Saturday, October 22, 2016

From The Annlas Of Marxism-The Capitalist State Cannot Be Reformed

Workers Vanguard No. 1097
7 October 2016
The Capitalist State Cannot Be Reformed
(Quote of the Week)
The cops who continue to gun down black people with impunity and the intelligence agencies who spy on everyone are parts of the bourgeois state. This state exists to defend the interests of the capitalist ruling class through the use of violence against workers and the oppressed. In January 1920, Gregory Zinoviev, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, wrote an appeal to the Industrial Workers of the World, the leading American syndicalist organization at the time. Seeking to win the IWW to Communism, he explained key lessons of the 1917 Russian Revolution, which included a Marxist understanding of the nature of the state.
The war and its aftermath have revealed with startling clearness the real function of the capitalist state, with its legislatures, courts of justice, police, armies, and bureaucrats.
The state is used to defend and strengthen the power of the capitalists and to oppress the workers. This is particularly true in the United States, whose Constitution was framed by the great merchants, speculators, and landowners with the deliberate purpose of protecting their class interests against the majority of the people.
At the present time the government of the United States is openly acting as the weapon of the capitalists against the workers....
Any worker can see this fact with his own eyes. All the people vote for governors, mayors, judges, and sheriffs; but in time of strike the governor calls in the militia to protect the scabs, the mayor orders the police to beat up and arrest the pickets, the judge imprisons the workers for “rioting,” “disturbing the peace,” and the sheriff hires thugs as deputies to break the strike.
Capitalist society all together presents a solid front against the worker. The priest tells the worker to be contented, the press curses him as a “Bolshevik,” the policeman arrests him, the court sentences him to jail, the sheriff seizes his furniture for debt, and the poorhouse takes his wife and children.
In order to destroy capitalism, the workers must first wrest the state power out of the hands of the capitalist class. They must not only seize this power, but abolish the old capitalist apparatus entirely.
For the experience of revolutions has shown that the workers cannot take hold of the state machine and use it for their own purposes—as the Yellow Socialist [i.e., reformist, social-patriotic] politicians propose to do. The capitalist state is built to serve capitalism, and that is all it can do, no matter who is running it.
And in place of the capitalist state the workers must build their own workers’ state, the dictatorship of the proletariat.
—Gregory Zinoviev, “Appeal to the IWW,” reprinted in The Communist International in Lenin’s Time: Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite! Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress, 1920, Vol. 2 (Pathfinder Press, 1991)

A View FromThe Left-Give Back His Passport!-Drop All Charges Against Edward Snowden!

Workers Vanguard No. 1097
7 October 2016
Give Back His Passport!-Drop All Charges Against Edward Snowden!

The release of Oliver Stone’s sympathetic and powerful biopic Snowden has rekindled the national debate over the fate of the courageous NSA leaker. Three years ago, Edward Snowden became Washington’s “Public Enemy Number One” after he turned over to various media outlets a trove of classified documents proving the colossal scale of U.S. government spying and its shredding of basic democratic rights. The target of an intense international manhunt, Snowden was forced into exile in Russia, where he remains on a temporary residence permit. Unable to travel because his passport was revoked, he is still wanted by the Feds on theft and espionage charges.
By shining a bright light on the government’s all-pervasive snooping, Snowden provided an invaluable service to working people and the oppressed the world over. The ultimate target of the capitalist state’s spying and repression is the working class. From the beginning, we have demanded: Hands off Snowden! It is in the interests of the proletariat, in the U.S. and internationally, to rally to Snowden’s defense and oppose those forces that want to curtail dissent and future exposures of the sinister activities of U.S. intelligence by locking him up in one of the country’s many torture-ridden dungeons. Drop the charges now! Reinstate Snowden’s passport!
Timed to coincide with the opening of the movie, in mid September the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International launched a campaign urging President Barack Obama to pardon Snowden. The plea for clemency predictably sparked an immediate backlash, with the House Intelligence Committee issuing a report that claimed Snowden “was, and remains, a serial exaggerator and fabricator” and had “caused tremendous damage to national security.” White House press secretary Josh Earnest dismissed calls for a pardon and demanded that Snowden return to the U.S. to face prosecution.
Outrageously, the Washington Post, which was one of the newspapers that profited from the publication of Snowden’s revelations in 2013 (and won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting), joined the chorus baying for his head on a pike. Glenn Greenwald excoriated the Post in an article on The Intercept (18 September) for having “achieved an ignominious feat in U.S. media history: the first-ever paper to explicitly editorialize for the criminal prosecution of its own source.” The dispute over whether to prosecute or pardon Snowden has particularly divided the capitalist Democratic Party and its supporters. One side, as expressed in the official petition to Obama, considers Snowden an “American patriot,” the other reviles him as a traitor. Either way, their starting point is how to best advance the interests of U.S. imperialism.
The prevailing view among libertarians and liberals (as well as their reformist hangers-on) is that Snowden the patriot did something great for his country by exposing what they consider the excesses of state surveillance, i.e., spying on everyone rather than just “terrorists.” Stone himself falls into this camp. In a recent interview with Democracy Now!, the filmmaker lamented that the NSA spymasters “failed to do their job” in the case of the September 11 attacks and “haven’t really utilized those tools [of cyberwarfare] for defense.” In other words, if the government just properly deployed its repressive arsenal, Americans could have their civil liberties without sacrificing national security. In this vein, it is no accident that a few prominent capitalists have signed on to the Pardon Snowden appeal, as their own communications are susceptible to getting vacuumed up by indiscriminate domestic spying.
The purpose of the NSA and other imperialist spy agencies is to secretly carry out dirty deeds on behalf of the tiny capitalist minority that rules over the vast majority. The trappings of “democracy” under capitalism are a mask to obscure these inner systematic workings that will not fundamentally change, no matter how many whistles are blown by insiders or cosmetic reforms adopted by Congress. Only victorious socialist revolution can abolish the capitalist state’s secret agents and their intrusions into our lives.
The new film deserves high marks for humanizing Snowden and portraying his political evolution from an unquestioning partisan of the reactionary “war on terror” to a critic of mass surveillance who was willing to risk his own life to expose the truth amid a sea of lies. This biopic, which comes two years after Laura Poitras’s Oscar-winning documentary CitizenFour, makes clear Snowden’s deep disappointment with the Obama presidency because of its expansion of Bush-era spying and prosecution of whistle-blowers. However, the movie’s ending vastly overstates the extent of the policy changes that resulted from Snowden’s revelations. Similarly, the pardon campaign trumpets supposed “historic strides in our fight for surveillance reform.”
A much more accurate picture is provided by the New York Times (1 May 2015) headline: “Why the N.S.A. Isn’t Howling over Restrictions.” The reference is to the USA Freedom Act, touted as having ended the NSA’s bulk collection of domestic phone metadata. In reality, the bipartisan legislation merely transferred the responsibility for storing this data to the phone companies, which are required to provide the NSA access upon court-approved request. The idea was suggested to Obama in 2013 by then NSA director Keith Alexander as a ploy to appear responsive to privacy concerns while offloading costs to the telecoms and preserving programs deemed more vital to his collect-it-all regime.
One senior intelligence official later admitted to the Daily Beast (14 May 2015): “What no one wants to say out loud is that this is a big win for the NSA, and a huge nothing burger for the privacy community.” To all but the willfully blind, the situation is clear: The NSA still amasses metadata from most communications, the government can still acquire such records from private companies and the bulk collection of actual content is growing. The Freedom Act, an Orwellian misnomer, extended the draconian Patriot Act and codified in law the very surveillance dragnet that Snowden lifted the veil on.
In any case, legal niceties, which exist on paper for public consumption, are hardly barriers to government snoops. A decade ago, revelations of the widespread violation of the constitutional prohibition on warrantless search of American citizens’ communications caused the Feds considerable embarrassment. Important details of such internet data mining, done in cahoots with the telecom giants, were provided at the time by retired AT&T worker Mark Klein (see “Phone Worker Exposes Government Spying Network,” WV No. 953, 26 February 2010). To get around the inconvenience of the Fourth Amendment, among other things Washington pays its British junior partners to tap and hand over a huge proportion of all internet traffic.
Whatever the arguments of Snowden’s liberal proponents, Obama is not about to grant a pardon. The official response to a June 2013 White House website pardon petition with over 150,000 signatures proclaimed: “Mr. Snowden’s dangerous decision to steal and disclose classified information had severe consequences for the security of our country.” The Obama administration is notorious for having thrown the book at whistle-blowers. It has charged eight of them under the 1917 Espionage Act—more than double the number under all previous presidents combined. One of the victims of this vendetta is Chelsea Manning, who was sentenced in 2013 for disclosing military and state secrets to Wikileaks. In the most recent affront, Manning, who is transgender, was sentenced to two weeks in solitary as punishment for having attempted suicide in July. Manning’s case has received less prominence than that of Snowden because the victims of the crimes she exposed were Iraqis, not U.S. citizens. Free Manning now! Hands off Wikileaks’ Julian Assange!
Early in his first White House bid, Obama famously declared “no more secrecy” only to outdo all his predecessors in creating the world’s most outsized spying machine. As intelligence expert James Bamford described in a Foreign Policy article (7 September):
“Although other leaders may have created more oppressive spying regimes, none has come close to constructing one of equivalent size, breadth, cost, and intrusiveness. From 22,300 miles in space, where seven Advanced Orion crafts now orbit; to a 1-million-square-foot building in the Utah desert that stores data intercepted from personal phones, emails, and social media accounts; to taps along the millions of miles of undersea cables that encircle the Earth like yarn, U.S. surveillance has expanded exponentially since Obama’s inauguration.”
Both the main bourgeois candidates in the upcoming presidential election are dedicated to building on this legacy. In June, Hillary Clinton proposed “an intelligence surge to bolster our capabilities across the board with appropriate safeguards,” while Donald Trump celebrates NSA surveillance as a commonplace of modern life in America, whose population should just shut up and accept it. Snowden will get no relief from the next Commander-in-Chief: Clinton wants to put him on trial, and Trump has called for his execution.
A favorite liberal canard is that greater oversight and transparency will rein in the NSA and its ilk, hence calls for a more robust Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, court. This body—the pinnacle of the reforms coming out of the 1970s Church Committee review of domestic spying on black militants and Reds—was rightly referred to as “a rubber stamp” in the movie. Irrespective of any checks and balances, the U.S. imperialist behemoth will seek to spy on who it wants, when it wants. But it is not omnipotent.
The multiracial working class, with its hands on the levers of production, has the potential power to bring the capitalist exploiters to their knees. Unlocking this power requires a complete break from the Democratic Party and illusions in bourgeois democracy. Our aim as Marxists is to build a revolutionary workers party—a tribune of the people—that can lead the working class in sweeping away capitalist class rule and replacing it with a workers government. Then and only then will U.S. imperialism’s spying, lying and violence at home and abroad come to an end and the full extent of its bloody crimes and secrets be laid bare to the world.

*****Present At The Creation-The Penguins’ Earth Angel (1955)

*****Present At The Creation-The Penguins’ Earth Angel (1955)

From The Pen Of Bart Webber

Deep in the dark red scare Cold War night, still brewing then even after Uncle Joe fell down in his Red Square drunken stupor spilling potato-etched Vodka all over the Central Committee, the Politburo, or his raggedy-ass cronies who were to pick up the pieces after he breathed his last, one night and never came back, so yeah still brewing after Uncle Joe kissed off in his vast red earth, still brewing as a child remembered in dark back of school dreams about Soviet nightmares, worried about the whether those heathens (later to find out that Miss Todd who first made him and his classmates aware of the scorched red earth menace had been wrong that they were atheists not heathen, a very different thing, but she wanted to make us think they were in need of some high Catholic missionary work and so heathen)under Uncle Joe wondering how the Russkie kids got through it, and still brewing too when Miss Winot in her pristine glory told each and every one of her fourth grade charges, us, that come that Russkie madness, come the Apocalypse, come the big bad ass mega-bombs that each and every one of her charges shall come that thundering god-awful air raid siren call duck, quickly and quietly, under his or her desk and then place his or his hands, also quickly and quietly, one over the other on the top of his or her head, a small breeze was coming to the land (of course being pristine and proper she did not dig down deep to titillate us with such terms as “big bad ass” but let’s face it that is what she meant, and maybe in the teachers' room or some night out in the moonless moors she sued such terms you never know).

Maybe nobody saw it coming although the more I think about the matter somebody, some bodies knew something, not those supposedly in the know about such times, those who are supposed to catch the breezes before they move beyond their power to curtail them, guys in the government who keep an eagle eye on such things, or professors endlessly prattling on about some idea about what the muck of society has turned into due to their not catching that breeze that was coming across their faces like some North wind. 

No those guys, no way they are usually good at the wrap-up. The what it all meant par after the furies were over. Here is what I am talking about when I talk about guys who know what to know, and how to play it to their advantages. Take guys like my older brother Franklin and his friends, Benny, sometimes called "the Knife" and Jimmy, who was called just Jimmy, who were playing some be-bop  stuff up in his room. Ma refused to let Franklin play his songs on the family record player down center stage in the living room or flip the dial on the kitchen radio away from her tunes of the roaring 1940s, her and my father’s coming of age time, so up his room like some mad monk doing who knows what because I was busy worrying about riding bicycles or something. Not girls or dances stuff like that no way. Here’s the real tip-off though he and his boys would go out Friday nights to Jack Slack’s bowling alleys not to bowl, although that was the cover story to questioning mothers, but to hang around Freddie O’Toole’s car complete with turned on amped up radio (station unknown then by me but later identified as WMEX out of Boston and stull in existence the last I heard, including a few hour segment on Saturday replaying the old Arnie "Woo-Woo" Ginsberg shows that drove us wild and drive us to learn about the social customs around drive-in movies and drive-in restaurants when thinking about girls time did come) and dance, dance with girls, get it, to stuff like Ike Turner’s Rocket 88 (a great song tribute to a great automobile which nobody in our neighborhood could come close to affording so hard-working but poorly paid fathers' were reduced to cheapjack Fords and Plymouths, not cool), and guys who even today I don’t know the names of even with YouTube giving everybody with every kind of musical inclination a blast to the past ticket.

Here's something outside the neighborhood just to show it was hard-ass Franklin Webber who was hip to all things rock. So how about the times we, the family, would go up to Boston for some Catholic thing filled with incense and high Latin everybody mumbling prayers for forgiveness, when they did nothing to be forgiven for, into the South End at Holy Cross Cathedral and smack across from the church was the later famous Red Hat Club where guys were blasting away at pianos, on guitars and on big ass sexy saxes and it was not the big band sound my folks listened to or cool, cool be-bop jazz either that drove the "beat" night but music from jump street, etched in the back of my brain because remember I’m still fussing over bikes and stuff like that and not worrying about guys hitting the high white note. Or how about every time we went down Massachusetts Avenue in Boston as the sun went down, the “Negro” part before you hit Huntington Avenue at Symphony Hall (an area that Malcolm X knew well a decade before when he was nothing but a cat hustling the midnight creep with some white girls into kicks and larcenies) and we stopped at the ten billion lights on Mass Ave and all you would hear is this bouncing beat coming from taverns, from the old time townhouse apartments and black guys dressed “to the nines,” all flash dancing on the streets with dressed “to the nines” good-looking black girls. Memory bank.           

So some guys knew, gals too don’t forget after all they had to dig the beat, dig the guys who dug the beat, the beat of  out of some Africa breeze mixed with forbidden sweated Southern lusts if the thing was going to work out. And it wasn’t all dead-ass “white negro” hipsters either eulogized by Norman Mailer (or maybe mocked you never knew with him but he sensed something was in the breeze even if he was tied more closely to an earlier sensibility) or break-out “beats” tired of the cool cold jazz that was turning in on itself, getting too technical and losing the search for the high white note or lumpens of all descriptions who whiled away the nights searching their radio dials for something that they while away the nights searching their radio dials for something that they could swing to while reefer high or codeine low.

If you, via hail YouTube, look at the Jacks and Jills dancing up a storm in the 1950s say on American Bandstand they mostly look like very proper well-dressed middle class kids who are trying to break out of the cookie-cutter existence they found themselves in but they still looked  pretty well-fed and well-heeled so yeah, some guys and gals and it wasn’t always who you might suspect like Franklin, white hipsters, black saints, and sexy sax players that got hip, got that back-beat and those piano riffs etched into their brains.

Maybe though the guys in the White House were too busy worrying about what Uncle Joe’s progeny were doing out in the missile silos of Minsk, maybe the professional television talkers on Meet The Press wanted to discuss the latest turn in national and international politics for a candid world to hear and missed what was happening out in the cookie-cutter neighborhoods, and maybe the academic sociologists and professional criminologists were too wrapped up in figuring out why Marlon Brando was sulking in his corner boy kingdom (and wreaking havoc on a fearful small town world when he and the boys broke out), why  Johnny Spain had that “shiv” ready to do murder and mayhem to the next midnight passer-by, and why well-groomed and fed James Dean was brooding in the “golden age” land of plenty but the breeze was coming.

(And you could add in the same brother Franklin who as I was worrying about bikes, not the two pedal kid powered but some bad ass Vincent Black Lightning kind, getting “from hunger” to get a Brando bike, a varoom bike, so this girl, Wendy, from school, would take his bait, a girl that my mother fretted was from the wrong side of town, her way of saying Wendy was a tramp and maybe she was although she was nice to me when Franklin brought her around still she was as smart as hell once I found out about her school and home life a few years later after she, they, Wendy and Franklin, had left town on some big ass Norton but that is after the creation so I will let it go for now.)               
And then it came, came to us in our turn, came like some Kansas whirlwind, came like the ocean churning up the big waves crashing to a defenseless shoreline, came if the truth be known like the “second coming” long predicted and not just by mad man poet Yeats and his Easter, 1916 mind proclaiming a terrible beauty is born, and the brethren, us,  were waiting, waiting like we had been waiting all our short spell lives. Came in a funny form, or rather ironically funny forms, as it turned out.

Came one time, came big as 1954 turned to 1955 and a guy, get this, dressed not in sackcloth or hair-shirt but in a sport’s jacket, a Robert Hall sport’s jacket from the "off the rack" look of it when he and the boys were “from hunger,” playing for coffee and crullers before on the low life circuit, a little on the heavy side with a little boy’s regular curl in his hair and blasted the whole blessed world to smithereens. Blasted every living breathing teenager, boy or girl, out of his or her lethargy, got the blood flowing. The guy Bill Haley, goddam an old lounge lizard band guy who decided to move the beat forward from cool ass be-bop jazz and sweet romance popular music and make everybody, every kid jump, yeah Big Bill Haley and his Comets, the song Rock Around The Clock.         

Came as things turned to a little more hep cat too, came all duck walk and sex moves, feet moving faster than Bill could ever do, came out of Saint Loo, came out with a crazy beat. Came out in suit and tie all swagger. Came out with a big baby girl guitar that twisted up the chords something fierce and declared to the candid world, us, that Maybelline was his woman. But get this, because what did we know of “color” back then when we lived in an all-white Irish Catholic neighborhoods and since we heard what we heard of rock and roll mostly on the radio we were shocked when we found out the first time that he was a “Negro” to use the polite parlance of the times not always used in the house, the neighborhood, the town, a black man making us go to “jump street.” And we bought into it, bought into the beat, and joined him in saying to Mister Beethoven that you and your brethren best move over because there is a new sheriff in town.   

Came sometimes in slo-mo, hey remember this rock and roll idea was as an ice-breaker with a beat you didn’t  have to dance close to with your partner and get all tied up in knots forgetting when to twirl, when to whirl, when to do a split but kind of free form for the guys (or gals, but mainly guys) with two left feet like me could survive, maybe not survive the big one if the Russkies decided to go over the top with the bomb, but that school dance and for your free-form efforts maybe that she your eyeballs were getting sore over would consent to the last chance  last dance that you waited around for in case she was so impressed she might want to go with you some place later. But before that “some place later” you had to negotiate and the only way to do was to bust up a slow one, a dreamy one to get her in the mood and hence people have been singing songs from time immemorial to get people in the mood, this time Earth Angel would do the trick. Do the trick as long as you navigated those toes of hers, left her with two feet and standing. Dance slow, very slow brother.   

Here is the funny thing, funny since we were present at the creation, present in spite of every command uttered by Miss Winot against it, declaring the music worse than that Russkie threat if you believed her (a few kids, girls mainly, did whether to suck up to her since she would take their entreaties and suck ups seriously although boys were strictly “no go” and I know having spent many a missed sunny afternoon doing some silly “punishment” for her since she was impervious to my sly charms).We were just too young to deeply imbibe the full measure of what we were hearing. See this music, music we started calling rock and roll once somebody gave it a name (super DJ impresario Alan Freed as we found out later after we had already become “children of rock and roll”) was meant, was blessedly meant to be danced to which meant in that boy-girl age we who didn’t even like the opposite sex as things stood then were just hanging by our thumbs.

Yeah, was meant to be danced to at “petting parties” in dank family room basements by barely teenage boys and girls. Was meant to be danced to at teenage dance clubs where everybody was getting caught up on learning the newest dance moves and the latest “cool” outfits to go along with that new freedom. Was meant to serve as a backdrop at Doc’s Drugstore’s soda fountain where Doc had installed a jukebox complete with all the latest tunes as boys and girls shared a Coke sipping slowly with two straws hanging out in one frosted glass. Was meant to be listened to by corner boys at Jack Slack’s bowling alley where Jack eventually had set up a small dance floor so kids could dance while waiting for lanes to open (otherwise everybody would be still dancing out in front of O’Toole’s “boss” car complete with amped-up radio not to Jack’s profit). Was meant to be listened to as the sun went down in the west at the local drive-in restaurant while the hamburgers and fries were cooking and everybody was waiting for darkness to fall so the real night could begin, the night of dancing in dark corners and exploring the mysteries of the universe, or at least the mysteries of Miss Sarah Brown.  Was even meant to be listened to on fugitive transistor radios in the that secluded off-limits to adults and little kids (us) where teens, boys and girls, mixed and matched in the drive-in movie night (and would stutter some nonsense to questioning parents who wanted to know the plot of the movies- what movies, Ma).              

Yeah, we were just a little too young even if we can legitimately claim to have been present at the creation. But we will catch up, catch up with a vengeance.

Honor An Historic Leader Of The American Abolitionist Movement-John Brown Late Of Harper's Ferry

Honor An Historic Leader Of The American Abolitionist Movement-John Brown Late Of Harper's Ferry  


Chapter Seven
Preparing to “take the war into Africa”

Unless otherwise noted, all images are from the Boyd B. Stutler Collection

By the time John Brown returned to the West, the situation in Kansas was more settled and his attention had shifted to his larger plan to overthrow slavery. While in New England, he had arranged for Charles Blair, a Connecticut blacksmith, to manufacture samples of pikes. In addition, Brown engaged Hugh Forbes, an English mercenary, to prepare a manual on military tactics and to provide training to his recruits. In July, John Brown crossed into Iowa, reaching Tabor in early August. Forbes arrived shortly afterwards with “The Duty of a Soldier,” but the relationship between Brown and Forbes soon soured when the two disagreed over the details of Brown’s plan, including Brown’s reliance on slaves flocking to his side once the attack was underway. In November, Forbes suddenly left and journeyed to the East, where he created trouble for Brown. Charles Blair
Charles Blair
In the meantime, after a brief trip to Kansas in November, John Brown quickly returned to Iowa, where he shared his plan to attack slavery in Virginia with the men who had joined him—Owen Brown, John E. Cook, John Henry Kagi, William H. Leeman, Charles W. Moffett, Luke F. Parsons, Richard Realf, Richard Richardson, Aaron D. Stevens, and Charles P. Tidd. In January 1858, Brown left the men in Iowa, went to Ohio, and then on to Rochester, New York, to see Frederick Douglass. Brown spent several weeks with Douglass while he worked on his plan and drafted a new constitution of government for the United States that included African Americans as full members of society. He also met with the Secret Six and several prominent African Americans in the North and Canada during the winter and early spring of 1858.
“Whereas slavery, throughout its entire existence in the United States, is none other than a most barbarous, unprovoked, and unjustifiable war of one portion of its citizens upon another portion . . . in utter disregard and violation of those eternal and self-evident truths set forth in our Declaration of Independence: Therefore, we, citizens of the United States, and the oppressed people who, by a recent decision of the Supreme Court, are declared to have no rights which the white man is bound to respect, together with all other people degraded by the laws thereof, do, for the time being, ordain and establish for ourselves the following Provisional Constitution and Ordinances, the better to protect our persons, property, lives, and liberties, and to govern our actions: . . ." – Preamble to the Provisional Constitution and Ordinances for the People of the United States Early in May, John Brown and his men, now including George B. Gill and Stewart Taylor, gathered in Chatham, Canada, home to many free and fugitive African Americans and not far from the United States border in Michigan. Brown had called a secret constitutional convention to ratify the new constitution and give legitimacy to the government it created. On May 8, Brown addressed an assembly of nearly four dozen men, comprised of his white recruits and more than thirty blacks. Delegates adopted Brown’s Provisional Constitution, a 48-article document to govern the group while the war of liberation was underway, and elected officers.
Church, Chatham
First Baptist church in Chatham, where the last of a series of meetings were held during the Chatham Convention in May 1858
Richard Realf
Richard Realf
George B. Gill
George B. Gill
John Brown was ready to implement his plan after the Chatham Convention, but the activities of Hugh Forbes forced him to delay. After leaving Brown late in 1857, Forbes had begun writing angry letters to John Brown, a few members of the Secret Six, and Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. Then, in May, Forbes approached Sen. Henry Wilson, also of Massachusetts, in the Senate, about John Brown. He also contacted Sen. William H. Seward of New York and Sen. John Hale of New Hampshire. Distressed over what Forbes might know about Brown’s plan and their involvement, the Secret Six wanted to postpone Brown’s undertaking and requested that he return to Kansas to draw attention to himself as part of the Kansas struggle and away from his other plans.
Going by the name Shubel Morgan, over the summer Brown established himself in Kansas near the Missouri border, where he built a small stone and wood fortification. In July, he drew up Articles of Agreement for his company of men. Brown also teamed up with free-state guerilla leader James Montgomery, but he was largely inactive until late in the year, during which time he suffered an extended bout of malarial fever. In November and December, Brown accompanied Montgomery on two expeditions but apparently did not actually participate on either occasion. John Brown’s most memorable activity came at the end of December, when he crossed into Missouri to liberate some slaves. In response to a plea from a Missouri slave whose family soon would be sold in an estate sale, Brown and his men split into two groups, one led by himself and the other by Aaron Stevens, and entered Missouri. They freed eleven slaves at three plantations, with Stevens killing a slaveholder in the process. Missouri’s governor demanded action, President James Buchanan offered a $250 reward for Brown’s capture, and the Kansas countryside was in a state of alarm, anticipating an invasion from Missouri. Before leaving Kansas in January 1859, Brown penned “Old Brown’s Parallels,” a defense of his Missouri raid that appeared in the New York Tribune. Brown guided the eleven liberated blacks, and a baby born along the way, more than 1,000 miles from Kansas to Detroit, where the fugitives crossed the Detroit River into Canada in March. James Montgomery
James Montgomery
Brown went on to Ohio, giving lectures on Kansas in Cleveland and Jefferson, and then to New England to see the Secret Six and to raise money. He found Gerrit Smith, George Stearns, and Frank Sanborn firmly supportive; however, Samuel Howe’s support had cooled, Thomas Higginson’s faith in some of Brown’s advisors was shaken by the year’s delay, and Theodore Parker was dying of tuberculosis in Europe. Brown also was met with disapproval of his Missouri raid by some abolitionists from whom he had hoped to obtain funds. Still, he received enough money to arrange, in June, for completion of his order for pikes from Charles Blair. He also arranged for the transfer of weapons then stored in Ohio to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. At the end of the month, he started for Harpers Ferry.

Primary Documents:

Secondary Sources:

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*****The Search For The Great Working-Class Love Song - With Richard Thompson’s Vincent Black Lightning In Mind

*****The Search For The Great Working-Class Love Song - With Richard Thompson’s  Vincent Black Lightning, 1952 In Mind


From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin:


Several years ago, maybe about eight years now that I think about it, I did a series of sketches on guys, folk-singers, folk-rockers, rock-folkers or whatever you want to call those who weened us away from the stale Pablum rock in the early 1960s (Bobby Vee, Rydell, Darin, et. al, Sandra Dee, Brenda Lee, et. al) after the gold rush dried up in what is now called the classic age of rock and roll in the mid to late 1950s when Elvis, Jerry Lee, Buddy, Chuck, Bo and their kindred made us jump. (There were gals too like Wanda Jackson but mainly it was guys in those days.) I am referring of course to the savior folk minute of the early 1960 when a lot of guys with acoustic guitars, some self-made lyrics, or stuff from old Harry Smith Anthology times gave us a reprieve. That Harry Smith stuff, commercial music from back in the 1920s and 1930s saved many a weary folk-singer on a tough night when he or she had run out of ideas and yet the girls or guys were still transfixed and thus provided for a last few tunes.

(One old-time, now old-time folk-singer from the 1960s folk minute who is still performing at small clubs and coffeehouses that small dot the country still in places like Harvard Square, the Village, Ann Arbor, Joshua Tree out in California, Seattle, both Portlands and so on, small dots, made a gradation of folk-singer, male folk-singer expectations-if you knew three chords you could gather young straight long-haired women around you, four or five chords would help fill out your date book, a dozen chords and you could have whatever you wanted. Sounds about right about the times even if you didn’t play an instrument, or sing, but knew about two thousand arcane folk facts, although songs better. Any old-time women folksingers can add their recollections if they were similar.)  


The series titled Not Bob Dylan centered on why those budding folkies like Tom Rush, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, Jesse Winchester and the man under review Richard Thompson to name a few did not make the leap to be the “king of folk” that had been ceded by the media to Bob Dylan and then whatever happened to them once the folk minute went south after the combined assault of the British rock invasion (you know the yah, yah, Beatles, the no satisfaction Stones, the really got me Kinks, hell, even I’m Henry the Eighth Herman’s Hermits got serious play for a while),  and the rise of acid rock put folk in the shade (you know the White Rabbit Alice in Wonderland Jefferson Airplane, the let’s keep trucking Dead, the this is the end  Doors, The ripped Who, hell, even the aforementioned non-yah, yah Beatles and non-no satisfaction Stones got caught up in the acid-etched fray although not to their eternal musical playlist benefit nothing that would put then into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame anyway). I also did a series on Not Joan Baez, the “queen of the folk minute” asking that same question on the female side but here dealing with one Richard Thompson the male side of the question is what is of interest.

I did a couple of sketches on Richard Thompson back then, or rather sketches based on probably his most famous song, Vincent Black Lightning, 1952 which dove-tailed with some remembrances of my youth and my semi-outlaw front to the world in that working poor neighborhood where I grew up and the pervasive role that motorcycles played in that world. Additionally, in light of the way that a number of people whom I knew back then, classmates whom I reconnected on a class reunion website several years ago responded when I posed the question of what they thought was the great working-class love song since North Adamsville was definitely a working class town driven by that self-same ethos I wrote some other sketches driving home my selection of Thompson’s song as my choice.

Those later sketches about the world of motorcycles are what interest me here since Thompson gave up the “king of the hill” folk idea. See Thompson at various times packed it in, said he had no more spirit or some such and gave up the road, the music and the struggle to made that music, as least professionally. Took time to make a more religious bent to his life and other such doings. Not unlike a number of other performers from that period who tired of the road or got discouraged with the small crowds, or lost the folk spirit. Probably as many reasons as individuals to give them. Then Thompson, they, years later had an epiphany or something, got the juices flowing again and came back on the road.  That fact is to the good for old time folk (and rock) aficionados like me.

What that fact of returning to the road by Thompson and a slew of others has meant is that my friend and I, (okay, okay my sweetie who prefers that I call her my soulmate but that is just between us so “friend”) now have many opportunities to see acts like Thompson’s Trio, his current band configuration, to see if we think they still “have it” (along with acts of those who never left the road like Bob Dylan who apparently is on an endless tour whether we want him to do so or not). That idea got started about a decade ago when we saw another come-back kid, Geoff Muldaur of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, solo, who had taken something twenty years off. He had it. So we started looking for whoever was left of the old folks acts (rock and blues too) to check out that question-unfortunately the actuarial tables took their toll before we could see some of them at least one last time like Dave Von Ronk.

That brings us back to Richard Thompson. Recently we got a chance to see him in a cabaret setting with tables and good views from every position, at least on in the orchestra section, at the Wilbur Theater in Boston with his trio, a big brush drummer and an all-around side guitar player (and other instruments like the mando). Thompson broke the performance up into two parts, a solo set of six or seven numbers highlighted by Vincent Black Lightning, and Dimming Of The Day which were fine. The second part based on a new album and a bunch of his well-known rock standards left us shaking our heads. Maybe the room could not handle that much sound, although David Bromberg’s five piece band handled it well a couple of weeks before, or maybe it was the melodically sameness of the songs and the same delivery voice and style but we were frankly disappointed and not disappointed to leave at the encore.  Most tunes didn’t resonant although a few in all honesty did but we walked out of the theater with our hands in our pockets. No thumbs up or down based on that first old time set. However, damn it, Bob Dylan does not have to move over, now.  

Which brings us to a later sketch I did based on Brother Thompson’s glorious Vincent Black Lightning. When I got home I began to revise that piece which I have included below.

Mimi’s Glance, Circa 1963

Mimi Murphy knew two things, she needed to keep moving, and she was tired, tired as hell of moving, of the need, of the self-impose need, to keep moving ever since that incident five years before, back in 1958, with her seems like an eternity ago sweet long gone motorcycle boy, her “walking daddy,” Pretty James Preston, although he as long as she had known him never walked a step when his “baby,” his bike was within arm’s length. I knew this information, knew this information practically first hand because the usually polite but loner Mimi Murphy had told me her thoughts and the story that went with it one night after she had finished a tough on the feet night working as a cashier at concession stand the Olde Saco Drive-In Theater out on Route One in Olde Saco, Maine.

That night, early morning really, she had passed me going up to her room with a bottle of high-end Scotch, Haig& Haig, showing its label from a brown bag in her hand while I was going down the stairs in the rooming house we lived in on Water Street in Ocean City, a few miles from Olde Saco. A number of people, including Mimi and me, were camped out there in temporary room quarters after the last of the summer touristas had decamped and headed back to New York, or wherever they came from. The cheap off-season rent and the short stay-until-the-next-summer-crowd-showed-up requiring no lease drew us there. Most residents, mostly young and seemingly unattached to any family or work life kept to themselves, private drinkers or druggies (probably not grass since I never smelled the stuff which I had a nose for from youthful smoke-filled dreams while I was there so coke, opium, speed, maybe horse although I saw no obvious needle marks on arms or cold turkey screams either), a couple of low profile good looking young hustling girls, probably just graduating from amateur status and still not jaded “tarts” as my father used to call them, who didn’t bring their work home, guys maybe just out of the service, or between jobs, and so on. I had seen a couple of guys, young guys with horny looks in their eyes, maybe an idea of making a play, making passes at Mimi but thought nothing of it since they also targeted the hustling girls too.


Since I had never bothered Mimi, meaning made a pass at her, she must have sensed that being contemporaries, she was twenty-one then and I twenty-two, that maybe she could unburden her travails on a fellow wayward traveler. That no making a pass business by the way due to the fact that slender, no, skinny and flat-chested Irish red-heads with faraway looks like Mimi with no, no apparent, warm bed desires, that year and in those days not being my type after tumbledown broken-hearted youthful years of trying to coax their Irish Catholic rosary bead novena favors to no avail over in the old Little Dublin neighborhood around the Acre in Olde Saco.


Whatever she sensed and she was pretty closed-mouth about it when I asked her later she was right about my ability to hear the woes of another wanderer without hassles, and she did as she invited me up into her room with no come hither look (unlike those pretty hustling girls who made a profession of the “come hither look” and gave me a try-out which after proving futile turned into small courtesy smiles when we passed each other). But she showed no fear, no apparent fear, anyway.

After a couple of drinks, maybe three, of that dreamboat scotch that died easy going down  she loosened up, taking her shoes off before sitting down on the couch across from me. For the interested I had been down on my uppers for a while and was drinking strictly rotgut low-shelf liquor store wines and barroom half empty glass left-overs so that stuff was manna from heaven I can still taste now but that is my story and not Mimi’s so I will move on. Here is the gist of what she had to say as I remember it that night:

She started out giving her facts of life facts like that she had grown up around this Podunk town outside of Boston, Adamsville Junction, and had come from a pretty pious Roman Catholic Irish family that had hopes that she (or one of her three younger sisters, but mainly she) might “have the vocation,” meaning be willing, for the Lord, to prison cloister herself up in some nunnery to ease the family’s way into heaven, or some such idea. And she had bought into the idea from about age seven to about fourteen by being the best student, boy or girl, in catechism class on Sunday, queen of the novenas, and pure stuff like that in church and the smartest girl in, successively, Adamsville South Elementary School, Adamsville Central Junior High, and the sophomore class at Adamsville Junction High School.

As she unwound this part of her story I could see where that part was not all that different from what I had encountered in my French-Canadian (mother, nee LeBlanc) Roman Catholic neighborhood over in the Acre in Olde Saco. I could also see, as she loosened up further with an additional drink, that, although she wasn’t beautiful, certain kinds of guys would find her very attractive and would want to get close to her, if she let them. Just the kind of gal I used to go for before I took the pledge against Irish girls with far-away looks, and maybe red hair too.


About age fourteen thought after she had gotten her “friend” (her period for those who may be befuddled by this old time term) and started thinking, thinking hard about boys, or rather seeing that they, some of them, were thinking about her and not novenas and textbooks her either she started to get “the itch.” That itch that is the right of passage for every guy on his way to manhood. And girl on her way to womanhood as it turned out but which in the Irish Roman Catholic Adamsville Junction Murphy family neighborhood was kept as a big, dark secret from boys and girls alike.

Around that time, to the consternation of her nun blessed family, she starting dating Jimmy Clancy, a son of the neighborhood and a guy who was attracted to her because she was, well, pure and smart. She never said whether Jimmy had the itch, or if he did how bad, because what she made a point out of was that being Jimmy’s girl while nice, especially when they would go over Adamsville Beach and do a little off-hand petting and watching the ocean, did not cure her itch, not even close. This went on for a couple of years until she was sixteen and really frustrated, not by Jimmy so much as by the taboos and restrictions that had been placed on her life in her straight-jacket household, school and town. (Welcome to the club, sister, your story is legion) No question she was ready to break out, she just didn’t know how.

Then in late 1957 Pretty James Preston came roaring into town. Pretty James, who despite the name, was a tough motorcycle wild boy, man really about twenty-one, who had all, okay most all, of the girls, good girls and bad, wishing and dreaming, maybe having more than a few restless sweaty nights, about riding on back of that strange motorcycle he rode (a Vincent Black Lightning, a bike made in England which would put any Harley hog to shame from rev number one when I looked for information about the beast later, stolen, not by Pretty James but by third parties, from some English with dough guy and transported to America where he got it somehow, the details were very vague about where he got it, not from her, him) and being Pretty James’ girl. One day, as he passed by on his chopper going full-throttle up Hancock Street, Mimi too got the Pretty James itch.

But see it was not like you could just and throw yourself at Pretty James that was not the way he worked, no way. One girl, one girl from a good family who had her sent away after the episode, tried that and was left about thirty miles away, half-naked, after she thought she had made the right moves and was laughed at by Pretty James as he took off with her expensive blouse and skirt flying off his handle-bars as he left her there unmolested but unhinged. That episode went like wildfire through the town, through the Monday morning before school girls’ lav what happened, or didn’t happen, over the weekend talkfest first of all.

No Pretty James’ way was to take, take what he saw, once he saw something worth taking and that was that. Mimi figured she was no dice. Then one night when she and Jimmy Clancy were sitting by the seawall down at the Seal Rock end of the beach starting to do their little “light petting” routine Pretty James came roaring up on his hellish machine and just sat there in front of the pair, saying nothing. But saying everything. Mimi didn’t say a word to Jimmy but just started walking over to the cycle, straddled her legs over back seat saddle and off they went into the night. Later that night her itch was cured, or rather cured for the first time.

Pouring another drink Mimi sighed poor Pretty James and his needs, no his obsessions with that silly motorcycle, that English devil’s machine, that Vincent Black Lightning that caused him more anguish than she did. And she had given him plenty to think about as well before the end. How she tried to get him to settle down a little, just a little, but what was a sixteen-year old girl, pretty new to the love game, totally new, new but not complaining to the sex game, and his well-worn little tricks to get her in the mood, and make her forget the settle down thing. Until the next time she thought about it and brought it up.

Maybe, if you were from around Adamsville way, or maybe just Boston, you had heard about Pretty James, Pretty James Preston and his daring exploits back in about 1957 and 1958. Those got a lot of play in the newspapers for months before the end. Before that bank job, the one where as Mimi said Pretty James used to say all the time, he “cashed his check.” Yes, the big Granite City National Bank branch in Braintree heist that he tried to pull all by himself, with Mimi as stooge look-out. She had set him up for that heist, or so she thought. No, she didn’t ask him to do it but she got him thinking, thinking about settling down just a little and if that was to happen he needed a big score, not the penny ante gas station and mom and pop variety store robberies that kept them in, as he also used to say, “coffee and cakes” but a big payday and then off to Mexico, maybe down Sonora way, and a buy into the respectable and growing drug trade.

And he almost, almost, got away clean that fatal day, that day when she stood across the street, an extra forty-five in her purse just in case he needed it for a final getaway. She never having handled a gun mush less fired one was scared stiff it might go off in that purse although she Pretty James had her in such a state that she would have emptied the damn thing if it would have done any good. But he never made it out the bank door. Some rum brave security guard tried to uphold the honor of his profession and started shooting nicking Pretty James in the shoulder. Pretty James responded with a few quick blasts and felled the copper. That action though slowed down the escape enough for the real coppers to respond and blow Pretty James away. Dead, DOA, done. Her, with a tear, sweet boy Pretty James.

According to the newspapers a tall, slender red-headed girl about sixteen had been seen across the street from the bank just waiting, waiting according to the witness, nervously. The witness had turned her head when she heard the shots from the bank and when she looked back the red-headed girl was gone. And Mimi was gone, maybe an accessory to felony murder or worst charge hanging over her young head, and long gone before the day was out. She grabbed the first bus out of Braintree headed to Boston where eventually she wound up holed up in a high-end whorehouse doing tricks to make some moving on dough. (She mentioned some funny things about that stay, which was not so bad at the time when she needed dough bad, and about strange things guys, young and old, wanted her to do but I will leave that stuff out here.)

And she had been moving ever since, moving and eternally hate moving. Now, for the past few months, she had been working nights as a cashier in the refreshment stand at Olde Saco Drive-In to get another stake to keep moving. She had been tempted, a couple of times, to do a little moon-lighting in a Portland whorehouse that a woman she had worked with at her last job, Fenner’s Department Store, where she modeled clothes for the rich ladies, had told her about to get a quick stake but she was almost as eternally tired at that prospect as in moving once again.

And so Mimi Murphy, a few drinks of high-shelf scotch to fortify her told her story, told it true I think, mostly. A couple of days later I saw her through my room’s window with a suitcase in hand looking for all the world like someone getting ready to move on, move on to be a loner again after maybe an indiscrete airing of her linen in public. Thinking back on it now I wish, I truly wish, that I had been more into slender, no skinny, red-headed Irish girls with faraway looks that season and maybe she would not have had to keep moving, eternally moving.
ARTIST: Richard Thompson

TITLE: 1952 Vincent Black Lightning

Said Red Molly to James that's a fine motorbike

A girl could feel special on any such like

Said James to Red Molly, well my hat's off to you

It's a Vincent Black Lightning, 1952

And I've seen you at the corners and cafes it seems

Red hair and black leather, my favorite color scheme

And he pulled her on behind

And down to Box Hill they did ride

/ A - - - D - / - - - - A - / : / E - D A /

/ E - D A - / Bm - D - / - - - - A - - - /

Said James to Red Molly, here's a ring for your right hand

But I'll tell you in earnest I'm a dangerous man

I've fought with the law since I was seventeen

I robbed many a man to get my Vincent machine

Now I'm 21 years, I might make 22

And I don't mind dying, but for the love of you

And if fate should break my stride

Then I'll give you my Vincent to ride

Come down, come down, Red Molly, called Sergeant McRae

For they've taken young James Adie for armed robbery

Shotgun blast hit his chest, left nothing inside

Oh, come down, Red Molly to his dying bedside

When she came to the hospital, there wasn't much left

He was running out of road, he was running out of breath

But he smiled to see her cry

And said I'll give you my Vincent to ride

Says James, in my opinion, there's nothing in this world

Beats a 52 Vincent and a red headed girl

Now Nortons and Indians and Greeveses won't do

They don't have a soul like a Vincent 52

He reached for her hand and he slipped her the keys

He said I've got no further use for these

I see angels on Ariels in leather and chrome

Swooping down from heaven to carry me home

And he gave her one last kiss and died