In those distant days before the internet, sixty years before Craig’s List, and using just the telephone, a couple from East Vancouver set up a middle-man position for people trying to buy and sell things.
“People who want to buy or sell anything can phone Boyd’s List and will receive information where buyers and/or sellers can be contacted. A very reasonable charge is made for this service.” — Highland Echo, 24 April 1952.
Craig’s List … Boyd’s List — even the name is not new!
On this day in 1940, the Lascaux caves in central France were discovered by four teenagers. As they entered the long shaft down into the cavern, the boys saw vivid pictures of animals on the walls.
When the site was made available in the later 1940s, this cave art was wildly popular with the public. More importantly, it allowed everyone, both public and scientists, to understand more clearly that the so-called “cave men” were far more than the mindless brutes of previous imagination.
At about 17,000 years old, the Lascaux images are far from being the earliest known cave art today — several caves in Europe and Indonesia have art from about 40,000 years ago, and a recent “sketch” on a rock in South Africa may be much older. However, the enormous trove of images (more than 900 animals identified) at Lascaux combined with the encouragement of tourist traffic to the location has allowed this cave complex to become the best known of all cave art.
The discovery at Lascaux marked an important anniversary in our understanding of who we are and where we came from.
Forty-eight years ago, on 9/11 in 1973, the US-financed-and-organized plan to overthrow the legally elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile was put into action.
Crowds in Santiago celebrating the electoral victory of Salvador Allende
During the violent military assault, the President died (assassinated or committed suicide to avoid capture) and over the next few years of the vicious and inhuman dictatorship of US-supported Pinochet, thousands of Chileans were imprisoned, tortured, and killed.
What happened in New York on this day 28 years later was also vicious and inhuman. However, it is about time for some reconciliation and regret for the extraordinary litany of war crimes the US has committed. If any US network or major media even mentions the Chilean anniversary during what will almost certainly be today’s spasm of Trump-like breast-beating, that would be a tiny start.
On September 7, 1907, white racists rioted in Vancouver. They attacked and rampaged through Chinatown, and they attacked and were beaten back from Japantown. No one died, but only through luck. The riot was spurred by a march of the Asiatic Exclusion League, a labour union-supported group of racists seeking to exclude all non-white labour from British Columbia.
We can tell ourselves that this was now a hundred and fourteen years ago. Unfortunately, the riot was only the beginning. Over the next fifteen or so years, these same racists managed to have laws passed that reduced Japanese, Indian and Chinese immigration to a trickle. They also had Native Canadians moved to reserves, and set up residential schools with their own horrific scandals that we are re-living today. Peaceful law-abiding Japanese-Canadians were moved to internment camps and their homes and business were confiscated. The Chinese Exclusion Act stayed on the books until 1947; and indigenous peoples were not given the vote until as late as 1960.
Canada’s racist past is nowhere near as deep nor as broad as that in many countries, but it does exist, and we will be obliged to repeat our sins if we choose to forget those of our own history.
We just passed the 58th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
While some progress has been made — notably a black President who survived his term — much of this dream has turned into a nightmare, with racist cops killing black men in ever greater numbers and getting away it, with a famously racist cop receiving a Presidential pardon from an openly racist President, with armed Nazis openly parading with swastikas and uniforms. We have yet to see serious action from Biden’s DoJ as police departments stand by and watch while people and press are beaten by Nazis on the streets of America.
We have certainly not reached King’s dreamland of equality, but rather we seem to be sliding toward a race war pursued by an all-white far-right mob encouraged by GOP and extremist elites. Covid-19 and vaccines have provided cover for actions that have at their base hard-core racism, and take attention away from the plethora of race-and-class-based voting rights restrictions they have enacted across a swathe of States, and the full-on gerrymandering of districts to extract the wanted result.
These are sad days, and they can only get worse if the the GOP ultras manage to capture the House in mid-terms.
On this day in 1944, the Allied forces re-captured Paris from the retreating Nazis. However, a truly despicable slice of Western history has been revealed: The Americans and Brits insisted that the troops who were to march through Paris at its liberation in 1944 should be all white, regardless of the sacrifices made by British, French and American black soldiers.
The issue arose, according to this BBC report, because General De Gaulle insisted that French troops lead the march. However, most French units were a mix of white and black troops and that just wouldn’t do for the Allies.
In January 1944 Eisenhower’s Chief of Staff, Major General Walter Bedell Smith, was to write in a memo stamped, “confidential”: “It is more desirable that the division mentioned above consist of white personnel. “This would indicate the Second Armoured Division, which with only one fourth native personnel, is the only French division operationally available that could be made one hundred percent white” …
A document written by the British General, Frederick Morgan, to Allied Supreme Command stated: “It is unfortunate that the only French formation that is 100% white is an armoured division in Morocco. “Every other French division is only about 40% white. I have told Colonel de Chevene that his chances of getting what he wants will be vastly improved if he can produce a white infantry division.”
A suitable French unit could not be found without removing all the black troops and replacing them with soldiers from other units, many of them not even French.
In the end, nearly everyone was happy. De Gaulle got his wish to have a French division lead the liberation of Paris, even though the shortage of white troops meant that many of his men were actually Spanish. The British and Americans got their “Whites Only” Liberation even though many of the troops involved were North African or Syrian.
We were lucky enough to have large numbers of Africans, Indians, black and Native Americans and others fight and die on our side in that war, but we were too sick in the head to recognize them as heroes when the time came. What a miserable load of hypocrites we were.
On this day in 1819, about 60,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Field in Manchester to demand parliamentary reform. They were met by the 15th Hussars, who charged into the crowd with swinging sabres. At least 18 protesters were killed and several hundred received awful injuries.
The immediate effect was to cause the Government to pass the Six Acts, repressing further demonstrations. But the massacre and the repression eventually gave way to the Reform Act of 1832.
It is to martyrs such as those that suffered at Peterloo that we owe our freedoms, such as they are, today.
On July 26th, 1953, a young Fidel Castro led an attack on the Moncada Barracks to protest, amongst other matters, the cancellation of free democratic elections by the American- and Mafia-backed dictator Fulgencio Battista. This is considered the birth of the Cuban revolutionary movement.
Sixty-eight years later, the Americans continue to brutalize the island with political and economic sanctions. Even so, the Cubans have the best educational and medical systems in the region and have, recently, sent thousands of trained health workers to assist developing countries fight the covid menace.
On this day in 1969 I was in Yugoslavia working as a Third Assistant Director on a movie called “Kelly’s Heroes“. I was nineteen years old and having a wonderful time working with the likes of Clint Eastwood, Donald Sutherland, Telly Salvalas, and a whole wild bunch of American actors. like Harry Dean Stanton and Dick Davalos.
We were living at the Petrovaradin Hotel in Novi Sad and most nights I joined the Americans in games of high stakes poker. We took over one of the small banquet rooms and several of the hotel staff were deputed to look after us with drinks and food. These games were a useful but expensive education for me; over a few weeks, I managed to lose several months’ worth of per diem expenses.
Our game on the 20th July 1969 coincided with the first manned landing on the moon and we arranged to have a black and white TV set up in the room so we could follow the action. I remember that, just as Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Eagle and on to the moon, we were in the middle of a game with a good-sized pot of American dollars piled in middle of the the table. We agreed to pause the game to watch the historic moment.
Several of us took the opportunity to stand and stretch for a moment. As I did so, I noticed that the American actors were glued to the TV screen intent on cheering their countrymen while the hotel staff ignored the TV and were all staring at the big pile of money, mouths agape.
Today is the 116th anniversary of the founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World (the I.W.W.)
The I.W.W. was, and is, an industrial or class union aimed at unifying the working class under the slogan “an injury to one is an injury to all.” The One Big Union was in direct opposition to the trades unions that seek to divide workers into narrow crafts.
The Wobblies were founded by some of the great people of the labour movement — heroes such as Big Bill Heywood, Daniel de Leon, Eugene Debs, Mary other Jones, and so many others. The Constitution they struck was a marvelous call to arms:
“The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.
Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.
We find that the centering of the management of industries into fewer and fewer hands makes the trade unions unable to cope with the ever growing power of the employing class. The trade unions foster a state of affairs which allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in the same industry, thereby helping defeat one another in wage wars. Moreover, the trade unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the working class have interests in common with their employers.
These conditions can be changed and the interest of the working class upheld only by an organization formed in such a way that all its members in any one industry, or in all industries if necessary, cease work whenever a strike or lockout is on in any department thereof, thus making an injury to one an injury to all.
Instead of the conservative motto, “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, “Abolition of the wage system.” It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism.
Fifty-five years ago this week, a Vietnamese nun poured gasoline and set fire to herself in Hue. Twenty-five years ago today, Timothy Leary died in his sleep.
After all these years, I honestly don’t know whether Dr. Leary’s work helped us understand why the monk’s death was important to us, or whether he helped mask us from the true meaning by taking us elsewhere. Many saw no conflict in actively protesting and actively tripping. In fact, many claimed then that the “enlightenment” received through herbal and chemical stimulation was an important component of our political activism. These days, I wonder more often whether we were just bullshitting ourselves and simply following the pleasure principle.
In the end, of course, both the revered Buddhist martyr and the revered western materialist trod the same path into being and nothingness.
The class conflict driving the revolt had been building for decades. Labour shortage followed the devastation of the 1348-’49 Black Death, meaning that labourers could make new demands and seek new opportunities, though the lords did not cave in. 1351’s Statute of Labourers was one parliamentary response which involved trying to cap wages, restrict mobility, and keep serfs tied to the land, and this contributed further to the ongoing resentments. But the more immediate causes of the 1381 uprising included the introduction of new taxes, the most infamous of which was the 1380 poll tax and its heavy-handed collection.
On 30th May 1381, a group of Essex peasants, armed, refused attempts to collect the tax. After the protesters had raised hell in Essex, Kent, and London — and beheaded the Archbishop of Canterbury among others –they even negotiated with King Richard II, demanding the end of serfdom, the pardon of criminals, and the removal of corrupt royal advisors. Richard II agreed to the demands but Tyler was killed in June at a meeting, and the King quickly raised a force that brutally suppressed the uprising over the next few months.
Historians debate the importance of the Revolt to English history. What is not in doubt is that 1381 Revolt became a touchstone for socialist thinkers in the nineteenth century. As William Morris wrote in A Dream of John Ball, people win and lose battles yet ‘the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant,’ and so others ‘have to fight for what they meant under another name.’
Today is the 51st anniversary of Ohio National Guardsman shooting dead four unarmed students at Kent State. Eleven other kids were injured.
Although the President’s Commission on Campus Violence equivocated and blamed both Guardsmen and students, it did finally conclude that “the indiscriminate firing of rifles into a crowd of students and the deaths that followed were unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable.”
It was murder, pure and simple, though the US justice system refused to press charges against the Guardsmen. After all, as Nixon himself said just a few days before the massacre, student protesters were just bums.
Sometime in the mid-1960s, I read a novel by Franz Werfel called Forty Days of Musa Dagh. It told how a number of Armenian villages refused to be exterminated by the Ottoman Empire without a fight in 1915. I have no Armenian or Turkish background, but it was such a stirring story of heroic resistance against a racist holocaust that the memory of their struggle stayed as a bright light in my consciousness.
Over the years, on occasion, a politician or two has bruited the idea of declaring the Turkish actions as genocide and I have cheered them on. Now, finally, with Joe Biden we have a US President who is willing to stand up and say it.
There is no doubt that the current Turkish regime will shout and complain about this “insult” to a fellow NATO member. But frankly, the Erdogan regime, a semi-fascist state already, doesn’t deserve to be in NATO and is quite happy to commit another genocide against its own Kurdish people in a continuation of its bigoted behaviour. Perhaps if we properly remember the slaughter of the Armenians we might have some chance of stopping such atrocities in the future.
Sixty years ago today, the Cuban people fought back bravely against the United States government-sponsored invasion by those who would put the corrupt Mob casino bosses and American corporations back in charge of their beautiful country.
Agreeing to the Bay of Pigs invasion — America returning to type — was probably the most inept decision ever taken by John Kennedy. Within hours, the CIA-backed invaders were already lost, and the whole enterprise collapsed within two days. Hundreds of combatants died and more than 1,000 “exiles” were captured and held for an extended period.
The invasion hardened attitudes to the States throughout the region, made Castro an even bigger hero than he was already, and strengthened Che’s revolutionary hand within the Politbureau. It was a major failure by every possible metric and is still celebrated as such. The U.S. cannot forgive the Cubans for this defeat, and thus we have had several generations of economic, diplomatic, and military sanctions against Cuba.
Also today, after more than 60 years, we celebrate the retirement of Roaul Castro, last survivor of the revolutionary leadership that defeated, first, Batista and the Mafia, and then the U.S. government.
The first hero that I remember having was Duncan Edwards, the Manchester United footballer who was killed along with many others in the team in the Munich air crash of 1958. The second was Yuri Gagarin.
Sixty years ago today, Yuri Gagarin entered history as the first human being in space. A few years earlier, just before my 8th birthday, my father had taken the time to get me interested in the Soviet Union’s feat in putting Sputnik into space. I was entranced and remained an avid follower of the space race for decades. I followed the Russian dogs going up, and Gagarin’s flight was the obvious next step.
It wasn’t revealed for forty years that the cosmonaut ejected from the capsule before it crash-landed, parachuting to earth. And it was definitely sad for Gagarin that he was thereafter too valuable to put at threat and so he was never allowed to return to orbit. No matter. That first flight was a glorious triumph for mankind!
On March 18th 1871, the revolutionary, anti-religious, and radical socialist communards of Paris refused to accept the authority of the the French government, and for two months ruled the city in the name of the people.
The background to the uprising was the defeat of the French in its war against Prussia, the capture of Emperor Napoleon III, and a two month siege of the capital by the Prussians. During the siege, the city was defended by the local National Guard (not the regular Army). In February of 1871, the new French government signed an armistice with the Germans. In March, the French government attempted to take into their control the cannons that had defended Paris; they were rebuffed by local militia and the revolution began.
After a hastily arranged campaign, a governing Commune was elected on 27th March with a heavily-radical majority. The next day, in their first acts, the Communards abolished military conscription and the death penalty, and adopted the red flag rather than the tricolour. Over the following weeks, they imposed a policy of church and state separation, elimination of rents during the siege, and the right of employees to take over a business if the owners had fled. Canteens and orphanages were established throughout the city.
By March 20th the Thiers government at Versailles had raised enough troops (mainly returned prisoners of war) to start skirmishing with Commune forces on the outskirts of Paris. At the end of the month, the Commune decided to take the fight to Versailles, but their advance was quickly overwhelmed by French Army forces.
During April, the French forces pressed their attacks on Paris. The Commune established a Committee of Public Safety (the same project as operated the Reign of Terror in the 1790s) and arrests of suspected French allies began.
The final assault on the Commune by the forces of reaction began late in May. 60,000 government forces found a way inside the city and neighbourhood by neighbourhood they destroyed the communards. The National Guard had not expected the government forces to be able to enter the city and few barricades had been erected inside. The National Guard was greatly outnumbered and out-gunned by the government Army, and soon mass executions of Guard prisoners were taking place.
After a week of vicious street fighting, executions and counter-executions, the cemetery of Pere Lachese was the final holdout for the Commune. After a fight that lasted all day, the last 150 National Guard surrendered and were executed.
In the end, there were 7,300 casualties on the French Army side (of whom about 900 were killed), while the number of Commune defenders killed reached perhaps 10,000.
Anarchists played a large part in the activities of the Commune, and the subsequent death and imprisonment of anarchist leadership strongly affected the growth of the movement for decades thereafter. Marx, Lenin, Engels, Bakunin and others wrote about the Commune as the first great proletariat revolution.
The Paris Commune has been the inspiration for any number of later similar events, in Moscow, Petrograd, Shanghai, and elsewhere. The early Soviets adopted the red flag and called their Ministers Commissars in direct tribute to the events in Paris.
Today would have been Nina Simone’s 87th birthday. She gave us such joy and passion and most importantly a withering and uncompromising understanding of the black condition in America. This review of a Simone biography is well worth reading. She was fierce in her joy and I love her for it.
Also, fifty-six years ago today, the revered Malcolm X was murdered by adherents of the Nation of Islam (NOI). At his funeral, Ossie Davis called him “our shining black prince”.
After years in the NOI’s leadership, Malcolm renounced the inherent racism of that organization and the alleged financial, political, and moral corruption of Elijah Mohammed. Without ever caving to white power, and maintaining his belief in the ultimate weapon of armed struggle, he sought, through Sunni Muslim beliefs, to raise the self-esteem of blacks in America.
Malcolm X’s Autobiography stands with Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, and Nelson Mandela’s speech on his release from prison as the most influential statements of civil rights in the twentieth century.