Casting the money-lenders out of the temple
What follows is from The Militant, paper of the American SWP (nothing to do with the Brit organisation of the same name) of April 26, 1947*. I’m never sure about attempts to claim Jesus for the left, but this is a good effort, written with panache and brimming with righteous anger:
What Do They Know About Jesus?
By James P. Cannon
Did you see what I saw in the paper this morning? Thursday, April 17? It took the taste out of my breakfast. The Wall Street money-sharks, pressing their anti-labor drive on all fronts, now claim they have lined up God and Jesus Christ for the open shop. The New York Times reports: “Six hundred thirty-seven clergymen attached to various Protestant churches have joined in attacking the closed shop as a violation of basic teachings of the Bible, the American Council of Christian Churches, 15 Park Row, announced today.”
What do you know about that? And how do you think it happened? I wasn’t present when the deal was cooked up, but knowing whom these theological bunk-shooters serve and from whom they gets their orders, I can visualize the proceedings and tell how it happened, in essence if not in precise detail.
The top profit-hogs very probably had a meeting of their board of stategy down in Wall Street the other day and counted up the forces they had mobilized in the grand crusade to break up the unions and beat down the workers who are trying so desperately to make their wages catch up with the increasing cost of living. They checked off Congress, both the House and the Senate. They checked off the President and the courts. They checked off the daily newspapers, from one end of the country to the other, and found a 100 percent score on that front. Then they called the roll of radio commentators, and made a note to put pressure for the firing of the remaining two or three half-liberal “news analysts” on the air who are not going along 100 per cent.
On the whole their situation looked pretty good, but they had to acknowledge to themselves that public opinion is not yet responding to the union-busting program with any great enthusiasm. Then one of the union-busters — most probably one of their “idea-men” — got a bright idea. “Let’s send someone around the corner to the American Council of Christian Churches at 15 Park Row”, he said, “and tell them to start singing for their supper. Tell them to put God in the statement, and be sure to ring in Jesus Christ.”
No sooner said than done — but good. Now comes the public statement signed by 637 clerical finks who state that the closed shop (they mean the union shop) violates freedom of conscience and the Eight Commandement, “Thou shalt not steal”. They appeal to Christ on the ground that the union shop violates “the individual’s responsibility to God” and obliges Christain men to be “yoked together with unbelievers”. This, they say is wrong and not according to Jesus.
Well, I feel like saying to these strikebreaking sky-pilots what Carl Sandberg once said to an anti-labour evangelist 30 years ago: “Here you come tearing your shirt, yelling about Jesus. I want to know what in the hell you know about Jesus.” I don’t know too much myself, but if the only accounts of him we have are true, they called him “the Carpenter”; and he once took a whip and drove the money-lenders out of the temple. “Ye have made it a den of thieves”, he shouted, in white-hot anger.
And what have you done, you 637 fake-pious pulpit pounders who serve the moneyed interests against the people? You have made it a den of theives and liars too. You have the gall to represent the lowly Nazerene as a scab-herder; and to tell the Christian workers, who revere Him as the friend and associate of the publicans and sinners, of all the poor and the lowly, that they should not be “yoked together with unbelievers” in a union to protect their common interests. That’s a lie and a defamation. You’re simply trying to serve the rich against the poor, to help the rich in their campaign to break up the unions, which are the only protection the poor people have.
And don’t try to fool anybody with the statement that you are in favor of unions “properly conducted” — under open-shop conditions. We know what you mean by this mealy-mouthed formulation. Such unions, as Mr. Dooley once said, are unions which have no strikes, no dues and very few members.
And leave Jesus out of your lying propaganda, you scribes and pharisees, full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Every time you mention His name you libel Him, regardless of whether the story of His life and death be taken as literal truth or legend. The Carpenter of Nazareth has been badly misrepresented in many ways for many years, but your attempt to pass Him off as a union-buster goes just a little bit too far. It is just about the dirtiest trick that has ever been played on Jesus Christ since the crucifiction.
*Republished in ‘Notebook Of An Agitator’, Pathfinder Press, 1958 and 1973.
Merry Christmas, everyone:
The best-known Christmas song of all, performed here not by Der Bingle but by the (these days) nearly forgotten Connee (aka Connie) Boswell, a middle-class white gal (1907-1976), from New Orleans, who was a major influence on the young Ella Fitzgerald. Connee’s best jazz was recorded in the early-to-mid thirties with her sisters Martha and Vet (both of whom left the music business, leaving Connee to soldier on as a soloist), but this, recorded in 1958, is pretty good and shows she still had a powerful, jazz and blues- drenched voice, even on a commercial session at the very end of her career:
Click on that link (above: “best jazz”) to the Boswell Sisters’ highly-sophisticated yet bluesy version of ‘There’ll Be Some Changes Made’ and as well as hearing some fabulous, ‘modern’ close-harmony singing, you’ll see a secret that the carefully-posed official publicity photos of the time (as with FDR) kept hidden: Connee was wheelchair-bound.
No tinsel or chestnuts here, but it is a Christmas song of sorts, as Jimmy Rushing pleads with ”Sannee Claus” to bring his baby back to him.
This was the Basie Band in 1937, fresh out of Kansas City, still a bit rough around the edges and yet to hit the big-time. They sure could play the blues, though.
Waller was a master of subversion, taking standard (often very corny) tunes and turning them inside out with his mocking vocals and masterly stride piano. Here Fats and the boys (including Herman ‘Yard Dog’ Autrey on trumpet, Gene Sedric on sax and Al Casey on guitar) are giving ‘Jingle Bells’ the treatment. It was recorded on November 29, 1936 and it sounds like they’d already started celebrating:
Paul Whiteman’s elephantine orchestra usually contained some good jazz players, even if their role was that of (in Eddie Condon’s phrase), “a jigger of whisky in a pint of milk.”
This 1934 recording features vocals by Jack Teagarden and Johnny Mercer, both extolling the joys of Christmas in “that ol’ colored neighborhood.” These are lyrics that would not be used today (and especially not performed by white vocalists), but were clearly well intentioned at the time, and sung by the pair without the slightest hint of condescention.
Interesting to note, as well, that neither Teagarden nor Mercer were first and foremost vocalists: Mr Tea was best known as a trombonist and Mercer was, of course, a song-writer. Anyway, here they are, with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra and ‘Christmas Night In Harlem’:
Smoo-ooth blues for Christmas, baby:
From Charles Brown.
“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” etc.
Mel Tormé wrote the song, but Nat gave it the definitive treatment. I think this is from his 1950′s TV show, the first on mainstream US TV by a black artist. Sadly, it didn’t last long.
Smooth as single malt :
Once again we begin that long-established Shiraz Yuletide tradition: Christmas songs that are worth listening to in their own right, regardless of the season.
To start with, the Modern Jazz Quartet (Milt Jackson vibes, John Lewis piano, Percy Heath bass, Connie Kay drums) plus orchestra, with ‘England’s Carol’ (aka ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’):
Readers are invited to propose other examples of good Christmas numbers.
(Thanks to Don Pruitt for reminding me of this)
Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without Dickens, and BBC 1′s new version of Great Expectations starts at 9.00pm tonight, continuing at the same time tomorrow and Thursday. With an all-star cast including Ray Winstone as Magwitch and Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham, it’s been receiving rave reviews from the journos who’ve already seen it, and would seem to be one more powerful argument for the licence fee.
Dickens, perhaps because of his sometimes excessive sentimentality and overt moralism, has this image of being comforting and comfortable (“heart-warming” is the term usually deployed). But Great Expectations is a mysterious and frightening tale involving the criminal underworld, all manner of psychological manipulation, violence, madness, unrequited love, and despair.
Claire Tomalin’s excellent Charles Dickens – A Life describes how the book came into being, and also explains something that has often bothered me - the banal, incongruous and anti-climatic happy ending:
When Dickens told Forster (John Forster, his closest friend – JD) he was going to write another story in the first person, he added an assurance that it would be nothing like David Copperfield, and of course it is not. David’s story is of a middle-class boy who overcomes cruel neglect by his own effort, becomes a successful writer, is allowed by fate to marry the girl he loves and then to lose her when she turns out to have been a mistake, and ends with a perfect wife and family. Not only is Pip quite a different sort of boy with a family background from the lowest, labouring level of society, his story is one of failure, failure to understand what is happening to him, failure to win the girl he loves, failure to save his benefactor, failure to make anything of himself. He just redeems himself morally, and that is enough, after all he has seen. It is enough for the reader too. His statement of what he feels for the indifferent Estella is the most powerful expression of obessive love for a woman in Dickens: ‘when I loved Estella with the love of a man, I loved her simply because I found her irresistible. Once for all; I knew to my sorrow, often and often, if not always, that I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be.’ Nothing needs to be added to this, but Bulwer ( Edward Bulwer Lytton, another friend and a writer considered at the time to be in the same league – JD), in a foolish moment, wanted Pip to be given a happy ending with Estella and suggested to Dickens that he should set aside his bleak final vision and write a cheerful one. Amazingly, Dickens accepted Bulwer’s advice and rewrote, adding a chapter with a conventional variant and publishing it. Forster was told too late to object, but he was not pleased and thought it marred the book. He wisely kept a copy of the original ending to be compared with the substitute, and published it in the third volume of his Life of Dickens. Few critics since have disagreed with Forster, although the happy ending appears in every standard edition of Great Expectations.
David Lean’s 1946 film version, starring John Mills as the older Pip (and narrator), Anthony Wagner as young Pip, Martitia Hunt as Miss Havisham and Jean Simmons as Estella, is a tough act to follow: