Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Fuck Communism

The only problem with Communism is that every time it’s been tried, millions of people die. Also, it’s just fucking stupid. Communists have various rebuttals to the first fact. “In theory,” they’ll say. “Not real Communism,” they’ll say. “Strictly a coincidence, all the starvation,” some will argue. “The tenets, my boy, the tenets were sound,” and if someone speaks to you that way, you may slap them in their beards. All efforts to defend the belief system lie in the academical, because the historical record of Communism invariably includes snipers on guard towers shooting people trying to leave.

Say what you will about corporate-influenced representative democracy combined with late-stage capitalism: you’re allowed to leave. The other countries don’t have to take you, but you’re still perfectly free to go.

Can people live in a communal fashion? Kinda. For almost all of human existence, it’s been the default setting: the tribe that lived in the Caveman Valley near Dinosaur Falls were close enough to quintessential communists. You had yourself a Big Boss or a Tribe of Elders, and they told everyone how much food to gather (as much as you can, I suppose) and stuff like that.

And then a couple million years or so went by and we invented the Industrial Revolution and boom: Communism. (That last sentence was a portion of my new book, A Short History of Communism. Actually, it was the whole book.)

Most of the ideas behind Communism are dumb category errors: there’s no such thing as the Proletariat, there’s just poor people. The poor people over here want different things than the poor people over there, and this leads to another flaw of Communism, which is that it isn’t scalable. To work together as a tangible community, in harmony and towards a shared goal, is possible in a Kibbutz. Not a country. People see what’s in front of them; people care about what they can hold.

And this, Enthusiasts, is the death knell for Communism: it is anti-human. Its precepts run counter to human nature. A command economy–or a command culture, which is what all Communist states turned into rather quickly–is absurd to anyone who’s ever met a person. I know very little for a fact, but I know this: people hate being told what to do. Now, people need to be told what they can’t do, but involuntary conscription into someone else’s bullshit is rarely welcomed.

Speaking of someone else’s bullshit, there is this:

What can be said about the Grateful Dead that has not been said before? They are on one hand somewhere below Coldplay and Nickelback on the list of hatred-objects for Leftists of who came of age between the late 80s and late 90s, signifying affluent frat kids tripping balls and hacky sacking, earnest liberals reading Sean Wilentz and taking bong hits, and so on and so forth.

That is the first paragraph of an article feebly attempting, and utterly failing, to link the Grateful Dead to various Commie nonsense. It is delightfully, deliriously, deliciously wrong. It is not even not even wrong, ignoring the Dead’s stated apoliticism and imparting magically obtained intentions upon them, intentions apparent to no one–not even the Dead themselves, who were all born into working-class families–but the author. Communists all! he says. Radicals, dontcha know? Here, read for yourself:

When they first started out, the Dead called themselves anarchists, at the time – some still do, in a qualified sense (check out the Netflix documentary on Bob Weir) – and were particularly close to an anarchist collective known as the Diggers, named for Winstanley’s 16th century movement, perhaps the first anti-capitalists. They had cordial relations with the Black Panther Party, playing numerous benefits for them. While they claimed to not be political, this was and is besides the point, given that they were embedded within a subculture in which having radical politics was common sense.

There’s the problem with your average Communist, right there in black and white, Enthusiasts: individual agency is beside the point. The grand narrative of the dialectic, or whatever the fuck Historical Materialism means, supersedes your expressed intention.

“No, no, you silly prole. You actually meant to say this, right?”

Did the Dead hang out with Commies? Sure, partied with them, too. And radicals? There were many backstage. But mostly the Dead surrounded themselves with Capitalists. You’ll find that most of the band, in fact, believed in the system of a well-regulated market economy, coupled with individual freedoms and an open ballot.

Anyway: fuck Communism. The Grateful Dead ain’t no goddamned Commies.

(Oh, plus the article contains every single one of my Grateful Dead Article Pet Peeves: apologizing for liking the band, bringing up that epic-length tribute album that everyone’s forgotten about already, retelling the Origin Story, dragging the poor Czech Spring into the matter. Take your pills before you read it.)


  1. Bear once just about tore me a new one when I suggested something like this after reading Carol Brightman’s book. And I do take his point, the Grateful Dead were not political activists, and deliberately avoided becoming identified with particular political causes. They were very interested in making money, since they had to have money to keep their operations afloat. However, if Grateful Dead were capitalists, they were capitalists of a very strange kind. Their organisation was collective rather than hierarchical. They paid everybody the same weekly wage, whether band members, road crew, managers or staff. They actively subverted the dominant market structures of the rock ‘n’ roll business. Garcia stated that their business ethic was based on the beat sensibility that art was the priority, not profit.

    I am very curious as to what were the “many times” the Dead played benefits for the Panthers. As far as I know it was just the one time, March 5th 1971.

    I am unaware that Veronica Barnard (or was it Grant, or both?) was a “leading member” of the Black Panthers.

    The Dead played very few rallies, Columbia is one of the exceptions, although they played a lot of benefits for a wide range of organisations.

    However, despite appearing to be a Canadian, I think that Jordy Cummings gets close to the truth at times. For a start, he uses the terms Dionysian and Anarchist in loosely connected argument, almost grasping the fact that Grateful Dead were indeed Dionysian Anarchists. Plus, he correctly rails against the pigeon-holing of Grateful Dead as some sort of counter-cultural social marker, that fails to address the fundamental seriousness and value of their music.

    • I agree with you pretty much wholeheartedly. Lots of problems with Cummings’ article for many of the reason you state. I’m also quite sure they only played one benefit for the B. Panthers and even that, they were quite clear in pointing out at the time, was not because they agreed with them completely but that they had shared a flight with Huey Newton and got along with him. It was, then, more a personal favor then a complete endorsement of the Panthers. And yes, the claim that Veronica Barnard was a leading member of the Panthers seems totally without basis. I’d like to see his evidence. And yes “The Dead played very few rallies, Columbia is one of the exceptions.” But even then, all the recollections of the band (and Rock Scully) playing Columbia during the student strike recall their refusal to give their microphones to the politicos who wanted to make speeches. And speaking of politicos, Lesh, in his bio, talks about how much he disliked them during the Human Be-In.

      Cummings makes a couple of good points: e.g. it’s stupid to not like the GD because Ann Coulter does. But he makes the usual leftist mistake of thinking that because something or someone is countercultural, or socialistic in some way, that it is therefore necessarily of the left. It’s like they’ve never even read the third section of the Communist Manifesto where Marx and Engels go into great detail about the different kinds of socialism of both left and right.

  2. What about the Garcia quote, “We are mildly socialist”?

    Please don’t punch me in my beard…

  3. Academics are annoying, perhaps the most annoying thing that us DeadHeads have to endure!!! They are more annoying that frat boys, on coke in sunglasses and tennis shorts sitting in lounge chairs in front of you on the lawn at the show in Riverbend Cincinnati 1985. Really annoying.

    Academics that put some “novelty” into their thesis by adding the Grateful Dead into the mix. Fuck You..

    Oteil described what we are and what we do and what we experience best, when he said.

    “It’s love. It’s the same thing you get from the fans. I’ve never felt anything so strong coming from a crowd outside of the black church. It’s so much love coming at you that it’s not a concert or entertainment anymore. It’s a spiritual ritual that everybody is participating in and it is truly grounded in love.”

  4. The interesting thing from here (Britain) is just how much the US has moved to the right since the high days of the good old Grateful Dead. They may have been more interested in getting high than in changing the world, but the freedom that was being pushed in the 1960s and early 1970s was a long, long way from the triumph of global consumerism which even progressive America represents today. Look at what’s happened to Rolling Stone magazine: zzzz. The GD may not have been communists but they – like the Diggers of the English Revolution – were interested in turning the world – or at least our perceptions of it – upside down.

  5. They were definitely shooting for a revolutionary goal, altered consciousness.

    Good point on Rolling Stone magazine. In the late sixties and early seventies it was banned in Queensland, because of the political content.

    • Thoughts On The Dead

      September 13, 2016 at 7:59 pm

      Australia bans everything, though.

      • No, Queensland bans everything. I could drive seventy miles from Brisbane, over the border to Tweed Heads, and buy a copy of Rolling Stone. Or I could save the petrol money and buy a copy of Revolution magazine, which had the RS record reviews, by far the best part, as an insert. Weirdly, Revolution was not banned, even though its political content was wildly more provocative than anything in RS. I did drive south to buy the RS (was it 100 and 101?) with the Garcia interview.

        Queensland was a repressive police state, which had an official policy of belting the hell out of hippies and re-selling their drugs, or hanging them by their heels over the cliffs at Noosa, or burning their filthy communes.

  6. Bob Weir born into a working class family? Whatever, dude.

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