Saturday, February 11, 2012

A criticism of Woody Guthrie and some errors of radicalism: a letter from Tink Tinker

On 2/11/12 11:13 PM, "Tink Tinker" wrote:


Thank you for this post on Occupy and Guthrie. See here. While I have always been a fan of Paul Robeson and Joe Hill, and I tend toward support of some of the intent of the occupy folk, I have to say that Guthrie has never been one of my favorites. I have always cringed at the notion he placarded that "this land is your land; this land is my land." Bullshit. It is and always has been Indian land. Especially Oklahoma! That was Indian territory by US government solemn promise. Read Angie Debo, please. Obviously Guthrie never did. It ain't your land except by virtue of grand larceny and conquest--whether democratic capitalist or communist. It doesn't matter that Guthrie was communist in his sympathies. It still ain't his land. Or yours. Unless you embrace stealing as a virtue. Yes, the "dustbowl" was a disaster for many people. But do remember what caused the dustbowl conditions. Indians didn't to that to our own land. That was colonialism, democratic capitalist in its 1930s guise. But any notion of worker/proletariat control of the "means of production" means that Indians
still lose. Just because the class called proletariat (e.g., invader, colonial, settler workers) might suddenly control the means of production can never mean that Indian nations can hope to control their own means of production. Statism, whether capitalist of Marxist, still is the sovereign entity in modernity and especially now in this moment of post-modernity.

Hope you are well.

'Dear Tink,

I agree with you - the point about the dust bowl is particularly well taken - and I actually don't like "This land is your land"...except for a kind of democratic sentiment. Probably communism only means something if the most oppressed are central to it - hence native americans would have to be in or at least among the leadership of any decent movement (that was Marx's idea in the Manifesto and in many examples in his political life, by the way - internationalism means that 'communists defend the interests of the most oppressed, regardless of nationality" - and one worth taking seriously in thinking about radicalism). And if that isn't what Guthrie meant, i.e. that he was only anti-racist in some ways but caught up in settler orientation or the Communist party and other radicals at the time were, then that is a grave error in what they were doing (though I don't think he meant the song as one of Klan-like appropriation). And statism was a kind of decline or decadence in Russia - the Soviet revolution struck at tsarism, the prison house of nations, and did quite a lot to further or unleash the struggle of oppressed nationalities - and China, not the original intent or character of the movements or the revolutions. I would be careful about making things that are errors become inevitable in which case, by the way, it is not clear that indigenous peoples would do better - and I hope they (and you) will as a matter of justice and because we are not going to have a planet very long unless someone does....

There are very powerful ideas about preserving the earth coming from Evo Morales and Bolivia, and of course, from everyone fighting the Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipelines. See here.

A lot of Guthrie's other songs are better (there is one about immigrants - all they will call you will be deportee if I remember the chorus which is pretty good). We focus too easily on "This land is your land..." because it alone, among a great number of works, is talked about widely (by the elite, among others). Again, my mistake: "Joe Hill" does not have the drawbacks. See here. Thanks for the correction...

All the best,

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