Monday, May 28, 2018

When the left lifts its voices in song, they sing.....what?

Todd Gitlin has an interesting article on the New York Review of Books blog concerning "The Missing Music of the Left". Gitlin observes:
"it has been a very long time since insurgents worldwide shared a moral equivalent of “The Internationale,” the anthem adopted by the (second) Socialist International in the late nineteenth century and subject to the contesting claims of socialists and communists ever since. International solidarity and the putative brotherhood of workers crashed and burned in 1914, when the German Social Democrats voted war credits to the Kaiser so that Germany could slaughter its ostensible class allies, and left-wing parties across Europe split over whether to support their respective nation-state or oppose an “imperialist war.”
In 1917, Lenin’s Bolshevik heresy was able to capitalize on antiwar sentiment in Russia to seize power. A few years later, the Soviet Union was promoting a version of “internationalism” that conveniently withered into a defense of the Kremlin’s foreign policy interests of the moment. As Vaclav Havel wrote in his great 1978 essay, “The Power of the Powerless,” universalist slogans like “Workers of the world, unite!” shriveled into loyalty cheers lacking any concrete meaning.
All these years later, the left is still tuneless. Missing from social democracy is a galvanizing cross-border spirit, a sense of historical destiny, and yes, a literal song. In the twenty-first century, attachment to the identity tribe is fiercer, more binding, than any attachment to a common purpose. Today’s most prominent left-wing chant, “The people united will never be defeated,” is a tautology. When it originated, in Allende-era Chile, it meant something topical. Today, it is strictly sentimental. Trump supporters could cheerfully sign on to their version of what it means to be “the people united”—designating immigrants and Muslims, not the bourgeoisie, as the excludables.....
The varieties of revolutionary Marxism, for all their immense differences and faults, shared a lineage, a faith in humanity, and a comfort in believing that the future belonged to them. They had rituals—holidays, heroes, performances, slogans. They had learning and culture—newspapers, magazines, books, movies. They had, in the capitalist class, a common enemy. They had charismatic leaders and they had access to what the sociologist Philip Selznick called “the organizational weapon.” They had a song that was the sonic incarnation of the idea that “the international working class shall be the human race.” However local your struggle, however dire or parochial your circumstances, you could transcend it. You could sing “The Internationale” and—for a moment—find refuge in an imagined future. Here is the first stanza of the American translation (from the original French) by Charles Hope Kerr:
Arise, ye prisoners of starvation!
Arise, ye wretched of the earth!
For justice thunders condemnation:
A better world’s in birth!
Marxism was not the only ideology to crystallize its aims into a song; in fact, it is hard to think of one that doesn’t. There is a reason why nation-states develop national anthems. The theme is not always uniform, not always in march time, but it must be rousing. What I am calling the music of an outlook or a movement captures the overall spirit of the enterprise: that combination of mental and moral senses that arouses the blood, that generates energy and drives persistence to overcome the inevitable obstacles in the way of the realization of ideals....
Nearly three decades after the collapse of the communist phantasm, the left has still not recovered its voice, let alone composed a melody you can’t get out of your head."
I take that as a challenge. Does anyone have a nomination for such a song? This Land Is Your Land with the verses that are always left out? Other ideas?

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