For hundreds of years, Columbus Day or “Discovery Day,” has been celebrated throughout the so-called Americas. Celebrations began in 1792, the 300th anniversary of Columbus’s “discovery.” In 1934, in the midst of the Depression, “Columbus Day “was formally designated as a recurring national holiday…when President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed that Oct. 12 would be a day to display the American flag and engage in “appropriate ceremonies in schools and churches” every year.” The holiday quickly came to be associated with American and Italian-American nationalism, and reactionary groups have also sought to carve out a place within these celebrations, such as the supporters of the fascist Mussolini, who helped organize Columbus Day events in the late 1930s.
Spaniard gives dogs murdered Native infants.
But Columbus grew to become an important part of the myth surrounding the colonization of the Americans, as an image of Columbus as a brave explorer was promoted alongside that of the ‘First Thanksgiving.’ But the actual history of Columbus as a renegade explorer who “discovered” a continent where people were already living, is also not only a dark one, but a false one. It hides the reality that upon his arrival, Columbus was quick to began engaging in practices of extortion, genocide, rape, and enslavement. These practices set in motion the transAtlantic slave trade, mass genocide, and the creation of the modern capitalist system on a global scale.
Columbus, in a personal reflection of his first meeting with the Tainos (Arawaks), in the so-called Bahamas noted:
They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane…They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want…As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.
Spaniard throwing an infant against a rock. Behind him, 13 Tainos are murdered and burned alive. The number is supposed to be a reference to Jesus and the 12 Apostles.
Upon capturing local Natives, Columbus attempted to force them to show him where gold might be found, and proceeded to take Native people as prisoners, before returning to Spain, where the Spanish crown ordered more expeditions in search of gold and slaves. According to History As A Weapon:
Now, from his base on Haiti, Columbus sent expedition after expedition into the interior. They found no gold fields, but had to fill up the ships returning to Spain with some kind of dividend. In the year 1495, they went on a great slave raid, rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women, and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships. Of those five hundred, two hundred died en route. The rest arrived alive in Spain and were put up for sale by the archdeacon of the town, who reported that, although the slaves were “naked as the day they were born,” they showed “no more embarrassment than animals.” Columbus later wrote: “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”
But too many of the slaves died in captivity. And so Columbus, desperate to pay back dividends to those who had invested, had to make good his promise to fill the ships with gold. In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death.
The Indians had been given an impossible task. The only gold around was bits of dust garnered from the streams. So they fled, were hunted down with dogs, and were killed.
Trying to put together an army of resistance, the Arawaks faced Spaniards who had armor, muskets, swords, horses. When the Spaniards took prisoners they hanged them or burned them to death. Among the Arawaks, mass suicides began, with cassava poison. Infants were killed to save them from the Spaniards. In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead.
When it finally became clear that no large amounts of gold were to be found, the Spanish began to set up large estates that later would give birth to the Mission system, and were called “encomiendas.” In them, Native people were “given” civilization and Christianity in return for slave labor, as their labor was then used to build mega-projects and infrastructure which would go on to lay the foundation for further enslavement while financing the growing transAtlantic market. In their new lives under the Spanish colonizers as slaves, men were sent to work in mines while women labored in the fields. This process of colonization and enslavement led to mass genocide, suicide, and disease. As one priest wrote:
Thus husbands and wives were together only once every eight or ten months and when they met they were so exhausted and depressed on both sides … they ceased to procreate. As for the newly born, they died early because their mothers, overworked and famished, had no milk to nurse them, and for this reason, while I was in Cuba, 7000 children died in three months. Some mothers even drowned their babies from sheer desperation…. in this way, husbands died in the mines, wives died at work, and children died from lack of milk . .. and in a short time this land which was so great, so powerful and fertile … was depopulated. … My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write. …
Columbus’ men chopping off noses, hands, and feet of Taino Natives that were unable to produce gold that they demanded.
As Gord Hill wrote in 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance:
The primary activity was the accumulation of gold and silver, then a form of currency among the European nations. This accumulation was first accomplished through the crudest forms of theft and plunder (ie. Colombo’s and Cortes’ methods). Eventually, more systematic forms were developed, including the encomiendas — a form of taxation imposed on Indigenous communities that had been subjugated, and the use of Indigenous slaves to pan the rivers and streams…Slavery was another major economic activity. Not only for work in the mines, but also for export to Europe.
Subsequently, the slave trade would turn to Afrika, beginning in the mid-1500s when Portuguese colonists brought Afrikan slaves to Brazil to cut cane and clear forest area for the construction of settlements and churches. An estimated 15 million Afrikan peoples would be brought as slaves to the Americas by 1800, and a further 40 million or so perished in the transatlantic crossing in the miserable conditions of the ships holds.
As Hill wrote, within a 100 year period “the populations of the Indigenous peoples [in the Americas] declined from 70–100 million to around 12 million.” Columbus himself oversaw the brutal enslavement and subjugation of whole territories of people that lead to the deaths of countless indigenous people through disgustingly barbary. This included the mass killing of groups of 13 by live burning, (in memory of Jesus and his 12 Apostles), throwing infants against rocks, and the feeding of people to dogs to be eaten alive. The resulting genocide of the Taino population, led by Columbus, caused the extinction to an entire group of people.
Following Columbus’ lead, more and more nation-States in what was to be called Europe began to send out more explorations into the ‘New World.’ This led to the creation of new colonies, which allowed European nations a release valve for surplus populations that increasingly were becoming rebellious. As plantations and colonies grew, so did the slave trade, which increasingly pulled from Africa. In turn, the raw materials generated in the colonies were then sold on the global market, and helped fuel the industrial revolution. In this process, the former system of mercantilism was eclipsed by capitalism, and the growth of a new class, the capitalists, arose to create new networks of power and domination. Meanwhile in North America, growing colonial powers worked to set into motion a set of racial codes and caste systems that today we call white supremacy, while in Europe, communal lands were shut down and people were pushed towards working in factories.
With this history in mind, across the so-called United States, people have sought to resist both the memory of Columbus within the popular American consciousness as an “explorer” and a “discoverer” as well as the physical manifestations of Columbus which promote his colonial legacy. Check out this roundup of anti-Columbus Day actions around the US.
Anti-colonial posters pasted.
— Katie Orr (@KatiesOrr) October 9, 2017
New York City, NY:
Banner dropped over roadway and anti-colonial posters pasted up. Anti-Columbus marches also took place.
— RevAbolitionNYC (@RevAbolitionNYC) October 9, 2017
Burning the doctrine of discovery at Columbus Circle NYC right next to the Columbus statue. pic.twitter.com/HWONgZOr8Z
— Ash J (@AshAgony) October 10, 2017
— Ash J (@AshAgony) October 9, 2017
Statue vandalized with graffiti.
Long Island, NY:
Graffiti on Columbus statue.
— LibSoc Collective (@LibSocCaucusSC) October 9, 2017
Three cities reported that Columbus statues were vandalized with paint and slogans. RT reported:
Police departments of three cities in Connecticut ‒ Middletown, New Haven and Norwalk ‒ said Monday they were investigating vandalism perpetrated against their Columbus statues.
Someone wrote “kill the colonizer” with red paint on the 15-century explorer’s memorial in Middletown, NBC reported citing the police.
— Buffalo Red & Black (@redandblack716) October 9, 2017
The following report to submitted to IGD anonymously:
As some prepare to celebrate Columbus Day, revolutionary anarchists and abolitionists reject all supremacist notions of colonialism. There is no place within radical working class movements for the triumphalism of a so-called “holiday” based on the domination, exploitation, and mass murder of indigenous people. Real solidarity means rejection of a genocidal legacy. Real unity means fighting together. Philly rejects colonialism. Power to indigenous people everywhere!
In Chicago, paint was thrown and graffiti slogans were written in two separate incidents.
— 🍊 Blood Fruit 🗡 (@bloodfruitprint) October 9, 2017
Columbus statue splattered with paint and “DECOLONIZE” written across it.
— Conflict MN (@conflictMN) October 9, 2017
St. Louis, MO:
Banners dropped over freeway.
— PRDC – STL (@prdcstl) October 9, 2017
Anti-colonial posters wheatpasted and banner dropped over freeway.
— Tom Higginson (@TommyWHigginson) October 9, 2017
— Tom Higginson (@TommyWHigginson) October 9, 2017
San Francisco, CA:
Statue of slaver and colonizer Junipero Serra is vandalized with revolutionary and anarchist slogans. Read communique here.
Banner drop in solidarity with week of indigenous events. Report here.
Columbus statue splattered with paint.
Tempe, AZ: Columbus statue in Phoenix vandalized on holiday – AZFamily https://t.co/QOZZCuzdzk
— Tempe Arizona (@TempeArizona) October 10, 2017
Colorado State University:
Anti-colonial graffiti slogans written.