Thursday, October 31, 2013


Click below to link to Victor Serge's Internet Archives. Serge was an important addition to the international communist movement coming over from the pre-World War I anarchist movement. His political fate at the end is murky, to say the least. What is not murky is his defense of the non-revolutionary actions of Andreas Nin and the POUM in Spain in the course of the revolution there in the 1930's. More later.



As I have noted in my review of Leon Trotsky’s memoir My Life ( see my review elsewhere in this space) today’s public tastes dictate that political memoir writers expose the most intimate details of their private personal lives in the so-called public square. Here, as in Trotsky’s memoir, Serge will offer up no such tantalizing details. These old time revolutionaries seem organically averse to including personal material that would distract from their political legacies. That is fine by me. After all that is why political people, the natural audience for this form of history narrative, appreciate such works. Contemporary political memoir writers take note.

Serge was a militant from his youth. However the October 1917 Russian Revolution is the real start of his political maturation and wider political influence. I believe the reader will find the most useful information and Serge’s most insightful political analysis dates from this period. Serge became a secondary Communist leader after the Bolshevik seizure of power and in various capacities, most notably as a journalist for the Communist International, witnessed many of the important events in and out of Russia in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Moreover, for a long period of time he was a key member of the Trotsky-led Left Opposition to the rise of Stalinism which formed in the Russian Communist Party and later in the Communist International in the 1920’s. Serge eventually broke politically with Trotsky in the late 1930’s over the class nature of the Soviet state and organizational differences on the role of the revolutionary party in the struggle and in power. Serge's later politics and activities are murky, somewhat disoriented and the subject of controversy (see the Appendix in Memoirs and my review of Serge’s book Kronstadt). However, Serge’s analysis and insights as a witness to this period of history retain their value, especially his analysis of the, for leftists, very troublesome Stalinist purges and terror campaigns of the 1930’s.

Here, as with Trotsky’s memoir, you will find a thoughtful political self-examination by a man trying to draw the lessons of the degeneration of the Russian Revolution, the subsequent defeats of the international working class movement, the devastating destruction of fellow revolutionary cadre who made and administered the early Soviet state while still defending the gains of that revolution. Overshadowing these concerns is a constant personal struggle to maintain one’s revolutionary integrity at all costs. That is, the struggle not to wind up like Bukharin or Zinoviev and the like, compromised and lost to the struggle for socialism. On top of that, moreover, and perhaps hardest of all, be able tol maintain a sense of revolutionary optimism for the future organization of human society.

Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin once commented that in the run-up to the October Revolution the political whirlwind stirred up by that revolution inevitably brought those individuals and organizations looking for the resolution of the revolutionary dilemma into the Bolshevik orbit. This was most famously the case with Trotsky’s St. Petersburg Inter-District organization that fused with the Bolsheviks in the fateful summer of 1917. That same whirlwind later drew in the best elements of the Western labor movement as word of the revolution reached the outside world. Previously, Serge had been close to the French anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist movement but as happens in great revolutions he, like other militant anarchists, was drawn to the reality of the Soviet experiment despite political differences over the question of the state. Able to override this difference he, generally, like many non-Bolshevik militants served the revolution with distinction. Thus, this fateful political decision to cast his personal fate with the Russian Revolution led him to the series of political adventures and misadventures that enliven his memoir.

At the beginning of the 21st century when socialist political programs are in decline it is hard to imagine the spirit that drove Serge to dedicate the better part of his life to the fight for a socialist society. However, at the beginning of the 20th century he represented only a slightly younger version of that revolutionary generation of Eastern Europeans and Russians exemplified by Lenin, Trotsky, Martov and Luxemburg who set out to change the history of the 20th century. It was as if the best and brightest of that generation were afraid, for better or worse, not to take part in the political struggles that would shape the modern world. Those same questions posed at the beginning of the 20th century are still on the agenda for today’s generation of militants to help resolve. This is one of your political textbooks. Read it.

Victor Serge
Marxism in Our Time


From Partisan Review, vol.5, no.3, 1938, pp.26-32.
Reprinted in David Cotterill (ed.), The Serge-Trotsky Papers, London 1994, pp.176-83.
Reproduced here with the kind permission of the Victor Serge Estate.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.


Since the Communist Manifesto was published in 1848, Marxism has gone through many metamorphoses and suffered many attacks. Critics still exist – and sometimes men of good will – who insist that it has been cancelled, refuted, destroyed by history. The confused but energetic class-consciousness of the last defenders of capitalism, however, sees in Marxism its most dangerous spiritual and social enemy. The preventative counter-revolutions of Italy and of Germany justly proclaim themselves “anti-Marxist”. On the other hand, almost all workers’ movements which have won any appreciable power have been inspired by Marxism. The CNT of Spain is almost the only exception to this rule, and experience has shown only too well the seriousness of its ideological bankruptcy, at a moment when the consciousness of the masses was called on to become one of the decisive factors in a revolution in the making – a revolution perhaps aborted today precisely because of the political incapacity of the revolutionaries.

The historic achievements of Marxism are not to be denied. The Marxist parties of the Second International united and organised the pre-war working class, raising it to a new dignity, shaping it democratically. In 1914 they showed themselves prisoners of the capitalism which they fought even as they adapted themselves to it. (They adapted themselves, in reality, a good deal more than they fought.) But it was a Marxist party which, in the chaotic currents of the Russian Revolution, knew how to disentangle the main lines of force, to orient itself constantly according to the highest interests of the workers, to make itself, in the truest sense of the word, the midwife of a new world. Marxists bore the brunt of the class wars of the post-war period; Spartacists in Germany, Tiessriaki in Bulgaria, Communists everywhere. Later, at the moment of its highest flight, the Chinese revolution was strongly influenced by the revolutionary Marxism of the Russians – already much deformed, incidentally, by the reaction even then arising inside the USSR. It is true that German Marxism in its two forms – Social Democratic and Communist – showed itself impotent before the Nazi offensive. Along with the degeneration of Bolshevism, this is without question, let us note in passing, the greatest defeat that Marxism has ever suffered. Nonetheless, Marxism continues to mount the ladder of world history. While irreconcilable oppositionists are persecuted and exterminated by Stalinism, the Austrian Socialists carry on a struggle, desperate but heroic, which saves them from demoralisation; the Socialist miners of the Asturias in ‘34 deal a set-back to Spanish fascism.

It would be absurd to isolate Marxist thought from these social realities. Even more than it is a scientific doctrine, Marxism is an historic fact. If one is to understand it, one must embrace it in all its scope. One then perceives that since the birth, the apogee and the corruption of Christianity, there has been no more considerable event in the life of humanity.

Top of the page

This fact goes far beyond the boundaries of the class struggle and becomes an integral part of the consciousness of modem man – no matter what his attitude towards Marxism. It is of secondary importance to ask one’s self if the theories of value, or of surplus value, or of the accumulation of capital are still completely valid. An idle question, essentially, and even somewhat puerile. Science is never “finished”; rather, it is always completing itself Can science be anything except a process of continual self-revision, an unceasing quest for a closer approach to truth? Can it get along without hypothesis and error – the “error” of tomorrow which is the “truth” (that is, the closest approximation of the truth) of yesterday. It is of minor importance, also, to point out that certain predictions of Marx and Engels have not been confirmed by history and that, on the contrary, many events have taken place which they did not at all foresee. Marx and Engels were too great, too intelligent, to believe themselves infallible and play the prophet. It is true – but not important – that their followers have not always reached this level of wisdom. It still remains true that Marxism has modified the thinking of the man of our modem times. We are in debt to it for a renewing, a broadening of our consciousness. In what way? Since Marx, no one seriously denies the part played by economics in history. The relationship between economic, psychological, social and moral factors appears today, even to the adversaries of Marxism, in an altogether different light from that in which it appeared before Marx. It is the same with the role of the individual in history, and with the relationship of the individual to the masses and to society. Marxism, finally, gives us what I call the “historical sense”; it makes us conscious that we live in a world which is li-i process of changing; it enlightens us as to our possible function – and our limitations – it is this continual struggle and creation; it teaches us to integrate ourselves, with all our will, all our talents, to bring about those historical processes that are, as the case may be, necessary, inevitable or desirable. And it is thus that it allows us to confer on our isolated lives a high significance, by tying them, through a consciousness which heightens and enriches the spiritual life, to that life – collective, innumerable, and permanent – of which history is only the record.

This awakening of consciousness insists on action and, furthermore, on the unity of action and thought. Here is man reconciled with himself, whatever be the burden of his destiny. He no longer feels himself the plaything of blind and measureless forces. He looks with clear eyes on the worst tragedies, and even in the midst of the greatest defeats he feels himself enlarged by his ability to understand, his will to act and to resist, the indestructible feeling of being united in all his aspirations with the mass of humanity in its progress through time.

Top of the page

One is no more able to deny the part played by economics in history than the fact that the earth is round... And even those who argue the point do not in the least deceive themselves. I should like to emphasise here an important point to which not enough attention has been paid in the past. The enemies of the working class have themselves largely assimilated the lessons of Marxism. The politicians, the industrialists and bankers, the demagogues sometimes bum the works of Marx and throw his followers into prison; but, dealing with social realities, they pay tribute to Marxist economists and political leaders. And if scholars refute the theory of surplus value, their masters do not put any less energy and stubbornness into the defence of the surplus value they appropriate as their plunder from the revenues of society. This sub-rosa Marxism of the enemies of socialism is in a fair way to become one of the most formidable means of defence of the privileged classes.

Marxism undergoes, in its own history, the conditions of development which it analyses. It is able to rise above them only in a small degree, since every gain of consciousness is an effect before it becomes a cause, and remains subordinate to pre-existing social conditions. “Social being determines consciousness.”

The Marxism of the imperialist epoch was split. It was nationalistic and wholely reformist. Very few of its adherents – a Rosa Luxemburg, a Lenin, a Trotsky, a Hermann Gorter [1] – saw beyond the moment to horizons vaster than those of capitalist prosperity. Either this Marxism dwelt on the heights of philosophy far removed from immediate action, or it was merely reminiscent of the ancient Christian utopianism (which was, in our culture, Hebrew before it was Christian: read the Prophets!).

The Marxism of the imperialist epoch was split. It was nationalistic and counter-revolutionary in the countries where it had been reformist; it was revolutionary and internationalist in Russia, the only country in which the foundering of an ancien régime forced the proletariat to carry out completely its historic mission.

The Marxism of the Russian Revolution was at first ardently internationalist and libertarian (the doctrine of the Communist State, the federation of Soviets); but because of the state of siege, it soon became more and more authoritarian and intolerant.

The Marxism of the decadence of Bolshevism – that is to say, that of the bureaucratic caste which has evicted the working class from power – is totalitarian, despotic, amoral, and opportunist. It ends up in the strangest and most revolting negations of itself.

What does this mean except that social consciousness even in its highest forms does not escape the effect of the realities which it expresses, which it illuminates and which it tries to surmount.

Top of the page

Marxism is so firmly based in truth that it is able to find nourishment in its own defeats. We must distinguish here between the social philosophy – scientific, to speak more accurately – and its deductions for, and applications to, action. (These are actually inseparable, and this is the case not only with Marxism but also with all those intellectual disciplines which are closely tied to human activity.) It is our business neither to force events, nor to control them, nor even to foresee them – even though we are constantly doing all these things, with varying success; our activity, being creative, boldly ventures into the uncertain; and, what we do not know generally getting the better of what we know, our successes are rather astonishing victories. As to the Marxist line of action, it would be enough to list the prodigious success of the Bolshevik party in 1917 (Lenin–Trotsky), the predictions of Engels about the world war of the future and its consequences, some lines from the resolution adopted at the Basle Congress of the Second International (1913) – for the Marxist line to be justified as the most rigorously, scientifically thought-out of these times. But even when it comes to the very depths of defeat, it is still the same. Do you wish to understand your defeat? You will be able to only by means of the Marxist analysis of history. Marxism showed itself impotent in Germany before the Nazi counterrevolution; but it is the only theory that explains this victory of a party of the declassed, paid for and supported during an insoluble economic crisis, by the chiefs of the big bourgeoisie. This complex phase of the class struggle, prepared by the national humiliation at Versailles and the massacres of proletarian revolutionaries (Noske, 1918-21), is made completely intelligible to us only by the scientific thought of the defeated class. And this is one of the reasons which make Marxist thought such a threat to the victors.

It is the same with the terrible degeneration of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the USSR. There too, the punishment of the Old Bolsheviks, exterminated by the regime which they have created, is no more than a phenomenon of the class struggle. The proletariat, deposed from power by a caste of parvenus entrenched in the new State, can take an accounting of the basic reasons for its defeat and can prepare itself for the struggles of tomorrow only by means of the Marxist analysis.

Top of the page

The Marxism of the era of capitalist prosperity naturally lacked revolutionary ardour. It dared neither imagine nor hope for the end of the society in which it lived. Lacking this audacity, it disavowed itself when it became necessary. But there are times when to live is to dare.

The Marxism of the first great revolutionary crisis of the modem world, chiefly represented by the Russians – that is to say, by men formed in the school of despotism – has given proof of a lack of boldness of another sort, and one quite as ruinous: it has not dared to take a libertarian position. Or rather, it was libertarian in words and only for a short time, during the brief period of Soviet democracy which extended from October, 1917, to the summer of 1918. Then it pulled itself together and resolutely entered on the path of the old “statism” – authoritarian, and soon totalitarian. It lacked the sense of liberty.

It is easy to explain – and even to justify – this development of Bolshevik Marxism by referring to the constant mortal danger, the Civil War, the superbly energetic defence of the public safety by Lenin, Trotsky, Dzerzhinsky. Easy and just to recognise that this policy, in its early stages, made certain the victory of the workers – and a victory won in the face of difficulties that were truly without precedent. But one must realise that later on this policy brought about the defeat of the workers by the bureaucracy. The Bolshevik leaders of the great years lacked neither the knowledge nor intelligence nor energy. They lacked revolutionary audacity whenever it was necessary to seek (after 1918) the solution of their problems in the freedom of the masses and not in government constraint. They built systematically not the libertarian Communist State which they announced, but a State strong in the old sense of the word, strong in its police, in its censorship, its monopolies, its all-powerful bureaus. In this respect, the contrast is striking between the Bolshevist programme of 1917 and the political structure created by Bolshevism in 1919.

After victory had been won in the Civil War, the Socialist solution of the problems of the new society should have been sought in workers’ democracy, the stimulation of initiative, freedom of thought, freedom for working-class groups and not, as it was, in centralisation of power, repression of heresies, the monolithic single-party system, the narrow orthodoxy of an official school of thought. The dominance and ideology of a single party should have preshadowed the dominance and ideology of a single leader. This extreme concentration of power, this dread of liberty and of ideological variations, this conditioning to absolute authority disarmed the masses and led to the strengthening of the bureaucracy. By the time Lenin and Trotsky realised the danger and wished to retrace their steps – timidly enough, at first: the greatest reach of boldness of the Left Opposition in the Bolshevik Party was to demand the restoration of inner-Party democracy, and it never dared dispute the theory of single-party government – by this time, it was too late.

The fear of liberty, which is the fear of the masses, marks almost the entire course of the Russian Revolution. If it is possible to discover a major lesson, capable of revitalising Marxism, more threatened today than ever by the collapse of Bolshevism, one might formulate it in these terms: Socialism is essentially democratic – the word, “democratic”, being used here in its libertarian sense. One sees today in the USSR that without liberty of thought, of speech, of criticism, of initiative, Socialist production can only go from one crisis to another. Liberty is as necessary to Socialism, the spirit of liberty is as necessary to Marxism, as oxygen to living beings.

Top of the page

In the very wake of its sensational victory in the Russian Revolution, Marxism is today threatened with a great loss of prestige, and in the working-class movement, with an unspeakable demoralisation. It would be futile to pretend otherwise. We have seen, in the country of Socialist victory, the Marxist party – enjoying the greatest, the most deserved prestige – in the space of fifteen years undergo the most disconcerting degeneration. We have seen it reach the point of dishonouring and murdering its heroes of yesterday, drawing from their very loyalty, for the purposes of judicial frame-ups based on glaring forgeries, confessions which are even more sinister than they are disconcerting. We have seen the dictatorship of the proletariat transform itself insensibly into a dictatorship of bureaucrats and of police agents over the proletariat. We have seen the working class, still in the flush of its recent victories, condemned to a moral and material level decidedly below that which it had under the Czarist regime. We have seen the peasantry dispossessed and exiled by millions, agriculture ruined by forced collectivisation. We have seen science, literature, thought literally handcuffed, and Marxism reduced to formulae which are frequently manipulated for political ends and emptied of all living content. We have seen it, furthermore, falsified, crudely adapted to the interests of a regime which in its mores, its actions, and the new forms of exploitation of labour it has superimposed on the base of common ownership of the instruments of production. We have seen, we still see the indescribable spectacle of the black terror, permanently established in the USSR. We have seen the cult of “the Beloved Leader”, the corruption of the intellectuals and the workers’ organisations abroad, the systematic lies broadcast by a huge journalistic apparatus which still calls itself Communist’, the secret police of Moscow murdering or kidnapping its adversaries as far away as Spain and Switzerland. We have seen this gangrene spread throughout revolutionary Spain, compromising, perhaps irretrievably, the destiny of the workers. And it is not over yet. All the values which comprise the greatness of Socialism from now on are compromised, soiled, obliterated. A fatal division, between the blind and the clear-sighted, rascals and honest men, deepens in the ranks of the working class, already provoking fratricidal conflicts, rendering all moral progress impossible for the time being. For it is no longer possible to discuss with good faith and intellectual courage a single one of the theoretical and practical questions that grow out of Marxism. The social catastrophe in the USSR taints in its growth, in its very life, the consciousness of modem man.

I wrote to André Gide in May 1936, before he left for Russia: “We make a common front against Fascism. But how can we bar its way with so many concentration camps behind our own lines? One’s duty is no longer simple, and it is no longer permitted to any one to simplify it. No new orthodoxy, no sacred falsehoods can any longer dry up this running sore. In one sense only does the Soviet Union remain the greatest hope of mankind in our day; in any sense that the Soviet workers have not yet said their last word.”

Every social conflict is also a competition. If socialism is to win out over fascism, it must bring humanity social conditions which are clearly superior.

Is it necessary to emphasise again that the confused, distorted and bloody Marxism of the gunmen of Moscow – is not Marxism? That it negates, belies and paralyses itself? The masses, unfortunately, will take some time to realise this. They live not according to clear and rational thought but according to impressions which the lessons of experience slowly modify. Since all this goes on under the usurped banner of Marxism, we must expect that the masses, unable to apply Marxist analysis to this tragedy, will react against Marxism. Our enemies have it all their own way.

But scientific thought cannot regress below the Marxist level, nor can the working class do without this intellectual weapon. The European working class is still recuperating its strength, sapped by the blood-letting of the world war. A new proletariat is arising in Russia, its industrial base greatly extended. The class struggle goes on. For all the dictators’ replastering, we hear the framework of the old social edifice cracking. Marxism will go through many vicissitudes of fortune, perhaps even eclipses. Its power, conditioned by the course of history, none the less appears to be inexhaustible. For its base is knowledge integrated with the necessity for revolution.

1. Herman Gorter (1864-1927), a member of the Dutch Socialist Party, opposed the war in 1914. He helped found the Dutch CP in 1918 and the German CP in 1920.
*** On Coming Of Political Age In The Age Of The Generation Of ‘68 - Norman Mailer’s The Presidential Papers



At one time, as with Ernest Hemingway, I tried to get my hands on everything that Norman Mailer wrote. In his prime he held out promise to match Ernest as the preeminent male American prose writer. Mailer certainly has the ambition, ego and skill to do so. Although he wrote several good novels in his time I believe that his journalistic work, as he himself might have partially admitted, especially his political, social and philosophical musings are what will insure his place in the literary pantheon. With that in mind I was recently re-reading his work on the 1960 political campaign-the one that pitted John F. Kennedy against Richard M. Nixon- that is the center of the book under review. There are other essays in this work, some of merely passing topical value and interest, but what remains of interest today is a very perceptive analysis of the forces at work in that pivotal election. Theodore White won his spurs breaking down the mechanics of the campaign and made a niche for himself with The Making of a President, 1960. Mailer in a few pithy articles gave the overview of the personalities and the stakes involved for the America of that time.

Needless to say the Kennedy victory of that year has interest today mainly for the forces that it unleashed in the base of society, especially but not exclusively among the youth. His rather conventional bourgeois Cold War foreign and domestic politics never transcended those of the New Deal but his style, his youth and his élan seemingly gave the go ahead to all sorts of projects to order in order to ‘‘seek a newer world”. And we took him up on this. This writer counted himself among those youth who saw the potential to change the world. We also knew that if the main villain of the age , one Richard Milhous Nixon, had been successful in 1960 as he graphically demonstrated when he later became president we would not be seeing any new world but the same old, same old.

I had been haphazardly interested in politics from an early age. Names like the Rosenbergs, Joseph McCarthy, Khrushchev and the like were familiar if not fully understood. It was the 1960 presidential campaign that brought me to political age. Mailer addresses the malaise of American political life during the stodgy Eisenhower years that created the opening for change-and Kennedy and his superb organization rushed in. These chances, as a cursory perusal of the last 40 odd years of bourgeois presidential politics makes painfully clear, do not come often. The funny thing is that during all of 1960 I was actually “Madly for Adlai,” that is I preferred Adlai Stevenson, the twice defeated previous Democratic candidate, but when the deal went down at the advanced age of 14 I walked door to door talking up Kennedy. Of course, in Massachusetts that was not a big deal but I still recall today that I had a very strong sense I did not want to be left out of the new age aborning. That, my friends, in a small way is the start of that slippery road to the lesser evilism that dominates American politics and that took me a fairly long time to break with.

Mailer has some very cutting, but true, remarks about the kind of people who populate the political milieu down at the base of bourgeois politics, those who make it to the political conventions. Except that today they are better dressed and more media savvy nothing has changed. Why? Bourgeois politics, not being based on any fidelity to program except as a throwaway, is all about winning (and keeping on winning). This does not bring out the better angels of our nature. For those old enough to remember that little spark of youth that urged us on to seek that newer world and for those too young to have acquired knowledge of anything but the myth Mailer’s little book makes for interesting and well-written reading.
***Out In The Be-Bop 1950s Night- Eddie Cochran’s “Sittin’ In The Balcony”

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Eddie Cochran performing “Sitting In The Balcony.”
By Johnny Dee
©1957 Cedarwood Publ.

Just a-sittin' in the balcony
Just a-watchin' a movie
Or maybe it's a symphony
I wouldn't know

Don't care about the symphonies
Those cymbales and tympanies
Just a-sittin' in the balcony
On the very last row

I hold your hand and I kiss you, too
The feature's over, but we're not through!
Mmmm, just a-sittin' in the balcony
Holdin' hands in the balcony
Just a-sittin' in the balcony
On the very last row

We may stop lovin' to watch Bugs Bunny
But he can't take the place of my honey!
Just a-sittin' in the balcony
Just a-snootchin' in the balcony
Just a-sittin' in the balcony
On the very last row
Just a-huggin' and a-kissin'
With my baby in the very last row

(source: Standard Songs Pop/ Country/ Blues/ Folk/ Instumentals/ Novelty, Acuff-Rose Publications Inc. 1956-1973)

Two un-star-crossed youth, or let’s hope they are un-star-crossed, one an emerging boy-man the other a girl-woman, emerging too, strictly junior high school kids, fresh from some morning chores are walking close together, although not touching. Jesus, not touching in public. What if somebody had seen them? Jesus floats again in both their minds. He, having just finished cleaning his room to earn nickels and quarters to take in the weekly Saturday double- feature movie at the Strand. She, helping mother dear, to do the weekly laundry before heading out to that very same double- feature at the Strand. No money changed hands between mother and daughter though.

They are walking, if not closely, together, one, because he, boy-man had gotten up the nerve after several weeks of hid and seek talk between them to ask her to the movies, a special place for him (and her too). And, she, as she told her girlfriends at the mandatory Monday morning before school girls’“lav” session where all the latest talk gathered, almost answered yes before he asked she was so impatient, and thrilled. And two, times are hard just then in old North Adamsville, and while he, boy-man, really likes her, girl-woman, he cannot swing bus fare, two movie tickets, AND popcorn on the nickels and quarters made from the half-ass way he cleaned his room. She understood she said and she LIKED to walk. Can you believe that, she liked to walk?

So they walked, walked not very closely, but walked and were jabbering like two blue-jays, the mile, or mile and one half, uptown to the Strand. They had started at noon to be sure to make the one o’clock start of the first show, "The Son Of Big Blob," a monster film (the other was a “romance,” kids-style, “Jenny Belinda"). But, truth, if anybody had bothered to notice the pair as he paid for two tickets at the ticket window (two children’s tickets, not adult’s, as the looking askance cashier questioned them about their ages, fortunately they looked, if they did not feel, under twelve), it could have been an old people’s Humphrey Bogart/Katherine Hepburn double -feature. Especially as she was standing somewhat closer to him now that they had moved out of the public spotlight of the streets. So close he could smell, drive him crazy smell, the bath soap she had bathed with or perfume she had put on. Yah, drove him crazy.

Inside the theater two decisions needed pressing resolution, one, popcorn now, popcorn between the two films. Resolved: later. Two, down in the orchestra pit, or in the balcony. No big deal, right. Wrong, where have you been? Orchestra meant nothing but sitting and watching the movies, maybe holding sweating hands like goofs and old people did. The balcony meant, well, it meant the possibility of adventure, of, well, or more than holding hands. Jesus, where have you been, petting, heavy petting, okay. So he, boy-man gulped, and asked which place, and she, girl-woman answered, gulp, balcony. So they climbed the stairs, fought for a conveniently isolated spot and sat down waiting for the previews to start that would bring the lights down low. And they did. And I am willing to bet six-two-and even on two propositions. One, neither of them could, in twenty-five words or less, give the plots of either of the films. Two, she, girl-woman, would have plenty to mandatory tell come Monday pre-school girls’ “lav” session. Oh yah, and he will still be swimmingly intoxicated by that perfume (not bath soap, that’s kid’s stuff) she copped from her mother’s bureau and that wore just for him on Saturday. Hence growing up absurd in the 1950s, or anytime, maybe.
***Out In The Low-End Be-Bop 1950s Crime Noir Night- “The Killer That Stalked New York”- A Review

DVD Review

The Killer Who Stalked New York, starring Evelyn Keynes, Charles Korvin, Columbia Pictures, 1950

I want my money back. And I want it now. Sure I know that this film had to have been the crumb-bum first feature, the B-film, on a Saturday afternoon double-feature but I still want my money back or at least the dough I spent on popcorn. I have reviewed many crime noir/film noir efforts in this space over the last couple of years but this one under review, The Killer Who Stalked New York, really hit the bottom. Poor acting overall, poor dialogue, poor plot line and, well, just poor. The only socially redeeming feature about this one is the black and white cinematography but that is hardly enough to float this one.

So what has my dander up? Well, for starters, just look at the movie title. Wouldn’t it make you think that some serious desperado was on the loose, some one of a half dozen 1950s bad guys who the likes of Robert Mitchum or Humphrey Bogart would have to set straight (or maybe somebody else has to straighten out). No the killer here is none other than a small pox epidemic, or threatened one anyway. Yah, I thought that would get your attention. There is a crime here but just a garden variety “hot jewels” scheme that would be a yawner on most days. But see one Sheila Bennet (played by Evelyn Keynes) is not only acting as a “mule” for some New York City low-life, her two-timing husband (played by Charles Korvin), but has contacted small pox down in pre-revolution Cuba. And it goes downhill from there

Naturally Sheila as a carrier is going to infect everybody that she comes in close contact with and so this one turns from a nickel and dime low-rent crime flick to a national (or at least big city) emergency thing with everybody getting vaccinated while the medical and police authorities are frantically hunting her down. But here is the coup de grace Sheila had been two-timed by her two-timing husband by her ever-loving younger sister so to add “spice” to this one and to drag it out for more than its five minutes of real energy she is the woman scorned who seeks “justice” by hunting down her hide-and-seek getaway husband (and thereby potentially spreading her disease all over the Big Apple). Hey, let’s call this a medical noir. And you can see now, see as clear as day, why I want my money back. At least my popcorn money and not in 1950 coin either.
***Out In The 1960s Folk Revival Night- Sonny Terry And Brownie McGhee Hold Forth

A YouTube film clip of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee doing, well justi doing what they do.
CD Review

The Best Of Sonny Terry And Brownie McGhee

One of the unanticipated results of the folk and blues revival of the early 1960’s was the re-discovery of many black blues, especially country blues, singers. John and Alan Lomax had recorded a number of them in the late 1930s and early 1940s and then they fell off of the map. The most famous ‘discovery’ of the early 1960’s was, of course, the reemergence of the legendary Mississippi John Hurt. On the fringes of that development came the new prominence of some working musicians who had previously fallen below the radar like the presently reviewed classic blues harmonica player Sonny Terry and driving guitar playing Brownie McGhee, one of the most productive duos of the period. This long time partnership developed and continued in spite of the fact that they had a fairly rocky personal relationship, especially toward the end of their careers. Well, stranger things have happened in the world of music.

In this compilation we get to see the range of musical talents that this pair had from the plaintive Let Me Be Your Big Dog through the pathetically sad Betty And Dupree’s Blues and a jaunty version of Freight Train. Along the way also listen to their version of Louise, Louise that has been recorded by many others including Mississippi Fred McDowell and Son House. There are also a couple of rousing songs like House Lady and The Devil’s Gonna Get You. And a couple that defy classification but will just make you feel good like I Got A Women. The total package is one that you will find yourself listening to much more than you would have thought.
***Ancient dreams, dreamed-What Peter Paul Markin Learned About His World Despite Himself- Magical Realism 101

A cloudless day, a cloudless Korean War day, talk of peace, merciless truce peace against some heathen communist red menace if not beaten exactly at least held at bay for now day. And blaring over some miniature black and white furry fuzzy television snow in the back room (what did he know of movie house-sized screens) Eisenhower, named, big chief go to Korea breakthrough this and that. Stern, straight-back, upright, remote grandfather Ike whom Peter Paul Markin would toast, milk toast and god bless, along with Big Brother on later noontime walk home to lunch-breaks television salutes. (No, not Orwellian 1984 Animal Farm Big Brother but gentle uncle or grandfatherly, not Ike grandfatherly, stern military but real gentle, Big Brother and maybe you could even talk to him about stuff and he wouldn’t laugh at you but maybe just put on a wry smile like he was realizing for the millionth time that kids say crazy stuff, real crazy, but harmless, stuff if you let them.) Stern too late military-industrial complex warning Ike whom Peter Paul Markin would come to later loathe for his being too late after the horse was let out of the barn, Ike loathe, when he too late himself realized that he was madly for adlai in that great Los Angeles mad rush summer sweat night a few years ahead.

But that mad rush story, and the loathing part too, is for another time and frankly is not a story that fits in with a kid, even a Peter Paul Markin ambient kid, just starting out in school notching up his first infinite school year finish and who this moment is trying to draw, yes, draw some conclusions out of what had just happened from bright dewy day September to moist and sweaty June rollout. He feeling, feeling then somewhere between “knowing it all” (christ, having that superior feeling based on a few letters, a few words, a couple of short stories read, a few numbers put together in different combinations, being able to tell time and tying his shoes, well kind of tying his shoes. This lad is headed for big falls, big falls indeed) and it, school, not being “all that big a deal” like his brother Prescott said. He, let down that a lot things that were supposed to be hurdles, high hurdles too, he just glided over (after learning some tie shoe tricks from Mike Mitchell who would later fall defending his country in some Mekong Delta swamp and no grandmother consolations against that childhood lost there, ever). It was to be the other stuff; the Rasputin evil blue eyes frantic romantic big fish in a small pond stuff that would unravel him in the end. That too, that saga of unraveling, is for another day.

Grandmother peace talk was in the sweltering air too, later to be learned that it was the only kind that mattered, over brooding sores and sons. The kind of peace being talked over many tables in working-class South Boston of distance cousins beaten up bad in some Inchon snow, North Adamsville uncles now coming home safe and sound, Steubenville, Ohio, unknowns but brothers, lost brothers, later to be seen on memorial stones overlooking harbors and Castle Island retreats. Blessed ocean view to wash away salty grandmother tears.

Somebody’s grandmother and some gold star mother too just look out the window across any street you will see them displayed in South Boston, North Adamsville, Steubenville still in Ohio and Muncie too, Indiana though. Maybe not so many such stars in Back Bay, Wellesley, and Grosse Point but how was he to know that then. He only heard grandmother talk, grandmother peace talk and sons and uncles home soon safe and sound. That is the peace talk that counts about uncles coming home safe and sound, thank god, in the grandmother sweet cakes smelling air. And not even the Fourth of July yet.

But back to figuring, back to hot, hot, hot end of June day not yet the Fourth of July with sweets, tonics (sodas now) , and ice creams to match those sweet cake smells, figuring out about why Miss Winot (whose name forever after he always spelled “why not” just like she pronounced it for the whole class that very first misty crying day of school when he wasn’t sure that he wanted to stay but he was sure he didn’t want to seem like a baby and run home to Ma like Billy Badger did. ( Billy a kid destined for fifteen minutes of fame, although not the kind that he craved, a seamless death and international notoriety in some back alley Mexican dusty street two pounds, or was it kilos, in his satchel trying, trying unsuccessfully to make that big score he always talked about making and winding up face down for his efforts.)

As Peter Paul placed a blanket, a mother-mandated scratch throwaway blanket so he would not soil his freshly-washed white shorts, only once worn, on grandmother’s sacred parcel one inch by one inch lawn, freshly mown, he thought of the fellowship fields. The welcome young fields that he would play in after the Fourth Of July dust settled down, with his new found clot of friends, all boys of course although being from a boy full family he wondered, wondered about girls, and being scared of them and maybe lifetime not understanding them when they squealed over every little thing. But he didn’t think much about it one way or the other, just a fly buzzing overhead annoyance kind of think.

Yes, Peter Paul laying face up on freshly mown grass near fellowship carved-out fields, fields for slides and swings, diamonded baseball, no, friendlier softball fields, the houses are too close together and to the field in case of oddball batted flies, of gimps, glues, copper-plated portraits, of sweet shaded elms, and one thousand other scenes realized that starting now he too, that nose-flattened against some frozen-paned front window brother of years gone by, had been to foreign places in the time of his time. And ahead some push, some unconsecrated, menaced push, to find his own place in the sun. But fret wondering, constantly wondering, what means this, what means that, and why all the changes, slow changes, fast changes, blip changes, but changes flashing by his head.
***Take A Walk On The Wild Side- The Velvet Underground's Lou Reed And Lou Reed’s Lou Reed Passes At 71...

...yeah, trying to be James Dean for a day-fretting those pale blue eyes lingering on, night dreaming about sweet janes, spouting perfect days and a million other great lines…

But that was not enough, not enough for a hungry New York boy, hungry to be making his mark out on the island, maybe on an island, trying to figure out, trying to figure out lots of things like how he fit into the red scare, cold war night with that beat in his head, that rock and roll beat that would not let him sleep, a beat that he knew he had heard somewhere maybe Coney Island, hell he later wrote a song about it, about how he, he of all people, was just another Coney Island baby, another unassimilated immigrant to a world that he did not create, and nobody asked him to help create.

Yes, and also trying to figure out in that same deadpan ice freeze 1950s night just what the hell that sex was all about, about that fairy princess dream embedded in the know-nothing kid night and was it worth a damn, about why he felt like swinging both ways but better keep that to yourself because baby, Coney Island or not, those very assimilated parents have a jolt for you, yes, you baby. And so he, once he found kindred spirits, found the Village village, found lots of brethren, some Judas brethren too so watch out, trying to figure things out too, sex, existence, musical muses, and how to break out of that ice freeze night began, began to be one Lou Reed, on that journey to be Lou Reed’s Lou Reed.

Yeah but being Lou Reed wasn’t so easy (hell being any baby-boomer with no silver spoon and sixteen tons of new wage angst and alienation wasn’t so easy, especially when they pulled the hammer down, and said, and I quote, “enough.” What was a hungry, a hungry boy from the island, to do. And so the sweet dreams came, came from an eye-dropper and who was to say that when the pain was deep, when the angst enveloped you, that a needle and a spoon would not open the doors of perception for you, damn, let you write a couple of things. Even goof things, even just telling you story just to tell a story and bring down the angels, bring down the avenging angels. Busted, dusted, lusted, disgusted, and so climbing from the slime we all came from, our homeland the sea, he formed an island, formed it real good and survived his junkie cowboy ride. Hell it was a close thing though.

Now that I think of it trying to be James Dean for a day-fretting those pale blue eyes lingering on, night dreaming about sweet janes, spouting perfect days and a million other great lines, yeah, they were enough …

Thanks Brother, thanks. RIP

***Labor's Untold Story- Remember The Heroic Gastonia Textile Strike Of 1929

Click below to link to Weisbord Archives for information on the bloody class war Gastonia Strike of 1929. Vera Buch Weisbord was involved in that struggle so has some special insights whatever her (and husband Albert's) later political perspectives. (See James P. Cannon Internet Archives for the early 1930s on this question).

Every Month IS Labor History Month

This Commentary is part of a series under the following general title: Labor’s Untold Story- Reclaiming Our Labor History In Order To Fight Another Day-And Win!

As a first run through, and in some cases until I can get enough other sources in order to make a decent presentation, I will start with short entries on each topic that I will eventually go into greater detail about. Or, better yet, take my suggested topic and run with it yourself.
***From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-Norma Rae"-A Review

Click below to link to an American Left History entry on this film and mention of the real Norma Rae (Chrystal Lee Sutton) who passed away a couple of years ago.

Markin comment:

The following is an article from an archival issue of Women and Revolution, Spring 1979, 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.

"Norma Rae": A Review by Ellie Raitt

"Norma Rae" is an often gripping story of a proletarian heroine. Set in a small Southern town dominated by a textile mill, the film depicts the arrival of a union organizer, Reuben Warshovsky (played by Ron Liebman), and the unfolding of his relationship with Norma Rae (Sally Field), a 31-year-old widow with two small children who works in the mill along with both her parents. Their efforts to organize a union among the socially conservative mill workers form the plot of the movie, but its substance is less concerned with this potentially explosive subject than with Norma Rae's discovery of her own inner resources through her deepening commitment to social justice as expressed in trade unionism.

The use of the political theme as a backdrop for exploring Norma Rae's evolution from victim to "free woman" is an implicit attack on "me decade" feminism which poses introspection, subjectivity and therapy as the road to liberation. So far so good. The problem is that wherever the film touches politics, the politics are fundamentally false. The filmmakers have worked hard to achieve a documentary effect in the in-plant photography, but the political world of the plant is a liberal fiction. The bosses (and cops) in this Southern company town have profound respect for the law and never overstep its bounds; nothing worse than a traffic ticket ever happens to Reuben Warshovsky. But the central problem is the film's view of trade unionism as a kind of liberal ideology divorced from any hint of class struggle. There is no need for picket lines involved in the building of unions, only legal briefs because behind the union stands that well-known "friend of the working man," the federal government.

Norma Rae is an engaging character. Bright, pretty, spirited, she is also deeply frustrated, lacking an outlet for her energy and her anger. Since the death of her husband in a barroom brawl some years before, she has lived with her parents and her children (one of whom is illegitimate). Her sex life is a series of unsatisfying affairs with casual lovers who use and abuse her. At her job, her friends view her promiscuity with envious disapproval while the company calls her "the largest mouth" because of her complaints about working conditions. In an effort to buy her off, the bosses promote her to "spot-checker," which means following the other workers around with a stopwatch. Despite the pay raise, Norma Rae gives up "spot-checking" after her friends stop speaking to her.

Meanwhile, Reuben Warshovsky has arrived in town. Norma Rae meets him when he comes to the door of her house and tells her father, "I'd like to get me a room with a mill family.... I want to get to know some mill hands close up." Rebuffed, he sets up shop at the Golden Cherry Motel, where he encounters Norma Rae en route to an assignation with her current boyfriend.

The latter is your classic male chauvinist pig. She tells him not to expect her next time he is passing through. He calls her names, demands, "What the hell are you good for anyway?" and slaps her. As she hurries past Reuben's door with a bloody nose, he befriends her with a kind word and an icepack. Norma Rae's platonic friendship with Reuben is to become the catalyst for her transformation. They meet again at the local Softball game, where Norma Rae is hassling with another former lover (and Reuben is spitting out his hot dog with the remark that it's "not Nathan's"). She asks him what he thinks of her and he replies, "I think you're too smart for what's happening to you."

How you respond to Reuben Warshovsky probably will depend on your tolerance for the self-mocking Jewish intellectual stereotype. Reuben is a self-avowed hypochondriac who talks about his mother more than about his girlfriend (a "lefto labor lawyer") and consumes club soda at the local bar. When Reuben and Norma Rae take to the back roads one Saturday to proselytize for the union, Reuben trips and falls in cow dung; later, making conversation with a group of old men whittling on the porch, he cuts his finger.

Like the socialist professor hero of "The Organizer," Reuben Warshovsky is a culturally alien "outside agitator" whose success depends on channeling the class instinct of a local militant to create a workers' leader. Yet in transforming Norma Rae into "our own Mother Jones," Reuben never talks politics to her; of his massive pile of books, he lends her only some Dylan Thomas poetry. She becomes a class-struggle heroine without ever articulating more than the liberal rhetoric of democracy and self-help: "The union's the only way we're gonna get our own voice and make ourselves any better."

At the first union organizing meeting, held at the local black church and attended by a racially mixed audience of about 30 mill workers, Reuben comes on more like a liberal-integrationist preacher from the old civil rights movement than a union organizer. He begins:

"On October 8, 1970, my grandfather, Isaac Abraham Warshovsky, died in his sleep in New York. The following Friday his funeral was held. My mother and father attended. My two uncles from Brooklyn were there. And my Aunl Minnie came up from Florida. Also present were 852 members of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers...also members of his family. They had fought battles with him and bound up the wounds of battle. They had earned bread together and had broken it together. When they spoke, they spoke with one voice, and they were heard. And they were black and they were white. And they were Irish and they were Polish. And they were Catholics and they were Jews. And they were one. That's what a union is: one."

He goes on to tell the workers that textile is the only unorganized industry in the country and therefore the company can deny "your health, a decent wage, a fit company. The first day that he turns up at the plant gate to give out leaflets, he has no real conversation with any of the workers (except to ask Norma Rae if her nose is better), but when the company guards bait him, Reuben is ready with a snappy answer: "We already got six of you boss men in civil contempt. Would you care to make it seven?" In the filmmakers' view, union organizing is clearly seen as an adjunct of the legal profession.

In his first confrontation with the company, Reuben arrives at the mill one morning to inspect the employees' bulletin boards. However bumbling he may be in private life, he is in his element now:

"The federal government of the United States in federal court order No. 7778 states the following: The union has the right to inspect the bulletin boards once a week to verify in person that its notices "are not being ripped down."

Gloating that "no union organizer or known union member has been inside the fences of this plant for more than ten years," he proceeds through the plant escorted by management. When the bosses refuse to move the union notice to eye-level, Reuben aggressively responds: "Why do you guys pull this horseshit? Now I got to go to the phone, call my lawyer and get him on your ass." The bosses, seething with rage but trembling at the prospect of a lawsuit, back down.

Norma Rae hesitates before joining the union; she is afraid she may lose her job. "No way," says Reuben. "You can wear a union button as big as a frisbee when you go to work.... There's not a goddamn thing they can do to touch you." Subsequently, when she has been fired and dragged screaming to the police station, he tells her:

"It goes with the job. I saw a pregnant woman get punched in the stomach on a picket line. I saw a boy of 16 get shot in the back.... And you just got your feet wet."

She quickly becomes the spearhead of the organizing. When the local minister refuses to let her use his church for an integrated union meeting, she holds it in her home. She organizes with energy and characteristic personalism: "Will you read one of these for me please," she entreats one man; "Now Doris/' she says, "I want you to come on down to Golden Cherry and bring your peanut butter pie." Putting in long hours on clerical work in Warshovsky's motel room, she jeopardizes her relationship with her new husband (Beau Bridges).

Finally the company hits back, posting a racially provocative notice:"You black employees are being told that by going into this union en masse you can dominate it and control it as you may see fit—"
Reuben is ecstatic: "I love it when these pricks get mean. We can take legal action." He insists that if Norma Rae cannot steal the notice, she copy it down word-for word. The company orders her to stop and finally demands she leave the plant. She refuses. When the security guards arrive, she scrawls the word "UNION" on a piece of cardboard and stands up on a table in the middle of the weaving room. The scene is charged with extraordinary power as the workers, one by one, turn off their machines in a spontaneous work action. The silence in the usually deafening factory when the last machine is down is the film's only hint that unions can be built through the concerted militant action of the workers.

But the movie can do nothing with it. Norma Rae, fired, leaves the mill. The film attempts to defuse the tension of the work stoppage with a scene of her struggling against the burly cops as they stuff her into the patrol car and haul her off to the station.

The film's climax, as befits its view of unionism, is the bargaining election. The workers wait anxiously in the heat as the ballots are counted. When the vote is announced—373 for the company, 425 for the union— pandemonium breaks loose. Outside the gate, Reuben and Norma Rae hear the triumphant chant of "Union, Union." Reuben knows his job is done. He bids Norma Rae a fond farewell ("Be happy. Be well."), gets in his car and drives away. At the point that a real struggle over wages and conditions should begin, the movie ends.

The ending, though unsatisfying, is not so unrealistic. In 1963 the Textile Workers Union embarked on a drive to organize J.P. Stevens, the country's second largest textile firm. In August 1974 the union won its first bargaining election, in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. But the workers there are still working without a contract.

"Norma Rae" is most engaging as a portrait of a very appealing working woman of character and courage. As a film it has its flaws, most notably its sentimentality, some idiocies of dialogue and an old-fashioned sharp separation between sexual relationships and "pure" friendship. Politically it is a cruel joke, presenting the government rather than class struggle as the mechanism for trade-union organizing. To its credit, it treats the working people with sympathy and it presents social involvement rather than self-absorption (a la "An Unmarried Woman") as the means whereby the heroine discovers strength and purpose."
***The Roots Is The Toots- The Music That Got Them Through The Great Depression And World War II-Peggy Lee Backed By The Benny Goodman Band- From Deep In The Songbook-Irving Berlin’s You’re So Easy To Dance With …

…and memories of sitting after school in Doc’s Drugstore at the soda fountain counter dreamily throwing nickels into that jukebox, sipping on a Cherry Coca-Cola, watching an odd couple or two, boys and girls, dancing, no that is too staid a word, jitter-bugging to some bop-bop Benny Goodman swing tune as if the world depended on each and every move, talking to Doris about, well you know about boys, and what to do about them, and, and, whether you should go to the North Adamsville Annual Autumn Frolic with Jimmie from across the street. Jimmy with the smooth moves on the dance floor, and off. You figure you can hold him off on the off the floor part but you have two left feet and only Doris knows that sad fact and is sworn to eternal secrecy. Then Jimmy comes in, comes gliding in as if on cue to the last beat and asks you, yes, you to dance….and you do not too badly, not too badly at that. Now you wonder about your resolve on that off floor stuff…

Peter Paul Markin comment on this series:

Whether we liked it or not, whether we even knew what it meant to our parents or not, knew what sacred place it held in their youthful hearts, Benny Goodman with and without Miss (Ms.) Peggy Lee, Harry James with or without the orchestra, Duke Ellington with or without Mr. Johnny Hodges, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey with or without fanfare, Glenn Miller with or without glasses, Miss (Ms.) Billie Holiday with or without the blues, personal blues, Miss Lena Horne with or without stormy weather, Miss (Ms.) Margaret Whiting, Mr. Vaughn Monroe with or without goalposts, Mr. Billy Eckstine, Mr. Frank Sinatra with or without bobbysoxers, The Inkspots with, always with, that spoken refrain, the Andrews Sisters with or without rum in their Coca-Cola, The Dewdrops with or without whatever they were with or without, Mr. Cole Porter with or without the boys, Mr. Irving Berlin with or without the flag, and Mr. George Gershwin with or without his brother, is the music that went wafting through the house of many of those of us who constitute the generation of ‘68.

Yes, the generation of ’68, baby-boomers, decidedly not what Tom Brokaw dubbed rightly or wrongly “ the greatest generation,” decidedly not your parents’ or grandparents’ (please, please do not say great-grandparents’ even if it is true) generation. Those of us who came of age, biological, political and social age kicking, screaming and full of the post-war new age teenage angst and alienation in the age of Jack Kennedy’s Camelot. Who were, some of us any way and I like to think the best of us, driven by some makeshift dream, who, in the words of brother Bobby quoting from Alfred Lord Tennyson, were “seeking a new world.” Those who took up the call to action and slogged through that decade whether it was in civil rights/black liberation struggle, the anti-Vietnam War struggle or the struggle to find one’s own identity in the counter-culture swirl before the hammer came down. And that hammer came down quickly as the decade ended and the high white note that we searched for, desperately searched, drifted out into the ebbing tide. Gone. But enough about us this series is about our immediate forbears (but please, please not great grandparents) their uphill struggles to make their vision of the newer world, to satisfy their hunger a little, to stop that gnawing want, and the music that in their youth dreamed by on cold winter nights or hot summer days.

This is emphatically the music of the generation that survived the dust bowl all farms blown away, all land worthless, the bankers taking whatever was left and the dusted crowd heading west with whatever was movable, survived empty bowls wondering where the next meal would come from, survived no sugar bowl street urchin hard times of the 1930s Great Depression, the time of the madness, the time of the night-takers, the time of the long knives. Building up those wants, name them, named those hungers on cold nights against riverside fires, down in dusty arroyos, under forsaken bridges. Survived god knows how by taking the nearest freight, some smoke and dreams freight, Southern Pacific, Union Pacific, B&O, Illinois Central, Penn Central, Empire State, Boston and Maine, or one of a million trunk lines to go out and search for, well, search for…

Search for something that was not triple- decker bodies piled high cold-water flat with a common commode and brown stained sink, rooming house, hell, call it what it was flop house stinking of perspiration and low-shelf whiskeys and wines, or tumbled down shack, window pane-less, tarpaper siding, roof tiles falling, and get out on the open road and search for the great promised American night that had been tattered by world events, and greed.

Survived the Hoovervilles, the great cardboard, tin can roof, slap-dash jerry-built camp explosions along rivers, down in ravines and under railroad trestles when the banks, yeah, the banks, the usual suspects, robbed people of their shacks, their cottages, their farm houses, robbed them as an old-time balladeer said at the time not with a gun but with a fountain pen, but still robbed them. Survived the soap kitchens hungers, the endless waiting in line for scrapes, dreaming of some by-gone steak or dish of ice cream, and always that hunger, not the stomach hunger although that was ever present, but the hunger that hurts a man, hurts his pride when he has to stick his hand out, stick it out and not know why. Out of work, or with little work waiting for that day, that full head of steam day in places like Flint, Frisco town, Akron, Chicago, hell, even in boondock Minneapolis when the score gets evened, evened a little, but until then shifting the scroungings of the trash piles of the urban glut, the rural fallow fields, and that gnarring hungry that cried out in the night-want, want that is all.

Survived too the look, the look of those, the what did FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the young, or forgetful) call them, oh yeah, the economic royalists, today’s 1%, who in their fortified towers tittered that not everybody was built to survive to be the fittest. That crowd fought tooth and nail against the little guy trying to break bread, trying to get out from under that cardboard, tar paper, windowless soup kitchen world along with a hell of a lot of comrades, yes, comrades, kindred in the struggle to put survival of the fittest on the back-burner of human history, to take collective action to put things right, hell, made the bosses cry bloody murder when they shut down their factories, shut them down cold until some puny penny justice was eked out.

Survived but took time out too, time out if young perhaps, to stretch those legs, to sway those hips to a new sound coming out of the mist, coming out of New York, always New York then, Chicago, Detroit, and Kansas City, the Missouri K.C. okay. The sound of swing replacing the dour Brother, Can You Spare a Dime, no banishing it, casting it out with soup lines, second-hand clothes (passed down from out the door brothers and sisters), and from hunger looks, because after all it did not mean a thing, could not possibly place you anywhere else but squareville (my term, not their), if you did not have that swing. To be as one with jitter-buggery if there was (is) such a word. And swing a fade echo of the cool age be-bop that was a-borning, making everybody reach for that high white note floating out of Minton’s, Big Bill’s Jimmie’s, hell, even Olde Saco’s Starlight Ballroom before it breezed out in the ocean air night, crashed into the tepid sea. Yeah.

Survived, as if there was no time to breathe in new fresh airs, to slog through the time of the gun in World War II, a time when the night-takers, those who craved the revenge night of the long knives took giant steps in Europe and Asia trying to make that same little guy, Brit, Frenchie, Chinaman, Filipino, God’s American, and half the races and nationalities on this good green earth cry uncle and buckle under, take it, take their stuff without a squawk. And so after Pearl, after that other shoe dropped on a candid world Johnnie, Jimmie, Paulie, Benny too, all the guys from the old neighborhood, the guys who hung around Doc’s hands in their pockets, guys from the wheat fields fresh from some Saturday night dance, all shy and with calloused and, guys from the coal slags, down in hill country, full of home liquor, blackened fingernails and Saturday night front porch fiddlings wound up carrying an M-I on the shoulder in Europe or the Pacific. Susie, Laura, Betty, and dark-haired Rebecca too waiting at home hoping to high heaven that some wayward gun had not carried off sweetheart Johnnie, Jimmy, Paulie, or young Benny. Jesus not young Benny.

Survived the endless lines of boys heading off East and West, some who could hardly wait to get to the recruiting office others, well, other hanging back, hanging back just a little to think things over, and still others head over heels they were exempt, 4-F, bad feet, you see. All, all except that last crew who got to sit a home with Susie, Laura, Betty and even odd-ball Rebecca waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the ships to sail or planes to fly, hanging in some corner drugstore, Doc’s, Rexall, name your drugstore name, sitting two by two at the soda fountain playing that newly installed jukebox until the nickels ran out. Listened to funny banana songs, rum and coca cola songs, siting under the apple tree songs to get a minute’s reprieve from thoughts of the journey ahead.

Listened too to dreamy, sentimental songs, songs about faraway places, about keeping lamp- lights burning, about making a better world out of the fire and brimstone sacrifice before them, about Johnnie, Jimmie and the gang actually returning, returning whole, and putting a big dent in their dreams, hell, about maybe the damn wars would be over sooner rather than later. Listened and as old Doc, or some woe-begotten soda jerk, some high school kid, told them to leave he was closing up, they made for the beach, if near a beach, the pond, the back forty, the hills, or whatever passed for a lovers’ lane in their locale and with the echo of those songs as background, well, what do you think they did, why do you think they call us baby-boomers.

The music, this survival music, wafted through the air coming from a large console radio, the prized possession amid the squalor of second-hand sofas and woe-begotten stuffed pillows smelling of mothballs, centered in the small square living room of my growing up house. My broken down, needs a new roof, random shingles on the ground as proof, cracked windows stuffed with paper and held with masking tape, no proof needed, overgrown lawn of a shack of a house too small, much too small, for four growing boys and two parents house.

That shack of a house surrounded by other houses, shack houses, too small to fit Irish Catholic- sized families with stony-eyed dreams but which represented in some frankly weird form (but what knew I of such weirdness then I just cried out in some fit of angst) the great good desire of those warriors and their war brides to latch onto a piece of golden age America. And take their struggle survival music with them as if to validate their sweet memory dreams. That radio, as if a lifesaver, literally, tuned to local station WDJA in North Adamsville, the memory station for those World War II warriors and their war brides, those who made it back. Some wizard station manager knowing his, probably his in those days, demographics, spinned those 1940s platters exclusively, as well as aimed the ubiquitous advertisement at that crowd. Cars, sofas, beds, shaving gear, soap, department store sales, all the basics of the growing families spawned (nice, huh) by those warriors and brides.

My harried mother, harried by the prospects of the day with four growing boys, maybe bewildered is a better expression, turning the radio on to start her day, hoping that Paper Dolls, I’ll Get By, or dreamy Tangerine,their songs, their spring youth meeting at some USO dance songs and so embedded, or so it seemed as she hummed away the day, used the music as background on her appointed household rounds. The stuff, that piano/drum-driven stuff with some torch-singer bleeding all over the floor with her loves, her hurts, and her wanderings, her waitings, they should have called it the waiting generation, drove me crazy then, mush stuff at a time when I was craving the big break-out rock and roll sounds I kept hearing every time I went and played the jukebox at Doc’s Drugstore over on Walker Street down near the beach. As far as I know Doc, knowing his demographics as well, did not, I repeat, did not, stock that stuff that, uh, mush for his rock-crazed after school soda fountain crowd, probably stocked nothing, mercifully before about 1955. Funny thing though while I am still a child of rock and roll (blues too) this so-called mushy stuff sounds pretty good to these ears now long after my parents and those who performed this music have passed on. Go figure.
You're So Easy To Dance With

I could dance nightly just holding you tightly my sweet.
I could keep right on because you're so light on you're feet.
You're easy to dance with.
There is no doubt in the way we stand out in the crowd.
Though it's called dancing to me it's romancing out loud.
You're easy to dance with.
Loving you the away I do makes you easy to dance with.
That is why I'm always right on the beat.
All those charms in one man's arms makes you easy to dance with.
I can hardly keep my mind on my feet.
Let's dance forever come on say we'll never be through,
It's so easy to dance with you.
Loving you the away I do makes you easy to dance with.
That is why I'm always right on the beat.
All those charms in one man's arms makes you easy to dance with.
I can hardly keep my mind on my feet.
So let's dance forever come on say we'll never be through,
It's so easy to dance with you.