-- Call It Democracy --
November 1985. Toronto, Canada.

Found on:

World of Wonders (1986)

Waiting for a Miracle (1987)

Bruce Cockburn Live (1990) & (2002)

You Pay Your Money And You Take Your Chance (1997)

Anything Anytime Anywhere, Singles 1979-2002 (2002) [compilation album]

Rumours of Glory - box set Disc 4 (2014) [compilation album]

Greatest Hits (1970-2020) (2021) [compilation album]

Padded with power here they come
International loan sharks backed by the guns
Of market hungry military profiteers
Whose word is a swamp and whose brow is smeared
With the blood of the poor

Who rob life of its quality
Who render rage a necessity
By turning countries into labour camps
Modern slavers in drag as champions of freedom

Sinister cynical instrument
Who makes the gun into a sacrament --
The only response to the deification
Of tyranny by so-called "developed" nations'
Idolatry of ideology

North South East West
Kill the best and buy the rest
It's just spend a buck to make a buck
You don't really give a flying fuck
About the people in misery

IMF dirty MF
Takes away everything it can get
Always making certain that there's one thing left
Keep them on the hook with insupportable debt

See the paid-off local bottom feeders
Passing themselves off as leaders
Kiss the ladies shake hands with the fellows
Open for business like a cheap bordello

And they call it democracy
And they call it democracy
And they call it democracy
And they call it democracy

See the loaded eyes of the children too
Trying to make the best of it the way kids do
One day you're going to rise from your habitual feast
To find yourself staring down the throat of the beast
They call the revolution

IMF dirty MF
Takes away everything it can get
Always making certain that there's one thing left
Keep them on the hook with insupportable debt

Known comments by Bruce Cockburn about this song, by date:

  • January/February 1985

    "In Toronto, I've made a deliberate effort to immerse myself in human society, a society I've never really felt a part of. And I've found a lot of good stuff. Part of that whole process has involved becoming more concerned about what is happening to the people around me."
    -- from "Singing in a Dangerous Time" by Eunice Amarantides, TheOtherSide, January/February 1985. Submitted by Nigel Parry.

  • March 1987

    [Commenting after the agreement between the Parents Music Resource Center and the recording industry that resulted in a warning sticker on the first American pressing of this song] "I think it's really stupid, and it's tempting to believe that there's a connection [between the political content of recent music and people wanting to censor it] but I haven't seen any real evidence of that effect. The connection may go the other way, too. When you get [a] very uptight metality trying to enforce itself on the rest of the population, people are driven to react."
    -- from "Bruce Cockburn - A Voice Singing in the Wilderness" by Steve Perry, Musician magazine, March 1987, transcribed for the Web by Rick Evans. Submitted by Nigel Parry.

  • 1990

    "Through a growing familiarity with the Nicaraguan revolution, a recognition of North-South relations began to take shape. Nicaragua, the Philippines, Chile, virtually all of Latin America really, Indonesia, emerging African countries... Wherever you look you find the same financial interests at work. Working to get rich without controls, at the expense of the poor. When the poor complain, out come the troops, and then the arms companies get rich too."
    -- from "Rumours of Glory 1980-1990" (songbook), edited by Arthur McGregor, OFC Publications, Ottawa, 1990. Submitted by Rob Caldwell.

  • 3 April 1992

    ["Call it Democracy" is perhaps the only song ever written about the International Monetary Fund, which Cockburn accuses of fostering "insupportable debt" in Third World countries. Typically not pulling any punches, Cockburn charges that the IMF doesn't "really give a flying fuck about the people in misery." That earned it a few bleeps on radio and video channels, but no one seemed to notice the chorus, "IMF, dirty MF." We won't spell out here what "MF" stands for, but it can easily be imagined.]

    "You know who noticed that was the American record company," Cockburn said, "'cause that came out when the whole Tipper Gore thing was really peaking [the Parent's Music Resource Center's campaign against x-rated lyrics], and they were talking about stickering records and everything, and I can't remember now even who the independent label we were dealing with was [Gold Mountain], let alone which was its major distributor [MCA]. But that big label, anyway, was determined that there should be a sticker on that record or else we had to print the lyrics on the back of the record [jacket], and they did [print the lyrics], and they highlighted in yellow [the potentially offending lines]!"

    "It was just such absolute nonsense. I mean we were laughing about it, except that it was kind of tasteless. But it was such a joke. They got over that. I guess that people just realized that by doing this they were aggravating the situation, if anything. But it's just such a load of crap. My mother didn't like it. She said, "Did you have to use that word?"
    -- from "Bruce Cockburn: A Burning Light and All the Rest", by William Ruhlmann, Goldmine, 3 April 1992. Anonymous Submission.

  • 25 March 2000

    "That song came from the time of neo-conservatism, when governments supported business at the cost of lives and nobody gave a shit. We have since moved on to neo-liberalism, when governments support business at the cost of lives and nobody gives a shit; and I see we're moving on to neo-feudalism, that's the service economy coming at you. We will all serve. I'm not quite sure who we're serving. There's a sort of mystery there; are we serving Bill Gates? I think not, he's too visible. Somebody else? Maybe you're sitting right here (in the audience). Are you out there? Fuck off, if you are. (positive audience response) And if you're not, well we missed a grand opportunity to level with each other."
    -- from a live performance at Massey Hall, Toronto, Canada, 25 March 2000. Submitted by David Macklin.

  • 5 May 2000

    [Commenting after a searing version of "Call It Democracy," Cockburn said] "That song is fifteen years old and it shows. The words are outdated. Back in 1985, they needed the notion of 'democracy' to justify what they were doing. Now they don't even use that as an excuse."
    -- [paraphrase] from performance at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA. 5 May 2000. Submitted by Peter Ruark.

  • 8 March 2002

    "The situation hasn't changed all that much, except for the rhetoric," Cockburn said. "Whereas they used to talk in ideological terms, now nobody bothers with that - greed and control of resources is right out on the table. That song was an attempt to vent what I understood about the inequity of the 'north-south' economic relationship. That inequality still exists - I thought of that song a lot when all the protests against globalization were taking place in Seattle, Genoa and Quebec City."
    -- from "Cockburn's musical passion - live in new CD, Anonymity doesn't stop, "Greatest Hits" collection", Denver Post, 8 March 2002, by G.Brown.

  • 27 March 2002

    While a noticeable amount of his songwriting has reflected his interest in a variety of social and political causes, the roots of his inspiration as a songwriter are more ubiquitous:

    "Well, it's just my life. I just mine my emotional response to something that happens. When I wrote Call it Democracy, I was commenting on what I understood first-hand from encounters with people suffering the devastating effects of the International Monetary Fund's policies. "

    "Sometimes I write about emotional reactions I have to things, like in the various love songs or more sexual songs."
    -- from "mouth that roared: Bruce Cockburn says he's not an activist but a concerned voice", Edmonton Sun, 27 March 2002, by Fish Griwkowsky.

  • 29 March 2002
    [commenting before playing Call It Democracy]

    "I had the opportunity, a couple of summers ago, in July, to play at the Canada Day celebrations in Ottawa. I was tempted to play this song, Chretien was sitting there and everything!"
    -- from the 29 March 2002 show in Calgary, Alberta, Max Bell theatre, Solo performance. Submitted by Ashley Markus.

  • 2 July 2005 -

    "These are some songs . . . I'm going to sing some songs that I wrote as a result of my first few encounters with what we think of as the 'Third World' quite a few years ago now. Although sometimes the first impressions they don't go deep, they are intense -- and those are the things that make songs. But I just wanted to make an observation about a phrase like 'Third World.' We can say 'Third World' and we form a picture in our mind of whatever that means to us. But what a lot of us don't include in that picture is that the 'Third World' is made up of people, of human beings just like us -- in the same boat as us, with the same kinds of dreams and hopes and wishes for a happy life. Their dreams may be a little scaled down from some of ours. They may be hoping that their kids will live to see the age of five. You know, most of us can assume that's going to happen, but in a lot of the world they don't. But you know, these are people with human faces, with lives, with individual talents and characteristics . . ." [plays If I Had A Rocket Launcher and Call It Democracy]

    - Transcribed by Glen Philip Hansman from a videotape of the 2 July 2005 Live 8 Concert.

  • 2021

    "The dawn of understanding global economic cause and effect. I was hearing from the folks on the other side of the equation."

    ~ from the liner notes of Greatest Hits (1970-2020)

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    This page is part of The Cockburn Project, a unique website that exists to document the work of Canadian singer-songwriter and musician Bruce Cockburn. The Project archives self-commentary by Cockburn on his songs and music, and supplements this core part of the website with news, tour dates, and other current information.