As a proponent of peaceful relations with the Soviet Union, Woody Guthrie would likely be rolling over in his grave if he knew how his heirs betrayed his name
Famous for his song “This Land Is Your Land” and for adopting the slogan “This Machine Kills Fascists” on his guitar, the great American folk singer Woody Guthrie was an authentic American dissident and radical.
As a member of the Communist Party, he supported militant labor strikes and spoke out against U.S. foreign policy.
A mere month after the dropping of atomic bombs on two Japanese cities, Guthrie—who served with the Merchant Marines during World War II—wrote a series of songs in The Yank Weekly, which lamented the destruction in Hiroshima and called for the immediate abolition of nuclear weapons.
Subsequently, Woody was part of a songwriters’ collective, considered seditious by the FBI, that supported the 1948 presidential campaign of Henry Wallace, who advocated for peace with Russia and the dismantling of the worldwide network of U.S. military bases.
More than a dozen songs found at the Woody Guthrie Center Archives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, show that Woody criticized the Korean War in terms that anticipated the New Left critique of the Vietnam War.
In “Bye Bye Big Brass,” (1952) Woody imagined a scenario in which he is shipped off to Korea and, rather than kill a Chinese soldier he encounters, he sits and talks with him by a campfire. After getting to know one another, the two hide out together and fight back against the U.S. Army when it tries to capture them.
In “Hey General Mackymacker” (1952), Woody exposed the lies of General Douglas MacArthur who repeatedly claimed that the U.S. was winning the war and would be home by Christmas, but did not specify to which Christmas he was referring. Woody also condemned MacArthur for threatening to use the atom bomb again, this time on North Korea and China.
If Woody were alive today, he would surely see through the lies of MacArthur’s heirs and the folly of the U.S. government provoking a potential nuclear war, and be horrified by the U.S. government’s support for a regime in Ukraine that has been infiltrated by the far right and suppresses workers’ rights.
Woody would likely also have deep misgivings that a center created in his honor awarded its tenth anniversary prize to Pussy Riot, a punk rock group that supports the government in Ukraine and the overthrow of the Russian government, in line with the goals of U.S. foreign policy.
While fashioning themselves as anti-war, Pussy Riot is in fact pro-war because they advocate for Ukraine’s victory in the conflict over Russia and not a peace settlement, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, backed by the U.S., has so far refused to negotiate.
By branding Putin solely responsible for the war, Pussy Riot ignores Ukrainian and U.S. government provocations. They show an egregious double standard in purporting to be against dictatorship and fascism while wanting you to stand with Ukraine when its government has a) banned 12 opposition parties; b) shut down independent media; c) banned churches affiliated with Russia; and d) carried out wide-scale detentions, acts of terrorism, assassinations, and car bombings directed at political opponents and extending into the Russian Federation.
Woody was adamantly against war profiteering on Wall Street so would have been against the $100 billion plus in military aid that the U.S. government has given to Ukraine as a subsidy to weapons manufacturers like Lockheed Martin and Boeing so their stocks could go up.
In July 1946, Woody Guthrie wrote a song about Chiang Kai-shek, who received billions of dollars from the U.S. to fight the communists in China’s civil war. Woody called Chiang a fascist who had killed tens of thousands of Chinese workers, writing that “each drop of blood spilt [by Chiang] shines in my memory, with borrowed firearms, with borrowed money [reference to U.S. aid]…”
No doubt, Woody would feel the same way about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a corrupt man like Chiang who has used U.S. military aid to escalate a war with Russia that has resulted in the decimation of a generation of Ukrainian and Russian youth.
A zealous war hawk who has supported missile strikes in Russia and the bombing of an oil pipeline that transfers Russian oil into Hungary according to classified U.S. intelligence documents, Zelensky has further passed regressive new labor laws right out of Chiang’s playbook, and sold out Ukraine’s economy to foreign interests in the way that Chiang did.
“Miss Pavilichenko’s well known to fame;
Russia’s your country, fighting is your game;
The whole world will love her for a long time to come
For more than three hundred Nazis fell by your gun.”
While it cannot be predicted if Woody would have written any odes to Russian snipers who have killed Azov battalion neo-Nazis in the current war, it’s almost certain that he would have opposed the fascists on the Ukrainian side who slaughtered trade union activists in Odessa after the 2014 Maidan coup, and have terrorized the people of Eastern Ukraine since that time.
Besides Chiang, another like-minded ruler to Zelensky in his time was Syngman Rhee, who after being installed by the Truman administration slaughtered tens of thousands of South Koreans and triggered the Korean War. Woody called him “Mister Sickiman Ree,” writing, “Dizzy Old Sigman Ree, you can’t fool pore me!”
Zelensky would not have fooled Guthrie either—as he seems to have his daughter.
Hooligans Elevated to Heroes in a Twisted World
Pussy Riot first made a name for themselves in February 2012 when they disrupted a service at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and performed an obscenity-laced song called “Punk Prayer,” which attacked the Orthodox Church’s support for Vladimir Putin.
Several weeks after the cathedral stunt—which was broken up by church officials—Maria “Masha” Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were arrested and charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”
They were subsequently held without bail until their trial when they were convicted and sentenced to two years in prison.
While many Russians believed that the sentence was too severe, a large number also believed that Pussy Riot’s actions were a gross offense to the Orthodox faith and that the group engaged in other vulgar public acts that were morally offensive. These have included filming videos where members of the band kissed Russian police officers in public, urinated on a portrait of Putin, and burned him in effigy.
Elena Doshlygina, a Russian language professor at the University of Tulsa, told me: “To me this group [Pussy Riot] is totally disgusting. [Nadezhda] Tolokonnikova was previously a member of the Voina group. They organized a sex orgy in the Zoological Museum, very close to Red Square, in 2008. I believe it’s associated with the Moscow State University [the most prestigious university in Russia]. Actually my ancestor, [Sergei] Buturlin, a well-known ornithologist donated and sponsored part of his collection in the museum. What Pussy Riot did is a total insult to me. They are vulgar and totally immoral. I can’t even send you the links. They are all so horribly pornographic. There were also other performances before the Church, totally vulgar and disgusting. I resent the fact that they are presented with awards as heroes for the fight for democracy.”
Obviously Pussy Riot is receiving so many awards is because their political message denigrating Vladimir Putin accords with U.S. regime change designs. These stem from a desire to turn back the clock to the 1990s when foreign capitalist interests were able to exploit Russia economically and begin to take control over its abundant natural resources.
Putin may have authoritarian features, but he has restored Russia’s economic sovereignty and regional power while effectively withstanding the U.S. sanctions and enhancing Russia’s trading relations with China.
If a U.S. punk group pulled the kind of stunts as Pussy Riot targeting churches and government officials, it is unlikely they would receive any major awards; rather their members would likely be imprisoned like Pussy Riot was in Russia and be treated like delinquents.
The fake progressive veneer of musicians like Sting, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Madonna was evident in their support for Pussy Riot and call for their release when they were jailed; human rights groups also designated them prisoners of conscience and Time magazine put them on the cover as 2012’s Women of the Year.
In 2013, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a CIA offshoot that promotes political propaganda and supports dissidents in countries targeted by the U.S. for regime change, sponsored a forum that idealized Pussy Riot.
This breeds suspicion that Pussy Riot may have received covert NED assistance—though this is difficult to verify, as the NED does not disclose the groups to which it provides funding.
Journalist Tony Cartalucci found an indirect connection in that Pussy Riot members associated with Alexei Navalny, an agent of U.S.-funded sedition who formed a political organization, Democratic Alternative, that received NED funding.
Cartalucci also found that a woman heading Pussy Riot’s support campaign in Finland, Oksana Chelysheva, was a board member of the Russian-Finnish Civic Forum, which was also funded by the NED, and George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, which is linked to the CIA. Chelysheva was additionally a member of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, which was funded by the U.S. State Department to promote Chechen terrorist propaganda.
Pussy Riot’s visit to Tulsa to receive the Woody Guthrie Prize on May 6, tellingly, was financed by George Kaiser, an oil billionaire and chief financier of the Democratic Party in Oklahoma whose foundation may be used as part of some kind of quid pro quo to advance CIA projects—including a cyber-security program at the University of Tulsa, which received a National Security Agency (NSA) excellence award and hosted CIA Director John F. Brennan.
Kaiser financed the building of the Woody Guthrie Museum, which opened in 2010. The Kaiser Foundation’s executive director, Ken Levit, served as CIA Director George Tenet’s Special Counsel from 1998 to 2000.
Very clearly Pussy Riot’s visit to Tulsa and its receipt of the Woody Guthrie Prize had an explicitly political agenda: to use the name of a legendary anti-war folk singer to undercut the U.S. anti-war movement and promote solidarity among people who identify as leftists for the war in Ukraine as well as for U.S. regime change designs in Russia, which is the end goal of the war.
At the concert on May 6 in Tulsa’s Cain Ballroom following their receipt of the Woody Guthrie Prize, Pussy Riot band members displayed pro-Ukrainian t-shirts and waved the Ukrainian flag—as did some members of the audience.
The musical quality of the show was dubious—nowhere close to Woody Guthrie’s level or that of previous Guthrie Award recipients like Bruce Springsteen and John Cougar Mellencamp—though it was rather entertaining to watch.
At a key moment, Pussy Riot brought out and then proceeded to urinate on and then destroy a portrait of Vladimir Putin.
Pussy Riot also condemned Russian atrocities in Bucha—though independent investigations determined that the majority of civilian deaths there were likely caused by the Ukrainians—and the Russian takeover of Crimea, when Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to rejoin Russia which they had historic and economic ties to.
Part of the Pussy Riot show was a narration of their story of arrest following the 2012 Moscow Cathedral stunt and the hardship that the young women experienced in a prison in the Urals, which they likened to a Soviet-era Gulag.
At one point, a photo was shown of Vladimir Putin with Belarus’s socialist leader Alexander Lukashenko, whom Pussy Riot also hates.
This aligns very neatly again with the position of the U.S. State Department, which has supported numerous color revolutions directed against Lukashenko because he has resisted NATO expansion and the penetration of the Belarusian economy by U.S. corporations.
Pussy Riot advocates for revolution, but the book Riot Days, written by band member Maria Alyokhina, does not explain what economic model they would pursue that would improve the quality of life of the Russian people.
While some aspects of their anger at the Putin government and advocacy is justifiable, one is left with the impression that they just want to sow anarchy for anarchy’s sake.
In a forum at Tulsa’s Circle Cinema, Pussy Riot members admitted that the group was anti-intellectual and tries to play off people’s emotions. They urged Oklahomans to oppose abortion restrictions but had nothing critical to say about U.S. foreign policy and seemed to possess only a limited understanding of world geopolitics.
One of the girls, Diana Burkot, recounted how her father supports the Russian Special Military operation in Ukraine and has basically disowned her. I felt sorry that while some of her values to me seem good, she is being used by U.S. oligarchs and arch-imperialists of the George Kaiser ilk who want to destroy her homeland so they can dominate Eurasia, loot Russia like they did in the 1990s, and sustain a unipolar world order dominated by the U.S.
In an interview before the show with Bob Santelli, executive director of the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music at Monmouth University (NJ), Pussy Riot band members said that Russia has become totalitarian under Putin.
While there is a certain truth to that, again, they fail to mention that it was Putin’s predecessor Boris Yeltsin, a darling of the U.S. and West, who stormed the Russian parliament and presided over the destruction of Russia’s economy by selling off the country’s major industries to local oligarchs and foreign corporations, which Putin put a stop to.
One of the political prisoners whose plight Pussy Riot spotlighted at the show, Alexei Navalny, was arrested on what appears to be legitimate embezzlement charges and is a Western backed political operative who received funding from the NED and British intelligence agents.
If an American in the pay of foreign intelligence agencies were similarly spreading anti-U.S. invective and working to bring down the U.S. government, he would likely meet the same fate as Navalny, if not worse.
A Black socialist group based in St. Louis has had its leaders indicted for accepting a trip from a man accused of being a Russian agent, which if he was, they would have likely not been aware. And the Biden administration wants to imprison Julian Assange for the rest of his life under the 1917 Espionage Act for publishing leaked documents that exposed major U.S. government war crimes.
The awarding of the Woody Guthrie Prize to Pussy Riot and its May 6 concert generally represent the decline of the American Left in the era of Russia-Gate and the new Cold War.
The prize should have gone to a dissident American singer/songwriter who, in Woody’s spirit, is trying to challenge the U.S. permanent warfare state, grip of Wall Street, and new Cold War in a renewed climate of McCarthyism.
Someone like David Rovics, a protest singer and truth-teller like Woody who has eloquently spoken out against U.S. policy in Ukraine. Or better yet, Roger Waters, the co-founder of Pink Floyd, who has endured denunciations and blacklisting for his condemnation of U.S. and NATO policy in Ukraine and support for Palestinian rights and Julian Assange.
Instead of choosing to honor these true embodiments of Woody Guthrie’s spirit, we have the sad spectacle of Guthrie’s offspring teaming with a billionaire oil tycoon to host an event headlined by artists known for their crude vulgarity whose political message perfectly aligns with the State Department and CIA.
And we have counter-cultural types who attended the event waving the flag of a country where fascists were empowered in a CIA-backed coup, and which has provoked a conflict that is leading us toward World War III and potential nuclear Armageddon.
Woody admired Albert Einstein and supported the peaceful use of atomic energy. ↑
See Jeremy Kuzmarov, “Hey Hey General Mackymacker, Ho, Ho Mr. Lovitt:” Woody Guthrie’s Forgotten Dissent From the Atomic Bomb to the Korean War,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, April 1, 2018, https://apjjf.org/-Jeremy-Kuzmarov/5133/article.pdf. In “Hey General Mackymacker,” Woody wrote: “Hey Diggedy Mackymacker, sez Christmas I’ll walk home, but you did not say which Christmas. Boy I’d just like to know will I be walking or will I be running? Hee, Hee bigshot Monkey Machrel, if we atom bomb these communists [as MacArthur had advocated], and then they atom bomb us, nobody will be running.” ↑
Kuzmarov, “Hey, Hey General Mackymacker, Ho Ho Mr. Lovitt.” This and other Woody Guthrie songs are available at the Woody Guthrie Center Archives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. ↑
Lyrics are on display at the Woody Guthrie museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The song continued:
“ In your mountains and canyons quiet as the deer
Down in your big trees knowing no fear
You lift up your sight. And down comes a Hun
And more than three hundred Nazi dogs fell by your gun
Fell by your gun, yes
Fell by your gun
For more than three hundred Nazis fell by your gun.” ↑
At a Q&A session following their release of a new anti-war video at Tulsa’s Circle Cinema, Pussy Riot member Olga Borisova said that she had had drinks at a bar in Tbilisi, Georgia with Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter accused of being a spy. The implications of this meeting are uncertain. ↑
Kaiser secured control of the Board of Directors at the University of Tulsa, where the author previously taught. In 2012, the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command named TU “a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations,” following other “nods of approval” from DoD and the U.S. Secret Service, which has a facility on campus. And just last November, the Department of Homeland Security backed the school’s efforts “to build up the nation’s cyber workforce.” ↑
Levit was thanked at the Pussy Riot Prize ceremony, along with George Kaiser, for helping to bring Pussy Riot to Tulsa. ↑
Maria Alyokhina, Riot Days (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2017). ↑
Woody was himself a victim of McCarthyism; his songs were banned in Oklahoma throughout much of the second half of the 20th century. ↑
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About the Author
Jeremy Kuzmarov is Managing Editor of CovertAction Magazine.
He is the author of five books on U.S. foreign policy, including Obama’s Unending Wars (Clarity Press, 2019), The Russians Are Coming, Again, with John Marciano (Monthly Review Press, 2018), and Warmonger. How Clinton’s Malign Foreign Policy Launched the U.S. Trajectory From Bush II to Biden (Clarity Press, 2023).
He can be reached at: email@example.com.