By Carlito Rovira


On May 9, 1800 one of the greatest representatives of oppressed and exploited people was born in Torrington, Connecticut. His name was John Brown.


The exemplary acts of courage as well as the humanity of John Brown has secured him an eternal place of honor in the archives of the class struggle in this country. He was instrumental in the political defeat of slavery by setting the stage that embolden many to resort to armed conflict. It was precisely his willingness to use force that defined the direction history would take.


Despite the fact that John Brown did not perceive himself as a revolutionary, but was instead according to him “doing the work of God,” his stance against the widely accepted, centuries-long slave system was in every objective sense  revolutionary.


His militant disposition towards the practices of this system differed tremendously from other abolitionists who tended to be non-threatening with their passive approach towards the slave owning class.


John Brown understood quite well that because slavery was upheld with violent force it was necessary to overthrow it with the use of violent force. He led a number of attacks like the Battle of Black Jack and the Battle of Osawatomie, in which slave owners and supporters of that vile system received the justice they deserved by death.


On October 16, 1859 John Brown and a group of men that included two of his sons launched a raid at the Harpers Ferry armory. The plan was to capture the stockpile of weapons there and distribute them to African American slaves in order to engage in battle for liberation.


Despite the failed attempt at Harpers Ferry and John Brown’s eventual execution by hanging the effort ultimately proved to be the beginning of the end for chattel slavery in the United States. This daring act was quite similar to Cuba’s 1953 Attack on the Moncada Barracks. Although it was a failed attempt with many revolutionaries losing their lives through torture the event is what sparked the Cuban Revolution.


To this day John Brown’s persona continues to be the target of vilification and ridicule by bourgeois historians. The usual depiction is that he was a “madman.” The distortions of the facts of John Brown’s life are clearly intended to discredit and make him seem irrelevant to the political reality of today. The rulers fear mass rebellion and any references in the past that may contain lessons for the struggle against capitalist oppression.


It makes sense why those with power and wealth today would continue to dread the memory of John Brown just as much as the oppressors dread the memory of Che Guevara, Lolita Lebron, Malcolm X or V.I. Lenin.


The lessons of John Brown’s experience are many that point to the added obligation that people of white origin have, especially those who consider themselves revolutionaries or socialists.


John Brown was never critical nor was he defensive about the emancipation aspirations and self-identity of Black people. These sentiments which later on developed to become the ideological pillars of Black nationalism were deeply rooted in the horrific experiences of slavery. By all historical accounts, John Brown did his part to defend and enhance these sentiments.


Unlike many in predominantly white entities today who shamefully associate their existence with socialism and revolution, tend to equate the nationalism of the oppressed with the nationalism of the oppressor.


White privilege  and white entitlement also existed during John Brown’s lifetime in the form of slavery. Although historical circumstances have changed since the moral duty of white progressives to fight white supremacy has not.


Claiming to be anti-racist in words only is not enough. To be anti-racist means engaging in an uncompromising struggle against police terror and the encroachment of Black and Latino communities by a social prop of privileged white “yuppies” or “hipsters” who are objectively partaking in a campaign of racist gentrification.


Because of historical circumstances it should never be assumed that equilibrium exist in the social obligation of whites and non-whites. For us to take the first steps against racism in the U.S. and begin the process for multi-racial /multi-national unity, the white  populace must eventually raise the anti-racist banner and the liberation struggles of oppressed people as their very own.


The disposition and standards required for white progressives in the struggle for fundamental social change do not have to be re-created, that was well established long ago by John Brown.





(Above is my portrait rendition of John Brown. Dimensions: 24″ X 30″, acrylic on canvas.)





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