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Doing the Reactionary
August 8, 2010 8:39 PM   Subscribe

"Don't go Left/But be polite/Move to the Right/Doing the Reactionary…"

"Doing the Reactionary" was written by Harold Rome as part of the 1937 musical revue Pins and Needles, first staged by the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union. Notable recordings of this particular song include Cab Calloway and a then-20-year-old Barbra Streisand.

Lyrics observe that anti-leftist scaremongering can simultaneously stifle labor activism, and push popular opinion towards fascism - to the benefit of the rich and powerful:

All the best dictators do it,
Millionaires keep steppin' to it,
The Four Hundred love to sing it,
Ford and Morgan swing it...
posted by overeducated_alligator (27 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Plus ça change...
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:47 PM on August 8, 2010


Barbra Streisand was 20 years old in 1937? Damn, she's preserved herself pretty well!

But seriously, interesting post. Nothing really does change, does it?
posted by hippybear at 8:51 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


No mention of The Four Hundred would be complete without a mention of The Four Million:
Not very long ago some one invented the assertion that there were only "Four Hundred" people in New York City who were really worth noticing. But a wiser man has arisen--the census taker--and his larger estimate of human interest has been preferred in marking out the field of these little stories of the "Four Million."
-O. Henry
posted by The White Hat at 8:58 PM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


i thought for sure this was going to be a rocky horror parody
posted by rhizome at 8:59 PM on August 8, 2010


Was this part of the Workers Theatre Movement? there was a buttload round about that time, I read a thing on it a while ago. Might have been this thing or something like it.
posted by shinybaum at 9:03 PM on August 8, 2010


hippybear: “Nothing really does change, does it?”

Nope. Barbra's voice still makes me want to kill puppies. It's comforting to know that there are constants in this life.

As expected, Cab Calloway's version [warning, self-link] is better. Can't easily find any others, though.

Some awesome things were going on on Broadway in the 1930s. In jazz, too.
posted by koeselitz at 9:07 PM on August 8, 2010 [6 favorites]


koeselitz, thank you for uploading that one! I had it but couldn't figure out how to put it up.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 9:21 PM on August 8, 2010


i thought for sure this was going to be a rocky horror parody
posted by rhizome at 8:59 PM on August 8 [+] [!]


It's been done.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:36 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


(Skip to 6:15 on the embedded link. Main link goes directly there.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:38 PM on August 8, 2010


To the right! Ever to the right! Never to the left! Forever to the right!
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:43 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


...and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom.
posted by rhizome at 9:52 PM on August 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


PJ Harvey did a version of Nickel Under The Foot from Blitzstein's pro-Union Cradle Will Rock. Not as bitter as it probably should be, sung by a disillusioned prostitute.
posted by shinybaum at 9:54 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is fantastic. I don't suppose anyone happens to have a link to a set of chords or somesuch kicking about?
posted by Dysk at 1:03 AM on August 9, 2010


These lyrics are inane, but the orchestra is incredible. And I love the narrow-bandwith AM radio quality of the recording.

Lyrics observe that anti-leftist scaremongering can simultaneously stifle labor activism, and push popular opinion towards fascism - to the benefit of the rich and powerful:

"Anti-left scaremongering" did indeed give rise to fascism, but it is hard to say whether Bolshevism or fascism was worse. I think it was a tie. Personally I prefer my dictators to be rich and powerful rather than just powerful. At least the rich ones have some concept of self-interest.
posted by three blind mice at 1:56 AM on August 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Anti-left scaremongering.

There was plenty to be scared of in the 1930s, but it wasn't the reactionaries. It was the revolutionary left and revolutionary militarists of the U.S., Europe and Japan. It was the people screaming for change, not the people who wanted to keep their settled ways (reactionaries) or go backward in time. It was the militant unions, who in the 1930s, began the organizing that eventually destroyed cities like Detroit and Youngstown and other union ghost towns, who were the threat to the kind of freedom enjoyed by Harold Rome and their pals -- not (as you would think, from looking at old New Yorker cartoons) the elderly male reactionary sitting in a club chair with his cronies, looking out over Fifth Avenue. Everyone in the 1930s, from left to right, wanted "change, change, change" -- and that anti-reactionary political tension on every side fired up the conflageration of all moral values that was World War Two.
posted by Faze at 3:24 AM on August 9, 2010


Faze, I quite like how your theory links the start of WWII to union activity in the United States and 'moral values'. Y'know, because socialism was a huge part of the start of the War in Europe...
posted by Dysk at 3:37 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


GOOD ONE FAZE
posted by TrialByMedia at 3:42 AM on August 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


It was the revolutionary left and revolutionary militarists of the U.S., Europe and Japan. It was the people screaming for change, not the people who wanted to keep their settled ways (reactionaries) or go backward in time.

Oh god, is this what people think of Nazis? That they didn't want to go backward in time? What the hell is this?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:03 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Arrgh. Sorry guys. Just read the rest of Faze's comment and realized he was joking. Carry on.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:05 AM on August 9, 2010


Barbra Streisand was 20 years old in 1937? Damn, she's preserved herself pretty well!

Missed this the first time. The FPP is worded a little awkwardly. Barbara Streisand was born in 1942 - she did a cover of this song in the 1960s. It's a great cover BTW. Even at 20 years old she had her phrasing down pat.

koeselitz, I can't get the link you posted to play.
posted by three blind mice at 4:09 AM on August 9, 2010


"Anti-left scaremongering" did indeed give rise to fascism, but it is hard to say whether Bolshevism or fascism was worse.

Good example of employing anti-left scaremongering!
posted by DU at 5:25 AM on August 9, 2010


DU: Good example of employing anti-left scaremongering!

It was actually anti-right scaremongering, comrade, but I can see how one is easily confused with the other. We are talking about the 1930s after all.

The music each inspired is pretty much the only thing that differentiates them. You can't dance to fascist music at all.

There is a reason: fascism, more organized and brutal than everything Napoleon III could imagine, cannot afford even the slightest dissonance in their artificial harmony —
posted by three blind mice at 6:05 AM on August 9, 2010


You can't dance to fascist music at all.

I dunno, Ride of the Valkyries is pretty rockin'...

...then again, Wagner himself was a leftist. Hmm. Maybe you're onto something.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 6:57 AM on August 9, 2010


three blind mice: “koeselitz, I can't get the link you posted to play.”

[Well, soundcloud can be wonky. If you can't get it to play, just click the "download" button on that page.]
posted by koeselitz at 10:07 AM on August 9, 2010


(Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates: “Arrgh. Sorry guys. Just read the rest of Faze's comment and realized he was joking. Carry on.”

No, I'm pretty sure he was being completely serious.

Faze: “There was plenty to be scared of in the 1930s, but it wasn't the reactionaries. It was the revolutionary left and revolutionary militarists of the U.S., Europe and Japan. It was the people screaming for change, not the people who wanted to keep their settled ways (reactionaries) or go backward in time. It was the militant unions, who in the 1930s, began the organizing that eventually destroyed cities like Detroit and Youngstown and other union ghost towns, who were the threat to the kind of freedom enjoyed by Harold Rome and their pals -- not (as you would think, from looking at old New Yorker cartoons) the elderly male reactionary sitting in a club chair with his cronies, looking out over Fifth Avenue. Everyone in the 1930s, from left to right, wanted "change, change, change" -- and that anti-reactionary political tension on every side fired up the conflageration of all moral values that was World War Two.”

Unions destroyed Detroit and Youngstown? Right. People wanting 'change, change, change' destroyed the thirties? Have you ever read a book about that decade? Generally, what people wanted in the thirties was 'food, shelter, and a job.' You may still be all het up about FDR's innovations – you don't mention him, I don't know if you just forgot to or what – but you are urged to take note of the fact that when everything came tumbling down in 1929, it sure as hell wasn't because of militant unions. On the other hand, if you can give me some evidence for the preposterous notion that 'militant unions' somehow infiltrated the hallowed halls of Wall Street in the twenties and executed some sort of secret conspiratorial plot to destroy the market, I'm all ears. I guess I could use a good laugh.
posted by koeselitz at 10:17 AM on August 9, 2010


overeducated_alligator: “...then again, Wagner himself was a leftist. Hmm. Maybe you're onto something.”

Er... a leftist who hated Jews. I guess that's possible...
posted by koeselitz at 10:20 AM on August 9, 2010


Jew-hate knows no political boundary.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 10:34 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


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