Fidel Castro has been dead for 5 years today, and the world is so much emptier for that fact.
I didn’t support Castro’s politics (though much of it tended to be better than most — look at Cuba’s health care system, for example, a success against every barrier the US could throw against it), but I supported the bravery of standing up for fifty years to an imperialist Superpower that had missiles and a huge army less than a 100 miles away.
More than the military threat, the US for two whole generations attempted to destroy the Cuban economy and people by sheer economic terrorism. Luckily, the world would not stand for that, and even Canada never flinched from business and tourism with Cuba.
Whenever self-righteous Americans point to the wreckage of Cuba’s economy and the poverty of the people (compared, say, to most parts of the US), remind them that this was caused directly and deliberately by American leaders.
Fifty-eight years ago today, my mother and father visited their closest friends, Ron and Betty, who lived a few miles from us in West London. I was in the backseat of the small black car. It smelled of leather and my parents’ cigarettes. I was sullen because I was just turned 14 years old and I had far better things to do than visit my parents’ old fogie friends to play cards.
I remember this all so clearly because, just as we pulled up outside Ron and Betty’s row house, the car radio broke off its normal programming and a solemn voice replaced the happy chatter. The voice announced that President John F. Kennedy of the United States had been shot and probably killed. I can still feel the goose-flesh that crawled over my skin. I remember the loud gasp as my father realized what had been said. John Kennedy was one of my father’s heroes, and he was mine too. He was our hope for the future, and now he was dead. Nothing else about that evening do I remember. I’m sure my folks and their friends discussed the assassination, but that has passed from recall.
Within two years of that day, though, JFK had — in my eyes at least — fallen from the pedestal upon which his charisma, his beautiful family, and his martyrdom had placed him. He was quickly revealed as just another centre-right US politician who was happy to send the boys to war, who was happy to squander the nation’s wealth on weapons and imperialism, who had no answer to segregation but brother Bobby’s federal agents. We also learned (perhaps we always knew) he wasn’t quite such a great family man, either; that Camelot was an expensive sham.
Kennedy and his people lived in the tuxedoed world of High Society that was soon to be swept away by the real world of Soul on Ice and Revolver. We might have hated that big Texas bully who followed Kennedy, but it was Kennedy not Johnson who pushed the US into South Vietnam, and it was Johnson not Kennedy who brought forward the Civil Rights Acts. Looking back, we can now see that both Kennedy and Johnson were equal participants in the cabaret that is America the Superpower. Unfortunately for the truth, Kennedy will always have the smile, the beautiful wife, the cute John-John and Caroline, while Johnson will always be pulling the ears off those damn beagles.
On Friday evening, October 22nd, Tim Louis is hosting a free online screening of a film about Harry Rankin called The Rankin File.
Most people who know of Harry Rankin will recall his many years on Vancouver City Council as a firebrand leftist, a founder of COPE, and the man who brought legal aid to British Columbia. He was elected to Council on his eleventh attempt in 1966 and remained on Council until his retirement in 1993. He ran for Mayor in 1986, losing to Gordon Campbell.
However, before his time on City Council, Harry Rankin was heavily involved in local politics in Grandview, becoming the first elected president of the Grandview Rate-Payers Association in 1952. In that position he fought hard to achieve a library in Grandview, led the demands for a new school on Woodland Drive to replace the defunct Grandview School at First & Commercial, and successfully campaigned for better lighting on Commercial Drive.
Today is the 955th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings which the Normans won thus allowing them to take over the country of England.
King Harold of England didn’t have much time to enjoy his reign. Between being chosen king in early January of 1066 after the death of King Ethelred, and Harold’s own death this day in the same year, the guy had done nothing but march the length of the country twice, and fight two major battles.
Having rid the north of England of a major Viking threat by his devastating victory at Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire, Harold and his surviving troops had immediately to march back to the south coast. They were tired and footsore but put up a heck of a fight in a losing cause against a Norman army under William the Bastard.
It is hard to imagine what history would have been like had Harold won and pushed William back into the sea. In many ways, the old English foundations — language, legal rights, succession, governance styles — eventually survived to take control once again after a hundred years or more of Norman culture and bureaucratic management. But the Norman influence on our speech, our countryside, our architecture is unmistakable. Even more important in the longest scheme has been the involvement of Britain in Europe through the Norman connection, and the centuries-long entanglements that ensued.
Not many things get remembered almost a thousand years after they have happened. The Battle of Hastings is a vital part of global history, and it is good that we remember it today.
I was just a few weeks away from my 8th birthday when my father sat me on his knee specifically to listen to our old radio spit out some strange sounds — “Beep. Beep. Beep.” Even through the static we knew we had never heard the like of it before.
On October 4th, 1957 — just sixty-four years ago — the space age began with the launch by the Soviet Union of Sputnik, the first man-made satellite. I’m sure the surprise in the US was far greater than we felt in Europe. We Europeans were already terrified of the power of the grey beasts just a few hundred miles to the east of our cozy nest in West London. It seemed to many that Russian tanks could overrun Europe at any moment, and the technological genius of Sputnik simply confirmed our anxiety.
But again, there was always that secret spot inside that reveled in the fact that a European power had beaten the Americans into space. And for my socialist grandfather and his cadre of friends, it was yet another sign that the Workers’ Paradise was superior in every respect to the Mickey Mouse- and Doris Day-loving capitalists.
In the end, I’m sure this had little to do with the ultimate end of the Cold War. The costs of the space race were minuscule compared to the economy-shuddering trillions spent on the arms race by both sides. But without Sputnik and all that followed, we would be a very different and more distanced world today.
Eighty-five years ago today, in 1936, about 5,000 of Oswald Moseley’s Nazi Blackshirts, protected by 6,000 members of the Metropolitan Police, attempted an anti-Semitic march through a predominantly Jewish section of east London. They were confronted by 20,000 workers, residents, Communists, and anarchists, and battle ensued. Moseley’s men were quickly withdrawn, but clashes between police and protesters continued. In the end about 175 were arrested.
The battle had a number of important consequences: It led directly to the passing of the Public Order Act which banned the wearing of political uniforms on the streets which in turn led to a serious decline in the membership of the British Union of Fascists; it showed that working people would stand up to fascist thugs; and it led to the election of Communist leader Phil Piratin as MP for the area in 1945.
May the fascists of today understand that we have long memories.
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.