Latin American revolutionaries: Zapata & Villa

Emilio Zapata /en.wikipedia.org

Emilio Zapata /en.wikipedia.org

Emiliano Zapata was a Mexican revolutionary, son of a peasant of mixed (meztizo) blood. At around twelve he became an agricultural worker, then entered politics by arousing the local peasants against any form of government. When the Mexican Revolution began in 1910 against President Porfirio Diaz he was already an important leader. In true South American style he attacked first the great haciendas protected only by their owners and their employees, firing the houses and killing (if he could) the inhabitants.

He then announced a reform in agrarian policies, by which the great estates would be divided up among his followers, who would employ local Indians as the work force. Latin America has had to watch many such leaders of the people. Continue reading

New France & the North American fur trade

Fur trading with Native Americans in Canada / herbmuseum.ca

Fur trading with Native Americans in Canada / herbmuseum.ca

The name ‘New France’, which sounds rather arbitrary, was the name given to all the North American territories France claimed to own between 1524 and 1803. In reality, it is a term used for the north/eastern colonies. In 1534 Cartier placed a cross in the name of the King of France on a shore of Gaspée Lake, taking all that territory for France. It was not to be, however, though Quebec, founded in 1608 by Champlain, was used as a base for exploration and fur trading. The same man got a large (and very cold) lake in the northern United States (New York State) named after him.

   Quebec naturally became the centre of operations for the French colony in Canada. In 1663 it was a royal province with a Governor, responsible for defence matters in particular and foreign relations in general. Justice was administered there, and there was a bishop to look after Catholic spiritual affairs.

   Somehow, perhaps because of typical French regimentation and bureaucracy, Quebec had no opportunity to develop early expressions of the sense of community, togetherness and responsibility that was perhaps more typical of the early English colonies in North America. One of the French, Jean Talon, did however encourage and support fishing, farming and lumber work. The latter led to ship-building activity. Tar and potash were produced and the French colonies’ future seemed assured and proficient.

The Fur Trade

The lengthy history of the fur trade in North America is closely linked with exploration of the continent, and the struggle between France and Britain to control it. At first the trade was centred along the banks of the St. Laurence River and the Atlantic coasts around Newfoundland and Acadia in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Furs were brought to the trading posts by Native Americans (q.v.) attracted by cheap trinkets and other goods manufactured for the purpose. It was not fair exchange, but the Native Americans did not know this yet.

   Samuel de Champlain (see above) established himself at Quebec and enjoyed successful contact with the Algonquin and Huron tribes (q.v.), aiding them in their age old conflict with the Iroquois (q.v.). With exploration and opening up of new territories spreading fast it was known by the end of the seventeenth century that something had to give; the French were sandwiched between the British colonies to the south and the formidable Hudson’s Bay Company (founded 1670), though the latter had in fact been set up as a result of information from two disaffected French traders.

   Meanwhile, the Iroquois were bringing trade into British hands at Albany; the French responded by building a chain of forts and trading posts, which should have brought under their control the Great Lakes region and the upper Mississippi as well as the valleys of the Ohio. But then, in 1763 came the cession of New France to Britain.

   In the early years of the nineteenth century the north-western fur trade was much contested between the ‘independents’, organized by the North West Company. For instance, the Company opened up new trade routes right across the continent to the Pacific coast, only to find John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Company already established, plus branches of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The two Canadian companies merged in 1821, while the HBC organized the fur trade on a continental basis, surrendering its lands to the Dominion in 1869. This did not prevent it from becoming the most important economic force in the north.

The Treaty of Nerchinsk

The Treaty is signed / epicworldhistory,blogspot.com

The Treaty is signed / epicworldhistory,blogspot.com

Before the seventeenth century China had been almost a myth; a legendary giant land in the Far East, barely visited by Europeans, a subject for dreams. But in September, 1689, China must have woken up to her existence in the rapidly developing world, because a treaty was drawn up between her and another mysterious giant – Russia.

   During previous centuries, Russia had been mentioned,if she was mentioned at all, by the Mandarins as a kind of vassal state of China, but now trouble was brewing between the two enormous countries, especially on the borders between Tsarist Russia and Quing Dynasty China (q.v.). Russia was expanding across Siberia. By 1642 Russian traders were travelling southwards into the Amur region of Northern Manchuria. Not only that, but the same traders were demanding tribute from Amurian tribes that owed allegiance to the Quing. The Russians even built a large stockade, defended by a garrison, at Albazin on the River Amur, and the ruling Chinese dynasty was perturbed enough to send a siege force there.

   Extreme violence was avoided because both great nations were sensible enough to call for a peace settlement, knowing that if they made war on each other, either one side or the other would ally with neighbouring Mongol tribes in the west. This was the very last alliance both China and Russia desired.

   Representatives of both nations met at Nerchinsk, a Russian-founded town, and a treaty was made whereby control of the Amur river region was awarded to the Quing Dynasty in return for which Russia would be permitted to send trading caravans to the Chinese capital at Pekin (now Beijing). Though difficult to believe, the Nerchinsk Treaty lasted until the middle of the nineteenth century, when energetic and uncaring Russian expansion in the Amur region led to further territorial concessions being forced out of a generally enfeebled Quing Dynasty.

The Nobel Peace Prize

Yasser Arafat, one of the winners of this award / the guardian.com

Yasser Arafat, one of the winners of this award / the guardian.com

In the case of a suitable candidate being found, this is an international prize, awarded annually, to a person or an institution considered by a Swedish/Norwegian committee, to have made outstanding contributions to peace. A trust fund to finance the award was established in the will of Swedish industrialist and chemist Alfred Nobel (1833 – 1896). Continue reading

Robert Owen, a founding father of Socialism

/ en.wikipedia.org

/ en.wikipedia.org

Though Owen was born in 1771, a son of a successful maker of saddles for horses and mules, he started work in a cotton mill in Manchester at the usual age of twelve, and by only nineteen was appointed manager. Later, moving to Scotland, he was almost solely responsible for founding a ‘new model community’ in Lanark.

Here he supervised better living conditions for the workers, better housing, better food, even building an Institute for the formation of the children’s general education and character, in true socialist style. Naturally there was opposition as he and his community grew to be famous, conservative mill owners tending to prefer 18-hour working days for their employees, and not caring too much if they were not properly fed. The Institute contained the world’s first day-nursery and a playground, and evening classes for the parents were available.

Remembering that this was still the end of the eighteenth century, it is barely credible that Owen also introduced a comprehensively stocked village shop. In 1813, at only forty-two, Owen went into partnership with another great reformer – Jeremy Bentham and a few more. They designed and formed New Lanark, which might be seen as the world’s first cooperative and socialist commune. Robert Owen wrote a book called A New View of Society in that year, in which he stated that character in the human race is formed by one’s social environment, daily work, paid holidays, shorter hours and above all education for youth.

New Harmony, Indiana /permanent cultureboard.com

New Harmony, Indiana /permanent cultureboard.com

And then it was off to America, the land of the free, where he established several cooperative Owenite communities, including one called New Harmony in Indiana. Sadly, they all failed, and Robert Owen died, exhausted, in 1858, though, as they say, his ideas lived on despite growing opposition. The now world-wide Socialist movement owes a great deal to people like Owen and Bentham.

The Compilation of the Laws of the Kings of the Indies

First volume of the Compilation / ww7.uc.cl

First volume of the Compilation / ww7.uc.cl

This was published in four volumes in 1681 in Madrid; the title in Spanish is Recopilación de las leyes de los Reinos de las Indias, rather a mouthful, but it was a worthy attempt to put together all the orders and laws pertaining to each section of the (royal) Spanish government, dealing with Spain’s overseas dominions. Given that the Spanish Empire (q.v.) was at this time the greatest in the world, another empire on which the sun never set, this was a courageous and painstaking enterprise. Continue reading

Eduard Shevardnazde

/ telegraph.co.uk

/ telegraph.co.uk

This politician came from Georgia, a Soviet state until democratization. He was born in 1928, did well in history studies at the Kutaisi Institute of Education and joined the Communist party in 1948 at the age of twenty.

Enroled in the Komsomol youth league, he shot upwards through the party machinery during the 1950s and became head of the Georgian Ministry of Interior in 1964. Though it seems strange, given his later reputation, he was strongly against political corruption, becoming an energetic opponent. His bête noir was Mahavanadze, the Party Secretary, who received verbal assaults from every direction, except that it was Eduard who was behind them.

With established fame for courage, he became Party Secretary himself in 1972. He introduced startling reforms,especially in agricultural policies, but his enemies said they were only experimental, and would not last. In 1978 he was in the Politburo as a candidate member, having the advantage of long-standing acquaintance with Mikhail Gorbachev. Quite soon he received full Politburo status and was appointed Soviet Russia’s Foreign Minister in 1985. He was wholly different from his predecessor, the grim Gromyko who never smiled, whereas Shevardnazde’s attractive feature was his smile. You cannot win though, because his enemies pronounced that it was the smile of a tiger.

It was he who overhauled the foreign policy machinery; working alongside Gorbachev, he greatly helped towards ending the Cold War with the West. He was charming, and he listened to people. But his most important contribution was his invariable insistence on political reform within the USSR. During the winter of 1990/91 he repeatedly warned Gorbachev of the impending danger of a coup orchestrated by Soviet hard-liners who feared the two of them intended to turn from away Communism and install a democracy. They may well have been right, but outwardly both Shevardnadze and Gorbachev remained Marxist party apparatchiks.

In 1992 a parting of the ways took place and Eduard returned to his home state of Georgia, now in the middle of what could be termed a civil war. When independence came he eventually became President, and survived two attempts on his life in 1995 and 1998. Unfortunately his regime was reputed by the world press as politically corrupt, with E.S. heavily involved in the corruption. He was forced to resign in 2003, vanished from view, and died in July, 2014.

The Prime Ministers of Great Britain – a list

The first Prime Minister - Robert Walpole / historiasyvidas.com

The first Prime Minister – Robert Walpole / historiasyvidas.com

The first ‘Prime Minister’ to hold that title in Britain was Robert Walpole, a Whig. Before 1721 there were First Ministers, Lord Chancellors, Heads of the Council and other names for the chief adviser to the monarch, and (when there were sitting parliaments) the leader of the governing party, if such a thing existed. ‘Whigs’ became ‘Liberals’ in 1846 with Lord John Russell; ‘Tories’ became ‘Conservatives’ in 1834 with Robert Peel. In 1924 the first Labour Party Prime Minister was James Ramsay Macdonald. In 1935 Stanley Baldwin became the first of two Nationalist Party Prime Ministers. In1783 the Duke of Portland became the first of three Coalition (combination of two or more parties) Prime Ministers followed in 1915 by Asquith, and in 1916 by David Lloyd George. The word ‘Premier’ seems to be a 20th century invention, and its use is perfectly correct. Continue reading

The Spanish General Union of Workers

/ blogs.iesabroad.com

/ blogs.iesabroad.com

The UGT (Unión General de Trabajadores) is one the two really large Spanish trade unions, the other being CC.OO (Comisiones Obreras). It was founded in 1888, at a difficult time for all working men, because many had not attended school, did not know what a trade union was (or what it was intended to achieve); were afraid of their employers, powerful both industrially and agriculturally, and suspicious of any kind of government or authority set above them. Growing bigger took a long time, and UGT did not make its presence felt until the arrival of the Second Republic of 1931 – 36. Continue reading