Ry Cooder, a couple of days late
The past in the present: After last week’s echoes of the Spanish civil war in the UK student protests, here is a superb post by Marko Hoare finding echoes of Trotsky’s vacillations in contemporary Lib Dem policy: “Trotsky ‘massively regrets’ breaking pre-revolution pledge to give power to the proletariat”.
From the vaults: Black Flag 1976 with some wonderful insane leftist comments on sex (hat-tip me). And “What is the trad left?” Maurice Brinton from 1969.
Marxist theory/anarchist theory: Andrew Coates on Lars Libs’ Lenin Rediscovered: good analysis of some of Lenin’s (and Leninism’s) strengths and weeknesses. At Anarchist Writers, a Freedom text against Leninist distortions of anarchism from ca.2000. As they say, “With anarchism back in the news thanks to the student protests in 2010, we can expect the likes of the Socialist Workers Party to have patronising and inaccurate articles on “anarchism” in their publications.” Along the same lines, two anarchist letters to Socialist Resistance from 2004. Into more esoteric territory, they have a long critique of Allan Engler’s Economic Democracy: The Working-Class Alternative to Capitalism. And slightly less esoterically, here is “Bob” on some influential left-wing ideas, and here is Norman Geras’ take on a couple of them.
Anti-communism: This week Barry Rubin at PJM on Bertram Wolfe, right-Communist turned apostate turned Cold Warrior. I will at some point return to this, because Wolfe is an interesting and important figure, badly served in this hatchet job.
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In Orihuela, his town and mine, Ramon Sije, whom I loved so much, has been taken from me like a flash of lightening.
I want to be the crying gardener of the earth
you occupy and nourish,
comrade of my soul, all too soon.
Feeding the rains, the snail-shells
and organs, my grief without purpose
gives your heart to feed
to the desolate poppies.
The great Enrique Morente is dead. He was one of the giants of Spanish flamenco, born in the slums of the Albacin, Granada’s old gitano quarter in the shadow the Alhambra. His second album, Homenaje flamenco a Miguel Hernández, was inspired by the working class Valencian anti-fascist poet Miguel Hernández, who died of consumption in Franco’s prisons while in his early thirties. Just making this record, was an act of defiance against the aging dictator and an auger of the re-birth of democracy later in the decade.
Morente was deeply rooted in the ancient vernacular culture of flamenco, the underground soul music which had been suppressed under the dictatorship in favour of a plastic tourist kitsch version, and, with Cameron de la Isla and others, brought this rebel music out of the shadows in the dying years of the fascist regime. Later, however, he earned the disapproval of the increasingly conservative flamenco purists by his increasingly innovative work, such as collaborations with Maghrebi artists and thrash punk bands.
Here is one of his Miguel Hernández songs, “Elegía a Ramón Sijé”. Ramón Sijé was a Catholic poet and very close friend of Hernández, who died very young. The opening words in English are at the start of this post; the whole text can be found here.
Here is Morente in 1981, singing a granaína, one of the song forms of his Albacin ghetto youth.
Here he is with Lagartija Nick performing Lorca’s “Ciudad sin sueño” from the 1995 Lorca/Leonard Cohen tribute Omega.
The pairing of Garcia Lorca and Cohen is sort of obvious, given Leonard Cohen’s debt to the poet, but the musical setting is highly original. Here is “First We Take Manhattan”:
Finally, here is a more schmaltzy but still lovely version of the elegy to Ramón Sijé, by JM Serrat. Serrat is a Catalan singer and songwriter of Morente’s generation. His defiance of Franco came in 1968 when he was selected to represent Spain in the Eurovision song contest, but insisted on singing in Spanish and was replaced and his records banned.
In 1969, Serrat released Com ho fa el vent, a tribute to Antonio Machado, the Republican poet who died in 1938 fleeing Franco’s Spain. (His death is one of the stories told in Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas, which I may write about some time.) Serrat was soon exiled from Spain, but because he chose to sing in Spanish, he was condemned by the Catalan nationalists. “I sing better in the language they forbid me”, he said.
The lessons of the Spanish Civil War continued: Carl Packman has a thought-provoking post on “left unity” in the context of student activism in the UK today, drawing out some of the lessons of the Spanish Civil War. I’m not totally sure what he’s saying about the POUM, but I think I agree with what he says about the students.
Anarchism re-evaluated: Comrade Coatesy has a post on anarchists and the student protests. He makes excellent points. I was thinking about the long history of the relationship of centrist Marxism to anarchism, of which Keir Hardie‘s defence of the anarchists at the formation of the Second International is one example, and the POUM-CNT axis another.
Here, meanwhile, is the most embarassing defence of anarchism I’ve seen in a while, from someone my uncle describes as “famous mediocre intellectual” and “a stupid child who never grew up — and is proud of that fact.”
New exhibition of Ralph Rumney’s works here through December 2010.
The funny thing about Rumney is what Debord told me about him. According to Debord, a cow’s tail dipped into paint would have done better than what Ralph Rumney produced as art. Strangely enough Debord was diverting what Krutschev said about Picasso.The SI NEVER criticized Picasso’s art. Since his stuff was against socialist-realist art. The day Stalin died in 1953, L’Humanite , the paper of the PCF asked Picasso to do something for their beloved dead leader. The drawing by Picasso was really funny, Stalin had an enormous moustache. It created as scandal amongst the faithful of the PCF and also amongst the fellow-travellers. RUMNEY NEVER CREATED A SCANDAL Now some people seem determined to cash in on his name and his membership to the SI.. A sad affair. But then again art is dead …
Below the fold, some items from the archive of struggle: (more…)
For Nathan and Seth, and for my mother and late grandparents…
Here’s a nice version by Woody’s son Arlo Guthrie:
This is the version I was brought up with, by the old Stalinist Pete Seeger, and it’s this version that I sing to my kids at bedtime:
Finally, a more recent version by Bruce Springsteen:
Lyrics and variations here.
Tom Waits: Brother can you spare a dime
Odetta and Dr John: Brother can you spare a dime
“Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?“, also sung as “Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime?“, is one of the best-known American songs of the Great Depression. Written in 1931 by lyricist E. Y. “Yip” Harburg and composer Jay Gorney, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” was part of the 1932 musical New Americana;the melody is based on a Russian lullaby Gorney heard as a child. It became best known, however, through recordings by Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallee. Both versions were released right before Franklin Delano Roosevelt‘s election to the presidency and both became number one hits on the charts. The Brunswick Crosby recording became the best-selling record of its period, and came to be viewed as an anthem of the shattered dreams of the era.
Orwellia: In the news today, a rare first edition of Animal Farm, valued at close to a grand, was donated to an Oxfam bookshop, which is nice. The Orwell prize website has a very good Animal Farm page, with the proposed preface and some interesting video links relating to the animation.
Spain: Remembering Franco And José Antonio – Eamonn McD on the politics of memory and free speech in Spain.
what motivated you to live in Israel?
My wife and I were there in ’53. We lived in a kibbutz for a while and planned to stay, actually. I came back and had to finish my Ph.D. We thought we’d go back.
Was it the idea of the kibbutz, or was it the fact of speaking Hebrew, or what was it?
It was political. I was interested in Hebrew, but that wasn’t the driving force. I liked the kibbutz life and the kibbutz ideals. It has pretty much disappeared now, I should say. But that time was incredible in spirit. For one thing it was a poor country. The kibbutz I went to, and I picked it for this reason, was actually originally Buberite. It came from German refugees in the 1930s and had a kind of Buberite style. It was the center for Arab outreach activities in Mapam (a left-wing party, now deceased, affiliated with the kibbutz movement). There was plenty of racism, I should say. I lived with it. But mostly against Mizrahim (Jews from Arab countries).
When you think of the motivations of people like your parents or the people who founded those Mapam kibbutzim, you don’t think of those motivations as being inherently linked to some desire to oppress others?
By then I was old enough to separate from my parents. I’d been on my own intellectually since I was a teenager. I gravitated toward Zionist groups that were not in their milieu, like Hashomer Hatzair.
My father grew up in Hashomer.
I could never join Hashomer because in those days they were split between Stalinist and Trotskyite, and I was anti-Leninist. But I was in the neighborhood. It was a Hashomer kibbutz that we went to, Kibbutz Hazorea. It’s changed a lot. We would never have lasted. It was sort of a mixed story. They were binationalists. So up until 1948 they were anti-state. There were those who gravitated toward or who were involved in efforts of Arab-Jewish working-class cooperation and who were for socialist binationalist Palestine. Those ideas sound exotic today, but they didn’t at the time. It’s because the world has changed.
But there was an element of oppression I couldn’t get around. If you know the history, you know that most idealistic anti-nationalist settlers insisted on a closed Hebrew society, you can’t hire outside labor, that sort of thing. You could see the motivation. They didn’t want to become what the first settlers were: landowners who had cheap Arab labor. They wanted to work the land. Nevertheless, there’s an exclusionary character to it. Which then led into the policy of the state and became quite ugly later. So it was kind of an internal conflict that was never resolved.
More on the interview here.