A DAY AFTER his capture John Brown was questioned by several slavery supporting politicians. His responses are instructive.
HE SAID HE’D answer no questions about others who participated in or supported their attack on the government armory at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. John Brown refused to co-operate with the enemy.
HE SAID IT TAKES secrecy to succeed in guerrilla operations. John Brown understood the importance of clandestinity.
HE SAID THEY INTENDED to appropriate weapons from the U.S. armory, and take the property of slave owners. John Brown believed in arming and funding revolutionary forces through expropriation.
HE SAID THAT HIS TROOPS received no wages for their service John Brown and his comrades were not motivated by personal nor material gains.
HE SAID THEIR OBJECTIVE was to free the slaves. John Brown respected the rights of Black people a racist Supreme Court ruled had no rights that whites were bound to respect.
HE SAID "I FEEL NO consciousness of guilt". John Brown made clear that the principles upon which he based his actions was to aid those suffering a great wrong against them. A great wrong against humanity. John Brown did not need to document international law to define for him what is a crime against humanity. He was a man of principle who educated, organized, and carried out guerrilla operations to the best of his abilities. He was a leader by example.
JOHN BROWN WAS BOTH a militant and a military leader. He was a "winter soldier"- not one to limit his commitment to when the political sun was shining, blessing him with the absolutely correct time, place, and conditions to act forcefully against slavery. He was a white abolitionist who could’ve stayed home behind a white curtain, but instead made the supreme sacrifice on behalf of Black liberation.
A YEAR BEFORE the Harper’s Ferry raid, John Brown and comrades adopted a constitution which they intended to serve as a basis for initially governing the land they liberated. This constitution defined slavery as "perpetual imprisonment and hopeless servitude" and called for its "absolute extermination". It was their view there was no course leading from bondage to freedom that did not necessitate the complete destruction of the slavery system.
THE EXECUTION OF John Brown and his comrades from the Harper’s Ferry raid was a collaborative effort between the United States Government & the Commonwealth of Virginia. Both governments defended the system of slavery. It wasn’t until three years after their execution that President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. This proclamation only freed slaves in those Southern states that were in open rebellion against the Federal government- and exempted those that weren’t. It also allowed individual slave holders who did not support the Confederacy to keep their slaves. Lincoln wasn’t a man of principle- he was a racist opportunist.
"Lincoln wasn’t a man of principle…"
SLAVERY WASN’T ABOLISHED until 1865 when the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified. The intellectual architects of this amendment had the racist foresight to exclude prisoners from the amendments protection thereby paving the way for millions of Blacks to be locked into the "perpetual imprisonment and hopeless servitude" of American penitentiaries, chain gangs, and jails.
IN 1868, PRESIDENT Andrew Johnson re-enfranchised Confederate rebels, former slave owners, and politicians,- issuing them full pardon and amnesty. Concurrent with this, Black people were being DIS- enfranchised, through an apartheid like system of laws called "black codes" (e.g., one such code prohibited freed slaves from renting or leasing farmland.) ; withdrawal of Federal support for Black Reconstruction; and the terror of the Klu Klux Klan. These are the consequences of the Federal government’s victory in the Civil War. Had John Brown been able to continue marching on from Harper’s Ferry, armed former slaves would have demanded and defended their own terms for land and liberty.
PRIOR TO MY EARLY 20’s, my knowledge of American history was minimal and distorted. I barely knew of John Brown and what he was about. I was told he was badly in need of a psychiatrist. It was something written by Malcolm X that got me looking deeper into the life of John Brown. Malcolm, speaking to the issue of what role is there for whites in the Black liberation struggle, said to look to John Brown for what is to be done. So I did. What I found was a person totally committed to freeing those held in bondage- by any means necessary. Those who owned and operated the bondage system were his enemies. They were the enemy of humanity. He sought neither white skin refuge or it’s privilege. Nor would he allow his commitment to wither before the racist indifference of a white majority. He didn’t sit on his hands while people suffered and died for the profit of others. The principle that we should all be free guided his political and military choices.
WHAT I TAKE FROM the life of John Brown
and the advice of Malcolm X is that if you are for real about revolution
then be a stand up person of principle willing to organize among your own,
challenge the opposition, and make sacrifices. In terms of moving
the Freedom Train forward, this need hasn’t changed in the 200 years since
John Browns birth……
WHERE DO I SEE the anti imperialist movement headed in this period? Toward irrelevance unless it’s able to recruit. The same is true of any political movement. To recruit, we need to put into practice our commitment to serve the people. To serve the people we need to respond to their needs. Their survival, their empowerment, their future. We can talk long and loud, wielding the most politically correct of lines, but few will listen or join unless we accomplish tasks, build solid organizations, and blueprint an attainable alternative to capitalism. We are against imperialism and against racism- wouldn’t it be useful to outline what we are for and how we intend to get it.
Ray's address: Raymond Luc Levasseur, 10376/016, Atlanta, GA, 30315
A large collection of Rays essays and letters can be found at:
Ray Luc Levasseur, 10376-016, PO Box 150160, USP Atlanta, Atlanta, GA 30315