Armed with a Pen

Views from a worker and student

Category: North America

Fortunate Son: The Life and Legacy of John McCain

Today, John Sidney McCain III has died. The Republican Senator from Arizona held office for thirty one years before succumbing to glioblastoma, a rare and extremely aggressive form of brain cancer. He leaves behind a legacy of bloodshed, bigotry, and ruination which overshadows any sympathy he may have otherwise received.

Military Career and Capture

Son of the eventual Commander-in-Chief of all US Pacific forces, McCain enrolled in the US Naval Academy in 1954. As he would later recall, his parents neither pushed him into nor discouraged him from military service. “I remember simply recognizing my eventual enrollment at the Academy as an immutable fact of life, and accepting it without comment.” Despite scoring high on the entrance exam, McCain skated by, “barely passing,” and graduated ranking 894th out of a class of 899.

Overall, McCain’s military career is remarkable only due to bad luck. Stories of his bravery and perseverance as a prisoner-of-war ignore the mediocrity which preceded it. As a junior officer, he earned a reputation as serious partier and a sub-par pilot. As biographer Robert Timberg would write: “His performance was below par, at best good enough to get by. He liked flying, but didn’t love it. … McCain was an adequate pilot, but he had no patience for studying dry aviation manuals.”

McCain spent most of his time drinking, womanizing, and generally dicking around. As the son of an admiral, he faced few, if any, consequences for his actions. Records show the young hot shot displayed a reckless disregard for his own safety and the safety of others. He nearly died in 1958 while stationed in Corpus Christi, Texas after stalling out his engine. A mistake he’d make yet again in 1965 while flying over Norfolk, Virginia in a solo trainer. In 1961, while stationed in the Mediterranean, he collided with power lines, causing widespread black outs across southern Spain. This wouldn’t have happened at all if he wasn’t flying so dangerously low.

His first serious brush with death, however, came during the deadly 1967 fire aboard the USS Forrestal which claimed the lives of 134 people. In his 1999 memoir Faith of My Fathers, McCain claims that the accidentally launched missile which started it all struck him and his plane directly, though this has been contested. Unverified and largely politically motivated accounts claim McCain started the fire himself after a prank of his went awry. These are, of course, unverified and largely politically motivated. Official records shed very little light on the subject.

He first saw action during Operation Rolling Thunder. The sustained aerial bombardment, meant to crush the morale of the Vietnamese people, was ultimately a dismal failure. Though it did succeed in killing over 2 million Vietnamese, most of them civilians, and at least fourteen pilots from the DPR of Korea.

It was during Operation Rolling Thunder that McCain was thankfully shot down over “the heart of Hanoi.” Hanoi, of course, is the sprawling urban capital of Vietnam, a bustling city filled, then and now, mostly with civilians. McCain had just finished raining death upon thousands of horrified noncombatants when “a Russian missile the size of a telephone pole came up … and blew the right wing off my Skyhawk dive bomber.”

McCain described his descent and capture in detail in an interview with US News.

[The plane] went into an inverted, almost straight-down spin.

I pulled the ejection handle, and was knocked unconscious by the force of the ejection. … I didn’t realize it at the moment, but I had broken my right leg around the knee, my right arm in three places, and my left arm. I regained consciousness just before I landed by parachute in a lake right in the corner of Hanoi.

I hit the water and sank to the bottom. I think the lake is about fifteen feet deep, maybe twenty. I kicked off the bottom. I did not feel any pain at the time, and was able to rise to the surface. I took a breath of air and started sinking again. Of course, I was wearing 50 pounds, at least, of equipment and gear. I went down and managed to kick up to the surface once more. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t use my right leg or my arm. I was in a dazed condition. I went up to the top again and sank back down. This time I couldn’t get back to the surface. I was wearing an inflatable life-preserver-type thing that looked like water wings. I reached down with my mouth and got the toggle between my teeth and inflated the preserver and finally floated to the top.

Some North Vietnamese swam out and pulled me to the side of the lake and immediately started stripping me, which is their standard procedure. Of course, this being in the center of town, a huge crowd of people gathered, and they were all hollering and screaming and cursing and spitting and kicking at me.

About this time, a guy came up and started yelling at the crowd to leave me alone. A woman came over and propped me up and held a cup of tea to my lips, and some photographers took some pictures. This quieted the crowd down quite a bit. Pretty soon, they put me on a stretcher, lifted it onto a truck, and took me to Hanoi’s main prison.

He was sent to the nearest prisoner-of-war camp, Hoa Lo Prison, better known as the “Hanoi Hilton.” Lapsing in and out of consciousness, he spent the next few days being interrogated by a man he referred to as “The Bug.” Mark Salter, a top aide to the Senator and co-author on many of McCain’s books, told the Phoenix New Times that McCain admitted “Other guys had it a lot worse. I think they took it easier on me because of who my dad was.”

McCain receiving treatment at a Hanoi hospital, 1967.

McCain met frequently with the commandant of Hoa Lo Prison, Colonel Tran Trong Duyet, even giving him the occasional English lesson. Colonel Pham Van Hoa, then in charge of filming US prisoners, described McCain as acting “superior to other prisoners. … Superior in attitude towards them.”

Sitting in a fairly large cell, unable to eat without assistance, McCain recalled “Being a little naive at the time.” The capture of the son of the Commander-in-Chief of all US Pacific Force was a major propaganda victory for the North. He had not considered this when he agreed to be filmed by the French reporter Francois Chalais.

After I had been there about 10 days, a gook … came in one morning. This man spoke English very well. He asked me how I was, and said, “We have a Frenchman who is here in Hanoi visiting, and would like to take a message back to your family.”

I didn’t know at the time that my name had been released in a rather big propaganda splash by the North Vietnamese, and that they were very happy to have captured me. They told a number of my friends when I was captured, “We have the crown prince.”

Following the interview, he was visited numerous times by Vietnamese officials, including General Vo Nguyen Giap. Often, people came simply to speak to him personally, this admiral’s son. He was later moved to a smaller camp within Hoa Lo known as “The Plantation” and from here was moved periodically to different cells, both with other prisoners and in solitary confinement.

He would look back on his days here as deeply transformative. Both his patriotism and his faith in God were renewed and elevated. His allegiances, he would later write, were his the greatest comforts and strengths.

In prison, I fell in love with my country. I had loved her before then, but … It wasn’t until I had lost America for a time that I realized how much I loved her.

“He was a real hawk,” says Colonel Duyet, noting that “He never gave up on his support for America’s bombing of Vietnam.” Moreover, he was determined not to aid the communists in any way. When offered early release, he eventually declined. “The North Vietnamese were always putting this “class” business on us. They could have said to the others “Look, you poor devils, the son of the man who is running the war has gone home and left you here. No one cares about you ordinary fellows.” I was determined at all times to prevent any exploitation of my father and my family.”

Returning Home

He would eventually be released in 1973. Then thirty six years old, he had spent nearly five and a half years in Hoa Lo before boarding a plane for the Philippines and, finally, Florida.

McCain reunites with his family in Jacksonville Naval Air Station.

His years in prison, however, had little effect on his temper or his appetite for debauchery. Once home, he returned to a life of drinking and partying. His wife, Carol McCain, had been in a tragic accident four years earlier which left her struggling to walk and completely unable to keep up with her husband. McCain paid this no mind, instead turning to pretty much every woman who wasn’t his wife. Of their divorce, Carol would later be quoted as saying “My marriage ended because John McCain didn’t want to be forty, he wanted to be twenty five.” Though she feels “no bitterness” towards him, acquaintances have been less forgiving, describing him as a “self-centered womanizer who effectively abandoned his crippled wife to play the field.”

Even the woman he eventually left her for, Cindy McCain, was treated with equal callousness. She faced the brunt of his notorious temper.

At least I don’t plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt!

Worse still, some have accused McCain of only marrying the beer heiress for the money. McCain made very little as an officer and, despite war hero status, lacked the aptitude to ever become an admiral like his father and grandfather. His father-in-law, on the other hand, Jim Hensley, was one of the richest men in Arizona.

Hensley, a mafia connected businessman, implicated in the murder of Don Bolles, a reporter with The Arizona Republic looking into said connections, set up his new son-in-law as Vice President of Public Relations for Hensley & Co., a gig which gave him the connections needed to secure his first Congressional election in 1982.

Political Career and War Crimes

The first real step of his political career was being named the Navy liaison to the Senate. Building off of his celebrity as a former prisoner-of-war, he was thrust onto Capitol Hill in 1977 to lobby on the behalf of the Navy to some of the most powerful politicians in the country.

It was then that he set his sights on Congress. Once he was hired by Hensley & Co., he made connections with the extremely influential Arizona bourgeoisie. He would replace longtime Republican Senator John Jacob Rhodes in the hotly contested 1982 election. Some of his connections, however, would come back to haunt him.

Charles Keating Jr., a rabid conservative and mobbed up real estate mogul, nearly cost McCain his career in 1987 when the Keating Five scandal revealed that he and four other senators lobbied by Keating used their influence to keep him from being audited. McCain was able to sweep the scandal under the rug, though Keating would not be as lucky. Once the stymied investigation was able to commence, he ended up being convicted for fraud and serving five years in a federal penitentiary.

McCain would create controversy again when in 1983 he voted against establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day and then backed Arizona Governor Evan Mecham in refusing to observe the holiday in 1987. He voted four times against the Civil Rights Act of 1990 which sought to ban racial discrimination in employment. He’s also toed the “heritage not hate” line in regards to the Confederate flag.

He’s worked tirelessly to overturn Roe v. Wade, supporting a “Human Life Amendment” which would extend the Fourteenth Amendment to include fertilized eggs, thus making abortion legally murder in all fifty states. The Amendment also calls for a global gag rule, rejects the ratification of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and calls for increased funding for abstinence-only education. He’s also opposed several equal pay bills which make it easier for women to sue for workplace discrimination.

He has firmly and unflinchingly opposed same sex marriage, as well as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill which would prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, citing some nonsensical fear of “reverse discrimination.” He did, however, support the military’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell‘ policy right until the bitter end, both of the policy and of his life.

But what was most egregious was his hawkishness. One would imagine a former prisoner-of-war wouldn’t be so eager to send young people to the meat grinder that is unwinnable and unending imperialist war. This was never the case with him.

It goes without saying that McCain, a neoconservative à la W. Bush, supported entering and then escalating the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. What deserves mentioning is that, just in 2017, he unveiled his own personal plan to increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan and surrounding areas significantly. His biggest criticism of Trump administration is merely that it isn’t bloodthirsty enough.

Where Bush was unable to go after Assad, McCain’s had a target on his back for years. Him and fellow war criminal Lindsey Graham have been some of the most vocal supporters of military intervention in Syria. McCain specifically supports the Free Syrian Army, a group of “moderate” rebels which have something of a love-hate relationship with ISIS, fighting them here and there while supplying them with a steady stream of weapons and food, all courtesy of good old Uncle Sam. McCain very clearly wanted to make Syria the next Libya, another nation whose destruction he vehemently supported before quietly forgetting about the whole thing once the open slave markets became known.

Gaddafi on his way out, Bashar al Assad is next.

Not content to support Islamic extremists in the Middle East, he was a huge supporter of Bill Clinton’s war in the Balkans, calling for support of radicals in Bosnia and Kosovo.

His calls for increased military intervention in Africa, especially Mali and Sudan, coincidentally align with his and his wife’s personal business interests.

Though he “prays there will never be a war with Iran,” he causally jokes about bombing the place. His hawkishness there even earned the ire of the CATO Institute which has pretty consistently come out in support of imperialist war.

He supports literal Nazi death squads in Ukraine, the very same who have deported and massacred Romani people and Jews (ironically using weapons supplied by Israel).

McCain in Ukraine next to Nazi Oleh Tyahnybok, seen preforming the Hitler salute.

In solidarity with his Nazi brethren and in line with his Russophobia, the outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin has called numerous times for drastic measures to be taken concerning Russia. McCain foamed at the mouth trying to get the US and NATO involved in Russia’s war in Georgia and, following that failure, has continually hoped to ignite conflict with Russia, calling the alleged 2016 election interference an “act of war.” He also made vague threats towards China, remarking that “the Arab Spring is coming to China.”

And, of course, who can forget the time he called for Trump to nuke the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a country he’s been gunning for since September 12, 2001?

Final Days

McCain’s final days were spent battling both with cancer and with President Trump. The “maverick” Republican, when he wasn’t voting exactly along party lines, butted heads with the President in late 2017 when he came out against Trump’s plan (or rather his lack thereof) to replace Obamacare, saving the Affordable Care Act at the eleventh hour. Upon returning to do so, the news of his cancer already known, he was given a standing ovation by his colleagues.

McCain back in the Capitol Building.

In December of 2017, he left Washington for the last time to be treated in his home state of Arizona. Thankfully for McCain, the Senator with his multi-millionaire wife was able to afford the best care available. This is not something most other Arizonians can say. Arizona has some of the worst healthcare access in the country. Worse yet, the state has seen insurance premiums skyrocket in recent years. For the average worker, the diagnosis of such a rare and aggressive form of cancer would’ve brought about only a quick but painful death and financial ruin. Instead, this ghoul got an extra year of life to advocate bombing brown people.

Yesterday, with death on horizon, the McCain family announced that they would be ceasing treatment. Less than twelve hours later, on August 25, 2018, McCain had died.

I think I can speak for all empathetic and freedom-loving people when I say my sympathy is with the victims of McCain’s imperialist blood lust.

The Outmoding of the Slave

History has shown that slavery is an extremely profitable venture until it isn’t. New technological developments are a double edged sword for slave masters, as the increased productivity machines allow for is offset by their slaves own lack of education and inability to effectively utilize new technology, and growing slave populations make keeping your labor force from killing you more and more a daunting and costly task. At a certain point, slavery becomes too unwieldy and retards development. This existential fear was ever present for slavers in America during the entirety of their existence. We see this in their bloody and desperate fight to have kept slavery alive. By 1865, commercial slavery in the US was only abolished because it was ready to be surpassed by industrial production employing proletarians.

New World, New Markets

In the America of the seventeenth century, so much fertile land was available for so low a price that it was actually hard to find anyone willing to come as a laborer. Europeans flocked to the New World ready to begin life as a landowners and proprietors. Historian Thelma Foote notes that “the colony builders initially intended to rely almost exclusively on white indentured servants.” For the great masses of poor Europeans, getting to the New World seemed like a way to escape the destitution and squalor of their home countries. Signing away the next four to seven years of their lives, usually to grow tobacco or other crops, seemed to them a fair trade.

This cheap labor made the plantations immediately very profitable; so much so that the stream of indentured servants who arrived more or less voluntarily was no longer enough. The growth of the plantations had far exceeded the growth of the colonial labor pool. Not only was a new source of slave labor needed, a new form was needed as well. It was no longer an option to go through the trouble of finding people willing to work for free.

There seemed to be no solution in either Europe or America. The indigenous population had been enslaved in the past but were simply too difficult to take and control. It was dangerous work going into native territory and stealing people and there was always the risk of a war party coming back for them and then razing the whole damn town. What few were able to be taken usually succumbed to disease quickly. Working with the natives, too, seemed impossible, as slavery was not part of the indigenous mode of production in eastern North America. Many even argued that the English, who would come to dominate the Transatlantic Slave Trade in the eighteenth century, were better off making friends with the natives, as they were “natural allies” against the Spanish.

Africa, however, was another story. Slavery was already a feature in most, if not all, African societies and African slaves brought to the Americas were less susceptible to disease. As such, they seemed a perfect fit. In Virginia, in 1700, there were a mere 6,000 or so African slaves. By 1763, that number had increased to well over 170,000, nearly half the population.

Though agricultural slavery developed first in the north, it was stymied by the harsh winters. Though still a feature in northern plantations, as well as in urban workshops, slaves became more and more staples of the northern elite, acting as butlers, chauffeurs, and servants.  The real money for northerners was in the sale of slaves. Northern ports, especially in New England, became a hub for the slave trade. Their market was in the plantations of the south and the Caribbean. Slavers there preferred to deal with slaves not taken directly from Africa, as they were already accustomed to European etiquette and believed to be less likely to rebel.

Slavery became all the more profitable throughout the eighteenth century as northern slave merchants raked in money selling to southern plantation aristocrats who also raked in money cultivating tobacco, sugar, and cotton. Even the sea faring slave traders had their fill. Despite the inevitable economic and diplomatic interruption caused by the Revolutionary War and the founding of the United States, the British shipped, at the very least, 40% of all slaves from Africa to America. And though the British government abolished slavery in 1807, this did little to stop the transport of slaves by British merchants outside of Europe.

Industry and the Slave

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, slavery was firmly entrenched in southern society but declining significantly in the north where agriculture was taking a backseat to industry. In the 1790s and 1800s, British engineers and mechanics who made it to the US were immediately hired by wealthy northern financiers looking to build factories. With the south providing huge quantities of cheap agricultural products, especially cotton, the north found a foundation for industrialization.

Northern states had been gradually abolishing slavery since the 1770s. The Puritan anti-slavery rhetoric of the Quakers in New England and the Enlightenment philosophy of the American revolutionaries had changed public perception in just about every state above the Mason-Dixon Line. Vermont became the first state to abolish slavery in their 1777 Constitution. New Jersey was the last northern state to take similar measures when, in 1804, they passed a plan for gradual emancipation which would transform slavery into something more akin to colonial indentured servitude.

This was not an act of charity nor the product of a new humanist mindset. Anti-black racism was still near unanimously prevalent and many in the north, especially New Jersey, begrudged the abolitionist measures. So why did these states take measures at all? To push black people into agriculture and whites into industry.

By 1832, northern textile companies made up 88 out of 106 American corporations valued at over $100,000. These textile mills were worked, out of necessity, by wage laborers. White women and children, groups decidedly more educated than black slaves, were pulled from homes and fields into crowded factories. In their place, the former slaves could become the keepers of northern agriculture.

It is important to note that no slave could ever have worked in the modern industrial factories. Slaves, for the most part, were less educated than ever the European immigrants filling the factories. Though the machines at the time can hardly be considered complex, most considered black people as subhuman and “childlike,” likely unable to master the process of industrial manufacturing. Additionally, slave labor would slow the process of industrial manufacturing. Whereas the modern wage earner fears firing and so does everything to keep themselves employed, the slave in the same situation would worry about nothing. It’s not like they’re gonna lose their job. As was seen in plantations, slaves were not blindly obedient. Having no incentive to work harder but fearing to actually rebel or runaway, slaves often used passive aggressive means of resistance. Slowdowns and sabotage, in particular, notes Howard Zinn, were common. As bad as this was on the plantations, in a factory, this would be disastrous. The industrial proprietor needs the industrial proletariat. In the modern workplace, it is the wage, not the whip, that secures obedience.

New Jersey was the only exception to this. Western New Jersey, especially near Philadelphia, was significantly more urban and so was the hub of abolitionist thought in the state. Towards the east, however, agriculture was still king. The vast rural countryside still needed slaves. In Monmouth and Bergen Counties alone, the number of slaves more than doubled between 1772 and 1800. Thus, New Jersey was the only northern state to maintain slavery in some way, shape, or form until the ratification of the 13th Amendment.

Census records do show, however, that the slave population in New Jersey dwindled between from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the end of the Civil War. In 1800 there were 12,442 slaves. By 1860, only 218 remained. More than 5,000 gained their freedom just between 1820 and 1830. The growth of the proletariat proper and the corresponding diminution of slavery was inevitable.

Industry and the Civil War

The Civil War was a fight to death between two opposing orders, the old and the new, for the fate of the United States. The Confederacy was on the side of agricultural aristocracy, supporting free trade and, as was proven during the course of the war, backwardness. Keeping the US agrarian and underdeveloped, subservient to and dependent on the world market, would’ve resulted in poverty and ruination the moment the demand for cotton fell. Hence, as soon as their waters were blockaded and they were cut off from Europe, they crumbled beneath the Union’s industrialized army and were unable to secure any such technology for themselves. Cotton Diplomacy simply forgot that there were other cotton producers in the world, some closer to Europe than they.

The Union, on the other hand, was on the side of industrialization and modernity. They had more powerful banks, productive urban centers, and the kind of industry which could win the war and, eventually, the world. If the slave needed to be replaced with the proletarian, then so be it. As President Abraham Lincoln wrote, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it.”

After the war, the goal of the Reconstruction era was to create a new, industrial south in harmony with the north. The new south needed to share the same economic motivation as the north with its great industrial base. While the north was exploding with the never before seen marvels of industry and technology—of capitalism—the south began down the long path to industrialization; beginning with the very same rudimentary textile mills which emerged some seventy years earlier in the north.

Child worker in a South Carolina textile mill, 1908.

The Black Nation

So what happened to black people following the end of commercial slavery, both in the north and south? When slavery ended, semi-feudalism and semi-colonialism began. Sharecropping turned black slaves into tenant farmers, effectively tied to the land, and slave masters into landlords, receiving tribute from their former slaves.

As tenant farmers, they proved more useful than slaves. Unlike the slave, the tenant farmer has initiative, is invested in the success of their crop. Where the slave may laze as an act of quiet rebellion, the tenant farmers very life depends on good harvests, cultivated fields, and the many hundreds of hours of work this takes. Of course, it’s the former slave masters who benefited the most from this.

Indeed, the “free” black population formed their own nation, a black nation. This, of course, was imposed on them from without. Unlike the white proletariat, theirs was a feudal exploitation which produced superprofit for their colonial masters. Their labor benefited only the white nation, exactly as the exploitation of the third world creates superprofits which benefit only the imperialist power and its labor aristocracy.

Segregation, both culturally and in written law, defined the borders of the black nation. Jim Crow defined the terms of their unconditional surrender, was the black nations Treaty of Versailles. In the absence of iron chains, rope would suffice to inspire terror in and do war with the new black nation as the white supremacist ideology which justified and maintained slavery now justified and maintained colonization. It can be said, and has, that the terror and colonial exploitation of Jim Crow was even worse than slavery. But such is life for a citizen of the black nation trapped within the white one.

Memorial Day and the Myth of US Unity

Memorial Day is something we Americans are supposed to take very seriously. Every year, countless civilians enjoying their three-day weekend are inevitably shamed by pundits, especially conservative ones, for forgetting what it’s “really about.” What it’s “really about”, of course, is mourning our brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom or whatever. We’re supposed to believe that it’s not a time for beer and barbecue and it certainly isn’t a time for petty political differences. But what is Memorial Day really about?

The Bloody Road to Unity

Historically, Memorial Day had been a point of contention in the United States for almost half a century. The holiday began in Waterloo, New York when, on May 5th, 1866, the town’s citizens closed their businesses to allow everyone to decorate the graves of their loved ones who died during the Civil War. In 1868, a Union veterans association designated May 30th as National Decoration Day. Over 5,000 war widows came to Arlington National Cemetery on the first Decoration Day to place flowers and flags on the more than 20,000 graves and future presidents Ulysses S. Grant and James Garfield both attended the first ceremony. From the 1870s on, Decoration Day ceremonies grew larger and more extravagant, with memorials being held on major Civil War battlegrounds like Gettysburg and Antietam. By 1900, the day had become known simply as: Memorial Day.

In the South, however, this was seen as a Northern holiday for Union soldiers and an insult to the Southern dead. Most Southern states refused to adopt the holiday and, to this day, Confederate soldiers are still honored on specific decoration days in many southern states.

It was not until World War I that the whole of the US recognized Memorial Day. The holiday grew to encompass not only those who died in the Civil War and World War I but all US war dead, going as far back as the Revolutionary War. Thus, Memorial Day became yet another attempt to erase the irreconcilable contradictions between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie and further venerate the military. What is it but a day to conflate US imperial interests with our own? The children of the working class have never died for anyone’s freedom; they’ve only ever been hired (or conscripted) guns for imperial adventures. We, the working class, would rightfully oppose the US military if we didn’t constantly have militarist propaganda shoved down our throats.

Scapegoats, Erasure, and Celebration

Memorial Day is not alone in this. Holidays have always been a great tool for bourgeois propagandists. Loyalty Day, a day to remember how uncritically we must support the United States and its government at all times, was celebrated on May 1st, 1921 to direct attention from International Workers Day (aka May Day) which has been held on the same day since 1886. It is no coincidence that Loyalty Day was first celebrated by staunch anti-Bolsheviks and that every president since Eisenhower has recognized and made an address on Loyalty Day. Law Day, a day to celebrate the role of law in US society, is also held on May 1st.

These were hardly the first attempts to erase the US working class and our interests. Historian Howard Zinn recalls in A People’s History of the United States that, even before the United States existed, when the city of Boston conscripted eligible men to fight the British, those who couldn’t afford to pay their way out of the draft rioted, shouting “Tyranny is tyranny let it come from whom it may.” And we must not forget that, by all accounts, American revolutionary leaders were rich, landed white men who hugely distrusted the masses of the poor whites, many of whom demanded land redistribution and wrote passionately against the powerful and wealthy landowners as well as the British, and only appealed to white workers because they so obviously had nothing to offer the black slaves or indigenous peoples.

Attempts to erase the differences between the rich revolutionary leaders and the poor and landless rank and file can be seen in the Declaration of Independence when Thomas Jefferson, himself an extremely wealthy slave owner, writes: “He [King George] has excited domestic Insurrections amongst us.” Here, Jefferson completely glosses over the issues raised by the working class, blaming them on the British. Samuel Adams would do the same later, blaming the mutiny of unpaid and debt ridden soldiers who were all but abandoned after the revolution on “British emissaries.”

Perhaps following in this tradition, capitalist ideologues have gone on to accuse working class movements of being orchestrated by Soviet or Chinese agents all throughout the Cold War. And Democrats are still blaming Donald Trump’s 2016 electoral victory on Russian meddling.

Memorial Day is merely the specifically military oriented holiday that goes along with the rest of this propaganda. Don’t focus on our differences, we’re told, unite against the rest of the world! The military is here to keep us safe from the scary foreigners. Working people need to recognize that the US military has never been aligned with proletarian interests. Those who have died in the service of the US and it military did not die for their freedom but for others oppression. All talk of “fighting for our freedom” is merely an attempt to erase the fact that working people have died overseas for the same people who exploit and oppress them at home. It’s a hard truth, but true nonetheless.

Supreme Court Strips Worker Protections

Should employers be allowed to force employees into behind doors, one-on-one arbitration, or should workers be able to bring their claims into court in class or collective actions? This was the question being asked in one of the most important workers rights cases of the term.

The Death of Collective Action

There were three cases brought before the Supreme Court by employees of the corporations Ernst & Young LLP, Epic Systems Corporation, and Murphy Oil USA, Inc. Workers claim that they were being illegally forced to challenge violations of federal labor law behind closed doors, in private one-on-one meetings, due to the mandatory individual arbitration procedures under the 1925 Federal Arbitration Act. They contend that a later bill, the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, makes these clauses and provisions illegal, as this bill was passed to protect the right of workers to join together in a class or collective action suit.

On May 21, the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of employers. In a decision that will affect more than 25 million private-sector workers, the 1925 bill will trump the protections gained by the 1935 bill. Justice Neil Gorsuch, speaking for the majority, said: “The policy may be debatable but the law is clear: Congress has instructed that arbitration agreements like those before us must be enforced as written.” Now, workers will have to do everything individually and claims of hour and wage violations will have to be done personally and without the intervention of the court.

This ruling is a slap in the face of the working class and will come down especially hard on the already lower paid workers. A study by the Economic Policy Institute shows that 56% of private-sector workers are forced to handle disputes by themselves, alone, and often without the aid of a lawyer. With almost half of Americans in or near poverty, the majority of workers simply do not have the time, money, or know-how to effectively defend themselves alone. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the four dissenters, called the ruling “egregiously wrong.” She points out that the 1925 arbitration law came well before federal labor laws and, therefore, does not cover, as she put it, these “arm-twisted, take-it-or-leave it contracts” which employers can now insist on.

This is the first ruling of its kind. Never before have workers been denied the right to unite and defend themselves in court. However, this should not come as much of a surprise. The Trump administration itself submitted a brief in 2017 to the Supreme Court on the behalf of Murphy Oil, advocating an anti-worker legal theory in favor of so-called “job creators.” The Trump administration has been particularly shameless and open with their anti-worker agenda. The appointment of Friedmanites Betsy DeVos as head of the Department of Education and Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency can aptly be described as Benito Mussolini described fascism: “the merger of state and corporate power.” The working class can only expect further degradation and declawing in the coming years as more and more fundamental neoliberals are appoint to the highest levels of government under the administration of an actual billionaire.

Remembering John Brown

There are many great figures in the American anti-slavery movement. Most notable abolitionists, people like Harriet Tubman and Nat Turner, were once themselves slaves. Few white men ever shed blood for the freedom of black people. John Brown was one of those few.

[read more=”Read more” read less=”Read less”]

Radicalization

Born on May 9, 1800, John Brown became of a part of the abolitionist movement at age 46 after moving to the progressive city of Springfield, Massachusetts. He became a parishioner of the Sanford Street Free Church, an important stop on the Underground Railroad and a major platform for abolitionist voices. Here he heard the stirring words of abolitionists like Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass.

Daguerreotypes of Brown, one with the flag of the Underground Railroad, taken by black photographer Augustus Washington, 1847.

After an 1847 lecture, Douglass and Brown spent an evening together which Douglass claimed changed his entire outlook on the abolitionist movement. He remarked that, “From this night spent with John Brown … while I continued to write and speak against slavery, I became all the same less hopeful for its peaceful abolition. My utterances became more and more tinged by the color of this man’s strong impressions.”

Praxis and Death

John Brown was a militant. Having been schooled in Christian Perfectionism, he had zero tolerance for the evils of slavery. And unlike most white abolitionists, he had no hope for a peaceful end to slavery and he welcomed no compromise.

I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.

His heart ached not only for the plight of black slaves but also for women and Native Americans. He was a protofeminist who made sure his sons did housework alongside his daughters (housework was something which men were exempt from at the time, as it was considered “women’s work”). And even before dedicating himself to abolitionism, as a farmer, he was known for being on great terms with his indigenous neighbors, having a great deal of reverence and respect for them, their land, and their way of life.

In 1849, he and his family moved to North Alba, New York to live in the local black community. He still believed in a violent end to slavery but became more and more optimistic as he saw the growth and development of communities like his where black people could live their lives in peace, far from the indignity and inhumanity of slavery. This optimism was forever buried when, in 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. While white abolitionists were talking of the gradual abolition of slavery, here was proof that their moderation was leading to nothing. Rather than be diminished, slavery as an institution was only strengthened. It was the imminent and very real threat of slave catchers invading these safe havens and dragging free men back into bondage that forced him to act.

I have only a short time to live, only one death to die, and I will die fighting for this cause. There will be no peace in this land until slavery is done for.

Brown returned to his old comrades at the Free Church in Springfield to organize the defense of escaped slaves. Together, they founded the League of Gileadites, an anti-slavery militia which was dedicated to defending freed and escaped slaves through force. They were an armed, illegal resistance group which did not go unnoticed by the federal government. This was simply the price of freedom. They did not expect peace and had every intention of fighting, even to the death. Another founding member, Reverend John Mars, told his congregation that “the time has come to beat plowshares into swords” for the defense of the rights and dignity of man.

Brown addressing the League of Gileadites.

The League was extraordinarily successful. Even after Brown left, not a single person in Springfield was ever captured again. William Wells Brown, an escaped slave turned novelist, would write of the city’s unique defiance of the Fugitive Slave Act and of meeting armed guards, black and white, patrolling the city’s train stations, ready to fight any slave catcher who attempted to do business in the city.

Brown’s revolutionary praxis would only get bolder and more violent from there. In 1854, amidst the chaos of Bleeding Kansas, he and his sons attacked and killed several slavers attempting to illegally vote to allow slavery in Kansas and who had murdered abolitionists months prior. There was also the famed 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry, a failed attempt to secure weapons from a federal armory to arm freed slaves with.

The fateful attack would cost him his life. Most of his band of twenty two were slaughtered as they surrendered. Among them were Brown’s sons and numerous freed slaves. He and the survivors were arrested by none other than Robert E. Lee, then a colonel who led the retaking of Harpers Ferry.

Legacy

Brown was executed by hanging on December 2, 1859. Though he had died, his revolutionary legacy would live on. He was immortalized in literature and art, having captured the imagination of militant abolitionists across the country. Henry David Thoreau would sign his praise in ‘Plea for Captain John Brown.’

More importantly, his grime prophecy came true. Before the attack on Harpers Ferry, Brown had almost a thousand steel pikes forged to equip an army of freed slaves. These were confiscated by the federal government but ended up in the hands of a few wealthy and influential southern aristocrats who had these delivered to politicians and military leaders throughout the south. This was a warning. These steel pikes were what awaited them and their families if the southern states stayed a part of the increasingly anti-slavery Union. The message was clear. And at the Battle of Fort Sumter, the first battle of the Civil War, Confederate general P.G.T. Beauregard held one of these pikes in his hand as he ordered the assault on the fortress.

“John Brown” pikes on display.

Some have called Brown a terrorist and a madman. He is slandered just as mercilessly and as baselessly as all revolutionary heroes are. Reality paints a very different picture of the man.

Brown was a skilled writer and orator. He spoke passionately about abolition and egalitarianism and rewrote the Constitution to show how the United States should defend the oppressed and eradicate slavery and exploitation.

Now the real question is, what the hell is so crazy about fighting for your fellow man’s freedom? What’s crazy is a society which puts black bodies in chains. What’s crazy are whites looking to compromise when black people are being killed and enslaved with impunity. Crazy is claiming to be anti-racist while systematically benefitting from racism and never once acknowledging it. Being outraged at oppression and taking a stand at the cost of your privilege is the most sane thing you can do. And it was as sane then as it is now, when black people are still being killed or dragged away, put in chains, and enslaved.

So as we remember John Brown and all who died in the ongoing struggle against racism and oppression, remember that while sane, rational moderates discussed the end of slavery, “madmen” were freeing slaves.

Or, as Malcolm X once put it: “If a white man wants to be your ally, [ask him] what does he think of John Brown? You know what John Brown did? He went to war. He was a white man who went to war against white people to help free slaves. He wasn’t nonviolent. White people call John Brown a nut. Go read the history, go read what all of them say about John Brown.

“But they depict him in this image because he was willing to shed blood to free the slaves. And any white man who is ready and willing to shed blood for your freedom—in the sight of other whites, he’s nuts.”

[/read]

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén