Today is the anniversary of any number of things, two of which I’ll focus on.
One is the Dutch strike of 1941. This was a mass action against anti-semitism in Nazi-occupied Holland. In response to the increasing segregation of jews, and the sending of more than a hundred to extermination camps, a strike was organised by the banned communist party. Though it was ultimately suppressed, it rallied a large number of workers and is annually celebrated in Holland. It is also commemorated by the pictured statue, in honour of the dockworkers who led it.
Yet despite the central role of communists in resisting Nazism, a brief increase in their popularity after the war was short-lived. This was largely related to the other event that happened on the 25th of February: Nikita Kruschev’s secret speech of 1956. This speech denounced many of the actions of Stalin during his rule, while praising Lenin – it was the first time that many aspects of Stalin’s tyranny had been publicly admitted.
The speech seems to be to bear a certain comparison with the American civil war (although obviously less bloody). It was the time when the initial and most unrestrained butchery that accompanied the setting up of the revolutionary government (I feel that life as a slave can be called a ‘butchered’ life) was denounced by the highest echelons of that state – but not denounced so far as to bring and end to it, merely to make it milder and more stable. The civil war didn’t end racism, nor did Lincoln, the great emancipator, want it to end racism. Similar, the one-party state and the repression of dissent against it was not ended by Kruschev. Indeed half the point of his speech was simply an excuse to attack his rivals in the party.
I say that speech is connected to the lack of benefit that the Dutch communists drew from their resistance to Nazism – not because the speech itself produced that effect, but because the political character of the USSR which it discusses was one of the great forces holding back the spread of communist ideas. Except among aspiring military juntas, of course.
Though it draws this post rather onto a different random topic, I thought I’d share a thought I had about some statements by Abraham Lincoln that I just looked up. He was quite adamant that
“I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races…
[T]here is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the 2 races living together on terms of social or political equality….
[So] while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” [note that – as much as any other ‘man’)
So in what does Lincoln’s abolitionism consist?
“I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position that the Negro should be denied everything…
[T]here is no reason in the world why the Negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence-the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…
“[H]e is not my equal in many respects-certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the right to eat the bread, without leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal.”
Now I read that and it reminded me of something. It reminded me of something I might say – about animals. If cows and chickens are substituted in for ‘the Negro’, this position, that regardless of differing capacities, the basic rights of life and freedom and happiness are shared – this sounds like a good statement of an animal rights position.
Perhaps we can then explain Lincoln’s position on black people: he regarded them as animals, but was a vegan.
I’m not really sure what anyone should make of this reflection. I simply offer it for consideration.