This week in history

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This week in history

November 7, 1837: US abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy killed by racist mob

The slave system in southern US states during the 19th century led to a growing "abolitionist" movement agitating for the compulsory emancipation of slaves. The movement generally concentrated on the moral principle of freedom, and produced heroism by blacks and whites.

Elijah Lovejoy had advocated anti-slavery views in an abolitionist newspaper called the Observer. Mobs had already destroyed three of his printing presses, and on November 7 he was killed while defending the fourth in Alton, Illinois.

November 5, 1855: Eugene Debs born

Debs grew up in Indiana, working on the railroads at the age of 14 years. During the 1880s he helped found the American Railway Union to unite workers across the industry. Federal intervention helped break this union after an attempted strike against Pullman Company, and Debs was sentenced to six months' jail.

In prison, Debs was introduced to Marxist literature by other inmates, and on his release he helped found the Socialist Party.

He ran for president on a socialist platform five times, reaching close to a million votes in 1912 and 1920. In the latter election, he campaigned from prison while serving a 10-year sentence for publicly opposing US involvement in World War I. When asked if a vote for him was "wasted", Debs replied, "I would rather vote for something that I want and not get it, than vote for something that I don't want and get it".

November 7, 1917: Russian Revolution

After winning widespread support for their demands of "Bread, land and peace!" and "All power to the soviets!", the Bolsheviks led thousands of armed workers into the Winter Palace, in Petrograd, overthrowing the (unelected) provisional government.

Making his first appearance at the Congress of Soviets, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin struck the keynote with his opening declaration: "We shall now proceed to the construction of the socialist order".

Despite later Stalinist degeneration, the first successful workers' revolution was to inspire generations internationally. (See our feature on the revolution, page 11.)