Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Mourn for him, boys PLP-LP rewrites Joe Hill

First Published: The Worker, Vol 10, No 21, September 28, 1978
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

PLP has just released a second album, called “A World to Win”. Musically and technically, it has far more polish than their first album, “Power is the Working Class”, but they have tried to do something more with this album. Instead of adding to working class art, they have decided to change history. On the album jacket, they explain the “mistakes” made in the past by communist and working class song:

The fact is the communist movement in the U.S. never developed music that explicitly called for revolution, but rather, to join the union, to fight for an abstract freedom, human rights, and other reformist ideas. The result of this rotten line was winning workers to fight for reforms not revolution. This led the workers to the liberal bourgeois camp instead of the communist movement...They (the songs) often displayed brilliance in presenting the problems and utterly failed in giving the working class the only solution: socialism!

To correct that error, the PLP singers deemed it necessary to change lyrics “to better reflect our line”. Thus a song like Joe Hill’s “Should I Ever Be a Soldier” – what song better states the line of “turn the guns around” on your own bosses instead of against workers of another state – has been so changed that the lyrics are barely recognizable. PL’s version:

The bosses’ politicians say, “We must vote our conviction.
There’s nothing wrong with capitalism,. just needs a little fixin’.”
But communists around around the world, we have the real solution:
Reforms won’t lead to workers’ power; what we need is revolution!

Should I ever be a soldier, ’neath the red flag I will fight.
Should a gun a ever shoulder, it’s to crush the bosses’ might.
Join Progressive Labor Party, men and women fall in line.
Wage-slaves of the world, unite! Do your duty for the cause of workers liberty.

Hill’s original:
Why do they mount their gattling guns
A thousand miles from ocean,
Where hostile fleet could never run –
Ain’t that a funny notion?
If you don’t know the reason why,
Just strike for better wages,
And then, my friend – if you don’t die –
You’ll sing this song for ages.

Should I ever be a soldier, ’neath the red flag I will fight.
Should a gun ever shoulder, it’s to crush the tyrants might.
Join the army of the toilers, men and women fall in line.
Wage-slaves of the world, arouse! Do your duty for the cause, for Land and Liberty!.

They also changed Joe Hill’s “Preacher and the Slave”.

Neither of Woody Guthrie’s songs, “Deportee” and “1913 Massacre” – both written about specific incidents in working class history – were “revolutionary” enough for the PLP singers, so they changed and added words. For example, from “Deportee”.

This is the way that they grow their big orchards.
This is the way that they grow their good fruit.
But workers all over, one class united,
With guns in our hands we can turn things around!
Good-bye to the growers, good-bye to their system,
Hello, mis amigos, Jesus y Maria.
With changes we make through the taking of power
There’ll be no more borders and no deportees.

Guthrie’s original:
Is this the best way to raise our good orchards?
Is this the best way to grow our good crops?
To die and be scattered to rot on the top soil?
To be called by no name except Deportee?
Say good-bye to my Juan, good-bye Rosalita,
Adios, mis amigos, Jesus y Maria.
You won’t have a name when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be Deportee.

The solution they declare each and every song should have – socialism – is not present in their version. The line “smash all borders” is not socialism – U.S. imperialism has been trying to do that for years.

They don’t do this to every song on the album. They kept Dylan’s “The Hour When the Ship Comes In”, a vague allegory about revolution, intact.

They make no revisions of the Spanish language songs with the exception of “Senor Inversionista”.

They add three new songs to round out the album : “Clifford Glover” is a song about a racist murder of a black boy by cops. They touch this one up:

Now if you hear a cop got shot today
Don’t be surprised if his name is Shea
’Cause when people feel they’ve had enough,
Things get rough, and it may be tough at first to understand
That to drive the bosses from this land
There’s gonna be alot of us determined when we say:
Die, killers, die!
If someone questions why,
You can tell them that I had a gun!
Your killing days are done!
I ain’t gonna be just another lousy victim dead!

The solution derived from those words is terrorism.

“They Shall Rule the Earth”, written by a PL member is a song about capitalist exploitation and inevitable socialist revolution. “The Sunshine Mine Disaster”, written by CPLer Mike Hersh, tells of the infamous tragedy that occurred in the mines in Kellogg, Idaho, a few years ago.

Unfortunately, the PLers do not let us know who the new working class song writers are. They prefer to keep the composers “anonymous”, saying the songs are written “one by our Party...one by CPL”. I think it is a mistake not to identify individuals because it is important that people know that a Party is made up of real people – the Party didn’t write the song – a Party member wrote the song, based on the Party’s political line and his own feelings. This point may seem minor, but it is a habit that PL has when writing in its paper Challenge. PLers are rarely, if ever, named. Are there any PLers out there? The PL singers remain anonymous, as well. Who are these phantom voices?

The remarks on the album jacket reflect an arrogance about errors made by former revolutionaries and communists and how PL will correct these errors with their “line” of “Revolutions not Reform”. If Joe Hill’s songs were so bad, why did thousands of workers demonstrate and support him during his trial? Why is he respected today and his music still sung? It is because his music did not lead workers to the liberal bourgeois camp, as PLP claims, but towards a fuller awareness of the class struggle and toward revolution.

PLP could have done a great service to the working class by giving background notes about the songs so that listeners could better understand them and the historical period from which they came. Instead they do a great injustice to revolutionary song writers like Joe Hill and Woody Guthrie and the times their music represents.

The communist movement made some errors in the past and the words to the songs reflect them. Nevertheless, those songs are an integral part of our working class history. So many of the songs come directly out of working class and reform struggles which revolutionaries and workers waged against the bosses and capitalism. And many of the old songs, not selected for this album, are revolutionary in content. To change the words to give the songs the “correct line” is to rob us of our history. The bosses try to rob us of our past by making militant union, and revolutionary music virtually impossible to find. Let us preserve that history from which we have so much to learn, and add to it our own struggles and songs.