Saturday, February 11, 2017

Tragic death of immigrant workers inspired a song of solidarity

Woody Guthrie
by Chris Mahin

The fire began over Los Gatos Canyon. It started in the left engine-driven fuel pump. The plane crashed 20 miles west of Coalinga, California, on 28th January, 1948. It came down into hills that, as one commentator noted, at that time of year are “a beautiful green, splendid with wildflowers … a place of breath-taking beauty.”
There were 32 people on board that day but the names of only four were recorded for history. The newspaper articles about the crash written at the time describe an accident involving a Douglas DC-3 carrying immigrant workers from Oakland, California to the El Centro, California Deportation Centre. Those accounts give the name of the plane’s pilot (Frank Atkinson) and co-pilot (Marion Ewing). They mention the name of the stewardess (Bobbi Atkinson) and the guard (Frank E Chapin). The newspaper stories did not, however, include the names of any of the 27 men nor of the one woman who were passengers on that flight, victims who were buried in a mass grave at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fresno, California. Those reports simply dismissed them as “deportees”.
One visitor to the crash site described the scene this way: “I was born and raised in Coalinga and can remember going to the crash site the day after the incident. My father, older sister, and I viewed the crash and even though I was about six years old at the time, I can remember it as if it happened yesterday. It was a cold and damp day and even though the reports were that the site had been cleaned up, this was not the case. The sadness of seeing the meagre possessions of the passengers and the total lack of respect by those who had the task of removing the bodies will be something I will never forget or forgive.”
Three thousand miles away, a man who had himself once been forced to leave his family to look for work took notice. Musician Woody Guthrie left his birthplace in Oklahoma during the Great Depression and then did plenty of “hard travelling” before ultimately ending up in New York. He was outraged by the callous indifference of the news stories that couldn’t be bothered to mention the names of the workers who died in the crash. Out of his anger came a song – Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee), a ballad in which he assigned symbolic names to the dead:

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria;
You won’t have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be “deportees”

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract’s out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves

The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,
A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills,
Who are these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, “They are just deportees”

Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?
To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil
And be called by no name except “deportees”?

The song, as Woody Guthrie wrote it, was without music; Guthrie chanted the words. Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee) was not performed publicly until 10 years after the plane crash, when a school teacher named Martin Hoffman added a haunting melody and Woody’s friend Pete Seeger began performing the song in concerts. The song’s eloquent plea for justice for immigrant workers has stirred the conscience of fair-minded people in the United States ever since.
Often referred to simply as Deportee, the song’s continuing broad appeal can be seen in the fact that it has been recorded by wide variety of artists. Amongst the musicians who have covered the song have been Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and Bruce Springsteen, as well as the Irish musician Christy Moore and the English singer Billy Bragg. The list also includes the Kingston Trio; Cisco Houston; Judy Collins; The Byrds; Joan Baez; Arlo Guthrie; Sweet Honey in the Rock; Hoyt Axton; Peter, Paul, and Mary; Roy Brown Ramirez, Tito Auger and Tao Rodriguez-Seeger; and Paddy Reilly, amongst others.
The 28th January 2017 marks 69 years since the plane wreck near Los Gatos Canyon. The lyrics of Woody Guthrie’s song about the disaster sound as if they were written just days ago, not more than six decades in the past. (This is especially true of the verse “They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.”)    
The great labour leader Mother Jones once said that we should mourn for the dead and fight like hell for the living. On this 69th anniversary of a terrible loss, we should pay special heed to the appeal for the unity of all workers that rings out so beautifully from Woody Guthrie’s song. Today, we can honour the dead of 28th January 1948 best by speaking up in defence of the living immigrant workers of today – regardless of documentation status – and by demanding that the rulers of this country cease their cowardly attempts to use the immigration issue as a wedge to divide the workers of this country.

Denial: A Holocaust court-room drama


By Daphne Liddle

Directed by Mick Jackson. Starring Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, Andrew Scott, Jack Lowden, Caren Pistorius, Alex Jennings and Mark Gatiss. Cert 12A; 110 mins.

THE FILM Denial was released in Britain on 27th January, Holocaust Memorial Day. It is an account of an extraordinary libel case brought by the notorious pro-Hitler writer and activist David Irving against Prof Deborah Lipstadt, an American historian, who mentioned him in her book Denying the Holocaust as a Holocaust denier, falsifier and bigot who manipulated and distorted real documents, and was an anti-Semite and a falsifier of history.
Irving appears at a lecture in 1996 being given by Lipstadt, disrupting her talk to accuse her of lies, distortion and denying him free speech. He holds up a wad of money and promises to pay $1,000 to whoever could produce a bona fide document signed by Adolf Hitler ordering the mass extermination of Jews.
Soon after this, she receives notice that he is suing her and her publisher, Penguin Books, for libel in the British courts. Lipstadt hires British solicitor Anthony Julius. He explains to her the peculiarities of British libel law, where the defendant carries the burden of proof – to prove that their statements were justified. She has to provide solid evidence that the Holocaust really happened and if she fails there will be a legal verdict forever endorsing doubt over the issue. She has no choice but to fight.
Julius works together with Kevin Bays, the solicitor representing Penguin Books, and libel specialist Mark Bateman. They engage libel barrister Richard Rampton. Together they negotiate with Irving, who represents himself in court, that “because the technicalities of the case would be too difficult for ordinary people to understand” the case would be tried before a judge and not a jury.
The trial opened in 2000. Lipstadt’s legal team decided not to put her in the witness box – nor any of the willing Holocaust survivors who are following the case closely – a decision that she finds hard to accept. They have seen Irving before attack and demolish survivors giving evidence, saying that they tattooed the numbers on their arms themselves and made up their stories to gain money and sympathy.
The team’s aim is to prove that the Holocaust was all too real and that Lipstadt’s words were justified by taking just about everything Irving has written – including dozens of diaries – and proving that he knowingly lied in his books and deliberately falsified history to fit with his pro-Nazi views.
This involves a team of senior academics: Professor Richard J Evans, historian and Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University; American Holocaust historian Christopher Browning; German historian Peter Longerich; Dutch architectural expert Robert Jan van Pelt; and a forensic visit to the Auschwitz site. Effectively they turned the trial around, putting Irving and everything he had written on trial.
They won. The judge summed up his verdict: “Irving has for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence; that for the same reasons he has portrayed Hitler in an unwarrantedly favourable light, principally in relation to his attitude towards and responsibility for the treatment of the Jews; that he is an active Holocaust denier; that he is anti-Semitic and racist, and that he associates with right-wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism therefore the defence of justification succeeds. It follows that there must be judgment for the Defendants.”
In light of the evidence presented at the trial, a number of Irving's works that had previously escaped serious scrutiny were brought to public attention. He was also liable to pay all of the substantial costs of the trial, which ruined him financially. Irving was declared   bankrupt in 2002 and was forced to move out of his spacious apartment in London’s West End.
The film finishes with Irving being interviewed on television by Jeremy Paxman, claiming to have won the case and trounced his opposition. For Irving the verdict was the result of prejudice on the part of the judge, who is part of a conspiracy to deny him free speech. Irving is still in denial today.
 It is a film well worth seeing.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Celebrating the Russian Revolution in Brussels

By New Worker correspondent

Communists from all over Europe gathered in Brussels last month to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Great October Russian Revolution. A New Communist Party (NCP) delegation joined comrades from many other communist parties for the 10th annual European Communist Meeting on 23rd January. NCP leader Andy Brooks represented the Party at the day-long conference at the European Parliament in the Belgian capital.
The European Communist Meeting was hosted by the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) delegation to the European Parliament, and held with the participation of 41 communist and workers parties. Important issues related to the working class, the European and international labour and communist movement, and the struggle of the communists were discussed in light of the important 100th anniversary of the October Revolution.
The October Revolution was an historic event of world-wide significance  – the most important event of the 20th century, which made its mark on the course of humanity. It was the harbinger for a new historical period, the period of the transition from capitalism to socialism. It formed the preconditions for unprecedented workers’ rights to be realised and lent impetus to the struggles of the workers in the capitalist countries. It decisively influenced the development of the international communist and workers’ movement, and the liberation of the oppressed peoples of Africa and Asia from the colonial yoke. The Great October Revolution confirmed the correctness of Marxist-Leninist theory and of the irreplaceable leading role of the Communist Party.
Many speakers stressed that the counter-revolutionary changes of the early 1990s have not altered the character of our era. Socialism remains timely and necessary. Optimism was expressed that capitalist barbarity is not the future of humanity, and that our century will be marked by a new upsurge of the global revolutionary movement and new socialist revolution.
Several comrades referred to the counter-revolutions; their negative consequences and the causes, mistakes and deviations that led to the overthrow of socialism. It was noted that over the course of time the elements and methods of capitalism were introduced to solve existing problems in the Soviet Union and the people’s democracies of eastern Europe, and that this gradually weakened and in the end undermined socialist construction.
Amongst the most important tasks of the communists today is to confront the anti-communist campaign of the European Union (EU), restore the workers' knowledge about the truth of socialism in the 20th century; objectively without idealisations and free of the slanders of the bourgeoisie, which are based on the catastrophes brought about by the counter-revolution.
Capitalism may still be strong today but it is not invincible. The crisis has demonstrated more intensely its historic boundaries. The difficulties in the European and global capitalist economy sharpen inter-imperialist contradictions. The competition between the capitalist powers is intensifying, as well as inside the imperialist unions such as the EU and NATO. The war flashpoints are multiplying, there is an increasing danger that these will take on a general wider character.
The way out for the working class and the other popular strata is only possible via the path for the overthrow of capitalist power and ownership.
Many parties noted that this struggle presupposes the weakening of the various forms of dangerous reformism-opportunism, of the so-called Party of the European Left and the “governmental left” as it is expressed in Greece by Syriza. It was stressed that the various approaches to managing capitalism are not an alternative solution for the peoples. The experience from subordination to bourgeois governance is negative, regardless of its label, as is the experience from participation in or toleration for governments in the framework of capitalism.
The October Revolution and the struggles for socialism in the 20th century are the source for the drawing of important experience and lessons that the communist and workers parties can utilise so that they become more effective in their efforts to strengthen and provide a class orientation to the labour movement; to construct the alliance of the working class with the poor urban and rural popular strata; to organise the workers’–people’s struggle against the monopolies, their international alliances and their power; for rights that correspond to their needs today; for the abolition of exploitation.
If the 20th century began with the great offensive launched by the proletariat on the heavens and ended with its temporary defeat, the 21st century will bring the final and this time irreversible overthrow of capitalism and the construction of socialism-communism.