The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #95050   Message #1854780
Posted By: GUEST
10-Oct-06 - 07:35 AM
Thread Name: Ewan MacColl - coward or traitor?
Subject: RE: Ewan MacColl - coward or traitor?
Missed most of this – have been away for a week; sory to re-open an old thread.
I've heard MacColl accused of many things but now think I've heard it all. He now appears to be answerable for the Holocaust – pity he wasn't born a few years earlier so we could have got him for sinking the Lusitania as well.
If WW2 had been an anti-Fascist war it would have started three years earlier when a Fascist general overthrew a legally elected government in Spain, and in the process allowing the Luftwaffe to practice its bombing skills on the civilian populations of Madrid and Guernica. Not only did the 'anti-Fascist' allies look the other way, but they rewarded those who went to Spain to fight with police records and, as in my father's case, honourable mentions on blacklists which prevented them from obtaining work in their home towns when they returned.
Anybody claiming to know anything about the war would be aware that the invasion of the Soviet Union and the consequent change of policy threw the left into total disarray. Some Communists and Socialists accepted the new line, others rejected it and continued to believe that the original analysis of the war was the correct one; that it was a war for political and economic domination and therefore to be opposed. The secretary of The British Communist Party at the time, Harry Pollitt, resigned over the matter. It is naïve in the extreme to believe in a monolithic left movement which leapt to obedience of a party line – it just wasn't like that.
MacColl's attitude was a simple one; worker killing worker was no way for a Socialist to behave, therefore he refused to fight. His stance was made obvious in his parody of the song, 'A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square'.

That lovely night, the night we met there were whistling bombs in the air;
No bankers dining at The Ritz, and the refugees slept in Berkley Square,

I maybe right, I maybe wrong, but the newspapers say it's no lie,
The rich folks' children sailed away and left all the workers' kids to die.

I have to say I never hear the terms traitor and coward without thinking of white feathers and firing squads; surely humanity at its lowest ebb. As far as I am concerned, decisions concerning the taking of life and the risking of ones own are far too important to be left to flag waving politicians and faceless bureaucrats mouthing patriotism and only too happy to send me and mine to fight without the slightest intention of taking up arms themselves. I have no idea what I would have done in the circumstances; I would like to think I would have had the courage to have said 'No', but you never know till it happens to you, do you?
Somebody asked, 'what would have happened if everybody had done what MacColl had done?' The answer, of course, is war would have not taken place as there would have been nobody to fight it – a Utopian dream held by many of us on the left (though there was the Russian example in WW1 of course)!
I envy those with such remarkable insight that they feel confident enough to decide what MacColl's motives were sixty odd years after the event and presumably without having discussed the circumstances with him – would that we all had such powerful crystal balls – if you know what I mean! Personally I prefer to judge people by the whole of their actions and not something done over half a century ago which I might or might not disapprove of.

Changing the subject a little; I have to confess that my attitude to EFDSS has always been an ambivalent one. While I have always seen the advantage of having an organisation to represent traditional song and music, I have never really been convinced that those occupying Cecil Sharp House are quite what I have in mind.
Even so, it came as somewhat of a surprise a few months ago to receive a circular letter from the editor of one of their publications, 'Dance and Song' concerning MacColl.
Had it questioned his ability as a singer, or his approach to traditional singing, or his contribution to our understanding of the tradition, I would have welcomed it as an opportunity for debate – but no.
'Did I know MacColl had an MI5 record?' – Well yes, I did as a matter of fact; he wore the fact as one would wear a medal.
'Did I know he'd deserted from the army?' – Yes, I was aware of this too.
'Where did he go after he deserted?' I had to confess ignorance of this one, on the other hand, I really didn't and don't care.
If the editor of a publication supposedly concerned with traditional music can find nothing better to do than to arm-wrestle a sixteen year old corpse over a sixty-odd-year-old event that has nothing whatever to do with traditional music, it really doesn't auger well for EFDSS's role in the preservation and dissemination of that music.

I have to apologise for the length of some of my postings, I believe it would be unsatisfactory to try to deal with big subjects with flip answers.
In the unlikely event of our ever getting down to discussing MacColl as a singer, songwriter, political satirist and activist, teacher, theorist on singing styles and techniques, collector, researcher, writer, editor, poet, playwright, actor, director, theatre company founder and all the other activities he turned his hand to, I'm afraid my postings are quite likely to get longer rather than shorter; though I have come to realise that there are those out there who will move heaven and earth before they will allow such discussions to take place.
Jim Carroll