Tracy Chapman – Talkin’ ‘Bout A Revolution

Tracy Chapman may or may not be a Marxist, but the song lyrics from this 1988 tune certainly are.

She sings about people wasting their lives waiting for government assistance and better jobs. To Marx, the capitalist class – the bourgeoisie – owned the companies and factories. These means of production were used to exploit workers for their labour. At the same time, unemployment lines for government help such as welfare can’t be too generous because those workers – the proletariats – are needed to earn profit for their bosses. Generous social programs would get in the way.

Thus, the people in the song are whispering about change. Major change. They are talking about a revolution. Karl Marx believed that workers would organize against the capitalists. That some capitalists would even join the good fight. And that ultimately, the workers and their supporters would revolt and overthrow the ruling class. When Tracy Chapman sings, “I said you better run, run, run,” she is referring to the bourgeoisie that are being taken out. Finally, the tables are turning, she sings.

Really, Marxists still wait for this natural “end of history” to organically occur, this substitution of the capitalist system with communism. Under communism, people wouldn’t exploit each other. People would contribute what they could to others, and get back what they needed. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” wrote Marx (and his buddy, Friedrich Engels). In various countries, impatient rulers instead stage managed such revolutions, such as in Russia, though even modern Marxists today have got to admit, with out bringing the Marxist utopia. Delivering equality in every way for every one is a wonderful goal, but consequences of rushing revolution instead have been millions murdered and starved to death.

How should we measure political theories then: by the intentions or outcomes? By theory or in practice?


8 thoughts on “Tracy Chapman – Talkin’ ‘Bout A Revolution

  1. Pingback: Gil Scott-Heron – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised | Political Tunes

  2. I loved this entire album when it was released. She is a brilliant writer of lyrics and tunes… but.. politically she is naive. Utopia is for dreams like Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek future where we all explore space or run restaurants or bars. It’s a fun dream but people don’t work that way. Nature (not words) have made us creatures of self interest. It’s all part of the idea that those who look after their own self-interests (for them and those they care for) are better off. They survive… even thrive. Those that become dependent on others… not so much. That said I still love Star Wars… and this song. 🙂

    • Thanks for reading and commenting (and sharing your views). It’s great that artists can provoke political discussions. A folk song might have to be simple to resonate, but then that can fail to capture the complexity of the world, and its reality.

      • Hello and thanks for commenting. It’s a terrific song, and it’s probably fine it’s a bit naive, because that is overcome by Tracy’s passion.

  3. Pingback: Talkin Bout’ a Revolution | SOUNDS for SOCIAL JUSTICE

  4. Thanks for discussing the lyrics.I was worried (for a quick second) that people in welfare lines were the lazy ones who chose poverty, according to the neoliberal doctrine (’cause poverty is a choice, as they say). PS English is not my mother tongue, that’s why…

    • It is a criticism of welfare/social assistance, that it traps people on it and makes them dependent upon the government… reducing their initiative to be independent. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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