Remembering Attica (with video)

“You know why we’re not going to quit? Because we’re one, we’re one unit. We’re tired of being beaten; we’re tired of being oppressed.” –Attica inmate, 1971


Archie Shepp’s “Attica Blues”

On September 9th, 1971 the Attica Correctional Facility in the State of New York exploded in rebellion. Less than two weeks after the killing of imprisoned black revolutionary George Jackson inmates attempted to free a fellow inmate from his cell after reports that he was being tortured. When guards realized that prisoners had successfully come to the aid of their fellow inmate they attempted to collectively punish the prisoners. Instead of being punished the prisoners revolted. Within hours a riot had developed into a full-scale occupation of the prison, with over thirty prison guards held hostage.

The seizure of Attica by the prisoners electrified millions of people across the US. The prisoner’s defiance and solidarity in the face of continued state repression lit up the night sky like a beacon. Yes, the rebellion exclaimed, you can fight back, you can resist, you can defend your basic human dignity. For the millions of black people coast to coast who were living through Cointelpro and watching their leaders slain by the state, for the Chicanos and Puerto Ricans who had grown up under US colonialism, for the young white people who had come to understand the brutality that this system is capable of, and for millions more inspired by the freedom struggles that were shaking the world—Attica became the byword for resistance.

The videos included below features extensive footage of the prisoners speaking for themselves. This was an intensely political prison revolt. The prisoners weren’t simply “letting off steam”; they were making a serious attempt to concretely change the conditions of their lives. They didn’t “go it alone”—they struck together, developed demands, and stood strong.

The state responded much as they had to slave rebellions 120 years earlier. After retaking the prison in a hail of bullets and killing 29, prisoners were stripped naked and tortured. The State of New York and the US government seemed satisfied that they had “put down” this brave strike for human dignity. But the murderous suppression of the Attica uprising will be remember along with the Mai Lai Massacre (1968), the murder of George Jackson (1971), and the police attack on Chicano anti-war demonstrators (1969) as signposts along the road to the Second American Revolution.


Part 1 of 3


Part 2 of 3


Part 3 of 3

Mp3 Spotlight: The Black Power Era Part One

In the last two installments of Mp3 Spotlight we have looked at the work of individual musicians who have put their creative energies towards building social movements. Now I would like to feature music directly influenced by one of the 20th century’s most vibrant and radical movements: the Black Power movement of the late 1960’s and 1970’s.

The role of music in the early Civil Rights movements is fairly widely known in our movement. Classic Gospel songs, some more than a century old, were refashioned and sung at demonstrations, on picket lines, and across the South. Even the iconic song “We Shall Overcome” is based on an early spiritual. These songs expressed the surging energy of the Black freedom movement of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Readers not familiar with defiant gems like “If You Miss Me at the Back of the Bus” or “I Ain’t Scared of Your Jail ‘Cause I Want My Freedom” should search out recordings as soon as possible. It is some of the most righteous, infectious music of the century.

But the political mood evolved as the long decade of the 1960’s progressed. Hope that the system could deliver meaningful reforms quickly dimmed, snuffed out by state violence and white racist backlash. Increasingly, the working class black people who made up the base of the Civil Rights movement looked for more radical solutions to their oppression. This was especially true in Northern cities where the lapping waves of the Southern struggle had yet to wash ashore. Before long ‘nonviolence’ sounded like an excuse for passivity, and ‘reform’ seemed positively naïve. This growing, roaring current of black discontent became know as the Black Power movement. This movement, too, expressed itself in music.

It would require a book to trace the history of Rhythm and Blues music, with its roots both in the church and in the saloon. Soul music grew naturally out of R&B, marked by gritty, churning vocals and emotional urgency. There was the dirty, Gospel-drenched ‘Southern Soul’ of Otis Redding, and of course the slick, pop-inflected ‘Northern Soul’ of Motown. Either way, Funk pushed them out of the way with its pounding simplicity and need to move bodies. Each of these variations, from sweaty Soul to deep Funk, was capable of expressing the widening radicalization of the Black working class.

Jazz music was also profoundly affected by the high tide of struggle. Artists like Archie Shepp and Pharaoh Sanders explored Afrocentric themes and publicly associated themselves with the even the radical edge of the movement. Not only did so much Jazz in the 1960’s get radical in intention, it also became radical in form. Saxophonists like Albert Alyer may not have mentioned politics, but their sound was an obvious battle cry. Sax savant Joe McPhee recorded a bristling live record in 1969 titled “Nation Time”. McPhee opens the show with an effusive question for the audience: “what time is it?”. “It’s nation time” the crowd rapturously cries back. Readers interested in the cross section of Black nationalist politics and radical Jazz music should consult LeRoi Jones’ (Amiri Baraka) essay from the mid 1960’s.

For years R&B and Soul overwhelmingly featured love songs. The emergence of a strain of Soul and Funk that featured openly political and culturally defiant lyrics was a startling development. In this new environment, even hyper-political performance poets like Gil Scott Heron and The Last Poets gained national attention.

No single artist was more central to the development of this movement and its Black Pride aesthetics than James Brown. Brown had been evolving musically along the trajectory of Soul music since the late 1950’s, and by the late 1960’s had become nothing short of the public face of youthful Black defiance and pride. “Say it loud”, Brown insisted, “I’m Black and I’m proud”. He probably reached a bigger audience than Marcus Garvey with just that one 45 rpm record. But Brown’s political legacy was mixed. His notion of Black Power had conservative overtones and he supported Nixon in 1972.

Brown’s influence can be heard all over the tracks featured below. The painfully tight horns, the rock solid back beat, and the sheer force of argument are all his. But the contagious sound and message of this music—politically defiant as it was insanely danceable—spread faster and wider than even James Brown could have imagined. The Black Power movement drew inspiration from national liberation struggle across the globe, from Algeria to Vietnam. In turn, the sights and sounds of Funk and Soul helped communicate the ideas of Black Power to people in struggle around the world.
That’s some of the history. Now let’s kick out the jams.

Music of the Black Power Era

1. James Brown “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved” (coming soon) Probably one of Brown’s most explicit calls for social activism, it is also a case study in hard Funk. Brown states plainly that the time has passed to “raise your hand”, and the time has arrived to finally “raise your fist”. This song is what I’m talking about when I say there is URGENCY in the political message of Brown and his followers.

2. Getto Kitty “Stand Up and Be Counted” This song takes the position of the formerly apolitical person pulled into struggle by the desperate scene around them. Before she was “too honest” for politics, she thought, but now she’s on the move and “peace and freedom is our goal”. Getto Kitty was another hardly known Funk group who hoped for a national hit with a song about social change. There was still a part of the 60’s Soul/Funk continuum that remained ostensibly “apolitical”, and this increases as the movement ebbs in the 1970’s. Getto Kitty clearly do not have their head in the sand, they’ve got their fists in the air.

3. Archie Shepp “Blues for Brother George Jackson” Saxophonist Archie Shepp is a fierce player in the jazz tradition of John Coltrane, not the funk tradition of James Brown. I’ve included him here to show how widely the spirit and ideas of the era permeated Black art in general. Shepp was at the front of the 60’s Free Jazz explosion, alongside Albert Ayler and Cecil Taylor. He composed numerous songs for Black political prisoners, movement heroes, and other touchstones of the struggle. Many other artists and musicians were inspired to create art dedicated to George Jackson, including Bob Dylan. His political assassination while in prison in California symbolized for many both the brutality and racism of the state and the bravery and vision of young militants like Jackson.

4. The Pharaohs “Freedom Road” I would like to dedicate this Mp3 to our comrades in FRSO/OSCL, due to its snappy title and of course its revolutionary thrust. This song is archetypal: take a churning Soul/Funk crossover jam and simply add metaphors about the centuries old freedom struggle. Not only does it draw a line connecting the Gospel tradition with that of Funk, it also keeps the people on the dance floor. The lyrics are as straight forward as the riff, both topical and universal.

5. Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions “Mighty Mighty (Spade and Whitey)” This song is a killer on so many levels. Firstly it is located exactly at the intersection of Mayfield’s classic Chicago Soul and a harder, grittier Funk sound, which all works perfectly. Then you have the lyrics, which are a desperate plea for multiracial unity and social change. That being said I’ve always bristled at the lyrical call for “black and white power”, although I understand Mayfield’s intentions (we all know those two pleas ain’t the same). I know that “liquidate the white supremacist power structure and the institutions that buttress it” doesn’t fit into lyrics of a danceable song quite as effortlessly. Readers of last month’s column will remember what happened when Cornelius Cardew tried that route.

I almost forgot the one song you can’t forget. Here’s James Brown with his hit “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)”.

Mp3 Spotlight: Cornelius Cardew

Cornelius Cardew lived a singular life in modern music. He helped give birth to electronic music in the 1950’s, connected the U.S. and European musical avant-gardes, and pushed the limits of improvised music with groups such as AMM. From the mid 1950’s through the early 1970’s Cardew burned like a comet, redefining experimental music and earning legend status. But when his commitment to Marxist politics intensified he left it all behind to create “people’s liberation music”.

Electronic Music and Minimalism

For our purposes here we will look at ‘both sides’ of Cardew’s life and music, although it is unwise to compartmentalize such a complex human being.
Cardew followed a boyhood passion for classical music all the way to the Royal Academy of Music. But it was his gig after graduation that put him in a nexus of ground breaking music. At the age of 22 Cardew traveled to Germany to work as the assistant to composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. Stockhausen was opening up a new world of music making machinery, electronically generated sounds, and compositions that made full use of these developments. Their close creative relationship lasted for three years.

There were creative forces having an even greater impact on the young Cardew than Stockhausen and electronic music. Cardew visited the United States in the late 1950’s and attended a series of performances that would change his entire artistic trajectory. The U.S. composers John Cage and David Tudor were working at the height of their creative powers, incorporating chance, atypical instrumentation, and performance art into their compositions and public performances. Cardew’s encounter with their music was shattering for him. There was something unmistakable happening in the U.S. avant-garde and Cardew connected with it tremendously.

Soon Cardew would act as a bridge between U.S. composers and British composers. He solidarized with what was becoming known as Minimalism, including the work of drone specialist Lamonte Young. Embracing more than just Cage, Cardew connected with the entire web of fellow travelers: Christian Wolff, Morton Feldman, Earl Brown, as well as dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham. Cardew was also very impacted by the extent to which these composers were connected to the visual arts. Cage was connected to painters Jasper Johns and the recently deceased Robert Rauchenberg, Feldman was hooked up with a number of Abstract Expressionists, and Young was an active member of the iconic art group Fluxus.

[Speaking of cross-movement explorations, Christian Wolff has a long history with the anti-capitalist left. He once named a composition after Trotskyist writer Harry Braverman and maintains an affinity for the Industrial Workers of the World.]

Free Improvisation

Never one to sit still, Cardew’s focus was drawn once again to a new field of endeavor. The mid-1960’s offered a plethora of ways to create entirely improvised music. There was of course the avalanche initiated by African American musicians coming from the jazz tradition such as John Coltrane and Cecil Taylor. Simultaneously there was an upheaval of improvised music throughout Europe, with some players coming out of jazz and others out of the traditional avant-garde. ‘Free Improvisation’ was the order of the day, and Cardew’s latest project was out at the front.

Cardew’s group AMM—which included long time collaborator and guitar explorer Keith Rowe—was the vehicle for some of Europe’s most adventurous improvised music of the 1960’s. Using electronic and acoustic instruments AMM pushed the limits of sound and collective creativity. It is important to stress the collectivity of AMM and the projects that immediately followed it. This was music that was composed on the spot, with equal input from all participants. AMM, a later the Scratch Orchestra, was an experiment not just in musical improvisation but also in radical democracy. For any of these projects to work, the artists essentially had to approach music composition with a socialist attitude. Scratch Orchestra built on this radical democratic perspective, and also began to include Cardew’s inventive visual scores and an open door policy to membership. The group grew out of one of Cardew’s teaching gigs, although the ethos was to challenge the role of the teacher. His philosophy on band leadership was sometimes described as “reverse seniority”.

Cardew and Marxism

It is not surprising that this milieu of musicians became interested in the pronouncements and declared intentions of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution happening in China. Before long Cardew—who had long sought radical egalitarianism through improvisation—was hosting study groups with other composers and musicians on the work of Mao Tse Tung.
Cardew and his collaborators were specifically drawn to Mao’s “Yenan Forum on Literature and Art” from 1942. This book insists that art and music be directly at the service of the working class and revolutionary movements. This was not a unanimous view amongst Marxists involved with the arts, with some left artists finding this perspective limiting. Many of Cardew’s admirers thought he was already making radical, egalitarian music that shook up the system. But increasingly Cardew was not satisfied with shaking up the art world; he wanted to make music tailored to class struggle.

Attempting Marxist Music

If art should be created to serve revolutionary movements, then what movement was the Scratch Orchestra supporting? Well, none really. AMM did not actively support radical politics, neither did Minimalism, or electronic movement, or much of the avant-garde at all. So Cardew said farewell to all that.

As the 1970’s progressed Cardew focused increasingly on making explicitly political music. At first it was simply politically themed song titles, next was the introduction of more pop and folk composition styles, and finally the appearance of lyrics in Cardew’s compositions.

An aspect of Cardew’s new musical and ideological turn was his interest in folk music. One way Cardew would show support for the Irish struggle, for example, was to incorporate Irish folk themes into compositions. Another aspect was the move towards making the music slightly more accessible and less abstract. Cardew started playing and recording slight off-kilter, romantic pop and folk ballads on piano. The lyrics fully cemented the political content of his work, with no guessing left as to his politics.

There is of course a long tradition of lyrical leftists, from Joe Hill to Sweet Honey in the Rock to David Rovics. But Cardew was trying for something quite different. While the aforementioned artists generally articulate left politics broadly defined and in easily accessible terms, Cardew sought dense, hyper political lyrics that graphically spelled out the intricacies of his organization’s political line. This was at the height of the 1970’s Leninist party-building movement in England and around the world. Communicating the organizations positions was to become a central aspect of Cardew’s work.

The Marxist formation Cardew and his co-thinkers had hooked up with was called the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist). They had begun as enthusiastic supporters of revolutionary China but had broken with China after its political rift with Albania. Albania had long been an ally of China and many far-left China supporters stayed loyal to Albania after the break. These comrades believed there was a revolutionary continuity that connected the tradition of Lenin, the rule of Joseph Stalin, the ideology of Mao Tse Tung, and that of Albania’s Communist leader Enver Hoxha. For Cardew and his comrades every socialist country had finally fallen to revisionism—given up on the necessity of revolution—except Albania, the last true anti-revisionists.

Like Mao and Hoxha, Cardew believed that the USSR was also an imperialist country alongside the United States. His lyrics sneer at Soviet foreign policy, even the aspects supported by leftists. Nevertheless, Cardew’s political thinking must be admired for it’s loyalty to idea that revolution is possible. Cardew’s comrades also championed the Irish struggle while performing and living in England in the darkest days of the 1970’s. Cardew and his comrades were the truest of true believers, and selflessly dedicated.

It must be emphasized the extent to which national liberation in Ireland was dear to Cardew and central to his later work. Even on the far left it could be uncomfortable to be an unconditional supporter of Ireland’s right to self-determination by any means necessary while living in Britain in the 1970’s. Cardew was upfront and fearless. He recrafted classic Irish republican ballads, wrote new songs about the struggle, and performed in Ireland as part of a “tour in support of the Irish peoples fight”.

Unsurprisingly, his shows in the south of Ireland were in union halls, his shows in the north were in republican neighborhoods. Playing to republican crowds in West Belfast or performing in union halls or at demonstrations was a key aspect of Cardew’s attempt to bring his music to the front lines of the struggle. The band created in this period was called People’s Liberation Music and they cohered around the idea of making Cardew’s revolutionary songs mobile. Over nearly a decade they performed—with Cardew directing the band and playing piano—at countless anti-fascists and pro-labor demonstrations.

But there is an undeniable awkwardness to the Cardew’s songs in the People’s Liberation Music era. The songs buckled under the weight of the unmusical, hyper political lyrics. Basing the lyrics to a “pop” song on a speech by Chairman Mao (literally putting a speech to music) does not make for a particularly artful of compelling listening experience. Those who are familiar with the “Socialist Realism” painting style of the Stalin era will immediately recognize the strident, thrusting kitsch-Marxism portrayed in Cardew’s lyrics. Upon listening to the Peoples Liberation Music band you begin to wonder if this giant of the avant-garde isn’t wasting his talent. Cardew had been so searingly creative, so willing to work outside conventional musical norms, that to hear him creating quaint orchestral pop with unlyrical lyrics is an artistic disappointment. Basing his work on some strange conception of what “the people” could best relate to, he ends up with music that lands somewhere between a 70’s Broadway musical and an overzealous community church choir.

But strangely it somehow works. Cardew is so sincere, he so desires to put his talents at the service of revolution that the songs eventually win you over. Kitschy, heavy-handed, and sometimes poorly written, the songs of Peoples Liberation Music are a fun and fascinating way to look inside the vibrant and varied Marxist left of the 1970’s.

Cornelius Cardew was run over by a car while walking near his home in London in 1981. No one was ever arrested and it is widely believed that he was assassinated.
Here are some key Cornelius Cardew compositions from various periods of his life.

Download some music by Cornelius Cardew

1. Peoples Liberation Music “Smash the Social Contract”

This is a classic track from Cardew’s PLM project. The lyrics call out labor bureaucrats, Labour Party hacks, as well as the capitalists themselves in this tune about challenging an enforced ‘labor peace’. The song fits PLM’s mold for songwriting perfectly: triumphant chorus and an immense amounts of words.

2. Cornelius Cardew “Long Live Chairman Mao”

Taking on romantic, early 20th century melodies Cardew pays tribute to a leading light of the anti-revisionist movement. He hasn’t introduced the cumbersome lyrics of the PLM period, but his communist intentions are perfectly clear. This song comes from the early 1970’s.

3. Cornelius Cardew “Memories of You”

This track is taken from Material, Cardew’s ground breaking album from the early 1960’s. He weaves together elements of chance, minimalism and repetition, and free improvisation. You can hear the living connection between Cardew, Cage, the Fluxus movement, and the chance aesthetics of the early 60’s.

4. Peoples Liberation Music “There Is Only One Lie, There Is Only One Truth”

Oddly, this song lists a whole hosts of lies: revisionism, opportunism, reaction, and imperialism to name a few. If you’ve ever wanted to hear a church choir interpret the politics of Stalin’s ‘Third Period’, then here you go. It’s somewhere between painful, corny, and still strangely reassuring. There is a comforting certainty to Cardew’s vision of “the science of Marxism-Leninism”, as unnuanced and nonscientific as it sometimes sounds.

5. AMM “What Is There In Uselesness To Cause You Distress”

Cardew is found here building drones on top of drones, spiraling into a trance of gray fuzz. He connects electronic instrumentation to the freely evolving ethos of improvisation. Although now a regular part of the experimental music pallet, these fuzzy drones and electronic washes were new sounds in music and art at the time, with AMM pioneering much of this approach.

Mp3 Spotlight: Christy Moore

I want to kick off this ongoing series on the webzine with a look at a seminal political artist. Christy Moore is a powerful vocalist, song interpreter, and a passionately political person and performer. To many he may be simply a folksinger, but Christy Moore is a voice for the voiceless.

For over thirty years his music has been a window through which the world has viewed the struggle for justice and self-determination in Ireland. His songs have taken listeners inside Britain’s high security prisons and amplified the voice of imprisoned revolutionaries. His song “Ninety Miles from Dublin” was written after a meeting with Irish Republican prisoners in 1979. The song describes in vivid intonation the brutality that our comrades suffered in prison, and exactly what they had to do to preserver. Other songs Christy plays (he collects songs from a wide array of writers) have focused on victims of state repression, from Chile to Chicago.

Christy Moore, born in 1940’s Ireland, came of age in music during a renaissance in folk music. In the U.S. Bob Dylan had changed the landscape and traditional—and nontraditional—folk music was all over Britain and Ireland. Folk music could communicate ideas from the past, present, and future, which was part of the allure. Even on his first recorded LP Christy was singing about Irish labor hero Jim Larkin. Songs about struggles for a better world have remained at the heart of his songbook ever since.

In the early 1970’s Christy joined forces with an incredible group of fellow Irish traditional music devotees to form the group Planxty. Planxty, along with the Bothy Band and others, inspired a massive upsurge in interest in passionate traditional music. This folk revival coincided with the rebirth of the national struggle in the north of Ireland, which burned brightly throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s and Christy rose to prominence. Despite the controversy surrounding the republican cause, Christy never shied away from supporting the movement. Even when it looked like he could sell more records with less politics.

Although his music will always be associated with the Irish republican movement and specifically the 1981 hunger strikes, Christy is a true internationalist and his back catalogue demonstrates this beautifully. Some of Christy’s most memorable tunes have focused on the insurgency in El Salvador, the Cuban revolution, and the fight to defend the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. Other memorable songs include the powerful indictment of class exploitation, “Ordinary Man”, which looks at the wealth of the boss through the eyes of the redundant worker. “Viva La Quinta Brigada” is undoubtedly a crowed pleaser at any Christy Moore performance. The song details the commitments and exploits of the Irish radicals who volunteered to fight fascism in Spain.

There is so much to say about Christy Moore, an artist and fighter of many talents. So let’s get down to the songs. Here are eight Christy Moore songs that won’t just tell you more about the man behind the guitar, but they’ll tell you more about the world. And for you rarity enthusiasts, all tracks are bootlegs or unreleased. Just click on the title and save the file and your Mp3 is ready for a listen.

  1. “No Time For Love” [Live in Derry, Ireland November 2004]

    This song is one of the most effective political songs I know of in the English language. In one sense it’s about state repression in the north of Ireland, but it is equally about repression and resistance around the globe. The title refers to a predawn raid on an activist’s home” “no time for love if they come in the morning/…and the sound of the siren is the cry of the morning”. Performed live in front of an audience in Derry, Ireland; a town at the heart of the republican struggle. The audience knows full well of what Christy sings, because he is singing their song.
  2. “Viva La Quinta Brigada” [Live, unknown source] is a rousing historical song that spells out in no uncertain terms who fought in Spain and why: “Franco’s allies were the powerful and wealthy/ Frank Ryan’s men came from the others side”. Legendary socialist and IRA man Frank Ryan is not the only character examined here. We learn about Protestants and Catholics, socialists and republicans, and Irish people of every variety who volunteered to fight in the International Brigades.
  3. “Peoples’ Own MP” [live in Italy, unknown date]

    This ballad about fallen IRA leader Bobby Sands asks the eternal question: “How many more must die now, home many must we lose, before the island people their own destiny can choose?”. Bobby Sands was a young man who joined the republican movement because of the brutal repression that the British state and sectarianism had brought upon his community. He became a leader in prison, which was a political battleground in the late 1970’s. When the British government removed political status for Irish prisoners Bobby led a hunger strike to protest conditions to reestablish political status. This hunger strike for the right to be considered Prisoners of War (not common criminals) would eventually take the life of ten brave IRA and INLA activists. While in prison Bobby Sands, 27 years old, was elected to British parliament. Thatcher moved to block it, of course, but the damage had been done. The people had their own Member of Parliament!
  4. “Quiet Desperation” and “Natives” [Cambridge Folk Festival, 1985]

    These two songs came to Christy by way of a song exchange with First Nations songwriters from North America. Both songs tell of the rage both on and below the surface in indigenous communities. “Natives” plainly defends the tradition of resistance to oppression, seeming to pay tribute to the generation that created the American Indian Movement. “Only the very safe can talk about wrong and right/ of those who were forced to choose/ some will choose to fight”. “Quiet Desperation” is a song about the loneliness that grinding poverty and isolation creates. It’s a restless song about longing and doing without.
  5. “Victor Jara” [Live in Derry, 2004]

    Victor Jara is a fitting individual for Christy Moore to pay tribute to in a song. Jara was a Chilean folksinger associated with the leftist New Song Movement of the 1960’s. His close connections to the left-leaning Allende government meant he was a special target when the US-back rightist coup came to power. Victor was arrested, tortured, and eventually executed. This fate was shared by so many of the men and women whose struggle Victor put down in song.
  6. “Companeros”
    This inspiring tune was penned by the late English Communist songwriter Ewan MacColl. The lyrics trace the story of Fidel, Che, and their comrade’s earliest attempts at overthrowing Cuba’s hated Batista regime through the eventual revolutionary victory. It’s a triumphant song, complete with a reassurance that the smashing victory of the revolution in Cuba can and will be replicated around Latin America. The final verse spells out hope for the future quite clearly: “The fire lit on that Cuban beach by Fidel Castro/ Still shines all the way to Terra del Fuego/
    Sparks are blown upon the breeze/ people rise from off their knees when they see the night is burning/ It blazes up in Venezuela, Bolivia and Guatamala/
    Lights the road that we must go in order to be free”.
    MacColl wrote this song as part of a trilogy of songs about the Cuban revolution. Representing northern England and Ireland respectively, MacColl and Moore represent the same tradition. Both masters of folk song interpretation, both have shared a commitment to radical social justice and a classless future.
  7. “Ordinary Man” [Live, unknown date]

    The everyday struggles of working class people is a theme that has reoccurred in Christy’s work for forty years. This is one of his most iconic songs—something of a hit you could say—and one of his most plain spoken and effective. The song is sung from the point of view of a worker who was fired and is contemplating what his life and family will be like with no stable income and a dark economic future. The boss, it is bitterly noted, will experience no such loss from the workers sacking, in fact he will profit.

Christy has too many great songs to discuss here. It also should be said that Christy is not just a political singer, but a performer connected to the whole range of human emotions and experiences. He also has a host of songs about Irish society (and its foibles and shortcomings), outrageous misadventures, the power of the church, and the frailty of human beings. His songs cover a lot of ground, not merely imperialism and class struggle! As stated previously, Christy is a song collector. With a handful of notable exceptions Christy performs other people’s lyrics and tunes. Some are from Irish history and have attributable author, others are from today’s most contemporary songwriters. He even recently recorded a song by Morrissey, entitled “America, You Are Not the World”. The song is an exasperated look at the United States, in all of it’s arrogance and posturing.

For avid fans and newcomers alike I’ll list a couple of Christy’s political classics. One of Christy’s most beloved tunes is surely “Biko Drum”, a defiant and rousing song about Stephen Biko, slain leader of South Africa’s Black Consciousness Movement. “The Boy From Tamlaghtduff” is an absolutely heartbreaking song about Irish revolutionary Francis Hughes. Hughes died alongside Bobby Sands during the 1981 hunger strikes. “My Granny’s Dustbin Lid” shows the role of the unbossed and unbroken women of republican movement, including warning of approaching soldiers with the clamorous use of garbage cans. The song “Burning Times” looks at the persecution of pagans in early Christian Europe, which specifically took at the power of women in society.

OK, one last little gem. Some of you may be familiar with Eammon McCann, a long time Irish socialist and journalist. Did you know he sings? He doesn’t really, but old friend Christy brought him on stage to sing a socialist ballad by none other than George Orwell. The song is called “Beasts of England, Beasts of Ireland” and it is a hoot to listen to. That should be enough downloading for today. This will be an on going series, with more Mp3s with each installment.

Marxist Blogs, Part One

“Radical Blogging Is The Main Trend In Our World Today”

Let’s focus on two trends in radical blogs, both based on Marxism. One is the emergence of a web of prolific Maoist/Marxist-Leninist blogs in the United States. The other is the world of Marxist blogs emanating from English-speaking western Europe. I will start this entry with a look at the Maoist-inspired blogs.

I was late to understanding much about the Maoist/M-L interpretation of Marxism. I came to left politics via anarchism and Trotskyism and didn’t really look closely at the Maoist-influenced tradition until I had been in the movement for some time. Over the last couple of years I’ve started to investigate this framework and its contemporary practice. Through this search I have stumbled across one of the most vibrant corners of net.

There are a couple main spheres of M-L blogs in the U.S. One is a trend that is influenced by both organizations using the name Freedom Road Socialist Organization, especially the group that produces Fight Back newspaper. Another grouping is connected to dissident ex-members of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). A third is a distinct trend that interprets the M-L tradition as hard “anti-first world” politics with no interest in the U.S. working class. There are also at least a dozen blogs that focus exclusively on the armed insurgencies in India and Nepal.

Freedom Road Socialist Organization

The powerhouse of the Fight Back blogs is surely Leftspot. Leftspot is both a regularly updated blog with reliable content (and the odd dud entry) and a massive clearing house for M-L related material online. For example Leftspot has made available online a veritable archive of classic and rare M-L materials from the New Communist Movement era to the present. It also is a portal hundreds of M-L influence materials and movements. It is the M-L blog I check the most.

Also associated with FRSO/Fight Back is The Marxist-Leninist. The Marxist-Leninist is an eclectic mix of news and views with the kind of somewhat traditional Maoist politics you might expect, with maybe a Workers World vibe. But a little more colorful than that sounds. Speaking of political aesthetics, The Marxist-Leninist is worth a visit just for the artful masthead. It features a collage of just the fighters you would expect from Jose Maria Sison to Harry Haywood. The blog is written and edited by an activist living in the US south who writes under the name Comrade Zero. He should update more regularly because it’s usually pretty readable stuff.

FRSO/OSCL has a number of blogs that are influenced by its politics too, including All Out for the Fight and Pottawatomie Creek. I’m continually impressed by the writings of FRSO/OSCL comrades, especially their new book The Cost of Privilege. I wish they would utilize blogs more than they do. Other great bloggers in this milieu include Rise! Resist! Revolt! and the Wrath of Hephaestus.

(ex)Revolutionary Communist Party

These days the realm of ex-RCP comrades is angry, growing, and blogging. They’re angry because they remember the good old days of “Refuse and Resist” and Peru solidarity, before the RCP basically became a cult around Chairman Bob Avakian. Now we can argue about when that happened (hmm, early 70’s?), but it’s as clear as day in 2008. The document that has crystallized this milieu is former Revolution editor Mike Ely’s “Nine Letters to Our Comrades”. This deep critique of the Avakian regime and the dialogue that has followed can be found on Ely’s popular Kasama. Kasama also has excellent and archived material on Nepal, a regular topic of M-L blogs. Also a part of this trend is Good Morning Revolution and Red Flags.

Nepal

With the people’s war heating up in the Indian countryside and a sweeping Maoist victory in Nepal you may want to stop by some of the many South Asia-focused M-L blogs. Maoist Resistance covers the South Asian Maoist left in incredible detail, sometimes being the only English-language source for information on these movements. Recently the blog has examined the armed movements (sometimes called the “Naxalites” for the town where India’s peoples war began in the 1960’s) in the state of Kerala. Kerala has long been a stronghold of the traditional left, which is now being challenged. Maoist Resistance also pays close attention to insurgencies in West Bengal and Nepal. Here again, this blog has an incredible selection of links connecting you to the full spectrum of M-L influenced movements. If you want to see short documentaries on the Indian Maoist groups you should be directed to World Revolution Media.

“Third Worldist”

Most of these blogs so far assume a socialist politics that asserts the potential of revolutionary situations developing here in the U.S. But there is a current in the M-L blogesphere that rejects the whole notion of their being a potentially radical working class in the U.S. This trend claims “victory to the Third World, defeat for the First World” is the route to world communism. This theory takes peasant insurgency to a global level, with poor nations fighting wealthier nations for global power. The blogs fall ideologically somewhere between Lin Biao and Sam Marcy. The term they use is Maoist-Third Worldism.

Theoretically, Monkey Smashes Heaven leads the pack. The articles are in depth and focus on the super-exploitation of the so-called ‘developing world’ by the wealthy nations of North America and Europe. Chinese communist guerrilla-turned-philosopher Chen Boda, a favorite of the Cultural Revolution, is taken very seriously. Lin Biao himself is also a touchstone, which is not surprising as these blogs have an orientation to political-military thinking. This blog is comes out of the It’s Right To Rebel Cell (IRTRC), which was made up of former MIM members.

Back to Marxists aesthetics for a moment. Shubel Morgan is a gorgeous blog that centrally features contemporary digital art inspired by a Maoist-Third Worldist perspective. Ideologically it is closest to Monkey Smashes Heaven. The blogs name is taken from an alias used by revolutionary anti-slavery activist John Brown.

Red Guard Camper is cantankerous, ultra-left, sectarian, and tons of fun to read. It’s also a lively introduction to the whole tendency because he is always critiquing other Maoist-Third Worldist formations and detailing their shortcomings.

And let’s not forget…

There are a couple of other websites that are very useful for getting information about Maoist/M-L tradition and practice. M-L Translations is an incredible source for documents from across the world. It includes texts from a dizzying array of parties and groups from Turkey to Tunisia and from across decades. You can learn anything you would want to know about the current state of the Maoist-inspired Communist Party of the Philippines over at Philippine Revolution Net.

If you have been wondering if there is a Kim Il Sungist party operating in the Carolinas that also upholds Jim Jones and the Peoples’ Temple, yes, there is such a group. You can find out if I made this up by swinging by the Rural Peoples’ Party website. I guess someone has to uphold the Juche, and why not in the U.S. south? The “Jim Jones model of socialism” I can’t quite visualize, though.

There are also a plethora of blogs that touch of themes such as national liberation, race, and Asian Marxist movements such as Whenua Fenua Enua Vanua. This blog looks closely social movements in the Pacific through an anti-colonial and Marxist lens. One of my favorite is radical blogs overall is Blak Orchid, subtitled “a blog by Asian rebels”. The blog claims James and Grace Lee Boggs as key reference points, which will make sense when you read some of the entries on race and labor. This blog is clearly influenced by elements of the Communist legacy, but also by a confluence of other radical currents and experiences. Back once again to blog aesthetics: Black Orchids has a lovely masthead, bringing together Malcolm X and anti-WTO protests in Korea.

I also want to point out a Marxist blog coming instead out of the Trotskyist tradition. The Rustbelt Radical has a personable mix of Marxist commentary, labor politics, even the odd music review. It’s an internationalist blog but there is a strong connection to the politics and culture of southeastern Michigan. It’s less that six months old and it’s one of the best out there.
In my next entry I’ll look at the Marxist blogs of Ireland and England.

Out of the Closets, Into the Streets! The Many Lives of Bob Kohler

Liberation movements in the United States lost a brave and vibrant participant in the death of Bob Kohler, a leading figure of the American Gay Liberation Movement.

Bob Kohler, 1926-2007

Bob lived dozens of lives in his 81 years on the planet. Although Bob was best known as an early leader of the Gay Liberation Front he was also a talent representative for mostly Black artists in the early 1960’s, a vintage clothing store owner, World War II veteran, a talented and empathetic listener, bath house proprietor, peoples’ historian, Stonewall uprising participant, and a link between the gay struggle and other liberation struggles.

Much like the late New York activist and fellow Irish-American George Harrison, Kohler was a figure whose work touched on a wide range of social movements. His movement work stretched from CORE in the early 1960’s to ACT-UP in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Perhaps more than anything he want gay people who wanted freedom to link their struggle with all other people who want freedom. Beyond his extensive involvement with CORE and later the Black Panthers, Bob championed the struggles of New York’s Puerto Rican community, fought for immigrant rights, animal rights, and was last arrested at a demonstration against the police murder of African immigrant Amadou Diallo in 1999.

GLF Poster

He was the first to build a bridge between the GLF and the Black Panthers, and he also led a demonstration against sexism inside a Panther meeting. He was determined to both challenge the left and radicalize it. The GLF pushed the issue with the left by refusing to be sidelined in the movement. In the late 1960’s Bob organized pickets against the Village Voice and won his demand for the right to use the word ‘gay’ in an advertisement.

An oral history from the early 1990’s speaks vividly to the era:


“Basically, we went where angels feared to tread… We organized marches and participated in other people’s marches. We had fistfights with the Communist Party at a demonstration once because they said that we were embarrassing them by being there.” (1)

One of Bob’s many lives was as an oral historian of the gay community in New York. He was connected to the street kids; he listened to them and understood them, just as he connected with activists and all types of social outsiders. He stood with his feet stretching across multiple generations of gay New York, and was an important community elder.

In the same oral history, Bob explains why dance parties were nessesarry fund raisers in the early days of the gay liberation movement:


“We would sometimes make as much as a thousand dollars, which was big money in 1970. Usually the money during the dance was kept in Sylvia’s panty hose or in my back pocket. We used the money as bail. We’d get a call that two Black Panthers had been arrested. One of us would take the money, go down, and bail them out. Or women were striking at the telephone company and one was arrested and beaten up. Or someone wanted to start a youth organization. We’d throw a dance and give them the proceeds. What little money we had we’d keep under my bathtub because we were afraid of banks”. (2)


Fighters for human liberation everywhere morn his passing, although no one could accuse him of leading a short or unproductive life.

Bob Kohler, Presente!

(1) and (2) from Over the Rainbow: Lesbian and Gay Politics in America Since Stonewall Boxtree, London 1993