The Cemetery for Amateurs

Harry Greenberg

There is, somewhere in Prague, a most peculiar cemetery – I cannot say where, for I was taken there by car when fog lay over the city like a fetid blanket. It’s for musicians. But not any musicians. Only amateur musicians who have played in an amateur symphony orchestra or chamber ensemble at least three times.

‘Before their death, that is,’ said Pavel my guide. He gave a solemn laugh. He also explained that a condition of their being buried in this cemetery was that they were devoid of talent. ‘To a most remarkable degree,’ he said.

‘Come,’ he added, ‘let us visit.’ We left the car and walked between two high wrought-iron gates and to the gravel path that wound its crunching way this way and that between expanses of grass on either side.

‘You will like what you will see,’ said Pavel.

His English has a peculiar intonation that makes a simple prediction sound like an order. ‘You will be able to amuse your friends,’ he tells me.

The path came to an end and the cemetery lay before us. On each horizontal grey marble slab there was a musical instrument, of stone. Here a violin, there a cello; somewhere else a trumpet and further on a drum. A stone clarinet stood at an angle of thirty degrees, possibly at the same angle at which it had been played.

Pavel gave one of his laughs, and pointed. Someone had placed two testicular-shaped pebbles at the base of the instrument.

We inspected the entire cemetery. Pavel stopped sometimes to comment on a grave. This one played like an angel, a fallen angel but an angel nevertheless. That one’s violin screeched like a banshee; he was so bad that he was allowed to play in public only if he sat as far back as possible only pretending to play. The conductor had allowed this because the talentless wretch’s mother doted on him and paid for tickets for all the family so they could come and hear ‘my son, the violinist, play’.

She was tone deaf, it was said, to the extent that she never noticed anything was amiss when, like a screech owl, he played his practice sessions. There was also the rumour that she was totally without hearing and that her violinist son only simulated play even when rehearsing. But of this there is no proof that might stand up in a court of law.

‘Even here,’ said Pavel.

He added that there seemed to be no lengths to which some parents would not go to convince themselves that the hopes they had cherished for themselves might at least be realised in their sons or daughters. It was, he added further, the triumph of narcissism over mediocrity.

He gestured to where a harp of stone with wire strings, now rusty, commemorated a harpist who had lost a finger from each hand and had been in much demand despite the curiosities of her performance. Further away to the left was a lute (or was it a flute?). Played by someone who’d had a cleft palate, hence an eccentric embouchure, it had left much to be desired.

Perhaps the saddest of all were the half pianos. Of these there were two. Pavel explained that each half had once been a half of a whole. ‘Do you mean to tell me,’ I asked him, ‘that these are replicas of two halves of the same piano?’

‘Exactly,’ he said. ‘One for the musician’s left hand whose right had become incapacitated due to an embolism or an amputation,’ he hardly remembered which. ‘The other, for the right hand because the left had been damaged by machinery or a landmine,’ and again he could not recall which of the two it was.

But the most sinister stone was that of the conductor. You might be pardoned for expecting to find a magisterial figure in full evening dress, poised, on his toes perhaps, a grimace of intention on his brow or some such expression commensurate with his calling. But all there was to be seen was a small square of concrete, just large enough to accommodate such a person, and on it, a little to one side, a baton. Lying there as if it might have fallen from the grasp at his last performance (several more examples were included but these have been removed on the grounds of good taste).

Finally, Pavel turned to me. ‘What do you have to say?’

‘It is remarkable,’ I told him, ‘in almost every respect.’ He paid no attention to my implied criticism.

‘You will tell your friends, you will instruct them to come here.’

‘I will be delighted,’ I said. ‘You must give me the address and how to get here.’

‘Just imagine,’ Pavel said as we drove away into the fog, ‘how it will be on judgement day. They will all rise up and join into their orchestras and play with such intensity, such fervour, and such,’ he paused and did his laugh, ‘such cacophony as has not been heard for centuries, millennia even. Of course by that time music will have changed so much that how they play may well be in fashion.’

He laughed and gently nudged me in the ribs as we drove deeper and deeper into the fog. The next day he accompanied me to the airport. The fog had thinned considerably and the augurs for our departure were promising.

It was only when I sat observing the clouds and meditating on mediocrity that I realised he had not given me the location of the cemetery.

Pavel passed away soon after and I was told that he was probably interred in the very same cemetery we had visited. But no one seems to know where it is and as the years go by I wonder more and more if we went there at all. Such is the conflation among memory, truth and fiction these days it is difficult for me to know what to believe.

Harry Greenberg was a counsellor to victims of torture, and spent many of his latter years writing and publishing stories, articles and witty asides on Jewish life and upbringing. His Letters to Kafka is published by CentreHouse Press and is available at Amazon Kindle and on most other ebook platforms. There are plans to publish more from Harry’s backlist.

A Retrospect on The Three Tenors

by Jon Elsby

Just about everyone old enough to remember the football World Cups of the 1990s and early 2000s will remember the Three Tenors. The open air concerts they gave, cleverly timed to coincide with those World Cups, converted Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, and José Carreras from operatic superstars into household names, and briefly catapulted Pavarotti’s rendition of ‘Nessun dorma’ into the pop charts. Never mind that he held the climactic top B for much longer than the score stipulates. Who cares when the tenor can make a sound like that a sound that gives goosebumps to just about anyone with an ear for music?

Of course, the Three Tenors, although they were undoubtedly the biggest names and the most prolific classical recording artists of their day, were not the only great tenors who were then active. But they impinged on the consciousness of the general public in a way that their competitors didn’t. For better or worse, they defined the expectations of the tenor voice for at least two generations of listeners, many of whom would never have dreamt of setting foot inside an opera house.

They weren’t the only great tenors whose fame spread far beyond the rarefied world of opera. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Enrico Caruso and John McCormack achieved comparable fame. The extent of Caruso’s renown may be judged from a story about a boxer (of all things). Jack Doyle was a colourful Irish heavyweight and a promising tenor – when he could be kept off the booze. On more than one occasion, however, he entered the ring too drunk to stand, let alone fight. Despite a few fiascos of this kind, he claimed that he could ‘fight like Dempsey and sing like Caruso’: a boast which prompted a veteran boxing reporter to remark that the only thing Dempsey, Caruso, and Jack Doyle had in common was that all three could knock out Jack Doyle.

After Caruso, few tenors, even the greatest, became well known to the general public. In Brian De Palma’s 1987 film, The Untouchables, there is a scene where Al Capone (played by Robert De Niro) is attending a performance of Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci and is moved to tears by the tenor’s singing of ‘Vesti la giubba’. Although we are not told so, it is pretty clear that the tenor is meant to be Caruso. But not many viewers identified the owner of the voice on the soundtrack as Mario del Monaco, one of the greatest tenors of the 1950s.

The relationship between operatic tenors and the movie industry is an interesting subject in its own right. Several tenors appeared in movies, including Beniamino Gigli, Richard Tauber, and Lauritz Melchior, which shows that, even in the days before Arnold Schwarzenegger, acting ability was not a sine qua non of a film career. Most tenors are indifferent actors on stage, and have absolutely no idea how to act for the cameras. They weren’t interested in learning either. As far as they were concerned, they were hired for their voices, and, as long as they sang well, nothing else mattered. Or, if it did, it was somebody else’s problem.

Part of the appeal of the Three Tenors phenomenon was the sense of friendly rivalry it generated. For a time, the question who was the greatest tenor was discussed with the animation normally reserved for debates about the relative merits of centre forwards or fast bowlers. Even dedicated opera buffs, who are apt to be scornful of that sort of thing, found themselves drawn into discussions about what a Three Tenors line-up of the past might have looked like. What about a 1930 version comprising any three of Giovanni Martinelli, Aureliano Pertile, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, and Gigli, for example? Or a 1950 line-up of Jussi Björling, Giuseppe di Stefano, and del Monaco? Or a 1960 trio of Richard Tucker, Carlo Bergonzi, and Franco Corelli? The possibilities are endless.

The Three Tenors concerts also served as a reminder that tenors are not only classical artists: they are also performers, and the first duty of a performer is to connect with his or her audience. Pavarotti, Domingo, and Carreras proved themselves consummate communicators. The hype which preceded the concerts would have counted for nothing if the tenors hadn’t delivered what the audience wanted – and what it expected. In fact, hype can be a problem if it generates expectations which are then not fulfilled. Connoisseurs of singing may have disliked the concept of an open air concert in a huge venue with artificial amplification, and may have objected that the tenors all gave full-on performances with very little interpretative subtlety or nuance, but they missed the point. On these occasions, the tenors were not performing for their normal audience of opera lovers. They were performing for the general public. If opera lovers objected, they didn’t have to watch – or listen, for that matter: a point Domingo forcefully made in several interviews. For most people, the sight of a beaming Frank Sinatra standing and applauding the tenors’ joint rendition of ‘My Way’ probably summed up how they felt. This was not so much a classical concert as a musical party to which all were invited. There was something in it for everyone, except those too precious and priggish to shed their inhibitions, loosen their ties, and enjoy the performance.

The Three Tenors were criticized by some for the substantial sums of money they made from these concerts. It is hard to see any reason other than envy for this. In the first place, other performers, like elite sportspeople and rock stars, make far more money without exciting any comment. Secondly, Pavarotti, Domingo, and Carreras, individually and jointly, have raised and given staggering sums to charity in their careers. Why should they not be properly recompensed for their work?

The criticism also overlooks the sheer precariousness of the singer’s career. It depends entirely upon a physical part of him – namely, his voice. An illness, an accident, an injury, or a surgical operation, may deprive him of his voice at any time. He has no way of knowing how long his career will last. It might span four decades, or it might be over in less than one. Tenors are not salaried, nor do they get an occupational pension. They rely wholly on the fees they can negotiate with tough, hard-nosed record company executives, opera house administrators, and impresarios for their appearances. A tenor who is not equally tough and astute in his business dealings is liable to leave the negotiating room in his underpants.

There are many cautionary tales of tenors who fell on hard times after their careers ended. One of the most poignant is that of Tom Burke (1890–1969), who was known as ‘the Lancashire Caruso’. Well, he wasn’t quite that, but he was a fine tenor and he should have enjoyed a long and successful career. Unfortunately, his gifts were accompanied by serious flaws. The son of poor, working class parents, he harboured a towering contempt for well-heeled opera audiences. He drank too hard and too often, and he was an inveterate philanderer whose womanizing got him into trouble with Jack Dempsey, then the former world heavyweight boxing champion, and (as if that were not bad enough) the Mafia. The tenor who had favourably impressed Caruso and Gigli, and sung to audiences at La Scala, the New York Met, and Covent Garden, ended his days in penury and obscurity, living in a single, rented room and working as a barman in a golf club.

So, three cheers for the Three Tenors. The concerts they gave together belong to the history of show business rather than opera. But, between 1990 and 2002, for a few hours every four years, untold millions of viewers and listeners were held spellbound as three of the greatest opera singers of their generation worked their inimitable magic. That, surely, deserves a celebration.

Jon Elsby is a specialist in opera, on which subject he has written a wide-ranging survey of operatic tenors, Heroes and Lovers, published by CentreHouse Press in paperback in 2019, and now available at Amazon Kindle and on most other ebook platforms.

Letters from Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson in The Emperor Jones

Selected by Dominic Tweedie from:

Paul Robeson Speaks: Writings, Speeches, Interviews, 1918-1974

Paul Robeson was a superstar in the USA in the 1930’s and 40’s despite the fact that he was African American. In 1915 he was twice an All American football star and while playing for the NFL got his law degree summa cum laude. Robeson was a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance putting on songs and shows. In his career he recorded almost 300 songs.

We fight in many ways. From my experience, I think it’s got to be a militant fight. One has to square off with the enemy once in a while.

Paul Robeson

He went to the UK in 1922 and built up his reputation there performing in Showboat and other productions. He played Othello in three Royal Shakespeare Company productions. Robeson also played Toussaint Louverture in a play by C. L. R. James. Toussaint Louverture defeated the armies of Napoleon, Nelson in winning freedom for the slaves of Haiti. Robeson’s version of Othello ran for 295 performances. He started acting in films and became a famous movie star in the 30’s.

In the UK he became aware of the suffering of people in the British colonies, of the injustices of the Spanish Civil War and of the difficult situation of the British working class and all this made him draw closer to socialism and communism.

Paul Robeson had been outstanding in almost every single way a human can be outstanding

Robeson returned to the USA in 1939 and immediately got involved in the Civil Rights movement and he also got involved with socialist and communist causes including solidarity with the USSR in the face of the Nazi invasion.

At the end of the war the FBI put Robeson on its list of subversives and Senator McCarthy accused him of socialist and communist sympathies. He refused to deny his principles and as a result his passport was taken from him and a concerted campaign began to reduce him to obscurity.

Imagine all sections of our people in the United States, their organizational and programmatic differences set aside, joining together in a great and compelling action…

Paul Robeson

It succeeded. Despite the fact that Paul Robeson had been outstanding in almost every single way a human can be outstanding: he was a sports star, an academic star, a superstar singer, a film-star, a Shakespearean actor and he was a representative of the Council on African Affairs. Paul Robeson, according to his wife and children and his friends, was a mensch. Who in recent history can compare with Paul Robeson?

Paul Robeson as Othello, Getty images

Paul Robeson’s name was erased from US culture memory as if he had committed a terrible crime. In fact, the candle of his memory was only conserved by socialists all over the world. In the 1970’s or 80’s or 90’s, you could ask an educated progressive citizen of the USA who Paul Robeson was and they had no idea. Now, with the new ‘Woke’ generations of Bernie supporters and Black Lives Matter the situation is slowly changing. More and more people are remembering who Paul Robeson was. As they should. Of course the liberals try to extract the sting from figures like Mandela and Paul Robeson. They reinvent them as harmless idealists, but both Mandela and Robeson were angry revolutionaries.

Paul Robeson deserves to be remembered and his words deserve to live on in memory without being layered over and re-contextualised by reactionary liberal hogwash.

Phil Hall


An Open Letter to Jackie Robinson*
By Philip S. Foner, Quartet Books, 1978 Pages 342-347

Paul Robeson, “Here’s My Story,” Freedom, April 1953

I notice in a recent issue of “Our World” magazine that some folks think you’re too outspoken. Certainly not many of our folks share that view. They think like you that the Yankees, making many a “buck” off Harlem, might have had a few of our ball players just like Brooklyn. In fact I know you’ve seen where a couple of real brave fellows, the Turgerson brothers, think it’s about time we continued our breaking in to the Southern leagues – Arkansas and Mississippi included.

I am happy, Jackie, to have been in the fight for real democracy in sport years ago. I was proud to stand with Judge Landis in 1946 and, at his invitation, address the major league owners, demanding that the bars against Negroes in baseball be dropped. I know from my experience as a pro football player that the fans would not only take us – but like us. That’s now been proven many times over.

Maybe these protests around you, Jackie, explain a lot of things about people trying to shut up those of us who speak out in many other fields.

You read in the paper every day about “doings” in Africa. These things are very important to us. A free Africa – a continent of 200 millions of folks like us and related to us – can do a lot to change things here.

In South Africa black folks are challenging Malan, a kind of super Ku Kluxer. These Africans are refusing to obey Jim Crow laws. They want some freedom like we do, and they’re willing to suffer and sacrifice for it. Malan and a lot of powerful American investors would like to shut them up and lock them up.

Well, I’m very proud that these African brothers and sisters of ours play my records as they march in their parades. A good part of my time is spent in the work of the Council on African Affairs, supervised by Dr. Alphaeus Hunton, and expert on Africa and son of the great YMCA leader, the late William Hunton. Co-chairman of the Council is Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, one of the greatest Americans who ever lived. We raise funds for Africans and bring information to Americans about the conditions in Africa – conditions to be compared with, but worse than, those in Mississippi and Alabama.

We bring the truth about Kenya, for example – about a man like Kenyatta, leader of the Kikuyu, a proud African people of centuries of culture. He’s a highly educated man, with many more degrees than we have, Jackie. He’s getting seven years in jail because he wants his people to be free. And there are Americans of African descent who are today on trial, fugitives, or dead (!) because they fought in their own way for their people to be free. Kenyatta’s sentence calls to mind Ben Davis, Henry Winston, James Jackson, Claudia Jones, Pettis Perry and yes, Harry Moore.

And it seems and still seems unthinkable to me that colored or working folks anywhere would continue to rush to die for those who own most of stocks and bonds, under the guise of false patriotism.

Paul Robeson

What goes here, Jackie? Well, I’ll tell you. The same kind of people who don’t want you to point up injustices to your folks, the same people who think you ought to stay in your “place,” the same people who want to shut you up – want to shut up any one of us who speaks out for our full equality, for all of our rights.

That’s the heart of what I said in Paris in 1949, for example. As a matter of fact he night before I got to Paris 2,000 representatives of colored colonial peoples from all over the world (most of them students in English universities) asked me and Dr. Dadoo, leader of the Indian population in South Africa, to greet the Congress of Peace in Paris in their name.

These future leaders of their countries were from Nigeria, Gold Coast, South Africa, Kenya, Java, Indonesia, India, Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, the Philippines, Japan, Burma, and other lands. They were shapers of the future in the Eastern and colonial world and they asked us to say to this Congress representing about 800 million of the world’s 2,000 million that they and their countries wanted peace, no war with anybody. They said they certainly did not want war with the Soviet Union and China because these countries had come out of conditions similar to their own. But the Soviet Union and China were now free of the so-called “free western” imperialist powers. They were countries which had proved that colonial countries could get free, that colored peoples were as good as any other.

All these students made it clear that they felt that the nations who wanted war wanted it in order to head off struggles of colonial peoples, as in Indo-China, Malaya, Africa and Korea, for freedom. For example, if you could stat a war in Africa the authorities could clamp down completely with war measures. (It’s bad enough now!)

The students felt that peace was absolutely needed in order for their peoples to progress. And certainly, they said they saw no need to die for foreign firms which had come in and taken their land, rubber, cocoa, gold, diamonds, copper and other riches.
And I had to agree that it seemed to me that the same held good in these United States. There was and is no need to talk of war against any nation. We Afro-Americans need peace to continue the struggle for our full rights. And there is no need for any of our American youth to be used as cannon and bomb fodder anywhere in the world.

So I was and am for an immediate cease fire in Korea and for peace. And it seems and still seems unthinkable to me that colored or working folks anywhere would continue to rush to die for those who own most of stocks and bonds, under the guise of false patriotism.

I was born and raised in America, Jackie – on the East Coast as you were on the West. I’m a product of American institutions, as you. My father was a slave and my folks worked cotton and tobacco, and still do in Eastern North Carolina. I’ll always have the right to speak out, yes, shout at the top of my voice for full freedom for my people here, in the West Indies, in Africa – and for our real allies, actual and potential, millions of poor white workers who will never be free until we are free.

And, Jackie, the success of a few of us is no final answer. It helps, but this alone can’t free all of us. Your child, my grandchildren, won’t be free until our millions, especially in the South, have full opportunity and full human dignity. We fight in many ways. From my experience, I think it’s got to be a militant fight. One has to square off with the enemy once in a while.

Thanks for the recognition that I am a great ex-athlete. In the recent record books the All-American team of 1918 and the nationally-picked team of 1917 have only ten players – my name is omitted. And also thanks for the expression of your opinion that I’m certainly a great singer and actor. A lot of people in the world think so and would like to hear me. But I can’t get a passport. And here in my own America millions would like to hear me. But I can’t get auditoriums to sing or act in. And I’m sometimes picketed by the American Legion and other Jim Crow outfits. I have some records in the market but have difficulty getting shops to take them.

People who “beef” at those of us who speak out, Jackie, are afraid of us. Well, let them be afraid. I’m continuing to speak out, and I hope you will, too. And our folks and many others like them all over the world will make it – and soon!
Believe me, Jackie.

Jackie Robinson was the “first black Major League Baseball (MLB) player of the modern era”. Like Paul Robeson in American football, and Jesse Owens in athletics, Robinson broke through the colour bar to become a top athlete in his discipline, baseball.

Paul Robeson Urges Support for Jailed Leaders and Freedom Struggles in Kenya and South Africa

Statement issued by Paul Robeson, Chairman of the Council on African Affairs, New York, April 13, 1953 – Paul Robeson Archives, German Democratic Republic.
We Americans of African descent are fighting for our full rights as citizens, and must keep fighting until we achieve these rights. In this fight it will be well to remember that as American citizens we have interests and responsibilities abroad, as well as at home.
Our Government is very interested and active, and very busy, in Europe, Asia and Africa. We as black and brown people are especially interested in what our Government is doing in Asia and Africa, because Asians and Africans are Colored People like ourselves. In Africa our Government is actually supporting and doing business with the white colonialists, not the African people. It is suppoting Malan in South Africa and the British in Kenya and Rhodesia.

We Colored Americans will especially want to support our African brothers and sisters in South Africa who are now being jailed by the Malan Government for peacefully resisting segregation and discrimination. We will especially want to support our African Brothers and sisters in Kenya who are being tried and imprisoned for insisting upon the return of their land.

We know that sending leaders to prison who fight for our just demands does not in any way solve our problem, but rather increases our resentment, thereby aggravating the problem. We know that trying to send to prison respected and responsible leaders like Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois and William Patterson; sending men and women like Benjamin Davis, Claudia Jones, and Jomo Kenyatta to prison; and murdering men like Harry T. Moore, will only serve to unite Americans of African descent and the African people.
Imagine all sections of our people in the United States, their organizational and programmatic differences set aside, joining together in a great and compelling action to put a STOP to Jim Crowism in all its forms everywhere in this land, and to further the struggle for land reform in the deep South. Think how such an action would stir the whole of America and the whole world. Think what support we would receive from the colored peoples and advanced white peoples of the world, – literally hundreds of millions, – strengthening in untold measure the struggle for freedom and peace.
Let us protest the jailing of the black leaders in Kenya. Let us call upon our Government this week to stop helping the Ku Kluxer Malan and help the South African people who are marching irresistibly toward freedom. Let our voices be heard in thousands of telegrams and letters to the President in Washington and to Ralphe Bunche at the United Nations in New York City.

Paul Robeson defends the Council on African Affairs

The Real Issue in the Case of the Council on African Affairs
Statement issued April 24, 1953, by Paul Robeson, Chairman, on behalf of the Council on African Affairs, concerning the Justice Department’s order for that organization to register under the McCarran Act – Paul Robeson Archives, Berlin, German Democratic Republic

The consistent job of the Council on African Affairs through the years since its establishment in 1937 has been to provide accurate information on the conditions and struggles of the peoples of Africa and to support their efforts towards total liberation. In recent months the Council has endeavoured to rally American assistance for the desperate fight of black and brown South Africans against Malan’s fascist oppression, and for the Africans of Kenya whose struggle for land and survival the British seek to crush with the most ruthless and inhuman punitive measures.

For such work as this the Council, I am proud to say, has received many expressions of gratitude and appreciation from African leaders. It would appear, therefore, that in branding the Councils as “subversive” and ordering it to register under the notorious McCarran Act, U.S. authorities are at the same time branding as “subversive” all the millions of Africans who are today determined to be free of the stigma of colonialism and white supremacy domination.

This attack upon the Council represents an attempt to frighten and silence all those Americans, particularly the Negro people, who are in any way critical of U.S. policies in Africa.

Those policies are directed towards establishment of military bases in Africa without consultation with or the consent of the people in the so-called strategic areas. They aim at the extraction of the maximum quantities of uranium, manganese, copper, bauxite and scores of other African raw materials for U.S. war stock-piles and industry. They entail U.S. financial and diplomatic support for the Malan regime and for the European bosses of Africa in order to maintain the white supremacy 

status quo (as in our own Dixiecrat South) and “security” for the expanding American investments in Africa.

All this may be found explicitly or implicitly stated in numerous statements of administration leaders and in such documents as “The Overseas Territories in the Mutual Security Program” issued last year by the Mutual Security Administration. These policies and practices are a matter of official U.S. record, and not simply “Communist propaganda,” as is alleged.

The Council on African Affairs opposes these policies because they are detrimental to the interests of both Africans and Americans. The Government in its charge against the Council dodges the real issue of the right of American citizens to criticize the policies of the state and poses instead a wholly false issue. Is it “subversive” not to approve of our Government’s action of condoning and abetting the oppression of our brothers and sisters in Africa and other lands?

It is a matter of shame that at the recent meeting of the U.N. General Assembly it was our own country, the United States, which voted with the European colonial powers against resolutions in the interest of the people of Africa, – resolutions which were supported by the majority of the U.N., including India and the other Asian-Middle Eastern-African member states, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union.
The real issue in our case is the right of advocacy and support for the freedom of Africa’s enslaved millions, – including the descendants of Africa who have yet to achieve their full liberty and rights here in the United States.

The Council on African Affairs will continue to carry forward its work and will fight all efforts to restrict its usefulness to the cause of African freedom by means of the unconstitutional and un-American McCarran Act. 

No Country is an Island

Photo by on

Song by Richard Tuley: Taking Back Control


By Richard Tuley

Perhaps it’s distasteful to mention Brexit. People are dying in droves, horribly. The Tories got a resounding mandate. Case closed. The British public bought the lie and now we will reap the whirlwind. We are about to hurtle out of Europe with no deal and we are about to discover quite how important our relationship with the EU was, after all. Too late to go back.

Over the last 40 years Britain has had a nasty habit of voting in right-wing governments. There have only ever been four Labour Prime Ministers (if you don’t count Blair and New Labour, and I don’t). Labour achieved a decent majority in 1945 and 1966 and that’s it.

The truth is Labour lost the referendum decades ago. They should have presented a more positive vision of what cooperation between European countries meant. They should have blown the ridiculous chattering about butter mountains, straight bananas and imperial units of measurement out of the water. They should have confronted myths about the effects of EU migration and a growing resententment of immigrant labour within its own ranks and the outright xenophobia of grassroots Tories, the same Tories who imagine that Farage is a great bloke to have a pint with.

Instead of looking for a brighter side, for so much of our time in the EU British governments looked for opt-outs and dragged their feet when it came to extending the rights of citizens. But for many of us, during the years that we were members of the EU, it often felt like the EU was a bulwark against the excesses of the wilder right wing appetites of the Tories in government: for deregulation, privatisation and speculation.

We are about to hurtle out of Europe with no deal and we are about to discover quite how important our relationship with the EU was, after all.

Brexiteers would like us to move closer to America. Brexit was, fundamentally, a right wing coup. Right-wing press barons now have a degree of control over British governments and have power they never could hold over the EU. The Daniel Hannans of this world saw salvation in a deregulated, free trade Anglo-sphere (those countries that watch Friends without subtitles).

The Right were the ones who pushed Brexit from a fringe issue to one which has left Britain more divided than it has been at any other time in recent history. Brexit may even lead to the break up of the UK (no small irony for supposed patriots).

So what is left to be said? Brexit has begun and will continue. It will bring nothing good. While they imagine the United Kingdom is still influential, right wing fantasists in British governments bend over backwards so as not to upset the Chinese. How many of us hide behind the sofa with embarrassment when British politicians start to talk about the “special relationship” we have with the US?

How many of us hide behind the sofa with embarrassment when British politicians start to talk about the “special relationship” we have with the US?

The sad thing is that, in leaving the EU we have lost real influence. Britain has abandoned its place at the decision making table, its opportunity to deliberate over the processes that really matter. This is a league in which there are only three teams that have any real chance of taking the title: China, the USA and the EU.

Size brings power and that power gets to call the shots. We are often told that the UK has the 5th largest GDP, but, let’s face it, that is a bit like saying St Johnstone are 5th in the Scottish Premiership. When St Johnston play Celtic or Rangers they won’t win – and neither will we. Other countries are at best ambivalent about the history of Empire, not as impressed as we are about England winning the World Cup in 1966 and strangely to ignorant of the Brotherhood of Man’s triumph in the Eurovision Song Contest a decade later. Just because we are obsessed by ourselves, it doesn’t mean everybody else is.

Just because we are obsessed by ourselves, it doesn’t mean everybody else is.

As members of the EU we made an impact. We had a chance to work with others to change laws and regulations if there were things we didn’t like about them. Leaving the EU will not address any of the real issues of inequality of wealth and under-investment in public services and infrastructure. At a personal level, I am extremely depressed about the whole thing.

But it wasn’t just the right-wing that brought us Brexit. They were aided and abetted by the Lexiters – who were in favour of a Left wing exit from the EU. Lexiters told us that membership of the EU prevented us from achieving a socialist Britain; though not quite as much as the British people constantly voting for Tory governments prevented us from achieving it, you might say.

But it wasn’t just the right-wing that brought us Brexit. They were aided and abetted by the Lexiters – who were in favour of a Left wing exit from the EU.

Against the available evidence, Lexiters claimed remaining in the EU would prevent state ownership. Being in the EU didn’t stop the French State, through EDF, from being one of the major players in the British energy sector, or the SNCF and Deutsche Bahn from running national rail services franchises. In any case it is a bit rich the British to criticise the EU for not allowing state ownership when our governments virtually invented privatisation in its modern form. It’s like Sky TV complaining that there is too much football on TV.

We can also blame pro-Leave voices in the Labour Party. They were too slow to realise that, far from splitting the Tory party in two as the conventional wisdom had it, it was the Labour Party that would destroy itself over Europe. Although we are now told that Labour lost it by becoming too close to the Remain side, they were never going to win an election opposing the vast majority of its own supporters on the central issue. Even in the ‘Leave’ seats, the majority of Labour voters were Remainers. People forget, but it was Labour committing to a referendum on the deal that pushed the Liberals over the edge. At that point they were a credible alternative for Remain voters, but Labour moving onto their patch forced them into saying they would revoke Article 50 without a referendum and this was when their campaign started to unravel. Had Labour gone full Brexit, there is every chance that it would have been the end of the Labour Party as we know it. Metropolitan voters, who live and work contentedly with people from all over the world and who consider themselves to be European to the core, could never bring themselves to side with the Farageists.

Some took Jeremy Corbyn’s near success in 2017 as evidence of electoral support for a Labour pro-Brexit position, but his undoubted popularity, especially with the young, was despite and not because of this. And let’s not forget that Corbyn was probably up against the worst PM in British History, Teresa May, who was a better dancer than she was candidate for Prime Minister. There is no other Tory leader in living memory who could have performed so badly and blown the 20 point lead that she did, yet she still won the election in 2017.

Corbyn was probably up against the worst PM in British History, Teresa May, who was a better dancer than she was candidate for Prime Minister.

The EU is far from perfect, but for all of its faults, Europe is certainly more progressive than most of the rest of the World and certainly a right wing Britain under the Tories. The arguments of the Lexiters were unsound. If you had to be poor, you would surely rather be in the EU than almost anywhere else and if you have to be poor and British, then you would surely rather Britain be in the EU than outside it. The EU has enlightened human rights and labour law legislation and consumer standards that protect Britons, too. These are the real reasons the Tories are champing at the teeth to leave the EU, all the better to exploit ordinary people without restraint.

Soon the myth of the sweetheart deal Boris Johnson claims he can get with the EU will be exposed for the lie that it is and we will suffer the severe consequences of a sudden departure. The Corona crisis has demonstrated that nations’ fortunes are interwoven to a degree that they never have been before and in ways that are hard to imagine being undone. The unraveling of European trade and co-operation will demonstrate clearly to every observer that no country is an island, not even Britain.

We’re going to take back control


We’re going to take back control
Like in the days of old
Like in the days of gold
We are going to take back control

We’re going to rule the waves again
Back to the glory days of when
The Sun would never set
Those days we can’t forget

Back to the days when the shops all closed
Before the colour TV sold all our souls

We’ll show them what we’re all about
We’re going to kick the bad ones out
No one will tell us what to do
We’ll rule the world from our front room

We’re going to stop them coming in
We’re going to judge them by their skin
We’re going to turn back the tide
We’re going to get back our pride

Back to the days when the lights went out
We sat with candles through the darkest hours

We’re going to bring back the steel
We’re going to make the greatest deals
We’re going to have the freest trade
We’ll have it all and still get paid

Back to the days when the pubs all closed
Before the satellite TV sold all our souls

We’re going to take back control
Like in the days of old
Like in the days of gold
We’re going to take back control

Back to the days when the lights went out
We sat with candles through the darkest hours

Back to the days with our hankies on our heads
We sat on beaches with our faces turning red

Released May 31, 2020
It’s me on everything…
license all rights reserved, Richard Tuley

Richard Tuley

Richard Tuley is a teacher and musician who has lived and worked in many different places, most notably France, Japan, the Middle East and England.

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