Friday, September 30, 2016

Woody Guthrie's Post-1950's FBI File Revisited--Part 1

In a July 15, 1946 letter, Woody Guthrie wrote the following:

“It is not just a question of you, as an artist, selling out, and becoming harmless to the owning side. No, you are never actually bought nor bribed till they have decided that they can use you in one way or another to rob, to deceive, to blind, confuse, to misrepresent, or just to harass, worry, bedevil, and becloud the path of the militant worker on his long hard fight from slavery to freedom. Your art helps to preserve, to prolong, to keep alive, and to glorify the essences and the principles of the owning, ruling side. If your art did not add new life to their side, kid not yourself, they would certainly never shake your hand and drop their bloody money down into your lap. And it is the highest form of your owner’s joy when he buys you out from the union side (where you) have spent several years of your life getting people to follow, to hear, or to stand for a while and listen to what you have to say, or to live their lives in spirit and in action in the way that you lived your own. This makes you worth lots more to your owner…

“This is the bad part of a capitalist system, this dog eat dog, this spying, tracing, tracking and trailing after one another always under the covers of night and the shades and shadows of day…This is the system which the owners would like to prolong, to keep alive, to prolong as long as they possibly can, because in the wild blindness of it all, they get all of us to fighting against one another, and rob us coming in the fields of production, and going, in the realm of distribution. This is the system I would like to see die out. It killed several members of my family, it gassed several and shell shocked several more in the last world war, and in this world war just past, it scattered lots more. It drove families of my relatives and friends by the hundreds of thousands to wander more homeless than dogs and to live less welcome than hogs, sheep, or cattle. This is the system I started out to expose by every conceivable way that I could think of with songs and with ballads, and even with poems, stories, newspaper articles, even by humor, by fun, by nonsense, ridicule and by any other way that I could lay hold on.”

Coincidentally, among the pages contained in Woody Guthrie’s declassified post-1950s FBI file (100-29988-5,6,7,8) is a June 2, 1950 memorandum sent to the FBI Director by the FBI’s Los Angeles office on the subject “Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, Woody Guthrie, Security Matter,” which states:

“Re: El Paso letter to New York dated 2-15-50 in captioned matter, report of Special Agent [censored] dated 4-30-50 at Los Angeles entitled `Factionalists Sabotage Group,’ Internal Security-C:

“On April 18, 1950 CNDI [censored] identified a photograph of GUTHRIE as being the individual to whom he had previously referred to as (WOODY), and who was a member of the Factionalist Sabotage Group. According to CNDI [censored] GUTHRIE from approximatelyApril 15, 1950 to May 15, 1950 resided at the home of [censored] Los Angeles, California, and an individual who has also been identified as a member of the above group.

“On May 15, 1950 CNDI [censored] ascertained that GUTHRIE left Los Angeles on that date and on May 18, 1950 CNDI [censored] was advised by [censored] that GUTHRIE was in El Paso, Texas where he would contact his children and former wife. Reference telbu reflects that GUTHRIE’s children resided at 4002 Bliss Street, El Paso, Texas.

“For the information of the El Paso office CNDIS [censored] have furnished this office since [censored] with information concerning a group of approximately thirty men and women, some veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and expelled Communist Party members who are regularly meeting in Los Angeles. According to [censored]this group has a headquarters in Mexico City, Mexico, and one of the group [censored], known to your office, left Los Angeles in December 1949 to work in this headquarters; her residence has been verified in Cuernevaca, Mexico.

“The [censored] of this group, [censored] has advised CNDI [censored]that the ultimate purpose of this group is sabotage against the United States during war with Russia and has outlined to him group policy in recruitment, method of operation, publications, finances, and has advised the informant that his group has a direct contact with the `Comintern.’

“By letter dated May 15, 1950 in the referenced matter the Bureau requested that individual investigations be opened concerning members of this group and security index cards be considered.

“El Paso is requested to verify the residence of the subject in El Paso through [censored], El Paso County Court House, El Paso, Texas, it being noted that [censored] has previously furnished your office with information regarding GUTHRIE.

“Upon receipt of this verification, Los Angeles will submit a RUC report covering GUTHRIE’s activities known to this office.”

And a July 21, 1950 memorandum to the FBI Director from the FBI’s Los Angeles office on the same subject states:

“Rebutel dated July 14, 1950, entitled `FACTIONALIST SABOTAGE GROUP, INTERNAL SECURITY C ‘Bufile 100-369268’…

“CNDI [censored] on July 4, 1950, advised he had ascertained from[censored], also a member of the referenced group, that the subject was presently residing at 3520 Mermaid Avenue, Brooklyn 24, New York.

“A pending report setting out leads to verify the subject’s residence in New York is presently being transcribed and will be forwarded to the New York and El Paso Offices at an early date.”

Also included in Woody Guthrie’s declassified post-1950’s FBI file is an August 3, 1950 document summarizing the articles that appeared in the left-wing Daily People’s World in 1948 and 1949 that either mentioned Woody or were written by Woody; and which states that “T-1 advised that he specifically recalls Guthrie having attended” six political meetings between March 26, 1950 and May 6, 1950 that were held at 932 or 932 ½ North Lucile Ave. in Los Angeles. Yet this August 3, 1950 admits that “[censored] Guthrie [censored] advised that he personally has never, [censored] made any statement relative to sabotage…”

For more information about Woody Guthrie’s life and work, you can check out the official Woody Guthrie site at .

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Woody Guthrie's FBI File Revisited--Part 2

In a July 15, 1946 letter, Woody Guthrie wrote the following:

“I have decided, long ago, that my songs and ballads would not get the hugs and kisses of the capitalistic `experts,’ simply because I believe that the real folk history of this country finds its center and its hub in the fight of the union members against the hired gun thugs of the big owners. It is for this reason I have never really, sincerely, expected nor dimly prayed, nor hoped for a single solitary minute for a penny’s worth of help from the hand of our landlord and ruler….
“To the big owners, an artist of any note or fame, that can be said to work or fight over on the union side, is classed by the big boys as a soldier, a technical, or an artistic captain or a general. The money paid to clip off working class artists may start at a measley Ten or Fifteen Thousand, and run up very quick to the sum of, A Hundred, Two Hundred Thousand, or a Half Million long greens. (This is no money at all to the big handlers that toss bales of money back and forth across their tables to the tune of a Million, a Billion, or more, Dollars)….
“It is not only a question of buying you and your art out of circulation, to keep you from stirring up your people against their blind owners; it is, lots of times a question of blocking your hand on every side, or causing you to get all lost and tangled up in a thousand traps of their psychological, emotional, economical, legal and illegal sorts of personal warfare. This will take the form of bribery, social disgrace, exposes’, running down your work, discouraging your talents, and insulting you on every turn.”
Coincidentally, among the 55 pages contained in Woody Guthrie’s de-classified FBI file (100-29988-5) is a July 15, 1943 Memorandum for E.A. Tamm, regarding “Department of Agriculture Nationwide Production `It’s Up To You’,” from D. M. Ladd of the FBI which states:

“I am attaching a program of the production `It’s Up To You,’ which was staged at the Department of Agriculture Auditorium in Washington, D.C. for a ten day period commencing on June 22, 1943. The production was attended by Special Agent [censored] and because of the tenor of the production Agent [censored] checked the Bureau file and ascertained that the following named individuals connected with the production of this show are either closely associated with the Communist Party or members thereof: Earl Robinson, Woody Guthrie…

“…In November, 1942 the Baltimore Field Office reported that through the medium of a confidential informant it was learned that a mass meeting was held at the negro Elk’s Hall in Baltimore, on which occasion the speakers were James Ford, an official of the Communist Party, USA, and Woody Guthrie. Guthrie is identified as having associated with one John R. Forrest, a song writer…Forrest is the subject of a Bureau file and is closely associated with Communist and Communist infiltrated groups in and around Los Angeles, California. Guthrie has been a resident of both New York City and Los Angeles.”
For more information about Woody Guthrie’s life and his historical impact on U.S. cultural life, you can check out the official Woody Guthrie website at  

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Woody Guthrie's FBI File Revisited--Part 1

In a July 15, 1946 letter, Woody Guthrie wrote the following:

“I have never sung nor made songs just to entertain the upper classes, but to curse their clawing, reckless racketeers, and to warn the nervous ones that live and die by greed....

“Not all of us folk and ballad makers and singers stand where I stand. Not all of them see the world as I see it. Some would rather be a `character’ and to be fotographed and filmed, broadcast and recorded, and paid big money by the big money side. They would rather occupy a certain social position, to be well known, to play the game of publicity gangsters and to enjoy the crowds that clap and yell when you tell them directly or indirectly that this old world is okie dokie, she is all right, she is a nice good place to live on, and if you kick or argue, or make too much noise with your mouth, then you are just a native barnkicker, and a griper, and you are kicked out by your own inability to `cooperate’ with the high moguls…

“If your work gets to be labeled as communist or even as communistic or even as radically leaning in the general direction of bolshevism, then, of course, you are black balled, black listed, chalked up as a revolutionary bomb thrower, and you invite the whole weight of the capitalist machine to be thrown against you…”

Coincidentally, among the 55 pages in Woody Guthrie’s de-classified FBI file [100-29988] , is a July 18, 1941 “Memorandum to Mr. Matthew F. McGuire, The Assistant to the Attorney General” from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover which states:

“From a confidential source, information has been furnished this Bureau that one Woodrow W. Guthrie, who is employed by the Department of the Interior, is allegedly a member of the Communist Party. This individual is reported as being at the present time on the West Coast, engaged in the making of a motion picture for the Department of the Interior…”

Also contained in Woody Guthrie’s de-classified FBI file is an October 17, 1941 letter to the “Special Agent in Charge, San Francisco, California” from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, “Re: Woodrow W. Guthrie, Internal Security”, which states:

“…Guthrie is no longer an employee of another Governmental agency and in the event the files of your field division reflect the desirability of conducting an investigation into his activities and sympathies in order to determine whether they are inimical to the best interests of this Government you are at liberty to do so.”

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Revisiting Ireland's Protest Folk and Rebel Songs--Part 1

Centuries before some commercially-motivated professional songwriters, professional entertainers and global media conglomerate record companies began to make a lot of money in the late 1950's and 1960's from selling vinyl records of commercial pop protest songs to a mass audience of consumers, non-commercially-motivated and nationally oppressed people in Ireland were writing--either individually or collectively--topical protest folk songs and Irish rebel songs. As Patrick Galvin noted in his 1950's book, Irish Songs of Resistance (1169-1923):

"...The vast bulk of Irish songs...are either anonymous reports of actual events, or else epic appeals to nationhood and love of liberty, composed by men of letters and other public figures, and universally known and sung all over the country...

"The Irish people have kept these songs alive because they represented and expressed the people's own powerful and legitimate emotions and desires. At the same time, the songs helped to direct and canalize action in support of those desires...

"Since the history of Ireland is largely that of some 800 years of resistance to invasion, annexation, absorption, settlement, enclosure, oppression and exploitation by England, Ireland's songs sound a continual note of resistance...

"...The great bulk of the national ballads (in the English language) date from the 19th-century, and above all from the mid-19th-century...

"Almost all Irish national songs since the 1840's...are composed poems...containing many allusions to past battles, rebellions, heroes and traitors, intended for singing to traditional airs or popular melodies...

(end of part 1)

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Revisiting 19th-Century Yiddish Protest Folk Songs of Russia

Long before some commercially-motivated professional songwriters, professional entertainers and corporate media conglomerate record companies started to make a lot of money by marketing vinyl records of pop topical protest songs in late 1950's and 1960's, some non-commercially-motivated folks in Eastern Europe and Russia were--either individually or collectively--writing and singing topical protest folk songs in the Yiddish language. As Ruth Rubin recalled in her 1963 book, Voices of a People: The Story of Yiddish Folksong:

"The second half of the nineteenth century saw the development of capitalism in Russia. With the rapid growth of industry in such large Jewish centers as Lodz, Warsaw, Bialystok,Vilna, Pinsk, and Odessa, new songs were created by the former workshop hands now turned factory workers...

"As they described the horrible working conditions which prevailed, some of the songs took on a tone of protest and even a call to workingmen to rally in their own interests...

"These were songs which summoned the people to meetings and kept time with marching feet during demonstrations...

"...Workers were compelled to meet and deliberate in secret, and there were songs which described such clandestine gatherings...

"...Didactic folk songs dealing with political matters were common...These agitational folk songs seek to teach...certain principles...

"...The political songs which were current during the Russo-Japanese war, mainly in the cities and large towns,...tied in with the songs of the Russian Revolution of 1905...

"...Workingmen and women marched together, fought together, and died together on the barricades of the 1905 Revolution, singing...The 1905 Revolution was crushed. Songs of imprisonment now increased in number...

"The topical songs of the end-of-the-century period enjoyed the widest dissemination among the people...

"...Before the 1905 Russian Revolution, social...protest was already part of anonymous folk songs current among working men and women..." 

Yiddish lyrics that are translated into English in Ruth Rubin's 1963 book indicated that the following protest sentiments were expressed in these non-commercially-motivated Yiddish topical protest folk songs:

1. "...Want, misery, all your life
Dying prematurely;
Oh, how long will you be patient,
Poor workingmen!"

2.  "When poverty ruled my blood...
The capitalists sucked my blood..."

3.  "Cease your slumbering, sisters and brothers,
Awake! Unite!
Quickly, quickly, without any noise,
See to it that all men are equal..."

4. "In the far-off land Siberia
...I was exiled there, for shouting
The one word--freedom.
With the knout they beat me,
To make me stop saying:
Greetings to freedom!
Down with Nicholas!"

5.  "A dark cloud in the sky
Has spread all over Russia
There's shouting and a noise,
That Russia must be set free.

"All the streets are seething
There's a great cry in the air
Of thousands of working masses;
Down with Czar Nicholas!"

6.  "...Come bravely to free yourselves...
...Everyone, quickly, to the barricade,
Brother, quickly, come out with arms,
Don't stand there, unite, comrades..."

and 7.  "We sit in jail fainting
With hunger and cold...
All for freedom,
We are tortured,
Punished and deprived,
We're fighting for freedom,
We must defeat
The Czarist might..."

The late 19th-century Yiddish topical protest folk song "Der Arbeiter/The Working Man" by David Edelshtat also contained the following lyrics:

"Workingmen, how long will you remain isolated from your brothers
Arise and put an end to the overseer."

And the following last words that were uttered by a Vilna shoemaker named Hirsh Lekert, prior to being hanged by Czarist government authorities on May 29, 1902, provided some of the lyrics for the Yiddish topical protest folk songs about the hanging that were written--either individually or collectively--by non-commercially-motivated writers in the first years of the 20th-century:

"Oh, I am now about to be hung
And can do nothing more about it--
I beg of you, my beloved brothers,
Take vengeance of the tyrant nation.

"Oh, the rope that is put around my neck,
Does not frighten me--
I beg of you, my beloved brother,
To sing a song about me." 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Revisiting `Sing' Magazine's 1954 Issues

During the McCarthy Era in the United States, a magazine that encouraged the writing of non-commercially-motivated topical protest folk songs, Sing magazine, began publishing in May 1954. In their first editorial, its editors--Eric Winter and John Hasted--wrote that the magazine's goal was to distribute "as widely as possible" the "songs which are produced in the course of...struggle for a better life" and that Sing "will always seek to work in the closest harmony" with the UK's Workers' Music Association, that had been founded in 1936.

Among the non-commercial topical protest folk songs that were published in Sing magazine's four issues of 1954, that were apparently not heard as much by U.S. corporate radio station listeners during the 1950's as were the commercial pop songs sung by Elvis Presley and The Kingston Trio, were non-commercial topical protest folk songs with the following titles:

1. "The Atom Bomb and the Hydrogen" (by Leon Fung);

2. "Talking Rearmament" (by John Hasted);

3. "The Ballad of Jomo Kenyatta" (by Johnny Ambrose);

4. "The Rosenbergs Were Murdered" (by Eric Winter and John Hasted);

5. "In Contempt" (by Aaron Kramer and Betty Sanders);

6. "Ghost Soldiers" (by an anonymous African-American soldier);

7. "Johnson's Motorcar";

8. "When Asia Came to Geneva: A Tribute to Chou En Lai" (by John Hasted);

9. "Ballad of Ho Chi Minh" (by Ewan MacColl);

10. "The Dove" (adaptation by Ewan MacColl);

11. "Conscripts Forward!" (by John Hasted);

12. "It's Only Propaganda" (by Ewan MacColl); and

13. "Where, O Where Is Our James Connolly".

Among the editorials and articles published in Sing magazine's 1954 issues were the following:

1. An editorial titled "Ban the Bomb";

2. An editorial titled "The Rosenbergs Were Murdered"; and

3. An article by Patrick Galvin, titled "Songs of the Easter Rising."

Friday, September 2, 2016

Non-Commercial Topical Protest Folk Songs vs. Commercial Pop Protest Songs

Non-commercially-motivated people who have felt enslaved, oppressed or economically exploited have always--either individually or collectively--created public domain, topical folk songs that protest against the System that enslaves, oppresses or exploits us. And non-commercially-motivated people--either individually or collectively--have always written public domain, topical protest folk songs that urge those who sing or listen to these non-commercial protest folk songs to collectively revolt and make a political, economic and social revolution.

Some commercially-motivated songwriters, professional entertainers and global corporate media conglomerates, however, sometimes made a lot of money by writing, singing or marketing some privatized/copyrighted topical protest songs to a mass audience of vinyl record or cd consumers in the 20th-century.

Yet despite the commercial success of some of the commercially-motivated individual professional songwriters and entertainers--who capitalized on the global corporate media conglomerates' transformation of some topical protest songs into commodities--most people on earth in the 21st-century are still enslaved, oppressed or economically exploited by the System.

Protest Folk Magazine believes, however, that a topical protest folk song should be a public domain tool for creating revolutionary social change--and not just an additional way for professional songwriters, professional entertainers or global media conglomerates to make a lot of money in the 21st-century, while most of us folk on earth continue to live in poverty, under the System's current global economic set-up.