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Eugene V. Debs (1855-1926) es uno de los personajes más fascinantes de la historia estadounidense. Líder sindical, socialista convencido, candidato a la presidencia de Estados Unidos en cinco ocasiones y víctima de la intolerancia fanática, Debs encarna las luchas sociopoliticas de la sociedad estadounidense posterior a la guerra civil . Comparto con los seguidores de esta bitácora este execelente artículo de la historiadora Jill Lepore sobre la vida y legado Eugene V. Debs.

Eugene Victor Debs left school at the age of fourteen, to scrape paint and grease off the cars of the Vandalia Railroad, in Indiana, for fifty cents a day. He got a raise when he was promoted to fireman, which meant working in the locomotive next to the engineer, shovelling coal into a firebox—as much as two tons an hour, sixteen hours a day, six days a week. Firemen, caked in coal dust, blinded by wind and smoke, had to make sure that the engine didn’t explode, an eventuality they weren’t always able to forestall. If they were lucky, and lived long enough, firemen usually became engineers, which was safer than being a switchman or a brakeman, jobs that involved working on the tracks next to a moving train, or racing across its top, in any weather, at the risk of toppling off and getting run over. All these men reported to the conductors, who had the top job, and, on trains owned by George Mortimer Pullman, one of the richest men in the United States, all of them—the engineers, the firemen, the brakemen, the switchmen, and even the scrapers—outranked the porters. Pullman porters were almost always black men, and ex-slaves, and, at the start, were paid nothing except the tips they could earn by bowing before the fancy passengers who could afford the sleeping car, and who liked very much to be served with a shuffle and a grin, Dixie style.

Every man who worked on the American railroad in the last decades of the nineteenth century became, of necessity, a scholar of the relations between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots, the masters and the slaves, the riders and the ridden upon. No student of this subject is more important to American history than Debs, half man, half myth, who founded the American Railway Union, turned that into the Social Democratic Party, and ran for President of the United States five times, including once from prison.

Debs, who wrote a lot about manliness, always said that the best kind of man was a sand man. “ ‘Sand’ means grit,” he wrote in 1882, in Firemen’s Magazine. “It means the power to hold on.” When a train stalled from the steepness of the incline or the weight of the freight, railroad men poured sand on the tracks, to improve the grip of the wheels. Men need sand, too, Debs said: “Men who have plenty of ‘sand’ in their boxes never slip on the path of duty.” Debs had plenty of sand in his box. He had, though, something of a morbid fear of ashes. Maybe that’s a fireman’s phobia, a tending-the-engine man’s idea of doom. In prison—having been sentenced, brutally, to ten years of hard time at the age of sixty-three—he had a nightmare. “I was walking by the house where I was born,” he wrote. “The house was gone and nothing left but ashes . . . only ashes—ashes!” The question today for socialism in the United States, which appears to be stoking its engines, is whether it’s got enough sand. Or whether it’ll soon be ashes, only ashes, all over again.

Debs was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1855, seven years after Marx and Engels published “The Communist Manifesto.” His parents were Alsatian immigrants who ran a small grocery store. Debs worked for the railroads a little more than four years. In the wake of the Panic of 1873, he lost his job at Vandalia and tramped to East St. Louis looking for work; then, homesick, he tramped back to Terre Haute, where, in 1875, he took a job as a labor organizer, and, later, as a magazine editor, for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen. He hung his old scraper on the wall, part relic, part badge, part talisman, of his life as a manual laborer.

Debs was a tall man, lanky and rubbery, like a noodle. He had deep-set blue eyes and lost his hair early, and he talked with his hands. When he gave speeches, he leaned toward the crowd, and the veins of his temples bulged. He was clean-shaven and favored bow ties and sometimes looked lost in crumpled, baggy suits. He had a way of hunching his shoulders that you often see, and admire, in tall men who don’t like to tower over other people. In a new book, “Eugene V. Debs: A Graphic Biography” (Verso), drawn by Noah Van Sciver and written by Paul Buhle and Steve Max, Debs looks like an R. Crumb character, though not so bedraggled and neurotic.

People could listen to him talk for hours. “Debs! Debs! Debs!” they’d cry, when his train pulled into a station. Crowds massed to hear him by the tens of thousands. But even though Debs lived until 1926, well into the age of archival sound, no one has ever found a recording of his voice. When Nick Salvatore wrote, in his comprehensive biography, “Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist,” in 1982, “His voice ran a gamut of tones: mock whisper to normal conversation to full stentorian power,” you wonder how he knew. Debs could speak French and German and was raised in the Midwest, so maybe he talked like the Ohio-born Clarence Darrow, with a rasp and a drawl. Some of Debs’s early essays and speeches have just been published in the first of six volumes of “The Selected Works of Eugene V. Debs” (Haymarket), edited by Tim Davenport and David Walters. Really, he wasn’t much of a writer. The most delightful way to hear Debs is to listen to a recording made in 1979 by Bernie Sanders, in an audio documentary that he wrote and produced when he was thirty-seven years old and was the director of the American People’s Historical Society, in Burlington, Vermont, two years before he became that city’s mayor. In the documentary—available on YouTube and Spotify—Sanders, the Brooklyn-born son of a Polish Jew, performs parts of Debs’s most famous speeches, sounding, more or less, like Larry David. It is not to be missed.

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Debs began his political career as a Democrat. In 1879, when he was only twenty-three, he was elected city clerk of Terre Haute, as a Democrat; the city’s Democratic newspaper called him “one of the rising young men of Terre Haute,” and the Republican paper agreed, dubbing him “the blue-eyed boy of destiny.” Debs looked back on these days less fondly. “There was a time in my life, before I became a Socialist, when I permitted myself as a member of the Democratic party to be elected to a state legislature,” he later said. “I have been trying to live it down. I am as much ashamed of that as I am proud of having gone to jail.” Throughout his life, he believed in individual striving, and he believed in the power of machines. “A railroad is the architect of progress,” he said in a speech at the Grand Lodge of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen in 1877, the year the President of the United States sent federal troops to crush a railroad workers’ strike. The firemen’s brotherhood was less a labor union than a benevolent society. “The first object of the association is to provide for the widows and orphans who are daily left penniless and at the mercy of public charity by the death of a brother,” Debs explained. At the time, he was opposed to strikes. “Does the brotherhood encourage strikers?” he asked. “No—brotherhood.”

For a long time, Debs disavowed socialism. He placed his faith in democracy, the franchise, and the two-party system. “The conflict is not between capital and labor,” he insisted. “It is between the man who holds the office and the man who holds the ballot.” But in the eighteen-eighties, when railroad workers struck time and time again, and as many as two thousand railroad men a year were killed on the job, while another twenty thousand were injured, Debs began to wonder whether the power of benevolence and fraternity was adequate protection from the avarice and ruthlessness of corporations backed up by armed men. “The strike is the weapon of the oppressed,” Debs wrote in 1888. Even then he didn’t talk about socialism. For Debs, this was Americanism, a tradition that had begun with the American Revolution. “The Nation had for its cornerstone a strike,” he said. He also spent some time with a pencil, doing sums. Imagine, he wrote in an editorial, that a grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt started out with two million dollars—a million from his grandfather and another million from his father. “If a locomotive fireman could work 4,444 years, 300 days each year, at $1.50 per day,” Debs went on, “he would be in a position to bet Mr. Vanderbilt $2.50 that all men are born equal.”

In 1889, Debs argued for an industrial union, a federation of all the brotherhoods of railroad workers, from brakemen to conductors, as equals. Samuel Gompers wanted those men to join his far less radical trade union, the American Federation of Labor, which he’d founded three years earlier, but in 1893 Debs pulled them into the American Railway Union. Soon it had nearly a hundred and fifty thousand members, with Debs, at its head, as their Moses. That’s what got him into a battle with George Pullman, in 1894, and landed him, for the first time, in prison, where he read “Das Kapital.”

Debs once said that George Pullman was “as greedy as a horse leech,” but that was unfair to leeches. In the aftermath of the Panic of 1893, Pullman slashed his workers’ wages by as much as fifty per cent and, even though they lived in housing he provided, he didn’t cut rents or the price of the food he sold them. Three thousand workers from the Pullman Palace Car Company, many of them American Railway Union members, had already begun a wildcat strike in May of 1894, a month before the A.R.U.’s first annual meeting, in Chicago. As Jack Kelly recounts, in “The Edge of Anarchy: The Railroad Barons, the Gilded Age, and the Greatest Labor Uprising in America” (St. Martin’s), Debs hadn’t wanted the A.R.U. to get involved, but the members of his union found the Pullman workers’ plight impossible to ignore, especially after nineteen-year-old Jennie Curtis, who’d worked in the Pullman sewing department for five years, upholstering and making curtains, addressed the convention. Curtis explained that she was often paid nine or ten dollars for two weeks’ work, out of which she paid Pullman seven dollars for her board and two or three more for rent. “We ask you to come along with us,” she told Debs’s men, because working for Pullman was little better than slavery. After hearing from her, the A.R.U. voted for a boycott, refusing “to handle Pullman cars and equipment.”

That Curtis had a voice at all that day was thanks in part to Debs, who had supported the admission of women to the A.R.U. He also argued for the admission of African-Americans. “I am not here to advocate association with the negro, but I am ready to stand side by side with him,” he told the convention. But, by a vote of 112 to 110, the assembled members decided that the union would be for whites only. If two votes had gone the other way, the history of the labor movement in the United States might have turned out very differently.

Black men, closed out of the A.R.U., formed the Anti-Strikers Railroad Union, to fill positions opened by striking whites. If working on a Pullman car was degrading, it was also, for decades, one of the best jobs available to African-American men. Its perks included safe travel at a time when it was difficult for black people to make their way between any two American cities without threat or harm. George Pullman’s company was the nation’s single largest employer of African-American men. Thurgood Marshall’s father was a Pullman porter. The A.R.U. vote in 1894 set back the cause of labor for decades. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters achieved recognition from the Pullman Company only in 1937, after years of organizing by A. Philip Randolph.

The Pullman strike of 1894, one of the single biggest labor actions in American history, stalled trains in twenty-seven states. Debs’s American Railway Union all but halted transportation by rail west of Detroit for more than a month—either by refusing to touch Pullman cars or by actively unhitching them from the trains. Whatever Debs’s initial misgivings about the boycott, once his union voted for it he dedicated himself to the confrontation between “the producing classes and the money power.” In the end, after a great deal of violence, George Pullman, aided by President Grover Cleveland, defeated the strikers. Pursued by a U.S. Attorney General who had long served as a lawyer for the railroads, Debs and other A.R.U. leaders were indicted and convicted of violating a federal injunction to stop “ordering, directing, aiding, assisting, or abetting” the uprising. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Debs’s conviction. He and seven other organizers were sentenced to time behind bars—Debs to six months, the others to three—and served that time in Woodstock, Illinois, in a county jail that was less a prison than a suite of rooms in the back of the elegant two-story Victorian home of the county sheriff, who had his inmates over for supper every night.

“The Socialist Conversion” is the title of the half-page panel depicting these six months in “Eugene V. Debs: A Graphic Biography.” It shows Debs in a prisoner’s uniform, seated at a desk in a bare room, with a beady-eyed, billy-club-wielding prison guard looking on from the doorway, while a cheerful man in a suit, carrying “The Communist Manifesto,” approaches Debs, his speech bubble reading “This is a present from the Socialists of Milwaukee to you.”

 

Very little of this is true. Debs’s time in jail in Woodstock was remarkably comfortable. He ran the union office out of his cell. He was allowed to leave jail on his honor. “The other night I had to lock myself in,” he told the New York World reporter Nellie Bly, when she went to interview him. “There was no sign of the prisoner about Mr. Debs’ clothes,” Bly reported. “He wore a well-made suit of grey tweed, the coat being a cutaway, and a white starched shirt with a standing collar and a small black and white scarf tied in a bow-knot.” The Milwaukee socialist Victor Berger did bring Debs a copy of Marx’s “Das Kapital.” And Debs and his fellow labor organizers dedicated most of their daily schedule to reading. “I had heard but little of Socialism” before the Pullman strike, Debs later claimed, insisting that the reading he did in jail brought about his conversion. But it’s not clear what effect that reading really had on him. “No sir; I do not call myself a socialist,” he told a strike commission that year. While in jail, he turned away overtures from socialists. And when he got out, in 1895, and addressed a crowd of more than a hundred thousand people who met him at the train station in Chicago, he talked about “the spirit of ’76” and the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, not Marx and Engels.

The next year, Debs endorsed the Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, running on both the Democratic and the People’s Party tickets. Only after Bryan’s loss to William McKinley, whose campaign was funded by businessmen, did Debs abandon his devotion to the two-party system. The people elected Bryan, it was said, but money elected McKinley. On January 1, 1897, writing in the Railway Times, Debs proclaimed himself a socialist. “The result of the November election has convinced every intelligent wageworker that in politics, per se, there is no hope of emancipation from the degrading curse of wage-slavery,” he wrote. “I am for socialism because I am for humanity. . . . Money constitutes no proper basis of civilization.”

That June, at the annual meeting of the American Railway Union, Debs founded the Social Democracy of America party. When it splintered, within the year, Victor Berger and Debs joined what became the Social Democratic Party, and then, in 1901, the Socialist Party of America. For Debs, socialism meant public ownership of the means of production. “Arouse from your slavery, join the Social Democratic Party and vote with us to take possession of the mines of the country and operate them in the interest of the people,” he urged miners in Illinois and Kansas in 1899. But Debs’s socialism, which was so starry-eyed that his critics called it “impossibilism,” was decidedly American, and had less to do with Karl Marx and Communism than with Walt Whitman and Protestantism. “What is Socialism?” he asked. “Merely Christianity in action. It recognizes the equality in men.”

The myth of Debs’s Christlike suffering and socialist conversion in the county jail dates to 1900; it was a campaign strategy. At the Social Democratic Party convention that March, a Massachusetts delegate nominated Debs as the Party’s Presidential candidate and, in his nominating speech, likened Debs’s time in Woodstock to the Resurrection: “When he came forth from that tomb it was to a resurrection of life and the first message that he gave to his class as he came from his darkened cell was a message of liberty.” Debs earned nearly ninety thousand votes in that year’s election, and more than four times as many when he ran again in 1904. In 1908, he campaigned in thirty-three states, travelling on a custom train called the Red Special. As one story has it, a woman waiting for Debs at a station in Illinois asked, “Is that Debs?” to which another woman replied, “Oh, no, that ain’t Debs—when Debs comes out you’ll think it’s Jesus Christ.”

“This is our year,” Debs said in 1912, and it was, in the sense that nearly a million Americans voted for him for President. But 1912 was also socialism’s year in the sense that both the Democratic and the Republican parties embraced progressive reforms long advocated by socialists (and, for that matter, populists): women’s suffrage, trust-busting, economic reform, maximum-hour and minimum-wage laws, the abolition of child labor, and the direct election of U.S. senators. As Debs could likely perceive a couple of years later, when the Great War broke out in Europe, 1912 was to be socialism’s high-water mark in the United States. “You may hasten Socialism,” he said, “you may retard it, but you cannot stop it.” Except that socialism had already done most of what it would do in the United States in those decades: it had reformed the two major parties.

 

Debs was too sick to run in 1916. The United States declared war on Germany in April, 1917; the Bolshevik Revolution swept Russia that November. Debs spoke out against the war as soon as it began. “I am opposed to every war but one,” he said. “I am for that war with heart and soul, and that is the world-wide war of the social revolution. In that war I am prepared to fight in any way the ruling class may make necessary, even to the barricades.” Bernie Sanders recorded this speech for his 1979 documentary. And, as a member of the Senate, Sanders said it again. “There is a war going on in this country,” he declared on the floor of the Senate in 2010, in a speech of protest that lasted more than eight hours. “I am not referring to the war in Iraq or the war in Afghanistan. I am talking about a war being waged by some of the wealthiest and most powerful people against working families, against the disappearing and shrinking middle class of our country.”

After Debs, socialism endured in the six-time Presidential candidacy of his successor, Norman Thomas. But it endured far more significantly in Progressive-era reforms, in the New Deal, and in Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. In the decades since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, many of those reforms have been undone, monopolies have risen again, and income inequality has spiked back up to where it was in Debs’s lifetime. Socialism has been carried into the twenty-first century by way of Sanders, a Debs disciple, and by way of the utter failure of the two-party system. Last summer, a Gallup poll found that more Democrats view socialism favorably than view capitalism favorably. This brand of socialism has its own obsession with manliness, with its “Bernie bros” and allegations by women who worked on Sanders’s 2016 Presidential campaign of widespread sexual harassment and violence. Sanders’s campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, recently addressed some of these charges: “Was it too male? Yes. Was it too white? Yes.” Hence the movement’s new face, and new voice: the former Sanders campaign worker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Debs wrote its manifesto, but there’s a certain timidity to the new socialism. It lacks sand. In 1894, one Pullman worker stated the nature of the problem: “We are born in a Pullman house, fed from the Pullman shops, taught in the Pullman school, catechized in the Pullman Church, and when we die we shall go to the Pullman Hell.” We live in Amazon houses and eat Amazon groceries and read Amazon newspapers and when we die we shall go to an Amazon Hell. In the meantime, you can buy your Bernie 2020 hats and A.O.C. T-shirts on . . . Amazon.

Debs was arrested in Cleveland in 1918, under the terms of the 1917 Espionage Act, for a speech protesting the war that he had given two weeks earlier, on June 16th, in Canton, Ohio. “debs invites arrest,” the Washington Post announced. Most of the nation’s newspapers described him as a dictator or a traitor, or both. And, because what he had said was deemed seditious, newspapers couldn’t print it, and readers assumed the worst. But the speech was vintage Debs, from its vague blandishments and programmatic promises—“We are going to destroy all enslaving and degrading capitalist institutions and re-create them as free and humanizing institutions”—to its astute observations and forceful repetitions: “The working class who fight the battles, the working class who make the sacrifices, the working class who shed the blood, the working class who furnish the corpses, the working class have never yet had a voice in declaring war.”

Debs was one of thousands of socialists jailed during the First World War and the Red Scare that followed, when the Justice Department effectively tried to outlaw socialism. His defense attorney compared him to Christ—“You shall know him by his works”—and called no one to the stand but Debs, who, during a two-hour oration, talked less about socialism than about the First Amendment. “I believe in free speech, in war as well as in peace,” Debs told the court. “If the Espionage Law stands, then the Constitution of the United States is dead.”

The socialist Max Eastman, watching him speak that day, described Debs’s growing fervor. “His utterance became more clear and piercing, and it made the simplicity of his faith seem almost like a portent,” Eastman wrote. But it’s the speech Debs gave during his sentencing that would be his best-remembered address, his American creed: “While there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

After being sentenced to ten years, he was taken, by train, from Cleveland to a prison in West Virginia, where he was held for two months before being transferred to the much harsher Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. On the wall of a cell that he shared with five other men, he hung a picture of Jesus, wearing his crown of thorns. Refusing to ask for or accept special treatment, he was confined to his cell for fourteen hours a day and was allotted twenty minutes a day in the prison yard. He wore a rough denim uniform. He ate food barely fit to eat. He grew gaunt and weak.

Debs came to think about the men he met in prison the way he’d once thought about men he’d worked with on the railroad. “A prison is a cross section of society in which every human strain is clearly revealed,” he wrote in a memoir called “Walls and Bars.” But, if the railroad was a model of hierarchy, prison was a model of equality: “We were all on a dead level there.”

He became an American folk hero, a champion of free speech. In his “from the jail house to the White House” campaign, in 1920, he earned nearly a million votes running for President as Convict No. 9653. But a vote for Debs in 1920 was not a vote for socialism; it was a vote for free speech.

 

Convict No. 9653 refused to ask for a pardon, even as he grew sicker, and leaner, and weaker. His reputation as a twentieth-century Christ grew. (Kurt Vonnegut’s much beset narrator in “Hocus Pocus” says, “I am so powerless and despised now that the man I am named after, Eugene Debs, if he were still alive, might at last be somewhat fond of me.”) His supporters began holding Free Debs rallies. President Woodrow Wilson refused to answer calls for amnesty. Warren Harding finally released him, on Christmas Day, 1921. Debs never recovered. He lived much of what remained of his life in a sanatorium. In 1925, he said that the Socialist Party was “as near a corpse as a thing can be.” He died the next year.

Debs understood capitalism best on a train, socialism best in prison. One of the last letters he wrote was to the judge who had sentenced him in 1918, asking whether his conviction had left him disenfranchised or whether he still had the right to vote. ♦


This article appears in the print edition of the February 18 & 25, 2019, issue, with the headline “The Fireman.”

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La foto en la que, alegadamente aparece el gobernador de Virginia Ralph Northam con la cara pintada de negro en el anuario de su escuela de medicina, ha colocado en la vitrina nacional estadounidense el tema del  blackface. Esta practica, asociada a los espectáculos de vodevil conocidos como minstrels,  formó parte de la cultura racista estadounidense desde mucho antes del estallido guerra civil y siguió siéndolo mucho después  del fin de la esclavitud.

A través de una excelente entrevista a la historiadora Rhae Lynn Barnes, mi podcast favorito de historia de Estados Unidos –Backstory– analizada el papel que han jugado el blackface y el minstrelsy en la historia de Estados Unidos.

Los interesados en escuchar la entrevista la encontraran aquí.

En este, el mes en que los estadounidenses celebran el mes de la herencia afro-americana, comparto con mis lectores este interesante escrito sobre el tema de la legislación que buscó frenar los linchamientos en Estados Unidos. Los linchamientos fueron parte de la violencia racial de la que fueron víctimas las minorías estadounidenses, especialmente, los afroamericanos. Casi 5,000 personas fueron linchadas en Estados Unidos entre 1882 y 1951, de los cuales dos terceras partes fueron ciudadanos negros.


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The History of American Anti-Lynching Legislation

We’re History   February 5, 2019

Onn October 26, 1921, President Warren G. Harding traveled to Birmingham, Alabama to participate in the city’s fiftieth anniversary celebration.  The Republican Harding, just seven months into his first term, was immensely popular.  But the speech he gave that day was soon condemned by the Birmingham Post as an “untimely and ill-considered intrusion into a question of which he evidently knows very little.”

What did Harding say that so offended the local newspaper?  After marveling at Birmingham’s industrial development, the President broached the subject of race relations.  Harding reminded the audience that black Americans had served just as honorably as whites in the recently completed world war, stating that their service brought many African Americans their “first real conception of citizenship – the first full realization that the flag was their flag, to fight for, to be protected by them, and also to protect them.”  He went on to condemn the lynching of black men and women and told the citizens of Birmingham that their future could be even brighter if they had “the courage to be right.”

Harding was not the first politician to claim to oppose lynching, and he would not be the last.  According to Tuskegee Institute statistics, over 4,700 Americans—two-thirds of them African American—were the victims of lynching between 1882 and 1951.  Lynching was a favorite tool of the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups in the years after the Civil War, terrorizing black communities out of political activism and into silence for fear of their lives.  For decades, white southerners used lynching, Jim Crow laws, and voter suppression to maintain white supremacy and Democratic Party rule. After World War I, increased European immigration, fears of communism, and the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to major industrial cities in the North and Midwest led to increased instances of lynching.

Between 1882 and 1968, nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress, and seven U.S. presidents between 1890 and 1952 asked Congress to pass a federal anti-lynching law.  Probably the most famous anti-lynching proposal was the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, first introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Missouri Republican Leonidas C. Dyer on April 8, 1918.  Dyer, known as a progressive reformer, came from St. Louis, where in 1917 white ethnic mobs had attacked blacks in race riots over strikebreaking and competition for jobs.  His proposed legislation made lynching a federal felony and gave the U.S. government the power to prosecute those accused of lynching.  It called for a maximum of five years in prison, a $5,000 fine, or both for any state or city official who had the power to protect someone from lynching but failed to do so or who had the power to prosecute accused lynchers but did not; a minimum of five years in prison for anyone who participated in a lynching; and a $10,000 fine on the county in which a lynching took place.  Those funds would be turned over to the victim’s family.  The Dyer bill also permitted the prosecution of law enforcement officials who failed to equally protect all citizens.

White southern Democrats in Congress opposed Dyer’s bill, and it went nowhere in 1918.  The next year, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) published a report that disproved the claim that most lynchings were of black men accused of attacking white women.  In fact, the report stated, less than one-sixth of the 2,500 African Americans lynched between 1889 and 1918 had been accused of rape.  Dyer, who represented a district with a large black constituency and was horrified by both the violence and disregard for the law inherent in lynching, determined to keep pressing his anti-lynching bill.  In 1920, the Republican Party included a brief endorsement of anti-lynching legislation (though not Dyer’s specifically) in the platform on which Warren G. Harding was elected:  “We urge Congress to consider the most effective means to end lynching in this country which continues to be a terrible blot on our American civilization.”

Dyer unsuccessfully re-introduced the bill in 1920, but it got a boost in late 1921 when Harding endorsed it in his Birmingham speech.  Harding went to Birmingham just four months after the May 31-June 1 racial violence in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which saw white mobs attack black residents and business and led to the deaths of nearly forty African Americans.  On January 26, 1922, the U.S. House of Representatives successfully passed the Dyer bill, sending it to the Senate.  But it failed in the Senate as southerners filibustered it, arguing that that blacks were disproportionately responsible for crime and out-of-wedlock births and required more welfare and social assistance than other minority groups.  In other words, stronger social controls—like lynching—were necessary to keep African Americans in line.  Dyer introduced his bill before Congress in 1923 and again in 1924, but southerners continued to block it.

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The Costigan-Wagner Bill of 1934 was the next major piece of anti-lynching legislation put before the U.S. Congress.  It was co-sponsored by Senators Edward P. Costigan of Colorado and Robert F. Wagner of New York—both Democrats.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt, also a Democrat, was hesitant to support this bill, primarily due to the provision it included that allowed for punishment of sheriffs who failed to protect prisoners from lynch mobs.  While FDR certainly opposed lynching, he worried that supporting the Costigan-Wagner Bill would cost him white southern support in his 1936 reelection campaign.  Ultimately, it did not matter much: southern senators blocked the bill’s passage, and Roosevelt cruised to an easy re-election, defeating Kansas Governor Alf Landon by over eleven million popular votes and an Electoral College count of 523 to 8.

Other anti-lynching bills came and went through the years, but none ever passed Congress and went to a president’s desk.  Even as we enter the second decade of the twenty-first century, Congress has still never passed an anti-lynching law.

In June 2018, nearly a year after the August 2017 racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, the three current African American members of the United States Senate introduced a bill to make lynching a federal crime.  Senators Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) drafted the bipartisan legislation that defines lynching as “the willful act of murder by a collection of people assembled with the intention of committing an act of violence upon any person.”  The senators call their bill the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018.  “For over a century,” said Senator Booker, “members of Congress have attempted to pass some version of a bill that would recognize lynching for what it is: a bias-motivated act of terror… we have righted that wrong and taken corrective action that recognizes this stain on our country’s history.”  The bill unanimously passed the U.S. Senate on December 19, 2018.  It still requires passage by the House of Representatives and a presidential signature to become law.

Though not fondly remembered by historians because of his weakness and corruption, President Warren G. Harding deserves credit for calling out the crime of lynching nearly a century ago.  Criticized as a small-town, backward-looking Midwesterner who longed for the easy days of his childhood, it turns out that at least on the issue of racial violence Harding was ahead of his time.

Hamilton y la tergiversación histórica

Carlos Borrero

80 Grados     25 de enero de 2019

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No puede pasar desapercibido por la gente que Alexander Hamilton, el héroe del musical epónimo de Lin Manuel Miranda, defendía los mismos intereses económicos que hoy exigen para su propio enriquecimiento la imposición de penurias sobre las masas trabajadoras en general, y las de Puerto Rico en particular. La Rebelión del Whisky nos ofrece uno de los ejemplos más destacados de la ardiente defensa que hacía Hamilton de los ricos y poderosos. A pesar de su muy documentado papel activo para suprimir aquella rebelión contributiva la cual sacudió la frontera occidental de los recién formados Estados Unidos a principios de la década de los 1790, particularmente en el oeste de Pennsylvania, ese aspecto de Hamilton, el hombre, al igual que otras facetas similares se omiten de la obra de Miranda. La Rebelión del Whisky, un incidente transcendental en la temprana historia de EEUU, enfrentó los intereses de los pequeños granjeros contra los grandes monopolios destiladores de la costa este además de aquellos de los pobres endeudados contra los ricos acreedores.

El arbitrio sobre el whisky en 1791, el primer impuesto doméstico en EEUU, no sólo fue diseñado para favorecer a los intereses comerciales grandes por encima de aquellos de los pequeños propietarios –una política deliberada de concentración dentro de la industria destiladora– sino también impuso gran parte de la carga de la deuda que se había acumulado para sufragar la guerra independentista estadounidense sobre los granjeros pobres. Significativamente, Hamilton también exigía el pago a precio completo de los bonos de guerras adquiridos por inversionistas ricos de los veteranos de guerra endeudados a grandes descuentos, en algunos casos a 10 centavos el dólar.

Es en este sentido que la Rebelión del Whisky sólo puede entenderse como una continuación del descontento general entre las masas trabajadoras, particularmente las del campo, que estalló primero en la insurrección dirigida por Shays en el oeste de Massachusetts unos años antes y luego continuó con la rebelión de Fries unos años después.

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Hamilton, el hombre, no sólo fue uno de los arquitectos de las políticas a favor de la clase dominante, a la que éste se integró mediante su matrimonio con una de las hijas de la familia Schuyler, una de las dinastías más pudientes de la época, sino que también fue un participante y beneficiario directo de la actividad especulativa y saqueadora de la emergente oligarquía comercial y bancaria estadounidense. Por ejemplo, como asesor legal de la familia Schuyler, Hamilton facilitó unos acuerdos de negocio turbios entre sus suegros y la Holland Land Company que resultaron en el despojo fraudulento de terrenos de los Séneca en el estado de Nueva York. Estos terrenos fueron vitales para la construcción de canales y otros intereses de sus suegros. Aún más interesantes a este respecto fueron los esfuerzos legislativos del gran “patriota” Hamilton a nombre de intereses extranjeros –la Holland Land Company era holandés– que estaban prohibidos de ciertos negocios en el estado de Nueva York antes de su intervención directa.

¿Y qué hay de la supuesta historia ‘rags-to-riches’ de un inmigrante que Miranda nos pinta en su musical? En términos técnicos, Hamilton era un migrante interno de una colonia a otra dentro del mismo imperio cuando se trasladó a la ciudad de Nueva York desde la Isla Nieves a finales de 1772. Aunque es cierto que tuvo que superar obstáculos en su vida, la idea de que Hamilton era ‘pobre’ dista mucho de la verdad histórica. En realidad, sus vínculos con el sector comercial (importaciones y exportaciones) desde sus años de adolescencia en el Caribe lo posicionaron sólidamente dentro de la capa intermediaria de la sociedad colonial. Precisamente por eso pudo no sólo codear con importantes sectores comerciales y políticos una vez llegó al norte, sino también integrarse dentro de éstos, aunque con trabajo duro y determinación. En cualquier caso, la propia experiencia vivida de Hamilton no fue de ninguna manera un impedimento para el tipo de chovinismo nacional que éste adoptó hacia los demás, particularmente durante sus últimos años de vida política activa, ya sea en la forma de epítetos antiinmigrantes que lanzaba contra sus opositores políticos o su ferviente apoyo a los Actos de Extranjería y Sedición bajo la presidencia de Adams.

Tampoco es creíble su supuesto abolicionismo, el cual Miranda opone a la hipocresía del esclavista Jefferson. En primer lugar, la familia de su esposa poseían esclavos, hecho que no parece haberle molestado a Hamilton. (Algunos historiadores lo acusan de haber alquilado esclavos de vez en cuando; práctica muy común para la época.) Además de esto, sus relaciones comerciales se daban frecuentemente con dueños de esclavos y otros intereses vinculados a la trata humana.

En el análisis final, Hamilton no sólo ascendió a los círculos de poder económico y político dentro del joven EEUU, fue un ideólogo importante de la emergente burguesía norteamericana quien articulaba sin titubeos su actitud ante la gente trabajadora de la época. Una lectura seria de El Federalista revela, además del grado de sus tendencias antidemocráticas, el desdén que sentía por las masas – fueran blancos, negros o indígenas.

El musical de Miranda se basa principalmente en una biografía sobre Hamilton de 2005 escrita por Ron Chernow, quien también trabajó como asesor para la obra teatral. La versión acrítica y ‘saneada’ de la vida de Hamilton que nos presenta Miranda, separa al individuo de las fuerzas sociales contradictorias de su época histórica. Independientemente de la posición de uno respecto a los dotes artísticos de Miranda –pienso que el hombre es sumamente talentoso– su obra no reta para nada el orden social actual no importa cuánto le fascina a uno la cuestión de raza o ver a gente de color representar a figuras históricas blancas. La cuestión racial que permea el musical, en realidad, refleja los deseos de una capa social privilegiada, de la cual Miranda forma parte, compuesta por personas históricamente excluidas de las altas esferas del poder dentro de las salas de juntas corporativas, además de las instituciones sociales, culturales y educativas, debido en gran parte a su identidad racial, étnica o género. El musical de Miranda de ninguna manera busca llamar para un cambio profundo al orden actual. Más bien representa un llamado para mayor diversidad dentro de las capas superiores del orden existente.

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Como han destacado muchos comentaristas en la colonia y la metrópoli, Miranda apoyó a la ley Promesa la cual dio sanción legal a la imposición directa de una dictadura financiera sobre su ‘amado’ Puerto Rico. Como tal, no debería sorprender que tanto los liberales como sectores de la derecha le hayan elogiado por su interpretación de Hamilton o que entidades como The Rockerfeller Foundation o el Gilder Lehrman Institute inviertan millones de dólares para subsidiar el espectáculo y crear currículos para estudiantes de escuela pública en la ciudad de Nueva York. ¿Qué mejor manera para la clase dominante promover sus valores e ideología, particularmente a la juventud pobre de clase trabajadora en tiempos de creciente desigualdad social, que a través de un espectáculo moderno de historia biográfica saneada, pintada a multicolores, y puesta al son del rap?

El musical llega ahora a Puerto Rico, donde en medio de una prolongada crisis económica y crecientes tensiones sociales, y a pesar de las garantías ofrecidas por la HEEND, ha desatado una controversia luego de la decisión de trasladarlo de la UPR al Centro de Bellas Artes en Santurce. La postura asumida por la HEEND de suspender sus protestas en aras del espectáculo, incluso cuando los medios de vida de sus miembros están bajo el ataque directo de la administración universitaria en cumplimiento con los dictados de la oligarquía financiera que ésta le sirve, representó un acto de magnanimidad; el reconocimiento del ‘derecho a la cultura’ tanto del estudiantado como de la gente en general. La oligarquía financiera nunca ha sentido una obligación similar de ser magnánima con los pobres. Los HEEND no deben pedir disculpas por la continuación de sus protestas y menos aún a aquellos que defienden, directa o tácitamente, los intereses de los que saquean el país. Su lucha es más que legítima y debe ampliarse para incluir a otros sectores laborales y los estudiantes.

La decisión de los productores del espectáculo, y los intereses financieros de los que éstos dependen, de trasladarlo no fue más que otra expresión del desdén capitalista por la gente humilde. A pesar de sus intentos de explicar la decisión, Miranda, independientemente de sus sentimientos subjetivos, se encuentra atrapado en el medio. Es la misma posición en que se encontraba cuando no pudo articular una posición de principios con respecto a la imposición de una dictadura financiera sobre su ‘amado’ Puerto Rico. En el análisis final, es una posición que sólo refleja su incapacidad de trascender la perspectiva contradictoria de su clase. Tal es el dilema del pequeño burgués que expresa ideas nobles con sus palabras mientras se aferra a las ventajas materiales colgadas delante de él por sus amos capitalistas de hecho.

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La Historia Del Día

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El Sur de Estados Unidos anterior a la Guerra Civil estadounidense era la tierra de la esclavitud industrial por excelencia,  unos dos millones de esclavos faenando para conseguir que los «señores del látigo» proveyeran abundantemente a los voraces «señores del telar» con la esponjosa fibra blanca.

Robin Blackburn

New Left Review

Fragmento

“Las pruebas arqueológicas sugieren que la producción de algodón surgió casi simultáneamente en el subcontinente indio y en las Américas, alrededor del año 3000 antes de nuestra era; por lo menos cuatro milenios antes de esa fecha ya se hilaba y se tejía el lino y la lana y, en China, la seda y el ramio. Versátil, resistente, lavable y fácilmente teñible, el algodón se convirtió rápidamente en un elemento importante de la economía doméstica de India, China, África occidental, Anatolia, así como en México y Perú en la época precolombina; se plantaba junto a los cultivos alimenticios…

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Huellas2

Ya es una tradición de esta bitácora dar la bienvenida a cada nuevo número de la revista Huellas de Estados Unidos. En esta ocasión se trata del número 15, que incluye una variedad interesante  de temas. Entre ellos podemos mencionar la crisis  de los créditos subprime, la política de la administración Trump hacia Cuba, el estado policial, la OIAA y la Política del Buen Vecino y la política externar de Trump. Este número incluye una sección titulada Los indeseables – Estudio sobre as minorías  silenciadas. Esta consiste de dos entrevistas: la primera, al Pantera Negra Emory Douglas y segunda a la profesora Keenga-Yamatha Taylor. Completan este número dos reseñas.

Felicitamos a los amigos de la Cátedra de Historia de Estados Unidos de la UBA por este número

Norberto Barreto Velazquez

Changsha, China, 24 de octubre de 2018

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ClacsoEl Grupo de Trabajo Estudios sobre Estados Unidos del Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales (CLACSO) acaba de publicar su quinto libro titulado Estados Unidos contra el mundo: Trump y la nueva geopolítica. Con trabajos de  analistas reconocidos como Leandro Morgenfeld, Dídimo Castillo Fernández, Luis Suárez Salazar, Marco A. Gandásegui, hijo y Josefina Morales, esta obra busca evaluar el significado de la presidencia de Donald Trump. De acuerdo a su introducción, este libro

“[…] procura exponer un análisis crítico, riguroso, multidisciplinario y actualizado que ofrezca diversas lecturas, interpretaciones y enfoques sobre los primeros quince meses de Trump al frente de la Casa Blanca. Busca proporcionar datos, evidencias y nuevos enfoques que permitan profundizar el conocimiento sobre Estados Unidos y su relación con el resto del mundo. En otras palabras, ofrecer un insumo para comprender y enfrentar, fundamentalmente desde Nuestra América, los impactos de la convivencia con una nación “en crisis o redefinición”, como es el caso de Estados Unidos en la “era Trump”. (18)

Los interesados en descargar este libro lo pueden hacer aquí.

Norberto Barreto Velázquez,

Lima 30 de agosto de 2018