I apologize for the length of the commentary here. I didn’t write it for this video. I just got this in my head and wrote it down finishing this morning. But I think it’s OK for it to accompany the video which is along similar lines. Part of it is that it’s like a catharsis for me at times, to put my thoughts in to words. I am sorry if I cause the reader distress or suffering and pain; it is not my intention. I do worry sometimes though as it’s in brain and on to the paper which can cause problems. But I have reread it. In the video at one point during the comments on Bacon’s Rebellion I make an error saying, “poor whites and poor Europeans” when I meant poor whites and Africans.
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Facts For Working People
Afscme Local 444, retired
I have tried in my politically conscious life, stunted a little by a few years of cocaine abuse, to learn as much as I can about the world around me. I love history but at school just couldn't get in to it; this queen married that king, this battle took place here or there and the English won. I knew about the English Civil War and that the Roundheads were Cromwell’s men and the Cavaliers were the Royalists, the Kings men. It was easier to remember that as boys that were circumcised were called roundheads (Circumcisions wasn’t a fashion statement in the UK like it is here) as Cromwell’s troops had round sort of penis head helmets like a policeman’s and the Cavaliers wore fancy hats with feathers like the Three Musketeers. I didn’t mind being a Cavalier at the time as I thought the Roundheads were a bit drab though they were on the right side of history.
After I left Catholic school I went to a community college where I had a lot of fun. I tried biology and got kicked out of the class. The teacher said in the report as far as I can remember that he had no idea why I was there. Who needs an education when you’re having fun? I was living in a pub and family life was not good, certainly not conductive to homework. Mum did what she could but there’s limits.
In my late teens I did travel and go to faraway places plus I had lived in Nigeria before I came to England at seven or so. I always loved to be in the company of people who spoke different languages and ate different food. I don’t care what their religion is I can only judge them by how they act in the real world. That traveling served me well as I went from Ankara to Baghdad by train, old German trains that were built in the first World War. I went with two English friends and a couple of Frenchmen. One was Jean Louie, who I liked very much, I wish I could find him. The other was an upper middle-class guy, a doctor’s son or something like that. When we stayed in Baghdad before taking the bus to Basra he was very rude to the Arabs. I found him unpleasant.
I am so glad I spent that time going from one end of Iraq to the other because the Iraqi’s were very good and kind to me. I wouldn’t have known a Shia from a Sunni or a Christian or a Jew, all of them Iraqi’s. I remember being on the train and it stopping in Babylon and going through or stopping in Nineveh, I can’t remember which. I thought to myself, I was familiar with both those names from the Bible and I am there. In Basra I have this memory of sitting in a room that we rented with two guys from Goa. There were traders and traders had sailed from Goa to Basra for centuries. They had long pony tails and had these clothes that were traditional dress I guess. We were eating watermelon, the first time for me as far as I can remember
Language is never a barrier, you can always communicate with other human beings, it’s not hard. And when you are in someone else’s community or country and you are not there as invaders and adventurers seeking plunder or to profit at their expense, all people want to treat you well. It’s in all cultures I believe to treat strangers well as they want that stranger to leave well fed and cared for; it’s a matter of pride. It is with the Arab people, if a stranger enters their company they are to feed them.
I have read much more since then, particularly politics and history. History is so exciting when we read it with a different eye. When we look beneath the surface to see what forces are at play. The English revolution was about more than just guys in different costumes. It was a class struggle, conflict between groups of people with different economic interests.
The same here in the US. The Civil War was the second half of what we know as the American Revolution, the capitalist class in the North, that severed its links with its origins and this industrial bourgeoise settled accounts with the backward Southern Slaveocracy and continued on the road to creating a nation state out of a continent. Engels, not my co-worker of the same name, famous in his own right, wrote of the arrogant and crude nature of the US capitalist class. For them, there was no need to wage a centuries old ideological war against an existing ruling class as their ancestors in England did against the feudal aristocracy. In the “New World” it was simply a matter of wiping out through genocidal warfare the native inhabitants, importing some labor and building some roads and bridges. They failed in the first instance and have been successful in the last two.
After my traveling Europe and the Middle East in 1967, 68 and 71 and meeting some Americans. I began to take an interest in Russian literature. I read Dostoyevsky, Turgenev and Gogol. Joe Mangan, a former schoolmate who died young, turned me on to Alexander Solzhenytsin. I read One day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, Cancer Ward and the First Circle. I had read some of the English classics when I was in my early teens, my mum taught me to read before I went to school. I loved Russian stuff, Russian history in particular.
Despite Solzhenitsyn ending up a bit of a hermit, reading his stuff got me interested in the Russia of the day as he was a political exile from the Soviet Union. I was never interested in socialist or communist ideas as what existed in the Soviet Union, that I now know as Stalinism, was not attractive to me at all. But after Solzhenitsyn I read Isaac Deutscher’s trilogy on Leon Trotsky, The Prophet Armed, The Prophet Unarmed and The Prophet Outcast. That gave me some hope that what existed in the Soviet Union was not socialism or communism. I finally would be able to read the Communist Manifesto.
Coming to the US 47 years ago and becoming involved in my union I read a lot of US labor history. I also wanted to know more about the struggles here in the US. After Malcolm X moved toward a more socialist position and was re-thinking the concept of Black Nationalism, especially after his visit to Africa where he met revolutionaries of many types, I read his works and speeches as well as the autobiography written with Alex Haley. I read Negroes With Guns and other books.
Only this week I finished the second volume of The Invention of the White Race by Theodore Allen and want to read another book recommended by the executor of Allen’s estate, Jeffrey Perry, on the Caribbean socialist Hubert Harrison.
I finally got to Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’ An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States and am only 40 pages in to it. It is fascinating reading so far beginning with an introduction to the migrations and impact of the native peoples’ and their impact on this continent both north and south. The author also details the war the English capitalist class waged against the peasantry enclosing the common land and driving them from the land and their means of subsistence. Marx, Karl Polany in The Great Transformation, and many others have written about this history. This desperate, displaced population, Ortiz’ explains, provided much of the labor for the Anglo-American colonial ruling class as they settled the continent promising them land and opportunity to escape the miserable existence from which they came. When we read history written in this way, explaining the forces at work, the material causes of historical events, we understand how exciting history really is.
Why on earth did I sit right down and write like this? I didn’t plan it and I’m not drunk. Part of it is that each time I read something I realize how little I actually know but learning is exhilarating at times. I was thinking last night of how frustrated I get because I don’t get to discuss these issues with US workers, particular blue-collar workers in the main and this is my background. Politics, history from below as they call it, or the history of the working class and the oppressed as opposed to the history of the ruling classes, the oppressors. Imagine if the resources in society that are spent bringing us sports events every day of the week forever, were spent teaching us our own history. The Many Headed Hydra is a must read for some of this stuff.
Of course, we are taught real history. We are taught in the United States, capitalist history, more accurately white capitalist history. I have only come in my later years to learn more about the history of the English working class, though I know more about the US working class of which I am a part. Part of the problem is work. We don’t have the time and the ruling elite ensure we don’t have the time. The schools teach the history of the rulers not the ruled. The Civil Rights movement brought the rise of ethnic studies but you can be sure it will not be the history of the Black worker that dominates that curriculum. The history of the European/white worker is not taught either.
Sports are a means, like Religion, narcissism, and sex obsession, of distracting us from the real world. It is staggering that I have heard some workers explode in anger that they can’t go to a football game or a baseball game. They, the white ones anyway, were livid when the Black quarterback Kevin Kaepernick knelt before a game as a mild and harmless protest at against racism in the US. Hard to build class unity with that attitude that hurts workers no matter what their background.
People of color and the colonial peoples are rejecting the heroes of the colonizers, the white supremacists, the likes of Jeffrey Amherst the English colonial warrior who referred to the Natives as Vermin and supported their extermination has towns and a university named after him. George Washington was not just a slaveowner, he was from a merchant family in the wool business, those who drove the English peasantry from the land then made begging a capital crime. Blenheim Palace, Winston Churchill’s ancestral home was a village. The resident were relocated and the Marlborough stately home built. James Madison was from an elite Virginia plantation family. Why would any worker see these character’s as our heroes? We shouldn’t and wouldn’t if we controlled public education.
We have our own heroes, many of them buried in the history books of slave revolts native resistance, strikes, the woman’s movement and labor battles; the ruling elite is not going to write “our” history. And part of breaking the chains of oppression and discovering who we really are is getting to the point when millions of white workers will recognize that Malcolm X and Martin Luther King are heroes their children should look up to and emulate. And as an aside, I’ve always wanted to write something about Big Mary Septak. Maybe I will one day.
Education, and learning history is a social issue. We shouldn’t have to discover the real world as individuals.. But until working class people and our allies control the resources of society we have to work at it, have to make time for it. Have to recognize we are being denied the fruits of our labor.