This website kills fascists!

Right-wing conservative columnist, Andrew Bolt, has perplexed some of his followers by putting on his site a youtube clip of Woody Guthrie singing “This Land is your Land”. Another right-wing site, Just Grounds Community , has commented on those conservatives who do not have the knowledge of history or the “empathy” to understand why and how Guthrie supported socialism and sympathized with communism during the 1930s. I’m not precisely sure where JGC is coming from but they certainly make sense in their understanding that Woody Guthrie would not have been impressed with the pseudo-left of today – “the two bit hustlers… the present day chancers and fuzzy thinkers who would claim his endorsement”.

I sometimes wonder how many people identify with the right – the libertarian right in particular – because what passes for ‘the left’ is so appallingly unworthy of support.

Woody Guthrie was born in Oklahoma in 1912 and died in 1967 in New York. Guthrie had a major influence on Bob Dylan, among other folk singers who rose to prominence in the 1960s. Guthrie’s positive aspects were many: on his guitar he often wrote or pasted the words “This machine kills fascists”. It’s unlikely that he ever joined the Communist Party of the USA but he was a supporter of it and between 1939 and 1940 wrote a column for the party’s newspaper, ‘The Daily Worker’. He probably didn’t join because he didn’t want to be subjected to organizational discipline. Good on him. He once said: “Where three communists meet, the fourth one ought to be a guitar player”. (Again: Right On!)

Guthrie was certainly a fine guitar player, song writer and distinctive vocalist. His best-known song is probably “This Land” and it’s worth looking at the lyrics; though, as with most folk songs, these changed with various renditions. The changes are actually important in this case and it’s significant that the JGC site has chosen to quote lyrics from other Guthrie songs that actually obscure a more complete understanding of his message in “This Land”.

“This Land” was written as a protest song, not just about conditions under capitalism at the time, but in protest against another song, Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” which, as the title suggests, was not exactly critical of the USA and its social system. In developing his response in 1940, Guthrie used the title “God Blessed America for Me” but by 1944 he was singing it as “This Land is Your Land”.

The five verses repulbished at the end of this article are often presented as the complete version and Andrew Bolt’s youtube clip features this version. However, what is of interest here is that two additional verses are heard on the first recording of the song, in March 1944. (This rare recording is held by the Smithsonian Institute). These verses really add some good politics to the song. The ‘fourth verse’ says:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing;
This land was made for you and me.

(At other times, he referred to “No trespassing” instead of the direct reference to ‘private property’).

The ‘sixth verse’ carries the hopeful and inspiring spirit of the song even further:

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.
In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I’d seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

The punch-line is confrontational: Is this land – the social system of capitalism – really made for you and me?

The youtube clip with this article features the fourth verse but I haven’t been able to find one with the sixth verse.

There have been recent disputes about copyright ownership of the song but Woody sure had it right. He said:

“This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do”.

Rock on!

The five verses that are commonly regarded as the full song (and feature in the clip posted by Andrew Bolt at his blog):

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me.

I roamed and I rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
While all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
A voice was chanting, As the fog was lifting,
This land was made for you and me.

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

(In preparing this article I relied on various on-line sources, starting with wikipedia entries on Guthrie and on “This Land is your land”: )

1 Response to “This website kills fascists!”

  1. 1 Steve Owens

    Barry good choice, my personal favourite is “Deportee (Plane wreck at Los Gatos) very moving

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