I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night...

...and Joe said, "you people need some new tunes."

Any self-respecting social movement needs a repertoire of decent songs. The American left, despite its relative political weakness, has given the world a treasure trove of political hymns and radical anthems. Spirituals and gospel songs associated with the labor and civil rights movements are now sung all over the world."We Shall Not Be Moved" is now sung by striking workers and cheering soccer fans alike. Pete Seeger and Lee Hays' "If I had a Hammer" has been translated into several languages was turned into a Latin American classic, "El martillo," by Chilean folksinger Victor Jara.

In the English-speaking countries, "The Red Flag," written by James Connell, was a traditional anthem of socialist parties. My main problem with The Red Flag is that it is usually sung to the tune of "O Tannenbaum," perhaps the lamest of Christmas carols. The lyrics are also a bit gruesome:

The people's flag is deepest red,
It shrouded oft our martyr'd dead
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,
Their hearts' blood dyed its ev'ry fold

Scanning the internet, I found a few good parodies. Here's one for sell-out social democrats:

The People’s Flag is palest pink
It’s not as red as you might think
But just to prove that we’re sincere
We’ll sing the Red Flag once a year.

And one for the anarchists:

The workers’ flag is blackest black
The red one’s just for bureaucrats
We’ll organize to smash the State
And shoot the vanguard while we wait

The other classic is "The Internationale," which has been translated into practically every language from its original French. In English, we have lyrics for both American and British versions of the song. The American variation, written by Charles Kerr and popularized by the Little Red Songbook, goes like this:

Arise ye prisoners of starvation
Arise ye wretched of the earth
For justice thunders condemnation
A better world's in birth!

Does this song need an update? To my mind, "wretched of the earth" sounds a bit too pathetic. And while global hunger remains a real problem, I (who could stand to lose a few pounds) can hardly identify myself as a "prisoner of starvation." As it stands now, the Internationale is a song of Dickensian misery expressed in unsingable and archaic language. Of course, the Internationale is too precious and too universal to abandon...but how about some fresher lyrics? We already have competing versions and variations so it wouldn't be too much of a betrayal of tradition to update the words. There are plenty of new political songs out there, especially coming out of political hip hop, but these songs are just not easy to sing en masse. Bottom line is, we new troubadours and some new songs to fan the flames of discontent. Am I right?

Be the first to comment

Revolution at the Crossroads: Igniting the Socialist Resistance Against Trump

February 17, 2017 · $20.00 USD

Location: MayDay Space
Where: 176 St Nicholas Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11237
When: Friday, February 17th at 6 PM to Sunday, February 19th to 4 PM

Political Context

This Presidents’ Day weekend, the Young Democratic Socialists will gather for our annual winter conference in New York City titled Revolution at the Crossroads: Igniting the Socialist Resistance Against Trump. We did not choose the name lightly. In doing so, we call for leftists to collectively confront Trump and Trumpism at every possible opportunity. When a Trump administration attempts mass deportations of undocumented workers, when it attempts to register Muslims or roll back worker protections, when it attempts to take away reproductive, LGTBQ, civil, or any other rights, then we must militantly resist to prevent such measures.

To succeed, this must be explicitly socialist resistance. With liberalism having repeatedly shown itself incapable of combating the far right, it is now the time for socialists to openly declare our place in building the mass, multi-racial, and working class movement necessary for defeating the Trump administration. In this struggle, millennials will play an outsized role. That is why this conference comes at such a critical time—together we must create spaces for democratic and strategic discussion, spaces to gain organizing skills, and most importantly, spaces to form networks of young radicals for the future struggles ahead. These spaces will only come together if socialists come together. Join us this Presidents Weekend and help ignite the movement to defeat the Trump administration, continue the political revolution, and build the socialist alternative.

Key Deadlines

  • January 8th: Travel Scholarship for Air Travel (for application see below)
  • January 15th: Travel Scholarship for Non-Air Travel (ex: bus, car, train, etc.)
  • February 3rd: Early Bird Registration Ends - Tickets prices go up from $5 to $10
  • February 10th: Free Housing - We have limited free housing. You need to first register, then you will be sent an application for free housing.

Apply for a travel scholarship here! (First Deadline January 8, 2017)

Check out the working program (subject to change)