Saturday, May 31, 2014

Country Club 41: Almost Cheating Songs

Blogger Mick Hartley, who closely follows events in North Korea, is also a great photographer (and photo and a sharer of great popular music in various genres.  This week he featured the fine Randy Travis song "On the Other Hand," a really fine song.

It got me to thinking that there is an unrecognized country genre: the "almost cheating song." You can find many lists of top country cheating songs like this one.  The finest example to my ears is "Almost Persuaded," a 1966 hit for David Houston.

Wikipedia notes

 "Almost Persuaded" spent nine weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard magazine Hot Country Singles chart starting in August 1966[2] and has since gone on to become a country standard. The song was also a moderate pop hit, reaching twenty-four on the Billboard pop chart and was David Houston's only Top 40 entry on the pop charts.[3]

 For 46 years and two months, no No. 1 song matched the chart-topping longevity of "Almost Persuaded," until Taylor Swift's "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" notched its ninth week atop the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart the week of December 15, 2012.
I'm reasonably sure that I heard Almost Persuaded in 1966, though I don't know whether it was country tune played on the (mostly) Wichita or OKC rock station I would have been listening to or perhaps it caught my ear when I crossed KFDI on my way from one station to another.

Regardless, it is a fine song and it has been covered by lots of artists, from the unexpected  like George Jones, Merle Haggard, Tammy Wynette, and the Conway Twitty to the unexpected like R&B giant  Etta James.

It is interesting to note that James places the encounter at a party, while the original is in a bar room, a setting preserved (I think) by most country artists. There seems to be quite a few neo-soul women singers who have learned the song from James and use the party setting.  Female singers naturally need to change the "ruby red lips" lyric, but they differ whether the tempter has "baby blue" or "big brown" eyes.  

I found an interesting "Almost Persuaded" mix that has quite a few versions inspired by James.  Additional versions can probably be found by searching on YouTube, but be aware that there is a gospel song with the same title.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Otto Ruhle: Nine Characteristics of Bolshevism

Otto Ruhle, a leader in the German left in the first half of the 20th century, was mentioned in passing by Dan Gallin during a discussion of his new book Solidarity at last week's LabourStart's Global Solidarity conference in Berlin.

The name seemed vaguely familiar, but I couldn't recall any details. It turns out that Ruhle wrote one of the first Marxist books I ever read which was a condensed version of Marx's Capital, though it is understandable that his name didn't really register.  The thin paperback was introduced by Leon Trotsky and it was marketed as Leon Trotsky Presents the Living thoughts of Karl Marx . (It is online as Karl Marx's Capital.) 

There's lots more that is interesting about Ruhle. 
Ruhle worked closely with Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, and was an activist in the Spartacist League. Later he was associated with the Council Communist movement and was an opponent of Leninism from the left.  An early opponent of fascism, he fled to Mexico after Hitler's seizure of power. In 1937 he served on the Dewey Commission which examined and rejected the Stalinist calumnies against Trotsky.

Of the many writings by and about Ruhle at the Marxist Internet Archive, one is particular caught my attention: the 1939 essay "The Struggle Against Fascism Begins with the Struggle Against Bolshevism."

Ruhle  ends his essay by setting forth nine characteristics of Bolshevism.
If one looks with critical eyes at the picture of Bolshevism provided by Lenin’s pamphlet [Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder] , the following main points may be recognized as characteristics of Bolshevism:

1. Bolshevism is a nationalistic doctrine. Originally and essentially conceived to solve a national problem, it was later elevated to a theory and practice of international scope and to a general doctrine. Its nationalistic character comes to light also in its position on the struggle for national independence of suppressed nations.

2. Bolshevism is an authoritarian system. The peak of the social pyramid is the most important and determining point. Authority is realized in the all-powerful person. In the leader myth the bourgeois personality ideal celebrates its highest triumphs.

3. Organizationally, Bolshevism is highly centralistic. The central committee has responsibility for all initiative, leadership, instruction, commands. As in the bourgeois state, the leading members of the organization play the role of the bourgeoisie; the sole role of the workers is to obey orders.

4. Bolshevism represents a militant power policy. Exclusively interested in political power, it is no different from the forms of rule in the traditional bourgeois sense. Even in the organization proper there is no self-determination by the members. The army serves the party as the great example of organization.

5. Bolshevism is dictatorship. Working with brute force and terroristic measures, it directs all its functions toward the suppression of all non-bolshevik institutions and opinions. Its “dictatorship of the proletariat” is the dictatorship of a bureaucracy or a single person.

6. Bolshevism is a mechanistic method. It aspires to the automatic co-ordination, the technically secured conformity, and the most efficient totalitarianism as a goal of social order. The centralistically “planned” economy consciously confuses technical-organizational problems with socio-economic questions.

7. The social structure of Bolshevism is of a bourgeois nature. It does not abolish the wage system and refuses proletarian self-determination over the products of labour. It remains therewith fundamentally within the class frame of the bourgeois social order. Capitalism is perpetuated.

8. Bolshevism is a revolutionary element only in the frame of the bourgeois revolution. Unable to realize the soviet system, it is thereby unable to transform essentially the structure of bourgeois society and its economy. It establishes not socialism but state capitalism.

9. Bolshevism is not a bridge leading eventually into the socialist society. Without the soviet system, without the total radical revolution of men and things, it cannot fulfill the most essential of all socialistic demands, which is to end the capitalist human-self-alienation. It represents the last stage of bourgeois society and not the first step towards a new society.

These nine points represent an unbridgeable opposition between Bolshevism and socialism. They demonstrate with all necessary clarity the bourgeois character of the Bolshevist movement and its close relationship to fascism. Nationalism, authoritarianism, centralism, leader dictatorship, power policies, terror-rule, mechanistic dynamics, inability to socialize-all these essential characteristics of fascism were and are existing in Bolshevism. Fascism is merely a copy of Bolshevism. For this reason the struggle against the one must begin with the struggle against the other.
 [Emphasis added and I've capitalized Bolshevism throughout.]

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

2014 Euro Election Posters from Germany

While in Berlin last week for the International Trade Union Confederation Congress and LabourStart's Global Solidarity Conference, I observed lots of election posters for the Euro elections which were held last week.

My theory was the party votes would be roughly in inverse proportion to the attractiveness of the posters.  The two leading parties, the CDU and the SPD, seem to have relied more on billboards, while the other parties had more posters.

Here's a defaced CDU (Christian Democratic Union) billboard featuring Chancellor Angela Merkel, followed by a poster featuring another CDU politician, and then an issue themed billboard.

Here's the SPD (Social Democratic Party) billboard, features Martin Schultz, President of the European Parliament since 2012. Previously he was leader of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, And their candidate for Euro Parliament President in 2014.

Here is a poster from the Green Party
 Here are two posters from Der Linke,  the "Left Party."  The bottom one also includes one from the "Pirate Party."


Two Communist Parties with terrible politics had great posters. Here is one from the DKP, German Communist Party, which considers itself a continuation of the historic Stalinist Party.

Here is a poster for the Marxist–Leninist Party of Germany (German: Marxistisch-Leninistische Partei Deutschlands, MLPD), an anti-revisionist party which still looks kindly on Stalin and Mao.

A poster from the Ecological Democratic Party, an ecological party that is also anti-abortion.

Finally, from the Euro-skeptic Alternative for Germany, contesting the Euro elections for the first time. 

Results:  CDU/CSU  35% (down 3%);  SPD 27% (up 3.5%); Greens (10.7% down 1.4%); The Left (7%, down .08%): AfD (7%, new party). The Ecological Democratic Party (.64%, down .1%). 

The Communist Parties got less than 0.6 percent of the vote, but I haven't seen any detailed results.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Country Club 40: Blame it on Texas

Steve Huey says that Mark Chestnutt's "style combine[s}George Jones, Merle Haggard, and Bob Wills." It has been a creative combination indeed. Chestnutt had five hit singles on each of his first two albums (1990's Too Cold at Home) and 1992's Longnecks & Short Stories). 

For tour, merchandise, and other information, check out Chestnutt's website.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Country Club 39: Iris Dement

Reviewer Steve Leggett hits it on the nail "Iris DeMent isn't a pop star, although she probably could have been had she been at all interested in playing that game. She's a careful, detailed songwriter with a confessional edge and a good sense of narrative, and her voice is a marvelous instrument that seems to rise out of the previous century."

writes about Dement on 

her independent label offering Infamous Angel won almost universal acclaim thanks to her pure, evocative vocal style and spare, heartfelt songcraft. Despite a complete lack of support from country radio, the record's word-of-mouth praise earned her a deal with Warner Bros., which reissued Infamous Angel in 1993 as well as its follow-up, 1994's stunning My Life.

Her third LP, 1996's eclectic The Way I Should, marked a dramatic change not only in its more rock-influenced sound but also in its subject matter; where DeMent's prior work was introspective and deeply personal, The Way I Should was fiercely political, tackling topics like sexual abuse, religion, government policy, and Vietnam. In 1999, she collaborated with country man John Prine on his album In Spite of Ourselves. DeMent recorded four duets with Prine that earned her a Grammy nod the following year. Her own recording career was on hiatus for the late '90s and early 2000s, but she returned in 2005 with Lifeline, a collection of gospel hymns. Released in 2012, Sing the Delta, her first album of original songs in 16 years, found her working again within the sparse and emotional quilt of her earlier releases.

The 'Victories' of the Cuban working class

Jimmy Roque Martinez, on the occasion of International Workers Day on May 1, wrote a very fine column "The Earth Trembles in Cuba" on the Havana Times website, one of the few outlets for independent writing from Cuba.

Thousands of workers marched across the Plaza of the Revolution in “support” of the Cuban Revolution and its leaders.

The Cuban working class is one of the few in the world that does not have to fight for better working conditions. They must only show their gratitude and obedience to maintain the gains achieved.

This International Workers Day the Cuban working class jubilantly celebrated several victories achieved. For example:
  •  Having a wage labor system.
  • That this wage is not even sufficient to feed themselves.
  • That they do not own the means of production, although the state says otherwise.
  • That they have a union they supports their employers and not them as a working class
  • That their union federation supports the massive layoffs of state employees.
  • That the retirement age was increased by five years with the support of the CTC.
  • That a labor law passed four months ago, still unknown in its final form, eliminated the right to employment.
  • That they will receive a measly pension.
Here is his conclusion

May Day is definitely not a day of celebration for the Cuban working class. There are many rights to fight for, much exploitation to eliminate.

The earth trembled in Havana, but with demagoguery, injustice and the exploitation of workers in the name of a nonexistent socialism and the strengthening of capitalism.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Country Club 38: the San Antonio National Anthem

For this weeks Country Club, something on the Hispanic-Country connection seems appropriate with Cinco de Mayo approaching in a few days.  The most obvious selection would be the great Freddy Fender already featured in Country Club #10. Fender was part of the supergroup Texas Tornados.  Doug Sahm introduces "Hey Baby Que Paso" as the San Antonio national anthem, which recalls the Negro National Anthem, the bebop national anthem, and the 2006 controversy over a Spanish version of the Star Spangled Banner.

Country music, though we don't usually think of it that way, is multicultural.  It isn't just the music of the Scots-Irish of Appalachia.  The influence of African-American blues has to be recognized and it often is.  But let's remember the contributions of German and Czech music--where do you think those accordions came from.  The Tennessee Waltz was written by a Polish American from Wisconsin!.

Traditional Mexican tunes entered the repertoire of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys and  became country standards: the Maiden's Prayer (which actually comes from a Polish piano piece) and the (New) Spanish Two Step. Both the Tex-Mex and Tejano music styles have incorporated country with other sounds, though both have appealed primarily  to Mexican-Americans.

What will the growth of America's Hispanic population mean for the future of country music? 

Chris Henrichsen on Socialism

Chris Henrichsen, who runs the very interesting Approaching Justice blog shared some of his posts on socialism for May Day.  They are worth reading.  Here are the links.
 Why I am a Socialist

Freedom and Socialism

Against Capitalism