Friday, August 22, 2008

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-Class- Struggle Defense Work In The U.S. - Building on the Heritage of the International Labor Defense

Markin comment:

The following is an article from an archival issue of Women and Revolution, Winter-Spring, 1996, 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.


Class- Struggle Defense Work In The U.S. - Building on the Heritage of the International Labor Defense

We print below an edited speech by Deborah Mackson, executive director of the Partisan Defense Committee, prepared for April 7995 regional educationals in New York, Chicago and Oakland as part of a series of meetings and rallies sponsored by the PDC to mobilize support for Mum/a Abu-Jamal and the fight against the racist death penalty.
Mumia Abu-Jamal describes his current conditions of incarceration on death row at the State Correctional Institution at Greene County, Pennsylvania as "high-tech hell." When Governor Tom Ridge assaults all of the working people and minorities of this country by initiating the first execution of a political prisoner in America since the Rosenbergs, he must hear a resounding "No!" from coast to coast. Because Jamal is an articulate voice for the oppressed, this racist and rotting capitalist state wants to silence him forever. He is indeed dangerous. He is indeed a symbol. He is, indeed, innocent. Hear his powerful words, and you will begin to understand the hatred and fear which inspires the vendetta against this courageous fighter:

"Over many long years, over mountains of fears, through rivers of repression, from the depths of the valley of the shadow of death, I survive to greet you, in the continuing spirit of rebellion.... As America's ruling classes rush backwards into a new Dark Age, the weight of repression comes easier with each passing hour. But as repression increases, so too must resistance.... Like our forefathers, our fore-mothers, our kith and kin, we must fight for every inch of ground gained. The repressive wave sweeping this country will not stop by good wishes, but only by a counterwave of committed people firm in their focus."

We of the Partisan Defense Committee, the Spartacist League and the Labor Black Leagues are committed to a campaign to free this former Black Panther, award-winning journalist and supporter of the controversial MOVE organization who was framed for the 1981 killing of a Philadelphia policeman. Our aim is to effect an international campaign of protest and publicity like that which ultimately saved the nine Scottsboro Boys, framed for rape in Alabama in 1931, from the electric chair. We must mobilize the working class and all the oppressed in the fight to free this class-war prisoner framed by the government's murderous vendetta.

As Marxists, we are opposed to the death penalty on principle. We say that this state does not have the right to decide who lives and who dies. Capital punishment is part of the vast arsenal of terror at the hands of this state, which exists to defend the capitalist system of exploitation and oppression. America's courts are an instrument of the bourgeoisie's war on the working people and the poor; they are neither neutral nor by any stretch of the imagination "color blind."

To us, the defense of America's class-war prisoners— whatever their individual political views may be—is a responsibility of the revolutionary vanguard party which must champion all causes in the interest of the proletariat. The Partisan Defense Committee was initiated by the Spartacist League in 1974 in the tradition of the working-class defense policies of the International Labor Defense, under its founder and first secretary from 1925 to 1928, James P. Cannon. Today, I want to talk to you about how that tradition was built in this country by the best militants of the past 100 years—the leaders of class-struggle organizations like the pre-World War I Industrial Workers of the World, the early Socialist and Communist parties and the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party.

The Roots of Black Oppression

To forge a future, one has to understand the past. The modern American death penalty is the barbaric inheritance of a barbaric system of production: chattel slavery. Like the capitalists who hold state power today, the slavocracy used the instruments of their power, special bodies of armed men and the "justice" system— the laws, courts and prisons—to control people for profit. Directly descendant from the slavocracy's tradition of property in black people is the death penalty. A trail through history illustrates this truth. The "slave codes" codified a series of offenses for which slaves could be killed but for which whites would receive a lesser sentence. In Virginia, the death penalty was mandatory for both slaves and free blacks for any crime for which a white could be imprisoned for three years or more. In Georgia, a black man convicted of raping a white woman faced the death penalty; a white man got two years for the same crime, and punishment was "discretionary" if the victim was black. Slaves could not own property, bear arms, assemble or testify against whites in courts of law. Marriage between slaves was not recognized; families were sold apart; it was illegal to teach a slave to read and write. Slaves were not second- or third-class citizens—they were not human, but legally "personal, movable property," chattel.

William Styron in The Confessions of Nat Turner has the fictional character T.R. Gray explain the slaveowners' rationale to Turner:

"The point is that you are animate chattel and animate chattel is capable of craft and connivery and wily stealth. You ain't a wagon, Reverend, but chattel that possesses moral choice and spiritual volition. Remember that well. Because that's how come the law provides that animate chattel like you can be tried for a felony, and that's how come you're goin' to be tried next Sattidy. "He paused, then said softly without emotion: 'And hung by the neck until dead'."

While the slave codes were a Southern institution, legal and extralegal terror were never exclusive to the South. As early as 1793, fugitive slave laws were on the federal books. The 1850 Fugitive Slave Law was passed in response to the growing abolitionist influence which had inspired several Northern states to pass "personal liberty laws," giving some protection to slaves who had successfully negotiated the Underground Railroad. The 1850 law, seeking to protect the private property of slaveholders, put the burden of proof on captured blacks, but gave them no legal power to prove their freedom—no right to habeas corpus, no right to a jury trial, no right even to testify on their own behalf.

Many blacks were caught in the clutches of this infamous law, which had no bounds. For example, a man in southern Indiana was arrested and returned to an owner’ who claimed he had run away 79 years before. The law knew no pretense. A magistrate's fee doubled if he judged an unfortunate black before the bench a runaway slave instead of a tree man. And fugitives were pursued with vigor. In Battle Cry of Freedom, historian James McPherson recounts the story of Anthony Burns, a slave who stowed away from Virginia to Boston in 1854. The feds spent the equivalent of $2.3 million in current dollars to return him to his "owner." That is approximately equal to what an average death penalty case costs today.

Any hope that "blind justice" could be sought from the U.S. Supreme Court was dashed with the 1856 Dred Scott decision. Chief Justice Taney wrote that at the time the Constitution was adopted, Negroes "had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior far inferior, that they had no rights which a white man was bound to respect."

While slavery itself was overthrown in the Civil War and Reconstruction, the needs of the American capitalists for compulsory agricultural labor in the South remained. A new, semi-capitalistic mode of agriculture developed, in which the semi-slave condition of the freed blacks was made permanent by the re-establishment of the social relations of slavery: color discrimination buttressed by segregation and race prejudice.

After the Civil War the slave codes became the "black codes," a separate set of rules defining crime and punishment for blacks and limiting their civil rights. They were enforced by the extralegal terror of the Ku Klux Klan; in the last two decades of the 19th century, lynching vastly outnumbered legal executions. As W.E.B. Du Bois said of lynching:

"It is not simply the Klu Klux Klan; it is not simply weak officials; it is not simply inadequate, unenforced law. It is deeper, far deeper than all this: it is the in-grained spirit of mob and murder, the despising of women and the capitalization of children born of 400 years of Negro slavery and 4,000 years of government for private profit."

The promise of Radical Reconstruction, equality, could only be fulfilled by attacking the problem at its very root: private property in the means of production. Neither Northern capitalists nor Southern planters could abide that revolution, so they made a deal, the Compromise of 1877, in their common interest. That's why we call on American workers, black and white, to finish the Civil War—to complete, through socialist revolution, the unfinished tasks of the Second American Revolution!

In the wake of the Compromise of 1877, the U.S. Supreme Court began to dismantle the Civil Rights Acts of the Reconstruction period. One landmark decision was Plessey v. Ferguson in 1896, which permitted "separate but equal" treatment of black and white in public facilities. But separate is never equal. This was simply the legal cover for the transformation of the "black codes" into "Jim Crow"—the "grandfather clause," poll tax, literacy test, all designed to deny blacks the vote, and the institution of separate facilities from schools to cemeteries. This legal and practical segregation, instituted in the South and transported North, was a tool to divide and rule.

America's Racist Death Penalty

The death penalty was applied at will until 1972. From 1930 to 1967 the U.S. averaged 100 or more executions per year. In 1972, following a decade of civil rights protests, the Supreme Court ruled the death penalty was "cruel and unusual punishment" because of its arbitrary and capricious application. But the hiatus lasted only four years.

In 1976-the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty and has been expanding it ever since. In 1986 the court ruled it unconstitutional to execute the insane, but gave no criteria for defining insanity; in 1988 it approved the execution of 16-year-olds; in 1989 it ruled for the execution of retarded persons. Since 1976, 276 people have been executed in this country. Between January and April of 1995, 17 were killed. And innocence is no barrier, as the Supreme Court recently decreed in the case of Jesse Dewayne Jacobs, executed in Texas in January 1995 after the prosecution submitted that he had not committed the crime for which he had been sentenced. The Supreme Court said it didn't matter, he'd had a "fair trial." What an abomination!
Perhaps the most telling case in recent history was the 1987 McCleskey decision. The evidence submitted to the courts illustrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that racism ruled the application of the death penalty. Overall, a black person convicted of killing a white person is 22 times more likely to be sentenced to death than if the victim is black. When the McCleskey case went to court, liberals across the country hoped for a Brown v. Board of Education decision in regard to the death penalty. The evidence of racial bias was clear and overwhelming. But while the Supreme Court accepted the accuracy of the evidence, it said it doesn't matter. The court showed the real intention of the death penalty when it stated that McCleskey's claim "throws into serious question the principles that underlie our entire criminal justice system" and "the validity of capital punishment in our multi-racial society." Or as a Southern planter wrote in defense of the slave codes, "We have to rely more and more on the power of fear.... We are determined to continue masters" (quoted in Kenneth Stampp, The Peculiar Institution).

Let's take a look for a moment at "our multi-racial society." The U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration in the world: 344 per 100,000. It is one of the two "advanced" industrial countries left in the world which employs capital punishment. As of January 1995, 2,976 men, women and children occupied America's death rows; 48 are women, 37 are juveniles. According to the latest census, blacks make up 12 percent of the population, yet 51 percent of the people awaiting execution are minorities and 40 percent are black.

Eighty-four percent of all capital cases involve white victims even though 50 percent of murder victims in America are black. Of a total of 75 people executed for interracial murders, three involved a black victim and a white defendant, 72 involved a white victim and a black defendant. The death penalty is truly an impulse to genocide against the black population for whom the ruling class no longer sees any need in its profit-grabbing calculations.

Understanding this and understanding the broader importance of the black question in America, we take up Jamal's case as a concrete task in our struggle for black freedom and for proletarian revolution in the interests of the liberation of all of humanity.

Early History of Class-Struggle Defense

From the beginning of the communist movement, a commitment to those persecuted by the ruling classes, whether "on the inside" or out, has been recognized as an integral part of the class struggle. Marx and Engels spent years defending and supporting the refugees of-the Paris Commune.

As Trotskyists, we feel this responsibility keenly because we inherited some of the finest principles for class-struggle defense from James R Cannon, the founder of American Trotskyism. The traditions which inspired the International Labor Defense (ILD) were forged in hard class struggle, dating back to the rise of the labor movement after the Civil War. One of the first acts of the Republican government following the Compromise of 1877 was to pull its troops from the South and send them to quell the railway strikes that had broken out throughout the Northern states. The federal strikebreakers tipped the scales in the hard-fought battles of the time, many of which escalated into general strikes, and the workers were driven back in defeat. But united struggle against the bosses had been launched, and less than a decade later the workers movement had taken up the fight for an eight-hour day.

In the course of this struggle, workers in Chicago amassed at Haymarket Square in early May of 1886. The protest was just winding down when a bomb went off, likely planted by a provocateur. The cops opened fire on the workers, killing one and wounding many. The government’s response was to frame up eight workers, who were sympathetic to anarchist views, on charges of murder. They were tried and convicted, not for the bombing but for their agitation against the employers. Four were hanged, one committed suicide, three were finally pardoned in 1891.

The period from the turn of the century to America's entry into World War I was one of intense social struggle; militant strikes were more numerous than at any time since. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW—the Wobblies) led union organizing drives, anti-lynching campaigns and a free speech movement. The level of struggle meant more frequent arrests, which gave rise to the need for defense of the class and individuals. The left and most labor currents and organizations rallied to the defense of victims of the class war. Non-sectarian defense was the rule of the day. The Wobbly slogan, "an injury to one is an injury to all," was taken to heart by the vast majority of the workers.

This was Cannon's training ground. One of his heroes was Big Bill Haywood, who conceived the ILD with Cannon in Moscow in 1925. As Cannon said, the history of the ILD is "the story of the projection of Bill Haywood's influence—through me and my associates—into the movement from which he was exiled, an influence for simple honesty and good will and genuine non-partisan solidarity toward all the prisoners of the class war in America."

Big Bill Haywood came from the Western Federation of Miners, one of the most combative unions this country has ever produced. The preamble to their constitution was a series of six points, beginning, "We hold that there is a class struggle in society and that this struggle is caused by economic conditions." It goes on to note, "We hold that the class struggle will continue until the producer is recognized as the sole master of his product," and it asserts that the working class and it alone can and must achieve its own emancipation. It ends, "we, the wage slaves...have associated in the Western Federation of Miners."

Not all labor organizations of the time had this class-struggle perspective. Contrast the tract of Samuel Rompers' American Federation of Labor (AFL), "Labor's Bill of Grievances," which he sent to the president and Congress in 1908:

"We present these grievances to your attention because we have long, patiently and in vain waited for redress.

There is not any matter of which we have complained but for which we nave in an honorable and lawful manner submitted remedies. The remedies for these grievances proposed by labor are in line with fundamental law, and with progress and development made necessary by changed industrial conditions."

The IWW, whose constitution began, "The working class and the employing class have nothing in common," was founded in 1905. Haywood was an initiator and one of its most aggressive and influential organizers. As a result of that and his open socialist beliefs, in 1906 he, along with George Pettibone and Charles Moyer, were arrested for the bombing murder of ex-governor Frank Steunenberg of Idaho (the nemesis of the combative Coeur d'Alene miners). The three were kidnapped from Colorado, put on a military train and taken to Idaho.

The Western Federation of Miners and the IWW launched a tremendous defense movement for the three during the 18 months they were waiting to be tried for their lives. Everyone from the anarchists to the AFL participated. Demonstrations of 50,000 and more were organized all across the country. It was this case that brought James Cannon to political consciousness.

The case was important internationally, too. While they were in jail, Maxim Gorky came to New York and sent a telegram to the three with greetings from the Russian workers. Haywood wired back that their imprisonment was an expression of the class struggle which was the same in America as in Russia and in all other capitalist countries.

On a less friendly note, Teddy Roosevelt, then president of America, publicly declared the three "undesirable citizens." Haywood responded that the laws of the country held they were innocent until proven guilty and that a man in Roosevelt's position should be the last to judge them until the case was decided in court.

The Socialist Party (founded in 1901) also rallied to the defense. While in jail, Haywood was nominated as the party's candidate for governor of Colorado and got 16,000 votes. The leader of the SP, Eugene Debs, wrote his famous "Arouse, Ye Slaves" for the SP's Appeal to Reason:

"If they attempt to murder Moyer, Haywood and their brothers, a million revolutionists, at least, will meet them with guns.... Let them dare to execute their devilish plot and every state in this Union will resound with the tramp of revolution....
"Get ready, comrades, for action!... A special revolutionary convention of the proletariat...would be in order, and, if extreme measures are required, a general strike could be ordered and industry paralyzed as a preliminary to a general uprising."

Haywood's trial began in May of 1907. It was Clarence Darrow for the defense and the infamous Senator William E. Borah for the frame-up (prosecution). That this was a political trial was clear to everybody. The prosecution, for example, introduced into evidence issues of the anarchist journal Alarm from 1886, when Haymarket martyr Albert Parsons was its editor. Haywood thought that Dar-row's summary to the jury in his case was the best effort Darrow ever made in the courtroom. But Haywood also got a bit exasperated with his lawyer. In his autobiography, he tells the story of Darrow coming to jail depressed and worried. The defendants would always try to get him to lighten up. Finally Pettibone got tired of this and told Darrow they knew it would be really hard on him to lose this great case with all its national and international attention, but, hey! he said, "You know it's us fellows that have to be hanged!"

Every day of the trial the defense committee packed the courtroom with what Haywood called "a labor jury of Socialists and union men." This is a practice we proudly follow today. On the stand, Haywood told the story of the Western Federation of Miners and its battles against the bosses, putting them on trial. He refused to be intimidated by Senator Borah. When Borah asked whether Haywood had said that Governor Steunenberg should be exterminated, Haywood replied that to the best of his remembrance, he said he should be "eliminated."

On June 28 Haywood was acquitted. Soon thereafter, so were his comrades. At a Chicago rally organized to greet him upon his release, he told the crowd of 200,000, "We owe our lives to your solidarity." Haywood knew that innocence was not enough. It is that kind of solidarity we are seeking to mobilize today for Mumia Abu-Jamal.

The Labor Movement and World War I

Haywood was elected to the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party in 1908, during its most left-wing period. In 1910, he was one of the party's delegates to the Socialist Congress of the Second International in Copenhagen. Shortly after, the SP moved to the right, and in 1912 (the year Debs polled nearly a million votes in his campaign for president) a number of leftists, including the young Jim Cannon, left the Socialist Party. A year later, when Haywood was purged from the executive board, there was another mass exodus.

The IWW, in which Haywood and Cannon remained active, expanded the scope of its activities. This was the period of the free speech movement and anti-lynching ' campaigns. One Wobbly pamphlet, "Justice for the Negro: How He Can Get It," discusses the question of integrated struggle and how to stop lynchings:

"The workers of every race and nationality must join in one common group against their one common enemy—the employers—so as to be "able to defend themselves and one another. Protection for the working class lies in complete solidarity of the workers, without regard to race, creed, sex or color. 'One Enemy—One Union!' must be their watchword."

They almost got it right: as syndicalists, they didn't understand the need for a vanguard party to fight for a revolutionary program.

With the beginning of World War I and preparations for U.S. involvement, the government declared political war on the IWW and the left. Thousands of Wobblies were imprisoned under "criminal syndicalism" laws—100 in San Quentin and Folsom alone. In response, the IWW adopted the slogan, "Fill the jails." It was a misguided tactic, but unlike many so-called socialists today, the Wobbliest had a principled position where it counted: they'd go to jail before they'd cross a picket line.

1917 was the year of the Russian Revolution. A month after that world-historic event, Haywood was back on trial in Chicago with some 18 other Wobblies. He was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in Leaven worth prison. In 1919 he was released on bail pending appeal and devoted his time to the IWW's General Defense Committee, launching a campaign to raise bail money for those in prison. When the Red Scare and the Palmer Raids began, Haywood learned that he was a primary target. So, as his appeal went to the Supreme Court, he sailed for the Soviet Union. A student of history, he had no illusions in "blind justice."

Cannon was also heavily influenced by the case of California labor leaders Tom Mooney and Warren Billings. In 1916, as America was preparing to go to war, Mooney and Billings were framed up for a bombing at a Preparedness Day Parade in San Francisco. The Preparedness Movement was a bourgeois movement of "open shop" chamber of commerce, right-wing vigilante groups, who were very serious about getting the U.S. into World War I. They went into Mexico to fight Pancho Villa as practice. The Preparedness Movement was opposed by labor, and in fact two days before the bombing there had been a 5,000-strong labor demonstration in San Francisco.

Mooney and Billings were convicted. Mooney was sentenced to hang, Billings got a life sentence. At first, their case was taken up only by the anarchists. The official AFL labor movement took a hands-off position. But when it became clear that they had been framed with perjured testimony, a "Mooney movement" swept the country.

The Mooney case had a big impact on Russian immigrant workers, among others. Thus the Mooney case was carried back to Russia, and in April of 1917 the Russian anarchists led a Mooney defense demonstration in Petrograd at the American consulate. Worried about Russia pulling out of World War I at that point, Woodrow Wilson personally interceded on behalf of Mooney and Billings. It didn't get them out of jail, but the effect of international pressure was not lost on Cannon.

In the U.S., the cops broke up Mooney defense meetings and arrested those present. The class-struggle nature of the defense movement, involving such actions as one-day strikes, was a felt threat to the ruling class, especially in the face of a war. In a conscious effort to dissipate this movement, the state commuted Mooney's death sentence to life in prison. In combination with the domestic repression following the war, this took the life out of the Mooney movement. Mooney and Billings stayed in prison for 22 years. They were released in 1939, and Mooney spent two and a half of the next three years in the hospital and then-died.

In his eulogy "Good-by Tom Mooney!" Cannon wrote:

"They imprisoned Mooney—as they imprisoned Debs and Haywood and hundreds of others—in order to clear the road of militant labor opposition to the First World War, and they kept him in prison for revenge and for a warning to others."

As World War II began, Cannon would find himself in the same position.

The Tradition of International Labor Defense

The parties of the Second International backed their own ruling classes in World War I, and the Bolsheviks fought for a new international party committed to the Marxist movement's call, "Workers of the World Unite!" In 1919, the leaders of the Russian Revolution founded the Third International, the Comintern, to build revolutionary parties which could take up the struggle against capitalist rule. 1919 was also a year of massive strike activity in the U.S. This wave of class struggle swelled the ranks of the Socialist Party, which then split in September. The most left-wing workers regrouped, giving birth to the American Communist movement, and Cannon was among them.

America in the 1920s was not a nice place to be. Warren Harding was elected in a landslide victory on the slogan of "Return to Normalcy." And "normal" was racist and repressive. His attorney general, A. Mitchell Palmer, launched a war on the left inspired by fear of the Russian Revolution, which resulted in massive deportations of leftists and jailing of American radicals. The young Communist Party went underground. 1920 saw more lynchings and anti-black pogroms than any time in recent memory. The Klan grew like wildfire, and the government passed anti-immigration legislation that would give Newt Gingrich and Pete Wilson wet dreams.

When it was clear that the IWW was for all practical purposes broken, many of its jailed members, including Eugene Debs, were pardoned. The Communists, however, remained in jail. The union movement took it on the chops as well, and by the end of the 1920s only 13 percent of the workforce of this country was unionized.

The 1921 Third Congress of the Comintern was held under the watchword "To the Masses." In the U.S., the newly formed party had been underground and could hardly make a turn to the masses. At the Comintern's urging, the Workers (Communist) Party emerged in December of 1921 with Cannon as its first chairman and main public spokesman.

By the time of the Fourth Congress of the Comintern in 1922, the tactic of the united front had been defined; the Fourth Congress detailed its application. The need for the united front grew out of the post-World War I ebbing of the revolutionary tide following the Russian Revolution. The offensive by the capitalists against the proletariat and its parties was forcing even the reformist-led organizations into partial and defensive struggles to save their very lives.

The slogan "march separately, strike together" encapsulated the two aims of the united-front tactic: class unity and the political fight for a communist program. The Comintern sought both to achieve the maximum unity of the working masses in their defensive struggles and to expose in action the hesitancy of the leadership of the reformist organizations of the Second International to act in the interests of the proletariat and the inability of its program to win against the ruling class.

The united front is a tactic we use today. Our call for labor/black mobilizations to stop the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal and abolish the racist death penalty has brought together many different organizations and individuals to save Jamal's life. At these rallies and demonstrations, we

have insisted on the right to argue for our program to put an end to racist injustice and capitalist exploitation through socialist revolution.

In line with the policies hashed out at the Third and Fourth Congresses, the Communist International founded an international defense organization, the International Red Aid. These events had a substantial effect on the young American party, and one of the direct results was the foundation in 1925 of the International Labor Defense (ILD).

Cannon's goal was to make the ILD the defense arm of the labor movement. Cannon wrote to Debs on the occasion of his endorsement of the ILD:

"The main problem as I see it is to construct the ILD on the broadest possible basis. To conduct the work in a non-partisan and non-sectarian manner and finally establish the impression by our deeds that the ILD is the defender of every worker persecuted for his activities in the class struggle, without any exceptions and without regard to his affiliations."

From 1925 to 1928, the ILD was pretty successful in achieving that goal. It established principles to which we adhere today:

• United-front defense: The ILD campaigns were organized to allow for the broadest possible participation.

• Class-struggle defense: The ILD sought to mobilize the working class in protest on a national and international scale, relying on the class movement of the workers and
placing no faith in the justice of the capitalist courts, while using every legal avenue open to them.

• Non-sectarian defense: When it was founded, the ILD immediately adopted 106 prisoners, instituting the practice of financially assisting these prisoners and their
families. Many had been jailed as a result of the "criminal syndicalism" laws; some were Wobblies, some were anarchists, some were strike leaders. Not one was a member of the Communist Party. The ILD launched the first Holiday Appeal. Of course, the ILD also vigorously defended its own, understanding the vital importance of the legal rights of the Communist Party to exist and organize.

Social Defense and Union Struggle

The ILD's most well-known case was the defense of Sacco and Vanzetti. The frame-up for murder and robbery of these two immigrant anarchist workers, who were sent to their deaths by the state of Massachusetts in 1927, grew directly out of the "red scare" of the early '20s. The ILD applied with alacrity the main lines of its program: unity of all working-class forces and reliance on the class movement of the workers. Thousands of workers rallied to their cause, and unions around the country contributed to a defense fund set up by Italian workers in the Boston area. But the level of class struggle is key to the outcome of defense cases, and the ILD's exemplary campaign proved insufficient to save the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti.

As the case drew to a close, one of the feints used by the state was to start rumors that Sacco and Vanzetti's death penalty sentence would be commuted to life without parole. This was designed to dissipate the Sacco and Vanzetti movement and prepare their execution. Cannon rang the alarm bells from the pages of the Labor Defender, rallying ILD supporters to mass demonstrations and warning them of the devious and two-faced nature of the bourgeoisie. Cannon had not forgotten the demobilization of the Mooney movement after his sentence had been commuted nor the living death that Mooney and Billings were enduring in their 22 years of internment.

This has significance for us today as we fight against the threatened execution of Jamal. Life in prison is hell. Think about the "life" of Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt), another former Panther, jailed for a quarter of a century for a crime the state knows he did not commit. While some call upon Pennsylvania governor Ridge to convert Jamal's sentence to life without parole, we demand the freedom of both these innocent men.

The ILD also worked in defense of the class as a whole. In 1926, about 16,000 textile workers hit the bricks in Passaic, New Jersey. Their strike was eventually defeated, but it drew sharp lessons on the role of the state and demonstrated for Cannon the absolute necessity for a permanent, organized and always ready non-partisan labor defense organization. Cannon wrote in the Labor Defender:

"Our I.L.D. is on the job at Passaic. Not a single striker went into court without our lawyer to defend him. There was not a single conviction that was not appealed. Nobody had to remain in jail more than a few days for lack of bail.... A great wave of protest spread thru the labor movement and even the most conservative labor leaders were compelled to give expression to it."

In 1928, the Trotskyist Left Opposition (including Cannon) was expelled from the Communist Party. The ILD remained under the control of the Communist Party and thus became subject to the zigzags of Stalinist policies throughout the 1930s, including the perversion of the united front from a tactic for class unity into an instrument for class collaboration and counterrevolution.

In 1929, Stalin declared the "Third Period," an ultraleft shift, the main tactic of which was to smash the Social Democratic and other leftist parties by creating what the Stalinists called "united fronts from below." The Comintern charged the reformists with "social fascism"; the real fascists were to be dealt with secondarily. In Germany, this policy contributed to Adolph Hitler's seizure of power— there was no united fight against fascism by the workers in the mass Communist and Social Democratic parties. This policy had an effect on the U.S. party and its defense work.

Legal Lynching in the American South

One result of the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing Depression was that 200,000people made the rails their home as they moved from place to place looking for work. On 25 March 1931, nine black youths, ranging in age from 13 to 20, were riding the Memphis to Chattanooga freight train. Two young white women, fearful of being jailed for hoboing when the train was stopped after reports that there had been a fight with some white boys, accused the blacks of rape. Among the nine were Olen Montgomery—blind in one eye and with 10 percent vision in the other—headed for Memphis hoping to earn enough money to buy a pair of glasses; Willie Roberson, debilitated by years-long untreated syphilis and gonorrhea—which is important if you're going to be talking about a rape case; and Eugene Williams and Roy Wright, both 13 years old.

The group were nearly lynched on the spot. The trial began in Scottsboro, Alabama on April 6. Four days later, despite medical evidence that no rape had occurred—not to mention gross violations of due process—eight were sentenced to death and one of the 13-year-olds to life in prison. The Communist Party issued a statement condemning the trial as a "legal" lynching. That night, the campaign to free the Scottsboro Boys began.

Freedom was a long time coming. A series of trials and appeals all went badly for the defendants. In 1933, one of the alleged victims, Ruby Bates, recanted her testimony, but it wasn't until 1937 that four of the defendants were freed. Three more were paroled in the 1940s, and in 1948 Haywood Patterson escaped from Angola prison to Michigan, where the governor refused to extradite him. The last, Andy Wright, who had had his 1944 parole revoked, was finally released in 1950. The nine had spent 104 years in jail for a "crime" that never happened.

The ILD made the word "Scottsboro" synonymous, nationally and internationally, with Southern racism, repression and injustice. Their campaign was responsible for saving the Scottsboro Boys from the electric chair. As Haywood Patterson's father wrote in a letter to his son, "You will burn sure if you don't let them preachers alone and trust in the International Labor Defense to handle the case."

The CP's publicity was massive and moving. They organized demonstrations in Harlem and across the country, appealing to the masses to put no confidence in the capitalist courts and to see the struggle for the freedom of these youths as part of the larger class struggle. Young Communists in Dresden, Germany marched on the American consulate, and, when officials refused to accept their petition, hurled bottles through windows. Inside each was the note: "Down with American murder and Imperialism. For the brotherhood of black and white young proletarians. An end to the bloody lynching of our Negro co-workers."

In the South, the defense effort faced not only the racist system but the homegrown fascists of the Ku Klux Klan as well, which launched a campaign under the slogan "The Klan Rides Again to Stamp Out Communism."

The ILD's success in rallying the masses to the defense of the Scottsboro Boys happened despite their sectarian "Third Period" tactics. The ILD denounced the NAACP, the ACLU and most of the trade-union movement as "social fascists" and threw the "Trotskyite" likes of Jim Cannon out of Scottsboro defense meetings. But fascism was on the rise in Europe, and, seeking now to make as many allies as he could, in 1935 Stalin' declared the "Third Period" at an end. A Comintern resolution urged the Communist parties to form "popular fronts" with any and all for progressive ends. In the U.S. this meant supporting Roosevelt and abandoning the struggle to link the defense of black people with the fight against the capitalist system. You can imagine the surprise of the NAACP, who were now greeted warmly by the ILD as "comrades"! This comradeship did not extend to the Trotskyists. The Scottsboro Defense Committee was formed, and a lot of the life went out of the movement as the case dragged on.

Cannon and his party, the Communist League of America, supported the efforts of the ILD to free the Scottsboro Boys. The Trotskyists insisted on the importance of an integrated movement to fight in their defense. Cannon pointed out that it was wrong to view the Scottsboro case solely as a "Negro issue" and agitated in the pages of the Militant for the organization of white workers around the case.
When Clarence Darrow refused to work on the case unless the ILD withdrew because he didn't like its agitation methods, Cannon wrote:

"The ILD was absolutely right in rejecting the presumptuous demands of Darrow and Hays, and the Scottsboro prisoners showed wisdom in supporting the stand of their defense organization. Any other course would have signified an end to the fight to organize the protest of the masses against the legal lynching; and with that would have ended any real hope to save the boys and restore their freedom."

Darrow's big argument was: "You can't mix politics with a law case." Cannon replied:

"That is a reactionary lie. It is father to the poisonous doctrine that a labor case is a purely legal relation between the lawyer and client and the court.... It was the influence of this idea over the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee which paralyzed the protest mass movement at every step and thereby contributed to the final tragic outcome. Not to the courts alone, and not primarily there, but to the masses must the appeal of the persecuted of class and race be taken. There is the power and there is the justice."

Communists on Trial
During the time that the Scottsboro Boys were languishing in their Southern jails, World War II began in Europe. The American workers had gone through the experience of one of the biggest union organizing drives in the history of the country, resulting in the formation of the CIO, and many of the new industrial unions had won significant victories. Communists, including the Trotskyists, Jim Cannon and the Socialist Workers Party, had participated in and led many of these struggles. War is great for capitalist economies—the destruction creates constant demand, and if you win, you get new markets to exploit. But to go to war, you have to regiment the population at home, and that begins with the suspension of civil liberties.

On the eve of America's entry into World War II, Congress passed the Smith Act, requiring the fingerprinting and registering of all aliens residing in the United States and making it a crime to advocate or teach the "violent overthrow of the United States government" or to belong to a group advocating or teaching it.

For public consumption, this act was billed as an antifascist measure, but the Socialist Workers Party (successor to the Communist League of America) and Minneapolis Teamsters were the first victims of the Smith Act prosecutions. Why did the head of the Teamsters Union, Daniel J. Tobin, the U.S. attorney general, Francis Biddle, and the president of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt, conspire to take away the First Amendment rights of a small Trotskyist party, a party with maybe a couple thousand members and influence in one local of one union?

Part of the answer is that the SWP was effective. The party had led some hard class struggle; it was their comrades who had provided the leadership for the Minneapolis strike of 1934 which led to the formation of Teamsters Local 544. Another part of the answer is politics: the SWP was forthright in its opposition to the coming war. This was a calculated government attack designed to cripple the SWP where it had the most influence in the proletariat as America girded for imperialist war.

In the courtroom, the SWP's goal was to put the capitalist system on trial, a tradition we carry forward in our own cases. On the stand, Cannon pedagogically explained the positions of the SWP on the questions of the day and Marxism in general. But the Minneapolis defendants went to jail for 16 months—sentenced on the same day that Congress voted to enter the war. The ruling class hoped that the party would be leaderless and pass from the stage. But at that time the SWP was still a revolutionary party with a revolutionary program and a collective leadership—so that hope was, in the main, dashed.

A number of CIO unions issued statements in defense of the Minneapolis defendants, as did numerous black organizations. The American Communist Party, however, issued the following statement: "The Communist Party has always exposed, fought against and today joins the fight to exterminate the Trotskyite fifth column from the life of our nation." In line with their support for Roosevelt and the war, the CP aided the government in the Smith Act prosecution of the SWP and aided the FBI in their persecution of the Trotskyists in the trade unions. The CP's disgusting collaboration did not prevent them from being prosecuted under the very same Smith Act, beginning in 1948. The Trotskyists, of course, defended the CP unequivocally against the government prosecution while criticizing the CP's Stalinist politics.

Years later the attorney general, Francis Biddle, apologized for prosecuting the Trotskyists. The bourgeoisie sometimes apologizes when its crisis is safely over. Fifty years after the end of World War II, the U.S. government "apologized" for the wartime roundup and internment of Japanese Americans, offering a token compensation to those whose homes were seized and livelihoods ruined. They say whatever outrageous trampling of civil liberties occurred was an "excess" or "wrong" and of course it will "never happen again." But the Reagan government drew up plans to intern Arab Americans in concentration camps in Louisiana after the bombing of Libya. Those camps are ready and waiting for the next time the bourgeoisie feels its rule is substantially threatened.

Class-Struggle Defense Work

The Partisan Defense Committee was initiated in 1974 by the Spartacist League with the goal of re-establishing in the workers movement united-front, non-sectarian defense principles in the tradition of Cannon's ILD.

This was not anticipated to be, nor has it been, an easy task. Unlike the ILD, which inherited the rich and principled defense traditions of the IWW and the personal authority of mass leaders like Cannon and Haywood, we were the immediate inheritors of a tradition of Stalinist perversion of defense work. In addition, the ILD was founded as a transitional organization, seeking to organize the masses for class-struggle defense work under the leadership of the party. By its second conference, the ILD had 20,000 individual members, a collective, affiliated membership of 75,000, and 156 branches across the country. The PDC attempts to conduct its work in a way that will make the transformation to such an organization possible.

The PDC program of raising money for monthly stipends for class-war prisoners is an example of an ILD practice to which we adhere. We currently send stipends to 17 prisoners, including Jamal, Geronimo ji Jaga and other former supporters of the Black Panther Party, victims of the FBI's murderous COINTELPRO frame-ups; Jerry Dale Lowe, a miner condemned to eleven years in prison for defending his picket line; and members of the MOVE organization locked up because they survived the racist cop assaults on their homes and murder of their family. We also follow the ILD's policy of strict accounting of finances and have modeled our journal, Class-Struggle Defense Notes, on the ILD's Labor Defender.

We take to heart Cannon's point:

"The problem of organization is a very significant one for labor defense as a school for the class struggle. We must not get the idea that we are merely 'defense workers' collecting money for lawyers. That is only a part of what we are doing. We are organizing workers on issues which are directly related to the class struggle. The workers who take part in the work of the ILD are drawn, step by step into the main stream of the class struggle. The workers participating begin to learn the ABC of the labor struggle."
Class-struggle defense is a broad category. We are a small organization and must pick and choose our cases carefully, with an eye to their exemplary nature. The case of Mario Munoz a Chilean miners' leader condemned to death in 1976 by the Argentine military junta, is a good example. This was the PDC's first major defense effort. Co-sponsored with the Committee to Defend Workers and Sailor Prisoners in Chile, the international campaign of protest by unions and civil libertarians won asylum for Munoz and his family in France.

Some of our work has been in defense of the revolutionary party. The Spartacist League takes its legality— the right to exist and organize—very seriously, and has been quick to challenge every libel and legal attack. The party successfully challenged the FBI's slanderous description of the SL as "terrorists" who covertly advocate the violent’ Overthrow of the government. A 1984 settlement forced them to describe the SL as a "Marxist political organization."

The PDC takes up not only the cases but the causes of the whole of the working people. We have initiated labor/black mobilizations against the Klan from San Francisco to Atlanta to Philadelphia to Springfield, Illinois, and mobilized sections of the integrated labor movement to join these efforts to stop the fascists from spewing their race hate.

In 1989, we broadened our thinking about how the PDC could champion causes of the international proletariat and offered to organize an international brigade to Afghanistan to fight alongside the forces of the left-nationalist Kabul regime against the imperialist-backed, anti-woman Islamic fundamentalists on the occasion of the withdrawal of Soviet troops. When our offer of a brigade was declined, we launched a successful campaign to raise money for the victims of the mullah-led assault on Jalalabad. To reflect this, we expanded the definition of the PDC to one of a legal and social defense organization. To carry out this campaign, it was necessary to expand the PDC internationally. Sections of the International Communist League initiated fraternal organizations in Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

Currently we focus our efforts on Mumia Abu-Jamal and the fight to abolish the racist death penalty. Our actions in the Jamal case embody many of the principles of our defense work and the integral relationship of that work to the Marxist program of the Spartacist League, in this case particularly in regard to the fight for black liberation, which is key to the American revolution. This is a political death penalty case which illustrates the racism endemic in this country in its crudest, most vicious form and lays bare the essence of the state.

Throughout the very difficult period ahead, we will put all our faith in the mobilization of the working class and none in the capitalist courts. We embark now on exhausting every legal avenue open to Jamal, but we know the result hinges on the class struggle.

We hope you will join us in the fight to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, to abolish the racist death penalty and finish the Civil War. Forward to the third American revolution! •

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

*”Bluesland” -A Look At The Evolution Of The Blues- In One Place At One Time

Click on title to link to YouTube's film clip of Muddy Waters performing "Hoochie Coochie Man" at the New Port Jazz Festival in 1960. Wow!

DVD Review

Bluesland: Masters Of American Music Series, various artists, BMG, 1991

Okay, apparently I will review any item that comes my way that has even the remotest connection with the blues, the history of the blues, or the individual performances of blues artists, great and small. I confess to being an aficionado and have been since my jaded youth. However, I know damn well that not everyone either shares that addiction or has heard enough to make a judgment. Thus, while I now tend to shy away from anthologies and general histories on this subject and have been honing in on individual genres and styles within the broad terms of what the blues are, when one of those crosses my desk that seems reasonably well-done and gives good sense of where the blues came from and….where it is going I will take the time to write a few word about it, especially as here there when there is a great deal of rare film footage involved in the production.

“Bluesland” easily fits those criteria just mentioned, and if there is just a little too much push of the blues as a central American gene in relationship to other musical forms by the presenter and “talking heads” that always feature in such documentaries, it hits all the known high spots of the blues experience and has some very, very good documentary footage accompanying the presentation. Like? Well, like old Son House flailing away on that National guitar of his. Or Muddy Waters tearing the place up in 1960 at the staid old Newport Jazz Festival with his “Hoochie Goochie Man” that had them dancing in the aisles. Or Duke Ellington leading the band in different variations of his classic “Ko-Ko” (including clips shot at the famed Harlem Cotton Club.). Yes, now you get the idea. Some of this footage is incredible.

But enough of the homage to the film footage. The central theme is the evolution of the genre from back in post-Civil War plantation days through Jim Crow sharecropping days that formed the music. Then it moves to the cities in the early part of the 20th century, in the South at first, then upriver to places like Memphis, Chicago and Kansas City. With the urbanization came the key changeover to electric sound in the post World War II period. The story from there is one of a mix and match and partial ellipse with the rise of rock and rock and then back up front again when some British kids, who had been spoon-fed in the late 1950s on it while we were listening to Bobby Vee or whoever, starting linking up wit the likes of Muddy Waters. And then…well we will wait and see. But, if you have any interest at all in the blues or our common musical heritage here in America then you shouldn’t wait.

"Charley Patton High Water Everywhere (part 1) lyrics"

Well, backwater done rose all around Sumner now,
drove me down the line
Backwater done rose at Sumner,
drove poor Charley down the line
Lord, I'll tell the world the water,
done crept through this town
Lord, the whole round country,
Lord, river has overflowed
Lord, the whole round country,
man, is overflowed
You know I can't stay here,
I'll go where it's high, boy
I would goto the hilly country,
but, they got me barred
Now, look-a here now at Leland
river was risin' high
Look-a here boys around Leland tell me,
river was raisin' high
Boy, it's risin' over there, yeah
I'm gonna move to Greenville
fore I leave, goodbye
Look-a here the water now, Lordy,
Levee broke, rose most everywhere
The water at Greenville and Leland,
Lord, it done rose everywhere
Boy, you can't never stay here
I would go down to Rosedale
but, they tell me there's water there
Now, the water now, mama,
done took Charley's town
Well, they tell me the water,
done took Charley's town
Boy, I'm goin' to Vicksburg
Well, I'm goin' to Vicksburg,
for that high of mine
I am goin' up that water,
where lands don't never flow
Well, I'm goin' over the hill where,
water, oh don't ever flow
Boy, hit Sharkey County and everything was down in Stovall
But, that whole county was leavin',
over that Tallahatchie shore Boy,
went to Tallahatchie and got it over there
Lord, the water done rushed all over,
down old Jackson road
Lord, the water done raised,
over the Jackson road
Boy, it starched my clothes
I'm goin' back to the hilly country,
won't be worried no more

"High Water Everywhere (part 2)"

Backwater at Blytheville, backed up all around
Backwater at Blytheville, done took Joiner town
It was fifty families and children come to sink and drown
The water was risin' up at my friend's door
The water was risin' up at my friend's door
The man said to his women folk, "Lord, we'd better go"
The water was risin', got up in my bed
Lord, the water was rollin', got up to my bed
I thought I would take a trip, Lord,
out on the big ice sled
Oh, I can hear, Lord, Lord, water upon my door,
you know what I mean, look-a here
I hear the ice, Lord, Lord, was sinkin' down,
I couldn't get no boats there, Marion City gone down
So high the water was risin' our men sinkin' down
Man, the water was risin' at places all around,
boy, they's all around
It was fifty men and children come to sink and drown
Oh, Lordy, women and grown men drown
Oh, women and children sinkin' down Lord, have mercy
I couldn't see nobody's home and wasn't no one to be found

Saturday, August 16, 2008

On "Socialist" Lies- Good Bye, Lenin!


Good Bye, Lenin!, Directed by Wolfgang Becker, Sony, 2004

Some things are painful in life. As a life-long anti-Stalinist, pro-socialist militant the demise of the Democratic Republic of Germany and its theory of “socialism in half a country” and later, on its heels, the demise of the Soviet Union and its theory of “socialism in one country” were nevertheless social disasters of historic proportions for me. One result is that we live in the age of the one superpower world dominated by the United States and its genuine capacity for making trouble, militarily unchecked by any other power. Friends there is nothing good about that. Witness Iraq and many other hot spots in the world.

But enough of that because, despite my obvious different political take on what happened in East Germany in late 1989 and early 1990, this film Good Bye, Lenin is a very interesting view on what happened to one fictionalized family of mixed political and social sensibilities during that period. The film has been advertised as a comedy, and although there are some funny moments like the various attempts by some of the characters, including the main character son Alex, to create alternate social universes, there is more than a hint of satire (and sometimes localized ‘insider’ satire) here. And satire is a very precious commodity in an age where everything is taken literally, whether it should be or not. Thus, a good prescription is -fight hard for your politics but take a minute to see humor in the sometimes absurd ways of this wicked old world.

The device used to create the central plot in this film has a long pedigree, although I believe that it might be the first time that it has been used in an attempt to preserve 'socialist' reality. Quickly outlined, a son (the previously mentioned Alex) attempts, almost manically at times, to create “socialism in one bedroom” for his ailing mother who upon awaking in 1990 after eight months from a coma induced by a heart attack after witnessing him being beaten by the Statsi needs to, on doctor’s advise, avoid any ‘excitement’ on pains of relapse (and possible death). The dramatic tension revolves around an ever-widening and bizarre conspiracy (including drawing in his skeptical Russian girlfriend, his sister, her boyfriend, the neighbors, former colleagues, etc.) to keep mom in the dark about everything that has gone on during that time.

A subplot, however, reveals that Mom, in need of illusions as she might be, has secrets of her own in relationship to the whereabouts of her husband who left for West Germany in the past without his family, mainly because she balked at going for her own reasons. There are, additionally, many sight gags or things that pass for sight gags in a society that had a very limited exposure to the ‘virtues’ of Western consumer society. But enough said, get this film if you want a very smart look at what happens when cultural changes come fast and furious. Not everyone can, or should, adjust accordingly. But also get it, if I may add, so that you can begin to understand why mother wanted to stick with the old socialist ways, as she understood that concept. And maybe fight for them, as well.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Anti-War Political Realities- American Iraq Troop Withdrawals


Over the past couple of months, as the tenure of the Bush Administration has started to wind down it has attempted to put a better face on its legacy than historians are likely to give it (and frankly than it deserves), there has been some movement on the question of a timetable or ‘time horizon’ for American troop withdrawal from Iraq. Part of this reflects the ‘successes' of the troop surge of January 2007 which the Bush Administration is happy to gloat over. It also reflects the political realities on the ground in Iraq as the Al-Maliki government has stabilized and, responding to its base, has argued for a timetable in order to enhance it own political power and credibility. The net effect of all of this maneuvering is that there appears to be something like general agreement, as of today at least, that American combat troops will be withdrawn by 2010 and all troops will be out by 2013. Sadly, and this is the real subject of today’s commentary, the American (and world) Iraq anti-war movement had virtually no impact on these developments. Not the parliamentary opposition (which I had expected little of, in any case) nor the street opposition.

Over the past five years or so I have gone back and forth over the comparisons between the American war of my youth in Vietnam in the 1960’and the American war now in Iraq of my old age. A couple of years ago I was arguing for a close comparison. As events have unfolded over the past couple of years though, I have backed away somewhat from those comparisons. Mainly, this reflects the hard political fact that the Iraqi anti-war movement of which I am a member has had virtually no impact on the pace or, for that matter, the fact of American troop withdrawal from Iraq. While there have been extravagant claims made for the impact of the American (and world) Vietnam anti-war movement in affecting governmental policy and troop withdrawals that movement did have some impact. Of course, it did not hurt that the North Vietnamese and South Vietnamese Liberation Front took high casualties, had a plan like the Tet offensive of 1968 and were steadfastly determined to win against the odds. The same cannot be said for the forces on the ground in Iraq.

Moreover, the international Iraq anti-war movement has been, frankly, weird in another way. The greatest burst of fervor and determination on the streets was before this war began in 2003. Since then, despite sporadic mass demonstration of marginal political significance, there seems to be a tacit assumption that that was all that could be done and that once the war started the political landscape changed. In contrast, during Vietnam (up to a point) the opposition got stronger and more furious. Today, we anti-war militants should reflect on the implicit strategy this time that has consumed the bulk of the movement- keep it off the streets and in narrow parliamentary forms. If that is the lesson taken from the Vietnam anti-war movement no wonder we have been mired down in over five years of forlorn opposition. It is time to go back to the anti-war history books. Pronto. Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal of All American/Allied Troops and Their Mercenaries from Iraq and Afghanistan!

Friday, August 08, 2008

No Tears For Alexander


Yes, I know that one should not speak ill of the dead. But, to be honest, that is bull. In the Marxist movement, at least at its revolutionary end, political obituary has always been measured by and has reflected personal and political reality. The recently departed Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a class enemy of the Russian and international working class. Solzhenitsyn did not start that way but he spent a significant portion of his life, especially after his years in the Stalinist labor camps, as a conscious agent of Western imperialism or, at the end, an advocate of the virtues of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Look, we of the anti-Stalinist, pro-socialist left had our people in the gulags and the labor camps too. Practically the whole Trotsky-led Russian Left Opposition along with other pro-socialist tendencies forced into internal exile by Stalin and his goons got liquidated. For what reason? In short, because they opposed Stalin, yet stood on the grounds of the October Revolution and for waging a political fight in order to save the soul of the Russian socialist experience.

This eulogizing of Solzhenitsyn by Western imperial polemicists of their former ‘poster boy’ makes my blood run cold. Interestingly, once the object of Western imperial design, the demise of the Soviet Union, was accomplished, at least in the West, Solzhenitsyn was thrown on the scrape heap (aided by his personal reclusiveness, as well). Personally, I had half an idea that he was still up in Vermont when I heard the news of his death. I do not know what his ultimate place will be in the world literary pantheon? (Probably less than one might have thought about forty years ago, after he wrote Cancer Ward and the other novels, which did have some literary merit.) However, as a nasty political opponent not just of socialism but of modernism the headline says it all- no tears here.

Monday, August 04, 2008

*The Last Man Standing, Indeed- A Jerry Lee Lewis Encore

Click on title to link to "YouTube's film clip of the trailer for "Last Man Standing".


Last Man Standing, Jerry Lee Lewis and other artists, Shangri-la Records, 2006

The last time we heard the name Jerry Lee Lewis in this space (see above) was in connection with a rave review of his star-studded concert in New York City in 2006 also entitled “The Last Man Standing”. I was not aware at the time I wrote that review that there was a CD connected with the DVD. This CD also gets a rave review from these quarters. The last paragraph details some of the highlights of this CD. However, I can tell you right now to save your old eyes- get this thing. It is not the fire-balling of Jerry Lee's youth but virtually from start to finish it is some very nice work. If you need to go back to the Fifties and hear his original work there are plenty of his greatest compilations elsewhere. Here are a couple of words on this one.

Apparently in putting together this album every musical artist who has ever been anything, every wanted to be anything or who will be in the various musical Halls of Fame signed on to play with “The Killer”. Let’s make this clear though- Jerry Lee is in charge here- the other artists are basking off his reflected glory. Ya, he is an old man and he has lost a step, and maybe he has not learned all of life’s lessons but he still rocks &rolls, does rockabilly and country rock’s with the best of them.

Highlights here concerning some of life’s lessons that old Jerry Lee has learned, as reflected in some of the lyrics, are his duo with Willie Nelson on “Couple More Years”, his duo with Keith Richards on “That Kind of Fool” (a take-off on his old classic- “Who Will The Next Fool Be”) and his duo with Eric Clapton on “Trouble In Mind”. To show that he can still rock- listen to the duo with Kid Rock (yes, that Kid Rock of rapper fame) on “Honky Tonk Woman”. If you need to hear rockabilly and boogie-woogie then the classic “Hadacol Boogie” with Buddy Guy will keep you moving. Enough said, except the production values on this CD are very good, as well.

Friday, August 01, 2008

*From The Spartacist Archives- The 1948 Henry Wallace Progressive Party Campaign

Click on the headline to link to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the 1948 Henry Wallace-led Progressive Party campaign as background for the article below.

Workers Vanguard No. 918
1 August 2008

From the Archives of Spartacist

On Bourgeois “Third Parties” and the 1948 Henry Wallace Campaign

The following article, originally titled “Henry Wallace and Gideon’s Army,” is reprinted from Spartacist No. 7 (September-October 1966). The article is about Wallace’s 1948 Progressive Party presidential campaign. In the current election year, the “third party” capitalist Greens have nominated former Georgia Democratic Party Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney as their presidential candidate. The parallels between Wallace and McKinney are striking: the candidates’ rousing talk of “peace,” “justice” and a better deal for the little people is meant to corral dissatisfaction with the two main bourgeois parties into yet another capitalist electoral vehicle. Our forebears in the then-revolutionary Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in 1948 gave no political support to Wallace. Today, in contrast to reformist groups like Workers World Party, which has endorsed McKinney, we give no political support to the Green/McKinney “Power to the People” campaign. It represents no break with bourgeois politics.

Nor, as Marxists, would we run for executive office—such as mayor, governor or president—ourselves, although Marxists have and can run for parliamentary office as a tactic to propagate our revolutionary program and as part of the struggle to imbue the working class with the understanding that the capitalist order, including its parliamentary facade, must be overthrown through socialist revolution. As Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels taught long ago, the capitalist government is the executive committee that manages the common affairs of the capitalist class as a whole. In the U.S., the president is the chief executive responsible for the most massive military power in history and for the domestic machinery of repression that maintains social oppression and exploitation. To run for executive office means to aspire to be the next Commander-in-Chief who decides who gets tortured, who gets bombed, who gets invaded (see Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 60, Autumn 2007).

As we pointed out in Spartacist No. 7’s front-page article, “1966 Elections,” to which the Wallace piece was a companion, “In sum, independent campaigns must not only break with the Democratic Party, but must break with the system of bourgeois rule, and aim toward arousing the working class from its present passive allegiance to that system.” The 1966 midterm elections, two years after Democrat Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 landslide victory against Barry (“In your guts, you know he’s nuts”) Goldwater, saw growing opposition to the Vietnam War and recognition that the Democratic Party was, as we wrote, “the favored tool of those forces which are committed to maintaining American capitalist hegemony throughout the world.” In sorting out the various forces running “independent” candidacies, we relied on the working-class Marxist analysis developed in part by James P. Cannon, the founding leader of American Trotskyism, and the SWP.

* * *

In late 1947, Henry A. Wallace announced his intention to run for the presidency of the U.S. as an anti-war, pro-labor candidate. Wallace had been secretary of agriculture, vice president and secretary of commerce, all under Franklin D. Roosevelt, capitalism’s phony champion of the working man. But for the 1948 campaign Wallace ran at the head of the new Progressive Party, a third party challenge to the two established capitalist “front groups.”

During 1946 and early 1947, old-line New Dealers and some Democratic politicians; CIO President Philip Murray, left-dominated unions in the CIO and organizations based on the CIO; and the Communist Party [CP] had all shown an interest in such a third party. However by December 1947, the first two groupings, partially under the pressures of a growing red scare, had almost all retreated to the Democratic Party. Only the CP and groupings closely allied to it gave any substantial support after the end of 1947. The nature of that support can be seen by the continuing withdrawals throughout the campaign by Stalinist-led unions confronted by CIO pressure, and by the composition of the Progressive Citizens of America, a largely petty-bourgeois CP front group, a good section of which later formed the Americans for Democratic Action. Wallace, with his announcement, initiated not a wide-based movement but a petty-bourgeois “Gideon’s Army,” captained by Stalinists.

The Messiah Movement

The nature of the third party campaign waged by Wallace is accurately indicated in that term. Wallace himself relished the designation and seemed eager to portray himself as a latter-day Gideon. His appearances were accompanied by gospel singers, trumpets and a revivalist camp atmosphere. He campaigned on the basis of peace among nations, brotherhood among men and justice for all. Rather than use the first campaign of a new nation-wide party as a means for raising the consciousness of the working class, Wallace accepted the role of a messiah, come to save the American people.

Just before the election, Wallace proclaimed that the Progressive Party could count many victories: a third party had been put on the ballot in 45 states; moreover, his campaign had slowed the “cold war,” given pause to the assault on civil rights and eliminated the possibility of a witch hunt.

The rejoinders to Wallace’s claims are today obvious, but they need to be made because the type of victories which Wallace claimed are the same type that many peace and independent candidates seek today. Where is that third party today? What use, other than electoral, was made of the more than a million voters who supported Wallace? If the “cold war” has slowed, it has slowed only to be replaced by a series of U.S. maneuvered hot wars and CIA-run counter revolutions, most aided by the treacherous role of Stalinist parties. As for the last two claims, one need point only to the continuing police assaults on Harlem, Watts, Chicago, Cleveland and East New York and to the McCarthy period, followed by the HUAC period, followed by the Epton “trial.” [Epton, a leftist activist who at that time was in the Progressive Labor Party, was the first person in New York State since the 1919 “red scare” to be convicted of “criminal anarchy” for his courageous efforts to provide leadership and organization to the besieged black masses during the 1964 Harlem police riot. See “In Memory of Bill Epton,” WV No. 781, 17 May 2002.]

Role of the Guardian

The totally capitalist nature of Wallace’s third party can be seen by reading the early issues of the National Guardian and by comparing the specific items of Wallace’s platform to those in any Democratic Party platform.

The National Guardian began publication in October 1948, primarily as the propaganda organ for the Wallace campaign. Its very first issue (18 October 1948) proclaimed:

“This editorial point of view will be a continuation and development of the progressive tradition set in our time by Franklin D. Roosevelt…

“We conceive the progressive tradition to be represented today by Henry A. Wallace…

“We believe, with FDR and Henry Wallace, in expanding freedoms and living standards for all peoples as the essential foundation of a world at peace.

“We believe, with FDR and Henry Wallace, that peace can be secured only by seeking areas of agreement among nations, rather than seeking areas of disagreement.”

The high-blown rhetoric cannot conceal three basic fallacies in those few sentences: that FDR, capitalism’s front man par excellence, was in reality the advocate for the working man; that capitalism, which can do nothing to stem famine in India or prevent an approaching famine in Latin America, is able to improve the living standards of the whole world’s population; and that there is no significant difference between the capitalist U.S. and socialist Russia.

A campaign based on such fallacies can do nothing but dull the consciousness of the working class. Why should the labor movement back a minor party candidate who pleads, “Capitalism would be just fine if slightly reformed, so vote for me”? The Democratic Party asserts the same line and its candidates can be immediately elected. Such a campaign can have no outcome other than the strengthening of the Democratic Party’s hold over the working class.

When just that did happen in the ’48 election, the CP and others backing Wallace took credit for such a strengthening of the party which the bourgeoisie have increasingly realized is their protector. The Guardian exulted in its post-election issue (8 November 1948):

“The people of a whole world can look toward America today with renewed confidence. The American people have reaffirmed their progressive tradition. They have repelled the bold maneuvering of monopoly and reaction to take over America through Thomas E. Dewey and the Republican Party. They have handed Harry S. Truman an unmistakable mandate to return to the principles of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“The mandate would not have been possible if the Progressive Party had not introduced the Roosevelt program into the 1948 campaign.”

Wallace’s Program

The laughable absurdity of such a statement is apparent as soon as one analyzes the class nature of the Roosevelt program which Wallace introduced. Its demands have already been fulfilled or have been repeated as truisms in the Great Society of another messiah.

Wallace’s program broke down into two general areas, isolated from each other: the achievement of international peace and the progressive reform of U.S. capitalism at home. According to Wallace, the U.S. could achieve worldwide peace by establishing faith in the UN, by negotiating with Soviet Russia, by recognizing new small countries such as Israel and by abolishing military conscription at home.

The domestic reforms required slightly more complex solutions. On the social side, Wallace advocated abolition of Jim Crow laws and the establishment of legal guarantees for civil rights; federal aid to housing, health and education; and governmental promotion of science and culture. On the economic front, he called for a council of economic planning to assure high production, full employment and a rising standard of living; public ownership of key areas of the economy in TVA type developments; repeal of the Taft-Hartley law and a one dollar an hour minimum wage; anti-trust action against monopolies; and rollback of prices covered out of exorbitant profits.

A Bourgeois Program

Capitalism has been able to fulfill most of these demands or hold out the promise of their fulfillment without seriously damaging its own position. Thus the program posed no questions which capitalism itself could not appear to solve. It did not serve to link up the economic pressures at home with the already mounting imperialism of the “cold war.” Thus Wallace’s general evaluations of Progressive Party successes were all proved incorrect because his platform, accepted gladly by Truman, dealt with specific ills in a capitalist society and not with the capitalist mode of production which produces those ills.

There was no ideological content to the Wallace campaign—only the slogans of a messiah-reformer—and the one million votes formed no base for the development of a third party opposed to capitalist control.

Labor Control Needed

James Cannon in a 1948 internal SWP discussion on the Wallace candidacy offered several criteria which can be used as measures today of these new third parties. He stated that Wallace’s policies showed only tactical differences in the camp of the bourgeoisie and that to support Wallace would mean an entrance into “lesser-evil” politics. He differentiated between the pseudo-radical party of a petty-bourgeois reformist like Wallace and the revolutionary labor party, which would proceed from the aim to assist the development of independent political action by workers and turn that action towards its revolutionary culmination. Finally he insisted that the class character of a party is determined not primarily by the class which supports it but by the class it supports, in its program, daily policy and practice.

The SWP Political Committee resolution on the Wallace candidacy developed on the basis of these criteria its minimum requirement for critical support to a third party: that the party be based on a significant section of labor and be subject to its control and pressure.

The incipient third parties could easily use these criteria in order to distinguish the class nature of their own demands, and therefore the possibility of those demands leading to a revolutionary culmination. More importantly, parties claiming to be Marxist need to establish such criteria as the basis for their own support to third party movements. (The SWP might well take note of its own past history.)

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Political Thoughts in the Summer Doldrums

Of This and That


Just a couple of observations to while away the summer doldrums.

California Gay and Lesbian Marriage Vote

Earlier this year the California Supreme Court held that, as a matter of state law, legislation on the books that discriminated against gays and lesbians on the question of the democratic right to marriage was unconstitutional. As in Massachusetts, there was furious backlash by various right-wing elements, some organized religions notably the Catholic Church, other usual suspects on this issue and the usual quota of married (or, as is usually the case, re-married) heterosexual types who can’t breath right if marriage is not defined in law, society and the eyes of god as the bonding of one male and one female human being.

Needless to say, such groups have some resources and have enough wherewithal to have this issue placed on the ballot this November. As the presidential race in California is likely to be a walkover for Obama this fight may get more than its share of attention. At this point I am not sure how this initiative petition question will appear on the ballot so I do not know how to call the vote (any help here?). In any case, we want to vote against the overriding of the court’s action down with both hands. Defend, extend the democratic right of gays and lesbians to marry (Markin adds -and good luck to them, they will need it. We are already starting to see gay and lesbian divorces in Massachusetts, just like heterosexuals).

**Integration of the American military

Within the past couple of weeks there has been a ceremony in Washington, D.C. honoring the 60th Anniversary of President Harry S. Truman’s signing of an executive order integrating the armed forces of American imperialism. While militant leftists have a very definite position in opposition to American governmental foreign and military policy we nevertheless, until working people take power, have a very definite interest in fighting for equal access and rights for all in almost any bourgeois institution. We do not encourage people to join the military but if they do then the full range of rights and opportunity should be open to them. That premise also underlines our position on the question of gays in the military (the current ‘see no evil’ policy is not an example of equal access but a bandage) and permitting women soldiers to become combat troops.

In one article about this commemoration that I read an interesting point was made that while blacks (who the original order was directed toward integrating) make up a proportionally larger (at least until recently due to the Iraqi quagmire) part of the various branches of the services than in the population as a whole they are underrepresented in the higher echelons of the military (senior NCOs and General Staff officers). Despite, the occasional Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Barack Obama story this remains a deeply race-divided society with blacks STILL disproportionately at the bottom of the pile. Our job is to rectify that when the above-mentioned working people take power. And pronto.

I would also be remiss here in a comment about the American military machine if in the summer of 2008 after more than five years of constant war I did not put a reminder that our task is still- Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal From Iraq And Afghanistan of All American/Allied Troops And Their Mercenaries! Make that pronto, as well.

*** The Youth Vote

Although I have, in general, sworn off observations on the American presidential campaigns, such as they are, I have recently come across some statistical information that only verifies what I have been trying to point out about future political possibilities for extra-parliamentary militant leftists. Polls have shown that Barack Obama has significant leads among the young over Republican John McCain in several key states in the upcoming elections. Moreover that trend applies to the national picture, as well.

Ho hum you say. Well, in part, you would be right just on the basis of the age difference between McCain and Obama. To speak nothing of some of their policy differences and personal technological capacities (Obama can work an iPOd. McCain, apparently, is still using a transistor radio). However, I would point out that one Richard M. Nixon in 1972, a time beyond the high water mark of the 1960’s yet still within memory of those days, split the then just passed 26th Amendment –enhanced youth vote with George McGovern. And George McGovern was far, far to the left of anything that Obama has been saying (or, as of late, not saying).

In short, youth as a segment of society is not always left, not always progressive or for that matter not always even political. What the above-mentioned statistics tell me though is that something more like the swirl around John Kennedy in 1960 is forming and not the resignation and acceptance of defeat represented by Nixon’s reelection in 1972 by a significant segment of the young. As I pointed out in a recent small commentary on Obama’s rush to the right in order to gain ‘victory’ we will get our share of the political spoils once the disillusionment with Obama sets in (as a look at his social networking site will already confirm) with all the weighty social problems confronting this society still in need of solution.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Tribute To The Blues Blinds- Johnson, Jefferson, McTell, Blake


The Complete Collection of Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Willie Johnson, Sony 1993

Blind Willie Johnson

A tradition developed early, and I am not sure how, but it was very early in the 1900’s of blind black men with musical ability (and probably some with none) going to the small town Southern street and singing for their dinner, so to speak. I, for one, am glad that they did because an inordinate part of early blues music would be missing without their collective contributions. Here we start our tribute with Blind Willie Johnson; this is Reverend Blind Willie Johnson, by the way. What makes Reverend Johnson a shade bit different from other blues singers of the period, with the partial exception of Skip James, is that the vast bulk of his music is religious in orientation unlike the more traditional moaning and groaning about work, women and whiskey.

For those who saw part of Martin Scorcese’s PBS Blues Project a few years back you might remember that Blind Willie (along with Skip James) was highlighted in Wim Wender’s section. You might also know then that Johnson’s Soul of A Man is traveling the universe as a selection of one of humankind’s musical expressions. Take that and You Have Friend In Jesus with female accompaniment and you are at the height of Blind Willie’s talent. As for the rest you will have to listen for yourself.

Blind Blake-Ragtime Guitar's Foremost Finger Picker, Blind Blake, Yahoo, 1989

Before the blues began to dominate the black Southern country music scene there was a transition period where the previously dominant ragtime commingled with the emerging blues picking sound. That is where Blind Blake comes into view. This CD shows off his masterly picking style but also shows that he gets the new blues country beat. This CD has liner notes that are very informative (as are most Yahoo liner notes) about these evolutionary moves and Blake's innovations. As to the music highlights here are Southern Rag, Hard Pushing Papa, Sweet Papa Low Down and a classic rendition of Rope Stretching Blues (about the thoughts of a black prisoner just before his scheduled hanging- legal this time- with the great line 'in a couple of days I will not be singing this song'. Reason enough, right there to get rid of the death penalty.). Get this if you need a nice clean country blues pick.


When The Sun Goes Down, Blind Willie McTell, BMG Music, 2003

Recently I have been doing a run of reviews on old time country blues players that have included the likes of Mississippi John Hurt and Son House. Here we are getting a little slice of what the acoustic blues looked like when it went to the Southern cities in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Hurt and House stayed on the farm, so to speak, but McTell, blind from birth I believe, went to the streets of the cities to sing his songs and make his daily bread. Along the way he worked with women singers and sometimes with the legendary Tommy Dorsey (no, not the bandleader from the forties). But mainly he worked the streets and joints alone.

A close listen immediately tells you that this artist is different from the country blues singers. The guitar work is more polished (check it out on Statesboro Blues, if you want a treat) but the whole presentation is also different. The lyrics are more polished and the presentation is clearly for an audience that can walk out the door if it does not like what it hears. Hell, there are seven other guys or gals down the street to listen to. This is really the first manifestation, in song, of the changeover in the blues from the chant like quality of the pace of the cotton field to the rhythms of urban life. It changes again latter when it goes north and gets electrified but here McTell and a little later Big Bill Broozey (and, as always, Robert Johnson) are pushing the work in new directions.

The Best of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Yahoo, 1990

Yes, I know it is hard to keep the names of all these male blind blues singers straight. Blind Willie, Blind Lemon, Blind Blake, etc. but there are differences in their styles from Willie Johnson's more gospel -oriented work to McTell's barrel house renditions. It is interesting that so many of these blind black singers, probably otherwise unemployable at the time due to their impairments, gave the blues (and sometimes their root music, gospel, also) a tryout on the streets and seemingly thrived on this market niche. The just mentioned gospel roots of many of these performers shows the tension between the godly church music of their youth and the `devil's' music of their maturity and I believe added to the authenticity of the music. It is the backdrop of Blind Lemon's works, as well.

This compilation, although technically not the best due more to problems with the old time recording material than anything else, highlights Blind Lemon's most enduring songs. The classic Easy Rider and Black Snake Moan are included here. Also included here and a must listen for anybody interested in this music is another Jefferson classic See That My Grave is Kept Clean that has been covered by many, many artists, including Bob Dylan.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hands Off Iran!


U.S. Out Of Iraq And Afghanistan Now! Hands Off Iran!

Correct me if I am wrong but I smell gunpowder in the air these days and it is not clear who is getting ready to ignite the fuse. No, I am not talking about any old wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hell, those efforts are old hat and, according to the putative Republican presidential candidate John McCain , at least in Iraq, will last about 100 years-so it is way too early to even worry about ending that little beauty. I assume by his lights we are to let our great- grandchildren end it. Moreover, President Bush is playing the eternal optimist on Iraq, a role that he has perfected to a tee in his disastrous presidency, by being authoritatively reported as saying that it would only take forty years to straighten out things there. His scenario would permit our grandchildren to conclude the war. Again, that is music for the future. Nothing to get nervous about now, right? What exercises me today though is that little recent buildup of talk pointing toward some off-the-wall adventure aimed at Iran either by American imperialism itself or, I believe, more probably by air strikes from the American surrogate in the area, Israel.

I have been harping on Iran, off and on, for a couple of years now ever since reading Seymour Hersh’s informative April 2006 article in the New Yorker (and later additions and updates to the core of that argument by Hersh and others). Nothing since that time has led me to believe that the White House, the American military or Israel has given up the dream of smashing Iran’s future capacities to develop nuclear weapons. Capacities, by the way, even some hostile conservative critics have recognized that Iran needs in order to defend itself in an increasingly hostile world, especially as it remains in the cross hairs of American imperialism.

Certainly it was not the little ‘diplomatic’ maneuver over the weekend of July 19th where a high ranking American diplomat actually sat in on the six nation talks, despite previous American disdain for such efforts, on the question of what the international response to Iran’s alleged nuclear buildup should be. And certainly it was not any rhetoric on the part of the cowboys who control the inner sanctum in Washington about trying to find non-lethal ways to curb Iran. The minute they start with that talk in Washington, hold onto your wallets- you are about to be fleeced.

The events of the past several weeks have brought my concerns into some focus. Israel’s air strikes against a target in Syria, the American drumbeat campaign to denigrate any finding that Iran is not within striking distance of being capable of making at least one nuclear bomb and, of course, the defiant, if comical, attempt of Iran to saber rattle with the testing of short-range missiles. Six months, for a Bush Administration that has nothing to lose, is a long time in politics, a long time to prepare and launch surgical attacks and a long time to create an American ‘public opinion’ committed to nipping Iran’s buildup in the bud. Every militant leftist in the world, while holding his or her nose at the political regime in Tehran, better prepare now to defend Iran’s right to have nuclear weapons in this crazy old world. That said, we better dust off those old posters- U.S. Hands Off Iran- And Keep Them Off!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Obama- One Step Forward, Three Steps Back


Break With The Republicans, Democrats, Greens and Ralph Nader- Build A Workers Party!

I have purposefully attempted to stay on the sidelines, way on the sidelines, of this misbegotten 2008 presidential campaign season after I realized early this spring that it was just a more technologically sophisticated version of previous garden variety efforts, like the Gore 2000 and Dean 2004 campaigns. Apparently I am not alone in this as a recent poll, taken after the hoopla raised by the media and the hard-core partisans of the party nominating processes was over, indicated that the bulk of the electorate felt the same way, generally. Nevertheless I do have to break my relative silence here to make a small comment on the benighted Obama campaign and what it has turned into.

Having had no illusions that Obama and his Democratic Party have anything to offer in terms of positively addressing the pressing political, social and economic issues of the day I have had nothing to cry about (although I remain appreciative of the wind that Obama himself has generated among the young which can only help radicals in the end). However, Obama's dramatic post-Hillary headlong spin toward the ‘center’ of American politics, has apparently left others feeling betrayed. Given his vote on enhanced governmental wiretapping-eavesdropping, his votes for the war budgets funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, his call for stepped-up troop deployment to Afghanistan, his new stance on the timing of ending tax cuts for the rich topped off by his ‘benign neglect’ of part of his core constituency, blacks, that has even Jesse Jackson, Senior up in arms there is little wonder that there is a feeling of ‘betrayal’ in left Demo-land.

However, there has been no betrayal by Obama or the Democratic Party. Despite the chagrin of the young, who can be forgiven a little naiveté, the Democratic Party and bourgeois politics are not about serious change but about winning electoral combinations. I was tipped off that some of the idealistic elements in the Obama campaign were in uproar over his wiretapping vote. I therefore went, based on that tip, to his social networking site to see for myself the gnashing of teeth. Damn, it is all there. The sense of betrayal, the desire to get the money contributed to the campaign back, the disgust with bourgeois political maneuvering. Be still my heart.

What I did not see was any sense (as yet) that it is necessary to break out of the capitalist-inspired politics of the day and fight for a workers party (or for that matter, even an ‘independent’ party a la Ralph Nader). Well, that is our job. Earlier this year I mentioned, when I was in the heat of my bourgeois political observation period, that the swirl that Obama was producing was similar (although, I think, maybe on an even greater scale) to the effect on the young that of John F. Kennedy's campaign had in my youth. I mentioned that the earlier Kennedy swirl itself was not decisive but that in response to the press of events started then it later created the youth/socialist movement of the 1960’s. I posed the question in that commentary, jokingly, After Obama-us. I now think our turn may come sooner than I expected.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

*The Real Robert Kennedy- A Sober Liberal View From PBS's American Experience Series

Click on title to link to the Public Broadcasting System's "American Experience" episode on Robert Kennedy.


Robert Kennedy, American Experience, PBS, 2004

It is somewhat ironic that at just the time that when presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, a recent addition to the Democratic Party pantheon of heroes and heir apparent to the Kennedy legacy, is claiming the nomination of the party that the 40th Anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy during the presidential campaign of 1968 is being remembered in some quarters. That event holds much meaning in the political evolution of this writer. The Robert Kennedy campaign of 1968 was the last time that this writer had a serious desire to fight solely on the parliamentary road for progressive political change. So today he too has some remembrances, as well. This documentary from the Public Broadcasting System’s "American Experience" series only adds some visual flashes to those remembrances.

In a commentary in another space I have mentioned that through the tumultuous period leading to the early spring of 1968 that I had done some political somersaults as a result of Bobby Kennedy’s early refusal to take on a sitting president, Lyndon Johnson, for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. Moreover, I committed myself early (sometime in late 1967) to the reelection of Lyndon Johnson, as much as I hated his Vietnam War policy. Why? One Richard M. Nixon. I did not give Eugene McCarthy’s insurgent campaign even a sniff, although I agreed with his anti-war stance. Why? He could not beat one Richard M. Nixon. When Bobby Kennedy jumped in and Johnson announced that he was not going to run again and I was there the next day. I was a senior in college at the time but I believe I spent hundreds of hours that spring working the campaign either out of Boston, Washington, D.C. or elsewhere. Why? Well, you can guess the obvious by now. He COULD beat one Richard M. Nixon.

It was more than that though, and I will discuss that in the next paragraph. I took, as many did, Bobby's murder hard. It would be rather facile now to say that something of my youth, and that of others who I have talked to recently about this event, got left behind with his murder but there you have it. However, to show you the kind of political year that it was for me about a week after his death I was in the Hubert Humphrey campaign office in Boston. Why? You know why by now. And for those who don’t it had one name- Richard M. Nixon.

But let us get back to that other, more virtuous, political motive for supporting Bobby Kennedy. It was always, in those days, complicated coming from Massachusetts to separate out the whirlwind effect that the Kennedy family had on us, especially on ‘shanty’ Irish families. On the one hand we wished one of our own well, especially against the WASPs, on the other there was always that innate bitterness (jealousy, if you will) that it was not we who were the ones that were getting ahead. If there is any Irish in your family you know what I am talking about.

To be sure, as a fourteen year old I walked the neighborhood for John Kennedy in 1960 but as I have mentioned elsewhere that was a pro forma thing. Part of the ritual of entry into presidential politics. The Bobby thing was from the heart. Why? It is hard to explain but there was something about the deeply felt sense of Irish fatalism that he projected, especially after the death of his brother, that attracted me to him. But also the ruthless side where he was willing to cut Mayor Daly and every politician like him down or pat them on the back and more, if necessary, to get a little rough justice in the world. In those days I held those qualities, especially in tandem, in high esteem. Hell, I still do, if on a narrower basis.

Okay, that is enough for a trip down memory lane back to the old politically naïve days, or rather opportunistic days. Without detailing the events here the end of 1968 was also a watershed year for changing my belief that an individual candidate rather than ideas and political program were decisive for political organizing. That understanding, furthermore, changed my political appreciation for Bobby Kennedy (and the vices and virtues of the Democratic Party). That is the import of this well-produced (as always) portrayal of the short life and career of Robert Kennedy. If in 1968, with my 1968 political understandings, I stood shoulder to shoulder with Robert Kennedy my political evolution and his political past, as detailed here, have changed my perceptions dramatically.

This documentary highlights the close relationship between Robert and his older brother John starting with the Massachusetts United Senate campaign in 1952 (and that would continue in the 1960 campaign and during John Kennedy’s administration right up to the assassination). We are presented here, however, with the ‘bad’ Bobby who was more than willing to join Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy’s “red scare” anti-communist campaign and the anti-labor McClellan Committee campaigns against Jimmy Hoffa in particular. There is no love lost between this writer and labor bureaucrats like Hoffa (or his son) but a bedrock position then and today is the need for labor to clean its own house. What purpose does government intervention into the labor movement do except to weaken it? Bobby was on the other side on this one, as well.

Under the John Kennedy Administration Robert, moreover, played a key role in putting a damper on the early civil rights movement in the South (as well as putting a 'tap' on Martin Luther King at the behest of one J. Edgar Hoover), the Bay of Pigs decision and aftermath , the Cuban Missile Crisis confrontation with the Soviet Union and the early escalation, under the rubric of counter-insurgency, in Vietnam. As readily observable, where I had previously downplayed my opposition to some of Bobby's positions I now put a minus next to them. That is politics.

Finally though, I will frankly admit a lingering ‘softness’ for Bobby. Why? The late political journalist Jack Newfield one of the inevitable 'talking heads' that people PBS productions, a biographer of Robert Kennedy I believe but in any case a close companion in the mid-1960’s and a prior resident of the Bedford-Stuveysant ghetto of New York City, made this comment about a Robert Kennedy response to his question during a tour of that area. Newfield asked Kennedy what he would have become if he had grown up in Bedford-Stuveysant. Bobby responded quickly- I would either be a juvenile delinquent or a revolutionary. I would like to think that he meant those alternatives seriously. Enough said.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

*The Circle Game- The Songs of Tom Rush

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Tom Rush performing Joni Mitchell's The Circle Game.


The Circle Game, Tom Rush, 1968

If I were to ask someone, in the year 2008, to name a male folk singer from the 1960’s I would assume that if I were to get an answer to that question that the name would be Bob Dylan. And that would be a good and appropriate choice. One can endlessly dispute whether or not Dylan was (or wanted to be) the voice of the Generation of ’68 but in terms of longevity and productivity he fits the bill as a known quality. However, there were a slew of other male folk singers who tried to find their niche in the folk milieu and who, like Dylan, today continue to produce work and to perform. The artist under review Tom Rush is one such singer/songwriter.

The following is a question that I have been posing in reviewing the work of a number of male folk singers from the 1960’s and it is certainly an appropriate question to ask of Tom Rush as well. I do not know if Tom Rush, like his contemporary Bob Dylan, started out wanting to be the king of the hill among male folk singers but he certainly had some things going for him. A decent acoustic guitar but a very interesting (and strong baritone) voice to fit the lyrics of love, hope, and longing that he was singing about at the time. This was period when he was covering other artists, particularly Joni Mitchell, so it is not clear to me that he had that same Dylan drive by then (1968).

As for the songs themselves I mentioned that he covered Joni Mitchell in this period. That is represented here by a very nice version of Urge For Going that captures the wintry imaginary that Joni was trying to evoke about things back in her Canadian home. And the timelessness of Circle Game, as the Generation of ’68 sees another generational cycle starting, is apparent now if it was not then. The Rockport Sunday (instrumental) combined with the sadly haunting No Regrets used to get much play by this writer after some ‘relationship’ problems didn’t get thrashed out satisfactorily in the old days. This is classic Tom Rush. Get It.

Joni Mitchell Circle Game Lyrics

Yesterday a child came out to wonder
Caught a dragonfly inside a jar
Fearful when the sky was full of thunder
And tearful at the falling of a star
Then the child moved ten times round the seasons
Skated over ten clear frozen streams
Words like, when you’re older, must appease him
And promises of someday make his dreams

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and dawn
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we con only look behind
From where we cameAnd go round and round and round
In the circle game.

Sixteen springs and sixteen summers gone now
Cartwheels turn to car wheels thru the town
And they tell him,
Take your time, it won’t be long now
Till you drag your feet to slow the circles down

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and dawn
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and roundIn the circle game

So the years spin by and now the boy is twenty
Though his dreams have lost some grandeurComing true
There’ll be new dreams, maybe better dreams and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through.

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return, we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Last Thing On My Mind- The Songs of Tom Paxton


The Greatest Hits of Tom Paxton, Tom Paxton, 1991

If I were to ask someone, in the year 2008, to name a male folk singer from the 1960’s I would assume that if I were to get an answer to that question that the name would be Bob Dylan. And that would be a good and appropriate choice. One can endlessly dispute whether or not Dylan was (or wanted to be) the voice of the Generation of ’68 but in terms of longevity and productivity he fits the bill as a known quality. However, there were a slew of other male folk singers who tried to find their niche in the folk milieu and who, like Dylan, today continue to produce work and to perform. The artist under review Tom Paxton is one such singer/songwriter.

The following is a question that I have been posing in reviewing the work of a number of male folk singers from the 1960’s and it is certainly an appropriate question to ask of Tom Paxton as well. I do not know if Tom Paxton, like his contemporary Bob Dylan, started out wanting to be the king of the hill among male folk singers but he certainly had some things going for him. A decent acoustic guitar but a very interesting (and strong) voice to fit the lyrics of love, hope, longing and sometimes just sheer whimsy, as in the children’s songs, that he was singing about at the time. I would venture however, given what I know of his politics and the probably influence that his good friend the late folksinger and historian Dave Van Ronk had on him, that the answer above is probably no.

As for the songs themselves in this greatest hits compilation, a format that never really give an artist’s full range of hits and that is the case here, we get a fair range of what the good Mr. Paxton produced in the old days. Ramblin’ Boy and Bottle of Wine are evocative of hobo days here. Some peace songs (Peace Will Come, Jimmy with an extremely powerful anti-war message), some songs of love (Katy) and the above-mentioned children’s songs (Going to the Zoo). And, of course, his 'theme song' and the one that he has stated that he never gets tired of playing, The Last Thing On My Mine. And I never get tired of listening to.

Friday, July 11, 2008

***Have You Ever Seen A .. The Songs of Jesse Winchester


Live From Mountain Stage, Jesse Winchester, 2001

If I were to ask someone, in the year 2008, to name a male folk singer from the 1960’s I would assume that if I were to get an answer to that question that the name would be Bob Dylan. And that would be a good and appropriate choice. One can endlessly dispute whether or not Dylan was (or wanted to be) the voice of the Generation of ’68 but in terms of longevity and productivity he fits the bill as a known quality. However, there were a slew of other male folk singers who tried to find their niche in the folk milieu and who, like Dylan, today continue to produce work and to perform. The artist under review Jesse Winchester is one such singer/songwriter.

The following is a question that I have been posing in reviewing the work of a number of male folk singers from the 1960’s and it is certainly an appropriate question to ask of Jesse as well. I do not know if Jesse Winchester, like his contemporary Bob Dylan, started out wanting to be the king of the hill among male folk singers but he certainly had some things going for him. A decent acoustic guitar but a very interesting voice to fit the lyrics of love, hope and longing that he was singing about at the time. Of course, the need to go to Canada as a draft exile from the Vietnam War perhaps cut across cut across some of those youthful dreams.

As for the songs themselves, many that evokes the Southern roots from which Winchester came. Eualie is evocative of that. Other nice touches are That’s What Makes You Strong and his patented Brand New Tennessee Waltz. But the one I have always liked personally, and here my roots show, is Yankee Lady. Hell, I once had a relationship with a woman like the one he describes in that little song. Didn’t we all (male or female), back then.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

*A Folksinger (Oops) Jazz Vocalist Struts His Stuff- A Dave Van Ronk Encore

Click on title to link to YouTube's film clip of Dave Van Ronk performing "Hesitation Blues"


Somebody Else, Not Me, Dave Van Ronk, 1970

If I were to ask someone, in the year 2008, to name a male folk singer from the 1960’s I would assume that if I were to get an answer to that question that the name would be Bob Dylan. And that would be a good and appropriate choice. One can endlessly dispute whether or not Dylan was (or wanted to be) the voice of the Generation of ’68 but in terms of longevity and productivity he fits the bill as a known quality. However, there were a slew of other male folk singers who tried to find their niche in the folk milieu and who, like Dylan, today continue to produce work and to perform. The artist under review Dave Van Ronk is one such singer/songwriter.

The following is a question that I have been posing in reviewing the work of a number of male folk singers from the 1960’s and it is certainly an appropriate question to ask of Dave Van Ronk as well. I do not know if Dave Van Ronk, like his near contemporary Bob Dylan, started out wanting to be the king of the hill among male folk singers but he certainly had some things going for him. A decent acoustic guitar but a very interesting (and strong baritone) voice to fit the lyrics of love, hope, longing and sheer whimsy as he barreled through the traditional folk catalogue he was singing about at the time. I would venture however, given what I know of his politics and the probably influence that his deep sense of folk history had on him (as well as other musical influences), that the answer above is probably no.

As for the songs themselves. "Oh, Hannah" (which I believe he wrote) stands out as a tribute to traditional shout and response music. His friend Tom Paxton’s "Did You Hear John Hurt?" about that legendary country blues singer is another stand out. His voice carries the "Casey Jones" tune with gusto. "Sportin’ Life" is his little tip of the hat to his jazz roots. And "Pastures of Plenty" a tip to Woody Guthrie (as well as Bob Dylan's "Song to Woody"). Just a nice selection that will have you screaming for more. Do it.

"Cocaine Blues"

Every time my baby and me we go uptown
Police come and they knock me down
Cocaine, all around my brain

Hey baby, you better come here quick
This old cocaine's about to make
Cocaine, all around my brain

Yonder come my baby she's dressed in red
She's got a shotgun, says she's gonna kill me dead
Cocaine, all around my brain

Hey baby, you better come here quick
This old cocaine's about to make me sick
Cocaine, all around my brain

You take Sally and I'll take Sue
Ain't no difference between the two
Cocaine, all around my brain

Hey baby, you better come here quick
This old cocaine's about to make me sick
Cocaine, all around my brain

Cocaine's for horses and it's not for men
Doctor says it kill you but it doesn't say when
Cocaine, all around my brain

Hey baby, you better come here quick
This old cocaine's about to make me sick
Cocaine, all around my brain

Hey baby, you better come here quick
This old cocaine's about to make me sick
Cocaine, all around my brain

(A.P. Carter)

The Carter Family - 1932
The Kingston Trio - 1961
Osborne Brothers - 1962
Anita Carter - 1963
Glen Campbell - 1963
The Browns - 1964
George Hamilton IV - 1964
Makem & Clancy - 1964
Clive Palmer - 1967
The Manhattan Transfer - 1969
Dave Van Ronk - 1969
The Hillmen - 1970
Herb Pedersen - 1977
Charlie McCoy - 1978
Mary McCaslin - 1981
Gene Clark & Carla Olson - 1987
The Rankin Family - 1992
The Whites - 2000

Also recorded by: June Carter; Rosanne Cash; Merle Travis;
Bread & Bones; Cherish The Ladies; Golden Delicious; Danú;
Murray Head; Country Gentlemen; Pete Seeger; Ian & Sylvia;
George Elliott; Black Twigs; Craig Herbertson; Tim O'Brien;
The Peasall Sisters:........and others.

Come all ye fair and tender ladies
Take warning how you court young men
They're like a bright star on a cloudy morning
They will first appear and then they're gone

They'll tell to you some loving story
To make you think that they love you true
Straightway they'll go and court some other
Oh that's the love that they have for you

Do you remember our days of courting
When your head lay upon my breast
You could make me believe with the falling of your arm
That the sun rose in the West

I wish I were some little sparrow
And I had wings and I could fly
I would fly away to my false true lover
And while he'll talk I would sit and cry

But I am not some little sparrow
I have no wings nor can I fly
So I'll sit down here in grief and sorrow
And try to pass my troubles by

I wish I had known before I courted
That love had been so hard to gain
I'd of locked my heart in a box of golden
And fastened it down with a silver chain

Young men never cast your eye on beauty
For beauty is a thing that will decay
For the prettiest flowers that grow in the garden
How soon they'll wither, will wither and fade away



Come all ye fair and tender ladies
Take warning how you court young men
They're like a star on summer morning
They first appear and then they're gone

They'll tell to you some loving story
And make you think they love you so well
Then away they'll go and court some other
And leave you there in grief to dwell

I wish I was on some tall mountain
Where the ivy rocks are black as ink
I'd write a letter to my lost true lover
Whose cheeks are like the morning pink

For love is handsome, love is charming
And love is pretty while it's new
But love grows cold as love grows old
And fades away like the mornin' dew
And fades away like the mornin' dew

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Soul of A City Boy- Jesse Colin Young


Soul of A City Boy, Jesse Colin Young, 1964

If I were to ask someone, in the year 2008, to name a male folk singer from the 1960’s I would assume that if I were to get an answer to that question that the name would be Bob Dylan. And that would be a good and appropriate choice. One can endlessly dispute whether or not Dylan was (or wanted to be) the voice of the Generation of ’68 but in terms of longevity and productivity he fits the bill as a known quality. However, there were a slew of other male folk singers who tried to find their niche in the folk milieu and who, like Dylan, today continue to produce work and to perform. The artist under review Jesse Colin Young is one such singer/songwriter.

The following is a question that I have been posing in reviewing the work of a number of male folk singers from the 1960’s and it is certainly an appropriate question to ask of Jesse as well. I do not know if Jesse Colin Young, like his contemporary Bob Dylan whom he followed in moving from acoustic folk to folk rock, started out wanting to be the king of the hill among male folk singers but he certainly had some things going for him. A fair to middling acoustic guitar but a very interesting and mournful voice in the early acoustic days.

Moreover, Jesse set himself, more than others of the time, to speak to urban concerns and longings. I can remember being mesmerized by the effect of Four In The Morning (usually listening to it at that time, as well). Or the longing behind Suzanne and Black Eyed Susan. Or the late night whiff of whiskey in the air (Yes, I know we were underage at the time but let us let that pass) with the forgetfulness of Rye Whiskey. Yes, there were some tools and talent there. People may be more familiar with the latter electric rock material of the Youngbloods days but give a listen to Jesse, back in the day.

The Greatest Hits of Jesse Colin Young, Jesse Colin Young, 1991

The following is a question that I have been posing in reviewing the work of a number of male folk singers from the 1960’s and it is certainly an appropriate question to ask of Jesse as well. I do not know if Jesse Colin Young, like his contemporary Bob Dylan whom he followed in moving from acoustic folk to electric folk rock, started out wanting to be the king of the hill among male folk singers but he certainly had some things going for him. A fair to middling acoustic guitar but a very interesting and mournful voice in the early acoustic days. Then the switch to electric folk rock and beyond, and the joining up with the Youngbloods that forms the core of this greatest hits compilations.

Jesse Colin Young and the Youngbloods were one of the signature groups of the 1960’s not so much for their sound which was pretty much a familiar one from the period but the lyrics and the politics. Songs like Get Together, Sunlight, Darkness, Song for Juli and some others created a mood of hope (sometimes with dope) that got a number of people through the hard times of growing up in that time. Personally, though as much as I liked some of what the Youngbloods did I still go back to that old Jesse classic from the acoustic days Four In The Morning- that’s the ticket. If you need to hear it all though, this is a good bet.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

*Killin' The Blues- The Blue Folk World Of Chris Smither

CD Review

Train Home, Chris Smither, 2004

If I were to ask someone, in the year 2008, to name a male folk singer from the 1960's I would assume that if I were to get an answer to that question that the name would be Bob Dylan. And that would be a good and appropriate choice. One can endlessly dispute whether or not Dylan was (or wanted to be) the voice of the Generation of '68 but in terms of longevity and productivity he fits the bill as a known quality. However, there were a slew of other male folk singers who tried to find their niche in the folk milieu and who, like Dylan, today continue to produce work and to perform. The artist under review Chris Smither is one such singer/songwriter.

I do not know if Chris Smither, like his contemporary Bob Dylan, started out wanting to be the king of the hill among male folk singers but he certainly had some things going for him. He plays that signature blue guitar for all it is worth on such covers as "Crocodile Man" yet can turn it down several notches for a song like "Never Needed You" and then goes softer on reflective songs like "Kind Woman". Moreover he is as capable as a songwriter as any of writing of longing, lost love, thoughts of mortality and...being stupid in the world. Witness "Let It Go" on that last point. Then turn it up a notch with a bittersweet song like "Lola" (males-haven't we all had our Rock and Roll Lolas-or wanted to). As then, as if to pay homage to the icon of the generation, a nod to Bob with a shortened version of the Dylan classic "Desolation Row". Yes, Chris had the tools to go out and slay the dragons of the folk world. This is his five star work. That work may not be well known outside the precincts of the graying folk world, but it should be.

It Ain't Easy, Chris Smither, 1993

I do not know if Chris Smither, like his contemporary Bob Dylan, started out wanting to be the king of the hill among male folk singers but he certainly had some things going for him. He plays that signature blue guitar for all it is worth on Rock and Roll Doctor yet can turn it down several notches for a song like "Killin’ The Blues" (a song that he wished that he had written and I agree) and then goes softer on reflective songs like "Take It All". Moreover he is as capable as a songwriter as any of writing of longing, lost love, thoughts of mortality and…being stupid in the world. Witness "Memphis, In The Meantime" on that last point. Then turn it up a notch with a bittersweet song like "Happier Blue". Yes, Chris had the tools to go out and slay the dragons of the folk world. That work may not be well known outside the precincts of the graying folk world, but it should be.

Lyrics to Happier Blue :

I was sad, and then I loved you,
It took my breath
Now I think you love me, and
It scares me to death,
‘Cause now I lie awake and wonder, I worry,
I think about losin' you
I don't care what you say
Maybe I was happier blue
I don't care what you say
Maybe I was happier blue

Justice is a lady,
Blind, with a scale,
And a big letter-opener.
She's been readin' my mail
I don't know why this should shame me,
But it does, somehow
I don't care what you say,
She don't look like a lady now.
I don't care what you say,
She don't look like a lady now

I believe in heavy thinking,
I believe in heavy sound,
I believe in heavy images
To hold it all down.
Light as a feather in spite of me
I don't care what you say
Faith is not a guarantee
I don't care what you say
Faith is not a guarantee

Did you think I didn't know that?
You might be right.
I swear I will forget it if it
Takes all night.
I never needed nothin' like I ever needed
Knowin' I needed you
I don't care what you say
None of this is nothin' new
I don't care what you say
None of this is nothin' new

Lyrics to Killing The Blues :

Oh, leaves were falling

They're just like embers

In colors red and gold they set us on fire

Burning just like moonbeams in our eyes

Someone said they saw me

They said I was swinging the world by the tail

Bouncing over the white clouds

That I was killing the blues

Just killing the blues

Well, I am guilty of something

That I hope you never do

'Cause nothing is sadder

Than losing yourself in love

Someone said they saw me

They said I was swinging the world by the tail

Bouncing over the white clouds

Just killing the blues

Just killing the blues

Oh, when you asked me

Just to leave you

And set out on my own to find what I needed

You asked me to find what I already had

Someone said they saw me

They said I was swinging the world by the tail

Bouncing over the white clouds

I was killing the blues

Just killing the blues

Someone said they saw me

They said I swinging the world by the tail

Bouncing over the white clouds

I was killing the blues

Been killing the blues

Just killing the blues

"Train Home"

Take a look inside,
I got nothin' left to hide,
take me as I am,
not what I wanna be.
The why we'll never know, we passed that long ago.
Is and was is all we're ever gonna be.

He's almost shade, down by the river,
feels a breath that makes him shiver,
takes a breath and makes a dive alone.
But the dead don't get no vacation,
down in that subway station,
the only break they take is to the bone.
They waitin' on a train to take 'em home.

I don't think I see much of anything for me
in visions of the past or the ever-after.
Now is what can be,
all the rest is wait and see,
those prophets never hear that cosmic laughter.

And gypsies in their wagons rollin'
never hear those death bells tollin',
never take no notice of the tone.
But I do, and my pulse beats quicker,
scornful laughs and knowing snickers,
stop my heart and sink it like a stone.
And I'm waitin' on a train to take me home.

This ain't what it seems, it's not the stuff of dreams,
nothing is as clear as this confusion.
The somewhat welcome news
is there is no way to lose,
because what isn't real is genuine illusion.

And it's all about that graveyard dancin',
some sit still, some still prancin',
some get caught between them
in a zone where there's nothin' left to give 'em cover,
they can't even see each other,
they just step and stumble on their own.
They waitin' on a train to take 'em home.

They waitin' on a train,
I'm waitin' on a train,
we all waitin' on a train to take us home


Lookin' for my Lola, she's drinkin' rum and Coca Cola,
Smokes big cigars,
she drives big cars around.
Folks say she's gonna reach the top,
but she says that's just her first stop.

I know she ain't a good 'un,
whatcha bet she wouln' lose much sleep
if I should die today.
She says the love ain't cheap, but the pain is free
and I say, 'But that sounds good to me!'
She's got hooks to make a fish think twice,
but I ain't no fish.
I'll pay any price.
If I think at all, I think, 'This feels nice!'

Lookin' for my Lola, what if I'd 'a told ya
she don't even know she hurts me so.
She says 'I don't hate you, it ain't that big a deal,
you don't even figure in the way I feel.' but
don't think she feels too much at all.
I said 'Have a heart', she told me to my face,
'What little heart I got is in the wrong place.'

Lookin' for my Lola, she's a little rock 'n roller,
party down, paint the town again.
She drinks too much, she keeps it hid,
everybody says she's a hell of a kid,
but she ain't no kid when she's cuttin' me apart.
That's OK, I told her from the start,
'Don't stop 'fore you get my heart.'

Lookin' for my Lola, I barely got to know ya.
For all I know, there ain't a lot to know.
Either I gave up or she let me go,
how I got away I'll never know.
My life should be better, and it's not.
I know you think that she was pretty bad,
I wouldn't know, she was all I had

"Never Needed It More"

If love is the meal for the hunger you feel,
call for the witer.
We're all gonna feed on whatever
we need sooner or later.
I just stay out of my way.
I call for the check when I'm ready to pay.
The bill's for the faith or the will,
whichever is greater.

CHORUS Tell me how does it happen?
I can't tell you for sure,
but I don't think I ever needed it more

Cuz now it's two for the show and
they all wanna how
did you meet her?
I think it was luck,
she fell off a truck,
from there it was follow the leader.
I saw her walkin' alone,
I treated her nice and she followed me home.
There was nobody there to tell me
that I couldn't keep her.

CHORUS (variant) Tell me how does it happen?
I can't tell you for sure,
but I don't shut my tail in the door any more.


You know it's only a scene,
the play is the dream,
the bigger the better.
What can I say,
she's writin' the play and I'm gonna let her.
I just believe in the role.
I open wide and it swallows me whole.
The take is the give,
the give is the way that I get her.

Monday, July 07, 2008

*"The Long Goodbye"- Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe-Style

Click On Title To Link To Raymond Chandler Web page.


The Long Goodbye, novel written by Raymond Chandler, movie directed by Robert Altman, starring Elliot Gould, 1972

Phillip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler's classic noir hard-boiled private detective forever literarily associated with Los Angeles and its means streets is right at home here in his search, at the request of a friend, a ne'e-do-wll friend as it turns out, for the inevitable `missing woman' ("dame", "frill", "frail", for the non-politically correct types) who 'conveniently' turns up dead. There is plenty of sparse but functional dialogue, physical action and a couple of plot twists, particularly around the identity of the above-mentioned `dame' and the motives behind the involvement of various wealthy Californians who have much to gain by a cover-up.

Have no fear however the intrepid Marlowe will figure it out in the end and some kind of 'rough' justice will prevail. At this point in the Chandler Marlowe series our shamus has been around the block more than a few times but he still is punching away at the 'bad guys' and the absurdity of the modern world. How does this one compare with the other Marlowe volumes? Give me those background oil derricks churning out the wealth while looking for General Sternwood's Rusty Regan in The Big Sleep or the run down stucco flats in some shady places in pursuit of Moose's Velma in Farewell, My Lovely any day. Nevertheless, as always with Chandler, you get high literature in a plebeian package.

There have been many cinematic Phillip Marlowes from Bogart and Powell to Elliot Gould in this Altman production. They reflect their director's take on the times and on the character of Marlowe himself. The world-weary but virtuous Marlowe of the 1940's has been replaced in this film by a decidedly out-of-tune Marlowe who could realistically be arrested for vagrancy any minute in the up-scale and upward striving Los Angeles of 'new' California. Fortunately Robert Altman can make it work without being too syrupy. In other less capable hands, and with an actor other than Elliot Gould who sets the standard for all post-Bogart modern Marlowes (except probably the incessant chain-smoking) giving his all to the role, that is an iffy proposition. In any case the days of Chandler's, Cain's and Hammett's intrepid California characters are long gone. But, thankfully, at least not on film. This one will join that crowd.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Grapes of Wrath-John Steinbeck Unchained


The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, Random House, New York, 1998

Oddly, I first read John Steinbeck's classic tale of the 1930's depression, Grapes of Wrath, as a result of listening to Woody Guthrie's also classic Dustbowl Ballads. In that album Woody sings/narrates the trials and tribulations of the Joad family as they got the hell out of drought-stricken Oklahoma and headed for the land of milk and honey in California. After listening to that rendition I wanted to get the full story and Steinbeck did not fail me. His tightly-woven story stands as a very strong exposition of the plight of rural Americans as they tried to make sense of a vengeful God, unrelenting Nature and the down-side of the American dream. For those who have seem Walker Evans's and other photographers pictures of the Okies, Arkies, etc. of the period this is the story behind those forlorn, if stoic, faces.

The story line is actually very simple. The land in Oklahoma was played out, the banks nevertheless were pressing for payment or threatening foreclosure and for the Joads, as for others, time had run out. In the classic American tradition they pulled up stakes and headed west to get a new start. With great hopes and no few illusions they set out as a family for the sunny and plentiful California of their dreams. Their struggle along the way is a modern day version of the struggles of the old Westward heading wagon trains-including the causalities. But, that is not the least of it.

Apparently they had not read Frederick Jackson Turner's thesis that the frontier was gone- the land was taken. The bulk of the story centers of what happened when they get to the golden land-and it is not pretty. Day labor, work camps, strike action, murder, and mayhem-you know, California, the real California of the day. Not the Chamber of Commerce version. In short, as Woody sang, no hope if you ain't got the do re mi.

Grapes of Wrath was made into a starkly beautiful film starring a young Henry Fonda as Tom Joad. On a day when you are not depressed it is a film you want to see, if only for its photographic quality. So here is the list. Listen to Woody sing the tale. Watch Henry Fonda as he acts it out. And by all means read Steinbeck. He had an ear for the 1930's struggle of the Okies and their ilk as they hit California. What happened to those people later and their influence on California culture and what happened to those who didn't make it are chronicled by others like Howard Fast, Hunter Thompson and Nelson Algren. But for this period your man is Steinbeck.