This machine kills fascists

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Woody Guthrie in 1943 with guitar labeled "This machine kills fascists"

"This Machine Kills Fascists" is a message that Woody Guthrie placed on his guitar in 1941,[1] which inspired many subsequent artists.


Soon after moving into a small fourth-floor walk-up apartment in Manhattan, Guthrie wrote the war song "Talking Hitler's Head Off Blues". This was printed in the Daily Worker newspaper. Then "In a fit of patriotism and faith in the impact of the song, he painted on his guitar THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS."[2]

Guthrie's stance against fascism[edit]

In Guthrie's opposition to fascism, he conceptualized the ideology "as a form of economic exploitation similar to slavery..." he straightforwardly denounces the fascists, particularly their leaders, as a group of gangsters who set out to 'rob the world'."[3] This recalled a protest strategy he had used "during the Great Depression, when social, political and economic inequality had been engendered by a small rich elite."[3] During that era Guthrie had "romanticized the deeds of outlaws such as Jesse James, Pretty Boy Floyd, Calamity Jane or the Dalton Gang both as legitimate acts of social responsibility and as 'the ultimate expression of protest', thus transforming the outlaw into an archetypal partisan in a fight against those who were held responsible for the worsening social and economic conditions".[3]

In this Guthrie cast those opposing fascism not as mere outlaws in a fascist state, but as heroes rising "in times of economic turmoil and social disintegration" to fight "a highly illegitimate criminal endeavor intended to exploit the common people."[3] Guthrie joined his voice in portraying not only as "dumb gangsters" but he also "externalized the inhuman element of fascism by describing its representatives as animals that were usually held in very low esteem and were associated with a range of bad character traits."[3] For example, he talked about the "Nazi Snake" that has to be countered in his song "Talking Hitler's Head Off Blues."[3] Guthrie would declare "[a]nything human is anti Hitler" and in his song "You Better Get Read" he has the figure of Satan declare that "Old Hell just ain't the same/Compared to Hitler, hell, I'm tame!"[3] Guthrie saw the battle against fascism as the ultimate battle of good versus evil. In a letter to "Railroad Pete" he stated "fascism and freedom are the only two sides battling...[this was the war] the world has been waiting on for twenty five million years...[which would] settle the score once and for all".[3]


The author Greil Marcus questions the effectiveness of Guthrie's use of the phrase on his guitar, saying "Woody Guthrie had a sign on his guitar that said, 'This machine kills fascists.' That's just the kind of connection between music and politics that I'm arguing against. It wasn't a machine and it didn't kill fascists. It made Woody Guthrie and the people who listened to him feel noble. I'm not saying that he wasn't against fascism but to say that you could defeat it by singing songs is not helpful in the war against fascism." Marcus contrasted this to songs that say "fascism is the dominant mode of political behavior in the West today and it has seeped down to our everyday lives. If fascism now pervades our everyday lives and our interactions with each other, our whole understanding of social intercourse supports and ultimately affirms fascism." Marcus holds that songs on Elvis Costello's Armed Forces record do just that. He stated that "Woody Guthrie says, 'Sing my songs and defeat fascism.' Elvis Costello says, 'Fascism exists - look around you.'"[4]


Guitar manufacturer Gibson has replicated Guthrie's 1945 Southern Jumbo complete with sticker.

When appearing on a Glen Campbell-hosted television show in the late 1960s Pete Seeger paid homage to Guthrie's phrase by writing "This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces it to Surrender" on the calfskin head of his banjo as he sang "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" over images of the drawn-out war in Vietnam.[5]

In his autobiography the folksinger Donovan recalled that out of homage to Guthrie he placed the words "This machine kills" on his guitar, "thinking that fascism was already dead. My machine would kill greed and delusion."[6]

In the New Orleans-based show Treme, musician Harley Watt has a sticker on his guitar reading "This Machine Floats".

Rob Baker, of The Tragically Hip, has 'This machine kills fascists' written on his guitar in the video to the song Bobcaygeon.

In a tribute to Guthrie, British folksinger Billy Bragg wrote the words "This Guitar Says Sorry" on his instrument in the 1970s.[7]

"This Machine Kills Fascists" is the title of

Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello was inspired by Guthrie to label his guitars with iconic slogans such as "Arm The Homeless," "Sendero Luminoso," "Soul Power," and many more.[8]

The sleeve of the Half Man Half Biscuit album Achtung Bono includes a picture of lead singer Nigel Blackwell holding a guitar with the words "This machine kills wasps" written on it.

It is the name of two effect pedals by TYM Guitars to raise funds for humanitarian charities.[9]

John Green, host of Crash Course and co-host of Vlogbrothers has a "⚠ THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS" sticker on the laptop on his desk[10] in the Crash Course history video series, and refers to the famous photo and accompanying catchphrase in his 2008 novel Paper Towns. He commissioned the sticker design from graphic designer Karen Kavett to sell laptop stickers with the slogan on them. [11] His brother and Vlogbrothers partner, Hank Green has the words "This machine pwns n00bs" on his own guitar. [12]

Show of Hands' 2012 album Wake the Union features the message on the peculiar acoustic guitar on the album cover, which features numerous symbols related to the United States and England.

Buzz Osborne, founding member and front man of the Melvins, named his 2014 acoustic solo album This Machine Kills Artists in reference to the phrase.

New Albanian Brewing Company sell a T-shirt with pictures of beer brewing equipment and the words "These machines kill fascists" written on it. [13]

The cover art of the sixth book in Charles Stross's Laundry Files series "The Annihilation Score" includes the image of a sticker saying "THIS MACHINE KILLS DEMONS" referring to a bone-white violin owned by one of the characters.[14]

Marlboro College art professor, potter, painter, and performance artist, Roberto Lugo, writes "This machine kills hate" on his potters wheel and describes why in a talk he gave to the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA).[15]

Independent rapper Busdriver released a compilation of older material in 2002 named "This Machine Kills Fashion Tips". [16]

Fallout: New Vegas features an M1 Garand named "This Machine," which is inscribed with the words "WELL THIS MACHINE KILLS COMMIES".

Fabrizio Moretti, drummer for The Strokes, wrote " This Machine Also Kills Fascists" on the head of his bass drum in 2016.

The slogan was also adopted and used by the gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello adapted to the phrase "this moustache kills fascists"

On the first page of DC Comics June 1st 2016 Green Arrow Rebirth issue, the sticker appears on the guitar of an homeless woman playing in the streets.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Robert Weir, ed. (2007). Class in America [Three Volumes]: An Encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 337. 
  2. ^ Anne E. Neimark (2002). There Ain't Nobody That Can Sing Like Me: The Life of Woody Guthrie. Atheneurn Books. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h John S. Partington (2011). The Life, Music and Thought of Woody Guthrie: A Critical Appraisal. Ashgate Publishing Ltd. 
  4. ^ Joe Bonomo, ed. (2012). Conversations with Greil Marcus. The University Press of Mississippi. p. 116-117. 
  5. ^ Steve Martin (2007). Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life. Simon and Schuster, Inc. 
  6. ^ Donovan Leitch (2007). The Autobiography of Donovan: The Hurdy Gurdy Man. St Martin's Griffin. p. 69. 
  7. ^ Andrew Collins (2013). Billy Bragg: Still Suitable for Miners. Ebury Publishing. 
  8. ^ Musician's Friend. "Tom Morello Guitars & Home Studio". YouTube. Retrieved 30 December 2015. 
  9. ^ Brennan, Tim (August 1, 2013). "This Machine Kills Fascists pedals". TYM Guitars.
  10. ^ "My Computer Just Got So Much More Awesome". John Green Tumblr. October 25, 2011.
  11. ^ "This Machine Kills Fascists Decal". Karen Kavett blog. October 12, 2011.
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ New Albanian Brewing Company Store Website [2]
  14. ^ Cover Reveal - Charlie's Diary [3]
  15. ^ This Machine Kills Hate - NCECA Blog [4]
  16. ^ Busdriver - This Machine Kills Fashion Tips on [5]