This Week In Radical History: June 14-June 20
Join us week by week as we use “this day in history”-style facts to help lead us down the rabbit holes of the long, storied, and bloody history of class struggle. We attempt to include stories and figures from around the world, touching on everything from labor strikes to revolutions, left movements that won state power and those that lost their lives trying. We are not attempting to editorialize on what is a “good” or “bad” revolution (or strike or movement or figure), simply to provide jumping-off points for further exploration, trusting that our readers will apply their own historical materialist analysis to anything they uncover. Use this information how you like: for your own development, as a basis for a poli-ed mini-lesson, as filler for your organization’s newsletter, or as social media content fodder. It’s here to be used, so don’t be shy!
June 14, 1928: Ernesto “Che” Guevara Is Born in Rosario, Argentina
One of the most recognizable and iconic revolutionaries in history, Che Guevara was born to a wealthy but left-leaning family and grew up enjoying a breadth of access to activities and intellectual pursuits. He excelled in rugby and chess; poetry and math. He entered college as a medical student and spent his breaks traveling throughout Latin America, often on motorcycle. (His memoir, The Motorcycle Diaries, was largely focused on these trips and the radicalization that happened on them.) He became both a doctor and a revolutionary, participating most famously in the Cuban Revolution (both as a guerrilla leader and as a principal architect of the new Cuban Revolutionary Government). In 1965, after a multi-country tour where Guevara got a first-hand look at conditions of the people in various places, he decided to leave Cuba and head to the Congo to take part in that revolutionary struggle, and then move on to Bolivia to attempt to use existing tensions there to foment a new revolution, one which would transform all of Latin America. The CIA was on his tail for all of these adventures, and finally caught up with him in Bolivia, where they, and possibly Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, coached the Bolivian government through his capture and execution. He was 39 years old. Watch The True Story of Che Guevara, a documentary, at Films for Action.
June 15, 1953: Xi Jinping Is Born in Beijing, China
The second son of Xi Zhongxun, a Chinese revolutionary fighter and later an official in the PRC, Xi Jinping came of age during the Cultural Revolution. Like many city-born people of his age (and lacking the protection of his father, who had been purged from the party and sent to prison), he was sent to a rural village as part of the Down to the Countryside Movement, landing in tiny Wen’anyi, Shaanxi, where he would stay for seven years, working in manual labor jobs and serving in the local party apparatus. Upon returning to Beijing, Xi entered university and studied chemical engineering, graduating in 1979 and then entering the Chinese Communist Party (after being rejected 9 times) and becoming a functionary. He returned to university in 1998, studying law and Marxist theory, and after graduation, returned to Party work, eventually ascending to the official position of Secretary General of the Chinese Communist Party, as well as the ceremonial position of President of the People’s Republic of China, a position he has held since 2012 and, given the erasure of term limits in 2018, may hold indefinitely.
June 16, 1948: Sungai Siput Incident
The massive growth in personal automobile ownership in the United States coincided with massive WWII debts owed to the USA by the United Kingdom. Conveniently for the latter, the UK had a number of colonies in places where rubber (among other commodities) could be extracted and used to pay those debts. One of the principal rubber-producing colonies was British Malaya (now Malaysia), which had been occupied by Japan during the war (and the British before and after, of course). Malaya was politically and economically unstable and high levels of poverty and general misery allowed the Malayan Communist Party to organize extensively, leading a number of strikes of both farm workers and those involved in factory and shipping work, which then led to retaliatory violence against MCP organizers. On the morning of June 16, 1948 in the town of Sungai Siput, A.E. Walker of the Elphil Estate and J.M. Allison of the Phin Soon Estate, both known as harsh managers, were shot and killed by members of the MCP. Allison’s assistant, Ian Christian, was also killed. These killings kicked off what would be known as the Anti-British National Liberation War by one side and the Malayan Emergency on the other. Many of the communists had been trained and armed by the British to fight against the Japanese during the occupation, and in order to counter these well-trained (by them) forces, the British went full scorched-earth: crop burning, Agent Orange, murdering unarmed villagers, putting 400,000+ people into concentration camps, and other horrors, war crimes which would be echoed in the better-known Vietnam War less than a generation later. Neither side really won the war, though the British claimed victory, and various waves of insurgency lasted until a peace treaty was signed in 1989.
June 17, 1932: 17,000 WWI Veterans Gather at the US Capitol as Senate Votes on Bonus Bill
The 4.7 million Americans who fought in WWI were paid, but not very well, and things were economically rough on the home front while they were gone. After they returned, the American Legion and other veterans groups lobbied for a bonus payment to bring their compensation to something a bit fairer, and in 1924, the World War Adjusted Compensation Act was passed. It granted veterans a promissory certificate – a rain check, of sorts – entitling them to $1-1.25 per day for each day they served in the war, but it was not redeemable until 1945. A few years later, the Great Depression hit. Times were hard and folks were broke, and veterans began demanding that they be allowed to cash in their bonus certificates early. To make their point, thousands of veterans and their families set up a Hooverville in what is now Anacostia Park. On June 15, 1932, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would allow vets to cash in their bonuses early. On June 17, the bill went to the Senate, and over 6000 bonus marchers amassed outside the Capitol. The Senate voted it down. On July 28, President Hoover and the DC Commissioners agreed to send in troops to clear out the Bonus Army Encampment, which had grown to over 40,000 people, and, with Douglas MacArthur, George Patton, and Dwight Eisenhower all in leadership positions, the US Army violently cleared out the Bonus Army and burned their encampment, with MacArthur specifically declaring that the Bonus Army was a communist plot to overthrow the government. Listen to The March to Washington Podcast from NPR’s Radio Diaries
June 18, 1984: Police Violently Attack Picketers in the Battle of Orgreave
Coal production in most industrialized countries was on the downswing in the 1980s, as oil and nuclear power became more common energy sources. In the UK, most coal-mining operations (collieries) were nationalized, and nearly all miners and other colliery workers were unionized through the National Union of Mineworkers. Simply: these workers did not want their collieries closed up, because that would make their jobs go away. The Conservative government, under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, wanted to privatize as much of the coal industry as possible and to close up any mines that weren’t making money (which was, increasingly, most of them – note that this was not out of eco-altruism, but pure neoliberal cash concerns). To do this, the trade union needed weakening, because any time they’d close one pit, workers everywhere would strike, and the country needed some coal. The NUM saw the Orgreave Coking Works, a Rotherham, South Yorkshire colliery where coal was turned into coke to make steel, rather than used as fuel for power plants or heating, as a strategic location for a strike, since it intersected with other industries. 5000 picketers from around the UK came to Orgreave for a mass strike, in order to create an impenetrable picket line that couldn’t be crossed by delivery trucks. The South Yorkshire Police attacked the unarmed picketers with a charge on horseback and then violently beat them with batons. Though the police were largely the aggressors, the news media reported the opposite, showing events out of sequence (some of the picketers had thrown stones after the violence had begun), and ultimately led to a propaganda victory for the Conservative anti-labor movement, which was successful in diminishing the power of trade unions in the UK. As with virtually all former coal-mining towns in the UK, Rotherham continues to experience high rates of poverty. Watch The Battle of Orgreave Documentary on YouTube
June 19, 1896: R. Palme Dutt Is Born in Cambridge, England
The youngest child of Indian surgeon Dr. Upendra Dutt and his wife, the Swedish-born Anna Palme, Rajani Palme Dutt was a founding member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and would hold various leadership roles within it, including a stint as Secretary General and a representative to the Comintern. Palme was a prolific writer and editor, and was both the longtime editor of the CPGB’s Workers Weekly newspaper as well as the founder of the periodical Labour Monthly, which he would edit until his death in 1974. Dutt wrote extensively on political theory in both the UK/Europe and India/Asia, publishing everything from newspaper articles to simple pamphlets to full-length books, including the scathing Fascism and Social Revolution, written in 1934 and putting a distinctly Marxist lens on the growing nightmare of fascism in Europe and around the world (as well as his strong belief that social democracy aids fascism, rather than fighting it) and offering a scientific approach to defining fascism and analyzing how it grows out of decaying capitalism.
June 20, 1921: Workers at the B&C Mills Strike Against Poor Working Conditions
Labor struggles in the periphery very rarely offer a perfect mirror to those that happen in the imperial core, but in India, the interplay of religion, caste, and the peculiar nature of British colonialism makes the material conditions very complicated, but one constant is that workers always suffer for capital. In 1921, labor unions were nascent in India, with only a few having even been founded. The Madras Labour Union, in what is now called Chennai, was one of the earliest, and they led the strike in the Buckingham and Carnatic Mills, where wages were low and working conditions poor. The B&C Mills Strike, which was one of the first large labor strikes in India, began on June 20 and lasted until October. The strikers were made up primarily of Muslims and some Hindus, those who were members of one of the varnas, or castes. Workers who did not strike were primarily Christians and Dalits, or “untouchables.” Management used the split between the workers cynically, as part of their strike-breaking tactics, though they also used more direct, heavy-handed strategies, like having the police shoot at the striking miners, six of whom were killed during such an incident in August of 1921. The strikers were merciless with the non-striking workers, as well, and even burned down most of a Dalit village. The strike was ultimately mediated to a close, but it caused significant political upheaval among the Indian National Congress, the Justice Party, and even Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation Movement, as the different parties involved worked out where they stood in relation to each other and to the labor movement in industrializing cities within a colony.
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