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July 14, 2021


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Ediberto Roman

Just fantastic!!!

Patrick S. O'Donnell

We often forget or neglect the laudable* Leftist or communist/socialist orientation of Woody Guthrie (a veteran of the Merchant Marines and U.S. Army). As Michael Denning has discussed, Guthrie played a prominent part in the “struggle for the cultural enfranchisement of working people.” While unions and associations created by California farmworkers incarnated this fight for “recognition and self-representation,” “it was also embodied in the Popular Front migrant narratives of Woody Guthrie, Carlos Bulosan, and Ernesto Galarza:”

“… Guthrie’s mixture of old-time ‘hillbilly’ songs, downhome philosophy, and Dust Bowl ballads became popular among the California migrant workers…. He met the young Communists who were organizing the farmworkers, including Will Geer, an actor who had come out of the workers theater movement. Joining Geer’s troupe of four, Folksay, Guthrie sang and performed skits at migrant camps and picket lines throughout the San Joaquin Valley. By May 1939, he was writing a column of humor, cartoons, and song lyrics, ‘Woody Sex,’ for the People’s World, and in October 1939 Guthrie and Geer led a group of artists to support the strikers in the Madera County cotton strike. [….]

Like the Gastonia and Harlan singers [‘part of a tradition of textile-mill and coal-mining songsters’] Guthrie went to New York and became part of the movement culture of the Popular Front.” – For more of this story, see Guthrie in the index of Michael Denning’s The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century (Verso, 2010 edition). There is of course a number of biographies of Guthrie and other works on his music and politics, but this title locates Guthrie’s cultural work on the Left as part of a larger, rather neglected and, I think, fascinating history.

* I have a series of posts at Religious Left Law where I provide exemplars of what I term “laudable communism,” which is not to be confused with the Party-State Communism or orthodox forms of Communism espoused by some doctrinaire political parties or Maoist guerrilla groups. The South African Communist Party has at times fit the bill (as well as some of its members, some of whom also belonged to the African National Congress [ANC; formerly the Communist Party of South Africa/CPSA]); as well as Marxists in the Indian state of Kerala and West Bengal; “Alabama Communists during the Great Depression;” individuals responsible for “Red Chicago;” George Padmore, W. E. B. Du Bois, C.L.R. James, Claudia Jones, Charles White, Paul Robeson, Alice Childress, Howard “Stretch” Johnson, Harry Haywood, William L. Patterson, Anne and Carl Braden, Angela Y. Davis, and Dorothy Healey; the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM) and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers….

Patrick S. O'Donnell

Oops: that should be "Woody Sez"

Bill Stouffer

Woody sez: "This machine kills Fascists"

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