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Thursday, 29 July 2010

Helen Keller

Helen Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama on 27th June, 1880. Her father, Arthur H. Keller, was the editor for the North Alabamian, and had fought in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. At 19 months she suffered "an acute congestion of the stomach and brain (probably scarlet fever) which left her deaf and blind.

She later wrote in The Story of My Life: "In the dreary month of February, came the illness which closed my eyes and ears and plunged me into the unconsciousness of a new born baby. They called it acute congestion of the stomach and brain. The doctor thought I could not live. Early one morning, however, the fever left me as suddenly and mysteriously as it had come. There was great rejoicing in the family that morning, but no one not even the doctor, knew that I should never see or hear again." As a child she was taken to see Alexander G. Bell. He suggested that the family should contact the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston. In 1886 the Perkins Institute provided Keller with the teacher, Anne Sullivan.

Whereas Anne Sullivan taught her how to communicate, her husband converted her to revolutionary socialism. This included her joining the Industrial Workers of the World. Keller wrote later: "Surely the demands of the IWW are just. It is right that the creators of wealth should own what they create. When shall we learn that we are related one to the other; that we are members of one body; that injury to one is injury to all? Until the spirit of love for our fellow-workers, regardless of race, color, creed or sex, shall fill the world, until the great mass of the people shall be filled with a sense of responsibility for each other’s welfare, social justice cannot be attained, and there can never be lasting peace upon earth."

Newspapers that had previously praised Keller's courage and intelligence now drew attentions to her disabilities. The editor of the Brooklyn Eagle wrote that her "mistakes sprung out of the manifest limitations of her development." Keller was furious and wrote a letter of complaint to the newspaper. "At that time the compliments he paid me were so generous that I blush to remember them. But now that I have come out for socialism he reminds me and the public that I am blind and deaf and especially liable to error.... Socially blind and deaf, it defends an intolerable system, a system that is the cause of much of the physical blindness and deafness which we are trying to prevent."

She later wrote "I had once believed that we are all masters of our fate - that we could mould our lives into any form we pleased. I had overcome deafness and blindness sufficiently to be happy, and I supposed that anyone could come out victorious if he threw himself valiantly into life's struggle. But as I went more and more about the country I learned that I had spoken with assurance on a subject I knew little about. I forgot that I owed my success partly to the advantages of my birth and environment. Now, however, I learned that the power to rise in the world is not within the reach of everyone."

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Charlotte Perkins Gilman was greatly influenced by the work of Edward Bellamy and became a socialist. She joined the Socialist Labor Party and in 1896 she was a delegate to the International Socialist Congress in London. While in England she met leading socialists such as Keir Hardie, Sidney Webb, Beatrice Webb and George Bernard Shaw. As her biographer, Mari Jo Buhle, has pointed out: "As her reputation spread and she became known for her discussion of women's topics as well, she devoted most of her time to the national lecture circuit."

In 1898 Charlotte published Women and Economics where she advocated equal work for women. In the book she criticized men for desiring weak and feeble wives and urged the economic independence of women. This was followed by other books on social issues such as Concerning Children (1900), The Home (1903) and Human Work (1904).

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

John Spargo

John Spargo was a minor socialist figure at the beginning of the 20th century. Yet, he has a very detailed page at Wikipedia. The page includes 31 references. Nearly all of them refer to Markuu Ruotsila's book, John Spargo and American Socialism (2006). In fact, the page is no more than a detailed promotion of Ruotsila's book. Ruotsila is a NeoCon who has been attracted to Spargo as he was a Marxist who moved sharply to the right during the First World War. Nothing he says about Spargo is untrue but it just shows you the subtle use of Wikipedia as propaganda.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Vincent Saint John

There is very little on Vincent Saint John on the web. In 1905 representatives of 43 groups who opposed the policies of American Federation of Labour, formed the radical labour organisation, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). At first its main leaders were Vincent Saint John, William Haywood, Daniel De Leon and Eugene V. Debs.

In 1908 the Wobblies, as they became known, split into two factions. The group headed by Eugene V. Debs and Daniel De Leon advocated political action through the Socialist Party and the trade union movement, to attain its goals. The other faction led by Saint John and William Haywood, believed that general strikes, boycotts and even sabotage to achieve its objectives.

As James Cannon pointed out: "At the second convention of the IWW in 1906, St. John headed the revolutionary syndicalist group, which combined with the SLP elements to oust Sherman, a conservative, as president and establish a new administration in the organization with a revolutionary policy. He became the general organizer under the new administration, breaking with the WFM on the withdrawal of the latter body and giving his whole allegiance to the IWW." Vincent Saint John now became General Secretary of the Industrial Workers of the World.

During the First World War Saint John campaigned against American intervention in the conflict. After the USA declared war on the Central Powers in 1917, several party members were arrested for violating the Espionage Act. As Howard Zinn pointed out: "In early September 1917, Department of Justice agents made simultaneous raids on forty-eight IWW meeting halls across the country, seizing correspondence and literature that would become courtroom evidence.

Vincent Saint John was one of those who and were arrested. He was found guilty he was sent to Leavenworth Prison. He was eventually freed on the orders of President Warren G. Harding in 1923.

Vincent St. John died in 1929 and is buried in Oakland, California.

Murray Bookchin and Social Ecology

Murray Bookchin became a pioneer of the ecology movement and in 1971 he co-founded, the Institute for Social Ecology at Goddard College in Vermont. Bookchin later argued: "Social ecology is based on the conviction that nearly all of our present ecological problems originate in deep-seated social problems. It follows, from this view, that these ecological problems cannot be understood, let alone solved, without a careful understanding of our existing society and the irrationalities that dominate it."

Bookchin published a series of books on social ecology including Post-Scarcity Anarchism (1971), The Limits of the City (1973) and Toward an Ecological Society (1980). In The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy (1982), Bookchin argues that "If we do not do the impossible, we shall be faced with the unthinkable."

As a Marxist, Bookchin argued that capitalism had to be overthrown: "The notion that man must dominate nature emerges directly from the domination of man by man… But it was not until organic community relation… dissolved into market relationships that the planet itself was reduced to a resource for exploitation. This centuries-long tendency finds its most exacerbating development in modern capitalism. Owing to its inherently competitive nature, bourgeois society not only pits humans against each other, it also pits the mass of humanity against the natural world. Just as men are converted into commodities, so every aspect of nature is converted into a commodity, a resource to be manufactured and merchandised wantonly.… The plundering of the human spirit by the market place is paralleled by the plundering of the earth by capital."

Thursday, 22 July 2010

John Abt

During his interrogation by the Dallas Police in November 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald requested the services of John Abt. He is recorded as saying: "I want that attorney in New York, Mr. Abt. I don't know him personally but I know about a case that he handled some years ago, where he represented the people who had violated the Smith Act... I don't know him personally, but that is the attorney I want... If I can't get him, then I may get the American Civil Liberties Union to send me an attorney." However, Abt was on holiday in Connecticut and later told reporters that he had received no request either from Oswald or from anyone on his behalf to represent him, before he was shot dead by Jack Ruby.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Wikipedia and the JFK Assassination

Interesting article by J. P. Mroz on Wikipedia and the assassination of JFK. It includes the following:

Here, the reader should note that, earlier this spring, I had been in touch with Jim DiEugenio about my research into Wikipedia and the events surrounding the removal of the Fetzer/Marrs external link from the Wikipedia LHO entry. Key in my correspondence to Jim was the above Gamaliel/Fernandez quote about "conspiracy theorists['] issue[s] ... overwhelm[ing] the text." My comment to Jim was: So, in other words, all contributions contrary to the Krazy-Kid-Oswald Theory are dispatched & disposed within the Wiki black hole titled: John F. Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories so as not to "overwhelm the text!" And things like the backyard photos being genuine, that Oswald ordered the rifle, that he manufacatured a package to carry it to work, and that in the face of the legendary path of CE 399/the Magic Bullet, these are all not theories, but facts? To Gamaliel, that is the case. Therefore, The New York Times, Waren Report, Reclaiming History, and John McAdams' web site are credible troves of "fact"; Probe Magazine is not.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Ramsay MacDonald's Expenses

Ramsay MacDonald became Labour's first prime minister on 22nd January, 1924. He received a salary as prime minister of £5,000 a year. He received no entertainment allowance and had to pay out of own pocket for such items of household equipment as linen and china. To save coal, the family ate their meals not in their private quarters but in the official banqueting-rooms which were centrally heated at the Government's expense.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Grace Roe

Grace Roe became head of operations for the WSPU in London after the arrest of Annie Kenney in 1913. She was eventually arrested in on 23rd May 1914. She went on hunger strike and was forcibly fed and was still in prison when on 4th August, 1914, England declared war on Germany. A few days later the leadership of the WSPU began negotiating with the British government. On the 10th August the government announced it was releasing all suffragettes from prison. In return, the WSPU agreed to end their militant activities and help the war effort.

There is a great interview with Grace Roe here:

Thursday, 1 July 2010

The Sacco-Vanzetti Case (Part 2)

In January, 1920, another 6,000 were arrested and held without trial. These raids took place in several cities and became known as the Palmer Raids. Palmer and Hoover found no evidence of a proposed revolution but large number of these suspects, many of them members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), continued to be held without trial. When Palmer announced that the communist revolution was likely to take place on 1st May, mass panic took place. In New York, five elected Socialists were expelled from the legislature.

James Larkin, an Irish trade unionist living in New York City, was charged with "advocating force, violence and unlawful means to overthrow the Government". Larkin's trial began on 30th January 1920. He decided to defend himself. He denied that he had advocated the overthrow of the Government. However, he admitted that he was part of the long American revolutionary tradition that included Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. He also quoted Wendell Phillips in his defence: "Government exists to protect the rights of minorities. The loved and the rich need no protection - they have many friends and few enemies."

The jury found Larkin guilty and on 3rd May 1920 he received a sentence of five to ten years in Sing Sing. In prison Larkin worked in the bootery, manufacturing and repairing shoes. Despite his inability to return to Ireland, he was annually re-elected as general secretary of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union.

When the May revolution failed to materialize, attitudes towards Palmer began to change and he was criticised for disregarding people's basic civil liberties. Some of his opponents claimed that Palmer had devised this Red Scare to help him become the Democratic presidential candidate in 1920.

The anarchist movement in America at this time was incredibly small at this time. What is more, they tended to follow the neo-pacifist views of Peter Kropotkin rather than those of Sergi Nechayev, who favoured terrorist activities.

There was also no link between anarchism and communism. In fact both groups hated each other with a passion. At this time the Bolsheviks were busily arresting and executing anarchists in Russia. The most interesting example of Nestor Makhno, who along with his anarchist followers, had played an important role in overthrowing Tsar Nicholas II and then winning the Civil War against the White Army and their foreign supporters.

The leaders of the American Communist Party decided to use this case as propaganda. Liberals, fearing the threat to their own civil rights, also joined in the campaign.In 1925 Celestino Madeiros, a Portuguese immigrant, confessed to being a member of the gang that killed Frederick Parmenter and Alessandro Berardelli. He also named the four other men, Joe, Fred, Pasquale and Mike Morelli, who had taken part in the robbery. The Morelli brothers were well-known criminals who had carried out similar robberies in area of Massachusetts. However, the authorities refused to investigate the confession made by Madeiros.

Important figures in the United States and Europe became involved in the campaign to overturn the conviction. John Dos Passos, Alice Hamilton, Paul Kellog, Jane Addams, Heywood Broun, William Patterson, Upton Sinclair, Dorothy Parker, Ben Shahn, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Felix Frankfurter, John Howard Lawson, Freda Kirchway, Floyd Dell, Bertrand Russell, George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells became involved in a campaign to obtain a retrial. Although Webster Thayer, the original judge, was officially criticised for his conduct at the trial, the authorities refused to overrule the decision to execute the men.

Eugene Debs, the leader of the Socialist Party of America, called for trade union action against the decision: "The supreme court of Massachusetts has spoken at last and Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco, two of the bravest and best scouts that ever served the labor movement, must go to the electric chair.... Now is the time for all labor to be aroused and to rally as one vast host to vindicate its assailed honor, to assert its self-respect, and to issue its demand that in spite of the capitalist-controlled courts of Massachusetts honest and innocent working-men whose only crime is their innocence of crime and their loyalty to labor, shall not be murdered by the official hirelings of the corporate powers that rule and tyrannize over the state."

By the summer of 1927 it became clear that Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti would be executed. Vanzetti commented to a journalist: "If it had not been for this thing, I might have lived out my life talking at street corners to scorning men. I might have died, unmarked, unknown, a failure. Now we are not a failure. This is our career and our triumph. Never in our full life can we hope to do such work for tolerance, justice, for man's understanding of man, as now we do by accident. Our words - our lives - our pains - nothing! The taking of our lives - lives of a good shoemaker and a poor fish peddler - all! That last moment belong to us - that agony is our triumph. On 23rd August 1927, the day of execution, over 250,000 people took part in a silent demonstration in Boston.

The United States system of justice came under attack from important figures throughout the world. Bertrand Russell argued: "I am forced to conclude that they were condemned on account of their political opinions and that men who ought to have known better allowed themselves to express misleading views as to the evidence because they held that men with such opinions have no right to live. A view of this sort is one which is very dangerous, since it transfers from the theological to the political sphere a form of persecution which it was thought that civilized countries had outgrown."

The Sacco-Vanzetti Case (Part 1)

On 15th April, 1920, Frederick Parmenter and Alessandro Berardelli, in South Braintree, were shot dead while carrying two boxes containing the payroll of a shoe factory. After the two robbers took the $15,000 they got into a car containing several other men and were driven away.

Several eyewitnesses claimed that the robbers looked Italian. A large number of Italian immigrants were questioned but eventually the authorities decided to charge Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco with the murders. Although the two men did not have criminal records, it was argued that they had committed the robbery to acquire funds for their anarchist political campaign.

The trial started on 21st May, 1921. The main evidence against the men was that they were both carrying a gun when arrested. Some people who saw the crime taking place identified Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco as the robbers. Others disagreed and both men had good alibis. Vanzetti was selling fish in Plymouth while Sacco was in Boston with his wife having his photograph taken. The prosecution made a great deal of the fact that all those called to provide evidence to support these alibis were also Italian immigrants.

Vanzetti and Sacco were disadvantaged by not having a full grasp of the English language. Webster Thayer, the judge was clearly prejudiced against anarchists. The previous year, he rebuked a jury for acquitting another anarchist Sergie Zuboff of violating the criminal anarchy statute. It was clear from some of the answers Vanzetti and Sacco gave in court that they had misunderstood the question. During the trial the prosecution emphasized the men's radical political beliefs. Vanzetti and Sacco were also accused of unpatriotic behaviour by fleeing to Mexico during the First World War.

In court Nicola Sacco claimed: "I know the sentence will be between two classes, the oppressed class and the rich class, and there will be always collision between one and the other. We fraternize the people with the books, with the literature. You persecute the people, tyrannize them and kill them. We try the education of people always. You try to put a path between us and some other nationality that hates each other. That is why I am here today on this bench, for having been of the oppressed class. Well, you are the oppressor." The trial lasted seven weeks and on 14th July, 1921, both men were found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to death. The journalist. Heywood Broun, reported that when Judge Thayer passed sentence upon Sacco and Vanzetti, a woman in the courtroom said with terror: "It is death condemning life!"

Bartolomeo Vanzetti commented in court after the sentence was announced: "The jury were hating us because we were against the war, and the jury don't know that it makes any difference between a man that is against the war because he believes that the war is unjust, because he hate no country, because he is a cosmopolitan, and a man that is against the war because he is in favor of the other country that fights against the country in which he is, and therefore a spy, an enemy, and he commits any crime in the country in which he is in behalf of the other country in order to serve the other country. We are not men of that kind. Nobody can say that we are German spies or spies of any kind... I never committed a crime in my life - I have never stolen and I have never killed and I have never spilt blood, and I have fought against crime, and I have fought and I have sacrificed myself even to eliminate the crimes that the law and the church legitimate and sanctify."

Many observers believed that their conviction resulted from prejudice against them as Italian immigrants and because they held radical political beliefs. The case resulted in anti-US demonstrations in several European countries and at one of these in Paris, a bomb exploded killing twenty people.

It was also argued that the conviction was a result of the Red Scare. In 1919 Woodrow Wilson appointed A. Mitchell Palmer as his attorney general. Palmer had previously been associated with the progressive wing of the party and had supported women's suffrage and trade union rights. However, once in power, Palmer's views on civil rights changed dramatically.

Soon after taking office, a government list of 62 people believed to hold "dangerous, destructive and anarchistic sentiments" was leaked to the press. This list included the names of progressives such as Jane Addams, Lillian Wald, Oswald Garrison Villard and Charles Beard. It was also revealed that these people had been under government surveillance for many years.

Worried by the revolution that had taken place in Russia, Palmer became convinced that Communist agents were planning to overthrow the American government. Palmer recruited John Edgar Hoover as his special assistant and together they used the Espionage Act (1917) and the Sedition Act (1918) to launch a campaign against radicals and left-wing organizations.

Palmer claimed that Communist agents from Russia were planning to overthrow the American government. On 7th November, 1919, the second anniversary of the Russian Revolution, over 10,000 suspected communists and anarchists were arrested. Palmer and Hoover found no evidence of a proposed revolution but large number of these suspects were held without trial for a long time. The vast majority were eventually released but Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Mollie Steimer, and 245 other people, were deported to Russia.