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On October 16th, 1859, John Brown and other militant abolitionists launched a raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). The efforts of the abolitionists to seize the armory, distribute weapons, and foment a slave rebellion failed due to the US military forces led by future Confederate general Robert E Lee. John Brown is generally remembered, if remembered at all, for this failed rebellion. This is how the historians of the established order prefer things to be. Condemned to relative obscurity was the almost miraculous success of John Brown’s vastly outnumbered battalion of armed abolitionists who successfully drove the slave traders across the Kansas border and back into Missouri, thus preventing Kansas from becoming a slave state. Minister Beecher made improvements on rifles and shipped them to the abolitionists in Kansas in crates marked with “Bibles” on the side, so his rifles became known as “Beecher’s Bibles.”
“Statue in the Harbor”
The Statue of Liberty was dedicated on October 28th, 1886. In the wake of the Civil War in the US, the statue was a gift from France meant to celebrate the end of slavery. Most of the US ruling class had little interest in such celebrations, however, and US officials insisted that the broken chains and shackles be removed from the wrists of Lady Liberty before she would be accepted, among other significant changes. In its final form, the statue appears to be more about welcoming immigrants than about defeating the forces of slavery. Laws severely limiting immigration from eastern and southern Europe would be enacted decades later, leading ultimately to the deaths of millions of Europeans who found themselves unable to find asylum anywhere. These quotas were only lifted in 1944. (Yes, US authorities absolutely, definitely knew what was happening in the concentration camps well before 1944.) Mexicans used to be able to cross the US/Mexico border freely — after the US invaded and annexed most of Mexico in the 1840’s, until 1964, when the concept of being an “illegal” Mexican came into existence in the US.
On October 28th, 1917, a majority of Australians voted against conscription. This was one of many similar examples which abundantly demonstrate the massive, widespread, global opposition to the First World War. World War I was the expected culmination of a huge arms race that many countries in Europe had been engaging in. Labor unions and other civil society organizations around the world saw the war as an effort by the great colonial powers to divide up the world, using their young men as fodder for the heavy machine guns. Dividing up the world is exactly what the UK, France and the US did after the war (along with invading the Soviet Union in 1919). In many countries, what semblance of democracy that existed prior to “the Great War” was at least temporarily suspended for the duration of it. In the US, opponents of the war were declared to be “German agents” — many served long prison sentences, thousands were deported, anti-war rallies attacked viciously, union halls burned to the ground. In Ireland, independence leader James Connolly declared, “we’ll fight for neither king nor kaiser, but for Ireland.”
“Union Makes Us Strong”
On October 24th, 1929, stock markets crashed everywhere, and the Great Depression began. This was not necessarily a global phenomenon. The lives of average people in many countries where the economy mainly had to do with the export of cash crops actually improved during the Depression, when the sudden lack of an export market allowed peasants to use the land to grow food again. But in the capitalist countries of what we call “the west,” things were increasingly dire for most people, while the rich were simultaneously able to benefit from the crisis and get much richer. The farmers — those struggling to hold onto their land as well as those who had lost it — and the workers (employed or not) rebelled in large numbers, in many different forms. The election of Franklin Roosevelt in the United States, and the New Deal reforms his government set into motion, was the way the ruling class managed to save capitalism and defuse the societal crisis everyone then faced. Although currently the division of wealth is even more extreme than it was during the Great Depression, there is no Franklin Roosevelt and no New Deal on the horizon. This is due primarily to the fact that there is no large-scale, militant working class movement demanding change, as there was back in the 1930’s. The conditions exist, but the organization does not.
On October 19th, 1933, Germany left the League of Nations. This was one of many early steps taken by the new Austro-German fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, which blew apart international institutions and diplomatic norms of behavior, along with all of the democratic institutions of the German nation and the nations the Nazis occupied and ruled. Mass arrests, the building of detention camps, and a gigantic increase in military spending also began during Hitler’s first tumultuous year in power — many years before he would send his troops into combat anywhere, and still more years before he would launch his first full-scale invasion of a country.
“The Last Lincoln Veteran”
In October, 1937, the call went out to form the International Brigades. Soon, tens of thousands of people would organize to go to Spain to fight alongside those defending the popularly-elected socialist government there, which in 1936 found itself under siege by large elements of the country’s own armed forces. General Franco’s attempted coup did not succeed in taking either of Spain’s biggest cities, initially. Germany and Italy sent tens of thousands of troops to aid the Spanish general’s fascist movement, while tens of thousands of German and Italian communists, along with tens of thousands of others from around the world, went to Spain to fight against Spanish, German and Italian fascists and their mercenaries (I mean contractors). By declaring their “neutrality,” in effect the US, the UK and France greatly aided the fascists in Spain by both supplying them with essential fuel and by preventing anyone from delivering heavy weapons to besieged Spanish government forces and international volunteers. The death toll was immense — with even more people being killed by Franco after the war than during. The thousands of volunteers who went to Spain from the US formed two battalions. Most of the George Washington Battalion were killed in combat early in the war, in the World War I-style bloodbath known as the Jarama Valley campaign. Most of the men from the US who survived the war were from the other battalion, the Abraham Lincoln Battalion. Contrary to popular mythology, it is the survivors who are remembered far more than the martyrs most of the time. Spain is a case in point, and ever since the war, US veterans of the Spanish Civil War have widely been known as Lincoln Veterans.
At the beginning of October, 1943, much of Danish society mobilized to get the vast majority of Denmark’s small Jewish population to what was, and what remained, safety in Sweden. The extremely orderly and successful boat lift stands out, along with the almost incomparably larger-scale Ottoman rescue of the Jews of Spain in 1492, as one of history’s great examples of well-executed solidarity. Examples such as these also put to shame the bigoted regimes in Europe, North America, Australia and elsewhere in the 21st century that condemn refugees to death on a daily basis — refugees from NATO-sponsored war zones who are just as clearly fleeing persecution as were the Jews of Denmark in 1943.
Events that became known as the Cuban Missile Crisis gripped much of the world throughout the month of October, 1962. What was being challenged by the leaders of the Soviet Union was the notion promulgated by the US government ever since the invention of the “Monroe Doctrine,” that all of the dozens of countries that constitute what people in the US call “the Americas” (or what most of the rest of the region just know of collectively as “America”) are essentially under US military rule. That is, that the notion of “international waters” applies to everyone else, but not to the US. The US had nuclear missiles in Turkey, which shared a land border with the USSR. When the Soviet Navy delivered missiles to Cuba to counter this threat from the United States, the US initiated a naval embargo — which is universally recognized as an act of war. (Incidentally, something else largely lost to history is the fact that the US had also imposed a naval embargo on Japan prior to the Japanese “sneak attack” on a massive US Navy base in Hawaii.) When a nuclear-armed, nuclear-powered Soviet submarine was in international waters, a US Destroyer sent “depth charges” — explosives that can potentially destroy a ship. Although under orders to retaliate with nuclear weapons under such circumstances, one of the three officers on board the submarine refused to give the order to launch the missiles. His name was Vasili Arkhipov. If you were born anywhere in the southern United States after 1962, he is the reason you are alive today. While John F Kennedy and John F Dulles, nuclear brinksmen of the highest order, tried to kill you.
On October 6th, 1976, rightwing Cubans on the CIA payroll bombed a Cuban airliner, killing 76 people. These mass murderers lived out their lives as free men in Florida, committing many other acts of mass murder along the way. A terrorist bombing plot at a stadium in Panama which could have killed thousands was averted by the actions of Panamanian authorities. Luis Posada was briefly detained there, before being sent to the US, at the request of the US government, where he was released back into the wealthy suburbs of Miami that he called home.
“Beyond the Mall”
On October 28th, 1986, the controversial Danbury Fair Mall opened on the outskirts of the small city of Danbury, Connecticut. As with many other similar construction projects, it only went ahead after local politicians were bribed. The result of the project was the destruction of a large field where an annual country fair used to take place and the death of the former city center of Danbury, which soon became a mostly vacant, hollow shell. But there are low-wage workers selling cheap stuff at the mall. This early success at the total corporate takeover and decimation of a city was soon repeated throughout the United States, transforming much of the country into a depressing, corporate moonscape devoid of any trace of autonomous life.
On October 27th, 2006, Brad Will was killed in Oaxaca. Brad was one of dozens of people killed in the course of the teachers’ strike in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, during which police and paramilitary forces frequently fired live ammunition at striking teachers and their supporters, along with journalists such as Brad, who was shot in the chest with a camera in his hand. Brad was a friend of mine. He used to organize most of my gigs in New York City. He also traveled to more protests than anybody I knew other than me, so I used to hang out with him regularly in both North America and Europe on many different occasions, especially during the height of the anticapitalist movement during the first few years of the Naughties.
For the first sixteen days of October, 2013, the US federal government shut down. The Obama administration wanted to do what every administration has done for decades, and raise the debt ceiling so the US could keep paying the banks. Trump just did the same thing and no one complained. This is because for the most part, all the gridlock is for show. Really, the two parties agree on almost everything that matters. Or at least that has been the case for well over a century, anyway. (Mainly with the exception of a couple of years in the 1860’s, when the ten southern states couldn’t vote, and the Radical Republican faction of the Republican party was briefly in control of the Congress.)
In October, 2014, the world learned that Loukanikos had died. Loukanikos — Greek for “sausage” — was the most famous dog in Greece when he was alive. At the height of the protests against austerity and bank bailouts, Loukanikos was always in the center of the fray, seemingly impervious to tear gas, barking ferociously at the riot cops from deep within the cloud, as all the other people and dogs retreated to places where they could breathe and see. Sometimes Loukanikos was known to play fetch with tear gas canisters, bringing them back to the police who had thrown them. Once he was photographed biting the shield of a riot cop. The song, as with much else that has been written and said about this canine, is humorous in nature. But in all earnestness, Loukanikos truly inspired many people in Greece and around the world with his courage. He was truly a dog of the people. Or something like that. I tried to find him on a couple different visits to Greece, but there were so many medium-size orange street dogs in Athens laying about on the sidewalks, I eventually gave up. If there had been a riot going on during the times I visited, I’m sure I could have found him more readily.
On October 1st, 2017, a man with a machine gun rained bullets down on thousands of people attending a country music festival in Las Vegas. Fifty-eight people were killed, with many hundreds injured. I have no idea how many more massacres there have been since then, I long ago lost track. We are living in a failed state.
“Beneath These Stars”
On the bright side, a few days later on October 7th, 2017, Utah Phillips’ old flanger car was relocated to the Black Butte Center for Railroad Culture in the beautiful mountain village by the railroad tracks known as Weed, California. If you’re driving along i-5 between Oregon and California, it’s very worth a visit to the BBCRC along the way.
“Famine, Flood and Fire”
In October, 2017, huge wildfires spread across California. In the city of Santa Rosa, twenty blocks in a working class, largely brown part of the city were completely destroyed. This came just after the most destructive summer of wildfires in the history of the United States, which saw highly toxic air quality throughout the west for months on end, and threatened many other urban centers including Portland, Oregon, where I woke up every morning to see white ash covering the black asphalt outside of my apartment, before I looked up at the orange haze that filled the skies during the daylight hours.