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Why Woody Guthrie’s guitar kills fascists

Why Woody Guthrie’s guitar kills fascists

There was a time, not so far away, when we thought that fascisms would already be buried forever. Called by many in the 1960s “the British Bob Dylan,” Donovan carried a guitar with a visible message in tribute to his hero Woody Guthrie. In that message you could read: “This machine kills.” Donovan deliberately dropped the word “fascists.” When asked in an interview why he had removed the last word of the famous message that Guthrie had put on his guitar, becoming his hallmark, he replied: “I thought fascism was already dead.” He was wrong. We were wrong.

Fascism never completely dies because the desire of some to apply what the RAE understands by this word: “authoritarian and undemocratic attitude” never dies. An attitude that, already in the 21st century, is considered socially related to fascism or “the political movement that developed in the first half of the 20th century characterized by corporatism and nationalist exaltation”. For this reason, in a democratic society, people who think differently from one will never be fascists, no matter how much they think differently and no matter how easy it is for some to drop this word. Fascists are really the ideas and attitudes that seek to consummate the authoritarian and anti-democratic, sometimes together with nationalist exaltation and corporatism to the detriment of equality, tolerance or justice.

The big question is that, for a long time, fascists have been able to transform themselves into an extreme right within democratic societies. From there, the desire of some has ended up inspiring many others who would never see themselves as fascists or extremists. And they are not, but they have joined or have allowed themselves to be drawn into the discourse of what is now known as “alternative rights”, whose most prominent leaders and spokespersons have a fascist or right-wing extremist soul – and even declared pride. These gurus go without a mask and have been leading a kind of political revolution in which indignation and provocation have been the breeding ground to mobilize dissatisfied, desperate, marginalized or bored citizens within a Western world where turbocapitalism often manages to impose its law.

When Woody Guthrie toured the United States from coast to coast in the 1930s, he was not only learning about the reality of all the marginalized and outraged in his country, but with his songs he was proposing a way to transform it. With an unthinkable urgency in these times of commercial and promotional strategy, Guthrie sang to the present to imagine a future. An immediate future because, basically, tomorrow cannot wait when the fascist proposals advance. So when Guthrie sang Tear the Fascists Down (Tear down the fascists), he wondered in the chorus: “Good people, what are we waiting on? (Good people, what are we waiting for?)”.

Woody Guthrie’s guitar didn’t kill fascists because it fired like a shotgun. His guitar killed fascists because it canceled them out. Music and, consequently, culture are an antidote to prevent the ultras from becoming strong and managing to advance their ideas of xenophobia, racism, machismo, homophobia and anti-state. In short, his anti-democratic ideas and positions. Guthrie fought with ideas, with language, with music and with the search to build a future with others in songs that belonged to everyone.

They say he borrowed the message This machine kills fascists of workers at an East Coast factory that supplied materiel to the war effort during World War II. They wrote it on their lathes. Be that as it may, the message was forever associated with his guitar and it fulfilled its function. Because Woody Guthrie became an example and, with the closest and most fascinating reference to Bob Dylan, marked the way for many artists and generations of people.

If Woody Guthrie’s guitar killed fascists, it was simply because it was playing. As writer and Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck said: “There is nothing sweet about Woody, and there is nothing sweet about the songs he sings. But there is something more important for those who will listen. There is the will of the people to resist and fight against oppression.” His music and his figure should continue to be present. Because to sing or rise up against the fascists or current alternative right-wing extremists you have to have an ideology. At least, the ideology of a democrat. The ideology of not standing idly by when the ghosts of the past arrive, those that Donovan thought were dead.


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