Category Archives: Christianity

In Wake of “Charlie Hebdo” Murders – Capitalist Media, Nationalists, Fascists, Liberals Spread Twin Lies of “Christianity Under Attack” and “Imminent Islamicisation”

The enemy of the working classes of Europe and the US are not our working-class sisters and brothers of the “Muslim world”: the mortal enemies of the working class are the bloodthirsty capitalist classes of Europe, the US and the Middle East who are committing mass murder against our working-class Muslim and Arab sisters and brothers every day! US/UN/NATO: Out of the Middle East, Africa, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria! Keep your bloody hands off the world! Workers of the world: let’s unite and overthrow our capitalist masters; for international workers socialist revolution! Oppose anti-immigrant attacks scapegoating immigrant workers for the many failures of the capitalists and their crumbling greed-based economic system! For full citizenship rights for all immigrants! Unions: Create antifascist workers defense guards to crush the fascist vermin in the egg! Build a revolutionary internationalist workers party to fight for a global socialist workers republic!

– IWPCHI

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11 January 2015

This past week, a pair of self-proclaimed “defenders of the Prophet Muhammad” stormed into the editorial offices of vulgar, anticlerical French “satire” magazine “Charlie Hebdo” and murdered a dozen members of the editorial, creative and security staffs. Absurdly driven to commit multiple murders by Hebdo‘s childishly insulting satirical portraits of the Prophet Muhammad and His followers, two lunatic religious fanatics who happened to be Muslim, utterly opposed to any concept of “freedom of expression” when it comes to their own religion, sought to “redeem” what they believed to be the sullied name of Islam by butchering a handful of cartoonists! Even Hollywood couldn’t invent such an outlandish tale – such are the sad realities of life on our Planet Earth in the 21st century under the auspices of a global police state “led” by the financially and morally bankrupt “civilized, Christian” United States of America and the EU!

The way these Islamic fundamentalist wackos act, one might think that Islam was a religious sect so frail and poised on the brink of extinction that creating and broadcasting a popular satirical sketch of the faith on Saturday Night Live might be all it would take to consign it to the long list of once-popular religious faiths that have vanished from the face of the Earth. In fact, Islam needs no repulsive mock-hero heretic-killers to “defend” it: with over 1.8 billion women and men counting themselves among the followers of the Prophet Muhammad, the religion is today the second-largest in the world, only slightly behind Christianity – and growing rapidly.  But of course, rational thought is now and always has been alien to the fanatics of every religion that ever existed; these are not the kind of people who allow objective reality to intrude upon their infinitesimally narrow world-views.

The bourgeois press and the capitalist-financed nationalist and fascist political parties of Europe and the Christian “West” wasted no time in latching on to the Hebdo murders as “proof” that Islam is not, as its adherents claim, “a religion of peace” – like what, Christianity? – but is in fact a religion whose believers, secretly or openly, espouse the doctrine that all who do not accept Muhammad as being a prophet of God are heretics who should be put to the sword. If all Muslims actually did believe this to be true, the world’s 1.8 billion followers of Muhammad would have finished off the world’s 2.2 billion Christians long ago. Of course none of the claims of fascists that the “Hebdo” killers represent “Islam” are based in reality; nor do the resulting frantic and opportunistic cries of the fascists in opposition to the imaginary threat of imminent “Islamicization” have any basis in reality outside of their own appetite to acquire state power for themselves, after which their supposedly much less murderous “Christian” nation-states would presumably embrace the entire world in their egalitarian, peace-loving arms.  Which is what would happen if these “civilized, Christian” fascists came to power, right?

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The propagandists of the endless “War on Terror” led by the United States capitalist class and their allies in NATO are portraying the conflict as one in which a “civilized” Christian world “dedicated” to the defense of freedom of religion and freedom of speech is being wantonly attacked by those in the Muslim world, who all – openly or secretly – seek to impose their world-view and religious beliefs upon the Christian world by force.  Anyone who can take even a cursory glance at the centuries-long history of conflict between Islam and Christianity can see what a farce it is for the “Christian West” to pose in the robes of the “messenger of peace” Jesus Christ. “Christian Europe” fired the first shots in this war during the Crusades long ago, and engaged at that time in brutal, unprovoked attacks on the then relatively far more “civilized” and tolerant Muslim world in which the Christians gave no quarter to the “heretic” Muslim masses, man, woman or child. European Crusaders – (very much like today’s US/NATO crusaders) – bragged in letters they sent back home of heroic “battles” in which they slaughtered unarmed civilians seeking shelter inside Mosques until the blood ran ankle-deep. This was back when their primary weapons were hand-held; swords, spears and clubs; their heavy weaponry consisted of wooden siege engines and catapults.  The only difference between the “civilizing forces” of the “Christian world” of then and now is to be found in their modern capacity to kill far more people in far less time without necessarily having to even personally be on the same continent as their victims!

The Crusader-fanatics of the “civilized, Christian” world of the Middle Ages, who all believed that by forcing their own religious belief system upon the Muslim world through their own Medieval version of NATO-style terrorism they were doing “God’s Work”, find their spiritual descendants in mirror image in the Muslim “terrorists” of today; they can find their predecessors among the religions fanatics of every major religion going all the way back before the dawn of written history.  Killing in the name of religion wasn’t invented by the Muslims on September 11, 2001, nor was it invented by the Christians in the Middle-Ages. And in recent years it hasn’t been the “terrorists” of the “Muslim World” that have been responsible for the vast majority of the indiscriminate slaughtering of non-combatant men, women and children with impunity – as those keeping body counts for both “teams” know all too well.  It is the so-called “civilized, Christian World” that has been at work torturing and butchering Muslims from Egypt to Indonesia for most of the 20th and all of the 21st centuries. It’s only in the last 40 years or so that the “Muslim World” has begun to organize to fight back effectively. In this as well, we see a parallel with the Crusades: after initially being taken by surprise by the unprovoked and furious assaults that came out of Europe over the most flimsy pretexts, the Muslim world organized itself and counterattacked, eventually driving the Christians not just back to the borders of their own countries but driving Christian Europe almost to the brink of its own extinction. It wasn’t until the 1600’s that the wave of Muslim conquest in Europe fell back, receding eventually to its present-day borders in Eastern Europe, Turkey, to the Levant and the shores of North Africa.

When the “civilized” Christian world reconquered its territory in places like Spain and Italy, the “civilized” Christians didn’t create new polities where religionists of all kinds were welcome to worship as they pleased; the Christians either forced Jews and Muslims to convert to Christianity, drove them out of the country – or burned them at the stake! “Christian civilization” only allowed the freedom of worship to those who were Catholic – everyone else was a heretic who could be set upon, beaten or lynched at any time. When these same “civilized Christians” first journeyed to the New World, they brought their “one, true faith” with them; and their God, in their rather convenient interpretation of His will as revealed through the  events that were to follow, seemed to smile indulgently upon their mindless butchery of the “heathen” native populations – a butchery that was carried out largely with the consent and acquiescence of the Catholic – and later, the Protestant – clergy. Millions were slaughtered or enslaved by these “civilized” Christians over the next 400 years. When the native populations proved to be unwilling to be used as forced labor on the slave plantations of the “civilized Christians”, these followers of Jesus Christ started kidnapping African “heathen” and selling them into slavery. The number of Africans who died on the slave ships taking them into captivity is unknown but believed to be at least 2 million.

We’ll skip a bit of the long, bloody history of “civilized Christianity” to take a look at how the “civilized Christians” of Europe and the Americas have treated the Muslim and Arab populations of the world since at least the late 1400s. Colonizing the whole of Africa and the Middle East, as well as large parts of Asia and India, these “civilized Christians” enslaved, tortured and murdered their way to the seizure of the most valuable lands, raw materials and human labor of two and a half entire continents. Tribal communities were summarily driven off lands they had occupied for millennia; nation-states that had existed for as long or longer were cut up like so much cloth and distributed to the “civilized, Christian” European plunderers, out to stuff their pockets with gold – by any means necessary.

After World War I, these emissaries from “civilized, Christian” Europe sat down in drawing-rooms and pored over maps of the Middle East and North Africa, chopping up the regions into gerrymandered nation-states ruled over by colonial governments or satraps who plundered these new nation-states wantonly. Anyone who tried to oppose them faced beatings, torture, long-term imprisonment, assassination or execution. These policies continued throughout the 20th century and continue to the present day, in which the massive war machines of “Christian, civilized” USA, UK, France, Germany, the rest of the NATO states and their local proxies have tortured, murdered and bombed civilian populations from Gaza to Iraq to Iran to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Over a million and a half Iraqis alone have been murdered in TWO major wars in the past 20 years – wars inflicted upon the people of Iraq by the “Christian, civilized” United States of America. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the “Christian, civilized” US President Bush authorized mass bombings of civilian areas in Iraq and Afghanistan, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent women and children as well as the mass torturing of thousands more; “Christian, civilized” President Obama has authorized remote-controlled drone attacks that have killed thousands of women and children as well as the assassinations of hundreds of men whose only “crime” was simple association with “suspected terrorists”.

In spite of all of this well-known and massive human carnage committed by “civilized, Christian” Europe and the USA against the Muslim world, we are supposed to believe that it is not the Muslims that are being subjected to mass murder at the hands of the “Christian world” but vice versa! What could be more absurd? The US and its NATO allies have mass-murdered well over – WELL over! – 1.5 MILLION Arab and Muslim people in the past 20 years alone!  The “civilized, Christian” world hails the soldiers who committed these monstrous crimes as “heroes”; the churches of the US and Europe sing hosannas to their memories every Sunday and sports stadiums full of brainwashed “civilized, Christian” citizens salute the military organizations that plan and carry out these mass-murders every day; but when a handful of religious fanatics claiming to represent Islam kill a dozen “civilized, Christian” satirists, it’s the crime of the century – and “proof” that Islam, not Christianity is the religion of fanatical murderers!

This monstrous falsification of the historical record is presented to us 24/7 via the “civilized Christian” bourgeois press, which simply ignores the entire history of the “civilized, Christian” world and its many many crimes committed against Muslims all over the globe, and spreads the lie that these obviously retaliatory strikes were “unprovoked attacks”! They tell us with straight faces that the very existence of “civilized, Christian” Europe is at stake unless… more massive military assaults are unleashed against the “uncivilized Muslim world”!  As if we, the “swinish multitude” of “dumb workers” are unable to remember the history of the past 50 years, and the war crimes we and our children were forced to commit as conscript soldiers in the imperialist armies!

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Do not misunderstand us: the senseless and cowardly murders of the “Charlie Hebdo” staff are repulsive to us and to every decent human being on this planet of every religious stripe – or lack thereof. The “Hebdo” killers represent the very real threat that exists, incredibly, here in the 21st century from the religious fanatics of EVERY organized religion, whose most deranged and fanatical followers think nothing of butchering men, women and children – without regard to the religions of their victims – in the name of their completely imaginary “gods”!  The threat to human civilization is not just coming from Muslim religious nuts; Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist religious zealots – to name but a few – have all committed mass murders in the past 20 years – with the forces of the supposedly “civilized, Christian” West responsible for the vast majority of murders of civilians by far.  The religious zealots of the world can be expected to continue to keep on killing “heretics” until the working class creates a real 21st-century civilization in which the basic human needs of food, clothing, shelter, education and health care – including mental health care – are guaranteed to all; and until the workers of the world overthrow the warmongering capitalist class and put an end to their phony “War on Terror”!  Only once all human needs are being met in an egalitarian socialist future will the futile practice of begging “God” for food, water, shelter and everything else no longer be necessary for the long-suffering workers of this tragic human race.   Only then will we see religious extremism “wither away” – finally – after thousands of years in which organized religion and its most fanatical adherents have caused at least as much human suffering as they have managed, with their meagre superstitious methods – to relieve.  The inauguration of that glorious religious-zealot-free future will definitely require the overthrow of the greed-based capitalist system, in which religion is a necessary prop keeping the system from toppling over.  The capitalist classes of the US and EU are right now seeking to destabilize the “Muslim world” in order to facilitate massive profit-stealing via their seizure of the easy pickings of the Middle Eastern oil fields.  They plan to lock down the entire planet in a global police state run by the USA and their (for the time being) junior partners in the EU.  It’s in the best interests of the workers of the world to stop the capitalists before they kill again.  No one else can do it.

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The men and women committing the terrorist attacks against civilians “in the name of Islam” no more represent “Islam” than the Christian fundamentalists who bomb abortion clinics and torture and murder as soldiers in the US imperialist military represent “Christianity”, the Hindu fanatics who kill Muslims represent all Hindus or the fascistic, murderous Zionist lunatics represent all Jews.   All religious zealots who murder in the name of their religions are, first of all, INSANE; secondly, they are mere criminals. To elevate the murderers of the  Hebdo staff to the level of “terrorists” who represent the will of millions of Muslims all over the world is to give them far more credit than they deserve. Killing these religious fanatics only turns them into instant martyrs; they should be captured, arrested and tried as common criminals, because that’s what they are. They are criminally insane, with delusions of being “messengers from God” who they truly believe sanctions the murder of non-believers in “His” name.   The fact that people like this still exist in the 21st century is stark testament to the failure of the capitalist system to bring real “civilization” to the world.  It is also a tragic reminder of what happens when the efforts of more than a century and a half by the working classes of the whole world – including our sisters and brothers in the Middle East – to overthrow the capitalist system have been driven back by capitalist classes all too willing to commit any crime against the workers. In order to maintain their class rule and to defend an economic system that has robbed the workers of the world and transferred that stolen wealth into the hands of a tiny number of human beings – who now  possess more than half of the world’s wealth, the capitalists have murdered revolutionary worker-leaders all over the Middle East and Asia, from Afghanistan to Iran, from Sri Lanka to Egypt.   It is capitalism and its endless insane quest for more and more profits that financed Islamic fundamentalism as a force with which to batter the workers movements of the Middle East into submission;  it is the capitalist classes of the US and UK that financed, trained and unleashed these religious fanatics on the world in order to crush the USSR in Afghanistan.

The Soviet Union successfully fought Islamist fundamentalism starting in the 1920s, freeing women throughout Central Asia from the bondage of the chador, the bride price and complete social isolation.  We are proud to have been part of the Trotskyist Spartacist movement that proudly declared “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!” in 1980.  That intervention had the potential to spike resurgent Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan which – had it not been for the CIA’s terrorist training camps that sponsored Osama Bin Laden’s anti-Soviet efforts that eventually drove the USSR out of Afghanistan – might have prevented the rise of fundamentalist Islam throughout the Middle East in the 1980s and ’90s, and the shit-train of human suffering that was ushered in by it.

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In the wake of the “Charlie Hebdo” murders, the long, disgusting history of the brutalities the “civilized, Christian” world has heaped upon the Muslim world have been simply erased from the memory banks of the bourgeois press by the fascist and nationalist apologists for bloodthirsty “Christian civilized capitalism”; the capitalist-owned politicians and media hacks are also spreading the ridiculous fraud of the imminent “Islamicization of Europe” which allegedly threatens to destroy “civilized, Christian European” “principles” of “tolerance” and “love for one another” so close to the bloodless hearts of the warmongering “Christian, civilized” capitalist classes of Europe and the USA! Josef Goebbels would enjoy this spectacle of hypocrisy, wouldn’t he, if he was alive today? Stalin, whose “historians” were so adept at erasing national heroes like Leon Trotsky from the pages and photographs of Soviet newspapers and history books – and whose regime was roundly condemned by the “civilized, Christian” west for doing so! – would enjoy this charade as well!

The fact is that in today’s modern world, human beings can easily move across the face of the planet and are – or should be – free to settle anywhere their hearts desire without any obstacles being placed in their way.  We, as revolutionary Trotskyists, consider all workers to be our brothers and sisters; we repudiate the capitalists’ assertions that foreign-born workers are “aliens” and we fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants!   (Anti-immigrant legislation and propaganda serve to cloak the inherent inability of the capitalist system to provide jobs for all able-bodied workers with the lie that there would be work for everyone if it wasn’t for the immigrants “stealing” “our” jobs!  In fact, the capitalist system, in order to function profitably, maintains a reserve army of the unemployed so as to keep ALL workers’ wages down; the capitalists use the immigrants as scapegoats).

Those who yearn for “the good old days” of national isolation, where natural boundaries like mountain ranges and oceans fostered unique cultural identities – as well as hideous economic, political, cultural and intellectual backwardness –  are yearning for a world that is gone and which – happily for the working classes – isn’t coming back.  The population of the United States represents only 4.5% of the world’s population; “White” Europeans are a tiny minority of the global population as well.  The world is moving rapidly in the direction BACK to the status of a much more homogeneous “racial” makeup that ended maybe 100,000 to 200,000 years ago, when the entire human race was just emerging from Africa.  To revolutionary socialists – THIS IS A GOOD THING!  The increased “racial” mixing via intermarriage should eventually destroy every vestige of racist ideology, bringing all the world’s people much closer together again.  Globally, today, believers in Islam make up approximately 25% of the world’s population.  If all our Muslim brothers and sisters were evenly distributed in every nation, 25% of the population of, say, France, would be Muslim.  But that is not the case; French Muslims make up just 7.5% of the entire population of France!  The French nationalists and fascists screaming that France is being “Islamicised” are crying wolf, desperately attempting to hold back an evolutionary trend that can only be brought to a halt through vicious racist immigration quotas that will not stop the natural global migration of our fellow human beings all over the world.  In other nations where the fascists and nationalists are trying to stoke irrational fears of impending “Islamicization”, the Muslim populations as a percentage of the total populations of those countries are as follows:

Germany: 5.0%

UK: 4.6%

US: 0.8%

Sweden: 4.9%

Netherlands: 5.5%

Source: Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_by_country

Obviously, the Muslim immigration to Europe is going to have to increase exponentially in order to simply reach global parity in our lifetimes.  The massive exodus of people from traditionally Muslim countries to Europe has been driven in the first place by the “Global War on Terror”, which has deliberately destabilized majority-Muslim countries merely in order to facilitate the plundering of those nation-states by the US and EU multinational corporations that dictate US/NATO foreign policy and which seek to make profitable investments in the region – without regional strongmen taking their “cut” of the plunder – or threatening to kick the imperialists out on their asses.  The overthrow of capitalism in the US and EU states would lead to the overthrow of the brutal dictatorships in North Africa and the Middle East, which would result in a cessation of immigration to Europe and quite probably the return of many immigrant workers now living in EU countries to the lands of their birth.  To believe that the rapid influx of immigrants from North Africa into Europe due to the “Global War on Terror” is permanent and irreversible is to believe that the highly unstable political and economic status quo in Europe is also “permanent and irreversible”, which is inherently contradictory.  Workers socialist revolution is both possible and desirable – and necessary! – in Europe and everywhere else; and if the working class can make that happen, the likelihood of a long period of peaceful and rational development of the entire human race becomes a probability instead of highly unlikely under a more and more xenophobic and nationalistic capitalism.

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The lies we are having heaped upon us in desperate defense of the tottering capitalist status quo in the EU from the mouths of the bourgeois journalists and the press attaches of the “civilized, Christian” governments of the west require the most strenuous efforts of those of us in the revolutionary socialist workers movement to oppose them and to provide the working classes of the world with the truth about the hideous crimes that the ruling classes of the “civilized, Christian” world have committed against our brother and sister workers in the Muslim world.  The reactionary, anti-immigrant and cynical “Je Suis Charlie” campaigns – orchestrated by the racist and fascist apologists for US/NATO war crimes carried out throughout the Muslim world – must be avoided like the plague by workers all over the world. The capitalist classes of Europe and the Americas are seeking to terrify the working class into giving their approval for more vicious military attacks on our fellow workers in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan – and throughout Europe and the whole world – in order to crush any opposition to the capitalists’ plans to destabilize and re-colonize the Middle East.  The only resource the “civilized, Christian” capitalists care about is the oil under the lands now occupied by our working class brothers and sisters who, in the majority, “happen to be” Muslim. The capitalists know that they will never obtain a green light from the workers to butcher our own Muslim sisters and brothers with impunity until they can turn them in our eyes into cartoonish, hate-filled religious wackos hell-bent on mass murder of civilians in Europe and the Americas. In other words, the capitalist classes that run the US/NATO military murder machine want us to believe that the people of the Middle East are about to do to US what the US and NATO have been doing to THEM all these years, and are using the “Hebdo” murders to justify more war against our sisters and brothers throughout the Muslim world! The enemy of the working classes of Europe and the US are clearly NOT our fellow workers in the Muslim-majority nations; our enemies are the capitalist classes of the entire world who make their billions through the endless mass-murder of their “War on Terror”!

Don’t fall for the lies of the capitalists: our enemies aren’t our sisters and brothers in the “Muslim World” but our capitalist masters here in “civilized, Christian, capitalist” USA and Europe!  Workers of the World, Unite!  For workers socialist revolution in the US, Europe, the Middle East and throughout the capitalist world!

IWPCHI

CIA NAZI WAR CRIMINALS FILES: UKRAINIAN FASCIST PRIEST IVAN HRINIOCH

We are pleased to present to our readers the latest in our series of declassified document collections from the CIA’s Freedom of Information Act Electronic Reading Room.  Our series so far has featured documantary proof that the US Government and its secret “intelligence agencies” have been deeply involved in protecting and promoting the Ukrainian fascist movement since the end of World War II.  The US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and its successor organization, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) conspired to first protect key wanted Ukrainian war criminals – fascist leaders from the Ukraine – from capture and trial by the USSR at the end of the war, and then provided these fascist scum with false biographies and aliases in order to enable them to emigrate to the United States, where they lived out their lives to a ripe old age, all the while providing material and financial support to the fascist underground in the Ukraine.

The primary organization that the CIA decided to enlist in their “holy war” against the Soviet Union were elements of the notorious OUN/B – the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists/ Bandera faction – led by war criminal and collaborator with Hitler’s Nazis Stepan Bandera.  These fascist paramilitary units were responsible for the mass murder of Jews, Poles and communist activists throughout the Ukraine.  Their organization was always supported by the United States since at least 1946 and continues to the present day, as the United States today backs the Svoboda Party in the Ukraine – an organization that traces its roots directly to the OUN/B.

In today’s publication, we present the CIA’s released dossier on Father Ivan Hrinioch – a Ukrainian fascist priest ordained into the Greek Catholic Church in 1934 who later became a lecturer in Theology at the Academy of Theology in Lemberg.  Among his major “accomplishments” as a fascist priest was his proclamation via radio of his church’s blessings upon the new Hitlerite “Ukrainian State” proclaimed by Bandera and his followers in 1941.

Hrinioch was an envoy to the Vatican during the immediate postwar period; this tripartite alliance between the CIA, the Vatican and Eastern European fascist movements has been a difficult subject for researchers of the Nazi era to obtain documentary proof on.  We are happy to provide a small contribution to these studies in the form of these documents.  They have been released since 2010 but to our knowledge have not been given the attention they deserve from anti-fascist writers and scholars.

We heartily recommend that readers new to this subject first take a look at the National Archive’s companion essay to these documents that was produced at the time of the document release:   “Hitler’s Shadow: Nazi War Ciminals, U.S. Intelligence and the Cold War”  by Richard Breitman and Norman J.W. Goda.  Chapter 5 will give you a fine introduction to the fetid swamp of US Government collaboration with these Ukrainian Nazis.  Far from being an new development, these documents show that from the OSS’ William Donovan to Sen. John McCain, there is an unbroken thread of US Government support being given to the Ukrainian fascist movement.

— IWPCHI

CIA WWII NAZI WAR CRIMINALS FILES: UKRAINIAN FASCIST PRIEST FATHER IVAN HRINIOCH

International Women’s Day – Spartacist League Classic: “Early Communist Work Among Women: The Bolsheviks”

In honor of International Womens’ Day we republish a classic article from the revolutionary Trotskyist Spartacist League’s now-defunct and greatly missed journal “Women & Revolution”.— IWPCHI

Early Communist Work Among Women: The Bolsheviks

From Women and Revolution issues Nos. 10 and 11, Winter 1975-76 and Spring 1976.

The Soviet Union provides the classic illustration of Fourier’s observation that the progress of any society can be gauged by the social position of the women within it. To the extent that the Bolshevik Revolution was victorious, Soviet women were liberated from their traditional, subservient social positions; to the extent that the Revolution degenerated, the position of the women degenerated. The fact that this degeneration has been incomplete—that Soviet women continue to enjoy advantages and opportunities unknown in the West—is precisely because the degeneration of the Soviet workers state has also been incomplete, i.e., capitalism has not been restored.

The Old Order: “I Thought I Saw Two People Coming, But It Was Only a Man and His Wife”

Russian folklore testifies to the fact that women in pre-revolutionary Russian society were commonly considered generically defective to the point of being subhuman. But such attitudes had not prevailed in Russia from time immemorial. In ancient times, women had had the right to rule their own estates, choose their own husbands, speak in the community councils and compete for athletic and military honors. Epic songs are still sung in some provinces about mighty female warriors called polnitsy —a word derived from the Russian pole, meaning “field” and, in a secondary sense, “battlefield.” These women warriors, according to folk tradition, wandered alone throughout the country, fought with men whom they encountered on their way and chose their own lovers as they pleased: “Is thy heart inclined to amuse itself with me?” the so-called Beautiful Princess asks the Russian folk hero Iliia Muromets.

But the centuries which witnessed the growth of the patriarchal family, the rise of Byzantine Christianity with its doctrine of the debased nature of women, the brutal Tatar invasion and the consolidation of dynastic power, also witnessed the obliteration of these ancient privileges.

During these centuries Russian women were progressively excluded from politics, education and social life in general. Those of the lower classes became beasts of burden who might be driven with a stick if it pleased their husbands. Those of the upper classes were physically removed from society and imprisoned in the terem or “tower room”—an upper chamber of the house built expressly for the lifelong seclusion of women. Peter the Great (1672-1725), in his determination to transform Russia into a modern commercial and industrial state, holds the distinction of releasing women from the terem and compelling them to mingle with men at public social functions, as they did in the West.

The Empresses Elizabeth and Catherine the Great (1729-1796) continued to encourage more progressive attitudes toward women, and they constructed academies for their education. On the eve of the Russian Revolution, women constituted 30,000, or almost one quarter, of the 125,000 students enrolled in Russian universities.

Despite these reform measures, however, women continued to be severely oppressed in pre-revolutionary Russia. Not only was the number of educated women only a tiny fraction of the total population (the illiteracy rate for women was 92 percent in 1897), but the lack of educational opportunities had a much more stultifying effect on women than on their male counterparts, because they were far more isolated.

Peasant women grew old early from overwork and maltreatment. Even when elementary education was available to girls, it remained customary for them to stay at home to care for the younger children until they were old enough to work in the fields. Husbands were generally chosen by the fathers, who sold their daughters to the highest bidder. Tradition decreed that the father of the bride present the bridegroom with a whip, the symbol of the groom’s authority over his new wife.

Those peasant women who sought to escape to the cities found that they were paid lower wages than their male co-workers and that all skilled trades were closed to them. Outside of domestic service and the textile industry, marriage constituted grounds for immediate discharge.

Life was somewhat more comfortable, of course, for women of the middle and upper classes, but not much more fulfilling. While educational opportunities were more accessible to them, the kind of education deemed appropriate for women was limited. Husbands, as among the lower classes, were chosen by the fathers, and the law bound women to obey their husbands in all things.

Equal Rights for Women

The radical notion of equal rights for women was originally introduced into Russia by army officers who had been stationed in France after the defeat of Napoleon and who brought back to Russia many of the new liberal, republican and democratic ideas to which they had been exposed.

Male intellectuals continued to participate in this movement for the next hundred years. They championed higher education for women and entered into fictitious marriages with them in order to provide them with the passports they needed to study abroad. Well-known authors such as Belinsky, Herzen, Dobroliubov and Chernyshevsky encouraged women in their struggle for equal rights.

The active participation of men in the struggle for women’s liberation and the fact that prior to 1906 the masses of Russian men and women did possess equal political rights—that is, no rights at all—meant that at a time when women’s suffrage organizations were on the rise in the West, Russian women and men continued to engage in united political struggle.

Equality of political oppression broke down only after the Revolution of 1905. On 17 October of that year Tsar Nicholas II issued a manifesto which provided for the summoning of a state duma based on male suffrage only. A group of the newly-enfranchised men immediately appealed to the author of the manifesto, Count Witte, for female suffrage, but this was refused. Out of this defeat arose the first feminist organizations in Russia—the League of Equal Rights for Women and the Russian Union of Defenders of Women’s Rights.

Like all feminist organizations, these groups sought to achieve their goals through reforming the social system. At the first meeting of the League of Equal Rights for Women, which was held in St. Petersburg (later renamed Petrograd and presently Leningrad) in 1905, a number of working women put forward a resolution demanding measures to meet their needs and the needs of peasant women, such as equal pay for equal work and welfare for mothers and children, but the bourgeois women who constituted the majority of the membership rejected this proposal in favor of one which called only for the unity of all women in the struggle for a republican form of government and for universal suffrage.

One of the League’s first actions was the presentation to the First State Duma of a petition for female suffrage signed by 5,000 women. This petition was presented three times between 1906 and 1912 but was never accepted. Minister of Justice Shcheglovitov commented:

“Careful observation of reality shows that there is a danger of women being attracted by the ideals of the revolutionaries, and this circumstance, in my opinion, obliges us to regard with extreme care the question of encouraging women to take up political activity.

— Vera Bilshai, The Status of Women in the Soviet Union

Feminism or Bolshevism?

Side by side with the burgeoning feminist movement, the pre-revolutionary years witnessed the development of work among women by the Bolsheviks and other avowed socialists—work which was greatly accelerated by the entrance of masses of women into industrial production.

The programs and strategies of feminism and Bolshevism were counterposed from the outset. The feminists declared that women’s most pressing need was political equality with men, including participation at every level of government. Only when women were in a position to influence all governmental policies, they said, would cultural and economic equality be possible. To achieve their political goal, the feminists created multi-class organizations of women united around the struggle for equal rights.

Socialist organizations also struggled for equal rights for all women. “We hate and want to obliterate,” said V. I. Lenin, “everything that oppresses and harasses the working woman, the wife of the working man, the peasant woman, the wife of the little man, and even in many respects the women from the wealthy classes.” But socialist organizations from the beginning rejected the feminist reform strategy and insisted that full sexual equality could not be achieved short of a socialist society. Far from leading them to abandon special work among women under capitalism, however, this position encouraged them to pursue it more ardently in the knowledge that “the success of the revolution depends upon how many women take part in it” (Lenin).

As early as 1899 Lenin insisted that Clause 9 of the first draft program of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) contain the words: “establishment of complete equality of rights between men and women.” The program adopted by the Second Congress of the RSDLP in 1903 included this demand as well as the following special provisions:

“With a view to safeguarding the working class from physical and moral degeneration, and also with the view to promoting its capacity for waging a struggle for liberation, women should not be employed in industries harmful to the female organism, they should receive four weeks’ paid pre-natal and six weeks’ post-natal leave; all enterprises employing women should have nurseries for babies and small children, nursing mothers should be allowed to leave their work for at least half an hour at intervals of not longer than three hours, and male factory inspectors should be replaced by women in industries with a female labor force.”

VKP(b) v rezoliutsiiakh, quoted in William M. Mandel, “Soviet Women and Their Self-Image”

Throughout the entire pre-revolutionary period the Bolsheviks pressed their demands for complete sexual equality as they carried out educational and organizational work among women through every possible vehicle—cultural and educational organizations, evening schools, trade unions. Centers of Bolshevik agitation and propaganda also took the form of women’s clubs. In 1907, such a club was opened in St. Petersburg under the name “The Working Women’s Mutual Aid Society,” while in Moscow a similar club was called “The Third Women’s Club.”

Through this special work the Bolsheviks were able to recruit many working women to communist politics. One of these recruits, Alexandra Artiukhina, later recalled:

“When we began to attend the Sunday and evening schools, we began to make use of books from the library and we learned of the great Russian democrat, Chernyshevsky. Secretly, we read his book, What Is to Be Done? and we found the image of the woman of the future, Vera Pavlovna, very attractive.

“The foremost democratic intelligentsia of our time played a considerable role in our enlightenment, in the growth of revolutionary attitudes and in women’s realization of their human dignity and their role in public. They acquainted us with the names of Russian revolutionary women, like Sofia Perovskaya and  Vera Figner.

“Later, in underground political circles, we read the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin. We understood that the enslavement of women occurred together with the establishment of private ownership of the means of production and the beginning of exploitation of man by man and that real equality and real freedom for women would be found only in socialism, where there would be no exploitation of man by man. Therefore, the most reliable path for the liberation of women was the path of political struggle against capitalism in the ranks of the proletariat.”

— A. Artiukhina, “Proidennyi put,” in A. Artiukhina et al. (eds.), Zhenshchina v revoliutsii

Women and the War

The outbreak of World War I in 1914 precipitated a dramatic transformation in the lives of Russian women, ripping them away from their private family roles and throwing them into entirely new social roles in factories, hospitals, at the front and in the streets.

During the very first months of the war, military mobilizations took approximately 40 percent of Russian working men out of industrial jobs, many of which had to be filled by women. Between 1913 and 1917 the percentage of women working in the metal trades in Petrograd rose from 3.2 percent to 20.3 percent. In the woodworking industries, the number of women increased sevenfold. In papermaking, printing and the preparation of animal products and foodstuffs their number doubled.

This entrance of large numbers of Russian women into industrial production was a profoundly progressive step because it laid the basis for their economic and political organization. By the time of the October Revolution, women constituted about ten percent of the membership of the Bolshevik Party and were represented at every level of the party organization.

While many female comrades took a special interest in party work among women, it was always clear that this important arena of work was the responsibility of the party as a whole and not solely of the women within it. This Bolshevik refusal to differentiate political functioning on the basis of sex is also illustrated by the fact that neither in the party nor in its youth section did women ever constitute a male exclusionist faction or caucus. There were, at times, women’s commissions and departments to oversee special work among women, but these always remained under the control of higher party bodies composed of comrades of both sexes.

The absence of women’s caucuses was not, of course, an indication that the party was entirely free of sexist attitudes; only that the struggle against such attitudes was carried out by the party as a whole on the basis of communist consciousness, which was expected to transcend sexual distinctions.

One of the foremost Bolshevik leaders in the struggle against reactionary attitudes toward women within the party was V.I. Lenin. In an interview with  Clara Zetkin of the German Social Democratic Party, he said:

“…Unfortunately it is still true to say of many of our comrades ‘scratch a Communist and find a Philistine.’ Of course you must scratch the sensitive spot, their mentality as regards women. Could there be a more damning proof of this than the calm acquiescence of men who see how women grow worn out in petty, monotonous household work, their strength and time dissipated and wasted, their minds growing narrow and stale, their hearts beating slowly, their will weakened? Of course, I am not speaking of the ladies of the bourgeoisie who shove onto servants the responsibilities for all household work, including the care of children. What I am saying applies to the overwhelming majority of women, to the wives of workers and to those who stand all day in a factory.

“So few men—even among the proletariat—realize how much effort and trouble they could save women, even quite do away with, if they were to lend a hand in ‘women’s work.’ But no, that is contrary to the ‘right and dignity of a man.’ They want their peace and comfort. The home life of the woman is a daily sacrifice to a thousand unimportant trivialities. The old master-right of the man still lives in secret. His slave takes her revenge, also secretly. The backwardness of women, their lack of understanding for the revolutionary ideals of the man, decrease his joy and determination in fighting. They are like little worms which, unseen, slowly but surely rot and corrode. I know the life of the worker and not only from books. Our Communist work among the women, our political work, embraces a great deal of educational work among men. We must root out the old ‘master’ idea to its last and smallest trace. In the Party and among the masses. That is one of our political tasks, just as it is the urgently necessary task of forming a staff of men and women well trained in theory and practice, to carry on Party activity among working women.”

— Clara Zetkin, Reminiscences of Lenin

International Women’s Day

A great deal of radical agitation and propaganda among working women centered around the observance of International Women’s Day, a proletarian women’s holiday which had originated in 1908 among the female needle trades workers in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and which was later officially adopted by the Second International.

The holiday was first celebrated in Russia on February 23, 1913, and the Bolshevik newspaper, Pravda, devoted a great deal of space to publicizing it. Beginning in January, Pravda initiated a special column entitled “Labor and the Life of the Working Woman,” which provided information about the various meetings and rallies held in preparation for the holiday and about the resolutions which were passed at them.

The first International Women’s Day in Russia drew tremendous attention in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Pravda published a special holiday edition, greeting the working women and congratulating them upon entering the ranks of the fighting proletariat. In opposition to the Mensheviks, who wanted the celebration of International Women’s Day confined to women, the Bolsheviks insisted that it was a holiday of the entire working class. Bolshevik speakers around the country took the opportunity to put forward the Marxist analysis of the oppression of women and to explain the Party’s strategy for women’s liberation through socialist revolution.

Bolshevik work among women was so successful in fact that by the winter of 1913 Pravda was receiving more correspondence than it could handle on the special problems facing working women. The solution, Lenin urged, was another journal aimed specifically at proletarian women. It was entitled  Rabotnitsa (The Working Woman). Rabotnitsa played a crucial role in organizing women and rallying them to the Bolshevik Party. (For a detailed account of its development, see  “How the Bolsheviks Organized Working Women: History of the Journal Rabotnitsa,” Women and Revolution No. 4, Fall 1973.)

The Bolsheviks’ major political competitors, the Mensheviks, attempted to counter the influence of Rabotnitsa with a women’s journal of their own called Golos Rabotnitsi (Voice of the Working Woman), but it appeared only twice and failed to win much support.

Menshevik attempts to organize women through mass meetings seem to have fared badly also. Klavdia Nikolaevna, who later became an editor of Rabotnitsa, described one such meeting as follows:

“At the meeting there were many women and frontline soldiers. Suddenly, a group of Bolshevik working women burst into the hall and pushed their way to the speakers’ platform. The first and second to reach the platform collided with it, but the third was able to gain a foothold on it, and she made such a fiery speech about the aims of the revolution, that all the women and soldiers left the meeting singing the ‘International’ and only one Menshevik was left in the auditorium.”

[LOL! Sounds like a typical Spartacist League intervention in an ORO‘s meeting – IWPCHI]

— K. Nikolaevna, “Slovo k molodim rabotnitsam,” A. Artiukhina et al. (eds.), Zhenshchina v revoliutsii

“The First Day of the Revolution—That Is the Women’s Day”

As the war dragged on, the daily life of the Russian working class grew steadily worse. By 1916, bread lines in Petrograd were often over a mile long with the women, who constituted the great majority of them, standing four abreast. In this situation of massive social unrest, the intervention of the Bolsheviks, who placed the blame for the war and the high cost of living squarely on the shoulders of the autocracy, evoked a deep response from the war-weary masses. The Bolshevik slogan, “Bring back our men!” was frequently found scrawled across factory walls, and Bolshevik proclamations, such as the following, appeared in underground newspapers and were posted on walls:

“The black scourge of war has destroyed…our workers’ organizations…. The government has dealt treacherously with our deputies—class-conscious working women and working men—and our sons, husbands and brothers are bleeding profusely on foreign fields, paying with their lives to procure new markets, new lands for triumphant capital….

“Thus is it possible not to raise our voices in protest, the voices of hundreds of thousands of unfortunate mothers, wives and sisters, is it possible that we will shed only inaudible tears, sigh only secret sighs for the pain of the men? This cannot be, comrade working women. In all countries workers are rising up against their oppression by capital; we rise up and our voices demonstrate that we are also able to defend our children, husbands and brothers….

“Enough bloodshed! Down with the war! A people’s court for the criminal autocratic government.”

— Bolshevik International Women’s Day proclamation (23 February 1915), quoted in A. P. Konstantinov and E. P. Serebrovskaia (eds.), Zhenshchiny Goroda Lenina

Pitirim Sorokin, who was an eyewitness to the February Revolution, has written:

“If future historians look for the group that began the Russian Revolution, let him [sic] not create any involved theory. The Russian Revolution was begun by hungry women and children demanding bread and herrings.”

—Pitirim Sorokin, Leaves from a Russian Diary

Sorokin is correct in pointing out the importance of the women in the streets in the series of events which led to the downfall of the autocracy, but this is only half the story.

Street demonstrations by women had been occurring in the major cities for several months, but they had generally been no more than local disturbances leading at most to the looting of one or two shops. The demonstrations of 23 February—International Women’s Day—1917 were of another order. These were massive city-wide actions involving thousands of people who struck their factories, raised political banners, turned over railroad cars and attacked the police who attempted to restrain them.

All radical parties had intended to celebrate International Women’s Day in the customary manner—that is, with rallies, speeches and the distribution of leaflets. Not a single organization had called for labor strikes. When on the eve of the holiday a group of working women met with a representative of the Bolshevik Party, V. Kayurov, to discuss the next day’s activities, he specifically cautioned them to refrain from isolated actions and to follow the instructions of the party.

Despite his advice, however, a few hundred women textile workers assembled in their factories early on the morning of the 23rd and resolved to call a one-day political strike. They elected delegates and sent them around to neighboring factories with appeals for support. Kayurov happened to be engaged in an emergency conference with four workers in the corridor of the Erikson Works when the women delegates came through that plant. It was only by this chance encounter that the Bolshevik representative learned of the forthcoming strike action. He was furious:

“I was extremely indignant about the behavior of the strikers, both because they had blatantly ignored the decision of the District Committee of the Party, and also because they had gone on strike after I had appealed to them only the night before to keep cool and disciplined. There appeared to be no reason for their action, if one discounted the ever-increasing bread queues, which had indeed touched off the strike.”

— V. Kayurov, Proletarskaia Revoliutsia No. 1, 1923, quoted in George Katkov, Russia 1917: The February Revolution

The strike was thus unauthorized by any political group. It was, as Trotsky said, “a revolution begun from below, overcoming the resistance of its own revolutionary organizations, the initiative being taken of their own accord by the most oppressed and downtrodden part of the proletariat—the women textile workers, among them no doubt, many soldiers’ wives.”

By noon of the 23rd an estimated 90,000 workers had followed the working women out on strike. “With reluctance,” writes Kayurov, “the Bolsheviks agreed to this.”

As the striking workers, who came mostly from the Viborg District on the north side of the city, began their march into the center, they were joined by thousands of women who had been standing all morning in the bread lines, only to be informed that there was to be no bread in the shops on that day. Together they made their way to the Municipal Duma to demand bread.

For the remainder of the day the streets swarmed with people. Spontaneous meetings were held everywhere, and here and there hastily improvised red banners rose above the crowd, demanding bread, peace and higher wages. Other demands were scrawled on the sides of streetcars: “Give us bread!” and “No bread, no work!” One woman streetcar conductor later recalled:

“…When we conductors turned in our money for the night, we saw soldiers with rifles standing to one side of the gate, and on the following day they were still in the conductors’ room and walking about the yard. Leonov [a Bolshevik who had been one of the leaders of a successful streetcar conductors’ strike the previous year] quietly said to us: ‘This is all for us; you see today in Petrograd 200,000 workers are on strike!’

“We began to leave the yard to embark in the municipal streetcars when suddenly we saw a crowd of workers coming at us, shouting: ‘Open the gate to the yard!’ There were 700 people. They stood on the rails and on the steps of the Gornyi Museum opposite the yard. The workers were from a pipe plant, a tannery and a paper factory. They told us that today all the plants in our city were on strike and the streetcars were not running. The strikers were taking the streetcar drivers out of the hands of management. From all sides we heard: ‘Down with the war!’ ‘Bread!’ and a woman shouted: ‘Return our husbands from the front!’

“The strikers swept over the city. A demonstration of workers from the Putilov Factory marched to the center of the city and into it, like a flood, merged again and again the crowds of workers….”

— K. Iakovlevoi in Vsegda s Vami: Sbornik posviashchennyi 50-letiiu zhurnala “Rabotnitsa”

All in all, the day passed with relatively little violence. A few troops were called out to assist the police, but it was determined that they were unnecessary, and they were returned to their barracks. In the evening the audience at the long-awaited premiere of Meyerhold’s production of “Lermontov’s Masquerade” heard some gunshots through the red and gold drapes of the Alexandrinskii Theater, but there were no casualties and no one suspected that anything especially out of the ordinary was taking place.

They were mistaken. During the days which followed, the general agitation not only continued but assumed an ever more violent character until the hollow shell of the once-powerful Romanov dynasty crumbled.

One week after the strike which had setoff this chain of events Pravda editorialized:

“The first day of the revolution—that is the women’s day, the day of the Women Workers’ International. All honour to the International! The women were the fist to tread the streets of Petrograd on their day.”

— Fanina W. Halle, Women in Soviet Russia

Toward October

“The Tasks of the Proletariat in Our Revolution: Draft Platform for the Proletarian Party, “ written immediately upon Lenin’s return to Russia in April 1917, stated:

“Unless women are brought to take an independent part not only in political life generally, but also in daily and universal public service, it is no use talking about full and stable democracy; let alone socialism. And such ‘police’ functions as care of the sick and of homeless children, food inspection, etc., will never be satisfactorily discharged until women are on an equal footing with men, not merely nominally but in reality.”

— V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 24

Throughout the spring and summer of 1917 the Bolsheviks intensified their work among women. The first working women’s conference, which took place at Lenin’s suggestion and which was attended by Mensheviks, Social Revolutionaries and feminists as well as Bolsheviks, demonstrated the influence which the Bolsheviks had gained among working women.

In her address to the conference, Konkordiia Samoilova, a leading member of the Bolshevik Party, proposed that all political work among women in industry be carried out henceforth under the guidance of Bolshevik organizations. Naturally, this proposal met with the fierce resistance of the representatives of other radical organizations. A Menshevik, Bakasheva, argued that the women’s movement was independent and must not be subordinated to the influence of any political party. But although three or four women expressed solidarity with the Menshevik resolution affirming the non-partisan character of the women’s movement, it was defeated, while Samoilova’s proposal for Bolshevik leadership was accepted.

Under the mounting pressure of events in the months preceding October, animosities on the left became more intense than ever. In July an abortive uprising took place. Although the Bolsheviks had counseled against such a move at this time, when the class lines were drawn they took their places in the front ranks of the proletariat. A Russian working woman recalls:

“I remember how we went to the July demonstration. Our organized working men and working women arose under the Bolshevik signs. Loudly and mightily our voices resounded: ‘We who were nothing and have become everything shall construct a new and better world.’

“As the demonstration approached the corner of Nevsky and Sadova, machine-gun fire was heard. People ran to the sidewalks, but, since the doormen all along the Nevsky had closed the gates, there was nowhere to escape, and the shooting continued. The Nevsky was strewn with the bodies of the demonstrators. At a corner of the Nevsky, a store was located on the basement level. When the machine-gun fire began, we descended a short flight of stairs to the door of the shop, which was closed. Working women disassembled the window pane and, helping each other, got into the shop and ran out through a dark passage into a yard and from there through an alley back again to the Nevsky.

“The streets of Petrograd were running with the blood of workers and soldiers….we buried them in a communal grave.

“When on the morning of July 5, 1917 we returned to our plant, ‘Novi Promet,’ it was as if we did not know our coworkers. During the course of our two-day absence, the Mensheviks and SRs had spread the foul slander that the Bolsheviks were fully responsible for the shooting down of the workers. The atmosphere was tense. When we entered the shop, many working women jumped up and began to throw aluminum nuts with very sharp edges at us. I was taken by surprise and covered my face with my hands, and my attackers kept repeating:

“‘Take that, Bolshevik spy!’

“‘What are you doing? The Bolsheviks gave their lives for the working class and you listen to the Mensheviks and SRS, the murderers of the working class….’

“The working women, seeing my face running with blood, became frightened. Someone brought water, iodine, a towel. The girls from my brigade were in a flood of tears. They told me how the Menshevik Bakasheva and others had set them against the Bolsheviks.

“The wavering of working women became apparent not only in our plant but also in other Petrograd enterprises during the July Days, when counterrevolutionary scum together with the Mensheviks and SRs carried on their filthy persecution of the Bolsheviks. The Mensheviks and SRs had started down the path of open counterrevolution.”

— E. Tarasova, “Pod znamenem Bolshevikov,” in A. Artiukhina et al. (eds.), Zhenshchiny v revoliutsii

In the final weeks before October, the Bolshevik Party made an all-out effort to consolidate the support of the working women and enlist them in the imminent struggle. Party committees held working women’s conferences at which they explained the problems of the party, dispelled the wild rumors which abounded, attacked counterrevolutionary positions and generally tried to raise class-consciousness among the women and draw them into revolutionary activity.

Coinciding with the October Revolution itself was the First All-City Conference of Petrograd Working Women, which was organized by Rabotnitsa and attended by 500 delegates elected by 80,000 working women. A major goal of the conference was to prepare non-party women for the coming uprising and to acquaint them with the program which the new Soviet government would pursue after victory. The women discussed various questions of government and worked out plans for the welfare of mothers.

The conference was temporarily interrupted by the outbreak of the armed uprising which had been under discussion. The delegates recessed in order to participate in the revolutionary struggle along with many other women who bore arms, dug entrenchments, stood guard and nursed the wounded. Afterward Lenin was to say of them:

“In Petrograd, here in Moscow, in cities and industrial centers, and out in the country, proletarian women have stood the test magnificently in the revolution. Without them we should not have won, or just barely won. That is my view. How brave they were, how brave they still are! Just imagine all the sufferings and privations that they bear. And they hold out because they want freedom, communism. Yes, indeed, our proletarian women are magnificent class warriors. They deserve admiration and love….”

— V. I. Lenin, quoted in Fanina W. Halle, Women in Soviet Russia

Few people today, even among those who take a special interest in the history of women, have ever heard of the Russian League of Equal Rights for Women. Yet in the days following the February revolution it was this organization, a branch of  Carrie Chapman Catt’s International Suffrage Alliance, to which feminists in Russia and around the world looked for leadership in the struggle for women’s liberation.

From its headquarters at 20 Znamenskaia Street in Petrograd the League waged an ardent struggle for women’s rights—principally suffrage—through rallies, leaflets, newspaper articles and earnest petitions such as the following:

“Defending the interests of women and maintaining that the realization of peace among the people will be incomplete without the full equality of women and men, the Russian League of Equal Rights for Women appeals to all women of all professions and calls upon them to join the League in order to quickly realize in practice the great idea of complete equality of the sexes before the law.

“In Unity there is Strength.”

Den’, 9 March 1917

On 15 April 1917 the League witnessed the realization of its long-sought goal as the Provisional Government granted all women over the age of 20 the right to participate in Duma elections. Over the next four months additional legislation enabled women to practice law, elect delegates to the forthcoming Constituent Assembly, run for election themselves, hold government posts and vote in all provincial and municipal elections. Social Revolutionary leader Catherine Breshkovskaia (later to be dubbed by Trotsky the “Godmother of the Russian Counterrevolution”) wrote in exultation to the National American Woman Suffrage Association:

“I am happy to say that the ‘Women’s Journal’ can be sure we Russian women have already the rights (over all our country) belonging to all citizens, and the elections which are taking place now, over all our provinces, are performed together by men and women. Neither our government nor our people have a word to say against the woman suffrage.”

— Catherine Breshkovskaia, letter to the National American Woman Suffrage Association, 20 May 1917

It is notable, then, that the victorious Russian League has been relegated to historical near-oblivion, while the Bolshevik Party is universally acknowledged—even by staunch anti-communists—as the instrument by means of which Russian women achieved an unparalleled degree of social equality. And this is as it should be, for in fact the League’s paper victory had virtually no practical significance for the masses of Russian women. Not only did the new equal rights statutes leave untouched the most urgent problems of daily life—such as widespread starvation—but such reforms as were guaranteed were implemented, as in the West, in a purely tokenistic fashion. American newspaper reporter Bessie Beatty, who attended a Provisional Government political convention in Petrograd during this period, noted that of the 1,600 delegates in attendance only 23 were women. Not that women were absent from the proceedings; far from it. Numerous women served tea, caviar and sandwiches, ushered men to their seats, took stenographic notes and counted ballots. “It was so natural,” said Beatty, “that it almost made me homesick.”

Bolshevik Pledge: Full Social Equality for Women

Lenin had pledged that “the first dictatorship of the proletariat will be the pioneer in full social equality for women. It will radically destroy more prejudices than volumes of women’s rights.” With the Soviet seizure of state power and in the very teeth of the bitter struggle against counterrevolution and imperialist intervention the Bolsheviks proved their determination to honor this pledge.

The very first pieces of legislation enacted by the new Soviet government were directed at the emancipation of women in a way which far exceeded the reformist demands of the suffragists. The aim of this legislation was the replacement of the nuclear family as a social/economic unit through the socialization of household labor and the equalization of educational and vocational opportunities. These two goals were key to the undermining of the capitalist social order and to the construction of the new society.

In December 1917 illegitimacy was abolished in law, making fathers, whether married or not, coresponsible for their children and freeing mothers from the burden of a double standard which had punished them for the consequences of shared “mistakes.” Subsequent legislation declared marriage to be a contract between free and equal individuals which could be dissolved at the request of either partner, established hundreds of institutions devoted to the care of mothers and children, legalized abortions, assured equal pay for equal work and opened up unheard of opportunities for women in industry, the professions, the party and government. And this legislation was backed by government action. Thus when Soviet working women, like working women in other countries, began to lose their jobs to soldiers returning from the front, the Petrograd Council of Trade Unions addressed the following appeal to all workers and factory committees:

“The question of how to combat unemployment has come sharply before the unions. In many factories and shops the question is being solved very simply…fire the women and put men in their places. With the transfer of power to the Soviets, the working class is given a chance to reorganize our national economy on a new basis. Does such action correspond with this new basis?… The only effective measure against unemployment is the restoration of the productive powers of the country, reorganization on a socialist basis. During the time of crisis, with the cutting down of workers in factories and shops, we must approach the question of dismissal with the greatest care. We must decide each case individually. There can be no question of whether the worker is a man or a woman, but simply of the degree of need…. Only such an attitude will make it possible for us to retain women in our organization, and prevent a split in the army of workers….”

— Petrograd Council of Trade Unions, April 1918, quoted in Jessica Smith, Women in Soviet Russia

This petition was supported by other unions and government organizations, and mass dismissals of women from Soviet industry were in fact checked. Three years later, during another period of widespread layoffs, the government issued a decree providing that in cases where male and female workers were equally qualified they were to be given equal consideration in retaining their jobs, with the exception that single women with children under one year of age were to be given preference. In the event that such women had to be laid off, their children had the right to continue to attend the factory nursery or kindergarten. It was further stipulated that neither pregnancy nor the fact that a woman was nursing a baby could serve as cause for dismissal, nor was it permitted to dismiss a woman worker during a leave of absence for childbirth.

Surveying the Soviet government’s work among women during its first two years Lenin was able to conclude that:

“A complete Revolution in the legislation affecting women was brought about by the government of the workers in the first months of its existence. The Soviet government has not left a stone unturned of those laws which held women in complete subjection. I speak particularly of the laws which took advantage of the weaker position of woman, leaving her in an unequal and often even degrading position—that is, the laws on divorce and children born out of wedlock, and the right of women to sue the father for the support of the child…. And we may now say with pride and without any exaggeration that outside of Soviet Russia there is not a country in the world where women have been given full equal rights, where women are not in a humiliating position which is felt especially in everyday family life. This was one of our first and most important tasks….

“Certainly laws alone are not enough, and we will not for a minute be satisfied just with decrees. But in the legal field we have done everything required to put women on an equal basis with men, and we have a right to be proud of that. The legal position of women in Soviet Russia is ideal from the point of view of the foremost countries. But we tell ourselves plainly that this is only the beginning.”

— V. I. Lenin, quoted in Jessica Smith, Women in Soviet Russia

Zhenotdel

The transition was not an easy one for women (or for men), particularly in rural areas and in the Muslim East. Appreciating the difficulties which women had to overcome in breaking from reactionary traditions, the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party, although it was caught up in the turmoil of civil war, gave additional impetus to its work among women by calling for an All-Russian Conference of Working Women and Peasant Women to take place in Moscow in November 1918. This conference was preceded by the establishment of a bureau of convocation which sent agitators throughout the country, including frontline regions, to inform women about the forthcoming conference and to facilitate the election of delegates. Given the desperate conditions which prevailed, it was estimated that approximately 300 delegates would attend, but at the opening of the first session on November 16, 1,147 women delegates were seated.

Conference discussions addressed a variety of questions, including the problems of working women in Soviet Russia, the family, welfare, the role of women in the international revolution, organizational problems, the struggle against prostitution in Soviet Russia, the struggle against child labor and the housing question.

While affirming in principle that the struggle for communism and women’s emancipation could succeed only through the united struggle of all sections of the working class and peasantry, and not through the building of an autonomous women’s movement, the delegates also noted that women were often the least conscious elements in these sections and the most in need of special attention. In the light of this approach to special work among women, which had been developed by the German Social Democratic Party and carried forward by the Bolsheviks in the prerevolutionary period, delegates to the conference affirmed the proposal by Bolshevik leaders Inessa Armand and Konkordiia Samoilova that the conference appeal to the party “to organize from among the most active working women of the party special groups for propaganda and agitation among women in order to put the idea of communism into practice.” The Bolsheviks’ response was the creation of a Central Committee commission headed by Armand for work among women. It was succeeded the following year by the Department of Working Women and Peasant Women— Zhenotdel.

Zhenotdel was to become a major vehicle for the recruitment of women to the Bolshevik Party; but its primary purpose was not recruitment but the instruction of non-party women in the utilization of their newly-won rights, the deepening of their political awareness and the winning of their cooperation for the construction of the proletarian state.

While special work among women was carried out by many agencies, Zhenotdel was unique in that it offered women practical political experience. In annual elections women chose their delegates—one for every ten working women or for every hundred peasant women or housewives. These delegates attended classes in reading and writing, government, women’s rights and social welfare, and they took part in the organization of conferences, meetings and interviews designed to arouse the interest of their constituents and draw them into political activity. They were entitled to representation on the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party, and those who were elected to represent Zhenotdel pursued a special program of political education which included reviewing the reports of district committees, co-ops, trade unions and factory directors. Some Zhenotdel delegates became full-time paid functionaries in government institutions or trade unions where they participated directly in the administration of the government.

Zhenotdel carried out extensive propaganda campaigns through its publications. By 1921, it was publishing a special page devoted to women in 74 weekly newspapers. In addition, it published its own weekly bulletin and the monthly journal Kommunistka (The Communist Woman), which had a circulation of 30,000. In addition, Zhenotdel’s literary commission supervised the publication of leaflets and pamphlets dealing with party work among women—over 400,000 pieces of literature during the first six months of 1921 alone.

Finding themselves confronted at every step by the enormous barrier of illiteracy among women, Zhenotdel delegates threw themselves into the work of organizing over 25,000 literacy schools in which they themselves were often the majority of the students. They also set up co-operative workshops for women, organized women who had been laid off from factories and established orphanages and colonies for homeless children.

Within a few years Zhenotdel had succeeded in creating out of the most backward sector of the working class and peasantry an organized, active, politically conscious stratum of women citizens devoted to the Soviet republic. Of these astonishing women delegates the Russian poet Mayakovsky wrote:

“They come

From the machines

From the land and washtubs

Under red kerchiefs

Tucking in the strands,

Hundreds of thousands

Of women-delegates

Chosen

To build and govern.”

— Quoted in V. Lebedeva, “Zabota o materiakh i detiakh,” in A. Artiukhina et al. (eds. Zhenshchina v revoliutsii)

Women Rally to Soviet State

While the Soviet regime had its detractors, even among working women in the major cities, all evidence indicates that the great majority of working women, for whom there could be no going back to the life they had known under the old regime, remained loyal to the government through famine, epidemic and Civil War. Wearing red head bands, women marched through the streets of Petrograd, during its darkest days, singing that although typhus and counterrevolution were everywhere, the world revolution was bound to save them. One woman who spoke for many wrote:

“I am the wife of a Petrograd worker. Earlier I was in no way useful to the working class. I could not work.

“I sat at home, suffocating in the cellar and preparing dinner from garbage which the bourgeoisie had not found fit to eat.

“When working class rule began, l heard the call for us ourselves to rule and build our lives. Well, I thought, how can the generals and their daughters have yielded their places to us? I began to listen….

“They chose me for a Kalachinska District conference. I learned a great deal there. A literacy instructor was assigned to me….

“If life is difficult for us now, all of us will bear it and not one will give the bourgeoisie reason to celebrate that they can again keep all the people in chains. We may suffer for a while, but to our children we will leave an inheritance which neither moth will eat nor rust will corrode. And we shall all support strong soviet rule and the Communist Party.”

—V. Tsurik, Bednota

But the clearest indication of support for the Soviet government was the enthusiasm with which women took up arms against the counterrevolution. Soviet women were members of Red Guard units from the first days of the October Revolution, and they fought side by side with men on every front during the Civil War. Like women in bourgeois countries, they initially volunteered as nurses, with the difference—as Alexandra Kollontai points out—that they regarded the soldiers not merely as “our poor soldier boys,” but as comrades in struggle. Soon, however, they became scouts, engineers of armored trains, cavalry soldiers, communications specialists, machine-gunners and guerrillas. They also took the initiative in forming “stopping detachments,” which captured deserters and persuaded them, whenever possible, to return to their positions. Lenin praised these detachments, saying: “Smash the traitors ruthlessly and put them to shame: Eighty thousand women—this is no trifling military force. Be steadfast in the revolutionary struggle.”

When the fighting ended, an estimated 1,854 women soldiers had been killed or wounded and many more taken prisoner. Sixty-three women were awarded the Order of the Red Banner for military heroism.

The Work Goes Forward

By 1921 it appeared as if a wholly new type of woman was about to make her appearance in Soviet Russia. According to Alexandra Kollontai’s personal ideal, this woman would be self-supporting and would live alone; she would take part in social and political work and would engage freely in sexual love; her meals would be eaten in a communal restaurant; her children would be happy in a state nursery and her home would be cleaned, her laundry done and her clothes mended by state workers. Other communists cherished other visions of the fully emancipated socialist woman, but for all of them the future was full of promise—so much had been accomplished already.

It was too early to know that just ahead lay bitter defeats for Soviet women, for the Soviet working class as a whole and for the international proletarian revolution. The bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet state, which arose in the first instance out of the backwardness, isolation and poverty of post-revolutionary Russia and out of the failure of proletarian revolutions in the technologically advanced countries of Western Europe, constitutes another chapter. The privileged, conservative bureaucratic caste which emerged out of these conditions reversed at will many of the gains which women had achieved through the Revolution: abortion was illegalized; the women’s section of the party was liquidated; coeducation was abolished; divorce was made less accessible; and women were once again encouraged to assume their “natural” tasks of domestic labor and child rearing within the confines of the oppressive family:

But despite these defeats, the lessons of Bolshevik work among women have not been lost to succeeding generations of revolutionists, and the work goes forward. Just as Kollontai pointed out to Bessie Beatty during the first flush of the Soviet victory: “Even if we are conquered, we have done great things. We are breaking the way….”

New York Times Censorship: Revolutionary Socialist Ideas Are “Not Fit to Print”

The flagship propaganda outlet for US imperialism, the New York Times, claims to publish “All the News Fit to Print” – which doesn’t include ideas that would lead to the overthrow of their owners in the US capitalist class – the most despotic ruling class in world history.  This is not surprising, and it isn’t “news” to veteran socialists; but it is real and it has to be brought to the attention of the working class and a major campaign by the socialist parties of the United States must be fought to smash the capitalist class’ censorship of public discussion.

The NYT publishes all kinds of pro-regime news, and only very carefully edited exposes of the most flagrant violations of bourgeois etiquette – like the mass torture of prisoners by the US military at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay and the global spying scandal revealed by Edward Snowden and the US Government claiming the “right” to assassinate US citizens – make it through their fine sieve of bourgeois propriety.  Even then, the New York Times goes out of its way to allow the United States Government to conduct pre-publication censorship of the Times’ own articles on these subjects.

The words “Communist” and “Communist Party” or even “socialist” rarely find their way into the bourgeois press unless they are being used as pejorative terms. Even in death the Times’ obituary columnists routinely “forget” to mention the fact that the deceased person(s) whose virtues they are forced to extol (due to the departed’s vast contributions to US and/or world culture) was a lifelong communist.  “Not fit to print” apparently.  Musn’t let the children know that there was ever anything good that came from the communist movement!

This amounts to nothing less than a long-running attempt to falsify the historical record.  Actually, almost everything “good” that has happened in the past 150 years (including the US civil war) came about due to the political intervention of the anarchist, socialist and communist movements: the anti-slavery movement, the 8-hour day, equal rights for women, the civil rights movement, the ban on child labor, the imposition of basic safety rules on the job and much, much more.  Nary a one of these reforms originated in the greed-addled brains of the capitalist class.  And it took years of bloody struggle by the socialist workers movement to achieve every reform we take for granted today.  The revolutionary socialist movement is now and has always been a force that looks forward and proposes new ideas that are necessary in order to continuously advance human civilization  – and to keep it from being incinerated by the capitalists in the next big inter-imperialist war.  To attempt to keep socialist ideas out of the public arena in the “Age of the Internet” is akin to the fruitless attempt by the Catholic Church to suppress heliocentrism: it is a thoroughly reactionary censorship that places itself firmly athwart the road of human progress.  This censorship must be overcome, and it will be overcome – by us, and by you, the workers of the world!

So, why would the New York Times go out of its way to deny socialists today access to their Augean “comments” section?  We say it is because their capitalist masters are so very frightened at the appearance of even the tiniest pinhole in their well-grouted pro-capitalist propaganda dikes that they are convinced that allowing the socialists regular access to the public fora they manage could bring their entire rotten, tottering capitalist system crashing to the ground in a matter of weeks.  The capitalist class, in spite of their ruthless shows of “force” enacted all over the world and their endless murderous wars for profits are actually – especially in the case of the US capitalist class – very “thin on the ground” as the saying goes.  The US capitalist class makes up only a tiny fraction of the 4.5% of the world’s population represented by the people of the United States, and they think that they have the “right” to run the whole planet as if it was their rightful possession.  The US capitalists are running scared and are always looking over their shoulders to see if one of the servants is sneaking up on them with a butchers’ cleaver or something.  They can’t sleep – and for good reason.

Like so many other socialist groups, we regularly try to add our revolutionary voices to the cacophony of “inside the box” thinking so tiresomely peddled by the New York Times’ housebroken journalists and editors – and most of their well-trained readers.  The comments section of most New York Times articles are so filled with banalities and Mobius-strip philosophizing that any one of them could be prescribed to any thinking person as a cure for insomnia.  On occasion, we manage to break through the Times’ wall of censorship of revolutionary socialist ideas, but most of the time we don’t.

So, we are going to demonstrate just how extensively the New York Times’ censorship of socialist ideas is by consistently trying to break their blockade on revolutionary ideas by posting to their comments sections of articles on subjects of national and international importance.  When our comments are deemed to be “not fit to print”, we will publish them here, so everyone can see if they think that our ideas deserve to be made part of the national and international discussion of the important topics of the day.  We encourage our readers to do likewise and take some time every day to put your 2 cents in to the discussions going on in every major local and national newspaper.  We simply must not allow the right wing blowhards and partisans of the twin parties of US imperialism: the Democrats and the Republicans – to monopolize the discussion of what must be done to prevent WWIII from happening and about what must be done to create a better future for the working people of the world and for future generations of workers all over the globe.  In Chicago this means that we must all try to post at least one short essay on the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times newspapers, as well as on our local newspapers (Pioneer Press, etc.).  Let’s open up the left side of the political spectrum to public discussion and by doing so smash through the capitalist class’ stranglehold on political thought in the United States.

Workers of the World, Unite!IWPCHI

Happy Hellidays, Gluttons! Mark Twain on the True History of the First Thanksgiving

BoschsevendeadlysinsThe Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things by Hieronymus Bosch (1485)

Gluttony is shown, upside down, at the top.  Hey, that looks like your house right now!

Happy Hellidays from the Independent Workers Party of Chicago!

We hope you are enjoying your annual Festival of Gluttony (gluttony IS a MORTAL SIN, YOU KNOW –  you nauseating fake-Christian arch-hypocrites)!

As you sit there yet again this Thanksgiving, shamelessly stuffing your face with way too much food while millions of your fellow wage and debt slave brothers and sisters in the U.S.A. and  nearly a billion of your sisters and brothers around the world suffer incredible want and privation through yet another miserable holiday season under the miserable capitalist system you all love so much – we hope (probably in vain) that you’ll take a moment during your family’s disgusting annual pig-out to remember the less fortunate among us – and we don’t mean by driving the homeless and those who try to help them out of your towns, you scumbags! – and to ponder the true, hideous origins of the monstrous tradition of the Thanksgiving festival itself.  And to help you digest that hideous heap of artery-clogging garbage you’ve been shoveling down your gullet, we bring you a worthy tribute to the Pilgrims of Plymouth, written by none other than Samuel Langhorne Clemens – Mark Twain.   We hope you enjoy it as much as you’ll enjoy your first massive coronary brought on by the decades of wanton excessive indulgence in processed foods and high-cholesterol snacks you so stupidly insist on feeding yourselves.  Bon Appetit!

IWPCHI

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PLYMOUTH ROCK AND THE PILGRIMS

ADDRESS AT THE FIRST ANNUAL DINNER, N. E. SOCIETY

PHILADELPHIA, DECEMBER 22, 1881

On calling upon Mr. Clemens to make response, President Rollins said:

“This sentiment has been assigned to one who was never exactly born in New England, nor, perhaps, were any of his ancestors. He is not technically, therefore, of New England descent. Under the painful circumstances in which he has found himself, however, he has done the best he could — he has had all his children born there, and has made of himself a New England ancestor. He is a self-made man. More than this, and better even, in cheerful, hopeful, helpful literature he is of New England ascent. To ascend there in anything that’s reasonable is difficult, for — confidentially, with the door shut — we all know that they are the brightest, ablest sons of that goodly land who never leave it, and it is among and above them that Mr. Twain has made his brilliant and permanent ascent — become a man of mark.”

I RISE to protest. I have kept still for years, but really I think there is no sufficient justification for this sort of thing. What do you want to celebrate those people for? — those ancestors of yours of 1620 — the Mayflower tribe, I mean. What do you want to celebrate them for? Your pardon: the gentleman at my left assures me that you are not celebrating the Pilgrims themselves, but the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock on the 22d of December. So you are celebrating their landing. Why, the other pretext was thin enough, but this is thinner than ever; the other was tissue, tinfoil, fish-bladder, but this is gold-leaf. Celebrating their landing! What was there remarkable about it, I would like to know? What can you be thinking of? Why, those Pilgrims had been at sea three or four months. It was the very middle of winter: it was as cold as death off Cape Cod there. Why shouldn’t they come ashore? If they hadn’t landed there would be some reason for celebrating the fact. It would have been a case of monumental leatherheadedness which the world would not willingly let die. If it had been you, gentlemen, you probably wouldn’t have landed, but you have no shadow of right to be celebrating, in your ancestors, gifts which they did not exercise, but only transmitted. Why, to be celebrating the mere landing of the Pilgrims — to be trying to make out that this most natural and simple and customary procedure was an extraordinary circumstance — a circumstance to be amazed at, and admired, aggrandized and glorified, at orgies like this for two hundred and sixty years — hang it, a horse would have known enough to land; a horse — Pardon again; the gentleman on my right assures me that it was not merely the landing of the Pilgrims that we are celebrating, but the Pilgrims themselves. So we have struck an inconsistency here: one says it was the landing, the other says it was the Pilgrims. It is an inconsistency characteristic of your intractable and disputatious tribe, for you never agree about anything but Boston. Well, then, what do you want to celebrate those Pilgrims for? They were a mighty hard lot — you know it. I grant you, without the slightest unwillingness, that they were a deal more gentle and merciful and just than were the people of Europe of that day; I grant you that they are better than their predecessors. But what of that? — that is nothing. People always progress. You are better than your fathers and grandfathers were (this is the first time I have ever aimed a measureless slander at the departed, for I consider such things improper). Yes, those among you who have not been in the penitentiary, if such there be, are better than your fathers and grandfathers were; but is that any sufficient reason for getting up annual dinners and celebrating you? No, by no means — by no means. Well, I repeat, those Pilgrims were a hard lot. They took good care of themselves, but they abolished everybody else’s ancestors. I am a border-ruffian from the State of Missouri. I am a Connecticut Yankee by adoption. In me, you have Missouri morals, Connecticut culture; this, gentlemen, is the combination which makes the perfect man. But where are my ancestors? Whom shall I celebrate? Where shall I find the raw material?

My first American ancestor, gentlemen, was an Indian — an early Indian. Your ancestors skinned him alive, and I am an orphan. Not one drop of my blood flows in that Indian’s veins today. I stand here, lone and forlorn, without an ancestor. They skinned him! I do not object to that, if they needed his fur; but alive, gentlemen — alive! They skinned him alive — and before company! That is what rankles. Think how he must have felt; for he was a sensitive person and easily embarrassed. If he had been a bird, it would have been all right, and no violence done to his feelings, because he would have been considered “dressed.” But he was not a bird, gentlemen, he was a man, and probably one of the most undressed men that ever was. I ask you to put yourselves in his place. I ask it as a favor; I ask it as a tardy act of justice; I ask it in the interest of fidelity to the traditions of your ancestors; I ask it that the world may contemplate, with vision unobstructed by disguising swallow-tails and white cravats, the spectacle which the true New England Society ought to present. Cease to come to these annual orgies in this hollow modern mockery — the surplusage of raiment. Come in character; come in the summer grace, come in the unadorned simplicity, come in the free and joyous costume which your sainted ancestors provided for mine.

Later ancestors of mine were the Quakers William Robinson, Marmaduke Stephenson, et al. Your tribe chased them out of the country for their religion’s sake; promised them death if they came back; for your ancestors had forsaken the homes they loved, and braved the perils of the sea, the implacable climate, and the savage wilderness, to acquire that highest and most precious of boons, freedom for every man on this broad continent to worship according to the dictates of his own conscience — and they were not going to allow a lot of pestiferous Quakers to interfere with it. Your ancestors broke forever the chains of political slavery, and gave the vote to every man in this wide land, excluding none! — none except those who did not belong to the orthodox church. Your ancestors — yes, they were a hard lot; but, nevertheless, they gave us religious liberty to worship as they required us to worship, and political liberty to vote as the church required; and so I the bereft one, I the forlorn one, am here to do my best to help you celebrate them right.

The Quaker woman Elizabeth Hooton was an ancestress of mine. Your people were pretty severe with her — you will confess that. But, poor thing! I believe they changed her opinions before she died, and took her into their fold; and so we have every reason to presume that when she died she went to the same place which your ancestors went to. It is a great pity, for she was a good woman.

Roger Williams was an ancestor of mine. I don’t really remember what your people did with him. But they banished him to Rhode Island, anyway. And then, I believe, recognizing that this was really carrying harshness to an unjustifiable extreme, they took pity on him and burned him(1). They were a hard lot!

All those Salem witches were ancestors of mine! Your people made it tropical for them. Yes they did; by pressure and the gallows they made such a clean deal with them that there hasn’t been a witch and hardly a halter in our family from that day to this, and that is one hundred and eighty-nine years.

The first slave brought into New England out of Africa by your progenitors was an ancestor of mine — for I am of a mixed breed, an infinitely shaded and exquisite Mongrel. I’m not one of your sham meerschaums that you can color in a week. No, my complexion is the patient art of eight generations. Well, in my own time, I had acquired a lot of my kin — by purchase, and swapping around, and one way and another — and was getting along very well. Then, with the inborn perversity of your lineage, you got up a war, and took them all away from me. And so, again am I bereft, again am I forlorn; no drop of my blood flows in the veins of any living being who is marketable.

O my friends, hear me and reform! I seek your good, not mine. You have heard the speeches. Disband these New England societies — nurseries of a system of steadily augmenting laudation and hosannaing, which, if persisted in uncurbed, may some day in the remote future beguile you into prevaricating and bragging. Oh, stop, stop, while you are still temperate in your appreciation of your ancestors! Hear me, I beseech you; get up an auction and sell Plymouth Rock! The Pilgrims were a simple and ignorant race. They never had seen any good rocks before, or at least any that were not watched, and so they were excusable for hopping ashore in frantic delight and clapping an iron fence around this one. But you, gentlemen, are educated; you are enlightened; you know that in the rich land of your nativity, opulent New England, overflowing with rocks, this one isn’t worth, at the outside, more than thirty-five cents. Therefore, sell it, before it is injured by exposure, or at least throw it open to the patent-medicine advertisements, and let it earn its taxes.

Yes, hear your true friend — your only true friend — list to his voice. Disband these societies, hotbeds of vice, of moral decay — perpetuators of ancestral superstition. Here on this board I see water, I see milk, I see the wild and deadly lemonade. These are but steps upon the downward path. Next we shall see tea, then chocolate, then coffee — hotel coffee. A few more years — all too few, I fear — mark my words, we shall have cider! Gentlemen, pause ere it be too late. You are on the broad road which leads to dissipation, physical ruin, moral decay, gory crime and the gallows! I beseech you, I implore you, in the name of your anxious friends, in the name of your suffering families, in the name of your impending widows and orphans, stop ere it be too late. Disband these New England societies, renounce these soul-blistering saturnalia, cease from varnishing the rusty reputations of your long-vanished ancestors — the super-high-moral old iron-clads of Cape Cod, the pious buccaneers of Plymouth Rock — go home, and try to learn to behave!

However, chaff and nonsense aside, I think I honor and appreciate your Pilgrim stock as much as you do yourselves, perhaps; and I endorse and adopt a sentiment uttered by a grandfather of mine once — a man of sturdy opinions, of sincere make of mind, and not given to flattery. He said: “People may talk as they like about that Pilgrim stock, but, after all’s said and done, it would be pretty hard to improve on those people; and, as for me, I don’t mind coming out flatfooted and saying there ain’t any way to improve on them — except having them born in Missouri!”
[Source: Harper & Brothers, “Mark Twain’s Speeches”, 1910]

Notes:

(1) Actually, Roger Williams died of old age in the early months of 1683.

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) – On Thanksgiving, the rise of US Imperialism, and brutal colonial rule in the “Belgian Congo”, 1905

Many people are unaware how solidly revolutionary and anti-imperialist Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), author of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, was.  He was a very serious man, who, as he got older and began, perhaps, not to worry so much about the repercussions of his more controversial and not funny at all analysis of US history and the rise of U.S. imperialism, allowed himself to speak out against issues that angered him greatly, and began to castigate the U.S. Government as it became an imperialist power for its viciousness and support to brutal totalitarian regimes around the world.  One of these regimes was that of the greedy despot King Leopold II of Belgium, who brutally ruled over what was then called the “Belgian Congo”.  Check out Mark Twain’s commentary on the savage rule of this US-backed despot’s rule over the unfortunate citizens of the Congo circa 1905. – IWPCHI

This fascinating interview was found by us at the Brooklyn the Borough blog.

Tremendous “thanksgiving” to the folks behind this website for offering this previously-unknown (to us) blisteringly awesome Mark Twain condemnation of the events in the “Belgian” Congo circa 1905, which appeared in the New York World Sunday Magazine on November 26, 1905.

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What I Am Thankful For

by Mark Twain

a.k.a. Samuel Clemens

(1835-1910)

Interview with W. O. Inglis

Greatest of American Humorists,
Who Will be 70 Years Old on Thanksgiving Day,
Who Has Just Conquered Dyspepsia by Eating Three Meals a Day (Instead of One),
Who Tells Why He Is Thankful for Many Things,

and

Who Writes to Readers of The World the Strangest Thanksgiving Sentiment Ever Penned.

Mark Twain’s Remarkable Thanksgiving Message.

We have much to be thankful for: most of all, (politically), that America’s first-born son, sole & only son, love-child of her trusting innocence & her virgin bed, King Leopold of the Undertakers, has been spared to us another year, & that his (& our) Cemetery Trust in the Congo is now doing a larger business in a single week than it used to in a month fifteen years ago.

Mark Twain.

This remarkable sentiment was given to me by Mr. Clemens at the end of an interview. His seventieth birthday will be celebrated next Thursday, and, because his life is an additional reason why the American people should feel grateful, he was asked by The Sunday World Magazine to say why we should all be thankful at this particular season.

Mere black words on white paper cannot give the force with which Mr. Clemens uttered the denunciation of King Leopold, whom most people recall in a vague way as the destroyer of Congo negroes and promoter of Parisian orgies. The outburst came as a surprise, for the conversation up to that point had been quite general. No one could think of Mr. Clemens as seventy years old who had seen the burning eyes of the man or heard the slow, irresistible roll of his sonorous voice as he denounced the King of the Belgians for his traffic in human flesh.

We were sitting in the library of Mr. Clemens’s home, a stately, spacious old mansion in lower Fifth avenue. The white-haired humorist had been in a delightful mood, now pacing up and down the long room as he talked, again allowing himself a few moments of luxury in a great easy chair before he resumed the busy walk. He had been speaking of Thanksgiving days in general. It is difficult to give an adequate idea of the charm of an interview with Mark Twain. The man breathes the spirit of hospitality, and upon every subject that comes up his quick mind plays with all the brilliance and illuminative power of a searchlight.

The surprising thing about him is the absence of an appearance of age. When one interviews a man about his seventieth birthday one expects to find a certain venerableness. But in Mark Twain the venerableness is lacking.

His erect, supple, well-knit figure and springy step would be creditable to a man of forty. The clear, healthy pink and white of his complexion are unmarred by wrinkles. His hazel eyes are as keen and searching as ever. The great shock of grizzled hair is not yet white, the thick, red-brown mustache is heavily splashed with gray.

“How do you keep so well?” was the question that inevitably suggested itself at the beginning.

“That’s only a recent phase,” Mr. Clemens replied. “I was until lately subject to the annoyance of attacks of acute indigestion. Never could tell when the miserable, nagging thing was going to pounce upon me and torture me. Midday or 3 o’clock in the morning was all the same to it. I can see now the trouble was due to my habit, of thirty years’ standing, of eating only one meal a day.

“Last summer a dear friend said to me: ‘Why don’t you give up your one-meal-a-day plan? It’s enough to give a statue indigestion! You’ll notice that doctors tell their patients to eat many times a day, a little at a time. Try it yourself, and you’ll get well.’

“I’d have tried anything. As long as I can remember I’ve been willing to risk any scheme that any one said was good for me. And this time I tried the right one. Three small meals a day, sometimes four, made a wonderful change. The indigestion and the pangs disappeared. The family, returning after an absence of only three weeks, were astonished at the cure. I’m feeling better than I have felt in years.

“Perhaps we Americans eat too much. If we do, I am convinced that the proper cure lies in dividing the food supply into several small meals a day rather than in overloading the digestive machinery at one fell swoop.”

“How about your exercise?” I asked.

“No exercise at all,” said Mr. Clemens. “For weeks at a time I did not leave my home up in the mountains. Often I lay in bed all day and wrote. It’s a great luxury to arrange your desk in bed and write as long as you like. I’ve spent whole weeks that way. You see, I’m in no hurry for publication. It pleases me to do a certain amount of work every day. I keep some of the manuscript for years. If after lying unread for three, four or five years, it comes up to the standard I have set, then I publish it; if not, it drops into the waste basket. I write to please myself. No editor is so hard to satisfy as one’s own standard.”

“But don’t you feel the lack of exercise?” I persisted.

“No,” replied Mr. Clemens. “Perhaps I am exceptionally lucky. I may not need it. I never fail to run upstairs. That is exercise enough, I find. You know, it’s a great mistake to say a fellow is lazy because he doesn’t like to rush around and be active in your own kind of activity. The average man whom we call lazy is probably not lazy at all, but is simply storing up energy which he will burn up in some form of work which doesn’t happen to appeal to us.

“What a mistake we make in setting up two arbitrary definitions of effort and calling one work and the other play. You can’t measure effort in that way. Whatever a man likes most to do, the thing into which he puts all his energy heartily without ever thinking whether he is doing enough or too much — that thing is play to him, no matter whether he works at it by way of diversion or to earn his living.

“Look at the idle men and women who live in luxury and give all their energy to what they call amusement. Are they really amused by all their labor or are they tired out, depressed, bored to death?”

Mr. Clemens was walking up and down the long library, smoking a black cigar. In his earnest talk he kept forgetting the cigar and every little while he had to stop and relight it. So each match he struck marked the beginning of a paragraph.

“They apply the same cast-iron conventional rule to everything,” he went on. “For years they have regarded me as a trifler, one who is always ready with a joke on any subject. I tell you, there never lived in this world a more serious man than I.”

Now, here was a remarkable confession from one who has long been regarded as the greatest humorist in the world. Much has been said and written about the Mark Twain drawl. It is not a drawl. Mr. Clemens takes time to arrange his ideas, hammering them into the exact form he wants, as a good workman hammers metal. Therefore, as he is one of those who think while they talk — rare beings! — the words Mr. Clemens utters march forth slowly and carefully, each falling without haste into its place. Mark Twain’s voice, by the way, is as sonorous and robust as when it delighted thousands from the lecture platform.

“What is it that strikes a spark of humor from a man?” Mr. Clemens continued. “It is the effort to throw off, to fight back the burden of grief that is laid on each one of us. In youth we don’t feel it, but as we grow to manhood we find the burden on our shoulders. Humor? It is nature’s effort to harmonize conditions. The further the pendulum swings out over woe the further it is bound to swing back over mirth.

“I will not give you,” he said, suddenly becoming grave, “any humorous trifling for this great and solemn day, for I am anxious not to hurt the feelings of any one to whom this day, with its deep and serious memories, appeals. But I will say this” — and here Mr. Clemens read the denunciation of Leopold.

If it were possible to reproduce on this paper his earnestness, his horror of the tyrant’s murderous acts, the depth of indignation, and accusation in his menacing voice, a million readers would arise and demand that the murderer be put on trial.

“I hope,” said Mr. Clemens “that the American people will bring retribution to this unclean, lying murderer who is taking lives day by day in order that he may clutch more and more of the tainted money he wastes. I hope that this Thanksgiving sentiment of mine will sink into the minds of The World’s readers, make them think, make them act. In giving it to you I am trying not to do something that will please one, but to do something that will damage that wholesale murderer, that greedy, grasping, avaricious, cynical, bloodthirsty old goat!

“Think of it. Here sits a King in luxury and debauchery, placidly ordering thousands of innocent human creatures driven to death, tortured, crippled, massacred in order that his foul revenues may he increased! If only we could bring home that picture to the minds of the American people how they would rise to destroy that aged, brutal trafficker in human flesh!

Photos of Congolese children who were “punished” by the colonial forces under Belgian King Leopold II for not harvesting enough rubber to meet the King’s demands by having their limbs hacked off. This card is from a pamphlet published by Mark Twain: “King Leopold’s Soliloquy: A Defense of His Congo Rule”, By Mark Twain, Boston: The P. R. Warren Co., 1905, Second Edition.
Source: Wikipedia

“We read the other day of the awful Boston dress-suit-case murder mystery, and as we read of it every decent man was eager to conduct a private, personal auto da fe for the incarnate fiends who wantonly slaughtered that poor girl, butchered her and sought by scattering her tortured body to hide their crime. The horror of the thing thrilled us because it was so close to our homes.

“Yet in these days the steamship and the electric cable have made the whole world one neighborhood. We cannot sit still and do nothing because the victims of Leopold’s lust for gold are so many thousands of miles away. His crimes are the concern of every one of us, of every man who feels that it is his duty as a man to prevent murder, no matter who is the murderer or how far away he seeks to commit his sordid crime.

“I wish The World would produce the two cartoons I give you, for they summarize better than any words of mine can tell the exact condition of the case.

“When mankind first heard the accusation that Congo negroes were being whipped, slashed, murdered or mutilated by having hands or feet cut off because they did not bring in enough rubber for Leopold’s collectors, the news was so appalling that it could not be believed. Normal minds instinctively rejected such atrocities as impossible.

“The accusation became louder, more people talked of these crimes. Some notice had to be taken of the clamor. It was easy for Leopold and his agents to pooh-pooh the charge, to say it was due to the envy of discontented, jealous missionaries whom they had offended.

“But the cry grew louder and louder and could not be stifled. And then the accusers began to present documents, awful human documents, gathered with the photographic camera. Leopold could no longer brush away the accusation by crying ‘Lies! Lies! All lies!’

“Thank God for the camera, for the testimony of the light itself, which no mere man can contradict. The light has been let in upon the Congo, and not all the outcries of Leopold can counteract its record of the truth. Publicity is the weapon with which we shall fight that murderer and conquer him and punish him.

“The cartoons I give you expose at one glance the specious fraud of Leopold’s protestations and his panic now that he finds the record of the photographic camera confirming the charge of wholesale murder against him.

“I wish I could show to every American, to every decent, humane man in the world the photographs of these poor creatures starved to mere skeletons by Leopold’s order, beaten with lashes, murdered in cold blood. And, worse still, the many cases of little children whose hands and feet are cut off to punish their parents because they have not brought in enough rubber.

“We are sad when we hear of some one going blind; but can anything be more helpless, more hopeless, than one of these little creatures, forever unable to walk, unable even to feed itself. Think of all that this mutilation means!

“The cemeteries of New England send $800,000 every year to maintain missions in remote places of the earth, to spread faith among those who sit in darkness — yet should not something be done to rescue these poor people, so long murdered in darkness? I say the ‘cemeteries of New England’ because most of the contributions for foreign missions come from New England, and you will find that about $600,000 of the $800,000 comes from estates of dead men.

“And there is a picture not easy to forget — the hungry money-grabber, eagerly piling one dollar upon another as long as his strength remains, no matter how he acquires it; so jealous of his wealth that he will risk his life sooner than part with it; yet hoping by a bequest of perhaps one-tenth of his grabbings, which he gives from the grave, to purchase a little forgetfulness from the Almighty! He takes from his heirs in the hope of shielding himself from the consequences of a lifetime spent in despoiling mankind.”

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If you’d like a .pdf copy of Mark Twain’s “King Leopold’s Soliloquy” by courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History, click here.

Whenever all men are really hastening to be slaves or tyrants the ruling class makes Liberalism the prime bogey

We have been reading C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters” recently, and though we have found the book to be an excruciatingly dull and tedious defense of Christianity, we have found one – just one – memorable quote which may inadvertently give some insight into the current abysmal political situation in the US, where two phony “opponents” in our phony “democracy” are pretending to be presenting the US electorate with some kind of choice between two evils.  In “The Screwtape Letters” something similar is going on.

The book is composed of a series of letters from a senior demon in the pay of “the Devil”.  This upper-level fiend is tutoring a junior devil on the finer points of how to lure men and women to their doom by causing them to commit sin, thereby allowing their souls to be harvested by “the Devil”.  All very silly stuff, to be sure.  But we have this neat little bit of advice being given by the arch demon Screwtape to his pupil Wormwood which seems to have been plagiarized by Karl Rove and kept close to his heart (if he indeed has one) all these many years.  The Democrats, in a desperate effort to keep up with the latest methods of squeezing profits out of the working class on behalf of their capitalist masters have long been working from this same playbook as well:

“”The use of Fashions in thought is to distract the attention of men from their real dangers.  We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic.  The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under.  Thus we make it fashionable to expose the dangers of enthusiasm at the very moment when they are all really becoming worldly and lukewarm;  a century later, when we are really making them all Byronic and drunk with emotion, the fashionable outcry is directed against the dangers of the mere ‘understanding’.  Cruel ages are put on their guard against Sentimentality, feckless and idle ones against Respectability, lecherous ones against Puritanism; and whenever all men are really hastening to be slaves or tyrants we make Liberalism the prime bogey.”

— C.S. Lewis, “The Screwtape Letters”, HarperSanFrancisco, 2001

IWPCHI

Vicious Racism of US Capitalist Class Behind Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Korea, Vietnam – and China-bashing

The United States government has long spread the lie that it was a “regrettable necessity” that the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki “had to be dropped” in order to bring WWII to an end.  If it wasn’t for the A-bomb, they lie, the war would have gone on for years, requiring a full-scale ground assault on the Japanese mainland in which too many American lives would have been lost.  Even more obscenely, they spread the disgusting and obvious lie that dropping the A-bombs “saved lives”, when in fact, quite obviously, the opposite is true: almost 300,000 Japanese – the vast majority civilians – were incinerated in these two horrendous war crimes.

CNN, in the only video it seems to have produced in advance of this year’s commemoration of the 67th anniversary of arguably one of the greatest war crimes in history – the atomic bombing of the city of Hiroshima – has the last surviving member of the crew of the Enola Gay, Captain Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk, repeat these long-discredited lies for the benefit of a new generation of Americans.

“It would have been another… years before the war had have been over.  The point is: We dropped the bombs and saved a lot of lives.  We… and the Japanese… would have had a bloodbath if we had invaded Japan.  And they knew we were coming; they knew where we were gonna land; and they had their guns waiting for us.”  [Source: CNN, “Last Enola Gay member recalls Hiroshima”, 4 August, 2012].

What once was a world-wide day of mourning and remembrance of the atrocities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has become, in the US, a thinly-veiled racist repudiation of the idea that there ever was an alternative to incinerating over a quarter of a million human beings.  The US news media has apparently tired of covering these particular war crimes; this year it was the so-called “mass murders” in Colorado and Wisconsin that was the wall-to-wall focus of the capitalist press.  The real mass murderers get the alibi that they “had no choice” but to kill 300,000; they walk away scot-free and tell lies about the crimes they committed.  Meanwhile, the Colorado “Batman” killer will have no opportunity to do any such thing, no matter how obviously insane he is.  And the nation hypocritically wrings its hands and wonders aloud where the impulse for “mass murder” comes from!

Completely ignored in the coverage of WWII in the Pacific is the virulent racism that animated the Allied war effort against Japan.  Kirk lies when he claims in his CNN interview that he and the crew of Enola Gay didn’t celebrate when they dropped the bomb on Hiroshima:  “But there was nothing celebratory about it at all… or anything… we’re just dropping another bomb.” That’s baloney.  First lie: he and the entire all-white crew of the Enola Gay knew in advance that what they were dropping on Hiroshima wasn’t “just… another bomb”.  They had been practicing for weeks making a fast getaway in their B-29 from what everyone knew was going to be anything BUT a typical bombing run.  It’s also impossible to believe that these white men from the Jim Crow US who had been immersed in racist anti-Japanese propaganda from the moment they signed up for military service were not themselves racist.  Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola gay, never apologized for his role in the bombing of Hiroshima; “In a 1975 interview he said: ‘I’m proud that I was able to start with nothing, plan it, and have it work as perfectly as it did …. I sleep clearly every night.’  In March 2005, he stated, ‘If you give me the same circumstances, I’d do it again.’ [Source: Wikipedia, “Paul Tibbets” ]   The bombardier on the mission,  Thomas Ferebee, was from North Carolina.   He was quoted in the book “Enola Gay” by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan Witts as saying, decades after the bombing: “it was a job that had to be done”.    Van Kirk told a reporter in 1975: “Under the same circumstances — and the key words are ‘the same circumstances’ — yes, I would do it again.”  We have no reason to doubt that the majority of the crew of the Enola Gay was as racist as their peers were in the Jim Crow U.S.A. of the 1940s.   Just look at this selection of disgusting racist anti-Japanese propaganda posters put out by the US Government in WWII.This is the kind of sick brainwashing propaganda that every serviceman and woman – and every US citizen – had to endure in the United States during World War Two.  Is it any wonder that the crew of the Enola Gay felt that their war crime was justified “under the circumstances”?

Anti-Asian racism in the US was nothing new; anti-Chinese racism in the “good old days” of the “Golden West” was as common as dirt.  The savagery meted out to Asian immigrant workers in the US in the 1800s is a well-known historical fact.    That it developed from the racism inherent in the white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant capitalist class of the United States – inherited from their ancestors in Great Britain – is something glossed over if the subject is ever even raised in US history books.

Racism has been a part of the makeup of the American character since the Mayflower.   It is inherent in the belief of European Christians that only those who believed in Jesus Christ would go to heaven and that everyone else on the planet was a “heathen” who must either convert or spend eternity in hell.  This arrogant attitude “informed” European contact with people outside of Europe ever since Europeans “rediscovered” the world hundreds of years after the collapse of the Roman Empire.  The different skin colors, cultural practices and strange religious practices were all taken by white Europeans as signs of the inferiority of non-European races that were derived from their Godlessness.  Rather than attempt to understand these strange cultures, the better-armed and warlike Europeans simply took to massacring them, using their supposed God-given martial and racial superiority as an excuse for the murder of tens of millions of “inferior” human beings.

In the US, racism against Native Americans led initially to attempts to enslave these “godless and inferior” people.  When enslaving the aboriginal peoples of the New World proved impractical, and as US agricultural development moved further south into climates too hot and malarial for white workers to survive in, the same concepts of racial and religious superiority were employed to justify the slave trade.  Subsequently, a whole series of fake sciences were developed to “prove” the racial inferiority of the enslaved Africans and allowed the enslavers to sleep better at night.  Before long, American racial ideologies justifying the genocide of Native Americans as well as the brutalities of the slave system had developed to such an extravagant degree that they were extended to cover all non-white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant peoples, from the Chinese  to the Irish.  Thus the white-skinned population of the United States has been propagandized to hate everyone not white and Protestant from the 1600s until today.   Today’s institutionalized racism is more covert and is couched in cautious terminology, like

The haughty and racist attitude of the European nations and the young United States government towards the peoples of Asia were embodied in a series of “Unequal Treaties”  imposed on both China and Japan in the early to mid 1800s.  China was a closed country to foreigners until the British Navy – and British Indian army units – smashed their way into the country on behalf of the  British East India Company   in the First Opium War  in 1839-1842.   The British were “suffering” from a trade imbalance with China and sought to rectify the situation by importing opium from India – where the East India Co. had established a monopoly on the export of the drug – into China, where the drug was unknown.   The importation of opium caused an epidemic of narcotic addiction in China, which the Chinese government tried to suppress by what was perhaps the world’s first “War on Drugs” – they attempted to enact a permanent ban on drug shipments to China.  The British retaliated against this domestic policy of the Chinese by attacking China.  China, completely outgunned by the British had no choice but to negotiate a settlement, and was forced to agree to a series of humiliating treaties, forcing open Chinese ports to British trade.  The United States got into the act in 1844, signing the Treaty of Wanghia, in which the United States exacted a promise from the Chinese government that any Americans caught breaking Chinese laws would be tried by US Consular officials rather than by the local judiciary.  It also provided for the establishment of Christian churches and missionary schools in China – to educate the “heathen” Chinese.

[To Be Continued]

IWPCHI