Seeds of Fire: A People’s Chronology

– May –

Recalling events that happened on this day in history.
Memories of struggle, resistance and persistence.

Compiled by Ulli Diemer



May 1623
English colonists in what is now the U.S. state of Virginia finally agree to negotiate a peace agreement with the indigenous Powhatans, whose land they have been continuously seizing since the colony was founded in 1607.
A solemn peace ceremony takes places in Jamestown, attended by the colonists and by 250 Powhatans. At a carefully chosen moment, the leader of the colonists proposes a toast to celebrate the accord.
The drinks which the colonists hand to the Powhatans have been meticulously prepared: they are all laced with poison. 200 Powhatans die on the spot. 50 who fail to succumb to the poison are slaughtered by the colonists. The man who masterminded the poisoning, Dr. John Pott, is subsequently rewarded by being chosen Governor of the Colony of Virginia.

May 1972
The first issue of the feminist newspaper The Other Woman is published in Toronto.

May 1

May Day – International Workers’ Day
May Day has been celebrated as a spring festival in the northern hemisphere since ancient times. It was associated with Walpurgis Night celebrations in Germanic countries, with the Roman festival for the goddess Flora, and with the Gaelic Beltane.

Its origins as International Workers’ Day grow out of the 1886 Haymarket Affair in Chicago, when a bomb is thrown at police at a rally for the eight-hour day, an act for which four anarchists who were present in the crowd are subsequently hanged. The execution of the four men despite the lack of any evidence linking them to the bombing causes international outrage.
In 1889 the founding conference of the Socialist International calls for international demonstrations on May 1, 1890 to commemorate the Haymarket Affair.

The event draws large crowds in several countries, and becomes an annual affair, as workers in countries around the world begin to mark May Day as International Workers’ Day. Governments and employers often resist the recognition of May Day as a holiday, and early May Day marches are frequently attacked by police. In the United States and Canada, governments declare the first Monday in September as a “Labour Day” holiday in order to undermine May Day. In many other countries, workers eventually succeed in having May Day made an official holiday.

May 1, 1891
Police in Fourmies, France, open fire on a peaceful May Day march of workers demonstrating for the eight-hour day, killing nine, and wounding 35, including women and children.

May 1, 1910
Birth of Raya Dunayevskaya (1910-1987), Marxist-Humanist philosopher.

May 1, 1929
Police in Berlin attack Communist May Day demonstrators, killing 27 and injuring hundreds.

May 1, 1933
Publication of the first issue of the Catholic Worker, marking the beginning of the Catholic Worker Movement.

May 1, 1946
The Pilbara Strike: Indigenous pastoral workers in the Pilbara region of Australia walk off the job. The strike goes on until 1949, and is considered a major landmark in the struggle of indigenous Australians for their rights.

May 1, 1960
The Soviet Union shoots down an American U2 spy plane deep over Soviet territory. The flight is part of a series of U.S. spy flights which rely on the inability of the Soviet air defense systems to reach the high-altitude U2s. When the plane is lost, the U.S. first denies that the plane was on a spy mission, claiming that it was a weather research aircraft that had accidentally strayed across the Soviet border and that there “was absolutely no deliberate attempt to violate Soviet airspace and never has been.” Soviet premier Nikita Krushchev then reveals that the plane was shot down more than a thousand kilometres inside Soviet territory, that the surveillance equipment on the plane has been recovered intact, and that the pilot, Francis Gary Powers, has been captured alive. The U.S. then concedes the Soviet account is accurate, but refuses to apologize.

May 1, 1970
The United States, unable to achieve victory in its war against Vietnam, widens the war by invading Cambodia and beginning massive bombing raids over the Cambodian countryside. The invasion is met by nation-wide protests in the United States.

May 1, 1971
Large-scale civil disobedience actions begin in Washington protesting the American war against Vietnam. Over the next few days, some 13,000 people are arrested. The mass arrests help to turn public opinion further against the government and against the war.

May 1, 1977
Following a 24-hour occupation of two proposed nuclear power plant sites in Seabrook, New Hampshire, 1,414 people are arrested.

May 1, 1986
One million South Africans demonstrate their opposition to apartheid in a strike organized by the trade union federation COSATU.

May 2

May 2, 1808
Dos de Mayo Uprising. People in Madrid rebel against the occupation of the city by French forces. Street fighting pits poorly armed citizens against the French army. The rebellion is put down, and the French engage in brutal reprisals.

May 2 - 4, 1896
American forces intervene in Nicaragua to ‘protect American interests.’

Related Topics: InterventionNicaraguaU.S. Imperialism

May 2, 1939
The National Film Board of Canada is founded.

May 2, 1963
Police in Birmingham Alabama arrest 959 black children singing “We Shall Overcome”.

May 2, 1964
Large protests against the Vietnam War take place in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Madison.

May 2, 1967
The Russell War Crimes Tribunal in Stockholm, organized by philosopher Bertrand Russell, begins its hearings into the conduct of the American war against Vietnam. The tribunal unanimously concludes that the United States has committed acts of aggression against Vietnam under the terms of international law.
It also concludes that “We find the government and armed forces of the United States are guilty of the deliberate, systematic and large-scale bombardment of civilian targets, including civilian populations, dwellings, villages, dams, dikes, medical establishments, leper colonies, schools, churches, pagodas, historical and cultural monuments. We also find unanimously, with one abstention, that the government of the United States of America is guilty of repeated violations of the sovereignty, neutrality and territorial integrity of Cambodia, that it is guilty of attacks against the civilian population of a certain number of Cambodian towns and villages.”

May 3

May 3, 1808
French occupation forces take brutal reprisals against the citizens of Madrid after the failed uprising of the previous day. Hundreds of people are rounded up and shot. The event is commemorated by Francisco de Goya’s painting, ‘The Third of May 1808: The Execution of the Defenders of Madrid.’

May 3, 1919
Birth of Pete Seeger, radical American folksinger.

May 3 - 13, 1926
British workers go out on a general strike. The strike is triggered by mine owners who announce that they intend to slash miners’ wages, which have already been repeatedly cut (from £6.00 to £3.90) over the course of the past seven years. When miners balk at accepting another reduction, mine owners lock them out of their workplaces on May 1. The mine owners are in a position to sit out a long dispute because they have just received a large government subsidy.
The Trades Union Congress calls a General Strike to begin on May 4. Close to two million workers go out on strike. The government sets out to crush the strike, with Chancellor of the Exchequer Winston Churchill playing the leading role, using the army and middle-class vigilante organizations. On May 13, the TUC calls off the strike, though the miners continue to resist for several months before being driven back to work by hunger and despair.

May 3, 1936
The French election results in the victory of the “Popular Front,” a coalition of left parties, including social democrats and Communists. The Popular Front wins 386 out of 608 seats, and Socialist leader Léon Blum becomes Prime Minister. The decision to form a Popular Front grew out of concern over the growing strength of fascism, marked by the Nazi seizure of power in Germany and the growth of the fascist movement in France.
The Popular Front government sets out to bring in a series of reforms, including new labour laws recognizing the right to collective bargaining and an increase in the minimum wage. A lack of a clear shared program by the component parties limits the government’s achievements, and in 1938 the Popular Front dissolves itself.

Related Topics: Popular Fronts

May 3, 1963
In Birmingham, Alabama, Public Safety Commissioner “Bull” Connor and his men attack children on a freedom march with fire hoses and police dogs to prevent them from leaving the “Negro section” of town and reaching the downtown. The police attack comes in the midst of a series of increasingly determined anti-segregation protests in Birmingham.
Television coverage of the extreme police brutality and mass arrests (by May 7, 2,500 people are in jail in Birmingham) causes outrage in the U.S. and internationally. The protests continue, and all normal life in Birmingham ceases.
Suddenly the dam breaks: on May 8, Birmingham businesses agree to end segregation, on May 11 Bull Connor is thrown out of office, and on May 13 the federal government sends in 3,000 troops to take control of the city over the protests of Alabama governor George Wallace. In June the ‘Jim Crow’ signs imposing segregation come down forever.

May 3, 1968
Students at Sorbonne University in Paris gather in a mass meeting to protest the closure of the university the day before by the university administration. The administration’s action is an attempt to put a stop to the student protests that have been going on for months.
It has the opposite effect: by the next week, a million people are in the streets; the week after, workers across the country go on strike and occupy factories, and France stands on the brink of revolution.

May 4

May 4, 1886
The Haymarket Affair. An unknown person throws a bomb at police at a rally in Chicago’s Haymarket Square. The rally has been called to support workers striking for the eight-hour day. The bomb blast and ensuing gunfire result in the deaths of an unknown number of civilians and eight police officers, most of them shot by other police firing indiscriminately into the crowd. In the trials that follow, eight anarchists are tried for murder. Four men are convicted and executed, and one commits suicide in prison, although even the prosecution concedes that there is no evidence that any of the defendants had thrown the bomb.

May 4, 1886
The Bay View Massacre. Several thousand workers and their families are camped in a field near the Milwaukee Iron Company. Some of the workers are on strike against the company, others have come to rally in favour of the eight-hour day. On the morning of May 4, a crowd moves in the direction of the company’s property. National Guard militia, ordered by Wisconsin Governor Jeremiah Rusk to “shoot to kill” anyone who approaches the steel mill, fire directly into the crowd. Seven people are killed, including one child; many more are injured.
A subsequent investigation praises the National Guard for their restraint and their humane behaviour in firing only one volley into the crowd. None of the killers are charged, but 50 strikers are sentenced to prison terms for ‘rioting’ and ‘conspiracy’.

May 4, 1916
Birth of Jane Jacobs (1916-2006), author of groundbreaking books on urban studies and economics.

May 4, 1931
The Harlan County miner’s strike of 1931-32, also known as the Harlan County War, pits 18,000 coal miners against police and gun thugs hired by the companies. On May 4, a confrontation results in the death of three company gunmen and one miner.
It is in the midst of this strike that Florence Reece, married to one miner and the daughter of another, reacts to an attempt by Sheriff J.H. Blair and his thugs to intimidate her by writing the song “Which Side Are You On?” which becomes an anthem of the labour movement.

May 4, 1938
Death of Carl von Ossietzky (1889-1938), German pacifist imprisoned by the Nazis. He is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1936 but cannot go to receive it because he is in custody. Denied medical treatment for tuberculosis and for the injuries inflicted on him in the concentration camps, he dies in 1938, still a prisoner.

May 4, 1961
The first Freedom Riders leave Washington D.C., bound for New Orleans. The Freedom Riders are black and white activists determined to challenge the government’s failure to enforce the legal decisions which had ruled segregation illegal on interstate buses.
The Freedom Riders set out on buses with blacks and whites sitting together, challenging the ongoing practice of segregation. They are attacked by Ku Klux Klan members and police (often the police are in fact members of the Klan) and repeatedly beaten en route. At one location, a mob attempts to burn the bus they are on with the Riders trapped on board.
As some Riders are hospitalized or imprisoned, others set out on the same journey. At one point, 300 are imprisoned in the Mississippi State Penitentiary, where they are denied mattresses, sheets, and toothbrushes.
Faced with international condemnation, the Kennedy administration first criticizes the Freedom Riders for being unpatriotic because they are embarrassing the United States in the eyes of the world, but then moves slowly and reluctantly to enforce the law. Finally in November, the Interstate Commerce Commission issues rules requiring bus companies to abide by the law, doing away with “white” and “colored” waiting rooms, washrooms, and eating facilities in bus terminals and train stations.

May 4, 1970
The Kent State killings: Troops of the Ohio National Guard fire into a group of students protesting the U.S. invasion of Cambodia. Four students are killed; nine others are wounded, several seriously.
Subsequent investigations show that there was no justification for the shooting: the soldiers were not being threatened or in any danger. Evidence shows that a number of Guards had in fact conspired to “get those bastards”, i.e. student protestors they saw as disloyal to the U.S.
Despite the clear evidence that the shootings were pre-meditated murder, the government declines to lay charges.

Further Reading:
How they shot those campus bums

May 5

May 5, 1818: Birth of Karl Marx

Marx breathes dialectics and revolution. For Marx, radicalism means going to the root, and Marx’s radicalism seeks to go to the root of capitalism, to comprehend its essence dialectically, to understand its inherent contradictions – and the seeds of revolution it contains.

The social reality he sees is not fixed and static, but charged with inner tensions and contradictions, which build up until they burst through the constraints of the present order to assume new forms, again with their own tensions, containing the seeds of yet further transformations. In capitalist society, he writes, “All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned.”

Marx comes to socialism, unlike his predecessors, not by drawing up blueprints for imaginary utopias, but through his involvement in the real struggle for democracy.

Here is the heart of his politics: there can be no democracy without socialism, and no socialism without democracy.

He starts to study economics, not because of theoretical preconceptions, but because, as a radical journalist, he is trying to better understand the oppression of the poor peasants whose struggles he is striving to bring to public attention.

Marx never constructs a finished system: on the contrary, he struggles to finish anything he writes because there is always more to learn, always further complexities to study and analyze. He hopes to finish the manuscript that becomes “Capital” in a few months; twenty-four years later, it remains only partially completed, and his friend Friedrich Engels has to complete it after his death.

Marx is always deepening his analysis in response to events: from local struggles of weavers and the rural poor in Germany, to the resistance to British imperialism in India, to the struggle against slavery in the United States, to the Paris Commune, to the long campaign to win the eight-hour day.

He continuously adjusts his theories to the facts, not the facts to his theory. Exasperated by pedantic admirers who proclaim a “Marxist” orthodoxy, he growls “If anything is certain, it is that I myself am not a Marxist.”

His investigations bring him to an understanding of the class nature of society: how economic relations, relations of production, shape a society, including its state forms and ideology. He sees, too, that class struggle is inevitable, and that, further, it is the force that can transform societies.

Marx’s analysis shows that the contradictions of capitalism cannot be resolved: capitalism is a system of continuous crisis, capable of destroying the planet on which it feeds in its endless need to extract more profit, more surplus value, and accumulate more capital. Marx is clear about the danger capitalism poses to the earth: he writes angrily about the destruction it wreaks, and reminds us that we are “not the owners of the globe,” that, on the contrary, we have a duty to “hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition.”

At the same time, Marx understands clearly that, for all of its contradictions, capitalism will not fall on its own: it needs to be overthrown. He is a revolutionary, not an economic determinist.

Marx believes that there exists a social majority – the working classes, the people who do the work of the society – who are capable of overthrowing capitalism and the capitalist state, and who in doing so can liberate themselves, and all of society. He believes that revolutionaries should engage themselves in the struggles that confront them where they live, but he is clear that finally a revolution that overthrows capitalism, a global system, must be an international revolution.

Marx is clear in his views, but practical in his politics. He throws himself into the work of the First International, which at the beginning is not even explicitly socialist, because he believes it is important to work with others who are engaged in struggle. He never tries to form a political party, and while he usually describes himself as a “communist”, he also at times calls himself a “socialist” or an “anarchist”, without troubling himself much about the terminology.

Running through everything he does is a profound and passionate belief in self-emancipation. He has no time for would-be dictators and saviours who want to bring ‘liberation’ from the outside. Liberation, for Marx, can only be self-liberation: the collective act of individuals working together to emancipate themselves. “Free association” is his watchword, both for the struggle and for the society that we hope to bring into being.

He knows that he won’t live to see that future communist society whose watchword will be “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need” but he devotes his entire life to bringing it about.

Related Topics: DialecticsKarl MarxMarxismMarxism OverviewsRevolutionRevolutionary PoliticsSelf-Emancipation

May 5, 1875
Karl Marx sends off his critical notes on the unity programme drafted by the two wings of the German workers’ party for their forthcoming congress. In his notes, later published under the title “Critique of the Gotha Program”, Marx criticizes his comrades in the ‘Eisenach group’ for agreeing to “a thoroughly objectionable programme that demoralises the Party.”

Marx says “Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programmes. If, therefore, it was not possible – and the conditions of the item did not permit it – to go beyond the Eisenach programme, one should simply have concluded an agreement for action against the common enemy. But by drawing up a programme of principles (instead of postponing this until it has been prepared for by a considerable period of common activity) one sets up before the whole world landmarks by which it measures the level of the Party movement.”

In the Critique, Marx lays out his emancipatory and revolutionary vision in sharply compressed form, differentiating it clearly from the confused reformism of the Gotha programme. The German socialists are highly displeased with his criticisms and keep the document secret for sixteen years, until it is finally published thanks to Friedrich Engels.

Further Reading:
Karl Marx: Critique of the Gotha Program
Karl Korsch: Introduction to the Critique of the Gotha Programme
Paresh Chattopadhyay: A Manifesto of Emancipation: Marx’s “Marginal Notes to the Programme of the German Workers’ Party”

May 5, 2010
Anarchists firebomb a bank in Athens. Three workers are killed.

May 6

May 6, 1856
Birth of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the founder of psychoanalysis.

May 6, 8, 1911
Rosa Luxemburg publishes her critique of “Peace Utopias”, by which she means schemes to bring about peace through international treaties. She characterizes them as “utopian” because they leave the underlying causes of militarism – capitalism and imperialism – in place.

She writes: “The friends of peace in bourgeois circles believe that world peace and disarmament can be realised within the frame-work of the present social order, whereas we ... are convinced that militarism can only be abolished from the world with the destruction of the capitalist class state.”

She adds: “It is typical of Utopian strivings that, in order to demonstrate their practicability, they hatch “practical” recipes with the greatest possible details.”

Luxemburg points to blinkered viewpoint of those who believe that the era of peace has already arrived because “for forty years we have had uninterrupted peace”. She says “This conception, which considers only events on the European continent, does not notice that the very reason why we have had no war in Europe for decades is the fact that international antagonisms have grown infinitely beyond the narrow confines of the European continent, and that European problems and interests are now fought out on the world seas and in the by-corners of Europe.... Every time that bourgeois politicians have championed the idea of Europeanism, of the union of European States, it has been with an open or concealed point directed against the “yellow peril,” the “dark continent,” against the “inferior races,” in short, it has always been an imperialist abortion.”

She warns that without the overthrow of capitalism, war is inevitable. A little more than three years later, she will be proven tragically correct.

Further Reading:
Rosa Luxemburg: Peace Utopias
Rosa Luxemburg: The Militia and Militarism
Rosa Luxemburg: The Junius Pamphlet

May 6, 1954
Roger Bannister runs the first sub-four-minute mile in 3:59.4

May 6, 1968
In Paris, intensifying student protests reach a new level as the national student union and the union of university professors jointly call a march to protest against the police invasion and occupation of Sorbonne University. More than 20,000 people gather to march toward the Sorbonne, which is still sealed off by police. As they approach the vicinity of the university, police charge them with batons flailing, striking anyone they can reach. The march breaks apart, but soon people are starting to build barricades, while others throw paving stones at the police, forcing them to retreat for a time. Police regroup, start firing tear gas, and attack the crowd again. Hundreds of students and supporters are arrested. By the next day, growing numbers of workers and high school students have joined the original protesters in the streets. The mood is increasingly insurrectionary.

May 7

May 7, 1839
The Chartist campaign in Britain – named after the People’s Charter of 1837, demanding democratic reform – culminates in the presentation of a huge petition to the House of Commons. The petition is perhaps the most comprehensive expression of the popular will seen in Britain to that point: more than 1,280,000 people have signed it.
The goals of the movement are increased democratization of the political system, which has been set up to restrict political rights to a small elite. Demands include universal (male) suffrage; a secret ballot; no property qualifications for members of Parliament; payment for MPs (so the poor can serve); constituencies of equal size, and annual elections.
Members of Parliament, representatives of the very elite whose power the petitioners want to curtail, take their time in responding to the petition. They wait more than two months, and then, on July 12, they overwhelmingly (235 – 46) reject a motion that the petitioners be heard in the House of Commons.
This marks the high point of the first wave of the Chartist movement. The movement continues until the late 1840s, expressing itself in various working-class organizations as well as direct demands for political reform, but never manages to find the power to achieve the change it wants.
The goals of the Chartist movement are eventually achieved, after the movement itself has petered out, but the hoped-for result – democracy – is not.

May 7 -22, 1873
American forces intervene in Colombia ‘to protect American interests.’

May 7 -9, 1898
The Bava-Beccaris massacre. Italian troops, including infantry, cavalry, and artillery, commanded by General Fiorenzo Bava-Beccaris, attack striking workers and their supporters in Milan. They kill 400 people and injure more than 2,000.
After the slaughter, Italy’s King Umberto praises the general and awards him the medal Grande Ufficiale dell’Ordine Militare dei Savoia, saying that “You have rendered a great service to the King and to the Country.” The King’s praise of his murderous general costs him his life: shortly thereafter, Umberto is assassinated by an enraged worker.

May 7, 1926
American forces intervene in Nicaragua to ‘protect American interests’. They remain, with some interruptions, until 1933.

May 7, 1954
After a two-month battle, Viet Minh resistance forces inflict a decisive defeat on the French army at Dien Bien Phu in central Vietnam. Thousands of French soldiers are killed, more than 10,000 are taken prisoner. The Vietnamese victory marks the end of the French Empire in Indochina.

May 8

May 8, 1920
Birth of Harry Rankin (1920-2002), Canadian socialist, lawyer and politician.

May 8, 1934
Start of the first Remington Rand strike. The strike starts after workers organize a union at the Remington Rand typewriter company. The company categorically refuses to recognize the union or bargain, causing the company’s 6,500 workers to go out on strike. The company does finally recognize the union in June 1936, and signs a contract, but then immediately sets out to destroy the union, leading to another bitter strike.
The strike is notorious for originating the “Mohawk Valley formula,” a corporate plan to break strikes by discrediting union leaders, instigating violence, using local police and hired thugs to intimidate strikers, form puppet associations of “loyal employees”, fortify workplaces, employ large numbers of scabs, and threaten to close the plant if workers don’t submit to company demands. Company president James Rand Jr. spells out the anti-union strategy in a pamphlet which is widely distributed by the National Association of Manufacturers, and then put into practice by other companies.
In March 1937, the National Labor Relations Board, normally pro-employer, renders a decision finding the company guilty of violating federal labour law. The NLRB orders the company to recognize the union and reinstate strikers it has fired with back pay. The company fights the decision all the way to the Supreme Court. It finally complies with the orders in 1940.

May 8 - 9, 1945
Germany surrenders to the allies, bringing the Second World War in Europe to an end.

May 8, 1972
The RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) burn down a barn in which a separatist group in Quebec is planning to meet, in order to prevent the meeting from taking place.

May 8, 1974
Seventeen million railway workers go on strike in India: probably the largest single strike of all time. The workers are asking for better pay, improved working conditions, and more reasonable hours of work (the union’s demand is to reduce the working day to 12 hours.
Indira Gandhi’s government reacts with brutal repression. Thousands of workers are imprisoned, thousands more are fired. The strike ends in defeat on May 27.

May 9

May 9, 1763
The start of Pontiac’s War. An alliance of indigenous Ottawas, Ojibwas, Potawatomis, and Hurons led by the Ottawa chief Pontiac lay siege to Fort Detroit, the British military stronghold in the Great Lakes area. They are angered at the British, who have recently moved into the area and are treating the native population as conquered people, while ever-increasing numbers of settlers move onto native land. The native alliance wins a number of victories, including the capture of eight other British forts in the area, but are unable to capture Fort Detroit.
In the course of the war, the British hit on the strategy of trying to infect the native population with smallpox by giving them contaminated blankets. The British commander, General Jeffrey Amherst, tells his subordinates that they should use this means, as well as “every other method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race.”
The conflict ends in a military stalemate. The British are unable to defeat the native Americans, but the natives are unable to drive out the British. In October, the British issue a Royal Proclamation which recognizes native rights and territory, and restricts colonists to the area east of the Appalachians. The land west of the Appalachians from Florida to Quebec is recognized as an ‘Indian Reserve.’ The colonists' resentment of this restriction is one of the factors that leads to the American War of Independence thirteen years later.

May 9, 1800
Birth of John Brown (1800-1859), American abolitionist who advocated and practiced armed insurrection as a means to end slavery.

Further Reading:
John Brown, Abolitionist

Related Topics: Anti-Slavery

May 9, 1832
The “Treaty of Payne’s Landing”: American colonists concoct a fraudulent ‘treaty’ under which the indigenous Seminoles of Florida supposedly agree to leave Florida.

May 9, 1921
Birth of Daniel Berrigan, American priest, peace activist, and poet.

May 9, 1934
Start of the 1934 Waterfront Strike on the west coast of the United States. Longshoremen in every port on the west coast walk out; sailors on the ships go on strike a few days later. The employers bring in large numbers of strikebreakers, housing them on ships moored offshore or in fortified compounds. Many Teamsters refuse to handle cargo loaded by scabs, leaving the goods stranded. After a bloody police attack on striking workers in July, a general strike is called in San Francisco and Oakland. The strike eventually ends in a settlement in which both employers and workers gain on some issues and lose on others. For the workers, one of the most important victories is the recognition of their unions and the end of employer-run hiring halls.

May 10

May 10, 1815
Birth of Henry Bibb (1815-1854), former slave, abolitionist, author. At the age of 27, he escapes from slavery and throws himself into the anti-slavery cause. In 1850, he publishes his autobiography, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave, Written by Himself. After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, which exposes him to the danger of being recaptured and returned to slavery, he and his wife move to Canada where he starts the first black newspaper in Canada, Voice of the Fugitive.

May 10, 1837
Start of the Panic of 1837 in the United States. Speculative lending practices, a collapsing land bubble, and dodgy investments lead to a banking crisis. On May 10, banks in New York announce that they will no longer redeem commercial paper at its face value. The result is a panic: banks and businesses collapse, workers lose their jobs. The U.S. is plunged into a seven-year depression, during which unemployment rises as high as 25%. Protests by workers and the unemployed lead to a significant increase in police forces and the repressive forces of the state during this period.

May 10, 1857
Start of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, also known as the Sepoy Rebellion and India’s First War of Independence. Indian soldiers serving in the British East India Company’s military forces rebel against the way they are treated. The revolt spreads through much of the country and is put down by the British only with great difficulty after more than a year. The large scale of the rebellion, and the popular support it receives in many areas, make it into a virtual national revolt against colonial rule.

May 10, 1887
Birth of Albert Ginger Goodwin (1887-1918), coal miner, labour organizer, socialist. A vice-president of the British Columbia Federation of Labour, Goodwin refuses to be conscripted for service in the First World War, which he describes as workers being conscripted to kill other workers. He hides in the hills near Cumberland, where in July 1918 he is hunted down and murdered by a police officer. The news of his murder sparks a general strike in Vancouver in August 1918.

May 10, 1933
The first major book burning takes place in Nazi Germany. 25,000 “Un-German” books are burned in Berlin, with other book burnings taking place on the following nights in some 30 other university towns. Some 40,000 people gather to watch the burning in Berlin.
Among those whose books are burned are Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Walter Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Andre Gide, Heinrich Heine, Ernest Hemingway, Franz Kafka, V.I. Lenin, Jack London, Heinrich, Klaus, and Thomas Mann, Ludwig Marcuse, Jon Dos Passos, Arthur Schnitzler, Leon Trotsky, H.G. Wells, Emila Zola, and Stefan Zweig.

May 10, 1968
Protests continue in France despite police repression. A huge crowd congregates on the Rive Gauche in Paris. When security forces belonging to the vicious Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité (CRS) block them from crossing the river, the crowd again throws up barricades, which the CRS then attack at 2:15 in the morning. In the ensuing battle, which goes on until dawn, hundreds are arrested and injured. Participants believe that among those involved are police agents provocateurs who throw Molotov cocktails and set cars on fire to provide an excuse for further repression.

May 10, 1994
Nelson Mandela becomes the first democratically elected President of South Africa, and the country’s first black President.

May 11

May 11, 1894
Start of the Pullman Strike. The strike begins in Pullman, Illinois, when some 3,000 railway workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company go out on a wildcat strike after the company moves unilaterally to cut their wages. The strike escalates into an industry-wide confrontation between the American Railway Union, led by Eugene Debs, and the railway companies. At its peak, 250,000 railway workers are out on strike, and east-west railway traffic comes to a halt.
After a time, the federal government intervenes in the strike on behalf of the companies, sending in federal troops to arrest the strike leaders and break the strike. 18 workers are killed.
Eugene Debs is sent to prison for his role in the strike. In prison, he reads the works of Karl Marx and becomes a socialist.

May 11, 1894
Birth of Martha Graham (1894-1991), dancer and choreographer.
Quote: Dance is the hidden language of the soul.

May 11, 1970
The Abortion Caravan arrives at its destination in Ottawa. The carvan was initiated by members of the Vancouver Women’s Caucus, who want to draw attention to the current abortion law in Canada, allowing abortion only in cases where a woman's health is endangered by her pregnancy. Abortions could only be performed after being approved by a three-member Therapeutic Abortion Commiteee in a hospital.
The Abortion Caravan aims to emulate the On-to-Ottawa Trek of unemployed workers in 1935. It sets out from Vancouver in mid-April 1970 and travels across the country, holding meetings every night in different communities, and raising public awareness of the abortion issue.
On May 11, when the Carvan arrives in Ottawa, some women gather outside the Parliament Buildings and demonstrate, while another three dozen quietly enter the vistors’ gallery of the House of Commons and chain themselves to their seats. Then, one by one, they rise from their seats, read out statements, and then chant “Free Abortion on Demand” as they are gradually removed by security guards. Their action forces Parliament to adjourn involunarily for the first time in its history.

May 11, 1973
A court throws out the Espionage Act charges laid by the federal government against Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo. The two were charged for releasing the ‘Pentagon Papers’ to the media.
In the late 1960s, while working as a military analyst, Ellsberg becomes increasingly disturbed by the U.S. war against Vietnam, and by the way the truth about the nature of the war was being kept from the public. He eventually decides to copy the secret documents he has access to and make them available to the press. Ellsberg openly admits giving the documents to the press, saying “I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision.” The charges against Ellsbery and Russo are thrown out after grotesque government misconduct in the case is revealed.

Further Reading/Viewing:
Noam Chomsky: The Pentagon Papers and U.S. Imperialism in South East Asia
The Most Dangerous Man in America

Related Topics: Vietnam War

May 12

May 12, 1797
The Nore mutiny. Sailors on a number of British ships mutiny over poor working conditions and low pay. Sailors’ pay has not been increased for 140 years despite increases in the cost of living. The sailors elect delegates and ask to negotiate with the government.
As support for the mutiny grows, the more radical of the sailors expand their demands to ask for an end to the war with France. They blockade the approach to London, preventing merchant vessels from entering the port.
Splits emerge among the more radical of the sailors, who want to sail their ships to France, and those who see this as too extreme. The divisions cause the mutiny to fall apart. 29 mutineers are hanged, and others flogged, imprisoned, or banished to Australia.

May 12, 1870
Mother’s Day: In 1870, Julia Ward Howe issues a call for women to rise up and oppose war in all its forms. She proposes the establishment of a “Mother’s Day for Peace.”
Eventually in the early 1900s, “Mother’s Day” becomes a holiday in the United States, but quickly becomes commercialized, with little or no recognition of its origins.

“From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: ‘Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.’
Blood does not wipe out dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.”

May 12 – October 23, 1902
More than 100,000 coal miners in the anthracite mines of Pennsylvania go out on strike. The miners have organized a union to represent them, and are asking for recognition of their union, as well as an increase in pay and improved working conditions.
The employers, who have a large stockpile of coal and are willing to wait out a strike, are adamant that they will not recognize the union. George Baer, the President of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, one of the biggest employers, says the “rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected and cared for – not by the labor agitators, but by the Christian men to whom God in His infinite wisdom has given the control of the property interests of the country.”
Eventually the federal government intervenes in the strike, and sets up a commission of inquiry to look into conditions in the mines and make recommendations. When workers testify about terrible conditions, George Baer offers this rebuttal: “These men don’t suffer. Why, hell, half of them don’t even speak English!”
Nevertheless the commission recommends a 10% wage increase, and sets up arbitration boards with 50% worker representation. Though the workers fail to achieve all their goals, the 183-day strike is considered a victory, and in its aftermath union membership soars.

May 12, 1916
James Connolly, one of the main leaders of the Irish Easter Rebellion of April 1916, is executed by a British firing squad. Wounded in the fighting, Connolly is too badly injured to be able to stand: the British bring him to the execution ground by ambulance, tie him to a chair, and shoot him. His execution, and that of other rebels, causes widespread anger in Ireland and disgust abroad, and helps to turn Irish opinion strongly toward independence. Less than six years later, Britain is forced to recognize Irish independence.

May 12, 1955
Police in Singapore attack striking members of the Bus Workers’ Union with water cannons and tear gas. Workers fight back: in the fighting, two policemen, a student, and a journalist are killed, and 31 are injured. The strike ends in a victory for the workers.

May 12 – 13, 2000
A heavy rainstorm leads to flooding of the Saugeen River in southern Ontario. Floods are a regular spring occurrence on the Saugeen, but this one causes E. coli contamination of a poorly maintained well feeding the town of Walkerton’s drinking water. Sweeping cutbacks to Ontario’s environmental protection systems cause the contamination to remain undetected for days as it spreads through the town’s water system. Seven people die, hundreds become severely ill.

Further Reading:
Contamination: The Poisonous Legacy of Ontario's Environmental Cutbacks

May 13

May 13, 1846
The United States declares war on Mexico. Support for the war comes from those, like President Polk, who see territorial expansion as America’s “Manifest Destiny,” and from southern slaveowners who want to add more slave-owning territory to the U.S.
Abraham Lincoln, then a member of Congress, speaks against the war, which he describes as an expression of President Polk’s desire for “military glory – that attractive rainbow, that rises in showers of blood.”
The war ends in 1848 when Mexico is forced to accept a treaty giving the U.S. possession of all or most of the present-day states of California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Wyoming.

May 13, 1888
Brazil, which has imported more African slaves than any other country (nearly 40% of the 11 million Africans shipped to the western hemisphere), finally abolishes slavery.

May 13, 1901
Birth of Witold Pilecki (1901-1948), Polish resistance leader. A member of the resistance in Nazi-occupied Poland, in 1940 Pilecki deliberately allows himself to be swept up in a Nazi raid in order to be sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp. His plan, approved by the resistance organization, is to go to Auschwitz in order to document the atrocities taking place there and inform the world what is taking place. He remains in Auschwitz until 1943, smuggling out regular reports. His reports provide the Polish government in exile with the information it needs to convince the Allies that the Holocaust is taking place.
In April 1943, he and two comrades escape, taking with them stolen documents.
In 1944, he takes part in the Warsaw Uprising, is captured by the Germans, and imprisoned until the end of the war.
After the war, and the Stalinist takeover of Poland, Pilecki documents crimes being committed by the new regime. The regime imprisons him, and executes him on May 25, 1948.

May 13, 1932
“We Want Beer” marches are held in cities all over the United States as opposition to Prohibition continues to grow. Prohibition is repealed the next year.

May 13, 1968
Workers join students in Paris in a one-day general strike. More than a million people march.

May 13, 1969
In Tucumán, Argentina, former workers of a sugar mill take the factory and its manager as hostage, demanding to be paid their unpaid wages.

May 13, 1985
Philadelphia police drop a bomb on the home of a black political group called MOVE, killing 11 people, including five children. The resulting fire also destroys 65 homes in the surrounding neighbourhood.

May 13, 2000
An explosion destroys a fireworks factory located in the middle of a working-class neighbourhood in Enschede, Netherlands. At least 20 people die and 600 are injured. 400 homes are utterly destroyed and more than 1000 severely damaged.

Further Reading:
Abandoning the Public Interest

May 14

May 14, 1771
Birth of Robert Owen (1771-1858), British social reformer and early socialist.

May 14, 1931
Swedish soldiers called in to break a strike by pulp and paper workers in the Adalen district open fire on unarmed strikers, killing five and injuring others.
One of the soldiers is subsequently court-martialed for his actions – and sentenced to three days’ imprisonment. A number of demonstrators, on the other hand, are given long sentences for participating in the demonstration that was attacked by the soldiers. In addition, the publishers of several left-wing papers who condemn the shootings are charged and convicted for violating the “Freedom of the Press Act”.

May 14, 1968
In the continuing May 1968 protests, French workers begin occupying factories, starting with a sit-down strike at the Sud Aviation plant near the city of Nantes on 14 May, then another at a Renault parts plant near Rouen, which spreads to the Renault manufacturing complexes at Flins and Boulogne-Billancourt. By May 16, some fifty factories have been occupied and 200,000 workers are on strike. By May 19, two million workers are on strike; by the following week, it is ten million, roughly two-thirds of the entire French workforce.

May 14-15, 1970
Police at Jackson State College in Mississippi open fire on a crowd of students protesting against the Vietnam War. They fire at the crowd for half a minute, firing at least 140 shots. Two students are killed; twelve wounded. Afterwards, the police claim they saw a sniper, but an FBI investigation and a commission of inquiry both find no evidence of a sniper. The Commission concludes that the police action was “unreasonable” and “unjustified” but none of the police are charged.

May 15

May 15, 1525
Massacre of Frankenhausen. Troops commanded by the Landgrave of Hesse and the Duke of Saxony attack rebellious peasants who have gathered near the town of Frankenhausen. Although a truce has been declared during which the peasants hope to negotiate about their grievances, the ‘nobles’ break the truce and attack with 6,000 well-armed mercenary soldiers.
Estimates of the number of dead on the peasant side range from 3,000 to 10,000, while on the other side, four soldiers are killed. The peasant leader Thomas Müntzer is captured, tortured, and executed.

Further Reading:
Friedrich Engels: The Peasant War in Germany

May 15, 1897
Magnus Hirschfeld founds the Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee (Scientific Humanitarian Committee) in Berlin to organize for homosexual rights.

May 15 - June 26, 1919
The Winnipeg General Strike. Virtually all workers in Winnipeg go out on strike seeking wage increases and recognition for their unions. A Strike Committee co-ordinates the strike and arranges for essential services to continue.
The ruling elite mobilizes to defeat the strike. A “Citizens’ Committee of One Thousand” organizes anti-strike propaganda and calls for federal government and military intervention to crush the strike. The capitalist newspapers scream that Bolsheviks have taken control, and run cartoons showing hooked-nosed Jewish radicals throwing bombs. The government dismisses virtually the entire Winnipeg Police Force because police have voted to support the strike. In their place, they bring in federal troops, militia, Royal Northwest Mounted Police, and “special constables” (hired thugs who are paid significantly more than the police were paid). Strike leaders, including J.S. Woodsworth, the future leader of the CCF) are arrested and sent to prison.
On June 26, the Strike Committee calls off the strike.

Further Reading/Viewing:
Norman Penner: Winnipeg 1919: The strikers' own history of the Winnipeg General Strike
Six Weeks of Solidarity

May 15, 1935
Birth of Utah Phillips (1935-2008), radical folksinger, storyteller and labour organizer.
Quote: “Time is an enormous, long river, and I’m standing in it, just as you’re standing in it. My elders are the tributaries, and everything they thought and every struggle they went through and everything they gave their lives to, and every song they created, and every poem that they laid down flows down to me – and if I take the time to ask, and if I take the time to see, and if I take the time to reach out, I can build that bridge between my world and theirs. I can reach down into that river and take out what I need to get through this world.”

Further Reading:
Utah Phillips 1935-2008

May 15, 1965
A National Teach-in on the Vietnam War is held in Washington, with 3,000 participants, and with the discussions broadcast to over 100 campuses.

May 15, 1969
People’s Park” in Berkeley is occupied by National Guard troops and police sent in by California Governor Ronald Reagan. The park was set up on April 20 when students and local residents took over a derelict lot owned by the University of California and started clearing away rubble, debris and abandoned cars in order to create a park. Local residents and businesses provided free food, and soon more than 1,000 people were taking part in creating and using the park. Governor Reagan, who calls the Berkeley campus “a haven for communist sympathizers, protesters and sex deviants” sends in police to clear the park of people and seize the property. The police seal off an eight-block area around the park, put up chain-link fences to keep people out, and start uprooting trees and destroying what has been created.
When protestors gather to protest the police actions, the police attack the crowd, after first removing their identification, and begin beating anyone they catch. Other police open fire with live ammunition. A bystander is killed, more than 100 are injured, many of them shot in the back. Afterwards Governor Reagan justifies his actions with the words “If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with. No more appeasement.”

May 15, 2011
Anti-austerity protests across Spain mark the beginning of the Movimiento 15-M, also known as the Indignados (Indignants Movement). The protests are aimed at draconian ‘reforms’ whose purpose is to force working people and the poor to pay for the international financial crisis caused by the banks and investment funds. The slogan of the protests is “we are not goods in the hands of politicians and bankers.”
Some protestors occupy public squares in Madrid and Barcelona and other cities. By May 20, the encampments have grown to tens of thousands of people.The protest movement spreads to other forms of action. In July, an Indignant People’s March has columns of people from around the country walking towards Madrid.
The movement continues.

May 15, 2012
Start of the Yo Soy 132 movement in Mexico. It originates in popular opposition to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto in the 2012 election and to the mainstream media’s blatantly biased coverage of the election. On May 11, students at Ibero-American University protest against Peña Nieto at a campaign event at the university. Media claims that the protesters were outsider agitators, not really students at all. In response, 131 students who had attended the event posted a video on YouTube showing their student IDs and expressing their disgust with the media. Other people spontaneously start tweeting their solidarity with the students, using the slogan “I’m the 132nd student.” The movement that springs up becomes known as “yo soy 132.” It goes on to organize massive protests throughout Mexico, and becomes a continuing social movement.

Further Reading:
Yo Soy 132

May 16

May 16, 1912
Birth of Studs Terkel (1912-2008), radical author, broadcaster, actor, historian.
Quote: “Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”

May 16, 1916
The U.S. invades and takes control of the Dominican Republic. The occupation continues until the end of 1924, when U.S. forces withdraw after installing a compliant government which signs a treaty giving the United States control of the country’s customs revenues.

May 16, 1934
Teamsters (truck drivers) in Minneapolis go on strike and shut down nearly all commercial transport. The only exception are farmers, who are permitted to come in on their own trucks and deliver directly to grocers, but not to the warehouse district. Violence breaks out on May 19 when police and so-called ‘deputies’ (thugs hired by the companies) attack strikers. On May 22, an all-out battle starts when police and private deputies try to break the picket lines. Police and deputies are forced to retreat; two deputies are killed.
On May 25, employers and the union reach an agreement that provides for union recognition, reinstatement for all strikers, seniority and a no-discrimination clause. The agreement lasts less than two months: on July 17, employers announce that they going to renege on the agreement. The strike resumes.
On July 20, police open fire on strikers with shotguns, killing two and injuring sixty-seven. A public commission, set up later by the governor, finds that “Police took direct aim at the pickets and fired to kill. Physical safety of the police was at no time endangered. No weapons were in possession of the pickets.”
In August, a federal mediator brings about a new agreement, which includes union recognition and acceptance of the union’s major demands.In the aftermath, thousands of workers in other industries in Minneapolis unionize.

May 16 -24, 1950
Workers in Nairobi go on a general strike. The strike paralyzes the city and spreads to other cities in Kenya. The British colonial authoritities respond by imprisoning hundreds of workers.

May 16 - June 25, 1954
After the guards in the Soviet prison labour camp at Kengir murder several prisoners, their comrades rebel and take control of the camp compound, forcing all guards to leave. Political prisoners and criminals at the camp join together in a common effort and elect their own government.
During the time they control the gulag, they produce art, poetry, songs, and political propaganda.
After 40 days, the revolt is crushed by the military; several hundred prisoners are killed.
A song written during the rebellion:
We will not, we will not be slaves
We will not, we will not carry the yoke any longer.

May 16, 1966
The Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party, taking its lead from Mao Zedong, announces the launch of a “Great Cultural Revolution.” Politburo documents claim that counter-revolutionary revisionist elements have sneaked into the Party, the government, the army, and various spheres of culture and education. A number of senior party leaders are dismissed.

Mao’s goal is to shake up the party and purge the political rivals who challenged his pre-eminent position in the party after the disastrous failure of Mao’s “Great Leap Forward.”

“Revisionism” is Mao’s word for the developments that took place in the Soviet Union after the death of Stalin. Mao sees Stalin as a great leader whose legacy was undermined by those who took over after his death.

Events in China move quickly, with mass rallies in support of Mao. Classes are cancelled throughout the country after a big-character poster endorsed by Mao claims that educational administrations have been infiltrated by revisionists. Soon the streets are filled with student “Red Guards” demonstrating in support of Mao and moving to find and purge “revisionists” in all areas of life. An enormous personality cult centered on Mao develops.

In the resulting upheaval, left-wing oppositional currents who want to go beyond the top-down bureaucratic system favoured by all the competing factions in the Communist Party start to emerge and assert their views. Mao and his group, alarmed by the threat that events will spiral out of their control, gradually move to re-assert normal top-down bureaucratic rule.

May 17

May 17, 1954
The United States Supreme Court rules unanimously that segregation of Negro children in public schools is unconstitutional.

May 17, 1962
Thousands of American marines are sent to Thailand to ‘protect’ it against Communism.

May 17, 1968
In a protest against the U.S. war against Vietnam, nine Roman Catholic peace activists enter a draft board office in Catonsville, Maryland, seize draft files, take them out to the parking lot, and set them on fire. The nine are charged with destroying government property, convicted, and sentenced to jail. The court rejects their arguments that they were obeying a higher moral law.
One of the nine, Father Daniel Berrigan, writes a play about the trial afterwards called The Trial of the Catonsville Nine.
The actions of the Nine inspire a considerable number of similar actions to destroy draft files.

May 18

May 18, 1781
Tupac Amaru II, the captured leader of an indigenous uprising against the Spanish in Peru, is tortured and executed. Before he is killed, the official representatives of Spanish civilization force him to watch the brutal execution of his wife, his son, and other relatives and friends.
Tupac Amaru II becomes a legend and inspiration for other liberation movements in the following decades and centuries.

May 18, 1872
Birth of Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), philosopher, mathematician, author, pacifist, socialist.

Further Reading:
Bertrand Russell: In Praise of Idleness
Bertrand Russell: Roads to Freedom

May 18, 1895
Birth of Augusto Cesar Sandino (1895-1934), Nicaraguan revolutionary, leader of a rebellion against the U.S. military occupation of Nicaragua in the 1920s and 1930s.

May 18, 1992
A Toronto abortion clinic operated by Henry Morgentaler is firebombed by anti-abortion extremists.

May 19

May 19, 1842
Karl Marx writes the sixth of a series of articles on freedom of the press: among his earliest journalistic writings. Marx takes an uncompromising stand against censorship, and expresses his irritation with reformers who want freedom for the ‘responsible’ press but are willing to contenance censorship of ‘irresponsible’ writings: “Some want a full censorship, others a half censorship; some want three-eighths freedom of the press, others none at all. God save me from my friends!”
In Marx’s view, “the absence of freedom of the press makes all other freedoms illusory... Whenever a particular freedom is put in question, freedom in general is put in question.”

Further Reading:
Karl Marx: On Freedom of the Press (6: Freedom in General)

May 19, 1845
Two ships, the Erebus and the Terror, commanded by Sir John Franklin, set out from England in search of the Northwest Passage. None of the 129 men on the expedition will return home.

May 19, 1890
Birth of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnamese revolutionary.

May 19, 1895
The Cuban revolutionary poet Jose Marti is killed in an uprising against Spanish troops.

May 19, 1904
Birth of Daniel Guerin (1904-1988), French anarcho-communist.

Further Reading:
Daniel Guerin: Fascism and Big Business (excerpt)s

May 19, 1906
Death of Gabriel Dumont (1837-1906), Metis leader, commander of the Metis forces in the Northwest Rebellion of 1885.

May 19 - September 4, 1910
U.S. forces occupy Nicaragua to ‘protect American interests.’

May 19, 1920
The Battle of Matewan, a shootout in the town of Matewan, West Virginia between striking miners and hired guns sent by the company to evict them from their homes. Ten men die.
The incident and the events surrounding it are the subject of a film by John Sayles.

May 19, 1925
Birth of Malcolm X (Malcom Little) (1925-1965), African-American activist and speaker.

Further Reading:
Malcolm X Speaks
Manning Marable and Malcolm X: The Power of Biography

May 19, 1952
Playwright Lillian Hellman refuses to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
Quote: I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.

May 20

May 20, 1743
Birth of Toussaint L’Ouverture (1743-1803) Haitian revolutionary, leader of the Haitian revolution.

Further Reading:
Memoir of General Toussaint L’Ouverture. Written by Himself.
The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Overture and the San Domingo Revolution

May 21

May 21 - 28, 1871
“Bloody Week” ends with defeat of Paris Commune. The Commune – the first working-class-led revolution to hold power anywhere in the world – began on March 18 when the citizens of Paris rose up to create a democratic commune in defiance of the national government, which had led the country to defeat in an unnecessary war with Prussia.

In the two months of its life the Commune takes a series of radical measures, including:
– The abolition of conscription and the standing army;
– The abolition of the ‘morality police’ which polices the morals of women;
– The separation of church and state and the abolition of all state payments for religious purposes;
– The removal of church influence from the schools;
– The confirmation of the right of foreigners to be elected to the Commune Council because the red flag of the Commune “is the flag of the World Republic;”
– The abolition of night work in the bakeries;
– The closing down of pawnshops;
– The cancelling of interest on debts;
– The right of workers to take over factories abandoned by their owners.

The Commune takes over the provision of public services for the whole city, as well as the defense of the city, and makes plans for a series of further reforms, including publicly funded continuing education and technical training.

The Commune terrifies both the French ruling class and the Prussian ruling class. They forget about their war, and unite to crush the Commune. The Prussians release the French troops they are holding as prisoners of war, and return them to the command of the Thiers government to use against Paris. The Commune resists heroically, but after a week of fighting the Paris Commune is crushed by overwhelming military force and its defenders are massacred. An estimated 50,000 people are killed, including many who are slaughtered in mass executions after the defeat of the Commune.

Further Reading:
Manifesto of the Paris Commune
Karl Marx: The Civil War in France
Friedrich Engels: On the 20th Anniversary of the Paris Commune
Maurice Brinton and Philippe Guillaume: The Commune, Paris 1871
Neil Faulkner: The Paris Commune: the face of proletarian revolution
Keith Mann: Remembering the Paris Commune
The Paris Commune of 1871: The View from the Left

Related Topics: French HistoryParis CommuneRevolutionRevolutionary Moments

May 21, 1969
University student groups and secondary school students in Rosario, Argentina, along with the CGT labour federation, organize a silent march, which gathers 4,000 people. Police attack the march, and kill a 15-year-old student, Luis Blanco. The protest later becomes known as the first Rosariazo.

May 21, 1998
Mass protests force the Indonesian dictator Suharto to resign. His 31 years of power, with strong U.S. support, were marked by the murder of an estimated one million Indonesians and the genocidal invasion and occupation of East Timor, as well as his embezzlement of between 15 and 30 billion dollars.

May 22

May 22, 1565
Start of the Dagami Revolt in the Philippines against Spanish colonial rule.

May 22, 1895
Railway union leader Eugene Debs is imprisoned for his role in the Pullman railway strike. In prison, he has time to read, and discovers the works of Karl Marx. He emerges from prison a radical socialist.

May 22, 1969
Ottawa announces that immigration officials will not ask immigration applicants' about their military status if they show up at the border seeking permanent residence in Canada. The change brings a flood of American draft resisters to Canada.

May 23

May 23, 1838
U.S. General Winfield Scott begins the forced removal of the Cherokee nation from their lands in North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee. As a first step, they are imprisoned in detention forts built to hold them; then the military starts them on their forced march west to Oklahoma. An estimated 4,000 Cherokee die en route.
This is one of a long series of forced “Indian Removals” in the United States.

May 23, 1914
The Komagata Maru sails into Burrard Inlet, near Vancouver. On board the ship are 376 Indian citizens: 340 Sikhs, 24 Muslims, and 12 Hindus. They are all British subjects, and have made the journey in a deliberate challenge to Canada’s exclusionist laws and policies, which make entry to Canada easy for white British subjects, but seek to exclude non-whites.
Canadian and B.C. authorities refuse to let the passengers leave the ship, saying that it has not sailed non-stop from India (a rule deliberately designed to block arrivals from India) and that the passengers did not have the $200 each required to enter British Columbia (the equivalent of about seven years’ pay for the average Indian).
The government refuses to allow food and water to be brought aboard the ship, but local supporters manage to smuggle supplies to the ship to keep the passengers alive.
On shore, local politicians organize an anti-Asian rally. Attempts are made to board the ship, but are fought off by the passengers.
Finally, on July 21, the newly formed Royal Canadian Navy, in its very first official action, is called in to force the Komagata Maru to leave at gunpoint. Twenty passengers who already had resident status in Canada are allowed to disembark; the rest are forced to return.
The ship arrives in Calcutta on September 26. There, the passengers are detained by the British imperial authorities. In an ensuing confrontation, 20 passengers are killed and nine are wounded.

Further Reading:
Komagata Maru
Komagata Maru: Continuing the Journey

May 23, 1834
The start of the “Battle of Toledo,” a five-day running battle pitching striking workers in Toledo against police, national guard troops, and hired thugs.
Workers at the Electric Auto-Lite company went on strike April 12 demanding recognition of their union, a wage increase, improved working conditions, and an end to harassment of, and discrimination against, union members.
The strike draws support from the socialist American Workers Party (AWP), which sends organizers to help. The AWP sets out to organize unemployed workers in support of the strike; they succeed in bringing out thousands of jobless workers to help surround the plant and shut it down.
The company appeals to the capitalist courts to prevent picketing, and are quickly granted an injunction forbidding more than a handful of pickets outside the gates. Despite continuing arrests, the workers defy the injunction: by May 23, there are more than 10,000 pickets outside the plant gates.
Police attack, and a full-fledged battle breaks out that continues over the next five days. Two strikers are killed, and more than 200 are injured.
The strike ends when the company, prodded by a federal mediator, agrees to recognize the union, grant a wage increase, and rehire all workers who had been fired for their actions during the strike. On June 9th, a massive victory parade in Toledo marks the end of the strike, which is regarded as one of the most important strikes in U.S. labour history.

May 24

May 24, 1743
Birth of Jean-Paul Marat (1743-1793), revolutionary and radical democrat. A physician and scientist, Marat throws himself into full-time political activity upon the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789. He publishes his own paper, L’Ami du peuple (“The Friend of the People”) which advocates a consistently radical position. He is assassinated in 1793 by a royalist sympathizer.

May 24 - September 24, 1798
Beginning of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, an organized Irish attempt to drive out the British. The rebellion is planned and organized by the United Irishmen, a secular republican revolutionary group influenced by the ideas of the American and French revolutions. It has widespread support, but is opposed by the Roman Catholic Church, which actively sides with the British, who it regards as a lesser evil than secular republicanism. Local uprisings occur in a number of counties. The rebels win some victories, but gradually the British gain the upper hand. Wherever the British win, they engage in systematic atrocities, including torture of prisoners, burning prisoners alive, massacres and widespread incidents of rape.
On August 22, after the main uprisings have already been defeated, France sends 1,000 troops to assist a rebel force of 5,000. They have some initial success, but are ultimately defeated by the British. The captured French soldiers are sent back to France; the Irish rebels are massacred.
Some rebel guerrilla forces continue to harass the British for a number of years afterwards, until 1804.

May 24, 1917
An anti-conscription parade is held in Montreal, protesting the imposition of conscription to supply men to serve in the Great War.

May 25

May 25, 1521
The Edict of Worms bans the writings of Martin Luther and labels him a heretic and an enemy of the state.

May 25, 1895
Birth of Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), American photographer.
Lange is best known for her photographs documenting the effects of the Depression and poverty on displaced farm families, sharecroppers, and migrant labourers. Her photographs are widely published in newspapers, and help to prod the government to act to prevent outright starvation.
In 1941, she documents the forced evacuation and internment of Japanese Americans. Her photographs are considered so dangerous that the Army seizes them to prevent them from being published.

May 26

May 26, 1932
Members of the ‘Ginger Group’ of Members of Parliament and members of the League for Social Reconstruction meet in Calgary and decide to form a new left-wing political party. The temporary name adopted for the new party is the “Commonwealth Party”, later changed to “Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (Farmer-Labour-Socialist).” J.S. Woodsworth is selected as party leader.
The party wins seven seats in the 1935 federal election. In 1944, it wins the Saskatchewan provincial election under leader T.C. Douglas and becomes the first social-democratic party to take office in North America.

May 26, 2010
Bradley Manning is arrested for allegedly leaking evidence of U.S. war crimes to Wikileaks. He is charged with espionage and “aiding the enemy”, incarcerated, subjected to abuse and torture while in custody, and then, after a show trial, sentenced to 35 years in prison.
No action is taken against those responsible for committing the war crimes.

May 27

May 27, 1525
The radical theologian and rebel Thomas Müntzer is put to death. Müntzer supported the Anabaptist dissidents against the Catholic Church and against the more socially conservative strains of the Protestant Reformation. When peasants rebel against their feudal oppressors in the German Peasants Revolt of 1524-1525, Müntzer takes their side and becomes one of their leaders.
Müntzer is taken prisoner during the Massacre of Frankenhausen, when between 3,000 and 10,000 peasants are slaughtered. He is tortured and then put to death.

May 27 - 30, 1832
The Hambacher Fest – a German national democratic festival-disguised as a non-political county fair – is celebrated at Hambach Castle in present-day Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. It is one of the main manifestations for German unity, freedom and democracy during the Vormärz era.

May 27, 1894
Birth of Dashiel Hammett (1894-1961), author and political activist. The author of hard-boiled detective novels, including The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, and Red Harvest, Hammett was also a member of the Communist Party and a civil rights activist. In 1951, he is imprisoned for refusing to name names of Communist sympathizers.

May 27-28, 1905
The Battle of Tsushima: Japanese navy sinks two-thirds of the Russian fleet. The defeat is a severe blow to the prestige of the Russian Empire and marks the first defeat of a European power by an Asian power in the modern age.

May 27, 1907
Birth of Rachel Carson (1907-1964), biologist, environmentalist, author. Carson is best known for her 1962 book Silent Spring, which alerts the general public to the dangers posed by indiscriminate spraying of pesticides.

Further Reading:
Rachel Carson: Silent Spring
The Gentle Subversive: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and the Rise of the Environmental Movement

May 27, 1911
The ‘Big Strike’ by coal miners in Springhill, Nova Scotia, ends after 22 months.

May 27, 1917
A widespread mutiny breaks out among French army troops serving on the Western Front in the Great War (World War I). On May 27, some 30,000 soldiers leave the front line. The soldiers believe, rightly, that their lives are being squandered in futile offensives ordered by incompetent commanders safely in the rear who are indifferent to the casualties suffered by soldiers at the front. The mutiny spreads in the following days. It is estimated that half of the French infantry takes part in the mutinies. However, the mutinous soldiers fail to organize themselves to resist the inevitable retaliation by the army command. Consequently, the French high command is able to reassert control after June 8, using still-obedient troops to quell the mutiny. Eventually 23,385 men are convicted of mutiny. 554 men are sentenced to death.

May 28

May 28, 1871
The final defeat of the Paris Commune (see March 18 and May 21). An estimated 50,000 people are slaughtered by government troops restoring ‘order’.

Further Reading:
Manifesto of the Paris Commune
Karl Marx: The Civil War in France
Friedrich Engels: On the 20th Anniversary of the Paris Commune
Maurice Brinton and Philippe Guillaume: The Commune, Paris 1871
Neil Faulkner: The Paris Commune: the face of proletarian revolution
Keith Mann: Remembering the Paris Commune
The Paris Commune of 1871: The View from the Left

Related Topics: French HistoryParis CommuneRevolutionRevolutionary Moments

May 28, 1917
Birth of Barry Commoner, (1917-2012), biologist, environmentalist, socialist, humanist, and activist. He is particularly remembered for the ‘Four Laws of Ecology’ laid out in his book The Closing Circle:
(1) Everything is connected to everything else.
(2) Everything must go somewhere.
(3) Nature knows best.
(4) There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Further Reading:
The Closing Circle
The Poverty of Power

May 28, 1961
Founding of Amnesty International, an organisation committed to campaigning for the release of prisoners of conscience and political prisoners, and against torture and human rights abuses.

May 28, 1963
Black and white civil rights advocates are attacked as they sit in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Jackson, Mississippi. They are defying state laws against serving ‘colored’ citizens at ‘whites-only’ public facilities.

May 29

May 29, 1932
Some 10,000 World War I veterans calling themselves the “Bonus Expeditionary Force” or “Bonus Army,” many of them unemployed and in dire straits, march in Washington, asking to be paid the bonuses they have been promised for their war service.

May 29, 1968
French President Charles de Gaulle flees to a military base in Germany as a general strike brings France to the brink of revolution. He receives assurances that the military is still loyal to the state. Back in France, the trade union leadership is working feverishly to divert the revolutionary upsurge into traditional demands for higher wages, winning substantial wage increases in exchange for calling off strikes and factory occupations.

May 29, 1969
The Córdobazo. Workers go out on a general strike in the city of Córdoba in Argentina. The strike grows out of a resistance to the repressive policies of the Argentine military dictatorship headed by General Juan Carlos Onganía. The regime had suspended the right to strike, frozen workers' wages, extended the age of retirement, imprisoned trade unionists and political activists, and expelled politically active teachers and students from the universities.
When police murder a political activist in Córdoba on May 29, workers start taking over the city and setting up barricades. The uprising is put down by the military, but contributes to the radicalization of workers and students in other parts of the country.

May 29, 1970
The first issue of 7 News, a new kind of community newspaper owned and controlled by the local community, appears in Toronto’s “Ward Seven”, the area east of downtown.

Further Reading:
Articles from Seven News
Lisa Horrocks: Seven News: The Story of A Community Newspaper

May 29, 1972
Workers at Dare Foods in Kitchener Ontario go out on strike to back up their demands for wage increases, equal wages for men and women, and better working conditions in the sweltering plant. When the company starts using scabs to try to defeat the strike, striking workers receive support from people in Kitchener and beyond, and an organized boycott of Dare products begins.

May 30

May 30, 1431
Joan of Arc is burned at the stake after being condemned of heresy by the Roman Catholic Church. The reasons for her persecution and execution are political, not religious, but the technical grounds used to convict her of heresy are her habit of wearing male clothing and a male hairstyle, in violation of Biblical edicts.
In a posthumous re-trial 25 years later, she is declared innocent, and in 1920 the Roman Catholic Church canonizes her as a saint.

May 30, 1871
The General Council of the International Working Men’s Association publishes a statement on the civil war in France, which has just ended with the bloody suppression of the Paris Commune. Written on behalf of the Council by Karl Marx, The Civil War in France aims to inform workers in all countries of the world-wide significance of the Paris Communards of 1871 and what they accomplished in the 72 days of the Commune's existence.

Further Reading:
Karl Marx: The Civil War in France
Friedrich Engels: On the 20th Anniversary of the Paris Commune

Related Topics: French HistoryParis CommuneRevolutionRevolutionary Moments

May 30, 1937
The Memorial Day Massacre: Chicago police fire into a march of striking steel workers and their families on their way to picket at the Republic Steel plant. They kill 10 people and wound 30; most are shot in the back. The police then start clubbing people in the crowd. Dozens of people suffer serious head injuries, nine of them are permanently disabled. A court subsequently rules that the killings were “justifiable homicide.”
The strike is eventually called off, but the struggle continues, and five years later Republic Steel is finally forced to recognize the workers' union.

May 30, 1941
Apostolos Santas and Manolis Glezos tear down the Nazi flag in the Acropolis in Nazi-occupied Greece. The act inspired the Greeks to resist occupation, and made the two into folk heroes.

May 31

May 31, 1957
American Playwright Arthur Miller is convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to reveal the names of associates alleged to be Communists. He is blacklisted, stripped of his passport, and sentenced to a $500 fine or thirty days in prison.

May 31, 2009
George Tiller, a physician from Wichita, Kansas is shot and killed during a Sunday morning church service by Scott Roeder, an anti-abortion fanatic.



Seeds of Fire is compiled for Connexions by Ulli Diemer. References used include the Connexions Library generally, and Connexipedia specifically, Wikipedia, Sources, the Peace History feature on, the books and articles of Noam Chomsky and William Blum (marvellous antidotes to historical amnesia), and a wide, wide variety of other sources.s

For more information about some of the events and people mentioned, see the following pages in Connexipedia and in the Connexions Subject Index:

Events Listed in Connexipedia
Organizations & Movements Listed in Connexipedia
Persons Listed in Connexipedia
History Focus page
Oral History and Memoirs Focus page
Radical & Left History Focus page
Aboriginal History
Agricultural History
Arab History
Art History
Black History & Identity
Canadian History
Capitalism/History of
Chinese History
Economic History
Egyptian Revolt 2011
European History
French History
French Revolution
Gay & Lesbian History
General Strikes
German History
German History/World War II
Greece/Modern History
History/Twentieth Century
Hungarian Revolution 1956
Immigrant History
Irish History
Jewish History
Killings by Police
Labour History
Left History
Marxist Theory of Revolution
Oral History
Reference Sources/Chronologies
Revolution/Study of
Russian History
Russian Revolution
Revolutionary Moments
Sixties (1960s)
SOURCES: History experts & sources
Soviet History
Spanish Civil War
State-sponsored Violence
State Violence
United States History
Urban History
Women’s History
Workers’ History

Memory Resistance Grassroots Archives People’s History