” like one “Foul-Mouth” Phil Larkin. (For those who do not know what that reference refers to don’t worry you all had your own “up the Downs” and your own corner boys, or mall rats as the case may be, who hung out there.) Despite his well-known, almost automatic, foul mouth in the old days Phil had his fair share, more than his fair share given that mouth, of luck with the young women (girls, in the old days, okay). I am still mad at him for “stealing” my old-time neighborhood heartthrob, Millie Callahan, right from under my nose. (And right in the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church after Mass to boot. If he is still a believer he stands condemned. No mercy. As for me, an old heathen, I was just glad that I stared at her ass during Mass. I stand condemned anyway, if things work out that way).

Well, that was then and now is now and if you read about “poor” Phil Larkin’s trials and tribulations with the ladies recently in a post here entitled -“Sexless” sex sites” you know that his old Irish blarney ( I am being kind to the old geezer here) had finally given out and that he was scoreless lately. That is he was scoreless as of that writing. As Phil pointed out to me personally as part of our conversations while I was editing his story he felt that he would have had better luck with finding a woman companion (for whatever purpose) by just randomly calling up names in the telephone directory than from that “hot” sex site that he found himself embroiled in. And, in an earlier time, he might have been right.

But we are now in the age of so-called “social networking” (of which this space, as an Internet-driven format is a part) and so, by hook or by crook, someone placed his story (or rather, more correctly, my post from this blog) on his Facebook wall. As a result of that “click” Phil is now “talking” to a young (twenty-something) woman graduate student from Penn State (that is why just a few minutes ago he was yelling “Go, Nittany Lions” in my ear over the cell phone) and is preparing to head to the rolling Appalachian hills of Pennsylvania for a “date” with said twenty-something. Go figure, right? So my placement of this saga, or rather part two of the saga (mercifully there will be no more), is really being done in the interest of my obscure sense of completeness rather than “mere” indulgence of an old-time corner boy. As always I disclaim, and disclaim loudly for the world to hear, that while I have helped edit this story this is the work of one “Foul-Mouth” Phil Larkin, formerly of North Adamsville and now on some twisted, windy road heading to central Pennsylvania.

Phil Larkin comment:

Jesus, that Peter Paul Markin is a piece of work. Always rubbing in that “foul-mouth” thing. But I guess I did get the better of him on that Millie Callahan thing back in the day and he did provide me a “life-line” just now with his posting of my story on his damn communist-addled blog. It is a good thing we go back to “up the Downs” time and that I am not a “snitch” because some of the stuff that I have read from him here should, by rights, be reported directly to J. Edgar Hoover, or whoever is running the F.B.I., if anybody is. We can discuss that another time because I don’t have time to be bothered by any such small stuff. Not today. Not since I hit “pay-dirt” with my little Heloise. Yes, an old-fashioned name, at least I haven’t heard the name used much lately for girls, but very new-fashioned in her ideas. She is a twenty-five graduate student from Penn State and I am, as I speak, getting ready to roll out down the highway for our first “in person” meet.

You all know, or should be presumed to know to use a Markinism (Christ, we still call his silly little terms that name even forty years later), that I was having a little temporary trouble finding my life’s companion through sex sites. I told that story before and it is not worth going into here. [Markin: Fifty years Phil, and every other guy (or gal) from the Class of 1964. Do the math. I hope you didn’t try to con Heloise with that “youthful” fifty-something gag-christ, right back to you, Phil.] Let me tell you this one though because it had done nothing but restore my faith in modern technology.
Little communist propaganda front or not, Peter Paul’s blog goes out into the wilds of cyberspace almost daily (and it really should be reported to the proper authorities now that I have read his recent screeds on a Russian Bolshevik guy named Trotsky who is some kind of messiah to Markin and his crowd). So a few weeks ago somebody, somehow ( I am foggy, just like Markin, on the mechanics of the thing, although I know it wasn’t some internet god making “good” cyberspace vibes or anything like that) picked it up and place it (linked it) on his Facebook wall ( I think that is the proper word). Let’s call him Bill Riley (not his real name and that is not important anyway) Now I don’t know if you know how this Facebook thing works, although if you don’t then you are among the three, maybe four, people over the age of five that doesn’t.

Here’s what I have gathered. Bill Riley set up an account with his e-mail address, provided some information about himself and his interests and waited for the deluge of fan responses and “social-connectedness” (Markin’s word). Well, not exactly wait. Every day in every way you are inundated with photos of people you may know, may not know, or may or may not want to know and you can add them to your “friends” pile (assuming they ‘confirm” you request for friendship). Easy, right?

Well, yes easy is right because many people will, as I subsequently found out, confirm you as a friend for no other reason than that you “asked” them to include you. Click- confirm. Boom. This, apparently, is what happened when Bill “saw” Heloise’s photo. (I found out later, after “talking” to Heloise for a while, that she did not know Bill Riley or much about him except that he has a wall on Facebook. So the weird part is that Bill “introduced” us, although neither Heloise nor I know Bill. This has something Greek comedic, or maybe a Shakespeare idea, about it, for sure.). In any case Heloise, as a sociology graduate student at Penn State, took an interest in the “sexless” sex site angle for some study she was doing around her thesis and, by the fates, got hooked into the idea that she wanted to interview me about my experiences, and other related matters.

Without going into all the details that you probably know already I “joined” Bill Riley’s Facebook friends cabal and through him his “friend” Helosie contacted me about an interview. Well, we “chatted” for a while one day and she asked some questions and I asked others in my most civilized manner. What I didn’t know, and call me stupid for not knowing, was that Heloise not only was a “friend” of Bill’s but, unlike me (or so I thought), had her own Facebook page with photos. Now her photo on Bill’s wall was okay but, frankly, she looked just like about ten thousand other earnest female twenty-something graduate students. You know, from hunger. But not quite because daddy or mommy or somebody is paying the freight to let their son or daughter not face reality for a couple more years in some graduate program where they can “discover” themselves. Of course, naturally old cavalier that I am said, while we were chatting, that she was attractive, and looked energetic and smart and all that stuff. You know the embedded male thing with any woman, young or old, that looks the least bit “hit-worthy.” (Embedded is Markin’s word, sorry.)That photo still is on Bill’s wall and if I had only seen that one I would still be sitting in some lounge whiskey sipping my life away.

Heloise’s “real” photos, taken at some Florida beach during Spring break, showed a very fetching (look it up in the dictionary if you don’t know that old-time word means) young woman that in her bikini had me going. Let’s put it this way I wrote her the following little “note” after I got an eyeful:

“Hi Heloise - Recently I made a comment, after I first glanced at your photo wall, that you looked fetching (read, attractive, enchanting, hot, and so on). On that first glance I, like any red-blooded male under the age of one hundred, and maybe over that for all I know, got a little heated up. Now I have had a change to cool down, well a little anyway, and on second peek I would have to say you are kind of, sort of, in a way, well, okay looking. Now that I can be an objective observer I noticed that one of your right side eyelashes is one mm, or maybe two, off-balance from the left side. Fortunately I have the “medicine” to cure you. If you don’t mind living with your hideous asymmetrical deformation that is up to you. I will still be your friend. But if you were wondering, deep in the night, the sleepless night, why you have so few male Facebook friends or why guys in droves are passing your page by there you have it. Later-Phil.”

The famous old reverse play that has been around for a million years, right? Strictly the blarney, right? [Markin: Right, Phil, right as ever]. That little literary gem however started something in her, some need for an older man to tell her troubles to or something. And from there we started to “talk” more personally and more seriously. See I had it all wrong about her being sheltered out there in the mountains by mom and dad keeping her out of harm’s way until she “found” herself. No, Heloise was working, and working hard, to make ends meet and working on her doctorate at the same time. Her story, really, without the North Adamsville corner boy thing, would be something any of us Salducci’s guys would understand without question.(I was not a part-time corner boy by the way, except by Frankie Riley’s 24/7/365 standards and The Scribe’s). [Markin: Watch it, Phil. I told you not to use that nickname anymore.] I’ll tell you her story sometime depending on how things work but right now I am getting ready to go get a tank full of gas and think a little about those photos that launched a thousand clicks.

Markin comment:

Phil, like I said to Johnny Silver about what people might say about his little teeny-bopper love. Go for it. Don’t watch out. And like I said before we had better get to that communist future we all need pretty damn quick if for no other reason that to get some sexual breathes of fresh air that such a society promises.

Union Tops Bow to Democrats Popular L.A. Teachers Strike Sold Short For Quality, Integrated Public Education! No to Charters!

Workers Vanguard No. 1148
8 February 2019
Union Tops Bow to Democrats
Popular L.A. Teachers Strike Sold Short
For Quality, Integrated Public Education! No to Charters!
For six days last month, Los Angeles teachers engaged in determined strike action in defense of public education. United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) members were up against a cabal of Democratic Party officials, not least billionaire Austin Beutner, the hated superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The walkout over better working conditions and learning conditions in the schools was widely popular, as many parents and students joined the picket lines along with sections of organized labor. Tens of thousands rallied with placards reading, “We Stand with LA Teachers” and “Estamos con los Maestros de Los Angeles,” a testament to the strike’s resonance among the city’s heavily Latino population.
The mood of many union members was captured by one first grade teacher, who declared: “We’re a lot stronger than we thought we were” (Los Angeles Times, 22 January). In the end, the UTLA successfully staved off an attack on union health benefits for new hires and won some modest concessions from the LAUSD, such as more nurses, librarians and counselors and minimal class-size reductions. However, the union leadership called a halt to the strike with a settlement that on the core issues of school funding and charter schools undercuts the teachers’ future struggles by further binding the union to the district and city bosses in the capitalist Democratic Party. The longstanding reliance on the Democrats by labor officialdom has paved the way for the decimation of union jobs nationwide. In fact, the union’s strength is brought to bear when it mobilizes under its own banner, independently of the capitalists and their political representatives.
As one UTLA teacher put it, “The Democrats and Republicans are like a double-headed snake.” Indeed, so-called “friend of labor” Democrats have helped spearhead the decades-long ruling-class offensive to gut public-sector unions, starve education of funding and promote “free market” education schemes, such as privately run charter schools. The same capitalist rulers who are devastating public education also ratchet up the exploitation of workers and subject the black, Latino and poor masses to misery and repression. The fight for quality, integrated and secular public education for all, including bilingual education, is part of a broader struggle to address the felt needs of millions—for decent jobs, housing and health care.
Educators across the country, many themselves preparing to hit the picket lines as in Denver and Oakland, viewed the UTLA strike as a crucial battle. Although the L.A. teachers were not defeated, they also did not win. The settlement, brokered by Democratic mayor Eric Garcetti, who praised a “new culture of collaboration,” was hailed as a “historic victory” by UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl, who rammed it through in a few hours. In fact, the contract will barely make a dent in the wretched conditions that teachers endure to educate hundreds of thousands of poor and working-class students. The minimal pay raise is hardly different from the LAUSD’s last pre-strike offer, as several angry teachers told Workers Vanguard. Even the scrapping of the previous contract’s hated Section 1.5, which had allowed the district to keep increasing class sizes, could be reversed in the event of any purported budget crisis.
One week after the strike was over, the cries of impending bankruptcy were renewed by the Los Angeles County Office of Education that oversees district finances. Claiming that the agreement is not “sustainable” due to “financial insolvency,” the agency threatened to put the LAUSD under its authority if it does not come up with adequate spending cuts. Meanwhile, with powerful financial forces ominously bemoaning the high pension costs of K-12 and community college educators, teachers’ health care and retirement benefits could be next on the chopping block.
Down With the Charter Industry!
On the question of charter schools, which pose a mortal danger to public education and the teachers unions, the UTLA bureaucrats have patted themselves on the back for getting a toothless resolution passed by the school board as part of the strike settlement. The resolution requests that Democratic governor Gavin Newsom implement a moratorium of eight to ten months on new charter authorizations to allow for a study of their “financial implications.” Paying lip service to charter “accountability” is cheap for Democrats and hardly coincidental in the era of Trump and his “privatize at all costs” education secretary Betsy DeVos, especially with the 2020 elections on the horizon.
Pushing charter schools has always been a bipartisan project. The industry massively expanded under Barack Obama and his education secretary Arne Duncan, who replaced so-called “failing” schools with charters in cities like Chicago. As San Francisco mayor, Newsom was backed by charter proponents and lauded charter schools. Yet the labor tops continue to promote Democrats like Newsom as partisans of public education. The UTLA leadership is currently backing the school board campaign of longtime Democrat Jackie Goldberg, who, having supported charters time and again, calls for more “transparency.”
The union bureaucrats, working within the framework of what is acceptable to their Democratic masters, seek to regulate, not eliminate, charter schools, including through a cap. Obscenely, the new contract makes the union complicit in the setup of colocated charters, which take facilities away from public schools. A UTLA coordinator will now be part of the decision-making process on the sharing of space, that is, will give a union stamp of approval to the charter takeover.
In L.A. alone, charters have stripped nearly $600 million annually from state education funds over the last decade. From coast to coast, charters increase racial segregation and class inequality in schools. The goal must be to smash the charter industry and bring charter teachers and staff into the public school system. A major step in that direction would be to wage an uncompromising fight to unionize the charter schools and win full union protections and compensation, undercutting their main selling point to the anti-union privatizers.
During the LAUSD strike, three UTLA-organized charter schools operated by the Accelerated Schools network also walked off the job. The first charter strike ever in California presented a unique opening to cement unity in action between charter school and public school teachers, but the UTLA leadership kept the struggles separate. District teachers were sent back to work before the charter teachers settled, as the union tops left them to fend for themselves. What was necessary was an all-out fight for equal wages and benefits at the highest level, which would have gone a long way toward fueling enthusiasm for a drive to organize all charter schools.
Break with the Democrats!
Universal public education is a historic gain of the working class issuing out of the Civil War that smashed black chattel slavery. A century later, in the 1950s and ’60s, the struggles of the civil rights movement took aim against segregated and inferior schools. But its liberal, pro-Democratic Party leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. could not end the de facto segregation of black people that is materially rooted in the capitalist system. In the decades since, America’s racist capitalist rulers have deemed there to be little value in educating black, Latino and working-class youth.
Amid a racist backlash against the gains of the civil rights movement, California’s Proposition 13, which capped property taxes, was signed into law in 1978. At the time, a section of the bourgeoisie had fanned the flames of a white, middle-class tax revolt against government programs viewed as benefiting poor blacks and Latinos. This social reaction was linked to a racist opposition to busing, a modest effort to achieve some measure of school integration. After Prop. 13’s approval, funding for public schools was massively depleted, welfare was slashed, and libraries and hospitals devastated, while big businesses reaped huge tax windfalls. California, once known as the education state, today ranks 44th in school funding.
The UTLA leadership is now pushing a 2020 tax reform ballot initiative that would abolish Prop. 13’s tax cap for commercial and industrial properties. This initiative, the California Schools and Local Communities Funding Act, is being promoted as the way to restore billions of dollars to education across the state. As opponents of Prop. 13, we would support measures that curtail or reverse it.
However, the union bureaucrats push such legislative measures as a diversion from the necessary militant class struggle against the capitalists and their state. Indeed, in the new contract, the UTLA tops commit the union to acting as a lobbying arm of the LAUSD for the initiative. It’s not the union’s job to help the bosses figure out how to divvy up their funds. At the end of the day, the amount allocated to education and other vital social services is determined by the relationship of forces in the class struggle.
Caputo-Pearl’s Union Power caucus is cheered on by supporters of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and the International Socialist Organization (ISO). In the article “We Won a Historic Victory for LA Schools” on the ISO’s website (, 23 January), Gillian Russom, a member of the UTLA Board of Directors, bends over backward to sell teachers on the contract. Russom is a typical union bureaucrat, accepting the premise that there is only so much money to go around: “If you were to reduce one student in every classroom in LAUSD, that’s the equivalent cost of a 5 percent raise. So you’re talking about a very expensive item in terms of hiring new people.”
The ISO’s enthusiastic support of the UTLA leadership, which is ever-loyal to the capitalist profit system, parallels its backing of the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE) that heads the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and has longstanding ties with the UTLA’s Union Power. During the 2012 Chicago teachers strike, CORE bowed to the city’s Democratic mayor, Rahm Emanuel, who refused to negotiate about such issues as school closings, layoffs and charters. As in L.A., the CORE misleaders abided by the parameters laid out by the Democratic bosses, and the CTU has since been battered.
The reformist ISO hitches its wagon to those Democrats being touted as “progressive” instead of “corporate,” selling the myth that capitalist politicians can be convinced to provide for the well-being of the masses. To this end, the ISO is working together with the DSA, which from its inception has been an organic component of the Democratic Party. A joint statement issued on January 22 by the L.A. chapters of the ISO and DSA claims: “Building a socialist alternative to capitalism means holding these Democrats to account and breaking with their pro-business agenda.”
No! As Workers Vanguard supporters emphasized on the picket lines, the starting point must be breaking with the Democratic Party as a whole. The situation cries out for a new class-struggle leadership of the unions, one based on the understanding that working people have nothing in common with the bosses and their parties. Key to unlocking the social power of the multiracial working class is severing the ties between labor and its class enemy.
The corporations and banks are sitting on mountains of cash, yet to put that wealth in the service of human need rather than private profit requires breaking the power of the bourgeoisie and reorganizing the economy on a socialist basis. To do so is a question of leadership. The fight for a multiracial revolutionary workers party is crucial not only to defend the interests of workers, blacks, immigrants and others against the ravages of capitalism, but also to lead the struggle for workers revolution. Only this will open the door to an egalitarian society, in which everyone has access to housing, health care and education of the highest quality.

Trump, Democrats Push “Regime Change” U.S. Imperialism Hands Off Venezuela!

Workers Vanguard No. 1148
8 February 2019
Trump, Democrats Push “Regime Change”
U.S. Imperialism Hands Off Venezuela!
FEBRUARY 4—The U.S. imperialists’ transparent attempt to engineer the overthrow of Nicolás Maduro’s bourgeois-populist regime in Venezuela is a dire threat to the workers and poor. On January 23, Juan Guaidó, head of the opposition National Assembly, declared himself president and was quickly recognized by the U.S., Canada and a host of Latin American states. Five days later, the Trump administration, having already intoned that the “military option” remains on the table, leveled sanctions against the state oil company PDVSA, which accounts for nearly all of Venezuela’s hard currency. This will vastly worsen shortages of food and medicine for the impoverished urban and rural masses while further crippling the country’s one economic asset.
The White House then declared that Venezuela’s financial assets abroad now belonged to the Guaidó cabal. The Bank of England added to this state-sponsored larceny by withholding $1.2 billion’s worth of Venezuela’s gold. A growing chorus of European imperialists has joined calls for new elections to force “regime change.”
The U.S. effort to topple Maduro is backed by both the Democratic and Republican parties, whose attempts to unseat the Venezuelan regime date back to a failed coup attempt in 2002 against Hugo Chávez. Like his handpicked successor Maduro, Chávez was a bonapartist capitalist ruler. But in that capacity, he used oil revenues to fund social reforms that benefited the urban and rural poor and further earned Washington’s animosity by denouncing U.S. military interventions and bucking its policies in Latin America.
In particular, beginning with Chávez, Caracas established close ties with Havana and has provided its Stalinist regime with oil, helping keep the Cuban bureaucratically deformed workers state afloat in the face of relentless U.S. imperialist hostility. The campaign to drive out Maduro also aims to further starve Cuba, which has been subjected to nearly 60 years of economic blockade, and to foment capitalist counterrevolution on the island. Unlike in Venezuela, in Cuba the bourgeoisie was expropriated as a class in the years following the 1959 Revolution led by Fidel Castro’s guerrilla forces. It is crucial for the international proletariat to stand for the unconditional military defense of Cuba against imperialism and counterrevolution.
In addition, the Trump White House is angling against the Chinese deformed workers state, which along with capitalist Russia, provided Maduro with loans after Venezuela’s economy went into a tailspin a few years ago. The Russian and Chinese governments both voiced opposition to Washington’s provocations. The Beijing regime, which is being repaid with oil, has also held discussions with Guaidó, who has offered to respect Venezuela’s agreements with China.
The working class in the U.S. has a particular duty to oppose the imperialist machinations of its ruling class, which for over a century has slashed a long and bloody trail of wars, military coups, death squads and embargoes to keep Latin America under its jackboot. Opposing economic sanctions as well as any military intervention in Venezuela would strengthen the hand of U.S. workers in waging class struggle against the racist capitalist rulers at home. It is also in the interests of working people to demand: cancel Venezuela’s debt to the U.S.!
As Marxists, our opposition to U.S. intervention in Venezuela does not imply the least political support to the bourgeois Maduro regime. At the same time as Washington has increased starvation sanctions, imperialist propagandists point to Venezuela’s hyperinflation, shortages of necessities and collapse of the oil industry as proof of the failure of “socialism.” In fact, there was nothing socialist about the “Bolivarian Revolution.” Taking the reins of the capitalist state apparatus in 1998, Chávez, a former army lieutenant-colonel, was faced with restoring faltering oil profits, the lifeblood of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie. He immediately moved to discipline the oil workers union and increase the efficiency of the state-owned industry. These moves earned him support from much of the ruling class, including the bulk of the military high command, which helped restore him to power following the 2002 coup.
It was when Chávez began to use some of the oil revenue to ease the plight of the desperately poor masses that a growing section of the bourgeoisie, which got fat by siphoning off oil profits for themselves, really turned against him. Those lily-white bloodsuckers were horrified that a man of black and indigenous heritage was using some of those funds to finance reforms benefiting poor and dark-skinned Venezuelans. Nevertheless, far from a step toward socialism, the reforms served to defuse the discontent of the workers and poor and ideologically bind them to capitalist rule through Chávez’s bourgeois United Socialist Party.
While oil prices remained high and the government was flush with cash, Chávez was able to fend off challenges to his rule and remain popular with working people—as well as with a section of the capitalist class that was doing very well for itself. But with the huge drop in international oil prices between 2014 and 2016, Maduro has faced an ever-deepening economic crisis. Now, as Guaidó and his U.S. backers stoke unrest, Maduro is relying on the military, the main power in the state apparatus. Chávez and Maduro both sought to secure top officers’ loyalty by giving them positions in food distribution, the oil industry and other lucrative businesses. While most of the brass has so far stuck by Maduro, one air force general has thrown down with Guaidó, who, along with his imperialist handlers, is calling on the military to switch sides.
Last week, as right-wing mobilizations continued, oil workers rallied to denounce the U.S. sanctions and defend Maduro. We would oppose any U.S.-backed coup against Maduro and say that the proletariat must come to the fore in struggle against the imperialists and their Venezuelan cronies. But the workers must be organized based on political independence from the Maduro regime and all capitalist forces. The working class has the potential to lead all of the poor and the oppressed in a socialist revolution that sweeps away the capitalist state. That requires the leadership of a Leninist-Trotskyist party committed to the struggle for workers power from Venezuela to the U.S.
Imperialists’ “Democracy” Card
Juan Guaidó, we are told, has rightfully claimed the presidency on the basis that Maduro was not “democratically elected,” and power has therefore passed to the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly. In fact, the obscure 35-year-old was selected in December to head the Assembly by leaders of his right-wing Popular Will party. Groomed at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Guaidó is a disciple of Leopoldo López, head of Popular Will. Currently under house arrest, López, who hails from the Venezuelan elite, graduated from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, a CIA recruiting ground.
Guaidó prepared his power bid by visiting Washington in December before swinging through neighboring Colombia and Brazil. Colombia’s “democracy” is headed by Iván Duque, one of a long line of right-wing rulers notorious for terrorizing and killing peasants and leftists. Brazil’s is led by Jair Bolsonaro, an admirer of the country’s 1964-85 military dictatorship. Helping direct anti-Maduro operations will be the old Cold Warrior, Elliott Abrams, recently appointed U.S. envoy to Venezuela. In the 1980s, Abrams was a linchpin of the Reagan administration’s anti-Communist dirty wars in Central America and its support for bloody juntas in Argentina and Chile. In 2002, he was a prime mover of the failed coup against Chávez.
While Trump’s Republicans are calling the shots, the Democratic Party is a full partner in the drive to bring Venezuela to heel by driving out Maduro. This includes “socialist” statesman Bernie Sanders, who issued a January 24 statement denouncing Maduro’s “violent crackdown on Venezuelan civil society” and his “fraudulent” re-election last year while also delicately disapproving of the U.S. history of “inappropriately intervening in Latin American countries.” Sanders’s call for “fair elections” is just a means of covering U.S. imperialism’s heavy hand with the glove of “democracy.”
As the parties of U.S. imperialism, the Democrats and Republicans alike see every inch of land south of the U.S. border as their empire. Sanders might well think that sending in U.S. troops could backfire in Venezuela and spark turmoil throughout Latin America. The way that the Barack Obama administration did things was to impose starvation sanctions and channel funds to the opposition, an approach that Trump simply continued upon taking office. And it’s not as if the Democrats are averse to the “military option,” in Latin America or anywhere else (for example, John F. Kennedy’s 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba; Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 invasion of the Dominican Republic; the 2009 Honduras coup supported by Obama; not to speak of the millions killed in the wars in Korea and Vietnam).
Socialist Alternative (SAlt) and the International Socialist Organization (ISO), which posture as opponents of U.S. imperialism, were gung ho for the Sanders presidential campaign in 2016, with SAlt openly working inside it. These reformist outfits likewise cheered the election of Democratic Party Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). SAlt and the ISO serve as a fifth wheel to those like Sanders and the DSA, whose aim is to get the Democrats back in control of the imperialist machinery. We in the Spartacist League seek to break labor’s ties to the Democratic Party and to build a revolutionary workers party that links the struggle against U.S. depredations overseas with the fight against wage slavery and racial oppression in the imperialist heartland.
Dead End of Bourgeois Populism
Some reformists, such as the Workers World Party and Party for Socialism and Liberation, have rallied to Venezuela’s defense while continuing to support the Maduro regime and the myth that chavismo was the road to “Bolivarian socialism.” One organization that had embraced Chávez, the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) of Alan Woods, is distancing itself from Maduro’s increasingly unpopular rule. Having spent a decade advising Chávez on how to run his government, the IMT now proclaims that Venezuela’s woes show “the impossibility of regulating capitalism, and the disaster of policies of state intervention within the limits of capitalism” (, 29 January). Meanwhile, its comrades in Venezuela declare that the problem is not the fraudulent Bolivarian Revolution but its “mediocre leaders.”
In contrast to such opportunists, we told the truth about the bourgeois Chávez/Maduro regime from the beginning. In opposing the 2002 coup attempt, we pointed out that while Chávez had won mass support through his irreverence toward the rich and pride in his indigenous origins, “the role of populists like Chávez is to protect the capitalist order by deflecting the just rage of the oppressed masses” (“CIA Targets Chávez,” WV No. 787, 20 September 2002).
It is a statement of Venezuela’s continued subordination to imperialism that it has exported most of its oil to the U.S. and depends on imports of food, medicine and manufactured goods. In countries of belated capitalist development, the bourgeoisie is too weak, too fearful of the proletariat and too dependent on the world market to break the chains of imperialist subjugation and resolve mass poverty and other burning social questions. Populist reform and neoliberal austerity are two faces of capitalist class rule in such countries, alternating from one to the other under shifting political conditions.
The only way forward is that of permanent revolution, the theory developed and extended by Leon Trotsky, who along with V. I. Lenin was a principal leader of the October 1917 workers revolution in Russia. As Trotsky stressed in The Permanent Revolution (1930), the fight must be for “the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses.”
Workers rule would place on the order of the day not only democratic tasks, such as agrarian revolution that gives land to impoverished Venezuelan peasants, but also such socialist tasks as collectivizing the economy. This would give a mighty impulse to the extension of socialist revolution internationally. Only the victory of the proletariat in the advanced capitalist world can ensure defense of the revolution against bourgeois reaction, eradicate poverty and open the road to a society of material abundance. This is the perspective of the International Communist League as we seek to reforge Trotsky’s Fourth International as the world party of socialist revolution.

Once Again, If I Dare, On The Summer Of Love, 1967 -To Be Young Was Very Heaven-Out Of The Blue- Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”-NPR’s “American Anthem” series

Once Again, If I Dare, On The Summer Of  Love, 1967 -To Be Young Was Very Heaven-Out Of The Blue- Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”-NPR’s “American Anthem” series

By Seth Garth

This is a link to an American Anthem segment on the famous Buffalo Springfield song For What It’s Worth which became, well, an anti-Vietnam War anthem although it did not start out that way:  

A couple of years ago back in 2017 Growing Up Absurd In The 1950s and its’ sister and associated publications commemorated what seemed like a 24/7/365 non-stop 50th anniversary tribute to the Summer of Love, 1967. Although it would in the end cost the prime mover of that commemoration Allan Jackson his job as site manager (he has since come back as a contributing editor) that extensive coverage made sense to a lot of the older writers at this publication. Under the guidance of the late then free spirit and still missed Pete Markin a number of us from the old working-class Acre section of North Adamsville south of Boston out to San Francisco that year. That town, and especially Golden Gate Park and the Haight-Ashbury section, was the epicenter of what was something like the beginning of a cultural revolution among certain segments of the young.

Those events in San Francisco (and Big Sur and Todos el Mundo south of that town) were written about extensively by those still standing from those days. There is therefore no reason to drag those writings out of storage here. What is important to note is that San Francisco was by no means the only place on the West Coast (and eventually in certain clots across the country) where the young alienated or just looking for something different congregated to form youth nation. Los Angeles, as the link above details, was also a hotbed of such activities. It was there that the legendary group Buffalo Springfield learned to fly and where Steven Sills wrote what would become a youth and anti-war anthem For What It Is Worth. To parse a line from the English poet Wordsworth-“to be young was very heaven.”   

(The younger writers here who has either no clue or no interest in the Summer of Love, 1967 had to check with parents or grandparents about what they remembered if anything of those times. They would wind up rebelling against having to write about those times. That led to the show-down that sent Jackson into exile.)    

Black History and the Class Struggle-In Honor of John Brown-"John Brown" An Address By Frederick Douglass(1881)

Black History and the Class Struggle-In Honor of John Brown-"John Brown" An Address By Frederick Douglass(1881) 

Workers Vanguard No. 1128

23 February 2018
Black History and the Class Struggle
In Honor of John Brown
On 16 October 1859, revolutionary abolitionist John Brown led an armed and racially integrated group in a daring raid on the Harpers Ferry federal arsenal in what was then Virginia. His aim was to procure arms, free slaves in the area and lead his army into the mountains where they could establish a liberated zone and, as needed, wage war against the slave masters. Brown’s forces fought heroically but were overwhelmed and defeated by U.S. marines led by Robert E. Lee, who would soon become the commander of Confederate forces during the Civil War. Brown and his surviving comrades were captured. On December 2, he was hanged.
Throughout his life, John Brown burned with hatred for slavery. Several years before the Harpers Ferry raid, in what became known as “Bleeding Kansas,” John Brown and several of his sons led a struggle to crush pro-slavery forces and ensure that Kansas entered the Union as a free state. On the day of his execution, he scrawled a small note to a friend that prophetically stated: “I John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land: will never be purged away; but with blood.” The raid on Harpers Ferry was the real opening shot of the Civil War, which broke out in 1861. It took the blood and iron of that war, including the 200,000 black soldiers and sailors who helped ensure Union victory, to finally destroy the American slave order.
We print below extracts of a 30 May 1881 address by Frederick Douglass paying tribute to the courage of John Brown. The speech was delivered at Storer College, a historically black college in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Douglass, who had escaped slavery in 1838, was an electrifying agitator and one of the most powerful champions of black freedom in America’s history.
As Trotskyists, we stand in the revolutionary tradition of John Brown and Frederick Douglass. We fight to complete the unfinished tasks of the Civil War, which require sweeping away the American capitalist order. As we wrote in the first issue of Black History and the Class Struggle (1983), “The whole system stands squarely counterposed to black freedom. Forward to the third American Revolution, a proletarian revolution led by a Trotskyist vanguard party with a strong black leadership component. Finish the Civil War—For black liberation in a workers’ America!”

John BrownAn Address by Frederick Douglass
The bloody harvest of Harper’s Ferry was ripened by the heat and moisture of merciless bondage of more than two hundred years. That startling cry of alarm on the banks of the Potomac was but the answering back of the avenging angel to the midnight invasions of Christian slave-traders on the sleeping hamlets of Africa. The history of the African slave-trade furnishes many illustrations far more cruel and bloody....
Your interests, like mine, are in the all-commanding figure of the story, and to him I consecrate the hour. His zeal in the cause of my race was far greater than mine—it was as the burning sun to my taper light—mine was bounded by time, his stretched away to the boundless shores of eternity. I could live for the slave, but he could die for him. The crown of martyrdom is high, far beyond the reach of ordinary mortals, and yet happily no special greatness or superior moral excellence is necessary to discern and in some measure appreciate a truly great soul. Cold, calculating and unspiritual as most of us are, we are not wholly insensible to real greatness; and when we are brought in contact with a man of commanding mold, towering high and alone above the millions, free from all conventional fetters, true to his own moral convictions, a “law unto himself,” ready to suffer misconstruction, ignoring torture and death for what he believes to be right, we are compelled to do him homage....
Slavery is indeed gone; but its long, black shadow yet falls broad and large over the face of the whole country. It is the old truth oft repeated, and never more fitly than now, “a prophet is without honor in his own country and among his own people.” Though more than twenty years have rolled between us and the Harper’s Ferry raid, though since then the armies of the nation have found it necessary to do on a large scale what John Brown attempted to do on a small one, and the great captain who fought his way through slavery has filled with honor the Presidential chair [Abraham Lincoln], we yet stand too near the days of slavery, and the life and times of John Brown, to see clearly the true martyr and hero that he was and rightly to estimate the value of the man and his works. Like the great and good of all ages—the men born in advance of their times, the men whose bleeding footprints attest the immense cost of reform, and show us the long and dreary spaces, between the luminous points in the progress of mankind,—this our noblest American hero must wait the polishing wheels of after-coming centuries to make his glory more manifest, and his worth more generally acknowledged....
To the outward eye of men, John Brown was a criminal, but to their inward eye he was a just man and true. His deeds might be disowned, but the spirit which made those deeds possible was worthy [of] highest honor. It has been often asked, why did not Virginia spare the life of this man? why did she not avail herself of this grand opportunity to add to her other glory that of a lofty magnanimity?...
Slavery was the idol of Virginia, and pardon and life to Brown meant condemnation and death to slavery. He had practically illustrated a truth stranger than fiction,—a truth higher than Virginia had ever known,—a truth more noble and beautiful than Jefferson ever wrote. He had evinced a conception of the sacredness and value of liberty which transcended in sublimity that of her own Patrick Henry and made even his fire-flashing sentiment of “Liberty or Death” seem dark and tame and selfish. Henry loved liberty for himself, but this man loved liberty for all men, and for those most despised and scorned, as well as for those most esteemed and honored. Just here was the true glory of John Brown’s mission. It was not for his own freedom that he was thus ready to lay down his life, for with Paul he could say, “I was born free.” No chain had bound his ankle, no yoke had galled his neck. History has no better illustration of pure, disinterested benevolence. It was not Caucasian for Caucasian—white man for white man; not rich man for rich man, but Caucasian for Ethiopian—white man for black man—rich man for poor man—the man admitted and respected, for the man despised and rejected. “I want you to understand, gentlemen,” he said to his persecutors, “that I respect the rights of the poorest and weakest of the colored people, oppressed by the slave system, as I do those of the most wealthy and powerful.” In this we have the key to the whole life and career of the man....
It must be admitted that Brown assumed tremendous responsibility in making war upon the peaceful people of Harper’s Ferry, but it must be remembered also that in his eye a slave-holding community could not be peaceable, but was, in the nature of the case, in one incessant state of war. To him such a community was not more sacred than a band of robbers: it was the right of any one to assault it by day or night. He saw no hope that slavery would ever be abolished by moral or political means: “he knew,” he said, “the proud and hard hearts of the slave-holders, and that they never would consent to give up their slaves, till they felt a big stick about their heads.” It was five years before this event at Harper’s Ferry, while the conflict between freedom and slavery was waxing hotter and hotter with every hour, that the blundering statesmanship of the National Government repealed the Missouri compromise [of 1820, which banned slavery in most of the northern part of the Louisiana territory], and thus launched the territory of Kansas as a prize to be battled for between the North and the South. The remarkable part taken in this contest by Brown has been already referred to, and it doubtless helped to prepare him for the final tragedy, and though it did not by any means originate the plan, it confirmed him in it and hastened its execution....
Such was the man whose name I heard uttered in whispers—such was the house in which he lived—such were his family and household management—and such was Captain John Brown. He said to me at this meeting, that he had invited me to his house for the especial purpose of laying before me his plan for the speedy emancipation of my race. He seemed to apprehend opposition on my part as he opened the subject and touched my vanity by saying, that he had observed my course at home and abroad, and wanted my co-operation. He said he had been for the last thirty years looking for colored men to whom he could safely reveal his secret, and had almost despaired, at times, of finding such, but that now he was encouraged for he saw heads rising up in all directions, to whom he thought he could with safety impart his plan. As this plan then lay in his mind it was very simple, and had much to commend it. It did not, as was supposed by many, contemplate a general rising among the slaves, and a general slaughter of the slave masters (an insurrection he thought would only defeat the object), but it did contemplate the creating of an armed force which should act in the very heart of the South. He was not averse to the shedding of blood, and thought the practice of carrying arms would be a good one for the colored people to adopt, as it would give them a sense of manhood. No people he said could have self-respect or be respected who would not fight for their freedom....
Slavery was a state of war, he said, to which the slaves were unwilling parties and consequently they had a right to anything necessary to their peace and freedom. He would shed no blood and would avoid a fight except in self-defense, when he would of course do his best. He believed this movement would weaken slavery in two ways—first by making slave property insecure, it would become undesirable; and secondly it would keep the anti-slavery agitation alive and public attention fixed upon it, and thus lead to the adoption of measures to abolish the evil altogether. He held that there was need of something startling to prevent the agitation of the question from dying out; that slavery had come near being abolished in Virginia by the Nat. Turner insurrection, and he thought his method would speedily put an end to it, both in Maryland and Virginia. The trouble was to get the right men to start with and money enough to equip them. He had adopted the simple and economical mode of living to which I have referred with a view to save money for this purpose. This was said in no boastful tone, for he felt that he had delayed already too long and had no room to boast either his zeal or his self-denial.
From 8 o’clock in the evening till 3 in the morning, Capt. Brown and I sat face to face, he arguing in favor of his plan, and I finding all the objections I could against it. Now mark! this meeting of ours was full twelve years before the strike at Harper’s Ferry. He had been watching and waiting all that time for suitable heads to rise or “pop up” as he said among the sable millions in whom he could confide; hence forty years had passed between his thought and his act. Forty years, though not a long time in the life of a nation, is a long time in the life of a man; and here forty long years, this man was struggling with this one idea; like Moses he was forty years in the wilderness. Youth, manhood, middle age had come and gone; two marriages had been consummated, twenty children had called him father; and through all the storms and vicissitudes of busy life, this one thought, like the angel in the burning bush, had confronted him with its blazing light, bidding him on to his work....
Two weeks prior to the meditated attack, Capt. Brown summoned me to meet him in an old stone quarry on the Conecochequi river, near the town of Chambersburgh, Penn. His arms and ammunition were stored in that town and were to be moved on to Harper’s Ferry. In company with Shields Green I obeyed the summons, and prompt to the hour we met the dear old man, with Kagi, his secretary, at the appointed place. Our meeting was in some sense a council of war. We spent the Saturday and succeeding Sunday in conference on the question, whether the desperate step should then be taken, or the old plan as already described should be carried out. He was for boldly striking Harper’s Ferry at once and running the risk of getting into the mountains afterwards. I was for avoiding Harper’s Ferry altogether. Shields Green and Mr. Kagi remained silent listeners throughout. It is needless to repeat here what was said, after what has happened. Suffice it, that after all I could say, I saw that my old friend had resolved on his course and that it was idle to parley. I told him finally that it was impossible for me to join him. I could see Harper’s Ferry only as a trap of steel, and ourselves in the wrong side of it. He regretted my decision and we parted....
But the question is, Did John Brown fail? He certainly did fail to get out of Harper’s Ferry before being beaten down by United States soldiers; he did fail to save his own life, and to lead a liberating army into the mountains of Virginia [now West Virginia]. But he did not go to Harper’s Ferry to save his life. The true question is, Did John Brown draw his sword against slavery and thereby lose his life in vain? and to this I answer ten thousand times. No! No man fails, or can fail who so grandly gives himself and all he has to a righteous cause. No man, who in his hour of extremest need, when on his way to meet an ignominious death, could so forget himself as to stop and kiss a little child, one of the hated race for whom he was about to die, could by any possibility fail. Did John Brown fail? Ask Henry A. Wise in whose house less than two years after, a school for the emancipated slaves was taught. Did John Brown fail? Ask James M. Mason, the author of the inhuman fugitive slave bill, who was cooped up in Fort Warren, as a traitor less than two years from the time that he stood over the prostrate body of John Brown. Did John Brown fail? Ask Clement C. Vallandingham, one other of the inquisitorial party; for he too went down in the tremendous whirlpool created by the powerful hand of this bold invader.
If John Brown did not end the war that ended slavery, he did at least begin the war that ended slavery. If we look over the dates, places and men, for which this honor is claimed, we shall find that not [South] Carolina, but Virginia—not Fort Sumpter, but Harper’s Ferry and the arsenal—not Col. Anderson, but John Brown, began the war that ended American slavery and made this a free Republic. Until this blow was struck, the prospect for freedom was dim, shadowy and uncertain. The irrepressible conflict was one of words, votes and compromises. When John Brown stretched forth his arm the sky was cleared. The time for compromises was gone—the armed hosts of freedom stood face to face over the chasm of a broken Union—and the clash of arms was at hand. The South staked all upon getting possession of the Federal Government, and failing to do that, drew the sword of rebellion and thus made her own, and not Brown’s, the lost cause of the century.
— Reprinted from John Brown/Boyd B. Stutler Collection, a Feature of West Virginia Archives and History