44-Radical Songs sung in the 60s

Anarchist Flag

The piece is about radical songs I learned in the 50’s and 60’s. I’ll start with that anthem of the Left, The International. I used to sing a slightly tongue-in-cheek Country and Western version. It went…

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

..... 'Tis the final conflict,
Let each stand in his place.
The international working class
Shall be the human race "

The G.P.U. Were a unit of the Russian state secret police. A parody song which I thought was from Dave Van Ronk and Dick Ellington’s ‘The Bosses Songbook’ is actually a Trotskyite ditty and signals the end of the Left’s romance with Communism.

"When I was a lad in 1906, I joined a band of Bolsheviks.
I read the Manifesto and Das Kapital and I even learned to sing the International
I even learned to sing the International
I sang that song with a voice so true that now I am a prisoner of the G.P.U.
I sang that song with a voice so true that now I am a prisoner of the G.P.U."

A member of the Anarchist group I belonged to, Russell Blackwell, had gone to Spain to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Spain was testing ground for the Fascists before WWII. There were all breeds of radicals there - Communists, Anarchists, Socialists. The Communists, predictably, sold the Anarchists out. In a power struggle the first thing the far Right or Left does is get rid of the Anarchists. A couple of songs from that movement were popular in the 60's are
'Los Cuatro Generales'

"Los cuatro generales,
Los cuatro generales,
Los cuatro generales
Mamita mia
Que se han alzado,
Que se han alzado"

Then there was was Freiheit, which is the German word for 'freedom'. This was an anthem of the Anarchist civil war movement in Spain.

"Spanish heavens spread their brilliant starlight
High above our trenches in the plain
In the distance morning comes to greet us
Calling us to battle once again

Far off is our home yet ready we stand
We're fighting and winning for you

The other leading light of my small Anarchist group was Sam Weiner. Sam was a long time radical and used to give rousing public speeches in public squares on a literal soap box. He met his wife, Esther, that way. He was I.W.W. (Industrial Workers of the World, otherwise known as the Wobblies.) He represented the Anarcho-syndicalist or union movement side of our little radical group. Anarcho-syndicalists view labour unions as a potential force for revolutionary social change. I wish them luck in this regard.

We would sing union songs, some of which are still used by today's unions with a few changes in the lyrics.

The Union Maid by Woody Guthrie sung to the tune of 'Pretty Redwing'

"There once was a union maid, she never was afraid
Of goons and ginks and company finks
And all those guys that hung around the bosses
She went to the union hall when a meeting it was called,
And when the time came 'round to vote you'd hear her say

Oh, you can't scare me, I'm sticking to the union,
I'm sticking to the union, I'm sticking to the union.
Oh, you can't scare me, I'm sticking to the union,
I'm sticking to the union 'til the day I die."
"Must We still be slaves and Work for wages?
It is outrageous.
Has been for ages.
For the earth by right belongs to toilers
And not to spoilers of liberty...."

The Popular Wobbly by T-Bone Slim

"I'm as mild-mannered man as can be,
And I've never done no harm as I can see.
Still on me they put a ban,
And they threw me in the can,
They go wild, simply wild over me."
They accuse me of rascality,
But I can't see why they always pick on me,
I'm as gentle as a lamb
But they take me for a ram,
They go wild, simply wild over me.

Oh the "bull" he went wild over me,
And he held his gun where everyone could see,
He was breathing rather hard
When he saw my union card
He went wild, simply wild over me.

Then the judge he went wild over me.
And I plainly saw we never could agree,
So I let "his Nibs" obey
What his conscience had to say.
He went wild, simply wild over me.

Oh the jailer he went wild over me,
And he locked me up and threw away the key
It seems to be the rage
So they keep me in a cage,
They go wild, simply wild over me.

They go wild, simply wild over me,
I'm referring to the bedbug and the flea,
They disturb my slumber deep
And I murmur in my sleep,
They go wild, simply wild over me.

Will the roses grow wild over me,
When I'm gone into the land that is to be ?
When my soul and body part
In the stillness of my heart,
Will the roses grow wild over me ?

I’ll end this reminiscence with ‘The Red Flag’ sung to the tune of ‘O Tannenbaum’ (re-use, re-cycle). That’s sort of a wrap up of my radical, musical days in the 60’s. ‘The Red Flag’ was usually sung at the funerals of our radical brethren. Maybe another time I’ll talk about the songs of the Civil Rights Movement, another singing movement. All the good political movements were and are singing movements.

The Red Flag by James O'Connell, 1899

"The worker's flag is deepest red
It shrouded oft our martyred dead;
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold
Their life-blood dyed its every fold.


Then raise the scarlet standard high!
Beneath its folds we'll live and die.
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer
We'll keep the red flag flying here. "

Wavy Line

© Sonia Brock 2006

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