Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Boston Massacre: The poor, not the elite, began the American Revolution

 By Chris Mahin

America’s rulers tell us that this country was built by people with property. For most of us, that message started with our first history class, where we were told that this country was founded by upstanding, property-owning folk in New England and Virginia. In fact, the American Revolution was begun by people who didn’t own anything, people who were the ancestors of today’s downsized and underemployed. It’s time to tell their story because we need their fighting spirit back again.
The first battle of the American Revolution was the Boston Massacre of March 1770. At that time, Boston had been occupied by British troops for 17 long months. The poor of Boston hated that occupation every bit as much as the residents of today’s inner cities hate the police occupation of their neighbourhoods.
All through the long winter of 1769, soldiers and citizens had clashed in street brawls and tavern fights. March 5th  1770 began as a cold and grey day. That evening, a small crowd gathered around a British sentry, accusing him of striking a young boy with his musket. The members of the crowd began hurling insults (and any missile they could find) at grenadiers who arrived to reinforce the sentry. The soldiers started shooting. By the time they were finished, “half a pail of blood” had been spilled into the snow, according to one eyewitness.
The first man to die – the first martyr of American Independence – was a black man named Crispus Attucks, a native of Framingham, Massachusetts. He had escaped from slavery in 1750 and had gone to sea as a sailor.

In total, five people were killed. Samuel Gray was a ropemaker; James Caldwell was a sailor; Samuel Maverick was a 17-year-old apprentice; and Patrick Carr a leather worker. Carr was also an Irish immigrant.
The massacre provoked outrage. On 8th March about 10,000 of Boston’s 16,000 inhabitants took part in the funeral procession of the martyrs. (At the time, this was the largest procession ever to have taken place in North America.) Attucks, Caldwell, Gray and Maverick were buried in the same grave. Nine days later, Carr’s body joined theirs.
The British troops were put on trial. Their lead defence attorney was John Adams, a wealthy lawyer who later became the second president of the United States. In his closing remarks to the jury, Adams said the killings were justified and blamed the violence on the immigrant (Patrick Carr from Ireland) and the black man (Crispus Attucks). He called the crowd on King Street “a mob” and “a motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes and molattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish jack tars.” (“Teague” is a despicable term of contempt for Irish Catholics)
All but two of the soldiers were acquitted, in part because of Adams’ demagogic speech. Adams’ statements show the contempt that America’s elite has always felt for the country’s have-nots. In colonial times, the poor were called “the mob” or “the rabble.” Today, the unemployed and underemployed are referred to as “the underclass.” The names change, but the game remains the same.
In recent years, it has become fashionable for ruling-class historians to downplay the Boston Massacre. Some dismiss it as a minor “riot” (in the same way that the Los Angeles Rebellion of 1992 is trivialized by calling it a “riot”). But nothing can change the fact that the Boston Massacre started the American Revolution. “From that moment,” Daniel Webster said, “we may date the severance of the British Empire.”
It was not until 1887 that Boston authorized the erection of a monument to the martyrs in Boston Common. On it are the words of John Boyle O’Reilly:

And honor to Crispus Attucks,
who was leader and voice that day:
The first to defy, and the first to die,
with Maverick, Carr and Gray.
Call it riot or revolution, or mob or crowd as you may,
Such deaths have been seed of nations,
such lives shall be honored for ay …”

Every year on 5th March, we would do well to remember how the American Revolution began. While slave-owners and other wealthy people eventually wormed their way into the leadership of the revolution, they did not shed its first blood. The first man to die in the American Revolution was a black man. Since that man was a runaway slave compelled to use an assumed name, he was, in a sense, an “illegal.” Another of the casualties in that first engagement was an immigrant. A third was a teenager. And all five who died were workers. They now sleep forever in the same grave in the Old Granary Burial Ground in downtown Boston, a symbol of the unity of America’s poor – black and white, immigrant and native-born, “legal” and “illegal,” young and old.
When I visited Boston in 1996, I saw homeless people shivering in the April cold just a few feet outside that cemetery’s gate. Clearly, we once again need the unity of the poor that “the rabble” displayed on King Street in 1770. Without it, we won’t be able to take back the country that the martyrs of 5th March 1770 helped create.

Friday, March 16, 2018


THE RUSSIAN government last week responded to Theresa May’s hysterical “ultimatum” on Monday to produce an explanation of the poisoning of the former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter by saying they were ready to talk about it “but only after an official request from the UK”. In other words, she had not even bothered to go through diplomatic channels – her ranting was more for the benefit of the western media and she was not really expecting an answer.
 The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Wednesday that Russia has yet to receive official requests from Britain regarding Skripal, who was allegedly poisoned in the city of Salisbury.
 But Lavrov did suggest that both countries should hold talks on the incident. No doubt he would want to raise the issue that London is now regarded as a very safe haven for criminals of the ‘Russian Mafia’. Bill Browder, the British-based financier dubbed “Putin’s number one enemy”, claims that Russian crime gangs now treat Britain as their jurisdiction of choice for laundering both their money and their reputations.
 There are several possibilities behind the poisoning of the retied spy, who had been released by the Russian government in a spy swap with Britain. It is unlikely they would release him if they wanted to kill him.
 But the British government and tame media have a long record of manufacturing horror stories about leaders and governments that stand up to NATO imperialism, from Saddam’s imaginary weapons of mass destruction and the dodgy dossier, to the vilification of Colonel Gaddafi and accusations against President Assad of Syria that he used nerve gas against his own people. And of course, ridiculous allegations that in the 1980s Jeremy Corbyn fed information to the Russians on what Margaret Thatcher ate for breakfast, when Corbyn was a lowly Labour backbencher who rarely encountered Thatcher.
 Recently it has been Putin who has been getting the treatment – along with Russia as a nation past and present. There are constant allegations that Russia is meddling in other countries’ elections – which is rich after the huge and blatant western intervention in Russian elections in the 1990s, resulting in the rise to power of the alcoholic western puppet Yeltsin, allowing western imperialism a free-hand to smash the former Soviet economy and ransack the country’s treasures. They have never forgiven Putin for putting a stop to that by renationalising key state industries.
 Putin is no saint. He is no communist and his domestic political opponents do not enjoy a level playing field in elections. A lot of his policies on gay rights and women’s rights would have shocked the original Bolsheviks. But he feels he needs the support of the reactionary Orthodox Church and so he upholds these policies for opportunistic reasons.
 But he is not stupid and he is very popular in Russia – mainly for not being Yeltsin and for standing up to the western imperialist plunderers.
 It is very possible that Skripal’s poisoning was something to do with the internecine wars between the various Russian Mafia gangs. Maybe he owed money to an oligarch. Maybe he was killed by western agents in order allow further demonisation of Putin. It is easy to speculate – presenting evidence is another matter. And May has presented no evidence at all.
 She has threatened another round of sanctions against Russia – but there has been little enthusiasm from her allies in Europe or those in the USA. Every time sanctions are imposed on Russia it is the West that suffers most economically.
 Four years ago, sanctions imposed because of Russian humanitarian support to Ukraine’s breakaway republics of Donetsk and Lugansk led to the bankruptcy of hundreds of European farmers who sold their fruit and vegetables to Russia. In the USA new sanctions have been announced over the alleged interference in elections but have yet to be implemented.
 And just two weeks ago Britain was asking Russia to increase gas supplies as we nearly ran out in the severe cold snap.
 But behind all this pantomime is a serious campaign by western leaders to persuade us to hate Russia and accept the dangerous build-up to a possible all-out war with Russia – as with Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
 But launching such a war against Russia would almost certainly become a nuclear holocaust, which is why we must counter imperialism’s lies and fight for nuclear disarmament as a priority.

Iroquois nations’ legacy of women’s rights

 By New Worker correspondent
THE FIRST European colonists to settle in North America landed along the continent’s eastern coast where they encountered native Americans who belonged to a Confederacy of the six nations of the Iroquois.
The Iroquois Confederacy stretched all along the eastern coast and several hundred miles inland. They were a farming people living in settled villages where the status of women was fully equal to that of men.
Women were the guardians of the culture were responsible for defining the political, social, spiritual, and economic norms of the tribe. Iroquois society was matrilineal, meaning descent was traced through the mother rather than through the father, as it was in colonial society. While Iroquois sachems (chiefs) were men, women nominated them and made sure they fulfilled their responsibilities.
They were far more respected and free than the women of the colonial settlements, who has been brought up in a culture in which women were regarded as inferior and subservient to the men and that this was natural and the will of God. Seeing the higher status of the Iroquois women had an impact on some of the settler women and helped to sow the seeds of the women’s liberation movement in the 19th century.
The Iroquois lived in small villages built on high ground surrounded by tall wooden fences. Outside the fences there were fields where crops were grown. Women owned the land and tended the crops. The men prepared the ground for planting, and the women grew the “Three Sisters” – corn (maize), beans and squash. Sometimes all three of these staple crops were grown together in one field. The bean plants would fix nitrogen in the soil, improving it for the corn and the squashes, which included melons and pumpkins.
Inside the fences wall were rows of buildings. These buildings were Iroquois homes, known as wigwams and longhouses. Wigwams were round structures made out of bent tree branches that were covered with layers of bark and dried grass. There was a fire pit in the middle with a hole in ceiling above it to allow smoke to escape.
Longhouses were longer than they were wide and ranged from twenty-five to one hundred and fifty feet long and were only about twenty feet wide. Along the centre aisle of the longhouse were three or four fire pits lined with stones called fieldstones.
Each longhouse had multiple families living in it, and held anywhere from thirty to sixty people. On each side of the centre aisle were quarters for each family. There were low platforms to sleep on and high ones to store goods, baskets, and pelts. Either bark or skins separated each family place.
The women ran the longhouses, and owned all the normal things of everyday life such as blankets (skins), cooking utensils, and farming tools. A longhouse was usually occupied by one clan, with the eldest and/or most respected woman of that clan ruling it as Clan Mother.
The tribe owned all lands in common, but allotted tracts to the different clans for further distribution among households. The land would be redistributed among the households every few years, and a clan could request a redistribution of tracts when the Clan Mothers’ Council gathered. Clans that abused their land or didn’t take care of it would be warned and eventually punished by the Clan Mothers’ Council by having the land redistributed to another clan.
The Iroquois greatly depended on their natural environment. Surrounded by the forest, women and their children helped provide food by gathering wild fruits, vegetables, and nuts. They picked blueberries, strawberries, cherries, and wild plums. In areas around the Great Lakes, Iroquois women gathered wild rice during the rainy season. During the winter, many tapped trees to get maple sugar. In the springtime, they stirred the syrup over an open fire, and over time it turned to sugar.
All Iroquois clothing was handmade by the women of the tribe. They dried and tanned the skin to produce leather. Once tanned, they cut the buckskins into patterns for clothing, then sewed the pelts together with a deer bone needle and thread from deer sinew.
Women had many responsibilities – probably the most important one was having children to ensure the future of their tribe. Any children born into the family belonged to the mother’s clan, and they were educated by their mother’s relatives.
Besides performing the normal household functions of producing, preserving and preparing food and clothing for the family and taking care of the children, Iroquois women participated in many activities commonly reserved for men. They gambled, belonged to medicine societies (spiritual associations), and participated in political ceremonies.
The tribal council was dominated by male speakers but the women decided which men should be speakers. If the chosen man expressed opinions that clashed with those of the women’s council, they could replace him with someone who more closely represented their views. If the Tribal Council took a course of action that the women disagreed with, such as a raid, the women might simply refuse to give them any food for the journey.
Iroquois women had the right to divorce their husbands.
Contact with Europeans in the early 1600s had a profound impact on the economy of the Iroquois. At first, they became important trading partners, but the expansion of European settlement upset the balance of the Iroquois economy. By 1800, the Iroquois had been confined to reservations, and they had to adapt their traditional economic system.
But their culture and way of life inspired led some settler women to question their own lack of freedom and independence and they began to seek a better life for themselves. Early feminists were inspired to imagine the possibility of a more equal society.
That inspiration came from contemporary women who lived very different lives from theirs, the women of the six Iroquois nations – Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk, and Tuscarora – the Haudenosaunee, as they called themselves.
Common law based itself upon church law, and the “two shall become one and the one is the man” of Christianity became the non-existence of married women under the law. Women could not vote, own property, control their own wages, or have any say over their bodies or the children they birthed. Unmarried women were unnatural since they were not under the control of a husband, and fared no better under their fathers’ authority.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote: “The assertion that women have always been physically inferior to men, and consequently have always been held in a subject condition, has been universally believed. This view has furnished the opponents to woman’s emancipation their chief arguments for holding her in bondage.”
Lucretia Mott saw this world in practice when she and her husband visited the Seneca in the summer of 1848. She watched women who had equal responsibilities with men in all aspects of their lives – familial, spiritual, governmental, and economical. At that time, Seneca women were deeply involved in the decision of whether or not to drop their traditional clan system of government and adopt the constitutional form insisted upon by the Quakers.
While the Cattaraugus Seneca finally did accept the United States model, they refused to accept the element of male dominance. They placed in their constitution that no treaty would be valid without the approval of three-fourths of the “mothers of the nation.”
After this Mott travelled to visit friends in western New York where they planned the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls.
Beyond equal suffrage, Elizabeth Cady Stanton marvelled that “the women were the great power among the clan,” and “the original nomination of the chiefs also always rested with the women”.
Matilda Joslyn Gage, Stanton’s equally brilliant contemporary, described the governmental structure in more detail. “Division of power between the sexes in this Indian republic was nearly equal. Although the principal chief of the confederacy was a man, descent ran through the female line, the sister of the chief possessing the power of nominating his successor.”
Gage wrote that the US form of government was borrowed from that of the Six Nations, and thus “the modern world is indebted for its first conception of inherent rights, natural equality of condition, and the establishment of a civilised government upon this basis” to the Iroquois.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

An unwelcome visitor

Tory politicians are the first to proclaim their support for ‘human rights’ in their campaigns to demonise those who stand in the way of imperialism. The bourgeois ‘human rights’ gang brand freedom-fighters as “terrorists” whilst passing off the brutish gunmen who serve imperialism in Syria as the “moderate opposition.” And all of them will be crawling on their knees to lick the boots of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia during his state visit to London this week.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is regarded as the power behind the throne in the oil-rich desert kingdom that was founded by his grand-father, Abdel Aziz ibn Saud, after the First World War. During his long life Ibn Saud had innumerable wives and concubines, whose offspring now make up the upper echelon of the ruling class of the feudal Saudi kingdom that has lived off their juicy cut of the oil revenues that have kept the country afloat since the 1930s.
Mohammed bin Salman is often described as a “reformer” in the bourgeois media. He is said to be a champion of women’s rights. What this actually consists of is allowing women to drive, perform in public and attend public sporting events. But no-one has the vote. There are no elections and no parliament. Political and religious dissent is crushed, and the king rules as a tyrant propped up by the civil and religious police, the armed forces, tribal leaders and ‘military advisors’ from the USA and Pakistan.
Saudi Arabia is propped up by two pillars – the first being the support of the Wahhabi movement, a puritanical Unitarian Sunni Muslim sect that’s been allied to the House of Saud since 1744. The second is the might of US imperialism. American big oil corporations developed and plundered the immense oil-fields that lie under the desert sands of Arabia, whilst providing the Saudi royal family with immense riches that have enabled them to buy influence through corrupt politicians and religious bigots throughout the Arab and Islamic world.
In the past Britain played second fiddle to the Americans in Saudi Arabia. In the 1920s British imperialism even thwarted Ibn Saud’s ambitions to rule the whole of the Arabian peninsula. But there’s been closer contact in recent years, fired largely by British sales of military equipment.
Bin Salman has come to London to talk about arms and political support. Saudi Arabia has the fourth highest military expenditure in the world and the kingdom is the world’s second largest arms importer. British merchants of death sold over £1.1 billion-worth of weapons to the Saudis last year. They hope to do even better in 2018.
The Prime Minister says that she will raise “deep concerns” over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen – but in reality Mrs May won’t want to talk about ‘human rights’ or anything else that could offend the feudal Saudi prince during his visit. There are plenty of others on the street who will do it for them however.
Labour and peace movement activists are holding meetings, seminars and demonstrations to oppose the Saudi war in Yemen and to highlight the real human rights abuses in the Saudi kingdom. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has repeated his earlier pledges to stop arms supplies to Saudi Arabia as long as it remains engaged in the criminal war on Yemen.
Communists stand shoulder to shoulder with all the Saudi people fighting for democratic rights and an end to the war in Yemen. We fully support the protests against the visit of the Saudi Crown Prince and urge all our readers to join the ongoing campaign to end British support for the feudal House of Saud.